14 Ways to Make Furloughs Fun for Everyone

by Sara Simons

What if you could replace the dread of being gone for multiple months from the place you love, having to put on your most extroverted self, or feeling paralyzed by the thought of packing and re-packing with fond memories of being with people who love you in a context that was life-giving?

Although there is often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with creating space to brainstorm and imagining what it would take to make this the furlough where you return with newfound energy and support, the way it was always intended?

What would it take to get there? And how can you be intentional towards this goal?

As you consider your plan and the destinations you will embark upon, here are a few creative thoughts, not just for families with kids, but for the tired overseas worker who wants to maximize and enjoy their furlough.

1. Create a furlough bucket list. As my kids used to say, “Our job was meetings,” so think outside the primary reason you’re there. Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what is one fun thing that he/she would like to do while you’re away. The sky’s the limit for now. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the areas you’re visiting, or it could be very simple things you already enjoy.

Brainstorm your list, narrow it down to three to five items, and then choose one solid and important selection per person. While not everyone may want to engage in this exercise or the chosen activity, some may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of memories past or not yet formed – of wanting to go horseback riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person you meet, or traveling through a beloved foreign city on the return trip.

One year when we were planning to be in nine cities in four states with our then two-year-old and six-year-old, we each chose one thing we wanted to do in those cities: try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon and constellations from the unique point of earth we were on. At that age the ideas were all free. You’ll be amazed at the ideas, not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities in preparation for your arrival.

2. Think creatively about setting. Where we meet people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach or even a museum. A park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks, where otherwise they may have been bored out of their minds.

3. Engage in physical activities with friends and supporters. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy of furlough possibilities returned. We hated how we seemed to gain weight upon return. The idea of another sugar-laden coffee or heavy meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However, the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood, or a hike together with supporters felt much more energizing. Teach us to play paddle! It was so good for us, our children, and those we were meeting with. Walking and talking isn’t a new concept; sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality to consider time of day, ability to talk, and what is needed to maximize this time. This allowed for bonding and connection in a much more organic way as well.

4. Set up fun play dates with trusted family or friends when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. People are always asking what we need, and this is a very practical way people can help – something they can offer on home assignment that they can’t give while we’re in our ministry context. Our kids remember the families that supported us with this quality time when their parents weren’t around. These elements of connection to our home country ignited delight in them for future returns, a gift we had hoped for.

5. Host a coffee shop “open house.” When we land in an area, we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a three- to four-hour window (late lunch hour is good at a self-serve cafe). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. This simultaneously takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. As an introvert, this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings and once again getting in the car.

6. Think of creative games that can be played in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus, or airplane. When we are all together as a family, we try to avoid having both parents pulled into the same conversation so that one of us can solely attend to the children. One of our favorite games is “who can get the most waves.” Each player waves at strangers, trying to get waves (or smiles) in return, and then we tally the number of points. As an adult, this is one game you are certain to lose (although a suspiciously waving and smiling adult gets fun looks too – bonus points!). We have hilarious memories of sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone, especially us.

7. Give your kids a list of things to find from their seat or window (scavenger hunt style). Let’s be honest, we sit way more than any of us benefit from, but we can still find a way to have fun, whether we’re in a restaurant, coffee shop, car, or airplane. Your scavenger list could include: person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, colored hair, best tattoo, and more. These can be made up on the spot by you or your children. Sure, this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can also spur on interesting conversations about culture similarities and differences.

8. Enjoy the journey. Plan a side trip for wherever you end up. As global workers, one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en route to our destination. A side trip is a trip within the greater trip, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous. Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one- or two-night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe. This is surely a gift of being globally mobile.

9. Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible and unique landscape. It may look like desert, or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique ecosystems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and also as individual adults to get alone time. We have managed to make this a priority by taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10. Purposefully try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here). If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is, and offer to join them in preparing it or to teach them a fun recipe you miss. You could say something like, “I’ve heard there are really delicious ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture.

11. Reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your country of service and teach others how to make it. Just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for.

12. Go on a special jetlag date when you’re awake at 5:30 in the morning and no one else is awake (minus some crazy-early morning Americans!). My kids have way fonder memories of jetlag than I do. This might be one of the reasons.

13. Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and I struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children by my lovely US-based family. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a smash journal. It became our intentional down time together as a family (though not every night). We made space regularly to create little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins, and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience, and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. It also minimized the need for extra storage or travel space on our return.

14. Take a picture of every bed you have slept in or car you drove or person you met with. This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Taking pictures of dogs is another option that my kids loved!) For us, this cataloging is another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion or serve as an understanding of your reason for chiropractic care. And sometimes they act as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. We have incredible memories of people who loved us well in ways we never asked for.

Getting kids involved in planning from the beginning can give furlough an incredible boost instead of it being a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand. But don’t feel like this is a checklist. Make it your own, and then be flexible and spontaneous, present to whomever the Father wants to put before you. Truly pray for this time to be the gift it was intended for.

 

Originally published at The Way Between and revised for reprint at A Life Overseas.

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Sara Simons and her family recently relocated back to the US after 11 years living and working abroad. She and her husband Jeff create resources and provide coaching for ministry leaders in major life transition and on sabbatical. You can learn more at thewaybetween.org.

The Emotional Progression of a Home Assignment

The last four weeks leading up to our first home assignment were chaotic. It was our first return to our passport country after three years. Our to-do list was 38 items strong, some items as simple as “pick up extra cat food” and some as complex as “find a car.” By the time we had said all of the final goodbyes and boarded our first flight, the relief was palpable. We were finally on our way, and what was done was done. (And perhaps more importantly, what wasn’t done wasn’t.)

Our first day outside of our ministry location was blissful. I distinctly remember feeling as free as bird – and being slightly disturbed for feeling so very free. What exactly were those weights lifted that resulted in such a weightless feeling? At the end of our first week, I had identified three key cultural stress areas that had clearly been affecting me more than I realized, and the idea of entering back into those specific difficulties was more than I could bear. And so began the tumultuous emotional journey of our first home assignment.

Emotional resolution #1: I don’t think we can ever return.

Over the next couple of months, my husband and I talked extensively through these cultural stress areas. We also debriefed with our member care friend and with other close friends around us. Questions of calling began to arise. Were we serving overseas because we thought it was the most meaningful way we could serve God? Were we basically deceiving ourselves with a works-based mentality of earning favor with God? And, wow, if any of this was deeply true, should we even be doing this kind of work?

Emotional resolution #2: I don’t know if I want to be a mission worker anymore.

The ambiguity of our future increased because our return was uncertain for reasons outside of our control. And that caused us to question even more. Maybe we were not supposed to be living in that ministry area. Maybe we were not supposed to be involved in mission work anymore. We considered career changes, country changes, all of the changes. Maybe we should not be in ministry, maybe we are not qualified for ministry.

I began to tire of the traveling life of home assignment and of the lack of personal space for our family. I missed our friends and coworkers in our ministry area. All of the questioning and traveling and evaluating and discerning took a heavy emotional toll. And all of this transpired in the middle of seeking to honestly share about our life and work in our ministry area at churches, with partners and friends. The desire for my own bed and my own kitchen and my own routine was deep and strong.

My emotional resolution #3: I’m ready to go home…wherever that is.

We continued sorting through questions of calling. What did we even believe about God’s call on our lives? We talked more about God’s sovereignty and our own selfishness in making decisions and how God works in spite of all that. We talked through what we felt we were gifted at and what we liked to do. We sorted through the many needs that faced us and tried to discern where best to focus our time and energy. We began to feel renewed and rested, spiritually and emotionally, and refreshed in our roles as parents, as spouses, as mission workers. We began to regain the smallest sense of passion for the work we had been doing.

Emotional resolution #4: I think maybe God has called us to this ministry area.

Where God leads, he also provides sustaining grace. Had I not experienced so very much of God’s good grace over the last three years? Had he not sustained our family so well despite stresses and hardships? Our understanding of God’s calling matured, and our desire to serve him in ministry was refreshed, not from a place of owing God or working for him, but rather from a place of surrender of our lives, of committing to be part of the bigger kingdom work. All work is God’s work, and our role is to be faithful with the work he has given, where he has given it to us.

Emotional resolution #5: I am ready and willing, Father; use me as you see fit.

With some level of excitement, we anticipated our return, less than a month away now. The ambiguity of our return remained, but we felt confident God would bring us back to this work.

As God would have it, we received visas and the green light to go ahead back to our ministry area in March 2020. We arrived three days before our country shut its borders, with Covid enveloping the world.

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Our family has just returned to our ministry area after our second home assignment. We have now lived and worked in South Africa for over seven years, and there’s a sense of rootedness that comes with time and investment. Even still, I am grateful to have realized that there will always be an emotional progression on a home assignment. We will always need to do deep emotional work while away from our overseas home.

And while this second home assignment did not look exactly the same as our first home assignment, the stages were remarkably similar and had a sense of familiarity about them. Oh, I’ve been here before, my heart could say. In hope, I could look forward to God bringing my heart back around to willing service and obedience. And with gratitude, I can say that he did.

A Letter to My Sending Churches

To my dear Sending Churches,

We are coming to the end of our six-month furlough, and my heart is full. It is full of thanksgiving.

I am thankful for how you opened your homes and your lives to our family, loving us while we were here temporarily. Thank you for the boxes of winter clothes that awaited us when we arrived from the airport underdressed for the cold weather. Thank you for being willing to find us a car, research public school options ahead of time, and surprise us with food boxes at Christmastime.

Thank you for your love and support, which have spanned both the ocean and the years—your prayers, emails, and snail mail have been a lifeline for us. Thank you for welcoming our children into your Sunday school classrooms, embracing them with love and patience. We have experienced Christ’s love through you all.

Thank you for trying to understand our stories, for the times you asked open questions and let us try to find words to answer. Thank you for the invitations to meals, the conversations over tea, and the kite-flying birthday parties.

We are coming to the end of our furlough, and my heart is full. It is full of grief.

I grieve the painful conversations and moments of feeling judged as insufficient. Some questions reverberate in my head, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Comments like, “So what are you actually doing to fight poverty?” Or, “From your newsletters it sure seems like you focus more on communicating the gospel through deeds rather than the gospel in words.” And, “If your students do not become Christians, aren’t you just educating them for Satan?”

I want to answer graciously, lovingly, and patiently. I want to believe that you ask these questions out of love, that you still support us even if you do not understand our context or our methods. I want to try to help you understand.

But I am also exhausted. I am tired of being on a pedestal. Missionaries are not superheroes or magic-workers. We have no short cuts in solving the world’s problems. We are just trying to follow Christ, as we believe we are called to, in a different culture than you. We are figuring it out as we are going along, and surely messing up as we go—but we are trying. Please, believe that we are doing the best we can. We are on the same team—team Love Jesus.

When we share openly about our ministry, we’re not asking you to observe it with a magnifying glass, looking for errors. We’re not asking for a “grade” or a “rating.” We’re asking you to listen, to hear the pain as we share disappointments and heartbreaks on the field. We’re asking you to be patient, as we also are learning to be patient, and remember that we cannot force results. We’re asking you to be gentle with us, because we feel fragile as we prepare to cross the ocean again and re-enter all the painful realities of our other home.

Recently, a member care friend from our sending organization came to visit, and she brought two rubber duckies. A “yay duck” and a “yuck duck.” A pair-of-ducks. A paradox. We discussed the yays and yucks of life on the field and the challenge and invitation to hold them together.  I am realizing that this pair-of-ducks is not only for when I am in Indonesia, but also true for all of life. And definitely true of furlough. There are beautiful memories and painful memories. And as I think of these last six months, I will try to hold this paradox with open hands.

Thank you for loving us. Thank you for sending us. And please, keep learning about the pair-of-ducks with us.

As our furlough comes to an end and we say our goodbyes, please do not forget us. Know that your letters, your emails, your WhatsApp messages, and your times of praying for us are very important. Even as the years continue to pass and our sending churches change, it is important to us to know that halfway around the world, you care.

With laughter and tears,
until we meet again,
Anita

Cross-Cultural Skiing

My family arrived in the States for a six-month furlough in December. We eagerly awaited the “winter” weather, as my two boys barely have any memories of snow. But the winter weather seemed unpredictable and disappointing. 

One day, I was talking with my dad about cross-country skiing. He loves skiing and has a whole collection of skis in our basement that he can use whenever the weather in Virginia allows. My nine-year-old son piped up, “Are you going to go cross-cultural skiing?” 

I laughed. Apparently, my son really is a TCK. He is more familiar with the term “cross-cultural” than he is with the term “cross-country.” So I explained to him what his grandpa was actually talking about.

But the term my son used has stayed with me. We are, indeed, cross-cultural skiing.

Before furlough, we talked as a family about what we were looking forward to: Christmas presents, snow, grandparents (in that order). We talked about what was scary: a new school, different foods, leaving friends behind (“Will my friends forget me?” my son asked). Months of thought, preparation, and planning went into getting on the airplane to leave Indonesia.

But each time we furlough, I am surprised at what I forgot to anticipate— for myself and for my children.

This time around, before even landing in America, I realized my sons were not used to dry weather. Airplanes have dry air, as do winter months. My children, however, are accustomed to the humid air of tropical Indonesia. Licking his lips, over and over again, my eldest son’s face became red and painful. 

Don’t lick your lips! I explained. But he is from the tropics. This air is an unfamiliar dry. My youngest son’s skin also became dry and itchy. “I don’t want that slimy stuff,” he screams as I run after him with lotion.

How do we help our children when the air itself is different from what we are used to? How do we help our families navigate switching between cultures on this journey of cross-cultural skiing?

Some parts of this life are beautiful. My children are bilingual and can switch between languages with ease. “Hi, my name is Luke. I’m bilingual,” my seven-year-old son says when he introduces himself. But on furlough, we must work hard to make sure Indonesian is not forgotten. We scroll through Netflix movies and shows to find only what is available in Indonesian. We switch our bedtime story routine to reading in Bahasa Indonesian (we use the free app Let’s Read Asia to access hundreds of books).  

Sometimes this feels like a sacrifice, as the public library has an abundance of books in English that I would love to read. But I remember returning to the field after the last furlough; it took over a year for our son to start speaking smoothly in Indonesian again. We are working harder this time to help him remember, to keep him from forgetting.

I love how my children view life in America with excitement and wonder. They see things with new eyes, helping me also to enjoy the small things: squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, and blossoming daffodils provide backyard entertainment. 

Other parts of this life are brutal. All the goodbyes in Indonesia, not knowing what things will be like when we return six months from now. Will our children’s friends remember them? Will our boys remember their friends? Will the ministry we started run smoothly without us, or will some crisis arise, plunging them into turmoil? Will there be floods, fires, deaths, or even eviction for our teammates and friends living in the slum community where we normally make our home? 

How do we embrace the comfort of life in America, while at the same time guard our hearts to return once again to the field? And how do we help our children do the same? How can we hold both the good and the hard together? How can we enjoy our time here and also prepare our children to return to where life seems a lot more difficult?

One morning in February, my boys looked out the window at six in the morning and started screaming: “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” And, indeed, the ground was covered in about two inches of snow. They jumped up and down, shouting their excitement for everyone in the house to hear.

And as soon as it was light, we finally got to build a snowman and go sledding. My dad pulled out his cross-country skis and enjoyed skiing down the same small hill that we were sledding on. 

On perhaps his fourth trip down the hill, my dad noticed there was a log hidden under some snow. He tried to avoid hitting the log but lost his balance and took a dramatic fall. A trip to the ER revealed that he had not broken anything, though he was in pain for a few days.

This life of traveling between cultures can feel like that too. The joy and fun of reconnecting with relatives and old friends, eating food we’ve been missing, or simply wearing clothing that we don’t get to wear on the field can suddenly be replaced by feelings of grief and fear. We can feel like we have lost our bearings and might fall flat on our face. Our lips get chapped and our skin gets dry. We suddenly feel like foreigners in our own passport country.

As we struggle along on our journeys of navigating cultures, may we have grace for ourselves and for those on the journey with us – our teammates, our spouses, our children. May we have the grace to get back up when we fall down. The grace to keep trying. The grace to take risks and continue to choose to invest in relationships, to choose to love, even though goodbyes are just around the corner. May we embrace the good and the hard of this life as we go cross-cultural skiing together.

Home Assignment Is _________?

by Kayle Hardrick

Home Assignment is winding down. We are turning our sights towards preparing to return to our host country and to our work there. We are trying to fit in all the last visits we haven’t had a chance to make yet and purchasing the things we had been wishing we had in Cambodia with us the last few years. We are slowly starting to look at weight and space for packing our suitcases. I keep thinking about what Home Assignment is like. How do I describe it?

It is like packing up your family over and over to see people you love and feeling like each visit is not long enough with those people. It feels like fun family times in a car and new experiences because of generous friends and supporters—like driving an RV. It is getting to do things you never thought you’d get to do and being reminded of all the things you would be doing if you lived in your passport country. It is missing your host country and the things happening there while you are away. It is feeling at home in many homes because the people in each home love you like family.

It is buying groceries in many different grocery stores and cooking in a dozen kitchens. It is doing laundry in all kinds of washing machines and sleeping in so many beds of various sizes. It is hauling exhausted children to nine different states and being so proud of them for making friends, enjoying time with extended family, and having relatively wonderful attitudes throughout it all. It is meeting people you have never met in person and being so thankful they have lived this life and for the grace they have with your kids. They understand when your kids just can’t have the manners they should have that evening.

It is watching your kids feel safe and secure because they see and understand the vastness of the family of God. It is your daughter making friends in Sunday School at every different church you attend and opening up her world and her new friend’s world to more. Home Assignment is visiting so many different churches because people you love have found a community they love there, and you want to see it and engage with it. It is having conversations with your kids about all the different church traditions you have gotten to experience over your time.

Home Assignment is lots of coffee, trying old and new foods, and bonding with others. Home Assignment is encouraging others in their lives here in our passport country and being encouraged by them for our work in our host country. Home Assignment is lots of extended family time that you wish would last forever. It is finding a church you can just be in, rest, and enjoy. Home Assignment is being encouraged by the home office because you see more of the big picture within your organization. Home Assignment is far too long and far too short all at the same time.

Originally shared in a newsletter.

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Kayle and her husband Chris serve with Engineering Ministries International in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they have lived for nearly six years. In addition to homeschooling their three kids, Kayle helps with onboarding and language learning at the EMI office, serves on the board of a small NGO-run school in town, and facilitates continuing education courses for cross-cultural workers around the world through Grow2Serve. She loves swimming, hiking, being outside even in the Cambodian heat, and spending time with people.

Which of these 3 barriers are tripping you up?

In his book Upstream, Dan Heath explores how to solve problems before they happen. Basically, when you are upstream you have different—better—options than you do downstream. Downstream you are forced to react to situations, whereas upstream you can anticipate and, in some cases, mitigate problems.

Many organizations have “home assignment” or “furlough” policies. About a year ago at Global Trellis I asked the question, what would an upstream approach to home assignments, furloughs, or sabbaticals look like? Is an upstream approach possible for a sabbatical? Or a life in ministry? It is.

However, according to Heath, three barriers can get in the way of an upstream approach:

1. Problem Blindness —  is the belief that negative outcomes are normal or inevitable. Phrases like “that’s just how it is” or to put a Christian spin on it, “that’s part of the call.” While it’s true that there is a cost to the call, too often we play that card without really thinking through if it is a cost or a result of problem blindness.
 

Sabbaticals are only for pastors or professors.

Home assignments aren’t really restful.

What a waste of my supporters’ money! I should be on the field.

2. A Lack of Ownership — occurs because many individuals or organizations are too overwhelmed or under resourced to move upstream. At Global Trellis, we want to be part of the solution and have pledged to be part of preparing you to function upstream when you can. 

My organization doesn’t have a plan for my home assignment, they just said I have to take one.

Sabbaticals are only for research, so this doesn’t apply to me.

What will supporters think of me? What will I tell them I’m doing?

3. Tunneling — occurs when people are juggling a lot of problems, they give up trying to solve them all and adopt tunnel vision. A clue that you’re tunneling is when you feel a sense of scarcity. You might feel that you don’t have enough time, money, supporters, teammates, options, or even favor from God. Tunneling forces you into short-term thinking. As Dan Heath said, “In the tunnel, there’s only forward.”

You have no idea how many churches and supporters I need to visit.

I already feel strapped for time! I cannot add a course to guide me through my sabbatical on top of it all.

I have a whole year . . . what’s the rush?

The Sabbatical Journey Course was created with these three barriers in mind and is available twice a year. The doors to the course will open on September 9, 2021 and you can notified when the Sabbatical Journey Course is available here.

While we might experience problem blindness, God never does. God will use the time you have for your home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical. He sees you, and loves you.

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

How to Make Missionaries Cry: Ask Them How Their Vacation is Going

Imagine this scenario:

You get up at 5 am on a Sunday morning. You wake your groggy teenager, who protests loudly and grumpily enough to put everyone in the house in a bad mood. You rush around to get everyone out the door by 6 am so that you can make a two hour drive to arrive at church at 8. When you arrive, your five-year-old pitches a fit because he doesn’t remember this church and is scared to go to another new Sunday School. You hiss bribes and/or threats into his ear, because you are on display and need to make a good impression.

But you put on your happy face and start shaking hands with everyone in sight. You’ve visited this church before, so you remember a few names, but many more of them know you. You wrack your brain to recall names, jobs, children as 26 people greet you. You are ushered to the front row to be ready for your seven-minute presentation, which took you hours to tweak since you’ve never previously given one that is exactly seven minutes. After the service, you are taken to an adult fellowship class where you are asked to give a 35-minute presentation. During these presentations, you are expected to give a public account of how you spent your time and your money during the last three years. 

After the service, a friendly face shakes your hand and asks you, “So, how is your vacation going?”

And you want to cry or howl or kick something.

Honestly, friends, this is one of the most demoralizing questions a missionary on home assignment ever gets. They know you mean well. You are probably thinking, You get to be away from the grind of ministry! You must be enjoying the advantages of home! 

But what they hear is: Wow, you get a six month vacation every couple of years. Must be a pretty cushy life. And that’s discouraging. Because a home assignment is a far cry from a vacation.

This is what is important to know: Missionaries have two jobs. One job is the one you are familiar with–their cross-cultural ministry. The other job is to build and maintain the partnerships that keep them in that ministry. 

Both jobs are incredibly important. A healthy missionary has a strong team of supporters behind them, and while overseas, maintaining those relationships is a part-time job. This looks like: Creating newsletters every month, sending out prayer requests weekly, maintaining a robust social media account, writing dozens of personalized thank you notes every year, answering supporters’ emails, buying gifts for supporters, and creating videos or filling out questionnaires, or joining in on Zoom calls. That’s on top of full-time ministry and navigating a cross-cultural life. 

And when home assignment (or furlough, or deputation) rolls around, that’s when this second job kicks into their full-time job. Home assignment looks like: Speaking at a different church every Sunday, meetings every day, lots of phone calls and emails. Preparing presentations, because each church wants something different. Lots of time on the road traveling. Following partnership leads, initiating relationships, hosting dinners and dessert nights. 

You won’t hear a lot of complaining. Missions must be a team effort by everyone in God’s Church, and missionaries feel incredibly privileged to be the ones that get sent out. Building those partnerships is vital and they are an incredible blessing that feeds the missionary’s soul.

But being on home assignment is a job, it is usually exhausting, and it is definitely not a vacation. In fact, many missionaries would say that coming stateside for home assignment is the part of their job that’s the hardest. Though it’s called “home assignment,” it doesn’t usually feel like home. The constant travel, feeling on display, and helping their kids navigate so much transition can be wearying. Missionaries often look forward to getting back to their lives overseas so that life won’t be so crazy! That means that when someone assumes they are on vacation, it’s disheartening. 

So what should you say to a missionary on home assignment? 

Hug them. Tell them something specific you enjoyed about their presentation. Mention something that stood out to you from one of their newsletters. Reassure them you are praying regularly for them. Ask them the non-spiritual questions. 

And if you really want to make their day? How about, I hope you’re planning a vacation while you are on home assignment. Would you like to borrow our cabin for a few days?

When your role changes and you wish it hadn’t

I’ve written extensively before about role deprivation when someone moves to the field. You are the newbie and trying to figure out where you fit and what your role will be. Though uncomfortable, this process is not unexpected.

But what about when your role changes because of a pandemic, organization shift, illness, or any of the other ways you may find yourself not doing what you wanted to do where you wanted to do it. (Even as I type this, I can feel myself wanting to stomp my feet.)

I reread something I wrote about role deprivation and people moving to the field, “Role deprivation is part of the incarnational process. Jesus laid aside part of his role as God. We know from Philippians 2:6-7

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

When you move to the field you lay aside either all of or part of a role you have played.”

I want to say “BUT” and then push back with the difference between willingly choosing to move to the field and being forced to change plans. God smiles when I try to point out flaws in His logic.

When you consider yourself nothing and take on the nature of a servant, you can serve anywhere.

This is not to diminish loss, hurt, disappointment, or sadness. What I have been thinking about this week is how many of you are experiencing role deprivation without naming it as such.

Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation:

  1. Your emotional responses are out of proportion to the situation.
  2. You notice you are hustling for your worth. Do you sense yourself being defensive or questioning what others think about you or how you use your time? Your hustling might be related to role deprivation.

Role deprivation is unavoidable but not unnameable … naming helps us make sense of what is going on.

Transitioning from the field makes you aware of roles that had become so automatic you may not have noticed them in years.

When I transitioned to the mission field, roles I thought were meaningful and added to healthy self-esteem, were taken off the table for a while. And roles that I would define as “not very meaningful” suddenly took an inordinate amount of time.

Maybe you are in a season where roles that you found fulfilling have been taken off of the table for a while (maybe forever). And roles that you find to be “not very meaningful” are what fills your day. You know that you will adjust and you will have meaningful roles, but what to do about it today?

Make a list of six roles that you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. Sit with Jesus and your list. Tell him what you loved about each role and what you miss. Then spend some time listening to what Jesus, the lover of your soul, wants to share with you in this season.

Role deprivation isn’t fun, yet I find that it is one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us.

If you happen to be on a planned or unplanned home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical, Global Trellis has a course that will be available until September 23rd (so not long!). The Sabbatical Journey Course adapts to any length of sabbatical and is divided into four quarters: rest, refuel, reequip, and refocus. Read more about it here.

In the comments share the six roles you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. You’re not alone and it’s good to share and comment with others on this same path.

Photo by Jordan Madridon Unsplash

Furlough is Coming

 

‘Twas the day before furlough and all through the house,
Everybody was crazy, even the mouse.

With kilograms counted and carry-ons packed,
The dad will get asked, “Can I fit this last sack?”

With Ma on her IG and Pa on his Twitter,
They’ll update their close friends through one last newsletter.

Frazzled and frayed, the start of a furlough,
The family boards early with one last cold Milo.

Onboard entertainment will probably help
Pass the time and the sadness, and the little one’s yelp.

The children will sleep, if they’re any the wiser;
Jet lag comes for all, the great equalizer.

Arrival with greetings and baggage galore!
“Now pick up the kid sleeping on the floor.”

A welcome is waiting at somebody’s house,
Along with green grass and a bed without louse.

Selah

Awakened and rested, two weeks have now passed.
It seems like a dream the term that was last.

No VPNs needed! No guards at the gate!
And Grandma and Grandpa let parents go date.

“Another world that.” They’ll say to each other,
Debriefing and telling it all to the Mother.

Then shopping will start, making up for lost time,
Enjoying the produce and actual lines.

“The stores are so huge!” They’ll gasp and they’ll stammer,
With carts made for tonnage like fridges and jammers.
“All the things in one place?” A small child’s amused;
A TCK so he’s often confused.

The church is so clean, inviting and nice!
It’s also, turns out, surprisingly white.

The parks are amazing and so well maintained;
The trash is discarded and canines restrained.

Folks think that they’re on an extended vacation,
Relaxing and soaking up big adulations.

“Please Father forgive them, they just do not see,
The pressures and burdens of this ministry.”

The family will travel in borrowed van and,
They’ll tell all their stories and hope that you can,
Listen and care some, then get on your knees,
And join them in this work, their Life Overseas.

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I Just Don’t Want to Go

It’s been nearly five years since we accepted the position to serve abroad. We are now in our third year of our second placement and we are in the throes of preparing for our first furlough. By the time we once again step onto U.S. soil, it will have been nearly five years since we have seen most of our supporters.

I should be ecstatic to be going “home.” I should be counting down the days until I can once again hug all my family and my friends, with my favorite cup of coffee in hand. People are going to expect me to be over the moon. I even expect enthusiasm from myself.

But, to be honest, I am not. I am not ecstatic, excited, or enthusiastic. To be honest, I don’t want to go.

I feel weary. I’m weary of explaining why we moved to Africa with our babies. I’m weary of explaining why we delivered a third child here and didn’t go back to the States for his delivery. I’m weary of having conversations about hard things to people who haven’t been here and won’t be able to understand in a deep way, no matter how good-intentioned the listeners may be.

I feel afraid. I’m afraid of questions that people may ask that I might not have an answer for. And yet, at the same time, I’m afraid of shallow questions that don’t get to the heart of what we do and why we’re here – of why we love being here. I’m afraid of blending into the shadows in a place that doesn’t really know me anymore. Here, I’m seen and known; here, I have a community.

I’m afraid of who I become when I’m there. The old habits that are too easy to pick back up again; the complacency that comes naturally when I’m in a place where life is easy.

I feel anxious. I’m anxious about others’ expectations that I can’t – or just plain don’t want to – live up to. I’m anxious about our crazy, ridiculous travel schedule that will have our family moving nearly every day for six months. (We do have some rest and down-times scheduled in, but most of the time we’ll be on the go.) How will our family handle all that travel?

I’m anxious about being “homeless” once again. I hate not having a place where our family can just be. We love our parents deeply and are incredibly grateful for their generosity for letting us stay with them between the long road trips, but it’s very, very different from having a place to actually just be a family. It is painful to not have a home.

At the same time, I’m already grieving leaving our home here. When we return, we’ll be moving to a different part of our host country. We’re very excited about this shift and know that it’s the right thing for our family and our ministry, but I love our community here. I love our town. I love our house. I love my daughter’s dance class and all my kids’ friends. I love our church!

I’m grieving our routine and normalcy. I’m grieving all the things we’re going to miss out on while we’re away: another ministry milestone as more students graduate, Easter with our church family, my oldest being able to celebrate her birthday with her friends, the annual women’s conference. I’m grieving a life we’ve made here and one that we love!

And yet!

I feel hopeful. I am hopeful for all the beautiful things we will get to be a part of. I am hopeful for the wonderful family times and reunions we will have. I am hopeful that our kids will get to experience (and love) parts of our homeland. I am hopeful for times of rest and celebration.

I am hopeful that God will show Himself faithful time and again – and that is a hope that does not disappoint! His promise to go with us and before us is sure and He has proved Himself faithful over and over again in our lives. We can know that He will be faithful this time, just as He has all the times before.

We remember the truth of Isaiah 40:31: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Let our hope be in the Lord, and let us wait on Him today!

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The writer and her family are both looking forward to this next phase of their life abroad and also grieving the past. They deeply feel the paradox that is cross-cultural living. She invites you in to hear the pains and joys of cross-cultural life. For those who are in this life, may you be encouraged. And for those who are receiving those who live cross-culturally, may you receive them well while extending grace on both sides.

How to Fall in Love With Normal Life Again

by Kris Gnuse

I got off the plane and stepped out into the height of rainy season. The hard stuff struck me like the honeymoon glow of language school blowing its first transformer. Mold in full bloom on our car seats and furniture. Trash scattered on the streets. The cramped feel of our house after the heartland’s big wide open. Five years serving in Costa Rica grooved it all normal, but 3 weeks stateside lured me out of sync with pura vida rhythms.

As a missionary, stateside visits are a sprint effort. Work and play full out, all of it different from the routine of life abroad. It doesn’t take long to acclimate to the absence of pre-dawn roosters, childcare by grandparents, or hometown selection and prices.

I thought re-entry stress would fade as we became seasoned at life here. It’s always nice to get back into our own space, sleep in our own beds, cook in our own kitchen. Each time the bump of transition greets me with the new ink in my passport, whichever direction I’m going. I no longer see it as an assessment of my functionality at the destination. It’s just an admission that change is always a little difficult, wherever you call home.

How do we smooth the landing, or just shake off the everyday doldrums, and fall in love with normal again? When our nest is cozy, life follows suit, so that’s a great place to start.

 

1. Clean something.

No kidding. The best way to appreciate something is to invest in it. When I feel down on my digs, one solution is to grab a rag and use it. This doesn’t mean clean everything.  Martha Stewart is not the goal; progress is. I cut a deal with myself to dirty one dust rag or wipe one wall. The clean spot usually leads to another, a beneficial momentum. Clear windows aren’t my strong suit, but they do give a better view. Tackling dust bunnies, or let’s be honest–woolly mammoths–helps me feel in control.

I can make this place better. I can make a difference. I can love this again.

 

2. Let something go.

A statement I heard years ago stuck with me: what we love about all those Pinterest decor shots is really the lack of clutter. Everything inside our walls costs us physical and emotional space. Suitcases usually return from our passport country laden with goodness.  The abundance is like Christmas, but it all has to fit somewhere.

Use the happy of the new to help release the old.  Send it forward as donations or landfill, and revel in the order and openness. I can’t make my house bigger, but I can reduce the unnecessary and make it feel that way. Last week I went medieval on our storage. I pitched expired meds, outgrown clothes, ratty shoes, and that stuff set aside months ago to see if I would miss it. No surprise–I didn’t.

Side note: do not let “maybe I’ll need this someday” trick you into keeping PVC pipe joints or random extra parts of any sort.  You know your husband will go to the store and buy new things without searching the dusty “miscellaneous” box. Just say goodbye now and live free.

 

3. Save a bit of splurge for home.

Often we arrive at our doorstep with a back-to-the-grindstone attitude. The fun shouldn’t end the minute we cross the threshold. As we scrubbed mold and overhauled storage totes, my husband suggested we treat ourselves to lunch out after worship. I was surprised how nice it felt to have something to look forward to.  It reminded me that life in our mission country isn’t all DIY. There is much to be enjoyed alongside the serving. Plan something playful to help your heart transition back.

 

4. Knowing is half the battle. 

Expect turbulence in the landing. G.I. Joe had it right. Understanding makes it easier to walk through. Give yourself grace. Don’t pole vault into work the next day, if you can reasonably avoid it. Make time to reconnect. Message your friends on the ground and the ones you just hugged goodbye. Set a date for coffee or Skype. Leave white space to process.

What did you love about your time away? What bumped you about your passport culture? What’s the good, bad, and ugly about being back overseas?

 

5. Go to your happy place.

Sipping coffee on my balcony or getting creative in the kitchen puts new spring in my step. Getting outside of our walls into the sunshine is good for the soul. Sharing simple eats like popcorn or pancakes fill the house with something better than tasty smells–life.

So put your favorite tunes on, diffuse homey scents, light a candle, laugh together. Take space to be real and love real to see the extraordinary in the everyday again.

 

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home. 

Psalm 90: 1a NLT

 

What are your favorite ways to reacclimate after a time away from normal routines? What makes you grateful to be home again?

Originally published here.

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Kris Gnuse is living proof the Lord gently leads those with young. Their family of five just celebrated 5 years serving at a transitional children’s home in Costa Rica. Cross-cultural ministry, parenting, and sometimes breathing in general, drive her to God’s grace each day. Join her in embracing his great love and breaking free from what holds us back, at thegoodnewsfamily.com

Dying to Self

by Madison Strauder

The past two weeks have been some of the hardest days of my life, but not for reasons you might think. There is no illness, family emergency, impending natural disaster, or local political upheaval that has me on edge. It’s nothing that can be easily worded or is simple to communicate. I guess I would say it’s because of the condition of my heart.

After spending a challenging six months in the US, my family returned to South Asia, where we’ve been missionaries for many years. When we were preparing to leave the US, people asked us if we were excited to come back to South Asia. Though that feeling may accurately describe our three kids’ attitudes about returning to the home they know and understand, excited is not a word I would use to describe my own feelings.

South Asia is much more home to my kids than the quiet countryside that I grew up calling home. They can walk down a street surrounded by thousands of people and be at ease. They can jump in whatever mode of transportation is available and seem to not mind the stares along the way, the heat, and the traffic. God has helped me do those things on a daily basis, but it will never feel natural to me like it does to them.

For me, returning to our South Asian megacity has felt like dying. Though not a physical demise, this is the dying to self that I seem to be fighting against as we work to settle back into this life. You see, somewhere along the way I believed I was entitled to certain rights—the right to breathe clean air, to live in an easy-to-maintain and lovely home, to blend into a crowd without constantly standing out, to raise my kids in a healthy and easy-to-navigate environment, to celebrate holidays and life events with my extended family. I desired an easy life.

But the reality is that as a child of God, I am not promised any of these perceived “rights.” Through these struggles with obedience, I have dwelled on Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (ESV). We returned to South Asia trusting that God’s plan is better than anything we would plan for ourselves.

God has chosen to place us in a very dark place to be light bearers. The spiritual battle rages for the hearts of people, and most here do not know the freedom available to them in Christ. This is not the easy path or the path of the “American dream.” Yet, I cling to the promises I read in God’s Word. He has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3–4). He has promised to never leave us (Josh. 1:5). His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9–10). He works in us with his strength (Col. 1:29).

I know these promises to be true. I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness time and again over the years of my life and most assuredly during our time in South Asia. In light of these truths, I will choose discomfort over disobedience any day. But I know my obedience will cost me, and I am struggling with that cost. This is not a short-term mission trip, and I do not have a return ticket. This is my life.

It’s not easy or predictable. It’s not necessarily the path to prosperity or the life I would have if I stayed in America. But the Lord promises joy—confidence and peace that the anchor of my life is firmly planted even when I feel tossed in violent waves.

I’m fighting for that joy. Somehow in the midst of all this, God still wants to use me. He gives me opportunities to serve him. His power is made perfect in my weakness. So, I’m praying for him to calm this storm and help me embrace this life again: to work to get our house livable, unpack the bags, learn more language, walk out into the crowded markets to buy food for my family, and engage with people around me.

I’m praying for the strength to allow God to work in my heart so I grieve the lostness of those all around me, to advocate fiercely for the peoples of South Asia, and to challenge the global church to partner with us until all peoples and places have had an opportunity to know the grace, mercy, and eternal hope that God alone gives.

My heart is torn at times, but I know that knowing Christ and following him is worth it all. I know that any tension I feel to be at “home” is a reminder that I will never really be home until I am standing before the Lord as he welcomes me to my eternal home. I know that day will come.

May we all stand firm in that hope. May we not waste one moment of this life on things that do not bring God glory. May we walk in obedience to him today—whether that be a quiet Tennessee countryside or a bustling South Asian city. May we continue to trust that he has placed us where we are and that his plans are good. May we lift his name high today. May his light in us be a beacon in this darkness calling people to him. And may all people choose Christ and take up their cross and follow him.

Originally published here.
Edited and reprinted with permission.

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Madison Strauder enjoys sharing stories from her travels around South Asia.