Caring for Missionaries on Home Assignment
Home assignment (or furlough) is a period of time, generally a number of months, when missionaries visit their passport countries[i] and sending/supporting churches[ii] to reconnect and recharge before returning to cross-cultural service. This time is an opportunity for mutual blessing for missionaries and their sending/supporting churches.
However, this period often presents many competing priorities for missionaries. It is often a pressured time of meetings, visits and other commitments. It is not an uncommon requirement of missionaries to divide their time in Australia between a number of locations and supporting churches and individuals/families/groups.
While the whole period will not be a holiday, missionaries do need times of rest and revitalisation while they are in Australia. Ideally, when the time comes for your church’s missionaries to return to their cross-cultural contexts, they will leave Australia fit, relaxed, with strong and loving links with supporters, and knowing that your church is standing behind them finically and spiritually.
[i] Passport country/culture – The country on a missionary’s or MK/TCK’s passport. This is generally the location of the missionary/family’s sending church(es), and often (but not always) the place they will return to once their current cross-cultural service comes to a close.
[ii] Sending/supporting church(es) – the church or churches who have commissioned and sent out a missionary/family to serve as their representatives in another culture/location. Generally, a missionary/family will have one main sending church, which is often (but not always) the one they were fellowshipping with before leaving to begin their cross-cultural ministry. Supporting churches are other churches who have agreed to support the missionary/family financially and prayerfully. These churches are often visited by missionaries/families on home assignment.
1. Assisting missionaries in preparing for home assignment:
- Understand that missionaries come on home assignment with mixed feelings – looking forward to seeing family and friends, but also leaving other friends and colleagues behind.
- Understand that missionaries still carry responsibility for the work they have been doing, and may be apprehensive about changed situations in Australian culture and their sending churches.
- Reassure and encourage missionaries by having a link person contact them well before the home assignment is due.
- Inform missionaries of any changes that have happened since their last time in Australia, and work with them to find ways to deal with these challenges (e.g. changes in church structure/culture/leadership, national/state laws, technology, education, cultural norms, slang/jargon etc.).
- Communicate with sending agencies about the expectations of the agency regarding home assignment.
- Together with mission agencies and missionaries, help to organise practical needs, for example:
- Pick up from the airport
- Stocking the cupboards and fridge and/or have someone go shopping with them – the quantity and variety of foodstuffs available in Australian shops can be bewildering and overwhelming after living with less choice in another country
- The use of a car
- Schooling for children
- Extra financial gifts may be appreciated to help with these and other practical needs (e.g. clothing, a holiday)
2. Assisting missionaries in achieving the objectives of home assignment:
- Missionaries should seek to renew and strengthen relationships, including relatives (not all of whom may be Christians).
- Take care that the church does not monopolise the missionary’s time and cause family resentment.
- Missionaries need to reconnect with the local church family.
- Do not put them on a pedestal – missionaries are normal people serving in a difficult task in the power of God.
- Provide opportunities to serve in the local church beyond merely reporting on their work overseas.
- Provide time to fellowship and relax with the church family.
- Allow missionaries to both share with existing supporters[i] and build new friendships and partnerships.
- Include the children of missionaries – encourage other children to engage with them, and value their cross-cultural experiences.
- Home assignment is the ideal opportunity to attend to needs which can often be better and more cheaply met in Australia (e.g. medical, optical and dental care; upgrading of professional skills).
- Help schedule these things in early so they do not get squeezed out later.
- Assist missionaries with finding quality professional help and making appointments, remembering that missionaries may not know about changes in services or processes.
- Home assignment is also a time for spiritual and physical refreshment.
- Bless missionaries by providing the time, and perhaps the finances, to attend conferences, courses or retreats.
- Missionaries may have pastoral needs, so provide unhurried time with pastoral staff (this may be difficult if adequate pastoral contact has not been maintained between home assignments).
- During home assignment, missionaries, church leadership and sending agencies may take time to strengthen partnerships by conferring on policies and relevant issues.
- Also organise a time of in-depth sharing with church leaders and the mission committee to enable everyone to catch up with changes and gain deeper insights into their cross-cultural work.
[i] Supporters – individuals or churches who have explicitly committed themselves to financially and/or prayerfully support a particular missionary/family.
- Ellen Livingood. “The Home Assignment Triangle.” Catalyst Services Postings, Vol. 3, Iss. 5, 2008.
- Ellen Livingood. “When Missionaries Come To Town: How to make the most of home-assignment visits.” Catalyse Services Postings, Vol. 10, Iss. 4, 2015.
- “Missionary Care Services: How specialized coaches and counselors supplement church and agency care.” Catalyst Services Postings, Vol. 7, Iss. 10, 2012.