Helping Missionaries at Home
By Carl Blackburn
After spending three to five years on a mission field, the missionary returning home faces many needs. These needs fall into five broad basic categories: physical, mental, social, spiritual, and material. The extent of the needs of a missionary on furlough will largely depend on the conditions on the field of service, such as whether it is tropical or temperate, or primitive or modern, if he has had sickness, if he is changing jobs, countries, etc. Such factors should be kept in mind when considering the needs of a specific missionary.
The first physical need is that of rest. A missionary may not realize how physically exhausted he is until he “unwinds” on the plane coming home. If he comes from a slow paced culture, the American “rat race” may be trying. He may need a week or two to get some rest before undertaking any public ministry.
The missionary will need physical and dental check-ups. He may need to travel to a larger city to get special examinations if he has lived in a tropical climate. A routine check might not find tropical diseases or parasites. The church could help in extra expenses involved such as travel, housing, and medical costs.
Mentally and emotionally, the missionary has to make up for lost time. Some friends may have died while he was away. Teenagers and other friends have grown up, have married, and now have children. Acceptance and adjustment to these new situations must be made.
The missionary may be behind on some of the “news” of what has happened since he has been away. Such topics as drugs and immorality may have a new dimension and he may not be able to express opinions about such things until he has more information on current conditions. We at home do not see the degrading inroads made into our radio and TV in regard to the music and language, but the missionary certainly will. These may come to him as real surprises. He may come home to a reverse “culture shock,” and it may take a while to adapt again to his home culture.
For the most part, missionary work is a lonesome ministry, especially if he has been working in a strange culture and is beginning a work in an unfamiliar language. Make sure that the missionary is included in various social events in the church, and that he is invited into the homes. A “welcome home” reception would be a good way for a missionary to become re-acquainted with the people in the church and to meet new folk.
A missionary may have a problem with the “indifference” on the part of the majority of the people in the American church. To him, missions is a “total involvement,” but to most of the home church folk, missions seems to be simply a “token involvement” if indeed it is an involvement at all. He may even begin to doubt the sincerity of those who promised faithfully to pray for him. The furlough could become a wedge to drive the home folk and the missionary further apart. This automatically leads to the fourth category.
This may actually be the first and most important of missionary needs. He hasn�t had the chance for years to benefit by church services, Christian radio, Bible conferences, and fellowship with Christian friends. (Sending books and tapes to the field would help a missionary�s spiritual growth and enjoyment.) The missionary on furlough should be able to enjoy church services, especially just after returning.
The church could send him to a family Bible camp or Bible conference for a week of physical rest and spiritual refreshment. Two suggestions are Founders Week at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and the annual missionary conference at the Calvary Independent Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Missionaries go to the Calvary church for a time of fellowship with little or no responsibilities. Another suggestion is to have a church member give the missionary family the use of a cabin or R.V. for a week or two for a real vacation.
As the missionary comes home on furlough, three basic questions run through his mind, and in most cases, cause him some great concern. The three questions simply stated are: “What will I wear? Where will I live?” and “What will I use for transportation while at home?” Keep in mind that missionaries on furlough have many expenses that may strain his budget. Extra donations may be appreciated. Financial help in obtaining new equipment or the replacing of old items would be welcome.
“What will I wear?” The clothing that the missionary took to the field four or five years ago has long since been worn out, outgrown, or simply is out of style by the time he returns for furlough. It may mean several wardrobes for a family.
The church could have clothing showers for the missionaries or have a special fund to help them buy clothes. Winter clothing may be a one season need. People may have extra winter outfits that can be given. This could be done with the use of a Missionary Supply Room (p. 171).
“Where will I live?” A single missionary could likely live with immediate relatives. A family would need a separate home. It should be near the home church, have suitable schooling available, be handy to shopping centers, etc.
Some churches have a “missionary home,” furnished and available for missionaries on furlough. A church might be able to supplement the rent of a house and people could loan furniture to the missionaries for use while on furlough. Having a missionary living near the church is a help to the program of the church, especially in relation to missions.
“What will I use for transportation?” A missionary travels many thousands of miles while on furlough, so he needs reliable transportation. Transportation can be made available in several ways.
Car purchased: The car could be bought by the church, loaned to the missionary, and sold when the missionary returns to the field. A vehicle might be purchased that the missionary could take back to the field.
Car leased: The church could pay the monthly rental and the missionary pay the driving charges.
Car loaned: A person owning two cars may be able to loan one to the missionary. It might be this person’s “second” car, if not a junker, or it might be the “first” one.
The Missionary Guest
Having a missionary in one’s home can be a blessing to the whole family. The home setting allows the family to see that the missionary is a human being like everyone else. The relaxed atmosphere allows the missionary to be himself. Lasting friend ships are often established. Some missionaries prefer to stay in motels but most prefer to stay in private homes. It is generally not a good idea to have a missionary stay in a home where a spouse, husband or wife, is unsaved and perhaps antagonistic to the gospel. Another suggestion is that the host should be informed about the missionary before he arrives.
The Biblical rationale here is the “prophet’s chamber” provided for Elisha. This might be located in the parsonage or one or two members may have a room that could be used by the missionary.
Excerpted from Missions On The Move In The Local Church By Carl Blackburn
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”