A furlough is defined as “a leave of absence.” To missionaries, the term “furlough” is known as the time to go “home.” There are many different views on what a furlough is, depending on what a missionary wants to accomplish while he is back in his homeland. Some look forward to a time of relaxing, while others look at it as a time of traveling. Some have a negative view of furlough, while others are planning their next furlough as soon as they get back from furlough. Some go every five years, some every three years, and others even more frequently.
Let’s get back to the definition of what a furlough is. It is a leave of absence. It is not a vacation! Furlough is simply time away from the field of service to give attention to another part of the ministry—the support team. Some missionaries try to find ways to avoid visiting their supporting churches because furlough is just too hard, too expensive, or involves too much traveling.
Missionaries must understand that furlough is a part of their ministry. It is not a burden. Yes, I understand more than anybody that trying to maintain two lifestyles on two different continents at the same time is difficult. Leaving behind the people, churches, and ministries that you have been close to for the last four or five years is not easy, but furlough is a part of this ministry. Accept it, embrace it, and look at it as an opportunity to be a blessing to others while trying to influence more Christians to surrender to the mission field.
Here are some ideas that will make your furlough more productive and exciting for your family and ministry:
1. Have a central purpose for your furlough.
I am amazed at how many missionaries return to the States for furlough without a plan or purpose in mind. With no purpose, there will be no goals reached. We have approached this fourth furlough of ours with three purposes in mind:
- Raise money for a truck for our new village ministries
- Raise money for new batteries and computers for our radio station
- Ask God to burden another missionary that will team up with us in our endeavors in Uganda
It is amazing what can be accomplished when goals are set in place.
2. Schedule all your meetings BEFORE leaving the mission field.
Keep in mind that most pastors in the states plan their activities a year in advance. You cannot wait until your arrival in the States to start setting up meetings. It is not fair to your supporting pastors to expect them to try to fit you in a schedule that is already packed. When furlough time is a year away, I begin scheduling our meetings. For our September 2016 meetings, I began calling pastors in September of 2015. Each month, I would schedule meetings for the following year of the same month.
By the time a missionary arrives in the states, every meeting should be set up. There are enough adjustments and things to take care of once you arrive stateside without adding another thing to do. Having your meetings taken care of relieves you of some of the pressure.
3. Prepare your display, video presentation, prayer cards, etc. BEFORE you leave the mission field.
In a day of technology and internet, there is no reason to not have all this done before you arrive stateside. Preparation is the key, once you have established your purpose, your display, video, and prayer cards should fall in line with that purpose. I recommend having a professional videographer film your presentation. Yes, this can be expensive, but this is an expense you can save for. In going from church to church representing the King of kings and the ministry He has called you to, everything should look as high class as possible.
4. Budget a furlough fund.
Every month during your time on the field, set aside money for furlough so that you have all you need to meet your furlough expenses. Missionaries should not have to ask their churches to help with plane tickets or a car purchase for a furlough that they knew was upcoming. These last five years we saved enough in our furlough fund to take care of our round trip tickets, make a professional video for our presentation, buy our prayer cards, order our display banner, and have enough left over to get us started on the furlough trail.
Maybe not every missionary can afford all of these things each furlough, but you should be budgeting for necessary expenses associated with your furlough. This takes planning and budgeting.
5. Include “vacation” amongst your meetings.
Furlough is not meant to be a vacation. However, there is no reason why a missionary can’t do some vacationing between meetings. Look for factory tours, caves, museums, and historical landmarks along your furlough trail to visit. Have fun and make memories. Furlough should be a joy and not a burden.
6. Take your family with you.
In every one of our furloughs, our family has travelled together. Though every family is faced with different situations, I strongly recommend missionary families traveling together. This is not only for accountability reasons, but the churches supporting you need to see your family, and your family needs to see who has been supporting and praying for you. Missionaries owe a great debt of gratitude to their supporters. Do everything possible to show your appreciation for their sacrifice.
7. Pray for your supporters.
Missionaries hand out prayer cards by the thousands, fully expecting people to pray for them. Have you ever considered praying for your supporters? My wife designed cards for each of our supporting churches that include photos of the church and the pastor, along with the name of the church and the pastor’s name. These are held together with a hinged ring, and during our devotions we pray for our supporters. Not only are we beseeching God on the behalf of our supporters, but we are also keeping the names of the churches and pastors fresh on the minds of our family.
A missionary’s ministry does not stop just because he is on furlough. Souls still need to be saved and lives need to be challenged for missions everywhere a missionary goes. Someone described furlough as a “necessary evil.” I understand what they mean, but let’s focus on the “necessary” part and not the “evil” part. Ask the Lord to give you a love for your furlough ministry because that is just what it is—a ministry.