Starting Again

Do you remember that first month out of school, or out of your parent's house?  "Gotta find a job! Gotta find a place to live! Gotta get a car!" That scramble you went through to get your adult life started.  Maybe you kept the car you had in college, maybe you didn't.  Maybe you had headhunters calling you for jobs, maybe it took you a long time.  But that initial scramble of trying to get your life in order, is something most of us never forget.  If life went on the path that the storybooks tell us it will, you'll never have to repeat that time.  But some do.

Missionaries being one of them.

Every few years, missionaries need to start their lives over.  It's called Furlough, or 'home leave'.

People who don't fully understand 'furlough' hear that word and think 'vacation'.  But for those who have lived it, most of them think 'diffcult and costly time of total chaos'.

On THIS end of the globe, one weeks before furlough is known as chaos week.  Transition is hard in every way.

The purpose of furlough is not to take a vacation but to re-equip ourselves to return to the field:

-financially - Many missionaries lose some percentage of that personal face-to-face contact that encouraged churches and individuals to financially partner with them.  Furlough is a time to re-connect with old partners, communicate what you've been doing, and meet new partners to match the rising cost of living.  (no one gives you a raise, you have to RAISE your own support).

-emotionally - Many missionaries need a recharge of their passion, their vision and energy.  They've just said goodbye to a difficult lifestyle, but also to dear friends and the people they were ministering to.  They need a safe environment to recharge emotions, but because of culture-shock and the fact that in the last few years their home-country has changed and friends once integrated, have learned to adapt without you in their lives, often then find that the grass is not always greener, and can leave you feeling deflated.

-spiritually - there isn't a lot of good pastoral teaching in some mission fields.  Also often several people are coming off the field with questions about God's direction for their life.

-physically - it's a time to visit doctors and dentists and chiropractors, to purchase tools, housewares and other items unavailable.

-relationally - seeing friends and family is a boon to the psychy, and for me, the best part of furlough.  It can also be tough to adjust to the realization that children grow up fast, people age, and you've missed out on many things (as is evident by it taking a while to understand all the conversational context.)  thankfully though, this is one area in which you don't really have to "start over" because family and friends tend to pick up where they left off.

Imagine your life if you could not shop. Imagine that your family decided to put off all non-grocery purchases for 1 year. Imagine that you could not purchase 1 new thing for your family for an entire year. No new shoes for your kids, no new pants for you.  No new socks, no new sheets.  No new anything. Now imagine the long list of things you'd have to buy after that year were over.  You'd have an exhaustive list of 'must gets' and 'want to gets'.

Imagine in that same year you never went to the doctor or the dentist.

Suddenly your next year would be full of activity.  You'd be a flurry of shopping and visitation.  It would be an expensive year for you.

Imagine during that same year, you didn't see some of your closest friends.  But then, suddenly you could!    You'd want to spent a lot of time with them, go out to eat, etc.  Only you have to decide... 'go out to eat, or afford socks.'

Every 3-4 years, missionaries become that broke, just-out-of-college student.  They have debt because they had to fly back to the U.S.  They have to restart with a job (raising support), a place to live, and car. 

Does any of that sound like a vacation?

Imagine you're the kind of person who doesn't like spending money, nor likes shopping.  Imagine you're the kind of person who goes a little crazy if they don't have their regular job to go to every day. 

Does that sound like a vacation?

It simply isn't a vacation.  There are definite perks to being in the U.S. , but it isn't all perks.

So the next time you meet someone on furlough, instead of responding with the attitude 'oh, how great for YOU! Are you enjoying the break?"  perhaps respond with "you must be exhausted, is there anything I can do to help?"

I'll tell you, finding someone who understands your plight in this world, is like gold.  It's like a calming pool of clean water, refreshing. 

I write this blog entry, as always, to help people who desire to understand... understand what it is like being a missionary.

And I encourage questions and curiosity.  Who knows what God will one day convince you to do?