The following article is part two of a two-part series on the benefits of furlough. You can read part one here.
The Benefits to Others
We have looked at the benefits of furlough to the missionary’s personal life. Now I want to look at the benefits to those outside the missionary’s immediate family.
4. Furlough allows the missionary to reconnect with his extended family.
Jim Eliot said, “The cross of Christ falls hardest on the home,” and the departure of a missionary family costs their extended family the most. I once asked Bro. Dean Hamby, assistant director of Macedonia World Baptist Missions the following question: “Is it harder going to the mission field yourself or having your children and grandchildren leave you and go to the mission field?” Having been a missionary in Africa and then having had his children go as missionaries, he could speak from experience. He said, “Saying goodbye to your children as they go is harder than being the one who goes.”
When the missionary and his family leave for the field, it is difficult, but they have the field, the work, and the new culture to look forward to and to get involved in. The parents and relatives of missionaries stay behind and life goes on as normal. They don’t live on the mission field and don’t know the new believers that get saved. They often struggle to appreciate why their family “loves” being on the field.
Furlough is good because it benefits parents, grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins, and other relatives in the follow ways:
• Helps them know better how to pray for their family who are missionaries.
• Reconnect them to the missionary family and helps build stronger bonds.
• Allows them to know that, though they must take second place to God’s will and plans, they do have a place and are loved by the missionary family.
• Allows them to invest in the missionary and the missionaries children.
• Makes it easier for them to allow the missionary family to go when they know that they will return every so often.
• Encourages them to want to go visit as they develop a growing relationship with the missionary family.
From personal experience, it is not always possible for our extended families to come to visit us on the mission field, and they really appreciate it when we make the effort to come to see them on furlough. Our children have enjoyed getting to know their cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. We have had the opportunity to give a presentation of our ministry to several groups of our relatives, and we look forward to spending more time with them while on furlough.
You may think this is a small thing and should not factor into the missionaries priorities. Let me encourage you to talk to a grandma or grandpa who has grandchildren on the mission field. After a short conversation, you will find out how much it means to them to see their grandkids every couple of years.
Yes, we need to be willing to put Christ first and to forsake all to follow Jesus. However, that does not mean that we cannot make time to honor our father and mother, to spend time with relatives, and to seek to involve them in the call of God on our lives.
5. Furlough is an opportunity to bless those who have supported you during your time abroad.
One huge reason to take a furlough is to be a blessing an encouragement to those churches and individuals who have supported the missionary. Reporting in to supporting churches is Biblical. Acts 14:26-28 says, “And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they (Paul and Barnabas) had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples.”
After Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey, they came back to Antioch. The church there had sent them out, so they returned and gathered the church together. They recounted all that God had done with them and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed there a long time and eventually went back out on their second missionary journey.
Here are some benefits of furlough for the missionary’s supporters:
A. Shows gratitude
It is easy for the missionary to take for granted the faithful prayers and support of God’s people. When he returns back to those supporting churches and gives an update on the ministry, he can express his appreciation for their faithful support. Paul was grateful for those who sacrificed to make his ministry possible.
He says in Philippians 4:10,15-18 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again… Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
While we have been on furlough, I have enjoyed meeting so many faithful people who have come up to us and told us how they have prayed continually for us. Many still have our original prayer card in their Bible from over ten years ago. Some have told us how they have worked extra jobs just to be able to give to missions. Those kind of faithful, sacrificial givers are doing what they do for the Lord, but it is so good to be able to see them and to say “Thank You.”
P.S. Just a note on this point. It might not be possible to visit every supporting church on every furlough. Missionaries should let their churches know that they are willing to come by, and churches should seek to work to have the missionary in when it works for him and when he is the area. Our supporting churches have been very understanding about this, for which we are very grateful.
B. Encourages supporters to continue
Sometimes, out of sight, out of mind happens when it comes to missions support. Prayer letters, email updates, and social media are great tools to keep your ministry before your supporters, but there is nothing like the personal touch.
When supporting churches see you after 4, 5, 6, even 7 years, they are encouraged by the updates, the souls saved, and the work going forward. Your visit can help them to see that their investment is not in vain, that fruit is abounding to their account, and that they should keep on being faithful.
C. Connects the missionary to new supporters
Just as things tend to only get more expensive in your life, so they seem to only get more expensive on the mission field. Inflation, exchange rates, family growth, ministry growth, lost support, and other factors can cause a missionary to lose as much as 25% of his support in one term.
If he does not replace that lost support and raise additional support for future needs, he will soon get to the point where he has to come home or endure great hardship on the field.
Many missionaries I meet are living on the same amount that they left for the field with many years earlier. They are limited in how they can provide for their families and what they can do in the ministry because they simply do not have enough support. You can only cut so many things before you must increase your income.
Furlough is a great opportunity to go to new churches and to seek to raise new support. Missionaries should make it a goal to get into new churches so that they can be able to continue to be effective on the field for many years to come. Churches should also be willing to have in missionaries on furlough and take them on for support. It makes no sense to send out a missionary under-supported. If he is good enough to send to the field, then he is good enough to give enough support to actually be able to do the ministry and make a real difference.
D. Reminds supporters of the need and their responsibility
Finally, furlough benefits the supporters because it reminds them of what it is all about. A missionary on furlough should help connect them to the field, to the need, to the people on the field, and to their responsibility to reach others for Christ.
Sometimes, churches can lose sight of why they are doing what they do. They can wonder why they are sending “all that money” oversees. Furlough is a good opportunity to say, “It is worth it, keep on giving, keep on praying, you are on the right track.”
What other benefits you can see for the missionary’s supporters?
6. Furlough is beneficial for the nationals back in the mission field.
Up to this point, all the benefits I have mentioned have been fairly obvious, I think. But this final benefit is one that I only realized recently. I was talking with missionary Keith Shumaker about furlough one time. I asked him while he was on furlough whether it was difficult to be away from the field. He said that they missed being in Burkina Faso, but he said that it was the best thing for the pastors and the churches there.
While I have been away from Northern Ireland, I have learned what he meant. I have found that, if taken at the right time, furlough is one of the best things for the mission work. Though on the surface, taking a furlough may seem like a step backward, it can be used to really help the mission work on many levels.
First, when the missionary goes on furlough, national leaders are given the opportunity to really step up and lead in a much greater way. All throughout a missionary’s ministry, he should be training leaders and allowing them to lead. When a missionary begins to prepare to leave, he has a reason and motivation to get many leaders in place to do things while he is away. When the missionary does leave, the national leaders have to step up and do many things that they might previously have relied on the missionary to do. As long as he is there, there may be this unwritten rule that things will always just fall back on the missionary. When the missionary is physically absent, others have to step up. In Acts 14:23, the Bible says, “And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Second, when the missionary goes on furlough, the local church gets stronger. Most likely, attendance at the church will go down, but in this time of transition, it will become obvious which of the folks in attendance are really committed. The members will have to band together, take up the slack, and come to terms with why they are really a part of the church. Are they there for the missionary or for the cause of Christ? The church will also develop confidence and trust in other leaders in the church. They will see that God is using men from their own country to make decisions, preach, and lead the church. This is a crucial step for the church to become indigenous.
Third, when the missionary goes on furlough, more laborers can be recruited. On almost every mission field, the harvest is greater than the missionary can handle on his own. While he travels to churches and presents the need, he can recruit laborers to come to help him. He should be training national workers, but he can also invite others to get involved in short and long-term mission work. We see that every time Paul and Barnabas went back home they returned to the field with other laborers to help them – Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, etc.
Fourth, when the missionary goes on furlough, he has time to plan for the future. Furlough is a great opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished, what needs to be accomplished, and how best to accomplish the task. When the missionary returns to the field, he will hopefully have a better idea of what he wants to accomplish and how to work smarter and more efficiently. Sometimes, missionaries get so bogged down in day-to-day activity; they don’t really plan and reach out. Furlough should be a time to think about how more churches can be started, more men can be trained, more countries can be evangelized, and more laborers can be sent out. If a missionary can develop a better plan for reaching the world while on furlough, then the furlough was a huge benefit to the work.
I have found furlough to be a great help to our work. Though our church has decreased some in attendance and offerings, we have seen men step up and lead. We have seen the church grow in commitment and strength. We have been able to present the need for many more laborers, and we have been able to take time to plan and strategize for the future. I am excited about returning to the field soon, God willing. I pray that God will do great and mighty things for His honor and glory.
What other thought or questions do you have about furlough? When do you think is a good time to take a furlough? When should a missionary not take a furlough?