— by Rev. Roy S. Askins
In my childhood, I vaguely recall missionaries returning home for what we called furlough. Missionaries would travel home, present at congregations, and spend time renewing relationships with family, friends, and supporters in their home country.
Furlough is from the Dutch verlof, modelled on German Verlaub. It’s evidently related to leave.
The term furlough has passed from common usage. Merriam-webster reports that furlough’s “popularity” is in the “bottom 10% of words”; it’s not winning the vote for prom king of the dictionary any time soon.
The word now has connotations with layoffs, being discharged and—surprisingly—getting axed. While I’m not sure if it’s related, many churches now use other terms instead of furlough. While the Thesaurus lists “rest and recreation” as a potential alternative, that conjures images of a missionary on a beach sipping martinis. Not the best image to put out there.
In The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we have opted for the term “Home Service.” While I prefer old, unpopular words, Home Service serves much better in this case. When missionaries return home, their service does not end.
Missionaries share the Gospel on and off the mission field. Every aspect of mission work, even newsletters and thank yous, should direct the hearers and readers to Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world. A fellow missionary once exhorted us in the Asia region, “Are you proclaiming the Gospel, even in your newsletters?”
So, when a missionary returns for Home Service, he’s not returning home simply to reconnect with family and friends and get some R&R. He also tells stories about what Christ is doing in his area. He seeks every opportunity to share Christ and Him crucified. And, for those on the NSM model, he builds and strengthens the support network enabling him to proclaim Christ in foreign lands.
Here are some ways Missionaries continue to serve even at home.
Reconnecting with Supporters
LCMS missionaries operate on the Network Supported Missionary model. This means that missionaries tend to build direct connections with many supporters, and their supporters are excited about the opportunity to hear about what they have supported.
This is a good thing!
When congregations know their missionary and the work he’s doing, they connect with the work in that area. They pray for that missionary; they call and sometimes visit. This bond is not simply a bond with an impersonal mission organization, but a bond with a living human being. Through this missionary, the congregation walks with him in sharing the Gospel in foreign lands.
When a missionary returns on Home Service, he reconnects with supporters and brings with him the stories of Christ’s work. His supporters and partners connect even more deeply with Christ’s work through him.
Strengthening the Network
This fall when I return for home service, I’m hoping to reconnect with supporters and strengthen the network of those who already support the LCMS in sending my family abroad. While our account has finally recovered after 2.5 years (praise the Lord), I want to strengthen the network for the coming years.
So, I will reconnect with some congregations I have already visited, but I’ll also present at new congregations in San Francisco/Central California, Massachusetts/New England, and the Carolinas. These new connections will set our network on a stronger footing for the years to come.
Ideally, I will be able to visit at least two congregations a day. So, there are a lot of spots to fill. Please contact me if you want me to visit. This is the reality for many missionaries, so if I’m not coming to your area, please contact LCMS Missionary Services, and ask who might be visiting your area.
Proclaiming the Gospel
As I noted above, the proclamation of the Gospel never stops. When I visit congregations, I’m often asked to preach on Sunday. While I might have great stories to tell about people in Asia, the best story ever told is the story of how God created a world He knew would reject Him, and then in that moment of rejection, He promised a means by which they would be reconciled to Him. And then He did what He promised. He sent His Son to die for His enemies.
While not every missionary has the opportunity to preach, every missionary will seek to make this story a central part of his presentation.
Rest and Relaxation
While Home Service for missionaries does not primarily consist in spending time on the beach sipping a martini (is that what you are supposed to sip on the beach?), it might. Many missionaries often describe Home Service as one of the most difficult aspects of their work. They are delighted to reconnect with friends and family, but the combination of frequent visits, presentations, and conversations, along with concern over the mission work they’ve left behind, often leave missionaries drained and exhausted.
And yet, rest, relaxation, and reconnecting with family and friends is part of Home Service. My family and I will return next Spring, and we will spend time with friends and family who we won’t have seen face-to-face for over 3.5 years. The value of the opportunity for grandparents to spend time with grandchildren, for cousins and aunts and uncles to say hello, eat together, and worship together cannot be overstated.
It might even include some time on the beach.
Whether you call it furlough or Home Service, missionaries often return home to reconnect with family, friends, and supporters. They will strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. And they’ll find time to rest and relax in there as well.
I encourage you to ask your pastor about what opportunities you might have to host a missionary returning for home service. If I’m not in your area, contact [LCMS Missionary Services] (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask about missionaries returning for home service in your area.
If you do have a missionary on Home Service visiting your congregation, praise the Lord! If you’re interested, I created a generic congregational newsletter that you can use in your congregation to explain the difference between the initial NSM network building phase and Home Service. Please download the newsletter from the link below.
And, while you’re at it, sign up for the Askins in Asia newsletter to get our updates and links to the latest articles.