Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Sends The Missionary?

In response to Missions Agencies Send No One, posted yesterday on The Gospel Coalition, career missionary Ross Hunter (my dad) wrote these thoughts. Now I love Training Leaders International, (the author of the TGC post is their president), and I think Darren Carlson was writing toward a vision of what should be, not what is currently. So read the article, and then entertain an alternative perspective:

Who Sends?
Ross Hunter

"Missions agencies send no one." 

Practically speaking, in my experience it is not quite so simple. There is an interesting dynamic going on in the missionary sending process of this century. God is using the universal church (in many cases "churches", "individuals", and "sending agencies" of whom many rely upon Bible Schools and Seminaries outside the church for training), to send out his missionaries. Exceptions are recognized. 

The mission agency essentially sends the missionary, through the recommendation of an individual church who provide minimal support in relation to the overall support package, trusting individuals or other churches to provide the majority of their support.

Churches often work through a plurality of priorities and goals that vary from other churches, agencies and individuals who are involved, often times putting an emphasis on personal relationships. I believe agencies and churches try hard to work together, yet from the seat of this individual missionary, there is simply not the resources available or philosophy of sending, that enables a local body to send individual missionaries efficiently and quickly to the field.

It is a sobering fact that without the individual missionary enduring to raise support (in faith missions) the mission agency nor the sending part of the local church would exist, outside of international partnerships, which require similar funding. The missionary often enters a 1-3yr journey of life to sustain his physical needs while to seeking the provision to live overseas. While this may seem depressing to some, it actually works to strengthen the missionary's faith and test their endurance that one day will be tested on the field.

The wide sources of giving help missionaries soften disruptions in giving patterns when some have to withdraw their support. I think all this leads to one fact for today's church:

It is God who sends the missionary through the sending agency (which sometimes is the local church itself), or independently, and the [local] church's role has become one of affirmation and commissioning where they recognize, set apart and support in some fashion, missionaries for this calling.

It is also God who burdens the hearts of people to pray and give to the missionary.

And it is God who prepares the soil for people to hear the gospel.

How God uses the church is up to Him…

Yet on the other hand, it is man who limits their resources towards missions which affect the missionary's source of support, the people he/she is sent to reach, and the richness of their own faith when they do not obey and engage in God's heart for mission. In addition churches focused heavily on internal ministry do not have a missionary to encourage them and keep alive what God is doing overseas!

I often wondered what our church would look like if their staff and pastors were asked to raise their support from individuals and other churches in the same way they ask their missionaries to. In turn I often wonder what the mission field would look like if the church supported their missionaries like they do their staff and pastors! 

I have mixed reactions to the article. My conclusion is that we should take a balanced approach, encourage the church to engage, and look to God for the resources and direction in our journey to and on the field. 

Ross and Mary Hunter are career missionaries with Pioneers. They moved to Ecuador in 1994 and have served the Quichua people in Ecuador since then through discipleship and pastoral training. For more information on Ross and Mary's missionary service, visit www.EVministry.org

Monday, September 21, 2015

We Cannot Afford to Lose Our Missionary Heroes

Three missionary friends I greatly respect, who do not know each other, recently shared Amy Peterson’s “Farewell to the Missionary Hero”, published in Christianity Today on September 14th, 2015. I encourage you to read it. She has some great thoughts such as this one:

We need to hear stories about the real struggles and joys of missions work. These kinds of stories have the power to improve our missiology; unless we are honest about the challenges missionaries face, we won’t find realistic solutions. But if we are forthright about what the job requires, we’ll stand a better chance of attracting the right people and preparing them adequately for long-term service, rather than sending them home early, disillusioned and depressed.

In the article the author praises writings such as the following saying, “In unedited and unmediated forms, missionaries can tell their stories directly to a wider audience than ever before.” I hope to provide an alternative perspective than the one Peterson offers concerning missionary heroes.


The “Mighty Mo” (USS Missouri) dominates Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. I had never been on a battle ship before, and the feeling of standing next to the chains alone that secure the ship to the wharf makes one feel small. Very, very small. This is an historic ship. It was commissioned in June of 1944, and on September 2, 1945, the Japanese forces formally surrendered aboard the Mighty Mo. She was decommissioned in 1955 only to be commissioned a second time in 1986. She carried men into battle, carried president Truman and his family on two occasions, fought in the 2nd world war, provided support in the Korean war and the First Persian Gulf war, and was finally decommissioned for the second and final time in 1992, where she sits in Pearl Harbor today, a heroic reminder of the cost of war, and the bravery of the sailors who manned her station.
But she is not without her scars. Not without her casualties. A charred burn pattern plainly visible from the main deck has survived these 60 years, left from kamikaze pilot who flew his plane into the side of the boat. But she did not go under.

(photo found at ussmissouri.org)

I know of no heroic figure without their scars or failures. In fact, it seems to me that without some sense of scarring, one can scarcely be called a hero. For what is a hero, but someone who has stood up to insurmountable odds when others would faint away? One who has sacrificed much for the sake of others? I take issue with the key idea that Peterson presents.

I write because I believe one spiritual battle at stake with missions is one of ideas. The internet is filled with personal ideas, those worth listening to and those worth throwing out. The reader can decide what to do with this author’s. But the overwhelming majority of voices coming out of the mission field are ones like those heard by Peterson. I wish to propose several things, and one of them is that those who shout the loudest are heard the most. If you have a contingent, however large or small, of missionary individuals crying out louder than others, their voice is given credence as speaking for many. The same thing has happened in politics with the gay rights movement these last several years, and in the case of the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker back in 2012: crowds of angry citizens called for the end of Walker’s career, but in the end he was re-elected by more votes than he had back in 2010 when he was then elected into office! But the media attention was centered on the voices of the few, because they yelled louder than those who didn’t feel like yelling. The battle is one of ideas, and there are those who are comfortable and confident in missions, who look to missionaries who have lasted decades on the field and finished well as a visible picture of God’s faithfulness, will not be those to speak up because they’ve seen others make it through, and their hope is in the promises of God. Meanwhile in the American church we’re calling for the destructuralization of missions. I write for the church, who cannot afford to lose the heroes of faith we’ve found in overseas missionaries. Because when we’re all equal, and no one is great, what then are we to do other than be lost in our own mediocrity? I wish to propose two ideas in defense of the missionary hero. First, that it is short term missions which have created false expectations for many today—not missionary biographies, and second that a life filled with heartache, struggles, failure, and conflict doesn’t detract from heroics in Christianity.

Romanticizing Missions: Where does it come from?

For most Christians living in the United States, the missions experience is a romanticized one. But I would propose that Short Term Missions (STMs) trips, not missionary biographies, have re-defined the very essence of what missions means and what it means to be a missionary. One acquaintance asked us, “You’re long term missionaries? So how many trips do you take a year?” She was visibly shocked when we explained that we live in Costa Rica all year round. We met a woman at the mall here in San Jose—“it’s so good to hear English! I miss hearing English SO much! By the way, why are you here in Costa Rica?” “We’re missionaries here.” “Oh great! I am too! We’re here for eight days to pass out tracts in the park!” An eight day missionary, passing out tracts (in English-to Spanish speakers). Something has been missed. Or imagine our shock when a friend shared with us that they’re going into long term missions… for 12-15 months. I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether STMs are effective or not. Regardless, people who go on STMs trips actually never feel culture shock, because they never leave the honeymoon stage. 

STMs has promoted, I would argue, a romanticized view of missions far greater than any missionary biography. And if we lose our missionary heroes, who will we have left to point us to something greater, something longer, something requiring more endurance? Do we want to change the way that that we talk about missions, as Peterson says, reflecting Charmicael’s vision? I’m on board- but we should not start with dismissing those missionaries who are our heroes, rather with the way that we educate our brothers and sisters about missions. 

Every time someone gets on a plane for a week, or a month, or a year (yes, a year is still short term), they learn something about missions, be it true or not. Once we as a church have lived our own romanticized version of STMs, which is catered to the needs and life change of the goers, rather than the serving and building up of the national church, why then are we long term missionaries surprised that we must, as Michael Oh so aptly describes, "try to put on a good face, try to make a great powerpoint, tell great stories—those are our marching orders when we walk into your church—‘impress us or we might drop you!’”

STMs can give us a vacating mindset. Now it is common to hear someone who is going to ABC location, to accomplish a set task, “for three years”. It is easy to come and go. It is hard to stay when leaving is so easy. The attrition rate among missionaries is abysmal.  In my organization, “long-term” is considered two years or more. Two years. Two. One has to learn the language, the cultural dynamics, and more. What can we expect to actually accomplish in two years? We tend to spend at least that raising support to get to the field! One thing we should have learned from missionary biographies is that time is one sacrifice involved with the many others. Why are we so surprised that it seems like nothing is done in two, three, or four years? 

My parents have ministered among the Quichua (not Quechua. The reader will forgive the personal importance—in Ecuador, there are no Quechua; the Quichua do not have that ‘e’ sound in their dialect, and it is important to distinguish between the languages, and therefore people groups) in the Ecuadorian highlands for twenty-one years and running. And they’ll attest that it took at least ten of those to really begin to learn the culture. Most who have spent a decade or more with a people group  will say they are still learning. And yet, we have fields flooded with people expecting to arrive, accomplish a task, and leave, thinking that they’ll have the language and culture down sixth months to a year, or worse, that they don’t need those two things to accomplish that task. Anyone who has worked in a Latin, African, or Asian culture could attest to the negative impact that this in-and-out attitude has in the culture. This pressing need to see what missionary work can accomplish, I would argue, comes more from STMs today than missionary stories from fifty years ago. My heroes are people who started fifty years ago and who have pushed through these barriers for their love of God and love of the people they’d come to serve, and who laid down their lives for them, perhaps not in martyrdom, but in a lifetime of ministry to one people group. People like Bub and Bobby Borman who spent decades translating the Bible into Kofan, a people group of only several thousand, or Duane and Lois Holmes, who spent a lifetime in area of the jungle not accessible by bus or boat. Or Frank and Marie Drown whose mission to then prominent headhunters in Ecuador put their safety on the line day in and day out. All of these I personally met and whose lives are a great encouragement to me. Why do we rob others of this encouragement?

Scars Don’t Disqualify Heroes

Over the last couple years I’ve noticed the increasing trend of blogs and articles like, “10 Things a Missionary Will Never Tell You”. Increasingly, missionaries journal on their blogs sharing their hardships and struggles. I appreciate this, because many of these shared struggles are real in my life as well. It’s almost as if there’s one desperate voice calling out from the field to churches back ‘home’. It is a voice that the US church needs to hear, legitimize, and respond to in love. A call for transparency as we want people to try and understand what’s happening in our lives. But I wonder if sometimes we’ve taken it too far. Unless you’ve lived abroad, you just won’t understand. Period. Anyone who has lived abroad, on their own, for any significant period of time will agree. Before our deployment to Costa Rica, I had coffee with a gentleman who had lived in Western Europe for several years working for his business. “It’s a full time job just living,” he warned me, “Just to get through day to day life, and you haven’t even factored in the actual job yet.”
But why are we more focused on toppling pedestals because we feel guilty and humble rather than spurring on others in faith? In the post Peterson references by Rachel Pieh Jones, Jones writes:

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:
“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”
“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”
“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones. I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

Yes Ms. Jones, acknowledge it’s a sacrifice, but don’t shy away from the opportunity to share that you follow in obedience; and that is the essence of faith! Everyone needs an example, someone to look up to in something, and every person they look up to, apart from Christ, is going to be a sinner; is going to be someone who struggles; is going to be someone who fails today and will fail tomorrow. 

I lead an international youth group. One of the biggest burdens I carry is having a crowd of teenagers look up to me. How can I use that to challenge their walk with God? How can that influence be used to speak truth into their lives? Of course I’m not perfect, and I fight with my wife, and I yell at my kids, and there are stores I cannot go into because the way they function makes me furious at the culture and I’m afraid of what I’ll say if I frequent them again. But this honesty, these mess-ups, my scars don’t disqualify my students from looking up to other things in my life. 

People see that there is a step of faith that a missionary takes when they raise support and move abroad that they’re afraid they couldn’t take. It disrupts family, shocks church communities, it breaks apart friendships. If you’re on the receiving end of these well-intentioned comments about how much holier you are then they, it’s your primary job to point them to Christ. It’s not about the pedestal. If you can do it, they can do it. If Christ can do it in you, He can do it in them. That’s what draws us to heroes. If they can do it, maybe I can do it too. If they can have the courage to step out in faith and treasure Christ over life itself, maybe I can one day too. If God supplied for them, maybe he’ll supply for me. What Jim Elliot said, ‘he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’ takes on another dimension because he lived this. Sure he fought with Betty, sure he struggled with cultural disappointment and I guarantee there was mission stress. But do those things take away from the example he set? 

It strikes me how the book of Judges is filled with failures. People who did great things for God, like Samson and Gideon, but then had so much of their own failures to contend with. And many people today are quick to point out that these weren’t godly people. That they’re not the heroes we pretended they were in Sunday school. But I was struck last night when I turned to Hebrews chapter 11, and sure enough, there they are. Heroes because of their faith. The list in Hebrews 11 is astonishing. We remember the failures of Moses, Noah, Rahab and all of these people. But they are commended for their faith nonetheless.

Scars do not disqualify our heroes. They defined them. Because walking in faith seems to inevitably leave scars. Amy Carmichael understood this better than most. She wrote:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

I do not wish this to come across as an attack on Ms. Peterson. I would never do that. I have not even met her. I greatly respect Taylor University, and I have friends who teach English in Southeast Asia. I can tell from her writing that she has a love for truth and a love for missions. While I encourage the dialogue of taking short term missions off a pedestal and replacing it with reality, I believe that if we topple the proven heroes of the church in found visibly in missions, we will find ourselves in a despondent state with fewer, if not void of examples or inspiration. And we just cannot afford to do that.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sojourn Academy Commencement Address, Class of 2015

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

We divide time into three clear categories-past, present, and future. And I think that there are three types of people here today, each relating with one of these: The Dreamer, the Reminiscent, and the Reactor.

I’ve been each of these. In much of high school I was the Dreamer. I lived in the future. Dreaming of the mountains I would climb, the day I could drive on my own, what it would be like to have a girlfriend, and what I was going to do with my life. I would memorize entire outdoor catalogs and knew the order of the gear I would one day buy for my hobby. I dreamed about what life on my own would finally look like. What life would be like in college, and figuring where I would live afterwards. I was homeschooled, but I would spend an embarrassingly long time dreaming. My mom could never understand how I could just sit and stare at the blank wall above my desk for so long. I’m pretty sure she conducted social experiments on how long I’d sit there before she said anything!
But the future is vastly uncertain. For example, what was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? For me it was an astronaut!  I wanted to fly through the stars and walk on the moon! How was I supposed to know that something as inconsequential (yet daunting) as math would stand in the way of all of my flight plans?

No one really knows what the future holds. In James chapter 4, James calls people who plan their future with utter certainty arrogant, because they don’t factor in the variable of almighty God. The rich man in Luke 12 stored up grain and had plans for the rest of his life. But that night, Jesus says, his soul was required of him. He is called a fool because he relied on wealth to keep him alive. But just like that man, we have no idea when our souls will be required of us. We might make it to a ripe old age of 97. Or we might not make it past this year. The future is so uncertain.  
But the uncertainty makes the future exciting! The future is an untainted canvas where anything can happen, and, aside from the laws of physics, your imagination is the limit! I get dreamers. I love to dream. I dream still today. But dreamers are rarely content with today, because it’s tomorrow that holds excitement, intrigue, danger, and the ever-present hope that “tomorrow is gonna be better”. The dreamer lives in the future, not in the present or the past.

Ironically when I got to college, I abandonded dreaming and became the Reminiscint. I had just  spent four years dreaming about being done with high school, and now all I could think of was how much I missed being back home. So I lived out my first year of college with my thoughts in a different hemisphere. I would dwell both in my achievements and in my regrets.
Funny things, regrets. And how I can regret spending so much time thinking of past regrets. Don’t drown yourself in your past regrets. The only thing that can be done was finished 2000 years ago by someone much more powerful than you or I.

I stayed in touch with old friends via skype and instant messenger—anyone remember what that was? We’re talking back when facebook was only for college students. I would skype my friends, or call those who had come back to the US. I would lie in bed hours into the night just remembering and wishing with my whole being that I could go back and do it all over again.

It’s tempting to live in the past because it’s safe. It’s comfortable. And, as time moves on, we naturally begin to forget some of the difficulties in life, and so if it’s not regrets you’re dwelling in it’s a long list of good things. Safe and familiar things. Often, the past feels more like home than the present ever can be. But then a year later, when we move on, we find ourselves quite ironically thinking back to where we just had been and how much we loved it. It’s as if we can only find familiarity and comfort in the rear view mirror, in spite of the fact that we had just finish living the reality of that reflections. And during reality, we were too focused on looking at the previous reality, and so it is a cruel game we play with ourselves! I so get Reminiscents. I’ve lost myself in a world of memories against the backdrop of photographs and 90s songs. I’ve scoured the facial expressions in those photos, recalling the temperature, the emotions, and the security of it all. If you live in the past, you’ll never find a home, a place you belong. If you spend all your time keeping up with old friends you’ll never make new ones. We hate saying ‘goodbye’s, and only like saying ‘see you later’s. But if some connections aren’t severed, new ones can never be made. You’re not responsible for keeping up with every friend you’ve ever had. And you’re not letting them down by saying goodbye.

When life gets busy, and we ignore the past and the future, we face the danger of becoming the Reactor. The Reactor is constantly only reacting to the present, reacting to life as its happening. Like playing dodgeball without seeing who threw the ball; we only see the ball when it’s about to hit us—barely in time to leap out of the way. And usually this reacting is filled with mundane routine. Go to school, go to work, write a report, do chores, pay bills, toil through the day and sleep at night. The same routine every week. The sun comes up, and goes down, up, down, up, down. The rains come, and the rains leave. Birthdays and holidays come and go. Discomfort, uncertainty, stress of the to-do list, pressure from work, family, school, until we escape into slumber, only to awaken to all this the next morning. That isn’t living. It’s simply reacting. And I say this to myself before I say it about anyone else: He or she who lives in the present with no regard for past and no direction towards the future is an aimless fool.

Past, present, and future. To live in the past or furture, and only react to the present is to cheat yourself.

I think people tend towards one pendulum or the other—dreamer or reminiscent, future or the past. But my challenge to you is to live today. Don’t react, live. 

Today is the only time to effect one or the other. Today is the only time we can make memories. If you don’t get out and live, you’ll wind up reminiscing about the day would you think back to the good old days! “I remember my life in Costa Rica, when all I would think about was how good life was in the US. When I was there, I had a great time remembering what life was like back in Ecuador. Ahhh the good old days!”

Today is also the only time you can work towards your dream in the future. If all you do is plan and dream and plan and dream, you’ll wake up one day and find that all that planning and dreaming got you no closer to achieving your dream than running on a treadmill gets you closer to the finish line of the marathon. You might have a great technique and endurance, but if you never get off the treamill, you'll never get anywhere.

The present is the only time that you can make decisions that direct the future.

Hear Me:
History has much to teach us. And Proverbs tells us that only the fool refuses to remember. Our past, our memories, shape who we have become. Hold your memories dearly, but don’t live in the past.
Dreaming into the future gives direction and purpose. It is where ideas, innovations, and progress originates. It is where passion and hope are found. Dream big and daring dreams. Don’t let the realists and the pessimists stomp them out. But don’t live in the future, don’t live in your dreams—live your dream.

But today is the only time to act. The decisions we make today count. And every decision you make is made once—time only moves forwards. We only get one shot at this life.

So learn from your past. Aim for the future. And seize today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

10 Ways To Encourage MKs In College

Do you know any MKs in college? I'm thinking especially of those whose parents are still serving abroad. They're in a fairly unique position--and so are you. Here are 10 ways to encourage and bless MKs in college, and by extension, their families also who continue to serve the Lord abroad:

1. Discipleship. Live near the college? How about inviting them out for coffee every now and then and just talking about life. Invite them into your home for dinner. Just the simple act of sharing moments of life and being a stable friend is a huge encouragement. Maybe you don't live near the college, but near where they spend the winter break: no problem. try and connect once a week for the three weeks they're off. The impact might be greater than you think!

2. Adopt an MK for Holidays. Holidays can be very uncomfortable for MKs. Often times, they have nowhere to go, especially for shorter holidays, like Thanksgiving. Everybody is asking where everyone is spending the summer/winter/holiday... it can be hard to have nowhere to go. Maybe you know the missionary family, or maybe your son or daughter are friends are classmates/roommates with an MK. Ask them to join you for a holiday. They might already have somewhere to go... or you might catch the huge sigh of relief in their eyes when you ask.

3. Give Them Responsibilities In Church. Most MKs are no strangers to ministry. But many feel uncomfortable about the idea of serving in their church, because they still feel so out of place. Approach them and invite, nay, challenge them to get involved in a specific area or two. Make sure to give them some responsibilities for continued growth. This could be anything from helping with the children/youth, to greeting people as they come in, to folding bulletins, to being a part of the missions committee.

4. Offer Them A Job. MKs usually haven't had the chance to work on the mission field. Either visas don't permit, they pay is not worth the time (I was offered a job at somewhere around .50 an hour in high school), or its not an option for other reasons. Offer them a job mowing lawns, gardening, doing house chores, or if you own a business offer them a job doing small things around the shop. I worked for an elder in my church when I got back to the US who offered me a job mowing lawns at his rental properties. The responsibility was really good for me, and the money helped me get on my feet before school started.

5. Invite them on a family vacation. This takes #2 to a new level. It was so encouraging to go on a family vacation with family friends my first summer in school. With my family all abroad, they just adopted me as their fourth kid for the week and we road-tripped to New England!

6. An alternative to the above is to give them some airline miles. They can either fly to friends or maybe even home for a holiday. I was able to visit a good high school friend due to a close family friend giving me some airline miles one summer. What an enormous blessing came out of this gesture.

7. Store their stuff. One of the awkward MK moments is when you arrive on campus with more stuff than anyone else. In the summer there's nowhere to put it. The truth is that I couldn't leave stuff at home, or at my grandparents. Granted, some of it needs to be purged, but for MKs this can be a process; stuff can be what ties them to 'home'. If you have an empty closet, or a corner in your unfinished basement consider asking an MK if they need a place to store anything.

8. Send a care package. It doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy. Maybe it's just a box of homemade chocolate cookies, or a book you enjoyed. Maybe it's just a hand-written letter of encouragement (anyone would benefit from that!). When their parents live abroad, they're not expecting anything in the mail. So anything that shows you thought about them is a big deal!

9. Help orient them to taxes. I was up for two nights my first tax season trying to fill out a 1040, then switching to a 1040EZ. Then I  panicked when my numbers said that needed to send in a thousand dollars!? No, more reading and googling got me the right numbers and I found out that the government actually owed me a hundred bucks. If you can help walk them through a 1040EZ (instead of just sending it to H&R block) it gives them a good intro into the world of taxes.

10. Listen to their stories. It important for any MK at any life stage in every geographical location. Ask, and listen. Then ask to see picture. They might get teary eyed looking at them. Their sense of home is lost (if it was ever there). That's OK. Just ask to see more.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

10 Ways To Encourage MKs On Furlough

I recently read a great article full of practical advice on The Gospel Coalition's website, entitled 20 Ways To Refresh The Hearts of Missionary Saints On Furlough. Included in the article are some very practical, doable, and meaningful tips. When I was growing up my family experienced some of these -- such as people loaning us a car, storing some of our earthly possessions, and even a dentist who was an old friend of my folks who gave us free dental care. Not only were we blessed, but we felt very supported and valued by these things.

Today we work with a lot of MKs (children of missionaries) who go on furlough (itineration, home ministry assignment, however you've heard it) with their parents, and others who have returned to the States without the intention of returning to the field. We actually have a a few MKs on furlough now- shout out to Emma, Meghan, and Katie! Before we moved to Costa Rica, we had a number of questions on how churches can support their missionaries and MKs. I thought I would complement Jason Carters' post with some practical ways of caring for MKs on Furlough.

1. Ask them about their 'home'. For most MKs, "Coming home to furlough" has no meaning--it's an oxymoron. Many of them spend the majority of their lives outside of the US (or passport country) and they left home when their parents came home. Asking "do you miss home yet?" is a breath of fresh air to an MK in the midst of all the well-meaning "welcome home!"s.

2. Ask them questions in order to hear their stories... and really listen. Be prepared to listen for a long time. We MKs generally know and acknowledge the importance of what it is our parent's are doing in ministry. We're used to people wanting to hear about the latest trip to the indigenous community, and we're used to sitting silently and listening to the same stories for the 39th time. When around peers who can't relate to our experiences, we find there is often no interest in listening to our stories. Often, MKs feel bottled up because there's no one who cares to relate to us.

3. Take them to do something fun. In his article Carter suggests friends watching the children of missionaries to enable them to have a date. This is a huge double win, because small acts of kindness towards MKs makes them feel really valued. When I was 11, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois took me--not my family, not my sisters and I, just me-- to one of the university's small rec centers. He bought me a slice of pizza and we played pool (for my first time) and then I went home. Total hang-out time: maybe an hour, hour and a half. Recall time: 15 years and counting. It made a huge impression on me, that someone cared enough to do this with me. I was a person, not just the student of missionaries his church supported.

3. Take extra measures to make them feel like they belong in your community. Call them up and invite them personally to a youth event, tell them you've missed in their absence, have things for them to do when they arrive to help them fit in and belong from the beginning. If lead a bible study, invite them to the study; if you coach a sports team, invite them to practice; if you have a hobby, ask them to join you. This often takes consistency and preparation, but it can have some big payoffs.

4. If you have kids around the age of the MKs, invite them to do things with your family. Sports activities, picnics, concerts, etc.

5. Keep in mind that a fair number of MKs don't know the rules to many sports. Without making them feel dumb about the fact they don't know them, offer to teach them the rules to a sport you enjoy. Help them learn what a batting average is and what it means, or invite them to your fantasy football league and offer to guide them through it.

6. Work on a project together. This could be a ministry you're already involved in (Steven, would you like to help me run sound for worship practice on Saturday?), changing the oil in your car, starting a scrapbook, work in the garden, etc.

7. Once you get to know the MK, ask them to teach you something. It could be a hands on instruction (cook something, make a craft), or a hypothetical instruction (if I were to get on public transportation in your country, how would I avoid getting robbed?) It doesn't have to be specific to a foreign culture or ministry, just to their story.

8. Find out something they miss from their home (the field) and visit an international supermarket or hunt it down to surprise them! You'd be surprised what you can find if you look hard enough--especially if you live near an international community.

9. Send them a note or a care package as they travel. Or hand something off to their parents to give to them at a later time to avoid postage and timing. Extra hint: American candy is often coveted! (skittles, m&ms, snickers, milky way bars, nerds, twizzlers, etc.)

10. Don't let the brevity of time deter you. Trust me, MKs are used to making friends on short notice. It's a second nature survival skill that comes with the territory. If an MK is only at your church for the weekend, see how much time you can devote to spending with them and do it! But don't be discouraged if they've had their fill of saying goodbyes and aren't interested. It's not you they're rejecting, it's the pain of saying goodbye to friends over and over again that they're having to work through.

Next up: 10 ways to encourage MKs who have returned from the field (for good).