Some think that a missionary on furlough is not doing missionary work and is on a vacation of several months.
The reality is that missionaries are usually quite busy on furlough, and without furlough could not raise support to be on the field. Missionary work is not only gospel preaching. Consider that for every soldier on the battlefield, there are several staff that make his service possible.
Mission organizations find it difficult to raise support for their operational costs. But without administration, there would be no ministry training, Bible or book publishing, or system of missionary support. Without missionary representation you would not know what ministry exists, you would get no report of the results, you could not choose among various opportunities to support, you would have no connection with Christians in other countries, and few people would ever feel a pull to become missionaries. Without mission representation, the mission would not exist, and nobody would be sent to the field. Much of this work is done by a missionary on furlough.
A missionary comes home on furlough. Soon we hear, “We want to support missionaries on the field.” That worker’s support drops, sometimes dramatically – but his financial needs go on! When you choose whether to support him, please consider:
(1) Deputation is a vital part of missions. People want to hear a missionary who is fresh from the field. Many of us were first called to missions in a deputation service.
(2) The worker on furlough visits dozens of churches, speaks in many services, travels thousands of miles. He’s not vacationing – he’s working hard!
(3) The missionary’s salary still must be paid. He must feed and clothe his family and pay his bills. EFM pays him a monthly salary. Imagine the mission’s financial bind when people stop sending support.
(4) Even the missionary’s rest and time with family are vital. Working in a foreign culture and language is stressful. Refreshment of mind and spirit is essential for his return to the field.
Missionaries are partners with the local church in spreading the gospel to new places. The church sends them out to establish other expressions of itself. The church supports them so that they are free to do that work. Our giving should start with a relational partnership.
A furlough is a period when missionaries are able to regroup, reconnect, and reevaluate. It’s a change of pace and place, but is not a “vacation.” There is plenty of catching up to do during their time “back home.” If we are truly supporting our missionaries as relational partners, we will do what is best for them. We should see our support during furlough as an investment in their long-term vitality. Cutting off our support during that time will likely require them to find other employment and hinder them from continuing their vital work. Supporting them because we care should be a priority.
Yes, supporting missionaries on furlough is important. But missionaries need to serve under a reputable mission organization with solid accountability. Missionaries on furlough should be required to pursue refreshment and rest during the first weeks. This should be supervised by the parent mission organization so that true refreshment is secured. If rest and refreshment aren’t an important focus of furlough, burn-out and disillusionment often result. Refreshment – focusing upon spiritual, matrimonial, family, and emotional health – lays needed foundations for support-raising and returning to the field.
Furlough is a time of preparing for further foreign service, and during this time, financial support is necessary. Yet, in many cases, as soon as the “missionaries’ feet” hit American soil, financial support almost disappears overnight. Let’s back our missionaries in prayer and finance, both on furlough and on the field, helping them do their jobs well!
To many supporters, furlough is when missionaries come home to rest, a year-long vacation. While furlough can provide much-needed rest to weary missionaries, its design is farther reaching than that. To be clear, missionaries don't get year-long vacations during a furlough. They work for their mission agencies throughout their furlough. They are assigned responsibilities by their missions’ administration teams. Whether working in the home office, traveling to represent the mission, recruiting potential missionaries, or raising needed funds for the work, their assignment at home is just as important as their ministry on the field.
A terminology change might help motivate supporters to continue giving when missionaries come home temporarily: Instead of bringing missionaries home "on furlough," why not call it "home assignment?" Supporting missionaries while they are on home assignment is both right, and essential, if they and their organizations are to survive and thrive.