Even after living in a foreign country for years, for most missionaries that I know, life remains stressful. Kids have different challenges than adults and depending on when they arrived on the field, they are often able to adapt and assimilate better than their parents. One of the girls’ teachers at school recently asked both my daughter (her student) and my wife if we all liked living in Portugal.
Our daughter said yes. My wife said yes. The teacher believed my daughter. She didn’t believe my wife. My daughter has lived more than half of her young life in Portugal. Nina? A small fraction of hers.
There has been much more of an “adoption” of the Portuguese culture by our kids and much more of a retention of the American culture for both Nina and me. But every few years we load everyone up and spend a few months in the land of our birth. We leave home to go…home. If it’s sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Exciting. Comforting. Scary. And, yes confusing.
The first time we returned for furlough or home assignment, our four-year-old son cried every time we left anywhere. When we left a church to go to our temporary home, he cried. When we left Nanny’s house to go to Gramps’ house he cried. When we left Nanny’s house to go to Mimi’s house, he cried. He just wanted to go home. He wanted to go home—to Portugal. Everything in America was big and loud and scary and different.
What’s all of that got to do with how the local church can minister to a family on home assignment? It’s got everything to do with it. Missionaries—specifically missionary kids desperately need to be ministered to while their parents temporarily serve in an environment familiar to them. Without proper preparation and careful attention, home assignment can be much more stressful on the kids than on their parents, and it’s always a blessing when someone wants to invest in your kids by ministering to them.
What exactly could that look like?
kat via flickr
Overlook their oddities
By rule missionaries who have spent any significant time in a cross-cultural setting appear a little odd. Often times it’s worse with their kids. They may sandwich a random Swahili word right in the middle of an English sentence and expect you to fully understand what they are talking about. Their clothes may seem terribly strange and out of style. They could ask strange, simple questions that everyone knows. They’re not idiots. They just been living under a proverbial rock for the last three years. They probably haven’t seen that commercial or heard that new song. So, you can minister to them by completely overlooking all of these things. You can prepare your youth group or Sunday School class in advance that some of these things may happen. Tell them to forget it and move on. As adults, you can act graciously and try to prepare your kids to do the same. You can encourage your teenagers to look for at least one common point of interest and major on that rather than maximizing how different they might be. Try not to concentrate on the great cultural gulf that exists between the American kids and every other foreign culture on the planet. Personally, I have no problem if you think that missionaries are super weird as long as you understand that there are reasons for that and try to treat me and my family accordingly.
Let them rest
Missionaries need to decompress. While they are on home assignment they need to take in all the sights and sounds at their own pace. They need to slowly work back into hustle and bustle of American culture. The tendency is for friends and family to fill their calendar with all the dinners and celebrations that they have missed since their last home assignment. Don’t find it strange or take it personally if they politely decline an invitation here and there. When some families make it back to the States they are emotionally drained and physically exhausted. Let them be a family. While it varies greatly from family to family, the truth is that some missionaries need Granny to take the kids for a while. Some missionaries prefer to spend more quality time as a family unit, relaxing and getting refreshed for the return to the field. Ask questions. Respect their privacy and don’t get offended if they seem not to have all the time you’d like for them to have…for you.
Include them in activities
While it may seem like a contradiction to say that you could minister to a missionary family by letting them rest but also by including them in activities, it’s not. An honest, humble invitation expresses your desire for them to join you, but also your understanding if they don’t. My kids have very few friends in the States. At their age it is tough for them to “live in both worlds” and to maintain true long distance relationships. So when a cousin calls with an invitation to hang out, it means a the world to that awkward little missionary girl who doesn’t really fit in in America, even though she’s American. Low-pressure coffee dates, an afternoon little league game, and a mid-morning home Bible study are perfect examples of invitations that our family accepted the last time we were on home assignment. We felt refreshed, included and not the least bit pressured to attend, if we didn’t feel like it.
Sure they’re are other ways to minister to families serving cross-culturally while they take a pit-stop to their passport country, but these are a few of the easiest yet most overlooked ways that you as part of the church could be a blessing to one of these families.
If you’ve got other examples, I’d love to hear them.
Michael Andrzejewski is a missionary in western Europe who loves to share his stories. An introvert by nature, he swims upstream while struggling to pastor cross-culturally. Passionate about both the Gospel and football, he constantly searches for really good sushi.
After a U.S. missionary’s “term” overseas, which can last anywhere from three to four years (or longer), they make a visit back to the States to reconnect with family and partners. It’s an important time of rest and refreshment, but also mobilization. These workers share with churches and supporters who have been praying for their ministries. After so much time away, they are excited to give hugs, share meals and talk about the things you can’t always include in a prayer letter.
One OMF family in particular, the McIntyres, gave us a glimpse into what home assignment looks like for them. They are back from three years in Taiwan (their second term). If you’re curious about what their time IN East Asia looks like, see the bottom of this post for a video they created about what it’s like to share Christ with Taiwan’s working class.
Names: Thomas, Jennifer, Ashlee (age 6) and Tyler (age 4)
1. What does home assignment look like for you?
We have about 14 supporting churches throughout the U.S., so we must travel a lot to visit them. We also have 200 or so individual supporters, so we try to connect with as many as possible. Our kids are in school, so we mostly travel on the weekends or school breaks. We do a lot of speaking, some preaching and teaching, sharing about ministry, showing our ministry video (see link below), networking etc. We’re always trying to mobilize while we fundraise. There is some down time to rest, read and spend time with family.
2. What is great about home assignment, and what’s challenging?
Travel is fun but challenging with kids. Thankfully our kids have helpful grandparents who want to spend time with them. We miss the work in Taiwan, but at the same time it is nice to do something different for a season.
3. How can people best serve or help you while you’re on home assignment?
Pray, ask about our life and ministry.
What Do Missionaries Do on Home Assignment?2017-02-032017-02-03https://omf.org/us/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2015/04/OMF_LOGO_COL_Web-1024x1024-300x300.pngOMF International (U.S.)https://omf.org/us/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/02/dsc_0193-3.jpg200px200px