I am a big believer that a missionary should take a furlough. The pattern that has been set is four years on the field and one year on furlough. Although this is not a strict rule to live by, it is a great pattern to follow. There are a few things I want to cover about furlough, including what it is and why it is beneficial for both the missionary and the ministry. I will also address what goes on during a furlough and how to make the most of it. My family and I are currently on furlough, during this time we have seen the Lord work in ways we never considered while planning for this year! Lord willing, we will return to the field in a few months, with that being said, we are thankful to have this opportunity to be on furlough!
What a furlough is: It is a period when the missionary goes back to his home country. It is not a vacation. Some think it is a time when the missionary and his family head back to the states for some “r & r”, but that is not exactly what it is all about, at least from our perspective. Furlough is a time to report back to the churches who have faithfully supported us over the past term. It is such a joy to be able to share all that God has done in the ministry in Argentina! It is also a time to raise support that has been lost over the years. We are grateful for all the churches that have supported us. We are not worthy of any of it and we are thankful to God and to the churches who have partnered with us. But over the years, we have lost several churches that previously supported us. It was never because of a disagreement, or a change in doctrine. We have had churches that have dropped us because they have closed down, some have fallen on hard times and are not able to support us at this time, some are just not able to continue supporting their missionaries. Whatever the case, we understand and we are grateful for them. We have no ill feelings toward them, only gratitude. With that being said, during this furlough we have been able to recuperate almost all that was lost over the past six years!
Why it is beneficial: Furlough is beneficial for the missionary family. For one, they can take this time to raise more funds if needed, and they can receive more training to take the next steps in ministry. We have been able to do both of these things on this furlough! Another important benefit is that the missionary children can learn more about the culture in their “home country”. This has certainly been the case with our family. Our daughters have grown so much during this furlough. Lily has learned how to drive (she received her license) and is on the road gaining more experience almost daily. Lily and Piper have both grown spiritually and have been challenged by special events put on by the churches we have been in. As I type out this blog, they are both on the way to India on a mission trip. I am praying the Lord work in them during this time. Ivy put her faith in Jesus as Savior during the Summer. We have been praying for that day, even before she was born, and it finally happened! We have witnessed to her so many times but she was never quite ready. At a VBS, after hearing the Gospel, she received Jesus as Savior! Isla was born in Argentina, so this is her first real time in the United States. She arrived speaking a mixture of Spanish and English, but over time she has lost almost all of the Spanish and only speaks English! She has loved this furlough! It is also beneficial to the missionary and his family because they are able to spend time with extended family. While we have not been able to spend as much time as we would have liked, we are able to see parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces, and other family members that we have not seen many years!
The furlough is also beneficial for the ministry on the field. For the first time, Faith Baptist Church in Lanús learned to do ministry without the founding missionary. Pastor Matías has done a phenomenal job, so has Eric and the other members of the church. They have been tested and have come out shining like gold, and we are thrilled! God is at work in the church, and men and women are stepping up to fill “holes” to serve Jesus and their family of faith. The whole purpose of church planting for the missionary is to develop indigenous churches, in other words, churches that are self-governing, self-propagating, and self-reproducing without the missionary. This furlough has brought Faith baptist Church closer to that goal!
Potential goals that a missionary should have during furlough: This is subjective, but in general it is a time to report to supporting churches, raise additional needed support, prepare by training for the next steps in ministry, and coach the pastor and church on the mission field from “afar”. On a personal level, it has been a time to prepare our 16 year old daughter for living in the states. If the Lord allows, she will be going to college in a few years, before our next furlough, and has her parents we want to prepare her for success when that day comes. That is an important goal for us as a family. Depending on the missionary family, they may have other goals for their furlough. With that being said, I believe a year (give or take a couple of months) is the optimal time for a furlough. With a full year, the church on the field will be forced to press forward instead of “holding on” for a few months until the missionary returns. It will also give the missionary time to visit churches around the country. This is a general guideline, and there are extenuating circumstances that may call for a longer or shorter furlough. My pastor would say, “everything needs to be weighed. in it’s own juices”. With that in mind, I believe a one year furlough is a good time frame in general.
There is much more that could be said, but the point is clear, a furlough is good for the missionary, the missionary family, and the ministry on the field. It is something that an effective missionary includes in his ministry for the glory of God. An effective missionary takes furloughs.