In our years of sending missionaries through Serge, we’ve rejoiced as we’ve observed the irreplaceable role of the missionary’s sending church. Both sending and supporting churches love their missionaries. Many of them do a great job of caring for those they send. We’re often asked, “What can we do to really go above and beyond in loving our missionaries?” Below are some valuable practices we’ve recognized in caring for missionaries as they return home from international service for a time of rest and reconnection—often called furlough or home mission assignment. ..
Housing and transportation. What will your missionary or missionary family need to rest and thrive during their time in the States? Reach out and ask what their specific needs are before they return for furlough. If possible, provide them with a car to use, and a home they can have to themselves. It can be a tremendous blessing to be able to stay in one house, by themselves, during furlough. It creates a sense of having a “home base,” a place where they can turn “off” and recharge as they continue to meet with people, and even travel to meet with other supporting churches.
Continue to provide pastoral care and connect them with counselors and debriefing programs. Missionaries often return home tired. They may have faced stressors in their place of service that they have delayed dealing with—such as grief, sadness, or conflict. Set aside funds for your missionaries to see counselors, and provide referrals if necessary. Encourage and set aside funds for a debriefing program (such as the “Debriefing and Renewal” program provided by Mission Training International) for all of your missionaries.
Provide for their rest. Think of ways your congregation can creatively provide for missionary rest. Some possibilities are donating airline miles, loaning vacation homes, donating timeshares, etc.
Engage their children. Missionary kids struggle with re-entry right alongside their parents. Look for ways to serve and bless children, making them feel at ease at church, including them in play dates, introducing them to families with kids of similar ages, helping parents get their kids registered for school or summer camps, etc.
Educate yourself and your leaders. Re-entry to life in the States can be even more difficult than adjusting to life overseas. You and your congregation may be confused by the struggles your missionaries face as they return to a home they know and love. Consider taking a course or reading a book about the re-entry process missionaries walk through (or ask a former missionary about his or her re-entry experience).
Try to suspend expectations. When a missionary returns home, a sending church is often excited to have one of its most active members back in the congregation, now with a fresh experience of serving God overseas and newly equipped to encourage members. Missionaries, however, upon return to their home church, rarely feel ready to hit the ground running. They need time to adjust to being back, time to grieve their losses, and time to process life-changes they have walked through. Do not expect your missionary to be an active, vibrant member of your congregation right away. Expect that attending church may even feel overwhelming for them, and their children, in the beginning. Most missionaries will love publicly sharing what God has done and also expressing their gratitude to their sending church, but they may find it hard to do so immediately after returning.
Love and befriend them. Invite them into the community, while giving them freedom to say no. Missionaries often return to their home country feeling isolated and alone. They re-enter a community in which they were once deeply ingrained to feel at a loss as to how to engage again. Proactively invite missionaries to events and gatherings, as you would other church members. Include them in the normal rhythms of church and social life.
These and other practical steps to help you partner with international missionaries can be in Serge’s new Going Global Guide. We encourage you to reflect on how you are currently caring for missionaries you have either sent from your own congregation or supported from another church–and see if you can take another small step to deepen your relationship with them.
>>> This article is adapted from Serge’s NEW resource: Going Global: A Guide for Deepening Your Church’s International Mission Program. Download your free copy!