If you have ever served in long-term missions or known someone who has, then you know that following the missionary call God often requires giving up one's car, home, etc. As a result, when missionaries come back on stateside assignment or furlough, they have to find a place to stay, a car to drive, places to meet, people for support, appointments, and more. Coordinating all of this can place a burden and unneeded stress on those we send.
As a church, you can help your missionaries by helping them meet these. Whether you’re part of a larger or smaller church, everyone can play a part in leveraging the resources their church has to offer.
The church in Acts 14 is a model for us of this kind of care. In this passage, we see the church welcoming Paul and Barnabus back from their journey, eager to hear what the Lord had accomplished through them. In this same way, we should welcome our missionaries back in tangible ways by providing them with the resources they need while they are on furlough.
Missionaries come back on furlough for many different reasons. While many of them are planned, missionaries may also return to take care of aging parents, support raise, seek out medical needs, attend conferences or trainings, and more. No matter the reason, we have a responsibility to welcome them.
We are to care for the missionary's entire journey, not just when they are on the field. There are several ways to care for the missionary when they return.
We can provide for our missionaries in four areas:
One of the biggest challenges missionaries face is finding a place to stay while they are on furlough. Whether they are here for six months or two weeks, they need a place they can call their own. Housing is often one of the most difficult resources to acquire for the missionary family, and whether your church has a mission house or not, your church body can step in to help them find it.
Do you have empty nesters in your church body? Retirees? Families with an extra garage apartment? If you do, then your church can meet this tangible need.
You can set up a system within your church that allows church members to provide a place to stay for missionaries. Options for housing can include a spare room, an upstairs floor, an extra garage apartment, etc.
When you are setting up a system, your church would need to take into consideration how long members would want the missionaries to stay with them and if they would allow children into their home. If they allow children, you will need to determine what kind of child protection policy the church should have in place and whether the church will require some kind of liability plan that covers missionaries staying in church members’ homes. This will need to be addressed before arrangements are made.
Providing a temporary home for missionaries is a tangible way to step into the missionary’s world and provide a place of respite, meet them where they are, be a listening ear, and help them have fun while they are on furlough.
Most missionaries give up their car before they move overseas, so when they return, they most likely will not have ready transportation to get them from point A to point B. There are multiple ways your church can provide transportation options for them.
The first way you can help with transportation is by having church members pick up your missionaries from the airport upon their arrival and drop them off for their departure. Depending on your church’s budget and the length of their stay, you could also help provide a rental car for them. Rental cars are increasing in price and could add a financial burden to the missionary, so if your resources allow, consider meeting this need for them.
If your resources don’t allow and their length of stay is too great, you can point them to other options. All around the United States, there are organizations that provide cars for missionaries at a low cost. There is an organization in my city that offers cars to missionaries for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year. We point all our workers that are in search of a car to this organization so they can have a car during their furlough without having to pay what a rental company would charge.
In conjunction with providing houses for missionaries, your church can also create a system to provide cars for them. If you have church members with an extra car, they can lend them to missionaries. Of course, just like housing, you would need to work with your church to determine the necessary liability and insurance policies.
When missionaries come back on furlough, they are in between communities. They won’t have their community with them from their country of service, and they most likely won’t have a large community in their passport country because of their time away on the field. Your church can help be a source of community for your missionaries. Providing community uses very little of your financial resources and gives your church body another way to be involved in meeting a need for your missionaries.
You can help your missionaries have community in different ways. When your missionaries arrive, help get them connected with a Sunday School class or home group. Doing so will immediately get them connected with others and will create a point of contact within your church. By getting them connected with a class, you give them a space to share their story, engage with others in their same stage of life, and meet potential supporters.
Another easy way to provide a sense of community is to take them out to lunch or coffee. Making this effort gives them a direct connection and someone to share their journey with. Treating them to a meal and hearing their story goes a long way with the missionary. Be a listener, ask them questions, and rejoice with them in all that God has done.
Let’s take a look back at Acts 14. At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabus went back to Antioch and were welcomed by their church. The church provided a place for them to share all that God had done during their journey. You can follow the example of the church in Antioch by providing a place for missionaries to share their journey and all that God has done in and through them.
Whether it’s from the pulpit, in a Sunday School class, or hosting a gathering for their supporters, you can help create a space for them to share who they are, their ministry, their place of service, and what God has been doing. By creating this space, you allow the missionary to share their story with the church while also inviting the church to be a part of their journey.
You do not have to be a church of hundreds of members with a massive budget to care for your missionaries. All you need is members that are willing to step up to the plate to care for them, not just on the field, but while they are on furlough too. Caring for your missionaries and meeting their needs is not limited to providing in these four areas—this is only the beginning of what you and your church can do. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and lead you as you seek to care for your missionaries however you can.