It feels like my family and I only just landed in the U.S. for a home assignment after completing our first term on the mission field. Yet, our return to Peru is just a few days away!
Visiting family, friends, and ministry partners over the last few months has been full of joy. As I sit here preparing to travel back to Peru, I remember one of the most common questions we received before our home assignment, “What will you do for four months while you are here?”
Therefore, in this brief article, I hope to share a little about what missionaries often do while on home assignment. While I cannot speak for all missionaries, our family has approached our time in the U.S. with the Three Rs of stateside assignment.
One missiological philosophy we love about Reaching and Teaching is their commitment to the perspective that missionaries are sent by the local church. This view is not unique or new to RTIM, rather it is grounded in the New Testament. In fact, Paul and Barnabas were already recognized among the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch when the Lord separated them for the work of missions. Interestingly enough, while it was the Lord that separated them, it was the local church that sent them off for their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3).
In the chapters that follow, we see the Lord accomplish wonderful things through these early missionaries. Then, at the end of chapter 14, Luke writes, “And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples,” (Acts 14:25-28).
So, what do we see Paul and Barnabas do at the end of their first missionary journey? They report what the Lord accomplished through their ministry to the local church that sent them. It is also interesting to note that they also remained with the church for a period of time before being sent on their perspective second missionary journeys. Furthermore, we see Paul return to Antioch again between his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 18:22-23).
Thus, even from the earliest days of missions we see the model of missionaries returning to their sending church to report on all that God has done.
As we have had opportunity to do this with our sending church and ministry partners over the last few months, we have not only sought to report on the great things we have seen the Lord do through our ministry, but we have also reminded them of their key role in this missionary endeavor. The result has been much rejoicing, prayer, and mutual encouragement.
As one who has a ministry background in both pastoring and serving on staff at a missionary training school, I can tell you that ministry is stressful. Yet, cross-cultural ministry adds a whole different level of stress. In fact, a simple search on the internet will lead you to many statistics and stories of missionaries returning home prematurely due to burnout. Therefore, another important ingredient for stateside assignment is refreshment.
For us, this has included spiritual refreshment, emotional refreshment, and physical refreshment. To be an effective missionary, as in any ministry position, one has to be ready to pour themselves out for the sake of others. In fact, even Sundays are often hard on missionary families as their church in their host country may be full of cultural challenges and barriers. These things are especially hard when the missionary family is early on in their language acquisition.
We have had the tremendous blessing of remaining in and participating in our sending church for much of our time on stateside assignment. In fact, we were blessed by the pastors of our church when they intentionally did not ask me to do much teaching so that our family could fully focus on being refreshed by sound teaching, worship in our mother tongue, and fellowship with those who love us deeply. In turn, we also sought to encourage and edify others in our church fellowship.
From an emotional standpoint, my wife and I have been refreshed through the opportunity to talk through our first term on the field with our pastors, agency leadership, close friends, and one another. Our discussions have spanned far beyond ministry and into our marriage and family. These conversations have been helpful and encouraging.
Physical rest and refreshment have also been an important component to our time in the U.S. For us, this has included developing better exercise and eating habits as well as days in which our family simply laid low around the house, playing games and watching movies. We even managed to fit in a short and much-needed family vacation which was refreshing for us all both emotionally and physically.
Finally, stateside assignment has been a good time to ready ourselves for another term on the field. We have spent a lot of necessary time reflecting on what we did well during our first tern and what we can do better going forward. These conversations have been rich times of celebrating God’s faithfulness as well as talking through goals for our family life, self-care (spiritual, emotional, and physical growth), and ministry. Thus, after having proper time to reflect on what has been and discuss what we desire going forward, we feel ready to return to Peru to tackle another term.
Serving as a cross-cultural missionary is challenging and stressful, yet it has many great rewards. Moreover, fulfilling the Great Commission is about more than just the missionaries on the frontlines. It takes a committed team of ministry partners back in the missionary’s home country to be successful. In our brief experience, this is not only true while the missionary family is away, but also while they are back on stateside assignment. Thus, we are thankful that we have a sending church and many loving partners who helped make it possible for our family to effectively carry out our Three Rs of stateside assignment. Through this time, our team of partners could be encouraged and informed, and we could be better prepared to be even more effective for the work God has called us to in Peru.