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What is different about summer home visits?

Decades ago, most missionary families would spend around four years “on the field” and a year on furlough/home leave/home assignment. In our day, an increasing number of missionaries return to their home country for summers only. These visits often took place every two years. There are a number of reasons for this. One is often the desire for stability for our children. Many of us take our home assignments in the summer so that our children’s education will be more stable and continuous in one location. Another reason might be the nature of our own work, if we are educators for example. In some locations of service, the climate or cultural patterns mean that activity slows down in the summer, making it an ideal time to take a pause from much of our ministry activity. 

There are also a number of special factors to consider in summer home assignments. Here are a few of them:

  1. Summer visits are by nature short. Of course other visits could be short, but the summer visit is characteristically short. In our time living overseas, we took two six-month autumn-winter home assignments, and several summer visits. Some of our friends who did summer visits were able to lengthen that time by leaving early and arriving late. Due to the nature of our work, that was not an option for us. Consequently, we had 8-10 weeks of whirlwind activity. We knew this would include a couple of days on each end of minimal productivity due to jet lag. That’s not much time to complete our “to-do list.” Rest will often be shortchanged.
  2. Because of the short nature of summer visits, missionaries may find it impossible or difficult and exhausting to visit all of their supporting churches, especially if they are in different regions. Please consider offering the option for them to miss your church this year, and come during their next home assignment two years later. Instead, find a way to connect with them in their country of service with a visit from congregation members or a remote connection through video technology. It’s quite easy to do now!
  3. In some communities, church activity slows down in the summer, and many church members take family vacations or spend weekends at a second home. Consequently, it will be difficult for missionaries to connect with everyone. Diminished church activity may also mean that special opportunities such as Sunday School for kids are not offered.
  4. There are often fun activities that you do with your families in the summer months. Consider how you might be able to include missionaries. Summer festivals can be great fun, but we often aren’t aware of them. Time at a lake house can be a highly enjoyable and refreshing time for us, if you are willing to invite us along.
  5. There might be opportunities for the children of your missionaries that they could really enjoy, if you are proactive in offering them. VBS, summer camp, swimming lessons and sports leagues are all great opportunities. Some may be challenging if the missionaries aren’t able to be in one place all summer. But perhaps the biggest challenge for them will be signing up. Many of these activities have early sign-up times, and your missionaries may be living in a society which is much less scheduled. If you can let them know about these opportunities, they may really appreciate it. In our case, a thoughtful friend offered to give our kids swimming lessons one summer in her friend’s pool. Since we live in a desert country, our kids had few opportunities to learn swimming. It ultimately didn’t work out with our schedule, but we were touched by her thoughtfulness.
  6. Be understanding with the above activities. If the children are going to be in a summer sport, understand that they may have never played some popular American sports like baseball and football, as they are not common in other countries. Consider how to help them achieve some success in this new sport, or be understanding if they don’t care to try something new to them when everyone else is much better at it.
  7. Lengthy home assignments usually include at least half of a school year in North America. There are benefits to this which we might not experience in a summer visit. One of them is a more well-rounded experience of life in North America. When we only take summer home assignments, then it becomes easy for children to associate their passport country as the place of fun and amusement, special treats and experiences with family and churches, and especially important for some kids–no school. Life in the host country, with the drudgery of school and parents busy with ministry, can pale by comparison. This presents a danger in creating a disdain for the host country that is unhealthy for the children of missionaries. It may not be possible to change this, but it is good to be aware of it.

I hope that these unique insights about summer home assignments will prove to be helpful to you as you “do well to send [those who went for the sake of the Name] on their way in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6-7).

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