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Guest blogger: Jason Carter

Jason Carter (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a missionary professor at Instituto Bíblico “Casa de la Palabra” (IBCP Seminary) in Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa where Spanish is the official language ( Jason is married with three children. He blogs occasionally at


In my own experience, church members often appreciate missionaries, admire their sacrifice for the Gospel and think highly of their ministries. Yet it’s hard to understand that returning for furlough to one’s “home” country can be a highly exhausting and stressful experience for many missionary families. Between the tension-filled task of an international move, setting up a new place to live, a frenzied travel schedule and finding one’s missionary budget stretched to the limit, a missionary faces a multitude of challenges during furlough.

Many missionaries that I know get reprimanded by their mission leaders to physically rest, spiritually recharge, invest in their marriages and reflect on ministry practices during furlough. These are formidable challenges amidst busy schedules. To borrow a phrase from Henry Nouwen, many missionaries come home on furlough as “wounded healers” who desperately need the body of Christ during their home assignment.

Recently, Jason Helopoulos challenged us to be like Philemon in encouraging the hearts of the Lord’s people. The apostle Paul commended Philemon as embodying traits which refreshed the body of Christ: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 1:7).
What would it look like for the body of Christ to refresh the hearts of missionaries on furlough? Here are a few practical ways that you can serve those who serve:

• If you are part of a bible study or small group, adopt a missionary family from the supported missionaries of your church. Pray for them regularly. Send care packages, birthday cards and encouraging letters.

• Buy a kindle for a missionary. Tell them to make a long list of books they want to read. Regularly buy kindle books for them when they return overseas.

• If you are a dentist, offer free or discounted dental work. If you are a lawyer, offer to update their last will and testament. If you are a counselor, offer free marital counseling (i.e. a marriage tune-up). Use your vocational gifts to bless the missionary body of Christ.

• Offer to host a dinner party where the missionary can share about the ministry. If there are financial needs, share those needs with the group so the missionary doesn’t have to.

• Offer to keep in storage some of their earthly belongings while they are serving overseas.

• Send a missionary to a Christian conference or spiritual retreat where they will be equipped and refreshed for the ministry.

• Purchase return plane tickets for the missionary’s family. Two overseas trips in a short time frame (to the States & back to their field of service) are extremely expensive for most missionary budgets.

• Offer to give the missionary couple a date night every week or two. Instead of inviting the whole family to dinner, offer to take the kids for a night.

• Own a condo or time-share? Gift a week (and spending money) to a missionary family.

• Nominate yourself as Chairperson of their Furlough Committee. You might be a committee of one, but you can scout out housing in advance of their furlough, equip the place with some furniture and leave a Fruit Basket (or Krispy Kreme donuts) on their front step when they arrive from overseas.

• Loan (or give) a car to a missionary family to use during their furlough, and find a couple car seats for their children.

• Tell the missionary all the ways you have diligently prayed specifically for them.

• If the missionary family homeschools, offer to buy some curriculum or books for the missionary kids.

• Have your own kids adopt a missionary family. When the family returns overseas, encourage your kids to pray for the missionary kids’ international or home schooling, friendships with national kids, foreign language learning, good health, and that the kids will come to love and serve Jesus Christ.

• Ask to see the pictures. All of them. Via photos, see their adopted clan, meet their missionary colleagues and get a feel for their ministry context. It´s cathartic for missionaries when people are interested in their life and ministry.

• Ask the missionary family for a list of movies they want to watch during their next term overseas. Purchase 25 DVD movies so that the missionaries can enjoy a “movie night” during their next term of service. Netflix and quality DVD movies (gasp!) still are not available in many countries.

• Set up a home office for their furlough: desk, chair, computer and printer.

• Encourage your kids to invite the missionary kids over for playdates, play on their soccer teams and take them to youth group. Remember, while the parents may enjoy long-lasting friendships with members of their home church, missionary kids often experience all these new people as strangers.

• Let them know you are filled with joy at their service and sacrifice for the Gospel.

• Tell them all the ways you will be praying for them during their next missionary term.

One of least-helpful things people often say to missionaries on furlough is this: “Let me know how I can help.” That places the missionary in a difficult spot – is this person just saying that to be kind? Do they really want to hear about our deepest frustrations and concerns right now? Are they asking to be on our support team?

A better idea would be to choose 1-2 practical ways to refresh the hearts of the missionary saints among you. Pray for them. Invest in their ministry. Become personally invested in their lives and in their ministry. Take the challenge: dare to be a Philemon to a missionary. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

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20 thoughts on “20 Ways to Refresh the Hearts of the Missionary Saints on Furlough”

  1. Darius says:

    As a missionary, I totally agree with all these tips. Housing and car are particularly difficult to work out if the missionary will be back in the US for 1 year or less.
    Also, Kindles are the awesomest for missionaries. Even in places with really slow internet, ebooks can be downloaded – even some of Kevin’s books. Right now, I’ve got multiple commentaries about John on my kindle. I prefer physical commentaries, but now I don’t have to haul those resources all over the world.

  2. Emily says:

    These are so great! I would say that many of these would even apply to missionaries serving here in the U.S. It feels so great to be loved on by the Body!

  3. Debby Abitz says:

    We are on home assignment right now, and friends added my husband and I onto their family cell-phone plan. We got great phones and a great unlimited calling plan, which is INCREDIBLY helpful. We have MANY people to call.

  4. Mark says:

    Excellent list. We just recently finished our fourth furlough and I can honestly say that, sadly, only a small number of these have been done by a small number of people. Most people mean well, but they are caught up in their own lives and hence expect someone else to take care of everything. Particularly it seems that people expect the missionary’s family to take care of all their needs. Our families are supportive and do what they can, but their ability is limited. I hope a large number of people see this list and take it to heart.

  5. Mark Wood says:

    1) Please stop feeling you need to “Feed” the missionary – find other expressions of love
    2) Read Neil Pirolo’s book Serving as Senders and put it into action
    3) Don’t refer to the MK’s as “The Missionary Kids” Try to use their names.

  6. Beth says:

    Great article! Also, remember that some missionaries are singles. Offer to help in ways meaningful to them as well. Adopt them as well.

  7. timc says:

    American DVDs won’t play unless they have a region free player.

  8. Becky says:

    This is a great list and I am so happy that my sister and her husband and my mom and dad and other siblings have done many, many of these things for us when they’ve been able to for us. They’ve done it for others as well (loan a the car, prepare housing, store stuff), etc. I don’t know what I’d do without my family helping us in these ways. (I think that we might actually have to raise more money.)

    People need to remember that often we have to pay for 2 sets of housing while on furlough–the house we live in on the field and then housing while in the US. This is a large burden.

    We have an American DVD player here in our country, but now we mostly download things and watch on line, but getting a list of dvds is a great idea esp. for places wtihout such good internet.

    Thanks for the well-thought out article.

  9. Pamyla Burrack says:

    I appreciate the suggestions, snd have been blessed by my home church and others who have loved on me well. I am saddened, though, at the emphasis in this article on ministering to families, with no mention of some of the unique challenges that non-married missionaries face on home assignment. In my mission board, typically 25% of our missionary “units” serving in Europe are singles.

  10. Elaine Allen says:

    Very helpful and practical. It’s an area I want to be more intentional in and this is a great tool. Thank you

  11. Paul Meiners says:

    These are great, practical suggestions and help people understand why they are needed. Churches and individual friends have much they can do to help missionaries on the field and while in their presence, but many of those don’t naturally come to mind because they are not needs they experience themselves. My presentation on our Member Care site ( overlaps with this and adds more practical suggestions.

  12. Yvonne Park says:

    My prayer is to have a big ranch/retreat center so those missionary families have an affordable place to stay when they come home. I have no idea when or how or with what money, but I’m sure God will provide everything at the right time!

  13. Cara says:

    I think for me the most important ways people can help refresh missionary hearts going back home from furlough is open your hearts to them and ask them specifically what was discouraging and challenging as individuals that you can continue getting updates from them personally, and encourage them while they are on the field. It is easy to forget that missionaries are people too, so do things for them that would be personally meaningful as well. Missionaries need space to feel like they can have fun and enjoy themselves with others, and not just do too much work all the time, but we don’t often have a budget for such extra fun things. Like date nights, or theme parks, etc. that are seen as frivolous.

  14. Karen Loudon says:

    Thank you for this practical list! Sometimes people ask me on the spur of the moment how they can help us. I usually can’t think that fast. This is a good flexible list that can be adapted/personalized to all missionaries from any culture, whether singles or families, whatever type of ministry they may be involved in.

  15. Neal Pirolo says:

    Great article, well articulated. Oh, the hours of pain and sorrow that would be abolished if every missionary had a well-prepared reentry partnership team. Learn more about how to help with the book, THE REENTRY TEAM: Caring For Your Returning Missionaries, at

  16. Diane Stortz says:

    The missionaries need not only time and space to recharge themselves, but to spend time with their parents (and siblings), who very much want to connect and reconnect, especially with grandchildren. Those involved in furlough planning must block out time for this and find ways to help it happen–with transportation, places to stay, and most of all the understanding that this is critical and vital and contributes to everyone’s well-being. (I just came back from presenting a workshop to parents of missionaries … so many tears from those who support their children’s work but miss them and their grandchildren desperately.)

  17. Emmeline says:

    I totally agree with so many of these, but have some to add… I am a missionary kid and when we went on furlough last, I was in 9th grade…
    If the family’s kids are going to public school and your kids are too, offer to carpool… ask your child to consider inviting the kids to eat lunch with them, show them around the school, introduce them to people, etc… I did carpool with someone who was in my grade and she was very kind to me… but because she already had a group of friends, I was left on my own once we got to school…
    Furloughs are definitely hard on the MKs–so remember them too!

  18. Shannon says:

    This is a great help! Also some of these would be a wonderful blessing and encouragement to the missionary/ies heart/s while NOT on furlough. And along with the missionary “family,” please let’s not forget the Single missionary either (speaking from personal experience) as these would also refresh their hearts.

  19. Neal Pirolo says:

    In Emmaus Road International’s book, INTERNATIONALS WHO LIVE AMONG US, There is a whole chapter on how to minister to adult children of career missionaries, as they too, live among us!

  20. Joy says:

    Initial house setup is expensive too, so gift cards to Walmart or Meijer ( or the local equivalent) or checking to see what they need furniture-wise is also helpful.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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