‘Furlough’ is a funny word. Before a few weeks ago I had only come across it in relation to overseas mission. Even there it was rather outdated, with a musty Victorian smell. The more contemporary terminology was ‘home assignment’ or ‘mission education.’ But it made me wonder whether there are lessons from the mission furlough that can be applied by Christians in furlough from work in these days of Covid-19. Certainly there are important differences but I think there are things that transfer:
- Give thanks – We were always aware of the privilege of returning to the UK each year for 6 weeks, thanks to the sacrificial funding of partners. In a similar way, what a privilege to be paid 80% salary by the Government (and presumably future tax payers) to not do your normal work? What a privilege when so many are still having to work absolutely flat out for us, some of our friends are ineligible for furlough and most of the world has nothing like this?
- Transition well – Moving country and culture takes some time to adjust to and there is a need to allow for that. In many ways the transitions we have been going through the last two months and the added transition of moving to furlough are just as draining and destabilising. And many have been working ridiculously hard pre-furlough and just need some well-earned rest.
- Be trained and train others – This is behind the newer trend of referring to mission furlough as ‘mission education’ – a time of receiving further training on mission/theology as well as seeking to help partner churches and individuals to grow in their understanding of biblical mission. A Covid furlough could be a great time to sign up for a Crosslands foundation course, join a Proc Trust live stream or the online EMA. And it could be a great time to start mentoring someone else, maybe reading through Philippians or 2 Timothy together.
- Serve – A missionary returning to visit their partner churches is encouraged to be a blessing to them – not just expect to be served but to serve in ways that are genuinely helpful, perhaps taking some preaching load or running an event at a time when the church is short-staffed. Similarly, there may well be opportunities in furlough now for many of us to serve our local churches (excepting the case where we’ve been furloughed by them) whether in tech or pastoral follow up or prayer.
- Partnership development – This is a big reason for mission furlough – investing in partnership relationships with supporters and sending churches and often seeking to build that network further. If you’re on Covid furlough then you’re unlikely to be depending on financial support from partners but, whatever your work looks like, whatever part of the harvest field you find yourself in, it’s always good to have a team of friends praying for you and keeping you accountable. So why not take the time to at least write one prayer letter during furlough?
- Recruit – This comes back to training others but it’s a bit more intentional. Missionaries want to raise up other missionaries. Jesus told the workers he was sending out to pray for more workers for the harvest field (Luke 10:1-2). Is there someone I could be reading through 1 Timothy or Titus with and encouraging to think seriously about how to increase their gospel ministry?
- Reflect – Mission furlough is a good time to take a step back from your normal context and ask the big questions – What has God been teaching me? (theologise) What is our big goal? (refocus) How are we doing on that? (assess) What should I do differently in the next phase? (plan) Is this still the right place for me to be for the good of the gospel? (openness) In a similar way, a furlough could be a good time to go for a run/walk/cycle and think through one of those big questions.
- Be realistic – We were always reminded not to have too high expectations of mission furlough. It’s not going to be the perfect rest and reflection time. Life happens. Small children need a lot of attention. Computers crash. Tempers fray. People get ill. That’s all even more the case in this Covid furlough as the support options are so much fewer. Let’s pray for fruitful furloughs, if that is our situation perhaps focus on one project or cultivate one mini habit, but remember grace and that the Lord is (as he’s recently shown us very clearly) not bound by our plans.