One huge reason to take a furlough is to be a blessing an encouragement to those churches and individuals who have supported the missionary. Reporting in to supporting churches is a very Biblical thing to do. Acts 14:26-28 says, “And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they (Paul and Barnabas) had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. 27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. 28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.”
Here we see that after Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey that they came back to Antioch. The church at Antioch had sent them out, so they returned there and gathered the church together. They rehearsed all that God had done with them and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed there a long time, and then eventually went back out on their second missionary journey.
Here are some benefits of furlough for the missionary’s supporters:
1. Shows gratitude
It is easy for the missionary to take for granted the faithful prayers and support of God’s people. When he returns back to those supporting churches and gives an update on the ministry, he can express his appreciate for their faithful support. Paul was very grateful for those who sacrificed to make his ministry possible.
He says in Philippians 4:10 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again…15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. 18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
While we have been on furlough, I have enjoyed meeting so many faithful people who have come up to us and told us how they have prayed faithfully for us. Many still have our original prayer card in their Bible from over ten years ago. Some have told us how they have worked extra jobs just to be able to give to missions. Those kind of faithful, sacrificial givers are doing what they do for the Lord, but it is so good to be able to see them and to say “Thank You.”
P.S. Just a note on this point. It will most likely not be possible to visit every supporting church on every furlough. Missionaries should let their churches know that they are willing to come by and churches should seek to work to have the missionary in when it works for him and when he is the area. Our supporting churches have been very understanding about this, for which we are very grateful.
2. Encourages supporters to continue
Sometimes, out of sight, out of mind happens when it comes to missions support. Prayer letters, email updates, and social media are great tools to keep your ministry before your supporters, but there is nothing like the personal touch.
When supporting churches see you after 4, 5, 6, even 7 years, they are encouraged by the updates, the souls saved, and the work going forward. Your visit can help them to see that their investment is not in vain, that fruit is abounding to their account, and that they should keep on being faithful.
3. Connects the missionary to new supporters
Just as things tend to only get more expensive in your live, so they seem to only get more expensive on the mission field. Inflation, exchange rates, family growth, ministry growth, lost support, and other factors can cause a missionary to lose as much as 25% of his support in one term. If he does not replace that lost support and raise additional support for future needs, he will soon get to the point where me has to come home from the field or endure great hardship on the field.
Many missionaries I meet are living on the same amount that they left for the field with many years earlier. They are limited in how they can provide for their families and what they can do in the ministry because they simply do not have enough support. You can only cut so many things before you must increase your income.
Furlough is a great opportunity to go to new churches and to seek to raise new support. Missionaries should make it a goal to get into new churches so that they can be able to continue to be effective on the field for many years to come. Churches should also be willing to have in missionaries on furlough and take them on for support. It makes no sense to send out a missionary under-supported. If he is good enough to send to the field, then he is good enough to give enough support to do actually be able to do the ministry and make a real difference.
4. Reminds supporters of the need and their responsibility
Finally, furlough benefits the supporters because it reminds them of what it is all about. A missionary on furlough should help connect them to the field, to the need, to the people on the field, and to their responsibility to reach them for Christ.
Sometimes, churches can lose sight of why they are doing what they do. They can wonder why they are sending “all that money” oversees. Furlough is a good opportunity to say, “It is worth it, keep on giving, keep on praying, you are on the right track.”
Let me know what other benefits you can see for the missionary’s supporters.