Up to this point, all the benefits I have mentions have been fairly obvious, I think. But this final benefit is one that I only realized recently. I was talking with missionary Keith Shumaker about furlough one time. I asked him while he was on furlough whether it was difficult to be away from the field. He said that they missed being in Burkina Faso, but he said that it was the best thing for the pastors and the churches there.
While I have been away from Northern Ireland, I have learned what he meant. I have found that, if taken at the right time, furlough is one of the best things for the mission work. Though on the surface, taking a furlough may seem like a step backward, it can be used to really help the mission work on many levels.
First, when the missionary goes on furlough, national leaders are given the opportunity to really step up and lead in a much greater way. All throughout a missionary’s ministry, he should be training leaders and allowing them to lead. When a missionary begins to prepare to leave, he has a reason and motivation to get many leaders in place to do things while he is away. When the missionary does leave, the national leaders have to step up and do many things that they might previously have relied on the missionary to do. As long as he is there, there may be this unwritten rule that things will always just fall back on the missionary. When the missionary is physically absent, others have to step up. In Acts 14:23, the Bible says, “And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Second, when the missionary goes on furlough, the local church gets stronger. Most likely, attendance at the church will go down, but in this time of transition, it will become obvious which of the folks in attendance are really committed. The members will have to band together, take up the slack, and come to terms with why they are really a part of the church. Are they there for the missionary or for the cause of Christ? The church will also develop confidence and trust in other leaders in the church. They will see that God is using men from their own country to make decisions, preach, and lead the church. This is a crucial step for the church to become indigenous.
Third, when the missionary goes on furlough, more laborers can be recruited. On almost every mission field, the harvest is greater than the missionary can handle on his own. While he travels to churches and presents the need, he can recruit laborers to come help him. He should be training national workers, but he can also invite others to get involved in short and long-term mission work. We see that every time Paul and Barnabas went back home they returned to the field with other labourers to help them – Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, etc.
Fourth, when the missionary goes on furlough, he has time to plan for the future. Furlough is a great opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished, what needs to be accomplished, and how best to accomplish the task. When the missionary returns to the field, he will hopefully have a better idea of what he wants to accomplish and how to work smarter and more efficiently. Sometimes, missionaries get so bogged down in day to day activity, they don’t really plan and reach out. Furlough should be a time to think about how more churches can be started, more men can be trained, more countries can be evangelized, and more laborers can be sent out. If a missionary can develop a better plan for reaching the world while on furlough, then the furlough was a huge benefit to the work.
I have found furlough to be a great help to our work. Though our church has decreased some in attendance and offerings, we have seen men step up and lead. We have see the church grow in commitment and strength. We have been able to present the need for many more laborers, and we have been able to take time to plan and strategize for the future. I am excited about returning to the field soon, God willing. I pray that God will do great and mighty things for His honor and glory.