My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 WEB)
When mission work was established many years ago, some missionaries would depart for their foreign field never to return. Others would remain on the field for twenty, thirty or more years before returning to their home land. The idea of the two, three or four year term is a modern invention.
At times I am thankful for this modern convenience and other times find it an interruption in my ministry. Most furloughs are a blessing and a chance to see family and friends. But, in truth, sometimes they interrupt the flow of ministry forcing a change of direction mid stride. When furlough is over it is at times difficult to get back into the swing of things and pick up projects which sat idle for months.
Our furlough in 1989 was a welcome break from the fast paced work of the mission field. We now sported four lovely children and were ready to give everyone a glance at Evan our new “Guam” baby. Mission projects were in good shape and coverage during our absence was carefully arranged.
We put together a number of plans including an extensive travel schedule beginning in California and then on to the eastern USA. Friends we met on Guam were to be married in Pennsylvania, a trip was scheduled across a portion of Canada and visiting supporters in Michigan was on the schedule. There were also trips to Texas, across the southern U.S. to Florida, and back up through the Midwest and Kansas City.
Contrary to many opinions furlough was and is seldom a period of rest. It did provide a break in the routine but rest was a word that seldom applied to furlough, at least for our family. However, being busy was fun. Visiting supporters, family and churches were all an encouragement to our family and we prayed we would be able to encourage those we visited. The occasional side trip along the way to see some historical monument, museum, or natural wonder was an added bonus to all the travel.
As a family of six furloughs presented special challenges. Corralling four children through numerous airports without leaving one behind required eyes in the back of our heads. Evan took some of his first steps through the crowded passenger strewn waiting lounge in Tokyo Narita airport.
Once we reached our home base a logistical challenge awaited. How would we fit six people, all our luggage, display material, playpens, portable cribs and car seats into a vehicle where we will essentially live for three months? We became very creative car packers. Every nook and cranny had some shoe, toy or other essential item stuffed inside. By the end of furlough we had the packing and unpacking down to a precise series of steps.
Each furlough, from the first through the most recent, God provided through His people, a vehicle for our travel. This was quite a challenge but God provided abundantly. We never could organize such transport nor afford to rent vehicles with sufficient space. God has provided abundantly through His people.
Since we brought our children along, no one on the field wanted to keep them, our furloughs always fell during the summer months. The day after school was over we headed to the mainland and returned one or two days before school restarted. For the children our travel about the USA made for great “What I did This Summer” stories.
With few exceptions, I remember our furloughs with great fondness. Taking our youngest son, born on the field, to visit his grandparents for the first time was a highlight. There were many tales and adventures for sharing in churches and with new found friends along the furlough trail. We enjoyed log cabins, fancy hotels, holidays for our anniversary while friends watched the children, theme parks, zoos, mountains, plains and just about every part of the USA.
Furlough is a break in the routine of the ministry work but not a break in experiencing God’s provision and care each step and every mile along the way. At times we were uncertain what was coming next and excited to see what God planned and provided. Our thanks go to the many that have made our furlough a time of encouragement and renewal and occasionally restful.
I am reminded of God’s rest. Scripture speaks of this as a future event. It is definitely not during furlough but only through God’s care and supply. I look forward to our next furlough even as I think and write about the subject.