Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. (Psalms 116:7 NIV)
Contrary to some well-intentioned but misguided ideas, furlough is not a vacation time for the missionary family. It’s a time where we’re on display and representing the ministry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even when we’re not preaching from a pulpit or sharing the ministry in a bible study, we’re working. Living out of suitcases for months, without a place to call “your own,” takes its toll on you spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Because of this stress and strain, missionaries often jump at the opportunity to get away from it all even for a day or two. The chances aren’t too close together so you take what you can when you can. On our last furlough, we were hoping to use a mission home for a while but that fell through. However, a friend of a friend knew of a new retreat center that might let us come and stay.
I sent off e-mail messages and asked about certain days. Being the consummate furlough missionary I planned the retreat days to coordinate with other trips near the retreat center. We’d stay there a few days, run off to see some friends, family, and supporters a few days, and then back for a few more days of “retreat.” When, during our communications, we got down to brass tacks, how much would it cost, we were thrilled to learn it cost nothing. It was a ministry funded through other sources for missionaries, pastors, and other Christian workers who needed to escape a bit.
Our trip to the retreat center was exciting as we followed the GPS pathway through winding country roads in a heavy rain storm. Beth thought the GPS was trying to kill us but I’m sure it was the shortest route, maybe not the best, but the shortest. We arrived, a bit tired, and met our hosts in their home which also served as part of the retreat center.
When we arrived there were two options, in their home/lodge or a country manor. The manor was filled by a wedding party so we chose the basement apartment. Our hosts offered to talk, feed us, or allow us to be hermits and get away from the world. We chose to be hermits. That sort of worked. The apartment was fully furnished, kitchen, bath, very comfortable bed, satellite TV, and a great place to relax.
People who run retreat centers are very helpful. They always want to provide services, comfort, counseling and just entertain. The concept that a visitor truly wants to be a hermit is hard to reconcile with the ever-present desire to provide assistance. Several times a day our host would pop his head in the door at the top of the stairs to call out with an offer for some form of entertainment, an invitation to a Bible study or service, or a call to join them for dinner. They were very giving people, with big hearts for ministering to their guests. Leaving someone to fend for themselves was hard to accept.
We joined them in some meetings including a great children’s Christmas presentation in a local church. We were taken on some tours of the area and shared a few meals together. Even though our intention was to hide away we enjoyed the ministry of our hosts beyond the simple physical accommodations. When we completed our little retreat, and headed out we were rested and ready to take on another portion of our furlough.
Sometimes we try to manipulate our surroundings thinking we know what is necessary for our own rest and relaxation. This is where the Lord knows better. In truth, He always knows better even though we often miss this simple fact. God sometimes sends along those we least expect to meet the needs we don’t always know we have. Why should I be surprised when God does things like this?
Perhaps what we consider a retreat from the world should be a retreat to God’s hands. Then we will recognize when God takes what we put in place and works with it to the good He has promised. Go figure!