(This blog post is for missionaries that take home leaves, family and friends of missionaries who take home leaves, and anyone else interested in what we have learned during these seven and a half months stateside. We will share how to mess it up or do it up! Your call.)
Call it a home leave. Call it a furlough. Call it a visit. Call it what you want. Just don’t call it easy. If you are tempted to feel jealous that we got a seven month holiday in America, resist the Devil, he is a liar!
We arrived here in the states from Africa on October 12, 2015. We leave again on June 1…just 16 short days from now. Seven and a half months of home leave, which is full on transition and craziness, for a family of four and now five.
Now, usually, and I mean more often than not, these types of visits for a missions family are hard. Really hard! And typically they are such because of these five realities:
1. Emotional overload. Reverse culture shock meets lots of other weird emotions around being “home” and missing “home” and causes an otherwise healthy person to be a hot mess.
2. Schedule intensity. The window is short. Gotta run. Gotta pack it in. Breakfast with the Smith’s, Dinner with the Johnson’s, speak here, visit there, etc.
3. Relational pressure. Amidst all the other pressures of networking and fundraising, does family get any time? Or is our time only for those that can write checks? Major inner conflict, usually revealing who you are trusting in…but that is for another blog.
4. Practical Stupidity. Basically, not that I am writing from experience or anything, missionaries on home leave make some dumb decisions about where to stay, what to drive or not drive, how to plan, etc. Poverty mentality rules the day and the poor servants make poor decisions that end up costing way more than they ever wanted to spend. Hope you are tracking with me.
5. FOMO. And just some good old fashioned FOMO (fear of missing out). You want to do everything you can, go everywhere you want, connect with everyone you miss and you don’t want to pass up any good opportunity. The clock is ticking and your departure date is nearing.
Now, in full disclosure. We learned the above lessons the hard way…by doing them. Our last visits to the USA were super difficult and we left more beat up than renewed. So, Tricia and I committed to get this one right if it was the last thing we did. And we succeeded! This has been an exceedingly wonderful experience in the USA!! When talking on the phone to Mary Ho, one of our International Leadership Team members with All Nations, she asked me to share how we did it and what we learned. So, here are the things we planned and executed that made this time in America so healthy and special. Note that these are geared more for a family than a single, but I'd say a lot still applies. They are simple and practical, but paid out in big dividends.
1. Make the visit "home" no less than three months, especially if you have a long term view and commitment. It's way too much work and far too much money to do less. This allows you to go deeper, further and broader than what you can experience in shorter times. And it also allows what's happening back on the field to develop without us. We often think way higher of ourselves than we ought to anyway.
2. No "work" for the first 2 (or 3 depending on total length) weeks! No meetings. No official business. No travel. No speaking if possible. This allows you to BE. Be funky. Be confused. Be emotional. Be crying. Be reconnecting. Be preparing for what's ahead. And this allows you to give your closest friends and family exactly what they want…YOU. Not your spiel, your speech, your pitch, or your credentials. You. They missed you.
3. Choose your accommodation very wisely! Unless your friends or family own a very large house where you can have private space, I lean toward saying don't stay with them. It seems like a good idea but will cost you way more than you thought it would. It is just so very important that you have private space to return to each day. I could go on and on about this, but rent a place or do whatever it takes to not be living on top of family and friends. We rented a furnished place for this home leave and it made a world of difference for our family.
4. Only "work" part time. Even once you get going at full speed with networking and fundraising, only plan out two or three days per week. Aim for part time and you'll hit full-time with all the unexpected requests, invitations and expectations. Do not book more than three days per week because they will book themselves. Tricia only allowed me to work a max of three days per week during this home leave and I somehow managed to pull off 40-50 hours of output without even trying.
5. Keeping your family healthy is the primary task. It takes time, energy and intentionality. It helped me a tremendous amount to see it as my main role for seven months. I had no other more important task or role. Not easy for many men to think that way but I was able to cope by reminding myself that it was temporary. If ever my family needed me present emotionally and physically it was during these last seven months! Only Tricia could tell you how I did. I always make it sound better than it is.
6. Finally, no "work" for the last two weeks. Past visits I would run like a crazy lunatic all the way up until I was about to leave for the airport. One more Pastor to see. One more donor to connect with. The result was that we would leave exhausted and terribly regretful. We decided that we would commit the final 2 to 3 weeks of our time here to do only limited work...and it's working. We've already packed 12 suitcases and only have three to go. We are ahead of the game and not feeling pressure at all. So, no work for the first two weeks and no work for the last two weeks. Quickly shows you why it's important for the visit to be at least three months.
If you aren't a missionary or don't interact with them, I don't expect everything I've written here to make much sense to you. You'll think we're a bunch of lazy weaklings. Bless you. But if you are serving in missions, I hope you listen and implement some of this. But moreover, I hope it yields-year-olds the same positive results for you that it did for us.
Learning openly in hopes of helping even one family,
Noah and Tricia and the kids