20 Thoughts to Consider in Providing the Best Furlough Support for Workers

Originally posted March 28, 2014

What is a funding-furlough?

In the field of global workers, often the term “furlough” is synonymous with home-assignment, funding-furlough, or offsite assignment. It is, however, not to be confused with a sabbatical or long period of rest.

It is not uncommon for workers to set aside anywhere from 1 month to 1 year for this unique period of time. Typical is a summer or 3-month stint. Historically the time was designed for face-to-face contact with supporters, to raise awareness of vision as well as gain new financial and prayer support. For many, this is often a time combined with a desire for a measure of spiritual and emotional rejuvenation as well.

Consider the fact that the average worker may have a support list of several hundred to even a thousand people! This is a blessing, for certain. However communicating with this large of a group and structuring time for meaningful interaction in a short duration of time can be a logistical nightmare! There is never enough time to connect at the level desired with each individual…

This combined with issues of re-entry shock, jet-lag, children’s needs, keeping up with logistics and life back “home” (on the field), and other expectations of work can make a furlough feel more stressful and much more “work” than regular day-to-day life abroad. Families are stretched as well, as the kids may be also be dealing with constant mobility, meeting countless new people, missing friends back “home,” and adjusting to yet another transition time.

As receivers of these workers, thinking and planning ahead about potential needs can help to make the furlough an incredible experience, as opposed to a dreaded and exhausting one. Here are some ideas of ways you can partner effectively as a sending person or church group:

  1. Ask what they need on any and every front. From lodging to transportation and rest. Give the worker several months to think about it and extend grace if they change their mind on something.

  2. Establish a main point of contact. For the sake of ease of re-entry establishing a main, reliable single source in a primary location can alleviate unnecessary transition challenges as well facilitate important communication. This person should ideally be logistically mindful, well-connected and respected in the community – meaning safe, honest and having good boundaries, both with planning and people’s stories.

  3. Have a small group of people “adopt” them in the planning phase and while the worker is in passport country. This allows people to share the responsibility of partnership and care. Categories to consider are emotional care, logistical support, & funding support.

  4. If they will be in multiple locations ask if there are needs you can help partner with others on or help think through. As much consistency as possible in the whirlwind is always helpful.

  5. If you are the point person, find out ahead of time what, if any, calendar items are important for you to know. Are there events they would like help with like an open house, or scheduling a meeting to broaden a network? Would they like other special services planned such as a “sharing time” or a “taste and see.”

  6. Give them a head’s up if any major changes have happened in the church or within your community or city. Introduce them to new members or pastors as well as others who may not know them.

  7. Be sure workers are welcomed back upon arrival. Whether meeting them at the airport, or arranging for a car to be left for them, ask them ahead of time what they might need and want. Although it might sound fun to you to have 30 people greeting them upon arrival, it may not to them if they’ve been traveling with kids for 30 hours straight. (Or it may! Best to ask.)

  8. Ask if they need help arranging somewhere for them to stay. Typically it is less stressful on the individual or family if there is a single location to stay for a longer duration. Partnering with other supporters is often a helpful way to open up other options and protect the time of the missionary from feeling like they always have to “be on.” Check with their personal needs and desires. Give them space to decline without hurt feelings. Housing needs of families and singles vary. With both however, there is a need for a sense of normalcy, privacy and balance of work and rest. Furlough can be an exhausting time filled with lots of people and lots of transition or a restful time of reconnection. Help make it the latter not the former.

  9. Stock the fridge of the place they are staying. Likely they will not get out and go grocery shopping right away. Find out if they have any food they regularly miss or any dietary restrictions. Having a home-cooked meal ready in the fridge is also a greatly welcome surprise after traveling multiple time zones!

  10. Consider technology trends that you may take for granted in your daily life routine - from phones to GPS to computers. Depending on country of location, some workers may be out of touch. A tech-minded person with access to a few items to lend and instruct how to use is a true gift. Some IT help is almost always needed during furlough as well. But don’t assume that he/she wants to adopt these practices either.

  11. Remember the children. Ask a mom or dad in your community to help you think through what they might need such as car seats, travel baby bed, etc. Consider what others in your community could lend for a short duration: Games, bikes, toys, books, even a library card. Don’t overindulge them with gifts without asking the parents first, as they likely will be traveling light and very intentionally, and luggage restrictions and fees have become very tight. (See: “Gift-giving for the TCK”)

  12. Think of creative ways to bless them. Gift cards for gas or coffee are fantastic blessings as they travel around and meet often with people. If they have young children, bless them with babysitting for a support gathering or a date night. The skies the limit on your creativity!

  13. Talk to others who have recently been on furlough or in re-entry. Ask what they had that was helpful or what they wished they’d had?

  14. Ask them if there are services they can’t access that would be helpful while they’re back. If they would like help arranging a dentist, eye doctor appointment, or back massage. Consider gifting it as a form of member care. Depending on where they are living these services may be scarce as well as often over-looked areas of self-care.

  15. Along the same lines, ask if there are new resources or books they had been hoping to access. These can make great gifts. But some will prefer to read digitally, so once again check first.

  16. Some may desire help personalizing a plan for rest and relaxation, self and relational growth programs, programs for upgrading skills, or retreats. Once again, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you are limited on coordinating it all. Even just a few days at someone’s second home in the mountains or by the beach can help set an incredible environment for some spiritual retreat and rest, especially during entry and timezone adjustment.

  17. Collaborate on what kind and extent of involvement they would like during furlough. Don’t expect that they’re able to attend every meeting or every weekend service. Be flexible and clear to them what you would like and vice versa. Don’t expect much, or much quality from them in the first couple days on entry.

  18. If you have the capability or role, prepare the congregation in anticipation of their coming and as to the purpose of their time. Many people are confused by what a furlough or home-assignment is. It sounds like a great time of fun travel! What is it really? Send them this blog article!  As well, help them feel free to ask questions (even seemingly simple ones!). Most people when they feel ignorant of a place or topic tend to not engage, or just talk about more comfortable things. To a foreign worker, this can very easily be mistaken as disinterest, disconnection, and make them feel forgotten, lonely and displaced.

  19. If you are a skilled or trained debriefer or counselor, offer to debrief and process the furlough before the worker returns to the field. Did the time meet their expectations? What would they have liked differently? Were expectations communicated well and clearly both ways?

  20. Furloughs cost a lot of money! However, they are so incredibly important and needed, and nothing can replace the effectiveness of a regular furlough cycle, for both the worker, their home community and their families. Though it may seen like a “catch-22,” helping finance or defray furlough costs ahead of time to more effectively connect with others may be the most welcome gift of all.

  21. Reading this list can feel a bit overwhelming. These are just a list of ideas. NO ONE expects them all! Choose one. and then share this post with others who may also be able to help. Get creative and even if you are only able to do 1 thing from this list, it will likely be a huge blessing to be seen and thought of!

  22. Not last or least…Continue to Pray for the duration of their whole time on furlough. This is so key! Home assignment is such a wonderful opportunity for face-to-face contact, rejuvenation and support. This time is also filled with mixed emotions for the feelings of loss and sadness, as well. Re-entry shock can sometimes be much more pronounced than the cultural shock of going overseas. Covering prayer is needed on many levels.

What other ideas have you seen or experienced that have worked?