Home is where the heart is, right? What defines home for you? Is it a place? Is it your house? City? Country? Is it when you are around family? When you are around friends? People who love their careers feel at home when they are at work. Some people feel at home when they are eating the food they love. Home can have a certain atmosphere or even a certain smell.
For the missionary, home is a confusing question. In one sense, home is where you came from. In another sense, it is in the new country that you live in and minister to. It’s not “either or”, but “both and”. I can say home and mean Michigan or Ann Arbor. I can also say home and mean Thailand or Korat. To me, it has all become home and I would have it no other way.
A new trend in missions today is to get rid of the word “furlough” and replace it with “home assignment”. Furlough is an old army term used when soldiers would temporarily leave the battle and go back to visit family. It is also used in the business world as a way to describe unpaid, temporary leave. Why missionaries took up this terminology, I’m not sure, but it seems appropriate enough. Comparing it to a soldier’s furlough is a pretty accurate assessment.
Nowadays, home assignment is the preferred words of choice. My mission agency, as well as many others, uses this vocabulary. (By the way, I love my mission agency, so please don't take this one article I wrote and turn it into something its not.) How this came about, I have no idea. My guess is that it was either a conspiracy of the higher-ups, or the brilliant gem of some missionary who hated being on the field.
For me, I can’t stand the language. I find it insulting to missionaries and their families. One of the biggest challenges a missionary faces, when first going abroad, is adjusting to the culture of their new society and turning a foreign place into home. It is a difficult transition and many don’t make it. But for those who do, they grow to love the new country they live in and consider it just as much home as where they came from. To the missionary, home is this new place.
Today we have this new jargon, “home assignment”. To the non-missionary, this probably makes sense, but to us, it only adds in confusion. Yes, home for me is back in Michigan, but it is also here in Thailand. In my opinion, I’m on home assignment now as I type this in my house... in Korat... in Thailand. I’m at home.
While furlough is a borrowed word, it is a more fitting word for the missionary family. To all the mission agencies and sending churches out there, try to be respectful of your missionaries. Remember that “home” has a different meaning to them than it does to you.