What Home Assignment Means for a Missionary – Part 4

We’ve all had to go through the process of packing for a move. But fewer of us have had to pack to move to another country, yet leave some things behind because you’ll be returning… or maybe you won’t! That’s one of the many challenges for a missionary going on home assignment. OMF Japan missionary Wendy Marshall continues her series on what home assignment really means for a missionary, this time explaining the process of which belongings stay and which get moved.

(Listen to the companion audio discussion of this series featuring Wendy Marshall and Kesia Pain.)

By Wendy Marshall

Moving out of your accommodation to go on home assignment is different from moving house within one country.

You can’t take all your stuff with you when you go to another country temporarily. Oftentimes that means you have to store your goods somewhere local. That means making many choices about what you will take with you and what you will leave behind. Because storage isn’t cheap in Tokyo, the goal—on a missionary budget—is usually to store as little as possible.

So, if you can’t take it or store it, what do you do? Missionaries are very good at reusing things. At times of transitions lots of things change hands within the missionary community. We’ve been given Christmas trees (yes, three, in fact—but not at the same time), a stand mixer, Tupperware containers, bunk beds, many clothes and toys, and even an eight-seater van (well, we did pay something for it). Several days before we left for our last home assignment, we held a giveaway party. It was mostly the contents of our kitchen cupboards that we’d been unable to use up, but it doubled as a time to bid farewell to some local friends and colleagues. I’ll definitely be doing that again!

There are thousands of decisions to be made about our worldly goods. I recently told a friend that I’d gotten very Scrooge-like about what books I buy. I’m the same about many things, actually. It’s not just for financial reasons, but more that we have limited space and know that a move is coming, and each thing that you own adds to the decision burden. I’ve created this diagram to show you the decision process that we (and many other missionaries) use.

One step in the process that OMF asks us to do is categorising what we store. Home assignment is always a precarious time in terms of a missionary’s future. For one reason or another, it often becomes a turning point in a missionary’s career, and sometimes they never return to where their goods are stored. This creates a burden on those who continue to serve in that OMF center as they have to deal with someone else’s goods. So, just in case something like that happens, we’re asked to label everything “to send” (to our new location) or “don’t send.” That is, write instructions about what to do with all the stuff we store if we don’t come back. Obviously sending lots of stuff internationally is expensive, so careful decision-making is necessary.

The move itself can be also quite complicated as it involves not just leaving a property and organising the storage of your stuff, but farewells, and international travel, plus alternative accommodation between moving out and flying.

Does this sound exhausting? It is. And it’s one reason why missionaries often have mixed feelings about leaving their country of service.

(Next time, Wendy talks about arriving to their home country, the work to be done while ‘home’, and reverse culture shock. Read the prior articles in this series: Part 1 – Advanced Planning; Part 2 – Preparing to Leave; Part 3 – Emotional Toll)

About the Author: Wendy Marshall is an Australian serving with OMF. She has been in Japan with her husband David since 2000; they have three young adult sons. Wendy is a writer and editor. She’s the managing editor of a magazine for and by missionaries in Japan called Japan Harvest. She’s also the editor for OMF Japan’s social media and blog. She and David love to camp and have set up their tent in more than 30 places in Japan. You can follow Wendy on her personal blog: on the edge of ordinary.

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