What Home Assignment Means for a Missionary – Part 1

If you know missionaries, you may have heard the term Home Assignment. It’s a time when missionaries return to their home country for a period of time before returning to their country of service. But there is so much more to it than that! In this first of a series of articles, OMF Japan missionary Wendy Marshall walks us through what’s involved in Home Assignment, something she is going through with her family right now as they prepare to return to Australia. The audio companion to these articles is a conversation that Wendy had with OMF Japan missionary Kesia Pain. You’ll be blessed by their honesty in the struggles that come with Home Assignment, and you’ll be better-equipped to pray for missionaries who go through this period of transition.  

(Listen as Wendy and Kesia discuss the challenges of Home Assignment.)

By Wendy Marshall

If you were to list the roles of a missionary, probably you wouldn’t include “visits to supporters” as one of the first things on the list. Yet, it’s a big part of what we do. OMF expects that missionaries spend about one-fifth of their time in their home country doing what’s called “Home Assignment.” Usually that happens in large chunks of time, often between six and twelve months. It involves speaking in churches and small groups, as well as attending mission events like Urbana, and spending time with family, friends, and their home church.

There’s lots to think about when planning a home assignment, possibly more than most people realise. And because it’s a large chunk of time away from our ministry in the country where we serve, it’s often planned a long way in advance.

Home Assignment – When
Wendy and her husband, David

Wendy and David

We’re going on home assignment in July this year. This has been the plan for several years now. On our last home assignment four years ago, people wanted to know when we’d be back again. But even before that, we’d thought about it, because we had three boys who needed an education, and, in their teenage years, it’s been a lot harder to shunt them between schools and countries. It’s even more difficult for us as Australians because they have done most of their schooling in an American-style international school in Japan and the education system in Australia is structured quite differently than it is in the US, not to mention that the Australian school year starts in January, not August.

We only took six months for our last home assignment. We chose to do this so that our youngest son could get back to Japan for the last half of eighth grade, so he could participate in a number of exciting events that he’d been looking forward to for a long time. And this coming home assignment we’ve planned to start just after his graduation from high school. He’s lucky, in a way, because he’s the only one of our three sons who’s been able to do the whole four years of high school at the one school.

Other factors play into when we go on home assignment including my husband’s work: he’s a teacher at the same school our boys have been attending. Thankfully the school allows teachers to take a year without pay. Because he’s a teacher, it makes sense for us to leave for home assignment at the end of the school year in June. Some teachers do short home assignments, fitting them into the summer break, but our family has so many supporters (individuals and churches), spread over a wide area, that an eight-week home assignment really isn’t very practical. Not to mention that it means that my husband would start a new school year without any mental break at all, which seems unwise to us.

Home Assignment – Where

I’ve already listed several factors that missionaries consider when planning a home assignment: length, timing, education, ministry, and support base. “Where” is another big question that many people have to deal with, especially couples that come from two different countries, like England and New Zealand. And many families have support from more than one geographical area, like a Dutch couple who went to Bible college in the US. We are both from Queensland, Australia, so that makes the state easy to pick as a “home base.” However, it is a big state. We’ve elected each home assignment to base ourselves in the main city of our state, despite the fact that none of our parents or siblings live there. We’ve chosen to be based there primarily due to the location of our home church and also because many of our individual supporters live there. The downside is that we have to travel quite a bit to see our families, who live between 1 ½ and 8 hours away.

Queensland is on the east coast, but we also have a cluster of churches in our home church denomination in Perth on the west side of Australia, which is about the same distance as from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. So each home assignment, we have to decide how to spend time in Perth. This has also been complicated by schooling. For one home assignment I stayed with the children in Queensland while my husband flew to Perth to speak at churches on his own. Other times we’ve taken the boys out of school for a week, and crammed many meetings into just nine days. This coming home assignment will be different again because we will no longer have children in school, so we’re planning to spend longer on the west coast.

Late last year we had a Zoom meeting with the missions committee of one of our bigger supporting churches in Perth. They asked lots of good questions about our lives and ministry, and at the end we started talking about our plans for the next year. Another church had already made contact with us about our home assignment plans, so we told them about that and the dates that we were thinking about. These discussions took place many months before we even had a departure-from-Japan date, but it’s a “big rock” that needs to be decided before we organize other “smaller rocks” (visits to churches closer to where we’ll be based).

Do you get the impression that we’ve been talking about the upcoming home assignment for a long time? Yes, my husband and I tend to be planners. Not everyone plans so far in advance, but I think many missionaries plan further in advance than is common to people in our home countries.

(In part two of this series, Wendy walks us through the process of laying the ground work for leaving, including handing over tasks that still need to be done while she’s away, and the logistics of making a move from one country to another.)

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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