Home Assignment Blog Series Graphics Part 2

What Home Assignment Means for a Missionary – Preparing to Leave

Part 2

Our series about missionary Home Assignment continues as OMF Japan’s Wendy Marshall walks us through the process that she’s currently in the middle of as she prepares to return to Australia. Our prayer for this series is that, among other things, you’ll be better equipped to pray and come alongside missionaries you might know who go through this process. Today, Wendy shares about the practical steps that have to be thought through in order to leave Japan.

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

By Wendy Marshall

Home assignment (HA) is such an odd thing. It’s uncommon to walk away from your job on a regular basis with your whole family and go to work somewhere else for a significant period, then to return. Some jobs require regular transfers, like the military and diplomatic work, but missionary work has a “boomerang” aspect to it that’s unusual.

One of the things that isn’t obvious to our supporters is that, before we go to see them, we’ve done a lot of work just getting out of Japan.

Handover

Before we leave Japan, we will have handed our work over to other people to do while we’re away. That’s a small sentence, but it can be a lot of hard work. Months before our departure date my husband and I would have had discussions with colleagues about how our roles will be covered while we’re away. Neither of us has people who will step in and take on all our responsibilities, so our jobs will be split up and covered by a number of different people. Of course this looks different for each missionary depending on their roles and their teammates. But handovers prior to home assignment take time and energy, often at a time when we’re also grappling with decisions about life on home assignment: housing, furniture, vehicle, schooling, schedule, etc.

Schedule planning

At the time of writing, we still have several months before we leave for HA, but I anticipate that soon we’ll have churches wanting to “book you to come and speak.” I usually act as the keeper of the schedule in our family, and, as a result, I will answer and write hundreds of emails in the coming year to organise places where we’ll speak and groups to visit. In fact, in November of last year, we’d already accepted one speaking opportunity at a theological college, for August 31 this year, and one potential church retreat in September.

Logistics

There are many logistics that are needed in order to make international moves. This includes sorting out accommodation and transport, and, if you have children, you need to make educational decisions too. Many missionaries pack up their goods and move out of their on-field accommodation, so that requires packing and sorting belongings, booking movers, and sorting out where your goods will be stored. (OMF Japan helps with that by renting storage units that are shared with other missionaries.) More about that in a later article! You need to pay attention to how you will get to the airport, and how you will get from the airport to your final destination.

Each of these decisions on its own doesn’t seem like a lot, but they soon add up, and missionaries can be quite exhausted by the time they actually leave the country. Our family has done this four times now and we’ve learned to take our time through this transition. That includes booking temporary accommodation on either side of the trip and even stopping somewhere neutral on the way back for a few days to rest.

Preparing material

Mobile booth for a missionary
Missionaries need to prepare material for church visits while on HA.

When missionaries come to speak at your church or small group, they have to have prepared their materials beforehand. That can include writing stories to share, a sermon, slide presentations, physical displays, children’s talk, etc. This takes time, time that often needs to be carved out while still actively engaged in ministry on the field.

OMF has a really good course called Pre-Home Assignment Workshop (PHAW), a two-week course where you spend a lot of time preparing for home assignment, including writing and presenting home assignment material to your peers.

We’re thankful that OMF does a good job helping us prepare for home assignment. Next time you meet missionaries newly arrived from their country of service, be mindful that they’ve probably already done a lot of work preparing for home assignment, more than you would usually do preparing for an overseas vacation, and that they are likely to be weary.

(Next time, Wendy talks about the emotional toll of leaving for Home Assignment. Read Part 1 of this series: Advanced Planning.)

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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