Missionaries Take the Vacation

Happy family going on holidays

We had arrived in the U.S. on “vacation” or furlough for three weeks.

We had been going from city to city visiting our supporters, friends, family, and churches. At one point, we asked my in-laws if they would be willing to watch our kids so we could have some time away. They have always been so supportive and they happily agreed.

Our marriage was fine so we were just getting away to have some much needed time together and time alone with God.

We headed to the mountains in Tennessee. There we found some cabins built specifically for missionaries to use, such a blessing. During our first few days there we spent a lot of time alone and just seeking God and then we agreed to come together to see what God was showing us.

Well, during that time God convicted me of some things and He did the same to my husband. Little did we know that our marriage was hurting.

In the fast paced life that we live, we had lost touch and it had become so normal that we didn’t even realize anything was wrong. Sure we could work on this or that but I had no idea we were hurting so deeply.

I was out on a hike and feeling so overwhelmed with emotion by what God was showing me, that I was in tears, but not just trickling down tears. No, it was the messy kind of crying, the kind that makes you sick to your stomach. Next thing I knew I was bent over by the creek throwing up.

Sometimes we just need to stop

I look back to that time and it was that vacation time away in the midst of our furlough that opened our eyes to see the big picture, to see what was going on that we had missed along the busyness.

That time away saved us from ourselves, from hurting each other more and from our sin.

It was once again a time that the Lord whispered to us–Receive! Come to my feet and receive!

Furlough is Not a Vacation

By the way, going back to your home country on furlough is never a vacation, just in case you consider those vacations.

I know sometimes there isn’t enough time to take a vacation apart from your furlough. As I mentioned above carve out some time in the midst of the furlough to connect as a couple and as a family.

I’m thankful for the time we get on furlough to see old friends and family but it is in no way a vacation. Literally, there are weeks that will go by and my husband and I have not had a “real” conversation when we are supposedly “vacationing” on furlough.

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The Day the Missionaries Went on Vacation

We have served overseas in South America now for 8 years and going on our 9th year this fall!  The moment we had decided South America was going to be our place of ministry I began dreaming about visiting Machu Picchu. So, I started saving every nickel and dime, and I mean literally every nickel and dime so that we could take a trip to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. After two years, we had saved enough money for our airline tickets and with much excitement we bought them!  We were ecstatic and then summer rolled around and we realized we had not saved enough money for things like eating, hotels, and spending money for a family of 5 while in Peru. So we had to postpone our trip for the following year. But the time came! After three years we saved up enough money and we boarded a plane, excited to see, discover and enjoy a VACATION.

After two years, we had saved enough money for our airline tickets and with much excitement we bought them!  We were ecstatic and then summer rolled around and we realized we had not saved enough money for things like eating, hotels, and spending money for a family of 5 while in Peru. So we had to postpone our trip for the following year.But the time came! After three years we saved up enough money and we boarded a plane, excited to see, discover and enjoy a VACATION.

Some were offended (yes, there are people who wholeheartedly believe we shouldn’t have a vacation), some were confused others jealous, but many were cheering us on.

It was an amazing trip! We didn’t go to feed the homeless kids of Peru. We didn’t go to help build a church in rural villages of Cusco. We didn’t go learn a tribal language so we could evangelize the Amazon villages.

We simply just went on vacation.

At the moment I had not realized how much I needed that trip. Our family needed this time away!

Both Ben and I have been blessed with a “doer” mentality so we needed this time away from ministry. Staying in our place of ministry and taking time off doesn’t work because we are still called back to the office for just this one thing–every other day. So we needed to go away.

Open your hands and receive

Receive!

That’s a hard word for us sometimes. As a woman with the title of a missionary, counselor, mom, and wife I spend my days giving to our kids, to our neighbors, to my spouse, to our family, to our ministry, to our friends, to our community… it has become a way of life. And most days I joyfully do it, some days not so much.

But we give, give and give that we don’t even realize when our cup has run dry and our service and ministry has become stale because we are worn and tired.

So we took a vacation!

We took a vacation as missionaries.

Why?

Because we need to take a time of respite for ourselves. We need to remove ourselves from our ministry and let others take the lead in our absence. We need the focused family time. We need the focused time as a couple. We need to just be and stop those busy Martha hands and just sit at the feet of Jesus without looking at our schedule and all of the appointments that fill our day.

Though I can write this now without much effort, the year leading to our departure was hard on me. Even though we foot the bill for our time in Peru, as I mentioned before, we saved up all of our money for this trip.

I still felt the need to justify our vacation to our supporters and those around us.  I felt the need to “earn” our vacation time. So, I went into this crazy “doing” mode. By constantly doing then I could in my own heart and mind justify that our family, the missionaries, in fact really deserve a vacation. Never in my wildest dreams before becoming a missionary would I have imagined feeling guilty for taking a vacation. Here in South America, even the poor go on vacation. They may stay in a $10 room but they are on vacation and fully enjoying it with their family.

Since then we have taken two family vacations. Two years later, we headed to the Galapagos Islands after having more time to save up our dollars; and now three years later we will take another vacation to Europe.

Keeping the vacation a secret

A few months ago I told my husband that I didn’t want to let anyone know that we were going to Europe. We had once again saved all of our birthday money, had yard sales and what not, so my husband and I could do a 40-mile trek for my 40th birthday. But this was not done alone we had friends and family donate money specifically for our trip to help us get to Europe.

Well, I didn’t want it to be a stumbling block for those who are on the fence about giving to missions or just about missionaries in general.  I didn’t want our current supporters to stop supporting us because they feel like we are living a life of luxury which is not in any shape or from the case. But then I thought what message am I sending to our fellow missionaries when I’m “hiding” our vacation. What are we telling our kids who may one day choose to serve overseas as missionaries–that everyone else can take a vacation but not us.

But then I thought what message am I sending to our fellow missionaries when I’m “hiding” our vacation. What are we telling our kids who may one day choose to serve overseas as missionaries or give to missions–that everyone else can take a vacation but not missionaries.

For some reason, just the mere mention of going to Europe sounds so extravagant to my ears. Even though it will cost us about the same and maybe even less expensive than our other two trips to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. For that matter, it’s so much cheaper than going to Disney or going on furlough to the U.S. But our every 3 years trip to the U.S. is justified because we are going “home” to connect with churches and supporters.

Feelings of Guilt

Well, it still felt, dare I say, wrong. Yes, the same person who just wrote all of the above and would in a heartbeat encourage any missionary not to feel guilty about taking a vacation, I still felt like it was wrong, and even more so because it’s another continent.

Well, I knew I needed to take this to the Lord and if in fact, we were doing something wrong or this wasn’t the time, then I needed Him to show me. I spent some time talking with God and going back and forth on this topic over the past few weeks. The Lord reminded me that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I didn’t have to hide anything. No, I don’t have to go shout it out from the rooftops and rub it in people’s faces, but hiding and shame were not necessary.

I walked away with peace. I walked away from my time, assured that instead of hiding this trip I should use this opportunity to educate others about missionaries and missionary care.

Hiding and shame happens when you’re in sin and acting against the Lord not when you’re taking care of yourself and doing what the Lord calls all of us to do–rest.

Because missionaries shouldn’t constantly live feeling guilty for enjoying themselves whether the feelings are self-imposed or from well-meaning friends or supporters who share comments like, “Whoa, I thought you guys were missionaries” when you share a picture of your vacation on social media is not helpful to us.

When We Judge Each Other

To be completely honest, I have found myself being judgmental of other missionaries. I remember when I saw on Facebook some missionaries who we knew were headed to Disney, I found myself being judgmental. My critical spirit came from feeling envious, not because I thought they were doing something wrong. Many times we have to stop and ask ourselves where is that judgemental spirit coming from and most of the time we discover it’s coming from a heart of jealousy, fear, and pride.

Just take the Vacation

Everyone’s circumstances are different so take it to the Lord. Our vacation was not sinful. We are not stealing money from our ministry to go on vacation. We are not being unwise stewards of our money by taking a vacation. We are not neglecting our children or running away from something on this vacation. We personally used our own funds for this trip. We are not taking away from our ministry by taking a vacation.

In fact, we are doing something wonderful for our ministry by taking a vacation. Who wants burned out missionaries on the field? Who wants missionary families on the brink of divorce because they can’t say no to ministry needs? Who wants missionaries who are so busy that they don’t even make the time to spend with God?

No one does, not your missionary co-workers, not the people you’re ministering to and not even your organization.

So, if you’re a missionary and you’re reading this and you feel guilty about taking a vacation please hear me out–

Take the vacation.”

Leave your city; leave your country if possible. With technology making it so easy to get a hold of people, I know it’s hard to leave work. My husband when he is on “vacation” but stays in the city where we live and minister, he is answering emails, calls and even going into the office for a quick trip.  The only way he gets a real vacation is when we leave the city. When we leave the country, that is even better because then no one expects things from him.  So, leave and rest.

Don’t go somewhere else only to include some “work” engagements so you feel better about your vacation. Just go and rest with your family or by yourself.

Be still and receive!

Take time to just sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him whisper into your soul.
Take time to just sit next to your spouse and kids and discover who they are. What is their favorite color? What is their biggest fears? Who are their good friends? What are they passionate about?

Vacation trips are a blessing from God. They are not because I’ve earned them for all the people who came to Christ that year or for all the “good missionary work” we’ve done.

So on this vacation, I will not turn a blind eye to those in need but I will remember to “be still”.  I will bask in His creation and presence and soak in His truth and beauty. And most of all I will enjoy the company of my husband and family as we walk around the dirt roads and remember to sit at His feet.

Be still and receive His rest!

If you know a missionary

If you’re a person who supports a missionary I suggest you encourage your missionaries to take a time of respite. Encourage them to take a vacation that is outside of their ministry area. In fact, tell your missionaries your specific donation money for that month is only to be used for a vacation. Our trip to Europe was only possible because we had friends and supporters do this for us. We had some lovely co-workers raise money so we can take a cooking class during our vacation. We had family members pitch in their time and money to make this trip possible. And we have been saving every single penny of ours from birthday money to yard sale money, to odd jobs money, to reach our summer vacation budget.

Now don’t get me wrong–I completely think we should be good stewards of our money and never go in debt whether we are missionaries or not! At the end, it’s all God’s money. I’m not encouraging anyone into frivolous spending, extravagant safaris to Africa, luxurious restaurant dining, shopping sprees, then a trip to a remote island on a yacht…as this is not what I am talking about when I encourage us to take a vacation. So hear me out, yes, we should always be good stewards of our money and going into debt is never an option.

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