Home assignments involve transitions and consequently they are often stressful. But before our first home assignment, we attended a two-week pre-home assignment workshop run by OMF International, which encouraged, inspired and helped us to prepare.
One of the most valuable tools we gained was the simple mnemonic RAFT, which reminds us of the following four things we need to do when approaching the end of a term of service.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but relationships among missionaries and between missionaries and national Christians are not always smooth! We anger and annoy others, and others do the same to us. We sin and make mistakes and that affects others, and vice versa. We need to forgive and, in turn, ask for forgiveness from others.
Before we went on home assignment, we realised that we had unfinished business: a co-worker who had said something hurtful to us; someone had asked us to do a job, but we had not done it. “Who knows”, we thought, “we might not return to Japan as planned, and then there would be no opportunity to be reconciled with this person face to face.” Rather than leave a situation with bad feelings on both sides, how much better to be humble, admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness. What a deep and profound impact that could have for the Gospel! We made time with specific people to ask for their forgiveness. We also forgave those who had hurt us. Both were hard to do.
A summary of Colossians 3:13b I made for myself many years ago describes the dual definition of a Christian:
A Christian is someone who has been forgiven by Jesus.
A Christian is someone who forgives like Jesus.
A few minutes’ thoughtful reflection is likely to bring to mind a number of people with whom you need to be reconciled. May I suggest you take that time when you finish reading this article? Then set aside time with each person to restore those broken or strained relationships. Some of Jesus’ last words on earth were words of forgiveness. Therefore, it’s a good pattern for us to follow as we leave for home assignment.
Along with mending broken relationships, the end of a term is a great time to say thank you. Think about who has been special to you this term. Perhaps it’s a mission leader who gave advice about a tricky pastoral issue, or a co-worker who encouraged you when you were down. Or maybe it’s a Japanese pastor who mentored you, or a Japanese friend who shared their life with you. Perhaps it’s someone who cared for your children, or who checked your sermons. Someone who explained the cultural mistake you kept on making, so that you didn’t make it any more. The list could go on; many people help us in many different ways.
How are you going to affirm or thank them? Write a letter or a note? Thank them in person or give a small gift?
One Japanese friend checked all my wife’s talks, but didn’t want to be paid for her work. So to thank her, my wife took her to a tearoom and treated her to afternoon tea!
Again, a bit of thought will bring to mind some people who deserve your thanks and affirmation. It may well be that some of the people with whom you have to be reconciled are also those you will want to affirm as well – such is the nature of working and living closely with each other. It leaves a good and godly impression if the last thing someone hears you saying is thank you.
Farewells are especially important in Japan. Companies, schools, and virtually every organisation have farewell parties or ceremonies. It’s a strong cultural value.
We may want to leave quietly without any fuss, but we need to allow churches, ministries and people with whom we have been involved to say goodbye to us. We have shared our lives with people, and they with us; we mustn’t just walk out on them!
Often people who we’ve lost contact with or those with whom we’ve only had a passing contact will come to a farewell event. These times give us another chance to share an appropriate verse of Scripture, a special song, or a gospel message. What an opportunity for God to work in people’s hearts!
Formal events create pressure to know what to say, but help is at hand. It seems that many Japanese people also don’t know what to say, and so there are websites with example speeches for various events. Before our last home assignment, we were asked to give a greeting at the church we had been attending, and so I found an appropriate speech online and adapted it. Afterwards, the wife of the previous pastor said to me it was just what was needed for a farewell speech. Yes!
One friend of ours felt so overwhelmed with packing that she simply could not face organising any farewell events. So she asked a friend to help. Her friend helped her to say her goodbyes and to leave well.
Of course, saying goodbye to people is very important, but saying farewell to places can be helpful too. We’ve known families, who are planning to return to a different part of Japan after home assignment, to take a farewell tour to build in memories. They go to places that are special to them, for example, places where they have taken family holidays. They take photos and tell the stories and create or recreate the memories. International schools like Christian Academy in Japan sometimes do something similar just prior to graduation, providing seniors an opportunity to travel around campus with cameras to capture memories of their school days.
Some of the mostly dearly loved passages of Scripture are basically farewell speeches. When we go on home assignment, what words could we leave behind that could have a deep and lasting impact?
We all know that it is hard to say farewell, but it is even harder not to say farewell.
As important as reconciling, affirming, and saying farewell are, we also need to do the work of praying, thinking and planning for the future.
Of course, we will make plans about where to live, what work to do, where we will visit on deputation and which schools our children will attend. But there are other things to think about.
Just as you almost certainly brought things from your home country to Japan to remind you of home, you will probably want to take some things to your home country to remind you of Japan. What might they be? A special book, a wall hanging, or something else? These should be things that have special meaning to you personally, not just items for deputation meetings.
For example, many families create a photo album for each child. This is made by the children themselves (with the help of their parents) to explain their life in Japan to other children in their passport country. The album may be full of blurred pictures of trains, cars and fire engines, but if that is what your child wants to show other children about Japan then that’s OK!
Your support structures on home assignment will be different to those you have on the field. From whom will you get your support? Family? Home church? Friends? What if you will be based in an unfamiliar part of your home country or will be travelling a lot? On the field, we know our support structures, but it’s important to know who you will pray with and be accountable to on home assignment.
People newly arrived from your home country-either those fresh from their own home assignment, or new missionaries-can be a great resource to bring you up to date with your home country. It will have changed for better and worse. Ask people from your country what they noticed, what they found difficult, and what they enjoyed.
Some missions hold reunions for workers on home assignment and some countries have interagency camps for third-culture kids. A highlight of home assignment can be to be with people who understand your experience. I encourage you to investigate such events for yourself and your children.
Adapting a quote by businessman Alan Lakein we could say, “Thinking ahead brings the future of home assignment into the present so that you can do something about it now.”
Reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, and thinking ahead are the four logs of a RAFT to get you safely launched on home assignment.