The runway came into view, the tyres skidded onto solid ground, the engines roared into reverse to slow the plane, and the toddler on my lap slept on (*phew!*). We are actually back in the UK for a whole year!
The realisation finally hit me. With all the chaos of packing up all our belongings, saying lots of goodbyes, filling out all the forms at the town office, moving out of our old home of the past 2 years, a threatened miscarriage, and so on, it had almost escaped my notice that we were going back to the UK for a whole year.
So, why did you come back? Is this a year’s holiday? A sabbatical? What are you doing this year? I’ve been asked these questions a lot in the last few weeks since getting back to the UK.
This is a 1 year ‘home assignment’, what previous generations called a ‘furlough’. A quick trip to Wikipedia tells me there are various uses of the word ‘furlough‘ including leave from work due to ill-health or even parole from a prison term! But the definition I’d most often heard it linked to was a leave from military service, a time away from one’s post for a period. I like that. As Piper says, life is war for Christians (obviously spiritual not physical!). But all these definitions give the impression that this year is basically time off, holiday, or time for convalescing.
This is a strength of the new term ‘home assignment’. This year does involve rest and convalescing, but it is more than that. It is not a year-long holiday – there is still much work to do… in a different place: home.
This is where I find the new term problematic. For us, our home assignment is in the UK, based in Wales. My parents are from the East Midlands and I grew up in Japan. Not only that, our eldest boy (5) was 7 months old when we moved to Japan. Our second son (2) was born there. The UK has never been home to them. Also, for all of us as a family, we have made our home in Japan for the last 4 years. Whilst there are ways in which Wales is home, especially to my Welsh wife (!), there are many ways in which this assignment is not at home.
The 5 R’s
So what is a home assignment if it’s not just a long vacation. Helpfully, OMF have alliterated the aims of home assignment into 5 R’s.
- Rest – yes, rest is one reason for this year. And we do feel the need for it. Two years hard grind at language study and 2 years working in a busy church, adjusting to living in Japan and dealing with culture stress, we have come back weary in heart and body (as the Japanese say). Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll be refreshed and raring to go for another 4 years!
- Reconnecting to family & friends – we thank God for the blessings of modern inventions like email, Skype and Facebook, that help close the distance but nothing beats a face to face chat and a big bear hug! We thank God for the blessing of family and friends, whose support has been vital over the last 4 years. It’s great to have the opportunity to renew and deepen those relationships by living in the same time zone for a while and even occasionally being in the same room together!
- Reporting back to churches and prayer groups – we have had so many people committed to praying for us over the last 4 years, another vital support that we couldn’t have done without. It’s great to have the opportunity to meet some of these dear people (sometimes for the first time) and tell them in person what’s it’s been like for the last 4 years.
- Retraining – doing some extra study to help us be better equipped for our work in Japan. This year we are doing some on-line study of counselling with ccef to give us more tools to help the many young people in Japan who struggle with emotional, psychological, inter-personal, and character issues (just like the rest of us!).
- Recruiting – helping OMF UK in their mobilisation work, getting more people involved in God’s mission to the world, encouraging them to learn, pray, go, send, welcome, mobilise. (Watch this video to find out more.)
With that in mind, what are you doing?