Today we work with a lot of MKs (children of missionaries) who go on furlough (itineration, home ministry assignment, however you've heard it) with their parents, and others who have returned to the States without the intention of returning to the field. We actually have a a few MKs on furlough now- shout out to Emma, Meghan, and Katie! Before we moved to Costa Rica, we had a number of questions on how churches can support their missionaries and MKs. I thought I would complement Jason Carters' post with some practical ways of caring for MKs on Furlough.
1. Ask them about their 'home'. For most MKs, "Coming home to furlough" has no meaning--it's an oxymoron. Many of them spend the majority of their lives outside of the US (or passport country) and they left home when their parents came home. Asking "do you miss home yet?" is a breath of fresh air to an MK in the midst of all the well-meaning "welcome home!"s.
2. Ask them questions in order to hear their stories... and really listen. Be prepared to listen for a long time. We MKs generally know and acknowledge the importance of what it is our parent's are doing in ministry. We're used to people wanting to hear about the latest trip to the indigenous community, and we're used to sitting silently and listening to the same stories for the 39th time. When around peers who can't relate to our experiences, we find there is often no interest in listening to our stories. Often, MKs feel bottled up because there's no one who cares to relate to us.
3. Take them to do something fun. In his article Carter suggests friends watching the children of missionaries to enable them to have a date. This is a huge double win, because small acts of kindness towards MKs makes them feel really valued. When I was 11, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois took me--not my family, not my sisters and I, just me-- to one of the university's small rec centers. He bought me a slice of pizza and we played pool (for my first time) and then I went home. Total hang-out time: maybe an hour, hour and a half. Recall time: 15 years and counting. It made a huge impression on me, that someone cared enough to do this with me. I was a person, not just the student of missionaries his church supported.
3. Take extra measures to make them feel like they belong in your community. Call them up and invite them personally to a youth event, tell them you've missed in their absence, have things for them to do when they arrive to help them fit in and belong from the beginning. If lead a bible study, invite them to the study; if you coach a sports team, invite them to practice; if you have a hobby, ask them to join you. This often takes consistency and preparation, but it can have some big payoffs.
4. If you have kids around the age of the MKs, invite them to do things with your family. Sports activities, picnics, concerts, etc.
5. Keep in mind that a fair number of MKs don't know the rules to many sports. Without making them feel dumb about the fact they don't know them, offer to teach them the rules to a sport you enjoy. Help them learn what a batting average is and what it means, or invite them to your fantasy football league and offer to guide them through it.
6. Work on a project together. This could be a ministry you're already involved in (Steven, would you like to help me run sound for worship practice on Saturday?), changing the oil in your car, starting a scrapbook, work in the garden, etc.
7. Once you get to know the MK, ask them to teach you something. It could be a hands on instruction (cook something, make a craft), or a hypothetical instruction (if I were to get on public transportation in your country, how would I avoid getting robbed?) It doesn't have to be specific to a foreign culture or ministry, just to their story.
8. Find out something they miss from their home (the field) and visit an international supermarket or hunt it down to surprise them! You'd be surprised what you can find if you look hard enough--especially if you live near an international community.
9. Send them a note or a care package as they travel. Or hand something off to their parents to give to them at a later time to avoid postage and timing. Extra hint: American candy is often coveted! (skittles, m&ms, snickers, milky way bars, nerds, twizzlers, etc.)
10. Don't let the brevity of time deter you. Trust me, MKs are used to making friends on short notice. It's a second nature survival skill that comes with the territory. If an MK is only at your church for the weekend, see how much time you can devote to spending with them and do it! But don't be discouraged if they've had their fill of saying goodbyes and aren't interested. It's not you they're rejecting, it's the pain of saying goodbye to friends over and over again that they're having to work through.
Next up: 10 ways to encourage MKs who have returned from the field (for good).