Monday, February 19, 2007

What it's like: part 6 (furlough)

It used to be called furlough, but it is now called "Stateside Assignment". It was supposed to be a time when a missionary could have R&R and rejuvenation, but now, it is often just an American venue to continue your work. Many folks do not have any kind of a real furlough, but instead are expected to continue on with their duties, thanks to the miracle that is email.

Stateside Assignment, or STAS, is a mixed bag and a mixed blessing. There are so many good things about STAS: seeing your family; allowing the kids to bond with the grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc; seeing old friends; eating familiar foods; going to familiar stores and restaurants; showing your kids where you grew up; sharing your story at churches and other gatherings; telling folks about how God is at work. But there is a second side of the coin with this; your family and friends purposefully or inadvertently put a guilt trip on you about the kids growing up without grandparents or other close family; enjoying those familiar foods and restaurants too much and then having to deal with the Board about your BMI; enjoying Wal-Mart too much then having to get rid of stuff before returning to the field; having to deal with people or churches who really don't care about life in Lalaland; family members who ask you about life "over there" then not paying attention to your answer.

I remember when I was a journeyman and returned home and a family member asked me, "How was it over there?" as he reached for the remote control and never even heard my answer.

I'm not faulting folks in America for not paying attention to your answer or for not comprehending what it's like to be a missionary, but many folks in America haven't even been out of their home state, if not their home county, and simply don't understand what you're talking about. I certainly don't mean that missionaries are better than, smarter than, or wiser than the next guy, but our range of experience is so broad, that sometimes the same conversations you had when you were 20 years old seem to be mundane.

I don't like hearing people gripe about our government or health care or education. While the American systems aren't perfect, it only takes living OUTSIDE America for a few months to discover that we ain't got it too bad in the good ole US of A.

Furlough is a wonderful, blessed, crazy time. You are often put on a pedestal where you don't belong and often attributed super-spiritual, super-human qualities, which you do not possess. Feelings of amazement happen every day when you realize that you don't get the jokes being told, don't know who the TV and movie stars are that are being talked about, and the new model cars look like they are from a sci-fi movie. You are overwhelmed by the variety and choices available. I remember on our first furlough, my wife sent me to the store the very first morning for some cereal and milk. I was gone an hour and a half and only came back with the milk. I stood in the cereal aisle for an hour trying to decide what to buy, then decided I'd just buy "Raisin Bran", but then couldn't decided which variety of the old "standby" to purchase. I think we ended up going out for donuts that morning!

I also remember the first time home from overseas and my sister took us to Wal-Mart. After about 20 minutes she said, "you know, we can go on in the store; these are just the clearance items at the door!" When we then went to El Chico's for supper after Wally World, we nearly shouted for joy (and scared the waitress) when she brought us all ice water!

You forget how to do stuff, living overseas. I remember trying to fill up the car for the first time back when everyone had changed to credit card gas pumps. Finally, the clerk at the 7 Eleven came out and showed me how to do it, or I might have still been there, trying to figure it out. When my wife went to Wal-Mart, she simply handed the clerk her credit card. The woman handed it back and told my wife that she needed to do it herself. My wife had no idea how to do it, so I think she just paid cash!

It's the little things like that which make you realize that while you may speak a half a dozen languages, you can't even pay for Little Debbie's and Tide at Wal-Mart without help from the clerk. Seriously though, it is a demonstration of how little changes can add up. Not just at Wal-Mart, but in people, too. Family expects you to be the same person as when you left. There is NO WAY anyone can remain the same after living overseas, whether as a missionary or in the military or business. You change. Of course, so do the people "back home". They may not change as much, but they do change.

All this is more of a dialogue for me to mentally prepare myself for STAS. We will return in March to the US (to the Greatest State in the Union) for a nice, long, well-deserved, long over-due furlough.

8 comments:

Shannon said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Enjoy STAS in the greatest state in the Union!

Strider said...

You certainly speak for me and many others I know in this post. But in the midst of it all I am seeing big changes in the God's Kingdom there. More people are M minded and have a bigger world view than ever before. There are problems but I love seeing that God is working back home as much as he is over here. Enjoy it.
(and don't tell anyone, but if you rest and relax a few extra days, weeks, or months than RVA says you can they will never know.)

GuyMuse said...

I loved reading your STAS report. It is indeed just like you describe and the same stories could be told of us as well. I remember our first furlough my wife went to the grocery store and was so overwhelmed by all the choices she came back in tears and with NOTHING--it was just too much to handle! One of our problems is the AMOUNT of food that is served in restaurants. We always gain a huge amount of weight every time we go back, mainly due to eating out a lot more than normal.

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Nomad,

It is good to hear you are going to be in Oklahoma also. We leave the 15th of March for FURLOUGH (yes, I am still old school) in Oklahoma. Maybe we will cross paths.

Nomad said...

10/40,

Oklahoma? Where did you get that?

Email me at nomad4god (at) gmail.com and we'll talk.... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget other kinds of changes people have - like when I told someone I'd just give something to his wife so it wouldn't be forgotten (jokingly) only to find out they'd gotten a divorce the year before & no one had filled me in... Some news updates would be nice...

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...

Nomad,

Where did I get the idea that you would be in Oklahoma? Since you claim to be from the greatest state in the union, not Texas, common sense leads you to Oklahoma. An e-mail will come soon.

Gary Snowden said...

Nomad,

The post about furlough brought back so many memories--especially the reference to shopping for cereal at Walmart. I had a very similar experience on our first furlough back after being gone for right at 4 years. We only had Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies in Argentina, and the choices absolutely overwhelmed me. I was feeling dizzy and almost sick after making my way down an entire aisle of breakfast cereals.

The other thing that struck home was what you said about folks asking about how things were and then promptly tuning you out before you could reply. We experienced a good deal of that as well.

The highlight was definitely all of the fast food places to eat at. In anticipation of our first furlough, we composed a song that featured our wish list of places to dine. I can still remember the words and tune after 15 years.

"I want to wake up in the morning where I can eat my favorite foods
Breakfast at McDonalds and lunch with the Colonel and for dinner a barbecue...
Wendy's and Pancho's and Long John Silver's too, oh take me back to Texas, where I can gain a pound or two.

As Guy comments, the gaining pounds part came very easily.