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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sabbatical, Furlough, HMA. . . or what in the world are the Myhres doing?

Sabbatical, a term which seems to exist only for college professors and missionaries, which makes me feel a twinge of guilt.  But it has a strong biblical basis.  In Leviticus 25, the farmers were instructed to let their fields lie fallow every 7th year, a rest for the land, and God promised to make their sixth-year produce last until the eighth. Furlough, a leave-of-absence particularly for military personnel, a temporary stepping back from the battle.  In Serge-speak, we are on a year of "Home Ministry Assignment", which traditionally comprised one year in every five.  The concepts of sabbatical, furlough, and HMA are related but not identical.  Sabbatical implies sabbath which implies rest which implies faith.  Yes, faith.  To cease from the struggle, for a limited time, requires faith in God's provision and work.  Which may be why the failure to observe sabbath is such an oft-mentioned sin.  Furlough implies a break from intensity, for sanity, for survival, or taking care of other aspects of life.  Both of these recognize the fruitfulness of recharging.  HMA implies more shift of focus, from ministry cross-culturally to ministry on the home front for a limited time period.  The purpose then is not just for the worker who is taking leave, but for the home supporters who will benefit (in theory!) from their return and report and encouragement.

This is our second year-long sabbatical in our 22 years in Africa.  The first was a university-type sabbatical, a year we used away from our normal work to pursue further study, getting a Masters  in Public Health degree.  We've had numerous short furloughs or HMA's, where we visited churches and family, often in times of need or for specific purposes, a month here and a few months there.  But this year is something new for us, what I would call a true biblical sabbatical.  Fallow land, letting grow what will, ceasing from most of our usual labor, waiting.  A year of faith.

This sabbatical carries a strong theme of rest.  Hebrews 4 kind of rest, where we follow Jesus into a sabbath of pause, of work-completed.  It is not a passive rest, we are told we must be diligent to enter it, that we must hold fast to our confession and boldly to Jesus.

The concept of entering rest and coming home will find their fulfilment ultimately in the new heavens and new earth, in the all-things-right world that we labor towards.  But we get tastes of that rest and that home now, and for us that taste is coming in a place appropriately labeled "almost Heaven". Yes, West Virginia.  As a pilgrim and wanderer since age 18, this spot of ground holds the most consistent peace for me of any on earth.  My ancestors were born here, my parents met here, I spent childhood summers and weekends here, and my Dad left us some property here.  The 100-year-old farmhouse he had intermittently rented out, but in the last decade it had deteriorated with disuse.  My mom agreed to deed it over to us and we spent a good bit of our savings in the last year or so on a new roof and floor and finishing a room addition my Dad had started.

Which means that for the first time in our entire adult life, we own a house (and a car too!).  A house which carries a touch of our ideas, and ties into the hand-me-down furniture from our childhoods and some gracious presents from our long-ago wedding.  What a gift, what a revelation to find that rest and home tie so strongly together, that as embodied humans our souls breathe differently in this geography than in another.

We are in Sago, tucked into a fold of old hills, with meadows and forest sheltering from behind and a river flowing by in front.  We walk a few minutes to the best swimming hole, deep and cold right before the river bends onto shallow laughing rocks.  Four deer step nervously from the forest edge; hawks circle in the high clouds; a bee-sized humming-bird sips from the flowers by the kitchen door; an owl calls in the bright full moon.  We clean and organize, put in outlets and shelves, spread our quilts on beds and arrange our books in shelves.  Our kids seem a little disappointed that our first full empty-nest week milestone tonight did not find us collapsed in boredom or sadness.  We miss them.  But we'd be fools to shun this gift, this 28-years-later honeymoon, this space to process and settle.  Frankly, I can't remember the last time I went two weeks without watching someone die.

Pray for us.  I still find the most frightening verse of the Bible to be Psalm 106:13, where God gives the whining Israelites what they think they are desperate for but sends leanness into their souls.  Perhaps the decades of living in mission-housing, living by borrowing, makes us wary of the wonder of a home.  Pray we find the kind of rest for which sabbath-sabbatical were designed:  a deep dependence upon God the creator and provider, a sense of perspective as the world tilts on without us waking up at all hours of the night, a stillness and clarity as we listen and wait upon the Lord.  Pray we would do some home-ministry, we would thank and bless all of you on our support team.  Pray we would be ready to plunge into frontline medical missions again in a year.

Lest you think this sabbatical is too much fun . . . here's where what we have planned for the Fall, in addition to recertifying exams, study, spending time with family, writing, etc.  Hope to see many of you in these places.
Sep 3-19 Spain/North Africa for Serge Meeting (Area Directors with Mission Leadership, then visiting some work in the area)
Sep 20 speaking at Grace OPC in Vienna, VA, our main supporting church (combined Sunday School hour)
Oct 4-6 in Philadelphia, speaking to Serge Board
?Oct 24-25 speak at Trinity Presbyterian, Charlottesville . . TBD
Oct 27-Nov 1 speak at Serge's Vision Summit in Florida
Nov 5-7 speak in seminar at Global Health Missions Conference in Louisville, KY
Dec 27-31 speaking in two seminars at Inter-Varsity's Urbana Missions Conference in St. Louis, MO
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago, Half Moon Bay, Colorado Springs, to be scheduled still!

Pray we would have God's words for His people in these places.
And pray we would rest well in between.

1 comment:

deborah said...

Another beautiful post. Enjoy your time. And remember--the kids can come to visit you at holiday time!!!