One of the odd phenomenon of missionary life is “furlough fever” or “home assignment fever.” For missionaries who are away from their home countries for three or four years (or more) at a time, the symptoms of furlough fever often begin to appear in the last three to six months before their regularly scheduled return “home”.
Symptoms of furlough fever are easy to detect if you know what to look for:
- Increased longing for particular foods from the home country
- Nostalgia for well-loved people and places from the home country
- Increased frequency of checking weather from the home country
- Mentally blocking out events that occur in their adopted country after they will have gone home
- Selling or getting rid of household possessions, including furniture, vehicles, and children’s toys
- Increased hesitancy to buy anything new because it will just have to be packed up or sold (or because the same item of higher quality can be bought back home)
- Decreased (or vastly increased) interest in people and events in their adopted country
- Increased dissatisfaction with “everything that is wrong” about their adopted country
- Talks about “everything that is better” about the home country (while conveniently forgetting everything that is wrong)
- Increased interest and feelings of attachment towards the people, places, and foods that they will miss from their adopted country
- Feelings of giddy delight (or impending doom) as the return date draws closer
- Felt need to give children a crash course on who their relatives are (“Remember those people you saw on Skype?”)
- Urgent photographing of important people and places that will need to be shown to supporters
As more missionaries go back to their home country more often as compared previous generations, furlough fever may less common than it used to be. But for those missionaries who have been away for a long time, the fever is real. Not all missionaries (or their children) will experience all of the above symptoms at the same time or in the same way. For some, there may be relatively few symptoms, but for others the fever will catch them unexpectedly.
I am not sure how to cure the fever, or even if there is a cure. I do know that furlough fever should be acknowledged and dealt with. Ample doses of optimism, realism, preparation time, right expectations, the Word of God, and prayer should be applied. And friends too. Friends on both sides of the ocean who can relate to and endure the strange symptoms of missionaries in transition between their two homes.