Housing for home assignment is frequently a huge headache for mission workers. In fact, it’s probably the single biggest challenge, though for many mission workers, their family and church may not even recognise this. So for starters, here’s a summary of the challenges:
If you’re single – You may end up moving in with your parents. While this is potentially demeaning for any adult, it may also put pressure on your relationships (particularly if your mum keeps asking when she’s going to need to go shopping for a hat). Or you may end up in a spare room at a friend’s house. This can be great fun when it works, but you may be acutely aware that it’s not your home and you need to work around somebody else’s space. At other times singles can end up in a succession of different places, often staying with strangers, which can be emotionally demanding no matter how hospitable they are.
If you’re a couple – People take couples’ needs more seriously than singles, recognising that you need your own space. You’re more likely to get a home of your own, but it’s still not always easy.
Sharing accommodation isn’t always easy
If you’re a family – The bigger your family, the bigger the challenge. It can be very hard to stay with friends due to the lack of space, but the rising cost of renting in the UK means you may not be able to afford somewhere large enough, and lack of space can put pressure on your family relationships. Families sometimes find themselves living far from friends, church and family, because they have to take what accommodation they can get. It doesn’t help the children form a positive impression of their parents’ home country.
Syzygy recommends that mission workers get a place of your own if this is at all possible. It gives you the private space you need to process all that’s gone on in your life on the field, and to deal with the pressures of adjusting to life in the UK (see Reverse Culture Shock). But renting is expensive, and it can be very hard to get a rental contract for less than a year, so there are a number of different solutions:
Multi-generational occupancy can be fun
Live in your own house – If you own a house, ask your tenants to move out so that you can live in it. It can help with a settling back into your ‘home’ but the challenge with this option is that your income drops though you still have to pay the mortgage. You also run the risk of not being able to let it again when you leave, although you can take the opportunity to do routine repairs which may help you get a better rent.
Save up money while you are overseas to set aside to pay rent when you return. Living back in your sending country may be significantly more expensive than being in the field, so setting aside a little every month (yes, I know it’s hard!) can help with this.
Ask your family/church/agency to help pay for the rent. Don’t be shy! They may not even have realised it’s a problem and could be happy to help. Churches in particular may need to be reminded of your needs.
Time-share a rental with other mission workers from the same church or town. You might be able to find other people sent from the same town as you who can synchronise their home assignment with yours, so that you can get a year’s rental agreement and take six months of it each.
Borrow a home from someone going overseas. Agencies can help arrange this, even if you’re not a member, as their short term mission workers will need to fill their homes while they’re abroad. Do some networking with other agencies in your field before you leave. Christian Home Exchange Fellowship may also be able to help.
Ask Syzygy. We know of one or two housing options that we can’t publicise, but contact us on email@example.com for more information.
Ask Oscar. The mission worker’s second favourite website (after this one!) has lists of the various options, including agencies and private lettings. Just click here.
Other long-term solutions can include forming partnerships with other mission workers to buy a property which can be used like a time-share, or if you know a number of mission workers from related churches in the same area, you may be able to encourage the churches to club together to buy a property for use as a mission home. One church I know bought a small development of flats and now rents most of them commercially, giving the church an income while they leave one flat permanently available for mission workers.
It’s also really important to gather a team around you, if you don’t have one already, who will prepare your accommodation. A group of friends, relatives and supporters who can source, rent and clean a home before you return, make sure it’s furnished and has food in the fridge, is a real blessing. Some churches collect and store everything from sofas to cutlery so that it can be used to kit out a rented house.
One thing that is important to stress is that having the right accommodation for your home assignment is a crucial element in managing the stress involved in returning to the UK, and it is well worth investing the time, energy and finance in finding the best solution.