by William Ardill
The Joneses are busy getting ready for their home assignment, or furlough, next week. Dad may have to pull a few all-nighters to finish packing. They haven’t even thought about cleaning the house and readying it for the next occupants. They’ll have to ask their missionary friends to return borrowed items.
The Joneses are busy getting ready for their home assignment, or furlough, next week. Dad may have to pull a few all-nighters to finish packing. They haven’t even thought about cleaning the house and readying it for the next occupants. They’ll have to ask their missionary friends to return borrowed items. The Joneses’ own disorganization frustrates them, and it’s taking a toll on their relationship. They are talking sharply to each other and finding it hard to be gracious to those coming to say goodbye. Overall, it has been a miserable, painful experience. They can’t wait to settle into their furlough home.
Coincidentally, the Smiths are leaving for home assignment on the same flight as the Joneses. They’re all packed. Now they’re enjoying eating out and relaxing for a few days before their long trip and busy furlough schedule. They’ve made all the arrangements for care of their house and have left instructions for its next occupants regarding the house and emergency information. They’re looking forward to their home ministry assignment and are glad they have had time to say goodbye to their coworkers and friends without the pressure of not being packed on time.
Which family is more like yours in getting ready to leave for home assignment? Which would you prefer?
Preparation for furlough can be among the most trying times in a missionary’s life and one of the most stressful times in married life on the field. The complexity of the task depends on the family’s size, the length of furlough and the travel distance to the home country. Packing up, saying goodbye and disengaging from the adopted culture is time-consuming. It can stress you, your spouse and your ministry team.
A sign over a leather shop in our town reads, “We don’t fail to plan, we plan to fail.” Yes, that’s what it says! Of course, this adage properly applied can help relieve some of the stress of furlough or home leave preparation. In our ten years on the mission field, we have followed basic principles and guidelines that may help others facing the furlough mountain. These guidelines have also helped us disentangle from “home” when preparing to return to the field.
Begin thinking and planning about six months before departure. Get away for a weekend or at least a day to do this with the fewest interruptions and distractions. Sit down with your spouse and write down everything you can think of that must be done before leaving. Be very specific. Don’t worry yet about the order or priority of the items. The list should include such things as packing and closing down the house, signing out from your mission field office, paying upcoming bills, arranging to pay any helpers and school fees while you are away, writing a prayer letter about your furlough plans, making a furlough video or slide show and listing all belongings you are leaving in your location of service.
It may help to categorize your tasks: stuff (packing things to store on field, packing things to take with you, things to get rid of); vehicle (care or disposal of your vehicle); people (wages, school fees, responsibilities); documents (important ones to take, instructions to leave); furlough deputation needs (prayer letter, video or slide show, thank you gifts, sermons or messages); finances (paying bills, arranging accounts while away, mission financial arrangements while on furlough); travel (airline tickets, visas, baggage and pickup arrangements); and specific home country needs (car or vehicle needs, accommodation, schooling, speaking and travel schedule while in your home country). Take your time during this session. Your list will grow rapidly!
Sort tasks on your list by which ones need to be done first. On a six-month calendar with spaces in the dates, assign each task to a specific date prior to your furlough. Here’s some advice:
• Making a video or slide show for deputation takes time. Plan this early.
• Packing usually involves several stages: sorting things to sell, pack or take, and then packing things for storage and things to take in your luggage. Usually you should decide what to give away or sell first so you can arrange for the sale before the last-minute hurricane of leaving. We usually pack one room per week. Back up from your furlough the number of weeks you have by the number of rooms in your house, plus one to avoid last-minute panic (for example, if you have six rooms, allow seven weeks). Then assign your packing schedule. The kitchen may require two passes: a first for non-essentials and then a second for final packing. Usually children can do without most of their toys so plan to pack their rooms in two stages as well. If you use your computer frequently, it will likely be among the last items packed. In your schedule, assign time for first and second passes of each room.
• Hold a sale or giveaway event early (about two weeks to one month from your departure) to lessen pressure at the end to clean out the house. This means you must sort things early to know what is for sale or giveaway.
Leave the last week free except for packing your airplane luggage and carry-ons. Usually last-minute visitors and goodbye parties will take a lot of your time. Avoiding these because you are still packing can be viewed as unappreciative or insulting. So plan ahead!
• List all possessions (furniture, boxes, documents) you are leaving in your house or storeroom during furlough. Leave the list with the person responsible for your things while you are away. Pack a “must-have” box and label it clearly. This box should contain everything you want retrieved or sent to you in case of an emergency or if you cannot return to your field. It would include documents, photographs, special family items, computer backup disks and other essentials.
• Draw up a “house information sheet” that outlines the workings of the electrical and plumbing systems for anyone who might live in the house while you are on furlough. It includes contact people and emergency phone numbers should problems arise. We also write down how our bills are paid and who is responsible for various things while we are away. Be sure that copies of this list are both in the house when you leave and given to one other person.
• Clearly label switches for lights and pumps for the new occupants. Label your keys and hang them in an organized key box.
• If possible, don’t cook in your kitchen during your last week so you can pack the contents and dispose of food. Eat at restaurants or in friends’ homes.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help with babysitting or cleaning. Often others want to help but aren’t sure how. Give them an opportunity to serve you by suggesting ways they can help.
• Avoid driving or drive only when necessary the last two weeks before you leave. Getting in an accident is messy at this stage in your life!
By sticking to your schedule, you will be happily surprised that you are neither exhausted nor panicked when the last week arrives. You will travel in healthier shape and better form to meet your family and begin your home assignment responsibilities. Remember: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
William Ardill has been a missionary surgeon with SIM in Liberia and for the past 12 years in Nigeria with his wife Dorothy and their four children.
EMQ, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 240-242. Copyright © 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.