Preparing for Furlough
William Ardill, MD
The Jones family is busy getting ready for their furlough next week. It looks like Dad will
have to put in a few all-nighters to get all the packing done before they leave. They haven’t
even thought about cleaning the house and will have to ask some of their neighbor
missionary friends to return a number of items and get their house ready for the next
occupants. They are frustrated that they are so disorganized and it is also taking a toll on
their relationship. They are talking sharply to each other and finding it hard to be gracious to
those coming to greet them and say goodbye. Overall it has been miserable and a painful
experience and they just can’t wait to get out and settled into their furlough home.
The Smiths are leaving on the same flight and are actually all packed and enjoying eating out
and relaxing for a few days before they begin the long trip home and a busy furlough
schedule. They have made all the arrangements for care of their house and have left
instructions for the next occupants regarding the house, househelp and emergency
information. They are looking forward to their furlough and are glad they have had time to
say good-byes to their coworkers and friends without the pressure of not being packed on
Which family is more like yours at furlough time? Which would you prefer?
Preparing for furlough can be one of the most trying times in the life of the missionary. It can
be one of the most stressful times in married life on the mission field. The complexity of the
task depends on the size of your family, the length of your furlough and the distance you
must travel to your home country. Packing up, saying good-byes and disengaging from your
adopted home and culture is time consuming and can cause stress to 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. There are some basic principles and guidelines that
we have followed over the past 10 years on the mission field which may be helpful to others
facing the furlough mountain. These guidelines have also been helpful in the reverse, when
preparing to return to the mission field as you disentangle yourself from “home.”
II. Basic Steps
Begin your thinking and planning about 6 months before your planned departure date. We
suggest getting away for a weekend or at least a day to do this with the fewest interruptions
and distractions. Start by sitting down with your spouse and writing down EVERYTHING
you can think of that you need to do to leave the country. Be as specific as you can at this
stage and don’t worry about the order or priority of the items yet. Include in your list things
such as packing each room, closing down your house, signing out from your mission field
office, garage sales, paying bills and plans to pay for some while you are gone, arrangements
for paying your helpers and school fees while you are away, writing a last prayer letter to
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your friends and supporters about your furlough plans, making a furlough video or slide show
and making a list of all the belongings you are leaving on the field.
It may help to think in terms of categories of tasks as follows: stuff (packing things to store
on field, packing things to take with you, things to get rid of), vehicles (care or disposal of
your vehicles on the field), people (wages, school fees, responsibilities), documents
(important ones to take, instructions to leave), furlough deputation needs (prayer letter, video
or slide show, deputation curios, deputation sermons), finances (paying bills, arranging
accounts while away, mission financial arrangements while on furlough), your trip (airline
tickets, baggage and pickup arrangements) and your furlough needs (car or vehicle needs,
accommodation needs, schooling, speaking and travel schedule while in your home country).
Take your time during this session and you will begin to realize that your list gets quite long
in a short time.
First look at your long list and sort the items by which ones need to be done first. Now, get
out or print a calendar for the six months prior to your scheduled furlough. Assign EACH
item on your sorted list to a specific date on your 6-month calendar. It should have spaces in
the dates to write your tasks.
Making a video or slide show for deputation will take some time so being planning for
Packing usually involves several stages such as sorting things to sell, pack or take and
then the actual packing stage of things for storage and things to take in your luggage.
Usually you need to decide what you are going to give away or sell first so you can make
arrangements for the sale before the last minute hurricane events of leaving. We have
found we usually can pack a room a week so back up from your furlough the number of
weeks you have rooms in your house plus one to avoid last minute panic and assign your
packing schedule. The kitchen may take two times, a first pass for things that aren’t
essential and then the final packing. Usually children can do without most of their toys so
you can pack their rooms in two stages as well. Your computer, email service and so on
will probably be in a last packing time slot if you use them frequently. So in your
schedule assign a time for a first pass and then a second pass of each room.
Have your ‘garage sale’ or give away event early (about 2 weeks to 1 month from your
departure) so there is less pressure at the end to clean out the house. This means you must
have done your sorting of things early so you know what is for sale or give away.
So, assign every task to a SPECIFIC date on your calendar and leave the last week free
except for packing your airplane luggage and carryons. There are usually last minute goodbye
parties and visitors that will consume a lot of your time before you leave. To avoid these
invitations of guests because you are still packing can be viewed as unappreciative or
insulting. So plan ahead!
III. Miscellaneous Tips
Make a list of all the possessions (furniture, boxes, documents) you are leaving in your
house or storeroom while you are on furlough. Leave this list with the person who will be
responsible for your things while you are away. Pack one box as your MUST-HAVE box
(or “Flee Bag”) and label it clearly. If there was a fire, a coup or you could not return to
your field, this box should contain everything you MUST HAVE from all you own on the
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field and would be the one you want retrieved or sent to you. This would include things
like documents, photographs, special family items, computer backup disks and so on.
We have found it helpful to write up a HOUSE INFORMATION SHEET. It outlines for
anyone who might live in our house while we are on furlough how the electrical system,
plumbing system and so on work in our house. It also lists contact people if there are
problems and emergency phone numbers. We also write down how our bills are paid and
who is responsible for various things while we are away. Make sure this list is both in the
house when you leave and given to one other person on your compound, station or
It is also helpful to clearly label switches for lights and pumps for the new occupants. It is
also less confusing to have your keys labeled and hanging in an organized key box as
If possible don’t cook in your kitchen during your last week so you can pack the kitchen
and dispose of the food. Either have others feed you or eat out to take away this added
Don’t be afraid to ask for help like babysitting or cleaning before you leave. Often people
want to help but aren’t sure how they can so give them an opportunity to serve you in
whatever way they can and you suggest.
Try to 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!
IV. Final Thoughts
Below are two sample tables that may be helpful as you go through this process. If you stick
to your schedule, you will be happily surprised you are not exhausted or in a panic when the
last week arrives. You will actually leave in healthier shape for the journey and in better form
to meet your family and begin your busy home assignment responsibilities. Remember “If
you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
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Sample “To Do” List
UNSORTED “Brainstorming “LIST SORTED PRIORITIZED LIST
Pack kitchen Set departure date and get flight
Pack bedrooms – toys and clothes Set date stop work and when meal schedule
Pack bathrooms, books and study room Set up packing schedule of rooms
Start meal schedule Inventory house
Pack video and stereo system Get boxes and tape
Pack computer/printer Pack books and some toys
Pack HAM radio Sort garage sale stuff
Sort files and decide what to take/leave Pack nonessential clothes and toys
Identify keys and put in envelope Pack office
Make list of money to leave for school fees and Pack essential clothes and toys
Arrange furlough schedule, flights and get Pack kitchen
Write last prayer letter of our plans Start meal schedule
Get boxes and tape for packing Garage sale
Make list of house, yard, garage items Pack carry-ons and suitcases
Notify boss and mission of work stop date Clean house
Write information sheet about house Leave sane
Give list and info to mission about our “stuff”
Pack suitcases and carry-ons
Pay house helpers
Write down everything you need to do to leave the country.
Sort your list by what needs to be done first.
6 months Set up a schedule starting 6 months from your departure date and assign
every task to a specific date on your 6-month calendar. Stick to your
5 months Make up an information sheet about your house and your desires. Include
how the water system works (!), your electricity setup or backup, paying
phone, NEPA and water bills, use of your furniture, appliances, dishes, etc.
4 months Make a list and pack a “flee box” of the things you would like carried out in
the event of a general evacuation of the missionaries while you are out of
the country. Make sure whoever is responsible for your belongings while
you are away has this list or box number.
3 months Go through every room in your house, shed, garage and yard and sort in one
of 3 categories – pack to stay, pack to go, get rid of. Then make an itemized
list of everything you “pack to stay.” You will need this to leave in the
event you don’t return and someone needs to dispose of your belongings.
3 months Get good packing boxes, drums, tape and so on ahead of time from other
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missionaries or in the market so you aren’t shopping for these the last week
2 months Start packing 2 months before departure – 1 room per week
1 month Make a decision about what things in your house you don’t mind having to
fix and replace. Then leave them unpacked. Pack EVERYTHING else and
then give a list of the things in the house to the person responsible for your
things. If you expect ‘rent’ on the things you leave that others will use, spell
out how much you expect for the use of your appliances, furniture, car and
so on while you are away.
2 weeks Try to avoid driving as much as possible 2 weeks before you leave. Getting
in an accident is messy at this stage in your life!
2 weeks After you have decided what you want to get rid of, have someone else do a
yard/garage sale for you 2 weeks before your departure. (You are too tired
and too emotionally attached to your stuff to do this – trust me!)
2 weeks Get others to help you as much as possible along the way – babysitting your
kids to give you some quality packing time, eating out at neighbors, etc.
2 weeks Plan to pack the kitchen two weeks before leaving and have a meal schedule
set up for the last two weeks or eat on paper plates!
2 weeks Make sure you stop working 2 weeks before you plan to leave. Remember
NO ONE is indispensable – even you.
1 week Make sure you are completely packed including airline bags and carry-ons
one week before departure. (To allow for visitors and those coming to greet
you before leaving.)
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