Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Furlough Does Not Equal Vacation

“Welcome home!” and “Enjoy your vacation!” are two of the most predictable statements we hear when we return to our passport country for a furlough. Wouldn’t you agree? Both represent a misunderstanding on the part of the well-intentioned speaker. Those of us with kids cringe when we see their reaction to the first quote in particular. That’s a separate issue in itself, just managing our unruly kids on display for months on end when they just want to go “home!”

At the online home school support forum I frequent, this question recently cropped up: how do you communicate to people that the word furlough is not synonymous with vacation? A lively discussion followed, which I would like to continue here, with Hayes Zookeeper’s permission—since she is both a WOTH reader, an IRL friend who lives down the road from me, and also the one who posed the question on the other board.

One woman suggested not using the term “furlough” at all, which in the military does imply a time of vacation. Another friend suggested calling it a business trip. Then she gave a sample blurb from an imaginary prayer letter:

Imagine going on a business trip to meet with all your most important clients—the ones who pay your daily bills—making progress reports, R&D (research and development) reports, etc, and doing new client development... with the entire family in tow... for 4 months straight... over 4000 miles.... logged in a car, not on upgrade flights.... and your wife is pregnant for the duration.

Mind you, she is referring to the Zookeeper being pregnant, not me. (The last time I had a premenopausal “scare” of that nature, I had to dig out reading glasses to see how many stripes were on the test. I figure at that point, I’m probably too old!)

Anyway, I digress. Back to the question. I figure this worldwide community of Women of the Harvest would have the answer to this dilemma. What do you say? How do you communicate to friends and supporters the grim stress-filled reality of what furloughs actually are?

I’ll look forward to your comments on this one. Extra points will be given for humorous, uplifting wording. Oh, yeah, this isn’t a contest. But…

Maybe WOTH can use some of your responses to encourage folks to sponsor some poor weary soul to attend the Furlough Retreat this summer.

IRL*What IS the answer to the equation: Furlough = __?__


  1. We've only been "home" once since I moved to Africa and got married. And it was definitely NOT a big vacation. My Kenyan husband and I will be in the states for a good chunk of time this fall. So I'm anxious to see what advice comes up as a result of this post.

  2. Imagine dragging four wiggly tired kids on a ten hour drive and not being able to stop because there is a meeting to make. Then stop outside of town to "shower" them with diaper wipes and dress them to be presentable. Then finally get out of the car, and you are at an older person's house. Your kids are given two coloring books and crayons, and then people look down their noses at them because "they don't sit still very well, do they?"

    That is furlough. Just repeat that about 80 times.

  3. We're currently winding down our "vacation", oops I mean furlough time now. :) We've been home for almost 5 months and we have two small children who I am sure are just as ready as we are to get back into our own home and bed! I had to laugh at what Ellie said because it's so true.....I've been there many times in these last few months.

    To me Furlough is a bit bitter sweet. It's time to connect with friends, family, and supporters, but it also should be a time of some rest. As missionaries we give always and quite honestly, sometimes I am a bit tired at the end of my term. This is our third furlough and we have had some times of rest and have been blessed by people taking our kids for evenings, even days so that we can take some time off. While it is a crazy time, it's also a time that I do see God move in many ways. I am always amazed at how people open their hearts (and homes!) and really bless us. Sure there are those people who "look down their nose at you" when your kids aren't being still or being wild from a 10 hr. car drive, but there are many more that jump right on the floor and play with them because they understand that it must be just as hard on them too! I love those people! :)

  4. We were "home" for 3 months, traveled 10,000 miles, slept in many different beds and visited many churches. Our children soon knew the presentation from memory and quickly got tired of sitting in evening meetings. One evening our 9 yo wondered if we could do the presentation backwards since it had become quite boring to him! With a one-year old the meetings were really kept interesting. If there was time before the service I would look around for a place for my olders to take care of the little guy.

  5. HEY!!! Doing the presentation backwards!!! What an entertaining idea!

    Jamie - I'm so grateful the blog fodder I became for you was for a good cause. :) Love ya....

  6. Great comments here. On a side note, let me say that it is perfectly okay to not drag kids to every single presentation. We used to have a single friend take our kids to the same church every Sunday so they could make friends and feel settled.

    Then we'd start our presentation with a family photo on the big screen and some excuse why they couldn't be with us. The love offerings are better when the kids stay still and smiling on the screen rather than bickering or running through the church in real life. :)

  7. furlough= connecting with people
    with family away and personal
    with churches/presentations/meals
    with individual supporters/meals /fun times
    our mission calls it Home Mission Assignment

    enjoy it , embrace it, make it your own (as much as you are allowed)

  8. This is exactly where I am at as well-heading into our first home assignment. I'm looking forward to certain aspects of it and quite frankly totally dreading others-specifically the stresses on our family and driving literally thousands of miles with four young children all the while presenting at churches, trying to keep up with home school, etc. I have also found that it is not just those in the states who feel that way either...the nationals often refer to it as our upcoming vacation. Thanks for bringing it up in your blog...I am enjoying reading the responses and look forward to others. And if anyone has tips about how to handle home schooling while travelling like that, would LOVE to hear them. Pattie

  9. I'm with Grammy - we call it HMA (Home Ministry Assignment) as well. I think that does give people a different perspective and recognize that it's not about a vacation - though I think it's important to try to plan some of that in there too. I'm single and I love the idea of borrowing teammates kids, it just so happens that we will be in the same place at the same time. I'm also fortunate that my support comes mainly from my home church and family. Though most of my family is in another part of the country, it gives me reason to reconnect with people who used to be from my home church and have relocated to the Pacific Northwest - where most of my family is.

  10. That's great, Mo, about borrowing teammates' kids. That is not a ministry for every single, but if you enjoy it, what a blessing!

    I like calling it Home Ministry Assignment. Some people and groups now call deputation PD, or Partnership Development. That sounds more serious than furlough, too.

    And yes, isn't it a blessing to be able to reconnect with people you otherwise would have totally lost? That's one of my favorite benefits of these otherwise murderous summer "breaks" whatever you call them. Keep the ideas coming. There is much combined wisdom here.

    Pattie, bless you as you embark on this exciting adventure, again, whatever you choose to call it. As Grammy said, enjoy, embrace, and make it your own! I love it.

  11. Our furlough year, Lord willing is winding to an end - if we can finish raising the necessary support. It has been a wonderful and exhausting, frustrating and rejuvenating, fun as well as boring, full of opportunities and yet so challenging. Furlough is an oxymoron! I looked up where the word comes from - its roots give the idea of "permission to leave, to see relief." I found that interesting.

    For us, Furlough =
    Fun and Frustration
    Understanding it's an Undertaking
    Rides and Riots (think carseats)
    Laughter, Longing and Loneliness
    Oreo cookie ice cream and Over-weighing
    Unforgettable Uncertainty
    Gastric delights and way too many Gas stations
    Home and yet not exactly Home, Humbling

    We've started calling it "Home Assignment" but I like HMA better - because it is an opportunity to minister and to be ministered to. It is busy, but a different busy that can be refreshing and long car rides do offer time for dh and I to reflect, talk, plan and pray (eyes open, of course, for the driver). Reconnecting and saying thank you is so important - but it is also encouraging to be thanked (and appreciated) for extending the ministry of our local churches to places they can't be themselves.

    We try to keep our children involved in this part of our ministry, too - and for the most part, they want to thank the people who help to make the lives they love in our field of service possible. Teaching children's church or new games to AWANA groups as well as sharing their testimonies of how they've seen God work - some of those they like better than others. But we also try and give them escapes - helping in the nursery so the regular workers can get a break and walking circles in the foyer with our bored littles since they can preach Dad's sermon backwards and in pig-latin, all at the same time. I will add, however, that they've not yet tired of church potlucks or missionary Christmases!

  12. Amen to all the above! In six months we traveled 29,000 miles, spent way too much time in Walmart (rejoicing, because there IS no Walmart in West Africa), made lots of great friends and couldn't sort out which church was which after a while... was asked some amazingly insightful questions about field realities, and heard some amazingly naive comments too... cried to see churches splitting over non-essentials and exulted over churches that are reaching children and outcasts and non-English speakers with the Gospel.

    We gained weight, of course, and I discovered that the things I missed most were family, friends, blueberries, chickadees, and clean lakes, and not having to lock my door at night. Walmart and the Internet I can take or leave. God is good!!

  13. ...furlough is such a mixed bag...the good the bad and the ugly, isn't it!? It is nice to know we are not alone in this... too fun to have a community that "gets it!". I loved all the comments... smiled alot. I really resonated with the
    "Fun and Frustration
    Understanding it's an Undertaking
    Rides and Riots (think carseats)
    Laughter, Longing and Loneliness
    Oreo cookie ice cream and Over-weighing
    Unforgettable Uncertainty" ... such a mixed bag!


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