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Louisville Presbyterian Furlough Home receives a proper send-off

For 56 years, the four apartments, scheduled to be razed for redevelopment, have been a respite for more than 350 mission co-workers and their families

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Don Seeger, a Louisville Presbyterian Furlough Home board member, speaks during Sunday’s ceremony to say goodbye to the longtime respite center. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — For more than a half-century, the Louisville Presbyterian Furlough Home has been a place of respite for more than 350 mission co-workers working overseas in World Mission for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Whether the country where they walked alongside their partners was undergoing civil strife or they just needed a few weeks to recharge after years of work in the mission field, Furlough Home, on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, provided them a safe, quiet and welcoming haven.

With the property now set for the development of high-end homes, friends and Furlough Home board members said goodbye Sunday to the four apartments that have been home away from home not only for mission co-workers but for visiting seminary faculty, students and others over the years. The hour-long ceremony gave the people who love Furlough Home the chance to give the place a proper send-off.

It was the job of Furlough Home board members the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, at left, and Al Pollock to remove the capstone that covered Furlough Home’s time capsule, which had been filled with newspaper clippings, brochures, reports and other historic documents. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

“When your home is another country and you are beloved and love it there, there is a yearning for home. That’s what Furlough Home was for me as a child,” said Mary Nebelsick, who’s now Furlough Home board secretary and an interpretation specialist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Nebelsick grew up noticing “the warmth that enveloped each mission co-worker” in the form of groceries awaiting their arrival as well as toys, bicycles and musical instruments for their children.

“We came from a stressful situation in the Philippines. I think many mission co-workers are in stressful situations,” Nebelsick said. “When you didn’t know where home was, this place was home.”

Furlough Home “has been a significant part of what God has done through Presbyterian World Mission,” said the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, the former Africa coordinator for World Mission. “These mission workers responded to God’s call, and Presbyterians gave and prayed.”

Today, Braaksma noted, 94 million people around the world belong to churches founded or co-founded by Presbyterian mission co-workers. “That’s certainly something to rejoice in,” Braaksma said.

Emily Seeger, co-moderator of the Furlough Home board, speaks during Sunday’s ceremony. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Furlough Home was once the temporary residence for an Ethiopian seminary professor. While staying at Furlough Home for a few months, the scholar wrote two textbooks and spoke to classes taught by the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the former director of World Mission and the former Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) who now teaches World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies at LPTS.

During his remarks, Kirkpatrick quoted the late Marj Carpenter, the moderator of the 207th  General Assembly (1995) who before that headed the Presbyterian News Service. Kirkpatrick said that Carpenter, a longtime champion of mission work, used to lament that “the biggest impediment with World Mission is ignorance. We are part of a church that doesn’t know and claim the incredible good news of what is going on in the world beyond us.”

“I am grateful for this ministry,” Kirkpatrick said of Furlough Home. “We are coming to rejoice, not because of what we have done in the past, but because we are committed to what we will do in the future.”

There are “probably no better people to work a hard row to hoe,” Kirkpatrick said, “than missionaries.”

Furlough Home apartments are being packed and the building is scheduled to be razed to enable future development. This is one of the four apartments that served more than 350 mission co-workers and their families over the last 56 years. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

A history of the Furlough Home was attached to Sunday’s program, which helpfully also served as a fan to help beat back sweltering temperatures. Furlough Home first opened in 1953 in Louisville’s Crescent Hill neighborhood as part of an antebellum mansion. It was sold in 1964 and the mansion was destroyed in a 1974 tornado.

Construction of the current Furlough Home on the LPTS campus began in 1964. At one time, admission to Furlough Home was restricted to missionaries in active service in the PC(USA). In recent years the admission policy has become more flexible, opening the apartments to international students and visitors, visiting professors and people needing temporary housing for various reasons.

A stay at Furlough Home is much homier than lodging at, for example, an extended-stay apartment. Board members and friends enjoy nothing more than babysitting the children of mission co-workers so their parents can enjoy a night out. They’re likely to drop off a homemade cake to welcome new arrivals.

“This seems like the end of an era,” said Gayle Trautwein, a member of the board’s Care and Hospitality Committee, “but with God’s help it will be the beginning of a new era.”

Hugh Ella Robinson, who’s the Furlough Home Ambassador and a member of the board for 25 years, recalled monthly Bible studies and a Furlough Home clothes closet “with clothes for all seasons in all sizes.”

“We have heard [mission co-workers’] memories of the peace and quiet of their surroundings, the nearness of the seminary library and the closeness of the community of the Furlough Home,” Robinson said. “May it be so.”

Don Seeger, a member of the board together with his wife Emily, who’s the co-moderator along with Jean Wolph, said the word for the day is “chrysalis,” which he called the symbol for Furlough Home.

“This place isn’t going to be here anymore, but that doesn’t mean the Furlough Home isn’t going to be here anymore,” Seeger said. “It’s like the church. We have to become new again and again and again.”

Guests took home this ceramic plate commemorating Furlough Home’s decades of service. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

“It’s easy to look at what we have lost and mourn that, but I don’t focus on that,” Seeger said. “We have a God who always brings about renewal and newness, and I hope that’s what we end up doing today. We have to hold on tightly to the hope that we have because of the God we follow.”

“The church is called to be on a formative journey. It’s part of our DNA as the people of God,” Seeger said. “From the beginning we have been called to journey. Being faithful involves moving, being transformed and renewed.”

Attendees were given two gifts following the ceremony: a delicious ice cream sundae and a commemorative ceramic plate featuring the Furlough Home structure with the dates 1964-2021.

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