For American teenager Zac Hulsey, who has practically grown up in Mozambique, a trip back to the United States means settling into a four-block community nestled among modest bungalows in Lealman. It's a place where missionaries and their families seek respite, and for Zac, 15, it's also a place for new friends, like him, who have arrived from around the world. It's like coming home for Zac, his mother, Aleta Hulsey, said. "I think he fit in here better than he would have if we had moved into the general community,'' she said of D&D Missionary Homes, the evangelical Christian community in Pinellas County that in recent weeks has welcomed families from countries such as Suriname, Brazil, Guatemala and Kenya.
The words "Serving the Servants'' — hand carved in wood — greet arrivals at D&D. It's a rare facility in the United States, its president, Philip R. Fogle, said.
Unfenced and integrated into its Lealman neighborhood, the campus consists of 52 detached and semidetached houses, a free clothing center, library, chapel, laundry, fitness room and playground. It stretches from 39th to 42nd streets along 57th and 58th avenues N.
"There are six homes in there we do not yet own,'' Fogle said.
"In the future, we want to increase to about 60 homes.''
In fact, the campus recently grew larger. D&D purchased the old 11,500-square-foot Lealman fire station for $608,000, with plans to convert it into a receiving, sorting and distribution center for the clothing, furniture and other supplies regularly donated to the missionary ministry.
For Fogle, the son of missionaries, running D&D is close to his heart. The skin of a 17 ½-foot-long African rock python, stretched across a wall in his office, offers evidence of his family's years in Chad.
Plus, Fogle has long been familiar with D&D's hospitality. It's where his parents stayed when they returned to the United States on furloughs.
The facility's purpose, he said, is to care for missionaries during times of transition. It's where they can study or convalesce, use as a base from which to solicit financial support or relax on vacation, Fogle said.
Families are offered several perks, including being able to "shop'' for free items at the clothing center. To stay on the compound, missionaries must be in full-time ministry and be appointed by a church or agency. They can remain for a year.
For a one-bedroom home, the cost is about $465 a month. Referred to as a maintenance fee, the sum includes utilities, cable television and Wi-Fi access. The homes with one to five bedrooms are completely furnished and decorated.
D&D operates with an annual budget of $700,000, covered by donations, maintenance fees and events such as the organization's popular weekly garage sale.
For overseas missionaries like the Hulseys, who arrived in mid June, D&D's modest homes are a luxury. Zac's father, Don, said he appreciates the high-speed Internet.
Staying at the missionary home also means the family can worship at First Christian Church of Seminole, where Don Hulsey had been youth minister for five years.
Over the years, the family has returned to D&D to celebrate special occasions with their two older children, Keri, 24, and Joshua, 25.
This year's visit was for Joshua's wedding. It's an ideal base, they said.
"Most missionaries get off the plane and have a couple of suitcases of belongings. We come here and everything is furnished,'' Don Hulsey said.
"It's just like coming home, even though we live in a different house every time,'' his wife said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.