Much of the time living in Cambodia, I don’t feel like I am making huge sacrifices for God. In fact, I’ve found many things to love about living here. I am so settled here that I sometimes forget that other people have made sacrifices for me to be here. Reminders come in the form of my children, when they miss the family and friends they’ve left behind. They come in the form of Skype sessions with my parents, when I realize anew how very much they miss us.
So I am sandwiched in the middle of two generations of people who have, in many ways, sacrificed more than I have – much more. My parents. My children. I have caused people I love to suffer — and I did it voluntarily. You might not hear many people talking about this. You are more likely to hear people talk about the sacrifices of the missionaries themselves (whether or not it’s a missionary who is speaking). But I think that does an incredible injustice to the thousands of people throughout the world who are sacrificing right now to send a loved one abroad.
My best friend in America was the kind of girl who dropped everything the day Jonathan’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, just to sit with me in my shock and grief. She’s the kind of girl who would drive to my house when my husband was out of town, so that after my babies were asleep, we could talk for hours and hours. She’s the girl I laughed with and cried with for eight wonderful years, and she’s the girl I still laugh with and cry with during furlough visits. She’s also a writer. About a year after we moved overseas, I asked her to write about how she felt saying goodbye to me. This is what she wrote.
A Letter from Home
by Teresa Schantz Williams
Last year, Elizabeth and Jonathan and their foursome said goodbye to their families and friends and flew toward the adventure God chose for them. Those left behind, with none of the distractions of a new culture, slowly adjusted to their absence. The Trotters were missing from the daily landscape of our lives, and knowing this was going to happen didn’t make it less painful.
At first when they left, I kept forgetting. I’d pick up the phone, punch in their number and sheepishly hang up. Or I would think I saw Elizabeth coming out of the library and wave too warmly at a confused stranger.
It was like when you rearrange the contents of your kitchen cabinets and spend the next four weeks trying to relearn where you store the salt. Things weren’t where they were supposed to be.
Their pew at church was too empty. No squirmy bodies next to Elizabeth’s mother, Mary, munching on grandma’s snacks and vying for grandpa’s lap. Those first few months were hard on the families stateside, especially as news of distress and health crises came their way. Powerless to help, family prayed.
A missionary wife once told me she hadn’t understood what the extended family sacrificed when she and her husband left for the mission field. She had since come to see that they relinquished precious time with their children and grandchildren, forfeited shared memories of celebrations and milestones, and suppressed their instinct to rescue when things went wrong.
Some are called to go. Some are called to let go.
If you have to say goodbye, this is the century to do it in. My grandmother had a dear friend who was a missionary with her husband in Burma during the 1950’s. Somehow they held their friendship together with letters and furloughs, and in the long silences between, they prayed.
Facebook, Skype, blogs, email have closed gaps. Within the digital universe, both sides of the ocean can post photos and videos and updates. Elizabeth can share funny stories about the kids, so women back home can “watch” them grow. To celebrate their special days, one can browse their Amazon Wish Lists to find a gift, or select something from iTunes. Even international travel is more feasible than it once was. Visits are possible.
Nothing substitutes for presence. These days, I can’t sit next to the bathtub and hold Faith while Elizabeth brushes the boys’ teeth. I can’t watch the boys wrestle or Hannah belly-surf down the stairs. I can’t go to a girly movie with Elizabeth and rehash our favorite parts on the drive home. I can’t watch her eat the frosting from the top of a cupcake and leave the rest because she only eats the part she wants. I can’t hug her.
I concentrate on what I can do. I translate twelve hours ahead and try to anticipate what they might need. 1 p.m. here? Asleep there. I pray that the girls aren’t waking them in the night, that their colds will soon be gone. I pray that they will be able to play outside every day this week. That Elizabeth can find hummus at Lucky’s grocery store. I pray the details.
I can look over Elizabeth’s shoulder and see the frontlines of world missions and watch God’s plans unfold. I can see what the Holy Spirit has done in her, enabling her to do things I wasn’t at all sure she could do. (Bugs, germs, smells, change in all forms.) And through her blogging, the special qualities I knew were inside her are out where others can see (humor, insight, modesty in all its expressions).
Perhaps it sounds overdramatic, but I’ve concluded that for me, missing my missionary friends is a standing invitation to resubmit to God’s plans. My true and proper worship.
“I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (2 Timothy 1:3, NLV)
Originally published here.
Teresa Schantz Williams is a freelance writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a ministry family.