Senders Make Sacrifices Too

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.

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Teresa Schantz Williams is a freelance writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a ministry family.

 

 

 

 

Why Cross-Cultural Workers Need Tent Pegs

Home is a complicated word. A complicated idea. What is it? Where is it? As global nomads, we’re not entirely sure how we feel about home. We’re not sure we have it, and we’re not sure how to get it. We know the correct spiritual answer – that Christ is our home. That He is busy preparing an eternal home for us. And that even now, He makes His home in our hearts, wherever we go. Still, we search for a more earthly home. A physical place to set up camp for a while.

As an adult Third Culture Kid, I’ve spent a lot of time seeking out roots. But lately I’ve been wondering if I should stop my search. I’m far too easily disappointed; permanence of people or place is not something we’re promised in this life. Even so, we need a support system for lives as portable as ours. This summer I started describing those supports as tent pegs.

A tent is a temporary shelter, and the tent pegs that fasten it to the ground also provide only temporary security. Tents and tent pegs are mobile, going with us wherever we go. They allow us to make a home right here, right now. And when the time comes, they allow us to make a home somewhere else too. Every time we pull our tent pegs up out of the ground, pack them in our bags, and move on, we can take the time to hold each tent peg in our hand and remember.

We can remember the things we did in special places with special people, and in ordinary places with ordinary people. We take those memories with us. We can take physical reminders too, small objects that represent the people and places that are dear to us; a typical expat’s house is full of knick-knacks from previous places. We can hang photos of our tent pegs on the walls of our new homes and keep them saved on our smart phones for anytime the saudade hits.

This summer on home assignment, my husband and I tried to be purposeful in giving our family tent pegs and in recognizing them as such. In addition to all the normal ministry commitments, we visited our family’s places. The settlement of Czech immigrants among the rolling hills of Iowa and the cemetery where most of them were buried. The university campus where my husband and I spent four good years and discovered a heart for ministry.

The Christian college most of my husband’s family attended — and where his great-grandfather was university president for 29 years. Our agency’s home office and its sprawling rural Kentucky campus. Dear friends and family spread across the Midwest, and the little country churches that welcome us with open arms. In between travels, we live at my parents’ house, which is a tent of its own. At each place and with each set of people, we laugh, and we talk about hard stuff. We take photos and we sear the times in our memories. We’re collecting tent pegs.

We look at the old pictures and we tell the old stories. Over and over again. Each place we visit, we tell the story of what happened there. Each person we speak with, we tell the story of what we did together. We listen to the music we heard when we were in each place and with each person. We tell our children the same stories over and over again, until they know them by heart like we do. We tell stories from two, three, and even four generations back. We’re sharing our tent pegs.

Of course, at each of these places, things are not exactly the same. My grandparents have both died, and someone else owns their house, the tent peg house I returned to over and over again as a child. The aunt who lived across the street moved to a different house. All my cousins have moved away. Our agency’s home office building is still the same, but most of the people who served there ten years ago (when we joined) have moved on by now, many to overseas location. We stopped visiting some churches and started visiting others. Sometimes the same people are there. But others have moved on or died, while new families have arrived.

Things change in our host countries too. Favorite restaurants shut down. Coffee shops close. Schools change locations. Open space gets developed. Beachfront vacations become too expensive to continue. Visa laws change. People come and go. We can’t always go back to the same places, and we can’t always see the same people. But we can take out our tent pegs and look at them. We can look at the old photos and listen to the old music and tell the old stories, and we can feel just a little more loved. We can feel just a little more settled and secure.

Our trip to our passport country is coming to an end soon. We’ve been packing up our tent pegs this week (along with enough clothes, medicine, and school books to last the next two years). In a few hours I will get on a plane to return to another one of my earthly homes — for as a friend once noted, we are always heading home, on our way from home. But wherever we go and wherever we stay, we can keep collecting tent pegs. We can take our memories of love and friendship with us to each new place. And we can anchor ourselves anew anywhere we venture off to.

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Here are two songs that my family and I discovered this summer during our travels. They speak to our third culture kid hearts, and we like to listen to them on cross-country (and cross-city) drives. Perhaps they will speak to you too.

No Roots by Alice Merton

Fly Away Home by Pinkzebra

On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

 

The Deeper Magic
“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.'”

Witches never know the deeper magic. They know only winter and death, sorrow and pain. Half-truths all.

But the deeper magic persists, refusing to be overwhelmed. It is older than death and wiser than time. The deeper magic knows that there is more.

There is hope.

And when hope is born (or reborn), the thaw begins. Without the deeper magic of hope, we might stop our story at the table of sadness and end up with an eternal winter and a dead lion. And that truly is horrible.

But the deeper magic must be got at, not through escaping sadness or loss, but through fully embracing it. Through laying down. I don’t think we need less lament, I think we need more lament, more tears.

So I invite you to the paradox of life bittersweet. Life’s not EITHER bitter OR sweet. But it’s also not neither. It’s both.

I invite you to make room for the person who is totally happy and deeply clappy.

I invite you to make room for the person who is frozen in sadness and depressed.

And I invite you to make room for the person who feels all of those things at the same time.

 

Why do we forget?
I sometimes wonder why others don’t see it or feel it. Life is sad. People are hurting. Why aren’t more people sad? But sadness doesn’t sell well, and it doesn’t seem to preach well either. But it’s there. It’s there in our families and ministries. It’s there in our churches and friendships.

Truth be told, it’s much easier to be angry. And so instead of being sad, everyone is angry. All.The.Time. And anger does sell well. (It seems to preach well too.)

Maybe you don’t believe me, maybe you don’t think sadness is there. But do you think that anger is there? That it’s in our families and ministries? That it’s in our churches and our friendships?

As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of anger. But anger’s just a fire alarm, alerting us to the real problem. People don’t have an anger problem. People have a pain problem. And that pain is most often unlabeled, unwelcomed, unprocessed sadness.

Of course, sadness by itself isn’t the solution. (That’d be depressing.) But insofar as sadness prepares us for Hope, it is the solution.

And although I do not like it and I wish it weren’t so, deep sadness is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.

When we’re unwilling to hold space for sadness, when we can’t handle the unwieldy truths of mystery and paradox, we block the very pathway that leads to hope. And hopeless people are dangerous people, willing to hurt themselves and others without measure or limit.

If we stop at sadness, without digging deeper, many terrible things become imminently rational. But the deeper magic shouts out and ushers in what only it can. Hope.

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I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your holy one
 to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
(Psalm 16:8-11)

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The Shock of Magic
The beautiful and shocking deeper magic meant that, in the near future, “the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Hope still means that.

The instrument of pain, the actual place of loss, which seems so strong and immovable, will move. It will be redeemed and transformed by the deeper magic; what has broken us will break, shattered by the love of the Lion.

There is Hope!

The altar will be cracked, and where blood and sadness once flowed, will soon be sunrise and Aslan’s roar.

May we never forget.

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photo credit

How to Find the Good in “Goodbye”

by Bradley Bell

bibleexpat

For the missionary, goodbyes are not a part of life: they are a way of life. Missionaries say goodbye to everything they’ve ever known, from the food they eat to the words they speak. And just about the time their new home becomes home, it’s time to say goodbye all over again.

It’s a life of non-stop goodbyes, but perhaps the worst part is goodbyes to loved ones. I remember as if it was yesterday, sitting forlorn after saying goodbye to my family at the airport. It killed my heart. It seemed to strip away all the idealistic glories of mission work.

For there are strong reasons not to go. “Don’t leave us,” “How can you take our grandchildren away?” and “There’s still so much work to be done here.” These pleas are legitimate and are often accompanied by sleepless nights. Going can sometimes leave others feeling forsaken, push relationships to their limit, and cause gaping holes in multiple spheres of life. Yet for all that is to be lamented, booed, and blasted about goodbyes, there is some good in them. And if you’re going to say such goodbyes, you’ll need every last drop of the good to carry you through the bye.

Goodbyes are good for those who don’t know Christ. This is the most obvious one, right? Saying hard goodbyes is worth it for the sake of people far away coming to know Christ. “Knowing what it is to fear God, we persuade men…For the love of Christ controls us,” as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:14. No sacrifice is too great. It’s why Jesus bid farewell—not merely to heaven, but the eternal communion of the Trinity. Do your goodbyes hurt? Remember the agony of separation in Jesus’ cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) It’s a heart-filling picture of the worth God has placed on reconciling lost people to himself. It is one of the few right reasons to say such awful goodbyes. It embodies the treasure of knowing Christ.

Goodbyes are good for those who do know Christ.  The severe pain that accompanies goodbyes contributes to the filling up of what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. These are the sufferings that Christians experience for the sake of the gospel (Colossians 1:24). They bring glory to God (Ephesians 3:13), but not just the intangible kind of glory that floats up to him. They compel us as fellow believers. One of my fellow pastors recently gave up his platform and position to move his family overseas on mission. And it compels my heart. A family in my church recently sold their home and expansive property in the wealthy part of town and moved into the inner city to more effectively reach out to international students. And it compels my heart. As I ponder why in the world they would do such a thing, I remember Christ in them, and I remember Christ in me. They point me to the one who gives me the courage to do the same.

Goodbyes are good for those who don’t seek a better country.  A good friend (and former missionary) recently wrote, “Show me a person who says, ‘Don’t go, there’s so much work to do here,’ and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t live on mission.” It’s not always the case, but sometimes those who have little space for goodbyes have little place for sacrifice. Intentional transience is not about finding a better place to live, it’s about looking for “a better country — a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). It means setting your heart and eyes on Jesus, and letting your feet follow where he leads. Saying goodbye is a gracious declaration of something far better.

Goodbyes are good for those who do seek a better country.  It would be silly to say that Christians have got this whole goodbye thing down. Even though we are those who do seek a better country, our resistance to parting ways is often just as strong as anyone else’s. It makes sense. Our ties go deeper because we’ve been fused together in the same body by the same Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Our fellowship is sweet, and all the more the longer we share it. It was no different in the time of the New Testament. One of the most notable examples was when Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, saying that he would never let him go to the cross. Yet as noble as his disciple’s love might have seemed, Jesus’ response showed just how unacceptable it was: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:21-23). The very salvation we enjoy today comes from the good in Jesus’ goodbye.

We are those who say we long for a better country. Nevertheless, our natural tendency will always hold some measure of clinging white-knuckle to what is familiar. Intentional goodbyes for the sake of obedience to God’s mission, as heart-breaking and messy as they might be, hold some good for our souls. Say them, and say them well.

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1669815_667389859682_4950343580743868756_oBradley Bell serves as a pastor of international missions at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and as a missiologist for The Upstream Collective, an organization that helps churches send locally and globally. He is the author of The Sending Church Defined, and writes at Broken Missiology.

5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)

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The Newbie. In August of 2001, that was me. Standing in the dirty house that was going to be my home, totally overwhelmed by the barrage to my senses–smoke in the air, humidity on my skin, roosters crowing. What on earth was I going to cook? How was I supposed to get anywhere? And what the heck was I supposed to do with the trash?  The first meal I attempted was baked potatoes (and only baked potatoes), and I cried in front of my husband because I couldn’t figure out my Celsius oven.

I needed people, someone who could walk me step by step through my life.  I was thrust onto a new team, and into a larger missionary community.  I knew nothing about these people, and yet I needed them desperately.  How should I navigate those relationships?

I’ve lived 11 years in Tanzania since then, and turnover is so high that missionary years are kind of like dog years. Multiply by 7.  Somehow, living here 11 years makes me a veteran.  I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons in those years, including how to use a Celsius oven.  But maybe some of the most important lessons have been in relationships with other missionaries.

At orientation, our mission told us that the number one reason people leave the field is because of relational problems with team members.  Let’s work together to reduce that, starting with these tips to Newbies, from an Oldie.

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1. Hold back the criticism, and look for ways to learn.

When you first arrive, you will notice about 12 things that your missionary team is doing wrong.  Keep your mouth shut.  Instead, ask lots of questions.  After six months, that list will go down to 6 things.  Continue to keep your mouth shut, and ask more questions.  After a year, it will dwindle to 3 things.  At that point, you can humbly, carefully, start bringing up your ideas.

Don’t give up or give in if change doesn’t happen as quickly as you like.  The longer you stay, the more impact you will have on your team, and the more credible your voice will become.  As much as Oldies might grunt and groan about Newbie ideas, we really do need your fresh perspective and new vision.

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2. Lower your expectations of how Oldies should welcome and guide you.

I had been on several short-term missions trips before arriving in Tanzania. I think one of the dangers of STMs is that when you do arrive long-term, you expect to be treated the same way: The red carpet thrown out, someone who holds your hand everywhere you go, all your meals bought and prepared for you.  But when you arrive in a country to live, it won’t look quite like that.  If you don’t get the welcome you expect, if there’s not a parade for you at the airport or your house isn’t ready, it’s easy to think that the Oldies don’t really want you there.  But that’s not true!  Remember that missionaries are almost always overworked and distracted.  Plus, a lot of Oldies have just forgotten what it feels like to be a Newbie.  If you feel thrown in the deep end, well, you probably are.  You will have to learn to fend for yourself quickly and it will definitely be overwhelming.  Try to prepare your heart and mind for this ahead of time.

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3. You may need to take the initiative in asking Oldies for help.

Even though Oldies might not be able to walk you through every step of the way, there are plenty of us out there who are eager to help.  We can be a listening ear; we can commiserate by telling you horror stories of our own adjustment; we can tell you the best place to buy pita bread or how to find a refrigerator mechanic.  Most Oldies are happy to answer your questions–but they probably won’t come to you; you’ve got to go to them.  There’s a lot of Newbies out there, and it can be hard for us to know how to meet all those needs. You will have to take more initiative in relationships than you realized.  That doesn’t mean Oldies aren’t glad to have you around. We couldn’t do this work without you, and many of us are happy to help out if you ask.

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4. Remember that missionary communities are eccentric.

If you spent your whole life in one church, you may not have ever interacted with people who are theologically different than you.  Welcome to the mission field!  You may find missionaries in your community—even your own team–who are all over the theological spectrum. You’ll find that missionaries tend to be strong-willed, Type-A kind of people. (I’ve found that missionaries tend to be a disproportionate number of former Student Body Presidents and Valedictorians.) Put all these people together, stir the pot with some extreme heat or extreme cold and some cultural barriers, and you’ve got yourself a very interesting stew.

Be prepared to have your theological assumptions stretched.  Be prepared to be surprised how love for the Gospel and lost people can transcend denominations and petty differences.  Listen well and forgive abundantly.  Steadfastly determine that there will be very few hills you will allow yourself to die on.  Since it’s likely you are one of those Type-A people yourself, this may be tough.  Choose humility.

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5. Be patient with Oldies who seem relationally distant.

If we hold our emotions away from you, if we seem distant and hard to befriend, please don’t take it personally. Know that it has a lot to do with getting our hearts broken too many times to count.   I remember as a Newbie, I was eager to dive into relationships with everyone in our missionary community.  We had everyone over for dinner.  We wanted to get to know everyone…and we did!  Then….people started leaving.  And leaving.  And leaving.   People’s terms ended, emergencies happened, health concerns came up.  We stayed, but everyone we loved kept leaving.  Choosing an overseas life means choosing a life of saying good-bye.

After a while, it just gets hard to initiate relationships with all the Newbies.  If we hold ourselves aloof from you, it’s because of the callouses that have grown on our hearts from so many wonderful friends leaving us.  We might not even consciously realize that we are holding ourselves back from you.  This doesn’t mean we don’t want to be friends with you.  It does mean that it may take more time for Oldies to open up.  Please don’t give up on us.  We need your optimism and energy as much as you need our experience and advice.

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Store up your emotions and experiences being a Newbie.  As you become more comfortable, as the years slip by and you become an Oldie yourself, you don’t want to forget what it felt like to just step off the plane and wonder how on earth you bake potatoes in a Celsius oven.

 

Photo credit

 

amhAmy Medina has spent almost half her life in Africa, both as an MK in Liberia and now in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, since 2001.  Living in tropical Africa has helped her perfect the fine art of sweating, but she also loves teaching, cooking, and hospitality.  She and her husband worked many years with TCK’s and now are involved with pastoral training.  They also adopted three amazing Tanzanian kids along the way.  Amy blogs regularly at www.gilandamy.blogspot.com.

When Friends Do the Next Right Thing

What do we do when the people we love do the next right thing? What if that next right thing leads them away from us?

When we say yes to God, we must often say no to the places we already know. And when God leads us overseas, we enter a communal life that is punctuated by goodbyes. Just like an airport, the missionary community endures constant arrivals and departures. But God is the travel agent here, and He hardly ever places anyone on the same itinerary. Perhaps we knew this uncomfortable truth before we said yes; perhaps we didn’t. Either way, though, we must now live with the consequences of our obedience.

And I, for one, sometimes grow weary of it.

These expatriate friendships of ours tend to grow swift and deep, and ripping ourselves away from those friendships is painful. This summer, I have to say goodbye to two friends, whom I love and respect, and will miss terribly. And I am still somewhat in denial.

I have never had any doubts that they are following God where He leads them next. They are doing the next right thing. Even in the leaving, they are doing the next right thing. They are honoring their friendships and saying their goodbyes thoughtfully and tenderly. They are setting up ministry for the workers who will follow them. They have listened to God, and they are doing what He says. But they will leave a gaping hole in my heart and in this city, and they can never be replaced.

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What am I supposed to do when my friends do the next right thing?

I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do do: I grieve. Because when a member of the international community leaves, all hearts bleed. The hearts of the leaving, and hearts of the staying. There is just no stopping that.

So I grieve for myself: it’s hard to say goodbye to people I love. I grieve for others in the community who must also say goodbye: these goodbyes are their losses too. I grieve for the ones leaving: they must say goodbye to a life they know in order to build a brand new life somewhere else.

And I also grieve for people who have not yet come to this area of the world — people who are making plans to live and work here, and even people who haven’t considered it yet, but will someday. I grieve that they will never know the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of the international community here.

So what can we do, as the body of Christ?? We are ALL involved in sending, receiving, and being His workers. How can we provide smooth takeoffs and soft landings for our brothers and sisters??

When our friends leave, can we say goodbye with love? Can we send them on their way with our blessing? Can we give ourselves the space to mourn these losses? Can we keep our friends in our hearts and in our minds and in our email inboxes, no matter where they live in the wide world?

When we leave, can we accept loving goodbyes and understand how utterly we will be missed? Can we depend upon God — and His people — to help us settle in our new home? Can we open our hearts to new people and new places, while still remembering those who love us from afar?

When new missionaries arrive, can we welcome them wholeheartedly, even though we know we will most likely have to say goodbye to them some day? Can we tell them where to set up their utility bills and show them where to buy furniture and help them fill their refrigerators?

When churches send out new missionaries, can we send them with our love and with our support? Can we resist the temptation to pull our hearts away too soon, in an attempt to ease the coming pain? Can we never cease to pray for them?

When missionaries return to their passport country, can we welcome them? Can we open wide our arms and our hearts and our homes to returning workers? Can we listen to their stories without judgment, and extend much grace in a time of great unsteadiness?

We were never meant to walk alone. So can we, as the global Church, be Christ to each other? Can we need each other, and can we be needed? Can we cushion each other’s pain during goodbyes and hellos? Can we do these dreaded transitions with bodies spread across the world, but with hearts beating as one?

 

Can you share a time when people have been there for you in your goodbyes and hellos? Or share what you have done for someone else in their time of transition?

Perhaps you haven’t seen goodbyes and hellos done well. If so, what do you think the Church needs to learn about sending and receiving workers? How can missionaries and mission organizations do better welcomes and farewells? How can we do this transition thing better, as senders, receivers, and goers? 

Photo Credit

Bruising Seasons

reed3
there they go

I stand at the entrance to the airport with my arm around her. Four of our children slide backpacks and trunks through scanners, turn for a last wave goodbye. One, for the last time. He’s graduating from their boarding school this year. Mine won’t get that old, will they? I counted, on the drive to the airport. We do this three times a year. We have five more years of school. That makes fifteen times.

Fifteen times I will drive to the airport with my forehead pressed against the glass. Fifteen times I will try not to lose my temper all morning because that’s how I feel about people I love leaving. Fifteen times we will make double batches of peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and cram extra toothbrushes into carry-on bags and remind them to call home on Sunday.

Her shoulders shake and she lists off the things in his trunk. The old medals and the school projects. Special toys and gifts from friends. Photographs and volcanic rock and broken pieces of coral. It’s a list of a life lived well and stretched out and moving beyond. The next time she sees him, he will wear a graduation robe and an Honor’s medallion. One more miracle. Like the time one child survived licking bleach on a challenge from his brothers. Like the time another child fell from the roof and walked away with a bruise. Like the time another whispered he was ready for Jesus.

Knowing the miracles, listing them and putting them in the trunks of our mother-memories, strengthens us to turn from the airport and go back home to only three plates around the kitchen table, only three pairs of shoes to trip over in the doorway. Back home to candy wrappers stuffed beneath mattresses and Legos, forgotten in dusty corners.

This is what it feels like to say goodbye to kids going back to boarding school.

reed4
there they go again

Is this what it feels like to say goodbye to children and grandchildren moving to the Horn of Africa? Is this what I’ve been doing to my parents and in-laws all these years? Leaving them to count the airport runs, the passing years, the forgotten toys? Leaving them to count the miracles and to lean in hard, trusting for more?

It’s a bruising feeling. Deflating and depleting. And I want to say, to the men who tell us the kids have passed the visa checks and are out of sight, to our guard when we return from the airport, to the woman who taps on our window and asks for water, to my husband, can you let me be bruised for a little while?

There’s a bruised reed in Isaiah 42:3 and God does not order it to stand upright. He does not force it into a strong pose. He does not cut it down. He does not stomp on it or grind it into the dirt. He doesn’t laugh at it and he doesn’t demand it try really hard to be unbruised, or to turn away and mask the bruise.

He makes a promise. His Servant will not break it. A bruised reed he will not break. A bruised reed bends and hangs limp, folds in on itself and braces against even the slightest wind. It shrinks down heavy among other, stronger reeds.

And here comes a gentle hand, cupping the swaying reed. Fingers circle the bruised part and share the weighty burden of trying to stand while bruised. A voice whispers promises.

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I will never leave or forsake.

When you walk through the fire, I will be there.

Nothing can separate you from my love.

I heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.

Darkness is as light to me.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

I am El Roi, the God who sees.

I am your refuge and strength.

You are mine.

I will hold and strengthen.

Even on the far side of the sea…

 

Have you experienced a recent bruising season? In your bruising seasons, what promises sustain?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones