“The question I will field will be an altogether different one,” I thought to myself as I read my friend Joan’s beautiful blog post, “Gifts for my Children.” Joan and her family recently returned to South Africa from a captivating family holiday to Australia and New Zealand.
The questions and the depth of emotion her words carried centered upon when Joan and her family might immigrate away from their beloved homeland of South Africa. Her response is truly a heartfelt one. I appreciate every one of her touching words. For one day, the time will arise when our family will say farewell to South Africa, our adopted homeland. And because we know this is a future reality, the question we anticipate upon our family’s return to the United States later this year for our furlough (home-assignment), will harbor upon when our family will return home.
Countless contemporary missionaries face this question for one reason or another; especially when they have served on the mission field for a significant length of time.
Our family will commemorate nine years of missionary life in South Africa in just over two weeks. I can hardly believe it! I remember our arrival in February 2006 so vividly. It was an overcast, humid day. We walked off the plane and into an airport that was completely torn apart as it was in the beginning days of renovation in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Our mission team was waiting for our family inside the terminal with bright balloons and colorful banners. We were greeted with warm and inviting hugs. Our arrival on February 8, 2006 embarked a fulfilling new life in South Africa!
Here we are nine years later. The Oliver Tambo International Airport has been completely renovated. We have flown in and out of that world-class facility to go home and then to come home less than a handful of times since our arrival in 2006.
We go home to Oregon.
We travel home to share heart-to-heart conversations with our family and our friends in person. What treasured times these are to us!
We return to our church home, Sunset Presbyterian, to embrace and be embraced by a community that loves, worships, and serves our God as best we can.
We journey home to the Pacific Northwest. We will revel in the vivid, green expanse of lofty Douglas fir trees. We will soak in the sunsets along the Pacific Coastline. We will gasp in awe of the magnificent vistas of the Cascade Mountains, and we will breathe in – long and deep – the clean, fresh air after rainfall after rainfall after rainfall….
We travel home to enjoy every God-given moment we are about to receive with those our Lord brings our way.
And during this time, it is then that I am certain I will be asked, “When are you coming home, Heather?”
Oh, how these words even now, lurch my heart to my throat.
For my tender heart straddles the world.
Every time this question is asked, images of my family and friends fill my soul with the desire to be present in the course of their daily lives. To sit and chat about everything that is deep and meaningful and to chuckle over nothing much of consequence either. To share time with my family and friends who ‘get me’ and I can just laugh or cry or be silent because I want to – because I need to! I am known.
Every time this question has been asked, visions of my children interacting with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins absorb me. Every touch point is precious. My children are unconditionally loved.
And yet, every time this question has been asked of me in the past, images of the people, my friends in southern Africa whom I love and serve, appear before my eyes as well. I see their need for Christ. I see their hunger for more understanding and knowledge. I hear their heart’s cry for compassion. I feel their touch of encouragement. And as I remember them, I reply, “Not yet. It’s not time yet. Our work is incomplete. There is still so much left for us to do with them.” I am needed.
And every time this question has been asked, memories of my children climbing the rocky heights of the Matopos, viewing a wild African elephant flailing its ears in the Mopane bush, swimming on a warm Christmas day, and delivering tables, chairs, blankets, clothing, and food to the people of Finetown, confirm that our children are experiencing a childhood unlike anything they would in Oregon. My children are developing a broader more encompassing heart-view of the world.
Our family’s love extends from one continent to another. Upon each land, we call home.
Truly, this is the wonder of how our Lord has orchestrated our lives! We are home – wherever we are; whether in the US or in South Africa. We allow the plans and purposes of our God to manifest in our family and through our family as we unconditionally surrender to His will wherever we are in the world. For this year, however, and for however many more years He desires, we will serve Him in southern Africa.
So, when the question, “When are you coming home?” comes again and again and again later this year, I will be ready.
After nine years of God investing so lovingly and purposefully in our lives in southern Africa, we are grateful. We desire to be in South Africa for as long as our God requires of us. Our lives are surrendered to Him. We are thankful for every moment we are home in Oregon, and when we are home in South Africa!
Our missionary life is our gift from God.
How grateful we are to live it and to share it – with you – whether you are our family and friends in the States or whether you are our family and friends in southern Africa. Our hearts overflow with the love, the joy, and the peace of Christ for you all!
And my friend Joan is right – of course she is! We are to conform ourselves to the loving purposes that our God presents to us in life! Everything that occurs – whether we stay in South Africa or move elsewhere in the world – fits pleasantly and securely into our Lord’s pattern for not only the good of His Kingdom, but for the good of us all. We are always at home, because we are with Him.
Image retrieved from World Heart Clip Heart