When I think about it, our home assignment has been filled to overflowing with hellos and good-byes over the past six months. For some of our friends and family, we were able to see them one time. Just one. The encounter may have been a mere couple of hours to catch up face to face; heart to heart.
Thankfully, since our home assignment was longer in duration, our family has been able to see many friends and family on several occasions. To the point that some have said, “I have gotten used to having you around. It’s just not the same when you are not here.”
To describe the past seven days as anything less than brutal would be an understatement. There have been countless good-bye hugs. Sure, the saying goes that it’s not ‘good-bye,’ as that sounds too permanent – especially if we are Kingdom People – and yet, we are traveling far away for a long period of time. It’s more than an “I’ll see you again soon” type of deal. We realize that when we return we will not be the same. Time does not stop. People change. Kids grow up. Health is impacted.
Yes, we have Skype.
Yes, we use email, Facebook, Facetime, Whatsapp and more to communicate.
Yet, there is nothing more precious than presence.
As we drove away from our home church, I wondered what was more difficult. Would it have been more challenging to board a ship for Africa in the nineteenth century with all of my belongings packed in my casket, knowing I would never return to my homeland and would never see my family again? Or is it more difficult as a missionary to return to my homeland every three or so years and come and go, come and go, come and go, and come and go?
Of course, I won’t ever have an answer for that.
I will never board a ship with my belongings packed away in my casket.
Yet, as I have observed the aging of my parents, my family, and my friends, I’ll be honest with you, every single farewell has been a significant and heart-sore moment for me.
For our kids, they too, are counting the days before our departure and are much more aware of their grief than during previous home assignments. John’s and my goal was to provide our boys with special and significant times with their grandparents, family, and friends. We accomplished that – objective reached. The flip side of that feat is the depth of sorrow we are experiencing as we anticipate another separation.
And the thing is we are going to allow our children and ourselves to feel every bit of that sorrow and pain as we separate from those we love once again. Why? Because it is evidence of the depth of love and sweet memories we cherish with our family and friends. It counts. And it is good.
I know there are some that may question our missionary life.
Why would we voluntarily leave our family and friends and invoke such heartache?
As it is often said to us, “There is more than enough work for you to do here.”
Of course there is.
Yet, there are many, many, many people here that can do this good work.
Who of us is willing to go to Africa – to the far reaches of the earth – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and minister in His name?
Honestly, there are just not that many – for a myriad of reasons.
We return to southern Africa to do whatever the Lord asks of us and to lead our children in a way of life that is grace-filled, service-oriented, and transformational. For this specific time, our God is asking our family to follow Him to Africa for as long as He wants us there. We know we will not be there forever. Yet, it will be for now.
I believe it is more painful to endure indifference. We’ve felt that, too, while we have been here. There are a few that we would have hoped would care that we are back for this short time and desire to see us. Alas, they were just not that interested or perhaps just too busy. It felt like we were forgotten.
This happens to missionaries, too.
It happens to all of us, really.
Therefore, I am incredibly grateful for our family and friends who have continued to engage with our family and care for us despite the continents and oceans that divide us.
The good-byes and tears of separation do sting. We will feel the poignant effects of them for a while – even as we return to South Africa. Yet, they are beautiful and precious reminders of the great love we share with those that have sent us.
We have a few more days of farewell ahead of us. We will treasure each and every one of these amazing moments.