Leaving Loved Ones Behind

As you listen to the stories from missionaries, it is easy at times to think, “Wow, what adventures they have had.”  We must remember though, that missionaries are also just ordinary people like you and me.  And for those who are going overseas for the first time, especially when they go with children, it can be quite a scary enterprise for them at first.

In these next articles, I want to take excerpts from what one couple wrote about their experiences and feelings just before they left the United States, and what happened for them in their first week of cross-cultural living and learning.  One thing to note, this family went to France first to do language learning before heading to West Africa to serve with Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Let’s listen in on the thoughts of the wife just before they headed to France:

Me: God, I’m scared. I’ve never been scared like this before now. What’s up?

God: What are you scared of, little one? Are you afraid to go?

Me: No, it’s not that. Ok, well, yes a little bit but mainly it’s just that things are going to change here at home while I’m gone. I know some of the folks I’m saying goodbye to…well, it’s probably going to be the last time, God.

God: Yes, that’s true.

Me: And the rest, Lord. Will they come to know you? Will they hold Your word dear, Lord? Will they persevere through the really tough times? Will they continue being faithful to You? These concerns are why I’m afraid, Lord.

God: “I am”, Child.

Me: I know, God.

God: I am God, Child.

Me: Ok, Lord.

God: I love you. I love them, too. Okay?

Me: Ok, Lord.

Me: Hey, God?

God: Yes?

Me: Thanks. But I’m still going to miss them.

God: I know. I made your breaking heart. I love you, dear one. And don’t forget about your secret weapon.

Me (chuckling): What’s that?

God: From anywhere in the world, in any circumstance, you can always pray to me about them. I love it when you pray!

Me: Ok, God. Right now could you make my husband quit snoring so I can sleep?

God (chuckling): When would you take the time to pray if I didn’t wake you up at night?

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Isn’t it interesting that the concern that lay the heaviest on this mother’s heart before taking her family overseas, which included young children, was for those whom they would be leaving behind in the States.  I know she must have had some concerns for her family’s welfare and what lay ahead, but her greatest fear concerned what would happen to those left behind.

I’ve talked to other missionaries over the years about how hard it has been to be away from their home country, and quite a few have mentioned the idea of how difficult it is to have to say goodbye to family members and relatives.  But for some, it is not themselves that they are most concerned about, but rather people like the parents and grandparents.  We do forget sometimes about the emotional cost there can be for those who let their children and grandchildren go off to the mission field.

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I think perhaps this emotional and geographical separation for me and my family was not quite as difficult for all involved when we first went to Papua New Guinea in 1997.  Jill and I had been on a number of short-term mission trips to various countries already, and we had been training for mission work for a very long time.  In some ways, I think our friends and families rejoiced along with us when we were finally able to head over to PNG for our first three-year term.

That does not mean that the pain of separation never happened to us.  In that first year term, we learned of the death of a very close elderly friend who had befriended our young boys like a grandmother.  Before we left Canada, she handed each of our boys a large envelope.  In it were tiny wrapped presents which they could open, one for each day of the first few weeks that we were gone after leaving Canada.  That meant a lot to us.  We were sad that the boys would not see her again.

Then we heard the news of the death of one of Jill’s most special uncles.  He and his wife had truly been the patriarch and the matriarch of the clan of families that made up Jill’s side of our family.  What a loss that was to us.  And finally, we got the news that my father was diagnosed with throat cancer and would probably not have long to live.  We made arrangements for me to go see dad for two weeks.  He died just as I rejoined my family in PNG, but they never got to say goodbye to him.

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This is one of the realities of missionary life.  Even with the advancement of telecommunications and rapid airline travel, we still find as missionaries that we get caught on the other side of the world when critical events happen to those whom we love back home.  So what do we do about that?

Praise God that we do now have the technology to get email, just about anywhere in the world.  And the explosion of cell towers around the world means that we can talk with family and friends almost at the push of a button.  But the most important thing, as portrayed in the humorous dialog above, is knowing that God loves our loved ones even more than we do.  And so we trust Him to watch over them.  And I rest assured that He can do a better job of that than we ever could.  So, thank you God.  Amen.

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