And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
This scripture really does strike home with traditional missionaries and followers who are called to serve and are physically separated from their family and loved ones. In our case, we had a 20 year history in our hometown of Mansfield, even though both Paula and I grew up in “roaming” families. My father was a career airman in the US Air Force and as a family, we relocated many times. I was the youngest of three and my older sisters really endured the hardest of these moves, leaving friends and schools several times while growing up. I was just entering the 2nd grade when my father accepted his last assignment in Columbus, OH and I lived in the same geographic location (and school system) until I left for college. Paula’s father was a minister and her family also moved around a bit during her upbringing. Moving from church to church, they moved all around southern Ohio and northern Kentucky until his last assignment in Circleville, OH shortly after Paula graduated High School.
With that background, we both thought we would also have a “wanderlust” lifestyle, but the Lord settled us in Mansfield in the second year of our marriage. We raised both our children in Richland County, only moving once while they were in school. We built deep relationships with co-workers, neighbors, church family and recreational acquaintances. Those friendships still continue and we relish the opportunity to talk with any of our brothers and sisters when possible.
When we confirmed we were called to mission work, part of our personalities rejoiced! “Yea! We get to go somewhere different, experience new places and people in God’s service!” We really were excited about the prospective doors we would have the chance to walk through. We were called at a time our children were grown and ready to start their own personal walk in life, and we knew that it was time for them to stretch their wings and fly their own directions.
Over the last year and a half since we left Mansfield, we have learned of the emptiness that takes place when you leave friends and family. Our hearts often yearn for the simplicity of sharing a meal and games with those we care for. Using Skype, email, Facebook and having a “MagicJack™” phone number has eased our separation in comparison of the missionaries of years past. Still, we know the miles are there and we are not able to be next to our children to offer a hug, or fix a car. Not able to be by our parents side as they face health issues. Unable to hold the newborn baby of a dear friend. Restrained from joining worship and fellowship with fellow believers that have walked with us as our faith has matured.
This last week, I read the verse above in my devotional time. And while we do miss our friends and families tremendously, and do not seek to replace them in our hearts, the Lord has been faithful in drawing us into a new family and new friends.
Our missional community was recently blessed with the birth of a daughter to a young couple here. It is a blessing to hold her and pray over her as she grows up in a multi-cultural environment. Her father has been a blessing to us as he runs us around for official purposes, acting as a translator and guide through the morass of bureaucracy. (This same family will be leaving in August to spend 2 years serving with a church in the Amazon that reaches directly to the indigenous indians of the jungle.) There are several teens among the children in our group that welcome us and allow us to offer advise and guidance.
We have been attending a small evangelical church with about 50 regular members, and they have unconditionally opened their arms and hearts to us. They strive to include us in their activities, worship and studies. One of them will volunteer to drive across town to pick us up for service or meetings, sometimes we stay overnight with the pastor and his wife so that we can continue fellowship all weekend, and then someone will bring us home. They offer meals and we have shared playing games (Catan!) as well as spending time in worship. Only a couple of them understand or speak English, and even then it is very limited, but our hearts speak a common tongue,.... that is of God’s love.
This last Sunday, I wanted to repay some of the kindness they have showed. So we hosted them in our own apartment for a meal and celebration of my birthday. I spent Saturday morning riding buses and shopping for food, while Paula prepared what she could at the apartment. We prepared a Tex-Mex feast of enchilada’s, corn tortilla chips, onion rings, home-made guacamole, refried beans, and Indian fried bread. (Brazilians love Mexican style food, but very few places offer it) We had the honor and privilege to serve 15 members of our brazilian “family.” We still mostly sit on plastic chairs, holding plates (a gift of 11 plates was offered by one family) in our laps, and drinking out of thin plastic cups, yet the apartment was filled with laughter and we found some fulfillment in the social time.
So we see that God has fulfilled His promise even now and have surrounded us with friends and family, not to replace those we left, but “increasing our lands” as it were, so that the yearnings of our hearts for loved ones will not become so overwhelming as to distract us from our purpose and goals here.