After completing our Bible study for the week, a young man in his 20’s said to me “Don’t go, Pastor. Don’t go.” I have been meeting with him on a weekly basis for the past 16 weeks. We were just discussing the next steps of his discipling when I told him that I would be stopping for about 6 months due to our trip.
Another friend and partner in ministry commented “Pastor, is it already time for your to leave us? And how soon will it be until you return?”
One more example: a brother with whom I have been developing a ministry for men during two years looked at me with a bit of sadness in his eyes after I commented that I did not know what the future holds after our 6 month home ministry, who then said “…but you are returning to our Church, right?”
God has called my wife and me to serve the people of Chile. Some times that is easy and joyful. Some times it is not. But people are people and they come complete with their warts, their baggage from the past and they have their quirks. But love them we must and love them we do.
What do I say, then, to those that we have come to know and love after working for three years? How do we explain the life-long dilemma of the missionary? One missionary statesman summed it up this way: “The two words a missionary uses the most are: ‘thank you’ and ‘good-bye.'” I cannot just say “oh, don’t worry. It will be alright.” Nor can I say “we will be back sooner than you think.” These are people who have come to mean something to us/ We mean something to them.
I think that both my wife and I have come to accept the inevitable: furlough or home ministry is necessary. And all the more now that we are grandparents! But we still struggle with the distance and the fact that we will loose touch to some degree with those we have been shaping and mentoring.
Let’s face it. Leaving the country where God clearly directed you is not just a “quick trip to the States.” It’s not like we are just going away for a trip to the beach and back. The travel means, among other things, setting up house back in the USA. It also means transferring schools for our children still in school. It requires finding a renter of our home in Chile. Often times we must sell car to buy one there in the USA. The list of tasks is not short!
Getting read to return to the USA entails many challenges. We face the issues of not having a license to drive (both our licenses expired while in Chile), of not having a place to live (sometimes) and we also face the matter of needing to be ready to speak in a number of churches. Traveling means, in some sense, a restructuring of our lives, our family and our ministry.
These things can be and are often good. But, we are not “returning home” since we have now lived in Chile more than we have in the USA. In all reality we are really leaving home our home in Chile.
We love many things about our birth homeland. We have many loved ones there. We still keep in touch with a few close friends. But returning to the States is not easy. But the negative side is that we know the ministry here will slow down too. It all requires adjustments, ministry shift, change of paradigms, and even acting, thinking and dressing a bit differently. This transition reminds us we will ALWAYS be strangers, always be foreigners, no matter where we actually hang our hats.
The key is: keep our minds and hearts set on the people and the needs of those around us, NOT on ourselves. I pray that we can make the transitions smoothly…other wise we will end up needing to rethink about which country is actually home.
David L. Rogers, M.A.Min.