Being far away from family is always a challenge, during the holiday season in particular. I find myself wondering how were their holidays, did they have a good time, was the meal good, did they miss me… The thoughts of my three grown children and grandson being far away are never far from the surface of my thoughts. This morning, my son called me via FaceTime audio and we chatted for a good 30+ minutes. He, as well as the other two, is doing well. He recently found a good job with decent pay and benefits and my heart is full of thanks! All three of them are self-supporting adults that love the Lord, and I remind myself daily that there’s nothing more that I could ask for.
This is not a new phenomenon to me; I’ve served with my husband in Africa as a missionary for many years (31 to be exact!). When we first came to the field, our firstborn was barely 2 years old. We were like the 3 musketeers, we went everywhere together. As the family grew, we became exceedingly close. The mission field does that for families; there aren’t many distractions here that can pull families apart as there are in the Western developed world. I don’t count this as a negative thing, it was an amazing time of my life having my kids close to me. They grew to love Jesus, love the work of God, and love Africa as we do.
In our earliest years on the field, while we missed our parents and extended families, we learned to be apart from them and concentrate on raising our own young family in a foreign culture. As they grew they became integral parts of the ministry, serving in many capacities from youth leaders, helping with our feeding outreach, and were willing to help in any way they could. It was amazing watching them mature and become young adults.
When the firstborn “left the nest” in 2003 to begin attending university in the USA, I wasn’t fully prepared for the pain that would accompany his departure. If any of the first three had the strength to make the shift required in such a move, it was him. Strong, determined, goal-oriented, he would make it – but I wondered how could I make it? How could I make it through the sudden and very distant separation? It wasn’t as if he was going to another state to attend university, he was moving to another continent.
So it went for the other two. They, in their times, also left the nest and began to make their way into adulthood in the USA. The change for them can’t be properly addressed in a simple blog post like this one. The reverse culture shock involved in moving from Africa (that had been their home all their life) to what should be “home” in the USA was traumatic. Somehow Africa had marked them, enabled them to remain grounded in an exceedingly materialistic culture in the West.
Our 4th child is nearly 9 and she, too, bears the mark of the mission field separating us from loved ones. She will, on occasion, ask why God chose us to be apart from loved ones, to which I’ll reply that maybe we’re the only ones who would obey and go to those who need to hear about His love. As time has a way of doing, she has gained perspective and has begun to involve herself, as her older siblings did, in the work in worship and kids ministry. In the back of my mind I’m telling myself to enjoy her, to breathe in each moment, to laugh and play, for the day will come once again when she, too, will spread her wings and fly.
I wonder how the Father felt when His Son left? I wonder how He felt when those He was sent to didn’t receive Him with open arms? When they reviled Him? Crucified Him? Somehow the Father found the strength to let His own Son fly – and He will help me to do the same.
“If you will be away from home this Christmas, remember that Jesus was away from home at Christmas too.”