I received this letter from one missionary who told me that Grady and Claire Milstead, a retiring couple who took the VRI, gave them permission for us to publish this here. It is powerful and poignant.
Dear SBC Family,
Claire and I were talking the other day about our upcoming “retirement” and return to the US. It’s difficult for those who have never experienced this to understand how difficult it is for those of us who are transitioning back to the States. We feel that we have begun a long period of mourning, a grief process filled with constant reminders of how good God has been to us by allowing us to be a part of what He is doing here in this part of His world. Many friends here in Argentina say things to us like, “Well, you’ll be closer to your family when you move back to the States.” While that is true, and while it is something we very much look forward to, it is also true that we are leaving behind huge chunks of our hearts here in this place that we have called “Home” for 30 years. Before ever knowing for sure that Argentina was the place and the people that God was calling us to, we asked Him to help us to discern His will by giving us a profound love for the people of the country He was calling us to. He did that. He did more than that. Over time He gave us friendships that would become more like kinships. He gave us the possibility to enjoy relationships with others who were not brothers or sisters in a biological sense, but very much so in every other way. Claire and I both turned 59 years old this year. We left the US when we were 29. We have celebrated more birthdays as a part of this culture than we have as a part of the culture we are now returning to.
We have changed, and we have been changed. Our worldview is different, expanded, more global, more eternal. We don’t know how to speak only English anymore. At times we stumble with words and can only remember what we want to say in Spanish. We are still a little shocked whenever we walk into a grocery store in the States. Sometimes the whole “availability” of everything you can think of is more than we can deal with. Certainly, there are a few things about living here that we will not miss. But for the most part, we have loved our life in Argentina. We have loved the Argentine people. They are an easy people to love. They seem to understand friendship in way that some in non-Latin cultures do not. They value time around the table. They love and show concern, it seems, on a different level. They value the little things one does. You don’t have to buy a huge, expensive gift in order for them to know you care. Just a call, a note, or a simple handmade gift is enough to brighten their eyes. They give you that look that says, “I can’t believe you cared enough to go to all this trouble just for me!”. And they never forget a kindness shown. At first, I was a little put off by the “kiss on the cheek” part of this culture, even between men. Now, I’m not sure how long it will take to break the habit of greeting others in that manner. Hopefully, I won’t have too many bloopers to try to live down after we get back.
Life will be different in so many ways. The seasons are reversed here in the southern hemisphere. It’s hot in January and cold in July. The farther south you go, the colder it gets. The farther north you go, the hotter it gets. We have grown accustomed to seeing penguins, whales, guanacos (cousin of the llama), ñandú (the lesser rhea), and a host of other critters that we will likely never see in the States. We have gotten used to seeing spectacular sunsets, stars that can’t be seen in the northern hemisphere, mountains and glaciers, deserts and multicolored hillsides. We’ve gotten used to knowing on a first name basis the guy who sells us vegetables and his counterpart behind the meat counter. There is at least one or two bread stores in every neighborhood. Not just a bread store, but one that that sells a flaky little piece of heaven, one that sells an endless variety of glaze covered goodness, one that sells…well, I’m sure you get the idea. And, for anyone who has ever been here to know it firsthand, do I even need to mention the Argentine asado? Beef that is so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Cuts of meat that I never even knew existed. Some of which I’m still not so sure about. Then again, you are probably still trying to imagine that spoon cutting through a steak.
All of these things are on our list of things that we will miss. But none of them can rank anywhere close to the way we will miss the friends we have made. God knew what He was doing when He called us to this place, to this people. He knew that we would need to have a family who would help to nurture us through the times of missing our loved ones back in the States. He knew that we would need brothers and sisters to help ease the pain of not being able to see our own. He knew that we would need parents and grandparents. He knew that we would need to have those who we could treat as our children when our own went off to college in the States. When our youngest daughter, Aimee, passed away in 2003 while at school, He knew that we would need a network that would support us and love us through the loss. He knew that we would need grandchildren to spoil and to love. He provided all of these and more.
The members of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have faithfully supported us financially and prayerfully since our appointment as missionaries in 1985. They have made certain that we have had housing, transportation, medical care, education for our children, and a hosts of other things that some may take for granted. We do not! We are thankful for being allowed to represent Southern Baptists and our Savior here in this beautiful country for all these years. Although the current reality we are living is nothing like what we had imagined how we would end our ministry time here, we hold no resentment regarding the move. We are not in any way bitter about transitioning back to stateside life. We may be a little apprehensive due to the fact that we are not certain regarding what we will be doing. But we are actually excited because we still cling to the same call that pulled us here long ago. The pull is now just as strong and just as certain, just in the opposite direction. We are still missionaries. We are still called. But the mission field has changed. Those we are called to reach are different. The culture will be different. Even the language will be different and strange to us for a time. One thing is certain. God has not changed. His purpose has not changed. His message has not changed. OK, that was three things. But all are unchanged! And we are thankful to be allowed to continue to work in some capacity with our unchanging God.
We would ask that you pray for us as we say our last goodbyes. With each one we leave a small piece of our heart. The last few weeks have been brutal, absolutely brutal. We have said goodbye to some folks that we know we will likely never see again on this earth. Sadder still, is the fact that we have had to say goodbye to some who, unless they come to know and trust Christ as their Savior, we will never see again…ever. Pray for them as well. Please pray for them! Give as God leads so that others can take the message of hope to them and millions of others like them. Before Claire and I knew we would be leaving Argentina and “retiring” as missionaries, it was in a sense awkward for us to promote mission giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in our Southern Baptist churches. We are not longer constrained by that awkwardness. It is for others we are begging you to give support to. It is for young missionary families who are living in difficult situations and dangerous situations that we ask you to pray. It is for those who are now cultivating friendships with people who will become their family that we ask you to pray and to support. It is for the kingdom that we ask you give and to pray.
If you made all the way to the end, thank you for taking time to read this. And thank you for all you have done over the years to make our time in Argentina a very positive experience. We are grateful.
May God richly bless each of you,
Grady & Claire Milstead