For those who end up being replanted in North American soil…
About 27 years ago, Cal and I left the US for the mission field. We were young and strong. We had a healthy sense of who we were, where we were from, and knew that God had spoken to us. We left behind extended families, barbecue, football, tulips in spring and leaves in the fall. We preserved the memory of places and people in our hearts.
Over the years, we learned languages and foods. We ministered and taught. New workers were welcomed and later sent back to their original homes. Nationals resisted, listened, believed, baptized, and grew. The years passed, and we kept returning to the US for 12-month stints between our 4-year jaunts on other continents. The kids grew and graduated and married and gave me grandbabies. We made it all the way to pension time, filed our paperwork and boarded the plane for…somewhere.
I don’t know what to call this place.
We’ve been back in the southern part of North America for a while now, but I have no idea where we are, exactly.
This isn’t the place I left. The library has moved. The train doesn’t run through here any more. The high school isn’t the one I attended, and the church is part of a multi-campus behemoth. I know nothing remains static, but somehow my home out there distracted me from seeing the differences in this place every time I came around for a visit.
I think, though, that the issue is not where we are. I think the problem is who.
Cal and I, we’re not the people who left here. What I think is important the local folks don’t; what they think is important makes no sense to me. What they find funny makes me sad, and what makes me laugh is non-sensical to them. Their favorite TV programs seem so vapid, and I don’t enjoy the same sports I grew up watching.
We have been forever changed.
I’ve consistently perceived Cal and I as catalysts for change. We went out into the world in order to teach and make disciples. We watched the gospel message change lives and worldviews. I saw individuals alter, families improve, and communities strengthen. I watched people learn to praise, to pray, to teach. I saw values improve. Change happened all around me in response to His message.
What I never saw, though, was how radically it all changed me.
What did I expect, though? I went out into the world assuming that the only things that would be altered would be stuff outside of me. Pretty silly, I know, to think I could drift through life unadulterated.
Faced with the burden of being His spokesperson, I prayed more than I ever did. I read more of the Bible. My desire to be able to give an answer to all who asked drove me to memorize and categorize. I studied and created lessons and crafted Bible materials. I memorized stories in three different languages. Spiritually, I was bound to change.
I listened to thousands of hours of sermons, spiritual food shared from a cultural perspective radically different from my own. Did I really think I could do that and remain exactly who I had always been?
I debated the meanings of Scripture with brilliant people who had worldviews that led to different interpretations. Was I so naive as to believe I could learn new ways to perceive God without somehow becoming new myself?
I read newspapers in other languages written by people with a different set of assumptions. I deliberately learned the joy of various other sports and spent most of my adult life enjoying them. I saw a different rules at play in the same social issues I’ve always known about, and watched the impact play out very differently than I did in my middle class upbringing. I pursued and chased and loved a culture that is nothing like Dixie.
Did I really think I would come through unscathed? Unaltered?
Yes. Apparently, I did.
And now we’re left with a nice retirement home in a town I struggle to understand. The work at comprehending my fellow Americans is harder than trying to understand locals in that new home I moved to 27 years ago, the one on that other continent. In all honesty, now that I’m retired from that line of work, I still sometimes long to return to that other hemisphere that makes more sense than this one.
We have come home, indeed, but this is not our home.
And so, like the good little missionary I once was, I’ll learn this place. I’ll figure out the people and their values. I’ll learn their likes and dislikes. I’ll do my best to become all things for this group of people so that I can someday carry them closer to the cross. I’ll take on those characteristics that help me to fit in….
…here at home.