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Community and Good-byes

When I was a kid growing up in Nigeria, the highlight of our week was when the mission plane would come in.  It brought mail, supplies, and new missionaries and visitors.  It also took away missionary families who had become like family to us.  It carried us kids back to boarding school; took sick missionaries to better medical care; flew away with missionaries going on home assignment but who would return; and transported missionaries back to their home countries, never to return again.  The plane brought joy and it brought tears.  
The mission station of my childhood seen from the air

Each arrival of the plane was met with anticipation.  When we were home from boarding school or the year that we were home-schooled, our parents would use the plane as the reward.  "If you get your chores done or your school work done, you can go up to the airstrip to see the plane come in."  That was very motivating!  We'd work hard until the plane buzzed the station, then jump on my dad's motorbike or into the station van with him and away we'd go.  Arrivals brought joy.  Departures brought sadness.

Years later and missionary life is not much different.  In February we were visiting on one of our more isolated stations when the mission plane landed.

 Just like when I was a kid, all the little MKs (missionary kids) were out at the airstrip waiting for the plane.  It carried somebody in for a meeting, delivered mail, and brought in some grocery supplies from the big city that can't be purchased in the "bush".  There were warm greetings, smiles, joy.  Then two short-termers boarded the plane to return to their home countries.  

Prayer for the trip
The departure brought prayers for their voyage, last-minute photos, and sad hearts.

This constantly saying good-bye is the down-side of missionary life.  Last night we shared dinner with a new missionary and a one-year-on-the-field-so-far missionary who asked how we deal with the constant good-byes.  I have to admit it's really hard.  When we are away from our blood relatives, other missionaries become family, so it hurts to say good-bye.  Leaving our own family in the US is even more painful.

I think there are several things that get us through.  These include:
1.  Knowing we will see our friends and family again in heaven if not on earth.
2.  Recognizing that God has called us to be a family and to support and encourage each other.  We must get involved with new arrivals, loving them and bearing their burdens with them, even though we know that we're going to be saying goodbye to them before long.
3.  Having friends from around the world is great....wherever you travel you have a couch you can crash on and a tour guide at your disposal.
4.  There is so much to learn from having friends from a variety of cultures and countries, so take the time to learn!
5.  Admit that it's hard and don't be afraid to shed a few tears.  This is difficult for me ... I hate good-byes and I hate tears, so I just don't want to go there.


i naively thought it would get easier as we moved further into this journey. it doesn't - those relationships grow deeper and faster and deeper faster - at least that has been my experience.

on the other hand, it is what it is and i've kinda just had to embrace it, like you described.

and i LOVE that last picture - talk about a story right there!
Beth said…
What mission station did you grow up on? It was huge!
annejisca said…
I really appreciate this post! I've had to say goodbye to many people already, and I'm not even on the mission field yet. I've made friends with missionaries at language school, said goodbye, and now look forward to the new students arriving in September - before I say goodbye in December when we head out. It's been hard, and God is helping us cope. Learning to forge deep relationships quickly is such a treasure, even though it makes goodbyes harder. -Anne Jisca Meyer
Georgene G. said…
Someday God will make all things new and there will never be goodbyes. PTL! I can't wait until that day!
Jan said…
Nancy, it's been 35 years since I was flying on those small planes and saying "good-bye" but your blog brought the sadness rushing back. I well remember crawling into the back seat and looking out the window with tears flowing and wishing I wasn't saying good-bye again. To this day - when I know one of my kids is leaving for college my tears start days ahead. I still hate goodbyes. But on a lighter note: I remember the excitement of the plane buzzing the station and getting to go to the airstrip (when it wasn't for us)!
Yes, one day we won't have to ever say good-bye again!! Hooray.
Elaine said…
Oh, Nancy. I believe only a fellow missionary can understand this pain. I'm tearing up even as I've read this and think of all the goodbyes. One day there will be no more goodbyes. How I long for that day!
Rachel Monger said…
So true! Goodbyes never get easier. But still so important to invest in people and value each person that we are able to spend time with. And what a wealth of friends all over the world we end up with! Thanks! Rachel in Tanzania

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