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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.