Explanatory note: My nephews and nieces call me “Tia Paulette” instead of “Aunt Paulette.” Tia is the word for aunt in Portuguese and is pronounced “chia” by the way. Two years ago, when I first asked them if they would start calling me “tia”, it took my oldest nephew awhile to get used to the switch. For a couple weeks, he referred to me as “Tia Aunt Paulette.” It was so cute, I was almost disappointed when he finally got it right.
Almost two years ago, I spent a few months doing what our missions agency calls partnership development. This is a time of networking and sharing in churches and other venues about the Neno people, and how God had prepared the way and was leading me to go live among them, to learn their language and culture with the goal of someday communicating His Word clearly.
One autumn Sunday, I shared at the church that my brother and his family attend. That was a really special opportunity, since the pastor and his wife are good friends, as are many of the other church members.
After the service, while I chatted with people and answered questions, my youngest nephew was engrossed by the display table I had set up in the back of the meeting area. His little brain was probably working overtime as he thought through all that his tia had said during church, and tried to understand why and when she would be leaving. Photos of the Neno, sent by the missionary family already on the field, were arranged neatly, in an attempt to depict the culture and personalities of people I had yet to meet. After some moments of silent pondering, Gideon looked up from the photos, wide-eyed and serious, and asked my mom, “Is Tia Paulette going to those brothers and sisters?”
When she told me about his question, my eyes filled with tears. He was only three years old at the time, but he got it. He really understands. He probably still doesn’t know exactly how far away Brasil is, or what it means to learn a tonal language, but he understood the most important aspect of God’s calling on his tia’s life, and simplified my mission in that one question.
The thing is, there is another place, where there are people who love Jesus and want to know Him more. They are not just some distant ethnic group with whom we have no relationship or common bond – they are our family! Some of them are already real brothers and sisters in Christ, having understood the simple truth of the Gospel and believed. Others have not heard or understood clearly who Jesus Christ is yet, or have turned away from His words, but we can claim some of these as our future brothers and sisters also, by faith in what God will do in years to come.
Oh, nephew-of-mine, dear child always close to my heart though often far away from my hugs, thank you for showing how much you really did understand by putting it into words that day. If only you could know how much this has encouraged my heart, on countless occasions since coming to the village.
You see, one of the very hardest things about being here is that I am far away from my dear family, especially from you and your brother and sisters who are growing up so fast. It hurts to think about all the birthdays, laughter, developmental milestones, funny quotes, and daily routines of your lives that I miss. It hurts to know that you and Jeremiah and Abbi and Jubilee miss me too, wish I could still go to your house every week, and have very little concept of what life here is like, or how long we will have to wait between visits. My heart aches to know that my choice to follow Jesus hurts you, makes your little hearts sad, and even causes occasional emotional meltdowns.
But when we are sad and miss each other, if we remember that I am here with these brothers and sisters, I think we can keep it all in perspective. Jesus, the One we love most of all, because He loved us first, wants to grow His family, which is also our family, so much bigger than we can even imagine. Because, as our sadness at being separated geographically demonstrates, families are meant to be together. Tias aren’t supposed to be thousands of miles away from the cutest nephews and nieces on the planet; it isn’t natural or good. Yet there is a far greater tragedy, a far greater wrong that must be rectified, which also happens to be the reason that we can accept the hardship of living so far away from each other.
The one true God, who created humanity, longs for a personal relationship with each man, woman and child on this earth, whatever their nationality. And as things now stand, most of the people in this world are far, far away from God, relationally speaking. He sent Jesus to bridge the gap, dying and rising again to pay for our sin and reconcile us to God. All that is left is for each individual to hear this good news, clearly communicated, and make the choice of whether he will trust Jesus alone for salvation, thus becoming a child of God, part of His family.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Titus 2:11
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12, 13
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13
Do you know who Jesus commissioned to to proclaim His name among the nations, telling them that God is calling all people to Himself as sons and daughters? That’s right – Jesus’ disciples, which means all of us who are already part of His family, through faith in Him. And as we obey Jesus, wherever we are, to spread His Word, we are workers with Him in this incredible mission. That’s the reason for your tia coming to the jungle and also the reason for your letting me go and praying for us. By God’s grace, He will use our obedience and sacrifice so that more and more Neno brothers and sisters can know Jesus like we do.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:15, 16
For we are labourers together with God. 1 Corinthians 3:9
And lest we feel too sorry for ourselves, in the midst of sacrifice, let’s look at the silver lining which every cloud is said to have, just from an immediate perspective. Since I can’t be the aunt who lives around the corner and is physically present on a regular basis, I am just going to embrace my role as the missionary tia who lives in the jungle far-far-away, eats alligator meat, holds baby monkeys, and has a dirt floor in her kitchen, but who still loves her nieces and nephews bunches and bunches. And those bunches of love are even bigger than the bunches of delicious jungle bananas I wish I could send you to eat. I will continue looking forward to each trip to the city, mainly for the chance of skyping with all of you, and answering your burning questions like, “What did you eat that you didn’t tell us?” and “Do you have any more animal stories from the village?” “What are your Neno friends’ names?” and “Can you hunt an alligator for us?”
Hopefully, as you grow up, in addition to bringing back an occasional special gift from the jungle (although I’m afraid alligator meat will not be included, Abbi), I will be able able to bring back stories – stories of how is God is at work in the lives of our Neno brothers and sisters. And I will thank you and your parents, as well as the rest of my family and friends, for your sacrifice and obedience to Jesus, right along with me. And since our times together will be few and far between, we will treasure them up like the jewels they are, squeezing in as many memories as possible, and living each moment to the full. And the joy and togetherness and fun and blessing of those moments will stir our hearts to anticipate even more that perfect, endless day when we will be together in Heaven, with Jesus, each other, our Neno brothers and sisters, and the rest of God’s family.