Ã tere unkaliá.
I’m already going. I’m on my way.
One week left. In seven days I’ll be leaving this jungle village, leaving all of you. Oh, it’s not a permanent good-bye. But nine months seems like such a long time.
Entreat me not to leave you. Where you are, I have come. Where you lodge, I also lodge. Your people have become my people.
Today I ask you, my beloved village friends, how can I leave this place of learning and becoming, where my mere attempts to talk or use your simple everyday tools like machetes result in laughter and memories and an occasional minor injury?
How can I spend nine months separated from you who have become my teachers and friends while I have, to some extent, in the process of learning your words and your ways, become one of you?
How can I say goodbye to you who have put up with me, given me the most delicious fish the world has to offer, and appreciated the simplest of my homemade cakes more than any other group of people ever has?
How can I leave my little house in the jungle, whose thatch roof and dirt floor in the kitchen delight the depths of my being in a way I never imagined architecture could?
How can I bid farewell to the stunning Amazon night sky that never fails to remind me of the greatness and power of our Creator and Savior?
Saying goodbye to you who are still longing for the Word of God in your language pierces my heart like a sharp deadly arrow that your people used to use.
While I desperately need a break from the heat and some of the physical and emotional challenges faced in recent months, I find myself reluctant to say goodbye to the intensity of life here. The incredible mixture of persistent pain and extreme grace has kept me clinging desperately to Jesus while falling deeper in love with Him. Why would I take a break from that?
But that “other world” where I was born and raised is part of God’s purpose and plan, just as essential to my calling as language and culture acquisition in your world is. Rest and different ministry opportunities and time with family and friends are other ways in which Jesus will show me His abundant mercy and grace.
So I’m already going.
As a culture that values family relationships and honor very highly, it is easy for you to understand that I miss my family. You have expressed your happiness that I will soon see them again. I love all of you dearly, but obviously I also love my parents and sisters and brothers and grandparents and nieces and nephews and church family and other friends, and it isn’t right to stay far away from all of them forever.
A nephew was born five months ago that I haven’t yet seen. I am excited to meet him and hold him and watch him grow. I am excited to once again spend family time with my family, as you have graciously allowed me to spend almost three years with yours.
All the accumulated memories and shared experiences and solid friendships have already caused me to cry repeatedly at the thought of saying good-bye. When I told some of you about my tears and sadness, it totally made sense to you. Why wouldn’t I cry? While I’m excited to see my family, obviously I’ll miss you like crazy while I am far away in their land. And of course you’ll miss me just as much, especially when you see my empty little house. Goodbyes are awful. Togetherness is precious.
To my four-year-old friend:
Yesterday I almost cried when you and your cousin were here playing with my toys and sucking lollipops and saying the cutest, funniest things that little boys could say, wishing I could store these moments away for safekeeping like the treasures they are.
When I come back, you and your cousin won’t be four anymore. How can I leave?
You are a master of sass and sarcasm, in a tonal language that lends itself to such. There are so many stories to tell of the many ways you have brought me joy.
Like the recent day when you looked down at your feet and then at mine, exclaiming, in your most sarcastic tone, “Your feet are STILL white?”
And I rolled my eyes and laughed with delight. Yes, small friend, my feet were white on the day I met you when you were one year old, (how is it even possible that you were just one and now you’re four?) and they were still white last year, and last month. They are still white today, and as much as I wish that the tropical sun would change their tone to a lovely shade of brown like your feet, my feet will most likely still be white when I see you again in nine months.
Because I’m on my way. If I don’t, I won’t get to see my bubbly, blonde niece, born just three weeks before you, while she is four.
Her personality is similar to yours in many ways, I think. Teller of stories, roller of eyes, one who delights in life and makes people laugh even when she isn’t trying to do so.
But I know your personality better than hers. I need to spend this season there, to be present in her life, and get to know all of my nieces and nephews again, after being separated for much too long. They are already counting down the days until their “Tia Paulette” arrives.
So on Saturday, I will tell each one of you that I’m already going.
And each of you will tell me. “Go.”
Some of you will add, “Go well.”
There will be tears on both sides. But it will be okay.
This week will be difficult physically, as I know my back will rebel against all the cleaning and organizing and lifting that remains to be done. It will be difficult emotionally as all of us face the upcoming farewell.
I am thankful for the roots of friendship that have grown deep in our hearts, and can’t be uprooted by distance, or by wild pigs as often happens to the manioc root in your fields. It would be far more painful if you didn’t care that I was leaving, or if I was eager to get away from you.
Although it won’t be an easy week, it will still be a good week. We will treasure these last days together. We will fit in a few more study sessions, go to the gardens a couple more times, and sit around talking in our kitchens, reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future. The opportunity to talk about goodbyes, relationships, language progress, dreams, the Bible and God’s work in our lives makes transitions so much easier than they used to be.
For while I cannot yet string your words together with perfection and skill, in the way you string beautifully-crafted coconut shell beads into traditional necklaces, at least I am finally able to string them together in grammatical and logical sequences that communicate thoughts and feelings and ideas in ways that can usually be understood.
After a few more heart-to-heart conversations and after the last goodbye, I will step into the leaky boat that normally smells like fish, cross the White River, and leave you, for now.
I’m already going. I’m on my way. Ã tere unkaliá.