Two of the most frequently asked questions as a missionary is finishing up home assignment are,
“Are you excited to leave? and “Are you excited to go back?”
No one has ever asked me both of those questions, however. It is either the first or the second. I finally figured out that the reason either one of those questions seems complicated is because answering both questions is the only way to give an accurate picture without oversimplifying the situation.
So are you ready for both answers?
No, I am not excited to leave. Saying good-bye to family and friends that I love is always painful and hard and sad.
Yes, I am very excited to go back. I love the friends and the life God has given me in the jungle and even while I have loved being here, have missed being there at the same time.
After explaining that paradox to some friends a couple weeks ago, someone asked what I miss about the village.
Well, the biggest and obvious answer is my friends who live there, but here a few specific descriptions, in no particular order, of things I miss.
- The effortlessness of spending time with people. Rather than calling to schedule something for the next day or week, or ask if someone is home so I can go visit, all I have to do is leave my house and walk around the village until I find someone sitting on benches outdoors or in their kitchen houses. Due to their culture’s natural hospitality and acceptance, and almost 3 years of intentional relationship-building, I am welcome to just walk in, sit down, or join in whatever activity might be happening, no questions asked, except for the traditional question like the one you ask friends when you first see them each day, “Did you wake up?” This lifestyle of togetherness and community is a wonderful way to live.
- The look of delight and pride on the face of one of my best friends when I get things right in their language, or ask an insightful question about the culture. She has invested countless hours in patiently teaching me, and we have grown so much together, as teacher and student, and as friends.
- Little children yelling at my door during my third or fourth shower (cool-off technique) of the day, “What are you doing?” Well, they can hear the water running, so they know I’m showering. They just want me to hurry up so I can let them in to come play with my toys. The funniest occasion was when the little girl who tries to take charge of every situation, yelled in the most demanding voice a 4-year-old could muster, “Hurry up and let us in, cuz these bugs are biting us!”, as if there were no other houses in the village where they could escape the bugs, and I was a horribly neglectful person for failing to grant immediate refuge. These little friends make me laugh so much. I thank God for all the children He has placed in my life who enjoy spending time with me.
- The peace and stillness after the generator is turned off, normally between 9 and 10 pm. After everyone has gone to bed, with the background music of singing birds and insects, it feels like it is just Jesus and I alone, with no one else awake in the world to interrupt our time together. Many nights I step outside for a minute or two to gaze at the starry Amazon sky that He created. Even if the day might have been filled with stress or physical pain or discouragement or tears or a sense of failure, the beauty of that sight never fails to fill my soul with wonder and stir my heart to worship our Creator and Saviour.
- Not needing to deal with money or shopping or errands or appointments for months at a time.
- Seeing brightly-colored parrots and macaws fly overhead as I walk across the village and remembering again, with a thrill, that I live in the real, live, Amazon rainforest.
- Being engaged in a lifestyle of ministry in which I am reminded on a daily basis that I do not have what it takes to do what Jesus has called me to do. That is true in the States as well, but it isn’t quite as apparent. In a culture that I am still becoming part of but will never completely belong in, my incompetence and weakness is very obvious to everyone. I’m not strong enough or brave enough or smart enough or organized enough or healthy enough or spiritual enough. Whether it is my inability to adjust to the heat, cope with stress, pronounce words, keep bugs out of my food, use a machete, handle a complicated cultural situation, or trust God instead of worrying, I am in way over my head in the village. And this is good. Abiding in Jesus comes more naturally when we are constantly confronted with practical examples of the reality that we can do nothing on our own.
- The daily suspense of waking up with no idea what could happen on a given day, but knowing that if I am in the right place at the right moment, there will probably be exciting culture events or interesting conversations to participate in. Knowing that I’ve missed out on lots of events and conversations since July increases my anticipation to return and jump back into language and culture learning with my friends. Every day in the jungle is an adventure!