This blog post is an invitation to step into the emotional journey of a missionary for a brief moment.
I will soon celebrate the 2.5 year milestone of living here in New Zealand. With each hardship overcome and each victory celebrated in daily experience, I am finding that I become more deeply attached to the people of New Zealand, especially to those within my sphere of influence in Whangarei. That means that with every heart connection comes a responsibility, and to even conceive of leaving feels like a betrayal. (Don’t worry, I’m not thinking of leaving, just sharing some inner thoughts with you.) The Lord has widened my circles, expanded my ministry in ways I never could have dreamed up on my own, and blessed me greatly.
There are even times when I dare to use the word “home” in association with this funny coastal town at the top of the bottom of the world. Nothing could ever replace where my foundations were first laid in Olathe, Kansas, but I am grateful for the sense of familiarity that I now feel here in Whangarei.
I stand in awe of what God has done.
Vivid memories of my first weeks here still linger in the corners of my mind. Oh how I longed for that “someday down the track” when I would feel connected, when I would actually have friends and feel settled. The hard chairs of the airport were more comfortable for me than the soft bed in this new foreign place with foreign people. At least at the airport, there existed it a vain hope that I was not far from a vessel capable of returning me to my hometown, back to familiarity and friendship. But . . . the call of God was stronger and I knew that those options could not continue to reside in my thoughts. A hard lump clogged my throat and my heart ached as I acknowledged the fact that my new “hometown” would become a no-fly zone; there was no turning back.
I ached for the day when things wouldn’t be so difficult and loneliness wouldn’t be my constant companion. All I wanted to do those first few weeks was to find ways to keep myself busy so that I could pass the time and get more days, weeks, and months “under my belt”. I struggled to consider the needs of others, because quite frankly, at that point just feeling a sense of personal normalcy was my goal. Selfish I know, but that’s the truth. I needed milestones to celebrate, things to validate my purpose for being here. These milestones would also serve as concrete evidence that God had indeed taken me through . . . and could be trusted to do so in the future.
I can remember calling on the name of Jesus with each breath in and out, relying on Him to complete every cycle of respiration. I was that desperate. Walking the streets of Whangarei, I was on a mission to discover what this town was made of. I spent hours each day scouring the city, locating the staples like supermarkets and shops, parks and safe walking tracks. I befriended op shop owners and store clerks, volunteered at the Salvation Army and did whatever I could to fill my need for friendship. I also looked for employment outside the church, of which there was none at the time. Time. All things would take time. I wanted to feel settled, normal, productive and competent NOW (then). . .but that would take time. I wanted to not feel lonely NOW.. . but that would take time. I wanted to know my way around town NOW. .. but that would take time.
At night, my prayers were like S.O.S signals to God, requests that he’d somehow relay the message to my family back home that I was distraught and needed prayer. And he did. Time and again I would receive e-mails that someone had awakened in the middle of the night with a sense that my heart was in need. What a kind and gracious God.
That was then.
This is now.
Now I’m 2.5 years “down the track”. In the grand scheme of eternity’s timeline, this is but a blip, barely noticeable. But like I said before, I need milestones to celebrate. Now my life is so full, so fulfilling. Doing life here feels normal and familiar. I do know how to navigate the city, and much of the north island for that matter. Good friends are aplenty and the work I do as a pastor, coach, and youth worker is important. Homesickness visits less frequently these days and when it does, I quickly say good-bye and send it on it’s way.
This is not to say that life is perfect here or that I do not continue to face new challenges and struggles. That would be a lie. But this IS a tribute to the God whose mercies have been new for me every morning thus far, and whom I can trust to do the same in the future.