A 21st-Century Parable of Reentry

As I sat in Wednesday night Bible class for the first time, and everyone began turning to the reading, I found that all my Bible apps were set to Spanish. While I changed my preferences, the conversation moved on without me, and I began scrambling to multitask mentally. It struck me that this is a parable of what is happening to my family. Our preferences are set to Peru, and it’s going to be awkward and frustrating while we’re in the room but busy looking for the settings button instead of fully engaging the conversation going on around us.

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A 21st-Century Parable of Reentry

For Kyle and Larissa

After a long search, I can’t find the words. After all these years, maybe there are already enough words between us. All I know to say at this moment is that we shared a road no one else did. You said yes when no one else did. You stayed the course when no one else did. You carried the weight no one else did. The road was ours for a stretch. So now I want to mark our parting with the words we learned to sing together twenty years ago, which have sustained me so many times.

Sometimes the night was beautiful
Sometimes the sky was so far away
Sometimes it seemed to steep so close
You could touch it but your heart would break
Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hot
There was so worth much left to do
But so much you’d already done

Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise you
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise you
And I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit from me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

And I will follow You all of my days
And I will follow You all of my days
And step by step You’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

My friends, family, companions, and co-laborers;
For the beautiful nights, the too-soon mornings, and the hot days;
For being strangers in this land;
For the steep climb and the faltering steps;
For singing this song with me and Meg;
For all the forgiveness, love, and laughter;
For you;
I thank God.

And now:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

We’ll see you soon, no doubt. But soon or late, our paths will meet at Gate 11, and we’ll remember this road we walked together, step by step.

With all my love,

Greg

For Kyle and Larissa

For Team Arequipa 2.0

We made a ten-year plan.

I don’t like leaving things unfinished. I do it all the time, though. Good intentions, resolutions, dreams, and plans. They are scattered around like rubble. Although Meg and I believe God is writing the next chapter, I have to admit that our story in Arequipa has that all-too-familiar unfinished feeling. Yet, to witness others being written into the story here reminds me that it’s not ours after all. It is, instead, the story of God’s faithfulness.

Therefore, the blessing I would speak has to start this way: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” You have come to join a struggling little community of disciples, not altogether different from the one that first read those words. God began the good work here. It was not ours to start or finish.

Accordingly, you have come to worship and serve as members of our Peruvian family. For this you have been called and sent by the Spirit and the church, and I bless your every good intention, resolution, dream, and plan. “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Remember this above all, at every turn. God’s faithfulness is before and beyond you. It is the meaning and power of your own work. It is the guarantee in the midst of doubt and weakness, through unfinished plans and unfulfilled intentions. Press on. Hold fast. Stand firm. Because our Lord Jesus is faithful.

God give you ears to hear and a grateful heart.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God give you courage to seek the kingdom and sow the kingdom, and nothing less, at all cost.

“And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

I love you, my friends and coworkers. God bless your hands and feet, hearts and mouths. Love the family fiercely. Love our neighbors relentlessly. Love the Lord our God with all that you are.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

For Team Arequipa 2.0

I Will Remember

I have learned a lot in the last six years. Most if my lessons are basics I should have already learned, but it took being sent to Peru for me to get it. Being a slow learner, I’m writing down a few of the most important to me and committing not to forget them just because we are no longer here.

I Will Remember

For Our Supporters

keep-calm-and-be-grateful-220We’re back from the wedding and the conference, and it’s time now to focus on our transition. The first thing I want to do is be grateful.

It’s a daunting task to try to mention everyone that has held up our arms along the way, from before we even had supporting churches to last week’s coffee escapade. I will probably fail to mention someone important, who will have to forgive the oversight. But I’m counting on the fact that the people I’m about to thank do not even want the spotlight. They have not served as members of Team Arequipa for recognition. In fact, there are some I will intentionally leave out, because I’m sure they want to keep their generosity between them and God.

To all, mentioned and unmentioned, we couldn’t have gone or stayed, survived or served, without you. We give thanks to God, but we recognize that you have been his hands, his provision, his sustaining words. We give thanks to God for you.

Among Many

For Tim and Janice Kirksey. When I first began to dream about foreign missions as a junior in high school, Tim told me that if I was serious about studying missions and going to the mission field, he and Janice would help make that a reality. And they did. Once we began raising funds, Tim and Janice continued to be cheerleaders, hosting our team in their home as we tried to spread the word about our plans to members of Shiloh Road church. The team was eventually privileged to be supported in part by Shiloh, and Tim volunteered to be on the newly formed support team. He and Janice have persistently loved and supported our family on furloughs and been critical supporters of CUDA.

For Tyson and Sarah Kirksey. Much as they might wish I would keep it quiet, I have to mention that eight years ago, as a young couple just starting their careers, they gave a gift that helped us afford to do fundraising (yes, it costs to drive around the country looking for supporting churches!) and, in my view, was foundational for the launch of CUDA. We’ve been good friends a long time, but sometimes people’s generosity can shock you.

For the Shultz and Fidone families. There are many at Shiloh who have been kind to us on furlough, but you went the extra mile, loving on our kids and making us feel like it really mattered we were visiting. You were refreshing for exhausted missionaries.

For the Yorks, especially Ruth, who looked after Megan in a special way.

For the whole Cedar Lane support team. You have been stellar. I won’t list everything, because it would go on a while, but we have been so thankful for everything. Much of your help to us must have seemed minor, even trivial, but it mattered so much. We could count on you, and we needed that. It was a joy to visit Tullahoma and spend time with you; it didn’t feel like more work. And that was an invaluable gift.

For Greg Muse and John Petty, who took care of our eyes and our teeth pro bono.

For Ray Eaves, who took care of the business side of support with diligence and love.

For the Hovaters, who came to Cedar Lane after we were in the field but became some of our biggest supporters anyway. It’s amazing when the preacher helps the church stay excited about what’s going on in another church in another country.

For David Mitchell. We have cherished your care and encouragement. It has been a special blessing to have a shepherd at Cedar Lane watch over us.

For David Smith, Kyle’s dad. David was many things to our team that I won’t mention here. Among them, he was easily our biggest fan. I miss his responses to my newsletter articles, his hug when we visited Shiloh, and all the virtues that made him a great elder to our mission team. I miss him, but I still get to be thankful for him.

For Bryan Tarpley, who did so much free web consulting for us. In addition to being closer than a brother.

For our family and close friends, especially those who visited us in Peru or made the extra effort to connect on furlough. We leaned your support, and you didn’t let us down.

For the CUDA board: Monty Lynn, Clara Carroll, Ileene Huffard, David Fann, and Chris Adams. They have sacrificed in a variety of ways to help us make CUDA legitimate, and they have graciously affirmed our efforts, including our failures.

For everyone who visited the field to support us instead of using us as a hostel.

For everyone who actually read the newsletter, even when they weren’t that into it.

For everyone who prayed for us.

For everyone at Shiloh and Cedar Lane who gave their money so that we could be here and take care of our families. For everyone who hosted us and cooked for us, who asked questions and spoke encouraging words. For all the members of Team Arequipa.

The Lima Team

Nuestras compatriotas. You helped us with a boatload of tramites, let us crash your houses at need, set an example in ministry, and made our yearly retreat a time of laugher and renewal. Our thanks has never seemed adequate, but you never asked for more. ¡Gracias por todo!

For Tim, Denise, and the Henderson Household

Our surrogate family in Tyler. The home we invade on furlough. For late nights of TV marathons and unending conversations and too much good food and all the comfort of a place that is home away from home. Tim is my spiritual father, and he has been our lifeline to Shiloh. He still takes care of me, knows what to ask and when, lets me be me and helps me be better than me. That is more than enough.

For Our People

From the Cedar Lane support team, Mark and Diane Adams were assigned to be our “support couple,” with the special responsibility of really keeping up with us. Soon they were just “our people.” We were already friends before we left for Peru, but our friendship has grown and deepened in the last six years. We’ve always had someone to talk to, vent to, whine to, and they have commiserated like champs. They have taken care of so many things for us Stateside, despite their busy lives. (And here I don’t want to give Mark too much credit, because Diane is a getting-things-done machine.)  I don’t think most missionaries have the privilege of such friendship among supporters, and I am so grateful.

For Bill and Holly Richardson

It has been such a privilege and a blessing to have you walk with us as missionary wannabes, as disillusioned fundraisers, as culture-shocked novices, and as struggling servants. Despite the weaknesses perhaps more evident to you than anyone else, despite the fact that had you been in our place it would have been different and better, you always helped us remember that it was enough to serve Jesus faithfully. As others throughout Latin America know, your support made a critical difference. We’re humbled by you and so deeply grateful for your friendship in the Lord.

For Our Parents

Sometimes missionaries go to the field without the support of their parents, which must be incredibly difficult. While ours naturally didn’t want to miss the grandkids growing up, mom, Steve, and Margaret blessed our decision and have supported us all the way. Our service is their legacy, and we are deeply thankful for the faithfulness we inherited.

For all of you, we are grateful.

For Our Supporters

Sprinting to the End

We bought our tickets yesterday.

While Meg has been ramping up emotionally for a while, I am postponing a lot of those feelings for nearer to our departure. But setting an official leave date was a significant moment. We will arrive in the US on January 12th, 2015. In just under five months, our family will leave home to return home.

I have a lot to work through—feelings that are at odds with what I think I’m supposed to think. Stuff related to my motives for coming to Peru in the first place, including my relationship with God, dreams, ambitions, and various factors of rather uneven spiritual value. Disappointments and lessons learned. Joys and sorrows. Just life, I guess, but it was life here. Anyway, my plan is to blog through these, hopefully regularly until our departure.

Right now, my primary thought is, “Sprint to the end.” I want to finish well. But it’s hard to know what that means. On one hand, it is remaining faithful in the everyday work despite feeling like mine is a contribution with an expiration date. My input becomes increasingly less relevant to long-term decisions. The window for unmet goals shrinks to a matter of months and feels impossible. The hope of correcting past failures withers. “Sprint to the end” in this sense is not the thought of the accomplished athlete finishing with discipline but of the guy who is still running the race after everyone else has already crossed the finish line, wondering what would be the point of the extra effort. On the other hand, it is doing well the things that this new phase requires. It’s time to do transition work again. So we’re starting on our RAFT, a device many expatriates have used to make a good exit and return. It entails:

Reconciliation (in borken relationships and unresolved conflicts)
Affirmation (of the people in our lives)
Farewells (in timely and intentional ways)
Thinking Destination (being realistic about life upon return)

This is a big part of our work now, and just coming to terms with that fact is really hard. But it’s time.

Sprinting to the End