“Are you glad to be home now?” This is the most frequent question that I hear now that we have returned from Tanzania. It is a difficult question for me to answer honestly. It is even difficult for me to know the answer. It is difficult to sort out the complexity of the strong tie that was formed in the short time period of five years, beginning when my husband embarked on his first trip to East Africa in January of 2011. Though we are now home to stay in Kentucky, East Africa has an eternal place in our hearts; it will be resurrected upon our arrival at Heaven’s gate. Yet, I ask myself, what about during the rest of our sojourn here as we await our heavenly abode?
Even though we weren’t able to live and die in East Africa like the ideal missionary, yet God touched both our family and our Tanzania-Kenyan family in a very profound way. Our time living among the people of Nyakato made a deep impression for all of us. Admittedly, if we could commit to living with them until death brought our parting, this would be more valuable. However, we came across our limitations due to various factors, which I recognize as the hand of God directing us back to America, and more specifically, Casey County. The question in my mind is, “What do I do with the feeling of having been severed from these loved ones?” It feels akin to having lost a limb; instead it is loved ones.
Yes, I said “loved ones”. Is love possible in a short five years? Is it really love if it isn’t “til death do us part”? Is missionary work always synonymous to a marriage commitment? Can God use our feeble efforts to share the light of Christ in a space of five years when fifty years aren’t available? These are questions which reside in the depths of my being. These are questions causing inner disturbance when our outward world is so calm and peaceful. (What could be more peaceful than the idyllic country life with a milk cow and lots of chicks, an Anglican church next door, the redbuds and dogwoods in bloom, the gentle spring breeze across my face, the warmth of the woodstove on the crisp mornings, the moonlight streaming into our window through the long nights?) The outward world we live in is so peaceful, yet the question of, “Are you glad to be home?” is still a difficult question to answer.
I think to myself, ”I am supposed to be glad to be home. After all, this is the will of the Lord to be home now. God has a plan for this time also.” So I usually just say “Yes” to the question, and leave out the rest. What is the rest? The rest is the sadness of leaving a big part of my heart there in East Africa. I truly love these people with whom we shared in life and worship. I would commit my entire life to live and die with them if this were possible. However, God has directed us to return, and I must accept His divine direction, trusting God’s all knowing wisdom and all encompassing love.
Is it a shallow love, since we had to leave? Is it even love at all? Well, as I ponder these questions also, first I must address, what is love? Is love merely enjoying another’s company? No, this is not the essence of love. Love is a relationship of giving and receiving, and is most clearly illustrated in a healthy family unit. Love is sharing our life, accepting our differences, and learning from one another. Love is touching one another in a profound way, and seeing Christ in our sharing. Love is outward toward God and others. Love reaches the depths of our souls and transforms our lives. Love is also a letting go according to the Will of God, and knowing our loved ones are safe in the Father’s hands.
In November, 2015, we shared a Thanksgiving dinner with our Tanzanian family shortly before we were scheduled to leave. I noticed that Babu Kapili, our Tanzanian grandfather, was looking sad. I was also feeling very sad, since our day of departure was drawing near. Babu said that he likened this time to the death of family members. I also felt the grief that accompanies the death of loved ones. Yet, even in death, we cling to the hope of eternal life, and the happy day that we will be together once again.
God has enriched our lives by expanding our family ties beyond the natural and even local ties. God enriched the lives of our Tanzanian family also by using us, weak vessels that we are, to teach them valuable lessons of life in Christ. We learned lessons from one another through our living in community during the season God allowed. Much of the lessons were merely learned through the times we shared rather than through planned lessons. I thank the Lord for allowing us these precious times.
So am I glad to be home? Well, yes and no. I am glad to be where God wants me now. Also, I am glad to be united with our families here and our local church family. At the same time, I am sorrowful to have our African family so far away. I long to see their faces. “In this world you will have sorrow, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” John 16:20b
I thank the Lord for granting us these five years to build meaningful relationships with our brothers and sisters in East Africa. I thank Him for giving to us true family relationships with a people of a different culture. I thank the Lord for all we have learned from each other, and I trust God to lead and guide both them and us as we continue to journey through this life He has given us. May we grow closer to Jesus Christ, and may we let Him transform us into His glorious image.
As I remember our Tanzanian-Kenyan family, I echo the Apostle Paul’s words found in his letter to the Philippians: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, …you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.“ Philippians 1: 3-8
Note added later: My husband has allowed me to write several articles this year for this blog, which has been helping me process the experience of pulling up our roots for two family trips to Tanzania. This article was written in April of this year, but I already had other articles written to post at that time. The winter was a very difficult transition inwardly for me, but outwardly, God, in His mercy allowed life to be stabilized as I was adjusting to leaving our East African family.
On June 8th, our good friend, Bonface, from Rongo, Kenya arrived at our home. What a blessing to host this young man of God for the summer! We will learn much from one another. I am grateful to see his face, hear his voice, and share our life in Christ with him. We will write about his visit in the August blog post. According to African custom, we have gained another son.
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Mama Anna and Brother Nathan