Itching to Go Back
Hey, remember when I wrote that we were going back to PNG in early January? Well, it’s the middle of January and we are still in Mississippi.
I’m getting pretty sick of writing out our plans for the internet to read just to have to turn around and tell the internet that I lied. But maybe the internet is used to it by now.
If you are shocked by our change of plans then you probably haven’t been reading this blog very long.
I went to my rheumatologist in December and he said that we needed to stay until at least February so he could get me on the right medicine for my autoimmune issues and wanted to monitor my pancreatitis on whatever medicine we tried.
So after I had a major meltdown, we agreed with the doctor and started the new medication. It was going so well that we went ahead and booked tickets for a time that I am not going to write on this post because I’m done writing our plans on this blog. All you need to know is that we bought tickets to go back to PNG for a date sometime in the near future.
The day after the charges showed up on my credit card, I broke out in a crazy rash that turned out to be psoriasis which the new medicine is supposed to prevent me from getting. At this point, a rash is the least of my medical problems, so I doubt that will do anything to change our plans at this point.
I have to admit that this year in America has made me reflect more than ever about our lives as missionaries. There were times I honestly felt like we wouldn’t be able to return. There were times when I honestly felt like I didn’t want to return. There are still times when I am honestly scared to death to return. And there were times when I was scared to death that we wouldn’t be able to return.
The not being able to return is actually just as scary as the returning with health problems. People seemed to think not returning was the simple solution. You’re sick, so you don’t go back. Problem solved. But it is so much more complicated than that when it means an entire life/job/country/culture change…when you’ve been preparing your entire adult life for one thing and then all of a sudden that thing looks like it will be ripped out from under you.
I remember over the summer I was having a particularly hard time dealing with significant pain from some stents that were placed in my pancreatic and bile ducts. It was the third procedure I’d been through and felt very discouraged that nothing was helping, and was terrified that this meant we would not be able to return to PNG. I was in line at Walmart in North Carolina when a couple in front of me started talking to me about something I can’t even remember now. What I do remember is that the man used language so colorful that I fully expected a pot of gold to land at my feet at the end of each sentence. I never said anything to him about it, but when his wife asked where I was from (I told them earlier I was visiting my mom and sister) I answered that I was a missionary in Papua New Guinea. The husband turned white and started apologizing for his $#@*&! language, but I just laughed and told him it was ok.
Ask any missionary/pastor/person in ministry- this is a very common occurrence. Strangers who strike up conversations with us and speak without restraint usually act as if a trap door will open at any second and send them straight to Hell as soon as they learn what we do. They usually apologize profusely and then tell us about their great-uncle who once was a deacon’s best friend and how they waited to get past the First Baptist Church’s parking lot before they threw their cigarette out the window. Let me just clear the air right now…I have been cursed around and cursed at many times and have never seen or operated a trap door to Hell. So relax, foul language lovers, the missionaries are not the secret language police lying in wait to damn your soul for all eternity.
Anyway, after that conversation, I went to my car to cry about the fact that I might not get to be a missionary any longer and will no longer get to scare people who curse around me with my trap door to Hell show grace to people who use foul language in my presence. I know it was a stupid thing to cry about, but my stomach was hurting and I was buying a bunch of junk food for my kids that I couldn’t even eat, and I might have been hormonal, but there’s now way to know because I had a partial hysterectomy five years ago.
But I can assure you that there have been A LOT of conversations between Jesus and myself on this subject (the subject of us going back, not curse words or trap doors to Hell), and I feel pretty confident that He wants us to return.
If He doesn’t then He wants us to live homeless and jobless in America.
He has provided us with renewed visas to PNG, plane tickets to get there, and a green light from my doctor in PNG (the one I trust the most with this decision), so off we go.
|Our tiny area of existence. Literally carved out of the jungle in the middle of nowhere.|
Yes, I’m going back with some health problems. I’m going back with a broken pancreas, a broken immune system, and an itchy rash. But I’m going back. I honestly don’t know what this term will look like for us. I know our lives and ministries will work differently than they have in the past. And our goals will be different than before. My biggest goal this time is to just stay in the country for 12 consecutive months. I mean we can’t get any Bible teaching or discipleship done if we are not in the country. So, I’d say it is a pretty legitimate goal.
Because of my health situation the last couple of years and because of other events that have taken place in our time in Hewa, John Michael and I have seriously struggled with questions like, “What are we accomplishing in PNG? Are we really contributing anything worthwhile? Is there even any point in us being there?” And while there are moments we can look back on and see where God was working in and through our time there, we know that ultimately our return has to do with obedience alone. He calls us to go, so we go, even if we have no idea what life will look like when we get there.
I will admit that rather than going back fully rested and rejuvenated from furlough, we are going back with weariness and trepidation. That’s probably not what you want to hear from your missionary, but it’s the truth. I feel like we are in a low point in our ministry, but I was recently reminded through a good friend and mentor that God is the author of our story and every good story has highs and lows, unexpected challenges and joyous victories. Our story is no different. In fact, the pivotal point of the Gospel itself is the low point. Jesus comes to earth as the promised Savior, Messiah, but instead of being put on a throne, He is crucified on a cross. There is no lower point than that. But the result of that low point-the Risen Savior who defeats sin and conquers deaths creates the greatest story ever told.
For the first time I’m going back with no expectations, with no grand notions of how things should play out, or look like. I have no idea what God can/will/wants to do with this broken body in a country where it is very hard to live without good health. But maybe for the first time ever, I’m going back the way He wants me to, completely and utterly dependent on Him to even be able to stay in the country much less accomplish anything..at a really low point, with all my plans and pride dead and buried. Now all I have to do is stay in the story to see what He will resurrect and redeem.
This Elisabeth Elliot quote gives me comfort as I struggle with these low points in our story-
No matter what we face, the feelings of fruitlessness or futility, the perplexities of my health issues, or the pain we feel when the story doesn’t go as we think it should, Jesus wants to and will fill us with His joy. With His life. We traded our lives for His a long time ago knowing that suffering and death were a part of His story. But most importantly we know that His story (and therefore ours) ends in resurrection and new life, complete joy and perfect peace.