The hardest part of overseas trips for me has never been the food, the language, or the culture; it has always been the departure. And it hit me today that I’ll be on a plane in 48 hours. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my friends and family from home. But as we drove through the city today in a tuk tuk I almost cried at the thought that these may be my last few moments of the familiar smells and cries from vendors. As the smoggy wind blew through my hair and I wiped the road grit out of my eyes I was not annoyed—I felt embraced by the culture, the people, and the familiar scenery. Do I feel called to this culture long-term? Not necessarily. Will I miss my time and my friends here? Absolutely.
Not too long ago in a place closer to me now than my own home, a Gypsy pastor consoled me as I wept for the people who will forever have a piece of my heart. He said to me, ‘Sister Caroline, no matter how hard it is, leaving is part of ministry. Even Paul talked about how he was burdened for the believing communities he left behind.’ I have never forgotten his words, and I am reminded how true they are in times like these. The longer I serve in this kind of overseas ministry, the more people I will have to leave behind, the more dear hearts I will add to my prayer list, and the more chrch bodies I will carry in my own heart. There will always be bittersweet goodbyes without a promise of meeting again. And because of who the Father has made me to be, my heart will always ache for His work and His people that I leave behind. We have not witnessed any salvations on this trip, but we have planted many seeds. I have told quite a few stories, and I know I am leaving behind friends who may or may not continue in their seeking for the Truth. My heart breaks for them, and every time it does I wonder why I find this ministry so appealing.
But then I read Philippians, and I am always encouraged by Paul’s words. He got it. He knew what it was to leave a place and to wonder what would happen in his absence. He was burdened for those he discipled and those they in turn would disciple to take their places. I am reminded of the Father’s gift of his global community. “We all share in the same grace,” he says in the first chapter, and that unites us. I will always be connected to the Body because we are one in the Son. I will always have someone, whether they speak English, or Khmer, or Romanian, or Spanish, to mutually encourage and lift up. And that is a blessing beyond anything I could ever ask. Our Father knew leaving a community would be difficult, so he connected us in a beautiful way that blows my mind. We all serve the same Lord, no matter what language we use to do it.
And this trip is different from the last, because I will be able to take back a little of the country with me. Father has given us a wonderful team of five students and a professor who’ve shared experiences and trials and triumphs. We’ll always be able to recall fighting over the last scrap of toilet paper, tasting the smelliest fruit in the world, having late-night hair stylings, and laughing with our jmen so much that we cried. We’ll be able to remember together laughing and haggling at the markets and sweating with our knees laced together in a tuk tuk. We will be able to grieve for this culture together and its people’s hardships, and we’ll be able to lift of the students we have come to know and love.
So much has happened with them in the short two weeks we’ve known them. We’ve done everything from karaoke night, arcade games, and sharing more than questionable food, to visiting market, going to the zoo, playing endless games of mafia, and storying until we’re blue in the face. As hard as it is to believe, we’ve built relationships with people whose language is foreign to us, whose culture sometimes astounds us, and who live halfway around the world from our homes. Sunday we had another worship time and 7 of our students came. The entire things was orchestrated by Father, but they heard a short message on the wide and narrow paths and houses built on sand and rock, they sang their favorite songs Waves of Mercy and 10,000 Reasons, and then they heard the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. I was brought to tears as I storied about the beautiful love of our savior, and I was amazed at the whole-hearted response from the students. They followed along with emotion on their usually reserved faces, and a few times there were even exclamations at parts of the story. I was amazed to see Father at work through our team and I was blown away by his grace when I saw the students’ reaction to the greatest story in the Word.
And after all of that, we have to leave. We have to go back to school and hectic schedules and health problems and stressors. But we have the same Father to go back to as well. If he is Lord in Southeast Asia, he is Lord in our hometowns. He promises that His Words will not return to him empty, so we know that our teachings here have not fallen on deaf ears. We know that someday He will bring a harvest, even if we are not here to see it. He has taught us much, and we will take much home with us. Please continue to lift up our team as we prepare to leave and return to our ‘normal lives.’ Pray that we would not be overcome with sorrow as we experience our last meal of Lok Lat, our last time with the students, and our last time in the crowded market. And as I read Philippians, I am reminded of Paul’s overwhelming joy that answered to his sorrow and burden for the community. He was completely and utterly filled to the brim with joy because the Lord is faithful, and he will finish the work he has begun. For that we will praise him, and our tears will be tears of joy.