I’ve been dreading writing this.
Putting words to my current situation somehow makes it all seem so final. I am well and blessed beyond measure, but my time in South Sudan is rapidly coming to an end, and I am just so very sad to think about leaving a place and people that have become such an integral part of me.
My five-year term with World Harvest Mission/SERGE ended in September, but I asked for and was granted extension to stay in South Sudan until the end of 2014. I’ve been planning this departure for well over a year now, and in many ways I think I have been mourning the thought, let alone the reality, of what leaving South Sudan will look like and feel like for me.
It’s probably most missionary’s goal or dream that he will love his host culture and the people he is serving, but for many that is not always the way things turn out. I’ve been blessed to acculturate to some degree of success within my host culture, and I’ve come to love and be loved by so many of the people in my community.
A missionary once told me that she did not think it was possible to have as deep of relationships with people from another culture as compared to someone from your own cultural background. At the time, I found that to be an odd statement, especially from someone living cross-culturally. The more I have thought about the statement over the past few years, the more strongly I have come to disagree. I think the bonds of Jesus and Christian brotherhood and sisterhood are much stronger than those of national origin, or even familial origin in some cases. However, I do think that our mind set significantly impacts the level to which we are eager and willing to engage when in a cross-cultural setting.
When I moved to South Sudan I tried to set my assumptions aside and not always compare everything to American culture. I was willing to engage in cultural activities as long as they were not against Biblical values. Hence I bathed in the rivers, fished in the streams, learned how to hunt with a bow, ate everything placed in front of me, walked everywhere I went, practiced the language as much as I could, dug my own garden, and tried new experiences of all kinds. I made numerous mistakes along the way, and I didn’t love everything I experienced, but it was all part of me learning to appreciate the culture and customs of the people, and in the process developing deep friendships of mutual encouragement, challenge, and respect. Those relationships opened up doors for me to share God with people; to tell others of Jesus and the great story of grace and redemption that we were written into.
When I left America in 2009, I knew I would be back periodically to see my friends and family in the USA. I also knew communication via telephone and internet would be available, though to a lesser degree, but still allowing me to keep in touch to some extent. So it was with excitement and eagerness that I left the USA and embarked on my foreign missionary career. I had no idea what lay in front of me at that time, but I trusted in the One that I was following.
Fast forward to October 2014, as I think about my final two months in South Sudan. I know that when I leave I will not be back anytime soon (though I hope to come visit in a few years, Lord willing), and I know most people here do not have internet and many are without phones. So it is with deep sadness that I anticipate leaving. I still trust in the One I am following, but somehow I have let fear creep into my soul. Fear that my friends and family in Mundri, South Sudan will not be taken care of, fear that all-out war may be coming, fear that some will turn away from new-found faith, fear that some will die and I will not be there to mourn with their families, fear that no one will be around to encourage and challenge the people I love, fear that many here will die before ever really trusting in God and his precious son Jesus Christ.
I need and desire to turn my fears over to God, trusting that he will shoulder the burden, and trusting that He loves me and the people of South Sudan more than I could possibly imagine.
I’m going to be a hot mess when I leave South Sudan.
I will leave with a longing to return, a longing to see my South Sudanese friends and family again here on this earth, a longing for their hearts be changed and lives surrendered to God, a longing to sit with local people one more time, a longing to hug them once more and tell them how much I love and appreciate them.
I’m going to be a human soul filled to the brim with recounted blessings when I leave South Sudan.
I will leave knowing that I have changed – my thoughts, my feelings, my very personhood, knowing that my life is so much richer, deeper, and fuller because of the past five years, knowing that suffering is not something to shy away from but seek God in the midst of, knowing that I have friends and family in a place so very far away, knowing that my heart has somehow grown, and knowing that I am blessed beyond compare by a Lord that has given me the amazing, precious gift of five years spent in South Sudan.
I have received far more than I have lost. I have gained far more than I have given.
I am blessed.