In May we quietly filled out some paperwork and started the hoop-jumping, form-filling, important-paper-collecting process of getting a green card for my husband. We prayed about the timing, knowing that at some stage we’d need to be able to live in one or the other of our countries of origin for more than six months.
At about the same time, at the end of April we looked at each other and said, “It feels time.”
It has been hard on us here. My health has suffered, the nature of working with marginalized people, and all of the unexpected changes at work, have been a continual challenge. It’s a chaotic city. We arrived exhausted, and had barely gotten over (if we have, we’re still not sure) what we experienced in South Sudan. We’re glad we came. We gave it our best. As much as we hate continuing to leave places, at the end of the day God is working here. We were honored to be a part of it for a time. And, now, though it hurts, it’s time for us to go.
After my expulsion from the land of sand, evacuation from a war zone that same year, then marriage, traveling non-stop our first 9 months of marriage, and then arriving here and immediately facing health and other challenges…its time for a bit of stability in our lives.
We’re wrapping up here, training up staff as we can in our stead. The last stage in the process is an interview at the embassy, which we have in February. We expect to land stateside sometime around early March.
Which begs the question of what comes next. As is the policy of our organization, we have a couple of months of home assignment time where we’ll be sharing at churches, meeting with people, and staying on support while we find our feet. (Until roundabout July). We don’t have a big plan, though we are brimming with hopes and daydreams. A top priority is getting a good debrief, and also getting better. And do a few of the things we haven’t had to do for the last few years. Learn to drive (for the hubs), buy a car, set up a house, figure out things like insurance and phone plans and how to not get lost in a grocery store. Eventually, finding our feet, finding jobs, hopefully something fulfilling, and then probably moving. Trying to find a church and build community all over again.
A big motivating force in my life and moving overseas has been a desire to care for orphans, children at risk, and anyone else on the margins of society. For me, social justice and caring for the poor are a foundational tenant of our faith. In my time overseas, and through lots and lots of reading, I’ve become aware of more systemic injustice than I realized. Both globally and in our own borders. More neighbors that I didn’t realize were there. Right now there are so many things I don’t recognize about my country. And I have I feeling this is true, too, for many people who haven’t been away most of the last 6 years.
Wherever you find yourself on the issues, and whichever side you choose to be on or don’t, the tension, division, and animosity is palpable. There are certainly not enough gracious conversations between opposing sides, in love.
While there are parts of this life I will miss (greatly) I’m hesitantly excited to be going back at this time. I’m seeing a lot of hate, a lot of fear, and a lot of misconceptions about refugees, migrants, the poor, and anyone else considered ‘other’ by a lot of people. And I’m even seeing this from many who say they follow Christ. My heart hurts seeing brothers and sisters in the body who are filled with fear instead of faith, and who would rather exclude than include. There are people I’ve spoken with over the years in churches who have supported our work with refugees overseas, and who have also posted some terribly cruel words about other people online. I am left scratching my head.
I am itching to be part of the dialogue (and movement) against fear, in faith, living out the social teaching we see in the Bible. About what it means to live seeking the kingdom of God above our own fears, desires, inclinations, and attachment to earthly kingdoms. About how we justify living in a world where there is extreme wealth and extreme poverty side by side, when Jesus kept saying that his kingdom would come where there are the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the stranger. Many of us seem quite content to build higher and higher walls between ourselves and people not like us.
Those walls keeping us away from the prisoner, the cold, the hungry, the thirsty and marginalized, I’m afraid are are actually keeping out Jesus.
I’ve spent 6 years living among, and sometimes with, incredibly vulnerable and marginalized people. I have been surrounded by brokenness. And at times, it has broken me.
But I found Jesus here, among people that are of little or no consequence to the world. And dang it, as people of faith, we need to start valuing people, especially those on the margins, a whole lot more.
I understand that we are in scary times. I have moments where I am filled with fear about the future, too. But we are people of hope, people of faith, and wherever we find ourselves we need to be living toward the kingdom that Christ came to usher in. A kingdom where the treasures we store are different than the treasures of this earth (Matthew 6:20). A kingdom where the first are last and the last are first (Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16). A kingdom where we humble ourselves, where we love our enemies, and where the treatment of our neighbor matters profoundly to God.
We are going back – but not retreating. Our hearts, our motivating force, our desire for how to live and be a part of bringing the kingdom in this world has not changed. God is moving all around us, and we’re itching to be a part of it wherever we land.
“How could I have missed it in the Old Testament, the psalms, the laments, the prophets, the very narrative of the Israelites, the gospels, the letters of Paul, the culmination of Revelation? Oppressed peoples are a theme, those downtrodden by life, circumstances, the wicked, and the unjust. And the promise, always the promise, of God delivering justice.” D.L. Mayfield
(Her book, Assimilate or Go Home, made me laugh and cry and nod my head vigorously as I read it in a day. I don’t think there has ever been a book I could relate to more and you should read it, too!)