Dear mission partners, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ,
As I write this we are still in the States. We have been here about three weeks now spending time with family. This trip has been very different from our trips in the past. Although we don’t come home very often, we do try to stay a bit longer than a month. For Maya and “little” Tony (who is bigger than me now) and myself, it has been almost two years since our last visit. I hoped to speak a little if possible and visit with some supporters and churches, but this trip was not planned for very long and the purpose of this trip was, sadly, to see and spend time with those loved ones who may not be with us for very much longer. I have only had the time to speak at two churches this whole month. One church close to home in Florida, and one in Louisiana. But we want to be close to the family as much as possible.
This trip was put together rather quickly due to the declining health of Christen’s father who has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Thankfully, we have been able to check him out and bring him to the house we are staying in for days at a time for some much needed time together. But it has really been an emotionally difficult trip for all of us, especially for my wife.
Prayers are very appreciated for her, her father (Edward) and the family. My mother (Clorinda) has been in and out of the hospital with several health issues over the last few months with her health on the decline as well. Our time here has been spent traveling back and forth between Ocala and Tampa trying our best to prioritize who we can visit with and for how long, but it has proven to be very hard. Please pray.
The reality of being here for these reasons, on top of having to be away from Sahira and Yeison for this long has been very hard on us all. Yeison told us yesterday he packed his bag and was ready to get on an airplane to come to us. He doesn’t understand why he can’t come with us and this has been heartbreaking for everybody. Being between two worlds, feeling pulled and stretched in both directions in every way imaginable is not easy, but is just a reality of missionary life. Emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally we are challenged all the time with tough decisions to make. I find myself constantly crying out to God for wisdom with feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. At times we feel like we don’t belong anywhere.
It will be seven years in August, in a different cultural context, and it will take a toll on anyone and certainly change you in many ways. Feeling too American to be Dominican, feeling too different to be comfortable back in an America at times, especially with the rapid pace of change for the worst here. You can probably imagine the confusion and strange emotions we deal with sometimes, especially the children. Praise God that we find our true identity ultimately in Christ and we understand we really are pilgrims and strangers in this or any land for that matter, even the land we were born in.
This helps us not to get too attached to places or things anywhere, but it’s never easy and very few people back home understand. Even well meaning brothers and sisters who don’t know about life outside of their own context, or don’t have experience overseas or counseling missionaries, can fall short of giving us the counsel and encouragement we often need. Of course, any peace or comfort that we feel comes from Christ and the Spirit, reminding us and confirming God’s promises in the Scriptures. I thank God for His living Word. But humanly speaking, nothing seems simple and things are much easier said than done. It is God Himself who wills this so as to have us depend completely upon Him. This is when the rubber meets the road and we must surrender and simply have an attitude of the heart of “may Your will be done and not ours oh Lord”.
In a great article about the challenges of cross cultural church planting written by Jen Oshem, she describes just a few of the many challenges faced by those in situations similar to ours.
She is right on when she describes the following difficulties for families serving cross-culturally:
1. Traversing two or more cultures can prevent children from having a strong sense of identity and belonging. Also, the endless goodbyes with other expat families or with locals when the church planting family relocates can lead to loneliness and unprocessed grief.
2. Being immersed in a highly secular setting can have a greater influence on a child than their parents’ Christian influence. Kids might be exposed too early—and too often—to the realities of violence, poverty, sex trafficking, corruption, drugs and alcohol, and other dark, worldly trappings.
3. Physical health may suffer, as access to good healthcare may be nonexistent or far away. Everything from a middle-of-the-night fever to scoliosis can morph into a major, life-altering crisis.
4. Kids raised outside of their home countries don’t get to know their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or the neighborhoods their parents grew up in. They face significant gaps in knowing about their home culture’s norms (going “home” sure doesn’t feel like it) and everyone misses out on the support of extended family in the formative years.
5. Education is a constant concern. Learning in two languages is tough, not to mention dealing with special needs, keeping up with home country requirements, and navigating classmates’ and teachers’ expectations in a foreign country.
6. While everyone says, “Kids are so resilient,” the truth is they probably just don’t have the words to express the grief they feel in living through upheaval and uncertainty. Chances are their emotions are stuffed and saved for later. Many cross-cultural kids experience a season of processing trauma as young adults.
Even with the challenges faced, there is nothing else we would rather do. There is no other way we would rather spend our lives than to pour it forth in service for the glory of God. As we look beyond the trials and difficult moments, it is worth it. It is working in us an eternal weight of glory that greatly out measures any light momentary affliction we may face in this lifetime. And in comparison, as we consider eternity, yes it is light.
Although sometimes, it may not feel that way in the moment. Humanly speaking, is it hard? Yes. Are there moments when you want to throw in the towel and retreat? Yes. But, it is still so worth it. And the day we see our Savior face to face we will understand and even be thankful for those trials that formed us, grew us and forced us closer to Christ. We will understand and we will worship as He wipes away all of our tears, and we will finally be free from the presence of sin and suffering. Pray.