We have been in the midst of changes surrounding our team this entire year. We’ve transitioned new people in, spent time helping them find tentative footing, begun the process of saying goodbye, first to the McKinzies, then leaving ourselves…the sense of uncertainty and anticipation is palpable. I find myself excited and eager to see how this wave of shifts leaves new patterns in our way of life. I love our new teammates and see their giftedness in ways we have been lacking. They are a blessing to our team, our church, and the city of Arequipa in obvious ways, filling in the gaps that we never reached, while providing loving, side-by-side support to our Peruvian Christians as they take more and more ownership of the church and NGO. Team Arequipa 2.0 are not our replacements. They are the next wave crashing toward the shore as our wave begins the slow fade back into the ocean. Their effect will be similar, but new. For a little while, you can’t tell that both are happening, but standing in that water reveals the push and pull occurring simultaneously.
We are living in that push and pull right now.
I have to say, as we watch the McKinzies close up shop, sell household items, purchase one-way tickets and clear their schedules to make room for quality time with as many Peruvians as possible, I am coming to the realization that leaving will be harder than coming was.
When we came to Arequipa, Peru with our 1 year old, chubby faced daughters back in September 2008, we had a plan. We had chosen an area of South America and a city based on city size and language. We developed a vision statement, mission statement, core values, and beginning point. We visited the city and researched language schools, toured the entire city then walked neighborhoods to decide where to seek housing. Every step of the process was about building a cache of information and instinct to guide us as we leapt into the “unknown”, bravely blazing a trail of mission work in a foreign land.
Nearing the tail end, I’m struck that my predominant thought these days is “Now what?” It might seem harder to charge out into the world, but it’s the returning back that has me baffled. After wondering why, I realized something: This is the first time in my adult life that we have had a truly blank slate set before us.
We chose mission work and committed to the team while still in college. All our moves and plans were in preparation for this work. Even our summers included planning and learning. We started moving a year before we ended up in Peru. We gradually slid from one life into the next. It was slow, but clear and intentional. Goodbyes spread themselves out over years, then months. Everyone knew. We lived fully in “going to Peru” mode.
We have no such momentum this time.
We don’t have jobs. We don’t have established cities to which we will move. The McKinzies will move to Tullahoma temporarily because they are waiting for information that won't come until March. Kyle and I have talked about our criteria for finding what could feel like home and provide a setting for the family we want to be, but nothing is guaranteed. We may not find that intersection of factors. So far, our research is broad and non-specific, so we plan to land in Tyler for a few months to figure it out.
In one way, this embodies freedom. There are no limits (besides employment or university acceptance) that direct us one way or another. The options spread as wide as the world is large and we hold the responsibility of narrowing that down to one family’s place in it.
It is the only time we’ve had to choose the first brush stroke to mar a perfectly clean canvas and hope it turns out beautiful, which remains exciting and terrifying in equal measure. We have to take the time to weigh our options and pursue good things. It takes attention and patience to work through the details, sifting out priorities we'll let fall into place naturally apart from those we'll choose intentionally. There is no wrong answer, really, but we must choose where to invest our life for a new chapter. It is enough to take all our time and thought.
But we should not commit all of ourselves to the future. We must remain present and available, because people here are not just our work, they are our family and our friends. Our life here is as good as it is because of the people around us. Without them, we would never have found our niche, our home. We cannot simply let go and move on. We must gently uproot, loosening ties and making sure we've spoken the meaningful words that we should. We need to fill up their hearts before we step back so that even if they are sad, they are not hurt. It is enough to take all our time and heart.
At the same time, it is our responsibility to gently and quietly flow back out to sea and leave the new team with as much benefit from our being here as possible, without leaving too many gaps. The tension pulls hard between saying goodbye well, staying present through to the very end and preparing for a big, empty, new beginning.
- that our families can balance this tension faithfully
- that we can find clarity in our next steps
- that our new teammates may find their home here well and be encouraged in their work
- that our Peruvian friends and co-workers find new confidence without our presence
- that we may all remember that the part we play in this masterpiece is at the direction of the Master, and be thankful that He has cast us in a role despite our weaknesses