Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Left Behind

This is a tough week for my kids. It’s the week my eldest daughter, Becky, says goodbye to her sister, Sara, for three years. Sara and her family are heading to Senegal, West Africa in a few weeks. Compounding the pain of separation is saying goodbye to the nieces and nephews. Sara’s kids, Isabella (4 yrs) and Simon (2 yrs) and Becky’s children, Molly (13) and Colin (10) make saying goodbye extra tough knowing that three years makes a huge difference in the lives of kids. Next time they see each other Molly will have her driving permit and Simon will be in kindergarten.

Missions is kind of a family business for us. Of course our girls grew up in Africa. Becky handles our office work, her husband, Casey, is the son of a missionary working in Mexico and other countries. Aaron, Sara’s husband, grew up in Senegal, so this ritual of saying goodbye in our family is not new – but it’s never easy.

When we said our first goodbyes to family and friends on September 21, 1976 to go to Kenya, I was aware of the pain I felt but never fully realized what it meant for those left behind in the states. I am close to my twin-brother, but guys are different when it comes to these things, so we took our separation as a-matter-of-fact. My, wife’s sisters, on the other hand, felt our departure with more sadness and probably cursed my name as we boarded the plane. My folks at the time was in their mid-50’s and outwardly supported us, but it had to be tough to say goodbye to their granddaughters, who were at the time 5 and 1 years old.

This past year I know of at least three missionary families who have returned to the states because of family issues. For some the separation from mom/dad and siblings is just too great a price to pay for serving Christ overseas. I have never criticized those who make the decision to leave the field for family reasons. I think sometimes the screening process of potential missionaries should be better to flush out those who resist leaving their home country, but I can’t fault those who quit because of family ties.

For those who do make the commitment to leave family I have great admiration. But to the families that “let them go,” and are not an obstacle I have even greater esteem. I came to this appreciation much later in my career. Being a grandfather and seeing my own move to the other side of the world gives me a different perspective of things.