“Why are we going this way? Home is back behind us.” Zeke said as we turned the corner away from Winterton, our home for our first two and a half year stretch in South Africa. It was the last day we would see Winterton. We had said our final goodbyes to friends, hiked for the last time in the misty mountains fifteen miles from our old home, and visited our old favorite eateries and hangouts. Now as we rolled past mountains, mud homes, and free ranging cows, tears slid down my cheeks. Zeke had lived in this place longer than any other place in the world. He learned to run and jump here. He learned to talk here. He had loved to fish and pick mulberries and pecans here. He made his first friends here. “Yes Zeke,” I wanted to say, “I also feel like home is back behind us.”
In less than two weeks we will fly to Kenya for a two week adventure and from there to the United States to search for a new place to settle for a few years. As I face the possibility that we may never live in this continent again, I find this is a chapter of life that is not easy to close.
As with any move, we take a piece of this place with us. I read in 2 Timothy 3:10-14, “You, however, know all about my… way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me… Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them… As for you, continue in what you learned… because you know those from whom you learned it.”
These are Paul’s words to Timothy, but they could just as easily be the words we would hear from our African brothers and sisters as we leave them: “Remember all about what has happened to us. Continue in what you learned, because you know us with whom you learned it.” As I leave I feel more committed than ever to finding ways to continue communicating the wisdom, experiences, and action of Christ from among people of Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
It could not have been a more fitting week of goodbyes. We saw our old pastor, Mxolisi, our closest friends like Barbara, John David, Roz, Andy, Corina, Charmaine, Lungile, and finally Sofi and her family. On our last night we spent a long time talking. Sofi’s earthy theology was pouring out as usual as we mulled over reconciliation, men’s lost purpose, rampant sex, and denominations handcuffing people. We laughed to tears over our four-year-olds, unsure whether they are small or big, so different from the toddlers they were when we met. We spent moments in sober silence. We said goodbye with quick hugs, all pressing to start busy days, and only when I reached the car did tears pour out as the realization sunk in that this is it. This is goodbye to my firsthand view of all this place has been, all it is, and all by God’s grace it is becoming.
As I say goodbye, I pray with deepest thanksgiving for this home God gave us, with trembling hope that we will return, with acceptance that God has taken us to new places, with trust that God the new places will also be good, and with upturned hands to give back to God all that He graciously entrusted to us.