No one ever warned me that it would be so hard to leave the field one day. I don’t remember any seminars about returning home for good when I went through a global worker training program prior to heading overseas nearly seven years ago. So much time and effort was given to preparing for our international assignment (financial support raising, packing, language learning, preparing for our first baby) that I never thought about how it would feel to transition back home to the US someday. After several rich years of ministry and life in Paris the time did come, however, when I longed to return back home. Our plan from the beginning was a five to seven year commitment to ministry overseas. The time had come to discuss our future and the possibility of going back home for good.
The greatest barrier I had to overcome before being able to seriously voice my desire to return home was guilt. It seemed impossible to move beyond the guilt of leaving our ministry responsibilities and relationships in Paris in order to sense God’s leading regarding our future. Moving past the guilt was a two year process for me. It felt like every time I brought up the topic of returning home I was met with cool reserve on my husband’s part and my own tears of frustration and restlessness. It was a threatening topic for both of us.
I had seriously started talking with my husband about my desire to return to US two years prior to actually making the decision to go home. There were a lot of different factors relating to long-term educational goals for our two children who were both born in Paris and my life as mother. At around the four-year mark, about the same time that my husband took on leadership responsibilities, I saw that it was going to be difficult to move back to the US someday. As many sincere and hard-working global workers discover after being on the international field for several years it is difficult to leave after making many sacrifices to establish a life overseas and acquiring the growing responsibilities of the ministry.
My husband’s scope of responsibility had grown far beyond anything we had ever imagined prior to moving to France to work among international students. He was now traveling to many other international locations to coordinate campus ministries. I felt terribly guilty about the people and projects that we would have to say good-bye to by moving back to the US. My guilt intensified knowing that my husband had gotten to the position he could have only dreamed of, literally a mountain top experience for him, but that I was feeling discontent and longed to pursue some of my own unfulfilled dreams as a young woman and mother back in my home culture.
After many tearful conversations and honest sharing about our dreams and sense of call from the Lord we felt the freedom from the Lord, however, to notify our director of our decision to transition back to the US. My husband affirmed me by agreeing that our seven year investment overseas was a worthy accomplishment and that he was willing to trust God to open new doors of ministry involvement, leadership, and more opportunities for us to minister together as a couple back at home.
There was one condition, however, He asked that we make the transition carefully. We had heard stories of other global workers who had left in a hurry without proper communication and of the number of nationals and co-workers who were hurt. We loved France and did not want to criticize the ministry or our relationships in making excuses about our decision to return home. It was our desire to leave people with a lasting feeling of love and appreciation for all that we were a part of in the past years overseas.
After having made the decision to transition back to the US we decided it would be helpful to notify our director 18 months before the time we would try to move back to the US. By doing this we hoped to give our ministry enough time to prepare for our departure and make sure we did the things that they believed would be most effective for the ongoing life of the ministry. We also hoped the time would allow for qualified people to replace us.
Once our director was knowledgeable of our intent we slowly began to inform our family and closest friends in ministry about our desire to return home. Guilt surged again when ministry friends were shocked by our news and exclaimed that they thought we would end up as “long termers” (the ten to twenty year veterans). Many were honestly concerned for the future of the ministry. The Lord continued to give us the freedom, however, to move forward and trust the results to Him.
Right now there are nine months remaining until we return back to the US. In some respects it is scary thinking about relocating to a culture we have not been directly a part of for seven years. We have changed tremendously and will be returning to a culture that now seems foreign compared to our lives in ministry and as a family in Europe.
Surprisingly, this year God has given us the largest team we have ever directed. Many of our co-laborers are young couples and singles eager to minister among international students. This seems to be a confirmation that God has raised up fresh, new laborers to replace us and carry our campus ministry to a new level. It is our desire to pour into them this year in a way that will enable them to effectively and confidently transition next summer to leadership of the ministry.
Being a woman I have begun to dream about my new life back home. It is still a sensitive subject for my husband even though he has embraced the idea and encourages me regularly.
At the same time I don’t want to think too far ahead, which has always been my tendency and a channel of discontentment, but rather enjoy the transition we are in. Right now I am homeschooling my kids in English and getting them up to speed in the skills they will need to make for their own transitions. Prayer is key as we trust God for a new home, new relationships and new opportunities to serve him in that are truly challenging and that will keep Him at the center of our lives. I am learning that the idea of returning home doesn’t have to make me feel guilty anymore. God is my Wonderful Way-maker.