Little did I know, when we were in our first year of language school, adjusting to a new culture and grieving the loss of our family and friends back in the US, that this process of saying good-bye, would be ongoing. Back during our language studies ten years ago, we were counseled to build relationships with the nationals. North Americans are transient, the director told us, but the nationals are here to stay. Good idea, I thought, that ought to solve the problem of grieving over so many good-byes as global workers come and go. As I look back on this today, I have to say once again, “Your ways are not our ways Lord, but I know Your plan is best.”
Kay, a twenty-ish single woman became a blessing in our life early on. She came from a broken home and unlike most Costa Rican women her age, she did not live with either of her parents, but with some women from her church. She was a student at the Seminary where my husband worked and it was great fun getting to know one of the “nationals.” As her visits to our home became more and more frequent, she became part of our family. Perhaps we became the family unit that she didn’t have naturally. She would often stop by at meal times and we were happy to have her join us. She became more than just a baby-sitter to our small son and we entrusted our home to her when we went on vacation. I loved teaching Kay new recipes and sharing with her what the Lord was doing in my life. She became the little sister that I never had. We laughed together and cried together
From early on, Kay had a calling to global work. It was exciting to disciple her through this process. As she pursued her call, it became apparent that she would continue her studies in linguistics in the USA. Knowing that she would need to become even more fluent in English, we decided to speak only that language together. After helping her through months of applications and e-mails and phone calls, we said our good-byes and she began a new journey far from us. However, we kept in touch and I continued giving her big-sisterly advice, especially when a special guy came into her life.
One day the reality of Kay’s absence hit me. I had a huge void in my life. While I thought I was discipling her, she had actually been ministering to me. Now my telephone wasn’t ringing anymore with a friend asking how I was doing and our dinner table felt empty with just the three of us. The grief was almost more than I could bear. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had discipled her out of Costa Rica and toward her field. That’s our goal as global workers isn’t it? But what about that advice we received concerning building friendships with nationals because they won’t leave us? Another good-bye again, and this time with a national.
During Kay’s linguistics studies she met the man of her dreams, a North American, and together they began a new life, sensing God’s call to work in Africa doing Bible translation. At that time, their home base was very close to one of our supporting churches in the United States. While on furlough, we got the idea to invite them to speak with us at the church. What better way to share about our ministry than to have a former student at the Seminary come and give her testimony? One result of this came out as we had hoped: our supporting church decided to support Kay and her husband as well. God is good.
We returned to Costa Rica and they continued to build a support base in the US. As their relationship with that supporting church grew independently from ours, I began to feel a strange set of emotions. She’s my little sister. She can’t be a part of this church and my group of friends without me. Doesn’t she need my advice?
Kay and her husband came to Costa Rica one last time to say their good-byes before leaving for Africa. I made a special dinner for them with some fancy bread I had just learned how to make. I was excited to share the recipe with Kay just like old times. Imagine my surprise to learn that she had made that bread many times before. Again, the same feelings came my way. It’s not supposed to be this way! You aren’t supposed to know how to do something first. I’m supposed to be teaching you. More and more things came up like that. She had been to “my” restaurants in the US without me ever taking her. She had a china pattern I always wished that I had and she had even already read the books that were on my list to read! “Kay”, I wanted to scream, “Wait for me. Don’t grow up without me. I am supposed to be showing you all these things!”
I guess this is how parents must feel when their children begin to leave the nest. I am proud of her, excited about God’s call in her life and a little bit sad to see her grow up. I know this is the way it should be and this is our goal as global workers. We are seeing one of our disciples go off to the “ends of the Earth.” I also know that this isn’t the last time that we will go through the pain of saying good-bye to a national. Our ministry is in training Latins for cross cultural global work. We hope that we see many more disciples grow and go off to the ends of the earth. I know that there will be the pain of loss every time one of our “children” grows up, but at the same time there will also be joy in watching them go to places we haven’t been and make disciples of their own.
Somehow, the advice we were given during language school about never having to say good-bye to the nationals didn’t turn out to be true. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We continue to be blessed from a distance by our friendship with Kay and we are seeing the fruit of our work being multiplied. God’s ways are not always our ways but His plan is always best.