This past week I received two emails from my two best friends living in the United States.I read about their lives in suburbia.Little League Games.Starbucks Coffee.Girl Scouts.PTA meeting.Relatives visiting for two weeks. Camp programs for their kids.Lunch at Pizza Hut.Spaghetti dinners at church.Trips to the mall.And I sighed.I wasn't envious.I mean, I don't want to have a four-bedroom house with a mortgage, two cars in the garage, and a gazillion activities to race around to.But sometimes I miss the United States. I miss eating familiar food, shopping at familiar stores, watching my kids play community sports, attending a concert, meeting a friend at Starbucks for an iced mocha, or hearing a joke and understanding the punch line.I miss living in my culture.
Sure, living in another country has enriched my life.It's broadened my horizons.It's opened my eyes to a new way of perceiving the world.It's broken down barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding.It's challenged me to learn a new language.I'm trying new foods.I'm learning to appreciate houses made entirely of concrete.But it doesn't entirely fill that hole of the places and the people I've left behind in my culture.
Living in Mexico, serving as a missionary, has made me think a lot about people who emigrated from Europe to the United States back in the 1800s. Most of them never had the opportunity to go back to what was familiar and comfortable.They were forced to adopt to their new country and all it had to offer forever after . . . para siempre as we say in Spanish.I think about that sometimes.What if I could never go back to the United States?What if I had to live in Mexico forever and ever?Never see my parents again?Never see some of my friends again?Never worship in my own language again?It's an overwhelming thought.
Since coming to Mexico three years ago, I've said a lot of goodbyes, seen a lot of changes.There were the goodbyes to our families, our friends, our churches, our jobs in the United States.There were our nine months in Cuernavaca.Language school friends.Church friends.New missionary friends.Two different apartments.Then we said goodbye.For the last 2-1/2 years in La Paz, we've lived in two different houses, been involved with 6 different Baptist churches in the convention (none of which we can call a "home" church), and seen countless people come and go out of our lives. And, you know what, each time it hurts.It doesn't get easier.You might get more efficient at packing boxes or giving those goodbye parties, but it doesn't get easier.
Last spring I said goodbye to a dear Mexican friend who was leaving for six months to attend seminary in Northern Baja.I wouldn't allow myself to cry.Why?Because I was afraid if I started, I wouldn't stop . . . for days.I have all these tears saved up inside of me.Occasionally, when I'm alone, I let go of some of them.And Jesus holds me.I lay my head against his shoulder and weep.Sometimes it's good to be weak.Sometimes it's good to grieve.
In five more months I'll be returning to the United States for my first U.S. assignment after four years in Mexico.Somehow, I won't be surprised if the whole time I'm there, I'll be grieving for Mexico and my friends here.That's the joy and the pain of being a missionary.Your heart gets split in two.