September 10th, 2019
Six adults, two toddlers, and everybody’s groceries. We were crammed into an auto-rickshaw, bumping along the final stretch of road to our destination. It had taken us a while to learn the rules of taking a shared auto: agree on the price first, pay at the end, and most importantly that there’s always room for one more. But by now it was second nature and we were nearly home after a day in the city center. I was tired and zoning out, staring at the cows and chaos on the road around me. Suddenly, I sat up straight with an unexpected realization. This was home. All of it – the sounds, the smells, the heat, the other ladies pressed around me - it was no longer strange or foreign but instead familiar, safe and peaceful.
Blissfully unaware, I smiled to myself as I moved over to make room for one more in the rickshaw.
What I didn’t know was the very next day, due to political tension around any foreign Christian presence in the region, the police would be at our door. Our passports would be taken. Without any warning, we would be forced to leave this country that’d I’d come to love so deeply. In just a little over two weeks, I would be landing in Vancouver, a place that no longer felt like home.
The grief of returning was intense. I really thought it would just go away. But it didn’t. Shame added its load to what already felt too heavy to bear. After all, my life in Vancouver was good. Everyone around me seemed to expect that I’d just pick up where I left off. So why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I stop being sad? It seemed so selfish. Mystifying. I wanted to share with others what I felt, but how could I expect someone else to understand what I couldn’t understand myself?
And yet in the midst of that mess, Jesus met me. And even more surprisingly, He loved me. He wanted to be with me. I didn’t even want to be with me. I sat on my bed, crying and missing my home. I ended up opening my Bible and leafing through the pages. I stopped in Isaiah and words suddenly leapt out at me: “In all their distress, He too was distressed” (Isaiah 63:9). What? I read it again. Could it be true? Was God himself, really distressed at our distress? At my distress? Did it make Him cry to see me cry? The grief wasn’t gone in that moment, but the loneliness was.
Loneliness is the enemy’s favourite tactic. We all experience pain, but when we feel that nobody sees or cares life starts to feel more like death. As missionaries, our experiences overseas will be foreign to most of our closest friends and family when we return. But there are people who’ve walked these roads before.
A light for me in that sea of grief was a debriefing session with a woman named Julie. As I shared my story, I watched in amazement as she began to cry. Here was someone who was grieving with me. Someone who felt that what I’d been through was worth grieving. Someone who understood. It felt like Jesus had showed up in this person I’d never met before.
And Jesus has continued to show up. On that bumpy rickshaw ride, I’d experienced the beauty of finding a home in a foreign land. I had been planning to stay - ideally for the rest of my life. But I lost that home. And as I returned to Vancouver and discovered that I no longer fit in, I found I’d also lost my home here too. In this place of “homelessness”, I’ve found that I have a true home. No government or loss or loneliness will ever be able to it take away from me. My home is Jesus.