As I am now in my 65th year of life, I often think about the past. As I think specifically about my journey, one of the things that stands out is the number of times I have moved. I have moved a lot!!
Interestingly, during the time I lived at home with my parents, I often told my father that I didn’t need to learn another language, as I figured I would never leave Surrey, B.C. However, my father was much wiser than I was, and I should have listened to him. It turns out he had a far better idea of what my future might look like than I ever did.
At 17 years of age, I moved to Germany, then on to England; I came back to Surrey for 13 months, then began a long series of moves: from Surrey to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to Borden, Ontario, to Val d’Or, Quebec, back to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, back to Barrington Passage, Nova Scotia, to Nanisivik, Northwest Territories, to Kenora, Ontario, to King City, Ontario, to Bonaire, to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Manzini, Swaziland, back to Johannesburg, South Africa, and finally to London, Ontario. If that wasn’t enough, I have travelled and worked with TWR in another 50+ countries.
The thought for this blog came to me when I was out walking and taking pictures. It was cold enough that I had to wear gloves, and I’d removed them to take a picture. Shortly after, I saw I was minus one, and I had to retrace my steps and go back to find the glove that I’d left behind. As I was picking it up, I realized that there have been many things I have left behind as I followed Christ over the years.
The first thought was what I left behind when I came to faith. I left a life full of sin, a life with no purpose other than my own enjoyment, a life without a Saviour. Often when I share my testimony, I share how God made such a dramatic change in my life. One day I was one way; the next day, I was a new creation in him. I was totally changed in that one moment of time. No one told me that; I just knew it. The way I thought and the way I acted was different; the change was immediate. I had left my old life behind. However, there was a sadness to this as well. I had some very good friends, and we had done everything together. Very soon I realized I would have to leave these friends behind as their hearts hadn’t been renewed by Christ; only mine had. While I was overjoyed about my new-found faith, losing friends was not something I was prepared for. It hit me really hard when my best friend told me he couldn’t be in my wedding party; he didn’t like his best friend anymore. I had to leave this friend behind.
Soon after coming to faith, Sandy and I were married, and we were transferred by the military. We recognized very quickly that with every move we made, we would be leaving things behind. We soon realized that our material things would be the easy things to leave. Leaving family and friends behind would not be as easy.
Three years into our marriage, I was informed by the military that I would have to leave my family behind every two years for up to six months at a time; this was because I would have to serve in remote locations where there was no provision for a family. Sandy and I decided very quickly that was a non-negotiable in our family; I was not about to leave my family behind. However, while we didn’t want to be separated for extended periods, we have been separated many, many times as I have travelled over the years. In fact, Sandy jokes that while we have been married for almost 42 years, we have only been together for 21 of them as I have left her behind on the many trips I have made for TWR ministry.
Fast forward a bit to life on the island of Bonaire. We lived on this island in the Caribbean for nine years. Our life there was perfect in many ways. We had many friends within the mission which was wonderful. Even though our children didn’t have birth family on the island, our fellow missionaries became our family. We also became close friends with many people of the island. In year seven of our time on Bonaire, we were approached about leaving. We couldn’t imagine not living on Bonaire! This was our home. These people were our family. However, we ultimately realized it was God’s will, and we agreed to move to Swaziland. At the time, leaving this family behind was the hardest departure we had ever made. Leaving this family behind brought tears to our eyes, lots of tears.
We have said that we left Bonaire kicking and screaming. We didn’t want to leave our life there behind. We couldn’t see how there could be anything that even compared to Bonaire. We arrived in Africa thinking that we would never experience the joy we had, but that wasn’t the case. Africa has that effect on people. There is something about Africa that cannot be explained in a few words. In fact, there is saying about people who have lived in Africa: “You can take a person out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the person.” This was our experience. For 13 years, we experienced the joy of Africa; however, in the back of our minds, we always knew we would need to leave Africa behind.
Getting on the plane and leaving Africa turned out to be even more painful than leaving Bonaire. Our friends were difficult to leave behind, and leaving the ministry turned out to be the most difficult thing to leave behind.
Has leaving people behind, leaving things behind, leaving ministry behind been worth it? As a family, we often talk about what it would have been like if we hadn’t taken that step to spend our lives following God and, as a result, face the reality that it required us to leave things behind. The truth is that we can’t answer that question, but what we do know is that as a result of our answering the call, people in nations that span the globe will not be left behind in eternity. Many times over the years, God has graciously brought me into contact with listeners who have told me they are part of God’s kingdom because I was faithful.
Luke 18:29-30 tells us that after telling the rich young ruler how he could be saved, Jesus told those listening this: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (ESV)
We have found that yes, heeding the call to serve God in missions has meant leaving many things behind. But we have also found that the Lord has blessed us many times over. And we know that when we get to heaven, we will find we have left nothing behind but earthly things; we will be reunited with our loved ones, our friends and even those who came to faith because we worked together to bring them the gospel. The pain of leaving things behind is nothing compared to the glory we will experience for all eternity.