I recently got on a plane and flew back to China to shut everything down. Nearly ten years living as a missionary in one place, it’s every bit as difficult to leave as you might imagine. I’ve wondered what kind of job I’ll be able to get after having been nothing but a missionary since college, and I have yet to figure it out. I’ve been thinking I’d love to do something which would send me to China a few times each year, but then, on the plane back I questioned that thinking. Fifteen hours on a cramped airplane followed by two more flights can put things in to perspective, and I wrestle with wanting to have China as part of my life, and fighting insanity on trips that long.
Before I left, I imagined I would be in tears the whole time I was in China because I was saying goodbye. I thought I would cry uncontrollably at all the things I was giving up, all the things I was going to miss. Sadly, while I did cry, it was for much different reasons than I anticipated. There is a lot of cultural stress living in China, lots of things which make it difficult for an American, especially one with a mixed-race family. And while there were pressures wherever we lived in China (or anywhere outside of our home culture for that matter), they varied dramatically based on where in China we were living.
The last city we lived in was particularly hard on us for a number of reasons, most of which I never allowed myself to feel. I couldn’t handle the reality of the stress we were living under, so I simply ignored it. But on this trip back, to shut everything down, I was no longer under this stress and as a result I let myself experience the full weight of it. My family would no longer have to deal with this school, or that hospital experience. The lady at the grocery store who always wants to touch the kids will no longer even be in our lives. I’ll no longer be a two hour ride away from my wife and kids in a city where I have no confidence they are safe. And, in feeling all of this, I cried tears of relief. I can’t believe we lived there as long as we did. I can’t believe we survived as long as we did. The grace of the Lord in our lives is incredibly obvious when I look back on the years we spent there.
We have very little question that moving back to America at this stage in our lives is the right decision for our family. There are a million things we wont miss even a little bit, but that doesn’t mean leaving isn’t hard.
China is all I’ve known. I was 20 years old and right out of college when I moved to China. In those ten years I’ve lived in four cities, led three different teams, learned a new language, married, had kids, adopted two more, and labored alongside of some incredible people. I’m going to miss the ministry. I’m going to miss the people with whom I ministered. I’m going to miss fighting in prayer every day over such an overwhelmingly lost place.
I can stay connected in prayer, and I intend to. But it won’t be the same when I’m not prayer walking through the city. It will be different as I won’t be gazing in to the eyes of the lost every fifth step on the sidewalk, or surrounded by them on the subway. It will be different when I hear from the struggling pastors and elders about their ministry by way of email instead of over a meal. It will be different. And I’m going to miss it.
I’m thankful many friends made time to come see me on my final trip. Three even flew up from another city to come say goodbye. I finally was able to visit a restaurant built in an old bomb-shelter in the side of a mountain—one I’ve been wanting to see for nearly a year.
There were people I thought had seen no impact from our ministry who came forward and told us how we had affected their lives. There were stories of the gospel being preached in the some of the most difficult and persecuted places.
Stories which gave me great hope.