The assembly hall was packed, but I had managed to get a front row seat, so I had a clear view as my good friend and her family were commissioned as missionaries in the Christian Church. Later this month, they leave for Nicaragua, where Laura Jean will teach theology and Tim will teach science and math. When they come home in three years, their daughter Quinn will be almost six.
They are perfect for this job.
We had dinner together the night before their commissioning. I, endlessly fascinated by the details of their new adventure, couldn’t stop asking questions. Where would they live? How often could they come back to the States? Would they need malaria medication? How would they find a pediatrician for their daughter?
These are questions I will probably never consider for my own family.
We are pretty firmly rooted here on North American soil. I used to feel guilty that I didn’t want to work overseas, like I wasn’t quite good enough to do what my friend is doing. I felt bad that I’m not willing to move so far away from family, not patient enough to learn a new language and a new culture, not flexible enough to go at someone else’s pace, not willing to ask my husband and child to make those sacrifices, and not willing to make them myself. I sometimes felt like I was hiding out in my safe little congregation, while other people – clearly more qualified and courageous than I – went out to change the world.
But watching my friend prepare for this new phase in her life helped me understand something. Laura Jean will be very good at teaching theology in Nicaragua. I think she will love it. I know she is called to it.
And here’s the thing: I love the work I’ve been called to do. I love the local church – the stories, the rhythm of life lived year in and year out – and I love the challenge of helping my church folks see that their lives matter, not just to the people in the pews next to them, but to people in Sri Lanka, and the Congo, and Haiti, and Nicaragua.
After all, Laura Jean grew up in a local church, not that much different than mine, where she was nurtured and challenged and inspired, and called. What we do on Sunday morning matters.
As I watched the commissioning service, I was surprised to find myself crying. It was partly because I will miss my friend. I will miss running into her at denominational meetings, and knowing that she’s just a short drive away. But the truth is, our lives were always going to take divergent paths; it was simply luck, or fate, or perhaps divine providence that we lived in the same city for a few short years. They were very good years: we were new to ministry and new to motherhood. We took long walks on our Fridays off, first by ourselves, then with our expanding pregnant bellies, then pushing strollers, and we talked about just about everything: our churches, our senior ministers, our husbands, our babies.
Our daughters haven’t seen each other much in the last year and a half, since I moved away from the place we took those Friday walks, so I was glad the girls got to play together the weekend of the commissioning. They’re talking so much now, and so independent – they are hardly the babies we used to push in strollers. At one point in their playing, they happened upon a toy globe, with a map of the world on it. “Look,” I said to my daughter, pointing at North Carolina and then Central America. “This is where we live, and this is where Quinn is going to live.”
My finger traced the line between those two very different places, and I looked at Laura Jean. “That’s not actually that far,” I said, surprised.
“Nope,” she said. “It’s closer than California.”
So it wasn’t just the distance or the farewell that made me cry as I watched my friend and her family step forward and accept the prayers of the church. It was also because I am so glad to know them, so awed by the commitment they are making, and so grateful to be a part of the work they will do.
I will miss my friend, but I’m already plotting a trip to Nicaragua sometime next year. As it turns out, it’s not that far.