So here we are, a week away from our whole family starting our six month home mission assignment. Let me tell you that this is not how I imagined it. It's not matching up with the pictures in my head of what furlough looks like. First I should tell you that in January, I was fried, on the edge of burnout and my cultural fatigue was so overpowering that I was in a bad place. I wanted nothing more than to go on furlough. Immediately! The thought of driving down HWY 83 into Leakey, Tx where my parents live would get me choked up. The idea of walking into Oikos Fellowship on a Sunday morning and hugging about a hundred people made me feel like weeping with joy, like someone reunited with loved ones after being imprisoned for 3 years on false charges. I wanted to sit in my parents living room and listen to their fountains bubbling and the air-con's quiet, perfect purr. I wanted to wrap my arms around some special friends and walk the streets of Bellingham at night and ride a bicycle through Boulevard Park on a sunny afternoon. It was at this moment that God showed me that I had stopped being content with him and his will, that our home assignment had become a dangerous idol in my life. I was putting my hope and joy and thoughts and prayers on furlough. On getting the heck out of here and being with the people I love.
I asked to take a break from Ciyanjano and focus on God while attending our ACTION Pastors' College and learning about the nuts and bolts of preaching. I started my quiet time again in the morning and read some terrific books by Francis Chan and a few missionary bios. And as God wrapped me in his grace I lost sight of our furlough and focused instead on his goodness and mercy and faithfulness during the last 3 years. It wasn't about me. I was about HIM! That's how I got through January and February. By early March it was clear that everything was changing again.
So as my wife packed up early and set out for "home" to try to see her father before he succumbed to an insanely aggressive variety of bone cancer we realized all our plans for home assignment were out the window. We were going to spend a few grand to change our tickets; we didn't have a vehicle; we didn't have a place to live. And of course instead of a joyful homecoming, we were coming back to say goodbye to a man who loved his family but didn't know Jesus. Again, God's grace won the day as my father in-law turned his life over to Christ in all hope and joy even in his pain and fear. And of course we were given a place to live by a brother in Christ that we've barely kept in touch with and he facilitated the furnishing of the apartment; another family purchased a minivan a bit earlier than they were planning to so that we could borrow it while we're home. We were worried about our lack of plans but God knew this plan all along and was just guiding us into it.
So here we are a week away from the girls and I flying "home." I'm really sad to leave Zambia. I'm sure I need to be on furlough and that's clear through God's love and perfect will. But I'm not idolizing it anymore. I'll still love all those reunions and moments together with people we love in places that no longer feel like home. As we say goodbye to our Zambian friends and coworkers and our ACTION Zambia team it feels like we're going to a foreign country, leaving the place and people we love. That's something that only God can do. So now we're free to enjoy our time on home assignment. There will be sad moments and moments full of joy. But in the end, we'll be back home in the fall. Back to Zambia. Back to Ciyanjano. Back to the place where God has met us with his mighty hand of grace. Back to the place our adopted daughters were born. Back to the place where are hearts are. And God did that. He did that, not me. And I'm sure that at the end of furlough we'll be so excited to come home to Zambia, to Ciyanjano and I'm sure we'll have all the same troubles with bureaucracy, mosquitos, corrupt cops, drunken minibus drivers, sweat and dust and smoke. And God will still be here to meet us again with his goodness and grace.