Last weekend my sending church in the UK brought me back as a guest for their annual missions conference. I hadn’t left my host country in over 2.5 years, and a third baby, a pandemic, and a house move later, I was thrilled to fly back to the UK for a weekend (child-free- thank you to my amazing husband).
God knew I needed the encouragement time in the Word, and boy, was I ready for it!
So why did I feel so anxious?
I was anxious about traveling alone post-pandemic and at the beginning of a war and feeling the effects of reverse culture shock. I’ve changed so much after living overseas for 5.5 years.
Would the ‘new’ me be acceptable?
Would I still fit in?
Would it be weird worshipping in English again?
The first night of the conference, I clutched a friend’s arm as I entered the room. And felt utter joy and emotion at seeing so many beloved brothers and sisters in Christ again after so many years.
As we embraced, my anxiety dissolved, and I realized I was different now. But so were my friends, in many ways. And that was OK.
Because the church isn’t stagnant, no matter how things look on the surface, the Kingdom of God is always forcefully advancing (Matthew 11:11). I might have ‘gone,’ and my friends ‘stayed and sent,’ but we’d all been living a life of discipleship. We’d all be living on mission. We also all had different scars and wounds from the past five years. Some dear friends had been through unimaginable pain and suffering since I’d left.
When the room erupted with worship, the tears came. Another friend who lives in another nation and I clung tightly to one another as the dam broke. Worshipping in your mother tongue is EVERYTHING. No translation, no ‘I got that word wrong’. Just unbridled ‘I can yell my heart out, and no one cares’ abandoned worship to the King.
Friends, never take corporate worship in your mother tongue for granted, because it is so special. And it’s powerful because the King inhabits the praises of his people.
That night my friend (the one who also lives overseas) shared a word about how those who ‘went’ are still part of the puzzle of the big picture- the Church. Though we’ve been ‘broken off and scattered’ across the world, we still slot in perfectly like missing puzzle pieces when we’re together, despite changing more than we could ever imagine.
We heard from the wonderful Linda Geevanathan (Luton), who reminded us how God calls us to bridge the gaps and build relationships with those different from ourselves. I’m bound to those in my church here in my host country because we’re the family of Christ. I need to get over our differences- because when they hurt- I hurt, and vice-versa! We’re the Body!
Kathy and Tim’s (Bedford) stories from their time overseas encouraged me how every little interaction I’m having with people, every story of Jesus I share, can have an impact more significant than I could ever dare to believe, even if I don’t see it. Even if I never see the fruit of my life lived overseas, the disciples multiplying that I dream of, please God help me to keep obeying.
Finally, Sunday morning brought the fire of God on the tongue of Linda once again as she preached from Luke 1. Mary’s backbone of steel and radical obedience when she said to God, ‘I’m your servant. May it be to me, as you’ve said,’ is both humbling and deeply challenging. A young unmarried girl faced stoning for saying yes to bearing the Messiah.
Please, God, help me keep being obedient to whatever you ask of me.
On Monday morning, I got back on the plane to fly back to my host country, happy to be heading home. I realized with surprise and relief that I wasn’t devastated to be going back as I thought I might be.
The longer I am away, the easier it is to come back ‘home’ to the UK for visits, and slot right back in where I belong, just like a piece of a puzzle. I’ve changed. They’ve changed. The Bride of Christ is evolving and becoming more beautiful as the day of the Bridegrooms’ return approaches.
And whether in the UK or here in the Middle East, the Church is only place I’ll ever truly belong. Forever.