Over time, stress accumulates. It is like a person who puts on a bunch of jackets, one on top of the other, until he looks like the Michelin man. That stress is what makes “Home Assignment” necessary.
As we reflected on our last term on the field, we realized just how many stressful situations our family has been through. Every transition adds another jacket.
After spending a little time in the US in 2015, we returned to Brazil that November. The field leadership wanted us to stay around until after the field conference in January, so we spent some time at the mission school for missionary kids, where I helped with construction projects.
We then made the move to our base town, which is a small interior river town, surrounded by jungle in every direction. Rachel says that was a difficult transition, since things were a lot different there. We also received lots of visits from the Maki*, the people group we planned to work with.
Within two months, the other couple on our team announced that they decided to change direction and work under their church in a neighboring region. That was sad and discouraging to all of us. Although it didn’t seem ideal, we recognized that this was something God had allowed, and our leadership agreed that we could continue on with a reduced team. Now it was just our family and our single coworker, Ed.
One of the first steps was deciding which Maki-speaking village we should move into. The mission had worked with this people for many years in one village, but it seemed better to reopen the work in a different village. So we took several trips to survey the options.
Once the location was selected and the villagers communicated a desire to have us live there, we began building our houses. I made many trips with some other guys to work on the house for a week at a time, while Rachel stayed in the base town with our son.
Rachel began having some health issues, so we took a trip to Rio Branco, the closest large city. We returned to our base town and continued with the building trips.
When I returned from one of the trips, Rachel was gone. Her health issue was back and she had gone to Manaus, the capital of our state. A few days later, I caught a flight to join her there. After a few months and several hospitals later, she was back to normal.
We returned to our base town and continued our building trips. Rachel was pregnant with our second child, so we planned to return to Manaus for the birth. We spent the first half of 2017 getting our house set up so that we could return with the baby and not have much major work to do.
We had to fly to Manaus a couple months before the due date, since airlines won’t let pregnant ladies fly later than that. We had our second child and later returned to our base town.
It was around Thanksgiving time that we finally moved into our village house. I had spent a lot more time there than Rachel, because of all the building trips, so it was a harder transition for her. We had been trying to study the language some before this point, but it still didn’t seem like I could understand much at first.
We learned more about our Maki friends as time went on, and we were able to understand and say more things. The process seems painfully slow, but progress is being made.
Often, we would make a trip to town about every 6 weeks. The trips in and out can be stressful too, since there are lots of details to sort out and things to buy or pack or put away.
On top of everything, we are always obviously different than everyone whether in the village or anywhere else in Brazil. We look different, we talk with an accent, and we think differently. And since our original coworkers left, Rachel doesn’t have another lady in the village for fellowship. So far, she can only speak at about the level of only a two or three-year-old with the village ladies, so she especially feels the stress layer of isolation.
Maybe all those things don’t sound too stressful to you. (If they don’t, please become a missionary.) But each of these factors and each transition puts on another layer of jackets. Unfortunately, it takes time to peel these layers back off. This is part of the reason missionaries spend seemingly inordinate amounts of time on home assignment. Much of that time is spent visiting people and speaking at churches, neither of which is very relaxing.
So, as you pray for us, remember that we missionaries are weak and human. It may seem counter-productive to have a missionary vegetating in the US for several months. But in reality, it is strategic. If we don’t peel off some layers every now and then, we will hit the breaking point. Instead, we need time to be refreshed by God.
*Maki is a pseudonym and not the actual name of our language group
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