Our boys love living in Papua New Guinea. They love climbing trees, making fires, eating pineapples, and riding in airplanes and helicopters. In their short little lives, they’ve already experienced many things that most American adults never have (or ever will). Truly, being a missionary kid in Papua New Guinea has more than its fair share of positive experiences.
It’s not all a walk in the park though. I remembered this as I watched my boys say goodbye to two of their best friends the other day. Like most of my kids’ friends, Rhynn and Nora’s parents are missionaries. Our two families arrived in PNG at the same time last year and lived together for the first 4 months that we were here. Now though, we live in very different locations. Their people live high in the mountains, and ours live way down in the swamps.
Our two families happened to both be out at one of our mission centers for the last week and a half though, so the kids were able to get a lot of quality play-time in. Every day, our boys would mill around the front yard waiting for the girls to make an appearance (our family is still waking up a little early, due to jet-lag), and once they were spotted coming out on their porch, the days’ activities could begin.
Countless hours were spent climbing on the dilapidated swing-set, making “salads” from the shrubs by our houses, and piling rocks. Once they even found a dead rhinoceros beetle. At least, they said it was dead. If it wasn’t BEFORE they poked at it with rocks and sticks, then it certainly was AFTER. They had an awesome time together.
But yesterday, Rhynn and Nora headed back to the bush. We had tried to prepare the boys. We’d talked about it several times, days in advance. They knew this day was coming, but when I took them over to say good-bye, it didn’t go so well. When their friends waved farewell from the van, both boys flopped down in the grass and refused to look at them. For ten minutes, while I said good-bye to the girls’ parents, they refused to talk to their friends. Finally, I picked them up and we headed back to our house (kind of an embarrassing leave-taking). They couldn’t put it into words, but they expressed it clearly enough: saying goodbye hurts.
As I was telling Rochelle about our picturesque little farewell (she had stayed home with a fever), it struck me anew: our boys have had to say goodbye to every friend they’ve ever had. Not just once, but over and over again. Grampa and Gramma, Pepe and Grammie, Isaac, Micah, Naya and Jocie, and now Rhynn and Nora. And it hurts them every time.
I think that’s the part that predominately stationary people don’t realize. Leaving loved ones doesn’t get easier. Every leave-taking is a fresh wound. My in-laws were with New Tribes for over 25 years in Guinea, West Africa. They said a lot of good-byes during that time. Now they are back in the States, and three of their four children are serving with New Tribes Mission (in West Africa, Brazil, and PNG). The fourth lives in Canada. They are still saying a lot of goodbyes.
Before we came back over to PNG, they were visiting us in NY, and their situation came up in conversation with someone outside the family. When the person found out how scattered their family is, they said, “Well, at least you guys are used to saying goodbye!” My in-laws responded politely, but I asked them about it afterwards. They said, “Every time we drop off one of our kids at the airport, we spend the ride back in tears.”
“Getting used to saying goodbye” would be like “getting used to gunshot wounds.” And make no mistake, the missionary life has goodbyes like the beaches of Normandy had bullets.
And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. We chose this life, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. We count ourselves privileged to be a part of what God is doing in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. For the most part, we thoroughly enjoy our lives. But there are a few hardships, and saying goodbye is definitely one of them.
And now that you know that, you can pray for us a little better. Thanks for caring about our family. And thanks for praying for our boys as they deal with the heartaches that come with the awesome lives they’re living.