Good morning from the Meads!! I am enjoying something completely different this week. No, I am not skipping my traditional coffee. I am just enjoying the coffee in a different location. We celebrate the special holiday of “Mothers Day” today. Although I can not spend this day with my mother, I am for the first time in many years able to visit Jana’s mother on this holiday; we are currently in Michigan for a brief time.
Many people ask me and other missionaries about our lives ‘in the field.’ I am often asked if I miss my ‘old life’ as an orthopedic surgeon in private practice. I find that query a very complex question that can not be truthfully answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” All vocations, of course, have their pluses and minuses. We all have good days and bad. That is not really the question posed, I feel. Some people are, in reality, asking me if I miss the income I used to earn. Now, instead of the guy people go to asking for donations, I am the one sharing a vision and then asking for support. Fundraising is a necessary part of working as a missionary, but it is definitely a big challenge to face. The key for me is the vision; you must believe deeply within your heart that the vision is important and must be done.
Finances are always a factor in life. People earning millions often worry more about money than some people I know earning very little. You can easily live beyond your means no matter what you earn. Things you buy may sparkle and shimmer, but in the end, the things you buy have a way of taking control of your life. A boat needs care. A car ages and breaks. Lawns can become a status symbol and demand more care, special plantings, gadgets to manicure and primp, time, and, of course, money. On and on the list goes. Things have never really been that important in life. Things are merely to be used and shared. In Kenya, I find I have fewer things and, in reality, need fewer things. So the things I could have bought are not really something I miss.
If not the material items of life, what about other aspects? As I contemplated the question, I think there are two aspects of life that I and others serving in missions overseas miss. One is not all that major, but it comes to life for our kids when they go to college. One of the first groundbreaking questions often asked is, “Where are you from?” Now, for my kids, there are two choices: Kijabe, Kenya, or Muskegon, Michigan. My older kids lived longer in Muskegon, but the younger two lived longer in Kenya. All finished high school in Kenya. To hesitate looks foolish, since the question is, to most, a no-brainer. Consider some others: Aaron has a friend with a UK passport, born in Uganda, and living in Kijabe, while another has a US passport (although rarely living there), parents in Ethiopia where they stay three months a year on school breaks, and school in RVA at Kijabe. When the kids talk with full time Americans living in the States, it becomes apparent the MK is not the same. The students can work their way through this most of the time. So, if someone hesitates and smiles when you ask where you are from, suspect a third culture kid.
There is the other aspect of ‘home.’ Where is home for me? I often think it is where I currently am not . When in Kenya, asked by Kenyans and others, I am from Michigan. When in Michigan, I am from Kenya. In reality, I am not really 100% home in either place. In Kenya, no matter how long I have lived there, I will never be Kenyan. I will always be a mzungu guest. That is not to say I don’t have friends or am not treated well by the people I work and live among. I just never will be Kenyan. When I return to the US, I find that I really do not fit here like I did in the past. My culture and the US culture constantly change, experiences that mold our lives are different, people move, and priorities change. We left one place to enter another, knowing we will always be a guest, never a member. That is OK, but sometimes we mourn the loss.
Mothers Day brings up the main stress and loss we feel as missionaries: family and family events. I miss being around for family weddings and celebrations. As parents age, you never know when you say good-bye if you will see them alive again. I know this is true for all, but our times apart can be long. Take time to share your thoughts, concerns, and love with family; regrets can be a difficult obstacle to overcome.
We are here for two family events. What a better way to spend our kids inheritance than time together? We flew into Chicago Monday afternoon and met Becky, Abby, and Aaron at O’Hare. We shared a meal together in the arrivals area and sent Aaron back to school. The four remaining loaded into the car and drove about six hours to Rochester, Minnesota. Abby had been referred to the Mayo Clinic for some health issues. Jana had battled her way through the health care system earlier in this year; I decided I should come along for this session. Our primary Mayo Clinic physician visit was with a man who actually had dinner with us in Kijabe! We went through several days of testing and then met to formulate a treatment plan. Thankfully, Abby is not facing a dangerous or terminal condition and should slowly heal. We are truly thankful. Friday about noon we boarded the car and headed toward Michigan. Although the trip was long, we enjoyed the smooth roads and scenery. The week will pass quickly as we try to get licensing requirements for Al Ain fulfilled, visits with family, and some shopping all done. Friday Morning we return to Chicago, Aaron graduates on Saturday, and Sunday we board the plane for the long trip back to Kenya. The trip is busy, the jet lag a problem, but all of it is worth the cost and effort for sure.
I think back to times when there was no email, only snail mail; when international travel was slow and rare; and when a phone call was a major event, and I am thankful for the progress we enjoy. So, although I miss having a well defined home where I am a member of the country and its culture, and although I miss not being there to enjoy the family special times, I realize that I am called to travel another path. I am not the one in charge of the trip; I am the follower. I seek my joy not in the things I can get in life, but in following the One who is life. Life travels have lead to Iowa, to Michigan, to Kenya, and soon to the UAE. All places have been special. Each time and location molds and prepares us for later service. I rejoice each place will find me in His grip.