Right now, in this season, we have spurts of excitement, but excitement is not the primary feeling. This is a season of grief for us, and that is as it should be. We need to live into this grief in order to be ready for the next season. There will be a time for joyous “hellos,” but first we must walk through our time of “goodbyes.” Tanzania and the friends we have made here mean so incredibly much to us. Eric and I have spent all but one year of our marriage here. These years have formed us and (by God’s grace) strengthened our bond as a couple. Together we turned a dilapidated shell of a house into a home.
Over time, we developed deep, lasting friendships with many people here. We have had the best neighbors these past seven years, the kinds of people that make you want to leave a gap in your fence so that you can more easily talk to them in the backyard, the kinds of people whom you ask when you need a few cups of flour or who come to your house when they need a few tomatoes or a carrot, the kinds of people with whom you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas. The growth of their children has marked our time here. The three-year-old is now ten. We will miss watching them grow, having them over for Christmas cookie and Easter egg decorating, hearing their laughter as they swing in the hammock and play soccer in our backyard.
We have friends here, both Tanzanians and expats alike, who welcomed us as family, who encouraged us when we came to them in tears, who checked on us when we were sick, who brought us vegetables from their gardens, who invited us into their homes, who fed us delicious meals, who prayed with us during each step of our adoption process, who laughed with us, who advised us, who interpreted for us, who helped us better understand Tanzanian culture, and who welcomed and loved our kids as if they were their own kids. We hope and plan to see many of these friends in future visits back to Tanzania. However, I know from my past experience of leaving beloved people in Papua New Guinea that sometimes when you say, “see you later,” later actually means heaven.
We have loved walking around small-town Mwadui, greeting people from our church and Bible study as they pass on the streets. While there have been challenges and times of significant discouragement and burnout, overall we have loved our ministries here. We have felt a deep sense of purpose and have seen God guide our ministries in unexpected directions. Over time, this ministry has become my dream job—what I aimed for when I started my Master of Social Work degree in international development. I wanted to be able to connect needs and resources in meaningful ways, to build bridges of communication between countries and cultures, and to serve people both individually and as a community. I feel like we have done exactly that. We are leaving the many aspects of our ministry in very capable hands, and for that we praise God. Yet, we still grieve that we will not be as involved going forward, that we will not be present to personally witness the growth in all that God has planted.
We brought each of our children home to this house. This is the place where we became parents. This is a place where Michael and Julia felt safe and loved. They, too, are grieving the loss of this place. Julia has cried at the thought of not sleeping in her bed again, even though she knows that she will have a new bed and we will still be there for her when nightmares come. We cannot bring all of our children’s cherished belongings with us. We will sell the little kitchen set that Eric designed and we hand-painted for nights leading up to Christmas 2017. We pray that it will be a blessing to a new family. The kids’ Lego table that we had custom built for them will also be enjoyed by a new family. Our rocking chair—a spot for reading, singing, and play during the day, a place for cuddles and prayers in the evening, and a source of comfort for our crying babies in the night—that too will bless another home. We will soon sort through our children's toys and books and determine what items will fit into the number of suitcases we have available to us.
This season of grief actually started two years ago, when we first made the decision to pursue the I-600 route to getting U.S. citizenship for our children. Once we made that decision, we knew our time in Tanzania was coming to a close. At first only our families, the leaders of Global Lutheran Outreach, Bishop Makala, and our headmaster Rev. Nzelu knew about our plans. A new level of grief hit as we had to tell our partner churches this past fall, “We are moving back to the U.S.” Every time we said it out loud, there were at least a few shocked and saddened faces in front of us, sometimes accompanied by a small gasp. They have seen the value of our ministry and our love for the people here, and they have joyfully partnered with this ministry. Once we returned to Tanzania, we were faced with an even harder task. Over the next nine months we gradually shared our plans with our community. First, we told our closest friends in over a dozen different personal conversations. Sometimes these conversations included tears. They love us and understand our reasons, but the news also brings them pain. Then the news was shared with the school board in April. Thankfully by then we knew that Cheryl Kruckemeyer would be coming to teach, so our news was tempered by news of a new missionary who will be bringing new skills and passion to work at the school. Then, we started making broader announcements—to our colleagues at school, to our church, to our Facebook community, to our students. In each setting, people were surprised and supportive and sad.
Around Easter, holidays became bittersweet. We began the time of “lasts.” When we gathered together for celebrations, at least one friend always mentioned how much they will miss us at future celebrations. We made plans to show our children more of the beauty of their home country before they travel with us to live in a new country. We traveled to the Serengeti and to Zanzibar, determined to give our children some “firsts” in the middle of this season of lasts.
Grief is funny, because it hits at the oddest moments and in the oddest ways. For example, as we were preparing our house for Cheryl’s first visit to Tanzania, I cleaned and organized at a fevered pace. As we got in the car to travel to Mwanza to pick her up at the airport, the tears came. I realized that my frenzy was due to wanting everything to be perfect for her, wanting her to love this house and this place as much as we do, wanting her to feel at home, and realizing that our time in this house was coming to an end. Likewise, grief sneaks up on us. We can be sitting in church, laughing and clapping along as leaders surprise Evangelist Stanley Dodonda with a cake for his birthday, and then suddenly I look around the room and tears fill my eyes. I am surrounded by people I love and people I will miss.
We are still about seven weeks from departure. There are many more joys to share, memories to make, and tears to cry. Even once we return to the U.S., our re-entry will be a time of joy and sadness. We will visit each of our partner churches one more time, seeing and thanking people who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and supported this ministry for seven amazing years. We will say goodbye to them as well, because we don’t yet know when we will next attend worship at each of these churches. In July we will attend a missionary debriefing retreat put on by Train International. This retreat will help us cope with any reverse culture shock. I know from my past experience of leaving Papua New Guinea, reverse culture shock can be even harder to manage than culture shock. In August I will write our last newsletter—our 101st newsletter since beginning this chapter of our lives—and we will begin new jobs. Our children will start attending school. We will gradually settle into life in the U.S. and start building new dreams and making new memories. As the movie Inside Out so beautifully illustrates, Joy and Sadness are friends. Both can be part of our experience at the same time.
Please be patient with us. This is a big transition. Yet, we know that transitions are fertile fields for growth and that God is going to amaze us with how He brings the right people, jobs, and home into our lives at the right time. We so appreciate all of your prayers and love as we move forward.