SIM, an interdenominational church-planting mission. We moved from green and temperate Oregon to the hot and sticky concrete jungle of metro Manila, where we studied Tagalog and learned how to live away from our families and our own culture. The adjustment was difficult, but we came to love mangoes and jeepneys, open markets and the smiling vendors who worked there. New faces became part of our story, and we theirs, as our lives were knit together.
We had no idea that our sojourn in the Philippines would only last 2–1/2 years before SIM would recommend that we relocate to Charlotte, NC, so that Danny could serve in a more strategic role at SIM's international headquarters. He's filled an administrative position for Sports Friends (a ministry of SIM) ever since—tracking funds so that young people around the world can experience the love of Christ through a godly mentor. Charlotte, too, was far from home and family, and some of the cultural differences took us by surprise. We learned to like sweet tea and "barbeque," our neighbors' drawl and our neighbors, period. New chapters in our story included Gordon-Conwell, Good Shepherd UMC, public schools for our kids, and enriching fellowship with other SIM missionaries.
Our next move took us to the Midwest, where winters are cold and days are short, but people are equally friendly. After 18 months in Wheaton we feel right at home. Family is still far away, but we're finding community just the same. Thanks to Skype and email Danny can communicate with teammates in Ethiopia and Thailand, Nigeria and Peru from his attic office. Thanks to this blog, I can keep in touch with a wide circle of friends while I study in the library in preparation for teaching ministry. Our story has become one of anticipation, wondering what doors God will open when my schooling is over and we are free to move again.
This year for Christmas we're going on a pilgrimage of sorts to see some of those dear friends. We'll get to stop in Charlotte to reconnect with neighbors, friends, and our church family—a special bonus after 18 months away. Our ultimate destination, though, is SIM's retirement community in Florida, where we'll spend Christmas with Phil and Julie Parshall.
Phil and Julie were there 10 years ago at the airport in Manila when our plan landed, waiting in the humid night air for a first glimpse of the eager young family from Oregon who had come to join their work. Their friendly welcome meant so much to us after some 30 hours of travel with a toddler in tow. The Christmas we spent together just a couple of weeks later was the first of many more shared holidays, though none of us knew it at the time. Who could have foreseen that when we left the Philippines Phil and Julie's retirement would soon follow, and they would end up choosing an apartment in Charlotte just over a mile away from us?
"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life." Matthew 19:29 NRSV
We don't know what the next 10 years will hold, or who else will walk onto the pages of our story and stay for a while. No one does. But the Author knows what he's doing, and if we let him hold the pen it will turn out beautifully in the end.