Sunday, August 26, 2007

Final Departure (BBB 27)

For the eleventh time in as many years of marriage, Jennifer and I began the process of packing all our things and moving. This time, however, we had more possessions than ever before, because for the first time in our married life, Jennifer and I had established our own home from scratch with our own furniture and other belongings. Now we had to get rid of them all! The new couple who had just come to the field blessed us by buying nearly all of our furniture, along with many of our other possessions. They needed furniture, and we needed to get rid of quite a bit, so the deal worked out well for all. We still had to have a small crate built to contain a few remaining things that could not fit in our generous luggage allowance.

After we worked out all the details of our flight home, we were faced with the awkward task of telling our national and missionary friends that we were leaving without explaining why. We revealed the news about our resignation gradually, so as to minimize the amount of awkward time in between the announcement and our departure.

When Southern Baptist (and probably all) missionary families resign from the mission field, it is usually due to one of a handful of reasons, including failure to adjust to the new culture, children going to college, health problems, financial problems, illegal or immoral behavior, and (too often) marriage problems. Everyone knew that our reason for leaving had nothing to do with the first two of these, and we took pains to assure everyone that it was not due to the latter four. Still, it must have sounded fishy: “We’re leaving, but we can’t say why. Really, though, everything is just fine! Just trust us!” I don’t know what everyone must have thought, but I was certain that no one guessed that we were leaving because we wanted to convert to Orthodoxy. Later, after we arrived home and told the whole story, my suspicion was confirmed. No one had been even close!

Even worse than the awkwardness of not being able to tell people why we were leaving was the deep sadness we felt about leaving the country and people whom we had grown to love. After a year and a half on the field, we had finally “arrived,” both literally and figuratively. And now, we were having to give it all up. Still, we trusted that God would give us even more in return, and he certainly has.

I also realized that I was going to have to find myself a new career, at least for a while. I knew that the only field I could get into relatively easily, without the hassle and expense of years of further schooling, was teaching. I looked into several school districts and their alternative teacher certification programs. Unfortunately, the application date for someone wanting to start teaching in the fall of 2001 had passed in all but one. Ironically, it was the same suburban Houston district where I had attended from grades 2-12! Via email, I set up an interview with the director of the alternative certification program. The interview would be only a few days after we arrived home. All of us were thankful that God provided the means for us to not starve!

On April 21, 2001, we said goodbye one last time to our colleagues and our closest national friends. With tears in our eyes, Jennifer, Audrey, Courtney, and I left Banja Luka for the last time and drove to Zagreb. We spent the night in Zagreb at our missionary guest house, and boarded our plane the next morning. In passing, I must note that our colleagues, and indeed our whole missions organization, treated us very well. Even though they hated to see us go, and they certainly disagreed with our new theological position, they dealt with us with the utmost of integrity and Christian love. To this day, I will not allow anyone to speak badly of Southern Baptists, particularly not their missionaries, in my presence. Even though I now disagree with much of their theology and practice, I still believe that the overwhelming majority of them are kind people who love God and are seeking to serve him as best they know how.

The plane touched down in Dallas later the same day. We were greeted at the airport by Jennifer’s parents and sister, who drove us to their home in Texarkana. We were thankful to be safely back in the U. S. Now we had but a simple task ahead of us: starting our lives over from scratch!


Paul C said...

Fr. James,
You are killing me with this once a week sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for a new post thing.

I know, patience, patience, patience. As Fr. Mathew often says to encourage patience, "all mysteries will soon be revealed."

I do enjoy this format for your story.


Clint said...

lol, Paul - yeah, me, too.

I also can relate to the plane ride home. Great in some ways, terrible in others.

Stoleman said...

Bless Father,

Your story is compelling and I look forward to every installment. I came across it a few weeks ago and in a short period of time read every 'chapter'.

Thank you for sharing!!

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James Early said...

Thanks, guys, for the encouraging words. You are a blessing to me! I am getting very near the end. I apologize for the slow pace lately. Demands of work and family have kept me from devoting much time to this, at least in August.

May the Lord bless and keep you all.

current employee said...

Add me to the list of those "hooked" on your spiritual journey, Fr James. It's taken me two days to complete all of your installments and I eagerly await the next. I'll be passing on the link to your blog to others.

James (Wayne)

Gina said...

Father bless,

I too have enjoyed reading your family's story. It has some parallels to mine- I had to go to overseas with Campus Crusade- living in Chalcedon no less!- to come to Orthodoxy. I too had no idea that God brought me there not to convert others, but to learn the faith myself.

I look forward to reading "the rest of the story."