“The only constant in life is change.” Heraclitus
These words of Heraclitus are something that we all hear in varying iterations from the time we are a small child. We do not quite grasp the all-encompassing nature of this phrase until we begin to experience and remember large events and subtle differences in our lives. This constant change becomes ever clearer with each passing year. I know that I can safely say with thirty plus years behind me that my life is continually changing. I can vividly remember being in the midst of several major twists in my path and have also seen the eventual transformation that a small trickle of difference brings. I can only imagine how choosing to become a lay missioner begins a tidal wave of change, from leaving home to experiencing another culture and everything in between. However, in these changes it is not just the leap forward that we are processing but the saying goodbye, through which we deeply feel what we have learned, shared, and are moving away from, that we begin to understand the changes in our lives.
While looking through the lay missioners newsletters, I came across several passages in which lay missioners found themselves at a pivotal moment of change, where they would be leaving their mission. In these excerpts that follow one can see they were feeling the bittersweet conflict of moving forward and letting go.
Excerpt from “Our Words,” March 2008, written by lay missioner Denise Sandman:
“THE FINAL CHAPTER
These 3 simple words evoke an incredible range of feelings from crushing sadness to soaring exhilaration. Just the thought of leaving João Pessoa, our home for the past 5 years & a huge chunk of our children’s lives (over half of Nathan’s) creates a knot so big in our chest (pretty close to where the heart is) that it is difficult to breathe[…]
As Joe & I finish our ministries we both walk away from this experience wondering who ministered to whom. For both of us it was a life-altering, world-view changing experience. We have been privileged to witness countless acts of faith & bottomless depths of hope in situations that would appear full of suffering & despair. We leave this experience with renewed admiration & amazement at the indomitable human spirit when buoyed by spiritual grace. We feel reaffirmed in the human experience. Those whom we came to minister have given us a great gift.
As we enter more fully into this time of transition our duality becomes more & more evident. We are now ‘finishing up,’ ‘closing down’ to enter more fully into that unknown space of ‘opening up,’ ‘starting a new.’ We will leave Brazil in April […] It is with deep sadness that we write this last goodbye to all of you […] WE are grateful to have had such exceptional traveling companions for this journey. We look forward with joy to when our paths will cross again.”
Excerpt from “Our Words,” February 2008, written by lay missioners Margo & Eric Cambier:
As missioners we have learned the importance of good byes. It is never easy to say so long. We made sure we expressed our sincere gratitude and affection to the people who warmly opened their hearts and homes to us. We celebrated our times together with lively going away festivities, plenty of food, music, even a Mariachi band, and dancing. All this, along with prayers and the shedding of many tears, helped us on our way.”
“In a time of drastic change,
One can be too preoccupied
With what is ending
Or too obsessed with what seems
To be beginning
In either case, one loses touch
With the present
And with its obscene
And dynamic possibilities
What really matters is openness,
Courage to face risk
You do not need to know
Presently what is happening,
Or exactly where it is all going
What you need
Is to recognize the possibilities
Offered by the present moment,
And to embrace them with courage,
In such an event,
Courage is the authentic form
Taken by love.”
~ Author unknown, from “A Maryknoll Book of Prayer,” p.79
Excerpt from “Our Words,” February 2006, written by lay missioner Vicki Simon:
“In the quiet of this morning I thought it might be a good time to write this letter to you. Having completed 6 years with Maryknoll this past June, it was time to either commit to another 3-year contract or time to move on to new horizons. After some reflection, it seemed that it was time to return ‘home’ to St. Louis. While I feel very mixed emotions about beginning the goodbyes once again, I move on with a deep sense of gratitude and joyful anticipation of new life in familiar surroundings.
[…]No matter where I live and work, my years in mission with Maryknoll and with Kenyans have taught me that we all participate in mission through our relationships, through how we view differences and through how we communicate with one another. This is how we build bridges of understanding… how we create peace.
[…]The years since 1998 have flown by but they are now a part of me. My years in Kenya – the people, the stories, our relationships have changed me in ways I am still discovering today.”