After six months in Australia, I had re-learnt how to swipe my credit card and put petrol in the car. I had begun to read Australian newspapers without being horrified by the way that scandal and gossip were newsworthy. I had stopped jumping at the sound of loud noises – telling myself that it probably wasn’t a bomb. I had begun to adjust to the predictability of a society that didn’t call strikes every second day. But we still missed Nepal. Our friends started to say, “You must be feeling really settled.” “The boys look like they’re doing well.” “It must be nice to be home again.”
But the problem was… it didn’t feel like home. After so many years in Nepal, I’d look out at the gum trees that had replaced our Himalayan view and try to catch a glimpse of something (anything!) that would tell me I was home. I looked at the house and the streets of Blaxland and the school and the church and I remembered them. I remembered the way we used to play at the oval and the route we walked to church. I remembered where we used to keep the glad wrap and how the dust would collect in the corner of the pantry. But did that mean I was home?
And if it didn’t… what did it mean for me to be home? I knew I was still missing Nepal, so I looked to the rest of my family, to see if they were feeling the same way. Jeremy said that he didn’t want to move countries again. He was worried that some of his treasures wouldn’t fit back in the barrels. Christopher had reinvented himself as one of the small boys that chased the soccer ball every lunch time. He didn’t want to talk about Nepal.
Stephen had more time to reflect and acknowledged the tension within him. “It’s not just one thing I miss,” he said. “It’s everything. It’s bus trips to Kathmandu and sleep-overs with friends and INF conferences and monsoonal floods and…” He paused and fiddled with his bedspread. “It’s the way that we always had something big to look forward to in Nepal. Everything about our lives was special there and everything had a purpose. It joined together. We had friends who shared all of that and that made them more real. We don’t have that here.”
My eyes began to mist over as I nodded and agreed with him. It was all about purposefulness. Our years in Nepal were marked by deliberateness of life and ministry. Darren and I knew that God had called us there with a specific purpose in mind. We shared that purpose with the wider mission community and that gave us a unique fellowship.
And that was when I began to wonder whether for me, home was purpose. At about that time, a friend visited and encouraged me to draw a picture of our new community and purpose in living in Australia. Somebody else sat down with Darren and talked about seeing his work at Sydney University as being ministry.
Then, some months later we went to a re-entry retreat and listened to other stories. A doctor who had served in Tanzania said, “Being a missionary doctor has been my dream ever since I was a kid. But now I’m home, and for the first time, I don’t have a dream.” It felt similar for all of us. But at the end of the weekend we sat in a circle and someone read from Psalm 139:1-10.
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down… You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand on me… Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
There was silence in the room as we let the words wash over us. Always before, we’d imagined that the far side of the sea was in Kenya and Bolivia, PNG and Nepal, all the places where he’d held us. And now suddenly, in the silence, the far side of the sea was where we were now – Australia – the place where he still held us, the place where we dwelt in him, and the place where he would use us. More than anything, that’s what we needed to know.
And that’s the challenge for all of us, wherever we are… to understand that God not only holds us in his hands but he has reasons and purpose for us in being there.
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.