I personally think that the decision to come home is a much harder one than the decision to go in the first place. It’s often fraught with uncertainties and dilemmas and guilt and confusion (as well as peace!).
For us, making the decision to ‘go’ seemed easy. It was 1992 and we were newly married and trained as physiotherapists. We heard about the physical and spiritual needs in Nepal and the question became… not – ‘should we go?’ but, ‘how could we not go?’ How could we stay here, working at a Sydney hospital (where there were 50 physios), when there were two physios in Nepal for a population of 20 million? How was that good use of the gifts and skills that God had given us? And how could we sit here in our comfortable church lapping up more and more Bible teaching when there were churches in Nepal where everybody was brand new in their faith? Nobody had been to Bible College. How was that an accountable use of the gifts of encouragement that God had given us? It was obvious. How could we not go?
But the decision to come home was very hard. Both times! First of all, we came home unexpectedly in 1996 and then we came home (expectantly!) in 2006. But both decisions were very hard. And I think it’s because by then we had a profound and deeply personal understanding of the needs in the place where we were. The needs that had once been quotable statistics (back in Australia) had become our friends, our community and our life. The patients and the students and the deaf man down the street and the lady selling bananas… they all had names and we loved them. We knew what made our students laugh and we agonized with them when their homes were bombed and their buffalo died. The women at church were my prayer partners and I cried with them when the roads closed and the rice ran out. The children who ate our left over mango skins were not just pictures in a magazine. They were our neighbours.
And in deciding to come home, we had to weigh all of that up with the perceived needs of our own family. Stephen was 11 and ready for high school. All of the boys (let alone us!) had lost touch with Australia and no longer thought of it as home. We felt the time was right to reconnect. But it’s never that easy. What about the work in Nepal? Could we wait for another year… or two? And who would take our place? And would waiting another year make any difference in the long run? It’s the sort of decision that weighs heavily when you’re on the field. And if I had an easy answer, I’d tell you! This month, why don’t we pray for long-term missionaries who are considering returning to their home country. Pray for wisdom and guidance and peace… most of all, pray for peace.
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.