Saying Sayonara

My church in Tokyo, 2015

Missionary life is like being a Disney princess on parade: just keep waving.

Goodbye, that is.

Sure you say bye to friends and family when you board that plane the first time. But it never ends.

Every trip back feels like a you’re a ticking time bomb. The moment you land, you know you need to make every meeting (and meal) count. And right when it seems like your former life is back…you’re back in line for boarding.

That much I expected before moving.

What I didn’t expect was how often you say goodbye to people once you’re here.

The Sakanashis, close friends who moved back to the States this month.

Heath (center with wife Dahee) and I met through my previous work a couple years ago. They’ve since become good friends, attending our church, and even shooting our wedding. They also returned to the States this month.

Sayonara Stinks

Most missionaries don’t stay long. Those who do are on an endless tag team rotation of furloughs.

As for missionary assignments, they shift like tectonic plates here. Or rather, sometimes the shifting tectonic plates create new missionary assignments, with volunteers moving to earthquake hit regions.

Also, big cities like Tokyo are a revolving door for the “salaryman”, deploying them afar at a moment’s notice. We’ve had friends here shipped off anywhere from Singapore to Switzerland.

In five years I’ve lived in four cities, left a homestay family, a roommate, a school, and a job.

But this past Sunday was our hardest farewell yet — to our church in Tokyo for the past 4.5 years. We said bye to the community group I shared dinner with every Wednesday my first year in Japan, the worship team I served with, the aunties who taught me Japanese traditional arts, the pastor’s wife who was Chi’s bridesmaid, and the pastor who co-officiated our wedding.

First community group, 2013

Worship team leaders, 2015

Two leaders I invested in the past few years.

An article I read summarized this aspect of missionary life well. In “Ten Things That Your Missionary Will Not Tell You” (Click title to read…though am I contracting the article by sharing it?), the author writes in point 8, “Saying Goodbye Stinks.”

Saying goodbye does stink.

But not everything about it.

A Life of Longing

I wonder what the Apostle Paul might have blogged about “goodbyes” if blogs existed in his day. “Saying goodbye stinks”? Maybe.

But I see a stronger emphasis from what he’s written in Scripture: a deep longing for those he had left.

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:8)

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Phil 4:1)

As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. (2 Tim 1:4)

Paul’s life was a constant longing to be with those he loved — and he loved so many.

But he didn’t just long for them. He took the time to communicate it to them. His separation became an opportunity for affection, his distance a chance to express their nearness.

Such was our experience this past month. Amidst waves of sadness, our church showered us with affection: letters, scrapbooks, heartfelt conversations, and hugs (yes, even from Japanese people!). We braced ourselves for an emotional storm; we walked away overflowing with gratitude.

A few final words before being commissioned for our church plant.

The missionary life is a longing life. And while we joke about the longing for certain foods (wait, those aren’t jokes), it’s mainly a longing for people.

Yet it’s also a very full life. Full, in that goodbyes allow us to share the things we most desire to, yet seldom do. The parting is painful, but the farewells are full.

Tomorrow night, Chi and I will take our annual trip back to LA for a couple weeks. We look forward to some face-to-face time, even briefly, for we truly do long to see you.

With Reiko-san, a dear friend and gifted ikebana flower arranger.

With Pastor Kazu and Amy, our friends and ministry partners

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