It wasn't the first time one of my best friends waved through the window of a white van that bounced down the dirt road away from our house in Cameroon. Despite all our talk of "it's not 'goodbye' -- just 'see you later' ", farewells don't seem to get easier with practice. I stood at our kitchen sink, which (thankfully) seems to be consistently producing water after two days of heavy rain. Cleaning the breakfast dishes in a small bucket of chunky water may have been more than I could have handled without tears.
Ours are a different sort of goodbye, from a country that has been "home" for only fifteen months. In sending loved ones back to the U.S., we aren't merely ending social visits. We are facing separation from teammates: people who have (for a short time) battled disease and poverty alongside us.
Yes, we are still on the same team. These people continue to fight beside us in a hundred ways, regardless of their physical location. But the smiles from a vehicle bobbling away from us appear as through a glass, dimly. We long to see face to face.
My thoughts wandered to how the disciples felt when they said goodbye to Jesus. They must have felt the separation acutely, as He went ahead to their permanent Home. Yes, they were still on the same team. They had not been abandoned. But oh, the ache of physical fellowship lost.
Words occasionally bear more weight when we have learned their meaning in a language not our own. The penultimate verse in the Bible contains the phrase “come, Lord Jesus!” and may be a translation of the Aramaic word “Maranatha” (“our Lord comes”). Whenever my heart is discouraged I occasionally remind myself: Maranatha. He is coming. The early church used Maranatha as a common greeting, replacing the traditional Jewish greeting shalom (peace).
When peace feels far off, the Lord is still coming. We can encourage our hearts, and the hearts of our brothers and sisters with this word. We have not been left alone. This reminds me of another transformative non-English word: Immanuel. In Hebrew, this word means “God is with us”, and is one of the foretold names of Christ.
Wandering away from the sink, I decided to put on some Christmas music (always an easy way to remember and celebrate God is with us). Before I got the chance, my preschooler’s exuberant rendition of “Joy to the World!” bounced off our cement walls. Yes. The Lord is come. And He will come again.