Pastor's Blog

Group picture of the Youth with a Mission Team

Longing for Home

In September of 1982, shortly after graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, my friend Jeff and I boarded a KLM flight bound for Holland. After being away from home for no more than a week or two at the most — at church camp or grandma’s house — I had now set out on a nine-and-a-half-month journey that would take me to Holland, France and Lebanon. My time with Youth with a Mission(YWAM) — an international discipleship and missions’ training organization — was one of the most challenging, exciting and life-changing seasons of my life. I often refer to this period of my youth as spiritual boot camp, as God used the teaching, ministry experiences and relationships to humble me, draw me closer to Jesus and to hone his call on my life.

As you might imagine, I also developed deep friendships during my time with YWAM as I interacted daily with people from all over the world, including Holland, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Australia, England, Scotland and other places I have forgotten all these years later. During our time in Beirut, I acquired many Lebanese friends as well. And, as our time in Lebanon was particularly intense due to lessened but continuing armed conflict within the country and the city of Beirut, I formed deeper bonds with several members of our 28-person team that was on the ground in the middle of the city for over three months.

While I grew close to many of my fellow YWAMers during our time together, and while several of us stayed in touch for a time after we all went our separate ways (in fact, many of my YWAM friends from the US and other countries were at the ceremony when Rhonda and I were married in the summer of 1985), the realities of time and distance gradually eroded our level of communication. Until recently, I had not been in contact with most of my missionary friends for over 35 years. 

Enter the wonder of modern technology and the challenges of a global pandemic. Over the past few years, I have begun to reconnect with a few of my YWAM friends via the wonder (and the horror) of Facebook. Then, due to the necessity to keep working and the increased desire to connect due to the COVID pandemic shutdown, the Zoom video communication platform took off (pun intended). At some point near the end of 2020, one of my YWAM Facebook friends suggested we organize a YWAM Zoom reunion. So, the call went out, people were tracked down, the Zoom link was sent, and the next thing you know I am interacting remotely with several of my YWAM friends, most of whom I had not seen or spoken to for decades and from as far away as Uganda and Tasmania! 

We have now Zoomed three times over the past several months, and it has been both wonderful and sobering to catch up, as we have shared stories of marriage, ministry and miracles as well as tales of divorce, disappointment, disease and death. And yet, to a person there has been the consistent testimony to the faithfulness of God. There has also been a desire for an in-person reunion, as Zoom can only take you so far, as most of us know by now. So, tentative plans are being made for an in-person gathering sometime in the spring or summer of 2022 back in Holland where we all initially met.  

While I am praying and planning to be present at next year’s proposed reunion, as we prayed for each other at the end of our last remote gathering, a desire welled up in me for a deeper, more lasting connection. I grew emotional thinking about the distance that separates us, and that will continue even after a brief in-person gathering in the Netherlands. That desire for real and consistent interaction with my brothers and sisters in Christ extends, of course, to all of you that are a part of our Central Congregational Church family. While it is great to talk to you on the phone and to occasionally see some of you via Zoom (or even briefly in person), I am sure that you all share my longing for in-person human contact.  

As I have been thinking about and praying for my YWAM friends and for all of you, and feeling the almost physical pain of continued separation, the words of the Apostle Paul from Romans Chapter eight have come to mind. 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…(Romans 8:18–24 (NIV) 

In addition to the normal sufferings of living in a fallen, broken world, we are all groaning, to use Paul’s word, for the end of this pandemic and a return to some sense of normalcy and community. However, even if I am able to reunite with my friends from YWAM and even when we finally get back together as a church family, our groaning, our longing for connection and reunion will not be satisfied. As for our YWAM gathering, it would be wonderful to reconnect in person – to hug each other’s necks – as my father used to say. And it will be such a relief to be back together in worship and fellowship with our CCC family! And yet, when our missionary reunion ends, we will all go back to our far-flung places around the globe, possibly to never see each other in this life again. And when the doors of Central Congregational Church are finally open again, we will immediately feel the loss of those who have died and those who have moved across the country while we have been separated. 

As I have considered all of this, and as I have meditated on Paul’s words in Romans and other scriptures that tap into our sense of disconnection and distance — pandemic or not, it struck me that maybe this is one of the primary lessons and blessings of this time of forced separation. When life is good and we are consistently with family and friends, we can easily forget that things are not as they should be or ought to be. We are not home, as it were, and separation from home, family and friends is an ongoing reality for millions of people around the world. 

At this time of lessening but ongoing separation due to continuing COVID restrictions, and as we miss friends and loved ones due to death and distance, maybe God is wanting to stimulate a thirst in us - a groaning - for our true home in his kingdom when Christ returns to make all things new (Revelation 21:5) and we are all together in the presence of God and each other. Consider the words of John the Revelator… 

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6–9 (NIV) 

And finally, could it be that God is seeking to develop in us greater compassion and concern for our neighbors, near and far, for whom the pandemic is just another brick in the wall  — to quote Pink Floyd — of disease, violence, famine and exploitation that separates them on a daily basis from health, happiness and community?