As someone who has always been pretty independent when it comes to traveling and adapting to new places, I never thought that missing home would affect me too much.
Sure, I’ve travelled and missed home. I think we have all missed home a bit when we aren’t able to share about our day with our family around dinner or when we aren’t able to show them the fruit at the market, or take them to a new coffee shop down the road.
I have now lived away from home for close to two years, and in that time, I’ve had numerous feelings and stages of homesickness wash over me.
The first year
During 2019, our first year living in Thailand, my husband Keegan and I missed several significant events in our families, from the birth of our first niece to the wedding of a best friend. These moments were tough but they were short lived as we kept our focus on our ministry and what God had called us to do.
In some ways, I think that we were prepared for the emotions that these events would bring, and so we weren’t surprised when the tears came as we were only able to hear other people’s reports of these events. (Zoom weddings weren’t a thing yet!) However, God was gracious in protecting our hearts that year and we were able to remain strong and focused on the work we were sent to do.
A new start
After nine months in Thailand we returned home to South Africa. After this short visit with friends and family, we headed back to Asia once again, but to a new city and ministry. This time there was more excitement as we set up home, were introduced to new communities, and settled into our ministries. In many ways there wasn’t time to miss home as we were consumed with our new surroundings.
Through video calls and photos our friends and families had a glimpse into our new lives. Then the world shifted. As the pandemic forced everybody to stay home, Zoom calls became the regular and our hearts really enjoyed this time to catch up. In some ways, the world got a taste of what it’s like for us to be physically disconnected yet able to use technology to connect from afar, like we had already been doing.
We were able to be part of many significant events through technology, and our hearts soared at the opportunity to be connected to our community in this way! Together with the world we were all facing some form of ‘homesickness’ for the things we missed – work colleagues, friends, families, church.
However now after more than a year, the novelty of this type of connection is wearing off. I am sure that some of you, like me, feel like you lack the real connection of face-to-face conversation, being present with someone.
A new year
As the new year, 2021, rang in, there was a sense of anticipation for this year to be different from the last . Receiving invites to online events and hearing news from families, knowing that we would not be able to attend, was tougher than expected. No longer do I want to attend as a little box on a screen, but I want to be there to hold my new niece, have a coffee with my dad and share a toast to my newly married friends. I wanted to have the chance to say goodbye to those who had sadly passed away.
It was during a particularly jam-packed week of online events (both my husband and I had best friends getting married) that my heart melted, and the tears came as I watched my friends say their ‘I dos’. I saw my family at the wedding and my heart ached. And one thing that I did not expect was for that feeling to hover over me like a cloud for the weeks to come. My whole world became jaded at what I was missing out on and I became bitter towards those who did not understand. I always knew that being a missionary would mean I would have to face these kinds of feelings, but I did not know how much they would in fact hurt.
Many tears and prayers later I realized that I am not alone in these feelings. In fact, I think that homesickness is something all missionaries, whether long-term or short-term, will face. These feelings will be there, and sadly no amount of technology will make them go away. But that is not the end of the story. God is with us through it all and He is the God of all comfort.
Following Jesus obediently is not easy, and the Bible never promised that it would be easy. In fact, Jesus called us to leave all that we have and follow Him. The mission of telling others about Jesus is not about me and my comforts. It is about the glory of God. And it was this perspective which helped to shift all that I was feeling.
No, it did not remove what I was feeling, but it definitely helped me see that for the sake of the Gospel it was worth it. For the sake of someone hearing about Jesus and the life He offers, it was worth it. And through this all God opened my eyes and showed me all that I was in fact a part of – coffee with new friends, learning a new language and culture, being able to share insight into a tough situation, praying for new believers, hosting Bible studies and so much more.
My life was not empty and lacking for that which I had left behind. My life was so rich and full of the blessings of God.
In all the pain and heartache God sees us. He knows and brings us comfort. My prayer is that when these feelings arise for you (or me) we would turn to God and seek His peace and that we would not become bitter.
For the sake of someone turning back to God, it is all worth it.
Justine lives in Thailand along with her husband Keegan and their little dog Pixel. They are involved in their local church with youth ministry, and in addition to being part of the social media team, Justine coordinates short term workers to Thailand.