Nobody tells you that it will be so hard to leave the place you didn’t think you’d ever call home. I’ve lived in six different countries. Some were easier to adjust to than others, but leaving was never a cut-and-dry experience. Unlike the physical door of a home, you can’t just shut a door on a place of service and not leave a part of yourself behind.
Leaving a home is complicated and needs grace.
Thankfully, we serve the God who not only understands our struggles but gives us examples of how to move forward with confidence and grace. The way we leave can be just as important as the way we arrive. Of course, sudden expulsions from countries due to war, the death of a loved one, or illness, can be difficult, but whether we leave quickly or with calculation, we must leave everything in the hands of God. Recognizing his sovereignty in the timing and manner of our departure is the first step toward a peaceful exit.
When we rest in his overall plan for our lives, we can trust those we leave behind to him. We think our job is left undone, but that doesn’t mean no one else can step into our place—ex-pat or national. When we were told we had ten days to leave Syria, we could not have imagined how others would carry on the work we felt we’d barely begun. Yet, when we gathered the small group of believers around us and told them our news, their sorrow and disappointment were evident. My husband, however, did not stop with simply the news of our departure; he shared with them that we were now passing to them the mantel of ministry. They had to keep sharing the gospel with the Muslims we loved. They had to keep discipling new believers. They needed to build the church.
At that point, their faces changed. Their shoulders lifted. Their eyes became bright, as they nodded their heads in acceptance of the task. In that moment, we both had confidence that God would finish the good work he had begun in their lives and in their land. It may not look today like he’s accomplishing it in the way we would have preferred, but even with years of war and strife, God is at work in Syria and souls are turning to Christ for salvation. Of that, I am sure.
Leave without excess baggage.
The causes for leaving a place of service are wide and varied. When we leave “of our own accord,” we can walk through the steps of passing the baton to others and saying our goodbyes at our own pace. Even when we are leaving for the best of reasons, we need to make sure that we don’t leave any unchecked baggage behind. These are times when we make sure any issues with colleagues and nationals are resolved. Leave others with a healthy view of you and the work you’ve done for the kingdom. Sometimes, that means admitting your shortcomings and mistakes, asking for their forgiveness, and thanking them for their patience with you.
When a crisis is the cause of your departure, finding closure can be difficult, but do your utmost to leave without bitterness toward others and toward God. Ask the Lord to give you opportunities to make amends, if needed. Pray with and for those you leave behind.
How we leave affects how we arrive.
If we leave one place of service with the excess baggage of unresolved sin, broken relationships, and bitterness, we will have a hard time of finding home in our next location. If we carry with us the burden for the people we’ve left and haven’t left it with God, we will struggle to focus on those he’s leading us to serve in the present.
We will always love, remember, and pray for the places and people we’ve served. The Apostle Paul never stopped praying for the Ephesians, Galatians, Corinthians, or any of the other peoples he served along the way, but he did trust them into the hands of God and others. He found home wherever he laid his head. I pray we can do the same.
Grace and Peace
To find out more about leaving the home you’ve come to love, check out my latest book Not in Kansas Anymore: Finding Home in Cross-Cultural Service. It’s available in e-book and paperback formats.