The Rev. Justin and Kari Eller are ELCA missionaries in La Paz, Bolivia. To support the Ellers, or another of the ELCA’s 225 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.
We have been preparing to make our vacation trip home to visit family and introduce our son to his U.S. family. The suitcases have been organized, the piles of considered clothes laid out, the toys, snacks and in-flight entertainment carefully chosen and tickets purchased. But one thing that I keep procrastinating on is preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the visit “home.”
When we come “home,” or as in our upcoming case: when we visit “where we grew up,” it is often difficult for me on so many levels. If you know me well, you know how extroverted I am. However, living a missionary lifestyle has changed that a little. Not so much here in my mission context, but more so in how I relate to and interact with people “back home.” I find myself tending to listen much more before speaking, to feel out of place by being around so many people who look like me, to feel awkward when I don´t use Spanish, to retreat into books and papers, to mesh myself even more closely to my wife, and to be more guarded, among other things.
Visiting the place where we grew up causes me to struggle because I feel like a fish out of water. The current me can´t understand anymore what it is like to live in the States because it isn´t my context.
In reflecting on our upcoming trip to visit where we grew up, I think when you accept God´s call, it often is a call that asks you to risk being changed by the call itself, without questioning or explaining that change. Sometimes a call from God to leave your “homeland” is a call to be misunderstood and uncomfortable. It is a call to give up your life as you knew it and to live a new life in God.
Last year I was visiting a good friend from seminary and we were driving back to his house when he told me that I didn´t seem comfortable. I honestly had to think about what he was saying. He said, “You seem as if you´ve got a lot on your mind. You seem like you feel out of place and are no longer comfortable here.” After silently reflecting on his observations for a few minutes, I answered, “You´re right, I´m not comfortable any more.” I greatly appreciated that he heard me out without trying to fix the situation. Though I now don´t remember all that we talked about on that ride, one statement I do remember telling him was, “I think being comfortable numbs you from being awake to the realities of the world.” It was a self-reminder, “Justin, you´re not the same anymore. You´ve changed; the missionary call has changed you – and that´s OK.”