OK, it’s official- I really hate goodbyes.
Last week I returned home from a two-week trip to Latvia. In many ways, it’s good to be home. It’s nice to see my family, and sleep in my own bed… but it’s hard. Because I left behind people I love.
The last few days in Latvia were bittersweet. I was completely exhausted, and the thought of sleeping in my own bed and relaxing at home was exciting. But the cost for that comfort was perhaps too high. In all honesty, as much as I’ve missed my family, I could easily have spent another two weeks in Latvia. Because leaving Latvia meant leaving dear friends; it meant getting on a bus and driving away from people that I love more than I can explain. It meant tearful good-byes and final hugs and an emotional emptiness that gnaws at my soul every waking moment and keeps me up at night.
Flying away from my beloved Latvian friends tore a hole in my heart that will be very slow to heal. I’m sure Latvia hasn’t seen the last of me. I pray that I will be back soon. But that doesn’t change the fact that I left a piece of my heart there, and now I’m living without that piece of myself.
My time in Latvia taught me a lot. I went to Latvia to spread the love of Christ and share the good news of Jesus with young people who don’t know Him. And in that area, the trip was a huge success. But that kind of ministry leaves you vulnerable. We weren’t merely performing physical labor; we were forming meaningful relationships. Our ministry was by nature relational- and that’s really hard. Because in order to love the Latvian youth, we had to open up our hearts to them; and in doing so, we fell in love with them. We fell in love with people we would soon leave behind. We opened our souls to others, knowing full well that it would bring a lot of pain. Now, I’m dealing with that pain.
But despite the pain, I don’t regret anything; not for a second. I like to imagine the mind as a sky, filled with memories in the form of stars. This journey has filled my sky with hundreds of bright new stars; memories of joy and sorrow that will forever light up my life, even in dark times. I’ve had the opportunity to share the greatest news ever known– the news of God’s love and the message of His gospel– with those who desperately need that hope. I’ve been able to love those who have never received love like that. I’ve been Christ’s ambassador, and that’s worth every scar.
But I’m not writing to rant aimlessly. I mean, there’s a lot of that going on in this post, but that’s not the reason I’m writing. I’m writing to share something beautiful and heart-breaking that I really came to understand in Latvia. In the last few weeks, I’ve realized how much we need each other.
In the opening act of the Bible, we find God speaking the universe into existence; with every breath He sends galaxies spinning into place, raises up mountains and fills up the seas. Yet despite the majesty of all that He has created, He considers His crowning achievement to be mankind. God deems all that He has created to be very good.
Yet there is one thing in this passage that God says is not good. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So God creates woman, and the first friendship is created; the first family is formed. God designed us to be together.
Of course, it didn’t take us long to screw that up completely. We sinned, and relationships fell apart. Adam blamed his wife for his sin. Cain murdered his brother. Ham dishonored his drunk father Noah. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. The Bible tells the story of mankind’s fall, and it’s a story of broken relationships.
Yet despite our own failings, we never stopped needing one another. We are wired for fellowship with one another and with God. We cannot do life alone, as much as we may try. People need other people. We were created to be together.
When Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world on Himself, He began the process of fixing a broken world. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ restored a small part of the perfect community we were created to experience. Jesus established the Church, an incredibly diverse group of people united in Christ. The Church is a reflection of the perfect unity we were created to experience, and will one day experience with the Father in a new Heaven and Earth. The Church is tasked with sharing the love of God with the world at large. Thus, the Church builds bonds of love with others, revealing in a small part the kind of togetherness we were made for from the beginning.
During my time in Latvia, I felt that togetherness. We partnered with Ventspils Baptistu Draudze, a church from a totally different nation and culture. Yet we were completely united in Christ. We worked side by side to share God’s love with Latvian youth. We formed friendships that transcended national and cultural barriers. We worshiped God together in two different languages. We were united in Jesus Christ.
Now, we are apart. Thousands of miles, two continents, and an ocean separate us. But we are never truly cut off from one another. Despite physical distance, we are nevertheless one Body with every follower of Jesus Christ all across the globe. We are one tonight, today and every day, in the One who made us one in Him.
I still hate goodbyes. Many tears were shed as we said farewell to the people we had come to love. For me, it was the second time I had to say good-bye to these beloved friends. But I know that I will see them again. We are together in the One who raised us out of darkness and into His glorious light. And we live in the light of His sunrise every day; the same sun shines on us all, and the same Father wraps us in His loving arms each day. So though we are apart, we are not alone. We are never alone. We are One.
And we are together, in Him.