Growing up on a tourist destination island myself, Tahiti was never known to me as a holiday resort. My three brothers practically lived in the ocean, so instead, I knew Tahiti as the place that held one of the most famous surfing spots in the world. Teahupoo was the one of the few waves I could consistently identify in the tangle of surf videos and photography! (I’d say it was the sheer massiveness of those things).
Since those days peeking behind my brothers’ shoulders, I’ve heard about this spot in French Polynesia from YWAM outreach teams, my church in Hawaii, and meeting people from Tahiti here in New Zealand. I live here in NZ now, training to be a schoolteacher, and people go in and out, my brothers now living in three different countries (and still loving the ocean as much as ever).
Yet I never expected God would call me back to a small Pacific island.
Entering BTI last year, we all were reminded of our two-week mission trip in Year 2. We could go anywhere– and through a Facebook post some family friends said I should visit Tahiti. I quickly dismissed their Facebook post as yet another one of those random locations I could visit “one day”(as YWAM kids often do).
All of two seconds later, I heard the voice of God in my heart, “Why not?”
|Bethlehem, New Zealand- February 2012|
Tahiti was not my ideal choice for a missions trip. Yet this wasn’t because it seemed too much like a vacation. Not at all. I was hesitant because it seemed too much like home. Too “boring” and not “frontier missions” enough, too much like going to Hawaii, without the perks of actually seeing my family and friends. I could go anywhere! But I knew Jesus, and remembered countless Loren Cunningham messages on obedience and watching my parents live it, so I said yes.
That “yes” didn’t make it any easier to follow Him.
Some of you will know what it’s like to have memories of past travels haunt you like a pricks to a conscience, like the throbs of an old wound. Vestiges of life-changing moments cling to you like expired ointment, and you wonder if you can ever go back. You want to go back. You want those moments to return– those moments where you felt like you were saving the world, where you were desperately needed, and you had an irreplaceable role in a vast adventure. But you can’t.
You can’t go back, not now, not yet, not soon.
|Siem Reap, Cambodia July 2009|
Many more of you will know what it’s like to have memories of your hometown weigh on top of you like a red brick letterbox full of memories. You wish you could open up those letters and it be all be real again, but instead you’re here. Forging your new life as a “grown up”, wondering why on earth you left a place of belonging, your community, your relationship, your very sense of self. You want to go back. But you can’t.
Not even soon.
|Kailua-Kona from the Pier, Hawaii|
“Tahiti?” You can see my surface reaction, as I deal with pain that grips me tighter than I let on. I have it “all together”, don’t I? But I freeze up, my manner stiffens when someone asks me about it. I avoid posting it on Facebook, or even sending out support letters. Maybe I hear their subconscious doubt. Yet the fear of what other people think (“Tahiti’s not a missions location!”) is only surface, too. I, of all people, know what it’s like to be doubted in that way– I was born in Hawaii, tourism capital just like Tahiti. What’s really being exposed, instead, is the pain of distantly loving Cambodia (the place of my first missions trips), and the up-close grief that I won’t be returning to Hawaii for quite some time.
|Sunrise in Bethlehem, New Zealand- June 2013|
You have my love, You have my heart, I give it all to you, I give it all to you…
Misty Edwards sings from iTunes in the background of my Macbook Air. Tears spring to my eyes. I distract myself by finding pictures of waves and digging in old Facebook archives for this blog post. The song finishes while I am in between Safari windows and the album continues without my heart being impacted. What am I doing?! I click on “I Give it All to You” again.
Maybe we have to do that, more often that we thought we needed to– replay those words that remind us why we do the things we do. I flick up and down this post and see the collateral damage of following Jesus. Yet is it truly damage? Is the loss of one location, or two, the ruin of all places? Is the uncovering of my well-buried grief a issue I should have with God, or is it in fact the very path to healing?
He likes to do that, to heal. I read about it this morning though I barely registered it. A widow’s son, a man’s skin disease. All through a prophet who dared to ask for a double portion. Who does that?
Who expects healing, when they’re supposed to be learning about “servant leadership”? Who hopes for their own heart to be restored, when they’re suppose to be going on a “missions trip”? Who longs to feel at home, in a nation not their own?
That would be me. I’m the one, vulnerable and weak in face of a vast ocean, hopeful and confident that I can be restored.
We cannot go back to where we were before, I see that now.
Yet I take comfort in this, that there is something to go back to, constantly. Though not just something. Someone.
The Lord our God, who is good, whose steadfast love endures forever,
the one who is scripting a beautiful story.
He said so.
And I love Him.