I used to believe it was easier being the one who left. Maybe that was because when I first moved overseas in 2011, I did a lot of leaving. Every time I visited home from the field, saying “Hello!” at the airport was such an uplifting time. At the same time, saying “Goodbye!” was also uplifting, because I was returning to where God had called me. It wasn’t until 2014 when these thoughts drastically changed.
Near the end of March of that year, a lot of painful leaving was on my mind. My UK Visa was coming to an end in April, the church I had been helping pastor for over 3 years couldn’t assist, so the aspect of leaving was not just looming, but smacking me in the face.
I spent hours searching different visa options, any way to remain with this church I had helped grow, and had helped me grow. We had seen God miraculously transform and reach people who would have never stepped into a church building. That may have been because we were based out of a regular, central London pub. But, it was more than that. Case-in-point, the pub was called Grace! I absolutely loved this church – the people, the vision, and what God was doing.
Leaving was looming, but avoidance was more alluring.
One evening, as I walked along Southbank by the London Eye, with the damp cold of winter grasping at its final strings before Spring arrived, I had the verse from Joshua 1:9 repeating in my head,
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
I started to cry. Right there, in a very public place, I pleaded with God to not take away this love of mine. But as I pleaded, I heard these words,
“But I will be with you wherever you go.”
Peace filled me.
Not the peace of being okay with leaving, but peace that surpasses all understanding: hope for the future of my ministry in London, stillness for how that will happen, and reassurance of how deeply loved I was as a child of God. As a single woman serving cross-culturally, nothing could shake that love. Not even the leaving.
That night, in the heart of the city I loved, in the middle of the misty lights of London, I surrendered. The avoidance stopped and acceptance began. My prayer no longer was about making a way to stay, but repeating the words that Jesus spoke,
“Not my will, but yours.”
Three days later, I received a phone call that changed the course I had originally set out on. Not only did it answer my prayers for a visa, but my finances, and a new ministry focus I could have only dreamed of!
I still had to leave my ministry at the church, but would you believe that God already had my replacement sorted? Not only was she my friend, but someone who had come back to her faith, and been baptised during my time there!
What I realised is that leaving can be about opportunity.
Opportunity to grow.
Opportunity for those around you to grow.
Opportunity for God’s wonder to be unveiled.
Opportunity for His mystery to be received.
Leaving is a part of life. Some are hopeful. Some are painful. Some are growing. And some are simply unknown. No matter if we have control over it or not, it has the potential to unveil God’s wonder to the world around us, if we only allow it.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, to leave is to “go away from; allow or cause remain; cause (someone or something) to be in a particular state or position.”
How do you relate to the word leaving? Maybe you prefer it, and it comes frequently to you. Maybe you avoid it, like me, and struggle to come to terms? Maybe you fear it, and cling on to the normalcy around you? Take a moment and consider the word leaving.
Now, take that relation and hold it in balance with Joshua’s words,
“… for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” (1:9).
God is full of mystery. No matter how inconsistent our worlds become, He is our ultimate consistency. In character and in Truth!
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
What has changed in relation to leaving? What has stayed the same? What has made you hopeful?