Someone once said that a missionary lives a life that is filled with goodbyes. Looking back at the last 4 years, there were indeed many difficult goodbyes. We said goodbye to our family before leaving in 2018. I still remember the tears, those hugs where you don’t want to let go, the last look before walking through departures. Those are tough times. After landing in Japan, we spent 2 years in language school and our teachers and fellow missionaries became like family to us. We shared wonderful times together and enjoyed close friendships, but of course, the day came when we had to say goodbye, another tear-filled farewell.
Then there was also saying goodbye to churches. I never imagined that we would be able to connect so well with Japanese Christians, to the point where saying goodbye was incredibly hard. There were two churches in particular where upon leaving, we received letters, gifts, prayers, and emotional expressions from so many people whom we have grown to love. I can say that it is indeed true; the missionary has to say farewell a lot.
However, there is also great joy in farewells, that being reunions! Just as I won’t easily forget the pain of saying goodbye to my family 4 years ago, I won’t easily forget the happiness of our reunion last month. The excitement when the plane landed. Seeing everyone’s smiling faces. The tight hugs; the whispers of “I missed you” followed by the sweet realization that we are here not to say “goodbye”, but to say “hello”. We have enjoyed this reunion for the past 3 weeks now and it made me think of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
The joy I felt in reuniting with my family, as wonderful as it was, does not compare to the joy believers will feel when we are reunited with the Lord, and with loved ones who have passed away. On that day, the arrivals terminal in Heaven will be a place of jubilant celebration. The sadness we feel now for not being able to see family who are living abroad, the pain of not being able to hug or talk to a loved one who has passed away, these feelings will be eclipsed by radiant beams of joy when we are reunited with them. But even more than this, amongst the numbers of friends and family waving cheerfully in reunion bliss, our eyes will gaze upon Him; the Lord Jesus himself – the one who laid down His life for our salvation, the one who guided us through life and carried us through every trial, the one whom we prayed to, the one whom we gazed upon through eyes of faith will then be gazed upon in-person; face to face. No reunion will be as sweet as this one, where the Lord himself stands ready to receive us. Ready to embrace us and say “hello”. Ready to welcome us into our real home.
Until that day comes, there will be more sad goodbyes. There will be more difficult farewells. But take heart – reunion is coming!