I thought I was prepared for most of the questions that would come at us as we returned to the U.S. We had been planning to start a year of home assignment in the U.S. in December but because of my father’s death we hurriedly moved it up to the beginning of October. I knew that there would be questions about how long we’d be in the area, where we are staying, and when we’d be going back.
But there was one question that totally blindsided me. Some people have asked, “Are you going back to Thailand?” Are we going back to Thailand?! In my mind, the answer was obvious. “Of course we are going back to Thailand!” Why would anyone think that we are not going back?
Unless the Lord gives us a definite indication that He wants us to do something different, my wife and I are committed to church planting in Thailand. For how long? Not one year. Not four years. Not ten years. We’ll be in Thailand until retirement at least, maybe longer. Or until the government kicks us out (although there is not much risk of that). We are long-term missionaries. That means we are in it for the long haul. We’d be happy to die in our boots.
On the one hand, I am sure that some of the folks asking this question have not been following our prayer letters or blog, and don’t know how long we are planning to minister in Thailand. Because I don’t expect that everyone is keeping up with our news, and I am pleasantly surprised when someone mentions something they saw on our website. Even among our supporters, it would not be realistic to expect everyone to be reading and remembering everything that we send out. In today’s information age, you can only keep up with so many people, especially if they live far away. With that in mind, it makes sense that people who meet us unexpectedly on this side of the ocean would ask if we are going back to Thailand.
On the other hand, in today’s short-term climate - both in the secular world and in the church - I wonder if the idea of long-term missions is being lost. I think that it is hard for many people to wrap their minds around the idea that we are “over there” for good. Surely we will come back to “our home” eventually, won’t we? What about the children’s education? Have we thought about that? (We have). Don’t we miss the lifestyle and conveniences that America has to offer? Aren’t you planning to pastor a church in the U.S. at some point? Why would you willingly spend the majority of your life anywhere other than “the greatest country in the world”?
No matter what way you cut it, missionaries are misfits. Everyone in our home country thinks that we belong here in the U.S. So when we show our faces in the home country, some people wonder if we “are back” (in the permanent settling-down, getting-a-real-job, buying-a-house sense). And when we are in Thailand, local folks are always wondering when we are going back to our own country. Anytime I return to a certain shop after being away for more than two weeks, the vendor says, “Oh, where have you been? I thought you went back to your home country.” As a non-Asian face, I am not viewed as a long-term resident in Thailand. People see me as a passing fog that will eventually lift. I don’t belong here, and it is just a matter of time before I go home. “Of course Thailand is a great country”, people think to themselves, “but don’t you miss America, with it’s gleaming modern appliances, fancy automobiles, and movie stars roaming the streets?”
By nature, I like to be understood by those around me and our abrupt return to the U.S. has left me a bit unsettled and more easily flustered by questions like, “Are you going back to Thailand?” But as life gets into a bit more of a routine, I am happy to answer that question. I am a long-term missionary and long-term missionaries are out of the box for many people. So unless the Lord calls us elsewhere or calls us home (in the heavenly sense), I hope to be happily answering that question for the next three decades or so. “Yes, we’re going back.”