You see, friendship on the mission field has its own definition. You leave behind what is familiar and enter into a world that is not your own. Where your besties are worrying about mortgages and waiting lists for daycare, where you can get any grocery item your heart desires at almost any hour of the day, you are trying to embrace the fact that to put beans into a recipe, you have to soak them overnight and then cook them all day. Gone are the days of quick meals. You leave behind people who you grew up with and perhaps know your inner most fears and joys. You try to embrace a new community where you have to introduce yourself a hundred times and decide if you want to love hard, knowing that you will probably have to say goodbye when that person leaves the field and moves to another location.
I met Bethany at a baby shower for the PE teacher's wife. We instantly clicked and sat together. We laughed about having 3 kids under the age of 4--laughed because we knew at any moment we could cry. We talked about how her oldest and my youngest would be in Kindergarten together and "why don't we go ahead and just arrange the marriage now". Crazy enough, on this day we even had the conversation about meeting new people and whether it was worth the effort to make friends in the ever changing mission/expat community where goodbyes happen every day. We both decided it was worth the risk.
When Jeff and I sat with Dave & Bethany at our staff Christmas party last month, we were at a small, wobbly table for 2...and there were 6 of us. We laughed that we were all crowded together having to hold our plates in our hands. When we said goodbye that night, I was so excited that Bethany and Dave would get to head home for Christmas to see friends and family, what I didn't know was that they would never come back. Dave wrote an email to our staff after Christmas, the contents of which turned our world upside down. Bethany had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and we should pray. There were few details about the diagnosis, and even fewer about the prognosis. I immediately sent Bethany a message on FB telling her how sorry I was and that our family would be praying. She wrote back and asked me to "keep praying that I will stay positive and closer to God and fight this physically, spiritually, and emotionally." That was on December 31st at 6:43am. I wrote her again on January 2nd and never heard back from her. I had no idea she was literally fighting for her life as the cancer had aggressively spread throughout her body. I had no idea our Lord, in his Sovereignty would call her home just days later.
There are so many things I wish I had said and done while I had the chance. I would have made more of an effort to get together. I would have recorded so many things that Sophia (my youngest) and Isaac (her oldest) talked about at school for us to laugh about. I would have told her that I would train to run a race with her. I would have swapped recipes. I would have made those darn chicken enchiladas that Bethany had to make when I only had to bring chips. I would have hugged her a gazillion times and thanked her for being faithful to the Call.
One of the funniest things that I will hold close to my heart is a conversation about how girls are stronger than boys. The simple story goes something like this...
Dave to me: "Isaac came home yesterday and told Bethany that Sophia had said that 'boys are stronger than girls'. Bethany was so fired up and told Isaac that 'absolutely not--girls are definitely stronger or as strong as boys'!!
Me: "What--we've never taught Sophia that--she has 3 older brothers though, so she probably just assumes that boys are stronger than girls. Don't worry--tell Bethany that I'll set Sophia straight!"
As I wrote to Dave on FB a few days ago, I've made him the promise that Sophia will grow up knowing that girls are stronger than boys. She will know that Bethany was strong. She will never let being a girl set her back--we will make sure Bethany's strength will not be forgotten. It takes guts to live life overseas, it takes purpose, and strength, and it's a risk to love hard and fast. As I look at Bethany's FB page and see the many pictures and memories people are posting, pictures from high school and college, pictures from Indonesia...I know that while we didn't have a long friendship, I would take that risk of investing in our friendship again and again. A week of friendship on the mission field is really like 100 years of friendship. I will always take the risk. I hope our kids will too.