Today a goodbye to my two dear friends was disguised as a birthday party for Liana, who graduated a few days ago from high school and takes off for America in a couple more. We sat around the table at a very nice restaurant, dressed in our best, circling to share 18 things we love about Liana as we reach the end of her 18th year, sampling each other's food, toasting and reminiscing. As we got ready to leave, Karen was so intent on being sure we had a good hugging goodbye that ONLY THEN did it hit me, this is the end of an era. Not only Liana, but Karen and Bethany are leaving. How did this happen so fast?
Michael was a single guy engineer in Bundibugyo in our early days in the 1990s, who went back to the USA and proposed to Karen (best move of his life) then brought his bride to be our neighbor. We have walked through pregnancies and deliveries, evacuations and decisions, school and church, vacations and ministry together for over 20 years. Bethany joined us in the early 2000's and has been part of our teams or working while studying from the US or a bit of both for the last 15. Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya. Countless prayer meetings, walks, insights, care. When we moved to Kijabe I never expected to get these two friends back in my daily life, but the war in South Sudan and the needs at RVA and Moffatt Bible college and the friendships we held and our kids' lives meant we became team mates again. Even moving to Naivasha they have been intentional faithful friends. I am 17 years older than Bethany, and Karen is just about in the middle of us, but we feel like close classmates or sisters, with different personalities and gifts but similar joys and motivations and goals.
Now the Massos are beginning a long slow transition to juggle the needs of all their kids and family, which will see Karen spending more and then most of her time based in Philadelphia with Serge. Bethany is heading back to start a PhD in clinical psychology at Fuller, with research in community based resilience-building for trauma care. Their lives continue to arc with ours in commitment to the marginalized of East and Central Africa, and in connection with Serge. Still, it is the end of one era, one that seems quite pivotal in our life.
In college we gathered our own "Africa Team" with a vision for serving together. A few of us did, but over the decades I've seen God's grace in building His own teams and bringing amazing people into our lives (and us into theirs) to show us more of His love and grace.
Here's to friends who stick with you over the hardest times of life, and to life-long commitments in spite of distances to come. In church this morning our leader read Zechariah 3, a vision I don't remember noticing too much before, but the scene is Heaven, and Satan is accusing a man named Joshua who represents Israel. God steps in to rebuke the accusations and personally provide clean clothes and a promise that points to Jesus. And the sign will be "In that day declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree." (v. 10) . The defeat of evil is pictured as a picnic in the shade of grape vines and a fig tree, sweet abundance of food and fellowship. That's where we are headed, and I have to believe I'll see more of that in this life with these two, and in eternity unending.