Some weeks are emotional roller coasters. The Holidays are notorious for this. The beauty and joy of all that Christmas symbolizes are tinged a little blue with the memories of what has been lost or will be lost in the coming year. My week started with the last major announcement of our family’s upcoming move to the Bay Area, and ended with me in Fremont California. The excitement is real and so is the sadness.
We feel we have been blessed by the Lord with the gift of great friends in every place we’ve moved. Harrisburg has been no exception. Even though I’m remaining with ABWE as a west coast mobilizer, I’m not going to be driving up that hill every day and seeing the people who have become dear to me. Even though my fellow elders at Community Free will remain my good friends, I will not be spending my Wednesday nights eating, planning, and fellowshipping with them anymore. While I know that our small group will probably visit us in Cali and we’ll visit them in PA, we will miss the weekly sharing of joys and pains with people who have become family. My kids have made great friends of adults and young people that will be painfully missed. I didn’t write this paragraph to publicly emote, but only to say that our joys are often shaded with pain.
In somewhat of a late change in schedule, I was asked to come to Fremont this weekend and preach at Redeemer Church for Bob Bixby who is assisting another church that is going through a crisis. I came by myself which I don’t particularly enjoy, but solitude has its own unique blessings. I was able to spend the whole day yesterday just driving around, checking out the local high schools and exploring the various neighborhoods. That was helpful, but those activities only highlight the stress of moving.
The blessing came in the form of people I was able to meet. I travel enough that I usually get to pick my seat, and I always choose an isle. Because this trip was added late, and because I was distracted with all the Christmas parties and activity, I didn’t check to make sure my seat was as I prefer it. Instead of the isle, I was wedged between two men equal to me in maturity and girth. The man by the window trying to sleep seemed unreasonably perturbed that my elbow’s contact with his elbow was unavoidable. He eventually gave up on sleep and began to talk. He opened up about his Jehovah’s Witness father and irreligious mother, and his own lack of faith. He talked about his job at a massive tech company and about life in San Jose. He epitomized for me the story that could be told millions of times over in the Bay Area–lonely, disconnected, wealthy, and searching.
The second group of people I met would be classified on the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. There are two Uyghur restaurants in the area and I felt led to suffer for Jesus and eat at both. In both places I found what I expected, amazing food and wonderful people. As I shared with them the places we’ve been in their homeland and my love for their culture and traditions, they opened up a little about their own challenges, pains, and opportunities. They came for education, but with the troubles in China, they have been unable to return home. All of them have family and friends who are in “re-education” camps in China. I learned that there is a community of about 250 Uyghurs in the area and I was invited to join them for their future celebrations. My time with them was short, but sweet. They reminded me of dear friends that I’ve left behind, but think of often. It was a subtle but unmistakeable confirmation to my heart that God is in this. While the pain of leaving is real, the joy of what to come provides fresh mercy.