It’s a difficult thing to explain–this relationship missionary kids (MKs) have with each other. We share the experience of growing up in a country not our own where we are forever changed by experiences that will keep us from ever feeling quite normal in our country of origin. We become extended family for each other, calling each other’s parents “aunt” and “uncle”. We go to boarding school together and deepen the level of experience that sets us apart, together. We comfort each other when we graduate from high school and have to go home to a country that isn’t really home.
Some of us adjust better than others. Some of us never quite get over that feeling of not belonging. But whether we put down deep roots in a small Texas town, or drift from place to place around the world, there is a connectedness between us that never goes away. These are our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, because of the boarding school experience, they feel more kin to us than our own siblings. We may not see each other for years. But when we do, we pick up where we left off with an uncanny ease. This explains how I can be so affected by the death of a man I have seen only a handful of times in the past 35 years.
Andy was one of the few people who shared both my life before Africa and my life in Africa. I don’t remember a time when our families didn’t know each other. We went to Africa in 1967, and they followed a few years later. Their first Christmas in Kenya, they drove the thousand miles to our little town in Southern Tanzania to celebrate with us. I was young, and I don’t remember that Christmas. But Andy’s daddy, my Uncle Tom, has told me the story of their trip south in a car that should not have been driven that far on African roads. He tells me he was carrying a guitar that my parents had bought for my older brother. Somewhere along the road, that guitar got lost. Somewhere on the back roads of Tanzania, an African man or woman got a wonderful surprise for Christmas that year. My friends who create magical stories could maybe write one about the life that was changed by a guitar that was found on a dusty road. But I am no good at that. I will just stick to the facts.
Andy’s family lived at Brackenhurst, the beautiful hotel and grounds that hosted our yearly mission meetings in the highlands of Kenya. Not every year, but more than a few, we stayed with them at their home during that week of meetings. I can still wander the rooms of their house my mind. I can remember sitting around their table sharing a meal. I remember throwing up on their couch. I remember walking down to the hotel dining room in the fog that rested on the ground. I remember riding into Nairobi to watch “Young Frankenstein” with them. Family.
While Andy and I graduated high school together, we didn’t really keep in touch, other than when our class would meet somewhere in the US for a reunion every few years. The last time we met up for a reunion was in South Texas almost 5 years ago. I remember noticing how Andy’s voice had that soft gravelly quality I had grown to love in his father. He made jokes at his own expense about not having found someone willing to marry him (“bachelor till the rapture”). I learned that he was a barbeque aficionado. He asked me if I was doing any writing, and remembered fondly the poetry I wrote in high school. A few weeks after the reunion, he wrote me a note encouraging me to write. It was kind, and sweet, and brotherly. I remember reading it to a non-MK friend who thought it was terribly forward for him to write something like that to a married woman. It’s not something that can be explained easily, so I didn’t try. In my mind I knew he wasn’t threatening the integrity of my marriage any more than if one of my real brothers had written it.
And then I saw that Andy had finally found the love of his life. I teased him about managing to skip right to being a grandparent without ever having to pay the dues of being a parent. I was happy to think of him being loved by someone. I enjoyed seeing him holding a precious little grandbaby in his big old arms. It was a good thing.
From a worldly perspective, Andy’s death came at an inconvenient time. I was in the midst of meeting my son’s fiancé, and getting them married, and celebrating with friends and family. Then my husband got sick, and I didn’t have time to grieve properly. I couldn’t break away to attend his funeral. It was inconvenient.
It was inconvenient for our high school class who would have liked to see him in June when we meet in Pennsylvania for our reunion.
It was inconvenient for his mom who is going through chemo at the moment and probably didn’t feel like she had any reserve to be grieving the loss of her baby son.
It was inconvenient for his dad and his sister and brother who couldn’t help but see his passing as being grossly premature.
It was inconvenient for his bride who had only really begun to live a life with him. So many people were not prepared. So many people were taken by surprise.
I don’t know why it was his day to die. But I know that he believed in the God of the Bible, and that he would have been the first to say, “amen” to the verses in Psalm 139 in which we are promised that all our days are numbered before one of them come to be. And while we grieve, he rejoices. He has seen his Savior face to face, and he knows for sure the perfection of the timing of God’s calling him home. It seems senseless to me. I just have to trust that God is too wise to be mistaken, and too good to be unkind.
I don’t really have any wisdom to impart about Andy’s death. I can’t think of anything to say that will make it easier for Aunt Nancy, Uncle Tom, Sally, or Tom Jr. I wouldn’t dare lecture his wife, Twyla, about how she should cope with this horrible loss (but I wish she would come to our reunion in June so that we could meet her and love on her as family should). I just wanted to remember him the best way I could. And so I did what he would have encouraged me to do. I wrote.