Friday, April 18, 2014

The Glazed Expression


The Conference

In April of 2000, then Major Bill Harfoot called me into his office. I was a cadet in The Salvation Army. I had put in a request that once I was commissioned (ordained) as an officer (pastor), that I could be sent overseas, preferably to Germany since I could already speak German fluently and I knew that Germany desperately needed officers.

Major Harfoot sat me down and told me, "All of the cadets know to which country they are going to be commissioned, except you. So I want to let you know that you are going to be commissioned to Germany. We will tell you your appointment at the Service of Appointments, but we felt that you should know so that you could make the necessary preparations to move overseas." After instructing me not to tell anyone, especially my family, I left his office euphoric and excited.

Commissioning Weekend came. People were trying to speculate, as they always did, where the new officers were going to be stationed. My parents pulled me aside and told me that one of the divisional commanders said that they could ask for the services of any cadets, except for Lee Sang-jung, who was returning to Korea, and for me. My parents wanted to know what that was all about. Somehow I expressed my ignorance.

Then Commissioner Hinson called me to the front and told me that I was being appointed to be the corps officer of the Dortmund, Germany Corps. I was excited, elated, and expecting God to be doing mighty things.

10 Years

 Then the years went by. During my time overseas I experienced many things:

  • The Attacks on 11 September 2001
  • Meeting, courting, and marrying my wife within 11 months
  • Being transferred to Nuremberg
  • Being transferred to Hanover after only 1 year in Nuremberg
  • Expecting our first child
  • Losing our first child due to miscarriage
  • Defending my country as it needlessly attacked Iraq without provocation
  • The birth of Zachary
  • The birth of Nathanael
  • Being told that we were being transferred back during the middle of our fourth 3-year term to the United States with no explanation as to why. When we repeatedly asked why we were being recalled, we were given 3 reasons, none of which were exactly accurate.
  • Becoming pregnant with Gabriel in the midst of preparing to move back to the United States

The Return

My family returned back to the United States and were sent to Ludington, Michigan. I was told that returning missionaries had a more difficult time with culture shock than when they left their homelands. This is true.

I became aware of several things:
  • Americans seemed extremely paranoid.
  • Americans seemed to be extremely patriotic, to the point that it seemed to be idolatrous.
  • My oldest children stopped speaking German and refused to speak it with us.
  • The healthcare system in America was atrocious compared to the medical care we had in Germany.
  • People were obsessed with guns.
  • Thousands of people in America were dying every week by guns, but it seemed as if Americans were more interested in protecting their right to have guns than to save lives by getting rid of them.
  • I now had a slight German accent when I spoke that (to this day) I cannot get rid of.
  • I was no longer the same person. America was no longer the same country.

The Glazed Expression

After this revelation, I thought to myself, "Maybe I can at least talk to people about my experiences overseas in Germany and how God used my family to serve others there."

So I started to incorporate aspects of what I had learned in Germany to my ministry here. I would introduce songs in our Songbook that were originally German, translated into English. I would speak about my experiences in my sermons.

However, I was told to stop talking about the differences between the United States and Germany. People thought I wasn't patriotic enough. When confronted with that, I began to look at my patriotism. They were right. My patriotism is not what it used to be. I no longer view my country as better or more beloved than any other country. When I die, God will not give me preferential treatment for being an American. To insist that our country is somehow better than another is nothing more than the product of either low self-esteem or a bully syndrome.

Then I was told by well-meaning individuals to stop talking about Germany and my experiences overseas. That was a low blow to my own self-esteem. It was as if the 10 years I spent in Germany did not matter any more.

When people did ask me about my time overseas, it ran normally like this:

"Did you like being in Germany?"

"Yes, let me tell you about it," I would reply. Then as I began to talk, I noticed a glazed expression come across their faces. They were just being polite and only wanting to engage in small talk. They were not actually interested in hearing about my time overseas.

They didn't want to hear about the struggles I went through:

  • How twice during my stay overseas, we couldn't be paid for 3 months because there was no money.
  • How Germany did not receive any World Services (missionary) funds from The Salvation Army, even though it was dirt poor and a mission field.
  • How my first corps had to close.
  • How I did more funerals and less enrollment of soldiers.
  • How I came home from visiting taverns, begging for money and smelling like smoke, just so that we could make ends meet.
  • How The Salvation Army actually shrank in size while I was over there.
  • How I missed the ministry I had, despite the hardships. 
  • How I would forget a word in English because the German word made better sense. 


The Sojourner

I realized that there was one apt word that described me best:  I am a sojourner. I reside in a land that is not my own. Even if I were to return to Germany, I would never be fully accepted either because I am a foreigner there, too.

I also realized that I am not alone in my feelings. Many missionaries returning to their home countries go through the same issues. Returning missionaries go through a period of grieving, as if someone had died. Missionaries often feel as if they are no longer doing anything of significance in their home country compared to the ministry they did abroad. Returning missionaries go through depression. Their children have difficulties in adjusting to their new country. Returning missionaries often feel alone and isolated.

The Solace

Shortly after arriving in Ludington, I received a phone call from St. John's Lutheran Church in Ludington. They had built the building where The Salvation Army was now located. They asked me for permission to remove a time capsule they thought was in there. I gave my permission, of course.

On the day they removed the time capsule, I was present. They opened it up and several documents were revealed:  a newspaper from that time, blueprints of the building, and a 14-page document, chronicling the history of that church in Ludington, all written in GERMAN! I was able to translate the document for them and let them know some history about their church's beginnings in Ludington.

Was it serendipity? Was it Providence? I like to think so. It was God reassuring me that he had not left me and would be with me here.

 My Advice

If you know of a missionary who has returned overseas, my best advice would be to give him/her an opportunity to tell about the experiences he/she had overseas. Befriend them. Take an interest in them. Let them know that their service was not in vain. Give them a forum to express their true feelings in regards to their service. In turn, God will bless you by this simple act of kindness.

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