This week marked a very significant milestone in my life. 20 years ago, on September 29, 1999 I stepped foot in Mongolia for the very first time. I don’t think I will ever forget that day as a seven-year-old… the drive from the airport to my new home in the middle of the capital city of Ulaan Baatar. I was flooded with new sounds, new sights, and new smells, but I only remember being thrilled by it all. My parents told us they felt like God was calling us to live in this country across the world from our own, and in my childlike faith that was enough for me.
For the next 12 years, those sights and sounds and smells would become an everyday part of my life. The other missionary kids who lived there would become the most precious of friends (and one would become my husband). We shared experiences that were wonderful and hard and exciting. That rugged land of Mongolia became home.
Not long ago, my friend Naomi (whose family became like family to us during our years there) made a trip back to Mongolia with her husband. As I looked through the beautiful pictures she shared, there was an aching in my heart I haven’t felt for quite some time. She captured some of the spaces that, although may be overlooked by many, are incredibly significant to me and many others. I stared at them over and over and over, tears often running down my face.
It struck me as I gazed at those photos just how thankful I am for those years I lived in Mongolia, and how much my parents’ decision to move there has impacted me in ways I may not fully know this side of heaven. But, I wanted to share three ways God has used that experience to teach me invaluable lessons.
1. Living in obedience to God is always worth it
Many people questioned my parents’ decision to move their family of (then) six children across the world to a place that was much more rustic, and had very little access to medical care at the time. But my parents had counted the cost, and they knew that if Jesus was calling them to Mongolia, He would hold us all in His Almighty hands. They knew that there was no other way to truly live this life than in full abandonment to the King of Kings. And we experience the blessing of that obedience to this day in countless ways. I’ve learned that it is the highest privilege to serve God wherever He leads us, and that even when those decisions are very difficult, they will never be in vain.
2. God’s family is beautifully diverse
We were a part of a community made up of families from all over the world. My dad was the director of a missionary kids’ school, and in many ways these people became our “local body.” All of us had come to Mongolia for one purpose: to serve Jesus. And this purpose bonded us together in amazing ways. I had friends from Germany, Korea, England, Switzerland, Holland, Canada, and all across the US, giving us the opportunity to see how God was working in the lives of people around the globe. We learned to appreciate the many cultural differences and embraced together many of the ones we lived in (creating quite the unique group of kids). And, there are a few of these people I still consider to be some of my closest friends even though we’re far apart geographically. The days of playing, learning, painting, working, laughing, and walking all over UB with these people will forever be some of my most cherished memories.
3. this world is not my home
As I looked at those photos Naomi took of places that were once such a significant part of my life, a deep longing entered me. But… to go back? To experience those places again? To relive my childhood? No, I don’t think so. I know that that yearning wouldn’t be satisfied by going back to what it once was, or even seeing it again without all the people I love there to experience it with me. As I’ve pondered this, I think C. S. Lewis sums it up so well:
“The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth cannot supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”– C. S. Lewis
As beautiful as my childhood was, it was only a glimpse of the beauty and joy I’ll experience one day in the presence of my Savior in my eternal home. Anything good, anything lovely, anything precious I gained from those years in Mongolia was only a taste of what is to come when all those childhood friends are reunited in Heaven. There, where it is untainted by sin and sorrow and goodbyes. And every time I feel that longing for what once was, I can ask the Lord to use it to ready me for what is to come in my forever home with Him.
There is not a day that goes by that I am not deeply grateful for those childhood years in Mongolia. Some days I still find myself grieving the loss of that place I loved. But I’m also learning more and more that my identity doesn’t lie in the fact that I grew up there, or that I now live in Colorado, or that I’m a mom or a wife or a writer or anything else. My identity is found in Jesus Christ, who never changes and never leaves. This life will change… seasons will come and go, but not Him. And when that is my foundation, my source of comfort and hope, my gaze is lifted to eternity and the untold joy that is to come.