“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” -Miriam Adeney
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Michelle Hamby. Mark and I have been married for 7½ years and have two children: Luke (4-years old) and Rose (18-months). I am from Georgia and went to college at Samford University. I started coming to OMPC in 2007 after Mark and I got engaged. After a year and a half of marriage, Mark and I moved to a large city in Brazil named Belo Horizonte to serve with Campus Outreach. We were there for four full years. Luke was born in Brazil, and lived there until he was 2½ -years old. I was 7-months pregnant with Rose when we moved back to Birmingham in the summer of 2014.
I would like to begin by sharing how God brought me to Brazil, and then move into my missions’ experience, and close with the way my experience overseas has affected where I am today.
First and foremost, you must know that I am a person who deeply desires to blend in. In many ways I’ve made it an unspoken goal or ambition of mine, born out of a fear of rejection. Standing out is just too risky for me. Yet interestingly enough, God in his kindness has repeatedly called me to stand out in uncomfortable ways in my life, specifically in this part of my story.
In college God gave me a passion for nursing, a thirst to hear more about this refreshing and unfamiliar gospel of grace, and it was also there that I was introduced to the theme throughout scripture of God’s heart to bless a people so they would be a blessing to ALL people groups. I was captivated by God’s heart for the world and the need. If God would lead me, I would love to go.
As I was taking advantage of missions’ opportunities after college to position myself to go, Mark and my paths crossed. Long story short - we started dating while he was waiting to receive his visa, so he could move to Brazil with Campus Outreach. Five months later when Mark finally received his visa, we knew God was leading us toward marriage. Plans changed. Departure date tentatively cancelled. However, soon after we married, we decided to move to Brazil together. We made a 4-year commitment -- we told our families and supporters that -- but in our minds we were open to the idea of spending 10 or more years in Brazil.
God was doing it! We were going to be a part of what he is doing outside the States! But this was not quite how I pictured it! Very much like God, he was taking me overseas, yes, BUT to a country filled with some of the most naturally beautiful women in the world (My insecure self couldn’t compete with that!), to a city without foreigners (Being non-Latino, Mark and I clearly stood out as gringos! And many times heads literally did turn when we walked by!), to a very blunt culture (Hey now, I overlook others’ flaws like any good southern girl!), to a culture where there is no context for college ministry (No one understands what we do and why I don’t “work”), to engage post-modern, un-churched, college students (I grew up in the bible belt spending more time with Christians than non-Christians!), to a culture where most get married and start having kids later in life (We were about 8-10 years ahead of the average in marriage and having children in our city). Needless to say, I stood out in every way one could stand out -- physically, socially, professionally and spiritually. I was out of my comfort zone! Brazil was the true beginning of my undoing.
Let me now invite you into our mission field. The phrases and thoughts below are a blend of unorganized descriptions; I believe this is the best strategy for me to communicate the way my experience felt.
The country and culture are beautiful. Brokenness. Corruption rampant. Sensual. Lots of spandex. I am blonde now and light eyes are a big deal. The people are emotional, relational, welcoming, fun, interested in foreigners, loving and patient with us. The newness of us being here is wearing off faster to the Brazilians than it is to us. Will we ever be able to go anywhere or do anything by ourselves again? Daily language blunders. No humidity. No A/C. Mark and I are together ALL the time, doing language study and transition needs. Do we have an identity separate from each other here? Always have cash – you never know when you need to pay for parking or pay a self-proclaimed “car watcher.” Cold water to wash dishes. Electric shower heads to warm the shower. Throw away your toilet paper! White walls. Contemporary furniture. Power is out again. No one in our same stage of life. Big city. People everywhere, but I am alone and misunderstood. Young church. Refreshing conversations about Jesus with students. Mentally exhausted. Is this culturally appropriate? No clutter in houses. Clotheslines. High rise apartment buildings next to slums. Concrete everywhere. Yell out the window and honk your horn when your favorite local soccer team scores or wins – especially do this if it is late at night! We are considered wealthy Americans here, yet we feel utterly dependent on our family and supporters to provide for our physical needs. Be on guard against being taken advantage of. Maids in homes. Missed births of our nephews. If you have a car, you give rides to friends and acquaintances. Acknowledge everyone individually when you walk into a room. Greet with a hug and kiss. Give a reason before you leave a conversation. Our team is our family, our friends, our support system and are the people we do life with, but we live spread out in the city and these are not friends we chose for ourselves. Always a party to go to. Jokes and personality lost in translation. Hot Christmases. Smaller portions. Smaller everything. Have our friends from the US moved on? Have we been forgotten? Cooking from scratch. Street performers and children selling candy or begging for money at intersections. Visit back to the States: Awkward conversations. Everything in the US is big, affordable, and the quality is amazing! Walmart is overwhelming. How odd -- there is no visible poverty. Ok, be concise and offer vision; Americans are busy and like to hear about impact. Buying and packing everything we will need for our baby boy to be born in Brazil. Counseling session: Am I depressed? Grateful we have family that we love and that loves us, but it makes goodbyes so hard. Feeling like we are the source of so much pain, keeping Luke so far away is almost too heavy to bear. Stay up late packing. Weigh and reweigh luggage. Tearful goodbyes in the airport. Back in Brazil: Stick shift cars, motorcycles and hills you are afraid your car won’t make it up. Anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and panic attacks seem to be all around me. Long lines. Reminders from strangers and acquaintances that I have a strong accent. Delicious rice, beans, salad and steak or chicken for lunch everyday. Much time spent on domestic tasks. Giving myself pep talks and writing out what I will say to order take-out or make doctors’ appointments over the phone. Brazilians love babies and pregnant women -- they get it. This. Is. Beautiful. Just go with the affectionate belly kisses and touches from strangers, Michelle! Fifty doting visitors in Luke’s first few weeks of life! I am exhausted by the way many Brazilians tell me what my baby needs and are uncomfortable with our American-style of caring for Luke. Family not meeting Luke until his first birthday. Life-giving retreats and discussion groups. Family member, picture flash cards for Luke. Crisp winter days. Bakeries on every corner. Grieving the loss of grass, parks, and convenient things to do with kids. Initiate. Initiate. Initiate. I am overwhelmed by the thought of living here a couple more years. Will I be that wife that is the reason for us moving back? I finally learned to drive after living here for 2½ years! I cannot believe how independent and grateful I am to take Luke to his pediatrician and to the park BY MYSELF, now that he is 5mo! Luke is delighted over and I feel so loved by my child being loved. Tiring but rewarding mercy ministry opportunities in the slum. We started telling people we are moving back to the US. Comments from some Brazilians like: “You will be happier there. Life is better in the US.” sadden me. But we do believe Jesus is more precious than our own comfort, despite how our decision to move back might seem. While comments from some Americans like: “That’s great you’re coming home!” and “Well, there is so much mission work to be done in the US!” don’t sit right. Where is my home? Isn’t following Jesus more precious than living close to family? Luke dancing at fun, Brazilian weddings and delighted over. Children’s ministry growing in our young church! Street protests make getting out of the apartment challenging. What do we put in our update? God is working around us, but is he doing anything through us? I love our team and church. Slow relational evangelism. Our capacity for long, wonderful meals with Brazilians has increased so much! Beautiful, vibrant worship services in Portuguese. Glimpses of joy amongst much mundane daily life. Selling everything and packing our lives into 10 pieces of luggage. Goodbye parties. Tears. This is so hard! Flying back to Birmingham 7-months pregnant, with our oblivious 2½-year old – hopeful, grateful, and anxious about beginning a new chapter beginning in Birmingham…
That is the end of my description of the mission field. I hope you felt the intensity of the internal and external pressures.
God did great things in me in Brazil, opening my eyes to world—the beauty and the brokenness of it, opening my eyes to the ugly realities of missions and opening my eyes to the benefits of being forced to adapt to a new culture. We experienced firsthand God’s faithfulness to give us -- and Luke -- the ability to adapt to seemingly impossible situations.
We had four good years there: hard, good, hard and then, ironically, our best year was the year leading up to our move back to the States. There are different reasons why missionaries leave. For some, it is a forced exit while others leave for potentially avoidable reasons. For us, our move back would be probably described as more of a “healthy” transition. God used many wise people to help us evaluate. He kindly revealed some red flags for both of us. We realized important desires God had given our family couldn’t be realized in that context, so we moved back earlier than we expected to pursue a better fit.
It was clear to us and others that God was ending our chapter of life in Brazil, however, even though we believed it was the right decision, we grieved and still grieve the life we left behind - what could have been and what our children would have been like had we stayed. I grieve the stories Luke would have told in Portuguese - the way our children’s worldview would have been greater. I grieve missing the births and marriages of dear Brazilian friends and teammates. I grieve having shared experiences with my husband; especially since we live such separate lives now. I grieve leaving our team behind. I grieve the loss of our kids not having close relationships with our community in Brazil. I feel disloyal to my true self, living in Birmingham while I long to have a direct role in the Gospel transforming lives in countries where there are few or no Christians.
We still desperately long to see Brazilians transformed: our discussion group friends, our maid, our neighbors, the young believers and non-believers in our church, the corrupt government, the intense poverty and barriers to the Gospel removed. And we miss our church, our dear friends. Now being back, I look like I fit (my dream come true!) but I am different here. There is awkwardness as I continue to sort out my identity.
But God is still writing my story -- even in Birmingham -- and your story. For some of you, I believe he is speaking and calling you to be a part of holding the ropes. A friend of mine lives in Turkey and her husband is part of a search and rescue team that responds in moments of national crisis, such as searching for missing or injured people after natural disasters. The team function as one unit – each individual with a different role. Some secure the ropes while others descend into dangerous and dark places - all uncertain of the outcome. They have one goal: it’s a rescue mission. The many secure and hold the one, while the one courageously enters the darkness. ALL long to bring light and hope to the lost one. The rescuer descending trusts his team is securing his rope. He is utterly dependent on them. No one would even dream of asking the one to descend on his own; it would be an impossible task. The different perspectives of the situation force the team to listen and respond to one another.
My heart is burdened for these women, but also excited about the gift God is giving to them and to their families as they serve in missions. It would be easy to assume these women already have a safe place to share their mess – the messiness of missions. But the reality is most do not. The Women’s Ministry is in the beginning stages of building a care team to be the voice of the Father to our dear OMPC sisters serving. We are in the brainstorming stages and need any and all with a heart to support these women as they venture into dark places. Friends, we are only talking about caring for 12-20 women through small, tangible acts of kindness! Our desire is to communicate through our actions to these women: God sees you and cares about the details. You are not forgotten. You are loved. You are not alone. You are safe to be where you are.
I am thankful for the opportunity to share the way God led us to Brazil and back again. I hope you have felt a little bit of what life was like for us in Brazil. God in His sovereignty and kindness has given me this experience and desire to reach out to these women serving in vulnerable places. And now, I would love to challenge you to consider the ways God’s voice has been affirming who YOU are and what YOU have to offer for such a cause as this. It truly is a great privilege to witness the gospel flourish as each member of the body fulfills its role.
Posted: 3.7.2016 in Women’s Ministry Share: