I don't like goodbyes. And I don't like thinking about our time in Cambodia coming to an end. There is so much to celebrate about this year, and so much joy to carry home with us. And yet, there are certain inescapable realities. We have cleaned out our desks. Our team prayed with us and sent us off with precious gifts and an amazing noodle bowl lunch. We will be boarding an airplane on Friday night after the kids finish their last day at school. This looks very much like the beginning of the end, but I choose to think of it instead as a new beginning. (Just humor me with this. It's better this way.) Instead of goodbye, I prefer -- until we meet again.
Here are some recent highlights and noteworthy moments, as we approach our impending departure from what has been the best and most rewarding year of our lives:
First, we are only unofficially done with work. Thais has a stack of papers that she still needs to sort, file, and/or shred. And I'm headed back on Tuesday afternoon for a trial, which our legal team has graciously allowed me to join -- for one last hurrah in court. This is actually a re-trial for a suspected perpetrator who was previously tried and convicted in absentia. After his conviction, he was found and arrested. The court has allowed him the opportunity to present a defense, so we will need to go try him and convict him again. Please pray for justice! (Again!) We are both secretly glad to have an excuse to see our friends at the office another time. The rest of this week will be about laundry and packing and preparing our family for our new beginning in a place we know simply as "home."
Second, the kids all participated in the end-of-semester Christmas concert at Hope International School on Friday. It was an unforgettable evening of reconnecting with teachers and kids who have loved on our family, and celebrating the season with music. So proud of our kids, and so grateful for this school community!
Third -- and this is important: grilled bananas. This is an unbelievable delicacy. To make it even better, it's mobile. There are many vendors around town who sell grilled bananas. My favorite is the guy who sometimes sets up on the street near our office. He rides around on a bicycle, with a grill and a cooler in front of him. That's right -- it's a grill and a cooler and a bicycle. (Why can't we have these in America?) What's not to love about going for a bike ride, then pausing to take something out of the cooler to throw on the grill, and then hopping back on the bike while you cook? That's multitasking, folks! Four grilled bananas cost just 1,000 Riel, which is about a quarter in U.S. currency. Are you kidding me?!? I frequently buy a bunch of these to share around the office. They are amazing.
Fourth -- reunions. As noted above, I don't like goodbyes. We are extremely blessed that we will be leaving Cambodia knowing that we will see our team again in the year ahead. The highlight of the IJM calendar every year is what they call the "Global Prayer Gathering." This has always taken place in Washington, D.C., which is home to IJM's headquarters. Every field office sends in the Field Office Director and 1-2 other staff members, as IJM's community of supporters comes together to hear stories, learn about the challenges and successes, and pray for an end to human trafficking and injustice around the world. Thais and I attended the 2016 Global Prayer Gathering, as we were learning and listening for God's call on us. It just so happens that 2018 will be a monumental first. As IJM celebrates the successful completion of a ten year vision -- protecting thousands, rescuing millions, and proving that justice for the poor is possible -- the celebration will take place in grand style. This celebration and time of prayer and worship has a Biblical origin. When God sent Moses to rescue His people from slavery, He told Moses, "I will be with you. And this will be a sign to you that it is I who have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." (Exodus 3:-12.) Rescue returns to God in the form of worship. Just like he did with Moses, God has gone with IJM for these last 20 years. And God has been faithful in rescuing thousands, and protecting millions. So all of IJM will be gathering to worship. The 2018 Global Prayer Gathering will be unique. It will include every single staff member from every field office and country around the world. And the gathering will take place in Texas! Next September 28-29, we will be with our team again, along with many others from all around the world, in Frisco, Texas. We would love to have company, and we would be delighted to introduce any of you to our heroes from Cambodia. Please mark your calendars, and let us know if you are interested in learning more about IJM at the "Liberate!" Global Prayer Gathering in 2018. We are so excited that as we leave here, we can say with confidence that "we will see you in Texas!" in just a few months.
Fifth -- puzzles. And maps to take you home. During the holiday season, it is customary for a jigsaw puzzle to make its appearance in our house. It's a relaxing way to decompress, visit, and enjoy some Christmas music. Usually this ends up causing some late nights of solitude, often into the wee hours. And I treasure those times. Well, this year, Thais really planned ahead. (She's sneaky that way.) Last Christmas she gave me a 500-piece puzzle she had to special order. It's a satellite image of our neighborhood, with our house smack-dab in the middle. What a great gift! We finally popped the box open in early December. It was a difficult puzzle, since every piece is some combination of gray, green, and/or brown. But we finally got it done. Now that we have our map complete, we are cleared for departure and can make our way home.
We will head home feeling full. And overwhelmed with gratitude. It has been a tremendous year. Of course we are also quite sad. But it's the kind of sad one can only feel after having received the very best kind of gift, and the time has come to leave it behind.
As we prepare to depart, as we prepare for a homecoming, and as we prepare for the coming of Christmas, I will leave you with this:
Have a very Merry Christmas -- until we meet again!