Confessions of a Missionary Wife: Transition and Voluntary Displacement

by mendibpng

R to L: Jacob (age 2) Josiah (age 12) Noah (age 10) Ellie (age 8) and Jenny Beth (age 2). Our kids are becoming transition experts!

And so we circle back to one of my favorite topics, Transition. This topic comes up very often in our lives because we have two homes: Arop: where our translation work goes on, and Ukarumpa: where our children’s school is and Ben advisor checks translation and participates in academic training.

On Tuesday, we plan to leave for the village. We bought food for the next five weeks, and our kids loaded up their backpacks with books and games that will keep them occupied for their time in Arop. I dehydrated ground beef, green onions, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, green peppers, corn, and black beans in an effort to make sure we have enough food out there. I bought canned goods to take as well: peanut butter, tomatoes, ham, and peaches, for instance. Noah and Ellie’s teachers worked over the holidays to get their village program ready (we homeschool so that our kids will stay in sync with their classes here.)

So why do we do this to ourselves? A week long camping trip is fun. However, packing up everything you need for weeks at a time is difficult at best. Fun? Not so much. At least not for me. Especially when I know I will be homeschooling and cooking lunches for 9 people for over a month.

It’s pretty simple.

God’s Word.

The Onnele (Wolwale, Rombar and Goiniri), Arop, Sissano, Malol, Ramu, Sumo, Pou and Barupu people have only portions of Scripture in their own language. Ben’s role as a translation advisor is getting them closer to having the Bible.

And so we press on. Usually I don’t mind working through transition. Wait a minute. Let me revise that. To tell the truth, transition is often unsettling and disorienting for me. It can be most painful in times when I have no choice in the transition. However, it is still hard even if I have chosen it. I used to think that some day I would be able to go through a transition with very little effort. Now, I realize, it’s going to be hard no matter how long I am a missionary. I can either pretend I’m fine or I can let myself feel badly for the duration of the transition and use that time to learn something. Even though times of transition have been some of the hardest in my life, I have felt closer to God specifically in those times. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I found myself falling apart at small things this afternoon. Some of the Top Deal Breakers were: losing items that I needed to complete a task, cleaning an impossibly messy kitchen and finding out that the digital pictures we took of our kids at Christmas are lost. As I noticed my little “I’m not coping” bells going off, I realized, I am in transition. This too will pass. In a couple of days, I will be in my village, focused on cleaning out the spider webs, cochroach poo and rat proofing the food we brought.

A couple of days ago, the words of Henri Nouwen once again spoke straight into my situation. This term “voluntary displacement” is a new one to me, and it gives me hope, that this painful cycle of transition really does serve a purpose…


“In voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace. Through voluntary displacement, we counteract the tendency to become settled in a false comfort and to forget the fundamentally unsettled position that we share with all people. Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. Community, as the place of compassion, therefore always requires displacement.”

–The Dance of Life…Weaving Sorrows and blessings into One Joyful Step by Henri Nouwen.

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8 Comments to “Confessions of a Missionary Wife: Transition and Voluntary Displacement”

  1. Mandy, This is a great post. Many people would have given up by now, but by God’s grace you guys press on. The cause is worth it. Thank you for sharing honestly about your struggles. All those in various degrees of voluntary gospel displacement can relate and are encouraged by your edifying honesty.

  2. Good stuff, girlfriend. We do tend to believe that somehow we will “get good” at transition…but it’s hard every time. Like being in labor. That’s just the way it’s built. Love!

  3. How I understand, Mandy. Thankfully God is right there, loving us in our yukkiness. Thanks for sharing so honestly and clearly. I wish I could ease the pain! You’re great!!

  4. You are an amazing woman! Thank you for this post. I know I cannot compare your transition life and mine, but there are many similarities in our feelings of struggles and sometimes disappointments. God has truly used these times to really grow me and remind me that everything is going to be fine. HE is in control. I have to remind myself that when I say, “HE is in control” do I put a disclaimer after it in small print that says, “but only until things are forgotten, missing, or falling apart, and it’s not going according to my plan!”. I’m still learning. I’m also learning that I’m not such a good student when it comes to this area, since I seem to have to retake this course quite often 🙂 All this being said, I can say with my whole heart, He is my LORD and my GOD. HE is GOOD!” Keep up your work for HIM. It makes an eternal difference!

    • thank you for this comment Jenny! You are so right, He is GOOD. And often it’s in the hard times when I feel the closest to Him. 🙂

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