“Jessica, did you see that three-pointer I just made?” I looked up at the boy calling to me with a shaky smile plastered on my face. I took a second to steady my voice as I cheerily asked to see him shoot again.
Normally, playing basketball with the students is one of the best parts of my day. But yesterday, just fifteen minutes before practice, I was called into the director’s office and told the news: Honduran schools were shutting down in response to the COVID-19 worries, and we had to send the kids home for the next two weeks. My coworkers looked at me sympathetically as the news sank in: this would be the last time I would see the students before I leave Honduras. This would be the last time I would see some of them ever again.
My heart broke and my eyes filled with tears. This is how it’s all going to end? Suddenly the weight of the looming goodbyes was bearing down on me. I had thought that I had over two more weeks to spend with the boys; now I had less than 16 hours.
Guys, this isn’t the post I wanted to write today. This isn’t the news I wanted to share with you. I wanted to tell you all about what God is calling me to do in Uganda, and the big dreams and plans that I have. I wanted to hopefully make you as excited as I am and to let you know how you can be a part of my future ministry. But I feel like I need to give myself a moment and let myself say goodbye to the students properly, like they deserve.
As the boys went to the dining hall for dinner and to be told the news, I went away to wrestle with my heartbreak. Of course I understood why the decision was made, and I was concerned for everyone who has been affected by the virus. But the selfish, human part of me just wasn’t ready to let go.
I poured my sadness out to God and asked for some sort of comfort. I asked why, even though I knew there wasn’t a satisfying answer. I don’t know what answer I expected, but God gave me one pretty quickly. It was a gentle but firm reality check: “You know, you are going to face a lot of future goodbyes that won’t go how you want them to.”
That statement might not mean much to you, but for me it put everything back into perspective. You see, the news that I wanted to share with you was that God has been calling me into the foster care ministry. There are lots of things I feel God is calling me to do, but I know that foster care is going to be the main focus of my life in the very near future. And in this moment of heartbreak, God was lovingly reminding me that this life I am choosing, this life of caring for children temporarily, of letting them into my heart just to see them leave too soon, will be full of abrupt and unsatisfying goodbyes. Would I be ready for it? Maybe we never truly can be, but suddenly my tears were dried and I was ready to be there for the students as they processed the sudden change themselves.
I knew when I moved to Honduras that God was preparing me for a future ministry that I didn’t see quite yet. I knew these goodbyes would come, even if I didn’t expect them so soon. And yes, I wish I had more time with them, but I was always on borrowed time anyway. And as my best friend said in an encouraging message to me last night, it’s not really what I say during the goodbyes that matter. It’s all of the words, and hugs, and encouragement that I’ve given throughout these four years that really matter. And for the most part I feel content with what I have done with the time that I had.
Today the school invited me to a special “goodbye” breakfast before all of the parents came to pick up their kids to take them home. I ate my breakfast at seven different tables to try and spend a little time with everyone. I sat and listened to a few students share the kindest farewell words I’ve ever heard. I received over a hundred hugs and many, many beautiful letters to read after they’re gone. And just like that, I had to let them go.
I’m not sure how I want to end this post, and this incredible chapter of my life. I guess I just want to say how grateful I am. I’m grateful for the privilege that I had to know each of these boys, and to be one of the people who loves them. I’m grateful for the chance to watch the next generation succeed, and to make a difference in their own unique way. And I’m grateful to everyone at El Sembrador and WGM who did everything they could to help make these hasty goodbyes meaningful for me. Thank you for caring, and understanding what this day meant to me.
My update about Uganda can wait for another day. Today I’m dedicating this space to the students I have grown to love so dearly. The goodbye was always going to be too soon. I can just be thankful for the time I was given.