Ask the missionary: What do you miss most?

Shelly Miller
Monday, February 10, 2014
Question: What is something you miss most about home? -- Jonathon Mason
Some days, I miss everything about home and other days I am not fazed by my current situation. I am very thankful to the Lord that in my 13 years of living outside of the country of my birth, I have had, perhaps, two bouts of homesickness that I can even remember. This tells me that if I have been homesick more often, they were so minimal that I didn’t notice and certainly were not significant enough to commit to memory. I am truly thankful for this because homesickness can be crippling and debilitating to one’s ministry.
ImageI have lived my entire adult life outside of the country of my birth and my passport country, which is the USA.  I married a non-American, bore most of my children and have lived my “grown-up” life mostly in South Africa, but also in Swaziland and now Madagascar. I have been using lingo I did not grow-up with, driving on roads different to the ones I knew and also driving on the opposite side of the road to that of my native country. I have also been paying taxes to and following the rules of a government not my own that whole time.
When I first arrived in Africa fresh out of college as a wet-behind-the-ears, early 20-something, I missed mostly food items, such as Tootsie Rolls, animal crackers, Twizzlers, M&M’s, chocolate chips, Mexican foods of all sorts, cherry pie (or any pie, for that matter) and ranch dressing. Over the years, I have learned to live without the candy and have learned how to make the other things so that I don’t miss those things as much. And, gloriously, about four or five years ago, one could start buying ranch dressing in South Africa and Swaziland, and we recently discovered we can (sometimes) find it here in Madagascar, too, if we are willing to pay the premium price for the luxury.
Now that I am married and a wife and mother, my list of things I miss has changed drastically. I can go for years without a Tootsie Roll or Twizzler, and because of the rarity that I make Mexican food, my kids don’t love it nearly as much as I think they should. Now that my situation in life has changed, what I miss most are things like access to a plethora of immunizations for our kids and access to the best medical and dental care on the planet. I miss sidewalks, traffic lights, four-way stops and orderly traffic, smooth roads and paved roads, a good library, educational options and parks for our children to play in. Some days, I truly miss the convenience and variety of grocery stores in the U.S., and we often miss the convenience of Wal-Mart that has everything we could possibly need or want under one roof. (Our children believe you can find anything at Wal-Mart.)
After having been gone for so many years, there are also some things that I notice about the U.S. when we go back. We are all usually amazed at how clean everything is and our kids love drinking out of the tap. The kids also love drinking fountains, which I always think are cesspools of germs. My husband, who is South African, always laughs about the number of laws and rules one has to follow in our free country. He also marvels over the size of packaging, and so do I. Our kids’ eyes grow large over the size of chips, the huge buckets of ice cream one can buy, giant bags of M&M’s and huge boxes of cereal. The selection of cereal available to our kids is also a little overwhelming and the thing they look forward to the most upon their return to the US. In fact, when we asked the kids what they look forward to the most at Grandma’s on their first day back in the USA, LIFE Cereal, Honey Bunches of Oats and Honey Nut Cheerios are the first things they mention.
I do not want to sound like I have risen above missing things because I have not. I get frustrated with the lack of infrastructure and the lack of medical services, slow-moving traffic due to a lack of order, lack of traffic lights and lack of stop signs. Many evenings I have wished I could quickly pop into a drive-thru and pick up something for supper when we have been really busy, but fast food really does not exist here. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I miss Dairy Queen ice cream and we have been known to stop at many Dairy Queens while we are on furlough. Also, I cheer (loudly) in my mind when we are at a church and I see ham at the potluck dinner, as we all miss ham, bacon, pepperoni, etc.
ImageAs I spend time with other missionaries, I have learned that we all miss different things. Sometimes I am amazed at what friends tell me they miss—things I may not have thought about in years. Where we grew up and how we grew up also greatly determines what we love and what we miss. Regardless of what is missed, I have learned that dwelling on these things for too long is detrimental. There are many things we cannot get here in Madagascar, but then there are wonderful things we can get. We do live on an island paradise, but certainly a paradise with many hidden and not-so-hidden problems, and a population in need of the love of Jesus.
-- Rachelle (Shelly) Miller is married to Ronald and is the mommy to Abigail, Malachi and Elijah. Shelly and Ronald have been Specialized Assignment Missionaries on the Africa Region since early 2010 and have served in both Swaziland and, currently, Madagascar, where they are the country’s mission coordinators and also overseeing the Madagascar Street Kids Center and NCMI, church growth, leadership training and child sponsorship amongst other things. They love where God has placed them and love the people and the ministry in Madagascar.