Home Assignment News from the Searles
“You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. . . . make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.” James 4:14-15 (MSG)
Summer 2007, in Chengdu, China, we Searles boxed up our belongings, tried to say our goodbyes well, locked behind us the door of our home of six years, and boarded the plane for the U.S. Since then, we have been on home assignment doing what’s known in mission circles as “itineration”-sharing news of the work of Common Global Ministries in China and the world.
We are the itinerants-the people on the move. This means visiting scores of churches and staying overnight with pastors or hosts-often sleeping in a new bed every night. It means sharing worship in diverse styles, with diverse people in a variety of places and spaces. It means downtime in libraries on the road, and the occasional motel with swimming pool so we can get some exercise. And it means special meals and potlucks-lots and lots of potlucks-with wonderful home cooked potluck main dishes and desserts that have put inches on all our waistlines.
We itinerated in Iowa when it was swarming with candidates in preparation for the Iowa Caucus. In some ways, we had a small taste of what their lives are like, traveling and speaking, place to place.
It’s been a heady and joyous time (as well as an often tiring one). People say that itineration in churches helps “put a face on missions.” For us, of course, itineration puts a face on sending and the senders. We love having the chance to share what God is doing in China through the hands and hearts and generous giving of people who give to Common Global Ministries.
The work of 21st-century missioners is to seek to bridge countries and cultural and religious divides. We feel as if traveling and speaking in the U.S. is as important as our work in China. Bridging. Sharing. Putting a face on what may be outside of the easy or familiar for the people we meet. Speaking and listening, answering and asking questions about what life is like on what can seem to be opposite sides of our world.
From August to January we have been traveling in “Toto Toyota.” We’ve put 24,000 miles on her, itinerating August to December in Iowa and the Dakotas and now, in February and March, in the Pacific Northwest. We drove to Liz’s brother and mom in Voorheesville, NY, for Christmas and, finally, have driven full circle–back to Seattle where we bought Toto last July. Until January 22, McCleary (15) was with us, attending our meetings, home schooling, and playing too many computer games in the backseat of the car.
In January, however, Mick auditioned at Interlochen Arts Academy in Traverse City, MI. The day of miracles truly is not past: he was accepted as a voice major (low bass) and is now in residence on a scholarship. Mick’s tux is a 54 Extra Long. His roommate, a dancer, wears size 28 jeans. In scenes from La Boheme in early February, Mick played a waiter-worked into the cast at the last moment. He says he mistakenly stepped on Mimi’s foot, but recovered and stayed in character. He believes that no one heard her pained squeak, so she must have stayed in character, too. . . . .
After six years in China, Mick is getting a crash course in American teen culture living in the Interlochen dorms. Equally important, he gets to study what he loves-music and singing-and what he loves “not so much”-the rest of that academic stuff. Perhaps there will be a social life. There’s been almost none (except with parents) since he left China.
Mackenzie continues to excel in biology and music as a junior at Pacific University. She has been the concertmaster of the orchestra much of the time since her freshman year. Her string quartet “warmed up” for Itzak Perlman, playing in the lobby before his Portland concert. This semester, Mack’s taking more music classes than science classes, but is waiting to hear on some dreamy summer internship possibilities. Her preference would be studying marine ecosystems and working on her scientific diver PADI certification.
After traveling for so many years with so much togetherness living and working in China, we parents now are “nestless empty-nesters” kind of all of a sudden and without much emotional preparation. It makes the traveling and speaking in churches a bit easier, but we miss our dialogues with the backseat as we crisscross the country-miss having the teen perspective on what we’re doing, and even miss some of the struggles attendant on having a teen with us in small spaces, 24/7.
Right now our lives are quite changed, sometimes from day to day, and quite radically dependent upon discerning God’s will for our steps, and on the kindness and hospitality of strangers. We are the “wisps of fog” James talks about in the opening verse we quoted. Often we “don’t know a thing about tomorrow,” and our brief moment sparkling in the sun is the time we spend speaking in churches and sharing what our life in China has been about.
And yet China is still with us in the many e-mails from our former students-now teachers in their own schools. We are asked for advice for the lovelorn, teaching ideas, and much more. These connections continue to make real the work that we have been doing, which in the U.S. can seem so far away.
Keep praying with us as we travel and discern next steps, won’t you? And write us with your own news. We’re always eager to hear from you!
Blessings on all your ministries!
The itinerant family Searles: Doug & Liz (and Mackenzie & McCleary)
Doug and Elizabeth Searles completed their work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China. They both served as English teachers. They are currently in a discernment process of their next step in mission.