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Goodbye Hurts in Every Language

A little over a month ago, late one evening, I landed at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua. By the time I arrived at the guest house where my traveling companions and I were staying for the night, it was approaching midnight. I was tired, but I knew I wanted to drag myself out of bed the next morning at 4:30 because something special was about to happen. A few hours later, still bleary eyed, we headed back to the airport to say goodbye.

If you haven’t heard the testimony of Jonatan Artola (check it out here), it’s well worth your time. Jonatan is a young man from the Nicaraguan campo. “Outback” might be the best word to give you a picture of the kind of environment Jonatan has come from. Imagine a village of small huts with dirt floors and no running water. Free range chickens, now a luxury here in our country, mingle with pigs, dogs, and people in this quiet spot largely untainted by the frenzy of modern life.

We went to the airport to help say goodbye as Jonatan took the first flight of his life, from the campo of Nicaragua to Bangkok, Thailand—one of Southeast Asia’s largest urban centers. Jonatan plans to be one of Bangkok’s 17 million people for at least the next three to five years. We admired his courage, realizing that some of us knew far better than he did the breathtaking contrast of worlds that he was about to experience.

As courageous as Jonatan was, I admired his mother even more. What mother wants to say goodbye to her 20-year old son who is traveling to a place that’s farther away than her imagination can even take her, and whom she can’t expect to see for at least three years? Many mothers would insist that it must not happen and would work to ensure that it didn’t. “I knew I was on holy ground. Here was Abraham offering Isaac. Here was a mother giving up her son... Here was gut-wrenching obedience.”

Sonia stood at the edge of the small group of us, dabbing at her tears, carrying the grief that only a mother could understand. Most of what Jonatan and his mother spoke to each other in those last moments together was whispered in the midst of a hug that didn’t want to end.

I knew I was on holy ground. Here was Abraham offering Isaac. Here was a mother giving up her son. Here was a parent taking a step of faith so large that it seemed utterly impossible. Here was gut-wrenching obedience.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

Being a disciple of Jesus will sometimes mean saying goodbye. And goodbye hurts in every language.