February 16, 2016

on being migrant workers

I come from a family of used-to-be migrants, as many North Americans do. My maternal grandmother's maiden name reminds anyone who hears it that her parents made an arduous journey from Norway to Canada. My paternal grandmother was born to parents who worked in orchards in California. I imagine Grandma toddling through the trees to her parents, and packing up with them (or being packed up) on their various moves before they eventually settled down in Ontario, Canada.

By the time I knew my grandmothers both were farm wives who didn't take many vacations and rarely travelled (unless you count the trip to town for groceries as "travelling"). They were faithful in their day-to-day affairs. Mom's mom planted stubby trees and made sure they survived high winds and deep winter on the prairies. Dad's mom pulled on her boots—no matter how high the snow drifts were—and milked the cows in the barn. My grandparents had relationships with the neighbours that went back for decades. Their children spent their school days with some of the same classmates all the way through. My great grandparents may have been migrants, by my grandparents' lives were rooted on their farms.

My grandma in California in the 1920's.
It's hard for me to relate to their stories because I've never lived in one place for long. I must have lived in at least eight different homes growing up, and another eight since leaving home. While other people might take a vacation to a different country each year, lately I seem to move to a different country each year.

Moving is expensive and tiresome, but sometimes it seems worse than that. Sometimes it seems downright irresponsible. It is hard to tell our small, struggling fellowship here that we will be leaving. The strong-and-steady we've-lived-here-twenty-years types perhaps have a hard time understanding when we speak of moving to a city where the churches are more established. When we spoke of the possibility of moving to America, that seemed even harder to understand; don't churches abound in America? Why would we leave when the church here is needing encouragement? Why would we go when people of other faiths come regularly to our home to read the Good Book? We can almost understand if they don't understand our plans. Sometimes we don't either.

One Sunday night I looked across our small circle at a couple who have worked the spiritual land here for many years. They were not originally from this region either, but since moving here they have cleared soil (not without opposition), ploughed (hitting many rocks), sown truth (with young and old), watered (sometimes only to see the thorns choke out the little sprouts) and harvested (though not nearly as often as they've done the other steps). They are strong and hearty people of the Land. I admire the dirt under their nails and the callouses on their hands. I appreciate their steadfastness and their long history here.

When I compare myself to them, my role in God's field seems to be as a seasonal worker, a migrant who drifts from job to job and field to field. I've probably worked every phase of the farming process at one time or another. Sometimes I've moved rocks and cleared earth. Sometimes I've sown seeds with a prayer. Sometimes I've watered long rows in the sun and left before much sprouted. And sometimes, I've had the joy of helping pull in and enjoy the fruits of the harvest though I was nowhere to be found when the seeds were planted. Yet my work seems so scattered. I have no concept of what it is like to buy a piece of spiritual land and to farm it daily for more than five years, as our coworkers here have done.

At times I struggle to accept my current role in God's vineyard as a seasonal worker. But one night when my husband was feeling the weight of leaving our coworkers here behind, I reminded him that God gives more specifics about a man's duty to have dominion over the earth and provide for his family than it does about how long he should stay at the same church. God made you to work, to have dominion over the slice of His creation that you've worked so long to understand. If there is no suitable job for you here, we will take that as a definite indicator that the Master of the Harvest is moving us to a new field. Again.

For some time it seemed our new place of employment would be on American soil. Now, it seems more likely we'll stay in Europe. We don't know yet, but He does, and someday we'll see that each migration was perfectly timed according to His schedule of planting, watering and reaping. The time we've spent in the field here changed us, and better equipped us to sow seeds in the next field.

When the job call comes, we'll pack up our farm implements. We'll thank our coworkers here for letting us co-labour for a while, and know that a physical change of location doesn't mean we aren't co-labouring anymore. We'll say goodbye while looking forward to the time when all His workers—migrant or not—are finally together in one Place.

Together we'll see that God has "not forgotten our work or our labour of love". Together we will share meals of "the food that endures to eternal life". Together we will dwell in the land and rejoice over His great harvest. This knowledge guides my wandering heart: that final migration will be forever.