May 1, 2015

Transplanting roots

Written by  Bethany Geib
Bethany helps one of her students with his assignment. Bethany helps one of her students with his assignment. Photo by Brian Denlinger.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; subscribe to read more articles like this one.
Return. Retornar. Kutimuy. I can say it in three languages, but living it and trying to explain to you how it feels right now is much more difficult. Returning is a tearing apart, a tearing up of roots. It is painful.

To return first of all means to leave. I’ve been here for seven years now, my entire post-college, adult life. My house is here, my memories, my groups of friends that get together to hang out and play games, my church, my job, my 150-ish kids. I know where to get what I need, how to get where I need to go, what to do in case of an earthquake. I love the crazy cacophony of Cusco, the rumbling of cars over cobbled streets, the comfortable sound of Spanish, the delicious food, the ever-present mountains.

The tearing up of roots also includes a recognition that this vision I’ve carried for so long, to be here, is changing. That no longer defines my life. So what does define it? Just Jesus.

And the tearing apart is not difficult only for me.

“Why are you leaving?”

“You’ll be back, right?”

“I’m going to miss you!”

I hear comments like these on a daily basis. It hurts to see how difficult the tearing apart is for everyone else, too … hurts to know that I’m hurting them. “'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Yes, but loving and losing is certainly painful for all involved. It’s also difficult to not know who will be doing my job next year, to be adding to the lack of stability in English teachers at the school.

At the same time, returning means taking those torn-up roots and replanting them in soil where they have grown and flourished in the past. I hear and appreciate you all welcoming me back with open arms — really, I do! It will be good to see you again, joy mixed with the pain of the torn roots.

I am living both at the same time. We will probably need to get to know each other again. We’ve grown and changed. In some ways I feel like I’m returning to a world of familiar strangers. Please have patience with me.

Returning also means that my stability is gone. “I’m going to get a job and study for a master’s degree” sounds easy. Doing the 1,000 other things that it entails sounds a lot harder.

I have a place to stay, but that’s about it. I feel like Peter, walking on water. There is hope for new joy, new opportunities, new beginnings, but nothing certain yet.

Yes, I know that eventually my roots will take to the new soil and it will be okay. Some day I will reach the shoreline, but in the meantime, I’m trying to keep from jumping back in the boat and to enjoy the excursion on the waves. 

Bethany Geib wrote these reflections a few months before she returned to the U.S. in late February. She taught at PROMESA, a bilingual Christian school in Cusco, Peru, from 2008 – 2015.

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; subscribe to read more articles like this one.