I knew that this moment was coming since the beginning of my mission. I knew that at the end of my 18 months I would eventually have to say goodbye. And yet it seemed so far away. Too far away. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. I said goodbye to friends and fellow missionaries, watching them get on their planes and leave forever. Until finally, the months had turned into a year and a half and it was my turn to get on my plane and to say goodbye to those who were staying.
Over the past few weeks I felt a sadness sink deep into my soul. Every now and then as we were sitting in lessons the thought would hit me that I was leaving, leaving these wonderful, beautiful people and I would have to fight back tears. During final farewell dinners, I tried to detach myself emotionally. It was easier and less painful. Goodbyes were often quick, tear-less occasions however internally, I was a soul filled with sadness. I refused to acknowledge my feelings and instead focused my time and energy on being busy as a coping mechanism.
My first few months in Kiribati were difficult. I yearned to be somewhere I couldn’t be- home. And now, to have come to the end of my time and to feel totally different is one of the many miracles of my mission. Kiribati has become my home and the people of Kiribati have become my family. My fellow missionaries were also a part of those people. Leaving them was like leaving part of my soul behind. These are people that I have laboured with, laboured for, served, helped, strengthened, comforted, encouraged, mourned for and mourned with. As I have done these things for them, they in turn have done the same for me. My experience was so much richer and more enjoyable because of the amazing people I met! They will forever remain in my heart and in my memory.
Saying goodbye wasn’t just to friends or family or fellow missionaries. I felt that in saying goodbye, I was saying goodbye to much more than that – a culture, customs, a way of life, an experience, a chapter in my life. I was also saying goodbye to myself. I would never again be Sister Lee, full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I would never again be the very same person that I was.
I will be forever grateful that God allowed me, such an imperfect, weak person to serve Him in such a capacity as serving as a full time missionary. To have met all those that I did meet. To have experienced all that I did experience. To have witnessed miracle after miracle each day. To have been loving tried and tested so that I could be refined. That refinement could have come in no other way. I will never regret it and will look back with love for the time that I was given to serve Him among the saints and the people of the beautiful islands of Kiribati abau ae tangiraki irou.