A Personal Goodby
By Mark Russell
Dear Spring Meadows,
As a church family, you have provided me and Zaira our closest friendships, a church community in which we have been discipled in the faith, and a teaching ministry that has affirmed Christ and his gospel at every point.
Spring Meadows is the church where as a boy I saw adults other than my parents profess the faith, pray a prayer of confession, and participate in a weird church service while I was more concerned with crawling under the seats during the pastoral prayer. Spring Meadows is the church where as a High School student, I was taught the meaning of Justification by Faith alone by Mark Anderson in morning Sunday School. Spring Meadows is the church where I experienced the self-giving hospitality ministry out of the Turner Family’s home after I returned from college. Spring Meadows is the church where I dated and married my wife; it’s the church that celebrated the birth and baptism of my first child. It’s the church where I began and completed my seminary training through RTS. Spring Meadows is the church that endured yet encouraged my developing public ministry from behind the pulpit. Now, Spring Meadows is the church to which I will say goodbye, as the Lord begins to write a new chapter in my family’s life.
In an article that Dr. Wesley Hill, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry, wrote for Christianity Today he says that ‘goodbyes’ are particularly painful for Christians since we place such a high value on the body and bodily presence. He cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer on this point:
Separated from his friends and family when he was arrested during World War II, Bonhoeffer wrote, “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it.”
Rather than downplaying the significance of saying goodbye, Bonhoeffer wanted to experience the full force of a farewell. “We have to suffer indescribably from the separation,” he wrote. Only in that way “do we sustain communion with the people we love, even if in a very painful way.” God keeps our goodbyes painful, Bonhoeffer said, in order to highlight how vital our past togetherness was.
Spring Meadows is dear to us. It is a church that frequently says goodbye to families and friends who we love. Though we agree with the Apostle that we are bound together in “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3) we understand that we are created as embodied creatures, designed for life together. So, instead of pretending to be a stoic (stiff upper lip), or semi-gnostic (I’ll see you in heaven soon enough, no need to say goodbye), we will simply say that we will miss each one of you very much.
Zaira and I are moving to Guadalajara, Mexico with the expectation that God has prepared meaningful relationships, personal ministry, and opportunities to serve Christ’s church. We will be worshiping at Iglesia Cristo Redentor, a Presbyterian church planted 20 years ago by an MTW missionary, and it is actively planting churches throughout the larger metropolitan area. I worshiped at Iglesia Cristo Redentor with Zaira in 2013 when I visited Guadalajara to meet my (future) father in law to ask him for permission to marry Zaira. I will be teaching math at a Christian school which the church started, and it is my hope to build closer relationships with my in-laws, expose my growing family to a new culture, and be equipped for any future ministry in a cross-cultural setting.
I would like to thank so many of you whom I labored alongside. Bob Summers for faithfully leading our precious community group in worship, prayer, and study over the past few years. Josh, Andy, and Troy for consistently seeking me out for lunch or coffee to see how life is going. The several of you who provided thoughtful, solicited feedback on my attempts at preaching. Guy Williams, our Shepherding elder, for praying with my family at our dinner table. Sue Blum, for putting up with my eccentric work habits, and Tim Posey, for being my seminary mentor, pastor, and faithful prayer partner for the past several years. Thank you, Tim. Thanks to all the lovely people at Spring Meadows, you are only a great church to the extent that Christ is a great savior.
Finally, Our new home is open to you; please come and stay with us! Flying to Guadalajara is easier and less expensive than flying to Boston, and after you google some images of “Guadalajara Centro” let us know when you’d like to visit!
Mark (and Zaira)