I came across an interesting word a while ago, "Hiraeth." It's a Welsh word that has been translated in a small variety of ways, one of them being "Nostalgia for a home you can never return to."
For the last nine years, Orealla has been home. That's a third of my life, and most of my adult life. Throughout that time there have been gradual changes, obviously, but it has remained essentially the same place.
When the Covid lockdowns began, they brought the first massive upheaval I had experienced here. The meetings and ministry changed in such drastic ways that we're still struggling to get our in-person meetings back to what they were before. But the greatest change has been with the people. Through death or people simply leaving the truth, we lost about 20% of our congregation. Some of these I talked about on this blog before, such as when Vincent Miguel died days before the Memorial. Others I have not talked about, usually because I had no idea what to say about it. But getting back to Orealla and feeling the difference, I've finally figured out what to say.
Among our losses in the last two years was Mark Herman. I met him just two weeks into my first Guyana trip. In those days meeting attendance was very low, sometimes just five showing. Mark was always one of them, despite needing to be brought in a wheelchair or wheelbarrow. When Public Witnessing carts were first sent to Guyana, the branch ensured the first one was sent in for Orealla so that Mark could use it and more freely share in the ministry. He immediately signed up to auxiliary pioneer and put the cart to use. By time 2020 hit, he was serving as an elder, attended Pioneer School, and had his life story published in the Watchtower.
Then a few weeks ago I got a message that he had died. He was 36. The funeral had Zoom connected, and so many people came it filled us to capacity and more were trying to get in. I had no idea this man who rarely left his village had so many friends and had had such an impact on so many people's lives.
In his life story linked above, he repeatedly talks about the death of those close to him and what a large effect it had on his life. I often wonder if he ever suspected his own death would have a similar effect on the rest of us.
Coming back to Orealla and finally getting an in-person in the Kingdom Hall here (my first since 2019) had the unmistakable feeling of being back home, but there being something huge missing. I found myself getting lost in my notes during a talk because I kept staring at the empty spots where Mark and Vincent normally sat. This was home, but somehow not the same one I had left.
The entire week since I've been thinking of the Apostle John. Specifically his time on Patmos and afterward. When he began his service, he had an incredible circle of friends. He had a central scope of work, and a home base to work from. But by time Patmos and Revelation came, his friends were long gone. Jerusalem was gone. His scope of responsibility had grown unbelievably large. The attitude of his fellow Christians would have been changing as the apostasy neared. His understanding (or assumption) of what the near future held would have changed more times than I can count. And I wonder how often he too experienced hiraeth. A longing for that familiar home he once had that he could never get back to.
But here's the point: even if he did experience that, what did he do about it? He did his job. He accepted whatever direction he got and kept moving. Even under imprisonment he took extensive notes of the vision he was receiving, and after release still devoted himself to writing to the congregations and to recording the life of Jesus. The circumstances around him changed more than I can comprehend, but he maintained the zeal and obedience he'd had when things were familiar. And though he could never have returned to the familiar, many of the changes he saw were for the better.
So what should I be doing? Accepting the change, good and bad. Be grateful for the happy memories I have from before, and look for the positive in the new ones.Case in point: my new house, pictured at the start of this entry. I finally get a home with running water inside.