The Republic of Palau

“Grandpa’s in the emergency room, again,” Mom told me over the phone, “and things look very bad this time.” My heart sank when I heard her news. I loved my grandpa so much; the thought of losing him was heartbreaking. To make matters worse, I had only a few days left of summer break before I had to return to Palau to begin my second year of volunteer teaching.

I quickly bought a ticket and flew to Colombia to be by Grandpa’s side.

When I walked into Grandpa’s hospital room, he smiled faintly at me. “I’m so glad you came,” he said softly, reaching for my hand. We didn’t talk much that first day because he was so weak, but the second day, he seemed a little more like his old self. “Tell me about your mission work in Palau,” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. He had been so proud and supportive about my overseas ministry. I pulled a chair close to his bedside and shared stories, photos, and videos of my experiences. He encouraged me, telling me to be brave and never to give up.

All too quickly, it was time for me to go. I was thankful that God had given me the opportunity to spend quality time with Grandpa, but saying goodbye was agonizing. How could I leave him, knowing I’d probably never see him again on this earth?

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I returned to Palau with a heavy heart. At first, I was so worried about Grandpa that I found it hard to give my students the love and attention they deserved. But as the days passed and Grandpa didn’t appear to be getting any worse, I began hoping that he might recover, just as he had several times before.

That naive idea was crushed suddenly one Friday evening when I received a call from my mom. “Grandpa’s gone,” she said, her voice breaking. “He died just a few hours ago.” At that moment, I felt my world collapse.

I knew that Grandpa was now resting in Jesus and was no longer suffering. But somehow, the end of his suffering became the beginning of mine. I think going through the loss of a loved one when you’re on the other side of the world and can’t be with family makes losing that person that much harder. I struggled to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to attend his funeral. But most of all, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to continue being the passionate, loving, all-present teacher I had been before. My heart was so heavy that I couldn’t see myself breaking out of the darkness of pain.

But God came through for me. Through the support of my fellow missionaries, the principal and his wife, the church members, and my students, He held me close. Their hugs, patience, prayers, and encouraging words all helped begin my healing process, and I began to see the light.

I’ve learned that it’s in the most difficult moments, when we feel the farthest from God, that He manifests Himself in ways we least expect. I had come to Palau to serve and teach, yet it was my students who served and taught me. I’d come to show them God’s love, but it was they who showered me with His love right when I needed it most.

I’ll be forever grateful for my time in Palau. Though I terribly miss my grandfather, it is here that I’ve come to know deeply the God who heals broken hearts.

Reprinted and adapted with permission from Guam-Micronesia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists.

Photo: My last few moments with Grandpa.

Nathalia Parra From the United States, Nathalia Parra served as a volunteer English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Palau Mission Academy in the Republic of Palau. She currently teaches ESL and English at Portland Adventist Academy in Oregon, United States.