Returning Home for the First Time

Josh Gamble
April 23 2024

It was the 17th of November 2023. Our Biman Bangladesh Airlines evening flight began its somewhat rocky decent into Dhaka, Bangladesh. The city sprawled for miles with concrete apartment buildings as far as the eye could see. I was travelling with my wife, Reaghan, and our friends, Emma and Mitchell. This was the first time I’d be setting foot in the city and country I spent the first 12 years of my life in as an MK (Missionary Kid).

Returning home is a special thing. It can evoke many thoughts and emotions for different reasons. Before unpacking this experience, let’s look back.

Looking Back

In the summer of 2004, the Gamble family’s 12 years of mission field work had come to an end; they packed up and moved from dusty Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, to sunny Calgary, AB. As a 14-year-old teen I was overjoyed to be returning to a first world country of English speakers, Slurpees, and only good times. I guess I had always had a dream-like perception of Canada, probably because every time we came back it was vacation, Christmas, and truly jam-packed with care-free great times of family, food, and fun.

I quickly came to the realization that Canada was not just a vacation experience, but a new life that had to be built from scratch. It was a struggle for me. At the time I would have said I was happy, overjoyed in fact to not be living in the heat, dirt, and chaos of Dhaka.

I had a pretty harsh view of Bangladesh as a teen. I often took for granted the unique experience I was blessed to have. As a teen, I didn’t understand how people could live in such chaos, corruption, and oppression (thinking of the Islamic religion and some of its power dynamics) and simply be okay with it. Of course, many weren’t, they were simply born into this difficult situation.

Fast forward 19 years and we were (finally) planning a trip to return to Bangladesh. I was so excited to show Reaghan the place I grew up in. I couldn’t wait for her to experience the sights, sounds, food, culture, colours, and... smells!

Although I had a rough re-entry experience when I was a teen, I’ve since learned a lot about my MK experience and “MKness”. I’ve processed some of the pain, loss, and grief of my childhood, and I genuinely look back with gratitude.

As we approached this trip, I thought to myself, “Well, here we go, back to Bangladesh. I think I’ll experience a lot of strong – probably negative – emotions.” I reassured myself, “but I’ll be with friends to encourage me and help me process. I’ll finally be able put my childhood experiences to rest. The trip will have some difficultly, it might be uncomfortable, but once it’s over, I can put Bangladesh behind me, and be at peace.”

Then, we actually arrived, and the experience was far different...

Returning Home

We got to visit and share meals with some friends from my childhood who were grown up and have families of their own now. We walked through the busy, but lush, green streets of Dhaka, with coconut, palm, and other trees, everywhere!

Instead of negative emotions or discomfort, I felt at complete peace. The first day there we walked my old neighbourhood and saw landmarks of the past. We stood on a pedestrian overpass and watched the myriad of vehicles in traffic darting here-and-there, the thousands of simultaneous horns communicating to one another where they were going, and all-the-while the call to prayer being heard blaring from the local mosques. And yet, it all felt so normal to me.

So much was the same. Drinking 10 cent ‘cha’ on the side of the road, bargaining for the price of transport, and calmly wading through city traffic, felt the same. Reflecting on my feelings about Bangladesh as a kid and teen returning to Canada, I realized just how limited my perspective was at the time.

Yet, so much was different. This time around, as I took in the sights, sounds, language, development, culture, and beauty of Dhaka, I felt proud. I felt proud to see how far Bangladesh has come. I couldn’t believe the size of the city. When we left in ’04, there were mostly 2-5 storey homes and buildings, now most of them were 15-20 storey apartments! In a strange yet real way it seemed bigger than when I was a kid!

I felt great affection for the people who live and work and are making the most of life in often difficult conditions. I was overcome with gratitude that I got to live in this place, I got to partake in the beauty of God’s creation in this context. I got to share in and – in a unique way – become a part of this place. Instead of “putting this part of myself to rest”, I feel as if something in me instead came alive. I felt at peace. I felt at home.

If I could talk to my past self, I would tell him to keep an open mind about his host country, and to go back home sooner. What are you waiting for? You never know what God can do with your past experiences.

The CMKN (Canadian Missionary Kid Nework) & MORE Network, offer two retreats for Missionary Kids: Classic ReBoot (for MKs 17-20 years old) and Wilderness ReBoot (for MKs 21-35). For more information about these two retreats, or to continue reading a collection of stories and helpful articles written for MKs & TCKs (Third Culture Kids), visit: TCKs & MKs

Josh Gamble is the Director of the CMKN, the Canadian Missionary Kid Network, with MORE Network. He’s passionate about worshipping through music, mentoring, and seeing Jesus transform lives!

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