Having been raised in an Adventist family, I have grown up with the concept of a heavenly home where all of the family of God will one day unite. Because of this, I have heard the phrase, “If I do not see you again in this life, I’ll see you in the next,” as a farewell a couple of times, but it never had a sentimental meaning for me. However, being in Yap made that phrase more relatable than it had ever been before. The idea that many people would come into my life for just a moment or a season, leave an impact, and walk out became so much more real. In Yap, there weren’t many people who travelled in and out that we got to interact with, but all those who we did cross paths with felt significant. From a group of NAD representatives who came to accredit our campus, to a missionary group who stayed for a few days’ layover, something about being in Yap made everyone who came through feel like family, and I was sad to see them go. One such experience took place around the end of November when we met the Yellow Sailboat Crew.
I first met them by a grocery store on one of our weekly town trips. Their names were Marcelo, Tristan, and Lulu–Marcelo being the most outspoken of the three. They all looked quite different and were hard to miss. They were rugged, Bohemian-looking people–what one would probably expect traveling nomads to look like. Marcelo reminded me of an Italian Jack Sparrow, with long blond dreads and an accent revealing that he was from the land of spaghetti and meatballs. Tristan was a curly-headed French man, and Lulu, a Chinese woman with a couple fabric dreads in her hair. Both she and Tristan were laid back, quiet, and kind. The three of them had met during their own travels and ended up sailing the seas together on a yellow sailboat, which we had been noticing around Yap for a few weeks before we came across the crew.
Nathan, one of the SMs, had the grand idea of having these three unconventional individuals come to Yap SDA to speak about their adventures for one of our Friday chapels. Once they agreed, I was very excited for my students to get a glimpse of the boundless directions that they could take their lives. A few of my kids sometimes alluded to their dreams of getting off the island and traveling one day, but there were also those who shrugged indifferently when I asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up. I wanted them all to have the thought affirmed or planted in their minds that their lives didn’t have to follow a straight, predictable path, but that the roads of their lives could be extraordinary and full of loop-de-loops if that’s what they desired. Hence, the Yellow Sailboat Crew came and entranced our students for chapel, drawing a map on one of our chalkboards to outline their journey, and making sure that the kids knew how their foreign names were pronounced: Mar-ch-ello–not Mar-s-ello–and Tris-ton–not Tris-tin. Marcelo shared that their next stop after Yap would be Taiwan, and when asked what their final destination was, Marcelo had a wink in his voice as he pointed upward, saying, “Up there, I hope.”
An interesting observation I made about our visitors was that although they were frequent foreigners wherever they went, it appeared that they each carried with them the heart of a host, and made themselves at home in their unfamiliar surroundings. This was revealed after the chapel when Nathan toured them around campus and then left them to hang out in his apartment while he took care of some work. He came back a short while later to see that they had gotten to work and took it upon themselves to mop the apartment and clean the kitchen. Later, when I heard about their gracious act, I thanked God for this small reminder that there are so many wonderful humans in the world.
That same week, Thanksgiving (which is actually not an official holiday in Yap) had just passed and, due to our busy work week, we had not yet had our celebration. As our Yapese Thanksgiving was going to be slightly unusual as it was, we decided to also invite our new friends to our Thanksgiving celebration for the following Sunday. That Sunday, we set up a long table in the principal’s apartment and topped it with mini-pumpkins, squashes and fake autumn leaves to make it feel more like a traditional Thanksgiving. Marcelo, Tristan, and Lulu arrived with various instruments in hand: a guitar, ukulele, flute, and even a melodica. One of the things that made our SM group special this school year was that each and every one of us love singing and playing instruments, so seeing the Yellow Sailboat Crew walk in with these instruments in hand made my heart happy. It pretty much guaranteed in my mind that we were going to have a good evening. And thus, my first Thanksgiving meal away from home consisted of the whole bunch of us strangers-who-were-no-longer-strangers squished into the apartment, eating and talking and laughing like a big ole’ colorful family. After the meal, the evening ended with us sitting on our porch with all of our instruments (and lots of mosquito coils), jamming the night away. We shared our own songs, including worship songs that we often sang, and they shared their European sailor songs. They made me think of troubadours on a small town sidewalk, playing eccentric jams for passersby who stop to throw a dollar into a hat. We were so different from these sailors and still we had this shared passion for music that connected us. They were taking off in their yellow sailboat the next day, but for the moment, I felt that we were etching ourselves into a tiny segment of each other’s stories.
Even now, I sometimes think about what Marcello said when he answered the question of what their final destination would be. I don’t know what their theological beliefs were, but I know that they were kind and unguarded, and I pray that someday I will see them again. I hope that one day I’ll be walking in the streets of a city in China or sitting in a café in Sicily or Paris and suddenly bump into one of them. But more than that, I hope that we’ll have the same final destination; that if we don’t see each other again in this life, we’ll always have the next.
Rebecca (Becky) Orozco, a Student Missionary from Walla Walla University, recently returned from serving as a 5th grade teacher at Yap Seventh-day Adventist School in Yap, Micronesia. Sadly, school came to a sudden close in March due to the threat of COVID-19, sending Becky and most of her fellow volunteer teachers home a few months early. Becky is taking some time to walk through her experience in Yap as she transitions home, and is kind enough to share it with all of us through this blog post series.