• Andrew Schwark

A Leave Taking

Updated: Feb 21

Most people wish, or aim for, a job or opportunity that takes them to new, exciting places filled with equally interesting people. And a lot of times when we travel that is exactly the case, but there is a flipside to every coin. In the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to visit more than six different countries across three continents. The experiences, things learned, and memories are precious to me and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. However, one has to question; “In all that time, what became of home?”


The answer is that I’ve been homeless.


Not quite in that dramatic, but certainly without a home in the general sense. For a while I made my home in Guatemala (two years), but the last year has seen me changing location every 4 months or less. People entered and exited my life in a kaleidoscope


effect that left me disoriented and closed off. I had questions for myself; “How many more times will I need to say goodbye” and “am I really prepared to move again?” Eventually I tried limiting my relationships to surface level affairs, thinking that maybe the loneliness I felt driving away would be less next time. It wasn’t, but I was good at convincing myself it was.


Then my work took me to a little out of the way spot in North Carolina called Banner Elk. It’s a beautiful place, nestled in the Appalachian mountains and full of amazing people. My job at the time was simple; lay the groundwork for future First Things Foundation Field Workers. To that end I started volunteering with Feeding Avery Families (FAF), an incredible Christian non-profit located in Newland combating food insecurity.


My time spent there was a breath of fresh air. Some stability returned to life and the emotional oscillations evened out over the months. I forgot my promise not to grow too attached.


Now with less than three days remaining before I move again I’m forced to face reality; the people in FAF, who I met there, who spent time talking with me and my wife Viktoria, somehow entered into our hearts. And despite the walls I set around myself, the reality is, this time I don’t want to leave. If not for my responsibility as a husband and love for my wife, I would choose to remain. I know people always think where they live is “special” in some way, but rarely have I actually seen it. Avery county is one such place.

The stories I was allowed to hear, the histories and insights into the world, and the wisdom I was allowed in on was incredible. The compassion, dedication, and hardworking people reminded me that communities truly are more than the sum of their parts. Perhaps I have never been offered friendship so readily and without hesitation as here.


My heart holds many places in it, but now there is a new, vast part of it taken up by Avery.


And despite the sadness in my leaving, I understand, am reminded, that I should have never tried closing off my heart to the community and people around me. In the end, I never stood a chance.

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