“Where are you from?”
The dreaded question.
Whenever someone asks me this, I laugh and try to assess whether the person asking wants the long answer or the short one. Even the long version has been condensed for convenience over the years.
This question has had different answers at different points in my life. When I was ten, I was from Northern Kentucky. When I was eleven and my family had moved to South Africa as missionaries, I was from America. When I was in Columbia, Nashville, Green Hills, or somewhere else on brief furloughs in my teenage years, I didn’t really know what to say, especially when people welcomed me “home.” When I came to Jackson in 2009 as a freshman at Union University, I was proudly South African.
Now after almost ten years here, I’m from Jackson.
Another challenging word for me was family. Even when living in the U.S., I didn’t live near extended family, so when people on both sides of the world asked me about my family or if I was so thankful to be back with family, this confused me. The people I had learned to call family and found love, acceptance, and community with was my “mission family”—other missionary “aunt” and “uncles” and missionary kids throughout Southern Africa. If I was lucky, I got to see these dear people twice a year, and those were some of the best times of my life, hanging out at mission meetings and missionary kid (MK) camp. I’ve always been told that people are surprised that MKs invest deeply in relationships since we have to say so many goodbyes, but I, like many others, thrived on that intimacy and connection. Going from city to city, school to school, and church to church was pretty normal for me, but one thing was constant: my mission family.
When I moved back to the U.S. for college, my parents and sisters stayed in South Africa. This was difficult but also pretty typical, and I didn’t think much about it. Not having my parents on this continent while going through college was a blessing in disguise; it caused me to have to dig in deep where I was and form valuable relationships.
Being in a new place was old hat to me; I was used to change, and I thrived in college. During my freshman year, I met dear friends who shared that same desire for connection and intimacy. I still have these friends today.
One thing that was encouraged for us freshmen was the importance of investing in a local church. I took this instruction seriously and went on my search for another kind of home. In January of 2010 my friend Jon (now my husband) invited me to go with him to City Fellowship Baptist Church, and I did.
The first Sunday I attended City I felt right at home. At the time it was a new, small church meeting in a random building downtown, but it felt real, and the people I met mirrored my desire for connection and passion for community. City encouraged living life together and had no college ministry, high school ministry, married couple ministry, etc. The ministry was simple: love one another, serve one another, be with one another, invest in the community.
Jon and I jumped in and were welcomed warmly. Sometimes that looked like going grocery shopping with a mom, serving in homeless outreach, meeting in someone’s garage for Bible study, or babysitting. At City, I found another family and another home.
I continued at Union and got my bachelor’s and master’s in social work. Through internships and jobs as a social worker, I’ve seen the good and “bad” of Jackson and surrounding areas. I did my master’s internship at the City of Jackson Recovery Court and later was blessed to begin working with them in the field of addiction. Recovery Courts serve individuals with substance use problems going through the court system in hopes to stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system. I was immediately drawn to the painful but beautiful stories, struggles, and successes of my clients. This population has my heart, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
In 2016, my immediate family moved to the U.S., and a couple months later Jon and I welcomed our Theo into the world on March 16. Having them nearby has been so amazing, especially with a grandson to love on. Our little family is currently building in the Jackson Walk area of downtown Jackson. I am blessed to work and go to church within a mile of our home. This town that was once foreign to me has become my own.
Throughout my years in Jackson, I’ve never really considered being anywhere else. I think I’d need some pretty big convincing to leave. My people are here—my deepest and truest family. When people describe a longing to leave, I always wonder why. I’ve never gotten to stay somewhere. I hope God continues to allow me to #stay731.
Hope Vunk is wife to Jon and mom to Theo, Emma, and three furry children. She never dreamt she would work in the field of addiction (let alone with adults) but is so thankful that this is where God placed her. She is passionate about foster care, animals, and the color yellow.