This is the time of year when summer interns head back “home.” The time when short term teams taper off, and kids go back to school. The time when life on the field supposedly returns to “normal.” So as summer winds down, I want to take some time to honor the short term workers who have touched my life over the past few years.
I didn’t know my life would intersect with so many short term workers when I first moved overseas. It all started when we’d lived in Cambodia for six months, and we met a girl volunteering at the orphanage next door to us. She’d been surprised most of the volunteers weren’t believers and was desperate for some Christian fellowship. So we took her to church with us.
When we hugged her goodbye at the end of the summer, she connected us with a friend of hers. Her friend had a roommate, and both of them introduced us to another girl. They were all working short term for NGOs, and over a period of about six months, they all came to church with us on Sunday mornings.
They managed to squeeze into our mini-van with our four rambunctious kids. We ate donuts for breakfast, and after church we often ate lunch together. We laughed over homeschool jokes – both my husband and one of the girls had been homeschooled. And we introduced Anne of Green Gables to one of the girls, who had never had the pleasure of meeting Miss Anne Shirley.
God kept giving us opportunities to host more people in our home. One girl’s work kept her very culturally immersed. After she finished her work commitment, she stayed in our guest room a short while. She needed a chance to rest, and our daughters had a blast doing cooking projects with her.
When it came time for those girls to leave on a jet plane, I cried. I didn’t know I could get so attached to someone who was only here for a short time. I didn’t know it would be that hard to bid farewell to someone I knew wasn’t staying long. But we had spent time together, made memories, forged friendships.
I’m coming up on another goodbye: our summer intern is leaving soon. She’s been part of our family life for over 3 months, and we will send her on her way with our blessing. God is doing some neat stuff in her life, and we’ve had a front row ticket to watch. We’ve pondered life together, shared countless meals, and laughed hysterically over nothing. . . and everything.
Each of these girls became part of our family. They leave a part of themselves with us when they go, and they go with our love. I still miss each of them. I’m so thankful I can follow their continuing journeys on Facebook — when they start grad school, when they finish grad school, when they get engaged, when they get married. Being able to see these things unfold in their lives brings me joy.
They were real-life friends for a season, but friends-at-heart forever. These short term workers have enriched my life as I have learned their stories, enjoyed their senses of humor, and discovered what brought them to Cambodia in the first place. It all seemed to be an accident, this habit of taking girls to church. But I sometimes wonder if the reason we were willing to open our home to new people is because older Christians opened their homes to us when we were younger, teaching us by example what hospitality looks and feels like.
When I was a lonely young college student, church ladies took care of me. One let me do laundry at her house, another let me cry to her when I was stressed. Both let me hang out at their houses on my 18th birthday. And incidentally, these ladies took me to church when I was without a car.
Later, when we were freshly married and still in college, church families continued to welcome my new husband and me into their lives. They included us at Christmas dinners and birthday parties. They invited us over to build campfires and watch meteor showers.
One family in particular shared their life with us. Nearly every Saturday found us driving to their house in the country, where we ate homemade bread and kielbasa soup, played board games, and sang songs with the guitar. Their family was our family, and I felt like I had a mom and a dad nearby. I believe it was out of these good experiences that we were willing to offer our own family to other people.
I’ve talked before about how goodbyes are hard for me. Sometimes goodbyes can make us reluctant to form new relationships. But if we’re reluctant to reach out to new people, we may be missing out on what they have to offer us: new perspectives, unique senses of humor, life stories that can illuminate ours. We’re missing out on the global nature of the body of Christ — and so are the new workers. They’re missing out on what we have to offer them – a “home” away from home, someone to sit next to in church, someone to debrief with over coffee.
Short term workers are a gift to us. They are only given to us for a short time, but we can make the most of that time. We can invite them into our homes and into our lives, we can make a place for them in our hearts. And they, in turn, can make a place for us in their hearts. We can remember forever the sojourners who were with us in body only a short time, but are with us in spirit always.
So don’t be afraid to welcome new people into your life, whether they’re with you for ten weeks or ten years. And remember that the love you show a college student today might be passed on to a missionary tomorrow.
Whether you were the short term worker or the long term worker,
how have you let people enter your life for a time, and your heart forever?
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