When Friends Do the Next Right Thing

by Elizabeth Trotter on May 29, 2014

What do we do when the people we love do the next right thing? What if that next right thing leads them away from us?

When we say yes to God, we must often say no to the places we already know. And when God leads us overseas, we enter a communal life that is punctuated by goodbyes. Just like an airport, the missionary community endures constant arrivals and departures. But God is the travel agent here, and He hardly ever places anyone on the same itinerary. Perhaps we knew this uncomfortable truth before we said yes; perhaps we didn’t. Either way, though, we must now live with the consequences of our obedience.

And I, for one, sometimes grow weary of it.

These expatriate friendships of ours tend to grow swift and deep, and ripping ourselves away from those friendships is painful. This summer, I have to say goodbye to two friends, whom I love and respect, and will miss terribly. And I am still somewhat in denial.

I have never had any doubts that they are following God where He leads them next. They are doing the next right thing. Even in the leaving, they are doing the next right thing. They are honoring their friendships and saying their goodbyes thoughtfully and tenderly. They are setting up ministry for the workers who will follow them. They have listened to God, and they are doing what He says. But they will leave a gaping hole in my heart and in this city, and they can never be replaced.


What am I supposed to do when my friends do the next right thing?

I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do do: I grieve. Because when a member of the international community leaves, all hearts bleed. The hearts of the leaving, and hearts of the staying. There is just no stopping that.

So I grieve for myself: it’s hard to say goodbye to people I love. I grieve for others in the community who must also say goodbye: these goodbyes are their losses too. I grieve for the ones leaving: they must say goodbye to a life they know in order to build a brand new life somewhere else.

And I also grieve for people who have not yet come to this area of the world — people who are making plans to live and work here, and even people who haven’t considered it yet, but will someday. I grieve that they will never know the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of the international community here.

So what can we do, as the body of Christ?? We are ALL involved in sending, receiving, and being His workers. How can we provide smooth takeoffs and soft landings for our brothers and sisters??

When our friends leave, can we say goodbye with love? Can we send them on their way with our blessing? Can we give ourselves the space to mourn these losses? Can we keep our friends in our hearts and in our minds and in our email inboxes, no matter where they live in the wide world?

When we leave, can we accept loving goodbyes and understand how utterly we will be missed? Can we depend upon God — and His people — to help us settle in our new home? Can we open our hearts to new people and new places, while still remembering those who love us from afar?

When new missionaries arrive, can we welcome them wholeheartedly, even though we know we will most likely have to say goodbye to them some day? Can we tell them where to set up their utility bills and show them where to buy furniture and help them fill their refrigerators?

When churches send out new missionaries, can we send them with our love and with our support? Can we resist the temptation to pull our hearts away too soon, in an attempt to ease the coming pain? Can we never cease to pray for them?

When missionaries return to their passport country, can we welcome them? Can we open wide our arms and our hearts and our homes to returning workers? Can we listen to their stories without judgment, and extend much grace in a time of great unsteadiness?

We were never meant to walk alone. So can we, as the global Church, be Christ to each other? Can we need each other, and can we be needed? Can we cushion each other’s pain during goodbyes and hellos? Can we do these dreaded transitions with bodies spread across the world, but with hearts beating as one?


Can you share a time when people have been there for you in your goodbyes and hellos? Or share what you have done for someone else in their time of transition?

Perhaps you haven’t seen goodbyes and hellos done well. If so, what do you think the Church needs to learn about sending and receiving workers? How can missionaries and mission organizations do better welcomes and farewells? How can we do this transition thing better, as senders, receivers, and goers? 

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.
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  • Jerry Jones

    Beautiful thoughts on a painfully wonderful reality. Thanks for this Elizabeth.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      It IS a painful reality, isn’t it?! Glad this blessed you, and may God give you people on both sides of whatever transition you face now — or in the future, for we are never free of transition for long

  • Well written and thought-provoking.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks for stopping by, Laurie, and may God be with you in all your goodbyes.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I love love this piece. This has been my world since the time I could say the word goodbye, and I know it has been your world too. But I love that you honor the grief. In fact your whole piece speaks to the importance of goodbye, the importance of honoring the grief. My mom talks about how one day a woman said to her. “It must be hard to say so many goodbyes” and in all her years no one had ever said that. They had said a lot of “welcome home” and a lot of “we’re glad your back” and a lot of “You must be glad to be back” but never what this woman said. What a gift to finally have someone realize that in this journey the goodbyes are a huge and costly part of life. So I say Honor the grief, Honor the goodbye.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Yes, costly is certainly the right word for it. And to never have anyone really get such a huge part of their lives, well, wow. So glad that woman “got” her on that day. You always say you flew before you walked, but this comment makes me think you also said goodbye before you could SAY goodbye. Another one of those ouchies of the global life.
      Thank you for the encouragement to honor the goodbye and honor the grief. I am actually in the middle of a rather complicated goodbye (different from the ones I wrote about), and that’s what the counselor said just this week — to leave well, you must say goodbye in some way. As a counselor specializing in expatriate clients, she was much more concerned about this goodbye than I was originally. And ironically enough, the way she encouraged me to do this was to write about it and honor the good (and there’s a lot of that). So whether that’s ever public or not, I will be writing my way through a goodbye soon.
      As always, thank you for your insight and encouragement, and also, love you lots Marilyn! <3

  • Charlotte

    I think about this a lot, as we feel God is leading us to move on after close to three years in one place. The fear is that our friends will not support our leaving because maybe they don’t understand it, or they wish we would just stay (that’s easier, right?)! I want to be someone who always encourages my friends to follow God, even if that takes them far away from me.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh Charlotte, I am so sorry for this fear. I wish I could tell you it was unfounded, but I can’t. Richelle Wright (who commented above and is a regular Life Overseas writer) has talked about this before. They left a field they were at for many years, and some of their long time supporters have struggled in understanding the new ways God is leading them, and it’s been hard on them.
      If a person has never felt God leading them to make big changes in their location or life direction, it’s probably going to be harder for them to understand why God would ask YOU to make big changes. (And it’s also a testament to how much they love you and want you in their lives!) It is my prayer that ALL of us, the ones who stay, the ones who leave, and the ones who do a bit of both, would trust each other in listening to God. It is my hope that God would free up the people leaving, to be able to follow Him without fear or false guilt. It is my prayer that God would shower mercy upon the people staying, so that they can release their friends with their full blessing, and at the same time, allow themselves to grieve the losses, for they are PAINFUL.
      I thank God that you desire to do this for your own friends, no matter what that looks like. That is a huge statement of faith and love! May you in turn, receive that from your own friends. May you follow God wherever He leads, and should you need to say goodbye soon, may you be given the gift of good goodbyes.

  • Wendy Neill

    Great article, Elizabeth. When I met you in Kansas City, as you know we were only there for two years for my husband to get his doctorate. But it isn’t like us to just “bide our time” and warm a pew, so we jumped in to the church and the lives of those in our apartment complex with both feet, asking God to use us in our short time there.

    When it came time to leave, one of the women there said to me “I owe you an apology. I knew you were only here for two years and I didn’t want to experience the pain of saying goodbye, so I didn’t allow myself to get to know you. I regret it.” It was such a sweet confession. I have since experienced that same feeling with other friends in my life. When I find out they will be moving on, it is tempting to pull back and not invest any further in that friendship. But then I remember what that sister said to me and I resist the temptation.

    I also want you to know that we miss you. Even though we didn’t have much time together in KC, we have such a deep respect and love for your family and wish we had more time with you. We are so glad to be in your fan club and will welcome you into our home every time you come this way. You are in our daily prayers.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh Wendy, you and your whole family make my heart so happy! I’m so glad God led you to KC for two years so our paths would cross. And when we went to your house in January, it was such a comfort that nothing had changed. We just picked up where we left off. (This doesn’t happen with everyone, but when it does, it is so healing, because we do not want to let go of our relationships in the States.) And you better believe we will take you up on your offer next time we visit!
      As you say, it’s hard not to let ourselves detach too soon. On the other hand, I think it’s amazing what a short time can do for people. When I was in college, there was a family from the Deep South who came to Rolla for one year for the husband to get his doctorate. Just a year. Only twelve months. But they said to themselves, we are only going to be here a year, and if we don’t want to feel we wasted a year of our lives, we better get involved, and fast. And they did. Jumped right into serving. And the friendships they made with other young families that year are still going strong. Those families in Rolla still consider them to be some of their closest friends, and they all still go on a camping trip together every year. The children have grown up together, even though the one family went back to the South. And that was 14 years ago already.
      At only 18 years old, their example made a huge impression on me, staying with me all these years, and what you did in KC was the same. At the time it didn’t seem too short, because it was over a year, so you really settled in and integrated, but when you left, I looked back and realized how short it really had been. But we’ve been able to keep in touch and even deepen our friendship since you returned to AR. So thankful for that. God bless all you Neills!

  • Richelle Wright

    wow, Elizabeth! I had to wait to respond because I’ve cried my way through this post a couple of times and couldn’t see to type… as have many of my expat friends. thanks for expressing so accurately and beautifully something that so many of us find hard to put into words.

    Of course, the answer to all of your questions is an emphatic yes – thankful for a God that keeps growing our hearts to love more even as they feel as though they’ve shattered to the four winds…

    I think, for me, those people who’ve been willing to honestly walk through the painful goodbyes, not really thinking about what they can best handle but in knowing me and my family and knowing what ministered most to us without holding any expectations over us, who shared and sacrificed with their time, who’ve cried with me unashamedly then also allowed those tears to turn to belly laughs as we enjoy those things that only “we” get! It is like you said – not following a script or a plan but just living in those unspeakably beautiful yet painful celebrations of hearts knit together.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Amazing that God made our hearts to keep loving, even when they get hurt so many times, isn’t it? It’s really miraculous when you think about it. “Shattered to the four winds” — yes. Funny you should say this piece gives words to something we have a hard time explaining . . . because I wrote it, then I re-read it, and I thought, well, that doesn’t do any justice at ALL to the intensity of my feelings! So even with the best words we can muster, I think these feelings are just so deep that they are hard to express.
      The thing that stands out to me from your description of your friends is their selflessness. Not holding expectations, sacrificing time, crying even when it gets ugly, these are such selfless acts. I am thankful you’ve had people in your life who have cared for you like this. We all need more of them!

  • Kathy Brown

    I’m going through this right now.. I need to give myself room to grieve, but she’s not gone yet!! I can’t be maudlin too much of the time – it would make it harder for her……

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh I SO feel you on this one! We have our own grief, but we don’t want to weigh our friends down by our grief. Yet, showing emotion is one of the ways our friends see how much they mean to us. If we didn’t cry about it, they might wonder if we were actually sad. But again, we don’t want them to feel bad about us feeling bad! The balance is SO hard, isn’t it??!
      I recently read something about pre-grievers versus post-grievers. We probably all have a bit of both in us, but some of us grieve more BEFORE the goodbye, while others don’t feel its effects till AFTER, when it all comes crashing down on us and we can’t seem to cope. That idea really helped shed some light on how I grieve (I am more pre- than post-) while also giving me understanding for other people’s grief, because even if it looks different from my own, all grief is grief, and all grieving is valid.
      One thing I know, though, is that we all need grace in these times of separation. Grace for ourselves, grace for others, a shared grace from God. During this difficult time, may you give yourself the space to grieve, whether it’s “pre” or “post,” and may you send your friend off with love, much love, that she may feel your love deep, down to the marrow in her bones. And may she give YOU that love in return.

  • Everything you said? Perfect description of my experience working in Poipet. No one else in our expat circle has been here the full 3 years we have. Others have come and gone and come again, but everyone else has left – and some suddenly. Unfortunately, the other expat staff that left my husband’s NGO left suddenly, with a month’s notice or less. Since we’ve decided to move back from Cambodia to Kansas City this fall for at least a year off, we’ve been telling our friends. It’s good for people to have advance notice, because those sudden departures are pretty traumatic, for other expats and for the nationals you work with, too. We sat down with a missionary couple who’ve worked in Thailand and asked them about adjusting to life back home. And they told us that how you leave your host country may just be more important that what you do when you arrive back home. So make time for closure, good byes, last memories with the people who have enriched your lives. It’s weird to be on this side of good bye. We’ve always been the ones staying behind, and now we’re going!


    P.s. Where do you find hummus in Cambodia?!! (re: your bio) Please inform 🙂

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh, I bet it’s weird to be on the other side of the goodbye after having stayed through so many. And you having been there the longest, that must feel strange too. I don’t know, but I’m assuming the expat circle in Poipet is smaller than the expat circle(s) in Phnom Penh?
      So interesting that your mentor couple said the departure is almost more important than the landing. I never thought about it that way, but it sounds about right. I’m glad you’re giving yourself the time to say goodbye, and giving people that advance notice you talked about. And may you survive reverse culture shock! (Ouch, right??)
      And of course I will tell you about hummus, my stress food! There’s no pre-made hummus. I have to make it in a blender, but in a pinch, when the electricity is out and if I’m desperate enough, I will smash it by hand, it just doesn’t get as smooth. Same taste payoff though 🙂 Anyway, this is what I do: 2 cans chick peas, drained and dumped into blender. Add salt and garlic to taste. I like LOTS of garlic, at least a teaspoon per batch, more like 2. And I like plenty of salt too, just not as much as the garlic, but I never measure so I don’t know how much! Probably less than a teaspoon though. (I get jars of dried garlic powder at the grocery stores in PP.) Then I pour in 1/2 cup olive oil, and blend till smooth. Yum yum. I’m actually making some tomorrow. I make it about twice a week 🙂

      • Richelle Wright

        that’s how we make hummus, too – very “unmeasured!” we usually add a little lemon juice, as well.

        by the way, smashing chick peas by hand is a GREAT activity for preschool/early elementary – like playdoh with a purpose – as long as you remind them to wash their hands really well, first. 🙂

        • Elizabeth Trotter

          I didn’t know your family was a hummus fan like mine. 🙂 I used to add lemon juice, too, then I realized it didn’t make a huge taste difference (to me, that is) but it was an extra step I didn’t feel like taking. So I dropped it. LOL

      • I think I’m a hummus “snob” because we only get limes up here, no lemons, and I can taste the difference. So I usually wait til we get to Siem Reap and I can get lemons. But honestly, most of the time, I’m too lazy to make it – I’d rather just buy it! thanks for the tips 🙂

        Yes, Poipet has a very, very small Christian expat community, so when anyone leaves, we feel it deeply. One summer, one family and seven singles all left within a few months, some suddenly/unplanned – it was pretty traumatic! I think I overdo welcomes here when new people come – I’m like a puppy with new owners – way too excited to have more friends. 🙂

        • Elizabeth Trotter

          That summer does sound particularly traumatic. Oy. But overdoing welcomes, that cracked me up. Also, it might not be overdone. 🙂 Moving here is so hard, new people can use all the help they can get!

  • Little Gumnut

    And for those who make the next right move how do we explain to our families left behind in our passport countries that God Is moving us away from them when they might not believe in him?

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I am so, so, incredibly sorry you have to deal with this. I haven’t replied before, because I have no answer, and the question itself is just so extremely painful. I don’t know how to explain something like God’s leading to people who don’t believe in Him. I just want to tell you I am so, so sorry, and I pray you will feel the presence of God in your life even when you don’t feel the support of your families. Sending love and hugs and tears.

      • Little Gumnut

        Thank you Elizabeth for your kind reply. It’s just something we live with I guess. It only applies to half our family but there is an unspoken sadness even in the family that do understand and have been in the same situation because as they get older the tug of grandparents and grandchildren gets harder. I guess because we’re not officially missionaries but feel God has none the less called us abroad far from our families it all gets a little complicated.

  • Bonnie

    Wonderfully written, Elizabeth. Thank you! We said “yes” to Jesus a long time ago and “yes” to His call on our lives…Little did we know at the time how painful the goodbyes would become as our family grew. Over the years of missionary work…both domestic and abroad…we have grown used to the rhythm of becoming a third-culture family, though we see more and more how our obedience is causing the faith of our extended family members to stretch. This is heart-hurting sometimes to watch our parents struggle with our obedience…as they say goodbye (indefinitely) to their grandkids and to us. I think it’s often harder for the ones who feel “left behind” by our obedience to God’s call.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh I totally agree Bonnie. I actually had my best friend in America write about being left, and how hard it is, and I think two years later, it’s still just as hard as it was in the beginning. (You can read what she said here: http://trotters41.com/2013/03/01/a-sorrow-sandwich-and-a-guest-post/ ) I have always felt my parents were giving up more than I was — they were giving up ALL of us, while I got to take our kids with us. And that burden is really hard to bear sometimes, that your obedience to God makes other people suffer — we are accustomed to the idea that we personally might suffer from following God, but when you see it happening to someone else, ouch. May God be with you in all your goodbyes, this year, and in the years to come, especially when those goodbyes involve family, and may your parents have extra grace for the times of doubting (and anger) that come through these long separations. It hurts so much to hear you say these things, because I know they’re true, and I know there’s no way around them, and because I feel the same. . .

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  • Love this… a friend wrote this for me when we moved to the other side of the country… it’s lingered in my heart in every good-bye since. What a gift if we could always send each other on like this!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh, that part about walking by your old house, and someone else living there, oh, ouch. It was that way for my best friend in America, too. Someone else being in your old house really means it’s final. But having friends who support us through these changes, even though they’re hard, is such a blessing. Thanks for sharing that!

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