Stay Connected to God When You Move to the Field

Digging through my memories and as I try to uncover what I anticipated church would look like when I moved to the field, I knew that my teammates and I wouldn’t often go to a public church. That’s about it. Looking back, I can see that I forgot to imagine what we would do for church.

So, three people, a guitar, and a book about the Psalms sounded like . . . honestly nothing I had experienced and did not fit into the category “church.” Church was planned and executed by others; and by others, I meant more than three in the “congregation” and by people who were pastors. Though I grew to love the intimacy of a smaller group, no place exists to hide when it is just three of you.

Here’s what I didn’t know at that time: your relationship with God changes when you move to the field because you are responsible for it in ways you do not have to be when you are in your home country. 

Likely pre-field, your relationship with God was nurtured through regular church attendance in a language you understood, coupled with some form of church and ministry involvement, spiritual practices, and deep in-person relationships. In this context, you knew how to feed yourself. You knew annual rhythms and how to pace yourself. You had people to turn to in a pinch.

Over time you will have these in place, but during your first year, you might not have the language or be in a context where it is safe or wise to attend a public church.

To help those new to the field start off connected to God while other pieces of on the field life get in place, today I am excited to shared Connected: Starting Off Spiritually Fed on the Field. You might have underestimated how you will need to relearn everything . . . even connecting with God. 

As much as you love God, finding meaningful ways to spiritually feed yourself takes time. Connected is designed to feed your soul and nurture your relationship with God as you adjust to cross-cultural life. When so much of life is new, focus each month on one Fruit of the Spirit. Staying connected to God isn’t a given, but it can be cultivated. 

Picture your first nine months marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This book will help that picture become your reality with seven questions per month to help you connect to God on the fruit of the month.

Because part of growing and developing as a cross-cultural work involves celebration, let’s celebrate this new resource! Leave a comment and two of you will win a copy (if mailed in the U.S.) or on Kindle (anywhere in the world). What fruit of the Spirit are you enjoying or needing these days?

Let’s celebrate that our God wants us to be Connected to Him and connected to the places and people He calls us!

(Winners selected Sunday evening, MST)

Permission to be a beginner

Today was my fourth day of driving with my recently turned 15-year-old niece. With a few hours of driving together under “our” (this is not the royal we, if you’re teaching new drivers), we were both feeling good about her progress.

And then we had three near misses. One in a parking lot with a wall (thank you Jesus for my screaming, “Brake!!!”). One on a road as she drifted up the curb (we had talked about her tendency to be too far to the right, so at least this oops made my point). And once when she started after stopping to look at something and was in reverse, not drive; we flew backwards. Thankfully no-one was behind us.

Being a beginner is messy, isn’t it. Does this remind you of your early days on the field? Figuring our shopping or traffic or living with new teammates?

Being a beginner can also be exciting. But . . . want to guess the most uttered phrase out of her mouth on the first day?

“I’m sorry!!”

When she accelerated a little too fast or stopped w-a-y behind a stop sign or took a corner like a race car driver.

“I’m sorry!”

She was apologizing for not knowing how to drive. But how could she know?! She’s a beginner. I reassured her that she didn’t need to apologize for not knowing how to drive.

As we puttered around, I thought, “What a shame we live in a world of experts.” Where are the beginners? Where is the permission to not know? Where is the freedom to try things? 

You have permission to be a beginner.

You do not need to be the best teammate, support raiser, child educator, faith sharer, or language learner you can be right out of the gate . . . just be in process. At any stage of life, parts of you are going to be a beginner. 

With that in mind, Global Trellis is launching our next course for people in their first year on the field. Making the Most runs from September 2020 to June 2021 and is open to anyone who moved or is moving to the field in the year 2020.

Sometimes you need to find a place where you can let your guard down without watching eyes—even if your teammates and local friends are wonderful.

Want to know the second most uttered phrase out of Anna’s mouth?

“You have nerves of steel.”

Ha! Thank you Asian traffic for helping me not wince. But the truth I love her and do not want her to feel bad that she’s a beginner or embarrassed that she doesn’t know more than she knows. I want her (and you and me) to sense the joy of learning.

You have permission at any stage of your time on the field to be a beginner. So I ask again, where is God inviting you to be a beginner?

It’s awkward to be a beginner, but it also can be fun. I bet you have nerves of steel too :)! 

Know anyone who is newly arrived on the field or soon to arrive? Let them know about “Making the Most.” And be kind to yourself where you are a beginner . . . it will get better!


Part of this post first appeared in a Global Trellis mailing.

Why Beginnings Matter

I had flown to China before, but that was always with a return ticket. When I moved to China, my ticket was one-way. Back in the day, smoking was allowed on the flights. I was on a Chinese based airline and I began to understand some of the changes I was in for when the flight attendants commandeered the last three rows of the middle section and build a blanket fort.

They took turns going into it for smoking and rest breaks. You can picture the waves of smoke that escaped when someone went in or out.

Do you remember the feeling as you disembarked from the plane? Though late at night and exhausted, the muggy August air smelled . . . like not my home country. I really had finally arrived. To this day, if I arrive at an airport late at night and it’s muggy and the wind blows just right, a small wave of exhilaration washes over me.

Ah, the first year on the field.

But before we talk about your first year, let’s all look back with fondness when I made a foolish declaration and discovered I am a “time optimist.” Remember that last December I announced that I would write Getting Started: Making the Most of Your First Year in Cross-Cultural Service in one month?

I blame you, dear ALOS reader. And Velvet Ashes and others who participated in a survey in which I asked about your first year. By “blame,” I mean thank! 

Thanks to you, Getting Started is so much richer because you shared your story. (And may see yourself anonymously in print.)

Getting Started was worth the wait, wouldn’t you say?

Why? Because as Daniel Pink said in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

“These are the three principles of successful beginnings: Start right. Start again. Start together.”

We often can’t start right without help from others. Getting Started will help cross-cultural workers start right because so many shared their story. People in their first year will see themselves.

Getting Started can be a reference book for the first year and help people to start again. Though life is like a race, unlike a race, life comes when several starting points. When you are in your first year or term, Thank God you can start again.

Reading Getting Started with others who are on a team, in an organization, or in an online community like this (or Velvet Ashes or Global Trellis) will help people to start together.

Firsts are significant and beginnings hold sway. That is why even though I was embarrassed that this project took longer than I planned and during the spring I was sorry that I dragged you into the process with me, those principles helped me too to stay focused on book that will help so many.

More than any other book, Getting Started embodied starting together. Thank you for taking the survey and sharing your experiences. Because of you, thousands more will have a chance to make the most out of their first year on the field.

Blessings,

Amy

Should We Have Waited Until We Were Older?

Gil and I met at 21 years old, married at 23, and were living in Tanzania by 24. We had been married all of nine months before we moved overseas. We had gotten to know each other as co-leaders of a cross-cultural ministry in California, and our desire to be missionaries was one of the main factors that brought us together. Our mission organization had vetted us, interviewed us, and sent us to two weeks of training. I had spent half of my childhood as an MK, and both of us had spent several years in ministry during college. As far as we were concerned, we were ready.

2001

That didn’t keep us from crashing and burning. We were too outspoken about our culturally-insensitive opinions and therefore offended local friends. We over-committed ourselves to ministries that kept us apart from each other too much of the time, which strained our relationship. We naively expected too much change too quickly in new believers’ lives, which led to disappointment and disillusionment. After two years, we were depressed and demoralized

Many times over the past twenty years, we’ve seen many new missionaries arrive on the field who were older and more experienced than we were, and they didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much as we did. I’ve asked myself, “Should we have waited until we were older?” Would another couple of years of married life in the States have spared us from heartache? Would more maturity have kept us from making so many naive mistakes? Would we have known how to set better boundaries? 

Of course, there is no “perfect” age to move overseas for the first time, and there are certainly pros and cons to relocating at each stage of life. But if you are young, pursuing missions, and asking yourself, “Should I wait until I am older?” or if you are a parent or a church leader of someone who is asking that question, here are my thoughts.

Consider the advantages:

Our energy and passion gave us perseverance. I remember the first time I went roller skating when I was eight. I must have fallen a few dozen times, but I just kept getting right back up again. These days? I think just one fall would send me to the sidelines for good. There’s a God-given quality of youthful idealism that keeps us going when things get tough. Yes, Gil and I fell hard. Our most difficult years in Tanzania were definitely those first two years. If I had experienced them at an older age, I might have given up. But our youth gave us perseverance, and taught us and toughened us for the years ahead. 

We were more willing to be adventurous, try new things, and put up with hard conditions. Twelve-hour bus trip? No problem. All-night youth lock-in that included 30 hours of fasting? Sure! Back then we thrived on new experiences, crazy outings, and busy schedules. We didn’t have kids and had the freedom to follow every opportunity. Those first two years, my schedule involved getting up at 4:45 every morning and coming home 12 hours later. These days, I get tired just thinking about the stuff we did in those younger years. But now that I’m older, I love having young people on my team for their willingness and ability to do whatever needs to get done.

We built our family while we were already living overseas. It can be tough for women with young children to start their experience overseas as a stay-at-home-mom. Learning language and getting into the culture is a challenge with kids at home. And as an MK educator, I’ve seen the agony of parents relocating their children overseas. Gil and I were able to avoid that by building our family after we had already adapted to life in Tanzania, and I had several years to settle into life and be in ministry full time before I needed to devote more time to my family.

Minimize the disadvantages:

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Get a degree in an area that God can use to open doors for foreign visas–or at least pave the way for relationships. Get some Bible training–either at a college or through rigorous discipleship. Take a Perspectives course. Read books. Learn to manage your finances, cook, and communicate well verbally and in writing. And most importantly–serve. Serve in your local church and serve in your community. All of this can happen even in high school–so start now!

Don’t go without a mentor, and be humble enough to listen and change. This should be standard advice for any cross-cultural worker, but the younger you are, the more important it is. This doesn’t mean that everyone older than you is more right than you. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any ideas to contribute–because I hope you do! But remember that experience usually builds wisdom. Slow down, listen, be a learner. Change takes time. Be patient. 

Be open to staying at least five years. Here’s where things get radical. In an era where two weeks is the standard commitment to missions, a year or two sounds positively eternal. Anything longer than that sounds crazy. For us, the first two years were like boot camp, so it would have been a shame to get through it and not stay longer. The longer we stayed, our impact increased exponentially. Life got easier and our mistakes were fewer. What started as an experience became life. Most mission fields desperately need long-term workers. Why can’t that be you? 

God’s Tender Mercies {and a survey}

Hello ALOS friends,

Before we jump into the meat of this post, I have a request. After writing Looming Transitions  to help you with their transitions  and All the News to help you stay on the field via good communication with supporters, I want to help people navigate their first year on the field. In December I’m going to start (and hopefully make good progress) on a book geared especially for the first year on the field. Every year on the field is unique and special, but like other “firsts” in life, that first year on the field is often in a category unto itself. Would you help by taking this survey? It could take 10-30 minutes depending on how much detail you want to go into. Thank you in advance for sharing your experiences with others! Here is the survey.

This week is Thanksgiving in America. I wrote the following years ago in the midst of a very crazy season on the field. Making lists in November of what I was thankful for became an annual discipline to train myself to not miss the ordinary blessings in my life. I wrote:

Still, in the midst of the craziness, I am conscious that I truly do have much to be thankful! Limiting myself to this past week, here are several random pieces of life that I am thankful for:

—Getting to see new things in China. I had never been to Inner Mongolia, the province that borders Mongolia. The population is pretty evenly split between Mongolians and Han Chinese … racial tension does exist. As an outsider, it was cool to see all of the signs in Chinese and the old Mongolian script (not the Cyrillic style that is used in Mongolia). KFC in English, Chinese, and Mongolian! You don’t see that every day.

—Mutton! I’m thankful that I don’t live in a place where the main meat option is mutton (um, like Inner Mongolia). Man, but that is “meat with an attitude”!

—I’m thankful that my job includes the excitement of going out to see and encourage teachers and the fun of heading home and knowing when you wake up on the last day of a trip “tonight I’ll sleep in my own bed.”

—The hand-knit sweater my Chinese Mama made me – it weighs about five pounds (not an exaggeration!!!) but on cold days like today, it warms me outside and in. How many people have two mothers who really love them? Wow.

—Popcorn. Ok, that was my lunch today! But I love being an adult without children so I can eat what I want without having to set a nutritional example :-).

—Chocolate, Stain Remover Stick, and a commentary on British Lit. Isn’t that a great list?! It is what the team I’m visiting tomorrow has asked me to bring them. And it just about sum up what’s important in life!

—Indonesian Dancing. Last night a former student invited me to a dance performance at Beijing University. We’ve been doing a lot together recently – she has a tender spirit and knows where I stand on things but has no real interest in them herself … but I keep hoping!

—Playing CARDS! The same student and her boyfriend came over Saturday night for dinner and to play cards. They taught me a Chinese card game that is very similar to hearts … only I found out the hard way that you don’t want both the Queen of Spades AND all the hearts. The Queen is a ton of negative points regardless!

—Pumpkin bread and helpers! I’ve been cooking down pumpkin to make pumpkin bread for teams when I got to visit them. Saturday Gabe (age 4) and Nate (age 2) helped me by stirring and dumping as I made my bread for my next round of travels.

—My students!! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE them??? Well, I do. Today they handed in papers on their beliefs about reparations, finishing off that unit. How can you not love someone who write:

“Firstly I thank teacher Amy to give us some articles about reparations and these materials make us discuss, know different opinions.”

“In this unit we learned five articles, all of which focused on the understanding of reparation. I was a little shocked and excited to know these all, in such a direct way. I mean, just at one time, all these different (even opposed) opinions rushed into my brain and shook my former perspective strongly.”

—My job! I often think that I have the BEST job in our organization. I get to teach students and encourage our teachers … what is not to love. Wow. I feel that so much of what I do does make a difference and I know that not everyone can say that about their job.

I was given a promise earlier this fall by a friend when I was going through a rough period. The promise was “Don’t hold back Your tender mercies from me. My only hope is in your unfailing love and faithfulness.” And He hasn’t. Even in just this past week my cup runs over – He has been faithful over and over.

Tis time to be thankful!

Amy

P.S. Actually all of Psalm 40 is a good one to read this week. And thank you for helping with the survey: Remembering Your First Year.

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

Dear New Missionary

Dear New Missionary,

I spent last week with about 40 of you, helping with your training.

I saw the fire in your eyes and the urgency in your prayers but heard the waver in your voice. 

I saw myself in you, 16 years ago, when it was I who sat in your chair with the same simultaneous passion and anxiety.

What do I wish I’d known?  What do I wish I could tell you now?

 

It’s going to be hard.  Really hard.

And it won’t just be the things you anticipate will be hard.  Sure, there will be the bugs and you might hate your kitchen and driving might terrify you.  You might cry because the potatoes are just not cooking right and you accidentally insult someone and no one speaks to you at your new church.  Your kids might get a strange rash and you will buy the wrong medicine and you’ll wonder what on earth you were thinking to bring your family to this strange place.

Then there’s the fear.  You won’t let your kids play outside without you; you’ll hold your purse a lot more tightly; you’ll worry about the pollution affecting your lungs.  You’ll sleep a lot less soundly and get up at night just to check out the windows, one more time.  It might feel like everyone is smirking at you behind your back.  And you’ll wonder why you ever thought you could have an impact on this new place. 

But then there will be the things you didn’t anticipate would be hard.  Your sin won’t stay in your home country, in fact, it will seem to ooze out of you in buckets.  Your team leader won’t have enough time for you, and you’ll feel left dangling, high and dry and bewildered.  The poverty surrounding you will hang constant guilt around your neck.  You will communicate like a two-year-old.  You’ll lose your sense of self-respect.  You won’t feel good at anything anymore.

You will, in essence, lose yourself.  And it might feel like dying.

But, in that losing, you will find yourself.  And in that dying, you will live.

In the hardness, you will find that you are capable of enduring more than you thought possible.  You will find that you actually can drive in that traffic, that you can make a pumpkin pie from scratch, that you can say something intelligible in another language.  You will look back after a year, two, three years and be amazed at all the things you can do that you never thought you could do.

You will experience the astonishing joy of realizing that different does not have to be scary The woman behind the veil is more like you than you would have guessed; the foreign pastor has the same worries for his congregation as you do.  The alley that looked so dark will one day feel familiar; the words on billboards will start to make sense.

You will find that having less means that you find more joy with less.  A can of root beer will make a great Christmas present; sticks and rocks will entertain your children far more than Toys R Us ever did.  The poverty surrounding you will build a deep and abiding sense of gratefulness for what you do have.

And the sin and loneliness and conflict and fear?  They will give you daily invitation to press into the One who is your refuge.  In deeper ways than you ever realized, you will come to know the One who emptied himself and left heaven for a foreign land.  Names like Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace will find new and rich meaning.  The saving power of the gospel will not just apply to those you are preaching to, but daily to your own heart.

The longer you stay, you will find that this journey has been a whole lot more about what you needed to learn than what you had to give.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll wake up one day and realize that you have made an impact on this new place.  But in the same moment, you’ll realize that this place has had a far greater impact on you.

And you’ll find you have experienced the biggest privilege of your life.

Godspeed, New Missionary.  It will be hard, but it will be worth it.

 

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)

I sat on the floor, weeping.

I was two whole days into living abroad, and I was already losing it.

Those tears portended more, and in our first year overseas, the thing that knocked me down the most, the thing that discouraged and distracted and depressed me the most, was the sense that I was failing at fatherhood.

I loved being a dad. It was a very core part of my identity, and something I really cherished. Moving to Cambodia, I had expected cross-cultural stress. I had expected transition tension and unmet expectations. I had even expected conflict with other missionaries and nationals. But I never thought I’d feel like my identity as a father was being shredded up and burned in the furnace of a cross-cultural move. That was a surprise.

Have you ever felt that? Like living abroad was changing your parenting in a not-so-positive way?

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We moved overseas when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three.

I suppose my fathering style could have been characterized as, um, B I G. I loved playing with our kids in wide open spaces, throwing things, kicking things, climbing things. We played loud and we took up a lot of space, and that’s how we liked it.

And then we moved to a concrete box with bars on the windows in an urban capital of a developing country. No grass. No yard. No large spaces.

For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed. Often, it’d happen on a Saturday; I’d wake up just wanting to go outside and throw a football with my kids.

And with the clarity of thought that overwhelms at times like this, I felt like I had moved from a garden to a prison. A prison that was 95 degrees and thick with humidity!

I had traded acres of green for walls of grey. En Gedi for Sheol.

I watched my kids hang from metal bars on windows when they used to hang from giant limbs on oaks. They were happy, but I was dying.

I missed being able to step outside and kick a soccer ball. I missed our fire pit on cold autumn nights. I missed our porch swing. I missed our yard. I missed the way I used to father.

But thank God the story doesn’t end there, with a depressed dad missing what once was. No, the story definitely doesn’t end there…

 

The Dawn
Slowly, I began to realize a few things. First, I still needed to play with my kids, and second, I could still play with my kids. That sounds silly, I know, but in the haze of transition, this realization wasn’t a given.

I knew things had changed; I knew I had lost some stuff. I needed to grieve that loss well and figure out how to adjust and bend and change too. Basically, what I needed was some creativity, a little bit-o-crazy, and the willingness to spend cash.

And so it began.

I penciled in a “man trip” to a national park an hour outside of the city. I took the boys and we hiked and wrestled and joked and ate junk food. It was glorious.

I was invited to speak in Beijing. The boys tagged along (thanks in part to the honorarium), and we walked Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall. We ate at McDonald’s. A lot. The younger one navigated the subway system, and “a clear day” took on a whole new meaning.

I took the girls on a staycation. We got a hotel outside of town, stayed up late, and swam a lot. Of course, we also ate junk food. (Don’t tell mom.)

We started Nerf wars, using multiple levels of our row house, with intense battles taking place over the “eagle’s nest” position on the top floor. Best vantage point and all.

I bought a ping-pong table and crammed it in a corner. One side has two feet of clearance, so we use the walls and ceilings as extensions of the table. That table provides lots of “play time” that my kids enjoy and I need. Does that sound weird? It’s true. I need to play with my kids.

Rainy season hit our town, flooding the streets up to our knees. I yelled at the kids to get on the moto and we plowed through the water, making a giant wake with our urban jet ski. Neighbors laughed at the crazy white guy with three little kids screeching with delight in monsoon rains.  In America, we’d find a snow-filled parking lot and drift in our van. Here, we find a flooded street and pretend we’re on a lake! Same Same (but different).

We play “air hockey” on the tile floors, using wooden blocks as pucks and plastic cups as the hand-held hitter things. We use Lego men to play table football. We put a badminton set on the flat roof, supposing that a birdie falling from forty feet would do less damage than a volleyball.

We rent a soccer field for $7/hour to throw a Frisbee or a football. I don’t feel guilty spending the money. In America, we didn’t have to rent the park.

We go “cliff jumping” at the Olympic Stadium pool. My six-year-old actually chipped her tooth jumping from the five meter platform. I was so proud of her. (Don’t tell grandma.)

My youngest daughter loves motorcycles. She wraps her little five-year-old fingers around the handlebar and yells “Faster, Papa! Faster!”

We have disco lights in the bathroom. Long story.

 

Practically Speaking
So, here’s what helped me through this particular parenting crisis. Maybe these will help you too.

1. Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already. So ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

2. Be Crazy. The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed. Are you willing to look a bit weird? (Wait, you’re a missionary, what am I saying?!) But seriously, are you? Your survival might depend on it.

3. Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it. Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question has killed many missionaries, and their children.

 

One Day
My kids still make fun of me for crying in those early days. Thing is, I don’t think they realize I was crying for them; I thought I had lost them. I thought I had lost me. One day they’ll know.

One day they’ll grow up and read this, and when they do, I hope they know how very much I loved being their dad.

In America,
In Asia, and
Anywhere else in
This whole wide world.

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Resources for Parenting Abroad

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

One Down, Three to Go

Five Longings of a TCK’s Heart

 

Have you ever felt this? Like living abroad was changing your parenting in a not-so-positive way?

How did you deal with it? How are you dealing with it?

What would you add to the “Practically Speaking” section? It doesn’t have to start with a C (but extra points if it does).

New Girl

The following post is one I have been re-living as of late, as we re-enter living in SE Asia after a two year stint in the States (original post is here). The whole family is thrust constantly into those awkward situations of being the new kids on the block, and I’m reminded of how hard it is to live that reality. So, for you new-to-a-situation missionaries, I get it. It’s tough, but hang in there, time will eventually erase the new. And for you long-termers, open up a little. We all know goodbyes suck and maybe you’ll have to say them to the new ones, too, (and I know you’re tired of the millions you’ve said so far) but that doesn’t mean the relationship doesn’t have immense value.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 8.30.50 PM

She answered my questions with the minimums –one sentence or two at the most. And, try as I might, she kept responding to my best-friendly with no leading comments of her own, checking her phone, obviously occupied with people not right in front of her. And then she delivered the ultimate subtle-shut-down; she asked no questions of me, the New Girl, at all. 

And so I busied myself with watching Ava play, and I tried not to take the social rejection too seriously.  I tried not to think about all the questions I’d like to ask her about this new place I’ve landed, and I ignored the loneliness of isolation, again, that started to creep in.  I told myself that the tears I blinked back were irrational at best, and that this woman sharing my space had probably just had a bad morning.  I reminded myself that she couldn’t have known that we Parkers had been waiting all week for this chance to interact with other expat moms and kidsShe couldn’t have understood how much hope we had put in this morning.

And I get it, I do.  She’s been here for years, not months. And her plate is full already–with activities and friendships and ministry and kids. I was there, honestly, just six months ago in a quaint mountain town in Colorado.  I was struggling to pursue the friendships I already had, and spotting new moms at the park found me a bit less eager to exchange numbers for fear that I wouldn’t, actually, have the time to call, after all.

But, this week I tasted New Girl, and I am still choking on the bitter. I tried to connect and fit in to this culture of other expat missionary moms, and I found that maybe I’m more square-peg than I thought.  I was reminded that white faces don’t automatically erase gulfs of culture and generation, personality and beliefs.

And I know that this is a season for me as New Girl.  And I know that, perhaps, eventually, I’ll be the one logging years, instead of months.  Maybe one day, I’ll be the girl with more answers than questions on this piece of foreign soil. But, I pray that when that day arrives, I’ll keep enough margin in my schedule and in my heart to speak vulnerable. To ask questions.  And to get the New Girl’s number.

And then make the time to call it.

*****

Okay, be honest. On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being the epitome of friendliness), how open are you to building new friendships with those that have just landed in your area? The newbies or the younger ones or the short-termers– are you subconsciously shutting down relationships before they begin?

To Love Two Places

Heidi and her husband are overseas newbies. They moved to Kenya in October, 2012, to capture the stories and images of the people and work across Africa. Her story of loss and gains is a poignantly beautiful look at the early days. Some Life Overseas readers are looking forward to those days, some are looking back on them, and some are smack in the middle of them.

EagleFlyingIt’s been nine months now since the airplane’s wheels lifted off of our beloved Minnesota soil and I felt arrows of sorrow shoot through my chest. My heart was already heavy, burdened with the faces of goodbye, and I struggled to swallow as the mighty Mississippi River shrank into a ribbon and then disappeared behind a cloud.

And that was just the beginning of the heart pains.

Eight months ago, I took off my wedding ring and hid it away, because I didn’t want the streets of Nairobi to steal it from me. But my finger’s nakedness is still stark and shrill.

For three months, we rode matatus, those reckless, necessary public transit vans that added color and anxiety to our days. But despite the sunburns, blisters, and tears, we grew. We learned how to walk the streets like everybody else, we started to recognize the people we passed each morning, and we gained camaraderie with our fellow vehicle-less man. We started to belong.

Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.
Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.

Now that we found a car and have settled into a sensible routine, the pain comes in a different way. The kite bird that caws like a seagull reminds me of our favorite vacation spot on the shore of Lake Superior. The still, warm evenings fill me with the longing to have a bonfire in a backyard covered with crackly leaves. And the road that circles our neighborhood ­­­­and serves as our nightly walking path makes me wish that the football field in the middle was a lake teeming with goslings and that my best friend was chatting beside me.

This homesickness sneaks up on me, startles me. And leaves me wondering why. Why now? We spent two years of our married life looking forward to our move to Kenya, and now that we’re here, we can’t stop gazing backwards.

It’s a fine art, I’m realizing, to live in the present moment, to take each heart pain as it comes and pray that it won’t last long. Or that it will bring us one step closer to calling this new, lakeless city home.

This afternoon, as we sit on our doorstep beneath our avocado tree with our Kenyan mutt nuzzling us for more attention, I feel my heart beginning to open, to sense that I am splitting in half. It comforts me and it scares me, because to love two places will be dangerous.

But it will also be beautiful.

How do you handle a split heart? What are the things you miss the most about your home country? What will you miss about your host country?

Me (1)

       Heidi Thulin, missionary writer in Nairobi, Kenya

blog: Thulins in Africa  ministry: On-Field Media