It’s cockroaches and invading ants. It’s weird croaking lizards that wake you up in the middle of the night, night after night because you don’t know how to catch them or even what they would look like if you tried. It’s rats eating the garbage at night because people don’t own trash cans but throw their rubbish into a big heap.
It’s burning rice and taking 45 minutes to finish one meal because it takes you so long to get all of the rice in your mouth using chopsticks. It’s peeing on your shoes multiple times a day, for months on end because you can’t master the squatty potty.
It’s covering your babies’ cribs with nets to protect them from mosquitoes and hoping that none with malaria sneak in. It’s getting sick and going to the hospital only to have to report to the nurse in front of a room full of people all of your symptoms.
It’s driving in traffic where the only rule of thumb is to “go with the flow.” It’s hitting a man in that traffic and feeling totally justified in saying that it was his fault (which it was, and he agreed and walked off!). It’s crossing the road with cars coming at you full speed in total confidence that they will either stop or weave around you.
It’s having every person and their grandma (especially their grandma) tell you the best way to dress your child, discipline your child, feed your child, play with your child, socialize your child, educate your child, guard your child. It’s not letting your child ever splash in rain puddles because there is a whole universe of nasty on its surface.
It’s eating intestine and brain and bowel and not even knowing what it is except for the texture and your Chinese teacher filling you in. It’s running for the squatty potties again.
It’s constantly being an outsider. Even after you learn the language, you are never one of them. You are always foreign. It’s developing a complex because everyone tells you how “tall” your nose is and you wonder if they are all correct and you were oblivious to your huge honker your whole life.
It’s moving at least once a year. It’s living on the 18th, 21st, 24th floor. It’s being able to see the whole city from your balcony (and being able to see what color your neighbor’s underwear is because his balcony is only 20 feet from yours and everyone hangs their laundry out to dry on their balconies). It’s being grateful that this neighbor actually wears underwear unlike previous neighbors that you would have preferred not to see.
It’s wanting to explain to the grocer that even though you sound like a 2-year-old, you are actually fairly intelligent and can even have real conversations in your mother tongue. It’s wanting to bring a copy of your degree next time you go grocery shopping to prove it.
It’s daily being pushed out of the bus line by old ladies, toddlers, and grown men. It’s learning how to make yourself as big as possible so as to assure your place in the line.
It’s missing Christmases and Easter and birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and weddings and births because you just live so dang far away. It’s spending half of your vacation trying to recover from jet lag. It’s spending the other half raising support so that you can return to the field. It’s spending ALL of your vacations with extended family because it’s the only time you get to see them.
It’s traveling for days with newborns and toddlers to visit family or return to your “home” (wherever that is — both places feel like some version of the word). It’s trying to explain to your grandpa in Iowa what China is really like and feeling like you might as well have antennas and be speaking Martian.
It’s having to ask people for money. Enough said.
It’s hearing the same questions from locals so many times that you contemplate printing a business card that reads like this: I am American. I am 27-years-old. I am not married. I am a student here. I pay around $120 USD for rent in this apartment. Yes, I like Chinese food. No, I do not know Obama.
It’s considering Pizza Hut the nicest place that you can take your spouse for his birthday. It’s going there for all significant celebrations.
And then — it’s sharing Jesus with someone who has never even heard His name. It’s responding to your dear friend’s question with, “Yes, God can speak Mandarin!”
It’s answering the old lady in the town square that you are fostering the little blind girl because you chose her and you wanted her and she is valuable.
It’s being invited into a family’s home to share their most important holiday with them. (And then it’s trying to pretend that you like chicken feet so that they feel honored.)
It’s watching a young woman come alive with the Holy Spirit. It’s listening to her recount to you what God showed her as she was reading the Bible.
It’s telling the elderly countryside man that it was Jesus who healed him. It’s walking alongside of a girl who was abused as a child until she is whole. It’s seeing her learn what a good Father is like.
It’s sharing in just a taste of His sufferings so that you can share in His fellowship. It’s knowing Him in the sweetness of the dry and lonely place and learning that He is truly enough.
It’s knowing you would do it all again if He asked you to.
Brooke Grangard has a heart for people to know Jesus and grow in Him. She and her husband spent the last 10 years on the mission field in East Asia with their two young children. They recently returned to the States and continue as full-time volunteers in Missions with CMM. She is currently based out of the Carolinas. You can find her writing about life and faith at theVinePress.org or connect with her and her husband on Facebook.