“What are people there saying about Syria?”
This question was posed to me during a Skype conversation with a friend back in the States. My answer? “I’m not talking to anyone about Syria. I’ve got things to deal with in my own personal ministry, and I’ve got things to deal with in my team ministry. I’ve got the daily work of homeschooling – a career unto itself – and your basic ‘how do I get food on the table?’ questions. I’m also living in a culture that has its own political and safety issues. So finding out what other people in my life think about Syria is pretty much not going to happen.”
I ended my rather lengthy explanation by saying, “I just can’t care about everything.”
While my statement might sound a bit cruel, I think it also sums up the struggle of overseas missionaries and expatriate Christians in general. How can we stay connected to our world back home while also embedding ourselves in our lives here? How can we tend to relationships in our host culture and relationships in our sending culture? How can we care about global politics and local politics and politics in our passport country? (And just to be clear here, that actually makes three worlds we’re expected to live in, not two.)
Here’s how I deal with these challenges, but I also hope to hear how you balance the many relational and cultural needs you face.
1. I don’t try to keep up on everything.
Something I learned a few years back was that I couldn’t care about every single crisis in American evangelical Christianity. It was too much to keep up with. These days I don’t keep close tabs on that scene. I’ve also found it’s not helpful for me to know every single detail about the political scene back “home.” It distracts me from the person right in front of me (that’s my own personal limitation and may not be the case for other people!).
Politics in my host culture can be confusing, and keeping current can be discouraging at times. So I depend on my husband, who enjoys staying updated on global current events, to update me on news items relevant to Cambodia, America, and the rest of the world.
This is how I personally cope with the overabundance of information in our technological age. If you keep up on global politics more than I do, I’d love to hear how you do it.
2. I do try to stay connected to my life here.
I’m an introvert, but relationships are still important to me. I try to stay connected to my friends here, whether that’s having them to dinner at our house or going out for coffee with a particular friend. I’ve never been a huge telephone conversationalist, but I’ve Skype-called friends in country who live too far away to get together easily. (I have relatively good internet access.)
I plan separate times for my kids to hang out with their friends here. (They’re getting old enough that we don’t call them “play dates” anymore.) I’ve found that friends have become more and more important to my kids as they’ve gotten older. It takes work on my part to arrange these times, but it pays dividends in their happiness. (Tanya Crossman’s new book Misunderstood discusses Third Culture Kids’ need for friends.)
Of course when we talk about relationships on the field, the revolving door of friends immediately comes up. While that’s not the focus of this post, I hope to delve more deeply into expatriate friendship next month.
3. I do try to stay connected to friends and family “back home.”
This part is tricky because I know missionaries and other expats tend to disconnect more and more from “home” the longer they are gone. That is still a temptation for me, but in the past year I’ve tried to be really proactive in planning Skype and Facetime sessions with close friends and family. We did a lot of Skyping our first couple of years overseas, but then we let the habit slip.
In some ways that’s good; we really settled in this place. But we still need those relationships; those people were rocks for us and our kids before we left. And although our lives have all changed in the last 5+ years, those relationships are still supportive and life-giving. We don’t want to throw away that gift.
Parents and grandparents won’t always be around, either, and we want to take advantage of the time we do have. We also keep in mind that most people don’t stay on the field forever; we need to stay in touch with our “home team” because they are the ones who will be welcoming us back one day. We just have to be flexible when planning across time zones (this action point also presumes adequate internet access).
Of course we don’t want to be so connected to our old homes that we aren’t rooted in our current place, but neither do we want to neglect the people and places of our past, which is why I encourage this point.
Now I’d love to hear how YOU live in two worlds? (Or is it three?) What things do you do or not do while living in a culture not originally your own?