Last weekend, I attended the debrief weekend for all the Latin Link Steppers and Striders (our short term programmes) who have returned this year. It was great to catch up with a few of the people who have been out to Guatemala this last year. But it also brought clarity to a few things I´ve been thinking over.
A while back, I heard a sermon or maybe I read a blog or something..... but anyway, it was from a guy who had been married about 10 years. He said that as he looked back to his wedding day, he now realised that on that day, he had absolutely no idea what he was letting himself in for! In fact, there was no way in which he could have known, because there are incredible joys and challenges that you just can´t understand without living through them.
I think there´s a similar thing with going into mission, or living in another culture for another reason. At the time of leaving, it can be a fairly straight forward decision, between one option or another. But a few years down the line, you look back and realise just how much that decision changed you, not only for the intervening years, but forever.
One aspect of this for those in mission is 'home'. When you leave to live in another culture, of course you understand that you are in some degree giving up home - almost regardless of the timescale involved -- you are deciding to leave the physical space you have previously called home in order to start again in another place.
But on your return, a greater understanding of the depth of that decision comes. I´ve begun to realise that it´s not the physical space or a particular house that is given up - but actually the concept of home. Home is where you are understood and where you understand what is going on around you. Where you are amongst people who just 'get you'. That is what you have given up.
When I arrived at the debrief venue, I was met by someone who had been in Guatemala for 9 months. She immediately hugged me tight, and cried for a good while, and when she eventually stood back, she said that she´d been so looking forward to the weekend, because it meant being with people who 'just understood'.
That´s the thing with living in another culture: it does something to you at a deeper level, that changes you, that makes it impossible to adequately answer the question 'How was Guatemala?'- when people are expecting a succinct pithy (and positive) response. It´s just impossible to summarise all the challenges, personal doubts, re-evaluations, joys, loneliness, intense spiritual growth, and experiences into a 30 second (one minute if you´re lucky) soundbite that your enquirer is looking for.
Living in another culture, your worldview is changed, your habits are changed, so that when you come back 'home', it no longer feels like you fit. That´s quite apart from all the cultural references (TV shows, local news etc etc) that you have missed out on. And yet, it´s also impossible to completely feel at home in your new culture. No matter how long you stay and adapt to the new place, you´ll always be different, and have to explain some aspects of who you are.
So this is why, when people ask me 'Is it good to be home?' - there´s usually a bit of umming and errring in my response. Some continue with 'I suppose you must feel like Guatemala is your home now?' - sometimes there´s a bit more umming and erring in response to that too. Because on one level, both of them feel like 'home', and on another, neither of them do. I realise that I have given up the right to have a 'home'.
And that´s why my friend at the weekend, felt so relieved to be with people who had shared a similarly intense experience, so could 'just understand'.
It´s a rare grace to be amongst people who you can be completely
yourself with, and one I want to celebrate whenever I come across it. But it´s funny that sometimes, it´s those who you meet for quite short times along the journey but have shared some of the intensity of the experience. Other times it´s those people who have known you deeply for so long, that the differences now, don´t seem to matter. But it´s a gift all the same.
I had a great day yesterday... swimming 5.25miles the length of Coniston Water. It was a great event, really well organised, and a fantastic day for it. I completed it in 3 hours and 46 minutes - which I´m really chuffed with. Here´s a few photos.....
You can still sponsor me at https://www.justgiving.com/Suzanne-Potter1/
Over the last 3 weeks, I´ve had another Step team here in Guatemala. Working in an educational project in a small indigenous town, they´ve got stuck in with dramas, singing classes, crafts, sports, values lessons and much much more. A week ago, I took them to the Lake for a couple of days of rest.
(you can see the lake somewhere in the background!)
As I met with them for their last evening, and as we talked through all that they´ve experienced here, it was great to hear how God has used this. Here´s a few of their comments...
"God had blessed the team and protected and encouraged us every step of the way. I have trusted God and felt he had his hand on the team"
"God has humbled me and equipped me in ways I can only praise Him for."
"I feel more comfident and have stepped out of my comfort zone. I´ve learnt to put God first, to trust and follow and he will lead you the right way."
After writing the last blogpost about friendships, I got to thinking about why this has been affecting me now when the situation has been the same or worse over the last 6 years. And I think that it´s a comparative thing. Recently I have felt like I have deepened some friendships here, and feel very relaxed and able to be myself with some friends, but I also recognise that I´m still a long way off understanding all the cultural references and shared history that others share. I guess it´s a case of having come so far, and yet still feeling like there´s a long way to go. Other friends have left or are leaving, so all in all, there´s a sense of always working hard at friendships without necessarily reaping the benefits.
But I´ve come to the conclusion that real friendships are hard. Full stop.
The triple combination of my job, being in another culture, and my personality probably makes making and sustaining real friendships even harder. Accepting that, the temptation is to give up trying altogether. Sometimes it seems like the effort required is just too much. Those feelings are still there, but recently I´ve made different choices about how I manage them and get on with life. In some ways it feels like I´ve returned to a lesson that I actually learnt 30 years ago when my father died.
I learnt that God is the only certainty in this life and this world. Anything else is a bonus.
So I need to treat each of those things according to that reality.
I need to invest more than ever in my relationship with God, and trust in His unfailing love. Last week in my Bible study group at church, we looked at Matthew 13: 44.
"God´s Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic - what a find! - and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field." (The Message translation)
At first glance this seems like blind stupidity - to give up everything. But actually nobody gives up everything unless it´s to gain something greater. That´s the reality of the joy we have in God - that it is so valuable, that everything else pales into insignificance.
So for me, I´m learning to let go and give up the self obsession and the 'need' to be liked and appreciated (; what I might look for in friendships) and focussing instead on what I know God has called me to (primarily, relationship with him) and the joy that that brings. This actually ISN´T a sacrifice. It´s a joy - when we have our focus right.
So then what does that mean for my friendships. Well, I choose to invest in others, to be thankful for the blessings that friends are, and that they bring to my life, knowing that I can´t take them for granted, recognising that they are a gift. No matter what shape or form they come in, or how long they might last, I want to always choose to be thankful for friends.
Thismorning I read Psalm 33: 16-22
"No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
(We could add ´No one finds true satisfaction in the number or depth of friendships they have')
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you."
It´s this balance that I need to get right. Being thankful and blessed by the friendships that I have but not thinking that they´ll ever sustain me or satisfy me. That only comes from resting in God.
And in a role that entails investing heavily in others, I´m also reminded of Jesus´ words in Matthew 11: 28 -30.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
He asks that we learn from him (I´d never noticed that bit before) - to learn from him who gave himself completely for others, but yet didn´t feel overwhelmed by their needs, because he rested in His fathers love. He knew that he was sustained only in God. I know that Jesus was a very different case - but he does ask us to learn from him; to invest in time to rest in my relationship with the Father, and out of that resting to be able to serve and invest in others, without expecting anything back.
Latin Link is an international and interdenominational mission with a focus on Latin America. They aim to be a channel so that people can develop their God- given potential in the service of others, working alongside churches and partner organisations. Members of Latin Link serve in Latin America and in Europe, working with local Christians at their invitation. They have 5 main areas of commitment; outreach and evangelism, training and preparation, care and social action, publishing and resources, and business and ethics.
Latin Link runs 3 programms;
Step teams - undertake practical projects for 3 weeks to 6 months.
Stride - individual placements using your skills and talents for 6 months to 2 years.