Transition—the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another
For cross-cultural workers, the word transition is not a word taken lightly. It is a word full of emotions—emotions of all kinds. The ones we expected and the ones we are not quite sure where they came from. Some quite unfamiliar. There are also excitement and anticipation. Transition involves change and change seldom comes easy. It can be both painful and uncomfortable.
I have had the privilege to sit down and have coffee with some individuals who decided to face transition again; who decided to trust God again after their China dreams were crushed and they had to leave that country, some under traumatic and surreal circumstances.
In our conversations, before we even got to the part about transitioning to a new field, we had to go back to the scene of the “crime” and take a good look at what it took to get to the place they are today.
As I met with them, one on one, I said that I had a few questions but “you can start wherever you want to.” Interestingly each one started by sharing the moment they realized that their time in China was over. I sat back and listened to how tickets were bought as if in a fog, how dear belongings and other things were quickly packed while some were sadly left behind. How farewells were done and others were not possible. How it often took many flights to get where the person was going. I saw eyes tearing up. I handed a tissue to someone when the memories were too vivid. We stopped and sat in silence for a long time until the background music in the coffee shop made us laugh out loud: they were playing a typical pop song heard everywhere in China. Could it be more suitable? We laughed and cried at the same time.
What I really wanted to figure out was what had helped them to dare facing transition again. Were there any similarities? And how does it feel to prepare for resettling in a new country once again.
Here are some of the things they mentioned that were helpful in healing and recovering from having to leave China.
They mentioned debriefing—different kinds of debriefing. I was relieved to hear that the people I talked with had been offered the opportunity to debrief their experiences and had gone through several debriefs.
Each had been debriefed by someone from their organization, often the area leader and a member care person. They appreciated this even though one said, “I am not sure the actual debrief was very helpful. In all honesty, my leader had very little understanding of the situation and very little experience in doing a debrief, but it was still good. It made me feel that they cared”.
One person said that it felt like the leader didn’t know the normal situation I lived in well enough and that made it seem as if what I shared was exaggerated. “I probably should add that I was very tired and extra sensitive so that probably didn’t help.
Everyone had also been offered help from professional counseling centers as well.
Being debriefed at different times during their journeys was helpful. “The best and most wonderful debrief I had was when we as a team met up again and debriefed, shared, laughed, and cried, and cried. Our time together was priceless. There was no need to explain anything . . .”
Having Somewhere to Go
Having unexpectedly lost their homes and having had to leave so quickly, basically becoming homeless made, made it very important to have a place to go. Some of them were told to meet in a third country for a while. Finally reaching that place back home was important.
Sleep, Rest, and Sleep a Little More
Going through an ordeal such as this is draining. When the first acute phase is over and you can rest your head on your pillow, you realize just how tired you are. One friend shared how grateful she was that her parents protected her by telling others that she wasn’t available when they saw she was too tired and overwhelmed.
Name the Losses
Naming and writing down each and every loss is helpful. Everything from favorite foods, to the beautiful paintings on the wall, to the gateman, to the kids on the team. One had been drawing about the theme of losses and another one was making collages.
The biggest loss seemed to be the loss of belonging. “I belonged with those people. Where do I now belong?”
We spent some time talking about the emotional journey the last 15-18 months had been. One person shared how it sometimes feels as people are rubbing salt in their wounds when they talk about how their lives go on in China and how grateful they are that the Lord protected them so that they can still be there. “I know that they don’t mean it in a bad way and I do rejoice with them—yet it just hurts so much. At times I have been angry with God and angry with people”.
Another woman shared that she has come far in her recovery and feels so whole again now, but there are still so many triggers, like a song that we had just heard. She also said some triggers can be anticipated, but some are more subtle and surprising.
Why Go Again?
One of those I talked to is moving to a neighboring country and will be working with a similar people group. She told me about this a new transition journey. Yes, many things are the same as the first time—yet all so different. Moving to China had been her dream for many years; this country had never been her dream.
Having to do a psychological test when fragile and vulnerable was a little scary. At that time, she had already visited her new potential team; she was starting to feel excited. Then suddenly it hit her that she had to take the test. What if she didn’t pass? Was she ready for another blow? She did pass and as we met she was waiting for the final paperwork to be done for her new destination.
“Did you ever consider staying home? Getting settled and looking for a job?” This was the burning question I just had to ask. “What made you go through it all again?”
One shared how family, some friends, and her home church were suggesting, even with a light pressure that “maybe it would be best to stay at home now”.
One person told me that she had considered returning to her home country. She had already done a number of years on the field, quite a few actually. Being single as well and no longer in her twenties, made played with the thought of looking for a job and potentially staying home for at least a while. But as soon as she was in touch with a new team and then visited them in the new place, she quickly gave up that thought.
“The calling to serve God hasn’t changed, just the location” said another person who is preparing to go again.
“This is a whole new beginning! It is huge! I am starting all over again. I will be the new kid on the block. The new one in my team. I will have to study a new and different language. There will be so many new things to get used to”
I asked her, “What excites you about this move?” She mentioned:
- Gaining a new sense of belonging
- My new team
- Being on the field again
- All the things I can do there
- Being a good fit for the type of work I will do there
Do you have any fears or worries? Her response:
- Feeling isolated and lonely
- The long evenings being home alone
The dates were set, plane tickets bought, and the countdown was on when we met, but since then the coronavirus has hit and countries are closing their borders, flights are being cancelled, and it seems that the transition will be extended.
Again, my friend is facing the unknown and the unexpected while yet knowing that the one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)
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