Seven or eight months have passed since I met with Chinese sisters and brothers whose expat colleagues and friends had had to leave China suddenly. They had shared with me how heartbroken and shaken they were; some had not even had the opportunity to say goodbye. So where are they now in their journey of healing?
Recently I had the privilege to meet up with several of the ones I based my previous blog on. With some of them I have had substantial time and opportunity to journey over a longer time; with others I have only been able to follow up briefly.
Loneliness and Confusion
One emotion that each of those local believers feels strongly is loneliness. They miss their dear friends and colleagues who were part of their daily lives. It is a bit of a relief to them when I tell them that they are not the only ones feeling this way in China right now.
Several of them have shared with me their feelings of confusion. Together we have tried to untangle this very messy ball of yarn that is their emotions. With some of them we have cried together as we gently tug on the different strings.
With others I have carefully helped them to be bold and turn over stones in their lives to see what is hiding underneath. It is scary because you don’t know what you will face or maybe you had an idea what was hiding under those stones, but the thought of facing them just seemed too much and too complicated.
Getting help to untangle or look beneath the surface of emotions is the only way to identify and deal with them, and then move forward. But to do so, one needs to feel safe.
Anger and Hurt
In the beginning when it all happened, and for a pretty long time afterwards, I was just numb. Now I can see things more clearly and I am also starting to feel again. It scares me sometimes.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she hesitated and struggled to say what she did.
Please, forgive me. I know I shouldn’t say this. I know I shouldn’t even think this. I know that it is bad of me and I know it is a sin, but I feel angry with my former boss.
She burst into tears and was shaking as she hid her face in her hands and cried. “I am so sorry for saying this.”
I held her and let her cry for a bit, then I said:
Can I tell you something? You have the right to be angry. If I were you, I would be angry as well. I, too, get angry sometimes. We are allowed to be angry. Sometimes it can be a good thing. You don’t have to apologize for your emotions.
Anger and hurt are two other feelings which our local sisters and brothers are struggling with. Very often the anger is a symptom of the hurt they are feeling. This is when it gets very complicated, especially in an honor/shame culture. Honoring and respecting your leader is what you do. Growing up in a country where the question “weishenma?” (“Why?”) is frowned upon, you don’t question your leader or the situation. So when you are left alone with your anger, hurts, thoughts, and questions it is confusing and scary.
When I asked what they felt so angry about, I got the following answers:
- I feel angry that I am left to deal with the police and various government departments.
- I am left alone here to close the company and bank accounts, that feels very unfair and I sometimes feel angry about that.
- I feel as if I am left to clean up the mess
- I wasn’t asked to do this; it was expected of me
- I had no say and now they are gone and here I am—left alone.
I feel so lonely. As if everything and everyone has been taken from me. In a sense I feel like my eyes have been opened. I used to have so many friends, both my local ones and expat friends. But after many years of working together with my expat boss and the company, I have lost my other friends and my local fellowship. It was like I belonged to him and his family. I realize now that I lost other friends because of that. And that upsets me. At the same time, there is so much I miss. Eating noodles together, daily work, talking, sharing, and laughing. Just doing life together, I suppose.
Sometimes I don’t understand myself. I can feel so angry with my foreign friends who just left, but a few minutes later I cry because I miss them so much. I think something is wrong with me.
Time after time I have tried to explain that emotions are messy, but that emotions are a gift from God. They help us to deal with life. I have shared that it is normal to be both angry and sad at the same time. I have spent much time talking about grief, transition, and change. Though these emotions are difficult for us expats as well and we are very often faced with them, many of us either have received pre-field training in these areas or we have tools or a support network to help us. Most of the Chinese co-workers have very limited knowledge and experience of counselling, member care, or even basic information related to emotions.
Other Feelings and Consequences
Some other feelings and consequences I have encountered as I meet with local sisters and brothers are:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of emotional abuse and control
- Feeling overwhelmed
Another woman shared that suicide had seemed tempting during the darkest nights. She was facing depression and the medication given to her at the local hospital made her sleepless and scared.
"I am starting to sense hope again. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I am passed the worst now.” One way that helped her move forward was to spend time with a counselor. If possible, help your local friends connect with someone with counseling experience in a situation where they are safe and can share freely.
Another was told, “Please don’t feel this way. We are leaving some money for you” The person responded, “Money? How can money help me? Did my foreign friend seriously think that what I wanted was money?”
Yet, another person said:
As I look back, I sometimes feel used. Maybe I was just the tool that made it possible for the foreigners to see their dream come true? I don’t want to feel that way, but sometimes I wonder. I realize now that I wasn’t really part of making decisions. I was the one who ran all the errands and did what I was told to. But maybe it isn’t so easy when you don’t understand the culture.
One lady who had the opportunity to process and deal with her emotions wrote a poem. She has given me permission to share it. She said, “I need distance and space and even if it hurts, I need time to heal and put things in perspective.”
The Lost Kite
I, like the lost kite,
stumbled and was trampled,
no one cared,
with scares and holes,
fallen in to the mud.
You picked me up
wiped my tears,
and put me above the rock.
You fed me strength and hope.
But I, filled up with doubts.
I want the answer.
You pointed me to the stars, the skies you made.
You taught me to appreciate every tree and every flower.
You touched me with every breeze.
You made the birds sing for me.
You brought a smile to my face.
I can smell you in the very breath you gave.
I cried and cried,
I want the answer.
When my heart is drifting with frustration, you walked with me in quietness.
You stirred the clouds with colors,
To catch my sight.
You guide me with the light.
I turned around,
Oh, I was in your garden.
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