“We didn’t even get to say goodbye!” A Chinese brother looked out into the air as he told me the story and I could see that he was fighting to hold back his tears.
In this series we have been focusing on the expats who have had to leave China unexpectedly. We want to finish the series by recognizing the impact on local colleagues and friends who remain in China.
Not getting to say goodbye and experiencing closure is one of the common threads among local friends and coworkers. Many have said something like:
We didn’t get to say goodbye! We had been friends and worked together for eight years. Their children were like our own children. We’ve known their girls all their lives. I am just so sad. I understand it was in my best interest and for the sake of security . . . but I still wanted to say goodbye.
The pain in my Chinese friend’s voice was real and came from his heart. Those of us who have been through many transitions know how important it is to do our goodbyes well in order to get closure. I have found that many of our local friends have not had any preparation or even heard about transitions or the importance of farewells. After all, many of us went overseas after some level of orientation and had the benefit of ongoing member care and training. The fact that most of our local colleagues and friends have not experienced either is something we must add into the equation for dealing well with unexpected departures.
For our local brothers and sisters what is happening now to their expat friends is very confusing. Some of them have been persecuted and some have been taken in for questioning more than once over the years, but to see their foreign friends, co-workers, and sisters and brothers suffer is new for most of them. Many of them feel enormous shame that their country could do this to good people who have given up so much to live and serve in China. In a shame and honor culture this makes a tremendous impact. I have sat down with and listened to several as they shared their confused emotions. Some have said, “I wish I could apologize on behalf of my country for what they have had to go through. I feel so ashamed. They have done nothing wrong.”
“Duibuqi, duibuqi”—“I am so sorry, so sorry”
During an afternoon with a Chinese sister and friend, as we drank a lot of tea and had plenty of time to linger, she tried to put words to her emotions and somehow straighten them out. Time after time she apologized on behalf of her country and government, saying:
I never imagined that they would do this to you foreigners. You are good people. You have done so many good things for us. You have done nothing wrong. I am so ashamed. So ashamed of my country.
She looked at me with a mixture of horror and surprise when I told her that, indeed, this wasn’t the first time foreigners had been expelled from China.
Again, we need to remember that many of us—hopefully—learned about security during orientation. We learned early on never to take a visa for granted. We sighed with relief every time our visas came through. In the back of our minds we know that we are living on borrowed time. Due to security issues we seldom talk with our local friends about this, which means that when dear foreign friends suddenly have to leave, seemingly without a logical reason, it is very confusing for them.
As organizations, as well as individual expats serving in China side-by-side with local colleagues, what is our responsibility? For groups who have locals on staff or with whom they work closely on the ground, this is a very complicated question. But nevertheless, it is a question which we are responsible to wrestle with. How can we prepare them in a wise way? How do we answer questions from local friends and colleagues who have been part of someone’s life for a long time but who suddenly had to leave?
Take a moment right now and lift up our sisters and brothers in China as well as the expats living there and those who have seen their China dream to halt. May each one know that God is still a good, good Father.
Image credit: Chinese Tea by Sheep "R" Us via Flickr.
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