We recently completed a 15-week cross-cultural discipleship course through Eastern Mennonite University. This course was designed to be apart of our service experience and involved international workers serving in all areas of the world. I learned that we share similar (yet very different) experiences and emotions, that God’s kingdom is BIG and amazing, and I was able to reflect on my cross-cultural experience here in Botswana. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the course of the online class, but I also recognize how much I’ve grown having lived overseas for a over a year now.
I thought I would share a portion of one of my assignments as a form of reflection.
- Obedience to Jesus’ call to follow or go, includes promises of abundant and eternal life, and begins a journey into the unknown in the general direction of the promises.
- Responding to Jesus’ call sets the general direction but not the route or itinerary.
- Direction is given on the journey, not before.
- This journey of faith demonstrates to one’s self and others the validity of Jesus’ promise of life in abundance. (credit: Linford Stutzman)
What is hardest to let go of the first time you left on this, or a previous assignment? What is the most difficult now?
The hardest thing to let go when we accepted our assignment, was the comfort of our life. As some of you may know now, I am an organized, planner kind-of-person. And while I do enjoy adventure and can be flexible, I enjoy structure and routine more! Asher and I had been married a few years when we heard God nudging us to serve overseas. I had already been living in Virginia several years before we got married. After years living in the same area: you know what doctor to go to, what grocery store you like best, your favorite restaurant, the teller at the bank, you’re more involved in church life, you know where the speed traps are. You have a good paying job and you can afford to pay on two vehicles and pay your student loans. Life is comfortable and known. I like this. Yes, life can feel boring at times and perhaps even ordinary when all these things are figured out. But I like having all these knowns. I think it makes me feel secure. So, when we decided to dive into the deep-end and serve in Botswana, I knew I would have to let go of all these things: of my plans and schedules, of my routines, and life as I knew it. There was something exciting and invigorating about this prospect, but it also scared me. I sometimes questioned, “but why leave all these comforts and knowns? It’d be so much easier to just stay.” And it probably would have been easier to stay, but that’s not what God intended. God wanted me to be pushed into the unknown future and respond to his call. He wanted me to feel uncomfortable.
So what is difficult to let go of now that we have lived here almost one year? It’s becoming a little easier, but it is still challenging…it’s letting go of the idea that we need to be doing, doing, doing. Sometimes ministry is just being. I’m not used to just “being”. I’m used to working 40+ hours a week and being stressed. We have come to learn that ministry isn’t about tangible outcomes and measures of success. It’s about relationships that we build and nurture; time, energy, and love that we put towards good causes; kindness shown toward someone in need. As quoted above, there is no itinerary for what God calls us to. My personality really wishes that there was one, but that is part of my personal challenge to God’s call… Learning to accept that there is no itinerary and that that’s okay because God is in control and has the reigns. I don’t need an itinerary when I know that God will be walking alongside me the whole way.
What are the risks you have taken and are taking in letting go of “the way things are”?
One risk I have taken in letting go of life in America, is putting my career on “pause”. I’m still doing good work and gaining invaluable experience here, but it’s much different from a professional job I would carry in the States. In some ways, I feel like I am losing some of my clinical knowledge and skills as a counselor and social worker; but in other ways I am gaining abilities and life lessons that I would not otherwise encounter. I don’t have regrets listening to God’s call and moving overseas. But part of me wonders how I will get back in the workforce after an experience like this.
Another risk I took (and am taking) in letting go of life in Virginia and the States, was being so far from our family systems. I said goodbye to my grandparents, not knowing if they’ll still be with us when we return. We lived close to my niece and nephew and I’m missing out on their early school age years. I’ve also had to let go of the closeness you feel in friendships when you are in proximity of each other and hang out all the time (still have those friendships, but it’s a different relationship when you move 10,000 miles away). But all these risks are well worth the reward. I don’t think I will look back on my service experience and grumble about the risks I took and how far away I was from my family and friends. I think I will look back with fondness and remember the positives, the change within myself, and the relationships I formed.
In what ways is letting go and embracing changing you?
This experience so far has taught me a lot about myself and is a humbling experience. Before we left, I remember telling people about our assignment and saying things like “yeah it will have some challenges, but we’re really excited for what is ahead” (or something along those lines). At that time, I didn’t know what the trials would be or that it would feel challenging most of the time. Letting go of plans and routines has been good for me, and I can honestly say that at this point in the term, I am accustomed to our non-structured day. Embracing this culture and new lifestyle has made me more flexible and easygoing. I have let go of my secure American life and made a new life here in Botswana. It’s not a life that I have been used to, but it’s secure in its own way. I am also letting go of control and plans for the future. I have no idea what 2018 will hold for our ministry work. That would have scared and worried me before. But now, I am taking it in stride and just know that God will open doors to opportunity and lead us where we need to be. A few months ago, it felt like I was always thinking about life after Botswana (not a healthy or helpful mindset to have). This new year, I am feeling more in the present moment and just enjoying whatever each week brings. God is full of surprises and I have a feeling in my heart that some good and awesome things will happen.
What is God calling you to? Does it seem that the risks outweigh the rewards or vice versa? What do you need to let go of?