When I returned to my passport country after 16 years overseas, I knew it probably wouldn’t be plain sailing. I thought I was prepared for that. After all, I’d read books about re-entry, been to seminars – even taught about it and walked through it with other people! I should have been good at this re-entry thing. Well, here I was, four years in, and things weren’t going the way I had expected. True, there was much I loved about my new place and life. Yet thinking about what I’d left behind was still oh-so-painful. It was messy, and I was tired.
Just then, registration opened for Connection Groups. Amazingly, there was one for women in re-entry, at a time that worked for me. On the spur of the moment, I signed up. I had no idea what to expect.
On the face of it, I was the odd one out. The only one not from North America. The only one who hadn’t served in Asia. In reality, none of that mattered.
As we shared our stories, we bonded. There was such freedom to be real, to share the hard things about re-entry, as well as the hilarious stories. There was understanding and acceptance. There was laughter and there were tears. Feeling normal and understood was maybe the greatest gift these women gave me. They spurred me on, encouraged and inspired me. We were in this together. For those few weeks, we were an expression of God’s care for each other. There was something truly beautiful about that.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of several more Connection Groups. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Every time, it takes courage to trust, to open up and be vulnerable. It’s a bit scary but so worth it!
2. Just like with any other relationship, sometimes there are a few bumps to get over at the start. In one group, a couple of women dropped out early on. Those of us left all felt a bit wary, wondering whether to risk opening up. Would the group fall apart altogether? Well, we all took a deep breath (metaphorically speaking) and continued. Maybe because of the rocky start, we developed a wonderful sense of camaraderie and deep connection! I’m so glad we stuck it out!
3. It is so easy to believe that I have nothing to bring, or that others won’t understand me, because I’m too young or too old, because I’m from a different home culture, have not served in a really “tough” place, have not been overseas very long, have been overseas longer than others in the group have been alive. Whatever it may be, these are lies I catch myself believing all too often, causing me to hold back. However plausible they may sound in the moment, they’re still lies. With each Connection Group, I feel I’m on holy ground. There is something so breathtaking about the way the Lord again and again uses us in each others’ lives. We each have something to bring, and something to receive, whether we believe it or not. It might be a listening ear, or an “I understand.” It might be a joy that touches something in my spirit. It might be a prayer, a word of encouragement. It might be our very brokenness and weakness.
4. Technology can be a challenge. Some of you are in places with poor internet connection. Don’t feel you can’t participate! Some groups are on Facebook, and while it sounds odd, “talking by writing” can work! It takes a bit of getting used to but there is also something special about having the conversation up there, being able to look back over it and comment again when you’ve reflected some more. Give it a go—don’t let a poor internet connection keep you isolated!
5. And finally: do make use of the different ways of connecting beyond the weekly meeting. Post prayer requests or stories in the Facebook group. Have fun contributing to the “photo challenge”. Let people know you’ve prayed for them. It all deepens connection and creates more “me too” moments!
I’m excited for the web of connection the Lord will weave this spring. And a bit sad I won’t get to see all of it. Wouldn’t that be so much fun?