We’ve heard it for years, right? That statistic.
“The number one reason overseas workers leave the field is because of other overseas workers.”
Someone please tell me this is no longer true. Tell me we’ve grown up and beyond that.
I don’t know what the statistics are currently. I do know from experience that overseas community, like any community, is messy. Overseas circumstances and sin and stress and personalities can bundle into big ugly ordeals that send people packing.
Or it can lead to people living alongside each other in strained, awkward relationships.
I’ve seen enough of community overseas to see some patterns, paths that we fall into that end up killing community among us. It’s not an exhaustive list because that would be a book. It draws mainly from the female experience, but I think you’ll agree it’s not gender exclusive.
Today I’d like to offer up a word about…
6 People that Kill Community Among Cross-Cultural Workers
Let’s start with a description of each.
- The Idealist
She loves community. She knows how amazing it is meant to be. She comes in fresh and excited, but before long she gets really disappointed. Her community is a far cry from what she longs for. She prods and pushes and pines away for real community, but ends up squelching the thing she wants most.
- The Withdrawn
This is the veteran who has been around for a long time and has said way too many goodbyes. She keeps relationships at a safe distance, because people are just going to up and leave again. She can’t take that pain anymore.
- The Competitor
She needs to show she’s strong and capable. It might be through language learning, or relationship building, or difference making, the numbers saved. Maybe it’s through house keeping, or cooking, or party-throwing, or homeschooling, but through it all, she’s out to prove herself. She likes her weaknesses to stay safely hidden, and has a really hard time when those weaknesses inevitably show through.
- The Butterfly
She flits from this relationship to that, trying to meet everyone’s needs, last of all her own. She’s a people pleaser, and she wants so much to be all that everyone expect of her. But she’s deep down worn out, and doesn’t know how much longer she’ll last like this.
- The Independent
She’s here for Jesus, to do his work. She came to help lost and hurting people, so relationships with other foreigners are not high on her priority list. Maybe some people need to “hang out” with other expats, but not her. She’d rather you just left her alone to do her kingdom work.
- The Checked-Out
Her mind is made up. She’ll be leaving. Return tickets are in her inbox. It’s only a matter of time now. Mentally and emotionally, she’s done with this place and these people, ready to get on with her life. So, excuse her, please, she’s got packing to do.
Perhaps you’ve lived in community with some or all of these people. I think many of you have been on the painful end of these relationships. For that, I’m so sorry. I understand, because… I have too. And yeah, it hurts.
But also, maybe you see yourself described above. Because… I know I do. I drew from first-person experience here. I’ve been most of them at different times. For that, I am deeply sorry.
Here’s a word for each of the six community killers. A little something I’ve learned and am learning.
- Dear Idealist,
In his book, “Life Together” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
“He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter… if we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
He says we are to “enter into that common life (with the body of believers) not as demanders but as thankful recipients.” Doing that, my dear idealist, will change your life.
- Dear Veteran,
You’ll regret it, you know. You’ll keep your heart safe and removed and then you’ll wish you hadn’t. Because you’ll see glimpses of the richness you missed out on because you held back. Yes, it will hurt again, but the pain of goodbyes means you have loved well. And that is a sweeter pain than the bitter taste of regret. The heart has an amazing capacity to stretch and love again and again, if you’ll but let it.
- Dear Competitor,
I know it seems hopelessly wired in your DNA, that drive to prove you’re just as good or better. Did you know it’s contagious too? When you try to outshine me, I feel pressured then to outshine you. And that’s just silliness. How old are we? How about I acknowledge your gifts, accept your weaknesses and you do the same for me? Let’s run this race together. I’ll lean on you and you lean on me. Because, wow, that’s a better way to live.
- Dear Butterfly,
In trying to be everything to everyone, you’ve lost yourself. Real community will want the real you, a healthy you. The real you needs to pull out that dusty word named, “No.” You need to say it with a smile, then turn around and go take a nap. When you wake up, make a list of things that re-fill your own unique, God-breathed soul. Then take some daily time and a day every week to do those things.
- Dear Independent,
They will know we are Christians by our love, by how we how we, the Jesus people, love one another. The work of God is to usher people into the family. We’re not meant to fly solo, friend. We’re meant to be a body. The community of God consists of those you came here for and those you are serving with. To discriminate between the two goes against the values of the kingdom. Our relationships with each other show the world what it is to be born again community.
- Dear Checked-Out,
It’s natural to begin to disengage when transition is coming. But please, please, can we part well? Can we reconcile our differences? Can we toast the good times and hard? Can we laugh long over the memories we share? I need to do that with you, to build an altar that says that this chapter mattered, that you matter to me. So put down the bubble wrap and come have tea with me.
I know the sad truth. I’ve seen the sad stories. People still leave the field because of other overseas workers. Supposed allies became enemies, inflicting wounds too great to bear and stay.
But you know what? There’s my story too. And my story says, “I’ve stayed on the field, in large part, because of other overseas workers.”
Yes, the community of overseas workers is a messy ordeal of a motley crew, but also, it’s an amazing thing with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.
They’ve shown me how to live like Jesus in this foreign place.
They’ve believed in God’s hand in my life, when I doubted it myself.
They’ve been the ones to sit and ask, “How are you doing?” and want to know the real answer.
They’ve adopted my kids as their niece and nephews.
They’ve been there for birthday parties and Christmas mornings and white elephant gifts.
They’ve been the ones I’ve cried tears with in hospital rooms.
They’ve given me oregano when my bottle is empty.
They’ve seen me through my community killing phases. They’ve loved me through these seasons and are helping me grow beyond them.
No, community is never perfect or easy, it is hard and real and very, very… good.
Which of these community killers have you experienced? Which ones do you see in yourself? What is God teaching you about it?
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