A Cord of Three Strands

You might remember an article from The Culture Blend late last year. Writer Jerry Jones dissected the never-ending transition of overseas workers and expat transplants known as Goers, Stayers and Newbies. If you’re like me and the 94 commenters on the article, I’m guessing his thoughts resonated with you, too.

I’m a Goer. Call it an unpleasant side-effect of under-funding or a penchant for mixing things up every couple of years, but until very recently, my family and I have been our own little tribe of Goers. In fact, our last three years in this western suburb of Dublin have been the longest we’ve ever stayed anywhere, and we’ve no plans to depart any time soon.

It’s a great feeling, being a Stayer. A deep fulfillment, a longing for roots. Staying feels good.

Until our friends – our partner Stayers, the ones who had a hand in our coming and staying – become Goers. Then, staying starts to feel a little lonely.

Right around the time I was meant to be handing in this essay, I was knee-deep in feeling sorry for myself. My closest ally and the bearer of many secrets and shared Irish desserts had moved back to the U.S. and I felt the absence of a true heart friend.

Now, in her place, I’ve become the Stayer. And it turns out, navigating relationships as a Stayer is nearly as tricky as when you’re a Goer. Still, I’ll let you in a couple of secrets I’m in the midst of relearning.

1. Learn from the Stayers on how to befriend the Newbies.

Almost simultaneously, as our friends departed, new colleagues arrived. We don’t live as close and our relationships with them are brand-spankin’-new, but they are where I once was – and it really wasn’t all that long ago.

In our first few months, my friend the Stayer reached out to us quickly, frequently and graciously. She guided us in the ways of grocery shopping, school-yard politics and host-culture etiquette. Soon, she and I found ourselves in a comfortable cycle of bi-monthly coffee dates, offers of babysitting and empowering one another in ministry, marriage and parenting. None of that would’ve happened if she hadn’t consistently sought me out with an open hand and listening ear.

2. Being besties with your colleagues isn’t part of the job.

On the contrary, I think it’s probably quite rare. Some personalities don’t click, some newbies won’t know how to reciprocate and some stayers may operate with a hands-off policy.

But being available to new partners in ministry is as important – if not more so– than being available to your national friends. Retention is far less likely to happen without allies on the field, and if you all become goers, who will be the Good News stayers? After all:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up…
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,12 NIV)

3. Cultivate friendships outside the org and across the pond.

Here’s a difficult truth: being the friend of a Goer is hard, painfully hard. Those in our passport country are either preparing for the long goodbye or trying hard to keep the connections open across the seas.

In your host country, not only are you the blow-in, but your roots still rest on the other side. National partners and friends may want to welcome you with open arms, but honestly – if you’re not in it for the long haul – why should they? The onus is on us as Stayers to put in a good amount of legwork planting friendships, watering them as necessary (like climates, some cultures need more water to see friendship grow; others – a little less).

4. A mild disclaimer: If you don’t have a friend on the inside or the outside, pray for one. Recruit others to pray for one, and may I humbly suggest, sign up for a connection group. I have been there, too, looking around in every direction for a lady friend to walk a little bit of my bumpy road with me. I’d wager that if we keep an eye out, we do find her. Chances are, she’s been looking for us, too.

Deep soul friendships outside of our ministry responsibilities are necessary to fill us up when our spirits run dry. Whether it’s in person, in your new city, or via Skype with your childhood best friend, these women are Jesus to you in flesh and in voice. Find rest in these safe places, without apology. You need them as much as others need you.

In my years as a Goer and my new still-slightly-ill-fitting identity as a Stayer, I realize that the women who ignored the risk of being left (and instead chose to love me right where I was) were the very thing I needed in that very time, and beyond. The friends we work with, the ones we live with and the ones we left all are a part of our ministry, all feeding the story of grace in our lives.

Their ministry to me in the cords of friendship gave me the courage to go and – at this very moment – is giving me strength to stay.

This cord bends and stretches around and between the stayers, goers, newbies and nationals – and it is not easily broken.

Are you the Stayer, Goer or Newbie? How have your friendships evolved as you’ve come, gone or stayed? And have you found your safe, soul-sister places?

6 Comments

  1. Amanda McKinney March 10, 2016

    What a great article and message. Thank You soo much! I am brand spanking new to my host country and will be living and working only among locals, not cross-cultural workers, but am acutely aware of my need for like-minded community. I have therefore very actively sought out the local orgs and their community. This article is soo encouraging and gives great perspective about the dynamics I will be and am experiencing. Thank You!

    1. Karen Huber March 11, 2016

      Hey Amanda, Welcome to your new home! I think many of the same rules apply for local friends, including a lot more “showing up.” 🙂 May you find a safe places in your new community and some fun and thriving new relationships.

  2. Grace L March 10, 2016

    My husband and I are the stayers where we live. We have seen people come and go, but it has been so precious to watch the transformation in those who came for only 2 or 3 years but are now committed to the work long term. There is a new bonding and friendship. And it seems that those who come and go know that they can find us here. It is truly a privilege to be a stayer and be able to be there for the other cross cultural workers.

    But there is another group that is greatly affected by our staying long term. Our local friends are so precious to us and I dread the day that might come when we would have to say goodbye for the last time. But for now, we are family to each other.

    Thank you for sharing in this perspective – being goers or stayers. We leave soon to travel to our passport country for 2 months, during which time we are going to be constant goers…enjoying our time in each place we travel while at the same time longing to go back home to our adopted country.

    1. Karen Huber March 11, 2016

      Oh man, the hardest part of leaving after our first term (when we weren’t sure when – if ever – we were coming back) was saying goodbye to our local national friends. Those relationships are the sweetest and such a gift. I’m often thinking of all the “Irish mammies and grannies” God has given us here. <3 Thank you for your comments – you offer such an important perspective!

  3. Anna March 11, 2016

    I’ve been the stayer who became the goer, who is now going to be the newbie.  God blessed us with a strong support system before we even understood the importance of building our own. I can see that He was preparing that for the times we needed before we were even aware of our needs- we had all of those, the outside, inside, and national friends.   Now I still have many of those connections “outside,” I’ve been able to start a few “inside” at the new place, and I’m hoping to get to know some national friends, too.

  4. Jerry April 6, 2016

    Hey Karen — Love this. Especially the cultivating friendships bit. So well written. Thanks for the shout out too.

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