Most often, I am quite content to be alone.
I live in what local friends like to say is the ‘wilderness.’ It is common here in this desert land to build your village from your relatives, and if you have to live among strangers, you do it in the city, not in the rural, agricultural landscape that gives you acres and acres between you and the next village—especially if you have no family to surround you.
You could bet money on the number one question I get from both my passport country friends and my local friends—do I feel safe here ‘alone’? Now, mind you, I am not ‘alone’ as I live in a country with 200,000,000 people. From my window I can see the village that sits just an acre away—they’re the closest neighbors, but they are not my relatives.
Side note, to any of you wondering what the answer is to that seemingly universal query, yes. Yes, I do feel safe among strangers in a world whose culture is probably polar opposite to my own. Mostly, because hundreds of us are doing the same thing in our respective wildernesses.
While I actually love alone time and I don’t mind being considered ‘crazy’ for choosing to live among strangers, one thing I didn’t anticipate is how this aloneness made connection with others in similar situations, altogether more needful. No, I do not spend my days with other expats, chatting in my mother tongue over cups of coffee. And while I thought I didn’t need that, I realized that there was something I was craving—encouragement to keep going from people who are right there in the wilderness with me.
But it wasn’t just about wanting to receive encouragement, I also wanted to encourage others. I am not a seasoned veteran on the field, but God has placed an encourager’s heart in me and I found that not having the space to build others up meant that my encouraging spirit was drying out, slowly, and a critical spirit was taking root instead. So off I went in search of others who might have been able to fill up my isolation with words of commiseration and ‘I get it’ moments.
Their wilderness may have looked different than mine, but all the same, these sojourners, pioneers, expats shared a bond that I needed to explore. Building each other up to face the wilderness outside our doors was just what has made this isolated living something that I can do, because I have sisters and friends who are ‘neighbors’ though they are thousands of miles away from me.
My first experience with the VA Connection Groups was through an email group over six years ago. I was a newbie expat. I lived in a different landscape then, more jungle than desert, but it allowed me to hear from other women who had been craving connection much longer than me. I was also single, and this brought some companionship that was lacking in my new and unfamiliar place. The next Connection Group I joined wasn’t what I needed at the time, and I appreciate the grace that it took to realize that it just wasn’t the fit for my wilderness living at that moment.
In a different Connection Group, I tried out a Facebook group (whew, I had to really fight to get in a Facebook group before they were filled!), and found that this arena worked for the encouragement I was needing and for the encouragement I wanted to give others! In fact, I was so certain, that I signed up the next time with the same leader, because the category of the group fit just exactly where I needed building up the most! Now, a year or so later, we have formed friendships that are not constricted to the eight or ten weeks of official chats—and we have an ongoing place to come together and talk about similar situations, various struggles, prayer requests, victories, disappointments and so much more.
This past Connection Group was on a new platform, and it may have been my favorite so far. Though the category was not as specific this time, I resonated with each woman in one way or another, and the pictures, voice messages, jokes, prayers, and unending stream of connection made life even less alone.
Each season, life overseas grows less and less isolated. For really, my far-away close neighbors and sisters are right here, making this wilderness just a little bit more like home.
How have you found connections in your wilderness? What does it look like to build others up right where you are?
Head over to our Connection Group page to learn more about the groups available this session! Registration opens on Tuesday, March 10th at 6:00 PM EST!