It was a Tuesday morning in August. It was my mother’s birthday. It was the day everything changed, and nothing really changed.
The day had finally come. After months of preparing for the field, packing up my worldly possessions, quitting my job, doing more paperwork than God ever ever ever intended, the day had finally come to go to China!
Well, not quite.
It was the day that I would board a plane in Denver, Colorado and land in Los Angeles, California where I would spend the next three weeks going through orientation. THEN, China home, here I come!
Well, not quite.
Then I would be in Beijing with all of my fellow newbies, the returning teachers, and representatives from the schools where we would all teach. After four days of playing tourist and trying to make a good impression on my school official while jet lagged and sweating profusely, THEN we would fly to what was to be our home.
But on that Tuesday morning, I knew two things for sure. On the same day my parents would have to leave me at the airport with two 70 pound bags (oh the good old days!) it was my mother’s birthday. (Why, God? Why not any of the other 364 days possible for me to leave?) and I would finally meet my teammate, Erin.
If you have gone through orientation to the field, you probably have similar stories. Erin and I shared a college dorm room for a month; our combined four suitcases exploding over time. Our days were filled with training sessions where we learned about Chinese culture, teaching English, functioning on a team, and sharing our faith.
Hours, days, even weeks were spent orienting us to the field.
It was not wasted time by any stretch of the imagination. Not at all. We needed that in-between time to reform our identities. We needed it to plant seeds that could only grow on foreign soil. We needed the new vocabulary and ways of thinking that were being poured into us. Orientation—be it through an organization or not—is necessary.
But the beauty and limitations of orientation is that it is often only a once in a lifetime experience. If you have gone through orientation to the field, I bet you can close your eyes and vivid memories come up. Though almost 25 years ago, I can see myself walking across the campus where our training was held. I can see the large room we spent hours in. I can hear the laughter as a group of us took public transportation into the heart of LA and found Rodeo Drive (a famous street). I can feel the rip in my heart when it hit me in Beijing that I would be far, far away from these people I had only known for a month; the ache of leaving them was similar (maybe worse?!) than leaving friends and family because I wasn’t prepared for how quickly we would bond.
So much time, money, and effort went into my orientation to the field.
I spent almost twenty years in China. It turns out orientation is not a “one and done” part of life on the field.
We need to introduce the idea of re-orientation into our conversations. We need them on an individual, family, and organizational level.
In this most recent term:
What have you learned about your host culture?
How have you professionally developed? What professional skills do you need to invest in?
How are you functioning as a team? If you have been on other teams, how does the size of this team influence your team? How do the ages and stages of teammates influence? What has God been showing you when it comes to your skills and ability to interact with people? Where can you celebrate? How do you need to grow?
How has sharing your faith changed? What has made it easier? More challenging? As you understand your host context better, what is your role in serving the body of Christ in this season? What areas do you need to grow in to better serve them?
We really do change. We grow in our understanding of a place, a people, a language, a calling. We also stay remarkably the same in the sense that we do not lose ourselves. The power of reorientation is that through it we can see the everything and nothing of change.
What was your orientation experience like? How could re-orientation currently help you in your calling?
This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.
Here’s our Instagram collection from this week using #VelvetAshesReorient. You can add yours!