“What about friends?” he asked me.
He was right; apart from my husband, I knew no one in Papua New Guinea (PNG). In fact, I’d never even been to the country.
Our organization was small. They specialized in helping those with a particular vision and calling to get to the particular place where they felt led to serve. But due to the organization’s small size, there wasn’t the traditional member care or conferences which some larger organizations are able to offer. We would, in fact, be our organization’s only cross-cultural workers in PNG. It did feel daunting.
I appreciated the board president’s question. Thankfully my husband is from PNG, so he did have connections to a local church, to family, to friends. This helped reassure the board, and they gave us a green light to go. It was a step of faith in many ways. I didn’t speak the language yet. My husband and I had both been serving separately as cross-cultural workers, and I grew up as an MK. But, just two months after our wedding, this was our first time serving as a couple.
During our first two weeks in PNG, we stayed at a local guest house while looking for housing. I vividly remember the excitement one morning seeing a pair of Birkenstock sandals outside the door of the dining room area. Was another expat transiting through? Already, I longed for connection, someone I could speak the same language with. Turns out the Birkenstocks did belong to a fellow expat. We weren’t from the same country, but we spoke the same language. It encouraged my transiting soul to be able to talk to someone freely—to connect. As I heard her easily float between English and Tok Pisin I felt encouraged as well. Maybe I would get there someday too.
Who doesn’t long for connection, to be heard, to be able to communicate freely? But connection is not easy when language barriers leave you feeling like a stuttering toddler, when you make yet another cultural blunder, or when you have to start over making friends but don’t even have the energy to send the first text. How do you leave yourself open to connection when yet another teammate tells you they are moving?
Thankfully in such a digital age, it is easier to stay connected even with teammates who relocate. I actually appreciate how one of the benefits of surviving the pandemic is how even more things have moved online. I can virtually join a funeral for a loved one even when I cannot be personally present. I can celebrate virtually with my sister through WhatsApp that a new baby is on the way. I can watch an online sermon from our sending church. I can take a virtual class even from a rural village accessible only by dirt roads.
I am forever grateful for the ways Velvet Ashes has helped me connect both to friends living in-country and even those around the globe due to the gift of online Connection Groups and other resources. I distinctly remember sitting at the local nature park with my friend Erin as our pack of boys ran wild. She asked me if I wanted to help her host a retreat. Just that week my aunt (also a cross-cultural worker) had sent me an email about Velvet Ashes Retreats. “Must be a sign,” I thought. “I don’t know what I’m doing, but let’s go for it.”
As someone serving with a smaller organization without access to member care, I am particularly grateful for the support of the VA community. Joining online Connection Groups has resulted in even more virtual friends who easily get some of the unique aspects of this beautifully complicated life. I’m amazed how quickly connections can be made, even over a screen, because even though we are often serving all over the globe connecting with people living similar lives takes away so much of the need to explain.
We do need friends. We need family away from family. We need community and support. It is a step of faith to step out not knowing who you will meet on the journey or who will come alongside you as you live an often unconventional life. What a gift to have places like Velvet Ashes dedicated to helping form meaningful connections. What a gift that no matter where you are in life you don’t have to serve alone.
How long did it take you to make friends when you first arrived on the field? Has connecting felt fairly organic or did it take a lot of effort?
Connection Groups are online small groups designed to help you get to know other women who understand this cross-cultural life. For eight weeks, you can meet with other women via a Zoom call, in a Marco Polo video messaging group, in a WhatsApp group, through a private Facebook group or on email! You’ll find space to share your joys, frustrations, and those cross-cultural moments that just need an affirming smile from someone who gets it. Laugh, pray, and share pictures from your day! Registration to join groups opens on Tuesday, September 13th at 9:00 am Eastern/13:00 UTC. Check out our Connection Group page for more information!