How Have You Been Called to Stay?

Some years, staying put while teammates and other foreigners leave feels like winning the lottery. They sell us their bikes and super handy shelving units and rugs and coffee makers and we can hardly wave goodbye with our arms so full of loot. We’ll miss them, for sure, but we’ll keep in touch and probably see each other again as we’re a traveling, international bunch.

The goodbyes are bittersweet as we look forward to new friends on the way. Not to say friends are easily replaceable, but there’s always the prospect of new people that softens the sharp edges of all the goodbyes. It’s not like we’re being left alone on a deserted island.

Other years, staying feels like standing on a crowded dock waving goodbye to the masses onboard a big boat, all the while wishing we were up there, waving goodbye and looking forward to a new adventure elsewhere. Instead, we’re the ones down on the dock watching the loaded ship slowly pull away, continuing to gaze as it becomes smaller and smaller, finally slipping past the horizon.

After we’re sure the boat is really gone and it’s not coming back, we look around at the gaping hole left by our departed teammates and wonder how we’re going to fill it again.

Some years the only reason I stay is because Jesus tells me to. I want to go somewhere else because I’m tired of the drama, the problems and the imperfection here. And don’t even get me started on the weather and the dreary days of winter when I just want to grab my passport, my cash and my children and leave. Then I’m reminded that wherever I go, there I will be. I’m longing for eternity, really. That’s the only place where I’ll never tire of staying. In the meantime, I’m learning what it takes to stick it out and stay in the midst of an exodus.

There are others who stay every single year…the local staff. They watch us come and go and befriend us and then say goodbye over and over and over again. They’re tired too. Some of them signed themselves up for such a task when they became “Foreign Affairs Officers” and holders of jobs with similar titles. Others just fell into friendship with a bunch of foreigners and keep getting left behind. I once had a local friend say to me:

“I’m not going to make friends with foreigners anymore. I can’t. They always leave.”

She was dead serious. Instead of brushing it off with a happy smile and repeating some cliché, I took her out for coffee, looked her straight in the eyes and told her I feel her pain. I know it stinks to get left behind year after year. I know it’s hard to continue the process of getting to know new people, knowing they’re going to move on in a few years. I told her about my calling to live far away from my family in a foreign country and how it’s not easy.

“This is your calling.” I said “You are called to be here and serve as new people come in and befriend them and help them and love them.”

I’m so thankful that I had a chance to tell her how much her friendship meant to me and the other foreigners on our team. I reminded her that if it weren’t for her, our kids wouldn’t have gone to a local preschool as she helped us get them signed up (which is not an easy process), took us shopping for school supplies (the supply list was entirely in Chinese and made no sense to us even when translated), helped us obtain health exams and continually checked in on the situation. Before we knew how to shop online by ourselves, she spent hours helping us pick out and order tricycles for our kids. She came to our kids’ birthday parties and always brought the most amazing presents. These are just a few of the ways she was involved in our lives.

My friend came away from that conversation encouraged and ready to embrace yet another batch of new-comers. When we visited a few years later, she was still around, helping and being her amazing self. I share her story with you in hopes that you will look around and find a “stayer” who needs some encouragement. Tell them specifically how they’ve helped you and remind them that God will continue to use them to help someone else. If you’re the “stayer,” I pray that you’ll be strengthened in your inner being, in that deep place where the Holy Spirit dwells in you, to continue living out your calling day after day, week after week, year after year.

Who has God used to encourage you when he wanted you to stay?


  1. emily May 24, 2015


    As my family and I were direct recipients of the blessing that flowed from that conversation you had with your local friend… thank you! And knowing her story and seeing the fruit of you speaking truth into her life has challenged me in my own relationships with local friends.

    1. M'Lynn May 25, 2015

      Emily, Thank you so much for sharing that with me! What an encouragement!

  2. Monica F May 25, 2015

    Oh I love this!  Yes, I love encouraging the ‘stayers’ because they have made all the difference in our lives in rural China.  Helping with our kids local school enrollment, introducing us to ‘key’ officials, caring for our apartment when we are away, visiting our son in the hospital when appendicitis struck, and making us feel ‘home’ in so many other ways…. how blessed we have been!   And how comforting to know that when the time comes to depart from those that ‘stay’, that someday, we will enjoy our eternal home together!

    1. M'Lynn May 25, 2015

      Monica, Blessings to you in rural China! I’m pretty sure that’s a totally different country than urban China 🙂  I’m so glad you’ve been surrounded by good friends there. I agree that looking forward to eternity is such a comfort in hard seasons of coming, going and staying.

  3. T May 25, 2015

    Thanks, M’Lynn!  We’ve been the ones left so often–I was waiting for a third example of goodbye that was more dramatic like Tears streaming down faces, how can our kids stay here without these dear friends? and who will love them so well? kind of goodbyes.  That is what I’ve felt sometimes.  Am kind of hanging on a thread now to hear the decision of our oldest friends here…we should know in the next few weeks.  They are seeking, trying to choose right, and trying to agree with each other! 😉  I’m trying to keep my hands open, not grasping, not pleading (even with Him).  His will be done, not mine, eh?!  Tough time of year!

    1. M'Lynn May 25, 2015

      Oh, yes, T! You bring up that goodbye! The dreaded snot-bawling goodbye. I’m glad you brought it up. I left it zip-locked deep down somewhere…that same place I put the tears I never shed at the airport when I say goodbye to my family. The tears I’m afraid to shed because they might not stop…those are the tears reserved for the kind of goodbye you describe. Praying that God will give you mercy in that goodbye if He calls your friends to move. I’m loving that your heart longs for His will, even if that means some hard times.

  4. Jennifer May 25, 2015

    As I approach the end of six years of being called to stay, as almost every foreigner I know has spent the time progressively called to leave, I realize two things most strongly. One is that the call to stay is just as much a call as being called to leave. It is not a default position we take in the absence of a call to leave, but a position in its own right. We talk so much about how to support those who are leaving, but very little about those called to stay. We actively support those leaving, and leave those staying to pick up the pieces and find their own way. We think about what is best for those leaving. Just when is the “best time” to begin to speak about the fact they are going to be leaving sometimes without really adequately thinking about the real needs of those who are not leaving, but who as you put it face the endless stream of people leaving, so actually they are far more likely to expect foreigners to be leaving than staying. Whoever said that a month was a good amount of “notice” to me actually lacked understanding. I will respect decisions my friends make, and seek to give them what they need in their transition and in their leaving, but I also know that there is a sense in which in staying I will find myself picking up some of those pieces after they leave, and as one who stays will find myself impacted by the way in which those who leave choose to leave. And in a sense, the additional challenge of not being able to do anything to deal with the wider impact of their leaving, until they are prepared to even speak of leaving beyond a smaller circle of people, is an interesting one. The tension between meeting the very real and valid needs of those leaving and those who stay is a very real one for me this year. At the same time I can see the very real and different blessings which come from staying, and from being perceived as making the choice to stay. As one who is also outside of a strong team context, I am also challenged to ask those who do happen to have strong “team” support as they leave, to also consider the needs of those who do not. In lots of ways, how you leave, and how well you leave, does impact those who stay, and picking up the pieces can be as much a challenge as coping with the emotional impact of losing yet again, and dealing with the grief inherent in that. And as you leave, or have left, please do consider the needs of those who stay, not just in the immediate aftermath, but into the future. Give them news of your life, of what you do now, or what has changed. It might take time for you to be ready to do that, but as I watch the very real impact that a simple photo can have on those left behind, in this place you were part of for a short time, even years after the leaving actually happened, and how much the simply “not knowing” anything can impact on those who have been left making the decision to engage in another relationship with a foreigner who too will leave, is a very real one. Just remember when you leave, you do leave part of yourself behind, and the leaving is no less a grieving for those who stay, as is any other loss. I have just walked through, what I can now see so clearly is effectively the impact of what I would call a “bad leaving” and simply not being allowed to grieve for, much less even talk about it. I find myself challenged to say to those who leave simply to recognize that you do not cease to be a part of us, just because you are physically not here. A short period of notice or even no notice at all, might be what you need, and your needs are just as real and just as valid, and we will support you in your leaving, but our needs in staying, and in picking up the pieces is every bit as real and significant.

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