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?