Six and a half years ago, two wide-eyed girls arrived in Cambodia, full of hopes and dreams and two suitcases apiece. The humidity hit full blast as soon as the airport doors opened and senses were on overload from the honking taxis, masses of people going every which direction, and the smells of curry spices and ginger and sewer water that had no place to go.
Part of me wants to run back to that newbie worker, arms waving. “Turn around while you can! It will be too hard, too challenging, cost you too much.” My heart bears the scars of battle wounds that 27-year old could not comprehend.
But I didn’t know all of that yet. My heart was ready for adventure, full of determination and passion for the cause. And a lot of questions. Would I survive in the crazy traffic? Would my mind be able to retain new sounds and words and a language completely foreign to me? What about the possibility of break-ins and illness and what would happen when all the newness wore off?
Those first days and weeks in the country I was trying to call my home were a beautiful mixture of fun experiences and exhaustion and a sense that this was right where I was supposed to be. I saw God provide the perfect living situation for my teammate and me, a friend to walk to the local church with who patiently allowed us to practice our language, and the most compassionate tuk-tuk (local taxi) driver who rescued us when we needed to get across town and only spoke five words.
Language learning was stretching but suddenly I could buy mangoes in the market and understand if I was getting a fair price or not.
The traffic was scary and confusing but I figured out how to cross the street without getting run over.
Making meals and running errands were completely different in this new place, but my teammate and I got creative and fell in love with Pinterest and asked our friends all kinds of questions about the proper way to do things.
I learned how to be part of a team. I learned how to worship in another language, although this took a long time. I came to understand there are bonds of connection formed even without language, across the barriers of different cultures.
Maybe for you, the adventure is just about to get started. You are carefully getting your suitcases packed with everything you’ll need to start this new life. The goodbyes are proving painful, yet your heart is full of that same determination, love for the people you will meet, passion for the cause.
I want to say to you, sister on the brink of this life overseas, that you have SO much fun in store for you. I’m smiling remembering those early days and all I thought I knew but didn’t. I’m giggling over my language mistakes and misunderstandings and one day you will too. You’ll figure out where to find your groceries, how to cross the street, how to survive in your new home.
But don’t get me wrong. It will be hard. The “honeymoon stage” of cross-cultural adjustment will wear off. No exceptions. I hate that for you, thinking of the challenges you might have to face, the scars your own heart will come to bear. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, that you could live from one adventure to another.
But this is life on the field.
This life will stretch you in ways you never thought possible. You will see God in all His mystery, realizing you have so much more to learn of Him. There will be days that it feels like He has abandoned you. You will question your calling, why you have left comfort and family and home for this. But He is right there in your midst, calling you His precious daughter.
I can’t promise you it will feel like it is worth it. I can’t promise you that you won’t fail.
But this I can promise you. The Father who flung the stars into place is faithful. Always, even in the mess, the waiting, the hurt. He is faithful when things don’t work out, when you have to leave early, or stay when everyone else goes. He is faithful in the victories no matter how big or small. And no matter what, you are His. Always.
If you’ve been on the field for awhile, what are some of your memories of those initial days and weeks in your new home? If you are heading there soon, what you are most excited about? What questions do you have that this community could help answer?