Whenever I walk up to a house, my eyes always focus in on the presence or lack of the welcome mat. There is something inviting and comforting about a colorful, soft welcome rug as opposed to the bare cold concrete or dirt floor. About five months ago I moved to Southeast Asia from the United States, and ever since I landed in my host country country, I have been on the lookout for “welcome mats.”
Jumping into a new culture, living with a large family, and facing the strict restrictions and implications of COVID-19 left me feeling lost in a sea of a variety of conflicting emotions. I began to long for the comforts of home.
About a month before I left from the US, I was involved in a training that introduced me to Velvet Ashes. I began to peruse the website, hoping to find some way to connect with people that were experiencing similar situations or feelings that I was. This is how I stumbled upon the Connection Groups. At the time that I was looking, the Connection Groups were not open yet. I quickly penciled down the date that they would open and eagerly awaited the date that they would start.
I signed up for a Facebook group and was connected with an engaging and interactive leader. She was very intentional about creating a place for safe conversations that encouraged the development of relationships. I met women from around the world that had been living overseas for years. I was blessed and challenged by their experiences. The Connection Group really made me feel welcomed.
The group started right during the time that I was experiencing home sickness and felt lost and as if I didn’t have a purpose. I quickly found that I was not alone. By responding to silly and light-hearted as well as deep and thoughtful posts, I was able to identify with the struggles and the joys of women serving in a variety of different roles.
While I may not have responded to every single topic, each one encouraged me to think about and process both the joys and the challenges. During this time, I was really struggling with the concept that while I was surrounded by people, I had never felt so alone in my life. I was living with a family of six and another one of my team members. Coming from a family a four, this was an adjustment.
While I had visited this country a couple of times, I had never lived here. There are many major cultural differences that I did not anticipate, and others that I knew about but just did not fully understand. The language barrier, the stares, the trash lining the streets, the many unpleasant odors began to overwhelm me.
I had arrived shortly before COVID-19 reached the country. The restrictions that came along with the virus made me feel trapped in a culture that I did not understand, among people that I did not know. I was longing for connection and community, someone that would understand what I was going through. When I first joined the Connection Group, I had no idea what to expect. I was hopeful that I would find at least one person that I could connect with. This group was a blessing to me in many ways. I was able to make connections while walking some steps and living some life with these women.
Ironically, I am now sitting in a local café in front of a busy street, directly across from a sign formed by local fauna that reads “Welcome.” Through the influence of the Connection Groups, I now can honestly say that I have found a place where I can call home, bedecked with a diverse and interconnected “welcome mat.”
YOU are welcome to be part of Connection Groups, too! We will open registration for our fall session on Tuesday, September 1st. Check out our Connection Group page to learn more!