Are you picturing Judd Nelson in a trench coat walking across an empty football field? If not, you really should stop what you are doing and go watch “The Breakfast Club.” At the very least, you should recognize that I’m about to quote song lyrics. (With all thanks and credit to Simple Minds and the owners of the copyright on the song.)
I guess a little humor lightens the mood for a blog post I’m still trying to figure out how to write. Some blog posts are easy. This one isn’t. No matter how I say it, I feel like it’s going to come out sounding all needy and whiny. So I guess I’ll just say it and let the chips fall where they may.
See, here’s the thing about missionary life. We need you to not forget about us.
I’m not talking about the “remember us in prayer,” or “your donations allow us to do what we do,” kind of thing. I’m talking about the fact that we need our friends now more than ever.
Won’t you come see about me? I’ll be alone. . .
When we first went to Ivory Coast in 2000, it was hard. Really, really hard. You may already know bits of the story, and believe me, the whole thing is coming soon, but we had all kinds of trauma and stuff going on. But even if we hadn’t—even if all we were dealing with was the usual cross-cultural transitions, I’d have still needed my friends.
Okay deep breath. Here’s where this gets sticky, but here goes.
At a time when I needed my friends the most, I felt like most of my friends forgot me. In the middle of my darkest moment, I had one friend who answered my emails. One. (And God bless you—you know who you are.)
I get it. I left, your lives went on. I wasn’t there and communication was difficult and it’s just the natural order of things. It wasn’t intentional on your part. And that’s why this is so hard for me to say—because I know you are going to read this and feel defensive.
Slow change may pull us apart.. .
It’s just that I needed you. I was alone on the far side of the world. My world was shattering and every unanswered email confirmed the suspicion that I was on another planet, all alone.
It’s just not the same as moving from one state to another. Unless you’ve done this kind of cross-cultural adaptation, you don’t have a frame of reference for it. Please be careful comparing it to a move from state to state in the US. That’s like comparing a kiddie wading pool to an Olympic swimming pool. Yes, there are similarities, but this is so much harder than that.
You may have assumed that I had friends in my new host culture.
Being friends in a cross-cultural context is incredibly complex. Every word out of my mouth has to be dissected for cultural appropriateness. Every gesture is scrutinized to make sure it doesn’t have another possible interpretation. Even something as simple as saying “Hey, come over for tea,” prompts a thousand questions. “Is this an appropriate thing to do? Will it make them uncomfortable due to perceived differences in social status? Will they feel uncomfortable in my house, which is much nicer than theirs? Will I feel uncomfortable with them in my house, knowing how nice it must look to them? Do they even drink tea in the afternoon? Will they want sugar or milk with it?”
The first time I was really alone with a group of women in a non-church setting, I remember thinking “oh good! Friends!” Except that the longer I sat there, the less it felt like that. I couldn’t follow the conversation very well- -they were using a mix of French and a local language. Even when I did understand, I didn’t really understand what they were talking about. Their lives are very different than mine and I didn’t have the context of their daily life to put it in. One of the women was obviously pregnant and I didn’t even know if it was acceptable to ask her about it. So I just sat there listening. And they kept looking at me and kind of giggling under their breath. I was trying so hard but it was so terribly uncomfortable. It wasn’t what I needed. It was what I came to do.
A real friendship- the kind where you can completely relax, is so challenging in this setting that I’m not sure that even after all this time, if I could pull it off. It is much better than it used to be, and I do have friends here now. But there is still a cultural wall like a glass patio door, and I still haven’t figured out how to completely open it. I know some missionaries who do it and do it well, but not me. I’m still always trying and often failing. And all of this trying and failing is changing me in ways that I can’t even express well.
Will you recognize me? Call my name or walk on by me?
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling down down.
You may have assumed that I had friends among the other missionaries here.
Yes, it’s true, I did. I do. Everywhere we’ve lived, there have always been other missionaries, and I’ve always been friends with them. Some of them have been very good friends. They’ve talked me down from ledges and held me while I cried. They’ve laughed with me about the kind of stuff that I couldn’t even tell you because it would sound horrible unless you live here. But there are some that I just don’t connect with either. It’s not any different than in the US- you are friends with some people and not friends with others. The only difference is that the pool is much smaller here.
Over the years, communication has gotten better. Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram have allowed me a connection I never had before. They have allowed me to share my life here with you and bring you into my world, and they’ve allowed you to keep in touch with me in a quicker, more immediate way too.
But I guess what I want to say is that it’s still true. Please don’t forget about me. When I am the one initiating the conversations all the time, I notice. I sometimes feel petty and jealous when you post about things you got to do that I didn’t get to be a part of. I feel left out when everyone gets together and I’m looking at the pictures on a screen 6,000 miles away.
I wish I could make you understand how much a simple note that says “We missed you,” means to me.
Will you call my name? As you walk on by?
And now I’ll go and argue with myself for an hour or two about whether I should actually post this. I know I sound whiny and needy, but the truth is, I am needy. You are too. We need each other.
Just know I’ll be doubting myself for the next five years for actually saying it.