It’s been eight months since our family left our hearts on the mission field in the Philippines. What seemed to us to be a “premature” departure, we entrusted in our all-knowing and all-loving God to be what was best for our family at this time. Not a day goes by, though, that we don’t think about, pray for and desperately miss our new friends and brothers and sisters in Christ that we left behind.
Lately I find myself dreaming of the Philippines almost every night. Last night I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend by way of my dream. Our ministry was to the poorest of the poor and they don’t have internet access on a regular basis. Occasionally my friend will get on a public computer or use a friend’s internet-capable phone to check her Facebook page. It seems that always happens when it’s the middle of the night here (12 hr time differences will do that!) and we haven’t been able to connect in real time. I send her pictures of the kids and messages, but its sometimes months between times she gets online. I can get some news from the village from neighbors or two of the folks in the village that have higher paying jobs and access to the internet. So a “dreamed” conversation with an old friend is about the only solace for my soul, for now.
When we first moved to the Philippines there were a lot of cultural differences, and some of them I was pretty uncomfortable with. One in particular, is the Filipino tradition of touch. Women will sit together, holding hands while talking. Everyone hugs. An arm around the shoulder of a friend is a cultural way to say, “I am here for you.” In a culture where they don’t have a lot of things, they do have each other. This close, relational lifestyle is physically demonstrated by physical touch. I know some Western families where this is also true, but that wasn’t the way things were in my family of origin and consequently our own family is less physical than many. I remember being terribly uncomfortable with all the hand holding, hugs and touching. It was awkward and outside my comfort zone.
But as I think about those days living abroad, what do you think I miss the most?
In my dream last night I sat close to my dear friend, our hands clasped together, her hand rubbing my arm… and we talked, we laughed and we cried. This was life in the Philippines. And though it was far from my “normal” it has become one of the things I miss the most.
What I wouldn’t give to be crowded into a super-packed jeepney again.
To be helping a sick child or mother get the medical care she needs
To run out of some basic cooking ingredient and send Jon to the sari-sari at the end of the road for more
To bargain at the market again for the best price on fresh mangoes or pineapples
To enjoy a fresh coconut fallen from the trees in our yard
and on cold winter days in Pennsylvania, I’d even be happy to line dry my clothes in the hot breeze off the ocean, again.
So to new missionaries just starting out on the field….
Soak up every moment. Savor every difference. Embrace every challenge. Allow your heart to fall in love with this strange new land and these wonderful new people God has called you to serve. Those inconveniences, hassles and headaches– those are the things you will treasure in the years to come. When you come back to your culture of origin, whether after weeks or months or years, those “crazy” things about your host country and the people who call it home, will be the things you miss the most. Praise God that He has created such diversity! Praise Him that He’s blessed you with this opportunity to experience another culture, to love another people, His people! The temptation will be there to grumble– living cross culturally is an emotional challenging experience. But you will always be so much richer for it and trust me, someday…. you’ll miss this.