I have written and re-written this post over and over since returning to the US 5 months ago, wondering what parting words I can offer to the next wave of college graduates considering going overseas. Do I share about my struggles? The culture stress? Do I pick out any few beautiful moments as if one was more precious of a memory than another? Do I leave with some platitudes or well-worded advice? It’s funny, because after this week, my delay feels like it was necessary. To allow me to experience a little treasure that God had planned out for me. Let me share this for you, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
This past week, my church here in Maryland hosted VBS for the surrounding community. We have a big church family, so there are a few hundred children that attend every year. Many are not from our church or the neighboring churches, but from non-believing or non-church-going families. This year, amidst the 300-400 kids, there was one little 6-year-old girl who didn’t speak English. She and her mother recently arrived from Northeastern Asia to visit their family, and for whatever reason, her mother decided that she should also attend VBS with her cousins and their neighbors’ children, who were also attending (they all are fluent in English though…). The moms orchestrated putting the neighbor’s son, who is even younger than her, in the same group as her to translate. That doesn’t work very well – his family isn’t Christian, and even if he did understand all of the English, he wouldn’t have known how to say any of that in his mother tongue. At first, he didn’t even know if there was a word for “God” in his language! All of this to say, it was difficult time for this little girl.
How do I know all this? Because she was in my mother’s group. I couldn’t volunteer as a guide because my work schedule would not allow me to be available every morning for one week, so I hadn’t signed up. When my mother told me the first night of this little girl in her group, I knew I wanted to be there so badly. So on the two days I did have the mornings free, I went and joined her group to help translate what I could for her, and to just help her to feel more connected even when my language skills failed. The days I was there, she was playful and cheerful, and my heart was full – here, totally unexpectedly, was a little piece of place I had just spent two years of my life! The second day I joined was extra special, because the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection was shared, and although my ability to translate and her ability to concentrate weren’t up for the task, it was an opportunity to plant a seed in her heart and the heart of the neighbor’s boy, that God is good, he loves us, and he sent his son, Jesus, here so that we could know that love and walk beside him.
So why do I share this story? Before returning to the US, a woman from my sending organization shared that our time overseas is like our secret treasure. When you come back after your serving term has finished, many will not care about your time overseas, or may not appreciate or understand your experiences the way that you wish they would. Most days, I’m just living a general routine, with things that remind me or make me miss things back in that place. Outside of immediate family, there aren’t many who express much interest in my experiences, or understand that I’ve been changed by my time away. However, moments like this one, that I’ve shared with you, are those precious moments where I can uncover this treasure I hold. They are sweet reminders that God is still using me in ways that are directly connected to the call I answered two years ago to GO. I hope this gives you courage: whether you are just thinking of answering your own call to go, or are preparing to return and are wondering what it’s going to look like.