One of the hardest aspects of living overseas is the overwhelming loneliness that occurs to every worker. Feeling isolated, we are surrounded by very few people who speak our native tongue and understand the struggles of adjusting to a new cultural. Personally, my Arabic is limited to “I went to the store” and “I am hungry”. Unfortunately, this level of comprehension does not create deep and intimate relationships with those who live around me. It requires an extensive amount of patience on the part of the native Arabic speaker, as I pathetically fumble through words, knowing a kindergartener speaks better than I do.
Every aspect of life takes 1,000 times more energy than it did in my hometown. There is no Walmart for a one and done stop, so I have to walk around for several hours until I find the stores that have what I need, assuming I know the words in Arabic to get those items. Because what seems to be extremely simple tasks take so much more time and energy, most workers feel too embarrassed or overly frustrated with themselves to share these struggles with those around them. I was so frustrated with how utterly exhausted I was accomplishing mundane tasks, that I began to slip into a very mild depression. I had kept all of my struggles inward, not wanting to cast burdens onto others, thinking I was being pathetic and lazy.
It was not until a teammate of mine shared with me how deeply she struggled when she first moved here, that I realized my lack of energy was not only justified but extremely normal. The very next day a worker from a different team shared with me how depressed she was for the first several months she was here as well. This gift from the Father allowed me to realize that not only was what I felt expected for all cross-cultural workers, but I was also given the grace and space to accept that my struggles were okay.
This is the point I would like to make with this post. In cross-cultural work, the very worst thing we can do is isolate ourselves and sweep our burdens under the rug. I have talked to cross-cultural worker friends on every continent (besides Antarctica obviously), and each and every one of them struggles with loneliness and overwhelming exhaustion. Each one is struggling to understand how to adjust culturally, while learning how to take care of themselves in ways no one ever realized they needed. Words cannot express how truly thankful I am to have gone to so many trainings and meet other like-minded workers who are also called to share the Good News all over the planet. We may not know the specific struggles others, or ourselves, are going through, but we know that we are just one skype call away from a fellow worker who can listen well and love well because they personally understand how hard it truly is to be in a new culture.
I am beyond thankful for these individuals in my life. Those I have kept in contact with have become some of the best friends I could have ever asked for. They bless me in every way possible and in ways they will never know. They give me the strength to keep going, knowing that in the end, it will be okay. Our Father is good and sovereign. He has blessed cross-cultural workers with a community that cannot be shaken, and it is truly an honor to be a part of it.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17