Today I have a guest blog to share with you ... with a difference. Many missionaries work in situations where it is not always safe to reveal their identity or the true work that they are involved in and these situations they are in can change at moments notice. Studying at All Nations, I had the opportunity to make friends with people called to all types of mission work and today's guest post is from someone in this position. Both she and her husband are professionals in their own right and they have three boys under the age of 10. Here's is a glimpse into their past year which didn't go at all how they had planned.
|All Nations Christian College|
Transition is not a word I used much before preparing and going overseas. It’s one I’ve had a lot of reasons to think about over the past year especially.
When we went out to South Asia with 2 children under 2, I knew that adjustments were going to be greatest for us adults. We left close family and friendships behind, we were used to certain freedoms and opportunities that now were not available, we were the ones who needed to get used to new routines involving purifying water, sterilizing fruit and veg before eating it, removing large spiders from very basic bathrooms before using them, and many other new experiences. Our boys mainly continued in a similar routine with Mum and Dad around them as before, it was just that the food got a bit spicier and the weather a whole lot warmer!
But 5 years later it was a different story. There was now a no. 3 who was toddler age, but all his life he had known a 3rd adult in the house most of his waking hours – our hardworking and faithful house-helper who loved our boys to bits and took great care of them at the times we were both out at work.
Nos. 1 and 2 now had their own friends, local friends from preschool and school, and ex-pat friends we met up with for fellowship and fun times – like cooling off together in the heat at a local pool we had access to. This was their home. Our home, England, was just a place of visits and holidays, time out from the ordinary. For our children ‘ordinary’ was the colour and dust and bustle of a sprawling developing world city, ‘ordinary’ was having school closures for the next day announced at 11pm (on TV channels we didn’t watch!) due to unrest in the city, ‘normal’ was donkey carts and camels on the road alongside crowded public buses and smart shiny 4x4s of the city elite.
And then in the space of 2 weeks our world was turned upside-down by the cancellation of our visas and the instruction to leave. It was time to go through transition again, but this time there was very little time to prepare, and whilst we needed to help our boys through it we were in bits ourselves over what was happening.
Today as I write this it is a year to the very day since we received news that we had to leave the country we had grown to love. And three weeks ago we sold our house in a leafy London suburb to move to a very South Asian area just a few miles down the road, where we have seen God lead us over recent months. Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful things you can do – because, I think, it involves a lot of change and uncertainty. We certainly experienced some of that with this move. However, harder still for us was leaving what was our home in South Asia so quickly, and so against our will. Time for goodbyes was short, opportunities to do special things as a family one last time were very limited as we raced to sort, pack, sell and give away all we had. And returning to the UK with no plans, no hopes and nowhere permanent to live was a great example of how not to ‘do transition’ if you can possibly help it!
Alongside being a mum I’m also a GP. I’m used to hearing about a problem and formulating a plan, an approach to it. As a mum helping my boys deal with all the changes the past year has brought, I’ve learnt that there needs to be more than one treatment option – in fact each of us needs a personalised treatment plan in tough times like major change.
My eldest (8) I think found it the hardest – he had friends he’d known since he was 2, some really special friends, but at 7 as he was then you don’t really do much more than hug when you say goodbye. For a while he would get really upset, angry even, over little incidents, minor injustices between him and his brother, or him and the rest of the world, it all just hurt. And efforts to help him process sadness through drawing pictures (which he usually loves) or reviewing photos he refused to do – I think it was just too painful. Occasional chats about things we did or friends we had, as they were relevant to what we were doing, seemed an easier way to re-live those times for him. It felt a real breakthrough to hear him say just a month back how he’d like to go back and visit his friends one day – the first time he has expressed a desire to return.
No. 2 (then 5, now 6) actually really went for the picture drawing, he could go to those places and draw on the good times. He had most enthusiasm for sending a UK postcard to friends back in our city. But he too had his moments, an increase in the times he would overreact, breakdowns into uncontrollable sobs when things didn’t go his way. I found this a real challenge as a parent with very limited resources in the patience department at the time, still in my own wilderness.
And no. 3 (then 15 months, now 2yrs) who had always been secure, confident and a fantastic sleeper, became oh so clingy. It’s taken a good length of time for him to be happily without Mum and Dad, and in the first few months of frequent changes of location, staying in many different friends’ and family’s houses, he would often wake at strange times and need us around to settle him like never before. It took me a long time to see things from his perspective, to realise that his life had always involved 3 significant adults with our house-helper around as well, and suddenly she was gone. There had been no explanation that he could grasp, no gradual change, first she was part of his daily life and then she was gone. He missed her, I came to realise, and having lost her I could see why he would want to make sure Mum and Dad didn’t go too.
Transition. It’s been quite a year. Our recent house move is the 4th major change of home in the past 12 months, but at least this time other things (like school) are staying the same, even if the nature of the area we live in have changed a lot, and the boys seem happy to be in our new home. They have come through many of the issues mentioned above. Nos. 1 and 2 love school and have gradually made good friends both their and in our new church. No. 3 adores the childminder he spends 3 mornings a week with and has great fun charging about with Indian, Pakistani and Somali children we mix with locally. I haven’t even touched on how I and my husband have dealt with all the change, I’ll just go so far as saying it’s ongoing – emotions and issues surfacing at times when the pressing needs of family life and new work and ministry in the UK allow it to.
And where is God in all this? I’ve not mentioned Him either. He’s been right in the middle of all the mess with us. I’m so glad our faith allows for God to be in mess and hurt, confusion, imperfection and uncertainty, and to understand it. It has helped me to recognise that Jesus experienced all this and more as he faced misunderstanding, disappointment and rejection throughout his earthly life. The scriptural idea of being aliens and strangers makes more sense when living as one on the move, with no fixed horizons for a while, and there have been valuable lessons to share with our boys from this part of our story. Together we have known what it is to call heaven our true home, together we have learnt more about trusting God when our plans, hopes and dreams have fallen apart, and together we are learning more about how he rebuilds us in a way that prepares us for wherever he takes us next. Transition and change can be challenging, for us and our children, but like everything else we can trust God to use it for our good.