I remember when we first arrived in Malaysia, nearly three years ago. We left a wintry Canadian temperature of -30 Celsius and arrived to a temperature of +30 Celsius. That was a shocking change in the matter of 30 hours!
Even before we left our home country, though, we were already in the process of change and transition. Selling our home and 90% of our belongings, leaving a ministry position and taking on a temporary warehouse job and saying many goodbyes all had to happen before we could leave. Once we landed in our new country, we again had many changes and transitions. New jobs, a new home and a new school. New people to meet, new ways to shop and drive, new customs and cultures to get used to. A whole lot of change in a pretty short time frame.
Because of our sending organization, we had some fairly extensive preparation for this big change, including a two week ‘Pre-Field Orientation’ and a few sessions of Life Coaching for our whole family since we were moving with teenagers. In many ways, we knew what to expect.
And it still was hard. I remember those first few weeks and months. We walked around feeling like we were in a fog. My husband felt dizzy and exhausted for months. We lost one cell phone and sent another one through the washing machine. I dropped my wallet in a parking garage. All members of our family suffered some kind of skin rash. My husband and I bickered over small things in ways that hadn’t happened for many years and we over-reacted with anger and frustration at people in traffic.
And that was with preparation. I can only imagine how much more difficult this might have been if we had not been given any type of information about what to expect. Yet, that is what happens to many people who make an overseas move. Their company sends them off to another country, often with a comfortable salary and hopes for an exciting adventure. But when they arrive and reality sets in, they find that they are lonely, disoriented, facing family stress and many other difficulties that they never expected.
What a great opportunity for those of us in International Churches! During those first few weeks and months, people are open to new relationships and experiences. If we can bring the practical love of Christ to them through helping them transition well, we have a fantastic opening into the lives of these people who are new to our communities.
One woman whom I met shortly after she arrived was really in a crisis mode, struggling with all kinds of issues from self-esteem, to the loss of a long-term job, to spending full days with her young son for the first time in her life. One conversation together served to give her some understanding and to ‘normalize’ her feelings , and she has now moved on and appears to be connected and adjusting well in her new situation. A friend and I are preparing a workshop that we would like to offer to the expatriate community in our city to be able to share both an understanding of the effects of transition and practical resources to help them and their families transition well. Ultimately, it is our desire to develop relationships with these women, most of whom do not know Christ.
After we have been in our new countries for a while, we can forget what it’s like to be new. But because new families are moving in (and out) of our countries throughout the year, helping people deal with transition can be an ongoing ministry opportunity. Identify the people new to your country:
- through connecting with associations or organizations that meet the needs of expats (such as the International Women’s Association, clubs connected to specific countries, etc)
- by working with schools and/or companies that have new people
- through reaching out and introducing yourself at the gym, coffee shop or grocery store to someone whom you’ve not seen before.
Determine what those new to your community need that is not currently being offered within your city or community and then find resources to help meet these needs.
It is important for all of us in IC’s to think ahead and be prepared to help people in their times of transition. Now is the time for all of us to look at this opportunity, work together with others and get ready to offer our help to those who need it. We can offer them practical help and tools, friendship with those of us who reach out to them, a warm invitation into our community of faith and ultimately, a relationship with the Living Christ, who is the best One to walk with all of us through all circumstances of our lives.