Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Loneliness and Life Overseas

Before we left the US, people asked me what was the scariest part of moving back to Papua. I said two things. First, health issues and the possibility of extreme sickness like cerebral malaria. Secondly, loneliness.

Sickness is hard. And one day we'll probably tackle something severe. In daily life, though, loneliness is harder. And we're in the middle of it.

It all makes sense. I am new. Being new is lonely because in most situations, especially for a very-relational-but-reserved introvert, it's hard to make your way when you're new. It takes time. We've been in Manokwari 7 months and when we had been in Dallas that long I was also deeply lonely and felt entirely unconnected to my community. I feel the same way here. There are two differences. In Dallas I didn't want to be there and was unmotivated to make friends, here I want to be here and I am trying my best. The other difference is culture. Dallas was a cultural gap, this is an even bigger cultural gap.

I don't really know what to expect. In the US it's supposed to be my culture so I looked for friendships my own way and then struggled when American cultural friendships were different. Here I know friendships will be different, and that's okay.... but that doesn't mean I know what they will look like. This is not an individualist culture and the broader community is more important, groups are more important, having a network rather than individuals is more important. So will I, in time, come away with a few women who know my heart and that I know, who bear each others' secrets and come to each other to talk through life and walk in faith together? Or is that an entirely Western or TCK expectation of friendship? I don't know.

I want to value this place and the friendships and community within it. I don't want to place my own cultural expectations on it. So I am waiting to see what does happen, and in the meantime I am new, and.... lonely.

I am just beginning to know the people at the school, just beginning to know names and be able to move beyond chit-chat at church. I have no one within this culture here that is for sure “my friend” yet. I will. In fact, this past week after pouring out this loneliness before God, it felt like doors flew open and suddenly I was chatting with the ladies at multiple events (photo with new friends above!), and was added by 15 people on facebook in the course of a few days (SO SO helpful for figuring out names, having a way to contact people, and setting a foot into each others' lives).

I am lonely, but also hopeful. This is a loneliness to walk through, not avoid. It's a loneliness that will force me to look for relationships even through the difficulties of communicating cross-culturally. It is a loneliness through which you make a home. It is a loneliness that is assuaged with time and the building, step-by-step, of loving community. It will come. In a couple of years I will look back and see what God has done. So I wait in expectation, and I am thankful that when I am lonely, He is my comforter.

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