One of my favorite sessions at MTI last year was one on grief and loss. We discussed 6 areas of guaranteed loss that we would face when living and working in a new culture. As I begin the process of reflecting on my first year here in Kenya, I continue to be drawn back to that session and it has become the filter through which I have been thinking about the last year. I have been sharing about these losses and their related gains over the past few months. Today I will talk about the changes that have happened in my community and support system – admittedly, I am leaving out huge chunks of my support system from home as I write this. It would take too long to write about every facet, so this post is limited to my immediate community in Dallas.
In a perfect world, all of my friends would live in Kenya and no one would ever leave.
If you can’t tell from the picture, my people are pretty great. What you don’t see here are the 2 husbands missing from this picture because they were getting us a table at my favorite Mexican restaurant. They understand that there isn’t much that makes my heart as happy and stirs up affection for the Lord in the same way as sharing a really good meal with my favorite people (especially if that meal is fajitas). We ate well as we celebrated the Lord’s faithfulness that night.
I was a part of a tight-knit group in Dallas. We were constantly in and out of each others’ houses. We went to the gym together, ate lots of meals, helped wrangle babies and cheered each other on in new jobs, new houses, new lives. Leaving my community has been the most painful part of coming to Kenya, but the grief I feel now about my friendships is different than the grief I had in the anticipation of their loss. We do a good job of keeping up with each other because technology.is.awesome. What I feel more intensely is the loss of presence – both me in their life and them in mine. It is the every day life that I miss with them. I miss walks around Brookhaven College with Mary Kathryn and her girls. I miss watching Baylor sports with Trav and Elizabeth. I miss living with Cassie and Eric and all that went with it. I miss going to classes at the Y with Katie where we laughed as much as we exercised. I miss helping Anne try to reach crazy New Year’s goals. I miss trips to office supply stores with Sarah. I miss Thursday night home group. I miss bubble tea dates with….well, anyone…maybe I just miss bubble tea. I have no idea why I ever got lucky enough to have the kind of community I enjoyed living in Dallas. These people are God-fearing men and women who love one another well and want to see Christ’s name made great in their families, neighborhoods, workplaces and around the world.
I often wish they were here. All of them. I think I send a text at least once a week telling someone how much I miss them and how I wish they were here right now doing whatever I’m doing with me. Of course on hard days I want people around who know me – the kind of friends you don’t need to explain yourself to and who are always there with awkwardly long hugs and silence if you need it. But more than that, I want them to be here to experience this life with me because I love my life here and I want them to be a part of it because I love them, too. I also feel like I am changing and growing and I want them to know the version of Stephanie that lives in Kenya. There is real fear associated with this in particular. What if I go home and I am not the same person? What if the changes create a gap between us that can’t be crossed no matter how hard we work at it?
When people would ask me what they could be praying for me as I prepared for Kenya, the 2 or 3 requests I gave would usually be different except for one – I always asked them to pray for me to have community here. I knew that leaving a tight knit group like I had at home would make coming to a place where I knew 2 people rough.
It takes time to build relationships like the ones I have in Dallas, but slowly, I see God building a community of people around me in Kijabe. By far the hardest thing is the number of goodbyes I have to say. Kijabe is a place where people come and go on a very regular basis. Some are here for just a couple of weeks, some for a longer, but eventually just about everyone will leave. My first instinct is to avoid difficult goodbyes by keeping my distance. It’s hard to willingly let yourself grow to love someone who you know will be leaving soon. However, I know that if I insulate myself from the potential pain of losing a relationship, I am also missing out on the joy of living in community, so I’ve learned to take the risk.
Relationship looks different here. My friends are less like me than the ones I have at home who grew up in a similar place, go to the same church and like to do the same things. If I’m honest, the times when I want to go home, it’s because I liked what I had in Dallas and I miss it so much some days that it physically hurts. But there is beauty in forming friendships with people who know what it is to miss home like that. When life is ministry and living in a cross-cultural context means that you are always “on,” it is helpful to be surrounded by others who live that struggle as well. The community that I have here is made up of people who all know this life full of paradoxes. They get how you can fiercely love where you live and what you do and at the exact same moment want nothing more than to board a plane and live a “normal” life again. There is connection and depth of relationship that occurs simply due to this shared experience. This has been a huge gift that I am so grateful for in the friendships I have here.
At the core, though, my friends and neighbors here in Kijabe are no different that my community at home. They, too, are God-fearing men and women who share a deep passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to see His name made great among the nations. This is the heartbeat of the Church, is it not? This is the commonality shared by those who love and trust Jesus, regardless of how different our experiences or backgrounds. I am so grateful to live and work among people from all over the world (the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, England, China, Kenya, South Sudan…just to name a few). There are giants of the faith in this place and somehow God has seen fit to allow me to walk alongside them. They have blown open my understanding of the kingdom of God, the Gospel, and the Church. What an unbelievable gift. Again I find myself wondering how on earth I am privileged enough to count many of the most incredible people I know as friends. Grace upon grace.
Other posts in this series: