Bawump bawump. Cringe cringe. Bawump bawump. Stress stress. The shots ringing out this morning, echoing off the surrounding trees while I drink my morning cup of tea out on the porch, remind me how much living in Congo changes perspective. I’m not in Congo at the moment, far from it in fact. We are on our furlough in the states right now, currently staying in a beautiful house out in the countryside of Illinois.
A police officer lives next door and is practicing on his range. Bawump bawump. The shots are distored by the surrounding trees but they are shots and my body reacts each time as though it were still in Congo where hearing gunshots is a very bad thing. Even having grown up with guns as a natural part of my life, even a fun part, it still takes some self talk during these moments “I’m ok. We are safe. We are in the states. This is normal.” It just shows me how much my world has changed from living in Congo.
Furlough. The time to take a break from the stresses of living in another country and culture. The time to see family and friends. The time to get some rest from the last term of working hard every day under various pressures. Furlough is supposed to be a restful time and it is to some extent but it comes with its own challenges. Even strange simple things like echoing gunshots or fireworks can be challenging. Other things are not so simple like an insecure kid confused by moving around so he cries and acts out more. Talking and presenting in front of people when you are an introvert. It isnt all easy.
It also comes with blessings like family time, catching up with friends and simple things like knowing what bird makes that song you are listening too or knowing which plants are not ok to touch out on a walk. There is something to be said for being in a familiar environment, not having to wonder about everything all the time. Living in an unfamiliar place is one of those unmentioned stressors that missionaries live with. Its almost unexplainable. Like how I feel more comfortable walking around in the mountains in my home state with a handgun strapped to my belt because there are bears around vs. walking down a jungle path to go visit a neighbor there. If a bear came at me I would know what to do but what will happen if I touch that plant by the path? We don’t talk about it because its hard to explain and can make us sound crazy (like I just sounded I know).
What are the other “hidden” stressors? Unfamiliar environment, thinking and talking in a different language, living out your culture in a different one (thinking in yours while living in another), and security. Friendships are harder. Sitting on my porch this morning I feel lonely. Friendships with locals in another country means you have to work harder to overcome culture and you are completely limited by your language abilities. How do you get to heart matters when you cant even remember the word for feelings? Friendships with other expats are harder too. You don’t get to pick your friends – we all have each other assigned to one another. Thats the way it is. We are all under stress which brings out our “yuck” places stronger. That means interacting is more difficult. The lines between ministry, friendship, coworkers, neighbors, etc. are all blurred into an interdependence that is another one of those hard-to-describe areas. It comes with its blessings and the opposite side of the coin.
Furlough is strange because you are caught between two worlds. You are temporarily back in the one you came from, after having left the one you are trying to join and now belong truly in neither. Confusing? You bet. I once read an illustration – blue man moves to yellow land and becomes green only to find he doesn’t match either color anymore. It is disorienting.
A lot of things are easier here in one way and harder in another – like food. Easier to get and prepare but extremely hard to wade through choosing from dozens of brands of one thing while trying to pick something with minimal chemicals and things your body isn’t used to. Just a grocery shopping trip can be frustrating. It’s called re-entry culture shock. It comes with a mixture of emotions all at the same time. Happy to be here seeing people but missing your home there. Glad for friends here but missing the beautiful moments with someone there. Relief to be away from the stress and guilt from feeling relieved. Excited to share with others what is happening there but sad to not be doing it at this moment. It can be difficult to wade through.
But Im working it out in tiny bits. Thinking through things and discussing them with like minds helps. Prayer and conversation with God – asking Him questions helps. Reflection helps, which is all this post really is.
Bawump bawump. Cringe cringe.