I had never left home for so long. Excited as I was for my seven-month placement in Thailand, I knew the mission trip experience would take a toll on my relationships back in the U.S. As I said my bittersweet goodbyes, I wondered which friendships would be intact when I returned.
When I began to serve in Southern Thailand, I realized that ministry trips were harder than I had anticipated. Many Thais expressed interest in God, but I lacked the language skills to articulate the Gospel to them. So I undertook one of the most daunting elements of overseas mission trips: language acquisition.
As I embarked on the slow, gradual climb to half-decent language skills, my relationships with the Thais began to take root. We would gather at the table around bowls of searing soups and curries, eating and laughing for hours on end. I relished the fact that all social events seemed to involve food.
Over time, acquaintances turned into friends. I knew my language skills were improving when I began to catch onto their sense of humor. And after months of studying, I was starting to talk a little about religion and the gospel.
But by that time, my trip was almost over. Just when I had begun to revel in those deeper conversations, I had to start thinking about saying goodbye for good. This realization crushed me.
The day before I left, I was chatting with a Thai friend over smoothies when he opened up to me. He admitted that he believed in God but that his family wouldn’t let him become a Christian.
I was honored that he felt comfortable opening up to me, but this step forward in our relationship only poured salt on the wound of my departure. Heartbroken and frustrated, I wondered why God had given me unique access to these people’s lives only to tear me away. But God reminded me that He had made use of my time there and that He would continue to work in my Thai friends’ lives even in my absence.
My re-entry to the U.S. came with its own host of challenges. During my first week back, I made plans to meet up with a friend around noon. When I saw him, I immediately suggested, “Let’s get some food!” To my utter dismay, he told me he had already eaten.
Hungry and surprised, I felt the pangs of reverse culture shock. In Thailand, whenever I made plans with anyone, I could expect to eat with them. But back home, I could no longer make that assumption.
I had to relearn some customs of my own culture, and this challenge led to feelings of loneliness and isolation. But God was my comfort. He drew close to me when I didn’t feel close to others. He reminded me that my friendship with Him was more important than any other friendship in my life.
From departure to re-entry, my short term trip pried my hands open and challenged me to trust God with relationships. I had to learn that no matter where I am, what I feel, or who I’m friends with, He is always there for me.
I’m still in awe of the fact that he brought me overseas to do His work. He doesn’t need me; He just loves me enough to use me. And being used by Him was worth the relational uncertainty.