I returned home from just over a year abroad on July 18th. I was supremely blessed to find myself (again) at a place as awesome as Sandy Cove Ministries a mere week after my return.
Sandy Cove is a Christian Conference center in Maryland that at least one member of my family has been going to every summer since 1989. Over twenty years, crazy right? But it is just that super. Amongst many, many things it offers it specializes in week long family vacation packages during the summer. Adults and parents come for good speakers, worship and childcare. The kids (including me over 10 years ago) enjoy the massive amount of activities available including: swimming, boating, mini golf, softball, zip line, soccer, basketball, tennis and many more. We also get to hang out with other kids our age and learn a bit about the Bible as well. All around Sandy Cove offers an excellecent package deal for a fun and impactful break from life.
This year was a bit different. I haven’t been here as a “vacationer” in over 5 years. But amazingly the dates worked out so I could be here all week with my Mom, sister, brother-in-law and my beautiful 5-month old niece who I just got to meet this past Sunday. I wasn’t young enough for the kids programs and don’t have my own family just yet but it was still great. I played mini-golf and Disc-golf. I did some stand-up at the talent show. I parasailed. I got some great insights from the speaker I can use this fall as I begin coaching. It was a huge blessing to be back here.
I highly recommend looking up Sandy Cove if you get a chance. They are a great ministry offering rest and reflection for all.
After a year overseas it seemed like a good idea to take stock of what has taken place and see if I learned anything. Indeed I have learned a ton this year and so I wanted to spell out three major points that perhaps will help anyone who reads this in the future. Please note that for the sake of clarity I write about some specific incidents below. No names will be used for the sake of privacy but pleased note I am not perfect in any of the below things and will not be any time soon.
Basically what I mean by this is it is so important to talk about things when you are having a problem or issue. If you have a problem with something or someone and no one knows, how is that problem going to be solved? Most people like to sit on their problems and just hope they solve themselves. In my case I just really don’t like awkward confrontation. But at the end of the day it is almost always better to air grievances or issues you might have to the person causing them. Be tactful and respectful but please communicate. It is essential.
I see this played out everywhere I go and last year included. People agree to do something. They generally sign a document or contract saying they will be a willing and happy participant. They arrive appearing like a team player. And then they spend nearly the entire time they are under contract moaning and groaning about how bad the organization or higher-ups are. One thing changes or something doesn’t go their way and they freak out. I am not saying don’t stand up to abuse by your company or organization. I am saying learn how to employ constructive criticism. Don’t go around spreading rumors, communicate with the people you have grievances with. Flexibility will make you a better employee, more pleasant to be around, and will let you stand out from your peers.
3) Godly Self-Worth
This is a subtle one and it is often hard to see where the line is but it is nonetheless important. God calls us to humility, to service, to love. That is fine. But he does not call us to degrade or neglect ourselves because we think others are better than us or we want people to like us more. Do you know anyone who has trouble saying “NO” to things? I know people who are just amazing, godly and fun. But they do not hold themselves in high enough esteem to always take care of themselves. They aren’t serving God out of love or gratitude but fearful compulsion. God loves everyone the same. He doesn’t think some are better than others and he certainly doesn’t need us to prove ourselves to him. So be humble and loving and full of servant-hood, just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
Hope you found these interesting and/or helpful. Let me know if you have any thoughts/additions in the comments section.
Disclaimer: I started writing this 2 days ago like it says but because of internet connectivity issues I wasn’t able to post it then.
In less than two days I will be back in America. I was last stateside on August 20th last year. I left Boston last July 8th. It has been a while. I have had a great year and I have totally enjoyed visiting here in South Africa. However, after living in a foreign culture for 10 months and visiting another straightaway, I am ready to return to my own I think. Having an extra layer to peel away to understand just about everything has begun to wear on me a think. And of course I’m really excited to see family and friends and home again. Here is one final thought on my time away.
I had a great year. Many awesome things happened and I met some really cool people. But I have to emphasize the fact that no matter how good I felt at any one point it never became easy. Living overseas simply isn’t. It just comes with the territory. No matter how much you adjust, accept, embrace, or conquer the culture around you it is still, by definition, foreign. And that is hard. So after two (slightly non-consecutive) years living overseas in foreign cultures I just want to say how much I respect those who (whether as military personnel, missionaries or something else) have committed to living overseas long term or even as their careers. You set a high standard for us all.
In any case, it is good to be home.
The World Cup, friends in Johannesburg, and the ministry I was with in 2008 has offered the perfect trifecta of excuses to make a very big detour on my way home from the Czech Republic. I’m here for 17 days and will fly home on the 17th but I have been loving every minute so far. And just so we are all clear: no I haven’t gotten to a game but it has been awesome nonetheless.
Simply put, I love Africa generally and South Africa specifically. People who know me well will know I don’t use the following language lightly but I really feel that Africa as a whole is something that God has literally put on my heart. I have spent most of my life wanting to come here. Studying, reading, thinking and writing about the place is simply what I do. Spending a year here in 2008 was fantastic and now having the opportunity to return has been better than I could have imagined.
I wasn’t sure how coming back would feel. A lot can (and has) change(d) in a year and a half. However even amidst the culture shock I am reaffirming how much I love this place. I have reconnected with people and friends I haven’t seen for more than a year. I’m meeting new people who are here for the first time. It is chilly but beautiful. I am surprised about just how ecstatic I am to be here.
Many people have understandably raised the idea that if I love it so much why don’t I just return permanently? Good question. Many variables are in my life right now. Beyond this fall I have no clue what will happen. But I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to come back even for only a few weeks and simply sear South Africa into my heart, this time for good. I may not return permanently, I may not return for a year or more. But I will come back, that much is assured. And it will be fantastic in a way I am unfit to describe.