Crossing Continents

By Alyssa

It's been a while since we've talked about the transitions of crossing continents and reverse culture shock here, but since missionaries spend 20% of their time (1 year out of 5) in the US, it continues to be a reality for all of us. And now it's my turn again. I arrived in the US a little over a week ago and will be here for the next five months. Since I just celebrated 10 years in medical missions, I have done this "home assignment" gig several times before and one would think that would make it easier. But the flip side is that it has now been 10 years since I have lived in the US, so actually it seems like more of a foreign place as time goes on.

So what is entailed in the home assignment process?

1) Gearing up. Logistics need to be arranged such as flights, car, housing, etc., but the main focus of this gearing up time is preparing to leave my Burundi home for five months. That means thinking intentionally through each of my various roles and making sure someone is covering them in my absence. It inevitably comes up when a teammate is gone that people realize just how much they were doing that we weren't aware of! And suddenly we're left wondering: Who has the key to the storage container? Who is feeding the bunnies and chickens? Who is boiling eggs for the malnutrition program? In my case, I tried to make a list a couple months in advance and to divide things up amongst my gracious colleagues. Of course I did forget a couple things and have already been asked where the documentation sheets are for the malnutrition program and what to do with the monthly pediatric mortality discussion notes. Thankfully there is WhatsApp to keep communication lines open! Since our housing is limited, the other aspect of my prep time was getting my house set up for visitors to stay there in my absence. That means hiding the imported chocolate chips (sorry, visitors!;)) and breakable items so that families with toddlers will be comfortable there and letting Heather know where guest sheets and towels are, etc.

Three days before I left, our shipping container showed up which was great timing as I was able to unpack the infant formula and the vitamins for sickle cell patients and get them to Logan to use in my absence. 

Gearing up is also a good time to take updated pictures of Burundi life to share with folks in the US:
The new pediatric building - three stories tall! The roof will be on by the end of the year! 

2. Goodbyes and the "Wood between the Worlds." Our team values intentional goodbyes and demonstrating our love for one another during transition times. Since I have a big birthday coming up this month, they even planned a special pizza night and early birthday party for me! And then most of the team managed to show up at 10am on a Monday morning for prayer and our traditional "tunnel of love" send off. I will miss them all so much these next few months!

Next comes the "Wood between the Worlds." For those familiar with C.S. Lewis's book "The Magician's Nephew" that was the in-between place that was quiet and peaceful. For me Europe is a nice place without the stresses of either Burundi or America. It's familiar since I lived there for a year during French language study and it's a great place to just blend in, unwind, and enjoy the scenery. (And it works out well for me that one of my best friends lives there, so I have free lodging!)
Best swing ever! 
3. Re-entry. Back on the other side of the pond, I'm welcomed enthusiastically by my family. Family time is the definitely the highlight of home assignment!
Nieces and nephew
Celebrating Lily's 6th birthday with a special trip with Aunt Alyssa to the American Girl store in Nashville
Enjoying fall leaves on a hike with my Mom and Maisy
And then I hit the ground running! Off to the Global Missions Health Conference where I spoke about rural medical education, reconnected with old friends, worshipped in English, represented Serge to prospective missionaries, and promoted Eric McLaughlin's amazing book. 
Matt and Joanna at the Serge booth with Eric's book. We gave away 50 copies to those interested in potentially becoming Serge missionaries!
My favorite part was getting to catch up with teammates Caleb and Krista Fader who are also currently on home assignment - for a whole year! 
Now on the other side of jet lag, I'm in cross-cultural (sort of) observation mode: What are people wearing? Oh, drinking straws are out? Interesting that there are TV screens on all the gas pumps. How do I communicate in a way that makes sense to people in this context?
And of course I'm doing the usual tasks of dentist appointments, eye exams, haircut, getting phone service, etc. I'm hoping to make significant progress on my thesis for my Master's in Clinical Education over the next few months in addition to the usual speaking engagements and travels around the country. I appreciate your prayers for grace, curiosity, and joy through one more transition and I know teammates would appreciate the same when it's their turn for crossing continents.


The Drs. McLaughlin said...

Wood between the Worlds! Nice metaphor.

Rebekah said...

Yes, love the Wood between the Worlds analogy! Blessings on your time Stateside!