An Open Letter to the Friends I Left Behind

Dear Expat Friend in Cambodia,

Over four months ago, we wrapped our arms around each other, said goodbye, and became separated by an ocean. And now, life has carried on for both of us.

You're still in Cambodia - sweating and serving, laughing and crying. I see photos of your moto trips into the village, your ceremonies with visiting leaders, your vacations on the beach in Thailand. I read your email updates, of people discovering the true God, and babies dying of curable causes. And every time I think of you, I am flooded with emotions of grief and guilt.

Surprisingly (or not), I'm actually pretty happy in America. I didn't realize how challenging life was in Cambodia, until I moved back and started living a "normal" life again. I can drive five minutes to Wal-Mart and get exactly what I need, while you have to wait for the next airplane or trip to Bangkok to get that one essential item Cambodia can't keep in stock.

I've been terrible at keeping you updated with what's going on in our lives. Neither of us have been great at that. We haven't emailed or Skyped, and we only exchange the occasional text message or social media comment.

I feel an enormous sense of loss at the daily connection we shared while living as expats. We held on tightly to one another, knowing that the hand we grasped could be the only thing to keep us from tipping over the edge of sanity in the face of cultural confusion. We may or may not have been friends in America. But Cambodia flung us together, and we learned to talk and ride motos and eat in entirely new ways - together.

Sometimes I think of you, and I feel guilty - guilty that my life is so easy now, while you still face grief and setbacks and frustrations that I know too well. The twinge of regret that dances at the edge of my thoughts sometimes makes me question whether my decision to leave was truly a God-driven one. I'm tempted to see my work here as "less-than", simply because of my change in geography and culture.

But the God I serve here in America is the same one I served in Cambodia. He hasn't changed his mind about my value as his child - nor about yours. And I haven't forgotten about you, even when I don't call.

One of the reasons I don't write is because I struggle to reconcile the life I had in Cambodia with the one I have here. They seem as if they should exist on different planets. And when I'm here in America, my three years in Cambodia feel like a dream - which almost makes you a figment of my imagination.

But I know you are real, and your friendship more real than many I ever had in America. You know me on a more visceral level than I care to admit - how I react when faced with unspeakable grief and bewildering cultural differences and frustrating setbacks.

We have faced the fire of cross-cultural life, and we have passed through it together.

I don't know if we'll ever be on the same continent at the same time again. But I want you to know this: you are remembered and loved by everyone who has passed through your life and shared Cambodia with you. I have not forgotten to be deeply thankful for the ways you loved me and encouraged me to be faithful every day.

And if you ever feel loneliness creeping into your heart, or if you fear no one will understand you when your feet touch the soil of home again, remember that I'm still here - just an email or a Skype call away.

Thanks for the memories,

Whitney