Working overseas can bring up deep-seated idolatry, ethnocentrism, and serious heart issues more than anything else. Some of my greatest regrets have been not allowing the people around me into my struggles. It left me to flounder about on my own and keep up a facade of the successful missionary. Having an open heart is never easy, and I don't advocate spilling your guts indiscriminately. But in the past year, I have found myself sharing struggles with others in an open way I've never done before. It has broken down my pride and shown me that you can't have true community without honesty. And in response, others often share how they struggle with the same thing.
What makes it difficult for me to be vulnerable is the fact that my community is all the same - work, play, church. At home, it can feel easier to share my sins with my small group at church, because I don't see them on a daily basis. I also tend to only share myself with those I've walked alongside for a long time, because I know I can trust them - although this can also make it difficult, because my pride wants the person to keep thinking well of me. But in order to have community that supports and encourages you, you can't hold onto your pride. You will burn out quickly, and sin will destroy you.
Don't DISCRIMINATE based on TIME.
One of the first questions asked by both Cambodians and expats of a newcomer is, "How long are you staying?" Often what they really mean is, Are you staying long enough that I can justify the emotional energy and time needed to build a relationship with you? I've heard other expats say this, and I know I've thought it myself. Unfortunately, if someone tells me they are only staying a month and I don't see them regularly, I probably won't make an effort to build a relationships with them. Part of the reason is that I feel I lack that energy and time to make it happen. And granted, I can't be best friends every person who passes through town.
But when I reflect back on my life, some of the most memorable relationships I've had in Poipet have been with those only staying a few weeks or a few months. And I have had plenty of short-term experiences before Cambodia, when I was spending only a few months in a country. If people hadn't reached out to me and welcomed me into their lives, I wouldn't have grown nearly as much as I did. We do have to recognize that our schedules and strength are finite, but we can ask God if this person is someone he has put in our path to invest in, even if for just a short season.
Finally, God ALWAYS provides WHO & WHAT we need.
I have learned this so many times, and especially now as we are making preparations to temporarily move to Bangkok to deliver our baby in February/March. We are friends with a couple in Bangkok who host us during our frequent trips there. They introduced us to another family in their neighborhood who in turn invited us to live with them during the roughly six weeks we will be in Bangkok for the baby (another great example of keeping an open home!). Then last month, I met Danielle from This Life I Live on the Influence Network forums. We discovered she lived in the same complex as our host family and worked at the same school as my friend. The provision of God seriously amazes me - he is already providing a community of believers in Bangkok for us, all within walking distance of each other.
This is just one example that illustrates that God cares about community - how we find it, how we sustain it, and ultimately, how we use it to glorify him and build up the body of believers. Relationships can be tricky, no matter what part of the world you live in. But for followers of Jesus, we have a common foundation. We can trust Jesus that, even if we open ourselves up to others receive pain in return, he is ultimately the one who satisfies our longings for intimacy, for being known, and for love. And it is that love that enables us to fully love others, without reservation or demand for anything in return.
And out of that, God will build a community that will change the world you live in.