(On leaving well)
Before I even announced my official send off, I am surprised to know that my families and friends are more than ready to let me go. The fact that I frequently travel and live in different places, mission service outside the country is not new to them. But reality strikes. I will be gone for 20 straight months, inclusive of special holidays: two Christmas and New year away from my family and friends. I am not a drama queen but it was an emotional process to undergo. Anyhow, for the last days in my home country, I learned to gradually have my right foot in, left foot out. Here is my personal list of “leaving well.”
(Photos: a few of the visits I had with my friends across the 7,107+ Philippine islands)
RIGHT FOOT IN
1. Social media. Once I had my missionary profile uploaded on the website, I immediately posted it on all Facebook groups I am a member of. At that moment, people already know the confirmation of my placement and they could start praying with me.
A friend told me, “never be afraid to sell yourself because if you won’t do it, no one will.” Yes, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, we should never be afraid of sharing to others our calling. Instead of “sell” I would prefer using “share” in that way people will also own the work and they would want to be a part of it. Start with your own influences and expand.
In my experience also, when friends learn that you’re leaving for a long time, they would want to meet up with you–to the extent of giving you a very nice treat, like paying for your airfare or a day at a spa, and so on. It would also be a time to reconnect and to revisit your friends by being updated with the events in their lives.
2. Eat your favorite foods, visit favorite sites with friends. I always have a buddy in every food and places I love to visit. You don’t have to do these separately. You could save time and money when you do both with a buddy or friends. And the best thing: you’ll probably do all these for free because friends would love to offer to pay as a celebration for your new field of ministry.
3. Presence, presents. I know that preparation for the placement can be tough. I had my head all occupied with “what will happen? Do the people speak English in my placement? What is their food? What will I be doing? and the list goes on… It’s normal to be excited and anxious as you prepare but it is most important that your head is working alongside your body–be where you are at present in body, in mind, and in spirit.
From Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao I had the chance and time to really be with my some of my friends. I know my friends are excited for me and they enjoy listening to my stories. But what was inspiring was simply being with them, which allowed me to listen to their stories as well. I am more than blessed to visit them and to know their struggles and joys. I love listening to life testimonies and this was the perfect time for that!
Another advantage of travelling around to meet friends is to open opportunities to itinerate. From the training until now, I learned that itineration does not only apply in big group gatherings. It also applies to personal sharing. At the end of my itineration (and visit with friends), I was very much encouraged that in three weeks, I was able to raise $400 for my Advance. These are gifts from individuals and churches–and the surprising thing is they gave in US dollars.
For years Philippines has always been the receiving end of mission work. We limit our definition of mission into our own sphere and cross-cultural mission is a jargon. However, I have also seen the gradual understanding of our congregations to step out and do mission not just within our immediate communities but also to the “ends of the earth.”
“You are our hands and feet to reach out to the people in the grassroots, in places which most of us cannot go,” a friend shared before I flew back to Cebu. He gave and committed to give to The Advance. It is true. I have learned that once we share our story that invites people to be a part of the mission, they, in one way or another will help carry the burden and extend resources you could never imagine. God is moving to each one, we just have to share the story.
LEFT FOOT OUT
Another important aspect of “leaving well” is to prepare oneself for the placement site. It does not contradict your “being with or presence” in your home context, rather it allows you to slowly and joyfully accept the fact that you’re leaving and will be away for a long time. It’s actually looking forward to what is inevitable.
1. Online language tutorial. While itinerating and waiting for visas or travel ticket to come, it is important to keep yourself occupied. I just read the book Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and the book is about how evil can take advantage of idle mind and fill it with worthless worldly and selfish things. For a week after training in New York, USA, I was just in my room thinking nothing but all the insecurities I could feel about my physical and intellectual being. It was a waste of time and rotten my soul. I had to decide by then that it has to stop. And I continued my Spanish tutorial online. During itineration, while on airplane or bus, downloading Spanish lessons on the phone is very helpful to occupy me during those spaces.
2. Research about the organization and the country. Since I’ve got technology almost everywhere, I had fun exploring on Google about my placement, making me an expert when I get there. It was also helpful that the organization sent me resources to read on as I prepare. In this way, you won’t feel too foreigner when you arrive at your placement. Knowing about the country’s culture, climate, language, and traditions would make it easier to “arrive well.” Also, with the weather, it helps to know the temperature all year round so you would know what type of clothing to bring. Plus you would know what to pack–pack what you need.
3. Have conversation with your placement supervisor and regional executive. Although there’s 13 hours time difference between me and my placement, it was not hard to meet on Skype. I continued my conversation with them, which started during the placement match, then during training. It was very helpful to get to know them even before you meet in person. This makes you connect with them and build relationship. I also asked them to send photos of the placement, my apartment, etc. It was very helpful to visualize ahead of time so you could familiarize the area once you get there.
Conversation with your regional executive would also help you to prepare for your POA budget and travel budget requests. Take this time to get to understand how it’s done and make sure you have your budgets ready or deposited in your accounts by the time you arrive in your placement. Because you never know if there are changes in your apartment or with bills and stuff that you urgently need. This would give you time to resend requests if you didn’t do it well on the first submission (like I did).
4. Connect with friends and co-mission interns, especially when you have your travel ticket already. It was very helpful for me to have conversations with Kara, a mission intern previously assigned in my placement. She gives a picture of what would possibly my work and lifestyle there.
Upon knowledge of my itinerary to Colombia, I contacted my friends who live nearby my stopovers. This would allow you to revisit and reunite with friends, and to share your story as well to them, even for a short time. As I prepare I knew I will be having a stopover at Los Angeles, CA, USA airport. So I immediately sent a message to Filipino UMC communities in the area. I even reached Joy Prim, a mission intern, serving with Filipino migrants in LA. So, when I have my layover in LA, I surely will meet these people.
5. Make or prepare something special, like a souvenir. The moment I learned when I was leaving, connected with my placement and friends, I immediately bought some local souvenirs I could give them. For me, it is important to bring ones identity wherever. Of course, you should immerse into the community you’re placed in but it doesn’t mean that you forget who you are and where you came from. It is helpful that you bring small cultural souvenirs that you could share. Because the people you will meet in your placement are also interested to know about your country and culture. If it’s not a souvenir, you can also practice a song or dance from your culture that you could showcase as well.
There is no absolute way/s to “leave well.” But it is very helpful when you are well prepared not only spiritually but also intellectually, emotionally, and physically. I had struggled for my first week at home after training. And I am not ashamed to share that I was attacked physically and was so insecure about myself in so many ways. Plus all the frustrations you get from not knowing when to go, visa processing not working, or even the fact that you’re plainly waiting–impatiently! Yet, God sent amazing friends, Christians and non-Christians, who reminded me of what’s important–the call to do God’s work. Occupying myself with books, friends, research, and language study has helped me to gradually get over my struggle.
“The closer you are with God, the stronger the enemy attacks.”
I hope you find these “leaving well” tips helpful as you prepare for your placement. I know some mission interns are already starting in their assigned organization and country. But for those who are still on the process, occupy yourself and be “wholistically” prepared and never stop praying. God’s time is always perfect, we just have to trust in Him.