Four years ago I stepped onto a plane, found my seat, and settled in for a long trip. As Pittsburgh became smaller and smaller from the window of the plane, I did not fully realize that such would be my view of “home” for the next few years. From my new life halfway around the globe, I would catch only glimpses of the world I had left.
Not surprisingly, life in Pittsburgh went on without me. I was not there as friends got engaged, got married, and had kids. Family friends started school; some graduated. Some won soccer tournaments or basketball championships. Some changed jobs or even careers. Friends moved several states away. Some died. To the extent that they remembered or thought it would seem relevant to me from so far away, family and friends shared these experiences with me through emails, photos, and updates.
Meanwhile, half a world away, I made new friends in my new environment. I was there as these new friends got engaged, got married, and had kids. Friends’ families started school; some graduated. I coached soccer and watched basketball championships. Some friends changed jobs or even careers. New friends who felt like old friends moved several countries away. Some died. I shared these experiences with a community that lived, worked, celebrated, hurt, and prayed together.
Back “home,” family and friends had snowstorms and heat waves; I had earthquakes and tropical downpours. Friends got new cars; I learned to drive on the left side of the road, mostly in cars that were older than I was. Sunday-school kids who had not known their alphabet when I left wrote cards to encourage me. Friends who could not type when I left learned to use email and then used it to encourage me.
Technology got smaller, faster, and less expensive, as it usually does. Meanwhile, I progressively fell out of touch not only with new technology, but also with current events, politics, entertainment, and other elements of pop culture. Due to my time overseas as part of an international community, I find I can answer game-show questions about other countries and languages with ease, but I am clueless on the “easy” questions that reference American television.
I learned to do without—for varying lengths of time—internet, television, refrigeration, fast food, electricity, hot water, and inner-spring mattresses. On a positive note, I did not mind leaving behind telemarketers, freezing rain, junk mail, and the long commute. I became accustomed to having fresh fruits and vegetables, beautiful views, meaningful work, and friends’ houses just a few minutes’ walk away. I even got used to early mornings, dust, downpours, bugs, and cooking from scratch.
Four years later I stepped on a plane, found my seat, and settled in for a long trip. As Pittsburgh drew closer and closer, I tried to prepare myself for all these changes, for sudden immersion in a world which had seemed so distant for so long.
Before I even disembarked from my final flight, I had already registered jet lag, reverse culture shock, and a profound awareness of the Lord’s blessing on my return trip. Friends—new and old—from around the world had been praying, and I could feel it.
With some difficulty I found my way through the once-familiar airport. At the bottom of a short escalator, a small crowd of family and friends waited to greet me. They could not know how much my world had changed or how much it had changed me. For a brief moment, though, hardly any of that mattered as they opened their arms and said, “Welcome home!”
Question to consider: As you serve cross-culturally, how has your world changed and how has it changed you?