16 August, 2015

Newbie and oldie missionaries

We've been through a season of many goodbyes and now we're in a season of hellos. Not just "Hi again," after 12 months but "Hi, my name is Wendy, this is my husband David and our three boys..."
Two missionary friends/colleagues who are no longer
here in Japan. 

It is a season of making new starts, getting to know new people. Even more, it turns out, after having been away for 12 months. We're saying hello to all the new folk in the CAJ/local missions community who've arrived in the last 14 months. This year, it turns out, there has been quite a high turn-over of staff. There are 12 new staff at the school, plus their families.

We've been privileged to have already met three of the incoming staff-families. Two of them came to dinner over the last couple of weeks and the third we met at church today. 

A fourth new staff member we met is more of a family member, she calls me Aunty Wendy and has known me for as long as we've been in Japan. She's an OMF kid, now adult, and will be teaching at the school this year.

But all that aside, the season of meeting new people, while expected, can be a bit overwhelming and unsettling. We're now "oldies" in the Japan missionary world, over the average length of missionary service (though I can't remember what that figure is, but 15 years, is definitely over the line). Constantly welcoming newbies can be a challenge. Refreshing in some ways, hard in others.

I've been going through photos from four years ago (gotten behind in printing some for albums). Yesterday I saw two photos from just after the earthquake (one is above) and three friends who used to live in this area who are no longer here. It's sad. Welcoming new people means that we've also said goodbye to people we knew, people we were friends with.

I stumbled upon this blog post the other day, a short gracious article with advice for newbie missionaries from oldies. I was particularly moved by her words at the end of the article:
I remember as a Newbie, I was eager to dive into relationships with everyone in our missionary community.  We had everyone over for dinner.  We wanted to get to know everyone…and we did!  Then….people started leaving.  And leaving.  And leaving.   People’s terms ended, emergencies happened, health concerns came up.  We stayed, but everyone we loved kept leaving.  Choosing an overseas life means choosing a life of saying good-bye.
After a while, it just gets hard to initiate relationships with all the Newbies.  If we hold ourselves aloof from you, it’s because of the callouses that have grown on our hearts from so many wonderful friends leaving us.  We might not even consciously realize that we are holding ourselves back from you.  This doesn’t mean we don’t want to be friends with you.  It does mean that it may take more time for Oldies to open up.  Please don’t give up on us.  We need your optimism and energy as much as you need our experience and advice.
And then people started leaving . . . and leaving . . . and leaving.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut, even as a missionary. New people coming into our acquaintance challenges us and keeps us from getting too stuck in our ways.

A friend wrote this to me a few years ago:

Year after year I become more and more aware at how ill-qualified I am to comment on Japanese life and how often I have misjudged the society and the people. It's caused me to look hard inside myself at my own prejudices, and I've been ashamed to find that, while I don't hold racial prejudice, I am rather set in my ways about I live and think. Meeting new staff at school is always good for me because it gives me the chance to see things again through fresh eyes. I guess I'm trying to rid myself of any sense of 'my way is better' and I find that quite difficult.
So, though it can be hard to keep meeting new people and welcoming them into the community, it is important and keeps us fresh. Only God knows what valuable contribution they might make to our lives, or the life of the school community.

PS On a slightly different topic, it's always a bit strange being a staff-spouse (it's another hat I don't talk about much). You are sort-of on the inside, but not really. You might be interested in what I wrote about that a couple of years ago: Part 1 and Part 2.

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