January 14, 2017 | Melissa Weissenberger
Last week we spent 5 days out in the desert. Our SAM Bolivia missionaries piled into a bus and a few cars, we climbed up and down the foothills of the Andes for 5 1/2 hours to get to a camp and retreat center where we would intentionally build relationships, reflect, and pray.
These beautiful people are our ‘SAMily’. We have to create a home away from home and when you live and work alongside people from your culture, intentionally living 3,000 miles away from your culture, they become a family you never imagined you’d need.
I was the emcee for the week and accidentally became the face of our field conference.
I transitioned us through our daily sessions and led the group building activities each afternoon. Every step of the way, Chris was my tech-guy ensuring that we had PowerPoints, sound, and photos ready to go. This aspect of the conference was not relaxing or rejuvenating for either of us, but I found it to be quite a privilege to serve our community in this role.
As we had been planning with the rest of our conference committee a few months ago, I thought it would be a good idea to create envelopes for each of our missionaries and encourage them to write cards to each other.
Throughout the week, I continually mentioned and encouraged them to spend time intentionally expressing gratitude and writing out the little things we appreciate about one another. Our field is going to be changing drastically in a few short months as we experience a great deal of turnover. In the past, I know we haven’t done a fabulous job of transitioning well, so I had hoped this activity would help facilitate that.
Part of this conference is always intended to provide a bit of fun and rejuvenation. Whether that means you spend your afternoons showing off your ridiculous Frisbee skills, like Chris:
Or whether you organize group building activities and get a great deal of pleasure watching others challenge themselves and trust you:
We intentionally spent time together, which was healthy for my soul. Our field does not get a lot of “down time” together. Sure–we have plenty of down time as individuals, in our evenings or whenever our schedule affords it, but together as a ‘family’, we don’t have many opportunities where our schedules align and we can simply “be” together.
Something that was cathartic, but scary, about this conference was being transparent with one another. Chris and I are in a hard spot currently–we’re in the difficult part of cultural transition where we think ahead to when we are returning home, we struggle to maintain solid relationships with people back home, and we have personal issues that are being dug up in our hearts because God is working on us.
I don’t know how many of you reading this will understand what this feels like: we don’t know how to tell you our struggles. We hear people back home say “let us know how to pray for you!” and “you can tell us the hard things”, but the monthly newsletters and the blogposts never feel like the appropriate place to say “thank you for financially supporting us to do ministry here: it’s hard and we’re hurting”.
But being transparent with our fellow missionaries, telling them that we are hurting, and hearing them say “me too” was a beautiful moment for us.
Actively engaging in trust falls, actively participating in daily small group discussions where the questions weren’t just “how have you seen God at work in your life?”, and actively choosing to cry in front of people who usually see me stand tall with confidence was hard, painful, and beautiful.
So where are we headed? What is next?
These are questions I wrestled with and things I asked my heart each night while I stared into the gorgeous Southern sky. The stars are different here. Sometimes that’s painful because I want to look into the Pennsylvania sky that I’m so familiar with. Other times, like at our conference, seeing an entirely different part of the sky–a different perspective of the universe–is the most helpful thing to my soul.
Chris and I have begun our last semester here at the school. We are returning to the States sometime this summer and we don’t yet know “what’s next”. We do know that we need to lean into and trust in the people who have surrounded us. We need to advocate for ourselves and tell others when we need help. We can’t do it alone.
In my notebook from the conference, I wrote down in bolded letters the following verses:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. — Galatians 6:2-3
I don’t do this well. I’ve never done this well. My entire life, I’ve focused on others’ problems and tried to give them advice or support them with any of my resources, but I continually ignored my own issues, telling others that I was “fine” or I’d be “okay”. If I came away from this conference with nothing else, it was the overwhelming conviction that I must let others carry my burdens with me.
How can you help us?
1) we need your prayers (always). The emotional roller coaster of living overseas has very low points and we’re in one of those. I don’t know how long we will stay in it, because it’s different for everyone. We miss “home”, we miss our family, we miss our friends, we miss all things familiar. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to be here–it just means that being here feels more difficult emotionally. Please include us in your prayers and reach out to us when you think of us. A simple “hello” from some of you can brighten the darkest days.
2) we need financial support. Our monthly donations are not meeting our financial needs and we need people to come alongside us these next few months to help us stay strong in our ministry and finish our term well. Please pray about how God could use you in this way to continue his ministry through us here in Bolivia.
Monthly donations sustain our ministry, and you can help. We're $300/mo away from being fully funded, and any monthly gift you give helps us immensely. Whether that's $100, $50, or $10 a month, your donations make a difference.
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