Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Last Week of Furlough

(Guest Post) 

Before I served overseas, I would never have guessed the reality of this crazy life. Romanticized notions of living in a different country, ideals about engaging the culture there, preconceived ideas on what “ministry” should look like, all crowded my head and clouded my vision. Looking back, I would even say they often stopped up my ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Experience can be a harsh teacher. Thank goodness it is always tempered by grace. I’ve got a long way to go, but the One who walks beside me has promised not to give up forming my character and teaching me to follow Him. I am glad to be on this journey.

Now I’m looking at another trip home. We are in the process of planning the three month itinerary, attempting to balance family obligations and events, and looking at ticket options for flights. It’s that last one that has me reflecting on what it’s like to leave again. Our home town is complicated to fly out of, and we’re reviewing several possible scenarios for the trip back overseas. A family of six isn’t cheap or easy to move around, but consuming my thoughts even more as I wrestle through the options for the trip, are all the things we struggle with during that last week. Some of the stress load, we’ve managed to mitigate a little better each time, but a lot of it is simply part of the leaving process. The emotions we experience are intense and often contradictory. And in a family, we are sometimes processing different feelings at different times.

If I had read an article like this one before I headed overseas, I would have done so with skepticism and more than a little judgmentalism. Who on earth do these international workers think they are to be whining and complaining about their stress levels and all the transitions and emotions they have to deal with when they get to serve God and see the world?

    The truth is: I can’t sleep the night before flying out. We board 3-4 airplanes on route to a country that is a twelve hour time difference from our home in North America—literally the other side of the world—and it takes almost two weeks to feel normal again once I get there.

    The truth is: we are overwhelmed by grief at leaving many of our family and friends, and harbor guilt ridden relief at leaving others.

    The truth is: we wonder if what we’re doing is really worth all this. Have we really heard God’s voice? Does he really want us to continue laboring such rocky ground as He’s called us to, with so little fruit to show, on nothing but the promise, “Follow me…”?

Here are some of the emotions we wrestle with, particularly that last week:


Grief and Loss


We leave people. Friends who understand us, groups where we truly belong, cousins, grandparents… We leave places. We leave milk that the kids will actually drink. And Romaine lettuce. And rather a lot of healthy things that I would be feeding my family if we lived in a country where those things were available. We leave sanity. We leave a country where people help each other, in general, instead of taking advantage of others at every opportunity. We leave high speed internet and trustworthy healthcare.

My husband’s grandmother is ninety-four—the same age as the Queen of England. She has the same hair-do, too. In our family, she is the queen, and my hero. Will we see her again, or are we saying good-bye for the last time? We leave my parents; they will miss us a lot and will make an effort to stay in touch while we’re away. We leave my in-laws, who won’t.


Stress and Anxiety


Will we be able to make the 18+ hour drive (over five days of poignant family good-byes) with our old RV over rugged terrain to the town we need to store it in without incident or breakdown? Can we manage to pack all our bags to 20 kg exactly, maximizing space and weight? Can we somehow fit in that last package of gourmet chocolates our well-meaning loved one just gave us? Is there any way—as we promised ourselves last time—to minimize our carry-on luggage?

Are we forgetting anything important? Did that crucial item (passport, driver’s licence, or Amazon order) arrive in the mail? Did we send off that last batch of receipts to HQ? Did our friend’s church come through with that support they promised? Are we going to be able to pay off our visa bill? How did we manage to spend so much money when all our friends and supporters have been feeding us and taking us out to the point that I’m downright embarrassed? How did we manage to gain so much weight—again!?


Anger and Confusion


Why does my close relative seem to resent me and put me down at every opportunity? How can I foster some sort of relationship with her? Why does my father-in-law have time and energy for his step grandkids but not his own, especially when they’re only around every two years? We are once again surprised to find out who left their spouse, who stopped following the Lord, and what idols have come into the temple of the North American church. Why isn’t the Great Commission important to many believers here?


Gratitude and Humility


Some new supporters came through. A man we’d only just met told us God spoke to him and said to pray for our kids every day. Our church came around us in love and prayed over us, sending us away even though they wish we could stay. I don’t feel worth it at all.

Guilt and Uncertainty


Why didn’t we call that one older couple who supports us sooner? I didn’t know the husband was bed-ridden. How can we leave …? We are needed here. Will our ministry even bear fruit? Is it worth it? Is it worth the cost?

Enjoyment


One last swim in the lake. One last meal at … One last drive through what I still think is the most beautiful green countryside in the world. We are together with our kids.


Anticipation and Hope


We look forward to seeing our friends again! What a wonderful community we get to be a part of in our country of service! Our team is like family. It will be so good to get home, to settle in and start school, to begin work and to see what the Lord does this next year.

The particulars will be different for other families and individuals who serve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if every worker who heads back to the field after home assignment cycles through these emotions and more, simply as a matter of course. Some things get easier with time. Some get harder to be honest.

One thing I do know: our Lord has had difficult, intense weeks himself, one in particular. He knows all about it. And Him, we can trust.


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