“Exile from the familiar can not only be the salvation of oneself, but that of others” Rev Dr Jane Leach.
It has never dawned on me just how rectangular the traffic lights are in the UK. I always used to think that the corners were rounded, creating a neat, pleasant shape to these otherwise dull and seemingly unexciting appliances. When I looked at them again, however, following my return to the UK after almost three months away from home, I realised that in comparison to traffic lights in the Netherlands, which usually have large semicircles at their tops and bottoms, they seemed very small and angular. The shape of traffic lights is, of course, of very little consequence, but it did remind me how long I had been away from home and how strange it felt to suddenly and rather unceremoniously thrown back into life in Britain.
I had returned to my homeland for a few days to visit a friend and to take some time to reflect on my Mission House journey thus far. As I unpacked my things and sipped on a nice, hot cup of good old British tea, I remembered how much I had missed the familiarity and comfort of home. I knew where I was. I knew the order of things. I knew the culture. I knew the mannerisms of the people. I understood my surroundings. I was home!
At first, this felt brilliant. I felt able to relax in a way that I hadn’t truly felt able to in the Netherlands. I could walk into a shop and ask for something without having to consult my dictionary, awkwardly point at something or saying something 20 times! I felt comfortable and safe.
It wasn’t long, however, before the effects of my journey thus far began to show their face.
For, prior to my arrival at Mission House, I was a completely different person. I had no experience or real understand of what it was to live and work amongst people facing real hardship. I had always felt comfortable and confident that God was always with me, strengthening and guiding me, without any flicker of doubt or question of faith. In truth, there had never been a point in my life where I had been required to place full trust, full control of my life, soul and work, into the hands of God.
Three months of serving coffee to homeless people, taking bread to drug addicts, talking with lonely old people with lots of interesting stories and trying to keep control of a group of children from broken families as they run around riot in a church hall have, however, begun to give me a genuine appreciation of the realities of life.
I’ve been shouted at, rejected, talked about, laughed at, hit with an handbag by a disgruntled elderly woman when I cycled on the wrong side of the road, completely by accident, of course… The list goes on, and all of these things have led me to a place where I question my value, question my place in God’s plan and question whether or not I will ever be able to serve Him effectively, not because I am hurt by these things happening to me, but because I don’t know how to deal with them. What should I say to someone who is viciously angry with the church because of its failings over the year? What should I do to help someone who is in deep distress, the pressures of life mounting up around them so that they snap out at those who try to help?
In order to answer these questions, I have had to place my trust fully in God, allowing the experiences which He places in front of me, to transform and change me into a person who is ready to serve Him in the way that He calls me to.
And it is through that openness to change that I have been able to be truly blessed through my work in each of the projects, looking beyond what seems to be the case, and seeing what the case actually is has allowed me to understand more about why people feel as they do and is slowly allowing me to learn how to deal with such situations. It has allowed me to see, first-hand, the experience, the wisdom, the compassion, the value of those whom society would otherwise happily ignore.
For the first time in my life, I found myself truly happy, truly satisfied, in a place that did not involve books, speeches, lectures, essays or big words, and this massive paradigm shift was very difficult to ignore after a while back on home turf.
Needless to say, I had a brilliant time with my friend. It was good to see her again and to hear that things were going well back at home, with no majorly huge developments since my departure, but it also gave me a sense of restlessness. For I was no longer content to sit in this pleasant environment, drinking tea and whiling away my time thinking and writing about things which I, in reality, know very little about, producing work that, while gaining good marks, could never be of any real practical help to anyone.
Home wasn’t the same, not because I no longer like it, but because, at this moment in time, it is not the place I need to be.
I longed to be back in Amsterdam, in the unfamiliar, in the discomfort, in the questioning, in the doubt, amongst the problems, for it is through these that we really gain an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
Mission House exiles us. It exiles us from that which we know and love. It exiles us from that which is familiar. But it also frees us. It frees us from our misunderstanding of the world around us. It frees us from the fear and nervousness we have about doing certain things. It frees us from our comfortable and secure little boxes in order that we may live life to its fullest, not its safest.
And in freeing us, it also frees others for it allows us to use our newfound skills, knowledge, experience and talents to make life fuller and better for those around us. Our exile enlightens us and, in turn, we can enlighten others.
It is a very old saying, but it remains so true today, “The cracks let the light in, but also let it shine out”. We have to embrace our frailty, embrace our humanity, in order to let goodness enter us, and also, through us, pass on to those around us.
Please continue to pray for us as we each, together, walk the journey of life, equipped by the Father, strengthened by the son and open to transformation through the Holy Spirit, trusting always that everything will be as it needs to, even if it is not what we want or like.