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by Katy Sundararajan
Have you traveled before, outside your home country?
* Have you planned to stay in that place for a long time, maybe several months, or more?
* Have you meticulously thought about your luggage for a trip, wondering how you could possibly squeeze all of the necessary and extraneous items into a space so specified and so, so tight?
* Have you wondered if you would be able to find those things you ultimately leave behind in a new, foreign shop with titles all written in a different language?
* Have you packed up your home, handed over your pretty, green plants to a questionable green thumb?
* Have you emptied your refrigerator, hugged your dog, your grandma, even your wee children, or a spouse before walking out of your home on a new adventure?
* Have you tried not to cry, and then cried all the more about the days you will miss away from them, all the while gaining so much in a far off land?
* Have you stuffed your fears down, bit your lip, actually said “good bye” at the start of a journey, a season so new that you can barely peek inside and know what might be real, and what is dream?
* Have you exited an airport and studied the sea of faces, looking, wondering, hoping that there might be a face in that crowd that will be to you a gift of kindness, shelter, and hope?
Big journeys enlist “all the feels.”
I think of myself as a homebody, but my life has generated a good deal of journeys and worldwide travel. Even while my inclination is to stay in one place and live a long, steady, and faithful life, I find myself packing over and over again. I have, and I do, go to far away places, for big amounts of time. There has been plenty of starting over, and a plethora of new chapters. It runs me through the mill of emotions to do it over and over, and yet each new trip brings with it a sense of anticipation, ragged as it may be. I was recently blessed by a friend sharing with me the reasons she and her husband intentionally chose to uproot their family of five to begin a new life, in a new place. I agree with her that the reason you begin a new journey has a lot to do with all the stuff you learn when life starts afresh. And, being there is so little familiarity and normalcy in the new places we set off to, there is so much potential to see and know God in these new places and situations.
Humanity looks for fullness of life, and with each door that opens and each window with a view, we anticipate all that God has in store for us. This is the ‘bright hope and a future’ notion, the one that helps us pack our suitcase (and sometimes our kids’ bags too,) hand over the house plants, and say the emotional goodbyes. We anticipate more. We anticipate fullness of life. We long to see and know what God is up to in our journey.
The feelings and tensions, the joys, the upsets, the tears and fears that accompany these kinds of travels–they have been mine. But I’m thinking more this week of the five international students who are readying themselves to make a big trek to Holland, Michigan to begin a new chapter at Western Theological Seminary. Surely, their tasks are many and their emotions run high. They are living in one present moment, about to hop into the next. Their anticipation fills them with all the feels. It will take a good deal of bravery to meet those ‘feels’ face to face, saying farewell to one world and culture and greeting another. I feel for them in their anxiety and I rejoice with them in their excitement.
Truly, right now, I simply pray for them in their anticipation. I pray that they would be brave in the midst of many changes and adjustments. I pray for comfort, and strength, and joy in this new place. I pray for friendships to blossom. I pray for the ability to understand and to adapt, and I also pray for God to preserve their identity and use them for good to teach us about God’s greater kingdom. I pray for their (often long-dreamed) dreams to come true. And, I pray for an ever-increasing sense of God’s vision and calling in their lives as they move through their time in the US.
Soon it will be my actual job to usher five new international friends into a new season with grace and kindness, a seeming expert at American life and cultural transition. As I pray for them, I will also pray for myself and for the greater community of Western Theological Seminary and Holland, Michigan. I pray that we would exude hospitality and understanding, that we would extend helpful hands and words of kindness. And above all, I pray for grace upon grace, upon grace. There is no other way to effectively cross cultures without breaking to pieces.
Many of us are closing out our summer schedules during the coming days and entering headlong into the rapids of the fall season. At this time of year, many of us feel as though we are throwing the sandy bathing suits and squeezed-out sunscreen bottles into the suitcase and heading back home, where regular life begins again. It is back to reality, back to schedules, back to fast-paced, busy lives. This, in its own right, involves turning a brave face of anticipation to all that is in store, be it familiar or be it new. I pray for all of us. May we go into this new season anticipating and seeking after fullness of life, and may we have eyes to see all that God has in store. May we be brave.
Spera in deo.
Katy Sundararajan is the International Student Advisor and ThM program administrator at Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan. Thanks, Katy.