A week after leaving the United States for Zambia, a sickening thought hit me: “What am I doing here? My family needs me!” As the oldest of five siblings, I feel a lot of responsibility to guide and encourage my brothers and sisters—a role which has been difficult to fill my past four years in college. I also feel a responsibility to be there for my parents. This summer could have been a great time to build up those relationships and be together as a family, especially since I’ll be getting married soon and then everything will change again. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made this realization before deciding to move to Zambia for three months. How foolish I felt, coming all the way to Africa only to start wishing for a plane ticket home!
I knew the Immersion Internship would require certain sacrifices, like being apart from my fiancé, but I never imagined leaving my parents, brothers, and sisters would be so difficult. I never anticipated homesickness as one of my biggest struggles here—and out of homesickness, failure to be fully invested in this community. Despite thinking of myself as cross-culturally adept and mission-minded, I struggled to find joy and purpose in being here. My head knew that God brought me to Zambia for a purpose and that there’s much for me to learn, but my heart was in a different place. I felt like relationships with people here weren’t worth investing in if I would never see them again after three months. I wanted to just fast-forward to the end of the internship so I could return to my family, but still take back with me all the lessons I’m supposed to learn. But most of those lessons, I’m discovering, are only learned patiently, through living daily life in relationship with other people. They’re learned through being in a family, called the Body of Christ.
As we learned from Abby the first week of the internship, God created humanity to share in the abundant, relational love of the Trinity. The family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was so beautiful and life-giving that God didn’t want to keep it to himself, but created us to become a part of that family. When I was growing up, I always wanted my family to adopt more children, for the same reason that God wanted to adopt us into his family. Being a part of a family isn’t easy. It takes commitment, conflict, discomfort, and forgiveness, but it’s worth it. As Dave taught in us in the third week of the internship, belonging, adoption and intimacy are better than freedom, and relationships are the only thing we build that are eternal. My relationships here in Zambia are worth investing in because the Body of Christ is my true family, and each person reveals something of the image of God. By growing in relationship with everyone here, I’m getting to know the family of God better. Learning to live more fully into my humanity through relationship is a process that will last even beyond this lifetime.
It took me all of our first week here to realize that my family is much larger than the parents and siblings I left behind in Michigan. In some ways, I’m surprised it took me so long to understand why God kept reminding me of family everywhere I turned. On the other hand, I’m grateful God has taught me this lesson so early into the internship. Now I can spend the rest of my time here learning to love my family!
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olivia Thompson – 2018 Immersion Intern