In our pre-departure orientation at Christar, I teach a workshop on change, specifically the changes one needs to expect when choosing the cross-cultural life. I begin the session by creating a timeline on a large white board. I add initials to the timeline as I recount the comings and goings of my overseas team. Over the span of ten years, our team experienced fifteen team changes, not including the normal ebb and flow of home assignment (which is difficult enough on its own). In our upcoming book, I have identified some common reactions felt by those who say goodbye to exiting teammates. I offer them here as a sneak peak.
Hurt and Disappointment: I feel betrayed and let down
When our teammates returned to the U.S. for treatment and healing after a traumatic event, I was disappointed by the disintegration of our dream team. While I knew in my heart they needed to do this, it hurt. We had so many hopes for working together.
Hurt, disappointment, or anger are all common and understandable emotions when a teammate or good friend leaves your location, ministry, or church. It’s the feeling of “Thanks a lot! Now what?”—abandoned and left holding the bag. Perhaps you feel they betrayed a promise.
I wonder if Joshua and Caleb felt this way when the ten spies abandoned their plan and refused to enter the promised land.
Why are you hurt? What is this really about?
Unmet Expectation: But we were going to change the world together
I expected folks to get along. I expected new members to step in where we needed them. And of course, they would stay as long as necessary to get the job done. If they did decide to go, I expected them to ask for my input and say goodbye appropriately.
What I did not expect was to say goodbye to so many teammates, friends, and other expats. I never wrote these expectations on a piece of paper. I just knew when they weren’t met. And so when they told us they were leaving the team, I was devastated. What about our wonderful plans? We were going to change the world together!
I wonder if Abraham felt like this when Lot wanted to take his sheep and move away.
In what ways did the ones leaving not meet your expectations?
Loss and Grief: I’m really Sad and Grieving
In second grade, my good friend returned to her passport country because her father died in a plane crash. Then another good friend relocated after sixth grade so her dad could continue his education. At age eighteen, I left the place of my birth and moved to my passport country for college. Ten years later, my husband and I said goodbye to head overseas ourselves. During the first term, I lost a baby to miscarriage. During our second term, two colleague families left due to medical and mental health issues. Over the course of our time overseas, I count about fifteen changes in team and friends along with two deaths.
Loss and the grief that follows are normal parts of life, and especially for the cross-cultural worker.
I think the church at Ephesus understood this when Paul set sail on his missionary journey.
What losses have come with the departure of others?
Rights and Scarcity: But I invested so much and there’s so few left
When God brought new teammates, I gratefully adjusted my plans to orient them, help them get set up, and share my knowledge and experience with them. And now, after all I had invested, they were leaving! How would we ever replace them?
I felt I had a right to know they were thinking of leaving and they didn’t even tell me. I felt I had a right to know their plans, to be consulted. If you are their leader, perhaps you feel you have the right to tell them they can or cannot go.
I think John the Baptist could have felt this way when his disciples left to go follow Jesus.
What rights do you need to give up with regard to their leaving? How can you trust God to provide a replacement?
Conflict and Guilt: It’s all my fault yet what a relief
At times the blame for a worker’s departure is laid at my feet. But as with most things, the fault never lies totally in the lap of one party even though some truth resides in the accusations. Could I have done better? Certainly. Did I drop the ball? Yes. Could I carry the guilt of this member’s leaving? Of course, if I let myself.
Perhaps you know that you played a part in the departure of a valued co-worker. Perhaps you failed them in some way. And yet seeing them go is a relief. But then you feel guilty for feeling relieved.
Maybe you’re like Euodia or Syntyche who Paul instructed to “be of the same mind.”
What part might you have played in the reason for their departure? How might you find resolution?
Judging Motives: What? You’re leaving because of that?
As I listened to my teammates’ reasons for their sudden departure, their thought process was unclear. Something to do with not being a ministry fit and needing to serve their extended family back home. To tell the truth, I don’t really remember their reason. I just know that it didn’t sound great to me.
So, I filled in the blank with my own reasons: They couldn’t make it. They don’t really like it here. They don’t have resilience.
Basically, I judged them. I had my list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons for leaving and theirs did not fit.
I propose that this is what the apostle Paul did when John-Mark deserted their missionary party.
Do you feel like their reason for leaving was acceptable or unacceptable?
Next, I will suggest some responses or ways that stayers can readjust and move forward. Hopefully, this will allow you to find solutions from a place of health without being clouded by hurt, unforgiveness, or judgment. Stay tuned.