It’s such a part of our life right now that I [Chris] really hate hearing the word transition anymore. It’s one of those things where I know it’s real, but I would rather deny it than talk about it…because to talk about it in correct proportion to the amount of transition we’ve done, would be to talk about it constantly. But alas, the monster must be confronted!
We’ve got transition everywhere in our lives right now. The obvious is that we just transitioned from Cameroon to the United States and will transition back to Cameroon again in a year. But there are so many more - transitions for the kids into US public schools for the first time, a transition in our sending church with a new senior pastor, transitions in leadership for our mission organization…the list could go on.
The bright side is that not all transition is bad and not all of it is filled with uncertainty. We have some transition going on now that will be great for our work in Cameroon.
So in the spirit of detailing the “good, the bad, and the ugly,” we’ll fill you in on the transition that has happened and what’s ahead and what it means for us as we begin our year of furlough, or home assignment, in the United States.
There was much transition subtly happening in our lives in Cameroon, long before leaving the country. We were reaching a level of ease and becoming much more functional within the culture. I also was becoming more at ease with my work and thus more productive. I feel as if I can look years down the road and construct a plan for my work rather than being tentative because of a lack of cultural savvy. In our last few weeks before heading to the US, I was able to lead songwriting workshops more confidently, work on research projects with good direction, and see where it was going to lead. Seeing marked progress in this subtle, slowly developing transition gave a sense of accomplishment before our leave began.
|Above: Working on an alphabet song in the Iyasa language|
Below: Workshop participants from Kwasio and Batanga language communities with certificates at the completion of a workshop in late May.
Lori and the children were also feeling this same sense of comfort in managing family life and school life. The kids transitioned from feeling new in their schools to feeling as if they really belonged. Lori had much of our life at home into a routine and life flowed much more smoothly than it did at our arrival two years before.
|The "six-handed dishwasher" in Cameroon.|
After we finished the school year and packed up for our year in the USA, we took a little side trip to “close up” some old transitions. We made a 9 day stop in France during our travels. We found air tickets that allowed this to happen and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We made a point to visit people and places that were important to us during our time of language study in France (2013-14). We also visited a couple of places that we had wanted to visit back then, but had run out of time for.
We saw the kids’ schools, walked past our old apartment, attended our church, ate with several friends, caught up with several of our French professors, etc. It was fantastic and very cathartic, I think especially for the kids. They put out a lot of effort to assimilate to school and learn the language during that year, only to leave shortly after finding their comfort zone. My favorite memory was right at the beginning of our stay. I was walking with Kristin (12) through Paris, searching for a bakery near a train station while waiting a few hours for our train to depart. As we walked along the street, she said, “I don’t feel like a tourist here. I feel like I belong here.” She enjoyed knowing that at one time, it was a struggle to be in that environment, but was now at ease. She also enjoyed that, even after two years away in Africa, she still felt confident in French culture. I’m hoping that helped her turn some transition experiences in to positives that she can build on.
|Reunited with our favorite breakfast and lunch options in France.|
|We still like to climb up to old buildings.|
|Albertville, our old 'hood!|
|Seeing snow for the first time in over two years...in June.|
|Seeing old friends in France.|
Arriving in Virginia, a new transition awaited as we moved in with Lori’s mom in Lynchburg. We’re learning to be more flexible with our family’s way of doing things versus Lori’s mom’s style of life (more of an issue after three years away in different cultures). We even had to adjust to the feeling of being in air conditioning often. It was a shock to find that air conditioning was not really pleasant at first and required some getting used to. The living situation also requires adjustment to our typical schedule and tasks around the house.
|A couple of days after our arrival in the US, we were at the 70th Sutton Family Reunion in Pennsylvania.|
This is our branch of Lori's very large family.
For the kids, there is a huge new transition that looms and will probably be among the toughest challenges of this coming year: school. In the days immediately after our arrival, we began the process of getting the kids enrolled in their respective schools. It was hard for us having to explain their educational background of the past few years, such as the conversation about Noah and his enrollment in foreign language classes: “Yes, my 14 year old tenth-grader-to-be is well qualified for AP French and will quite likely be bored in the class - and also has a better accent than the teacher.” There were also the shots and physicals. Our kids have easily had twice as many shots as typical kids their age, but some were not accepted because of how and where they were administered. Transition hurts in multiple ways sometimes!
When school starts, they’ll have the big social transition…again. For the past two school years, they have been in a close-knit community of mostly expatriate kids in their international schools. Before that, they were dropped into the French public schools with zero French language skills. The year before that, they were in a charter school in Texas. And the year before that, they were homeschooled in Virginia. Honestly, I’m amazed that they’ve kept it together so well during all of that. But I know this new transition will be a big challenge, even for seasoned transitionees. They will need a copious amount of prayer as they learn a new educational system and new social rules.
|Hiking Crabtree Falls in VA with longtime friend Peter.|
The other, less-anticipated relationship challenge was leaving friends in Cameroon. In the missionary culture, we know that things can and do change quickly. Sometimes a home assignment like ours marks the permanent end of a friendship due to people changing assignments, moving back to their passport countries, whatever. There is an air of suspicion among our Cameroonian and expatriate friends of whether we will really return. That too can be draining.
|Goodbye picture with Abanda, the guard posted across the street from our home in Cameroon.|
We thank you for your patience in this post that might seem like a series of complaints. Our intention is to show what we’re struggling with and where the uncertainty in our lives is right now. In another post to follow in a few days, we want to share the transitions that we envision during this year in the United States, mostly on the work front. It will cover what our work looks like during this year in the US and how that will transition to more effective ministry in Cameroon beginning in 2017.