In our seven years of working among those serving cross-culturally, we have had to see many others leave before us. Some come for weeks at a time and then go. Some, we think, will stay for a life time; and they return to their passport country in a year. The average foreign assignment lasts about three years. No. Living cross-culturally is not easy. There are bumpy, pot-holed roads to deal with, heat, sickness, fear of being robbed, political unrest, etc.. All things people all over the world go through. But the truth is, the reason most people leave their assignment prematurely is RELATIONSHIPS with other expatriates. Relationships are hard. We’ve been there! They are!
Therefore, finishing well in your relationships as you close up a season of overseas work is very important, perhaps more important than how you start. But it will take some purposeful planning and prayer to end well. By God’s grace, we were able to end well. Here are some suggestions:
Before You Start Your Assignment: Finishing well, many times, requires a good start. It will help if you can get some things right from the start.
- Be on Board with the Mission, Vision and Values of Your Receiving Organization (NGO, School, Hospital, Employer, etc.). Do you know what you are getting into? Do you agree with what they’re doing, how they’re are doing it and why they are doing it? Become familiar with your organizations’ ethos even before you join them and be one to help, not hinder, your organization in accomplishing its goals.
- Communicate Your Expectations Clearly. Living overseas requires flexibility, flexibility and more flexibility; but all that flexibility should be done within a clear framework. Do you know what you will be doing? Will you teach or be an administrator? Be clear on your general duties and get it in writing! A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between you and the organization receiving you can help.
- Commit to an initial time frame. Our family committed to an initial period of two years through a grant we received. Once the funding for the grant stopped, we committed to five more years with the understanding that we would re-evaluate another commitment after those five years were over.
- Keep your Commitment. Like I mentioned before, relationships are hard; but don’t use that as an excuse to give up prematurely. Press on. Seek help. There were many times I wanted to run away! I struggled with relationships. As volunteers, it would have been easy to say, “I quit!” before our commitment was over. But perseverance pays off. God honors it and it is a testimony to His faithfulness.
Before You Decide to End Your Assignment, be clear on the reasons you will leave. We had already decided that leaving would be best for our family if:
- Staying would endanger the health and stability of our marriage.
- Leaving would be best for the physical and emotional health of any of our children.
- God was calling us in a different direction than the direction our receiving organization was heading.
- Reconcile relationships. We tried our best to ask for forgiveness and forgive those we had had conflict with in some way or another. Carrying bitterness and hurt to the next assignment is never a good option.
- Affirm and thank those who helped and encouraged you. We wrote thank you notes to friends, baked cookies for co-workers, invited special people for dinner, gave special items to special people, etc.
- Say your farewells (goodbyes) to special people, friends, and places. We visited some places for the last time (the pool, the waterfall, the beach, the jungle, playground, etc.). We had a goodbye/send off party. We visited people at their homes.
- Think Destination. This means, think about and start planning for the next step. Do you have anyone to pick you up at the airport? Where you will stay once you arrive? Is there anyone who can help you find a house to rent? Will you need to debrief? Will you put your kids in public school or continue to home school? Are there any health issues you need to take care of before you leave your host country?
Finish well! Make it a priority from the beginning. And may God’s grace and peace through Jesus direct you every step of the way.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Luke 14:28-30