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Transition, Grief, and Empty Spaces: A REACH Update

By March 25, 2020March 26th, 2020One Comment

Since this piece was written, all of the REACH Teams have returned to Columbus due to the coronavirus. For more RI updates surrounding COVID-19 go here: Update OneUpdate Two

Our time in the village in February was busy and full of interactions with many people: students, teachers, our host family, shopkeepers, and all the random people who would see us walking around and stop us to ask us who we were and where we were going. As I think back to that month, I am thankful for all of it. Even though it was a challenging month being in that village and teaching every day, even though there were stark cultural differences and we experienced a lot of spiritual warfare, even though we were all sick and tired much of the time, it was good. And, it was our last month in the Himalayas.

In the middle of our second week in the village, Peter and I received a call from our directors informing us that due to coronavirus concerns, they wanted us to get back to the capital city early in case we needed to be relocated to Thailand for the rest of our outreach. We ended up leaving the village two days earlier than planned, and didn’t get to visit another village on the way back to the city. Once in the city, we just waited to see what the next course of action would be. For about a week, we filled our time with whatever we could that refreshed our souls, rebuilt our team life, and prepared for the next three months of outreach.

One morning, I woke up feeling really excited to be in this country. I was getting pumped about all the things we had ahead of us: the trek, visiting more villages, teaching a women’s seminar, team vacation, possibly going to another Himalayan wedding, learning more of the local language. As I was thinking about these things, Peter came into our room with a message from our director. We were being relocated to Thailand after all. I cried several times that morning.

The six days that followed were an absolute whirlwind of preparing to leave the Himalayas. We had to get Thai visas and that was a pretty big deal because we needed many documents and the Thai embassy was an hour away by taxi. Peter and I went to that embassy four times. The first time we tried to turn in our applications, we were missing some papers and had to try again the next day. Through all of that, we were trying to process that we were leaving the Himalayas and about to enter a new culture with a new language and a new outreach. During that week we were able to take a day trip to Uncle and Auntie’s home village to spend time with them and see the mountains. That was really fun and a good way of saying goodbye. Then, on our last day before flying to Bangkok, I woke up feeling excited to go to Thailand. Yes, it would be hard, but it would be an adventure. I turned on my phone and saw a message from our director; he wanted to talk to us as soon as possible. That was when we found out we were being relocated again, to the United States. This time, I didn’t cry. I didn’t know what to think.

Our flight to Bangkok was cancelled and our date for leaving the Himalayas was set for a day later. There was no whirlwind; we were all already packed. Peter and I picked up our useless Thai visas and we all just waited together. The next day, I threw a Temper Tantrum Party to help us begin the grieving process, first with leaving the Himalayas and missing out on everything we had hoped for and prepared for there, and second, to grieve not going to Thailand. The party was fun and helped me get out a little bit of the frustration and confusion I was feeling, but it was later on that night, with God, that I really felt and experienced the grief and anger. He sat with me in my pain and he held me and let me express everything I was feeling and that really helped. I was still so sad, though.

The next day, we left the Himalayas. I stared out the back window of the van as it took us through all the familiar streets on our way to the airport and I felt the distinct ache of being separated from someone you love. We flew out at 8:30pm, so we didn’t get to see the mountains again from the sky. But earlier that day, we had gotten to see them peeking out from the clouds and smog, as if to say goodbye to us. I wondered if they were sad too, because they had so much beauty to show us. I think nature is always excited for us to be amazed by it. I am thankful for every single time I stared at the mountains and thought how gorgeous they were.

Because we traveled, we had to be quarantined immediately upon arriving back in Ohio. Our director and his roommates gave up their house so our team could all be together as we complete our two weeks of quarantine time. It is currently day eight. Honestly, this is a really nice time of resting and processing and being together. I love our team so, so much.

We are now in America. I had forgotten how much space there is here; space between the houses and buildings, space on the roads, space in the sky, space in the fridge, space in the toilet. Toilets are so big here. Everything seems big, and honestly, I think it’s because everything seems so empty now. I miss the Himalayas. I miss the brightly colored cement houses, how they crowded together as if James Bond needed to jump from one to the next simply to get around. I miss the stands and carts of vegetables and fruits on every corner and lined all up and down the street. I miss the crazy electrical wires that tangled and jumbled together in huge globs that made it seem impossible for anyone ever to do electrical work. I miss the stupid dogs and the lumbering cows and the skittish chickens. I miss the massive hills and mountains covered in trees and snow and full of little trails to explore. Most of all, I miss the people with their brightly colored clothes and chattering voices, the sounds of their lives filling the air, the smiles on their faces filling the awkward spaces between us and them. I miss the way loving them and being loved by them filled me with joy and purpose. I miss them extremely. It’s like my heart now has an empty space in it.

I guess that is all I have to say now. Thank you for reading and following along with us. It’s a crazy time to be alive right now with COVID-19 taking center stage in the world. It’s easy to feel like our time in the Himalayas was a dream that came and went and no longer matters. Writing this was a helpful way of processing for me. Hopefully it helped pass the time for you as you are social distancing these days.

Wait, one more thing. Maybe you are also experiencing the sadness of missing out on things you were looking forward to, or missing people that you can’t see anymore because of the coronavirus. Maybe you are uncertain of what the future is going to hold and maybe you are getting bored of staying home and watching movies. I want to encourage you that your feelings are valid and you are not alone. It’s okay to be angry, sad, scared, frustrated, or confused. I am too. But I am also trying to find the incredible beauty in being still and waiting on the Lord. He alone is not surprised when our plans change and our lives get turned upside down. He alone holds the world and everyone in it in his powerful, loving hands. He alone is our hope, always and especially in times of great difficulty or uncertainty. I have no idea how much or how badly this virus is going to hurt people. I am a little scared to think of it. But I am trying to be brave and hopeful because Jesus is with us all and he is going to take care of us. He loves me and he loves you and nothing in the world can change that. Spend some of your extra free time with him and let him fill the spaces.

Please keep all of the REACH teams in your prayers as they are processing rushed goodbyes, reentry, and ending their program earlier than expected. Pray for peace, health, and unity during this chaotic time.

Want to join a REACH team in 2020-2021? Learn more here.

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