Transition is a word we hear often as missionaries as we move back and forth between our fields of service and our home country. It’s unavoidable. However, I have learned that it is manageable.
When our oldest son was a senior in high school, we were privileged to go to an MK conference where we heard David Pollock speak on this subject. We are forever grateful for the insights he gave as he outlined the steps of transition.
One part that helped me the most as I have made the many transitions is what he called Building Your RAFT. It was an acronym for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, and Thinking ahead. Each time we have moved since then, I have tried to do these four things.
- Reconciliation means being intentional about reviewing relationships during the last period of time in a certain place and seeing if anything needed to be made right. Was there a thoughtless word or action that needed to be patched up? Had I neglected to do something that should have been done? Had I done all things possible to restore a broken relationship? Had I asked forgiveness or extended forgiveness? Was I leaving with a clear conscience?
- Affirmation means being intentional about letting people know how much you appreciate them and certain actions or qualities of those people. This is easier than reconciliation, yet often in the business of getting ready to leave, it is easily forgotten. For those left behind, it makes a difference to know they were appreciated. I learned that it was not just your friends that needed to hear this but also those who provide services in the places you frequent.
- Farewells or saying goodbye. Farewells are painful, especially when family, dear friends, and coworkers are left behind. It’s much easier to just disappear and not go through the gut-wrenching goodbyes. Besides, I hate crying in front of people—red eyes, snotty nose, inability to speak—you get the picture. However, goodbyes are so important. I learned it is not just people, but we also need to say goodbye to places, pets, and even ministries or positions. If we don’t learn to say goodbye well, it is more difficult to say hello and develop good relationships in the new place.
- Thinking ahead means planning and looking to the future and to what may be in store for us. When we were leaving Bolivia after more than 20 years, I was so sad to be leaving a place so dear to me. God sent another missionary to help me realize the effect this was having on our children and on me. I could see only the negative and not the positive of the future assignment. I thank the Lord for that missionary’s insight. Once I started thinking ahead and trusting the Lord for the future, the leaving wasn’t as difficult.
It’s been many years and many moves since that conference. Sometimes the RAFT has been a little leaky and the transitions haven’t been as smooth as I would have liked. But with the Lord’s help, He has helped me stay afloat.
ACT: Are you anticipating a move in the near future? Who do you need to reconcile with? Who can you affirm? Don’t try to escape the farewell party. Savor every minute together and say what needs to be said. Remember to think ahead toward all that the Lord has in store for you as you walk in His steps.