Thursday, February 13, 2014

From Tonga to Thailand (Part 1)

To all those who will read this, whether you know all or nothing about our next steps, the purpose of this blog is to share some very big news with you. But before we do that, we first want to say thank you. I don't think either of us knew what it would look like to try to stay connected with family and friends from various stages of our lives during these last two years, but it's been hard. We've done our best to be invested in the present and in our current home, but we have also strived not to forgot those from our past and those far away. And I know I've written a couple times about the dangers of technology, but we can't express how meaningful a quick email, message, or comment can be when things get hard. So, to all those who have supported us and continue to love us well, we say thank you.

Also, before we share our news, I feel the need to share this. For the past five or so years, both Alissa and I have wanted to live and work in Southeast Asia. Call it what you wish...a calling, a dream, a vision, a goal...we've certainly used all of those words ourselves. Whatever the case, based on countless prayers, conversations, and events, that is what we want, and that is where we believe that God wants us to go.

So, the first part of our news is that we are finished with our Peace Corps service, and are now home in the U.S.. We've shared briefly on our blog, and more extensively with close friends and family, that Peace Corps' decision to move us from our island was a pretty negative experience. Still as we look back, we feel that we were moved for very inconsequential reasons, and that the process was done very hurriedly and insensitively. Once we arrived to our new site, we were disappointed to find that Peace Corps did not develop our worksite and was nowhere near finding us a house to live in.

We do feel that we went into this new situation with as open of a mind as we could, but since we were over a year into our service, we ultimately made the decision to leave Peace Corps early. It was a very hard decision, but we felt a lot of peace about it very quickly. When the day came for us to talk about it with our Country Director, he was very understanding and supportive about it. In the end, we were released from our commitment through what Peace Corps calls "interrupted service", stating basically that our service ended because Peace Corps did not hold up their end of the deal and provide us with satisfactory housing and worksite. All in all, we left Tonga on good terms, at peace, but with heavy hearts, remembering all we had done and all the amazing people we crossed paths with.

Peace Corps has been such a blessing in so many ways, but we were and have remained a little disappointed that we were not sent to Asia. However, for many reasons both practical and idealistic, we said yes to the South Pacific. And we are so glad that we did. We wanted a cross-cultural immersion experience. We wanted to learn a different language We wanted to live as part of a small, village community. We wanted to experience living without our many modern amenities. We wanted to know what it was like to live at the same standard, wages, and cultural expectations as those we are serving. We wanted many things from this experience, and whether or not we wanted them with the best intentions or experienced them to the fullest degree, we got everything that we wanted in our wonderful, tiny island.

Yet regardless of what we wanted or gained from our experience, far and above the most lasting and important part of our last two years abroad has to do with the people in our lives. We realized very quickly that the most meaningful, sustainable, and precious part of our service was our relationships with the Tongan people on our island. What we learned and how we grew as a result of knowing these people that are so entirely different from us is what we will remember the most. I still assert the statement that I made very early in our service - that cultural differences are much more significant and run much deeper than I ever imagined. And that challenge, that beautiful struggle to build meaningful, give and take relationships with those wonderful people was, to say the least, life changing.

Lastly, something else that I realized early on is that our Peace Corps Tonga service would be much more of a team effort than we had originally imagined. Because Tonga is such a small place, the roles of the members of our Peace Corps group extended much further than us simply being trained together. Our group was very much, for lack of a better world, our community. And it was a community made up of people that at times felt more different from us than the Tongans we were living with. But, it was such a journey and such a joy getting to know each and every one of them. We are leaving Tonga with some amazing relationships with some incredible people that it's hard to imagine we didn't know at all just a year and a half ago. We will manatu'ofa (remember and cherish with love) all of them, and we know that these relationships will endure.