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We can only ever be visitors

Djibouti Jones recently mentioned her fear of becoming one of ‘those’ expats – the types who ‘struggle to communicate with people in the home culture because our tongues are tied and our minds so thoroughly exhausted after years of balancing cultures and world views.’

Every day I feel a bit more of this, as I lose track of what happened in TV shows I previously followed, or I have to google the Australian political event everyone seems to be talking about. I grieve that because it means I have fewer things in common with my own people. I worry about it, because I know we’ve got deputation every three years, and good and relevant communication is vital to education and fundraising.

And yet, part of me feels like this is who we should be, that losing touch with Australia is a sign of becoming more integrated into Tanzania. There’s a purity to doing a complete switch. I feel like the good missionaries are those who become completely immersed in Tanzania, leaving behind their old world. After all, we didn’t come to Tanzania so we could set up a little slice of Australia, nor so we could virtually continue living in Adelaide!

This complete switch was, I guess, the experience of ye olde missionaries who may have received a letter from home only every few months. Without diminishing how hard that was, I feel like one advantage of it was simplicity: just one headspace to keep up with most of the time. We, on the other hand, are constantly trying to keep abreast of how Australians see the world, so we can communicate effectively with them, while also getting our heads around being and knowing in Tanzania so we can do relevant ministry here. Not only will we be back in Australia every three years, but at some point, that will become permanent, and that transition plays on my mind.

Additionally, ye olde missionaries might have been forced to separate from their home culture, but this was also appropriate for their role. Most of them were pioneers, bringing the gospel to places it had never been. Contextualisation should have been their bread and butter. But we are not pioneers. The gospel is in Tanzania. Foreign missionary efforts here work best when they join with existing ministries as partners. Tanzanians ask us to come and work with them not because we are like them, but because we are different! They see that we offer a unique contribution, because of our Australian culture and experiences.

It’s become clear that we can only ever be visitors here, ‘international consultants’ perhaps, but not ‘one of us’. That’s a relief on one hand, because we don’t have to try to become something we’re not. It’s vastly lonely on the other hand, because as we feel our growing distance from Australia, we know that we will never belong here in Tanzania either. There is something right and appropriate about both these aspects, but it leaves us in a kind of No Man’s Land. I can see how hanging out with other expats provides some sense of belonging.

Something I am starting to learn is how to be comfortable in this space, neither yearning to be in Australia where we could belong, nor being frustrated with myself for our lack of contextualization here in Tanzania. I’m learning not to feel guilty about time spent with other expats, while still pursuing friendships with Tanzanians. I’m working on being thankful to God for the opportunities he does give us, and not feeling like I’m the one who limits him.

Categories: Bits Mission Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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