We knew our sense of not belonging in Australia would increase with each home assignment, and after almost 7 years in Tanzania, we are definitely feeling it. One big change is that people in Adelaide don’t see us as “one of them” anymore. We are outsiders. We no longer have a right to an opinion about how things are done, and when we have been foolhardy enough to offer a critique, we have mostly been shut down, or have offended people. Things have moved on without us, and the results might grieve us, but because we weren’t part of the journey, we do not have a right to say something.
Adelaide is cross-cultural for us now, but the skills we apply in Tanzania are not so easily applied here. That’s mainly because we don’t have the time to contextualise them: deputation means we are thrown into speaking to different groups and negotiating our way around them without months or years to get to the lay of the land, understand, or learn how to play the politics.
Every time we go to a new place, our kids re-experience their grief at being away from home. For example, we’ll be on a conference in Victor Harbor, and they’ll know we go home the day after tomorrow, and they’ll stop and say, “But it’s home to the Adelaide house, not home to Tanzania,” and then there are tears, because they want to go home to Tanzania.
Our Elliot’s best experiences of church in Australia so far have been traditional services, with hymns and liturgies. We sing the boys to sleep with hymns, so that is more familiar to them than contemporary worship music and potentially less emotionally overwhelming; the written liturgy makes it easy for him to join in; and the sophisticated language draws him deeper into the experience.
Isaiah 40 about people withering away like the grass and the Universe being so vast is not about God being too big for our troubles, but big enough that he can handle even those.
We need greater breadth of language for talking about distance from God, especially to talk about post-conversion experiences. I found myself at one point saying, “I don’t feel like I’m a sheep who wandered away from the shepherd in my perversity or distraction or foolishness; I feel like the mob moved on without me while I was looking after others, and I just kind of got lost and need the shepherd to come get me.” I’m so thankful He did, and for the women who bore me to Him.
19 months on from Red Twin’s death, it still touches everything. I got the email that I had been accepted into a PhD just as we were about to hop in the car for a half hour drive. I breathed a sigh of relief, accepted Arthur’s congratulatory hug, and then spent the whole car trip crying, because I wanted to tell Red Twin, and no matter how many wonderful friends I told, I still couldn’t tell her.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.