Summer is here.
This is the time when many are permanently returning to Japan. That means, there are many 'good-byes', hugs, and tears during this season.
This article is for those who 'send' your friends back to Japan. Saying good-bye is not easy and one can't get used to it. So if you don't know how to process this grief, there is a possibility you will be burnt out or just leaving the ministry all together. Since your instinct will protect you from getting hurt, you stop investing your friendship with new students, because you don't want to get hurt again.
Please read this article. So that not only you will be able to send off your friends back to Japan well and motivated to encourage returnees, but also you will be ready for the new friends whom you will invest your love all over again.
When Students Leave: Understanding Cumulative Grief
By Lisa Espineli Chinn, IVCF/USA
From Workshop presented at ACMI'09
(Los Angeles, CA. May 29, 2009)
"...Grief is cumulative; it builds upon itself, layer upon layer. When we grieve over the loss of a job or a dream, we tap into all our losses. If we feel that we are responding inappropriately to what should be a minor loss, it is probably because we have not dealt effectively with the other losses." (Lesley Meriwether, psychotherapist)
International Student Ministry: High Relational Investment; High Turnover
Our ministry is highly relational. We invest heavy relational capital and develop strong attachment with our students and vice-versa. We work with very transient people- short-term stay ESL, etc. We usually think of our students and their needs first before ourselves and thus forget our needs. There is really very little time between the comings and goings of our students to give ourselves time to think, feel and process. We protect ourselves from goodbyes in different ways.
What I have been discovering in my work on cross-cultural transition:
The words such as loss, grief, and/or mourning keep showing up. I understand transition better when put in the context of losing someone or something, instead of just moving from one place to another. "Transitions are those events or non-events in our lives which alter our assumptions, relationships, and rituals." (Nancy Schlossberg) The focus is on changes in our lives.
Change=Loss=Grief (J. Shep Jeffreys)
I believe we are not giving ourselves permission nor time to grief properly over the losses in our lives.
How to Say Goodbye Well
What does grief look like for us in international student ministry? How do we deal with changes and losses in our lives and ministry? What coping patterns have we used over the years? Do we begin to understand grief and learn to appropriately mourn?
Have a proper goodbye (closure). Good goodbyes lead to good hellos.
1. Say goodbye – how do you do goodbyes? Example of "lingering goodbye"- from the foyer to the driveway, stand and wait till the friends/guests are lost in sight
2. Say thank you – how do we say thank you? Words? Deeds?
3. Resolve issues, clear conscience – "No regrets" – try and do this as much as you can.
Memories and Artifacts
Goodbyes and grief soften their blows when people who have been left behind have a repertoire of healthy and positive memories to live on.
1. Enlarge your memory bank.
2. Keep mementos and souvenirs.
3. Set "markers" as reminders of God's faithfulness (Ebenezer or stones of remembrance I Samuel 7:12).
4. Scrapbooking and journaling.
Moving On: Staying Well in Ministry
1. Acknowledge how you feel and express/share your feelings alone (e.g. journaling, crying out to God) or with a friend or a support group.
2. Establish significance: Talk about the person you miss; share memories and photos; and create rituals of remembrances.
3. Be gentle with yourself.
4. Take care of yourself: Get good sleep, good food, and regular exercise.
5. Let God take care of you. Take yourself to God as you are. Tell Him what would really make you feel good and loved, and connected (1Kings 19-Elijah's needs met).
6. Remember that grief is exhausting and it comes in waves. The distance between waves gets farther over time.
7. Plan for a visit with your returned students.
8. Let the experience make you closer to Jesus, who was described as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
Our work in international student ministry has great benefits but it also comes with a heavy cost. In order to persevere for the long haul, we need to pace and take care of ourselves. We need regular, deliberate stops designed to address issues of loss and grief in our own lives. Some of us need to do grief work.
Since many returnees return to Japan during this season, there are different events taken place. Please check JCFN website for more info. If you need anybody who need "follow-up," please contact JCFN.