“So how was your summer?”
Think back with me to the very first time you met your summer project family. Most of you probably didn’t know most of the people. They were strangers. Think back to the third day of project. So much flooded your mind and heart. Every day felt like a week and every week felt like a month. By the end of project most of you probably experienced a level of intimacy and intensity unlike anything you’ve known up to this point in your life. Now you have returned home. Some of you have already started school; some of you are preparing to start school. Some of you are working; some of you have returned to a difficult family situation, some of you find yourself in environments hostile to the God you love. And even for those of you with supportive family and friends, the bottom line is your experience on project cannot be fully captured in words or even the 2879 photos you took. Most of you have probably tried to answer the question, “So, how was your summer?” only to come away discouraged that “they just don’t get it.”
You may experience multi-layers of not feeling understood. Without warning memories and inside jokes get triggered. A certain word, smell or sound transports you back to the place where like-minded believers on mission, built-in community, beautiful faces of people from faraway places, surrounded you. For some of you, the reverse culture shock catches you off guard. I remember after returning from East Asia as a student and walking into a Christian bookstore only to turn around and leave, feet stomping, smoke fuming out of my ears. The shelves were full of books about Christian dieting and Christian exercise videos. I had just returned from living in a country where underground churches shared, in secret, portions of the precious Word of God because possessing a Bible was illegal. The contrast was so startling, my response equally so. Some of the harder parts of our summers: the humidity, mosquitos, cramped living conditions, public transportation, insane schedule, squatty potties, team conflict, etc. seems to fade and even if this past summer was the hardest summer of your life, the farther out you get, the sweeter the lessons learned.
Each of us goes through a form of grieving as we transition from summer project. This past summer was a combination of the people you were with, the location you served and the unique lessons God taught you as you willingly followed His lead. The experience will never be replicated because the combination will never be exactly the same. While the desire for community back on your campus like what you experienced on project is understandable, the truth is it will not be the same because the combination of what is available back on campus will be different. My encouragement for you is to learn to grieve well. (I recommend reading Chapter 11 from the book, “How People Grow” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for more understanding about the role of grief).
As with any form of grieving, being able to identify the loss, feel the feelings of sadness, let go and say good-bye opens us up to have a heart available for new connections while being able to fold into life the lessons learned from the old experience. Part of grieving is remembering, so brings a few close friends in to hear in-depth about your summer. They may not fully “get it,” but they genuinely care about you, and with that gift comes care for the things close to your heart. Ask God to show you how to integrate the lessons you learned personally into your ministry back on campus. You are not the same person you were at the beginning of the summer. Trust that God will use the growth that took place in your life and the lessons you learned to help further His Kingdom in the here and now. Bring others into your process. Take time to connect with your fellow project friends. Reunions at conferences are extra sweet. God has blessed you with the gift of experiencing a summer project. Help multiply the gift by inviting others to consider going on project next summer.
Vivian Mabuni, Epic National Staff