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What missionary kids taught me about friendship and farewells

September 26, 2016

When I started teaching in Prague six years ago at an international school for missionary kids, other expats, and local Czechs, I went with a mission to touch their lives with the love and care of Jesus.  Little did I realize that I would be the one to learn an incredibly valuable lesson from these students.

Many missionary kids (MKs) and other expats (collectively known as Third Culture Kids- TCKs) are shaped by the frequent turn-over in their social circles. They are often welcoming new people and saying goodbye to friends they have barely known for a year, or a few years if they are lucky.

At our school, we had many conversations among staff and with students about how to handle this frequent turn-over in their relationships. Any time a student or staff member moved away, we “RAFT”ed them.  RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Future. This imagery of a “raft” to one’s new location is a healthy and helpful framework for handling goodbyes. We had special meetings that would give students and staff the opportunity to publicly affirm a person that was leaving.  Everyone was encouraged to resolve any conflict or tension as much as possible (apologies and forgiveness), and to say goodbye intentionally, for the sake of closure. The person leaving was encouraged to think positively towards the future. I am very grateful for how RAFT has shaped my attitude towards relationships and transitions.

Goodbyes can be hard and painful. But the tricky dilemma is this one: how do you form new friendships when you know these relationships may only last a brief period of time? Why bother? MKs, military families, and other expats have to grapple with this question all the time.

A group of students and staff was discussing this on one occasion, and the most profound answer came from a missionary kid who was then in middle school. With honest simplicity, this student explained that we form new friendships, no matter how long a person or family might be here, because every person is created in the image of God: unique and valuable. Such an answer was a testament to the integrity of this student’s parents, who no doubt set the example– they are missionaries because they honestly love people. The courage of these students, who have to say goodbye all the time and yet still open their hearts to newcomers, is still an inspiration to me.

This past summer my husband and I were surprised when we ended up moving two years before we had planned. I was just beginning to feel at home and settled in my friendships. And here we are, uprooted again after only three years, and putting down new roots. I feel discouraged about making friends when I don’t know what the future holds.

But the wisdom of my former MK students rings in my head: every person you meet, no matter how long you are with them, is inherently valuable.  Even the short-lived friendships are worth it. Don’t be afraid–make new friends.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2016 4:27 pm

    This is so great! Saying goodbye is something I’ve always struggled with and I never did it gracefully or well. This will be very helpful for me to consider as I transition to new jobs, churches, or communities. Thank you for sharing from your experience and for the ever so important reminder to see everyone through the lens of “created in the image of God.”

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