For months, I had been dreading attending the Mission to Mission reentry retreat. Leaving Nicaragua had been a long grieving process for a place, for a community, and for friends who changed me so thoroughly. My soul was slowly starting to catch up with me in the US. I was afraid going to the retreat would make me feel the loss anew. Over the course of the weekend, however, I became aware of how much I had grown since returning to the US, and how much Nicaragua had continued to grow inside me.
The retreat helped me recognize that I had been living in a precarious position between wanting to put distance on the intense emotional rawness of volunteer experience while wanting to dwell on that experience for fear of losing its effect on me. As the facilitator explained it, it sometimes feels like you have to introduce yourself as “Hi, my name is Kathryn I-was-in-Nicaragua,” as if it was your middle name. The goal of reentry, she explained, is getting to the point where you live the story of your volunteer experience, so you don’t feel like you have to tell it all the time. I had to find a balance between holding on and letting go, between embracing how I had been transformed while giving my grief permission to pass.
To this end, we spent time identifying the specific ways our international service had changed us, as well as the individuals who had participated in that change. I recognized the sacred gift of all those who had reached out to me in my loneliness, who had taught me to be patient and to trust God even when there seemed like there was no apparent reason to do so. At the end of this exercise, I realized that one of the greatest skills I had was the ability to do just what we were doing then. I had learned how to receive wisdom from people around me at unexpected moments, and in unexpected ways. I learned how to be open and attentive, to recognize gifts others are always offering that can make me a better person. Even now, when I attend my divinity school classes, I am much more able to gain insight from the comments of my fellow classmates than I ever was as an undergraduate.
By recognizing this and all of the other ways I grew during my time in Nicaragua, I now understand what it means to live my story. Every time I discern prophetic words in the mouths of my peers, whenever I go out of my normal routine to practice hospitality, when I surrender illusions of being able to control others or achieve optimal efficiency, then I am living the story of my international mission. The mission did not end when I returned home. The work continues, and the international segment of my mission lives on and adapts to new circumstances. That is why organization calls itself “Mission to Mission.”