When belonging isn't easy


“How do you find community?”

This question has backed me right into corners sometimes. Corners where I am left dissatisfied, lonely and growing colder towards a place I'd set out to love.

We moved to Africa when I was young and I could have adapted to nearly anything at that point. When I moved back to the US for college, I sang to a different tune. I considered myself a ‘former African’. It was as if I was forced into a whole new body and existence coming back to my ‘home’ country. To cope, I buried myself in Skype conversations with people in far away places and avoiding the hurts of trying to be a friend in a culture where ‘friend’ meant something different than what I'd learned overseas; and I felt I screwed up more often than succeeded.

I've learned that adjusting and finding community is often a matter of time.

Time LEARNING how people work in this culture.
Time TRYING to understand and be open-minded to new ideas.
Time LOOKING for the best places for that needed, appropriate community.
Time IDENTIFYING who you are and how that can be a part in this new place.
Time DISCOVERING the value your story and who can help you with this new part of your journey.

Time is a key factor, but ultimately it comes down to, like many things in life, your attitude. How badly do you want it? Can you persevere through the not-quite-right- to- me’s? Will you push through and keep looking when you get turned down or mess up? Can you accept your mistakes as well as others’ with an open mind and accepting heart?

After marrying my high school sweetheart, a fellow MK struggling in this same new world, we decided to put down some roots and start tackle our fears... looking for a church. One was too formal, another too big. Then one Sunday we happened upon our church decided it could be an okay fit. The thing is, you have to WANT to become a part of a community. So we embraced an opportunity.

To this day, we host a parents’ small group in our home. Some of the "groupies" have come and gone and we've split up into many smaller groups, but some of our deepest most meaningful relationships have come from this.

What made the difference with this group? What set it apart from say the students and co-workers who had reached out to me? I'd say it wasn't a change in how kind people were, but a change in our attitude. It helped that we had spent time here and had learned some lessons about this culture by trial and error. And most of all, we WANTED it enough. Enough to be open-minded, stretch out of our comfort zones, and learn how to meet these people where they were, which also happened to be a similar life stage to ours at the time. But even as the life stages have varied, we've been able to maintain relationships through the desire to do it, the persevering and caring and learning to love another person.

Maggie Ibsen is an “MK” from Africa, now raising her small family in Canada. Although the climate is an extreme change, she has found ways to see beauty and have fun anywhere God takes her. She has returned to Africa on several short-term trips with her husband and daughter. Maggie loves photography, scuba diving, kayaking, (anything to do with water,really), coffee and a good book.