Building my RAFT

Recently, while at my parents’ house, I picked up a copy of the book The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollack and Ruth E. Van Reken (Intercultural Press, 1999). It is a wonderful book, which I highly recommend to anyone who is a TCK* or is raising a TCK. One of the authors, Dave Pollack, came to Kenya when I was a senior in high school to do a weekend Reentry Seminar with all the graduating seniors at Rosslyn Academy. It was something he did every year at the time, trying to give all of us who were getting ready to leave Kenya and head off to college the tools both to leave well and to enter the new phase of our lives well.

There is one tool that has stuck with me through the years, through all of the many transitions I have faced, and that is the idea of building a “RAFT.” To quote from the book:

The easiest way to remember what’s needed for healthy closure is to imagine building a raft. By lashing four basic “logs” together, we will be able to keep the raft afloat and get safely to the other side.

R – Reconciliation

A – Affirmation

F – Farewell

T – Thinking Ahead (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 200)

It struck me as I was reading through the entire section on RAFT-building that this is what I need to do with the Angola Team. Although we never actually lived in Angola, we invested four years of our lives in preparing to go there and closure is needed. We spent a month traveling all over Angola on a survey trip; we logged countless miles traveling to team meetings and MRN training seminars; we fundraised; we spent months trying to master Portuguese, commonly acknowledged as the most difficult of the Romantic languages. But beyond the time and the money we invested in preparing for service in Angola, we invested in relationships with our teammates. And this is what grieves me most about our separation from the team, what grieves me most about any transition – the loss of relationships. Or, more specifically, the loss of the “daily-ness” inherent in those relationships. We are still friends, but our friendships are now the long-distance kind. We aren’t intimately involved in each other’s everyday lives anymore.

This, then, is my attempt at RAFT-building, such as it is. I like to consider myself a writer; at the very least, I am a person who finds it easiest to express myself through the written word. It has taken me months to get to a place where I felt like I could even attempt to give voice to my jumbled thoughts, and I am so thankful for the words of Pollack’s book that finally gave me the needed framework on which to pin them. It isn’t perfect by any means. But I needed to write it before I get on a plane for Ecuador next week.

R – Reconciliation

“Reconciliation includes both the need to forgive and to be forgiven.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 201)

I am so very thankful that, as we’ve walked this road, the Angola Team has supported and affirmed us every step of the way. In my mind, they have walked that very fine line between expressing sadness to see us go and at the same time encouraging us in our new direction. Disappointment without pressure to reconsider; support with sincerity, not poorly concealed bitterness and anger. This isn’t always the way, and I have watched from afar as other teams have fractured, split apart, friendships soured and the Christian witness severely compromised. I am so very thankful that this is not our story, and it is my hope that the way we have all handled this process has been an example to many of how these types of situations can be handled in a way that still honors and glorifies God. Angola Team: Thank you, from the very depths of our hearts. Please forgive us for any hurt, disappointment, discouragement we have caused you by this decision. Believe me when I say that my own heart breaks when I consider that so many of the dreams we shared of working and raising our families alongside one another will not now be realized.

A – Affirmation

“Part of good closure is acknowledging our blessings – both to rejoice in them and to properly mourn their passing.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 201)

Over the last few months, I’ve struggled to make sense of the last four years in light of our complete change in direction. It’s very easy to see it all as a waste… a waste of time, of money, of effort. And yet when I consider all that we’ve gained from our association with the Angola Team, I can only be enormously grateful. Our years together have been such an important part of Rusty’s and my formation for service and ministry, and we will carry with us many of the ideas, strategies, and processes that we worked to craft together over the last few years into our new ministry in Ecuador. And beyond that, we have gained friends whom we now count among our closest and dearest in the world, and of course made many wonderful memories together that I will always cherish. Angola Team: We are grateful for the part you have played and continue to play in our lives and our children’s lives. As we walked the sometimes rocky path of team formation, of preparation for ministry, and finally of separation, you gave us the rare gift of knowing our struggles, our failings, our weaknesses, yet loving and supporting us anyway. Thank you for this.

F – Farewell

“Farewells to significant people in our lives are crucial.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 202)

I’ll be honest – this is the step that I am having the most difficulty with right now. Goodbyes to people who matter so much to you should be said in person, not on paper (or in an email or a blog post). When the team left for Angola last July, the Ecuador opportunity had yet to present itself to us. We saw them off at the airport in a “see you in a few months” kind of way, not a “goodbye and have a nice life” kind of way. It’s like an emotional loose end is still dangling out there, and I’m not quite sure how to tie it up. While part of me would like nothing better than to jump on a plane and fly to Angola for a few days just so I could hug all their necks and say all these things in person, another part of me recognizes the logistical and financial impracticality of such a trip. I think this is a big part of the reason why I needed to write this – to say the farewell I didn’t get to say nine months ago.  Angola Team: Goodbye for now. I fully expect that we will see each other again, and I hope that our paths will cross frequently despite being an ocean apart! Until then, we will follow your adventures from afar as I’m sure you will ours. We miss you so much and pray God’s richest blessings on each one of you. I don’t think I will ever play Settlers of Catan, celebrate the holidays, sing “I Am a Sheep,” go camping, make a pot of chai, or remember our time in Portugal without thinking of all of you. We love you!

T – Thinking Ahead

“Even as we are saying the good-byes and processing the sad reality of those good-byes, we need to think realistically about our destination.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 204)

And now finally, we reach the point in the process where we are to turn our thoughts toward our new destination. It sounds simple enough, and I suppose for some people it is. However, for me, this time, it has been anything but simple. I struggled for a long time to really visualize what life in Angola would look like for our family. Actually, just as I was starting to feel like I was doing better about “thinking ahead” in regards to Angola, we were in the process of deciding to go to Ecuador instead! The last few months have required a huge mental shift for me as I try to “think ahead” now to a new continent, new country, new people, new language, new work, new teammates, and the list goes on. This passage from Isaiah has become one of my mainstays when I’m tempted to dwell on the past, to wonder about all the “what if’s”:

This is what God says,
the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
who carves a path through pounding waves…
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands. (Isaiah 43: 16, 18-19, MSG)

Angola Team: There is so much more that I could say! You are all so very dear to us, and you will always carry a part of our hearts with you. In one week, I will board a plane bound for Ecuador in South America. I am doing my best to “be present” and “think ahead,” but as that plane takes off, I think a small part of me will still be wishing that we were flying to Angola instead.

*TCK – Third Culture Kid, a person who is spending or has spent a significant portion of their childhood living abroad, in countries or cultures other than their own

2 Responses to Building my RAFT

  1. Beth Reese says:

    Thank you for writing this. Yes, building your RAFT is important in your transitions. It is important your you and Rusty to be able to reconcile, affirm, say farewell and think ahead, but it was also important for you to be able to say those ‘teammates’ who have been so much a part of your lives for the last four years. I am sure they needed to hear this. They, also, have needed to re-build their Angola RAFT without the Campbell family. I am sure that is what took place at their recent team retreat. May you be blessed in Ecuador – and what a great picture of your family. Much love,

  2. […] process of reentry and how to say goodbye in a healthy way. I still go back to Dave’s concept of building a RAFT (introduced to me at the seminar and explained further in his book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up […]

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