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Fellow-Traveler Kind of People: Getting to Know John and Cecelia

John and Cecelia* have been RMM workers in the Middle East for the past eight years. They are both working in English language instruction—Cecelia teaches English in a local language school and John teaches Environmental Law and International Energy and Environment Issues courses. Their ethos: “We feel we shine best as we work well, immerse ourselves in the lives of our students and build relationships with co-workers.”

Where are you from in the U.S.? How do you stay connected with your family, friends, and supporting church after being gone so long?

We hail from Wayne County Ohio, where we met in high school, married, and began raising our family until God moved us to pursue graduate school. At that point we began sharing our lives in a city setting and then moved in 2000 to Central Asia, where we lived for six years. It is a challenge to stay connected from a distance over so many years, but the internet has been a huge asset, allowing us to stay connected via Skype, Hangout, Facebook, Pinterest, and e-mail. We also make relationships a priority on our summer visits, connecting with friends and supporters and hanging out with our family as much as possible.

Previously, you were workers in another country. How long did it take you to feel like your current country became “home?”

It was different for the two of us. For Cecelia it didn’t take long. People here are friendly, and we soon met neighbors and others, many of whom are still close friends. I also think we had already learned a lot about the culture and knew how to give honor and live uprightly in Asian culture. We try to be teachable and curious and present ourselves as students of the culture by asking lots of questions, learning about their cultural values and saying ‘yes’ as much as possible. For John, it was much harder to adapt to the new country because of not having a clear identity or role in society here at first. It seems now as if we have three “homes:” our former host country, our current host country, and Ohio.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

We both really love the interaction with students. We have opportunity to relate to a lot of students and such relationships are a great fit with our personalities and values.

What is the most different aspect of the culture you live in versus your home culture?

It seems people have more time for each other here. Compared to the U.S., there is a distinct lack of programs, events, and free time options, so people are more apt to invite others to their homes, stop over without calling, and so forth. In the USA, it seems everything must be scheduled weeks in advance and the option of spontaneous and wholehearted friendship is harder to find.

What are some of the things you have internalized and value deeply about your host culture?

The value of relationships being more important than accomplishment or efficiency is something we deeply value and hope that we are internalizing.

What is the typical way you get around?

Probably many know we enjoy biking. We have chosen not to have a car and use our bikes for transportation as much as possible (we also have the option of public transportation). Our choice surprises people because blue collar workers are typically the only ones whose bicycles for transportation. We both care about the environment (John teaches on environmental issues) and try to live a sustainable lifestyle and we seek to be examples of this here, just as we tried to do in the US. We also find biking to be a lot of fun because it allows us to get to places we normally wouldn’t see, experience tastes and sounds we wouldn’t normally experience, and hang out with people who share a similar love of biking. Riding together with people helps to break down barriers because we are striving together in a common experience.

How can we pray for your country?

There is a lot of political polarization here, just as in our home country. While we don’t subscribe to fear, there are aspects of current developments that could affect us and our friends here, and maybe already have. The active civil war going on in a neighboring country affects other countries in the whole region (and by the time you read this, there could be even more jolting changes). We yearn to be peacemakers; to allow our words and actions be cause for reflection and even change. We want to speak of a better way, and to live as Kingdom citizens, pouring ourselves out as sacrifices to a way of grace, truth and light.

We ran across a quote, from Philip Yancey that reflects what we try to be about and challenges us as well and we in turn present that challenge to you. Yancey wrote: “A pilgrim is a fellow-traveler on the spiritual journey, not a professional guide.” We want to be fellow-traveler kinds of people as we relate to people here and not act as though we have it all together and expect others to listen to us or insist on our way (‘professional guides’). Let us all try to live humbly, vulnerably, and with integrity as fellow pilgrims, and be available to carry loads, lighten burdens, lend a listening ear, or sooth the aching feet of those who journey with us. Pray for us and our churches and communities, that we would be people of hope, giving grace and love and learning along the way.

*Names changed and country name omitted for security.