Esther Champion - Life after Colombia
Where were you and what were you doing this time last year? This time last year I was living in Bogota, Colombia as a missionary with Latin link. I was teaching English to colleagues and university students through my work for a Christian Union type movement and was helping out in the office where needed. I was learning Spanish, which I only really began to learn once I’d arrived there and was putting it to daily practice, as I was living with a Colombian family.
I was living a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, both positive and challenging and began to fully understand what it is to have faith, and to trust wholeheartedly in God. I began to really see that He does provide us with all our needs, and He knows better than us what they are. I was given the opportunity to explore a country that has so many negative stigmas attached to it, and realise that the majority of them are untrue. I also had the chance to help implement a church youth group into a displaced community and see poverty first hand, but also the joy that comes with being in a close community.
When did you get back to England and what are you up to now? I arrived back to England on 14th January 2015. I’m now living and working in Bristol as an Employment Consultant. I work with individuals who are in receipt of benefits, and help them to get back into sustainable work. We commit to each person for two years, support them with gaining qualifications, writing CV’s, accessing employers, and improving interview skills. Truth be told I’m not sure if this is the job for me, but I trust that God will show me any change of direction He wants (as long as I’m prepared to listen!).
What's the best thing about being back? There is no one thing, but going back to my church, seeing my church family and understanding the teaching was and still is a real joy. I can honestly say that not going to Ebenezer Church was one of the hardest things about being away. Obviously seeing my family and friends was fantastic, and having those face to face chats, hugs and laughs has been incredible. Eating cheese that has flavour, and chocolate which is nice, is a plus. Drinking coffee that isn’t laced with sugar, and not waking up to the smell of pigs trotters being cooked is wonderful! Small things like there being a weather forecast (not that it does much good), having hot water in the taps, having a kettle, and having a door, not a curtain on my bedroom is definitely appreciated. Having an understanding of the culture, and knowing that saying “no” is not deemed as rude helps a lot. It’s easy to think that other cultures are better than our own, but I certainly have learnt to appreciate some of our cultural aspects, although bringing in some of Colombia’s cultural stuff is a good idea to.
What do you miss about/from Colombia? On a practical level I miss some of the food (not much though!). I miss arepas (maize pancakes with cheese) and the amazing variety of fruit, my family and friends, having lots of time to just be, and the sun. I miss the dancing and the natural flair that the Colombians have for this. I miss the way that you get adopted into a family and they treat you as one of their own, and how they express their love for you so openly. I miss my chats with one of my Colombian brothers about life and the struggles of it, and my chats with my Colombian granddad about anything and everything. I miss hearing a word and realising that I understand it, and realising that I can sing the words in church without looking at them.
What's it been like adjusting back? Coming back has been much harder than I thought. It’s been a whole new emotional rollercoaster with many questions, frustrations and confusing times. Adjusting to the culture has been difficult - using a kettle to boil water, rather than a saucepan, driving on the other side of the road, etc. As well as these practical things, emotionally it has been exhausting. I had no idea what I was going to do work wise, where I was going to live, and was being asked a lot of questions about my future that I couldn’t answer. I had to figure out who I was again in this culture, get used to seeing lots of people again and just adjust to English life. I’ve cried out of frustration at not knowing the plans, I’ve cried because I miss my Colombian friends and family, I’ve cried because I miss some of the food, the sun and the dancing. I’ve also celebrated because I understand everything, every word, every form of non- verbal communication, every little last thing (almost).
Trying to get the balance in life is something that I have and still am learning. Even though I lived in Bristol for years before going to Colombia, adjusting back to life here has also been an unexpected challenge. Living in a new house with someone else, having a new job, and friends who have changed accommodation has all been something to get used to - it’s really not all that easy!
What's God been doing and saying? I’ve been reminded of the importance of trusting in Him for everything and not trying to do things in my own strength. He’s been saying to look to Him, to let things go, and to just keep going. God has always spoken to me about taking things one day at a time and not getting overwhelmed. This has been a valuable lesson over the past 7 months. He has also re-emphasised that saying “no” to doing things is okay, especially if I need rest. God has demonstrated His faithfulness so many times - I think He is trying to remind me about the promises He has made.
Any thoughts about the future? Plenty! I would love to return to Colombia one day, but in what capacity I am not yet sure. I’m sure God will let me know when He is ready, and when I am being open to Him and His plans.