Are you home yet?

Are you home yet?

4 COVID tests, 2 car rides, 4 airports, 29 hours of international travel during a pandemic, and 14 days of quarantine and I am FINALLY home in Canada with my family. 

My dad asked me yesterday, if I felt like I was at home or if my house in Kenya feels like home. I honestly had to think about it for a few minutes, as I pondered both Canada and Kenya. Does Canada feel like home? Kinda. Does Kenya feel like home? Sort of.

Canada has my friends and family. Canada has my stuff. Canada has the familiar and the known. Canada has maple syrup, Starbucks, people to adhere to road signs, a language I always understand, the bedroom I slept in for 7 years, my dog - Bernie, and steady electricity. But Kenya... Kenya has my stuff too. Kenya feels more familiar after a year and I'm getting to know parts of it. Kenya has my house, my job, the ministry I love, monkeys and gorgeous weather. But... it's not Canada. And Canada is not Kenya. Both feel like home and neither of them feel like home.

When I was in Kenya, I spoke about home and going home (to Canada). In Canada, I've spoken about home and going back (to Kenya). It's weird to feel like neither fits perfectly - like two pairs of jeans. You love both pairs and they fit well, but one's slightly too long and the other's slightly too loose. When I'm in one, I miss the other. I always feel slightly out of place and slightly uncomfortable.

Imagine how missionary kids (MK) and third culture kids (like the students at RVA) feel. For most of my students, they have a passport country (ex. USA, Canada, Korea, etc.), they have a missionary base country (somewhere in Africa), and they have their boarding school - RVA (in Kenya). Some of them have moved countries multiple times...meaning there are even more countries mixed in there. All of them feel a little bit like home and yet, all of them don't. Is it an incredible privilege and honour to get to travel and see different cultures and communities? ABSOLUTELY! But it can also be hard, lonely, and uncomfortable. You try and set down roots wherever you are, but to be honest, you're more of a potted plant who gets picked up and moved often. So, what is home? Maybe home is wherever you are? Home is inside of us. We are turtles, carrying our home on our backs as we board another plane. 

Bullying, Blueberry Legged Ladies, Loneliness and Kidnapping Flight Attendants

Teaching in a pandemic is weird. I'm currently teaching Creative Writing online, which I absolutely love but it's been weird. I know my student's names, I know their writing styles, I've sent many emails back and forth, but I've never met them. I don't even know what most of them look like. It's just weird. 

However, teaching Creative Writing this term has given me an opportunity to understand the MK experience in a whole new way. It's been such a joy reading poetry anthologies, memoirs, children's books, journal entries, and short story creations by the talented student authors in my class. I've found myself laughing one moment and crying the next, as I poured over their written words - their hearts on the page. 

I read each submission only to discover a world I never knew. A student shared about a horrific bullying experience, which reinvigorated my desire to continue strengthening Child Safety at RVA. Another shared a hilarious third culture kid experience, of traveling to their passport country and seeing a blueberry legged lady. She then army crawled under the pew of a church service, to discover pantyhose for the first time. I laughed so hard, I cried as I read that memoir. I read true stories of missionary children being evacuated from rebel gunfire in one country to discovering true depths of loneliness, when another wrote about being separated from his parents, left alone on a compound in the middle of Africa, with only his younger sister, during a pandemic. I read about an MK who shared about how Flight Attendants felt like kidnappers and another who shared about thrilling games of field hockey on sewage flooded fields against barefooted opponents. I read poems about mental health challenges, stunning prose illuminating the dark sky, and even an ode to milkshakes.

In my last newsletter, I shared about how hard it has been being in Kenya this past year. I shared about my struggles with anxiety creeping in as the campus emptied and masks became walls between us. The pandemic has been hard. However, my Creative Writing class has brought such joy as I've sat behind my computer marking student's assignments, filmed lessons on literary devices in my office, and helped them grow as authors. I've loved every minute of it and I'm so thankful for this opportunity to support students and their families in their ministry. 

"I just wanted to thank you for guiding us to become better writers through your creative writing class! I not only enjoyed the course, but I have also seen myself improve a lot. I have definitely loved every bit of writing we did in class. Again thank you for everything and I hope you have a great Christmas vacation!" - Hillary*, Grade 12 Student in my class

Please Pray

1. Please pray for restorative rest. While I'm home in Canada I will continue working on Child Safety items and teaching (I'm currently teaching Creative Writing) during the month of November. In December, I am hoping to take a break. Please pray for restorative rest as I take a sabbath and spend time with my family. I'm really excited to spend time cuddling with my new nephew, Malakhi. 

2. RVA is currently in the process of preparing and writing policies so students can return to campus in January while remaining safe. Many of our families are struggling to educate their kids - frustrated with unpredictable internet in rural locations, juggling ministry and homeschooling, and there are students locked at home because it's not safe for them to go outside because of the context. RVA truly desires to continue our mission of providing high quality education to the children of missionaries, thus enabling them to serve. While online education has filled the gap temporarily, it's becoming more and more apparent how needed RVA is. Plea pray for us as we prepare.

Thank you for your love and support.  Missing you and praying for you and your families.

- Tori Bissell

*Some names and information may have been changed to protect the safety of students.

P.S. For those wondering, quarantine went well. I was able to stay at a duplex owned by Rexdale Alliance Church which they use for missionaries. For two weeks it was $400 and it was such a blessing to have a beautiful and safe place to stay. I was also incredibly blessed by family and friends who visited me - socially distant, brought me food and goodies, or zoom called to bring me comfort. I was worried about my anxiety but God comforted me throughout in so many ways. Here's a couple of snapshots.

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