Putting Down Roots

I’ve mentioned this great analogy before, but during our cross-cultural training, we transplanted a living plant from one pot to another and talked about the process of being transplanted from one culture to another. What an amazing illustration! Here was our little plant, perfectly happy in it’s little pot when suddenly it is uprooted and it’s comfy dirt and pot shaken off and left behind.  Some roots are broken in the process and some are carried along and planted in the new  pot. This freshly transplanted little flower is in a precarious situation now where in order to survive, it needs to be watered and cared for and must work hard to put down roots into this new and foreign soil. If it fails to do so, it will begin to wither.

We know that God is the one who chooses this new soil, who places us just right in this new “pot,” who waters us, who tends to us, and who even ultimately enables roots to grow, so the analogy is imperfect, but I think it has some good parallels as we strive to do the things that we can in order to thrive.

Being uprooted, as many can attest to, can be traumatic as our roots are untangled from our home and some are even broken in the process. We arrive  in our new soil alive and in much the same appearance as when we were uprooted, but we must soon grow new roots in order to survive.

While thinking of the idea of putting down new roots, I’ve thought it important to consider the roots that held me firmly in place back “home” and that used to served as little channels of life. Loved ones, a church family, hobbies, special places, parts of the culture that I loved, appreciation for the history of my country and city, cultural understanding and feeling like an insider, knowledge of the language…. There were so many roots that made me really thrive in that soil.

Thinking now about thriving in this new soil, I’ve realized that I need similar roots here. These roots aren’t exactly the same, but they need to channel health to my various areas of need. Here are a few of the more significant new roots that have been most life-giving to me personally:

-Love for the people. For me, loving the people of Russia means truly knowing them on a heart level. It is very hard to feel love for a person unless you spend time getting to know them. I want to know and truly love the people of Russia. This for me means meaningful relationships, sharing life, and learning to appreciate and participate in normal Russian daily life. This takes more energy and effort than most other things, but is so incredibly life-giving. From this one root, so many others can grow.

-Prayer for the people and country. The more I pray for Russia, the more I love this country and its people because I participate in God’s heart for Russians. In order to pray effectively, I need to know Russia’s needs and to feel heartache over them. The more I learn about Russia and its needs, the more I am motivated to pray, and the deeper the roots go that attach my heart to this land.

-Thankfulness and enjoyment of the culture. Though the culture here is very different and some of the things that I miss from back “home” can never be exactly replaced, there are unique aspects of beauty in this new culture that I would have never experienced had I never come here. I make it a conscious effort to observe the parts of Russian culture that I personally enjoy and admire and to thank God for the opportunity to experience them. It can also be great fun to find new hobbies in your new culture. I took Caucus dancing for awhile when living in Southwest Russia, and it was so fun!

-Growth in knowledge. Specifically growing in cultural understanding and language ability are the main ways that growing in knowledge causes me to establish stronger roots. The more that I understand the culture, the better I am able to process and appreciate the differences between Russian culture and my own without being critical. The more that I have the language at my disposal, the more that my world here in Russia opens up.

I wanted to end by saying that though there is much that we can do to put down strong roots in order to thrive, we must also accept that by God’s divine plan, sometimes floods and storms do come and uproot even the most firmly rooted of plants, not to mention that sometimes The Gardener simply comes gently along and decides to move our little plant once again to new place that He’d simply prefer having us. A transplant may be permanent, or temporary, depending on the will of The Gardener, and our job is simply to try to put down those roots whenever and wherever He plants us so that we can thrive as best as possible for the time that He has us there.

What are some things that have personally helped you put down roots in your host culture? Do you relate to the ones above, or are there some that you would like to add? Are there any parts of your plant that are still needing to find a source of life? And remember, God is ultimately our source of all things! Even if the soil around you appears to be nothing but desert sand, God still has heavenly provision for your growth (and that is a whole different post)!

(Post by: Ashley)


8 Responses to “Putting Down Roots”

  1. 1 jolenesloan February 24, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    EXCELLENT post, Ashley, and I really loved the real-life illustration that you passed on here.

  2. 2 Melissa M. February 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I just want to express how much I appreciate this blog. God brought it into my life through seemingly random circumstances and it has proven to be such an encouragement to me. We are currently preparing to move to central Asia, so I am thankful that God brought me here at the beginning of our missions journey in order to help prepare me for the things He has planned. :-). Thank you for your faithfulness to keep this up.

  3. 3 Patty February 25, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Oh, how I needed to hear this today. We are on furlough right now, and it has been rough. Thanks for the reminder that this is the place I’ve been planted for this time. I must not only accept that fact, but do my best to thrive where God has put me.
    Thank you, Ashley.

  4. 4 Phyllis February 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

    How did you know…again?!?! I’m beginning to be a little worried that you can see into my head! Actually, just before I fell asleep last night, I thought, “I should send in a Tuesday question about putting down roots.”

    For me, I had very deep roots in Russia. Moving from the US to Russia didn’t feel like uprooting. But then when we had to move on to Ukraine? That was definitely like being ripped out of the ground! I feel like I’m finally starting to recover and be able to think about new roots. And now we’re talking about moving again (to another part of Ukraine).

    When you wrote about your expectations and the blue tea set, I didn’t think I really had expectation, but now I know: my expectation was that I’d be able to settle down in Russia forever.

    As far as growth in knowledge and love and enjoyment: I am trying to learn some Ukrainian. We live in a completely Russian-speaking region, so people think I’m weird to try, but it’s been good for me. I’ve also really enjoyed digging into the places where I see differences and unique parts of the culture here. On the surface, everyone is “Russian.” (Most are technically Ukrainian citizens, but most will also say that they’re Russian.) When I dig, I see that there is really neat, really old folk culture here that we didn’t see in Russia. That helps. On the other hand, it also helps me to see that the culture and life really is almost exactly the same.

  5. 5 Ashley L February 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I was so very encouraged to know that this post was relevant to some of you dear ladies today. I am praying for each of you as you prayerfully and intentionally strive to put down new roots either now or in the near future.

    Thank you for being such a great encourager, Jolene! I am thankful for you! Melissa, I am praying for you today as you prepare to move to central Asia! What a blessing to have you here as part of our community! Patty, I am so sorry to hear that furlough has been such a struggle. Our last one, though it certainly had many treasured moments, was also just a really difficult one for us. I’ll be praying with deep empathy for you, friend! And Phyllis, I promise that I can’t see into your head, but that really is too funny! =) I am thankful for how God leads and it seems like a number of us are thinking about this issue right now! I will pray too for you as you continue to strive to put down roots even deeper there in Ukraine. It is exciting to hear about some of those new roots that have already begun to grow! Praise God!

  6. 6 Kara Coe February 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    We had a season of many transitions which wasn’t our choice about five years ago. In four years, we lived in four different cities (Irkutsk, Russia; Boulder, Colorado; Kyiv, Ukraine; St Pete, Russia) three countries, three different continents.

    Each time, I was able to emotionally put down roots, simply by seeking to connect with others. In some places, that meant the nationals (neighbors, teammates) in some places, other missionaries, and the season in the States, my roots were placed through the local church’s women’s group. Since we never knew how long we would be there, it was tempting to just not invest in new relationships. But one or two weekly ‘events’ (like a Wednesday morning walk, or a Tuesday women’s group, or a playgroup at the playground) helped me. I learned that even in a year, it’s amazing how you can make life-long friends. From each place, I now have a wealth of loving relationships.

    By the third move, though, we wondered how much more our hearts could take. It was definitely hard on our children. We needed a lot of debriefing, helping us process our hearts condition. I felt I had a heart that was full of love for so many places and people, but also stretched by grief at constantly being apart. Part of the difficulty of putting down roots is that we fear the pain that will come inevitably when we leave. And it’s true, it hurts.

    This past summer at a Debrief and Renewal program our kids each transplanted a flower as they were taught this analogy. It was so good to help our kids understand, especially during furlough, why they are feeling the way they do. I highly suggest it to help your kids talk about what they are going through. (The ironic part was that we had to leave the plants in the States at the end of furlough–thankfully no one but me seemed to care!)

    The best lesson from the debrief for me concerned an eternal perspective. It has helped me to live in light of the REALITY of eternity. We *will* be able to live in the same city again… we *will* see each other for coffee and a walk every week! We *will* worship together for eternity, It is just a short time we are now apart.

    Thanks for a though-provoking post, Ashley!

  7. 7 Ashley L February 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Kara, thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your experience and wisdom! Having been through only 2 major transitions since moving overseas, I cannot imagine what it would have been like for you guys. Your family’s faith and faithfulness are such an incredible inspiration to me. I would imagine that I would have given up had I found myself i that situation (though hopefully God would supernaturally prevent me from that). My heart hurt badly enough the two times that we moved even though there were 3 years in between. Though I am sure people rarely seek the situation that you guys found yourselves in, I know that it happens more often than we would hope in this sort of life. Maybe you’d be willing to share your wisdom in a post sometime about how to walk through multiple transitions?

  8. 8 Shilo February 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    We recently went through a time when we thought our current ministry had come to an end. Thankfully through much communication and God’s super abundant grace, we are now tentatively planning to be able to continue there. However, during the time when I was grieving this great, sudden and shocking loss, the Lord had me in a Psalms study. One day it was on Psalms 1, where it talks about being a tree planted by streams of water (v3). The planted there is actually the same word for transplant – to cultivate either a seed OR a seedling. It was really a comfort to me to know that no matter where I am on earth, God has transplanted me and given me a permanent residence next to a life giving stream. He is my living water and my source of life. In times of change, we have to be convinced of that, don’t we?!
    Blessings to all, thanks for sharing your stories too.

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