A letter to Didara:
Five years ago when I heard of a friend hosting through The Greatest Exchange, I had very selfish thoughts: Why would they waste their summer having to entertain someone else? Why would they open their home to a complete stranger? Isn’t that a huge burden on them?
At the time, I wasn’t living for Jesus but instead only focused on myself, my time, my money: it was all mine. And then over time, God began to work on my heart to help me realize that putting others before myself was even more fulfilling to me and my life. We had zero hesitations about hosting for the second summer and we were thrilled to be connected with Didara.
While we definitely experienced our share of our adventures from seeing Didara’s eyes light up in local St. Augustine, FL to staying overnight in an American hotel and trekking to Sea World, some of our very favorite moments were pretty simple. We enjoyed sitting around our game room table, playing Uno, chess, or Zingo! or while eating our daily açaí bowls every evening.
After a whirlwind four weeks, it’s a hard pill to swallow with Didara moving out. For the past month, she’s joined us for every breakfast, for sit-down dinners, for our weekends together from neighbor’s birthday parties to church and on beach trips with friends. From hosting last year, I know how suddenly quiet upstairs will feel, with no sounds of her speaking Kazakh on her phone in the evening with her family members and without her pink bike waiting to be ridden outside of our home each morning.
So Didara, this letter is for you; an additional way to remember our time together. Often times we go on mission trips and think we are making a difference, but it turns out that the mission trip was actually changing us. Hosting through The Greatest Exchange is no different: Eliza and Didara in two summers have left immense impacts on us.
Dear Didara (aka Didawa aka girlfriend):
We know how scary coming to a new country must feel so thank you for saying “yes” to this opportunity to meet us and so many others who are thrilled that you are here. We know that you left a sweet family and life behind, even if just temporarily, so thank you for moving in for us for the special month of June.
You were immediately greeted by our 68-lb yellow lab on day one and with tears of fear in your eyes, you survived a few rough days learning to live alongside a dog which in your culture should be outside. You immediately embraced and showed love to our two young, energetic and wild boys, and we know how truly tired you were every evening after work when you chose to play with them without ceasing.
We watched your face light up with excitement in St. Augustine, FL and it is there that you trademarked the best Didara saying ever, “Hi! I’m from Kazakhstan” lol. We enjoyed our evening dinners, deep chats (getting to talk when the kids allowed it) and whenever it was possible, I snuck a pasta dish into our menu just for you.
We loved our Sea World experience, although we sat in a literal 50 degree freezing room after being soaked after the splash zone. We loved how excited you were over the American hotel, finding a Russian hotel worker and how everything in Orlando was just plain cool. (Thank you for surviving the car ride, too).
When you probably just wanted to sleep, you woke early to work out with us at our beloved Trinity Fitness and you adventured with us in the Intracoastal on kayaks.
We so enjoyed your Father’s Day surprise by making us Russian pancakes and when you and Sabira spoiled us with plov and baursak, food that we literally dream about when the summer is over.
Capturing family photos together left us with a special, tangible memory of your sweet, passionate, loving self.
As a woman in Kazakhstan, we know you will do big things. We loved hearing about your grandma, your brother, mother, and father and your boyfriend waiting for you back at home. One of our highlights was getting to talk to your parents on FaceTime and seeing your face explode with love.
You are passionate about bringing change to a tumultuous political season in Kazakhstan and we were so inspired by your desire to bring about peace. We will never forget the one Saturday morning at Trinity Fitness when you asked for a prayer request for your country.
We had the chance to talk about so many of the fears you face and how we have fears, too. A lot of times, I felt like the fears of the uncertainty for your future were like sitting on the couch with my niece sharing her concerns. The world felt a little bit smaller as we shared that Americans are not perfect and that we experience brokenness, too.
Ultimately, we want you to know that we love you. We know that you have made a long-term impact on our boys and that they will always remember you. We commit to always being available for you anytime you need someone to practice your expert-level English on and we can’t wait to experience your beloved country soon.
The Bible verse that spoke to us during your stay with us was from the book of 2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Our prayer for you is that you truly seek and find freedom and that you look back one day and realize that this really is the greatest exchange.
Logan, Meg, Landon & Griffin (and Warrior)
We are so thankful to all of the coordinators of The Greatest Exchange and the work that you do! We love you girls!
Thank you to Nikki of SeaNikk Views for gifting us a professional photo shoot to help remember our sweet time with Didara. Friends in the Nocatee area, check her out for your upcoming photo shoot!