“I WAS nervous about moving here,” says Allen. * “I didn’t know if I would make friends or be accepted.” Allen is adapting to a new congregation nearly 900 miles (over 1,400 km) away from home.
If you have moved to a different congregation, you too may be apprehensive. What can help you to adjust? What can you do if the adjustment is harder than you expected? On the other hand, if you are not moving, how might you make the change easier for newcomers?
HOW CAN YOU ADJUST AND THRIVE?
Think of this example: When trees are relocated, they experience stress. As a tree is removed from the ground, most of its roots are usually cut off to make it easier to transport. Once transplanted, the tree must immediately start growing new roots. Similarly, moving to another congregation may have caused you to experience stress. In your previous congregation, you had grown “roots” as you developed cherished friendships and settled into a familiar spiritual routine. Now you must grow new roots in order to flourish in a new environment. What will help you to do so? Applying Scriptural principles. Let us consider some.
The person who regularly reads God’s Word is “like a tree planted by streams of water, a tree that produces fruit in its season, the foliage of which does not wither. And everything he does will succeed.”—Ps. 1:1-3.
Just as a tree must regularly draw from a water source to remain healthy, a Christian must regularly feed on God’s Word to remain spiritually strong. Therefore, continue to read the Bible daily and to attend congregation meetings regularly. Maintain your good habits of family worship and personal study. Whatever you needed spiritually in your previous location, you will need in your new one too.
“Whoever refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”—Prov. 11:25.
You will be invigorated and will adapt quicker when you share fully in the ministry. “What aided my wife and me the most was to auxiliary pioneer soon after we arrived in our new congregation,” says Kevin, a Christian elder. “We quickly got to know the brothers, the pioneers, and the territory.” Roger, who moved to an area over 1,000 miles (over 1,600 km) away from where he lived, says: “The best way to adapt to a new congregation is to go in field service as often as possible. Also, let the elders know that you are available to assist in any way, perhaps by cleaning the Kingdom Hall, substituting for a meeting part, or offering to give someone a ride to the meetings. When the brothers and sisters see someone new with a self-sacrificing spirit, they take you in.”
“Open your hearts wide.”—2 Cor. 6:13.
Widen out in your brotherly affection. After Melissa and her family moved to a new congregation, they concentrated on making new friends. “We mingled at the Kingdom Hall before and after meetings,” she says. “That allowed time to converse beyond just saying a simple greeting.” This also helped the family to learn new names more quickly. In addition, they widened out by extending hospitality, which strengthened the new bonds of friendship. “We exchanged phone numbers,” she adds, “so we could be reached and included in spiritual and other activities.”
If you are overwhelmed by the thought of meeting new people, you can start in small ways. For example, smile—even if you do not feel like it at first. A smile will draw others to you. After all, “a cheerful glance makes the heart rejoice.” (Prov. 15:30, ftn.) “I am reserved by nature,” says Rachel, who moved far away from where she grew up. “Sometimes I have to force myself to talk to the brothers and sisters in my new congregation. I look for someone who is sitting down in the Kingdom Hall, not talking to anyone. That person may be just as shy as I am.” Why not set the goal to converse with someone new before or after every meeting?
On the other hand, you may be excited to meet new people for the first few weeks. But then the “newness” can wear off as time goes by. At that point, you may need to exert yourself to continue to make new friends.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO ADJUST
Some trees take longer than others to become firmly rooted in a new environment. Likewise, not everyone adapts to a new congregation at the same pace. If you moved some time ago but you are still struggling to adjust, applying these Bible principles can help:
“Let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due time we will reap if we do not tire out.”—Gal. 6:9.
Allow more time to adjust than you originally expected. For example, many Gilead-trained missionaries stay in their foreign assignment for several years before going back to their country of origin for a visit. Doing so helps them to bond with the local brothers and to adjust to a different culture.
Alejandro, who has moved several times, knows that the adjustment process cannot be rushed. He relates: “After our last move, my wife said, ‘All my friends are in our previous congregation!’” He reminded her that she had said exactly the same thing two years earlier—the last time they moved. But during those two years, she showed interest in others and strangers became close friends.
“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.”—Eccl. 7:10.
Avoid comparing your new congregation with your previous one. For example, the brothers in your new congregation may be more reserved or more outspoken than you are used to. Focus on their positive traits, just as you want them to focus on yours. Some newcomers realized to their surprise that their move forced them to ask themselves, ‘Do I truly love “the whole association of brothers”?’—1 Pet. 2:17.
“Keep on asking, and it will be given you.”—Luke 11:9.
Continue to pray for help. “Don’t just tough it out,” says David, an elder. “Many things we can do only with Jehovah’s help. Pray about it!” Rachel, quoted earlier, agrees. “If my husband and I feel a little disconnected from the congregation,” she says, “we pray specifically to Jehovah, ‘Please let us know if we are doing something that makes it hard for others to be drawn to us.’ Then we try to spend more time with the brothers and sisters.”
Parents, if your children are struggling to fit in, take time to pray with them about this matter. Help them to make new friends by arranging opportunities for upbuilding association.
HELP NEWCOMERS TO FEEL ACCEPTED
What can you do to help newcomers who have moved into your congregation? Strive to be a true friend from the start. To do so, try to imagine what things you would appreciate if you were a new arrival, and then do those things. (Matt. 7:12) Could new ones join you for family worship or for the monthly JW Broadcasting program? Could you invite them to accompany you in the ministry? If you share a simple meal together, they will long remember your hospitality. What further practical help can you give to newcomers?
“When we arrived in our new congregation,” says Carlos, “a sister gave us a list of stores that have reasonable prices. That helped a lot.” Those arriving from a location with a different climate may be grateful to learn how to dress in your hot, cold, or rainy weather. You could also help them to be more effective in their ministry by relating to them the history of the community or by explaining the local religious beliefs.
MAKING ADJUSTMENTS IS WORTH THE EFFORT
Allen, mentioned in the introduction, has been in his new congregation for over a year. He reflects: “I had to push myself at first to get to know the brothers and sisters. But now they feel more like family, and I am happy.” Allen realizes that by moving, he did not lose any friends. Instead, he gained new ones, who will likely remain his friends for life.
^ par. 2 Some names have been changed.