One benefit of my kids growing up overseas is their rich experience of another culture. My kids absorb elements of the adopted country in an organic way. They often see the world with a different perspective from someone–even an adult–who hasn’t left their home country.
I love that my kids have adopted certain aspects from Egypt: They have favorite Egyptian foods. They wash their hands after eating, and believe tissues are reasonable as napkins at the table. My kids know how to say “thank you” to mean “no” if they don’t want something being offered. I love that three of my kids write and speak some Arabic and understand even more.
But wait, you might say, why just “some Arabic?” Haven’t your kids been growing up in Egypt?
Shouldn’t they be picking up the language smoothly and effortlessly like the sponges that children are?
Yes, they are sponges when they are immersed in the language or culture full-time.
FLUENCY: The Picture vs. The Reality
The reality for us? We speak mostly English at home. We attend an English-speaking church. They attend an English-speaking international school.
When my children were younger they attended a preschool where they were the only non-Egyptians. We also attended a Sunday school program at a large Arabic church. We all learned church songs in Arabic and followed the Bible story.
During that season, the kids enjoyed the interactions and even saw friends from soccer-training at church. Through these interactions, they developed a foundation for Arabic and Egyptian culture.
But just as kids learn quickly, with skills only occasionally used, they also tend to forget quickly.
Now at my kids’ school, they take Arabic class four days per week. They are reading and writing Arabic. They are speaking and understanding more all the time.
And they are not at a place of fluency. Neither am I.
Not Good Enough?
While I would like for my kids to be confident about communicating with locals, our experience so far has not provided for them to regularly be immersed in the language to the point of fluency.
And in that, sometimes I hear the message that maybe I’m not doing a good enough job at this cross-cultural thing.
In fact, a friend was criticized by a new member of her team who arrived in the country one day…and criticized her the next day. He couldn’t believe her child hadn’t attained fluency.
Reader, let’s not judge our fellow workers.
Let’s offer grace and seek to understand the situation of those on the field before we share criticism or offer instruction.
My Kids = My Success?
We need to remember to see our children as people, not as a marker of how successful we are cross-culturally.
Maybe your situation does not require your children to learn another language. But it’s possible you had expectations (or others had expectations of you) that your children would be immersed in the culture, surrounded by local children, loving their third-culture-kid identity.
Maybe, due to their school options or where you live or what your family needs to do in order to be healthy, those relationships and that cultural identification hasn’t completely happened for your children.
Some children will love learning the language and love speaking with locals. Some will not.
They may dive head-first into the culture and enjoy making that part of their identity. They might not.
When it comes to our children, it’s important to give them the tools to thrive, the encouragement to keep trying, and the flexibility and grace to find their place.
FLUENCY: CHOOSING TO STRETCH THEM
Since I recognize that interactions with the language and locals will not just “magically” happen for my kids, I make certain choices when possible.
When given the opportunity to play tennis with an American coach or an Egyptian coach, I’ll choose the Egyptian Arabic-speaking coach for my kids. If possible, I will find Arabic tutoring for my kids during summer break so they continue to develop their language skills.
What choices do you have available to get your kids into the local culture and language? Can they
take group lessons–art, swimming, karate, science–with local kids they don’t meet at school?
attend a family retreat or camp?
participate in a church class for their age group?
play with a local adult who speaks the local language and teaches local songs?
This might require extra work from you, parents. This might require a bit of pushing to get your kids on board.
I don’t think we should push our kids toward fluency beyond what they can reasonably handle. But I do think we make efforts to let our kids experience their host country in a non-touristy, daily-life kind of way.
Why Our Kids’ Adaptation Matters–Beyond Our Egos
The more natural and enjoyable experiences our children have with their host country, the more opportunity for them to identify with parts of the culture.
This creates ownership of the culture that helps to make them an ambassador for the local people of your host culture–becoming a voice about what is good and valuable about a foreign culture, strange and unknown, to their passport culture.
Your kids learn in a more natural way how to relate to different people. Maybe they’ll be able to move through different cultures and become like them in order to save some.
The bottom line: We give our children the opportunity and encouragement (and sometimes a little push) to be involved in the culture and language, learning more about their host country.
And we don’t use our children’s language or cultural fluency as the marker for our own success. That’s a part of their story. Not our merit badge.
Maybe you’ve wondered about the level of importance you should place on training to be a missionary. Is “training” more of a modern or even Western invention? Isn’t the Great Commission something to do whether you’re formally trained or not?
Yes and no. Yes, you can share Jesus without taking a class first. But remember–even Jesus’ disciples had spent three years being disciples. The concept of equipping and being trained isn’t foreign to the Bible.
Unfortunately, a lack of comprehensive training to be a missionary can result in the lack of skills empowering that global worker to stay. It could also mean that in a lack of cross-cultural knowledge, the missionary actually does damage to the Church’s work overseas–driving people away from the Gospel rather than toward it.
(Yes, it’s possible to bungle missions.)
Today, we let Global Frontier Missions take the mic to make their case for intentional preparation for the mission field.
Did you know most missionaries only last about two years on the field?
Statistics show that proper cross-cultural training to be a missionary greatly increases your chances of being more effective–and staying on the mission field longer.
We are passionate about equipping healthy, long-term disciple-makers–and not just in theology. We feel acutely the need for head knowledge, character qualities, and hands-on skills. It’s critical our missionaries have a sustainable and impactful ministry among the least-reached peoples.
So take a minute to check out the following videos. And catch the vision for why training can prepare you for the mission field to which God’s calling you!
TRAINING TO BE A MISSIONARY: THE PRACTICAL ANGLE
Almost every profession requires classroom and on-the-job training. Why not cross-cultural ministry?
Mission Prep: Holistic
Yes, here in the West, we often emphasize head knowledge as the all-important piece in education. But how effective is that actually in preparing someone to be a missionary?
MISSIONS PREp: THE BIBLICAL ANGLE
If we take a look at the Bible, we see many examples of God’s people going through seasons of preparation and waiting. It’s not an optional appendix in the story of God’s people. Preparation and waiting are a necessary chapter we all walk through.
training to be a missionary: the Strategic side of things
We may be quick to applaud the individuals full of passion and energy that head to the mission field, but what’s really needed are faithful, steady, consistent laborers that are in it for the long haul.
Wondering where to go from here?
Editor’s note: So maybe we’ve sold you on the need for thoughtful, strategic training before you head overseas. Wondering what to do with that conviction?
Or you might consider experiences that offer fully interactive training to be a missionary while helping you discern God’s direction. We’ve got a healthy handful on our Hands-On Training tab here on Go. Serve. Love.
Wondering what goes into a missionary budget (which, when you’re raising support, can feel overwhelming)? We let you peek behind the curtain with some opinions of other global workers.
“A missionary Budget may cover all the costs of sending the missionary, not just what YOU need to live.”
A missionary budget may include all the expenses of fielding the missionary. Besides a salary, budget categories might include
health and life insurance
travel expenses (including cost of home assignments)
administrative expenses (including the costs of communicating with supporters, and often a certain percentage that supports the mission agency’s home office)
training costs (e.g. language school)
purchase or rental of property
purchase and maintenance of a vehicle.
It’s also wise to include some kind of surplus account, or perhaps a 5% buffer built right into the budget in anticipation of
lost support, cost of living increases
changing exchange rates
an emergency fund and/or insurance that covers medical evacuation
All this can add up to a daunting amount.
But trust me: Cutting corners is not worth the savings.
Being well prepared will help you and your family avoid some of the stress of arriving on the field and not having what you need.
Most mission agencies include some kind of “admin fee.” What these fees cover varies considerably. A high admin fee may include some of the expenses listed above. A low one may suggest these items are listed elsewhere in your budget.
Answer from Marti, who’s served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.
“If married, both should get a salary.”
A missionary candidate recently asked me if I thought it was better for a married couple to both be counted as legal employees. Should just the serving member of the couple be paid, to simplify payroll even if both are working as missionaries?
Our organization issues W-2’s to my wife and I with half of our total income per year. I think it’s more respectful of our partnership to do it that way and honor my spouse’s major contributions to the work. That was our original reason.
We’ve discovered strong financial reasons along the way too.
When you are negotiating your budget with your agency and others, it’s to your advantage to present the full force of your contribution i.e. two full-time workers. Although people might remember there are two of us, it is to your financial advantage to remind them of the income you both are earning together.
Many missionaries, even if they start under the traditional model of only one marriage partner as the breadwinner, evolve eventually to give both spouses a significant responsibility in the work. There can be a tendency for some to forget that you are working not just 40 hours but 80+ hours as two workers.
Employing both partners accrues Social Security credits for that partner, too. I’m not sure, but I believe this means she’d have higher income in retirement than if she wasn’t an official employee.
Consider, too, that liability insurance and taxation “safe harbor laws” (allowing return to your home state for a number of days without being taxed) likely don’t extend to a non-employee legally.
“your MISSIONARY budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.”
Raising an amount so much higher than a salary may surprise you. Why’s this necessary? You may be raising the actual costs it takes a business to employ a person (which can be an additional 100-180% of a salary)–plus costs intrinsic to being a successful global worker.
These expenses may include costs like
overhead for project costs for your ministry. For example, if you hope to run a supply distribution for at-risk children, you may be raising costs to maintain that programming. The more independent your project is from your sending organization, the more likely you may need to raise those project costs.
your computer, software, internet, desk, chair, phone, office space, etc. Some agencies don’t already provide these.
Obviously, lower administrative fees in a missionary budget help reduce your overall budget. But typically,more moderate to high admin fees include more benefits and services that help keep you going on the mission field.
Other thoughts to keep in mind:
Different sending organizations have very different philosophies of budget-setting (ranging from frugal to robust, job-based or needs-based). They also have varying levels of control over budget-setting.
Ask your organization about categories or aspects of a budget you don’t understand.
Keep in mind that the amount may seem overwhelming when you’re raising a high support goal. But your budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.
It’s also far easier to raise support before your first departure–and much harder to raise from the field and even during travel back to your passport culture. So go well-funded from the start!
Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”
Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.
I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.
Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.
You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.
(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)
Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.
But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.
I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)
I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.
(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)
I can only tell you what I know.
own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called
This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.
But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.
When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.
During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)
I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.
He said something like,
Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.
And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.
I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.
There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.
It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.
But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.
What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?
Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.
Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.
Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?
Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.
But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)
Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.
This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
We get a distinct thrill over here in partnering with you in a small way as you look in an overseas direction. Here are the posts that seemed to resonate with you–and represent some of the best posts of 2020.
May God empower your every next move for his honor and renown.
After 30-plus years as a missionary, I have seen the wide and wonderful diversity in the people God calls to be missionaries! And everyone has different expectations about how they will go overseas and what kind of mission agency or “sending structure” they will use.
Some folks are so determined to do things their way, there’s no way they will survive working within a mission agency.
Others are totally committed to doing things as a team and won’t go without a sending agency and a team.
And there’s everything in between.
Determined to do it on your own and in your way? Consider these questions.
How will you receive donations and receipt them with an IRS-approved receipt? How will that money get to you in [insert vast and distant land, possibly without reliable wi-fi] and be exchanged for currency you can use?
What kind of visa will you apply for to stay long term?
Consider trauma-, evacuation-, disaster-, and oh-no-level situations in which a mission agency normally provides support and seasoned, educated protocols.
Who will find you and help your wife bail you out of jail when you disappear one day because you were involved in a traffic accident?
There are countries where, when there is an accident that results in someone being seriously injured, the driver involved is simply taken to jail until the person gets out of the hospital. And “no” you don’t get one free phone call. Sometimes those countries have a special “chauffers’ jail” where you can go instead (if you paid for that policy). These actually feed you and provide you with a blanket.
Are you aware that your passport nation taxes often change when you live overseas a certain number of days a year? Will you have to pay income taxes in the country you go to live in?
Are you planning to make every cultural blunder yourself or will you learn from others you’re connected with?
In light of this…
I need to ask–why re-invent the wheel? There are people who have been there and done it. And you will get much further down the road faster if you benefit from their experience.
Let me be clear: No mission agency will be a perfect match. There will always be things that you just have to live with. Be diligent to search beforehand for a match on the priorities most important to you.
Still not convinced? A number of groups help provide legal coverage and financial services to free you up for ministry.Find them here.
What questions should you ask in choosing a solid mission agency?
Grace Bible Church in Houston offers a thoughtful article (created originally by Christar) with 11 topics to explore regarding your agency–and notably, why they’re so valuable to ask about.
The former Arab World Ministries–which merged into Pioneers–produced this valuable pdf outlining the value of going with an agency and how to choose an agency.
Right questions = seeing beyond the answers
As with any decision involving mutual commitment and working together, asking the right questions will help you get the info you need to make a wise decision. But it also hopefully gives you a feel for the ethos and values of the sending organization you are considering.
Ask questions of the home office staff and also ask questions of the folks who are on the field actually doing the ministry. That will round out your picture. The folks on the field usually will give you more details and be a bit more candid because they live there and know the complete story.
Wishing you the best as you walk this path!
Global veteran David Armstrong. He’s set foot in 15 countries. David confesses Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants.
My third child was 3 years old during one of our furloughs, a summer spent in a house provided by my husband’s parents’ church.
We were out running errands and I began talking over the schedule with the kids. I said, “Then we will go back home.”
My 3-year-old blurted out, “What do you mean home? Our Egypt home? Our [current town] home? What HOME?!?”
He was right. I was using the word “home” a bit too generally.
Of course I had read about Third Culture Kids being at home everywhere and nowhere. And yes, I knew my kids’ home was in Egypt where they were growing up. It made sense the way I experienced being in the States was different from how they experienced it.
What I didn’t know was how freely I used the word home and how complex of a word it could potentially be.
“Are you glad to be home?”
Often when I return to the States, I’m asked whether I’m glad to be home–by other Americans, by my Egyptian friends when they text to check on me.
A simple question to ask. A very difficult question to process.
Am I home? How do I define home?
A google search of “home is…” produces an abundance of ideas about what home is. Lovely ideas, rosy ideas, romantic ideas, introverted ideas, wanderer ideas. Some I resonate with, some I chuckle with.
“Home” has become less specific about a place and more specific about a concept.
These days I consider two places home. America is home because my family of origin is there, because I grew up there, and because there are certain aspects of the culture that I inherently understand and appreciate.
Egypt is home because we live life there now, my children are growing up there, the community in which we live life is there, and because we have actively made it our home.
I think it is possible to live somewhere and not make it home to you. There are several ways in which I feel like a “fish out of water” in each place.
In America, especially as cultural norms shift, there are aspects that I don’t understand or know quite how to navigate. Sometimes that is more difficult to process because I am American, I look American, I speak American, and yet I don’t always think American anymore.
So, am I glad to be “home?”
Well, if you mean “Am I glad to be back in the country in which I grew up?”
Sure, it’s nice to be back for a visit. I enjoy wearing shorts, riding bikes, and getting outside in nature. I appreciate that traffic is organized, streets and sidewalks are clean, and store hours are posted and regular.
Am I glad to be back to see my family and friends we’ve kept up with?
Yes, absolutely! One of the hardest things about living overseas for me is missing family and missing out on celebrations and time together.
“Are you glad to be in a place where You fit in?”
Hmm, I don’t know that I fit in. I’m a little bit weird for an American now.
Some days I can’t remember if I should call it a grocery store or a supermarket. Outside of my normal desert climate, rainbows fascinate me. I take my kids outside in the rain. I listen more than I talk about politics. Temperatures below 79 F (…26 C) make me shiver. I don’t think in terms of America first but in terms of America in the global picture.
Someday, I imagine, we will live in America again someday. I hope we will. When we do move back, I will intentionally make it our home.
This will not happen by default just by getting an address here. I think that home is where you intentionally put down roots and find how to thrive.
I think sometimes we can try to make somewhere our home and we can put down roots and do everything we can to try to make it home, but then we find we cannot thrive. That was not intended to be your home. You must grieve and move on, knowing that we cannot always make a home, even with the best of intentions.
Home is not always simply where the heart is.
Home is where…
There are challenges to figuring out what home means to each of us.
There certainly are hard days and great sadness when nowhere feels like home for a season. I’ve walked through those days in different seasons.
Sometimes the glass has seemed half-empty and sometimes it has seemed half-full. And when the Lord reminds me of the people I love and the unique privilege of being able to invest deeply wherever I physically am located, my glass overflows.
Four years ago we left Egypt to come to America for a 6-month furlough. We said goodbye to friends in Egypt, made lists of things we needed to buy in America, put our commitments and our life in Egypt on hold until we would come back. We cleaned out the fridge and the pantry, we donated clothes to our church’s collection, we made plans of what we would do when we returned.
Finally, the morning of our departure dawned. I still remember very clearly walking up the steps to the airplane out on the tarmac. I looked at the early morning sky.
The carry-on bag on my shoulder was incredibly full, but my heart was fuller still. Full of emotion about leaving the place I had made a home, full of excitement about what was coming over the next few months, full of gratitude to be able to love two places so thoroughly.
And I was humbled by the opportunity to live this two-home life.
Confession: I’ve never been that trendy of a person. (Maybe you could have guessed that from my regrettable personal trends in the last post?) I have never actually been cool. I have just been a person cool people liked.
But missions trends, see, aren’t on par with whether you listen to Maroon 5 or wear maroon skinny jeans.
I have no doubt future generations will have the opportunity to correct our generations’ mistaken trends in missions. Yet in general, trends like those we’ve been covering in these three posts are ways of loving better. Working smarter rather than harder. Better reflecting Jesus to a watching world.
Ready for more?
Technology as Missions
Technology, Christianity Today reports, facilitates connection, community, and discipleship around the world–and enables the Church’s mission.
Like money or art, it can be used as an instrument of either God’s glory and worship…or the opposite. (As digital technology radically expands our abilities to reach the world with the hope that we have, it’s still crucial to keep in mind the negative community, addictive, spiritual, and other factors inherent in tech.)
one of our workers working on the edge of the Sahara desert, she works amongst nomads and she found a brilliant way of evangelizing Muslim nomads.
She’s got a number of mobile phones. She downloads the Jesus film and a number of other evangelistic resources and leaves the phones in different encampments. And all the young people rush there with their mobile phones and download everything she’s got on her mobile and watch the Jesus film or access the internet.
And the International Mission Board (IMB) reports,
SIM cards the size of a thumbnail can equip oral learners with audio recordings of Scripture. iPhone videos allow missionaries to hurdle language barriers with recorded testimonies in the local language. Facebook groups quietly connect believers with seekers and allow conversations to take place in a shared online environment. Innumerable digital resources are now available to extend a missionary’s reach.
What do tech trends in missions look like right now?
The Lumo Project offers moving, visual accounts of the 4 Gospels. Check it out on the YouVersion Bible App–in 23 languages.
Literacy International “Shares the gift of reading and the gospel by teaching people how to read and write in their mother tongue using Bible-based materials in 260+ languages. Teacher-training classes are taught in English by live instructors using video calls and an online classroom.”
Zume is a FREE online training platform. It’s currently offered in 27 languages, with more to come. The goal? Equipping participants in basic disciple-making and simple church planting multiplication principles, processes, and practices.
We’re looking for missions that goes the distance. Sharing our faith is increasing its sustainability in more than one way.
Caring for our missionaries rather than burning through them.
Another happy addition to trends in missions: The Church is increasingly realizing our missionaries themselves, their education, experience, etc.–are more than tools for the Gospel.
The Gospel in our own lives as missionaries matters.
So are we living the reality that we are not what we do for God? That Christ’s work is sufficient? That we are loved and worthy apart for our accomplishments for God’s Kingdom? That God is sovereign and able to accomplish his work?
Emotionally-healthy missionaries hurt less (others, and within themselves). Help more. Love God from within their being, rather than as hollow shells of service (see Matthew 23:27-28).
Check out some of Go. Serve. Love’s best posts on emotionally-healthy missions:
The idea? To allow Westerners to grow in placing leadership in the hands of nationals. Eventually, this allows national ministry to unhitch from the organization.
Additionally, this protects many national ministries from the very real temptations of corruption–a reality cementing developing nations in cycles of poverty.
Sustainability helps missions move beyond relief and Western discipleship. It builds empowerment and reproducing, national movements.
Yet trends in missions also mean we’re doing something even better as a Church: Applying the Gospel to the unique context of every culture.
Paul famously wrote in 1 Corinthians,
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews…To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (vv. 20, 23)
The book of Acts repeatedly shows Paul himself contextualizing: Addressing the concerns of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in the Areopagus. Sharing his testimony in Aramaic to a horde of outraged Jews. Circumcising Timothy so as not to disturb the consciences of a Jewish audience.
And thankfully, as a Church, we’re getting better at this, too. Hope to increase your cross-cultural IQ? Check out posts like these.
What missions trends are you seeing–and inspired by?
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills for Work-in-Progress Families (Harvest House) releases in October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
When you’re headed overseas, it’s easy to underestimate the effects your organization’s health could have on the ability to thrive overseas.
As I type, I think of the friend who called me recently, voice throaty with tears, as she discussed their lack of ability to care for her after stepping off the field.
Or I remember my conversation with the missionary couple who felt they had no option but to leave their organization once they’re on the field.
I think of a young mom who felt her agency had far more interest in “the mission” than they did in the missionaries themselves.
I remember the friend that arrived with her family of five in-country for the first time, but were simply dropped at a boarding house with no cash, no meals for the first night. The whole family went to sleep on an empty stomach.
Feel Free to Date Around
Unfortunately, looking for an organization is a bit like dating. Everyone’s got their best foot forward–and is often unable to see the friction inevitable in a future “marriage”.
And keep in mind–there’s no perfect partner on either side. The trick is to go in with eyes wide open.
How can you set yourself up for a wiser partnership when it comes to the emotional health of an organization?
1. Think bigger than a shared mission–and get intuitive.
Finding a good organizational fit can’t only be about a similar mission and proper theology–because no one wants to share a mission, but deal with unhealthy conflict management, possess few resources to care for trauma, or feel like their org doesn’t really listen.
When dating, I remember looking at the guy’s clothes, observing how he carried on a conversation (do I have to drive the convo constantly? And is he genuinely interested in me?). I watched how he tipped, how he treated the wait staff.
Bring that kind of intuition into your interactions with your missions organization. Chances are, the person who’s interviewing you or answering your questions won’t be the same person managing you or living down the street when you’re overseas.
Gather as much intuitive information as you can, sorting out how each individual changes the dynamic of your interactions and your impression of the agency.
2. To find an emotionally healthy agency, Ask Good Questions.
Consider asking questions like these to narrow down your choices to an agency that’s more emotionally healthy.
Questions to ask yourself
How much does this organization value appearances over authenticity?
Do their rhythms and expectations allow great margin for missionaries to replenish and serve from the inside out?
How do I anticipate resting, finding community, being personally discipled, finding personal enjoyment, and otherwise creating an emotionally healthy environment that helps me stay as long and as emotionally healthy as possible?
Who are this organization’s heroes? Of whom do they speak more negatively? (What does this tell me about their values?)
How truthful and realistic does this organization seem?
Do I agree with their approaches to evangelism?
What do I identify with about this organization? What turns me off?
Questions to ask the organization
What infrastructures are already in place for
on-boarding once you arrive
emergency evacuation (physically, but also emotionally)
holding staff accountable
manager training (Pro tip: healthy management is often taken for granted…until it isn’t there)?
2. How has your organization and its goals changed to respond to the changing face and theology of missions? (How are you doing missions differently now than you used to?)
3. How have you dealt with burned-out missionaries in the past?
4. How do you work to increasingly partner with nationals?
5. What’s the missionary community like in the area(s) we’re considering? Are there children our kids’ ages? What are the educational possibilities?
6. Can you offer us any anonymous examples of how you’ve dealt with conflict or missionaries’ “red flags” (porn addiction, severe anxiety, depression, etc.) while on field?
7. What are your expectations for emotionally healthy home assignments, including
how we would spend our time while in our passport country
ways to replenish ourselves and address needs harder to meet on the field (counseling, etc.)?
8. What ways do you help missionaries succeed cross-culturally? Who will introduce us to the country cross-culturally?
9. How do you partner with other organizations interdependently?
10. What options will be available to us if we need counseling?
11. For what matters (e.g. with extended family) do you encourage missionaries to return to their home countries temporarily or long-term?
12. Describe your prayer support system.
3. Consider your singleness, gender, and unique family structure.
Questions for Singles
Elizabeth, a missionary with SEND International for over 37 years, advises these questions for singles:
1. How are singles, especially single women, viewed in your organization? Can they hold ministry leadership positions?
2. If singles are part of a team, is there a good balance of singles and married couples?
3. How is the support structured for singles? Is it assumed they will live with another single or do they have the freedom to live alone?
4. What are your policies for a single marrying someone from their country of ministry?
5. Is a single woman treated at all differently than a single man? What is the difference?
Also, if you are dating or engaged, how does this affect you joining that agency?
Questions for Families
Families might also consider questions like these:
Jesus sent his disciples out in a minimum of twos. How do I see our family connecting with other like-minded families in the area we hope to go?
What are expectations for standards of living, e.g. appropriate and inappropriate levels of comfort?
If my marriage or a child needs immediate help with emotional issues, what are our options?
What’s the expectation of involvement for missionary spouses?
Find even more questions to ask of agencies here and here.
We want to hear from you.
What questions do you find it critical to ask to find an emotionally healthy missions agency?