What to Expect When You’re Ex-pat-ing

Reading Time: 6 minutes

expectations overseas

One year after my family arrived in Uganda, I sat in a gentle sunrise on our porch, overlooking a corner of our neighborhood–and evaluating my expectations overseas.

The same cookfires exhaled ribbons of smoke to the sky. The same lorries trundled down the street. Passersby trudged by in the same hole-y clothes and well-worn shower shoes. read more

When My Child’s Fluency = My Success

Reading Time: 4 minutes

fluency

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.

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here.

 

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Do You Really Need Training to be a Missionary?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

training to be a missionary

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?

As you search for missions agencies, evaluate your potential agency’s priority and methods for training. How holistic does that training appear? (See Choosing an Emotionally Healthy Missions Organization.) Some agencies use outside organizations, like Mission Training International or Studio. Some conduct their own training (or a hybrid of both) to address the onfield needs they anticipate.

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.

The field awaits. Are you ready?

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MEET AN AGENCY: A Series to Help You Find a Great Fit

Hands-on Training

Your Missions Training: A Lot Like Pouring a Roof