Going Overseas? Prepare for Scars

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Recently I sat with another missionary, stocking feet curled beneath us. We were reflecting on some of the more painful parts of missionary life.

I’m talking things that were hard to understand if you hadn’t been overseas, hadn’t had moments in a foreign land defined by sacrifice or loss. They were like scars, covered by clothing. read more

Sarah’s Story: Leaving (Again)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

leavingI cram more things into the suitcase, carefully wrapping breakable items in shirts and sweaters.  Piles of our life slowly disappear into the large box that will zip closed and be wheeled through the airport.  The items of our life pushed and squeezed into 10 pieces of luggage: We are leaving tomorrow.

I have trouble carrying the weight of this.

We’ve known the date for 12 weeks and yet it still seemed to surprise us in the end.  The rush to buy the last-minute items, to see if we had all that we needed.  Did you buy a gift for that person? Do you think we need an extra one of these?  The careful planning and eleventh-hour buys all jumble together, pushed and prodded to make space.

Then the backpacks for the plane ride.  A change of clothes in each one, in case motion sickness gets the better of us and we end up wearing our lunch.  A book to read, a stuffed animal to snuggle, a small snack.  Find all the containers of liquid (hand-sanitizer, lotion…) and put them in a ziplock baggie.  Yes, you can pack your journal and yes, please pack your headphones.

Leaving: Ready or Not

We are leaving tomorrow and I am ready and I am not.  The time has been so sweet, the visit so right.

Yet my life, our life, is somewhere else right now and we long to return there.  This would all be much easier if we didn’t have to say goodbye.

A fitful sleep, an incessant alarm, and now we leave today.  Find all the small details, the hair bands and playing cards.  Make sure to clean up and straighten and organize.  Eat a good meal, probably should be vegetables.  Pack the toothbrushes in a carry-on.  Did you pack the charger?

WHEN LEAVING IS HARD

We’re leaving today. And as long as I only think about leaving, I will be sad.  When I think about the going-to, what we are returning to in the place where our life really exists, then I have something to look forward to.

One last photo all together.  Then a quick photo of the suitcases, just in case. We ride to the airport and we say again what a great time this was.

Next the suitcases, with all our things and our best-laid plans, are checked away. We are left with our backpacks, literally the packs on our backs, and our toothbrushes, and the hope that it will all turn out alright.

We say a last goodbye.  It’s okay to cry, liquid emotion as evidence that this is hard.

The leaving doesn’t get easier.  We always miss those we love.

We are going now and now it’s only forward.  We wind through the maze and chaos of the security check and empty our pockets, everything x-rayed.  Then we find our gate and wait to board, remembering to stretch and use a normal bathroom one last time before the next 10 hours.

When we are in our seats, seatbelts buckled and safety instructions playing, we really know we are leaving.

We’re going home.

 

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here–and don’t miss her post on Go. Serve. Love about what she wishes she would have known.

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How to Say, “Hey, Kids. We’re Moving Overseas”

Reading Time: 7 minutes

kids moving

Editor’s note: When God begins to pull your hearts in an overseas direction, that potential decision is inevitably a life-shifting chapter of your kids’ calling and story, too.

We’re pulling this post from the vault to help you navigate.

“When Should We Tell Them?”

I’d say–and most sites agree–as soon as possible.

Your goal? Well-adjusted kids with ownership in your decision, and who can eventually follow God courageously in their own life decisions.

If your kids keep secrets as well as mine did didn’t, it can be hard to discern (“What if they tell people in Sunday School and our cover is blown? We’re not ready to tell the whole church”).

But even before you tell-them-tell-them, you can start planting seeds in your kids’ heads.

The more kids feel “brought along” in the process, being able to ask their questions, process, understand how and why you’re thinking this way, the less they’re likely to feel excluded and out of control.

This can start small.

“What if?”

Take advantage of times when a conversation at the dinner table turns to events around the world, or your church service brings up missions. (Or get a little sneakier, and bring up age-appropriate world events yourself.) You could ask questions like,

  • “Do you think you could ever live overseas?”
  • “Do you think we could ever be missionaries?”
  • “What do you think it would be like to be missionaries?”
  • “Why do you think it’s important for people to be missionaries?”
When praying at bedtime, talk about how your heart hurts for people who don’t know Jesus.
Purchase a scratch-off map of the world, download the Operation World app (my kids love pushing the “I’m praying” button in the app).

Let kids choose a country each night, and perhaps look up a few facts or pictures about those countries. Eventually, start to talk more about how many people in your future host country don’t know Jesus, and the specific needs.

Show them pictures.

Look up videos and photos, and read kids stories and blog posts (missionary stories work, though realize many are told to demonstrate missionaries’ sacrifice–and kids may get the idea you’ll be in a mud hut with no other kids around and asked to die for Jesus. Use discernment, m-kay?). See if missionaries you’ll be with can send a video or photo of their child and their house.

Get fictional.

This may sound weird–but after my husband and I returned from our vision trip to Africa, I started telling my kids about a pair of fictional siblings. They will always remember “Shiloh and Summer stories I told as we drove somewhere.

These kids just happened to be my kids; age–and just happened to be moving to Uganda. (This site suggests using toys–perhaps a plane and some dolls?–to tell younger kids.)

Without overselling it, get excited about a new “adventure.”

I talked about how the kids had to go through airport security, had to sleep under a muggy mosquito net but were thankful they wouldn’t get sick, and realized people around them looked at lot different now, but were mostly really nice.

These fictional characters missed grandparents, and yet made new friends. They counted down the dates till Grandma and Grandpa came to visit, when the kids got to be the hosts.

Get honest.

Kids can have an uncanny “you’re not for real” radar. Let them know they can trust you–that there will be no spin on the truth when they want to know how things really are. That’s not to avoid optimism, but let kids no that no questions or answers are out of bounds.

kids moving

Bring Older Kids (especially teens and tweens) along on the vision trip–and into as many conversations as you can.

A friend was overwhelmingly glad she made this decision.

Older kids are rightfully growing more independent–and are more likely to feel the threats of moving. They can keep secrets, generally.

So as you wade through this, show them the respect of communicating openly about the pros and cons; the questions you’re asking.

Demonstrate how you make godly decisions. Ask your child’s opinion, as long as they understand you’re the one with veto power. Hear their hearts. Shepherd them through their hearts’ most profound questions without resorting to spiritual platitudes.

Don’t let them feel written off. Help them feel like a valuable member of your team–and that if God’s calling you, he’s calling them, too.

Give them a head start on language.

They’ll have relationships to establish, too. Help eliminate some of the weirdness by getting them a tutor, an app, a class.

Let them know what will stay the same.

Kids, having no framework of life overseas, might envision leaving everything.

  • Start a running “wish list” of items they’d like to pack with them, helping them feel they have some sense of control (though you’ve got list veto power).
  • When you tell them they can’t, in fact, bring their bike or your minivan, let them know they’ll probably get to help you find a new one in your new country.
  • Don’t forget items that simply help your child feel at home: their special plate, a poster from their wall, etc.
  • And try to make establishing kids’ rooms a priority once you move, to help them feel like it’s home.kids moving

Help Kids develop a vision for life there.

Try to make it as long-term as possible. (“We’re going on a plane and watching movies!” isn’t much consolation when your child is missing his old home and tired of mosquito bites and power outages.)

  • Could they play soccer in your new country, too?
  • Will the weather be nice year-round?
  • Will there likely be a big yard, or a park nearby?
  • Is there a food they’ll get to try that you loved?
  • Will there be a beach nearby?
  • Are there cool animals in your host country?
  • Will your child probably get to go on safari?
  • Is there a great tree to climb at a new friend’s house?
  • As you get to know what other kids might live in your country-to-be, see if one might become a penpal. Tell your kids what those kids like (Legos! Books! Barbies! Sports!), and help them get a little excited. Maybe you could even pick out a small toy (Legos are light and often expensive overseas)  to send or bring with you as a gift.
  • Are you thinking you might be able to get a pet?

Grieve with Your Kids.

Don’t gloss over mourning by just propelling your kids forward. Sit with them and cry a little about leaving cousins, grandparents, and the friends they have here.

  • Make real plans about your first Skype appointment with a friend overseas.
  • Make a network of kids who will pray with your child.
  • Perhaps get some parents in cahoots with you to send a letter (or a series of penpal letters) or small care package to greet you upon arrival, or cards to stick in your child’s suitcase as a surprise.
  • Consider establishing an email account under your supervision for your kids, where they know they will get “for kids only” emails from back home.
  • When kids complete hard parts of the journey–like saying goodbye to a friend–create “white space” in your (no doubt packed) schedule for emotional needs, too. I admit to distracting my kids a bit during our massive garage sale by letting them have a lemonade stand.
  • Have reasonable expectations in your own mind. You might hear that six months after is often the low point when you move. Expect that your first year will be tough, and frought with a lot of highs and lows. (Duh, right?)
  • Don’t miss this post on The Art of Saying Goodbye.

Make a photo album. Get an app.

Ask friends to contribute photos; save Christmas photo cards. Download Marco Polo or another strategic way to connect with friends. (Just remember you will likely no longer live in the land of free wi-fi.)

Make the discussion ongoing.

As you progress through your journey, continue to ask questions about how kids are feeling, what questions they have, what they’re scared or excited about, etc.

Consider recruiting family friends to take your kids out individually and ask questions/listen to them talk, in order to give kids other arenas in which to discuss their feelings and thoughts.

Remember most kids are super-resilient.

With the exception of preteens and teenagers (at least one missions org has been rumored not let you move with kids around this age), my kids were bouncing around Uganda in about two minutes. (Their parents took considerably longer.)

In general, remember kids are taking their cues from you.

If it’s home to you and you’re there, kids will feel like home. If you’re willing to try new things (roasted grasshoppers. Boom), they might, too. (Don’t miss 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!)

That doesn’t mean you slap on a happy face. We can talk with kids age-appropriately about times we feel sad or afraid. But in general, where your family is together will eventually be home sweet home.

What would you suggest for preparing kids for the big move? comment below!

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.

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Dotsie’s Story: Culture Shock, and Making Change

Reading Time: 5 minutes

change culture shock

Change doesn’t come easily for me.

Or more plainly put, I just don’t like change. Give me a quiet routine where interesting things come along but nothing rocks the boat—and I’m good.

When we moved back to the United States from Africa, I remember my husband getting ready to leave for his first day in his office at our mission headquarters. I burst into tears when I saw him at the door in a suit, carrying a briefcase (a lot more common back then).

We were accustomed to him dressed in shorts, working in the office at our house in Africa, where only fans and glasses of water cooled us from the relentless heat. Life was going to be so different now in the States.

But, of course, I adjusted to the change.

Preparing for Change

Some years before, our preparation to move to Africa was intense.

I still have the blue spiral-bound notebook where I made my lists, including a chart of the sizes the boys would be in and how many shirts and shorts I had for each size. I even included some future birthday and Christmas presents.

We were told the country to which we were going had empty shelves in shops and only some vegetables in the market stalls along the streets. So we were going prepared for monumental change, even packing rolls of toilet paper.

When departure time arrived, we were exhausted. We said good-bye to our family and friends quickly. I barely paid attention to what I was doing, I was so bewildered, so “betwixt and between” our past and future worlds.

Later I regretted those carefree farewells.

Change, Indeed: Our First Days in Africa

Since our short-term summer there six years previously, I was eager to get back to Africa. When we arrived this time with our boys in tow, the humidity, sounds, smells and sights were familiar.

We exited the plane with a 50-caliber machine gun pointed towards us passengers, and walked across the tarmac. Old and new friends welcomed us. We arrived around the 4th of July and enjoyed a picnic at the U.S. Embassy. It all felt good in spite of jet lag.

And then it was time to take the five-hour drive north from the capital to our new home just outside another large city–and more intense change began.

The ride was bumpy. Steamy hot air blew in through the open windows. Potholes in the road seemed as big as small rooms.

Due to the rainy season, the roadside scenery was sunless and depressing. Clay-colored mud and makeshift houses marked the landscape. At one point, we all climbed out to push the truck out of a deep, mucky crevice.

I had nightmares about that drive for several weeks after we arrived.

Pain on Arrival

Our house lay across from a mosque and on the edge of a Muslim zongo (a settlement of Hausa speakers from Northern Nigeria). The call to prayer over the mosque’s loudspeaker blasted into our bedroom windows at 3 AM.

I slept restlessly, also hearing the sound of cats and dogs fighting ferociously on the street.

And sharing our ground floor flat were iguana-sized lizards. I often found one sunning on our baby’s crib.

Initially, the magnitude of change was too much for me. And yet no one had been more eager to return to Africa. We all were surprised at my reaction.

I decided it was just different having our children there, thinking they were missing so much not being in their home country.

Eventually, I realized how wrong I was about that. I rapidly lost 20 pounds. (Was it all through tears?)

I was so homesick for friends and family. Letters, taking weeks coming and going, were our only way to communicate. It was a long first month before we heard from “home.”

Mornings were the worst. I’d wake, remember where I was, and try to force the breakfast porridge down my throat while fighting tears.

I tried to put on a happy face for my family. I even wondered if this could be mental illness.

Other missionaries began to notice and grow concerned. Our boss kept his eye on the situation and had talks with me and spoke quietly with my husband about it. What were we to do?

Prayer: Approaching the Change-Maker

We knew people were praying for us. But this adjustment was not going well and we needed to put in a call for extra and specific prayer.

We were willing to be transparent about it, as embarrassing as it was for me.

I’m not sure how word got around. But we prayed. Our team prayed. And somehow people at home knew to pray.

Prayer is powerful. It worked. One day I realized how comfortable I felt, how I loved the rhythm of our days, even to washing diapers in a wringer machine and hanging them on the line.

I enjoyed the market and trying to learn the local language through a new friend. I learned to drink coffee with some expatriate women I met with once a week. And I was so grateful for all that our kids were experiencing.

Some thought that my hard start allowed me an eventual really good adjustment.

What did I learn? Dotsie’s 4 takeaways on approaching culture shock

  1. Give yourself time to adjust.

  2. Take time to mourn the good-byes.

  3. Be transparent and specific in requests for prayer.

  4. Allow yourself some grace. (We moved to the upstairs flat where there was nicer breeze and the iguanas apparently did not climb stairs.)

    I still don’t like change or goodbyes! But I know from experience it’s best to embrace them with prayer, knowing adjustments will come.

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Dotsie Corwin comes from a long line of missionaries and Christian workers, but it was the illustration of an unbalanced number of people carrying a telephone pole that impacted her and her husband to commit to a career in mission.

Thinking of only one carrying the pole on one end with the rest on the other, it made sense to spend their lives where there was greater need.

Dotsie and her husband, Gary, are members of  SIM (formerly Sudan Interior Mission). After serving in Ghana for several years, they joined SIM’s International Staff where Dotsie worked in Communications for 25 years.

She loves “intentionally grandparenting” their four grandkids; cooking; and mowing the lawn. And we happen to know that her freshman year of college, she tried a little rebellion by climbing the forbidden water tower on campus. 

Read more of Dotsie’s story–including what she did right (and didn’t)–here.

Wise Men & Your Path Abroad: “We Have Come to Worship Him”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

. wise men magi

Wise men.

There’s a lot of beautiful mystery in the story of the magi.

I picture camel hooves sponging a desert floor, heavy treasures banging in woven luggage, men wrapped from the sting of the sand.

We’re not told who these “wise men” are or the stories that compelled them to follow a celestial sign, an ancient prophecy.

But in their story, I see a bit of yours.

Crazy Talk

I wonder what their communities said. These men saddled up, following a star to a place unknown, or made costly (to the point of being weird) personal sacrifices for an unseen king.

Did one of them got sick? Did all of them get tired? Perhaps they wondered about their own sanity and dragging other people with them.

I wonder if there was loss along the way.

I speculate about whether they doubted their interpretation of what they’d read in Scripture, coupled with the alignment of other signs. Would they get there and wish they’d never come?

wise men magi

In hindsight, moments stood out where they were wrong; deceived (say, by an egomaniac king).

Maybe there were moments, when it was all said and done, when they heard of the devastation following their visit and wondered if they could have acted differently, more…wisely.

(Did word of the infanticide ever reach them? Did they realize the ways they’d done things without knowing, and wonder if they’d made the right choice to go?)

wise men magi

Though I’m certainly not justifying infanticide or any other outcomes: We see in the story of the wise men a courageous faith, a persevering journey, so Christ would be worshipped as much as they were able.

So they could bring the finest gifts they could, for honor he deserved.

 

“We Have Come to Worship Him”

Packing up to head home, none of them was asking, “Was that really worth it?”

Here’s what we do know. They represented the first worship of the Gentiles, with great sacrifice and adoration.

Their obedience and perseverance in a curious journey meant Christ was worshiped as he should be. (Remember John Piper? “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”)

That baby had a way of leaving an impression on people. I think of the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

Because the path to worship this baby changed people. They came away feeling like the lucky dogs.

As you perhaps say some goodbyes this Christmas and wonder about a path and even a possible desert before you, may you take heart. Your act of worship is sacred, beautiful, and endlessly worth what it asks of you. 

May Christ be lifted up in a distant land.

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10 Realities a Missionary Probably Won’t Tell You

Reading Time: 11 minutes

missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

Go. Serve. Love is psyched about featuring this post from missionary Joe Holman; it originally posted on his blog and is gratefully used with permission.

Fun fact about Joe: He and his wife totally pull off the missionary thing amidst a family of 13. They’ve served in Bolivia since 2007. 

First, the Disclaimers.

I’m going out on a limb here, so I’ll put some disclaimers up in advance.

1. I love being a missionary.

This post points out bad aspects you’ll not hear us normally say.  It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or unfulfilled.

2. I’m speaking of feelings and perceptions.

I know what the Bible says and can give a counterpoint to each of these.  For example, when I share how we feel about shortchanging my children, I know that there are 100 positive things that people can point out to me.

I’m sharing my heart, how I feel.  I don’t need anyone to send me a Bible lesson, in case you’re feeling the itch!
I’m going for what a missionary won’t tell you in their newsletter or at church missions conference.  Here’s a little of the dark side of missions.
 

What A Missionary Won’t Tell You

 

1. You’re never one of them.  

A missionary will talk about the joy of cross cultural missions and going into all the world.
What they won’t tell you: It isn’t fun most of the time.
 
I was first exposed to this while on a short term trip to Ghana.  I was invited to a missionary going-away party.  A nurse from Canada was returning to her home country after serving on the mission field for (get this) 40 years.  She had come to Ghana as a 20 year old and was now going ‘home’.
 
During the conversation I asked her why she was saying she was going home. If you have lived for all of your adult life, slightly over 40 years, in Ghana and only visited Canada every four years…then isn’t Ghana your home?
 
She told me no matter how incorporated you are into the culture, no matter how good your ministry, no matter how accepted that you are by the people…you’re not one of ‘them’.

Close, but no cigar

At the time this post was first published, I’d been in Bolivia for 8 years.  I am fluent in Spanish and have a great ministry here.  I love what I do.
 
But I am not at home.  I am not a Bolivian.
 
I do not share their cultural history or family ties.  When I go to someone’s home to celebrate a birthday or wedding, I am the white guy.  I am the stranger.  I am the foreigner.
 
When they begin to laugh about family memories or tell stories about relatives, I just smile at the right time.  I do not belong.  When I go to ‘La Cancha’ our market place, children stare at me.   I had a man visiting us from the States tell me when we were there, “This is weird, we are the only white people in sight.’
 
It gets old being a stranger, never being in the group.  It isn’t fun to always be noticed.
 

2.  It’s lonely.  your friends and family from the States have in many ways forgotten you.  

You won’t ever see this in a mission letter.  We will tell stories of fun things and great times.  We will be upbeat and happy and post photos of our family Christmas party.
 
You won’t have us posting videos of us crying or hear us complain about missing friends, but we do. And the harsh thing? They don’t actually miss us.
 
When we were planning on going to the mission field, we interviewed 10 different missionary families.  We talked to people who were single, married, married with kids, and older missionaries.  I asked them a question: “What is the hardest part of being a missionary?”
 
Their answers, all 10 at separately, replied, “Loneliness.
 
“After the first year people totally forget about you.  Even your best friend now won’t continue communicating with you.”
 
missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

Harder than we thought

We decided to fight against this.
 
Using Facebook and social media, along with monthly communications and blogs, we knew we would stay in touch with our friends.
 
What surprised us: How quickly they didn’t want to stay in touch with us.
 
Oh, we understand that their lives are busy and we’ve moved!  But understanding why doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
 
This rides shotgun with point #1–not being part of the culture.  We don’t feel like we have a home. But we do feel like those from our previous home have forgotten us.
 

3.  We are normal Christians.  

People think missionaries are super-Christians.  We’re one step up from being a pastor.
 
And if you’re a missionary pastor?!  Even the Apostle Paul envies your uber-spirituality.
 
You won’t be reading in a missionary letter, “This week I did not spend hardly any time in the Word, got mad at my wife, yelled at my kids, and got insanely jealous after seeing photos on Facebook.”
 
But it is the truth.  We are normal people seeking to honor Christ even though we are weak and fragile vessels.
 
We sin, repent, repeat.
 

4.  We never have enough money, but feel guilty asking for it.

 
Missionaries ask for money.  We have to.  We put it in terms like, “opportunity to support’, or ‘be part of the blessing’, or ‘looking for monthly partners’.
 
What we want to say is, “We are dying here!  Please help us!  We need money!!”
 
That’s a no-no.  We have to appear above money.  Money should seem like something we could probably use, but no big deal.  We’re walking by faith and trusting God to provide… That’s what we’re expected to display.
 
You see, we don’t want it to seem like all we want from our supporters is money.  It isn’t.
 
But in all honesty, we do need money.  We need it for our family and for our ministry.
 
We just hate asking for it, and you hate hearing it.  So, we keep quiet or couch our needs in spiritual terms (while meanwhile, we really struggle with being judgmental over money).

 

5.  We feel like our children are getting shortchanged by our choiceS. 

You will see cool pictures in my newsletters of my children helping do outreach, being in the jungle, washing orphans, or having a monkey on their shoulder.  It all looks so cool.
 
But the truth is, we feel like our kids are suffering because of us.
 
This is compounded by Facebook.  Just this week I have seen photos of kids playing football, music lessons, dance, debate, camps, concerts, movies, lock-ins, and taking classes at the community college while in high school.
 
My kids do nothing like that.  I know I can post all the cool things that my kids do, but I simply cannot compete with the options that you have.  I find myself fighting jealousy, envy, and covetousness.
 

6.  I took a great vacation but I cannot tell anyone. 

 
One of the neat things about social media is how we can share our lives with others.  Pastors can go on cruises.  Friends can go to some wonderful island.  Family can travel Europe.
 
They can all brag about their time and post photos on Facebook and social media sharing their joy.
 
We can save up money.  Live on a budget.  Spend less than we make.  The, after five years of frugality take a much needed vacation.
 
What do we hear?  “I should be a missionary, then I could take cool vacations.”  Or, “Is that where my donations go?”
 

7.  We hate being judged by a standard our judges do not follow.

When we meet with mission committees, churches, sending groups and donors they always ask us very specific questions.  I have no problem with that.
 
What drives me bonkers? When someone not doing what I am very much doing judges me because they don’t think that I am doing enough of what they are not doing.

Advice for the Big Game

It is honestly difficult to listen to armchair quarterbacks who have never suited up critique the game I’m participating in.

 
missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

Sometimes, for example, people who are doing nothing to help the poor criticize us for how we help the poor.  They tell us what we should do, what we should not do, how and when and to whom we should do it.  Supporters tell us of the latest book that they have read and/or the latest sermon that they heard.
 
They do nothing themselves, but they know exactly what we should do and if we don’t do it their way, then the threat of cutting support is dangling over our head.
 
If someone who is actually doing the ministry has advice, input or corrections then it is infinitely easier to accept.
 
It’s when we are told what to do by someone not doing anything that we have to constantly check our hearts and put a guard on our lips.
 

8.  Saying good-bye stinks…and it is not the same in the States.

Our lives become one of a constant good-bye.  We are saying good-bye to fellow missionaries leaving for the States. We have to say good-bye to our children.
 
Denise and I have four kids living in the USA while we remain in Bolivia.  When we visit for furlough and see grandpa and grandma, we have to say good-bye again to go back to the field.
 
It stinks.
 
I was invited to speak at a mission conference in the States.  The church was a little over an hour from where my 24-year-old son lives, so he drove down to see me.
 
After I preached, I went to my mission table in the hall and was chatting with people, passing out prayer cards, shaking hands, etc.  My son and his girlfriend came to say hi, and after a few minutes my son hugged me. “Love you, Dad. See you in….what…two years or three?”
 
I started crying and people graciously walked away from my table.  We both knew I was not going to see him again for at least two years.

“I hate this!”

My wife recently took my 19-year-old to start college in the States.  She called me from her hotel room weeping and said, “It doesn’t get easier.  I hate this! I hate this!”
Friends will say with totally good intentions, “I understand. My son left for college this week, too!”

Their son or daughter may be able to snag a $100 ticket and bop in for a three day weekend, break, or holiday.  At the most, they’re a quick flight or short drive away.

We live on another continent.  When we say goodbye, it isn’t “See you on break”.  It is “See you for a few days in three years.”

My son Jacob called after moving to the States. After talking I let him know that he needed to go to the hospital because I thought that he had appendicitis.  It was, and he called to let us know they would perform emergency surgery.

It took my wife three days to get there.

She could not hop on a plane and be there any more than when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I knew that when the phone call came telling his children to come say their good-byes, I wouldn’t be able to be there.  I knew I would miss his last words, not be able to minister to my family, and probably not be able to attend the funeral.

It isn’t the same thing as living in the States.  It isn’t.

 
I would say that out of all the negatives to living on the mission field, this is the worst:  Saying good-bye.
 

9.  Going to the States is hard.

 
You would think that returning home on furlough is wonderful.  Every missionary looks forward to it.  It’s the focus of the year.
 
That is partly true.  However, there are two things a missionary will not tell you.
 
Logistically it is difficult.  Most missionaries don’t have a place to live, a car to drive or a plate to eat off of.  All those things we need in everyday life, from pillow cases to car seats, we do not have.  We have to find short term solutions and we hate borrowing stuff.
 
We also don’t really want to live in a basement.  My family enjoys our own privacy and family time.
missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

And…the money thing

We also want to visit and spend time with our donors and churches, but making that happen is so hard when we have donors in 12 different states.
 
It isn’t feasible to spend $1,200 to visit a church that gives you $25/month. But you want to and think that you should.

 

The second thing that you probably don’t know? It’s hard emotionally.
 
Why? Because we discover that we’ve changed.

The Land of Blue

I tell the story like this: A man from the land of Blue became a missionary to the people of Yellow.  He struggled because he was a Blue man among Yellow people.  However, after a while he began to truly understand their culture and become partly assimilated. 

One day he looked in the mirror and saw that he was no longer Blue, he was now Green.  It made being in the land of Yellow easier.  Then, after many years, he returns to the land of Blue. To his dismay, no one there in his homeland of Blue wants to be with him. He was a Green person in the land of Blue.

After being on the mission field you are a different person.  People perceive you differently.
 
Even people who were friends are no longer friends.  They have grown without you.  They have had different experiences without you.  You are no longer ‘one of them’.
 
When you return, people want to shake your hand and say that they missed you, but they don’t want to be with you.  They are also worried that you are going to ask them for money.
 
We actually asked a person out for dinner, a person who had been a friend before going to the mission field.  Their response was, ‘We don’t have any money to give you.”  (Yes. They really said that.)
 

10.  I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to supporters.

 
Like it or not, I now feel like I have to justify that giving us money is good.  I have to prove myself and my ministry over and over again.
 
My newsletters are not to let people know what we are doing; they are far more.  They are items that I am entering into evidence as proof they’re are making a good investment.
 
And if a period of time goes by where we don’t really have anything big to report? We feel like a failure and live in the fear of supporters giving money to someone who deserves it.
 
Often we don’t feel like we are on the same team as our supporters.  We feel like they’re our boss and it is time for the annual performance evaluation.
 
And this year someone has to be let go.

Newsletter Translation

We are tempted to pad our resume and make it look better than it is. Instead of saying that we go to church, we say, “We are actively engaged in a local congregation”.

We don’t say that we buy our fruit from the same seller every week. Instead, “We are building intentional relationships with those in the marketplace.”
 
We may lead a Bible study but call it “engaging in a mentoring relationship with young married couples.”
 
So we say things that make us sound better, holier, busier than we are.  We can’t say that we are living in the culture and doing what we can to promote Christ but it is difficult and we really don’t have much fruit to show this year.
 

 

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Goodbyes: Managing Your Painful “Lasts”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

lasts grief mourning

I recently spoke with a friend as she prepared for our church’s Fall Festival on October 31. They’re headed to India next year. They sent me the cutest photo of their family dressed up as Batman, Batwoman, and cherubic ittle Bat-kids.

I asked if that night’s festival might be hard. The “lasts”, you see, have begun.

It wasn’t, for her. But Christmas with extended family is coming. And while it is deeply good to grieve all the little lasts–last time decorating the tree, last time at the community Christmas parade, last time with Christmas morning in the house our kids have grown up in?

Goodbyes still stink.

provisio fundraising

Beautiful “Nexts”, and a Lifestyle of “Lasts”

It wasn’t till my own family was near departure for Africa that my mom reminded me we are moving toward something–some beautiful “nexts”.

But for my family? It’s just “lasts.”

It hit me one night in my mom’s living room, my eight-month-old nephew grinning up at me in his diaper. I wouldn’t get to see him grow up except in home-assignment increments and fuzzy Skyped details.

Turns out the “lasts” when we left for Africa the first time would continue into a lifestyle full of goodbyes. Missionary life is transitory.

We watched so many friends leave. My kids would have last playdates, last hugs, last goodbyes at a party where we tried to be excited about friends’ next steps.

goodbyes

What Mourning Says about Your Goodbyes

Years later, I would watch my children cry as, through glass, they watched their grandparents plod through security for another flight back to to the States. But as my husband and I held them, he spoke wisely. “People always told me not to cry. But I want you to cry. Your crying means what you’re losing is valuable.”

Sometimes in our goodbyes, we’re wondering who will pick up the mantle. We’re discouraged and fearful about the future.

But rather than speed ahead with a chipper “God is good! Nothing to worry about here!”, it’s critical we take the “blessed” time to mourn, time to acknowledge and grieve loss.

God grieves, too

God, too, grieves. He knows things aren’t right here; that the Gospel requires heartbreaking sacrifice. That, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing resurrection is around the corner, it’s still worthy of weeping over loss.

The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of

the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ.

Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms.*

Lament is a biblical norm, practiced even by Jesus on the Cross. Yet sometimes as Western Christians we want to race past the uncomfortable sadness, our “Cross”, and rush to the Resurrection.

Biblically, there is a sad, frighteningly unresolved Saturday in between. It’s when we are simply trusting God always gives more than He asks of us.

goodbyes

Lamenting the Lasts

As you grapple with fear and sizeable unknowns, keep in mind the Bible’s no stranger to lament.

In fact, as you grieve your own losses, Paul implies we might just acquire another invaluable skill for the field: The ability to comfort others well (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

In the Psalms, scholars find a general structure for lament, sometimes sequential, sometimes weaving back and forth between these elements:

Address, invoking God.

Acknowledge this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. Recognize who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.

Complaint.

This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”

 

Request.

Beg God for action and response.

 

Expression of trust.

Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To quote Tim Keller on this:

…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” **

As Graham Cooke writes,

Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life…

God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. ***

The Overpowering Beauty

As you grieve the goodbyes and lasts, tiny or massive–like Paul (arguably one of the greatest missionaries), it’s the overwhelming gain that helps us muscle through loss:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Jesus, too, set His sights on the joy set before Him as He endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).

In your painful “lasts” this holiday season, may God’s overwhelming gains eventually spur you on to the blindingly bright “nexts” in your future.

 

*Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.

**Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

***http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/pouring-out-your-heart-in-lament-to-god.html

How to Tell Kids You’re Moving Overseas as Missionaries

Reading Time: 6 minutes

kids moving

“When Should We Tell Them?”

I’d say–and most sites agree–as soon as possible.

Your goal? Well-adjusted kids with ownership in your decision, and who can eventually follow God courageously in their own life decisions.

If your kids keep secrets as well as mine did didn’t, it can be hard to discern (“What if they tell people in Sunday School and our cover is blown? We’re not ready to tell the whole church”).

But even before you tell-them-tell-them, you can start planting seeds in your kids’ heads.

The more kids feel “brought along” in the process, being able to ask their questions, process, understand how and why you’re thinking this way, the less they’re likely to feel excluded and out of control.

This can start small.

“What if?”

Take advantage of times when a conversation at the dinner table turns to events around the world, or your church service brings up missions. (Or get a little sneakier, and bring up age-appropriate world events yourself.) You could ask questions like,

  • “Do you think you could ever live overseas?”
  • “Do you think we could ever be missionaries?”
  • “What do you think it would be like to be missionaries?”
  • “Why do you think it’s important for people to be missionaries?”
When praying at bedtime, talk about how your heart hurts for people who don’t know Jesus.
Purchase a scratch-off map of the world, download the Operation World app (my kids love pushing the “I’m praying” button in the app).

Let kids choose a country each night, and perhaps look up a few facts or pictures about those countries. Eventually, start to talk more about how many people in your future host country don’t know Jesus, and the specific needs.

Show them pictures.

Look up videos and photos, and read kids stories and blog posts (missionary stories work, though realize many are told to demonstrate missionaries’ sacrifice–and kids may get the idea you’ll be in a mud hut with no other kids around and asked to die for Jesus. Use discernment, m-kay?). See if missionaries you’ll be with can send a video or photo of their child and their house.

Get fictional.

This may sound weird–but after my husband and I returned from our vision trip to Africa, I started telling my kids about a pair of fictional siblings. They will always remember “Shiloh and Summer stories I told as we drove somewhere.

These kids just happened to be my kids; age–and just happened to be moving to Uganda. (This site suggests using toys–perhaps a plane and some dolls?–to tell younger kids.)

Without overselling it, get excited about a new “adventure.”

I talked about how the kids had to go through airport security, had to sleep under a muggy mosquito net but were thankful they wouldn’t get sick, and realized people around them looked at lot different now, but were mostly really nice.

These fictional characters missed grandparents, and yet made new friends. They counted down the dates till Grandma and Grandpa came to visit, when the kids got to be the hosts.

Get honest.

Kids can have an uncanny “you’re not for real” radar. Let them know they can trust you–that there will be no spin on the truth when they want to know how things really are. That’s not to avoid optimism, but let kids no that no questions or answers are out of bounds.

kids moving

Bring Older Kids (especially teens and tweens) along on the vision trip–and into as many conversations as you can.

A friend was overwhelmingly glad she made this decision.

Older kids are rightfully growing more independent–and are more likely to feel the threats of moving. They can keep secrets, generally.

So as you wade through this, show them the respect of communicating openly about the pros and cons; the questions you’re asking. Demonstrate how you make godly decisions. Ask your child’s opinion, as long as they understand you’re the one with veto power. Hear their hearts, and shepherd them through their hearts’ most profound questions without resorting to spiritual platitudes.

Don’t let them feel written off. Help them feel like a valuable member of your team–and that if God’s calling you, he’s calling them, too.

Give them a head start on language.

They’ll have relationships to establish, too. Help eliminate some of the weirdness by getting them a tutor, an app, a class.

Let them know what will stay the same.

Kids, having no framework of life overseas, might envision leaving everything.

  • Start a running “wish list” of items they’d like to pack with them, helping them feel they have some sense of control (though you’ve got list veto power).
  • When you tell them they can’t, in fact, bring their bike or your minivan, let them know they’ll probably get to help you find a new one in your new country.
  • Don’t forget items that simply help your child feel at home: their special plate, a poster from their wall, etc.
  • And try to make establishing kids’ rooms a priority once you move, to help them feel like it’s home.kids moving

Help Kids develop a vision for life there.

Try to make it as long-term as possible. (“We’re going on a plane and watching movies!” isn’t much consolation when your child is missing his old home and tired of mosquito bites and power outages.)

  • Could they play soccer in your new country, too?
  • Will the weather be nice year-round?
  • Will there likely be a big yard, or a park nearby?
  • Is there a food they’ll get to try that you loved?
  • Will there be a beach nearby?
  • Are there cool animals in your host country?
  • Will your child probably get to go on safari?
  • Is there a great tree to climb at a new friend’s house?
  • As you get to know what other kids might live in your country-to-be, see if one might become a penpal. Tell your kids what those kids like (Legos! Books! Barbies! Sports!), and help them get a little excited. Maybe you could even pick out a small toy (Legos are light and often expensive overseas)  to send or bring with you as a gift.
  • Are you thinking you might be able to get a pet?

Grieve with Your Kids.

Don’t gloss over mourning by just propelling your kids forward. Sit with them and cry a little about leaving cousins, grandparents, and the friends they have here.

  • Make real plans about your first Skype appointment with a friend overseas.
  • Make a network of kids who will pray with your child.
  • Perhaps get some parents in cahoots with you to send a letter (or a series of penpal letters) or small care package to greet you upon arrival, or cards to stick in your child’s suitcase as a surprise.
  • Consider establishing an email account under your supervision for your kids, where they know they will get “for kids only” emails from back home.
  • When kids complete hard parts of the journey–like saying goodbye to a friend–create “white space” in your (no doubt packed) schedule for emotional needs, too. I admit to distracting my kids a bit during our massive garage sale by letting them have a lemonade stand.
  • Have reasonable expectations in your own mind. You might hear that six months after is often the low point when you move. Expect that your first year will be tough, and frought with a lot of highs and lows. (Duh, right?)
  • Don’t miss this post on The Art of Saying Goodbye.

Make a photo album. Get an app.

Ask friends to contribute photos; save Christmas photo cards. Download Marco Polo or another strategic way to connect with friends. (Just remember you will likely no longer live in the land of free wi-fi.)

Make the discussion ongoing.

As you progress through your journey, continue to ask questions about how kids are feeling, what questions they have, what they’re scared or excited about, etc.

Consider recruiting family friends to take your kids out individually and ask questions/listen to them talk, in order to give kids other arenas in which to discuss their feelings and thoughts.

Remember most kids are super-resilient.

With the exception of preteens and teenagers (at least one missions org has been rumored not let you move with kids around this age), my kids were bouncing around Uganda in about two minutes. (Their parents took considerably longer.)

In general, remember kids are taking their cues from you.

If it’s home to you and you’re there, kids will feel like home. If you’re willing to try new things (roasted grasshoppers. Boom), they might, too. (Don’t miss 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!)

That doesn’t mean you slap on a happy face. We can talk with kids age-appropriately about times we feel sad or afraid. But in general, where your family is together will eventually be home sweet home.

We need help! What would you suggest for preparing for the big move? comment below!
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Make It Count: The Art of Saying Goodbye

Reading Time: 5 minutes

art of saying goodbyesI grew up overseas. In fact, I attended 15 different schools by the time I graduated high school. So you could say I’ve experienced my share of saying goodbye. (Usually I was the one leaving.)

Now that I have a family of my own and have lived in the same city and the same house, for an amazing thirteen-year stretch, I’m now experiencing more goodbyes where I am the one staying behind. Recently I visited a friend during her final week as they loaded up their tilting piles of cardboard boxes and their kids to take a new job four states away. Before I arrived, I sat in the parking lot of a shopping plaza, scrawling her going away card. It felt like my pen also flowed with my own memories of bittersweet goodbyes. And I thought, What makes for the best goodbyes?