Loneliness Overseas: 12+ Ways to Deal

Reading Time: 5 minutes

loneliness overseas

I watched her eyes redden, moisture collecting at their edges. “No one told me how lonely this would be,” she shrugged.

She’s a global worker, but despite her training and passion, hadn’t counted on the excitement of the Great Commission dissolving in potent alienation. read more

Make Local Friends Overseas: 6 Ways

Reading Time: 4 minutes

make local friends

We had been living in Cairo about a year and a half when friends visited from Uganda. We ate at the mall food court when they asked how it has been meeting and making friends with Egyptians. I told them it’s been hard: Where do you meet people you can make friends with?

I mean, you don’t just make friends in the food court. read more

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!


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?



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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Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together

Reading Time: 4 minutes

missionary marriage

Years ago, my husband and I talked about how to help missionary friends on the field in struggles they were working through in a marriage. The couple was fairly new on the field.

It was tough, we acknowledged: A missionary marriage was like a pressure cooker, intensifying whatever flavors were first lobbed in the pot. If basil, you tasted its nuance in the entire dish. If a sweaty gym sock? Well.

Make no mistake: Your marital issues and strengths will arrive with you on the field with more certainty than your luggage. But it’s critical you don’t let living overseas just happen to your marriage.

Because the natural course of marriage isn’t toward being one flesh, toward unity. It’s toward isolation, disconnection. But “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

What relationships will you feed while overseas?

You may not mind giving from your marriage to outside ministry. It’s quite possible you’re eager to share! Yet that flexibility and generosity flow best when marriage and ministry work as allies—not  competitors.

For FamilyLife.com, I recently wrote the article, “Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.” That piece is far more comprehensive. But before I direct you there, let’s have some specific straight talk on your soon-to-be missionary marriage.

Actively stay alert for signs of isolation.

I currently live in Colorado, a state notorious for deal-breaking foundation cracks in a home–cracks costing thousands of dollars to fix while you move out. So I keep an eye on cracks in plaster, in drywall, that could indicate a bigger problem–which I’d rather solve as early as possible.

The priority of your missionary marriage remains critical overseas. It speaks the Gospel to your family, not just an unreached people group or the world “out there”. And experiencing God’s love regularly also means you regularly experience that you are loved; that you are more than what you do for God.

It’s the same strategy for your marriage. Keep an eye out for warning signs:

  • constant bickering
  • a feeling of resentment
  • temptation toward an emotional or physical affair
  • a loss of respect
  • porn use, or other addictions
  • apathy toward your spouse
  • inability to recover from trauma, issues with kids, or other obstacles
  • isolation; finding yourself “holding back” from your spouse
  • mental health issues, like depression or anxiety (common struggles overseas)
  • lack of regular, fulfilling sex

See more on these warning signs here. 

Your ministry marriage can flounder—or flourish, should you invest in displaying the gospel intently there.

Understand your tendencies in navigating stress and trauma.

When I was about to deliver my first child, the instructor asked us where in our bodies we carry our stress. (I carry mine in my jaw, my shoulders.) This is a similar exercise as you prepare for stress. Are you prone toward depression? Workaholism? People-pleasing? Being gruff with your spouse?

Living cross-culturally, you’re more often in the stressed version of yourself (see this post for more ideas of what the stressed version of yourself might look like, including these on the stressed version of your marriage and the stressed version of your parenting).

Can you already anticipate the stressed version of your missionary marriage, and be ready with healthy coping mechanisms, truths to tell yourself, and ways to bridge the gap?

Many sending agencies now require mental health evaluations before you head overseas for these very reasons, and several more.

For those of you going to developed countries, the closer you are to the poor, the more you experience their hardship and heartache. Your probability of trauma skyrockets.

Make no mistake: God will triumph through your darkest days overseas. But starting from a place of health, with a number of robust coping mechanisms in place, means you stay longer and stronger overseas, without the wave of trauma capitulating you as easily.

Don’t hesitate to get counseling before you go, even JUST for evaluative reasons.

Family friends headed overseas racked up well over twenty medical appointments before they left: immunizations. Examinations. Checking out weird little problems they didn’t want to rear their ugly heads in a nation with less developed medical care.

We need the same mindset with our hearts, minds, and marital relationships before heading into the pressure cooker of a missionary marriage.

What could use a tune-up? And if you don’t know…will you make the effort to find out?

Many counselors can continue long-distance video counseling, and many sending organizations are happy to provide the counseling you need overseas.

Make sure you talk about the mutuality of your “call”.

Don’t miss our post, “Help! I Don’t Feel as ‘Called’ as My Spouse.” 

All right, I’m ready now–if you’ve managed to hang in there all this time, jump on over to Ministry Marriage: Perks to Love, Dangers to Fight.”


Sure, your marriage reciprocates in every area of service you put your hands to. But even if you were only experiencing Jesus more in your own marriage? That alone honors and delights Him.

Do the hard work to deeply nourish the relationships that matter most–and not just “out there”.


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. 

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“I Wish Someone Had Told Me”: 5 Things about Missions

Reading Time: 4 minutes

wish someone had told me

In our efforts at Go. Serve. Love to help you look overseas with eyes wide open, we actually like posting your “wish someone had told me about missions” stories. They help the rest of us, y’know, adjust expectations and avoid our own train wrecks. 

Today we’re posting from one of our partners, the all-new Mission App–which allows you to search and apply to 30 agencies with one app, and one application. 

Then, don’t miss our links below for other wise, cautionary tales.

wish someone had told me…You don’t have to carry the pressure of needing to be the hero.

In fact, if you go to another culture with the attitude that you will help the poor humanity there who will then be grateful for you, you are missing the point. Remember God is already at work wherever you may travel.

People in your new host country live there and have a way they already do things. They may not even want the help you offer.

In fact, you may find you are the one that needs help learning how to settle into this new environment.  You do, however have the good news about Jesus to share!

So… spend time listening to people’s stories. Share your own.

And as you share your lives, share Jesus’ story.  He’s the real Hero, after all.

Don’t think you’ll always agree with your team members. 

Missionaries are just people sharing Jesus with others.  I wish someone had told me missionaries are just people who may have experienced loss, who may have strong opinions, who can get tired, or discouraged or happy or sad or frustrated or jealous – just like you. Do your best not to compare, or judge.

This is where it’s essential to know how to find your identity in Jesus yourself and to trust other team members to do the same.

You won’t always think they are right.  You may start to wonder if you are.

Remember: Grace, truth, and love …  always.  That other team member is one of God’s favorites too.

Sharing the good news of Jesus doesn’t mean you’ll do nothing else. 

Shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, fixing your car, organizing your tasks, heading for work – all these everyday life things still happen when you are a missionary.

I don’t know what you’re good at, but you will likely be doing that thing in whatever culture you end up living in.

So if you’re a great teacher: teach well and share Jesus.  If you’re a great mechanic? fix things and share Jesus.  If you’re a great mom, raise kids and share Jesus.

Don’t start to resent these tasks thinking they get in the way of your real work of sharing Jesus. 

Do your “real” work while doing your everyday tasks best you can.

And when there’s no one near you to share with, do your everyday tasks for and with Jesus. He’ll lead you to the next opportunity to share. He’s already got someone in mind.

Poverty looks different to different people.

If you’re going on a mission trip so you can see real poverty and realize how great you have it in your home country… please pause.

As important as learning to be grateful is, it’s not the right reason to go into missions.

First of all, the people that you think look poor may not regard themselves that way at all.  They might, for example, think of poverty in terms of lack of good relationships or status.

Secondly, if you do meet someone who finds themselves in a difficult situation, it’s unlikely they’ll want you to define them by it. After all, you don’t like to be defined by your hard times.

So don’t take a picture of someone who is wearing their poverty on the outside so you can show people back home that you are making a difference.

Instead, capture a moment that fills your heart with wonder because of Jesus. 

Find the gifts – the tea sipped, the laughter shared, the hope renewed. Record moments rich in grace. 

Sometimes you might feel like you’re not making a difference at all.

Just because you are a missionary and your vocation is defined as “life-changing” doesn’t mean you’ll always feel like that is the case.

I wish someone had told me I might feel like I’m not doing enough to earn the support of the church(es) that sent me.

You, too, might start to count successes and losses and determine that if bearing fruit is what defines a follower of Jesus, you may not be one. 

Don’t get discouraged.

Make sure your heart is drawing its life from Jesus.  Abide in Him like a branch in the vine.  Then it’s all about trust and obedience.

Say ‘yes’ in every moment He gives you and let Him decide when the leaf will sprout, or a root will grow deeper or a blossom form. If you are given the added gift of seeing the fruit, that’s something to celebrate, too.

But your vocation won’t define you. Your daily abiding in Jesus will make you who you are.

Ready for other “wish someone had told me” missions stories?

Grab our best.

Creative Celebration: Why It Matters Overseas

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Editor’s note: When you’re far from home, celebrations can both intensify and improve that “fish out of water” feeling. Celebrating Thanksgiving overseas might make it feel more like home, richer in the new faces around the table. 

(It can also make you feel a little homesick.)

Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. And God associates himself with parties and feasting through all of Scripture. He establishes seven feasts for his people to celebrate and rest in throughout the year. In Deuteronomy 14:23, his people are told to eat their tithes of wine and grain before him. In Isaiah 25, he anticipates the feast and celebration he’ll prepare for his people.

And in Revelation, the Bible closes with his own wedding.

It’s safe to say celebrations are a big part of God’s heart. And we are his partyin’ people.

We’re happy to welcome back All Nations’ Peggy Spiers today as she reflects on celebrations that doubled as game-changers for some missionaries.

The First Birthday Celebration

Imagine you’re a new missionary couple. Your first child’s about to celebrate his first birthday. You’re learning the language, figuring out how to do life in this new place. You’re far from friends and family.

You get the picture, right?

Then dear friends, Pat and Jane, show up from home with a favorite cake mix, frosting, candles, balloons, party hats.

This party was not really for the one-year old, was it? It was for his parents.

And they’re still talking about it 25 years later.

The Star Wars Celebration

Now, imagine an international pandemic. (Not that hard, is it?)

People are required stay at home for months at a time. Normal work and travel are restricted. International travel is all but impossible.

But, after several months, a young couple finds an open window. They travel to the other side of the world to visit missionary friends. They bring two young daughters and suitcases stuffed with everything you’d need to throw a Star Wars birthday party for a missionary family of five.

Everyone, even the baby, gets a Star Wars t-shirt. They bake cupcakes together. Everyone gets presents from loved ones. Much more than five birthdays were celebrated on that trip!

The Thanksgiving Celebration

One Thanksgiving a young couple teaching in China was missing home. They were not going to be able to be with family, find a turkey or pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving wasn’t even a day off!

Someone from their agency’s home office showed up to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. They ate at an Indian restaurant. Nobody missed the turkey or pumpkin pie that day. But what a celebration!

The Housewarming

A young couple got their first new apartment in their new homeland. They were starting from scratch
without family and friends to help.

Back in their passport nation, a sending church decided to host a virtual housewarming party for them. Everyone put money in an envelope.

On the outside of the envelope they wrote a word or taped a picture of what they would have given if they were there in person. Some chose practical items like towels or something for the kitchen. Others chose to give a house plant or vase. Someone even joked and gave a pony!

At the housewarming party via Skype, a group gathered in Florida with all the typical party foods. In the midst of all the partying, the gifts (that is, the envelopes) were opened one by one. Those gathered got a tour of the new apartment and the “grandmother” of the sending church offered a blessing. What an unforgettable celebration!

The Expanding Thanksgiving Celebration

Ken and Sharon always hosted the family Thanksgiving dinner at their home. Several years ago they
invited the international students in their English conversation class. They went from a table of 7 to 17 that year. Wow!

Not only did the students have a wonderful day, but Grandma, the grandkids and the dog all had fun, too! It has become a new tradition for this family. And every year they set the table for more and
more people.


Celebration: Why It Matters

Celebrations are a great way for us to show our love for others by choosing to be with them on “their
day” or treating them to a special meal or activity.

Celebrations are a great way to remember what God has done for us by doing something for someone else.

Let’s ask God for creative, generous ways to celebrate more–as well as how to include our friends serving overseas and our international friends living far from their homelands.

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How to Build Community as a Missionary Overseas

Reading Time: 7 minutes

build community

Editor’s note: Tucked away in my family room sits a box made of exotic African wood, lugged back using precious luggage weight when my family returned from Uganda. It is one of our most beautiful possessions–not physically, but in its emotional cargo. It was fashioned by hand in the workshop of our organization as one-of-a-kind. Tucked within are loads of letters and laminated photographs of lives we loved and shared in our efforts to build community overseas. 

You likely share the goal of my family: to dig in deeply enough to love well, intimately enough to change each other. To work toward the brand of enduring, life-on-life love that models God’s Body.

See, no more than a chapter and a half into the Bible, we’re confronted with a stark statement by God: It is not good for man to be alone.

In part, this is because community displays a trinitarian God, giving and receiving in perfection before the world was made. The world will know you’re disciples of Jesus, he says, by how you love one another (John 13:35). And keep in mind that as you build community overseas, it’s those relationships that will act as a vehicle for the Gospel. 

Today, veteran missionary David Armstrong weighs in on how to build the kind of community that helps you thrive overseas.

It’s a challenge–and a balancing act–to build community as you move overseas!

To feel at home, to have friends you can share life with, you have to develop a whole new set of relationships.

Nationals: How to Build Community

The first and most obvious group you will develop friendships with are nationals, the people who grew up there, who have lived there forever.

If you are in ministry, they’re why you’re there. So of course you are going to focus on getting to know them and have them get to know you.

So how does that take place?

Time together, talking and observing.

At first it will be awkward for you. You will feel like that time someone snapped a photo of you while you were chewing, You won’t know what to say, how to act.

But the first couple months are the best time to get started. People usually will show you a lot of grace as you try. Yet it will take initiative on your part. Smile, be friendly and try to connect.

Try these to build community:

Accept invitations, even if you are going to feel awkward. Pro tip: Bring along photos of your family and your extended family; other cultures are more family-oriented than most Americans, and pictures of your family can help you as you visit. (Toss in a picture of you enjoying your hobby as well.)

Go shopping. Shopping forces you to use the language you know and you meet people in the process. You will learn from all the inevitable humor, like the time when you ask for 5,000 pairs of underwear.

And eat out! Get to know the restaurants. Your vocabulary will grow, especially if you are using Word Climber, and you will become more adept at surviving on your own in your new “home”.

Bonus: These experiences will also give you conversation topics with others whom you will meet. Attend events–music, sports, churches, farmers markets, celebrations, birthday parties, showers, etc.–and doubly so if it is in the national language.

Make the most of the first 30 days

We found that in each of the three countries we lived in in Latin America, during the first 30 days we were willing to venture out and try new things. So that was the time to go exploring, check out new stores, eat at a different restaurant.

(After 30 days we started wanting the tried and true.  We were feeling more drained by all the differences. We pulled back a bit.)

I spy with my little eye

Another key piece in this process: observations. Notice things that happen or things that are said and then think about “why” that happened or “why” that was said.

Observations, followed by questions, will also help you to quickly develop a sense of community–because you’re placing yourself in the position of being a curious, engaged learner of culture; of studying the values that motivate the people you hope to love.

Share what you experienced with a national and ask them why that person said or did what they did. The more you observe and ask “why”, the more you will understand those you now live among. Especially if asked from a position of humility (rather than superiority), these establish the national as a teacher, you as student.

And the sooner you build community, the sooner you’ll begin feeling at home there.

build community

EXPATS: How to Build Community

To be clear, expats are foreigners who live in the country. Some will be from your country of origin, others will be from other Western Countries, others will be from anywhere in the world.

And some of these will probably be with people not in your ministry or organization. My wife and I found this gave us feedback from someone outside our bubble. To build community outside of our org provided a “safe” place to vent and think out loud without it getting back to your boss. (Yes, even in mission organizations!)

But they can all meet a critical relational need that nationals cannot meet.

The Clash

They know from personal experience what it is like to live with your feet planted in two different worlds, with two contradictory sets of expectations.

In your home country you, and they, were just people. Now you are different. You stand out.

As foreigners, you don’t think the same as nationals. You don’t act the same. Your values often don’t match those of the nationals. Expats understand those feelings and frustrations.

build community

They will also understand the pull of family and friends back “home” and the occasional trips back to there. They will understand the clashes of underlying values you have with the culture you are now living in. Together you will sharpen and encourage each other.

Ask these people about your observations and tentative explanations for why something happened or why something was said. Often they will have had a similar experience. Comparing notes will speed you along the way to acclimating.

Immediate Family: How to Build Community with the Group that Never Leaves

There is a third group you may not think of: your immediate family.

See, you’re in this together. You want everyone in your family to succeed in this new adventure. (If they don’t…you won’t.) You have shared experiences and stories. Your family is a known entity with common values and ways of looking at life.

You’ll look to them to cover your back, to encourage you on, to help you process, and they will look to you for the same.

Interestingly, my own immediate family found ourselves pushed together as we entered this adventure. That was helpful. The more we trekked through this adventure together, sharing our discoveries and blunders, the better off we were, and the more we all enjoyed being there. To build community in that way helped our longevity in that place and ministry.

build community

Finding “our spot”

Take your family to the common places, the well-known places and the tourist places. You’re looking for places that will become “yours”.

By that I mean, find a coffee shop that will be “yours”, your special place, where you can kick back and chill. Find the shopping mall that has what you like. Find the park where your kids feel at home.

In Bogota, Colombia, “Crepes and Waffles” was our favorite restaurant. Piedras de Tunja was our favorite out of town park where we could throw pine cones at each other. Los Tres Elefantes was my favorite variety store. and there were several hole-in-the-wall coffee shops downtown where our office was. Their tinto was great.


Everyone in your family will have different experiences and perspectives of your new “home”. Share them.

Children see and hear things the adults will never see or hear. Our kids visited parts of people’s homes I wasn’t “welcome” in. Each of these experiences gives you things to talk about together–and as appropriate, with your new community.

When I would visit pastors in the mountains of Guatemala, it was extremely valuable to have my wife go with me. In the sitting room the pastors would tell me the glowing reports about their churches. In the meantime my wife was in the kitchen hearing the other half of the story and the serious relational problems going on.

Early in our time in Costa Rica we had to go buy some shoes. It was an unforgettable, hilarious family adventure. We each had different sets of vocabulary. The kids had been roller skating and therefore knew words about shoes and shoe sizes that we didn’t know and we knew the words for buying and completing the transaction. Every person in the family contributed words to the process that the others didn’t have.

We exited the shop with shoes in hand and everyone smiling and proud of the part they had played.

Build Community. it Matters to your family

Don’t forget: It’s very important to your family’s wellbeing to develop community. For us, community made life enjoyable! Community helped us understand what we were seeing and hearing daily around us.

And ultimately, to build community brings you to the place where you can all say–maybe in two languages–“I could live here!”

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