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. read more

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

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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.  read more

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

“Do I have the Call to Be a Missionary?” Free Webinar

Reading Time: 2 minutes

the call

It’s the first step, and one of the hardest to discern: How can you tell if you’re experiencing the call from God to be a missionary? How does God speak, and guide people overseas?

At Go. Serve. Love, we’ve explored this idea a lot, with both warning and affirmation. How would one even define the call?

One of our partners, the Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention–using podcasts, training, and other resources–aims to increase and retain the number of long-term missionaries sent around the world.

They’ve developed this free webinar to help you sort out the call…and whether you have it.

By way of introduction, they ask,

How does God extend the call to missionaries? What influences does He often use to speak to those He’s calling to the mission field?

Mobilizers, missionaries, pastors, youth leaders, and teachers are invited to join Dave Jacob, founder and director of the Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention, as he discusses the important factors that influence the missionary call.

As always, we love it when you join the dialogue, creating community with others in the Body of Christ around the world exploring some of the same life-altering, Kingdom-powered questions.

Tell us about the call in your comments below:

  • How have you begun to discern God’s will in your own life?
  • What can be confused with the call?
  • What’s clear about calling–and what isn’t? 
  • What keeps people from discerning God’s will for their lives about missions?
  • What events, people, resources, questions, etc. have helped in your own examination of whether or not to go overseas?

Like this post? Don’t miss

Go with a Mission Agency–or Go on Your Own?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

mission agency

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.

See this post on critical tasks to have in order if you choose not to go with a mission agency. Keep these in mind, too:

  • 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.

(This post has more on these kinds of situations, which some churches acting as sending agencies have found themselves ill-prepared to handle.)

  • 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?

For those of you already convinced, start with What is a Missions Agency and Why You Should Use One? You’ll find ideas to consider as you align yourself with a quality sending entity.

But how will you choose an agency that is a good match for you? What questions should you ask? That’s where the following articles shine!

We also are aware not all of you will go as traditional missionaries. Don’t miss our BUSINESS AS MISSION (BAM) :: BUSINESS FOR TRANSFORMATION (B4T) page.

  • 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. 

Don’t miss his post on building community overseas.



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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Making a difference = a good reason to go overseas?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

making a difference

When I first met the head-turning, nearly-too-good-to-be-true man who would be my husband, there was only one possibly fatal flaw.

He didn’t see himself going overseas.

At that point, I had participated in short-term missions in ten countries, give or take. I’d maxed out my university’s Spanish classes and minored in cross-cultural services. My college activities pointed to my love of cultures and helping the powerless.

Geez, Lord. Couldn’t you make this easier?

Serious questions crossed my mind about whether in marrying the man I respected most on Planet Earth, that I would also be…a sellout.

When “Living Life for God” = Disappointment

Spoiler: I married him. Nearly every day of our married life, I’ve thanked God for this man. (Without him, I may have been World’s Most Insecure Missionary).

But a decade later, “living my life for God” had slid from those mental images of handing rice to refugees, dust in my skirt. Instead, I was drowning in a sea of apple juice with some Goldfish floating on top. The commercial for my life would have looked less Peace Corps, more Bounty paper towels.

I felt confused. Angry. Exhausted.

And the sellout question loomed large, as if a rocking rubber stamp were about to declare me “Life Opportunities Missed.”

A Small Life?

Perhaps if you’ve followed my posts, you know the spoiler: My husband and I ended up spending half a decade in Africa. I felt a technicolor version of alive. (We’re still with the same org.)

But this was not before a tough couple of years when God and I wrestled with whether I’d chosen the best path. When God was growing contentment in me for what I called a “small life”. (Um, despite fierce love and happy sacrifice for my kids and husband. Which I wouldn’t have given up in a bajillion years. Turns out the Gospel matters to them, too).

My heart caught around Kathleen Kelly’s musings in You’ve Got Mail:

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?

When Making a Difference Gets Out of Order

God has grown me exponentially in understanding the peculiar heroism the Church places on missionaries. He’s taught me no role in the Church is unimportant.

God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?….

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 19, 21)

I also had to be taught that part of my own desire to life a “big life for God” was the emphasis on my own life being valuable. I’ve been guilty of, in a sense, using God for my own fulfillment more than I love him for himself.

making a difference

With more than For

I’ve thought more about this recently for two reasons.

First, I returned from Africa. My sense of co-laboring fell to a much quieter, occasionally indiscernable hum. I lost most of my sexy job titles (Missionary to Africa! Teacher of Refugees!) all over again. (See “Do our Churches Prefer Certain Occupations? Does God?“)

At times, I grew angry that God hadn’t created a more tenable way for us to stay, for making a difference. My identity felt horribly jumbled as I struggled for worth apart from the field.

(This was recognizable, at times, as one who’d lost not just something precious, but perhaps lost an idol, too.)

I’ve also considered this in light of what I’ve read in Skye Jethani’s With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. 

Jethani explores five primary postures in which we relate to God: Life under, over, from, for, and finally with God. He cites God’s vision in both Genesis and Revelation (and throughout the Bible) to reign with humankind: to be loved as he is, rather than us seeking to manipulate or use him.

“In other words,” Jethani writes, “God would cease to be how we acquire our treasure, and he would become our treasure.”

Is “Impact” the Point?

I won’t explore all the postures here. But Jethani reminded me that many of us have been schooled in Life For God more than With God. Jethani quotes Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, following Vischer’s loss of his company.

“God would never call us from greater impact to lesser impact!” [I thought.]

The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail–a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream…The Savior I was following seemed, in hindsight, equal parts Jesus, Ben Franklin, and Henry Ford. My eternal value was rooted in what I could accomplish.

Unfortunately, taken to its fullness, this missionalism, this disordered priority for making a difference, brings us to a place the end justifies any means. Including the loss of our own vital connection to God. Our families. Our marriages.

Jethani observes,

A great deal of effort is expended in faith communities trying to transform people from younger sons [in the story of the prodigal son] into older sons. But this is a fool’s errand, because what mattered most to the father was neither the younger son’s disobedience nor the older son’s obedience, but having his sons with him.


In fact, Jesus foretells of some making a difference, achieving great things in God’s name.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me… (Matthew 7:22-23, emphasis added)

The Mission is not the End

If we land on the mission field feeling that in some sense we’ve arrived (or perhaps will, after Making a Difference), we will–like the biblical Jacob, always wake up with Leah.

Because the mission itself, or our ability to accomplish it, was never intended to form our sense of worth and fulfillment.

Don’t go overseas with “impact” as your greatest goal. Because missions is not, cannot be, the Great End.

God is.

(And by the way, Honey. I would marry you all. Over. Again.)

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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.





Rebecca & David’s Story: “We’re Ordinary People”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

ordinary people

Editor’s note: David and Rebecca, regular readers of Go. Serve. Love and self-proclaimed ordinary people, recently contacted us with some crazy-cool news. Together-ready, waiting for God’s direction–they recently became global workers in North Africa, one of the least-reached regions of the world.

And all in a span of about six weeks.

They asked if they could tell you his story, told here in David’s voice. Bring it on, David.

My wife is a preschool teacher working on a counseling degree, and I am an MBA student with some freelance work.

We have not:

  • Been to seminary
  • Raised support
  • Completed any formal “missions” training
  • Been formally approved by a “sending agency” (Organizations are great! But not a requirement.)

We have no delusions of grandeur, no formal “ministry plan.”

No burning bush has been seen. We have heard no booming voice.

We are not “professional” religious workers. We’re ordinary people, folks.

What happened to some ordinary people.

My work was already mostly remote/virtual. And in July, both of our academic programs moved online.

In light of the shift, my wife and I wanted to earnestly consider if there was somewhere else in the world where we should go.

We were able to connect with several teams around the world, including a team that runs a financially sustainable English-teaching preschool in North Africa.

not an option.

Jesus ends each of the gospels (and begins Acts) with a command to go into all the world and to make disciples.

Still, somewhere in the range of 40-60% of the people in the world have virtually zero opportunity to learn about Jesus. There are no churches, very few Christians, very limited resources. These areas are called “unreached people groups” because they have essentially zero access to any true knowledge of Jesus.

These billions of people are born, live their lives without the hope of Jesus, and die without having the chance to even hear that Jesus made a way for them to be restored to a right relationship with God for eternity.

One of the beauties of the American life? In many towns, you can drive down “church row” and walk into any one of dozens of churches. We have easy access to learn about God.

This is simply not the reality in much of the world.

It has been a journey for my wife and I to arrive at this point. And not everyone will agree with us. But to the two us, the command is so clear.

The default should be to go; that is the command. Instead of anguishing over a “call to go,” we decided instead to consider if we had been clearly, specifically called to stay.

My wife likes to describe it this way: We never question if we should be faithful to a spouse. Nobody ever says “Meh, I’m just not really sure if the Lord has called me to that.” It’s a really clear command!

And yet we seem to pick and choose commands we want to take seriously.

Do we neglect “here”? Of course not.

But if Jesus called all of us ordinary people to go to all the nations, and if 2000 years later, 40-60% of those nations have virtually zero access to learn about Jesus, could we have missed something?

This is not prescriptive. But along with you, my wife and I dream of a world where more people at least realize this is possible.

Man, that was fast.

My wife and I learned in July that all of our school would be online. All of my work is already online.

Our initial response: disappointment. But with the Holy Spirit’s influence, we quickly shifted to “Ok, we can do this anywhere in the world.”

We began to prayerfully explore what opportunities were available.

Six weeks later to the day, our feet touched the sand in North Africa.

the whole world (and covid) in his hands.

COVID-19 has made international travel difficult for Americans. A lot of organizations have brought people back to the U.S. and are limiting travel.

While totally understanding the need for wisdom and risk management, we believe God is establishing the places and the times of people groups throughout the world. Ordinary people or not, we want to be faithful to our role in providing access for people to find Him.

A travel issue delayed us two days in New York City. Our team leaders in North Africa traveled physically to the airport to advocate on our behalf.

It was a rough trip. We are just now getting out of our two-week quarantine. But it was totally doable.

The journey before the journey.

It has been our heart to go and make disciples of all the nations for some time. We weren’t clear on the where/what/how/when, but were intentional in posturing for that eventuality.

Steps ordinary people took–that anyone can start doing today.

  • We explored teams and organizations for several years through emails, video calls, etc. When the time came, we were able to reconnect and quickly identify current opportunities.
  • We learned about cross-cultural relationships by befriending international students. (Click for more ways to reach out right where you’re at.)
  • We built a network of counselors and advisors who understood our hearts and our journey who could give wise counsel.
  • We lived well below our means. When the time came, we had savings to cover airfare/startup costs in-country/etc. (Check out thoughts here on the role of debt in going overseas.)
  • We sought to develop skillsets that are easily transferable in many international contexts.
  • We held our plans and ambitions with open hands, open to quick redirecting of our path.

Where we go from here

We never planned to be in North Africa this fall. Many are the plans in our hearts, but we know that ultimately God’s purpose will stand.

We are currently working through orientation and training with the preschool and settling into a new life here. So far, we’ve been able to interact with local teachers, parents, and children at the preschool.

Mostly, we are trying to humbly learn how to live, work, study, and play in a very different context. We’re just ordinary people seeking to be faithful to Jesus’ command to go to all the nations and make disciples.

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!”

Like this post? You might like

Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas! Part I

3 Tips for Moving Your Family Overseas

What Lies Beneath: Recognizing Cultural “Icebergs”


Meet an Agency: Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We heart this ongoing series–a virtual trip to the coffee shop with organizations to help you go there, serve Him, and love them even better.

(For more thoughts about why you might join an agency–and a handful of reasons you might not–make sure to check out He Said/She Said/You Say? “Should I go overseas with an organization?”, both the pros and the cons.)

Today, because they’re based in the Northwest U.S., we’re grabbing a berry smoothie with Christian Veterinary Mission.

Pull up a chair.


CVM’s vision is to share Christ’s love through veterinary medicine.  We challenge, empower and facilitate veterinary professionals (vets, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students) to serve others by living out their Christian faith.

Through relationships built around the care of livestock and pets, the gospel can be shared in locations often closed to other missionaries.  We call this the “animal bridge”. 

Many of the unreached people groups are livestock-based societies that while not open to the gospel, would welcome someone who could help them with their animals.  From grassroots rural workers to university professors, what we have in common is our use of the “animal bridge” to reach people.



CVM was founded in 1978 by Dr. Leroy Dorminy, who was inspired by a West African woman who said not to come to help, but “Come and teach us, that we can help ourselves.” 

We now have 38 long-term veterinarians and technicians placed in 16 countries and approximately 600 volunteers who serve short-term each year in about 50 countries.


In Uganda, Dr. Daniel Graham is implementing a successful rabbit project among the Batwa people, who were looked upon formerly as slaves. 

Daniel teaches a course on caring for rabbits, and all about rabbit husbandry. Then those who complete the training course and demonstrate that they have built the housing necessary are given a pair of rabbits.

The first offspring come back to the project for the next round of training and recipients.  This gives him the opportunity with each lesson to share the Gospel and biblical principles and build relationships leading to spiritual conversations where it would be very difficult otherwise.

Daniel started a School of Ministry where pastors and church planters are trained by studying through the entire Bible in a year and then sent out.  From last year’s class, 3 students in a Muslim area have planted 5 churches, and asked Daniel to come to their area to give additional training.

Three other students have gone to the Batwa people and are planting churches there—locating several groups of Batwa in more remote areas where they were previously unknown.  They want Daniel to move there and help plant churches—an opportunity that opened because of the rabbit project.

When Turkeys Become Your Church Project

Last year, after Daniel trained on evangelism and disciple-making, he challenged each student to prayerfully choose someone in the surround community to evangelize and disciple, putting into practice what they had learned.

To kick it off, each student invited their new friend to the small neighborhood church which Daniel and a Ugandan doctor has worked together to get started.  When these new friends gathered, Daniel taught a course on animal husbandry for turkeys.

Thus it became a church project!  At the end of the course, each participant got a pair of turkeys to take home; as it was for the rabbits, two offspring would be returned to the project for the next opportunity.

This provided an opportunity for the students to continue their new friendships, visiting to ask how the turkeys were doing, and to evangelize and then disciple the ones they had felt the Lord led them to select from the community.

The turkeys were a great success themselves.  But better yet, many families started coming to church.

They explained that they had thought the church was just for the kids program, not for adults.  Now over 120 new people attend church, and a number have committed their lives to Christ and become baptized.

These are a direct result of using turkeys to show the love of Christ with human compassion and evangelism.  From humble turkeys to new life in Christ!

“Use the Tools that God has Given You”

Daniel wrote,

You never know what might happen when you use the tools that God has given you to reach out to those around you who are desperate for love and hope.

God uses veterinarians, especially to reach people who rely on their livestock for culture and survival.

In Tanzania, one church planter tells of going to a village and only getting to talk to about 6 people. But the next day, the veterinary team arrived.

As they treated animals, people would ask why they were helping them—an immediate opportunity to talk about the love of Jesus. 

Over the next couple days, they got to talk to more than 80 people and 60 made decisions to follow Christ—and a church was planted.  One of the village elders gave his own property as a place for the new church to meet.

In Central African Republic, a veteran missionary begs for veterinarians to come join their team.  “We have years of good relationships. We have spiritual materials translated.  But when I go out to the Fulani cattle camps, I can’t help with what they hold most dear.  A veterinarian would make all the difference.” 

He knows.  We previously had a vet there for a year, and it made the difference.


  • Christ-centered (multi-denominational)
  • Veterinary-focused
  • Relational
  • Supportive and Flexible
  • Collaborative partnerships


We encourage people to participate with CVM to get to know us as an agency first.  This might be going on a short term mission trip with us, or attending our long term missions orientation (generally a 2.5 day seminar offered once a year). It could be coming to a “Real Life, Real Impact” conference at a veterinary college (six times a year), or completing some of our free online modules.

Our first step is a simple Missions Interest Assessment form and a learning needs assessment that helps us recommend specific trainings based on an individual person’s experience.

Common recommendations for serious candidates would be

  • language learning and cross-cultural training
  • support raising (deputation)
  • Biblical foundations
  • Perspectives on World Christian Mission course
  • Training of Trainers in Participatory Methods (offered by CVM about once a year)

We ask for six references (two professional, two personal and two spiritual).

Once an applicant is approved by our personnel committee, they become an official candidate and we come alongside them and their church as they do further training and support raising.

CVM phase chart


We are looking for veterinary professionals with a commitment to Christ.

No two positions are alike. Some work in rural villages with subsistence farmers.  Others teach at universities. Some serve in modern animal clinics with pets in cities or large animals in the countryside, while others teach with what they carry in a backpack.

We work toward sustainability, participation, and transformational development. 


A CVM worker needs flexibility, resilience, creativity, and the humility to serve under national leadership.  All of our workers serve with an in-country partner.

Rarely do we have more than one CVM worker in a given location. Teams are inter-denominational and international in make-up.

Singles, married and families serve with CVM around the world. We have women and men, and both large animal and small animal veterinary professionals.


Red flags would be those who are rigid in how they think things should be done and unable to partner with national believers.


Think about how you can use your profession where you are now to share the love of Christ with those you work with and those you serve. Start now to use that animal bridge to build relationships.

Pray that God will give you a vision for how these skills might serve overseas.

Contact CVM now!  Come to our conferences, check out our website, try out a short term trip, contact our US-based regional representative for your area and get to know us.

We would love to come alongside you as you explore the possibilities even if you don’t go overseas for another ten years.  We are a fellowship of Christian veterinary professionals serving together wherever God has placed us.

Some people come to us with a specific calling to a specific part of the world. Others have a vague sense that God might be calling them but no idea where, when or how. Let us be a part of your journey.

Contact CVM by clicking here,

or email International Programs Director

Dr. Brad Frye at bfrye@cvm.org