Rewrapping Christmas Overseas, Part I

Reading Time: 4 minutes

ChristmasYour first year overseas has a way of rearranging your life, your brain, your family, your body. So it makes sense your holidays would follow.

You may be wondering what Christmas looks like away from the lines to meet Santa, the obnoxious Black Friday ads–but also far from the welcoming hugs from mom, the family clustered around the tree or piano belting out carols.

My experience? Like most of overseas life, there were notable griefs and clarifying, memorable triumphs. Here, thoughts from my first Christmas overseas in Africa (edited from the original post on MomLifeToday.com). read more

How My Career in Healthcare Took Its Show on the Road–Overseas

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career veterinary fieldworker

In Go. Serve. Love’s passion to help you navigate a path overseas, we believe marketplace missions has 4.13 billion beautiful reasons for you to consider doing your career (yes, that one) overseas. So we’re psyched to welcome Sarah Galloway, nurse practitioner, wife, and mom, who’s recently moved her job overseas with the help of Scatter Global.

catter helps you find a job and live on mission where Jesus is not known. (See? Isn’t that cool?)  read more

“Trust and Obey, Mommy”: Gala’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

trust and obey

Our family had been in Ethiopia for about two weeks one February when we decided to visit the village where we’d soon be living.

My husband John is a water engineer. Our task was to put in a water system for the Tokay area and surrounding villages. We had just begun language school in Addis, so our skills were limited–but we were excited to see the village where we’d live for the next three years, about four hours west. read more

My Big Dream (that Starts Small)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

big dream

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Rebecca Hopkins’ blog, Borneo Wife, when she and her husband served in Indonesia. She now blogs from her new American home at rebeccahopkins.org .

A window in my kitchen faces our backyard. Much of my days are spent cooking and watching, washing dishes and listening, making granola and checking. The kids are often dangling or running or whooping outside, playing on our mini-playground with the zipline. read more

When your ministry plans don’t look like you thought

Reading Time: 4 minutes

ministry plans

I thought I had found it.

My niche, my place, my way to reach out and bring others in while living overseas.  I was a young mom of a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a newborn. At the preschool of my four-year-old, I was getting to know other moms.

I had a growing relationship with a young mom of a toddler who was soaking up our friendship and appreciative of the care and support I was giving her. She was introducing me to her friends who’d ask me questions about babies and parenting and marriage.

Reflecting on encouragement received as part of a mother’s group back in the U.S., I thought I could offer the same to these precious women: a mom’s group where I could encourage them, share truth and love, share hard-won wisdom from experience.

I could do this with my kids, not leaving them behind in the name of my ministry plans.

It seemed perfect.

I told my friend about my idea.  She agreed this was needed.  Her friends were lonely; they weren’t thriving as moms. She loved my perspective on motherhood and knew it would encourage these women.  She would talk to her friends.

I started a private Facebook page to share thoughts and Scripture. Prepared short messages to share with them when they came to my home. Made coffee and tea and cookies and prepared my living room.

And the entire thing fizzled.

MINISTRY PLANS: The Beginning of the End

We tried it for a few weeks.  One or two would come.  Their kids would cry and scream.  One even threw up on our bean bag chair.

The children frazzled their moms. I offered encouragement with a side of coffee.  They were too embarrassed by their children’s behavior to hear me.

My friend and I talked about what was going on.  She said they needed this type of group.  She knew that they needed support and a change of perspective.

But they didn’t want to sit around talking about being a mom.  They wanted to escape from thinking about this.

Basically, they didn’t want what I was offering.

When Your Ministry Plans are a No-Go

I felt discouraged.  I thought I had found the perfect situation to use my passion and stage of life to encourage others, invite them into my home, and speak to their hearts.  Wasn’t I meant to do this?

Disappointed and sad, I wondered if I even had a place.  I wanted so much to see why God had called me here, uprooted me from my home country to figure out life in a huge city in a different language.

If I could just have a ministry, then I could see how it is all worth it.

There was nothing wrong with trying this, but God quickly closed the door.

What didn’t happen

I’d like to tell you that a new door opened immediately, a wide-open door I was able to sail effortlessly through into a lovely field of “productive ministry.”

I wish that were so.

My calling has not panned out quite like that. I think that my life on the field has been one of being faithful with the small things before me.

When the group failed, I had a choice to make.

I could keep trying for what I was passionate to do and what I thought was “just perfect,” or I could let it go and focus on what God was bringing to me. I took my eyes off my project and looked at what was before me.

Two women continued to seek me out.  I chose to invest in those two. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time and effort that sometimes I didn’t want to do.

Then there were other relationships, one here, one there.  Different faces, different needs, similar efforts.

Over the years there have been various opportunities, unique projects, long-term and short-term relationships.  Sometimes I wish there was a certain “something” I could point to, a specific something with a name and a box it goes in.  Something that’s easy to understand or write about in a newsletter.

The unfortunate fizzle

Dear reader, it’s possible that your ministry plans will fizzle, too. I don’t wish that disappointment on anyone who has left home and father and mother to follow a calling from the Father.
I think these experiences can cause some of us to doubt if we’ve heard our “assignment” correctly.  We can wonder if we are even supposed to be overseas at all.
Should you find yourself in this place, on this path I walked, I pray for you to have the eyes to see when it is time to give that plan up to make room for whatever else might come. 

What comes is not always pretty and not everyone will understand. But if we’re made open for what God will do next, the stripping of our ministry plans is a mercy.

Sometimes the next step is small

And sometimes the “next” is small.  Sometimes the “next” doesn’t seem like much at all.

Do it faithfully.

We are not good judges of what makes something “worth it.”  How do you even measure that accurately?  I am not able to measure this because I don’t know the entire plan.  I don’t know the steps God needs to reach the ultimate goal of His glory in this country.

To say what God has called me to do is insignificant is to say that those lives are insignificant. And I can’t do that.

I had a few different ideas when I set out to make this country my home. (Vision is good to have!) And I built a few different ministry plans as I tried settling in.

But ultimately, I want to do what God sets before me.  He gets to assign the jobs.  I’m a part of His kingdom, after all.

Sarah has served  in the Middle East with her family for over nine years.

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Living in a Muslim country: How it changes me as a woman

Reading Time: 6 minutes

blend in anonymous sunglasses

I didn’t know exactly how living in a Muslim country would change me.

I thought it would change how I see the world.  It would impact how I understood people, I guessed.  I hoped it would give me greater understanding for others, their perspectives.

What I didn’t know, or even imagine, is that living in a Muslim country (well, majority-Muslim) would affect how I look at men and myself, literally and metaphorically. 

Bye-bye, Handshake

In many Muslim cultures, there is a larger separation between the genders than in typical Western societies.  This means men and women generally do not interact as freely or casually.

Some men and women do not even shake hands with the opposite gender.  This means that what is seen as socially acceptable, socially respectable, tends to be quite different from what I’m used to.  I hail from Texas, a friendly country where everyone smiles and greets each other and hardly anyone is a stranger.  Handshakes were a given and hugs were commonplace.

I didn’t know how challenging it would be to welcome people into my home, cook food for them, talk about life and faith, and then send them off with a nod of the head.  No handshake, no light punch on the shoulder.

And I certainly didn’t know that it would change how I interact with American men as well.  We all want to conduct our interactions in culturally-appropriate ways, so we drop the side-hug and simply wave hello. It feels strange to me.

I didn’t know living in a muslim country would affect how I look at men. literally.

In our Western cultures, eye contact is usually a way we show respect and interest in someone or in what that person is saying.  We make eye contact to greet people, eye contact to talk about life, eye contact to show that we see them.

Eye contact is not used so freely and casually in my current context.  When I am out walking around, I do not make eye contact with men on the street.  In fact, I usually wear big sunglasses to avoid it. 

Even if I stop to buy vegetables from a man I don’t know, I will barely look at him and focus my attention, very business-like, on the vegetables.  I don’t look down at my feet, but I don’t look in his eyes.

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

If my husband knows the man and the man knows us all as a family, I might be a little more relaxed in looking at him when we talk, but I will still use a very businesslike tone.

See, respectable women do not chat it up with men on the streets. 

Same goes for taxi or uber drivers.  They should not be asking my name (more on that later) or asking personal questions.  There is no need to carry on a conversation beyond directions to the exact location, if needed.

Back to eye contact.  I didn’t realize how I would internalize the rules.  How I would struggle when back in Texas to make eye contact with men again.

The Spin Class Story

I can distinctly remember a time when we were back in Texas and I decided to take a spinning class (an indoor bicycle fitness class).  Since it was my first time, the instructor, who was a man about 10 years my senior, helped to adjust my bike while I stood nearby.

As he made polite and very reasonable conversation, I found myself looking down at the bike and giving very short answers.  I wouldn’t look at him.  I was feeling uncomfortable.  Then it dawned on me: No one in that room was going to think I was disrespecting my husband by talking with the instructor in this situation.

This interaction was very normal in this setting and even if I had become chatty about all things bicycles, I still would have appeared normal.  I had to make myself relax.

I noticed these same tendencies many more times during that stay in Texas.  Over the years since that time I have been able to adjust a little better.  This often takes a little bit of conscious effort to recognize where I am and to let myself be a little bit Texan.

How Living in a Muslim Country Affects How I Feel about…Myself

I didn’t know how living in a Muslim country–in a culture that is very conservative–would impact how I felt in my own skin.

I tend to stand out among the crowd on the street.  My looks aren’t Middle Eastern.  I look like a foreign woman and foreign women have a reputation for having loose morals.

This means that I’m often working against the question of “Is she like what we see in movies?  Is she a desperate housewife, too?” 

Even as the clothing styles are changing here–going back to knee-length skirts in some areas, sport leggings, sleeveless tops–I’m careful about how and where I participate in fashion trends.  I already stand out and I don’t desire more attention.

I didn’t know how observant I would become about what other women wear…and about how the West looks from here. 

I’m very uncomfortable when I see tourist women wearing clothing that is not conservative.  I am uncomfortable for them, recognizing they don’t know the message they are sending.

Watching American movies and TV shows, I think, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want my daughter to grow up in the West if this is really a completely accurate picture.”

I see the casual sex, the friends with benefits, the revealing clothing, and I know that for people who don’t know America, they don’t know that some of that is just Hollywood.  Not all college students are crazy drunks who party and sleep around.  Not all housewives are looking for a fling on the side.

It’s worth noting here that just as not all Americans hold loose morals, not all Arabs are terrorists and not all Arabs are Muslim and not all people living in the Middle East are Arabs.  Let us not fall into the trap of stereotyping, either.

What’s in a Name

I didn’t know that I would sometimes struggle with my own name. In this culture, a woman does not give out her first name. 

I have a Middle Eastern friend who has lived in the same building all her life and the doorman there does not know her first name.  He simply calls her “Engineer” now that she is an engineer.  The produce man calls me by my husband’s name.  Yes, that’s correct, he calls me by a man’s first name.

It’s a little awkward at first.

Taxi drivers should not ask for my name, shopkeepers should not ask for my name.  But they do sometimes, because they try to push the boundaries of propriety and respect with me because I’m foreign and might be ok with it.  I always reply, “My husband’s name is…”.

And then there’s Starbucks (or any other chain coffeeshop) and I get confused at what name I should have on my cup.  My name?  My husband’s name?  When did this become the difficult part about ordering?!

(In actuality, it’s fine for me to use my first name at these venues that are very Western.  It has been interesting, however, to see how I stop for a moment and wonder what to say for my name.)

LIVING IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY: Why Following Their Cultural Rules Matters to Me

living in a muslim country

Photo credit: IMB.org

I didn’t know about these aspects of change and adjustment that I would experience living in a Muslim country.  As I live this life out, as I live my life in a way that loves my neighbors and loves the God who loves them enough to send His own Son as a sacrifice, I am willing to adjust and adapt, to be mindful and to change.

Sometimes those adjustments are difficult. They cause me to look inside at how I see myself and how I see others. 

All of these cause me to look to God and ask Him to show me what is good and right, what is important and valuable.  And being reminded to lean on His ways? That’s always a good thing.

 

About the author: Sarah has served overseas for nine years.

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