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

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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)

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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

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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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Advice for a Young Missionary: Geraldine’s Story

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advice for a young missionary

Editor’s note: Glen and Geraldine are what you might call old-school missionaries. They arrived in Ukraine in 1994, back when big bangs were cool and the Iron Curtain had recently fallen hard across Europe–and the dust was still settling. (Would you believe these two briefly tangled with the Ukrainian mafia?)

We asked Geraldine what she’d tell a young missionary over coffee–because though a lot has changed since perms were hot, we can gain so much wisdom through ministry vets. Here’s what Geraldine had to say. 

Be 100% CONFIDENT OF your “why”.

First of all, for the prospective missionary, I would definitely recommend that he or she is completely confident in God’s power and Great Commission. There are many adversaries or even those who are against foreign missions.

For example, we had friends who were missionaries to the Jewish people who actually tried to dissuade us from coming to Ukraine. We should consider, they said, the language barrier, the difficult cultural differences, and the anti-American sentiment.

As a missionary, you’ll be challenged with these issues regardless of where you serve.  

Be confident of what God’s called you to–because you’ll inevitably withstand times of significant obstacles, fear, pain–and yes, questioning if you’re in the right place: “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20). 

advice for a young missionary

Keep your lifestyle/housing simple or consistent with the people you serve.

We rented a Ukrainian house and didn’t furnish it with anything American. We wanted Ukrainians to feel comfortable around us.

Of course, there were a few things that I personally brought for myself: books, devotionals, recipes for our favorite foods.

Here’s the advice for a young missionary which someone gave me: Bring essential items for your kids–certain games, movies, and toys so that they would feel more at home. For children, the cultural transition is much more difficult, especially if the son or daughter is a pre-teen or teenager.

It’s also important to engage in special occasions for them–such as birthdays, academic accomplishments, sleepovers, sporting events (we had basketball and volleyball games).

Plan for pain.

One event that really impacted our family: Church problems we experienced in 1996. After two years, we had certain people that were opposed to my husband’s leadership. Some people walked away and others complained about us.

We had to spend much time in prayer and examine our lives and ministry before the Lord. We never wanted to hurt anyone, but the enemy was working. This is very common. Before making any major decisions, consider the fallout, although things do happen that are out of our control.

We basically had to start over again in the church until the Lord provided a godly Ukrainian leader/pastor, This was hard for us, yet we never thought about quitting or returning home–there was too much at stake.

ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: Be prepared and have the courage to trust God for difficult, painful circumstances.

In 2003, we moved out to the village to evangelize and hopefully start a church.

Life was so hard. People weren’t friendly. We had to walk to the village well to draw our drinking water. We’d burn our own trash because they refused to collect ours.

We had Ukrainians working in our home for remodeling purposes, and their work wasn’t good. After we paid them lots of money, they demanded more. When we refused, they took us to court. They paid the judge a bribe so we would lose our case and our home.

It was so difficult. We prayed a lot. My husband hired a Ukrainian lawyer and she took pictures of the work. She actually won our case, but then we were forced to sell our home. Some of these men were associated with the mafia and we didn’t want to take any chances.

My husband sent our son and me out of the country back to the States. We prayed and ask others to pray as well.

Glen sold our house within one month–which was a miracle! After this, we left Ukraine for about one year.

don’t let marriage and family fall prey to ministry.

The demands, trauma, and pull of the mission field have torn apart too many marriages.

My advice for a young missionary: Always pour unconditional love, support, and sacrifice into each other’s lives for God’s honor and glory–no matter the needs “out there.”

Glen and I always prayed together as a couple and as a family.

(Editor’s note: Don’t miss Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together.)

Missionaries we met while raising support encouraged us to never allow ministry to become more important than our families. We remembered that and took one day a week to spend time together at the park, the shopping malls, or watching a movie at home. No interferences.

We spent time together talking about life with our kids and any issues they were encountering.

advice for a young missionary

Stay aware of and responsive to your kids’ holistic experience.

One of the biggest mistakes we personally made was to send our son to a Ukrainian school while we were attending the Kyiv University for language. During that time in Ukraine, the prejudice was real. Ben was about nine years old.

We eventually brought him home. I wish we could have afforded private school, but the prices were too expensive. So we had to homeschool–another challenge.

Your kids’ educational and cultural experiences are so important, so research your options thoroughly, visit schools, talk to other parents, and plan wisely for the education that will make up their days and much of their cultural experience. 

FINAL ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MISSIONARY: When It’s Time…

Some missionaries have left the field due to health, marital issues, problems with their children. Regardless of where we live and serve, God can use you. You don’t have to feel like your life is over!

We follow him wherever he leads us–to the mission field or elsewhere. Our ministry doesn’t define us. It’s our relationship with God that’s so important.

Pray for Your Mission Field: 10 Ways [Printable]

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Sure, you may not be there yet.

But from the beginning of time, God has already preparing his field, his connections, his ways–so you arrive at just the right time, to share the hope you have with the people he’s planned. You’re part of the Body of Christ not just in this moment, but in history as God’s Gospel sweeps the globe.

And in tandem with the Holy Spirit, your personal work in this common mission can begin far before you set foot in a nation–if you set foot in it at all.

Right this minute, how can you pray for your mission field? How might God respond

We’ve got 10 ways, 10 verses.

PRINT HERE: 10 SCRIPTURES TO PRAY FOR YOUR MISSION FIELD.

pray for your mission field

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

May God multiply His willing response as you pray for your mission field.

Can’t get enough? Grab more printable resources.

Does Christianity destroy culture?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

christianity destroy culture

Photo credit: IMB.org

Editor’s note: We’re pulling this post from the archives to answer a key recurring question: Does Christianity destroy culture? Are you importing Western culture when you bring the Gospel? We weigh in. 

If you’ve ever stood in the middle of African worship, it’s…well, it’s pretty hard to stand still.

Gotta admit. At a refugee-center staff retreat, I started as a mild observer. I marveled at the literal full-bodied movement and vocalization: music that took over my heart, my body. I was, um, really dancing (don’t necessarily try to picture it…) to worship for the first time. Moisture leaked from the corners of my eyes.

Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about:

After a rousing snippet of this kind of worship in staff devotions the week before, I’d told the teachers, this is just a sliver of what the African church offers the world. Every culture has its own strengths, its own vibrant display of the image of God.

And when Jesus comes, I will have watched so many cultures become the truest version of themselves.

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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