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

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

Help! I don’t feel as “called” as my spouse

Reading Time: 7 minutes

don't feel as called

Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”

Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.

I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.

Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.

You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.

(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)

Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.

But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.

I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)

I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.

(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)

I can only tell you what I know.

own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called

This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.

But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.

When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.

During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)

I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.

He said something like,
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Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.

And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.

I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.

There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 

That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.

dont feel as called

Whose Calling is More Important?

“Calling” gets tricky these days. It can be wielded as “a rubber stamp from God on doing what I really, really want.”

It can also be a mystical, vague buzzword that gets us hung up.

And the truth is, “calling” gets tricky in a marriage. Because few of us have had actual writing on the wall. For most of us calling is less “I’ve heard an audible Word from God–and more synthesizing passions with Scripture and the world’s need.

It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.

But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.

What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?

Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
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In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.

Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.

Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?

Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.

But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)

And God is the author of women’s dreams, too; check out Jesus’ words to a woman about the priority of following him over family.

What now?

Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.

This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.

 

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. 

Like this post? You might like

Different Strokes? Marital Differences as You Look Overseas, Part I and Part II

Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas! Part IPart II, & Part III

8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!

 

A Yellow Christmas: Dotsie’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Yellow Christmas

Even though it was years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today: the year our Christmas was a sickly yellow.

It had taken me a good while to adapt to life in Ghana. After many mornings of tears–morning is when the reality of life there would hit me–I adjusted well. Life was good: The evening Bible school was off to a good start, we were getting to know our neighbors, Gary was mentoring a couple of men and I was helping Nicole, French and married to a Ghanaian, grow in her new faith.

Our world came crashing down around us when Gary got very sick. Just a couple months before he’d had typhoid fever and malaria. What was happening?

When Gary turned yellow, I guessed his diagnosis.

But borders were closed. Supplies in the country were so low that he could not even get a blood test to tell what kind of hepatitis he had.

At the time none of our colleagues were in the city. We did live near the university and knew the dean of the medical school. He started making house calls “with empty hands,” for there was nothing he could do.

yellow christmas

An actual photo of Dotsie writing by oil lamp in Ghana.

The Darkest Christmas

Those were dark days for us as Christmas approached.

We tried to make the best of it with our two small boys, while we watched “Papa” get thinner and thinner. The bile under his skin caused severe itching and relief only came with a scalding bath followed by a cold shower.

Then Gary would sit under the ceiling fan clad only in boxer shorts––any other clothes irritated his skin. But this routine wasn’t always possible with frequent power outages and lack of water.

And we were almost out of food. He needed some good nutrition.

I was not a coffee drinker, but needed to stay awake for some “alone time” in the evenings, so learned to drink it. I was exhausted but wanted to write letters back home to people who were praying for us.

Often sitting with only the light of an oil lamp, I’d hear God speak words of comfort and peace. He showed me Isaiah 40 and reminded me of it again and again.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…They will soar on wings like eagles…

When god gives Christmas Gifts

God’s grace amazed us with gifts!

A knock sounded at the door one evening. Linda, a Peace Corps friend, greeted us with a special piece of meat wrapped in shiny tinfoil and a festive Christmas bow. It was delicious.

Later our adventuresome friend Keith showed up with a cooler full of meat and a sack of potatoes bought in a neighboring country; he’d slipped across the border in a desolate area. What a treat! (We’d never eaten potatoes in Ghana­­. They don’t grow there.)

Not long after that, a missionary friend traveling through our city walked into our house with a gunnysack over his shoulder. He dumped the contents out on our kitchen table. My eyes opened wide when I realized Howie had shared from their “special times” stockpile.

What stood out the most was a can of powdered lime drink. Now Gary could have at least a sort of fruit juice. The tiny ants marching around the glass at his bedside didn’t irritate me as they usually did; I was overjoyed to offer him such a treat.

Most exciting was the day a truck, oddly, pulled up to our door. I was certain it was a mistake, especially since on it were two small barrels for us. It didn’t make sense until we learned they had been flown in from London by friends who used to live near us in Ghana.

Having heard of Gary’s illness and knowing what the closed borders would mean for our food supply, Graham and Sue knew exactly what to send us.

The thrill of unwrapping foods fresh off English grocery shelves is embedded in my memory: beautiful, clean packages of flour, sugar, and powdered milk with special Christmas treats tucked in.

We were overwhelmed by God’s tender care for us.

When God’s Kindness Means Saying Goodbye

Before long the medical school dean told us Gary was not getting better and we needed to go home to get medical care. Gary had lost a garish 65 pounds.

It was unsettling to abruptly leave a home and ministry we loved. But we knew God doesn’t make mistakes. That he cares deeply for us.

So we trusted.

It took a couple of days to prepare to leave, and we certainly wanted to celebrate our Savior’s birth before we left. We made clothespin ornaments representing our family to put on our little tree.

The ending of the Not-so-fairytale Christmas

Back in the U.S., Gary initially was isolated in a hospital room until they determined for sure he had Hepatitis A. He ended up being yellow with the severe itching…for four more months.

God provided a house for us near my family and a main supporting church of ours. And a friend, starting up a pizza business, gave us a case of frozen pizzas and a pizza oven so Gary could gain back some weight.

Six months later we returned to Ghana, eager to get back to our work.

Our clothespin ornaments are falling apart now, but we still hang them on our tree each year. And as we do, we remember what God taught us during our yellow Christmas.

 

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Memos from a Christmas Robbery

Christmas, Rewrapped: Navigating Overseas Holidays

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Memos from a Christmas Robbery

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christmas robbery

My husband and I, kids in tow, were maneuvering at a snail’s pace through a traffic jam in our trusty high-clearance minivan. Our speakers happily trumpeted the Christmas CD my mom had sent, and we chatted, our energy high for our Christmas shopping in the city and the Christmas party of our non-profit (which, with the barbecue and kids running around in shorts, tends to look a little more like the Fourth of July).

It was sometime after “Let it Snow” that our heads all swiveled to the driver’s side, where a man was banging—hard—on the outside of our van. Never a good sign in Kampala.

And that’s when his partner whipped open my car door and swiftly grabbed my bag slouched at my feet. My casserole dish skidded across the pavement as I unbuckled without thinking, standing between the unmoving lanes and yelling something very helpful, like, “HEY!” as he and his cronies ran away with my reading device, my phone, the drivers’ licenses from both countries, and our house keys.

I make it sound lighthearted. But really, I just started sobbing, my hands shaking. It probably frightened my children just as much as the stranger flinging open the car door. Robbery, even a purse-snatching, is a level of trauma.

What God Can Do with a Robbery

Truthfully, the highlight of my day took place about thirty seconds after that lowlight. My eleven-year-old: “Guys, it looks like mom is really upset right now. Let’s all pray.”

You know, when he was born, all of the parenting magazines kept telling me how to keep him safe from everything: from choking, from bullies, from cyberspace. And keeping our children safe is a godly desire.

But I’m also reminded God’s “faith school” for my kids is so good to teach them, even while they are quite young, who he is in suffering.

As a friend wrote me the week of the robbery, The very thing we would protect our children from experiencing may be the very thing that God wants to use in their lives now so that when they are adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis.

That he gives, and he takes away, and we can sing Christmas carols with full hearts afterward. That this isn’t a “when bad things happen to good people” kind of thing. From dust I came—and hell I deserve.

Weary: You Have Arrived

After the police report, after the two hours spent at the phone company, after breaking in to our own house in absence of my keys, my emotions were as tangled and frazzled as my hair.

For one, all of my muscle to make it to the end of the year in a foreign country felt suddenly spent—a year complete with harrowing accident and move to a new neighborhood and all the little pecked-to-death-by-a-duck cultural frustrations.

The sledgehammer in my heart had fallen, and the bell at “WEARY” dinged.

After the robbery, I felt vulnerable. Violated. Stupid. Shaken.

And still—I kept thinking, This is why He came. This is why we need Christmas. Not for some vague, nebulous, Dr.-Suess-movie “Christmas is about giving! The Christmas spirit is in our hearts!”

How Robbery Schooled Me about Christmas

Because Christmas is—but it isn’t.

We needed Him because Christmas—an unselfish, give-till-it-doesn’t-make-sense, fatal rescue mission—was not in us as we mourned in lonely exile here, basting in our own junk and selfishness, as both victim and criminal.

He, too, was here to help, and people wanted to take what they could get for themselves.

Jesus was subject to far more injustice, theft, and hate than a robbery.

He bore so much more grief than I have, so that my treasure could be not in a purse or an iPhone, but in a place untouched by thieves and tears.

This is only a pinprick of suffering. But his hand seemed to rest on my slumped shoulder when I happened on C.S. Lewis’ words from The Magician’s Nephew. 

I saw that “faith school” though it may be, God’s pain in the midst of my pain is real. I am not merely a project to be sanctified, but a child who is loved after a crime:

“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.”

And so I found Christmas–with a side of robbery–yet again painting in vivid strokes that God is with us. wrapping our injured flesh around him, breathing our air and walking our sod.

Thank God for Christmas.

Like this post? You might like

Christmas, Rewrapped: Navigating Overseas Holidays, Part I and Part II

Creative Celebration: Why It Matters Overseas

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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 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. 

Advent: When You’re Not Where You Hoped (FREE PRINTABLE)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

advent waiting

The dust, fine and red, coated the plants lining our roads. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. As my children lay awake in bed, I stuck my head in and reminded them to keep guzzling plenty of water, after a friend of theirs landed in the clinic due to dehydration.

Unfortunately it paralleled my parched insides. So many tasks to which I put my hand seemed to droop, languishing and limp. The cost-benefit ratio of my parenting, my ministry there in Uganda, and a handful of relationships seemed tilting precariously in the wrong direction.

It’s funny how perceived failure–and waiting–stirs up silty questions that had lain quiet in the soul.

What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Does any of what I do matter?

A friend had mentioned that week how, when we trust God in the dark, it’s amazing how so many things begin to happen.

Honestly?

I was thinking, What about the times when you trust big, and nothing big happens? What about when everything feels sluggish, fruitless, and cracked?

miracle

Advent Pain

Am I the only one who feels like waiting has been a recurring lesson of adulthood? Indeed, to prep for this post, I searched “waiting” on my personal blog–and found 8 pages of posts.

Sometimes army-crawling through my own seasons of advent (Christmastime or not) feel like one of God’s favorite scalpels. It lies ominously–no, lovingly! I tell myself– next to the one labeled “suffering.”

I was embarrassingly late into adulthood by the time the word “advent” revealed itself for what it was, i.e. not the name of the month before Christmas, where we have to wait a whole 25 days.

It’s this word that remembers the waiting, the inevitable coming true–to the tune of millennia, generations upon generations “that mourn[ed] in lonely exile here.”

advent waiting

When Your Season Feels Off

Maybe, looking at where you hoped to be, everything seems…off. That promises or hope, if advent were real at all, would be fulfilled by now.

To get married. Or be able to start filling applications rather than taking care of aging parents or changing diapers. To be done raising financial support. Or go overseas when the borders open. To have ministry that feels like it’s worth the career and family and comfort and validation you’ve given up.

Maybe it feels like you’re on the wrong side of a three-legged race. Something’s dragging. You’re lurching. Everyone else seems to fluidly gallop ahead, while you’re stuck with a mouthful of turf.

This is not the life I pictured.

advent waiting

How Waiting Changes Us

I have become a different woman as God changes me in the muscular, faith-filled waiting: for the months-long process of appealing our denied work visa. To go overseas, when the man I married wasn’t feeling led that direction. For a child making decisions that seized my heart with fear. For God to restore a sense of purpose after we returned from Africa.

In those times, it has felt easier to do anything, really, rather than be still, my soul; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. 

I think of Abraham, waiting twenty years after God’s promise for a son. He even tried to rush it a bit. So I must include one of my favorite truisms a la Peter Scazzero:

I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.

Who will I become in the waiting?

French activist and philosopher Simone Weil’s wrote on some of the ways affliction–and, I would offer, waiting–changes us. It’s our decision how we respond to these wearying side effects of waiting.

  • Isolation. “No one understands this. I can’t turn to anyone.”
  • “Implosion”. This looks like self-absorption as we seek to stop the pain.
  • Hopelessness/condemnation. Weil writes, “Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron it stamps the soul to its very depth with the scorn, disgust, even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not.”
  • Anger, directed at various targets.
  • Temptation. Pastor and author Timothy Keller notes, “We become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with ours discomfort, content with our discontent…It can make you feel noble, and the self-pity can be sweet and addicting.”*

Redefining Faithfulness and Success

And two friends reminded me gently during those hot, heavy months on my soul and body–my own mini-advent–What if we redefine success to mean “faithfulness”? Sure, God wants us to get excited about results, too. Purpose is part of his perfect design.

But don’t forget the “fruit”, in His eyes, starts long before what we see.

You will arrive at precisely the time God has ordained–for the good works he’s created for you to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [every person’s] dwelling place”. If your Plan A has gone unfulfilled, that fulfillment would actually go against God’s design. Over 100 verses speak of his precise timing.

Could this waiting be a form of God’s mercy? Is someone being primed for the perfect opportunity to receive the Gospel? Are you being protected or perfectly prepared?

Verses to Hold On To in your personal advent

With this in mind, we’ve got a download of the four verse graphics in this post–printable here–for memorization and meditation in this season of Advent, of waiting.

PRINT THEM ALL HERE.

One morning, I stirred in the early hours to a rushing sound outside of my flung-open windows; a deep rumbling had brought at least one child toting pillows and blankets to the floor around our bed.

And yes! Pouring rain grayed the sunrise sluicing down the sidewalk. I pulled the sheets taut around my shoulders.

The next day, I addressed my new class of refugees. Somewhere, amidst the raised hands and laughter, I thought, I can’t believe I get to do this job. I felt the term’s potential ripening in my hands, sweet and red.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for this Christmas. I’ve got a feeling it’s for something more weighty than hooves on a rooftop. But let me assure you: Those who wait on him aren’t ever–ever–put to shame.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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“Have I Ever Failed You?”

 

 

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.

As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.

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.)

Like this post? You might like

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.