In my time as a support coach, I have yet to see a ministry worker not make it to the field because they were unable to raise their budget as fully funded missionaries. I’ve seen people not go to the field because they got engaged, accepted a different job, or had medical issues—but it has yet to be money that has kept someone from going to the ministry they felt called to.read more
In our efforts at Go. Serve. Love to help you look overseas with eyes wide open, we actually like posting your “wish someone had told me about missions” stories. They help the rest of us, y’know, adjust expectations and avoid our own train wrecks.
Today we’re posting from one of our partners, the all-new Mission App–which allows you to search and apply to 30 agencies with one app, and one application. read more
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.
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.
There’s a lot of beautiful mystery in the story of the magi.
I picture camel hooves sponging a desert floor, heavy treasures banging in woven luggage, men wrapped from the sting of the sand.
We’re not told who these “wise men” are or the stories that compelled them to follow a celestial sign, an ancient prophecy.
But in their story, I see a bit of yours.
I wonder what their communities said. These men saddled up, following a star to a place unknown, or made costly (to the point of being weird) personal sacrifices for an unseen king.
Did one of them got sick? Did all of them get tired? Perhaps they wondered about their own sanity and dragging other people with them.
I wonder if there was loss along the way.
I speculate about whether they doubted their interpretation of what they’d read in Scripture, coupled with the alignment of other signs. Would they get there and wish they’d never come?
In hindsight, moments stood out where they were wrong; deceived (say, by an egomaniac king).
Maybe there were moments, when it was all said and done, when they heard of the devastation following their visit and wondered if they could have acted differently, more…wisely.
(Did word of the infanticide ever reach them? Did they realize the ways they’d done things without knowing, and wonder if they’d made the right choice to go?)
Though I’m certainly not justifying infanticide or any other outcomes: We see in the story of the wise men a courageous faith, a persevering journey, so Christ would be worshipped as much as they were able.
So they could bring the finest gifts they could, for honor he deserved.
“We Have Come to Worship Him”
Packing up to head home, none of them was asking, “Was that really worth it?”
Here’s what we do know. They represented the first worship of the Gentiles, with great sacrifice and adoration.
Their obedience and perseverance in a curious journey meant Christ was worshiped as he should be. (Remember John Piper? “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”)
That baby had a way of leaving an impression on people. I think of the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).
Because the path to worship this baby changed people. They came away feeling like the lucky dogs.
As you perhaps say some goodbyes this Christmas and wonder about a path and even a possible desert before you, may you take heart. Your act of worship is sacred, beautiful, and endlessly worth what it asks of you.
I recently spoke with a friend as she prepared for our church’s Fall Festival on October 31. They’re headed to India next year. They sent me the cutest photo of their family dressed up as Batman, Batwoman, and cherubic ittle Bat-kids.
I asked if that night’s festival might be hard. The “lasts”, you see, have begun.
It wasn’t, for her. But Christmas with extended family is coming. And while it is deeply good to grieve all the little lasts–last time decorating the tree, last time at the community Christmas parade, last time with Christmas morning in the house our kids have grown up in?
Goodbyes still stink.
Beautiful “Nexts”, and a Lifestyle of “Lasts”
It wasn’t till my own family was near departure for Africa that my mom reminded me we are moving toward something–some beautiful “nexts”.
But for my family? It’s just “lasts.”
It hit me one night in my mom’s living room, my eight-month-old nephew grinning up at me in his diaper. I wouldn’t get to see him grow up except in home-assignment increments and fuzzy Skyped details.
Turns out the “lasts” when we left for Africa the first time would continue into a lifestyle full of goodbyes. Missionary life is transitory.
We watched so many friends leave. My kids would have last playdates, last hugs, last goodbyes at a party where we tried to be excited about friends’ next steps.
What Mourning Says about Your Goodbyes
Years later, I would watch my children cry as, through glass, they watched their grandparents plod through security for another flight back to to the States. But as my husband and I held them, he spoke wisely. “People always told me not to cry. But I want you to cry. Your crying means what you’re losing is valuable.”
Sometimes in our goodbyes, we’re wondering who will pick up the mantle. We’re discouraged and fearful about the future.
But rather than speed ahead with a chipper “God is good! Nothing to worry about here!”, it’s critical we take the “blessed” time to mourn, time to acknowledge and grieve loss.
God grieves, too
God, too, grieves. He knows things aren’t right here; that the Gospel requires heartbreaking sacrifice. That, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing resurrection is around the corner, it’s still worthy of weeping over loss.
The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of
the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ.
Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms.*
Lament is a biblical norm, practiced even by Jesus on the Cross. Yet sometimes as Western Christians we want to race past the uncomfortable sadness, our “Cross”, and rush to the Resurrection.
Biblically, there is a sad, frighteningly unresolved Saturday in between. It’s when we are simply trusting God always gives more than He asks of us.
Lamenting the Lasts
As you grapple with fear and sizeable unknowns, keep in mind the Bible’s no stranger to lament.
In fact, as you grieve your own losses, Paul implies we might just acquire another invaluable skill for the field: The ability to comfort others well (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
Acknowledge this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. Recognize who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.
This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”
Beg God for action and response.
Expression of trust.
Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To quote Tim Keller on this:
…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” **
As Graham Cooke writes,
Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life…
God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. ***
The Overpowering Beauty
As you grieve the goodbyes and lasts, tiny or massive–like Paul (arguably one of the greatest missionaries), it’s the overwhelming gain that helps us muscle through loss:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Jesus, too, set His sights on the joy set before Him as He endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).
In your painful “lasts” this holiday season, may God’s overwhelming gains eventually spur you on to the blindingly bright “nexts” in your future.
*Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.
**Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Wondering what kind of character essentials should be “packed”, so to speak, before heading overseas? Well–let’s look at what you’ll need to leave behind.
Character Potholes that can keep you on the shoulder
Hopefully this one’s a bit of a gimme if you’ve already traveled overseas. Friends of mine used to joke about “Africa Wins Again” days–when a rat eats the special food you brought from home. The electricity’s been out for three days. And the government accidentally shuts off your cell phone.
It’s helpful for me to think of going overseas like skiing moguls: Keep your knees loose, not locked. If you like specific ways of doing things, missionary life might just eat your lunch–and even faster than everyone else’s. (Check out My Story: Culture Shock, Mayonnaise, and the Last Straw).
To go overseas takes some take-charge character: You’re raising support, navigating a new city, muscling through foods you’d rather leave looking at you on the plate.
More important, you’re saying, “Here am I! Send me!” Picture a missional Rosie the Riveter: We can do it!
If you don’t have that can-do character, you’ll tank.
But my 10-year-old bragged the other day about “making someone a Christian.” I stuck my head into his Bible study with friends: “Um, Son. Only God does that.”
You may have heard the old song, “Rescue the perishing; care for the dying.” We are only the rescuers only because we are the rescued. If we come in with a Savior complex, we’ve got serious issues.
Essentially, our job as missionaries is still to work ourselves out of a job: for nationals to take the helm and lead their people well. Because redeemed Asians will naturally know best how to reach Asians; because redeemed Africans should guide the African church.
It’s one of the reasons to learn a people’s language, even if they speak English. You can take on the posture of a learner, rather than lofty teacher–both in your eyes, and their own. Every person on the social ladder now has something to teach you. And you have a way to laugh at yourself.
To be an effective global worker is to be an effective learner and listener. Because one of the most important characteristics for any missionary is humility. I have often found it in the best missionaries.
We must spend time studying, learning, and loving long before we spend time sermonizing.
Living overseas is filled with lots of weird moments. You’ll forget that as a woman you shouldn’t touch men in the Middle East, or that in East Africa you don’t step over someone’s outstretched legs.
Or vice versa: Someone will say something that sounds an awful lot like an insult (“You are fat, madam!”). Maybe they’ll scorn you because of your skin color. Or make catcalls that make you feel like a jogging piece of meat.
Then there are the moments with tired, stressed expat staff.
Sometimes you will want to push them out of a window (into the bushes only, of course). You will sometimes feel you are constantly living in the stressed version of yourself–the one where your frontal lobe is so exhausted that your emotional control is paper-thin.
We need rhino-thick skin with the same petal-soft hearts inside. Build resilience of character for the sake of the kingdom. Develop the brand of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); that finds glory in overlooking an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely.”
The temptation to revel in martyrdom seems magnetic in a world where sacrifice and small griefs are around every corner. (Sometimes they’re in the form of stubbing your toe on yet another uneven “sidewalk” or set of stairs, or a laundry trip that sucks up an entire day.)
Character-wise, you’ll be in the interesting place of trying to be completely honest about what’s going on inside of you, without complaining about it. (Careful: Expat gatherings can double as whine-and-cheese parties.)
So yes, pay attention to the “dashboard lights” of your emotions.Don’t opt for dishonesty in your own heart. Mourn what is wrong about this world and what you’ve lost. Part of true character is “truth in the inward being”, in which God delights (Psalm 51:6).
But grieve alongside of God, welcoming him into your frustration rather than turning to bitter blame. Cry with open-handedness toward God–“Not my will, but Yours”–rather than entitlement. (Check out the difference here.)
Sure. You’ll often need other ingredients. But if any of these are missing? Chances of your business and its mission succeeding become a lot more remote.
It’s uncanny how often this is overlooked. But if an entrepreneur doesn’t have a product (either a good or a service or both) that people will pay for at a price that will sustain the venture and the entrepreneur, there is no business, and the effort to create one will fail.
We’ve come alongside some great people, with incredible gifts and great hearts, who didn’t have a product. They therefore were never able to create a sustainable business.
There’s a lot you can do and steps you can take to determine if you have a viable product (check out a few ideas here–and MDE is eager to help, if you’d like to contact us at email@example.com).
It’s essential to figure out product viability as soon as possible. Without a great product, your business–and then your ministry–could bite it.
It’s easy to fall into the line of thinking, As long as I’m passionate about ministry, I could be happy selling clothespins.
I’m passionate for Jesus! Who cares if I’m passionate about the business itself?
But if you don’t value the product you’re selling? Don’t value delivering that product to the community with excellence? Your business will reflect that level of interest. (Or lack thereof.)
This key is often missing when a BAM-er feels strongly about presently the gospel effectively to as many as possible, but doesn’t have a passion to deliver a great product effectively to as many as possible.
When it comes down to a struggle, the business end will likely fail…but since that’s your avenue, the ministry will swirl down the drain as well.
So a strong commitment to both is essential. As the struggles come (and they will!), only a strong commitment to, and belief in, the value of the business and its product will get the entrepreneur through them.
The other key to getting through those struggles? Pure grit.
Being able to grind through hardships, to persist in moving the business forward despite opposition, to continually seek a way to improve and grow and learn, to keep getting up after getting knocked down, is critical.
Some would argue this is the only key ingredient; that ingredients 1 and 2 follow from this one. They have valid point.
God is sovereign and can do what he wants with your business. But usually, he allows us to experience weeds in our garden.
He allows trials to come our way. He tells us we are to consider it pure joy when this happens and to persevere through the testing of our faith.
It’s not easy, but being tenacious in our trust and in our obedience to do what God calls us to do–both in life and especially in launching a business.
At some point the entrepreneur needs to quit dreaming and go to work. Do you have what it takes to go beyond planning, and execute your launch plan?
The planning, the refining–they don’t stop here. But you’ll have to like to get the job done.
Wondering if you have what it takes?
We’ve created an assessment to help you figure it out. Ready to think out of the box about missions?
Don’t miss our other recent posts about marketplace missions!
During the month of August, Go. Serve. Love is stoked to share stories from All Nations, a global training and sending agency.
All Nation’s vision is to see Jesus worshiped by all the peoples of the earth. Their mission? To make disciples and train leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples of the earth.
All Nations International serves 4 training and sending hubs: Kansas City, Missouri; CapeTown, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda, and Hamburg, Germany.
They would love to see people of every ethnicity trained and mobilized from their region of the world to be goers and senders of the Gospel.
It’s Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. I wake up, mental to-do list scrolling Today is laundry day.
We’ve recently moved into our third apartment since being in the country for a couple of months. And there is yet another new laundry system to learn. This morning is my time slot on the shared laundry room schedule.
Realization dawns along with the light in my window: I’m out of laundry detergent.
The plan for the day has been derailed. I may or may not be thinking un-missionary-like thoughts about this.
The new plan will involve getting my 2 children under 3 ready and strapped in the stroller at an opportune moment between nap times and mealtimes. I will shovel us into the elevator for the a mile round trip to the store.
I deliberately choose the store where I’ve bought detergent before so I don’t have to search the brands, translate labels and convert the price. We enter our building in a convoluted route through approximately 12 doors in order to avoid shoving the children-and-grocery-laden stroller up a steep ramp. I schedule a new laundry time.
The laundry sign-up system.
Now we’re back to where we started when I woke up.
I start to think that I never ran out of detergent back home in Iowa, where required steps involved opening my laptop and clicking. I was always ready to do the laundry.