When You Won’t Be Home for the Holidays

Reading Time: 4 minutes

home for the holidays

It was December 24th, but I was the only person out shopping that night thinking about stocking stuffers. I ran down to purchase a few last-minute items, missing my extended family and the unintended tradition of wrapping gifts in a crazy flurry on Christmas Eve.

It wasn’t Christmas Eve for most of the people in Egypt. I was one more person out shopping on a normal night. I was homesick and worried I wouldn’t be able to make the holiday special for my family. read more

Finding My Place in the (New, Again) Space

Reading Time: 5 minutes

finding my place

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Rebecca Hopkins’ blog, Borneo Wife, when she and her husband served in Indonesia. Her pieces have appeared in Christianity Today and A Life Overseas. She currently blogs from her new American home at rebeccahopkins.org.

I walked past the stack of empty, folded boxes on my front porch, out the gate onto my quiet street, tried not to think about how much was left to unpack. read more

How to jump in cross-culturally (without drowning)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

jump in cross-culturallyWhen my kids were learning to swim, they loved the thrill of jumping from the edge of the pool into my waiting arms.

I cautioned them over and over that they should make sure I knew they were jumping before plunging in. If I wasn’t ready, they would go under.

Inevitably that would happen at least once with each child. I would always manage to grab them before the situation turned remotely serious, but they did not enjoy the surprise of floundering on their own. read more

When You’re Scared of Moving Your Family Overseas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

scared of moving overseas

Recently, someone asked me about our move to Uganda. Did we have all our kids over there? they wondered.

“No, we moved over when our youngest”–of our four kids–“was two.”

“Oh. …Wow.”

Even just that little exclamation was somehow validating.

As in, maybe I wasn’t imagining the tsunami of stress of carting four kids under seven to Africa. Maybe it would have been a bit of an overwhelming endeavor for other people, too. Maybe other people would be scared of moving overseas, taking this show on the road.

“You realize you’re on the crazy train, right?”

I recall retrieving some medicine from the pharmacy; yes, in the middle of that hurricane, my kindergartener had been diagnosed with ADHD.

My kids were bouncing up and down like little pogo sticks. “We’re moving to Uganda!” one of them brightly announced to the pharmacist.

The tidy Caucasian woman, tucked in her clean little booth where everything could be counted and qualified, maybe thought something like, What a nice story. Where did you hear about that place? Isn’t that in South America?

So I offered a lopsided grin. “Yeah, they’re telling the truth. We’re moving overseas. We’re headed to Africa.”

She looked at me, then the kids currently using me as a maypole. Her eyebrows lifted.

“Are y’all nuts?”

Good grief. I didn’t even have all my kids with me.

During that season, my hairstylist–in one of those moments where I surrendered to the fact my hair would never be cut unless I actually scheduled it–noticed my hair was falling out. “Are you under some stress?” she blinked politely.

How does one even answer that?

I mean, how many spreadsheets were we corralling, organizing our tasks for departure? How many support appointments had we held? How many versions of passport photos had we taken? I do know we didn’t have to sell our minivan, because it had been totaled not once, but twice, from people hitting us during that time period.

“Stress” didn’t even begin to cover it, people.

And that was less than the sheer fear I was stepping over–for my kids’ lives, for the dangers of malaria, for wondering if yes, we should really quit our jobs and move to the developing world.

No place like…

But yesterday evening, my 15-year-old daughter and I sat on the sofa here in Colorado, five years after we’ve returned to this place. She was four during that trip to the pharmacy. We now look out the window onto pines rather than palms, balsams rather than bananas.

Because my husband now works in upper-level management for that same missions organization (Engineering Ministries International), he was recently asked to return to our Uganda office for a trip.

My daughter was reflecting that so many of the items she’d brought back were for herself as a child–and she wondered if her dad would pick up a few things she could hold onto as an adult.

“I miss the smell,” she said. And then the tears started to roll for both of us as we recounted how we missed the bougainvillea in the backyard, the scritch of stick brooms on the sidewalk, the orange sweetness of mangoes dripping from our chins.

She used to chew the basil from the huge plant outside our door, pretending it was tobacco, she laughed. I missed the Friday afternoons with other homeschoolers, and the sweaty Thursdays at the refugee center, laughing with students. I missed the cool of the tile beneath our feet and the calm pace of mornings as sunlight broke, the sounds of livestock spilling over the compound walls. She spoke thoughtfully of the trips to the corner grocery store where everyone knew her name.

I say this to tell you that, if your experience is anything like mine, your fear may morph over time. Perhaps you’ll learn, as I did, that diseases can largely be anticipated and treated if you know what to look for. You’ll learn how to drive in the heart-clenching traffic, say, but learn to fear something else.

But if God is beckoning you overseas, he’s also drawing you to a home–a new tent here on planet earth.

WHEN YOU’RE SCARED OF MOVING OVERSEAS: REMEMBER Your Someday

And by nature–demonstrated by the Cross and the Resurrection–he always gives more than he takes.

Someday, perhaps you’ll find yourself grieving the loss of this place you legitimately feared.

(Maybe it’s a bit like a good marriage in that way: Saying your vows may find you on the edge of terror. But perhaps the older version of you wishes you could tap that kid on the shoulder: Yes, this is going to be tougher than you thought.

But don’t worry. This is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Like, ever.)

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Marketplace missions: 4.13 billion reasons to consider

Reading Time: 3 minutes

marketplace missions

Go. Serve. Love’s always pretty hyped to share marketplace-missions-related stories and thoughts from Marketplace & Development Enterprises, an organization providing business, vocational, missional, and personal services to fellow believers who want to make money and make disciples in unreached communities. So we’re pulling this important post from our archives today.

In light of the 4.13 billion unreached–and the need for the solution of an equal size-MDE is looking for Christians who want to be in the workplace, either as employees or entrepreneurs, and who truly want to be intentional about developing authentic relationships.

They’re looking for a few good men (and women! to take both the presence and the message of Jesus to co-workers and neighbors.

By Mark Canada, CEO, MDE

We’ve spent some time weaving through some of the myths around marketplace missions (or Business as Missions/BAM), tossed up like misplaced traffic cones. We’re talking ideas like “Missions” is for missionaries” or “BAM takes away from ‘ministry'” or “reaching the unreached takes me to places my mom will be afraid I’ll get shot.”

But what about the reasons to go?

Why Marketplace Missions/BAM/B4T?

Because of the billions.

The need is too great, the urgency too strong, for “traditional” missions as the sole method.

We need a solution as sizeable as that 4.13 billion. If we are to engage the unreached billions, marketplace believers must play a part. As the Church, we must empower and send out more than “full-time missionaries” to vast fields.

Supply.

As a corollary to the first reason: God’s called more believers to work in the marketplace than in full-time ministry. There are significantly more marketplace believers than full-time ministry folks.

All believers, including those in marketplace missions, are called to make disciples. We need to tap into this larger group to make disciples in unreached communities.

Access.

Marketplace workers have greater access to more unreached communities than traditional missionaries due to governmental and cultural restrictions. Countries welcome jobs and healthy economies more than Christianity.

marketplace missions

Relationship development.

People are generally more open to listening to the gospel presented by individuals with whom they have an affinity and relationship. And those relationships may develop faster and deeper through the natural connections made in the marketplace.

Most traditional missionaries would kill for the opportunities with which marketplace missions gains access into lives.

Daily discipleship.

Missionaries strive to be incarnational–and by that, I mean as Jesus “dwelled among us” (John 1:14)–for Jesus, as a carpenter for over two decades. As we make disciples, we long to train people how to do their lives as transformed Christ-followers.

That incarnational ministry can be difficult when means of support comes from donations of others. Full-time ministry, paid for by someone else, is not an option for most who become Christians.

Marketplace missions is.

Marketplace people are that much closer to and better understood by nationals. An unbeliever can see what it looks like to be a normal marketplace person and a disciple of Jesus.

 

Finances.

School debt and diminishing funds targeted for missions require alternatives to traditional missions funding methods. Marketplace workers are generally able to engage in ministry and retire educational debt sooner than “traditional” mission workers.

This is especially true in developing countries where the church wants to send out workers but can’t use the U.S. model of financing missionaries. The bi-vocational method of marketplace missions is the only viable option for them.

Have we convinced you to check it out yet–and maybe even forward to a friend?

Try our FREE self-assessment to see if

marketplace missions could be a good fit for you.

 

What happens if overseas = failure?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

failure

Thursdays were my day.

I’d scoop up the hodgepodge of visual aids I’d amassed for my classes, grab the projector (and pray for electricity), make sure my kids had what they needed for homeschool and the sitter had a dinner plan.

Then I’d pull out in our high-clearance minivan, lurching through traffic toward the refugee center.

Half of the students were Muslim. I was a once-a-week Bible teacher, using Old Testament storytelling to weave a thread of redemption, all the way to the Gospel presentation at the end of the semester. Lunchtime, I hung out with the teachers or led a devotional.

It was the wring-me-out highlight of the week.

This feels like it might be failure

After classes, I picked up groceries for the week, throwing my weight behind the cart for our family of six up and down the ramps and parking lot.

Then I’d sit in a coffee shop with a personal pot of chai wa maata tangawuzi ne mubisi gwandukyi–African ginger tea with honey I drizzled in, dazed, the remnants of sweat salting my skin, wondering again if natural deodorant was really a feasible option in this country.

This week I steeped a pot of ginger tea in my American kitchen and remembered how much I associated that pot of tea with relief from the day.

But I also remember the questions piping through my brain’s haze as I stared through the steam.

Is any of this working? Is it valuable?

We ended at a weird point in the lesson today. How will that sink in?

I could sleep for days on this cafe table. Am I even effective, for all this costs me and my family?

Because–like a packet of flower seeds–no matter what you anticipate moving overseas, nothing matches the picture you thought you were buying into.

And so often, those lack of results whiff of failure.

What does failure mean?

Failure, even possible failure flays open my skin, unveiling raw questions inside. Questions like, What does this say about me? Or, Why didn’t God show up? 

Or maybe, What do I do now?

I see great people in the Bible wrangling these same questions.

I see Elijah, alone in a cave. And John the Baptist—the one who first identified “The Lamb of God!”—rotting in a stinking cell, with a telling message for Jesus: Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?

In his book The J-Curve, Paul Miller points out that our response to “failure”–which I feel I should put in quotes due to what we can’t see God doing–can sometimes be due to self-righteousness.

Our identity, our sense of worth, can be bound up in what we do, rather than what Jesus has done for us. 

Memos To MYSELF in the Midst of Possible Failure

Remember the garden.

Not the one in the beginning (Eden); the one in the end (Gethsemane).

Remember that Jesus had an “unanswered” prayer, one He prayed so hard, He sweat blood.

Keep in mind how important it was He didn’t get a “yes.”

Remember the hiding.

Just 24 hours after the Garden, His disciples were cowering behind locked doors, shaken and haunted. For three years they’d recklessly placed all of their eggs in this basket, and now–?

Remember that sometimes what looks like smashing failure is ultimately stunning victory. 

Remember God makes beautiful things out of dust. And failure.

Whether it’s a prodigal child, a drowning business venture, or even a capsized marriage, no matter our level of responsibility, what people intend for evil, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20).

This does not mean evil is not evil, or that bad is good: Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ grave, for the loss and travesty of this death, even though He knows God will create a miracle in minutes.

Remember courage.

Imagine Peter’s ecstasy, defying the laws of nature and gliding on water. Imagine not only the physical choking and sputtering and dread as he began to drown—but also the emotional reality that his faith had overturned; he wasn’t enough.

Still now, two thousand years later, we speak only of Peter as the one with enough hutzpah to get out of the boat.

Would it have been better if he hadn’t?

Would it be better if we didn’t hope God would show up big-time? If we had reasonably-sized, well-contained hopes?

Remember the mourning.

Maybe you will flirt with failure in part because of someone’s hard-heartedness; because the forces in this world were stronger.

Looking at Scripture, it seems God sometimes simply asks for us to witness what is not right in this world, and to participate with Him in lament.

Sometimes our memory of Eden is powerful.

I wonder if sometimes we’re not just given a glimpse into why this place is temporary; why it is passing away; why this place and this body and this fallen version of me is not forever.

Sometimes failure, I think, can shape a mental sticky note to me: You are not. But He is.

When you mourn with God, you are blessed. And you will be comforted.

Remember how many great things begin as seeds.

When I happily crack open the soil to plant new perennials, I am reminded of God’s script for most of nature.

Just wait.

As I watch my still-runty peonies from the window, I recall the gardening handbook credo: first year, sleep; second year, creep; third year, leap.

Often, I earmark a project “failed” that’s only in its “sleep” phase. I mis-christen waiting as failure.

Somehow my microwaved, instant-access, 75 mph world has transformed my notions of success, shoving aside this world of seeds and seasons and imperceptible growth.

What if we redefine success as “faithfulness”?

Sure, God wants us to get excited about results, too. He’s designed purposes for us. But don’t forget the “fruit”, in His eyes, starts long before what we see.

Remember the promise.

Hope, joy, and peace I’m looking to gain from fulfilling my dreams are often ill-placed.

Failure sometimes exposes places I’ve been looking to which can only be truly filled by God.

Tim Keller writes,

I think…most of us aren’t able to recognize our soul-thirst for what it is. As long as you think there is a pretty good chance that you will achieve some of your dreams, as long as you think you have a shot at success, you experience your inner emptiness as “drive” and your anxiety as “hope”…

Most of us keep telling ourselves that the reason we remain unfulfilled is because we simply haven’t been able to achieve our goals.

Our desires for lasting fulfillment and significance—for real, unvarnished glory—are twisted into our DNA by God.

Yet my best investments are in doing what He says even when I don’t get the why or the how or the when.

It’s the equivalent of filling up jars with water at a wedding, or finding a donkey, or letting down my net on the other side of the boat.

Think Jesus’ words: My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me (John 4:34).

Remember the glory.

This quote from C.S. Lewis changed my life:

Nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

…. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely … the promise of glory … becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

Crouching in the waiting or the failure or whatever it is, hang your hat on that accolade that’s the one you’ve craved all my life. The one that carves your identity, or should.

Your Failure is Never Failure

The Cross lassoes even our failures, hijacking them for God’s purposes.

So someday in the future when you stare through the steam of your own questions, remember that failure’s not all you think it is.

And like the Cross, it may just be a door to breathtaking resurrection.

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, and speaker, as well as the 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. Janel also frequently writes and speaks to missionary women through Thrive Ministry.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

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What to Expect When You’re Ex-pat-ing

What keeps you going?” The successes we remember

 

Project: Interview a Missionary

Reading Time: 3 minutes

interview a missionary

When we chat here at Go. Serve. Love about the kind of information and stories we want to tell you, the idea has always been the feel of a virtual cup of coffee with a knowledgeable, thoughtful global worker.

What would they tell you? And what questions would you ask?

Because creating networks of people around you who get this vision, this passion, this rabbit hole into which you might soon be descending–is part of connecting yourself with the Body of Christ. Of being sent well.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

So this week, we’re challenging you: Take the initiative to interview a missionary around you–someone who lived overseas in the past, or who’s visiting on home assignment.

Start with questions like these. (This might be more than one cup of coffee’s worth.) Consider sending them the questions beforehand–and also paying for their coffee, of course.

As you listen, thank and affirm them for ways they’ve served God. Look for themes in their story, and reflect what you’re hearing. Tell them what’s helpful from what they’re saying.

Interview a Missionary: The Questions

Before you went

  1. What compelled you to go overseas?
  2. How did your reasons for going morph or change–to become the reasons you stayed?
  3. What was part of the cost you knew you’d have to count? Was there part of the cost you can tell me about that you didn’t expect?
  4. What do you wish you’d known before you went?

Arriving

  1. Describe your first few months overseas.
  2. What were the biggest adjustments? What was plain hard?
  3. Tell me was different from what you expected.
  4. What was exhilarating and life-changing?
  5. What would you have done differently?
  6. Describe a typical day for you.
  7. What did you miss most about your passport country?

Being There

  1. Tell me about one of your closest friendships overseas. And do you have any advice for building community?
  2. Where you served, what was the greatest spiritual need, in your opinion? What did that look like?
  3. What were a few of your most meaningful moments or seasons there?
  4. As you feel comfortable, tell me about one of your hardest times overseas. Is there anything you wish you could have told yourself?
  5. What were some of the aspects you enjoyed most?
  6. Describe what you most appreciate(d) about your host culture. What was hardest to understand or stomach?
  7. How did you care for your own soul overseas? (Any recommendations for keeping healthy rhythms of rest and renewal?)
  8. May I ask about what it was like working with your team–and recommendations you’d have to help me function well on a team?
  9. Any tips on thriving as a single overseas? / Any tips on helping a family thrive overseas? 

Coming Back

  1. What did you love, and not-so-much, about home assignments? Got ideas to help do home assignment well?
  2. What transitions were hardest for you, either overseas or when you came back?
  3. What’s the most common misperception of you or your realities by people in your passport country or sending church(es)?
  4. How are you different from when you first left to go overseas? How do you view the world differently?
  5. What do you wish you could explain about your time overseas?

Did you interview a missionary? Tell us about it!

What wisdom could you share?

Comment below with their insights and “aha” moments!

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, and speaker, as well as the 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. Janel also frequently writes and speaks to missionary women through Thrive Ministry.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

 

“Live Like a Local”: What’s it Look Like to You?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

live like a local

photo courtesy IMB.org

You are moving to a new country, and want to fit in. You want to learn the ropes and know how to live like a local.

How do you know if you’ve made it? What criteria do you set to really live like a local?

There is a grocery store in our neighborhood that is a distinctly local grocery store.

Locals shop there because they can find the best prices at this store. It is well known in this part of town.

However, it is not an easy shopping experience.

The aisles are narrow. The men are always stocking the shelves while you try to shop. The carts don’t move well and barely fit in some areas. There is always a crowd at the deli counter.

Shopping at this grocery store was my criteria for my ability to live like a local.

Not There Yet

I didn’t want to stand out like a rich American who didn’t want anything Egyptian. It felt important to push myself to live in a way that showed I was really living here, not trying to be a stuck-up expat.

I would go early in the morning before the crowds. I would get what I absolutely needed because I had to carry it home in my two hands. My preschooler tagged along most of the time.

I did not enjoy shopping there, but I could do it because I was really and truly living here.

One day I told one of my friends about shopping at this store. She is an Egyptian and grew up here, then moved to America for several years for graduate work.

She looked at me a bit bewildered that I would shop there.

I confessed that I was stressed shopping there but I was able to do it. She said that shopping there stressed everyone out.

“Oh, really?” I was amazed. I figured it was just me because I wasn’t Egyptian enough yet.

“Yes, really,” she assured me. “And I don’t think you need to shop there. Your sanity is worth whatever small increase in price it is to shop at a better store.”

When My “Live Like a Local” Criteria are Off

My criteria were off, I realized.

I didn’t need to love shopping at this local place to prove that I had adjusted well to living in Cairo. I was free to shop there or not shop there.

Sometimes with good intentions, we can set these expectations for ourselves that we think will make us live like a local. We think this way of living will earn us more respect or make us seem better adjusted.

There are important shifts we need to make when we enter a new culture and a new location. But we need to focus on the main cultural taboos, not the side details.

What Matters

We need to focus on the things that would create barriers to sharing truth and a message of hope. We need to focus on the things that would cause others to misunderstand our intentions.

For example, how I dress and how I speak to and about my husband in public are more important issues than where I buy my groceries.

There is grace for buying my chicken at the grocery store rather than the local butcher. There will be barriers if I seem like a woman who disrespects her husband.

When we enter a new culture, we learn a new way to walk. Our compass needs to be what will help us love our neighbors well and share good news well.

The criteria does not need to be what will make us look like we have “arrived” as an expat who became local.

Recognizing that Egyptians also felt stressed at that grocery store freed me up to use my energy elsewhere. I’m not maladjusted because I don’t shop there.

I’m doing the work of loving my neighbors, learning to live intentionally however I can. I do it in freedom out of love for the Savior who set me free and offers freedom to a lost and hurting world.

Love your neighbors. Don’t worry about the groceries.

 

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here–and don’t miss her post on Go. Serve. Love about what she wishes she would have known.

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A Field Full of Rakes: Truth for the Missionary-to-Be

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In my missionary training, an instructor told us entering a new culture was like walking across a field full of rakes. Every once in a while, I’d step on one wrong and it would smack me in the face.

I remember laughing about that image. 

But I was not laughing when I mixed up the word bottle and underwear (chupa vs. chupi). Or got lost in the city. I wasn’t laughing when I had my phone stolen. Or taught the wrong material. Or felt so lonely I was desperate to go home.

Those were the moments when crossing cultures was painful and hard, and I needed to know that God saw me and loved me just as I was. 

I wanted to hear,

I see you.

You’re struggling with hard things.

I see you doing the best you can.

You are seen.

Sometimes Being a Guest Stinks

Another part of my missionary training was a focus on being a guest in the host country.

Taking the posture of a guest includes being humble and accepting things as they are and realizing that you are dependent on them. I love that lesson and it is one that I returned to again and again during my time overseas. 

However, sometimes I got really darn tired of being a guest.

I wanted some ownership. I wanted some control. And I wanted to bend my surroundings to meet my needs.

Then I felt terribly guilty for all those entitled feelings. Those moments made being a guest feel like a curse.

I needed to know that God saw me and loved me just as I am. 

Where’d They Go?

One thing they should’ve covered in missionary training is how quickly your family and friends’ initial excitement for your journey will wear off.

I had such a wellspring of support when I left, but then it seemed like I was out of sight and out of mind.

Newsletters went unanswered, blog posts had no views, and I was lonely.

Those were the moments when moving away felt like disappearing, and I needed to know that God saw and loved me just as I am. 

I See You

The need to feel seen is not a modern phenomenon. In Genesis 16, God appears to Hagar as she is running away from a terrible situation. She is abused, abandoned, and alone.

God meets her in that place of pain and speaks words of hope over her life. 

Hagar “gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13). 

God’s presence doesn’t miraculously change Hagar’s circumstances, but it does give her the courage to face them. Knowing that God sees her and loves her transforms her life and changes her story. 

What Hits Me in the Forehead

And so it was with me: Knowing God was with me and for me gave me the courage to do big, scary, hard things.

And when I inevitably failed or faltered, His loving presence saved me from giving up.

See, rakes are useful for more than forehead-smacking. They’re great for cultivation, too.

God’s loving presence gave me the strength to endure stepping on rakes, humbling myself as a guest, and feeling forgotten. 

Like Hagar, no matter what you are going through right now, I want to remind you:

God sees you.

He sees you struggling with hard things.

God sees you doing the best you can.

You are seen, known, and loved more than you can imagine.

 

Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. Check out her free 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10)!