We had been living in Cairo about a year and a half when friends visited from Uganda. We ate at the mall food court when they asked how it has been meeting and making friends with Egyptians. I told them it’s been hard: Where do you meet people you can make friends with?
I mean, you don’t just make friends in the food court.read more
The accident with the motorcycle left me shaky, anxious, and worried.
Besides my husband, the person I wanted to talk with was my closest Egyptian friend. I wanted her to help me process through what I could have done differently, what I was supposed to do after, how I could ever drive again.read more
We get it. The journey to overseas missions can feel like you’re trying to build a plane midair. With a root beer can, scotch tape, and a plastic flower. On the hard days, it’s possible you need some unshakable truth as you head overseas.
So today we’ve cobbled together a free printable infographic with some truths to hang your hat on, even if some days it feels like an overlarge sombrero. Post this in a cupboard, on a bathroom mirror, or tucked in all those books you’re reading for your training.
And chew on God’s promises for you in this journey.
You can’t be serious! People don’t even know what Balaam’s donkey is.
That may be true. But I do.
So your favorite Bible character is…a donkey.
Well, I identify with him. And I sympathize with him. And I guess I hope with him.
See, like a donkey, I’m a worker. I love working. I love seeing something productive getting done.
But … I also realize, after all these years, that I am not the greatest, the best, the one with the most potential, the one who will accomplish the most. I’m not some great leader. God made me a manager; an administrator.
Which brings me to the amazing thing about Balaam’s donkey. He was just a donkey. I sympathize with that. But here’s the stunning part of it: God can speak through donkeys!
Isn’t that beyond belief?
That means there is hope for me! God can use me too.
I’ve quit trying to have the wittiest response, the most insightful answer, the commanding presence, the coolest look. Take me, or leave me, but I’m a “me”. A donkey.
And I am convinced that God can, and is, “speaking” through me.
Unimpressive. But Vital
Of course, people aren’t impressed by donkeys. But they are surprised that God can make a donkey talk. And they benefit from the piece God provides through me.
Balaam’s donkey saw things his brilliant leader couldn’t see. And he helped to “avoid” the impending disaster.
Of course, he was rewarded with a beating, but that’s sort of par for the course, too.
And my donkey friend made it into the Bible. Not bad for a day’s work. Along with the prostitute who poured perfume on Jesus feet. That shook a few folks up too.
Then he went back to trudging along with an overweight, money-hungry Balaam sitting on his back. The mundane. The common. Yes. But it needs to be done.
I wonder whether Balaam treated his donkey with a little more respect after that? Or was he nervous to be around a weird donkey?
The Lackluster Plow
Thinking of us missionaries, how many of us “oxen” have plowed fields around the world for years and rarely heard a word of appreciation? We’re often taken for granted.
But the God who created us remembers us. He even gave the oxen and friends a special shout-out in the (quite missional) Jonah 4:11:
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
Job and Abraham would have been nobodies without their animals. At least in the eyes of the world.
Balaam’s Donkey, and a (Braying) Message for Missions
If you’re feeling like your gifts or job description or position mean you’re negligible in the missions world–welcome, friend. You’re in good company. Know that we’ve never known the names of some of the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
From my own perspective? Allow me to speak, if you would: It’s not bad being “just” a donkey.
Editor’s note: If you’re wondering about your “small” life, consider camping out in 1 Corinthians 12 this week.
One benefit of my kids growing up overseas is their rich experience of another culture. My kids absorb elements of the adopted country in an organic way. They often see the world with a different perspective from someone–even an adult–who hasn’t left their home country.
I love that my kids have adopted certain aspects from Egypt: They have favorite Egyptian foods. They wash their hands after eating, and believe tissues are reasonable as napkins at the table. My kids know how to say “thank you” to mean “no” if they don’t want something being offered. I love that three of my kids write and speak some Arabic and understand even more.
But wait, you might say, why just “some Arabic?” Haven’t your kids been growing up in Egypt?
Shouldn’t they be picking up the language smoothly and effortlessly like the sponges that children are?
Yes, they are sponges when they are immersed in the language or culture full-time.
FLUENCY: The Picture vs. The Reality
The reality for us? We speak mostly English at home. We attend an English-speaking church. They attend an English-speaking international school.
When my children were younger they attended a preschool where they were the only non-Egyptians. We also attended a Sunday school program at a large Arabic church. We all learned church songs in Arabic and followed the Bible story.
During that season, the kids enjoyed the interactions and even saw friends from soccer-training at church. Through these interactions, they developed a foundation for Arabic and Egyptian culture.
But just as kids learn quickly, with skills only occasionally used, they also tend to forget quickly.
Now at my kids’ school, they take Arabic class four days per week. They are reading and writing Arabic. They are speaking and understanding more all the time.
And they are not at a place of fluency. Neither am I.
Not Good Enough?
While I would like for my kids to be confident about communicating with locals, our experience so far has not provided for them to regularly be immersed in the language to the point of fluency.
And in that, sometimes I hear the message that maybe I’m not doing a good enough job at this cross-cultural thing.
In fact, a friend was criticized by a new member of her team who arrived in the country one day…and criticized her the next day. He couldn’t believe her child hadn’t attained fluency.
Reader, let’s not judge our fellow workers.
Let’s offer grace and seek to understand the situation of those on the field before we share criticism or offer instruction.
My Kids = My Success?
We need to remember to see our children as people, not as a marker of how successful we are cross-culturally.
Maybe your situation does not require your children to learn another language. But it’s possible you had expectations (or others had expectations of you) that your children would be immersed in the culture, surrounded by local children, loving their third-culture-kid identity.
Maybe, due to their school options or where you live or what your family needs to do in order to be healthy, those relationships and that cultural identification hasn’t completely happened for your children.
Some children will love learning the language and love speaking with locals. Some will not.
They may dive head-first into the culture and enjoy making that part of their identity. They might not.
When it comes to our children, it’s important to give them the tools to thrive, the encouragement to keep trying, and the flexibility and grace to find their place.
FLUENCY: CHOOSING TO STRETCH THEM
Since I recognize that interactions with the language and locals will not just “magically” happen for my kids, I make certain choices when possible.
When given the opportunity to play tennis with an American coach or an Egyptian coach, I’ll choose the Egyptian Arabic-speaking coach for my kids. If possible, I will find Arabic tutoring for my kids during summer break so they continue to develop their language skills.
What choices do you have available to get your kids into the local culture and language? Can they
take group lessons–art, swimming, karate, science–with local kids they don’t meet at school?
attend a family retreat or camp?
participate in a church class for their age group?
play with a local adult who speaks the local language and teaches local songs?
This might require extra work from you, parents. This might require a bit of pushing to get your kids on board.
I don’t think we should push our kids toward fluency beyond what they can reasonably handle. But I do think we make efforts to let our kids experience their host country in a non-touristy, daily-life kind of way.
Why Our Kids’ Adaptation Matters–Beyond Our Egos
The more natural and enjoyable experiences our children have with their host country, the more opportunity for them to identify with parts of the culture.
This creates ownership of the culture that helps to make them an ambassador for the local people of your host culture–becoming a voice about what is good and valuable about a foreign culture, strange and unknown, to their passport culture.
Your kids learn in a more natural way how to relate to different people. Maybe they’ll be able to move through different cultures and become like them in order to save some.
The bottom line: We give our children the opportunity and encouragement (and sometimes a little push) to be involved in the culture and language, learning more about their host country.
And we don’t use our children’s language or cultural fluency as the marker for our own success. That’s a part of their story. Not our merit badge.
Editor’s note: Anyone serving overseas can relate to the truism of the post below: The life of an expatriate–missionary life included–is filled with farewells. “Goodbye” doesn’t just launch a life overseas. It defines part of this new, transitory existence.
My friend looks at me, her face stoic, almost nonchalant and it’s hard to know if I’m doing this right.
I should be better at this. How many times have I said “goodbye” over the years?
There were the zillions of moves I made as both a kid and an adult. And here in Indonesia, expats come and go and goodbyes are anticipated or very sudden. But they happen all the time.
I’m moving to another part of Indonesia in a few weeks. And I’m saying goodbye a lot like I’ve lived life here over the years—sitting on the floor of a friend’s house, bouncing back and forth between awkward small talk and serious heart stuff, my kids fighting for space on my lap, knocking over glasses of hot tea onto the wooden planked floor, a light morning rain tapping on the metal roof.
Throughout ten years of visits with friends, I always feel both totally out of my comfort zone and completely in my element.
I guess you could say the same thing about my relationship with moving. Somehow I feel very at home with packing up and starting over. And yet it also makes me feel lost every time I do it.
I wish I could say there is more “good” in all of my goodbyes here. But just like daily life here, they’re a bit messy, confusing, and almost always sweaty.
I go, intending to say the right word of thanks, and hope for some kind of satisfying closure, but usually, it feels like we’re being interrupted. Maybe the friend is in a crisis and I’m not really sure it’ll end up okay. Or I’m still learning how to love well in this culture, in my second language, and I’m pretty sure I’ve left behind a long list of misunderstandings and offenses.
Then I wonder about the stoicism I see. Does the goodbye matter? Do I?
I bet I look stoic sometimes, too. But really, I’m distracted…by my kids hiding in my shoulder so they don’t have their picture taken again, by the sound of the mosque’s call to prayer, or by my own desire to just have this goodbye over with so I can go home and hide, too.
Sometimes I get a text later with more honest feelings and that should feel better. But that just makes me feel sad, too.
That “Lost” Period
I know it’s going to be okay. The next place is exciting and the people are great and the work there is amazing and I need to just get there and move forward and grow roots and a bunch of other cliches that do actually work.
But still…right now I’m in that “lost” period. And I’m wondering if anyone else out there is here with me, too?
One small decision this week helps me. I plan to cut a branch off my plumeria tree—the one my husband gave me for my birthday a few years ago—and take it with me on the plane ride. Then I’ll plant it at my next home.
It seems a little silly and indulgent, especially because the next yard has its own plumeria trees already. But then I remembered how my mom would pack up all her plants and stick them in the back of our station wagon and take them to the next Army post.
Like she knew, too, that taking living things from your last home would help you figure out life in the next one.
Sometimes I need to remember life doesn’t end just because your time in the last place does.
What about here?
But what of my work? I set a date for myself when I’d force myself to pull out of everything. The orphanage. The hospital visits. The neighbor in crisis. And then I keep extending it…then moving it up.
Can’t decide if it’s better to put it off until I’m neck-deep in boxes, for one more visit while I’m just down the road, or just rip off the band-aid. Both sound bad.
And what about my fears? There are people who are coming after us who will never know me here in this place, on this team. What happens to the place I had in this place?
It’s small, I know. I’m small. This island is small. But me, here in this place for this time, mattered to me.
All the adventure and growth and friendships and faith and pregnancies and flights and prayers and disappointments and doubts and grace—they all mattered to me. What happens to all that?
I know. Some of it goes with me. It changed me, after all, broke me to pieces then healed into something new.
And some of this place will remain. This has been the hardest part for me to believe. But in case you’re going through your own goodbye or bad-bye, I want to remind us both. Just as the relationships matter to us, we mattered to friends, too.
The Hello-Goodbye Circle
One of my childhood tricks for coping with moves was to sagely remind myself that every tear-filled goodbye started with a scared, hope-filled hello and many hellos end up in teary goodbyes.
That sounds like a lot of tears. But the point is, those goodbyes have to happen so the next hellos can happen so the next goodbyes can happen and I’m starting to wonder how I ever found this comforting.
It seems I’m not in the mood tonight for my own pep talks. But I’ll finish this by asking this: Is there anyone out there saying goodbye, too?
I thought so. Then let’s be a little bit lost in all the goodbyes and hellos together.
Rebecca Hopkins (www.rebeccahopkins.org) wants to help people feel heard, seen and welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an Army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot.
She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. Trained a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding and truths that last longer than her latest address.
In our efforts at Go. Serve. Love to help you in arriving well overseas, 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.
Check out their thoughts below on how set yourself up for a smashing start overseas.
Is this home now?
Your footprints in the cement of your new host country haven’t even had a chance to dry and the question pops into your mind, “How do I do this well?”
Everything is so new, so unfamiliar, and so important.
Take a deep breath. God has brought you here and will walk with you. Here are a few practical tips to keep in mind.
In arriving well overseas, Relationships are key.
So keep your relationship with the Lord fluid & fresh and He will make your path clear. As you feast on His presence, His life will overflow from you while you dive into your new life and community.
Being genuinely interested, asking tons of questions, and sharing time and simple resources with your neighbors will go a long way in building trust and friendships.
We’re all different in our ways of navigating newness. So there’s no right or wrong way to approach this. But the important thing is to be available, showing interest and care.
Classroom learning is great and helpful, though likely the best times will be over a cup of tea, or a shared meal, the local market shopping experience or as you walk through your neighborhood or village.
Remember your kids are experiencing a big learning curve as well.
Take time to talk about your kids’ concerns, what excites them, what makes them nervous. (It’s important your kids are arriving well overseas, too.)
Encourage them to talk about what’s important to them. Gently share Scriptures that will help them recognize God’s sovereign power, keeping each of you in His loving care (see verse list below).
Share your own experiences and feelings about inadequacy and fears as well. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses and pray through them for each other.
Soak in the truth of God’s Word.
Read and write down or memorize the Scriptures that speak to your own situation as God leads you.
ARRIVING WELL OVERSEAS: A FEW verses TO GET YOU STARTED
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I AM God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You!”
Psalm 73:23 “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”
Psalm 91 —The entire Psalm. A favorite is “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”
Matthew 28: 19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Romans 8:26-27 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God!”
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Reach out to someone local, or to a family, to show you the ropes.
Ask them basic questions like:
Where should I do my shopping (if there are choices?!!)– or the proper way to cook/prepare a local food item.
What do you believe about life after death?
How do you dispose of garbage/waste?
What traditions do you have as a family?
Tell me about your family history.
How do you connect or hang out with others in the community?
Where to you go for medical assistance?
How do I locate school supplies or toys for children?
Where do I find garden tools?
Are there things I should avoid or be sure to do when I am out and about in the community?
Often it is the others we serve with that may be the most challenging.
Even though we have the same goals and purpose, we can have very different ways in mind to achieve them and/or our lifestyles and backgrounds prove to be very different.
The Evil One would like nothing better than to get us distracted by our differences and ‘majoring on the minors’ – we must resist this trap of our number-one opposition. Remember, we are in a spiritual battle and the evil one will use all manner of evil against us – but we are overcomers through the Lord Jesus Christ!
My niche, my place, my way to reach out and bring others in while living overseas. I was a young mom of a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a newborn. At the preschool of my four-year-old, I was getting to know other moms.
I had a growing relationship with a young mom of a toddler who was soaking up our friendship and appreciative of the care and support I was giving her. She was introducing me to her friends who’d ask me questions about babies and parenting and marriage.
Reflecting on encouragement received as part of a mother’s group back in the U.S., I thought I could offer the same to these precious women: a mom’s group where I could encourage them, share truth and love, share hard-won wisdom from experience.
I could do this with my kids, not leaving them behind in the name of my ministry plans.
It seemed perfect.
I told my friend about my idea. She agreed this was needed. Her friends were lonely; they weren’t thriving as moms. She loved my perspective on motherhood and knew it would encourage these women. She would talk to her friends.
I started a private Facebook page to share thoughts and Scripture. Prepared short messages to share with them when they came to my home. Made coffee and tea and cookies and prepared my living room.
And the entire thing fizzled.
MINISTRY PLANS: The Beginning of the End
We tried it for a few weeks. One or two would come. Their kids would cry and scream. One even threw up on our bean bag chair.
The children frazzled their moms. I offered encouragement with a side of coffee. They were too embarrassed by their children’s behavior to hear me.
My friend and I talked about what was going on. She said they needed this type of group. She knew that they needed support and a change of perspective.
But they didn’t want to sit around talking about being a mom. They wanted to escape from thinking about this.
Basically, they didn’t want what I was offering.
When Your Ministry Plans are a No-Go
I felt discouraged. I thought I had found the perfect situation to use my passion and stage of life to encourage others, invite them into my home, and speak to their hearts. Wasn’t I meant to do this?
Disappointed and sad, I wondered if I even had a place. I wanted so much to see why God had called me here, uprooted me from my home country to figure out life in a huge city in a different language.
If I could just have a ministry, then I could see how it is all worth it.
There was nothing wrong with trying this, but God quickly closed the door.
What didn’t happen
I’d like to tell you that a new door opened immediately, a wide-open door I was able to sail effortlessly through into a lovely field of “productive ministry.”
I wish that were so.
My calling has not panned out quite like that. I think that my life on the field has been one of being faithful with the small things before me.
When the group failed, I had a choice to make.
I could keep trying for what I was passionate to do and what I thought was “just perfect,” or I could let it go and focus on what God was bringing to me. I took my eyes off my project and looked at what was before me.
Two women continued to seek me out. I chose to invest in those two. It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time and effort that sometimes I didn’t want to do.
Then there were other relationships, one here, one there. Different faces, different needs, similar efforts.
Over the years there have been various opportunities, unique projects, long-term and short-term relationships. Sometimes I wish there was a certain “something” I could point to, a specific something with a name and a box it goes in. Something that’s easy to understand or write about in a newsletter.
The unfortunate fizzle
Dear reader, it’s possible that your ministry plans will fizzle, too. I don’t wish that disappointment on anyone who has left home and father and mother to follow a calling from the Father.
I think these experiences can cause some of us to doubt if we’ve heard our “assignment” correctly. We can wonder if we are even supposed to be overseas at all.
Should you find yourself in this place, on this path I walked, I pray for you to have the eyes to see when it is time to give that plan up to make room for whatever else might come.
What comes is not always pretty and not everyone will understand. But if we’re made open for what God will do next, the stripping of our ministry plans is a mercy.
Sometimes the next step is small
And sometimes the “next” is small. Sometimes the “next” doesn’t seem like much at all.
Do it faithfully.
We are not good judges of what makes something “worth it.” How do you even measure that accurately? I am not able to measure this because I don’t know the entire plan. I don’t know the steps God needs to reach the ultimate goal of His glory in this country.
To say what God has called me to do is insignificant is to say that those lives are insignificant. And I can’t do that.
I had a few different ideas when I set out to make this country my home. (Vision is good to have!) And I built a few different ministry plans as I tried settling in.
But ultimately, I want to do what God sets before me. He gets to assign the jobs. I’m a part of His kingdom, after all.
Sarah has served in the Middle East with her family for over nine years.
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Rebecca Hopkins’ blog, “Borneo Wife,” when she and her husband served in Indonesia. She now blogs from her new American home at rebeccahopkins.org .
It’s almost like the deep, dark secret of overseas work. That confession, usually made by a woman, sometimes with reasons, other times with self-chastisement hanging onto the words.
“I wasn’t ‘called’ to be here.”
She’s just along for the ride, supporting her husband, her kids, she says. And I cringe if I hear the next words. “I don’t matter here. I don’t make a difference.”
But I sit amazed at her dedication and sacrifice, despite what she believes is a lack of a Word from Above to come here. She came anyway, even though she wasn’t so sure if her role matters, if she is special, if she was “called.”
I call that faith.
“am I called? not YET”
I read recently on a blog about a woman waiting to hear her call to this work, asking God to give it to her. She wants to do it. Her boyfriend wants to go. But she waits anyway.
I have some honest questions about this.
Are we supposed to be waiting for specific directions from God Himself? Does God want to use our desires, our dreams, our gifts? Does He instead call us into things we would never choose on our own? What freedoms does He give us in how to engage our world?
Of course, when asking “Am I Called?”, there are important things for which to wait.
Even when an opportunity presents itself, we still need training, funding, logistics and a plan that will honor local voices. We need to learn what it means to help as part of a community, but not become outsider “white saviors” who may actually harm. We need to make sure we’ve thoughts through risks for our family, gathered some resources for our kids.
But should we also be waiting for an audible answer to our desire to go, serve, and love?
MY OWN “CALLING”
My own experience is somewhere in the middle on this. For years, I’d wanted to do this overseas thing, with or without a husband.
But I received no big magic words, no moment of heavenly insight, no signs, no deep voice in the night calling my name. Just a gradual awakening in my heart to the beauty of entering other communities in an intentional way.
My husband Brad’s story, on the other hand, includes moments of divine clarification, wisdom from above, even, I suppose you could term it, “a calling” to be in Indonesia.
He wanted to be there, too—his own desires part of the equation, too. But once upon a time, he wanted other things, things he had to give up to follow this dream.
CALLING, VERSION 2.0
And when we arrived, living the challenges of this life, we both struggled with other versions of “Am I called?”
Why do we feel so inadequate for this? Why is it so hard to do something good? Where is God in all the mess of serving? Why don’t we just go home?
I’ve heard, too, people (back in our passport nation) say they could never do this. This overseas thing. This work. This killing-of-shrews, power-outages, pregnancies-in-tropical-heat, far-away-from-family thing.
Amen to that. I don’t think I can do it either.
I’ve seen, too, the passions—you could even call them “callings”–without the “going overseas.” I cyber-met a woman this week who lives in the States, but started a nonprofit to help fund care for vulnerable children Indonesia.
She’s never been here. She’s a busy mom. But she’s doing what she can to answer that tug in her heart to do more. And her dedication to a people she’s never met…amazes me.
Though she isn’t “going anywhere,” she is definitely going places.
Am I “Called”?
So, what about you? Do you feel “called?”
Do you wish you were “called,” and feel like you aren’t? Maybe you feel like you missed it, maybe weren’t listening close enough. Do you think someone else more capable should have been “called” to your life?
Or maybe you think the answer to “Am I called?” came years ago. You’re sure you fulfilled your calling, to motherhood, to overseas work, to your job, years ago. And now you feel like you have nothing.
Wherever you are in the world or in your journey or with your questions, may you know there’s room in God’s invitation for us all.