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,
=&0=&

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.
=&2=&

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. 

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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!

 

Sarah’s Story: Leaving (Again)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

leavingI cram more things into the suitcase, carefully wrapping breakable items in shirts and sweaters.  Piles of our life slowly disappear into the large box that will zip closed and be wheeled through the airport.  The items of our life pushed and squeezed into 10 pieces of luggage: We are leaving tomorrow.

I have trouble carrying the weight of this.

We’ve known the date for 12 weeks and yet it still seemed to surprise us in the end.  The rush to buy the last-minute items, to see if we had all that we needed.  Did you buy a gift for that person? Do you think we need an extra one of these?  The careful planning and eleventh-hour buys all jumble together, pushed and prodded to make space.

Then the backpacks for the plane ride.  A change of clothes in each one, in case motion sickness gets the better of us and we end up wearing our lunch.  A book to read, a stuffed animal to snuggle, a small snack.  Find all the containers of liquid (hand-sanitizer, lotion…) and put them in a ziplock baggie.  Yes, you can pack your journal and yes, please pack your headphones.

Leaving: Ready or Not

We are leaving tomorrow and I am ready and I am not.  The time has been so sweet, the visit so right.

Yet my life, our life, is somewhere else right now and we long to return there.  This would all be much easier if we didn’t have to say goodbye.

A fitful sleep, an incessant alarm, and now we leave today.  Find all the small details, the hair bands and playing cards.  Make sure to clean up and straighten and organize.  Eat a good meal, probably should be vegetables.  Pack the toothbrushes in a carry-on.  Did you pack the charger?

WHEN LEAVING IS HARD

We’re leaving today. And as long as I only think about leaving, I will be sad.  When I think about the going-to, what we are returning to in the place where our life really exists, then I have something to look forward to.

One last photo all together.  Then a quick photo of the suitcases, just in case. We ride to the airport and we say again what a great time this was.

Next the suitcases, with all our things and our best-laid plans, are checked away. We are left with our backpacks, literally the packs on our backs, and our toothbrushes, and the hope that it will all turn out alright.

We say a last goodbye.  It’s okay to cry, liquid emotion as evidence that this is hard.

The leaving doesn’t get easier.  We always miss those we love.

We are going now and now it’s only forward.  We wind through the maze and chaos of the security check and empty our pockets, everything x-rayed.  Then we find our gate and wait to board, remembering to stretch and use a normal bathroom one last time before the next 10 hours.

When we are in our seats, seatbelts buckled and safety instructions playing, we really know we are leaving.

We’re going home.

 

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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“What keeps you going?” The successes we remember

Reading Time: 4 minutes

what keeps you going

Photo: IMB.org

One morning in Guatemala, I walked into our office and found sitting around the table the regional leadership of a group of churches we were working with. They were visiting politely with Melvin, a national pastor we worked with.

I greeted them and visited a moment and then excused myself and made my way to my office.

Of course I was curious what was happening. Still, I said nothing until they had left.

Why were they there? Why were they meeting with Melvin? What were they discussing? (That was only my beginning list.)

When Nothing’s Making Sense

Allow me to pause and ask: What keeps you going when nothing else is making sense?

When you live and work in a country and a culture you didn’t grow up in, but have adopted? When everything is hard to understand? When you aren’t sure you are communicating? When the cost/benefit ratio of missions feels fuzzy or downright disappointing?

Missionaries wrestle with that question somewhat regularly. I wrestle with that regularly.

The Background Story

I found out more of the story after the regional leaders left. But you need the background to the story to understand his answer–and understand what keeps me going.

Our small team had been working with these rural pastors and lay leaders for a couple of years, attempting to bring them resources and training that would help them serve their people and teach their congregations to walk as Jesus would want them to walk.

Periodically in this ministry, we welcomed groups of youth and adults who came down from supporting churches in the U.S. to spend a week. It took a lot of thinking and planning to create a situation which we felt would be a blessing to the churches we worked with and to the group coming down.

so here’s the plan

The groups completed work projects for four hours each morning, then showed the JESUS film each evening in a meadow in a location where our churches were trying to plant a Bible study or home church.

The churches were moderately interested: Maybe it would be worth doing. The JESUS film project offered the use of one of their staffers, along with a projector and screen. We took care of him and covered his costs; he showed the JESUS film in the crowds’ Mayan language and preached a short message and gave an invitation in that same local language. And it multiplied the churches’ reach at no cost to them!

Our group of American gringos, frankly, were the bait to draw a crowd.

Each night we had a good turnout. Some people walked three miles to attend. They seemed interested and somewhat responsive. The church elders stood around watching the crowd and conversing with those who came.

We completed the same routine for four nights in different locations. Then, the group headed home.

The idea: Church leaders would try to follow up with the people they saw at the film-showing over the next 10 days, visiting them in their fields or homes.

Two weeks later we repeated the process with a second national church group and four more locations, showing the JESUS film in a language none of us knew.

“Was it worth it?”

And then we all went home and I asked “Was it worth it?”

I wanted it to be worth the month we had spent with those two groups helping them see what we did there in the mountains. I wanted it to be worth it for both the wide-eyed group from Texas and the collection of churches we had tried to serve.

And then about a month later I walked into the office and some of those same church leaders were there.

I’d had no idea they were coming. But they seemed to have a good meeting.

It turns out they had indeed followed up with the people who they had seen at the showings of the Jesus film. And at each location they’d added 3 or 4 families to the Bible studies or home churches they were trying to start!

They had come to visit with my national teammate, Melvin, to find out how they could arrange to do the same thing all year long on their own.

What Keeps YOU Going

Yes, that made my day. That’s what keeps me going; it’s why I came. So what if they hadn’t talked to me about it?

Their question verified that the new untried evangelism event we had put together actually helped them. It apparently had turned out to be more productive than any “outreach program” they had tried.

We’d ensured all costs of the group would be covered–and the churches had experienced a new tool for growing their churches. And now they wanted to make it their own!

God had obviously showed up. Now, decades later, it’s an event I hang my hat on after all the mysteries of missions: Is what I’m doing working? Are there results to show from all I’m giving up?

(Wondering about what measuring stick to use for success–and what should be the kind of thing that keeps you going? A Life Overseas’ blog offers three criteria.)

When you get to see results that clearly, it keeps you going for a good long while. It did for me!

And even today when I think back over that and other events, unique though each one was, it is a constant encouragement. God calls us to serve him and others, and he is the one who creatively weaves the threads of ministry to produce what he calls success.

It’s well worth remembering those times when you got to see his fingers weaving success into what he’s called you to do.

Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.

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“Do I have the Call to Be a Missionary?” Free Webinar

Reading Time: 2 minutes

the call

It’s the first step, and one of the hardest to discern: How can you tell if you’re experiencing the call from God to be a missionary? How does God speak, and guide people overseas?

At Go. Serve. Love, we’ve explored this idea a lot, with both warning and affirmation. How would one even define the call?

One of our partners, the Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention–using podcasts, training, and other resources–aims to increase and retain the number of long-term missionaries sent around the world.

They’ve developed this free webinar to help you sort out the call…and whether you have it.

By way of introduction, they ask,

How does God extend the call to missionaries? What influences does He often use to speak to those He’s calling to the mission field?

Mobilizers, missionaries, pastors, youth leaders, and teachers are invited to join Dave Jacob, founder and director of the Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention, as he discusses the important factors that influence the missionary call.

As always, we love it when you join the dialogue, creating community with others in the Body of Christ around the world exploring some of the same life-altering, Kingdom-powered questions.

Tell us about the call in your comments below:

  • How have you begun to discern God’s will in your own life?
  • What can be confused with the call?
  • What’s clear about calling–and what isn’t? 
  • What keeps people from discerning God’s will for their lives about missions?
  • What events, people, resources, questions, etc. have helped in your own examination of whether or not to go overseas?

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Raising Financial Support: Voices from Around the Web

Reading Time: 4 minutes

raising financial support

Raising financial support can mess with your head.

Yes, it can feel a little…naked. Yes, it can be awkward and revealing and exhausting.

But would you believe us if we said it’s actually a tremendous gift–and not just to you?

When I was trained in raising financial support–which we’ve been on for sixteen years, in which time we’ve added four kids to our posse–there was a passage that stuck with me. Someone pointed out the story of a widow in 1 Kings 17.

You’ve probably heard it, about this woman in famine who’s going to go home and use her last flour, her last oil, to make some bread for her and her son. Then they’re going to go home, she says, and die.

Sometimes I wonder about Elijah’s manners–but he actually asks the widow, a stranger, to first make a cake for him, then make one for her and her son. He makes her an odd promise that ends up coming true: Keep making cakes for both of us. The bread and the oil won’t run out until the famine’s over.

Get this: God uses the widow’s support of Elijah to keep her alive in famine.

Is Money the Goal in Raising financial support?

To be clear, do not use Elijah’s technique word-for-word in raising financial support (if you know people dying of hunger, perhaps take some Chik-fil-A or a Hungry Man dinner rather than your support-raising binder?).

I don’t know that “bake me bread and you’ll never run out of flour as long as I’m overseas” is the exact takeaway. But don’t miss this: Your fundraising ain’t just about you. 

Over and over in the Bible, we see this theme of givers being blessed. God wants to do something in both sides of things in the journey that takes you overseas. Weird questions and fears will bubble to the surface as this process stirs them up.

Because the goal of raising financial support? It’s far from just money. 

Maybe you’re just dipping your big toe in this frigid support-raising water to see if the goosebumps involved in raising support could, as you suspect, drive you away, arms pinwheeling.

Or maybe your knuckles are grazing the ground after duking it out for this dream of going overseas–which you were pretty durn sure was from God, but now is feeling kind of hazy and hard.

Flipping Over the Rocks

Imagine yourself before a bed of river rock. Beneath it, someone’s placed red swipes of paint totaling the monthly amounts you’ll need to finally go overseas; to do this vital work so many people need (remember Paul’s vision [Acts 16:9] of the Macedonian crying out to come help them?).

All you have to do is to turn over the rocks to find the right paint strokes you need. Some of the big rocks you’ve counted on yield nothing. Other small rocks feature much larger marks than you could have ever anticipated. Some are clustered together. Some are spaced out, and you’re turning over 23 blank rocks in between those that spread a smile on your face.

Getting the drift? God knows exactly where your funding will come from. Um, assuming you’re not being socially awkward, your rejections aren’t really about you as much as they’re God getting the right people on your team.

Raising Financial support: The Articles

These articles may not make this path easy. But they may make it easier–and eliminate some of the pitfalls.

First, don’t miss Go. Serve. Love’s own posts on raising financial support:

External Articles on Raising Financial Support

And we love this one from OMF: An Introvert’s Guide to Support Raising. (We know you’re out there.)

Entire Sites on Raising Financial Support

Fundraising coach Jenn Fortner provides this amazing infographic with 22 Expert Tips on Fundraising Straight From Missionary Geniuses. But check out her entire site (on “fundraising made relational”). It’s stuffed with practical tips like

SupportRaisingSolutions.org also offers a wealth of encouragement and wisdom, whether you feel really new…or really worn out. They’ve got posts like

What Not to Do in Raising Financial Support

You knew this part would be coming too, right? How might you be self-sabotaging (and without a clue you’re doing it)?

But hey: Do not let fear get the last word.

Like the Israelites going into the Promised Land, if God’s got you going overseas, he also has the means.

He knows what financial “territory” he’s earmarked as yours, but you must go and take it.

You must be strong and courageous and not depart from God’s commands. And you’ve gotta trust he’ll do his part so you step off that 757 at just the right time.

Got resources or thoughts that fuel you in raising financial support? Share your goodies with the rest of us in the comments section.

Best Posts of 2020!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

best posts of 2020

We get a distinct thrill over here in partnering with you in a small way as you look in an overseas direction. Here are the posts that seemed to resonate with you–and represent some of the best posts of 2020.

May God empower your every next move for his honor and renown.

The Go. Serve. Love Team

Our Best Posts of 2020

10 REALITIES A MISSIONARY PROBABLY WON’T TELL YOU

missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

(This one’s a bit of a cheater–not published in 2020, but since it went viral this year, definitely makes the “best posts of 2020” list!)

Wondering about the hard realities of missionary life? A long-term global worker weighs in with unflinching truths about what to expect.

YOUR MISSIONARY BIOGRAPHIES WEEKEND WATCHLIST: AMAZON PRIME

Your Missionary Biographies Weekend Watchlist: Amazon Prime

Ready for a watchlist of Amazon Prime missionary biographies? Pressing into God’s future for your life could be as easy as pressing “play”.

WHEN COVID CHANGES YOUR OVERSEAS PLANS

COVID

You planned for a lot of things going overseas. But who expected COVID? What truth can you keep in mind?

CORONAVIRUS: IDEAS TO PRAY FOR THE WORLD (PRINTABLE INFOGRAPHIC)

best posts of 2020

We trust that coronavirus is on his leash, and will be corralled for his purposes. As the world is turned upside down–how do we pray amidst a pandemic?

 

 

 

Best missions podcasts of 2020!

Missions podcasts educate and equip me for my unique role in the Great Commission–and help me keep pace with God’s work around the globe.

CHOOSING AN EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MISSIONS ORGANIZATION

Don’t underestimate how your organization’s health could have on your work overseas. These questions help find an emotionally-healthy agency.

GOD’S “NO”: WHEN HE CLOSES A DOOR OVERSEAS

https://www.goservelove.net/door-no/

Especially in light of COVID-19, maybe you’re dealing with your own closed door, a painful “no”, not here, not now. You’re asking, “did I hear God right? Weren’t my sacrifices meaningful?”

WE WERE MISSIONARY KIDS. HERE’S WHAT MY PARENTS DID RIGHT

Wonder if your children are getting shortchanged by your choices? Rebecca Skinner explores ways her parents nurtured their missionary kids in one of our classic best posts of 2020.

FREE UPG PRINTABLE INFOGRAPHIC: PRAY FOR MUSLIMS!

Middle East

1.8 billion Muslims haven’t heard of Jesus’ love and freedom. Yet more have turned to Christ in 15 years than the last 1400 combined. Pray with us!

BECOMING A MISSIONARY: ULTIMATE PREPARATION CHECKLIST!

becoming a missionaryWe’re welcoming the Missions App’s ultimate preparation checklist for becoming a missionary & a multi-agency application. Drumroll, please.

 

WHAT RACIAL DISCRIMINATION REMINDS US ABOUT OVERSEAS MISSIONS

racism

As people looking toward overseas missions, how do we respond to racism, injustice, and a nation exploding in anger and riots?

Missions Trends to Help You Work Smarter: The Series

trends in missions

We’re scouring for trends in missions to help you work smarter & love better. Pay attention to these key trends God’s using to draw people to himself.

That wraps up our best posts of 2020!

The great news? Our God is still actively on the move

in every corner of this planet.

Pray with us for his name to be made known

more than ever before in 2021.

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

Advent: When You’re Not Where You Hoped

 

 

 

 

 

Words: The Gift to Give This Christmas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

words

Words

are

powerful.

With a click of the lock, the creak of the wooden door and the click of my brass mailbox…another card is ready to be picked up.

It doesn’t take long. Ten minutes at most. Each day this month I have committed to send one handwritten card to a different friend.

These aren’t your typical Christmas cards with signature and family picture. I want these cards to be filled with words that speak life to those I care about most.

Words at Christmas

Last year, this mission began with family. I realized the thing we really needed and wanted most from each other is not another gift under the tree but instead to have the people we care about speaking words of encouragement, affirmation, and blessing over our lives.

I know I needed to hear those things. Others were feeling that need, too. (And hasn’t this year made that need starkly apparent?)

The Gift

Instead of spending more on a gift that I wasn’t sure kids would like or that adults needed, our family choose to focus our attention on written words. Words of appreciation, affirmation, and blessing for each parent, aunt, uncle, and cousin.

My family split up the cards and worked on a few each evening after dinner. I didn’t want us to wait till the last minute or feel rushed.

Our notes included characteristics and qualities we were thankful for in the recipients–observation of talents and abilities that we saw in them, as well as reminders of who God says they are and the promises he has for them.

Ann Voskamp reminds me in Unwrapping the Greatest Gift,

Look for the small, broken cracks in the world, in hearts, that would be easy to walk right by – and right there, slip in a little word that grows great courage. Miracles happen whenever we speak words that make souls stronger.

words

What is true here is also true for the people you plan to serve overseas. All mankind is created in God’s image, as relational beings with a God-sized purpose.

The art of speaking words of life is something that can open the doors of homes, hearts to friendship, and minds to believe and receive the love of Christ.

Words to Wash In

Of course, the one who made us and knows us best has a few things to say about the power of our words as well. Take a moment to reflect on his words:

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:6

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. Colossians 3:16

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook…Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:4, 21

In case you’re in need your own round of truth-filled affirmations? Take in what God thinks about you, as his son or daughter this Christmas through Who I am in Christ.

Share them liberally with others!

Words: The Gifts that Translate

How will you use your words to uplift and encourage your family, your friends, or the person waiting on you in line today? A card, a text a call?

While you speak life-giving words here today, say a prayer for those you hope to befriend overseas.

Ask that God will prepare their hearts to receive his words of love. Pray for the ability to learn their language well so you can use new words to share the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).

Speak life, impart hope, and share love with your words. No matter your zipcode.

 

Rebecca Skinner is an MK and adult TCK from Central and South America. Don’t miss her post, We Were Missionary Kids. Here’s What My Parents Did Right and Top Missions Podcasts of 2020!

Fun fact: Rebecca and her husband were one of the first couples to met on eharmony.com and get married! This August, they’ll celebrate 18 years of marriage, They have twin boys.

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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.

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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.