How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak (Part 2)

by Elizabeth Trotter on January 16, 2014

In Part 1, we looked at three issues that can cause heartache for missionaries. Today I’ll explain three more issues that affect daily life overseas.

4)      Pornography/sexual sin

5)      Team stress

6)      Not getting enough pre-field training



Our neighborhood brothel.

Unaddressed sin problems are going to show up on the mission field. There are a lot of unique stressors to living cross-culturally, and that stress can be a trigger for issues like pornography, which absolutely destroys intimacy, trust, and happiness (yes, even among missionaries).

And I hate to be the one to tell you the ugly truth, but in Southeast Asia, porn problems can easily slip into prostitution problems.

So please, if you have a pornography problem or some other serious struggle, either address it before you go to the field, or just don’t go. Seek counseling and find freedom first, because that deep, dark, buried secret will bubble to the surface a lot when you live within the stress of a new culture. (Although my husband did not have a pornography problem either before or after coming to Cambodia, I do know Team Expansion’s policy is to address porn problems through addiction counseling, before they will clear you to leave.)



I love the vision that is born when people collaborate on a team. As wonderful as working on a team can be, teams also provide an opportunity for conflict and interpersonal stress.  Conversely, sometimes missionaries have no team, either because they arrived without a team, or their team broke apart at some point. Neither a stressful team nor lack of a team is ideal.

In addition to taking conflict-resolution training (which is part of the training I discuss in the next point), you need to accept that your team situation may change over the years. Teams lose members, and they gain members. For varying reasons, you might need to choose teammates again after you get to the field, and you need to know that is ok. Your commitment to serving God needs to be deeper than your commitment to your team.



You really need specific missions training before you move overseas. Our agency’s required training is very thorough, and each step along the way we learned something more about cross-cultural work or about ourselves. The two most life-changing trainings we took were Mission Training International’s pre-field course and the Kairos worldview course. I consider Mission Training International (MTI) to be essential preparation for cross-cultural service, and it should be attended in addition to any Bible school or seminary training you may already have.

Before becoming missionaries-in-training, we had been involved in paid or volunteer ministry for several years. That ministry experience has been very helpful to us in setting boundaries between family time and ministry time (something that especially affects a wife’s happiness). It’s also easy for missionaries to become frustrated with nationals who change slowly or not at all, but I remember times in the States when we worked with people stuck in harmful behavior patterns who weren’t showing evidence of positive change. So we’ve concluded that some of the stresses of missionary life are just ministry stresses, located in another country. It would be useful to get some ministry experience before leaving.

Here’s a review of the second set of issues and some practical steps you can take to prepare for missionary life:

4)      Pornography/sexual sin

                     — Tackle big problems like pornography before leaving.

5)      Team stress

                     — Be prepared for the possibility of team issues.

6)      Not getting enough pre-field training

                     — Get ministry experience in addition to specific pre-field missions training.


May you never lose sight of the dream God has given you. May you walk with God in every land and on every sea. May He steady you in your every uprooting and in your every re-planting, and may you ever only “not croak” as you transition between the two.


After a military childhood, a teenaged Elizabeth Trotter crash landed into American civilian life. When she married her high school sweetheart, her life plan was to be a chemical engineer while he practiced law. Instead, they both fell headlong into youth ministry and spent the next ten years serving the local church. When her husband later decided he wanted to move overseas, Elizabeth didn’t want to join him. But now, after two years of life in Cambodia with him and their four children, she can’t imagine doing anything else. She blogs at

On Twitter (@trotters41) and Facebook (trotters41)

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at and on Facebook at trotters41.
  • Tracey D.

    This is great, and I’ve appreciated all of your insights! I just wanted to second what you said about MTI (Missionary Training International) being critical! We went over 6 years ago, and we still use what we learned. Yay ducks/yuck ducks, anyone?? 🙂

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      MTI is so great! The yay/yuck ducks idea was probably one of our biggest take-aways. It’s so neat to hear you’re still benefiting from it!

  • Lindsey

    Elizabeth- I have so enjoyed reading both of your posts on this blog and I’ve jumped over to yours as well. It’s been so helpful to read about your initial feelings toward missions. My husband started a non-profit several years ago and has had the dream of moving to southeast Asia since we got married. We are finally in a place where we can plan on going in the next few months and we will be headed to Laos in April or May. I was also a “trailing spouse” up until about a month ago and am slowly hearing my own call from God.
    My question was about the pre-feild training you mentioned. My husband was a journeyman for several years so he has done a few months of training before. I feel like our family needs something like that this time as del and have looked at MTI- The problem is the price. We are working hard to raise support before we head out and there just isn’t the funds right now for a program that long and for that price. They also seemed to be booked up for the next several months. Do you happen to know of any other training that might be available and less expensive? Did your sending agency help pay for some of the training for your family?

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Hi Lindsey. I love SE Asia! It’s such a beautiful place, and it has captured my heart for sure. But there is still such a need for workers here. I also really love MTI, and I will try to answer your questions about it. (But before I do that, let me say I’m sorry to be late in responding to you. We were flying back to Cambodia on Friday and Saturday.) MTI *is* expensive. There is no getting around that. Our organization requires the pre-field course, but we had to raise the support for it ourselves. It was part of our “start up costs.” Because they are a one-time expense, the startup costs can be easier to raise than your monthly budget.
      We learned SO much at MTI. We learned about transitions, cultural stress, Sabbath rest, team dynamics, goodbyes — so many things. The first six months we lived in Cambodia, we must have used that material once a day — it was THAT important. After the first six months, we probably referenced MTI about once a week. But what MTI did for our kids was possibly the most helpful. The kids’ program teaches what it means to be a Third Culture Kid, and all about goodbyes, too. That gives them a context for what is happening to them, which helps with their transition. The language aspect was also really helpful to me. I would have been completely lost with the unfamiliar sounds of Cambodian consonants if I hadn’t been at MTI!
      I really think that a pre-field course would be incredibly helpful to your family as a whole, whether it’s MTI or not. I have heard of one other course. It’s in Joplin, MO, and it’s called TRAIN International. I don’t really know much about it, but I do think it’s cheaper.
      Ok, hope that was helpful. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. For now, I’m headed to bed as I’m still dealing with jet lag 🙂

      • Lindsey

        Thanks so much! I checked out TRAIN but there were no dates in the immediate future. But I also found one in Toronto to look at called Mission Prep that is only 2 weeks and about 1/2 the price. My husband and I are discussing that and seeing if we an make it work. We only have one child so far and he’s 5 months old-I wish there was a special course telling how to transition to the field as a new mom. 🙂 Thanks for the response!

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    I loved both your posts and thought they were dead on – thanks for writing it so clearly!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks, Tara. And I loved your most recent post. Stirs all sorts of thoughts in me. I think I’ll head on over there and comment!

  • Thank you for parts 1 and 2! Wonderful advice!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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