Recommended Reading

missionary books

What should you read for your life overseas?  The writers here have some ideas!  Listed below are some of their favorite books about missions, cross-cultural living and ministry, and spiritual health and leadership. This will be an ever-growing resource list, so feel free to continue checking back for additions.

BOOKS

Books Authored by A Life Overseas Contributors

  • Between Worlds by Marilyn Gardner. “Between Worlds will resonate with those who have lived outside of their passport country, as well as those who have not. These essays explore the rootlessness and grief as well as the unexpected moments of humor and joy that are a part of living between two worlds.”
  • Exodus Road by Laura Parker. “The Exodus Road is a true story about one wife’s journey into sex trafficking and rescue. Living in Malaysia, Laura’s husband, Matt, who was a former youth pastor, became an undercover investigator deputized by the local police. Matt investigated hundreds of remote brothels, back alleys, mafia-driven red-light districts, taking their marriage on a journey into the realities of what rescue really costs.”
  • As Soon As I Fell by Kay Bruner. “This is a story about going to extremes for spiritual acceptability and failing dismally, only to find that love and grace transcend failure. For anyone who’s ever asked, ‘When will I be good enough for love?’ this book resoundingly answers: ‘Right now. You are loved, right this minute, in this mess.’ While few of us will live on a tiny island in the South Pacific, many of us will find hope and healing in this story of a painful fall into the arms of love.”
  • A-41: Essays on life and ministry abroad by Jonathan & Elizabeth Trotter. In 2012, Jonathan & Elizabeth traded their suburban American life for a much hotter urban life in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Through a series of unplanned happenings, they ended up writing for A Life Overseas and Velvet Ashes. In addition to writing, Elizabeth serves as the editor-in-chief at A Life Overseas. She also homeschools their four children. Jonathan serves as a pastoral counselor at a member care center in Phnom Penh. They both serve on the pastoral team at an international church. This book contains a curated look at their words, culled from several websites and articles.

  • My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay.  “Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school.  Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home.  Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life with deadly results on the nearby island of Ambon.  Within days, the church building the team had constructed is in ashes, its pastor and fifty villagers are dead, and the six terrified teenagers are stranded in the mountainous jungle with only the pastor’s teenage son to guide them to safety.  Ultimately, Cori’s emotional quest to rediscover hope proves as arduous as the physical journey home.”  (Fiction)
  • Love at the Speed of Email by Lisa McKay. “Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim… But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue with an extraordinary proposal, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.”
  • Death of the Modern Superhero by Chris Lautsbaugh. “Have you ever felt like you were just not good enough for God? We are told we must be a good Christian, a loving spouse, a caring and involved parent, active in your community, and so much more. Can we ever make it? When are we good enough? Do we feel like we cannot succeed in this life unless we are a superhero with superpowers?”
  • No Greater Love by Levi Benkert and Candy Chand.  “Levi Benkert was playing with his children in the park when he received an urgent phone call from a friend asking him to drop everything and fly to Ethiopia to help organize a rescue orphanage for children destined to be murdered as part of a tribal superstition known as ‘mingi killings.’ Moved by his friend’s story, Levi packed his bags and left for what he thought would be a short two-week trip. But upon meeting the children, Levi knew there was no turning back. Six weeks later, Levi, his wife, Jessie, and their three young children sold their home and all their belongings and relocated to Ethiopia indefinitely. No Greater Love documents Levi’s journey—from the challenges he faced establishing and running the orphanage to finding adoptive homes for the children.”
  • Looming Transitions by Amy Young. When you go abroad to serve, you’re thinking about the language, the losses,and the excitement. When you return home you’re thinking about your friends and family, the losses, and the relief. Most aren’t thinking about the process of transition—and yet if you do, it can make the difference between a smooth entry and re-entry, or a decidedly bumpy landing. Veteran of serving abroad Amy Young is the perfect companion to guide you through the much-neglected process of transitions.Practical in nature, Looming Transitions places a strong emphasis on
    • Keeping your soul fertile as you stay grounded in Christ
    • Looking for the lighter moments
    • Learning about yourself
    • Helping others
    • Making lists
    • Leaning into grief as you prepare for your transition

Personal Stories

  • Jars of Clay – Ordinary Christians on an Extraordinary Mission in Southern Pakistan by Pauline A. Brown (Marilyn Gardner’s mother). “Jars of Clay is a story of laughter and tears, of danger and deliverance, of despair and hope, of victory and defeat. Above all, it is a story of perseverance in the face of great odds. The story of how the Church of Jesus Christ, small and fragile as it is, is taking root in the barren desert soil of Sindh in Pakistan, an Islamic Republic, is relevant more than ever in our post 9/11 world.”
  • To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. “Drawing on letters and church records, Courtney Anderson paints a poignant portrait of Judson’s early life in dealing with the conflict between his desire for material success and the inner call to serve God.”
  • In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham. ” the gripping true story of American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham’s year as hostages in the Philippine jungle, was a New York Times best seller and has sold nearly 350,000 copies. Now releasing in eBook for the first time, this updated edition contains information on the capture and trial of the Burnhams’ captors; Gracia’s secret return trip to the Philippines; and updates on recent events in Gracia’s life, ministry, and family.”
  • The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. “A dramatic autobiography of one of China’s dedicated, courageous, and intensely persecuted house church leaders.”
  • A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot.”A Chance to Die is a vibrant portrayal of Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary and writer who spent fifty-three years in south India without furlough. There she became known as ‘Amma,’ or ‘mother,’ as she founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, a refuge for underprivileged children.”

Third Culture Kids

  • Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global  edited by Faith Eidse and Nina Sichel.  “Unrooted Childhoods is the collective story of growing up and feeling displaced; it reveals the difficulties many children face when living in expatriate communities.”
  • Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. “An enlightening look at the challenges of children of expatriates, missionaries, and others who grow up outside their home culture.”
  • Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois Bushong. “Bushong, a licensed marriage and family therapist, delves into this previously, unexplored world of how to effectively counsel clients raised outside of their parents’ home culture. The readers will discover what are the basic characteristics and counseling skills effective with Third Culture Kids (those who have spent the majority of their developmental years outside of their passport country). Because of the rapid growth of the expat community, counselors must look at the uniqueness of working with children who grow up as a Third Culture Kid, the common presenting issues for adults TCKs and what often lies hidden beneath the surface. The book is filled with practical examples, interesting stories, tips, charts, resources, theories, techniques and discussion questions for further study.”

Spiritual and Emotional Health

  • Honorably Wounded  by Marjory Foyle. “As a psychiatrist, medical doctor, and former missionary, Dr. Foyle provides insights and special help for the stress and pressures of full-time Christian service.”
  • Expectations & Burnout by Robynn Bliss & Sue Eenigenburg.  “Sue provides research and surveys from the field while Robynn lends her own personal experiences to demonstrate how burnout can happen and how God can bring life from ashes. Join them as they explore how to develop realistic expectations and yet maintain faith in our sovereign God who continues to accomplish the impossible.”
  • A Place for You by Paul Tournier. “Paul Tournier – a Swiss Psychiatrist speaks to the importance of place and how God has used place through the years to bring people to himself.”
  • Creative Suffering by Paul Tournier.
  • Doing Member Care Well*: Perspectives and Practices From Around the World (Globalization of Mission Series) by Kelly O’Donnell. “This book explores how member care is being practiced around the world to equip sending organizations as they intentionally support their mission/aid personnel. The information provided includes personal accounts, guidelines, case studies, worksheets, and practical advice from all over the globe.”
  • Global Member Care Vol 1*: The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice by Kelly O’Donnell. “If you are interested in growing as a person and developing your member care skills, then this book is for you. Global Member Care: The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice is the latest book from Kelly O’Donnell, launching the member care field further into the international world of mission/aid.”
  • Thriving in Cross Cultural Ministry by Carissa Alma. “In 1998 Carissa Alma said goodbye to everything and everyone that she had ever known and loved – trading it all for the joy of following Jesus in a cross-cultural setting. Along with the practical skills and expertise acquired throughout her journey of faith, one overriding conclusion burns most brightly in her life: our call is to the embrace of the Lord Himself. Thriving in Cross Cultural Ministry recounts a story that will be told throughout all eternity. A story filled with Holy Spirit inspired truth. A story that not only offers Godly wisdom and counsel for every missionary, but one that encourages the heart of every believer everywhere – whether at home or abroad.”
  • Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. “The soul is NOT “a theological and abstract subject.” The soul is the coolest, eeriest, most mysterious, evocative, crucial, sacred, eternal, life-directing, fragile, indestructible, controversial, expensive dimension of your existence. Jesus said it’s worth more than the world. You’d be an idiot not to prize it above all else. Shouldn’t you get pretty clear on exactly what it is? Shouldn’t you know what it runs on? Wouldn’t it be worth knowing how to care for it?Two things are for sure. One is: you have a soul. The other is: if you don’t look after this one you won’t be issued a replacement.”
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. “For those desiring to take steps in their Christian life and discipleship, to break free from bondage to the past and experience healing….”
  • I Have to be Perfect (and Other Parsonage Heresies) by Timothy L. Sanford.

Missions Theory and Practice

  • When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. “With more than 225,000 copies sold, When Helping Hurts is a paradigm-forming
    contemporary classic on the subject of poverty alleviation and ministry to those in need.”
  • Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. “From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
  • Operation World by Jason Mandryk. “The definitive global prayer handbook, has been used by more than a million Christians to pray for the nations. Now in its 7th edition, it has been completely updated and revised by Jason Mandryk with a team of missionaries and researchers, and it covers the entire populated world.”
  • Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson. “In Eternity in Their Hearts, Richardson gives fascinating, real-life examples of ways people groups have exhibited terms and concepts in their histories that have prepared them for the gospel.”
  • Cross Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. “Duane Elmer asked people around the world how they felt about Western missionaries. The response? ‘Missionaries could be more effective if they did not think they were better than us.’  The last thing we want to do in cross-cultural ministry is to offend people in other cultures. Unfortunately, all too often and even though we don’t mean it, our actions communicate superiority, paternalism, imperialism and arrogance. Our best intentions become unintentional insults. How can we minister in ways that are received as true Christlike service?”
  • Mission Drift by Peter Greer and Chris Horst. “Is your organization in danger of Mission Drift? Without careful attention, faith-based organizations drift from their founding mission. It’s that simple. It will happen.”
  • The State of Africa by Martin Meredith. “Africa is forever on our TV screens, but the bad-news stories (famine, genocide, corruption) massively outweigh the good (South Africa). Ever since the process of de-colonialisation began in the mid-1950s, and arguably before, the continent has appeared to be stuck in a process of irreversible decline. Constant war, improper use of natural resources and misappropriation of revenues and aid monies contribute to an impression of a continent beyond hope. How did we get here? What, if anything, is to be done?”
  • Any book by Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe.
  • The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins. “In this new and substantially expanded Third Edition, Philip Jenkins continues to illuminate the remarkable expansion of Christianity in the global South–in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Drawing upon the extensive new scholarship that has appeared on this topic in recent years, he asks how the new Christianity is likely to affect the poor, among whom it finds its most devoted adherents. How should we interpret the enormous success of prosperity churches across the Global South?”
  • The Good News about Injustice by Gary A. Haugen. “Accounts of injustice from our own communities and from around the world often leave us feeling outraged and helpless. We wonder what we can possibly do in response. And we wonder where is the God of justice? Jesus, however, said, ‘Take heart! I have overcome the world.’  Gary Haugen sees the truth of Jesus’ claim vindicated throughout Scripture, which portrays a God who rises up against injustice.”
  • Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – And Cold – Climate Cultures by Sarah A. Lanier. “Foreign to Familiar is a splendidly written, well researched work on cultures. Anyone traveling abroad should not leave home without this valuable resource! Sarah’s love and sensitivity for people of all nations will touch your heart.”
  • Mission Smart: 15 Critical Questions To Ask Before Launching Overseas by David L. Frazier. “It costs a lot to train, send out, support and care for people in cross-cultural ministry; however, the costs are immeasurable when these workers don’t learn the language and culture well, fail to be effective and return home in trouble spiritually and emotionally. Mission Smart addresses serious gaps in the mission mobilization process and offers fresh solutions for seeing less missionary attrition. Mission Smart is for overseas ministry candidates, church leaders, and mission agency staff. The goal is to send the right people who know their callings, can thrive overseas and be effective in cross-cultural ministry.”
  • Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling, and Competency by Carson Pue. “Over the next five to ten years, it’s predicted that more than 50,000 strategic ministry leadership positions are going to be filled. Who will these leaders be? And more importantly, who will prepare them for these positions? Mentoring Leaders offers a unique angle on what it takes to prepare transformational leaders for today’s church.”
  • Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World by David A. Livermore. “Twenty-first-century society is diverse, and Christians must be able to understand other cultures and communicate effectively between and among them. Following up on the bestselling Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, this new addition to the Youth, Family, and Culture series explores the much-needed skill of Cultural Intelligence (C.Q.), the ability to work effectively across national, ethnic, and even organizational cultures.”
  • Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? by Paul Borthwick. “Missions specialist Paul Borthwick brings an urgent report on how the Western church can best continue in global mission.”
  • Millennials and Mission*: A Generation Faces a Global Challenge by James Raymo. “This book focuses on the passing of the torch in cross-cultural missions and church ministry to the Millennial generation.”

Practical Helps

  • Where There is no Doctor by David Werner and Jane Maxwell. “Hesperian’s classic manual Where There Is No Doctor is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual for health workers, clinicians, and others involved in primary health care delivery and health promotion programs around the world. With millions of copies in print in more than 75 languages, the manual provides practical, easily understood information on how to diagnose, treat, and prevent common injuries and illnesses. Special attention is focused on nutrition, infection and disease prevention, and diagnostic techniques as primary ways to prevent and treat health problems.”
  • Re Entry: Making The Transition From Missions To Life At Home by Peter Jordan. “Not only is Re-Entry a practical and helpful book for every local church and mission agency who sends workers overseas, but it is fun to read. Peter Jordan shares many anecdotes and insights into aviation and space travel.
    What happens when you return from mission work? Will you begin to compare your local church and the ordinary workaday lives of its members to your exhilarating experiences in missions?”
  • African Friends and Money Matters by David E. Maranz. “This book, African Friends and Money Matters, grew out of frustrations that Westerners experience when they travel and work in Africa. Africans have just as many frustrations relating to the Westerners in their midst. Each uses and manages money and other resources in very different ways, and these differences create many misunderstandings and frictions.”

Young Adult

  • The Annika Scott Series by Karen Ripkin. “Annika Scott is 12 years old and lives with her family in Kenya. It’s not easy to be 12 and it’s not easy to navigate a life between worlds. The reader joins Annika on her adventures and journey in Kenya as she learns more about herself, God, and the world she lives in.”

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  • Debbie Kramlich

    Please add Cross Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer under Missions Theory and Practice. From the Amazon review: Duane Elmer asked people around the world how they felt about Western missionaries. The response? “Missionaries could be more effective if they did not think they were better than us.” The last thing we want to do in cross-cultural ministry is to offend people in other cultures. Unfortunately, all too often and even though we don’t mean it, our actions communicate superiority, paternalism, imperialism and arrogance. Our best intentions become unintentional insults. How can we minister in ways that are received as true Christlike service? Cross-cultural specialist Duane Elmer gives Christians practical advice for serving other cultures with sensitivity and humility. With careful biblical exposition and keen cross-cultural awareness, he shows how our actions and attitudes often contradict and offend the local culture. He offers principles and guidance for avoiding misunderstandings and building relationships in ways that honor others. Here is culturally-savvy insight into how we can follow Jesus’ steps to become global servants. Whether you’re going on your first short-term mission trip or ministering overseas for extended periods, this useful guide is essential reading for anyone who wants to serve effectively in international settings with grace and sensitivity.

    • Hi Debbie, thanks for commenting. That book is already on our list under that section.

  • Dave

    I know it’s not a “Missions” book, but it is about cross-cultural experiences within the church in China. Randy Alcorn’s “Safely Home” is one of our current favorite novels.

  • Tim

    ‘To The Golden Shore: The Life Of Adoniram Judson’ – by Courtney Anderson
    &. ‘William Carey’ – by S. Pearce Carey …. Seriously, in my opinion, two of the best missionary biographies you’ll ever read !!
    Gotta throw in ‘Let The Nations Be Glad’ – by John Piper (a must)

  • Christy

    The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. By far the best book on cross-cultural communication (or miscommunication) I have ever read.

  • Thanks for these great book suggestions. We are returning to our ‘home’ country after 7 years, and I’m currently reading ‘Looming Transitions’ by Amy Young. It’s a great book….newly published….for those in the 6 months before or after transitioning from one country to the other. It’s available from Amazon, and there are accompanying workbooks, including ’22 Activities for Families in Transition’ available from gumroad.com/amyyoung. Another wonderful resource I’ve just discovered is http://www.returningwell.com/ – a resource to help you debrief on return to your ‘home’ country.

    • Thanks for the reminder Joanna. I’ve added it to our list.