What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?

by Elizabeth Trotter on June 29, 2014

They say that living overseas will bring out all our bad stuff. They say it like it’s a warning, like it’s supposed to scare us out of going. Like only a superhuman could go and survive.

And what if they’re right? What if moving overseas does bring out all our dark stuff, putting it on display for all to see? What if all the inner turmoil we kept so neatly concealed in our passport countries – or didn’t even know existed – starts falling out of our hearts, falling out of our mouths? What if it spills out into daily life, interfering with all the good works we’re supposed to be doing?

But — what if that’s not such a bad thing? I mean, what if it doesn’t end there, with you at the end of yourself? What if all the stuff that surfaces is supposed to surface? What if the only way to know what’s inside your heart is for it to come out? And what if the junk that needs to come out wouldn’t actually come out in your home country?

So maybe those multiple breakdowns have a purpose. Maybe knowing your weaknesses means you know God more intimately. Maybe you are exactly where He wants you to be, right at this moment. Maybe living overseas means becoming the person that God created you to be.

You followed Him across oceans and continents, across countries and cultures. You prepared for this for years, dreamed of it for longer. And all for what? Just to fall apart on arrival?

No, I don’t believe that. You followed Him this far for a purpose, because you love Him, and because He loves you. And now that you are where He wants you to be, He’s not going to leave you alone and without help. If God brought you to this place, don’t you think He will use cross-cultural living to shape you into the person He wants you to be?

When all our darkness reveals itself, God is right there beside us, waiting, ready to bring ever greater healing to our hearts. Through all this nasty falling-apartness, I believe God wants to heal the broken pieces of our lives. And living overseas might mean that we’re in just the right place to accept those healing changes.

So maybe they’re right. Maybe living overseas will draw out all our bad stuff. Maybe we won’t be able to hide it any more. But I no longer think that’s something to be afraid of — life with God is not something to fear.

So today, if you find yourself in that broken place, at the bottom of a mountain of messes in your life, have faith in the One who called you. Trust Him to put you back together again. Because falling apart is not the end of the story, but it just might be the beginning of a new one.



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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 www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.
  • Ang

    My family has been on the mission field for a little over a year now and it did bring out all that ugly stuff. We have tried and tried to work through it. Prayed, fasted and intentionally spent time together among many many other things, We have just pulled too far apart. So this week we end our life as missionaries and head back to the U.S.A. to rebuild what we have lost and pray that the lessons we have learned will change our lives for the better!!!

    • Tracy

      Ang, you are not alone! We are not staying on for another term and are finishing up in Aug. I would love to swap stories!
      I loved this article tho because there is so much truth in it. I had NO idea how much anxiety, I’m talking debilitating at times, I had until I was no longer in control of anything in my life! But God has helped me through it and I have learned and grown because of it. I know I can probably get through just about anything now. And I have come to love this country and it’s people. I know that I will be back God willing, just don’t think it will be permanently but who knows.

      • Ang

        Tracy, I would love to swap stories! How can we get each others e-mail??? Don’t really want to post mine on here.

        • Shay

          Right there with you, ladies. My family and I sold everything and moved to Bolivia to do missions three years ago. We committed to a minimum of 2 years but had hoped that it would extend into a much longer term. I did NOT want to return to the states, but my husband and I felt it was the best decision for our four kids. We’ve been back a year and I would love, love, love to share with both of you some of what I’ve experienced upon returning. It’s not going to be easy, girls, and I will lift you guys up to the Father. Feel free to contact me via our blog ballewmissionjourney.blogspot.com

          • Elizabeth Trotter

            It’s a huge thing for you to offer your story and your friendship to those following after you on the return journey. THANK you, Shay.

          • Ang

            Thank you!! I will be reaching out!!!

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        Tracy, I too, found that my biggest problem overseas was anxiety. Anxiety over so many things. Which totally surprised me.
        Blessings upon you, as your overseas ministry draws to a close, and you find yourself facing goodbyes of all kinds — and then hellos of all kinds. God is with you as you do these things. He is with us on the reverse journey just as He is with us on the initial one!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh Ang, I am so sorry for how spiritually and emotionally bruised you must feel right now. In case you have never read Danielle Wheeler’s thoughts on when missionaries return home (on Velvet Ashes), I’m linking to it right now. Her words are so healing: http://velvetashes.com/the-grove-return/
      So as you pack up your life overseas, and board that plane with what feels like — and probably is — a broken heart, please know that as you go, the Lord goes with you. He is with you always. Your time overseas was not wasted time, for God is in the business of redeeming all things. He will be with you as you rebuild in the States, He will be rebuilding right beside you. Sending you much love this day.

      • Ang

        Elizabeth, Thank you so much for that link! I have read it 3 times already. What a way to vocalize a bunch of my feelings!! I know that God is always with me/us! I know that He has great things in store for us! I pray people will be kind and try to be understanding. It is amazing what people have already said “trying” to be encouraging. Starting over from scratch is going to be hard. But I believe that God is leading us into a new “normal” once again where we can be a blessing to others!

        • Kimberly R

          Ang, our family went through something similar 18 months ago and found amazing resources at Link Care in Fresno, CA who specialize in restoring the emotional health of missionaries. There are several such centers. I highly recommend finding the resources you need!

          • Elizabeth Trotter

            This is so important. THANK you for drawing attention to this, Kimberly.

        • Elizabeth Trotter

          Yes, praying with you that people will be kind and understanding. (And yes, Danielle’s words are so good — I cried just re-reading them as I was sending them to you. So you should definitely re-read them again when you need to!)

  • Kay Bruner

    To be healed and whole is the best thing that ever happened to me–and part of the process was falling apart. Our Redeemer lives.

  • Have you ever read Colossians in The Message? Check out this passage from chapter 1:

    “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long
    haul — not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the
    glory-strength God gives. It is the strength that endures the
    unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us
    strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he
    has for us.”

    I love this glory-strength stuff Paul speaks about! I think this is exactly what God wants to give us to endure times that seem unendurable…

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh I do like that, thank you for sharing. Sometimes the alternative wording of the Message adds so much meaning to the passage. “Strength that spills over into joy.” Love it.

    • Shari Mottram

      I totally agree. I have to admit, there have been some hard things here. There have been times when I come to my quiet place, heavy hearted, and I burst into tears……not always because of that THING but the GRACE I feel to stick with it. The Presence of my Savior to carry me through it. It is so awesome, so humbling, I can’t help but cry. I come away with greater grace, greater joy….beauty for ashes…..GLORY

  • I love this! Moving to Asia did bring out a lot of bad stuff in our lives as well.. only to remind us of our brokeness.. and the fact that we need grace just as much as anyone else.. (if not more 😉 God loved us while we were still sinners and nothing we can do – good or bad – will ever change that. Thank you for sharing!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      So true, we need God so much. Thank you for sharing your story, Dorette.

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  • Thank you so much for writing this. It is so true – I’ve been here for 10 years and just when I think I’m done “falling apart” something more is revealed. It is a refining fire – but in the process we become more like Jesus.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Ok, love this. Yes, it’s not just once that we fall apart and get put back together. We have to face this many times throughout our lives, and He will keep putting us back together. Thank you for sharing that aspect of transformation today.

  • My husband and I are selling everything and moving to London for ministry and I know that all you say here is true. It’s our ninth move in 25 years of marriage and vocational ministry together but our first international move. I’m expectant and realistic. This is beautifully encouraging. Thankful I stumbled upon your words this morning.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Hi Shelly. Thanks for taking the time to comment here. I just wanted to respond to what you said about making your first cross cultural move, but this not being your first time in ministry. My husband and I were involved in local church ministry for 10 years before moving overseas. We still went through culture shock, and there have definitely been times I felt I was falling apart (hence the blog post), but I have to say some of the transition was made easier by our years of experience in ministry. Making boundaries for family time, that all too familiar feeling of being disappointed by people you work with or for, stuff like that. We just found it helpful. So I wanted to pass that experience on to you, and hope it also encourages you in your upcoming move that the path God has placed you on for the past quarter century have prepared you for this. 🙂

  • This portion of our missionary life has fallen apart but we do trust that God will make it the beginning of a new one. Thank you for this reminder.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      YES, God is with you. Always. So glad to read that your faith is upholding you in this time of change. May you always know this and feel this.

  • Melissa Bjorgen

    This happened to me. I did fall a part only to be made whole again. I came home and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We will be returning to the field because Gods grace is sufficient for me.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh this is SUCH a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Frey

    This is very timely for me! I am on the other end of many other people, as I’ve just marked 5 months in Italy, so I’m still very green! What you discussed in the article has started to appear in my life over the last several months, bubbling out at the most unexpected times! Nothing too surprising, but I always think “What inconvenient timing! Why now?!” Thank you for the encouragement!!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Oh yes, always such inconvenient timing! Thank you for making me smile with your comment. 🙂 Sounds like you still have your sense of humor intact, which they say is a sign you’re starting to recover from the initial culture shock (from some missions book we read somewhere, sometime . . . ).

      • Frey

        I feel like if I lost my sense of humour, that would be a true sign of falling apart for me! Humour, laughter and smiles always put things in perspective and, however serious and deep the pain of the issues we may struggle with, they always bring me back to that joy that is only found in Christ, the one that is not dependent on happiness or circumstance.

        (As a side note, do you have any posts or links for young singles on the mission field? Thanks!)

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Love.this. “When all our darkness reveals itself, God is right there beside us, waiting, ready to bring ever greater healing to our hearts. Through all this nasty falling-apartness, I believe God wants to heal the broken pieces of our lives. And living overseas might mean that we’re in just the right place to accept those healing changes.” and sometimes living overseas means living back in our passport countries – in a place where we are not comfortable but healing resources are available. Thank you.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      SO true. I have had friends in that exact uncomfortable situation — and I know that could be me someday, it could be any of us, really. But I believe that, too, is God working in our lives to bind up our wounds, and glorify Himself, and in turn, use us as healing voices in other people’s lives.

  • Chrissy Cosner

    I learned so much about myself through falling apart at language school, and so much about Him as His grace and strength are all that held me together. And watching the weaknesses of my family truly showed me that He is my only one true support, that I can wholly lean on Him alone.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      There’s nothing like language learning to bring out our biggest flaws! In all seriousness, though, I love how your falling-apart experience taught you more about yourself AND about Him. He is good, and His grace is good! Thank you for sharing.

  • Richelle Wright

    I read this the other day – was busy with health issues with family and didn’t have time to respond. But I’ve been thinking…

    And maybe because of where I’m sitting right now… watching my dad terrified because he feels like physically – and as a result emotionally – he’s falling apart… I’m reminded that there are so many sides to a “falling apart” story. When I was just entering into my first season of realizing I wasn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t hold it altogether (even though only a very few knew just how fragile I was) – and I heard a long term misso use the term “one term wonder” in a very derogatory way. Said misso thought is was a humorous comment. I knew that I never wanted something I said/did to discourage a fellow international worker they way those three words deflated and humiliated a struggling me.

    Part of the beauty of the body of Christ is that when others are falling apart, others are gloriously altogether and recognize that they are by God’s grace alone. When you are in those altogether moments, you can’t forget the falling apart ones so that you can help bear those burdens, encourage – becoming a Barnabas to a hurting Paul. That’s so key, no matter where we are located, but where else could that be more important than among those of us serving internationally somewhere.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “When you are in those altogether moments, you can’t forget the falling apart ones so that you can help bear those burdens.” YESSSSSSSSSSSSS. That’s the beauty of grace, and the beauty of the church (I confess to being someone quite in love with Jesus’s idea), and you’re right, we ESPECIALLY need each other overseas.

      I have not yet had opportunity to experience the falling apart of my body, but one of my close friends is both older than I am and has older parents than I have. So she has been able to show me, ahead of my time, both what it feels like to experience and what it feels like to watch in your parents. She said she understands so much more now why most of the prayer requests from older people in church are physical-health-related. There is just so much anxiety that accompanies the deterioration of our health. I’m reading the Call the Midwife series, and this quote stood out to me when I read it: “Health is the greatest of God’s gifts, but we take it for granted; yet it hangs on a thread as fine as a spider’s web and the tiniest thing can make it snap, leaving the strongest of us helpless in an instant.”
      And “one term wonder,” just, OUCH. It sounds painful even without the accompanying tone of voice and/or derisive comments. I do hope it wasn’t used towards you, although I know it hurt just hearing it. And so glad you decided never to do that to others! We need more encouragers in this world, and I think if we were all a bit more sensitive and encouraging to each other, maybe some of the burnout that unfortunately happens to many missionaries, could be prevented.
      {And as a side note, sorry my responses to you are always so long, you just bring up so many good things to talk about, hee hee. 🙂 }

      • Richelle Wright

        Love long responses… love the conversation! 🙂 Maybe someday, we’ll have a convo in person!

        Call the MIdwife is one of those shows I wanna watch – haven’t had a chance… yet…

        I hate the fact that those sinful insides can so often take pleasure in (at the worst) or even only downplay another’s helplessness instead of the Jesus option. I hate it, especially… when I find those sorts of “one term wonder” thoughts/opinions/attitudes creeping up inside me. Then it is time to immediately hit the knees, repent, seek forgiveness… cause that is where the me versus him/her/them attitude starts…

        But I’ve also been thinking more (we were “rustic” camping this past week – had time for thinking there as well – if that comment, “one term wonder” also covered up someone hurting, feeling abandoned/betrayed by colleagues they’d hoped for, wanted, needed… and that some falling apart is much more subtle or disguised or “nontraditional” which so means we so need God’s discernment to guide our interactions with each other, don’t we?

        • Elizabeth Trotter

          The things you’re saying here are things I think about a lot, actually. Living in a mecca of missionaries and NGO workers, I see struggling people much more often than I see “one-term wonders.” And it makes my heart hurt so badly — which means missionary care is something near and dear to my heart. A lot of the pain and hurt is disguised, as you say, but I just wish it weren’t happening at all, or that we knew better how to deal with and prevent it.

          • Anonomous

            Greetings Richelle and Elizabeth! Sorry to jump in on your conversation, I’m just getting pulled in! Thanks for being so open. Its amazing how much pain can be in missions. I’m basically crying reading your comments (but hiding it from my husband) because I just experienced some missionaries leaving after being here only 1 year, and I’m coming up on my 10th year. It just hurt so badly when they announced they were leaving and then mentally checked out. I had so many hopes and dreams built around them joining the team. I was enjoying their company so much. I would never want to hurt someone with a comment like “one term wonder” but I feel the pain right now so sharply of the person who said that. Who knows what they were going thru, but right now I feel totally crushed by a family who said they would be here for life and then only did one year. I understand how hard it is to live here, I have wanted to quit many times. I don’t want to judge. It just hurts. so. bad. It’s an emotional blow at the same time as my work load doubles.

          • Elizabeth Trotter

            No need to apologize for jumping in! That’s part of why this website exists! But you are right, it is very hard when you think you’re going to work with someone on a team, and it doesn’t work out. Even in our 2 short years, this has happened twice, and it’s very devastating — especially the second time around, when I felt so stupid, asking myself why I got my hopes up again??
            I am so sorry for the emotional blow, and also the increased workload that is accompanying it right now. You’re not hurting people’s feelings, you are just sad — and that’s ok. I am so sorry for the disappointments you’re feeling right now.
            May God himself mend the heart that has been ripped in two. After this many years, I’m sure you have had many goodbyes, and they pile on top of each other, making a disappointment like this even more overwhelming.
            Again, I am just so sorry for the loss.

          • anonymously

            This was a hard read from Anonymous….as I would be that one term wonder….only more accurately a half term wonder. (though I totally agree this was such a harsh comment) God used one ministry to point me, and another to get me here, and in only 5 months separated me from them. The working conditions were unacceptable for a ministry; such a harsh, unkind, controlling environment. Speaking with my board back home I knew I was being called apart, but also to stay and work here. I know this hurt them. Enough that some pretty harsh untrue things were said about me to others here. I can let all that go, I don’t care. I am here because God called me here. Another opportunity to examine my heart before the One who calls me His own.

            Reading your post breaks my heart afresh for the other person/people…….I know this hurt. It hurt me too. But I also know Father knew it was coming when He called me here, and He is more interested in our response than who works with whom. Thank God I am only accountable for my own response. And by the hand of God I am making it, day by day, awash in grace.

            I am so sorry for your pain.

          • Elizabeth Trotter

            I think everyone, on all sides of an ending like that, hurts. The people who make the decision to end a work relationship, and the people who have the decision made for them by someone else. It hurts, all around 🙁
            I am so sorry others said hurtful things about you. So, so very sorry. I don’t handle that kind of injustice very well. And making the type of decision you had to make can be risky like that, because people tend to talk and make assumptions. I really wish it weren’t so, but it is. :/
            In the end, you have to do what is right for you, and I love how you say that you are here because God called you here. Amen!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      yes.yes.yes. I can’t put in enough yes’s. I want to hug you right now for this comment Richelle! And that’s part of the strange gift of falling apart, that we can come alongside when we are curiously stapled together and somehow stronger by grace. And one day we will all be gloriously put together in the presence of God. The story isn’t over yet..

      • Elizabeth Trotter

        And honestly, Marilyn, you did that for me earlier this year when I was struggling so with my TCK-ness. You were so gracious and graceful to me! Thank you for that, it meant a lot. “Curiously stapled together and somehow stronger by grace.” Yes! We can be that for each other.

      • Richelle Wright

        these words ~ “curiously stapled together and somehow stronger by grace” ~ so beautiful!

        PS I take hugs… any day! 🙂

  • Claire

    This was/is my life too. Was forced home last month because my mission fell apart and soon after I did as well. Still working through these truths, but He truly is faithful. Learning how to need Christ and be okay with needing Him every hour is the hardest and best lesson I know I’ll ever learn. Thanks for posting.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Last month, wow, that trauma is quite fresh still. I am so sorry. Transition can be so hard, especially when it happens unexpectedly like that. And learning how to “be okay with needing Him every hour,” wow, I think so many of us don’t learn how to do that. Thank you so much for sharing how you are holding on to God in this crisis.

  • Cambria Finzel

    Thank you for this entry. It resonated deeply with me and helped me at just the right moment. Doing missions overseas has been one of the hardest experiences of my life, but I think it is so worth it.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      You’re right, it is SO hard at times. Glad this found you when you needed it. May you feel God’s presence beside you today, and every day.

  • Our family has served as stateside missionaries for the past 5 years and we are strongly considering serving overseas for a season. This idea is part of what I hope for our family. I tried explaining it to someone the other day and it didn’t come out quite right. I kept saying, “It’s not that I WANT to put our family through hard times but I want the end result. I think we’ll be better for it.” Maybe I’ll just print out your article and hand it out to people when I’m trying to talk…:-)

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Well, it’s certainly the wildest adventure I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. They told us in training that this would be the hardest thing we would ever do, but it would also be the best thing we would ever do. Not sure that totally made sense at the time. I remember thinking, in our initial transition, that they said it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be THIS hard! Nothing can quite prepare you for the actual hard stuff, but there is something precious on the other side of it. 🙂 Many blessings on your journey from stateside missions to overseas missions!

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  • Shari Mottram

    I hope it is ok to jump in a month after you write this. heehee I am catching up.
    I nodded the whole time I was reading this.
    I am in Cambodia alone. Except for Almighty God who brought me here. I am sure there have been (are, and will be) days when others can see my flaws. I care less about that now than I did, and more than I will in days to come. The deeper I get into this season of my life, and as much as I miss my kids, I am sustained completely, day by day, by my loving Father. I have had to face some heart issues that, as you say, would not have come up in this healing changing way in my passport country. And when I sit mortified at the content of my heart, repentant, I also marvel at the grace of God to set me aside for this cleansing. I would not change this for anything. Will I be here for the rest of my life? I don’t know. But it is enough to live today, and to try to live it to the fullest, enjoying this time with the Lord. If we are focusing on the One who called us then we will welcome the cleansing tide. If I stay, or if I go, I will never be the same. Thank God! For His GLORY.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Of course it’s ok to jump in a month late, as long as it’s ok for me to reply to you a month after that! I only now realized there was a new comment on here. Your name looked familiar and I think you may know my husband somehow?
      But anyway, I love what you say about caring less about other’s opinion of your flaws now than you used to, but more than you will in the future. I love the progress and the confidence of more progress in that statement. And I really relate to this sitting “mortified at the content of my heard, repentant.” YES. This really is a continual journey, and there is always something new to find in our hearts. Oy. I had that experience just this week, in fact.
      Thank you for such a rich comment, and I’m glad it took me so long to find it, because man, I could really relate to what you’re saying this week. Blessings!

  • Sarah Vryhof

    I am an MK from the Ivory Coast but it wasn’t until I came to the Dominican Republic as an adult that God really started to work on some issues i have had with panic attacks and anxiety. It is in this country that i have received the most healing. After 11 years being on meds, it was in THIS country that i got off. God works in places where we are out of the comfort zone.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      This is such a cool story, Sarah, how God gave you healing and helped you get off meds! I love this. Thank you for sharing.

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  • Rebekah Batterink

    Just came across this post now, and am very thankful! Prayerfully preparing for the mission field. This stirred many thoughts. The Lord leads us, empowers us, and sustains us, but we’re still human in need of our Saviour. We can’t do it without Christ or the community of believers supporting!

  • RLH

    Falling apart is one of those things that’s going to happen no matter where you’re at, just on the mission field, it happens SOONER and with more people watching, who might not know you as well, and you have fewer resources to help heal all those crumbly pieces.

    Elizabeth, you prayed for me in the comments on your blog about prayer. It was so touching… We were struggling the hardest we’ve struggled in years (maybe even ever). Anyways. I had something to tell my husband, but I wanted to wait until I was sure the timing was right. Here, he’d read my journal and knew all along.

    So we had a long, long talk last night.

    Sweet, sweet freedom.

    Thank you for praying. And I’m thanking God for a “falling apart” kind of month, because this being held together by Everlasting Arms is so, so incredible.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Just saw this, RLH. Thank you for this follow up comment. I’m so glad you were able to have such a healing, freeing conversation with your husband a year ago!

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