Why I Can’t Care About Every Crisis (on the challenges of living in two worlds)

by Elizabeth Trotter on June 22, 2017

“What are people there saying about Syria?”

This question was posed to me during a Skype conversation with a friend back in the States. My answer? “I’m not talking to anyone about Syria. I’ve got things to deal with in my own personal ministry, and I’ve got things to deal with in my team ministry. I’ve got the daily work of homeschooling – a career unto itself – and your basic ‘how do I get food on the table?’ questions. I’m also living in a culture that has its own political and safety issues. So finding out what other people in my life think about Syria is pretty much not going to happen.”

I ended my rather lengthy explanation by saying, “I just can’t care about everything.”

While my statement might sound a bit cruel, I think it also sums up the struggle of overseas missionaries and expatriate Christians in general. How can we stay connected to our world back home while also embedding ourselves in our lives here? How can we tend to relationships in our host culture and relationships in our sending culture? How can we care about global politics and local politics and politics in our passport country? (And just to be clear here, that actually makes three worlds we’re expected to live in, not two.)

Here’s how I deal with these challenges, but I also hope to hear how you balance the many relational and cultural needs you face.

 

1. I don’t try to keep up on everything.

Something I learned a few years back was that I couldn’t care about every single crisis in American evangelical Christianity. It was too much to keep up with. These days I don’t keep close tabs on that scene. I’ve also found it’s not helpful for me to know every single detail about the political scene back “home.” It distracts me from the person right in front of me (that’s my own personal limitation and may not be the case for other people!).

Politics in my host culture can be confusing, and keeping current can be discouraging at times. So I depend on my husband, who enjoys staying updated on global current events, to update me on news items relevant to Cambodia, America, and the rest of the world.

This is how I personally cope with the overabundance of information in our technological age. If you keep up on global politics more than I do, I’d love to hear how you do it.

 

2. I do try to stay connected to my life here.

I’m an introvert, but relationships are still important to me. I try to stay connected to my friends here, whether that’s having them to dinner at our house or going out for coffee with a particular friend. I’ve never been a huge telephone conversationalist, but I’ve Skype-called friends in country who live too far away to get together easily. (I have relatively good internet access.)

I plan separate times for my kids to hang out with their friends here. (They’re getting old enough that we don’t call them “play dates” anymore.) I’ve found that friends have become more and more important to my kids as they’ve gotten older. It takes work on my part to arrange these times, but it pays dividends in their happiness. (Tanya Crossman’s new book Misunderstood discusses Third Culture Kids’ need for friends.)

Of course when we talk about relationships on the field, the revolving door of friends immediately comes up. While that’s not the focus of this post, I hope to delve more deeply into expatriate friendship next month.

 

3. I do try to stay connected to friends and family “back home.”

This part is tricky because I know missionaries and other expats tend to disconnect more and more from “home” the longer they are gone. That is still a temptation for me, but in the past year I’ve tried to be really proactive in planning Skype and Facetime sessions with close friends and family. We did a lot of Skyping our first couple of years overseas, but then we let the habit slip.

In some ways that’s good; we really settled in this place. But we still need those relationships; those people were rocks for us and our kids before we left. And although our lives have all changed in the last 5+ years, those relationships are still supportive and life-giving. We don’t want to throw away that gift.

Parents and grandparents won’t always be around, either, and we want to take advantage of the time we do have. We also keep in mind that most people don’t stay on the field forever; we need to stay in touch with our “home team” because they are the ones who will be welcoming us back one day. We just have to be flexible when planning across time zones (this action point also presumes adequate internet access).

Of course we don’t want to be so connected to our old homes that we aren’t rooted in our current place, but neither do we want to neglect the people and places of our past, which is why I encourage this point.

 

Now I’d love to hear how YOU live in two worlds? (Or is it three?) What things do you do or not do while living in a culture not originally your own?

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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.
  • I think this is true regardless of where you live. I currently live in just one world (well I guess as Christians we always live in between two worlds), but I can’t care about everything all the time and with equal zeal. It’s would be overwhelming.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by all the data. Sounds like this can also be a struggle for people who are currently living within their own culture, not just people living outside their passport culture. I’m glad you shared that.

  • Amy Medina

    I love international culture and news and tried for a long time to keep up on it all….and got stressed out when I couldn’t. Then I remembered….there are 7 billion people in this world….that’s a LOT of culture and news….there’s just no way I can keep up with it all. I read WORLD magazine (sometimes a month or two late to get to us!) and that’s my primary source of news.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      You’re right, 7 billion people is a LOT of culture and news! I, too, enjoy reading articles in paper actual magazines. 🙂

  • Susan

    This is a comforting post to read.
    I’ve been a nurse for 31 years, the last several being in surgical services. I also have two wonderful parents that are at the age in which their medical needs are compounding. My two worlds are more figurative – my parents health care needs versus my professional role as a healthcare worker.
    People at work, some hint, some come right out and ask for me to be more involved/ take on extra roles in addition to the ones I already cheerfully signed up for.
    I am learning to say “No” more often.
    I need reserve in order to help my mom and dad. Going ‘over the top’ with time and energy on work things that extend my day diminishes my abilities to help them.
    Wow – think I’m venting a little here.
    Thanks for listening!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Yes, there are a lot of needs in the world and in our own lives, and we only have a finite amount of time and energy to spend on those needs. It sounds like you are doing just what you are supposed to be doing in these days, and it takes courage to say no and keep to your prior commitments. You are doing a great job!

  • Connie Crum

    The words you wrote are quite familiar after living in East Africa for 26 years. I clearly remember saying how I had grown weary of trying to live with a foot in two worlds, or more as being acknowledged! The insurmountable amount of information at our fingertips is impossible to keep up with. What I have found interesting is that now, three years back in our passport country, I still find myself living in a few worlds – my thoughts and heart is never far from Kenya and while adjusting to working outside of home and “ministry”, I feel pulled in a variety of directions. That’s why it is imperative I keep finding the time and intentionality, just like when working internationally, to find solitude with Christ, getting centered and focused and being filled up. Thank you for addressing this real issue!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Yes, the multiple worlds situation won’t stop just because you move off the field! Your heart is still in that place, and you will feel torn between worlds. Keeping our focus on Christ is such good advice always, but particularly regarding this issue. Thank you for bringing it up.

  • bumis smichele

    I do all three of these. Thanks for this post…it feels validating somehow!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I’m so glad these words are validating to you.

  • Kate Flikweert

    Thanks for the post! I’m new to the overseas world, my husband and I just landed in Uganda in February, so we are adjusting and figuring out how to stay connected here and back home. You mentioned how to stay up to date on current events – this has been a problem for me even when I lived in the US! A friend told me about a daily e-mail (5 days a week, no weekends) called Skimmed that you can sign up for. It’s relatively neutral news, gives a very brief and readable summary of the major things happening all over the world and in the US. I read it almost everyday and feel like it really helps me keep mildly updated on news! 🙂

    • Kate Flikweert
    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Thanks for the tip! It might be easier for me to handle than the CNN World News my husband reads. Blessings to you as you continue to settle in your new land.

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