Money and Missionaries: Do You Have a Plan for Retirement?

Project update! Quite a few of you took this survey regarding your first year on the field and I am nearing the completion of the first draft. Thank you for your help! One of the chapters discusses how your relationship with finances, your body, the weather, productivity, success, technology, and time will change in your first year. We haven’t talked about money in a couple of years. So, let’s rectify that with this repost from four years ago.


I start this off with a bit of fear. I want to talk about a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have little expertise when it comes to financial planning, but it is important so I’m going to push past my excuses.

Money and missionaries: do you have a plan for retirement?


Let me set this up with a bit of back ground information about me and what has both formed and informed me after working with hundreds of folks on the field. I’m going to make a list because lists help me bring (some) structure and order to parts of life that feel large and chaotic.

1—My personal financial history is that I come from a relatively stable, healthy family when it comes to money. Both of my parents are educated and successful. During my childhood, my dad started a company that ended up not taking off and then had a serious disease and was unable to work for over a year. Before and after this period, he was employed as an engineer. They modeled and taught how to handle finances when you have a steady income and when curve balls get thrown.

2—I had a strong sense at a young age I wasn’t going to live a “normal life” (whatever that is) and started saving for retirement at 16. Let it not be said that I don’t like to be prepared! I’ve been thinking about this subject for over thirty years.

3—When I went to the field, it was after working in a public school where I had a job that included retirement benefits. At that time, I thought I was stepping out of the system for two years. I was still in my 20’s, so it didn’t seem like I was making a HUGE life decision or weighing much when it came to life decisions. I was simply, taking two years off at a time when two years wasn’t a big deal. That was 20 years ago.

Like me, you might be thinking this is only for a few years so you don’t need to factor in the idea of retirement. Or like me, your journey could evolve over time and “suddenly” it’s been nine years and you think, “Um, this might be a career. When did that happen?!” Or you might have entered the field thinking this was for the long haul.

You can see how any of those mindsets could influence your approach to money and the long-term view.

4—Coming from the west, money has been relegated to the “private” part of a person’s life. For Christians, two of the greatest areas of shame involve sex and money. We often have such shame about our finances and have no idea how to initiate talking about them, that we end up isolated and ignorant. Which, ironically, only feeds the shame. And then years pass and you might now be in an overwhelming situation.

5—When it comes to missionaries, this discussion is complicated because instead of just the individual/family and an employer, there are often three parties involved.

  • The individual or family
  • The sending organization
  • The sending church (or churches, many churches)

Who, ultimately, is responsible for thinking about your retirement? And then let’s also throw into the discussion that there are many countries represented here at A Life Overseas. Meaning we have a myriad of philosophies and government programs when it comes to retirement.

6—We are Christians who do live by faith and believe in a loving God who provides. Money is not to be our idol, source of security, or source of identify. (But I would also say, neither is ignorance to be our idol, that’s why I want to talk about this.)

7—Though I could share many stories, I’ll share two here. I don’t want us to be so theoretical we miss that we are talking about real people. People like you or me.

First story involves a family of six. A surprise came up with their visa and they needed to pay an additional $50 for five of the family members. When I called to tell them, they freaked out. F.R.E.A.K.E.D. O.U.T. I get that money stuff can be stressful. As I brainstormed with them about the situation, it turns out they had $18 USD in their bank account.

And then it was my turn to F.R.E.A.K. out! Because we so rarely talk about finances, I assumed that others would have enough of a cushion in case of an emergency. Six people on the field with access to eighteen dollars. People, this is not good.

My second story involves a friend who is a mission’s pastor. Because the church had not historically had plans for retirement they have several people who need to retire now, but can’t afford to. One situation involves a man with dementia. I do not know him, so the picture in my head is purely of my own making. Can’t you see him? Doesn’t your heart go out to this man who has worked faithfully his whole life? But without much provision for this later state?


I am hoping this post is just the start of the conversation. I don’t want to stir up fear or undue concern, but help bring this area into the light more.

  1. When you think about preparing for retirement, do you have a plan?
  2. Who do you feel is ultimately responsible for your retirement plan? You, your organization, your sending churches, or your government? Have you talked with each of these players and asked their philosophy on their role?
  3. What is your organization doing well in this area? What is/are your sending church/churches doing well in this area?
  4. What do you wish your sending organization or church would do differently?
  5. How have you seen God provide for you thus far in your experience on the field? How does this foster hope when it comes to your finances long-term?

A Letter to the Grandparents of My Third Culture Kids

*originally published at Djibouti Jones.

I remember telling you we were pregnant. We had spaghetti because that’s what you served your parents when you announced each pregnancy. I requested it, but you cooked it because I already felt sick. And so, almost before I told you, you knew.

I remember telling you we were pregnant with twins. You knew I had the ultrasound that day. I stepped into your house and said, “We have something to tell you.” The plan was to show you the videotape of the ultrasound, make you guess why our baby had two heads. But, again, you knew before I told you. You said, “Its twins, isn’t it?”

I remember you tattooing my massive stretch-marked belly with planets and stars and I remember you coming to see the high level ultrasounds and crying.

I don’t really remember telling you we were moving to Somalia. But I also don’t remember you ever saying, “Don’t go.” You had expected something like this for years, almost like you knew again, before I told you. I don’t remember telling you we were taking your grandchildren to what felt like to us, at that time, the ends of the earth, a place none of us could picture in our minds. But I don’t remember you saying, “Don’t go,” because you never said it.

We boxed our belongings and stored them in your basement, in your upstairs closets and empty farm buildings. We wrenched up our family and our roots. And we left.

I don’t know what that was like for you.

I can imagine. I imagine it felt like ripping and shattering. I can imagine it felt cold and black, unreal and yet too real. It seems so long ago, the actual leaving, but it also seems so near. I think because the leaving wasn’t truly that one day, it is every day since the first in January 2003.

Sometimes I want to apologize to you, for causing this pain. Sometimes I want to apologize for not sending enough updates on the kids or Skyping often enough, for having stand-in relatives.

But, though I wish there wasn’t pain involved, I don’t feel right apologizing. Because I don’t have regrets, not ultimately, not when all things are taken into consideration. If I could live two lives, one of me would stay put and one would be on this wild adventure I am on. But since I can’t, I won’t apologize for not being able to accomplish the impossible.

So instead, I will simply say thank you.

Thank you for not saying “Don’t go.”

Thank you for raising us with a vision for the world outside our immediate circles. Thank you for teaching us to work hard, to trust like crazy, to dream big, to love deep. Thank you for helping us pass these qualities on to your grandchildren.

Thank you for sliding down McDonald’s Playland slides, for gathering up snow pants when we show up for a month and the temperature is below zero, for washing extra dishes, for baby-sitting back in those days when we needed it. Thank you for finding used bicycles and even a stray cat for us to use/love.

Thank you for crying when we left but for never making us feel guilty. Thank you for making space in your homes for our boxes, space for our bodies when we are back. Thank you for giving your grandchildren a safe place to talk about their experiences, for being interested in their lives, for seeing that they are content and for not overturning that.

Thank you for all the trips to the airport, for welcome signs and welcome candies, for homemade quilts to warm our freezing toes, for bags of clothes to wear while in the US.

Thank you for picnics and parties and fresh fish fry and bean-bag toss and lasagna and bowls of strawberries. Thank you for keeping family traditions and for slipping us in seamlessly when we are here to join. Thank you for sending some of those traditions in packages across the sea.

Thank you for visiting, for stamping your passport with a country few of your friends have heard of. Thank you for learning about a region of the world you previously hadn’t paid attention to. Thank you for seeing our lives there, not just the black hole left in your heart, but the life we have built of work and friendships and home. Thank you for possessing the courage and humility it takes to acknowledge and appreciate that and to not insist that the only good place for us to live is near you (though that would be good too).

And now that two of our three kids are in college, thank you for stepping up and being grandparents in the same country. Driving practice, wisdom teeth surgeries, holidays, weekends with college students crashing your home.

Thank you for making it abundantly clear that no matter where we live, we are loved. We love you and we miss you.

How setting a Minimum Viable Day proved I’m not actually failing all the time.

Five years ago I arrived overseas believing that I could accomplish all the things in a day that I always had.

Before living overseas, a single day could easily include doing all the dishes, cooking dinner, sorting a load of laundry, grocery shopping, showering, playing with my toddler, a trip to the park, five hours at my part-time job, lunch with friends, reading a book, chatting with my husband, and watching a movie before bed. Some days could even include going to bible study. I had time to plan and teach Sunday School. I had time to volunteer with charities. I was busy, but it was manageable and I liked it.

I understood moving overseas would be an adjustment, but since I wouldn’t be working outside the home I was sure I’d have enough time on my hands to make the adjustment just fine.

I’m not sure exactly what year into living overseas it was, but eventually I figured out that although I technically had fewer commitments, I most certainly did not have more time. For the first several years overseas just putting three meals on the table took 6+hours of each day. I wish to tell you that with such a large amount of time invested these were fancy, filling meals, but they were not.

“I can do four things a day.” I said out loud to myself. “I can look after the kids, cook, clean the house, and homeschool. If anything else is added to my day one of those four things will not happen.”

If I go grocery shopping, one of those four things will not happen.
If I go to bible study, one of those four things will not happen.
If I take time to exercise, one of those four things will not happen.

I only have room for four things. That’s it. The trouble is, life constantly throws more than four things at me. How can I be expected to attend team meetings, search every store in town for butter, weed the garden, host visitors, keep up with supporters, or balance accounts when my day is already full to the brim with just the basics?

In product development, the concept of a Minimum Viable Product is the introduction of a new product to the market with only the most necessary features. The idea is that the product must be viable (it has to sell), and that by selling it the designers can gauge and learn from feedback, making improvements before releasing the product’s final version.

If I was to have peace of mind in this insane overseas life, I would need to develop my own Minimum Viable Day.

What are the minimum accomplishments in a day to consider it successful? Forget what I would like to accomplish. Forget the expectations of others (including my husband) of what I should be able to accomplish. What would a successful day look like if I stripped it down to the bare minimum? Could I identify the core things that must happen and then consider anything above and beyond that as the cream on top? When I really broke it down, this is what I came up with:

  1. My family ate enough food.
    Most days I try to serve creative, nutritious, filling meals, but this does not always happen. Tonight I managed a chicken pot pie followed by berry compote and custard for dessert. This was a really good day. A day when I not only had a plan, but also all the ingredients and time enough to cook it. It was a great meal, but it was also not an all the time meal. I can’t expect to feed my family at this level every single day. I’d like to, but I can’t. Sometimes I scramble to find anything more than toast. But toast still feeds my family and does not make my day unsuccessful.
  2. Homeschooling included some amount of reading and math.
    Our regular homeschooling schedule includes language arts, math, science, bible, history, physical education, art, and hands on work projects. I try my best to stick to the schedule, but there are days when this is just impossible. As long as the kids did some reading and some math review, the day is passable.
  3. I did something fun with the kids.
    Some days this is building elaborate train tracks with my four year old or high stakes chess matches with my eight year old. Other days this is multitasking a dance party in the kitchen as I make dinner. What I don’t want is for an entire day to whizz by without ever having stopped to breathe in and enjoy these two precious people God entrusted to us.
  4. I cleaned something.
    At the very least, I clean my stove. If I can go to bed with a clean stove top, I will feel ok despite piles of laundry, muddy footprints on the tile floor, and plates in the sink.

That’s it. For me, accomplishing those things on any given day is a day I can still feel good about. I consistently set the bar higher, but failing to reach it does not make me a failure. It just makes me a mom living overseas. And that is quite an accomplishment in itself.

I recently heard about the idea of setting a minimum viable day from a homeschooling website, which helped make further sense of my ‘four things’ realization. You can read that post here:

“Where Are You From?”

by Matilda Steele-Smith

“Where are you from?” The dreaded question is asked all too often as soon as I open my mouth and my Australian-British-South African accent comes out. A question that seems simple yet holds the weight of my being, it is the question of my identity. It is not simply the answer to that question alone which can be a difficult and strange one to have when someone actually doesn’t care about my history — but rather the judgments that are made upon the story that ensues.

When I say I have moved around the world, people’s first comment is mostly “Wow! That’s cool!”, or “Wow! You’re lucky!” and yes, I am. I have had the opportunity to meet many incredible people, to have many weird and wonderful experiences, and to have gained a greater understanding of the world around me. However, after being asked this question at every social gathering, and not at the fault of the one questioning, I have begun to feel a sort of resentment toward the, “So where is home to you?” question.

I do not feel at home where I am today and will probably never feel totally at home wherever I will be in the future. There will always be some aspect of my current culture that I do not have an affinity with or do not particularly enjoy. I have struggled over the past years with cultural differences and language barriers, common courtesies and strange laws. I have eaten traditional British cream tea, and I have eaten ostrich off an open fire after it was killed by an “uncle” I am not related to. This has been my life, and although it has been an adventure, it has been oh so very tiring.

While my life has been full of getting to know and then leaving people, I have watched others grow up in situations of familiarity: childhood friends who shared their ice-creams become love interests, rivals at swimming carnivals become prom dates. Sometimes I wish to have grown up in the same place, where the lady who seemed to be a hundred and one years old next door has to be three hundred by the time I leave home. Where the hole in my back fence has never been fixed, and the swing I once played on in the park became the place I had my first kiss.

And yet that will never be. And I have to be okay with that. I have to come to grips with the fact that there are only really two things in my life that are constant. The first is change, and that means I will embrace change with my every fibre of my being. Because if I don’t, then this adventure won’t be nearly half as fun. And the second is who my Father in Heaven is, he whose promises never fail, whose mercies are new every morning. Whether I am in Europe or Africa, Australia or the absolute middle of nowhere, He remains constant, ever-present, unchanging.

Therefore, I have adopted a new identity: Citizen of Heaven. As my identity is found in him, and as my eternity will be found there also, I rest in the assurance that I do have a home. That home is wherever I am in his presence, wherever I remember his all-encompassing and never-ending love. So, to all those who may not have a home, who feel a sense of desire for something that seems unattainable, rest in the assurance that you are not alone. You are not the only one. But also remember that you have a God in heaven, whose Holy Spirit will fill every crack and crevice of your life, whose presence will become your home. That same Holy Spirit is able to teach all of us that our citizenship is indeed in Heaven.


Matilda Steele-Smith is a 17 year old from Sydney, Australia who has spent the last 13 years in the UK and South Africa. After completing high school, she hopes to return ‘home’ to pursue a career in journalism. Passionate about social justice and all things creative, she loves writing and singing.

Guiding Cross-Cultural Principles from Public Health

Muslim women's health

I work in public health. As opposed to being a nurse in an emergency room or intensive care unit where care is focused on an individual patient, as a public health nurse I look at whole populations and health projects that will ideally make entire communities healthier.

Before moving to Kurdistan, I had the privilege of working on a women’s health project in the foreign-born Muslim community in Massachusetts. It was a merging of worlds as I watched God uniquely use my background in my job. We were generously welcomed into the community during a time when people could rightly be suspicious and concerned. Women and men willingly met with us, answering often difficult questions about health care and prevention.

I could speak and write for hours about this project, but recently as I was thinking about why the work went so well, I realized that the principles behind it are relevant to cross-cultural work around the world.

I wanted to share the principles that we used as we developed and implemented the project with the hope of beginning a conversation about working in and with  communities around the world.

  • At every level, involve the community.  Attempts to reach a population group without first knowing the group are often inappropriately designed and poorly received.  This principle is especially important when working with populations that represent a variety of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, each with varying belief systems and barriers, among other situational, historical, social, and economic differences.  An effective outreach program will need to consider those characteristics unique to each group and tailor its design accordingly, incorporating participation from representatives of the population in all phases of the program.  A good question to ask a community is: “Is this a prioritized need of your group, or is it a perceived need by outsiders?”
  • In every encounter, use diverse community partners.  Outreach programs that attempt to reach diverse groups can face obstacles such as not having sufficient knowledge, experience, or access to reaching and serving the community. Another mistake outsiders make is meeting with only one group and applying broad strokes from that group to the rest of the community. A culturally competent approach to outreach must include innovative and creative community partnerships in order to educate and serve the community.  Effective partners can be organizations, individual community leaders, educational institutions, media outlets – virtually any accepted and trusted avenue through which people can be reached and served.
  • With every message, educate whole families.  Because three quarters of the world relies on and adheres to a family system of support, decision-making, and problem-solving, educating people as individuals in isolation from their families may deter long–term, health-seeking behaviors and result in wasted time.  Accurate messages must be targeted to whole families, as well as to the entire population group, to facilitate an environment in which diverse groups can seek health care without barriers or fears. Outreach messages and strategies cannot and should not ignore the context of people’s lives.
  • Plan with, not for, the community. While this may seem simple, it’s not. If you really analyze some of the work that any of us do, we may realize that we plan for communities all the time. “Let’s do this!” we excitedly say! “This will make a huge impact!” And then we are desperately disappointed when our projects fail. Planning with a community means doing their project, their way. That’s hard, especially when we come as experts in our respective fields. Planning with instead of for means listening and asking questions, clarifying and rephrasing, all toward getting a better sense of how the project is perceived by the group we are working alongside.
  • As a guiding perspective, look to the long–term.  It takes a lot of time to do cross-cultural projects well. Our project took twice as much time as we thought it would. Building relationships, drinking tea, testing programs, asking for advice, drinking tea, getting feedback, revising, taking a step back when you want to take five steps forward, drinking tea….did I mention drinking tea? Relationship-building is a huge part of effective public health projects. Outreach programs should incorporate a long–term perspective with a willingness to invest time and resources in developing a positive and mutually trusting relationship with those groups over time.

Those principles served us well in the project I described at the beginning. As I have moved on to work in Kurdistan, I have needed to look back at them. I want things to move quickly. I want to work for change. I want. I want. I want. And then I take a step back and I think about the meaningful conversations that I get to have every single day. I think about the laughter and conversations I’ve shared as I’ve sat in the homes of Kurdish friends and colleagues. I think of the things I’m learning, the humility that is inherently a part of being an outsider in a new culture and being like a small child in everything from learning the language to learning how to shop. I think about the ways God has uniquely prepared me for such a time as this.

I stop and I think about the privilege of working cross-culturally, the privilege of learning from people who don’t think as I think or live as I live. I don’t want to squander the privilege by being culturally arrogant and thinking my way is better. Instead I want to breathe, slow down, learn, and drink tea. 

What about you? Have you used these principles in your work? How have you worked alongside communities instead of in front of them? I’d love to hear through the comments. 

Note on the photo – we had the opportunity to do an amazing photo shoot for this project. This is one of the photos that the focus groups then chose to go into a community curriculum. It is of me with one of the project participants.

 *Author’s note: Some of the material from this piece was adapted from Communicating Across Boundaries Cultural Competency Curriculum developed by NAWHO and adapted by Marilyn Gardner and Cathy Romeo. 

When Your Yes Impacts Other People

by Sarah Hilkemann

Last year, I wrestled with the Lord over what He was calling me to do. It involved major changes, shifts to what I thought I would be doing for the long haul. The process was unlike any other move of obedience I’ve experienced. I had to open my heart to say yes to whatever He had for me, which meant letting go of dreams and watching doors close. Slowly He showed me the next step, and little by little, what He had next for me emerged out of the fog.

Saying yes meant a lot of goodbyes. It meant closing out a house, selling furniture, and even the end of some really sweet relationships. It meant that some things were left undone. Promises of my return, of what I hoped to accomplish next were not kept. This was difficult.

My yes to the Lord, my obedience to Him, in some ways meant suffering for others. They didn’t ask for this goodbye. They didn’t ask for the challenge of finding someone to take my place, for the holes that were left and the projects they had to take on themselves. Perhaps these changes were for the good as they had to watch the Father provide someone who was an even better fit, or trust Him for their own next steps as things shifted.

I’ve been in their place too. I’ve watched others in my life obey God with their whole heart, seeking to honor Him and glorify Him. Sometimes this has meant a painful goodbye or a change I wasn’t anticipating.

We take these steps of obedience as we keep up the lines of communication between the Father and ourselves, but we are not alone in this life. Our decisions, our actions, impact those around us. This is the joy of life in community, but it is also the messy, crazy and sometimes painful part.

How can we encourage each other when our yes or someone else’s yes impacts the relationships with those around us?

God is their God, their leader and director too. I can trust that even as I take a step of obedience, He will also show them their next step.

We can be open in our communication about how our decisions might impact someone else. We can listen well and ask questions to invite honesty. Inviting others into our grief or joy over what our obedience means, and sharing in their grief or joy, can be a sweet gift we give to each other.

Allow the Father to take care of the things we cannot. I don’t need to control or micromanage every aspect of change. I can take responsibility for my part and trust God to work in the ways I can’t.

We can remind each other, challenge each other to look through eyes of faith and expect God to move. When doors close and we walk through painful goodbyes it can feel like God is finished with us. We can feel overwhelmed by a sense of abandonment. But God is still at work, even when things feel dark and still. He is at work in the foggy, murky middle of transition, and He is there when we come out on the other side.

Sometimes we need that nudge from a friend when we can’t see His goodness for ourselves. We can be that voice of truth for each other in each step of obedience in this journey.

Originally published here.


In 2013, Sarah Hilkemann left the cornfields of Nebraska for the rice fields of Cambodia where she made her home in big cities and little villages. In 2018 Sarah sensed the Father’s push back to the US and transitioned to serving as the program coordinator for Velvet Ashes. She is grateful to be close to family again while missing iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk and her home on the other side of the world. You can follow Sarah on her blog and on Instagram.

TCK Lessons: No One Understands

by Tanya Crossman

This series goes a little deeper into the key lessons of a TCK childhood. In part one I discussed the lesson that “Everyone Leaves.” I then wrote two follow up posts regarding that lesson: What About the Internet? and After Everyone Leaves. Now, in this post, I am finally tackling the big one: “No One Understands.”


There’s a good reason my book is called Misunderstood. Very soon after starting interviews, I realised that the topic of feeling misunderstood, and the impact of this, was coming up repeatedly. I started asking TCKs I interviewed if they had felt misunderstood in certain ways and the floodgates opened immediately. Stories (and often tears) poured out of young people who desperately wanted to be known and understood but were hurt by misunderstandings, or even feared it would never be possible that another person could truly understand.

So, why is it that TCKs share this feeling of being misunderstood? Why do they fear that no one can understand?


Living in between
I surveyed 750 TCKs for Misunderstood, and (unsurprisingly) I asked several questions about the experience of feeling misunderstood. A third felt misunderstood by their parents, and over half felt misunderstood by extended family members. 41% felt misunderstood by friends in their host country. 67% felt misunderstood by friends in their passport country. The main reason for this? Most of the people in a TCK’s life know only one side of that life.

As I’ve talked about before, the Third Culture experience is about living in between – with connections to more than one place/culture. One consequence of this for TCKs is that throughout their formative childhood years, most of the people they interact with know only one side of them – only one of the cultures/places that they know and are deeply impacted by. TCKs learn to turn languages and behaviours on and off as they move from one setting to another. In the end, however, there are few places in which TCKs can express all their pieces of self at once.

Imagine a German kid attending an English-speaking school in Kenya. Most of his friends in Kenya won’t speak German or understand much of German life and culture. Most of his family and friends in Germany won’t know what life is like in Kenya, and how deeply it impacts him. In each place, a piece of self is quietly suppressed, in order to focus on the pieces the people around him can share. Then his family moves to Malaysia, and the complications continue.

“TCKs often feel they will never be known completely; at best they are known slightly by people all over the world. Each person only knows tiny snapshots of parts of their lives.” — Gabe, as quoted in Misunderstood


The joy of being understood
When your baseline assumption is that no one will understand, the experience of being understood is powerful. I had two main goals for Misunderstood, one for each of the two key audiences. I wanted to equip parents and other interested adults with tools to better understand their TCKs; and I wanted to show TCKs that there are others out there who get it – that they CAN be understood.

When Misunderstood was nearly finished I sent excerpts of the manuscript to TCKs I had quoted, to make sure they were happy with how their words were being used. One of them summarised what I heard from many others, “I could have said every quote in here! I didn’t know so many people felt the same way!” Another, when reading the book herself, tried to guess which quotes were hers without looking at the name given. Over and over she thought to herself “oh yeah, that’s me” – only to discover that someone she didn’t know had expressed the same sentiment in words she would have used herself.

Some of the pre-publication reviews of Misunderstood I most treasured came from TCKs themselves, who saw themselves in what I had written, and received that most cherished gift: of feeling themselves to be understood:

Misunderstood left me feeling refreshingly… understood! Compassionate and discerning, its blend of gathered narrative and insight left me with a sense of belonging as well as an appreciation for the many varieties of experience similar to mine. This is the guidebook I want to give people to explain my cultural upbringing.”
– Christopher O’Shaughnessy, Author of Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures in Between

Misunderstood explains ME. Tanya gives words to internal feelings I could not have previously understood as a TCK. While I read, I found myself nodding with a sense of relief and recognition, ‘Yes! That’s what I felt. I’m not the only one.’”
 Taylor Joy Murray, Author of Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition

After Misunderstood was published and I started to hear from TCKs who had read it and felt the need to reach out and thank me for giving them this: being understood, and finding out they weren’t the only ones to feel this way. The very first letter I got was from a TCK living in Tajikistan. She shared some of her experiences with me and then said that reading my book was the first time since going through all this that she felt someone had understood her. My heart twisted – a combination of compassion for her, and gratitude that my words were able to bring her some comfort. I remember thinking at the time “for this one person, all the years of work are worth it.”

Two years later I had a letter from a young adult TCK who read my book after suffering a breakdown and discovering that they were a TCK. I heard that similar refrain – that it helped so much to know others felt the same way.


Understanding is possible!
The title Misunderstood is not supposed to be static, implying that the state of being misunderstood will never change. Instead, I hoped to do justice to the emotional experiences TCKs shared with me, while also opening a door to hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Yes, it’s true. Many people in a TCK’s life won’t instinctively understand their experiences. And unfortunately, it’s also true that some won’t want to try. But for those who are willing, resources like Misunderstood can help close the gap. It’s tiring, if not impossible, to be the one who advocates for yourself constantly, so giving TCKs a book (and other resources) they can put in the hands of people who do want to understand can take some of the load.

But more than that, there is hope in remembering that no one completely understands anyone else. We all have to share our stories, and try to listen to what another is saying about their experiences. What we all have in common are our emotions. We have all experienced loss, fun, joy, grief. It might look different, but the emotions underneath help us empathise. Learning to connect with and express the way we feel about things we’ve been through helps others go there with us.

The truth is, I know that there are many out there who are just like me, or at least can understand how I feel. There is a sense of isolation from others who are not TCKs, but I’ve always felt that in time most other people can at least comprehend the feelings we have. Loneliness is a universal trait among humans, whether it’s because you were always the weird kid at school or because you lived two thousand miles away from anyone who spoke English. While the reasons may be different, it’s the same type of pain we share.” – Eugene, as quoted in Misunderstood


Now what?

If you are a TCK: you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who has felt what you feel. There are others out there. Not only that, but there will be people in your life who want to listen, to learn, to come to understand you.

If you care for a TCK: a great gift you can give TCKs is to read up on different TCK literature, to start to get an idea of what forces have shaped their worldview. Remember that every TCK is an individual – no book will tell you exactly what they are like. BUT these resources can give you a starting place, to show you where your blind spots might be, and give you ideas of questions to ask to open up different conversations.

I’m going to close by borrowing my own words – from the close of the introduction to Misunderstood. This is what my book, and my work advocating for TCKs, is all about:

“There is no one-size-fits-all explanation of how every TCK has felt and who they will become. Rather, this book is a window into how international life can affect the way a child thinks and feels about their world, and how this different perspective may manifest in the way they interact with others.

Reading this will not teach you everything about any individual TCK, but it will give you a head start in understanding their perspective. From there it will be up to you to take time to talk with the TCKs you meet, and allow them to teach you more about their unique life journeys.”

Originally published here.
Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.

When You Want to Want to Stay Longer

When living overseas, sometimes there’s no doubt that you need to leave. A denied visa, a medical emergency, a government coup, a burn-out, an unresolvable conflict.

Sometimes there’s no doubt you want to stay. You’ve adapted; you’ve found community, ministry, purpose, and most of the time, you’re loving life.

But what about when you think you should stay, but you really don’t want to?

When the need is great, and right now, you’re the best person to fill it. When you’ve received affirmation from local believers and leadership from home that you are a good fit for your role. When you are seeing fruit–or you can almost see it, just over the horizon.

But you are weary of this life. You are sick and tired of the long lines at government offices, of bugs in your kitchen drawers, of being misunderstood (again). The pollution aggravates your daughter’s asthma, and it takes you five hours to run one errand, and suddenly the price of milk doubles over night. Again.

And your old life is looking pretty great. Your friends’ lives on Instagram are looking even better.

You don’t really want to stay. But you’re pretty sure you should. You want to want to stay. How do you get there?

Maybe sometimes you just need a vacation. Or some counseling. Maybe you need to consider a new neighborhood. Maybe you just need to bite the bullet and buy that air conditioner.

But after fifteen years living overseas, do you want to know what has kept me here longer? Changing my perspective from This is an experience to This is my life.

What’s the difference?

An experience is temporary. It’s something that you check off your bucket list before going back to your “normal” life. You’re likely to expect fun and adventure. You’re likely to have high expectations of what you’re going to get out of it, and lower lows when you don’t.

Since an experience has a defined beginning and end, you also aren’t necessarily looking for the normal rhythms of work and rest. You might be thinking that you need to pack in as much as you can because you know your time is limited. And when you’re looking at your time overseas as an experience, when times get hard, you just dig in your heels and endure it. (Buy an air conditioner? Pish! I’m here to be tough.) The end is always in sight, and you are counting the days till it’s over.

When it comes time to decide if you should stay longer, it’s not even a consideration. The experience is over; so why should you stay? Your sights are already set on home; they have been for a long time. Staying longer seems unfathomable.

But when you enter your time overseas with the mindset that This is my life, then there is no end in sight. You realize that adaptation is key. Of course, this does not mean that you try to recreate your life back home. But it does mean that you are actively looking for that “new normal.” When times get tough, you aren’t counting the days until it’s over. Instead, you’re thinking about how you can make this work. How you can adapt. How you can either change your circumstances or change your perspective so that you aren’t utterly miserable all of the time.

What does this tangibly look like? Put pictures up on your walls. Plant a garden. Spend the extra money to get the couch you love, instead of someone’s old ugly hand-me-down. These are little things, but can help significantly with your mindset. Slow down. Watch TV sometimes. Don’t fret over “wasted” time learning language and culture, chomping at the bit to get your “real” ministry started. Watch. Wait. Listen. Learn. When the power goes out or you get three flat tires in a week, pay attention to your thinking. Are you telling yourself, “Just a few more months and this will be over,” or rather “How can I learn to live this way?”

You want to want to stay? Let me tell you something I’ve learned about contentment in this overseas life: The more you think about leaving, the more you will want to leave. The more you resolve yourself to stay, the more content you will be.

And one more thing: There will always be a reason to leave if you are looking for it. Always. If you want a reason, you will find it. So here’s my challenge: Instead of just asking yourself, Do I want to leave?, consider asking yourself, Is there a good reason why I shouldn’t stay longer?

Full disclosure: My family is in that place right now, asking ourselves that question. I realize that finding the answer is not simple, because it can be easy to mingle God’s calling with our own desires. Knowing when has been “long enough” can often become more complicated the longer you stay….because the experience has become life! That’s what’s kept us here fifteen years, and the depth of our friendships, the wealth of what we have learned, and the multiplying impact of ministry have made all of these years more than worth it. I pray it will be for you too.

A Distant Look Back at Missionaries and Attrition, Part I


The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life.         —William Lennox

Not every former missionary gets an obituary printed in The New York Times, but in 1960, William Gordon Lennox did. Born in Colorado Springs in 1884, Lennox attended Colorado College, but when he applied to the Boston University Divinity School, he was rejected because of his deficiencies in Latin and Greek. For his fall-back plan, he earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, followed by spending four years as a medical missionary in China. It was during his time there that he saw epilepsy firsthand, and upon his return to the States, he devoted himself to the study of the disease, as a teacher and researcher at Harvard. In time, he became known as the “father” of the modern epilepsy movement in the US.*

Also, along the way, he wrote The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, in 1933. I referred to this book in my post “What Is the Average Length of Service for Missionaries on the Field? The Long and the Short of It, ” and having found a copy since then, I’d like to share more from this extensive study.

Before diving into the more recent findings, Lennox begins by taking a broad look back at “the entire journeyings of the missionary host.”

  • In the more than 100 years of Protestant missionary work preceding the book’s publication, approximately 75,000 missionaries had gone out, providing around 1 million years of service.
  • Their efforts resulted in 110 national Christians per missionary, or 8.3 for each year of work.
  • These missionaries served an average of 12.5 years, with those married averaging 13.7 years, and singles, 8.5 years.
  • By 1923, there were over 29,000 missionaries—representing 826 societies and committees in Europe, the United States, and Canada—serving abroad.

Then Lennox takes a narrower view, concentrating on workers sent out by six foreign missionary boards: the American Board, the board of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, the general and women’s boards of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the general and women’s boards of the Northern Baptist Convention. Findings from these groups were also supplemented with survey results from an additional 28 missionary societies from the US, Canada, and Great Britain.

The first missionary from these six boards went abroad in 1812. By 1880, the number of cross-cultural workers from these groups had surpassed 1,000, and by 1932, the total had grown to 4,263. This last figure represents about one-third of Protestant missionaries from North American and about one-sixth of those from around the globe at that time.

Here are some of the data derived from these six boards:

  • In 1830, 49% of missionaries were female. In 1929, women made up 69% of the missionary workforce.
  • For those missionaries entering service after 1900, the most frequent age to set sail was 26 for males and 25 for females.
  • When looking at the length of time overseas, Lennox took two perspectives: counting missionaries sent out in a given period, and counting those who returned in a given period. In the first category, for the 120 missionaries who went abroad before 1830, the average length of service was 18 years. Of the eight decades covered for the sending-out years (1810-1889), the lowest average length of service was recorded from 1830 to 1839, at 15.5 years, and the highest was slightly more than 20 years, for those heading out from 1860 to 1869.
  • When switching to the years in which missionaries ended their service, the studied timeframe covered 1860 to 1928. The lowest average, a little over 10 years, came from those who withdrew (or died in service) from 1890-1899, while those leaving between 1910-1919 averaged a high of between 13 and 14 years.
  • From 1920 to 1928, 10% of female missionaries who withdrew and 15% of male missionaries who withdrew left after serving for 40 years or more.
  • For the whole group of 12,774 missionaries serving up to 1928, the average length of service was 12.4 years. The two-thirds who had already left their service averaged 11.9 years, and the one-third still active averaged 13.4.
  • During the time covered in the study, the “usual term” of service was considered “six or seven years, followed by a year of furlough,” but the end of those first terms did not mark a high point in attrition. Rather, the largest number of missionary withdrawals, 9%, occurred during the third year, with 34% leaving in years 2-5. By the seventh year, half had withdrawn.

At this point I’ll return to the quotation at the top of this post: “The opinion is often expressed that the present-generation missionary does not view his work as a work for life.” It’s the kind of sentiment that sounds as relevant today as it did in 1933—maybe even more so. After making this statement, though, Lennox then goes on to show that the missionaries of his day were actually serving longer, on average, and the proportion of “lifelong” service was increasing compared to their predecessors.

It would be difficult to make the same claim today, as it seems that lengths of missionary service are growing shorter. But determining with precision the details of the current situation is difficult. As seen above, when we count up years of service, it is always a look back. Sometimes it’s a more distant look, when we wait until all those who began in a particular time period have withdrawn. More often, though, we look at the more recent past, considering all those who left their service during a certain timeframe, including in our calculation the long-termers from yesterday but excluding those who may stay for a lifetime tomorrow.

Each way of counting helps us gain understanding, though the two produce different outcomes. Lennox took both approaches, and with a plethora of data, he was able to compare and interpret the results, taking into consideration such things as changing circumstances overseas, evolving missions policies back home, global events, increases in the missionary population, and the list goes on.

An accurate analysis of data today will require the same kind of considerations, helping us answer several questions: Is there currently a gap, as there was in the early 1930s, between opinion and reality? And if so, how wide is it? How much are any changes in length of service due to the environment on the field or to shifting strategies or to the missionaries themselves? How are generational attitudes affecting plans and outcomes?  Are we truly living out long-lasting trends toward shorter service? Is it too early to say?

Half of the equation comes from answering How long do missionaries stay? The other half comes from answering Why do missionaries leave? For both, we can get insights into the present situation by looking at the past.

To that end, in Part II of this discussion, we’ll delve into The Health and Turnover of Missionaries again and consider the reasons for attrition for those who’ve gone before.

*As obituaries tend to do, Dr. Lennox’s praises the high points of his life while neglecting the less than laudatory. As I researched more about him, I found that in addition to being a pioneer in the field of epilepsy treatment, Lennox also came to be a proponent of eugenics, including euthanasia. While those viewpoints don’t impinge on his analysis of the missionary data provided him, and while his attitudes were not uncommon at Harvard and among the general population in that era, I don’t want to ignore this aspect of his life as I bring attention to his work.

(William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933; “William Lennox Obituary,” The New York Times, July 23, 1960 (at Lasker Foundation, retrieved from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)

Photo by Made By Morro

TCK Lessons: After “Everyone Leaves”

by Tanya Crossman

My first post in this series explored a “lesson” TCKs learn through growing up internationally: that everyone leaves. Next, I paused to address a very common response: “what about the internet?” The internet allows for relationships to be maintained long-distance, which is so very helpful! But it doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem.

Now in part three, I am finally getting to the “solutions”. Only after we stop to really hear the sadness that TCKs experience can we start talking about what happens after everyone leaves. With that foundation under us, I’m going to work through a few ideas that can be helpful for anyone dealing with the life lesson that “everyone leaves.” The bottom line is this: you can’t change the past, but you can choose what sort of future to build. Understanding what we think, and learning new ways of thinking, can make a huge difference in this regard.


Change, transition, and goodbyes
While the focus of this post is dealing with the aftermath – the life lesson encoded from a childhood full of goodbyes – it’s worth taking a moment to consider what to do in the thick of things. It’s important to understand the relationship between change and transition and the impact transition has on our daily lives – whether we stay or go. Understanding this process, leaving space for it, and practicing self-compassion during it, goes a long way toward encouraging future healing and growth.

Saying good goodbyes is also really important. Anything that matters (a person, animal, place, group) is worth saying goodbye to. Any relationship that will be changed, any routine that will be lost, is worth marking. There are lots of ways to do this (parties, gifts, memory books, photos, last visits, etc.) but it can also be an internal process. I can stop and recognise the importance of each person/place, expressing sadness and gratitude, any time – even after the fact, even years later, regardless of whether a good goodbye was not said at the time. This is especially helpful when a family moves unexpectedly – for both the ones who leave, and the ones left behind.


Living “everyone leaves” long term
What I really want to focus on in this post is what to do later in life, when the lesson that “everyone leaves” has sunk in and affects the way I think and act. As I’ve listened to and mentored young adult TCKs in particular (especially as I start preparation for my next book) I’ve found a few tools that help us reframe our thoughts – and take control of the future. Taking time to consciously understand how these very valid past hurts impact our present-day reactions allows us to stop the past from stealing the future.

Saying goodbye sucks. Losing friends sucks. There’s no point sugar-coating that fact. The reality of change and loss can be painful, and it can’t be changed. The past is what it is. But staying in that place of pain, and the helplessness and hopelessness that often goes with it, doesn’t change the past. We must acknowledge the truth of our lives. But we don’t have to be ruled by it forever. We get to choose what happens next.


Sunk costs
In business there is a term for money you’ve already paid: a “sunk cost”. It is money you can’t get back. You’ve already paid the rent, bought the inventory, paid the salary – whatever it is, good decision or bad, it’s done. The question now has to be what is the best way forward, given that you can’t get the “sunk cost” back. This rule means that sometimes the best decision for a business is to sell old inventory at a loss – because that’s better that having it take up space in a warehouse.

Let me use a mundane example to explain. Imagine you’re at a restaurant, and having eaten 3/4 of your meal you are feeling very full. Part of your brain is saying you should eat the rest because you’ve already paid for it! A “sunk cost” mentality says that you pay the same price for the meal no matter how much you eat, that the money is already spent. So, would you enjoy the meal more by stopping now, or by making yourself sick eating too much? Forget what you can’t change, and make the best decision starting from now. Perhaps you can take the small leftover portion home to be a snack later. But even if that’s not possible, eating it all in order not to leave waste may not be the best decision.

I’ve found sunk costs an extremely helpful concept in my personal life. Something has already happened in my life. I can’t change that. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t need to “fix” something that’s already happened. Blaming myself for a bad decision, or blaming someone else for causing me pain, doesn’t change the situation I find myself in. Instead, I can look ahead and decide what to do next.

When it comes to the “everyone leaves” lesson, we can’t change what has happened. We can only decide what is the best way forward, all things being as they are. Yes, I have experienced many goodbyes, and that hurt. But what sort of life do I want from now on? What choices will help me build that sort of future?


Change happens
Change is a part of life everywhere – you can’t insulate yourself against it, no matter what you do. You may decide you want to settle down in one place for the rest of your life, to minimise the potential for change and loss. But anywhere in the world, your best friend might choose to move away, perhaps without warning. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate change. To be happy and healthy moving forward, therefore, you must find a way to cope with change.

Some people want to be the one who initiates change so that they are in control of it. They may move frequently, change jobs, or locations. One adult TCK told me that she had lived in the same town (with her husband and two kids) for six years, but in five different houses. Most of those moves happened simply because she wanted to move. She would find a better area, look for a better house. It took her years to realise she felt uncomfortable staying put for too long; when work kept them in one place, moving house helped soothe her itchy feet. Having recognised this, she wanted to try addressing the underlying feelings, but in the mean time she was pleased she had found a compromise that worked for her – that kept her living in the same city, not running away.

Another adult TCK finds moving stressful, but still has a deep desire to see the world. So he and his wife travel frequently, but always come home to the same house.

I think the important part of this isn’t how I cope with change, but that I do cope with change. That I am able to face my feelings about change, and make conscious choices about how to respond to those feelings – not be controlled by fears I avoid. Each of us needs to acknowledge that change happens, and we can’t avoid that – but it doesn’t mean we don’t have choices.


Pick your poison
Many TCKs I’ve talked with over the years have laid out the two choices they have: either go through the horrible pain of saying goodbye over and over, or don’t invest deeply in people to begin with. For many, avoiding deep relationships seems like the obvious and logical choice. The problem is that it’s not a choice between pain or no pain, it’s a choice between two different kinds of pain.

Yes, getting close to people only to have to say goodbye, over and over, is painful. But going through life without those close friendships, without people who know you, without anyone to share life with, is also painful.

So this is the real choice: either enjoy the beauty of friendship while you can, and pay the price in grief when someone moves away, or swap that sharp pain for the constant dull ache of feeling isolated and unknown. There is pain either way. But one path leads to relational connection – pain with gain. The other leads to isolation – a more lonely and sad kind of pain.

Faced with the reality of this choice, most of us instinctively understand the benefit of continuing to take the risk of investing in people.


And THIS is where the internet comes in
Maintaining friendships via the internet helps with a middle ground here. There is still the grief when a friend moves, or something happens and I’m not there in person. There is still the ache of not sharing everyday life. And yet, an ongoing bond through different life circumstances (in different countries!) can be rich and rewarding. My own best friend and I have only spent two of our 13 years of friendship in the same country. We both travelled across oceans to be in each other’s weddings. We come from different passport countries but have each visited the other’s family home, met parents and siblings.

I’ve had to grieve the changes in our relationship many times. But each time, I knew it was worth continuing to invest in her, and in our friendship.

This is the bottom line: you can’t go back. You can only go forward. Take the time to acknowledge hurts and grieve losses – then move forward.  Make choices about where you want to go, and who you want to be, rather than what you want to avoid. Invest in people, even though it means investing in harder goodbyes. Work out what you want from life, and start building toward that.

You can’t change the past – but you can make choices about what happens next.

Read more TCK articles by Tanya

Originally published here


Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.

Smoke and Onions

by Emily Raan

Today it was smoke and onions. A few months ago it was reading hard, real, and desperately sad books based on true stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate the smell of our neighbors’ burning trash. And the five onions I just got done cutting up are certainly not a bed of roses.

But lately I’ve found those painful, eye-burning, tear-jerking, and often times ugly things to be such a blessing. They make me cry. Or, better yet, they allow me to cry. They bring freedom from the hardness of this life that I carry with me: all that emotion I bottle up in order to try to maintain some sanity in my day.

The dinner must get done. The kids each need my personal and undivided attention. Homeschool must go on. Someone, it seems, is always at our gate. And one of our kids is always falling down and getting their knees scraped up! (Literally seconds after I typed that last sentence my oldest scraped up the back of her leg jumping off one of our benches.) And life just seems to continue to go on like that, doesn’t it!?

And in the middle of all this chaos I am so often overwhelmed by the weight of sin – my sin, the sin of others, the sins of an oppressive and corrupt government, systems that fail those they are supposed to help and protect.

Sin and its effect on us. Its effect on me. Its effect on my family. Its effect on those in my community. Sin is real and it’s ugly.

We cry and pray with our friends as they struggle with incredibly difficult family situations. A young mom with cancer who won’t make it much longer, a child who seems to be wayward, kids taken from their parents because of false accusations, a father who is abusive to his first wife and has taken their children from her. We give medical care to those who come with their many wounds. We cry with and pray for our community when horrendous acts of violence seem to abound. We struggle to know how best help those who have somehow become abandoned because of, well…. sin!

Some days it feels unbearable and my old friend Anxiety once again makes his awful appearance. It is on those days that God, in all His sweet, tender compassion and with His still small voice, reminds me who He is. He says to my hurting heart (and hopefully yours, too)…

I am holy. (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 22:3, 1 Peter 1:16, Revelation 4:8)

I am slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)

I am a good, good Father. (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

You do not need to be afraid, for I am with you. (Genesis 26:24, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10)

You see, God is for us and for those that we live and work among. He is for the brokenhearted. After all, we are broken, too.

Eventually, however, the smoke dissipates and the sweet smell of fresh air returns. Those onions get added to the hot oil and the now-savory aroma fills the room instead. And all of a sudden those smoke and onions become the beautiful reminder of who God is and all that He has done for us. A reminder of His abounding love and faithfulness. A reminder that we are not in this alone and that He has gone before us. A reminder that He can make even the ugliest and smelliest of things into something beautiful. A reminder of hope — and hope does not disappoint.


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5


Emily and her husband currently live in Uganda with their three kids, but they’ve also lived in India and traveled to six other countries on four continents. Once upon a time she was a high school math teacher, but now she’s living the life as a stay-at-home mom and loving it.  After several years of youth ministry, college life that went on far too long, and a year-long internship, they finally made it to this life abroad that they love so much.

“Hello Again” — The Unanticipated Bright Side of Perpetual Goodbyes

We are expats.  We say goodbye.  A lot.

I could end this post right there and know that I have struck a chord.  But I won’t.

If you’re living far from home (or you instinctively use finger quotes when you even say the word “home”) you’ve noticed it.  You started this whole thing with a massive (if not universal) round of “goodbyes.”  Before you were culture shocked.  Before you were homesick.  Before you ever felt the sting of being a bumbling foreigner, “Goodbye” was the hurdle you had to jump.

Who knew that there was a skill set for saying goodbye?

But there is.  And you got better.  Or maybe you didn’t.

Regardless you realized, somewhere along the line, that the first round of goodbyes was exactly that . . . the first . . . and they haven’t stopped since.

Saying goodbye is hard —  even when you’re good at it.  So signing on (or being signed on) to a life that includes more farewells than you ever could have imagined is, so very often, the darkest, bitterest, most horrible part of the life cross-cultural.

We have spent the past two weeks rediscovering the brightest, sweetest most wonderful part.

“Hello again.”


I am writing this post under the influence of jet lag having spent some UBER-quality with old friends in Prague.  They were the other half of the first double date that my wife and I ever went on.  I was their son’s first baby sitter and we lived next door in married student housing.  He taught me survival Czech for college credit but all I remembered was “put your hands up and give me some money.”

This trip was my first chance to use that in context.

It was rich to catch up with great friends but it was even richer to take inventory of just how blessed we are with so many great friendships.

I call them “LIFERS” (and in doing so recognize the need to distinguish them from the prison sort).

They are people that we have done life with and connected with on some deep, deep, almost inexplicable level and forged a relationship that will absolutely, unquestionably be life long.  They are friends that will always be friends regardless of petty little things like time or geography.  Some are family members and we’ve never not known them, some we have grown up with and others we’ve actually spent a remarkably small amount of time with.  They are all different but the single uniting feature is that, at some point, it has been hard . . . really hard . . . to say goodbye.

I don’t think you can cram Lifers into a neatly packaged box of easily definable (or even describable characteristics) but here are a few things that I’ve noticed:

Lifers pick up where they left off

There is some kind of wormhole that Lifers step through when they say “hello again”.  It’s like the elapsed time since they last said goodbye never happened . . . only it did because you’ve still got those memories and you’ve all grown older but it feels like all of that took place in moments and not years.   Catching up on what you’ve missed and reminiscing about your past times together are like red and blue play-dough that get all smashed together in a bluey-red, swirly ball.

It’s weird.  But wonderful.

The Lifer connection is not strained by poor communication

There is a security between Lifers that is nether contingent nor fragile.  “Hello again’s” are not made awkward by guilt.  There is no sense of “I thought we were good friends but you never . . .”  There is only, “wow, it’s good to be back together.”  You’d think we’d be more ashamed.  More apologetic.  But there is no need.

It’s unnatural.  But refreshing.

Lifers are not threatened by other Lifers

Spending time with some of our favorite friends has got me thinking about just how many favorite friends we have.  In fact we loved telling stories of our other favorites to the favorites we were spending time with and we also loved hearing stories of their other favorites.  There is real joy and zero jealousy in knowing that our Lifers have other Lifers.

Granted, it might be weird to be in a room with all of our favorites at the same time but the likeliness of that ever happening is slim.

It’s hard to explain.  But rock solid. 

fun jm

Lifers laugh at things that are not funny to anyone else in the world

I mean gut laughing.  The kind that hurts your ears.  Over simple, ridiculous things.  Shared moments that you think are hysterical but the entire population of the universe (with the sole exception of your Lifers) would not.

At all.

They would just squint . . . or maybe chuckle because they were embarrassed for you.

You and your Lifers though — you pee in your pants a little bit every time you talk about it.

For example: When I babysat our friend’s son he cried the whole time.

See?  You’re squinting.  But you should see us laugh (and pee) every single time we talk about it.

It makes no sense.  But man it’s funny.

Lifers repeat themselves

When Lifers say “hello again” we have a limited amount of time and the clock starts ticking from the first hug.  We also have a limited number of stories to remember because our times together are always short and sweet.  So we choose our favorites and we relive them . . .  the exact same stories we relived the last time we saw each other and the same stories that will relive again . . . every single time.

I can guarantee that should we all live to be old and senile, that boy’s great grandchildren will know that he cried the whole entire time that I babysat him.

It’s redundant.  But it never gets old.

Lifers are worth investment

If your Lifers are like ours they are everywhere — literally spread out across the globe.  Unless your bank account is considerably more impressive than ours and you have considerably more free time on your hands than we do, opportunities for reconnection are rare.

So when they come . . . pounce on them.

This time around our Lifers were the ones who opened the door for this to even be possible.  We are so thankful they did.

Every Hello Again costs time and it costs money but the return on that investment is impossible to put a tag on.

It’s expensive.  But so very worth it. 

As a final sidenote I should add that I thought it would be a nice tribute to put pictures of all of our Lifers in this post.  Two things stopped me.

 •   I was afraid I would miss one and they would be like, “oh I see how it is Jerkface” (even though they wouldn’t)

•   We’ve got a lot of Lifers.  More than I have ever realized.

It’s not a bad problem to have.

Maybe you (like me) have never taken time to count your Lifers.  Give it a shot.  I would bet you’ll be surprised.

Send them this post and say something like, “Yep.  This is you.”  

Then start dreaming about your next Hello . . . Again.

originally posted on

the missions conversation