Sounding an Alarm on Social Media Evangelism

Sounding an Alarm on Social Media Evangelism

Excitement and awe were palpable in the dimmed hotel ballroom as I stared at the presenter’s screen. The young speaker, who appeared to be in his early 20s, was explaining how Facebook was proving to be a strategic way to share the gospel and allow people to learn about scripture safely and privately. Facebook users could view his page that was filled with scripture verses, and if they commented or liked the content, he would send them a link to an online Bible in their language. It was clear to all of us that this was a revolutionary way to broadly share the gospel with people who might not have the courage to ask for a Bible in person. 

Since that day in 2011, Christian ministries and indeed the world have experienced massive shifts in how we communicate, connect, and share information with one another. With smart phones now outnumbering people globally, social media platforms have morphed from a means of connecting with loved ones to a ubiquitous medium of communication and marketing. People separated by thousands of miles can now easily form a community that does not require physical proximity.  

A Double-Edged Sword

With every innovation comes both blessing and curse, and social media has been no exception. What began as a medium of socializing is now a powerful advertising tool. Social media platforms’ ability to market to the audience most likely to purchase a product is at the heart of many marketing strategies. Since social media platforms can quickly learn details of users’ preferences, personalities, and socioeconomic status, they are able to disseminate individualized content that is curated for each user’s ever-changing preferences. With increased usage, users grow dependent on social media to meet their needs for interpersonal connection, news, entertainment, and general events in their community. 

Dependency on these apps has turned into outright addiction for many users, and the problem of social media addiction has turned from concerning to an outright crisis both in the U.S. and around the world. The tentacles of social media addiction reach far beyond how a user spends their time. Mental health experts and former social media insiders are sounding alarms on how social media is purposefully addicting youth and young adults and making them depressed, anxious, and suicidal. 

We know far more today than we did 12 years ago about the mental health hazards of social media use, and we have a greater awareness of social media companies’ incessant use of unethical practices in addicting and exploiting their users. Nevertheless, Christian ministries are promoting social media use for evangelism, and doing so with little regard for the well-documented accompanying hazards.  While some would argue that the “end” (users hearing, believing, and accepting the gospel) justifies the means, it would be irresponsible for Christians to neglect a careful examination what exactly the “means” is. While we cannot deny the fact that social media can and has been a way of exposing people to the gospel, we must start recognizing that no one, neither users nor administrators, are inoculated against the harms of this medium’s addictive and exploitative nature.


Social media companies can give users content that is personalized and helpful. Based on their searches, posts, and likes, expectant mothers can expect ads for baby gear and nursery furniture. A grad school student might find their feed peppered with study aids and paper-writing tools. But what begins as a simple search for ten minutes is, by design, often extended into viewing other similar or related posts, and that added time viewing more content gives the platform evermore data on the user’s preferences. The apps purposefully remove “stop cues” like an actual end of a page or a blank screen at the end of video reels. There is limitless content that the platform is able to offer up to its users, so people who see no harm in spending hours upon hours on social media may do so without realizing that they are becoming addicted. 

This practice becomes increasingly unethical among users who are unwittingly using a service that is likely to harm them. Social media use is just as ubiquitous in low-income countries as it is in wealthy areas of the world with a broader understanding of internet addiction. Nevertheless, impoverished and low-income regions tend to be where social media evangelism efforts are being deployed. These areas have far fewer resources to educate populations on mental health hazards, so there is consistently a minimal understanding of addictive internet use.  Consequently, low-income countries offer up highly vulnerable and captive audiences to social media companies, who then sell that audience’s attention to anyone willing to pay for it. This is Exploitation 101: offering a service that seems highly beneficial while concealing its hazards in order to exponentially benefit and enrich the service provider. 

Seizing upon the dependable attention of social media audiences, Christian ministries join the fray by purchasing a piece of that attention. For a fee paid directly to the platform, evangelistic ministries can buy ads and broadcast to audiences most likely to view their content and respond. In order to grow their online audience (and thereby attract more users to their page), account pages can pay for likes, views, and follows. These accounts are often being run hundreds or thousands of miles away from the target location in order to protect the identities of Christians who live nearby, as these are often places with a history of hostility towards Christians. 

Users who view evangelistic pages are often presented with content and videos full of grace, hope, and love. For some, it is the first time they have ever read scripture, and it speaks to them in a deep, profound way.  Users who respond to the ministry’s social media content with questions or a desire to learn more are encouraged to call or meet in person with a local Christian who speaks their language and understands their culture. The hope is that people who are genuinely interested in knowing Christ will go beyond just text exchanges on a screen and begin a relationship with people who care for them. 

The question of ethical practice here is not about the message being offered to vulnerable social media users. It is about the medium by which that message is being conveyed and its incendiary methods of creating markets of hungry consumers. Yes, Christian ministries are offering a message of truth and hope to these markets. But is paying the drug lords who run the market an ethical practice? And are Christian ministries taking the time to inform their patrons of the health hazards of the medium they are both using?  

Beyond the Target Audience

The target audiences of social media evangelism are not the only vulnerable parties in these efforts. Those who are tasked with responding to inquiries are also falling prey to social media’s addictive devices, but their unhealthy habits or full-blown addictions are easily cloaked in the language of urgency for the gospel and “lives on the line.” Since this type of work is increasingly becoming a full-time job for globally minded Christians, we must recognize the addictive nature of social media ministry as an occupational hazard. Some responders are staying up into early hours of the morning to correspond with people who have reached out, and others report a hesitancy to create boundaries around ministry time on social media and personal time in general. 

The church should never shy away from entering dark places to carry in the light and love of Jesus, and we have a rich history of doing so. Ministering to people who are trapped in substance addiction, sex trafficking, and systemic abuse is the work of the body of Christ. However, we have historically done this work with diligence and awareness of the systems of oppression that can just as easily ensnare and brutalize us. We need to treat social media outreach in much the same way we would treat ministry in night clubs, casinos, or red light districts. The people on the inside may just be passing through, but they are very possibly there because they do not know how to leave. This may mean that people who put their faith in Christ as a result of finding hope on social media were indeed there because of an addiction to the platform. And this may mean that they need recovery rather than an invitation to work as social media evangelists or responders. 

Installing Guardrails

There was a road in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan where the guardrail was completely destroyed, giving way to a frighteningly clear view of a bus skeleton far below. While the guardrail had certainly been in place on that treacherous road, it did nothing to deter a bus full of passengers that veered off course. 

The best boundaries are both strong and visible. Seeing them helps you keep a healthy distance, but bumping up against them protects you when you fail to notice. In using a tool as powerful, addictive, and controversial as social media platforms to spread a message of hope, Christian ministries need to ensure that guardrails are well-established to avoid doing harm to vulnerable populations. This could mean refusing to use strategies of engagement that are addictive in nature, such as rewarding users’ viewing of a video with another video. It could also mean transparency about how their respondents’ information is being saved, stored, and shared. This particular issue requires imagining how you would feel if, in an existential search for connection and hope, a person responded to your need while keeping a detailed record of your messages in a database and shared it with donors who funded the campaign. A guardrail could also mean that ministries begin disseminating information about social media addiction right alongside their regular posts. When using targeted ads, it could mean researching and adhering to rigorous standards of ethical advertising. 

Likewise, Christians who are taking part in social media evangelism ministry need clear guardrails with regular accountability on when, where, and how much time they spend on the platform. Since social media platforms make both accidental and purposeful viewing of pornographic content easy, we must also inquire of a person’s current internet habits and personal history with pornography use before inviting them to make social media work their full-time job and ministry.  The Kingdom of God is not dependent on any social media platform. It has been advancing since Jesus blew the doors off and began inviting everyone into his family. As we assess the time, space, and resources God has provided for us today, may we work with both compassion and conscientiousness of the realities of oppression and sin that will be present until the day of Christ’s return. And until that day, may the Holy Spirit guide us in serving people with love, respect, and dignity to the glory of God the Father. 

When Skies Are Gray

The past few weeks the city where my family makes its home has been in the international news. We’ve won first place– but it is not a competition we wish to win. Jakarta is the city in the world with the worst air quality.[1] Headlines scream at us; newscasters speak of doom and respiratory distress. Jakarta does not always rank number one in the world, but the absence of rain has left the pollution hanging over the city like ugly gray cloud-cover.

Perhaps this is no different than previous dry seasons. Only this time, the international news has picked it up, social media is talking about it, and I am forced to think about it. Smartphones make it easy to check on the AQI (Air Quality Index), and the red heading day after day screams UNHEALTHY at me.

At our school in the slum community, we use songs to help the children learn different things. One song that we sing with the children is: “Biru, biru warnanya. Biru, biru carilah. Langit dan celana jeans, biru warnanya. Blue, blue. Look for the color blue. Blue is the color of the sky and blue jeans.” Except, all too often here, blue is not the color of the sky. Gray, gray, everything is gray.

Last March, I wrote in my reflection about “cross-cultural skiing”: “How do we help our children when the air itself is different from what we are used to? How do we help our families navigate switching between cultures on this journey of cross-cultural skiing?”

Now, those questions continue to reverberate in my head as I reflect on the air quality my children are breathing. How do I help my children when the air around them is literally dangerous? Why does choosing to follow Jesus here put the physical health of my children at risk? And how can I follow Jesus here and be a responsible parent at the same time?

And yet, I deeply believe that Jesus has called us here. I believe that God loves our neighbors in this garbage-collecting neighborhood. I believe that as I mourn because of my children’s years of exposure to Jakarta’s unhealthy air, God also mourns for the millions of people in this city. We live in a broken, hurting world. Shalom has been shattered, and all creation is groaning.

All too often the poor bear the brunt of environmental hazards. While the rich can afford air purifiers, air-conditioned cars, and vacation getaways to clean mountain air, my neighbors live next to piles of burning garbage, with no financial safety net. Many people live with lingering coughs, skin irritations, and other physical discomforts as a result of the environment in which they live.

I feel sad. And angry. And, honestly, I often feel a bit hopeless as I look around this slum community I call home.

Each Sunday, we travel to a wealthy part of the city where we attend an English-speaking church. The comfortable, air-conditioned service and indoor playground provide a refreshing alternative to playing on the trash-filled field for my children. Each week we experience culture shock as we jump back and forth between two worlds. The church is currently undergoing a huge building project, and I sometimes struggle with inner angst as I imagine what such money could do to help my neighbors instead of purchasing the newest gadget for the youth group.

But each week at church we soak in the times of worship. We learn new songs that become the soundtrack for our week at home. Over the past decade of serving in this city, I have come to know the power of worship as a weapon against the encroaching darkness. And even when life doesn’t make sense, with my breath I will choose to worship God.

This is not a polished reflection. I feel raw and a bit confused. In the past week, two women in our community died. One was a grandma who passed away from old age; the other was a woman suffering from untreated diabetes. The brevity of life seems to be at the forefront of my mind. Only a few weeks earlier an 18-year-old and a 28-year-old died, one of an untreated illness—the other’s life suddenly cut short by electrocution. We know all these families, and the ripples of grief continue to be felt around the community.

In faith we wait for all to be made new, for the day when there will be no more tears. We wait for all heaven and earth to be renewed, including the very air we breathe.

O Lord, have mercy.
As we breathe this air. As we walk these streets.

As we attempt to be agents of life and love to those around us.
May we not get lost in the gray.
Show us the beauty of your blue skies once again.
May we keep working towards and longing for your true Shalom.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
And give us the wisdom we need to parent in such a broken world.
Have mercy on our children.
Help us to trust You.


If you would like to join me in praying for the city of Jakarta, you can download Shalom: A 30 Day Prayer Guide for Jakarta’s Urban Poor here.

[1] I wrote this essay in mid-August, at which time Jakarta was ranking #1 in the world. In more recent weeks, other cities have replaced Jakarta for worst air quality, although Jakarta remains in the top five. See this BBC article for more information.

(Photo by Alexander Nrjwolf on Unsplash)

6 Ways Language Learning Communicates the Gospel

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

A popular missionary mentality suggests that missionaries should learn a language in order to sometime later have a ministry. The language learning period can then be viewed as nothing but a bothersome speed bump impeding the road to a fruitful ministry.

Well-known missionary anthropologist Charles Kraft offers a different perspective:

“If we do no more than engage in the process of language learning, we will have communicated more of the essentials of the gospel than if we devote ourselves to any other task.”1

I was startled by these words, and in particular these three phrases grabbed my attention: do no more, more of, and any other.

Notice that Kraft is not saying what we would expect him to say, to just learn the language well enough to be able to communicate the gospel so you can then get on with your real ministry calling. Instead, he’s bolding and underlining the language learning process itself.

So let’s dive into how that process can communicate the gospel.

1. By prioritizing relationships during language learning, you communicate the gospel.

During the language learning phase it’s way too easy (at least for some of us) to sit at our desk and study. Homework calls, the intricacies of grammar engulf us, flashcards monopolize us. But through seeking relationships with real live people, we honor them with the simple gift of presence.

Yes, with limited language under your belt it’s hard sometimes to just hang out. I started language school in Costa Rica with just a smattering of Spanish.

With fear and trembling I joined a ladies’ ceramics class that was offered by the church we attended. I felt like one of the blobs of clay since I couldn’t contribute to the conversation or join in their small talk.

But at one point our host mother, who was also in the class, told me how the ladies were unbelievably amazed that a gringa would actually come to their class. I hang onto that tacky flower thing I made in order to remind myself to intentionally reach out despite our inadequacy.

Maybe you’re hesitant to reach out because you’ll be moving to a different location for your ministry. You may have a mentality that says: “Why bother making friends? I won’t ever see these people again.”

But Amy didn’t think so.

I coached Amy during her language school. After she moved to a different island to begin her ministry assignment, I interviewed her on my language learning podcast. I asked her this question: “During language school were you tempted to have a transient mindset and just not invest in relationships?”

She answered: “Yes, I was tempted since I knew that it was going to be temporary. But even if I did want to kind of check out, the Father definitely directed me to certain relationships that I was then able to invest in. I’m really, really glad I did since I saw how life-giving and sustaining they were. Having that support has been huge–to know people that truly care about me and want to help.”

Even though she couldn’t keep up with everybody after moving, Amy found herself needing to rely on some of those long-distance friendships for help and support while she navigated her new surroundings.

“They still care about me, and I still care about them. It’s definitely mutual. They know me, and I know them. We continue to learn from each other. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about integrating into a different culture.”

2. By practicing active ‘noticing’ in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

When you peck your way out of your selfish shell of me-myself-and-I, you begin to notice who and what is around you. Not only do you look intently through your windshield, but you also constantly check your rearview and side view mirrors. Do you see the guy on the corner selling roses? How about the well-dressed couple in their nice car? The older gentlemen in the street procession? An over-eager child? Bus sleepers, slumped teenagers, vigilant police, over-zealous venders?

In a blog post Hannah Mae Foust calls Jesus ‘The Ultimate Noticer.’ Don’t you love that title?

Make a list of the people Jesus noticed. Think about how he changed the stories of sick and sinner, proud and priest, friend and enemy, old and young, hidden and public.

Foust says Jesus didn’t merely notice. “Noticers respond to what they see, with compassion and care, by doing whatever it takes to help meet needs and create more beauty, joy, and peace in the world. [And by doing so] noticers inspire.”

3. By having a learner posture in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

A humble learner surrenders schooling, experience, and status, leaving their know-it-all superiority at the altar. I had to shred my graduate degree in linguistics to learn from the man hawking tamales how to simply count out coins. And then there was the ouch of not-so-gentle correction when I horribly mispronounced a word or botched a simple conjugation.

Yep, learning instead of knowing can be a hard pill to swallow, but in the end it can prove effective in breaking down the pride that masks the gospel message.

4. By slowing down and being patient in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Your language assistant doesn’t get your instructions. The language school dismisses classes unexpectedly. Again. You still can’t trill your r’s or hear tone differences. Aargh.

Western notions of efficiency can hamstring language learning. But frustration and finger-drumming impatience feed on that kind of fast-tracking mindset. You buy into the billboard message of an accident law firm that promises ‘as much as possible and as fast as possible.’ You see uncooperative people and unforeseen circumstances as obstacles impeding your success. You start to think the language is stupid and so are some of its speakers, as well.

All of this bleeds onto the people around you and communicates the arrogance that my time and my goals are what is most important. Although he was certainly determined and had the end goal clearly in sight, Jesus was great at flexing, at taking deep breaths.

I recently saw a little plaque that says: “Sometimes your journey will take you off your path. It’s all part of the same trip. Life is full of exquisite diversions.”

Do you agree?

And let me say that if you’re looking for short cuts, alas, there are no short cuts in language learning. Short cuts actually lead to dead ends like ‘I can rely on interpreters if I need to’ or ‘they’ll understand I’m a foreigner so a few mistakes won’t matter’ or ‘my vocab needs improving but I can get by.’

Progress in language learning can definitely be slow, but I’ve come to believe that slow and steady with patience will certainly win the race.

5. By showing deference and respect in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Okay, time for true confessions here.

In language school, I had a super bad attitude about my grammar teacher in particular. What made it worse was that everybody else loved the man. They declared that Don Marcos (name changed) was hands-down their favorite teacher.

I mean, really? The lessons were super tedious. He would painstakingly write out on the blackboard these horribly long verb conjugations that were already in the book.

But this was the all-time worst: after an exam, he would weave up and down the rows of desks and assign all twenty-five of us, one by one, a test question to answer aloud.

So boring and so bad, this ridiculous style of teaching was such a cheesy way to get grading done, in my not-so-humble opinion.

And I’m red-faced embarrassed to admit that I would plop my head down on the desk and check out until my turn came around. This very childish response was undoubtedly a blatant show of disrespect not only for him but for the language school itself.

At the end of the semester, he told me to my face that I had the worst attitude of any global worker he had ever taught. And I deserved it. Please, God, forgive me.

Even when facing what we would label as incompetency, prideful attitudes during language learning proclaim a loud-and-clear negative message that can easily carry over into your ministry assignment.

Another powerful way to show deference is by choosing someone who’s been marginalized by social status, lack of education, disability, or age as your friend or even language helper. You, with the power of a foreigner, acknowledge those without power and so increase their sense of self-respect and self-worth. Awesome.

6. And finally, by seeking to understand the culture instead of being yourself understood, you communicate the gospel.

Let’s go back to Amy for a good example. Now in her ministry assignment in a new location, she suddenly faced a conflict with a national co-worker. I paraphrase here what she told me:

“When she gave me the silent treatment for going on two weeks, I knew I had offended her but was clueless as to when and why.

“We finally had a chance to talk, and I assumed/hoped that she would try to understand my viewpoint just like I would try to understand hers.

“Not so.

“Her solution was not to try to get to the bottom of things and see where communication had gone awry, but instead she believed that we should just go on as normal as if nothing had happened.

“This was hard.

“I had to accept that this was the modus operandi for handling conflict in her culture even though it felt to me like we were just sweeping everything under the rug.

“Eventually I came to realize that this was her way of showing respect for our relationship.”

If we practice language learning in these ways, I believe we will become the salt and light of the gospel.  After all, isn’t the real challenge for all of us to follow Christ’s example in Philippians 2?


1As quoted by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster in International Bulletin of Mission Research


After 20+ years of living in Latin America and working in three indigenous languages plus Spanish with SIL International, Mary Lynn Kindberg is currently a language acquisition consultant, instructor, and coach. She is also the host of the LanguageOnPurpose podcast. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual. Contact Mary Lynn at

Celebrating TCK Mamas


“Your new baby is beautiful,” I said to my sister last week. “And I can’t believe you named her after me!”

“Wait,” my sister said. “Your name’s not Abigail.”

“Yeah. But my pen name is.”

“Oh. I forgot.”

“Yeah, but your subconscious knew. So maybe your subconscious named the baby after me.”

“I mean, I didn’t not name her after you.”

“I’ll take it.”

We’ve been on home assignment this summer, and I cherished every moment I got with my sister and her two little ones. Kay is almost two, and Abigail is just a few weeks old, and they’re both cuter than a baby bear holding a Precious Moments greeting card.

One afternoon I was giving Abigail a bottle when Kay high-stepped over and planted a sweet toddler kiss on her sister’s forehead. Something about that scene brought me back a decade.

It was like a flashback to the days when I had “littles.” I could feel what it was like back then. How incredibly long the days are. How it feels like someone is always getting the short end of the stick. How you wonder if you’re doing this mothering thing right. How you want to do ministry, but your kids are also your ministry, and you wonder if other people have figured out the secret to balancing that, and if someone is ever going to tell it to you.

I also remembered how beautiful and precious that season is, how fleeting, how full of wonder. The call to selfless love, the leaning on Jesus because you know you can’t do it alone. The way you read about the women bringing their children to Jesus to bless them and cry when they’re sent away… and again when He calls them to come because He’s not too busy or too important to bless children.

As I was pondering all this, my own children, now 9 and 12, walked in the room. How big they looked! How far they’ve come! Then I realized that I’ve come a long way, too.

See, I’ve spent a lot of my motherhood wishing I were doing better. Sometimes that’s been healthy, like when I reevaluate my priorities and commit to growing with God’s help. Sometimes it’s been less healthy, like when I wallow in guilt that I’m not the “perfect mom.”

But in that moment, as I looked at my kids, it dawned on me that God has been answering my prayers all along. He’s given me the strength to do “all things” through Him. He’s helped me to do things I never could have dreamed of. Things that make other people use words like “brave” to describe me, even though “brave” is hardly how I’d describe myself.

So, today I’m calling for an impromptu celebration of TCK motherhood. It’s a chance to thank God for the blessing of being a missionary and a mom to TCKs. It may not be our habit as moms to think of what we’ve done well, but today, let’s take a moment to recognize that in Christ, each of us is a “Proverbs 31” woman in our own unique way.

Here is a list of things I’m celebrating today. I hope you’ll create your own list. And I hope you can pass this idea on to other TCK moms in your life. Let’s celebrate each other!

Abigail’s List of Amazing TCK Mom Things

  • I birthed two babies in India.
  • I’ve traveled with children on more than 100 flights.
  • I nursed 2 infants in 6 countries. 
  • My son survived a habit of putting everything in his mouth in India. Some items on the menu included medicine without a child safety cap, a burrito made of mud and a leaf, and a single sheep dropping that looked exactly like a milk dud. (We went through a lot of albendazole.)
  • I homeschooled our daughter’s first grade year in three states, on two continents. (I followed the advice of a friend and stuck to the 3 R’s that year!)
  • I’ve been homeschooling for 6 years, and my kids have actually learned something.
  • I’ve made up a gajillion stories about two little mice named Ferdinand and Gertrude who have surprisingly similar struggles as my children, to help them process changes and cultural differences.
  • I helped my children through a traumatic leaving from our first mission field, along with the processing of a heap of emotions afterwards.
  • I sometimes chose to take pauses from my own interests and desires to invest in my kids.
  • …I also found ways to feed my interests and desires, so I could be a well-rounded person.
  • My kids like salad.
  • My kids sometimes remember whether to eat salad with a fork or their hands, depending on what country we are in.
  • I keep our home running and feeling homey when my husband is busy with ministry, and I trust my husband to care for and bond with our kids when it’s my turn for outside ministry.
  • Sometimes my kids get along…
  • …and when they feel bad for not getting along, they talk to Jesus about it.
  • I’ve read a lot of books aloud… and been tickled by my kids nearly every time for falling asleep while reading. 
  • I was privileged to be the one to share the gospel with my daughter, and to see her really understand and accept it on a grown-up level.
  • I’ve driven hundreds of miles supporting my children’s integration into our current host culture.
  • My kids have a relationship with their grandparents that I helped foster.
  • I’ve created Home and Stability out of unconventional materials in unconventional places. 

Celebrate your wins, fellow Proverbs 31 Mama. They are hard-won, especially when you are raising TCKs.

What’s something on your list? Let us know in the comments!

When the Spirit Doesn’t Move

by Jeremy Taliaferro

In the book of Numbers, we learn about the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites. It was an outward expression of the presence and Spirit of God. The pillar protected them (from the pharaoh’s army) and guided them, much like the Holy Spirit does for us in the New Covenant.

When the pillar stopped, the Israelites would set up camp. They would stay there until God’s Spirit (shown through the pillar) would again begin to move.

When it moved, the priests blew trumpets, and the people would pack their belongings and follow God. They would sometimes stay in one place for a day, a week, or even longer. But the key takeaway here is that they moved when God said. And God had a plan. He was in control. They were supposed to trust and follow Him and Him alone.

Fast forward to today. I have always struggled with getting ahead of God and His plans for me. Perhaps it is because of pride, or perhaps I lack the patience to wait. Whatever the reason, I know I’m regularly tempted to tread a dangerous path apart from the Lord. That is why the story from Numbers hits home for me.

Imagine if a couple of “brave” Israelites decided to pre-empt God’s movement. They thought they knew where God was taking them next, so they decided to get a head start and wait for God when He arrived with the rest of the Israelites.

That doesn’t seem like a good plan, but that is what I often do. So in this season of my life, I am trying to make some changes. I’m asking God to give me the strength to be where I’m supposed to be. I’m learning to wait on the Lord.

Setting out on my own will only result in me being lost and confused in the wilderness. The Father is always available to rescue me and bring me back into the fold, but I’d like to avoid the trouble this time. I am going to try patience.

While the Israelites were in the camp, they weren’t just sitting around waiting. They were worshiping and making sacrifices. Their focus was on the goodness of God, or at least it should have been. They, like me, often fell short of this.

So I’m going to focus on worship and sacrifice. I’m looking deep into my heart for anything that displeases Him. I want to surrender my life to the Lord and hold nothing back in reserve. That way, when the time comes to move into the next season, my heart will be right, and I will walk in the right direction.

I’m in a weird stage of life right now. For the last 21 years on the mission field, I always had a specific people group to reach. The work was difficult, but the task was clear. The future is less clear now. So as I pray for guidance and wisdom, I’m also making some commitments.

I will not move from the camp until the Spirit says it is time to go.
I will not anticipate God’s next move or get ahead of Him.
I will not commit myself to a direction or plan for our family until the pillar of cloud moves and the trumpets blast.
I will worship and make sacrifices, no matter how anxious I get or how much I feel the world is closing in on me.
I will trust the Lord.

If you find yourself in a difficult season or if you’re struggling with life-altering decisions, I hope you will join me in these commitments.

Maybe when the Spirit isn’t moving, it’s because he wants us to worship and trust before we enter our next season of activity.


Jeremy has 20+ years of cross-cultural experience. From church planting with remote tribes in the Amazon and Andes to serving war-torn lands and refugee populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Jeremy has followed God’s calling to make disciples and proclaim the hope of the Gospel to those who desperately need hope. The numerous missionaries trained by Jeremy are currently serving all around the globe. You can find him online at

What does the research say about TCKs attending boarding school?

When your family lives abroad, there are a range of educational options available to choose from. For some families and some students, boarding school is a really great option worthy of consideration. And yet there are also horror stories many of us have heard, which can make this decision particularly fraught for parents who are trying to make the best choices for their families. 

In this article I present four findings from TCK Training’s research on the experiences of TCKs who primarily attended boarding schools. These TCKs formed 12% of the total group of 1,904 surveyed and were almost entirely missionary kids. 20% of the missionary kids we surveyed identified boarding school as their primary educational experience, compared to only 2% of those from other sectors. 

1) Boarding school is linked to higher mobility.

High mobility turned out to be a very important factor in our research. TCKs who experienced extreme mobility (10+ location moves or 15+ house moves) were much more likely to report four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – a risk factor associated with negative outcomes in adulthood. 1 in 3 highly mobile TCKs had a high risk ACE score, compared to 1 in 5 TCKs overall.

TCKs who primarily attended boarding school had higher levels of mobility in every metric we measured. They lived in more countries, moved location more often, and moved house more frequently. Statistically speaking, a boarding school TCK could expect to move locations at least once every two years throughout childhood. In addition, nearly half of boarding school students moved house more than 10 times before age 18, compared to one third of all TCKs. 31% of boarding school students reported extreme location mobility, and 26% reported extreme house mobility. Only 5% of boarding school TCKs moved house fewer than five times during childhood. (Source: Caution and Hope for Boarding School Students)

These high rates of extreme mobility among boarding school students are not surprising, but the correlation of high mobility with high ACE scores means we need to take these transitions very seriously. 

An additional impact of boarding school mobility is attachment between parent and child. When boarding school is keeping parent and child apart for too long, it risks damaging important family bonds.

The Limits of Parental Separation chart from the book High Risk: Children Without A Conscience by Magid and McKelvey (1989) is a great reference for how to manage separation of parents and children without damaging attachment; this work is regularly referred to in devising custody arrangements. It can also be helpful in safely managing a boarding situation without damaging attachment. For example, the preferable limit for 6-9 year olds is two weeks’ separation from a parent, and the harmful limit is four weeks’ separation from a parent. For a 10-13 year old, it is four and six weeks, and for a 14-18 year old, it is six and nine weeks. 

2) Boarding school is linked to abuse – sort of.

The survey results linked to abuse among TCKs can be difficult to read. This section includes statistics of various types of abuse, but no descriptions of or stories about that abuse.

The rates of abuse among boarding school TCKs are high, but only slightly higher than what is seen in the overall missionary kid population. 20% of boarding school TCKs vs 16% of missionary kids overall experienced physical abuse at home; 43% vs 40% experienced emotional abuse at home, and 27% vs 23% experienced sexual abuse of any kind before age 18. 

The rate at which boarding school TCKs reported experiencing childhood abuse dropped dramatically over time. For those born after 1980 (Millennials and Gen Zs), boarding school TCKs actually had lower rates of physical abuse and emotional abuse in the home than missionary kids overall (11% vs 13% for physical abuse; 33% vs 39% for emotional abuse). 

Over time, reported rates of all types of abuse decreased. Boarding school TCKs born after 1980 were less than half as likely to be physically abused (11% vs 27%), and only one third reported emotional abuse, compared to nearly half of older boarding school TCKs (33% vs 49%). Sexual abuse also decreased, though only from 29% to 24%. (Source: Mitigating Risk Factors for Boarding School TCKs)

The survey also asked about experiences of child-to-child sexual abuse and grooming, although these are not included in the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire. In both areas, the older generation of boarding school TCKs reported the highest rate of the five educational groups. Younger boarding school TCKs, however, reported the third-highest rate of child-to-child sexual abuse (behind local school, and less than 1% behind homeschool), and the second-highest rate of grooming (behind homeschool). (Source: Mitigating Risk Factors for Boarding School TCKs)

The message here for parents considering boarding school is twofold. First, schools are learning from problems in the past; our survey results show that younger generations of boarding school students are at lower risk than their older counterparts. Second, no school experience is entirely safe – even homeschooling. We live in a broken world and cannot prevent all harm from coming to our children. Yet we do our best to protect children through education (for ourselves and also for them) and by carefully scrutinising the child safety policies and education that prospective schools have in place.

3) Boarding school is linked with fewer mental health issues in parents.

Living with an adult who is depressed, mentally ill, or attempts suicide is an Adverse Childhood Experience, one reported by 39% of the TCKs we surveyed (including missionary kids) but only 32% of boarding school TCKs. Not only that, while every other educational sector showed a sharp increase in the percentage of TCKs reporting household adult mental illness, the rate among boarding school TCKs actually decreased. 

We hypothesised that boarding students may be less aware of their parents’ mental health concerns as they are not home all the time. That said, it is also worth recognising that some families are choosing between homeschool and boarding school due to their remote location – and homeschool can be really stressful for some families. In these cases, boarding school may be the healthiest option available. 

4) Boarding school is linked with ongoing relationships.

One of the most important ways to proactively care for your kids is through Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs). Many of these are connected to relationships, and this is an area where boarding school can be a gift. Having supportive friends, feeling a sense of belonging in high school, taking part in regular traditions, and having two non-parent adult mentor figures are four of the eight PCEs – and they are ways that boarding schools can give stability to TCKs.

Here’s one TCK’s perspective on boarding school life: “I made close friends that I kept close for many years. My dorm had the same people; we didn’t get anyone new until 10th Grade. We had a full house; it was the largest dorm, with about 17 kids, plus the dorm parents’ three kids. All the way up until 11th Grade we had the same brothers and sisters in my dorm.” (Source: Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century, p 85)

When a TCK is deeply impacted by transition – whether they are constantly moving or whether they are seeing people move in and out constantly – boarding school can be an option to offer some relational stability. For TCKs living in remote areas, boarding school can offer the opportunity to make friends in ‘real life’ rather than over a screen. This is equally true for mentor-figures, which is another essential part of a well-rounded childhood.

As I explained in my book, Misunderstood, “Adults who teach and supervise at boarding schools and boarding houses have a huge impact on TCK students. TCKs I interviewed who made close pseudo-family connections with boarding school staff coped much better than those who were less connected.” (Source: Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century, p 87)

TCK Training is about to publish some research showing that TCKs do better when they have peers their own age and that their closest friends almost always speak their native language. Boarding schools are sometimes the best option to provide these friendship opportunities.

In conclusion: there is no right (or wrong) answer for TCK education.

A comfort for parents considering boarding school is that younger TCKs who attended boarding schools had fewer Adverse Childhood Experiences than those in the past did. 

Another thing our research shows is that every schooling type comes with some level of risk. There is no perfect choice. Instead, make the best decision for your family — knowing that the best choice for your family may be different to the best choice for another family.

If you can make a choice that limits mobility, that might be a good way to limit risk. If there is a choice that lowers stress for any/all family members, that’s probably a good sign. If you can make a choice that ensures your child has access to friends and belonging, that could be a good way to improve the odds of a positive outcome. 

Whatever schooling choice(s) you make, it is important to learn about preventive care, such as how to care for kids in a way that protects them from unintended emotional abuse and neglect. It’s all too easy to unintentionally ignore our children’s needs when we ourselves are under stress from transition, moving locations, and dealing with the weight of everything involved in an international life. In addition, we need to know who is caring for our kids – at home and at school – and make sure they are educated about being emotionally healthy and safe.

In addition to avoiding causes of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), we can promote Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs). When a child has 6+ PCEs, this buffers them from the negative effects of even a high ACE score. Responding to your child’s feelings, making them feel safe, and ensuring they are connected to peers, mentors, and communities, really does make a lifelong difference!


Photo by Sun Lingyan on Unsplash

Hope of the Nations

We all find ourselves in places where we need to remember. Some of us have been serving overseas for many years. We are seasoned, experienced, and committed to the long haul of such ministry. Others of us are only beginning our journey, with light in our eyes and love in our hearts. Many of us are somewhere in between. Some have served a few years and intend to continue for years to come. Still others have served and find ourselves returned to our passport countries, with a continued desire to pray and minister to lives lived overseas in mission. And some of us long for fulfilled dreams as we continue to envision, plan, and send.

We are a community united in a sense of purpose related to the nations of the world. We desire love to be lived out, mercy to be given, and justice to be achieved. Yet, it is the nature of a broken world, to weary and even harden our hearts. So I offer this prayer in the hopes it will reconnect us all to one another and to the God of hope.

Hope of the Nations – A Prayer

You spoke it all into being, this vast wide world.

But that world fractured, and so did your heart.

Nations formed, and languages, cultures, and peoples.

Kingdoms rose and fell–domination and power reigning.

Often your hope has been lost – the hope of the nations.

Yet you promise every kindred, tongue, and tribe

Will gather about you – your glory and love

For endless ages to come.

You are the hope of the nations, the heart of hearts of all.

We step forward, step out, in risk, sacrifice, and fervent desire.

We rise, we fall, we win, we lose, we take up, we lay down.

We often lose heart as we see the pain of a suffering world.

But you remain – longing for all to come to one Home – your heart.

You are the evergreen hope of the nations.

You are the God who gave of yourself, crossing the infinite divide.

That hope is much more than our ability to give, dream and do.

You are hope incarnate, and in your light we find the only true light.

Revive us in connection to your love – the fruit of our living hope.

We need it as our next breath – our strength to rise each day.

To remember your light overcomes every darkness of this world.

To believe anew that you can change the most desperate in an instant.

To know you see all things through, as your perfect will goes forth.

You are the hope of the nations – the desire of our days, our heart of hearts.

You uphold the universe, and are in all, above all, and through all.

So be the life in us today, tomorrow, every moment, now and forever.

For you are the only true hope of the nations, and together we remember.

Because you change everything, Jesus.


photo credit


Empty Nesting When You Have No Nest

Help me out. We need a new term, and we missionary folks love discovering or creating words.

You knew exactly what I meant when I used the phrase “empty nest.” The chicks have launched and are on their own. “Empty nesters” are their parents.

Before I had nieces, I used to roll my eyes at aunts and uncles who went on and on about their nieces and nephews. Quietly I judged them as being pathetic and wanna-be parents. (I’m shooting straight with you, I’m not proud of the recesses of my heart and mind.)

And then my oldest niece was born. It took less than one day to turn me into the largest hypocrite on the planet. If Paul was the greatest sinner? I was the greatest eater-of-my-words. AND I DID NOT CARE. (Have I told you her latest antic? Would you like to see a photo? Can you even . . . can you?! She’s amazing.)

The time zones between us didn’t matter. The long plane rides when I could leave the field didn’t matter. Here’s what I learned—when love enters the picture, you don’t care what others think.

TCKs are the same. When you love them, really love them, they enter a category all their own in your heart.

This post and question isn’t just for singles. It’s for any adult. What I’m trying to put words to is about loving a kiddo who is not your child and who will one day grow up and move on to the next chapter in their lives.

The term “empty nester” rightly refers to the parents.

What word or phrase could we use for those of us who have a young person who’s been a part of our daily life and now they will not be? We will love them fiercely, cheer them on loudly, pray for them faithfully, and miss them dearly.

Whatever it is, that’s what I am. And I know I’m not alone.

Isn’t My Sacrifice Enough?

Some days, I wake up feeling very good about myself. My family and I have been serving overseas for seven years now, weathering our own personal share of storms and difficulties. We’re still living and working in a place to which we feel God has called us, even on the hard days. This is what faithfulness looks like, is it not?

I recently began to question my self-analysis as I reread Corrie ten Boom’s classic, The Hiding Place. In the book she chronicles the story of how her family’s downtown watchmaker’s shop and home became the main hub for underground activity in their city during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Corrie’s beautifully written story of pain, hardship, and ultimate love, is a treasure for the world — one of courageous and selfless sacrifice for others.

Page after page, tears stung my eyes. Corrie’s heartfelt account revealed a deep love for Jesus and others. What I did not expect to feel was conviction, particularly at how regularly and thoroughly she and her family put the well-being of others before their own.

Surely I am already a master at sacrifice. Look at my life! I have left everything – okay, most things – in order to live and work overseas. I have left family, most painfully, and I only get to see my loved ones every few years. We have chosen to live on a ministry salary, without the option to buy a home or get a promotion in our company/organization. Surely we know what sacrifice is all about!

Especially now, as we traverse the US on home assignment, it is clearer to me than ever all that we have given up for Jesus. What, Holy Spirit, are you trying to tell me?

And yet, as I’ve let my heart settle into the familiar current of conviction, I hear the gentle whisper: But there’s more. This is true, I must admit. We still live and function from abundance, even on a ministry salary. We still live in comfort, even in another country. And while neither comfort nor abundance are an evil by any means, have I become dependent upon them for my joy and contentment?

It can be easy to dismiss the amount of sacrifice and hospitality the ten Boom family demonstrated as necessary for wartime survival, due to extenuating circumstances. Surely if we were in a similar time, we too would keep soup simmering on the back burner and not turn away anyone in need. But, notably, this was the hum of their home long before the Nazis invaded Holland. Their mother kept the coffee warm and their father lent his open ear even in peacetime. Their sacrificial lifestyle during a worldwide crisis was an extension of their humble routine for decades before.   

Or perhaps we can dismiss their sacrifices on the basis of a context differential. Living in Africa, the needs are endless, the asks are frequent, the need for wisdom on these matters constant. Surely there couldn’t have been as much need in Holland; surely my situation requires more nuance than the ten Boom family’s did. But truly? They continued to minister in their context and historical moment, knowing full well that imprisonment was a likely outcome and perhaps even death.

Let’s face it: we are often quick to dismiss our missionary predecessors for their ‘ministry to God above all else mindset,’ often at the expense of their families, children, and their own well-being. But perhaps our critical focus has dulled the voice of the Spirit in our lives; perhaps we have been caught up in our own cultural moment as well, where our own selves are at the center, where self-care is utmost, where comfort must be ensured for longevity.

I am not the one providing any answers here. I am only asking the questions, primarily of my own heart, and if you can resonate at all, of yours as well.

When I am facing a heart of fresh conviction, it is helpful to fix my eyes again on Jesus. Looking at him, I see the kind of ultimate love that motivated his selfless sacrifices all throughout his life, even to death. And so, gratefully, painfully, I can ask of the Spirit again, what would you have me do? And we trust, again, that he will give us the grace and strength we need to continue to live sacrificial lives, growing up into Christ more each day.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Chesterton’s Fence: Understanding the Why of the Status Quo before Seeking Change

picket fence

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. —G. K. Chesterton (Autobiography)

G. K. Chesterton, the turn-of-the-20th-century English author, journalist, and Christian apologist, first came to my attention through quotations on travel taken from his writings. Along with the one above, there’s also

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. (—Tremendous Trifles)


They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind. (—said by the character Gabriel Gale in “The Shadow and the Shark”)

While these aphorisms apply to travelers and “trippers,” they also are relevant to movers and shakers, those who relocate to other countries and cultures in order to make a difference there. In that vein, I’ve recently found another idea from Chesterton—often referred to as “Chesterton’s fence”—that can relate to the life of cross-cultural workers. Before explaining it, here’s a little background.

Chesterton, born in 1874, was well known in his day as an influential defender and explainer of the Christian faith. C. S. Lewis, a major Christian apologist in his own right, credits Chesterton for impacting his conversion from atheism. In his memoir, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Lewis writes that in reading Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, he “for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.” And the prolific Christian author Philip Yancey writes that if he were stranded on a desert island and could have “only one book, apart from the Bible, I may well select Chesterton’s own spiritual autobiography, Orthodoxy.”

Chesterton began his faith as an Anglican, later converting to Roman Catholicism, with this conversion being the subject of his book The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic. It’s in this work that we find Chesterton’s fence. That concept in a nutshell is this:

When you come across something that you think needs to be changed, you should first find out why it is the way it is. Only after understanding why it came to be can you then follow through with the change.

Here it is again, this time in Chesterton’s words:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Chesterton aimed his warning at those of his day who would jettison the institution of the family, but it can also be applied to more-modern folks in cross-cultural contexts. Overseas workers are often in the business of “reformation,” helping people through personal and community change. That inevitably means coming across “fences” or “gates,” obstacles that we believe are hindering us or the people we want to serve. Throughout our history, Western workers have too often torn down these fences without the necessary contemplation. This has frequently produced negative effects, ranging from minor annoyances or irritations to major cultural offenses or physical, social, or spiritual harm. Even with the best intentions, our removal of obstacles, fixing of perceived problems, doing things the “best” way, and applying quick fixes can have unintended consequences.

“This principle,” says Chesterton, “applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction.” Those “thousand things” could range from painting a room a different color or changing a meeting time to overthrowing longstanding traditions or upending cultural norms.

Back in 2004, in Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage, Christian historian Meic Pearse addressed the large-scale impact that years of heavy-handed, ill-advised change brought on by Western entities have had. He writes,

Very many, especially Third World, people have the sensation that everything they hold dear and sacred is being rolled over by an economic and cultural juggernaut that doesn’t even know it’s doing it . . . and wouldn’t understand why what it’s destroying is important or of value.

Gene Daniels, at Missio Nexus, responds to this passage in this way:

What bothers me most about this statement is not that it is generally true, but that it is often as true of Christian missionaries as it is of diplomats, generals, and international businesspeople. Of course, the gospel brings social and cultural changes to receptor societies; however, the careless and insensitive way missionaries often treat the things that others “hold dear and sacred” is disturbing. The rapid advance of Western culture, riding globalization as a wave, seems to have caused an epidemic of amnesia among Western missionaries, causing us to forget our roots.

Whether the changes we’re promoting are small or large, we first need to understand the origin of the status quo and what needs are being met by what’s currently in place. We also need to ponder possible outcomes and examine our motivations. And along the way we need to contemplate such broad (and sometimes competing) issues as ethnocentrism, colonialism, syncretism, contextualization, modernization, isolationism, and globalization. All of this requires investigating, asking questions, listening, partnering, and practicing patience and humility.

Chesterton goes on to further explain his metaphor:

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

To be clear (as I said before), overseas workers are often agents of change. Some laws, some institutions, some practices, some mindsets should be replaced. Christian cross-cultural workers carry a transformative gospel. And while we shouldn’t mindlessly bulldoze everything that seems to stand in our way, neither should we propose that every fence should be left standing. After thoughtful, careful, sensitive consideration, some of them should come down. Sometimes there is a better way.

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Geoffrey Bles, 1955; Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, Doubleday, 2001; G. K. Chesterton, The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic, Sheed & Ward, 1929; Meic Pearce, Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage, InterVarsity Press, 2004; Gene Daniels, “Decoupling Missionary Advance from Western Culture,” Missio Nexus, October 1, 2009)

[photo: “The Fence Line,” by Alan, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect — Overcoming Perfectionism in Language Learning

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

So I decided to memorize this little joke my language helper had told me. It wasn’t too long and had a lot of repetition, so I figured it was in my wheelhouse as a beginner learning Spanish in Costa Rica. I thought it was a great idea to have something up my sleeve to say at those interminable family-and-friends’ fiestas when my conversations pretty much fizzled soon after that first ‘hola.

Armed with both text and recording from my language helper, I was on it, doggedly determined to flawlessly recite the funny tale of the dim-witted Pedro who unknowingly pronounced silent p’s. So both silently and aloud I practiced and practiced (and practiced!) with build-up drills and backwards drills, honing pronunciation and intonation—and, well, yes, driving my husband to distraction.

Show time was so-and-so’s birthday party coming up in two weeks. I dreaded what was likely to last for hours.

I must have rehearsed that dang joke at least 100 times, but still I was scared. Spitless. Now at the party I kept going over and over it in my head, nervous and afraid to launch the opening line, afraid to screw up, afraid to get laughed at. I would be the joke, not Pedro.

But thanks be to God, I did manage to spit it out and even tell it to multiple people at the party. With mistakes? Of course. Mixed reactions? For sure. But I felt proud, and the joke served me well on many, many occasions.

Did my sweaty fear of making a mistake mean I was a perfectionist?

Not necessarily. Fear in language learning is a given. If we’re honest, none of us really likes to make mistakes, period, not just in language learning. And yes, perfectionism certainly does have to do with how high you set your standard of performance. But even more importantly, perfectionism is how you react to mistakes.

My new son-in-law loves (and I do mean loves) the English professional football (i.e. soccer) club Manchester City. For good bonding and a mother-in-law gold star, I, your resident non-sports lover, have started watching City games and actually enjoying them.

This year the club contracted a hot-shot striker who just hit a Premier League record. In one game, however, he missed several goal attempts and just couldn’t score. But to my surprise he seemed totally nonplussed out there on the pitch! In post-game chit chat with Stephen I commented on the player’s nonchalance. His reply? “Hey, what distinguishes a good striker is his ability to shrug off an error.” Hmm.

In contrast to Mr. Striker’s response, negative post-mistake reactions might well be telltale signs of perfectionism.

After landing in Chile for our second assignment in Latin America, I needed to adjust my pronunciation to that dialectal pattern infamously called ‘eating your s’s.’ Soon after arriving I was out riding in a car with both American and Chilean colleagues. Joining the conversation, I attempted to expertly eat, i.e drop, the –s before consonants and at the end of words.

But the more I tried, the more I became increasingly and visibly frustrated. Argh! Joan, my new co-worker, looked me squarely in the eye and said: “Good grief, Mary Lynn, you’ve only been here two whole days!”

That kind of post-production frustration over unrealistic performance standards could indicate perfectionism. That constant self-criticism can grind you down into depression, anxiety, and anger. Let’s be honest. Have you ever said aloud or to yourself ‘stupid language helper,’ ‘stupid shop owner,’ ‘stupid language,’ or even worse, ‘stupid me’?

Consider other possible post-mistake reactions:

  • procrastinating
  • avoiding people and events
  • difficulty completing tasks
  • giving up easily with a why-bother attitude
  • blaming others for your mistakes

You can see from this list that perfectionism certainly is the great enemy of progress. (That’s from Winston Churchill, by the way.)

But hear the good news! The Holy Spirit can certainly help us expose and confront our perfectionism. Like Isaiah, we may cry, ‘woe is me’ and then longingly hope for a burning coal to touch our language-learning lips.

But then what?

Bottom line, in the aftermath of our mistakes, in that mire of perfectionism, we beseech God for holy humility, to plant our feet on solid ground. It is indeed the most righteous response. In his book Humility, Andrew Murray says, “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others, it is the root of all [virtues], the chief mark of righteousness.”

On my Language on Purpose podcast for global workers learning languages, I interview my friend Karen in Episode 23, Attitude Check. She has trained beaucoup ministry workers in language acquisition. I love how she wisely connects humility in language learning with a much-needed learner posture. Here’s what she says:

“A learner posture requires the humility of actively seeking and inviting correction instead of reacting negatively when you are corrected after a mistake. If you come across as wanting to learn and not as a know-it-all, you show respect and appreciation for the people as well as for their language. You must come in as a child—a child who is willing to explore, ready to discover and notice new things.”

So then, if you’ve identified some perfectionism in your own language learning (maybe with some embarrassment and chagrin), I beseech ye, brethren, to consider it a golden opportunity for God to grow you in incarnation-like humility. After all, humility is one of the fruits of the Spirit.


Mary Lynn Kindberg has worked in three indigenous languages plus Spanish while living in Latin America for 20+ years. In addition to hosting the podcast Language On Purpose, she currently helps train and coach global workers in language acquisition. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual.

Life is Like . . . Fireflies?


I walk down the quiet halls of Grandma and Grandpa Follows’ house, lingering to examine the photos lining the walls. In one, a young Grandpa Follows stands by his new bride, smiling a smile I’ve seen many times. It’s the kind of smile that fills the whole face, especially the eyes. It’s the kind of smile that makes you wish “contagious” and “lights up the room” were not cliches. 

It’s my husband Joshua’s smile. 

This photo could be a photo of our wedding, except the bride is not me, and there is no color in the photo, and the groom is wearing a dark suit coat instead of Joshua’s white mandarin suit.

I stand there a long time, just looking. Then a strange feeling comes over me. Though the travel here took us 18 hours and felt like forever, suddenly life itself seems short as a breath. As short as an EKG printout, with its swift ups and downs. As short as the song the family was singing when Grandpa Follows breathed his last. As short as the phone call when we last spoke with him.

Grandma comes up behind me, walking softly and carefully. She smiles at the photo. I look at her, then turn back for a moment to look at her 70-years-ago face. In the picture, she seems on the verge of a laugh. Now all her smiles are sad smiles.

I’ve been thinking about life and death lately. This happens when friends and family die. It also happens when everything’s fine, if you’re introverted and contemplative and find poignancy in nearly everything. 

Sometimes life just feels like… fireflies.

Fireflies are an experience. Especially when it is very dark. Their lights go on and off, but in between flickers, they move. So, if you are watching them in a corn field, you can never quite see one. They go on and off, all around, in your periphery, and you never know where there will be a tiny dot of light or just more darkness.

A firefly brings such wonder and light, for just a moment. And then it is gone. And though you look, you can’t find it again. When I watch fireflies, I wonder if my little temporary light will make a difference to someone. If it will fill them with a little bit of wonder or joy.  And I wonder if that’s enough.

Grandpa Follows was a hard-working farmer. He and his shy wife could often be found with visitors from their rural community and beyond who loved their dahlia flowers and their pleasant company. Grandpa loved to joke with people. He had a special talent for whistling. And he was generous.

Grandpa was generous with his time, his money, his talent. And he was generous with his faith. He let his faith change him as much as possible during his few short years on this earth. He wasn’t perfect. But he was the kind of person who sent positive ripples into the ocean of people around him. His life–let’s be specific, his love and good choices–affect me now even more than the great smile he passed down to my husband.

He modeled diligence. Even as I write this, my husband, son, and father-in-law are out in the rain helping on Grandma’s farm. He modeled honesty.  Well enough that my daughter comes to me at night if she thinks of anything she has said that wasn’t true.

I remember our last visit with Grandpa. We were just about to send one of Joshua’s brothers to the airport. Someone struck up a song– a song we’ve sung many times before as a family:

You will see your Lord a-comin’
You will see your Lord a-comin’ 
You will see your Lord a-comin’
In a few more days.

I was standing in the back by Grandpa when I got that strange feeling that life is very, very short. I looked at him, and he looked at me. Then he put an arm around me. We stood there, not singing, fighting tears.

He passed away this spring, on Joshua’s and my wedding anniversary. 

I’m an ideas kind of person. I collect ideas like some people collect souvenir fridge magnets. I have more ideas than I could possibly do in one lifetime, too many to fit at one time on the canvas of my mind. 

I could start a computer club where local kids could learn English through apps. I could help my neighbor start an Etsy business making dolls wearing ethnic apparel from our host country. I could buy quail, because they’re quieter than chickens. I could garden—there could be trellises involved! I could quilt. I could start a book club in our city and maybe we’d talk about spiritual things. I could host afternoon teas at my house. I could host an exercise class like my friend Barb, even though in Zumba I’m always the one in the back who is three moves behind. I could redecorate, paint a giant mural in the living room, take my daughter to volunteer at the animal shelter twice a week, read more books, write more books, cook from scratch, and can peaches.

I wish I could bring these things to be, these lovely ideas. The problem is, all my plans and dreams are like water in a mason jar, and I have to pour from that jar through a funnel with a very tiny nozzle. For, although I can delegate and inspire others and catalyze great things, the truth is, I’m always only one person. And all I have is one minute at a time to live. 

As Joshua often says, “What will you say no to so you can say yes to this?” 

It’s good he says this.

Anyway, today I’m asking myself what really matters. I’m taking out each idea and holding it up to the light, asking myself:

Will this matter when my grandchildren and great-grandchildren look at photos of me on the wall and notice how much they look like me? Will it matter 90 years from now, when one of my relatives has that strange feeling that 90 years is very short? 

Then I ask myself another question. Is this idea worthy to pursue in light of eternity? Is my little light going to show the way for someone else to walk one step closer to Jesus? How about my family? Are they seeing my light?

I might think I can multitask, online or in real life, but studies show it just doesn’t work that way. So I sit down with my dreams, my to do list, my prayer list, my personal connections list. And I choose what to say yes to. And, more importantly, I choose what to say no to.

I’m thankful, though, that I don’t have to have all the answers. I know Grandpa Follows didn’t. In reality, though he wasn’t an overly emotional person, he cried every time we left for the mission field, thinking this would probably be the last time we’d see each other. Every furlough for almost 15 years. Despite his cheerful, joking, energetic personality, he had a strong sense of his own mortality. And, just like me, he couldn’t know when he would die.

But he never asked us to stay or to come home early. Even when it was quiet in the house and nobody came to visit because it was raining. He knew there were people out there who didn’t know Jesus, so he wiped his tears and sent us away. Then he turned and served his community with all his heart, did all his hand found to do with all his might. And God used his life, like one stroke in a giant painting, to work beauty and good in this world.

I don’t know all the answers. But I know Someone who does. So I’ll keep dreaming and narrowing down and doing, over and over. As long as there is darkness, you’ll find me running here and there, wherever He calls, blinking my little light. Maybe I’ll see you out there, and together we can transform the darkest night into something that reminds the world there is a God who loves them.