Role Deprivation and Guilt

by Amy Young on September 19, 2018

Last month I was part of Velvet Ashes’ Live Class for those in transition to the field. (Sidenote: it was a success and we will be doing future classes). But in one hour we could only dip our toes into a few vital subjects. One of the subjects I had to do a drive-by on was role deprivation when you move to the mission field.

Since that presentation, the thought that will not leave me alone is, “Amy, you did not tell the full story and people who heard you might miss a key point.” So, here is what I said, and what I failed to say.


Role deprivation is part of the incarnational process. Jesus laid aside part of his role as God. We know from Philippians 2:6-7

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

When you move to the field you lay aside either all of or part of a role you have played. Pause for a moment and think of six roles you had before you moved to the field. Before I moved to the field I was a daughter/sister/granddaughter/niece (I’m lumping family roles at that time together), a junior high math teacher, an active member of my church, an active member of the mission committee, a roommate, and a sports fan.  Of course, I had other roles, but those were my top six roles at that time.

When you consider your six roles, some will die. For me, the primary role that died was being a public-school teacher in the U.S. I did not know it at that time, but I never taught in the U.S. public schools again.

Other roles will continue in an altered state. No surprise, I am still a daughter, sister, and niece. In the ensuing years, all of my grandparents have died and four nieces have been born. The first few years I learned to navigate the changes that come with being a family member who is on the other side of the world and not physically a part of significant events. This role is one where I felt the deprivation the most over the years. It is also the role that changed the most with grandparents dying, parents aging, nieces being born, and other family dynamics.

(My ego and the job-side of me felt role deprivation in my paycheck and lack of professional advancement, but my heart felt it in family roles.)

What you can’t tell from my list is the role I felt the guiltiest about because of the complexity of the situation. My roommate was not merely a roommate, she was my friend. Our morning routines were a well-orchestrated thing of beauty. We got up at 5:30 a.m. to attend a 6:00 a.m. class at the gym. Quick turnaround in our apartment followed as one showered and the other made her breakfast and packed her respective lunch . . . and then we switched places and the other showered or food prepped. I dropped Marla at her job on my way to teach and if it worked out, picked her up after work. I could go on about our escapades and adventures in and around Lawrence, Kansas.

The detail I have omitted is this, my dear friend is legally blind. My leaving meant that she could no longer go to the gym in the mornings and that she would have to walk to work. Who would go to the movies and sit in the front row? Who would be her “seeing eye girl” as I was referred to in public when people were confused why she needed help. Would I ever live with anyone as funny as her?

My leaving didn’t just mean she either had to find a new apartment or a new roommate, it meant a drastic change in her life. I understood this was part of the call and Jesus was worth it, but that did not remove the sting of role deprivation.

You too may have a role that others might think is no big deal, but you know the truth.

Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation:

  1. Your emotional responses out of proportion to the situation.
  2. You notice you are hustling for your worth. Do you sense yourself being defensive or questioning what others think about you or how you use your time? Your hustling might be related to role deprivation.

Role deprivation is unavoidable but not unnameable … naming helps us make sense of what is going on.

Transitioning to the field makes us aware of roles that have become so automatic we haven’t noticed them in years.

When I transitioned to the mission field, roles I thought were meaningful and added to healthy self-esteem, were taken off the table for a while. And roles that I would define as “not very meaningful” suddenly took an inordinate amount of time. How many of you put “eater” as one of your roles when you made your list?

In your passport country, sure buying food and preparing it takes time, but likely, nothing like when you go to the field! Keeping myself fed took more time than I imagined influenced by how much I could carry home in one shopping trip and the size of my small refrigerator and small oven. Add to that the energy required to figure out how to buy and prep for meals I could actually make, and then washing all of the dishes by hand with water I heated on my stove.

I find that role deprivation is one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us.

In the comments share six roles you played before you moved to the field. Which have died? Which have changed? Do you have a role that causes you more guilt to leave?

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash


10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, A Quiz

by Rachel Pieh Jones September 17, 2018

(I wrote this a long time ago but never hit “publish.” Two of my three kids are now adults, which slightly changes my personal context. But, the essay still stands, a little encouragement for expats as we face life in sometimes challenging locations.) “You’re Much More Likely to Be Killed By Brain-Eating Parasites, Texting While […]

Read the full article →

If I Had to Get a Job

by Anisha Hopkinson September 13, 2018

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to try to get a job back in the good ol’ USA after having lived overseas. Given the general bizarreness of my current overseas life in relation to my past US life, I imagine securing employment would be a somewhat awkward process. Life here is wildly different […]

Read the full article →

More Results: Continued Analysis of the Missionary Attrition Survey

by Editor September 12, 2018

by Andrea Sears Remember that survey of returned missionaries? The missionary who conducted it (me) wrapped up her furlough, headed back to Costa Rica, weathered 2 months of absolute craziness (only part of which is contained in this blog post) and is now finally able to refocus on publishing the results. I am sorry for the […]

Read the full article →

Ministry and Mom Guilt: Letting Go of Other People’s Opinions

by Editor September 7, 2018

by Kris Gnuse She strode up to our prayer gathering, her gray curls beautiful. The group stopped for greetings and her update on the situation across the border. Backpacking alone across Central America, helping out at missions along the way, Nicaragua’s political unrest had sent her doubling back to the children’s home where our family […]

Read the full article →

Learning from Injustice While Living Overseas

by Editor September 4, 2018

This piece is being posted anonymously so as not to disrespect the writer’s host country or its authorities. I was waiting in my car at the intersection, watching the policeman directing traffic. He looked in my direction and started walking towards me. Uh oh, I inwardly groaned. What is it this time? I put down […]

Read the full article →

Out of Office Reply

by Jonathan Trotter September 3, 2018

Some things will just suck the blog right out of you. Furlough and book editing are apparently two of those things. Our family spent the summer back in the States, and while we very much enjoyed catching up with friends and family, it was exhausting. You all know that already. We’ve been back less than […]

Read the full article →

Moving Abroad Can Sure Mess with Your Autocomplete

by Craig Thompson August 30, 2018

We can tell a lot about each other by looking at our autocompletes. For instance, start typing “I can’t find my” into a text message and see what it thinks will come next. For me, it’s “keys,” “wallet,” and “phone.” That’s pretty insightful: I have a car, I’m a guy, and I’m absent-minded enough to have my […]

Read the full article →

Why Cross-Cultural Workers Need Tent Pegs

by Elizabeth Trotter August 26, 2018

Home is a complicated word. A complicated idea. What is it? Where is it? As global nomads, we’re not entirely sure how we feel about home. We’re not sure we have it, and we’re not sure how to get it. We know the correct spiritual answer – that Christ is our home. That He is […]

Read the full article →

Grieving an Unfulfilled Dream

by Editor August 23, 2018

by William Jackson  The reality of living overseas is that you are going to grieve multiple things, deeply. Anyone moving out of their passport country has a dream. Some want to help HIV patients or people who have been trafficked. Others want to plant churches among the Unreached People Groups of the World. Whatever your […]

Read the full article →

Rethinking Transition Time (it doesn’t have to be time lost)

by Jerry Jones August 22, 2018

Times of transition are hard. That’s not new information.   We have training for this. Brochures. Books. Blogs. It’s all good information that helps you push through the hard times but even for the shrewdest, sharpest most well trained serial expats, time spent figuring out a new normal can feel like time lost . . . or […]

Read the full article →

Advice I’m Taking From Myself

by Editor August 19, 2018

by Elizabeth Hill I love advice. Good advice, of course. I love life hacks. I love wisdom. I love learning from people who’ve done something before. Some people need to make their own mistakes; I prefer to learn from others (and make mistakes in brand new areas). To that end, I’ve been making a list […]

Read the full article →