Send Help. My Husband Believes in Me.

My husband Joshua has the annoying habit of believing I am capable and strong, like some kind of Wonder Woman, except with a super-modest, incarnational wardrobe instead of a metal corset. He is always encouraging me and pep-talking me and going on about how I can do anything and change the world and blah blah blah. 

A perfect example of this was on our second day in our current country of service. There was a birthday in the family, so we piled into a taxi and went to one of the more interesting markets in our town, with its labyrinthian, Technicolor alleys.

Slatted wooden roofs kept the narrow streets cool, and we walked and walked and walked, past kaftans and brass lanterns, leather shoes and round bean bag chairs, stray cats and fresh juice and French pastries and fake scorpion fossils and hippie-dippie beaded jewelry. Four or five languages, along with the beeps of motorcycle horns and the lazy fluting of snake charmers, filled the air with sound. 

Next, we rode camels on a sidewalk. From atop my camel, whose name was, ironically, Madonna, I looked around. Traffic lurched and sped, then stopped suddenly for a wave of pedestrians. The white lines on the road made feeble suggestions that everyone ignored. How did people cross the street in this country? How did they drive? More importantly, how would I drive?!

I had driven in India. But we’d been in a rural mountain village, and there had been one road. I had never had to leave third gear.

But here we were in a new country, in the city, with all kinds of roads to take, “lanes” to drive in, and speed limits to adjust to, each representing a decision I must make in a fraction of a second. I told Joshua I would never, ever be able to drive in this country, so don’t even ask, because it ain’t happening, honey. Especially not a stick shift, which we would soon acquire.

“You can do it, Abby,” he told me, oozing with faith, hope, and love. I wished Joshua could just get in my head for five seconds and understand my anxiety on a visceral level. How it’s like being stuck in an endless game of whack-a-mole at a pizza joint. The second you conquer one anxiety, another one pops up. Sometimes you just want to go find a cabinet to crawl into where you can close your eyes and hug your knees and stop fighting the little varmints.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” I said.

“I know you can do it,” he said. 

I had been hoping Joshua would offer to drive me around for the rest of my life, like my grandfather had done for my grandma. Or like Richard did for Hyacinth in Keeping Up Appearances. Was that so unreasonable?

I examined Joshua’s face. He was so cute and eager, like a puppy who has just heard the word “walk.” All hopeful eyebrows. I even detected the hint of a little happy whine, as though he was imagining me going out in my cape and conquering the world. 

Later, I got a piece of scratch paper and wrote a couple of prayer requests on it: “1. Find a home in the country that can be the backdrop of the kids’ childhood. 2. Learn to drive here without feeling anxious.” I knew that last one was impossible, but I put the piece of paper in my Bible and told God He was going to have to pull out His Red Sea stick, His pillar of fire, and His spat-upon dirt. I needed a miracle.

*

“We’re moving,” I told my family one afternoon. “God provided a place!” And so we packed up our stuff and moved 45 minutes away from the city center to a house in the countryside.

Our kids were already enrolled in all kinds of activities that city children are involved in. Soccer, gymnastics, etc. Someone had to drive them there. Conveniently, or perhaps conspiratorially, my husband’s schedule would not allow him to be the chauffeur. 

I don’t remember the first time I transported my fragile young children in our smashable metal vehicle. Nor the second. Maybe it’s a traumatic memory buried deep in my amygdala, who knows? What I do know is that over the course of several months, a miracle happened. I got comfortable driving.

At first, I would literally talk to myself. The kids in the backseat would hear their mother say, “Water. We’re all just flowing like water. This intersection is a bend in the river and we’re just all flowing around it. Aaaand we’re flowing. We’re flowing.” 

Then I began to learn. I learned that people don’t drive in the right lane because there’s too much going on there—taxis stopping, motorcycles passing each other, carts peddling sweets. But they don’t move fully to the left lane because then they’d never get back over to make a right turn. 

Left turns are even more interesting. If you want to make a left turn, you have to swing your car as far into oncoming traffic as possible, and then complete your turn when enough other cars have built up in that area, or the oncoming lessens.

There was a road culture in this new place, with rules, just like a normal culture has. It seemed like chaos, but there was a system to it. And I had cracked the code. I felt like a feminine, slightly more mentally stable version of Champollion, the guy who figured out ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I felt capable.

*

Sometimes Joshua’s faith in me can be tiring. If I’m honest, sometimes I would rather my anxieties be accepted as unchangeable. I would rather be coddled. To be helped down from tall buses, to sit helplessly a fair bit of the time. I would rather not be expected to keep whacking moles every day, rather not be expected to keep putting on my cape and showing up in situations where success will most certainly require miracles. 

But I am finding that what I want today, in this moment, is not the same as what I want for my life. Today I may want to hide in the cabinet. But for my life, I want a Wonder Woman story. I want to see miracles. I want to drive across town, to write, to share Christ, to sing, to pray aloud, to climb mountains, to laugh at the days to come.

I guess God knew that about me when He put Joshua in my life. 

Here’s to many more years of miracles.

On the Fringe

But once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others. –Henri Nouwen

Cresting the hill overlooking the community where our campus sits, I hear the chatter of my daughters in the seats behind me. My mind, however, is miles (or kilometers, shall we say) away. I had just run into a few friends, whom we have known for many years now, and chatted briefly.

As I herded my children into my car, I reflected on the experience. Though it was good to run into them (was it, though?), it was also painful – a reminder, again, that we are the outsiders. These friends have a seemingly vibrant, interdependent community – one for which my husband and I have longed. For a wide array of reasons, we have succeeded in knowing a lot of people from a variety of communities, but we have not leaned in to just one. We’re “on the fringe,” we like to say, of a lot of communities.

There are definite perks to this; but tonight, I am just lonely.

//

This past summer, we had a three and a half-month home assignment in the U.S. It was hectic, as they are. And I was keenly aware that my daughters seemed to have more friends in the U.S., where we have not lived for almost eight years, than they do in our ministry area, where they have essentially grown up.

I pondered this for some time. Was it true? Would they/we have these friends if we lived in the U.S.? There was of course the reality that we visited many different states and churches, nearly all the people we know stateside. In the end, I wondered, is it that friendships feel easier in their “home” culture, even though they haven’t grown up in the U.S.? Do they sense that we are “on the fringe” here too?

//

I have a feeling that you can relate. As cross-cultural workers, we can work alongside people all day, we can attend a vibrant church or co-op, we can be part of groups and workplaces, and still feel unknown. We can spend countless hours pursuing others, opening the doors of our home, building relationships, and have maybe one or two that takes off and goes deep – but otherwise feel like outsiders the rest of the time.

Seven years into international ministry, I am no longer surprised by this reality. It used to be a sharp reminder of our otherness; these days, it is more of a dull ache, a sense of loneliness. God has been gracious in the midst of this struggle for belonging. These are a few truths God has used to comfort me:

The longing to belong is a good, God-given one. This desire to know and be known is part of our human, image-bearing experience. This longing reflects our spiritual, emotional, and mental capacities for relationship and meaning. Any feelings of being ‘unknown’ are part of our experience in this broken world; alternatively, the joy of feeling “known” reflects the already-but-not-yet of Christ’s kingdom coming.

I am known, deeply. The truth is that each one of us is deeply known by God himself, more deeply than we know ourselves. While this may sound trite at times, I have found profound comfort in embracing the reality that the God of the universe knows me, on every level, through and through, and cares deeply for me. Nothing in my life is hidden from him; he knows the best and worst of me and loves me still. What a joy!

He knows what it is to be “on the fringe.” Christ himself came from the Father, to an earth which was not his home, in order to minister and serve and give the ultimate sacrifice for others. Though his “otherness” was different than ours, he is familiar with the struggle to belong. In his life, I find a model of living “on the fringe” which gives me a path forward in my overseas life.

I think of Jesus’ words in Mark 10, where he shares a simple mission statement for his coming to earth: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

Jesus is our ultimate example of coming to a place, fully knowing he would not belong, and giving of himself anyway. When I put aside my own feelings of “otherness” and seek to offer my life for others, I am imitating Christ. When I accept the reality that I will not fit as I would ideally love to and continue to serve anyway, I am imaging Jesus.

So I continue to lean in and pursue others, but less for what they can mean to me, and more for how I can faithfully serve both them and Christ. I am working toward setting aside my own needs for belonging and living joyfully anyway. This is only possible because of the confidence we have in Christ. He knows me, he knows the ache, and he served in love still. Jesus, help me to do the same.

Miso and Lent

by Roberta Adair

A few days ago, I opened up the cool crawlspace under our dining room table and pulled out a big pot of miso I put there ten months ago. Miso is squashed fermented soybeans and is used in a lot of Japanese cooking – most famously miso soup, but also in stir fries, marinades, and vegetable dips.

Until two years ago, I simply bought it in small plastic tubs at our neighborhood grocery store, but then a friend invited me to join her and a few other women for a miso-making class.

I plopped the pot on the counter and gingerly took off the lid. Will the top layer be as slimy and funky as the year before? (It was.) Will it have worked – meaning will the kōji (fermenting bacteria) have done its job with the smashed up beans and transformed the mush into miso? (Also yes.)

After scraping off the top and putting the rest into several containers, I wiped up a little bit I dropped onto the counter with my finger and tasted it. It was salty, tangy, grainy, fermented, and familiar. It was also something quite different than what I put in the pot last year. It had transformed.

Ten months earlier, a professional miso maker gave me dried beans with instructions on how to soak and boil them the day before we were to meet together. Then when we all gathered in a small room in a community center, she walked us through the process of smashing the beans, mixing in the salt and kōji, and squashing the mixture some more.

My favorite step was to make small balls and SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! them into a container to get rid of air bubbles. It was loud and felt almost violent – and oh so satisfying.

As I consider the different steps in the process, I keep thinking about miso as a metaphor for the Christian life, one I get to regularly touch, see, taste, and smell.

Soaking the beans reminds me of being immersed in a safe community. It’s comfortable. I’m not yet required to change, but I’m in an environment preparing me for change. It’s the least painful part of the process but is still important.

Boiling is the next step, which is a process that involves purification and pain. The result is softening (“humbling”) and is necessary for a big transformation.

Squashing follows and involves the beans changing shape but their essence remaining the same. Starting as beans and ending as paste, they are then mixed with salt and kōji to preserve the mixture and start the ten-month process of transformation. Koji works like “yeast in the bean paste” (bacteria in the miso) just as the Holy Spirit works in us.

The beans then sit in a dark, undisturbed place. This is where fermentation takes place and where simple beans that would otherwise rot become nourishing and delicious. A weight is placed on top—a “burden” that makes it more difficult for air to enter and allow mold to grow too quickly.

This process is a picture (albeit imperfect) of sanctification: being made into something better over time. After sitting in the cool crawlspace under our dining room table for ten months, the beans underwent a chemical transformation, and squashed beans—voila!—became miso. The process involved breaking, smashing, mixing, and splatting. And it involved waiting, literally being hidden underground, and not being disturbed for a long season.

Now, as I use my “labor of love” to make miso soup, miso chicken, and miso salad dressing, I think about . . .

  • Phases in my life when I was overly comfortable and didn’t feel pressured to change or grow.
  • Hard seasons in friends’ lives that are lonely, unseen, and exhausting. They are seeking to trust God in the dark without seeing a whole lot of fruit or answers to prayer.
  • Tragic revelations in the lives of public Christians who missed out on the fermenting phase and peaked while still raw beans. As their rottenness is revealed and they give off a big stink, the result is broken families, fractured churches, and disoriented followers.
  • Those who have submitted to and practiced the way of Christ who are in turn nourishing those around them, providing a richness and complexity to their families and communities. To paraphrase Matthew 5:13, they are “the umami of the world.”
  • The fact that the process can’t be sped up through more effort. More squeezing, more pounding, more splatting, or more salt and kōji won’t help. Maturity – Christlikeness – can only happen over time, in darkness, and through waiting.

Miso-making typically coincides with the season of Lent, and I find myself thinking about the way of Jesus being dying and resurrection. His invitation to transforming us, to transforming me, requires some kind of breaking and pain.

Even as I write this, I’m making plans with friends to make miso again in late February. What started as a one-time thing is becoming a yearly habit and (may I say it?) something like a spiritual practice. And I’m thankful.

~~~~~~~~

Originally from Pennsylvania (USA), Roberta lived in Kosovo for three years before getting married and moving to northern Japan in 2012. She and her husband partner with a Japanese church and have four young and energetic boys. She enjoys hiking, camping, and having friends over for average and boisterous meals.

This is What Courage Looks Like

Sandy was raising support, and she was stuck. She had exhausted all of her contacts – friends, relatives, acquaintances. She had contacted all of the churches where she knew someone, and had reached out to dozens of other churches with no response. Yet she was still far away from that elusive 100% funding goal. 

So she tried a different strategy. Each Sunday morning, she would pick out a church to attend – cold turkey – not knowing a solitary soul.  She would show up at this church where she knew no one, look for a friendly face, strike up a conversation with this complete stranger, and ask if this person could connect her with a pastor or missions leader. 

Sandy is an introvert. She is warm and confident but not the kind of person who especially enjoys entering new churches and striking up conversations with strangers. But she did it because she had to. She was determined to get to the country where God had called her and was ready to do whatever it took.

I was Sandy’s coach during her support-raising season. When she described this to me, my mouth gaped open and my eyes bugged out. All I knew was that I didn’t think I’d ever have the guts to do what she was doing, Sunday after Sunday. This took resolve. This took courage. 

I thought about my own support-raising journey. My husband and I would “divide and conquer” in our support-raising tasks. I wrote the newsletters and thank-you notes; he wrote the sermons. He fixed the printer when I was about to throw it out the window. And having him by my side every time I entered a new church gave me a measure of security.

I coach many single missionary women who are raising support, and they don’t get to delegate these tasks. If they hate public speaking, they don’t have a spouse to pass that off to. If they aren’t good at technology, they still have to figure it out themselves. When their pitch is rejected, there isn’t a partner by their side to share the burden. 

We laud the courage of single missionary women when they single-handedly figure out how to exterminate a rat invasion, stop the flood seeping into their house, or replace a blown-out tire. But we don’t often recognize the additional demands of everything they must do to build a support network on their own.

I realize that much of this could also apply to single men. However, I believe that single women often face unique challenges in earning others’ respect and attention – in foreign cultures, on their missionary teams, and in the churches of their home country. 

As I walk with these women on their journey to the mission field, I brim with tremendous admiration for their grit, perseverance, and resiliency. The truth is, most of these women would love to be married with a family. For many of them, it’s their deepest heart’s desire. Yet they are steadfast in obedience while they trust the Lord with their futures. 

This is what courage looks like. 

Do you have a single female missionary in your life? Probably more than anyone else, they need advocates to raise their support. Maybe that could be you. 

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How we’d like to say THANK YOU!
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Home Invasion: Giving Missionary Kids Their Safe Place Back

When I was two years old, after my parents and I returned to Australia from our first time living abroad, our house was burgled while we slept. The thieves took our TV and probably a few other things I don’t remember.

I don’t remember the theft itself, but I clearly remember a nightmare I had a few years later. In my nightmare, men I didn’t know who were silent and invisible came into the house while I was in bed. They picked up my bed with me in it, turning me invisible and silent as well. They carried the bed (and me) out toward the front door, through the living room where my parents were watching TV. I jumped off the bed, at which point they could see and hear me. 

When I told my parents about the nightmare, something clicked for them. The living room I described was the old set up from before the robbery, with the old couch and the old TV. Though I didn’t consciously remember the event, something about it had rooted in my subconscious – and with it, a fear of unseen and unheard men entering my house, making me less safe.

According to Statista, New Zealand had the highest burglary rate per capita in 2018, with 1.3% of homes burgled. Australia’s rate was 0.7%, and the U.S. was 0.4%. If we make the bold assumption that different homes were targeted every year, over the 18 years of childhood that makes 23%, 13%, and 7% of families overall (respectively) that would experience burglary. Yet when TCK Training asked missionary kids if they had experienced a break-in, 38% said yes – compared to only 15% of non-missionary TCKs.

A significant part of that 38% were present during a home invasion: 15% of missionary kids were present in their home when a break-in occurred. These MKs were 35% more likely to have a high-risk ACE score than missionary kids overall (23% vs 17%). With more than one third of missionary kids experiencing a break-in during their childhood, this makes it a fairly common experience among their MK peers. Stories of break-ins are common among MKs. If it didn’t happen to you, it happened to your friend(s). 

One MK I interviewed talked about a home invasion his family experienced on the field while he was in elementary school. The thieves cut power to their home before entering, and in their rural area there were no streetlights or other external light sources, so the entire experience took place in the dark. He remembered huddling in his parents’ bedroom, with them and his younger brother, in the pitch black. They heard the noises downstairs, the hushed voices and the things being broken. For years afterward, he carried a matchbox in his pocket; he needed to know he could create light if he ever found himself in darkness again.

A teenage MK I interviewed spoke of living in a home with a grill of thick bars across each window and still feeling unsafe inside their home. A thief used a long pole to reach through the bar grill when a window was open, using it to steal small items. This made the MK feel imprisoned at home, with windows shut and thick grills over the closed windows — even during hot and humid days. They would close the curtains to block out the community in which these thefts took place.

Every story of theft, break-in, or home invasion is different. The emotional consequences are similar. Our home becomes less of a haven, less of a safe place, when we learn that ‘bad’ people can enter at any time without warning. They could take our precious possessions, entering our home while we sleep (or hide).

This affront to our sense of safety, security, and comfort in our own home is true for both adults and children. Children have less control over their living situations, however, and sometimes are not given much information about what has happened and what the future may hold. This lack of information (and control) can lead to additional anxiety. When home doesn’t feel like a safe place, children/young people stay ‘on alert’ without feeling safe to fully relax anywhere in their world. This leads to a state called ‘toxic stress’ which has negative impacts on the brain and body.

 

What Do We Do?
Feeling safe and protected at home, and especially feeling that there is an adult in the home providing this protection, is one of the Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) that provide a buffer for children who experience difficult things. PCEs enable children to thrive as adults even if they meet with adversity in childhood.

It is crucial that we provide missionary kids with a strong sense of safety at home. This will look different in different contexts, but there are a few principles that apply anywhere.

Explain the safety measures you have in place – no matter what they are or how obvious they look. Talk your kids through what you are doing to create a safe environment for them. Whenever you stay the night in a different place (including hotels, friends’ homes, and visits to your passport country), have this talk again, and go through the safety measures in place there.

Ask your children what makes them feel safe. Help them identify the feeling of safety and security. Have conversations about what that feels like and looks like, and discuss ways to create it in our homes, families, and even our schools and friendships. (This is a important tool for children to learn at any age, for many reasons.) These conversations will give you insights into how to make your child FEEL safe with you and in your home. Remember to model this for them – explain what makes you feel safe and what safety feels like to you.

Encourage your children to tell you if they feel unsafe – and listen to them! Something that seems obviously safe to you may feel uncomfortable, unusual, or even unsafe to your child. You won’t know how they are feeling unless they tell you, and they won’t tell you unless they know you take their concerns seriously. Taking their concerns seriously might look like validating their emotions (“I see this is troubling you; how can I help you feel more safe?”) before talking about the ‘reality’ of a situation (“I understand that it seems this way, and I’m glad you let me know. Can I show you what I see going on here?”).

Initiate regular conversations around safety. This idea is not about teaching lessons on how to be safe, but rather checking in with how everyone is feeling. Has anything happened in your community that impacts how safe you feel? Has their friend’s home been burgled? Has something been in the news? Keep creating opportunities to talk about what it is like to live where you live, as well as how each family member feels about it – it’s quite likely you’ll all feel differently at different times.

As a small child having a nightmare, I woke upset and went to my parents for comfort. They listened to me, made the connection with the robbery in the past, and were open with me about it. My parents talked to me about the robbery, validating my fears, thus assuring me I wasn’t afraid for no reason.

They also explained the likely motivation behind the theft (they were probably people without much money looking for something they could take away and sell but weren’t wanting to hurt me) and ways they keep me safe (explaining about locks on doors, etc.). I don’t recall having another dream like that or significant fears related to home invasion again.

Even when we do our best to provide a safe home for our children, we live in a broken world where bad things sometimes happen. Providing safety for children is therefore both about objective safety (what we do to create physical safety) and also about our perceptions of safety – what makes us feel safe. Parents, the ways you act to make your children feel safe are vitally important. Engaging with their emotions, validating their fears, and talking to them about the situations you face as a family will make a big difference for them long term. 

 

Photo by Nicola Nuttall on Unsplash

5 Ways to Cope When Your Incarnational Ministry Becomes Remote

Over a decade ago we joined an organization whose primary goal was Bible translation and church planting with a focus on incarnational ministry. 

We did national language in a large city for three years before God nudged us to step out in faith and make a big move to a more rural area where we could live among the people group we had been led to serve in Bible translation. 

This move was fraught with challenges and change. No one within our organization had ever moved out to the rural areas of our country before. We’d be the first to attempt it. Could we do it?

We had to figure out a visa situation (and once we did, we had to leave the country every 70 days to renew it). We had to find housing. We had to travel with our three very young children (ages 4, 2, and baby at the time). We knew absolutely no one in the area to help us. I was also pregnant with baby number four. It was… a lot. 

But God. We felt a call to go, and we went. It was difficult. And God showed up through each difficulty. My husband met just the right people who helped set up a perfect visa situation for us. We made some connections. We thought the city was livable and doable. Even my little four-year-old’s prayers were answered for a “sparkly house,” which we had initially told her might not happen because houses in our country of service were never “sparkly.” 

After a month of trial and difficulty, we had a visa, a house, a few connections, and hope that God had called us to serve incarnationally in this place we could grow to love. We felt hope and peace. 

God grew our community and ministry. Our home became the center of our lives and our incarnational ministry. We had no privacy; but we did have friends, neighbors, and national co-laborers who saw us living out our Christian faith day in and day out. 

We loved our simple, yet hard life. We ate fresh food from the market, which I had to buy daily. We struggled with lack of consistent electricity and mosquito-borne illnesses. We struggled with isolation, loneliness, and a lack of Christian community.

Yet we felt called to this life of incarnational ministry, and the sacrifices seemed worth it. We felt God was with us, was for us, and had planned this life for us. 

Then covid hit. We decided to stay in our home in our country of service, come what may. Isolation became even more of a reality. Opportunities for incarnational ministry waned. Ministry goals were put on hold.

We started becoming disconnected even from our national co-laborers who were either home in their villages or confined to work from their homes. It was a very difficult time for our family and the life of our ministry. We couldn’t wait for the covid restrictions to end. 

And then, an even greater disaster struck: a military coup. The instability and violence that followed prompted our organization to ask us to leave. We left our home in 24 hours with two suitcases for our entire family, which had grown to eight. 

We had lived in our rural area for five years. We had no time to say proper goodbyes or give any of us proper closure. We had no choice and no warning. Our incarnational ministry in the land and country we loved was over. 

That was in 2021. We’ve recently commemorated the third year anniversary of the military coup that changed our lives forever. We haven’t stopped our work; the ministry has continued in our absence. But it isn’t the same. 

Despite our organization’s focus on incarnational ministry, despite our ministry plans and long-term goals, despite what we wish would have happened, we haven’t been able to go back and live among the people we desire to serve. 

And we aren’t alone. We’ve met so many people over the last three years in our same situation and predicament. Covid. Visa issues. Political instability. War. Evacuation. Loss.

Whatever has caused your ministry disruption over the last few years, I pray that these five reminders will help you adjust your expectations and continue to move forward, even though things have not turned out how you envisioned. 

1. Grieve what you’ve lost.
Take time to lament to God why you’re mad, frustrated, angry, sad, disappointed, or heartbroken that what you wanted didn’t happen. Write a poem. Journal. Pray with a friend. Confess your feelings in a small group. Get counseling. Write a list of all the things you no longer have. Then, loop through that grieving process again (and again) until you feel you have unstacked all those hard emotions and shared them with God and with good listeners. 

2. Accept the new reality.
This step was perhaps the hardest for me. It is hard to let go of one dream to live in a new reality you weren’t planning on. But it is necessary to both grieve what you’ve lost and then move forward in accepting the new reality and making the most of it. Things aren’t what you planned or what you wanted, but can you accept that your life isn’t over and that God can still use you in a new way during a new season? 

3. Make prayer your key strategy.
Make your dependence on God the forefront of your ministry and personal goals. God knows the situation that led to your ministry changing, and he knows you intimately. He cares about the people you serve and the work you are doing. Petition God in prayer to lead you, your team, and your ministry.

Remember that all your work depends on the grace of God, and all your “success” depends on God calling people to himself. God’s Holy Spirit could only come after Jesus ascended to heaven. God’s Spirit will continue to work even after you’ve had to leave.

4. Enlist help for #3.
As you make prayer your ministry strategy, share your detailed needs with your family, churches, and supporters. We’ve found it helpful to get supporters to commit to pray one day each month for you and your ministry and coworkers rather than just include prayer requests in newsletters (although that is good too).

You can ask people to “adopt” a day between 1 and 31 and ask them to pray and send a brief message on that day each month. It adds daily prayer support to your ministry and adds accountability. We’ve also created monthly prayer guides focusing on a specific aspect of ministry, shared prayer requests in a closed social media group, sent out emails and newsletters, and shared specific personal prayer needs with specific people.

5. Keep hope that God will turn evil into good for His Kingdom.
It’s easy to give up and become cynical about visa problems, government politics, war, and conflict. It’s easy to abandon the goals for your work and ministry as impossible because of a situation that is out of your control. Resist that temptation. Hold on to hope that God has always used evil for His good and for the expansion of His Kingdom. 

Your role and work may have changed, your location may have changed, your ministry may look different than you wanted it to, but God is still working. He is still with you and your national coworkers. He still loves you, and He still loves the people you serve. 

So hold onto hope. Keep praying, and keep working. Remember that God’s Spirit makes up for our lack. Trust that God’s Word will go where we cannot. And keep believing that God’s light will shine in the darkness.

Dear Betrayed Missionary Spouse

Dear betrayed missionary spouse,

I hope this letter finds you in a room that feels familiar, comforting even. I’m writing because I want you to have the letter I wish I’d had on our Discovery/Disclosure day (D-Day). I want you to feel seen and less alone. 

I was a missionary wife. Perhaps like you, I’d taken commissional vows, the most prominent being “to walk worthy of the calling,” and I’d meant them. I’d poured my heart into language school, cultural acquisition, and work that comes alongside rather than presides over. I’d chosen faithfulness when I’d have rather been lax. I thought my husband partnered with me in that. 

I missed the first signs of trouble because he would never, plus we talked about everything, and I was doing everything I’d heard good wives do. So when he began to practice poor boundaries in friendships with other women, I believed him when he said that I was just hypervigilant due to my ultra-conservative upbringing. I believed him when he said he didn’t know why he was no longer interested in sex. I believed him when he said there was no pornography. 

Ours had not been an unusually troubled marriage. Sure, there had been some hard seasons, but nothing that prayer, friends, and counseling hadn’t addressed. We spent years in chronic stress and intensity, yet we had the kind of home where people came to know Jesus because of what they saw in our day-to-day interactions. We were friends, and we were transparent about our desires, struggles, and temptations. 

Until we weren’t. 

One month, all that transparency, warmth, and shared camaraderie evaporated. I didn’t suspect adultery because he would never. But he wouldn’t answer my questions about lesser concerns—not honestly, I learned. “It’s just stress,” he’d said, and I’d responded with, “Now? After consecutive years of severe stress? We’re used to stress. What’s really going on?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he told me. 

We went from friends to soul strangers under the same roof. It’s just a season, I whispered to myself, it’s nothing major. But major happened when my husband announced that we were moving back to America. Maybe it’s for the best; we are severely underfunded and can’t stay much longer anyways, I thought, and began the process of packing my bags. We’ll come back as soon as we have the financial stability to do so. 

The first year back was brutal. I grieved the loss of my community on the field, helped toddlers understand cultural transitions, made money stretch, and tried in vain to find a spot in friend circles we’d left years earlier. The great void could no longer be construed as a season; it had become a way of life.

We need to get our finances in order and start thinking as friends again, and then we’ll go back, I thought. I tried to push the grief away with the promise we’ll go back.

The great void persisted. He entered counseling but gave me an insufficient answer as to why. I asked a friend to please pray that God would reveal what was wrong in our marriage, fearing that God would reveal that I was a horrible wife in ways I hadn’t figured out, but I was desperate for answers.

And then, several years into the great void, over a year after our return to America, months after confessing pornography, and a few weeks after my friend and I asked God to reveal anything hidden in our marriage, he disclosed adultery to me.

I did not enter D-Day full of hope and vigor, ready for one more challenge. I was already lonely and soul weary: bereft of my ministry, half a world away from teammates I dearly loved, a parent to toddlers who had not responded well to the massive cultural shift, and alone in a marriage whose hard season had turned into years of distance. 

Our immediate responses to D-Day could not have been more different. For him, D-Day initiated the joys of forgiveness and relief from secrets; for me, it initiated anguish and depression.

I asked all of the questions, sobbed my heart out, and entered a depression so deep I’d forget what time of day it was. I set recurring reminders on my phone to remind me to brush the kids’ teeth at the correct times of day, and we relied heavily on rotisserie chickens from Walmart. I was too depressed to cook and clean in the evenings.

The marital vows had meant nothing to him; the dishes and photos celebrating those vows meant nothing to me. I preferred barren walls to the reminders of what my husband had destroyed, so I took down our wedding photos and disposed of wedding dishes.

First though, I asked the important questions: “How old was she? Where did you meet her? How certain are you of her age? Was she financially comfortable, or have you taken advantage of someone financially vulnerable to you? Does she know that you were a missionary—did you use spiritual posturing to facilitate this relationship? What opportunities did you have to say ‘no’ to this, and what was your thought process each time you said ‘yes’ instead? How are you going to repent of the deception that enabled this?” 

I hadn’t yet learned of “trickle truthing,” but I knew that the only path forward was a transparent path. He answered my questions, and this time, almost all (95%) had that ring of transparency; his response to “Have you confessed absolutely every single thing?” did not. I caught some unconfessed things later in the week and began taking steps towards divorce.

We were part of a faith group that doesn’t believe in divorce for any reason. My husband had delayed his confession, knowing that I’d be one woman from that group who’d consider all of her options. And I did.

I told God that if he indicates that he is not fully repentant through deception or recurring sin, I’ll divorce; if God works deep repentance into his heart, I’ll reconcile this once. I would not agree to be just one woman in a union of one man and many women – genuine repentance was an absolute must.

We had one fully heartfelt conversation that weekend, but not that of a typical married couple. We conversed as two exes and friends answering, “How did we arrive here?” Years of secrets poured out of him without one request for forgiveness or one hint that I consider reconciliation. Finally the great void made sense, and his transparency began to close the distance. I stopped pursuing divorce and put my weight behind reconciliation.

We renewed our vows, just the two of us, on a beach; my husband kept the photos as his screensaver. I see the blotchy face, the sudden weight gain, the anguish, the vows I made without a shred of naivete or romantic idealism. He sees the relief of forgiveness and reconciliation he wasn’t sure would be his. 

We’ll go back disappeared under therapy appointments, books, date nights that felt utterly unromantic, and years of post-infidelity marital repair. All of the losses associated with betrayal were mine to process, plus the full loss of my ministry. 

Additionally, we lost many church relationships: our setting at the time held unhelpful perspectives of male sin, wives’ responsibilities, and the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. A church friend had insisted that I needed to heal from past trauma so that I could give my future husband enough sex so that we could have a great marriage. After the adultery, I held shattered certitude and navigated public shame, but God knew the reality: I’d pursued healing, given sex, refrained from nagging, and praised him abundantly. 

A lifetime of believing, fundamentally, that male holiness depended heavily upon female effort fell to pieces – only for me, not for those who taught me – but God was in this shattering. A longtime church friend told him that he was just a sex addict, and my only option was to spend the rest of my life repeatedly forgiving sexual sin. We distanced ourselves from that friend. We distanced ourselves from pastors who told other church members things about our marriage/us that they hadn’t told us themselves. Other church connections distanced themselves from both of us without explanation. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some churches walk excellently with reconciling couples. But our church at the time largely failed us here, and I’d be presenting an inaccurate view of our recovery if I didn’t mention how significant the spiritual losses were. Mercifully, most of the friendships that were already genuine and years-long remained stable, and we count some of our former church companions among true friends. 

My husband indeed found the core motivation behind his adultery; his personal motivation and growth are his to share when he chooses. We bought the book How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair, kept our therapy appointments, and in great agony over time, made it to the other side of recovery.  

Friend, I want you to know that anger, depression, and brain fog following betrayal are normal. A wayward spouse who basks in forgiveness while the betrayed crumbles in grief is so common. I am so sorry. Your D-Day may have been discovery day, not disclosure day, and you may be furious at what you’ve found, furious that you had to find it at all when it could have been confessed. I wish I could spare you, tell you the darkness will end soon, or sit with you if your D-day is recent.

If you are processing your griefs similarly to how I processed mine, you might find these brief thoughts—the right length for those experiencing grief brain—helpful. Grab a pen and sticky notes, and write down the ones that speak to you.

  • God grieves adultery, too! He designed marriage to involve one man and one woman for life, emphasis on “one.” Polygamy, adultery, and ancient orgies/modern pornography—one man and many women, in any format—scorn His original design.
  • I was free to divorce, free to reconcile. Jesus gives me autonomy. He sees me as a person, not an inferior component of a violated covenant.
  • Nobody says “hell maybe!” Give your marriage or your divorce your “hell yes!” but don’t try to “hell maybe” reconciliation. (This was from our counselor.)
  • Transparency builds trust. (Also from our counselor.)
  • To his friends who assumed that he must have sinned to be experiencing his many losses, Job said: “I will not agree with you that you are right. Until my dying day, I won’t give up my integrity” (Job 27:5 CEB). I found comfort in the memory of how I’d walked with God in the ordinary. I’ve been faithful, in His strength.
  • God will remember my faithfulness. This was a rebuttal to the whispers of a branch of religion that saw my husband and me as one unit, equally complicit in his sin: our faith group considered my husband disqualified, and whispered that I, too, needed to step away from work I loved given the infidelity.
  • My husband might not deserve my faithfulness, but Jesus does. The temptation to return the betrayal shocked me, as did the lie that justice could be accomplished with willful sin. I wanted justice, and had to turn my attention to One who is faithful.
  • God is utterly faithful, and injustice and unfaithfulness are offensive to Him. God will be utterly faithful to me.
  • I am like Hagar, alone in the wilderness, unsure how long I’ll be here or how bad things will get. God is the God who sees, the God who hears.
  • “Emmanuel!” is the serenade over us: “GOD WITH US!” Marvelous, considering He has seen and heard us fully.
  • He will tend to His sheep in my absence. He understands my forced absence.
  • He sustains the weary.
  • He comforts those who mourn.
  • He is angry every day with the wicked.
  • He will not shame me for someone else’s sin.
  • It’s wonderful to feast on the Psalms, and to delight in God-with-us.
  • He is near to the broken-hearted.

I don’t know how you got here. I don’t know what’s next for you. If your D-Day is recent, things may get worse before they get better. In fact, they probably will: trickle-truth is a monster, but it is wildly common among adulterers. 

Please know though, that as an image-bearer beloved by God, you are still capable of reason, autonomy, joy, connection, and belonging. You are still you: you are not a different person, you are simply experiencing a depth or kind of grief you may have never experienced before. The darkness of soul anguish, grief, and betrayal is a darkness our High Priest knows and understands. 

That’s it, friend. I don’t have a to-do list for you. You don’t need a to-do list beside the one you already have. You are seen; you are heard. He delights over you with a faithful, fully-knowing love. We are beloved by the One described as Faithful and True, and He’s hanging onto His own far more faithfully than we could begin to hang onto Him, especially during our seasons of darkness.

Love,
Another betrayed missionary spouse

~~~~~~~~~~~

The author lives in a sunny part of the US where she participates in a variety of religious, volunteer, social, and career activities. She writes prose, letters, essays, rigorous academic content, and to-do lists. Injustice angers her, as does writing masterfully in her sleep and forgetting the entirety when morning comes. Hobbies involve baking, sewing, reading, listening to sound sermons, and strategizing how and when to visit Asia, the location of one of her favorite homes.

Could this cost me my “job?”

Friends, I (Amy) have been asked to present a workshop in late February called “Issues missionaries are dealing with that you’re not talking about.” In my description for the workshop I said, “Let’s talk about the things we normally avoid: sex, politics, and changing culture.” 

I could guess at some of this, but I wanted to ask you so that I can say, “Hey, here are real answers from real people.” I also like compiled results because it gives us a broader perspective than the little patch of grass that we each are standing on.

So far 170 people have taken the survey and themes are emerging, but I won’t dig into deeper analysis until the survey is closed.

Sometimes the way we tend our soul is by naming out loud what we fear or wonder about. These are not the type of topics that probably you can (or should) share publicly, but they do need to be given voice. Several people have commented that simply being asked these questions and given space to reflect on them has been helpful. That is my hope for you too.

This survey is 100% anonymous and open for a few more days; we will close it at the end of January. Thank you for sharing what you’re dealing with that maybe you haven’t been able to talk about out of fear for what might happen. I will share the findings with you and hopefully we can all learn from each other. Thank you, thank you. 

You can take the survey here.

What Missionaries Need Today (a summary of the 2023 FieldPartner survey results)

by Christine Paterson

At FieldPartner International, we believe that anybody who serves in the field cross-culturally should be properly trained, well-resourced, and wholeheartedly supported by their sending church. In 2023 we ran a survey to gain insight into the challenges and needs of cross-cultural workers worldwide.

We heard from 137 respondents from 21 different countries who have served in 40 different countries or regions globally. Our survey questions were targeted to individuals at each stage of the cross-cultural journey, from pre- to post-field, plus those sending.

We were excited to find that the breadth and quality of the responses we received to the survey reflect that both field workers and senders are serious and passionate about their work and consider Jesus’ mandate to the Great Commission as a joint effort between both of them. But it also uncovered some areas of challenge and concern.

You can read the full report at fieldparter.org/survey. You can also view an infographic with some key stats here. Here are a few key takeaways:

 

Overall Effects of Training
We take encouragement from progress in the recommendations highlighted by the Reducing Missionary Attrition Project (ReMAP) in 1997. These were:

  1. A good candidate process (proper screening and supporting at the pre-field stage by agencies and supporting churches).
  2. Adequate pre-field training (at FieldPartner we stress the need for that to be practical cross-cultural training, as well as theological and professional).
  3. Adequate ongoing support and training for those on the field throughout their career. (On this point, our respondents gave a long list of areas where they desire ongoing training even after going to the field – presumably seeing the need after the event and calling for help to fill those gaps.)

Despite some encouragement, there is still a long way to go. Our findings, in our much smaller survey, show that too many are still going out without sufficient training and support. With so many attesting to experiencing challenges that they had not anticipated, to me that speaks to the need for pre-field training to be truly practical and down-to-earth.

Whilst a high proportion of those working cross-culturally experience ‘more challenges than anticipated’, as well as ‘moderate to severe culture shock’ on the field, we found that those who had ‘adequate’ training and ongoing support from home found themselves more able to press through the challenges and make it for the long haul.

On the other hand, those who lacked sufficient training and felt ‘isolated’ and ‘lonely’ on the field were much less resilient; some (as attested by about a quarter of our respondents in the post-field category) even left the field prematurely for preventable reasons. (You can explore the main reasons given for this on page 16 of the report.)

Those planning to go out need to be able to sit down and ‘count the cost,’ as Jesus said, with their eyes wide open as to what the challenges are likely to be. Of course, it is impossible to mitigate every challenge by being forewarned, and there will still be those that take us completely unawares (also spiritual warfare is real). But many can be foreseen, and for those we should be forearmed.

In addition to targeted training, it was greatly encouraging to find that so many (80%) of our post-field respondents stated a willingness to become mentors for new recruits coming through – a truly heart-warming finding. Mentoring was a stated need of our on-field respondents, particularly in the early years. Returnees are a resource that fieldworkers and senders alike can make good use of – so much experience to benefit from.

 

More Training Needed in These Areas
Speaking to ReMAP point 3 above, it was interesting to note the number and variation of the topics raised where ongoing training on the field would be appreciated (see page 15 of the report). Clearly these are felt needs, which fieldworkers only became aware of through the challenges they faced.

These included: more language and culture training, conflict resolution, parenting, accounting and support-raising, intercultural team building, counselling, member care issues (including preparation for re-entry), and understanding the history and religion of the host country.

Taking the recommendation of ReMAP seriously would mean that senders (both agency and church) would need to facilitate and possibly help finance ongoing training, allowing time off for study and applauding the results when they came. For those of us who produce content online, the challenge is there for us to respond to this need by creating resources that address those specific needs, enabling more fieldworkers to remain at their post while still being able to sharpen their skills.

 

Nurturing Relationships with Senders and Supporters
Senders (in this case supporting individuals as well as leaders in the sending churches) do not yet seem to understand how crucial their role is in fostering the longevity of those they send to the field. The data seems to suggest a tentative approach and not enough hands-on engagement to know what the real needs are at the field end.

There is a fear expressed that they are ‘putting too much pressure’ on the fieldworkers by their expectations, whereas at the field end, the converse seems to be the case. Where senders are engaged, their interest seems rather to be experienced as support, not pressure (page 20). And the value of that cannot be overestimated. It is the absence of any tangible support or encouragement from home that leaves field workers feeling demoralised and unappreciated.

So the message to senders is “keep engaged,” whatever it takes. Maybe even take part in some of the pre-field training yourselves so that you can have greater understanding of what your field worker is going through and can better support them through the challenges.

 

Importance of ‘Safety’ in What is Shared
The data about feeling able to be ‘honest’ with colleagues on the field and supporters back home plays in greatly as well. If honesty is not experienced as ‘safe,’ then the danger is that struggles that badly need to be shared and prayed through will be repressed and hidden, with possible grave consequences.

When those who go are encouraged to build personal support teams, the chances of feeling safe to share the realities of life on the field are greatly enhanced. With that comes a sense of feeling truly seen and cared for.

And at the post-field stage, the support team can help greatly with confronting re-entry stress, which famously can be even more challenging than the original culture shock experienced on the field. Importantly, only 14% of returnees said they had received debriefing, and most would still welcome that even long after the event.

 

Added Layers of Impact from Covid-19
In view of how recently life has returned to ‘normal’ (or adapted to a ‘new normal’) after the pandemic, we decided to tag on some questions about how Covid-19 had impacted the field workers and their senders. You can read the responses in Section 5 of the report (pages 21 and 22).

For those on the field, Covid carried inevitable extra stress – lockdowns that left mission workers with little support, loss of funding, local co-workers being forced to do other work to support their families, churches, schools and offices being closed, resulting in isolation and huge mental health challenges. In addition, many had to face fear from local people that they, as foreigners, were somehow responsible for the pandemic.

In view of these and other challenges, some were forced, with little warning or preparation, to leave their place of service and return home for an indefinite period. As time went by, many of those temporary moves became permanent, with all the fallout of an unplanned relocation and compounded re-entry stress.

In the post-pandemic landscape, many have still not been able to return to their place of service, and those remaining on the field have had to face continuing gaps in the team and a greater share of the workload. Everyone has had to face the challenge of travel being exponentially more expensive now, meaning that short-term teams are not as practical or popular as they once were.

Senders are turning to local diaspora communities for giving cross-cultural exposure to pre-field trainees. This is a good result in itself, but missionaries might end up receiving fewer field visits, which could have negative consequences.

Then there is the unknown quantity of how badly mental health has been impacted across the board, with less access in a field context to the kinds of specialist help that are needed. Field workers are resilient people — they need to be to survive the extra challenges they face — but facing Covid lockdowns on the field was inevitably even harder than doing so at home.

 

Conclusions
What can we take away from all the above? For me, the lessons are clear. As a global missions community, we need to pull together to provide what is needed. We can no longer afford to live in our silos and only serve our own people. We must be vigilant for opportunities to serve one another, share resources, and continue to innovate in our approach to member care in its broadest sense.

We need to use the internet for on-field as well as pre-field training, for supportive community, and potentially as a first response to crises as they arise. As far as possible, keeping security in mind, we need to be generous with our means across cultures and organisations, pointing people to where help can be found. Sending churches will serve their workers better if they can learn what good sending and supporting looks like, so that those they send out feel seen, heard, and appreciated throughout their terms of service and beyond.

Finally, we need to value our returning missionaries, even the wounded ones! Let’s welcome them home, celebrate their stories, help them heal, and then make best use of their experience and expertise for mentoring a new generation of fieldworkers preparing to go out.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared on OSCAR as “Crossing Cultures Survey.” It has been expanded for the A Life Overseas community and has been reprinted with permission.

~~~~~~~~

Christine Paterson, together with her husband Ross, has served in the Chinese world over many decades. Ross first went to Asia in 1969. Over the years they have been involved in campus ministry, literature and radio work, placing of professionals across China, humanitarian projects in minority areas, and recently in cross-cultural training. Christine has a degree in linguistics, a diploma in theology, and is certified as an intercultural coach. Her passion is to see those who serve in other cultures thrive and be resilient for the long haul. Ross and Christine have five daughters and eight grandchildren. You can contact her with comments and suggestions at christine@fieldpartner.org.

5 Ways to Communicate with Supporters About a Ministry Transition

I remember facing our first ministry transition and Googling, “How do I tell donors that we’re changing ministries?”

We hadn’t served in our first overseas assignment for very long. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding our very unexpected change in plans and country of service. 

I hardly knew how to process the unforeseen change myself, let alone how to concisely communicate it to our donors. I felt like we had failed them. I was anxious and needed guidance with this intimidating task.

The blank screen that met me told me that no one talks about this.

Maybe that’s because people don’t go to the field expecting a change in their ministry. I certainly didn’t learn about the situation in training – or how to communicate about it.

But it’s more common than you might think. If you plan to serve overseas long term, it is likely that you will face adaptation in your ministry or furlough plans at some point. We expect global life to be fraught with transition, and we know how to pack a bag to exactly 49.5 pounds, but we are usually left feeling vulnerable and ill-prepared to communicate the delicate matter of ministry transition.  

If you are in this boat, I’m sorry. I’ve been there. I know the baggy-eyed exhaustion you are facing after a season of debating and seeking God on what to do. I also know the sleepless nights of wondering how your supporters will receive the news.

On the other end, after multiple transitions over the last decade, I also know the staying power of the people on our support team. Their dedication to God’s heart for the nations shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but I guess I never take it for granted.

No matter the ministry transition, you’re probably living in some discomfort and uncertainty. You might have an idea of future ministry plans, but many things are still unclear.

The very public nature of mission work with its fundraising and partnership development exacerbates an already delicate season. You not only have to navigate your own pain and incertitude, you have to promptly, concisely, and clearly communicate your shift to your ministry partners. 

Transition is also a time ripe for misunderstanding, which can damage relationships. Uncertainty can be crippling and may leave you unable to communicate with crucial ministry partners, even if you have stewarded these relationships well for many years. 

The goal here is to preserve your valuable partner relationships even when it feels daunting. These people are FOR you. There are things you can communicate, even if you’re still living with some uncertainty. As you do so, you will move from a place of ambiguity and non-communication to a place of greater clarity and new confidence.

In the midst of an unclear season, I offer five tools that you can apply when you communicate about your ministry transition. 

1. Share what you are praying and learning.
What have you prayed through this transition? What have you learned about God, his heart for people, and the sacrifice he modeled?  

When our family made one significant ministry transition, we prayed for God to open our eyes to where he was at work and how we could join him there. We learned that it was extremely important to us to partner with the national church, and we wanted to do this on a deeper level in our next assignment. We shared this with our partners and used it as a guide for discerning where to plug in. Your partners will cherish knowing how and what you have prayed through. 

2. Communicate threads of continuity.
People respond well to threads of continuity during transition. What will stay consistent? There is an overarching and unchanging aspect to conducting ministry that remains the same no matter where you are and no matter what you are doing. 

What was the original vision, or part of the vision, that launched your family into missions and still propels you today? This is the “why” that transcends your specific job descriptions or geographic assignment. You may need to step back from your specific ministry roles to look at the bigger and more timeless picture of your role in spreading the gospel message, however and wherever you do that.

When we transitioned out of one ministry to another several years ago, we faced a lot of change, including our job descriptions and country assignment. However, we leaned on two significant threads of continuity that we could communicate to our donors. Our long-term passions and skill sets included skills training, education, and discipleship. These ministry aspects are part of who Sam and Anna Danforth are and how we do ministry. They are the “why” beyond our specific job descriptions or location. 

Your threads of continuity carry a sense of timelessness that aligns with God’s call to make disciples of all nations and utilize your skill sets. Even though everything around you is changing, this isn’t a total shift in your identity or your approach to missions. It is an affirmation of the timeless call to make Christ known among the nations and of your role in that call.

3. Avoid getting bogged down in details about the past.
Your story is important, and transparency builds trust. But too many details can be confusing and may actually detract from your message. You are moving forward. Communicate what comes next.  

You may be dealing with difficult immigration officials or toxic team dynamics that are a major contributing factor in your need for a change. Focus on what is changing in the ministry or your situation, not all the details that led up to your transition. 

For example, “We were unable to secure our visas last week as we hoped and will have to return to the United States until further notice.” Share your next step instead of a very long explanation of every detail that went wrong at the immigration office. 

Instead of communicating the need for distance from your team, you can share, “We will be meeting with our teammates for vision casting quarterly instead of monthly.” If you are dealing with a private or sensitive medical issue, try, “One of our family members is experiencing some health issues that need to be addressed with a trip back home. This is a difficult time for us, and we ask that you enable us to protect our family privacy during this vulnerable time.”   

You can always go back and share more when you are out of the thick of the mess. Remember that anything you share may be shared publicly or forwarded to anyone. Starting with less gives you a chance to deal with your own pain and lack of clarity first. 

Do not promise that more details will come. Simply state your current situation or what is coming next. Allow yourself to choose whether you can or should go into more detail later on.

4. You have agency. Own your choice where you can.
If any part of your transition was your choice, own it. Embrace your role as a decision-maker. Avoid blame. This may not always be possible, but where it is, it moves you from a place of helplessness and reactivity to a place of confidence and proactivity in following God’s guidance.

If your sending organization has made a major shift in their vision or policies and you can no longer stay in ministry with them, avoid blame. Instead, talk about how your future sending organization provides the vision or opportunities you need to carry out the mission that God has placed on your heart.

Avoiding blame is especially important when family members are concerned. If one person in your family is dealing with a major issue or health problem that forces a change in ministry, avoid focusing on that family member. 

Instead, communicate your decision to pursue family health. For example, “After _____ years on the field, we have determined with our member care team that we need to return to the U.S. for a season to pursue care and resources that are not available in our host country.” Or, “Our family will be moving from our rural station to the capital city so that we can still serve in this cross-cultural context while accessing the resources that our family needs at this time.”

5. Avoid overly detailed promises about future plans.
What is the main thrust of your next assignment? You may feel a deep sense of responsibility to communicate a clear and detailed plan for future ministry. However, your future ministry may not shape up exactly as you plan. It is ok to share general plans for future ministry and how God is leading you to fulfill those plans without making specific promises of future outcomes. Prepare your heart and the hearts of your partners for open-mindedness on how God may shape your future ministry. It might turn out differently than you expect.

For example, instead of sharing, “We will raise up Thai leaders who will show the Jesus film in rural villages,” try saying, “We will work with local people to share the Jesus film in their own communities.” It is possible that the leaders God brings to you will be of other ethnic groups or that they will share the Jesus film in urban areas too, not just in rural villages. 

Instead of saying, “I will be working in a soup kitchen three days a week, tutoring high school students two days a week, and teaching Sunday School once a week,” try, “My ministry will include working in a soup kitchen, tutoring students, and teaching Sunday School.” Your time allotment may have to adapt and change according to community needs once you get there.

Avoiding overly detailed language may seem unimportant now, but it could save you heartache and miscommunication in the future. Partners typically latch on to the first news they hear during transition, and it can be difficult to communicate a different plan later on.

For example, when we were starting up a new auto repair ministry, we bounced around the name “Titus Garage” as an idea. The name actually became “Titus Auto Centre.” But years later, even after hundreds of social media posts and dozens of newsletters using the correct name, partners still called it “Titus Garage” because that is what they first heard. You can avoid confusion by refraining from details now.   

Unexpected change in ministry is both inevitable and unsettling. These five tools serve as a starting point to help you clearly communicate your timeless call to serve Christ while maintaining your valuable sending relationships, even when you’re not sure what to say. Because nobody needs to stare at a blank screen when there are people on the other side who care about you.

Announcing our 2024 Lent/Easter Contest

The Lenten season is near and dear to my heart, and God has met me in meaningful and personal ways so many times during Lent. I was so encouraged by the interest and participation in the Christmas contest that I decided to run another contest for Easter/Lent.

So this is your invitation to send Lent- and Easter-related essays to my email address, emarietrotter AT gmail DOT com.

Submissions are due Wednesday, February 7th, and can be original compositions or taken from a personal blog or personal newsletter (we won’t be reposting from collective blogs). Winners will be notified on Saturday, February 10th.

Please include your preferred bio and name/pen name with your submission.

And if you’re looking for a Lent devotional for this year, I just ordered this one from Bradley Bell and Nathan Sloan over at Upstream Collective. I’ve linked to Upstream’s work in the past and really appreciate their contributions to the missions space.

I’m looking forward to reading your Lent and Easter essays.

~Elizabeth