Marrying Across Cultures

by Hannah Edington

Marriage of any type comes with difficulties, but intercultural marriage has its own set of unexpected challenges. For single missionaries serving abroad, the possibility of marrying from within their host culture should involve deep considerations.

Like Moses and Zipporah coming face to face with his family’s racism, to my experiences with my husband refusing to translate the threats made against my body by men on the street, these unique marriages should not come without considering the cost. And while the external threats are extremely difficult, most of the challenges come from within the multicultural couple’s own varying cultural perspectives.

Here are four ideas to consider as you enter into a romantic relationship within your host culture.


1. Arguments
Before entering into a relationship (or marriage) within the culture you serve, be aware that your arguments are likely to be a little extra heated. Even if one of you is fluent in the other’s language, emotions impact how we use our words. And when arguments arise, explaining the depths of what you are thinking and feeling can cause further complications. Having said that, don’t ever marry someone, especially someone from another culture, without having experienced a fair share of heated arguments. Cultures argue differently, as do genders, and knowing how your spouse argues is crucial preparation for marriage.


2. Conflicting Values and Preferences
It is also important to be aware that you will likely have vastly different perspectives on money and finances, an issue which is cited for the majority of divorces in western society. Even if you are in a country with a high economic status, you may have quite different ideas on how money should be spent. Marrying within a culture that is considered ‘developing’ means you will absolutely, no doubt, have different views on where each penny should go.

These are only two examples. Parenting, clothing, how time is spent, what should be eaten, gender roles, sitting through conversations with their friends without understanding a word, and in-laws are all other things that will absolutely come into play.


3. Openness and Learning
Never cease to try and get to know this person before committing to them for life and never cease to try and get to know their culture.  In marrying them, you are marrying their culture. And culture comes out significantly more after the wedding than it seemed to exist before.  This means that you need to continue to be open. You are marrying their culture, but they are also marrying yours. Don’t hide the parts of you that you don’t want them to see because they will eventually come out. Some of those things may be cultural, but they might also just be a part of you. Never assume that they will learn to handle it without first being open.


4. Importance of Christ in us
Remember that as Christians, we have something pretty huge going for us. I was drawn to my husband because of his Christ-like character and integrity. If you can find a man or woman within the culture you serve who displays this type of behavior, that’s a good start. But don’t just see them alone, see him or her among friends. See him or her in the church.

Once you are certain that this person has the qualities of Christ-likeness that extend beyond international barriers, or that his/her view of Christ is not impacted by potentially massive theological differences that have spread throughout regions of the globe, your marriage can be God-honoring. Once you are certain that their attraction to you is based on your own representation of Christ and not the country from which your passport was issued, your marriage can be life-giving. Once you are certain that you can marry this person, and this culture, your marriage can be one of grace and truth.

Christian couples have the advantage of this grace and truth. We have the advantage of ending our arguments with lots of prayer and, I recommend, a study on Song of Solomon with some practical application that speaks to all cultures. Outside of Christ, there are no such advantages.

There are enormous considerations before entering into a marriage within the culture you serve, but entrusting it fully to Christ is the first step. Beyond that, prepare yourself. Do your part and allow God to do His. His will be significantly greater.


Hannah Edington is a writer and entrepreneur living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her long-term goals include writing about life in developing nations, working with widows and single moms to start businesses, and starting a family with her husband.

Greetings for the New Year: Hey, 2019, Wassup? Have You Eaten?

I remember his question well.

One morning I walked to our neighborhood post office in Taipei to take the language exam I liked to call “mailing a package.” I got in the line leading to a clerk with whom I was familiar, practiced and prepped for answering what he would ask me—things like “Where is your package going?” or “What’s inside the box?”

Instead, he glanced at me and said nonchalantly, “Have you eaten?”

What? Did I look gaunt and hungry? Was he prying into my daily schedule? Was he inviting me to share a snack? Was the post office a food-free zone and he’d seen some crumbs on my shirt?

While I remember the question, I don’t remember what I said in return. As he’d caught me off guard, my guess is that my reply was incoherent at best (F for the exam). It wasn’t until later that I found out that “Have you eaten?” is simply a local way to say Hello, particularly among the older generations. (“I’ve eaten” or “Not yet” suffice for responses, with no need for elaboration or fact checking.)

I wish I could say that was the only time I was confused by a greeting in Taiwan. Yeah, I wish.

Another one that tripped me up was the first few times I heard someone call out “Huan ying guang lin!” when I entered a store. The literal translation is akin to “A happy welcome to the arrival of your bright light!” I couldn’t make out the individual words, and to me it sounded as if people were making a valiant attempt at English and were saying “Good morning” to me no matter the time of day. Good for them, I thought, with a smile. At least they were trying.

And then there are the Chinese non-verbals. There’s the slight downward nod of the head, which is equally suitable at a restaurant to acknowledge the waiter who’s come to take your order or at the airport to welcome home a close family member who’s returned from a year abroad. And I’d be remiss if I left out the highly nuanced two-handed exchange of business cards.

Those people and their funny ways.

Of course, we English speakers in the West are “those people,” too. How hard it must be for English learners to navigate our greetings landscape. We have our “What’s up?” (up where?),  “What’s happening? (to whom?)” “Howdy! (short for “How do you do?”—but do what?), and “How’s it going? (how’s what going where?). And that’s not to mention “Whazzup?” “Wassup?” “Sup?” “S’appenin’?” “Look what the cat dragged in,” or “Speak of the devil!”

We have our non-verbals, as well: the hand shake, the high five, the fist bump, the hug, the side hug, and the hand shake into a half hug.

So here’s the place where I say—What about your host culture? Do they have interesting, intricate, or confusing-to-expat ways of saying hello? Did they catch you off guard the first time you encountered them? Or maybe you caught the locals off guard with your ways of saying Hi. As we greet the new year, I invite you to share with us your experiences with greetings in the comments below.

But . . . a too-late search of the archives of A Life Overseas shows me that Rachel Pieh Jones did something just like that a few years ago. (Oh, internet search box, why do you torment me so?) In fact, some more frantic searching shows me that back when I asked readers to offer up their odd-food experiences, I was again following in Rachel’s footsteps.

So you can still leave your comments here if you’d like. Or you can just head over to “Hello World!” to read that list of submissions and join in there. And don’t worry if you find out that you’re repeating what somebody else has already written. That happens sometimes.

[photo: “HI sparklers,” by Julie Lane, used under a Creative Commons license]


Investing in Traditions That Travel Well


Life abroad is a trade off isn’t it?  You give some things up.  You get some things back.

Some would call it a sacrifice which is perfectly accurate for so many.  I prefer the term investment for myself.  Both start with letting go of something but a sacrifice let’s go with no expectation or hope for return.

Truly and entirely selfless.  Those people are my heros.


I’m getting way too much out of this to think that I have genuinely sacrificed anything (especially in comparison to those people).  I’ve given things up but I’m an investor and frankly the returns are phenomenal.

To be clear — I’m not talking money here.

My investment has been comfort, connection and confidence.

I’ve given up things like a room full of power tools, a bathroom that doesn’t smell like raw sewage and literacy.  Those are trivial compared to the relational investments — sure would be nice to drop the kids at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the day.

I’m whining a bit but I’m not complaining.  The returns are not lost on me — I’m getting a bottomless adventure, a network of close friends from every continent (except Antarctica), kids who will never be held back by words like, “that’s too far to travel”, free language lessons with every taxi ride, fabulous family selfies, street food that would make your head spin and a chance to live out my calling every single day.

Seriously — not complaining — but I do miss my family.  Especially this time of year.  

The holiday season has me thinking about traditions.  Are they an investment or a sacrifice?

I feel like many expats buy into the idea that when you live abroad you have to check your traditions at the airport.  Just put them on pause until you get back “home”.  A total sacrifice on the altar of “that’s not an option here”.

I don’t buy it.

Traditions, for the expat (and the repat), are one of the great opportunities for something solid in a life which is otherwise incessantly marked by change.  Adaptation is required to be sure.  Adjustment is essential.  You can’t do this without some tweaks and twerks and modifications but rock solid traditions are worth the investment.

My family needs that.  I need that.

So I’m investing in a solid set of traditions (holiday and otherwise) that can remain constant here, there or anywhwere.

sidenote: Twerks are probably less essential to this process than tweaks and modifications.  Please consult a doctor before you include twerking in your family traditions.  Please also consult your family.  

When you squeeze the old, stable customs through the filter of expat realities you end up with a set of TRAVELING TRADITIONS that can go with you wherever you land.

I’m working on mine and here are some things that I’m considering:

Traveling Traditions should focus on people not places. 

We don’t have the luxury of going to Grandmother’s house every year let alone going over the same river or through the same woods.  Our stability will likely never be a place.  It is people (namely us).

Traveling Traditions should be focused on what “can always” instead of what “can here”.

Every true tradition must be held to the test . . . could we still do this if we lived in Dubai or Moscow or Bangkok or Atlantis?  If not then it always runs the risk of extinction with the next move . . . or the one after that.

Traveling Traditions should be focused on small and not large.

Ornaments travel.  Trees, not so much.  We are mobile people.  Our traditions should not be tethered to “things” that cannot move with us.

Traveling Traditions are more likely to need “translating” than simply “transplanting”.

Traditions probably won’t ever move seamlessly between spots on the planet but discovering how to convert the heart of the old into a new location or culture is worth some thought.  sidenote: something is always lost in translation which does not render it unworth translating.

Traveling Traditions should be firmly flexible. 

I am 100% dead set, unflinchingly convinced and resolved that our traditions will move forward according to our plan, absolutely . . . until they don’t.  Then I’ll be flexible.  We’re expats so we’ve already learned something about flexibility.  It keeps us from breaking.

Traveling Traditions should break the time-space continuum.

20 years from now I want my kids to finish the sentence, “When I was a child my parents always made us ______________”.   Then I want them to wrack their brains figuring out how they’re going to get their families to love it as much as they did.

We have a wonderfully challenging, beautifully transient life.  Things change regularly and rapidly even when we don’t go anywhere.  We make more friends than we ever dreamed we would, engage more cultures than we even knew existed and say more goodbyes than we ever signed on for.

Considering the fact that pretty much everything changes on a regular basis for the average expat  . . . something needs to stay the same.

Traditions are worth the investment but they are certainly not without return.

What have you learned about maintaining your traditions in a constantly changing life?  

What are your favorite Traveling Traditions?

Join in the ALOS Christmas Party

Hello A Life Overseas Friends,

A friend and I were talking a few hours ago about a part of the world we hold dear and ended up by saying, “It’s complicated.” The same could be said about Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? On one level it is so simple, and yet it is also complicated.

From now until heaven, having loved both sides of the world, I am with my people and never with my people.

Sometimes celebrating is easy and fun, other years, it is an act of discipline.

Often the season is filled with normal life (whatever that is!) and an added layer of ministry. Which is, a blessing and exhausting.

One of the best parts of Christmas overseas is learning how the teammates and local culture celebrate (or strip away some of the trappings of) Christmas. As I thought about this post and what I want/need from this space, I realized that in addition to the words we share, I wanted to know a little bit about you and what Christmas is like around the world.

So today, let’s have a party!

I would bring “Nuts and Bolts” — a snack mix my mom only makes at Christmas time. It has dry cereal, pretzel sticks, and nuts . . . covered in some magical yummy sauce and baked with love. Sometimes she would freeze me some and I could enjoy it when I visited.

Normally, I do not go above and beyond when it comes to food. I tend to aim for beneath and in front of me, but because it is Christmas and this is a virtual party, I’m also going to bring fig pudding. My father “always had fig pudding” because his mom made it; so when my mom married into the family and the traditions of cooking passed to her, she learned to make it. We have it every year.

For me, Nuts and Bolts and fig pudding are the flavors of Christmas. Cookies are a given, am I right?!

I would have us listen to Silent Night in Chinese.

What are you bringing to the party? We need more food, beverages, music, decorations, and activities. How is Christmas celebrated where you live? Or in one of the countries you have lived? Since most of the party will happen in the comments, I’ll see you there.

Merry Happy Blessed Christmas everyone!


P.S. Thanks last month for taking the survey about your first year on the field! Your input has already elevated the book that is being born and I am grateful for the ways you are helping to pay your experience forward.

Photo by Izabella Bedő from Pexels

A Blessing on Your Life Overseas

I’ve walked through darkness this year. In the lowest moments, a friend sent me blessings every day. I started reading John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I am now sending blessings to someone I love dearly, to walk with her through her own dark days. My brother is getting married to a woman I adore, so I wrote them a marriage blessing.

I don’t believe in writer’s block (refuse the concept!) but I did struggle this month with brain fog. I have all kinds of excuses, but instead of listing them, I’ll tell you what I decided.

I decided we need blessing. We need to insist on it, to wrestle with God until he gives it to us, to turn to one another and offer it. We need to speak blessing, not rage. We need to receive blessing when it comes to us from unexpected places. We need to discover, anew, all it can mean to live as a blessing among the nations.

And so, I bless you, expatriate, and your life overseas.

I tried to write my own blessing but alas, brain fog. Or #blamethecancer? So I’m borrowing from other, wiser people.

From To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue

When you travel, you find yourself

Alone in a different way,

More attentive now

To the self you bring along,

Your more subtle eye watching

You abroad; and how what meets you

Touches that part of the heart

That lies low at home.


Welcoming Blessing, by Jan Richardson

When you are lost
in your own life.

When the landscape
you have known
falls away.

When your familiar path
becomes foreign
and you find yourself
a stranger
in the story you had held
most dear.

Then let yourself
be lost.
Let yourself leave
for a place
whose contours
you do not already know,
whose cadences
you have not learned
by heart.
Let yourself land
on a threshold
that mirrors the mystery
of your own
bewildered soul.

It will come
as a surprise,
what arrives
to welcome you
through the door,
making a place for you
at the table
and calling you
by your name.

Let what comes,


From Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”


The Journey, by Rumi

Come, seek,

for seeking is the foundation of fortune:
every success depends upon focusing the heart.
Unconcerned with the business of the world,
keep saying with all your soul, “Ku, ku,” like the dove…

Even though you’re not equipped,
keep searching…

Whoever you see engaged in search,
become her friend and cast your head in front of her,
for choosing to be a neighbor of seekers,
you become one yourself…

Day and night you are a traveler in a ship.
You are under the protection of a life-giving spirit…

Step aboard the ship and set sail,
like the soul going towards the soul’s Beloved.
Without hands or feet, travel toward Timelessness
just as spirits flee from non-existence.

…By God, don’t linger
in any spiritual benefit you have gained,
but yearn for more like one suffering from illness
whose thirst for water is never quenched…

Leave the seat of honor behind:
the Journey is your seat of honor.


May you be blessed this season, wherever you are and in whatever combination of lightness and darkness you find yourself.

Home for Christmas

Tomorrow we board the first of four planes on our way back home to England for Christmas. I say ‘home’, but like the vast majority of people who live overseas home is a peculiar concept. The concept of home is even more complicated in our little family of four as we span three continents by birth and nationality. We are a confused, but contented bunch.

This Christmas will be our American son’s first Christmas in a western country since age three as well his first in England. It will be our four year old Chinese daughter’s first Christmas ever.

My husband was born and raised in England and going back for him is very much a coming home. His parents have lived in the same house for forty years. We meet up with his old school friends. We go walking in the same woods he walked in as a child. English food, English humour, English manners are all a very big part of who he is. It’s lovely to watch him in his own environment, to see him take in a big breath of air – like he’s finally breathing easily again.

We love England, but for us other three England is a sort of a three quarters or maybe even just a half home. We claim it as our own, but don’t fully understand it.

“Mom, do they have rice in England?” my son asked today. “Yep. They just don’t eat it as much.” I reply.  The question surprised me though. We were in England just six months ago – does he really not know?

There are so many things we don’t know.

I am excited for my children to experience the jokes in Christmas crackers, carolers out in the street, cold weather, the gathering of all the family- grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins – together for a Christmas meal, to exchange gifts, for mince pies and mulled wine by a warm fire.

There is so much good to experience this Christmas in England. Then in the New Year we’ll come home to Indonesia, another not-quite-fully-home where we currently live.

In all the travel, in all the places we’ve lived, we did find home. Our mixed up and meshed together hodgepodge of cultures and experiences created our own unique family culture. Our favourite pancakes are rolled thin and served with lemon and sugar. We buy chicken on a stick slathered in peanut sauce from street vendors. We use chop sticks. We use forks and knives. We bake bread. We are squatty potty masters.

We are not just British, or American, or Chinese, or Indonesian – we are Hopkinsons. No matter where we are, we are home when we are together.


Merry Christmas, friends. May you be at home with the ones you love, wherever you are.

Does Forgiveness Seem Impossible?

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen

We all know the feeling. The one that lurks around the dark corners of the heart and threatens to choke. It’s obscene, yet like the Great Deceiver masquerades as an Angel of Light. It beckons and says ‘cling to me, to this hard thing in you, for it will make you strong.’ It promises to forge a path to freedom only to encircle with chains. It’s insidious just like the sin which weaves all through us. And the only way to be free of this darkness is to walk this path of forgiveness. But how? It just seems utterly impossible.

When I comb through the pages of my life story I see the ugly places. I see where the hardness rooted deep within. For me it was the mother I loved deeply. Yet I hated how her sadness and unmet expectations bound me to living my life to bring her happiness. It was the friend who broke my heart when he couldn’t give me the love I craved. It was the teammate, the leader, the sister in Christ who seemed to never really ‘see’ me. The slights added up and stuffed the love channels of my heart until I could barely breathe.

How can we truly ever forgive? Especially, I have found, when the other doesn’t ask for forgiveness or believe they ever wronged us. At the end of the day, it’s like a very deep pit which can bury alive. When the hot, hard breaths begin, we cry out for Life.

Have you been there dear friend? Are you there now? How are you responding? Are you shoving it all back down and motoring on in busyness? Are you languishing and nursing the hurt? Are you waiting for the chance to retaliate? Do you really even know what is going on inside? It is my prayer that, through reading this, we will all begin to see where we lack forgiveness and then, how we can forgive.

“To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation.” -Henri J.M. Nouwen

It is important to see that forgiveness is ultimately a promise. It is a journey Home. It is a path we learn to walk which leads to the wholeness and the freedom we so deeply crave. The need to forgive and be forgiven is also something which defines our humanity. To be human is to hurt and be hurt. The alienation which is a part of the Fall touches us all and drives us apart from one another and from God. It is learning forgiveness which brings us back together.

And the power to forgive can only come through the Gospel.

Every summer I worked at the English Camp for our ministry in Hungary, I would meditate on Philippians 2:1-11. I knew the Enemy would be hard at work seeking to divide our team as we presented the Gospel to hundreds of students. It was transforming as I worked my way through each part of the passage.

Here are some of the parts which most stayed with me and relate to forgiveness: (passages paraphrased as I remember them)

‘If you have any encouragement in Christ’ (v.1) This whole learning process of becoming small, laying down our rights, looking into our own hearts on the path to unity, happens because of the encouragement of Christ in our lives. It’s a gentle pleading. ‘Will you walk this way because of what Jesus has given you?’ The beauty of this can melt our hearts and put us well on our way.

‘If you have any comfort from love’ (v.1) Has Christ’s love ever comforted us when we messed up or were hurt? We can no more deny this journey of forgiveness than we can His love for us.

Then make my joy complete by having the same love, being of one mind and of one accord.’(v.2) Paul’s joy being complete is a small reflection of God’s joy as we come together in one mind and one accord. So, as we long for God’s joy, we must long for forgiveness which brings reconciliation and unity.

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself’ (v.3)  Wow, is this ever hard! Yet it’s because of the encouragement and comfort we receive from Christ that we can do this. And too, this verse is calling our hearts to pause and ask ‘where is my selfish ambition or vain conceit’? A lack of forgiveness has an ugly root found in the decaying flesh of who we once were. The person that is dying but is not yet dead. It’s the self that longs for status, approval and to be the center of everything.

‘Let this mind be yours that was in Christ Jesus’ (v.5) Now it’s like that ‘Jesus take the wheel’ moment. “Ok, YOU show me how it’s done, because this is impossible.’

‘Who being the very nature God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant’ (v.6-7) Wham! It always hits me. This one we look to left all of the glory of eternity, of God, to become nothing. And in his life, every single person hurt him. Whether it was the slighting of unending patronizing or the drama of hammering the nails into his hands and feet upon the cross. And yet, He forgave them all. And so much more, his entire life, death and resurrection was for the forgiveness of all. The unending betrayal of God himself was forgiven as far as the east is from the west.

‘And being found in human likeness, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’ (v.7b-8) I am always amazed to really stop and think how Jesus had to learn obedience. The perfect life he lived was one of continually submitting his will to the Father’s, of learning to forgive. It is a great encouragement offered to us. As we follow him in the path of forgiveness, he is intimate with all of its details.

Do you see the beauty, friends? Forgiveness is what causes the contours of our hearts to become shaped like Jesus’ very own. It is a groaning, birthing process where new life is formed. Yet it is a dying way too where we let go of what cannot remain. And it is a road we all must follow as we journey Home.

I don’t want to seem like I am glibly speaking these things to you. My own road to forgiveness has been long and arduous. Yet by God’s grace, we can all be closer to perfect forgiveness today, than we were yesterday.

As I finish this post, I feel this urgency to speak it plain and clear. There are wounds, I can see them open and gaping. They are tearing apart families, teams and organizations. Only forgiveness will heal. Only the journey of a thousand miles we must begin with a single step. And it will only come through the supernatural reality of the God who took on flesh, embracing us and leading us to healing, wholeness and Home.



‘Tis the Season of Incongruity

Deck the halls with calls for charity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

‘Tis the season of incongruity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

#CottageChristmas or starving children? Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

My heart is caught and I cannot win this thing! Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laa.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t do this. The sense of incongruity is overwhelming me this Christmas. I go from essays and photos of unbelievable beauty to my current reality, which includes messy, messy relationships, rain and mud up to my knees, no sign of Christmas lights and beauty,and long, long hours of no electricity.

I scroll through Instagram and the abundance of beauty is eye-popping. Pristine cottages bedecked with lights and color and living rooms with soft lights and all white furnishings with that splash of red and green color that just makes them pop. And then in the next picture, I catch my breath as I see a starving child in Yemen and an organization begging the world to take notice.  I breathe fire as I see another picture reminding me of the never-ending war in Syria and the continued devastation on people. And it hits home as I take my own pictures here in Kurdistan and I am reminded that there aren’t enough resources to meet the needs of the population, honor killings are still part of the landscape, and we can barely get funds for a single project.

‘Tis the season of incongruity – the season where the contrast feels too stark and I don’t feel like I have the ability to cope with these conflicting images.

And yet…

And yet, God’s story has always been a story of conflicting images. There is the image of the manger and the image of the cross, the image of judgement and the image of mercy, the image of truth and the image of grace. What I am seeing and feeling is nothing new to God.

God came into a world of contrasts. A world of the beauty and the broken. He came in a way that was so gentle, so unassuming – how could a baby threaten anyone? He came into a setting that was the height of incongruity – a king in a manger. For 33 years he lived as one who is unknown, going through daily life as we do – an image that is so mind boggling I stop thinking about it. We are told that he set aside greatness and “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death” – a violent, horrific death. And then, the glorious resurrection and the words that we live by every single day: “He is not here! He is risen!”

My heart longs for peace and harmony in a world of broken incongruity. God is a God of mystery and paradox and he gently draws my longing and fickle heart into his own, asking only that I trust. So in this season of incongruity, this season where I just can’t with the images, I offer a fickle and contrary heart to a Savior who is my only hope. I can’t make sense of this world, but he can.

I hear the call to prayer in the mosque next door. It is followed by the many other mosques in the city, creating a cacophony of sound. I pause and pray to the One who makes sense of all this. The words of a Christmas carol come to mind and for now, I rest in those words.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Looking for a Place to Land

by Kate Motaung

I was a few weeks shy of twenty-one, and my plan was to stay in South Africa for five months. But just as my childhood stay in a renovated pump house stretched into a decade, what I thought would be a few months overseas morphed into ten and a half years. God’s plan kept me there and stained my heart with Rooibos tea and red African soil.

Over ten years, I moved ten times, bookended by my initial move to South Africa, and then back again to West Michigan. Time and time again with each new rental apartment, each borrowed house, I desperately tried to convince myself that I was content. But the truth was, when I was here, I wanted to be there, and when I was there, I wanted to be here.

At first, all I wanted was to hang pictures on the walls without fear of our landlord inspecting the drywall at the end of our lease. To pound a nail into fresh paint and transform a bland house into my signature flavor. But after a chain of rented apartments and long-term house-sitting stints, I lost interest in making any effort. Knowing we’d be moving again soon stifled my desire to settle. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to unwrap the scented candles from their swaths of newspaper. In the last few rentals, I even left the framed family photos tucked away in their Bubble Wrap, knowing that I would just have to rewrap them soon anyway. As we packed suitcases and boxes for the umpteenth time, I felt the burden of exile. The weight of my wandering.

Then finally, I understood. This whole life is a rental. This whole body of mine is a borrowed house. And sometimes it’s a good thing to be discontent with where we are, because this is not it. It’s a good thing to feel like we’re not at home and to long for another, for permanence, for stability, because we’re not home yet. Having been washed by the astounding grace of the cross, praise God, my citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

My life sprawled out between the parentheses of two continents. This is living in the “in between”—between the fall and redemption, the already and the not yet, between hope’s longing and fulfillment. Where time passes with the click of a mouse and drags like a whiny toddler down a grocery store aisle. Where graves are dug and happiness buried. Where bees and words sting, and hopes are ripped off like stubborn bandages. Where victory has been accomplished, but Christ has not yet returned.

God took my definition of home, tore it up, and tossed it out the passenger seat window, where it caught the southeaster, never to be seen again. He opened to that chapter of my soul where the ink is faded, the yellowed pages transparent from vigorous scribbles and constant erasing. For years, I obsessed over the pursuit of home. It always felt just out of reach. Visible, but unattainable. Now I see I had it all wrong. Home in its truest sense—my eternal home—is exactly the opposite. It’s attainable but not visible. Attainable only because of Christ’s work on the cross and His gift of faith to me. Invisible for a little while longer, “for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). It took me decades to figure out that home is partly about where I’m from, yes—but home is far more about where I’m heading.

Home is more than just a place—it’s a promise.

God took the tug-of-war that waged in my soul, the thick rope that spanned across the ocean, and yanked from both sides. He cut it clean through the middle, somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic. And He made me look up. To see that the greatest and strongest pull is neither east nor west, neither here nor there. It’s the heavenward pull.

It’s the pull toward home.


Author’s note: This post was an excerpt from my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging. It appears near the end, as I reflect on the consequences of my decision to spend the final semester of my cross-cultural missions degree in Cape Town, South Africa. I ended up meeting and marrying a South African man, and we now have three children.


Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and BelongingA Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief, and co-author of Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me). She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In the wake of John Chau’s death, here are some questions to consider

by Arthur Davis

John Chau’s death raises serious questions for Christian missionaries. Multiple narratives have emerged since 26-year-old American missionary John Allen Chau was killed two weeks ago when interacting with the people of North Sentinel, a remote island between India and South East Asia. He has been lauded as a missionary hero and scorned as a fool and religious zealot. His actions have been portrayed as lovingly purposeful, and also as profoundly unloving because of the existential threat that contact poses to the Sentinelese people.

This is a contested case among Christians because the Sentinelese push the limits of our thinking. We believe that Jesus the Messiah is the “desire of the nations,” that through him every human community, indeed planet Earth itself, can be honoured and enjoy fullness of life. The received wisdom is for missionaries to cross cultures by getting alongside a community, learning its language, appreciating its culture and, somewhere along the way, we hope for encounter with Jesus. But what happens when this scenario gets complicated — when our presence is threatening, for example? If people need to be “reached” but our received wisdom can’t easily be applied, what then?

This is a conversation about how we pursue the Great Commission. Jesus entrusted his work to sinful, foolish humans, and is able to glorify his Father even through our faulty efforts. However, this cannot keep us from interrogating our history and our present. Seeking to examine and reform ourselves is an exercise of the Spirit — that is, of growing in love, peacemaking, kindness, gentleness and self-control. We need to be able to talk about actions, about what is wise and appropriate. We need to be able to identify and do away with harmful approaches. This is the work of missiology.



The Gospel of Matthew gives us not just a Great Commission, but a Great Commandment: to love God and neighbour. Jesus’ own definition of love – to treat others as we would hope to be treated – pushes us beyond our good intentions, and calls us to ask what actions are truly in the best interests of the other. So, what are the best interests of the Sentinelese?

The Sentinelese are one of four indigenous nations in the Andaman Islands, all of which have been traumatised in different ways by disease, violence, and encroachment, beginning with the British Empire in 1789. One of these nations, the Great Andamanese, once comprised 10 tribes, each with its own language. Their numbers have been reduced from perhaps 5000 to just 50. A fifth nation, the Jangil, was completely wiped out early last century.

As Christians, we see at least two needs that, in regard to the Sentinelese, appear to compete with one another. There is the need to encounter Jesus, and there is the need to promote life. If the gospel comes to the Sentinelese in a way that is likely to cause the destruction of their lives and culture, can it be said to be loving?

The Sentinelese may lack immunity to common illnesses that we are untroubled by. We now know that John Chau had invested time in planning for his visit, and had taken measures he believed would minimise infection. Even if this were known to guarantee their immediate safety, however, the destabilisation of contact is not limited to infectious diseases, nor to one individual. This consideration cannot be sidelined by someone’s desire to serve, feelings of compassion, or personal sense of calling.  Love must be knowledgeable — a love that can deal with the complexity of the world we live in.



Yet many of us experience a sense of urgency in evangelism, as perhaps John Chau did. We are compelled by two beliefs – the eternal vulnerability of those who don’t know Jesus, and his impending return. In this way of thinking, each day the Sentinelese miss the opportunity to know Christ is also a day when one of them could die and potentially face eternity without him.

However, this is not the only factor in evangelism. For example, without a relationship of mutual trust, the message goes awry. Jesus’ command is not simply to preach, but to disciple nations. The point is not so much to get the word out as to get the word across. As far as we know, the Sentinelese still know nothing of Jesus. Perhaps in God’s economy, John Chau’s sacrifice is a “grain of wheat” that will eventually result in Christian commitment. Then again, perhaps it was a setback for his message.

But who gets to determine another community’s needs anyway? We may feel an urgency ourselves, but how does this square with the concerns and desires of others?



This brings us to the question of agency. ‘The natives’ are never passively waiting to absorb what outsiders bring. They are fully responsible persons who choose to interact on their own terms. This cuts two ways: it acknowledges both “conversion” and resistance. After the trauma of British contact in the 19th century, we acknowledge that the Sentinelese have good reason to be hostile to outsiders.

To recognise agency – to attempt to see through the other’s eyes – is to love. It is not our prerogative to decide what is best for others. Our desire to proclaim Christ does not overrule the God-given agency of others. This is part of what is going on when, in the Book of Acts, the apostles depart from communities that are hostile and invest themselves in communities that are receptive, a pattern established by Jesus in Luke 10.

Does this mean the Sentinelese must be put aside when it comes to world mission? The sheer mess of these overlapping questions leaves our heads spinning. But here’s another thought.


A way forward?

When a middle-class Western Christian like me hears the call of the Great Commission, by default I assume that my role is one of leadership or pioneering. We make this assumption also at the level of the mission organisation and the Western church more broadly. We are not in the habit of looking for missionaries among majority world and indigenous believers, because world mission is something we so naturally associate with ourselves.

However, the days when Westerners were the guardians of the gospel are gone, if they ever existed. Majority world churches are now among the top missionary sending countries. This includes nearby India, as well as the island nations of Malta, Samoa and Tonga. Concern for the Sentinelese will mean engaging Christian communities such as these, where there is greater cultural or geographic proximity. It will also mean engaging indigenous Christians — those who have experienced first-hand the intergenerational trauma of colonisation. To learn how isolated tribes might relate to the Great Commission – and what is truly life-giving – may be a journey best led by communities such as these.

This is a slower path. Paul’s famous definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 refers to both patience and perseverance — of waiting with and for one another. Yet this is also a fruitful path. We ask not only “How do we reach the unreached?” but also, “What part is to be played by each member of the global body of Christ?” Rather than sending anyone who wants to go because God in his sovereignty can use them, our desire is to see the global body of Christ being true to God’s calling, and to locate ourselves within that. This can only result in a more authentic and consistent witness to Christ. This does not bar us from pioneering work, but if we assume such a role without reference to the global church, we dishonour our brothers and sisters, and are ultimately less fruitful.

Perhaps you too have a heart for the Sentinelese. If so, have the humility to consider that you and your community might not be the ones to care for them or encounter them. King David learned that the building of God’s house belonged to a different generation. In our time, the pursuit of authentic global witness – and of best practice in mission – puts our feelings of urgency in perspective. This is uncomfortable for us, especially when we have invested so much in our own pioneer efforts.

No doubt there is still a part for us to play in the Great Commission, but after more than a century of pioneer Protestant work, we now need to discover afresh what our part may be. It is a team effort involving all our brothers and sisters worldwide. It is time to take a step back, and take stock of the global family we now find ourselves in.



What might a positive encounter with the Sentinelese look like? Amazingly, there is already a precedent. In 1991, an Indian woman was acknowledged by the Sentinelese women, her presence defusing the tension among the men. She even had enough cultural background, having already worked with the neighbouring Onge, to recognise the Sentinelese language. The experience was mirrored in a visit to the neighbouring Jarawa people. This was the work of anthropologist Madhumala Chattopadhyay.

Chattopadhyay herself has responded to the John Chau incident (note that she is not speaking as a Christian). Her personal account indicates that:

  • The Sentinelese communicate with various non-verbal cues, and their hostility is not completely unpredictable.
  • It has passed the point at which the other Andamanese tribes may be able to replenish their populations. For them, the desolation of colonial contact has nearly run its course.
  • The gospel was brought to the nearby Nicobar Islands, but has apparently never been given the chance to take root in an indigenised way.
  • The opportunity for a fuller encounter with the Sentinelese may not be recovered for the foreseeable future.

For me, this news is tantalising and heartbreaking in equal measure.


The body of this article was originally published by Eternity News; the postscript has been added for A Life Overseas.



Arthur Davis is coaching and mentoring staff workers in TAFES, a Tanzanian campus ministry. He and his wife Tamie Davis are part of CMS Australia and write at





In a world gone mad, sympathy is not enough. Here’s something that is…

Cross-cultural workers often have tons of sympathy. We see the needs (physical, spiritual, etc.), we answer the call, and we GO. And that’s just great.

Sometimes we stir up sympathy for the poor and the marginalized; we fund raise with pictures aimed to generate pity and money. And that’s not so great. But it is relatively easy.

Sympathy is a powerful start, but it is not the finish. So I don’t want to talk about sympathy. I don’t want to talk about the pros and cons of feeling (or generating) sympathy. I want to talk about something much more potent.

I want to talk about empathy. I want to talk about the power of empathy in a world gone mad.


“Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re really paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” ~ Brené Brown


Understanding Empathy
“Empathy can be defined as a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person…. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.” ~ Dr. Neel Burton

First, we’ve got to be able to recognize emotions. In fact, the ability to accurately see emotions (ours and others) is a huge part of emotional intelligence. I wrote more about that for the IMB here. Jesus did this splendidly, and it changed peoples’ lives.

Second, we’ve got to be willing to share those emotions, even the not-so-fun kind. This requires a willingness to really walk alongside of, to enter into, to incarnate. We’ve got to be willing to ask the questions “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” while staying in the present with the human in front of us. When we do that, people will feel seen.

But while sympathy and empathy share a lot of letters, they differ greatly: “Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”*

We know this is biblical, right? I mean, we know that slapping people with truth is not the Way. We know that just being sorry for people is not the Way. We know that the Word came and dwelt among us, lived and breathed, fought temptation, fought hunger and weariness. He did not just feel sorry for us from on high and give us a handout.

He walked our roads.

I’m not really saying anything new here; I’m just using new words to talk about old things.


Consider the Differences
Sympathy demands action, words, movement, gifts. Now! Empathy is healing, even in the silence. Empathy does not freak out when “nothing can be done.”

Sympathy may make me feel better, helping me to feel like a caring and thoughtful person. Empathy, on the other hand, may leave me feeling worse. Because now I FEEL what the other person is feeling.

Sympathy gives stuff to the person and leaves.
Empathy listens to the person and then gives what is necessary, even if that is just time.

Sympathy requires very little heart.
Empathy requires fully engaged hearts.

Sympathy is quick and Instagrammable.
Empathy is slow and rarely easy to communicate to a third party.

Sympathy is one-size-fits-all. A big box store.
Empathy helps us to hear each person’s story, to feel their story, and to respond specifically, lovingly.

Sympathy often produces platitudes, evidence of disconnection.
Empathy happens in proximity and leads to greater connection.

Which one’s easier for you? Which one’s easier for your church or organization?


Why Empathy is So Hard
“I cannot empathize with an abstract or detached feeling. To empathize with a particular person, I need to have at least some knowledge of who he is and what he is doing or trying to do. As John Steinbeck wrote, ‘It means very little to know that a million Chinese are starving unless you know one Chinese who is starving.’” ~ Dr. Burton

I often hear people talking with great emotion about “the lost” or “the nations” or UPGs. And that’s fine and good, but I’m afraid that sometimes this generates sympathy for the nameless masses, with zero awareness of the need for empathy. The desire to help, even the desire to see people rescued from hell, can block us from doing the hard work that’s necessary to actually empathize. Sympathizing can be dehumanizing.

So we must recognize what’s going on. Remember, sympathy is not inherently bad. But it’s not inherently enough, either. If it gets us out the door, if it motivates us to offer help, and self, then sympathy can lead to the genesis of empathy.

But sympathy that never outgrows itself risks turning us, our organizations, and our churches into heartless benefactors, with very little Christ-likeness left.

And so we must remember.

We must remember that we follow the King of Empathy, the One who Incarnated. Immanuel.

How unique among the gods!


May we remember to imitate our Father, offering our hands and our hearts.

May we remember to walk the dusty roads with our hands out, not just our handouts.


May we remember to listen, to hear, and to see humbly,

As we follow our God, The King of Empathy.





Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash