10 Ways to Host Friends and Family Well

by John Walsh

When friend and family visit you while living overseas, it can be a tremendously uplifting time of re-connection, support and encouragement. It also gives you an opportunity to show off your adopted country to your loved ones.

But, frankly, these visits also have the potential to be exhausting. The pressure of entertaining guests for an extended period can result in exhaustion, frustration, and can potentially result in resentment. Expectations run high, and the longer your visitors are stuck on an airplane, the higher their expectations rise! You are, after all, the resident expert: a translator, driver, restaurant guide, knowledgeable about all food items and cultural practices in your host culture. (No pressure!)

On your part, you’re often craving a connection with your home culture, and as expats we can often fall into the trap of assuming all the people you left behind have essentially stayed the same since you last saw them.

Managing expectations (yours and theirs) and having a good plan can be the difference between a time of creating memories that you’ll cherish or an experience that will leave you frustrated and happy to see your guests leave, and no one wants that.

Here are 10 ideas that have really helped me to have fantastic experiences when I’ve had friends and family visiting while overseas.


When family comes to visit you, they are most definitely on vacation. You may or may not be on vacation. Or you may be in some sort of weird middle ground. Fight to avoid the weird middle ground. Feeling like you should be working while your spending time with family will mean you can’t really enjoy them, and when you’re working, you’ll feel guilty for neglecting your guests. So strive to have clear vacation time and clear work time. It will let you be fully engaged in whatever you’re doing.


This applies mostly to people who are receiving friends and family from a first-world country into a developing country. Help people know what they should be worried about (Don’t drink the water!) and what they shouldn’t worry about at all (Those guys always carry machine guns, no worries!). Reducing worry and managing the expectations of inconvenience (no AC, touchy electricity, slow internet) helps your visitors to get into the mindset they need to enjoy their time with you.


The promotional video they’ve seen on Youtube is not the same as actually visiting the country. Understanding what they’re hoping to get out of a vacation will really help you plan your time with them. Are they looking for a taste of adventure? Exotic food? Or do they just want a pristine beach and a novel? Scuba diving? Trips to a bazaar? Mountain trekking? Knowing what type of vacation experience your visitor is looking for can really help.


This can actually be a fun exercise. Think back on all the things that you’ve done in your host country that you’ve enjoyed. You’re trying to make a list of various types of activities, which might include different restaurants you’ve enjoyed, or beaches you’re gone to. It might include the exotic (visiting a spice market) or the mundane (walking to your favorite coffee shop) to the adventurous (whitewater rafting) but it is a list of the things that you’ve really enjoyed.

Don’t limit this list to your own experience; ask your expat and national friends what they’ve enjoyed most and what they do with their own guests. Also consider some things that you haven’t done yet, but would like to do. Guests are a great excuse to explore and try something new. The longer the list, the better. You most likely won’t do everything on it, that’s not the goal, but it does give you and your guests options to consider for activities while they’re with you. The added bonus is that it can help you remember how fantastic your adopted home really is.


The difference between a maker calendar and a traditional management calendar is this: A maker calendar is broken into large, general blocks of time (maybe 3 hours each) whereas a manager’s calendars is split into 30- or 60- minute blocks. There is a risk of over-scheduling yourself and your guests with a manager’s calendar. Trying to fill every hour for an extended period can be overwhelming. You are a host, a friend or a family member, not an event planner.

Using a three-block maker calendar (Morning, Afternoon, Evening) will keep you and your guests moving at a good pace. Plan two time blocks, and give them the third to rest (or take it for your own rest). Trying to do three activities in a day can be too much, but knowing that you’ve got a multi-hour block of time for productivity or for down time can make spending a morning or an afternoon with family much more enjoyable.


When there is a language and cultural difference, your guests may begin to assume (and you with them) that you should be their ever-present translator, personal map and transportation service (as noted above). It is far better to foster some independence and give them the freedom to explore!

In most countries getting a local cell phone plan provides cheap internet data plan which can give them a new sense of independence. The ability to use maps and Google Translate as well as local taxi apps can give them some independence and let them explore at their own pace (or not explore, depending on their desires). Let them visit places you’ve already been, and listen patiently as they excitedly explain how it was the most beautiful experience ever. In some cases, independence might be hiring a car and a driver for a day to take them to see various restaurants while you get some quality one-on-one time with your kids. A functional smart phone does a lot for people’s confidence when exploring new areas.


No one is constantly on. We all need breaks. Know your limits. If you need some time with a book, don’t be afraid to say so, and take that time. It’ll refresh you and give you more energy to be able to truly enjoy your interactions with your visiting friends and family. Keep your cycle of working out or getting down time to get re-centered and refreshed. By sticking to your personal rhythm, you can enjoy your time with your family.


When I first moved overseas, I was amazed how much food connects us to our home culture, and how food is really a key of connection to our new culture. Eating together with your guests is one of the best ways to enjoy your time together. Whether it’s trying new restaurants together or sampling ethnic cuisine from a street vendor, eating together is great time of connection. Steal a page from European culture and tack on a post-dinner coffee (maybe decaf for some of us) or walk. There’s something that bonds us together as we eat side by side.


One of the great things about South East Asia is the proximity to a wide variety of experiences. If your guests are planning on spending an extended amount of time visiting, think about what a vacation-within-a-vacation might look like. It might look like your guests taking a 3-day excursion to Panang without you to sample the amazing food, or maybe taking 5 days in Bali to get scuba certified. You might go, you might not.

Give people the freedom and flexibility to pursue these experiences, especially if they are in a different life phase. Indonesia and Malaysia have pristine islands that are perfect for relaxing. Singapore has great shopping and restaurants, as does Kuala Lumpur. Also, each of these places is a short, relatively cheap flight away once you are in the region.


When family and friends with young kids visit from overseas, one of the biggest complaints is getting over jet lag. The second is seeing kids essentially melt-down because they are completely out of their routine, away from any semblance of normalcy and completely overwhelmed. Often parents attempt to prevent the meltdowns by providing extra incentives (candy and extra screen time) that often end up making the problem worse.

As an alternative, consider creating a routine for younger kids so they know what to expect, when they’ll have activities and when they’ll have down time for reading or naps. Having access to a library with a broad selection of Kindle books or magazines can be incredibly helpful (especially when you wake up at 3AM and feel like you can’t possibly get back to sleep). For my visiting family, it was having daily pool time (they visited from icy cold winter to hot and sunny Southeast Asia). You’d imagine that the kids would grow bored of the pool after two weeks, but they never did. Knowing what they were going to do every morning gave them a sense of rhythm, and they probably enjoyed that pool with their cousins more than the beaches, surfing and surrounding mountains combined. As they get older, their ideas of a great vacation will change, but for now, this is their idea of a great trip.


There are certainly other ideas and experiences that have helped seasoned expatriates host friends and families in a healthy, heart-filling way. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below for the good of all!


John Walsh is an American expat teacher in Southeast Asia, where he enjoys the perpetually balmy weather with his delightful wife and three young children. Before teaching, he spent a dozen years working at the intersections of finance, technology, law and organizational change. He blogs about the some of the more practical aspects of expat life in his spare time at: www.abalancedlifeabroad.com.

Missionary Memes: Tea Bags and Coffins

Some stories seem too good to be true. Some seem too good not to be true. Both seem too good not to be told over and over again. Here are a couple I’m thinking you’ve heard before.

Used Tea Bags

They very well may be the most talked about items to ever be lovingly tucked into a missionary care package. No conversation about odd gifts sent overseas would be complete without their mention. They’re the bless-their-hearts-what-were-they-thinking used tea bags.

Surely you’ve heard somebody somewhere say they know a missionary who received used tea bags from a well-meaning supporter. But is there truth behind the tale? Or is it just an oft-repeated urban legend, used to caution supporters against giving less than their best?

Australian author Nathan Hobby looked into the issue a few years ago, and reported his findings in a blog post on the topic. He’d come across several second-hand accounts and was rather skeptical, but it was his reading of a comment on another blog that turned the tide for him. A man named Phil, someone Hobby knows personally, had commented succinctly at Backyard Missionary, “We got sent used tea bags in Afghanistan.”

Because of that, Hobby declares the used-tea-bag care package “a ‘true’ meme, at least occasionally.” Then he goes on to ponder the story’s popularity:

I’m interested in how such a meme has spread. It would be fascinating to trace it back to its earliest appearance in print. Perhaps it actually was a common practice and a search through old church newspapers of the 1920s or so would reveal pleas to send used tea bags to the mission fields. Perhaps it happened occasionally but spread orally because it epitomized a mindset so well. Or perhaps it began as a sermon illustration by one of the famous preachers of the early twentieth century and was picked up from there. (For anyone who has sat through many sermons, sermon illustrations are a fascinating genre of their own, delivered as if truth, but many of them concocted, lacking specifics, spiritual truth the central concern, not historical truth. . . .)

My own Internet searches came up with several other mentions from a variety of sources. The most convincing to me are the first-person accounts given in the comments of a post by Josie Oldenburg at The Missions Blog (though I’m still waiting to hear from someone I know personally.) I also see where the former director of the USAID Center for International Disaster Information told CBS News about used tea bags given to disaster victims.

The oldest reference I came across was in a “snippet view” from Google Books, quoting a 1962 issue of the Mennonite magazine Christian Living. (Since it’s only a snippet, I don’t have the full context—or the complete sentences.)

. . . America who sent 500 used tea bags to the mission field. It would seem that when we give to the Lord’s servants, we should at least give as if we were giving to ourselves!

Sounds rather apocryphal to me, but it pairs well with a 2017 story about a Mennonite couple who “amassed a collection of more than 20,000 used tea bags” to “send to needy missionaries around the world.” But, alas, it turns out that that one is from the satirical website The Daily Bonnet.

So how about you? Have you ever been gifted with used tea bags? Let us know in the comments here. No “I heard” stories, please. I’m looking for the recipients themselves . . . or at least first-hand witnesses.

And now, moving on, I come to a more serious meme.

Coffins for Luggage

There’s another conversation that those in missionary circles sometimes find themselves in: talking about difficulties on the field. And that often leads to the topic of how, in the past, it was even harder. And then someone will jump in with “You know, it used to be that when missionaries went overseas, they’d pack their belongings in coffins.”

How many times I’ve heard this or seen this written about missionaries long ago. But I’ve yet to find it written about by missionaries long ago.

Being so sure of dying on the field—probably prematurely—that one would carry a coffin on the journey certainly creates a vivid picture. But I wonder . . . did it really happen?

In no way am I discounting the devotion of past missionaries in the presence of very real difficulties and dangers. They willingly went to far-away places, facing a risk of death much greater than we have today. In fact, findings in William Lennox’s Health and Turnover of Missionaries show that from 1825 to 1829, for every 1,000 missionaries in service sent from the US, 35 died each year. And fast forwarding to the early 1900s (approximately 1900-1928), for those missionaries whose work ended during that time, 12% of the attrition was because of the missionary’s death, with an additional 3% leaving because of the death of a family member. And yet, as high as those numbers are, we can see that most missionaries did not die overseas.

Or maybe the missionaries simply left home with the assumption that nothing but death could ever interrupt their ministry abroad, planning to die of old age in their new country after a long, fruitful life. In that case, would it be that important to take a coffin along? Would the means for crafting a box for burial, someday, in even a remote location, be that hard to come by?

Of course, any speculation to the contrary doesn’t matter if even one missionary, in fact, travelled with a coffin. It could be that some, headed to a particularly dangerous place at a particularly dangerous time felt that death overseas was a near certainty, and they took unique steps to prepare for it, including bringing along their own coffins. Even if it wasn’t as common as we’ve presumed, if it happened, using Hobby’s words, “at least occasionally,” then it happened.

So can you help me out here, too? Does your agency have in its annals original records of missionaries using coffins to transport their belongings? Have you seen it written about in a missionary’s journal or autobiography? Do we have more proof than just hearsay?

I’m rather skeptical. But if the stories are true, I’d love to see them verified. Then I just might join in and tell them over and over again myself.

(Nathan Hobby, “Used Tea Bags for Missionaries: Notes on a Meme,” Nathan Hobby, a Biographer in Perth, June 11, 2014; Phil, at “Used Teabags Are a Fading Memory,” Backyard Missionary, August 3, 2007; Josie Oldenburg, “Six Pitfalls to Avoid when Welcoming Missionaries on Home Service,” The Missions Blog, May 25, 2018; Scott Simon, “Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything but Relief,” CBS News, September 3, 2017; Christian Living: A Magazine for Home and Community, vol. 9, Mennonite Publishing House, 1962, at Google Books; Andrew Unger, “Generous Mennonite Couple Sends Used Tea Bags to Missionaries,” The Daily Bonnet, November 20, 2017; William Gordon Lennox, The Health and Turnover of Missionaries, Methodist Book Concern, 1933)

[photo: “DSC_1968,” by Sarah Han, used under a Creative Commons license]

Why Do You Keep Going Back?

When we joined AgriCorps, we said that we would be going to Liberia for one year. One year later we were packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

When we joined Hope in the Harvest, we said that we would be going to Liberia for two years. Two years later we are once again packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

This year as we join Hope in the Harvest again, we aren’t saying when we’ll be coming back to the US (for good) because it’s kinda starting to look like we are liars anyways….

“Why do you keep extending? Why do you keep going back?”

This is the question that I hear at least 2-3 times a week, so by now you would think that I would have myself a perfectly cultivated answer, short and sweet, clear and to the point, easy to deliver, something that summarizes it all up. That’s what they tell me I should have by now….that most people I encounter will mostly likely only have an attention span of 2-3 minutes to dedicate to hearing about life/ministry in Liberia and that I need to have my “elevator speech” prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

That’s what they say at least. However, I can’t seem to do it….I mean I can… and I guess I have…you may have even heard me do it….but every time I boil it down to those few simple words (“agricultural and spiritual transformation”) I feel like I’m tying a pretty red ribbon up on the outside of a shiny white box that is filled with an absolutely colorful mess inside, about to burst open and explode everywhere!

How do I explain why I am going back in just a few simple sentences? How do I explain in just a few simple sentences all the things that God has laid on my heart and all the ways that God has broken my heart? Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, messy, clean, tangible, intangible, real, fake, and everything in between? How do I explain it all at once? How do I summarize things that I myself don’t even understand? That I can’t even explain? Things that seem like they make no sense?

I’m going back because Liberia feels like home, but also Liberia is nothing like home and that’s why I love it, but that’s also why I miss home.

I am going back because Liberia is so far out of my comfort zone, and yet I am going back because Liberia is exactly inside of my comfort zone.

I am going back to Liberia because in Liberia I feel joy more fully than I ever knew possible, and yet I am going back to Liberia because it is there that I feel sorrow deeper than my heart could hold on its own.

I am going back because I love some of these people more than I can put into words, and yet I am also going back because I want to understand what love really is because it feels like I still don’t know.

I am going back to teach, and yet I am going back because there is so much left to learn.

I am going back to finish what I started, and yet I know that there is no finishing this thing here on earth.

I am going back because I am not afraid of the things people think I should be afraid of, but I am going back because I am afraid of the other things.

I’m going back because I love the work that we get to do there, but also the work that we are called to do there scares me and I don’t love things that scare me.

I’m going back because I’ve found immense purpose there in the work, but also I’m struggling to understand my purpose on a daily basis when it comes to other things.

I’m going back because I have skills/knowledge that I believe are worth sharing and can make a difference there, and yet I know that every good thing that is done and every change that I see happening is all from the Lord’s doing.

I am going back because I want to share with people about how they can have eternal life because I believe eternity with God is what all of us are living for, but also I see people with real needs in front of me now…with whom I cannot talk about eternity if we cannot address the very real hunger that is in their stomachs right now, the very real fears that keep them up at night, the very real diseases that keep taking their children away from them too soon.

I am going back to Liberia because I love agriculture, and yet I am going back to Liberia because agriculture means nothing to me at all in comparison.

I am going back because I feel like I should, and yet I am not at all going back because I feel like I should because I have lots of people telling me I shouldn’t.

I am going back because I feel like I am needed, but I am going back because they don’t need me at all.

I am going back to Liberia because in some ways it is simpler, but I am going back to Liberia knowing that I am leaving the simplicity behind.

I am going back because I have hope for Liberia, but also, I am going back because some days I don’t have hope, but others do and they draw me towards them like light to the darkness and darkness cannot hide from the light.

I am going back because I am selfish and I like to feel good about helping others, but also, I am going back so that I don’t succumb to my own selfishness.

I am going back to be with my family, and yet as I go back, I am missing my family intensely.

I am going back to Liberia because I feel called to go back, but I’m also going back because it is my desire to go back.  God has given me a desire to serve the poor, to teach agriculture, and to share the good news of His salvation. He has placed those desires on my heart as I have sought to delight myself in Him and His presence. He has and is giving me the desires of my heart; they are fully His and yet they are fully mine all at the same time. Finally, there is no juxtaposition here.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

And that is why I’m going back, because the desire of my heart is simply that I want to walk with the Lord on this specific path for a little while longer…to fulfill the desires of my heart. This is not the only path for me, I know that there a number of paths that I could take and serve the Lord anywhere in the world doing a number of different jobs.  I know now that it is not necessarily about the specific path that I take, but rather The One who holds my hand and guide me as I walk along that path. And somehow that’s what makes the freedom to choose this path….this rugged, winding, wide, confusing, long, beautiful, joyous, painful, fulfilling path of ministry abroad…even sweeter. My husband and I don’t know exactly how long we will be on this path, but we know that if we cling tightly to the Hand of God, that He will be with us along the way…and that’s all any of us really want or need out of this life…isn’t it?

So once again, we are packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

Laughing in the Face of Transition

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Hey expat.  You too repat.  When was the last time you laughed?

Like really laughed.  Belly laughed until your ears hurt and you actually had to force yourself to think of something sad for fear that you might pull a muscle in your gut.  Laughed so hard that you had to fight to catch your breath even after you stopped laughing . . . and then you snorted and started laughing all over again.

I’m not talking “lol” here.  I mean “BWAAHAHA!”

How long has it been?  How often does it happen?

Too long?  Not often enough?

Why is that?

Let me guess.  Life happened.  Transition got real.  Culture shock or re-entry stress hit you like a ton of bricks and you can’t even remember what gut laughing feels like.

In the economy of major life transition, laughter sometimes feels like a luxury that you can’t afford.

I’m right with you . . . but we’re both wrong.

It’s hard to find a better value proposition than laughter.  Your investmentment is virtually nothing and the returns are astronomical.  Try to get that deal from stress . . . or worry . . . or anger . . . or complaining . . . or overthinking  . . . or even venting.

Bottom line?  You need to laugh.

Here’s why.

Laughing is healthier and tastes better than Kale

The only thing that disqualifies laughter from being classified as a superfood is that . . . well, technically it’s not a food (if you want to be all picky).  However, the studies are in (lots of them) and all of the data points to the same conclusion.  Laughing is actually crazy healthy.  Physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.

Here are some of the benefits (not making this up).


  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase short-term memory
  • Lower stress hormones
  • Protect against heart disease
  • Defend against respiratory infections
  • Improve alertness and creativity
  • Increase oxygen levels in your blood
  • Increase pain tolerance
  • Improve metabolism
  • Make you blow milk out of your nose which makes other people laugh which resets the whole healthy cycle

Seriously.  Kale isn’t even funny.  At all.

Laughter is the opposite of everything that stresses you out

Important to note here.  Laughter doesn’t SOLVE all of your transition challenges.  It’s not going to magically infuse your brain with a foreign language or explain to your family why you’re crying in the cereal aisle.  Laughter is not the answer to all of your pain but it might be the break that you need to STOP being consumed by the hard stuff.  Even for a little bit.

A good laugh can be a great reset.

There are no Laughter Rehabs

People with issues (like you and me) want to detach.  It’s what we do.  Unfortunately the unhealthy options that offer a break from hard realities are as unlimited as the devastation that comes as a result of engaging with them.  Laughter is all natural with zero negative side effects.  So is kale but we’ve covered that.

A good laugh can give you a break without disconnecting or doing damage.

Laughter crosses cultural boundaries

Some of my most enjoyable laughs have been shared with people who speak about five words in my language (which is three more than I speak in theirs).  To be clear . . . HUMOR does NOT often cross cultural lines.

Like, hardly ever.

Your jokes are probably not funny to the rest of the world.  Sorry, but it’s better you find out here . . . from the guy who has learned the hard way.

HOWEVER — humor is not the only thing worth laughing at.  If and when you find that point of connection with someone who is on the other side of a cultural line, it is golden.  A good laugh not only crosses cultural barriers — it crushes them and builds a rapport that is hard to find elsewhere.

A note for repats — You’re crossing cultures too.

A good laugh can be a surprisingly great connector.

Laughing at yourself means you’re doing transition right

If you can’t laugh at yourself in the context of being a bumbling foreigner or returning “home” (and feeling like a bumbling foreigner) you are likely to do one of two things:  Explode or Implode.  Neither of those is good (just in case you were wondering).

There is only one reason you should laugh at yourself.  Ready?

Because you’re funny.

Not so much in the brilliant, well thought out comedic genius kind of way.  No no, you’re funny in the cat who falls off a ceiling fan kind of way.  You’re making mistakes and falling down even though you look and feel like you shouldn’t be.

Frustrating . . . but funny.

Bumbling and falling can be a shot to your pride for sure — but laughing at yourself can be an indicator that your pride isn’t controlling you.  I’m not talking about a self-loathing, self abusive, “I’m too stupid to do anything” laughter — but a healthy acknowledgement that you are not, in fact, the first person to do transition without falling down is a good sign.

A good laugh at yourself is a great gauge for transitional health.

Laughter is a good sign of things to come

Transition is a thief.  It temporarily robs you of the comfort and confidence that you enjoyed back when you were settled.  Remember those days?  You had it all figured out.  Now it’s just awkward.  You don’t laugh when things are awkward.

Ok you might “lol” . . . but you don’t “BWAAHAHA!!”

So finding a way to genuinely laugh, even before you’re resettled, gives you a glimpse of something good that is coming.

A good laugh can be a great reminder that it’s going to get better.

One important disclaimer that could change everything:

It matters what you laugh at

All of this is out the window if it takes ripping someone else (or yourself for that matter) to shreds for you to laugh.  You might still get the sugar rush but it’s not worth the damage you’ll leave behind (and carry with you).

So take some time and get intentional.  Try this — Write down five times you can remember laughing til it hurt.  Now start making connections.  What do they have in common?  Where were you?  What were you doing?  Who were you with?  What can you recreate now?  What can you not?

Even if transition has made it impossible to reproduce your most laughable moments, don’t give up on finding some new ones.

5 Things First Year Missionaries Are Too Quick to Do

by Natalie Arauco

It’s a terrifying shiver that runs through you the first time you step foot in a new country. You’re ready to conquer the world and nothing can stop you. You start off in a hard sprint. But before you know it, you struggle, slamming into one wall after another. Life as a missionary is nothing like you expected.

First year missionaries come to the field with an excitement and eagerness that cannot be matched. But often they’re not aware that they’ve started at too fast a pace and are heading right towards a burn-out.

Here are five dangerous things that first-year missionaries are too quick to do.


1. Demand Immediate Normality
You want to make good friends now. Learn all the best local spots and become an expert in the public transportation all within weeks. You fight against the culture shock that hits you in waves. You can’t be the world’s best missionary if you’re struggling to adapt. So, you ignore it and refuse to embrace the difficult season of adaptation as the important learning experience that it is.


2. Prove Expertise
You cringe when people call you ‘new’. Maybe the other missionaries have years of experience under their belts but you know what you’re doing. Really. You don’t need them giving you a tome of advice on how to do ministry. In fact, they should listen to the opinions you have to offer. Maybe they could learn a thing or two.


3. Say Yes
You see the needs around you and your heart breaks. You want to fix everything. Be involved in every detail. So, you say yes.  It’s too hard to say no, anyway. Then your schedule fills more and more until you can’t even find a minute to breath. But you keep pressing on because without you everything would fall into chaos.


4. Expect Results
You became a missionary to change the world. So why won’t it change? You’ve been working for weeks, months. Where are the results?  What is the point of all your hard days and long nights if you can’t see the benefits? What you don’t realize is that the seeds you plant your first year may take ten more to come to fruit. You may never even see the results. But when they come, they will be more beautiful that you had ever imagined.


5. Become Discouraged
After weeks and months of not getting the results you wanted, being bogged down by countless responsibilities, and fighting away culture shock while trying to prove yourself to those around you, you get tired. You feel yourself careening toward burn-out and it hasn’t even been a year yet. You become discouraged and begin to doubt. Was this all a mistake? Did you confuse your calling?


Maybe this was you. Maybe this is you. But please don’t lose heart.

The first year, the first years, of ministry are hard. That’s just the way things are. And yes, you will make mistakes. You’ll rush into things you’re not ready for. You’ll struggle with doubt. You’ll say things you regret. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a mistake.

So maybe the next time you are tempted to revolt against culture shock, you accept it with humility. When you feel your pride bruised with your inexperience, you respond with grace. When your schedule is filled to the brim, you step back and rely on God’s ability to work. And when you become discouraged because the world isn’t changing at the pace you set, you take a breath, slow down, and remember the journey that brought you to this place.

If God is in the business of using broken vessels, he can work despite the flaws of an over-eager, first-year missionary.


Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.

Coming Soon: Global Trellis

Remember in January when I asked “Which of these have you experienced on the field?” Burnout, boredom, overwhelm, losing touch with yourself, not having skills equal to the task, being used up and spit out by the missionary machine, fearing you will be exposed as a fraud, feeling you are out of your depth, or stagnated.

I continued, “I know you see yourself somewhere on the list. Even if you are in your first year, and all is new and shiny, boredom has knocked on your door a time or two. I am dreaming another space for us, a space that doesn’t make you choose between tending your own soul (being) and building skills to help you do the work you are called to (doing).” With your help via a survey and the hard work of an amazing webdesigner, I am delighted to introduce you to Global Trellis. I was hoping it would be live by now, but you should be able to see it later this week yourself. You can sign up here to be notified when it is live.

Global Trellis will help cross-cultural workers flourish in three ways: blog posts (weekly Soul Tending Tuesdays and Skill Building Thursdays), monthly workshops, and quarterly challenges (the first is a Newsletter List Maintenance Challenge because your list could probably use some attention. I know mine needs some maintanence. Check it out in September).

I cannot wait for you to see what happens when you buy a workshop for only $10 (the price for the month they go live, afterwards, they will be available but the price goes up). Guess who presented the first workshop? Our very own Jonathan Trotter!

When you purchase a workshop, it will be added to your “My Trellis” and you will have access to it forever. You can watch it again (and again). One of my favorite features? The notebook! I don’t know about you, but I have notes written in this notebook, or on that piece of paper, or on a handout . . . that I either I can’t find, or forget about.

So, let’s say you participate in the three workshops, your “My Trellis” will look like this:

When you click on “Recalculating to Change” presented by Jonathan Trotter you will see the cover picture and a description of the workshop. Click under the course content and you will be able to watch the video and take notes.

You can see Jonathan presenting mid-way through his workshop. Do you see the “notes” at the bottom? You would actually open it at the beginning of the workshop (or whenever!), but I wanted you to see Jonathan in action:

You can take notes as you watch (and if you want, pause and type)

When you’re done, you click “save” and then your notes are saved on the home page of your “My Trellis.”

At any time you can open and read (or add to) your notes. You can print them off, download them as a word doc, or delete them. If you click “save as a word doc”, the document will download onto your computer and look like this. (This is how we have formatted your notes):

Finally, a way for you to attend workshops and keep growing without needing a plane ticket or jet lag!

But the workshops are only part of how you will tend your soul and grow professionally, I can’t wait for you to see the rest of Global Trellis.

Thank you so much for helping with your ideas, comments, and experiences. Global Trellis has your fingerprints!

What workshops would you like to see in the future? And, how excited are you to learn from Jonathan? Remember to sign up so you know when it’s live.

With blessing, Amy

15 Strange Habits I Picked Up Overseas

Living abroad changes a person. Here are some examples.

No shoes in the house. People in Minnesota tell me to make myself at home and leave my shoes on. I struggle. I want to take them off. In Djibouti there could be goat/camel/sheep/human poop on those shoes, or road kill juice, or simply a lot of dirt. Plus, a house without a pile of shoes at the front door is a lonely house.

Kissy-face or tilted chin or tongue sticking out. Instead of using a ‘pointer’ finger to indicate a direction or to point something out, I use ‘pointer’ lips and ‘pointer’ tongue and ‘pointer’ chin.

Cupping my hand to call someone. Waggling one finger is how you call a dog. I hold my hand out, palm down, and bring all four fingers toward the fleshy part of my palm.

Farmer-blowing in the street (only while running though!) and spitting. Gross. Sorry. But yeah, I do it.

Kissing cheeks and no hugs. I used to view the French-style cheek kisses as inherently sexual. Now I much prefer them to full-frontal hugs. Which is more invasive: Brushing cheeks together while making juicy smooching noises or full body contact and squeezing? I still haven’t figured out how many kisses, who to kiss and when, but I still prefer it.

Inhaling. I inhale often, and sharply. It means something like, uh-uh, or I’m listening.

On-and-off showers. I turn off the water while shampooing, shaving, sudsing and then turn it back on to rinse. Off again. On again. This isn’t because of temperature issues exclusively (we onlyhave too cold, except when we onlyhave too hot). Showers are not designed to keep water inside a contained space. A shower means the entire bathroom gets doused so to minimalize the pool-effect, I turn the water on and off. Also, we have limited amounts of water, so doing this ensures we can also wash dishes, do laundry, and that others will get showers.

Insha Allah. When talking about the future I feel incomplete if I don’t add something like insha Allah. God willing. Hopefully. As far as I can tell. Maybe, maybe not.

Using the optative. May you be healthy! May God heal you! May you not hit that donkey cart! May you lower the price! Strangely, in Somali, this is sufficient. But when I use it in English, hand motions accompany the words, salute-like, and I feel like I’m sending the person I’m speaking to off into battle. I didn’t even know what an optative was until I started studying Somali but now I find it wonderfully useful.

Layers. The hotter it gets, the more clothes I wear. This is because sweat is ugly and makes me feel uncomfortably exposed. So I wear one or two or three layers that soak up the sweat while the outer layer still looks fresh.

No public displays of affection. My husband and I rarely hold hands and when we do, it is awkward and limp. We only recently started kissing in the airport upon arrival or departure and then a chaste peck on the cheek with a shoulder pat.

Irregular toilet flushing. If its yellow, let it mellow. If its brown, flush it down. Sometimes flush toilet paper, sometimes put toilet paper in the garbage, sometimes hide toilet paper under the nearest rock. I promise not to do that while visiting your home. Unless you live in certain locations, then you just never know.

Sleeping in the middle of the day. Lovely.

Bizarre exclamations and hand gestures. Ish! Hoh. Waryaa. Sow ma aha? Donc. Quoi? Pour quoi pas? Wiggling my earlobe or poking the side of my nose, all tacked onto the end of otherwise normal English sentences.

Twirling conversations. Americans don’t tend to face each other while talking, but stand shoulder to shoulder. This feels strange and cold so I turn to face them, possibly step closer, may even make physical contact. They then rotate slightly, back away, and flinch. I respond again. All this is subconscious, but it inevitably means we turn in full circles while talking.

I could go on…we’ve been abroad a long time now and I think I’m starting to lose touch of what is American and what isn’t.

Have you noticed any of your own strange habits? 

If I could tell you three things…

Hey there Christian. If I could share three things with you, here’s what they would be:

  1. Time is so much shorter than you think.
  2. You are so much richer than you think.
  3. You don’t have to find your calling.

Let me explain…

Time is so much shorter than you think. Truly, it is. We’ve got what? 80-90 years max? Maybe that sounds like a lot, but remember at least the first 18 of those are spent growing up. Suppose you lived in perfect health all of your adult years right up until your 90th birthday when you suddenly wake up in heaven. That’s 72 good workable years on earth. Maybe it sounds like a long time, but it isn’t. Not really. At 38 years old, 20 of my workable years are gone. Twenty years. Poof. Gone. Just like that.

The point is, it doesn’t feel like it’s been twenty years since high school. If two decades can pass that quickly, what about the next five? What if I don’t have five more?

Time is so much shorter than you think, so don’t let it just pass you by. There is a big, good world out there! Your life is an important part of it.

You are so much richer than you think. If you have a computer and internet at home to read this blog post, you are rich. You might not feel rich, but that’s not the point. I say this with heaps of love – unless you lack the resources to pay for basic needs like shelter and food, you are not poor. Not in terms of global poverty.

Recently, I bought my daughter new light up shoes for her first day at school. We exited the shop and as she danced happily on the sidewalk in her new shoes, a filthy, bone thin woman with crippled legs, wearing flip flops on her hands, dragged her body along the path in front of us. She is poor.

We have such a responsibility, you and I, to care for others. I don’t know why we were born in this time and in the affluent places we were, but I do know that the great gift of our circumstances is not meant only for ourselves.

You don’t have to find your calling. I’m not sure why in the western Christian world there seems to be such a big emphasis on the concept of finding your calling. As if there is one specific thing you were born to do and if you don’t figure it out you’ve somehow missed God’s plan for your life.

The thing is, your calling is really simple and you probably learned about it way back in Sunday School. Ready? Here it is – Love God. Love others.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

That’s it. That’s your calling. You can’t miss it because no matter what your job is, or where you live, or who you live with, that calling remains the same.

Love God. Love others. You don’t have to find your calling because you already have one.

Putting it all together. If we round all that up, here’s the charge:

Love God with your whole heart. He’ll fill it with love for others and there’s no telling where that love may lead you. Across the street or around the world, wherever you go know that you have far more to give than you may think. You are rich. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a gift you were given. Use that gift generously. Use it humbly. Use it today.

Should We Have Waited Until We Were Older?

Gil and I met at 21 years old, married at 23, and were living in Tanzania by 24. We had been married all of nine months before we moved overseas. We had gotten to know each other as co-leaders of a cross-cultural ministry in California, and our desire to be missionaries was one of the main factors that brought us together. Our mission organization had vetted us, interviewed us, and sent us to two weeks of training. I had spent half of my childhood as an MK, and both of us had spent several years in ministry during college. As far as we were concerned, we were ready.


That didn’t keep us from crashing and burning. We were too outspoken about our culturally-insensitive opinions and therefore offended local friends. We over-committed ourselves to ministries that kept us apart from each other too much of the time, which strained our relationship. We naively expected too much change too quickly in new believers’ lives, which led to disappointment and disillusionment. After two years, we were depressed and demoralized

Many times over the past twenty years, we’ve seen many new missionaries arrive on the field who were older and more experienced than we were, and they didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much as we did. I’ve asked myself, “Should we have waited until we were older?” Would another couple of years of married life in the States have spared us from heartache? Would more maturity have kept us from making so many naive mistakes? Would we have known how to set better boundaries? 

Of course, there is no “perfect” age to move overseas for the first time, and there are certainly pros and cons to relocating at each stage of life. But if you are young, pursuing missions, and asking yourself, “Should I wait until I am older?” or if you are a parent or a church leader of someone who is asking that question, here are my thoughts.

Consider the advantages:

Our energy and passion gave us perseverance. I remember the first time I went roller skating when I was eight. I must have fallen a few dozen times, but I just kept getting right back up again. These days? I think just one fall would send me to the sidelines for good. There’s a God-given quality of youthful idealism that keeps us going when things get tough. Yes, Gil and I fell hard. Our most difficult years in Tanzania were definitely those first two years. If I had experienced them at an older age, I might have given up. But our youth gave us perseverance, and taught us and toughened us for the years ahead. 

We were more willing to be adventurous, try new things, and put up with hard conditions. Twelve-hour bus trip? No problem. All-night youth lock-in that included 30 hours of fasting? Sure! Back then we thrived on new experiences, crazy outings, and busy schedules. We didn’t have kids and had the freedom to follow every opportunity. Those first two years, my schedule involved getting up at 4:45 every morning and coming home 12 hours later. These days, I get tired just thinking about the stuff we did in those younger years. But now that I’m older, I love having young people on my team for their willingness and ability to do whatever needs to get done.

We built our family while we were already living overseas. It can be tough for women with young children to start their experience overseas as a stay-at-home-mom. Learning language and getting into the culture is a challenge with kids at home. And as an MK educator, I’ve seen the agony of parents relocating their children overseas. Gil and I were able to avoid that by building our family after we had already adapted to life in Tanzania, and I had several years to settle into life and be in ministry full time before I needed to devote more time to my family.

Minimize the disadvantages:

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Get a degree in an area that God can use to open doors for foreign visas–or at least pave the way for relationships. Get some Bible training–either at a college or through rigorous discipleship. Take a Perspectives course. Read books. Learn to manage your finances, cook, and communicate well verbally and in writing. And most importantly–serve. Serve in your local church and serve in your community. All of this can happen even in high school–so start now!

Don’t go without a mentor, and be humble enough to listen and change. This should be standard advice for any cross-cultural worker, but the younger you are, the more important it is. This doesn’t mean that everyone older than you is more right than you. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any ideas to contribute–because I hope you do! But remember that experience usually builds wisdom. Slow down, listen, be a learner. Change takes time. Be patient. 

Be open to staying at least five years. Here’s where things get radical. In an era where two weeks is the standard commitment to missions, a year or two sounds positively eternal. Anything longer than that sounds crazy. For us, the first two years were like boot camp, so it would have been a shame to get through it and not stay longer. The longer we stayed, our impact increased exponentially. Life got easier and our mistakes were fewer. What started as an experience became life. Most mission fields desperately need long-term workers. Why can’t that be you? 

What C.S. Lewis, Paul, and the Sword of Damocles can Teach us About Living in Terrible Times

The sword hangs by a thread, suspended above the throne, pointing down. Threatening.

One strand of horsehair, fastened to the pommel, is strong enough. Barely. One breeze, one bit of weakening fiber, and death is certain.

And so, no matter how powerful the king becomes, no matter how many successes he has, the sword remains above him, ominous, looming, damning.

What’s the sword hanging over your head, threatening to snap loose and cleave? What’s the thing that’s unresolved and maybe even unresolvable? What’s the impending doom that’s imploding joy?

Is it the politics of your passport country or your host country? Visa issues or money problems? Social unrest and violence where you live or where you’re from?

Is it the well-being of your church or your children? Your health or your marriage? Is it an imminent deconstruction?

Do you drown in a deep awareness that one tiny thing could shift and it would all come crashing down?


We live in an ever-more connected age, which seems to be resulting in an ever-more frightened age. Things seem to get scarier and scarier, more and more unstable. Darker. A U.S. news site just ran this headline: It’s Hard To Not Be Anxious When Nowhere Feels Safe Anymore.

Governments fall, global alliances splinter, trusted institutions falter and misstep. Racism blooms like a mushroom cloud and injustice rains down unchecked.

It’s exhausting and terrifying and oftentimes paralyzing.


How should we then live? How should we then minister and love across cultures?
C.S. Lewis speaks to us, cautioning against a common (and paralyzing) error. Lewis writes, “[D]o not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

He continues, speaking of his very atomic circumstances, the sword his generation lived under:

“Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

OK. Depressing.

But somehow, it’s not depressing for Lewis; it doesn’t lead to numbness or retreat or despair. Instead, for Lewis, this awareness leads to LIVING. He goes on to encourage the fearful of his time, and us too:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

So may I encourage you, my dear reader: don’t forget to live. Plant yourself where you’re at, scratch your name into the land, and connect heart and sinew with the people of God and the people God loves. Live!


Chase the Light & Notice the Life
We need to know and remember, deep in our gut, that we can face this darkness and not die. It’s a hard sell, I know, but notice how Paul juxtapositions death AND life in the same verses. They’re both there, and they’re both weighty:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the DEATH of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we LIVE under constant danger of DEATH because we serve Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus will be evident in our DYING bodies. So we LIVE in the face of DEATH, but this has resulted in eternal LIFE for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NLT)

My best friend recently pondered this collision of life and death, musing about our desperate need to chase the light, especially when it’s dark. She wrote:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light. 

~ Elizabeth Trotter


Living under the sword of Damocles is draining and terrifying. But even there, Christ is.

And because Christ is, we can dance in the light as much as we fight in the dark; we can laugh as much as we mourn. Our lips can crack into smiles as often as our hearts crack into pieces.

As long as this age endures, the sword will remain. And yet.

The lone strand of a horse’s hair, weakly holding back death, has been replaced by the strong mane of a Lion’s love. And we are saved.

So live, dear one.

Chase the light and remember the King.


*More on the Sword of Damocles