Hearing Voices

by Alyson Rockhold

When an email requesting volunteers in Tanzania hit my inbox, it was a knock-you-off-your-horse type moment. Gratefully, God didn’t strike me blind like Paul, but I definitely slid off my chair and onto my knees in recognition of His Voice. I had been studying missions for a year and was consumed with a growing restlessness and dissatisfaction over the last few months. It didn’t make sense to study how to serve God for four years from the safety of my little college bubble. I was ready to go, to do, to share God’s love in real and tangible ways.

After hearing that Voice of calling, I had prayed for weeks for my parent’s support. I didn’t want to disobey my earthly father in trying to follow my heavenly one. So, when my dad readily agreed to the plan, I took his acceptance as a sure sign of its divine origins.

Then I rushed into my mission professor’s office, bursting with the good news. He had also served in East Africa and was passionate about that place and those people. He had even agreed to teach me Swahili and helped me secure school credit for it. I never imagined he wouldn’t support me now.

“You should not go to the mission field without a husband.”

His words hit me like a rock to the gut. I was flooded with disappointment. I thought this man respected me and God in me. Now he was telling me I was not enough. I was not made of the right substance to serve God on my own.

Where only seconds before I was filled with hope and excitement, I now harbored doubts and fears. How could one sentence call into question what God had told me so plainly to do? This was God‘s calling clear and true: take a semester off of college, travel to Tanzania, and teach English for four months.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. However, I do know I had entered as a self-assured adult but was leaving as a chastened child. I slunk out of his office, feeling embarrassed and small.

Would his pronouncement crush me, or would defying it make me stronger?

Later, a favorite verse came to mind: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Well, what if I want to please both?

As a perfectionistic people pleaser, I wasn’t able to stop caring about my teacher’s approval. I craved his acceptance and had labored hard to earn it. If I left school now without my professor’s blessing, could I ever return to my religious studies there? I feared I would be branded a dissident. My status as a model student was being called into jeopardy, and I was desperate not to lose it.

Yet, something deeper was at stake. As a girl about to exit my teens and become a young woman, this moment was a watershed: whom would I depend on to define me, to help me make my decisions, and to determine my future path? God or man?

Ultimately, the decision came not from hours of Bible study or intense prayer or the advice of others (although I sought all those things). Instead, the answer came from deep within my soul.  God was there. The Word of God written on my heart. The Voice of truth that never wavers.

God gave me an inner fortitude that I could never have summoned up on my own. The answer was clear: I could live with one man’s disapproval, but I would never find abundant life apart from my Creator.

And since we serve a God who consistently does far more than we could ever ask or imagine, I finally did graduate from that college. My time in Tanzania had clarified my call to medical missions, and I walked across the stage as a dual missions and biology major. The sweetest graduation gift that I received was a note from that same professor, simple and handwritten. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have tried to dissuade you from your calling. I’m glad you didn’t listen.”

I’m grateful I knew which Voice to listen to.

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Alyson’s medical missions work has taken her to Tanzania, Haiti, and Zambia.  Along the way, she’s discovered a passion for sharing stories that honor God and encourage people.  Her writing has been featured on A Life Overseas, Busted Halo, Verge Magazine, Red Letter Christians, and more.  You can follow her at www.alysonrockhold.com.

Why We Need Kindness Right Now

by Gina Butz

Sometimes as I think about this strange season we’re in and how much longer it’s going to be, I wonder how we will get through. What I keep coming back to is this: we need a lot more kindness.

We need to be kind to ourselves, and we need to be kind to others. In stores, online, in zoom calls and on the streets (from a safe social distance, of course). Our world needs more kindness if we’re going to get through this well.

We need kindness because we’ve never done this before. And when we do something for the first time, we don’t know what we’re doing. Which means we’ll feel lost and uncomfortable and incompetent. And the last thing we need right then is to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to know what to do and be able to keep going just as we did before. No, we need someone to be kind to us. We need someone to be patient while we learn this new season.

We need kindness because this is scary. And when things are scary we get anxious. That’s normal. Some of us are more anxious than others for a lot of really good reasons-our health is poor, or our parents are old, or we have to work in hospitals. Whatever the reason, whether it makes sense to us or not, it’s understandable. When someone is scared, it doesn’t help to tell them not to be scared. They need empathy. They need someone to listen to their fears and tell them we’re with them.

We need kindness because it’s just too much sometimes. And when it’s too much, it’s not because we’re weak or we did it wrong or we stink at this. It’s too much because we weren’t made to live this way. Adrenaline is only supposed to last us so long — just enough to get away from the danger. We can’t get away from this danger. When we hit the wall (and we will), we need to be kind to ourselves about it.

We need kindness because this isn’t normal. But this is the only normal that we’re going to get for a long time, and that’s hard. Learning to live with that is discombobulating, which is a fantastic word but something none of us likes to feel. We’re living with little “t” trauma all the time. A lot of us feel disregulated. Kindness helps get us back to a healthy place.

We need kindness because we’re sad. The big, obvious losses we’re incurring are easy to note, but we tend to ignore the little ones. We did a zoom call the other night with old friends from overseas, and while it was a delight, the fact that they are here in my city and I can’t see them grieved me. Those little losses are like pinhole pricks in the bucket of our life; after a while, we’re drained and we don’t know why. Kindness acknowledges the holes and says, “no wonder you’re sad.”

And all of this makes us really tired in a way that surprises us a lot. Why are we so tired? Because of all the things. Because of unexpected homeschooling, and ridiculous amounts of pivoting, coupled with less positive relational connection than even the most introverted among us need. We need to be kind to ourselves when we’re tired. Because of course we’re tired.

So we carry all of that on us, often without realizing it. And that’s a heavy load, especially to carry for a long time. Extending kindness is like someone coming alongside us to acknowledge the impossible weight, lift the pack off, and give us permission to rest. Yes, we need to keep walking, but we also need to give ourselves and others the space to sit in that grace from time to time.

Maybe you’re taking this all in stride. Maybe you’ve moved through the grief and confusion and you’re in a place of acceptance. That’s good. But others are still struggling. Or will be struggling (including those of us who are doing well today — it might hit us again tomorrow). We need kindness because even though we’re all in this together, we’re not. Each of us is experiencing it differently, for a million reasons. And when someone else hits the wall in a way we don’t understand, they need kindness. Kindness gives everyone the space to be on their own journey in responding to this.

I hope we give it to them. Because kindness grows kindness. And when we are in a practice of extending kindness to ourselves in difficult seasons, then it’s our natural response to extend it to others.

As hard as this season is, that’s my hope — that this could be a time when we grow kindness like wildflowers. May this be a time when our ability to look each other in the eyes and simply see “beloved of God” before us grows exponentially. Kindness will help us get through it.

Originally published here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gina Butz and her husband, Erik, have served in full time ministry for 25 years, 13 of them in East Asia. They are currently raising their two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where Gina serves in global leadership development at Cru headquarters. Her first book, Making Peace with Change: Navigating Life’s Messy Transitions with Honesty and Grace, released in February. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com and loves to connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Caring for TCKs During Covid

by Lauren Wells

Back when COVID first began to wreak havoc on the lives of expat families with whom I work, I put together a spontaneous video series. I had talked through the same points, concepts, and answered the same questions with many families in those early weeks of quarantine and decided it would be easier for them and myself if I could record those responses. I figured I would send them to those families and put it on my website (TCKTraining.com) in case it might benefit others as well.

I created the Power Points, asked my husband to take our girls out on a drive for an hour (because there weren’t many other options during quarantine), and quickly recorded the series. Oh, and this was the day after we moved across the country so what you can’t see is that I am surrounded by boxes and the wall behind me is the only sliver of blank wall space in the tiny apartment we spent those first few weeks in. All that to say, it was much to my surprise (and honestly, horror because I’m a perfectionist and they are far from perfect) that the videos that I threw together quickly grew to over 1,000 views. It clearly hit a felt need. 

Though it has been nearly seven months since that time, the effects of COVID on expat families are far from over. I pray that these thoughts, practical ideas, and reflection questions allow you to proactively care for your family in the midst of this season.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…RAFT (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Destination) is still important. 

Reconciliation with those whom you’ve abruptly left is critical. This is especially true for TCKs who learn early on that they can use a move to excuse making amends with people. If the answer to any of these questions below is “yes,” it is important to do the hard work of reconciling.

  • Are there people who you or your TCKs were not on good terms with when you left?
  • Is there someone who was upset about how your leaving happened?
  • Is there anyone that you or your TCKs were relieved to leave because that seems a good excuse to not resolve an issue? 

Affirmation is still important. You may have left without the time to tell the people who you love that you love them. Don’t let that keep you from doing so. 

  • Write a list as a family of all the people you left who were significant in your life. 
  • Decide how you’ll affirm them. This could be a letter, pictures drawn for friends by your children, a video call, a text, etc. 

Farewell needs to be said, even if you’ve already left. Because we live in a very connected world, it can be easy to skip this step because we feel we aren’t really saying “goodbye,” we’ll still “see” them on Facebook. Yet, we are saying “goodbye” to the place that they held in that season of life and that needs an intentional farewell. This can happen over a phone call, in a video message, in a letter, etc. It is particularly important that your children have a chance to do this with their friends. TCKs get into the habit of cutting off relationships without saying, “goodbye” so it is important to show them the importance of an intentional farewell. 

  • Who did you not say a proper “goodbye” to?  
  • Who did your TCKs not say “goodbye” to? 
  • How will you arrange that in the coming days? 

Think Destination becomes think about where you are. If you are in your current location because of an evacuation, you likely didn’t spend time planning for your arrival and all of the things you wanted to do upon arrival (and if you did, that was likely all canceled anyway). As difficult as it may be, one of the things that I have seen be the most helpful in this season is gratitude. 

  • What are 5 things that you like about the place where you are?
  • What are some things that I’m grateful we’ve been able to do/experience in this place? 

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Meeting Emotional Needs Becomes Critical 

Prioritize family health and relationships. It can be easy to put these needs on the back burner during transition, but that is exactly when prioritizing them is most necessary. 

  • What do your children need from you as parents in this season? 
  • What are the emotional needs of each family member and how can you work as a family to meet them? Some examples could be stability, playfulness, nurturing, quality time, introverted time.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Assume a Block has been Added to the Grief Tower 

The Grief Tower is my method of explaining the concept of TCK grief. Each time something grief-inducing occurs, it stacks like a block on the grief tower. When those blocks go unprocessed and unresolved they remain on the tower. In early adulthood, TCKs with a high-stacked grief tower are susceptible to it toppling over and wreaking havoc. If your family has been negatively impacted by COVID – an evacuation, a difficult quarantine period, an abrupt end to school, etc. you can assume that your child has added a block to their Grief Tower. If not intentionally unstacked, it will remain there.

So, how do you unstack it? 

 

1. Talk Through the Emotions
Pull out an emotions chart (you can download one for free at tcktraining.com/worksheets) and talk through times in the past year each of you have felt that emotion. Parents, you need to give honest answers to be a model for your kids.

 

2. Begin Family Check-Ins
Each day, ask, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the hardest part of your day?” My kids like to ask everyone to point to the emotion face that they felt today on the emotions chart, so you might consider doing that too! This seems like a simple process, but especially during stressful seasons, these regular and expected check-ins become a built-in family debrief. When you have conversations about the challenging, worrying, difficult, parts of the day, it keeps those moments from being stored and unprocessed in the brain which can lead to them becoming a “block” on the Grief Tower. Ask questions like, “What made that so hard?” “What do you wish would have happened differently?” “What do you hope tomorrow looks like?”

 

3. Process the blocks
Processing the blocks on the Grief Tower can happen in a number of different ways. Here are ideas for various ages:

For toddlers and young children, tell them their story. You can either talk about them personally or create a character that is like them and tell a story that parallels theirs. Pause routinely to ask “How did he/she/you feel?” Storying allows them to process their emotions by putting themselves back in that time and place. If they don’t want to talk about how they themselves feel, using the narration of character can help them to open up.

Example, “There was a little boy who lived in Indonesia. He loved living there and played outside with his friends everyday. One day, his parents found out that they were going to have to go back to America and only had five days to say goodbye. They told the boy that they needed to start packing their things quickly. How did that boy feel when he was packing his things? Then, they flew to America and had to stay inside the house for TWO WEEKS! How did he feel being stuck inside? They thought they would go back to Indonesia in just a couple of months, but now it has been seven months and they are STILL in America. How is that little boy feeling right now? 

For ages 5 and up, use art processing. You can create your own ideas, but here are a few to get you started.

  • Paint a picture of how your insides feel right now
  • Sculpt something with play-dough that you are excited about and something that you are nervous or worried about
  • Perform a skit with your siblings about something difficult that has happened in the past year
  • Draw a picture of a fun/happy thing from the last week and a picture of something that was hard/sad for you this past week

For teenagers, give the gift of a Safe Space. Create a safe space for your teen to process with autonomy by giving them something specifically for the purpose of processing their grief. You might consider doing this for the adults in the family as well! Along with the gift explain, “We’ve been through so much in the past year and we are learning how important it is to process through it instead of pushing it down and moving forward. We know you like ____, so we’ve gotten this for you specifically for you to use while you think through and process the last year. We are here if you’d like to process out loud at any point.”

Safe Space Gift Ideas: 

  • New art supplies for the one who processes through creativity 
  • A cookbook for the one who cooks when under stress 
  • A nice journal for the one who processes through writing 
  • New running shoes for the one who goes for a run to process 
  • A cozy blanket for the tactile one who need comfort to process 
  • A set of legos or model airplane kit for the one who needs to process while building
  • Seeds and gardening tools for the one who needs to get their hands dirty while they process 

 

This season has been a difficult one for everyone, but particularly for expat families. For many, leaving well didn’t happen. Leaving happened abruptly, spontaneously, and with little chance for intentionally transitioning well. Instead of moving on past this time without processing it, I pray that you will use this time and these tools to help your TCKs work through the grief of this season. Doing so can prevent unresolved grief and the consequences that result and can lead to learning to process emotion in healthy ways for everyone in your family. 

 

*The Grief Tower and Safe Space Gifts are trademarked concepts of TCK Training

To learn more about caring preventively for your TCKs, consider attending an upcoming TCK Training workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is the Founder and Director of TCK Training and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. She specializes in practical, proactive care for TCKs and their families and has trained TCK caregivers from over 50 organizations. Lauren grew up in Tanzania, East Africa, where she developed a love for smokey chai and Mandazis (African doughnuts). She now lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.”

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.

A version of the post originally appeared in ClearingCustoms.net.

(The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

[photo: “Corbels,” by Peter Grima, used under a Creative Commons license]

Watching what I invest in evaporate

On of my favorite things to look for in Chinese parks are the men (it’s almost always men) who write poetry on the sidewalk using a large sponge calligraphy brush:

It’s beautiful, living art.

It’s social with people hanging around and chatting about the stroke order, the ability of the writer, the words written.

It’s also fleeting. Writing with water is a different kind of creative endeavor than working with ink. You know from the beginning it will not last.

Isn’t that an apt summary of life: beautiful, social, fleeting.

As much as I don’t like it, it turns out that most of what I pour my time and energy into is fleeting, at least on the surface. Laundry? Sure it’s done, only to be done again. A great lesson plan leads to mixed feelings of pride, joy, fun, and a bit of a let down (now I need to start on the next one). Whether you are a foodie or live on peanut butter toast, food and dishes are on going. I’ll hit publish on this post and  as I do an internal happy dance, I’ll also be thinking about future posts.

In this season I wonder what I have done with this time that won’t evaporate? What has been built on rock and not sand?

It is right and good to reflect on the ways we invest our lives, time, and money. But it is also right and good to turn to each other and say:

“Just because something looks to be fleeting, that is not the full picture.”

What you do—the conversations you have, the games you play, the emails you write, the projects you work on, the loads of laundry you do—are the strands of life that when woven together build into something larger than the fleeting moments they represent.

So I turn to you and say, “Just because something looks to be fleeting or eternal, that’s not the full picture.”

Yes, I create with water, you create with water; but we need to remember the truth that it is not mere water. And your life story contains far more than you are I can see right now.

(P.S. This Global Trellis workshop this month is presented by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter! Want to learn from them about Marriage Abroad? Now you can! )

A version of this first appeared at The Messy Middle

Questions Third Culture Kids (and Their Parents) Need to Ask

I wrote a couple of posts about questions that Third Culture Kids are often asked. Some they dread, some they love. Same for their parents. There is a problem inherent in these posts and these types of posts. They center the TCK and the expatriate adult. They make us the most important person in conversations we have in our passport countries. They give the impression and create the expectation that everyone should conform to our needs, should be sensitive to our struggles, should care about our joys. 

What about the people we are talking to? The people we “left behind”? The people who lived a full life while we were away? What about our own need to be curious, interested in others, to ask good questions, and to move away from being the center of the experience and story?

What are some questions people would love for the TCK or expatriate to ask them when we’re back in our passport countries?

*note: be sensitive to your level of intimacy with people. These are randomly presented and range from light to personal.

What’s the latest news in your hometown? 

How has Covid impacted you, your family, your job?

What has been the most exciting thing you’d done this past year? The most unexpected? The hardest to accomplish? The most personally transformative?

What’s your favorite restaurant lately? What do you love about it?

Have you gotten any new pets? 

Where should I shop for school clothes this year? What are the current styles in this part of the country/world?

Been on any bad dates? Good dates?

While I am in town where is the one place I absolutely must visit? Why? Will you come with me?

Tell me about your favorite books/movies/music/art.

Who was your best teacher or coach last year?

How have you been talking with your kids about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and police violence in general? 

Have you participated in any protests? Why or why not? How have you experienced them?

What can I learn from your perspective on the USA right now? What is important for me to understand, as a newly returned person?

How can I pray for you?

The conclusion of these past three posts is simply this: ask questions. Ask good, thoughtful, sincere questions. Be curious. Be kind. Be generous.

How to Encourage a Family that has a Child with Special Needs

by MaDonna Maurer

The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” is a saying that most overseas workers would agree with. We do not have easy access to trusted family members to help us in times of need. We rely on those in our host country to help. I live on the island of Taiwan. For me, it has taken the island to help me raise my children, especially my daughter with special needs. We have lived on the island now for fourteen years. We have made friends in various cities due to my husband’s role, but also because he grew up here.

It wasn’t until we started planning to attend our son’s graduation that I began to think more about this African proverb. We knew our daughter with special needs would not be able to attend the ceremony. She is deathly scared of the auditorium where it would be held. As we tried to plan it out, a couple of friends let me know that whatever we needed, they would be there. That was when I realized that for me it has taken more than just a village, but actually an island, to raise my kids. I realized that in almost every major city on the island there were at least a few families that knew our daughter well enough to help at any given moment. And last year we even had a friend come from a different city to stay in our home for one week so my husband and I could go away for our twentieth anniversary, something we hadn’t done in over ten years. Seriously, that is more than friendship.

I don’t think we are special or have this amazing gift that people want to help. I think that most people want to help, but just may not know where to start. So, I asked some of my other online friends who happen to have raised or are in the process of raising children with special needs outside their passport countries.

Here are a few of their answers:

  1. Meals: Invite them over or offer to bring supper to their house if that is easier for them as a family. We have had both done — the latter when our daughter was younger, and it was easier to have her eat in her own highchair. But both ways allowed for these new-to-us people to engage with our whole family.
  2. Hangout Time: Take the child with special needs on a “date.” Gloria, mother to a child with Down Syndrome, says of her friend, “Beth has been intentional in investing in not just my life, but also in {her son’s} life.” Just taking him to a 7-eleven for a treat gives Gloria a break and has “meant the world” to her. Karis who lives in Mozambique, a mother to an adult son that is virtually nonverbal, also noted how she and her husband are encouraged by the people in the village and fellow co-workers singing with their son.
  3. Date Night/Lunch: Watch the kids for an evening, afternoon, or if possible, for an overnight. This is different from the above because it involves all the kids and the sole purpose is to let both parents have time together alone. If you can do an overnight, awesome, but if not, consider what one mother living in SE Asia says, “We appreciate our teammates babysitting our kids once a month so my husband and I could go out for a date lunch together.”
  4. Video Chat or message – Another mom living in SE Asia says that this was very helpful during the quarantine time when her adult child with special needs couldn’t go out and interact with others. Please make sure you have the parent’s permission before you begin this idea though. As we all know, parents have different rules and ideas about technology and social media.
  5. Don’t be so quick to judge – It’s easy to look at a family and think if they would just try {fill in the blank} then their struggles would be gone. Most likely, the family has tried your idea along with about 50 other ideas, and none of them worked. Maybe the child is just having a bad day. Typical kids have bad days and so do kids with special needs. Get to know the family and listen to what their needs are.

I believe you can sense a theme in these five ideas. This theme is of engaging and building a trusting relationship with the family. Maybe these ideas seem way out of your comfort zone. Trust me, before having a child with special needs, they would have seemed challenging to me. If this is the case, then let me leave you with one last idea, one last thought. Karis shared how the people sing with their son, but she also shared that it was wonderful to have them simply give him a handshake.

You could do that, couldn’t you? Or at least an elbow bump or a wave?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MaDonna lives in Taiwan with her husband, a German MK, and their three children. She deeply believes that a cold grapefruit tea cures the summer time blues. She enjoys a good book and loves to write stories for children about life overseas. Visit her at her blog, raisingTCKs, or on Twitter @mdmaurer.

The Beatitudes for Cross-Cultural Workers

Blessed are the language learners, for theirs is the gift of idioms and verbs, of words and communication.

Blessed are the visa holders, for they shall never forget what it is to live as a guest in a country.

Blessed are the homesick, for they shall know and understand longing and displacement, the themes of our time.

Blessed are those who weep for injustice, for they shall be comforted by a God who cries out for justice to roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Blessed are the culturally humble, for they shall see the world and faith through the eyes of curiosity and questions.

Blessed are the jetlagged, for they shall have time to drink tea and pray.

Blessed are the lonely, for they shall be connected to the pain of humanity and better understand the value of connection.

Blessed are those in transition, for they shall know more fully the joy and privilege of home.

Blessed are those who miss their fathers and mothers, their siblings and their friends, for they shall discover friends that become as close as sisters and brothers, and families that transcend blood and borders.

Blessed are the translators and the doctors, the businesspeople and the nurses, the developers and the diplomats, the farmers and the planters, the harvesters and the homemakers, the educators and the writers, the linguists and the administrators – for together they shall work to build God’s kingdom on earth.

Blessed are the visionaries and the dreamers, the builders and the plodders, the idealists and the realists, the wishful thinkers and the critical thinkers, the intelligent and the blessedly naive – for the Kingdom is made of such as these.

Blessed are you who know and love the God who invited you into his story; you who were created and formed, equipped and placed. May you know and love him a little more each day. May you delight in His story and rest in His love.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…..they go from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion.*

Psalm 84:5 & 7

Leaving Early Has Complicated All the Complicated Emotions of Re-Entry

Haven of Peace Academy, overlooking the Indian Ocean

My youngest has been fascinated with finding places on Google Earth. He recently brought me the iPad and said, “Mommy, help me find HOPAC.” 

My son is in third grade, and Haven of Peace Academy is where he went to school for kindergarten through second grade. But even before that, HOPAC was always a part of his life. It’s where my husband and I ministered for sixteen years. The last three years, it was where I was the elementary school principal. 

I showed him how to type in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. “Here’s downtown, right?” I pointed out. I traced the main road that led to the north of the city. “This is Shoppers Plaza; that’s where we would buy chicken on Saturday nights; this is the White Sands roundabout. Then you turn right here, and see? There’s HOPAC!” 

Together we then traced the road down a little further until we could pick out the house where we had lived for ten years. We zoomed in on it, and a hundred memories rushed out. My eyes grew misty. My finger stopped, hovering there, suspended above our home. Ten thousand miles away, yet so close I could almost touch it.

“I like my new school,” Johnny tells me. “But I like Tanzania better.” Me too, Buddy.

***

I knew there would be grief in leaving. We had planned our departure a year in advance; we knew it was coming. We knew it would be hard. Tanzania had been our home for sixteen years.

But what I can’t figure out is what part of my grief is because we left, and what part of my grief is because we left the way we did. 

***

In July, we found ourselves needing to furnish our new apartment in California. We had very few possessions to our name, which meant we were looking to buy just about everything. Thrift stores, OfferUp, and garage sales became our new pastime. But our favorite were estate sales. There was something particularly thrilling about walking through an entire house, picking out the things we needed. 

Yet I couldn’t help but think about the strangeness of estate sales, this sifting through what felt like the entirety of someone’s life. “It must be so hard for the person that lived here,” I said to my husband, “knowing that strangers are haggling over everything they owned. It’s good that they can hire a company to sell all of this for them, and don’t have to watch it happen.”

And then it struck me: We had that exact scenario happen to us. But we did watch it happen. 

On March 20th, I had come home from my last time at HOPAC to find strangers in my house, opening my cabinets and looking for things to buy. We had been told to buy plane tickets at 1 am the night before, scheduled to leave because of COVID just four days later. Word traveled quickly, and eager buyers wanted to get a head start on the things we were selling. My husband had allowed them in, assuming I had sent them. I freaked out. “Get these people out of my house now!” I hissed. 

The next three days were a frantic whirlwind of sorting, packing, and selling. I sold the dishes out from under the children and the kitchen containers still filled with flour and sugar. We never did get rid of everything, leaving the house with a friend to finish sorting the chaos we had left behind.

At the last minute, I gave away all of my kids’ baby things that I had been carefully saving, taking pictures of them instead. I didn’t have time to overthink whether or not that was the right decision. Recently it occurred to me that I never took my curtains down. I don’t know why that bothers me; it’s not like they were amazing curtains. But I had looked at them every day for over a decade, so it’s strange not knowing what happened to them. 

The night before we left, I was in a tizzy at midnight, trying to find my only pair of closed-toed shoes, which I intended to wear while traveling. I tore the place apart, frantically looking for them. I finally found them outside in a garbage bag; someone had inadvertently thrown them out. I was relieved to find them, but nagged by the worry of what else had been accidentally thrown away.

When my husband’s birthday came around in August, I realized that our traditional birthday banner must have been sold accidentally. I mourned over that birthday banner, and then felt stupid for caring about something so silly. But even now, I get stress-filled nightmares where I’m trying to pack. And there’s never enough time. 

So I guess you could say we experienced our own estate sale. And yeah, it was strange. Traumatic, even. 

***

I keep thinking that I’m over the worst of the grief. We have so, so many good days right now. But then there’s a trigger.

Friends from Tanzania came to visit us last week. It did our soul good to see them. They brought us some things we had left behind:  Yearbooks, certificates from teachers, the name sign from my office door. Special things.

 The flood of memories, again.

I found myself awake at 2 am, tears rolling down my cheeks. Again. I pounded my fist on God’s chest crying, “This is not the story I wanted!” I did not want to leave that way. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. How desperately I wish I could go back and re-write that story.

I can see God’s hand in it, of course. I can see how leaving early was the impetus for my husband getting the job he has now. That might not have happened if we had left in July like we planned. But sometimes, it doesn’t matter; I’m still just sad. It’s good, I guess, that the human heart is capable of holding both sadness and gratitude at the same time.

***

HOPAC started their first day of school at the end of August. I greedily stared at the pictures posted in the parent WhatsApp groups, craving glimpses of my students. A few days later, I reluctantly left the groups, knowing I needed to let go. 

I know how this works. I was the Stayer for many years, so I’ve watched many people leave. I know that it’s hard to be a Stayer and say good-bye, but that life goes on pretty quickly without the Leavers. It has to. So many leave in an expat community, every year, that you can’t sit and stew about it for very long. So now that I am the Leaver, I want to move forward, and to let the Stayers move on. 

Except, I didn’t get to hug those kids goodbye. “Moving on” feels like running in soggy sand when you didn’t get to finish well. There are loose ends dangling all over the place.

***

Whether I like it or not, the earth turns, the sun still rises and sets, the seasons shift. Each day pulls me farther away from that life, pulls me deeper into this new one. I can grieve it and yearn for it and wish that it didn’t end that way, but life continues to go on. 

Time is a healer, and that is a gift. Almost imperceptibly, the scars become a part of who I am. One day, some time from now, I will look back and not want to change the story. I’ve lived enough years to know that truth.

African Americans to Missions: “I Want to Join. But First, Change.” (a look at Barna’s latest research, Part 3)

by Rebecca Hopkins

Editor’s Note: In Part 1, we looked at the findings from Barna’s latest research on the Future of Missions. Part 2 discussed deconstruction of missions’ past. Today we talk about the movement within the African American community to join missions—and call for reform.  

Less than 1 percent of American missionaries are black, by some reports, but that may be about to change. Or if you consider some little-known parts of history, it may go back to how modern missions began with African Americans playing a key part.

Young African American Christians are now more likely to decide to be missionaries than their white counterparts (61 percent versus 48 percent), according to the latest Barna research. The most recent (and first virtual) National African American Missions Conference drew almost five times the number of regular attendees, up from 500 to 2,300. And almost one-third of them were Caucasians interested in learning how to better include African Americans in their white-majority mission organizations. 

“Increased this year is a sincere cry from white congregations and predominantly white (mission organizations) wanting to understand institutional racism,” said NAAMC organizer and Pastor Adrian Reeves.

While young black Christians are interested in missions, they have reservations about its past. The Barna research shows that:

  • Fewer black young adults than whites (62 percent vs 73 percent) say they value missionaries’ work. 
  • Young adult black Christians are more likely than whites to believe that “In the past missions work has been unethical” (40 percent versus 33 percent) and that “Christian mission is tainted by its association with colonialism” (48 percent versus 39 percent).
  • 35 percent of young black Christians plan to give to missions (versus 56 percent of whites); however, more of them would support a missionary (65 percent versus 58 percent of whites). 

“A key takeaway, especially with our ethnic minority young adults, let’s not be afraid to have these hard conversations,” said Savannah Kimberlin, Barna’s director of published research.

Some majority-white mission organizations are starting to do just that. Webinars, conferences and podcasts on the topic of mobilizing African Americans have recently talked about fund-raising models, culturally appropriate ways to engage black pastors, and the opportunities African Americans have to reach the world in unique ways because of the trauma and oppression they’ve experienced as a community. 

“We can pour into others and say, we understand your trauma,” said Star Nelson, co-founder of Sowing Seeds of Joy, during a Sixteen:Fifteen Webinar. “And this is how you can be healed and only Jesus can do that.”

Majority-white organizations are also assessing their own cultures. 

“I’ve been asked….and am going through a process to join a white agency that really is trying to work through their race issues and wants to bring on board members who will challenge them in that way,” Reeves said. “I think we are open to hearing the hard truth and having those crucial conversations.”

Some things in missions culture may need to change in order to involve young black Christians, Reeves said. The definition of “unreached people group” may need to include people who don’t feel comfortable joining the established church in their town because of past church oppression of their ethnicity, for instance. Fund-raising models may need to change, as African Americans struggle to raise support in the traditional model. Reeves also sees that young black Christians are more interested in helping with shorter-term, defined projects versus longer-established programs. 

But also, African Americans can know, with confidence, that their culture has always played a part in modern missions, Reeves said. Some of the earliest modern missionaries from the States—Betsey Stockton, George Liele, William Henry Sheppard—were black. 

“We have a unique story that should be told,” Reeves said. 

With everyone reimagining so many aspects of life this year, this is a hopeful time for the church and missions, he said.

“I do see a genuine desire to come together, to work through this race thing together,” he said. “I’m very hopeful. We’re looking at how we can do missions differently.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Hopkins wants to help people feel heard, seen and welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an Army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot. She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. Trained a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding, and truths that last longer than her latest address. You can find her online at www.rebeccahopkins.org.

What’s Wrong with Missions. . . .and Why It’s Still Right (a look at Barna’s latest research, Part 2)

by Rebecca Hopkins

Editor’s Note: In Part 1, we looked at the findings from Barna’s latest research on The Future of Missions. Today we talk to Ted Esler, president of Missio Nexus on the current trend of deconstruction of missions.

~~~~~~~~~~

If you want to get people excited about joining missions, you may need to have a conversation about its past—the questionable parts.

“When we look generationally about concerns about missions’ past and specifically about colonialism, young adults are more inclined to say, ‘yeah, that’s something I want to talk through. I want to wrestle through that if that’s something I’m considering giving my life to,’” said Savannah Kimberlin, director of published research, to a group of CEOs and recruiters for Christian nonprofits during a recent online presentation of Barna’s The Future of Missions study.

She told the group that this reality has really both “rocked the boat” in previous presentations and resonated with people. 

“I want to make sure I don’t miss this moment,” she said. “Let’s not ignore the past. Let’s have conversations about it.”

The Barna research shows that: 

  • 34 percent of young Christians (aged 18 to 34 years) agree with the statement “in the past, mission work has been unethical.” Just 22 percent of older Christians believe that.
  • 42 percent of young Christians (aged 18 to 35 years)  agree that “Christian mission is tainted by its association with colonialism.” Just 29 percent of older adults agree with that. 
  • Young African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities are particularly concerned about both statements. 

The trend of deconstructing missions has been on the radar of Ted Esler, president of Missio Nexus, a network of 360 Christian nonprofits and churches which have 30,000 people serving all over the world.  Before Missio Nexus’s annual leadership conference this year was cancelled for a virtual 40-day time of prayer, deconstruction in missions was its main topic. 

“I would say that missions is like any other human endeavor—it’s trapped in its time and its era,” Esler said in a recent interview.

But while younger generations are hungry for conversations about missions’ past and its ethics, Esler is still confident in its foundations. 

“We’re deconstructing everything by today’s standards, not realizing that people were working in a different era,” he said. “I’m not arguing that the model of missions we’re using is sacrosanct, but the concept of missions is valid. Things will change, but this will be weathered. Missions to me is transcendent over our current historical situation.”  

Mission pioneers who are now considered regressive were actually progressive in their time, he argued. For example, William Carey, considered the father of modern missions, sought to abolish the practice of widow burning in India, despite even his own country of Britain’s initial acceptance of the practice in its colony. 

“So, is he a colonist dude?” Esler asked. “I guess he is. He was a Brit who went to India as a missionary. But in relationship to what was going on around him, he was progressive.”

Modern Americans are, in general, less enthusiastic about religion and Christianity, Barna research has shown. But deconstruction could create an advantage in missions, Kimberlin said.

“It is actually a beautiful gift because we are getting to reset our clocks with Gen Z,” Kimberlin said. “We have deconstructed all the way down to a generation now who are not carrying baggage of religious hurts, or dos and don’ts about how to be good Christians. They don’t want to play that game. What a beautiful moment to reset the clocks and teach a generation about authentic, life-changing Christianity that really transforms hearts and minds and is life-giving.”

Esler also urged the “near record number of attendees” of Kimberlin’s presentation to continue to listen to welcome “God’s heart” for the younger generations. 

“The next generation is going to be coming along and doing some things different,” he said to the attendees of the virtual presentation. “My challenge for you today is that you would see things in light of God’s heart for every generation. There might be things that frustrate you, but let’s try to see the positives as we go through this presentation today.”

Relationships between current missionaries and younger generations are key, the study shows.

Younger Christians who personally know a missionary are:

  • More likely to give to missions (58 percent vs. 46 percent)
  • Pray for global workers (54 percent vs. 45 percent) 
  • Go on a short-term missions trip (40 percent vs. 30 percent)
  • Go on longer-term missions (22 percent vs. 9 percent)

But younger Christians who know missionaries also are more likely (16 percent vs. 7 percent) to believe that mission work, if not done properly, can create unhealthy dependence. They also are more likely (17 percent vs. 10 percent) to believe that “Christianity should fix its reputation before doing more missions.”

That’s all the more reason to meet them with conversation in their concerns, Kimberlin said.

“We need to take steps to do as much as we can to break down those barriers and those walls,” Kimberlin said. “As these young people are wrestling through their concerns and their questions about who they’re going to be, if they can see and speak with someone who can represent what they’re aiming for and what they’re considering being, then their likelihood to consider going on missions themselves jumps.”

One particular group that is especially concerned about missions’ past is African Americans—which also happens to be one of the most willing to serve overseas in the future. More on this tension—and possibility—in Part 3 of the Future of Missions. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Hopkins wants to help people feel heard, seen and welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an Army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot. She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. Trained a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding, and truths that last longer than her latest address. You can find her online at www.rebeccahopkins.org.

Please Don’t Make Me “Win Souls” (a look at Barna’s latest research)

by Rebecca Hopkins

A note about this series: Barna recently released The Future of Missions, a 100-page report about trends in American missions. Some of the findings indicate that in the future, Americans may choose to stop referring to themselves as missionaries who “convert” and “make disciples,” out of principle. The data indicates that younger generations of Americans will need to find ways to make peace with—and perhaps call out—practices of the past in order to serve. It also predicts that African Americans may be, proportionately, more likely to sign up to serve overseas than whites will.

Starting today, A Life Overseas will cover Barna’s basic findings. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll bring Ted Esler, Missio Nexus president, into the conversation about deconstruction and missions. Part 3 will publish on Monday and will cover the data on African Americans and missions and the conversations happening around mobilizing them into overseas work. 

Who will be the major players in the future of missions? They’ve got a name—“supportive skeptics.”

Younger generations want to make a difference—especially in areas of social justice. But they need some things to change in overseas mission work in order to join. This mixture of conviction and concern was a main finding of Barna’s latest research. 

“Millennials are giving themselves permission to wrestle with things and giving themselves permission to ask the hard questions,” said Savannah Kimberlin, director of published research at Barna. “Their religious practice is not just tied to a way of life that you were told that you needed to adopt.” 

And those characteristics likely won’t go away when they get older. 

“This is a generational thing, not a life stage,” she said. “What we’re seeing in the data is that there are certain environmental factors that really do impact generations and change them in a way that’s not just a life stage factor but is having a large impact.”

The International Mission Board commissioned the study that surveyed Christians: 600 teens (ages 13-17), 1,000 young adults (ages 18-34); and, by comparison, 1,500 older adults (ages 35 and up). They also included surveys of 500 parents of teens and young adults. 

Foundationally, younger American Christians continue to care about global Christian service. Young adults—72 percent—consider mission work “very valuable.” And while only 62 percent of young adult black Americans consider the work “very valuable,” they’re also more likely than whites to go on mission. And younger generations are the best qualified for missions.

“We’re consistently seeing that the up and coming generations care very deeply about social justice,” Kimberlin said. “They’re moved by this. Are we communicating to these young people that addressing injustices is a large part of what it takes to do missions?”

But while they support much of the work of missions, they question the “why” and “how” of it. 

Some key findings:

  • One-fourth of engaged Christians aged 18 to 34 is a “supportive skeptic.” They have given to missions, volunteer in their church, and believe that “sharing the Gospel with non-Christians” is an important part of the work. But they have concerns. They either believe missions creates unhealthy dependency, missions was too linked with colonialism in the past, missions hurts the local economy, or missions needs to repair its reputation. This group also includes a large percentage of minorities.
  • One in three of young adult Christians believe “in the past, missions work has been unethical.” Just one-fourth of adults 35 and older agree with that statement.
  • Christians of all ages strongly prefer the term “sharing faith” over terms like “convert,” “evangelism,” “making disciples” and “winning souls.” 
  • Aid edges out evangelism for its importance in missions in some of the survey results among the more skeptical of younger Christians.
  • “Show God’s love” is the top responsibility missionaries should do, most young Christians say.
  • Younger Christians are more likely (29 percent) than older Christians (23 percent) to believe that the role of missionary is similar to “someone else who does work to fight poverty and injustice,” showing their strong value of social justice work. 
  • Short-term missions, accountability, and traditional fund-raising models were some things younger Christians would change. Business-as-missions models also raised some concerns. The concern of “Tent-faking” was mentioned in interviews, for instance. 
  • Younger Christians are less likely (50 percent) to pray for missionaries in the future than older Christians (63 percent).

The report poses 10 questions that the church must answer about global ministry along with the next generation. The questions center around language, fundraising, history, accountability, aid vs. evangelism, new kinds of missionaries, parents as potential barriers, and how to prepare the next generation for missions. 

“I think we need to approach Gen Z in a way that we understand that they are skeptical and all that they’re really craving is humility, teachability and authenticity from the leaders,” Kimberlin said. “Show them that we don’t have it all together, but we’ve got passion and we’ve got drive and we’ve got the Great Commission on our side. And we love what we do.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rebecca Hopkins wants to help people feel heard, seen and welcome. She spent the first half of her life moving around as an Army kid and the past 14 years trying to grow roots on three different Indonesian islands while her husband took to the skies as a pilot. She now works in Colorado for Paraclete Mission Group and writes about issues related to non-profit and cross-cultural work. Trained a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding, and truths that last longer than her latest address. You can find her online at www.rebeccahopkins.org.