You Are Going to Hate It

You know that country you’ve been dreaming about? The one that you have been praying over and researching? You’ve been talking about it endlessly these days, building a team who will support you when you move there. You are ready to uproot your family, your job, your entire life to pour your soul into the place you love so much.

Call me a party pooper, but today I’m here to tell you something important: Shortly after you finally arrive in that country, you are going to hate it.

It might take a few weeks, or maybe a few months, but at some point it’s going to happen: You will wonder why on earth you thought you would love this country. You will question why you enthusiastically raised support for so many months to go live in a place that you actually despise.

It might happen when you come to the realization that this doesn’t feel like a fun adventure anymore. The public transportation is claustrophobic and smelly. You are tired of eating baked potatoes and scrambled eggs and yet the idea of facing the grocery store again makes you want to cry. You feel like a frizzy, unattractive mess. The pollution is triggering your little girl’s asthma or your four-year-old has gotten malaria twice in two months.

It might be because the people you meet are cold and suspicious of you. Or in your face and critical. Or just in your face, all the time, peeking through your windows. You feel like a curiosity on display, or you feel like an ignored, cast aside monstrosity. You wonder why you ever thought you could love these people who apparently abhor you. 

Or maybe you find yourself spending all day every day learning the difference between a past perfect continuous verb and an intransitive verb. Your body hurts from sitting all day and your brain hurts from thinking all day, yet you know you still have 16 months of this same horrible task ahead of you. And you wonder why you uprooted your happy, productive, meaningful life so that you could spend all of your time looking at meaningless squiggles on a piece of paper. 

Maybe you’ll hate it because your team leader seems distant or your co-workers are too busy for you, and you feel very alone. Maybe it will be because you are a woman in a country that demeans women, and you’ve never felt so insignificant. Maybe it will be because you didn’t anticipate how this new country would change your family dynamics, and it’s so hard and so painful to try to figure out new ways of helping your children find joy.

There are a million reasons why you could hate it. But one thing is for certain: At some point, it will happen.

Yeah, I know, just call me a dream smasher. I can hear you imploring, Do you have a point? Do you even want me to move overseas? 

Absolutely. Stay with me. I’m going somewhere with this.

Here’s my point: I want you to know what you are getting yourself into. When you get to the point of hating your country and your life and your calling, you need to know that this doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Or with your country. Or with your calling.

There are three things you need to know:

Make your calling sure. Do this now, before you go overseas. Your calling to this country needs to be more than just a really strong feeling. It needs to come from hours of prayer, consultation with your pastor, soul-searching with godly friends. You need to know the reasons for why God is sending you to this country: What is the need? How are you uniquely qualified to fill that need? Write it down. Plaster it to your refrigerator. You will want to remind yourself of these reasons when you find yourself hating life. 

Make your faith sure. Do this now, before you go overseas. You must fully understand your worldview. Read a book on how to study the Bible on your own. Read a book on the theology of suffering. Read a book on the theology of poverty. Wrestle with the big questions before you go, so that when they hit you in the face and seek to destroy you, you will already be prepared. 

Perseverance is the whole battle. Not half the battle, not 90% of the battle. The entire battle. Do not give up. Do not give up. Let me tell you something: There will always be a reason to leave. Always. If you want to leave, you will find a reason, and it will be a good reason that will sound honorable to your supporters. 

I know, this is tricky. You are not going to live in this country forever; the right time to leave will come at some point, sooner or later. But make sure your call to leave has just as many prayer-filled, logical reasons as your call was to go. Because if not, then maybe you just need to persevere. Learn one more verb. Meet one more person. Go out your front door, one more time.

And here’s the part where I give you hope. You will not hate this country forever. I promise. Cross my heart; hope to die. If you stick this out and keep your heart open, a lasting love for your host country will sneak up on you. It might take 6 months, or a year, or even five years, but you will not hate it forever. There may be some things about it that you always dislike, of course, but your capacity to love this country will stretch and expand and deepen the longer you are there. One day, it will dawn on you that you don’t hate it, quite so much. And one morning, you will wake up and realize that you love this country. And you will never want to leave. 

Neither Here Nor There, I Do Not Belong Anywhere

by Chris Moyer

Not fully in France. Not in America,
Not by the Seine, Not by the Susquehanna.
My belonging is mixed-up, Sam, you see.
I do not belong fully here or there.
I do not fully belong anywhere!

If you are a Third Culture Kid like me, you may read the word “belonging” and feel that it is an ephemeral or even impossible concept to grasp. Endless strings of transitions leave many TCKs wondering how they could ever find a stable sense of belonging. In many ways, the TCK life feels like my adapted stanza from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (above).

I struggled most intensely with my sense of belonging when I was a teenager and young adult because I experienced an intense push and pull between countries and continents through those years. Each year – from 9th grade through my first year of college – I faced a new phase of starting over. In 9th grade I had my last year in French schools. Then, in 10th grade, I shipped off (of my own volition) to Black Forest Academy in Germany. Next, I had a one-year stop in America (not of my own volition) for 11th grade. Then once again, I hopped the Atlantic to return to BFA for my senior year. Finally, I moved back to the States for college.

As I typed the above paragraph, I could feel my nerves amp up, my palms get sweaty, and butterflies begin to flutter in my stomach. Even though the last of those transitions took place over twenty years ago, the overwhelming sense of dread that accompanies having to start over is a feeling I can never quite shake. Yes, I have processed – and even learned to embrace – what took place during those years. But I can still vividly recall my desperate longing for stability and for a sense of true belonging, something for which my heart ached during that time in my life.

While I was blessed to develop meaningful relationships with many special people during those years – people I never would have met had I stayed in a single, stable environment – I can still keenly feel the tension that constantly pushed and pulled at me. The tension of wanting to fully fit in with those around me, all the while knowing deep inside that I was inherently different from both my French and American peers. My desire to belong remained just outside of my grasp because I was stuck in the perpetual reality of being an outsider in both of my “worlds.”

When living as a teenager in France, many of my classmates thought it was “cool” that I was American. But their understanding was based on the American shows they watched and the American musicians they listened to, rather than inquiring what it was like for me personally to be a US citizen. Instead of questions, I frequently heard comments such as, “You are so lucky to be American!” and, “I don’t understand why you would leave the US to live here!” And, just in case there was any doubt that I was not a local, my peers even nicknamed me, “Made in USA.” In some ways I liked that I had something that other kids wanted, and yet I struggled with being different. In my heart I simply wanted what most young people desire, that is to be like my friends and not stand out.

When in America I looked and sounded like my peers, which on the surface felt good. But on the inside, I felt like a zebra running among horses. Zebras sound like horses when they run, and outside of their black and white stripes, they even look like horses. But zebras and horses are different species. Try as I might, I could not ignore or fully hide my stripes. I did what I could to blend in like a cultural chameleon, but just as zebras cannot be tamed, so I could not suppress my multicultural identity.

At BFA, we were ALL zebras! Our base color (passport cultures) may have been different, as were our stripes (our host cultures), but within this community I finally found my “herd.” This offered me the sense of belonging I had been looking for and longing to find for so long. But before I knew it, graduation came along and we all went our separate ways. Many of us were once again living as zebras among horses.

TCKs do not have the power to change what makes them different from their peers in either their passport or their host countries. And now, as I parent three TCKs of my own, I want to help my children successfully navigate the treacherous path of belonging. While one side of the TCK “coin” represents challenges, the flip side to this is an intense richness that can only be found in this reality. Together, we will celebrate the beauty and accept the losses that come along with the multicultural life they did not personally choose for themselves.

It is my desire to lead my own TCK children to learn, as I did, that you do not need to fully belong to fully engage with those around you. No, you won’t ever “belong” to just one group or culture. And while that can be hard, it is ok. Understanding, acknowledging, grieving, and celebrating are all joined together to create the jumbled richness that is multi-cultural living. While I always felt different from my monocultural peers, coworkers, and family, I grew to accept these differences, while learning to belong — at least mostly. To explain what I mean by “mostly,” I highly recommend watching this short video from Michèle Phoenix: MKs & BELONGING – Three Options to Consider – YouTube

Below are three things (this is not an exhaustive list) that you can do to help your TCK(s) learn to mostly belong wherever they may be.

 

1. Process their sense of belonging with them.

For older TCKs, asking them reflective questions can draw out what is going on beneath the surface of their desire to belong:

  • Where do you feel you most belong?
  • What makes you feel like you belong there or with those people?
  • What it is like for you when you feel like an outsider?
  • What do you do when you feel like an outsider (look for specific behavior that helps or inhibits their desire to belong)?

For younger TCKs, you can still try to ask reflective questions like the ones above, or you can read a book like Swirly, which will draw out feelings and desires through story.

 

2. Help them make decisions that grow a healthy sense of belonging (be sure to process #1 with your kids before moving to #2).

As Michèle Phoenix says in her video, some TCKs will do whatever they can to blend in. They will forsake their heritage for the sake of belonging. While TCKs need to grieve what they have left behind, suppressing where they come from will create additional challenges of unresolved grief along the way.

Because of the mobile nature of their parents’ employment, some TCKs will experience short transition periods such as the one I had in America for my 11th grade year. I did not want to be in America that year, and my attitude and behavior clearly matched my disposition. It can be tempting for TCKs, when they know they will only be somewhere for a short period of time, to stay withdrawn and be unwilling to invest much into their momentary place of residence. This was my approach to my stop-gap year in America for two reasons. The first was that I longed to be back with my friends at BFA. The second was that I knew I was going to be leaving and did not want to get close to people for fear of how hard the goodbyes might be.

Whether TCKs are in a short transitional period, or whether they are in a more permanent phase of life, it is important to help them make conscious decisions that lead them to connect with others. Understandably, it is hard to move toward others when you feel like a cultural outsider, when you are in the middle of grief, or when you’re just plain tired of “putting yourself out there” yet again. But, relationships with peers are a crucial first step to a growing sense of belonging. Below are some ideas (again, not exhaustive) of how to help your kids connect with other kids:

  • Encourage them to invite a classmate to your home to play. If your TCK does not want to risk rejection, be the one to take initiative and invite their classmate’s family over for an afternoon snack or a meal.
  • When possible, have your TCK get involved in something they love to do. In our family we chose to forego extra-curricular activities during our first year in France because we thought the language barrier would be more stressful than the activity would be beneficial. However, after our initial “waiting period” we’ve witnessed our three kids blossoming more and more since beginning their hobbies here.
  • If your TCK(s) goes to local schools, check in with them regularly about how well (or not) they are connecting with their classmates. Some kids naturally jump into new settings with both feet. But others may be shy and insecure about finding their “place,” as we found was the case with one of our children who needed regular encouragement to move toward others. With time and some gentle nudges this kid has really grown in their ability to initiate with others, and as a result, their sense of belonging has been strengthened.

 

3. When possible, gather with other expat families.

There is a good chance that your TCK(s) will feel their greatest sense of belonging when they find themselves with other TCKs. They will likely no longer feel like a zebra running among horses when they come together. There is a comfort, often an unspoken one, through a mutual understanding that comes with being alongside of others from their “herd.” In light of this, make every effort to meet up with other expat families when possible.

When it is not possible to meet in person, whether because of where you live or because of the current global pandemic, your TCK(s) may enjoy having online gatherings with their TCK peers. Our youngest loves to connect with a TCK friend in Eastern Europe and do a “show and tell” with him. Our older kids simply enjoy sitting across the screen and chatting with their TCK friends.

Lastly, let me encourage you to find conferences/retreats to attend with other expat families. There are some great events put on by educational service organizations, mission organizations and others that will be like a breath of fresh air for you and your TCKs. These types of events were some of the biggest highlights of my childhood and I know my kids have loved the handful of retreats they have attended with their TCK peers.

 

In the end my hope is that we can see our kids mostly belong and that the adapted stanza from Sam I Am changes to:

Mostly in France. And in America
By the Seine and the Susquehanna.
I belong mostly, Sam, you see.
I belong mostly here and there.
I belong mostly anywhere.

~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

Grief, the Painter

by Shannon Brink

This year, this season, this current reality: wow. We have pivoted as a family too many times to count, making two cross-continental moves mid-pandemic. After another layer of disappointment was added recently, I was having a difficult time and wrote this. Maybe you can relate.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Grief is the painter and my heart is the canvas.

The hues of purple sorrow and reds of anger. I am drenched. Unanchored to a place, we drifted along untethered. Back to our home country, but nothing was the same. The losses were pale orange as we could not step into our Church, whose doors had closed, could not welcome supporters around our table, because of restrictions, and could not visit our family who were locked tight across a closed border.

There were splashes of yellow as we saw familiar places and enjoyed the trees and mountains I had longed for, but still the losses splashed like dark blues across the yellow until it covered it all.

The colours all mixed together becoming a grey of uncertainty and confusion.

To stay or go, to live locked up here or there, did it matter? We came back anyways, to our adopted country with loose ends and unmet expectations sullenly left behind. We believed that the grey would depart, or so we thought, and were thankful that it seemed like it would be better than when we left it. But then, the dark marched across the canvas like an army and swallowed everything up.

With our packed life, and our hope fresh and baby pink, we landed into the thick of a new and raging danger. And the red of anger with all its loss and disappointment, swallowed the canvas whole. Why have expectations? Why have hopes? Nothing is different here, everything is worse yet again and we must remain sheltering in place. Where is community in isolation? Where is ministry in self-protection? More waiting under the thick grief that has washed over my heart.

But there, the words, fresh on the page:  hope.

A hope capable of starting even here, and increasing. A hope that can be seen behind thick grief, that is magnified in sorrow and pain. Have I lost my hope? No. It’s buried under the colours of grief but the fresh white of it is still there, peaking out from underneath. The grief is in the things I have lost, the tangible things: the comforts, the people, the calling, the meaning, all of the things I have been seeking. But none of these things were ever meant to remain.

Wipe the canvas of my heart clean with your sweat and tears, Lord Jesus. You can count the colours of my grief, and measure and separate them. You can let the colours run off into your hands and remind me of the hope that remains underneath it all. You can repaint this canvas with beauty if I let you.  You are indeed the hope of the nations, the truth blazing through it all. None of this was ever meant to be enough. I can be homeless but not disheartened, unhinged, but not untethered, broken-hearted but blessed because I have a hope beyond reason.

Remain the collector of my heart’s grief and wash me new so they can see the hope of your love in me.

Take the brush from grief, Lord Jesus, and be the rightful painter of my story. Don’t let grief have the final say over my heart, but let hope speak.

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

Shannon is a mother of 4 kids, a nurse, a writer, and a missionary in Malawi. Her family is currently residing in Vancouver, Canada because of COVID. Her writing explores the awkward spaces of life like waiting, grieving, calling, and transition, which seems to become increasingly relevant in our lives and in our global story. She has just finished her first book. Find her at shannonbrink.org.

A Moral Gut Check for the Coming Year—and Beyond

If you’re like me, you saw at least one of the “those we lost” montages covering the deaths of notable people over the last year. And when you see some of the names and faces, you react for some with “I didn’t know they were gone” and for others with “That just happened this year?”

I recently saw a different kind of look back. It was a list of high-profile Christians who’d made the news for their failings in 2020. It included pastors, authors, and ministry leaders, among others. There were a couple I hadn’t heard about, but sadly, I thought of a couple more I could add. Not everyone’s transgressions took place last year, but that’s when some of them came to light.

Do cross-cultural workers also face temptations and sometimes give in to them? The answer, of course, is yes. Those abroad are not immune to temptations “common to man.” But added to that, new surroundings can present uncommon enticements seemingly around every corner—at least uncommon when compared to what used to happen at home.

Does the sin of cross-cultural workers sometimes become public? Does it sometimes cause them to leave the field? Does it sometimes bring their work into question? Does it sometimes destroy relationships? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Many of us have seen it happen, to fellow workers, to teammates, to family members, to friends, to ourselves.

I’ve prepared the following questions as a beginning-of-the-year gut check, with the aim of helping us stay off of someone’s 2021 those-we-lost list. Yes, that’s an excellent goal. But I also realize that for some, having their failings exposed is a necessary step leading to healing and restoration. Being on the list doesn’t have to be an indication of lostness. It can also be an opportunity for being found.

Join me in the asking and the answering:

Do I have the accountability I need?

When asked how I am, do I answer only with platitudes or just talk about my work?

Do I have partners who can accompany me when my work requires me to go to risky places?

Do I recognize the increased temptations that my environment brings?

Are my words or actions abusive—physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually, psychologically, or spiritually—to those whom I have power or authority over?

Am I misusing my authority by requiring others to divulge personal secrets to me?

Am I silent when I see others being mistreated?

Do my jokes and flippant words reveal dark places in my heart?

Am I caught up in a pattern of lying?

Am I giving my spouse and children the time and attention they need? Would I know if I weren’t?

Am I allowing my emotions to lead me into unhealthy relationships?

Do I have needed content filters on all my internet devices? Do I know what options are available?

Am I using “curiosity” as an excuse for sin?

Am I doing anything because of anger towards God?

Am I making financial decisions that I know are unethical or that others would question?

Am I “borrowing” from non-personal accounts with the intent to pay it back when I’m able?

Am I giving enough time to reading the Bible and contemplating it’s lessons so that it can challenge my suspect behaviors and tendencies?

Am I praying for strength to resist and strength to repent?

Am I participating in any activity that is prohibited by my organization, even though I believe it’s OK?

Am I willing, if necessary, to accept discipline from my leadership?

Am I giving enough attention to self care and to healthy ways of dealing with stress?

Do I believe that the extra stresses of my position give me more latitude to look for relief in ways that others wouldn’t be allowed to do?

Am I abusing alcohol, drugs, or medications? Am I addicted to pornography or gambling? Can I really stop any time I want to?

Have I ended a negative behavior only to fall back into it again?

Am I able to accept the truth regardless the source, even if it comes from someone in a lower position who hasn’t followed the proper channels or protocols?

Am I afraid that someone will find out the secret things I’m doing?

Am I hoping that someone will find out the secret things I’m doing?

Am I more apt to say, “But for the grace of God, there go I,” or “None of that could happen to me”?

Do I have someone trustworthy I can share my faults and fears with? Should I give that person a call?

[photo: “Sunrise on the Rock,” by Giuseppe Milo, used under a Creative Commons license]

The question you might be asking

“Is this the end of the movie,” she whispers leaning towards me but keeping her eyes on the screen.

“No, sweetie, this is still the middle,” I whisper back.

Satisfied, she doesn’t ask again until near the end.

In recent weeks this scenario has repeated itself every time we watch a movie. At first I found it an interesting step in her development and wondered at what point she’d no longer need the clarification, sensing the story she is seeing. As an adult I can easily tell that we are in the middle of the movie – the horse hasn’t won the big race yet, the rat hasn’t gone public with his cooking, or the girl hasn’t learned to live with just one arm.  However, in her six-year-old way, she is echoing what we all long to know: does the story end here? In this mess? Is it going to get better? She is trying to orient herself to what is happening, looking for her “story sea legs.”

She’s not the only one.

What if David’s story had ended when Nathan said, “You are that man?”

What was going through Noah’s mind on day 117 after the rain had stopped and he sees nothing but water?

Imagine Peter’s horror when the rooster crowed. Have I blown it? Does the story end here?

In the middle of a messy story line—aka our lives—we want to know, “How much longer is this going to go on? Is there any end to this? How do I know where I am in the story? How do I know if this is near the end or if I am only just beginning? Will there be a happily-ever-after?”

Unlike a movie that is under time and budget constraints – and often looking for a happy ending—life doesn’t come with such tidy restraints to the plot. If you study scripture looking for exact answers to specific questions about your cancer, this government, that job, you won’t find them. Instead, we are promised a helper, a comforter, a companion to journey through the ups and downs as the plots of our lives take all kinds of twists. We are given truths that apply, yes! However, the Bible isn’t a magic eight ball.

David did repent, but his child still died and his story continued; it turns out that his conversation with Nathan was nowhere near the end of his story. Noah had thirty three more days before the water started receding, bringing that phase of the story to an end and launching his family into the next phase and more drama. And dear Peter had not ruined everything.

Your story is different than mine, but one thing is sure, our longing to know that we matter, that our story makes a difference and that we won’t be left in this mess are common to all. To these deep longings, Jesus crises out, “It is finished,” assuring that mess doesn’t win in the end. We matter, we are being used, and though we aren’t there yet, some day we will each turn a page in the stories of our lives and read:

The end


P.S. In these uncertain times, cross-cultural workers on a home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical might wonder where to even start. Start here. The Sabbatical Journey Course adapts to any length of sabbatical and is divided into four quarters: rest, refuel, reequip, and refocus. Early bird price available on January 21st. You can register between January 21 and January 31.

This post first appeared here and in light of the past year, I thought it a helpful reread.

How Well Do You Know Your Host Nation?

I’m a bit out of words lately. I’m in seminary full-time. Covid. Elections. Wars. Planes crashing. Racial tension. Political violence. Conspiracy theories.

It’s a lot.

I have way more questions than answers. Some of my questions are around the gaps in the training I received before moving abroad and in the ongoing trainings and mentorships I have access to. By not addressing these gaps, we risk perpetuating problems as expatriates continue to export our culture and values without fully engaging in our new contexts.

I’m going to share some of the questions I am asking myself. I hope you will take some time to think about them.

Do you know the history of your host country from the perspective of its citizens?

            Ancient history, precolonial history, colonial history, and post-colonial history?

            National heroes? Legends, myths, folktales?

            Religious history, from multiple perspectives?

            Racial, class, gender history?

When did women gain the right to vote? How many women serve in leadership? How are they perceived?

Did your country have slavery? Were the people enslaved by others? 

What have been recent and historic conflicts? What were they about? How were they resolved?

Do you know what role your passport nation has played in any of this history?

Did you learn this from Westerners writing about them or from them? Does this knowledge come tainted from an outsider’s viewpoint?

Do you read book written by authors from your host country? 

Do you listen to local music?

Do you read the local newspaper, listen to the radio, follow leaders on social media?

Do you know how people view people of your gender, race, ethnicity, class, stature? Do you know why?

Do you know what people who look like you have done here in the past? For better and for worse?

I meet far too many people who could care less about these things in the countries where they work and are supposedly “serving.” I don’t understand how a person hopes to “make a difference” if they don’t know how things are. What do they hope will be “different?” Unless they mean more like themselves.

Before leaving your passport nation there are some things you need to do, namely start learning about where you are going and commit to never, never stopping. Those of us who are already gone need to do this work. 

I now believe ongoing local cultural training must be required by all organizations who send people abroad. I don’t mean “culture” like food and clothing and language. I mean deep, heart level, historic, worldview forming topics. The possibilities are endless. 

What would you add?

From the Leadership Team: A Response to the Storming of the U.S. Capitol

Marilyn Gardner, Jonathan Trotter, and I shared this note on Facebook last week. Since some of our readers receive only the e-mail articles, we thought it would be worth sharing in this format as well. ~Elizabeth


We at A Life Overseas are a community of global Christians. We seek to serve and support the work of God’s people all over the world. We do not belong to any one nation, tribe, or tongue; rather, we belong to the Kingdom of God.

Nationalism and violence will never usher in the Kingdom. As a leadership team, we remember this truth: wherever we are from and wherever God calls us in the world, our hope is not in governments or nation states, but in the wonderful counselor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

For those of you wanting help to process last week’s events at the U.S. Capitol building, here are the words that Jonathan Trotter shared on his personal page:

“When nationalism starts parading as patriotism, you end up with a riot.” (From an article I wrote for A Life Overseas. In July, 2017.)

The roots of nationalism have produced their natural fruit, and will continue to do so. Tragically, those roots have too often found fertile soil in our churches.

That must end.

There is a better way. A much better way.

What follows is also from the aforementioned article, God Bless America! (and other dangerous prayers).

As followers of Christ, our great desire is that he would be made great. We desire that his greatness would be known everywhere, not our country’s. We want the banner of our God to be raised up, that his Love would be seen, and that all those who see it will run to Him and be saved.

As citizens of America, we should celebrate and honor and cherish the United States. She remains a fantastical experiment in human government, bought with blood and sacrifice. (She is far from perfect, of course, and some of her story is violent and abusive and should be labeled as such. But that is an article for another time.)

As citizens of the Kingdom, we should celebrate and cherish and love the global Church, the Bride, wherever she may be found. Her flag is our flag.

And she is not just in America. She’s in Algeria and Russia and Brazil. There are millions in the Kingdom who speak Arabic and Urdu and Mandarin. Our fellow citizens live in the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon.

And everyone who’s not already a part of the Kingdom of God? Well, we want them to know they’re invited!

So may God bless Algeria and Afghanistan and Argentina.

And may God bless America!

We should pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We should pray for justice to run down like a mighty river. And we should pray for a heart like His that wants no one to perish, not even ISIS soldiers.

Is it unAmerican to talk like this? I hope not, but maybe.

Our first allegiance is not to Rome, or Washington. It certainly must not be to elephants, donkeys, or three-lettered news agencies. This was settled long ago; our first allegiance, our deepest love, is towards the King.

I do hope God blesses America. I pray that He blesses America with peace. I pray that we would learn to love one another, and perhaps even our enemies.

I pray that more and more people would meet Christ, and be changed.

I pray for the religionists like Paul, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the government contractors like Zacchaeus, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the militant nationalists like Simon, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the white collars like Nicodemus and the blue collars like Peter.

I pray for the rich women like Joanna, and the used women who show up at the well at noon.

I pray that they would all meet Christ and be forever changed.

Will you join me?


After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)

World Events & the Fragility of Goodness

It’s a Monday and depending on where you are in the world, and in what time zone you woke up, you have most likely been assaulted by different headlines around the globe.

  • In Indonesia, divers are still searching wreckage for the tragic air crash that killed all those aboard.
  • Lebanon considers a tighter lockdown as Covid-19 cases surge
  • Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are in Russia for talks
  • Snow and ice disrupt lives in Spain
  • China denies coercive birth control methods
  • And the United States is rumbling with the fallout of an insurrection that stormed the capital building, with resultant shouts for another impeachment of the sitting president.

No matter where you are, it’s a lot. All of these call for prayer and some call for a deep soul searching lament for the state of the world. And none of these headlines include our personal tragedies and sadness, our collective displacement and loss.

But this is the world we live in, the world we engage in on a daily basis. We can wisely shut off the news for a while, we can wisely disengage for a certain number of hours in a day and week. But we can’t escape our world, nor are we called to.

It’s within this context that I have been thinking a lot about “goodness” – that word that speaks to the quality of being kind, virtuous, morally good. What does it mean to grow into goodness, to grow beyond the childlike attribute of being “good” and grow into someone whose character makes you think of true goodness.

As children, many of us hear the words “Be good” on a regular basis. “Be good for grandma!” “Be good to your brother!” It is said so often that it sometimes loses both its meaning and its power. Perhaps the importance of how we can mature into goodness is also lost along the way, lost in a world that doesn’t necessarily reward goodness beyond childhood. Instead, being savvy, smart, intellectual, and quick-tongued and quick penned are what gives us an edge in many spheres.

As I’ve thought about goodness, I came upon the story of Bulgaria’s Jews in World War 2 as relayed in a book I am reading called The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. In this particular section, the author is telling the story of a Jewish family in Bulgaria who ended up in Palestine. Central to their survival in Bulgaria is the larger story of the Jews in Bulgaria.

A deportation order had been written that would deport all of Bulgaria’s 47,000 Jews. Unlike most of Europe, this planned deportation was never carried out. It wasn’t carried out because ordinary people and leaders found out about it. The Metropolitan and the Bishop of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stood up for the Jews, approaching places of power and “imploring the king to demonstrate compassion by defending the right to freedom and human dignity of the Jews.” A member of parliament (Dimitar Peshev) publicly went against his government, gathering signatures and approaching the king stating that a deportation “would be be disastrous and bring ominous consequences upon the country.” Along with these, leaders of professional organizations and businesses, and ordinary people across the country stood by the Jewish population.

The deportation order was stopped temporarily in March of 1943, and then indefinitely in May. The Jewish population of the entire nation of Bulgaria did not die in gas chambers.

The author goes on to say this:

“None of this would have happened withough what the Bulgarian-French intellectual Tzvetan Todorov calls the ‘fragility of goodness’: the intricate, delicate, unforeseeable weave of human action and historical events”

Evil spreads quickly and virulently. Like a virus, it is hard to stop once it takes root. Todorov says that once it is introduced into public view, it spreads easily, whereas goodness is temporary, difficult, rare, fragile. And yet possible.

I have been thinking about this story and the idea of the fragility of goodness all week. Each person in Bulgaria who spoke up for the Jews, people who were their friends, their neighbors, their business partners, and their community members, is a chain in the link of goodness that ultimately preserved life and human dignity. While Tdorov speaks to the fragility and the “tenuous chain of events” that led to a stay in the deportation order, maybe it is not as tenuous as he supposes. Maybe what appeared tenuous and fragile was far stonger then he could imagine.

In my experience, goodness is far stronger than we know, far more powerful than it may appear. Its power is in its moral strength and its stubborn refusal to quit. That’s what I see, not only in this story, but in the small ways that goodness moves in, refusing to give up, determined that evil will not have the final word.

How can I chase goodness the way I chase beauty? When will I get to the point where I choose good without even thinking because it is so much a part of me? I don’t know. But it gives me hope when I think of ordinary people going about their lives in Bulgaria in 1943, deciding that they would speak up and out, never knowing that they would be a part of a chain called the fragility of goodness.

In all of this, I am reminded of Christ, the author of goodness, the one who strengthens the fragility of goodness making it into a force that challenges and destroys evil, for it is he who daily calls me, who daily calls all of us in this community, to chase after goodness, truth, and beauty.


Note: all quotes are from The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

Announcing a New Online Event for Women

by Arden Howell

Exhaustion, Isolation, Loneliness, Burnout… Do these seem like the words defining the season? If so, you’re not alone 

This seems to be a frequent topic among the missions community and other ministry workers, but what are we, as a global Christian body, doing to combat the issue?  

There’s tremendous energy and momentum toward getting global workers on the field, and even debriefing once they’ve left the field, but there’s often a lack of intentional effort to provide holistic care while workers are serving overseas. Thus, many people ministering around the world feel alone and are hanging on by an emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical thread.  

We’ve seen increased isolation beginning in 2020 lead to more intense feelings of burnout around the world, even outside of the missions community. People worldwide are being faced more head-on with mental and emotional health, and how that affects their vocational and relational lives.   

Tough decisions have forced cross-cultural families into uncertainty or unplanned circumstances. But it’s also forged unexpected friendships and empathy on a global scale.  

For Thrive, a ministry focused on replenishing women ministering overseas, 2020’s changes led to a brand-new event, Gather, where more than 400 women assembled online in July for a five-day, web-based event full of speaker sessions, prayer groups, worship, self-care times, social hours, and more.  

Gather was a true “silver lining” for many women serving around the world and women who were brought off the field or prevented from returning to their home countries for furlough or sabbaticals for the summer. Here are some of their responses:

“Tears filled my eyes as I saw the faces of all the other participants. Wow. Thank you so much for this!” Darla, Gather 2020 Attendee

“I’m encouraged by the large number of participants and the level of participation in the chats, in addition to the great material we’re hearing.” Barbara, Gather 2020 Attendee

“Seeing all of you, I get the sense of not being alone in this crazy global worker life.” Lynell, Gather 2020 Attendee

This February, Gather is happening again. Women from all sending nations ministering outside their home culture are invited to join the Thrive family for five days of refreshment, encouragement, community, teaching, prayer, resourcing, laughter, and so much more.   

Even as 2021 begins to see new changes and questions, we can be reminded that none of us is alone – regardless of passport country, host country, or heart country.  

 

More About Gather: 

February 22-26, 2021 

$50 Registration Fee (Access to All 35+ Hours of Live Sessions) 

Inviting All Women Serving Cross-Culturally 

Register and Learn More at thrive.is/gather2021 

 

About Thrive:

Thrive is a ministry that exists to replenish women who are serving cross-culturally by providing spiritual resources through Connection, providing transformative experiences through Retreats & Events, providing authentic one-on-one relationships through Alongside, and by increasing Advocates for them as they invest in Kingdom work. Learn More at thriveministry.org.  

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Arden is the Copywriter for Thrive, a ministry devoted to serving women who are living and ministering overseas. Thrive exists to replenish women by providing spiritual resources through Connection, transformative experiences through Retreats & Virtual Gatherings, authentic one-on-one relationships through Alongside, and increase Advocates for them as they invest in Kingdom work.