Permission to Prioritize Your Birth Abroad

by Chandler Gilow

Birth is important. It’s one of the most human experiences, shared by women and families in every culture on earth. It is both universal and highly personal. The experience is also completely unique, no matter how many births you have. Birth is life changing every time, and your experience, whether good or bad, will impact your life for years to come. 

As a labor and delivery nurse, I have seen a few key components that set up families to navigate this season well no matter the outcome: planning, education, advocacy, and support. If moms and dads set aside the time to research their options, learn about the birth process, and gameplan for potential outcomes, they can advocate with confidence in almost any situation. Likewise, families who are intentional about lining up the support they need can better handle deviations from their plans. 

This transitional season always brings stress, albeit happy stress, into the family unit as you make decisions about your healthcare team and parenting. However, these potential stressors can be compounded for those living abroad.  

A lot of my expat friends had a baby in their first 3 years abroad, and from what I’ve gathered, this is a pretty common story. In the first 3 years you are still transitioning to your new culture, learning a new language, healthcare system, and community. Not to mention potentially helping older TCKs adjust, working with visa restrictions, possibly relocating for birth, and don’t forget ALL the paperwork.  

This season was meant to be filled with joy and excited anticipation, not overwhelming stress. The great news is that it can be fun and wonderful if you allow yourself to invest the time and energy.  

When we found out we were expecting our second baby, we were about a year into language learning in the Middle East. We were excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. Our first birth in the U.S had not gone as planned. The calm birth I’d hoped for ended in an emergency cesarean with a long healing time. 

We had not prepared well. I thought that because I was a nurse I could get by with halfheartedly focusing on a childbirth education class. In the end we had a beautiful little girl, but also some residual trauma. I decided for my second that I would unapologetically devote my time to preparing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. All the hours of research, preparation, and relocation to a city to get the birth team I needed, ended in a very healing VBAC abroad. All that time was worth it to me because we came back healthier than before the birth.  

Since then, I have talked to so many families who feel guilt for investing time and resources into preparing for their birth. They feel like they are taking time away from language learning, ministry, or their job. They struggle to justify spending money on classes or a doula because they raise money and do not feel like they can make a case to supporters. I have also seen families with older children approach birth abroad without thinking through the nuances that could impact their experience.  

The truth is, birth abroad is amazing and beautiful, and it can be a great way to connect with your local culture. However, it also comes with a lot of nuance that needs to be considered. Every family is different and needs to be respected. They need to prioritize different decisions in their pregnancy/birth/postpartum experience to thrive.

You may need to hire a doula, pay for a birth class, change healthcare providers, travel to another city/country to get a level of healthcare you feel comfortable with. It could mean not feeling guilty reading birth books at night instead of running though your language flashcards one more time, taking time away from your typical day to interview multiple care providers, or paying a little extra to get a private postpartum room. 

Whatever you choose to prioritize should not be done with guilt or seen as an indulgence. It should be seen as an investment to keep your family resilient and to increase longevity on the field. After all, there are no do-overs in birth. I would much rather see families thrive through this season with adequate education, resources, and community instead of simply thriving or needing healing postpartum.  

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Chandler is a wife, mom of two, RN, and Lactation Specialist who started The Global Birth Coach after seeing a hole in expat care during her birth abroad. She is now stateside with her family while her husband finishes his PhD. She is passionate about empowering families to thrive in the perinatal period. You can find her @theglobalbirthcoach on Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestThe Expat Birth Podcast is a podcast devoted to sharing birth stories from abroad. It is released monthly on all major platforms. Contact her through her website or email: info@theglobalbirthcoach.com. 

 

When Doors Close

by Carol Ghattas

“You have ten days to leave the country.” I was shocked. There I stood, pregnant with our first child, excited about the future, and this government official was bringing it all to an end. What had we done? “You’re a risk to national security,” he said. Though I should have held my tongue, the words came quickly out of my mouth in Arabic: “I’m five months pregnant! How am I a risk to national security?” Unlike me, my husband, Raouf, didn’t argue. He knew it would do no good and could even make our situation worse. He thanked the man, and we left his office.

Heading straight to the home of our colleagues, we hugged, cried, and prayed, knowing the days ahead would be crazy and uncertain. We had so much to do to quickly bring closure to our two years in this precious land. While Raouf spent hours doing paperwork and arranging transportation for our belongings, I packed and poured my heart out to the Lord.

I wish I could tell you this would be our only move in twenty years of overseas service, but it wasn’t. I’ve experienced a lot of closed doors and can tell you this for certain: when one door closes, another opens. Knowing that fact does not remove the pain of the closure, but it does remind me of who’s in charge and helps me to accept the change of course.

Sometimes doors close before you can get into a country. Though our original appointment was to Lebanon, doors were closed to Americans at the time. We would live and serve in two other countries before we eventually arrived there, due to being kicked out of Syria. In my mind, I should have been excited that we were finally going to get to move in, but my heart was torn. I had fallen in love with another place and people; I wasn’t ready to leave yet, but we did—we had no other choice.

We crossed the border with our cat and my hormones raging. It was a place still recovering from years of civil war. Chaos ruled. Families who had been protecting mission property were displaced because of our arrival. No one seemed to want us there. What was God thinking?

As I wallowed in my grief, in a land I now saw as a place of exile, the Lord spoke to me out of Jeremiah 29. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” This was the land in which I was to “build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…” God was showing me that even when he leads us to a hard place, we are to live. 

So, that’s what I did. Our four years in Lebanon were a season for me—the season of having babies and pouring into them. I had not one but two sons in that country, and when I look back, I realize the healthcare in my land of exile was so much better than the land of harvest. My husband had ministry opportunities there that allowed him to touch believers from across the region. We still had struggles, but we determined to put our hand to the plow of good deeds and harvest and not look back.

Then it happened—I settled. I became comfortable in Lebanon and thought we’d live there for the rest of our careers. We were preparing to move into an area of the country to better serve the majority, as soon as we returned from a short furlough. However, just weeks before we were to leave, our own organizational leadership asked us to move. What!? How could they? 

They had good reasons, but I didn’t want to hear them. I stayed home and packed for an actual move to an unknown land, while my husband made a survey trip to one of the possible places we could go. While he was away, I came across a magazine about that land—it revealed there was no established church. That did it for me. We were needed there. God’s hand was in this. My husband returned and asked me what God had been saying before he shared about what he had seen. What I heard, he confirmed. We moved again. One door closed, another opened.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has probably closed doors for many of you in recent months. That door may have been just a wall of separation between you and the people you love, or it may have left you stuck either in your home country or a place you simply went on vacation. Sudden change is hard and can shake our faith until we realize that the shut door hasn’t separated us from the God who guides our steps. 

Our biggest hurdle in facing some changes is coming to terms with the fact that we had no say in the matter. It’s a matter of control. When Scripture tells us to number our days, it doesn’t mean everything that happens in our lives should be neatly laid out in our daily planners. Rather, it means that He alone knows the number of our days; my job is to give each one to him, no matter what it brings.

When 2020 began, I wrote a prayer in my journal. It was full of expectation and hope at all God was doing in my life. I was looking forward to increased speaking engagements and upcoming books I’d write. Then, just like you experienced, everything that was good and hopeful stopped. But because I had thirty years of closed doors behind me, I recognized this for what it was—an opportunity to stop and see what God was doing.

While I had my own struggles during the pandemic, it also gave me the margin I needed for God to speak and work in my life. I was able to pivot and see that I had more time to write than ever before, since I work full-time as a librarian. Other activities were taken away, so my evenings were freer and quieter. I was able to work hard and actually finish a book on, of all things—closed doors. God has a sense of humor too.

When doors closed during my time overseas, I wasn’t always so willing to go through the next one, but God, in his patience, didn’t let that prevent me from seeing what he was doing in this new place and how he wanted me to join him there. 

I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you’re standing in front of a closed door and don’t know what to do next, or you’ve been pushed through another and are floundering with loss of purpose. It’s also possible that you recognize a door needs to be closed, because this season in your life is changing. Wherever you are, remember that the One who led you through this first door continues to be by your side and even goes before you through each door ahead. 

Rest in the knowledge that he has the big picture in view and only asks your obedience for the next good thing he opens before you. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 31:21

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Carol B. Ghattas has over thirty years of experience in cross-cultural ministry and has lived in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Now back in the United States, she maintains an active blog site, lifeinexile.net. She is a writer and speaker on missions, Islam, and other topics. Her newest book, When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way, is now available through online book distributors. For more information or to contact Carol, visit her website: lifeinexile.net.

What if you used these “7 Household Rules?”

I preached on Sunday about “What does it mean to be the family of God?” In preparation I studied about how family language is used in the Bible; I also pondered how family language forms us. The idea of being siblings (plural) is used more than 150 times and the singular form of a sibling (often “brother”) is used more than 120 times in the New Testament.

I’ve been wondering how it would form me, form us if we really, really, really thought of each other as siblings. If my default way of thinking of you, working with you, and interreacting with you was that of a sibling. 

If I saw you as my sister and my brother and I saw myself as your sister.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells his readers and listeners that the are “also members of his [God’s] household,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

Just think, we are members of the same household.

As I worked on my sermon I made a list of rules from the household I grew up in to help ground myself in this idea of “rules”:

1. “No hitting your sisters;” and as we got older I’m embarrassed to share that our parents had to institute “no hitting the driver of the car” for safe sibling driving. 

2. “Take a ‘no thank you’ serving of food.” (Being normal children, we did not love everything that Mom cooked; but out of respect for Mom we could not refuse to try something she had worked hard to make. “No thank you servings” were small, but they fostered less fussing because we knew the deal.)

3. “Write thank you notes for gifts.”

4. “When you hear your dad whistle, come home or see what he wants.” 

5. “Dinner as a family is important.”

These are good and reasonable rules, yes? They formed our family and created bonds and norms for interacting.

I got to thinking, what if we—this household of cross-cultural workers—had our own set of household rules? What might they be? How would it form us if we read them regularly? If they were tucked in a Bible, hung on the fridge, or placed in the bathroom?

So, I wrote seven household rules for us.

In this Cross-Cultural Workers’ “Household”
aka Team/Ministry/Big-Wide-Internet-World:

1. We are siblings. You are my sister. You are my brother. I am your sister/brother.

(We are not competitors. We are not strangers. We are not indifferent to each other. We are family.)

2. All have something to contribute and we do not rank contributions.

(What you do is not more or less valuable than what I do. And vice versa, what you do is not more or less valuable than what I do. What you do matters. What I do matters.)

3. We will speak kindly of and to each other (and hopefully in many languages, wink!)

(We do not have to agree and we can have lively discussions on important subjects, but we will “use our words” kindly.)

4. We will act out of love — love for God, love for cultural variety, love for each other.

(We will not act out of fear. Our words and actions will be fueled by love and curiosity, not fear or suspicion.)

5. We will confront each other in love.

(We will not turn a blind eye or “hope that things will get better” or wait for something to explode. When we know something is off, or questionable, or just plain wrong, out of love for everyone in this household, we will address it).

6. We will hope for the best for each other.

(Your “success” or open door does not diminish me, my hopes, or what I want to do.)

7. We are siblings. You are my sister. You are my brother. I am your sister/brother.

(This is where the household of God begins and ends: in relationship, in remembering who we are, in remembering whose we are, in thinking correctly of ourselves and others.)


Referring to us as “siblings” more than 150 times in the New Testament is no fluke. The authors were training Christ followers how to think of themselves and each other. I wonder what a difference it would make if we got back to using more family language in our conversations, correspondence, and even in our thoughts. It won’t magically change everything, but those sisters that I used to need the rule “not to hit the driver” when we were teens? They are still in my life. We are so, so, so different. If we weren’t sisters, I’m not sure they’d want to be my friend (kidding! Sort of). But because they are my sisters and we lived in the same household and operated under similar rules, our differences are far outweighed by our love and commitment for each other.

As I type this post to you, that is my fervent hope and prayer for us too—all of us who go in the name of Christ—that our differences are far outweighed by our love and commitment for each other. 

So, rooted in relationship, I don’t want to just end this post with a final sentence, but with a sisterly blessing for you, for us.

May we see each other as siblings and may we operate under these “household rules.”

Much love to you, my siblings,
Amy

P.S. Want to print out these “Household Rules?” You can 🙂

Photo by Andre Halim on Unsplash

Does Change Ever Get Easier?

As I drove around in my very new neighborhood, I recognized a few things. I was a minority ethnically. As I shared with people about where we’d come from, they couldn’t warn me enough about the change in weather we’d experience between Orlando and Chicago. (Many of our neighbors in Florida had called us ‘crazy’ for making such a change.) And I desperately missed ‘normal’.

I know this blog is about living overseas and I’ve lived that life, making a couple of those transitions. It was hard, so hard. And it is hitting tough places again as I come to this place of a thousand mile domestic transition to somewhere I have never lived. The reality is that our surrender to change costs us, and in many ways, it doesn’t get easier no matter where we are. Although, I am not learning a new language and completely new culture, in some ways, this change is harder. My kids are older and hurting in ways they didn’t when they were little. I am not as young or resilient as I was before. The sense of adventure is less, and the hard times of the past can haunt.

But, I am here, showing up afresh in the midst of great upheaval. Because no matter where we are in our lives, we can experience the solidarity of our common humanity and the nature of change. We can reach out and remember we are not alone in feeling how we feel. And together, we can remember the truth that we are deeply, truly, fully loved in all of the ups and downs of tumultuous times.

The following are some of the most basic truths to remember in the midst of change. They are not earth-shattering principles. However, maybe, just maybe if we remember them together we will make that collective jump in a stuck elevator. We can, this time, see the doors open as we all walk into a new world.

  1. Changes come and go but God never changes: As I am right in the middle of fresh change, this means more than ever. Not only am I navigating a major transition, my father–a rock to me–is gravely ill. I am also knee-deep in edits for a coming book. Often these days I struggle for that anchor. And I am led right back to the God who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. There is nothing better for the storm-tossed waters of change, than this anchor, this hope in an unchanging God.
  2. Grace must be abundant: If I were given the chance to re-do my overseas transitions, I would add lots and lots of grace. I realize in a certain sense I have been given another chance to walk a major life overhaul and I know that I know that I know I need grace like the air I breathe. Grace for me, my husband, my precious children. Grace for new colleagues, friends and neighbors who will surely disappoint me in their inability to completely meet my needs. Grace to meet each day and receive its new, sunrise-laden mercies.
  3. Kindness is the great equalizer: Amid other cultures whether in the U.S. or abroad, nothing replaces the simple kindnesses we can give to others. Patience with the logistics of living a new life and the attendant at the window who is helping us complete this never-ending task. A smile for a stranger of another race no matter how awkward it feels. A helping hand for a new neighbor even if we hoped they would be the first to reach out. The kindness of God is ever leading a broken world to repentance, a turning back to his goodness which heals.
  4. Humility is an ever-present guide: Whether we are entering another culture of have been present in our current one for many, many years, we are called to be lifelong learners. There is no substitute for humility. There is no joy-killer more potent than complaint about the way things are different in a new country, city or workplace. God has a plan to make us like himself. This buffing out, uncovering the glory, far outshines the seeming glow of perfection in our most competent, comfortable ways of doing life. And most poignantly, he is ever close to the meek and lowly of heart. We are called to learn his rhythm, his way of navigating the constant change. He knows transition like no other ever has for he experienced it all in his journey from heaven to earth and among the earth.
  5. Learn how to be yourself again: This one can be so hard for me. Right now I feel very, very white in my current context. And I can overthink all of my actions towards those of other ethnicities. I become someone stifled, and completely other. I am experiencing this in a humbling way in a great new friendship. In keeping with all of the above, I must trust an unchanging God who gives abundant grace and calls me to kindness and humility. But, the results of each interaction, and the depth of each relationship, are God’s to hold and not mine. The best I can do is live out my unique personality for his glory. In whichever situation I am in, living out the Gospel as his special beloved child, will make a beautiful way for me to simply be myself.

I hope you don’t hear me saying this is easy, without pain or somehow formulaic. Rather, I hope you hear that you are not alone in your struggles with transition. It is a part of our legacy this side of Eden. A fallen world is not a welcome place to go through many of the changes we experience. But, a good God is ever with us, upholding us and this whole vast universe. In all of the shifting ways of this life, he is calling us home to his unchanging heart for us and his plan to hold us and hold us forever.

With you in the journey,

Abigail

Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrfice”

This was my original post on A Life Overseas in 2012 when the site launched. Today it is my last regular post. I am stepping away, pulled by my other writing, being in seminary, family, and work and I know there are fresh voices out there to hear from. It has been an honor to write in this space for so many years. Thank you for reading along and sharing your stories. I’ll still be around and you can always find me on socials and my website.

Hudson Taylor said it, David Livingstone said it. “I never made a sacrifice.” A life spent as a foreigner, away from traditional comfortsaway from family and home country, a life of talking about Jesus, in these men’s opinions was no sacrifice.

While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree. What these men did with their lives in China and on the African continent is the very definition of sacrifice.

A sacrifice is a giving up of something loved, something precious in order to gain something better.

I heard a young woman working in Uganda say that her life doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In the next sentence she talked about hardships and how some days she doesn’t know how she will get through the day. That is sacrifice. I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.

Every step of obedience, every life choice, every risk taken, whether it is getting married or not, having children or not, living overseas or not…brings with it a gain and a loss. Negating the reality of the sacrifice cheapens the reward, the sense of joy, fulfillment, purpose, the God-honoring obedience.

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:

“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”

“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”

“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones.I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

And feeling the sacrifice makes the privilege, the reward, so deeply precious, so treasured, so urgently prayed for.

Livingstone said (emphasis mine),

It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Not a sacrifice, but rather a privilege.

Can this life not be both? Are sacrifice and privilege juxtaposed against one another or could they perhaps go hand in hand? It is a privilege to sacrifice.

Living with hair in the drain instead of my head, away from loved ones during a crisis and on everyday days, international borders between me and my kids, living like this is a sacrifice. It hurts, it tears, it might leave you weeping on the couch some nights, snortling into your husband’s shoulder. But it is not in vain. It is not without joy. It is not without faith. Feel the pain and the joy of it and then render everything sacrificed as rubbish and count the privilege as gain.

I will not say that I have never made a sacrifice.

I will say that I have never made a sacrifice in vain. I have never made a sacrifice that didn’t bring with it a deep, residing joy. I have never made a sacrifice without faith that there is a reward coming which will, like Livingston said, far outweigh these present sufferings.

With my eyes steady on the prize, I sacrifice. Never in vain, (almost) never without joy. Always with faith.

In what ways do you feel the sacrifice? Experience the privilege?

When the Backpack is too Heavy

Sheila Walsh tells a poignant story of her son wanting to leave home at the tender age of six. Evidently he set out with his backpack and jacket, heading toward a pond near home. She, wanting to allow freedom but aware of his young age, kept a watchful eye from a window where she could ensure safety as well as give him his independence. After a short time he was back at the door, offering no explanation other than a six-year-old going on sixteen response of “It’s good to be home!”

Later that night as she was tucking him in, she brought up the adventure and asked him about it. His response was matter of fact “I would have gone farther but my backpack was too heavy.”

As I listened to her, I was overwhelmed by the truth in a child’s simple comment.

I would have gone farther, but my backpack was too heavy.

Sheila Walsh

These days, I feel like this child. My backpack feels so heavy, the things I carry too weighty. My adult kids and their lives; friends I know who are aching from pain, some that can be spoken and other that can’t; patients and family members struggling beyond believability; worries and fear about the future and regret about the past – a backpack so heavy I can scarcely move.

It’s all mixed together with the good stuff so I’m not always sure what the good stuff is. Sort of like my kids backpacks used to be at the end of a semester, where a mashed up moldy sandwich, an apple, and crushed chips are crumbled up together in what used to be a brown lunch bag, but mixed in with this is a perfectly good juice carton and packaged granola bar. Instead of sorting through, I throw all of it away.

I’ve always thought that the primary lesson to this story was the obvious one – a heavy backpack preventing a child from the joy and distance of the journey. If I just lighten my load I would go farther, make more of an impact, be freer to serve. And to be sure, this is critically important. But dig deeper and the symbolism goes farther.

This little six-year-old knew exactly where to go to remember who he was. and where to drop off his backpack. He knew the way Home. He knew that Home was light, and love and Mom. He knew that there would be no condemnation, just warm chocolate chip cookies, cold milk and a listening heart. He knew that at home he could rest and move forward, his burden gone. He knew home was a place to be reminded of who he was.

As I think about the times I turn around because the backpack is too heavy, I hope I have the sense of a six-year-old who goes back home, and drops off his back pack. I hope I can go back to Jesus, the source and author of love, where condemnation is erased and the load is lifted, replaced with his yoke, his burden. Back to the Church, where I can be reminded of who I am, back to the Author of all that is good and holy and right.

I don’t know where in the world you are today and what things in your backpack make it too heavy. It may be transition and displacement. It may be loss of place. It may be the burden of betrayal or feeling like you’re wasting your life. It may be a struggling marriage or longing for a life partner. It may be the sorrows of your children and their needs that keep you up at night. It may be chronic illness, depression or anxiety. It may be the death of one you love.

I do know that whatever it is, home and rest are waiting. Not home the place, but Home – the person and presence of Jesus.

Clueless

by Jacqueline Scott

When we head into another culture to live among the local people, our hope is to understand them at least enough to become someone they will listen to. But the reality is that we are clueless, especially when their culture is very different from ours. It’s good to recognize that. It’s where we have to start. After all, we’re the guests in their country. When they look at us like we’re from Mars because they can’t understand a word we’re attempting to say in their language, we need to laugh at ourselves with them. That means getting over any feelings of self-importance. This was time consuming and exhausting for me. I thought I was pretty important.

In his book Cross Cultural Servanthood, Duane Elmer offers perspective on what it means to serve someone in another culture, then outlines the process of serving others cross-culturally. He suggests six steps: openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, and serving. But it’s easier to rush into someone’s world, do what we think they need most, feel good about ourselves and our sacrifice, then rush home — often having done more damage than good.  So, our first years in Central Asia were largely about being close enough to people to learn about them and build trust so that our serving could be mutual and meaningful.

We shared a courtyard with a young local family. The house was small with two stories and two bedrooms.  Our four kids were in bunkbeds in one bedroom. The small yard was a God-send for our young energetic family, especially when the alternative was a playground strewn with broken glass and questionable characters. Though this yard was a combination driveway, garden, dog pen, storage, and place to dry clothes, it offered ample opportunities for our kids to play.  

One day Zoya, the young wife across the yard, was over and we talked about our kids. Happy that I was finally getting along in Russian, I asked if she thought she would have another child since they only had a little boy the same age as our youngest. She flippantly answered, “Oh, I’ve already thrown so many away.” I looked at her, hoping I misunderstood. But I knew that word. The one that was used when you throw away garbage.

It pierced me. There was no sign of conscience or concern that this practice might be wrong. In the Soviet times it was their method of birth control; they knew nothing else. In that moment I knew I was much farther away from understanding them than I even thought. I had so much to learn about the core of their beliefs.  

We would always be anomalies to them. Somehow though, it didn’t keep us from loving them or them from loving us, or from them wanting to hear why we came and what kept us there. They were so hungry for meaning, yet they were trapped in a convoluted belief system that denied God. Our neighbors had grown up in that belief system. It takes time to unravel long-entrenched falsehoods in order to see Truth. 

Too often we are clueless as to what assumptions we bring to life. We aren’t really aware of the bottom lines that we hold as self-evident, the axioms. And sometimes the people we serve aren’t aware of their assumptions, either. As one of our Soviet friends considered faith, she came to realize that she readily accepted axioms or “givens” in math.  An axiom is a basic proposition of a system that, although unproven, is used to prove the other propositions in the system. Every belief system has to start with a basic proposition. Once she accepted God as the “given,” she was free to really believe Him. And her life was lifted.

Becoming part of a different country takes you far from your old world. You are challenged and changed beyond anything you expected.  Your view of yourself and God morphs. Then, when you head back into your home culture, you feel clueless all over again. At times you even feel like a social martyr; you are always a stranger, an anomaly. You’re left out of the plans because you won’t be there, or you’re held at a distance since you’re not in on what they’re talking about. Some cross-cultural workers face this more than others. Though I love our times in our home culture, there’s an underlying feeling of “it’s not mine anymore.” So, we’re an anomaly here and an anomaly there. Where’s our home? That is a struggle for us and even more so for our kids when they navigate their passport countries. 

But I find comfort in Hebrews 11 where it actually says “God was not ashamed to be called their God” because they were looking for a heavenly city. Their hope was in a heavenly home. I find myself wrestling with this regularly. I’m working on putting my hope in a heavenly home while using my earthly home for heavenly purposes.

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Jacqueline Scott is author of Your Life is Re-markable! She was captivated by God at age 12, became an RN, got a BS in Bible, and then a Masters in Leadership Studies. While in university she met Dan, and in 1986 they both headed to Bolivia, South America to save the world. She had four kids instead. They moved to Central Asia in 1994 in leadership with a non-profit agency. Currently credentialed as a personal and leader development coach, she works with individuals and groups in person and on-line. You can find her online at SoulFit.

A Poem for Our Pandemic Fears

by Krista Besselman

There’s prevalent fear, or at least a concern,
That life as we knew it may never return.
This year has been grim and distressingly strange.
We gave up so much and got what in exchange?

 

We mourn what has been such a difficult year.
We look to the future and can’t help but fear
No matter the changes or time we allow
We can’t get to normal from where we are now.

 

With all that’s to fear in a year that’s been tough,
Some fear that the rest are not fearful enough.
And all the uncertainty soon starts to chafe—
We don’t know what’s right and we don’t know what’s safe.

 

May all those I meet, though we may not agree,
Find mercy and grace and see Jesus in me,
That others may find, when their need is most clear,
The peace that He gives that is greater than fear.

 

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Krista found a heart for missions accounting in Papua New Guinea and still uses what she learned in her seven years there to support Bible translation from Texas. She writes poetry to process the ups, downs, and outright crises of life. Her favorite poems call herself–and others–to remember God’s faithfulness in every situation.

How to Make Missionaries Cry: Ask Them How Their Vacation is Going

Imagine this scenario:

You get up at 5 am on a Sunday morning. You wake your groggy teenager, who protests loudly and grumpily enough to put everyone in the house in a bad mood. You rush around to get everyone out the door by 6 am so that you can make a two hour drive to arrive at church at 8. When you arrive, your five-year-old pitches a fit because he doesn’t remember this church and is scared to go to another new Sunday School. You hiss bribes and/or threats into his ear, because you are on display and need to make a good impression.

But you put on your happy face and start shaking hands with everyone in sight. You’ve visited this church before, so you remember a few names, but many more of them know you. You wrack your brain to recall names, jobs, children as 26 people greet you. You are ushered to the front row to be ready for your seven-minute presentation, which took you hours to tweak since you’ve never previously given one that is exactly seven minutes. After the service, you are taken to an adult fellowship class where you are asked to give a 35-minute presentation. During these presentations, you are expected to give a public account of how you spent your time and your money during the last three years. 

After the service, a friendly face shakes your hand and asks you, “So, how is your vacation going?”

And you want to cry or howl or kick something.

Honestly, friends, this is one of the most demoralizing questions a missionary on home assignment ever gets. They know you mean well. You are probably thinking, You get to be away from the grind of ministry! You must be enjoying the advantages of home! 

But what they hear is: Wow, you get a six month vacation every couple of years. Must be a pretty cushy life. And that’s discouraging. Because a home assignment is a far cry from a vacation.

This is what is important to know: Missionaries have two jobs. One job is the one you are familiar with–their cross-cultural ministry. The other job is to build and maintain the partnerships that keep them in that ministry. 

Both jobs are incredibly important. A healthy missionary has a strong team of supporters behind them, and while overseas, maintaining those relationships is a part-time job. This looks like: Creating newsletters every month, sending out prayer requests weekly, maintaining a robust social media account, writing dozens of personalized thank you notes every year, answering supporters’ emails, buying gifts for supporters, and creating videos or filling out questionnaires, or joining in on Zoom calls. That’s on top of full-time ministry and navigating a cross-cultural life. 

And when home assignment (or furlough, or deputation) rolls around, that’s when this second job kicks into their full-time job. Home assignment looks like: Speaking at a different church every Sunday, meetings every day, lots of phone calls and emails. Preparing presentations, because each church wants something different. Lots of time on the road traveling. Following partnership leads, initiating relationships, hosting dinners and dessert nights. 

You won’t hear a lot of complaining. Missions must be a team effort by everyone in God’s Church, and missionaries feel incredibly privileged to be the ones that get sent out. Building those partnerships is vital and they are an incredible blessing that feeds the missionary’s soul.

But being on home assignment is a job, it is usually exhausting, and it is definitely not a vacation. In fact, many missionaries would say that coming stateside for home assignment is the part of their job that’s the hardest. Though it’s called “home assignment,” it doesn’t usually feel like home. The constant travel, feeling on display, and helping their kids navigate so much transition can be wearying. Missionaries often look forward to getting back to their lives overseas so that life won’t be so crazy! That means that when someone assumes they are on vacation, it’s disheartening. 

So what should you say to a missionary on home assignment? 

Hug them. Tell them something specific you enjoyed about their presentation. Mention something that stood out to you from one of their newsletters. Reassure them you are praying regularly for them. Ask them the non-spiritual questions. 

And if you really want to make their day? How about, I hope you’re planning a vacation while you are on home assignment. Would you like to borrow our cabin for a few days?