Celebrating TCK Mamas


“Your new baby is beautiful,” I said to my sister last week. “And I can’t believe you named her after me!”

“Wait,” my sister said. “Your name’s not Abigail.”

“Yeah. But my pen name is.”

“Oh. I forgot.”

“Yeah, but your subconscious knew. So maybe your subconscious named the baby after me.”

“I mean, I didn’t not name her after you.”

“I’ll take it.”

We’ve been on home assignment this summer, and I cherished every moment I got with my sister and her two little ones. Kay is almost two, and Abigail is just a few weeks old, and they’re both cuter than a baby bear holding a Precious Moments greeting card.

One afternoon I was giving Abigail a bottle when Kay high-stepped over and planted a sweet toddler kiss on her sister’s forehead. Something about that scene brought me back a decade.

It was like a flashback to the days when I had “littles.” I could feel what it was like back then. How incredibly long the days are. How it feels like someone is always getting the short end of the stick. How you wonder if you’re doing this mothering thing right. How you want to do ministry, but your kids are also your ministry, and you wonder if other people have figured out the secret to balancing that, and if someone is ever going to tell it to you.

I also remembered how beautiful and precious that season is, how fleeting, how full of wonder. The call to selfless love, the leaning on Jesus because you know you can’t do it alone. The way you read about the women bringing their children to Jesus to bless them and cry when they’re sent away… and again when He calls them to come because He’s not too busy or too important to bless children.

As I was pondering all this, my own children, now 9 and 12, walked in the room. How big they looked! How far they’ve come! Then I realized that I’ve come a long way, too.

See, I’ve spent a lot of my motherhood wishing I were doing better. Sometimes that’s been healthy, like when I reevaluate my priorities and commit to growing with God’s help. Sometimes it’s been less healthy, like when I wallow in guilt that I’m not the “perfect mom.”

But in that moment, as I looked at my kids, it dawned on me that God has been answering my prayers all along. He’s given me the strength to do “all things” through Him. He’s helped me to do things I never could have dreamed of. Things that make other people use words like “brave” to describe me, even though “brave” is hardly how I’d describe myself.

So, today I’m calling for an impromptu celebration of TCK motherhood. It’s a chance to thank God for the blessing of being a missionary and a mom to TCKs. It may not be our habit as moms to think of what we’ve done well, but today, let’s take a moment to recognize that in Christ, each of us is a “Proverbs 31” woman in our own unique way.

Here is a list of things I’m celebrating today. I hope you’ll create your own list. And I hope you can pass this idea on to other TCK moms in your life. Let’s celebrate each other!

Abigail’s List of Amazing TCK Mom Things

  • I birthed two babies in India.
  • I’ve traveled with children on more than 100 flights.
  • I nursed 2 infants in 6 countries. 
  • My son survived a habit of putting everything in his mouth in India. Some items on the menu included medicine without a child safety cap, a burrito made of mud and a leaf, and a single sheep dropping that looked exactly like a milk dud. (We went through a lot of albendazole.)
  • I homeschooled our daughter’s first grade year in three states, on two continents. (I followed the advice of a friend and stuck to the 3 R’s that year!)
  • I’ve been homeschooling for 6 years, and my kids have actually learned something.
  • I’ve made up a gajillion stories about two little mice named Ferdinand and Gertrude who have surprisingly similar struggles as my children, to help them process changes and cultural differences.
  • I helped my children through a traumatic leaving from our first mission field, along with the processing of a heap of emotions afterwards.
  • I sometimes chose to take pauses from my own interests and desires to invest in my kids.
  • …I also found ways to feed my interests and desires, so I could be a well-rounded person.
  • My kids like salad.
  • My kids sometimes remember whether to eat salad with a fork or their hands, depending on what country we are in.
  • I keep our home running and feeling homey when my husband is busy with ministry, and I trust my husband to care for and bond with our kids when it’s my turn for outside ministry.
  • Sometimes my kids get along…
  • …and when they feel bad for not getting along, they talk to Jesus about it.
  • I’ve read a lot of books aloud… and been tickled by my kids nearly every time for falling asleep while reading. 
  • I was privileged to be the one to share the gospel with my daughter, and to see her really understand and accept it on a grown-up level.
  • I’ve driven hundreds of miles supporting my children’s integration into our current host culture.
  • My kids have a relationship with their grandparents that I helped foster.
  • I’ve created Home and Stability out of unconventional materials in unconventional places. 

Celebrate your wins, fellow Proverbs 31 Mama. They are hard-won, especially when you are raising TCKs.

What’s something on your list? Let us know in the comments!

Life is Like . . . Fireflies?


I walk down the quiet halls of Grandma and Grandpa Follows’ house, lingering to examine the photos lining the walls. In one, a young Grandpa Follows stands by his new bride, smiling a smile I’ve seen many times. It’s the kind of smile that fills the whole face, especially the eyes. It’s the kind of smile that makes you wish “contagious” and “lights up the room” were not cliches. 

It’s my husband Joshua’s smile. 

This photo could be a photo of our wedding, except the bride is not me, and there is no color in the photo, and the groom is wearing a dark suit coat instead of Joshua’s white mandarin suit.

I stand there a long time, just looking. Then a strange feeling comes over me. Though the travel here took us 18 hours and felt like forever, suddenly life itself seems short as a breath. As short as an EKG printout, with its swift ups and downs. As short as the song the family was singing when Grandpa Follows breathed his last. As short as the phone call when we last spoke with him.

Grandma comes up behind me, walking softly and carefully. She smiles at the photo. I look at her, then turn back for a moment to look at her 70-years-ago face. In the picture, she seems on the verge of a laugh. Now all her smiles are sad smiles.

I’ve been thinking about life and death lately. This happens when friends and family die. It also happens when everything’s fine, if you’re introverted and contemplative and find poignancy in nearly everything. 

Sometimes life just feels like… fireflies.

Fireflies are an experience. Especially when it is very dark. Their lights go on and off, but in between flickers, they move. So, if you are watching them in a corn field, you can never quite see one. They go on and off, all around, in your periphery, and you never know where there will be a tiny dot of light or just more darkness.

A firefly brings such wonder and light, for just a moment. And then it is gone. And though you look, you can’t find it again. When I watch fireflies, I wonder if my little temporary light will make a difference to someone. If it will fill them with a little bit of wonder or joy.  And I wonder if that’s enough.

Grandpa Follows was a hard-working farmer. He and his shy wife could often be found with visitors from their rural community and beyond who loved their dahlia flowers and their pleasant company. Grandpa loved to joke with people. He had a special talent for whistling. And he was generous.

Grandpa was generous with his time, his money, his talent. And he was generous with his faith. He let his faith change him as much as possible during his few short years on this earth. He wasn’t perfect. But he was the kind of person who sent positive ripples into the ocean of people around him. His life–let’s be specific, his love and good choices–affect me now even more than the great smile he passed down to my husband.

He modeled diligence. Even as I write this, my husband, son, and father-in-law are out in the rain helping on Grandma’s farm. He modeled honesty.  Well enough that my daughter comes to me at night if she thinks of anything she has said that wasn’t true.

I remember our last visit with Grandpa. We were just about to send one of Joshua’s brothers to the airport. Someone struck up a song– a song we’ve sung many times before as a family:

You will see your Lord a-comin’
You will see your Lord a-comin’ 
You will see your Lord a-comin’
In a few more days.

I was standing in the back by Grandpa when I got that strange feeling that life is very, very short. I looked at him, and he looked at me. Then he put an arm around me. We stood there, not singing, fighting tears.

He passed away this spring, on Joshua’s and my wedding anniversary. 

I’m an ideas kind of person. I collect ideas like some people collect souvenir fridge magnets. I have more ideas than I could possibly do in one lifetime, too many to fit at one time on the canvas of my mind. 

I could start a computer club where local kids could learn English through apps. I could help my neighbor start an Etsy business making dolls wearing ethnic apparel from our host country. I could buy quail, because they’re quieter than chickens. I could garden—there could be trellises involved! I could quilt. I could start a book club in our city and maybe we’d talk about spiritual things. I could host afternoon teas at my house. I could host an exercise class like my friend Barb, even though in Zumba I’m always the one in the back who is three moves behind. I could redecorate, paint a giant mural in the living room, take my daughter to volunteer at the animal shelter twice a week, read more books, write more books, cook from scratch, and can peaches.

I wish I could bring these things to be, these lovely ideas. The problem is, all my plans and dreams are like water in a mason jar, and I have to pour from that jar through a funnel with a very tiny nozzle. For, although I can delegate and inspire others and catalyze great things, the truth is, I’m always only one person. And all I have is one minute at a time to live. 

As Joshua often says, “What will you say no to so you can say yes to this?” 

It’s good he says this.

Anyway, today I’m asking myself what really matters. I’m taking out each idea and holding it up to the light, asking myself:

Will this matter when my grandchildren and great-grandchildren look at photos of me on the wall and notice how much they look like me? Will it matter 90 years from now, when one of my relatives has that strange feeling that 90 years is very short? 

Then I ask myself another question. Is this idea worthy to pursue in light of eternity? Is my little light going to show the way for someone else to walk one step closer to Jesus? How about my family? Are they seeing my light?

I might think I can multitask, online or in real life, but studies show it just doesn’t work that way. So I sit down with my dreams, my to do list, my prayer list, my personal connections list. And I choose what to say yes to. And, more importantly, I choose what to say no to.

I’m thankful, though, that I don’t have to have all the answers. I know Grandpa Follows didn’t. In reality, though he wasn’t an overly emotional person, he cried every time we left for the mission field, thinking this would probably be the last time we’d see each other. Every furlough for almost 15 years. Despite his cheerful, joking, energetic personality, he had a strong sense of his own mortality. And, just like me, he couldn’t know when he would die.

But he never asked us to stay or to come home early. Even when it was quiet in the house and nobody came to visit because it was raining. He knew there were people out there who didn’t know Jesus, so he wiped his tears and sent us away. Then he turned and served his community with all his heart, did all his hand found to do with all his might. And God used his life, like one stroke in a giant painting, to work beauty and good in this world.

I don’t know all the answers. But I know Someone who does. So I’ll keep dreaming and narrowing down and doing, over and over. As long as there is darkness, you’ll find me running here and there, wherever He calls, blinking my little light. Maybe I’ll see you out there, and together we can transform the darkest night into something that reminds the world there is a God who loves them.

Dear Missionary, Are You Afraid of Success?

I have a friend who lives in darkness. Her giant house has armored doors. There are snarly dogs in her courtyard and a muscular, protective husband in her home office. She never leaves home unless covered from head to toe, and even then, only to visit her brothers.

Yet, when she opens the door and pulls me inside her home, where dark, high windows let in only a hint of sunlight, she lights up the darkness. She is like a treasure hidden in a field.

Oh, how I want to share Jesus with my friend.

Once, my husband and I were presenting about our mission to one of our supporting churches. I told them about this very special woman and posed a rhetorical question: “Who is going to tell her about Jesus?” To my surprise, someone in the congregation answered.

“You,” he said.

I swallowed a big lump in my throat, because I knew he was right. Other than a miraculous, supernatural visit, my voice was the only one she would ever hear speak the name of “Isa Al Massih.” If she hears about Jesus, it will likely be from my mouth, between sips of bittersweet mint tea with afternoon Arabic cartoons playing in the background.

It’s exciting.

And, if I’m honest, it’s terrifying.

Fear of Success

A few weeks ago, I was reading a book about listening well and asking great questions. I learned about a concept in psychology called self-sabotage. Apparently, some people are afraid of success. These people either consciously or unconsciously do things to hinder their progress toward a goal.

Here’s a made-up example. Let’s say a woman really wants to be a professional photographer, but deep down, she’s afraid of success. So she finishes projects late, gives up on submitting to contests at the last minute, and doesn’t bring her camera with her to events she knows will give her opportunities to take awesome photos.

Why? Maybe she’s deeply shy and fears that being a great photographer will get her unwanted attention. Or maybe she’s afraid a creative career will upset family or friends. She might even think she’s not worthy of doing something she loves.

Being a photographer is this woman’s dream, goal, and aim. But her subconscious fear of success is sabotaging her goal.

And she is self-sabotaging without even noticing it.

The book I was reading described all kinds of great things to help pinpoint and heal self-sabotage. But after the first paragraph, I stopped processing what I was reading.

Oh, Lord, I prayed as my eyes moved mechanically across the page. I am sabotaging my soul-winning. Heaven, help me.

A Conversation with Myself

That evening, I did a little research and a little soul-searching. Since I was learning to ask better questions, I opened up my journal and asked myself some.

Q: Why are you overseas?
A: Because I want to share my faith with others so they can have a saving, personal relationship with Jesus.

Q: What would success in this goal look like to you?
People hearing and believing the gospel and beginning a journey of walking in faith and obedience to Christ.

Q: What comes up for you when you imagine that really happening?
A: A surprising amount of fear.

Q: What is frightening about your image of success?
Did I mention the big, muscular husbands?

Q: Right. So, personal injury or death, got it. But that’s often a fear for you. What else?
A: I’m not the only one who is going to suffer. I probably won’t suffer at all, because things here are fairly stable. But it will be hard for my friends if they believe in Jesus.

Q: What might it be like for them if they believe?
A: They might be further restricted and isolated physically, or hurt socially, and that’s not what I want for them because they already have so little socially. There could even be physical consequences.

Q: What about that is difficult?
A: Well, maybe it shouldn’t be, because Jesus should be worth it. The apostle Paul counts all as loss compared with knowing Christ. Jesus is worth it to me, and my struggles and questions and pain and grief are so much lighter when He carries them. Jesus actually gives my trials meaning, because I believe God works all things together for my good. But I don’t want to be the cause of someone else having pain.

Q: Anything else?
A: I guess what I’ve given up seems like so little when I compare it to what they might have to give up. I wonder if it’s really fair to ask people to be willing to give up everything for Jesus. I think I’m willing, but I haven’t been faced with losing a marriage, a community, a child, or my life. Deciding to follow Jesus is a life-altering decision for a woman in this community.

Q: So, who gets to decide who follows Jesus?
A: Well, I believe humans have a right to decide that for themselves. So, I guess I’m called to share God’s story with people. They have to decide how they will respond.

Q: How does it feel, realizing that?
A: It’s not my place to decide for the woman in the big house whether she receives access to information about God. But I think it’s always been my “role” in life to prevent pain in people. I really hate it when people have pain – even though I know that sometimes pain is the only path to healing, like with a broken bone.

Q: So, your part is sharing. Her part is deciding. What do you need to do to fulfill your role?
A: I totally need to stop procrastinating, but my fearful heart keeps finding stuff to do, like rearranging furniture or overwatering the succulents. What should I do?!

Q: What do you think? What should you do?
A: Maybe I need to seriously pray against fear. Daily. And every time I visit her. And maybe I can ask my supporters to pray, too. And maybe other people who feel like I do would like to pray, too. We could pray for each other.

A Conversation with God

The other day, I was washing dishes and having a chat with God. Only this time the Holy Spirit was asking the questions.

So, what’s really your goal, Abby? What would success look like in this village? At first, my brain would only let me imagine something realistic. Two, maybe three women, hiding in corners in their homes, secretly reading the Word.

Too small. Think bigger.

So I tried.

“Two families? And maybe they could actually meet together?” I replied, thinking this felt scandalously unrealistic.

Too small. Think bigger.

“Um,” I thought. “I guess… a whole bunch of families… no, every family would hear, and believe, and follow Jesus. And the whole community would turn to the Lord, and they would determine to reach everyone around them with the gospel, and other villages would turn to You and they would find peace and community and truth and meaning and purpose.”


“And they would reach their whole country, and the Arabic-speaking world.”


“And now my heart is racing and I’m imagining legal consequences and social structure destabilization, and how much more suited I am to take up knitting than to change the world. Lord, I have so little faith!” 

I thought again about self-sabotage, about the times I’ve seen it in my life. The times I could have moved a conversation to spiritual topics but chose being agreeable at all costs. The times I had an opportunity to share Jesus but shared something easier instead, like a proverb or an Old Testament story. The times I could have visited someone in their home but didn’t—not because I legitimately needed some time off, but because, deep down, I was afraid of success.

“God, release me from fear. Heal my spiritual myopia!”

Planting Seeds

I’ve sometimes reassured myself that being nice is the only seed I really need to plant, even though God said it’s His Word–Jesus, the Word incarnate–which will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). Could it be that God is sending the rain, but I am not sowing the seeds, because I can’t control or predict the harvest?

It feels vulnerable to say these things. Yet I’ve spoken with a number of gospel seed sowers who want to share more, and like me, sometimes wonder why it feels so hard. I’m convinced that sharing faith involves deep heart work, whether you live in a hut under siege in a developing country or in a quiet, North American neighborhood where the most exciting thing that happens each year is the Fourth of July parade.

Whether we want to share with someone abroad or with someone in our own family, we need Jesus to help us conquer our fears and learn to share naturally and authentically.

And we need His help to leave the results in His hands. 

Interested in walking and talking together more about these things? I’ll be writing on the theme of authentic witnessing throughout the month of August over at my newsletter, Whatsoever Thoughts. I hope to see you there!

He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.’” (Mark 4:26-27)

Seeking Buddha, Finding Jesus (resources for ministering to Buddhist and Hindu people)

​There are so many amazing books about how God is moving among Muslims and Animists. And there are scores of useful gospel training seminars by former missionaries to these religious groups. But what about Hinduism and Buddhism?

When I worked with high-caste Hindu people in India, I often wished I had access to more true stories about Hindu background believers. I wanted to hear from honest, soul-baring Hindus about what it’s like to consider following Jesus. What they’re up against, why it’s difficult. What really draws them. How they handle the clash between the expectations of culture and Christ. I had read textbook definitions of Hinduism, but things looked so different on the ground. I often wished there was a Seeking Krishna, Finding Jesus. Or even a Peace Child or Bruchko set in the high-rise apartments of New Delhi.

Slowly, over the years, I’ve collected the names of a few insightful books. Eventually, I wrote my own. My adventures were far from those of Bruce Olsen, but I shared from my heart. I shared about what it’s like to wrestle yourself every day so that Jesus can lead you. I shared about the beautiful people I knew in India, why following Jesus there is difficult, and what we tried to do about that. And I shared about how our real God is meeting real people right where they are.

There’s so much more to reaching people in a Hindu context, but I hope my stories and experiences can begin a conversation about it.

A New Story to Tell

Last year, I was approached by a family friend who serves as a missionary in Cambodia. Her father is Cambodian, and he narrowly survived the Khmer Rouge genocide as a child. Sovath survived because, as he says, “I called on a God I did not know.” Eventually, he came to know that God when he saw a vision of Jesus in a refugee camp.

Sovath and his family asked me to write his story.

To say I felt honored and excited is an understatement.

In between interviews, I went online to find resources to help me understand Buddhism. I found precious few. Again, I wished I could read Seeking Buddha, Finding Jesus, or a Peace Child set in the rice paddies of Vietnam or the traffic-jungles of cities in Laos.

That’s when I realized just how important Sovath’s story is.

As Sovath began to unravel exactly why it was so hard to follow Jesus as the member of a Buddhist family, and why he chose to follow anyway, I was surprised. His explanations were not what I had predicted. My experience with Hinduism didn’t translate to Buddhism. It reminded me that picking up your cross to follow Jesus will look different from person to person – and from culture to culture.

I’m about to give you a list of books and resources I’ve sourced from A Life Overseas readers, colleagues, and from my own shelves.

But before I do that, I wanted to ask for help in bringing another book into the world.

It’s tentatively titled Great Unsearchable Things, and I’m praying for the grace and insight to make it a work of art that will help readers understand their Buddhist background brothers and sisters better.

How You Can Help

Firstly, I’ve set up a fundraiser to help cover the cost of researching, editing, and marketing Sovath’s book. You can read a little more about his story on the GoFundMe page. You can also read the first chapter of the book at this link.

Secondly, I would like to put together a team of beta readers who would be willing to read the first draft to offer insight and suggestions. I’m hoping to be ready for that step in Spring, 2024. If you’re interested, send me a note at abigailfollows AT gmail.com.

Thirdly, I want to encourage those of you who think you might want to write your missions story–or the story of a friend. If you were looking for a sign, I hope this article is it! We need to read these stories to help us understand and empathize with each other. We need people who have asked tough questions and listened hard to the answers to share what they’ve learned. Your story just might help someone lead a person to Jesus. So below the book lists, you’ll find a handful of resources for aspiring writers that will help you on your way.

On to the lists.

For Working with Hindus:

When learning about ministry among Hindus, it’s important to know that India’s relationship with Christianity is complex. Spend ten minutes looking at discussions on Quora or articles in Indian news outlets about Christianity in India, and you’ll quickly understand some of the major issues. As a result, many books, websites, and ministries are searching for the best, most authentic, least damaging way to reach Hindus with the gospel. Think of these resources as adding to the conversation, rather than as definitive “how to’s.” 

Living Water and Indian Bowl, by Swami Dayanand Bharati

The Camphor Flame, by C. J. Fuller

LearningIndia.in — Very practical, though not currently updated.

MARG Network 

Mimosa, by Amy Carmichael 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo – Not a Christian nor a missions book, but Boo’s artful reportage will help you understand the social infrastructure of India like nothing else I’ve read.

William Carey Publishing’s list of Hindu missions books

I Am a Hindu, Why Should I Consider Becoming a Christian? (Article)

Following Jesus in the Hindu Context, by H. L. Richard

From Hinduism to Christ, by Raj Vimuri

From Hinduism to Christianity, Embracing the Journey, by Anjli Sharma

Hidden Song of the Himalayas, by Abigail Follows

For Working with Buddhists:

Change the Map Prayer Network

Seeking the Unseen, Edited by Paul H. De Neui

Leaving Buddha by Tenzin Lahkpa & Eugene Bach

God Spoke Tibetan: The Epic Story of the Men Who Gave the Bible to Tibet by Allan Maberly

From Buddha to Jesus by Steve Cioccolanti

William Carey Publishing’s list of Buddhist missions books

For Aspiring Intercultural Biographers and Memoirists:

Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction

Storycraft, by Jack Hart

Telling True Stories, edited by Kramer and Call

Scrivener, a computer app/word processor/organizer that separates content by chapters and scenes. Great for writing out of order and keeping track of everything.

Our own Alyson Rockhold and Elizabeth Trotter are both book coaches and love helping aspiring writers figure out how to tell their stories.

Abby Emmons is one of MANY YouTubers who talk about writing. She focuses on fiction, but I found her analyses and insights to be applicable to story-based nonfiction as well.


Photo by Joshua Follows.

Why Missionaries Doubt (and what to do about it)

Alex and Anna

I’ll never forget meeting Alex* and Anna.* For me, it was like meeting Beyoncé or Michael Jordan. With admittedly fewer cameras and less bling.

Alex and Anna had served in Asia for ten years. My husband and I were in our early twenties. These people had been missionaries for nearly half our lives!

We’d read their beautiful, well-written articles. I’d fallen in love with the people of their host country. I’d prayed with Alex and Anna from afar, rejoicing when various friends were delivered from the fear of evil spirits.

Now we were actually meeting them.

We had so many questions—after all, we were about to launch as missionaries ourselves. But Alex and Anna seemed very… tired. Something was wrong, though I didn’t know what. 

Just a few years later, Alex and Anna left Christianity. In fact, they both chose to follow a new-age religion. One even became a practitioner.

How in the world had that happened?

I don’t know their whole story with doubt and faith. But today I wanted to share my story and shed a little light on a hidden topic: the doubts and questions missionaries battle every day.

Why Do Missionaries Doubt?

When I was a freshman in college, my mom converted to a non-Christian religion. This sent me on a quest to figure out what I believed and why. Specifically, I questioned the divinity of Christ. It was an intense search, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Hour after hour I searched the scriptures, praying for truth.

Finally, I accepted Jesus afresh as my personal Savior. Later, my husband and I launched as missionaries to India, determined to share our love of Jesus with the world.

Good story, right?

I had no idea that going to the mission field would bring up more questions than answers.

Now I’ve been in the field for over a decade myself. And I haven’t done any scientific studies to know for sure, but I have a theory that missionaries are more susceptible to doubt than many realize. There are four things I believe contribute to this.

1. Studying Worldview

Did you ever take a public speaking or debate class, and afterwards couldn’t listen to a sermon without analyzing it? Or how about an editing class, which left you unable to read a book without wielding a mental red pen? The learning we do in our professions changes how we see the world.

Missionaries are not immune to this. If we take classes in worldview, we learn to see worldview everywhere. We can’t watch movies without analyzing values, players, and tools. We become like amateur anthropologists.

All this investigation can make our beliefs, ideas, and worldviews seem like just another way of explaining life. As I delved deeper into my Indian friends’ worldview, I felt disoriented. If their beliefs stemmed from a human attempt to understand the universe, couldn’t mine, too?

2. Trauma

The next factor is trauma. You may find yourself wondering why God allowed XYZ to happen, to you, to your kids, or to your host people. Or why the peace that passes understanding is suspiciously absent from your life right now. You start wondering, even subconsciously, if you were right about God, after all.

I’ll never forget my moments of deepest doubt in India, kneeling on a hard mat on the ground, the smell of sandalwood incense floating in the window. Like Job, I could see only the mat in front of me—not the spiritual battle, nor even the entire physical battle. Like Job, I asked God why, and I waited a long time in the silence.

3. Asking Others to Question

At the same time we missionaries are analyzing worldviews and going through hard things, we are actively asking others to question what they believe is true–particularly church planters. We seek to do this in a life-giving way, and we do it because we believe Jesus is worth any price we may have to pay. That is the deep conviction that sends you to the field, right?

The thing is, when we ask others to question, we get in the habit of questioning. I faced an intense amount of cognitive dissonance in India. Was I asking others to question when I was not willing to do the same? Was I holding my own beliefs up to the same level of scrutiny I expected from others?

4. Spiritual Warfare

In the Biblical worldview, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Unseen forces desire to make us ineffective and faithless.

This became very clear to me when some of my doubts didn’t behave normally. I would find satisfactory or even great answers, but I still couldn’t shake residual unsettled feelings. I soon realized I needed heavenly help to move forward.

What To Do With Doubt

One of my colleagues lost a number of friends in a genocide. When she asked for prayer in her newsletter, a friend told her not to talk about such upsetting things.

After that, it was hard for my friend to know whom to ask for help. 

Missionaries face joys, traumas, and questions that might be hard for others to understand. Wondering if anyone will be able to relate can make it hard to ask for help.

Beyond that, missionaries often feel the pressure of being role models—like Alex and Anna, they realize they are their church’s Beyoncé or Michael Jordan. When I faced doubts, I would often remind myself that I had a responsibility to cast a vision for the unreached, to inspire people to sacrificial obedience of Christ. Why burden supporters with fleeting doubts? Shame, fear, and even the desire to be responsible can leave us feeling like there’s no one to turn to.

But I have come to believe that doubting on the field doesn’t have to be an emergency. Instead, it can be an amazing opportunity.

If you’re facing doubts or questions right now, I have three suggestions: confront your doubts, doubt with faith, and engage in spiritual warfare.

1. Confront Your Doubts

It takes time. It takes mental strain. It takes emotional space. And sometimes, we just don’t have those things.

At first, I tried to ignore my doubts. Because dinner needed made and babies needed burping, plus there were the unreached to reach. But ignoring problems sometimes makes them bigger. It magnifies them in our subconscious until they totally take over.

I couldn’t stay in that place of cognitive dissonance for long. So, I printed out a bunch of articles to read, and I prayed exhausting prayers. I knelt on the hard mat. I stopped avoiding it by surfing YouTube and got distracted by my Bible instead of my phone.

I believed that God should be able to handle my questions and that any faith worth believing should stand up to scrutiny. I put that belief to the test.

And God answered me.

2. Doubt with Faith

The first time you doubt, if you’re like me, you’ll panic and think all is lost. But I’ve learned to bring my doubts to Jesus quickly. And I’ve come to expect Him to answer. It’s not always instant, and that’s okay. I’m learning to surrender my questions because over time I’ve seen He always comes through. I’ve learned to expect that God will respond to me.

Along that same line, it’s also okay to take breaks during your search. When we believe we’ll hear from God eventually, we can laugh with our families, take vacations, and enjoy good books, even as we seek His face for answers. We can rest despite the discomfort of not knowing, because we count on Hebrews 11:6–that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

3. Engage in Spiritual Warfare

Though we wrestle with unseen forces, the hosts of heaven desire to see us victorious. I’ve learned various “tools” over the years: fasting; praying through the armor of God in Ephesians 6; rejecting bitterness by declaring forgiveness in prayer; doing prayer walks in my home; actively rejecting and resisting temptation; confession and repentance from sin; and singing hymns and spiritual songs. I’m also blessed to have a great prayer team back home and fellow workers who are men and women of prayer.

If you need an understanding prayer partner/team or new tools, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to fill those needs. 

For followers of Jesus, and especially gospel seed sowers, confronting doubts and engaging in personal spiritual warfare are critical elements of self-care. Just like our physical and mental health need nurturing and protection, so our need for assurances from God shouldn’t be ignored for too long. We might be tempted to delay asking our own questions in order to minister to others, but God desires to minister to us just as passionately as He desires to save the unreached.

Doubt Transformed

We give our personal testimonies all the time. I was lost, now I’m found. I was blind, now I see. We keep them succinct, which is important—but we can sometimes get the idea that our story with God is a one-time event, something linear and fixed.

But we are branches connected to a vine. Growing grapes takes time and skill. It requires the exact right amount of growth and pruning. The healthiest vines are in constant contact with a skilled vinedresser.

The truth is, our story with God lasts our lifetime. I love the lyrics to a popular Christian song: “If it’s not good, then He’s not done with it yet!” Since no one is good, not one, God is not done with me yet, either.

What a privilege that I can bring my doubts to Jesus, and He can transform them, one by one, into pillars of faith. 

What about you? How do you deal with doubt? Do you have a story of God meeting you in your doubts and renewing your faith?


*Names changed to protect privacy.

10 Things I Love About Being a Missionary

My Dream Life

I used to want to raise a tribe of kids on a big farm. (I know nothing about farming, but hear me out.) I thought I’d can peaches, attend church ice cream socials, and push my kids on tire swings. I thought life would be slow and sturdy as oaks growing by duck ponds.

Instead, I have made our home in cities during protests and dusty villages during droughts. I’ve lived in places with weird ice cream flavors and no churches, places where canning jars are unheard of and peaches are expensive. Instead of growing like sturdy oaks, my children grow like palm trees, flexible and accustomed to extreme and unpredictable weather. 

The funny thing is, even though it’s nothing like I dreamed or planned, I kind of like this life that God picked out for me.

Amy Medina once posed this question: “Missionaries are supposed to suffer… So Am I Allowed to Buy an Air Conditioner?” Lately I’ve been asking myself a similar question. Missionaries are supposed to suffer… So am I allowed to enjoy being a missionary? Can I like it? Love it?

Today I want to celebrate my crazy, unique, difficult, rewarding job. The missionary calling opens up so many opportunities for both blessings and challenges. Here are ten things I love about this life. 

Even Though…

10. Even though it can be hard when things change so frequently, I find the constant need to problem-solve mentally stimulating. My brain loves variety and learning new things, and in this job, I get both.

9. Even though it takes a lot of time to fundraise, I like leading our prayer support team, helping them to understand our host culture and to know how to pray for them. I love that I get to help others be a part of what we’re doing.

8. Even though parenting overseas sometimes feels as complex as sending someone to the moon, complete with the scary-looking math diagrams, I love that my kids get to grow up in a multicultural environment and learn a language other than English. I also cherish being the main one to shepherd them as they deal with various TCK challenges.

7. Even though flying in airplanes scares me, and we have to fly a lot, I love that plane tickets to neighboring countries are relatively cheap, so we can visit some of the places we read about in books.

6. Even though I’m an introvert, I like that this job pushes me outside my safe bubble. I love that I’ve met so many amazing people. I love that I am consistently required to look outside myself and understand those whose experiences and thoughts are different from mine.

5. Even though I always miss someone, I love that being highly mobile reminds me to cherish the moments I have with people. Interactions are all the more precious, and I am often reminded that it’s important to be mindful and present.

4. Even though being together a lot as a couple can drive us crazy sometimes, it’s also one of my favorite things about this job. Sometimes it feels like my husband and I have squeezed 30 years of marriage into 16, just by sheer hours spent together. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. Practice makes better!

3. Even though it’s hard when people come and go, I love getting to meet other missionaries. None of us is perfect, but so many of those we meet are trying their best to grow in loving and obeying Jesus, and they inspire me.

2. Even though I sometimes have to do things that I don’t feel like doing, I love seeing what God does with my bumbling, imperfect, hesitant obedience. I like knowing that He has a plan, and that I might actually get to play a tiny little part in that plan. I sometimes feel like I’m a smudge in a giant masterpiece He’s painting, and that thought both inspires me and helps me not take myself too seriously.

And the #1 Reason I Love Being a Missionary…

One of my favorite Bible passages is Isaiah 53, where the prophet Isaiah tells of the suffering of the coming Messiah. Verse 11 has been especially meaningful to me over the years. Here it is in the New Living Translation:

“When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”

Perhaps, if Jesus were to make a list like mine, He would say, “Even though I had to be betrayed, to suffer physical and mental anguish, to bear the sin of the world and be separated from my Father, even though I was betrayed by my friend, even though I had to be tortured on a cross and die, I love that I get to spend eternity with the human beings I created. I love that I get to redeem people. I love that I get to transform pain into blessings, and ashes into beauty. I love doing miracles. I love loving people. I love changing the world.”

When Jesus sees the result of his suffering, He is satisfied. He loves what He does. He loves to take a vacant lot and fill it with treasure, a desert and fill it with flowers, a person like me and fill her with faith.

So, the number one reason why I love my job? Because I love watching what Jesus does with brokenness, and hardship, and difficulty, and doubt. I love being a coworker with Christ. Yes, some days it’s crazy hard. But being a part of something bigger than myself is an experience I wouldn’t trade–not even for canned peaches and ice cream.

Is His Burden Light?


“Lord, give me a burden for souls.”

That’s the last line of a song written by a young lady from my husband’s hometown.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all ye who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It makes me wonder if Jesus’ burden is the same as the “burden for souls”? And if it is, is that burden light? Is it easy to carry? Or is it heavy?

Just a few houses down the road from the composer of this song lived another young lady. Fifteen years ago she and her siblings tucked a $20 bill into the cupholder in my car, along with a note saying they’d be praying for our mission in India.

That girl grew up reading mission stories – some of them ours. She later became a missionary nurse, assisting with medevac missions to otherwise unreachable mountain villages. Two weeks ago she was accompanying some very sick people during a helicopter evacuation. While the helicopter was over the ocean, a storm arose. Their GPS signal went dead.

Despite intense search efforts, she and the patients and crew are still missing. 

Is the “burden of souls” lightweight? Is it easy to carry? 

A few days after she went missing, our family went to a park to meet with a local family who is interested in knowing more about Jesus. Our children played parkour while the men discussed one of the major themes of the gospels—spiritual warfare. My husband emphasized that Satan tries to keep people away from the truth but that Jesus came to set us free from lies. 

Right about then, my daughter fell off a cement bench and broke her tibia. 

While I held her scarily-bent leg on the way to the hospital, I prayed we would arrive soon so they could give her something for the pain. It took many hours, however, for grumpy healthcare workers to give my screaming child anything.

Is the “burden of souls” lightweight? Is it easy?

My daughter, a very active child, settled into a painful, monotonous week. Thankfully, no joints were involved, so full recovery is likely. Still, she wondered if she would ever really be the same, ever be able to rock climb or swim or jump on the trampoline again. She wondered if she should just stop trying.

“I’m never going to break anything ever again,” she said. “I’ll make sure I don’t.” She talked about all the things she would stop doing so she’d never have to experience that kind of pain again. 

“You’re not going to let this stop you,” I said, kissing her forehead. “You’re going to work hard, and you’re going to be so strong. You’re going to get back on the horse.” 

“But I can’t move. I can’t do anything.”

“I know. But eventually, it will stop hurting. We’ll help carry your leg until they can put a lighter cast on it. Later, you’ll be cast-free, and you’ll work hard to get that leg strong again. And one day, this will just be a memory, and you’ll be better.”

“Okay,” she said simply, resignedly. “Can I listen to Corrie?”

My daughter loves audiobooks. One of her favorites is “The Hiding Place,” by Corrie Ten Boom. She particularly loves Corrie’s father’s kind, wise parables. Here is one:

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

I sniffed a few times, considering this.

“Why, just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need, just in time.”

I listened to this and other stories as I ran back and forth between my daughter’s bed and the kitchen and the front door (since a barrage of neighbors was visiting, bringing food and loving words). 

As I sent up another prayer for the missing missionary nurse and her family, I thought about sacrifice. We tend to celebrate the sacrifices of healthcare professionals. Somewhere in our hearts, we know that we could just as easily be the ones needing the helicopter ride. Or the ones quietly listening as the firefighters get closer and closer to where we lie stuck under the rubble from an earthquake. Or the ones with the blinding pain of a broken bone, longing for a hand to hold.

But what about those who tend to spiritual needs? What about those who are engaged in a battle that cannot be seen? Crawling through the rubble, running in the darkness, reaching out a hand even though we, too, are fragile?

These days, being a missionary is not the most popular career choice. It’s not widely celebrated or understood. It’s even derided by some.

So why do we do it, when it’s dangerous and hard and underappreciated? Why do we do it, when we may be misunderstood? When we might fail?

Maybe it’s because we know we could be the ones in need of Jesus.

Jesus never promised we wouldn’t have to bear any burdens. The truth is, life will be full of burdens and hardships and pain, whether you’re a missionary or not. Whether you’re a Christian or not. Whether you live in North America or Asia. Because life is like that. It’s unpredictable and full of potential for both good and bad.

Jesus’ burden isn’t light because it isn’t there. It’s most definitely there. It’s just different from the one you used to bear. In fact, when Jesus said, “My yoke is easy,” He actually said His yoke is chréstos. Useful, gentle, pleasant, kind. Benevolent. And when Jesus says his burden is “light,” He uses the word elaphros. Easy to carry… easy to move with.

This is Jesus’ burden: His love for mankind, His incessant seeing of individuals as people and not objects, His treating them as he’d like to be treated, His stubborn forgiveness, His healing of both body and soul, His courageous kindness. Jesus’ burden mobilizes us, gets us on our feet, and sends us. 

It does not back down because of fear. It flies in the face of the storm, and it is not stopped when one person can’t carry on.

Because we don’t carry that burden alone. We carry it with Christ.

That’s what makes it light.


In loving memory of Janelle Alder, who selflessly cared for both bodies and souls, just like her Savior.

In Case of Emergency

“Hey.” My mom’s voice sounded otherworldly—either because I was talking to her on an actual payphone, or because of the mix of Bollywood music and traffic sounds filling the air around me. “Listen, your sister Ella was in an accident.” I didn’t breathe, blink, or swallow for what felt like an eternity.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s okay, she’s okay,” Mom answered. “She was with her boyfriend in his truck, and they got t-boned at an intersection.”

“Ella has a boyfriend?”

“She said she wanted you to be the first to know about the boyfriend,” she said. “He’s cute. And scared of your dad. But your dad says he likes him, so after he scares him, he’ll be nice.”

“Okay,” I said. “Was the boyfriend driving?”

“Yes. But it wasn’t his fault. The other driver ran a red light.”

“Where is Ella now?”

“The hospital,” Mom said. “She’s going to be fine, but she’ll need PT for her neck.”

“Okay,” I said. “Should I do anything?”

“No, Abby. We’re here. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks for telling me, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Are you okay?”


“Well, tell Ella I love her, and I’m going to be praying for her.”

“I will.”

Joshua and I walked back to our hotel. There was nothing I could have done. But I felt strange, being so far away, while my family dealt with this emergency without me. 


My family is your typical, not-perfect-but-trying-their-best kind of family. For all our flaws, we do one thing very well, and that’s emergencies. We are the kind of people who call you if there is a typhoon in the Philippines to make sure you’re okay, even though you’re only traveling in Canada, and only for the weekend. You know, just in case.

Maybe it’s because both my parents have worked in caring professions. Whatever the reason, they know how to nurse the sick, or bring a casserole, or check your temperature with a kiss on the forehead. My relatives can visit someone in the hospital with just the right amount of concern to make the sick or injured feel loved, while simultaneously making everyone laugh and feel like things are going to be okay.

They are like an army of love that bustles in and starts making mac and cheese right when you think you’re doomed, and suddenly everything is normal and funny and we’re all in this together. I knew how to be a part of that. I loved being a part of that.

And now they were having an emergency without me. 

On my first day as a missionary in India.


My family and I have missed sharing some important moments because of our ministry location. Both my babies were born in India, without my mom to fuss over me/tell me I could do it/cry with joy/make me a piece of toast. Both my kids were admitted to the hospital several times during our time there. Don’t even get me started on the giardia.

My own emergencies included many Indian friends who were great at fussing and cooking and visiting. Maybe that’s why I bonded so intensely with the place and people. They were, in their own, curry-flavored, communal, rainbow-scarved way, family to me. With their help, I survived many difficult times. 

It was the emergencies I missed back home that left me feeling truly grieved.

Both of my siblings were in car accidents while we lived in India. My brother’s was more serious, requiring the Jaws of Life to remove him from his car and several dozen surgeries to give him partial use of his legs. I talked to him on the phone and heard about how he was really tempted not to decrease his pain medicine. How he’d had to choose between pain and addiction, and how he’d chosen pain. 

Eventually, my sister married the boyfriend from the car accident, and they had a little girl, and I couldn’t be there for the birth. Then I understood something about how my mom felt when I was in labor overseas.

All this loss sometimes sits in my belly like a stone. But it’s my family that helps me understand why I’m still doing this. Because they have given me two gifts I could never have known I would need.

First of all, they taught me what to do in case of an emergency. They taught me to be fully present. To care about the people involved. To cook. To laugh as much as possible, especially at yourself. To fuss, but not too much. To laugh some more. To cook some more. To research. To gather everyone together. To recount what happened, many, many times. To appreciate what you still have. To appreciate the past. To choose what is good over what is easy. To hold on to hope even if it doesn’t make sense to others. To press into the place where there is pain and injury, and to bring light and love and healing there, and sometimes, mac and cheese—or curry, depending on where you are. 

And secondly, they’ve blessed this calling of mine, even though it means they have to sit on their hands instead of rushing in to provide support when my little family faces emergencies. They have sacrificially let go, making space for other people to become family to me, and for me to be family to them. And they assure me that they are taking care of things back home. It’s been 12 years since my first day in India, and they’re still saying, “We’ve got this, Abby.”

My family shares me with the world so that I can bring the love of Christ into those emergencies where He is not known. Even though I can’t always be a part of their casserole-bringing and forehead-kissing, I can do something equally as beautiful. I can bring the love they taught me to India, or Africa, or wherever I go. And when the people we serve have emergencies–whether medical, relational, or faith-related–I can call my family and know they will be praying like it matters. 

Because that’s what emergencies are all about: taking care of the people who matter. To us, and to God.

Too Jaded to Believe in Miracles?

My kids and I love reading missionary stories. You know the kind. There are witchdoctors. There are dreams and visions. And there are divine appointments with so many moving parts you can hardly keep track of them all. These books recount the kind of events that only an omnipotent, omniscient God could arrange, miracles that vicariously grow my faith.

If I’m not too jaded to believe miracles still happen.

Easy to Get Jaded

It can be easy to become jaded when we pray for people to have dreams and they don’t. Or when we tell our supporters we are “seed-planting” but have no idea if that seed is falling on good soil or rocky soil, or if “seed-planting” is just a nice way to say there’s no fruit to harvest. Or when we read books and attend classes about movements, underground churches, and contextualized Bible study methods, but can’t find a single person interested in Jesus.

Do you ever find yourself asking, “Where are the dreams, God? Where are the divine appointments? Where are the miracles?” Do you ever find yourself reading one of those adventurous, miraculous missionary stories, and praying, “Could I get me some-a that, Jesus? Just a little? A crumb?”

We served in India for seven years before transitioning to our current country of service. I often wondered when something was going to happen. When things were going to get exciting like in the books I’d read. It wasn’t until we came home and I wrote about everything that had happened that I realized just how many miracles God had performed. Like Israel of old, we forget our ten plagues, our Nile river crossings, our manna.

Sometimes when you’re in those hot, barren fields, pulling out rocks or throwing seeds hither and yon, all you can think about is how nice it would be if you could just see one tiny result, one little glimmer of light from Heaven. 

One little, itty bitty seedling poking out of the dirt.

I’m sure that’s how The Jesus Teacher felt.

The Jesus Teacher 

Twenty-five years ago, an Indian man moved to a remote mountain village. The villagers called him The Jesus Teacher. Each day The Jesus Teacher put on the colorful woolen clothing common to the people around him and went to work at a local school. After school, he would sit around people’s wood stoves, sipping hot clove-and-cinnamon tea and telling them stories of Jesus.

They laughed in his face.

Believe me, in that ultra-social environment, being made fun of is a special brand of torture.

They used to ask him for his clothes, or the rupees in his pocket, or his shoes, and he would give what they asked for, and they would laugh and call him a sucker. Not one person came to Christ while The Jesus Teacher lived in that village.

I wish I could talk to him now and remind him of the day he met my friend, Darshika. She was 15 and married to a drunkard twice her age. She held two little babies in her arms. The Jesus Teacher saw her sitting in front of her house, raised his hand in blessing, and said, “God give you ashish (a blessing).” 

Darshika had been grinding her forehead to the ground for the last several months, begging Vishnu and Durga and any other god she could think of to rescue her. Then this Jesus Teacher asked God to bless her, and somehow she knew she had been blessed.

Later, Darshika asked a chain-smoking ex-Catholic tourist to tell her more. She heard a handful of stories, some apocryphal.

Fifteen years later, my family and I met her, and, with my heart pounding in my chest, I shared the gospel with her in my simplistic Hindi, and she accepted Christ. She has been faithful under both pain and persecution, nurturing herself on an audio Bible. Once, when under extreme persecution, Jesus appeared to her and gave her the peace and courage to continue living.

Now that I’ve written it all out in seven paragraphs, it’s clear this is a miracle.

But here’s the thing: My perception of this miracle developed over time.

It took several years for me to play my part in the story, and then to hear and understand the other elements of it. And there may be miraculous circumstances God arranged that I know nothing about. Why were we and Darshika in the same village at the same time? Why did I suddenly know that I should blurt out the entire gospel to a random friend in a country where we were often so careful?

Miracles take time, both to unfold, and to perceive. I am learning to be patient with my finite heart and mind. I’m learning to be patient with God, too. He has promised he is doing something. Friend, don’t stop your prayer walks, don’t stop your personal devotions, don’t stop storming the gates of hell with your prayers for people you’ve never met. God promised to do something.

You don’t have to see it for it to be happening.

In fact, it might even look like the case is lost and the issue is closed and God has said no. Like with my birthday bed covering.

The Birthday Bed Covering

Once, when we were in India, my dad sent me $30 to buy myself a birthday present. I packed my two littles into an auto-rickshaw, and we careened our way to the nearest town. I knew exactly what I wanted: an Indian bed covering. I walked into shop after closet-sized shop, where salesmen unfurled sheet after sheet of multicolored fabric. Finally, I found the perfect one. The shopkeeper said it was the last one like it and tucked it into a small fabric bag. We went home by auto-rickshaw again, but I was so concerned with making sure my kids got out of the vehicle with me that I forgot my birthday present on the seat.

The driver turned around and drove away, not hearing my shouting nor seeing my arms waving. I grasped the kids’ hands and told them we would ask Jesus, and He would bring Mommy back her birthday present.

I fully expected that man to turn his vehicle around. I mean, my faith was palpable. I knew God was going to bring my gift back to me.

But the man didn’t turn around.

“Well,” I said to the kids. “Maybe Jesus is saying no. Maybe… maybe someone else needs it more than we do.” We walked home, and I felt confused and disappointed because I knew this time I’d had the kind of faith that could move a mountain.

Several months later, a stranger knocked on our door. He held out a small fabric bag.

He said the rickshaw driver had been asking everyone he met for the last several months if they knew where to find a foreigner lady with two little kids. The gift had passed through many hands, and though it could easily have been stolen, it was presented to me, clean and crisp.

As I spread that covering over my bed, I thought back to my prayer by the road. Would I have recognized this miracle if it hadn’t taken so long? Was it possible that God had actually planned it this way, to show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that He did it? Could I have rationalized the miracle away if the driver had turned around immediately?

The Cure for Jadedness

I know nothing about plants. But I’ve planted a few seeds. And every time, seeing those tender snips of green emerge from the earth is like experiencing a miracle.

Once, during a particularly dark time in India, I dreamed about plants. In my dream, I saw a field, barren and dark under a cloudy sky. Somehow I was able to look underneath the soil, as though I were watching a screen. I saw white roots stretching into the earth like a time-lapse video.

“The roots grow first!” I said in my dream. When I woke up, I YouTubed it, and indeed, long before any leaves emerge from their tombs of dirt, roots are growing. I didn’t know that before. Because I know nothing about plants.

But God knows.

Could it be that people in your country are having the dreams you ask God to send them?

Could it be that the people you meet are divine appointments?

Could it be that the little, seemingly insignificant things God asks you to do each day, are small parts of actual miracles?

Now, it would be great if I experienced one of the above miracle stories every Friday so that I could send our supporters an exciting newsletter each week. The truth is, although we experienced many, many miracles in India, our day-to-day lives were full of mediocrity. I changed diapers and visited the wives of Hindu priests. I learned to drive stick shift in the mountains and, when I killed the car, got stared at by a bus full of neighbors. Our laundry froze in the winter and we had to dry it by the wood stove. Our kids got worms. We got worms. We tried to share Bible stories and people changed the subject. We celebrated our anniversary with balloons and a sprinkly cake because we didn’t have a babysitter. We laughed at our Hindi faux pas, we laughed at our cultural mistakes, we laughed at our kids when they said funny things about intestinal worms. 

And sometimes, some days, we saw miracles.

If I learned anything in India, it’s that I don’t have to see something for it to exist. The earth takes time to turn around to face the sun again, and all that light takes time to fill the sky with color, and it takes time for me to get up and witness it all. But even if I sleep through it, there is still a beautiful sunrise. 

Once, a friend told me how inspired she was when she read all my stories about India. This surprised me. Although our experience changed me profoundly and grew my faith, most days, I remember the frozen laundry and sprinkly cake. But that’s how we humans are. We get used to things like Red Sea crossings and manna. We get stuck in what is happening right now, on Thursday afternoon. We don’t realize that our lives, if viewed in time-lapse or written in a book, would contain so many divine appointments it would be hard to keep track of them all. 

The next time setbacks and mundane normalcy threaten to make you feel jaded, rest your heart in Jesus. He has a plan, and He can see the end from the beginning. He can even see underground, where seedlings are sending down their roots, waiting for the perfect moment to rise up and greet the sun for the first time.

A Simple Tool to Increase Stability for TCKs During Transitions



I once took a class about missionary family health. The instructor pulled a seedling from its little terra cotta pot, exposing its threadlike roots. She held it up with two fingers. 

“Seedlings are fragile,” she said. “And they’re especially vulnerable when they’re being transplanted. The longer the roots are exposed, the more likely it is that the plant’s health will suffer. Your kids are young and fragile, too, so make sure your family transition periods don’t last too long–get your family stable as soon as possible and don’t let transitions drag on and on.” 

I thought back to my first six years as a parent. It seemed like one long transition, punctuated by brief moments of normalcy. I wondered if my children’s little “roots” had been irrevocably damaged. Dried up and shriveled, unable to take nourishment. 

If I could talk to myself as a young missionary mama, I would tell her that yes, disruption in routine causes discipline issues, anxiety, and relational strife. But I would also reassure her that she can create a little piece of stability all around herself. I would remind her about the time that she dreamed she was like a boat bringing people safely across a stormy sea, and I would tell her that, to her children, home is wherever she is.

And I would buy her a big box of sticky notes and a sharpie. Here’s why.

What To Do With Sticky Notes and Sharpies

1. Write Down Your Schedule

Sometimes the only indication that a child is stressed during a transition is that they suddenly start whining and clinging. They might cling to you, have trouble sleeping, or have trouble switching activities.

It took me years to realize that I contributed to transition-related clinginess in my son. He was so flexible and easygoing that I dragged him around from one thing to the next. I assumed that he knew “The Plan.” Until one day when he burst into tears and said, “Mommy, I had no idea we were going to ___’s house. All you guys ever say is ‘get in the car.’ You never tell me where we’re going!” 

Poor kid! I was so busy keeping all the plates spinning that I forgot to communicate our plans.

Even the most laid-back child benefits from seeing the family schedule. Sticky notes to the rescue! You can use one color for rhythm-related items— meals, chores, hygiene, and sleep— and another color for variable items like visiting people, going on outings, etc. Or you could just write your general “to dos” on one sticky note and discuss it with the whole family at breakfast. Kids who feel anxious might even like to have their own note so they can check what’s coming next. 

You might not always know everything that will happen in a day, and that’s okay, too. It helps my son to let him know which times of the day are flexible/unknown. You could do that with another color of sticky note, or just write “flexible time.”

2. Write Down Behavior Goals

Introduce enough jet lag and even the most well-behaved kids can seem like untrained miscreants. This is hard when you are living with your in-laws for two months on home assignment, or when you’re on vacation in Thailand and there is no naughty step like you have at home. It helps to remember that it’s normal for kids to get off-track and for you to have to reign things in again.

Personally, though, I don’t have the mental and emotional capacity to plan a response to a discipline issue on the spur of the moment during a transition. So, if I notice unwanted behavior patterns, I take a little time when the kids are asleep to make a plan. Then I post the plan where we can all see and remember it. Sticky notes are a portable way to do that.

They can also be used to keep track of progress. When we were moving out of India, things were all kinds of crazy. I quickly realized my kids were ignoring me. First, I sat them down and explained the need to listen better. Then, for two weeks, every time they came when we called them, we drew them a star on their own sticky note. And every time the sticky note accumulated 50 stars, we bought them ice cream cones– a huge deal for them because we don’t eat a lot of desserts!

This was easy for me to remember and implement, hard to lose because it fit in my back pocket, and motivating for my kids, who were really proud of themselves for listening well. Because in the end, they really wanted to listen and obey, but just like us, they got distracted with all the extra things they had to process and think about. They needed extra support, reminders, and patience from us as parents to help them succeed.

3. Play

Although my kids love traveling, they often bicker when we are in transition. They usually need one of several things: a break from each other, more one-on-one time with Mom or Dad, or quality time with each other. The problem is, it can be difficult to find time for these things during transitions.

My husband and I discovered a pocket of precious time hiding right under our noses. One day while on a long flight, we decided to play with our kids instead of watching in-flight entertainment. We found that airplanes are a surprisingly great place to get one-on-one time with children. It’s a small investment of time, but it goes a long way toward filling their love cups. 

You could try playing tic-tac-toe or other games with your sticky notes, writing down things you’re thankful for, listing things you loved about the place you’re leaving, or sketching out plans for the next place. My personal favorite is to secretly brainstorm how to be a blessing to the other sibling(s). You could help a child write affirmations for his siblings and hide them in his stuff when he gets up to use the restroom. Or, using your sticky notes again, you could make animated “movie” flip books.

We all have more fun and arrive more emotionally fulfilled if we play with our kids in airports and on airplanes. 

Seedlings in Transition

When my family lived in the mountains of India, I used to ride my bike up our Himalayan valley to a shop near a carved wooden temple. There a man stood selling seedlings. He would wait all day, whether it was raining or dry, hot or cool. Next to him, on a tarp on the ground, sat seedlings, their roots wrapped in dirt and a wet piece of newspaper. Those seedlings survived days of waiting and a jostling ride in my backpack until I could get them home and plant them in the good soil of my garden.

Transitions aren’t easy on children — or parents. We won’t always handle disruptions perfectly, and we won’t always have easy solutions to problems. But with Jesus and some sticky notes (or whatever method works for you) we can wrap our fragile little ones in a stable family environment, so they can bloom wherever, and whenever, they are planted.

You Know You’re Language Learning If…

I have three pieces of advice for adult language learners: talk to people, don’t panic, and trust your brain.

Language learning brings with it a whole host of new physical and mental sensations. You’re going to feel awkward and like a poser sometimes. Some days it will feel like your brain is going to explode, or like you’re not learning a new language so much as forgetting your first one. But if you keep talking with people and don’t let these new sensations worry you, your brain will do something magical for you: it will learn the language.

While you are giving it lots of meaning-rich input from actual people, and trying not to panic, your brain will be calculating. You’ll be going in there and dumping tons of new sounds, syllables, and meanings on the floor of your brain, and at first, your brain will be like, “Uh… housekeeping?”

But soon, your brain will perform a kind of miracle. It will start to categorize all that meaningless stuff. It will find boxes in a back room and start heaping verbs in there, along with images, sensations, and memories to add meaning to those verbs. Your inner librarian will start putting stuff in filing cabinets and shelving like items together. (Am I the only one who pictures their brain like a giant library?)

Anyway, when you’ve been listening and talking all day and your brain shuts down and you can’t remember your own name, rejoice and be exceeding glad. This is a good sign. It means your brain is doing so many important things in the background that it’s closed the library for the day. 

Don’t be surprised if you wake up remembering a random word for which you have no meaning. Go find the missing meaning, and you’ll never forget that word. Trust the process. And if you need a reminder that you’re not alone on this language learning journey, read on.

You Know You’re Language Learning If…

Even though it’s more expensive, you often shop at the Supermarket because you still can’t tell the difference between 12 and 267, and because at the Supermarket you don’t have to talk to strangers with the seven words that you do know.

Or, if you are more extroverted, you only shop at vegetable stands, and become best friends with all the vendors, and stay there all day talking about how many brothers and sisters everyone has within a five-mile radius.

Even though you can’t speak a complete sentence in your new language, you cannot remember the word for “beans” in your mother tongue. It has been replaced by the new-language equivalent. Even though you worry this is permanent, you are secretly proud of yourself.

If this is your third language, your brain keeps offering you words from your second language. You reject these. As a result, your brain purposefully forgets your second language, leading you to think it’s gone forever. (It’s not necessarily gone; it’s in storage. Just be sure to use it occasionally, or your inner librarian will chuck it in the dumpster.)

Talkative people who repeat themselves a lot are your favorite people in the world. Especially if they give you cake and frequently tell you what a good job you are doing.

You get the gist of what people are saying… except sometimes you’re wrong. Like when someone asks you a question, and you respond, “I like chicken,” except they didn’t actually ask you what your favorite food was but rather where you are going, and they look at you like you’re from another planet.

You are thrilled to realize that you now notice the spaces between words. Soon, you can identify and ask about a single word that you need a definition for.

You post so many words on your walls that your apartment starts to resemble the shack in A Beautiful Mind.

Someone mistakes you for a native speaker, and you are thrilled. The very next day, someone doesn’t understand you when you ask what time it is.

You make a funny language faux pas.

You make an X-rated language faux pas.

You are thankful that everyone laughs at your faux pas. You laugh, too. You even laugh when you don’t know why everyone is laughing, like a two-year-old at the dinner table. Which is great, except when someone asks you, “Do you understand why we’re laughing?” And you have to say no because Christians don’t lie.

Your kids correct your pronunciation.

Someone says your spouse is better than you at the language. That very same day, someone else says you are better than your spouse.

Because of the two previous points, you realize you might need the tiniest little vacation. And maybe some therapy.

Sometimes you think you might be fluent. You are talking quickly and everyone is understanding what you say. Until the next day, when you can’t remember the word for “the.”

You make your first real word-play joke in the language. However, the comedic effect is ruined when your friends try to correct what they assume is a mistake.

You ask for the Chinese newspaper on a Chinese airline, but when you try to ask the flight attendant for water in Mandarin, she looks at you with disdain and says, “Sure. You want me to bring you the English newspaper, too?” (True story!)

You start dreaming in your target language and understand everything better than in real life.

You tell someone the gospel story in your broken, weird, childish way… and their heart is touched, and they want to know more, and you feel like you could do this forever, even if it is hard on the pride.

What about you? How do you know you’re a language learner?

When Your TCK is Bullied

Praying for Answers

There was a time which seemed to last forever, a time when my kids got bullied.

I wish I could say that, because of my spiritual and emotional maturity and love for our host country’s people, I had a good attitude about this. But I didn’t. Instead, when my kids were hit with pebbles and sticks and had their ice creams thrown in the dirt and were told to go back to America, I wished mean things upon other people’s children. Like acne. Or sinkholes.

Thankfully, we were still learning the language at the time.

My children confided in me. They looked to me for answers I only wished I had. How could I help them? I tried talking to parents, and to the kids themselves, but it didn’t help. Thus began more than a year of research and problem-solving, in which I feared I’d wear out both Google and God, and pretty much everyone else I knew, in my quest for a solution. Perhaps you are facing a similar situation. If so, I want to share six strategies that worked well for us.

1. Give it to God

It can be difficult to know whether a given case of bullying is something that will burn our kids or refine them; crush them or make them stronger. I’ve found that, like in many parenting challenges, I have to bring this kind of issue before God and lay it at His feet, praying for wisdom and guidance. It’s possible that removing your kids from a bullying situation will be the best option. Or God might direct you to stay and work through it. Trust Him, and trust your instincts as a parent.

2. Teach Confidence

According to nearly every article I read on the Internet, bullies want an easy target. Someone who won’t fight back, who will give a good reaction—whining, crying, cowering, tattling. Bullies love this because makes them feel powerful, when, perhaps, they feel powerless in other areas of life. This is sad and disturbing, yet it is true in our sinful world.

I decided to focus on teaching and modeling confidence. We worked on standing straight, chin up; looking around; having a relaxed, pleasant expression. We worked on reacting to unkindness in a calm, amused manner or cheerfully ignoring insults. A fellow TCK mom and good friend of mine also recommended encouraging my kids to focus on people who do like them, and spending time and energy on those people and activities that bring joy.

I was recently with a group of expat teens who were asked to share their biggest struggle in their host country. Several mentioned not knowing the local language. It takes time and effort, but solid language skills can give a huge boost to confidence. If you’re looking for help in this area, you can check out my earlier article, 3 Ways to Help Your TCK with Language Learning. 

3. Stay Curious

I know how frustrating it is when your child asks you to explain someone’s behavior, and your only answer is, “Um, yeah, I have no idea.” It hurts our parental pride not to have tidy, sitcom-succinct answers. But press into that discomfort. You may find an opportunity to better understand your host culture.

Find a friend—a local mom, a thoughtful teenager, a language helper—someone you can talk to. Questions might include: Is this normal behavior? Is it seen as a problem here? What do people in your culture normally do about this issue? Why do you think it is happening? 

Involve your child in this cultural research. Approach it like a puzzle. By staying curious, you model how to approach the other cultural mysteries your child will face in his or her life. We learned that in our host country, hitting is seen as a problem-solving option for both children and adults. It’s a part of life. This helped us to see and understand the difference between frustrated, childish whacking and targeted hitting that is meant to intimidate.

4. Make Great Memories

Being bullied takes large withdrawals out of several banks, including the Bank of Self-Esteem and the Bank of Love for the Host Culture. You, as a parent, can help balance this by making deposits.

For the Bank of Self-Esteem, we arranged special times both as a family and for one-on-one dates with Mom or Dad. This gave us a chance to learn more about what each child loves and to give them opportunities to develop their talents and dive into their interests. Consider helping your kids find ways to serve your family such as cooking a meal or fixing bike tires. This will naturally increase self-esteem and put bullying in perspective.

For the Bank of Love for the Host Culture, we sought out other people and families and purposely spent time with those we all got along with. To help your child find new people to hang out with, you could help them join an art or sports club, or learn skills that are unique to your country. One TCK I know learned to play bagpipe when she lived in Scotland; another taught English classes in her Cambodian community; a third learned to tie a sari in India. Look beyond just peers — younger kids and elderly people are also great places to find positive relationships.

5. Be Creative

As I observed the neighbor kids interacting one afternoon, I had an epiphany. These kids were bored! And the more bored they felt, the more they pecked at each other. They needed something to do.

Now, gross motor stills are not my gift from Jesus. I spent most of my elementary PE classes feeling really, really confused. But I swallowed my pride, gathered some of the rocks the neighbor kids had been throwing at each other, and started a relay race. Surprisingly, the bullying nearly disappeared for several weeks. (And I had a childhood dream fulfilled when the kids rang our doorbell and asked me to play!)

Rock relay races may not be applicable in your circumstances, but the problem-solving principle might be. Maybe someone has a habit of putting others down to boost their self-image. Would a one-on-one playdate without group pressure help them feel less threatened? Maybe everyone else knows how to play soccer and your kids love basketball. Could they ask one of the friendlier kids to coach them? Pinpointing the reason for the bullying is the first step in equipping your child and/or other kids to redirect behavior and energy in more positive ways.

6. Practice Forgiveness

Six months after I started this journey with my kids, I got an email from a “mother in Israel,” an elderly woman who prays for us and our mission. She’d read a kids’ article I’d written about the bullying and advised my children to forgive their enemies. I read the letter, then looked around self-consciously. Did she know about the acne and sinkholes? And, more importantly, how did I forget about forgiveness?

I had taught my kids to be diplomatic, to act confident, to walk away, to be helpful to the neighbors, to love themselves as children of God despite their flaws, to know the bullying wasn’t their fault, to be willing to grow. . . . But I’d never mentioned forgiveness.

We began to pray for our enemies. It was hard. Hard for them and for their mama bear. I began a months-long dive into Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the sermon where this famous advice is given. Suddenly, it seemed, the entire sermon was about bullies and bullying and what we’re supposed to do about it all. 

I learned that Jesus wants us to see all people as just that: people. It’s easy to objectify someone who hurts us. Praying for our enemies, forgiving them, and even trying to love them leads us to see them as people. 

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to forgive. Because by forgiving, we realize that our bullies are just as in need of grace and help as we are.

Why We Stayed

I’ll be honest. At the beginning of our bullying journey, I was ready to pack up my cubs and move. After all, our landlord even confessed to our helper that his family moved out because of rude neighbors!

I submitted these plans to God… strictly as a formality. I mean, I assumed God had read all the same articles on bullying and depression and anxiety that I had. He would surely give us the green light and send us to a more emotionally functional neighborhood. But, long story short, God said no. I very clearly sensed Him telling me to wait. I second-guessed myself daily, and talked to God often, ready to rescue my kids from this trial at a moment’s notice.

But as I waited, something unexpected happened. I saw my children grow and mature. I saw them start living their faith. They began to lean on it and to depend on it. I watched them come to Jesus because they didn’t want to forgive, and I saw Jesus help them do the impossible. That is hard heart work. And in the end, this growing relationship with God was more valuable than the comfort of always being loved by everyone.

If you’d like to hear more about our journey, I’ve written about it on my newsletter, Whatsoever Things. I’d love to see you there.