What Happened When I Gave God My Overseas Birth Plan

We had been in India for two months when we discovered we were going to be parents.

This was not an “oops.”

I don’t know why we chose that particular time to start a family. Maybe it’s because our new, Himalayan-ringed world seemed so full of possibility. Maybe it’s because we had recently read the story of Hannah, who sought a child with tears. Or maybe it’s because, by that point, we had only had giardia once.

Whatever the reason, by getting pregnant we added to a long list of changes that had taken place within the last five years: get married, enter the workforce, decide to be missionaries, get rid of most of our stuff, move to India.

Yes, we discussed the “Major Life Transitions Stress Test” during missionary training.

But we were young and didn’t listen.

Anyway, I worked hard to prepare. I binge-listened to podcasts with scary and beautiful birth stories. And I sang to my baby: “The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song. By day and by night, He leads me along.”

The Internet said I should make a “birth plan.” A birth plan is a tidy, bullet-point list of desired birth positions, preferred environment, and what kind of meds you are okay with and not okay with. A birth plan is where you say that you want to be surrounded by lavender-scented candles, or that you want to breathe, float, meditate, or walk through the pain. So, I made one of those things and searched for a hospital.

The first hospital was 30 minutes away by bus. (We had no car. I know, someone should go mentor those poor new people!)

At the hospital, a nurse in a white Punjabi suit led Joshua and me to Labor and Delivery. I stepped into the room. A pair of stirrups hung over a skeletal bed. Some kind of instrument, covered in goo, sat on the counter. The doctor said men were not allowed to accompany their laboring wives, a policy meant to protect the privacy of other laboring women. 

“It’ll only be nurses here around your due date,” she told us. “Sometimes that can be a less than optimal situation. I recommend you find somewhere else.” 

Somewhere else? The closest “somewhere else” was two hours south of us! I refolded my birth plan, and we left.

The second hospital we checked was beautiful. An electric bug zapper cast a blue glow in the foyer. A woman mopped with a rag on the end of a stick. But the waiting room for the OB/GYN was empty. 

We walked into her office. She smiled, but I didn’t like her smile somehow. 

“I would like to give birth naturally,” I told her, unfolding the well-worn birth plan. “What is your policy on medication during labor?”

“We will not give you any pain-saving drugs. You have to bear the pain.” Her voice sounded almost threatening, and I felt one of my eyebrows raise. 

“Okay. Well, I want my husband with me. Can you accommodate?” 

She leaned back in her chair and chuckled. “Why do you ask so many questions? You’ve never even had a baby. You don’t know. I’m the doctor, and I know. Just leave everything to me.”

We left her office and crossed town. I wanted to check the government hospital. Walking into the large building, I assured Joshua, “It can’t be that bad.”

We walked to L and D. I held my breath. Cots lined the hallway. Women lay on the cots. Some moaned. I felt frightened for them. Would they have their babies on the floor? When I asked, I was told they’d be transferred when ready to be delivered.

Cue hospital number three. We were shown to the delivery room. The walls were splattered with something. Could be water stains, I comforted myself. 

Over the stains hung a poster of a white baby. One delivery bed, barely padded, sat next to an uneven metal table that held the doctor’s tools. I swallowed and followed the doctor upstairs. There was a nursery, a bilirubin light, an oxygen hood. The obstetrician seemed kind and capable, and everyone answered my questions politely. This will have to work! 

We made arrangements and booked a taxi home. As I sat watching the waving Buddhist prayer flags and snow-dusted mountains out my window, I considered going back to the US for the birth. In fact, another missionary mama had strongly suggested I do so.

But every time I talked to God about it, He gave me a kind of a bittersweet peace. A strong conviction that this small sacrifice would make a difference. 

Lord, are You sure?

Jesus praised the woman who gave only two coins. Did He notice how hard it was to give the little I had? And would it make any tangible difference for the Parvata people? 

I didn’t know. All I knew was that God was calling me to place everything in His able hands. 

Even my birth plan.

As I wrote later in my book, “I felt a sisterhood with Mary, who had changed all her plans for God even when she had no idea what God was doing. Mary, who had to travel to Bethlehem while great with child. Mary, who had her baby in a dirty stable without her mother there to tell her it would be okay. She may not have understood why, but she was willing. Willing to obey God, willing bear the Light of the World ‘to the people who walk in darkness.’”

I ended up giving birth to two beautiful children in those mountains. There were no candles, music, or mood lighting. There was no tub, exercise ball, or heating pad. But it didn’t matter. It was beautiful in its own way. There were miracles, big and small, which are more precious to my faith now than a perfect birth story.

Later, I accompanied an Indian friend when she gave birth. Her first two births, she’d said, had been at home. Largely ignored by her family, she gave birth behind the woodstove, “like a dog.” For her third child, I brought her to the hospital and held her hand while she pushed.

Just at the moment when my friend thought she couldn’t do it, she looked up at me with a strange, searching expression. Later, I asked her what she was thinking.

“I was remembering all the women I’d seen die in childbirth back in the village. But when I looked up at you, there was light all around your head, and you looked . . . well, you looked ‘local.’ And somehow I knew I wasn’t going to die.”

Having my children in India did something I couldn’t have predicted. It solidly bonded me with the women with whom I wanted so much to share Jesus. It helped me to understand them and helped them to understand me.

Are you pregnant and overseas? Chandler’s article about giving birth abroad has some great advice about important things to consider. Don’t feel guilty if you need to travel, invest, or even go home for your birth.

But also, don’t be afraid to ask God about His will for your birth. His ways are higher than ours, and so are His plans. As I sang for my daughter when I held her for the first time: “The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song. By day and by night, He leads me along.”

3 Ways to Help Your TCK with Language Learning

Sponges

Has anyone ever referred to your Third Culture Kid as a language sponge? Maybe you picture your child’s brain effortlessly slurping up nouns, adjectives, and conjugations, lisping in perfect Mandarin or Swahili.

That’s what we pictured. After all, my husband and I love languages. Our kids were born in the mission field. Why wouldn’t they learn?

However, when we moved to our second country of service, we quickly realized our daughter, Ashi, was not in a very spongey, language-learny mood. It would take all our language learning knowledge and experience, plus a whole lot of prayer and creativity, to support her and her brother’s learning journeys.

Along the way, we discovered three important ingredients to successful language learning in kids. This “secret sauce” includes exposure, structure, and inspiration.

1. Exposure

The fact is, language learning takes time–hours and hours of meaningful exposure on a consistent basis.

According to the US State Department[i], it takes 600-700 hours of classroom instruction to reach fluency in a level 1 (easy) language. And that’s for adults, who, contrary to the sponge theory, may learn and retain languages faster than children[ii].

The need for more time in the target language is one reason some workers send their children to local schools. But what if attending a local school isn’t a good fit for your family or your child? What if you homeschool or send your child to an international school?

That was our situation. We knew we’d have to get creative. In order to support our young language learners, we decided to:

  • Move outside the city, where people have more time for a cup of tea and a chat, and where kids aren’t constantly attending one after-school program after another.
  • Set up activities that attract children. A trampoline, kiddie pool, or pick-up game of soccer are great ways to encourage positive social interaction.
  • Seek friends with kids, especially those who are not currently learning English.
  • Hire household help—specifically a friendly, chatty helper!
  • Learn songs in the local language.
  • Enroll our children in extracurricular activities taught in the target language.

Other missionaries we know have also incorporated these ideas:

  • Instituting a family language hour, where only the target language is spoken—make sure this is fun and low-pressure!
  • Allowing children to watch cartoons in the local language.

What if your child is getting lots of exposure but still asks your neighbor lady the equivalent of, “Please, I give you water me?” What’s a missionary mom (or dad) to do? That brings me to the second crucial ingredient to language learning: structure.

2. Structure

The idea that children are language sponges who learn easily with zero instruction is somewhat of a myth. Obviously, babies learn languages without taking grammar classes. But that process also takes three or four years!

Studies suggest that very young children are better at doing what experts call “acquiring” language, which is absorbing it by hearing and using it in everyday life rather than receiving explicit instruction[iii]. But this requires many, many hours of high-quality, contextualized exposure each day. That’s hard to get outside a kindergarten classroom, where kids spend eight hours a day hearing simple songs and poems, doing calendar work, and engaging in thematic play.

Most language learners, regardless of age, benefit from specific instruction.

If your target language is a common one, you can find wonderful resources for this, online and/or in person. Think talkbox.mom, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, YouTube, a local language center, etc. But what if your target language is a little more obscure? And what if available in-person language learning options aren’t working for your child?

To meet our children’s need for structured instruction, we hired a local teacher but designed the lessons ourselves. Specifically, we:

  • Let the kids choose scenarios to play with their teacher. Some favorites included bargaining in the marketplace and choosing what to wear in the morning.
  • Gamified everything. We created gameboards on Canva, played Go Fish with verb cards we drew ourselves, played Simon Says, used Uno cards to practice numbers and colors, added sentences to an ongoing story, and anything else we could think of. The key is to pick just one grammar point and a handful of verbs and nouns, and use the game as an excuse to build sentences. Always start with something that is at or only slightly above your child’s language level. Briefly review the grammar and vocab, explain the game, and play!
  • Had our language helper record our children’s stories, or stories our kids knew, as well as verb conjugations, and listened to these in the car.
  • Engaged in structured language practice at home using games, translation drills, and simple writing exercises.

Maybe you’re still learning your target language, too. That’s okay! A little goes a long way, so share what you know, even if you’re only one step ahead of your kids. Just a few months after beginning this regime, our son was starting to talk outside the classroom.

Ashi, however, was still lacking the final ingredient: Inspiration.

3. Inspiration

There is a hidden obstacle to language learning. Teaching professionals call it the Affective Filter. According to FluentU, an Affective Filter is, “the invisible, psychological filter that either aids or deters the process of language acquisition[iv].” In other words, it’s the stress, anxiety, boredom, and lack of confidence that makes language learners go blank anytime they hear a new word.

After some prayer and observation, we realized this was our daughter’s struggle. Ashi is sensitive about being the center of attention. Language learning felt like a performance to her. Her independent personality balked at that.

We needed to locate low-pressure opportunities for Ashi to be her unique self and practice language. Since she loves feeling capable and helping others, we turned to our neighbors.

Ashi helped my friend with her baby, a group of old women with their rabbit farm, and another lady with food prep and dishwashing. She helped our helper cook local dishes. When she complained about going to language classes, we remained firm, but we let her choose a tasty local treat or favorite activity afterward if she kept a positive attitude during class.

After several months, our daughter’s relationship with the language changed. She began to feel proud of her ability to communicate. Although she often tells groups of people she doesn’t speak the language, the fact is, she does.

Don’t Say You Can’t

One day, about a month ago, our family walked into a labyrinthian marketplace full of textured rugs, fake Aladdin lamps, and exotic solid perfumes. After about 15 minutes, I realized I had lost Ashi. I found her in a shop that sold pens covered in mirror “jewels.”

“That’s too expensive,” she was telling the shopkeeper in Arabic. “Knock the price down for me a little.” I looked at the shopkeeper, a wrinkled, bent-over man with a cane. He was grinning.

Ashi got her discount.

This morning I asked if Ashi has any advice for her fellow TCKs. She mentioned playing Go Fish and making friends. But this, she says, is her best advice ever:

“Don’t say that you can’t!”

 

[i] https://www.state.gov/foreign-language-training/

[ii] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-child-language/article/age-and-learning-environment-are-children-implicit-second-language-learners/457C069A5339D656788E7E8D217B2A3A

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/parenting/children-language-development.html#:~:text=Mu%C3%B1oz%20makes%20the%20point%20that,Like%20Dr.

[iv] https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/affective-filter/

How I Fight Anxiety and Serve as a Missionary Anyway

by Abigail Follows

We were home on our first furlough when my husband, Joshua, asked me to drive. I forced a yawn to hide my dismal forebodings.

“I’m a bit tired.”

“I am, too. But it’s not far.”

“I really don’t want to.”

“But you can, Abby.”

“But I can’t!”

I drove us home, angry. Something in me knew my fear wasn’t logical. But the rest of me was sure I was going to drive my whole family into a tree, off a bridge, or into the side of a Dairy Queen.

That night Joshua and I had a heart-to-heart. That’s when I realized I had a giant bully in my life—anxiety, my own personal Goliath. I knew anxiety was keeping me from more than just driving. Fear was affecting everything in my life, including ministry in India.

Over the ten years since that day, I’ve rounded up an arsenal of “smooth stones” that help me stay brave. Here are nine tools I use to fight anxiety and serve as a missionary anyway.

 

1. Avoid Avoiding
For over a year, I avoided driving like the plague. I thought I was more emotionally stable that way. But my “safety bubble” just kept shrinking. I avoided more and more things until I didn’t even want to leave the house.

According to Emma McAdam, who produces Therapy in a Nutshell, avoidance teaches the brain to be anxious. “You think you have to keep running so that it doesn’t catch you,” she writes. [1]  “But I promise if you sit and let it catch you, you’ll find that you can handle it, and that it’s better than running all the time.”

It wasn’t until I stopped avoiding and started facing my fears that I conquered them. That meant leaving the house to drive, shop, and visit people—even when I wanted to hide.

 

2. Check Your Vitamins
Our bodies and minds are complex and connected. Stress and a lack of dietary nutrients can work together to cause anxiety.

Sarah is a nutritionist and former missionary to Chad, Africa. She found herself dealing with anxiety after returning from the field.

“It started after we came back, surprisingly,” she says. “I experienced a lot of anxiety.” Although Sarah ran a nutrition clinic in Chad, at first she didn’t connect nutritional deficiencies to her own experience. “It lasted for a couple of years,” she says. Finally, Sarah began taking a simple multivitamin. Her anxiety improved dramatically.

Stress increases the body’s need for certain nutrients. But the food supply in a country may lack key nutrients that play a part in mental health—iodine, B12, B6, Omega-3, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D are just a few. Some countries fortify foods like cereal and bread with these and other nutrients. Some don’t. Our whole family tested low on several nutrients after about four years overseas.

Now we take multivitamins. I also take magnesium, a mineral used by the body to calm the stress response, and often found to be depleted in people facing a lot of stress.[2] Talk to your healthcare provider for help determining what supplements you might need.

 

3. Exercise
Exercise was my husband’s first suggestion for fighting fear. At first, my anxious brain was offended. But then I realized he was right—exercise works, and is one way I can practice self-care.

Exercise combats anxiety in many ways.[3] It uses both sides of the body together, which helps the brain communicate with itself. It signals to the amygdala, the part of the brain most involved in anxiety, that you have run away from The Danger. It helps the body use up and burn off stress hormones, and it increases endorphins.

But I haven’t always lived in countries where it’s safe for a woman to go for a jog. As expats, we sometimes have to get creative when weather, space, time, and safety concerns limit exercise opportunities. During the Covid pandemic, my family even used the stairs in our house as “our mountain,” and we gave ourselves a daily stair-climbing challenge.

The number one thing that helped me exercise more is realizing how much better it makes me feel. That was more motivating to me than thinking about how I look or what I “should” do.

 

4. Check Your Circadian Rhythm
Dr. Neil Nedley, MD, has done extensive research on the causes of anxiety and depression. He names an off-balance circadian rhythm as a contributor to both anxiety and depression.[4]

As missionaries, we frequently change time zones. That means we deal with more jet lag than your average person. If you find yourself happier and more alert the later it gets, you might be dealing with a circadian rhythm problem. Some people call this day-night reversal, and it can leave you feeling jumpy, gloomy, and lethargic all at the same time.

Dr. Nedley recommends exposing your eyes to bright light early in the morning, either through a “happy lamp” or light therapy glasses or with the natural morning sunlight. He also recommends avoiding all screens within 1-4 hours of bedtime, since the blue light in screens naturally signals the brain to wake up. Just avoiding screens in the evening has helped me keep my circadian rhythm in a good groove.

 

5. Evaluate Your Relationship with Technology
Take any normal human being and place them far away from friends and family in a totally new environment. Add stress.

Now offer them a way to connect with people, information, and entertainment instantly. Who wouldn’t choose to spend a lot of time on their phone or computer? The problem is, too much technology can be addictive and aggravate anxiety.[5]

Recently, my family came up with a few rules to make sure we have healthy technology boundaries. Among these are no phones before family devotion in the morning and no phones after dinner. We use alternative forms of entertainment and take one day a week as a low-tech day. These simple steps have helped us keep technology in its rightful role as a useful tool instead of a way to escape reality.

 

6. Learn Calming Techniques
Sometimes our bodies get so used to feeling anxious that they signal danger where there is none. Calming techniques are a great tool to lower acute stress—the kind of anxiety that is overwhelming you right this minute.

Calming techniques work by activating the parasympathetic system[6], which regulates the fight-or-flight response. Some techniques include observing your environment, observing the way your own body feels, doing manual tasks such as knitting or washing dishes, playing with your kids, being in nature, and journaling. You can also try “softening your eyes,” which is basically staring at nothing/zoning out.

Slow, deep breathing might seem like something too simple to help, but it’s impossible to breathe in this way and stay scared. Try breathing in for a count of eight, holding it for a count of four, and breathing out for a count of eight. You can even do this through the day when you’re not panicking as a preventative measure.

 

7. Try CBT
Nope, it’s not a supplement. CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Sometimes unhelpful thought patterns are behind anxiety. In CBT, unhelpful thoughts, or “cognitive distortions,” are purposefully challenged and replaced with truer, more helpful thoughts.

When I was first language learning, I sometimes felt paralyzed by social anxiety. Years later, I realized that I often told myself that making mistakes is horrible and that I can’t stand feeling embarrassed. These thoughts were so automatic I barely noticed them—I only noticed their emotional effects. Thinking differently can feel awkward, but after purposefully changing my thoughts, my emotions soon followed. I was able to give myself some grace and learn our host culture’s language, one mistake at a time.

A couple of helpful books for changing your thought patterns are SOS: Help for Emotions, and Telling Yourself the Truth. It can also be helpful to work with a counselor trained in CBT.

 

8. Tackle a Specific Stressor
Is there something specific that is triggering anxiety for you? Try keeping an anxiety log, where you journal a few lines every time you feel anxious. Try to record the situations surrounding the anxiety, as well as the specific anxious thoughts you are having.

Once, when I did this exercise, I realized I felt more anxious (surprise!) when my kids bickered. Now that I knew the specific problem I was facing, I made a plan to tackle it. For me, that meant reading a couple of parenting books, talking to other godly moms, praying about it, and thinking creatively about the problem. Just having a plan gave me hope and helped me feel more capable.

 

9. Be Kind To Yourself
Growth takes time. This is true in our walk with Christ, our effectiveness in ministry, and our emotional intelligence. If you want to win the fight against anxiety, expect to lose a few battles along the way. Failure isn’t a sign that you’re doomed—it’s a sign that you’re trying!

One thing that has helped me is remembering I’m not alone. Christ promises to walk with me, and His strength is made perfect in my weakness. Time and again, anxiety tells me I “just can’t do it.” Maybe I can’t, but Christ in me can! I may not even be willing to fight fear some days, but if I’m willing to be willing, Jesus can work with that.

 

Shrinking Giant
The “Goliath” of anxiety has been a recurring character in the story God is writing of my life. But by God’s grace, that Goliath is shrinking, becoming less and less powerful and important. I’ve learned how to support my body and mind, and I’m learning to trust God with my worries and feelings.

Anxiety is still a bossy bully. But I’m learning to obey Jesus, who will be with me even to the ends of the earth.

As you are ministering to others, don’t forget to let Christ give you hope, strength, and courage in your deepest need.

Even if that deepest need is the Goliath of anxiety.

 

Sources:

[1] https://therapynutshell.com/skill-5-how-avoidance-makes-it-worse/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761127/
[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety-2019102418096
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5103329/
[5] https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/how-much-is-too-much-technology-screen-time-and-your-mental-health/#:~:text=increasing%20screen%20time%20was%20generally,diagnosed%20with%20anxiety%20or%20depression.%E2%80%9D
[6] https://canyonvista.com/activating-parasympathetic-nervous-system/

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

Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. Despite struggling with anxiety, she has served with God’s help as a cross-cultural missionary since 2010. Abigail believes that courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to face fear. She writes about what God can do through brave obedience in her book, Hidden Song of the HimalayasAbigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two energetic children, and cat, Protagonist. You can get to know her at www.abigailfollows.com.

7 Ways to Enjoy Your Host Country

by Abigail Follows

We launched to India as newlyweds. After an 18-hour bus ride into the Himalayan mountains, we strapped ourselves into two giant backpacking backpacks and walked into a village. Several years, two kids, and many life lessons later, we found ourselves wondering how to help our kids love the country where they were born.

Our kids had been through more than their share of stress and trauma. Could we stay in India anyway? One thing was clear: we needed to make some changes. Whether you’re a new missionary or looking for ways to help your family re-bond with your host country, here are seven things we’ve found that help.

 

1. Be a Tourist.
I know, I know. You probably spend a lot of time trying not to look like a tourist. You want people to see that you live here. That you’re permanent. I get it. We lived in India for seven years, and we didn’t see the Taj Mahal until year six! 

But the thing is, celebrating the unique things in your host country is unlikely to ruin your witness. On the contrary, it stimulates the economy and gives you things to talk about. So go see that interesting monument. Take that camel safari. Buy the keychain made in China that says “Thailand” on it. Make memories in your host country, and your love for the place will grow.

 

2. Plan Regular Breaks.
This is especially important if your ministry assignment is in an intense or underdeveloped area. And it can be an easy thing to neglect. When we lived in India, it was 14 hours away by bus to Anywhere Else, so we pretty much stayed home.

However, once we realized our kids needed more, we had to get creative. We found local places to take breaks—a hot spring, a hotel with a pool, a restaurant that served pizza without garam masala on it. As it turned out, my husband and I needed more, too.

Taking breaks calms the brain and nervous system and gives you a bird’s-eye view on problems. It’s like a giant reset button, giving you the mental fortitude to tackle your tasks with fresh energy.

 

3. Spend A Little Money.
This might sound materialistic at first glance. But here’s where I’m coming from: when my husband and I first launched to India, we were afraid to buy knives and a cooking pot, lest we look rich. Another friend of mine was advised by coworkers not to buy any furniture for the same reason.

It’s important to consider the economic situation of your friends and neighbors, and of the host country as a whole. But if a small luxury would save you time and frustration, and if it won’t specifically hinder your witness, go for it! Once Joshua and I finally got set up in a home, we were complimented by all the neighborhood dadijis (grandmas) for providing for ourselves. We had graduated from wandering trekkers to normal people.

 

4. Forgive.
I try hard to be neutral and chill when it comes to cultural misunderstandings. But certain things break through and offend me to my core. In India, our neighbors had the habit of blaming mothers for everything that went wrong with children—from mosquito bites to major injuries—whether or not the mother was within a 20-mile radius of her kid at the time.

This violated my hidden cultural assumptions: Mothers instinctually know how to parent; good mothers don’t get told what to do, because they already know; good mothers don’t want their children to be injured, so communities should always reassure rather than blame. The message I got when I was blamed for everything was this: “You are a terrible mother. Also, we don’t like you.”

It was hard to forgive and let go of my offendedness, because it just made so much sense! But once I did forgive, I came to understand the Indian mindset: Mothers do not instinctually know how to parent, and we should pressure and give advice, lest they mess things up. If we don’t say anything, it’s because we don’t care. In other words, my Parvata friends were actively caring about me and trying to help me do my job well. 

Forgiving gives you permission to keep seeing the good in people. Apply grace liberally!

 

5. Temporarily suspend some boundaries.
Before launching to India, we read a wonderful article called, “Bonding and the Missionary Task,” by Brewster and Brewster. That article was second only to the Bible in our initial mission strategy. As the Brewsters suggested, we packed very light—hence the two backpacks. We used only public transportation. And we lived with a local family.

We lived with less privacy than we wanted. A lot less. And you know what? That transparency and dependence on the local community endeared us to each other! Even now, we consider each other family.

However…

 

6. Make sure you put important boundaries back!
We should have gotten our own house, bought a kitchen table, and driven our own car just a smidge earlier than we did. About four years earlier.

Temporarily living with lowered boundaries can help you bond with people. Obliterating your boundaries permanently will lead to burnout. You will have a lot of trouble being “lights of the world” if the unique “flavor” of your family is watered down because you’re trying to be like everybody else. Take it from a family who knows!

 

7. Find a Friend.
This is tip numero uno, my very best advice. I had many friends and adoptive family members. But it was finding two ladies to be my real, genuine friends that cemented my love for India forever.

Darshika and Naina came from completely different backgrounds. One was relatively poor; the other ran a popular guest house. One was highly educated and driven; the other couldn’t read. One chose to follow Jesus; the other didn’t make that choice. But we connected. We got each other.

My husband, Joshua, has a handful of really good friends in our current location in North Africa. I can see how much it makes him love this place. Because the most important thing about a place, the thing that really helps you understand and love a place… is the people.

This is especially true for children. My kids want nothing more in life than to have real friends. So, whatever you need to do to find them, make sure each member of your family has one or two true, genuine friends. And do what you can to nurture those relationships.

 

Bonus Tip!
In the end, circumstances beyond our control caused us to leave India earlier than we’d planned. But our efforts were not in vain. Even now, we and our kids have many happy memories from those colorful, spicy, intense seven years. And I can say with honesty that I still love, admire, and appreciate the people we lived and worked among.

And implementing these tips in our second host country has helped us thrive and adjust to normalcy more quickly.

My final piece of advice is this: Adjust your focus every day. Look for the good in your host country and its people, and apply grace to the rest. When Jesus gets ahold of people, that’s what He’s going to do anyway. And hopefully, by that same grace, we imperfect missionaries will get to play a part in His plan to bless the world.

 ~~~~~~~~~

Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayas, a memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at www.abigailfollows.com.

 

Missionaries 2.0: How to Thrive in a Second Mission Post

by Abigail Follows

“Here we go again, God,” I prayed. “Please guide us!”

I took a deep breath and pulled my children towards the security check. After seven years in India and a one-year break stateside, God had successfully changed my desires—again. We would be in North Africa in just a few hours. I only prayed our kids would love our new home.

Are you considering re-launching as a missionary? Here are a few of the things that helped us adjust to our second place of service.

 

BEFORE LAUNCHING

1. Evaluate your first call.
What did you do well, in ministry and in your family and personal life? What didn’t work? What do you want to change this time? Now you are the seasoned missionaries giving the new missionaries (also you) advice. Lean on your experience for insight into how to approach your new call.

We knew we wanted to have better boundaries and take more breaks as a family. We also knew we wanted to get set up in a home right away, rather than hop around from place to place.

 

2. Prepare Yourself.
“I thought the birth of my second baby would be easy,” a friend of mine once told me. “Been there, done that, right? But every labor is different, and I ended up not ready. Make sure you prepare for your second one!” I was glad I took her advice when my son was born just two hours after the first contraction! Later, I remembered my friend’s advice again as my family prepared to re-launch. 

Read, attend training, pray, talk to other missionaries… take the time to equip yourself and your family for a new adventure.

 

3. Nurture Important Connections.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of building a RAFT written about by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in the book Third Culture Kids. RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. Take the time to heal, nurture, and appreciate relationships, both in your first host country and your home country. 

Beyond building a RAFT, I printed a sign that said, “Home is Wherever I’m With You.” Then I printed a stack of photos of friends and families from India and the USA. I wanted our children to celebrate all the places they’d lived and the people they’d loved. I wanted them to have a sense of our family history. 

 

AFTER LAUNCHING

1. Embrace the Newness
You may feel less nervous or wonder-eyed than you did during your first launch. That’s a good thing! It can help make adjusting easier. But don’t let it temper your curiosity and excitement. Taste exotic foods, get outside your comfort zone, laugh at your language blunders.

This was especially important for us since we launched with school-aged kids. They needed us to be excited with them, to discover our new host country alongside them. And their excitement (and sometimes confusion) helped us get into the new experience, too.

 

2. Don’t Avoid Comparisons.
This might sound counterintuitive. Shouldn’t missionaries suspend judgement? Shouldn’t we avoid telling people that our ways are superior? But this suggestion isn’t about which culture is better. It’s about the similarities and differences between cultures. It’s about harnessing previous cultural experience to give you context for understanding another worldview.

Although Indian and North African cultures have major differences, our knowledge about Indian culture actually helped us navigate North African culture. We found we had a larger general cultural knowledge bank to consult when things confused us. This made us more patient and flexible.

For example, we already had experience in a place where time is a much more flexible commodity than in our home culture. So, when it turned out to be flexible in our second host culture, we understood. It wasn’t a stressful adjustment.

So, compare the new culture with your wider knowledge bank. Let your prior knowledge help you ask more informed questions. Stay curious and enjoy the learning journey!

 

3. Pray. Adjust. Repeat.
As I mentioned, you’ll probably want to do some things differently this time around. Maybe you had no personal boundaries during your first term of service. Or maybe you stayed in your comfort zone too much. Whatever it is, make changes, but be wary of the tendency to overreact.

During our first few months in Africa, we reacted to our previous “almost no boundaries the entire time” attitude by living a comparatively solitary existence. Then we woke up and realized that people are still the point of missions.

Balance is not a destination. It’s a way of journeying. It’s a willingness to constantly evaluate and adjust the way you live. And for the missionary, it’s centered on prayer, because God has a much better perspective on us and our ministries than we do.

 

4. Don’t Forget Your First Love.
Whether you loved your first host country or experienced trauma there (or like us, both), you may find yourself resistant to replacing your first experience with a new one. That’s okay! 

For me, this manifested itself in language learning. My husband Joshua, who is super friendly and driven, is always up for a new language. 

I tend to be more introverted. So my ability to speak Hindi represented sweat, blood, tears, and a whole lot of time spent outside my comfort zone. It was also the only avenue for me to maintain important relationships in India. When my new language started trying to kick the old one out of my brain, I stopped trying to learn.

If you find yourself resistant to the new language, be reassured that it’s normal. And don’t panic.

When I eventually embraced learning my third language, I found that speaking and hearing Hindi a couple of times a month was enough to keep me from completely forgetting it—even if my Indian friends did tease me when I mixed up vocab.

 

Final Thoughts
After nearly three years in our second host country, I have no regrets about taking a second call. While we still made plenty of mistakes, our prior experience helped us to do things a little better this time around. And the faith God built in us during our first call helped us to trust Him more this time, too. 

And God answered our prayer–He helped our children to bond with our new country of service. It took time and some problem-solving, but we eventually found a sustainable balance.

Have you taken a second call? Are you thinking of taking a second call? Do you have any tips, or questions? Leave a comment below!

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Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayasa memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at abigailfollows.com.

Should You Be a Missionary . . . Again?

by Abigail Follows

“I never want to be a missionary again! Amen.” I closed my prayer journal and smiled with satisfaction. It felt good to be honest with God.

Don’t get me wrong. I had beautiful memories from the seven years my family and I spent as missionaries in the mountains of India. Camping in the Himalayas with shepherds. Surviving the births of my two kids in rural hospitals—the second time by a miracle. Watching a woman forgive for the first time in her life. It was a beautiful experience, worth every sacrifice we made to be there.

It was just that I didn’t think I had it in me to do it all again. To squeeze my thoughts into yet another worldview. To spend years learning yet another language. To love an Entire People Group on behalf of Christ—again. I was tired and out of energy. I was spent.

“You have my permission to change my heart,” I said aloud, thinking this time God would let me off the hook.

Yet just one year after we left India, we re-launched to a closed-access country in north Africa. Why do I always forget how good God is at changing hearts?

What about you? Are you a returned missionary? Do you wonder whether God is calling you back into the field? Here are some practical steps you can take to evaluate your calling and readiness to go for God—again.

 

Take your time
If you’ve just returned from mission service, consider taking a break. Get some perspective on your first call. Give yourself time to process.

Just two days after our return from India, a fellow missionary asked us to consider joining his family in Africa. However, our sending organization advised us to wait at least a year before deciding. They gave us work at the home office, and we spent several months just living a quiet, low-key life. Waiting gave us time to rest and recuperate from a very intense mission experience.

My husband, Joshua, is the kind of person who is always ready to go, like, yesterday. I, on the other hand, need to filter minor decisions through a complex network of questions about the meaning of life and the potential for unintentional death… so it can take me a while to be ready for new things.

But my husband was patient. He let me bring up the topic when I was ready, kept a good sense of humor about it, and prayed for me. So if you’re married, be patient with yourselves and with each other.

 

Set a Date and Tell God
Setting a date takes the pressure off you and puts things back in God’s hands. Whether He answers by a dream, impression, open doors, or something else, He will make things clear!

After a good break, Joshua and I chose a “Decision Day” and told God He’d have to do any heart-changing by that deadline.

And He did. For us, He sent a life-changing dream, plus the heart re-filling that we both needed. In just a few months, Africa became a real possibility. We began to discuss the idea in earnest.

 

Get Away
As your Decision Day approaches, take yourself (or yourselves, if you are married) somewhere quiet. Give yourself some peaceful, uninterrupted time to talk and pray. If you can, take several days. If not, schedule time to talk and pray over the course of several evenings.

A few months before our Decision Day we attended our organization’s orientation week. There we met a handful of fresh, pre-launch missionaries. They had so many questions for us. I had thought our experience would make us too tired to keep giving. What if it actually made us more mature, informed missionaries? 

We decided to fast and pray. During the fast, it dawned on us that there were almost a thousand theology students at our nearby seminary, ready to do God’s work in North America. There were five people at orientation ready to do ministry in the 10/40 window.

But were we still called?

 

Look for the Arrows
Celebrate your story, the story God has been writing all your life. What are all the little arrows in the road God has used to guide you? Do you believe He called you to be a missionary the first time? Has He released you from that calling? Has your calling shifted? Or is He still calling you to be a missionary?

After praying about it, Joshua and I agreed that we were released from our call to India, but not released from our call to reach the unreached.

But were we ready?

 

Evaluate Readiness
Take stock of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual situation of each member of your family. Is there anything anyone still needs? If trauma or conflict was a factor in your departure from your first call, have you sought effective Christian counseling? Does anyone in the family still carry bitterness in need of some sweet, soothing forgiveness? Is everyone healthy, both spiritually and physically?

Our reason for leaving India verged into the trauma side of things. Because of that, it was super important to us to evaluate whether we had sufficiently addressed the needs of each member of our family. It felt like a miracle to look back and see just how much healing God had done in such a short amount of time. 

 

Seek Counsel
Here’s where I tell you to do as I say, not as I do. Don’t be afraid to seek counsel from Godly people in your life!

I wish Joshua and I would have asked for more prayer support during this time. I also wish we would have given our (very Godly) parents more of an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. Although they gave us their blessing, I think including them in our process would have made it easier for them to be at peace about our taking a second call.

 

Make a decision
When the day comes, it should be clear whether you should go, stay, or postpone the decision. Celebrate that clarity with a prayer of thanksgiving. And, if you need to take care of some things before you’re ready to make a decision, set a new Decision Day date to work towards.

Our decision was simple–we gathered the kids, knelt together, and thanked God for His calling. Then we pledged ourselves to go again, by His strength.

 

If now is not the time…
Hudson Taylor, 
the example of self-sacrifice and incarnational Christian service, took a five-year break from China because of health concerns. Those five years in English must have felt. Like. So. Long. Like forever.

But when Taylor re-launched to China in 1866, he brought with him the first missionaries of China Inland Missions.

If you have to wait, wait with patience and faith. If the answer is no, and God has released you from your overseas calling, know that He will use you wherever He has put you. Be content to be a part of His plans. They’re awesome plans, no matter where they take place.

 

If God is calling you to go again…
Go with God, my friend! And watch for another article with tips for adjusting to a second host country.

Dig deeper into the discernment process with these questions: Missionaries20ConversationStarters.

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Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayas, a memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at abigailfollows.com.