Looking for Old Lady Hands

by Roberta Adair

During worship sessions at a retreat for missionary women in Japan, when I normally would have been looking at the projected lyrics or closing my eyes, I was instead searching the room looking for old lady hands.

I unknowingly felt desperate to see that they were still here. These older women who have experienced more losses and griefs, challenges and setbacks, betrayals and disappointments than I have, they’re still here. They are still lifting their wrinkly, veiny, boney hands in worship, still opening well-worn Bibles and taking notes with well-worn hands, and still trusting God in some really profound ways.

Before beginning our second term in Japan, I thought a lot about Jonah. I felt jealous of the clarity of his call, of his certainty regarding what God was asking of him. I was also sad for him. He hated what God was telling him to do, and I related to the impulse of wanting to run in the opposite direction. And I was amazed (again) by the craziness of his story. I mean, really, a dude swallowed by a sea monster?! Writing poetry inside said sea monster?! Brutal enemies hearing a message from a reluctant foreigner and then repenting in sackcloth and ashes?!

But the part that I have continued to struggle with over the last several years is the part with the vine. Jonah is hot, and God gives him shade. That is so lovely, so specific, and so hospitable. And so merciful as Jonah, after being vomited out by a sea monster, gritted his teeth and obeyed God by telling his brutal, cruel enemies a message of repentance. 

Then God sends a worm to destroy this gift, this blessing. The thing that made his ministry bearable – gone.

I know that any comparison to anything I’ve done or been asked to do by God is silly. But I have my own list of “vines” – things I felt God provided that made a hard season or decision bearable. And I have another list of “worms” – ways these signs of mercy and God’s kindness were yanked away.

My very partial list of vines and worms includes people whom I saw as God’s provision in meeting my loneliness. One example is an outgoing and bilingual young woman we met at our assigned partner church when we volunteered here briefly after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. She and I video chatted several times before moving here, and, even as I struggled to get on the plane to move my body/life/future to northeastern Japan, thinking about this potential friendship helped. Yet days after arriving, during the same worship service when my husband Robert and I were introduced to the congregation, it was also announced that it was her last Sunday. I felt confused, disoriented, and disappointed.

Another time, when we moved back to Japan after a hard (and mildly traumatic) ending to our first term, I kept thinking on repeat, “But _____ is here.” I hoped and believed that she, a friend for four years, was God’s answer to my prayers for a ministry partner. Yet as Robert and I returned to church after our furlough, she met us in the entryway to tell us it was her last day and that she was moving several hours away. I felt blindsided, crushed.

Shortly after that, one of my closest friends and a member of our small group moved to Singapore with her family. We had become moms around the same time and had made a lot of effort to meet and encourage one another over four years. I felt gutted and a bit lost.

Then another close friend moved to Israel. A sweet friend in our organization whom I pictured spending decades with moved to the US. A gentle and delightfully available Japanese friend moved south of Tokyo. Then yet another dear family in our mission (safe, fun, inspiring, wonderful) also moved to the US. And the goodbyes continue.

To different degrees, many of these losses felt like literal punches to the gut – causing pain and making it almost hard to breathe. And I went through all sorts of messy, swirling cycles in the stages of grief. Maybe some people handle change and loss daintily. Me, not so much.

I recently read in the psalms, “God, you consume like a moth what is dear” (Psalm 39:11). It sounds so accusatory, and as I read it, I inhaled sharply, wondering: Can we really talk to God like that? Even as I type this, my eyes burn and my face is getting blotchy. I have absolutely talked to God like that, calling him a vine-destroyer, accusing him of not sustaining hard-earned and highly invested-in friendships that meant so much to me.

I grew up hearing the Tozer quote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I confess that sometimes what comes to my mind is an image of him dangling a carrot. “See, here it is! You know you want it . . . Come and get it.” Then yank! . . . it’s taken away. But is God really like that? Cruel and mean?

A former teammate frequently repeated the phrase, “God is not a trickster.” I sometimes struggle to believe that God is not mean and not a trickster, that he is not one who enjoys giving and taking away blessings to test, punish, and mess with us. Yet as much as I want to picture Jesus as gentle and humble – a bearded dude who rode a donkey and made broken people whole, dirty people clean, blind people see, people in bondage free – this image of him occasionally blurs, and then he reappears, leaning back with his eyes squinted and his mouth almost mocking: “Let’s see how she’ll respond to this one. Muah hahahahaaaaa.”

Which brings me back to the wrinkly, spotted hands. A big reason why worshiping and learning with people older than me is so important is that I get to see people who keep singing, keep showing up, and keep praying. I get to see them in yearly rhythms at these conferences, see others in weekly rhythms in our church community, and see teensy snippets into their daily rhythms of meeting with Jesus and choosing to trust and love him even when a lot of evidence could tug them in different directions. And these older people, they’re not the crotchety, self-pitying, easily-irritable ones. They’re people who have suffered and are suffering, yet also bear fruit of joy, peace, humility, generosity, gentleness, service, curiosity, humor, and love.

They’re still worshiping God even though they have experienced soul-crushing disappointment, darkness, despair, and loss – in their families, ministries, marriages, kids, bodies. And they have experienced, again and again, God’s protection and presence. They have also seen, again and again, his provision and peace. Sometimes tangibly; sometimes in wisps and shadows. But they keep trusting, praying to, and seeking him.

When I glance at my own hands, I see veins and wrinkles along with a new swollen knuckle on my right pinky that reminds me of my grandmother’s arthritic hands. I’m aware that I have a long way to go in consistently thinking rightly about God. Yet I hope that someday people will say of me, “Look at that tall lady with glasses and frizzy gray hair. And look at those old lady hands. Can you believe she’s still here?”


Originally from Pennsylvania (USA), Roberta lived in Kosovo for three years before getting married and moving to northern Japan in 2012. She and her husband partner with a Japanese church and have four young and energetic boys. She enjoys hiking, camping, and having friends over for average and boisterous meals.

The Frustrated Missionary

by Robert Buchanan

My wife and I have been in our country of service for a little over ten years now. When we first came to the field, we said that we would stay until God told us to go elsewhere, and we still affirm that position today. So while we both love being here, I will let you in on a little secret: I am routinely frustrated.

I also know another not-so-secret secret: many of you who serve overseas are frustrated too. The fact is that life in a country which is not your own, where you are separated from loved ones, and where literally everything is more difficult naturally leads to frustration.

Sometimes in my frustration I think of Philippians 4:4-7, which instructs us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

I’m sure you’ve heard this scripture before, and I’m sure that as Christians you believe in the truthfulness of this verse, but how do we apply it to everyday life? Here are some precepts to consider.

1. Realize that God is in control and not you or me.

Remember that God called you for His work, and He is not surprised by the things you face. So stay the course, pray, and follow God’s leading.

Matthew 28:18-20 says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Christ sends us, He has all authority, and He is with us to the end of the age. And if Christ sends us, we need to be confident, not in our own abilities, but in His and in the fact that He will give us the abilities we need when we need them. While we need to our best every day, the overall mission is in God’s hands and does not ultimately rest on our decisions.

2. Have an informal trusted board of Christian advisors.

Proverbs 15:22 tells us that “Plans fail for lack of counsel,but with many advisers they succeed.”

Who in your life will speak truth to you and hold you accountable? Who will pray for you on a regular basis? Whom can you trust to bounce untested, in-progress ideas off of? None of us has all the answers, but trusted Christian advisors can help each of us see more clearly in areas where we are naturally blind.

3. Do the things that can be done.

Remember that these things are only possible because God has gifted you in that way.

Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Can we choose to do good to our brothers and sisters in Christ in obedience to God’s will? We may not have control over other things, but we can actively choose to do good.

4. Respect the abilities that God has given others.

This can be difficult when disagreements arise, but if everyone were respectful, a great many conflicts would end or, better still, be avoided.

1 Corinthians 12:18-20 reads, “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

We have our own viewpoints based on our gifting, training, and experience, but so do others. You or I might be right about a given issue, but the way we approach others makes huge difference. Let’s choose respect.

5. Try to live at peace with all people.

This is not always in our control, but we should control our own behavior. Remember that being angry isn’t necessarily sinful. We should be angry about evil and injustice and also pray that our righteous anger does not lead us to sin. And when it does lead us to sin, we confess it to God.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Conflicts are a part of life and can produce positive results, but we need to be careful about letting conflicts become destructive to relationships.

6. If you are a follower or advisor…

Remember that God places authorities in power at specific places for His purposes and timing.

Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

We can disagree with leadership, but it is wise to remember that leaders have pressures on them that we don’t, so we can try to offer grace whenever possible.

7. If you are a leader…

Pray for God’s direction, respect those who report to you, seek counsel, and surround yourself with people who will challenge you, but at the end of the day, hard decisions need to be made, and you cannot nor should not attempt to please everyone.

1 Samuel 2:34 says, “And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.”

What was God furious about? First Samuel 2:22 tells us that Eli, the priest and judge of Israel, was aware that his sons were abusing their power as priests; yet Samuel took no decisive action against his sons.

Remember, nothing undermines a leader’s credibility as much as indecisiveness and the failure to hold people accountable. If you are a leader, the best you can do is be obedient to God. If you have answered God’s call to lead and are obedient to Him, then move forward with confidence.

At the end of the day, the results of our ministries are up to God. Our job is to show up each day, be obedient, do our best, hold fast, and wait upon the Lord. We not up the task, but thankfully our God is and still seeks to use us in His mission to reach the lost and to restore all things to Himself. So we need not be anxious or frustrated but can instead rejoice in the Lord, who guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Robert Buchanan is a career security professional who ten years ago answered God’s call to use his skills in overseas missions. He currently serves as a security advisor for a mission organization in the South Pacific. His wife Heather serves as a teacher in the local international school, and together they have found that true joy comes from doing God’s will — even when conditions are challenging.

8 Ways to Help TCKs Grieve

by Rachel Allord

I pressed my hand against my thirteen-year-old’s closed bedroom door and prayed. For the moment, this child wanted nothing to do with me or her dad. Who could blame her? A month ago, we had plucked her from our small midwestern life and, mere days ago, dropped her into a culturally foreign school in the middle of the term.

Later that evening, my husband and I called our other child, the son we’d left behind. The son who had chosen to stay in the States to begin his freshman year in college. A wise, even anticipated decision that broke us all, nonetheless. His first semester was proving to be ripe with challenge, and we were limited in what we could do from across the ocean.

The hurt in his voice and the anger of the child upstairs tempted me to call it quits on this crazy overseas missionary attempt and jump on the next plane home. Apologize to our supporters for all the fuss we’d caused. Reclaim the house we’d sold. Retrieve the dog we’d rehomed. Restore our hurting kids to their old, comfortable non-grief-stricken life.

I wasn’t prepared for the grief. Not really. Even though I had been prepared. The topic surfaced frequently during pre-field training. “The best thing you can do for your kids is to help them grieve well,” a seasoned missionary once advised.

What does that even mean? I wondered at the time, most likely in self-preservation mode, aka denial. Her words ruffled me. I didn’t want to consider what it meant to help my kids grieve because I didn’t want them to grieve. Sadness, culture shock, even loss. These I expected. But grief? That sounded serious. Therapy inducing. Grief felt like an enormous sack of rocks, the last thing a loving parent would ever want to hand their kid.

Grief is part of the life overseas deal. Ours, our kids’, and the loved ones we leave behind. Layers and levels and loads of grief. That doesn’t mean the journey isn’t laced with joy, adventure, and wonderful pinch me I must be dreaming experiences. Our family has experienced a photobook full of those moments too.

But when I look back over these past eight years of preparing for, settling into, and serving on the overseas mission field, the emotion that sticks out above the rest is grief. Sharp and throbbing in the early months, mellowing as time carries on. It underscores holidays and birthdays, intermittently, sometimes unexpectedly, leaves its thumbprint on days and years, and although it becomes manageable the more time passes, it’s never too far away. Grief becomes routine, accepted, like a familiar neighbor who quietly slips in and joins you round the table uninvited.

God promised this life would bring trouble and grief. Grief has its place and purpose and has the power to wield ample fruit. Still, we naturally, rightly, yearn to keep it far from our children, even though we know sorrow will befall them at some point, protected or not.

My husband and I got a few things right in the grief department and a whole lot wrong. If God were handing out do-overs, I’d be the first to raise my hand. Yet his grace runs sure and constant, even over our parenting flails and failings. He grants wisdom when we ask and renews our thinking. Here are some things parents can do to help kids, especially tweens and teens, handle grief well.

  1. Anticipate it. TCKs experience ‘death to self’ multiple times over in a thousand and one changes, some tiny, some hefty, all of them categorically a loss. Ironically, these losses add up to one heaping portion of grief. Our kids should grieve; it’s healthy and right, even biblical. Planning for grief (pencil it in your planner if need be) prepares us to accept its presence and manage those not-so-lovely words, tantrums, and silences that invariably tag along.
  2. Resist the urge to fix. That’s what we ache to do, right? Make our kids feel better. But rushing to solutions, Bible verses, and even prayer may inadvertently communicate that there’s something wrong with grief. That it needs to stop or be hushed up, which isn’t true. God wants to take our pain, sorrow, and anxiety. We can welcome our child’s. Let them feel and express whatever they’re feeling. This doesn’t mean we relinquish all parental control and give them carte blanche to act out however they want, but it does mean we may need to soften the boundary edges for a time. Overlook offenses. Err on the side of grace and beg God for a fresh supply.
  3. Widen our eyes and increase our prayers. Typically, the bigger the kid, the greater the grief. Parents of tweens and teens should keep a calm, steady eye out for signs of self-harm, depression, or anxiety that warrants intervention. Have the contact info of a good counselor in your back pocket. Assemble a team of prayer warriors before you leave the country. As much as your kid lets you, overcommunicate. Listen, listen, listen to them. Pray alone and, when they welcome it, pray with them about what you see, hear, and sense is going on in their heart.
  4. Don’t sermonize. Our desire to instill a love for God’s word sometimes drives us to spout scripture verses and biblical insight, even if the timing is all wrong. Rarely do parental sermons provide salve to a suffering soul, at least not when the wounds are raw. Like Jesus, who counts our children’s tears as precious, we want to come alongside those who suffer. Turning to the truth and comfort of the Bible is the right thing to do, eventually, but not when our kids simply need to weep. Timing is key. With the Spirit’s help and prompting, we gently, with a heart to listen more than talk, ask God to speak through His, and our, words.
  5. Curb our enthusiasm. My husband will be the first to admit he had moved to London in his heart and head long before the rest of us had warmed to the idea. While his excitement fueled our years of support raising, our kids, who had little say in the ways our decisions were disrupting their lives, didn’t appreciate it. Months before leaving for the field, one mentor challenged us to “not talk about the London thing” for the entirety of our family vacation, unless the kids brought it up. They needed a break. Turns out, we did too. Our eagerness to get to the field can’t and shouldn’t overshadow our children’s grief. They need to grieve. Encouraging them to do so may look like us capping our zeal.
  6. Yield when we can. Kids don’t often get a vote. Letting them have a voice in some of the process may help soften the blow. Let them pack whatever old ratty thing they want to pack. Ask them what new thing they’d like to get for their room or the house after the move. Consider tweaking the timing of transitions to best align with their schooling or social events. We may be the ones handling the reins, but we can let them drive the cart from time to time.
  7. Put on humility. We may be our kids’ parent, but we’re primarily God’s child. We don’t have all the answers. We’re not privy to the full plan no matter how strongly we feel called. And although we’re equipped with years of life experience, we don’t know exactly how our kid is feeling. There’s a certain comfort in knowing mom and dad are in charge, but we’re called to lead as a shepherds and servants, with humility, recognizing and expressing our dependence on our Father who is reshaping us as parents and as His child.
  8. Embrace joy. Even amid grief, there is good to be found. Living overseas provides our kids with unique privileges, rich experiences, and opportunities to activate their faith. Grieving kids can experience fun and laughter and sometimes the smallest of things spark joy. Go with it. Embark on the ice cream run. Discover new haunts. Watch that familiar, goofball movie. Let grief and joy bleed together and expect your kids to yo-yo between the two.

When our children grieve, we grieve. In times of upheaval, they need heaps of grace — and so do we. Thankfully God offers a never-ending supply and, in His time, in His way, longs to restore the broken hearts of our children even more than we do.


Rachel Allord is the author of The Girl on the Tube, a YA novel that follows the humorous and heartbreaking journey of an expat tween. Rachel lives and writes in London UK where she and her husband serve as missionaries with ReachGlobal. Connect with her at rachelallord.com.

4 Ways Missionary Parents Can Use Everyday Moments to Disciple Their Kids

by Alicia Bennett

In today’s demands of ministry, missionary parents often feel overwhelmed by the challenges of discipling their own children, especially when living outside their country of origin. Many fear they aren’t doing “enough” to spiritually influence their children with the demands of ministry to the lost. It can be easy to assume that your children are “getting it” just because you serve as a family overseas. But that simply isn’t the case. Discipleship is something that can be taught as well as “caught,” and it is very important that you do both with intentionality.

Whether you serve overseas in direct evangelism or in some sort of support role, these tips are for you. The key to effective discipleship lies in using everyday moments in your family life, as well as leveraging worldwide and current local events to point the next generation to Christ.

1. Embrace Everyday Moments

Everyday activities offer abundant opportunities for discipleship. Whether it’s during meals, car rides, or bedtime routines (see Deut. 6:7-9), all parents can use these moments to instill biblical values in their children. For example, while preparing dinner, parents can discuss the importance of gratitude and thank God for the food, appreciating the different ethnic food or being thankful for what is available.

During car (or motorbike rides!), they can talk about God’s creation and the beauty of nature they see around them while praying for safety as they travel. When challenges arise from living in a foreign country, you can talk about how to have a godly response, giving practical real-life examples as you navigate these experiences together.

Events, both ordinary and extraordinary, can be powerful teaching tools. Use them to highlight God’s presence in all circumstances. For example, if your child experiences a disappointment, discuss how to trust God and seek His comfort. When your child is confused about why people in the country where they live do things differently than what their family or culture of origin does, explain the differences in worldview and share what Scripture says about the topic.

At athletic or artistic events, talk about perseverance, dedication, and using our talents for God’s glory. When your children face conflicts with friends from the culture or their own siblings, discuss what Jesus would do. Use birthdays and anniversaries to reflect on God’s blessings and faithfulness to your family, especially in a foreign land.

To make the most of everyday moments, consider these practical tips:

  • Model faith in daily life: Let your children see your faith in action. Pray openly, read the Bible together, and discuss how God is working in your own life and the lives of those you are ministering to. Bring your children around to age-appropriate ministry opportunities and let them serve alongside you.
  • Create a routine: Establish regular times for family devotions and prayer. Consistency helps children understand that you serve Him out of a thankful heart and not just in obedience.
  • Incorporate faith into everyday language: Use playtime to teach biblical lessons. Bring Scripture into challenging moments and discipline. Discuss differences in worldviews as you go about your day overseas.
  • If you’re not sure where to begin: Create a list of daily family activities or ministry activities where you can naturally incorporate faith-based conversations. Plan specific topics or questions to discuss during these times.

2. Leverage Current Events

World events such as the war in Ukraine, a tsunami in Japan, or global events like the Olympic Games provide unique opportunities to teach children about different places, peoples, faiths, and cultures than even the foreign land you are living in. Living abroad, you are in a unique position to contrast what you know and believe with what your children see around them, giving them the opportunity to put their biblical worldview into practical use.

Whether you choose to talk about these specific events or other more local events in your area, you are informing their worldview. A worldview is the lens through which we interpret life and the events that happen around us. It is our job as Christian parents to give our children a biblical worldview, a biblical foundation on which they will live the rest of their lives. When we choose to talk about world events through a biblical lens, it will:

  • Inspire and feed their faith in a living God.
  • Create hearts of compassion and encourage them that their prayers are important.
  • Provide them with tangible ways to get involved with God where they are at.
  • Enlarge their worldview to trust God when they see how others go through trials.

You can use events like these to discuss biblical themes such as perseverance, trust in God, and honoring God in our choices even when the culture around us does differently. The Olympics, for example, can be a great starting point for conversations about how athletes use their gifts and how we can use ours to glorify God.

Children are naturally curious and will have many questions about faith and the world around them, especially when they grow up in a culture that is different than their own. Encourage open dialogue, allowing them to express their thoughts and doubts. This fosters a deeper understanding and personal connection to their own faith, giving them a solid foundation as they grow up.

3. Address Difficult Events with Sensitivity

Living in a foreign country can present additional challenges when addressing difficult events. Whether it’s natural disasters or local conflicts, it’s crucial to be honest yet sensitive to your children’s age and emotional maturity. When a difficult event occurs, take time to pray and reflect on how to discuss it with your children. Use it as an opportunity to teach them about God’s love and care for all people.

Some strategies to consider:

  • Prepare emotionally: Ensure you’re emotionally ready to guide your children through these discussions. Process your feelings first so you can provide a calm and biblical perspective.
  • Use age-appropriate language: Simplify complex issues using terms your children understand. For younger children, describe conflicts in terms of “bad guys” and “good guys” without going into graphic details.
  • Be aware of cultural differences: Understand how local culture might influence your children’s perspectives and filter the issue through what the Bible says first, not just cultural norms.
  • Focus on prayer and compassion: Encourage your children to pray for those affected and to have compassionate hearts. Explain how prayer can make a difference and show empathy. Turn your hearts to God and His ways.

4. Integrate Lessons from the Bible

Scripture should be the foundation of all discipleship efforts. Relate everyday family and ministry experiences to biblical stories and principles. Don’t worry about knowing the “address” for each reference you make! In fact, make it a habit to look them up and then write them down and post commonly used scripture around your home so you and your kids will learn the Bible together.

Another option is to choose a few key Bible verses that align with the themes you want to discuss with your children. Post them up around your home and refer to them during relevant everyday moments.

Discipling your children using everyday moments and current events provides rich opportunities to instill a biblical worldview. Living overseas, your children have a ready-made opportunity to see the differences between people of different worldviews. By embracing everyday moments, addressing difficult events with sensitivity, and grounding your discussions in Scripture, you can effectively nurture your children’s faith. Remember, discipleship is a continuous journey (for you and for them), and every moment is a chance to point your children towards God.

For more insights and practical tips, consider grabbing your copy of Alicia’s Olympic Family Devotional to follow along during the 2024 Summer Olympics starting July 26th! This family devotional will equip you with the tools and confidence to show you how to make the most of every opportunity to disciple your children. Order your copy here.


Alicia Bennett grew up living and traveling overseas from a very young age, but it wasn’t until college that God captured her heart for unreached peoples. After majoring in East Asian studies, she worked with an international mission agency until she and her husband started a family. Today, Alicia and her husband live in Colorado and raise their four growing boys. She serves in both children’s and mission capacities at her local church and writes for various ministries. You can find her online at MobilizerMom.com and Instagram, where she seeks to equip other parents to raise the next generation of Daniels and Esthers.


Transition Stress and TCKs: What does “normal” look like?

by Lauren Wells

“We haven’t seen our boy act like himself in over a year. We sometimes get glimpses of the fun, playful kid he used to be, but most of the time he’s like a shell of his old self. We don’t know where the kid we knew went.”

Fifteen months earlier, these parents had moved across the globe to a new country and culture. Their oldest son had started attending a local school while the younger siblings who weren’t yet school age stayed home. 

“We knew it would be a big transition for him,” they said. “We worried when he seemed to get more and more withdrawn, but we kept telling ourselves this was the normal transition stress everyone warned us about. But it’s been over a year now and it’s just gotten worse.” 

I wish I could tell you that this is the only time I’ve had a conversation like this with parents, but it’s not. The phrase “we figured it was just transition stress” is one I’ve heard many times in my work with hundreds of parents. 

When my colleagues and I work with families prior to a move or to train schools or organizations about family care, a topic we cover is how to distinguish between  “normal” transition stress and when it has gone beyond that. This preventive approach keeps normal transition stress from growing into a long-term state of emotional unhealth which will eventually turn into a crisis. 

So, what is normal transition stress for children? At what point should adjustments be considered because the transition stress has gone beyond a healthy limit? Knowing how to distinguish between healthy transition bumps and long-term adjustment issues is a critical part of preventive care. 

Red Zone/Green Zone

When my company (TCK Training) talks about transition stress for Third Culture Kids, we use the concept of Red Zone/Green Zone. When we’re in the Red Zone, our brain is flooded with stress hormones. This isn’t concerning for a short period of time, and in small doses it can actually be part of resilience building. While a developing brain shouldn’t be exposed to those stress hormones too consistently or for too long, during a major transition it’s normal for everyone to be in the Red Zone for a while.

What the Red Zone looks like for children/teens:

  • Uncharacteristic behavior challenges 
  • Being overly emotional
  • Appearing down or withdrawn
  • Being extra clingy to a parent 
  • Developmental reverting (accidents after being potty trained, sleep regressions, using baby talk, needing a comfort item they had grown out of, etc.) 
  • Development of new stress-induced habits (hair twisting, biting lips or skin, etc.) 
  • Not enjoying activities that used to bring joy 
  • Lack of ability to learn new concepts (this often shows up as  difficulty meeting academic milestones, such as reading, if those concepts are introduced while the child is in the Red Zone, or lower grades than the child’s typical performance)
  • Long periods of numbing/distracting behaviors (e.g. spending hours on an electronic device, consistently choosing to read for hours instead of spending time with family/other children) 

While these behaviors are all normal during a transition season, some behaviors require immediate support even during the normal Red Zone window of transition: 

  • Any sort of self-harm 
  • Suicidal ideation (or any statements that imply that they wish they weren’t alive)
  • Extreme physical aggression toward others 
  • A pattern of undereating or overeating 
  • Depressive or anxious symptoms that interfere with daily functioning

If your child experiences these symptoms at any point it is important to seek immediate professional mental health support.

The Green Zone

In the midst of Red Zone seasons like major transitions, planting “Green Zone moments” is important. This brings the child’s brain momentarily above water. While they still may be mostly in the Red Zone, consistently bringing in Green Zone activities can speed their progress out of the Red Zone.

Green Zone moments can include: 

  • Body movement (going for a walk, playing a sport, etc.) 
  • Anything rhythmic – rhythm regulates the brain (music, dancing, coloring, etc.) 
  • Talking about why this transition feels so hard (allowing them to share and/or giving them language for why they’re feeling this way) 
  • Laughing 
  • Deep breathing 
  • Experiencing something that feels physically comforting (a favorite food, a cozy blanket, a special treat, etc.) 
  • Quality time with a parent, sibling, or close friend 

How Long is Too Long?

After a major transition it is common for children to be primarily in the Red Zone for three months. During this time it is important to implement Green Zone moments for/with them. After three months, we typically see that children have fewer Red Zone days/moments. They begin to act more like their normal selves, trending toward a more consistent Green Zone state. When this is happening, we begin to see that: 

  • They can identify friends they like to play with 
  • Getting ready for school in the morning isn’t as difficult  
  • They talk about things they’re looking forward to
  • They want to join activities that brought them joy in the past or that tap into their skills or talents 
  • They are beginning to feel more confident about how to succeed in school
  • They seem to have a more positive outlook 
  • They are laughing and smiling more 
  • They are doing “Green Zone moments” without prompting 

Most often at around 6-9 months after a transition, the stress has eased and children are in the Green Zone more regularly.

What If It’s Not Getting Better?

The shift from Red Zone to Green Zone may seem slow and drawn out, and even in the best circumstances it can take time. If after six months a child doesn’t seem to be trending toward the Green Zone, we have moved beyond normal transition stress. At this point, professional support for the parents (and possibly the child as well) may be helpful. 

Shifts need to be made so that we can prevent the child going deeper into the Red Zone. The following questions can help determine factors that could be contributing to prolonged transition stress. You can begin making small shifts to see if they begin to make a difference. In the home, for example, you might schedule consistent one-on-one time with that child. In the environment, you might add an activity outside school hours that they would enjoy. 

In the Home

  • Are they receiving regular, positive attention from their parents? 
  • Do they feel they can talk about their emotions and feel heard and comforted? 
  • Do they feel physically safe? 
  • Are they sleeping well?
  • Does the family smile and laugh together often? 

In their Environment

  • Do they have access to activities that would give them Green Zone moments? 
  • Do they have potential friends in their class/school? 
  • Is their teacher a factor that is putting them in the Red Zone?
  • Are there specific stressors that they or you can pinpoint? 
  • Are there adults other than their parents investing in them?

Understanding the progression from Red Zone to Green Zone that happens during a transition season can help parents to monitor their children’s stress levels during times of change. Not only does this knowledge prevent children staying in the Red Zone for an unhealthy period of time, but it also gives parents strategies for improving family health and tools for making adjustments to get each family member on the right track if it doesn’t seem to be happening naturally.

There is so much hope in knowing what normal looks like and having tools to help your children when their transition stress goes beyond that point. To learn more about going through transitions of any kind, especially as a family, check out TCK Training’s self-directed Transitions Course.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash


Lauren Wells is the founder and CEO of TCK Training and the Unstacking Company and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, The Grief Tower, and Unstacking Your Grief Tower. She is an Adult TCK who spent her teenage years in Tanzania, East Africa. She sits on the board of the TCK Care Accreditation as Vice Chair and is part of the TCK Training research team focusing on preventive care research in the TCK population.

The Dangers of Copycat Discipleship

by Aaron Dorrett

The manager of a shoe factory in a communist country was given a bunch of foreign shoe models to put on display in their factory. The shoes stood there as an example of the products they were trying to replicate. The copies they made were then placed next to the originals. The factory workers were instructed to look at both models, determine where they fell short, and learn how to make their shoes correctly. “Our goal is to raise the quality of our shoes to an international level,” the manager explained.

But I think they might be missing the whole point of what an “international level” in shoemaking is all about. There’s no innovation here, no spark of life and creativity. They don’t have the freedom for experimentation and expression that brought forth those great shoe designs in the first place. They can only carefully copy the things set before them. They work so hard, trying (and failing) to make fake copies of the creativity and fashion seen in others.

The same thing can happen with the methods and trainings in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship. Experts and catalyzers tell us tales of great movements and then ask us to check how we’re measuring up against their blueprint for greatness. Are we doing as much seed-sowing and praying as the top 10% percent successful workers? Are we doing what we saw people doing in the big revivals?

Are we teaching people to run their meetings according to the most effective model? Are our disciples sharing with their communities like the people in that movement did? Are we seeing fast reproduction?

Where are we falling short? What do the numbers on our gospel conversations app show? What are we doing wrong? How do we get these awesome movements we see in other parts of the world? Is our goal “to raise the quality of our fruit to match the level of the international movements they tell us about”?

Again, I think that approach misses the point. It’s not real life. It’s not the natural outworking of love and interaction with Jesus. It’s not the freedom and creativity of children doing something for their Father. It doesn’t birth new and beautiful things. It’s dry and in some ways empty.

The product might look good at first glance. It might be very impressive when viewed from a distance through the lens of numbers and reports. But on closer examination, something about it just seems off.

The whole process can create feelings of striving and failure as we try to measure up to what’s been done by others before. It also burdens our disciples with an ungodly pressure to perform as we push them to match our man-made goals.

Instead of the life-giving, dynamic process of growth and relationship with Jesus, we have a set of tasks and objectives handed down from human masterminds. We can end up with a heavy yoke that’s been plastered with stickers of Biblical phrases but that didn’t come from Jesus. It’s as soul crushing and dehumanizing as those grey factories full of forced labor.

There is tremendous value in learning from what’s been done in the past, and we would be foolish not to do so. Just as any shoemaker would draw lessons and inspiration from shoes made by others, we should study what others have done in cross-cultural gospel work. We can observe what has been life giving and fruitful for others and be inspired to go after similar things.

We also must learn from the mistakes of the past and do our best to avoid the deadly pitfalls of dependency, cultural colonialism, and foreign control. In that sense, it’s good to learn from what works well and what causes pain, especially in development work.

But the work of spreading the gospel and making disciples is ultimately a miraculous process. It springs out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. It’s a divine gift. It’s a work of faith and love. It cannot be reduced to a method to be copied or a numerical target to be hit.

The life that comes from faith in Jesus grows out in beautiful, unique, and creative ways and creates living structures of community that are sensitive to the cultures where the seeds of faith are planted.

Real life cannot be created by engineering meetings and activities that look like the meetings and activities produced by someone else’s life. Some things cannot be created by pure imitation. They cannot be manufactured by paying workers to copy a product. They cannot be given as deliverables to a manager. We can’t replicate spiritual fruit with factory-like, extra-Biblical processes.

If some great leader asks you to copy a method, or reach some metric for ministry output, you don’t have to work for them. You can walk out of the factory.

Pioneer gospel work can be done without any of these methods, metrics, or man-made mission statements. What we need is real fellowship with others and a desire to follow Jesus’ command to be his witnesses and to teach others to follow him. Beyond that there is so much freedom and possibility.

Your heavenly Father delights in the unique work and play of his children. He infuses us with the miraculous, life-giving sap we need to grow in new, creative, and life-giving ways. You can work with him, and he’ll provide everything that you need.


Aaron Dorrett has spent the last 15 years overseas, living in the the Muslim world. He loves wandering the streets and enjoying “random” encounters and conversations with locals. He also loves music, learning languages, and barbells.

10 Things I Used to Think About My Host Culture . . . and How I’ve Changed

by Roberta Adair

Few things remind me of how much I’ve changed in the 10+ years living in Japan than sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms). I remember first-term Roberta rolling her eyes a little at the way people gushed about sakura, like they were really special or something. I remember thinking grumpily, “They are overrated and impotent. Why didn’t they plant something that actually produces fruit rather than all of this flowery nonsense?” I remember on a really rough culture stress day shaking my fist at a tree and bellowing, “You couldn’t even produce a peach, you impotent tree!”

Fast forward to now, and I’m regularly organizing mini excursions to see sakura with friends. They bloom for such a short time, and I anticipate these adventures, plan my days and meals around them, and thoroughly enjoy them. I have come to love the emphasis on beauty for beauty’s sake rather than for production and usefulness. I gush over the different varieties, the different shades of white and pink, the different shapes of blossoms and petal formation, and the different experiences viewing them when they are budding, in full bloom, and falling (“like snow!”). I love seeing gnarly, ugly trunks spouting these delicate, fragile flowers – the contrast between rugged stability with momentary beauty stuns me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought of other ways I’ve changed, whether my perspective has shifted to “it’s not wrong; it’s different” or all the way to “it’s not wrong; it’s very, very good!” My list grew quite long, so here is just a sampling. In no particular order:

1. I used to think that trees in Japan were “pruned within an inch of their very lives! Let them be freeeee!” Now, I often find myself thinking, “Wow, there isn’t a lot of space here, and it’s amazing that Japanese people have found ways to add green anyway.” The art form of making trees fit a space impresses me (and reminds me of Dr. Seuss illustrations). Bonsai trees, carefully trimmed and controlled over decades, can grow in a yard that’s not quite a yard, and I have a deepening respect for people committed to this long-form, natural art.

2. I used to roll my eyes at parasols. When I first came and saw so many people carrying umbrellas in the summer, I’d think, “The sun isn’t your enemy!” and made all sorts of judgmental assumptions about people’s vanity. Now I realize that it’s more humid here. Sunscreen is both uncomfortable and sweats right off, so hats and parasols make a lot of sense. They are effective against the heat (not just sun rays), and I’m also impressed by people proactively taking care of their skin.

3. I used to think that concrete everywhere was an eyesore. There is a ton of concrete in Japan. Many, if not most, rivers have concrete along at least parts of them. (“Why can’t they be free?!” — yep, broken record.) Where we live, concrete sea walls have been built (or rebuilt higher) to help protect people along the coast from future tsunamis. Our city is really hilly, and loads of hillsides are covered in concrete. I thought it was a bit much when I arrived, but now I see it as a lot of smart science-y and engineer-y people working together to keep hillsides from collapsing and rocks from falling in this land of earthquakes and typhoons. I still don’t think it’s pretty, but I’m grateful for it now.

4. I used to think the rain and haze was a drag. I heard myself complain about the wetness and compare Japanese skies to Pennsylvanian skies All the Time (now I just do this Quite Often). I am in the process of accepting that we live in a different climate, that this isn’t Pennsylvania so stop comparing it to Pennsylvania already. I’ve also come to appreciate beauty in fog and clouds. It was pointed out to me years ago that Japanese art is rarely bright and blue-skied but is instead cloudy, misty, and nuanced. Mystery is beautiful, and Japan has helped me see this.

5. I used to think my way was (shhhh) better. One example of many is that I’d feel disoriented and defensive when I’d drop someone off at their home and they wouldn’t go inside but would wait until I drove off. In the US, the driver makes sure the person dropped off gets inside safely, whereas in Japan, the person dropped off makes sure the driver leaves well. This one is small, but it felt uncomfortable to me for years, and what was uncomfortable to me often got interpreted as wrong. Now it’s not only in the “not wrong; just different” category, but I also see it as quite lovely. I love getting our boys involved in waving people away when guests leave our house after dinner or when they are dropped off after playdates.

6. I used to struggle with the emphasis on ganbatte (persevere). Initially, I loved seeing the word on bumper stickers and spray painted on walls in post-disaster Japan. It conveyed something like, We will make it. We will overcome this together. Press on and don’t give up! Yet the longer I lived here, the more it grated on me. “Workaholism is a big deal here,” I would say to myself. “Stop persevering and rest already!” Then when I had kids, I’d prefer to say to our boys, “Have fun at school!” (or swimming lessons or the craft event) rather than joining the other moms calling after their kids, “Ganbatte!” Yet now I’m mostly thankful our boys grow up hearing that their effort matters just as much or more than their level of fun. Work hard. You can do hard things. Keep at it. Be a koi and swim upstream. Persevere. (And of course, have fun too!)

7. I used to be a little skeptical about uniforms. For middle and high schoolers, I now think there is a pretty good argument for them. Yet as a middle or high schooler 25ish years ago, boy oh boy would I have spouted off about how they cramp my individuality and make it difficult to express myself. (My mom endured years of my suspenders, fedoras, grandpa sweaters, and old bell bottoms in the name of individuality.) I’ve changed over the years, and I marvel at the dozens of uniformed high schoolers around me as I write this – collared white shirts, vests, and plaid skirts. Self-expression is a lower value here (at least in school), and I might say that this is in the “it’s not wrong; it’s very, very good” category (especially recently coming back from the Land of Self-Expression on Steroids).

8. I used to think Japanese women, particularly moms, must all be miserable. I pitied them for not having “mom’s night out,” for having to look a certain way, and for having (in my interpretation) such small lives. But I see some of my American friends trying to do it all with big, expansive lives. I see them investing in their careers, hosting Pinterest-perfect parties, living in tastefully decorated houses, working out, baking homemade bread, and taking epic family vacations — and they look exhausted. Here, I have mamatomo (mom friends) with simple, content lives, and I’m better for being around them. Their homes are small, their lives involve a lot more laundry and dishes than their American counterparts (many here don’t have dishwashers or dryers), and they aren’t rushing around. I’m thankful for the unassuming influence of several dear mamatomo on me. They’re not documenting their lives on social media or chasing some ideal they’re told by someone somewhere they’re supposed to pursue. Basically, I used to pity women around me and thought they were trapped, and I don’t think like that anymore.

9.  I used to think I would never be able to belly laugh in a country that values self-control. For years, I struggled with how women around me laughed, covering their mouths and laughing through their noses, if at all. Yet now I have a neighbor and other friends with whom I can laugh until I cry (and have). Recently I was drinking coffee with my 65-year-old neighbor across the street, and the topic turned to my eye wrinkles. I referred to them as my shima (stripes) rather than shiwa (wrinkles), and for reasons I’m forgetting now we cackled and snorted, which of course made us cackle some more. Another time this neighbor was telling me about her new hobby, crochet, and I noticed the beautiful, expertly croqueted vest she was wearing. I asked with bug eyes, “Did you make this!?!” “No,” she said perkily, “I made this.” She handed me a half-finished potholder full of mistakes, and we laughed until we cried. This is one example out of many “I’ll never get to ______ in Japan” thoughts that have proven to be untrue.

10. I used to roll my eyes at all the ceremony. Three-year-olds are expected to sit on little wooden chairs in suits for the entrance ceremony for daycare. Between our four boys, we’ve sat through eight entrance and graduation ceremonies and counting. (We have 16 more to take us to the end of middle school.) While I still sit and endure, feeling semi-lost and occasionally questioning why the emphasis is on somber, serious, and ceremonial rather than fun, light, and funny, I now think there is a lot of valuable stuff connected to these markings of time. I think my home culture is missing out on not having more ways to recognize coming-of-age moments. Other things that surprised me by how somber they were include weddings, new year celebrations, and kids’ campfire ceremonies.

I’m not sharing these items to say I’ve arrived. I still occasionally struggle, compare, and complain – yet I hope I’m also growing, learning, and changing. Being past the 10-year mark, I want to remember that I used to think one way and now I think differently. Hopefully I can be patient and kind when I hear others having similar reactions and attitudes as I did. And if I see some frizzy foreigner shaking her fist at trees, I hope I will take her on a whimsical picnic and let her bellow about peaches in peace, imagining her going from accepting to valuing to celebrating them.


Originally from Pennsylvania (USA), Roberta lived in Kosovo for three years before getting married and moving to northern Japan in 2012. She and her husband partner with a Japanese church and have four young and energetic boys. She enjoys hiking, camping, and having friends over for average and boisterous meals.

Glancing in the Rearview Mirror

by Jessi Bullis

I was in my first car crash in May 2023. I had just gotten off a flight and was too hungry to complete my 90-minute drive home before eating (there always seems to be those awkward lengths of time between meals on flying days). It was pouring rain, and I pulled off at an unknown town in search of a late dinner. Traffic was coming up on a stop light, and while we all seemed to slow down quicker than anticipated, I came to a stop with room to spare. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I noted that the car behind me had enough space to fully stop. 
Less than a second afterwards, I felt the impact. I later found out I was actually the third car to get hit from behind in a four-car pile-up. 
Before that moment I had never really thought about getting hit from behind. It wasn’t a concern. For some reason I just had a lot of trust in other cars around me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in countries with incredible drivers who could fit four cars to a road, squeeze through any narrow street, and make lane switching in traffic jams look effortless. Or maybe it’s simply because I hadn’t yet experienced it.


Focusing on the Rearview Mirror

For many years, the way I “processed” the heavy (and even exciting) emotions that came with my Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience was to simply disregard them. 

The announcement would come that we were moving to another country, that yet another friend was leaving, or that the thing I was looking forward to was cancelled because of some complication with living abroad. And I would just shut down. Try to put on a blank face. Spew out some platitude about God’s goodness.

I would tell myself, “Emotions make you look weak and only get in the way of moving forward.” So I just kept pushing on, driving forward while never looking back. 

Years later, once my body very suddenly and drastically had its fill of painful circumstances going unprocessed and I developed an autoimmune disease, I was forced to look back as though I’d been hit from behind. In response, I began doing the heavy lifting of truly honouring my experiences and allowing myself to finally feel the waves of emotions that came with long-ago moves and crises.

As I realized just how much my refusal to process had stunted my emotional growth, I completely pendulum-swung from my “shoving down” mentality. I felt like I couldn’t move forward unless I had completely processed every single block on my Grief Tower

I was trying to gain control of something, anything, because I felt so very out of control. Suddenly I was trying to drive while only looking through the rearview mirror. 

As you can imagine, it was terribly painful. I became burnt out on grief processing and eventually learned that there needs to be a balance of intentionally looking back and intentionally looking forward, while also acknowledging and enjoying where I’m currently at. 

Taking in All Angles

In my grief-processing journey, I’ve learned something surprising. No matter how good you are at the balancing act of processing past grief while still looking forward, sometimes you get unexpectedly rear-ended by past grief that you thought you’d dealt with. No matter how much I check my mirrors, no matter how good of a driver I am, and no matter how safe an area I seem to be in, I’m not immune to being hit from behind.

We can feel like we are managing life well, just driving along. But then something from our past sneaks up behind us and taps us on our bumper – or maybe even causes a full collision. 

My car has been my safe space. It’s where I’ve done all my most profound processing. As an introvert, I have found I have the clearest thoughts in my car because it’s one of the few places I can find absolute solitude. It is in this space that I feel completely free to perform my “scream-singing” as I blast music to release any intense frustration, agony, and joy I may be feeling (my go-to song for emotional release is “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts, which seems all too fitting here). 

But after this accident I was nervous about even getting into my car. Suddenly my safe space felt dangerous. And when I did drive, I spent a lot of time nervously surveillancing my rearview mirror in fear that I would be hit from behind again. When our past comes knocking, it can feel disorienting. 

This is where I anticipate you saying, “Great, so you’re saying I can never fully relax? My past will never be fully processed?” What a terrible thought. And no, that’s not what I’m saying.  Rather, remember that life has ups and downs that are outside your control, and it’s not your fault

I often felt that when my past came back to haunt me, it was my fault — that clearly I hadn’t processed well enough. I felt ashamed that my “ghost of Christmas past” was returning for a visit. 

Control is something we TCKs tend to struggle with. After years of losing friends and community and stability over and over, seeking out “control” can feel desperate and hopeless. 

Yes, we can’t be in control of everything, but we can choose to give ourselves grace as we remember that the waves of life are not our fault. When we choose to remember that sometimes collisions just happen, the emotional weight of “fault” gets lifted. 

There’s only so much contingency preparation I can do, and there are only so many hours in the day for therapy and processing and – oh yeah – everyday life also. 

There’s a need to intentionally glance backwards. We cannot fully accept ourselves and move forward if we do not gently and graciously love our past selves. We need to take into account the circumstances we faced growing up because they are impacting the person we are today – how we make decisions, invest in relationships, and care for ourselves. 

It’s important to intentionally create space to process, whether it’s taking a Saturday afternoon to journal or do an art project while considering processing questions, talking with a friend, or sitting down with a counselor. (Check out this emotional processing activity guide for processing suggestions you can implement.) 

There’s also a need to steer forward. The rearview mirror should not be our focal point. There’s a reason you got in the car: you have a goal or endpoint in mind! We need to remember those goals as we move moving forward in hope. 

And there’s a need to be aware of who you are and where you are. Sometimes we just need to live life, not pull out another piece of our past to process, not plan the turn we’re going to make in five miles, but rather allow ourselves to be present and enjoy the moment.

For some months after the accident I had to be gentle with myself, evaluating my emotional stability and prioritizing self-compassion. It took time, but eventually my car became my safe space again, because I had allowed myself to authentically show up how I needed each day. 

Collisions will happen. Our past will come knocking throughout life. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed, and that doesn’t always mean we haven’t done enough processing. Yes, processing the past is important, but we can’t get stuck driving through our rearview mirror. We need to balance looking back and looking forward while remembering that sometimes life hits us from behind. And we can give ourselves grace for that too. 

Photo by Olga Nayda on Unsplash


Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She uses her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling to create resources and serve TCK and their families as the Director of Adult TCK services at TCK Training. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God in how they are cared for.

14 Ways to Make Furloughs Fun for Everyone

by Sara Simons

What if you could replace the dread of being gone for multiple months from the place you love, having to put on your most extroverted self, or feeling paralyzed by the thought of packing and re-packing with fond memories of being with people who love you in a context that was life-giving?

Although there is often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with creating space to brainstorm and imagining what it would take to make this the furlough where you return with newfound energy and support, the way it was always intended?

What would it take to get there? And how can you be intentional towards this goal?

As you consider your plan and the destinations you will embark upon, here are a few creative thoughts, not just for families with kids, but for the tired overseas worker who wants to maximize and enjoy their furlough.

1. Create a furlough bucket list. As my kids used to say, “Our job was meetings,” so think outside the primary reason you’re there. Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what is one fun thing that he/she would like to do while you’re away. The sky’s the limit for now. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the areas you’re visiting, or it could be very simple things you already enjoy.

Brainstorm your list, narrow it down to three to five items, and then choose one solid and important selection per person. While not everyone may want to engage in this exercise or the chosen activity, some may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of memories past or not yet formed – of wanting to go horseback riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person you meet, or traveling through a beloved foreign city on the return trip.

One year when we were planning to be in nine cities in four states with our then two-year-old and six-year-old, we each chose one thing we wanted to do in those cities: try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon and constellations from the unique point of earth we were on. At that age the ideas were all free. You’ll be amazed at the ideas, not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities in preparation for your arrival.

2. Think creatively about setting. Where we meet people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach or even a museum. A park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks, where otherwise they may have been bored out of their minds.

3. Engage in physical activities with friends and supporters. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy of furlough possibilities returned. We hated how we seemed to gain weight upon return. The idea of another sugar-laden coffee or heavy meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However, the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood, or a hike together with supporters felt much more energizing. Teach us to play paddle! It was so good for us, our children, and those we were meeting with. Walking and talking isn’t a new concept; sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality to consider time of day, ability to talk, and what is needed to maximize this time. This allowed for bonding and connection in a much more organic way as well.

4. Set up fun play dates with trusted family or friends when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. People are always asking what we need, and this is a very practical way people can help – something they can offer on home assignment that they can’t give while we’re in our ministry context. Our kids remember the families that supported us with this quality time when their parents weren’t around. These elements of connection to our home country ignited delight in them for future returns, a gift we had hoped for.

5. Host a coffee shop “open house.” When we land in an area, we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a three- to four-hour window (late lunch hour is good at a self-serve cafe). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. This simultaneously takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. As an introvert, this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings and once again getting in the car.

6. Think of creative games that can be played in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus, or airplane. When we are all together as a family, we try to avoid having both parents pulled into the same conversation so that one of us can solely attend to the children. One of our favorite games is “who can get the most waves.” Each player waves at strangers, trying to get waves (or smiles) in return, and then we tally the number of points. As an adult, this is one game you are certain to lose (although a suspiciously waving and smiling adult gets fun looks too – bonus points!). We have hilarious memories of sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone, especially us.

7. Give your kids a list of things to find from their seat or window (scavenger hunt style). Let’s be honest, we sit way more than any of us benefit from, but we can still find a way to have fun, whether we’re in a restaurant, coffee shop, car, or airplane. Your scavenger list could include: person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, colored hair, best tattoo, and more. These can be made up on the spot by you or your children. Sure, this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can also spur on interesting conversations about culture similarities and differences.

8. Enjoy the journey. Plan a side trip for wherever you end up. As global workers, one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en route to our destination. A side trip is a trip within the greater trip, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous. Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one- or two-night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe. This is surely a gift of being globally mobile.

9. Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible and unique landscape. It may look like desert, or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique ecosystems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and also as individual adults to get alone time. We have managed to make this a priority by taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10. Purposefully try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here). If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is, and offer to join them in preparing it or to teach them a fun recipe you miss. You could say something like, “I’ve heard there are really delicious ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture.

11. Reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your country of service and teach others how to make it. Just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for.

12. Go on a special jetlag date when you’re awake at 5:30 in the morning and no one else is awake (minus some crazy-early morning Americans!). My kids have way fonder memories of jetlag than I do. This might be one of the reasons.

13. Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and I struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children by my lovely US-based family. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a smash journal. It became our intentional down time together as a family (though not every night). We made space regularly to create little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins, and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience, and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. It also minimized the need for extra storage or travel space on our return.

14. Take a picture of every bed you have slept in or car you drove or person you met with. This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Taking pictures of dogs is another option that my kids loved!) For us, this cataloging is another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion or serve as an understanding of your reason for chiropractic care. And sometimes they act as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. We have incredible memories of people who loved us well in ways we never asked for.

Getting kids involved in planning from the beginning can give furlough an incredible boost instead of it being a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand. But don’t feel like this is a checklist. Make it your own, and then be flexible and spontaneous, present to whomever the Father wants to put before you. Truly pray for this time to be the gift it was intended for.


Originally published at The Way Between and revised for reprint at A Life Overseas.


Sara Simons and her family recently relocated back to the US after 11 years living and working abroad. She and her husband Jeff create resources and provide coaching for ministry leaders in major life transition and on sabbatical. You can learn more at thewaybetween.org.

A Trip to the Store

by Robert Buchanan

We were on a six-month home assignment after having served our first term as missionaries in a South Pacific country. At the time we were living in our friend’s finished basement and using one of their vehicles. One night my wife Heather told me she wanted to do some shopping in town. Like many men, I’m not a big fan of shopping, and I didn’t want to go. Heather persisted, and I finally said, “Why don’t you just take the car and go? We can do something when you get back.”

For several seconds she looked like she was in deep thought and then said, “Oh yeah, I can do that here!” In our country of service, it is unwise for ladies to drive off our mission center by themselves. Heather and I had spent over 40 years of our life in the U.S. before going overseas, but now after only two years abroad, we had changed.

Even simple tasks aren’t that simple when one lives in the developing world. If you live in a suburban location in the United States and want to go into town to shop at a local store, what do you do? Most likely, you make a shopping list, grab your wallet and car keys, and drive into town without much thought.

You probably don’t check with the local authorities about road conditions and zero out your trip odometer so that you’ll know exactly how far away you are from home if you break down. Or take the time to ensure that you have a full tank of fuel, check to see that your license and registration is up to date, and know that the vehicle is in good working order.

You are even less likely to make sure someone else knows your itinerary, that you have emergency contact numbers written down, have redundant communications devices available, ensure that there is a reasonable proportion of adult men to women and children, think about who would be an asset and who would be a liability in a critical incident, have a throw-away wallet in your possession in case of a robbery, or on occasion request an armed escort from a local security provider.

As you drive, the tactically minded among you may be looking for roadblocks and choke points, but for most Americans without a law enforcement, military, or security background, that is an odd and foreign concept often relegated to the paranoid. Of course, humans aren’t the only hazards on the roads, but in the U.S., you are unlikely to have pigs, dogs, and drunk people wandering in the middle of the “highway.” If for some reason that does happen, it doesn’t last very long.

Similarly, you’re unlikely to drive over bridges without railings or that seem ready to collapse. Pedestrians and other drivers may sometimes use bad judgement, but for the most part, Americans follow the rules of the road which are actively enforced by the police.

When you arrive in town, you probably don’t have someone stay with the vehicle to deter theft. You probably don’t consciously ensure that the men in the group take responsibility for looking out for the women and children. You probably aren’t looking for surveillance and likely don’t have a mental contingency plan for a riot, medical emergency, or firefight between the police and local criminals.

If you live in the developing world as a missionary or NGO worker, you likely do all of this and more for every trip into town. Are there some missionaries and NGO workers who become complacent and fail to take all these precautions? Yes, there absolutely are, but even in their complacency they are more alert than most Americans who have never lived overseas.

This is understandable since the United States has good roads, well-trained police, fire, and emergency medical service professionals, trauma centers, available tow trucks and mechanics, solid communications infrastructure, and a stable power grid. So thank God and count your blessings if you live in suburban America, but remember that, to the majority world, the stability you experience in the U.S. is unheard of.

As a career security professional, I have always run scenarios in my head and made plans for a whole host of contingencies, but it wasn’t until the I lived overseas that I began to fully understand the quote from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who famously said, “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”

No matter how good my plan is, it is unlikely to match the exact situation I find myself in, but having gone through the act of planning, I can more easily adapt. Now, as practical as that statement is, my time overseas has also taught me a corollary: “No matter how much I plan or how adaptable I am, I am still totally reliant on the One who knows the end from the beginning.”

God stands outside of time, knows all things, and works all things together for His glory. As a servant of God, I fall short when I only rely on my ability to plan and adapt. My faith must be in Him, who not only gave me the skills and intellect I have, but who knows far more than I ever could.

Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: But safety is of the Lord” (KJV). Notice that the horse is prepared. We are not to shirk our duties or ignore our talents and abilities, but in the end, it is God who gives safety.

As a missionary with 10 years of overseas experience and a security professional with 34 years of experience, I can give this advice: Learn everything you can, plan to the best of your ability, and prepare for foreseeable events, but most of all, rely on the One who holds all people and all history in His hands.


Robert Buchanan is a career security professional who answered God’s call to use his skills in overseas missions. He currently serves as a security advisor for a mission organization in the South Pacific. His wife, Heather, serves as a teacher in the local international school, and together they have found that true joy comes from doing God’s will – even when conditions are challenging.

Beyond Reverse Culture Shock Part 3: The Journey of Post-Traumatic Growth

by Shonna Ingram

Welcome to Part 3 of our series, where we’ll explore each re-entry season in depth, uncovering how to apply the principles of post-traumatic growth and offering specific resources for each season of the journey. (If you missed them, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 at these links.)

The concept of Post-Traumatic Growth hypothesizes that while trauma inflicts deep wounds, it can also create change. Through the post-traumatic growth journey, individuals can uncover new strengths, gain new perspectives, and explore new possibilities. More importantly, it can help them find restoration and a deeper connection to God. By embracing the post-traumatic growth model and committing to the journey, missionaries can discover their next step in ministry.

While not all individuals experience trauma during re-entry, a trauma-informed perspective acknowledges the possibility of trauma. In the following sections, we will explore the different facets of the re-entry journey, shedding light on the experiences and challenges missionaries may encounter along the way.

Season 1: Return (Pre-Departure and Arrival)

This phase of re-entry is covered extensively in most re-entry literature, which focuses on “saying healthy goodbyes” and “preparing for landing.” As we discussed in Part 1, ideally, missionaries have time for pre-departure preparations; however, unforeseen circumstances may disrupt this. Regardless, the Return phase marks the start of settling back home, from pre-departure readiness to initial arrival and approximately six months after they arrive.

Pre-Departure Preparation: Typically starting nine to six months before departure, this phase involves logistical, emotional, and mental readiness. Prioritizing intentional farewells, addressing logistics early, and engaging in reflection is crucial for a smoother transition.

Initial Arrival (0-3 months) Preparation: This season can be especially hard if there is no pre-departure preparation. This phase addresses practical responsibilities like housing, transportation, and internet service. It is important to be aware of the emotional undercurrents accompanying these responsibilities.

Extended Arrival (3-6 months) Preparation: This phase sees missionaries exploring life in their home country, navigating ongoing adjustment, and settling in. Challenges may persist despite time passing, inviting reflection on overall well-being, family dynamics, career trajectory, and how to manage continued reverse culture shock.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your return, you may grapple with the complexities of leaving behind your life overseas. You may exhibit a range of behaviors indicative of trauma responses, including fight responses by asserting control over your circumstances, fleeing from overwhelming emotions, freezing by looking like you are in indecision, or engaging in fawning behaviors to appease others. Being aware of these normal responses is essential in finding effective support during this transitional phase.

During the initial Return season, consider the following strategies:

  • Find a comprehensive checklist outlining essential tasks and considerations for preparing to return home. This checklist should encompass logistical arrangements, emotional preparedness, and strategies for self-care. Check out our free checklist here.
  • Beware of circumstances surrounding your departure so that you can ensure that you receive the assistance needed to navigate the complexities of re-entry effectively.
  • Foster awareness of the first re-entry season among other missionaries and support networks. This way you can better anticipate and address the challenges that arise in this season.
  • Create environments that validate your re-entry experiences.

Starting with these tips will help ensure that the journey to your home country can be done with confidence. 

Season 2: Restore (Navigating the Space in Between)

The Restore phase follows the initial adjustments of re-entry, representing a crucial period. This season involves navigating space between two life chapters and may span from a few years to a lifetime if not addressed.

During Restore, you may confront a range of emotions and experiences, including ambiguity, waiting, and uncertainty. Particularly important to address during this season are family dynamics, career shifts, and overall well-being. 

This phase presents unique challenges, such as supporting children through their adjustment and navigating shifts in faith. If done well, it can prompt spiritual growth while addressing unprocessed emotions, trauma, or even positive life changes.

Navigating this transitional phase involves a fluctuating journey, marked by moments of feeling stuck and longing for clarity, especially when neither the overseas nor passport culture feels entirely familiar. Questions about identity, purpose, and belonging may arise, prompting individuals to grapple with their new realities and search for their place in their communities.

Taking a trauma-informed approach to the Restore season is vital, considering that you may be wrestling with hidden traumas during this phase. Common trauma events observed during this season include: 

Acute trauma, which stems from one-time events like theft or accident.

Compound trauma, which arises from insufficient time to process between smaller transitions or smaller one-time events.

Survivor’s Guilt, which occurs when a person survives an event or leaves others to fend for themselves (this happened during the pandemic, especially if the worker had to leave national friends and coworkers behind). 

Moral Injury, which occurs when individuals have to act against their values, such as breaking laws to achieve certain objectives or witnessing others do so.

Unresolved childhood attachment issues, which lead individuals to feel unsafe or insecure.

It is imperative to be in a supportive environment where you feel empowered to address these parts of your journey in this season. 

During the transitional Restore season, consider the following strategies:

  • Adopt a holistic view of well-being and recognize all areas of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
  • Be a part of a supportive community where you can find understanding and encouragement. Check out our Restore groups. 
  • Address traumas effectively. A team of counselors or coaches specializing in re-entry trauma, older couples, pastors, or organizations familiar with the re-entry space can all be helpful here.

It’s crucial to create a supportive environment where missionaries feel empowered to address trauma and to work from a post-traumatic growth model effectively as part of their journey toward restoration and healing during the Restore season.

Season 3: Rebuild (Developing the Next Step)

The Rebuild season marks a significant shift in how we spend our time, being able to move beyond the hard places, trauma, or liminal space that held us in a Restore season. This is when our brains shift out of survival mode, allowing us to move forward with openness and curiosity. We integrate past experiences, accepting the present while still allowing space for grief. It is also a time to embrace the future with hope.

Key areas of focus during the Rebuild season include cultivating cultural awareness, unfolding one’s faith journey, and embracing growth and transformation. By reflecting on your re-entry journey, leveraging your international experiences, setting new goals and aspirations, and embracing change and adaptability, you can step into a future filled with purpose and fulfillment in your passport country. 

During the Rebuild season, our attention shifts towards narrative development within the post-traumatic growth model. Utilizing resources such as re-entry workbooks and seeking guidance from coaches or trusted friends, individuals can explore their new values and motivations, recognizing both their strengths and areas for growth. Through the process of crafting a new purpose statement and adopting a forward-thinking mindset, you can actively shape your new narrative to cultivate growth and resilience.

During the Rebuild season, consider the following strategies:

  • Explore your renewed purpose and possibly consider further education or training to align with your values to foster a profound sense of purposeful living. You can also join a Rebuild group.
  • Engage in meaningful work or ministry opportunities, which offer avenues for personal and professional growth.
  • Explore new avenues of service, whether through pursuing new job opportunities or engaging in cross-cultural ministry endeavors. 
  • Foster connections within the community, whether through church involvement, professional networks, or volunteer opportunities, as this is essential for building strong support systems and facilitating a smooth transition during re-entry. 

As you start the Rebuild season, you can embrace new opportunities and navigate this transformative phase with confidence and purpose.

You Don’t Have to Go Through Re-entry Alone

As we wrap up our series, remember that you’re not alone in this journey. My consulting company’s new Re-entry program is dedicated to providing resources for each season of your re-entry journey. Whether you’re navigating a season of Return, Restore, or Rebuild, we’re here to equip you with the tools and insights needed to support yourself or others through the re-entry process. From comprehensive digital courses to engaging in small group discussions, we offer a space where you can find understanding, connection, and support. Our team of experienced coaches is ready to walk alongside you, offering guidance and encouragement every step of the way.

If you’re part of an organization with a member care program, consider how you can further support your missionaries by becoming a trained re-entry coach yourself. And if you know someone who could benefit from our resources and community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Our supportive community is continually growing, so whether you’re planning your return to your passport country, you are still in the process of transitioning back, or you are seeking guidance in retirement, we’re here to assist you. We would love to help you navigate this journey. 

Not sure what season of re-entry you are in? Sign up to take the free quiz.

Our next groups start April 25th and May 3rd. 

Connect with more re-entry resources at shonnaingram.com/resources.


Shonna Ingram is the founder and director of the Renewed Hope Approach, a program that provides a practical approach to post-trauma care. She’s been in ministry for over 20 years and spent eight years in Africa as a missionary. Shonna is a Board Certified Master Trauma-Informed Mental Health Coach specializing in career, self-development, and spiritual formation, and she has trained hundreds of people in over 30 countries to integrate mental health into a biblical framework. Her heart for people in the re-entry season led her to create her second series, Your Re-Entry Path, as a way for them to figure out their next season, whether inside or outside of vocational ministry. She is mom to four amazing adults.

Beyond Reverse Culture Shock Part 2: A Case Study of the Three Seasons of Re-entry

by Shonna Ingram

In this second installment of our three-part series on Beyond Reverse Culture Shock (read Part 1 here), I will share a case study to explore the complexities of the three seasons of re-entry. To review:

Season 1 (Return) encompasses the nine months prior to departure from the field and the initial six months upon arrival in the home country.

Season 2 (Restore) spans approximately six months to two years after arrival and encapsulates the space between the overseas missionary experience and the transition to what comes next.

Season 3 (Rebuild) extends approximately from two to five years after returning and entails living out the next phase of one’s life and determining how to show up in this new reality.

Throughout this article, we’ll follow the journey of Sarah as she journeys through each of these seasons, and we’ll look at the challenges and growth she experienced along the way. 

Sarah’s Life on the Field 

Sarah and her husband started on their missionary journey accompanied by their four children, ranging in age from four to nine, and headed to East Africa. Despite Sarah’s background in social work and psychology, which led her to take on the role of on-field care facilitator for their branch, they encountered challenges soon after they arrived. 

In their daily work, these challenges included navigating the complex team dynamics of a young team and wrestling with a partnering organization. As their responsibilities expanded, it became increasingly clear that their primary mission was to hope and pray the new missionaries would return for their second term. 

Living four hours away from quality medical care, Sarah became proficient in managing frequent health issues like malaria and stomach illnesses. They grappled with regular water and power outages, in addition to dealing with multiple missing items which Sarah knew had been stolen. They faced the unexpected deaths of a few national team members and a house helper due to AIDS. 

The trust in any security that she once had no longer was there. It was all so draining. Despite receiving feedback from a missionary care psychologist who indicated the unhealthy nature of their position, Sarah felt compelled to continue, sensing that they had no other choice. Their hearts were burdened for the new missionaries, and they felt responsible for taking care of them.

Amidst these daily challenges were moments of success, such as helping their house girl start her own business and launching ten Bible translation projects.

Sarah’s Pre-departure 

As they approached the five-year mark, her husband said that it was time to go on home assignment and explained that they needed to decide if they were going to return to the field. Sarah found herself hesitant to leave, feeling they had only scratched the surface of their mission. However, it soon became clear that returning to the States was their next step. 

Since they knew in advance that they were leaving their overseas ministry, they followed re-entry book recommendations on how to leave well. They also secured new positions at their international headquarters in the States. Despite feeling somewhat broken yet functional and still in need of a break, they felt like they left the field well.

Sarah’s Arrival (Return)

The first six months started with navigating the housing market, including multiple failed attempts at securing a suitable home due to bidding wars and undisclosed issues. The season was full of stress. They had to find everything that a family of six would need to feel settled, like beds and a car that would hold them all. They made multiple trips to supporting churches explaining their new ministry and the need for more financial support because it was more expensive to live in America.

A few months after they started paying their mortgage, their largest church and individual supporter thanked them for their service in Africa and abruptly discontinued their support. This added to an already fragile state which put a strain on her marriage and her children’s attitudes. 

Reverse Culture Shock in many other areas of life set in and started a downward spiral of not being able to keep it all together. Sarah started having unexplained physical symptoms (beyond the normal perimenopause symptoms that most women feel during their 40s) which she knew were from unprocessed experiences from their time on the field.

Despite a year of fundraising efforts, disappointing results occurred, with discouraging remarks like “You work in the States now; why doesn’t your organization provide your salary?” and “Get a real job and support your family.” These experiences only added more questions about God’s presence, her identity, and her relationship with the church. 

Then one day they received an email from their organization stating that they didn’t have enough funds in their account to get a salary that month. After doing everything she knew to do, she was done with missions and very angry with God for not providing and protecting her and her family even as they tried desperately to do the right thing. They had given up everything to move across the world, and this is what they get? This intensified Sarah’s emotional and physical pain, culminating with bouts of pneumonia and eventually being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease.  

It became evident that their return season consisted of two distinct parts: While they managed the pre-departure phase fairly easily, it wasn’t until they arrived that they found themselves not being able to get out of survival mode, since they could not even get their basic needs met. 

Sarah’s In-Between Season (Restore) 

A few years later, as she continued to navigate a season of uncertainty, Sarah was introduced to the study of trauma. It was there she recognized its grip on her—feeling trapped in a constant cycle of fight or flight, numbing out, and being easily triggered by seemingly insignificant events. 

Her journey into trauma recovery led her to confront her heart wounds. She learned how to face loss head-on and to address feelings of disappointment and resentment stemming from past experiences, including things that happened before she went to the field. Engaging in the practice of lament over past hurts, she began the journey of forgiveness, extending it to others, herself, and God.

This shift marked the beginning of her path toward healing and hope, transforming her approach from merely doing work for God to partnering with Him. This part of the healing journey wasn’t a one-time event but a lifestyle change of healing and growth.

In addition, Sarah began healing her body through specific somatic exercises and nervous system regulation techniques. Furthermore, she learned how trauma impacts brain chemistry and how the brain can rewire itself. Armed with this knowledge, she navigated the connections between her heart, mind, and body, fostering a deeper sense of self-awareness. 

A few years later, looking back on her re-entry journey, she realized that if she had known this information earlier, her recovery might have been quicker. As she shared her story and spoke with others going through similar transitions, she found that many could relate. Seeing the value in her own journey of healing, she felt motivated to assist others on their path to recovery.

Navigating the phase “in-between” two life chapters often entails moments of feeling stuck and a strong desire for clarity, especially when struggling to fully adjust to either the overseas context or the passport culture. Nearly everyone I’ve worked with has experienced at least a few days in this in-between season, but some people get stuck in this season. Additionally, during this phase, questions about identity, purpose, and belonging may arise, prompting individuals to wrestle with their new realities and seek their place within their communities.

Sarah’s New Narrative (Rebuild)

Driven by her passion for helping others heal, she immersed herself in various trauma recovery trainings. Through those trainings, she noticed a significant gap in available resources for those in the church and missions world. 

At the beginning of 2020, she created a new post-traumatic growth program for churches. Later that year, she was asked to help her organization establish a re-entry program. Eager to contribute, she created new resources specifically for returning missionaries. Other organizations worldwide started reaching out to her as they saw what she was doing to help missionaries return well. This led her to create a new organization geared toward those on the re-entry journey. She is now able to impact more lives than she ever did while she was on the mission field.

The Rebuild Season signifies new beginnings, offering an opportunity to reevaluate our contributions to the ongoing narrative of ministry. It’s not a one-time event but a continuous journey of growth and hope, where we discover our evolving purpose and embrace the next chapter of our ministry.

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it is mine. I am Sarah.

In the next article, we will look at trauma-informed care in each season of the re-entry journey.


Shonna Ingram is the founder and director of the Renewed Hope Approach, a program that provides a practical approach to post-trauma care. She’s been in ministry for over 20 years and spent eight years in Africa as a missionary. Shonna is a Board Certified Master Trauma-Informed Mental Health Coach specializing in career, self-development, and spiritual formation, and she has trained hundreds of people in over 30 countries to integrate mental health into a biblical framework. Her heart for people in the re-entry season led her to create her second series, Your Re-Entry Path, as a way for them to figure out their next season, whether inside or outside of vocational ministry. She is mom to four amazing adults.