Demolishing the High Places of Self-Blame

by Amy Peterson

In my last night in the city of a closed country, I crept out of my apartment after dark.

I lived on the top floor of the building, but I’d noticed that where the staircase ended, there were iron rungs attached to the wall, leading up to a hole in the roof. I’d been wanting to get up on the roof of this building all year, but “unconventional” wasn’t culturally lauded here the way it was back home. I had a sneaking suspicion that the university would not look favorably upon me hanging out on the roof. This was my last night, though. Up I went.

It was nearly midnight. The moon had been full earlier in the week, but was still big and yellow, hung low in the sky. Summer lightning struck in the distance. I found the Big Dipper in the sky. But mostly I looked across the city, wondering what it would be like to go back to the States. Would it feel like home? Or would I feel like a flower picked from a garden and moved to a vase for ten months, then taken back to the garden and planted again, unable to re-root? Ten weeks seemed too long to be away from this sweet place.

I had no idea, that night, that I would never come back.

For months afterward—no, for years—I would catalog my infractions, the things that might have been the cause of what happened next. I still do it, catalog and flog. There were so many things I didn’t know, so many things I took for granted, so many ways I wasn’t cautious.

  1. I shouldn’t have forwarded an email about the execution of Christians in our country.
  2. I shouldn’t have let a student keep the Jesus film over mid-semester break. I should have warned her.
  3. I shouldn’t have taken the girls to that coffee shop for our last Bible study. We’d sat on the second floor, the only customers there, and I thought we were safe. I thought it was a special celebratory ending to our year together. But we had prayed and read the Bible in public. Why had I been so foolish? I should have been more careful.

I should have been more careful, I should have been more careful, I should have been more careful.

The word translated “high places” (bamah) is repeated 102 times in the Old Testament, mostly referring to Canaanite places of worship, altars on mountaintops and under “every luxuriant tree” (1 Kings 14:23).

When the Israelites prepared to enter Canaan, Moses exhorted the Jews to “demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52). It was hundreds of years, though, before young King Hezekiah actually put an end to idol accommodation in Israel. Hezekiah enlisted the help of the Levites and made sure the high places were destroyed, and that true, God-centered worship was restored in the temple (2 Chronicles 29–30).

The Jewish temple had a high place, a bimah, of its own, a raised pulpit from which the Torah was read. Scholars are unsure whether bimah derived from the Hebrew bamah or from the Greek word bema, meaning platform. Bema, when found in the New Testament, is usually translated “judgment seat.” I used to hear pastors use the Greek word in sermons: “When you find yourself at the Bema seat,” they’d ask, “what will Jesus say to you?”

It occurs to me now, as I rehash my mistakes, that what I’m doing is not what Jesus would do if I were to meet him at a high place.

It occurs to me now that obsessing over my own failures and what-might-have-beens is a way of creating my own altar, a bamah to me, a high place where I worship myself as the ultimate sovereign, responsible for whatever happens, good or bad.

Mistakes were made. I made mistakes. But obsessing over my mistakes elevates them as more powerful than God. God is sovereign, and God is good, and God has forgiven me.

It would be at least a year before I was able to believe any of those things again.


Excerpted from a new edition of Amys memoir, Dangerous Territory, and reprinted with permission. Amazon affiliate links help support the work of A Life Overseas.


Amy Peterson is a teacher, writer, and priest in the Episcopal church. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids, three cats, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before her call to the priesthood, she taught ESL in Southeast Asia before returning stateside to teach in California, Arkansas, Washington, and Indiana. To read more of her thoughts on faith, language, culture, and creation, visit


Discerning God’s Call (unpacking the spiritual factors that affect the decision to leave the field)

by Andrea Sears

The mission field is a place of tremendous opportunities for spiritual growth. We learn to depend on the Lord so much more when we have our normal comforts and culture stripped away. We see God doing amazing things in the lives of others, even miracles, that strengthen our faith. We see Him working in our own lives to make Himself more real than ever to us.

The mission field can also be a place of tremendous spiritual challenge. Traumatic things happen, leaving us wondering about God’s goodness and presence with us. We often see pain and suffering on a new scale that gives us doubts about God’s sovereign plan. Unusual isolation, stressors, and temptations may present themselves, and a lack of accountability can lead to moral failure. Satan desires to take advantage of our vulnerability to destroy not only our work and our families, but even our faith itself.

In a 2017 survey on missionary attrition, we measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be spiritual factors. The table summarizes the results for each question by providing:

  1. The percentage of respondents who said that they experienced this factor on the mission field.
  2. The percentage of respondents who experienced the factor that said that this factor did (to some degree) affect their return decision, be it a slight, moderate, or strong effect.
  3. The “strength index” of each factor, weighted for the size of the effect on their return decision.

The spiritual factors that reached significant levels of strength of influence were issues of call: (1) feeling called back home, (2) feeling unsure about the continued call, (3) feeling no longer called to that location, and (4) working oneself out of a job (another way of feeling that the call has ended).

These are all healthy reasons for transition. There are seasons in life, and God often makes it clear to His cross-cultural workers when it is time to move on to the next thing. This can be because of a new sense of call to something back home or other factors (such as family, health, or team struggles).

God sometimes uses these very circumstances to convince us that it is time to go. We must all pay attention to the seasons of our cross-cultural work and where we can be most strategically effective at different times.

It is also noteworthy that nearly one-half of missionaries felt at some time:

  • a disconnection in their relationship with the Lord (47%),
  • unable to connect with a local church (47%),
  • that spiritual leaders and sending churches back home had forgotten about them (46%), and/or
  • overwhelmed by spiritual oppression (41%).

These results should disabuse us of the notion of the super-spiritual Christian missionary who never has hard moments in their spiritual life because of their dedicated service to the Lord. Even (and especially) those who have sacrificed much to carry out the Great Commission can have dry periods or dark nights of the soul, often indeed brought on by the situations they face overseas.

Yet there is often a church and missions culture that discourages missionaries from sharing these experiences with others. It makes people uncomfortable if missionaries come down off the pedestal and share their struggles. This dynamic layers isolation onto the spiritual struggles themselves, exacerbating the vulnerability even further.

Missionaries are often confronted with harsh circumstances, spiritual attack, ambiguity in discerning their call, and doubts about their own competency and/or God’s plans in the place where they serve. Some will even reach the point of questioning their own faith.

To a degree, the spiritual health of a missionary is their responsibility. They are accountable for their devotional and prayer life, congregating habits, and practice of spiritual disciplines. However, these things are not simple formulas that automatically produce intimacy with God and spiritual invulnerability.

There are also things beyond the missionary’s control, including the inscrutable ways of God Himself, invisible powers and principalities that seek to destroy our soul, and interactions between circumstances and body/mind that affect our spiritual condition. We cannot dismiss spiritual distress with a simple “Well, he/she is obviously just not walking closely enough with the Lord.”

Finally, more than 1 in 3 missionaries (38%) no longer felt sure that their methods of sharing the gospel were effective. For those who experienced this, it was a factor in their departure about half (52%) of the time. Eighty-eight survey participants shared why they questioned the effectiveness of the methods, and most concerns fell into three categories: (1) the style of evangelization used (often mass evangelization without follow-up for discipleship), (2) the lack of cultural contextualization in the message and tools used to present the Gospel, and (3) the proper role of foreign missionaries in balance with local leadership.

There were also secondary concerns regarding Christian witness being undermined by poor testimony and methods being driven by the desires of foreign donors rather than what was actually needed locally.

In light of these results, here are some questions to consider:

  • Would your sending churches be shocked to see these statistics?
  • If so, what can we do to help sending churches de-lionize their missionaries and understand them as sinners vulnerable to spiritual discouragement and questions just like everyone else?
  • What can we do to modernize our missions methods and contextualize the Gospel better for the cultures we serve?
  • How do the roles of foreign missionaries need to change as the Gospel takes root in a culture or community?
  • How can we better guide our donors to understand the best use of funds, instead of letting their desires drive our methods?

These are not easy questions with simple answers, but they are important ones that global workers will continue to face as we try to stay relevant in our execution of the Great Commission.


Andrea Sears and her husband, Seth, spent 13 years working in the largest immigrant squatter settlement in Central America (in Costa Rica) and founded the Christian community development ministry giveDIGNITY. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Johnson University. She currently lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, directs the ministry’s local team from afar, and enjoys living near family and being a new grandmother.

A New Resource for Member Care Providers

by Geoff Whiteman and Heather Pubols

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Essentials for People Care and Development: A Collection of Best Practices, Research, Reflections, and Strategies, an excellent new book on member care from Missio Nexus. ~Elizabeth Trotter

Since 2000, I (Heather) have served in missions and communications. These days much of my work is focused on equipping and encouraging other missionary communicators. I often tell them that the job of a missions communicator is more than just developing content and materials to promote a mission organization’s vision and programs. As we help our missionary colleagues share their knowledge and stories, in the process, we care for them as encouragers and advocates.

World Evangelical Alliance Global Member Care Network Coordinator Harry Hoffman has a category for people giving this kind of care. He calls them “people helpers.” Harry says this group includes lay counselors, mentors, peers, and spiritual mothers and fathers. I might add colleagues to his list. People helpers are an often untapped or overlooked source of peer-related member care. 

In his book Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church that Transforms, Jim Wilder decries the neglect of relational skills development in Christian organizations. Instead, he says, as we collectively strive to accomplish our organization’s vision, staff tire, disconnect, and become spiritually dead. 

However, Wilder goes on to explain that when our organizations first cultivate healthy relational cultures, vision is implemented in a better way. People stop “burning out for Jesus,” mature spiritually, and exhibit greater trust in God. Member care in this model becomes a critical organizational strategy for sustainability, and everyone is invited to play a part in it.

This brings me great encouragement and was part of my inspiration in spearheading the creation of this book. My desire was not just to see member care professionals better equipped. I also wanted anyone involved in missions to have the chance to expand their view of member care and see ways they could apply the contents of this book as they cared for their fellow humans serving in God’s mission.

To achieve these objectives, I partnered with Geoff Whiteman. Geoff has served as a member care professional in private practice and with mission sending and service organizations (both as a resilience researcher and a marriage and family therapist) and currently advises member care professionals directly. Together as co-editors of this book, we bring our experience as co-laboring missionaries as well as our perspectives from different ends of the member care spectrum. Geoff gave leadership to this book’s topics and authors, while I worked with each author on crafting the content for a broad audience.

So whether you are a person who simply wants to be more aware of how to better care for global workers you know or work with, you are considering a ministry of care for God’s beloved missionaries, or you are a seasoned member care professional – welcome! This book was written for you. 

Most of the contributors to this volume presented at the MissioNexus Mission Leader Conference in 2022 and 2023. The themes of those conferences were “Counting the Cost” and “Shift: Rapid Social Transformation and the Gospel.”  The people care and development workshop track connected these themes with the needs of the missions community through a practical theology lens. 

To develop this further, we asked several questions. What do member care professionals believe (theological and biblical reflections)? What do we know (research and case studies)? How can we respond (frameworks and strategies)? What will help (tools and resources)? And who can we join (kingdom collaboration)?

An axiom of missiology is that faithfulness to the universal gospel requires attentiveness to the particulars. We need exegesis of the text and ethnography of the context if the good news is to be good news here and now. This axiom is true for member care as well. There have been seismic shifts in the world that impact the world of missions and the discipline of member care. 

I (Geoff) can think of many people who have lamented to me about what they are seeing. An executive director of a mid-sized agency explained, “We used to have a good handle on member care, but now we’re not so sure. Everyone coming is carrying so much trauma. We want to help them, and we also have a job we need them to do.” 

A seasoned trainer told me, “We keep seeing major member care issues in our trainees. The people coming through training now need more training, but organizations are placing a lower priority on training. There’s a huge gap between everyone’s expectations. I’ve given my life to closing this gap, but it keeps widening.” 

On another occasion, a senior pastor shared with me about texting with global workers on the other side of the world who were in a medical emergency with their child. He said, “I’m their pastor. I have to help them, but I don’t know who to turn to.”   

I share Heather’s conviction that the invitation of member care to love one another well belongs to each of us.  And I add my conviction that some of us are invited to become member care professionals who do so with excellence. This is because many of the perplexing and pervasive challenges are best understood as structural. These are places where our walls are not framed plumb and square to our foundation and where no amount of fresh paint will remedy the problem. 

One of the more pervasive structural problems is the belief that the aim of member care is to eliminate preventable attrition rather than to see reductions in attrition as an outcome of a healthy system in which member care has a key role. Through research, we found that attrition is multi-faceted, complex, and rarely (if ever) clearly differentiated between preventable or unpreventable. Member care workers often play an essential role in helping global workers do well, but their work is often tertiary and occurs alongside friends, family, colleagues, supporting churches, and others.

To move forward we need to grow in awareness of how care fits across cultures in individual relationships and in organizational systems. And we need to approach this area with hearts and minds that honor those who came before us and are open to the diverse perspectives of those involved in today’s global mission environment. Reading and interacting with the content of this book can be one step in moving forward. 

Our prayer is that this book will meet a real need you have now and provide you with resources you can return to again and again. We trust it proves to be a blessing to you and through you to those God invites you to care for. We hope you’ll share it with someone you know and the dialogue that follows will spark new insights.

May we each be a part of building healthy relational cultures in the organizations we serve!


Heather Pubols is the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ, – a professional journal for North American missionaries that has been continuously published since 1964. She is also the founder and principal communications consultant for le Motif ( – a communications consulting firm focused on global mission. She has served in missions for more than 20 years. 

Geoff Whiteman, ThM, LMFT, serves member care professionals as the director of the VALEO Research Institute ( and the MissioNexus People Care and Development track co-leader. Since 2000, he has served in vocational ministry and has supported the care and training of global workers in Christ since 2007. Those experiences piqued his interest in how global workers could persevere with joy which led him to research resilience ( 

Lies Missionaries Believe

by Rachel Espazien

When going onto a mission field for the first or tenth time, we often have ideals of what a missionary is supposed to be, do, and look like. Some of it is impressed upon us by church culture, gathered from missionary books we’ve read, or created by ourselves.

As a young missionary I didn’t take my calling lightly, and I don’t believe you do either. Maybe you, like me, have put a lot of pressure on yourself to live up to the missionary standard. After all, we were commissioned to “go into all the world” by Jesus Himself at the end of Matthew.

I didn’t know any real live missionaries when I first went onto the field, but from what I gathered:

  1. A missionary is supposed to be empowered to help the people they serve without needing their help.
  1. A missionary is supposed to be protected from all harm, at all times, wherever they go, inside the will of God.
  1. A missionary is supposed to heal those who are sick with prayer or a simple touch.
  1. A missionary is supposed to be unhindered, and therefore it is more holy to go onto the field single.
  1. A missionary is supposed to live as simply and frugally as possible and should have no Western conveniences.
  1. A missionary is supposed to know what to say, where to go, and whom to help at all times.
  1. A missionary is supposed to focus on spiritual needs and leave physical needs for humanitarians.
  1. A missionary’s mere presence is supposed to make an instant impact on the community.
  2. People back home should be led to support the missionary without being bothered with a list of their needs.

I identified myself as a missionary. I wasn’t in my host country to sightsee or vacation. I had given up everything, all of my personal comforts and dreams, to be there, because I knew God wanted me to. Things went well for a while.

I lived up to my own missionary ideals in the beginning. I felt useful to the ministry I volunteered with. I was single and undistracted, pouring everything I had into the work.

As my boldness grew, I took on many roles that seemed important. It felt great to see a child on his deathbed start to walk and talk after I had spent months caring for him. The other short termers who were in and out looked up to me, and I got to be the one to answer their questions.

Then death came under my watch, and I began to question everything.

If all the things I knew about missions were true, why was I watching someone I loved slip away under my constant care?

My identity was so wrapped up in being that good missionary. The missionary that was undefeated. The missionary that my home church would be proud of and would want to support.

How would I tell the people back home that I had failed?

If I wasn’t making an impact like all those missionaries I had read about, then maybe I was a fake after all.

The idealistic missionary image I had built came crashing down. I was plunged into an identity crisis. I had to take a break from ministry and go home. When I left, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to come back.

On a month-long furlough to think over ministry, I evaluated my heart and motives to see if I had missed God, because in my mind, this was not how things were supposed to turn out.

During that time I came to realize that nearly everything I thought I knew about being a missionary was false. All the things I thought a missionary was supposed to be were just lies that I had believed.

As much as I would like to think I have left an impact on those I served, or that I am making an impact now, the outcomes are not mine to decide.

So . . .

Dear missionary who has believed those same lies and questioned whether you are really qualified to be on the field, let me tell you:

God never called you to determine the outcome of your serving. You were never meant to be anyone’s savior. Only Jesus can be that.

Missionaries are not a super-human species that never fail or lose a battle. In fact, more than bringing out your strengths, missions will reveal your weaknesses and neediness and bring you to a place of greater dependence on the Lord.

God doesn’t ask you to be a great missionary or to conjure up change. He only asks you to be obedient and go. With whatever little you have in your hands, just go. You may be called a missionary, but your true identity is simply “follower of Christ,” not “hero.”

Whether we follow Him to the bedside of the dying or to witness a miracle is not up to us to decide.

We could choose to walk away from the mission field. It might feel easier to stay where it is safe, to hide in our bedrooms and cover our ears to all the sadness in this world. We could be angry at the outcomes that we do not understand and question God for allowing them.

Or we can be obedient. We can lay down the lies that we have believed for so long. We can cry over injustice, and then we can get up and keep pouring ourselves out, knowing that God will use our weaknesses in the way that He chooses and that someday things will be “very good” again.


Rachel was preparing to go to Mexico in 2017 but through a series of events, ended up as a full time missionary in Haiti. She quickly found her calling as a cross-cultural worker and blogger. In 2020, after their marriage, she and her husband Nelson started Espwa Demen, a non-profit that assists impoverished children and families in rural Haiti. Because of the country’s security situation they were forced to relocate to the US at the beginning of 2023, but their ministry continues to grow in the hands of local volunteers and through frequent trips. You can follow Rachel on her personal blog or find her on Instagram.

What Does It Mean To Be A Missionary Kid? 

by Iona McHaney Marcellino

I grew up in Angola, where my parents served as missionaries from 1999 to 2011. People often ask me what it was like to be a missionary kid. I never have a succinct answer.

It would be easier to share a memory, a well-rounded vignette of life in Angola, life on the mission field, that would allow the listener to see how nuanced their question is. It would be easier to sit the questioner down, hand them a cup of tea, and say:

‘I have a memory from Angola…..’

We were standing off the road in a remote area, at the Cascades de Kalandula (Calandula Falls). The absolute beauty of the sight was magnified by its seclusion. I had already been to Victoria Falls, and it was fine, but it wasn’t a memory I’d want to write about. 

As for why I had the opportunity to see these beautiful waterfalls? That’s a more complicated story.

My dad had fallen ill on a mission trip to the interior of the country. I don’t remember what he had. Malaria? Cholera? Marburg? Something obscure and foreign to Western ears, something easily preventable or easily treatable when you’re surrounded by modern facilities and deadly when you’re not. 

I think I was nine. Or ten. I may have been twelve. I don’t remember a lot of the wider details, but I do remember the drive there. 

We drove over 10 hours on dirt roads, bumping along, first in the coastal heat, then in the interior mugginess, and then finding a little relief as we hit the freshness of elevation. We crossed a river on a bridge made of tree logs wedged in between the banks. If I had ever doubted my mum had faith, I didn’t after she drove over that bridge. 

Then we heard that my dad had died. He was so ill that the people he was visiting didn’t believe he could recover. It just didn’t happen in their experience. When he was moved to a bigger city, the rural church announced on their radio that the American Missionary had died. There was a prayer vigil for his family and gratitude for his life. Meanwhile my dad was paying $100 a night to sleep on a foam mattress in a dismal hotel.

I don’t know if I heard about it before we left Luanda, while we were on the road, or after we had my dad back in the car. My memory is not really about my dad being ill and announced possibly dead on Angolan radio.

My memory is of the waterfall. 

The water roared and tumbled over the cliff, rainbows flitting off the spray. The sound was purely ecstatic as millions and millions of water molecules clambered over and around each other, then landed on rocks and plunged deep into a pool obscured by the rising mist. 

We stared and stared at this magnificent, jubilant display of Creation. What a treasure. 

No tourists were flocking with their cameras to get a better view of water they didn’t know and a land they didn’t care about. No one was posing in front of the rainbows for a thousand clicks and then off to their next excursion. No one was traipsing through rained out roads and minefields to see this tremendous display of glory. 

No one, except for us. 

And we were only there because we had to collect an American missionary who had almost died in a rural village. 

I remember staring at the shrouds of mist as they rose back up over the cliffside, the water giving an encore, another wave before wafting off to its next journey. I pulled a woven wrap from Chad around me and shivered, no doubt pretending I was some distant relative of Lucy Pevensie and that this was my Cair Paravel. And in a way, it was. 

I remember turning to eat lunch with my mum. I remember watching my dad, who’d lost about 15 pounds in two weeks, eat his lunch and speak to the team leader (who had travelled with us) in English, then turn to speak to his friend in Portuguese. 

When people ask me, ‘What was it like being a missionary kid? What was it like living in Angola?’ I wish I could somehow transport them into this scene and share with them everything I was seeing and feeling all at once: the juxtaposition of a recovering man, loyal friends, near tragedy, and the absolute, unashamed wonder of Creation at our feet.

I wish I could share that memory and hear people say, ‘Ah, yes, I understand, what a difficult balance to live in.’ 

It’s really difficult to explain that challenging balance, of recognising the good and the terrible all at once, unless you’ve experienced it first hand. 

Being a missionary kid in Angola was living in the constant state of seeing the worst and seeing the best. Watching war ravage a nation and a people, then watching that war end and witnessing peace weave back into a land. Standing by as epidemics hit all around, and also seeing the flood of help that comes from churches when others are in need. Feeling fear at night and being grateful in the morning. Being different and still loved. Being a foreign misfit and still welcomed. Driving all day on roads that would fail any British inspection dismally to reach a father who may or may not be alive, find him recovering, then standing in front of the most beautiful natural wonder I have ever seen and probably ever will see, and giving thanks to God for undeserved provision. 

There are many different responses when I explain my life on the mission field. Many people exclaim how adventurous it must have been – and it was. But the majority of people have more negative, and maybe more naive, things to say about my lived experiences. 

Those are the people I most wish I could somehow share this story with – a strand of my memory demonstrating the reality of living between the good and the bad, between the eternal world and this broken one, between the plagues and the cascades of mercy.

Missionary kids, on any field, live in that space. Some missionary kids spend their childhoods in the back of a four-wheel drive watching the Jesus film over and over. They watch as the Holy Spirit captivates and moves, they watch on Sunday mornings as people grieve, weep, and share about their lost family members, their dying children, their lost homes, their broken land.

Other missionary kids live in a completely different context, some in thriving metropolitan neighborhoods, others in stable, quiet towns, but they continue to watch their parents serve a community, take on its burdens, and give their time and resources to a cause beyond this world. MKs often have a front row seat at the visceral fight for life; there on the mission field we see that precious glimpse of eternity over and over again. 

Some people say I must be relieved to be in the US or the UK and grateful to have left Angola, my home. Others tell me how unbelievable my parents’ sacrifice was. Some press to learn more, asking endless questions. Was I scared? Angry? What terrible things did I see? How is this life justified? Others, I know, are not really interested in hearing anything about a life so far beyond their own context or understanding.

No matter what you think of my experiences, however, my prayer is always that someday you get to see those same waterfalls. I hope that someday you are able to see an immense display of cascading mercy and joy amongst a seemingly impossible trial. I hope you too will be able to get a glimpse into Eternity as you stand on the edges of this world. 


The missionary life comes with a lot of sacrifice. It comes with losing time with family, losing time at home, in growing up too fast and in not knowing enough about your own passport country. It comes with extreme loneliness and even greater joy.

Missionary families need support tailored to their experiences, and those experiences are not always easy to understand. I will link to several resources for churches, families, and sending organisations who want to support and care for their mission families at the end of this article.

As an adult who grew up on the mission field, it has taken time to learn how to interact with my past with grace, compassion, and honesty. Living in a country that was not mine and living on the edge of a community as it grieved and grew was not always easy. It has taken years for me to be able to take hold of my story, with its misplaced grief, its perpetual homesickness, and its ill-fitting stories. There is a lot to unpack as an Adult MK.

Thankfully, you do not have to unpack it alone. There are some really valuable resources for adults who are looking back on their missionary kid experiences and trying to make sense of it all. I’ll list them at the end of this article, and I really encourage you to pursue them.

Your memories, your stories, your experiences are worthwhile. They are invaluable pieces of who you are, and navigating your story with grace, honesty, and understanding can be challenging but also restorative. There are unexpected travel plans, unknown illnesses, family stresses, hidden losses, and some grief sidelining most of our stories. But there are also beautiful surprises, like hidden waterfalls, that make remembering the journey a little sweeter. 



For Adult MKs: 
Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman 
Unstacking Your Grief Tower by Lauren Wells 
Unstacking Sessions with TCK Training  

For parents of MKs: 
Our Children, Our First Ministry: Discipling Missionary Kids
How Parents Can Help 

For sending churches, grandparents, and others at home: 
Churches supporting missionary families
Mobility is tough on kids: here’s how you can help
10 Questions Missionary Kids would love to be asked
10 Questions MKs Dread 
Caring for TCKs when you’re not the parents 

For sending organisations:
TCK Training for Overseeing Agencies


Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash


Born in Scotland to American parents and raised in Angola, Iona McHaney Marcellino is a second generation Adult TCK, a nurse, and a writer. She currently lives in Cambridge, UK, with her husband and daughter. She enjoys working alongside others who are committed to supporting TCKs with research-focused TCK Care, and she interned with TCK Training from January to July 2023. Iona writes about her own experience as a TCK in her blog, authentic unrest. She enjoys connecting with other Adult TCKs, virtually or in-person, and discussing the nuances of the multicultural life.

Questions for Jesus about Re-entry

by Anna Brotherson


Did you ever wake up in the morning and forget, for a second, where you were?

Did you ever get a thrill down the back of your spine when you realised you’d actually done it — actually come to earth and lived among us?

Does it all feel like a dream to you now?

Do you ever imagine the life you didn’t choose — the one where you didn’t come to us?

And if you do imagine it, how do you feel? Are you glad you chose Earth?

And now, Lord — do you miss it?

Do you remember the first time you ate warm bread dipped in olive oil?

Do you miss the feeling of sand between your toes?
(Have you made plans for sand in the place you’re preparing?)

Do hot tears run down your cheeks when you remember the ones you loved, who are no longer with you?

Is there anything there that reminds you of here?

Does anyone there talk about here?

Is there anyone there who has felt anything like what you have, who has experienced here like you have?

Does anyone there feel like you feel when the topic of first-century Judea comes up?

Did you know it would feel like this, after all had been done?

Do you miss it?

Despite the pain, despite the cost and the loss, the dirt and the sin — do you miss it in any way?

Do you have a few bits & pieces up there to remind you of it?

Do you wish you had more?

Or, are you able to just look ahead — look to the day when all the best of it is back — the bread, the sand, the warm hand of a friend on your shoulder, the affectionate hospitality of women, the laughter of children, the breeze, the birds, the splash of water on your face?

Are you busy rebuilding all that now? Does it take your mind off the loss?
(Is that what I’m supposed to do now?)

Were you, like me, relieved and yet desperately sad to leave, that day when you went “home”?

Does home feel like home to you now?
(It doesn’t, for me.)

Now that you’ve been here with us, eaten with us, touched us, loved us — can you bear the wait until we’re together again?
(I’m not sure I can.)

Would you do it all again?
(I would, in an instant.)

Was it worth it?


Originally from Tasmania, Australia, Anna spent nine years living and working in a big city in Southeast Asia, along with her husband Derek and their three children. In early 2020 they moved to Sydney, Australia, where Anna spends her days taking care of her family, teaching Biblical Greek at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, and helping women as a childbirth doula. Anna is the author of Lewis’s Interesting Life, a picture book for TCKs.

How Do Financial Factors Impact Missionary Attrition?

by Andrea Sears

Life on the mission field includes unique financial stressors. Many cross-cultural workers raise their own salary and expenses. Inviting others to join in the work of the Great Commission through financial contributions is a blessing, and helps to grow us in humility and trust in God’s provision. But it can also be uncomfortable and stressful when we don’t know when or if our next paycheck will arrive.

In addition to the pressures of fundraising, life overseas is subject to other financial wild cards such as fluctuating exchange rates, inflation, immigration fees, unexpected expenses, and even increased risk of financial loss due to robberies. Workers may find that what they raised is suddenly not sufficient for a variety of unpredictable reasons.

No one becomes a missionary thinking that they will get materially rich. In fact, many of us leave more lucrative positions in our home country to become missionaries despite the cut in pay. The missionary life is definitely not about making money, nor should it be.

But even with the right motivations for mission work, ongoing stress about finances can take its toll. In our survey, we measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be financial factors:

  • I felt uncomfortable raising money.
  • My financial support was low.
  • I struggled to adjust to my missions salary.
  • I struggled with financial discipline and budgeting.
  • The cost of living (or inflation) in my host country was higher than expected.
  • I was unable to pay immigration fees and costs for residency in my host country.
  • Local currency exchange rates made my support level insufficient.
  • I was unable to meet debt obligations.
  • I was unable to save money.
  • I was unable to pay for children’s schooling.
  • I was unable to plan for retirement.

Quantitative Results

The following table summarizes the results for each question by providing:

  1. The percentage of respondents who said that they experienced this factor on the mission field,
  2. The percentage of respondents who experienced the factor that said that this factor did (to some degree) affect their return decision, be it a slight, moderate, or strong effect, and
  3. The “strength index” of each factor, weighted for the size of the effect on their return decision.

Discussion of Quantitative Results

The majority of returning missionaries felt some degree of discomfort with raising money (67%) and experienced low financial support (53%). Both affected their return decision to some degree at least half of the time. The strength factors (0.93 and 0.95, respectively) were the largest for this section, but they were moderate when compared to other factors in the survey.

The next tier of financial concerns included cost-of-living or inflation surprises (strength factor 0.73) and being unable to save money (0.75) or plan for retirement (0.80). While many missionaries are able to raise support for their normal monthly expenses, it is less common to raise enough for future financial planning through savings and investment. While this may not be a problem for short-term assignments, long-term missionaries may find themselves financially vulnerable later in life because they have sacrificed their highest earning years in the work force to missions.

38% of missionaries struggled to adjust to their missions salary, but it affected the return decision of only 1/3 of those and not to a large degree (0.53). It seems that most missionaries are prepared to buckle down and manage their budget very carefully. As a result, the remaining items surveyed were either experienced by few or were of low concern to those experiencing them.

Funding Status at Departure to Mission Field

In addition to the quantitative scaled data, we asked each participant if they went to the mission field fully funded. If they did not, we asked them to supply a percent of support raised relative to their goal.

75% of participants in this study went fully funded to the field. The remaining 25% went with varying degrees of funds raised relative to their goal, as indicated in the chart above. Individuals who went to the field before reaching full funding went at an average of 63% of their goal and a median of 70%.

When we divide the sample into subgroups of fully-funded and not-fully-funded, we see that the not-fully-funded experienced significantly higher levels of financial distress on all factors. First, we can see that the percent that experienced each stressor was higher for all measured statements.

Next, we can see that in nearly all cases, the percent of not-fully-funded respondents who felt that the factor affected their return decision was also higher.

Finally, when comparing strength factors, we can see that nearly all of the financial factors were more heavily weighted in the return decision for the not-fully-funded group.

This analysis shows that there is a demonstrable correlation between going to the field without full funding and experiencing higher levels of financial distress.

Matthew 6:19-20 exhorts us to pursue that which is eternal, rather than that which is temporal. But the Bible also teaches us to plan ahead (Proverbs 13:16), save diligently (Proverbs 21:20, I Corinthians 16:2), and be prepared for emergencies (Genesis 41:34-36, Ecclesiastes 11:2). Missionaries are not exempt from these teachings – all Christians are responsible to be wise administrators in caring for our families and others.

Given that so many missionaries experience discomfort with raising money, we have some options before us to help manage the financial stress that comes with the missionary life:

  • comprehensive training and preparation on the theology of fundraising
  • consulting on strategy and event planning
  • accountability for meeting planned goals
  • investigation of other models for missionary support (for example, tentmaking, business as mission, or church/denomination salaries for missionaries)
  • mission policy balancing “stepping out in faith” with required thresholds for funding before departure
  • provision of “safety nets” for temporary low support while on the field
  • flexibility in furlough policy that allows balancing of family and fundraising needs
  • insurance coverage that helps missionaries avoid high unexpected medical or mental health care costs
  • required savings and retirement contributions

Does your agency offer these types of support? Are there other innovative ways of helping missionaries with finances that you have seen?

There is sometimes a sense in missions that “people are donating money for the direct impact that I will have on the mission field, not for me to have insurance or savings or be able to plan for my future.” We rightly feel a tremendous burden to be good stewards of the money that we have raised. But that does not mean we must neglect our own needs.

Expecting missionaries to be paupers can actually cause them to stumble and become proud and competitive about how frugal and unworldly they are. This sin of pride in frugality is no less sinful than the blatant idolatry of riches.

Financial safeguards are an important part of giving the missionary a sense of some minimum level of security at a vulnerable time when most of the security they have known is stripped away. The missionary should not put their faith in that security instead of in God, but this does not mean that they should not have it at all.

Providing for missionaries’ financial needs within reason will free them to be the healthy workers that we need to keep on the mission field. Surely we can do this in balance, providing for the emotional and physical well-being of our workers while still being careful stewards of God’s resources (which include not just the money, but the missionaries themselves). It is well worth the investment of donors’ money and should be seen as a necessary part of ensuring a missionary’s health and resilience, thereby extending their longevity.


Andrea Sears and her husband, Seth, spent 13 years working in the largest immigrant squatter settlement in Central America (in Costa Rica) and founded the Christian community development ministry giveDIGNITY. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Johnson University. She currently lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, directs the ministry’s local team from afar, and enjoys living near family and being a new grandmother.

6 Ways Language Learning Communicates the Gospel

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

A popular missionary mentality suggests that missionaries should learn a language in order to sometime later have a ministry. The language learning period can then be viewed as nothing but a bothersome speed bump impeding the road to a fruitful ministry.

Well-known missionary anthropologist Charles Kraft offers a different perspective:

“If we do no more than engage in the process of language learning, we will have communicated more of the essentials of the gospel than if we devote ourselves to any other task.”1

I was startled by these words, and in particular these three phrases grabbed my attention: do no more, more of, and any other.

Notice that Kraft is not saying what we would expect him to say, to just learn the language well enough to be able to communicate the gospel so you can then get on with your real ministry calling. Instead, he’s bolding and underlining the language learning process itself.

So let’s dive into how that process can communicate the gospel.

1. By prioritizing relationships during language learning, you communicate the gospel.

During the language learning phase it’s way too easy (at least for some of us) to sit at our desk and study. Homework calls, the intricacies of grammar engulf us, flashcards monopolize us. But through seeking relationships with real live people, we honor them with the simple gift of presence.

Yes, with limited language under your belt it’s hard sometimes to just hang out. I started language school in Costa Rica with just a smattering of Spanish.

With fear and trembling I joined a ladies’ ceramics class that was offered by the church we attended. I felt like one of the blobs of clay since I couldn’t contribute to the conversation or join in their small talk.

But at one point our host mother, who was also in the class, told me how the ladies were unbelievably amazed that a gringa would actually come to their class. I hang onto that tacky flower thing I made in order to remind myself to intentionally reach out despite our inadequacy.

Maybe you’re hesitant to reach out because you’ll be moving to a different location for your ministry. You may have a mentality that says: “Why bother making friends? I won’t ever see these people again.”

But Amy didn’t think so.

I coached Amy during her language school. After she moved to a different island to begin her ministry assignment, I interviewed her on my language learning podcast. I asked her this question: “During language school were you tempted to have a transient mindset and just not invest in relationships?”

She answered: “Yes, I was tempted since I knew that it was going to be temporary. But even if I did want to kind of check out, the Father definitely directed me to certain relationships that I was then able to invest in. I’m really, really glad I did since I saw how life-giving and sustaining they were. Having that support has been huge–to know people that truly care about me and want to help.”

Even though she couldn’t keep up with everybody after moving, Amy found herself needing to rely on some of those long-distance friendships for help and support while she navigated her new surroundings.

“They still care about me, and I still care about them. It’s definitely mutual. They know me, and I know them. We continue to learn from each other. I think it’s one of the most beautiful things about integrating into a different culture.”

2. By practicing active ‘noticing’ in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

When you peck your way out of your selfish shell of me-myself-and-I, you begin to notice who and what is around you. Not only do you look intently through your windshield, but you also constantly check your rearview and side view mirrors. Do you see the guy on the corner selling roses? How about the well-dressed couple in their nice car? The older gentlemen in the street procession? An over-eager child? Bus sleepers, slumped teenagers, vigilant police, over-zealous venders?

In a blog post Hannah Mae Foust calls Jesus ‘The Ultimate Noticer.’ Don’t you love that title?

Make a list of the people Jesus noticed. Think about how he changed the stories of sick and sinner, proud and priest, friend and enemy, old and young, hidden and public.

Foust says Jesus didn’t merely notice. “Noticers respond to what they see, with compassion and care, by doing whatever it takes to help meet needs and create more beauty, joy, and peace in the world. [And by doing so] noticers inspire.”

3. By having a learner posture in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

A humble learner surrenders schooling, experience, and status, leaving their know-it-all superiority at the altar. I had to shred my graduate degree in linguistics to learn from the man hawking tamales how to simply count out coins. And then there was the ouch of not-so-gentle correction when I horribly mispronounced a word or botched a simple conjugation.

Yep, learning instead of knowing can be a hard pill to swallow, but in the end it can prove effective in breaking down the pride that masks the gospel message.

4. By slowing down and being patient in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Your language assistant doesn’t get your instructions. The language school dismisses classes unexpectedly. Again. You still can’t trill your r’s or hear tone differences. Aargh.

Western notions of efficiency can hamstring language learning. But frustration and finger-drumming impatience feed on that kind of fast-tracking mindset. You buy into the billboard message of an accident law firm that promises ‘as much as possible and as fast as possible.’ You see uncooperative people and unforeseen circumstances as obstacles impeding your success. You start to think the language is stupid and so are some of its speakers, as well.

All of this bleeds onto the people around you and communicates the arrogance that my time and my goals are what is most important. Although he was certainly determined and had the end goal clearly in sight, Jesus was great at flexing, at taking deep breaths.

I recently saw a little plaque that says: “Sometimes your journey will take you off your path. It’s all part of the same trip. Life is full of exquisite diversions.”

Do you agree?

And let me say that if you’re looking for short cuts, alas, there are no short cuts in language learning. Short cuts actually lead to dead ends like ‘I can rely on interpreters if I need to’ or ‘they’ll understand I’m a foreigner so a few mistakes won’t matter’ or ‘my vocab needs improving but I can get by.’

Progress in language learning can definitely be slow, but I’ve come to believe that slow and steady with patience will certainly win the race.

5. By showing deference and respect in language learning, you communicate the gospel.

Okay, time for true confessions here.

In language school, I had a super bad attitude about my grammar teacher in particular. What made it worse was that everybody else loved the man. They declared that Don Marcos (name changed) was hands-down their favorite teacher.

I mean, really? The lessons were super tedious. He would painstakingly write out on the blackboard these horribly long verb conjugations that were already in the book.

But this was the all-time worst: after an exam, he would weave up and down the rows of desks and assign all twenty-five of us, one by one, a test question to answer aloud.

So boring and so bad, this ridiculous style of teaching was such a cheesy way to get grading done, in my not-so-humble opinion.

And I’m red-faced embarrassed to admit that I would plop my head down on the desk and check out until my turn came around. This very childish response was undoubtedly a blatant show of disrespect not only for him but for the language school itself.

At the end of the semester, he told me to my face that I had the worst attitude of any global worker he had ever taught. And I deserved it. Please, God, forgive me.

Even when facing what we would label as incompetency, prideful attitudes during language learning proclaim a loud-and-clear negative message that can easily carry over into your ministry assignment.

Another powerful way to show deference is by choosing someone who’s been marginalized by social status, lack of education, disability, or age as your friend or even language helper. You, with the power of a foreigner, acknowledge those without power and so increase their sense of self-respect and self-worth. Awesome.

6. And finally, by seeking to understand the culture instead of being yourself understood, you communicate the gospel.

Let’s go back to Amy for a good example. Now in her ministry assignment in a new location, she suddenly faced a conflict with a national co-worker. I paraphrase here what she told me:

“When she gave me the silent treatment for going on two weeks, I knew I had offended her but was clueless as to when and why.

“We finally had a chance to talk, and I assumed/hoped that she would try to understand my viewpoint just like I would try to understand hers.

“Not so.

“Her solution was not to try to get to the bottom of things and see where communication had gone awry, but instead she believed that we should just go on as normal as if nothing had happened.

“This was hard.

“I had to accept that this was the modus operandi for handling conflict in her culture even though it felt to me like we were just sweeping everything under the rug.

“Eventually I came to realize that this was her way of showing respect for our relationship.”

If we practice language learning in these ways, I believe we will become the salt and light of the gospel.  After all, isn’t the real challenge for all of us to follow Christ’s example in Philippians 2?


1As quoted by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster in International Bulletin of Mission Research


After 20+ years of living in Latin America and working in three indigenous languages plus Spanish with SIL International, Mary Lynn Kindberg is currently a language acquisition consultant, instructor, and coach. She is also the host of the LanguageOnPurpose podcast. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual. Contact Mary Lynn at

When the Spirit Doesn’t Move

by Jeremy Taliaferro

In the book of Numbers, we learn about the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites. It was an outward expression of the presence and Spirit of God. The pillar protected them (from the pharaoh’s army) and guided them, much like the Holy Spirit does for us in the New Covenant.

When the pillar stopped, the Israelites would set up camp. They would stay there until God’s Spirit (shown through the pillar) would again begin to move.

When it moved, the priests blew trumpets, and the people would pack their belongings and follow God. They would sometimes stay in one place for a day, a week, or even longer. But the key takeaway here is that they moved when God said. And God had a plan. He was in control. They were supposed to trust and follow Him and Him alone.

Fast forward to today. I have always struggled with getting ahead of God and His plans for me. Perhaps it is because of pride, or perhaps I lack the patience to wait. Whatever the reason, I know I’m regularly tempted to tread a dangerous path apart from the Lord. That is why the story from Numbers hits home for me.

Imagine if a couple of “brave” Israelites decided to pre-empt God’s movement. They thought they knew where God was taking them next, so they decided to get a head start and wait for God when He arrived with the rest of the Israelites.

That doesn’t seem like a good plan, but that is what I often do. So in this season of my life, I am trying to make some changes. I’m asking God to give me the strength to be where I’m supposed to be. I’m learning to wait on the Lord.

Setting out on my own will only result in me being lost and confused in the wilderness. The Father is always available to rescue me and bring me back into the fold, but I’d like to avoid the trouble this time. I am going to try patience.

While the Israelites were in the camp, they weren’t just sitting around waiting. They were worshiping and making sacrifices. Their focus was on the goodness of God, or at least it should have been. They, like me, often fell short of this.

So I’m going to focus on worship and sacrifice. I’m looking deep into my heart for anything that displeases Him. I want to surrender my life to the Lord and hold nothing back in reserve. That way, when the time comes to move into the next season, my heart will be right, and I will walk in the right direction.

I’m in a weird stage of life right now. For the last 21 years on the mission field, I always had a specific people group to reach. The work was difficult, but the task was clear. The future is less clear now. So as I pray for guidance and wisdom, I’m also making some commitments.

I will not move from the camp until the Spirit says it is time to go.
I will not anticipate God’s next move or get ahead of Him.
I will not commit myself to a direction or plan for our family until the pillar of cloud moves and the trumpets blast.
I will worship and make sacrifices, no matter how anxious I get or how much I feel the world is closing in on me.
I will trust the Lord.

If you find yourself in a difficult season or if you’re struggling with life-altering decisions, I hope you will join me in these commitments.

Maybe when the Spirit isn’t moving, it’s because he wants us to worship and trust before we enter our next season of activity.


Jeremy has 20+ years of cross-cultural experience. From church planting with remote tribes in the Amazon and Andes to serving war-torn lands and refugee populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Jeremy has followed God’s calling to make disciples and proclaim the hope of the Gospel to those who desperately need hope. The numerous missionaries trained by Jeremy are currently serving all around the globe. You can find him online at

When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect — Overcoming Perfectionism in Language Learning

by Mary Lynn Kindberg

So I decided to memorize this little joke my language helper had told me. It wasn’t too long and had a lot of repetition, so I figured it was in my wheelhouse as a beginner learning Spanish in Costa Rica. I thought it was a great idea to have something up my sleeve to say at those interminable family-and-friends’ fiestas when my conversations pretty much fizzled soon after that first ‘hola.

Armed with both text and recording from my language helper, I was on it, doggedly determined to flawlessly recite the funny tale of the dim-witted Pedro who unknowingly pronounced silent p’s. So both silently and aloud I practiced and practiced (and practiced!) with build-up drills and backwards drills, honing pronunciation and intonation—and, well, yes, driving my husband to distraction.

Show time was so-and-so’s birthday party coming up in two weeks. I dreaded what was likely to last for hours.

I must have rehearsed that dang joke at least 100 times, but still I was scared. Spitless. Now at the party I kept going over and over it in my head, nervous and afraid to launch the opening line, afraid to screw up, afraid to get laughed at. I would be the joke, not Pedro.

But thanks be to God, I did manage to spit it out and even tell it to multiple people at the party. With mistakes? Of course. Mixed reactions? For sure. But I felt proud, and the joke served me well on many, many occasions.

Did my sweaty fear of making a mistake mean I was a perfectionist?

Not necessarily. Fear in language learning is a given. If we’re honest, none of us really likes to make mistakes, period, not just in language learning. And yes, perfectionism certainly does have to do with how high you set your standard of performance. But even more importantly, perfectionism is how you react to mistakes.

My new son-in-law loves (and I do mean loves) the English professional football (i.e. soccer) club Manchester City. For good bonding and a mother-in-law gold star, I, your resident non-sports lover, have started watching City games and actually enjoying them.

This year the club contracted a hot-shot striker who just hit a Premier League record. In one game, however, he missed several goal attempts and just couldn’t score. But to my surprise he seemed totally nonplussed out there on the pitch! In post-game chit chat with Stephen I commented on the player’s nonchalance. His reply? “Hey, what distinguishes a good striker is his ability to shrug off an error.” Hmm.

In contrast to Mr. Striker’s response, negative post-mistake reactions might well be telltale signs of perfectionism.

After landing in Chile for our second assignment in Latin America, I needed to adjust my pronunciation to that dialectal pattern infamously called ‘eating your s’s.’ Soon after arriving I was out riding in a car with both American and Chilean colleagues. Joining the conversation, I attempted to expertly eat, i.e drop, the –s before consonants and at the end of words.

But the more I tried, the more I became increasingly and visibly frustrated. Argh! Joan, my new co-worker, looked me squarely in the eye and said: “Good grief, Mary Lynn, you’ve only been here two whole days!”

That kind of post-production frustration over unrealistic performance standards could indicate perfectionism. That constant self-criticism can grind you down into depression, anxiety, and anger. Let’s be honest. Have you ever said aloud or to yourself ‘stupid language helper,’ ‘stupid shop owner,’ ‘stupid language,’ or even worse, ‘stupid me’?

Consider other possible post-mistake reactions:

  • procrastinating
  • avoiding people and events
  • difficulty completing tasks
  • giving up easily with a why-bother attitude
  • blaming others for your mistakes

You can see from this list that perfectionism certainly is the great enemy of progress. (That’s from Winston Churchill, by the way.)

But hear the good news! The Holy Spirit can certainly help us expose and confront our perfectionism. Like Isaiah, we may cry, ‘woe is me’ and then longingly hope for a burning coal to touch our language-learning lips.

But then what?

Bottom line, in the aftermath of our mistakes, in that mire of perfectionism, we beseech God for holy humility, to plant our feet on solid ground. It is indeed the most righteous response. In his book Humility, Andrew Murray says, “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others, it is the root of all [virtues], the chief mark of righteousness.”

On my Language on Purpose podcast for global workers learning languages, I interview my friend Karen in Episode 23, Attitude Check. She has trained beaucoup ministry workers in language acquisition. I love how she wisely connects humility in language learning with a much-needed learner posture. Here’s what she says:

“A learner posture requires the humility of actively seeking and inviting correction instead of reacting negatively when you are corrected after a mistake. If you come across as wanting to learn and not as a know-it-all, you show respect and appreciation for the people as well as for their language. You must come in as a child—a child who is willing to explore, ready to discover and notice new things.”

So then, if you’ve identified some perfectionism in your own language learning (maybe with some embarrassment and chagrin), I beseech ye, brethren, to consider it a golden opportunity for God to grow you in incarnation-like humility. After all, humility is one of the fruits of the Spirit.


Mary Lynn Kindberg has worked in three indigenous languages plus Spanish while living in Latin America for 20+ years. In addition to hosting the podcast Language On Purpose, she currently helps train and coach global workers in language acquisition. Her two adult children are gratefully bilingual.

People Over Policy: A Call For Better Member Care

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

Member Care is being done well in many places. I know many wonderful member care providers in supportive agencies. I also know many wonderful independent member care providers.

But sometimes member care goes badly, and member care policies are partly to blame. Member care policies are an organization’s plan for the best way to handle a given situation. They’re created with good intentions, and they’re important to have in place. They don’t, however, always support a family’s unique needs. 

For example, a policy might say something like: “If Member Care personnel hear about these kinds of situations, they’ll report back to leadership.” But a worker may view the experience like this:

“I had no idea there was a list of things that wouldn’t be confidential.”
“I wouldn’t have told them if I knew it would get back to senior leadership.”
“I thought I was sharing with my friend. Not Member Care.”

A policy might say, “The Key Leader will determine if that person can receive adequate care on the field or if they need to return home for care,” while a worker might say:

“We’d had run-ins before. He didn’t like me and wasn’t interested in understanding.”
“They didn’t take the time to investigate in-country options.”
“They didn’t understand that our support system was in-country, not ‘back at home.’”

Another policy might say, “In the event that one spouse needs to return from the field, the whole family will accompany him.” Unfortunately, these can become a family’s experience:

“He was abusive and then my kids were ripped out of their home to live in limbo in their passport country.”
“The kids were finally doing well here.”
“They didn’t consider that we didn’t have the funds for life stateside.”

How Organizations Run

Missionary organizations were designed to complete a mission. They have a goal – church planting, bible translation, community development – and they bring together people, finances, and resources to make that happen.

In the past 40 years or so, some orgs realized that people kept quitting, which was counterproductive to their mission. The financial and time investment to get them trained and sent, the knowledge they acquired while there (which resides in the workers’ heads only), the networks they were building – all of that is lost.

So missionary organizations did some investigating and discovered that one of the reasons people were quitting was because they weren’t feeling adequately cared for. Thus Member Care was created.

Member Care is largely modeled after Human Resources. We had to start from somewhere, so we started from the corporate world and set out to improve the system. Unfortunately, HR had made the mistake of treating humans like a high-maintenance commodity that the company needs to keep in stock, which doesn’t necessarily translate well to missions.

So while missionary organizations aspired to care for people holistically, they often kept HR’s reporting structure. When member care is done this way, it tends to prioritize the needs of the mission over the needs of the individual.

This means that member care isn’t just checking into your work performance and your workplace conflicts; it’s also checking into your home life, your personal life, and your spiritual life. And sometimes information that seems like it could be a threat to the mission of the organization gets whisked back to senior leadership, which can have devastating effects downstream. 

Originally mission organizations filled member care roles with people they already had on staff. This made sense; member care was a new sector, and sending agencies simply had to find people who could take on more responsibilities. 

So in the beginning Member Care positions sometimes got filled by people who had a heart to care for others but who didn’t always receive adequate training. They wanted to help but may not have known how to be emotionally safe for others. They wanted everyone to thrive but sometimes seemed judgmental when someone wasn’t thriving. They were ready to help, but they needed better training.

Doing Better Member Care

Organizations want their workers to feel well cared-for, and field workers should feel like they and their member care providers are on the same team. Here are four ideas for making that happen.

1. Raise the standard for member care personnel. 

Member Care needs to be valued enough that organizations recruit to fill those roles specifically and directly. Reference checks need to include not just the candidate’s managers but also those who have worked under the candidate or who have been cared for by the candidate. Even internal hiring needs to require some sort of referral from people who can say, “I was vulnerable, and they were safe.” That is the hallmark of quality member care.

2. Welcome member care to the table.  

The questions of what to report, when to report, and to whom, are much more easily addressed when the member care team is led by someone experienced in excellent member care. This means that if your highly trained member care personnel feel they need additional support to address a situation, they can bring it to their Member Care Director who has the authority to address that situation in a trauma-informed way.

3. Become trauma informed. 

Sometimes the people who are handling difficult situations don’t understand how to be emotionally safe spaces for people in crisis — which means that organizational responses can sometimes be more traumatic than the initial event. Ideally all member care personnel need to be trauma-informed. This may include directors, logistics personnel, and especially senior leadership. Invest in quality training.

4. Be mindful of policies. 

No policy is perfect, so there needs to be an appeal system: a way people can present extenuating circumstances to ask for adjustments in the policy. Everyone in the org needs to know the ins and outs of all the policies, as well as how to make an appeal.

Importantly, if certain topics are not going to be kept confidential by member care providers, missionaries need to be informed of those. Otherwise, following policy will feel like a breach of confidence.

Member Care is still young in comparison to missions work at large. There is so much learning and refining that we can do to raise the bar on how we care for missionaries and their families. These small pivots are well worth the effort. Member Care should not contribute to trauma, but instead contribute to teams who truly feel uplifted by the support of their organization so that they can advance the mission of God in the world.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash


Elizabeth Vahey Smith is a TCK mom who spent 5 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary. Now her family explores the globe full-time as worldschoolers. Elizabeth works remotely as the COO for TCK Training, traveling often for work and always for pleasure. She is the author of The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabeth.vaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about research-based preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining.

Language Learning is Like Climbing Stairs

by Angela Cheng

I was climbing up the long flights of stairs of our mission center in the crazy tropical heat of Bangkok when the Lord gave me an unexpected revelation. I was headed to our staff meeting after a morning of sitting in language class, barely uttering baby sounds of the tonal Thai language. How in the world was I ever going to speak this language?

In my first year, I had committed to full-time language learning with the dream of being able to communicate God’s love to the people to whom He had called me. My days consisted of riding the city bus an hour to language class, with windows wide-open, taking in the pollution, smells, heat, and noise of the bustling city. This lover of quiet, wide-open spaces was being tested in more ways than I desired.

Then I would sit in a three-hour language class trying to learn a complicated foreign language before another hour-long bus ride back to the center where I finished the day with two hours of language homework. I was frustrated with the process of trying to learn the characters and remember each sound.

I was approaching the middle of my first year in Thailand, and my language-learning classroom was becoming a jail cell. Was I ever going to speak, read, and write this language? Thai language has 72 characters, split into 44 consonants, 28 vowels, and five tones. Say a tone wrong and you could end up offending someone—which I did many times! On top of that, Thai has no spacing in between words like English does, so I had become like a child, learning sounds and memorizing word combinations with a lot of time, sweat, and tears.

But that day as I ascended those stairs, the Lord impressed upon me that I wanted to be at the top of the staircase as quickly as possible, just like I wanted to learn Thai. However, just like with the staircase, I needed to take language learning step by step. He reminded me that language learning is a process of taking small steps and that if I kept taking the next one and then the next one, I would eventually get there. My job was to trust the process.

I had so fixed my eyes on the end goal that I had ignored the process and become frustrated, thinking I would never get there. The Lord was saying, “Just be in the day, in the now, and I will get you to your destination.” And that is exactly what happened.

Years later I found myself translating speech from Thai to English at meetings and big events, leading a ministry completely in Thai language, while also reading and leading Bible studies in my new language. My favorite activity was (and still is) worshiping God with Thai people in their native tongue. It took time, energy, and grit, but by the grace of God and for His glory, it happened.


(Excerpted from Angela’s recently published book, Finding God’s Goodness in Unexpected Places. All profits go towards overseas missions projects.)


Angela Cheng and her family served as YWAM missionaries in Southeast Asia for fifteen years. They currently live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they serve with YWAM in various ministries. Angela can be contacted at