Jesus Died to Save My Body

by Corella Roberts

Today I am annoyingly aware of my body. Just to get to these words I have moved to the dining room table (the tall desk in my room just felt too, well, tall today), brought a pillow from the couch to go behind my back (these wooden chairs have no contour), settled in to write only to pop back up again to find some socks (who can write with cold toes?), munched on a bowl of tortilla chips while rereading the last chapter I wrote (salt cravings are real, my friend), and found about a dozen other environmental adjustments to make before finding the words of this incredibly long sentence.

I am clearly more than a mind doling out thoughts to entertain you. I am dependent on my fingers to type, my eyes to see what I’ve written, my achy back to support my frame, and my heart to keep the blood flowing through it all. This is me: the living, breathing Corella Roberts.

I consist of a regenerated spirit that will live for eternity with Christ, but also an earthly body that will someday become a resurrected, heavenly body. The two are intricately interwoven.

In fact, Jesus values our flesh and bones so much that he was publicly humiliated and physically tortured that we might also have resurrected bodies. This can’t be understated, though the implications of it aren’t always preached at Easter (or any time, for that matter).

Jesus died to save my body. 

Ever heard that one? Souls, yes, but bodies? Paul seems to suggest so in his letter to the church in Rome—a church comprised of people who freshly understood the transition from a life of bodily sin to a life of bodily worship. He writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22–23).

How do we live out an embodied faith while we wait, groaning inwardly (sometimes outwardly, too), for the redemption of our bodies? And what does that look like in this healing journey we’re on?

First of all, it’s easier than we dare to think. Simple, physical acts such as bowing your head in reverence or gazing skyward in joy, moving to music or kneeling in silence, hugging a sad friend or crying our own tears in God’s presence are all ways to integrate our faith with our bodies.

Sometimes, too, the mind is weak, or the heart is broken, and these expressions are all we have.

“In the midst of this, though words failed me, prayer without words—prayer in and through my body—became a lifeline. I couldn’t find words, but I could kneel. I could submit to God through my knees, and I’d lift my hands to hold up an ache: a fleshy, unnamable longing that I carried around my ribs. I’d offer up an aching body with my hands, my knees, my tears, my lifted eyes. My body led in prayer and led me—all of me, eventually even my words—into prayer,” shares author Tish Harrison Warren.[1]

Several years ago, a friend gripped my arm and said that God was asking her to do something scary. Would I please pray for her? Concerned, I agreed. And then, to the astonishment of the nearly one-hundred other women in the room, my friend stood up and began to dance.

Through her beautiful Portuguese accent and a well of tears, she told us how she was born to dance. She loved it with every fiber of her being, but when she came to Christ, she was told it was sinful, so she stopped. She hid and shamed this gift of hers until that night, when she set it free in worship to the song “Agnus Dei.”

“Alleluia, Alleluia,
For the Lord God Almighty reigns…
Holy, holy,
Are you Lord God, Almighty.
Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb,
You are holy…”

Those of us present knew we were witnessing the healing of a soul. A foretaste to the redemption of a body. It was beyond beautiful. We all wept, and then, something equally miraculous happened: several other women began dancing, too. Their motions, graceful or otherwise, swept around the room with the purity of a daughter twirling in her daddy’s arms.

Embodied worship. The healing of a soul. The delight of the Father.

If you find yourself dry, discouraged, defeated, or even burned out, I want to remind you of this: Jesus died to save all of you, including your body. As Dallas Willard said, our physical bodies are the “power pack” for our spirits.[2] We live out this life with Christ through our bodies; therefore, soul restoration must be holistic.

So what can you do? Where can you begin this healing in your own, real-life body? Here are a few of the basics.

Worship. Lift your voice, raise your hands, lay face down, clap, dance, play an instrument—however you like to praise God, engage your whole self in it. If this is awkward or uncomfortable for you in your church setting, do it alone. You’ll know, like my friend did, if God is urging you to bring freedom to others by doing it in public. But for now, get your own heart, mind, and body fully engaged in praising God. After all, it is what you were created to do; worship is coming home for the human soul.

Rest. A life filled with stress, demands, frustrations, and heavy responsibility is often a body flooded with cortisol, aka the stress hormone. And you may not want to hear this, but the number one way to lower those cortisol levels is to get enough sleep. Getting out in nature and moving your body gently by hiking, walking, or biking are helpful, too. Meditating on scripture, especially when paired with slow, deep breathing, is an excellent, integrated way to reduce stress. Try this one: Breathe in slowly while thinking, “Peace of Christ,” then breathe out slowly while thinking, “Guard my heart.” Also high on the list are laughter, a whole-foods diet (think lots of fruits and veggies and limited sugar and processed snacks), and quality time with loved ones.[3]

Exercise. Slow, moderate exercise is wonderful for lowering cortisol levels, but a more rigorous exercise routine can help you sleep better, boost your mood, improve your heart health, and strengthen your muscles. Remember, we’re not doing these activities out of vanity; rather, we’re desiring to honor God with our bodies and trust that He cares for our whole selves.

Create. We are crafted in the image of a creative God. He has hard-wired that creativity into our DNA, and exercising your creative gifts is a sure path toward healing. Maybe you create meaning with words, paint, melody, or clay. Maybe you create beauty through gardening, photography, woodworking, or sewing. Maybe you create order through organized drawers, spreadsheets, or lesson plans. Or maybe you create sustenance through cooking and baking. Our endless God has given us endless modes to reflect His creativity. Which one has He given to you?

Now, two days after beginning this chapter while restless at home, I end it at a quiet café tucked in the hills of Northern Thailand. A fan cools my back, a Thai milk tea soothes my throat, and out the window I watch leaf-sized birds dance from one flowered tree branch to another. Beyond them, a breeze stirs the verdant hillside, and heavy clouds spill over the mountains on the horizon. I feel refreshed from my earlier workout and shower, and here, in this space, the words flow freely. The simple contentment of this moment for my mind, heart, and body is tangible.

As it should be.

This article is an adapted excerpt from Corella’s new book, Catch the Rain: Soul Restoration for the Dry and Weary Christian.

References:

[1] Warren, T. H. (2016). Liturgy of the Ordinary. InterVarsity Press.

[2] Willard, D. What is Our Body? Retrieved January 28, 2024 from https://www.facebook.com/dallas.willard.0717/videos/587141839057176/?mibextid=rS40aB7S9Ucbxw6v

[3] 11 Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels. Retrieved August 31, 2022 from, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-lower-cortisol

~~~~~~~

Corella Roberts is the author of Colliding with the Call: When Following God Takes You to the Wilderness. She serves at an international school in Thailand with her husband and three kids—two biological, one adopted. She loves music, mountains, and walking with people toward soul restoration. Find out more at corellaroberts.com.

Midlife in Missions

by Roberta Adair

I turned 40 in February, and I think I have a new understanding of the whole “midlife crisis” thing. The completely arbitrary transition from my 30s to my 40s has felt a little (or maybe a lot) disorienting. My swirling thoughts have occasionally bubbled out in conversations (perhaps “bursting forth” is more accurate). If this happens when I’m on the phone, I picture the person I’m talking to staring straight ahead with bug eyes, nodding slowly, and thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of emotion. She has some stuff to work through.”

More than conversations with real live people, though, I’ve been talking in spits and spurts with my younger self – more often than not defensive and preachy. Perhaps this is because I feel her judgment, her confusion, her disappointment.

After all, when I was 20, I had dreams. Oh boy, did I have dreams – wild, unrealistic, grandiose ideas for who I would be when I grew up. “I’ll volunteer for two to three years with the Peace Corps which will help pay for my master’s in public health which will help me get a noble and important job with the UN which will…” (I have a friend who did this, and I salute her.) Other jobs I remember high school and college student Roberta considering: becoming a reconstructive surgeon for war victims or a human rights lawyer working with victims of the modern slave trade.

I didn’t think then that I’d someday live in Japan. I think differently now, but I’m sure I would have thought of that as soft. I certainly didn’t anticipate getting married or having four wild, tender, ridiculous boys. I most certainly didn’t consider that the bulk of my life in this season would be setting up play dates, getting help from mom friends with my son’s second grade homework, serving a lot of simple meals to people, and doing laundry constantly. Most of all, I would not have expected that I could find contentment – happiness even – with this small, beautiful life.

Most of my family members have skills and jobs that others can easily understand. A college professor, elementary and high school teachers, a high school band director, a nurse practitioner, a dietician. I look at them and think, “Wow, well done.” And then too quickly I think again about me, wishing that I, too, could say: “I am an expert in my field. I have developed this particular skill that I use to serve my school, clients, company, or community. I have arrived. I am an adult.”

I know missionaries in other parts of the world and in Japan who are experts – drilling wells, teaching at medical hospitals and seminaries, running NPOs for displaced people, starting micro-enterprise projects, writing thoughtful, helpful books. Perhaps part of being 40 is seeing these people and cheering them on – proud and not jealous of them – and not having the same angst and internal wrestling I’ve had with wanting their lives, their impact, their skill sets, and their experiences. Perhaps “entering middle age” is about being increasingly present to the people and places in my right-now actual life.

Sometimes I picture myself making peace between my 20-year-old and 40-year-old selves. I listen to Younger Me telling Now Me that she feels a little disappointed in her for not being more impressive or important. And I picture Now Me smiling – a little sad but also nodding with understanding – and gently telling Younger Me that she’s actually pretty happy. That it’s ok that her life looks pretty much nothing like she expected it would.

I picture Now Me having compassion on Younger Me who had a gigantic savior complex. She sees the simplicity and goodness of Younger Me in wanting to be noble and brave and, with a smirk, the ridiculousness of her also wanting to be Xena Warrior Princess. (I watched one episode. Yet that didn’t stop me from wanting to be her, a tall brunette who beat up bad guys.)

I picture Now Me helping Younger Me reframe the phrase her mom said for years before going to school: “Go MAD – go make a difference” (borrowed from a Christian radio personality). I picture them talking about that and some of the messaging she received from church (“dream and do big things for God!”) and society (“you can do and be anything!”) and even from songs and slogans of much-loved missions conferences from childhood (“Let me be a shining light to the nations,” “Let me be the one to take his light into a dying world…” Woah). I see Now Me not looking down on Younger Me or feeling annoyed with or ashamed of her but accepting and even loving her.

I also picture Younger Me not really buying any of it. After all, she knows better. But I also picture her liking and wanting to be friends with Now Me, popping over for tea (of course late, disheveled, and forgetting to exchange pleasantries) and both of them talking with Big Feelings, big hand gestures, and lots and lots of words.

Hopefully we would be less focused on trying to impress one another and more interested in seeking to understand and love one another.

~~~~~~~~

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.

Can I Find Belonging in the American Church? {Wrestlings of an Adult MK}

by Jessi Bullis

As an adult missionary kid (MK) who grew up with a fairly mobile childhood, “home” and “belonging” have been tricky for me. I remember being as young as five years old and responding to the question “Where are you from?” with deer-in-the-headlights style anxious sputtering. 

As I’ve grown, I’ve spent oodles of time processing how each different country I was raised in has impacted who I am as a person, and I’ve learned to weave them together to make up the mosaic of my personal cultural complexity. Nowadays, I have a ready-made answer for the “Where are you from?” question. But just because I’m prepared to answer doesn’t mean that internal confusion and childhood longing aren’t sometimes set off. 

Over the years, digging into scripture and falling even more in love with Jesus, I came to know Him as my true Home. And since Christ’s bride is the Church, I desperately wanted the Church to be my earthly home.

Afterall, that was the one consistent “location” in my life. In England we attended a church with 300 members, while in Turkey we went to a house church that fluctuated from 20-30 people depending on the week and in whose apartment it was held. Visiting Tanzania, we worshiped in a mud structure, and in Germany church was held in the school auditorium. Each might have looked different, but the underlying feeling was the same.

So when I returned to the exotic, frightening, and magical land of the United States of America for college, my hope was that in the midst of my hardest transition, I would find a home-ful belonging in the Church.

However, while there was hope, I’ll admit there was also a bitter pessimism. 

The American church has often felt like an unsafe place for me growing up. As a child, whenever we would return to the U.S. on home assignment and enter the church circuit, raising support felt like a job requirement to be filled rather than a place to be known and loved.

I felt like a hidden immigrant in the church — misunderstood, but also laden with high expectations to be “the perfect MK.” It was assumed that I would know all the ‘right’ answers to any biblical questions thrown my way, while at the same time I was confused by the jokes and cultural references made in conversation. I learned to play the part, but internally I felt like an outsider.

I also noticed that it sometimes seemed like American patriotism and Christianity were intertwined. 

While my passport country is the United States, and I am legally a citizen, I have struggled to wrap my head around what that means. For many of my mono-cultural friends raised in the U.S., this has meant that the American flag elicits an emotional response, and July 4th comes with life-long traditions of celebration and reverence for American history. Because America was born from the drive for religious freedom, for some it seemed that being patriotic was the most Christian thing they could do.

I, on the other hand, didn’t know the words to “America the Beautiful” or even the Pledge of Allegiance. Whenever I attended sporting events (which I’ll admit wasn’t often), I moved my mouth around hoping it looked like I was saying the same thing as everyone else. 

So when I attended churches where I heard pastors talk from the pulpit about how “America is the best country in the world” and where church members discussed how great a blessing it is to be American, I felt like an outsider. Many cultures have informed my faith, and the global perspective I have impacts how I read my Bible. I love that about myself and my story, so hearing words of American patriotism in the church feels to me like a sucker punch. Suddenly the separation between me and my fellow American believers seemed even wider. 

In these church sanctuaries I found myself questioning: If I didn’t “feel” American, would I be fully accepted as a sister in Christ? Are we not brothers and sisters in Christ first – before our cultural backgrounds? If I voiced concern about patriotism and Christianity being conflated, would my character and faith be questioned? 

In the New Testament, I saw that Jesus spoke with Gentiles as cultural equals. On days when the fear of not belonging has felt strongest, I’ve turned to Philippians 3:20 for comfort (“we are citizens of heaven”). And I always drew hope from Revelation 7:9, where we see people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping together in blessed harmony. 

As I considered these scriptures, I began seeing my own assumptions and prejudices arise. Sometimes my own religious comfort has been built from my cultural experiences, and I have had to repentantly unwind them at the feet of Jesus.

Culture impacts how we interact with God and how we worship. Sometimes this is beautiful and glorifies God in the diversity of His creation. But at other times culture becomes an obstacle to the true message of scripture. I have learned beautiful things about God, His creativity, the depths of His love, and so much more from every culture I’ve worshiped in — including in America. 

I write this article not as someone with all the answers, but as someone who has so very many questions: for myself, for my fellow believers, and for the American church. Questions like:

  • How does national culture play a role in my relationship with God? And with my fellow believer?
  • Do I have opportunities to view Christianity from different perspectives and cultures? If not, do I need to find them?
  • Could I have blind spots towards my faith due to my national culture? 
  • Do I feel closer to a believer from a different country than to an unbeliever from my own country? 

It’s important for all of us to consider questions like these. I pray that each day we, the Church, become more and more like the Bride of Christ that will meet God at the shore of eternity.

“…there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

A great resource on navigating God and culture is the Perspectives Course, and if you’d like to know how to support missionary kids in their walk with God, I recommend Tim Sanford’s book I Have To Be Perfect, along with this training for Churches Supporting Missionary Families.

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

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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 received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. 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.

Boundary Lines and Haikus

by Roberta Adair

I spent many years wondering in the back of my head if being called to Japan was divine punishment for a flaw. To improperly use fancy Christian lingo, I wondered if God was sending me to Japan rather than other places I was willing and eager to go in order to sanctify me. I believed something like, “God loves me but needs to sandpaper and scrape a lot of Roberta away…and Japan is the sandpaper.”

In grad school I even wrote in my journal, “Lord, I’m willing to go anywhere — just not Japan,” yet now I view this country I said I’d never move to as one of the Psalmist’s “pleasant places.” I get teary as I consider God bringing me here for my good, not in a gross kale kind of way but in a warm, corner brownie kind of way.

In 2019 I attended a day of training with a more experienced missionary. She discussed some of the metaphors that people use to describe adjusting to Japan: feeling like a child, being in a dark tunnel, climbing a mountain. She talked with us about the importance and power of metaphors and led us in a few exercises to help us discover insights for ourselves. For years I had used phrases like “square peg, round hole” (not fitting well) and “like a little kid in a new school” (incompetent and unknown) to try to articulate what living here feels like.

One image that I hadn’t been able to verbalize but had felt over and over was the idea of feeling trapped and tied down – like having a rope wound around and around my arms and not being able to breathe freely, much less move. For a long time, I looked at “Japan” (written in quotation marks as I’m referring to it more as an idea than as a place or a people) as restricting, trapping, binding, and controlling.

There are so many rules: when to bow, when to use honorifics, how long to admire a business card that you received respectfully with two hands (“Always receive with two hands!”). If someone gives a gift, it is appropriate to give another gift at 30% of the estimated value of the original gift.

I found all of these rules exhausting, along with all of the formality, ceremony, and appropriateness (I generally like informal, spontaneous, and mildly-to-wildly inappropriate). There were rules about eye contact, precise expectations about what to wear to different ceremonies, and even how to laugh (many women cover their teeth when they laugh and maintain control, while I love to belly laugh with both friends and strangers). I found all of this overwhelming and exhausting and grating and tedious and irritating.

I know people who are drawn to Japan specifically for the same reasons I had prayed “anywhere but.” They like that it’s predictable, orderly, safe. They are the “learn the rules, and you’ll do well” type of people. I think perhaps this is one reason why my engineer husband adjusted to Japan years before I did.

At the training, as an exercise to start and end our sessions, we were asked to write haikus. I hadn’t written one since middle school, yet I was able to spit two out really quickly. 5-7-5…boom.

They weren’t amazing, but they were written quickly and lightly. I didn’t get bogged down with a gazillion possibilities from a more open-ended prompt like, “Write an essay. Draw a picture. Describe a situation.” The haiku was so simple. I think this exercise marked the beginning of my understanding that too many possibilities isn’t freedom; it’s exhausting.

Ever since that post-retreat time, I’ve tried to notice more of this limitation-as-freedom thing. Rather than feeling restrained, confined, and trapped in Japan, I’m trying to reframe that limitations can contribute to my freedom.

For example, the train. Although we have a car, I like to ride the train to the library. I prefer the boundaries of time with trains. There are consequences to trying to finish “just one more thing” (needing to wait for the next one), and knowing the train pulls away at a certain time helps me focus and get stuff done. It also gives me 10 minutes to check out on the ride home.

Then there’s our newsletter. I wrote freeform email updates during my three years living in another country. They were usually quite long. I didn’t like my husband’s suggestion a decade ago to pick a newsletter format and stick to it. I still occasionally struggle with the constraints of space. If anyone ever thinks, “Um, this paragraph is missing a sentence,” yes it is, but I simply deleted it to make it fit. Using this formula means we can make them faster than we could if they were more freestyle. Two articles with three to five pictures (2-3-5…boom).

Or consider our small house. I’ve seen these literal boundaries and limitations lead to freedom. I have a lot of new-to-me opinions about the lightness connected to having a small house and next-to-no yard. Perhaps this not-chosen-by-me minimalist lifestyle isn’t forever or for everyone. That said, I’ve experienced a lot of joy connected to exploring and playing that I simply wouldn’t have had time for if I had more space and stuff to manage and maintain.

Boundaries are helpful with anything related to reducing decision fatigue. I know this is a trendy topic, but it’s why I like restaurants with small menus, prefer the neighborhood veggie man over a larger grocery store, and have jumped from team self-expression to being a big fan of uniforms (very common for students and workers in Japan). It’s also why we’ve happily adjusted our wardrobes to our small closets. Our four boys share two chests of drawers with seven drawers between them. It works, and it’s (mostly) really good. I have the smallest wardrobe of my life, and (most of the time) I love it.

I think about limitations when I think about having kids. Oh, the laundry, dishes, cooking, time constraints, and adjusting so much of my life and schedule around them. Yet these little balls of Big Energy and Big Feelings also bring so many possibilities. They’ve opened the door to many deep friendships, and they’ve expanded my understanding of the world, people, and God.

These are just a few examples of the ways I experience the expansiveness of limitation. I’m finding that the boundary lines aren’t confining or trapping but instead have allowed me to more fully experience “pleasant places.” And for that, I’m grateful.

~~~~~~~~

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.

Miso and Lent

by Roberta Adair

A few days ago, I opened up the cool crawlspace under our dining room table and pulled out a big pot of miso I put there ten months ago. Miso is squashed fermented soybeans and is used in a lot of Japanese cooking – most famously miso soup, but also in stir fries, marinades, and vegetable dips.

Until two years ago, I simply bought it in small plastic tubs at our neighborhood grocery store, but then a friend invited me to join her and a few other women for a miso-making class.

I plopped the pot on the counter and gingerly took off the lid. Will the top layer be as slimy and funky as the year before? (It was.) Will it have worked – meaning will the kōji (fermenting bacteria) have done its job with the smashed up beans and transformed the mush into miso? (Also yes.)

After scraping off the top and putting the rest into several containers, I wiped up a little bit I dropped onto the counter with my finger and tasted it. It was salty, tangy, grainy, fermented, and familiar. It was also something quite different than what I put in the pot last year. It had transformed.

Ten months earlier, a professional miso maker gave me dried beans with instructions on how to soak and boil them the day before we were to meet together. Then when we all gathered in a small room in a community center, she walked us through the process of smashing the beans, mixing in the salt and kōji, and squashing the mixture some more.

My favorite step was to make small balls and SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! them into a container to get rid of air bubbles. It was loud and felt almost violent – and oh so satisfying.

As I consider the different steps in the process, I keep thinking about miso as a metaphor for the Christian life, one I get to regularly touch, see, taste, and smell.

Soaking the beans reminds me of being immersed in a safe community. It’s comfortable. I’m not yet required to change, but I’m in an environment preparing me for change. It’s the least painful part of the process but is still important.

Boiling is the next step, which is a process that involves purification and pain. The result is softening (“humbling”) and is necessary for a big transformation.

Squashing follows and involves the beans changing shape but their essence remaining the same. Starting as beans and ending as paste, they are then mixed with salt and kōji to preserve the mixture and start the ten-month process of transformation. Koji works like “yeast in the bean paste” (bacteria in the miso) just as the Holy Spirit works in us.

The beans then sit in a dark, undisturbed place. This is where fermentation takes place and where simple beans that would otherwise rot become nourishing and delicious. A weight is placed on top—a “burden” that makes it more difficult for air to enter and allow mold to grow too quickly.

This process is a picture (albeit imperfect) of sanctification: being made into something better over time. After sitting in the cool crawlspace under our dining room table for ten months, the beans underwent a chemical transformation, and squashed beans—voila!—became miso. The process involved breaking, smashing, mixing, and splatting. And it involved waiting, literally being hidden underground, and not being disturbed for a long season.

Now, as I use my “labor of love” to make miso soup, miso chicken, and miso salad dressing, I think about . . .

  • Phases in my life when I was overly comfortable and didn’t feel pressured to change or grow.
  • Hard seasons in friends’ lives that are lonely, unseen, and exhausting. They are seeking to trust God in the dark without seeing a whole lot of fruit or answers to prayer.
  • Tragic revelations in the lives of public Christians who missed out on the fermenting phase and peaked while still raw beans. As their rottenness is revealed and they give off a big stink, the result is broken families, fractured churches, and disoriented followers.
  • Those who have submitted to and practiced the way of Christ who are in turn nourishing those around them, providing a richness and complexity to their families and communities. To paraphrase Matthew 5:13, they are “the umami of the world.”
  • The fact that the process can’t be sped up through more effort. More squeezing, more pounding, more splatting, or more salt and kōji won’t help. Maturity – Christlikeness – can only happen over time, in darkness, and through waiting.

Miso-making typically coincides with the season of Lent, and I find myself thinking about the way of Jesus being dying and resurrection. His invitation to transforming us, to transforming me, requires some kind of breaking and pain.

Even as I write this, I’m making plans with friends to make miso again in late February. What started as a one-time thing is becoming a yearly habit and (may I say it?) something like a spiritual practice. And I’m thankful.

~~~~~~~~

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.

Dear Betrayed Missionary Spouse

Dear betrayed missionary spouse,

I hope this letter finds you in a room that feels familiar, comforting even. I’m writing because I want you to have the letter I wish I’d had on our Discovery/Disclosure day (D-Day). I want you to feel seen and less alone. 

I was a missionary wife. Perhaps like you, I’d taken commissional vows, the most prominent being “to walk worthy of the calling,” and I’d meant them. I’d poured my heart into language school, cultural acquisition, and work that comes alongside rather than presides over. I’d chosen faithfulness when I’d have rather been lax. I thought my husband partnered with me in that. 

I missed the first signs of trouble because he would never, plus we talked about everything, and I was doing everything I’d heard good wives do. So when he began to practice poor boundaries in friendships with other women, I believed him when he said that I was just hypervigilant due to my ultra-conservative upbringing. I believed him when he said he didn’t know why he was no longer interested in sex. I believed him when he said there was no pornography. 

Ours had not been an unusually troubled marriage. Sure, there had been some hard seasons, but nothing that prayer, friends, and counseling hadn’t addressed. We spent years in chronic stress and intensity, yet we had the kind of home where people came to know Jesus because of what they saw in our day-to-day interactions. We were friends, and we were transparent about our desires, struggles, and temptations. 

Until we weren’t. 

One month, all that transparency, warmth, and shared camaraderie evaporated. I didn’t suspect adultery because he would never. But he wouldn’t answer my questions about lesser concerns—not honestly, I learned. “It’s just stress,” he’d said, and I’d responded with, “Now? After consecutive years of severe stress? We’re used to stress. What’s really going on?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he told me. 

We went from friends to soul strangers under the same roof. It’s just a season, I whispered to myself, it’s nothing major. But major happened when my husband announced that we were moving back to America. Maybe it’s for the best; we are severely underfunded and can’t stay much longer anyways, I thought, and began the process of packing my bags. We’ll come back as soon as we have the financial stability to do so. 

The first year back was brutal. I grieved the loss of my community on the field, helped toddlers understand cultural transitions, made money stretch, and tried in vain to find a spot in friend circles we’d left years earlier. The great void could no longer be construed as a season; it had become a way of life.

We need to get our finances in order and start thinking as friends again, and then we’ll go back, I thought. I tried to push the grief away with the promise we’ll go back.

The great void persisted. He entered counseling but gave me an insufficient answer as to why. I asked a friend to please pray that God would reveal what was wrong in our marriage, fearing that God would reveal that I was a horrible wife in ways I hadn’t figured out, but I was desperate for answers.

And then, several years into the great void, over a year after our return to America, months after confessing pornography, and a few weeks after my friend and I asked God to reveal anything hidden in our marriage, he disclosed adultery to me.

I did not enter D-Day full of hope and vigor, ready for one more challenge. I was already lonely and soul weary: bereft of my ministry, half a world away from teammates I dearly loved, a parent to toddlers who had not responded well to the massive cultural shift, and alone in a marriage whose hard season had turned into years of distance. 

Our immediate responses to D-Day could not have been more different. For him, D-Day initiated the joys of forgiveness and relief from secrets; for me, it initiated anguish and depression.

I asked all of the questions, sobbed my heart out, and entered a depression so deep I’d forget what time of day it was. I set recurring reminders on my phone to remind me to brush the kids’ teeth at the correct times of day, and we relied heavily on rotisserie chickens from Walmart. I was too depressed to cook and clean in the evenings.

The marital vows had meant nothing to him; the dishes and photos celebrating those vows meant nothing to me. I preferred barren walls to the reminders of what my husband had destroyed, so I took down our wedding photos and disposed of wedding dishes.

First though, I asked the important questions: “How old was she? Where did you meet her? How certain are you of her age? Was she financially comfortable, or have you taken advantage of someone financially vulnerable to you? Does she know that you were a missionary—did you use spiritual posturing to facilitate this relationship? What opportunities did you have to say ‘no’ to this, and what was your thought process each time you said ‘yes’ instead? How are you going to repent of the deception that enabled this?” 

I hadn’t yet learned of “trickle truthing,” but I knew that the only path forward was a transparent path. He answered my questions, and this time, almost all (95%) had that ring of transparency; his response to “Have you confessed absolutely every single thing?” did not. I caught some unconfessed things later in the week and began taking steps towards divorce.

We were part of a faith group that doesn’t believe in divorce for any reason. My husband had delayed his confession, knowing that I’d be one woman from that group who’d consider all of her options. And I did.

I told God that if he indicates that he is not fully repentant through deception or recurring sin, I’ll divorce; if God works deep repentance into his heart, I’ll reconcile this once. I would not agree to be just one woman in a union of one man and many women – genuine repentance was an absolute must.

We had one fully heartfelt conversation that weekend, but not that of a typical married couple. We conversed as two exes and friends answering, “How did we arrive here?” Years of secrets poured out of him without one request for forgiveness or one hint that I consider reconciliation. Finally the great void made sense, and his transparency began to close the distance. I stopped pursuing divorce and put my weight behind reconciliation.

We renewed our vows, just the two of us, on a beach; my husband kept the photos as his screensaver. I see the blotchy face, the sudden weight gain, the anguish, the vows I made without a shred of naivete or romantic idealism. He sees the relief of forgiveness and reconciliation he wasn’t sure would be his. 

We’ll go back disappeared under therapy appointments, books, date nights that felt utterly unromantic, and years of post-infidelity marital repair. All of the losses associated with betrayal were mine to process, plus the full loss of my ministry. 

Additionally, we lost many church relationships: our setting at the time held unhelpful perspectives of male sin, wives’ responsibilities, and the relationship between repentance and forgiveness. A church friend had insisted that I needed to heal from past trauma so that I could give my future husband enough sex so that we could have a great marriage. After the adultery, I held shattered certitude and navigated public shame, but God knew the reality: I’d pursued healing, given sex, refrained from nagging, and praised him abundantly. 

A lifetime of believing, fundamentally, that male holiness depended heavily upon female effort fell to pieces – only for me, not for those who taught me – but God was in this shattering. A longtime church friend told him that he was just a sex addict, and my only option was to spend the rest of my life repeatedly forgiving sexual sin. We distanced ourselves from that friend. We distanced ourselves from pastors who told other church members things about our marriage/us that they hadn’t told us themselves. Other church connections distanced themselves from both of us without explanation. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some churches walk excellently with reconciling couples. But our church at the time largely failed us here, and I’d be presenting an inaccurate view of our recovery if I didn’t mention how significant the spiritual losses were. Mercifully, most of the friendships that were already genuine and years-long remained stable, and we count some of our former church companions among true friends. 

My husband indeed found the core motivation behind his adultery; his personal motivation and growth are his to share when he chooses. We bought the book How to Help Your Spouse Heal from Your Affair, kept our therapy appointments, and in great agony over time, made it to the other side of recovery.  

Friend, I want you to know that anger, depression, and brain fog following betrayal are normal. A wayward spouse who basks in forgiveness while the betrayed crumbles in grief is so common. I am so sorry. Your D-Day may have been discovery day, not disclosure day, and you may be furious at what you’ve found, furious that you had to find it at all when it could have been confessed. I wish I could spare you, tell you the darkness will end soon, or sit with you if your D-day is recent.

If you are processing your griefs similarly to how I processed mine, you might find these brief thoughts—the right length for those experiencing grief brain—helpful. Grab a pen and sticky notes, and write down the ones that speak to you.

  • God grieves adultery, too! He designed marriage to involve one man and one woman for life, emphasis on “one.” Polygamy, adultery, and ancient orgies/modern pornography—one man and many women, in any format—scorn His original design.
  • I was free to divorce, free to reconcile. Jesus gives me autonomy. He sees me as a person, not an inferior component of a violated covenant.
  • Nobody says “hell maybe!” Give your marriage or your divorce your “hell yes!” but don’t try to “hell maybe” reconciliation. (This was from our counselor.)
  • Transparency builds trust. (Also from our counselor.)
  • To his friends who assumed that he must have sinned to be experiencing his many losses, Job said: “I will not agree with you that you are right. Until my dying day, I won’t give up my integrity” (Job 27:5 CEB). I found comfort in the memory of how I’d walked with God in the ordinary. I’ve been faithful, in His strength.
  • God will remember my faithfulness. This was a rebuttal to the whispers of a branch of religion that saw my husband and me as one unit, equally complicit in his sin: our faith group considered my husband disqualified, and whispered that I, too, needed to step away from work I loved given the infidelity.
  • My husband might not deserve my faithfulness, but Jesus does. The temptation to return the betrayal shocked me, as did the lie that justice could be accomplished with willful sin. I wanted justice, and had to turn my attention to One who is faithful.
  • God is utterly faithful, and injustice and unfaithfulness are offensive to Him. God will be utterly faithful to me.
  • I am like Hagar, alone in the wilderness, unsure how long I’ll be here or how bad things will get. God is the God who sees, the God who hears.
  • “Emmanuel!” is the serenade over us: “GOD WITH US!” Marvelous, considering He has seen and heard us fully.
  • He will tend to His sheep in my absence. He understands my forced absence.
  • He sustains the weary.
  • He comforts those who mourn.
  • He is angry every day with the wicked.
  • He will not shame me for someone else’s sin.
  • It’s wonderful to feast on the Psalms, and to delight in God-with-us.
  • He is near to the broken-hearted.

I don’t know how you got here. I don’t know what’s next for you. If your D-Day is recent, things may get worse before they get better. In fact, they probably will: trickle-truth is a monster, but it is wildly common among adulterers. 

Please know though, that as an image-bearer beloved by God, you are still capable of reason, autonomy, joy, connection, and belonging. You are still you: you are not a different person, you are simply experiencing a depth or kind of grief you may have never experienced before. The darkness of soul anguish, grief, and betrayal is a darkness our High Priest knows and understands. 

That’s it, friend. I don’t have a to-do list for you. You don’t need a to-do list beside the one you already have. You are seen; you are heard. He delights over you with a faithful, fully-knowing love. We are beloved by the One described as Faithful and True, and He’s hanging onto His own far more faithfully than we could begin to hang onto Him, especially during our seasons of darkness.

Love,
Another betrayed missionary spouse

~~~~~~~~~~~

The author lives in a sunny part of the US where she participates in a variety of religious, volunteer, social, and career activities. She writes prose, letters, essays, rigorous academic content, and to-do lists. Injustice angers her, as does writing masterfully in her sleep and forgetting the entirety when morning comes. Hobbies involve baking, sewing, reading, listening to sound sermons, and strategizing how and when to visit Asia, the location of one of her favorite homes.

What Missionaries Need Today (a summary of the 2023 FieldPartner survey results)

by Christine Paterson

At FieldPartner International, we believe that anybody who serves in the field cross-culturally should be properly trained, well-resourced, and wholeheartedly supported by their sending church. In 2023 we ran a survey to gain insight into the challenges and needs of cross-cultural workers worldwide.

We heard from 137 respondents from 21 different countries who have served in 40 different countries or regions globally. Our survey questions were targeted to individuals at each stage of the cross-cultural journey, from pre- to post-field, plus those sending.

We were excited to find that the breadth and quality of the responses we received to the survey reflect that both field workers and senders are serious and passionate about their work and consider Jesus’ mandate to the Great Commission as a joint effort between both of them. But it also uncovered some areas of challenge and concern.

You can read the full report at fieldparter.org/survey. You can also view an infographic with some key stats here. Here are a few key takeaways:

 

Overall Effects of Training
We take encouragement from progress in the recommendations highlighted by the Reducing Missionary Attrition Project (ReMAP) in 1997. These were:

  1. A good candidate process (proper screening and supporting at the pre-field stage by agencies and supporting churches).
  2. Adequate pre-field training (at FieldPartner we stress the need for that to be practical cross-cultural training, as well as theological and professional).
  3. Adequate ongoing support and training for those on the field throughout their career. (On this point, our respondents gave a long list of areas where they desire ongoing training even after going to the field – presumably seeing the need after the event and calling for help to fill those gaps.)

Despite some encouragement, there is still a long way to go. Our findings, in our much smaller survey, show that too many are still going out without sufficient training and support. With so many attesting to experiencing challenges that they had not anticipated, to me that speaks to the need for pre-field training to be truly practical and down-to-earth.

Whilst a high proportion of those working cross-culturally experience ‘more challenges than anticipated’, as well as ‘moderate to severe culture shock’ on the field, we found that those who had ‘adequate’ training and ongoing support from home found themselves more able to press through the challenges and make it for the long haul.

On the other hand, those who lacked sufficient training and felt ‘isolated’ and ‘lonely’ on the field were much less resilient; some (as attested by about a quarter of our respondents in the post-field category) even left the field prematurely for preventable reasons. (You can explore the main reasons given for this on page 16 of the report.)

Those planning to go out need to be able to sit down and ‘count the cost,’ as Jesus said, with their eyes wide open as to what the challenges are likely to be. Of course, it is impossible to mitigate every challenge by being forewarned, and there will still be those that take us completely unawares (also spiritual warfare is real). But many can be foreseen, and for those we should be forearmed.

In addition to targeted training, it was greatly encouraging to find that so many (80%) of our post-field respondents stated a willingness to become mentors for new recruits coming through – a truly heart-warming finding. Mentoring was a stated need of our on-field respondents, particularly in the early years. Returnees are a resource that fieldworkers and senders alike can make good use of – so much experience to benefit from.

 

More Training Needed in These Areas
Speaking to ReMAP point 3 above, it was interesting to note the number and variation of the topics raised where ongoing training on the field would be appreciated (see page 15 of the report). Clearly these are felt needs, which fieldworkers only became aware of through the challenges they faced.

These included: more language and culture training, conflict resolution, parenting, accounting and support-raising, intercultural team building, counselling, member care issues (including preparation for re-entry), and understanding the history and religion of the host country.

Taking the recommendation of ReMAP seriously would mean that senders (both agency and church) would need to facilitate and possibly help finance ongoing training, allowing time off for study and applauding the results when they came. For those of us who produce content online, the challenge is there for us to respond to this need by creating resources that address those specific needs, enabling more fieldworkers to remain at their post while still being able to sharpen their skills.

 

Nurturing Relationships with Senders and Supporters
Senders (in this case supporting individuals as well as leaders in the sending churches) do not yet seem to understand how crucial their role is in fostering the longevity of those they send to the field. The data seems to suggest a tentative approach and not enough hands-on engagement to know what the real needs are at the field end.

There is a fear expressed that they are ‘putting too much pressure’ on the fieldworkers by their expectations, whereas at the field end, the converse seems to be the case. Where senders are engaged, their interest seems rather to be experienced as support, not pressure (page 20). And the value of that cannot be overestimated. It is the absence of any tangible support or encouragement from home that leaves field workers feeling demoralised and unappreciated.

So the message to senders is “keep engaged,” whatever it takes. Maybe even take part in some of the pre-field training yourselves so that you can have greater understanding of what your field worker is going through and can better support them through the challenges.

 

Importance of ‘Safety’ in What is Shared
The data about feeling able to be ‘honest’ with colleagues on the field and supporters back home plays in greatly as well. If honesty is not experienced as ‘safe,’ then the danger is that struggles that badly need to be shared and prayed through will be repressed and hidden, with possible grave consequences.

When those who go are encouraged to build personal support teams, the chances of feeling safe to share the realities of life on the field are greatly enhanced. With that comes a sense of feeling truly seen and cared for.

And at the post-field stage, the support team can help greatly with confronting re-entry stress, which famously can be even more challenging than the original culture shock experienced on the field. Importantly, only 14% of returnees said they had received debriefing, and most would still welcome that even long after the event.

 

Added Layers of Impact from Covid-19
In view of how recently life has returned to ‘normal’ (or adapted to a ‘new normal’) after the pandemic, we decided to tag on some questions about how Covid-19 had impacted the field workers and their senders. You can read the responses in Section 5 of the report (pages 21 and 22).

For those on the field, Covid carried inevitable extra stress – lockdowns that left mission workers with little support, loss of funding, local co-workers being forced to do other work to support their families, churches, schools and offices being closed, resulting in isolation and huge mental health challenges. In addition, many had to face fear from local people that they, as foreigners, were somehow responsible for the pandemic.

In view of these and other challenges, some were forced, with little warning or preparation, to leave their place of service and return home for an indefinite period. As time went by, many of those temporary moves became permanent, with all the fallout of an unplanned relocation and compounded re-entry stress.

In the post-pandemic landscape, many have still not been able to return to their place of service, and those remaining on the field have had to face continuing gaps in the team and a greater share of the workload. Everyone has had to face the challenge of travel being exponentially more expensive now, meaning that short-term teams are not as practical or popular as they once were.

Senders are turning to local diaspora communities for giving cross-cultural exposure to pre-field trainees. This is a good result in itself, but missionaries might end up receiving fewer field visits, which could have negative consequences.

Then there is the unknown quantity of how badly mental health has been impacted across the board, with less access in a field context to the kinds of specialist help that are needed. Field workers are resilient people — they need to be to survive the extra challenges they face — but facing Covid lockdowns on the field was inevitably even harder than doing so at home.

 

Conclusions
What can we take away from all the above? For me, the lessons are clear. As a global missions community, we need to pull together to provide what is needed. We can no longer afford to live in our silos and only serve our own people. We must be vigilant for opportunities to serve one another, share resources, and continue to innovate in our approach to member care in its broadest sense.

We need to use the internet for on-field as well as pre-field training, for supportive community, and potentially as a first response to crises as they arise. As far as possible, keeping security in mind, we need to be generous with our means across cultures and organisations, pointing people to where help can be found. Sending churches will serve their workers better if they can learn what good sending and supporting looks like, so that those they send out feel seen, heard, and appreciated throughout their terms of service and beyond.

Finally, we need to value our returning missionaries, even the wounded ones! Let’s welcome them home, celebrate their stories, help them heal, and then make best use of their experience and expertise for mentoring a new generation of fieldworkers preparing to go out.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared on OSCAR as “Crossing Cultures Survey.” It has been expanded for the A Life Overseas community and has been reprinted with permission.

~~~~~~~~

Christine Paterson, together with her husband Ross, has served in the Chinese world over many decades. Ross first went to Asia in 1969. Over the years they have been involved in campus ministry, literature and radio work, placing of professionals across China, humanitarian projects in minority areas, and recently in cross-cultural training. Christine has a degree in linguistics, a diploma in theology, and is certified as an intercultural coach. Her passion is to see those who serve in other cultures thrive and be resilient for the long haul. Ross and Christine have five daughters and eight grandchildren. You can contact her with comments and suggestions at christine@fieldpartner.org.

Dear younger self, what’s your motivation for missions?

by Roberta Adair

Growing up, I believed with my whole heart that Jesus was the Savior of the whole world and that missionaries were needed to “take his light into a dying world.” Missions Week at my church felt more exciting than Christmas, and I imagine I was one of many kids who grew up in that church in that era who wrote on commitment cards that they’d be willing to take His light into the dying world.

At some point, I think this morphed into a belief that it was my responsibility to learn about the things that were dark and wrong and dying and to do something about it.

Yet over the past several years I’ve found myself increasingly sensitive to how Christians talk about the countries they’re moving to and the places they hope to minister. In my own self-importance and ignorance, I have also been guilty of speaking in these ways.

Before I went to India for a six-month internship, I remember reading articles about poverty, trafficking, pollution, and the treatment of Dalit. I was participating in a program about international development, yet much of what I focused on were problems rather than the beauty, ingenuity, creativity, and generosity of the people who were teaching me.

Before moving to Kosovo for a three-year apprenticeship, I remember learning about the war, ethnic tensions, corruption, and unemployment rates. I talked to people about going to a “post-war, post-communist country that is 90% Muslim with 40% to 60% unemployment.”

I still feel embarrassed over how I misrepresented a country and a people I came to love. Now I wish I could go back to those who heard me speak and tell them about the Kosovo I came to know: a country with super motivated students who are largely self-taught in English, where families included and cared for me like a daughter, where I experienced remarkable hospitality through sacrificial meals, coffee, and time. I’d want to describe Kosovo’s circle dancing, cheek kissing, and big dramatic hand gestures more than rattling off statistics.

Before moving to Japan, I remember learning and telling people about mental health issues including hikikomori and high rates of suicide, low birth rates, and (related to my specific timing due to moving after March 2011) the earthquake and tsunami. I especially remember saying the phrase over and over: “Japan is the second largest unreached people group in the world.”

I don’t want to come across as cynical, as I still am motivated by these statistics. I grieve that millions of people in Japan live and die without knowing Jesus — without his forgiveness and hope, without freedom from shame, and without experiencing acceptance and love in the family of God. I also believe that issues related to poverty and injustice matter. They matter to God, and they should matter to me and to all of us who follow Him.

But if I could go back, here’s what I would say…

I would talk to Younger Roberta about how she talked as an outsider about things she knew little about — even if she’d respond with, “Hey, I read a book/read an article/watched a video on YouTube/heard on a podcast.”

But, you goofy, intense, bit-of-a-know-it-all Young Roberta, you neither know much about the people whom these issues impact, nor do you have meaningful relationships with actual, real life people there. Don’t go with a pointing finger and answers; please go with curiosity and a desire to see the image of God in those you seek to love.

I wish I could ask Younger Roberta about how it might feel as an American to hear someone preparing to come to the U.S. give presentations about gun violence, economic disparity, the opioid epidemic, homelessness, and our past and current divisions around race. Would she have felt defensive, ashamed, and frustrated that problems were drawing people to her country rather than love and curiosity?

These are incredibly complicated problems without simple answers, and no country is the sum of its problems. Do we think we can solve a country’s problems, or are we humbly willing to go and – in time – be part of the conversation?

I would tell Younger Roberta to be careful how she presents countries and people to others. Be cautious when pointing out problems, even though it’s sometimes necessary to communicate the why while raising support. Consider trying to frame issues and problems within a bigger picture including beauty, kindness, and shadows of the kingdom of God.

I would also ask Younger Roberta about her insecurity. Did pointing out problems in India, Kosovo, and Japan make you feel significant for going there? Specifically, why did you feel like you had to prove so hard that Japan is a real mission field? Did quoting disturbing statistics make you feel more important or less “soft?” Were you trying to prove to others or to yourself that your going mattered?

Rather than self-importantly reciting the statistic about Japan being “the second largest unreached people group in the world,” I would now prefer to explain that our boys are some of a handful of kids from Christian families in our city of 50,000 and how lonely this is for them. Or maybe I’d contrast driving by thousands of people going to the Shinto shrine on New Year’s Day with our church service on the same day with a few dozen faithful Christians.

Rather than citing suicide statistics, I’d want to consider the people we care about who have had their lives impacted and upended by suicide. What is an honorable way to talk about their lives and struggles?

Rather than quoting stats about aging pastors and churches, recognize that this is a huge, complex topic. It’s not made simple by Westerners giving money to young Japanese Christians to replicate Western churches in Japan. It’s not made simple by using a specific program or method.

A decade-plus after moving here, I have a lot fewer “answers” or accidentally judgmental questions (“Are they holding onto power? Are they not passing the baton well?”) and have a lot more respect for older pastors who have worked hard, sacrificed much, and tried their hardest to remain faithful.

Mostly I’d want to talk with Younger Roberta about how I’ve changed my mind on many things — or at least how I see aspects of the culture with a bit more nuance. I’d talk with her about my decades-long struggle with a savior complex and needing to learn again and again from Jesus who “moved into the neighborhood,” who “dwelt among us,” and who shared his life with a group of friends. In short, I’d want to tell Younger Roberta that I hope she will feel and demonstrate a lot more compassion and a lot less judgment the longer she’s here.

Of course there are problems here. There are problems related to loneliness, shame, demographics, and workaholism. There are problems for men, women, marriage, kids, the elderly. There are problems related to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, typhoons, mudslides, geopolitics.

But it’s not a country made up of the sum of its problems. It’s a country made up of people who are curious and quirky and kind and broken and shy and outgoing and proud and hilarious. And I’m a guest here.

There are shadows of the kingdom of God here which are more visible to me the longer I’m here, even in this place where 99% don’t identify as His followers and haven’t received new life in Jesus. Parts of the culture that I originally viewed as wrong, broken, and even damaging, I’ve come to see as the opposite. (The “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” axiom from mission training comes to mind here.)

I wonder how it works for missionaries who go to a country to do development work and have more of an expert role. I admire people who are doctors, community development leaders, teachers at seminaries, and human rights lawyers. I marvel at their commitment and courage, yet I’m genuinely curious how they maintain a learner’s posture when they arrive “on the field” as experts in their field.

Perhaps it’s a weird blessing that I’m not an expert in much. Most of the time I feel like I’m just fumbling along. Even so, I imagine Younger Roberta might have struggled to receive correction, guidance, and advice from Now Roberta with her grand opinions and scattered thoughts and unfinished sentences and a naughty toddler on one hip, shooing a kid out of the kitchen with her foot, and her hair getting frizzier by the moment as more neighborhood kids cycle through her small house. But I still hope she would listen and consider.

Because, my goodness, I don’t want us to be motivated by problems. I want us to be motivated by love.

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

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.

Christmas in a Foreign Land

by Esther Greenfield

There’s something special about Christmas in a foreign land.

It’s not that I don’t wish for snow… or for a day cool enough to snuggle under a blanket… or at least for a moment to stop sweating. Of course I miss the nostalgic scents and sentiments from holidays past. And I even struggle with sadness, longing to be “home for Christmas” (wherever home is).

But there’s still something special.

After all, the first Christmas was also an un-cozy, far-from-home, not-so-white Christmas.

There was no holiday atmosphere to welcome Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem after their long dusty journey — no cards or candles or cookies, not even tidings of comfort and joy. If by chance there was snowfall, it was another hardship, not a wish come true.

Instead, there was an overcrowded town with no decent place to deliver a baby. There was a smelly spare room filled with animals and the stuff they tend to leave behind. There was exhaustion and discomfort and sweat.

And there was God.

Doesn’t it feel incongruent? The Holy One, master of the universe, endless in power and glory — reduced to a blood-covered baby placed in a feed trough? It just doesn’t make sense.

But maybe that’s because the real story of Christmas so often gets baked into cookies or covered in lights or stuffed in stockings. It gets hidden among holiday to-do lists and under piles of Hallmark cards.

And as beautiful as our holiday traditions can be, they have a dangerous tendency to speak too loudly, to distract us from the message God is whispering.

But these not-so-white, un-cozy, far-from-home Christmases force us to look deeper, to sweep away the paper and ribbons, and gaze at the story in its most basic form:

Christ. In the dark. With us.

After all, if the peace of God required snowflakes and candlelight, we’d all be in big trouble. If his presence demanded an uncluttered environment, which of us could invite him in? If God didn’t fit into our crazy world, what hope would we have?

But God chose to enter here, into the dark, into the dirt, into the depressing reality of real human existence.

And this is really, really good news. Because if God was willing to step into the mess of the manger, there’s good reason to believe he can step into the messiness of my life.

If God’s presence could turn that smelly spare room into something beautiful, he can probably transform me into his beautiful dwelling place too. And maybe, just maybe, he can use me — in the midst of the exhaustion, discomfort, and sweat of my current existence — to share the light of his presence with those around me.

Indeed, there is something special about Christmas in a foreign land:

Christ. In the dark. With us. 

 

~~~~~~

Esther Greenfield was born in the American Midwest, but it was in East Africa that she learned to walk and pray and write poetry. She fell in love with her husband one summer in West Africa, and together they made their home in a North African city, with a passion to disciple the lost through Bible translation and Scripture engagement. Esther’s writings are inspired by her life in Africa and her love for Jesus. She blogs at Pilgrim Poetry.

Into the Neighborhood

by Rebecca

Emmanuel. God with us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood,” is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase. I resonate so deeply with the words, ‘and moved into the neighbourhood.’ Isn’t that what each of us has done?

We’ve picked up our lives and settled into a neighborhood on another side of the world. For us, the streets of our adopted home look much more reminiscent of the streets that Jesus walked than the streets of our passport country. Mudbrick buildings, horse carriages, and donkey carts accompany the traffic. The roads are peppered with streetside vendors. By earthly standards, the city we call home is humble.

We have embraced this little-known corner of the world. There’s a frenetic energy in the hustle and bustle of our streets – so many interesting things to see, new sights and sounds to absorb, smiling faces and welcoming people as we go about our daily lives. Friendly curiosity follows us in a place where there are only a handful of foreign faces. There’s much to love about the warmth and generosity of the people we live among.

In this current season, though, I’ve struggled with how to navigate living here well. How do I embrace all that is different while honoring the unique way God designed me? Our neighborhood can feel small, robbing us of any semblance of privacy. With the curiosity comes scrutiny. Anonymity while running errands isn’t an option. Introversion doesn’t seem to exist in our host culture – so how do I explain my need for solitude?

When we first arrived, I was anxious to make local friends and integrate into society. Now that I’m knee deep, I struggle to feel confident in our boundaries. Needs are everywhere. Social expectations abound.  “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in a while.”

More often than not, I feel completely inadequate. Linguistically tongue-tied. My cross-cultural savvy still developing. Am I doing enough? Am I balancing home life and ministry well? Am I enough? Can I truly be myself?

As I settle into the Advent season, my heart returns time and again to this phrase, “He moved into the neighbourhood.” We moved into the neighbourhood to emulate Him. To shine His light. To reflect His love. We transplanted our lives to be tangible expressions of Emmanuel, God with us. I reflect on His life here on earth – He too was faced with insurmountable needs. He too was overwhelmed with social demands on His time. He too stole away for times of solitude.

As I sit under the weight of my self-criticism and self-doubt, He invites me to behold Him, one who is more than familiar with the humblest of surroundings, and remember that He is present here with me. He became flesh for those who surround me in this dark place, yes, but He also became flesh for me, to meet me where I am. His love shines on me too – it’s how I reflect His love to others.

As I sit in the glow of our festive tree, He invites my soul to bask in the glow of His unfathomable love.

Emmanuel, He is with me.  He sustains me.  He dwells in me.

Oh come, let us adore Him!

~~~~~~~

A wife. A mother. Word nerd. Coffee enthusiast. Simultaneously a world traveller and a homebody. Both an Adult TCK and International Worker. Rebecca has a heart for the nations and to see the global community thrive wherever God has planted them.

First Christmas

by Lou-Anne Patson

Our first year in Asia, I kicked Christmas’ butt! I balanced my toaster oven on my bicycle basket with a backpack full of flour and salt on my back and wobbled to school. I spent Christmas Eve making salt dough ornaments with 160 first graders, a gargantuan task that only an optimistic 23-year-old would think ought to be attempted. I taught them about baby Jesus and Saint Nicholas.

We joined the international fellowship’s choir and sang carols at the local hotels. I hand-crafted a book about Christmas and the gospel story based on cancelled holiday stamps as a gift for our local friend, a stamp collector and non-believer. I made apple pies for my office mates and my husband’s office mates and my teammates’ office mates.

After only four months in country, we had seized the season and poured ourselves out in every way possible. So how is it that riding that wave of triumphant outreach, Christmas morning found me curled up in bed crying over our Christmas catastrophe?

That Christmas was our second as a married couple and our first in Asia. The year prior, we’d been with my in-laws and I’d been learning their traditions, so this year would be our first to do it our way, and I was going to make it magical and start our own traditions.

Getting up early, I planned to make a delicious coffee cake for an unforgettable Christmas breakfast. I wandered down to our shared ice-cold kitchen and began the mixing and baking at our family’s allotted cabinet, with its two feet of counter space. The aforementioned toaster oven had made its precarious journey back to its place of honor, around the corner from the gritty cement mop sink that was our only water source.

Working cheerfully, I sprinkled the batter with nuts and swirled in the cinnamon sugar, preparing to slide it into the oven. The only sliding that happened was from gravity, and my $10 glass pan — found randomly at a mall at the cost of almost 10% of a local person’s monthly wages — slid off the edge and shattered on the tile floor, coffee cake oozing onto my slippers and the grimy tile.

In that moment, I shattered with my pan. I had no magic to offer my husband for Christmas, I needed to prepare a dish for the team lunch, and my dreams of a happy little Christmas celebration evaporated. I slunk back down the public hall to our bedroom, crawled into bed, and listened to my husband’s attempts to console me.

Him: We can make another one!

Me: I had enough ingredients for THAT one. I had one, ONE, pan that fit that oven.

Him: We can pick the glass out of it!

Me: We are not scraping glass-filled batter off of the public kitchen floor!

He finally decided that I needed a moment, left me to sulk alone, and went to clean up the mess that I had abandoned. I dragged myself out of bed, went across the hall to our living room, exchanged presents with him, and then got ready to face the team. It wasn’t what I wanted or expected. It wasn’t magical.

That Christmas, more than any other we’ve had before or since, reveals the heart of the first Christmas. Almost nothing about Jesus’ birth is a shiny Christian image that we would want to present to the world.

Mary, faithfully following, though feeling the scorn and shame of everyone’s opinions. Who hasn’t screwed up culturally and felt ashamed for causing misunderstandings or doing the wrong thing?

Elizabeth, welcoming Mary (and Jesus!) in pure faith and joy and giving Mary blessings. May God grant you an Elizabeth to encourage you throughout your calling and service.

Joseph, faithfully obeying though it didn’t make a lick of sense why God would ask this of him. But isn’t that the definition of serving cross-culturally?

Shepherds, getting the life scared out of them and glimpsing the very heart of heaven. Living, working, and raising a family abroad has moments that will scare the life out of you. May God grant you other moments, moments when you see His heart and He allows you to be His hand reaching out of heaven to touch the lowliest nobodies that He loves with an everlasting love.

Wise Men, men on the move, at great effort and expense to themselves, because God had given them signs that couldn’t be ignored, and they had to go and honor this king. Finding peasants living in a village was perhaps not the magical moment they were expecting to find.

And wasn’t that my heart’s cry in 1998? I was there at great effort and expense to myself because of signs we could not ignore. I was there to honor my King. And like the coffee cake I wanted to make, I wanted to be perfect. I certainly never wanted to be shattered and spilled out.

Anyone in our shoes — at least anyone who is being real — will tell you that cross-cultural work doesn’t often seem magical. There’s hay, dust, opposition, drama, and loneliness, and there has been since the day our Savior stooped to take on flesh and dwell among us, and he did it to be shattered and spilled out for us.

Take the triumphs when they come. Give them back as your gifts to your king. Take your catastrophes, shame, confusion, and unmet expectations, and know that the heart of heaven is with you as you walk (or maybe trudge, or perhaps barely crawl) through whatever this holiday is bringing you.

~~~~~~~~

Just a small-town girl, livin’ in a great big world, Lou-Anne grew up in a crossroads town of forty houses and then lived over two decades in an Asian mega-city of 23 million. She is a formerly competent educator, mom, and wife who is now more bruised and broken than competent. Learning to live in the broken means that she can walk with other broken people.

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.

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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 amypete.substack.com.