Travel Delusions


It cost me 436 US dollars to renew my passport. I was planning to do it for half the price when I got home later, but I ran out of pages.

That’s right, I ran out of passport pages.

A fact that I was pretty proud about – until it cost me a significant amount of time and money which I did need for other purposes.

And it made me think: spending time overseas is a source of pride: well looked upon, and much boasted about. We talk about how great seeing the world is because of the people you meet, the lessons you learn, the priceless experiences you accumulate. (Also, it’s fun.)

But there is an almost mystical quality attached to travel that is worth reanalysing.

I always said that one of the great and truly valuable things about spending time overseas is you learn more about yourself, about who and how you really are. You get perspective.

You learn that you are attractive to the opposite sex.

You learn that you are good at things.

You learn that you’re interesting.

You learn that your privileged childhood has shaped you for better or for worse.

You learn that you are stronger than you believed – or you learn to be strong.

You learn that you can make a difference.

You learn that friendship can be temporary and sweet at the same time.

You learn what home means to you – or that the word “home” doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Well, these are the things I thought I’d learned.

Yet I’m starting to feel I need to unlearn most, if not all, of this. Not because any of it is wrong, per se. But what about those who haven’t travelled – because they can’t afford to, or because they stay home and do cool things there? Are they ignorant? Are we wanderers any wiser, any more informed, any more self-aware than they are?

Being “well-travelled” deludes you into thinking you know yourself (and the world, and people in general) better. Like when you backpacked for six months, or when you volunteered for two years, you were somehow attaining a higher level of self-fulfillment.

But am I really the best judge of who I am?

And then there’s what other people say about me. To those in my destination country, I’m the cool foreigner who speaks their language, with that cute and impossible-to-place accent. To those in the country I left behind, I’m the one who travels – the adventurous one; I’m the missionary, the justice fighter – the inspiring one.

But do what other people say or think about me determine my identity and self-worth?

Both benchmarks are such relative standards, vulnerable to the highs and lows of life. When things are good, I am on top of the world. When things take a turn for the worse, when I find myself alone and wondering what is it I’m doing here again because things aren’t going to plan – who am I then?

When my ministry is falling apart – who am I? When I’m not even actively involved in ministry (heaven forbid!) – who am I? When I come home and I’m no longer the interesting foreigner (but not quite local anymore) – who am I?

My identity is an evolving concept, a work in progress. Up to a point, travel casts light on different aspects of what I am like and the direction I am taking in my life. The time that I spent in Spain, in Ecuador, in Bolivia, has undeniably been a significant influence. I wouldn’t think the way I think, do some of the things I do, be the person I am today if not for those formative experiences.

That said, travel in and of itself doesn’t give value to my existence; nor should I define myself by the fact that I have travelled, or by some romantic idea of “the person I have become” as a result of my travels.

I’m not going to lie: it’s great being the cool foreigner, the missionary, the justice fighter. They’re not inaccurate descriptions of who I am and they’re not personas I should deny. But they do not justify my worth as a human being.

Because ultimately, my Maker is the one who gave me value when He created me, and I’ve decided He is the one who defines me.

The more I travel, the more I need to keep reminding myself of this. My identity in my Maker is truer and more constant than any other concept of identity that I create for myself, or that others have created for me.

In the barrage of experiences and voices vying to define me, this truth is all too easy to forget. As a result, I am continuously stripping off the other identities thrust upon me and created by my own ego, and striving to put on Christ.

Adapted from original.


2016-01-21 08.22.08Hsu-Ann Lee was born in Malaysia and grew up in Canberra, Australia, before being led to serve in South America. There, she was the “missionary” working with youth in southern Ecuador and the “justice fighter” sharing the stories of survivors of child sexual violence in Bolivia. Currently based in Sydney, she savours opportunities to speak Spanish, and continues to blog about faith, culture and being a Gen Y expat who doesn’t have it all worked out at

When your team isn’t all you expect it to be

Our first year of living in China was marked by the expected symptoms of culture stress: frustration, dark thoughts about all Chinese people everywhere, helplessness, hopelessness, tears. And loneliness. So much loneliness. We arrived without any team members, hoping to prepare the way for others to join us, but having no idea if they ever would.

So it is hardly surprising as I look back to realize that a major turning point in my attitude towards China took place when we got an email at the end of that first year. Some old friends of ours, with whom we’d had little contact for years, were inquiring about coming to join us. Within a month, they had committed to coming.

Oh the anticipation! The hope that came with the promise of a community, of friends with the same passions and dreams for making Chinese disciples! I had dreams of vacations our families would take together, relationships with Chinese we would build together, long coffee and prayer dates with the wife, shared babysitting. I grew up on a close-knit missions team and have really been in the missions world my whole life; I have experienced all the best of tightknit relationships among missionaries. To be honest, the desire for the close community of a missions team was one of my major motivations for becoming a missionary. Missionaries are my people; where in North America could I ever find comparable community of people who would really get me?

Our new teammates arrived in September. We cleared our calendars, held off on new ministries, and geared everything towards helping them settle in and easing the emotional ups and downs of culture stress for them. Six months later, I was perhaps in deeper distress than during our first lonely year. The friendship I had been hoping for just wasn’t happening, despite my best efforts. I felt rejected and misunderstood, and lonelier than ever. I dreaded our weekly team meetings. Even worse, and harder for me to admit, I couldn’t stop making comparisons. We were supposed to be on the same team, but I kept running into this ugly competitor within me.


The crazy thing is that we have never had a single conflict with them, and not even many disagreements. They were a sweet couple with big hearts to serve God, and they did, in fact contribute a great deal to our ministry. They were simply independent and did not have the desire we had for deep intimacy in relationships—perhaps because they had never experienced it. But really, the biggest problems were in my heart, as my hurt feelings and disappointment in our relationship turned into a judgmental, critical, and competitive spirit.

So what have we learned?

  1. God has never promised me deep, soul friendships. It would be perfectly within his right to never provide me with the kind of friend I long for. I am not actually being deprived of anything when I feel lonely. However, God is so gracious that he often does bring along these friends. A year after our team members arrived, I realized I had two other friendships that were moving into the soul-friendship territory—one with another American who had moved to our area and one with a Chinese sister.
  2. A critical spirit is never, ever useful. I like to say that I am discerning, but really, that so-called discernment easily becomes criticism. I feel most critical when I cannot speak openly and honestly with someone about how I’m feeling, as was the case with our teammates. For a period of a few months, almost all of the conversations I had with my husband about our team quickly devolved into complaining sessions, as we picked apart all the ways we felt wronged by them. We are both verbal processors, so it was easy to say, “I just need to get this off my chest….” But were our conversations loving and noble? Were they even true? Rarely. In order not to speak this way, I can’t think this way: I have to stop the criticisms before they get rolling in my head. Instead, by God’s grace, I try to replace them with either deeper sympathy with or praise of our teammates.
  3. Love rejoices in diversity. Though I didn’t want to admit it, I often felt threatened by our teammates when they chose to do things differently than we had. I read their different choices as a criticism of us. It took me a while to realize that, unlike me, they like to forge their own way simply because they enjoy it, not because they think the previous way was wrong. Furthermore, for me to feel threatened and care so deeply to have their approval was revealing the idolatry in my own heart. I idolized my way of doing things and others’ opinions of my way of doing things. And I idolized the kind of relationship I was expecting with our teammates. As I began to repent of these idols, I was able to appreciate our team members’ unique gifts and the ways they complemented us and added greatly to our team.
  4. The Spirit is always at work in believers’ hearts. Part of what I wanted out of a deep friendship with team members was the ability to counsel one another—to ask and be asked the hard, heart-probing questions. But I never got to that level with these particular team members. It was so hard to trust the Spirit’s work in their hearts when I felt I could never catch a glimpse of it, or when the changes I was hoping for (selfishly) weren’t taking place. However, once I was able to let go of my desires for the relationship, I was freer to sit back and see and enjoy the Spirit’s presence both in their lives and in mine. He is working in all our hearts, and how thankful I am that he doesn’t need me at all to work his redemption!
  5. Deep, vulnerable sharing can be manipulative. I had learned in the past that in order to create an environment in which others feel free to open their hearts, it often helps to go first. So early in our team relationship I would share some of what the Spirit was teaching me, trying to include even the ugly stuff in my heart that was being revealed. When that sharing wasn’t reciprocated—when they didn’t share in the same way—I felt myself wanting to disengage, to hold back from sharing my heart. Not that I didn’t feel safe—I trusted them enough to know their discretion—but how could I continue to expose the ugliness in myself to people who didn’t seem to want to share theirs—without beginning to feel like the weakest, most sinful member of the team? Again, this was only exposing my idolatry, not theirs. I realized I was trying to use my sharing as a manipulation tactic. I eventually learned, however, that God is glorified when I tell of his marvelous deeds, including his work in my heart, and our team members truly appreciated hearing of it and sympathized with my emotions. But not everyone is ready or able to share in the same way—perhaps they are not verbal processors, perhaps they don’t analyze themselves as much as I do, perhaps they don’t trust their audience—and that’s okay and not for me to discern. And it’s also okay if I am the weakest, most sinful member of the team—who’s keeping track anyway?

Part of me feels ashamed to give you these lessons I learned through this team experience because the ugliness that was exposed in my soul during that time is still there, still battling for dominion. Only as I turn my attention and desires towards pursuing God and his goodness does his love begin to conquer the fierce competitor in me.

I write this because I suspect disappointment in team relationships is far more common than I ever realized when I was younger and dreaming about my future as a missionary. I also believe that God often brings team members in our lives to refine us, but perhaps not in the positive, warm and fuzzy way we might hope for. Because our team relationships tend to be so much more intense and inescapable—and require so much more interdependence—than our friendships back home, they can also expose a much deeper level of sin and idolatry in ourselves. Painful as that process is, it’s all for the purpose of forming us into more holy ministers of God’s Kingdom. After all, how can I claim to be sharing God’s love with Chinese people if I can’t even share his love with the teammates he’s given me?


Carrie Smith (not her real name) grew up as an MK in the Philippines and then in the wild jungles of Pennsylvania. After seven years of grad school life, she and her husband made it to China and started the long and arduous journey of learning language and culture while her husband works a full-time job as a university professor. She is passionate about Biblical counseling, reproducible disciple-making, and authentic culture learning — and raising her own little TCKs to be bilingual global citizens who passionately pursue God’s heart for the world. You can communicate with her at

The Radical Spiritual Art of Staying Put


By Stephanie Ebert

If any group of people has a long and convoluted history with evangelical church traditions, it’s missionary kids. Like pastor’s kids, the emotional baggage around church is piled higher than the lost luggage corner at the Johannesburg airport. We tend to camp out either around the “wounded/bitter/cynical” baggage claim belt, or the one labeled “guilt-ridden/never question anything/just be good.”

But then, of course, since we were missionary kids, we carry more cultural baggage as well. Because unlike our pastor’s kid peers, we were always hyper-aware of the cultural trappings of the “Industrial Church Complex” (as author Sarah Bessey calls it). The difference is while we were “outside” the church enough to criticize it; we weren’t “inside” enough to be a part of making any changes. And besides, the churches paid our bills. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

When people ask me to talk about my church tradition, I have a hard time answering. My “church-culture” story has its foundation in the Zulu church we attended in South Africa, but also has strong threads of the American evangelical Christian sub-culture that came through from my parents, other missionaries, and our trips back to the States.

I grew up going to a Zulu-speaking church where we were the only white people. I could understand most of the songs and smatterings of Zulu, but services were long, hot meetings that ran from morning to well past lunchtime. The world’s best singing and the world’s longest sermons. My friends would whisper translations of the sermon (or whatever they wanted) to me. We met in an old, dusty school building, and our Sunday School curriculum was flannel-graph from 19-something left behind by some other missionaries. My mother spent hours re-coloring Jesus so he wasn’t white. As I got older, I saw church as a place you went to serve not a place you went to ‘get fed.’

When I read things written by people a generation or two ahead of me about their evangelical upbringing, I can relate to so much of it. The time-capsule of life overseas means culture gets preserved. Through hand-me-downs from retiring missionary garage sales I absorbed a lot of pre-1970’s Christian culture. Missionary biographies, books about angelic kids who invite other children to Sunday school, and a handbook on being a good Christian woman (that involved diagrams on how to walk, appropriate hair-styles, and the contents of a good Christian girl’s purse). Our home-world was early 1980’s American Christian culture. Because, you know, that’s when my parents left the States, so that’s what was in our time-capsule. We sang choruses as a family from my parents’ grass-roots “getting back to Acts” church they left behind in Austin, Texas, along Dennis Jernigan, Amy Grant and Second Chapter of Acts (all on tape, of course).

Then every four years we’d go to the States and encounter the American Industrial Church Complex. Our furloughs home were like snapshots of the changes American church culture has gone through in the past two decades:

Fourth grade: Love it. Love it, love it. Anywhere where I can get animal crackers, walk into a brightly colored room smelling of whiteboard markers, earn badges for memorizing Bible verses, and be done in 45 minutes is my kind of church! Dad, why can’t we move to America and go to this church always?

Seventh grade: Hate it. Who invented middle-school Sunday School classes? Torture chambers. Oh, and all our supporting churches are having church splits over music now. What’s their problem–who cares if it’s hymns or a rock band, it’s all in English right? Can’t they all just sing along? And everybody is canning their old sanctuaries for convention centers in the name of seeker sensitivity.

Eleventh grade: Why are these churches building more and more buildings but only sending the youth group on short-term missions trips, and cutting funding for long-term missionaries? Why are there graphic designers employed by churches to make glossy bulletins that everyone just throws away? The high school group serves coffee and bagels, and they go to Florida for Spring break missions-trip-vacations. I call them all “cookie-cutter churches” this year. I enjoy making cutting critiques of it all with my siblings (while smiling and talking about God’s work in South Africa to everyone else, of course).

College: I’m in rural Indiana at a Christian college, and I stumble into an African-American church. Best of all possible worlds. It’s English, but they know how to sing, and they don’t have a massive building fund campaign. It’s long enough that I feel like I’ve “been churched”, but not so long that I’m fainting from hunger. My soul has room to breathe again. For the first time, I go to church not to serve, or because I have to, but because I want to.

When my husband and I move back to South Africa, we attend an English speaking church. All my friends have moved on from the Zulu church I grew up in—and besides, my husband knows less Zulu than I do. The people are very friendly. But the disjunction of going to an English church that caters to white, upper-class families when we’re working in an impoverished community just minutes away sometimes feels as painful as peeling off my skin with a cheese grater. I find myself getting more and more frustrated by so many of the ways we “do church” in western culture, but again I don’t feel like enough of an insider to voice what I think.

We hike El Caminio del Santiago in the north of Spain for a month on our way back to the States for my husband to start a two-year masters program. No church, no responsibility, no commitments, wandering in and out of Catholic mass in Spanish. I don’t even speak Spanish. But we memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and follow along with the Gospel readings in our Bibles. Spring-time in the Basque country. I could live like this.

Now we’re in small-town Texas, where there are 33 Baptist churches in a seven-mile radius, and we’re church hunting once more. And once again I’m asking myself, “Why do we do this?! We’re not missionaries. We don’t have to get these people to like us so they’ll send us money. Can we just opt-out for the next two years? I like Jesus, it’s just churches that drive me nuts.” (Yes, I know these thoughts are dysfunctional, but this is the way I think sometimes).

And then, my husband reminds me that we’re the church. As a TCK, I like wandering, I like putting myself on a pedestal and looking down my nose. I like opting-out. I like sarcasm. That’s easy. That’s my default.

In her chapter on church in her book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey says she came to realize that, “I didn’t need to pretend allegiance to everything, but I did need to be part of a community…I practiced the radical spiritual art of staying put.”

That’s what we’re focusing on right now. Community. Staying put. We haven’t been in here that long, and knowing we’re on our way out in a few years sometimes makes me question the effort of trying. Small-town Texas is probably the biggest cultural adjustment we’ve ever faced, and church in this context feels just plain crazy at times. I can’t pledge allegiance to the cowboy boots and the gospel of evangelical-political-power that’s preached on Sundays. But maybe I don’t have to. That’s some baggage I don’t need to carry.

But I do still need community. I need the body of Christ no matter how weird I think it is. So we’re attending a Sunday school class but skipping the country music worship service for an online Tim Keller sermon. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. That’s what we’re trying to figure out with church right now: how to give ourselves permission to sort through and let go some of the baggage (after all, we don’t need to pledge allegiance to everything) so that we can practice the radical spiritual art of staying put.


square faceStephanie Ebert is a TCK from South Africa and America. Married to a Minnesotan, she and her husband David have spent the past three years working in South Africa for the non-profit iThemba Projects. Right now they are experiencing the cultural shock of moving to a small Texas town for David to complete his masters degree. Steph continues to work for iThemba Projects online. She blogs about social justice, missions, race, and finding hope at

When your work is taken away from you


My husband and I moved to rural Cambodia in March 2011, and through the summer of 2012, I volunteered in a missionary clinic as a registered nurse. I helped set up the clinic, registered patients, assisted with procedures, and visited patients in their homes— a volunteer job that was meaningful and fulfilling. I was also finishing my bachelor’s degree in nursing online.

But in June 2012, the missionary doctor closed the doors of the clinic and went home for a year’s furlough. I continued studying online and volunteering with small projects, but my world of work and influence shrank. After I finished my online studies in December, I found myself a very reluctant housewife with a blank calendar and few commitments.

I’ve always been a “go-getter” – a woman with a lot of drive and ambition who finds new challenges for herself. That year, however, I plunged into a depression I couldn’t shake. I tried finding part-time work with my husband’s organization and developing health education programs for other charities in town. But there were no positions in my husband’s office or with the other charities.

I felt frustrated, unfulfilled, and dissatisfied.

Why would God put me in a country like Cambodia and not give me a specific role to play? Why were my talents and time being wasted? Why couldn’t I find some way to use my nursing skills?

Slowly, over the course of a few months, God showed me why. Through prayer, his Word, and deep conversations with other Christians, I found purpose in the darkness. He gently drew the idol out of my heart: finding my identity outside of Jesus.

It was true. I’ve always found satisfaction, even pride, in describing myself as a nurse. I held challenging jobs that were respected by others. I had a role to look forward to when I woke up and a way to feel good about myself. But when it was taken away? I felt worthless.

I didn’t feel like Jesus was enough for me.

I believed the lie that I needed to create my own identity through my work, efforts, and titles. Being his daughter, his redeemed child, didn’t factor into my thoughts when I evaluated myself. I sought to be recognized and defined by my work, instead of the work Christ did for me.

God had to strip away all that was holding me together – a long and painful process. But now I know why God allowed those props to fall out of my life. I’m not defined by what I do; I’m defined by what Jesus did for me, and even now, how he changes me and leads me. Who I am in Christ is far more significant and lasting than any identity I could build on my own.

Once in Christ, our identity doesn’t change. It’s not threatened by other people. It can’t be held up in comparison to others, either to make us feel better about ourselves, or worse — because we can’t take credit for who we are. God is working in me and through me to make a new creature, with a new heart that longs only to glorify Him.

Now we’ve returned to the United States, and I’m still tempted to find my identity in a place other than Jesus. As long as I’m in this broken body on earth, I won’t stop struggling with the temptation to look away from Christ. But he is faithful to forgive, to strengthen, and to redeem. That’s what I want to identify with and be recognized by: his steadfast love for me.

Originally published here

WhitA travel junkie, RN, book nerd, and recovering expat, Whitney Conard recently moved back to Kansas City, USA after three years in Cambodia with her husband and son. She blogs at Journey Mercies about pursuing Jesus, loving people, living justly, and exploring the world.

When Spouses Travel: A Survival Guide for Marriage

plane“Your husband is gone again!? Wow, he’s gone all the time.”

When a friend told me this I paused, “Really?”

Was he travelling too much? Were we being reckless and affecting our children in negative ways? How much is too much, anyways?

Living overseas comes with a lot of unique lifestyle changes. One of them, for most families, is separation because of travel.

My husband travels to teach, preach, and visit ministry partners. Each family is different. Sometimes, mainly the husband travels. For others, it is the wife. For some, they travel to visit projects in their local province. Others journey across the globe to attend conferences. For some it is the constant need to fund-raise. At times it is for medical help or just to connect with family in your home country.

There are actually a lot of reasons we travel. Almost all of us have this in common… a husband or wife that needs to travel as part of their ministry or family needs.

Some families navigate this in healthy ways. Too often, though, it has had a devastating affect on the family bond. Some adult missionary kids still carry the pain of abandonment they felt with their fathers’ travel schedules.

As I write this I am on day 12 of a 16 day trip for my husband. But who’s counting!? (Me.) My husband does most of the travelling, but I do some as well. This can add up to a lot if we are not extremely careful.

We have seen wonderful and terrible examples of families navigating separation. Because of this we have sought input and have an ongoing dialogue. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.


1. Honest Communication

No amount of tips or tricks can replace honest and vulnerable communication. How do you each feel about the separation? I have seen situations where the husband just plans trips and the wife simply gets informed. I once saw a leader announce upcoming travel in a staff meeting. His wife found out about it with all the staff! Yikes!

Before any trip gets planned, husbands and wives need to really sit down and be honest about what each can handle.

We then need to truly listen.

I’m so glad we were told that every trip should be evaluated by both my husband and myself… not just what he thinks is best. Together we are honest if we feel this will work. We then decide together.


2. Avoid Obvious Disasters

We made some big planning mistakes in the early days. I remember one trip where my husband was gone for two weeks (the longest we do apart). Because we were new to South Africa, we had no clue about public and school holidays. My husbands trip was over an entire school break… so I was home, alone with the kids for two weeks straight in the dark, wet winter. It wasn’t pretty. We now have a golden rule… no travel over school holidays. Bad things happen to Mom’s sanity!

When looking at a potential separation, we now ask, “Is there any obvious practical reason this is a bad idea?”


3. Prefer One Another

Sometimes one spouse is all for a ministry trip (normally the one travelling) and the other is very overwhelmed by it (normally the one staying behind).

I once had a friend tell me, “Oh, my husband never travels, I don’t like it.”

“Does he like it though?” I asked.

She looked at me, “He loves it, it’s the most life-giving thing he does in ministry.”

I walked away respecting that the husband listened to his wife. But I also wondered if the wife could also make some sacrifices to enable her husband to do something he loved so dearly. Even if just very occasionally.

When we communicate how we feel about travel, my husband and I both ask the question, “How can I prefer my spouse?” There is no pat answer to that. Sacrifices are made on both sides.

The children also need to be preferred. Some couples evaluate trips with their children. They let the children have a voice. This was wonderful for the children to pray and be honest about how they are affected by the travel. What an amazing picture if Dad and Mom said “no” to a trip because of feedback from the kids.


4. Evaluate the Seasons

Not all travel is equal. I definitely found travel much harder when my children were toddlers. It was very challenging and left me at the end of my rope. We learned some hard lessons in that time. I learned how to ask for help. My husband learned that there might be more trips when the kids are older because his wife doesn’t thrive when left alone with whining toddlers!

Perhaps there are ministry challenges, sickness, depression issues, a challenge with a child, or something else that makes separation more challenging. Often a trip would be fine normally, but because of the “season,” it’s not a good idea.

Seasons are not forever. So, don’t be threatened to let seasons shape your travel plans. We try to keep very flexible with our “rules” knowing that each season will bring a different approach to separation.


5. Own the Decision

Once a trip has been planned, we need to own the decision. If we both say “yes” to a trip, we can’t act like a victim of the decision. We can’t pout that “I’m stuck at home while he/she is out getting all the glory.” This is immaturity, and it will hurt our marriages and children.

We have a voice, and now we need to embrace our choice.

I’ll be honest, in our early days I often would punish Chris when he would return, and he would punish me. “Making up for lost time,” we would call it. Upon returning home, the left-behind spouse often expects to be “paid back” for all the extra work they did to keep the home fires burning. We have to be so careful of this. Once the family is reunited, rejoice with the victories and have compassion for the struggles, but don’t silently punish your spouse if you feel “left behind.”


What about you? Do you feel you are managing travel well? What advice and lessons have you learned along the way?

headshot-lindsey-150x150Lindsey lives in Cape Town, South Africa as a missionary with Youth With a Mission. She grew up as a pastor’s kid and dreamed of being a missionary as long as she can remember. At the age of 19 she packed her bags and headed to Africa. She’s been living the missions life ever since. Lindsey is married to Chris Lautsbaugh and together they have 2 sons, Garett and Thabo. Her passion is teaching on relationships including marriage, parenting, dating, sexuality, and friendship. In South Africa she works at a University of the Nations campus, training young people to have a passion for Jesus and people. Lindsey writes at and is on Twitter (@mrslautsbaugh).

Jumping Off the Pedestal


I live in fear of disappointing people. Supporters, our church, our organization, family, friends.

I know how messy my life is, I know the things I struggle with, I know where I stumble, I know how often I mess things up, and now I worry others will know too.

I have always been a pretty transparent person. I am a wholehearted believer in being who you are and being real. I have never really had an issue with pretending to be someone I am not. I usually openly admit to my mistakes and the issues I have; I am fairly aware of my poor habits and sin. I have a sweet husband who shows me areas of my life I need to work on, and he does it in a gentle way, even if I am sassy when he’s telling me.

But, I have never been put on a pedestal for being an “exceptionally good person.” Given the line of work my husband and I chose to enter about two years ago, we are now the recipients of undue praise and adoration for our “sacrifice” and “service.”

It’s a weird feeling. I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I have to pretend to be someone I am not in order to live up to their lofty idea of who I am. My default being in this position is to hide my sin, shove the issues I have aside, and not disappoint the people who now use me as a “great example” of a follower.

It started out okay. It was just at church where people would come and shake my hand and commend me for the work we are doing. Now, every single person in our lives: distant friends, former coworkers, and long-lost relatives are coming out of the woodwork to be encouraging and supportive. I love the support and encouragement, and we definitely need it. However, we now receive praise and adoration from most people in our lives. Somehow, what we chose to do makes us amazing people. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I was just willing, not exceptional. I didn’t want to go, I tried not to go, I resented going and was reluctant for a long time even after conceding.

Basically, not an awesome person at all. I would tell every single person the exact same beginning if I had the opportunity, but I don’t get the chance to tell that to everyone. So it leads to a disproportionate amount of amazement and revere for our decision. If they only knew I was on the losing end of an argument with God.  I was never going to win, because His plans will always succeed over mine, and I am grateful for that to be the case. I never want to be outside of God’s will, and that’s why we are overseas. His will was for us to be here, so here we are.

Now, back to the issue of trying not to be fake, while at the same time trying not to disappoint. I didn’t give the fear of disappointment much thought until my husband and I had a huge argument one evening. I wanted to call and chat with my close friends and family, but then I was overwhelmed with this huge sense of fear of letting them down. I want to be who they think I am, but I am not. I am stuck in this reality where everyone thinks I am someone I am not, and I am trying to play catch up to be that person. Meanwhile, I still have all the same struggles, sin issues and bad habits. God is working those things out in me, but they weren’t immediately eradicated when we boarded our plane in San Francisco.

I am not sure how common fear of disappointment is for overseas workers, but for this girl it has become quite a hurdle.

I wonder what people would think if they knew what I am really like. I wonder if they would think I am even worthy to support or send. It’s so much pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal of who I am suppose to be. I began to wonder if that’s why people leave the field with broken marriages, torn-apart lives, and messed-up families. Is it because these people were trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of who they are? Is it because they were trying to achieve an unattainable ideal?

I totally think that the fear of disappointing supporters, sending churches, organizations, friends and family could lead to shoving issues aside and not working through things that need to be dealt with. I think the pressure of trying to live up to what others think of you and trying to be worth the investment of time and resources people have poured into you, would cause you to sweep things under the rug and hope that nobody notices.

I think that pushing problems aside, not dealing with issues as they arise, and living under unrealistic expectations could produce a catastrophic event that forces you to leave the field brokenhearted. If we don’t work through hardship and complications as they come, those issues aren’t going to go away.

Just like life back in the States, we have to deal with marital lows and hardship. We have to work through tough family obstacles at times. We have to face stress and anxiety at work and figure out healthy ways to deal with it. We have to tackle difficult relationships and resolve them. Life isn’t easy back in our home countries and it’s definitely not easy in a foreign country.

After thinking about fear of disappointment and how it’s affecting my life and decisions, I decided it was time to be real. To be honest and genuine, to be the person I am, imperfections and all. I don’t want to lead a dishonest life, I don’t want to be adored (especially for someone I am not), and I want to be free from fear.

I want to be able to say things like: I almost got hit by a taxi crossing the street two days ago and yelled a bad word at the top of my lungs while jumping out of the way. I want to be able to argue with my husband and be incredibly ticked at him and feel free to share it with people close to me who love me and can encourage us to keep working at marriage, because it’s hard. I want to be accountable for who I am and not who other people think I am.

To the best of my ability I am going to shove aside the fear of disappointment. I will address the issues, deal with the hard stuff, and be okay with the idea of being knocked of my pedestal, because I shouldn’t be up there in first place.


Originally published here.

Kristin and her husband are experiencing life on the other side of the world, where traffic lights are suggestions and people are the friendliest. You can usually catch her with her mouth full of food or talking away with her newest friend. She is a California girl in the heart of South Asia and people often dub her as the tallest girl they have ever seen (she’s 5’10). She never wants people to feel alone and loves sharing and hearing about the adventures of following God wholeheartedly. You can read more about her at

Same Same, Thankfully

As I am in the middle of wading through culture shock,  I am so thankful for things that seem to transcend time zones and culture. Things that I know are the same no matter where I am or who I’m with or what language I’m (kind of) speaking.

Like the normal, everyday things that make up a life.

What were once mundane tasks and chores I had to grit through with my son, the things that would leave me counting down the hours until my husband got home or until bedtime, are now the things that make me feel sane. Because culture shock is tricky, and sometimes I get worried I’m slowly losing bits of myself.

It’s the normal, everyday tasks which remind me that though they may be expressed differently in this season, and may be even a little tucked away and hidden, my personality and gifts and humor and skills are all still there.

I’m still me. Which, depending on the issue or the day, is either really reassuring or really frustrating.

One of the millions of things I’ve either heard or read about culture shock and the transition to being third culture is that one will easily romanticize whichever culture they are not in. So, when I’m annoyed with Thailand and everything here feels hard, it’s easy to think to myself well, if we were in America this would NOT be happening or doing this in America is way easier and better or I would never feel this way at home in America.

And those are all lies. Because the reality is my garbage is the same garbage there as it is here. The issues I had at home are the issues I have abroad.


Sure, paying my phone bill takes way less actual time in America than it seems to in Thailand. That is true. But, the amount of patience and flexibility I have are the exact same in both places. This place just seems to reveal just how impatient and hurried I really am. It certainly isn’t Thailand’s fault that an errand taking multiple trips and a couple hours makes me impatient, annoyed, self-righteous and more swear-y than an R-rated movie. That’s on me. You can imagine what a massive bummer it is to realize that not so far under the surface of my personality lays all this nasty junk.

Apparently, all the “better” ways at home are merely a precarious system of things which keep me from snapping someone’s head off and using a 20$ expletive.

If all the nice, orderly, dependable systems in your life suddenly unraveled or ceased to exist entirely, what of you would be left?

You. You would be left.

Whatever there is of you, it’s there no matter where you are. No matter what or who is holding you up or together, you are the same.

And, again, that’s either deeply reassuring or really frustrating.

Which is why I’m finding solace in those boring, normal, everyday things. The things that just make me feel like me, the things that remind me that, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, I am still me. The normalcy of making someone laugh really hard, because it reminds me that yes, I am still funny. The really normal, mundane work of washing dishes and making the bed and returning emails all of a sudden become grounding because washing a dish is the same and how I like my pillows arranged is the same and how I sign an email, that too, is the same. Because when it feels like I am being molded and pushed and prodded from all sides, it’s wonderful to find those things that are same. Whatever that means right now.

So I am loving the mundane.

The moments and things that used to make me want to punch someone in the face or buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke them all while drinking a long island are now the times that remind me I’m still me and my husband and I are still us.

Doing the laundry all day every day and wiping bottoms and washing dishes and sending emails and lesson planning and talking to a friend back home who is picking out baby names, all of those things are what help make and keep me. The sameness helps me find sanity and encouragement when everything around me is different and new.

The mundane sacred work of being a mom and a wife and a friend and a child of God and a sister isn’t contingent on where I live. And what those things reveal of my character and heart isn’t either.

It’s me. It’s all me wherever I am.

So while some of it reveals the ugly and sinful stuff, some of it reveals the beautiful and lovely stuff. Some of living here reveals the gross, and some reveals the resilient and adaptable.

And, thankfully, I get to keep working all of it out.


Katie Kleinjung lives with her husband Stephen and two babies, Shepherd and Valor, in Thailand. After living in the same town her entire life, a life overseas was never on her radar. When she decided to leave her home of Minnesota, she figured she’d make it worth it and went to Bible College in Ecuador. It was there that she realized she just may end up on the mission field. During university, she traveled to Thailand a number of times and took a semester off to live and work in India. A seminary dropout, Katie is passionate about missions, living authentically, and experiencing all life has to offer. Within the first year of their marriage, Katie and Stephen decided to leave their steady jobs, family and friends and head to Thailand. They also got pregnant, moved a few times and Stephen underwent four major surgeries. Follow their crazy life and honest antics at Instagram @katiejkleinjung; Twitter @thekleinjungs; Periscope: The Kleinjungs. 

How to Help TCKs Manage Probing Questions

children sitting 2013

By Carole Sparks

Children think in concrete, specific terms: black and white, true and false. As parents, we train them to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” What could be wrong with that? I don’t want to raise liars, and I’m sure you don’t either.

But sometimes, when you live overseas, the whole truth isn’t safe. Sometimes the whole truth can get you thrown in jail or kicked out of the country. Government officials, overly-nosy teachers, and prejudiced locals know that children are predisposed to oversharing, and they will exploit it. Any number of innocent security breaches is also possible. While we can’t plan for everything, and while God certainly protects us even through such breaches, we quickly grasp the need to guard our tongues at all times. It’s hard enough for adults, but our concrete-thinking children struggle even more.

My husband and I took two pre-schoolers to just such a place, and we grappled with this conundrum the entire time we lived there. How do we train our children to be completely honest while protecting the work to which God has called us overseas?

When we returned to our passport country, I breathed a sigh of relief—finally, they wouldn’t have to watch everything they shared. Then they started public school. The questions rained down: Where did you live? What did you do? Why did you go there? Were you missionaries? The “whole truth” answers still weren’t safe because we left behind teammates and local believers, people whose security depended on our silence.

Eight years into this question, I finally have an honest, Biblically-sound, God-honoring answer.  You ready?  Here it is: Jesus didn’t always tell the whole truth. We find one example in Mark 11, where the religious leaders asked Jesus about the source of His authority. Jesus didn’t answer. Instead, he asked them a question. Repeatedly—not just here but throughout the Gospels—Jesus deflects questions or gives partial answers. At the same time, we know that He never lied. Sometimes His listeners (even the disciples) just weren’t ready to comprehend the full answer; sometimes it was a security or timing issue. Honesty isn’t always about a complete, straight-forward divulgence of all the Truth available.

We are in good company when we train our children (and ourselves!) to answer according to the audience. This means we must stay connected to the Holy Spirit, who sees not only our hearts but the hearts of those around us. In every situation, we take a breath and pray, “What does this person need to hear?” Our answer will be completely honest, but perhaps not complete.

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait until our children learn to heed the Holy Spirit before we let them interact with the public. Regardless of a child’s spiritual maturity, these three guidelines will help him or her deal with the frequent and repeated questions—both overseas and in your passport country.

  1. Have an always-safe answer. This should be one sentence that is completely true, usually involving your platform.

My dad is a doctor.

My parents teach at ____________ school.

My mom works for ____________ relief agency.

  1. Have a deflection statement. Children need this so they won’t appear rude when questioned by adults. It usually works to say, “You should ask my mom/dad about that.”
  1. Have a time for full disclosure. If it means taking a vacation to another country or going out into the woods where no one is around…

(a) Give your children a chance to talk about all the reasons you live in the place and manner to which God has called you. This will not be a one-time occurrence. We created opportunities for this conversation over and over as the children grew in mental and spiritual understanding.

(b) Give them an opportunity to name all the people who have asked probing questions and talk about how they responded. Assure them that you trust them and that everyone lapses or makes poor decisions occasionally. This is not a time for discipline but for training. If you learn about any security problems, you can take measures to contain or thwart them.

If—no, when—you or your children struggle with how to answer questions about your presence in-country, go to the Gospels. Show them stories about how Jesus dealt with questions and help them get comfortable with honest answers that won’t lead anyone awry.


What strategies have you used to deal with non-disclosure? Were they effective? Please share in the comments below.


Carole Sparks and her husband twice found themselves “walking Jesus” in coastal African cities—the second time with two small children.  Now, they are watching God work in a mid-sized southern US city and helping others learn to follow Him more closely.  Connect with Carole through her website, or her parenting blog,

The Underbelly of Being Radical


By Stephanie Ebert

My husband and I both have college degrees and 4.0 GPA’s (okay, not exactly, he once got an A-, and I once got a B). We like to think we’re pretty talented and could do anything in the world we wanted to do. But instead of staying in the States and raking in tons of money, we decided to move to South Africa so I could work for a community development organization…for free. And we did this because we think that’s what Jesus calls us to– not the American Dream, but the excitement of laying down our stuff and living for Him.

It sounds very noble and sacrificial when we tell our story this way. It’s a story people attribute to us, even when we don’t explicitly tell it that way. This sacrifice story is one I’m hearing a lot from missionaries and people involved in community development work.

Our sacrifice story would go at the bottom of the totem pole, because we were young and just starting out–and quite frankly the job market was terrible anyway, so hey, why not just go to South Africa? Probably at the top of the sacrifice-story totem pole is Jim Elliot, but somewhere close behind is the sacrifice story of a middle-aged couple who quit their jobs as president of a successful company, sell their house, and go start a ministry for sex-trafficking victims in South Sudan.

Oh, and there’s also this version where we say: “This is so not about me, this is all about Jesus” and then proceed to tell it as a story where we sacrifice everything for Jesus.

I’m realizing there’s a real problem if we tell our story this way–to ourselves, or to other people. When we’re used to seeing ourselves as people who have sacrificed, it’s very, very easy to slide into an entitlement attitude. Not about material things (heavens, no!), but about decision-making things. About having control. About holding the reins. And the bigger the sacrifice we’ve made, the more entitled we feel to call the shots when it comes to the way we do ministry.

Not that we’d ever say these thoughts out-loud, but…

“The organization wants me to do accounting for them. Even though I have some experience in that, it is not my gifting– I’m an evangelist. I gave up everything to come preach, and now you’re telling me you want me in a back office crunching numbers?”

“Look, some of my local partners have expressed some discomfort at the way I’m always posting photos of sick HIV patients on Facebook, but that’s what speaks to people back home. People back home need to see the reality over here, and all I care about is getting more people engaged with this work. That’s what I’m all about. Heck, I sold everything and moved half-way across the world for this–of course my intentions in sharing these photos are pure, you can’t question that!”

“A child came to me and is asking for money for food. The local pastor told me that he doesn’t give out food to street children because it encourages them to stay on the streets, but he’s trapped in self-centered thinking. People here don’t have enough compassion for the poor. I sacrificed everything to come over here–the reason I’m here is to help people understand compassion–people here just aren’t caring.”

“They want me to learn the local language, but I’m going to be working with English-speaking university students. I’m already 55, I don’t have time for this. I care about these students–you can’t doubt that, I mean, I came all the way here–but I can’t waste time learning a language I’m never going to use.”

The fact that we’ve sacrificed can be used as a shield in any conflict. We can gain the moral high ground and claim impeachable motives– after all, we came all the way here. We’ve sacrificed. We elevate ourselves above the need to be taught, to be corrected, and to learn from people around us who have been living, and caring, and working here for much longer than we have. It’s always uncomfortable to be confronted about the way we’re doing some aspect of our ministry, but let’s not let the sacrifice-story put us in an untouchable category.


How can we re-frame the stories that we tell about ourselves and to ourselves about what we’ve done? Can we actually see ourselves as privileged to be here, as willing learners (and not just say that’s what we are)? 

square faceStephanie Ebert is a TCK from South Africa and America. Married to a Minnesotan, she and her husband David have spent the past three years working in South Africa for the non-profit iThemba Projects. Right now they are experiencing the cultural shock of moving to a small Texas town for David to complete his masters degree. Steph continues to work for iThemba Projects online. She blogs about social justice, missions, race, and finding hope at

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries


We don’t go into cross cultural missions without a fair degree of idealism. We would never leave our home, family, friends and culture if we didn’t think it was our calling and that we would make a difference. As parents, our children become part of that idealism. We can’t help having expectations and dreams of how our kids will be shaped by an amazing cross cultural experience.  As I look back over the years, I can see how my ideals didn’t line up so well with our family reality. For me, growth has included embracing a continual lowering of expectations and perhaps a little more acceptance of being who we are.

My sons are now 19 and 17. As a family we are about to leave SE Asia for a season to help them settle, or become unsettled (depending on how it goes), back into our passport country. They were born in our passport country and moved with my husband and me to SE Asia at the ages of 4 and 6.

We had already spent 3 years in that country before they were born and had a reasonable grasp of the language. We wanted to go deeper this time. I imagined us becoming a culturally-integrated and truly incarnational family, making a profound impact by our deep identification with the people. We somehow thought that immersing our kids into the culture would be easy even though our own previous experience of living in that culture had been extremely challenging. So many people had told us that kids are incredibly adaptable and resilient. They teased that our boys would soon be much more fluent in the language than we were and love all the new experiences.  It didn’t work out like that for us.

It’s easy to see things clearer in hindsight. At the time it seemed like a good idea to please our local friends by placing our boys in a national school of 6,000 students, where our children were the only little blond foreigners that the school had ever had. That was the beginning of an exhausting and painful inner struggle that felt like a tug-of-war in my guts. I was torn between what was best for my kids (helping them grow, learn, and be stretched, but still protected) and doing whatever it took to build relationships with local people and feel accepted by them.

We did come up with a strategy, after a few disastrous experiences, for how our kids could avoid being touched, kissed and pinched by strangers, or teachers who should know better, and still maintain some level of respectfulness. We made it clear to them that snarling like a rabid dog as adults approach is not OK. But giving the formal greeting of hands in front of the face and then running off before they can touch you is usually acceptable.

There were many days out visiting in a village where after several hours of intense connecting with local kids I could see my boys were just about to reach that point of things getting ugly. They were exhausted from the cross cultural relating, and it was in all our interests to leave NOW.  Again I felt the inner wrenching of being torn by the desire to stay and go deeper with our local relationships and ministry and giving our kids what they needed.

I now see how children have culture shock and culture stress like we all do, and they don’t just adapt because they are kids. They react according to their personality and a myriad of other factors that can be hard to identify or predict. They need support and acknowledgement of their struggles. We came to realize that although we really valued local relationships and knew they were key to our ministry, our relationship with our kids was the one that would last a life time. That was our top priority. That didn’t mean life was all about them, or we never expected them to learn patience and self-control. It did mean that we wanted them to know we were always there for them and were trying to make the best decisions we could for us as a family, trusting that God was in it all with us. One time this meant relocating to a city where they could attend international school, quite a change and unsettling for our ministry, but definitely the best decision for us as a family.

When the boys were 12 and 14, we moved to another country in SE Asia with a different language and culture. This time I accepted from the beginning that it was the international community that would be their life. My husband and I went to language school again, and they went to an international school. After five years they have friends from all over the world but only speak enough local language to tell directions to a Tuk Tuk (local taxi) driver.  They have not gone to a local church or become friends with the local neighbors. But they do have a supportive school community. They can get around the city independently and are fully engaged in the international church and youth group. I’m more than content with that.

My kids are definitely TCKs, although they don’t like to be labeled as such because, like most of us, they just don’t like being labeled. They are TCKs who connect deepest with other TCKs but they are also their own persons. They have their own experiences of being a TCK and don’t necessarily tick every box on the ‘you know you are a TCK whenlist. They may not have connected very deeply with this culture we live in but that is OK and I really like them.

Sometimes parents of younger children who know my boys and see how they are usually pretty comfortable relating to other kids and adults ask me something like “What are your parenting tips for TCKs?” I don’t think I have anything to offer that is different from what you would read in any quality parenting book. I naturally think my sons are great, but I believe that has more to do with who they are than anything my husband or I did or didn’t do. We made plenty of mistakes. There have been many influences in their lives. If I believe that they are great young people because of my incredible parenting, then I am setting myself up for some difficult days ahead. If they start making decisions I am unhappy about does that mean I really messed up as a parent? We really don’t have that much control. I’m grateful that God leads us all on a journey of grace and healing, our kids included.

Accepting who we are and who my kids are means being willing to not hold too tightly to certain definitions or ideals. It means being open to things being a little fuzzy for a while and different from what we expected, and that can be hard. It means letting our kids be the people they are becoming and letting go of a desire to make them into any kind of extension of ourselves. Yes, we have been in this cross cultural life together as a family and we are all shaped by that, but they are not little missionaries. They are themselves. And I really like them.



My name is Rachael from Australia. Before having children, my husband and I served in Thailand for three years, working with people living with leprosy and other disabilities. After a significant time back in our home country we returned with our two sons for another five years of working with the Thai national church. We later moved to Cambodia and served in team leadership with our mission for five and a half years. Our boys have done Thai national schooling, home schooling, Australian government schooling, and both Christian and secular international schooling. They will soon be university students in Australia and more importantly, they are still talking to us.

Returning Well: Looking Back, Moving Forward



“Re” – meaning “again.” Meaning that you’ve done this before. This is not the first time. Sure, this time will have its differences. But, He has given you the courage to step out and the strength to walk forward before. You’ve sorted your things, packed countless boxes, and weighed your bags before. You’ve said goodbyes, given hugs through tears, watched the ground get smaller underneath you. You’ve landed and felt out of place—even awkward and alone. You’ve transitioned before… maybe not perfectly, but you did gain wisdom and got to where you are now. You can do it again. He will give courage and strength again. And the same skills that you learned to use to transition then—you may find it beneficial to pull them out, dust them off, and apply them in a new way. This is a “re,” and an “again” after all. Look back, and in so doing you may find you have wisdom for moving forward.

“Entry.” You are entering—walking forward into something. A new beginning. A new chapter. A new season. It may be to a place you’ve known before—but now you are different, they are different, and that place is different. So there may be hints of the past and even assumptions that you’ve not changed.  But you know better. Or you may be going someplace new. You may relish the thought of a new beginning or weary at the thought of starting all over.

Whatever the case may be, entering something new means leaving something known. For some that brings a sigh of relief. For others, it brings deep and painful grief. And for many, it brings both—along with a host of other re-entry experiences. What was is no more. And may never be again. What will be is not always entirely certain. And where you belong and what feels like home—complex.


Even though grief, confusion, and complexity swirl around you from leaving your current “known,” part of that “known” comes with you when you leave—it has been woven into the deepest parts of you as it has changed you, shaped you, and made you who you are now. Often it is this “known” that contributes to the difficulty of re-entry but at the same time also creates the opportunity for re-entry to be a pivotal time leading you to genuine thriving in the next season of life. The key to this thriving is an intentional gleaning of treasures from your recent “known.”  Let me explain…

Your life that you have been living cross-culturally, your most recent “known,” is filled with treasures.  Some are obvious. Some are hidden beneath the surface. The joys, the wisdom, the things He taught you, the ways He stretched you, and even the ways He has formed you (or is still forming you) as a pearl through great pain—all these are treasures. All are valuable—maybe for you, maybe for others. . .many times for both. And it is these treasures that can hold the key to your thriving in the season of life after re-entry. It is these treasures that in the hands of the Master can be honed and then applied in the next season to make a real and significant difference—not only leading to your own thriving, but also to the blessing of others.

So, you land back “home.” You unpack, or try to. And you want this time of re-entry to be pivotal—to lead to thriving—you want to find these treasures, “But where do I start?” you wonder. “How do I even recognize these so-called treasures when I am not even sure what they look like, and I can’t even find where I unpacked my chapstick? How do I take time to stop and find these treasures when the life in my passport culture is giving me sensory overload? And once I find these treasures, how do I know what to do with them to make a real and significant difference?”

Almost ten years ago, our Father put a vision on my heart—a vision of a resource that would guide cross-cultural sojourners through an effective debriefing to a dynamic renewal. For five years the seed that He planted laid dormant, until I mentioned to my boss in passing that we should write our own re-entry resource for our staff. He encouraged me to write it. At that time, I wrote what I now call the “draft.” Once it was complete, I knew deep down, He had something more.

Returning WellAnd so nearly every day for the last five years, we have been crafting, honing, field-testing (a grateful shout-out to those of you who were part of that process!), editing, and polishing Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back “Home” After Serving Cross-Culturally. Returning Well is a guidebook that invites you into a guided conversation with your Creator that will reveal and apply invaluable treasures of insight as you reflect on your recent season of cross-cultural service. By using Returning Well, you will discover how this season influenced you, how to re-integrate well, and what moving forward in faith means for you. Returning Well not only provides a place to start but continually ushers you into specific conversations with Him so that you be fully released to uniquely and wholeheartedly love and serve your Creator in the season of life following re-entry. And at last, I am excited to share that Returning Well is now available—more details are below.

For those of you in re-entry or seeing it on your horizon, I fully believe that this season holds immense value for you. He has given you exquisite treasures. Following His lead and relying on His strength, you can do this, we can do this, you’re not alone—let’s get started. Here is an excerpt from Returning Well for you to take a moment to enter into a conversation with Him, guiding you in looking back and in so doing, giving you wisdom in moving forward.

What was the initial stage of your transition to your host culture like? How did it compare to your expectations?

What habits, mindsets, or resources most helped you through this initial stage of transition (e.g., practical transition skills, relationships, attitudes of the heart or mind, specific Truths, etc.)? What made each helpful?

Which of these, or particular aspects of these, might be helpful to you now as you transition back to your primary culture? In what ways might they be helpful?

You can return well. To take the next step and begin your Returning Well journey, visit for information on purchasing Returning Well individually or in bulk.

Readers! We are giving away one copy of Returning Well. Anyone who comments on this post will be entered into the Giveaway. We will be selecting the winner through a computerized program. You have one week to leave a comment. We will announce the winner on Monday, August 31 on our Facebook page and on this blog. Thank you for being a part of this online space!  

Previously published on Velvet Ashes, updated and used with permission.

mcMelissa’s heart was set ablaze for cross-cultural work in high school and it was in college where He honed her sights on member care (and the areas of marriage, family, and transitions in particular).  Ever since then, she’s been traveling the world through her feet, her knees, her phone, and Skype – listening, loving, and serving those who have lived or are living among those not like them.  She is a devoted follower, wife, mom, and an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation.  She eagerly anticipates the culmination of a vision and burden that He gave her to create Returning Well — a guidebook that makes an effective debriefing that leads to a dynamic renewal available to all people in re-entry. Its publication is forthcoming.  You can get in touch with Melissa at her website: or by way of her email:

One Down, Three to Go

I can remember when my wings sprouted and I longed to fly the coop. All I wanted was to be on my own and what I perceived to be free. I took any and every opportunity to do my own thing (for better or worse) and I’m not sure I even blinked when it was actually time to move out of the house and into the dorm.

I don’t remember my mom being sad. Maybe she was ready for me to go! Or maybe she is a more mature person than I and managed to hide herself in the bathroom and cry her eyes out when I couldn’t see. I’ll go for the latter.

Here I am sitting in Kijabe, Kenya, visiting the 3 boys and applying for school for my daughter, and I can’t get it out of my mind; the fact that this is my oldest son’s last mid-term break.


I find myself staring at him, hanging on his words, making up stupid things to talk about just to keep the conversation going, fussing over him and desperate to hug and kiss him and say sweet things that only a mother can say to a son, all the while trying not to embarrass him too much.

Does he even know what it means for him to go? No.

But it is time and he is ready.

I’m pretty sure he will make some stupid mistakes along the way and may or may not tell me about them. He may even meet a girl and fall in love.

There goes my position as the most important woman in his life.

It’s just around the corner. The day I give him a kiss and a hug, say goodbye, tell him to be a good friend and work hard, and a zillion other bits of sage advice which I will try to cram into the last 30 seconds of seeing him. I’m pretty sure I will succeed in teaching him all of life’s lessons in the final minutes of my goodbye. It is a parent’s duty.

I watched him run off to class today and noticed that he is a breathtakingly beautiful man. I like who he has become. He is ready. It is time.

I can imagine drop-off day at the school. In my mind it’s an endless sea of moms sobbing through their goodbyes, heartbroken that their kids did the unexpected thing and grew up. It was kind of like that when we all deposited our children at boarding school. I have history with this.

During the bus ride home the sobbing moms will be acutely aware that they are in the same boat yet fully married to the attitude that no one understands. This is when I’ll stand up and say, “What are you all crying for? You’ll see your kid next weekend.”  (I’ve got a bit of pent up jealous anger for crying sad moms who will be living within driving distance of their college aged kids.)

And this is the true and honest question of mine; can I cope? Can I say goodbye to him full well knowing it could be a year… or more… until I see him again?


When I signed up to be a missionary, I did not sign up for this. I did not count the cost of children growing up and attending university. I did not foresee my son living on a different continent. I was sure that they would remain 10 years old forever, but here we are, just weeks from the day when he first sets foot onto the soil of adulthood, and we’ll be down one with three to go. Praying this thing gets easier before we send off the last, but just as soon as I say that, I remind myself that I never want it to be easy to release our children into adulthood.

I am worried. Worried that he’ll not just do stupid stuff, but do really, really stupid stuff. I’m worried that I’m wrong; that he’s not ready and he will need to come home with a failure ripping big holes into his heart. I’m worried that he’ll forget to call home and leave us desperate to know if he is dead or alive, happy or sad, thriving or … not.

Yah… I know. My spirituality and maturity rating just fell to zero, but there’s nothing rational about a mother’s love for her children. I guess I am no exception.

If you are on the same bus as me, sending your kids off this year, let’s make a deal. I won’t tell you I’ve got it much, much worse because I live in Africa and my son is moving to the U.S., but please, please don’t tell me how rough you have it when yours doesn’t want to come home until Thanksgiving.  I am insanely jealous.  In my better moments, I know this is irrational and surely there are moms who have it unspeakably worse than me, but honestly, it is where I am.

Instead, in a move toward motherhood solidarity, I’ll bring a box of tissues and we’ll share the common thread of missing mommy-hood and all the joys that having our kids at home brought us. We might even come to our senses and remember the countless ways our kids challenged us. (Err… made us seriously consider pediatric tranquilizers as a long-term solution.) We’ll replace the tears with laughter; the kind that makes your cheeks hurt and your sides ache. We’ll have a great old time with a glass of wine and celebrate each other for a job well done… children who not only want to fly the coop, but can FLY.

One down with three to go!


Previously published here.

photo credit


IMG_5505Jennifer Taylor is a married mother of four serving her second missionary assignment in Zambia.  She and her husband work with a local pastor and his wife in a community building effort in an under-served, semi-rural area.  She loves to write, learn, and teach and is a strong advocate for sustainable living.  To learn more about the Taylors, please visit,