All posts by Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of eighteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and as an inner-city ER/trauma nurse for three years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41

Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers”

It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life! Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

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Now, most missionaries don’t dress their kids in navy and white, and rock music isn’t seen as much of a threat. But I sometimes wonder if young parents have exchanged a “solution” from the ’80s and early ’90s for a new “new approach”?

– If we can give our kids enough vision.
– If they can get enough gifting of the Spirit.
– If they can catch a fire for social justice.
– If they can quote John Piper or Bill Johnson (depending on your stream),
– If they can get energetic like Young and Free or Rend Collective….

THEN OUR CHILDREN WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

And the world better watch out, because we’re releasing an army – no, we’re waking up an army and then releasing them, and they will rule the world. For Christ.

This is hyperbole, of course. Sort of.

I feel like I’m watching a replay, where passionate young parents think they’ve found “the solution,” which, when applied correctly, will help their toddlers “tear down this wall!”

I hear parents from both ends of the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum talk like this. I see parents Instagram like this. And it’s not from a bad heart, I know that. It’s from a gut-level desire to see our children succeed. We want them to have God-sized dreams and we want them to chase those dreams until they actualize their potential and save the world. I get it.

But can I sound like an old guy here? OK, well, here goes. THEY ARE JUST KIDS. Remember, they’re three years old. Or seven. Or even thirteen. They don’t need to save the world. They need to learn how much they’re loved. They need to learn about mercy and grace and hard work. They need to learn how to read, and sometimes, they just need to learn how to use the toilet.

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Have we forgotten the simple things? Have we forgotten the power of quiet love and small faithfulness?

Have we forgotten Paul’s advice to work with all your heart, whatever you do?

Have we forgotten John the Baptist’s counsel to the soldiers? “Be content with your pay.” To the tax collectors? “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to.” To the crowds, “Share your food, share your wealth.” Have we forgotten that small lives lived in small places matter too?

Have we forgotten the instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?

You know, maybe those instructions aren’t for everybody at all times, but they at least apply to some people some of the time.

It may be that God will call my child to do simple things well, with faithfulness and honesty. He may want them to grow into men and women of integrity who do banal things, boring things. That does sound to me like something God could do.

Not all are called to be apostles.

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As cross-cultural workers, we may be more naturally inclined to love big, global, world-changing talk. Perhaps that’s how we got here. Our children, however, with their individual callings and giftings, may not resonate with the ideas the same way. Remember, what motivates and inspires you might crush your child.

Be careful you don’t project your desires onto them. Do YOU want to save the world? Fine then. Go forth and do it. Maybe God’s called and gifted you to do it. Awesome! But you’re not them and they’re not you.

 

An Alternative
You know where normal people go to worship? You know where normal people go to learn and grow, slowly, steadily?

The local church.

You want to bless your kids? Be part of a local church. Church should be a place where slow faithfulness and deep relationships are encouraged.

Cultivate in your children a deep love for the local church, wherever that is, and see what happens. Be careful that your family isn’t so holy and set apart that you cut yourself off from local fellowship. I’ve seen fundamentalist-conservative families and hyper-charismatic families do this, flitting from church to church, never finding the perfect fit. Consider honestly assessing your family’s pattern of church involvement.

Hopping around might not be detrimental to you, but your kids may end up lacking the attachments that will really make a difference in the long run.

Again, the old man speaks: settle down! Get used to church being not perfect. Find a local, inadequate, warty Church, and love her. Love your brothers and sisters and let your kids develop some long, slow relationships with real humans. Read Eugene Peterson and Tim Keller. [I hope this goes without saying, but it’s important to clarify: I’m NOT saying you should stay in an abusive, legalistic, graceless church just for the sake of staying. That type of environment could suck the life right out of you, and your kids.]

Now, of course I realize that our overseas communities are largely transient. And I realize that there may not be an identifiable church where you’re at. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s not the case; if we lack a good church fellowship, if our kids are flipped and flopped from here to there and back again, that might be more on us than on our circumstances. Don’t blame the environment or the cross-cultural lifestyle unless that’s actually what’s caused the disconnect.

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May our children play. May they explore and experience life, without needing some grand purpose or some world-altering goal.

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, flowing straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

And when they doubt our love or His, may they remember. May they turn.

And in their search for Home, may they find the One who’s been standing there all along, at the other end of baggage claim, with a beautiful hand-written sign, that says “Welcome Home.”

 

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Further Reading:
I realize this has been heavy. I realize it’s potentially been a downer. So I’d love to dialogue with you about it, if you want. We can visit in the comments below or on Facebook. Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you too. This issue is worth some conversation, for the children’s sake.

In the meantime, here are some articles that explore similar ideas:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

It’s Not All About War

The Idolatry of Missions

Why Be a World Changer [I don’t know this author, but I’m indebted to him for his well-formulated thoughts on this issue]

Out of Office Reply

Some things will just suck the blog right out of you.

Furlough and book editing are apparently two of those things.

Our family spent the summer back in the States, and while we very much enjoyed catching up with friends and family, it was exhausting. You all know that already. We’ve been back less than a week and have enjoyed the company of a plumber, the air con repair guys, inspiring traffic jams, a long power cut, and extroverted mold.

So yeah, my apologies for being a bit “out of the office” when it comes to our community here. Seems a life overseas sometimes gets in the way of A Life Overseas.

Anyways, I also wanted to give you a heads up on Elizabeth’s and my new book, Serving Well: help for the wannabe, newbie, or weary cross-cultural Christian worker. I’m neck deep in editing and will be submitting another draft to the publisher this week. Hopefully it will come out mid-2019.

It is a great honor to parse these words, and our deepest hope is that they would bless and encourage folks for years to come. So would you mind praying? Pray for wisdom in what to cut and what to not cut. Pray that the global church would be blessed through this work.

Pray for the wannabes, the newbies, and the weary ones.

And know that, although I’ve been a bit less communicative, my heart is still here. I am still for you and the work to which you’ve been called. I still serve in a local international church here in Cambodia and I still do pastoral counseling and debriefing.

And I’m still editing and formatting and working on that dang bibliography.

May God’s mercy be with you.

 

All for ONE,
Jonathan T.

Death is right around the corner. So live!

I’ve always thought like this.

I’ve always believed my life was going to be very short. Nearly every time I publish an article or preach a sermon, I think, “Well, I said it, I guess I can die now.”

I don’t have a desire to die, it’s just that I live with a gut-level realization that I could die. Any minute.

It’s not morbid. At least it doesn’t feel morbid. It feels realistic. And frankly, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been amazed at how people can not live this way.

Thoughts of imminent death don’t fill me with dread or motivation. They don’t scare me into action or inaction. You know what they do fill me with? You know what they do generate in me? Gratefulness. God’s got this world, and it’s his job to run it, to save it. I show up as long as I can, obey as best I can, love every one I can, and then leave. Soon, I’ll exit stage right and the whole thing will keep going. The curtain won’t go down. Grace will keep going.

So how do we live with an awareness of our imminent mortality? How should that awareness impact our lives and ministries?

Well, what did Jesus do when he knew his time was short? He spent time with his friends, he washed feet. He said some things. He prayed.

He spent some very “unproductive” time at his favorite hillside garden retreat. He didn’t race the clock or yield to a flurry of last minute ministry activity. He walked. He prayed.

As cross-cultural Christian workers, we often allow the specter of death (ours or others’) to fling us into frenetic activity. But I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about living with an awareness of death. In his case, he was writing to those living under fear of death by atomic bomb, but his broader points apply here too.

He said,

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Living and working cross-culturally is hard, and we often forget the joys of the little things. We need rhythms of rest and Sabbath to restore us, to remind us of how much we need the “sensible and human things.”

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We’re one month into a four-month trip Stateside, and before we got here, Elizabeth and I made a purposeful decision to do the “human things”: we decided to set aside the first month to reconnect with family, to play together, to travel a bit for fun, and to rest. And I’m so glad we did.

This first month back has been precisely what we needed. I’m sleeping better. I’m seeing a counselor to debrief our last term in Cambodia. It’s wonderful. One of my kids noticed the change and said, “You’re different, dad. You are laughing more.” The kid was right.

The job is hard. The ministry is hard, and we all need to remember to slow down, to live.

We all need to work hard and we need to Sabbath hard.

Remember, regular times of rest are evidence of discipline, not laziness.

Regrouping, reconnecting, restoring, recreating, are godly endeavors, after all.

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Well, I would talk more, but I’m busy. I’m busy laughing with my kids, playing in the grass, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering that there is good in the world. Do you need to do that too?

After all, Christ is Risen!

 

 

More resources:

Can humor be a spiritual discipline?

Please Stop Running

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

Despair is Where Hope is Born

Sometimes I get tired of talking about sad things. Sometimes I want to talk about peace and love and joy.

So recently, when I was asked to join two other speakers in presenting on the theme, “Emotions in the Psalms,” I asked if I could do something on the happy side. I’m tired of talking about grief.

But the more I got into it, the more I heard Admiral Ackbar declaring, “It’s a trap!” Turns out you can’t talk about hope without dealing with despair.

I started coming across words like these from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann: “The prophetic poet asserts hope precisely in exile.”

I listened to the amazing new song by Andrew Peterson, Is He Worthy? The song ends with a beautiful proclamation about the Lamb and the Throne and all peoples gathered around, but it starts with these questions and congregational responses:

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

 

And again, Brueggemann:

“Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus…it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously.”

 

We need this reminder.

We need to remember that true hope is not just optimism. True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin.

And it keeps on seeing…all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.

So if you’re not really feeling it, if you’re not feeling happy-clappy-Jesus-is-alive-and-all-my-problems-are-fixed, then take heart, because that’s precisely where hope is born.

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For more exposition on these themes, including a look at the magnificent Psalm 130 and the role of imagination in hope, check out the audio of my message here or via the trotters41 podcast.

 

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Psalm 130 (A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem)

From the depths of despair, O LORD,

I call for your help.

Hear my cry, O Lord.

Pay attention to my prayer.

LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,

who, O Lord, could ever survive?

But you offer forgiveness,

that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the LORD;

yes, I am counting on him.

I have put my hope in his word.

I long for the Lord

more than sentries long for the dawn,

yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the LORD;

for with the LORD there is unfailing love.

His redemption overflows.

He himself will redeem Israel

from every kind of sin.

Check out this collection of our most-read articles

Consider this the Table of Contents for a book on missions, cross-cultural living, grief, TCKs, MKs, missiology, common pitfalls, transition, short-term missions, relating to senders, and a whole lot more.

I figured it was time to compile our most-read posts and present them to you, organized by topic. So here they are, 85 of our most-read posts ever.

My hope is that this article, this Table of Contents, if you will, would serve as one massive resource for those of you who are new to our community, those of you who’ve been hanging out here all along, and even for you, our future reader, who just found our little corner of the internet. Welcome!

Many thanks to the authors who’ve poured into our community, aiming to build and help (and sometimes challenge) the missionary world and the churches that send. If this site has been helpful to you, would you consider sharing this post with your friends and colleagues and missions leaders?

A Life Overseas is loosely led, with a tiny overhead (that covers the costs of the website), and a bunch of volunteer writers and tech folk. Why do we do it? We’re doing this for you! We’re doing this because we like you and we want to see cross-cultural workers (and their families!) thriving and succeeding and belonging. We’re doing this because we believe the Lamb is worthy. We’re doing this because we believe that God’s love reaches beyond our country’s borders, extending to all the places, embracing all the peoples.

I hope you are encouraged. I hope you are challenged. I hope you are reminded that you are not alone. This can be a hard gig, for sure, but you are not alone.

If this is your first time here or your thousandth, stick around, browse around, let us know what you think, how you’ve been helped, and what you’d love to see in the future. We’d absolutely love to hear from you!

 

With much love from Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Jonathan Trotter

 

Third Culture Kids / Missionary Kids
10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked
10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread
To the Parents of Third Culture Kids
Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say
8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas
6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need
An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
10 Ways Teachers Can Support Third Culture Kids
Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

 

Rest / Burnout / Self-Care
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
Ask A Counselor: How in the world can we do self-care when . . . ?
Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
8 Ways for Expats Who Stay to Stay Well

 

Family / Marriage
Missionary Mommy Wars
A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Nine Ways to Save a Marriage
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy
Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage
Dear Single Missionary
I’m a missionary. Can I be a mom too?

 

Cross-cultural living & ministry
3 Kinds of Selfies You Should Never Take
Missionaries are supposed to suffer . . . So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?
Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field
To My Expat Friends
What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo!
The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping
One-Uppers
A Cautionary Tale: Expats & Expets (What not to do)
The Introverted Expat
5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)
The Aim of Language Learning

 

Missiology
Please Don’t Say, “They Are Poor But They’re Happy.”
Let Me Make Your Kid a Buddhist
How to partner with a poor church without screwing everything up
Rice Christians and Fake Conversions
Responding to Beggars
10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
There’s no such thing as the “deserving poor”

 

Theology in Missions
The Idolatry of Missions
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
Rethinking the Christmas Story
But Are You Safe?
When Missionaries Starve
Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 1}
Is Jesus a Liar?

 

Cautions
10 Reasons Not To Become a Missionary
In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries
The Cult of Calling
Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?
Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
When Missionaries Think They Know Everything
Visiting Home Might Not Be Everything You Dreamed
Misogyny in Missions
The Proverbs 32 Man
Stop Waiting for It All to Make Sense

 

Grief & Loss
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
Ask a counselor: how do we process loss and grief?

 

Transition
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping
Dear New Missionary
5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field
Why I Quit My Job as a Missionary to Scrub Toilets
Jet Lag and Heart Lag
When You Start to Pick Your Nose in Public…
You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .
Going Home

 

Short Term Missions
What to Do About Short Term Missions
Stop calling it “Short Term Missions.” Here’s what you should call it instead.
Your Short-Term Trips Have Not Prepared You For Long-Term Mission
The Mess of Short Term Missions

 

Relationships with those who send
A Letter to Christians Living in America from a Christian Living Abroad
Dear Supporter, There’s So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You
Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas
How to Encourage Your Overseas Worker
When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy
Facebook lies and other truths
Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

 

If your favorite article didn’t make the list, put the title and link in the comments section and let us know why you love it. Thanks again for joining us here. Peace to you.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

One thing we get terribly wrong in our response to abuse. And one way to get it right.

Someone alleges abuse.

Someone in power rushes to hush or silence the accuser, sometimes even using Scriptures or “biblical principles” as the gag.

And it’s so wrong.

It’s poison, offered as cure, both to the victim and those close by.

But there’s an idea I’ve been developing that just might be an antidote. At least it has been for some, inoculating them and giving them words. And words are powerful.

I call it The Three Spheres of Offense, and when a church or organization forgets about these three spheres, it’s nearly impossible to respond to allegations of abuse in a healthy way.

Originally, two things made me nervous to write this article: 1) These issues deal with very painful realities, both mine and others, and 2) The ideas in The Three Spheres seem so simplistic.

But here we are.

About a month ago, I made a Facebook Live video on this topic, and whatever uncertainty I had about the importance of this message vanished. The responses and private messages I received were real, they were honest, and they were empowering. So here it is:

Basically, whenever there is abuse, there is one action (or one series of actions), but there are three impacts. In other words, for every offense, there are three distinct entities that endure the offense. Those entities occupy the three spheres.

When a church or an organization forgets these three distinct spheres, it can’t respond to the accuser/survivor correctly.

You see, the entity within each sphere has a God-given right to respond to the perpetrator.

  • The offense against God is sin, and God retains the right to respond to that offense.
  • The offense against the victim is abuse or harm, and the victim has a God-given right to respond.
  • The offense against the community or society is a crime, and society has a God-given right to prosecute and adjudicate.

This is the oft-forgotten sphere.

We believe, as a community, that some behavior is wrong. As a society, we’ve decided that this type of action is harmful to us collectively, and that regardless of what the victim wants, the prosecutor gets to choose to prosecute, and if he or she so chooses, they are a representative of the offended society. That’s how we get “The People of the State of Illinois vs. John Doe.” Or “The United States of America vs. John Doe.”

 

Stop the Robbing
When a church or ministry forgets that the society at large has a right to respond, or when an organization hides information from authorities, or shelters abusers, we slap our communities in the face. We rob them of their right to respond.

Maybe God’s forgiven the perpetrator and they’re now doing fantastic ministry. Great.

Maybe the survivor’s forgiven the perpetrator and has been totally healed of all damage and never even thinks about it. OK, fine.

But that’s not the end of the story: Society still gets to respond. No matter what the church leadership thinks, no matter how “rehabilitated” the abuser seems, no matter how repentant and contrite, society still gets to respond.

And when a community finds out that we’ve hidden abuse, they rightfully despise us, and we look like fools. Because we are fools.

When a church or ministry forgets the third sphere, hiding and “forgiving” unilaterally, it does massive damage to society, which is not a “loving your neighbor” thing to do. At all.

 

Cross-Cultural Considerations
What if you’re living abroad, where reporting abuse is often more complicated? What if the offender might face harsher punishment than he or she would in their passport country? What if you don’t think your host country has an adequate justice system?

These are crucial things to consider.

But we must be very careful here. What are we saying if we hide an American’s crimes from the local government when the crimes were committed in our host country? What if the victims are citizens of our host country?

Are we saying that we believe in following the law so long as we agree with it? Are we denying the local government the right to adjudicate their own way?

We are in danger here of sending a damning and very disrespectful message: “our people” deserve better than “their people.” Would we report similar behavior to local authorities if it were committed by a national?

If we’re not careful, our hubris will show, with damaging results. And once again we must ask: are we acting in a loving, Christ-like manner?

 

While You’re Here
I’ve written some about how my parents responded when I told them that I had been abused. You can read that article here. Here are some of the main points:

1. The idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty is great and helpful and very important in a court of law. It is not so great in churches or organizations.

If the gut response of the church or organization is to defend the accused, if that’s the default setting, there’s a very real risk that the least powerful, most marginalized, most hurting, people will be ignored.

Again, “innocent until proven guilty” is a solid principle for criminal courtrooms, but it really sucks in living rooms and board rooms.

2. False accusations are much less common than true allegations. If you think that the majority of abuse allegations are concocted, you’re wrong.

3. Allegations are often unbelievable. Abusers are often known and usually respected. Unfortunately, that’s how the abuse goes on for so long. It’s not typically the outlying weirdo that everyone avoids, it’s a person with authority and power that people want to love and protect. It’s someone who, if he or she “falls,” would leave a hole in the organization or ministry.

 

More Like Christ
Too often, in a rush to defend the accused, we’re not much like Christ. We need to listen to the accusers, the victims, the survivors.

That does not mean that we throw the accused under the bus. It just means that our posture towards the victim is one of listening and hearing and believing, not disbelief, distance, and doubt.

I pray that our posture would be Christ-like, standing in between the powerful and the abused. Too often, we flip that on its head, landing on the side of the powerful person who already has a voice, who already has the stage. We need to bend down, to be next to the person who is saying, “I’m hurting.”

This is my prayer.

— Jonathan Trotter

 

Resources
Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

Telling my Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

Ask a Counselor: What about child abuse?

 

Here’s the original video where I discussed these ideas:

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs

“My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” – Tanya Crossman

It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.

So what do we do?

What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?

Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.

But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.

I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.

And of course we have to care about their answers.

 

“Smart parents give their kids lots of answers, but wise parents ask their kids lots of questions.” – Unknown

 

Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.

It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.

Oh that we would excel in question-asking! And not because we’re trying to control or manipulate, but because we’re genuinely interested in what people have to say.

Like TCKs.

One teenager who grew up overseas said that she would love to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.”

No two stories are the same. I’ve had teenagers here in Cambodia thank me for NOT being a TCK. I was a bit confused until they explained: “Sometimes, adult TCKs come in here and think they know everything about us because they grew up abroad too. But they have no idea!” Apparently, I earned points for knowing what it was that I didn’t know, which caused me to keep asking questions.

May we all know what it is that we don’t know. And may that knowledge lead us to ask questions.

May we echo the angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 when he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?”

May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we care about where they’ve come from. That we care about their stories; the good stuff and the hard stuff. May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we ALSO care about where they’re going. That we care about their hopes and their dreams. And their fears.

And at the end of the day, may they feel, as Hagar did, seen.

Understood.

Of course, we can’t fully know or understand anyone, but we can keep asking questions, we can keep being interested.

We can keep reading their book, even if it’s as small as a passport.

 

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Tools & Resources

The Key Jar: A fantastic list of questions in PDF format. I screen captured this thing and then just keep it on my phone. Occasionally, when I’m out with one of my kids, I just pull it out and say, “Hey, do you want to do the questions?” Some of my kids like it more than others, but I can tell you that it’s generated TONS of fascinating conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Gottman Card Deck: Although it’s designed for couples (you can easily see why), there are some great questions on here that are totally appropriate for kiddos. If you’re like me, new or unique questions are hard to self-generate. I can do, “How was your day?” but it’s a bit harder to just come up with more involved questions. So I use an app. Not all the time, but sometimes. This app is free, so try it out and see what happens.

If you’re interested in more of the story about Hagar and how asking questions is Christ-like, here’s a link  to a message I preached at an international church this year: The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16. [Links to the podcast on iTunes and mp3 download.]

Tanya Crossman’s article on A Life Overseas: Parallel Lives: TCKs, Parents, and the Culture Gap

A popular list of questions MKs would love to be asked, by Taylor Murray. [MKs and TCKs are not the same, but the majority of these questions seem to apply to both.]

 

Photo by Mitch Harris on Unsplash

The Proverbs 32 Man

Women have had their chapter long enough, and my wife’s written about how she’s pretty much failed at following it. I think it’s time for the men.

It’s time we define the ideal man to whom we should compare all men, from henceforth and forevermore, regardless of context or culture, giftedness or calling, personality or preference. THIS is the perfect man.

Now, this isn’t some sort of legalistic standard we’re going to hold all men to. It’s just sort of a guideline for men to aspire to. It’s good for men to have goals and examples. If a guy feels bad because he isn’t as awesome as the Proverbs 32 Man, he shouldn’t. He should be encouraged and challenged to try harder, to honor God with his manhood. Proverbs 32 can provide a sort of prayer guide for the man who falls short, giving him something to lean into and press into and run hard towards. He should humbly allow this interpretation of perfection to take him deeper than his feet could ever wander.

Who can find the perfect man? A man who’ll actually stop for a bathroom break, or ask for directions?  Where is this man?  Tell me if you know.

He’s a businessman, survivor man, romantic man, warrior-poet man, and a soft man.  He cries when he needs to and holds you when he’s supposed to, and yet he can karate chop the tusks off of a hippo when necessary. (I don’t know that that would ever be necessary, but this is The Message version, ok?)

His wife can trust him to get the right kind of cheese at Target, and NOT stop at McDonald’s on the way home.  He will help the children to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

He is energetic and spunky, especially when accomplishing the honey-do list, but he calms down appropriately when inside.

His hands are busy paying bills and writing checks to pay for all the wool and flax his wife’s hands are busily spinning.

He helps the poor and the needy, but he never lets them get the house dirty or interrupt date night.

He looks good in a suit but is always modest.

He has no fear of winter, for his wardrobe includes plaid flannel for pseudo-adventuring in tightly-controlled national forests and hip coffee spots. (Plaid is required in both places, as is facial hair, which he has plenty of.)

He quilts when he needs to, quoting Chesterton and Keller. He is Luke from Gilmore Girls and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. He is also Aragorn and Thor.

His wife is well-known, but not too well-known.

He makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to people, but only to married people, because, you know, purity.

He is clothed with strength and dignity and a strong sense of humor. When he speaks, he speaks with the wisdom of Solomon and the wit of either Jimmy.

His children stand up when he enters the room and he doesn’t even have to ask them. His wife completely and totally adores him, boasting often about her “smokin’ hot husband.”

He serves on the deacon board, the mission board, the elder board, and he’s even good with real boards. His hands are gentle but firm, and softly calloused.

Many men are awesome, but you are the awesomest. It’s not a competition, but really, if it were, you would be winning.

There are tons of guys in the world, but you, Proverbs 32 man, with your ample character, charisma, and cash, surpass them all.

A Letter to Christians Living in America from a Christian Living Abroad

I hear you.

Some of you are angry and disenfranchised. I’m on Twitter. I know.

You see the church and politicians wedded at the hip, and you throw up.

You feel like the American church has sold her soul and is rejoicing about the bargain.

You’re embarrassed, like a cool kid with an uncool mother, Mac Appsand now you’re asking to be dropped off a couple of blocks away from school.

You’re not quite sure what to do. Do you fight and rant and protest? Do you take the Benedict option? Do you just disappear out the back door?

 

Can I just encourage you to pause long enough to remember? To consider the extent of context and history?

Remember: the Church existed before America.

Remember: the Church will endure long after America.

Remember: the Church is older than Western civilization. 

This is old news, of course, but worthy of remembrance. Because we forget.

It sounds like some people believe that losing the culture war is equivalent to losing all of Christendom. It’s not just hyperbole; people act like this, defending every inch of ground with all their might.

But we must remember: the Church is global, and she is not dying.

She is not getting into bed with politicians of opportunity.

She is strong and she is bold and she remains defiant and glorious in the face of oppression and injustice all around the globe.

So remind yourself. Read the old stuff. Sing the old hymns. Re-discover the old Church, full of embraced mystery and deep sacrament.

And then read the new stuff. Sing the new hymns. Discover the young and vibrant bride of Christ, expanding and exploding all over the world.

The Church has been around a long time, and she will remain, and the very gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

And the American Church? She may seem warty and haggard to you now, but she is young. She is learning. Above all, she is his. She is loved. A washed bride. And he is jealous for her affection.

Remind her.

Love her.

Pray for her.

Lift up your head, and see the glory of the global Church. She is beautiful.

Lift up your head, and look at the One she’s been pointing to all this time: Jesus. He is regal and he is King, and he’s coming back.

His promises are true.

He is faithful.

And he is not blind or deaf or mistaken. He sees things as they are and for what they are. And he continues to love. And he continues to pursue.

And whatever corner of planet Earth you call home, these truths resound and these truths remain:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.” (Luke 2:10-11)

On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

 

The Deeper Magic
“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.'”

Witches never know the deeper magic. They know only winter and death, sorrow and pain. Half-truths all.

But the deeper magic persists, refusing to be overwhelmed. It is older than death and wiser than time. The deeper magic knows that there is more.

There is hope.

And when hope is born (or reborn), the thaw begins. Without the deeper magic of hope, we might stop our story at the table of sadness and end up with an eternal winter and a dead lion. And that truly is horrible.

But the deeper magic must be got at, not through escaping sadness or loss, but through fully embracing it. Through laying down. I don’t think we need less lament, I think we need more lament, more tears.

So I invite you to the paradox of life bittersweet. Life’s not EITHER bitter OR sweet. But it’s also not neither. It’s both.

I invite you to make room for the person who is totally happy and deeply clappy.

I invite you to make room for the person who is frozen in sadness and depressed.

And I invite you to make room for the person who feels all of those things at the same time.

 

Why do we forget?
I sometimes wonder why others don’t see it or feel it. Life is sad. People are hurting. Why aren’t more people sad? But sadness doesn’t sell well, and it doesn’t seem to preach well either. But it’s there. It’s there in our families and ministries. It’s there in our churches and friendships.

Truth be told, it’s much easier to be angry. And so instead of being sad, everyone is angry. All.The.Time. And anger does sell well. (It seems to preach well too.)

Maybe you don’t believe me, maybe you don’t think sadness is there. But do you think that anger is there? That it’s in our families and ministries? That it’s in our churches and our friendships?

As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of anger. But anger’s just a fire alarm, alerting us to the real problem. People don’t have an anger problem. People have a pain problem. And that pain is most often unlabeled, unwelcomed, unprocessed sadness.

Of course, sadness by itself isn’t the solution. (That’d be depressing.) But insofar as sadness prepares us for Hope, it is the solution.

And although I do not like it and I wish it weren’t so, deep sadness is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.

When we’re unwilling to hold space for sadness, when we can’t handle the unwieldy truths of mystery and paradox, we block the very pathway that leads to hope. And hopeless people are dangerous people, willing to hurt themselves and others without measure or limit.

If we stop at sadness, without digging deeper, many terrible things become imminently rational. But the deeper magic shouts out and ushers in what only it can. Hope.

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I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your holy one
 to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
(Psalm 16:8-11)

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The Shock of Magic
The beautiful and shocking deeper magic meant that, in the near future, “the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Hope still means that.

The instrument of pain, the actual place of loss, which seems so strong and immovable, will move. It will be redeemed and transformed by the deeper magic; what has broken us will break, shattered by the love of the Lion.

There is Hope!

The altar will be cracked, and where blood and sadness once flowed, will soon be sunrise and Aslan’s roar.

May we never forget.

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photo credit

Leaving (and Arriving) Well — what to do when your time comes

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Preparing to Leave Well – How do I debrief all of this?
Maybe it was nine months or maybe it was 19 years. In any case, debriefing is your friend.

For starters, find someone to talk with. A safe person who will value your thoughts and feelings about the whole range of your experience. They don’t have to understand missions or life on the field; they just have to be willing to listen, empathize, and listen. (And yes, I said that on purpose.)

Try making two lists: one of what you’ve gained and one of what you’ve lost. And remember, this isn’t algebra; you’re not trying to balance an equation, and the sides don’t have to balance each other out. In fact, they won’t.

Some folks more easily list what they’ve gained. If that’s you, it’s important for you to wrestle with identifying and grappling with losses.

For some, the losses are the prime (or only) thing. If that’s you, it’s important to wrestle with the truth that there is some good in all of it, even if the only good is God.

There is tremendous power in making room for the paradoxical truths that there was good and there was bad and there IS God.

 

Preparing to Leave Well – Am I a Failure?
Maybe some things failed. Maybe things really did hit the fan. But there is a world of difference between stepping back and saying, “Wow, that thing failed,” or even, “I failed to accomplish that goal,” and “I AM A FAILURE!”  If you find yourself lurching towards the “I am a failure” side of things, heads up, ‘cause that’ll destroy you.

You’ll need to deal with that sense of being a failure; if you don’t put that to rest right here and now, it will rise from the dead like Taylor, all the time.

It will blind you to whatever God is calling you to next. Please don’t let it.

Further reading: To the ones who think they’ve failed

 

Preparing to Leave Well – What should I read?
Well, for starters, here are two articles from A Life Overseas writers…

Leaving Happy or Leaving Well? (by Jerry Jones)

“Everyone wants to leave happy but not everyone wants to leave well.  In fact, some people are so committed to leaving happy that they absolutely refuse to leave well.”

Transition – Building a RAFT (by Marilyn Gardner)

This one is my go-to when I’m meeting with a client who’s preparing to transition. Do yourself a favor and read Marilyn’s thoughts about building a RAFT.

 

If you’re willing to invest in a book or two, these are highly recommended…

Returning Well: your guide to thriving back “home” after serving cross-culturally

Perry Bradford, President of Barnabas International, says this about Returning Well: “Thousands transition back to their home cultures each year without any formal debrief to assist them. Returning Well will guide the reader into an in‐depth look at their transition and lead them to discover how to manage the re‐entry process with spiritual and emotional health.”

Looming Transitions: starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service

This one’s from A Life Overseas writer Amy Young, and it’s excellent. Also check out the companion book, Twenty-Two Activities for Families in Transition

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Embrace your inner tourist
Many of us want to hit the ground running. We’ve got a bazillion things to do and people to see and contracts and license renewals and logistics and ieoafioefoaeifnaeoifneoiafjeio…

But you know, much less has to be done immediately than you think. Really.

Instead, what I’d like for you to do, for a time, is just pretend to be a tourist. Let jet lag have its day, and then be a tourist. Maybe forgo the tourist pants and camera straps, but if you want to go all in, go for it.

A tourist is one who “is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.”

Let yourself enjoy your new place, even if it’s your old place; it is your new place now. Go to the parks and museums and restaurants. Go where tourists go, and go with tourist eyes. The place has changed, and so has your vision.

Enjoy the place. Enjoy the people. Give your soul time to breathe.

I always ask clients to list out the stuff that absolutely HAS to be done in the first two weeks. Ask yourself, “Will I die if this doesn’t happen RIGHT AWAY?”

Remember, God’s where you’re at. You didn’t leave him on the field. The Creator’s not stranded in customs. Ask him to show himself in this new-to-you part of his creation, and then give yourself time and space to hear his reply.

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Make movie magic
Some people will care about your stories. Some won’t. Some will act like they care and then their eyes will glaze over like a warm Krispy Kreme donut.

Which is where the movie magic comes in.

I want you to create a movie poster. Come up with a few sentence snapshot of your experience (whether it was 6 months or 6 years). I want you to have something that’s quick and that you can say without having to use a lot of computing power.

This “movie poster” is for the well-meaning folks who pass you in the church lobby and say, “How was your trip?” I want you to have something to say to them besides, “YOU MEAN MY LIFE?!! YOU MEAN HOW WAS THE LAST DECADE OF MY LIFE?!!!”

For those folks, give them the movie poster. Maybe it’ll intrigue them and maybe at some point they’ll want to hear more of the story. But if they don’t, whatever.

Then, I want you to create a movie trailer. Create a two or three minute synopsis of some of the important points. Tell some of the story, but don’t reveal it all. Keep in mind that a movie trailer isn’t designed to tell the whole story, but to help people decide whether or not they want to invest in the full-length feature film.

Some will watch the trailer, they’ll hear your three-minute story, and be satisfied. They’ll say, “Wow, that looks cool. I’m never going to see that.” And of course, some will say, “Hmm, that actually looks really interesting. When is it showing?”

And then create the feature film. The movie.

This is your story, shared with the folks who really want to hear it. These are your people.

Not everyone will want to see your movie. And that’s ok.

Not everyone will like your movie. That’s ok too.

You weren’t making it for them anyways.

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Grieve again (and again and again)
Grieving big losses is measured more in years than months. So when you’ve been back for 5 weeks and hit a speed bump, please don’t be mad at yourself and don’t you dare think, “I should be over this by now!” Um, just no. Even if you move back to the same town where you grew up, you’ve changed and the town’s changed and this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Big losses take more like two years to grieve, not two months.

Further reading: How do we process loss and grief?

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Identify your needs
This was originally written about cross-cultural living, but it applies here too:

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Can I mitigate it, or do I need to sacrifice it? These concepts continue to ring off the walls of my counseling room, and I think transitioners need them too.

Read more here: The One Question We Must Ask

 

An Arrival Benediction
Here’s my prayer for you, a prayer for the middle spaces:

May you arrive more whole than when you departed, though the intervening time may have been splintering and hard.

May you arrive with more hope than when you left, though you’ve been in hopeless situations more often than you thought possible.

Perhaps you’ll arrive empty, but may those you’ve left behind (there and here), fill you with the love of the Father, aged and distilled through time and perhaps darkness.

May you arrive with peace, knowing in your gut that he is Good, that he is Faithful, and that he isn’t finished with you (or with them).

May you find rest, safe in the arms of love, behind the Captain of the Lord of Hosts, your Healer.

And may you hear him ask you the same question he asked a confused and lonely and traveling Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” At the end of the day, may you proclaim along with Hagar, “You are the God who sees me.”

And after your arrival,
May you keep your eyes fixed on the horizon,
Awaiting the day of all days,
When the sky will split,
The darkness flee, and
He will, finally and irrevocably,
Arrive.

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A Note from the Leadership Team

May of 2013, A Life Overseas co-founder Laura Parker wrote an article celebrating the site’s six-month anniversary and its first 100 posts. At that time, our Facebook community numbered about 800 folks.

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all for ONE,

Jonathan Trotter, for the Leadership Team