5 Ways to Cope When Your Incarnational Ministry Becomes Remote

Over a decade ago we joined an organization whose primary goal was Bible translation and church planting with a focus on incarnational ministry. 

We did national language in a large city for three years before God nudged us to step out in faith and make a big move to a more rural area where we could live among the people group we had been led to serve in Bible translation. 

This move was fraught with challenges and change. No one within our organization had ever moved out to the rural areas of our country before. We’d be the first to attempt it. Could we do it?

We had to figure out a visa situation (and once we did, we had to leave the country every 70 days to renew it). We had to find housing. We had to travel with our three very young children (ages 4, 2, and baby at the time). We knew absolutely no one in the area to help us. I was also pregnant with baby number four. It was… a lot. 

But God. We felt a call to go, and we went. It was difficult. And God showed up through each difficulty. My husband met just the right people who helped set up a perfect visa situation for us. We made some connections. We thought the city was livable and doable. Even my little four-year-old’s prayers were answered for a “sparkly house,” which we had initially told her might not happen because houses in our country of service were never “sparkly.” 

After a month of trial and difficulty, we had a visa, a house, a few connections, and hope that God had called us to serve incarnationally in this place we could grow to love. We felt hope and peace. 

God grew our community and ministry. Our home became the center of our lives and our incarnational ministry. We had no privacy; but we did have friends, neighbors, and national co-laborers who saw us living out our Christian faith day in and day out. 

We loved our simple, yet hard life. We ate fresh food from the market, which I had to buy daily. We struggled with lack of consistent electricity and mosquito-borne illnesses. We struggled with isolation, loneliness, and a lack of Christian community.

Yet we felt called to this life of incarnational ministry, and the sacrifices seemed worth it. We felt God was with us, was for us, and had planned this life for us. 

Then covid hit. We decided to stay in our home in our country of service, come what may. Isolation became even more of a reality. Opportunities for incarnational ministry waned. Ministry goals were put on hold.

We started becoming disconnected even from our national co-laborers who were either home in their villages or confined to work from their homes. It was a very difficult time for our family and the life of our ministry. We couldn’t wait for the covid restrictions to end. 

And then, an even greater disaster struck: a military coup. The instability and violence that followed prompted our organization to ask us to leave. We left our home in 24 hours with two suitcases for our entire family, which had grown to eight. 

We had lived in our rural area for five years. We had no time to say proper goodbyes or give any of us proper closure. We had no choice and no warning. Our incarnational ministry in the land and country we loved was over. 

That was in 2021. We’ve recently commemorated the third year anniversary of the military coup that changed our lives forever. We haven’t stopped our work; the ministry has continued in our absence. But it isn’t the same. 

Despite our organization’s focus on incarnational ministry, despite our ministry plans and long-term goals, despite what we wish would have happened, we haven’t been able to go back and live among the people we desire to serve. 

And we aren’t alone. We’ve met so many people over the last three years in our same situation and predicament. Covid. Visa issues. Political instability. War. Evacuation. Loss.

Whatever has caused your ministry disruption over the last few years, I pray that these five reminders will help you adjust your expectations and continue to move forward, even though things have not turned out how you envisioned. 

1. Grieve what you’ve lost.
Take time to lament to God why you’re mad, frustrated, angry, sad, disappointed, or heartbroken that what you wanted didn’t happen. Write a poem. Journal. Pray with a friend. Confess your feelings in a small group. Get counseling. Write a list of all the things you no longer have. Then, loop through that grieving process again (and again) until you feel you have unstacked all those hard emotions and shared them with God and with good listeners. 

2. Accept the new reality.
This step was perhaps the hardest for me. It is hard to let go of one dream to live in a new reality you weren’t planning on. But it is necessary to both grieve what you’ve lost and then move forward in accepting the new reality and making the most of it. Things aren’t what you planned or what you wanted, but can you accept that your life isn’t over and that God can still use you in a new way during a new season? 

3. Make prayer your key strategy.
Make your dependence on God the forefront of your ministry and personal goals. God knows the situation that led to your ministry changing, and he knows you intimately. He cares about the people you serve and the work you are doing. Petition God in prayer to lead you, your team, and your ministry.

Remember that all your work depends on the grace of God, and all your “success” depends on God calling people to himself. God’s Holy Spirit could only come after Jesus ascended to heaven. God’s Spirit will continue to work even after you’ve had to leave.

4. Enlist help for #3.
As you make prayer your ministry strategy, share your detailed needs with your family, churches, and supporters. We’ve found it helpful to get supporters to commit to pray one day each month for you and your ministry and coworkers rather than just include prayer requests in newsletters (although that is good too).

You can ask people to “adopt” a day between 1 and 31 and ask them to pray and send a brief message on that day each month. It adds daily prayer support to your ministry and adds accountability. We’ve also created monthly prayer guides focusing on a specific aspect of ministry, shared prayer requests in a closed social media group, sent out emails and newsletters, and shared specific personal prayer needs with specific people.

5. Keep hope that God will turn evil into good for His Kingdom.
It’s easy to give up and become cynical about visa problems, government politics, war, and conflict. It’s easy to abandon the goals for your work and ministry as impossible because of a situation that is out of your control. Resist that temptation. Hold on to hope that God has always used evil for His good and for the expansion of His Kingdom. 

Your role and work may have changed, your location may have changed, your ministry may look different than you wanted it to, but God is still working. He is still with you and your national coworkers. He still loves you, and He still loves the people you serve. 

So hold onto hope. Keep praying, and keep working. Remember that God’s Spirit makes up for our lack. Trust that God’s Word will go where we cannot. And keep believing that God’s light will shine in the darkness.

5 Ways to Accept Impermanence and Create Roots Anyway

The one-year lease just came up on our house here in Southeast Asia. We love this house. My anxiety set in: Will we get to rent another year? Will the rent go up? How long can this place be “home?”

The cross-cultural life is full of impermanence. I avoid buying my kids big stuffed animals because I know they won’t fit in the suitcases when we leave. I avoid buying too many sets of clothes because a week’s worth is all that will fit in a suitcase anyway. I avoid buying furniture besides the bare minimum or much of any household or seasonal decorations because this house/place/location isn’t forever. We were reluctant to get a pet for the same reasons – though in the end we did. 

I know someday we’ll be moving on. This isn’t our passport country. Maybe we won’t get our visas next year. Maybe the government will be unfriendly to foreigners. Maybe a crisis will bring us back to America, or maybe we’ll move because of our kids’ educational or emotional needs. Maybe we’ll get sick and need better medical care, or maybe our funding just won’t come in. Saying “maybe” in this impermanent life is both second nature and a constant opportunity to worry.

Permanence feels like security, and in Western culture, security is something that we crave, idealize, sacrifice to, and worship. In my book about American idols, security is seated near the top. Security in our house, our job, our relationships, our finances, our safety makes us feel in control. (Incidentally, I believe control is the American idol at the very top.)

I serve in a Buddhist context. One of the most important ideas in Buddhism is the idea of impermanence. Buddhists believe we can avoid suffering by being unattached to life. Unattached to physical things, but also unattached from relationships, family, and love. The goal is to empty yourself of desire until you can reach enlightenment. You can follow in the way of Buddha and leave your family, become a monk, unattached and unsecure, relying on your daily ration of rice given each morning by the generous neighbors surrounding the pagoda in your community. Impermanence is a central tenet of Buddhism. 

We aren’t Buddhists. We follow Jesus Christ. But on some points, Buddhism and Christianity can have some common ground. Minimalism is good for the Christian. We see Jesus choose that path and encourage His followers to walk in His steps. It is good to live a simple life that is not focused on the accumulation of things to fill the emptiness in our lives. As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” 

One of the central claims of Jesus is that “to save your life, you must lose it.” As believers, we hope and believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Just as He rose again, we will rise again to a permanent, eternal life in a new heaven and new earth. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” we sing together with vigor. But our daily lives often don’t reflect this impermanent reality. 

For Christians, minimalism and impermanence help us to more readily follow Jesus and focus on our eternal life after death. But what about feeling planted and grounded in a community and a culture? What about creating healthy spaces for our TCKs to grow and develop? What about our Christian ideals to encourage the connections to community, love, and family? 

How can we develop healthy family patterns and routines that give us stability and ground our kids in an ever-changing impermanent environment filled with instability, loss, and a constant supply of “maybes”? 

Here are five practices our family has found to be helpful. 

Accept that change is a part of normal. 

Impermanence is part of life, whether living overseas or in your passport country. Our friends who have never lived cross-culturally can and do understand unexpected change that leads to loss. We may have experienced different types of losses, but we have a lot in common, too. Security in permanence is an illusion, no matter where we live.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude is consistently linked to greater happiness and more positive emotions in modern psychology. We are commanded to show gratitude to God, but it should also be a natural overflow of our Christian life. Start a gratitude practice of actually writing down what you are thankful for each day, especially when you are in a season of transition or when you are struggling to accept the changes in life. 

Develop family rituals and routines that you can take with you wherever you go. 

Get creative and be simple. Start routines that can easily transfer with you regardless of location or special supplies. Maybe you can do your daily Bible story/snack time every afternoon. Or you can say the Lord’s Prayer together every night before bed. Make holiday traditions transferable, too. We “trick or treat” to each door in our house on Halloween and hand out candy, and we hang up a paper and cardboard Season’s Tree in our dining room to decorate for each season. 

Do what works for your family, but do something! Find simple and sustainable traditions and routines that can ground your family and create continuity between locations. Seek out education, help, and resources for your TCKs. The time, money, and energy are worth the investment for their future. Help them process and mourn their grief when things change.

I’ve developed a free processing tool that goes along with my new children’s book, When We Called Myanmar Home. There are also many other activities and processing tools available from varied sources. Ask your community or organization for recommendations and help. 

Don’t isolate yourself from love and connection, even when those friendships or family members may not be here forever.

Turn to others for comfort and support. Share and mourn the impermanent losses together with others who can listen and understand. Talk about your desire for security, home, and physical objects with others. Keep your heart soft. Stay connected with key relationships in your life, and keep investing in new relationships. 

Accept impermanence as a promise of God, rather than a threat to your security. 

Remind yourself again that everyone’s lives are impermanent and sometimes unpredictable. Security and control are Western cultural idols, and God won’t share His glory. He will knock the idols down on their faces. 

God promises both “peace that passes understanding” and that “in this world you will have troubles, but I have overcome the world.” Each day has enough worry of its own, and Jesus has come to “give us life to the full.” 

Our circumstances, location, and relationships may change, but God’s promises are true and lasting. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

If you, like me, struggle at times to feel secure in the promises of God to be your security in an ever-changing world, start a “Promises of God” journal, writing down His promises to you as you read them in Scripture or as He speaks to your heart in prayer. Read through the journal when you are struggling to see God’s promises fulfilled in your current circumstance. Lament to God and share your feelings with Him. He will be faithful to you. 

We can be healthy, and we can have healthy families even as we live and serve in a world of impermanence and uncertainty. Colossians 2:6-7 tells us, “Just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.” We can be rooted in Him wherever we go. 

God created this world to be impermanent, but our eternal life on the new heaven and new earth will last forever. He is “the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end . . . the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” We can be rooted in our relationships, in our routines and traditions, in our gratitude, in the promises of God, and in Christ himself, the one who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” 

When the Rains Don’t Stop

I grew up in rural America where four very distinct seasons dominated the rhythms of my family’s farming life. But now, even after 10 plus years of living in Southeast Asia, the long monsoon season can still catch me off guard.

While summer in America is filled with vacations and beach trips, fireworks and cookouts, camps and church VBS, the “summer months” here look much different due to the monsoon rainy season. As a reference point, yearly precipitation in Southeast Asia is over four times the average precipitation in rural America. These rains bring relief from the scorching temperatures of the hot and dry season but also many unwanted challenges.

Rainy season in Southeast Asia is our family’s equivalent to a winter hibernation. I rarely leave our house with our many children, and the swarms of dengue- and disease-carrying mosquitoes prevent me from spending much time outside.

A certain seasonal depression tends to set in for me. The rains begin fairly slowly at the end of May or beginning of June. But by the end of July and into August, the torrents feel unceasing. It rains and rains and rains. Every day for days on end, hardly pausing long enough for my mind to remember that the rains have ever stopped.

The torrents beat down on the metal roof of our house with a deafening roar. Floods come to some neighborhoods, and roads washout on mountain passes, disrupting travel and trade. Mudslides can take the lives of whole villages.

Our own house is safe from the extreme dangers. It is built well with a firm foundation, but the incessant day after day rains still take their toll on our physical and mental health. Mold seems to grow on everything, making cleaning and especially laundry challenging. We hang our clothes in a hallway with a fan blowing, finally folding it after a couple days when we realize they aren’t going to get any drier. In years past we’ve ironed every piece of our clothing just to get the mold and wetness out.

Ants try to escape the floods in the yard and invade our house in droves. They are efficient workers, dragging their eggs with them and making themselves at home almost anywhere in just a few hours. What is cleaned today will not stay clean tomorrow, making me feel trapped in a cycle of never-ending work and to-do lists. No matter how much I accomplish today, it will never be enough.

Rainy season illnesses seem to be both physical and spiritual in nature. Our physical bodies are attacked with illness as our spiritual fortitude and commitments are tested and purified. In years past, we contracted the mosquito-borne dengue fever and chikungunya, which were both terrible, frightening, and physically and spiritually exhausting. This year we eked by with random fevers and stomach bugs until one of our kids contracted a skin infection that made her unable to walk normally and required over a month of strong antibiotics.

Amid the stupor of fevers and out-of-whack family routines, time passes in a blur of daily survival. I move from one urgent task to the next, never knowing when it will end or when the next crisis will arrive.

Somewhere in the midst of the rainy season weariness each year, I start to wonder if the world will ever dry out again. If the torrents of stress and illness, fatigue and depression, discouragement and trials of faith will ever have a reprieve. Will my clothes ever dry? Will the mold ever go away? Will we ever be healthy again? Will I ever feel the warmth of the bright sun on my skin?

Will I ever feel the blessings of God pouring down again, or will I continually be tested by the never-ending, pounding storms of life?

Will the rains ever stop?

Just when I’m about to give in to the ants and the mold, to the depression and the sickness, to the hopelessness and discouragement, somehow every year, the sun shines again, and little by little health and hope return.

So I’m waiting and hoping and holding on. Maybe soon I’ll see the rainbow after the storm.

 

Does Your TCK Know Their Own Story?

 

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves make us who we are. The stories we tell others about ourselves make us known and understood.

We must know our own story so we understand the world and how we fit into it. And we must know our story so we can share and connect our story with others.

Telling Our Family Story

Our family’s story changed suddenly when a military coup required us to leave our home. There were so many varied losses: we left our home in 24 hours with just two suitcases for our family of eight. But the greatest loss for our children was the complete loss of all that was normal to them.

They are young, and they didn’t understand what the political situation had to do with them or with us leaving our home. They needed to process not just a singular event on our family timeline, but the hundreds of little things from our daily norm that we lost when we were forced to move away.

I wrote a picture book to show our simple daily rhythms and the familiar normal that was shattered first by the pandemic, then the military coup, and the deep mourning of our old life that followed.

It is a book of remembering what was and what no longer is, what parts have since been healed, and what parts will always ache.

Connecting Our Story to the Stories of Other TCK Families

When We Called Myanmar Home is our own personal family story, but it is a story that can connect with the stories of other families too. It is designed to help Third Culture Kids process their cross-cultural life and share their own stories of joy and loss as they reflect on the question, “Where is home?”

Remembering past experiences together as a family is an emotional journey. But it is in remembering both the joys and the pains of the past where we can process our life experiences, create our unique family narrative, and move into a space of healing and renewed hope. This book helps create the space for those conversations and that healing to happen.

Family narratives help us process painful experiences and celebrate joyful ones. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are form our identity, create a healthy self-concept, and give us a sense of continuity and resilience. Family narratives cultivate a healthy soil for our children to plant roots again when they’ve been pulled up. These stories help us mourn all that we no longer have and at the same time help us remember all that we still do.

At the end of the book is a TCK Guide to help facilitate the processing of the “daily normal” that is lost for young children when they move between cultures. Remembering both the joy and the grief of what was lost gives voice to the feelings of the child.

The guide can be used by a loving parent or caring adult who is doing a debrief with a child. A free download of the processing chart is available on my website.

Connecting Our Story to Our Passport Culture

When We Called Myanmar Home is also designed to help kids from our passport culture ponder what life is like as a kid raised in a culture very different from their own. One challenge we have as cross-cultural workers is effectively communicating our story to our friends, family, and supporters.

This short book uses vivid watercolor pictures, sensory descriptions, and poetic language to evoke an emotional response and help people better empathize with our family story. This narrative will help people in our passport culture expand their worldview and see how experiences in life can be very similar and very different at the same time.

As we live and minister cross-culturally, our family culture is neither exactly like our passport culture nor exactly like our host culture. It is our own unique family culture representing what is valuable, meaningful, and most significant to us.

When We Called Myanmar Home is uniquely our family story, but it will create a space for you to tell your family narrative, too.

May it be a blessing to you, your Third Culture Kids, and all those who love you and your Third Culture Kids. May it show you a path forward as you process your own story, share your joys, and mourn your losses – for you are never alone on this Kingdom journey. We have a Father who walks with each of us, who understands loss and who can hold everything we bring to Him. May we find in Him our true home.

 

When We Called Myanmar Home is available now on Amazon.

The Unchurched Missionary

Some in the West have defined the “unchurched” as people who are Christians but who are not connected with a church.

Sometimes I feel like I’m an unchurched missionary.

Our mission organization has a specific focus: fill the gaps in the Bible translation movement to reach the Bibleless and church-less people groups around the world. These are the last places that the Gospel has not yet reached. We set out to provide Scripture access to those without, to reach the unreached and to church the unchurched. It’s inspiring and exciting and daunting. 

But in going to these dark and lonely places with just our immediate family or a very small team, we can start to feel out of reach and unchurched ourselves. 

Perhaps you are in the same situation. Do you have a Christian community where you belong

Is there a pew with your name on it and a hand extended to greet you with the peace of Christ? Do you have a place where you can ask for prayers and confess sin? Do you have people who will bring you food when you are sick or send you a note when you’ve been absent for too many weeks? 

Or maybe you worship at a home church where you are the Sunday school teacher, worship leader, pray-er, and preacher. Do you long for a larger church where you are part of the body instead of being expected to fulfill all the roles of every part? 

Or maybe you are currently in your home country, but you also feel unchurched. 

You go to church – or to a different church – every week, but you don’t feel part of the church. Some people may hold you on a pedestal because you are the “missionary,” and some people may even know your name or the names of your kids, but it doesn’t feel like a community you belong to, at least not anymore. After spending significant time overseas, for many cross cultural workers, attending church in your home culture can be one of the more difficult aspects of reverse culture shock. 

For my young TCKs, it is really difficult for them to feel like they belong. Overseas when we attend a church, my husband and I can understand enough to follow along and participate, even when the practices are different from what we are used to. But our kids aren’t fluent in the local language, and the cultural practices are often jarring to them. The transitory life of cross-cultural living and the need to raise support and visit new people and new places can make TCKs feel unchurched even when they are in their passport country. What church do they belong to? Where are they seen and remembered as a member? 

For most of the last 10 years, we’ve met in our home as a family on Sundays, inviting our friends who are not yet Christians to join us. Our family times of worship are tender and sweet. It is beautiful to sit together singing a hymn or taking communion together as a family. I love hearing our little two- or three-year-old pray, and I love hearing our insightful ten-year-old ask a great question. Because of our isolation, we have developed strong family spiritual habits. 

But I miss church. 

I miss community and fellowship. I miss Bible classes that I’m not teaching. I even miss bad lobby coffee and too-much-food potlucks. I miss hugs from old ladies who tell me they’re praying for me and the knowing glances from other moms wrangling their two-year-olds in the back. 

But when I’m in my home country, I find that I still miss church. I miss feeling deeply connected to just one place rather than being spread out thin. I miss being seen not as someone coming to ask for money but as just another sheep in the flock. 

Going to the ends of the earth to translate scripture and bring the peace of God to a people group who hasn’t yet encountered Jesus is beautiful and holy work. But it’s lonely and isolating and changes us in ways that make it impossible to go back home the same, which can make home seem pretty lonely and isolating, too.

Maybe you are in a place and a season of life where you are really missing feeling deeply connected with a church, too. 

If so, here are five things that have not taken away the difficulty, but have helped me and my family when we start to feel disconnected and unchurched. 

  1. Remember you aren’t alone (even when you feel like it). 

The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is so relatable to us cross cultural workers, isn’t it? We can pray to God, “I have had enough Lord,” and feel at times like we are completely alone as we serve God. We can be exhausted and need physical rest. We need to know God hears us and has not left us. We need God’s “gentle whisper” to remind us that He is with us and that we are not the only ones serving Him. God is with us, and we are not alone. He has many servants who are serving Him diligently. This is true around the world and in your home country. 

  1. Stay connected to spiritual disciplines (even when you don’t feel like it). 

When our “job” is our ministry, it is even more important to stay connected to the Vine in our private, personal lives. Reading scripture, praying, fasting, confessing, giving, and practicing Sabbath rest are spiritual disciplines that can sustain us during the dry, isolating seasons and also the very demanding seasons of home assignments. Spiritual disciplines create space in our lives for God to show up and teach our hearts. We don’t always feel like doing these disciplines, but we do them as a submission to Christ, training ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). If you have TCKs, creating rhythm and space in your life for spiritual disciplines (not just in your ministry activities or fundraising activities outside the home) is incredibly important for fostering authenticity in your Christian life.  

  1. Create in-person community where you are with the resources you have (even if that means your “church” is made up of people who aren’t believers yet).

If you are feeling alone, look around you and identify the people who are already part of your life. How can you strengthen these relationships and create a true community? Are you sharing your needs or only meeting their needs? What needs do you have that this community could fill? How can you make the relationship give and take rather than just you giving and serving? When we didn’t have a group of Christians to meet with, we created a community from our friends, most of whom were still not yet Christians. This little home church group became our best friends and the people we called on when we needed help. We supported each other through griefs, trials, and difficulty. 

  1. Stay connected with key people in your home country or home church (even when that means your “church” is really far away). 

With the Internet, it seems like it should be easy to stay connected to our home country friends, family, and churches. However, just because it is easily accessible doesn’t mean connection is easy to maintain. As time passes, it is easy to lose touch. People in your home country may be very busy, and you may be very busy or in a difficult time zone for connection. So, identify key people in your home church who seem to genuinely want to encourage you. Make an effort to send them personal messages beyond what you send out in a newsletter or post on social media, and make sure to encourage them and ask about their life, too. 

Watch the worship service from your home church online. During covid many churches began streaming their worship times and Bible classes. Allow your TCKs to maintain ties to your home church and special friends, too, by arranging online messages and meetups for younger kids and encouraging older kids to stay connected through safe online communication. 

  1. Stay connected to online communities like A Life Overseas (even when you don’t know the people in “real life”). 

I’m so thankful for the encouragement I’ve received from ALO, social media groups, and godly individuals I’ve met online but have never met in “real life.” Our kids are also part of a TCK group within our organization composed of kids all over the world. They meet over Zoom to have silly parties, talk about American culture, have Bible study, and be reminded that there are other kids just like them.

Online communities can sometimes get a bad rap because it “isn’t real life,” but these safe places can offer perspective and encouragement and create connections that can be a huge blessing when facing isolating situations. (If you’ve been blessed by the ministry of A Life Overseas, consider donating to keep the site running.)

God created us to live in community, but finding community as a global worker can be hard. Sometimes we missionaries feel unchurched ourselves.

So as we thank God for the community we do have, whether in our host country or our home country, may we look to God to meet our needs and the needs of our TCKs. May we trust Him to bring people into our lives who will provide community, whatever that looks like in the season we’re in. And may we look to Him always for the reminder that we never walk alone.

Home Hunting

Since 2020, our family has moved all of our belongings five times to five different houses, stayed in too many hotels to count, and slept on the couches, beds, and floors of all our closest relatives.

We’ve been looking for “home” in one way or another for the last two years. Our TCKs often ask questions like “Which home do you mean?” or “When can we go home?” or “Where are we living again?”

We are orderly, scheduled people, and these many moves were not part of our goal-setting, high-reaching, productivity book-reading ministry plans.

As the Proverb says: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

I know many of us are tired of talking about how covid changed things. But our family’s many moves weren’t just the result of the global pandemic.

Despite covid, we managed to stay in our country of service in our “sparkly house” throughout all of 2020. We loved our sparkly house. It was a huge answer to prayer and has a story of its own. We wanted to stay in that house, serve our people, and participate in their sufferings alongside them.

The strict covid rules, however, meant that our whole family could never leave the house at once. We ended up taking our kids on “dates” to the only grocery store in town one by one. We worked creatively to make home the most fun we could, despite no grass or yard and only a small cement pad on a dusty, busy street to get “fresh” air. We started to look earnestly for a new home with more outside space for our kids.

At the very beginning of 2021, we found a house with a large dirt yard and fruit trees. We were so thankful to find a home that could be a haven for our six children!

My newest baby was just two weeks old when we packed up everything and moved. The kids mourned the loss of their favorite “sparkly” house, but we renamed the new house the “new sparkly house,” and life seemed under our control once again. We could again put down roots and make our plans.

Then on February 1, 2021, we woke up to the news that a greedy military leader, citing election fraud, had imprisoned the rightfully-elected leaders. He was taking over, and the country was slipping into chaos and civil war.

After a few weeks of escalation, violence near our home, and the evacuation of US Embassy staff, our organization made the difficult call for us to evacuate as well. Less than 24 hours later we left our home with only two suitcases.

Our six-week-old baby still didn’t have a birth certificate or passport due to the covid restrictions that had prevented us from traveling to the closest US Embassy.

Three days of little food, a lot of praying, multiple embassy trips, covid tests for the whole family, and God’s presence being our only comfort in the big city, and we were on a flight back “home” to America. Except America didn’t feel like home.

Evacuation was not part of our ministry plans. How could we serve our people and suffer with them if we were a world away?

In America, we rented an apartment near our organization’s headquarters for six months. It was small and cramped, but there was a great tree to climb out front, and so it became our “climbing tree house.” Six months came and went, and we still weren’t sure what we should do. Finally, we decided to continue waiting in uncertainty nearer to our supporting church, so we bought a house in that area, sight unseen.

I was still struggling to feel at home in America, but at least I could have a place to call my own while I “waited to go back.” We bought the house after watching a three-minute video a realtor sent us. It almost didn’t matter to us what the house looked like; as long as we could buy it and own it, we could make it our home and develop a new plan. But how long would this temporary plan last? How long would we have to wait to go back? Could we ever go back?

Somewhere in all that transition and travel, my father died, and I felt like I was losing my childhood home and my current home all at once.

I am a planner, and none of this was in my plans. I am a scheduled, predictable person, and this was all unexpected, upsetting, and out of control.

I am also a sentimental collector of personal relics. I want to hold on to my past by holding on to the things that remind me of the past. I have almost nothing from our Asian home to hold on to. I have almost none of my father’s possessions to hold on to. Home was slipping through my fingertips.

I didn’t want to grieve the loss of my identity, the loss of my home, the loss of my father, all in the span of a few months. I didn’t want to wait indefinitely for things to change, for things to heal. I didn’t want to be stuck in America with nothing to do besides pray. I wanted to live incarnationally alongside our people.

It wasn’t just my plans that felt unproductive. I felt unproductive. I felt useless. I felt misplaced. I felt lost. A disillusioning fog set in and covered my life in total grief.

I started believing lies. If I didn’t have a home, I couldn’t feel at home. I couldn’t make a home. I couldn’t rest in the peace of a home. Maybe I would never fit in or be welcome anywhere. Maybe I would never have a home and never feel at peace again.

Satan’s lies cut deep, and it took time to uncover them, unpack them, and uproot them from my heart. Through the power of God and the avenue of healing prayer, I began to see the lies and let go of control and resentment, grief and loss.

I began to heal, and the fog began to lift.

I opened my heart to serving people who were right in front of me, and I kept praying for our friends who were far away. I allowed others to serve me in my grief and to see the hurt I was experiencing. I mourned. I grieved. I repented. I prayed.

I began to have hope again. I began to have peace again. I began to see that I could feel at home and make a home wherever God called me and whatever unfolded.

And then something amazing happened: we were able to make decisions and move forward.

My husband and I, after prayer and much discussion, decided that although we could not return to our host country because of the military coup, we could continue our ministry from a neighboring country in Southeast Asia.

Opportunities seemed to open up. We finally had a trajectory again.

And this is when our purchased home, unnamed for nearly a year, got the name of the “smiley-love house” by our kids. Hope is a powerful thing.

Fast forward to now. We’ve recently arrived back in Southeast Asia. We moved not knowing anyone in this city. We lived in hotels for two weeks while we were finding a home. It’s taken courage and perseverance. It’s taken God’s mercy and the prayers of many, many people.

But God did answer our prayers, and He has been with us. We had a tangible sense of His peace guiding us. We have found a home, our “nature house.” It is a small house with a giant yard that our kids can play in, an amazing answer to our kids’ many prayers for a house with “nature.”

I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that God has provided us with a home here. But it isn’t this physical home that is His greatest gift: His greatest gift is His presence with me, telling me that I am home because I am with Him.

In my Father’s house, there will always be a place for me. No matter where I go or what happens to me along the journey, He will always be there, eager and waiting for me to return to Him. In His home I am always welcome. He is running to meet me, and His arms are open wide.

Our “nature house” probably won’t be my last house. I’ll need to look for another someday. But I never have to feel lost anymore, because Home is where He is, and He is always with me.

How Much Sacrifice is Enough?

Moving to a new country and new culture is full of surprises. One surprise for me when I moved to Southeast Asia was that every single temple is filled with idols. There is not just one idol per temple.

We once visited a temple which, when literally translated, is called “The Temple of 80,000 Idols.” It was in a part of the country that we hadn’t visited before. We were tourists there and able to take pictures freely. The temple was full of idols, tiny idols and small idols, medium-sized and giant. There were very, very old idols, some made of stone, some made of gold, some made of plaster and clay. Each idol is a reminder of a god whose desire for sacrifice is never satisfied. The temple itself represents a religion of fear.

We walked through the dark stone halls of the temple, with idols inset in every wall, nook, and cranny. The hall opened up to a larger chamber with a 20-foot high gold idol in the center, surrounded by LED lights, flowers, and gifts of fruit.

Idolatry is a religion of more. It is a religion with an appetite that is never satisfied and a thirst that is never quenched. Whatever sacrifice you give to idols will never be enough.

Seeing the idols in another culture revealed the idols in my own. Why are Americans so dissatisfied, always seeking but never finding purpose, always looking, always consuming more? Why are we full of anxiety, stress, depression, and disconnection?

Could it be that we are restless and dissatisfied because we are offering our lives to idols instead of giving our worship to the Living God?

God provides true peace and rest. Satisfaction and peace can only be obtained through relationship with the Living God. As Christians, we “abide” in God’s love. We do not earn it or strive for it. Our salvation is a gift that we accept in gratitude and thanksgiving.

So we ask ourselves: are our lives at peace, or are we always striving for something more? Even as cross-cultural workers, we must ask ourselves these questions. What consumes me? What consumes my time, energy, money, devotion, and dedication? What part of my life is never satisfied and never at peace? What sacrifices am I making to idols that are robbing my life of purpose, peace, joy, and unity with God?

We have to ask ourselves if we, too, have sacrificed at the feet of idols who refuse to be satisfied. When will we seek the True God who can provide the purpose and peace our hearts long for, and that our daily lives so desperately need? When will our devotion lead to fulfillment and peace?

Even as a missionary, I can at times be tempted to think God is satisfied by my sacrifices. After all, I have sacrificed for Him. God has called me to that sacrifice, and it pleases Him. I have gone up to the mountain of the Lord holding on to my small faith and His big promises. But it is His sacrifice for me that brings me into a peaceful, fulfilling relationship with the Living God.

The familiar story of Abraham offering Isaac is often told from the perspective of Abraham, a loving father who is willing to obey God no matter the cost, even if that means offering up his one son. And that is true and part of the story.

But the story’s hero is not Abraham. The hero is Jehovah Jireh: “the God Who Provides.” In this story, God has already revealed himself to Abraham, but Abraham still doesn’t exactly know what kind of god is the Lord?

Is God a god like the Canaanite god of the Ammonites, Molech, who will demand child sacrifice by fire for his wrath to be appeased? Can God be appeased for now? Will he ask for more later?

Will he be like Baal, who demands more and more, always upping the ante and requiring stranger offerings, more and more dedicated signs of devotion?

Or is YHWH different? Different from the demons the people have known in the past? Different from the idols?

Who is this God that is calling Abraham? Who is the God who is asking Abraham to put his faith in Him?

God is the God who is satisfied not by our sacrifice but by His sacrifice for us.

Abraham climbs up the mountain and prepares to sacrifice. But as Abraham raises his arm, knife in hand, to take the life of his son, the angel of the Lord stops him. And in this moment, we see that God is the God who provides the sacrifice that saves our life and brings us into a relationship of peace with him.

Worshiping the true God will provide us satisfaction and peace. God does require us to sacrifice, but he has already paid the price in full. We do not work to appease God; instead, full satisfaction is found as we accept the full love God offers to us.

As God called Abraham, God has called us. We must continue to offer our small faith. We must continue to cling to His big promises. But we must remember: it is God who is the hero of our story, too. He is the one who provides. He is the one who satisfies. And it is His sacrifice for us that will always be enough.

As we work across languages and cultures to share His love and bring Him glory, we remember that we are enough because His sacrifice is enough. We have peace and fulfillment because He has provided the sacrifice for us. Truly, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

I am a Foreign Weirdo

by Julie Jean Francis

Editor’s Note:  Last year I had the privilege of reading Julie’s new book, Bowing Low: Rejecting the Idols Around Us to Worship the Living God. She consistently made me think about cultural issues through a biblical lens. I thought I had already begun that process, but Julie took my hand and led me even deeper into it. As she demonstrates in the book, the potential for idolatry is truly everywhere in modern society. The excerpt below discusses expatriate living more broadly, but in reality if we give up our idols to worship the one true God, we will be “foreign weirdos” anywhere we go.  ~Elizabeth Trotter

Being an alien and stranger is no fun. Ask me about it. Everywhere we go, people stare at us. They grab at us to touch our skin and hair. They unashamedly point and stare at us in public. They sometimes treat us like royalty, bestowing on us white privilege exceptions, treats, and favors. Other times we are treated with disdain and suspicion, like scientific specimens or exotic animals at a zoo to be examined and prodded.

They ask to take pictures of us since seeing aliens is admittedly an unusual, noteworthy experience. I sometimes think the attention we get is because of our (many) cute kids. But the other day I was in the grocery store alone and it happened. Assuming I didn’t speak the local language (which I do), a young woman and man came up to me motioning awkwardly with their hands that they wanted a picture with me. I hardly go anywhere without at least one kid with me, so I was so surprised it took me a while to figure out what was happening.

Then, I realized what I should have already known– I am an alien and stranger here. People like to document and share their alien encounters. They wanted a picture with me. Who knows if they may ever see an extraterrestrial again?

I stood still, and they took my picture right there in the diaper aisle. Then, I shocked them again by speaking to them in the local language, politely answering their questions–- where did I come from? How long have I lived here? What work do I do? Do I have a family?

The only thing weirder than seeing an alien is seeing an alien who speaks your language and lives among you.

Some of our alien experiences are more pleasant than others. Sometimes, complete strangers somehow get pictures of our kids and then use those pictures as their profile photo on Facebook (that really happened). Sometimes, people are really rude and pushy and don’t take no for an answer when we tell them that we don’t want our picture taken, or that our kids don’t want to be poked, pinched, or held by complete strangers. Sometimes, people whom we have no memory of meeting know exactly where we live, how many kids we have, and where my husband works.

Being an alien stranger is difficult.

It’s impossible to have privacy as an alien and stranger or to keep anything a secret. Everything you do, everything you buy, every mannerism, every interaction is recorded in the memory of the community like the odd, unusual, noteworthy, rarity that it is. People remember their extraterrestrial experiences. It’s hard to constantly be the weirdo that people remember.

I’m in most ways the opposite of “normal” here.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to be. I understand contextualization. I’ve studied crossing borders and becoming all things to all men, that I might win some.

I have worked hard to learn the language. I can read the difficult script (even if my writing is admittedly terrible). I can carry on a conversation, and I get my meaning across despite my many mistakes.

I wear local clothes most of the time. I can wrap the skirt like the locals, wear the typical shoes, and take them off at the right times. I know what is modest here and what isn’t. I wear real gold earrings because any respectable woman does.

I buy my food from the market. I have even learned to cook the local way, and I eat rice (almost) as much as local people do.

I have come to understand, respect, and even uphold a lot of local ideals and beliefs. Things that upset me about the culture when I first entered it now make sense in ways that are hard for me to explain to fellow Americans.

I know about the seasonal calendar. About religious festivals and customs. I can sense the change of seasons and even feel the hope and excitement in the air when religious holidays are near.

Our house is typical. Our furnishings are modest and simple. Besides the ridiculous number of toys and books our kids have, we could almost pass for locals.

So why am I still so opposite? Why didn’t the “veil” between us lower quicker? Why aren’t my best efforts at practicing “incarnational ministry” paying off and producing fast fruit?

No matter what I do, how I live, how I speak or dress— will it ever be “enough?” Is all the effort even worth it? Will I always be a foreign weirdo?

I remind myself that God always intended His people to be called out and set apart. Noah, perhaps, is the very first example of a truly called out person, living in a wicked time, but remaining true to the God who was instructing him down a strange path. He was faithful despite his culture and despite the absurdity of God’s call on his life.

Abraham, the father of our faith, is called out and asked to move to a place he didn’t know, to trust God and do what God said despite the uncertainty. He was both called out from his culture and from his family, leaving his parents and most of his extended relatives behind. He was called to live in tents, traveling around, being a nomad for God.

Being called out means hearing the voice of God interrupting your life. God’s voice usually interrupts your life’s plans and gives you a new set of directives to follow. And the plans usually sound crazy to most of the people around you.

God calls Moses from a burning bush and changes his life’s course. Later God calls His people out of Egypt asking them to trust Him to lead them to a Promised Land. They are repeatedly told to be holy, be set apart, to not assimilate to the idol-worshipping nations around them. They are called to be holy because God is holy, and they are God’s people.

God always reminds them that He didn’t call them because they are better than everyone else, but because He had mercy on them. Because He is loving and merciful. Not because they did anything at all to earn His favor. They are called out to follow His voice, to move their tents when He moves and to stay when He stays. They worship God using a tent “Tabernacle” in the desert, with no permanent place to worship God. Through all this, God teaches them that He will go with them.

So I am content to be an alien and a stranger here. I am a foreign weirdo who may never fit in completely. But I am confident in my calling, and I trust that God is with me wherever I go. There are differences between me and the people I serve – so many differences – but I believe God will use those differences to build His Kingdom and show the world the great love of Christ, a love that has no bounds and no ethnic affiliation.

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Julie Jean Francis is the author of Bowing Low: Rejecting the Idols Around Us to Worship the Living God. She has lived as an alien and stranger in Southeast Asia since 2012 among a large, unreached people group (less than 1% Christian) with her only teammate and husband of 14 years. Together they raise their many Third Culture Kids. She likes drinking tea, ministering to children, and talking about loneliness, the power of the Word, and the faithfulness of God in hard times. You can find her online here.

Are You Tired?

by Julie Francis

Have you ever wanted to quit? Give up? Throw in the towel? Throw up your hands? Walk out the door?

Are you tired? Tired of turning the other cheek? Putting others before yourself? Praying for your enemies? Blessing those who curse you?

Are you weary? From stress? Obligation? Conflict? Boredom? Same old/same old?

Are you sick of falling back into your old patterns? Stalled progress? Lack of results? Not seeing the fruit from your hard work?

Are you exhausted from lack of sleep? From depression? From difficult living conditions? From days on end without a Sabbath and no break in sight?

Do you wonder if you will make it out alive? Wonder how high the price will be? The amount you’ll have to pay? Who or what you will have to sacrifice?

Have you had it with giving things up? Saying goodbye (again)? Moving? Transitioning? Not having a home, connection, deep roots?

Are your tired of waiting for the blessing God promised? Is this the “full life” you expected?

Is it all… worth it?

Staring through the bars of a prison cell doesn’t seem like a very full life. Chained in filthy conditions. Little food. Forget the comforts of home. Yet, Paul wrote these words in confidence:

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Your purpose in life isn’t to be comfortable. The world has lied to you. Your purpose in life isn’t to store up treasures on earth. The world has lied to you. Your purpose in life isn’t to do what makes you happy. The world has lied to you.

Your purpose in life is to please the Spirit. You will gain everlasting life! So, don’t give up.

By God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the joy and peace that come from being united in Jesus in his suffering and death– you can learn to be content no matter your circumstances. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. You can rejoice in your sufferings. You can know with certainty that what has happened to you will turn out for your deliverance. And that God works all things for good for those who love him.

Are you tired? Worn out? Bored? Apathetic? Sick of doing good? Exhausted from suffering? Are you about to fall under the weight of the cross God has asked you to carry?

Don’t give up. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit. Amen.

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Julie Francis has lived as an alien and stranger in Southeast Asia for seven years and counting among a large, unreached people group (less than 1% Christian) with her only teammate and husband of 13 years. Together they raise their five Third Culture Kids. She likes drinking tea, ministering to children, and talking about loneliness, the power of the Word, and the faithfulness of God in hard times.