Broken Blenders

by Katherine

See the blade twist to a stop
See the smoke rise after the pop
And I’ve broken another blender

Blenders keep breaking; I can’t bear to get another one. Is it that I keep buying low-quality blenders? Or is it the power surges and dusty, tropical environment? I can’t remember how many blenders I’ve been through in my years living in SE Asia. I don’t have one at the moment; I can’t bring myself to buy another one. I know it’s going to break.

Friends keep leaving; I can’t bear to get to know new people. Every new friend is an embryo of a goodbye. The expat community has such a high turnover. As an Australian living in Asia, I’m in a community with people from many countries. We all live here together as foreigners. Some stay for a few months, some for a few years, and some for a few decades. At any given time, I know of someone who is gearing up to move back to their passport country.

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe enough to be a regular confidant
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away
 

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe enough to tell them where we keep the passports
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away

I was finally getting to know them
Maybe our children will grow up together
Then they announce they are leaving
And they give their stuff away

We are a mosaic of everyone we’ve ever met, so they say. A mosaic is composed of pieces of different colours and shapes arranged together to form beauty. Well, I say the content of our house is a hodgepodge of many of the people we have farewelled. Our things are a jumbled, messy mixture of exited expats’ former items.

When an expat leaves, they need to get, say, 6 years of belongings down to a 20-kg bag. They sell, they gift, and they throw away.

I have a shelf from a friend who left 15 years ago,
a saucepan from a friend who left 8 years ago,
toys from friends who left 5 years ago,
many books from a friend who left 3 years ago,
a bed from a friend who left 2 years ago,
and a jar of sprinkles from a friend who left a year ago,
just to name a few.

Each piece of the mosaic is part time machine and part airplane. The jar of sprinkles connects us to those years we spent with the former owner. Memories of decorating Christmas cookies at her place pop up when I see the tall glass jar full of coloured balls.

It also connects us to that same friend in the present day. A reminder she is not here, but on the other side of the world. Her children probably don’t remember the sugary mess we made at their place. And they won’t be hosting cookie decorating here again.

I need to grow the mosaic. Although I can’t bear the thought of getting to know more people, I also cannot live without expat friends. I have local friends and friends in my passport country, but there are some things only fellow expats will get.

Locals know nothing other than crazy traffic, so they don’t see it as crazy. Passport country friends don’t know what it is like to fear every trip around town in your first year of a new country — but then to also fear the traffic in your passport country every visit.

So I will continue to welcome new friends. It’s better to have friends and say goodbye than to never have friends. And next time I am saying goodbye, maybe I will take the plunge and ask if my departing friends are looking to re-home their blender.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher.

A Childhood Erased

MCS School South

In June, the boarding school in Pakistan where I spent my childhood closed her doors. No longer will children respond to the gong of a bell that goes off for meal times. No longer will high schoolers gather outside the hostel, shyly sitting with The Boy that one has liked for so long, hands brushing against each other through the conversation and laughter of their classmates. No longer will staff and students alike have to shout over the roar of monsoon rains on tin roofs. The pine trees will no longer hear the whispered joys, sorrows, and prayers of students. Steel bunkbeds will no longer capture early morning tears of homesickness. There will be no more chapel, no more tea time, no more study halls, and no more graduations. Never again will the school song, so long ago penned by my father, be sung in that setting.

An era will be over, and with it – part of my life will seem erased.

Last night I watched memories of Murree, put together by my dear friend, Paul. With my husband and younger daughter by my side I was able to experience again the thick fog of Jhika Gali and the hairpin turns of roads. I heard one last gong of the bell and laughed as a monkey, captured perfectly on film, ran toward me and then away.

I have known about this closing for some time. The school was founded in 1956, a wonderful and admittedly rare happening where missionaries of every denomination got together and worked to build a school for the children of missionaries and nationals who were serving in Pakistan and neighboring countries. This year, after 65 years of service, the doors to the school will close. The last class has now graduated. Murree Christian School will no longer be a concrete place with walls and windows, students and administrators. Instead it will be relegated to memories in people around the world and, surprisingly, a wikipedia page of its own.

My friend Robynn and I occassionally text back and forth about our school closing. Ten years apart, we had similar experiences at MCS. Times of sorrow and sadness to be sure – but that is not the only story. Our stories are stories of much laughter and learning, of grace and growth, of the pure joy of youth. About two months ago I texted to Robynn “Our childhood is slowly being erased.”

A closing ceremony that brought hundreds of us together on ZOOM was planned for July. As it grew closer to the time of the ceremony, the more I felt an urgent sadness that needed to be voiced. MCS holds so many stories. I somehow never thought that the day it closed would really come. As my dear friend Robynn says so well:

Deep relationships were formed. Faith was nurtured. It’s difficult to capture in words what this hidden place has meant to many now literally scattered the world over.

Robynn Bliss

To be sure, we live in a different era. The school had dropped in size to a miniscule number. Staff are hard to come by and finances more so. Schools cannot stay open simply to be receptacles for childhood memories. In fact, the beauty of the times I visited back after graduation lay in the fact that it was still a living, vibrant place. New students and staff that (shockingly) did not know me had their own memories and events, their own life stories. A terrorist attack shortly after 9/11 changed the school in unimaginable ways, taking away the freedom that we students from the seventies had. Dwindling class sizes made it the more difficult to justify the cost of keeping up the buildings and grounds. Less people were comfortable sending their children to boarding school. There are many reasons to close and the decision to close was more difficult than I can imagine.

What does an adult do when they feel their childhood is slowly being erased? The tendency would be to grasp at whatever I can to keep the picture of what I had.

Instead, I open my hands and I give the pencil back to God. From the beginning it is he that wrote the story of MCS. It is God who gave the vision, God who sustained the decades of life, God who loves the people who entered and left the large, stone building to forge their way in a world beyond.

As I have thought more about MCS closing, I have released the idea of my childhood erased. That is giving the closing of a man-made, though wonderful, institution too much power. Instead I’ve thought about the stones of remembrance that I take with me from my childhood and this place that shaped me.

The idea of stones of remembrance comes from the Old Testament book of Joshua. The Lord tells Joshua to choose 12 men, one from each tribe. They are to go and pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River, at the spot where the priests were carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They were to carry the stones to the place where the people would spend the night. There they would put them down to serve as a sign. These were stones of remembrance. They served as a sign to the people present and to future generations that God was there, that he was faithful, that he did not leave his people.

What are the stones of remembrance in my life that connect to MCS? What rocks can I point to, stones of surety that declare “God was here.” What can I list that point to a life of faith, built on a stone foundation?

My stones of remembrance are imperfect people who taught me how to forgive and fellow students and dear friends who taught me what it was to press on. My stones of remembrance are the laughter that drowns out the memories of homesickness and the growth that leans into discomfort. My stones of remembrance are brothers who share blood and friends who share memories. My stones of remembrance are rocks of trust and knowing that somehow, all would be well.

I am gathering the stones, I am putting them down in writing, so that I too can tell future generations “This is what shaped me, this is why I am here.” Because it’s good to remember.


At every graduation and important event, we sang our school hymn, voices raised to the rafters of the old church building turned school. Some of us sang with immense talent, others just sang. Though all were lost in those moments in their own thoughts, never knowing that most would look back on these times and the song itself with deep longing. I leave you the final verse here – a reminder that no closing of anything is powerful enough to erase childhood.

Lord with thanks and praise we honor Murree Christian School
May her life and fame and service for thee ever rule

Built upon a firm foundation, in God's hands a tool,
Shaping lives of dedication, Murree Christian School

In all our lives we go through times where places and people we love change, where we recognize that life will never be quite the same. What are your stones of remembrance for those times? Where can you point to rocks of trust and a foundation that holds even when the building changes?

Note: This post was originally published at Communicating Across Boundaries.

Please Pray for My Alex, and I’ll Pray for Yours: When Our Children Don’t Believe

by Anonymous

Will you pray for my Alex?

That’s not my child’s real name, but that doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether Alex is my daughter or son. What matters is that Alex has decided not to follow Jesus.

It shouldn’t really matter that Alex is an MK, either, but it does to us, Alex’s mom and dad. I know that a parent is a parent and a child is a child, but when we went overseas to take the gospel to the lost, we didn’t plan on losing one of our own.

While Alex was growing up, we were trying to help the people in our new country taste and see that the Lord is good, but somewhere along the way the taste our Alex ended up with was bitter or, at best, bland.

Were we too strict as parents? Were we too lax? Did we spend too much time working with others at the expense of our child? Did our move and ministry overseas have anything to do with Alex’s choice?

There’s a voice inside me that can easily quote the verse “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I’ve learned how to explain that verse away, but that doesn’t make it go away. When I open up Proverbs, there it is.

Another voice says, Now you know what it feels like to have a child leave the family faith, and there are days when wrestling with Alex’s lack of a foundation shakes my own.

We hear others say that their greatest joy is that all their children are faithful believers, and we want that joy, too. Sometimes we feel so alone.

But I know we’re not.

I know that some of you, too, have an Alex. I’ve read your hesitant emails and listened to your hushed words.

You grieve, as we do, but you haven’t given up.

So we pray for our Alexes to hear God, in whatever way he chooses to speak, we pray for them to return to his eager embrace, and we pray for them to be given the time to do so.

We love them and want them to know the blessings of Christ, in this life and the life to come.

We pray and we hope, even when we’re hoping against hope.

Please pray for my Alex. I’ll pray for yours.

Permission to Prioritize Your Birth Abroad

by Chandler Gilow

Birth is important. It’s one of the most human experiences, shared by women and families in every culture on earth. It is both universal and highly personal. The experience is also completely unique, no matter how many births you have. Birth is life changing every time, and your experience, whether good or bad, will impact your life for years to come. 

As a labor and delivery nurse, I have seen a few key components that set up families to navigate this season well no matter the outcome: planning, education, advocacy, and support. If moms and dads set aside the time to research their options, learn about the birth process, and gameplan for potential outcomes, they can advocate with confidence in almost any situation. Likewise, families who are intentional about lining up the support they need can better handle deviations from their plans. 

This transitional season always brings stress, albeit happy stress, into the family unit as you make decisions about your healthcare team and parenting. However, these potential stressors can be compounded for those living abroad.  

A lot of my expat friends had a baby in their first 3 years abroad, and from what I’ve gathered, this is a pretty common story. In the first 3 years you are still transitioning to your new culture, learning a new language, healthcare system, and community. Not to mention potentially helping older TCKs adjust, working with visa restrictions, possibly relocating for birth, and don’t forget ALL the paperwork.  

This season was meant to be filled with joy and excited anticipation, not overwhelming stress. The great news is that it can be fun and wonderful if you allow yourself to invest the time and energy.  

When we found out we were expecting our second baby, we were about a year into language learning in the Middle East. We were excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. Our first birth in the U.S had not gone as planned. The calm birth I’d hoped for ended in an emergency cesarean with a long healing time. 

We had not prepared well. I thought that because I was a nurse I could get by with halfheartedly focusing on a childbirth education class. In the end we had a beautiful little girl, but also some residual trauma. I decided for my second that I would unapologetically devote my time to preparing mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. All the hours of research, preparation, and relocation to a city to get the birth team I needed, ended in a very healing VBAC abroad. All that time was worth it to me because we came back healthier than before the birth.  

Since then, I have talked to so many families who feel guilt for investing time and resources into preparing for their birth. They feel like they are taking time away from language learning, ministry, or their job. They struggle to justify spending money on classes or a doula because they raise money and do not feel like they can make a case to supporters. I have also seen families with older children approach birth abroad without thinking through the nuances that could impact their experience.  

The truth is, birth abroad is amazing and beautiful, and it can be a great way to connect with your local culture. However, it also comes with a lot of nuance that needs to be considered. Every family is different and needs to be respected. They need to prioritize different decisions in their pregnancy/birth/postpartum experience to thrive.

You may need to hire a doula, pay for a birth class, change healthcare providers, travel to another city/country to get a level of healthcare you feel comfortable with. It could mean not feeling guilty reading birth books at night instead of running though your language flashcards one more time, taking time away from your typical day to interview multiple care providers, or paying a little extra to get a private postpartum room. 

Whatever you choose to prioritize should not be done with guilt or seen as an indulgence. It should be seen as an investment to keep your family resilient and to increase longevity on the field. After all, there are no do-overs in birth. I would much rather see families thrive through this season with adequate education, resources, and community instead of simply thriving or needing healing postpartum.  

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Chandler is a wife, mom of two, RN, and Lactation Specialist who started The Global Birth Coach after seeing a hole in expat care during her birth abroad. She is now stateside with her family while her husband finishes his PhD. She is passionate about empowering families to thrive in the perinatal period. You can find her @theglobalbirthcoach on Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestThe Expat Birth Podcast is a podcast devoted to sharing birth stories from abroad. It is released monthly on all major platforms. Contact her through her website or email: info@theglobalbirthcoach.com. 

 

Oops, I Forgot Myself: How to Reclaim Your Identity in a Massive Transition

You know that feeling? It’s a sick one. In your gut. Sometimes you catch it early. Two minutes down the road on the way to the airport.

“Did you pack the swimsuits?”

“Yes.”

“Socks?”

“Yes”

“Underwear?”

“Yep.”

“Boarding passes?”

“YES! I got everything ok?!”

“Sorry . . . (long pause) . . . passports?

“Shoot! Turn around.”

It’s nice when the light bulb goes on in time. Nothing hurt. We can still make it.

It’s not so nice when you’re sitting on the airplane, or unpacking your boxes, and it hits like a lightning bolt. That thing you really need in your new place is the thing you left in the old place.

But there is a whole other layer. A deeper one.

The one thing that almost all of us (at some level) forget to take with us in a massive life transition is . . . ourselves.

Who we were in the last place gets washed out in the new place. Our new life demands our attention. So we give it. The new people don’t know us yet. So we show them the surface. There is a language that we don’t speak (even if we’re “returning home”). So we get by. The systems, the patterns, the customs, the culture, the way of life are all radically different. So we scramble. We make do. We figure it out.

And then we wake up . . . weeks later — sometimes months — occasionally years — and the light bulb goes on . . . I forgot myself.

And it feels too late to turn around.

Transition challenges personality.

It attacks normalcy.

It assaults identity.

So if you’re waking up in the middle of a massive life transition, take heart, you’re not the only one who doesn’t feel like yourself.

But that helps nothing right?

“Great, everyone is screwed up but I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM!”

That’s fair.

Here are a few thoughts on reclaiming your identity when you wake up and realize you left it sitting on the kitchen table in a place you can’t get back to.

1. Learn the difference between inside and outside.
When you move from one place to another, you immediately start responding to outside things — the external forces that are pressing against your daily existence.

You have to. You’re supposed to. You’re not doing it wrong.

But.

In your core, there is a pile of values that didn’t change when everything on the outside did. There are beliefs, passions, habits, dreams, joys, frustrations, and pet peeves that define who you really are.

You should know those.

Like really — know them.

Not just in response to a question but intimately — KNOW THEM.

List them out.

Spend time with them.

Pick them apart.

Deconstruct them.

Put them to the test.

See what gets cut — and what doesn’t.

You should be the top scholar of your own core — but maybe you never had to be until now. Maybe your inside has always been supported by the outside so that you didn’t have to think about it.

Now you do.

When you KNOW who you are in your core you can go ANYWHERE with confidence.

When you DON’T, you’ll be stuck in the anxiety of a missing identity because you’re relying on the outside stuff to define you.

 

2. Know what makes you, YOU.
Little y, big Y.

Just because you have moved doesn’t mean YOU have arrived. Not all of YOU.

What did you give up, for the sake of the move, that feels like it was actually a part of you?

What did you DO back there that you don’t do anymore?

What did you leave behind that feeds your soul?

This one might sting a bit . . . who are you blaming that on?

Here’s the kicker — it’s a REAL challenge to do life (as you know it) in a new place. It doesn’t look the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t even smell the same.

I’ve known marathon runners who threw up on their first run in China because of air pollution.

I’ve known musicians who couldn’t find an outlet for their music in their new spot.

Chefs who can’t get baking powder.

Artists who can’t find art stores.

More often than not though, it comes down to the fact that their motivation just got kicked in the gut. They had to spend so much of their energy re-learning how to do regular life stuff that they really struggle to find the space for the things they love.

Again. Fair.

But.

Transition is the process of becoming YOU again. Did you catch that? It’s a process. Movement from one highly functional place to another with a completely dysfunctional dip in the middle.

So.

When the time is right, remember who YOU ARE.

Finish the sentence. I AM ___________________.

A runner?

An artist?

A writer?

An entrepreneur?

A designer?

A people person?

An introvert?

An encourager?

A party animal?

A reader?

A hiker?

A dreamer?

Then dig into the HEART of why YOU are who YOU are. What is it about that thing that makes you come alive? Maybe you can’t do it in the same way but maybe . . . just maybe . . . you can. Or you can find a substitute that recaptures some of it. Or you can create a space that hits the same mark in a different way. Or you might just discover something new about yourself while you’re digging around.

The point is that if a piece of YOU is missing in your new place, you don’t have to settle for it.

But we do.

We run the “I used to be so good at” or “I gave up so much to” or “I just can’t anymore” narratives in our head until we believe that there is no way around it.

Don’t give up that easily. This is YOU we’re talking about.

 

3. Postpone your expectations. Don’t forget them.
I HATE the phrase “lower your expectations.”

I get it. I understand the heart behind it. Going in expecting to be able to function at the same level as you did in the last place is a recipe for a letdown.

“So just expect it to be horrible. Then you won’t be disappointed.”

No. Just no. Stop saying that.

Expect delays. Expect challenges. Expect frustration. Expect hiccups, and speed bumps, and problems (big and small) ALONG THE WAY to a fully functional, thriving life where you are not only enjoying the best bits of who YOU are but you are pouring them out on the people around you.

Write this down – it’s important.

You should NEVER compare the beginning of the new thing to the end of the last thing.

That’s not fair.

That’s like a farmer planting seeds and coming back to harvest the next day.

“Why is there no corn here?! I PLANTED CORN YESTERDAY!!”

I’m not a farmer but even I know the answer to that. “Because you chopped it all down a few months ago.”

It took time in the last place. You had to figure it out. You had to meet the people. You had to build the relationships. You had to learn the systems. You had to set things in motion and find the rhythm.

None of that is in place when you move into a new thing.

None of it.

You chopped it down.

So plant the seed. Set the right environment. Put the right things in. Keep the wrong things out. Start with some tiny roots. Then give yourself the space and the grace to emerge in due time.

You’ll get there — even if you can’t get there yet.

If you are in the middle of a big move or a massive life transition, there is so much hope. There is hope in the collective groanings of “I am not alone.” There is hope in the process of transition. There is hope in the core of who YOU are.

If you have forgotten yourself — go get yourself back.

Originally published at The Culture Blend

Motherhood on the Field: Expectations versus Reality

by Katie Von Rueden

Before my husband and I arrived in West Africa to minister in remote village among a minority people group, it was pretty clear (to us) what we were going to do. We were to be literacy specialists, as our heartfelt prayers had prepared us for, and our degrees had trained us to carry out. Our ministry description was to engage with the people and culture, learn the language, publish stories, teach people to read, then train up teachers and storywriters to make the ministry reproducible. 

And give or take the expected adjustments, surprises, and stresses of our first couple years on the field, by God’s grace we were more or less on our way to fulfilling those ministry tasks. And then we returned to the field after a home assignment, and several things came with the start of another term:  a new baby in tow, stepping into branch leadership, and the necessity of shifting the central focus of our family’s ministry in our project from literacy to helping facilitate the Bible translation in process for our people group. 

I can’t speak for my husband and the process he went through shifting from pre-field expectations and post-field reality that came to be within a few short years of our arrival in West Africa. It was an entirely different kind of adjustment. But I’ll attempt to describe that shift for me when I became a missionary mom. 

It was if suddenly, though I continued to write updates for our supporters back home, I was relegated to the role of a spectator to our ministry. Available time to work on literacy initiatives, like creating and editing materials, was pushed into the small margin of my son’s afternoon naps, if it happened at all. In the context of our rural village life in a taxing, tropical environment, I felt like I had just enough physical and emotional energy to manage our home and care for my infant (and serve as the front-lines journalist of my husband’s ongoing adventure, of course).

In my head, I knew what I was doing was important … for my son, for my family, for our ministry. But in my heart, as I dug into the daily grind made up of the million wonderful, but mundane, moments of parenting, I felt the grief of an identity I felt I had lost, and guilt that I wasn’t fulfilling my ministry role as a literacy specialist.

I didn’t realize how much this seeming sidelining of responsibilities bothered me, though, until a young couple arrived on a vision trip to our field, and the woman, on observing my morning routine with our then one-year-old, asked me: “So, what do you do besides take care of Tristan?” 

Uh… well, I wash and wring out loads of cloth diapers, make baby food, cook all our meals from scratch, and tend to the spontaneous visits, requests, and needs of our village neighbors Every. Single. Day. But I wasn’t quick-witted enough to fill her in on All. The. Things that encompassed that “singular task” of “taking care of my child.” (By the way, we all still have to live in the places we relocate to, and that in itself is a lot of work above and beyond the neat and tidy ministry we sign up for in this business.) Because I knew her underlying question was actually what did I do as a field worker?, I managed some reply about the literacy projects I worked on in my spare time. (Yeah right.) But that’s not the response she needed to hear that day from me.

What I should have told her, had I grasped it then myself, is that the discipleship and education of my children and the care of my family is the crux of what I do on the field. Family is ministry. Making my family my ministry actually plays a critical role in the Bible translation happening in our home office every day.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” For men means for other people, but I think it also means for you, yourself, and your ambitions. Work heartily for God’s glory, not to please others, or your own ambitions, or what you think God wants of you, or what others want of you.

When I took the time to examine my heart, I realized that the only one who had a problem with my “shifted identity” as a field worker was me. But through God’s grace, and my husband’s occasional, heartfelt notes of encouragement, I realized that I wasn’t a sidelined field worker not doing her job. The assigned task of literacy in its fullest capacity was yes, temporarily shelved. But my worth is not found in what my ministry description says I do, but who I am as a child of God.

But at the risk of sounding contradictory, I need to say there is a tension between following a calling and living under grace, free from unfair expectations. In following the path that God has called us to in life and ministry, we can fall into two ditches. There is the ditch of tenacity, of singular focus to a calling. This could be the call to translation, or literacy, or technical or administrative support, or healthcare. While this Apostle Paul-like commitment to a calling is good, a singular focus to a ministry may cause us to miss opportunities to be present for our family, our colleagues, our neighbors. Our ministry job descriptions are not finite: our life’s calling is to bring God glory, and clearly, there’s more than one way to do so.

However, we must be careful not to fall into the other ditch of capriciousness, or being too flexible in our service to God and what He has called us to. Being the all-around helpful, dependable man or woman is good, and it is God-honoring, but we must be careful not to stumble into the path of least resistance and lose trajectory in what God is asking us to do with our time and skills.

Here’s how these “ditches” translate for me: In this season as a missionary mom of young children, had I fallen into the ditch of tenacity to serving as a literacy specialist, I would be setting myself up for incredible frustration and missing doing my job as mom well. But I still risk falling into the ditch of capriciousness. I’ll admit, oftentimes it’s hard not to use my children as an excuse for not doing something hard or uncomfortable that I sense God is asking me to do. As I’ve attempted to tread the course between those two ditches, embracing my role as a missionary mom of littles, it has opened doors to different ministries for this season, such as building into the lives of village kids that flood our yard each day unannounced. 

God isn’t into job titles. He’s not waiting for me to show up at my desk to edit a literacy tool. 

He’s waiting for me, for you, to show up

To do something, even when… especially when… it’s hard. When you feel side-lined and unseen.

To not be so blindsided by a change to what you expected to do when you got to the field, that it renders you useless for a real opportunity in the present reality He’s giving you—whether for the short or long-term. 

To be focused, but flexible. 

Your worth is not in what your ministry description says you do, but in the God you serve.

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

Katie makes her home in a rural, West African village with her husband and two children. They serve with a Bible translation organization in literacy and scripture engagement, making the Word accessible in the heart language of minority people groups. As a teenager, Katie dreamed of teaching English at an international school in China. Her university degree and cross-cultural experiences were propelling her in that direction, when she met her husband and God rewrote her story (or invited her into a new chapter). Making Africa her heart’s home over the years has been a journey of surrender and of discovering joy and God’s calling in unexpected places.

Return to Life

The 2000 film Return to Me is a family favorite. The movie features Bob and Elizabeth, who have been together since high school and who are still very much in love. One tragic night Elizabeth, who was an organ donor, is killed in a car accident. We watch as doctors transfer her heart to Grace, a woman who’s needed a new heart for a long time.

Grace goes nervously into surgery, hopeful for a new life. Bob, blood still on his clothes, goes home to an empty house. It’s an agonizing scene.

Months later, Grace has recovered from surgery. Bob, meanwhile, is having trouble living without Elizabeth and has buried himself in his work. Friends continually try to set him up with other girls, but Bob wants nothing to do with anyone new. He can’t get over the loss of Elizabeth. Then one night during one of these blind dates, Bob meets Grace at the family restaurant where she works. Sparks immediately start flying.

In the following weeks and months, Bob’s heart opens up to new love. But Grace is guarding a secret. Although she doesn’t know that Bob’s wife’s heart beats inside her chest, for some reason she can’t bring herself to tell Bob she’s had a heart transplant. Eventually the two of them figure this fact out, and the revelation is traumatic for both of them. Bob disappears; Grace flies to Italy to paint.

While Grace is gone, Bob realizes he loves her and can’t live without her. He looks for her at the restaurant only to find that she’s gone. He acknowledges, “I miss Elizabeth. I’ll always miss her.” Still, he’s ready to embrace a new life with Grace. He goes in search of her, and their reunion is sweet. The audience can see them building a future together.

One year after having traumatically evacuated Cambodia, I think I understand a little of what Bob meant in his restaurant confession. We left Cambodia in March, just as the pandemic began closing borders. We were relieved to have made it to U.S. soil, and for several weeks we assumed we’d be able to easily re-enter Cambodia in the fall as planned. But by May our visa and passport plans began unraveling, and by June, life as we knew it in Cambodia was over.

I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

2020 became one long grieving session. This might sound strange if you knew me in the early 2000’s when Jonathan felt called to missions and I didn’t. You might remember how I fought the call for so long. But now I felt like Mr. Holland from the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, in which aspiring composer Mr. Holland longed for fame and renown, but instead ended up teaching music to high school students. At the end of his career, when budget cuts forced him to retire early, he observed, “It’s almost funny. I got dragged into this gig kicking and screaming, and now it’s the only thing I want to do.”

Like Mr. Holland, I didn’t initially want to move to Cambodia, but once I got there, I found a life I loved. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye — but covid said differently. For weeks, I woke up crying. Opening my eyes each morning was a painful reminder of where in the world I wasn’t. In Cambodia I had a strong support system. I lived every day with a sense of meaning and purpose. I had a place in the community and rituals and routines that brought structure to our chaotic cross-cultural life. We had raised our children there, and Cambodia was all they knew.

It was a difficult life, sure, but it was also an exceedingly good one. And I wasn’t sure I would ever stop crying over this loss. I lived in the “if onlys.” If only we didn’t have passport problems. If only we didn’t have visa problems. If only covid hadn’t happened. If only, if only, if only. I thought if I could just get back to Cambodia, I could recapture all my former happiness. In reality, even if I could have returned, I couldn’t have recaptured my old life. Covid made that impossible for seven billion of us.

Then one day my near-constant crying stopped. I thought I had accepted my new circumstances. And I do believe I had accepted that I couldn’t get my old life back. But reflecting now, I realize that I struggled deeply throughout the fall and winter. I had said goodbye to my old life — though not in person and not on purpose. But I still didn’t know exactly what my new life would look like, so it was hard to root myself here. Everything seemed bleak. I didn’t think I could ever be happy again.

We were looking for a home at the time. We knew we had to be out of our temporary housing by the end of December. After several housing disappointments (a story for another time), I began to fear becoming homeless (emotions may exaggerate facts, but the intensity of the feelings are real). We didn’t have a church home yet because of covid, so I didn’t have local community to help me through this transition. I knew I couldn’t get my old life back, but I still desperately missed it.

Finally, finally, we found a home that fit our family that was also in our price range. We signed the papers mid-December, which was a bit closer to the deadline than we would have preferred. Still, we were thrilled to have a place of our own. I had no idea it would be such an important milestone in our repatriation process.

We’ve been in our new home for three months now. It fits all six of us so perfectly. I live in the daily disbelief that we could have found such a fantastic place for our family to live. We are making it our own, slowly writing our name in the land. Jonathan is tending the lawn. Pictures are hanging on the walls. We have rituals and routines, and I’m slowly re-building a support system. Living in our home has helped get me “unstuck” from the grief and helped me to move forward. It has given me a glimpse of what the next season of life might look like.

Cambodia is still a natural part of our conversations, and we frequently talk about our old life. The six of us have so many shared memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. Occasionally I even long for life in Southeast Asia. But I no longer think I can’t live without Cambodia, that life simply cannot go on without Cambodia. I’m beginning to understand what life can look like here on the other side of the ocean. I feel like Bob, who knew that he would always miss his old life, but who now knew that he could also live a new life with Grace.

My old life and my new life, side by side

Neither Here Nor There, I Do Not Belong Anywhere

by Chris Moyer

Not fully in France. Not in America,
Not by the Seine, Not by the Susquehanna.
My belonging is mixed-up, Sam, you see.
I do not belong fully here or there.
I do not fully belong anywhere!

If you are a Third Culture Kid like me, you may read the word “belonging” and feel that it is an ephemeral or even impossible concept to grasp. Endless strings of transitions leave many TCKs wondering how they could ever find a stable sense of belonging. In many ways, the TCK life feels like my adapted stanza from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (above).

I struggled most intensely with my sense of belonging when I was a teenager and young adult because I experienced an intense push and pull between countries and continents through those years. Each year – from 9th grade through my first year of college – I faced a new phase of starting over. In 9th grade I had my last year in French schools. Then, in 10th grade, I shipped off (of my own volition) to Black Forest Academy in Germany. Next, I had a one-year stop in America (not of my own volition) for 11th grade. Then once again, I hopped the Atlantic to return to BFA for my senior year. Finally, I moved back to the States for college.

As I typed the above paragraph, I could feel my nerves amp up, my palms get sweaty, and butterflies begin to flutter in my stomach. Even though the last of those transitions took place over twenty years ago, the overwhelming sense of dread that accompanies having to start over is a feeling I can never quite shake. Yes, I have processed – and even learned to embrace – what took place during those years. But I can still vividly recall my desperate longing for stability and for a sense of true belonging, something for which my heart ached during that time in my life.

While I was blessed to develop meaningful relationships with many special people during those years – people I never would have met had I stayed in a single, stable environment – I can still keenly feel the tension that constantly pushed and pulled at me. The tension of wanting to fully fit in with those around me, all the while knowing deep inside that I was inherently different from both my French and American peers. My desire to belong remained just outside of my grasp because I was stuck in the perpetual reality of being an outsider in both of my “worlds.”

When living as a teenager in France, many of my classmates thought it was “cool” that I was American. But their understanding was based on the American shows they watched and the American musicians they listened to, rather than inquiring what it was like for me personally to be a US citizen. Instead of questions, I frequently heard comments such as, “You are so lucky to be American!” and, “I don’t understand why you would leave the US to live here!” And, just in case there was any doubt that I was not a local, my peers even nicknamed me, “Made in USA.” In some ways I liked that I had something that other kids wanted, and yet I struggled with being different. In my heart I simply wanted what most young people desire, that is to be like my friends and not stand out.

When in America I looked and sounded like my peers, which on the surface felt good. But on the inside, I felt like a zebra running among horses. Zebras sound like horses when they run, and outside of their black and white stripes, they even look like horses. But zebras and horses are different species. Try as I might, I could not ignore or fully hide my stripes. I did what I could to blend in like a cultural chameleon, but just as zebras cannot be tamed, so I could not suppress my multicultural identity.

At BFA, we were ALL zebras! Our base color (passport cultures) may have been different, as were our stripes (our host cultures), but within this community I finally found my “herd.” This offered me the sense of belonging I had been looking for and longing to find for so long. But before I knew it, graduation came along and we all went our separate ways. Many of us were once again living as zebras among horses.

TCKs do not have the power to change what makes them different from their peers in either their passport or their host countries. And now, as I parent three TCKs of my own, I want to help my children successfully navigate the treacherous path of belonging. While one side of the TCK “coin” represents challenges, the flip side to this is an intense richness that can only be found in this reality. Together, we will celebrate the beauty and accept the losses that come along with the multicultural life they did not personally choose for themselves.

It is my desire to lead my own TCK children to learn, as I did, that you do not need to fully belong to fully engage with those around you. No, you won’t ever “belong” to just one group or culture. And while that can be hard, it is ok. Understanding, acknowledging, grieving, and celebrating are all joined together to create the jumbled richness that is multi-cultural living. While I always felt different from my monocultural peers, coworkers, and family, I grew to accept these differences, while learning to belong — at least mostly. To explain what I mean by “mostly,” I highly recommend watching this short video from Michèle Phoenix: MKs & BELONGING – Three Options to Consider – YouTube

Below are three things (this is not an exhaustive list) that you can do to help your TCK(s) learn to mostly belong wherever they may be.

 

1. Process their sense of belonging with them.

For older TCKs, asking them reflective questions can draw out what is going on beneath the surface of their desire to belong:

  • Where do you feel you most belong?
  • What makes you feel like you belong there or with those people?
  • What it is like for you when you feel like an outsider?
  • What do you do when you feel like an outsider (look for specific behavior that helps or inhibits their desire to belong)?

For younger TCKs, you can still try to ask reflective questions like the ones above, or you can read a book like Swirly, which will draw out feelings and desires through story.

 

2. Help them make decisions that grow a healthy sense of belonging (be sure to process #1 with your kids before moving to #2).

As Michèle Phoenix says in her video, some TCKs will do whatever they can to blend in. They will forsake their heritage for the sake of belonging. While TCKs need to grieve what they have left behind, suppressing where they come from will create additional challenges of unresolved grief along the way.

Because of the mobile nature of their parents’ employment, some TCKs will experience short transition periods such as the one I had in America for my 11th grade year. I did not want to be in America that year, and my attitude and behavior clearly matched my disposition. It can be tempting for TCKs, when they know they will only be somewhere for a short period of time, to stay withdrawn and be unwilling to invest much into their momentary place of residence. This was my approach to my stop-gap year in America for two reasons. The first was that I longed to be back with my friends at BFA. The second was that I knew I was going to be leaving and did not want to get close to people for fear of how hard the goodbyes might be.

Whether TCKs are in a short transitional period, or whether they are in a more permanent phase of life, it is important to help them make conscious decisions that lead them to connect with others. Understandably, it is hard to move toward others when you feel like a cultural outsider, when you are in the middle of grief, or when you’re just plain tired of “putting yourself out there” yet again. But, relationships with peers are a crucial first step to a growing sense of belonging. Below are some ideas (again, not exhaustive) of how to help your kids connect with other kids:

  • Encourage them to invite a classmate to your home to play. If your TCK does not want to risk rejection, be the one to take initiative and invite their classmate’s family over for an afternoon snack or a meal.
  • When possible, have your TCK get involved in something they love to do. In our family we chose to forego extra-curricular activities during our first year in France because we thought the language barrier would be more stressful than the activity would be beneficial. However, after our initial “waiting period” we’ve witnessed our three kids blossoming more and more since beginning their hobbies here.
  • If your TCK(s) goes to local schools, check in with them regularly about how well (or not) they are connecting with their classmates. Some kids naturally jump into new settings with both feet. But others may be shy and insecure about finding their “place,” as we found was the case with one of our children who needed regular encouragement to move toward others. With time and some gentle nudges this kid has really grown in their ability to initiate with others, and as a result, their sense of belonging has been strengthened.

 

3. When possible, gather with other expat families.

There is a good chance that your TCK(s) will feel their greatest sense of belonging when they find themselves with other TCKs. They will likely no longer feel like a zebra running among horses when they come together. There is a comfort, often an unspoken one, through a mutual understanding that comes with being alongside of others from their “herd.” In light of this, make every effort to meet up with other expat families when possible.

When it is not possible to meet in person, whether because of where you live or because of the current global pandemic, your TCK(s) may enjoy having online gatherings with their TCK peers. Our youngest loves to connect with a TCK friend in Eastern Europe and do a “show and tell” with him. Our older kids simply enjoy sitting across the screen and chatting with their TCK friends.

Lastly, let me encourage you to find conferences/retreats to attend with other expat families. There are some great events put on by educational service organizations, mission organizations and others that will be like a breath of fresh air for you and your TCKs. These types of events were some of the biggest highlights of my childhood and I know my kids have loved the handful of retreats they have attended with their TCK peers.

 

In the end my hope is that we can see our kids mostly belong and that the adapted stanza from Sam I Am changes to:

Mostly in France. And in America
By the Seine and the Susquehanna.
I belong mostly, Sam, you see.
I belong mostly here and there.
I belong mostly anywhere.

~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

To the Fathers of Third Culture Kids

by Chris Moyer

Woosh…….Pop! For as long as I can remember I have found immense satisfaction in the sound and feeling of a baseball hitting a mitt just right. Of all places, this love of mine started as a 7- or 8-year-old in suburban Paris while playing countless hours of catch with my dad in the parking lot across the street from our house.

Over time, and as we moved from place to place, the “woosh” and the “pop” got louder as I grew in strength and ability. But while these things changed, my company remained the same. As a pre-teen, and then as a teenager, I would frequently knock on my dad’s home office door, peeking my head in while asking, “Want to play catch?” While I imagine there were times he was not able to acquiesce, all I can remember when thinking back on my childhood was that dad was always available and willing to spend that time with me. Looking back, I know that my requests interrupted his work, but he never once made me feel bad about it. 

I have grown to realize that it is not really the sound of a ball hitting a mitt that is so satisfying. No, it is everything that is associated with the pop of leather hitting leather: the quality time spent playing and being coached by my dad; his propensity to say “yes” to me rather than “no;” his patience with me when I would get frustrated and pout because I would mess up a throw. If I were to sum up why I have such a fondness for hearing a baseball hit the sweet spot of a glove, it is because in many ways it reminds me of my dad’s presence in my life. He was safe. He was available. He valued me and spent time with me.

Last week I read the first issue of Interact Magazine that has been released since 2005. One article spoke of a study that had been conducted among adult children of missionaries (AMKs) on the key factors relating to their well-being and life-satisfaction. Researchers were surprised at the top answer participants gave related to what relationship was most important during their childhood and why:

Most of the CORE researchers, basing their experience on studies regarding the influence of mothers on their children, thought AMKs would say “Mother.” Instead, 55% of the respondents identified “Father” as the most important person in their life. Why? “He spent time with me”; “He knew I liked basketball, so he would play basketball with me in 120 degree heat”; “He included me in his work”; “He lived out what he preached”; “When I came out of my bedroom in the morning, Dad would be kneeling by the couch praying for me and the family”; “When I was falsely accused of doing something wrong at school, Dad drove 200 miles to come and defend me”. Again, the quality of a close, caring, loving, and committed relationship with Father formed the foundation for these AMKs further well-being in life1.

These survey results certainly do not minimize the important role of a mother in her child(ren)’s life. Rather, they highlight the vitality of a father’s relationship with his child(ren). When a family’s support system is upended through cross-cultural living, a father’s care becomes all the more important. An intentionally present, safe and caring father can help immensely as Third Culture Kids experience and process the destabilizing effects of countless transitions and as they seek to figure out who they are. While fathers cannot fix the challenges that their TCK(s) are facing, their relationship with their child(ren) is a key factor to their current and future well-being and life-satisfaction.

 

Say “Yes” as Much as Possible
I have now been a father to three TCKs for a little over two years and I am working on being more and more purposeful in the way I relate to my kids. I vividly remember a conversation my wife, Laura, had with her mom about parenting. I do not remember how the subject came up, but my mother-in-law told Laura this: “Whenever possible, I said ‘yes’ to your requests when you were growing up.” Of course, there are times when it was/is necessary to say “no.” But her statement struck me for a couple of reasons: (1) this was what I had experienced as a child when I would ask my dad to play catch; and (2) this is what I want my kids to remember about me when they grow up.

And so, as much as I enjoy running on my own, I try to say “yes” to my son when he asks if he can ride his bike alongside of me. The same goes for when he asks with a glimmer in his eyes, “Daddy, want to wrestle?” or when my girls ask to play games or cuddle with me. Since I most frequently work from home, my children’s requests often interrupt what I am doing so sometimes my “yes” has to be a “we will do that as soon as daddy is done.” Whether my “yes” is immediate or slightly delayed, I want my kids to know that I love them and highly value being with them.

 

Take Special Interest
In a world with countless connected devices at their fingertips, TCKs need their fathers more than ever to connect with them on a personal level. Similar to saying “yes” as often as possible, taking special interest in what our children enjoy is a key to building a safe relationship with them. So, whether our kids play sports, are aspiring musicians or artists, or have a special love for nature, valuing their interests by being physically and emotionally present when they are doing their activities will go a long way to show them that while circumstances might change, daddy’s care remains.

 

Be Quick to Listen
Let’s be honest, men, we have a propensity to want to fix things. And that’s a good thing! But unlike a kitchen sink that is clogged, the challenges our children face should not be viewed as problems to fix. Yes, sometimes there will be situations in which we will need to stand up for our children or take other protective measures. But most often, our children simply need to be known, understood, and feel safe. Going into “fix it” mode may come off as dismissive of what they are experiencing, which in turn will lead them to come less and less to us with their concerns. Lauren Wells, of TCK Training, has been posting short examples of this on TCK Training’s Facebook page. One such example that dads often struggle with is as follows:

“Being a safe space for someone processing their grief means…not responding with a phrase beginning with the words ‘at least.’”2

I have a theory as to why we are so prone to respond with words like “at least.” Many of us are uncomfortable with our own suffering and have been taught to always look for the positive. I have frequently heard people say of their own suffering that someone else has it worse in life. While it can be healthy to put our experiences in perspective, immediately dismissing our own difficulties may lead us to dismiss our children’s too. Instead of offering a quick reply, simply listen, try your best to understand what they are going through, ask questions, and be present.

So, to my fellow fathers of TCKs, let me encourage us all to say “yes” as much as possible, to take special interest in and connect with our kids, and to be listeners before being fixers.

 

Sources:
Wilkerson, D. 2020, September. MK Research Foundations. Interact Magazine, 61. Retrieved from: https://interactionintl.org/publications/interact-magazine/
Wells, L. 2020, October. https://www.facebook.com/tcktraining/posts/980148309154258

~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

How Does Physical Health Impact a Missionary’s Decision to Leave the Field?

by Andrea Sears

There are many things about living on the mission field that can influence the physical health of missionaries and their families. When the body does not cooperate, even the most simple of tasks can become difficult. Sickness can necessitate trips to the home country for treatment, or even permanent relocation to an area where full recovery is possible.

We measured the frequency and strength of influence on the return decision for the following statements considered to be host-country-related factors:

  • I experienced significant health problems.
  • My spouse experienced significant health problems.
  • My child/children experienced significant health problems.
  • There was inadequate health care in my host country.
  • I had a lack of health insurance.
  • I felt that stress affected my health.
  • I felt that stress affected the health of others in my family.
  • I had limited access to clean water.
  • I felt that the climate/geography affected my health negatively.
  • I felt that pollution affected my health negatively.

When it comes to health matters, neither missionaries nor their sending churches and agencies are necessarily in control of how their bodies will respond to physical conditions, challenges, and illness. Country factors impacting health, such as climate and pollution, can hardly be changed. However, it is hoped that this data will be helpful for its descriptive value, as well as for the limited conclusions we can draw about preventable factors of attrition related to health. It may also suggest areas for deeper etiological research into the health of missionaries. 

 

Results
The table below summarizes the results for each question by providing: 

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

 

Discussion of Quantitative Results
It is noteworthy that more than half of missionaries reported having serious health problems. More than one-third reported serious health problems for their spouse. And one-third reported serious health problems for at least one child. These are very high rates of sickness for the periods of time being reported (the average tenure was approximately 8 1/2 years). In all three cases, over half of the respondents reported that this issue affected their decision to return to their home country, and to an overall moderate degree. It is hard to know how much overlap there is between the three categories, but clearly many families have multiple people experiencing significant health problems, which can compound the stress of dealing with them.

The most significant finding of this section (and indeed, one of the most significant in the survey) is the degree to which participants felt that stress affected both their health and the health of their families. More than two-thirds felt that stress affected their health, while half felt that stress affected the health of other family members. In both scenarios, this affected the return decision in 68-70% of cases, and to a relatively strong degree. These findings seem to indicate that the whole family experiences the stress of living on the mission field and is affected by it. Spouses and children are not immune. In addition, when stress is affecting the health of the whole family, the likelihood of attrition increases.

 

Qualitative Data
To survey the most frequent types of health problems experienced by missionaries, in addition to the quantitative scaled data, we collected open comments on the following question:

  • If applicable, please describe any serious health problems that you, your spouse, and/or your child/children experienced.

The collective suffering reported truly shows the sobering costs of the missions call, and the astonishing bravery and stamina of missionaries in facing them.

Many missionaries reported here on mental health issues that they and their families experienced. There is a subsequent section specifically pertaining to mental health, but at this point in the survey, respondents would not have known this, so some provided it here. The analysis of and commentary on mental-health-related data will be set aside until publishing of the relevant section, except for one very important observation: Missionaries reported mental health issues more than any physical health category, and this occurred without them being asked to include such issues specifically.

We must remember that these were self-reported “serious health problems.” We did not ask specifically about each possible health problem, nor define what constituted a serious health problem. 

 

Stress as a Contributing Factor
An important observation is the role that stress can play in many of these physical ailments, either giving disease a foothold or exacerbating a problem that would otherwise be less severe. In fact, 52 commenters specifically mentioned that they believed or were told that their physical health problems were caused by high stress: 

  • Some were diagnosed with cortisol regulation problems and adrenal fatigue, directly related to long-term stress exposure. 
  • Others developed disorders that are known or suspected to have stress as a contributing factor, such as migraines, gastric issues, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, insomnia, or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. 
  • Still others had chronic health conditions that were potentially worsened by stress, such as asthma, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or cancer. Stressed individuals are also more susceptible to viruses and infections, and take longer to recover from injuries and surgeries.

 

Environment as a Contributing Factor
Sometimes the physical environment in the host country was not conducive to maintaining the health of the missionaries and/or their family. This included primarily air pollution, but also natural substances that caused allergies or severe reactions. 

 

Mental and Physical “Grit”
Reading the stories of health trials reveals one type of high price paid by some missionaries for their commitment to the call. The mental and physical toughness of these missionaries is also apparent. Far from being “weak” or debilitated by their health struggles, they were more typically strong individuals who stubbornly persisted for some time despite them. 

Having a health emergency is frightening enough in one’s home country. Being in a place where you are not sure you can even get the medical care that you or your children need can cause an entirely different level of anxiety and uncertainty. One participant shared, “Frankly, any health issue seemed to be serious in an overseas context.” This is a sense of vulnerability that people in the home country cannot often understand.

It is truly impressive how much missionaries are willing to endure for the privilege of participating in the Great Commission. Sending agencies, churches, and friends back home should be aware of what missionaries may go through physically in order to provide the necessary emotional and practical support when health problems strike.

 

Lack of Support as a Contributing Factor
Even when faced with severe physical or emotional challenges, some said that they still would have stayed were it not for other barriers that came into play. For some, it was a lack of team support during health trials. Others even felt that team dynamics were actively creating stress in their lives that contributed to the health problems they experienced.

 

Conclusions
What can we learn from this data to help us better serve our missionaries? How can missionaries best protect themselves from health dangers on the mission field?

Physical health is important to all people everywhere. It enables us to have the energy and ability to follow our dreams and calling. When the body is working well, we don’t think about it. When it malfunctions, restoring it can quickly become the focus of our concern. Poor health can hobble our ministry as quickly as team conflict, family emergencies, or a loss of funding. 

We must not idolize physical health, for we know that our bodies are subject to decay and that God works through suffering as much as (or more than!) He does through health. But neither must we ignore it, naïvely missing its importance to our ability to serve. With this model of being good stewards of our missionaries’ health, but also recognizing that we are not in full control of it, we can do the following things to lower attrition:

  1. We can ensure that missionaries have adequate health insurance or a financial plan for the payment of health services. 
  2. We can train missionary candidates on physical health issues common to the area to which they are going, how to diagnose and treat them, and how to seek medical care when it is needed. 
  3. We can also train missionary candidates on the importance of stress management, and the effect that stress can have on their health. 
  4. We can practice good self-care as missionaries, being careful to steward our own health well. This includes pursuing healthy diet, exercise, and sleep habits; maintaining a healthy weight; and remembering to have regular times of rest.
  5. We can check-in about physical health when delivering missionary care. 
  6. We can provide mutual care and sensitivity to team members who are experiencing health challenges. 
  7. And finally, we can remember that even when all these things are done, there is still a spiritual war taking place in the unseen realm and physical problems may be a sign of spiritual attack. We must remember to avail ourselves of the spiritual armor of God, prayer, time in the Word, the laying on of hands, fellowship with other believers, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And when sickness does come, we can remember that this too is forming us into Christ’s image. God still loves and cares for us even when He allows us to pass through difficult times, and these same trials can be used to glorify Him. 

 

For more detail and specific comments in the qualitative section, visit www.themissionsexperience.weebly.com/blog, or email andrea.d.sears@gmail.com to request the full pdf document of the results.

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

Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 11 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

Guiltitude: the Guilt of Having in a World of Sacrificing

by Michèle Phoenix

My pastor got a car.

His van was totaled in a wreck and, just as he and his wife were considering what it would take to finance a new vehicle, someone they know offered them a Volvo.

This past Sunday, he spoke with awe in his voice about the miraculous provision for his family. Then he emphasized that the car was well above their means and added, “I don’t want anyone to see the car and think, ‘Wow, my pastor can afford a Volvo?!’”

I turned to the friend sitting next to me and said, “I hate that he had to say that.” Then I remembered how often I’ve done something similar.

I’ve noticed the syndrome beforeI’ve lived it. And it has reached epidemic proportions in the world of missions. Even among the MKs I serve, I see it embodied every day, inherited from parents who might not have realized the lessons they were teaching.

Guiltitude [noun]

Condition in which guilt overwhelms gratitude—most commonly observed in those who are dependent on charitable giving—aggravated by fear of judgment, often resulting in calculated communication and/or conscience-stricken self-restriction. 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A GUILTITUDER
When I moved back to the States from Europe, I found my elation over God’s provision of my townhouse tempered by strong feelings of guilt.

Though I could document every miracle that had paved the way to my new home, I still struggled with the guilt of “having” when I lived in the ministry-universe of “sacrificing.” 

I wondered if guests would see my flea-market European antiques, bought for $50 but worth hundreds in the US, and question whether they’re appropriate for a missionary’s home. I found myself wanting to explain things by saying, “This was given to me by a friend” and “I bought this for next-to-nothing at a charity store in Alsace” as I gave tours of my two-story miracle.

Even today, nearly ten years later, as I look around this home and see the items contributed by the outrageous generosity of friends, I am assailed again by that uncomfortable combination of paralyzing guilt and galvanizing gratitude.

I live in the land of Guiltitude.

Guiltitude is not a uniquely Phoenix notion either. Though it doesn’t afflict all missionaries, it impacts enough of them to warrant some attention. Its symptoms are wide-ranging:

  • Missionary to Germany relinquishes the old, beat-up Mercedes he was given (for free!) by members of his local church and invests his own funds in buying a less “brand-y” car to avoid looking ostentatious.
  • Missionary to Switzerland, while interacting with his supporting church, avoids speaking of the recent purchase of expensive editing software, though much of his ministry relies on producing music and videos.
  • Missionary family scores $25 plane tickets to fly to Monaco for spring break. They post only a handful of pictures taken in the wealthy Principality, but are sure to thank the discount airline and the person who offered them cheap housing when they do. You know…just in case.

When I lived overseas, I vividly remember talking with a friend who had, for a year, bought virtually no furniture for her home. I asked her if she planned on getting a couch and kitchen table at some point, and she said, “My supporters send me money for ministry, and getting furniture is not ministry!”

Like so many others, she’d bought into something I call Donor Demand. There’s an old-school component to it. We like our missionaries to look deprived and to live without. It adds a certain nobility to the minister’s status and to the giver’s sacrifice. 

You might be amazed at the rigid (and sometimes irrelevant) standards by which the validity of a missionary’s work has been judged. Owning a Mercedes and serving in a beautiful location are just two of the numerous reasons for which devoted financial partners have been known to rethink—and sometimes withdraw—their crucial donations.

Guiltitude can be hard to diagnose, as it often masquerades as responsibility or humility. Its most obvious symptoms are:

  • Fear of having (because true ministers, by some accounts, must live in squalor)
  • Fear of doing (because some activities may be misunderstood as frivolous)
  • Fear of full reporting (because some ministry partners may misread the value and purpose of what is owned and done)

I’ve seen all three reach irrational levels in MKs who grew up in an environment where financial guilt of some sort prevailed. Even their adult relationship to money and ownership can be irreversibly skewed by the toxic influence of Guiltitude.

[Note: it goes without saying that there are instances in which missionaries truly have lived in excessive or dishonorable ways and been rightfully confronted about it.]

In my own life, I’ve found how easy it is for guilt to sneak into a spirit of gratitude. I am so grateful for God’s provision of my every practical, physical and spiritual need since I began in ministry in 1991—and for the donors whose gifts have kept me serving for these twenty-nine years!

That gratitude pushes me every day to be worthy of their sacrifice…but it also contributes to a creeping sense of guilt. How can I invest the funds I receive from supporters, who often give sacrificially, on things that are less than essential? Why should I buy a thrift store buffet or the used car of my dreams when others can make do with cardboard furniture and a 16-year old beater?

 

TREATMENT
I’m afraid I don’t know whether there’s a permanent cure for Guiltitude. Something tells me it’s a chronic disease that lurks in subconscious places. Perhaps a good place to start is for both sides (the servers and the givers) to acknowledge its existence, then treat its symptoms with a healthy dose of truthful assessment. If nothing else, this may at least mitigate Guiltitude’s damage.

May I offer a few additional suggestions? 

Missionaries:

  • Remind yourselves that you are called both to live and to serve. For most humans, living well requires rest, some level of comfort and the occasional escape. It’s okay to enjoy places, things, and activities that are financially responsible. You are not supported just to do a job, and there is growing evidence that self-care leads to greater longevity on the field of service.
  • Report clearly and intentionally, not out of guilt, but out of a desire to accurately inform those who follow your ministry.
  • Surround yourself with a smaller, understanding group of friends with whom you can share parts of your life that you don’t reveal on social media or in letters. This will keep you from feeling like you’re being deceptive. You’re just being selective.
  • Counter irrational disapproval with facts and assert truths that contradict flawed rationales.

Supporters and onlookers:

  • Understand that the occasional treat (activity, trip, unnecessary object) may actually enhance the missionary’s ministry, because it contributes to emotional and physical wellness.
  • Don’t apply to your missionaries restrictions you wouldn’t apply to yourself.
  • A poor, burned out, or suffering missionary is not more godly than a comfortable, healthy, and happy missionary.
  • Remember that the pictures you see only tell part of the story.
  • If you must speak with a missionary about what you think you’re seeing, begin by gently asking questions and truly listening with a compassionate heart.

As I sit today in my modest and comfortable home, surrounded by treasured bits and pieces of my years overseas, I am grateful for three decades of ministry rich in locations, accomplishments, and experiences. I am also aware of the challenges that come with the blessings. My commitment to myself, as I contemplate the opinions of others on what they see of my life, is to thoughtfully consider legitimate causes for concern, to adjust my choices (when appropriate) out of faithfulness to God, and to prayerfully let go of unfounded accusations—even those I inflict on myself. 

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Don’t miss the Pondering Purple podcast, available on all your streaming platforms. In each brief episode, Michèle highlights one of her most popular and helpful articles in a format you can consume on the go.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Questions Third Culture Kids (and Their Parents) Need to Ask

I wrote a couple of posts about questions that Third Culture Kids are often asked. Some they dread, some they love. Same for their parents. There is a problem inherent in these posts and these types of posts. They center the TCK and the expatriate adult. They make us the most important person in conversations we have in our passport countries. They give the impression and create the expectation that everyone should conform to our needs, should be sensitive to our struggles, should care about our joys. 

What about the people we are talking to? The people we “left behind”? The people who lived a full life while we were away? What about our own need to be curious, interested in others, to ask good questions, and to move away from being the center of the experience and story?

What are some questions people would love for the TCK or expatriate to ask them when we’re back in our passport countries?

*note: be sensitive to your level of intimacy with people. These are randomly presented and range from light to personal.

What’s the latest news in your hometown? 

How has Covid impacted you, your family, your job?

What has been the most exciting thing you’d done this past year? The most unexpected? The hardest to accomplish? The most personally transformative?

What’s your favorite restaurant lately? What do you love about it?

Have you gotten any new pets? 

Where should I shop for school clothes this year? What are the current styles in this part of the country/world?

Been on any bad dates? Good dates?

While I am in town where is the one place I absolutely must visit? Why? Will you come with me?

Tell me about your favorite books/movies/music/art.

Who was your best teacher or coach last year?

How have you been talking with your kids about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and police violence in general? 

Have you participated in any protests? Why or why not? How have you experienced them?

What can I learn from your perspective on the USA right now? What is important for me to understand, as a newly returned person?

How can I pray for you?

The conclusion of these past three posts is simply this: ask questions. Ask good, thoughtful, sincere questions. Be curious. Be kind. Be generous.