Searching for Home

It’s hard to describe the turbulence of soul that comes from being on the move, always unsettled. You cannot be still and breathe deeply. You cannot love the wild-growing front-lawn tulips too much, or the way the sunlight turns the living room into a golden elven forest in the afternoon. They will soon be gone. And with every big move, you are the new person all over again, trying to make friends at double-speed, weary of explaining where you came from and why you’re here.

We have lived in our current home in Taipei for thirteen months, the longest in any one place for nearly four years. This dubious “longevity” doesn’t prevent my gut fear of another uprooting. Experience leaves an imprint of expectation in our hearts. The nomadic lifestyle began in earnest when we finished seminary, after which a pastoral job and preparation to be missionaries led us to several different cities and even more homes. We moved twelve times in a span of two and a half years, and it hurt my heart terribly.

At nearly every house or apartment I resolutely unpacked everything, decorated the walls with my grandmother’s paintings and the children’s art, and brought cookies when meeting our new neighbors. I tried to make each place a home, even if it would not last long. And I grieved the loss of our previous home and the life we had built there.

I grew up in one place, but without knowing it, even then I longed to be home. I kept subtly searching for something that tingled like a phantom limb; it had to be there—my entire being reached out for it! Or was it only an untouchable dream?

I can relate to Peter when he tells Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). I reflect with some self-pity, perhaps like Peter, that we have left our family and our friends and our homeland to follow Christ. I know that dying to myself is the only path to life and abiding happiness, but even so, my heart is burdened in the midst of loss.

Jesus responds to Peter’s outburst with a longer-term view:

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

His words, though demanding, are a balm to my soul. God has fulfilled the temporal part of the promise many times over. We have been welcomed into the physical homes of fellow believers when we were in need, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family in every way. But even more so, the fleeting losses of following Christ are nothing compared to the eternal gain.

The ESV Study Bible notes that “Jesus assures the disciples that they have answered the call and are blessed.” This pain of being between worlds is not a logistical problem, but a sign of following His call. It’s not a sign that we are failures as missionaries, but that the redemption of the world is costly. Christ bore the greatest cost of all.

The home we long for is not a phantom or a dream: we were created to yearn for our Lord’s lovely dwelling place. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2). In his earthly life, Jesus shared in our homelessness. He left his perfect heavenly home to rescue us from our sin; he had no place to lay his head. And he will return to remedy our aching hunger with the ultimate Home he prepares for us even now, where there will be no more crying or pain because the former things have passed away.

 

Originally published at A Life Overseas on December 22, 2015.

Magic Charms and Contingency Plans

“A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for the basil plant in our yard.” 

I lived in Tanzania for 16 years, and this was one of the most extraordinary stories I heard.

I have a friend, an American I’ll call Allison, who has lived in a remote village in Tanzania for decades. Often when they visited the main city, they would stay with us. 

It was on one of these visits that she told me a story that sounded like it came straight out of the New Testament: mind-blowing to those of us from western, secular cultures, but not uncommon in the rest of the world. What struck me about this story was not just the supernatural aspect, but how at our heart-level, no matter our worldview, we cling to things that feel more certain than God. We idolize our contingency plans. 

But first, the story. 

One of Allison’s neighbors, Mama F, declared faith in Christ and started attending a Bible study. Allison praised God for this, not knowing that the story was just beginning.

This is how Allison told it:

“A few nights ago, Mama F came to me terrorized, begging and screaming for the basil plant in my yard. I saw that something had taken hold of her four-year-old daughter. She was clenched in her mother’s arms, writhing and gurgling, and foaming at the mouth.  

Hearing Mama F’s cries, other neighbor women gathered, and we all followed as she ran back to her house, smearing my basil plant on little F’s head. Baba F, the father, had run for the witchdoctor to buy emergency witchcraft to ward off the attack. Mama F would not accept my westernized offer to take them to the hospital.  

We women entered her home, everyone wanting to help. One woman shook and rubbed a live chicken over little F. Another brought a pouch with herbs to burn and handfuls of dirt to make a mud mixture to smear over her body. Mama F frantically gulped a liquid from a cup and spewed it onto her daughter. Then she placed knives under her armpits, wrapped F in banana leaves, and tied a black cloth charm around F’s wrist. The ladies burned weeds so that smoke filled the room. Meanwhile, F was writhing and foaming, enveloped in darkness.

As I walked that night with these women I love who were so fear stricken, so desperate to save this child in the only ways they knew of, I prayed out loud for His Light to shine in this living nightmare. He enabled me to speak simple, childlike words in this dark chaos of despair. ‘God is able to help and heal F. This witchcraft will not work. May I pray for her in Jesus’ name? I can ask for help from the Almighty God because I believe Jesus shed his blood to pay for my sin so I am forgiven. Please let me pray for her.’  

But I knew I needed to say more. ‘Mama F, because God is holy and only He deserves glory, you have to stop this witchcraft. He wants you to see it is by His power and grace alone that F is healed. Please remove the knives and the leaves.’

Miraculously, they agreed, and placed her in my arms.

I squatted down on the dirt floor, holding that precious, terrorized little girl in my arms and I prayed. I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was not just a physical need for healing, but spiritual. So, in Jesus name, I prayed against the powers of darkness over this little one; I rebuked Satan and told him to leave; I entrusted F into God’s arms of healing and protection.

God heard and answered! As I prayed, the convulsions and foaming and gurgling ceased, and F lay peacefully in my arms. I heard the women’s voices declare, ‘Wow! The prayer is working! Jesus Heals! God hears the prayers of Christians! Let’s go find more Christians to pray for her!’ 

We returned to my house where my teammates were waiting. With F still in my arms, exhausted but at peace, my teammates and I lingered with our neighbors in our front yard, praising God for His healing in word, prayer, and song.”

But the story was not yet over.

Allison continued, “Mama F attended the ladies prayer group again and gave praise to Jesus for his healing of her child. Then a few days later, F came to our home to play, wearing her charm necklace again.  

I spoke to her mama that God does not share His glory with another. F does not need the charms for her protection when we cry out to the one true God. She agreed, but the necklace charm remained. I told her there is no need to fear, nor appease the forces of darkness. But the necklace remained.”

Allison sat in my kitchen on a Wednesday and told me what happened just the night before:

“Tuesday evening, the terrors came again to F. Since we were here in the city when the attack came on, little F’s family sought the help of our teammates, who together prayed for her, but this time she was not responding. They agreed to take her to the clinic in the neighboring village.  

When I received word of this, I asked if she was still wearing any charms. She was. My husband called Baba F and exhorted him to remove the charms, as God will not share His glory with another. Meanwhile, the doctor was not able to help F. So they brought F to our local evangelist where they cut off her charm necklace and began to pray for her again. She was immediately restored to normal.”

When Allison finished her story, my reaction was to cry, “Glory be to God!” It is, indeed, truly a remarkable story–especially for those of us who assume that this kind of thing ended in the book of Acts. But it would be a shame for those of us from westernized cultures, who scoff at magic charms and witchdoctors, to think that God isn’t trying to teach us the same lessons that he was teaching little F’s family.

He wants the glory alone.  

And his glory is never evident in contingency plans.

I’ve thought about this often since I heard Allison’s story. How often do I have a contingency plan? How often do I say the words that God is faithful, but in the back of my mind, I agonize over solutions to worst case scenarios?

Sure, I say I believe in heaven and that life is only a shadow of what’s to come. But really, I want to enjoy that shadow with as much comfort as I can muster and as much pleasure as I can wring out–just in case this is all there is.

Sure, I know that God is the rightful king and sovereign over the universe. But I’d also really like to be under a government that is safe, powerful, and holds to all of my values–and I’m anxious if I don’t get that.

Sure, I believe that Scripture tells me that God will provide for all my needs.  But I cling to that steady savings account and regular income, just in case.

I know there’s a balance here, because God expects us to be wise and prudent with the tools for protection He gives us. God often chooses to care for us through the grace of life insurance, modern medicine, or social security. But when I go to sleep at night, where is the source of my peace? Where is the line between taking wise precautions versus tying my safety nets to my wrist like a magic charm? I must ask myself: Am I trusting in God, or am I trusting in my contingency plans?

I wonder if sometimes, God is just waiting for us to cut off the magic charm. Because He will not share His glory with another.

*A version of this post was originally published at Not Home Yet.

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.

I love the Olympics

Today is the opening ceremony for the Olympics and to say that I love the Olympics might be an understatement.

I love, love, love the Olympics! This year COVID will be an unwanted influence and will make for a unique experience; but I’m still excited and you can guess what I’ll be doing for the next two weeks.

Like many of you, I’ve been both inside and outside of my passport country during the Olympics. We’ve gotten to experience how different cultures and countries both cover, experience, and celebrate them. Even ignore them.

One particularly painful taxi ride in Beijing comes to mind. I was stuck in traffic and the taxi driver was listening to an Olympic summary show on the radio.

Announcer: This is the national anthem when So-and-so won the gold for such-and-such event.

The national anthem was played. It was inspiring and fun to relive that moment.

Announcer: This is the national anthem when THIS famous athlete won the gold for this other event.

The national anthem was played. It was inspiring and but less fun to relive that moment. Why is the traffic not moving?!

Announcer: This is the national anthem when So-and-so won the gold for yet another event.

The national anthem was played. And I realized that I was going to be trapped, listening to the national anthem on repeat until Jesus came back or the traffic finally started moving.

Anyone else discover that are different sports than the ones you thought were key sports in the Olympics? Hours of badminton and pingpong . . . to say nothing of every single moment of diving being telecast. I’m all for diving, but hours and hours and hours and hours? No thank you. Where’s the track and field? Where’s the swimming or gymnastics?

You might think these experiences have dampened my enthusiasm. You, my dear friend, would be wrong. I understand that the Olympics are flawed. That in many ways they mirror what is wrong with our world and the inequity many experience daily.

But the Olympics are also a foretaste of heaven.

—The many flags and countries.

—The athletes and teams who get to showcase their talents and hard work.

—The inspiring stories and humanizing of the athletes and the obstacles they’ve faced.

—The inspiring of what I could do with my own body. (As a young child I distributed trashcans around the family room and “hurdled.” Every single Olympics I come away marveling at how God has made the human body. Amazing, amazing, amazing.)

—The taste of different cultures.

—Let’s not forget the playing of the national anthems. Though annoying on repeat in a taxi cab, they reflect an athlete playing for something greater than just him or herself. As the atheles stand on the podium and watch the three flags flutter, the athletes look up to a flag that represents more than just them.

—The surprises! The heartbreak of those who thought they’d win and didn’t. Those who experienced injury or illness at such an inopportune time. And the lesser known athletes who succeed far beyond their wildest dreams.

To my fellow Olympian Lovers, I raise my metaphorical glass to you and say, “To the next two weeks and to the many countries we love! May God remind the world how very much He loves it.”

Let the games begin! Thank you Tokyo for all you have overcome to bring us together.

P.S. For years I have contemplated what sports will be like in heaven. (I told you, I really love sports!) So I’ll d thinking about this also during the Olympics. What sport would you loved to see in a perfectly redeemed form?

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.

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

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.

When Doors Close

by Carol Ghattas

“You have ten days to leave the country.” I was shocked. There I stood, pregnant with our first child, excited about the future, and this government official was bringing it all to an end. What had we done? “You’re a risk to national security,” he said. Though I should have held my tongue, the words came quickly out of my mouth in Arabic: “I’m five months pregnant! How am I a risk to national security?” Unlike me, my husband, Raouf, didn’t argue. He knew it would do no good and could even make our situation worse. He thanked the man, and we left his office.

Heading straight to the home of our colleagues, we hugged, cried, and prayed, knowing the days ahead would be crazy and uncertain. We had so much to do to quickly bring closure to our two years in this precious land. While Raouf spent hours doing paperwork and arranging transportation for our belongings, I packed and poured my heart out to the Lord.

I wish I could tell you this would be our only move in twenty years of overseas service, but it wasn’t. I’ve experienced a lot of closed doors and can tell you this for certain: when one door closes, another opens. Knowing that fact does not remove the pain of the closure, but it does remind me of who’s in charge and helps me to accept the change of course.

Sometimes doors close before you can get into a country. Though our original appointment was to Lebanon, doors were closed to Americans at the time. We would live and serve in two other countries before we eventually arrived there, due to being kicked out of Syria. In my mind, I should have been excited that we were finally going to get to move in, but my heart was torn. I had fallen in love with another place and people; I wasn’t ready to leave yet, but we did—we had no other choice.

We crossed the border with our cat and my hormones raging. It was a place still recovering from years of civil war. Chaos ruled. Families who had been protecting mission property were displaced because of our arrival. No one seemed to want us there. What was God thinking?

As I wallowed in my grief, in a land I now saw as a place of exile, the Lord spoke to me out of Jeremiah 29. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” This was the land in which I was to “build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…” God was showing me that even when he leads us to a hard place, we are to live. 

So, that’s what I did. Our four years in Lebanon were a season for me—the season of having babies and pouring into them. I had not one but two sons in that country, and when I look back, I realize the healthcare in my land of exile was so much better than the land of harvest. My husband had ministry opportunities there that allowed him to touch believers from across the region. We still had struggles, but we determined to put our hand to the plow of good deeds and harvest and not look back.

Then it happened—I settled. I became comfortable in Lebanon and thought we’d live there for the rest of our careers. We were preparing to move into an area of the country to better serve the majority, as soon as we returned from a short furlough. However, just weeks before we were to leave, our own organizational leadership asked us to move. What!? How could they? 

They had good reasons, but I didn’t want to hear them. I stayed home and packed for an actual move to an unknown land, while my husband made a survey trip to one of the possible places we could go. While he was away, I came across a magazine about that land—it revealed there was no established church. That did it for me. We were needed there. God’s hand was in this. My husband returned and asked me what God had been saying before he shared about what he had seen. What I heard, he confirmed. We moved again. One door closed, another opened.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has probably closed doors for many of you in recent months. That door may have been just a wall of separation between you and the people you love, or it may have left you stuck either in your home country or a place you simply went on vacation. Sudden change is hard and can shake our faith until we realize that the shut door hasn’t separated us from the God who guides our steps. 

Our biggest hurdle in facing some changes is coming to terms with the fact that we had no say in the matter. It’s a matter of control. When Scripture tells us to number our days, it doesn’t mean everything that happens in our lives should be neatly laid out in our daily planners. Rather, it means that He alone knows the number of our days; my job is to give each one to him, no matter what it brings.

When 2020 began, I wrote a prayer in my journal. It was full of expectation and hope at all God was doing in my life. I was looking forward to increased speaking engagements and upcoming books I’d write. Then, just like you experienced, everything that was good and hopeful stopped. But because I had thirty years of closed doors behind me, I recognized this for what it was—an opportunity to stop and see what God was doing.

While I had my own struggles during the pandemic, it also gave me the margin I needed for God to speak and work in my life. I was able to pivot and see that I had more time to write than ever before, since I work full-time as a librarian. Other activities were taken away, so my evenings were freer and quieter. I was able to work hard and actually finish a book on, of all things—closed doors. God has a sense of humor too.

When doors closed during my time overseas, I wasn’t always so willing to go through the next one, but God, in his patience, didn’t let that prevent me from seeing what he was doing in this new place and how he wanted me to join him there. 

I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you’re standing in front of a closed door and don’t know what to do next, or you’ve been pushed through another and are floundering with loss of purpose. It’s also possible that you recognize a door needs to be closed, because this season in your life is changing. Wherever you are, remember that the One who led you through this first door continues to be by your side and even goes before you through each door ahead. 

Rest in the knowledge that he has the big picture in view and only asks your obedience for the next good thing he opens before you. 

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 31:21

~~~~~~~~~

Carol B. Ghattas has over thirty years of experience in cross-cultural ministry and has lived in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Now back in the United States, she maintains an active blog site, lifeinexile.net. She is a writer and speaker on missions, Islam, and other topics. Her newest book, When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way, is now available through online book distributors. For more information or to contact Carol, visit her website: lifeinexile.net.

What if you used these “7 Household Rules?”

I preached on Sunday about “What does it mean to be the family of God?” In preparation I studied about how family language is used in the Bible; I also pondered how family language forms us. The idea of being siblings (plural) is used more than 150 times and the singular form of a sibling (often “brother”) is used more than 120 times in the New Testament.

I’ve been wondering how it would form me, form us if we really, really, really thought of each other as siblings. If my default way of thinking of you, working with you, and interreacting with you was that of a sibling. 

If I saw you as my sister and my brother and I saw myself as your sister.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells his readers and listeners that the are “also members of his [God’s] household,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

Just think, we are members of the same household.

As I worked on my sermon I made a list of rules from the household I grew up in to help ground myself in this idea of “rules”:

1. “No hitting your sisters;” and as we got older I’m embarrassed to share that our parents had to institute “no hitting the driver of the car” for safe sibling driving. 

2. “Take a ‘no thank you’ serving of food.” (Being normal children, we did not love everything that Mom cooked; but out of respect for Mom we could not refuse to try something she had worked hard to make. “No thank you servings” were small, but they fostered less fussing because we knew the deal.)

3. “Write thank you notes for gifts.”

4. “When you hear your dad whistle, come home or see what he wants.” 

5. “Dinner as a family is important.”

These are good and reasonable rules, yes? They formed our family and created bonds and norms for interacting.

I got to thinking, what if we—this household of cross-cultural workers—had our own set of household rules? What might they be? How would it form us if we read them regularly? If they were tucked in a Bible, hung on the fridge, or placed in the bathroom?

So, I wrote seven household rules for us.

In this Cross-Cultural Workers’ “Household”
aka Team/Ministry/Big-Wide-Internet-World:

1. We are siblings. You are my sister. You are my brother. I am your sister/brother.

(We are not competitors. We are not strangers. We are not indifferent to each other. We are family.)

2. All have something to contribute and we do not rank contributions.

(What you do is not more or less valuable than what I do. And vice versa, what you do is not more or less valuable than what I do. What you do matters. What I do matters.)

3. We will speak kindly of and to each other (and hopefully in many languages, wink!)

(We do not have to agree and we can have lively discussions on important subjects, but we will “use our words” kindly.)

4. We will act out of love — love for God, love for cultural variety, love for each other.

(We will not act out of fear. Our words and actions will be fueled by love and curiosity, not fear or suspicion.)

5. We will confront each other in love.

(We will not turn a blind eye or “hope that things will get better” or wait for something to explode. When we know something is off, or questionable, or just plain wrong, out of love for everyone in this household, we will address it).

6. We will hope for the best for each other.

(Your “success” or open door does not diminish me, my hopes, or what I want to do.)

7. We are siblings. You are my sister. You are my brother. I am your sister/brother.

(This is where the household of God begins and ends: in relationship, in remembering who we are, in remembering whose we are, in thinking correctly of ourselves and others.)


Referring to us as “siblings” more than 150 times in the New Testament is no fluke. The authors were training Christ followers how to think of themselves and each other. I wonder what a difference it would make if we got back to using more family language in our conversations, correspondence, and even in our thoughts. It won’t magically change everything, but those sisters that I used to need the rule “not to hit the driver” when we were teens? They are still in my life. We are so, so, so different. If we weren’t sisters, I’m not sure they’d want to be my friend (kidding! Sort of). But because they are my sisters and we lived in the same household and operated under similar rules, our differences are far outweighed by our love and commitment for each other.

As I type this post to you, that is my fervent hope and prayer for us too—all of us who go in the name of Christ—that our differences are far outweighed by our love and commitment for each other. 

So, rooted in relationship, I don’t want to just end this post with a final sentence, but with a sisterly blessing for you, for us.

May we see each other as siblings and may we operate under these “household rules.”

Much love to you, my siblings,
Amy

P.S. Want to print out these “Household Rules?” You can 🙂

Photo by Andre Halim on Unsplash

Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrfice”

This was my original post on A Life Overseas in 2012 when the site launched. Today it is my last regular post. I am stepping away, pulled by my other writing, being in seminary, family, and work and I know there are fresh voices out there to hear from. It has been an honor to write in this space for so many years. Thank you for reading along and sharing your stories. I’ll still be around and you can always find me on socials and my website.

Hudson Taylor said it, David Livingstone said it. “I never made a sacrifice.” A life spent as a foreigner, away from traditional comfortsaway from family and home country, a life of talking about Jesus, in these men’s opinions was no sacrifice.

While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree. What these men did with their lives in China and on the African continent is the very definition of sacrifice.

A sacrifice is a giving up of something loved, something precious in order to gain something better.

I heard a young woman working in Uganda say that her life doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In the next sentence she talked about hardships and how some days she doesn’t know how she will get through the day. That is sacrifice. I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.

Every step of obedience, every life choice, every risk taken, whether it is getting married or not, having children or not, living overseas or not…brings with it a gain and a loss. Negating the reality of the sacrifice cheapens the reward, the sense of joy, fulfillment, purpose, the God-honoring obedience.

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:

“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”

“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”

“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones.I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

And feeling the sacrifice makes the privilege, the reward, so deeply precious, so treasured, so urgently prayed for.

Livingstone said (emphasis mine),

It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Not a sacrifice, but rather a privilege.

Can this life not be both? Are sacrifice and privilege juxtaposed against one another or could they perhaps go hand in hand? It is a privilege to sacrifice.

Living with hair in the drain instead of my head, away from loved ones during a crisis and on everyday days, international borders between me and my kids, living like this is a sacrifice. It hurts, it tears, it might leave you weeping on the couch some nights, snortling into your husband’s shoulder. But it is not in vain. It is not without joy. It is not without faith. Feel the pain and the joy of it and then render everything sacrificed as rubbish and count the privilege as gain.

I will not say that I have never made a sacrifice.

I will say that I have never made a sacrifice in vain. I have never made a sacrifice that didn’t bring with it a deep, residing joy. I have never made a sacrifice without faith that there is a reward coming which will, like Livingston said, far outweigh these present sufferings.

With my eyes steady on the prize, I sacrifice. Never in vain, (almost) never without joy. Always with faith.

In what ways do you feel the sacrifice? Experience the privilege?

When Hard Things Happen There While We’re Here

Ten years.

That’s how long we served overseas. And next month, that will be how long since we moved back to the States.

This year, this month, is also a milestone for Joplin, MO, where we live. It’s the ten-year anniversary of the F5 tornado that devastated our city on May 22. I’ve mentioned the tornado here before, including in last year’s “Coming or Going during Turbulent Times,” but it was in reference to our repatriation. Now I’d like to talk about it in another context: dealing with difficulties that happen “there” when we’re “here.”

My memory’s not really clear on all the details, but I think one of our coworkers contacted us on the morning of May 23 (we were 13 hours ahead) to tell us to go to the Weather Channel online, that a storm had hit Joplin. He, his wife, and kids had also lived in Joplin and had family there, so this was much more than just “news” for them, as well. When we got on the Internet, we saw reports of major destruction. News anchors were saying that one third of the city, home to 50,000, was gone. Surely not! we thought. They showed video of the high school, saying it was “gone” too. But we could see it. There it was! They had to be exaggerating. And yet a storm chaser cried as he stood where houses had once been.

We tried to call our son who was a sophomore at the university in Joplin, but cell service was overwhelmed. He’d been at the house of our forwarding agents nearby when the storm hit. One of them was at work at the hospital but couldn’t get home because the cars in the parking lot were stacked into piles. When we finally got ahold of him, we’d seen more of the damage than he had, because of internet and electricity outages in Joplin. We were hesitant, though, to give many details for fear we were wrong.

As it turned out, the high school was gone, even though many of the walls were still standing. Also destroyed or damaged beyond repair were five other schools, the hospital where our forwarding agent worked, a Wal-Mart, the Home Depot, and Academy Sports. The city of 50,000 suffered a horrific amount of devastation from the rain-rapped, multi-vortex tornado—up to one mile wide and on the ground for 22 miles: 161 people killed, 4,000 residential dwellings destroyed, an estimated 9,200 people displaced, 553 businesses destroyed or severely damaged.

The destruction made the news in Taiwan, though most of our friends there didn’t know that that was our home town. It was a big topic of conversation for us as we gathered updates. We were also preparing for our move back to Joplin in a month. It was quite a stressful time.

One day on the way back from visiting my daughter’s school, as I neared the steps to the MRT, I saw a breeze catch some leaves on the sidewalk and swirl them in a circle. It was a small thing, but it filled me with emotion and I turned around and jogged quickly back to the school. I found the PE teacher, a friend (all of the teachers there were our friends), and told him how hard the last few days have been. He said he hadn’t realized how much it had affected us—neither had I—and he prayed for me and my family and the people of Joplin.

Knowing how much the movement of some scattered leaves had bothered me helped me understand how much, much, much more the people in Joplin were going through. My anxiety couldn’t compare because I wasn’t there. But oh, how I wished I were there, to help and console and listen and share in the stories unfolding. Simply to be present.

It’s hard to be here when bad things happen there. Sometimes it’s while we’re overseas and tragedy hits family and friends back home. Sometimes we’ve returned and tragedy hits family and friends back at our other home. It’s hard when you’re so far away.

Though the tornado had such a large impact, it wasn’t the most difficult distant event for us personally while we were abroad. Two years after our relocation to Taiwan my wife’s brother died suddenly from a massive stroke. Because of schooling and the cost of plane tickets, just my wife and young daughter travelled back for the funeral. Two years later, my father died from pneumonia. I flew back for the funeral by myself. And then, a year before the tornado, my wife’s mother died, also from pneumonia. My wife and oldest son (who was already stateside for college) attended her funeral. All very difficult times for us.

When we got the news that our parents were ill, we hurriedly made plans to travel to be with them, but in both instances, they passed away before we arrived. My father was initially placed on a respirator, but when he seemed to recover, I delayed my planning for the trip. Then he relapsed, went back on the respirator, and died soon thereafter. My wife found out that her mother had died after her plane landed in California.

At my father’s visitation, several people told me how happy they were that they’d been able to talk with him during that short window when he was better. I must say that I resented that they, instead of me, had been able to have those face-to-face conversations with him. But while I still regret my absence, I’m now glad for all those he got to talk with. He was far from alone.

As a cross-cultural worker, I served under the banner of Matthew 28:19, the “Great Commission,” a passage that is followed by what many have called the “Great Promise”: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). It is a great comfort to know that Jesus is with us as we serve overseas. It is a great comfort to know that Jesus is with us whatever our vocation, wherever we are. And while we often look to this promise for the miraculous fruit it will bear as we spread the gospel, it is his presence, not his actions, that he pledges. He will be with us. He is with us.

It is a great comfort to know that he is with them, too.

He was with my father through my mom and sister and our neighbors who visited him in the hospital, encouraging him in the ICU. He was with my wife’s brother and mother and other family members through those in the community who gathered around them and ministered to them. He was with the people of Joplin through the first responders and medical workers attending to their injuries. He was with Joplin through the churches and volunteers (177,000 who registered in the first two years following the storm), handing out meals and supplies and cleaning up tons of debris. He was with our oldest son through our sending church and friends who were already looking out for him in our absence. And he was with our second son, who was attending university an hour and a half away, through friends we knew from college who checked in on him for us as storms continued to roll through the area.

And even when bad things happen and no other person is around, Jesus is there. How do I know it? Because he promised to always be close by, and he is trustworthy.

When hard things happen there while we’re here, we wish we were there, too. But we’ll never be all the places we wish we could be. That’s why we depend on others to be there for us. And we lean on Jesus, the one who is here and there and everywhere, now and then and always. Remembering that doesn’t completely take away the distance and the hurt, but it does help. When we can’t be there, he can. When we’re not present, he is. He says it’s so, and that’s a promise we can rely on.

[photo: “Horizon,” by Sandro Bisotti, public domain]

I Could Never Do That

“I could never do that,” she exclaimed. “But that’s because I have kids.”

It was fifteen years ago; I was sitting behind a table at a missions conference, the church members perusing the displays of flags and brochures. She was a young mom, about my age, and was commenting on my husband’s and my decision to move back to Tanzania, long-term. 

My internal response was to feel a bit snooty. I wanted to say, “Well, I plan on having kids there, and I’m still doing this.” But I bit my tongue.

I knew better than to judge her, because how many times had I said, “I could never do that” about all sorts of other things? Moving back to Tanzania and raising kids there didn’t feel like a big deal to me because I had been an MK in Africa. But I had told my friend in Mongolia, “I could never live there.” And what about my missionary friend who lived in a remote part of Tanzania, without running water or electricity? Hadn’t the same words slipped out of my mouth?

I am by nature a cautious, unadventurous person. I like the status quo; I’m not into new things. So it is way too easy for me to say, “I can’t do that.” I can come up with all kinds of excuses that sound really noble. I’m not wired that way. I’m not gifted in that area. I don’t have the time (when maybe I do). 

I can even make my excuses sound spiritual. I’ve already sacrificed so much for God, so why would he ask me to do this other hard thing? Or the best one, that no one can argue with, God hasn’t called me to do that.

This is tricky. Some of us struggle with boundaries and say yes too often. Some of us really do need to take a rest. And of course, there are actual “can’ts.” We have physical limitations. Your medical condition may prevent you from serving in a very hot climate or a very polluted city. Your bad back may keep you in a bed for long stretches. You might not be able to sing a note on key, or your tongue might be unable to trill those r’s, no matter how hard you practice. 

But the truth is, sometimes we say, I can’t when really what we mean is I won’t. It just feels so much better–to ourselves and the people around us–to say I can’t. 

I can’t raise support.

I can’t homeschool.

I can’t send my kids to boarding school.

I can’t live without electricity.

I can’t form a relationship with that cranky neighbor.

I can’t go to one more dysfunctional church meeting.

I can’t put up with one more person knocking on my door. 

This is where we’ve got to do some soul-searching. When we find ourselves bucking up against that hard thing in our lives, we’ve got to let down our defenses, open up to God–and probably an honest friend who will tell us the truth–and ask ourselves if we are just making excuses. 

I look back on my years in Tanzania and consider all the things I accomplished that I never would have thought I could do. Driving on the left side of the road. Leading worship. Hosting large groups. Conducting an interview. Killing ticks and centipedes. Writing Sunday School curriculum. Navigating foreign government offices. Making bagels from scratch. Deboning a chicken. Flying by myself to a remote area of the country. 

I didn’t feel brave. I was not excited about trying these new things. But the reality was, if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. If I wanted to adopt those children, I had to get used to driving on the psychotic downtown streets. If we wanted to stay in the country, I had better learn how to navigate immigration. If my husband longed for bagels for his birthday, then I better learn how to make them myself. If I wanted to be a school principal, then figuring out how to do interviews came with the job. If I didn’t want centipedes in my child’s bed, then I had to learn how to kill them. 

I surprised myself, over and over again. Lo and behold, when I was forced to do things, I was far more capable than I realized. In fact, I look back on my missionary life and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to stretch myself in so many different ways. At the time, it just felt hard and scary. But in the end, I was able to do a whole lot more than I ever thought I could. 

I’m not endorsing self-help mottos like, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” because this isn’t about finding strength in ourselves. This is about being willing to take an honest look at our excuses and how they line up with what we know God wants us to do with our lives. God will give us the strength to do what we know He has called us to do. His grace is enough. In our weakness, His power is made perfect. It may require repentance, humbling ourselves, and taking a step of faith. Or a lot of steps. 

Just last year, I was faced with a challenge I thought I couldn’t do. We were returning to the States, and I had the opportunity to stay on with our mission as a pre-field missionary coach. The position was perfect for me and God made it clear that I should move towards it, but I balked. I can’t raise support as a stateside missionary, I told myself, my husband, and my friends. It’s impossible. But God finally broke through my excuses, I surrendered to Him, and here I am, as a stateside supported missionary. I can’t or I won’t? 

Finding Jesus in a Slum

by Rahma

Ten years ago, I moved to Indonesia with one suitcase and a heart full of hope. I planned to live in a slum, learn the language, and seek the Kingdom of Jesus. Of course, the first year had many challenges. There was so much to learn and adjust to: the language, washing clothes by hand, riding public transportation around the mega-city, eating rice three times a day.

The first year that I lived in a slum in Jakarta, the community received eviction letters. The news of eviction of course became the “hot topic” of conversation around the neighborhood. Conversations were not only about eviction — they were also about the danger of a fire. My neighbors knew from experience that letters of eviction were often followed by fires (because it is easier to evict people if their houses have already been burned down, right?).  As my neighbors had predicted, two weeks later there was a devastating fire. 200 homes were burnt down in half an hour.

For a week or two after the fire, those who had lost their homes slept under three large blue tents on top of the mountain of trash that bordered the community. The tents were provided by an NGO, along with some free meals and bags of donated clothing. Even though my home had been spared from the fire, I decided to spend a night under the tent with some of my best friends who had lost everything in the fire. We experienced the discomfort of mosquitoes, uneven ground, and the noises of lots of people. My heart joined in mourning with my neighbors who had lost all their earthly possessions. And more than just grief, I felt anger at the unfairness of it all.

One day not long after that, as I was reading the Bible, a passage from Hebrews struck me in a new way: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (Hebrews 13:12-13 NIV)

As I read this passage, the image in my mind was of the mountain of trash, with the cross of Jesus on it. And I knew that Jesus was confirming for me that He indeed was present there.

Slum areas are often on the outskirts of cities. Slums by definition are on undocumented land, illegal squatter settlements — or “dark land” as we call it in Indonesian. No land titles or deeds, no government address, and therefore often no access to most government services.  But Jesus suffered outside the city gate. And because of that, “let us go to Him.”

I live and serve in a slum community not just to “help people.” I live here because I want to meet Jesus here. Our lives are too short to spend them chasing wealth, “success,” or other lies this world offers. If we have repented and had our lives transformed by Jesus, Jesus is now our King. We are invited to give our lives in service of our King and His Kingdom. We are invited to share this good news of God’s great love with all we meet. Our lives are no longer our own; they belong to Him who died for us.

We must remember that our citizenship is in this New Kingdom, not in nation-states. We are only foreigners for the time we are here.

We are invited to “go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” We have to be willing to bear disgrace (NIV), to bear the abuse (NRSV), to bear the reproach (ESV). Or, as The Message says: “So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus.”

The slum area that experienced the fire nine years ago ended up being evicted. On the ruins of the homes of thousands of evicted poor families, a large shopping mall and apartment complex was built for the rich. Even though the process of eviction was extremely sad and painful, the Lord graciously led us to a new slum area — where we have gotten to observe the birth of a slum. It is now nearly nine years that we have been in this community. There have continued to be many challenges these nine years, but we are so grateful. We are grateful for each day that we are allowed to live and serve here, to be witnesses for Christ in this place that according to the world has no value.

We believe that those the world does not value are actually extremely precious in His eyes: For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12-14 NIV)

We long for more teammates to join us in this slum community. Not just because we want more friends to serve alongside with, but because we long to see more and more Christians experience meeting Jesus on the trash heap. Even though it is hard, even though this is a “disgraceful” place, even though there are many physical discomforts, following Jesus here is also full of joy. Full of God’s grace and mercy. Filled with amazing surprises from an amazing God.

Meeting Jesus here has changed our lives. It can change anyone’s life. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

(Originally published at servantsasia.org.)

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

Rahma (not her real name) and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org 

The Reluctant Missionary

by Shannon Brink

Ever think maybe, just maybe, you would be a better missionary if you just weren’t one? I do.  

When did this term, this identity, get wrapped up in so many unrealistic expectations? Expectations from generations of history, from sending and receiving agencies, from churches, from supporters, from other missionaries, from Facebook, Lord help us, from ourselves. All these expectations point to an image that isn’t even real. Where are the stories of missionaries that were just average humans incarnating Christ where they happened to reside? Is that any different than what I was doing before I sent newsletters and appealed to Church boards? What makes us so special? 

The true confession is, that nothing makes me altogether special. I do dishes and make dinner and wrestle with poverty and try to make space for a devotional life, and question what I am doing and how I am helping anybody, every single living day. I show up for the hospital, I try to give my kids my attention and discipleship, and make a billion mistakes and sometimes, truth be told, hide from people. I hide because I feel incompetent in this language and space and want to be with people I can deeply connect with. I grieve, I seek Christ, I run away from Christ, and do all the very same things I did in my home country except there’s more dust and pests here.

I could gripe about how hard and how lonely this all is, except I know I am not alone. There are many of us around the world that are questioning exactly what it is we gave up our lives for. What could possibly have moved us from there, to here, for? Was I being a martyr? Was I choosing a path that seemed like the most sacrificial, the most blessed, the most exciting, only to find that I could have been just as effective (or dare I say ineffective) as the place we left behind? Are we hindering more than we are helping because of our colonial heritage?  Are we advancing a kingdom or advancing our agendas, our resources, and our need to feel like we did something for Christ? 

If anything has become clear in this COVID season which never seems to end, it is that we cannot be a people about doing anymore.  We came with agendas, we came with plans, we came with a lot of expectations behind and before us, but we are human hearts needing the grace of God not just to do something through us, but IN us. And now we are locked in our houses, homeschooling our kids, limited in resources and freedom of movement and would you believe, the Church and her Christ will still stand? Without our programs and ministries, without our perfect solutions and ideas, and without us at all.

So with every bit of pain I feel, I take comfort in the stripping away of who exactly I thought I would be in this space and think maybe it’s time to change my title and perhaps more so, actually change my heart.  If, at the end of the day, we all realize we need Christ just a little bit, then this entire year would be worth it.  Maybe if we possibly learned that we are just as inadequate as we ever feared but just as called as we ever dreamed, we might actually start being the Church instead of trying so hard to do Church.

Maybe, we’d stop trying to be missionaries and just be His.

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

Shannon is a mother of 4 kids, a nurse, a writer, and a missionary in Malawi. Her family is currently residing in Vancouver, Canada because of COVID. Her writing explores the awkward spaces of life like waiting, grieving, calling, and transition, which seems to become increasingly relevant in our lives and in our global story. She has just finished her first book. Find her at shannonbrink.org.