4 Ways Missionary Parents Can Use Everyday Moments to Disciple Their Kids

by Alicia Bennett

In today’s demands of ministry, missionary parents often feel overwhelmed by the challenges of discipling their own children, especially when living outside their country of origin. Many fear they aren’t doing “enough” to spiritually influence their children with the demands of ministry to the lost. It can be easy to assume that your children are “getting it” just because you serve as a family overseas. But that simply isn’t the case. Discipleship is something that can be taught as well as “caught,” and it is very important that you do both with intentionality.

Whether you serve overseas in direct evangelism or in some sort of support role, these tips are for you. The key to effective discipleship lies in using everyday moments in your family life, as well as leveraging worldwide and current local events to point the next generation to Christ.

1. Embrace Everyday Moments

Everyday activities offer abundant opportunities for discipleship. Whether it’s during meals, car rides, or bedtime routines (see Deut. 6:7-9), all parents can use these moments to instill biblical values in their children. For example, while preparing dinner, parents can discuss the importance of gratitude and thank God for the food, appreciating the different ethnic food or being thankful for what is available.

During car (or motorbike rides!), they can talk about God’s creation and the beauty of nature they see around them while praying for safety as they travel. When challenges arise from living in a foreign country, you can talk about how to have a godly response, giving practical real-life examples as you navigate these experiences together.

Events, both ordinary and extraordinary, can be powerful teaching tools. Use them to highlight God’s presence in all circumstances. For example, if your child experiences a disappointment, discuss how to trust God and seek His comfort. When your child is confused about why people in the country where they live do things differently than what their family or culture of origin does, explain the differences in worldview and share what Scripture says about the topic.

At athletic or artistic events, talk about perseverance, dedication, and using our talents for God’s glory. When your children face conflicts with friends from the culture or their own siblings, discuss what Jesus would do. Use birthdays and anniversaries to reflect on God’s blessings and faithfulness to your family, especially in a foreign land.

To make the most of everyday moments, consider these practical tips:

  • Model faith in daily life: Let your children see your faith in action. Pray openly, read the Bible together, and discuss how God is working in your own life and the lives of those you are ministering to. Bring your children around to age-appropriate ministry opportunities and let them serve alongside you.
  • Create a routine: Establish regular times for family devotions and prayer. Consistency helps children understand that you serve Him out of a thankful heart and not just in obedience.
  • Incorporate faith into everyday language: Use playtime to teach biblical lessons. Bring Scripture into challenging moments and discipline. Discuss differences in worldviews as you go about your day overseas.
  • If you’re not sure where to begin: Create a list of daily family activities or ministry activities where you can naturally incorporate faith-based conversations. Plan specific topics or questions to discuss during these times.

2. Leverage Current Events

World events such as the war in Ukraine, a tsunami in Japan, or global events like the Olympic Games provide unique opportunities to teach children about different places, peoples, faiths, and cultures than even the foreign land you are living in. Living abroad, you are in a unique position to contrast what you know and believe with what your children see around them, giving them the opportunity to put their biblical worldview into practical use.

Whether you choose to talk about these specific events or other more local events in your area, you are informing their worldview. A worldview is the lens through which we interpret life and the events that happen around us. It is our job as Christian parents to give our children a biblical worldview, a biblical foundation on which they will live the rest of their lives. When we choose to talk about world events through a biblical lens, it will:

  • Inspire and feed their faith in a living God.
  • Create hearts of compassion and encourage them that their prayers are important.
  • Provide them with tangible ways to get involved with God where they are at.
  • Enlarge their worldview to trust God when they see how others go through trials.

You can use events like these to discuss biblical themes such as perseverance, trust in God, and honoring God in our choices even when the culture around us does differently. The Olympics, for example, can be a great starting point for conversations about how athletes use their gifts and how we can use ours to glorify God.

Children are naturally curious and will have many questions about faith and the world around them, especially when they grow up in a culture that is different than their own. Encourage open dialogue, allowing them to express their thoughts and doubts. This fosters a deeper understanding and personal connection to their own faith, giving them a solid foundation as they grow up.

3. Address Difficult Events with Sensitivity

Living in a foreign country can present additional challenges when addressing difficult events. Whether it’s natural disasters or local conflicts, it’s crucial to be honest yet sensitive to your children’s age and emotional maturity. When a difficult event occurs, take time to pray and reflect on how to discuss it with your children. Use it as an opportunity to teach them about God’s love and care for all people.

Some strategies to consider:

  • Prepare emotionally: Ensure you’re emotionally ready to guide your children through these discussions. Process your feelings first so you can provide a calm and biblical perspective.
  • Use age-appropriate language: Simplify complex issues using terms your children understand. For younger children, describe conflicts in terms of “bad guys” and “good guys” without going into graphic details.
  • Be aware of cultural differences: Understand how local culture might influence your children’s perspectives and filter the issue through what the Bible says first, not just cultural norms.
  • Focus on prayer and compassion: Encourage your children to pray for those affected and to have compassionate hearts. Explain how prayer can make a difference and show empathy. Turn your hearts to God and His ways.

4. Integrate Lessons from the Bible

Scripture should be the foundation of all discipleship efforts. Relate everyday family and ministry experiences to biblical stories and principles. Don’t worry about knowing the “address” for each reference you make! In fact, make it a habit to look them up and then write them down and post commonly used scripture around your home so you and your kids will learn the Bible together.

Another option is to choose a few key Bible verses that align with the themes you want to discuss with your children. Post them up around your home and refer to them during relevant everyday moments.

Discipling your children using everyday moments and current events provides rich opportunities to instill a biblical worldview. Living overseas, your children have a ready-made opportunity to see the differences between people of different worldviews. By embracing everyday moments, addressing difficult events with sensitivity, and grounding your discussions in Scripture, you can effectively nurture your children’s faith. Remember, discipleship is a continuous journey (for you and for them), and every moment is a chance to point your children towards God.

For more insights and practical tips, consider grabbing your copy of Alicia’s Olympic Family Devotional to follow along during the 2024 Summer Olympics starting July 26th! This family devotional will equip you with the tools and confidence to show you how to make the most of every opportunity to disciple your children. Order your copy here.

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Alicia Bennett grew up living and traveling overseas from a very young age, but it wasn’t until college that God captured her heart for unreached peoples. After majoring in East Asian studies, she worked with an international mission agency until she and her husband started a family. Today, Alicia and her husband live in Colorado and raise their four growing boys. She serves in both children’s and mission capacities at her local church and writes for various ministries. You can find her online at MobilizerMom.com and Instagram, where she seeks to equip other parents to raise the next generation of Daniels and Esthers.

 

Too Much and Not Enough: When Purity Culture Crosses Borders

Note: this article contains sensitive subject matter, including reference to a sexual assault.

“Be sure to stay attractive and don’t let yourself go. If you don’t please him, there will always be another woman who will.” 

This was the advice I was given by the well-meaning married women in my small group weeks before my wedding. While I know these ladies truly loved me, their fear-inducing advice adhered to the innermost parts of my brain like superglue. 

Two years later, as we transitioned to life overseas, I heard similar sentiments from a seasoned global worker who had been on the field for decades. She advised me that cross-cultural ministry is hard on men, so I make sure that I was always taking care of my appearance in order to keep my husband faithful. Interpretation: Don’t get fat or ugly, otherwise your husband would be justified for being unfaithful to you. 

The tentacles of purity culture in the West have crossed borders and poisoned the waters of both women and men who left their home countries to heed Christ’s calling in far-away lands. Alongside our call to kingdom work overseas, many women also brought along a warped sense of responsibility for men’s sexual purity. For married women, we hoisted upon our backs the heavy burden of being sexually appealing enough for our husbands to stay interested, while simultaneously being modest enough for the rest of the world not to notice us.

Drop this baggage of paradox into a Muslim culture that perpetuates a gender ideology nearly identical to the West’s purity culture, and we might find ourselves attempting to pick between the poisons of being sexy enough for marriage and invisible enough for public view.

While living in Afghanistan, I was warned to follow a few simple rules to avoid sexual assault. Firstly, always walk with a man when out and about. If ill-intentioned men on the street see you walking with a male chaperone, they will leave you alone. Also, do not wear clothing like short sleeves or revealing headscarves that show your hair or neck.

I, like many women, quickly learned that these rules were useless among men determined to indulge their impulses. I covered up thoroughly, and trying to conceal my appearance as something dangerous and disgraceful became the norm outside my home. Within my home, though, I looked in the mirror and wondered if I was coming even close to meeting the ill-defined standards of “good enough” to keep my husband from straying. While I knew he loved me, the advice of my small group friends taunted me at any sign of ageing and weight gain. 

The first time I was sexually assaulted in the bazaar, I had been following all of the rules. My hair was hidden from view beneath my blue scarf, and my buttoned overcoat thoroughly obscured any indication of a feminine form hiding below. Walking just steps ahead of me was my trustworthy chaukidor, the gentle grandfather who kept careful watch at our gate and was accompanying me home from the pharmacy that day with my bag of antibiotics.

I was unremarkable, small, quiet; exactly what the strict local culture demanded of women, and simultaneously the ideal of purity culture’s standards. Nevertheless, these burdens that guaranteed my protection and honor failed. My body was violated by a random shopper on the street, and so was my sense of agency. 

My husband was ever-accepting of me and never uttered or insinuated an unkind comment about my appearance, but I assumed of him all that I had been told to expect: he will stray if I do not look good enough. While I carefully watched the scale and slathered on beauty products in order to be acceptable inside my home, I meticulously draped on layers of hiding in order to be acceptable outside of it.

As if the Islamic standards of dress were not enough, Christian expat communities also tend to form a spectrum of opinions on how closely we women should adhere to or subvert Islamic standards feminine conduct and dress. Not being perceived as culturally aloof in how I dressed was also a high priority. I patted myself on the back as I strived to be all things to all men, as the apostle Paul had said he was. In truth, I could not even discern who the actual person beneath the shapeshifting was anymore. 

The dam walls finally came crumbling down many years after moving from Afghanistan to the Middle East. Dressed in my frumpiest sweatpants and sweatshirt, I had just finished a long run and was huffing as I plodded home. The Arab Gulf does not afford many mornings cold enough to render your breath a cloudy form before your eyes, but that morning was one of the few.

Amused by this rare sight, I looked up to notice a man walking toward me on the sidewalk. The gap between us narrowing, it became clear that this man was not about to make enough space for me to pass him by on either side, so I began to move towards the street in order to cross. Nevertheless, the man quickened his step, and whispered a lewd solicitation at me. I looked away and quickly crossed the street.

Once behind the locked gate of my garden walls, the rage that had been quietly simmering for years erupted. I was crushed beneath the burden of managing the boundaries of my femininity, and my failure to fulfill obligations of propriety danced a victor’s jig atop my frumpy, ageing, sweaty body. No matter how meticulously I covered myself, men would stare. No matter how I toiled to obey the fearsome advice of elder Christian women to stay attractive, I surmised that it was not enough. 

“What do you want from me?!” I scream-whispered at God. 

The epiphany of that morning propelled me into a flurry of frustration and questioning. Both Christians and Muslims seemed to be giving women like me the same message: The sexual sin of men will always be your fault. My tween daughter was beginning to experiment with her own fashion sense, and I realized that my toxic confusion, birthed from purity culture, was about to reproduce a flimsy fortification of shame and fear around her femininity. Instead of a rule book, I needed a transformation of my mind. 

Not only was I wrestling purity culture’s twisted rules in my home, but in my conversations with Muslim women as well. For them, the stakes of staying attractive were intensified. My Muslim friends regularly disclosed fear and suspicion of their husbands marrying a second wife; one with a more youthful body and energetic libido.

As I self-audited years’ worth of self-deception, misconceptions of marriage, and altogether unbiblical advice, I found myself preaching to my own soul the words of truth I had spoken countless times to my Muslim friends: “You are a precious treasure to God. Even if your husband does not recognize your value, you are deeply beloved by the Living God.”

Similarly, as my Muslim friends whispered words of judgement about women who did not cover their faces or hair, I asked them, “Whose fault is it if a man looks at her lustfully?” Their responses, staggeringly akin to tenets of purity culture, were usually least hospitable to women. “The men should look away, but they cannot help themselves. Women should cover themselves, or they are at fault.”

While I had always outwardly disagreed with their words, I came to see that my striving to be unnoticeable was actually embodying an affirmation of their sentiments. In our own ways, all of us were striving for the same thing: to avoid being visually and physically violated by men. The coverings serve as a safety measure for women in a system where men are rarely held accountable for their sins against women. 

Jesus had damning words for those who look upon women with lust. Curiously, he did not give an adjacent warning to the women who might be the object of that lust. When Pharisees approached Jesus seeking ratification of their divorce practices, Jesus declared men the sinners in cases of discarding their wives in favor of new ones.

While these passages are complex and deserving of attention to nuance, Jesus unabashedly held men personally responsible for their sexual sin. These were messages of truth that I had spoken for more than a decade in other languages, but they were words that could not transform my own tainted heart until I desperately needed them to be true. 

And His words are true. Amidst my attempts to shoulder the painful baggage of shame and perpetual inadequacy, Jesus offers me rest and a yoke that is light. He invites me to entrust my marriage to him and to forfeit the losing game of “modest enough.” 

One morning I sensed the Lord asking me this question: “What if you believed that you are already good enough… right here, right now?” The self-loathing and shame corner of my brain had been working overtime, and I knew that if one thing was true of me, it was that I was inadequate in every possible way.

The question whispered into my heart that morning was so far beyond anything that I was capable of believing that I knew it had come from the lover of my soul. His healing words and lifting of burdens have continued to confound and heal me. Healing tends to be quieter and more subtle than the slow spread of sickness, but its effects disseminate a sweet contagion: hope.

As cross-cultural workers, we are capable of unwittingly bringing along any number of falsehoods and self-deception. In his kindness, the Father often allows us to recognize the very same deception within another culture in order to bind up and heal places in ourselves that we did not even realize were wounded. And in his mercy, he also gives us the opportunity to share those healing wounds with those around us. 

To those who are struggling to shake off the painful yoke of lies and half-truths that purity culture burdened upon our souls: keep leaning into the One who reveals the truth. Seek the teacher who did not tell Mary that she ought to be tending to domestic responsibilities, but rather honored her for choosing to sit among the men and learn. Lean into the rabbi who left onlookers aghast as he broke gendered cultural mores for the sake of his Father’s Kingdom.

Finally, hold on to the reality that even as Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the Gospel, he did not stop teaching, transforming, and healing the hearts of those very same disciples when they came back to report all that they had seen and heard. 

Transition Stress and TCKs: What does “normal” look like?

by Lauren Wells

“We haven’t seen our boy act like himself in over a year. We sometimes get glimpses of the fun, playful kid he used to be, but most of the time he’s like a shell of his old self. We don’t know where the kid we knew went.”

Fifteen months earlier, these parents had moved across the globe to a new country and culture. Their oldest son had started attending a local school while the younger siblings who weren’t yet school age stayed home. 

“We knew it would be a big transition for him,” they said. “We worried when he seemed to get more and more withdrawn, but we kept telling ourselves this was the normal transition stress everyone warned us about. But it’s been over a year now and it’s just gotten worse.” 

I wish I could tell you that this is the only time I’ve had a conversation like this with parents, but it’s not. The phrase “we figured it was just transition stress” is one I’ve heard many times in my work with hundreds of parents. 

When my colleagues and I work with families prior to a move or to train schools or organizations about family care, a topic we cover is how to distinguish between  “normal” transition stress and when it has gone beyond that. This preventive approach keeps normal transition stress from growing into a long-term state of emotional unhealth which will eventually turn into a crisis. 

So, what is normal transition stress for children? At what point should adjustments be considered because the transition stress has gone beyond a healthy limit? Knowing how to distinguish between healthy transition bumps and long-term adjustment issues is a critical part of preventive care. 

Red Zone/Green Zone

When my company (TCK Training) talks about transition stress for Third Culture Kids, we use the concept of Red Zone/Green Zone. When we’re in the Red Zone, our brain is flooded with stress hormones. This isn’t concerning for a short period of time, and in small doses it can actually be part of resilience building. While a developing brain shouldn’t be exposed to those stress hormones too consistently or for too long, during a major transition it’s normal for everyone to be in the Red Zone for a while.

What the Red Zone looks like for children/teens:

  • Uncharacteristic behavior challenges 
  • Being overly emotional
  • Appearing down or withdrawn
  • Being extra clingy to a parent 
  • Developmental reverting (accidents after being potty trained, sleep regressions, using baby talk, needing a comfort item they had grown out of, etc.) 
  • Development of new stress-induced habits (hair twisting, biting lips or skin, etc.) 
  • Not enjoying activities that used to bring joy 
  • Lack of ability to learn new concepts (this often shows up as  difficulty meeting academic milestones, such as reading, if those concepts are introduced while the child is in the Red Zone, or lower grades than the child’s typical performance)
  • Long periods of numbing/distracting behaviors (e.g. spending hours on an electronic device, consistently choosing to read for hours instead of spending time with family/other children) 

While these behaviors are all normal during a transition season, some behaviors require immediate support even during the normal Red Zone window of transition: 

  • Any sort of self-harm 
  • Suicidal ideation (or any statements that imply that they wish they weren’t alive)
  • Extreme physical aggression toward others 
  • A pattern of undereating or overeating 
  • Depressive or anxious symptoms that interfere with daily functioning

If your child experiences these symptoms at any point it is important to seek immediate professional mental health support.

The Green Zone

In the midst of Red Zone seasons like major transitions, planting “Green Zone moments” is important. This brings the child’s brain momentarily above water. While they still may be mostly in the Red Zone, consistently bringing in Green Zone activities can speed their progress out of the Red Zone.

Green Zone moments can include: 

  • Body movement (going for a walk, playing a sport, etc.) 
  • Anything rhythmic – rhythm regulates the brain (music, dancing, coloring, etc.) 
  • Talking about why this transition feels so hard (allowing them to share and/or giving them language for why they’re feeling this way) 
  • Laughing 
  • Deep breathing 
  • Experiencing something that feels physically comforting (a favorite food, a cozy blanket, a special treat, etc.) 
  • Quality time with a parent, sibling, or close friend 

How Long is Too Long?

After a major transition it is common for children to be primarily in the Red Zone for three months. During this time it is important to implement Green Zone moments for/with them. After three months, we typically see that children have fewer Red Zone days/moments. They begin to act more like their normal selves, trending toward a more consistent Green Zone state. When this is happening, we begin to see that: 

  • They can identify friends they like to play with 
  • Getting ready for school in the morning isn’t as difficult  
  • They talk about things they’re looking forward to
  • They want to join activities that brought them joy in the past or that tap into their skills or talents 
  • They are beginning to feel more confident about how to succeed in school
  • They seem to have a more positive outlook 
  • They are laughing and smiling more 
  • They are doing “Green Zone moments” without prompting 

Most often at around 6-9 months after a transition, the stress has eased and children are in the Green Zone more regularly.

What If It’s Not Getting Better?

The shift from Red Zone to Green Zone may seem slow and drawn out, and even in the best circumstances it can take time. If after six months a child doesn’t seem to be trending toward the Green Zone, we have moved beyond normal transition stress. At this point, professional support for the parents (and possibly the child as well) may be helpful. 

Shifts need to be made so that we can prevent the child going deeper into the Red Zone. The following questions can help determine factors that could be contributing to prolonged transition stress. You can begin making small shifts to see if they begin to make a difference. In the home, for example, you might schedule consistent one-on-one time with that child. In the environment, you might add an activity outside school hours that they would enjoy. 

In the Home

  • Are they receiving regular, positive attention from their parents? 
  • Do they feel they can talk about their emotions and feel heard and comforted? 
  • Do they feel physically safe? 
  • Are they sleeping well?
  • Does the family smile and laugh together often? 

In their Environment

  • Do they have access to activities that would give them Green Zone moments? 
  • Do they have potential friends in their class/school? 
  • Is their teacher a factor that is putting them in the Red Zone?
  • Are there specific stressors that they or you can pinpoint? 
  • Are there adults other than their parents investing in them?

Understanding the progression from Red Zone to Green Zone that happens during a transition season can help parents to monitor their children’s stress levels during times of change. Not only does this knowledge prevent children staying in the Red Zone for an unhealthy period of time, but it also gives parents strategies for improving family health and tools for making adjustments to get each family member on the right track if it doesn’t seem to be happening naturally.

There is so much hope in knowing what normal looks like and having tools to help your children when their transition stress goes beyond that point. To learn more about going through transitions of any kind, especially as a family, check out TCK Training’s self-directed Transitions Course.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

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Lauren Wells is the founder and CEO of TCK Training and the Unstacking Company and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, The Grief Tower, and Unstacking Your Grief Tower. She is an Adult TCK who spent her teenage years in Tanzania, East Africa. She sits on the board of the TCK Care Accreditation as Vice Chair and is part of the TCK Training research team focusing on preventive care research in the TCK population.

Disordered Work Ethics in Ministry

 

I struggle with rest. More accurately, I battle the guilt I associate with rest. And I know it comes from two significant pieces of my identity: the MK part and the missionary part. Perhaps this is why the story of Loïc Leferme struck me as a wake-up call when I first saw a documentary about his life.

Loïc Leferme is a French world-record holder in freediving. To be more precise, he’s a dead world-record holder. Leferme passed away in 2007 while trying to beat his own 561-feet depth record with no respiration devices . He had only the air in his lungs as he was propelled downward by a motorized pulley system.

I was instantly fascinated by Loïc’s story — not so much by his underwater exploits as by the sheer obsession this man had with finding the limits of his physical and mental capacities, then surpassing them over and over. Each dive was Loïc’s death-defying statement that nothing was too much for him and that he would not let the universe determine what he could and couldn’t withstand.

One of the last questions asked of him in the documentary was a perplexed, “Why do you do it?” Loïc’s answer was sobering. With a soft, awe-filled smile, he said: “I cannot stop until I’ve found how far I can go.”

No one knows exactly what happened the day Loïc died. After eight minutes under water, he was found unconscious by his best friend and trainer, slowly floating back to the surface where his wife and children waited in inflatable crafts.

He had found his body’s limits. And finding them had destroyed him.

Extreme Ministry
There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered how deep my own Loïc Leferme tendencies go. Back in 2017, fresh off major surgery, I mentioned in a newsletter that I was dealing with an unexpected setback in my recovery.

The next day, I received an email from a friend: “I am not your counselor, your mentor or your doctor — but perhaps your body is trying to slow you down just a little so you can give yourself appropriate time to recover.”

That email brought an uncomfortable epiphany. It had felt good to get back in the saddle after being sidelined by illness. To return to my pre-surgery routines. To say “Yes!” as often as possible, defying the “Nos” that had been imposed on me by my diagnosis. But as I read her words, I realized that I’d actually been drill-sergeanting myself into something I call “extreme ministry.” And it wasn’t a new thing.

For the majority of my years serving Missionaries’ Kids, I’ve given in to a compulsion to keep pushing the limits of my human endurance in an attempt to earn the approval of the God who called me and the communities that watched me, and to appease the fear of failure—the fear of lessness—that haunted me.

There was no verse I could point to that said, “You will be rewarded for working yourself so hard that your body and spirit give out.” There was no written or spoken message that told me that burnout is a measure of true faith. But somehow, I’d absorbed that subliminal, toxic messaging so much in my youth that it was permeating my adulthood.

What are some of the unhelpful messages that get whispered in missionary communities and unwittingly passed down in missionary families? I asked the 1,200 adult MKs of a group I moderate to chime in, and these are some of their answers:

      • People don’t give for us to sit around doing nothing
      • The appearance of slothfulness is bad for our ‘brand’
      • We should always be available, no matter the hour or day
      • “Newsletter pressure” – proving to supporters that something is being accomplished with their funds
      • We must work hard for Jesus in order to appease Him, minimize His wrath, and improve our chances of having prayers answered
      • “I’d rather burn out than rust out!”
      • Folks back home are sacrificing and working extra to support us, so how can we do any less?
      • Things such as time off for recovery, setting personal boundaries, taking a break/vacation, and focusing on family needs are seen as secondary to “kingdom work”

Essentially, the motivating message is this: pour yourself out until you have nothing left to give. This is the mark of a faithful believer. This elevates you in the eyes of your creator. Your conscious self-destruction is good and noble.

The mission field is littered with the remains of Loïc Leferme types who found limitation-shattering to be an exhilarating “sport”…right up until it became a devastating curse. And the victims aren’t just the missionaries who devote themselves to a quest for superhuman achievement and are willing to sacrifice their physical, mental, and spiritual health to their efforts. Among the MKs I work with today, I see a spectrum of work-ethic-dysfunction that bleeds into their adult years and sometimes gets passed down to their own children.

People who live under a constant barrage of pressure to do more and be better will tend to respond in one of two extremes. They will either do all they can to perform beyond their capacity—no matter the cost—or they’ll choose to divest themselves entirely of any obligation or inclination to succeed. I’ve seen both archetypes in the population I serve.

They become either broken overachievers or deliberate underachievers. Both responses represent seriously disordered thinking.

Crushing Depths
When I arrived in Germany in 1991 to work as a writer for Black Forest Academy’s communications department, I came with the full understanding that BFA also stood for “Be Flexible Always.” So when the director dramatically changed the plan on my first day, I took it all in stride.

Looking back, the conversation is mostly a blur. I was told, in essence, “We need you to teach two levels of high school English, two levels of middle school French, direct the school play and the high school ensemble, and commute every day from France while attending all of BFA’s events and developing relationships with the students… Oh, and you’ll volunteer in the dorms too. You can do all that, right?

The missionary neophyte in me nodded dumbly and considered the assignment an honor. What followed was a two-year spiral that started with exhilaration and ended in something close to abject despair. 

Having grown up watching adults sacrificing health, relationships and longevity to their ministry, I didn’t question the wisdom of throwing myself headlong into the insurmountable job description I’d been assigned.

I was the Loïc Leferme of the mission world for those two first years at BFA, pushing past my boundaries over and over again, allowing into my life the kind of stress and over-commitment that absolutely crushed me. By the time I realized what was happening, I was utterly spent.

Fighting the compulsion to overdo it is hard, particularly when it has spiritual overtones. Saying, “I can’t do that” feels like a shameful admission of weakness or ineptitude—of insufficient faith. And in an environment where everything we do is supposed to be for others, it also feels self-absorbed and unworthy.

I know you’ve met the people I’m describing. Maybe you’re one of them — the good, dedicated servant-hearts who push themselves so hard for so long that they can’t withstand the strain. The committed Christ-followers who sacrifice their family’s well-being to the poisons of absence and overwork. The missionaries and MKs who have floated back to the surface—fractured and ashamed—after failing to be indestructible.

We’re all susceptible to Loïc’s desperate drive to find and exceed our limitations “in God’s name. 

We do it out of conviction and devotion. Leave it all on the field, right? It’s all for the Lord, and He demands everything from us. We may also do it because, rightfully or not, we feel the scrutiny of others in our communities, and we fear their condemnation if we fail to live up to their conception of how busy and overwhelmed a “good” Christian should be.

For people who are meant to live as Jesus did, we’re awfully quick to overlook the example he gave us. Even the Son of God had to take breaks from a ministry in which he was literally saving lives during his time in a human body. If people were healed by simply touching the edge of his garment, think of how many more could have survived whatever was plaguing them if he hadn’t taken the initiative to go off alone.

Yet he did exactly that. He gave himself permission to take a step back, instructing us by example to do the same when it is wise and necessary.

We are so quick to quote verses about our bodies being “a temple” when it comes to managing our diet and exercising more, yet we too often forget to treat them as such when they demand restraint and rest .

Stepping back feels self-protective and not others-focused enough. Yet our self-monitoring and self-care need to be fully engaged at all times if we’re to escape the “benevolent decay” caused by unchecked busyness and damaging do-gooding.

It’s a tension I live in every day. As an MK. As a missionary. As a single woman. As a survivor. As a fragile human with finite strength. Yet I believe it’s out of obedience to God that we must make wise decisions about our investment in work and ministry. That we must protect ourselves from over-commitment and exhaustion. That we must acknowledge that it’s okay to slow down when necessary, to push less, to stop long enough to notice those who depend on us who are waiting on the surface of our calling—peering into the depths of our excesses, hoping we’ll swim back into their lives when we come to our senses.

Preventable burnout is not heroic. It is mismanagement of the capacities and calling God gave us. And having needs is not a flaw—it’s a feature of God’s design in us.

Essential Sabbath
In Wayne Muller’s excellent book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives, he wrote: “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.”

He’s not saying that God will cause illness to punish our excesses. He’s saying that the breaking of our endurance will force us to rest. And that rest is God ordained and God pleasing.

Loïc Leferme’s tragic example can be a cautionary tale that prompts us all to greater self-reflection and to dependence on God for wiser self-management. Our God is a God of love and kindness, one who made himself human and knows the limitations of bodies best fueled by sleep and silence and serenity and self-control–bodies for whom laughter and leisure are as important as passion and purpose. As important as details and deadlines and all the “doing” that is a good thing, but not the ultimate thing.

In The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer makes this brilliant point: “Corrie ten Boom once said that if the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy. There’s truth in that. Both sin and busyness have the exact same effect—they cut off your connection to God, to other people, and even to your own soul.”

I can’t imagine a more grievous loss.

From Striving to Thriving
I have only one fragile body to rely on for the years of life God gives me. One heart to invest in the people with whom he’s entrusted me. One soul to commit to a flourishing relationship with him. That is a fact for every one of us.

Despite the compelling voice of guilt trying to dissuade us , we must find a way to love ourselves as Jesus loves us. We must recognize the necessary boundaries he reveals to us in times of stress and pain. We must monitor the spiritual and emotional fault-lines through which he speaks to us of lack of margin. 

We must surrender our compulsion for “doing” and “surpassing” to his whispered assurance that He’s greater than our best efforts and endlessly forgiving of our shortcomings. He delights in us whether we accomplish much or nothing.

We must choose and practice living both proactively and protectively, sacrificing for those we love, but not seeking significance in spiritualized self-harm. And we must rest in the certainty that God loves us so much more than he needs us.

If you’re the Loïc Leferme of whatever context you inhabit, might I suggest these five small considerations that have begun to help me? Until we curb our tendency toward extreme ministry, we will continue to teach disordered work—which is evidence of a disordered heart—to the impressionable souls watching us for guidance.

      1. Study the importance of rest as demonstrated and described in the Bible: the emphasis God places on the Sabbath and the way Jesus embodies wise boundaries.
      2. Pause regularly and for long enough to find stillness and listen to God’s voice.
      3. Assess your needs and health (physical, emotional, spiritual) at regular intervals, maybe even giving those who love and know you best the permission to speak of the harmful compulsions and idols they see in you.
      4. Experience the wisdom and blessing of saying wise “Nos” for all the right reasons.
      5. Surrender your drive for measurable achievement and enter instead into intimate relationship with the Creator who desires not only your faithfulness, but your flourishing.

As we negotiate the demands of complex lives in which obligations, relationships and time seem to compete with each other, my prayer is that we’ll discover that sweet spot where Jesus is our refuge and serving him our joy–where obedience yields health and striving yields thriving. That we will become, with focus and practice, a God-delighting, faith-cultivating and family-preserving testament to well-ordered living.

I pray this for myself.

For the families I serve.

And for the MKs I love.

Let’s collectively join in longing for this day

Monday was a holiday in the U.S. I know that this is a global community. I simply share that it was Memorial Day to give you context about my thinking process.

It’s a day when people who died in combat are remembered. I drove through a local military cemetery as a way to make all of the deaths real. To see actual gravesites.

And I thought of you.

I thought of the country you’re from and all of the people who have died throughout the ages in conflict.

I thought of the country you’re living in now and have grown to love and all the people who have died in wars or combat or tribal clashes.

This isn’t a post for or against war. As I drove around the cemetery I wasn’t thinking about “just war” and the need sometimes to defend what you love.

What I thought about were the people. The people who have died and how their friends and family were never the same.

And I thought about how one day there will be no more wars, death will die, and peace will reign. Theologians like to talk about the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom of God here on earth; until there are no conflicts, attacks, or clashes, we are still in the not yet.

But friends, today in this space, let’s pause and collectively remind ourselves that war will not always be our story. That someday, the lamb will lie down with the lion.

Amen and amen.


Photo by Diane Picchiottino on Unsplash

The Dangers of Copycat Discipleship

by Aaron Dorrett

The manager of a shoe factory in a communist country was given a bunch of foreign shoe models to put on display in their factory. The shoes stood there as an example of the products they were trying to replicate. The copies they made were then placed next to the originals. The factory workers were instructed to look at both models, determine where they fell short, and learn how to make their shoes correctly. “Our goal is to raise the quality of our shoes to an international level,” the manager explained.

But I think they might be missing the whole point of what an “international level” in shoemaking is all about. There’s no innovation here, no spark of life and creativity. They don’t have the freedom for experimentation and expression that brought forth those great shoe designs in the first place. They can only carefully copy the things set before them. They work so hard, trying (and failing) to make fake copies of the creativity and fashion seen in others.

The same thing can happen with the methods and trainings in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship. Experts and catalyzers tell us tales of great movements and then ask us to check how we’re measuring up against their blueprint for greatness. Are we doing as much seed-sowing and praying as the top 10% percent successful workers? Are we doing what we saw people doing in the big revivals?

Are we teaching people to run their meetings according to the most effective model? Are our disciples sharing with their communities like the people in that movement did? Are we seeing fast reproduction?

Where are we falling short? What do the numbers on our gospel conversations app show? What are we doing wrong? How do we get these awesome movements we see in other parts of the world? Is our goal “to raise the quality of our fruit to match the level of the international movements they tell us about”?

Again, I think that approach misses the point. It’s not real life. It’s not the natural outworking of love and interaction with Jesus. It’s not the freedom and creativity of children doing something for their Father. It doesn’t birth new and beautiful things. It’s dry and in some ways empty.

The product might look good at first glance. It might be very impressive when viewed from a distance through the lens of numbers and reports. But on closer examination, something about it just seems off.

The whole process can create feelings of striving and failure as we try to measure up to what’s been done by others before. It also burdens our disciples with an ungodly pressure to perform as we push them to match our man-made goals.

Instead of the life-giving, dynamic process of growth and relationship with Jesus, we have a set of tasks and objectives handed down from human masterminds. We can end up with a heavy yoke that’s been plastered with stickers of Biblical phrases but that didn’t come from Jesus. It’s as soul crushing and dehumanizing as those grey factories full of forced labor.

There is tremendous value in learning from what’s been done in the past, and we would be foolish not to do so. Just as any shoemaker would draw lessons and inspiration from shoes made by others, we should study what others have done in cross-cultural gospel work. We can observe what has been life giving and fruitful for others and be inspired to go after similar things.

We also must learn from the mistakes of the past and do our best to avoid the deadly pitfalls of dependency, cultural colonialism, and foreign control. In that sense, it’s good to learn from what works well and what causes pain, especially in development work.

But the work of spreading the gospel and making disciples is ultimately a miraculous process. It springs out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. It’s a divine gift. It’s a work of faith and love. It cannot be reduced to a method to be copied or a numerical target to be hit.

The life that comes from faith in Jesus grows out in beautiful, unique, and creative ways and creates living structures of community that are sensitive to the cultures where the seeds of faith are planted.

Real life cannot be created by engineering meetings and activities that look like the meetings and activities produced by someone else’s life. Some things cannot be created by pure imitation. They cannot be manufactured by paying workers to copy a product. They cannot be given as deliverables to a manager. We can’t replicate spiritual fruit with factory-like, extra-Biblical processes.

If some great leader asks you to copy a method, or reach some metric for ministry output, you don’t have to work for them. You can walk out of the factory.

Pioneer gospel work can be done without any of these methods, metrics, or man-made mission statements. What we need is real fellowship with others and a desire to follow Jesus’ command to be his witnesses and to teach others to follow him. Beyond that there is so much freedom and possibility.

Your heavenly Father delights in the unique work and play of his children. He infuses us with the miraculous, life-giving sap we need to grow in new, creative, and life-giving ways. You can work with him, and he’ll provide everything that you need.

~~~~~~~~~

Aaron Dorrett has spent the last 15 years overseas, living in the the Muslim world. He loves wandering the streets and enjoying “random” encounters and conversations with locals. He also loves music, learning languages, and barbells.

12 Ways to Connect with God When Your Schedule Changes

by Corella Roberts

If you’re anything like me, keeping a consistent quiet time during a transition (like the non-schedule of summer with kids at home or, worse, home assignment travels!) is incredibly hard. I struggle with this every time, but I have wrestled with it enough to discover ways to maintain God-time no matter what’s going sideways in the world around me. Here are a few suggestions that I hope both give you encouragement and freedom in how you can meet with Jesus this summer.

1. Enjoy God in nature.
In times of transition and changing seasons, nothing helps reorient our perspective quite like a walk. Leave your phone behind, head to a park or mountain trail, and let every scene of beauty turn your heart toward your Creator. 

2. Try a devotional app and rearrange your phone screen.
Your phone will likely be with you or near you most of the time, so how can you turn it into a tool that helps you draw closer to God rather than be distracted from Him? One way is to try an app designed to do just that, then rearrange your home screen so that the most distracting apps are a swipe or two away and the most encouraging ones are what you’ll see first. The next time you’re waiting somewhere with a few minutes to spare, instead of opening a game or social media, try one of these:

3. Establish a Bible reading plan before the change of schedule.
If you know a schedule change is coming, make a goal and start a sustainable Bible reading plan before it hits. For example, you might want to hunker down in the book of Philippians for a month. Plan to read it in its entirety every week, or pick a slow reading schedule, chewing on just a few verses each day. Whatever you choose, start it well ahead of the transition so you will have a clear goal and be in an established habit when change comes.

4. Involve the kids.
Kids might feel like the great enemy of a good quiet time, but finding ways to involve them can be enriching for both of you. Obviously, you can do structured family devotions, but we’ve found that spontaneous times of worship and prayer tend to be more enjoyable for all. Put some worship music with lyrics on the TV and initiate popcorn prayers in the car. Choose a family memory verse and have the kids help create hand motions to go with it. Read inspirational stories together and have heartfelt conversations about the struggles and joys of following Jesus. It might not be “quiet,” but it can still connect you (and them!) with God.

5. Go on coffee dates with Jesus.
And then there are those times when you just really need some quiet space out of the house, away from family. That’s real! So, find a library or coffee shop, bring your Bible and journal, and just have a good chat with your friend, Jesus, away from all the distractions of home.

6. Read a book with a friend.
Sometimes a little accountability can go a long way. If your Bible study or prayer group stops for a season or your new work schedule won’t allow you to attend, find a friend who will read through a book with you. I’d suggest setting regular meeting times for discussion and making a reading plan that you can both stick to. This can foster both your relationship with God (if it’s a book with solid spiritual content) and your relationship with a friend.

A few I’d recommend are The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, Placemaker by Christina Purifoy, Soul Keeping by John Ortberg, the Sensible Shoes series by Sharon Brown, Journey of the Soul by Bill and Kristi Gaultier, The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn, Relentless by Michele Cushatt, and Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan (or anything else by him). You could also check out Catch the Rain or Colliding with the Call by yours truly.

7. Set aside one morning a month for reflection.
Reflection is critical to growth. Take the time to answer a few key questions as you close out one month and start another, and you’ll be far more able to identify what is helping you grow the most spiritually. A few of my monthly questions are: What expectations were met/not met last month? What spiritual practices did I do the most? Is there anything I need to repent of? What is God inviting me into next? What am I most thankful for?

8. Join a service project or summer church program.
Sometimes we need to simply get our hands dirty or be stretched out of our comfort zone to find a fresh connection with God. It’s also one of the best ways to deepen relationships with others. What can you physically do to be part of serving even in the midst of a new season?

9. Write out a morning and evening prayer.
These can be as simple as short breath prayers (here’s a printable guide) or as long as you want. If you long to anchor your heart in a scriptural truth during this season, pick a verse and personalize it into a prayer. Lately, I’ve been taking the concept of abiding from John 15 and simply praying, “Make your home in me as I make my home in you.” Opening and closing your day with a rote prayer can be like having two solid bookends to keep you from toppling over.

10. Make use of travel time.
Plan for soul-enriching activities during travel, like encouraging audiobooks, podcasts, and music. Let the content that fills your mind be “true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (see Phil. 4:8). 

11. Set up a new quiet-time space.
Do you gravitate toward the back porch in the summer? Set your Bible by the door. Is your house noisy with kids and company? Create a quiet nook in your bedroom. If having a consistent physical space is important for you as you meet with God, do whatever you need to do to set that up for this season.

12. Embrace the change and prepare for the reset.
When life gets stirred and tilted, we tend to more readily recognize what really matters. Use this season of change to help you sift out the old routines that have become lifeless and bravely try some new methods of connecting with God. If you can look ahead, like to the end of summer break, and see your schedule return to normal, start to anticipate now what you want your time with God to look like then. It might be different from what it was, and that’s okay. Often a reset can do us good.

I think we put the idea of an hour-long, morning quiet time on a pedestal. Sure, it can be helpful to carve out an extended time to read the Bible, pray, and journal, but checking “quiet time” off your daily to-do list (even mentally) isn’t the goal. Abiding with Jesus is. In every moment, every breath, tethering your heart to His, turning your ear toward Him, resting on His strength – this is the goal. And there is certainly more than one way to get there. Maybe this shaking up of your devotional routine is just the beginning.

Article originally published at corellaroberts.com and reprinted with permission.

~~~~~~~~~~

Corella Roberts is the author of Colliding with the Call: When Following God Takes You to the Wilderness. She serves at an international school in Thailand with her husband and three kids—two biological, one adopted. She loves music, mountains, and walking with people toward soul restoration. Find out more at corellaroberts.com.

A Police Story

I had an experience a few weeks ago, my police story, if you will. Among overseas workers, it’s one I could wear like a badge – because many of us have them, don’t we?

Without going into the specifics, I was stopped by a traffic officer, unfairly ticketed, and in the process, felt bullied and vulnerable. Very vulnerable.

After my husband and I climbed back into our car (with him now in the driver’s seat) and assuaged our children’s fears, tears started to roll down my cheeks. He quickly rerouted us from our way to church, correctly realizing that we were far too late anyway.

As my husband tried to comfort me, my mind raced. Why was I so upset? Was it the injustice of it all? Was it the bullying? The condescending way he spoke to me, or rather, to my husband about me? It’s okay, my husband said, this was a one in a thousand type situation, don’t worry about it. It won’t happen again!

It sure did not feel okay to me. It did not matter to me how unusual or rare this situation was, I just did not want to feel this way.

Are they going to arrest you? One of my children cried, in the car, as the officer beckoned me to step out and come over to him. No, I scoffed. At least, I don’t think so? I thought. What would I do here if he tried?

As the familiar scenes of our southern African town flashed by outside my window, I identified the root of what I was experiencing: vulnerability. This was not the vulnerability that I have practiced and prided myself on practicing: the honest sharing of my life and heart with those around me. It was not the vulnerability that meant willingness to show emotion or to allow weakness to be seen; I’m good with that kind of vulnerability.

This experience of vulnerability was the primary definition in all the major dictionaries: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, exposed to the possibility being attacked or harmed. Ah yes, I most definitely felt exposed, keenly aware of the possibility of being harmed, either at that moment or a future moment when my husband may not be with me.

This was not the first moment I have ever felt this kind of vulnerability. Having lived in various countries other than my passport country for ten years, I am ever aware of the reality of being a foreigner, and a woman, in some difficult places. Of course, many of us have experienced the possibility of being attacked even in our home countries or have been in actuality.

But it was my freshest experience of this kind of vulnerability, and with my children as collateral in the car. For the next couple of days, I wrestled with feeling weak and defenseless, tears always close to the surface. I replayed the scenario, wondering how I should have been more assertive. I imagined future scenarios, making mental plans for the safety of my children and myself. But mostly, I shook my fist directly at the man who had threatened me and indirectly at God — until he spoke gently to my heart.

Maybe you have realized the obvious beauty in this story sooner than I had, but it finally hit me: this was the type of vulnerable that Jesus was. In his incarnation, in choosing to live and willingly suffer on earth, he subjected himself not only to the possibility of being harmed, but the actuality of it.

In my willingness to stay and live and work in a place where I am more prone to experiencing the potential of being wounded, I am identifying with Christ. He knows what it is to leave his home and to place himself in harm’s way – completely, fully. He experienced bullying and condescension, and the ultimate earthly wounding, death.

What was it that motivated him to such sacrifice? Love. The very love of Christ, which transcends height and depth and all earthly constraints, is what compelled him to offer himself so wholly, to subject himself to the ultimate worst of evil on this earth. So we, moved by the love of Christ, strengthened and carried by him, can offer our meager selves as we live and love in the places we find ourselves.

As tears streamed down my cheeks, I offered myself freshly to Christ, in this place he has brought us – my husband, myself, my children. Is it easy? No. Is it worthwhile, and good? Yes. Is he with us throughout it all? Always.

I hope I will not have another police story, but who knows? We still pray for safety and protection, and we seek to live wisely as strangers in this land. But we remember that Christ is our security. And we are grateful to walk in the footsteps of our Savior, through all the hills and valleys, knowing he has gone before us in perfect love.

10 Things I Used to Think About My Host Culture . . . and How I’ve Changed

by Roberta Adair

Few things remind me of how much I’ve changed in the 10+ years living in Japan than sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms). I remember first-term Roberta rolling her eyes a little at the way people gushed about sakura, like they were really special or something. I remember thinking grumpily, “They are overrated and impotent. Why didn’t they plant something that actually produces fruit rather than all of this flowery nonsense?” I remember on a really rough culture stress day shaking my fist at a tree and bellowing, “You couldn’t even produce a peach, you impotent tree!”

Fast forward to now, and I’m regularly organizing mini excursions to see sakura with friends. They bloom for such a short time, and I anticipate these adventures, plan my days and meals around them, and thoroughly enjoy them. I have come to love the emphasis on beauty for beauty’s sake rather than for production and usefulness. I gush over the different varieties, the different shades of white and pink, the different shapes of blossoms and petal formation, and the different experiences viewing them when they are budding, in full bloom, and falling (“like snow!”). I love seeing gnarly, ugly trunks spouting these delicate, fragile flowers – the contrast between rugged stability with momentary beauty stuns me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought of other ways I’ve changed, whether my perspective has shifted to “it’s not wrong; it’s different” or all the way to “it’s not wrong; it’s very, very good!” My list grew quite long, so here is just a sampling. In no particular order:

1. I used to think that trees in Japan were “pruned within an inch of their very lives! Let them be freeeee!” Now, I often find myself thinking, “Wow, there isn’t a lot of space here, and it’s amazing that Japanese people have found ways to add green anyway.” The art form of making trees fit a space impresses me (and reminds me of Dr. Seuss illustrations). Bonsai trees, carefully trimmed and controlled over decades, can grow in a yard that’s not quite a yard, and I have a deepening respect for people committed to this long-form, natural art.

2. I used to roll my eyes at parasols. When I first came and saw so many people carrying umbrellas in the summer, I’d think, “The sun isn’t your enemy!” and made all sorts of judgmental assumptions about people’s vanity. Now I realize that it’s more humid here. Sunscreen is both uncomfortable and sweats right off, so hats and parasols make a lot of sense. They are effective against the heat (not just sun rays), and I’m also impressed by people proactively taking care of their skin.

3. I used to think that concrete everywhere was an eyesore. There is a ton of concrete in Japan. Many, if not most, rivers have concrete along at least parts of them. (“Why can’t they be free?!” — yep, broken record.) Where we live, concrete sea walls have been built (or rebuilt higher) to help protect people along the coast from future tsunamis. Our city is really hilly, and loads of hillsides are covered in concrete. I thought it was a bit much when I arrived, but now I see it as a lot of smart science-y and engineer-y people working together to keep hillsides from collapsing and rocks from falling in this land of earthquakes and typhoons. I still don’t think it’s pretty, but I’m grateful for it now.

4. I used to think the rain and haze was a drag. I heard myself complain about the wetness and compare Japanese skies to Pennsylvanian skies All the Time (now I just do this Quite Often). I am in the process of accepting that we live in a different climate, that this isn’t Pennsylvania so stop comparing it to Pennsylvania already. I’ve also come to appreciate beauty in fog and clouds. It was pointed out to me years ago that Japanese art is rarely bright and blue-skied but is instead cloudy, misty, and nuanced. Mystery is beautiful, and Japan has helped me see this.

5. I used to think my way was (shhhh) better. One example of many is that I’d feel disoriented and defensive when I’d drop someone off at their home and they wouldn’t go inside but would wait until I drove off. In the US, the driver makes sure the person dropped off gets inside safely, whereas in Japan, the person dropped off makes sure the driver leaves well. This one is small, but it felt uncomfortable to me for years, and what was uncomfortable to me often got interpreted as wrong. Now it’s not only in the “not wrong; just different” category, but I also see it as quite lovely. I love getting our boys involved in waving people away when guests leave our house after dinner or when they are dropped off after playdates.

6. I used to struggle with the emphasis on ganbatte (persevere). Initially, I loved seeing the word on bumper stickers and spray painted on walls in post-disaster Japan. It conveyed something like, We will make it. We will overcome this together. Press on and don’t give up! Yet the longer I lived here, the more it grated on me. “Workaholism is a big deal here,” I would say to myself. “Stop persevering and rest already!” Then when I had kids, I’d prefer to say to our boys, “Have fun at school!” (or swimming lessons or the craft event) rather than joining the other moms calling after their kids, “Ganbatte!” Yet now I’m mostly thankful our boys grow up hearing that their effort matters just as much or more than their level of fun. Work hard. You can do hard things. Keep at it. Be a koi and swim upstream. Persevere. (And of course, have fun too!)

7. I used to be a little skeptical about uniforms. For middle and high schoolers, I now think there is a pretty good argument for them. Yet as a middle or high schooler 25ish years ago, boy oh boy would I have spouted off about how they cramp my individuality and make it difficult to express myself. (My mom endured years of my suspenders, fedoras, grandpa sweaters, and old bell bottoms in the name of individuality.) I’ve changed over the years, and I marvel at the dozens of uniformed high schoolers around me as I write this – collared white shirts, vests, and plaid skirts. Self-expression is a lower value here (at least in school), and I might say that this is in the “it’s not wrong; it’s very, very good” category (especially recently coming back from the Land of Self-Expression on Steroids).

8. I used to think Japanese women, particularly moms, must all be miserable. I pitied them for not having “mom’s night out,” for having to look a certain way, and for having (in my interpretation) such small lives. But I see some of my American friends trying to do it all with big, expansive lives. I see them investing in their careers, hosting Pinterest-perfect parties, living in tastefully decorated houses, working out, baking homemade bread, and taking epic family vacations — and they look exhausted. Here, I have mamatomo (mom friends) with simple, content lives, and I’m better for being around them. Their homes are small, their lives involve a lot more laundry and dishes than their American counterparts (many here don’t have dishwashers or dryers), and they aren’t rushing around. I’m thankful for the unassuming influence of several dear mamatomo on me. They’re not documenting their lives on social media or chasing some ideal they’re told by someone somewhere they’re supposed to pursue. Basically, I used to pity women around me and thought they were trapped, and I don’t think like that anymore.

9.  I used to think I would never be able to belly laugh in a country that values self-control. For years, I struggled with how women around me laughed, covering their mouths and laughing through their noses, if at all. Yet now I have a neighbor and other friends with whom I can laugh until I cry (and have). Recently I was drinking coffee with my 65-year-old neighbor across the street, and the topic turned to my eye wrinkles. I referred to them as my shima (stripes) rather than shiwa (wrinkles), and for reasons I’m forgetting now we cackled and snorted, which of course made us cackle some more. Another time this neighbor was telling me about her new hobby, crochet, and I noticed the beautiful, expertly croqueted vest she was wearing. I asked with bug eyes, “Did you make this!?!” “No,” she said perkily, “I made this.” She handed me a half-finished potholder full of mistakes, and we laughed until we cried. This is one example out of many “I’ll never get to ______ in Japan” thoughts that have proven to be untrue.

10. I used to roll my eyes at all the ceremony. Three-year-olds are expected to sit on little wooden chairs in suits for the entrance ceremony for daycare. Between our four boys, we’ve sat through eight entrance and graduation ceremonies and counting. (We have 16 more to take us to the end of middle school.) While I still sit and endure, feeling semi-lost and occasionally questioning why the emphasis is on somber, serious, and ceremonial rather than fun, light, and funny, I now think there is a lot of valuable stuff connected to these markings of time. I think my home culture is missing out on not having more ways to recognize coming-of-age moments. Other things that surprised me by how somber they were include weddings, new year celebrations, and kids’ campfire ceremonies.

I’m not sharing these items to say I’ve arrived. I still occasionally struggle, compare, and complain – yet I hope I’m also growing, learning, and changing. Being past the 10-year mark, I want to remember that I used to think one way and now I think differently. Hopefully I can be patient and kind when I hear others having similar reactions and attitudes as I did. And if I see some frizzy foreigner shaking her fist at trees, I hope I will take her on a whimsical picnic and let her bellow about peaches in peace, imagining her going from accepting to valuing to celebrating them.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Originally from Pennsylvania (USA), Roberta lived in Kosovo for three years before getting married and moving to northern Japan in 2012. She and her husband partner with a Japanese church and have four young and energetic boys. She enjoys hiking, camping, and having friends over for average and boisterous meals.

Why Public Speaking Skills Make a Difference for the Gospel

She pulled my husband aside and said, “We want him to let more missionaries speak during the service, so don’t screw this up!” The woman didn’t bother whispering despite the referenced person being well within earshot. As a former medical missionary and long-time supporter of ours, she was unashamed and undeterred in her mission to put missionaries in the pulpit when they visited the church during furlough. 

We were scheduled to speak during the Sunday morning service and had been given the full sermon time to share about our ministry in Kenya – a rarity under the current pastor. Despite the church’s long history of faithfully supporting missions and enthusiastically listening to missionaries speak when they came through, this particular pastor wasn’t keen on giving missionaries the spotlight.

His rationale? After decades of pastoring, he’d heard far too many terrible missionary presentations, which vastly outnumbered the compelling ones.

The church – as missions-minded as they come – had been trying to convince him that missionaries should get the pulpit and the full sermon time, as they used to when previous pastors had been in charge, but he routinely pushed back, saying they could have a Q&A afterward and take all the time they needed when the service was done.

The pastor wasn’t opposed to missionaries sharing about their ministries around the world. He was opposed to giving them a microphone and too much time on the stage.

The woman’s comment to my husband was a charge to prove that missionaries can speak in churches and not make everyone in the congregation regret giving them the pulpit.

Despite my own zeal for the opposite measure – giving missionaries the chance to speak when the most people are apt to hear them, i.e. during the Sunday morning service – I can’t say I blame anyone for viewing such an occasion as high-risk.

Public speaking isn’t exactly the kind of job skill listed on most missionaries’ resumes. We tend to do well with people in less-formal settings, doing things like Bible studies, community health development projects, discipleship, and children’s ministries. We equip ourselves with skills like translating, evangelism, mentorship, organizational leadership, and, in the case of my husband, medical work.

All of this means that most missionaries aren’t gifted in public speaking. Most of the population doesn’t have the gift either, and many people in Western cultures even fear it. Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is very real. Even missionaries who do have a God-given skill in the art of rhetoric probably didn’t become a missionary because they thought, “I’m good at public speaking! I guess I should become a missionary!”

In reality, the vast majority of missionaries felt called to missions first and only later resigned themselves to the public speaking part of the job. And it is a part of the job, not only because supporting churches have a right (and hopefully a genuine interest) in hearing about the ministry they’re financially and prayerfully supporting, but because it’s biblical.

The apostle Paul left on his first missionary journey after the church in Syrian Antioch commissioned him and Barnabas and sent them off. After traveling around Asia Minor, preaching the Gospel and ministering to the churches, Paul and Barnabas “sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:26-27, NIV).

I have no doubt that Paul and Barnabas shared a myriad of stories. They talked about intense struggles they faced along the way (including a stoning so severe that Paul was left for dead), but I imagine they focused mostly on sharing stories of people who heard the Good News of Jesus.

Paul and Barnabas knew the importance of testifying to what God was doing around the world. They knew it was vital to report back to those who had sent them, not only for accountability and responsibility’s sake, but for the encouragement of God’s people. They all – we all – need reminders that God is on the move, all around the world, all the time.

The question then becomes: When we as missionaries have the opportunity to return to our sending churches and report “all that God had done,” how do we speak without botching it? Paul and Barnabas were in the minority – they were gifted speakers and were even in the preacher category. Speaking was not a resigned part of the job for them. It was the job.

In fact, in Iconium they “spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1b). Returning to Antioch and speaking to the believers about what had happened was just one more time they spoke in front of a group of people.

But what about the majority of missionaries, the non-preachers, the I-would-gladly-do-anything-but-speak folks? How do missionaries speak without making pastors and congregants cringe as they sit in the pews? It’s a question we need to take seriously because, of all the responsibilities in our care, testifying to what God is doing around the world is of utmost importance.

We’ve probably all heard stories of bad missionary presentations – when a missionary was boring or long-winded at best – and hoped we wouldn’t be the next person to further cement the impression that missionaries are terrible public speakers.

The only way to combat this is to actually improve in this area, to train ourselves to be presenters and speakers whether we’re only given a few minutes on stage to introduce ourselves or are actually allowed to speak at length. We want our opportunities to talk about what God is doing around the world to be memorable – for all the right reasons.

I have often joked that the tagline of missions should be: “If you’re here, you’re the right person for the job.” Missionaries spend countless time and energy learning skills they never imagined needing, yet we do it for the sake of ministry. We learn to fundraise, learn languages, write grants, oversee renovation projects, plan events, homeschool, and so on. Public speaking is no different. It’s a part of the job, and it’s something we should train ourselves to do no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Whatever it takes – reading books, watching YouTube videos and TED Talks, practicing in front of a mirror or a trusted friend – we should care about improving our public speaking skills. The goal is not to become the next Paul and Barnabas. The goal is to be welcomed to share “all that God had done” when visiting a sending church because we can be trusted to testify well to the work of God around the world.

Before that Sunday morning when my husband and I were graciously given the full sermon time to speak, we prepared by discussing not only what we wanted to say, but how we wanted to say it. We discussed transitions, tones of voice, pacing of speech, and movements on stage. We were eager to share stories of how God is moving in Kenya, but also hopeful that the presentation of those stories would have an impact.

Later, the pastor who was so reluctant to give us the pulpit expressed that in nearly 50 years of ministry he’d never heard a more effective missionary presentation.

Thank God we didn’t screw it up.

More to the point, thank God that He is truly at work all around the world, including in the hearts and minds of missionaries who find themselves in a position of speaking publicly about Him.

Photo by Irina L on Pixabay

Glancing in the Rearview Mirror

by Jessi Bullis

I was in my first car crash in May 2023. I had just gotten off a flight and was too hungry to complete my 90-minute drive home before eating (there always seems to be those awkward lengths of time between meals on flying days). It was pouring rain, and I pulled off at an unknown town in search of a late dinner. Traffic was coming up on a stop light, and while we all seemed to slow down quicker than anticipated, I came to a stop with room to spare. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I noted that the car behind me had enough space to fully stop. 
   
Less than a second afterwards, I felt the impact. I later found out I was actually the third car to get hit from behind in a four-car pile-up. 
   
Before that moment I had never really thought about getting hit from behind. It wasn’t a concern. For some reason I just had a lot of trust in other cars around me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in countries with incredible drivers who could fit four cars to a road, squeeze through any narrow street, and make lane switching in traffic jams look effortless. Or maybe it’s simply because I hadn’t yet experienced it.

 

Focusing on the Rearview Mirror

For many years, the way I “processed” the heavy (and even exciting) emotions that came with my Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience was to simply disregard them. 

The announcement would come that we were moving to another country, that yet another friend was leaving, or that the thing I was looking forward to was cancelled because of some complication with living abroad. And I would just shut down. Try to put on a blank face. Spew out some platitude about God’s goodness.

I would tell myself, “Emotions make you look weak and only get in the way of moving forward.” So I just kept pushing on, driving forward while never looking back. 

Years later, once my body very suddenly and drastically had its fill of painful circumstances going unprocessed and I developed an autoimmune disease, I was forced to look back as though I’d been hit from behind. In response, I began doing the heavy lifting of truly honouring my experiences and allowing myself to finally feel the waves of emotions that came with long-ago moves and crises.

As I realized just how much my refusal to process had stunted my emotional growth, I completely pendulum-swung from my “shoving down” mentality. I felt like I couldn’t move forward unless I had completely processed every single block on my Grief Tower

I was trying to gain control of something, anything, because I felt so very out of control. Suddenly I was trying to drive while only looking through the rearview mirror. 

As you can imagine, it was terribly painful. I became burnt out on grief processing and eventually learned that there needs to be a balance of intentionally looking back and intentionally looking forward, while also acknowledging and enjoying where I’m currently at. 
   

Taking in All Angles

In my grief-processing journey, I’ve learned something surprising. No matter how good you are at the balancing act of processing past grief while still looking forward, sometimes you get unexpectedly rear-ended by past grief that you thought you’d dealt with. No matter how much I check my mirrors, no matter how good of a driver I am, and no matter how safe an area I seem to be in, I’m not immune to being hit from behind.

We can feel like we are managing life well, just driving along. But then something from our past sneaks up behind us and taps us on our bumper – or maybe even causes a full collision. 

My car has been my safe space. It’s where I’ve done all my most profound processing. As an introvert, I have found I have the clearest thoughts in my car because it’s one of the few places I can find absolute solitude. It is in this space that I feel completely free to perform my “scream-singing” as I blast music to release any intense frustration, agony, and joy I may be feeling (my go-to song for emotional release is “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts, which seems all too fitting here). 

But after this accident I was nervous about even getting into my car. Suddenly my safe space felt dangerous. And when I did drive, I spent a lot of time nervously surveillancing my rearview mirror in fear that I would be hit from behind again. When our past comes knocking, it can feel disorienting. 

This is where I anticipate you saying, “Great, so you’re saying I can never fully relax? My past will never be fully processed?” What a terrible thought. And no, that’s not what I’m saying.  Rather, remember that life has ups and downs that are outside your control, and it’s not your fault

I often felt that when my past came back to haunt me, it was my fault — that clearly I hadn’t processed well enough. I felt ashamed that my “ghost of Christmas past” was returning for a visit. 

Control is something we TCKs tend to struggle with. After years of losing friends and community and stability over and over, seeking out “control” can feel desperate and hopeless. 

Yes, we can’t be in control of everything, but we can choose to give ourselves grace as we remember that the waves of life are not our fault. When we choose to remember that sometimes collisions just happen, the emotional weight of “fault” gets lifted. 

There’s only so much contingency preparation I can do, and there are only so many hours in the day for therapy and processing and – oh yeah – everyday life also. 

There’s a need to intentionally glance backwards. We cannot fully accept ourselves and move forward if we do not gently and graciously love our past selves. We need to take into account the circumstances we faced growing up because they are impacting the person we are today – how we make decisions, invest in relationships, and care for ourselves. 

It’s important to intentionally create space to process, whether it’s taking a Saturday afternoon to journal or do an art project while considering processing questions, talking with a friend, or sitting down with a counselor. (Check out this emotional processing activity guide for processing suggestions you can implement.) 

There’s also a need to steer forward. The rearview mirror should not be our focal point. There’s a reason you got in the car: you have a goal or endpoint in mind! We need to remember those goals as we move moving forward in hope. 

And there’s a need to be aware of who you are and where you are. Sometimes we just need to live life, not pull out another piece of our past to process, not plan the turn we’re going to make in five miles, but rather allow ourselves to be present and enjoy the moment.

For some months after the accident I had to be gentle with myself, evaluating my emotional stability and prioritizing self-compassion. It took time, but eventually my car became my safe space again, because I had allowed myself to authentically show up how I needed each day. 

Collisions will happen. Our past will come knocking throughout life. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed, and that doesn’t always mean we haven’t done enough processing. Yes, processing the past is important, but we can’t get stuck driving through our rearview mirror. We need to balance looking back and looking forward while remembering that sometimes life hits us from behind. And we can give ourselves grace for that too. 

Photo by Olga Nayda on Unsplash

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Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She uses her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling to create resources and serve TCK and their families as the Director of Adult TCK services at TCK Training. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God in how they are cared for.

14 Ways to Make Furloughs Fun for Everyone

by Sara Simons

What if you could replace the dread of being gone for multiple months from the place you love, having to put on your most extroverted self, or feeling paralyzed by the thought of packing and re-packing with fond memories of being with people who love you in a context that was life-giving?

Although there is often an unending checklist of details to attend to, might I suggest starting with creating space to brainstorm and imagining what it would take to make this the furlough where you return with newfound energy and support, the way it was always intended?

What would it take to get there? And how can you be intentional towards this goal?

As you consider your plan and the destinations you will embark upon, here are a few creative thoughts, not just for families with kids, but for the tired overseas worker who wants to maximize and enjoy their furlough.

1. Create a furlough bucket list. As my kids used to say, “Our job was meetings,” so think outside the primary reason you’re there. Start by asking each individual (or yourself) what is one fun thing that he/she would like to do while you’re away. The sky’s the limit for now. This may take doing a little research of what there is to do in the areas you’re visiting, or it could be very simple things you already enjoy.

Brainstorm your list, narrow it down to three to five items, and then choose one solid and important selection per person. While not everyone may want to engage in this exercise or the chosen activity, some may feel inspired by sharing out loud the creative options of memories past or not yet formed – of wanting to go horseback riding, doing a park tour through each city, getting an autograph of every person you meet, or traveling through a beloved foreign city on the return trip.

One year when we were planning to be in nine cities in four states with our then two-year-old and six-year-old, we each chose one thing we wanted to do in those cities: try the ice cream, go for a walk, see the moon and constellations from the unique point of earth we were on. At that age the ideas were all free. You’ll be amazed at the ideas, not to mention the joy of conversing about the possibilities in preparation for your arrival.

2. Think creatively about setting. Where we meet people is not limited to a restaurant or cafe. We often suggest meeting at a park or beach or even a museum. A park is a much more casual and neutral space that requires less of everyone. For us as a family, this option allows us to play with our children and include them once again. Our kids have many positive memories of meeting people at the beach and parks, where otherwise they may have been bored out of their minds.

3. Engage in physical activities with friends and supporters. When we started planning our calendar with this in mind, the joy of furlough possibilities returned. We hated how we seemed to gain weight upon return. The idea of another sugar-laden coffee or heavy meal made my stomach hurt just thinking about it. However, the idea of a walk on the beach, a stroll through a new neighborhood, or a hike together with supporters felt much more energizing. Teach us to play paddle! It was so good for us, our children, and those we were meeting with. Walking and talking isn’t a new concept; sometimes it just takes a little more intentionality to consider time of day, ability to talk, and what is needed to maximize this time. This allowed for bonding and connection in a much more organic way as well.

4. Set up fun play dates with trusted family or friends when we can’t (or choose not to) bring our children to a meeting. People are always asking what we need, and this is a very practical way people can help – something they can offer on home assignment that they can’t give while we’re in our ministry context. Our kids remember the families that supported us with this quality time when their parents weren’t around. These elements of connection to our home country ignited delight in them for future returns, a gift we had hoped for.

5. Host a coffee shop “open house.” When we land in an area, we typically start with this as a priority. We will set up “office hours” for several hours at a local coffee shop and let everyone in the area know where we’ll be. We try to meet where people can drop in during a three- to four-hour window (late lunch hour is good at a self-serve cafe). This is a fun way to see lots of different people, as well have your worlds integrate a bit. This simultaneously takes some of the scheduling pressure off of you. As an introvert, this idea is much easier for me than packing a schedule back-to-back with individual meetings and once again getting in the car.

6. Think of creative games that can be played in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus, or airplane. When we are all together as a family, we try to avoid having both parents pulled into the same conversation so that one of us can solely attend to the children. One of our favorite games is “who can get the most waves.” Each player waves at strangers, trying to get waves (or smiles) in return, and then we tally the number of points. As an adult, this is one game you are certain to lose (although a suspiciously waving and smiling adult gets fun looks too – bonus points!). We have hilarious memories of sitting in the window of coffee shops around the world trying to make people laugh or smile or wave. It’s a day brightener for everyone, especially us.

7. Give your kids a list of things to find from their seat or window (scavenger hunt style). Let’s be honest, we sit way more than any of us benefit from, but we can still find a way to have fun, whether we’re in a restaurant, coffee shop, car, or airplane. Your scavenger list could include: person with glasses, child crying, strange hat, someone who looks like they’re having a good day, colored hair, best tattoo, and more. These can be made up on the spot by you or your children. Sure, this may only take 20-30 minutes in total, but it can also spur on interesting conversations about culture similarities and differences.

8. Enjoy the journey. Plan a side trip for wherever you end up. As global workers, one of the perks we’ve enjoyed as a family is the ability to make memories en route to our destination. A side trip is a trip within the greater trip, sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous. Needing to go on furlough has afforded us stop-overs that turned into stay-overs at unique and amazing destinations. For the cost of transportation out of the airport and possibly one- or two-night’s stay, you can make incredible memories in beautiful destinations around the globe. This is surely a gift of being globally mobile.

9. Get out in nature by yourself. There isn’t a country on earth that God did not bless with some incredible and unique landscape. It may look like desert, or it may look like marsh, but nonetheless, getting out into nature and engaging in the unique ecosystems of the world is an incredible way to declutter your thoughts and connect with your creative brain. We try to set aside one day a week for this necessary outlet as a family and also as individual adults to get alone time. We have managed to make this a priority by taking turns and limiting our morning commitments.

10. Purposefully try the local food. From Louisiana creole to Minnesota hotdish, not every meal needs to be pizza or hamburgers (thinking US-based here). If people invite you over, ask what their favorite local dish is, and offer to join them in preparing it or to teach them a fun recipe you miss. You could say something like, “I’ve heard there are really delicious ____here. By any chance do you know how to make them?” Learning a new recipe and eating new food is both a memorable way of engaging with people as well as the culture.

11. Reciprocate and bring the cuisine from your country of service and teach others how to make it. Just keep it simple and make sure it’s not too exhausting of a task for you to make or carry unique ingredients for.

12. Go on a special jetlag date when you’re awake at 5:30 in the morning and no one else is awake (minus some crazy-early morning Americans!). My kids have way fonder memories of jetlag than I do. This might be one of the reasons.

13. Make a smash journal. I despise clutter, and I struggle with the amazingly well-intentioned outpouring of gifts to my children by my lovely US-based family. Once we had the idea as a family to “collect” memories along the way through a smash journal. It became our intentional down time together as a family (though not every night). We made space regularly to create little memory books in the form of a journal with everything imaginable stuck inside. Tickets, receipts, napkins, and flyers instantly became more valuable than toys. This was a delightful way for each person to have something tangible from their trip, personalize their experience, and remember their “highs and lows” from the trip using their own unique way of expressing it. It also minimized the need for extra storage or travel space on our return.

14. Take a picture of every bed you have slept in or car you drove or person you met with. This might sound strange or bizarre, but it’s memorable. (Taking pictures of dogs is another option that my kids loved!) For us, this cataloging is another memory-building exercise. Sometimes the pictures validate the wonder of exhaustion or serve as an understanding of your reason for chiropractic care. And sometimes they act as a memory trigger of the beautiful space that was created on our behalf. We have incredible memories of people who loved us well in ways we never asked for.

Getting kids involved in planning from the beginning can give furlough an incredible boost instead of it being a bore. Be creative and think outside the box. You’re sure to make incredible memories that only other global workers truly understand. But don’t feel like this is a checklist. Make it your own, and then be flexible and spontaneous, present to whomever the Father wants to put before you. Truly pray for this time to be the gift it was intended for.

 

Originally published at The Way Between and revised for reprint at A Life Overseas.

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Sara Simons and her family recently relocated back to the US after 11 years living and working abroad. She and her husband Jeff create resources and provide coaching for ministry leaders in major life transition and on sabbatical. You can learn more at thewaybetween.org.