A New Resource for Member Care Providers

by Geoff Whiteman and Heather Pubols

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Essentials for People Care and Development: A Collection of Best Practices, Research, Reflections, and Strategies, an excellent new book on member care from Missio Nexus. ~Elizabeth Trotter

Since 2000, I (Heather) have served in missions and communications. These days much of my work is focused on equipping and encouraging other missionary communicators. I often tell them that the job of a missions communicator is more than just developing content and materials to promote a mission organization’s vision and programs. As we help our missionary colleagues share their knowledge and stories, in the process, we care for them as encouragers and advocates.

World Evangelical Alliance Global Member Care Network Coordinator Harry Hoffman has a category for people giving this kind of care. He calls them “people helpers.” Harry says this group includes lay counselors, mentors, peers, and spiritual mothers and fathers. I might add colleagues to his list. People helpers are an often untapped or overlooked source of peer-related member care. 

In his book Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church that Transforms, Jim Wilder decries the neglect of relational skills development in Christian organizations. Instead, he says, as we collectively strive to accomplish our organization’s vision, staff tire, disconnect, and become spiritually dead. 

However, Wilder goes on to explain that when our organizations first cultivate healthy relational cultures, vision is implemented in a better way. People stop “burning out for Jesus,” mature spiritually, and exhibit greater trust in God. Member care in this model becomes a critical organizational strategy for sustainability, and everyone is invited to play a part in it.

This brings me great encouragement and was part of my inspiration in spearheading the creation of this book. My desire was not just to see member care professionals better equipped. I also wanted anyone involved in missions to have the chance to expand their view of member care and see ways they could apply the contents of this book as they cared for their fellow humans serving in God’s mission.

To achieve these objectives, I partnered with Geoff Whiteman. Geoff has served as a member care professional in private practice and with mission sending and service organizations (both as a resilience researcher and a marriage and family therapist) and currently advises member care professionals directly. Together as co-editors of this book, we bring our experience as co-laboring missionaries as well as our perspectives from different ends of the member care spectrum. Geoff gave leadership to this book’s topics and authors, while I worked with each author on crafting the content for a broad audience.

So whether you are a person who simply wants to be more aware of how to better care for global workers you know or work with, you are considering a ministry of care for God’s beloved missionaries, or you are a seasoned member care professional – welcome! This book was written for you. 

Most of the contributors to this volume presented at the MissioNexus Mission Leader Conference in 2022 and 2023. The themes of those conferences were “Counting the Cost” and “Shift: Rapid Social Transformation and the Gospel.”  The people care and development workshop track connected these themes with the needs of the missions community through a practical theology lens. 

To develop this further, we asked several questions. What do member care professionals believe (theological and biblical reflections)? What do we know (research and case studies)? How can we respond (frameworks and strategies)? What will help (tools and resources)? And who can we join (kingdom collaboration)?

An axiom of missiology is that faithfulness to the universal gospel requires attentiveness to the particulars. We need exegesis of the text and ethnography of the context if the good news is to be good news here and now. This axiom is true for member care as well. There have been seismic shifts in the world that impact the world of missions and the discipline of member care. 

I (Geoff) can think of many people who have lamented to me about what they are seeing. An executive director of a mid-sized agency explained, “We used to have a good handle on member care, but now we’re not so sure. Everyone coming is carrying so much trauma. We want to help them, and we also have a job we need them to do.” 

A seasoned trainer told me, “We keep seeing major member care issues in our trainees. The people coming through training now need more training, but organizations are placing a lower priority on training. There’s a huge gap between everyone’s expectations. I’ve given my life to closing this gap, but it keeps widening.” 

On another occasion, a senior pastor shared with me about texting with global workers on the other side of the world who were in a medical emergency with their child. He said, “I’m their pastor. I have to help them, but I don’t know who to turn to.”   

I share Heather’s conviction that the invitation of member care to love one another well belongs to each of us.  And I add my conviction that some of us are invited to become member care professionals who do so with excellence. This is because many of the perplexing and pervasive challenges are best understood as structural. These are places where our walls are not framed plumb and square to our foundation and where no amount of fresh paint will remedy the problem. 

One of the more pervasive structural problems is the belief that the aim of member care is to eliminate preventable attrition rather than to see reductions in attrition as an outcome of a healthy system in which member care has a key role. Through research, we found that attrition is multi-faceted, complex, and rarely (if ever) clearly differentiated between preventable or unpreventable. Member care workers often play an essential role in helping global workers do well, but their work is often tertiary and occurs alongside friends, family, colleagues, supporting churches, and others.

To move forward we need to grow in awareness of how care fits across cultures in individual relationships and in organizational systems. And we need to approach this area with hearts and minds that honor those who came before us and are open to the diverse perspectives of those involved in today’s global mission environment. Reading and interacting with the content of this book can be one step in moving forward. 

Our prayer is that this book will meet a real need you have now and provide you with resources you can return to again and again. We trust it proves to be a blessing to you and through you to those God invites you to care for. We hope you’ll share it with someone you know and the dialogue that follows will spark new insights.

May we each be a part of building healthy relational cultures in the organizations we serve!

~~~~~~~~~

Heather Pubols is the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ, emqonline.com) – a professional journal for North American missionaries that has been continuously published since 1964. She is also the founder and principal communications consultant for le Motif (lemotif.org) – a communications consulting firm focused on global mission. She has served in missions for more than 20 years. 

Geoff Whiteman, ThM, LMFT, serves member care professionals as the director of the VALEO Research Institute (valeo.global/research) and the MissioNexus People Care and Development track co-leader. Since 2000, he has served in vocational ministry and has supported the care and training of global workers in Christ since 2007. Those experiences piqued his interest in how global workers could persevere with joy which led him to research resilience (resilientglobalworker.org). 

Questions for Jesus about Re-entry

by Anna Brotherson

Jesus,

Did you ever wake up in the morning and forget, for a second, where you were?

Did you ever get a thrill down the back of your spine when you realised you’d actually done it — actually come to earth and lived among us?

Does it all feel like a dream to you now?

Do you ever imagine the life you didn’t choose — the one where you didn’t come to us?

And if you do imagine it, how do you feel? Are you glad you chose Earth?

And now, Lord — do you miss it?

Do you remember the first time you ate warm bread dipped in olive oil?

Do you miss the feeling of sand between your toes?
(Have you made plans for sand in the place you’re preparing?)

Do hot tears run down your cheeks when you remember the ones you loved, who are no longer with you?

Is there anything there that reminds you of here?

Does anyone there talk about here?

Is there anyone there who has felt anything like what you have, who has experienced here like you have?

Does anyone there feel like you feel when the topic of first-century Judea comes up?

Did you know it would feel like this, after all had been done?

Do you miss it?

Despite the pain, despite the cost and the loss, the dirt and the sin — do you miss it in any way?

Do you have a few bits & pieces up there to remind you of it?

Do you wish you had more?

Or, are you able to just look ahead — look to the day when all the best of it is back — the bread, the sand, the warm hand of a friend on your shoulder, the affectionate hospitality of women, the laughter of children, the breeze, the birds, the splash of water on your face?

Are you busy rebuilding all that now? Does it take your mind off the loss?
(Is that what I’m supposed to do now?)

Were you, like me, relieved and yet desperately sad to leave, that day when you went “home”?

Does home feel like home to you now?
(It doesn’t, for me.)

Now that you’ve been here with us, eaten with us, touched us, loved us — can you bear the wait until we’re together again?
(I’m not sure I can.)

Would you do it all again?
(I would, in an instant.)

Was it worth it?

~~~~~~~~~~

Originally from Tasmania, Australia, Anna spent nine years living and working in a big city in Southeast Asia, along with her husband Derek and their three children. In early 2020 they moved to Sydney, Australia, where Anna spends her days taking care of her family, teaching Biblical Greek at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, and helping women as a childbirth doula. Anna is the author of Lewis’s Interesting Life, a picture book for TCKs.

When the Spirit Doesn’t Move

by Jeremy Taliaferro

In the book of Numbers, we learn about the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites. It was an outward expression of the presence and Spirit of God. The pillar protected them (from the pharaoh’s army) and guided them, much like the Holy Spirit does for us in the New Covenant.

When the pillar stopped, the Israelites would set up camp. They would stay there until God’s Spirit (shown through the pillar) would again begin to move.

When it moved, the priests blew trumpets, and the people would pack their belongings and follow God. They would sometimes stay in one place for a day, a week, or even longer. But the key takeaway here is that they moved when God said. And God had a plan. He was in control. They were supposed to trust and follow Him and Him alone.

Fast forward to today. I have always struggled with getting ahead of God and His plans for me. Perhaps it is because of pride, or perhaps I lack the patience to wait. Whatever the reason, I know I’m regularly tempted to tread a dangerous path apart from the Lord. That is why the story from Numbers hits home for me.

Imagine if a couple of “brave” Israelites decided to pre-empt God’s movement. They thought they knew where God was taking them next, so they decided to get a head start and wait for God when He arrived with the rest of the Israelites.

That doesn’t seem like a good plan, but that is what I often do. So in this season of my life, I am trying to make some changes. I’m asking God to give me the strength to be where I’m supposed to be. I’m learning to wait on the Lord.

Setting out on my own will only result in me being lost and confused in the wilderness. The Father is always available to rescue me and bring me back into the fold, but I’d like to avoid the trouble this time. I am going to try patience.

While the Israelites were in the camp, they weren’t just sitting around waiting. They were worshiping and making sacrifices. Their focus was on the goodness of God, or at least it should have been. They, like me, often fell short of this.

So I’m going to focus on worship and sacrifice. I’m looking deep into my heart for anything that displeases Him. I want to surrender my life to the Lord and hold nothing back in reserve. That way, when the time comes to move into the next season, my heart will be right, and I will walk in the right direction.

I’m in a weird stage of life right now. For the last 21 years on the mission field, I always had a specific people group to reach. The work was difficult, but the task was clear. The future is less clear now. So as I pray for guidance and wisdom, I’m also making some commitments.

I will not move from the camp until the Spirit says it is time to go.
I will not anticipate God’s next move or get ahead of Him.
I will not commit myself to a direction or plan for our family until the pillar of cloud moves and the trumpets blast.
I will worship and make sacrifices, no matter how anxious I get or how much I feel the world is closing in on me.
I will trust the Lord.

If you find yourself in a difficult season or if you’re struggling with life-altering decisions, I hope you will join me in these commitments.

Maybe when the Spirit isn’t moving, it’s because he wants us to worship and trust before we enter our next season of activity.

~~~~~~

Jeremy has 20+ years of cross-cultural experience. From church planting with remote tribes in the Amazon and Andes to serving war-torn lands and refugee populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Jeremy has followed God’s calling to make disciples and proclaim the hope of the Gospel to those who desperately need hope. The numerous missionaries trained by Jeremy are currently serving all around the globe. You can find him online at jtaliaferro.com.

Churches, We Need You! (Why the Church is a Critical Piece of Missionary Care)

By Jessi Bullis

John Piper has famously mobilized Christians for international missions by saying, “Go, send, or disobey.”

In this well-known statement, Piper acknowledges the truth that not everyone was created to be an overseas missionary. God has blessed millions of people with giftings that would be under-utilized if they were to move internationally and try to fit into a role that God didn’t call them to. This is not a downfall. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the tapestry of the great commission (Ephesians 4:11-13). We need goers, and we also need faithful senders – those who make it possible for those being sent to serve with health and longevity.

God designed the Church to be positioned on both sides: the going and the sending. Throughout Paul’s letters we read many accounts of his gratitude for the believers’ communication, faithfulness, and prayer, along with his requests for both tangible and spiritual support (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:10-15; 2 Tim 4:9). 

God gave people in the Church different giftings to carry out the great commission. There is so much beauty in this diversity of calling, because it glorifies God: His creativity, His knowledge, His grace, His faithfulness, and more (1 Cor. 12:4-6). 

Both accepting the gifts of others while simultaneously offering our gifts to the Church is a necessary key to the coming of God’s Kingdom, because it is how we glorify God daily, and it is how we present God’s beauty to the rest of the world (John 13:35). 

So today I’d like to speak to those of you who are not going or who perhaps did go and are now back on the sending side. How can you do the sending with as much zeal and excellence as the ones going?

Yes, this often means financial support. We see this all throughout Paul’s letters. He used his trade of tentmaking to provide income for his missionary journeys, but he also heavily depended on the financial support of those in the Churches he was ministering to. 

However, the Church’s role in sending missionaries does not end with financial support. 

Time and again we hear Paul asking for support in other ways — fellowship, communication, and constant prayer. 

Often, a family spends six months to a year raising their financial support, having countless dinners and church events, are “sent off” with fanfare, and then that’s it. They are suddenly cut off from tea times and dinners with friends. From mentoring chats with older believers. From a village of believers pouring into their kids. Sometimes they are even cut off from access to worship in their own language.

And those are just the church-specific things. 

Suddenly they’re learning to cook things from scratch, trying to do life in a new language, navigating new schooling situations for their children, and raising their children with a brand new set of cultural and environmental challenges. 

All without their church and the people who were preparing them to go. 

The family did not change overnight to suddenly not need regular congregational support. If anything, the opposite is true. They’re thrown into one of the hardest transitions of their life, all without their support systems. They haven’t become “holier than thou.” They’re still human. They still have needs. And they still fall into the Lord’s plan for the interdependence of the Church. 

A missionary friend of mine recently told me that once she moved overseas, she rarely heard from her friends back in the United States. In the midst of her biggest life transition, she felt forgotten.

When they would return to the U.S. and they would visit their sending church, throngs of people wanted to speak to them. And many of these same people would tell them how much they loved seeing her Facebook photos of her children in the jungle or their bamboo house. Yet these friends had never even hit the “like” button. She had no idea they’d even cared that she posted photos.

Instead of feeling encouraged by their exclamations, my friend was frustrated, confused, and hurt. For the last few years on the field she’d felt abandoned and alone. Something as easy as pressing the “like” button had not occurred to these friends. Something so small, yet so impactful. 

Most of the time I find that believers want to know how to support their missionary friends, but they simply don’t know how. I’ve spoken with believers around the world who’ve said they didn’t want to write too often and make their missionary friends homesick. They loved them dearly, but they just didn’t know how to transition to long distance support. 

Churches need to know how to support missionaries beyond finances, and they also need to educate their congregations how to do it well. 

As a missionary kid who grew up my entire life away from my parent’s home town and sending church; as someone who now works with hundreds of missionary families; as someone who has dear friends all around the world, I want to leave you with some practical ways you can “send” and continue supporting the missionaries in your life:

  • Schedule regular time to check in with the missionaries you have a connection with. Put a recurring date on your calendar and send a message of encouragement or reach out to plan a phone call. Ask about their children or even say “hi” to their kids. Give them permission to talk about the hard things. Be present and listen even when it doesn’t match up to your expectations of a missionary. 
  • Send a letter or care package. Fair warning: it may get lost in transit or be opened by national authorities to check its contents. But I can guarantee the missionary will know they are loved if you are willing to send them snail mail. (Check with them on what’s best to mail and whether they’ll have to pay import tax so you can cover that cost.)
  • Be trained in debriefing so you can effectively help missionaries and their children to process the good and hard parts of their time on the field. 
  • Instead of waiting for a newsletter, reach out to them to ask them what you can be praying for. And then be diligent in praying. Oftentimes missionaries do not know if anyone is even reading their newsletters, much less interceding on their behalf. 
  • Develop a formal team that checks in with each missionary on a monthly basis and train the team in knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how/when to recommend additional care resources. 
  • Plan a trip to go see them. Not for a short-term mission trip that they need to plan and lead, but rather a trip just to support, encourage, and love them. 
  • Consider putting on an MK camp abroad for the Missionary Kids in the area. We’ve found that these camps are often deeply impactful on MKs, who are rarely on the receiving end of care. (Check out TCK Training’s retreat curriculum created expressly for this purpose.) 
  • Learn about what resources are available to them, and consider gifting those to them. You can find a list at the end of this post. 
  • Encourage your church to receive training on best practices in missionary and MK care. This Churches Supporting Missionary Families Training would be a great start. We also have a page dedicated to equipping churches to send and care for missionaries well.
  • “Like” their pictures on social media. It means more than you know. 

There are many ways that churches can come alongside missionaries; when they do, they contribute to the health of the missionary and their ministry. This is an important role for the church. Let’s learn to do it well. 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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

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 received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. 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.

Expectations: Future Disappointments, Planned Out in Advance

by Andrea Sears

Our perception of an experience can be greatly colored by our expectations. On the one hand, missionaries tend to understand that we must hold any expectations lightly as we travel to live in another country. We know that with so much change in our lives at once, the nature of some of those changes will surely be unexpected and surprising. We are prepared to be flexible. However, if the dissonance between expectations and reality is large enough, it can cause pervasive dissatisfaction that negatively impacts our assessment of the missionary experience and ultimately causes attrition.

It can also be true that we enter new situations with expectations that we don’t even realize we have. It’s possible that we have not been adequately informed of what to expect at all, so our imaginations have filled in the lack of information. We can even romanticize what life will be like on the mission field, filled with rewarding work for the Lord and saving souls day after day, with our well-adjusted families serving at our sides. For if the Lord is with us and has called us to this life, everything will be great, right?

It is important to examine the role that expectations play in the missionary experience, along with their potential role in causing missionary attrition. We all are going to have some expectations upon going to the mission field about what things will be like – whether we should or not, and whether they are realistic or not. It is important to recognize what our expectations are, and whether they are realistic, so that we can manage them (and the ensuing disappointments when we and others fail to live up to our ideals).

In a 2017 study on missionary attrition, we measured the frequency and strength of influence on the decision to leave the mission field for the following statements. This table summarizes the results by providing:

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

The two areas that reached statistical significance on the strength factors were unmet expectations regarding team members and job responsibilities. In addition to the scaled data above, we collected open comments on these and other areas.

In our survey, 38.6% of participants responded to the question, “If applicable, how did your team members not meet your expectations?” One wise commenter gave an excellent overall perspective on this question:

“Tricky question because the only way people fail to live up to expectations is if we forget that they are people who are still trying to die to self and can have bad days and seasons . . . even if they are missionaries! In the end, you have to set your expectations on God, and as leaders build systems with accountability and systems to help protect people from leaning on anything other than God’s strength.”

Of the many comments we received, the most common ways that team relationships disappointed were in the level of interpersonal dysfunction or emotional unhealthiness of team members; the level of cohesiveness/community on their team; differences in personality, politics, life stage, etc.; the quality of leadership; and the level of disengagement on the team.

32% of survey participants responded to the question, “If applicable, how did your job responsibilities not meet your expectations?” The most common concerns were that the role was not as advertised, it was a poor fit with their skills, the workload was too low or too high (more often too high), it was a poorly defined role (which can easily cause conflict on the team when toes get stepped on), they felt “put in a box” (not free to use their unique skills and ideas), and that leadership on what they were supposed to be doing was inadequate.

Mission agencies, sending churches, missionaries, and family and friends of missionaries can benefit from this examination of expectations that missionaries have when going to the field and the many ways that real life can fail to live up to them. It can help to understand the common feelings and experiences missionaries share and to be aware of how to support them more effectively through it.

This is an extremely brief summary of a 37-page report on expectations factors related to missionary attrition, with lots of sample comments to delve into. For the full report on expectations factors related to missionary attrition, click here.

 

*Thanks to Elizabeth George for the insightful definition of expectations found in the article title.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Andrea Sears and her husband, Seth, spent 13 years working in the largest immigrant squatter settlement in Central America (in Costa Rica) and founded the Christian community development ministry giveDIGNITY. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Johnson University. She currently lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, directs the ministry’s local team from afar, and enjoys living near family and being a new grandmother.

Every Dinner Needs a Side Dish (reflections on being a trailing spouse)

by Rebecca

Every hero needs a sidekick
Every captain needs a mate
Every dinner needs a side dish
(On a slightly smaller plate)

And now we’re seeing eye to eye
It’s so great, we can agree
That Heavenly Father has chosen you and me
Just mostly me

My husband and I joke that this song from the Broadway Musical The Book of Mormon is the anthem of the trailing spouse – the person who has followed their spouse around the world without a defined role of their own. We sing this song to each other with smirks, and we laugh because there are days when it feels like it really hits the nail on the head.

While many organizations have tried to eliminate the role of the ‘trailing spouse’ by making sure that both individuals within a couple share a call and a passion for overseas work, it’s impossible to completely eradicate it. Someone within a couple will always have a more prominent or defined role.

By virtue of marrying a doctor, I often feel like the trailing spouse regardless of where I’m living. Part of that is thanks to our current family dynamic: we have two young children, and someone needs to stay home to care for them. It only makes sense that the doctor be the one to work outside the home.

Someday our kids will be older and will spend a good portion of their day in school, and the slivers of time I have now between naps and meals and housekeeping will grow into larger chunks, and I’ll be able to carve out a role for myself, using my education and giftings too. But for now, for this season, I feel very much like the trailing spouse, and here are some realizations I’ve had that will hopefully encourage you too.

Even though I moved with my family around the world to make disciples of all nations and I have yet to make one friend with someone of the majority faith here, I am daily discipling two little humans who have the potential to be kingdom builders. That’s not an insignificant role. In fact, it is a role that I need to take very seriously and throw myself into whole-heartedly. Raising these children may be the biggest kingdom contribution I will make in my lifetime.

I also remind myself this is a season. It too shall pass – and there may be days when I wish for this season back. And so, I will cherish this season, enjoy the slower pace, and spend my slivers of time alone with God and taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In this season, I can build a safe haven for my family and make space to be their sounding board as they process their new surroundings. I can be the steady in the storm.

Focusing on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do, also helps me to find peace in this season. I can be the encourager of the community in which I live. I can be a welcoming face and resource to new workers who arrive. I can exercise my gift of hospitality and be a peacemaker and unity builder. I can communicate well with our supporters back home. I can be faithful in the language learning I am able to do, even if it doesn’t feel like much. I can be kind and friendly to everyone I meet while running my weekly errands. When I consider all that I can do, I realize there is a lot of potential in this season of trailing.

But I also want to encourage the other trailing spouses out there to remember that just because you have the time and the skills to do something, you don’t need to do it just to fill up your calendar and tell yourself that at least you’re doing something. You’re allowed to be discerning in what you fill your days with.

I’ve been offered several opportunities of things to do. Most recently I was asked to teach French to some of the doctors’ children. Can I speak French? Yes. Would I enjoy teaching this age group? Probably not. Is this a gift I can give to members of my community? Yes. Is this how I want to spend my time? I’m not sure. It’s still a possibility that I’m considering and which boundaries I would need to put around it if I say yes to the request.

So don’t be afraid to ask for time to consider a request, and don’t feel like you can’t say ‘no.’ Busy-ness is not a virtue to be upheld. Be wise in how you fill your time.

Lastly, remember that even if you moved around the world because of your spouse’s job and you don’t have a specific job description, God brought you to this place for a purpose. Your presence isn’t just a bonus. He does have something here for you. He sees you, and He has a purpose for you

Let’s face it – the side dish is what makes the meal. We don’t eat a turkey dinner for the turkey. We eat it for the stuffing, the sweet potato casserole, the mashed potatoes, the gravy and — if you’re from the American south – the green bean casserole!

~~~~~~~~

A wife. Mother. Wordsmith. Coffee dependent. Simultaneously a world traveller and a homebody. Both an Adult TCK and an International Worker. Rebecca has a heart for the nations and to see the global community thrive wherever God has planted them.

When Expectations Aren’t Reality: Supporting Your TCKs in the First Years of University

by Lauren Wells

I stood on a grassy hill hugging my parents tight as they prepared to drive away and head back to Africa, leaving me at university in Indiana. I had prepared for this transition. I had visited the school, had already made some friends, had earned my driver’s license on a previous home assignment, and felt ready and excited for this new chapter. It was going to be great.

A few days into the semester, I was required to go to an international student workshop. I was excited, thinking this was the part where I’d meet other TCKs. I was surprised to find that all of the other international students came from other passport countries for the purpose of university and that this was their first time living outside their home country.

I was equally surprised when our workshop consisted of teaching American currency (“This is a dollar. This is a penny, it’s worth one cent.”) and explaining how to dial 911. Having lived in the US until I was 13, I quickly realized I was the outsider in the international student group, so after I’d met the requirements, I never went back. 

As the semester went on, I tried to make friends. But it felt like every time I opened my mouth, the words I spoke didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. My attempts to be funny were met with awkward smiles. My attempts to deepen relationships by sharing about something a bit more vulnerable were met with comments that communicated a lack of ability to relate to my experiences and no invitation to continue the conversation.

I quickly felt like I didn’t belong with the monocultural crowd, but I told myself it didn’t matter. “I’ll only be here long enough to get my degree anyway, and it will be easier to leave if I never make close friends.” I knew what it felt like to leave close friends, so when my initial attempts to build relationship hadn’t worked, that seemed like a good excuse to stop trying.

I became the quiet one who walked through campus trying not to be noticed. I succeeded academically but have no memories of good social experiences. That first Christmas break, I remember feeling like a shell of myself, never having felt that level of emptiness and despair before, and I simultaneously decided that I just needed to toughen up and keep moving forward. 

School resumed, and I took on more classes than recommended, thinking that if I just poured myself into the academics, I could ignore the rest. But then, the grief started to creep in. Not just the grief of that year, but the grief that I had so skillfully pushed down for a long time before that. My Grief Tower was collapsing.

At TCK Training we work with TCKs on both sides of this story – educating families who are raising TCKs on how they can be intentional in caring for the unique needs of TCKs so that they can prevent adverse outcomes in adulthood and serving adult TCKs who reach out to us for support. 

In between the two parts of that story, we have found the need for preventive care and support. Sometimes universities have a wonderful TCK program, like MuKappa, that provides community and support for TCKs in their university years. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of resources available to university-age TCKs to guide them through that season. 

But there is good news! We can be intentional about supporting our university-age TCKs well, especially in those first couple of years. 

  • Set them up for emotional success by making sure they’ve had the opportunity to debrief and unstack their Grief Tower before university. The books The Grief Tower and Unstacking Your Grief Tower can guide you in doing that process in your own family. We recommend doing this at least 3 months before the transition to university so that the grief these conversations bring to the surface has time to begin to heal before they experience the major transition of starting university. 
  • Make sure they have avenues for connection and continued processing with safe people – family, friends, counselors. There will inevitably be difficulty in the transition, but they will not always want to share their hardships with you. Often this is because they won’t want to burden you on top of your international work or because they won’t want to disappoint you at their “failure” to thrive. Take away that shame by regularly asking them what has been hard. Ask them questions, and even when they don’t answer, let them know you don’t expect everything to be easy for them. For more on this, check out KC360’s workshop, “Indicators that University Transition is Going Well (or Not) with Dr. Rachel Cason” included in their free website membership
  • Help them develop a support network. There is potential for heavy, hard, or just unexpected circumstances to arise that require the help of a supportive adult. Asking for help can feel shameful, but that fear and shame can be reduced when the TCK has a list of people who have agreed to be a support to them. It is even more helpful when those people regularly check in with the TCK to see how they’re doing and what they need. Have your TCK help create a “supportive adult” list, and then ask the people on the list to regularly reach out to the TCK – both asking what they need and offering tangible ways they can help. For example, “Can I take you shopping for a winter coat? Can I come help pack up your dorm room for summer break?”
  • Teach them to celebrate wins. Adult TCKs often struggle to acknowledge their victories due to consistently feeling the need to adapt to fit the communities around them. The internal need to continue performing at ever higher levels leads to burnout. Celebrating victories, however, allows for rest, builds confidence and a sense of value, and strengthens their emotional bank to handle the difficult waves that come. 
  • Provide them transition support in their first year or two of university. An example of this is TCK Training’s Launch Pad program, which provides repatriating TCKs with a 10-month virtual cohort community, education, and support directly related to adult TCK experiences. There is space to process and grieve, along with regular checks-ins to celebrate victories and continue developing as an individual.
  • Familiarize yourself with Adult TCK resources so that you can support your Adult TCK by sending them relevant resources along the way. There is so much available now that simply wasn’t around only a few years ago! You can view all of TCK Training’s ATCK services, workshops, and resources at www.tcktraining.com/for-atcks 

The first couple years of university are notoriously the most difficult transition for TCKs. We believe, however, that with intentionality we can make these years not only healthy, but years that set them up for long-term emotional and relational health. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

~~~~~~~~~

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.

4 Ways Parents Can Help Young TCKs in Transition

by Hannah Flatman

We enjoyed setting up home in Brazil again. We had returned to our host country after a year away, eager to settle back into life at home. Discovering all their old toys felt a bit like Christmas for my children.

However, as gently and slowly as we took things, our little ones were sometimes overwhelmed by newness and change. They had forgotten quite a lot of the life they had lived here pre-pandemic. Surely this latest transition would be easier because my husband, the kids, and I were desperately looking forward to coming back ‘home’ to our serving country after the pandemic. And we are professional movers! I can’t count the number of cross-cultural transitions we’ve navigated our three- and five-year-olds through over the past years: Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Our preschooler had gotten past the phase of bed wetting and middle-of-the-night visits to Mum and Dad’s room. However, accidents began occurring fairly frequently and were accompanied by nightmares, a tantrum or two, and a refusal by one of our TCKs to speak anything but their maternal language for a time.

After frantically Googling ‘regression behaviour in young children in transition,’ it was a comfort to find that whilst it is exhausting, frustrating, and embarrassing (especially during long flights!), regression is also totally normal. If we expect tantrums from all young children as they learn to regulate their emotions and express themselves, how much more should we expect regression from young children in transition? This is especially true for cross-cultural transitions.

By regression, I mean temporarily reverting back to a younger or needier way of behaving. Perhaps a young child is using a pacifier again. Or they become clingy when they had been more independent, especially at bed times and goodbyes. A toddler who was speaking might revert to babbling. Children might become fussy about eating or refuse food at meal times. You might hear increased whining and stalling. Bed wetting might begin again.

Our experiences taught us to anticipate a toddler or young child’s regression on some developmental milestones in the weeks and months before, during, and after transition. It is a normal reaction to a big adjustment to their new environment.

When we expect regression, we can remember to allow margin in our full schedules. Parenting a child going through regression, even if short-lived, is intense and sometimes isolating. It often comes at a time when you want to focus on language learning, starting your new ministry, or just working out essential life skills like how to use public transport and where to buy veg. 

Regression may mean you have little energy for anything beyond the demands at home for longer than you expected. If you are a cross-cultural worker returning to your host culture from a time of Sending Country Assignment, your little ones may each take different time frames to adjust and settle back in – just as they would on arriving for the first time.

If this is your family’s first term of service, you’re probably wanting to make a good impression on new colleagues. Demanding perfect behaviour from our little ones (which usually means silence and politeness) in an attempt to validate our ministry or earn respect from our colleagues puts a huge pressure on our family.

When we expect perfection in our TCKs’ behaviour, we may be unconsciously teaching them that they need to hide their emotions, that mistakes are inexcusable, and that it is only acceptable to express (or feel) positive emotions. Let’s not project onto young children in transition the damaging idea that they compromise their parent’s spiritual witness, ministry, or family’s reputation when they demonstrate regression behaviour. People understand that acting out is normal from any toddler, even if they don’t understand the unique pressures of families with a globally mobile lifestyle.

So how do we help our little ones navigate transition and help our whole family navigate our toddler’s regression behaviour? How do we survive and thrive as parents of toddlers in transition? Below I’m sharing four ideas based on our own experiences.

1. Practicing Forbearance
In Ephesians 4:2 Paul exhorts the church to ‘be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ Bearing with our little ones in the midst of their transition-induced tantrums encompasses much more than just being patient and putting up with them. It is a choice to forgive, not to take offense, and most of all to love whilst acknowledging the real grievances and trials.

It is much easier to be patient and forbearing with our children when we are rested, in our own culture and home, with a well-established support network around us. In cross-cultural transitions so much is stripped away from us as parents and TCK caregivers that we are more vulnerable. We are often experiencing the disorientations and frustrations of culture shock along with our family. Regression behaviour in our little ones can be difficult to cope with when we want to make good first impressions in our communities, ministries, and churches. 

I was once told that it usually takes 3-12 months for children to adapt following a transition. Anything outside this window does not necessarily mean that the settling in journey is not going smoothly, or that our little ones are failing to adapt. For example, transitions may take longer or regression behaviour reoccur where there are a series of transitions involved over a number of months or years. However, if the regression behaviour is not short-lived, or if a caregiver is concerned, then do seek professional advice. 

2. Transition Preparedness
Gradually introduce elements of the new culture in the lead up to a cross-cultural transition. This can be as simple as a weekly attempt at making a dish from the new culture, language learning through games and apps, or finding out about cultural practices, special days, or celebrations in our host nation and joining in where possible. These may seem like small steps, but they build excitement about trying new things and can help the family prepare emotionally for departure.

3. Creating Consistency
Even when we are not going through transitions, I try to give my kids a preview of the day over breakfast. We talk about what is going to happen that day and when, often using meal times as references, because most young children are still coming to terms with the concept of time. So I might say, ‘After breakfast we will… and then just before lunch you can…’ That way they know what to expect. We also have a weekly schedule pinned to our fridge – the more pictures the better! We move a magnet along to show where we are in the week.

As soon as possible in the transition, try to establish routines like mealtimes and bedtimes. This helps little ones to feel more secure. We can make our homes warm and safe spaces so that our little ones can relax, be themselves, and have time away from others’ eyes. This could be achieved on Sending Country Assignment, where families don’t always have their own space, with a framed photo or two that comes with them or bed sheets or a toy from home. The child can help pack a small bag of things which are important to them to take. Set aside some time each day to lavish attention and affection on each child. These and other habits can help our children feel at home, even in transition.

4. Emotional Preparation
Giving our TCKs the emotional vocabulary to express how they feel helps alleviate some of their frustrations in being unable to communicate their needs. We have a weekly family check-in on Sunday afternoons where we all talk about, or draw, how our week has been. Mum and Dad share something as well! We hope this practice will help our little ones build emotional vocabulary and  foster open and trusting relationships where they can express any feeling to us. Emotion cards can help with this.

Remember that God is gracious to parents. He cares for the whole family even as he calls the parents to serve Him. Doubts may creep in about the truth of that during lonely moments when we are reeling from our toddlers’ tantrums, attempting to get our little one to eat, or changing wet bed clothes at 3am, again. It is a comfort to me to remember that He sees and knows our parental struggles and fear, as well as our mum/dad guilt. God is alongside us and our little ones in all those moments. His constant presence is our home through all transitions.

 

For additional practical advice from Lauren Wells, see this article.

My story for young TCKs and MKs in transition, A Fish out of Water, is a good conversation starter for parents who want to guide their little ones through cross-cultural moves and culture shock.

~~~~~~~~~

Hannah Flatman writes about culture shock, transitions, and raising resilient Third Culture Kids. She has been serving as a missionary in NE Brazil since 2005 and is mum to two little ones whom she has already guided through several significant cross-cultural transitions. Hannah is responsible for the member care of short-term members of Latin Link Brazil and also serves in South Sudan, where she and her husband have an ongoing commitment to the Ngok Dinka community in Abyei.

I’d like a refund for this cup of suffering

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

“It’s not fair,” I whined in the backseat of the car, my sister next to me.
“It’s not fair,” I moped from the end of the line.
“It’s not fair,” I mourned, overlooked for a role I wanted.
“It’s not fair,” I gasped, taking the fall.
“It’s not fair,” I wailed, watching everything I’d built fall apart.

“But look at what God is doing through this,” they point.
“It’s not fair,” I say again.

I think it’s just awful that wonderful things come out of terrible things. I hate that you have to bury seeds for them to bloom. I hate that pearls come from irritants. I hate that delicious strawberries come from fields fertilized in manure. And I hate all of those things because I hate that post-traumatic wisdom only comes from going through tragedies.

Yeah, I guess if you have to go through hard things, it’s nice that something good can come from it. But why do we have to go through hard things to have the good things that come after?

I can point to the traumas and tragedies that have brought me to a place of being able to weave words into stories that present hard truths in soft ways. I cherish the times people tell me how these words altered the trajectory of their homes in ways that brought them closer to the unconditional love of the Father. But surely there is another way to learn this wisdom and pass it on?

Everything is possible for you, Father.
Take this cup of suffering from me.

And thus begins a sacred journey.

We all know that life’s not fair, but it makes it a bit easier to not have to go it alone. To know that the Lord has gone before us even in this. To know that the journey through unfair trauma and tragedy can take us to glorious destinations. To know that we have a comforter, a counselor, and a light to guide our path. 

I have a journey before me, but I’m standing at the front desk with a complaint, “Excuse me, sir, I specifically asked that this cup would be taken from me. And yet, behold, still there is a cup. I would like this to be rectified.” And Jesus comes alongside me to guide me. “Yet not what I will, but what you will,” He coaches me.

“I’m sorry, what?!” I’m doing double-takes as Jesus leads me forward on the journey. I am a reluctant follower. But I follow, nonetheless, and I see how the path I walk is neither new nor novel but a well-worn road.

My soul has been overwhelmed with sorrow.
I have felt betrayed.
I have stood silent against accusations.
I’ve had friends abandon me.
I’ve experienced pain.
I’ve had tragedy happen.
I’ve survived it.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? That’s not the end. The story, the journey, it isn’t over yet. Jesus isn’t yet at the right hand of God, and I have no wisdom to offer anyone yet.

It seems that after the death of Christ, we stop focusing on his humanity. We talk extensively about the agony of the cross, which makes sense because all four of the Gospel writers draw us into this tragedy. The curtain is torn. Darkness falls. And the focus shifts from Jesus to the perspective of those left behind. That makes sense for the Gospels. What was Jesus doing at this point? We hear about the work of Jesus conquering Death in the epistles, but his followers didn’t know these things.

Even on Easter morning, the focus doesn’t shift back to Jesus. We continue to follow the story of the women and the disciples. Jesus just appears and disappears until he finally ascends. That’s how the authors wrote their gospels, so it makes sense that we would follow along that way. 

We receive so many emotion words from the women and the disciples. I can imagine Luke interviewing people and hearing from their perspective, “We were so frightened; we thought he was a ghost. Even when we saw he wasn’t a ghost, we still couldn’t believe it. We were amazed and overjoyed” (Luke 24:37-41). How was Jesus feeling during this? The eye-witnesses were too gobsmacked to notice and give account. 

Thus, the sacred journey continues. 

My eyes fixed on Jesus; I see how my journey overlays His.
I’m aching and weary.
The moment of trauma is over, yet my body is still on high alert.
My skin feels electrified. Every brush of my own clothes sears my skin.
I feel like my back’s been flayed.
And I look toward Jesus.
I don’t know how his back is doing, but the wounds of his hands and his side are still gaping.
Honestly, it’s a miracle he’s even alive.

We each come across a couple of our friends, but they don’t recognize us.
Our friends recount our own story to us, but they totally miss the point.
I’m furious and think, “How foolish you are!” (Luke 24:25)
I explain to my friends, and He explains to His, in a way that they don’t miss the point.
And then Jesus walks away.
 
“No, no, no,” I call him back. “These are our friends, our people.”
I’m clinging to what I know.
He keeps walking until his friends urge him to stay, even though they still don’t recognize him.
It’s like he wants me to be willing to walk away from people I’ve grown away from.
I’m not ready for this lesson.

When he comes back, I’m glad.
I watch them eat together.
In the common monotony of everyday life, his friends finally recognize him.
But it’s only two people.

It happens again.
Different people. More cherished friends.
They don’t understand what’s happened either.
“You’ve changed,” they tell me.
“Why are you troubled? Look at me. It’s me!” I implore them.
My words echo His, as Jesus tries to convince his friends he’s not a ghost.
They believe: we’re each still who we are.
Now what?

“Do you have anything to eat?” Jesus asks.
He invites us back into the common monotony of everyday life.
We eat, we talk, we tell the story again.
It’s hard to tell every time.

The hardest part is reconciliation, so I hang back and watch.
Jesus comes to Peter.
Peter recognizes him and dives off the boat to greet him. Classic Peter.
Jesus invites them to eat.
I take notes. Always start with food. It brings people together.
Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.
I’m thankful for this interchange.
I don’t have to be content with one apology and be expected to get over it.
I can request reassurances in proportion with the damage rendered.

Finally comes the conclusion.
Finally comes the ascension.
Finally the journey ends. 

Trauma is like any other story. It’s got a setting and rising action before the conflict and climax. And it ends with cleaning up all the leftover messes. Often the leftover messes of a trauma are the relationships: reconnecting, repairing, reconciling, and settling back into normal rhythms. This is a hard part of trauma that is often overlooked. Many times this hard part takes a lot longer than we expect. 

In this time following Resurrection Sunday and leading up to Ascension Sunday, we hold sacred the long journey through trauma and tragedy to the good that God has in store for us: the wisdom that these experiences give us. And as much as I cherish that wisdom and the goodness God has for us through the hard things, I’m going to stay mad about the awfulness of how this broken world functions. I can do both. 

I refuse to get over how awful it is that good things come from hard things. 

I will hold this space for those of you still in the early stages of your journey, for those of you banging your fists on the front desk, demanding a refund for this cup of suffering, insisting that it’s not fair. I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.” 

For those of you further along who are activated and who feel disconnected from their communities, who wonder why it had to happen like this, who wonder why it’s not getting easier in the wake of tragedy, I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.” 

For those of you who have seen the beautiful things that the Lord has wrought out of the awful things you’ve lived through, who are turning back and grieving for themselves that they ever had to endure that, I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.”

And I can point out to you the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and He will walk with you.

It seems agonizingly unfair that much of wisdom, strength, and personal growth comes from difficult and painful journeys. Not just the hardship, but the recovery, coming back to people and them not recognizing you, being met with doubt, and having to convince people of the journey you’ve been on. 

In this season, we remember the sacredness of this journey, a trauma-versary that changed the world forever. The Lord has gone before us. But moreover, he goes alongside us, today, at whatever stage of the journey we’re in. 

Trauma doesn’t make us stronger, but continuing onward through the hard things toward healing does. 

And I hate that for us. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Elizabeth Vahey Smith is a TCK mom who spent 5 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary. Now her family explores the globe full-time as worldschoolers. Elizabeth works remotely as the COO for TCK Training, traveling often for work and always for pleasure. She is the author of The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabeth.vaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about research-based preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Freedom for the Missionaries

by Shannon Brink

It’s been almost five years since we moved overseas.

Not much has gone as we expected. There have been such highs, and such lows, that it’s hard to articulate. We don’t know what the future holds. Are we coming back after this summer’s visit to our passport country, or will we call it quits?

There are so many questions ricocheting around my mind. Unsolved ruminations of what this was all about and what it was all for.

This has all been so much messier than I thought it would be. There is so much pressure to succeed, so much riding on our ‘success.’ People’s money, their tithes, their prayers, their sacrifices. Our children’s childhoods. Can we justify, can we explain, if the ‘mess’ is worth it? What if it’s not?

We need to explain ourselves on both sides of the ocean, be available and relatable to two different worlds and carry the needs of both. We need to justify when we take a break, when we aren’t doing what we thought we’d be doing, when there are disruptions.

We struggle with our own level of productivity, our own desires to be successful, our own fears of not being fruitful. We don’t see what is happening underneath it all, and we can’t even explain it to others sometimes because we don’t know what God is up to.

I haven’t met a single missionary who really understands the bigger picture. In fact, more often I meet others who thought they knew the roadmap and had to throw it all away. If God does anything through any of us, it’s an absolute miracle.

But I wonder if this time would have been different if there had been less pressure. And it hit me — I need more freedom. The freedom I profess to others, I need for myself. So for other missionaries out there, here is my prayer for you as it is my prayer for myself. A prayer of recognition, a prayer of release, a prayer of humility and brokenness:

 

Lord, I pray today for freedom.

I need the freedom to have it all far apart.

I need the freedom from it all making sense.

I need freedom from the fear of messing up my children’s lives.

Lord, give me freedom from the fear of financial ruin.

Free me from my need to make a difference.

I need freedom to be working through the same issues that I had before I arrived in this place.

I pray for freedom to doubt and wonder, to be mad about the losses, to long to be understood.

Freedom to realize that I’m not the super Christian I thought I was.

I need the freedom to still need grace.

I need the freedom to start language learning again, and again.

Freedom to try and fail at making myself known.

I want freedom to wish my story were different.

Oh God, I need freedom from my own unrealistic expectations.

Give me freedom to love and hate all the places I’ve been.

Lord, I need freedom in greater measures than yesterday.

Free me, God, in Christ, for your glory and fame.

Free us all, Lord.

We are an army in chains, marching wounded and terrified. We are struggling with our own fears, doubts, failures, and baggage.

We are rubbed raw and overwhelmed by pressures on ourselves and our own expectations.

We forget that we are the beggars. We are not the ‘have it all togethers.’ We do not need to be strong, we need to be forgiven.

We don’t need to prove our worth, we need to admit our brokenness. We don’t need to be fruitful, we need to be obedient.

You will get the glory then, when we admit that it’s all about you and not about us at all.

Free us, Lord.

~~~~~~~

Shannon Brink is a nurse, a mother of four, and a missionary in East Africa. She hails from the west coast of Canada, where her family is returning for a year long home assignment in June. After that, they’re not sure if they will continue overseas or not. Her first book, There’s a Dragon in my Pocket, is designed to help children process their anxiety and was written during the pandemic. Her next book, Waiting is the Night, is about the journey of waiting on God through her chronic struggle with insomnia. It will be released in May.

Go With the End in Mind

by Ben Barthelemy

We probably all remember that day. The one in which we stepped onto a plane to begin the journey to our ministry area. For some of us there was a feeling of great excitement, while others of us were feeling scared, sad, nervous, and perhaps a hundred other emotions, maybe all at once. And yet, all cross-cultural workers experience that day of departure, a day when everything suddenly gets very real.

To those who are still preparing to go, allow me to give one piece of unsolicited advice. You have probably gotten lots of it already. (Make sure you bring lots of chili powder, you can’t get it here. Don’t worry about packing winter clothes, it doesn’t get cold. Remember to get a bank that doesn’t have international service fees. Bring lots of Pepto Bismol, Turkish tummy is terrible!) So, to add to the cacophony of needed and not-so-needed tips, here is one more: go with the end in mind.

I dare say this isn’t typical advice for soon-to-depart missionaries, but the reality of the matter is this: you will not be there forever. Often, in our excitement to “do amazing things for God,” we don’t think long-term. In my own continent of service, Africa, there have been countless ministries started by cross-cultural workers, and there have been countless ministries which closed once the missionary left.

Generally, we Westerners are “doers.” It seems, for both good and ill, we have a “git-er-done” kind of mentality. We show up to various places around the world, we see a need, and we start doing something about it (often in a very clunky way, but that’s another story). And yet we don’t consider what will happen when we leave.

So often these ministries succeed for a long time because they are supported with Western money and Western skills. What happens when the worker leaves? Well, they take their financial connections and skills with them. The ministry may limp along for a time, but in many scenarios, the ending has already been written. When all is said and done, local people are left to pick up the pieces because there was no plan for the future. They may feel like the missionary/organization deserted them.

As we look across the landscape of global Christianity, trends indicate that the Church in the West is declining. Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, makes the argument that the epicenter of Christianity is moving to the Global South. This brings with it both dangers and opportunities. We need to recognize that Western missionaries and finances are likely going to be on the decline. We can no longer just assume that these missionary ventures will be forever propped up by the next young couple our organization sends our way.

If you were to look closely, my guess is that trends in missions would indicate that missionaries are staying on the field for shorter amounts of time than in the past. In previous generations cross-cultural workers would spend their entire careers on the mission field, but in our current day people are much more transient and prone to try many different things throughout their career. Our missions strategies need to adapt accordingly. All of those in missionary work need to be asking the question, “What’s my exit strategy?”

Consider the apostle Paul. He traveled the ancient world preaching the Gospel and planting churches. In the churches he planted, he had a plan for their long-term sustainability. It was called “eldership.” These churches were led by local believers who were godly and capable. Now, I can already hear the excuses in my head: “But there are none of those.” If this is true, then it becomes our job to train them up. Isn’t that an integral part of discipleship?

Missionaries are often an independent and driven lot who can have more than a little “control freak” inside. We have to be willing to let others do things differently and perhaps even experience failure. Paul did send some scathing letters, but he also didn’t micromanage. He couldn’t have, because within a relatively short amount of time he was off to a new place of ministry.

This principle of going with the end in mind is not just for church planters, however; it applies across ministry contexts. Constantly be thinking about how you will hand off the ministry when your time is up. The last thing you want is for those remaining behind to be forced to scramble because you didn’t see the end coming.

So I encourage those of you already on the field to have or develop an exit strategy. Take intentional steps toward your plan, and inform both your leadership and your local partners of that plan. And for those who are about to depart, remember to go with the end in mind.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ben is a sinner saved by grace. He is husband to Beth (a far more accomplished writer than himself), dad to four daughters, and partial owner of two cats. They live and work in South Africa where they are involved in theological education.

What’s on Your Housing Wish List?

by Jacob

“Sure it’s got no natural light, but the water supply is good, and look, you even have your own toilet!”

A potential landlady was showing us a room that was available for rent. We had just moved back to India from Australia and were getting back into our old roles doing community development in a slum. We’d deliberately chosen to live in the slum, so as to be near to our neighbours and understand their problems. We were also welcoming another housemate soon and needed more space, so we were looking for a new place to rent.

We’ve done this style of thing – living in slums – for a couple of decades, moving house many times in the process. As we’ve done so, my wife Ruby and I have developed a clear sense of what’s important in our accommodation as well as the factors on which we can compromise.

The room we were now being shown, as the landlady pointed out, had the advantage of having its very own toilet. This is not something to be taken for granted and is indeed a big selling point in a slum. Many rental places here don’t have their own toilet, renters instead needing to share between several families. That can make life pretty tough, especially in the morning ‘rush hour.’ (In one of our previous rentals, there was one toilet for 13 people!)

Independent toilet notwithstanding, for us, the lack of natural light was something on which we weren’t prepared to compromise. We’ve found over the years that having natural light is important to our emotional health. Perhaps it gives us a connection of sorts with the natural world outside the brick and concrete that characterises so many Asian cities. If we’re lucky, the natural light may also offer a glimpse of a tree or even a bird, which is helpful for our feeling of well-being and for our connection to God.

After natural light, perhaps the next most important factor on our wish-list is not being on the ground floor. Many people in south Asia actually see the ground floor as an advantage, being as it is cooler in the punishing South Asian summers. The storeys above do indeed keep the sun off the ground floor.

However, a major disadvantage of the lowest level for us is the lack of privacy. As foreigners, we tend to attract quite a bit of attention, so people will readily poke their head inside a ground floor room or have a good look through the windows just to ‘view’ us. When you like a little privacy, as I do, that’s not fun. We find that a 2nd (or 3rd) floor place offers enough disincentive (needing to walk up the steps) that it keeps the number of ‘casual observers’ down. Those upper floors are also obviously better for natural light.

After natural light and being off the ground floor, a reliable water supply and an independent toilet/bathing area are perhaps our next most important factors. While in the West we take our own water supply for granted, for millions in the developing world, it is a daily drama needing to line up at public taps and then haul the precious commodity home in buckets. In middle class neighbourhoods with multi-storey apartments, often the water pressure is not sufficient to get the water to upper levels, necessitating a pump to get the water to a storage tank on the roof. We’ve recently had such a pump installed at our place which has saved us many trips hauling water up the stairs.

Then there’s the toilet/bathing area – the feature our potential new landlady was pointing out as the big selling point of that room.  While many of our local friends share a ‘common’ toilet and bathing area with other tenants, this level of sharing is beyond most of us as foreigners, liking as we do to have access to ‘the facilities’ when we want, and allowing us to perhaps keep it a little cleaner than other users.

Finally, we consider the particular area of the neighbourhood where the potential apartment is located – preferably being away from the nosiest parts, and thus being a little more peaceful. Access to a park for extra green space is a bonus.

Interestingly, as I look at my wish-list, one factor is conspicuous by its absence – the actual rent. With most places in our poor neighbourhood being affordable to us, my not having the rent on my list is a stark reminder of the incredible privilege I have of being able to choose a place on the basis of ‘luxuries’ like light, water, and a bathing area.

After considering all of these factors, we decided not to take the ‘toilet’ room, but instead to advance several months’ rent to our current landlord to build another smaller room atop our existing one, leaving that room to our new teammate. Being top storey, the new room, while small, has great natural light, is two levels away from inquisitive eyes, and even gives us a view of some trees beyond our slum! Together with the addition of the water pump and being in a relatively quiet area, our new room actually satisfies most of our slum home wish-list!

Everyone’s context is different: some of us are in crowded slums, some in sprawling suburban settlements, some in rural areas with few facilities but lots of greenery. And within those contexts, we all have unique personalities, leading to different preferences in our accommodation. Some of us need natural light, whereas others just need a decent water supply and our own bathroom. Some need lots of connection with neighbours, whereas others need more personal space.

In whatever context you find yourself, and whatever your personality, I hope and pray your home satisfies the most important features of your wish list, and that you (and I) have the grace to accept the imperfections of our surroundings, whatever they are.

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Jacob and his wife Ruby (names changed) have lived and worked in the slums of India with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor for almost two decades. There they seek to understand the difficulties their neighbours face, partly by experiencing those difficulties themselves. Those choices have led Jacob, Ruby, and now adult son Joseph, to respond in a variety of ways – ranging from assisting neighbours to access government identity documentation, pensions and hospital care, to helping challenge an eviction for an entire slum.