How Does Working with Human Trafficking impact a heart, a marriage, and parenting?

I am delighted today to share a conversation with my friend Lauren Pinkston. Lauren is married and has a delightful toddler who will soon become a big sister through international adoption. Lauren is super energetic, fun, and so graciously open to chatting. She and her family live in Southeast Asia and work with human trafficking. I wanted to talk with her because I wondered how working with human trafficking impacts other aspects of being a Christian and a human.

Lauren's post

Lauren, first of all I love chatting about these kind of topics and I know you do too. Please share a little bit about where you live and the work you do a little bit about where you live and the work you do.

I live in a creative access country in SE Asia, so it is really difficult to talk about what I do. Based on the audience reading this interview, I believe people will understand the heart behind all the dreams I have for my work in this place. I am also greatly bent towards justice, so other than praying like crazy for Good News to be spread, I want to see physical redemption brought to the people of this land.

I work in the mornings at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where I’m writing my dissertation and researching human trafficking patterns in the area. In the afternoons, I direct a new social enterprise where we employ women who are seeking safe work…from girls in safe houses to women actually running brothels. We believe that if we rescue one girl from human trafficking, we will be opening up a spot for other girls to be victimized. So, slowly, we are developing relationships with brothel owners and offering employment if they shut down their business as usual and reopen their business as a handicraft co-op.

Being a wife and mom are my full-time, fun jobs. : )

 

Human trafficking seems so dark, I think many don’t even know how to approach the subject. What have you learned about darkness from your work? Paradoxically, how is it not as dark as you thought?

You know, there really is so much darkness. Just last week I sat across the table from a woman who answered a phone call from a man looking to buy a prostitute for the night. As I listened to her talk so casually about selling another woman’s body, I got so angry on the inside it took everything in me not to turn the table over and scream at her to get out of my workspace.

It reminded me of just how blatantly evil walks around on this earth, and how as Believers we forget about it. We stay tucked away in our comfortable faith communities where people understand us and think like us and welcome us. We do this even on ‘the field.’ I’m guilty! We just simply forget that the majority of the world is living unthinkable realities every day.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen how truly resilient humans are. It’s incredible to see the young girls we’ve employed giggling, running around, and going about their daily lives as if they haven’t experienced the horrible abuses they once knew. His redemption really can blot out painful pasts, and I am so thankful I get to witness this first-hand.

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How has working with human trafficking impacted your marriage (for good, or maybe in ways that have surprised you?)? 

I can honestly say that there are good and bad ways that this work has affected my marriage. Some days I am so disgusted by the stories I read and the things I see that I don’t have many positive things to say about men. Some days I am so emotionally tired that I have nothing left when I come home. And some days I can’t think about intimacy because the images and filth I’ve encountered are stronger than the relationship I have with my husband.

But MOST days, honestly almost ALL days…I am nothing but grateful to have my incredible husband standing beside me. He has become my biggest cheerleader in this line of work, and supports me day in and day out with such long-suffering. I am so thankful that the women and girls I interact with can also see me interact with a husband who is affectionate, kind, and patient. When they see a God-fearing man who leads his home with intentionality and fathers his daughter with such gentleness, they see the opposite of what they’ve experienced with men before. And THIS strengthens my marriage more than anything. I am so, so grateful that my story is one that includes my loving husband.

 

Tell us a little bit about your daughter and the tensions you may feel knowing that many who you work with are equally valuable to God, but for complex and varied reasons have had very different childhoods.

Wow – how did you know I feel that tension?! I feel it some with my biological daughter, but I REALLY feel it when I pray for the little girl my husband and I are adopting from Uganda. Knowing that in a few short years, if she wasn’t adopted, she could easily become another statistic as a human trafficking victim…whew. I feel a lot of feels.

I just want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR!!! on behalf of all the kids that don’t have safe home environments. It makes no sense that one child can have parents doting on every single developmental milestone while another is sold by her parents to pay of a small land debt. It literally makes me sick.

But that just takes me back to the power and the purpose of the Lord’s church. Shame on us when we don’t live out the incarnational person of Christ. Just shame on us. There are too many believers in this world to still have so many children at risk of exploitation. There are too many parents that need friends and mentors so that they can raise their own children to be happy and healthy. There are too many dark places without the slightest glimmer of light.

 

Any final remarks you’d like to make?

Well I guess while I’m preaching, I’ll just say this: I don’t understand why the church has so much trouble being the church.

I’m thinking about light and darkness a lot in this interview, so an image of an auditorium with a stage is coming to mind. You know how, when you have a really bright spotlight shining on a stage, the other parts of the room are still dark? And when you’re standing on the stage, if you look into the spotlight, it’s really hard to see anything else in the room? The light kind of blinds you for a minute.

I feel like so many times as the church, we are that spotlight. We all clump together in our safe huddles, and become this spotlight shining in one direction so that we are too overwhelming for the person standing in front of us, while the rest of the room is left in the dark.

For example, when a hot-button topic comes up in the news (like Planned Parenthood), we shout and scream and wave our Bibles so much that the rest of the world is blinded by our yelling. They can’t hear our message. The issue of abortion is center stage, but there are pregnant, single moms and orphans without homes scattered throughout the audience. No one is wandering into those dark places of the auditorium. We can’t all go to one orphan in a group. We can’t sit beside our friends if we go to that young, scared teenager. That’s all too uncomfortable.

How I wish we could just forget about being the spotlight and instead just carry a little cell phone flashlight. If we dispersed ourselves amongst all the people in the room without light, we could all see. Sitting side-by-side with those in need, offering the little we have, and being the church that believes in lighting up the whole world. With whatever talents we have, with whatever little thing we have to offer. Just spreading out our little so that the whole room is lit up.

Lauren, I love how you peer into the dark corners of the room and say to those sitting in the dark, “I see you. You are not forgotten and we are coming for you with the Love of Christ.” Now for the day when we can hang out for hours in person :).

How has your work impacted you as a person? How has it impacted your marriage or parenting? Any questions for Lauren?

If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, she can be found at:

instagram: @lmpinkston

A Resource for Missionaries in Transition {and a give away!}

 looming-transitions_coverLooming Transitions: starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service, a book I wrote with you in mind, was launched this week. I love to hear the back-stories on books or movies, so thought I’d share with you how this book came to be. In 2007 I transitioned back to China after a three year study leave. About eight months into my transition being (mostly) over and life up and running in China, I was feeling (mostly) settled. My organization asked to lead a workshop on how to finish well, geared toward people who would be returning to the U.S. after having lived and taught in Asia. I jumped at the chance; fresh off my own Band-Aid ripping off experience, I figured I had help to share.

All I needed to do was conduct a little bit of internet research, read some articles, throw in a few personal stories, and voilà one basically ready-made presentation. My plan went off without a hitch until I did my first internet search. Almost everything about “ending chapters” in life was related to retiring. Retiring is certainly a major area for looming transitions and finishing well. But what about all of the transitions that we go through when an end is coming, yet life will still go on after the transition?

The first year I presented the workshop, I pulled together a few thoughts and told myself the problem was my late start in the search. Information was out there and I would find it. During the next year, I found little help for the workshop. I went back to the list of ideas I had created the first year, added more meat to them and the idea of a book began to grow.

This book is for those who will be going through a major life transition, either moving to the field or preparing to return to your “home” country. It covers all of the potential moves you might make: to the field, back to your home country for a Home Assignment or furlough, or if you sense for now your time on the field is coming to a close. Chance are you’ve been around someone who left the field without finishing as well as they could, either because they shut down too early or started too late.

Allowing parts of yourself to die in order to create space for new life and seasons is not for the faint of heart. But it can be done. The burning question this book answers is how can you keep your soul fertile and sanity intact during transitions?

There are no simple platitudes offered in Looming Transition. You won’t find “three easy steps to anything.” However, you will find suggestions for your soul, your stuff, and your sanity.

This book is intended for the 4-6 months before you move and benefits of Looming Transitions include:

  • 11 ways to stay connected to God through transition
  • 7 areas of your personal life that can experience revival in the midst of upheaval
  • 5 places to look for messes in your life (and ways to keep the mess in check)
  • 4 key aspects to know about yourself and loved ones going into a transition (one example is How to know if you are pre- or post-griever (and why it matters))
  • 5 significant arenas to start early
  • It’s not all about you: 3 important steps that allow others to end this season of your life well
  • Insight on how to grieve a transition that is slow in coming
  • How to identify and manage stress leading up to a transition

Looming Transitions is available on Amazon—both in paperback and kindle. In addition, I’ve created graphics you can use for blogs, newsletters, and social media as a small way to help those of you in transitions! If you could help spread the word to mission committees, organizations and people you know who will be transitioning to or from the field, you can be a part of helping more to start and finish well in cross-cultural service. This book can also be offered at a discount for purchases of 10 copies or more (messymiddle (at) gmail (dot) com).

Because I know many of you are in need of this book now, I’d love to offer three copies to readers of A Life Overseas. Leave a comment about the type of transition you’re in or who you’d give this book to and three winners will be drawn and notified on Monday.

With blessing, Amy

*** The giveaway is now over and the winners have been notified. I am blessed and humbled by this community! To slow me down and keep me grounded in your needs, for the drawing I wrote each of your names on a piece of paper and prayed for you. The outpouring of comments has reminded me of how very much we need each other, we need A Life Overseas, and we need resources. Very blessed to be a part of all that’s going on here as we know the truth that life is hard, God is good, and God is sovereign and do our best to understand and hold all three in tension.

Best Christmas Advice: Act One and Act Two

Act One: several years ago

In a meeting with a Chinese pastor my colleague and I asked her how foreign Christians in the vicinity of her church could support her and the church. The church is in sort-of a rural area (a relative term in that part of China) and most of the foreigners don’t speak Chinese. The foreigners hadn’t been attending church often.

It would be tempting to judge them. But, as you know, it’s exhausting not to understand what’s going on around you day in and day out.

So, to weekly sit, stand, bow, wonder the topic of the sermon, try to quiet children, try not to look at your watch too often, try not to appear antsy and remind yourself this is supposed to have some elements of worship. Knowing that this isn’t a onetime event, but you’ll be back here next Sunday. It’s easy to ask yourself is it worth it?

So, back to the question asked the pastor: how can we serve you?

Her answer was painfully simple. Just show up. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

Just show up.

Power of your presence

Yes, yes! I say. But then I realize I prefer Nike’s just do it! Doing something seems active and easier to measure the difference I’ve made {um, yes, it’s back to being all about me, all about you, not all about them}.

Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

Bam, and just that like the incarnation is summed up in a modern proverb. Emmanuel, God with us. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

I hadn’t thought of Jesus as being bored. But I bet he was. Or that he’d fidget when something didn’t capture his interest or try not to wonder how much longer he’d have to stay at an event until he could sneak out.  I’m not trying to be irreverent and I know that Jesus was able to be bored without sinning, something I am wholly incapable of doing consistently.

But when Jesus washed the feet of his friends before he died and told them to “go and do likewise,” I think he was throwing in some boredom too. Go, and serve one another, yes. At times I need to remember that serving can include just showing up.

Act Two: several weeks ago

In November my friend and I visited the pastor and her church.

After the service there is a small group who meet to practice their English by going over the sermon. One of the pastors will be present, but it’s mostly lead by the college students. The students take turns summarizing key points of the sermon and then the group discusses it and asks questions. I was able to sit in on one and can imagine pastors the world over would love for these kind of groups to be going on. For believers and explorers to review what was shared, what it means for their lives, and questions they might have.

At dinner that night we asked the head pastor how the group had come about.

“One of the students came to me with the idea. The foreigners had been showing up for several years, even when they didn’t understand. Each year it might be different foreigners, but they still come. I learned last year that the foreigners find out the scripture and read it in English during the service. On Sunday night when the team gets together, they study the scripture from that morning. When I heard this, I knew the kind of people they are. So, when the student asked, I was ready to say yes.”

Is her advice to “not underestimate the power of your presence” more powerful because of this obvious demonstration of where it could lead? I don’t think so. Instead, I see it as a mercy from God as he has lifted up the curtain and allowed a peek behind the mystery of much of what we do.

Sometimes we are the servants who sit in the pews, week after week and never got to reap this harvest. Sometimes we are the servants who get to see the obvious outworking of the Spirit.

Too often listen to the whispers that as what I’m doing and question the value of my contribution. Instead, this is also the voice of the Good Shepherd:

Just show up. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.

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Where have you benefited from others’ presence these days? Where do you need to just show up?

To Ask or Not To Ask, That is the Question

In response to last month’s post on missionaries and retirement, the following question was asked on our Facebook page: How about a few more on the topic of money and fundraising? For all my years with one organization, I still struggle with questions like “Should I let people know that I can barely meet my rent?” or “should I be ala George Mueller (whom everyone who is NOT a missionary holds up as the example!) and tell only God?” It is extremely difficult to make these types of decisions and even though I’ve known the Lord for many years, I still find myself questioning as to what is faith and what is not “faith”. I would appreciate some input from others. I know not all missionaries are on financial support, but many of us are.

Financial needs

I get it! This is an area I’ve struggled with too. It’s one I’m currently wrestling with. My monthly cell phone bill went up $25 a month and my health insurance is going up $161 a month in January. Both are a necessity for my work, but in light of the screaming needs of starving children, human trafficking, and planting churches, I feel embarrassed to say, “Hey, help pay for my cell phone.”

I’m going to start of by saying I don’t believe there is one right answer. The life of faith means that there are few absolute rules. What works or doesn’t work will most likely change and evolve.

We see this tension within Scripture:

Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. “Wherever you go,” he said, “stay in the same house until you leave town. But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”  So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil. Mark 6:6-13

and

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?” “No,” they replied. But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” “Look, Lord,” they replied, “we have two swords among us.” “That’s enough,” he said. Luke 22:35-38

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I realize each of these passages occur within a specific context. My point is, your needs are also going to exist within a context and some needs are easier to mention than others. For example, I’ve had friends on the field that had cancer. One I’m thinking of was a more socially acceptable form that people rallied around and were deeply moved. Another friend had a more socially unacceptable form that came with a bit of shame. But both had very real physical, financial, and emotional needs . . . and both needed and deserved support in the most holistic sense.

When I first went on full-time support one of my supporters was a friend, a man who had been romantically interested in me. I didn’t feel the same and knew it was highly unlikely I would change in how I felt about him. He committed to provide 10% of my monthly needs. I was very uncomfortable when I learned this.

As in, queasy in my gut, uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. This was not how I wanted God to provide (and honestly I wasn’t even sure if this was God’s leading or a way to keep us tied together).

But God clearly said to me, “Amy, you do not get to pick who or how you are supported. You are not in control of manipulating your finances.” This was a specific message for me because money has been one of my default areas for security. My friend ended up being a faithful and generous supporter for years.

As I think about the relationship between asking overtly and trusting God that through our communication with supporters, He will move in their hearts, these are questions I have:

  1. How big is your base? I know some people have a few “larger” financial supporters and others have a much broader base. Both have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to support raising. It can be easier to communicate specific needs to a few; but if they need to stop their financial giving for whatever reason, it can be very stressful.
  1. Is it a one time need or an on going one?
  1. Are the finances needed for you personally or for those you minister to?
  1. What tradition do you come from? I’m from the U.S. and have noticed regional patterns when it comes to communicating and the type of information given. Denominations I believe can also be a factor.
  1. Your personality and how God is leading you. Sometimes God has us work within our comfort zone, and other times he asks us to work outside of it.
  1. A piece I wish I had understood earlier was my role in helping to educate supporters about long-term needs (like college for kids or retirement). I think I could have taken a more proactive role than I have.

My hope for this post is that it starts the conversation and we can continue the conversation in the comments. I am (clearly) no expert in this area, but I want to talk about it and hear from others who understand these tensions. How much do you communicate with supporters? Have you gotten any pushback? Have people wanted you to communicate more about specific needs?

Money and Missionaries: Do You Have a Plan for Retirement?

I start this off with a bit of fear. I want to talk about a topic that makes me feel uncomfortable, and I have little expertise when it comes to financial planning, but it is important so I’m going to push past my excuses.

Money and missionaries: do you have a plan for retirement?

retirement

 

Let me set this up with a bit of back ground information about me and what has both formed and informed me after working with hundreds of folks on the field. I’m going to make a list, because lists help me bring (some) structure and order to parts of life that feel large and chaotic.

  1. My personal financial history is that I come from a relatively stable, healthy family when it comes to money. Both of my parents are educated and successful. During my childhood my dad started a company that ended up not taking off and then had a serious disease and was unable to work for over a year. Before and after this period, he was employed as an engineer. They modeled and taught how to handle finances when you have a steady income and when curve balls get thrown.
  1. I had a strong sense at a young age I wasn’t going to live a “normal life” (whatever that is) and started saving for retirement at 16. Let it not be said that I don’t like to be prepared! I’ve been thinking about this subject for over thirty years.
  1. When I went to the field, it was after working in a public school where I had a job that included retirement benefits. At that time, I thought I was stepping out of the system for two years. I was still in my 20’s, so it didn’t seem like I was making a HUGE life decision or weighing much when it came to life decisions. I was simply, taking two years off at a time when two years wasn’t a big deal. That was 20 years ago.

Like me, you might be thinking this is only for a few years so you don’t need to factor in the idea of retirement. Or like me, your journey could evolve over time and “suddenly” it’s been nine years and you think, “Um, this might be a career. When did that happen?!” Or you might have entered the field thinking this was for the long haul.

You can see how any of those mind-sets could influence your approach to money and the long-term view.

  1. Coming from the west, money has been relegated to the “private” part of a person’s life. For Christians, two of the greatest areas of shame involve sex and money. We often have such shame about our finances and have no idea how to initiate talking about them, that we end up isolated and ignorant. Which, ironically, only feeds the shame. And then years pass and you might now be in an overwhelming situation.
  1. When it comes to missionaries, this discussion is complicated because instead of just the individual/family and an employer, there are often three parties involved.
  • The individual or family
  • The sending organization
  • The sending church (or churches, many churches)

Who, ultimately, is responsible for thinking about your retirement? And then let’s also throw into the discussion that there are many countries represented here at A Life Overseas. Meaning we have a myriad of philosophies and government programs when it comes to retirement.

  1. We are Christians who do live by faith and believe in a loving God who provides. Money is not to be our idol, source of security, or source of identify. (But I would also say, neither is ignorance to be our idol, that’s why I want to talk about this.)
  1. Though I could share many stories, I’ll share two here. I don’t want us to be so theoretical we miss that we are talking about real people. People like you or me.

First story involves a family of six. A surprise came up with their visa and they needed to pay an additional $50 for five of the family members. When I called to tell them, they freaked out. F.R.E.A.K.E.D. O.U.T. I get that money stuff can be stressful. As I brainstormed with them about the situation, it turns out they had $18 USD in their bank account.

And then it was my turn to F.R.E.A.K. out! Because we so rarely talk about finances, I assumed that others would have enough of a cushion in case of an emergency. Six people on the field with access to eighteen dollars. People, this is not good.

My second story involves a friend who is a mission’s pastor. Because the church had not historically had plans for retirement they have several people who need to retire now, but can’t afford to. One situation involves a man with dementia. I do not know him, so the picture in my head is purely of my own making. Can’t you see him? Doesn’t your heart go out to this man who has worked faithfully his whole life? But without much provision for this later state?

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I am hoping this post is just the start of the conversation. I don’t want to stir up fear or undue concern, but to help bring this area a bit more into the light.

  1. When you think about preparing for retirement, do you have a plan?
  2. Who do you feel is ultimately responsible for your retirement plan? You, your organization, your sending churches, or your government? Have you talked with each of these players and asked their philosophy on their role?
  3. What is your organization doing well in this area? What is/are your sending church/churches doing well in this area?
  4. What do you wish your sending organization or church would do differently?
  5. How have you seen God provide for you thus far in your experience on the field? How does this foster hope when it comes to your finances long-term?

Resources For Men Serving Cross-Culturally

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I received the following email from a man I’d met at MTI’s Debriefing and Renewal. Brian, his wife, and I were in the same debriefing group.

I was recently talking to a former missionary friend of mine who was going through some tough times in his re-entry to the States despite the fact that he has landed in a great job and community.  His talk about loneliness stuck out to me and got me thinking a little bit.  Do you know of a ministry like yours that focuses on mentoring, coming alongside and creating community for men throughout their missionary journey?  Any links, suggestions or resources you could pass on would be great.

The “like yours” is referring to Velvet Ashes. I know, and love, that men read the articles written for Velvet Ashes. But since the target audience is women, I also know men aren’t going to feel free to comment and engage in the same way.

This was my response:

You have tapped on something I think is lacking in the mission community — good support for men. So, sadly, no, I don’t know of much. Has he heard of the website Rocky Reentry? Not just for women. Or contacting Barnabas?

AND if it’s any consolation, I’d say that I’m similar to your friend. Good job, good community, but at times lonely. Last spring I started meeting with a spiritual director and that’s been a game changer. I didn’t need counseling, but I did need someone to help me sort out what’s going on in my soul :). So, that might be a suggestion that helps.

*****

My response has stuck with me in the weeks he emailed because it feels, well, so inadequate. I’m thrilled to see all that it blossoming on the web for cross-cultural workers. This summer I was a guest lecture for a class on missions and member care and I shared with them “10 Websites you need to know if you’re interested in Missions and Member Care.” A list I compiled trying to highlight the variety of online resources that exist now and was glad I had. In the classroom students had stacks of books around them. I’m all for books, but my hope was to show the more human, relatable side the internet can provide. Here it is:

  1. Thrive
  2.  A Life Overseas
  3. Taking Route
  4. Velvet Ashes 
  5. Paracletos 
  6. Rocky Re-Entry 
  7. Tending Scattered Wool
  8. Kids Without Borders 
  9. Raising TCKs 
  10. Market to Meal 

What stood out to me then, and I saw reflected in my response to my friend, is how very female heavy these resources are. Oddly, when so much of the world seems to have started out male dominated and has needed to create a space for women to be heard, we seem to be the opposite.

Two things I’d like to say:

  1. You have to start somewhere. I’m not sad or happy it started with women, I’m neutral. What would make me sad, is if it stays female dominated.
  2. As a woman, there could be FAR more resources out there for men than I realize.

Can you help me (us really)? In the comments can you list other resources? Let’s continue to curate lists of resources so that as people ask us if we know of any, we have them to offer. And if the Holy Spirit is stirring in you to start something or get involved somewhere … Go For It!!

Thanks for any resources!

An Anniversary That Snuck Up On Me

Twenty years ago on August 8th (my mom’s birthday), my parents drove me to Denver International Airport, dropped me off (per my request), and I flew off to several weeks of new teacher orientation in California before heading to China.

Erin, Amy, Cynthia

Oh my word. Erin (my teammate) and Cynthia (province mate) seem to have dressed in a more timeless fashion than I did.

Remember when vests were the rage? Or pleated shorts? Or fanny packs? Or little bangs? I don’t think I have traveled internationally in shorts since that flight. And truth be told, we got all checked-in and our flight was cancelled so we spent the night at an airport. Then for the second day in a row I put that outfit on, thinking it was a fine way to travel.

One more photo from our first month in China:

Erin, Amy, Random man

Our school took Erin and me on a day trip soon after we arrived. In my photo album I’ve written, “Mr. Yao brought this man with us to practice English.” Ha :)! What I should have written was, “What in the world was I thinking with my sock and footwear choice?!” Notice how nicely everyone is dressed and I’m sporting a cow t-shirt? Erin and I, like good Americans, dressed for comfort. Everyone else dressed for the photos. Oh, sweet Amy, so much to learn.

This man-child was not even conceived when either of those pictures was taken.

I repeat, not even conceived. This is what twenty years looks like: a grown man.

James and Amy

This month marks twenty year of being on full time support. My first support raising goal was a couple of thousand dollars for training and a flight to China and then $650 a month. I remember wondering where $650 was going to come from, it seemed like so much money. Now, needing about four times that amount, I’m thankful God eases us into stages of life.

I’ll admit it wasn’t that hard for me emotionally to go on full time support because I thought it was only for two years. For someone to “eddy out” (using rafting terms) of the flow for how most Westerners earn money for a couple of years when I was young, didn’t seem a big deal.

But to have relied on supporters’ generosity as they’ve listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit over the years, has not always been easy. There is a certain level of pride to have “worked for your money.” We westerners respect and understand pulling our own weight.

There is a certain level of humility and gratitude to have relied on others to have “worked for your money.” We Christians respect and understand living according to rules of a different Master.

I love my American side, but sometimes she does battle with my True Self, wondering if I’m doing enough, if supporters will move on to the next sexy Christian project (the need around the world is great and your resources are limited, I truly do understand), if they’ll think that a fanny-packed clueless twenty something is more endearing than a mid-life apparently not-going-to-get-a-real-job forty something.

We love beginnings and endings. Or I should say, I love beginnings and endings. But the middle? You can wonder where the shore is when you’re in the middle of a journey.

Twenty years. I never would have thought it. I imagine as you look around you, you’ve also got parts of your journey that surprise you. And humble and delight and have formed you. I’m flooded with gratitude for these twenty years.

For the faithfulness shown to me by friends, family, and supporters via letters, emails, calls, asking family members about me, their prayers, and their money.

For the faithfulness shown to me by God who has sat with me in loneliness, laughed with me at team meetings, grown me through his words and the words of others, and reminded me to live in the present with an eye to the future and a gratitude for the past.

Here’s to fanny packs, black socks, and the timeless love of God for people!

Clink (that’s our metaphorical glasses clinking).

And just because I can’t help my gregarious self, I clink again. To God and his faithfulness. To fellow travelers. To the Broncos winning the Super Bowl!*

 

What have been the blessings and challenges of others “working for your money.”

 

*You can take the girl out of Denver, but taking American football out of her heart is nearly impossible.

A Dirty Little Secret of Singles on the Field

I’m not a fan of dirty little secrets. Dirty little secrets are laced with shame and create hiding and distance.

I am a fan of having confidants and knowing how to hold a confidence. Oh the joy of being known and feeling safe enough to trust someone with a piece of yourself!

I first became aware of this dirty little secret talking with married friends around a pool in Thailand. We were chatting and I mentioned a stat from some research I’d conducted for a presentation at a professional conference. During my research I’d learned that 32% of the singles in our organization had either tried or were currently trying on-line dating. We were in a fairly large organization so this was no small number.

Online dating

With shock and a tinge of panic they said, “No! We are going to lose too many singles to eHarmony!” That is a fairly common response from married folks on the field. Is it any wonder many singles are ashamed to admit they might want to try online dating? The result is that many singles have no idea how many others are trying it–and once they find one or two, it’s almost like they have fallen down the rabbit hole, left to wonder, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?”

Shame from fellow servants isn’t the only pressure singles can face. On the other extreme, many folks back home want to know why a single is not on a dating site and pressure, pressure, pressure them to try and get married.

Of course, not all singles are the same and their experiences are going to vary as will their definitions of “success” when it comes to online dating. Since this topic is broad, my goal today is simply to say online dating is happening and to get the conversation started. Instead of talking in stats and hypothetics, I contacted three singles I know who started dating someone via online dating in the last year and asked if they would share their stories with us and they agreed saying, “Finally. Finally we as a community can talk about this!” So as to not get bogged down by whether you know them or not, I’ve changed their names. 

How long have you been on the field?

Ann: I’ve been on the field since 2003 (with a one year and a half year home assignment since then).

Beth: I was on the field for 2 years. I’m back in the States now.

Cici: I’d been serving with my organization for nine years when I signed up for eHarmony. I’d been overseas for about half of that time.

 

What factored into doing (or not trying) online dating?

Ann: I had a few friends on the field join eHarmony and they were really honest about the process, with the struggles and ups and downs of online dating including dating long distance. One of my friends on the field met her now husband on eHarmony and she really encouraged me to think about joining. I knew she didn’t suggest it lightly because she had joined eHarmony the year before with no “success.”  I felt like I had a pretty realistic and balanced view of long distance online dating and, with a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided that I would join while I was on home assignment since had time to invest in it and could theoretically meet someone in person faster while in the U.S.

Beth: The most significant thing that factored into using online dating was the fact that there were very few single men on the field. I lived in a very small expat community and all the men my age were married. I had dabbled a little in online dating during college (but it wasn’t really successful). However, after I moved to China, I decided to try my hand again after realizing that the options on the field were very limited.

Cici: Several of my friends had met their husbands through online dating, so I knew it could work. When I decided to try it, I factored in cost, safety, and timing. When I joined eH, I was planning to be on the field for another year, and I only signed up for three months because I didn’t want it to consume my time for that long. For me the timing seemed good because I wasn’t too far away from being back in the States if I met someone, but I was far enough away from being home, that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t meet anyone. I originally looked at it as “practice” for when I got back to the States because I rarely interacted with any single men where I was living.

 

Did you feel this was something you needed (or wanted) to hide from your team or organization? Did you feel comfortable sharing it?

Ann: Since online dating is pretty common I didn’t feel like it was something I needed to hide though it wasn’t something I necessarily advertised. I’m more of a private person that way and so it wasn’t unnatural to me that I wouldn’t share it with just anyone. My close friends knew about it though.

Beth: To be honest, I didn’t tell a lot of people on my team about meeting the two guys I dated these past two years online. I felt really ashamed and lot of people were really concerned about it (online dating is seen by the Christian community as not such a great thing — or at least that’s been my experience). Only a few people knew about the first guy I met when we first started dating. However, because of my first experience, I was a little more open telling people about Ben (my current boyfriend).

Cici: I chose not to share with my teammates, but that was based on team dynamics that were already in play. I did tell former teammates about my online dating, including teammates who were still with my organization. I chose not to tell my organization at the time; however, I have been honest and open about the timeline of when I met my now boyfriend and how we met when I’ve been asked questions about my future plans and when former (but who were current when we met) teammates found out via social media.

 

What was the reaction when people heard you were trying it out? Or succeeding? (All three of you have succeeded, so to speak)

Ann: Most people, what they hear that my boyfriend and I met online, say something to the effect of “lots of people meet that way now” or “so-and-so also met their boyfriend/husband online” as if to assure me and/or themselves that it’s a common and valid way of meeting people (not something I struggled with though). I expected more people to ask me what that meant for my life/calling overseas, but I’ve been surprised at how few people ask that.

Beth: I kinda answered this above, but it wasn’t always positive. I started talking to Ben in September but we never actually met in person until I visited him in February over Chinese New Year. People were really worried about me going to Australia and visiting Ben (I had friends on the ground there and I felt comfortable with the whole situation — my friends and family all knew where I was and where I was going so I felt that I was safe enough. I had met Ben’s family on Skype so I was fairly comfortable with the whole thing.) After Ben and I met in person, people were way more open to it and very excited about it.

Cici: Everyone seemed supportive, and I think this is because it’s becoming far more common for couples to meet online. For people who didn’t even know I was dating someone until a couple of months after we begin communicating, there was definitely surprise. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that people had been receiving regular updates on my life and ministry and assumed they knew everything that was going on in my life. However, aside from family and close friends, I chose to keep my relationship private in order to maintain a distance between it and my decision to move back to the States.

 

What have been the challenges and blessings of trying on-line dating while on the field?

Ann: I met my now boyfriend online while I was still on home assignment. Dating long distance definitely has many challenges and it has its blessings too. Since all we can do is talk while I’m on the field and he’s back in the states, we do a lot of talking! We have lots of good conversations though I miss the opportunities to just go out and do something with him and experience life together that way. But we’re able to build a really good foundation of communication (and the fact that we spent some time together during my home assignment before I went back on the field was really helpful!) Another big challenge has been figuring out how this new relationship and my life on the field fit together, and how and when to return to the U.S. so that we’re not always long distance and we can actually be together to figure out where this relationship is going.

Beth: I did date a guy my first year in China who lived in another city in China, but it didn’t pan out. The challenge was his approach to faith/Christianity — he was really liberal and eventually said I needed to show more of a commitment in physical ways I wasn’t willing to do. This is the downside to online dating. You don’t actually know how they will approach the physical aspect to your relationship until you’re in it.

However, this past year I have seen the absolute blessings associated with online dating. Ben is the man I have been looking for my entire life. Because our relationship started on Skype and emails, we were able to be open and honest with each other. Our relationship started as a friendship first before developing into something more deep. My relationship with Ben is not founded on the physical aspect (which is something that has really tripped me up in past relationships). It’s founded on our love for the Lord and on our friendship and care for one another.

Communication is one of our strongest aspects of our relationship because we have had to work so hard to do it well since we live so far apart. I feel that this is one of the best benefits to online dating. You really get to know someone and who they are. Ben is from Australia and I’m from the US, so it’s been challenging, but because we started this relationship at a distance, it’s made it easier dealing with it since we know it will eventually end (he’s moving to the US sometime next year).

Cici: The challenge for me was how time consuming it was. It can be like having a part-time job, which was a little stressful when I was trying to prepare to move back to the States. However, it was also a welcome distraction from all of the drama that was going on in my life at the time. Waiting for communication and emails because of the time difference was difficult as well, especially the more I got to know my now boyfriend. Another blessing was feeling like I had a personal life that not everyone was privy too. Much of my life is public knowledge, and I appreciated being able to get to know someone without everyone at home or on the field watching.


Ann, Beth, and Cici thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for helping to remove some of the shame singles might experience in this area.

For the rest of us, what could online dating for singles on the field mean?

  1. Let your single friend or teammate bring up the subject. Just like a married couple may or may not want to discuss infertility, some singles will want to talk about online dating a lot (maybe too much for your taste) and others not at all.
  2. Try not to use language like “we’re losing so many singles to online dating.” This elevates location and current assignment over following God and tends to shut down conversations.
  3. Write your prayers, run your prayers, bake your prayers, however you best pray, pray for singles and the pressures they face when it comes to dating, not dating, leaving the field, and staying on the field. Pray that above all else, that they may know the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in them, the hope of glory.
  4. Might I remind us of the obvious: singles aren’t just women, they are men too. I know this post is female heavy and hope to hear from men so that we can learn from your experience as well. I can be reached at messymiddle (at) gmail (dot) com.