3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

Yesterday, we talked broadly about caring for the heart of your TCK. If you missed it, you can find it here. Today, we’re looking at the unique subset of TCKs known as Missionary Kids.

I thought I was done with youth ministry. I thought I’d move to Cambodia, be a “real missionary” (whatever that is) and never attend another youth camp or weekend retreat. I thought I’d never smell “junior high” ever again, or play those stupid messy games created by someone who’s never had clean-up duty. But I’ve never been so happy about being so wrong, because the missionary kids with whom I’ve had the privilege of interfacing over the past few years have encouraged and challenged and taught me so much.

They’ve also broken my heart.

As I’ve seen them say goodbye to home. Again.

As I’ve heard them describe the pain of being misunderstood.

As I’ve watched them hug good friends whom they know they will most likely never see again. Ever.

This post is dedicated to those students. To the ones who’ve let me in their lives, even just a little bit. To those who’ve laughed with me (and at me), to those who’ve answered my questions (even the stupid ones). Thank you.

And for the record, I tremble as I write these words, acutely aware of the multitudes of godly parents who are too busy caring for the hearts of their missionary kids to write an article like this. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

OK, here goes…

 

1. Don’t call them “Little Missionaries.”

They’re not. They’re kids, with unique temperaments, callings, and gifting. If they’ve decided to follow Jesus, then of course, they should be encouraged to do the things that Christians do (invite people to follow Jesus, love people, serve people, etc.), But God may not call them to the same cross-cultural work as you. Or cross-cultural work at all. And.That.Is.OK. Let them follow God where he leads them, and please don’t be offended if it’s not into full-time ministry.Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending our kids to local schools, or out with local friends, but if we have the idea that our kids are little “soldiers for Jesus,” we’re playing a dangerous game. Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

My dad was a dentist, but I didn’t’ grow up among whirring drills and nitrous oxide (bummer). But that’s the point, isn’t it? I was allowed to grow up. And although I’m sure my dad used the phrase, “You’re going to feel some pressure,” he didn’t use it on me.

 

2. Be purposeful and strategic.

In Missionary Land, there’s a book/seminar/website for everything. We study how to cross cultures and what to do once we’ve crossed. We study how to help the poor without hurting them. We talk about planting churches without building them, developing disciples without dependence. We’re purpose-driven, strategizing, apostolic, visionary, pioneering, missional, culturally-sensitive, community developing, social justice flag-waving, chain-breaking, tired people.

But are we as purposeful and strategic in our God-given, God-ordained, role as parents? Do we ponder how to disciple other people’s kids more than our own? We are the first representatives to our kids of what a Christ-follower looks like. It’s an amazing privilege, and it is deserving of attention.

You’ve sacrificed a lot to be with the people in your host country. In loving them, listening to them, serving among them, you are aiming to show Christ. Make sure you do the same with your kids.

 

3. Remember that your MK’s good behavior does not validate your life or ministry, and his or her bad behavior does not invalidate it.

This one’s insidious. And devastating. But tying your validation to your child’s behavior (good or bad) is a socially acceptable form of idolatry. It has nothing to do with walking in obedience, and everything to do with looking outside of the Father for approval and validation.

All of us are on a spiritual journey. We mess up, find grace, keep walking. But this natural process often gets bypassed for MKs. They show up in churches and are expected to have it all together. No struggles, no sin, DEFINITELY no doubts. Maybe their parents expect this, afraid that a misbehaving or doubting child will threaten their support base. Maybe it’s church people.

In many ways, MKs live publicly, whether they want to or not. I mean, how many families in your passport country send monthly or quarterly newsletters to each other? One missionary kid confessed, “I had to be perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my dad’s ministry.” Another girl said, “Everyone thinks I’m better than them.” I asked her to clarify. She said, “They think because I’m an MK I’m more spiritual than them. They also think that I’m arrogant because they think I think I’m better than them.” It’s confusing, I know.

The pressure to validate a parent’s life choices is too heavy, and the risk of invalidating a parent’s life choices or ministry is too damning. Missionary kids should not have to carry either burden.

Resources:

If this point resonates with you, I highly recommend the book, I Have to be Perfect, and other Parsonage Heresies. It was written by an MK.

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May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, and flows straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

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Have you ever felt the pressure to be perfect? What did that do to your heart?

Is there any danger in expecting children to be “little missionaries” or “soldiers for Jesus”?

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He knows their needs and he hears their hearts’ cries. He can tell the difference between normal teen angst and deep emotional pain. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares. Jesus knows the right thing to say at the right time, all the time. As parents, youth workers, family, and friends, we’re not always so, um, Christ-like.

Yet, in spite of our weaknesses, we have the great honor and privilege of parenting and loving TCKs. So may we, with great tenderness and sensitivity, care for the hearts of the kids we’ve taken with us.

If you’re not raising kids abroad, please know that our TCKs need you too. They need extended families, peers, friends, team members, and churches who care.

So, with great deference to the TCKs who’ve shared their hearts with me, the experienced youth workers who’ve coached me, and the older parents who are busy providing such great examples, I want to consolidate a few ideas, and ask for yours.

1. Allow ALL Emotions.

One of the quickest ways to damage the heart of a TCK is to outlaw negative emotions (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.). Tell them they shouldn’t feel something, or that they just need to suck it up, or that their feelings show a lack of gratefulness. Yup, that’ll do it.

But, and this is the great part, allowing a TCK to experience the full range of emotions is one of the most caring things you can do. It’s also one of the healthiest things you can do. IMG_0250

One TCK told me, “We were never allowed to show any sadness. Even when my siblings left the Lord, we still couldn’t show any grief.” She was hurting deeply, but her family had placed all negative emotions off limits. She locked her pain away and kept it private for years.

Another TCK said, “My parents were often busy, and would give me lines like, ‘Living here is good for you! It’s something few other people ever get to experience. When you get older and look back on this time, you’ll be grateful for what you learned here.’ Their comments were well meant, but they didn’t know the depth of my pain.”

After listening to TCKs and others dealing with loss, I’ve come to believe that Romans 8:28, although true, is often used as the perfect “anti-grief” verse. Please don’t use it like that.

Often, a TCK who is not allowed the full range of emotions will cope by stuffing negative emotions (which is extremely unhealthy for their long-term emotional development). Alternatively, they may cope by removing whatever it is that outlawed their emotions; and if religion was the eraser used to remove emotion, religion may be the first thing they throw away.

Resources:

   – Not convinced this is an issue? Read the comments on Outlawed Grief. They wrecked me.

   – Learning to Grieve, by Marilyn Gardner.

   – On being with someone who is experiencing loss, Don’t be Afraid of Me, Please.

   – God Can Heal Our Broken Potatoes, by an adult TCK who served TCKs.

 

2. Ask Heart-Focused Questions.

Recognize that your TCK’s experiences will be vastly different from yours. Maybe more positive, maybe more negative. They may not identify with your host culture as much as you do. They may identify with it more than you. Are you ok with that?

When our family drives by the US Embassy and sees the flag flying, my kids feel nothing. When the President visited Phnom Penh and we saw Marine One (the President’s helicopter) flying over the Mekong, I stood there and cried like a baby. My boys looked up at me and said, “OK, can we go eat now?”

If you really want to care for the heart of your TCK, you have to ask questions. And you have to care about their answers. But not just their answers, you have to care about the heart behind the answers.

Try asking questions like:

What’s something you like about this country?

What’s something you don’t like about this country?

What did you enjoy about our last visit to (insert passport country)?

What was frustrating or annoying about our last visit to (insert passport country)?

Where do you feel like your home is?

Is there anything that scares you in this country?

Is there anything that scares you in (insert passport country)?

If you could change one thing about your life in this country, what would you change?

Here’s an example of how this might pan out. Prior to our first trip back to the States, we asked our kids, “Where is home for you?” Two kids said, “Cambodia’s home.” One said “America’s home” and one said, “I feel like I have two homes; one in America and one in Cambodia.” We took their answers at face value, without trying to convince them that they should feel differently.

We also preemptively asked our friends and families in the States NOT to say things to our kids like “Welcome Home!” and “Isn’t it great to be home?” Typically, it’s very hard for a TCK to identify one place as home, so we gently requested that folks ask instead, “What do you like about America?” or “What are you looking forward to doing in America?”

It was a pleasure to see our kids allowed to identify Cambodia, America (or both) as home. An older TCK once said, “The problem with Facebook is that you can only list one hometown.”heart1

Again, the goal is not just to complete a checklist; it’s to see into the heart of your TCK. So be sure you’re ready to really listen when they began answering. And again, if they say something you disagree with, or something that seems negative, so what?! This is about their feelings, not about how your feelings are superior or more developed or how you see reality more clearly.

You want your TCK to feel heard, and that won’t happen if you discount or disqualify their feelings. It doesn’t mean you can’t parent them or try to correct bad attitudes, it’s just that first and foremost, you’re aiming to hear their heart, not fix it.

Resources:

Some Thoughts from Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them, by Marilyn Gardner.

 

3. Study Your Family’s Culture

I’m sort of a spy. (Not really, but we’re towards the end of the post, and I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.)

Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, with kids aged 8, 6, 3, and 1, I knew I needed help. So I called up the local expat youth pastor and started asking questions. I asked, “What are the main predictors of healthy TCKs in Cambodia? Have you seen any commonalties among the families who seem to have healthy teens? Any commonalities among the families who seem to NOT have healthy teens?”

And then I asked my real spy question, “What families seem to be doing really well?” She gave me her top three, and I’ve been collecting meta-data ever since. (Just kidding! Who do you think I am, the NSA?)

“What it all boils down to,” the she told me, “is the family’s culture.” She said, “Generally, if the family culture is emotionally healthy, the TCK will be emotionally healthy.”

So, if you want to care for the heart of your TCK, consider your family culture as much as you consider your host country’s culture. You live abroad, you study culture. So, what’s your family’s? What are your rituals and habits? How do you deal with grief and celebrations? Do you value saving face, or do you communicate very directly? Is there a lot of physical touch? Laughter? You get the idea.

Parts of all cultures are holy and reflect the wonder and beauty of God. Parts of all cultures should change when they come into contact with the Gospel. What aspects of your family culture are awesome and wonderful? What parts need to be redeemed?

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May our TCKs be the most loved, most cared for people on the planet. May they never doubt our love or the love of the Father. And in their search for Home, may they find Him.

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Since MKs are a unique subset of TCKs, we thought we’d give them their own post:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

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Help us make this a longer list. What are ways we can care for our TCKs?

If you’re a TCK or an Adult TCK, we’d love to hear your perspective. What did folks do that really helped you

feel loved and valued and cared for?

photo credit

What’s For Dinner?

what's for dinner1

My husband once ate camel hump with the former president of Somaliland. He said it was gelatinous and flavorful. A big, jiggling pile of fat. Yummy.

Our first night in Somaliland we ate fried flying ants. Our boss plucked them out of the air and dropped them into a pan of melted butter. “Tastes like bacon,” he said. Welcome to the country.

In an effort to meet people and learn language, I drank unpasteurized camel’s milk in Somaliland. The ladies selling it said, “you can’t learn Somali if you don’t drink camel’s milk.” I don’t know if the milk helped me learn but I do know it helped clean out my intestines. I had to run home and barely made it to the bathroom before multiple explosions rocked my body.

At a wedding in Djibouti I received a delicacy of small bits of meat dried until beef-jerky-like and soaked in rancid butter, kept in a tightly sealed wooden jar buried in the ground for months and then smoked to add a burnt charcoal flavor. I’m sorry Somalis, I struggle to appreciate muuqmaaq.

My language helper invited me to a diiqo – the gift-giving party after a wedding, like a wedding shower. I watched her two mothers (her father has two wives and they all live together) prepare the gifts. Muuqmaaq placed in aluminum bowls and set inside xeedhos, woven baskets shaped like inverted hourglasses. The xeedhos were sealed with a mixture of dates and black pepper. The dates and pepper were mashed with the women’s bare hands until it was a sticky mush and then smeared all around the outside of the baskets, to be eaten later, when the gifts were opened.

All of this could hardly be as bad as what I prepared for my family our first years in Africa. I had no idea how to cook and lived in a country with few packaged or convenience foods and limited variety. This is a great way to lose weight. But losing so much weight is also a great way to lose wedding rings (true story).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’ve moved countries and now live in a former French colony where there is Cheese! Chicken! Eggs! Refrigeration! There is even bacon and wine. Still, we are short on peanut butter, non-chocolate cereal, and brown sugar but honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

djiboutiliciousI, oh master of the disgusting food so bad we still gag when we talk about it, actually self-published a cookbook, Djiboutilicious: celebrating culture and cooking in a country as hot as your oven. It is a compilation of recipes from men and women (and even a few kids) who have lived in the Horn of Africa for years and includes loads of photos, a few local recipes, and mainly Western food recipes using locally (in Djibouti) available ingredients. And I’m serious about that hot as your oven line, a few weeks ago my daughter and I baked cookies in our car. Just saying.

I’d like to give two copies of the book away (assuming my end-of-the-road Djibouti post office can find your end-of-the-road post office) and I’d also like to try some of your recipes. Leave a comment about the grossest thing you have ever eaten OR share a favorite recipe and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Djiboutilicious. I’ll randomly choose the winners June 20 and will inform them via email. I’m asking for your one-uppers here, so while you should probably bite your tongue at the next dinner party in your passport country, but no holds barred for this post!

What is the grossest thing you have eaten in your life overseas?

What is one of your favorite recipes?

When Friends Do the Next Right Thing

What do we do when the people we love do the next right thing? What if that next right thing leads them away from us?

When we say yes to God, we must often say no to the places we already know. And when God leads us overseas, we enter a communal life that is punctuated by goodbyes. Just like an airport, the missionary community endures constant arrivals and departures. But God is the travel agent here, and He hardly ever places anyone on the same itinerary. Perhaps we knew this uncomfortable truth before we said yes; perhaps we didn’t. Either way, though, we must now live with the consequences of our obedience.

And I, for one, sometimes grow weary of it.

These expatriate friendships of ours tend to grow swift and deep, and ripping ourselves away from those friendships is painful. This summer, I have to say goodbye to two friends, whom I love and respect, and will miss terribly. And I am still somewhat in denial.

I have never had any doubts that they are following God where He leads them next. They are doing the next right thing. Even in the leaving, they are doing the next right thing. They are honoring their friendships and saying their goodbyes thoughtfully and tenderly. They are setting up ministry for the workers who will follow them. They have listened to God, and they are doing what He says. But they will leave a gaping hole in my heart and in this city, and they can never be replaced.

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What am I supposed to do when my friends do the next right thing?

I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do do: I grieve. Because when a member of the international community leaves, all hearts bleed. The hearts of the leaving, and hearts of the staying. There is just no stopping that.

So I grieve for myself: it’s hard to say goodbye to people I love. I grieve for others in the community who must also say goodbye: these goodbyes are their losses too. I grieve for the ones leaving: they must say goodbye to a life they know in order to build a brand new life somewhere else.

And I also grieve for people who have not yet come to this area of the world — people who are making plans to live and work here, and even people who haven’t considered it yet, but will someday. I grieve that they will never know the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of the international community here.

So what can we do, as the body of Christ?? We are ALL involved in sending, receiving, and being His workers. How can we provide smooth takeoffs and soft landings for our brothers and sisters??

When our friends leave, can we say goodbye with love? Can we send them on their way with our blessing? Can we give ourselves the space to mourn these losses? Can we keep our friends in our hearts and in our minds and in our email inboxes, no matter where they live in the wide world?

When we leave, can we accept loving goodbyes and understand how utterly we will be missed? Can we depend upon God — and His people — to help us settle in our new home? Can we open our hearts to new people and new places, while still remembering those who love us from afar?

When new missionaries arrive, can we welcome them wholeheartedly, even though we know we will most likely have to say goodbye to them some day? Can we tell them where to set up their utility bills and show them where to buy furniture and help them fill their refrigerators?

When churches send out new missionaries, can we send them with our love and with our support? Can we resist the temptation to pull our hearts away too soon, in an attempt to ease the coming pain? Can we never cease to pray for them?

When missionaries return to their passport country, can we welcome them? Can we open wide our arms and our hearts and our homes to returning workers? Can we listen to their stories without judgment, and extend much grace in a time of great unsteadiness?

We were never meant to walk alone. So can we, as the global Church, be Christ to each other? Can we need each other, and can we be needed? Can we cushion each other’s pain during goodbyes and hellos? Can we do these dreaded transitions with bodies spread across the world, but with hearts beating as one?

 

Can you share a time when people have been there for you in your goodbyes and hellos? Or share what you have done for someone else in their time of transition?

Perhaps you haven’t seen goodbyes and hellos done well. If so, what do you think the Church needs to learn about sending and receiving workers? How can missionaries and mission organizations do better welcomes and farewells? How can we do this transition thing better, as senders, receivers, and goers? 

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Learning to Live Flexibly and Intentionally

intentional and flexible

Several years ago I read a newsletter from a couple who have spent many years living and working in Amman, Jordan. The letter was an honest look at how they decide to spend their time. In it they described their particular styles and personalities — she was relaxed and spontaneous, always ready for an interruption and an adventure. He was methodical and loved to stick to a schedule, order was important and intentionality paramount. He was a planner.

They recalled the many negotiations they had to make in their marriage through the years and how this related to their living cross-culturally, blending American and Jordanian cultural norms and attitudes.   The parallel between their marriage and  cross-cultural negotiations and the words they used “learning to live flexibly but intentionally” resonated with me.  

With purpose and goals, but always willing to bend those for the sake of people coming into their lives and unexpected circumstances demanding adjustment, flexibility and of course, time.  This sounds like a balanced way to live, a critical mix of East, where people and relationships are paramount and West, where goals and ideas yield some amazing results.

A life overseas carries with it incredible joys and tough challenges. It is easy to become results-oriented to please both funders and fulfill our own sense of purpose, sense of worth. This too often brings with it a rigid way of life that demands control and order. And burnout is inevitable. But — a life overseas can also hold endless distractions and at times, utter chaos. It can be easy within that chaos to give up on any goals, to throw up our hands and succumb to endless interruptions.  Auto-correcting in both modes can swing us one direction or another when what is best is a balance.

The “how-to’s” of achieving this is the challenge.  From a practical point of view, I have found that life overseas takes more planning. At one point in Pakistan if I wanted to serve egg salad sandwiches for a late lunch I had to get up at the earliest call to prayer and begin making bread. I then went on to make the mayonnaise so it could sit in the refrigerator and get cold, boil the eggs and cool them off and finally end the process by making the sandwiches. A mundane example to be sure, but any of us who have been in that place know that without the many conveniences available in the western world intentional planning is a necessity just to get food on the table. When we’re interrupted in the middle of the process by someone spontaneously dropping by for tea, there are moments of throwing up our hands in despair. How do we do this life? Practical tips like having a high tolerance for ambiguity can sound good on paper but sometimes doesn’t provide the comfort or encouragement we crave.

Life overseas provides endless opportunities for projects and people. How can we be purposeful about these, always leaving room for God-given interruptions? Can we learn to live intentionally and flexibly in the world where God has placed us?  Can we be spontaneous planners – creating the perfect oxymoron?

It’s when I stop and listen for the voice of God, a voice of wisdom and truth, that I learn more of living intentionally and flexibly. Because one look at the life of Jesus shows the perfect balance. He was intent on purpose and spoke truth in Galilee, but he recognized human need and stopped to make sure all were fed. He was on a journey with a destination in mind, but he stopped and took a drink from a woman by a well in Samaria. He was beaten and bruised, hanging on a cross but he paused and made sure to secure a promise that his mother would have a son, would be taken care of by someone who would love her.

In the book Hearing God, Dallas Willard says this: “His [Jesus] union with the Father was so great that he was at all times obedient. This obedience was something that rested in his mature will and understanding of his life before God, not on always being told “Now do this” and “Now do that” with regard to every detail of his life or work.” 

The life of Jesus, lived in obedience to the Father and reflecting perfect balance, offers hope on this journey.

Do you struggle to live intentionally but flexibly? With purpose but room for the Spirit to intervene? What have you found to be key to living this way? 

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10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

Sometimes, we’re a pretty serious bunch, and sometimes, that’s ok. But when I was a teenager and our house had five kids in diapers (long story), my dad used to say, “If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.” He was right, and we chose to laugh. A lot. (The five in diapers hadn’t learned this maxim yet, though, so there was still plenty of crying.)

If you’ve read my post, Outlawed Grief, you know I’m not opposed to crying. I’m also not opposed to laughing. So, if you will, journey with me through a Top Ten list of why the job of a missionary is just plain awesome.

10. You’ll get to try new things, like typhoid fever and amoebas.
On the bright side, most of the time your illnesses will sound cool. And cool illnesses make people pray more. Note: ulcers aren’t cool. If you get an ulcer, don’t tell anyone.

Oh, and make sure your kids know how great all these new things are too. I was hanging out at an international high school once and overheard a kid say something about a student who was absent. He nonchalantly said, “Oh, he’s not here; he has an amoeba.” I wanted to grab the kid by the collar and say, “You know that’s not a normal sentence, right?”

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9. You will have friends from countries you didn’t know existed.
Faroe Islands? East Timor? Canada? Living abroad tends to add countries to the map. But consider yourself warned, living abroad also confuses things. For example, I’m no longer sure if a boot is a type of shoe or a part of a car. Is paste something with which you build a house or a sandwich? Is a biscuit breakfast food or dessert? And what about this thing called “a barbie”?

Your kids might be confused too. Our little girl loves the story of the “Ten Leopards.” You know, the one where Jesus healed ten leopards, but only one came back to say “thank you”? Thank you, you wonderful world of missions, for giving our whole family such a linguistic advantage and wide worldview. A worldview in which Jesus cares so much about jungle animals, he sometimes heals ten at a time.

 

8. Your driving skills will “improve.”

Who knew you could survive so well without rearview mirrors, turn signals or lanes? Who knew driving 20mph (or 32kph for those of you who don’t know how to measure stuff correctly) could be so exhilarating. And sometimes, cars on the mission field actually get younger, with fewer miles on them than when they were imported. How cool is that?

7. You’ll learn to be grateful for the little things, like cheese.
Older missionaries in my part of the world remember when cheese came to town. Cheese and stop lights apparently arrived at the same time. So if you’re in a part of the world without cheese, extra points for you. And may I recommend you start praying for a stop light?

(I was going to include bacon in this section, but then I remembered we were talking about “the little things.”)

6. Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.
The police don’t want to write you a ticket, and you don’t really want to pay a ticket. And everyone knows you didn’t really violate a law anyway. One time, a pot-bellied officer demanded Happy New Year 2018 in advance beer money, so naturally I offered Twizzlers. He pondered for a second, then held up four fingers. I complied and drove off, chuckling as I watched him and three buddies chow down. Apparently, Twizzlers make mouths (and cops) happy.

5. You will learn how to complain in multiple languages.
The ability to complain, out loud, in front of other people, without them knowing, is the gift of a lifetime. Just be sure to do a quick perimeter check for possible same-language listeners within earshot.

A hotel worker didn’t do a proper perimeter check once, and I clearly heard him complaining about some rude tourists, “Sure, why don’t they just go sunbathe by the pool. I hope a massive rock falls off the building and smashes their heads.” I made a mental note to self: speak extra nice to that employee. And get a cabana with a roof.

4. You’ll always be able to use the excuse, “I’m not from around here.”
When you need to explain why you wear clothes, or why you don’t really care much for fried spiders or bony duck embryos, simply state “I’m not from around here.”

Really though, and I think we all know it already, this one’s most useful during furlough. Can’t figure out the ATM? or the drive through? or Wal-Mart? Just smile, mumble something in another language about massive rocks smashing things, and say “I’m not from around here.” But don’t forget your perimeter check.

3. Fashion rules will no longer apply.
You ever seen a missionary? Yeah.

2. You’ll get to report to hundreds of people, every month, details about your work, your family, and how you spend your money.
Who needs Dave Ramsey when you have the entire deacon board of multiple churches analyzing your finances? It’s accountability on huge quantities of steroids.

They may ask why you need so much, or why you have to pay for your kids’ education, or why you save for retirement, but at the end of the day, they are paying you to do this thing we call missions. It’s an honor to serve, even when the reports are due, the power’s out, it’s hot season, the spreadsheet’s rebelling, and you can’t figure out how to get that docx into a pdf into an html into a mobile-friendly, print-friendly, e-mail-friendly format. But hey, at least you don’t have to use envelopes.

1. You’ll get to experience the raw joy of crossing language barriers, cultural barriers, time zones and comfort zones, simply to invite someone to follow Jesus.
Maybe you preach the gospel straight up, street-corner style. Maybe you serve the sickest and the poorest, touching the folks no one else wants to touch. Maybe you teach English or a vocation, aiming to empower. Maybe you do a thousand things for economies or community health or justice. Whatever you do, there is one Love that draws us all together and pushes us out the door. Every day.

His name is Jesus, and at the end of the day, He is worth.it.all.

So, why do you think this job is awesome?

If a “Top 10 List” could have 15, what would you add?

Adapted from trotters41.com. Photo credit.

 

 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

Here I Am To Worship

I spent our early days in the Horn of Africa going to the market in the morning and learning how to decipher goat from beef from camel meat that hung in fly-covered slabs and then grinding it myself, how to make French Fries from potatoes instead of from the Drive-Thru, and studying language. Sort of. We had toddler twins, no running water, electricity four-six hours a day. There wasn’t a lot of spare time.

I spent the afternoons trying to meet neighbors. This meant I sat outside our front gate and forced our kids to play in the dirt road. They wanted to (mostly). There were goats to chase, kids to greet, camels to watch, flowers to pick, stones to examine. When a neighbor walked by I would stand and greet her, pretend to be able to understand, smile like an idiot, and feel way too happy if she seemed to understand me back.

My husband was at the University most of the time and as the  afternoons dragged on and I felt more and more ridiculous and alone and alien, I would start praying for the evening call to prayer to come quickly so the kids and I could scamper inside for dinner.

I ached for someone to talk to, for the ability to communicate. I had so many questions pent up, so many things I wanted to learn and discuss and process verbally. Loneliness pressed in and my foreignness stuck out.

One afternoon after a particularly awkward conversation in which I asked a woman if she was carrying a baby in the bundle on her back (I think that’s what I asked) and she responded that it was the dirty laundry of her wealthy neighbor (I think that’s what she said), I called the kids to go inside before the call to prayer.

I put on a movie for the twins and retreated to the office to listen to music by myself. I hoped their movie and my music would drown out the sound of me crying and for once was thankful my husband wasn’t home yet. Culture shock and isolation and feelings of uselessness consumed me.

“What on earth am I doing here?” I said. I’m an actor in a play, wearing strange clothes, eating strange food, speaking memorized lines. I’m an alien, transplanted to a planet where every single thing is different and I will never make sense.

“Here I am to worship” by Chris Tomlin came on. I remember standing in the center of the red carpet with my hands up and the words changed.

Instead of ‘here I am to worship,’ I heard ‘I am here to worship. I am here to bow down. I am here to say that you’re my God.’

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In that moment, something inside me broke. The expectations I clung to that spoke of all the things I dreamed of accomplishing, all the pressure to speed language study along, all the anxiety about fitting in, learning local customs, participating in the development of an education system from the ground floor up, they crumbled in a heap at my feet.

The answer to my question, ‘what am I doing here?’ was answered in a whisper, in a song.

I am here to worship.

All other striving and work, good and beneficial though it may be, faded in the light of this beauty.

I am here to worship.

It was both promise and purpose, it was a phrase I would carry deep within me across borders and nations and new homes and neighborhoods. I would carry it back to Minnesota and to boarding school and to Djibouti. It hums and burns and undergirds my parenting and marriage and decision-making. It is a phrase for all of life.

In this moment, in this relationship, in the valley of this grief, at the height of this joy, in loneliness and fellowship, in brokenness and in success, God what do you want from me? Why have you set me here?

I am here to worship.

How have you felt your purpose challenged? Changed?

*image via Wikipedia

On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kids

I’ve been watching parents in the international community say goodbye to their graduating seniors for a while now. I’ve been watching the seniors themselves say goodbye to their friends – fellow third culture kids like themselves.

Watching these parental goodbyes feels like a knife in my chest. I have to stop myself from thinking about it just so I can breathe again. Because I know that will be me, someday, saying goodbye to you.

“Goodbye.” We get a lot of practice saying it. We’ve said goodbye to short-term workers. They never planned to stay, but we welcomed them into our lives anyway. We’ve said goodbye to others — longer term workers whose time in this country, for a variety of reasons, has also come to a close.

And then, every year, I watch the graduating high school seniors. The ones who leave their families behind and travel to their passport country for their university years – and beyond.

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As I write this, all four of you are more than eight years away from entering your college years. Still, someday I will say goodbye to each of you in turn. My oldest son first, then a couple years later, my youngest son. A couple years after that, I will be saying goodbye to my oldest daughter. The next goodbye will be my last. My youngest daughter will leave too.

I must say goodbye to you like this, no matter where in the world I live. And when you do leave, there are things I want to tell you. Things like. . .

You are my child. You are now an adult, and I’m proud of who you are, but you will always be part of my family. Our home can always be your home.  No matter where we live, we will always welcome you into it.

We have endeavored to give you as stable a home life as possible in the ever-shifting international community in which we live. I am sorry for the consistent, repeated, prolonged, never-ending goodbyes you have endured. So say goodbye well. For many of your high school friends, the goodbye may be forever. You might return to Cambodia; you might not. And your friends may not. Even if they do, it most likely wouldn’t be at the same time as you. So honor your friends with good goodbyes.

Keep in touch with your TCK friends if you can. After my military upbringing, I finally found a small group of friends in high school. They were Christians. They buoyed my life and my faith at the time, and I regret not keeping in touch with them. Even with Facebook, I’ve only been able to find a couple of them, and I wish I could find more. So stay in touch. You won’t regret it. This journey has already separated you from many friends, so strive to keep the ones that still remain.

There won’t be any weekend trips home for you, as I had. You’ll live more than just a few hours away. So you’ll have to say goodbye to this place, not just the people. Again, make sure you say goodbye well. Write these places, and their memories, on your heart forever.

I was lonely and depressed my first year at college. My roommate was never around, and my hourly venture to the water fountain was the most exciting thing I did while I studied. Don’t do that; don’t be like me. I sequestered myself in my room. More time at a park probably would have lifted my low spirits, so for goodness sakes, go to a park every once in a while.

I did find friends in a campus ministry. So whatever you do, find a good campus ministry. A community of your peers following hard after God. Form deep friendships there, deep enough to last your whole life long. My campus ministry friends still inspire me to love Jesus more, and to serve Him in both the little things and the big things.

Find a good church. A church that loves, a church that lives and breathes and teaches both Grace and Truth. Churches are flawed because the people are flawed. But if the Grace is there, it will cover over the flaws. Hopefully these people will feed you and lend you their laundry rooms, and maybe even sometimes, when you really need it, their cars. They will be there to catch you when you fall to loneliness and depression and temptation. They will be people with whom you can worship every Sunday. Your studying will exhaust you, and you won’t feel like getting up on Sunday mornings, but if you show up, you will find God there.

Try to live your life in real time, with real people. Don’t waste your time getting drunk, playing video games, or looking at trashy pictures on the internet. That stuff doesn’t satisfy. But even if you do turn to those things, your Papa and I will always welcome you with open arms. We are always your family. Our hearts are open, our home is open. Possibly more importantly right now, though, is that our inboxes are always open.

And whatever happens, you must know that your Heavenly Father will always welcome you Home. He is always there for you. He will forgive anything. And should you ever stray from Him, don’t stay away forever out of fear that He doesn’t want you. He wants you. Believe it.

All my love, Mom

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To international parents who have already graduated a senior, I’d love to hear from you. I have never done what you have done. And in fact, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to TCK’s. I only wrote this in honest reflection of my past, and in painful anticipation of my future. So I’m curious — what things were helpful for both you and your teenager as you said goodbye??

From trotters41.com, February 2014

On Good Friday – A View From Above

Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from the thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of people, tiny as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar, making out the beautiful colors even from this distance.

 

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther. And once you get to the top, you don’t want to leave – because it took a while for you to get there and you’re so tired. And the stairs going down are still rickety and treacherous, they are still centuries old. But mostly you don’t want to go down because you want to continue to look out over the view, the view above the city, above the chaos. The view from above.

 

It’s this I think about today – for today is Good Friday. The day in the Christian faith where all of life stopped and the world darkened, a curtain in a temple torn from top to bottom. The day when Jesus, God incarnate, was condemned to the death of a criminal and bore our broken world on his shoulders. And today I set aside time to remember that day and focus on the view from above.

 

 That glorious, breath-taking, conversation stopping view. That view that sees the broken world that Jesus died for, the world that Jesus loves, knowing that each day that we fight this fight is worth it.

 

That view that remembers the words a Son called out to a Father “Why have you forsaken me?” A view that sees the grand Salvation narrative, taller and grander than a million minarets, a love that calls to us louder than a billion calls to prayer. The view where all ‘this’ will make sense, wrong will be made right, tears will turn to laughter, and sorrow to joy. We are invited into this view from above, a view where our story falls into the shadows for a time, and God’s great, redemptive narrative is remembered around the world. A story of mercy and grace, where good triumphs over evil and wrong is made right.

 

We from A Life Overseas hail from all parts of the globe. We are from Djibouti and Thailand, Bolivia and Botswana, Mexico and Cambodia, Haiti and Cameroon, Ethiopia and Niger, Egypt and China and so many more places. We go as idealists and we stay as realists. We live in the shadows of Hindu temples and near the courtyards of grand cathedrals; isolated near small villages and among millions in small apartments in Shanghai skyscrapers. We see poverty and suffering, starvation and crime, corruption and inequality. We learn to love when it’s hard and others learn to love us when we’re hard. We know failure, we know pain, we know how human and flawed we are. Yet daily we experience the persistence of God’s redemptive process.
And today no matter where we are in the world, we are invited to remember this view from above.

 

“Finally, as if everything had not been felt enough, Jesus cries out in an agonizing moment in the most powerful words that we will read in the world: ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’ And I am utterly convinced that the reason he said those words was so that you and I would never have to say them again.” – Ravi Zacharias
Where are you today, right now on this Good Friday? Where can you see the grand story? The view from above.
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My House Shall Be Called

Photographing weddings got me through college. It also taught me about the Church. Sometimes, your day is spent with really happy people. Sometimes, it’s spent with really stressed out people. Sometimes, the really stressed out people turn into the really happy people.

You get to be around radiant brides, people who dance but really shouldn’t, and people who sing but really can’t. And you get to photograph all.of.it.

You and your camera are invited behind the scenes. You’re paid to capture the excitement, the preparation, the emotion, in pixels and jpegs.

Oh, and there’s usually good food.

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I really like weddings, and I think God does too. In fact, I think God’s planning one.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says, “The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast.” He’s talking, of course, about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, vividly described in Revelation 19:6-8. The Church is the Beloved, the Bride.

During the Last Supper, Jesus pointed to the Great Supper and said, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Mere hours before his crucifixion, Jesus points us towards that day, the day of his Wedding.

How we think about that day greatly impacts how we live this one. And what we talk about when we talk about the Church (the Bride) has tremendous bearing on missions. If we’re embarrassed by the Church, it’s sure going to be hard to plant it. If we see the Church as optional and only vaguely connected with the Gospel, we’re neglecting something that is very close to the heart of the Father. We’re also ignoring something that enthralls the heart of the Son.

What do we think of when we think of Church? Are we a group of people longing for a party? Are we longing to see our Beloved, face to face?

When we speak of the Church, do we speak of beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Do we speak about God’s Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or do we speak of something else entirely?

The truth is that the Church is a gloriously magnificent idea straight from the heart of the Father.

The Church is a strong entity that will not lose, even against the full forces of hell itself.

The Church is the Bride of Jesus, stunningly radiant.

The Church carries the priceless message of salvation in Jesus alone, proclaiming that everyone’s invited to the imminent feast.

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But if you’ve been hurt by the Church, by people in the Church, those last few sentences were hard to stomach.

I’m convinced that one of our main obstacles to loving the Church like Jesus loves the Church is that we’ve been hurt within the Church. (And for the record, we’ve probably hurt people too.) Pain from within the Church sours the whole idea and tempts us to run away. It makes us angry at the Church. It makes us ashamed of the Church.

Sometimes the pain comes from rude comments and mean spirits. Sometimes it comes from rejection. Sometimes the pain comes from outright abuse.

This should NOT BE.

If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

Please, hear the voice of Jesus, clearly, and with great compassion, as he says, “My House shall be called a house of PRAYER, not a house of PAIN. Those people did NOT represent me. They were thieves and robbers.”

Look at this picture of a loving Bridegroom defending his Bride, and may it be to you a source of solace and comfort and healing. After showing up in Jerusalem to die, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves. He said, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

People are still thieving and robbing in the House of God. They turn a place of prayer into a place of pain. They’re messing with the Bride and ticking off the Groom.

But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t just kick out the bad guys and tell everyone to stay away from the Temple. He shows up in the place of pain and turns it into a place of peace and healing.  Right after he expels the “thieves,” we’re told that “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them there in the Temple. (Matthew 21:14)

Right there in the Temple! Why would he do that? Because he is passionate about His people, His Bride.

If you’ve been hurt in the Church, may you also find healing in the Church.

May our churches and teams, mission orgs and NGOs, be full of healed people who heal people. May they be full of loved people who love people. May we be so satisfied in Him, so amazed by Him, so filled with joy because of Him, that we are longing for that day as much as He is.

The day of our Wedding is coming, made possible by the passionate pursuit of a dying Savior who didn’t stay dead. Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus. Come for your Bride. 

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What does the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ mean for you? What do you do with negative experiences within the Church?

College was a long time ago, so these photos are by my friend  Cherish Andrea and used with permission.

Dangerous Riches

I wrote last month about the troubling ways we sometimes talk about the poor – assigning the simplistic emotion of happiness while not allowing them a fuller, more complex array of human emotion. And about the way the poor are presented as inherently holy, simply because of their poverty.

Today I want to talk about the troubling ways rich Christians handle our wealth and our steadfast resistance to identifying with the poor, our endless and dangerous pursuit of riches, and the example Jesus set before all of us, poor and rich and everyone in between.

dangerous riches

I saw a commercial a few years ago that encapsulates the god of consumerism:

A man hands a boy a vanilla ice cream cone. The boy says, “And…?” The man adds sprinkles, hot fudge, and whip cream. The boy happily licks his treat.

A young man is offered a good job. The man says, “And…?” The interviewer gives him stock options, a corner office with a window, a month of paid vacation, and a major signing bonus. The man happily accepts the job.

A man spots the sexy butt of a woman wearing blue jeans. The man says, “And…?” The woman turns around and is gorgeous. They happily hop into bed.

A man drinks a Coke. The man says, “And…?” The Coke turns into Coke Lite. The man is happy.

This reminds me of the story in Luke 12. A farmer kept building bigger barns. He looked at his harvest and said, “And…?” And God struck him down dead. If that Coke commercial were in the Bible the ending would have been much different.

How much are we like the man, the farmer? We never have enough, we are never satisfied, we are never happy, we are never content, we are never as well-off as the person a few tiers above us. Gluttony, greed, discontent, comparison, envy, hoarding…they barely register as the serious sins they are. We take fighting poverty seriously (at least in word) and we explode over theological differences regarding the end times or marriage but we continue to consume and consume and consume and fail to recognize the danger to our souls. And just because I live and work with people of little to no income doesn’t mean I am exempt from this. Far from it.

I’m proud and I think: look how good I’m doing. I live at a lower standard than so-and-so. Or: compared to many Christians in the US, I look pretty good. As if holiness were based on how other people lived instead of being based on an absolute standard. And in the very next instant I can be self-pitying and think: I better get a good reward for this in heaven. Or: why can’t I just live in America where my standard of living would look poor and I could feel proud of my scarcity instead of ashamed of my abundance?

Lord have mercy.

There is a very real way in which the poor are free from the concerns of wealth, worry over protecting and maintaining their stuff, time wasted on managing bank accounts or caring for the goods that money buys. The Bible is clear that money is a hindrance to faith, contentment, and joy, that God has special concern for the poor, that the last will be first, that where our treasure is there our heart will also be. Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, which he promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

A wise woman wrote this to me in response to last month’s essay, “I believe that when my tangible resources are fewer here, I have at least the possibility of depending on God in quite a different way, and I think that can reap powerful and eternal benefits.”

And this, “To discard the link between poverty and holiness, and between poverty and happiness, I think does overlook some inconvenient truths for our own lives.”

I struggle with this, I feel obscenely wealthy in Djibouti. I wonder what a ‘reasonable’ standard of living is. Is a generator for power cuts when it is 120-degrees excessive? Is it excessive to run an air conditioner, to eat meat, to have a refrigerator? when so many around me don’t? I struggle to be content in cold showers or while sharing a bedroom with my entire family while we run that air conditioner.

There is an inconvenient truth in my heart that I like comfort and ease. And yet, when I am comfortable and life is easy, I do not cast myself on God. I don’t beg and plead and demand that Jesus make his presence palpable. I don’t cry for miracles, I am less desperate in prayer.

I want more than this:

To know Christ and the power of his padded bank account, the participation in his glowing accolades, becoming like him in his affluent lifestyle, and so somehow, to attain to the comfort of treasures here on earth.

Jesus didn’t take on the nature of a ‘reasonably’ comfortable human. Though he was rich, for our sake Jesus didn’t become middle class. He took on the nature of a slave. For our sake he became poor.

While I challenged us not to oversimplify the experiences and personalities of people in poverty, I also challenge us to be like Jesus and to let go of the idol of wealth. To hold our stuff and money loosely, to be generous to the point of excess, to live unreasonably, to know, and live like we know, that godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it.

How do you deal with economic disparity where you live? How do you address this issue of wealth and poverty in your own heart?

*image via Flickr

Romance, Science Fiction, and Missions (or, I Dreamed a Dream)

What motivated you to go into missions? What keeps you going?

Romance. I don’t know about you, but romance is what drove me into missions. The romance of being a great missionary, of changing an entire people group, of seeing a whole country turn to Christ. This romantic idea was first kindled during my children’s homeschool studies of St. Patrick — the man in the 5th century AD who took the Gospel to Ireland, where practically everyone turned from paganism to Christ.

This dream of mine was further fueled when I learned about one of our organization’s church planting teams in South America. Churches have been planted that have grown to membership in the thousands. Those churches have planted other churches. Those churches have even sent out missionaries themselves. When I first heard of this field, I thought Cambodia was going to be just like that. Woo hoo!

Never mind the fact that those missionaries had been building a reality from their dream for over 20 years by the time I ever heard of them. And never mind the fact that all you experienced missionaries are laughing at me right now — I still believe it’s those kinds of dreams that propel us forward, into missions.

Science Fiction. Maybe today, my initial missionary dream seems like unattainable science fiction to you. Completely unrealistic, and completely out of reach. But Ray Bradbury, notable author of the science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, believed that science fiction actually drove real science:

“I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and then build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.”

Ray Bradbury continued discussing the idea of romance versus reality:

“I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’”

Does the reality of life as a missionary start as a dream, somewhere deep in our pasts? In order to go out and teach Christ’s love, do we have to be excited about it? Do we need something that makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and want to go into all the world? [Or perhaps,  if you are like me, something made you sit bolt upright much later, more like age 29.]

Bradbury also said, “We may reject it later, we may give it up, but we move on to other romances then.” He clearly thought scientists needed something to motivate their work, even if they shift their focus. I wonder then, do missionaries need the same? To survive on the field, year after year after year, do we need a dream? But is it the original dream that keeps us going, or do our dreams change?

Science, like missions, is not all guts and glory. There are the countless experimental trials. There’s the disappointment when your data doesn’t support your hypotheses, or worse, it doesn’t make any sense at all. And there’s the frustration when your equipment breaks down, or not everyone interprets the lab results the way you do. Science is not mostly sudden breakthroughs – and working with the hearts of people isn’t, either.

My dream has changed. . . sort of. I’m still beholden to the romantic idea that the entire nation of Cambodia could turn to Jesus. But I no longer think that might happen simply because I showed up in obedience to His call.

It’s true that some days seem like a never-ending clinical trial, but I do still dream of nationwide revival. I long for it, I pray for it, I want it, just the same as I did when I first studied St. Patrick or learned of those thriving South American churches. That dream keeps me here, believing there’s a purpose to living through countless, repeated trials.

So today, I want to invite you to reminisce along with me.

What missionary dream did you first dream? Is that still your dream, or do you dream differently now?

What happens if you’ve lost your dreams altogether? Do you keep going without one, or do you ask God for new dreams?