An important note from Jonathan, Elizabeth, and Marilyn

We are so glad you’re here. And we deeply hope that the community and content here at A Life Overseas has encouraged you and blessed you over the years.

Would you take a moment to prayerfully consider a one-time gift to help A Life Overseas continue providing high-quality resources to global workers? You can give a gift of any size here. Keep reading to hear how we’d love to say thank you for gifts of $50 or more.

Every week, writers and editors hone and craft and research, aiming to deliver encouragement and help to our community of Christians abroad. In fact, we publish over 100 articles per year for our global community.

Our writers have covered the funny, the mundane, and the traumatic. We have wrestled with big questions and where to find actual cheese. Our articles have helped disseminate vital research on missionary attrition, how to protect and support third culture kids, and God-honoring risk assessment in missions. We have been a leading voice in “the cross-cultural conversation.” In fact, check out some of our top eighty-five posts here.

Now, we need your help.

In order to continue serving thousands of folks all over the world every week, we need your help in meeting our annual support raising goal of $10,000. A gift of $100 would sponsor one article that reaches around the world. Of course, any gift is appreciated and will help keep us on the air.

How we’d like to say THANK YOU!
The leadership team of A Life Overseas (Marilyn Gardner, Elizabeth Trotter, and myself) would love to thank you for your gift. In fact, for gifts given during February 2023 in the amounts listed below, we would be thrilled to send you hard copies of the books listed below (for US addresses only). We’re aware that many of you do not have a US address, so in your case we will be happy to hook you up with Kindle versions.

Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More, by Elizabeth Trotter

$100 (sponsors one article!)
Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker, by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter

Both Hats and Serving Well

$200 (sponsors two articles!)
HatsServing Well, and Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner

How to Give
A Life Overseas is funded as a special ministry through our missions account with Team Expansion (Louisville, KY), so all gifts are tax deductible (in the US). Click here to donate.

Thank you for walking this road with us. We endeavor to keep speaking up about the things that matter to the global Church and those who serve her.

All for ONE,
Jonathan Trotter

Scan me to support A Life Overseas!






In Case of Emergency

“Hey.” My mom’s voice sounded otherworldly—either because I was talking to her on an actual payphone, or because of the mix of Bollywood music and traffic sounds filling the air around me. “Listen, your sister Ella was in an accident.” I didn’t breathe, blink, or swallow for what felt like an eternity.

“Is she okay?”

“She’s okay, she’s okay,” Mom answered. “She was with her boyfriend in his truck, and they got t-boned at an intersection.”

“Ella has a boyfriend?”

“She said she wanted you to be the first to know about the boyfriend,” she said. “He’s cute. And scared of your dad. But your dad says he likes him, so after he scares him, he’ll be nice.”

“Okay,” I said. “Was the boyfriend driving?”

“Yes. But it wasn’t his fault. The other driver ran a red light.”

“Where is Ella now?”

“The hospital,” Mom said. “She’s going to be fine, but she’ll need PT for her neck.”

“Okay,” I said. “Should I do anything?”

“No, Abby. We’re here. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks for telling me, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. Are you okay?”


“Well, tell Ella I love her, and I’m going to be praying for her.”

“I will.”

Joshua and I walked back to our hotel. There was nothing I could have done. But I felt strange, being so far away, while my family dealt with this emergency without me. 


My family is your typical, not-perfect-but-trying-their-best kind of family. For all our flaws, we do one thing very well, and that’s emergencies. We are the kind of people who call you if there is a typhoon in the Philippines to make sure you’re okay, even though you’re only traveling in Canada, and only for the weekend. You know, just in case.

Maybe it’s because both my parents have worked in caring professions. Whatever the reason, they know how to nurse the sick, or bring a casserole, or check your temperature with a kiss on the forehead. My relatives can visit someone in the hospital with just the right amount of concern to make the sick or injured feel loved, while simultaneously making everyone laugh and feel like things are going to be okay.

They are like an army of love that bustles in and starts making mac and cheese right when you think you’re doomed, and suddenly everything is normal and funny and we’re all in this together. I knew how to be a part of that. I loved being a part of that.

And now they were having an emergency without me. 

On my first day as a missionary in India.


My family and I have missed sharing some important moments because of our ministry location. Both my babies were born in India, without my mom to fuss over me/tell me I could do it/cry with joy/make me a piece of toast. Both my kids were admitted to the hospital several times during our time there. Don’t even get me started on the giardia.

My own emergencies included many Indian friends who were great at fussing and cooking and visiting. Maybe that’s why I bonded so intensely with the place and people. They were, in their own, curry-flavored, communal, rainbow-scarved way, family to me. With their help, I survived many difficult times. 

It was the emergencies I missed back home that left me feeling truly grieved.

Both of my siblings were in car accidents while we lived in India. My brother’s was more serious, requiring the Jaws of Life to remove him from his car and several dozen surgeries to give him partial use of his legs. I talked to him on the phone and heard about how he was really tempted not to decrease his pain medicine. How he’d had to choose between pain and addiction, and how he’d chosen pain. 

Eventually, my sister married the boyfriend from the car accident, and they had a little girl, and I couldn’t be there for the birth. Then I understood something about how my mom felt when I was in labor overseas.

All this loss sometimes sits in my belly like a stone. But it’s my family that helps me understand why I’m still doing this. Because they have given me two gifts I could never have known I would need.

First of all, they taught me what to do in case of an emergency. They taught me to be fully present. To care about the people involved. To cook. To laugh as much as possible, especially at yourself. To fuss, but not too much. To laugh some more. To cook some more. To research. To gather everyone together. To recount what happened, many, many times. To appreciate what you still have. To appreciate the past. To choose what is good over what is easy. To hold on to hope even if it doesn’t make sense to others. To press into the place where there is pain and injury, and to bring light and love and healing there, and sometimes, mac and cheese—or curry, depending on where you are. 

And secondly, they’ve blessed this calling of mine, even though it means they have to sit on their hands instead of rushing in to provide support when my little family faces emergencies. They have sacrificially let go, making space for other people to become family to me, and for me to be family to them. And they assure me that they are taking care of things back home. It’s been 12 years since my first day in India, and they’re still saying, “We’ve got this, Abby.”

My family shares me with the world so that I can bring the love of Christ into those emergencies where He is not known. Even though I can’t always be a part of their casserole-bringing and forehead-kissing, I can do something equally as beautiful. I can bring the love they taught me to India, or Africa, or wherever I go. And when the people we serve have emergencies–whether medical, relational, or faith-related–I can call my family and know they will be praying like it matters. 

Because that’s what emergencies are all about: taking care of the people who matter. To us, and to God.

The Unchurched Missionary

Some in the West have defined the “unchurched” as people who are Christians but who are not connected with a church.

Sometimes I feel like I’m an unchurched missionary.

Our mission organization has a specific focus: fill the gaps in the Bible translation movement to reach the Bibleless and church-less people groups around the world. These are the last places that the Gospel has not yet reached. We set out to provide Scripture access to those without, to reach the unreached and to church the unchurched. It’s inspiring and exciting and daunting. 

But in going to these dark and lonely places with just our immediate family or a very small team, we can start to feel out of reach and unchurched ourselves. 

Perhaps you are in the same situation. Do you have a Christian community where you belong

Is there a pew with your name on it and a hand extended to greet you with the peace of Christ? Do you have a place where you can ask for prayers and confess sin? Do you have people who will bring you food when you are sick or send you a note when you’ve been absent for too many weeks? 

Or maybe you worship at a home church where you are the Sunday school teacher, worship leader, pray-er, and preacher. Do you long for a larger church where you are part of the body instead of being expected to fulfill all the roles of every part? 

Or maybe you are currently in your home country, but you also feel unchurched. 

You go to church – or to a different church – every week, but you don’t feel part of the church. Some people may hold you on a pedestal because you are the “missionary,” and some people may even know your name or the names of your kids, but it doesn’t feel like a community you belong to, at least not anymore. After spending significant time overseas, for many cross cultural workers, attending church in your home culture can be one of the more difficult aspects of reverse culture shock. 

For my young TCKs, it is really difficult for them to feel like they belong. Overseas when we attend a church, my husband and I can understand enough to follow along and participate, even when the practices are different from what we are used to. But our kids aren’t fluent in the local language, and the cultural practices are often jarring to them. The transitory life of cross-cultural living and the need to raise support and visit new people and new places can make TCKs feel unchurched even when they are in their passport country. What church do they belong to? Where are they seen and remembered as a member? 

For most of the last 10 years, we’ve met in our home as a family on Sundays, inviting our friends who are not yet Christians to join us. Our family times of worship are tender and sweet. It is beautiful to sit together singing a hymn or taking communion together as a family. I love hearing our little two- or three-year-old pray, and I love hearing our insightful ten-year-old ask a great question. Because of our isolation, we have developed strong family spiritual habits. 

But I miss church. 

I miss community and fellowship. I miss Bible classes that I’m not teaching. I even miss bad lobby coffee and too-much-food potlucks. I miss hugs from old ladies who tell me they’re praying for me and the knowing glances from other moms wrangling their two-year-olds in the back. 

But when I’m in my home country, I find that I still miss church. I miss feeling deeply connected to just one place rather than being spread out thin. I miss being seen not as someone coming to ask for money but as just another sheep in the flock. 

Going to the ends of the earth to translate scripture and bring the peace of God to a people group who hasn’t yet encountered Jesus is beautiful and holy work. But it’s lonely and isolating and changes us in ways that make it impossible to go back home the same, which can make home seem pretty lonely and isolating, too.

Maybe you are in a place and a season of life where you are really missing feeling deeply connected with a church, too. 

If so, here are five things that have not taken away the difficulty, but have helped me and my family when we start to feel disconnected and unchurched. 

  1. Remember you aren’t alone (even when you feel like it). 

The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is so relatable to us cross cultural workers, isn’t it? We can pray to God, “I have had enough Lord,” and feel at times like we are completely alone as we serve God. We can be exhausted and need physical rest. We need to know God hears us and has not left us. We need God’s “gentle whisper” to remind us that He is with us and that we are not the only ones serving Him. God is with us, and we are not alone. He has many servants who are serving Him diligently. This is true around the world and in your home country. 

  1. Stay connected to spiritual disciplines (even when you don’t feel like it). 

When our “job” is our ministry, it is even more important to stay connected to the Vine in our private, personal lives. Reading scripture, praying, fasting, confessing, giving, and practicing Sabbath rest are spiritual disciplines that can sustain us during the dry, isolating seasons and also the very demanding seasons of home assignments. Spiritual disciplines create space in our lives for God to show up and teach our hearts. We don’t always feel like doing these disciplines, but we do them as a submission to Christ, training ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). If you have TCKs, creating rhythm and space in your life for spiritual disciplines (not just in your ministry activities or fundraising activities outside the home) is incredibly important for fostering authenticity in your Christian life.  

  1. Create in-person community where you are with the resources you have (even if that means your “church” is made up of people who aren’t believers yet).

If you are feeling alone, look around you and identify the people who are already part of your life. How can you strengthen these relationships and create a true community? Are you sharing your needs or only meeting their needs? What needs do you have that this community could fill? How can you make the relationship give and take rather than just you giving and serving? When we didn’t have a group of Christians to meet with, we created a community from our friends, most of whom were still not yet Christians. This little home church group became our best friends and the people we called on when we needed help. We supported each other through griefs, trials, and difficulty. 

  1. Stay connected with key people in your home country or home church (even when that means your “church” is really far away). 

With the Internet, it seems like it should be easy to stay connected to our home country friends, family, and churches. However, just because it is easily accessible doesn’t mean connection is easy to maintain. As time passes, it is easy to lose touch. People in your home country may be very busy, and you may be very busy or in a difficult time zone for connection. So, identify key people in your home church who seem to genuinely want to encourage you. Make an effort to send them personal messages beyond what you send out in a newsletter or post on social media, and make sure to encourage them and ask about their life, too. 

Watch the worship service from your home church online. During covid many churches began streaming their worship times and Bible classes. Allow your TCKs to maintain ties to your home church and special friends, too, by arranging online messages and meetups for younger kids and encouraging older kids to stay connected through safe online communication. 

  1. Stay connected to online communities like A Life Overseas (even when you don’t know the people in “real life”). 

I’m so thankful for the encouragement I’ve received from ALO, social media groups, and godly individuals I’ve met online but have never met in “real life.” Our kids are also part of a TCK group within our organization composed of kids all over the world. They meet over Zoom to have silly parties, talk about American culture, have Bible study, and be reminded that there are other kids just like them.

Online communities can sometimes get a bad rap because it “isn’t real life,” but these safe places can offer perspective and encouragement and create connections that can be a huge blessing when facing isolating situations. (If you’ve been blessed by the ministry of A Life Overseas, consider donating to keep the site running.)

God created us to live in community, but finding community as a global worker can be hard. Sometimes we missionaries feel unchurched ourselves.

So as we thank God for the community we do have, whether in our host country or our home country, may we look to God to meet our needs and the needs of our TCKs. May we trust Him to bring people into our lives who will provide community, whatever that looks like in the season we’re in. And may we look to Him always for the reminder that we never walk alone.

Finding Your Rhythm for Every Season

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

Steam rises from a green coffee mug that sits in a shaft of sunlight on a bedside table. A pile of rumpled white covers that might cover a sleeping person lies out of focus behind it.

I know exactly how I want to start each and every morning. It looks like waking up before my alarm, dawn light setting aglow the edges of little sleeping faces. I kiss foreheads and little lips scrunch up until my children resettle into their sleep. It looks like the steam from my coffee dancing in the cool fresh air of the morning. It looks like an undisturbed hour on my patio with my coffee, journal and Bible, and an excessive number of highlighters. It looks like a bit of exercise before a shower, and working on breakfast with a second cup of coffee as my kids stumble into morning hugs and snuggles.

I know exactly how I want to start each and every morning.

And then dawn breaks. 

This morning is different from the one I wanted. 

We’re leaving next week and are in the midst of farewells. My kids went to bed late, so naturally they woke early and cranky. I need to pack the house, and I’ve got 15 million errands to run and a lunch date with a friend at noon. Coffee is getting cold as I unpack kitchen tools to make grumpy children breakfast, and I’m persistently plagued by this one tennis shoe I’m sure I packed three times already. I’m in the car, throwing granola bars at the snarling children in the depths of the vehicle, and I’m missing, desperately missing, my morning routine. 

Grieving that my favorite morning rhythm was ruined by reality.

Guilty that I shirked things that are important to me.

Ashamed that I can’t seem to do it all some days. 

Oftentimes we develop rhythms during seasons of peace and orderliness. We develop our routines based on things that are important to us, and we make them routines because we want to make sure they happen in our lives. But for the globally mobile, it seems that seasons of busy and even seasons of total chaos are common. 

The natural response is to skip the routines until we shift back into easier days. But the globally mobile life is full of prolonged and frequent seasons of busyness and chaos, of transition and resettling. Rhythms get so long forgotten we don’t shift back into them at all. The moments of self-care for our own well-being, the moments of connection with our families, are lost in the hustle. 

Instead of throwing out the whole concept of routine when there’s no way to accomplish the ideal routine in a season of chaos, we can shift our rhythms to match the season. 

In addition to a Thriving Rhythm during seasons of peace when we have time for growth ––

Have a Striving Rhythm for a season of busy hustling or even when the emotional toll of the season is making life seem harder. 

Have a Surviving Rhythm for those seasons of total chaos or deep grief and despair when just one more thing seems too much to bear. 

Have a plan in place to modify your routines so that transition, changes, and urgent needs don’t throw everything off. 

How to Set a Rhythm for Each Season 

I find that three sets of rhythms – thriving, striving, and surviving – are adaptable to most seasons of life, but if you have some very specific seasons (i.e. during school/school break or village living/town living), you can create custom rhythms for those seasons, too. 

1) Make a list of daily priorities. 

If you already have a routine, then this would be the “why” for the items on your to-do list. For example, do you run everyday because exercise is important to you or because you value getting outside or because it helps you manage your emotions? 

2) Outline a Thriving Rhythm. 

A Thriving rhythm is a realistic routine based on your real-life seasons of peace that makes space for the things that are priorities for you. It doesn’t have to be a morning routine or an hour long. This is an attainable rhythm for you during a season of peace. It will look different for everyone. If you don’t already have a Thriving Rhythm, you can create one from the priorities you just made. If you already have one, it will be helpful to see it written out. 

3) Outline a Striving Rhythm. 

Looking at your priorities and your Thriving Rhythm, ask yourself what it would look like if you only had five minutes for each task, or half the time you scheduled for your Thriving Rhythm. If you can’t spend an hour doing a morning devotional, what could you do in five minutes? If you normally take five minutes to cuddle your kids in the morning, what could you do in two and a half minutes? 

4) Outline a Surviving Rhythm. 

Looking at your priorities, Thriving Rhythm, and Striving Rhythm, ask yourself what your absolute bare bones are. You have 10-15 minutes, maybe not even consecutively. How do you fit in your priorities even during the seasons of chaos? Knowing that “nothing” is often what happens when chaos throws off our Thriving Rhythm, what is better than nothing? 

For everything there is a season. (Ecclesiastes 3:1a)

The varied seasons of life are normal, and it’s normal to have different capacities and different levels of routine in those different seasons. What needs to be normalized is giving ourselves grace and flexibility while not neglecting the bare bones – the most important things that keep us grounded even when life is hectic. We can be consistent and steadfast in the things that are important to us, even if the rhythm sounds different to match the current climate. 

Through these rhythms we can invest in self-care and connectedness, so that even in the unsettled, hectic, difficult, or just simply busy seasons, our families feel heard, prioritized, safe, and emotionally supported. 

We set the rhythms for our families. Let’s shift with the seasons but not be thrown off by them. 

I went to bed with my hair wet so I didn’t have to worry about drying it. I kiss my children awake, and then we roll into the kitchen together. “Snackle box is in the fridge. It’s breakfast-on-the-go today,” I say as I tap my YouVersion notification for the verse of the day while I get coffee brewing into a to-go mug. My kids each pull out their own tackle box full of small snacks and load into the car. Running errands counts as exercise, right? 

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash


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

A Tribute to My Expat Friends

You invited me to your home for the holidays without ever having met me, having only messaged once or twice on Facebook. You didn’t know if we had anything in common or would have anything to talk about, but you risked the awkwardness and went out on a limb and invited me and even hosted me and my family anyways.

You shared, rather than hoarded or hid, your special imported treats that had just arrived in someone’s suitcase and gave me a little taste of home when I was feeling desperately homesick.

You offered to bring things over in your suitcases, even when you yourself were getting loaded down with your own stuff and requests from probably 100 other people.

You gently corrected me and my false assumptions when my understanding of the culture and missions was still very new and surface level and you helped me to think about things from a different perspective without condemnation.

You were a listening ear that let me share and vent my frustrations, hurt, anger, and confusion with absolutely zero judgment even when you were dealing with all of your own stuff too. You helped validate the massive swarm of emotions and words going on in my head when you would share a simple “yeah, me too.”  You encouraged me to seek and get help when I needed it.

You made me feel loved and appreciated when you would send random messages of “how can I pray for you today?” and “thinking of you” and you watered our vibrant little community of faith out of the ashes of loss around us.

You pointed me towards Christ in the way you loved and listened to me with a genuine desire to understand my hurt rather than just serving up platitudes of toxic positivity and telling me to suck it up and “be a good Christian soldier.”

You came when we called and showed up in the dead of night or the blazing afternoon sun to pick us up from the airport when we landed hours after we had expected or to pick us up from the side of the road when our car broke down or was compounded yet again.

You showed up with random gifts out of the blue. You cooked delicious meals for me and helped me clean and organize when I felt overwhelmed to do even one more thing.

You went out of your way to see us when we had some rare moments in the capital city and were running around like crazy to get all our errands done or you let us crash on your couch or spare room when you knew we needed a little refuge away from it all.

You laughed when I laughed and cringed when I cringed as I recounted my many language-learning woes, making the whole thing of learning this new way of speaking and communicating feel just a bit less intimidating.

You went on crazy adventures with me to mountains, waterfalls, or busy markets for shopping. You told hilarious jokes and sent me goofy videos and memes or played games with me until all hours of the night and in those moments, it felt like all the weight and the worries disappeared and I could just “be me” and laugh for a little while.

You shared with me all of your struggles and opened up about your failures and doubts, which made life a whole lot easier, knowing that I wasn’t crazy and that there were Christians out there dealing with the same things.

When I told you I was leaving, you didn’t just cut me out of your life as a form of self-protection and “move on to the next one” as I had so agonizingly feared, but you kept inviting me to things and messaging me as you leaned in harder to a friendship you knew was about to change and had yet another painful teary goodbye rapidly approaching.

Our time of living in the same country may be coming to a close, but our friendships and the bonds we forged here will not soon be broken or forgotten. Who I am today has been shaped ever so tenderly by your love, care, and generosity over the years here together in this foreign land.

As our time together comes to an end, the only thing I can really think to say is, “Thank you for being my expat friend.”

Belonging Beyond Borders: How to Cultivate a Sense of Togetherness

by Megan C. Norton

A little more belonging is what the world needs right now. Whether on the news or in our own neighborhoods, we see and experience divisiveness, misunderstandings, and corruption all around us. But those of us who have crossed cultures and lived outside our passport countries are uniquely suited to cultivate belonging both within ourselves and within our communities. Here are three ways we can do that.


Cultivating Self-Awareness

I am an Adult Third Culture Kid. By the time I was 18, I had lived in six countries, attended seven international schools, and called multiple places my “home.”  But calling myself an ATCK does not tell you or anyone else about my identity. It only tells you that I have had a certain childhood experience. 

With this awareness, I am able to set aside my TCK experience and focus on who I am as an individual and what roles I play in my community. I learn to belong to myself through intentional reflection and processing of my intercultural experiences. In doing so, I acknowledge that even if someone isn’t interested in my global experiences, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in me. I can cultivate a renewed understanding that my being involves much more than where I have been in the world. And I can commit to connecting with others in the many ways that make up who I am as a contributing member of society.


Finding Common Ground

Belonging is not a static or settled journey. It’s an ongoing and dynamic process to lean into, celebrate, and cherish. One way to expand belonging is to consider different ways to connect on identity, talents, and skills. That is why cultivating self-awareness of your being is the first step to belonging. 

Sometimes finding common ground with others in community means looking for the ‘hidden diversity’ that may not be as evident as traditional markers of diversity such as ethnicity, gender, age, race, and ability. Lean into belonging through your individual identity (or personhood) and your collective identities (association or membership to groups such as churches, gyms, or schools). 

Think about how you can connect with people through your various experiences and identities. For TCKs and global workers, it could be your knowledge and experiences of living in multiple cultures. It could be those stories of adapting, adjusting, and learning and unlearning culture that can connect you to the immigrant, exchange student, or new hire.


Celebrating Seasons

If we know that belonging takes time, we can celebrate the process and season we are in. In the winter the ground appears barren, yet we have hope that life is brewing underground, unseen. Likewise, we remain steadfast in seasons of waiting for moments of togetherness. Even though we may not feel like we belong, we can take heart that we are still a part of several communities and becoming a part of several more. Our sense of belonging is held in our memories, moments, and meet ups. To belong means that we take a dimensionalized view of time and place, that what we do and say today to others can have ripple effects into how we and they belong in the future.

Belonging is a head and heart journey. Belonging is creating meaningful connections through self-discovery and self-awareness and an exploration of others in and through cultural and experiential differences. 

Belonging is in part self-created and in part others-created. There is no prescription or recipe for belonging. Belonging involves holistic thinking — considering the relational, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and social compositions of yourself and others. It seeks to nurture and sustain being seen, heard, loved, respected, and understood in an ever-changing world. It is difficult but worthwhile work.

Belonging means being proud of your humanity and the cultures that have built you and to which you belong. Our desire to move the world into a more tolerant, empathetic, and caring place is the work of people who have had — and continue to hold — intercultural experiences and belonging. We know how to listen well, how to celebrate the different ways people belong, and how to invite others to belong with us.


Megan Norton is an Adult TCK who calls 10 countries her “heart homes.” As a Third Culture Kid consultant, intercultural trainer, podcast host of A Culture Story, co-founder of a non-profit for diplomat TCKs, and writer at, she equips and empowers globally mobile youth to recognize their cultural competencies and apply them in various contexts. She is the author of Belonging Beyond Borders: How Adult Third Culture Kids Can Cultivate a Sense of Belonging.

The Hidden Super-Stars of Missions


I coach new missionaries as they prepare to go overseas. I’ve found I can often predict how quickly they’ll be able to raise support based on one crucial factor: whether they have an advocate who will come alongside them.

What do I mean by an advocate? Let me explain.

Raising support has got to be one of the most daunting experiences in any missionary’s life. So God’s called me to India, but I need you to fork over some cash so I can do it. Sound good? Awesome. What can I put you down for?

Let’s hope it doesn’t come out exactly like that, but it’s what missionaries dread. Raising financial partners has extraordinary joys, but it also comes with dark lows. It’s incredibly intimidating. Dozens – maybe hundreds – of friends ghosting their calls, emails that don’t get replies, events where no one shows up. It can be one of the most demoralizing experiences in a person’s life.

Who can turn that whole experience around? An advocate. 

A missionary advocate is someone who enthusiastically comes alongside a missionary and says, “Let’s get that support raised!” 

The Springs in Missouri is a church that has sent out several homegrown missionaries in the past two decades. All those missionaries pointed to Ken and Tracy Coleman as vital in making that happen, so I decided I needed to talk to these super-star advocates.

Tracy told me, “When missionaries are raising support, we invite a big group to our house. We let the missionary tell their story. Then we share what donating to missions has done for us personally. We explain how God has blessed us to be part of what God is doing overseas.”

She added, “We challenge people, ‘This is what God is calling The Springs to. This missionary is a tool for that to happen. How can we get them to the mission field? How can we support them in other ways?”

Friends, this is a missionary’s dream scenario. It helps the missionary to know he’s not alone. It helps create true partnerships in missions. And it takes away all the stress of asking for funding. 

When a church is too busy or distracted to pay attention to an upcoming missionary, an advocate steps in and rattles some chains. When a missionary is overwhelmed by planning a large dinner, an advocate rallies the troops to make it happen. And when the missionary is depressed and despairing that she’s reached the end of her contacts and has no idea how she’ll raise the final 30%, that advocate is her cheerleader, praying for her and brainstorming fresh ideas.

Maybe this advocate isn’t just one person but a group of people – like a home group or Bible study group. Even better!

And once that missionary has deployed overseas (or in stateside service), that advocate keeps in touch with him. She’s the one who makes sure the rest of the church knows when there’s something big to pray for. When the missionary comes home on furlough, the advocate is the one who organizes housing and a car for the missionary to use. She prompts the missions committee to buy a few gift cards. She communicates with church leaders to find opportunities for the missionary to speak. 

I cannot overstate the power of a missionary advocate.

Maybe you have a burning passion to see the gospel go to the nations, but God has called you to stay in your home country. Besides praying and giving, what can you do? Perhaps God is calling you to be an advocate for your missionary. 

An important note from Jonathan, Elizabeth, and Marilyn

We are so glad you’re here. And we deeply hope that the community and content here at A Life Overseas has encouraged you and blessed you over the years.

Would you take a moment to prayerfully consider a one-time gift to help A Life Overseas continue providing high-quality resources to global workers? You can give a gift of any size here. Keep reading to hear how we’d love to say thank you for gifts of $50 or more.

Every week, writers and editors hone and craft and research, aiming to deliver encouragement and help to our community of Christians abroad. In fact, we publish over 100 articles per year for our global community.

Our writers have covered the funny, the mundane, and the traumatic. We have wrestled with big questions and where to find actual cheese. Our articles have helped disseminate vital research on missionary attrition, how to protect and support third culture kids, and God-honoring risk assessment in missions. We have been a leading voice in “the cross-cultural conversation.” In fact, check out some of our top eighty-five posts here.

Now, we need your help.

In order to continue serving thousands of folks all over the world every week, we need your help in meeting our annual support raising goal of $10,000. A gift of $100 would sponsor one article that reaches around the world. Of course, any gift is appreciated and will help keep us on the air.

How we’d like to say THANK YOU!
The leadership team of A Life Overseas (Marilyn Gardner, Elizabeth Trotter, and myself) would love to thank you for your gift. In fact, for gifts given during February 2023 in the amounts listed below, we would be thrilled to send you hard copies of the books listed below (for US addresses only). We’re aware that many of you do not have a US address, so in your case we will be happy to hook you up with Kindle versions.

Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More, by Elizabeth Trotter

$100 (sponsors one article!)
Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker, by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter

Both Hats and Serving Well

$200 (sponsors two articles!)
Hats, Serving Well, and Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner

How to Give
A Life Overseas is funded as a special ministry through our missions account with Team Expansion (Louisville, KY), so all gifts are tax deductible (in the US). Click here to donate.

Thank you for walking this road with us. We endeavor to keep speaking up about the things that matter to the global Church and those who serve her.

All for ONE,
Jonathan Trotter

Scan me to support A Life Overseas!

When Reviving Doesn’t Look Like Reviving

Want to know the irony of this post?

I was sick on Sunday. Well, it started Saturday evening with purging the contents of my stomach. To be repeated at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m., and 8 a.m. At which point I got up and laid on the couch for the remainder of the day (except for the times I had to scare the squirrel off the bird feeder and throw up again. #Priorities.)

Monday I felt weak, but returning to the land of the living. Thoughts turned to work and of the week’s theme and of the post I wanted to write about reviving. About how God is in the business of reviving. Reviving bodies, stories, even history.

Just look at Hannah made fun of for infertility and how God met her in her sadness.

Just look at Moses who blew it when he killed the Egyptian and how God met him in the wilderness.

Just look at Mary and Martha who were so confused when Jesus didn’t show up and he not only could handle their anger and confusion, he could bring their brother back to life.

Just look at the woman who had bled for years and the ways God knew it wasn’t just her body that needed reviving, it was her spirit too.

Yes, our God is a God who revives. He brings back to life. He restores. He gives new life and energy.

Though I like to be instantly well from an illness, I was experiencing reviving.

I tend to see metaphors everywhere. There is always a lesson behind the ordinary. The common is laced with deeper meaning. Which is a lovely way to live until I wonder what God is doing in the living metaphor that is my life.

Tuesday I was the opposite of revived. I was weak, and foggy in the brain, and wondering what God wanted to show me about reviving . . . because I was either missing the lesson OR a bit off track on how He looks at reviving.

I sipped 7-up, the drink of the ill, no interest in food or energy to move.

{Maybe this is just for children of the 70s in America, but does anyone else associate 7-up or Sprite and illness? This is how I know I’m really sick: I sip 7-up.}

As I sipped, I wondered how much I have confused the way God looks at reviving with how America—my home culture—looks at prosperity. Revival looks like a graph with the line going up to the right. It might be a slow and steady incline, or it might go sharply up, but revival is always up. It’s the underdog winning. It’s the music crescendoing at the touching part of the movie. It’s the electricity being turned on at just the right moment.

Or is it?

What does revival look like when the visa doesn’t come through or the diagnosis is not good or the heat will not end, ever?

Or your children are not adjusting well. Or they are and you are not.

What does revival look like when the financial support is dwindling or the assignment that was perfect on paper is more like a nightmare in real life?

Or the husband you thought would be here . . . isn’t.

What then?

Maybe being revived can sometimes be straight and simple, like going on a walk and clearing our heads and souls, filling them up with Jesus. But maybe it can also be messy and complex, winding this way and that. Revived for the moment, on a level that doesn’t deny the reality we face but is not defined by it, and doesn’t remove the deep sadness or exhaustion.

I’m still waiting to feel better. To not wince at the smell of food. To not wander around trying to think a thought. But even in this state, Jesus has revival for me, and, you.

When have you experienced revival that might not have looked like revival?

This post originally appeared on Velvet Ashes. Thankfully this past Saturday I did not throw up :).

To the Ones Who Are Tuning Out


I recently hit a bit of a wall, so to speak. Maybe this wall is one for the mid-termers, the ones who have been in a place long enough to know intricately the unique beauties and breakdowns. Or maybe this wall is a seasonal one, with which many of you will resonate no matter your length of days away from your home country.

This was my wall: I could not hear another American friend describe their multi-ten-thousand-dollar kitchen renovation. I could not hear another family member talk of the fifth massive camper they have now bought. I could not hear of the extended holidays and vacations and gadgets and gear for another hobby and the cost of inflation and soaring real estate prices and all of the other American things… not anymore.

When my friends and family would start to talk about them, my brain would shut down, I would mumble “mmhmm”-type responses, and afterwards, go back to my room alone to cry. I realized that this was not the mature or godly response, but I seemed unable to change it.

Why the tears? It has taken me some time to understand, and maybe I am still processing. But, in our seventh year on this field, in this particular place, I am keenly noticing the gap between our life and the lives of most of our American friends. I am holding, deep in my body and heart, the challenges that come with these extremes. I am feeling, deeply, the many discrepancies of our lives, often pondering if we will ever fit back in, or if we would even want to.

But mostly, I am craving for these friends, for these family members, to be a witness to my life here. To acknowledge, even in the smallest way, that it is very difficult to hold a massive kitchen reno in one hand and the extreme poverty behind our fence in the other. To understand, in some basic way, that my mind is heavily with our dear friends who have been unjustly threatened with their lives for money following a car accident that was not their fault, and not on the details of your two month, snow-bird vacation for the sixth year in a row.  I crave for someone to know, to take the time to listen to my heart, to bear with me gently, in this middle, in-between place.

So much of what we bear daily is our own; so much of our lives are unseen. This is true for my own life and for the lives of my family and friends an ocean away. Do I know it is unrealistic to expect this kind of understanding from those I love on another continent? Do I realize that they are trying, in their own multifaceted ways, to connect, to share their lives and witness mine? Yes, and yes. And I can see, in my most honest moments, that I am in my own place of selfishness when I cease to listen well to the things they have to share, simply because it is hard for me to do so.

Would I perhaps make a similar choice someday, and see that even my choices now are not purely selfless? Do I recognize that my own heart struggles with the same issues that I blatantly see in others? Do I acknowledge that I am not alone in these wonderings, in these questions? Yes to all of it.

And yet. In some seasons, perhaps it is okay to put away the Pinterest pictures, to tune out a little when these types of things are shared, in the interest of protecting my heart against bitterness and my mind against pride. I am not a better person for witnessing what God has put in my life in Africa. I am no holier for holding the extremes with care. I, truly, am not that different than the ones I tune out.

In his graciousness, God has gently reminded me that he is the one to bear witness to my life. He knows. He sees my broken heart, my conflicted priorities, my judgment of others, my compassion for others. He knows, he takes the time to listen to my heart, when I take the time to share it, and he bears with me gently.

God has tenderly reminded me that his love transcends all extremes, as Romans 8:38-39 speaks to us: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And so when I sit back in my room and cry, I can pour out my overwhelmed, unseen heart to him. I can list the conflicted emotions and trust he will hear and hold them. I can repent of my judgement, of my hypocrisy, and receive his forgiveness. I can rest in knowing that he knows. I can rest in knowing that his love bridges the vastest of extremes.

And in time, I can be restored in Christ, in order to listen well again, in order to hold these extremes of my life tenderly and to care for those on both sides with love. Soon, I will be able to tune back in, joyfully, to rejoice with my friends and family on both sides of the ocean, and to extend the unending love of God, in this messy middle place.

Photographers, Can You Do Us Cross-Cultural Bloggers a Favor?

From a recent edition of the weekly web journal Brigada Today, I found out that there’s a photography conference, “Depth of Field,” coming up, February 7 and 8. It’s designed for pro photographers, but I’m thinking that means amateurs could learn even more from it. And it’s in New York, but the “Main Stage” and “Exposure Stage” presentations will be live streamed. (By the way, if you’re not familiar with Brigada, you might want to check it out. It’s a great place for receiving and sharing all things related to cross-cultural work.)

Why is a conference for photographers relevant to you, dear readers? Because I know some of you like to take photos, and some of you are rather good at it, too. And for those of you, I have a favor to ask. Could you help out us cross-cultural bloggers? It’s not easy finding good photos for the kind of topics that show up in our writing, and, frankly, it can end up adding a last level of stress before we hit the publish button. (Is it really what I’m looking for? Is it appropriate? Has it been used here before?!!)

Take, for instance, the picture at the top of this page. You may have noticed that it’s the same photo as the one I used for my post in July. Or you may just be thinking, “Ugh, another generic plane-wing-out-the-window shot.” Either way, it’s not ideal.

But that’s what we need, some “ideal” photos of, by, and for cross-cultural workers. You may already have your own ideas. If not, let me plant some seeds in the fertile field of your creativity. You’ll no doubt recognize some of these tried-and-true images, but I’m asking for an increase in quantity and quality: quantity, so that we don’t have to reuse the same photos again and again (see above), and quality, so that it doesn’t seem as if we’re using photos again and again (ditto). So when you read “more” below, think “more and better.”

Oh yeah, and free. Free, as in creative commons or public domain.

So more and better . . . and free.

For instance, there aren’t enough photos of world maps and globes. We need more photos of unique maps and globes, antique maps and globes, and maps and globes labeled in non-English languages.

We need more photos taken of the backs of people looking out over an ocean or a skyline or a city. We need a bigger collection of pictures, with older people and younger people, with people from a range of ethnicities, with more individuals and families and couples and groups, and with more ways to show emotions such as hope or longing or anxiety when you can’t see the subjects’ faces. (Yes, I’m asking for that creativity here.)

In general, we need a bunch of more interesting photos of people in all sorts of settings looking away from or walking away from the camera or simply with their faces hidden or out of frame. (It’s just often easier that way.)

We need more views of indistinct international cities, with non-English signage that’s been vetted for unsuitable advertisements or graffiti—cityscapes that vaguely remind us of areas in the world without identifying specific locales.

We need more photos depicting poverty, hunger, crisis, and the like, without exploiting individuals, making them no more than one-dimensional illustrations of their circumstances. (Oh, how my own past attempts have failed in this area.)

We need more photos with the people we’re serving, not just of the people we’re serving. And when we’re with them, we need to show that “we” are not always white, and “they” can be our partners, not just recipients of our help.

We need more photos that wouldn’t embarrass (or shame) the subjects if they saw themselves in the context of what we’re writing about.

We need more photos of people representing a myriad of cultures. And they need to represent those cultures in ways other than being dressed in the stereotypical garb that only outsiders think they always wear.

We need more photos of doors and windows from around the world, and people walking through doorways and looking through windows, sometimes looking through cracked or dirty windows or windows with raindrops on them.

We need more photos of paths, roads, highways, train tracks, long sets of stairs, rivers, and jet trails.

We need more photos of planes, trains, and automobiles . . . and boats.

We need more photos of sunrises and sunsets, over the ocean, over cities, over mountain ranges, and over grassy fields.

We need more photos of single trees on the horizon and single flowers growing out of the cracks in sidewalks.

We need more photos of arrows pointing in all sorts of directions.

We need variations of the two-or-more hands of differing pigments clasped in friendship.

We need more photos of praying hands, working hands, and helping hands . . . and of feet (you know, how-beautiful-on-the-mountains-are-the-feet-of-those-who-bring-good-news feet).

We need more photos of open Bibles, coffee cups, and passports, and open Bibles next to coffee cups and passports.

We need more photos of airports, airport signs, airport trollies, luggage, and seat-back trays. And we need those ever-elusive pics of the inside of a plane and the view through the window at the same time.

And jet wings, yes, we definitely need more photos of jet wings.

[photo: “Fight over Slovenia,” by (Mick Baker)rooster, used under a Creative Commons license]

How to Start Healing From Trauma: The Unseen Trauma of the Mission Field Part 3

by Shonna Ingram

In part one of this series on trauma, I explained what trauma is and what it does to us. In part two, I told you about James’s story. As we think about his story, we notice that he is not in this situation because of one big, traumatic event. Instead, it was small experiences that piled on top of each other that he wasn’t able to process (although there were some big ones in there too).

James was stuck, and he knew it. When people like James come to me for help, I don’t tell them to “just pray about it.” They’ve often heard advice like that before, and it usually isn’t helpful. Instead, I take people on a recovery journey. This journey is not linear, but rather an opportunity to reflect, create, and grow in an ongoing process. 

As I said earlier, there isn’t one single therapy or modality that will heal the layers of trauma we see in this story. On different parts of the trauma recovery journey, James will need different interventions and approaches.


Laying the Foundation

We start trauma healing by integrating the brain, heart, and body. To do this, we need an approach that connects mental health principles with a Biblical framework. 

We need an evidence-based approach. The first rule in mental health is to “do no harm.” To help with that, we need researched and proven tools to use throughout the healing journey. But more than that, we need compassion and people to come alongside us in our season of trauma recovery. 

Trauma recovery is not linear. Healing is more of a mending process than a single moment, and we need to think of it as a journey. Some days everything will be fine; other days we will find ourselves triggered for no reason. This is normal, and we need to create space for these ups and downs. With a story like James’s where there isn’t one big event, it’s not always clear what the traumas are. We have to be patient while we figure it out. 

Allow the Holy Spirit to work. We acknowledge that Jesus heals people’s trauma. This isn’t meant to over-spiritualize the process; even secular trauma training holds to the idea that there is something bigger than us out in the universe.


Steps for Healing

Before beginning the six steps outlined in this section, it’s important to make sure you are surrounded by people who will support your rebuilding process.


1. See where you are. 

If you think you might have experienced a traumatic event, the first step is to get out of the crisis. Think about how the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse meets people’s physical needs or about the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: water, food, and shelter. Psychological First Aid (PFA) material is a good place to start. (I also recommend the Trauma Healing Institute’s Beyond Disaster material.) 


2. Pay attention not only to the things you are saying but also how you are reacting to things.

In the last article I gave examples of some trauma reactions (Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn). You can think through the different types of trauma you may have experienced (Acute, Chronic, Secondary, Childhood Abuse or Abandonment, Moral Injury, Survivor’s Guilt, Loss of Identity, Compound Grief) and ask whether Order, Justice, or Self Value has been lost because of what happened.


3. Become familiar with the stages of grief.

Understand the different stages of grief. In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross popularized the five common stages of grief. They include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.


4. Find safe places.

Find someone who will hold your emotional, relational, and situational stories. Safe places should make space for: 

  • Normalizing what is happening. For example, I told James that if I had gone through the same thing he did, I would have felt the same way. 
  • Listening without judgment. 
  • Reflecting back what you are saying. 
  • Discerning with you. This might look like them praying with and for you and bringing your feelings and emotions to Jesus.


5. Reach out to a professional counselor, trauma-informed mental health coach, or trauma-informed spiritual director. 

Hopefully you will have a list of vetted mental health professionals that you can reach out to if your needs go beyond what a friend or leader can provide. This is what James needed as part of his recovery from his childhood attachment issues. He went through a series of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) appointments. 

Note: EMDR is one possibility of getting to some of the roots of trauma. Brainspotting (my training), Internal Family Systems (IFS), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), tapping, and Somatic Therapy (grounding and breathwork) are other methods used in trauma therapy. I have also seen healing through healing prayer sessions with a prayer minister. It depends on the season and what you are most comfortable with. Ask your therapist, coach, or spiritual director what method they use. 


6. Lastly, for ongoing recovery to take place, you need to get involved in a trauma-informed community.

When I was studying trauma recovery, I kept coming across the idea of small groups. A small group allows people to share their stories and see that they aren’t alone. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery programs are so successful. 

I saw a great need for these types of conversations in the missions community and was asked by many of my therapist friends to start something like that. So I created the Renewed Hope Approach, a year-long trauma-informed recovery group that walks people through the three stages of trauma recovery. The groups spend time sharing their pain and talking about common topics like theology of suffering, grief processing, and forgiveness. 

During the pandemic I was able to field test these groups, and I’m happy to announce that they are now open to the public. In these communities we focus on:

Stage 1: Grief, Loss, and Forgiveness (I call this stage Restore.)

Stage 2: Finding Your Renewed Purpose (I call this stage Receive.) 

Stage 3: Growing in Hope (I call this stage Rebuild.)

Each stage connects the brain, heart, and body by telling our story (brain), engaging in expressive therapies like art and prayer (heart), and engaging in body work practices like grounding and breathing exercises (body). The purpose of all these exercises is to reconnect with God, others, and ourselves. These activities, especially in combination, help facilitate our healing.  


Wrapping Up James’s Story 

James has come a long way since I first met him a few years ago. Most days he is in Stage 3 (Rebuild). Not every day is perfect, and there are times that he has to go back to Stage 1 (Restore) to spend some time reflecting on another loss or forgiving someone (or himself) for something that happened. But he did start a Master’s in theology and psychology and is looking to help his organization with missionary care. He processed his wounds and decided he wanted to help others, and that is the final stage of trauma recovery: helping others.


You are Invited

Maybe your story is as big and complex as James’s story. Or maybe you just need a place to be seen and heard or are interested in taking preventive measures. Maybe you want to process a series of losses or are wondering if you’re dealing with secondary trauma. 

Or perhaps after reading these articles, you find yourself wanting to help others in their season of trauma recovery.

You can find out when the next group or training starts on my website. I would love for you to join us.

My hope for you is that you don’t just take this information and put it on a back shelf. I hope this series will help you see more clearly what is happening within yourself and within the missions community. And I hope you learned that help is available when you need it. 

If you need help discerning your next step, my team and I are only an email or small group away, and we would love to help you on your healing journey. You can check out our groups and trainings at


Additional Resources



IFS Institute

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Among Missionaries 


Shonna Ingram is the founder and director of the Renewed Hope Approach, a program that provides a practical approach to Post Trauma Care. She’s been in ministry for over 20 years and spent 8 years in Africa as a missionary. Shonna is a Board Certified Master Trauma-Informed Mental Health Coach specializing in career, self-development, and spiritual formation, and she has trained hundreds of people in over 30 countries to integrate mental health into a biblical framework. Her heart for people in the re-entry season led her to create her second series, Your Re-Entry Path, as a way for them to figure out their next season, whether inside or outside of vocational ministry. She is mom to 4 amazing adults.