Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field


I am a classic introvert.

Being around a lot of people I don’t know totally drains me. I need substantial daily doses of quiet in order to survive. I’m introspective. I learn best through observation. I am friendly, but I hate small talk. If I had my way small talk would be forever eradicated in favor of deep talk. So what if I just met you? I don’t want to talk about the weather. What I’d really like is to say is, Hi, I’m Anisha. Tell me about your most rewarding and most regretful life experiences, and what you learned from them.

I used to think schmoozey business meetings were my own personal version of hell, but then I became a missionary and realized it’s actually evangelism.

Don’t misunderstand, I really love people. I do. It’s the whole reason I signed up for this missions life – I want to see the whole world set free to live whole, healed, thriving lives.

But I can’t do this in the typical extroverted missionary fashion. If I’m going to survive I’ve learned I need to…

Embrace who I am. I could pray (heck, I have prayed) that God would make me an extrovert, “Lord, change me and make me bold!” and all that, or I could embrace who God actually made me to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of change or boldness, but I’ve learned that while I’m busy agonizing and feeling ashamed over who I’m not God is right there waiting and wanting to use who I am.

Get concentrated. Instead of trying to gather and manage a large circle of people to minister to, I do much better if I focus on developing deep and meaningful relationships with a handful. I can be friendly with a lot of people, but I don’t need to force myself to try to have lots of actual friendships. 3 or 4 committed, deep relationships are about my limit. I do much better privately mentoring a few rather than publically preaching before many.

Start and build relationships in ways that fill my emotional tank. I used to do street evangelism, but that level of unmitigated shallow social engagement only leaves me angry and depressed by the end of the day. Instead, I can spend an afternoon one on one in my kitchen baking cookies with a teenager and having deep and honest conversations about God, school, and that boy she’s interested in. Crafts and photography (It’s not fancy. I use my phone camera) are other good options. I don’t have to do evangelism to engage with people. It is completely possible to meet and build relationships in ways that I actually enjoy and won’t totally and immediately tap me out.

Pick team/missions community jobs that have a built in escape. I’m a better host and cook than a facilitator. Being the host allows me to serve the people around me, but also provides me with an escape. I can break away to clean the dishes or re-fill the kettle for hot water, rather than having to stay in the middle of a large group initiating chit chat or directing conversation topics.

Use my talents. As people who generally try to avoid the center of attention, introverts are usually naturally good listeners. We also tend to do well working independently. For me, writing is my most enjoyable independent work. Combined with a love for people and meaningful conversations, my ministry project became writing life stories. It turns out, people want to be heard and understood. Writing someone’s story is a direct route to the heart. Introverts bring valuable talents to the mission field that may fall outside of normal or expected missions activities, and so extends the reach of ministry.

Schedule regular alone time. It’s no secret – introverts find a lot of social interaction very draining. And missions in general just seems to come with a boat load of social expectations. I can do the extrovert stuff as long as I have sufficient time to nourish my introvert self. Needing time alone isn’t selfish; it keeps me joyfully serving. No matter what, I’m going to need a good chunk of alone time most days. So I plan for this and try to make sure I have time after lunch every day to just chill. As much as possible, I avoid planning activities during this time and send my son to his room for “quiet time”. It doesn’t always work out, and there have been weeks that pass without any down time, but I know that I need it and will quickly flake out without it. Including quiet time as a scheduled part of my day helps to keep it a priority.

There you have it – how I survive as an introvert on the mission field. I’m certainly not your typical extrovert missionary, but thankfully I don’t have to try to be. God uses introverts too.


Of Mice and Missionaries

of mice and missionariesThe tinge of worry first appeared at the beginning of December. I shoved it to the back of my mind and determined to think positively. By the second week of December, I alternated between sobbing in the shower and struggling to control the intense anger raging in my chest.

“If this does happen,” I told my husband, “I need to go home. I need a break. I am so angry. I can’t cope. I just can’t.”

December wasn’t supposed to be plagued by worry and anger. I had been looking forward to the holidays for months. For the first time in several years we were finally settled and feeling at home. We bought a Christmas tree and hosted Christmas parties. My parents were flying in from America for two weeks. We planned to celebrate Christmas in our home before heading to Bali to ring in the New Year together. We’d saved up all year for this vacation and were thrilled for two weeks of beach lounging, swimming pools, shopping, and hamburgers. After working flat out for a year, we were ready for a break.

But by mid-December, all our plans stood a pretty sound chance of being cancelled. Our visa would soon expire and it appeared that the renewal wouldn’t be completed in time. We were looking at the very real possibility of having to leave Indonesia and camp out in a neighboring country for an indefinite period of time while starting a new visa application.

Would our much anticipated vacation be ruined? After not seeing my parents for 2 years would we have to leave them while we tried to sort out visas? What if new visas were denied? Would we be able to return to our much loved home and continue serving? What about our chickens, dogs, and cats? What about all of our household stuff?

As our visa expiry date drew closer, hope snuffed out. My parents arrived and we tried to make the most of our time with them. While anger, grief, and worry took over our minds, we did stuff like this…

Texas GPs to Papua

We look so happy. We were falling apart on the inside.

Then suddenly it clicked. I’d bought into a lie.

You see, it took 10 years before my husband had the flight and maintenance qualifications and experience necessary for us to join our aviation ministry and all the support raising, ministry classes, and language school were completed. 10 years. A decade of making every decision based on a future in missions. While friends bought houses and settled down, we rented apartments, accumulated few belongings, paid off debt, and saved as much as we could.

I’d come to believe that somehow, after all the work we’d done, our future in missions was guaranteed to us. I mean, surely after all our sacrifice and hard work God wouldn’t allow everything to fall apart after only one year. It’s not like we did all this for ourselves. We did it for Him!

What a great big, handicapping lie.

The truth is that God didn’t call us to this country or to aviation or even to missions – He called us to Himself and asks us to lay aside our own plans to trust and embrace His.

The truth is that God didn’t guarantee our future – He gave us this present moment and told us not to worry about tomorrow.

What great big, life giving truth!

While my future in a country I’ve come to love remains unclear (and I hope and pray I get to stay), I am very aware that none of this really ever belonged to me. Living and serving internationally today is a gift and a privilege, not my God-given right for tomorrow.

Our future, dear friends, is not guaranteed. We have something much, much better! We have Christ, and all of life’s moments – past, present, and future – are His.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:35, The Message

So This Is Christmas

Christmas lightsBefore moving overseas we debated about whether or not to take our Christmas tree, a 5 foot pre-lit beauty. The perfect tree, a virtually undetectable fake. I loved it. Each year that perfect tree went up early and stayed up late.

Alas, in the move as our shipment and suitcases filled with other possessions, my beloved tree ended up in the give-away pile.

Last Christmas, our first in country, didn’t feel like Christmas at all. We’d just moved to our new and permanent town after language school. We spent pre-Christmas days unpacking, painting, and doing repair work on our house. Christmas Day seemed to appear out of nowhere.

This year, my eager anticipation for Christmas has been mounting since early October. Perhaps it’s the fact we’ve been settled here for a year. We are no longer wide-eyed and overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s my parents coming from America to spend the holiday with us. Perhaps it’s a bit of home sickness. It’s probably all three.

This year I miss my perfect Christmas tree. I long for shops filled with gifty things, church nativities, and Santa at the mall. I want fancy wrapping paper, bows, and carols. I want neighbourhoods with coordinated Christmas lights. I want snow.

On our island, Christmas is a big deal. I’ll have some of the things I’m longing for, but it’ll be, well . . . to put it mildly, it’ll be different.

I’ll get the carols, even Feliz Navidad on repeat. These songs will be blared at twenty million decibels from the town’s many “Pondok Natal” – wooden structures housing Santa, or Baby Jesus, or both, as well as the customary stadium speakers. These things are LOUD and play all day and all night.

Our church here has been planning the Christmas program for months. To raise money for the huge celebration, fried noodles and cakes are made available for purchase after every service. For Christmas fundraising at the church in our language school town, we sold RW. That’s code for spicy dog meat.

This year, after pining for my perfect Christmas tree, I bought an overpriced plastic tree from our local grocery store. It’s really big, more than 6 feet. From far away it’s pretty good, but from anywhere less than 20 feet the shiny green fishing line branches look a lot like toilet brushes.

Decorating the toilet brush tree.

We’ll probably get to meet Santa this year too. Believing in Santa isn’t something that we necessarily encourage, we’ve always told our son the truth, but he’s still pretty smitten by the idea of a big man in a red coat doling out gifts. Last year at a party Santa gave all the kids bags of treats. That Santa smelled like cigarette smoke, had red teeth from chewing betel nut, a dingy suit, a saggy beard, and wore reflective aviator sunglasses. My star-struck 4 year old took one look and wanted the Indonesian words for how to ask Santa where he parked his reindeer.

Our team Christmas party won’t be mulled wine and mince pies. It’ll be a Bakar Batu feast. While the men dig a big pit and heat stones, us women will clean a mountain of leafy green vegetables and prepare the pig meat. After about 3 hours of work the veggies and meat will be layered into the pit on top of alternating layers of banana leaves and hot stones. The whole thing is sealed with long grass and left to steam for an hour or so. We’ll play games and retell the Christmas story to pass the time; then bring out all the food onto a large tarp and sit around in circles eating with our hands.

bakar batu
I won’t have neighbourhoods filled with lights, but on Christmas day neighbours will open their doors. Here you don’t celebrate Christmas at home alone with your family, you go out and visit all of your friends. Each house will have food and drinks to share with whoever happens to stop by.

There are many, many things I miss. And there will be many, many things that are done differently here. But if Christmas is really about the greatest gift, then different can be good too.

This Christmas we’ll remember that God was born flesh and dwelt among us. We’ll remember that because of Christmas the world received long-promised grace and redemption.

The Christmas I long for, isn’t really Christmas. I miss the familiarity of traditions. I miss what I know. I miss my own comfort zone. Perhaps that’s the real gift of celebrating Christmas overseas in such different ways. I remember that traditions are nice, but they don’t define Christmas.

This year, as we remember the gift of the Saviour, we’ll do so in the middle of plastic toilet brush trees, the most delicious fried noodles, smelly Santas, deafening music, community pig roast feasts, and the joyful hospitality of our friends and neighbours.

So this is Christmas. Different, but celebrating our Saviour all the same.

Merry Christmas, friends. Wherever in the world you may be.

The Anchor and The Hurricane

anchor hurricane
I’m a dreamer. I know it’s not really possible for me to save the world, but I still dream about it all the time. I’m a great starter. Full of passion and can-do spirit, I dive right in. Don’t try to warn or reason with me, the risks don’t really mean much.

My husband is a thinker. He sees a suffering world and carefully considers where and how he can make a difference. He starts slowly, thoughtfully, because there’s no real rush when you’re in it for the long haul. The risks are carefully considered and prepared for.

Our pastor likes to ask the question of married couples, “Are you the anchor or the hurricane?”

When a hurricane and an anchor move overseas, adversity doesn’t miss an opportunity.

True to myself, I dove right in. My new culture and language right outside my front door, I walked the neighbourhood streets for hours each afternoon. It didn’t matter that I didn’t actually have any words or phrases other than “Good morning”, “My name is Anisha” and “What’s that?” It didn’t matter that my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. I figured I’d just tread water while I searched for a ledge to grab on to.

Unfortunately for anchors, hurricanes tend to whip up everything in their path and carry them along, willingly or not.

The anchor would have preferred to learn more words first. To have a base to build meaningful friendships on rather than a bunch of friendly but rather shallow smiles. The anchor would have sought out relationships with expats who have been here for years instead of focusing exclusively on local relationships. He would listen for directions and, coached by the experiences of those who already know where to find the ledge, would swim confidently in the right direction.

It’s hard for hurricanes to slow down, but the anchor you love can only be tossed and carried along for so long.

We were warned, “Your marriage will be under attack. You have to stay in tune with each other. Nothing else matters.”

I didn’t see the break in the wall until the arrows struck. Illnesses, language difficulties, overwhelming feelings of powerlessness, loneliness, depression, anger – they each hit their mark. As we tried to recover our defences, me through eating my emotions and the anchor through stuffing his down inside, we only destroyed ourselves further. My weight ballooned, he became angry and mean.

Of all the lessons learned over the last year, this one is the hardest: In all my passion and enthusiasm I fail my anchor. While I ignore and criticize the needs and God-given qualities of the one I pledged my life and love to, the Adversary gains easy ground.

It took time, but we eventually learned how to fight back. We learned to honour each other through empathy, compromise, encouragement, and acknowledging our differences are not mistakes but God’s design.

The steady anchor qualities in my husband make him a capable and safe missionary pilot. My hurricane engages and holds the attention span of pre-schoolers. Free to be and love who God created us to be – we thrive.

The dreamer and the thinker, hurricane and anchor, joined together for one mighty purpose. Not to save the world or even figure out how to change a little part of it. Those reasons are much too small.

No matter where we are, no matter where we make our home, no matter what we make our profession – this union is not about our physical world. It’s really about reflecting God’s great love.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behaviour from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
(Ephesians 5:1-2 The Message)

What about you? Are you the hurricane or the anchor?

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If I’m Perfect

I know I’m not perfect, but if I’m really honest, I want you to think I am.

I want to learn the language well. I want to serve my neighbours well. I want to relate to my team well. I want to communicate to my supporters well. I want to write well.

I want to be the best missionary I can be. That’s a good goal, right?

“I can tell. You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?” my colleague commented. While I certainly knew I wasn’t perfect (sinner saved by grace!), pegging me as a perfectionist felt like something to be proud of. Like you could trust the quality of my work because, well, I did it.

I think perfectionism is born out of the misguided belief that if you are careful enough, virtuous enough, perfect enough, then whatever it is you fear, won’t devour you. Better yet, it won’t even exist.

she could have done better

My deep down darkest fear is rejection. I’m afraid I’ll always be making language mistakes and never be taken seriously. I’m afraid my neighbours and teammates won’t like me, my supporters will move on to more exciting missionaries, and you’ll think my writing sucks.

So I bank on perfectionism because if you like what I do, maybe you’ll accept me as well. With the language I pretend to understand more than I do, jumping to conclusions instead of asking for an explanation. I try to impress my neighbours and teammates with thoughtfulness and conjured spirituality. I try to impress supporters with engaging newsletters. I try to impress you with thought-provoking and inspiring blog posts.

The truth is: Perfectionism is no saviour. It’s a prison.

Last Sunday at our expat fellowship a long time missionary talked about a conference he recently attended. While all these big and important people gave talks at the front on the mission work of this particular group, in the back sat a quiet row of older national men. A generation ago, at great cost to themselves and their families, these men opened whole areas of our island to the gospel. They were pioneers, enduring even the martyrdom of family members for the sake of the cross.

While I’m busy grasping greedily for your approval and acceptance through perfectionism, in the back row sit the quiet faithful.

At fellowship we read the famous passage from Philippians 2:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the very nature of God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Jesus, the God-man with the whole of heaven at his command, used none of it to his own advantage. He humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death.

Throughout the gospels we see example after example of Jesus doing something radical, even distasteful, every time the favour of the crowd turns towards him.

Jesus feeds 4,000 but doesn’t stick around. He is transfigured in the presence of his disciples and makes them promise to tell no one. He calms the sea, and when they reach shore, He goes to heal the strong man tortured by demons — and the people drive him out of town. Immediately after the triumphant entry to Jerusalem, Jesus enters the temple and in a fury throws over tables.

About the people who praised Jesus, even those who believed in him, it’s written in John 2:24-25, “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”

How is it then that I, as a Jesus follower, perfect my talents and abilities to my own advantage with the hope I will receive crowd approval?

If perfectionism is the prison, proof of my enslavement to the thoughts and opinions of others, then dying is the key. Embracing the cross, counting myself as dead with Christ, is the only way out of the cell. It’s the only way to really live.

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

Rejection is my deepest fear, and while I embrace chains of perfectionism holding out for fleeting approval from the world around me, Jesus is calling out, “Don’t look to them, follow me. I love you. I gave myself up for you. You are accepted not because of who you are or what you do, but because of who I am and what I did.”

As I wrestle with this truth, I’m still learning what it means to live it out day to day. I know I can be more honest in my conversations and ask for help when I don’t understand. I can look for ways to serve my neighbours and teammates with no strings attached. I can write my supporters newsletter stories focusing on what God is doing in others, rather than what I am doing for others. I can write to you with honesty and vulnerability, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’m learning that doing well doesn’t depend on how capable I am, but on who holds my gaze.

 “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1b-2


A final word: Ditching perfectionism doesn’t mean settling for shoddy work. We still do our best. Ultimately, all of this is about who gets the glory – Me? Or the Lord?

Dear Oldies (a letter from a newbie)

I'm pretty sure this is what I looked like stepping off the plane.

Hi there. It’s me, the Newbie. I read the 5 tips for Newbies about building relationships with Oldies and figured since the line of communication opened, I’d go ahead and share too. At a year and a half in country, I’m just over the ‘how in the world do I bake with a gas mark oven’ stage. I noticed sometimes my early days had a tendency to either annoy or worry you.

If I may, here are five Newbie observations. Perhaps they can help bridge the Oldie/Newbie relationship gap.

Here goes…

Just so you know, you’re kind of scary.
The culture, language, food, greetings, clothing, toilets… everything is different. We have no idea where we fit within the culture, and that includes our place in the missionary community. Combine all those insecure feelings with meeting you Oldies, and it can be a little intimidating. I mean, you were speaking tonal languages and ushering God’s kingdom in to dark places before I graduated high school (and some of you before I was born!).

I am full of enthusiasm for my new life in missions and probably a bit annoying because of it. I get that you’ve seen a lot of enthusiastic people arrive only to leave within a few years. With so many of us fizzling out, I understand if you are hesitant to offer friendship.

If you can’t be my friend, please do offer your hand. A smile, introduction, and warm handshake go a long way. It helps me know that while I’m struggling to find my feet, I do indeed have a place here and that even if you are distant at the moment, you ultimately hope good things for me.

One upping isn’t helpful (unless it’s really funny).
It’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one who has awful experiences, but sometimes there’s a tendency to one up which actually makes me feel worse. Instead of responding to my awful story with your own even more awful story and a hearty, “So if I could do it you can too!” Try this, “I had some really terrible times in my first year too. Here’s what really helped…” Share your story, but with the motivation to help me through my struggle.

When it comes to one upping the only kind that could be helpful are the really funny stories. By all means, tell me about how you made a fool of yourself when you went to the store to buy a CD and instead asked the clerk if they had any underwear. Laughing with you completely makes my day.

Honor the past but live in the present.
I know you’ve had your heart broken many times in this highly mobile community. You’ve invested in friendships only to be left behind as they return to home countries or move on to new assignments. So when you reach out or respond to my efforts to build a friendship, I don’t take it lightly. I know that opening your heart to me is costly. Here’s the thing though, sometimes it can feel like I’ve been invited to someone else’s high school reunion.

It’s cool to hear about so-and-so however many years ago, but when old friends and old memories are all that gets talked about, I’m left feeling even more out of place than if I hadn’t been invited.

I’m all for honoring your past relationships. I enjoy hearing about that crazy time you and she had to hitch hike back to town in a thunderstorm because you accidentally backed your car into a ditch. But if all I did was talk about the good old times with everyone back home, you’d grow tired of it too. You’d think, “For crying out loud. You live here now!”

Let’s make a commitment to each other – We’ll honor each other’s pasts, but we’ll also live and make new memories in the present.

My expectations are out of whack. Help me refine/form new ones.
I know expectations set me up for disappointment. I know “Ditch your expectations” is the golden rule of Newbie survival, but no matter how I try to assess and strip away any sort of expectation of life on the field, it’s still a totally impossible task. I may do great at resetting my expectations of what my home or relationships with my neighbors will be like, only to be completely thrown by how sketchy the internet service is or that the majority of available vegetables are leafy greens.

You can’t possibly tell me every detail about life here upfront, but you can point me back to center when my unknown expectations throw me for a loop.

“Kangkung makes a good salad, or you can cook it with onion and garlic. It’s a bit like baby spinach.” Or “With the internet I find e-mail works well, but Facebook is always a struggle” is much more helpful than, “Yes, but that’s just the way it is. You’ll get used to it.”

hope despair

A little empathy goes a long way.
At the beginning, a decent amount of my problems are in my head. Sure, there are always practical ways I need help (tell me again, where do I buy eggs?), but the real troublesome emotional stuff probably doesn’t exist in any sort of concrete way. Maybe I’m homesick and spend an inordinate amount of time on social media. Maybe the water stains on the lower third of the walls are a serious pet peeve, and I spend all my spare time for a month obsessively repairing it. Maybe I’m compulsively eating chocolate and popcorn to stifle panic attacks.

In To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee wrote, “You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it,”.

It’s a real mistake to think you understand what someone is going through just because you were once a Newbie yourself. Yes, we certainly have shared experiences, and there are general feelings among Newbies, but each of us processes and adjusts differently. This is where practicing empathy can make a huge difference.

If you can take a step back for a moment and focus on what the clearly out-of-their-mind Newbie in front of you is saying and imagine what it must feel like from their perspective, and then reflect those thoughts back, you will melt away our tension.

Empathy doesn’t say, “I know what you’re going through,” but rather, “Yep, I hear you. Homeschooling during language school is incredibly tough. It makes sense that by the end of the day you are up to your ears arguing with your husband. You’re emotionally and physically tapped out. ”

Empathy considers and responds to the matter from the other person’s perspective. Once you’ve opened the door to our hearts through empathy, you’re in a good place to speak truths that we otherwise might not have been able to cope with hearing.

It takes up precious time, I realize, dealing with us Newbies. Some of us are easier to handle than others. But there’s one thing you should know – I am deeply appreciative of the time and effort you’ve poured into me.

One day I hope to be where you are, figuring out what in the world to do with all those Newbies.

With A Little Help From My Friends


A year ago my life could be described as a constant state of exhaustion, amoebic dysentery, language learning brain mush, and heat rash. I fought daily with my husband, picked bugs out of our food, yelled at bully neighbours, and told anyone who asked how I was doing, “Oh, I’m ok.”

Yeah… I was not ok.

Last year I needed friends. I needed to hear someone else’s awful stories. I needed a good dose of camaraderie and to hear someone say, “Girl, look. Here’s what Jesus did with my sucky stuff.” Call me naïve but without any sort of reference to how others struggle, I’d just thought they did it better.

Today, friends and I are here to share our struggles and what we’re learning. One thousand validating words of, Yeah, we’ve been there/are there too. At times this whole thing sucks for everyone, but don’t worry. Jesus has got this.

cs lewis quote

“When we left home and country and culture it was for a specific purpose and when God didn’t allow us to fulfil that purpose it felt like a betrayal. I had taken my goals and convinced myself that they were promises from God. What I’ve learned is that His ways are far different from mine and that I need to let go of my plans and, instead, wake up every day yielded to God and what HE has for me in that day.”

“Every day I struggle with balancing motherhood, homeschooling, cooking from scratch, language study, spending time with the people, doing medical work, etc. I’ve struggled with it so much that a couple years ago my health fell apart and I’m still suffering the consequences of that. I’m learning to trust that, as I walk with God, I can step out in faith in each moment and do what I feel led to do and then I have to let go of the rest. Because, I’ve NEVER had a day in here when I got everything done that “needed” to get done.”

“One of the hardest things is everything. I can’t communicate with people around me, my husband and I seem to have different opinions on everything, I’m so consumed with trying to learn the language that I feel like a horrible mom, I can’t go for a walk any time and anywhere I want, and it’s too hot to think. What have I learned from it? God is still in process on this one….”

“The hardest thing was feeling like the outsider! Having to smile and nod all the time and fake laugh along when everyone else laughed. Lesson learnt: Spend time with the kids. The parents love you as you babysit, the kids love you and have no expectations or judgements on you as you fumble through the most basic words and learn the language at their level in small simple sentences. Eventually you can move from toddlers to kids, to teens, and then to adults, after all that’s how we all learn to talk.”

“For me, I’m still asking a lot of questions for which I have very few answers. What of my own culture, ways, methods, desires, conveniences, pleasures do I need to keep and which ones can I keep, or should? How do I want to adjust? What have I learned? Not one way fits all. Who am I now? I am nobody (other than the positions and roles I fill as dad and husband and etc…). Where do I fit in? I am really different than my wife! I’m not sure if I’ve learned anything yet.”

“The hardest thing about being a single woman on the mission field is when it seems like God is silent, especially when every decision I have to make seems like a major life decision. It’s lonely, and it’s hard to know how to follow God when I’m the sole person responsible for hearing him and making those decisions. I’m learning to sense God’s leading, to be more aware of the still small voice and the less-than-obvious ways that God speaks. I’m learning to trust God, and myself, in different situations. I know sometimes there are more than one “right thing” to do, and maybe no wrong choices. All I can do is choose a direction and take a step.”

“For me (it’s) been to step into their culture without fully understanding their worldview. I know about it, but I don’t think like they think or talk like they talk. It will take years to adapt. What I have learned from this is that what I think I know, I don’t know at all. I’m a square peg in a round hole in the process of getting the corners sanded off to eventually fit the hole God has called me to.”

“The hardest thing was actually coming back to my home culture. We were not prepared for the grief of losing our African home, all that we held dear for years. Most organizations and churches spend considerable time preparing missionaries for life overseas, but what about a life “after” overseas? Putting back together the pieces when things don’t work, don’t make sense and you don’t know what is next; and doing all that in a culture which seems more foreign than Africa ever did. What about when supporters desert you, friends don’t understand you, and others betray you? It is difficult to keep going.

Our family has learned a lot about our “home culture” and more about each other. We’ve grown into a deeper dependence on our Lord, as we turned to Him when wrestling with issues. We’ve learned that the Lord has good plans for us, even though they might be different than what we first thought.”


A year later there are still bugs in our food, frustrating neighbours, language brain mush, and occasional stomach issues. How am I doing? Oh I get by, pointed right back to Christ, with a little help from my friends.

Lost in Translation: 10 Foreign Language Fails

This lady. Yeah. I think we've all been there.
This lady. Yeah. I think we’ve all been there.

I’m Anisha, an American new (again) to living overseas. A year into life in Indonesia and the opportunities for making a fool of myself are endless. They are also endlessly hilarious if I let them be.

One of my favourite things to do is swap stories of culture and language blunders with fellow cross-cultural workers. Laughter is such good medicine and sometimes all it takes to lighten the load is a good laugh at ourselves. So I asked friends to share their funniest, most embarrassing moments with us and also included one of my own. Go ahead, laugh! I sure did.

Here goes…

In a small village in the mountains of Guatemala my American friend finally got up the courage to try to evangelise in Spanish. She was so pleased with herself when she said, “Sabes que Jesus murio en la Cruz para llevar tus pescado?” The group burst out laughing and when she asked her translator why, she was told, “You asked them if they knew Jesus died on the cross to take away their fish!” Turns out the word for fish ‘pescado’ is awfully close to the word for sin ‘pecado.’ A little boy in the group wanted to know why Jesus wanted to take away his fish.

When a Dutch friend served in Malawi, she tripped and fell into a ditch. Still getting to grips with English, when her male American colleague later asked if she was ok she responded, “Oh yes, really I’m fine. I just got a run in my pantie.” Only when she started to lift her long skirt to show him and saw his eyes wide with shock that she realised her mistake. She’d used the Dutch word ‘pantie’ instead of the full English word, “Oh! My pantie HOSE! My tights! So sorry! A run in my pantie HOSE!”

While learning the language in Tanzania my British friend kept confusing the local greeting word with the word for banana. Since Tanzanian greetings are long and require many repetitions of the greeting she soon became known as the Banana Lady.

My American friend serving in Cambodia wanted to compliment her house helper for a delicious lunch. Instead, all she managed to say was, “It was made of meat.”

Early in their time in Cambodia, the husband of said American friend went to the post office to pick up a package. The post office ladies, who are very chatty, asked what he does for a living. Trying to say that right now he was a student, he used the wrong vowel and instead it came out as, “Right now, I’m a horse.”

I live on the island of New Guinea where a 5th of the world’s languages are found. On our side of the island the trade language is Indonesian, but always wanting to try out new words in the tribal languages I was thrilled to learn the local greeting for women in my area. Seeing my friend, I smiled big and said, “Lauk!” She looked confused and the rest of our friends burst out laughing. I’d not given a breath between the ‘la’ and the ‘uk,’ and placed the emphasis on the wrong part of the word. I’d called my friend a vegetable.

My American team leader told me a hair salon story about an expat lady here in Indonesia who confused the word ‘rumput’ meaning grass with ‘rambut’ for hair and asked the stylist to just trim a little off her grass.

Along the same lines, a Dutch friend once told her Indonesian friend she’d eaten a delicious head ‘kepala’ at the beach instead of a delicious coconut ‘kalapa.’

Another Dutch friend told me a rather infamous language school story that frequently makes the rounds in our expat community. It goes like this… Smooshed in a taxi with the oppressive Indonesian heat beating down, an American man tells the passenger next to him that he’s hot and asks to open the window, at least that’s what he meant to say. Only our unfortunate language school student used the word ‘celana’ meaning pants instead of ‘gendela’ for window, resulting in him asking his fellow passenger, “I’m hot. Please open trousers.”

Our agency’s Swiss Director spent seven years in Albania. His wife, who is Albanian, says he learned the language pretty well. Albanian is a difficult language with 36 letter sounds. For example, the two different L’s. LL has a stronger sound than just L and changes word meanings. So the word ‘Djal’ means boy/son, but ‘Djall’ means devil. His wife laughs as she recalls how often he would remark to parents, “What a nice little devil you’ve got there!”


Oh the stories we could tell! Certainly living and working cross-culturally has it’s challenges, but there is also a good dose of hilarity, don’t you think? Now it’s your turn. What are your funniest, most embarrassing cross-cultural moments?