When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage

The words flew like arrows, each piercing through the thick air between us, not one missing it’s target, cutting deep into the flesh and tearing what we once held dear.  No amount of armor could protect us in this place, our hearts were open, bare, raw, and being ripped to shreds.

Yes we had taken that oath, we had stood before hundreds of our dearest friends and family and promised.

I will always love you.

I will always cherish you.

I will go through the fire with you.

I will always take your side.

And yet today here we stood, battle ready, armed to the teeth with every harsh word and criticism we could muster.  Fighting not as one, but against each other.

What was once one was very near to becoming tw0.

Although time (and the counsel of good friends) has helped reveal the things in our hearts that needed to change, and brought to light the errors in our thinking that took us to this awful place, I blame the mission field for our struggles.

Yes, we were not giving one another the attention we deserved.

Yes, we even had somewhere along the way stopped praying together.

Yes, we had allowed all sorts of weeds to grow in the field of our marriage.

But the question I have been asking this past season as we focus our attention together on building back what was lost is this– how did we get here?  What was it that distracted us or pulled us apart?  Like I said before, I blame the mission field.

Yes, I know all sorts of people are already looking for the comment button to tell me how any marriage can slip, and that no matter where you are, you have to work at it.

Yeah, I get that.

But the truth is most mission fields are like wild fires, burning out of control and consuming everything in their path.

We come in with a passion in our hearts for the lost, but instead often our entire lives are consumed in the flames.

(Know please that I say all this with out any hint of ‘better than thou sinner who liveth in the country you were born in’, I just need to say it like it is today. This gig is tough.)

In a few months we will celebrate our fourth year here in Ethiopia. We won’t likely throw a party, or even talk about it much. We’ve never been big on sentimental dates in our family. But as I sit here reflecting on what we have endured, as I look back to the struggles that our marriage has borne in these years, I feel that a celebration is in order.

Because we are survivors.

You see the conversation above was not the first like it, nor will it likely be the last. We have seen this desolate place in our marriage more times than I can count, and most of them have been since we moved here.  The constant frustration of clashing cultures, the feeling of not accomplishing much, the patience it takes to get through one day, it all threatens to rip a marriage from its foundation.

When we first moved here, I thought that it was funny that missionaries were so focused on when their “furlough” would take place or when they were going to get a “vacation,” I scoffed at their petty behavior and dove in head first to the work that we had come for. Soon after, things started to take their toll, our passion began to wane, and then I saw what they were talking about.

Today can I just honestly say what I’ve learned the past four years? Living on the mission field is hard on a marriage.

Brutal, in fact.

Jessie and I have realized that we need to do whatever it takes before it is too late. We are being more intentional about communicating, giving one another the time we need to rest, and trying to slow down the pace of life.

We’re learning that we must work hard to protect our marriages while overseas, and that God has to stay center.

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I wrote a book that came out several months ago, and one of the criticisms I have gotten was that I was too honest about the struggles that we bore when moving our family to Ethiopia. The book, ‘No Greater Love’ (Tyndale Press) came out in July and was quickly named the number one hot new release on Amazon.  I write about our journey overseas and into our current ministry, placing local widows with local orphans.

This week, I’m donating TEN copies of  No Greater Love to the community here at A Life Overseas. To enter, simply click on the rafflecopter giveaway below.

Entries will close Feb. 18, and you’d help us all out by sharing this post and giveaway with your friends. Good Luck!

* You can read more about Levi’s family and their journey bringing orphans and widows together locally at www.bringlove.in 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Struggling Missionaries (or, Does our Suffering Help the Cause?)

Something has changed. I am not sure exactly when it happened, and only in looking back can I see that it did.  But there is no arguing it; things are different now than when we first got off that plane. Back then we were fired up – and ready to take on the needs of the poor even if it meant that we had to sacrifice anything and everything of our own. We had just sold the sum of our earthly possessions back in America, and it was time to give it all for those in need.

That was almost four years ago.

Four years of power outages, bad roads, no money, missing home, water shortages, mystery sicknesses, car trouble, and countless cultural frustrations that brought us to our knees daily.  As evidence I submit the following, a photo of our first “kitchen” in Ethiopia.

Now, though, things are easy, or at least easier.

We used to wash dishes in tubs of cold, cloudy well water; we now have a $50 instant water heater next to the sink in our indoor kitchen. We used to spend hours waiting for taxi’s; we now drive a new (if you can call 1997 new) car that rarely breaks down and even has seat belts for all of the kids. We used to run out of water a few days a week; we now have a tank on the outside of our house that keeps the showers on even when the city pipes offer up nothing but air.

Not that life is all perfect and roses now. We still live in a foreign land, and people yell “Ferenj” (foreigner) at us when we walk down the street. Our skin is still the wrong color. We still can’t get Oreos or chocolate chips at the supermarket. On the other hand, we don’t even like Oreos anymore. You don’t miss what you can’t remember.

Part of me, though, feels that with this shift we are not here for the same reasons that we came for.  Even though I know that is not true. If anything, we are exponentially more effective today than when we first arrived.

We came to help orphans. When we got here we had to work at helping just one child. Now we help hundreds.

Less complications = more help.  Right?

The truth is, though, I kind of miss the struggle. I miss the closeness to God that I felt when I was hurting for the least of these. I miss feeling like I was doing something of value just by being here.

But should I? Was I ever really helping the kingdom more because the couch legs were falling off? Was I somehow holier when I smelled like a tribal person because the water had been out for two weeks?

People keep asking me when I will write a second book. My first was about how we sold everything to move to Ethiopia, messed up our perfect lives to rescue children who were being killed due to a tribal superstition, and nearly lost ourselves in the process. The second book, if I were to write one, would be boring as all get out! I am left to wonder what part of this change our lives has gone through is good.

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Today with this post I want to pose a question to all missionaries, missionary hopefuls, and missionary supporters.

I want to open a discussion about suffering and productivity. I honestly don’t know where I land on this. Some days I am all about making our home as comfortable as possible so that we can “last” longer in this place. Other days I am ready to give it all up so that I can help more people who have nothing themselves.

When visiting friends I can see that every missionary has a different point of view when it comes to how much is “enough”. I know it will never be the same for everyone. Still, I am left here wondering: is there a right and a wrong when it comes to how we should live as missionaries?

Okay.  Enough said by me.  What do you think?

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Levi Benkertlives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with his wife and four children where they together created a ministry called Bring Love In that unites widows from the local community with orphans from the government orphanages to create new families.  He wrote a book called No Greater Love and writes a personal blog at www.LeviBenkert.com

The Myth of a White Picket Fence – Part Two

Welcome back! Today we continue talking about the Myth of the White Picket Fence.  In Part One we addressed a few reasons why people refrain from responding to the call of God on their lives. We’ll touch on three more today.

4. “I am Staying Behind to Support The Missionaries” (and other silly excuses Christians use) 

We’ve all said this, or something similar. However, we get so comfortable in this place of “sending” that we forget that we ourselves are “sent” as well.

If you truly feel that God has placed on your life that you are one of the people who is called to “send” then I feel bad for you.  Not because you are going to miss out on the “adventures”, but because I have known people who really did take up the call to support, and I have to tell you, God just keeps pushing them to the limits.

Thankfully there is a flip side to this one as well.  You can’t out-give God!  It’s true, you can’t do it, but you surely will find yourselves in some very uncomfortable places when you try.

5. Fast and Furious (Jesus Style) 

Let’s stop pretending that just because something looks dangerous that it must not be from God. In fact, I think the opposite is true. When you feel that God is showing you an area of need that looks way to big for you to handle, that likely means you are on the right path.

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s going to cost more than you have, but it’s also right where He wants you to be. If I can encourage you just a little bit today, let me tell you:  Go for it!  Jump off that cliff, and stop holding onto the picket fences in your life.  They are only going to hold you back, and stop you from living the life that He wants for you, the one that is 100 times better than you could have ever dreamed!

6. Is that you God? 

I think we all get stuck in the place of wondering if we are hearing from Him or not. The last thing any of us wants to be is the guy who sold everything because “God” told us to, only to later realize that He wasn’t telling us anything of the sort.

I can tell you a few bits of advice that have worked well for us over the years when it comes to hearing his voice.

Seek council.  God will always put good people around you who can speak into your life.  Call them up and ask for their advice, but also be ready to go outside your normal circle sometimes. For instance, If you go to a hyper conservative church and you are going to ask them about the Tattoo ministry that God is calling you to start. You are likely to get the idea shot down. Be wise when seeking out advice. Find people you trust, who have shown that they themselves are willing to do whatever God asks of them.

Read your Bible!   Jesus was one dangerous dude when He walked the streets of our world. You will be energized to step out when you read what He has to say. Dig deep and understand what you are reading.

Look at your motives.  What could be driving you to feel this way? Is there something you are running from?  Is there a pattern in your life that you can call out when you look at your choices objectively?  Once we understand ourselves, we can discern the part of what we are hearing coming from our own desires, and the part He is truly speaking to us. We have to know ourselves before we can listen for the whisper.

Just go!  God is calling you, so there is no worry about having to discern if that part is real.  It is!  The questions are when? where? and how?

Before I go, you need to know, I am by no means an expert on the topic of cliff jumping for Him. I fail hard all over the road on these issues, and my aim wanders from where it should be more often than I care to admit. One thing I can say with absolute authority is this, every one of us should hold nothing back from the One who created us!

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You are invited into the conversation, share where you are at, make this your community, let us know if you are getting ready to jump off the cliff, or maybe you are stuck in the black hole and need a hand up.  We are here for you!

Levi Benkert — Ethiopia. work: Bring Love In  book: No Greater Love blog: www.LeviBenkert.com

The Myth of a White Picket Fence – Part One

White picket fences– I am not a big fan. I’m more of a modernist when it comes to architecture; I see them as a bit of a antiquity in the design department.  But we’re talking about a different kind of white picket fence today.

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So many people have come up to me and boldly said,  “God told me to sell everything and __________” I can almost hear the painful sting as those haunting words pass over their lips. Until recently, I have felt unqualified to to speak into someone’s life just a few moments after meeting them.

After months of praying about it, and thinking it through, I actually do have something to say to anyone who feels that they are called to more.

This post is for everyone who feels that God has called them to “sell everything and _______”, but I must warn you, this is not a program for following Christ the easy way.

This missionary gig is tough! But I tell you one thing that I know to be true; if you feel God calling, you better get on with it now because it is only going to get harder as time goes on.  And so I offer up this list today for anyone who has heard the call to more.

1. The problem with white picket fences

Security isn’t real, it’s an illusion we created to make us feel safe. The truth is, if God wants us to stay safe He will keep us safe, and if He wants us to struggle, then struggle we will, no matter what kind of security blankets we have built around our perfect little lives.

I should know, I once owned a 30 million dollar business, bought the most expensive house in our city, and had millions in the bank. Only to watch it all slip away from my grip in mere months.  Security is an illusion.

God gave us this gift: Life. Then He comes along and asks for it back and like defiant little children we stomp our feet and we scream, “Mine!”

Then we saunter off and try to create something better than what He planned for us, because we think we can do a better job than He can. We think He is going to ask us to do something “unsafe” and we make believe that we are in control.

 2. How many missionaries is too many?  

When I talk about missionaries I am not talking only about people who move overseas. Maybe your mission field is right there in front of you. As Christians we need to start seeing ourselves as ready-to-go “missionaries” of God’s, who aren’t holding back anything from Him. There are never enough missionaries.

Christian = Missionary. There should be no distinction.

What this world of His needs is more people who see their stuff as expendable, and their life as a valuable gift that we give back to Him out of thankfulness.

Many of us are scared that He will ask us to “sell everything” but the truth is He already did.

Luke 12:33 spells it out just as plainly as possible.

“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

I can already see many of you squirming in your comfy chairs, wondering if maybe Levi went off the deep end.

“Do I even know who this crazy guy is who is trying to tell me to sell everything I own?”

No, you likely don’t know me. If you are anything like me, though, God uses people in our lives to give us the nudge we need. Today might be one of those times.

Should we go list everything we own on Craigslist? Yes and no.

Maybe we don’t need to physically get rid of everything that we own, but we need to start living as though it were all worthless. If something that we own is more valuable to us than He is, then we should get rid of it.

Ouch! It hurts, but there is another side to the pain.

“And He said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”” Luke 22:35

The flip side of selling everything? We will in turn lack, “nothing”!

 3. The Black Hole. 

The conversation goes all over the map when it comes to the “why not?” For some it is the fear of family, what might they say, or think about such a crazy move. For others it is the fear of failure. For others it is more about the technical aspects.

Either way, we must not get stuck in this place. When we feel the call, our first reaction needs to be to bury ourselves deep into Him, and keep moving forward.

This is the season that I call The Black Hole, because so-so many get stuck here and never go another step.

I pray for you if you are here today, not because I see myself as above you, but because I have spent many years in this place and I feel your pain, I often return here.

My punch card is full from so many Black Hole visits.

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Come back tomorrow for the second part of this talk of White Picket Fences. Before you go… the top of this site says “Missions Conversation”. You are invited into the conversation, share where you are at, make this your community, let us know if you are getting ready to jump off the cliff, or maybe you are stuck in the black hole and need a hand up.  We are here for you!

Levi Benkert — Ethiopia. work: Bring Love In  book: No Greater Love blog: www.LeviBenkert.com

Coming Soon!

a Life Overseas will be officially launching November 15th. This collective blog-site will be a space to encourage, challenge, and help missionaries and humanitarian workers living overseas. Our articles will spark honest conversation, ask hard questions, and give glimpses into the realities of the missionary lifestyle. We have a line-up of writers from all over the globe, most of whom have logged years of experience in international living and many of whom have published books. Feel free to look around, but please know that surfing our site now will be a little like walking through a framed house without sheetrock or seeing the bride when she’s barely finished with her makeup —

we have a lot more building, and polishing, to do around here.

Please be sure to stop back by mid-November where we will officially be launching this new community. Until then, feel free to go ahead and join our facebook page.

Thanks for your patience,

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