A Simple Tool to Increase Stability for TCKs During Transitions

 

Seedlings

I once took a class about missionary family health. The instructor pulled a seedling from its little terra cotta pot, exposing its threadlike roots. She held it up with two fingers. 

“Seedlings are fragile,” she said. “And they’re especially vulnerable when they’re being transplanted. The longer the roots are exposed, the more likely it is that the plant’s health will suffer. Your kids are young and fragile, too, so make sure your family transition periods don’t last too long–get your family stable as soon as possible and don’t let transitions drag on and on.” 

I thought back to my first six years as a parent. It seemed like one long transition, punctuated by brief moments of normalcy. I wondered if my children’s little “roots” had been irrevocably damaged. Dried up and shriveled, unable to take nourishment. 

If I could talk to myself as a young missionary mama, I would tell her that yes, disruption in routine causes discipline issues, anxiety, and relational strife. But I would also reassure her that she can create a little piece of stability all around herself. I would remind her about the time that she dreamed she was like a boat bringing people safely across a stormy sea, and I would tell her that, to her children, home is wherever she is.

And I would buy her a big box of sticky notes and a sharpie. Here’s why.

What To Do With Sticky Notes and Sharpies

1. Write Down Your Schedule

Sometimes the only indication that a child is stressed during a transition is that they suddenly start whining and clinging. They might cling to you, have trouble sleeping, or have trouble switching activities.

It took me years to realize that I contributed to transition-related clinginess in my son. He was so flexible and easygoing that I dragged him around from one thing to the next. I assumed that he knew “The Plan.” Until one day when he burst into tears and said, “Mommy, I had no idea we were going to ___’s house. All you guys ever say is ‘get in the car.’ You never tell me where we’re going!” 

Poor kid! I was so busy keeping all the plates spinning that I forgot to communicate our plans.

Even the most laid-back child benefits from seeing the family schedule. Sticky notes to the rescue! You can use one color for rhythm-related items— meals, chores, hygiene, and sleep— and another color for variable items like visiting people, going on outings, etc. Or you could just write your general “to dos” on one sticky note and discuss it with the whole family at breakfast. Kids who feel anxious might even like to have their own note so they can check what’s coming next. 

You might not always know everything that will happen in a day, and that’s okay, too. It helps my son to let him know which times of the day are flexible/unknown. You could do that with another color of sticky note, or just write “flexible time.”

2. Write Down Behavior Goals

Introduce enough jet lag and even the most well-behaved kids can seem like untrained miscreants. This is hard when you are living with your in-laws for two months on home assignment, or when you’re on vacation in Thailand and there is no naughty step like you have at home. It helps to remember that it’s normal for kids to get off-track and for you to have to reign things in again.

Personally, though, I don’t have the mental and emotional capacity to plan a response to a discipline issue on the spur of the moment during a transition. So, if I notice unwanted behavior patterns, I take a little time when the kids are asleep to make a plan. Then I post the plan where we can all see and remember it. Sticky notes are a portable way to do that.

They can also be used to keep track of progress. When we were moving out of India, things were all kinds of crazy. I quickly realized my kids were ignoring me. First, I sat them down and explained the need to listen better. Then, for two weeks, every time they came when we called them, we drew them a star on their own sticky note. And every time the sticky note accumulated 50 stars, we bought them ice cream cones– a huge deal for them because we don’t eat a lot of desserts!

This was easy for me to remember and implement, hard to lose because it fit in my back pocket, and motivating for my kids, who were really proud of themselves for listening well. Because in the end, they really wanted to listen and obey, but just like us, they got distracted with all the extra things they had to process and think about. They needed extra support, reminders, and patience from us as parents to help them succeed.

3. Play

Although my kids love traveling, they often bicker when we are in transition. They usually need one of several things: a break from each other, more one-on-one time with Mom or Dad, or quality time with each other. The problem is, it can be difficult to find time for these things during transitions.

My husband and I discovered a pocket of precious time hiding right under our noses. One day while on a long flight, we decided to play with our kids instead of watching in-flight entertainment. We found that airplanes are a surprisingly great place to get one-on-one time with children. It’s a small investment of time, but it goes a long way toward filling their love cups. 

You could try playing tic-tac-toe or other games with your sticky notes, writing down things you’re thankful for, listing things you loved about the place you’re leaving, or sketching out plans for the next place. My personal favorite is to secretly brainstorm how to be a blessing to the other sibling(s). You could help a child write affirmations for his siblings and hide them in his stuff when he gets up to use the restroom. Or, using your sticky notes again, you could make animated “movie” flip books.

We all have more fun and arrive more emotionally fulfilled if we play with our kids in airports and on airplanes. 

Seedlings in Transition

When my family lived in the mountains of India, I used to ride my bike up our Himalayan valley to a shop near a carved wooden temple. There a man stood selling seedlings. He would wait all day, whether it was raining or dry, hot or cool. Next to him, on a tarp on the ground, sat seedlings, their roots wrapped in dirt and a wet piece of newspaper. Those seedlings survived days of waiting and a jostling ride in my backpack until I could get them home and plant them in the good soil of my garden.

Transitions aren’t easy on children — or parents. We won’t always handle disruptions perfectly, and we won’t always have easy solutions to problems. But with Jesus and some sticky notes (or whatever method works for you) we can wrap our fragile little ones in a stable family environment, so they can bloom wherever, and whenever, they are planted.

A Pocket Guide for Talking to Missionaries: Dozens of Missionaries Open Up About Questions They Love and Questions They Don’t

“Soooo…..how’s Mongolia?”

Let’s be realistic here. There really is no perfect way to start a conversation in the church foyer with someone you haven’t seen in three years. Especially if that person has been living in Mongolia. 

Uh, Mongolia’s good. All good. Cold, but good.

Cue awkward silence while both parties are nodding and fake smiling. 

But hey, at least this person remembered the name of the country. That counts for something. Especially because any missionary will tell you that the awkwardness of “How’s [fill in the blank country name]?” is eclipsed only by the even awkwarder question “How was your trip?”

My “trip” that took three years and included a child being born, another almost dying of malaria, a church plant, five moves, one flood, a new language, and an unfortunate incident involving a police officer and a scorpion? That trip? Um, it was good.

We know you mean well. We’re thankful you’re even talking to us. It’s far worse standing in a church lobby with no one to talk to (because that’s happened too). We’ve got gobs of grace for awkward questions. But may we offer some suggestions? 

We asked some cross-cultural missionaries which questions they dread (and what they would love to be asked!). Want to make a missionary’s day? Keep reading.

The Church Foyer Questions (a.k.a. Small Talk)

Don’t ask questions that assume they feel at home.

Ashleigh: One question I dread is, “Aren’t you happy to be home? or “Do you miss it here?” How do I answer either one of those? I can’t explain myself because often I don’t know what home is or how I feel about either location. I love both, but I also miss the other when I’m not there. 

Meredith: When they come back to their sending country for furlough, don’t say, “It must be great to be home!” The place where they serve is becoming home. 

Instead ask questions that reconnect.

“We’re so happy to see you! It must be so disorienting to be back here after so long. I’m ____, in case you forgot.” 

“Can you remind me of your kids’ names and ages?”

“How long was your plane ride? What airports did you pass through?”  

“What weather change did you experience when you got on a plane there and arrived here?” 

“Who are the people you’ve been excited to see?” 

Or ask about something specific from their recent newsletter or social media post. 

Don’t ask how their vacation is going.

Lynette: Although I may be home on furlough, it’s still not a holiday! Many missionaries spend their “holiday” in their home country, but it’s far from restful. Fundraising, updating, and meeting sponsors simply have to be done and are vital to continuing the mission, but it’s not a break from the work. Only a different environment.

Jenny: Don’t assume their furlough or stateside visit is restful or that they are on an extended vacation.

This question is so discouraging that we wrote a whole post on it.

Instead ask what this time looks like for them.

“I know you’re working hard while you are here. What does your time here look like?”

“Will you be able to take a vacation?” 

“What fun things are you looking forward to doing while you are here?” 

“What’s the restaurant everybody in your family wanted to visit first?” (Bonus points for following this up with: Can I take you to lunch there after the service?) 

Bottom line: Assume your visiting missionaries are feeling awkward and disoriented. Keep it light. Keep it welcoming. Don’t monopolize their time. Introduce them to others. Save the deeper stuff for when you have more time to chat.

The Coffee, Dinner, or Small Group Questions

Don’t ask questions about a “typical” day or week.

Joshua: [I dread being asked] “What does a typical week look like?”

Fred: [I dread being asked] “What does a typical day look like?” I love the heart behind this one, and it’s heading in the right direction! You are trying to get a picture of what life looks like, and that’s awesome! 

Most missionaries don’t have a typical day or week. Instead ask more specific questions.

Marilyn: “How is life different for your family there than it is in the U.S.?”

Joshua: “What do you love about your city? (Or about the people where you serve?)”

Jean: “What breaks your heart?”

Linda: “Where have you seen God at work?” 

Kimberly: I love any questions about what we see as cultural differences, church differences, ministry differences.  I love explaining that I feel both cultures can learn from each other. 

Don’t ask questions that assume the worst about their host country.

Amanda: Don’t ask about the weirdest food we eat. It’s not “weird” in our host country—it’s normal and cultural.  

Matyas: I don’t like questions about politics through the lens that the person asking already has a “right” answer. For example: “Is Hungary a dictatorship?” This assumes they already think Hungary is, and they aren’t open to changing their perspective after they hear the answer.

Heather: “Doesn’t it make you thankful for how blessed we are here (meaning America)?”

Angela: “Is it safe?” I hate this question. Most people don’t understand the complexity of answering this question as a single female in the field. [For thoughts on safety overseas, go here.]

Instead ask open-ended questions about cross-cultural life.

Ashleigh: One question that I love is, “What was your first/biggest culture shock?” And I think it is a great question because it is always so unique to each person, and so incredibly different depending on the cultural context.

Stephanie: Missionaries appreciate humor and being asked about normal life things! It’s lonely out there, and we want everyday-type of connection.

Matyas:  I like questions about people. “How are the people thinking or how are they different?” I like to talk about different cultures and different worldviews. 

Rachel: “What makes London [or host city] feel like home? What are your favorite local places/people, etc.?”

A.W. Workman: “How have you changed since you went overseas?” 

Don’t ask why they aren’t serving in their home country instead of abroad.

Peggy: “Why are you helping kids in Africa when so many kids in our own country need help?” I get this question surprisingly often.

Megan: “Couldn’t you do that in America?” (‘that’ being coaching, cross-cultural outreach, immigrant work, etc.) 

When it comes from Christians, this question is demoralizing since the Bible makes it clear that reaching the nations should be a priority. If you’re not convinced, take a Perspectives class

Don’t get too personal.  

Kendra: Don’t put pressure on the single missionaries to talk about being single on the mission field. There’s so much more to a person than their marital status. You wouldn’t ask any other secular professional about their personal life…it would be considered very inappropriate and crossing a lot of boundaries. Chances are their work and their people are what they’re in love with currently anyway. 

Rachel: [I dread] questions to or about our teens/kids that assume they are spiritually ‘solid,’ or consider themselves to be missionaries, without realizing that (like most kids) their faith may be still developing.

Beth: We’ve been asked, “How’s your marriage going?” How can we possibly answer that question in a group setting with people we don’t know well (or could remove our funding!)? 

Instead, save these questions for close relationships or a member care/debrief setting (see the next section below).

Bottom line: Be curious. Yes, ask about their ministry, but also ask the non-spiritual questions

Questions for Missions Care Teams and Close Friends

Bottom line (but at the top because it’s that important): Most people don’t have to worry about losing their job when they share about personal struggles. Missionaries do. Only ask these questions if you are ready to be a supportive, safe space for missionaries to be transparent. Be prepared to give them grace, not condemnation, and to help them get the help they need.

Don’t ask for numbers.

Jocelyn: Please don’t try to quantify work down to how many baptisms, healings, conversions we have been part of. We are broken and walk alongside broken people, and we are not responsible for numbers. We are responsible to love people. The complexity of the life situations and injustices we walk through with people as we work overseas are immense. We feel misunderstood by others when the validity of the work is quantified by “conversion stories” and “how many baptisms.”

Instead ask about the highs and lows of ministry.

Meredith: “Where have you seen the Lord at work? What’s the most encouraging (or discouraging) thing about your ministry right now?”

Brook: Ask questions about real people, like having the missionary choose one person they are working with and share either disappointments or exciting things they see in that person’s growth and maturity.

Jonathan Trotter: “What are your dreams? What are you looking forward to? How can we support you in the future?” 

Do ask about their health (physical, mental, spiritual, marriage & family) and support systems.

Matt: Senders in a position of responsibility should ask very direct questions about their missionary’s future. Are they planning well for future financial needs? Do they have adequate life insurance, and are they investing appropriately in their physical and mental health?

Audrey: So many missionaries deal with [trauma] and I believe it’s because people don’t know what to do that they tend to ignore it. Many things we face overseas are beyond the comprehension of those who live in our sending countries. Big issues are ignored, not because we are not loved, but because no one knows what to do or how to help. Civil wars, coups, abuse of power by those in authority, constant goodbyes as people come and go in your community — the trauma can be big or small, but it is very real.

Laura: Leave room for conversations about the hard stuff — marriages falling apart, frustrations with ministry, discouragement, feeling out of place in our passport countries, etc. We’re human, too. We’re not “saviors.” Treat us like regular folks and listen to our stuff, too.

Deanna: Is their children’s TCK identity being adequately cared for? Spousal relationship, prejudices toward the people/culture, and how God is working in that?  These can be pretty invasive questions, but it is necessary for missionaries to evaluate these hard topics and for those sending to help them with that, especially if their sending agency is hands-off or lacks resources.

Bottom line (repeated from the top because it’s that important): Most people don’t have to worry about losing their job when they share about personal struggles. Missionaries do. Only ask these questions if you are ready to be a supportive, safe space for missionaries to be transparent. Be prepared to give them grace, not condemnation, and to help them get the help they need.

Like everyone, missionaries want to be seen, heard, and understood. They want to be cared for and prayed for. 

So our last word of advice is to please listen and pray.  

Benjamin: Listen well, be curious, laugh lots. You don’t have to completely understand every nuance of the culture they’re serving in to be a great listener, empathize, and pray for them. 

Judi: Listen . . . Don’t talk. Don’t ask too many questions. Just listen. With eyes intent and an open heart.

Karin: Ask about their joys and their sorrows — really listen — and pray with them right there. Being heard, especially in our areas of grief and sorrow, means the world when we are travelling and speaking and sometimes feeling like everyone thinks we are better than we are!

Anna: Don’t talk. Listen. The end. 

Angie: The question I love is “How can we pray for you, your family, and the pastors you work with? Give us specifics.”  (When someone wants to know the specifics, it makes me feel truly cared for. They are not assuming they know what we need; they are asking for the details.)

We really don’t have words to express how grateful we are for those who love us and partner with us in taking Christ’s hope to the nations. Thank you for caring about missionaries!

You Know You’re Language Learning If…

I have three pieces of advice for adult language learners: talk to people, don’t panic, and trust your brain.

Language learning brings with it a whole host of new physical and mental sensations. You’re going to feel awkward and like a poser sometimes. Some days it will feel like your brain is going to explode, or like you’re not learning a new language so much as forgetting your first one. But if you keep talking with people and don’t let these new sensations worry you, your brain will do something magical for you: it will learn the language.

While you are giving it lots of meaning-rich input from actual people, and trying not to panic, your brain will be calculating. You’ll be going in there and dumping tons of new sounds, syllables, and meanings on the floor of your brain, and at first, your brain will be like, “Uh… housekeeping?”

But soon, your brain will perform a kind of miracle. It will start to categorize all that meaningless stuff. It will find boxes in a back room and start heaping verbs in there, along with images, sensations, and memories to add meaning to those verbs. Your inner librarian will start putting stuff in filing cabinets and shelving like items together. (Am I the only one who pictures their brain like a giant library?)

Anyway, when you’ve been listening and talking all day and your brain shuts down and you can’t remember your own name, rejoice and be exceeding glad. This is a good sign. It means your brain is doing so many important things in the background that it’s closed the library for the day. 

Don’t be surprised if you wake up remembering a random word for which you have no meaning. Go find the missing meaning, and you’ll never forget that word. Trust the process. And if you need a reminder that you’re not alone on this language learning journey, read on.

You Know You’re Language Learning If…

Even though it’s more expensive, you often shop at the Supermarket because you still can’t tell the difference between 12 and 267, and because at the Supermarket you don’t have to talk to strangers with the seven words that you do know.

Or, if you are more extroverted, you only shop at vegetable stands, and become best friends with all the vendors, and stay there all day talking about how many brothers and sisters everyone has within a five-mile radius.

Even though you can’t speak a complete sentence in your new language, you cannot remember the word for “beans” in your mother tongue. It has been replaced by the new-language equivalent. Even though you worry this is permanent, you are secretly proud of yourself.

If this is your third language, your brain keeps offering you words from your second language. You reject these. As a result, your brain purposefully forgets your second language, leading you to think it’s gone forever. (It’s not necessarily gone; it’s in storage. Just be sure to use it occasionally, or your inner librarian will chuck it in the dumpster.)

Talkative people who repeat themselves a lot are your favorite people in the world. Especially if they give you cake and frequently tell you what a good job you are doing.

You get the gist of what people are saying… except sometimes you’re wrong. Like when someone asks you a question, and you respond, “I like chicken,” except they didn’t actually ask you what your favorite food was but rather where you are going, and they look at you like you’re from another planet.

You are thrilled to realize that you now notice the spaces between words. Soon, you can identify and ask about a single word that you need a definition for.

You post so many words on your walls that your apartment starts to resemble the shack in A Beautiful Mind.

Someone mistakes you for a native speaker, and you are thrilled. The very next day, someone doesn’t understand you when you ask what time it is.

You make a funny language faux pas.

You make an X-rated language faux pas.

You are thankful that everyone laughs at your faux pas. You laugh, too. You even laugh when you don’t know why everyone is laughing, like a two-year-old at the dinner table. Which is great, except when someone asks you, “Do you understand why we’re laughing?” And you have to say no because Christians don’t lie.

Your kids correct your pronunciation.

Someone says your spouse is better than you at the language. That very same day, someone else says you are better than your spouse.

Because of the two previous points, you realize you might need the tiniest little vacation. And maybe some therapy.

Sometimes you think you might be fluent. You are talking quickly and everyone is understanding what you say. Until the next day, when you can’t remember the word for “the.”

You make your first real word-play joke in the language. However, the comedic effect is ruined when your friends try to correct what they assume is a mistake.

You ask for the Chinese newspaper on a Chinese airline, but when you try to ask the flight attendant for water in Mandarin, she looks at you with disdain and says, “Sure. You want me to bring you the English newspaper, too?” (True story!)

You start dreaming in your target language and understand everything better than in real life.

You tell someone the gospel story in your broken, weird, childish way… and their heart is touched, and they want to know more, and you feel like you could do this forever, even if it is hard on the pride.

What about you? How do you know you’re a language learner?

How to Serve Abroad Without a Savior Complex (an interview with Craig Greenfield)

by Rebecca Hopkins

Are you cautious about being a “white savior” but still feel called to be involved in mission work in other cultures? Craig Greenfield’s newest book, Subversive Mission: Serving as Outsiders in a World of Need offers five categories—catalyst, ally, seeker, midwife, and guide—for the outsider who wants to be sensitive to pitfalls such as power, money, and complicity that can trip up the most well-intentioned global worker. I recently sat down with Craig to talk about his new book. Before we get to that interview, here’s a bit more about Craig, for those of you who are unfamiliar with his work:

Craig Greenfield is the founder and director of Alongsiders International, a fast-growing movement mobilizing and equipping thousands of young Christians in 25 countries to walk alongside those who walk alone – vulnerable children in their own communities. Craig is the author of The Urban Halo (now available free on Craig’s website), Subversive Jesus, and Subversive Mission: serving as outsiders in a world of need. You can take a Missional Types test at www.craiggreenfield.com/missionaltypes to find out your unique gifting for cross-cultural ministry.

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I really enjoyed your book. I felt like this was the book I was missing a few years ago when I was really wrestling with this very issue. There was so much discussion about what wasn’t working in missions. And then there was this whole other conversation of, “Oh, nothing’s wrong.” But your book bridges that gap for people who see that some things aren’t working but who still want to be engaged and who wonder if there’s a different way to do things.

With the generation coming up, there’s a lot of paralysis. Many people still have a sense of being “called” and wanting to be connected with the wider world, but “missions” is tough for people to see themselves in.

Why is it important to continue to engage with the world?

Whether they’re across the street or across the oceans, Christians are called to love their neighbors, serve them, point them towards Jesus. A lot has changed, but that hasn’t changed. So how do we do that? That’s the question. In the past, we’ve sometimes done that in ways that were not so healthy or not so helpful. We need to try to do better and find ways that will be more healthy and helpful.

What problems were you solving with this book?

I wrote this book for two quite distinct audiences. I wrote it for those who perhaps are interested in engaging in mission but have not reflected deeply on some of the pitfalls, blind spots, or dangers of going cross-culturally. Often that’s not any fault of their own. There are just not that many books that go very deep into examining some of the systemic issues or that reflect on our own complicity in that history or even consider the idea that we are part of groups that have been part of colonialism. So I felt like we needed a book that would offer some hopefully healthy critique of how missions has been conducted.

But the flip side of that is that the general conversation in society has been, “missions is colonialism,” and there’s some truth to that. But that can lead to paralysis for people who have a passion or interest in issues of justice. So those people who have a sense of, “God is calling me to love people from another nation or serve or move,” they don’t see any way forward because missions carries so much heavy baggage. So then those people, on the flip side, need to see a way that they could serve and recognize some of the things that we want to leave behind, but offer them a pathway forward.

What do we lose if we just continue with the old patterns? Why have this kind of upheaval? It can feel destabilizing.

I think we would see the death of missions, certainly from the west. I wrote this book absolutely immersed in Asia and Africa during COVID and then came back to New Zealand. Going around talking about missions, it’s clear that there’s a massive downturn. One of my friends, Jay Matenga, who’s the head of missions at World Evangelical Alliance, said that for missions agencies, you can think of the analogy of an airplane. Some of them are massive jumbo jets, so they’re huge. And their trajectory is kind of up here. But it will go down. They’ve got further to go down but they’re now turning downwards. The small little missions, they’re already almost hitting the ground.

I was speaking at a missions course yesterday at a Bible college, and it was a compulsory course. But none of those people, as far as I knew, not one of them, was preparing to be a missionary. They were all preparing for other things in ministry. We are in a massive turning point. Unless we recognize the baggage of the past, deal with it, repent of it, and engage with new wineskins, that’s the end of that as far as I can see.

Do you call yourself a missionary at this point?

I don’t. Honestly I think the word has had its day. It carries way too much baggage. I consider myself a social entrepreneur because I identify with being a catalyst. The calling on my life is to help initiate things that will benefit the poor and the marginalized.

Interesting. Maybe “missionary” has always felt like too big of a term. You can be a doctor. You can be a teacher. You can be an evangelist. You can be a lot of different things without calling yourself a missionary. But the categories in your book (catalyst, ally, seeker, midwife, and guide) can really help people see themselves in the bigger picture.

Two nights ago I was on a Zoom call with 250 tech startup founders. All of them are young and gifted, and their startups are out to change the world. They want to create some ecological alternative to this or empower that group of people. So, these are 20- and 30- and maybe some 40-somethings who want to change the world, who will go through the exact same mistakes that we are pointing out that missionaries have gone through. They will also do it in quite a colonial and ignorant way, no doubt in my mind. But that’s where the energy is.

Something that I probably wasn’t very explicit about in the book is that the generations that are coming, from millennial and Gen Z, and Gen X to an extent, each generation has this major biblical theme that they are tasked with recapturing or are passionate about or energized by. I would say that these last couple of generations are energized by issues of justice. Once they examine missions through the lens of justice, they immediately see all the ways that missions has been yoked together with colonialism – or the empire, which is the biblical theme. They’re easily going to focus on the injustices even though there are many great things that were done historically. I said in my book that my grandfather and grandmother were missionaries who did good things. But they also did it in quite a colonial way. So, we need to learn from that and move on.

So what do we gain by using your new paradigm, your new way of seeing things?

Hopefully, we gain a framework in which people can see themselves that doesn’t hold the same issues of money and power, which are the twin pillars of colonialism or empire. Intuitively, people of these generations know that there are major issues around money and power, so they’re looking for ways to serve that deliberately strip those things away from the relationships we cultivate. So hopefully, it’s a framework for moving forward into cross-cultural service and ministry.

What do we lose if we disengage with other cultures?

We lose perspective, and if there’s anything the western church needs desperately needs right now, it’s perspective. I have just been so discouraged in many ways by what I see as I’m going around speaking in churches. We’re just looking at ourselves. It’s just a very therapeutic kind of faith. “God bring me what I need.” “You’re on my side.” “You will make a way for me.” And none of, “Lord, you love those who are downtrodden.” Or, “How can we walk in your footsteps?”

Anything else that you feel like you want people to know as they consider reading your book?

Hopefully people will also see it as helpful for domestic cross-cultural situations where we want to serve in places where we are not necessarily insiders. One of the things that they were saying yesterday in the missions course that I was teaching was that we could apply this even in our churches because people are looking for a more humble approach to service and leadership.

Very well said.

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Rebecca Hopkins (www.rebeccahopkins.org) is an Army brat, a former cross-cultural worker in Indonesia, and a freelance writer now based in Colorado. She covers missions, MKs, and spiritual abuse for publications like Christianity Today and The Roys Report. Trained as a journalist and shaped by the rich diversity of Indonesia, she loves dialogue, understanding, and truths that last past her latest address.

When Your TCK is Bullied

Praying for Answers

There was a time which seemed to last forever, a time when my kids got bullied.

I wish I could say that, because of my spiritual and emotional maturity and love for our host country’s people, I had a good attitude about this. But I didn’t. Instead, when my kids were hit with pebbles and sticks and had their ice creams thrown in the dirt and were told to go back to America, I wished mean things upon other people’s children. Like acne. Or sinkholes.

Thankfully, we were still learning the language at the time.

My children confided in me. They looked to me for answers I only wished I had. How could I help them? I tried talking to parents, and to the kids themselves, but it didn’t help. Thus began more than a year of research and problem-solving, in which I feared I’d wear out both Google and God, and pretty much everyone else I knew, in my quest for a solution. Perhaps you are facing a similar situation. If so, I want to share six strategies that worked well for us.

1. Give it to God

It can be difficult to know whether a given case of bullying is something that will burn our kids or refine them; crush them or make them stronger. I’ve found that, like in many parenting challenges, I have to bring this kind of issue before God and lay it at His feet, praying for wisdom and guidance. It’s possible that removing your kids from a bullying situation will be the best option. Or God might direct you to stay and work through it. Trust Him, and trust your instincts as a parent.

2. Teach Confidence

According to nearly every article I read on the Internet, bullies want an easy target. Someone who won’t fight back, who will give a good reaction—whining, crying, cowering, tattling. Bullies love this because makes them feel powerful, when, perhaps, they feel powerless in other areas of life. This is sad and disturbing, yet it is true in our sinful world.

I decided to focus on teaching and modeling confidence. We worked on standing straight, chin up; looking around; having a relaxed, pleasant expression. We worked on reacting to unkindness in a calm, amused manner or cheerfully ignoring insults. A fellow TCK mom and good friend of mine also recommended encouraging my kids to focus on people who do like them, and spending time and energy on those people and activities that bring joy.

I was recently with a group of expat teens who were asked to share their biggest struggle in their host country. Several mentioned not knowing the local language. It takes time and effort, but solid language skills can give a huge boost to confidence. If you’re looking for help in this area, you can check out my earlier article, 3 Ways to Help Your TCK with Language Learning. 

3. Stay Curious

I know how frustrating it is when your child asks you to explain someone’s behavior, and your only answer is, “Um, yeah, I have no idea.” It hurts our parental pride not to have tidy, sitcom-succinct answers. But press into that discomfort. You may find an opportunity to better understand your host culture.

Find a friend—a local mom, a thoughtful teenager, a language helper—someone you can talk to. Questions might include: Is this normal behavior? Is it seen as a problem here? What do people in your culture normally do about this issue? Why do you think it is happening? 

Involve your child in this cultural research. Approach it like a puzzle. By staying curious, you model how to approach the other cultural mysteries your child will face in his or her life. We learned that in our host country, hitting is seen as a problem-solving option for both children and adults. It’s a part of life. This helped us to see and understand the difference between frustrated, childish whacking and targeted hitting that is meant to intimidate.

4. Make Great Memories

Being bullied takes large withdrawals out of several banks, including the Bank of Self-Esteem and the Bank of Love for the Host Culture. You, as a parent, can help balance this by making deposits.

For the Bank of Self-Esteem, we arranged special times both as a family and for one-on-one dates with Mom or Dad. This gave us a chance to learn more about what each child loves and to give them opportunities to develop their talents and dive into their interests. Consider helping your kids find ways to serve your family such as cooking a meal or fixing bike tires. This will naturally increase self-esteem and put bullying in perspective.

For the Bank of Love for the Host Culture, we sought out other people and families and purposely spent time with those we all got along with. To help your child find new people to hang out with, you could help them join an art or sports club, or learn skills that are unique to your country. One TCK I know learned to play bagpipe when she lived in Scotland; another taught English classes in her Cambodian community; a third learned to tie a sari in India. Look beyond just peers — younger kids and elderly people are also great places to find positive relationships.

5. Be Creative

As I observed the neighbor kids interacting one afternoon, I had an epiphany. These kids were bored! And the more bored they felt, the more they pecked at each other. They needed something to do.

Now, gross motor stills are not my gift from Jesus. I spent most of my elementary PE classes feeling really, really confused. But I swallowed my pride, gathered some of the rocks the neighbor kids had been throwing at each other, and started a relay race. Surprisingly, the bullying nearly disappeared for several weeks. (And I had a childhood dream fulfilled when the kids rang our doorbell and asked me to play!)

Rock relay races may not be applicable in your circumstances, but the problem-solving principle might be. Maybe someone has a habit of putting others down to boost their self-image. Would a one-on-one playdate without group pressure help them feel less threatened? Maybe everyone else knows how to play soccer and your kids love basketball. Could they ask one of the friendlier kids to coach them? Pinpointing the reason for the bullying is the first step in equipping your child and/or other kids to redirect behavior and energy in more positive ways.

6. Practice Forgiveness

Six months after I started this journey with my kids, I got an email from a “mother in Israel,” an elderly woman who prays for us and our mission. She’d read a kids’ article I’d written about the bullying and advised my children to forgive their enemies. I read the letter, then looked around self-consciously. Did she know about the acne and sinkholes? And, more importantly, how did I forget about forgiveness?

I had taught my kids to be diplomatic, to act confident, to walk away, to be helpful to the neighbors, to love themselves as children of God despite their flaws, to know the bullying wasn’t their fault, to be willing to grow. . . . But I’d never mentioned forgiveness.

We began to pray for our enemies. It was hard. Hard for them and for their mama bear. I began a months-long dive into Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the sermon where this famous advice is given. Suddenly, it seemed, the entire sermon was about bullies and bullying and what we’re supposed to do about it all. 

I learned that Jesus wants us to see all people as just that: people. It’s easy to objectify someone who hurts us. Praying for our enemies, forgiving them, and even trying to love them leads us to see them as people. 

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to forgive. Because by forgiving, we realize that our bullies are just as in need of grace and help as we are.

Why We Stayed

I’ll be honest. At the beginning of our bullying journey, I was ready to pack up my cubs and move. After all, our landlord even confessed to our helper that his family moved out because of rude neighbors!

I submitted these plans to God… strictly as a formality. I mean, I assumed God had read all the same articles on bullying and depression and anxiety that I had. He would surely give us the green light and send us to a more emotionally functional neighborhood. But, long story short, God said no. I very clearly sensed Him telling me to wait. I second-guessed myself daily, and talked to God often, ready to rescue my kids from this trial at a moment’s notice.

But as I waited, something unexpected happened. I saw my children grow and mature. I saw them start living their faith. They began to lean on it and to depend on it. I watched them come to Jesus because they didn’t want to forgive, and I saw Jesus help them do the impossible. That is hard heart work. And in the end, this growing relationship with God was more valuable than the comfort of always being loved by everyone.

If you’d like to hear more about our journey, I’ve written about it on my newsletter, Whatsoever Things. I’d love to see you there.

Jesus, Take the Phone

My phone wouldn’t send a text message. It wouldn’t make a call. It wouldn’t even let me get online. And it had the audacity to continue not working even after I used the fail-safe method that cures all technology: turning my phone on and off again.

So I put my cell phone aside for the night. I’d already scrolled past 100 updates from 100 of my least favorite acquaintances. I guess I could go to bed an hour early, and it wouldn’t hurt too much. I figured the malady would surely be resolved by the morning– just another technological blip to annoy me.

Panic set in when my phone still wasn’t working the next day. Panic turned to anger after one online chat representative transferred me to another who kept telling me I needed to call the customer service line. How many times could I remind them that I didn’t have a working phone?

My shoulders were up by my ears, my jaw was clenched, and a barrage of ungrateful thoughts was running through my head . . . all aimed at the hapless employee who was absolutely not at fault for my non-working phone but had become an easy target for my frustration. I found myself apologizing, backpedaling, and stopping myself from treating this flesh-and-blood person as if she were as she appeared to me at that moment – three blinking dots on my computer screen.

The rest of the saga included borrowing a phone, 33 minutes on hold, four transfers, and two dropped calls. In the end, the phone company said they would send me a replacement part, which would take three business days to arrive. And today was Friday.

How would I survive?

I lost count of how many times I mindlessly picked up my phone and opened my email tab. When did life get so boring? Even though I had plenty to do, I was itching for my next fix. I needed a photo of a friend from junior high whom I haven’t seen in person for over 20 years. I was desperate to know what her lunch looked like! And surely I was missing out on all of the salient political points and religious insights being shared across all of my social media platforms. I felt so out of the loop! There was a whole world going on online, and I had been cut out of it. I felt like a 13-year-old who got uninvited to the sleepover.

These kinds of delays, breakdowns, and miscommunications were a normal part of my life when I lived overseas. I anticipated and accepted them as part of our crazy missional journey. I could even bring some curiosity into those experiences, wondering what they would reveal to me about the culture. But since returning to the U.S., my frustration fuse has shrunk. I want everything to work perfectly the first time, and I’m much less patient with my fellow Americans than I was with my Tanzanian friends because I’m always in a rush.

Case in point: within my first week of being home, I was using Google Maps, and an alert came across the screen letting me know that a better route was available. It could save me a whole three minutes! I literally laughed out loud at the ridiculous notion that getting there three minutes faster would matter. But it only took a few months before I was caught up once again in our go, go, go culture and happily accepting spare minutes anywhere I could find them.

Right before we returned to the U.S., God had started nudging me to cultivate silence in my life. So over the last 2 years, I’ve learned about meditation and contemplative prayer and found great solace in spending 10 minutes each morning soaking in God’s presence. But my recent phone-induced panic showed me that God now wanted to work on how I was filling the rest of my 23 hours and 50 minutes. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, the notifications on my phone and all of the apps and information it offered were filling my brain with far too much noise.

Technology is only part of this. Living on mission in any country can get real noisy real fast. There are always more demands for our attention and more problems to be solved than time to solve them. Like the insistent beeping of my phone, my desire to meet the endless needs of a hurting world around me can quickly wear me out and exhaust me if I’m not continually returning to God’s presence.

God has challenged me to give an honest accounting of how I spend my time. I’ve realized that whenever I had a free second, I was unconsciously reaching for my phone to fill the gap. It was easier to spend a few moments distracted by other people’s lives or witty memes than to reconnect with God’s presence or go to heaven in prayer or take a moment to say thank you. I had been enjoying my 10 minutes of quiet but not allowing the fruit of that time to spill over into the rest of my day.

So I asked for God’s forgiveness. I uninstalled some apps, put screen time limits on my phone, and asked for the Holy Spirit to intervene and turn my attention back to God when technology or anything else tries to steal it away. It’s a process of learning and unlearning. I’m hoping for progress and releasing any demands for perfection.

And I’m praying – Jesus, take the phone.


 

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Living on Support

Lois was only a few weeks away from death when I visited her in a nursing home. Lois was a widow, and she supported our ministry in Tanzania at $200 a month as a widow. By the time I could visit her, she had developed cancer. I told her how grateful we were that she supported our family so generously for so many years. 

“It’s my pleasure,” she told me, her eyes bright with the energy her body lacked. “You know, I discussed this with my kids. They agreed that they didn’t need a big inheritance. They are okay with me giving away my money to missionaries.” I sat there dumbfounded, tears in my eyes.  

In Tanzania, we attended a church where we were often the only non-Africans present. One Sunday, the preacher spoke passionately about God’s call to cross-cultural missions. Afterward, an African woman I had never met approached me. She smiled and said, “Thank you for serving as missionaries!” She handed me an envelope containing about $75 – a considerable amount for many Tanzanians. My eyes gaped. My mouth gaped. I’m sure I looked like a codfish. All I could think was, She probably needs this more than I do. Yet I knew it would insult her to refuse, so I sputtered out my thanks and hugged her.

Our mission organization keeps a database of every donation we’ve received since we first moved overseas in 2001. Sometimes I look at the cumulative totals our donors have given us, some going back 20 years. They could have gone on a nice vacation with that money, I think to myself. Maybe an Alaskan cruise. That family could have remodeled their kitchen or bought a car with these donations. And in one case, They could have bought another house with that money. Not kidding. A whole house. 

When we knew we would relocate from Tanzania to the States in 2020, my husband and I started a job search. We cast our net far and wide, looking at schools, churches, and non-profits. There was one thing, however, that I was adamant about: whatever we decided to do next, I did not want to be in a support-raising position. No siree. I had been there, done that. No matter how cool an opportunity sounded, if it required raising support, I was out. I’d lived on support for 18 years. It was time to move on. 

But I have this wonderful friend, Alyssa, who has this habit of drilling into my soul. So when I told her my intention of finding a regular, non-support-raising job, she was not satisfied. “Why not?” she insisted. “What if God shows you the perfect job that is a perfect fit for you, but you have to live on support? Would you still say no?”

It’s so irritating when Alyssa is right. A couple of months later, God dropped that exact scenario into my lap, and I was forced to reckon with my resistance to living on support. What was my problem? God had always provided abundantly for us through the generosity of others. I loved the relationships I had formed with supporters. So why did I hate it so much?

I thought of Lois, and the woman with the envelope at church, and the people who could have bought a house with their donations. I realized I hated how their generosity made me feel so….humbled.

When you are trained in support-raising methods, they tell you that “the ask” will be hard. It’s challenging to look someone in the eye and ask if they will sacrificially donate money so that you can fulfill your calling. But you know what they don’t tell you? That asking may be hard, but receiving is even harder. 

After all, I’m a good, hard-working American with some hefty bootstraps. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone. I don’t want anyone to sacrifice on my behalf. I’d rather earn my keep. 

And therein lies my problem. Living on support feels like grace, and I don’t like grace. 

Those words fly out of my brain and through my fingers, and I instantly feel foolish. Considering that grace is the heart of Christianity, you could say this attitude is a problem for someone following Christ. 

The Creator of the universe lowered Himself to become dependent on mortals, so who do I think I am that I should refuse to depend on others? Is this not the Lord’s earth, and everything in it? Is it not God who provides for my needs, even when I try to provide for myself?

Daily I must release my independence. I cannot be self-reliant, and when God provides through others, I must lower my pride and receive it. I am not in control; I cannot spend my money as though I deserve it, and I am reminded that I am only a steward of God’s resources. Ironically, living on support teaches me how I should be living as a Christian. 

I surrendered and said yes to the perfect job that was a perfect fit, even though it meant I had to rely on support. I am ground to the dust in gratitude for the three churches and 76 households who faithfully continue to financially support me. But Jesus spent a lot of time in the dust, so I love the opportunity to identify with Him. 

Photo by Andre Taissin on Unsplash

Some Seeds Die

When I was growing up, my family often sang prayers before mealtime. Our repertoire included “God is good and God is great,” “Hands, hands, hands,” and “I owe the Lord a morning song.” Another family favorite was the “Johnny Appleseed” song. Perhaps your family also sang this song. Based on the historic figure John Chapman, the legend of Johnny Appleseed has made its way into Disney movies, folklore, and prayer-songs[1].

The second verse of this song has not been sitting well with me for years. We sing:

“And every seed I sow, will grow into a tree.
And someday there will be apples there,
For everyone in the world to share.
The Lord’s been good to me.”

While I appreciate the encouraging, hopeful words, in recent years I have found that they grate at my soul. Is it ok to teach our children lies or half-truths, even in the context of a children’s song? Not every seed will grow. Jesus was clear about that. But this song gives us a nicer, cleaner, easier way to teach our children that seeds grow. We do learning activities with our children, and we assume that the seeds we plant in the little pots on our porch will grow.

But often they don’t.

I have learned this over the past decade of ministering in a slum community. Quite literally, many seeds do not grow. There is a grassy field only a stone’s throw from our house. We would love to plant small trees there, or flowers, or vegetables. But the roaming sheep and goats immediately devour anything edible. We recently tried transplanting a fairly good-sized tree from a pot to this field. Within an hour the goats had devoured all the leaves and left it a bare stick. Our six-year-old son cried as he watched our plant get eaten.

Even the pots on our porch often fail to produce the plants we were expecting to grow. Whether it is the neighboring chickens that wander onto our porch to eat the new seedlings or a curious child who decides to pick at the pots, new seeds often have no chance to grow. We did a gardening activity with thirty of our elementary school students recently: planting spinach, chili peppers, and kangkong. We faithfully watered the thirty little pots. Hopeful sprouts sprang up. But now a month later, two small pots are all that remain.

Sadly, ministering in hard settings often yields similar results as our gardening efforts in the slum. Have you been in your location for years but not seen anyone come to know Jesus? Do you know the heartbreak and despair of sowing for years but not seeing any fruit? Have you poured yourself into the work and not seen what you had hoped to see? Or perhaps the pain and disappointment is related to your team? Have people you trusted and mentored not produced the fruit you were hoping for?

These past few months have felt like a season of pruning for me. Teammates have left. We had to send an intern home suddenly because of a breach of trust. And multiple students that we had poured into have stopped coming to lessons. Sometimes the heartbreak feels too much to bear.

So I have started singing a new version of the Johnny Appleseed song with my children:

“And every seed I sow will grow into a tree.
But that is not true, ‘cause some seeds die.
And then I’ll sit on the ground and cry:
‘The Lord’s still good to me. Even when the seeds die.’”

This feels more in line with Scripture. Some seeds die. Three quarters of the seeds, in fact, if Jesus’s parable of the soils is mathematical. Some seeds fall on the path and are eaten by birds. Other seeds fall on rocky soil and cannot grow. Some seeds begin to grow but are choked by the worries and riches of this world. Only a quarter of the seeds fall on good soil. (See Matthew 13 for more details.)

Wherever you are, wherever you are sowing seeds, may you be encouraged today. Not with an “everything will be ok” or “every seed will grow” lie. But may you be encouraged to lament the areas in your life and ministry that are disappointing. May you know today that God sees, God hears, and God cares.

And may we be able to join our voice with the voice of the prophet Habakkuk and proclaim:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)


[1] As I wrote this article and googled the song, I discovered that it was actually created by Disney in 1948, originally titled “The Lord is Good to Me.” However, the words that I grew up singing are different than the original.

You know about jet lag. Do you know about heart lag?

Jet lag, sweet terrible jet lag. It leads to entire chocolate bars consumed at three in the morning or entire novels devoured in the first three days after an international flight. Might lead to sickness, crabbiness, headaches, complaints, arguments. Every expatriate knows about jet lag.

But do you know about heart lag?

Every time I come back to Djibouti or go back to Minnesota, I feel shock. And then I feel shock that I feel shock. It has been twelve years; I should be used to the coming and going by now. I thought after a decade the transition would get easier, but I find my heart lagging more and more behind my body.

In some ways it does get easier. I know our routine and our stores and our friends and the languages. But in some ways I find the return more jarring than ever, increasingly so. Why?

Expectations. expect not to be jarred, not to be shocked. I expect both sides of the ocean to feel normal, and they do. But when those two normals are so far from each other, when one is green and leafy and one is brown and dusty, when one sounds like robins and one sounds like the call to prayer, the normality of such variance is shocking.

Deeper Cultural Knowledge. Now I am aware of the deeper differences. I see beyond the tourist-culture-shock things like garbage and the driving and the heat and the clothes. I see the values, the fundamental differences in worldview, the different political structures and family functions and religious practices. And these differences both rub against the deeper things of my soul and resonate with those deeper things. This means that a much more profound part of my identity is experiencing the shock.

Personal Change. I have been changed now precisely because of interacting for so many years with this deeper cultural knowledge. Those changes affect the way I act on both sides of the ocean, so the transition requires digging deeper to uproot and replant. It involves more struggle.

Home. Coming home instead of going on a trip or returning to a relatively new place changes the way I see it, changes the way I respond to the inundation of the changes. Small developments happen while I’m gone, and as a long-term expat, I notice them. A corner store turns into a restaurant, the newspaper is under new management, the mosque has a new voice. Home changed in my absence, and I have to catch up.

These things could all easily be considered culture shock. But I recently started thinking of them in terms of jet lag. I decided that they are the result of heart lag. The shock factor is there, but I know I will move beyond it quickly, and I know what resides on the other side – settling, ease, comfortable familiarity. My heart just needs some time to catch up.

We give our bodies time to adjust, and people tend to be sympathetic to the traveler who falls asleep in the middle of a sentence at 7 p.m. after flying for thirty-eight hours. Let’s give our hearts time to adjust too. Be sympathetic to the traveler (even when it is yourself) who needs a few days for their heart to catch up to their body.

 

Originally published on February 2, 2015.

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said “Blessed”?

by Yosiah

In the last couple of years, the film series The Chosen has become quite popular. The episode at the end of season two portrays Jesus preparing for what will become the Sermon on the Mount. In the show, Jesus is accompanied by one of his disciples, Matthew. Jesus is preparing the words for the opening of the sermon, and Matthew is sleeping. Suddenly, Jesus comes to Matthew’s side and wakes him up—telling Matthew that he has finally found the right words with which to open the sermon.

Jesus tells Matthew that these opening words are like a map. Matthew is confused, wondering what Jesus means by calling it a “map.” So Jesus explains to Matthew that these words of blessing (which we know as the “Beatitudes”) are like a map because they will show people how they can meet Jesus and get close to him: by finding the people Jesus describes in the Beatitudes.

As I watched The Chosen, the Lord reminded me that He does indeed have a heart of mercy for people that the world thinks are “unlucky.” But these are the people that Jesus calls blessed. Jesus wants to show us that the heart of God is with the poor, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the ones who mourn, the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the ones who are persecuted. If we want to meet Jesus and encounter him in our day-to-day lives, he has given us a map; he has shown us the way in which we can meet him and encounter him. We are to look for and meet the people that He calls blessed.

A few days ago, our family went to visit a church near our house. It’s only a seven-minute motorcycle ride, but it had been many years since we had visited this congregation. When we arrived at the church, a woman whom we have known for a long time greeted us and said: “Yosiah, did you come here to meet Jesus or to meet Irwan?” I looked around me, confused, as I did not know what she was talking about. “Who is Irwan? I do not know who he is.”

It turned out that Irwan was the new youth pastor who would be preaching that day. During the service, this new youth pastor preached a detailed sermon. He had clearly prepared with diligence. One of his sermon points was this: “Jesus is present in our Sunday morning services. Jesus met his disciples on Sunday (that first Sunday 2,000 years ago) after he had just risen from the dead, and so we as a congregation are required to meet together in church on Sundays, because Jesus is present here.”

There was nothing glaringly incorrect about this statement. I am sure that, yes, when we gather together as believers Jesus is indeed present. I believe that God is omnipresent and therefore of course is present in church. However, as we returned home after the service there were two questions that kept nudging my heart, and I have been pondering them ever since. Firstly, there was the question of whether I went to church to meet Jesus or to meet Irwan (someone that I did not know). And secondly, there was the question of whether the Lord Jesus is present in the church building every Sunday, along with the congregation. There is nothing wrong with these questions—or statements if you will—but in my heart a third question arose: Is Jesus only present in church? Can Christians only meet Jesus during the hours on Sunday morning when they sit inside a church building?

Multiple times, Christian friends have come to visit us in the slum in which we live. Bapak Sultan lives near us. He has a large body, dark tattooed skin, and long crazy hair. I always find it amusing (and yet slightly offensive) when our visitors ask, “Is Bapak Sultan dangerous? Has he bothered your ministry? Is he a trouble maker?” My answer is always the same: from the outside he may look like he is a “bad guy,” and perhaps he could do “bad things,” but he has always been friendly to us. In the mornings when we go for exercise walks, he is the first to greet us, and he often exchanges jokes with me. I remember one time he helped me push a broken-down car out of the way so that we could park our car.

Maybe these examples of good deeds that Bapak Sultan has done towards us seem like very small gestures, but to us they are not insignificant. People often want to add labels to others, stereotyping and stigmatizing people according to their outward appearance. However, I am convinced that Jesus invites us to meet him through people who are outsiders. People who are on the edges, are forgotten by society, and are viewed with suspicion like Bapak Sultan. The choice is in our hands: do we only want to meet Jesus when we are nicely dressed, wearing fancy shoes and a suit and tie in a church building? Or do we want to meet Jesus in our everyday lives, through people who are on the edges, who are oppressed, and even suspicious-looking? For it is actually these people that Jesus calls blessed.

If we call ourselves Christians, will we choose to continue to give negative labels to people—people who on the outside do not look like pastors, church elders, or other educated people—or will we have mercy on them? For it is people such as these who are poor, full of sorrow, hungry and thirsty for hope, and who have been persecuted all their lives (physically or mentally). Do we long to share the joyful news with them as Jesus did? Or do we just want to close our eyes and avoid them?

There is a beautiful image from the prophet Habakkuk: “But the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 NRSV). One day the earth and all that is in it will be filled with the knowledge of knowing the Lord, the glory of salvation that Jesus worked on the cross for the whole world. This will be fulfilled when all believers are willing to meet Jesus outside the church walls and become bearers of the good news of peace and salvation through Jesus Christ in whatever communities the Lord places us in. May we seek out the people Jesus calls “blessed” — and learn to become them as well.

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10 NRSV)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yosiah was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is married to Anita, and together they have lived and served in a slum community for the past decade with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor. They have two young TCK sons. Yosiah loves making people laugh, washing his motorcycle, and playing music.

An Appeal – A Life Overseas

Yup! We hate to ask but…!

On November 14, 2012 Laura Parker, co-founder of the A Life Overseas blog and community space posted a “Welcome Video” to the site. That was the beginning of what has now become an online community thousands strong.

We are a diverse group linguistically, culturally and theologically, but we all agree that taking the step to live, work, and raise a family overseas takes our lives to places and into circumstances we could never imagine. In this community, life is definitely far stranger than fiction.

We exist to support those in cross cultural work. Whether you’re a business person, a diplomat, a humanitarian aid worker, an educator or all those above, but you are first of all a Christ-follower this community is for you.

Cross-cultural workers cram a life into a suitcase and begin a journey into foreign places, both geographically and spiritually. Assaulted by cultural stress, ministry challenges, learning a new language, and the trauma of culture shock, these workers long for community– a sense of connection, regardless of if they are the boiling water alone in an African hut or battling public transport in a crowded Indian city. No doubt, living overseas can be brutal — on a family, on a faith, and in a soul. But, there’s no doubt, too, that it can be one of the most depth-giving experiences an individual can embrace. Like all of life, though, our stories are understood best when we have a community to share them with.

About A Life Overseas

We are in a place right now where we need funds to continue the site. We are largely funded through the writers and administrators of this blog, but we need help!

So we ask you to consider making a donation to keep the site going. Five dollars, ten dollars, fifty dollars – it doesn’t matter. Our leadership team here at ALOS is committed to keeping this going but we need your help!

Through the past eight years, if you have benefited from reading and interacting with A Life Overseas, would you consider helping?

Click this link to make your donation! And thank you!

3 Ways to Help Your TCK with Language Learning

Sponges

Has anyone ever referred to your Third Culture Kid as a language sponge? Maybe you picture your child’s brain effortlessly slurping up nouns, adjectives, and conjugations, lisping in perfect Mandarin or Swahili.

That’s what we pictured. After all, my husband and I love languages. Our kids were born in the mission field. Why wouldn’t they learn?

However, when we moved to our second country of service, we quickly realized our daughter, Ashi, was not in a very spongey, language-learny mood. It would take all our language learning knowledge and experience, plus a whole lot of prayer and creativity, to support her and her brother’s learning journeys.

Along the way, we discovered three important ingredients to successful language learning in kids. This “secret sauce” includes exposure, structure, and inspiration.

1. Exposure

The fact is, language learning takes time–hours and hours of meaningful exposure on a consistent basis.

According to the US State Department[i], it takes 600-700 hours of classroom instruction to reach fluency in a level 1 (easy) language. And that’s for adults, who, contrary to the sponge theory, may learn and retain languages faster than children[ii].

The need for more time in the target language is one reason some workers send their children to local schools. But what if attending a local school isn’t a good fit for your family or your child? What if you homeschool or send your child to an international school?

That was our situation. We knew we’d have to get creative. In order to support our young language learners, we decided to:

  • Move outside the city, where people have more time for a cup of tea and a chat, and where kids aren’t constantly attending one after-school program after another.
  • Set up activities that attract children. A trampoline, kiddie pool, or pick-up game of soccer are great ways to encourage positive social interaction.
  • Seek friends with kids, especially those who are not currently learning English.
  • Hire household help—specifically a friendly, chatty helper!
  • Learn songs in the local language.
  • Enroll our children in extracurricular activities taught in the target language.

Other missionaries we know have also incorporated these ideas:

  • Instituting a family language hour, where only the target language is spoken—make sure this is fun and low-pressure!
  • Allowing children to watch cartoons in the local language.

What if your child is getting lots of exposure but still asks your neighbor lady the equivalent of, “Please, I give you water me?” What’s a missionary mom (or dad) to do? That brings me to the second crucial ingredient to language learning: structure.

2. Structure

The idea that children are language sponges who learn easily with zero instruction is somewhat of a myth. Obviously, babies learn languages without taking grammar classes. But that process also takes three or four years!

Studies suggest that very young children are better at doing what experts call “acquiring” language, which is absorbing it by hearing and using it in everyday life rather than receiving explicit instruction[iii]. But this requires many, many hours of high-quality, contextualized exposure each day. That’s hard to get outside a kindergarten classroom, where kids spend eight hours a day hearing simple songs and poems, doing calendar work, and engaging in thematic play.

Most language learners, regardless of age, benefit from specific instruction.

If your target language is a common one, you can find wonderful resources for this, online and/or in person. Think talkbox.mom, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, YouTube, a local language center, etc. But what if your target language is a little more obscure? And what if available in-person language learning options aren’t working for your child?

To meet our children’s need for structured instruction, we hired a local teacher but designed the lessons ourselves. Specifically, we:

  • Let the kids choose scenarios to play with their teacher. Some favorites included bargaining in the marketplace and choosing what to wear in the morning.
  • Gamified everything. We created gameboards on Canva, played Go Fish with verb cards we drew ourselves, played Simon Says, used Uno cards to practice numbers and colors, added sentences to an ongoing story, and anything else we could think of. The key is to pick just one grammar point and a handful of verbs and nouns, and use the game as an excuse to build sentences. Always start with something that is at or only slightly above your child’s language level. Briefly review the grammar and vocab, explain the game, and play!
  • Had our language helper record our children’s stories, or stories our kids knew, as well as verb conjugations, and listened to these in the car.
  • Engaged in structured language practice at home using games, translation drills, and simple writing exercises.

Maybe you’re still learning your target language, too. That’s okay! A little goes a long way, so share what you know, even if you’re only one step ahead of your kids. Just a few months after beginning this regime, our son was starting to talk outside the classroom.

Ashi, however, was still lacking the final ingredient: Inspiration.

3. Inspiration

There is a hidden obstacle to language learning. Teaching professionals call it the Affective Filter. According to FluentU, an Affective Filter is, “the invisible, psychological filter that either aids or deters the process of language acquisition[iv].” In other words, it’s the stress, anxiety, boredom, and lack of confidence that makes language learners go blank anytime they hear a new word.

After some prayer and observation, we realized this was our daughter’s struggle. Ashi is sensitive about being the center of attention. Language learning felt like a performance to her. Her independent personality balked at that.

We needed to locate low-pressure opportunities for Ashi to be her unique self and practice language. Since she loves feeling capable and helping others, we turned to our neighbors.

Ashi helped my friend with her baby, a group of old women with their rabbit farm, and another lady with food prep and dishwashing. She helped our helper cook local dishes. When she complained about going to language classes, we remained firm, but we let her choose a tasty local treat or favorite activity afterward if she kept a positive attitude during class.

After several months, our daughter’s relationship with the language changed. She began to feel proud of her ability to communicate. Although she often tells groups of people she doesn’t speak the language, the fact is, she does.

Don’t Say You Can’t

One day, about a month ago, our family walked into a labyrinthian marketplace full of textured rugs, fake Aladdin lamps, and exotic solid perfumes. After about 15 minutes, I realized I had lost Ashi. I found her in a shop that sold pens covered in mirror “jewels.”

“That’s too expensive,” she was telling the shopkeeper in Arabic. “Knock the price down for me a little.” I looked at the shopkeeper, a wrinkled, bent-over man with a cane. He was grinning.

Ashi got her discount.

This morning I asked if Ashi has any advice for her fellow TCKs. She mentioned playing Go Fish and making friends. But this, she says, is her best advice ever:

“Don’t say that you can’t!”

 

[i] https://www.state.gov/foreign-language-training/

[ii] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-child-language/article/age-and-learning-environment-are-children-implicit-second-language-learners/457C069A5339D656788E7E8D217B2A3A

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/parenting/children-language-development.html#:~:text=Mu%C3%B1oz%20makes%20the%20point%20that,Like%20Dr.

[iv] https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/affective-filter/