This is What Courage Looks Like

Sandy was raising support, and she was stuck. She had exhausted all of her contacts – friends, relatives, acquaintances. She had contacted all of the churches where she knew someone, and had reached out to dozens of other churches with no response. Yet she was still far away from that elusive 100% funding goal. 

So she tried a different strategy. Each Sunday morning, she would pick out a church to attend – cold turkey – not knowing a solitary soul.  She would show up at this church where she knew no one, look for a friendly face, strike up a conversation with this complete stranger, and ask if this person could connect her with a pastor or missions leader. 

Sandy is an introvert. She is warm and confident but not the kind of person who especially enjoys entering new churches and striking up conversations with strangers. But she did it because she had to. She was determined to get to the country where God had called her and was ready to do whatever it took.

I was Sandy’s coach during her support-raising season. When she described this to me, my mouth gaped open and my eyes bugged out. All I knew was that I didn’t think I’d ever have the guts to do what she was doing, Sunday after Sunday. This took resolve. This took courage. 

I thought about my own support-raising journey. My husband and I would “divide and conquer” in our support-raising tasks. I wrote the newsletters and thank-you notes; he wrote the sermons. He fixed the printer when I was about to throw it out the window. And having him by my side every time I entered a new church gave me a measure of security.

I coach many single missionary women who are raising support, and they don’t get to delegate these tasks. If they hate public speaking, they don’t have a spouse to pass that off to. If they aren’t good at technology, they still have to figure it out themselves. When their pitch is rejected, there isn’t a partner by their side to share the burden. 

We laud the courage of single missionary women when they single-handedly figure out how to exterminate a rat invasion, stop the flood seeping into their house, or replace a blown-out tire. But we don’t often recognize the additional demands of everything they must do to build a support network on their own.

I realize that much of this could also apply to single men. However, I believe that single women often face unique challenges in earning others’ respect and attention – in foreign cultures, on their missionary teams, and in the churches of their home country. 

As I walk with these women on their journey to the mission field, I brim with tremendous admiration for their grit, perseverance, and resiliency. The truth is, most of these women would love to be married with a family. For many of them, it’s their deepest heart’s desire. Yet they are steadfast in obedience while they trust the Lord with their futures. 

This is what courage looks like. 

Do you have a single female missionary in your life? Probably more than anyone else, they need advocates to raise their support. Maybe that could be you. 

What Missionary Kids See on the Field Part 2: Support that Lessens the Impact of Witnessed Trauma

In my previous post (What Missionary Kids See on the Field Part 1: The Impact of Witnessed Trauma), I shared data from TCK Training’s latest white paper (Sources of Trauma in International Childhoods) along with wisdom from many A Life Overseas authors. As we sifted through information on what can be a difficult topic, we kept in mind these two key points:

  1. We are not comparing the experiences of missionary kids to a theoretical ‘perfect’ childhood they could have had elsewhere.
  1. Not every potentially traumatic event is experienced as trauma by each individual.

This means that often there is no clear ‘right’ answer; different people (different families, different children) will need different things. Setting blanket rules is unlikely to address every situation. Instead, we are going to talk about principles.

My last post included four suggestions for ways we can support families, and in this post I will expand these ideas with practical tips and more wisdom from the ALO team. 

  1. Protect children where possible.
  2. Fight the normalisation of trauma.
  3. Provide support to both parents and children.
  4. Continue support after they leave the field.

Protect children where possible

Knowing that witnessing potentially traumatic events is linked to increased risk should cause us to think carefully about taking our children to places where this can occur.

Part of determining field suitability should include a careful assessment of the level of trauma, including witnessed trauma, likely to occur in the location. If the risk is high, additional supports should be in place. If traumatic events end up happening frequently, a change of location may be warranted. 

How do we make these momentous decisions? Anna Hampton’s thoughts on Risk and the Cross Cultural Worker are so helpful here: “A theology of suffering asks a different question than a theology of risk asks. When I was a young mom facing daily threats of all kinds but especially kidnapping and murder, I needed to be able to evaluate what God was calling me and my children to that day. We hadn’t suffered the reality of kidnapping, but we were facing the risk of it. So how was I to think, to process my emotions, hear God’s voice, and then make a decision on what I was to do?” 

A lot in life cannot be predicted, including how individuals will react to and cope with potentially traumatic events. Flexibility and a willingness to change plans is important – in life generally, but especially in high risk areas. Sometimes a location changes from low risk to high risk very suddenly. Sometimes a single event changes how individuals within a family feel about their emotional and/or physical safety. 

Being willing to sacrifice our plans in order to protect children is crucial. If we sacrifice children in order to continue the plans we had made, there is something wrong with our priorities.

I love how Kay Bruner writes about this in Ask A Counselor: No Child Soldiers, No Child Sacrifice: “We are not called to deliberately – or carelessly – traumatize our children for God’s sake. When traumatic events occur, we should be the first ones at our child’s side bringing care, concern, and healing…Please don’t take your children into active danger, thinking that this will somehow make you a better kind of Christian.” 

Fight the normalisation of trauma

Just because something happens regularly does not mean it is normal. When potentially traumatic events happen regularly, we must actively fight against them being seen as ‘normal.’

Whatever happens regularly during your childhood becomes your normal. Children can adapt to anything – including, sadly, horrible abuse and devastating traumas. Believing these events are ‘normal’ does not, however, stop them from affecting a child’s psyche. This means that in order to process the impact of the abuse and/or trauma they have suffered, an individual must first recognise that what they went through was not normal. 

Many missionary kids normalise abusive and/or traumatic events they experience during childhood – to the point of not mentioning them to adults in their lives, including their parents. This is something we see over and over again at TCK Training, when Adult TCKs dismiss dramatic events and inappropriate behaviour from others as potential sources of trauma because “that was normal where I grew up” or “that happened to everyone.”

Adults in their lives unwittingly contribute to this every time we downplay things that make children feel uncomfortable or unsafe. In addition, while phrases like “Don’t worry, this is normal here” or “You’ll get used to it after a while” may be intended to comfort, they instead teach children to ignore their feelings because what is common is normal. We think that by putting on a happy face, we can make a scary situation okay, but we’re wrong. 

Anna Glenn writes about the problem of pasting a smile over pain in Toxic Positivity in Missions: “Toxic positivity is a reaction that stems from fear and shame rather than faith. It focuses on self-reliance to ‘power through’ and create or shine our own light rather than calling us to step into the light through surrender to the one true God. Toxic positivity is a shallow substitute for the hope of the gospel and a genuine relationship with Christ.” 

Instead, we all need to be brave enough to sit with difficult emotions and to sit with children and young people experiencing difficult emotions. We need to call out the wrongness in our world, even when it happens frequently around us. We need to acknowledge that witnessing potentially traumatic events is evidence of the brokenness of this world – not something to dismiss, but something to mourn. It is something that impacts us, and even the smallest child, on a soul level – because the world should not be this way. 

“We need to recognize these stressful events as threats to the mental health and stability of international families. When we recognize them as such, we can mobilize to acknowledge and debrief these events.” – Sources of Trauma in International Childhoods

Provide support to both parents and children

We need to think about the entire family unit. Children do not live in isolation, but with parents and caregivers who live in the same environments and therefore are likely witnessing the same or similar potentially traumatic events. They may even have witnessed more events from which they have sheltered their children.

Just because parents are adults does not make them immune to the impact of witnessing traumatic events. On the contrary – the impact of traumatic events flows through them to their children. The whole family needs support when living in environments where traffic accidents and violence are occuring. 

“The stress of bearing witness to trauma is easily brought into the home, impacting family dynamics and parent-child connectedness.”  – Sources of Trauma in International Childhoods

Parents need support to process what they have witnessed so that they can be emotionally available to support their children. Unfortunately, in many cases these occurrences are normalised, and families do not feel they are ‘allowed’ to need or want help to work through witnessing events that happen regularly. Yet regular debriefing (and crisis debriefing when a significant event takes place) should be a key part of how families are cared for to ensure long-term health and thriving for each person. 

When these potentially traumatic events are ignored and families do not receive adequate support, the impacts do not go away over time – they fester. As Abigail Follows writes in The Myth of the Ideal Childhood, “We can think of a trauma as a ‘heart wound’ – a wound that needs tending, otherwise it will get infected – a wound that can heal with the right treatment.”

In addition to targeted support, supportive communities that surround families in these situations are incredibly powerful. As I wrote recently in It takes a village – including for missionary families, “The communities supporting families living abroad are essential to these families’ long-term thriving. If we want to see missionary kids thrive long term, we need more than good parenting advice; we need to be the community these families need.” 

When potentially traumatic events occur regularly, when missionaries and their children see these soul-injuring sights in the course of their daily lives, it takes a toll. Anna Glenn writes poignantly on this in The Untold Stories of Returned Missionaries:

“For many missionaries who are serving in underdeveloped nations where hunger, disease, and violence run rampant, the horrors that they have witnessed day in and day out may have grown to be too much. We all know that death and pain are a part of life, but when you see people, people you know and love, dying from easily preventable causes nearly every single week and you see bodies on the side of the road mangled to the point of being unrecognizable, your psyche is forever impacted and sometimes there are just no words.”

Given that these words were written in the content of missionaries who have returned to their passport countries from the field, this leads us to our final point:

Continue support after they leave the field

The impact of witnessed trauma doesn’t end when we leave the environment in which it occurred. Unfortunately, upon leaving the field many missionary families lose the supportive community who understood those experiences. Taking care to support missionary families through the lens of accumulated trauma can make a big difference.

This means acknowledging that what feels safe/unsafe may be different for them – especially for children who grew up in a different environment – and that what triggers unsafe feelings may be different. 

Often this includes exposure to media coverage of other countries, including but not limited to countries where the family lived previously. Lilly Rivera brings up an important point in Reading the News When Crisis Hits: “Reading the news can be a triggering experience if you have gone through traumatic experiences yourself. The injustice, violence, and pain can make you feel paralyzed, angry or really upset.” 

I also appreciate this perspective from adult MK Aneurin Howorth in Devastating Secrets of Living Abroad: “The trauma we carry around as TCKs usually manifests itself through mental illnesses once we are adults. The counselor Lois Bushong says that most TCKs tend to only start going to counseling once they are in their 30’s. I am not yet in my thirties, but already, increasing numbers of my classmates report having mental health issues, almost exclusively struggling from unresolved trauma or grief on the mission field. Being a TCK does not stop when we become adults; both the blessings and the curses will follow us forever.” 

The impact of witnessed trauma does not always manifest immediately; sometimes it is a slow burn, which is why long-term care and support is important. It is also why TCK Training is running research on both the good and hard experiences TCKs had during childhood, as well as their strengths and struggles as adults – we want to know more about the links between these so that we can better support TCKs as they grow. (Learn more about the survey here).

 

Resources referenced:

Risk and the Cross Cultural Worker

Ask A Counselor: No Child Soldiers, No Child Sacrifice

Toxic Positivity in Missions

Sources of Trauma in International Childhoods (TCK Training)

Debriefing Resources (TCK Training)

The Myth of the Ideal Childhood

It takes a village – including for missionary families

The Untold Stories of Returned Missionaries

Reading the News When Crisis Hits

Devastating Secrets of Living Abroad

Impact of Childhood Global Mobility on Adult Wellness (TCK Training Survey)

Photo by Transly Translation Agency on Unsplash

It takes a village – including for missionary families

There’s an old adage that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ While it’s often called an African proverb – and there are several that come close, like the Kijita/Wajita proverb from Tanzania, “Omwana ni wa bhone” – the specific origin isn’t important for today’s discussion.

When I say ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ what I mean is that parents can’t do everything needed for a child’s raising on their own. We are, each of us, designed for community. We need each other – and no less so than when faced with the blessing and burden of child-rearing.

Research into what helps individuals thrive, even when their upbringing is difficult, identified eight Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) which act as a protective buffer. Five of the eight PCEs take place outside the home. To raise healthy children who thrive long-term, we really do need to be in community and to rely on each other. 

Sometimes that can be a scary prospect. It’s scary to think we can’t do it all ourselves. It takes some of the control out of parents’ hands. On the other hand, it also acknowledges that parents are not supposed to carry the entire weight of ensuring their children’s future all on their own. We are, all of us, created for community.

But what happens when you live internationally? Community may feel hard to find, hard to break into, or hard to hold onto. There are language barriers, cultural differences, and time zones separating you from people you care about. People move away. You move away. Sometimes it really seems like the best option to turn inward and focus your energy on your immediate family, on being your own community as a family. 

In this article we’ll look at the five PCEs that take place in community and what these can look like for missionaries. My goal is to encourage you to see value in continuing to invest in community that meets your children’s needs throughout their lives.

Belonging in Community

The first two community PCEs are about being part of a community: feeling a sense of belonging in a wider community and taking part in community traditions. Churches, mission organisations, and school communities can all be wonderful sources of these community PCEs. These communities are not just for us – they are for our children. Ensuring that our children feel at ease and feel a sense of belonging in the groups where we spend our leisure time is essential to their long-term thriving. 

The traditions we participate in also connect us to our communities – both the specific groups of people we celebrate with and the local community we observe traditions with. When your family moves locations, look for ways to bring traditions with you. Examples might be celebrating Chinese New Year with your new friends in France, introducing your Australian friends to Songkran, or observing three different national days for three different countries your heart is connected to.

Most often, our biggest hurdle here is finding the emotional energy to continue to invest in community when our lives are busy and it gets hard to make time for all the things we could possibly be doing. Knowing that community is important for our kids’ wellbeing helps provide us with motivation to keep investing in community. This also means that community life needs to be a priority — even if it means we need to cut back on other tasks, such as ministry commitments, in order to have the time and energy to commit to community engagement.

Peer Relationships

The next two community PCEs are having supportive friends throughout childhood and having a sense of belonging in high school. Do your children have supportive friends? For some parents, this is a stressful thought. Perhaps one child does, and one does not. Perhaps you have watched your child lose a best friend every year as families move away from your location. Perhaps they sometimes play with local children, but the only friends who speak their heart language live hundreds of miles away. 

TCK Training’s white paper “Sources of Trauma in International Families” has a section on Peer Relationships. In this section we share research explaining why “Peer relationships in childhood are an important part of social development that is necessary for childhood wellbeing and also for gaining important social skills needed in adulthood,” and cite a study which demonstrated that “93% of children surveyed could understand and can articulate the feeling of loneliness and lack of peers by age eight.”

The good news from our research was that more than half of TCKs (and 46% of Missionary Kids, or MKs) had a peer group their own age. 15% of MKs had only their siblings for company. 10% of each group had no appropriate peers, including 2% who had no peers. Homeschooled MKs were less likely to have peers: only 17% had peers their own age, 38% had only their siblings, and 6% had no peers at all.

TCKs with peers their own age reported fewer Adverse Childhood Experiences, and this was true across all sectors, ages, and education types. 13% of MKs with peers their own age had a high ACE score – compared to 12.5% of Americans in the baseline Kaiser study. By contrast, 21% of MKs with no peers or only siblings for peers had a high ACE score.

But language comfort also mattered. When the peers an MK spent time with spoke a language they were not comfortable speaking, 29% had a high ACE score, almost double the rate seen in those who shared a fluent language with their peers (15%). While 24% of MKs spoke with their peers in a language they weren’t fluent with, only 8% said they spoke a language they weren’t fluent in with their closest friends.

Held together, these different types of research are all telling us something similar: our kids need friends they can share their lives with. Friends they can speak to easily. Part of meeting children’s needs means providing opportunities for them to make connections with peers around the same age who could possibly become this type of friend — and supporting the continuation of those connections wherever we are in the world. 

Mentor Figures

The final community PCE is having two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in you during childhood. There are lots of ways this PCE can be met! Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends can fill this role. Teachers, coaches, tutors, and pastors can fill this role. Nannies, babysitters, and other community members can fill this role. It is not about the quantity of time an adult spends with a child but about whether the adult really makes the child feel seen and valued whenever they are around each other. 

I’ve heard stories from MKs about very significant adults in their lives whom they saw once a month or even less often. I will never forget overhearing a teenage girl who lived in far north China and came to Beijing twice a year to attend youth camps I ran explaining to her friend who I was: “This is my youth pastor from my youth group in Beijing.”

These adult connections are extremely important to children and teens. Here are four simple things that can make a significant connection with an MK, even if you do not see them regularly:

  1. Know their preferred name and use it.
  2. See them as their own person, separate from their family and their parents’ ministry.
  3. Learn and remember their individual interests.
  4. Follow up on previous conversations.

The ease with which a connection with a caring adult can become significant to a TCK could explain one of the findings in our research. We asked the 1,904 Adult TCKs in our survey if anyone in their household (adult or child) or any caregiving adult (who did not live in their home) passed away during their childhood. The type of death associated with the most significant rise in ACE scores was that of non-residential, non-family caregivers — which points to their importance. 

36% of TCKs who reported the death of a non-residential caregiver during childhood had a high risk ACE score; when the caregiver who died was not a family friend or family member, 43% had a high risk ACE score. In contrast, only 24% of TCKs who reported the death of a household member (adult or child) had a high risk ACE score.

We don’t believe this means that a death in the family does not greatly impact children. So what does it mean? There are few things that might explain this correlation. First, it may reflect the importance these adults have to the family as a whole: their passing impacts not only the child, but their parents as well (which then impacts what happens in the household, along with their ACE score).

Second, it may reflect that household deaths are seen as a significant event, so families receive support and space to grieve. On the other hand, the death of a non-residential caregiver, while sad, may not result in the same recognition or support. Whatever the reason behind it, these numbers demonstrate that adults who provide care to missionary kids and other TCKs can have a significant impact.

What can we do about this?

The communities supporting families living abroad are essential to these families’ long-term thriving. If we want to see missionary kids thrive long term, we need more than good parenting advice; we need to be the community these families need. 

If you are parenting abroad, take some time to acknowledge the village that is helping you raise your child/ren. Show your appreciation to those who are there, supporting you and supporting your kids.

Next, look for the gaps in your village. Are you missing group community, people to celebrate traditions with? Are your kids lacking for peers, especially those they share a language with? Are you in need of more adults to engage meaningfully with your kids? Identify the particular gaps, and target those areas for more community engagement. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help; child-rearing was never meant to be a burden that you shouldered alone.

If you are living abroad, look around to notice any missionary kids and families you are in community with – or whose village you might be able to join. Could you be part of their regular community life? Could you take the time to know their kids by name and engage with them when you routinely see them? Are there other ways you would like to offer community?

If you are supporting a family abroad, whether you are a sending church or family/friends ‘left behind,’ look for creative ways you can stand in the gap for the missionary families you know. How can you be part of their village? What can you do that acknowledges their children as individuals and not just the missionary’s kids? What traditions can you make part of your interaction with their family? How can you help them feel connected to what you’re doing in your community in another land?

No matter where you are, there is something you can do to support the missionary families you know. You are part of the village, and you are needed.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Digging in the Dirt, a new book from Jonathan Trotter, is now available!

Hello, all!

I am so excited to announce the release of my new book! It’s called Digging in the Dirt: Musings on Missions, Emotions, and Life in the Mud, and you can find print and Kindle versions here.

Digging in the Dirt contains some of my most heartfelt writings, and addresses things ranging from depression and anxiety, to TCKs and what flying taught me about missions.

It addresses married sexuality on the field, as well as what to do when the thief steals and the power goes out. It’s got some poetry, some top ten lists, and some laments. It’s also got some seeds of hope, and it is my deepest desire that it would encourage and bless folks all over the globe.

I’ll post the text from the back cover and the preface below.

I’m so grateful for the community here, and I’m grateful for my editor, our very own Elizabeth Trotter! Have a wonderful weekend, and may the love and peace of God be very near to you and yours!

all for ONE,

Jonathan Trotter

 

From the back cover:

Welcome to ground level, to the dirt and the mess.

We like the mountain tops and the sunshine. We like green grass under a clear blue sky. We like victory and breakthrough and answered prayers. But sometimes it rains, the shadows deepen, and life turns muddy. Sometimes God seems quiet. What then? What happens when depression descends, or anxiety hangs like a sword overhead? What happens when loneliness suffocates, the thief steals more than stuff, and you get blood on your shoes?

In Digging in the Dirt, Jonathan Trotter delves into the disasters, the darkness, and the deluge, and he offers comfort, presence, and a gentle invitation to hope.

With humor and prose, with poetry and Top Ten lists, Jonathan welcomes us to the dirt, to the places where we actually live. He invites us to boldly see life as it is, with eyes wide open, and reminds us that even when the digging is scary, we are never alone.

To the ones who are dealing with devastation and distress, welcome. To the ones who need to uproot, to pull out, to clear ground, welcome. To the ones who seek desperately to plant seeds of grace and hope in once barren soil, welcome. To the missionary abroad and the believer at home, welcome. Receive the invitation, and join with Jonathan here at ground level, together.

Come, dig in the dirt.

From the preface:

Hello and Welcome!

I’m Jonathan, and it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to journeying with you through these pages. Together, we’ll delve into the dirt of life and relationships, of sorrows, pain, and loss. And maybe we’ll plant some things too.

Perhaps, along the way, we’ll see small, green stalks of life and hope begin to poke through, watered with the tears of the journey. Digging like this can be messy, but it can be good too.

These musings will meander from the hot dirt of Cambodia to the sticky mud of American politics. Some of these musings are inspired by international missionary life; some of them are firmly rooted in an American context. But whether you’re American or not, whether you’re a missionary or not, I hope that you find them all a blessing, an encouragement, and perhaps sometimes a challenge. I wrote them for you, and I share them with you with my whole heart.

Start reading Digging in the Dirt wherever you’d like, and feel free to skip ahead or go backwards. Are you a cross-cultural missionary? Start there if you want. Are you interested in developing emotional intelligence, or are you exploring whether or not Christians are allowed to have feelings? Consider starting in the Emotions section. Are you reeling from recent life events that have left you feeling like you’re choking on the mud and muck? First of all, I’m so sorry. Second, breathe a slow, deep breath, look over the Table of Contents, and start wherever you need to start.

Wherever you are, and whatever your story, welcome to ground level, to the dirt. It is here that the real work happens; the good, hard, sweet, healing work. It is my deepest hope that here, among these musings, you may find grace, peace, and a hope that just might be strong enough to crack through the crust.

All for ONE,
Jonathan Trotter

___________________________________

Check it out on Amazon here!

*Amazon affiliate links help support the work of A Life Overseas

Churches, We Need You! (Why the Church is a Critical Piece of Missionary Care)

By Jessi Bullis

John Piper has famously mobilized Christians for international missions by saying, “Go, send, or disobey.”

In this well-known statement, Piper acknowledges the truth that not everyone was created to be an overseas missionary. God has blessed millions of people with giftings that would be under-utilized if they were to move internationally and try to fit into a role that God didn’t call them to. This is not a downfall. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the tapestry of the great commission (Ephesians 4:11-13). We need goers, and we also need faithful senders – those who make it possible for those being sent to serve with health and longevity.

God designed the Church to be positioned on both sides: the going and the sending. Throughout Paul’s letters we read many accounts of his gratitude for the believers’ communication, faithfulness, and prayer, along with his requests for both tangible and spiritual support (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:10-15; 2 Tim 4:9). 

God gave people in the Church different giftings to carry out the great commission. There is so much beauty in this diversity of calling, because it glorifies God: His creativity, His knowledge, His grace, His faithfulness, and more (1 Cor. 12:4-6). 

Both accepting the gifts of others while simultaneously offering our gifts to the Church is a necessary key to the coming of God’s Kingdom, because it is how we glorify God daily, and it is how we present God’s beauty to the rest of the world (John 13:35). 

So today I’d like to speak to those of you who are not going or who perhaps did go and are now back on the sending side. How can you do the sending with as much zeal and excellence as the ones going?

Yes, this often means financial support. We see this all throughout Paul’s letters. He used his trade of tentmaking to provide income for his missionary journeys, but he also heavily depended on the financial support of those in the Churches he was ministering to. 

However, the Church’s role in sending missionaries does not end with financial support. 

Time and again we hear Paul asking for support in other ways — fellowship, communication, and constant prayer. 

Often, a family spends six months to a year raising their financial support, having countless dinners and church events, are “sent off” with fanfare, and then that’s it. They are suddenly cut off from tea times and dinners with friends. From mentoring chats with older believers. From a village of believers pouring into their kids. Sometimes they are even cut off from access to worship in their own language.

And those are just the church-specific things. 

Suddenly they’re learning to cook things from scratch, trying to do life in a new language, navigating new schooling situations for their children, and raising their children with a brand new set of cultural and environmental challenges. 

All without their church and the people who were preparing them to go. 

The family did not change overnight to suddenly not need regular congregational support. If anything, the opposite is true. They’re thrown into one of the hardest transitions of their life, all without their support systems. They haven’t become “holier than thou.” They’re still human. They still have needs. And they still fall into the Lord’s plan for the interdependence of the Church. 

A missionary friend of mine recently told me that once she moved overseas, she rarely heard from her friends back in the United States. In the midst of her biggest life transition, she felt forgotten.

When they would return to the U.S. and they would visit their sending church, throngs of people wanted to speak to them. And many of these same people would tell them how much they loved seeing her Facebook photos of her children in the jungle or their bamboo house. Yet these friends had never even hit the “like” button. She had no idea they’d even cared that she posted photos.

Instead of feeling encouraged by their exclamations, my friend was frustrated, confused, and hurt. For the last few years on the field she’d felt abandoned and alone. Something as easy as pressing the “like” button had not occurred to these friends. Something so small, yet so impactful. 

Most of the time I find that believers want to know how to support their missionary friends, but they simply don’t know how. I’ve spoken with believers around the world who’ve said they didn’t want to write too often and make their missionary friends homesick. They loved them dearly, but they just didn’t know how to transition to long distance support. 

Churches need to know how to support missionaries beyond finances, and they also need to educate their congregations how to do it well. 

As a missionary kid who grew up my entire life away from my parent’s home town and sending church; as someone who now works with hundreds of missionary families; as someone who has dear friends all around the world, I want to leave you with some practical ways you can “send” and continue supporting the missionaries in your life:

  • Schedule regular time to check in with the missionaries you have a connection with. Put a recurring date on your calendar and send a message of encouragement or reach out to plan a phone call. Ask about their children or even say “hi” to their kids. Give them permission to talk about the hard things. Be present and listen even when it doesn’t match up to your expectations of a missionary. 
  • Send a letter or care package. Fair warning: it may get lost in transit or be opened by national authorities to check its contents. But I can guarantee the missionary will know they are loved if you are willing to send them snail mail. (Check with them on what’s best to mail and whether they’ll have to pay import tax so you can cover that cost.)
  • Be trained in debriefing so you can effectively help missionaries and their children to process the good and hard parts of their time on the field. 
  • Instead of waiting for a newsletter, reach out to them to ask them what you can be praying for. And then be diligent in praying. Oftentimes missionaries do not know if anyone is even reading their newsletters, much less interceding on their behalf. 
  • Develop a formal team that checks in with each missionary on a monthly basis and train the team in knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how/when to recommend additional care resources. 
  • Plan a trip to go see them. Not for a short-term mission trip that they need to plan and lead, but rather a trip just to support, encourage, and love them. 
  • Consider putting on an MK camp abroad for the Missionary Kids in the area. We’ve found that these camps are often deeply impactful on MKs, who are rarely on the receiving end of care. (Check out TCK Training’s retreat curriculum created expressly for this purpose.) 
  • Learn about what resources are available to them, and consider gifting those to them. You can find a list at the end of this post. 
  • Encourage your church to receive training on best practices in missionary and MK care. This Churches Supporting Missionary Families Training would be a great start. We also have a page dedicated to equipping churches to send and care for missionaries well.
  • “Like” their pictures on social media. It means more than you know. 

There are many ways that churches can come alongside missionaries; when they do, they contribute to the health of the missionary and their ministry. This is an important role for the church. Let’s learn to do it well. 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God.

Seeking Buddha, Finding Jesus (resources for ministering to Buddhist and Hindu people)

​There are so many amazing books about how God is moving among Muslims and Animists. And there are scores of useful gospel training seminars by former missionaries to these religious groups. But what about Hinduism and Buddhism?

When I worked with high-caste Hindu people in India, I often wished I had access to more true stories about Hindu background believers. I wanted to hear from honest, soul-baring Hindus about what it’s like to consider following Jesus. What they’re up against, why it’s difficult. What really draws them. How they handle the clash between the expectations of culture and Christ. I had read textbook definitions of Hinduism, but things looked so different on the ground. I often wished there was a Seeking Krishna, Finding Jesus. Or even a Peace Child or Bruchko set in the high-rise apartments of New Delhi.

Slowly, over the years, I’ve collected the names of a few insightful books. Eventually, I wrote my own. My adventures were far from those of Bruce Olsen, but I shared from my heart. I shared about what it’s like to wrestle yourself every day so that Jesus can lead you. I shared about the beautiful people I knew in India, why following Jesus there is difficult, and what we tried to do about that. And I shared about how our real God is meeting real people right where they are.

There’s so much more to reaching people in a Hindu context, but I hope my stories and experiences can begin a conversation about it.

A New Story to Tell

Last year, I was approached by a family friend who serves as a missionary in Cambodia. Her father is Cambodian, and he narrowly survived the Khmer Rouge genocide as a child. Sovath survived because, as he says, “I called on a God I did not know.” Eventually, he came to know that God when he saw a vision of Jesus in a refugee camp.

Sovath and his family asked me to write his story.

To say I felt honored and excited is an understatement.

In between interviews, I went online to find resources to help me understand Buddhism. I found precious few. Again, I wished I could read Seeking Buddha, Finding Jesus, or a Peace Child set in the rice paddies of Vietnam or the traffic-jungles of cities in Laos.

That’s when I realized just how important Sovath’s story is.

As Sovath began to unravel exactly why it was so hard to follow Jesus as the member of a Buddhist family, and why he chose to follow anyway, I was surprised. His explanations were not what I had predicted. My experience with Hinduism didn’t translate to Buddhism. It reminded me that picking up your cross to follow Jesus will look different from person to person – and from culture to culture.

I’m about to give you a list of books and resources I’ve sourced from A Life Overseas readers, colleagues, and from my own shelves.

But before I do that, I wanted to ask for help in bringing another book into the world.

It’s tentatively titled Great Unsearchable Things, and I’m praying for the grace and insight to make it a work of art that will help readers understand their Buddhist background brothers and sisters better.

How You Can Help

Firstly, I’ve set up a fundraiser to help cover the cost of researching, editing, and marketing Sovath’s book. You can read a little more about his story on the GoFundMe page. You can also read the first chapter of the book at this link.

Secondly, I would like to put together a team of beta readers who would be willing to read the first draft to offer insight and suggestions. I’m hoping to be ready for that step in Spring, 2024. If you’re interested, send me a note at abigailfollows AT gmail.com.

Thirdly, I want to encourage those of you who think you might want to write your missions story–or the story of a friend. If you were looking for a sign, I hope this article is it! We need to read these stories to help us understand and empathize with each other. We need people who have asked tough questions and listened hard to the answers to share what they’ve learned. Your story just might help someone lead a person to Jesus. So below the book lists, you’ll find a handful of resources for aspiring writers that will help you on your way.

On to the lists.

For Working with Hindus:

When learning about ministry among Hindus, it’s important to know that India’s relationship with Christianity is complex. Spend ten minutes looking at discussions on Quora or articles in Indian news outlets about Christianity in India, and you’ll quickly understand some of the major issues. As a result, many books, websites, and ministries are searching for the best, most authentic, least damaging way to reach Hindus with the gospel. Think of these resources as adding to the conversation, rather than as definitive “how to’s.” 

Living Water and Indian Bowl, by Swami Dayanand Bharati

The Camphor Flame, by C. J. Fuller

LearningIndia.in — Very practical, though not currently updated.

MARG Network 

Mimosa, by Amy Carmichael 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo – Not a Christian nor a missions book, but Boo’s artful reportage will help you understand the social infrastructure of India like nothing else I’ve read.

William Carey Publishing’s list of Hindu missions books

I Am a Hindu, Why Should I Consider Becoming a Christian? (Article)

Following Jesus in the Hindu Context, by H. L. Richard

From Hinduism to Christ, by Raj Vimuri

From Hinduism to Christianity, Embracing the Journey, by Anjli Sharma

Hidden Song of the Himalayas, by Abigail Follows

For Working with Buddhists:

Change the Map Prayer Network

Seeking the Unseen, Edited by Paul H. De Neui

Leaving Buddha by Tenzin Lahkpa & Eugene Bach

God Spoke Tibetan: The Epic Story of the Men Who Gave the Bible to Tibet by Allan Maberly

From Buddha to Jesus by Steve Cioccolanti

William Carey Publishing’s list of Buddhist missions books

For Aspiring Intercultural Biographers and Memoirists:

Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction

Storycraft, by Jack Hart

Telling True Stories, edited by Kramer and Call

Scrivener, a computer app/word processor/organizer that separates content by chapters and scenes. Great for writing out of order and keeping track of everything.

Our own Alyson Rockhold and Elizabeth Trotter are both book coaches and love helping aspiring writers figure out how to tell their stories.

Abby Emmons is one of MANY YouTubers who talk about writing. She focuses on fiction, but I found her analyses and insights to be applicable to story-based nonfiction as well.

 

Photo by Joshua Follows.

Parent Self-Care: Moving Past the Buzzword to Prioritizing Well-being in the Midst of Life Abroad

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

As much as self-care has become a popular term in recent years, the essence of it has devolved from its intended meaning – doing things, big or small, for our holistic well-being – to being primarily about bubble baths and charcuterie boards. Rest assured, as much as I love a bubble bath and a good charcuterie board, as much as I think a bubble bath and charcuterie board can be good ‘small things’ for our holistic well-being, as much as I wonder how many times I can get away with using bubble baths and charcuterie boards in a single paragraph, I’m not talking about bubble baths and charcuterie boards.

I’m talking about all the important aspects of self-care, from emotional processing, to healthy boundaries, to planting green zone moments. And I’m talking about this because, in our research at TCK Training, we’ve seen that mental illness (including depression and anxiety, as well as other mental illnesses) in TCK parents is high. And this impacts our well-being, our children’s well-being, and our ministry’s well-being.  

You may have gotten the memo. It’s a pretty commonly accepted fact: Life on the Field is Hard. And there are a lot of factors that make it harder, like popular theologies of suffering, expectations on what missionary life should be, and our own pride in how much we can endure. As if that’s not hard enough, life on the field makes good self-care harder to do with a lack of resources, overworked teams, and a shortage of amenities. But wait, there’s more! 

Because we also expect to be able to do it all, we rarely tally up how hard things are, and we often just shame ourselves for having a hard time at all. 

I believe that when you outline your core values, you can find the time and the means to make them happen. Usually when I’m talking to missionary families, they want to have a healthy family and a thriving ministry. I believe that’s possible. But only through following the example of Jesus. Jesus had a thriving ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons, but he had a core objective of preaching and teaching – just like we have a core objective of leading our families in the ways they should go.

In Mark 1:35, Jesus finished a great day of his thriving ministry, woke up, prioritized his own well-being (he went off to an isolated place to pray), and then set up boundaries around how much time he would spend on his thriving ministry (even though there were crowds of people expecting him to resume his work). Being imitators of Christ, let’s follow his example of taking time to prioritize his own well-being.  

Emotional Processing

Oftentimes when talking with TCK parents about the unique struggles their kids face, we hear a lot of surprise. “How is this a unique challenge for TCKs? We also went through these same experiences.” I won’t be addressing that particular question in this article, but I acknowledge that, yes, parents go through many of the same things their children do, which means that, yes, parents need to be emotionally processing their grief, too.

Here’s a unique struggle for TCK parents: while TCKs haven’t always learned how to hold together their big emotions in public spaces, TCK parents have. So you’re in these moments where you’d really love to sit down and have a good cry, but you can’t. Because you’re living in a fishbowl. Because you’re managing everyone else’s emotions. Because you know that it doesn’t fix anything. But there never seems to be a convenient time to have a good cry, so things don’t get processed.

We need to stop waiting for time to process the challenges we’ve faced in our expat life and start making time. Take some time to journal or talk through hard things that have happened and how that impacted you. Print out our free Processing Questions worksheet, and on the back write out the things you really ought to process. You can carve time out of your weekly schedule, or you can double up on tasks. Try laminating our processing questions printable and thinking through the questions while you’re washing dishes or taking a shower. We know that showers are the perfect place to solve the world’s problems. Let’s repurpose them to solve our own.  

Healthy Boundaries

Living on the field usually looks like immersion. You’re there 24 hours a day, with the people you’re trying to serve. There are calls at all hours, and demands for more than you can possibly give. So you die to yourself and pick up your cross and go on and on trying to meet all the needs. At some point you start to wonder how long you can do this because looking at the road ahead or behind you, 10, 20, or 30 years seems a lot longer of a journey than the road to Calvary. You thought you heard that the burden is easy and the yoke is light, but that must be for the people you’re serving. Not for you. So you set your jaw and hoist up the cross and carry on. 

Let me speak the gospel truth for you: Jesus beckons you to him, and his burden is easy and the yoke is light. Laying down your life and picking up the cross? You’re already doing that. There’s nothing you have to do, nothing you have to prove, because Jesus doesn’t measure his love for you in how much you do for him. He says, “Let me teach you . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Wearing yourself out is not what Jesus has in mind for you. 

Saying “no” is an important spiritual discipline. Think about your values, and and then look at your calendar, your choices, and your life, and decide where you need to put boundaries so you have time for the things you value. 

How many hours will you work? What hours will you not work? How much wiggle room do you put in for emergencies? What defines an emergency? At the end of the day, how do you want your family to perceive you, and what choices do you need to make to present that way?

Green Zone Moments

It’s time to talk about bubble baths and charcuterie boards again! In stressful moments – which happen a lot on the field – our bodies can get into the red zone. These are high stress levels with lots of cortisol (the stress chemical) and adrenaline. These chemicals cue your body to move into survival mode. Fight, flight, freeze, be really irritable with your family members — there are a number of ways that this can show up, but the symptoms reveal the chemical balance in our brains. For holistic well-being, we need to get relief from all those stress chemicals. One strategic way of doing this is through Green Zone moments. 

A Green Zone Moment is a moment that you know you’ll enjoy so much that it will bring you peace and lower your stress chemicals – at least for a bit. Even better, positive anticipation of Green Zone Moments can also help reduce cortisol levels! This means looking forward to a bubble bath or a delicious charcuterie board is good for your mental health. But it doesn’t have to be a bubble bath or charcuterie board. 

What activities bring you joy? It doesn’t have to be practical. Listen, Jesus could have gone into an inner room to pray, but instead Jesus regularly went on a hike alone into the wilderness. Not because it was a practical option, but because, I posit, it was delightful to him. 

It doesn’t even have to be big or different from what you already do. I went through a season where I had a list of 30 tiny luxuries, and I tried to get 10 everyday. From a cup of coffee to snuggling with my kids to taking the time to get music playing. I didn’t add more than a couple of minutes to my day, but I purposely valued the little things I can do or even already do for myself. 

The Why

I think this culture of downplaying our own needs and elevating the needs of others is problematic and leads to burnout more than it leads to healthy communities. I saved “the why” for last because I don’t want to have to say it at all. I don’t want to have to convince you that you’re worth caring for.  I don’t want to have to convince you that your losses deserve to be processed, that your time and energy deserves to have boundaries, that you deserve to have tiny frivolous moments of joy recklessly seasoning your life, that you deserve well-being. 

And I know this culture well. I know how suggestions for making life easier can be dismissed with “I’m fine.” I know how truths can be met with “That seems true for everyone but me.” I know how pervasive it is and how hard it is to combat this world view that our needs don’t matter. 

I think that you should do this for yourself. I think that when the Bible says “love your neighbor as yourself,” it starts with loving yourself. So you should do this for you. But if you can’t: research shows that your mental health has a huge impact on your children’s holistic health. 

The CDC-Kaiser survey of Americans shows 19% of people said they grew up in a home with an adult suffering from mental illness. In our survey, 39% of TCKs (and 39% of MKs) said the same. Additionally, the rate of TCKs reporting mental illness at home went up over time, from 1 in 3 TCKs born before 1960, to half of Gen Z. Mental illness of an adult is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) because the research shows that it has a strong impact on a child’s lifelong well-being. In fact, TCKs who reported this ACE also reported significantly higher rates of abuse and neglect – including 64% reporting emotional abuse and 58% reporting emotional neglect. 

We as parents need to do what it takes to stay mentally well. 

The prescription is to process your grief, protect your time and energy, and plant delightful moments throughout your day, week, and life. When you do these three things, you’ll see the positive impact of these investments in all areas of your life.

Photo by Theme Photos on Unsplash

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

Staying isn’t always good. Leaving isn’t always bad.

by Sue Eenigenburg and Eva Burkholder

Missions is hard. Really hard. Ministry is difficult. Cross-cultural living makes any expat question their resolve to stay. Unexpected changes, finding their niche, juggling multiple roles, and messy relationships reflect just a few of the challenges missionaries face. And don’t forget the revolving door of teammates and the endless goodbyes.

Missionaries are often under-prepared for how difficult this endeavor actually is. Some leave the field prematurely. In fact, 47% leave within the first five years. But it isn’t just hard in the first term. Mid-term and even end-of-career workers have their own set of challenges.

Gospel messengers can be tempted to lose heart, choose the easy path, run away, or give up, especially when seeing others leave their agency, location, or church. They believe lies like: Im not cut out for this. Im ruining my children’s lives. No one else struggles as much as me. If I were in a different organization, relationship, or country, things would be better. I am not needed. If I had different gifts, the ministry would flourish.

These challenges can cause global workers to wonder if they can persevere or if it’s time to go. But staying isnt always good, and leaving isnt always bad. Both require grit and grace. How do people know when it is time to go?

As someone who was tempted to leave too soon, global worker and author, Sue Eenigenburg, wanted to develop a resource that would help both men and women, newcomers and veterans, not to leave too soon or stay too long. To equip them to stay even when life and ministry feel overwhelming, but also to decide wisely when it is time to go. So she asked her colleague, Eva Burkholder, to collaborate on a new project.

The result is a story-driven, interactive, resource-filled workbook: Grit to Stay Grace to Go: Staying Well in Cross-Cultural Ministry.

Sue and Eva wrote this book because they desire to encourage global workers to develop grit to stay well even when it would seem easier to quit or when teammates leave unexpectedly. But the book also helps people discern wisely when to go — and to experience grace whatever they decide.

Grit to Stay Grace to Go has three parts:

In part one, Sue discusses the many challenges global workers face and the lies they believe that tempt them to leave too soon. Through her own stories and others’ experiences, she encourages global workers to not only stay, but to stay well by clinging to truth when circumstances are intense. She hopes readers will take away a renewed commitment to persevere by remembering truth and remaining unswayed by lies when cross-cultural ministry seems impossible.

Part two, which Eva focuses on, explores more deeply one specific challenge to staying well—the difficulty of watching teammates and friends depart. Testimony after testimony from fellow missionaries illustrate the reactions of hurt, disappointment, grief, guilt, and even judgment this revolving door brings. She hopes that stayers will turn this challenge into an opportunity to extend grace to goers—to forgive, bless, release, and live in the present, helping those who stay say goodbye well to those who go.

Sometimes workers choose to leave the field in the heat of conflict, when they are burned out, or in isolation after a stressful season. Sometimes God leads his messengers to leave the field or change roles. And going is also hard. After all, it doesn’t just take grit to stay, it also takes grit to go.

Therefore, in part three, Sue and Eva offer thoughtful questions to help readers make an intentional, rather than reactive, decision when they are undecided. Questions such as: Why do I want to transition? Whom do I need to talk to and when? What would I do if I weren’t afraid? Have I already moved on? What would I be going to? They hope that thoughtful reflection will help those considering whether to go, to do so in a healthy way with grace no matter the outcome.

The authors also encourage readers to pause after each chapter to engage with poignant reflection questions, suggested spiritual practices, and prayers. Additional resources offer more hope and encouragement to stay or go with grit and grace.

Grit to Stay Grace to Go is an effective preparation tool to help newcomers normalize their struggles and identify faulty thinking. For those with experience in ministry and in the fray, it is a resource for persevering when it seems easier to quit, especially when others leave them to carry on alone.

For those in the throes of determining whether to go or stay, it will be a valuable guide for the decision-making process. And for those who send and pray for global workers, this book will help them to empathize with the challenges of those they send and offer grace when their global partners return to them.

Grit to Stay Grace to Go is a practical guide to help cross-cultural workers and those who send them (or anyone who serves on a ministry team for that matter) develop grit and grace to stay or go. Get your copy at William Carey Publishing and other major book retailers.

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Sue Eenigenburg graduated from Moody Bible Institute and Lancaster Bible College. She has served with Christar in cross-cultural ministry on four different continents for more than thirty-five years. She and her husband Don have four married children and twelve grandchildren. She is the author of Screams in the Desert and More Screams, Different Deserts. She also co-authored Expectations and Burnout and Sacred Siblings.

Eva Burkholder’s experience as a missionary kid, cross-cultural worker, and member care provider adds a global dimension to her study of scripture and storytelling. Through her blog and her book, Favored Blessed Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth, Eva invites readers to slow down, reflect, and apply God’s Word. She and her husband live in Texas and enjoy spending time with their two married sons and their wives.

Your Short-Term Trip Should Be About You (and that’s not a bad thing)

 

It’s kind of a short-term mission trip mantra: “This trip shouldn’t be about you. It’s about the people you are serving.”

I’m here to flip that on its head: This trip isn’t mostly about the people you are serving. It actually should be primarily about you.

And that’s not a bad thing. Stick with me here; don’t write me off yet. 

Let’s start with the second part: this trip is not about the people you are serving. 

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out with it: if this trip were really about the people on the other side, then you would just take the $20,000 your team raised and send it to the missionaries or local pastors instead. 

They could support the local economy by buying the supplies you are bringing. They could hire locals to build the house or paint the church – people who are likely desperate for work. They could pay for an expert to train the church members to run the VBS themselves (in the local language) and supplement the income of those church members who need to take time off of work to serve. And with the extra, they could support a local pastor. Or top up the deficit in their ministry account.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your service is a waste of time. Certainly, God can use you to touch lives. But my point is this: it is unlikely that a team who doesn’t know the language or culture will be able to make a measurable impact in a foreign country in seven to ten days. Often, there are already people living in the country who could do the exact same ministry themselves if necessary. (I know there are exceptions, but that’s not what I’m talking about today.) 

In spite of all this, I’m still a fan of short-term missions. This is not an anti-missions-trip article. Those are out there. This is not one of them. 

So why do I still encourage these trips? Because I believe God can use them to transform lives. Not necessarily the lives of the people you are serving. But your life? Yes! 

Because your short-term trip is actually about you. 

Now, I need to clarify a couple of things here. You’ve all heard the horror stories of teams who complain, criticize, demand – the ones who make the trip about themselves in the nastiest of ways. We personally witnessed a team who thought it would be funny to make a bet as to who could go the most days without showering. (It was only funny to them.) 

Your short-term missions trip isn’t camp or a vacation. You shouldn’t expect room service, predictable schedules, or familiar food. Expect to be uncomfortable. It’s not about your agenda. It’s not about your needs. 

Most of us know this. Duh. Let’s move on. Most of us say, “That’s not me. I’m going to serve.”

That’s great, but there’s still a problem here. Sometimes, our attitude of serving can actually breed a different type of self-centeredness: the kind that feels really good and important with all the wonderful things we are doing. This kind of service puts me up here on this pedestal and the people I’m serving down there in the dust. They need me. They want me. They are so blessed by me. 

This kind of serving can even masquerade as humility. It can say, “I need to do this for these people because they can’t possibly do it themselves. I wouldn’t want to ask them to help me, because this service is my gift to them.” Which is sort of a roundabout way of positioning myself as the hero of the story. Short-term missions trips, unfortunately, are really good at this. 

As you can imagine, this kind of service usually does more harm than good (both for the servers and the recipients). So how do we avoid it? 

Well, let’s reframe your trip. 

Let’s make this trip less about you serving the local people and more about how God can use it to change you. Why would missionaries invite you to come if they know they don’t really need you for this ministry?

Because what they do need is your partnership. They need your encouragement, your fellowship, your questions, your interest in their host country. They need your financial support. They need you to go back home and champion their ministry to your church. 

That last part is key. Maybe you thought you were interested in their ministry before, but once you see it for yourself, your perspective will be blasted wide open. It should be, if you let it. 

Whether or not this happens is entirely dependent on your focus. Is this trip about you feeling good about yourself for serving? Or is it about humbly walking into a cross-cultural situation as a learner, with your hands and your heart open wide to how God wants to transform you? 

Barna’s* study on short-term missions says this:

“As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to listen to each other, valuing and learning from the wisdom and experiences that God has given to each of us. Believers in the slums of Kenya understand God’s provision and sustaining presence in ways that many more affluent Christians do not. African-American brothers and sisters in Birmingham, Alabama, have much to teach Caucasian believers about suffering and forgiveness. But if short-term trips are built around ‘doing,’ accomplishing particular tasks and projects, they cannot create the time or safe space necessary for this type of listening and learning.”

So walk into a short-term trip with an open mind and an open heart, and ask yourself the following questions.

Will you allow God to use this trip to change the way you see those who live in poverty? 
To challenge how sacrificially you give? 
To reenergize how you pray? 
To remodel how you spend your time? 
To transform your priorities back home? 
And finally, might God be calling you to fulfill the Great Commission overseas? If not, could He be calling you to personally advocate for these missionaries or their ministry? 

Yes, one goal of your trip is to serve. By all means, go in with an attitude of dying to yourself and your comfort. Look for ways to love others well, and trust that God can use you to build His kingdom. But you must remember that the success of the long-term impact is entirely connected to your transformed life. 

If you walk away from this trip and go back to your life and nothing changes, then this trip will be a waste. If you are not open to God transforming you, then don’t go – send the money instead. Because this trip is mainly about what God wants to do in you. Will you let Him? 

 

* “A Field Guide to Better Short-Term Missions Trips,” a Barna Group Research Study

I highly recommend the Chalmers Center excellent book/video series “Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions” (the videos are free online!)

Can Faith and Fear Exist at the Same Time?

by Rebecca Hopkins

Anna Hampton and her husband Neal lived and worked for nearly 20 years in war-torn Islamic countries, including 10 years in Afghanistan, where they started raising their three children. She’s a mom, risk specialist, and member care worker who now trains workers in risk management, fear, and courage from a Christian perspective.

She’s just published her latest book, Facing Fear: The Journey to Mature Courage in Risk and Persecution, as a follow-up book to her first, Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk. Her latest book delves into the practicality of fear in the context of witness risk—the risks that both local believers and global workers face. She offers tools that work in a variety of risky contexts.

I’m thankful for the chance to sit down and chat with her.

Tell me the differences in your two books.

My first book, Facing Danger is about a theology of risk. What does that look like functionally? How do we do risk assessment? That leads us to know how to mitigate or manage it. It’s very practical.

The Facing Fear book asks, “How do we be shrewd as a serpent?” Facing Fear is a better pre-field book because we can deal with our fears before we go, and we can be trained in situational awareness. The book can be used as a resource — it doesn’t have to be read straight through. Instead, you can turn to the chapter you feel you need right now.

There’s so much in your Facing Fear book. I felt like I could take one chapter and just spend a month thinking through it, talking through it, doing exercises through it. You’ve taken this one word, “fear” and you’ve written about all the complexities of it. Was that intentional? Did you go in knowing and having a very deep sense of, “This is really complex, we need to really dive into this?”

No. What started me on the path was an email from a team leader in Central Asia. Her team experienced an attack by extremists. One person had been killed, one person had been kidnapped, and the team had left the country and were regrouping in a border country. She wrote to me and asked, “What do I tell the team? How do we process our fears, because we’re preparing to go back in?”

What would you say to people who are planning to go in and could be killed the next day? That’s the lens through which I think and write and the way we respond pastorally to people.

But then the other thing that drives me is responses from the church. I sat through two international church sermons where they preached (too simply) on fear, and I was like, “Okay, that’s not true.” You can have faith and fear and not be in sin. So what’s the relationship? I want to know exegetically what the Bible actually says. I just started collecting research. And five years later, Facing Fear has helped me develop my thinking, although I don’t presume to have the final answer.

The church’s conversation around fear has morphed into a whole thing with COVID and responses to COVID and all that. But you are speaking to an audience who knows that, while they’re making dinner, there could literally be enemies at their gate. Tell me more about the people you are writing to.

I’m writing to Christ followers advancing Christ’s kingdom primarily in the most dangerous areas. Of 500,000 global workers, I’ve heard anywhere from 2 to 9 percent go to unreached people groups. Those areas are also often the most dangerous. Those working in these areas often don’t have much pastoral care. The front line needs support, needs a cup of cold water so they are strengthened to go another day to push forward his kingdom. That’s the heart behind my writing.

Is this going to be accessible to a nonwestern global worker?

That would be my desire. For example, a Chinese Christian may think, “This risk mitigation is a western thing, and it costs money.”

But actually, it doesn’t. The example I use is a house pastor on their way to the house church. If the Spirit tells you to go right instead of left because left takes you to the house church where the police are, but turning right means, “I don’t want you in jail today,” we’re going to turn right. But if you want me to go to jail today—because we know what happens in jail, we hear the stories of Chinese pastors in jail and how people come to Christ—then do that. Do what he’s called you to do. But it’s not an automatic thing that you have to go risk your life.

The main point is to listen closely to the still quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit and obey him. Experiencing fear in dangerous situations is normal; however, we don’t have to let it paralyze us. Without fear, courage is unnecessary. Courage is moving forward despite our fear in the next step of obedience. This message is for all Christ followers, from the west, the south, the east, and the north.

What has been missing from our conversation in missions about risk, fear, persecution, and martyrdom?

What’s been missing is a holistic response. There are not a lot of books that really address fear with practical situational awareness, our human physiological response, addressing fear management (our emotions), and with spiritual tools to learn to lean on God. Facing Fear tries to combine science and theology and emotions—a holistic response.

Unlike the majority world Church, the western Church hasn’t suffered very much, and so teaching on fear tends to stay at the surface level. We western Christians give simple answers that not only don’t help, they actually harm. This book does not give simple answers.

Additionally, there are not usually “answers” on many of the topics. For example, on the chapter on discernment and meaning, I describe what type of meaning will sustain us in danger and persecution, but to get to that point will require the reader to enter in to the journey of discerning their own meaning for their cross and suffering.

This book is a guide, not an answer key. It’s an invitation to deeper conversation about the intersection of risk, fear, and Gospel advancement in hard places. It goes beyond what we hear on a Sunday morning from the pulpit or read in pop-Christian books.

This book will challenge a simplistic binary worldview. It’s for those who want to go deeper, who want to leave the solid ground of the superficial and gain a foothold on the brink of the deep.

That’s a really good point about missionaries often being sent from more “stable” places, and so they may not have received that deep teaching on fear. They may know how to share the gospel. They’re going to learn another language or they’re going to learn how to raise support. But they don’t know how to truly enter into risk and make decisions and then recover from the trauma.

What else would you want somebody who’s considering reading this book to know about it?

Writing Facing Danger was therapeutic for me to work through our experiences in Afghanistan. But 2021, the year before I wrote Facing Fear, was probably the worst year of my life. It was an extremely painful, foundation-shaking year. I also had continued to gather so much research, I was overwhelmed by the material and needed to start writing. In January 2022, I cancelled everything in my life except what ministry trips were already scheduled, and just began writing. I wrote 10-15 hours a day.

I didn’t realize the effect of these months of writing and focus until the morning after I had turned in the manuscript to the publisher. On June 1, 2022, I stared at my blank journal page, considering how I felt, then wrote, “The storm is over.” It took me all summer to recover – I spent every day sitting on my veranda, crying and grieving. It was a storm to enter that day in and day out, and that is what the persecuted church faces every day, with very little break. By comparison, we know nothing of this type of oppression and pressure.

I appreciate you sharing the heart behind that. You suffered yourself in your own experience. But even writing this book has been an act of suffering. And entering into people’s suffering, with just a huge heart for them is really beautiful, but also hard and important.

A Life Overseas readers can get a 20% discount by using this link (or any of the links embedded throughout this interview). The discount should apply at checkout.

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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 Expectations Aren’t Reality: Supporting Your TCKs in the First Years of University

by Lauren Wells

I stood on a grassy hill hugging my parents tight as they prepared to drive away and head back to Africa, leaving me at university in Indiana. I had prepared for this transition. I had visited the school, had already made some friends, had earned my driver’s license on a previous home assignment, and felt ready and excited for this new chapter. It was going to be great.

A few days into the semester, I was required to go to an international student workshop. I was excited, thinking this was the part where I’d meet other TCKs. I was surprised to find that all of the other international students came from other passport countries for the purpose of university and that this was their first time living outside their home country.

I was equally surprised when our workshop consisted of teaching American currency (“This is a dollar. This is a penny, it’s worth one cent.”) and explaining how to dial 911. Having lived in the US until I was 13, I quickly realized I was the outsider in the international student group, so after I’d met the requirements, I never went back. 

As the semester went on, I tried to make friends. But it felt like every time I opened my mouth, the words I spoke didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. My attempts to be funny were met with awkward smiles. My attempts to deepen relationships by sharing about something a bit more vulnerable were met with comments that communicated a lack of ability to relate to my experiences and no invitation to continue the conversation.

I quickly felt like I didn’t belong with the monocultural crowd, but I told myself it didn’t matter. “I’ll only be here long enough to get my degree anyway, and it will be easier to leave if I never make close friends.” I knew what it felt like to leave close friends, so when my initial attempts to build relationship hadn’t worked, that seemed like a good excuse to stop trying.

I became the quiet one who walked through campus trying not to be noticed. I succeeded academically but have no memories of good social experiences. That first Christmas break, I remember feeling like a shell of myself, never having felt that level of emptiness and despair before, and I simultaneously decided that I just needed to toughen up and keep moving forward. 

School resumed, and I took on more classes than recommended, thinking that if I just poured myself into the academics, I could ignore the rest. But then, the grief started to creep in. Not just the grief of that year, but the grief that I had so skillfully pushed down for a long time before that. My Grief Tower was collapsing.

At TCK Training we work with TCKs on both sides of this story – educating families who are raising TCKs on how they can be intentional in caring for the unique needs of TCKs so that they can prevent adverse outcomes in adulthood and serving adult TCKs who reach out to us for support. 

In between the two parts of that story, we have found the need for preventive care and support. Sometimes universities have a wonderful TCK program, like MuKappa, that provides community and support for TCKs in their university years. Unfortunately, there is often a lack of resources available to university-age TCKs to guide them through that season. 

But there is good news! We can be intentional about supporting our university-age TCKs well, especially in those first couple of years. 

  • Set them up for emotional success by making sure they’ve had the opportunity to debrief and unstack their Grief Tower before university. The books The Grief Tower and Unstacking Your Grief Tower can guide you in doing that process in your own family. We recommend doing this at least 3 months before the transition to university so that the grief these conversations bring to the surface has time to begin to heal before they experience the major transition of starting university. 
  • Make sure they have avenues for connection and continued processing with safe people – family, friends, counselors. There will inevitably be difficulty in the transition, but they will not always want to share their hardships with you. Often this is because they won’t want to burden you on top of your international work or because they won’t want to disappoint you at their “failure” to thrive. Take away that shame by regularly asking them what has been hard. Ask them questions, and even when they don’t answer, let them know you don’t expect everything to be easy for them. For more on this, check out KC360’s workshop, “Indicators that University Transition is Going Well (or Not) with Dr. Rachel Cason” included in their free website membership
  • Help them develop a support network. There is potential for heavy, hard, or just unexpected circumstances to arise that require the help of a supportive adult. Asking for help can feel shameful, but that fear and shame can be reduced when the TCK has a list of people who have agreed to be a support to them. It is even more helpful when those people regularly check in with the TCK to see how they’re doing and what they need. Have your TCK help create a “supportive adult” list, and then ask the people on the list to regularly reach out to the TCK – both asking what they need and offering tangible ways they can help. For example, “Can I take you shopping for a winter coat? Can I come help pack up your dorm room for summer break?”
  • Teach them to celebrate wins. Adult TCKs often struggle to acknowledge their victories due to consistently feeling the need to adapt to fit the communities around them. The internal need to continue performing at ever higher levels leads to burnout. Celebrating victories, however, allows for rest, builds confidence and a sense of value, and strengthens their emotional bank to handle the difficult waves that come. 
  • Provide them transition support in their first year or two of university. An example of this is TCK Training’s Launch Pad program, which provides repatriating TCKs with a 10-month virtual cohort community, education, and support directly related to adult TCK experiences. There is space to process and grieve, along with regular checks-ins to celebrate victories and continue developing as an individual.
  • Familiarize yourself with Adult TCK resources so that you can support your Adult TCK by sending them relevant resources along the way. There is so much available now that simply wasn’t around only a few years ago! You can view all of TCK Training’s ATCK services, workshops, and resources at www.tcktraining.com/for-atcks 

The first couple years of university are notoriously the most difficult transition for TCKs. We believe, however, that with intentionality we can make these years not only healthy, but years that set them up for long-term emotional and relational health. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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Lauren Wells is the founder and CEO of TCK Training and the Unstacking Company and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids, The Grief Tower, and Unstacking Your Grief Tower. She is an Adult TCK who spent her teenage years in Tanzania, East Africa. She sits on the board of the TCK Care Accreditation as Vice Chair and is part of the TCK Training research team focusing on preventive care research in the TCK population.

Let’s talk about sin (It won’t be that bad, I promise!)

In November we asked for your help on a “Sin Survey.” The survey came about because an organization that provides prefield training noticed a concerning commonly held belief.

In short, “Sin won’t be a problem for me/us on the field because God has called me/us.”

In the anonymous survey Global Trellis gathered your collective wisdom and put it into two resources: one for people new to the field and one for people who have been on the field for a while.

As a brief refresher, the survey involved 4 questions:

1—How long have you been on the field? Or how long were you on the field?

2—In what ways has being on the field had no impact on the ways you sin? (In other  words, you are you wherever you are in the world?)

3—In what ways has being on the field “positively” impacted your sinning? (In other  words, how has being on the field helped you to sin less?)

4—In what ways has being on the field “negatively” impacted your sinning? (In other  words, how has being on the field contributed to you sinning more?)


Reading the responses was both encouraging and heart breaking. One of the clear results is that we are regular people in harder situations. While sexual sins were mentioned, want to know what was mentioned far more often? Pride.

The encouraging part of the survey was the reminder of how very much God loves us. How very much God loves you. Sin is real and the results can be far reaching, but God’s love is even farther reaching. As God reaches into the parts that seem too dark to share, too entrenched to hope for a change, or too common to need to take that seriously, he has life for you!

We’ve recently celebrated Easter. I love the refrain, “Christ has risen” and the response, “He has risen indeed!” The same refrain can be said of us because of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit alive in us. “That which was stuck in sin has been brought to life!” . . . “It has been brought to life indeed!”

Can I get an amen?!

So, to those of you who took the survey, thank you! You might wondered what happened and if anything was done with your input.

We’ve created two workshops—for the newbies and old hands—for you to use in training, personal development, and member care.

For the newbies:

  • Summary of the survey answers,
  • A list of practical suggestions for your first year, 
  • 3 “simple” takeaways from the survey for first term, 
  • 3 questions to ask yourself during your first term (and download home art)

For the old hands:

  • Summary and themes from the survey,
  • How to handle the “respectable sins” many of us wrestle with,
  • 3 “simple” takeaways from the survey,
  • 3 questions to ask yourself when it comes to sin (and downloadable home art! Not what you think of with sin . . . but Jesus came to bring life! We’re so excited about the art!)

Resources for you:

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges (book)

Sin and Resiliency for the First Term (workshop)

Sin and Resiliency for the Long Haul (workshop)

Bundle of both workshops

Last week I was talking with a friend about these workshops and she said, “I’ll be interested to see how much actual interest people express in these resources because sin doesn’t sell. We know we’re sinners and Christ died for us, but we don’t really want to talk about it.”

I’m hoping that she’s wrong. That we do want to talk about sin because it’s when we don’t talk about it, downplay it, or have the grand plan of “hoping it’s not a problem” that sin’s roots can grow deep.

Spend time reflecting on the questions in the survey. Remember past sins that were a struggle and no longer have the grip they once did. Invest in your own soul with one of these resources.

Friend, hear this good news today: Jesus loves you. Jesus is at work in you. Your sin is serious. Jesus will help you with current sin and better yet, help you avoid future sin.