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.

4 Ways Parents Can Help Young TCKs in Transition

by Hannah Flatman

We enjoyed setting up home in Brazil again. We had returned to our host country after a year away, eager to settle back into life at home. Discovering all their old toys felt a bit like Christmas for my children.

However, as gently and slowly as we took things, our little ones were sometimes overwhelmed by newness and change. They had forgotten quite a lot of the life they had lived here pre-pandemic. Surely this latest transition would be easier because my husband, the kids, and I were desperately looking forward to coming back ‘home’ to our serving country after the pandemic. And we are professional movers! I can’t count the number of cross-cultural transitions we’ve navigated our three- and five-year-olds through over the past years: Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Our preschooler had gotten past the phase of bed wetting and middle-of-the-night visits to Mum and Dad’s room. However, accidents began occurring fairly frequently and were accompanied by nightmares, a tantrum or two, and a refusal by one of our TCKs to speak anything but their maternal language for a time.

After frantically Googling ‘regression behaviour in young children in transition,’ it was a comfort to find that whilst it is exhausting, frustrating, and embarrassing (especially during long flights!), regression is also totally normal. If we expect tantrums from all young children as they learn to regulate their emotions and express themselves, how much more should we expect regression from young children in transition? This is especially true for cross-cultural transitions.

By regression, I mean temporarily reverting back to a younger or needier way of behaving. Perhaps a young child is using a pacifier again. Or they become clingy when they had been more independent, especially at bed times and goodbyes. A toddler who was speaking might revert to babbling. Children might become fussy about eating or refuse food at meal times. You might hear increased whining and stalling. Bed wetting might begin again.

Our experiences taught us to anticipate a toddler or young child’s regression on some developmental milestones in the weeks and months before, during, and after transition. It is a normal reaction to a big adjustment to their new environment.

When we expect regression, we can remember to allow margin in our full schedules. Parenting a child going through regression, even if short-lived, is intense and sometimes isolating. It often comes at a time when you want to focus on language learning, starting your new ministry, or just working out essential life skills like how to use public transport and where to buy veg. 

Regression may mean you have little energy for anything beyond the demands at home for longer than you expected. If you are a cross-cultural worker returning to your host culture from a time of Sending Country Assignment, your little ones may each take different time frames to adjust and settle back in – just as they would on arriving for the first time.

If this is your family’s first term of service, you’re probably wanting to make a good impression on new colleagues. Demanding perfect behaviour from our little ones (which usually means silence and politeness) in an attempt to validate our ministry or earn respect from our colleagues puts a huge pressure on our family.

When we expect perfection in our TCKs’ behaviour, we may be unconsciously teaching them that they need to hide their emotions, that mistakes are inexcusable, and that it is only acceptable to express (or feel) positive emotions. Let’s not project onto young children in transition the damaging idea that they compromise their parent’s spiritual witness, ministry, or family’s reputation when they demonstrate regression behaviour. People understand that acting out is normal from any toddler, even if they don’t understand the unique pressures of families with a globally mobile lifestyle.

So how do we help our little ones navigate transition and help our whole family navigate our toddler’s regression behaviour? How do we survive and thrive as parents of toddlers in transition? Below I’m sharing four ideas based on our own experiences.

1. Practicing Forbearance
In Ephesians 4:2 Paul exhorts the church to ‘be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ Bearing with our little ones in the midst of their transition-induced tantrums encompasses much more than just being patient and putting up with them. It is a choice to forgive, not to take offense, and most of all to love whilst acknowledging the real grievances and trials.

It is much easier to be patient and forbearing with our children when we are rested, in our own culture and home, with a well-established support network around us. In cross-cultural transitions so much is stripped away from us as parents and TCK caregivers that we are more vulnerable. We are often experiencing the disorientations and frustrations of culture shock along with our family. Regression behaviour in our little ones can be difficult to cope with when we want to make good first impressions in our communities, ministries, and churches. 

I was once told that it usually takes 3-12 months for children to adapt following a transition. Anything outside this window does not necessarily mean that the settling in journey is not going smoothly, or that our little ones are failing to adapt. For example, transitions may take longer or regression behaviour reoccur where there are a series of transitions involved over a number of months or years. However, if the regression behaviour is not short-lived, or if a caregiver is concerned, then do seek professional advice. 

2. Transition Preparedness
Gradually introduce elements of the new culture in the lead up to a cross-cultural transition. This can be as simple as a weekly attempt at making a dish from the new culture, language learning through games and apps, or finding out about cultural practices, special days, or celebrations in our host nation and joining in where possible. These may seem like small steps, but they build excitement about trying new things and can help the family prepare emotionally for departure.

3. Creating Consistency
Even when we are not going through transitions, I try to give my kids a preview of the day over breakfast. We talk about what is going to happen that day and when, often using meal times as references, because most young children are still coming to terms with the concept of time. So I might say, ‘After breakfast we will… and then just before lunch you can…’ That way they know what to expect. We also have a weekly schedule pinned to our fridge – the more pictures the better! We move a magnet along to show where we are in the week.

As soon as possible in the transition, try to establish routines like mealtimes and bedtimes. This helps little ones to feel more secure. We can make our homes warm and safe spaces so that our little ones can relax, be themselves, and have time away from others’ eyes. This could be achieved on Sending Country Assignment, where families don’t always have their own space, with a framed photo or two that comes with them or bed sheets or a toy from home. The child can help pack a small bag of things which are important to them to take. Set aside some time each day to lavish attention and affection on each child. These and other habits can help our children feel at home, even in transition.

4. Emotional Preparation
Giving our TCKs the emotional vocabulary to express how they feel helps alleviate some of their frustrations in being unable to communicate their needs. We have a weekly family check-in on Sunday afternoons where we all talk about, or draw, how our week has been. Mum and Dad share something as well! We hope this practice will help our little ones build emotional vocabulary and  foster open and trusting relationships where they can express any feeling to us. Emotion cards can help with this.

Remember that God is gracious to parents. He cares for the whole family even as he calls the parents to serve Him. Doubts may creep in about the truth of that during lonely moments when we are reeling from our toddlers’ tantrums, attempting to get our little one to eat, or changing wet bed clothes at 3am, again. It is a comfort to me to remember that He sees and knows our parental struggles and fear, as well as our mum/dad guilt. God is alongside us and our little ones in all those moments. His constant presence is our home through all transitions.

 

For additional practical advice from Lauren Wells, see this article.

My story for young TCKs and MKs in transition, A Fish out of Water, is a good conversation starter for parents who want to guide their little ones through cross-cultural moves and culture shock.

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Hannah Flatman writes about culture shock, transitions, and raising resilient Third Culture Kids. She has been serving as a missionary in NE Brazil since 2005 and is mum to two little ones whom she has already guided through several significant cross-cultural transitions. Hannah is responsible for the member care of short-term members of Latin Link Brazil and also serves in South Sudan, where she and her husband have an ongoing commitment to the Ngok Dinka community in Abyei.

Go With the End in Mind

by Ben Barthelemy

We probably all remember that day. The one in which we stepped onto a plane to begin the journey to our ministry area. For some of us there was a feeling of great excitement, while others of us were feeling scared, sad, nervous, and perhaps a hundred other emotions, maybe all at once. And yet, all cross-cultural workers experience that day of departure, a day when everything suddenly gets very real.

To those who are still preparing to go, allow me to give one piece of unsolicited advice. You have probably gotten lots of it already. (Make sure you bring lots of chili powder, you can’t get it here. Don’t worry about packing winter clothes, it doesn’t get cold. Remember to get a bank that doesn’t have international service fees. Bring lots of Pepto Bismol, Turkish tummy is terrible!) So, to add to the cacophony of needed and not-so-needed tips, here is one more: go with the end in mind.

I dare say this isn’t typical advice for soon-to-depart missionaries, but the reality of the matter is this: you will not be there forever. Often, in our excitement to “do amazing things for God,” we don’t think long-term. In my own continent of service, Africa, there have been countless ministries started by cross-cultural workers, and there have been countless ministries which closed once the missionary left.

Generally, we Westerners are “doers.” It seems, for both good and ill, we have a “git-er-done” kind of mentality. We show up to various places around the world, we see a need, and we start doing something about it (often in a very clunky way, but that’s another story). And yet we don’t consider what will happen when we leave.

So often these ministries succeed for a long time because they are supported with Western money and Western skills. What happens when the worker leaves? Well, they take their financial connections and skills with them. The ministry may limp along for a time, but in many scenarios, the ending has already been written. When all is said and done, local people are left to pick up the pieces because there was no plan for the future. They may feel like the missionary/organization deserted them.

As we look across the landscape of global Christianity, trends indicate that the Church in the West is declining. Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, makes the argument that the epicenter of Christianity is moving to the Global South. This brings with it both dangers and opportunities. We need to recognize that Western missionaries and finances are likely going to be on the decline. We can no longer just assume that these missionary ventures will be forever propped up by the next young couple our organization sends our way.

If you were to look closely, my guess is that trends in missions would indicate that missionaries are staying on the field for shorter amounts of time than in the past. In previous generations cross-cultural workers would spend their entire careers on the mission field, but in our current day people are much more transient and prone to try many different things throughout their career. Our missions strategies need to adapt accordingly. All of those in missionary work need to be asking the question, “What’s my exit strategy?”

Consider the apostle Paul. He traveled the ancient world preaching the Gospel and planting churches. In the churches he planted, he had a plan for their long-term sustainability. It was called “eldership.” These churches were led by local believers who were godly and capable. Now, I can already hear the excuses in my head: “But there are none of those.” If this is true, then it becomes our job to train them up. Isn’t that an integral part of discipleship?

Missionaries are often an independent and driven lot who can have more than a little “control freak” inside. We have to be willing to let others do things differently and perhaps even experience failure. Paul did send some scathing letters, but he also didn’t micromanage. He couldn’t have, because within a relatively short amount of time he was off to a new place of ministry.

This principle of going with the end in mind is not just for church planters, however; it applies across ministry contexts. Constantly be thinking about how you will hand off the ministry when your time is up. The last thing you want is for those remaining behind to be forced to scramble because you didn’t see the end coming.

So I encourage those of you already on the field to have or develop an exit strategy. Take intentional steps toward your plan, and inform both your leadership and your local partners of that plan. And for those who are about to depart, remember to go with the end in mind.

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Ben is a sinner saved by grace. He is husband to Beth (a far more accomplished writer than himself), dad to four daughters, and partial owner of two cats. They live and work in South Africa where they are involved in theological education.

What’s on Your Housing Wish List?

by Jacob

“Sure it’s got no natural light, but the water supply is good, and look, you even have your own toilet!”

A potential landlady was showing us a room that was available for rent. We had just moved back to India from Australia and were getting back into our old roles doing community development in a slum. We’d deliberately chosen to live in the slum, so as to be near to our neighbours and understand their problems. We were also welcoming another housemate soon and needed more space, so we were looking for a new place to rent.

We’ve done this style of thing – living in slums – for a couple of decades, moving house many times in the process. As we’ve done so, my wife Ruby and I have developed a clear sense of what’s important in our accommodation as well as the factors on which we can compromise.

The room we were now being shown, as the landlady pointed out, had the advantage of having its very own toilet. This is not something to be taken for granted and is indeed a big selling point in a slum. Many rental places here don’t have their own toilet, renters instead needing to share between several families. That can make life pretty tough, especially in the morning ‘rush hour.’ (In one of our previous rentals, there was one toilet for 13 people!)

Independent toilet notwithstanding, for us, the lack of natural light was something on which we weren’t prepared to compromise. We’ve found over the years that having natural light is important to our emotional health. Perhaps it gives us a connection of sorts with the natural world outside the brick and concrete that characterises so many Asian cities. If we’re lucky, the natural light may also offer a glimpse of a tree or even a bird, which is helpful for our feeling of well-being and for our connection to God.

After natural light, perhaps the next most important factor on our wish-list is not being on the ground floor. Many people in south Asia actually see the ground floor as an advantage, being as it is cooler in the punishing South Asian summers. The storeys above do indeed keep the sun off the ground floor.

However, a major disadvantage of the lowest level for us is the lack of privacy. As foreigners, we tend to attract quite a bit of attention, so people will readily poke their head inside a ground floor room or have a good look through the windows just to ‘view’ us. When you like a little privacy, as I do, that’s not fun. We find that a 2nd (or 3rd) floor place offers enough disincentive (needing to walk up the steps) that it keeps the number of ‘casual observers’ down. Those upper floors are also obviously better for natural light.

After natural light and being off the ground floor, a reliable water supply and an independent toilet/bathing area are perhaps our next most important factors. While in the West we take our own water supply for granted, for millions in the developing world, it is a daily drama needing to line up at public taps and then haul the precious commodity home in buckets. In middle class neighbourhoods with multi-storey apartments, often the water pressure is not sufficient to get the water to upper levels, necessitating a pump to get the water to a storage tank on the roof. We’ve recently had such a pump installed at our place which has saved us many trips hauling water up the stairs.

Then there’s the toilet/bathing area – the feature our potential new landlady was pointing out as the big selling point of that room.  While many of our local friends share a ‘common’ toilet and bathing area with other tenants, this level of sharing is beyond most of us as foreigners, liking as we do to have access to ‘the facilities’ when we want, and allowing us to perhaps keep it a little cleaner than other users.

Finally, we consider the particular area of the neighbourhood where the potential apartment is located – preferably being away from the nosiest parts, and thus being a little more peaceful. Access to a park for extra green space is a bonus.

Interestingly, as I look at my wish-list, one factor is conspicuous by its absence – the actual rent. With most places in our poor neighbourhood being affordable to us, my not having the rent on my list is a stark reminder of the incredible privilege I have of being able to choose a place on the basis of ‘luxuries’ like light, water, and a bathing area.

After considering all of these factors, we decided not to take the ‘toilet’ room, but instead to advance several months’ rent to our current landlord to build another smaller room atop our existing one, leaving that room to our new teammate. Being top storey, the new room, while small, has great natural light, is two levels away from inquisitive eyes, and even gives us a view of some trees beyond our slum! Together with the addition of the water pump and being in a relatively quiet area, our new room actually satisfies most of our slum home wish-list!

Everyone’s context is different: some of us are in crowded slums, some in sprawling suburban settlements, some in rural areas with few facilities but lots of greenery. And within those contexts, we all have unique personalities, leading to different preferences in our accommodation. Some of us need natural light, whereas others just need a decent water supply and our own bathroom. Some need lots of connection with neighbours, whereas others need more personal space.

In whatever context you find yourself, and whatever your personality, I hope and pray your home satisfies the most important features of your wish list, and that you (and I) have the grace to accept the imperfections of our surroundings, whatever they are.

~~~~~~~~~~

Jacob and his wife Ruby (names changed) have lived and worked in the slums of India with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor for almost two decades. There they seek to understand the difficulties their neighbours face, partly by experiencing those difficulties themselves. Those choices have led Jacob, Ruby, and now adult son Joseph, to respond in a variety of ways – ranging from assisting neighbours to access government identity documentation, pensions and hospital care, to helping challenge an eviction for an entire slum.

Finding Your Rhythm for Every Season

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

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

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

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

And then dawn breaks. 

This morning is different from the one I wanted. 

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

Grieving that my favorite morning rhythm was ruined by reality.

Guilty that I shirked things that are important to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Set a Rhythm for Each Season 

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

1) Make a list of daily priorities. 

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

2) Outline a Thriving Rhythm. 

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

3) Outline a Striving Rhythm. 

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

4) Outline a Surviving Rhythm. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

~~~~~~

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

The Hidden Super-Stars of Missions

 

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

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

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

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

Who can turn that whole experience around? An advocate. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot overstate the power of a missionary advocate.

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

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.