Senders Make Sacrifices Too

Much of the time living in Cambodia, I don’t feel like I am making huge sacrifices for God. In fact, I’ve found many things to love about living here. I am so settled here that I sometimes forget that other people have made sacrifices for me to be here. Reminders come in the form of my children, when they miss the family and friends they’ve left behind. They come in the form of Skype sessions with my parents, when I realize anew how very much they miss us.

So I am sandwiched in the middle of two generations of people who have, in many ways, sacrificed more than I have – much more. My parents. My children. I have caused people I love to suffer — and I did it voluntarily. You might not hear many people talking about this. You are more likely to hear people talk about the sacrifices of the missionaries themselves (whether or not it’s a missionary who is speaking). But I think that does an incredible injustice to the thousands of people throughout the world who are sacrificing right now to send a loved one abroad.

My best friend in America was the kind of girl who dropped everything the day Jonathan’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, just to sit with me in my shock and grief. She’s the kind of girl who would drive to my house when my husband was out of town, so that after my babies were asleep, we could talk for hours and hours. She’s the girl I laughed with and cried with for eight wonderful years, and she’s the girl I still laugh with and cry with during furlough visits. She’s also a writer. About a year after we moved overseas, I asked her to write about how she felt saying goodbye to me. This is what she wrote.

A Letter from Home

by Teresa Schantz Williams

Last year, Elizabeth and Jonathan and their foursome said goodbye to their families and friends and flew toward the adventure God chose for them. Those left behind, with none of the distractions of a new culture, slowly adjusted to their absence. The Trotters were missing from the daily landscape of our lives, and knowing this was going to happen didn’t make it less painful.

At first when they left, I kept forgetting. I’d pick up the phone, punch in their number and sheepishly hang up. Or I would think I saw Elizabeth coming out of the library and wave too warmly at a confused stranger.

It was like when you rearrange the contents of your kitchen cabinets and spend the next four weeks trying to relearn where you store the salt. Things weren’t where they were supposed to be.

Their pew at church was too empty. No squirmy bodies next to Elizabeth’s mother, Mary, munching on grandma’s snacks and vying for grandpa’s lap. Those first few months were hard on the families stateside, especially as news of distress and health crises came their way. Powerless to help, family prayed.

A missionary wife once told me she hadn’t understood what the extended family sacrificed when she and her husband left for the mission field. She had since come to see that they relinquished precious time with their children and grandchildren, forfeited shared memories of celebrations and milestones, and suppressed their instinct to rescue when things went wrong.

Some are called to go.  Some are called to let go.

If you have to say goodbye, this is the century to do it in.  My grandmother had a dear friend who was a missionary with her husband in Burma during the 1950’s.  Somehow they held their friendship together with letters and furloughs, and in the long silences between, they prayed.

Facebook, Skype, blogs, email have closed gaps. Within the digital universe, both sides of the ocean can post photos and videos and updates. Elizabeth can share funny stories about the kids, so women back home can “watch” them grow. To celebrate their special days, one can browse their Amazon Wish Lists to find a gift, or select something from iTunes. Even international travel is more feasible than it once was. Visits are possible.

Nothing substitutes for presence. These days, I can’t sit next to the bathtub and hold Faith while Elizabeth brushes the boys’ teeth. I can’t watch the boys wrestle or Hannah belly-surf down the stairs. I can’t go to a girly movie with Elizabeth and rehash our favorite parts on the drive home. I can’t watch her eat the frosting from the top of a cupcake and leave the rest because she only eats the part she wants.  I can’t hug her.

I concentrate on what I can do.  I translate twelve hours ahead and try to anticipate what they might need.  1 p.m. here?  Asleep there.  I pray that the girls aren’t waking them in the night, that their colds will soon be gone. I pray that they will be able to play outside every day this week. That Elizabeth can find hummus at Lucky’s grocery store.  I pray the details.

I can look over Elizabeth’s shoulder and see the frontlines of world missions and watch God’s plans unfold.  I can see what the Holy Spirit has done in her, enabling her to do things I wasn’t at all sure she could do. (Bugs, germs, smells, change in all forms.) And through her blogging, the special qualities I knew were inside her are out where others can see (humor, insight, modesty in all its expressions).

Perhaps it sounds overdramatic, but I’ve concluded that for me, missing my missionary friends is a standing invitation to resubmit to God’s plans. My true and proper worship.

“I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (2 Timothy 1:3, NLV)

Originally published here.


Teresa Schantz Williams is a freelance writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a ministry family.





Don’t Touch My Bacon: Eating, Drinking, and Dressing Overseas

The American teacher stood in the staff lounge with a cup of yellow broth. Look at this, he laughed. It looks just like beer!

A Tanzanian staff member just stared at him. Do you drink beer? she solemnly asked.

He paused for a moment. Yes, he said. I do sometimes.

That was the end of the relationship. From that moment on, she wouldn’t make eye contact with him. Because for many Christian denominations in Tanzania, drinking alcohol is not compatible with Christianity.

When we move overseas, we give up a lot. Christmas at Grandma’s, Girl Scout Cookies, garbage disposals, 24-hour stores, our own language, feeling competent.

So we should be able to hold onto some of what’s important, comfortable, and familiar to us, right?

Sometimes we sure would like to think so.

I should be able to wear what I want in my new culture, because clothes express my unique identity. So if I look cute in bikinis, then I’m going to wear my bikini. If I am comfortable in shorts, I’m going to wear shorts. I’m not comfortable in long skirts or head coverings. And my tattoo is an expression of who I am, so why would I want to cover it up?

I should be able to eat what I want to eat, because asking me to give up pork or eat only vegetarian–well, that’s asking too much. I should be able to drink alcohol, because it’s not a sin, and it’s something I enjoy.

You might take away Starbucks and Target, but don’t touch my bacon.

For those of us from western cultures, we might be nodding in agreement. Of course. We’re used to a culture where self-expression reigns supreme. Conformity is viewed with disdain. Even our churches are pushing the boundaries of what was considered taboo or morally unacceptable. We aren’t legalists, right?

So when our host culture conflicts with our forms of comfort or self-expression, who wins?

Scripture tells us that for those so-called gray areas–which include issues of food, drink, or dress, there is some wiggle room. And in those cases, the Bible is clear that for the sake of the gospel, we submit to the culture’s moral norms. I Corinthians 9 says, To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

So that might mean that if our host culture believes that drinking alcohol is incompatible with being a Christian, then for the sake of our witness, we refrain. That means that if our host culture doesn’t eat pork or even meat, it might be important for us to keep away from it as well. At the least, it’s a way of showing respect, and more importantly, a way for others to feel comfortable in our home.

It means recognizing that modesty is cultural and covering up the way our hosts do is a way to honor them. If shorts or bikinis or short skirts are offensive in our host culture, then we leave those packed in our parents’ attic. Maybe it means taking out the nose ring (or maybe it means getting one), or maybe it means covering up tattoos some or all of the time.

But does it really matter? Yes, it does. As in my introductory story, I’ve seen relationships between expats and locals completely derailed over these issues. And on the other hand, I have a friend who was told, If you didn’t dress the way you do (which included ankle-length skirts and long sleeves), we would never have invited you into our home.

Isn’t that just capitulating to legalism? Why should we condone cultural expectations that feel demeaning to women or suffocatingly oppressive or just plain wrong? Well, sometimes it might be as simple as humbly asking Why? The answers might surprise you. Maybe what we consider an innocuous accessory is associated with witchcraft in our host country. Or maybe what we would consider oppressive is actually a garment of pride for women.

What if there isn’t a good explanation? Then that’s when we have to remember that life isn’t about us, or our rights, or what makes us comfortable. On the contrary, Jesus said we need to die to ourselves. Die to our rights. And when we move overseas, even more so. Life isn’t about us, it’s about the gospel we are representing.

Sure, when a strong relationship is established and the opportunity arises, we can gently train Christian friends on what the Bible has to say about legalism. (And they’ll certainly be able to point out our own blind spots!)  But to get there, we’ll probably need to start by respecting them enough to do things their way.

We must ask ourselves: What’s more important–my rights or my witness?

Of course, figuring this all out is tricky. What is despised in one culture may be expected in another. If you live in a big city, you may be navigating several subcultures that have different moral expectations. How do we even know what offends our hosts? There aren’t any black and white answers, but starting with a posture of humility and self-denial is a great place to start. Here’s some other advice:

Pay attention. Seriously, pay attention. I can’t tell you how many times in Tanzania when I’ve seen some young white girl walking along the side of the road in short shorts. I want to slow down my car, roll down my window and holler at her, Look around! Do you see any Tanzanian women around here dressed like that?  (I know, I know, I’m proving I’m a grouchy old lady for even thinking this.)

But sometimes this can mean more than just modesty. For many years, I dutifully wore my long skirts and loose pants until I realized that in many situations, I was way under-dressed. Tanzanian women may cover their legs, but they are rarely casual and never frumpy. If I was going to present myself as a respectable pastor’s wife or school principal, I needed to beef up my wardrobe.

When in doubt, ask. Ask more than one person and find the right people to ask. Many cultures are very gracious to ex-pats and won’t confront us even if we are being blatantly offensive. Cultivate relationships with people who will be honest with you about cultural expectations. When you are humble and teachable, people will open up. Yes, there will inevitably still be some contradictions in what they tell you. But should our goal be to push the boundaries of what we can get away with in the culture, or rather how we can show respect to the most people?

Don’t take your cues from other ex-pats. Just because another ex-pat eats it or wears it or does it, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I’ve lived in Tanzania 14 years and I am still learning. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I discovered that ankle bracelets are associated with either prostitution or witchcraft in this culture. Yikes. I wasn’t an ankle-bracelet-wearer before, but now I definitely am not. So please, don’t ask me about what’s appropriate. But if you do, I’ll point you to some amazing Tanzanian friends who can fill you in.

The Apostle Paul sums it up really well, so I’ll end with him.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Advice I’m Taking From Myself

by Elizabeth Hill

I love advice. Good advice, of course. I love life hacks. I love wisdom. I love learning from people who’ve done something before. Some people need to make their own mistakes; I prefer to learn from others (and make mistakes in brand new areas).

To that end, I’ve been making a list of advice for myself as I walk through the first weeks of transitioning a family of six to the Middle East. These are the things I’m telling myself (and maybe if you’ve just moved overseas, you should tell yourself these things too).


1. Don’t worry about comparison shopping for now. Just buy the peanut butter.

The first time I went overseas, I lived with some frugal people who had lived overseas a long time. I can’t recall a conversation that didn’t include cost in some way: rising costs, new people being cheated, haggling. This led me to believe that cost was really important. In the long term, I definitely plan on paying a decent price for whatever I’m getting. But in the beginning when the peanut butter is $8 and you haven’t figured out where to find the cheaper stuff, just buy the peanut butter.

2. Your kids will regress. Expect it.

Potty training? Sleep habits? Doing chores without being asked? Your kids are going through a seismic shift. Expect them to be different and be as gentle as you can be. No three year old wants to wet her pants and no amount of asking why she did two inches away from a toilet will help. Kids regress. Expect it.

3. Just because your kids will regress, don’t lower your expectations to zero.

Yes, this is a hard time. Some kids won’t eat; others will eat too much. Some will vent their frustrations through disrespect; others will be mean to siblings. Kids will ride the roller coaster of emotions but this doesn’t mean to give in and give up. Require attention to one another. Meet at the table. Put screens away. Talk. Expect them to hurt and expect them to grow.

4. Drink water. More than you think.

You really are that dehydrated. Drink more water. Drink juice if you’re sick of the taste of water. Drink.

5. Do lots of fun stuff.

It’s hard to be new and not know what to do for fun. So try everything. You and your family will find the fun stuff that fits you. Here, people recommend shopping and big malls. Not my thing. But we’re still looking and trying a bunch of stuff that we wouldn’t try at home.

6. Transition is like a roller coaster: you are on something very big but your experience of it is very small.

Someone much wiser than I am said that once. When you are on stable ground, you can look up and see how big a roller coaster is and what ground it covers. Once you are on it, your experience is limited to the smallest possible reality. Transition is like that. Our family has done a big thing. It will have big impact on each of us. But in this new moment, our experience is very small. That’s ok. But it’s important to know that our experience is not reality.

7. You don’t have anything to prove.

Yes, at some summer in the future, after your body is accustomed to it, 105 degrees won’t feel so hot. That other long-term expat is trying to encourage you (always believe this, even if you suspect it’s not true). Right now it IS hot. So run your air conditioning. You don’t have anything to prove. Make your room cool enough to sleep. Or cool enough to sleep with a blanket on, if that’s what you need. You be your human self. You will adjust. You’ve got nothing to prove.

8. Listen, learn and wait.

Listening to others is a good idea. Be a beginner. Learn. In a year or two, reconsider what you’ve learned. What accepted wisdom can be turned on its head? In another country where we lived, we had a boss who chose a home for us in an area where expats hadn’t lived before. The common wisdom was that expats couldn’t or shouldn’t live there. The two and a half years I lived there were some of my happiest in community. I’m grateful he didn’t accept what he was told. But I’m also grateful that in these early days, I can lean in to the hard-won wisdom of others. Listen, learn, and wait.

9. Live more simply.

Don’t waste your time defining simple. Just live more simply. Your simple is going to be someone else’s luxurious. Someone else’s simple is going to look excessive to you. Live more simply but don’t spend all your energy living simply. Buy a good water filter so you aren’t sick to your stomach. Buy a good washing machine. Laundry by hand stinks, literally and figuratively. Maybe in your place, laundry by hand is all you’ve got. Hire a laundry washing compatriot and grow in your language skills while you scrub out the stink. Don’t be a hero over living simply.

10. Look up.

The other day I was out for a walk with my ten year old; we were on the way to look for a flat. I kept looking down at my feet, around at the cars, at my progress on Google maps. Finally I looked up. I looked up and saw brown hi-rises and billowing laundry and balconies, and I liked where I was a lot better than looking down at the trash and dust and Google map blue dot indicating where I was. Look up. See people (even if you can’t make eye contact). See trees (even if they are dusty). See flowers. See creative architecture. See the picturesque vegetable seller with vibrant eggplant and gorgeous tomatoes. See beauty. Look up.


Elizabeth Hill is currently adjusting to life in a mega-city in the Middle East, after living and loving in small-town Kentucky for the last six years. She and her husband of fourteen years have lived in three African countries and are excited to embark on this adventure in the Middle East. They have four children, including a four-month-old baby, who are riding the roller coaster of transition along with them. Elizabeth loves to paint, drink tea, read and take language lessons, especially when her children aren’t interrupting. She blogs when she can at

Gourmet Expat Food: When Dinner is Popcorn and Bananas

(this post was originally published on the Multi-Cultural Kids blog)

My first day in Somalia my two-year old daughter fell off the roof and I had to make spaghetti from tomatoes (no jar of Ragu) and beef (ground by yours truly) and noodles boiled in water that my husband drew from a cistern out front.

Once we figured out how to keep kids from falling off roofs and I figured out how to make spaghetti, that was all I did. Keep the kids safe, and prepare and eat lunch. The same, gross food every single day, with the occasional, even worse, cabbage soup made by a neighbor for variety.

I was studying language, studying how to wear a headscarf, studying how to walk without rolling an ankle, and failing miserably at all of it. My husband taught at the University and came home hungry and was served: spaghetti. Sometimes with bone chips in the meat, often without spices, and always with too much oil and soggy noodles because I let them overcook while keeping the twins out of trouble.

We had no refrigeration and I was exhausted from morning market trips, language study and cultural shock, and from toddler twins, that by the time dinnertime rolled around, all I could do was slam bananas and a big bowl of oil-popped popcorn on the table and say, “Eat.”

Night after night, bananas and popcorn. Sometimes a stale baguette smeared with rancid butter and overly sweet jam for dessert.

This was what we now call our ‘popcorn and bananas season,’ It lasted long enough for both of us to lose quite a bit of weight and the spaghetti and soup were so bad that we still gag when we talk about it.

I wanted to do better. We wanted to eat healthy, we wanted to eat a balanced diet with a reasonable amount of variety. But there are times when the best that an expatriate can do is popcorn and bananas. Here is my criteria for when popcorn and bananas count as nutritional, lovingly-provided, and sufficient for dinner:

  1. When moving to a new country. Especially if your village in this country has no fast food, no delivery, no restaurants, no refrigeration, no canned or boxed meals, and no running water.
  2. When you have toddler twins. Or one toddler. Or an infant.
  3. When those toddler twins have miraculously survived falling from roofs and have grown into teenagers and have recently been dropped off at boarding school three countries away and all you can do is sit on the couch and cry.
  4. When you return home after driving around the country on roads that aren’t really roads and are detained by police for inadvertently taking photos of the President’s house and get two flat tires and have a broken jack.
  5. When jet lag sinks in and you can only stumble through the house, blindly swiping at food that looks vaguely familiar.
  6. When all the food in the store is labeled in a language you don’t know but bananas are shaped like bananas in every language.
  7. When there were only three eggs in the market and the other American in the village already bought them all.
  8. When the chickens who laid those eggs are only slaughtered on Fridays and are so small you need a whole one for each member of your family and so tough you can’t even chew the meat anyway. (But chicken is not spaghetti so your family will thank you.)
  9. When you don’t know how to cook from scratch yet.
  10. When you convince yourself that popcorn and bananas is actually healthier than Kraft Mac and Cheese, McDonalds, or peanut butter and jelly on white bread anyway and that is what you used to call a meal, back in that other country that is starting to fade from memory as you try to absorb this new one.

Expat, I know you have the best of intentions for yourself and your family. And I also know there are times you only have the strength to summon up popcorn and bananas. That is okay. Serve it with pride and enjoy the adventure.

Did any of your early cooking attempts turn into utter failures? What meal does your family still gag when thinking about?

Beating the Drum for Missionary Care: An Interview with Neal Pirolo

In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.

In reference to missionary/member care, Neal wrote, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).

Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care? 

Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:

I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?

On the second evening, we were all in the kitchen trying to quickly clean up and get to a meeting. Someone pulled hard on the fridge door. It came off its hinge! It fell forward, dumping all the contents on the floor. After the clean-up, my wife said, “We will be doing things differently now.” We became a family.

To make a long story short, in those two and a half years, we lost all sense of personal ownership. Everything became ours. Even our bedroom became the crying room for several single women who were being teased beyond reason about getting married.

Well, in 1978, we came home. At the office, a working partner was using a new Bic extra-fine felt-tipped pen. (They had not been around when we went to Brazil.) I admired it. He let me try it. It made such a smooth and clear script. I liked it. The next day he brought one and gave it to me. He gave it to me! It was mine. I owned it! Every so often, I would stop writing and just look at that 79-cent Bic pen and realize that I owned it. It was mine! His first look at me was quizzical. Then he smiled an understanding smile. And we went back to work.

There is a chapter in The Reentry Team titled “Silly Little Things.” Silly little thing after silly little thing can create an apprehension in returning missionaries making them wonder “what next?” Bit by bit the reservoir of resistance to the uncertainty of these silly little things can become “the final straw.” Only those trained in missionary care will see the need to help them process even those silly little things.

After returning from ministry in Brazil. I was given the position of director of the San Diego School of Evangelism and missions pastor of the sponsoring church. SDSE was a ministry school with a very strong emphasis on cross-cultural outreach (missions). Even as the students made their application to the school, I encouraged them to develop a team of ten people who would be supportive of them, for they were entering this school with a life of ministry before them. Then, to those who wanted to minister cross-culturally, we gave further training in living and ministering in a second culture, with the support team becoming more fully developed around the areas of care Paul commended the Christians of Philippi for providing for him.

You’ve had 40-plus years of watching the missionary landscape and listening to missionary stories. From what you have seen and heard, how have the member-care needs of missionaries changed—and how have they stayed the same?

Missionary care is multi-leveled and diverse. In its fullest sense, it brings to play four levels of involvement: church care, partnership care, agency care, and crisis care. Each level is good at certain aspects of need and not so good at other aspects. But it is interesting that as the first three function at their strength, the fourth level is less needed. It is diverse in that each member of the family, as a unique individual, has different needs, and different needs at different times. It is quite intense. Thus, there’s the need for a cooperation between all parties, including the missionary, in providing missionary care.

The need for missionary care has not changed through the years. The enemy who raised havoc in Paul’s day is the same enemy who is waging war with the saints today. Through world travel and communication networks people may be more aware of the needs of missionaries. However, Paul, the Apostle, in writing a letter to the Philippian Christians, acknowledged their care for him in six areas: encouragement, prayer, logistics, communication, finance, and reentry. He opens the letter by calling them “partners in the Gospel”! And every missionary today needs “partners in the Gospel” to provide care in those six areas.

What has changed is a greater awareness of that personal/relational/partnership level. It is a group of people who have come together as a team and have taken “ownership” of the specific work of a specific missionary. With this level of commitment, they are more likely to see the mission through to its completion. They are as concerned as the missionary is about the outcome of their efforts. They see the missionary as their “field representative,” but they, in their respective roles, are equally vital to the end goal.

The prayer coordinator of one partnership team saw a photo of a young lady with her head on the shoulder of a missionary she and her team had sent out. When she saw it, she said, “I want to know if this young lady is distracting Byron from the work that we sent him to do!” That’s ownership. That’s commitment. That’s missionary care.

Partnering in that way takes trust. What can missionaries and senders do to develop that kind of relationship?

Here is the first part of Byron’s story:

Byron had just come back from a short-term ministry trip to China, and he believed God wanted him to return long term. Very quickly, because he had been active in his home church, the leadership confirmed his call. The missions pastor brought him that news with a copy of Serving as Senders—Today. “Byron,” Dan said, “read this book and begin developing your partnership team.” Byron’s reply? “I’m not gonna read dat book! I’ve got the Bible and that’s all I need!” Gently, but firmly Dan responded: “Byron, we can’t keep you from going to China, but if you want us to send you, you will read this book and develop your partnership team.” He began reading. One by one, he sought out and gained a commitment from a core leadership team. He began having meetings on the last Sunday of each month. No pressure. No commitment. But at each meeting, as Byron shared his enthusiasm and God-directed commitment to this ministry, more and more people prayed and decided it was something they wanted to be a part of. Byron was allowing them to “own” this ministry. As each made a commitment to provide care in one or another of the six areas, they related with the core leadership for that area. These commitments were not on a “management team” level. These people had prayed about their decision. A trust in the Lord and in each other was being developed. In nine months, Byron was ready to be sent by his home church. Though 14 years have passed, and many changes have taken place in his ministry (he did marry that young lady), many on that original team are still partnering with him.

Byron’s is a success story of beginning—and continuing—cross-cultural ministry with a partnership team. There are some missionaries, though, who’ve been on the field for several years and who find themselves, for whatever reason, without such support. Maybe they’re feeling distant from the people “back home.” What advice would you give them for taking steps to fill this need?

Craig, you are making this so easy for me! Another story:

Maria was sent out (more like . . . said “good-bye” to) by her church. They and she knew nothing about partnership teams. She struggled. (That’s an understatement!) She was observing another missionary family who was doing so well. One day, they invited her to a Bible study. Their missions pastor had prepared a study—just for them. He had flown to their city only for this reason: to share the Word with them and encourage them.

Maria was aghast! “How? Why? What?” she wondered. She drew up energy to ask them. In the conversation, she discovered how they had developed a partnership team. Their finances were in order; hers were almost nonexistent. They had an active prayer team; she doubted anyone remembered where she was. Their missions pastor had made a special trip to encourage them; she didn’t know if her church still had a missions pastor.

She came home. Yes, there was a missions pastor, but he was busy with 35 missionaries out around the world. Her name was on the list, but she had never received anything from the church, except one time: They had sent her a USA bank check. It had been returned for additional postage and sent again. In her country, she could not cash it.

Well, another one of the pastors heard her story and decided to do something. He arranged for her to share at all of the home fellowships to educate them about partnership teams. Then he sent a copy of Serving as Senders—Today to each of the 35 missionaries, with a note: “Read this book. If you would like me to help you develop a partnership team, pray, then send me the names of two or three you believe could become the core leader of your team.” For those who responded (When I heard this story, I couldn’t believe that some did not respond!), he went to the people named and asked them to prayerfully consider taking on this responsibility. From there, the core leader wrote to the missionary, obtained the names of their friends, and asked permission to write to them. A team was developed.

This way is a bit more difficult than if the missionary develops the team before going. For Maria, it worked by her taking the drastic step of coming home and God leading her to a pastor who would “carry the ball.” It would be even more difficult if there were no one in leadership to assist the missionary or for the missionary to manage it from the field. However, all missionaries have someone who has shown interest in their ministry who could help facilitate it from their home country. I cannot over emphasize, from my experience with missionaries who have a developed partnership team and those who don’t, it is clear: Whatever it takes, it is worth your effort to develop this level of missionary care.

This is not to negate the need for the other three levels of missionary care. There are functions that the agency can do well that the other three cannot, likewise, for those at the church and crisis levels of care. When each level functions well at what they are best equipped to do, a missionary is well cared for, to the glory of God!

Neal serves as founding director of Emmaus Road International, which provides many member-care resources through its websiteThey include Byron’s complete story, “I’m Not Gonna Read Dat Book!” and the audio of a talk Neal has given entitled, “Partners in the Gospel,” both at ERI’s Free Media Library.

You can purchase Serving as Senders—Today from ERI, with discounts for bulk orders. And to those missionaries now on the field wanting to set up a partnership team, Neal extends this offer: If you email him the names of two or three people you have prayed about who might be willing to take on the leadership of a team, he will send them a copy of Serving as Senders—Today, with a letter encouraging them to “step up to the plate” and assist you in developing your team. You can reach Neal at

[photo: “Drum,” by André Prata, used under a Creative Commons license]

Why Missionaries Need to Know Their Own Wounds

by Ryan Kuja

In my last post, The Call is Not Enough, I wrote about how the missionary vocation is about much more than showing up somewhere ready to serve. Calling is a starting point, not an end point. It is an invitation into theological, psychological, spiritual and intercultural formation. The call is an invitation into the self as much as it is an invitation into the world.

In today’s post I’m responding to the question: “If the call isn’t enough, what is enough?” I am not sure that question, though very relevant, has a straightforward answer. But what I do know is this: our wounds and our callings are intimately related, and we cannot fully inhabit our callings in the way God intends unless we intimately know the pain in our stories.

What do I mean by that?

Our lives are comprised of the stories that we have lived, the ones marked by suffering and tragedy as well as those that brought goodness and blessing. But we rarely give our own stories a cursory glance, let alone engage intimately with the hauntingly beautiful and heart-rending narratives that make up our lives, that shape us to be who we are, and that impact the ways we engage in cross-cultural ministry and mission.

For a large part of my time working in international mission, relief, and development, I was not aware of this.

I recall a time when I was living in South Sudan, working with a Christian humanitarian aid organization. I was riding with some team members in the back of a Landcruiser one evening as we returned from a project site. The truck bounced along the harsh, rutted excuse for a road, and I was unalarmed when the vehicle came to an abrupt halt. I looked up and saw a soldier from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army standing there, yelling at the driver.

“What is your name? You killed my dog and you must pay!” he shouted. The sharp inflection of his voice made a shiver go up my spine. The soldier was visibly distraught as he spoke, his face contorted with scorn.

“I will come find you. You will pay for what you have done!” he repeated. After a tense few minutes, he allowed us to continue on our way.

Later that night as I lay in my tent fitfully trying to fall asleep, my pulse began to quicken and the muscles in my arms and legs turned weak. Cortisol and adrenaline erupted through my veins. The more I fought the sensations, the more I was seized by panic.

I had felt these same symptoms three years earlier in a different country on the African continent. It was there in the wilds of northeastern Zimbabwe that I was ensnared in a rogue political situation and abducted. That encounter with death three years prior had lived on inside of me, like a sleeping giant that was now being awoken. The chance meeting with the angry soldier was a moment of re-traumatization, a recapitulation of the events that occurred in Zimbabwe.

The trauma I had not dealt with was beginning to deal with me. It started to take over my life and my ability to engage well with the economically marginalized community I was there to serve.

Not long after that night, I ended up leaving South Sudan to return home. Upon returning to the United States, I commenced therapy as well as spiritual direction. Over the course of the following years, I began to encounter my psyche and soul in new, intimate ways that I never previously had. I began to name what had until then remained unnamed, including post-traumatic stress disorder from the abduction in Zimbabwe. Slowly, I began to heal.

This process I had entered brought insights beyond the trauma. It forced me to wrestle with other questions about mission and my work overseas:

  • Had I acted more as a catalyst for patronizing charity than Biblical justice?
  • Was part of the reason why I was engaging in mission to fulfill my personal need for meaning and purpose?
  • Had I somehow betrayed those I tried to help—and myself—by avoiding the difficult parts of my story?

Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor writes, “Without our own stories, ministry becomes a projection of wounds onto the world, mission becomes a one-way street in which the ‘whole’ condescend to help the ‘broken.’”

It is the process of confronting our pain and knowing our stories that allows us to serve people from a stance of mutuality. In this space where suffering meets suffering, there is the potential for true transformation to be born. Mutually we are hurting and mutually we are transformed. By holding our gaze on the woundedness of ourselves, others, and Jesus, we allow the injured places in our psyches and souls to breathe, to have a voice, to be welcomed in love.

This process allows us to go out into the world as wounded healers, not as invincible saviors. We enter into difficult contexts as people who have known what it is to suffer, and therefore offer our wounded selves and in doing so receive the wounded other back as a reflection of our own self.

Richard Rohr notes that we either transform our pain or we transmit it others. Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection—what we call the Paschal Mystery—reveals a way of relating to our pain that avoids the temptation to transmit it while embracing the reality of transformation. The wounds of crucifixion that led to Jesus’ death were the wounds through which redemption would come to all people.

This gospel narrative reveals that the place of pain is the site of the holy; our wounds are the sacred sites of transformation, for us and for those we serve. Imagine if Jesus had covered his pain, declining to reveal his wounds to his disciples and to the world — the greatest story ever told would have never been heard.


I never returned to South Sudan. I stopped serving cross-culturally altogether for several years as I sensed God calling me to stop in order to have the time and space to attend to my own pain and my own story. Instead of going back overseas long term, I attended graduate school at an institution—The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology—that both encourages and requires the integration of our stories with our callings, and understands that we can only be a healing presence to others if we ourselves are committed to our own personal healing process.

Years later, I am back in a long-term role with an international development and advocacy organization in Colombia. I teach about missional formation, intercultural competency, and the integration of missiology and psychology. I am a spiritual director and a registered psychotherapist.

The collapse I experienced all those years ago led me to new places within myself and in the world. Now, practicing contemplative prayer, self-care, and regular therapy and spiritual direction continue to invite me deeper into my own center and the center of the gospel. Transformation from the inside out, rather than outside in, has become my greatest hope and my greatest challenge.

God has used the bleeding places inside me as the locus of transformation. My wounds, like those of Jesus, are the conduit not only of suffering, but of redemption. It is in brokenness that I have come to recognize that we are all connected. May our own stories, especially the places of darkness, become our greatest gift to the world.

Here are some reflection questions to help you process your own past:

  • Are there difficult parts of your own story that may still need tending to, either personally or in the context of therapy and/or spiritual direction?
  • Are there experiences in your past that have simply been too painful to process fully?
  • Have you been aware of how God is redeeming and transforming your suffering?
  • In what ways has your own story shaped the ways that you engage in your ministry overseas?


A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, he has written for Sojourners, Missio Alliance and several theological journals. His first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World, released in June 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia, where he lives with his wife. You can find him online at and on twitter as @ryankuja.

“So – Is that out of state?” And Other Questions We Navigate


I felt my face grow hot. I was in a small town shopping at a smaller store when a well-meaning woman stopped and asked me about the purse I had with me.

“That’s a beautiful purse” she said brightly. “May I ask you where you got it?

Oh” I said, a smile lighting up my face “I got it in Pakistan.”

Long pause.

“So – is that out of state?”

Red-faced and flustered I managed to breathe out the words, sort of the way a mythical dragon breathes out fire “Yes”.

I thought of all the things I wanted to say:

“Yes – it borders Connecticut”

“You’ve not heard of it? It’s just a town away.” 

“Yes – it’s in Canada.” 

Instead I took a deep breath, smiled and said again “Yes, indeed it is.”

Growing up as a third culture kid in the seventies was an interesting time. The world was not as global as it is now, and communities in the United States were as isolated as the oceans and cultures that divide the country from the rest of the world. I never thought I was that different then my counterparts growing up in the West, but then I met them. The differences were profound. Cultural and linguistic to be sure, but for a teenager the huge chasm was fashion. Inevitably we would arrive in the United States after being away for four years with no television, no magazines, no beacons of Western fashion like, oh you know, Sears and J.C. Penneys. And there was something else – we also always seemed to arrive in the United States on Saturday night.

Do you know what that meant? That meant that the next day was Sunday. Guess what missionary parents like to do on Sunday? You got it! Go to church!

So off we would go in our outdated clothes, and I would flush a deep scarlet and try to pretend that my mini dress was a maxi or vice versa. Fashion was a nightmare. One time the nightmare took on greater terror as a photographer was shooting pictures at a large church outside of Chicago. I vaguely remember him capturing me on film on the front steps of that church. Ayaiyaiyaiyai!

Pop culture was another chasm. Grease was lighting up the screen with “Look at me! I’m Sandra D”. The only movies I had ever seen were The Sound of Music and To Sir with Love.

And then there were more questions….!

“Do they wear clothes there?”

“Tell me about the huts!”

“Pakistan…. does that border Brazil?”

“Oh – I think I’ve heard of that country before! It’s in Europe, right?

The funny thing is, that was the seventies, Has it changed? Despite the fact that many of our passport countries have excellent education systems and a plethora of media outlets as well as ways to communicate electronically, it doesn’t mean knowledge of the world has improved.

Consider this video where Jay Leno interviewed American teenagers.

It’s easy to slip into arrogance when it comes to some of these conversations, to shake our heads in exasperation. The reality is that there is a lot of privilege in this life, and there is also a lot of insecurity when we are faced with a culture that we are not as familiar with (our passport culture), The result is that we might wear our geographical and linguistic knowledge with a bit of pride. Sometimes it’s all we feel we have.

But that is for a more serious conversation. Today I want to go Jay Leno on you and invite you to tell your stories – what are some of the questions you’ve been asked, and how have you responded?

Expats, global nomads, TCKs, Adult TCKs – I know you know these conversations. From “So where are you from?” to “Do they wear clothes there?” to “Tell me about the natives!” we have all experienced ‘those’ questions and statements; the ones that simultaneously make us shake our heads in despair even as we grin thinking of how we’ll frame the story later on to those of our tribe.

So have at it! What are the best and worst questions you’ve been asked or things people have said to you about your life overseas? Invite your kids into this conversation – it’s something you can share together.

Share either on the Facebook page of A Life Overseas or in the comments below.

And, as always, thank you for being a part of this community!

The Call Is Not Enough

by Ryan Kuja

A few years ago, I visited a mission project in Haiti started by an American doctor. He had quite a bit of experience living in different areas of the world, using his medical skills to treat the sick. His desire to serve was clear and forthright. Yet, his project in Haiti ended up failing after a short period of time.

There are innumerable instances such as this, where a well-intentioned Christian goes off somewhere to help solve a problem or alleviate some form of suffering. They do their best, their hearts on fire for the place and people in need. But what was meant to help ends up hurting, both themselves and those they hoped to serve. They return home in anger and confusion not long after, their hope and vision having gone to pieces.

Mission falls apart.

I had a psychotherapist a few years ago who I often brought personal issues of meaning and vocation to.   I remember him saying, “The need does not necessitate the call.” In essence, he was saying that the existence of an issue in the world—be it social, political, humanitarian—does not mean a certain individual is called to engage it or help solve it. The unique ways in which we are each made informs how we are designed to be in the world, how we are meant to live and serve.

And just as the need does not necessitate the call, the call does not necessitate the readiness. Or put differently, even when we are we called, it doesn’t mean that we are prepared to go.

The call is not enough.

There is no doubt that many of us experience an authentic calling to engage in service with vulnerable people in the Majority World, whether it be in the context of short-term mission, community development, global health projects, human trafficking or some other form of service deeply rooted in our Christian faith.

Our desire and willingness to travel to difficult places inundated in poverty is a great place to begin pursuing these opportunities overseas where our hearts feel drawn to. But it is a starting point, not an end point. It is the leading edge of a journey—a journey that leads inward as well as outward—that is meant to be a catalyst for mutual transformation of the self and the other. The call activates something deep within that pulls us forward to pursue this vision of healing and restoration.

Whether we are going to participate in a ten-day mission trip to Haiti or move our families to India to advocate of behalf of trafficked women, this call we feel is a beautiful and essential thing. It is the space from which mission flows. It is also an invitation to reflect deeply within ourselves.

But the call into mission is about much, much more than just buying a plane ticket. It is an invitation into the psyche, the heart, the soul. The call to mission bids us entry into our own pain, to engage with our own brokenness and wounds that have remained untended. If we haven’t engaged our own pain, we cannot be fully present with another in their pain. The call is an invitation into the self as much as it is an invitation into the world.


A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, his first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World releases in the summer of 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia, where he lives with his wife. You can find him online at and on twitter as ryankuja.

Check out this collection of our most-read articles

Consider this the Table of Contents for a book on missions, cross-cultural living, grief, TCKs, MKs, missiology, common pitfalls, transition, short-term missions, relating to senders, and a whole lot more.

I figured it was time to compile our most-read posts and present them to you, organized by topic. So here they are, 85 of our most-read posts ever.

My hope is that this article, this Table of Contents, if you will, would serve as one massive resource for those of you who are new to our community, those of you who’ve been hanging out here all along, and even for you, our future reader, who just found our little corner of the internet. Welcome!

Many thanks to the authors who’ve poured into our community, aiming to build and help (and sometimes challenge) the missionary world and the churches that send. If this site has been helpful to you, would you consider sharing this post with your friends and colleagues and missions leaders?

A Life Overseas is loosely led, with a tiny overhead (that covers the costs of the website), and a bunch of volunteer writers and tech folk. Why do we do it? We’re doing this for you! We’re doing this because we like you and we want to see cross-cultural workers (and their families!) thriving and succeeding and belonging. We’re doing this because we believe the Lamb is worthy. We’re doing this because we believe that God’s love reaches beyond our country’s borders, extending to all the places, embracing all the peoples.

I hope you are encouraged. I hope you are challenged. I hope you are reminded that you are not alone. This can be a hard gig, for sure, but you are not alone.

If this is your first time here or your thousandth, stick around, browse around, let us know what you think, how you’ve been helped, and what you’d love to see in the future. We’d absolutely love to hear from you!


With much love from Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Jonathan Trotter


Third Culture Kids / Missionary Kids
10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked
10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread
To the Parents of Third Culture Kids
Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say
8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas
6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need
An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
10 Ways Teachers Can Support Third Culture Kids
Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries


Rest / Burnout / Self-Care
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
Ask A Counselor: How in the world can we do self-care when . . . ?
Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
8 Ways for Expats Who Stay to Stay Well

Top 10 Digital Photography Tips

Family / Marriage
Missionary Mommy Wars
A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Nine Ways to Save a Marriage
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy
Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage
Dear Single Missionary
Homescapes MOD
I’m a missionary. Can I be a mom too?


Cross-cultural living & ministry
3 Kinds of Selfies You Should Never Take
Missionaries are supposed to suffer . . . So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?
Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field
To My Expat Friends
What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo!
The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping
A Cautionary Tale: Expats & Expets (What not to do)
The Introverted Expat
5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)
The Aim of Language Learning


Please Don’t Say, “They Are Poor But They’re Happy.”
Let Me Make Your Kid a Buddhist
How to partner with a poor church without screwing everything up
Rice Christians and Fake Conversions
Responding to Beggars
10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
There’s no such thing as the “deserving poor”


Theology in Missions
The Idolatry of Missions
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
Rethinking the Christmas Story
But Are You Safe?
When Missionaries Starve
Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 1}
Is Jesus a Liar?


10 Reasons Not To Become a Missionary
In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries
The Cult of Calling
Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?
Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
When Missionaries Think They Know Everything
Visiting Home Might Not Be Everything You Dreamed
Misogyny in Missions
The Proverbs 32 Man
Stop Waiting for It All to Make Sense


Grief & Loss
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
Ask a counselor: how do we process loss and grief?


What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping
Dear New Missionary
5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field
Why I Quit My Job as a Missionary to Scrub Toilets
Jet Lag and Heart Lag
When You Start to Pick Your Nose in Public…
You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .
Going Home


Short Term Missions
What to Do About Short Term Missions
Stop calling it “Short Term Missions.” Here’s what you should call it instead.
Your Short-Term Trips Have Not Prepared You For Long-Term Mission
The Mess of Short Term Missions


Relationships with those who send
A Letter to Christians Living in America from a Christian Living Abroad
Dear Supporter, There’s So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You
Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas
How to Encourage Your Overseas Worker
When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy
Facebook lies and other truths
Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions


If your favorite article didn’t make the list, put the title and link in the comments section and let us know why you love it. Thanks again for joining us here. Peace to you.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Life in 4 Suitcases, 22 Kilos Each

Last night I dreamt our visa paperwork came through and when I woke in the morning packing panic woke too.

Imagine with me: You have to figure out how to fit your family’s current and 1.5years of future life into 4 suitcases, 22kilos each.

Why don’t we just buy what we need when we get there? Because in our overseas home men’s shoe sizes stop at a 10 and my husband is an 11.5 and never mind trying to find trousers to fit his long legs. I may be a medium in the US, but there I’m a XXL and there just isn’t much XXL on the island of petite and slender. They don’t sell kid underwear. Or English books. Or chocolate chips. Or body lotion without added bleaching agent. Or allergy medicine.

Daunting, isn’t it? I’ve become an obsessive list maker.

I’d like to think I’m naturally organized, but more likely the lists came about as a coping mechanism, my little bit of felt control when life shifts continents.

I’ve got lists for…

Kid clothes – Not just what fits now, but several pairs in graduating sizes because if they are comfortable now we can reasonably trust they’ll be comfortable in the next size up.

School supplies – Chose curriculum that doesn’t require a lot of printing or anything beyond basic science supplies. (Red cabbage juice is not basic. Neither are Styrofoam balls, masking tape, or lemons)

Groceries – Tea. Gum. Taco seasoning. Pepperoni. Vanilla. Chocolate. Dried fruit. Pecans if at all possible.

Birthday decor – Black Panther napkins for the 7 year old and something with rainbows for the 3 year old. If there’s room add themed plates and maybe even a table cloth.

Clothes for grownups or at least new underwear
Christmas and birthday presents
Flea and tick meds for the dogs and cats
Can I fit a bread machine this time?
What about an ice cream bowl for the kitchenaid?
Vitamins: (1 vitamin/day x 4 people) x 548 days = 2,192 chewables
How heavy are pizza pans? Google light weight pizza pan.

The lists are alive with items added, erased, and prioritized over and over in the lead up to leaving. Still, no matter how thorough and specific the list making, I will inevitably unpack overseas and think, Dang. Sure wish I’d remembered to bring roach killer… or some other essential thing.

A wise expat friend told me, “I try to be content. If I can’t bring it or find it here then I don’t really need it.”

She’s right. I can be content even if everything on my list doesn’t make it. I’ll be sad if I forget the chocolate chips or have to scratch the bread machine off the packing list, but I guess I don’t really need them. A couple new bread pans from town may not be my favorite, but would do just fine. Sugar cookies will work too, even if I’d rather have chocolate chip.

Hands down the attitude I bring wins over any number of essential items I may forget or not be able to bring. I can pack up contentment right alongside everything else.

(And hopefully that bread machine will fit too.)

4 Misconceptions About the Missionary Call

by Dave Hare

My family and I are currently on our home ministry assignment, and we’ve been talking to people about what it’s like to be a missionary. We’ve found that there is a very common perception that certain people are “called” to be missionaries in a unique way. While I certainly have met a lot of unique missionaries, I believe that there are some misunderstandings undergirding this belief. Here are four of these misconceptions that I hope to clear up today.


1. Normal people are not “called.” 

My wife Stacey remembers hearing a song in her church where she grew up that said something to the effect that they were willing to do anything for the Lord so long as the Lord did not send them to Africa. The line at the end of the chorus was: “Lord, please don’t send me to Africa.”

There are two main problems with this type of song (which, by the way I think was written to be tongue-in-cheek). The first problem is that many people do not consider missions because they believe it is something that they could never do. Whether it be the snakes, or the heat, they believe that they personally are incapable of enduring in that type of situation. The error in this thinking is not people saying that they are weak; that part is true. The problem is that the focus in on us.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

We as Christians serve a powerful God who is able to make all grace abound to us. God is able to give us grace, for instance, to abound in thankless service to our children. Have you ever felt like you could not handle hearing your baby scream ONE MORE TIME? I have felt that. But what happened when the baby screamed? You handled it. Either you sought God’s grace to deal with the child, and felt his power. Or you sinned against him and sought God’s grace for forgiveness (and hopefully for the strength to be victorious the next time).

God is able to give us the strength to fight anxiety and speak to our unsaved family members about the Gospel. He is able to give us the power to wake up early to stand in front of an abortion clinic at 6 am begging women to turn away. And God is “even” able to give us the grace to abound in the good work of leaving everything and going overseas.

Missionaries are not able to go because they have some power within themselves that others do not have. There is nothing stronger about missionaries than about anyone else. We are just people who rely on God’s grace, both to endure through the harder aspects of the missionary life, and to repent when we have sinned in the face of these difficulties.


2. The missionary call seeks us out.

The second aspect of the song “Lord, don’t send me to Africa” reveals another misconception of the missionary life. When we say “Lord don’t send me to Africa,” the implication is that God seeks out an elect few to send into missions, but not others. We have found that people think that in order for them to go into missions Jesus needs to appear in the sky like he appeared to the Apostle Paul and say, “I am sending you as a light to the Gentiles.” This is not how it works.

I do not believe that the missionary call is something that seeks people out. Instead, I see that when Jesus left his disciples, he left them with a task: make disciples of all the nations. This task has passed from the disciples to us and is not yet complete. Thus, every person in the church plays some role in seeing this task fulfilled.

If we are asking, “Am I called?” the answer is always “Yes!” But just like any other task that we work toward in the church, we need to ask how we can best serve. Not everyone would be best teaching a kids Sunday School class. But generally, when we are deciding on whether or not we are going to teach, we are not looking for a calling. Instead, we weigh our strengths and weaknesses, our availability, and whether or not children tend to run from us screaming.

I believe it ought to be the same for missions. I don’t think we should ask the question “Am I called?” I think we should ask: ‘How can I best serve in this Kingdom, with the ultimate purpose of seeing the nations saved?” And for some, the way in which they will best be used is to stay in their home town. For others, the best way is to be a part of reaching out to Native Americans, or the unchurched of New England, or, of course, more exotic locations.


3. The call of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 is insufficient.

When we look for some sort of calling outside of Matthew 28, I believe we are erring into this third misconception. In asking for an external experiential call, we are saying that we need something other than the Great Commission, something specific to us. But if we look at the Great Commission, we see Jesus leaving the disciples with the purpose of the New Testament Church. If you think about it, right before Jesus left the earth, he could have said anything to his disciples. He could have said, “remember the poor” or “do small groups in your churches” or “seek the spiritual gifts,” all important aspects of the church age.

Instead, his final call was: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is one of the clearest passages that demonstrates the difference between the Old Covenant method of saving the nations, and that of the New Covenant. No longer were God’s people called to build a kingdom and then bring the nations to themselves. No longer was God’s presence dwelling in a physical temple, to which the people were called to bring sacrifices. Instead, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit was going to come to live in them. Then they were to go everywhere, like mobile temples. He was calling them to go and make more disciples.

I think when we read this passage we do believe that it applies to us. Yet, when it comes to moving overseas, we are looking for something more. When we read the Bible in Ephesians 5 where Paul calls husbands to love their wives, do husbands sit their idly and say, “well, I can’t love my wife until I’m called to.” What would we say to that man? “You ARE called.” In the same way, Jesus gave us the responsibility to make disciples in very clear speech and thus we don’t need to wait for another call. The first call is sufficient.


4. You have to be adventurous in order to go into missions.

This is the final misconception, and it is just a lie, I think from Satan, to keep more Christians from going out. This is the lie that says you have to enjoy poisonous snakes inside your house to become a missionary. No one likes poisonous snakes in their house. This lie says that you have to enjoy travelling to become a missionary. I don’t like travelling. I used to like travelling, but then I had kids. I don’t like the jungle. I don’t like the dirt. I don’t like hiking through the bush with a machete. You know what I like? Pavement. Air conditioning. Cheese. Having an ER that I can take my kids to. That’s what I like.

People tend to think that missionaries go because they somehow like to live in miserable places. This is just not true. Missionaries like comforts just as much as the next guy. But, the reality is that the unreached are generally unreached for a reason: they are usually the ones with the snakes, with the bugs, with the humidity. Even in Cameroon, when we were looking for a place to work, we were told that the languages by the beach were already taken.


I write all this because I want the church to see that first of all, missionaries are just regular Christians. I am convinced that the vast majority of missionaries are not “called” in the subjective sense, but persuaded from Scripture. We are persuaded that the task of the church today is the spread of the Gospel to the nations. And we are persuaded that the God-chosen method of spreading the Gospel is by normal people going to far away places.

We are persuaded that the message that we carry is that people by nature are separated from God, and without the Gospel they will spend eternity without Him. We are persuaded that this world is not our home, and we shouldn’t love the things of this world. We are persuaded that God is made strong in our weakness. And finally, we are persuaded that the job is not yet done. There is still so much work to do.

While I find that a lot of people do not genuinely consider the missionary life as an option, I believe that all Christians should consider the missionary life. Many will decide in the end that they should not move overseas and become a missionary. But this decision should not be based on the misconceptions above. It should not be because they are waiting for supernatural confirmation. Instead, those who choose to stay ought to do so because they believe that they are best used in God’s kingdom in that role.


Dave Hare and his wife, Stacey, are Bible translators in Cameroon with World Team and are the parents of four adopted children. You can read their blogs here: and

Don’t Forget the Things You Know Are True

(This is going out to all the new expatriates in my life, you know who you are, and all who are newly arrived in your host countries.)

All the training, preparing, packing, and planning has left you utterly exhausted, unprepared for reality, insufficiently packed, and carrying plans that will be chucked out the window upon arrival. Those who sent you and those you received you have done their best, but they haven’t been perfect or complete, and I want to remind you of some important things.

There are some things you know to be true. These things will be challenged to their very deepest core in your first few months abroad. You’ll forget them. You’ll call people liars (even if just in your head) when they remind you of them. You’ll wonder how you ever could have been foolish enough to believe them. That’s part of the process. That does not change the fact that these things are things you know. They are true. They have not changed, even while life is only wild, chaotic, and stressful.

This is what you know:

Your spouse loves you.

You love your spouse.

You are a good mother.

You are a good father.

Your children are not little beasts.

Other people do not think your children are little beasts.

You do know how to be a good friend.

You are competent and capable.

You are creative and caring.

You are already fluent (in at least one language).

You really do know how put together an appropriate outfit for certain occasions.

You do know how to drive, cook, shop, pay bills, clean house, work. Maybe not here, maybe not yet. But you do know how to do them somewhere.

God knows you,

knows where you live now,

He knows what you left behind,

knows all the good things about you,

knows all the bad things about you,

came here with you,

has good things in store for you.

Right now. With the kids crying for that one toy you left behind, when you bungle things at work, when you’ve just yelled at your spouse, when you accidentally swore at the taxi driver instead of saying thank you, when you awkwardly looked away from the beggar, when you want to curl into a ball and weep, when this move and transition is way way way harder than you imagined.

Hold on to these truths, through the wind and storm, through the tears and fighting. These moments, the ones you only see as trials and trauma right now, will be forged into family legend over time.

You’ll sit together and laugh about how one of you fell off the roof and (probably) broke her collarbone your first day in Somaliland. You’ll corporately gag when you remember how awful mom’s homemade meals were the entire first year. You’ll wonder how the story of dad telling everyone Santa’s reindeer got skinned by the neighbors transformed into a funny story. You’ll bond over memories no other family will ever be able to share. This move is making you into your very own family.

And as you hold on to these truths – of being loved and competent, of being you even as you discover a new you beneath the old one and forged by this new place, hold the tightest to this truth:

You are loved.

It is so simple.

Borderline cliché.

Like there should be a cute cat picture to accompany the words, or they belong on a calendar.

It feels silly to write them out. They look kind of childish and naked sitting there.

Three short words.

Too simple, almost, to believe. But that’s the point. There is no complication, no caveat, no qualifier. It just is. You know this. This has not changed and will not change.

This is the truth that will be battered and attacked the most. But it is also the one that will sustain you and that will undergird all the others. Don’t add anything to it, don’t take anything away from it. Let it be, now and forever, enough.

You are loved.

What are some truths you have found it hard to believe in the early years abroad?