Thinking about serving overseas? Great! These are exciting times!
I wish you and I were having coffee. This is definitely a coffee conversation. Hopes and dreams are meant to be shared face to face, but in the absence of that, this will have to do. You’ve got a lot to think about and if I may, I’d like to share some questions that I hope will help you in this process.
How long have you wanted to do this?
Maybe you grew up overseas and the thought of living long term in your passport country never even occurred to you. Or maybe in high school you found yourself praying “I’ll go, send me.” in an empty Mexican church (that’s my story). Or maybe you just finished a Perspectives class and a fire lit up inside you. When, how, and what happened? You need to know your story of how this wild idea took root in your heart because in all likelihood there’s a heavy hand of discouragement coming. Knowing your story will help keep you grounded when doubts begin.
Are you willing to commit the time?
Perhaps at this very moment you are superbly qualified and ready to go, but more likely you’ll need some training. Depending on the capacity you will serve in, this can include everything from months to many years. For my family, getting to the field was a 10 year process of training, gaining industry experience, attending bible school, and finally language school. Are you willing to take the long view and make every effort to obtain the skills and experience needed?
Are you in debt?
For some agencies, debt is a flat no go. I won’t tell you that you must be debt free to serve overseas, but I would definitely encourage you to make every effort to have as little debt as possible, especially if you will live on support. All sorts of unexpected expenses come up overseas and you’ll want to have as much freedom with finances as possible.
What do you expect to get out of serving overseas?
Hard question, huh? Do you expect to get to use your training/profession? Learn the language well? Make local friends? Be safe? Get along with your teammates? Experience God in a deeper way? Join a local church? It’s really important to carefully think this one through. Every one of those expectations has shattered for either me or for someone I’m close to. So own up to your expectations now before they confront you on the field and grief throws you off balance. Don’t think it won’t happen, because it absolutely will.
Do you know your inside sins?
If you thought analyzing expectations was difficult, this one’s the real kicker. We’ll use me as an example: I have a big mouth. I know it’s likely to get me in trouble if I don’t keep it in check. Mean and careless words are one of my outside sins, but they are rooted in my inside sins of self-centeredness and arrogance. Here’s the really important part – when you’re overseas, hiding inside sins gets real hard real quick. Overseas, keeping my mouth in check isn’t good enough, I have to let God address my inside sins. So if you’re like me and pretty good at keeping the outside stuff in check in your “normal” life, abandon all that now and let God do some poking around in your heart.
Who will support you? Who will do everything in their power to stop you?
It may come as a surprise, but not everyone will be as super thrilled as you are. Friends may think you’re crazy or taking this religious thing too far. Family members, especially if you have children, will grieve a very real loss. It may be that those you thought would support you are all out opposed. How will you handle this? Will you be so stung you respond in anger and shut down relationships? Can you acknowledge their grief as acute and painful? Can you walk with them with grace and love?
What if it doesn’t work out?
What if you go through all the training, all the support raising, all the goodbyes, then land in your field of service and you’re sick all the time? Or there was some kind of miscommunication between the field and recruitment and you’re actually not needed? Or your visa falls through? Have you considered the possibility that even if you are stepping out in faith and obedience right now, at some point in the future serving overseas just might not work out? Because it might not; it really might not. Can you hold all of this loosely in an open hand?
Do you have a Harry and a Connie?
Harry was one of our professors in bible school. He and his wife, Connie, served decades in Latin America and still make trips back to visit. Inside the classroom Harry taught from personal experience about burn out, serving under abusive leadership, raising a family cross-culturally, how to spot dangerous electrical wiring, and how the culture shock curve isn’t always spot on. Outside of the classroom over pancakes he and Connie gave us the best gifts someone aiming for overseas service could receive – they gave us their stories and their open hearts. If at all possible, find yourself a Harry and a Connie.
One last thought
I know you have a lot to think about, but before we sign off, I’ll leave you with one last thought– Serving overseas is a tremendous privilege, it really is. It’s a massive mixture of pain and joy that I wouldn’t trade for the world. If you choose to, I hope you get the opportunity to go. I’ll be cheering for you.