How to Come Alongside a Friend in Burnout

Prior to our move overseas, I recall occasional talk about this thing called “burnout.” I could not articulate exactly what it meant, but it sounded like a toxic mix of depression, deep exhaustion, and despair. One counselor explained that burnout was like a house that has had a fire on the inside. From the front lawn, everything may look tidy and intact. But once you get inside, it is immediately clear by the smell and charred walls that this home was badly damaged and requires repair. Maybe it was confined to just one room, or maybe the entire interior needs to be remodeled. Either way, the house needs internal gutting and rebuilding before it can safely function again. 

More than a decade later, my husband and I got a crash course in “the notorious B.O.”, as we came to call it. Despite the good and beautiful fruit of God’s work in our personal lives and ministry that year, I felt exhausted and unmotivated. I had little motivation to get together with friends or go visit the Afghan ladies whom, at some point prior to those days, I had loved so dearly. Upcoming events sounded overwhelming, and I desperately wanted to find an escape route from every responsibility.

We knew that we both needed help, but the weight of the many responsibilities we were bearing felt too consuming to leave any margin for yet another regularly scheduled Zoom call with a counselor. Eventually, however, the alarms were blaring, and it was clear that if we did not get help soon, the fire damage on the inside of my proverbial house was going to cause the entire structure to collapse. 

In my particular case of burnout, I had allowed pressing, important work to overtake equally important, but non-urgent personal needs. Simultaneously, my husband was suffering under the weight of heavy work and ministry responsibilities. We wanted to cut back on his work hours, and we also realized we needed to raise extra support in order to stay on the field. It all felt crushing.

As we were in the middle of drawing up plans for the summer, my husband’s boss decided, without any prompting, to leave my husband’s pay and benefits unchanged despite the fact that he would be working fewer hours. Neither of us realized how heavily the issue of finances was weighing on us until it was lifted. This one massive change allowed both of us to see the parts of our lives that needed tending, so we began to pursue healing in the parts of our lives that were still sore and tender.

The first few calls with my counselor felt a bit monotonous as I told her some of my own history and background. She began asking me about the nature of my work. Having just completed an emotionally intense project, I could barely get through a sentence without beginning to weep. It became apparent that, while I had been talking openly with friends and teammates about the emotional toll of work, I had not allowed myself to feel the depths of it.

Soon after, I heard an Enneagram expert explain that some folks are quite skilled at talking about their feelings while still managing to shield themselves from actually feeling them. “Guilty,” I said aloud. I invited the Holy Spirit into the innermost depths of my thought life. I asked for peace in those corners where emotional jack-in-the-boxes of memories and mental pictures would lie dormant until my sleeping brain would pop them open to be anxiously scrutinized at 3 am. 

One particularly memorable session with my counselor included some questions about leisure time. “What is something you enjoy doing on a daily or weekly basis?” I could not, for the life of me, think of the last time I had gone out of my way to do something I (and not my kids) considered fun. I would go for runs some mornings, which I enjoy immensely, but as my schedule had become increasingly packed, morning runs were often overruled in favor of extra sleep.

My counselor instructed me to make a list of things that I would consider fun and could feasibly do in the coming weeks and months. The very task of being made to sit and consider what would be fun activities was much harder work than I thought it would be. It was as though I had forgotten what things brought me joy, like I had been subsisting with a charred interior for so long that I could not even remember what it should or could look like. 

One of the items on my “fun list” was to have regular lunch and coffee dates with friends. Not for accountability time, not to do a Bible study, and not for ministry planning. Just regular lunch dates for some good ‘ole fashioned fun. This was not the be-all, end-all solution, but the impact of these dear people on my well-being was immense. The healing I experienced was slow, but I could see that God was cleaning up many places in my heart that had been neglected or altogether forgotten. Mercifully, He moved slowly and with intention, taking time to clean, reorganize, and sometimes hoist a giant load of trash onto a burn pile. 

Those days were incredibly difficult, but the lovingkindness shown to me by friends shed light on how to come alongside others who are also trying to navigate recovery from burnout. Here are a few ways you can help a friend who is struggling:

1. Tell them it’s ok to complain. Some of us feel immense guilt for telling the truth of how hard certain situations or people are. We believe that sharing our experiences when it might paint someone in a negative light is wrong, or that we are dishonoring them by disclosing behavior or attitudes that have affected us. While situations may require us to anonymize individuals and keep some information confidential, we all need an outlet to talk about hard and painful experiences. Being a friend who is willing to hold space for the whole gamut of frustrations and pain is a noble task. It can sometimes be difficult to share these emotions because we, as global workers, tend to see a lot of suffering. The temptation to minimize our own troubles in relation to those of our neighbors is all too real, but our struggles are still valid. Plus, minimizing our pain since it’s “not as bad as That Guy’s” comforts neither That Guy nor you. 

2. Encourage them to get professional help. Burnout and depression tend to go hand in hand. I was recently talking to a friend about starting antidepressant medication, and she joked that sending organizations should distribute them as standard procedure in pre-field orientation. While your friend may not need medication, they will likely need some help examining the deeper issues that created ideal circumstances for burnout. Even if they already understand these things, extricating long-practiced habits from faulty internal narratives about God, ourselves, and others is where we can sometimes find ourselves at an impasse. A professional counselor who is experienced with global workers can be a great help to someone who is feeling stuck.

3. Remind your friend of God’s unrelenting love for them. Burnout, for better or worse, serves to remind us that we are not capable of doing or being everything that we had hoped. In the depths of this realization, the voice of shame speaks pretty loudly. Here are a few of the more common phrases burnout shame spews:

  • You should have been able to handle more than this.
  • Look at That Guy (or That Girl)! They are in almost the same situation as you but with even more responsibilities, and they are thriving. What’s wrong with you? You really are a failure.
  • You have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

    The often-overlooked truth is that God’s love for your friend is unrelenting. His loving presence is so un-forsaking that he goes into the depths of our pain and despair right with us. Your friend, and indeed all of us, need to be reminded of this truth.

4. Check in on them regularly. Bring over a favorite drink or ask to go on a walk together. Exercise has proven to be a powerful way to combat mild to moderate depression and build emotional resilience, but it can often be difficult to find the motivation or energy when people are experiencing burnout and depression. The exercise is helpful, of course, but the company of a friend who cares and will simply be present is priceless.

5. Assure them that taking a break is a good thing. A season of burnout can mean needing to step away from responsibilities or leaving the field altogether. For those of us in ministry, our identity and sense of purpose tends to be so tethered to our ministry output that the idea of stepping away feels cowardly. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Stepping away, whether for a season or indefinitely, is often the hardest step to take as it can contain so many unknowns. God’s healing power and love is not only for the people we minister to, but for your friend as well. 

If you or a friend are in a season of burnout, you are not alone. In fact, it is a common reality for many global workers. Those of us in ministry roles recognize the importance of our work and are often willing to make great sacrifices in order to do it well. The nature of our work is to serve and love people as Jesus did, but we tend to overlook the reality that our own souls, minds, and bodies also require as much care and attention as those whom we came to serve. While it may look different from season to season, our neediness for the healing love of Christ, delivered through the vessels of human hands and feet, will be present until the day we see Him face to face. Recognizing our frailty can be painful, but it is in these places where the body of Christ can meet despair with hope, pain with comfort, and weariness with relief.  

Contextualization Meets Burnout

by Carol Ghattas

Reading a verse is one thing; living it out is another. That is certainly the case for many of us who have read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth and found this gem:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. 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…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

These words from chapter 9 encapsulate the work of contextualization for the modern Christian in cross-cultural service. Yes, the incarnation of Christ is the ultimate example, but since we’re not perfect like Christ, we tend to lean more on Paul’s words and model. Even so, we have big shoes to fill, as he seems to have had a head start with his multiple languages, passports, and education.

When moving toward cross-cultural service, we study and prepare, gaining insights from God’s Word and also from a long history of missionaries who have gone before. There is an implicit and sometimes explicit expectation that we will need to adjust how we live, speak, dress, and act in order to make inroads into the hearts and minds of those to whom we’re called. Unfortunately, in most cases, we are not told how incredibly difficult this is.

During my two years of service in Ivory Coast, West Africa, as much as I tried to dress like Ivorians, speak like Ivorians, and act like Ivorians, I could never completely fit in, because I was not Ivorian. I studied their culture but sometimes still had no clue as to why they did the things they did. Contextualization, however, can only take us so far. Not everything in a particular culture will jive with biblical teaching, and so efforts of contextualization will eventually conflict with our faith and convictions, leading us to stop at a certain action, word, or style of dress.

As we adapt and change our ways, looks, and even speech to reach others, the expectation on our side is that our efforts will open doors for the gospel. Unfortunately, the results do not always meet those expectations, and this is where contextualization meets burnout. We’ve made all the effort, with little fruit to show for it.

Burnout can also come at another point in serving others: when we lose ourselves in the contextualization process. This happens when we’ve worked so hard to conform our words and ways to another culture that we forget who we are and the end goal of our efforts in witness. The essence of contextualization is the word context. We adjust our lifestyle and witness in order to make them fit into this new reality in which we are now living.

Losing one’s self in contextualization means that we haven’t recognized the limits of the process. We’ve passed the limits where our faith and convictions should have stopped us, because we’re too eager to please and fit in. Once we’ve crossed that line, we’ve lost sight of the reason we’re living in this culture in the first place. Dangers of losing one’s self abound, because there is an enemy who is always working against us. We must always keep up our guard as we seek to be all things to all people for the sake of Christ.

Think of the child’s toy that helps them put specific shapes into their corresponding holes. Here I am, a square, now living in a society of circles. I can’t fit in until I shave off my rough edges, and that can be very painful. Yet, if it’s done remembering that at my core, I’m still that square, then I haven’t lost much and can now actually fit into two cultures. It’s when we throw away the core that burnout hits. What makes up my core? My faith and values are the rock-solid center of self. Culture and traditions come and go, but faith in Christ and the values he builds in me should never be sacrificed for the sake of fitting in.

To avoid burnout, I must always keep before me the reason I’m trying to fit in—to open doors for witness. I’m not trying to change because I love their culture or because I plan to live here the rest of my life; I’m changing and adjusting my lifestyle, words, or dress in order to build a bridge to the gospel. I want doors to open because of my efforts to be more circle-like in their eyes. The challenge in contextualization and becoming part of a culture is to make sure you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and what is behind the meanings of words used. Never be afraid to ask questions or to make mistakes. Understanding the nuances of any culture is a long-term endeavor.

There is a point when I have to check myself and ask: “Am I still sharing the truth of the gospel in my words and actions or just trying to please people and not offend them?” When we are no longer able to answer in the affirmative, we’ve lost our way and must return to the basics in our faith and ministry.

While we make changes for the sake of conveying the gospel to others, it is important to remember that the sharing of the gospel can never be fully contextualized, as it would change its very nature. Paul started his proclamation to the Greeks in Athens by talking about their “unknown god,” but the God he revealed to them was completely different from all the gods they knew. Some who heard that day believed and wanted to hear more, while others sneered at his words. He contextualized the message enough to “fit into the hole,” but the core was still fully Jesus, and when Jesus is made known, people must make a choice.

The longer you live among another people group and adapt to their ways and language, the more you feel at home. The foreign becomes familiar, and you may now struggle to connect with your native homeland and family. It seems you can’t be fully at home in two places at once. As strangers in a strange land, we find hope in Christ Jesus our Lord. He reminds us that the only permanent home is the eternal one to come. Embracing this truth, we can handle the unintended consequences of contextualization and find balance in life and ministry.


Carol B. Ghattas has over thirty years of experience in cross-cultural ministry and has lived in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Now back in the United States, she maintains an active blog site, She is a writer and speaker on missions, Islam, and other topics. Her newest book, Not in Kansas Anymore: Finding Home in Cross-Cultural Service, is available through online book distributors in eBook and paperback formats. For more information or to contact Carol, visit her website:

Shining Your Light without Burning Out

“Raise your hands in the air as high as you can,” says the motivational speaker on the stage. Then, looking over the crowd reaching skyward, he says, “Now, reach higher,” and they comply. The lesson? You can always do more, even when you think you’ve done as much as you can.

“I’ll give it 110%,” we say.

“Leave it all on the court,” they tell us.

But pushing ourselves beyond our limits can lead to burnout. When that happens, we can’t function anymore, and that’s not a good thing. And yet, for a cross-cultural worker, being burned out can feel like a respectable reason for leaving the field. I have nothing left to give. I’m spent. I worked too hard.

When my wife and I moved back to the States, I sometimes said it was because we were burned out, and that may very well have been true. But there were other times when I felt I didn’t deserve the label. It seemed that it should be reserved for the ones who’d worked a lot harder than I had.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” we sing.

According to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, Revision 11, “burn-out” is an “occupational phenomenon” (rather than a medical condition). It is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” showing itself in

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and
  • reduced professional efficacy

Christina Maslach, professor emerita of psychology at UC Berkely and co-developer of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, says that while overwork is one of the factors that can lead to burnout, it’s not the only one. In fact, she identifies six mismatches between the work environment and worker that can cause job burnout. In a presentation at a DevOps Enterprise Summit three years ago, she described these as

  • demand overload,
  • lack of control,
  • insufficient reward,
  • breakdown of community,
  • absence of fairness, and
  • value conflicts

When I heard this list, I couldn’t help but think of the topics discussed in Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss’s Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. And even though Maslach is addressing a group of tech leaders, the content of her talk applies to people in other areas, including those working cross-culturally. Across all occupations, burnout, says Maslach, is like the canary in the coal mine. When the canary can’t breath, the solution isn’t to toughen up the bird but instead to find out and fix what’s wrong with the air. To put it another way, she says, prevention is a better strategy than coping.

I would encourage you to watch Maslach’s presentation, whatever your role in cross-cultural work, as leaders or followers. Some of you have a leadership position in your organization or on your team and can influence the situations of those under your authority. Some of you are your own boss. All of you have jobs that include responding to the expectations of others (agencies, sending churches, supporters, team leaders, supervisors, coworkers, and the like). Maslach’s insights are useful to us all.

Of course, serving and living overseas adds extra layers to what we call our “workplace,” and there will be some factors of cross-cultural life that are out of anyone’s control. But when we see the effects of a toxic environment, what of the six problems above can we or others solve or mitigate, working towards turning mismatches into good fits?

What can we do, though, if we’re feeling overwhelmed while waiting for (asking for, hoping for, praying for) circumstances to change? How do we foster personal health in an unhealthy environment? Several years ago, I wrote a post titled “Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving?” in which I presented another option for those who are able to survive overseas but for whom thriving seems out of reach. To suggest that we “strive,” though, might sound to some as if I’m saying we need to “try harder,” and that isn’t my intention. If I were to write that post again, I’d insert some advice from Aundi Kolber. It’s to “try softer,” which is the name of a book she’s written. For my purposes, I’d rephrase it as “strive softer.”

Kolber, a licensed professional counselor, writes that it’s not necessary for us to “white-knuckle our way through life.” Instead, we should practice “paying compassionate attention” to ourselves. She describes this as “in a sense, learning to steward for ourselves what God already believes about us—that we’re valuable and loved.”

When we are not paying attention to our inner worlds, we are susceptible to emotional burnout, exhaustion, emotional dysregulation, and chronic pain. Because our brains are shaped around what we notice, it’s important that we become better and more effective at listening—and responding—to what our minds and bodies are telling us. This is the journey of trying softer.

In Try Softer (the book’s subtitle is A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode—and into a Life of Connection and Joy), Kolber covers a lot of ground, diving deep into such subjects as trauma response, neuroscience, attachment theory, windows of tolerance, and boundaries, helping us learn how to understand ourselves and how we came to be who we are. Then she follows that up with “new practices and rhythms,” practical suggestions to help us try softer. It’s well worth a read. Or if you’d rather just get a short overview of what Kolber has to say, you can follow this link to a 45-minute video interview she had with author and podcaster Nicole Unice.

Striving softer isn’t just for staying on the field. It’s what we should do to continue walking with and serving God, wherever we are. It’s a good way to live life.

Giving anything more than 100% can’t be done.

Leaving it all on the court means your playing days are over.

Burning out isn’t an honor you earn from maximum effort.

And as for “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” I can think of a whole lot of other songs that are more worth singing.

(“Burn-Out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases,” World Health Organization, May 28, 2019; Christina Maslach, Understanding Job Burnout, presentation at DOES19 London, July 1, 2019; Aundi Kolber, Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode—and into a Life of Connection and Joy, Tyndale, 2020)

[photo: “Lights Out,” by Pulpolux !!!, used under a Creative Commons license]

Ouch! I think I strained my life!

You know what I’m talking about, right? The moment it catches up to you (mid-thirties, usually) and you realize you’re going to have to stop and get gas.

I bent over to field a grounder and couldn’t walk for 3 days.
I sneezed too enthusiastically and my neck wasn’t right for a week.


I filled up my schedule and now I don’t have time for my kids (aka “Cats in the Cradle”).
I’m so busy serving everyone else that my soul shriveled up like a desiccated fish in Djibouti.


Honestly, I don’t know how to stop.
I’m just waiting until ___________ (fill in the blank) and then it’ll get better.

This strained life should lead to a pause, a re-calibration, perhaps a realization that our failure to rest wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world. Often, however, a strained life leads to guilt and shame and a redoubled push to do harder. Everyone else on Instagram seems to be handling life perfectly. (It’s amazing what filters and curating can do, btw.)

And besides, our work is IMPORTANT! Important I tell you!


“The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” G. K. Chesterton, In Defense of Sanity


Would it help you to consider sabbath as an intentional act of faith?

Would it be easier to enter into regular rest if you saw it as an act of defiance, a railing against workaholism and works-based salvation? Because it is.

If you’re feeling the strained life, please pause.


It might not have to be that way.

How long can your soul take it, this incessant work and pressure? How long can your relationships take it?

Seasons of higher stress are normal (um, transition?!). Seasons of less sleep are normal (infants, anyone?). But even so, the thing that folks seem to miss is the turning of a season into an age; a winter turning into an ice age.

If any of this goes twang, pay attention. And maybe read an article or something.

But first, breathe.


Some articles:


Some books:
At various times of my life, God has used these books to slow me down, to re-center my soul, and to draw me, once again, into the secure, peaceful, presence of the King.

The book descriptions are from Amazon, and the links are affiliate links. In other words, any book purchased through one of these links helps A Life Overseas stay afloat, so thanks!



Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Dr. Richard Swenson

Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Today we use margin just to get by. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload. Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God’s purpose.





Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians, by Ed Cyzewski

What if prayer could be simple rather than strenuous?

Anxious, results-driven Christians can never pray enough, serve enough, or study enough. But what if God is calling us not to frenzied activity but to a simple spiritual encounter? What if we must merely receive what God has already given us?

In Flee, Be Silent, Pray, writer and contemplative retreat leader Ed Cyzewski guides readers out of the anxiety factory of contemporary Christianity and toward a God whose love astounds those quiet long enough to receive it. With helpful guidance into solitude, contemplative prayer, and practices such as lectio divina and the Examen, Cyzewski guides readers toward the Christ whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Ready to shed the fear of the false self and the exhaustion of a duty-driven faith? Flee. Be silent. Pray.



Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, by Bonnie Gray

Running on empty with no time for rest, yourself, or God? Soulful author Bonnie Gray shows how to create spiritual whitespace in the everyday for God, refreshment, and faith—right in the midst of our stress-frayed lives. She guides you to discover a better story for yourself, one that feeds your soul and makes room for rest.





Death is right around the corner. So live!

I’ve always thought like this.

I’ve always believed my life was going to be very short. Nearly every time I publish an article or preach a sermon, I think, “Well, I said it, I guess I can die now.”

I don’t have a desire to die, it’s just that I live with a gut-level realization that I could die. Any minute.

It’s not morbid. At least it doesn’t feel morbid. It feels realistic. And frankly, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been amazed at how people can not live this way.

Thoughts of imminent death don’t fill me with dread or motivation. They don’t scare me into action or inaction. You know what they do fill me with? You know what they do generate in me? Gratefulness. God’s got this world, and it’s his job to run it, to save it. I show up as long as I can, obey as best I can, love every one I can, and then leave. Soon, I’ll exit stage right and the whole thing will keep going. The curtain won’t go down. Grace will keep going.

So how do we live with an awareness of our imminent mortality? How should that awareness impact our lives and ministries?

Well, what did Jesus do when he knew his time was short? He spent time with his friends, he washed feet. He said some things. He prayed.

He spent some very “unproductive” time at his favorite hillside garden retreat. He didn’t race the clock or yield to a flurry of last minute ministry activity. He walked. He prayed.

As cross-cultural Christian workers, we often allow the specter of death (ours or others’) to fling us into frenetic activity. But I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about living with an awareness of death. In his case, he was writing to those living under fear of death by atomic bomb, but his broader points apply here too.

He said,

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Living and working cross-culturally is hard, and we often forget the joys of the little things. We need rhythms of rest and Sabbath to restore us, to remind us of how much we need the “sensible and human things.”


We’re one month into a four-month trip Stateside, and before we got here, Elizabeth and I made a purposeful decision to do the “human things”: we decided to set aside the first month to reconnect with family, to play together, to travel a bit for fun, and to rest. And I’m so glad we did.

This first month back has been precisely what we needed. I’m sleeping better. I’m seeing a counselor to debrief our last term in Cambodia. It’s wonderful. One of my kids noticed the change and said, “You’re different, dad. You are laughing more.” The kid was right.

The job is hard. The ministry is hard, and we all need to remember to slow down, to live.

We all need to work hard and we need to Sabbath hard.

Remember, regular times of rest are evidence of discipline, not laziness.

Regrouping, reconnecting, restoring, recreating, are godly endeavors, after all.


Well, I would talk more, but I’m busy. I’m busy laughing with my kids, playing in the grass, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering that there is good in the world. Do you need to do that too?

After all, Christ is Risen!



More resources:

Can humor be a spiritual discipline?

Please Stop Running

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

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

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

Last year I flirted with burnout. I was camping out along its edges, and I didn’t even know it. Only after some conversations with my husband and with a spiritual director, did I recognize what was going on and how I’d been complicit in my own spiritual sickness.

These are the things I’m doing to carve out rest and Sabbath in my life and to move farther and farther away from burnout. I’m no expert, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. They’re just things that seem to be working in my life. Some are deceptively small and simple; others are larger and more extreme and took more courage to do.

[Note: This post contains the whats, not the whys. For some of the whys, you can read my husband’s articles Please Stop Running and margin: the wasted space we desperately need.]


1. In the midst of the chaos, choose to breathe.

God formed us from the dust and breathed the breath of life into us. There is life and peace in our breath. Why then do we go about our days neglecting this very curative gift God gave us?

In fact I’ve described breathing as a “free drug” before:

Some drugs are free.
Like breathing.
I love breathing. It’s my favorite.
I recently announced this to my kids.
Some of them thought I was crazy, but one agreed.
It’s true though. I just love breathing.
Inhale, exhale.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Release, receive.
When I stop to close my eyes and breathe deeply and slowly, I immediately calm down.
My body relaxes.
My thoughts stop swirling.
My emotions stop pressing.
So take a deep breath. Maybe take three.
And remember, some drugs are free.
If only we will use them.


2. Open my hands in surrender.

Even better than simply taking some deep breaths is to sit in a quiet place, place my hands in my lap, and open them up to God. As I do so, I release my hurts and concerns to God. I give Him my frustrations and trust Him to keep all of them, because I’m too weak and tired to hold onto them anymore. I’m not as consistent in this practice as I want to be, but when I participate in this small act of surrender, it makes a huge difference in my day.


3. Grab hold of awe and wonder in ordinary moments and days.

I’m inspired by the idea of Ordinary Time, which I first read about in Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s The Circle of Seasons: Finding God in the Church Year. Ordinary Time encourages me to ask, “Where is the glory of God hiding in my life right now?”

If I can cultivate a sense of wonder and joy in the everyday things of Creation, then I find miraculous little moments hidden in my ordinary days. When I purposefully take the time to notice these things,

I can explore space-time with my son and delight in a sunset with my daughter.

I can drink in the clouds and rooftops from a 4th floor downtown city window.

I can breathe in the blue sky on my way to a dinner meeting.

I can be captivated by a bright yellow full moon.

I can delight in a downpour so strong the palm trees are engulfed in white gauze.

I can inhale the heavenly fragrance of the frangipani flower.

I can marvel at our daily game with gravity, at the blue-scattered sky, at a photosynthesizing palm tree.

I used to think I needed long periods of time away in order to truly rest. In truth, little mini-Sabbaths are often available to me. But they only happen if I’m willing to stop rushing around and pay attention.


4. Fast regularly from technology.

I fought this practice for a long time. I believe I have what is called a “soft addiction” when it comes to the internet. I go to it for comfort — though comfort can’t be found there — and I have a hard time turning it off when I’m tired or overwhelmed.

Last year I began by fasting from the internet during family vacations and team retreats. I was sensing God’s invitation to fast from technology on Sundays, but I ignored it for several months. When I finally started obeying a couple of months ago, Sundays suddenly became much more restorative. Now I read, sleep, or spend time with my husband on Sunday afternoons. My relationships are better, I’m more rested, and I avoid the “computer haze” that starts to set in after too much time zoning out in front of a screen. This practice makes me much better prepared for Monday.

Additionally I try to keep technology out of the bedroom on weeknights, turn off the screens by 9 pm, and keep the computer closed until after I’ve talked to God in the morning. I often pray for strength to resist the pull of work before I even get out of bed.


5. Get creative with Sabbath.

When you’re in ministry, Sundays are often too intense to be considered restful. But Sabbath doesn’t have to happen on Sundays, and it doesn’t have to be a full 24 hours, either. Creativity in carving out Sabbath is especially important if you have young children, and you may have to alternate childcare between parents and only take half days at a time.

My husband, for example, takes Wednesday mornings off. First he takes a child out to breakfast, and then he takes a few hours for his own Sabbath. After lunch he comes home to do office work so that I can get out to a coffee shop to work on my own creative projects. My Wednesday afternoons are not, strictly speaking, Sabbath, but they provide the space to write and think and be separated from the never-ending needs of our home. Too often last year, I let these precious pockets of time slip through my fingers, and I felt the strain. Now I try to guard them much more carefully.


6. Get brave and quit something.

This took me a long time to do. I could not bring myself to quit any of the ministry activities I had committed myself to. I thought each and every one of them was essential and all-important, and I was afraid I would let people down if I quit. But in the end I realized I was so overloaded I had to do it — and it really was hard to do. I had to accept both that the ministry would go on without me and that my identity wasn’t tied up in those particular ministries.

But getting brave and quitting things isn’t just about ministry. It’s about social gatherings too. Where I live, there are so many invitations. So many good things to do. And so much fear of missing out — on community, on friendship, on educational and recreational opportunities. It’s still hard to say no and miss out on wonderful opportunities, whether they’re for myself or my children. But I simply can’t do everything, and I’m getting more comfortable with the fact.


7. Participate in regular confession, repentance, and worship.

Tears cleanse the soul and make space for God. I don’t know why this is true — and I almost wish it weren’t — but it is, and it’s the way God has designed us. We are created to humble ourselves before Him and others and admit we are wrong.

When I’m running too fast and seeking solace in false comforts, my heart hardens, my tears dry up, and I become deaf to the voice of God. But I find rest for my soul in confession, repentance, and tears. My most recent experience of this was at an Ash Wednesday service, but I’ve told similar stories in Angry, Mean, and Redeemed and When Your Husband Calls You a Shell of a Woman.


8. Be faithful in caring for body and soul.

Last year I knew I was distant from God and that I wasn’t taking care of my body. Why is it that when I’m too busy, the first things to go are exercise and time with God? Those are the things I need the most. But in times of stress, it’s all too easy to sleep in and skip talking to God altogether, or to get up and start working during that sacred morning hour instead. And when I’m tired, it’s all too easy to eat junk food, watch Netflix, and skip exercising. But after I started cutting stuff out of my life, it became easier to stress-eat less, to exercise more, and to approach God more honestly and more consistently.

I like to call these things “soul care” and “body care,” because even after all the “self-care” propaganda we have, that term still sounds selfish to me (and a lot of other women I talk to). But soul care and body care? That’s worship. That’s stewardship. It’s taking the soul God gave me, and reconnecting it to its Creator. It’s taking the body God gave me, and moving it and nourishing it so it can feel better and give more. So don’t forget to take care of your soul and your body.


9. Seek counseling or other outside help.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned my meetings with a spiritual director. I knew 2016 had been brutal; I just didn’t know why. My counseling sessions helped to pinpoint the motivations behind some of my poor choices and prompted me to begin to making better choices. We missionaries can be really “driven,” unhealthy people sometimes, and counseling can help us figure out both why we are so driven and how to move forward in health.


10. And finally, take a longer break.

Sometimes you need a longer time away from regular life. After taking pretty much no breaks during our first term, our family now takes a two-week Sabbatical in the middle of each two-year term. This extended time is for getting into nature, getting away from work and technology, nurturing our family relationships, and getting debriefing or counseling.

I know it’s not always feasible to get away for longer periods of time, but if you can, it’s great preventive medicine. And if you find yourself drained so low that you can’t continue living life the way it is, taking a longer break may be more of an emergency measure. Just don’t be afraid to take that step.


What about you? How do you find rest for your soul?

Further reading:

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro

Let me tell you about Kassiah Jones


This month my husband and I took our kids to the local home school co-op’s spring performance. Some of our friends were in the play. It was called “The Race” and was an original play based loosely on the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Every character in this play was modeled after an animal. There was a bear and a sparrow and a fennec fox (among others), but the character that most captured my attention was the character modeled after the ant. Her name was Kassiah Jones, and she never knew when to quit.

When it was time for the village inhabitants to prepare for the annual race, Kassiah trained harder than all the rest. She worked hard and never knew when to stop.

On race day Kassiah was in the lead, far ahead of the others, for the first three laps. But on the fourth lap she didn’t come back around the curtain with the rest of the runners. At the end of the race, after somebody else had won, the villagers went in search of her. They found her, collapsed from exhaustion, and had to carry her out on a stretcher.

I so identified with Kassiah Jones. I work, work, work, and never take a break. I know I need to. But I forget.

The week I attended “The Race” was, to be honest, brutal. We’d gone three days without refrigeration and had lost the entire contents of our fridge to Cambodia’s hot season. We’d gone a couple days with a puking child and half a night’s power outage with said puking child. I got to the end of that week completely exhausted and out of sorts.

So that Friday I took the first of what I’m now calling a “Kassiah Jones Day.” I canceled home school. I played games with my kids. We watched sciences videos in the air conditioning. I read more than usual to them. I’m with them all the time, but I don’t always share enjoyable activities with them. Instead I focus on finishing our lessons, and then in my “free time,” I work.

But I now have a vocabulary for what my soul needs and for the way I’d been treating it. I have a symbol, a simple phrase that encompasses a world of meaning for me. It’s true I forget to Sabbath. It’s true I forget to breathe. It’s true that all too often, I am Kassiah Jones.

But I think that needs to start changing, and I think I know just how to try.

~~In honor of Kassiah Jones, I’m keeping this blog post short.~~

~~When was the last time you took a Kassiah Jones Day?~~

To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

To the Displaced and the Exiled

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

You had barely arrived when you realized that life had gone on in this, your passport country. You call your best friend. She squeals with delight and then says “I’m so sorry. Can’t talk now! Heading to a work party. Gotta get the kids ready for the baby sitter. And next week we’re swamped! Kids are getting ready for camp, we’ve got church stuff. Can’t wait to catch up”.


And your siblings. Oh. Your. Siblings. You so want to be able to sit down with them, to share life. But two of your brother’s have wives that are not speaking to each other and the idea of a fun family dinner is just that – an idea.

So there you sit. All of this going through your mind. And you feel one hot tear trickle down your face. You brush it away impatiently. But there’s another. How can you escape and just let all the preceding weeks and the now fill up your tear ducts and fall freely, a red sniffley nose and all?

You are displaced. You feel you are in exile.

You’ve no home to go to. You’re not fully at home there, but neither are you here.

You make it to the car and sit. It’s begun to rain and the rain blocks the windows, sending streams of water down and hiding you from the world. It has been a long time since you’ve seen rain. Your tears fall like the heavy raindrops. You sob like you will never stop.

There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort.

Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it.

And somehow you know that God is there. The God you cried to for weeks before making the move, late at night when all were sleeping so you would upset no one. The God who was with you when you held your 2-year-old in a steamy bathroom, far from good medical care, praying that the croup would go. The God who was with you when you first arrived on the soil of another country, looking out-of-place and oh so tired. The God who you prayed to when you went off the road in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and suddenly help was available.

The God of the Displaced and the Exiled is with you. Here and Now.

You recall the verse given to you by an older woman, one who knew what this nomadic life would hold – knew the good and knew the hard. You breathe. Slowly.

You say the verse aloud, your voice raspy, knowing you are at the end of your human strength. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion.*”

Softly you repeat the words “Strength to strength” and you start the car.


In January I had the extraordinary privilege of going to the countries of Lebanon and Jordan to work with refugees. One of the days that I was there, we went to the Bekaa Valley, now home to thousands of Syrian refugees. Historically, the Bekaa Valley is known as a valley of weeping, a valley of lamenting. As I sat with refugees in their tents, I thought about this,  about how the valley has witnessed extraordinary pain and grief in the lives of these refugees, staying true to its history.

But the verses I quote above from the Psalms change the picture.

The person of faith walks through this valley on their way to worship. And as they do so, the valley of weeping became a place of springs, a place of blessing.  

I don’t know what is going on in your life today, but my prayer is that if you find yourself in the valley of the weeping, that God will make it a place of springs. That you will go from strength to strength, knowing your God is big enough.

This article appears in the Goodbye section of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

[photo credit: Stefanie Sevim Gardner taken in Jerusalem looking out over the Old City.]

*Psalm 84:5-7


Rest. To Love.


I’m trying to practice what I preach. I’m trying to remember my own advice. Oh, and I’m trying to transition back to life in Cambodia after a few months in the States.

So yeah, let me remind myself (and you too, if you’re still reading): Rest. To Love.

You want to love people well? You want to love your God well? Then rest. Sabbath.

You want to disciple people well? You want to model what it means to follow Jesus in a foreign land? Then stop for a bit. Breathe. Quit planning and straining for a second and enjoy Him. Enjoy His word. Enjoy His Church. Slowly.

I’m not writing a new article this month. I’m remembering old ones. I hope you’ll remember too.

I hope the first two articles quoted and linked below will help you remember two things: margin’s important, and running can be dangerous.

I hope the second two articles will remind you that God doesn’t always lead in a straight line, and that even at night, there are stars.

May your 2016 be full of the Father, with deep awareness of His presence and His plans. May Jesus stir deep inside of you a longing for the restoration of all things and the coming of the Kingdom, and may you remember, day by day, the last promise of Jesus: “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter


From the article, margin: the wasted space we desperately need:

Margin is wasted space that we desperately need. It’s space that’s not accounted for and produces no obvious, easily quantifiable profit. However, margin is extremely important, creating a zone of safety, giving you time and space and emotional capital to react safely when something unexpected happens.

Often, we make margin a liability: “You’re not busy?! What in the world are you doing?! Think of all the needs!” I used to believe this was primarily an issue for those of us from the West; however, I’m realizing that this is very much an issue for many of our brothers and sisters from the East too. The truth is, we all need to devote some serious attention to how we deal with margin, because the costs of living margin-less are extremely high.



From the article, Please Stop Running:

Jesus perfectly balanced exterior, people-focused ministry with deep Rest. Jesus rested in the peace and security and love and acceptance of his Father, and then turned around and loved people like crazy.

May we do the same. May our time with the Father, resting in his presence, drive us to love people. And after a time of loving and serving people, may we take our bone-weary souls back up the mountain to Rest with our Father.

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

Rest reminds me to agree, once again, that He’s God and I’m not.



From the article, When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t:

My parents had their life all mapped out, and then their baby was born with chromosomal abnormalities and died at home, surrounded by tubes and oxygen tanks, only a month old.

As a teenager, I had my life pretty well planned out (get my pilot’s license, be Nate Saint). But then my mom got cancer and died. And the path of God darkened.

The “plan of God for my life,” the path I was following with full confidence and youthful arrogance, disappeared. Because sometimes the straight and narrow isn’t.

God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

He is the God of fractals, making beauty and order out of lines that look like a drunk man was drawing during an earthquake.



From the article, Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do):

I don’t like the dark. I never have. I like to know exactly where I’m going, when I’m going to get there, and how many McDonald’s there are along the way. But life doesn’t seem to work like that. So, when I find myself unsure and blind, I remember these three flashes of truth.

I might not know where I’ll be a year or ten from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough light for now. I can navigate the night when I remember these three burning callings: Adore Him, Love People, and Walk Boldly.

There’s not much to this, really, but when you’re walking in the dark, a little light goes a long ways.



What articles meant a lot to you in 2015 (from A Life Overseas or otherwise)?
Feel free to share the links in the comment section below.

To the ones who think they’ve failed

photo-1448067686092-1f4f2070baae1So, you failed to save the world.
You failed to complete the task of global evangelism.
You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region.
You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

Good-hearted people in your organization (maybe) and your churches (hopefully) tell you you’re not a failure. But you still feel like one. You came home before you planned. Maybe for health reasons. Maybe for burnout reasons. Maybe you don’t need reasons. You were done, so you finished. You came “home.”

But now you’re finding home’s not home anymore. You knew for sure you didn’t fit in there, but now you’re very much afraid you don’t fit in here anymore. You failed there, and now you feel like you’re failing here. You want to believe that some good came of it. Or will come of it. Or something.

For now, though, you mourn. And you should, because you lost something. You lost dreams, maybe, and years. You lost relationships. Some of those relationships you wanted to lose. Others, you didn’t. And still other relationships you thought you’d regain, you haven’t.

So mourn. Mourn well. Jesus is near to those who mourn. Feel the loss. Welcome it, even. It is a bitter pill that you should swallow as often as needed.

You’re still part of the team. You’re not a washed up, has been, burnt out, broken down, used up, person. You are a child of God, dearly loved. Cherished. And you are still needed. The Church still needs you. The Father still wants you. Jesus still loves you. And the Holy Spirit is still near to you.

The Church still needs your voice. You’ve seen things that many folks “back home” haven’t. Your voice is different. Weird, maybe. But it’s so needed in the Church that sent you. Don’t let them forget the global nature of the Kingdom of God. The Church still needs you.

The foreign mission field needs you. You can counsel, caution, and console in a way few people can. Those still serving abroad need you. Be a voice for them. Be a voice to them.

May you find God to be the great Restorer. The One who heals.
The Great I AM at both departure and destination.
The King who knows you’re always en route.

May you find Peace. May you realize that God’s love for you was never conditioned on your performance. Ever.
He loved you then. He loves you now.
He asks you to love him.
He asks you to obey him.

So whether you’re here or there,
Whether you feel like a wonderful success or an abject failure,
May you remember His love.

May you believe His love, shining most eloquently through his Son, and may that belief lead to obedience. Here, there, everywhere.

And in the middle of it all, may you hear the Father calling you.



When There’s Nowhere to Go But Home

n1When my husband and I decided to leave Cambodia, we had a hard time articulating why. Life was fine – very good actually. We had a decent groove with work, amazing childcare for our two children, and the most incredible faith community.

And yet. We knew.

It would have been easier in some ways if there was some sort of “reason,” like a family or health-related issue, or something to do with the kids’ schooling. But for us it wasn’t any of those. There was no crystal clear moment, no flashing light, no obvious sign, and no audible voice from God. There was just a visceral knowledge that it was time.

When we moved to Cambodia in the first place, we were young and typically idealistic. We wanted to “make a difference” with the gifts and talents God gave us and invest meaningfully in work and relationships. We loved Cambodia deeply (and still do), but after nearly six years of committing ourselves to the country, its people and to our work, we felt like we received an inaudible release. The call to Cambodia had come and gone. And that was okay. It wasn’t failure or lack of commitment, or even cutting things short. We had permission to go.

Even more, there was an instinctual, gut-knowledge that if we stayed, we were actually taking the easy route. To leave? Well…that was terrifying. It meant trusting that God would provide a new way, a new vision for the future and a new path to see it through.

That’s where we sit right now. Nine months ago we left Cambodia. We took the long way home to Canada, stopping in 14 countries to visit friends and family along the way. Each step in our journey, including the five months we’ve been back, have been important in piecing together the next phase of our lives.

It is a phase that is decidedly Canadian. It’s relearning how to live and work and operate in our country of origin. It’s about finding deep and abundant rest – in the form of closeness to family, play parks for our kids, a safe car to drive, lots of walking and biking in Canada’s beautiful outdoors, and public services like health care and libraries at our disposal. It’s celebrating our first cold, white Christmas in six years. And, it’s wrestling with all sorts of new challenges, like living simply when surrounded by overabundance and learning to make new friends and find our place in a new church community. Sometimes I feel like I’m the new girl back in high school.

It hasn’t been easy, and there are days when I desperately miss Cambodia and question our sanity in leaving.

But I still know deep in my gut that leaving was the right decision.

I am reminded of the countless times throughout Scripture where God calls people outside themselves and outside of the familiar. Whether it’s Abram and Sarai heading towards Canaan, the Israelites leaving Egypt, or Paul’s missionary journeys, God calls us out of our comfort zone and out of the familiar.

Strangely enough, for us right now, that’s Canada.

In his work, ‘The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church’, Alan Hirsch says:

“When we survey scripture with liminality and communitas [[1]] in mind, we must conclude that the theologically most fertile sections were in those times of extremity, when people were well out of their comfort zones.”[2]

And so we find that the driving motivation to go to Cambodia in the first place – one of adventure and challenge and wanting to be changed – has now driven us back to Canada.

All of this doesn’t mean that a life overseas is over for us. Not at all. It means that before we can go and minister again, we need to refresh and re-energize after coming dangerously close to burning out. And, perhaps we need enough time in Canada to remember why we left in the first place.

For now, we plod through day to day life praying for peace, the capacity to live well in our new context, and for a renewed vision for the future.


[1] In ‘The Forgotten Ways’, Hirsch defines liminality as “the transition process accompanying a fundamental change of state or social position.” Communitas is “what happens when “individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization.” Page 221

[2] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids, MI. 2006. Page 221.


Profile EditAfter spending her entire childhood (except the odd missions trip here and there) on Canadian soil, Amie Gosselin graduated from university with a BA in Journalism and a passion to travel and engage in social justice issues. Since then, she has lived in Thailand, Suriname and Cambodia working for non-profit organizations and loves that writing and stewarding people’s stories is part of her vocation. Amie is married to Steve and mom to two spunky little girls. After six years of living Cambodia, she and her family moved back to Canada where they are trying to relearn how to live in North America. Amie continues to work part time for an international NGO and is expecting her third daughter in May.