Success or Faithfulness?

It has not been an easy week here in Kurdistan.

From difficulty with websites to difficulty with people, there are times when I would like life to be easier.

I’m sitting now at one of the two coffee shops in Rania, listening to Adele on repeat. Adele is easy on the ears, and I find myself gradually relaxing. Just before I left the university today, I spoke with two colleagues. “I don’t know how you do it” I said. “You face barriers in every single thing you do, and yet you don’t give up. You continue to face life with hope, joy, and laughter.”

This is the honest truth. Most of our Kurdish friends have life circumstances that are far more difficult than ours. Yet I don’t hear them complaining. They face every day with far more joy and hope than I have. This is remarkable.

Much of what my husband and I face here is learning to redefine success. Success at our jobs in the United States was easy to define. We had deliverables and performance reviews. We had deadlines and targets. Our lives were both dictated by grants and all that goes into them: problem statements, proposed plan, graphs, evidence, tables, objectives, outcomes, conclusions, and attachments. All of it wove together to create a fairly concrete system of success. It was easy to know if we were doing our jobs well.

We have entered into a system where none of that exists; where we search and search and search to find grants that our university is eligible to apply for. Once we find those proverbial needles in haystacks, we search and search to see if they fit with our universities capability. The amounts of money are tiny. I was used to dealing in hundreds of thousands to a couple million dollars while my husband was used to dealing in millions. Now, we get excited when we see a grant for five thousand dollars. The smaller the grant, the more the funder seems to want in terms of paper work. So we end up spending as much time on writing a grant for five thousand dollars as we used to for a million.

There are times when we are convinced it is a losing battle. We set up our ‘to do’ lists, only to be outdone by lack of electricity, no internet and hard to describe infrastructure challenges.

Lately I’ve come to not try to redefine it. I’ve come to realize that success is an arbitrary losing battle. But faithfulness – that feels possible.

Success is defined by performance. Faithfulness is defined by constancy.

Success is defined by accomplishment. Faithfulness by devotion.

Success is defined by achievement. Faithfulness by commitment.

Success is defined by attaining a goal. Faithfulness by being true to a promise.

As long as we posed the question “How do we redefine success?” we were still coming out as losing. We felt like failures. But changing it to “Are we being faithful?” This felt and continues to feel helpful.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not just us. Maybe there are others out there that are defining their lives by success when that leaves way too many people out of the equation.

Maybe changing the paradigm to faithfulness would change society in indescribable ways. The person who is considered “mentally challenged”, the refugee with no job, the elderly who struggles to move in the morning, the one who is chronically ill, the child, the newborn…. how do they fit into our paradigms of success? How can our world be changed to include faithfulness or mere existence as markers of value?

So what does faithfulness mean to me at this moment? It means that I’ll not complain about lack of resources. That I will face the daily 8 hours of no electricity without complaining. That I will learn to love across cultural differences. That I will not rage about no internet.

It means that I will be kind and honor others, that I will communicate in spirit and in truth, that I will love hard and pray harder, that I will love God and love others, that I will read, speak, and write words that honor God, that echo truth.  

“Just be faithful.”

Just be faithful – it’s something I’ve written about before, and so I’ll close with some words I wrote some time ago:

The words continue “Marilyn, I know you’re tired. Just be faithful. With my strength be faithful.” I’m still tired but I walk with One who knows tired, with One who knows pain, with One who knows what it is to live out faithful in this beautiful, broken world.


Author’s Note: This piece was first published on Communicating Across Boundaries.

How Should We Measure “Success” in Missions?

by Tamie Davis

We’re probably in the back half of our life overseas, and we’ve started asking ourselves what we hope to accomplish before we leave. What will be achieved by the tremendous muster of financial, emotional and spiritual resources that keep us here?

We know the stories of those who did not see the fruit they had hoped for. There are the missionaries who spent 10 years mentoring people in local language to become very fine leaders themselves, and are now dismayed to see that these people have no idea how to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation. There are the others who raised up a successor who would be exceptional, but the Board installed a lesser leader who trashed everything they’d worked for. There are the ministries that were super fruitful 20 years ago, but as urban life and education have exploded in Tanzania, have simply not been able to keep up, and now have significant quality control issues that grieve their pioneers and builders.

Our story could end up like these. No one can say what their legacy will be. The Holy Spirit’s plan is big and mysterious, and way more complex than we can see. It’s hard to judge what is ‘successful’ and what’s not. Something that looks good today may fall tomorrow, and something that looks very humble now may bear great fruit in a different season. So what will we say if we get to the end of our time and something like this happens? Was the money our supporters put to good use? What about the connections our children now may never have with our families and culture? Could we have been doing something more fruitful with these years we have spent in Tanzania?

In the face of these kinds of questions, it’s commonplace to encourage us to pursue ‘faithfulness, not success’. It’s not your job to bring fruit, but the Holy Spirit’s, we’re told. Your job is to love your spouse if you have one, be good to your kids if you have them, be kind to those you meet, pray, read your Bible, confess your personal sin, keep a positive attitude, seek personal holiness, work hard at your (ministry) job. You have no control over what God will do with your efforts, but you can remain close to Him.

It’s meant to help us to persevere when we are tempted to despair, though even this list seems kind of a big ask to me who knows herself to be unfaithful, self-seeking, unloving, unprayerful, unholy and negative. I take it that I am not the only one whose life falls short (Rom 3:23)! If fruitfulness as a measure of ministry success is replaced with the spiritual vitality of the minister, I don’t find that very encouraging at all!

But the question that really haunts me is this: even if I was that super-Christian, wouldn’t it be possible to have that wonderful spiritual life and still misstep on ministry practice? I could be a super loving parent and working really hard in a ministry, and still be in a role that a local person could also do. Or I can be very kind to those I am working amongst, but ignore the structures and institutions of Christ’s local body instead of honouring and working with them. The faithfulness paradigm ends up being too individual and personal. It misses that there are more overarching ways in which we can love one another. If we are to remain in Christ and in His love (John 16:9-10), this must involve more than just how I interact with my family and my ministry, and take into account the broader body of Christ. The faithfulness paradigm needs to be amended to include the honouring of Jesus’ people in my location.

And I find myself reluctant to abandon the measure of fruitfulness. After all, Jesus had quite a bit to say about fruitfulness. In fact, in the same passage where Jesus talks about remaining in his love and loving one another, he comes out with pearlers like, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (16:5) and “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you” (16:6).

A lack of fruit, or not receiving what we ask from the Father is not a sign of not remaining in the Father’s love. Remember that Jesus asks for the cup to be taken from Him (Luke 22:42) and that is not granted, and it’s in that moment that He is dwelling squarely in the Father’s will! Those who are in really difficult or pioneering contexts may find that an encouragement.

The Father is the one who brings the fruit, but his chosen way of doing so is as we love each other and remain in His love. Without love, there can be no fruit. This gives us reason to consider good ministry practice as part of the faithfulness paradigm alongside personal holiness, because honouring Jesus’ people in my location is essential to the Father’s bringing of fruit.

Placing ourselves under local leadership may not be the most efficient way to get something done, but the Father’s fruit comes from love, not speed.

As I listen to a Tanzanian preacher, the sophistication of what he says may escape me, and not because of my Swahili! But as I allow his words to infiltrate me, I come to appreciate further how this branch of the vine has been lovingly tended by the Father for his good purposes in this place.

As I accept the care and concern of local people though it is uncomfortable for me, I find that this is how I know and remain in the Father’s love as well.

I don’t know whether our time here in Tanzania will accomplish what we hope. The fruit is God’s to bring, when and how He chooses, if at all. As I consider my part, yes I’ll be heartened to come out knowing I’ve loved my kids and have an in-tact marriage, but incorporated into my self-reflection will be questions of how I’ve loved my Tanzanian brothers and sisters, not only in the one-on-one interactions, but in the broader dignifying sense as well. I want to be faithful in that way too.


Tamie Davis is an Aussie who lives with her husband and two sons in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They partner with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students and blog at





The Truth About Missions Is That It’s A Long, Hard Slog

by Jen Oshman

“I don’t know, Jen, are we even ‘doing’ anything there? Or is it just a thing to…feel like we are doing something?”  My dear friend emailed me those words last week. Our two families have been going each week to the apartment of a newly arrived Somalian refugee family. We drive across town every Sunday afternoon with cookies and board games, and we pile into their teeny apartment living room and spend an awkward hour attempting to bring levity to their otherwise very difficult lives. It’s been about six weeks and she’s right, it doesn’t feel like we’re getting much done.

Her question points to a deep truth, which is felt acutely amongst missionaries overseas: missions is a long, hard slog. But this reality is rarely discussed here in North America, where we have energizing missions conferences and provocative books that prompt us to consider going.

Many of these conferences and books do, in fact, send us packing for God’s glory and the joy of all people. My husband and I love these conferences and books. We need leaders who consistently point us back to God’s global purpose and our role in it. Without their enthusiasm and convicting messages we slide into self-absorbed monotony.

But here’s what every missionary experiences about six months into his or her stint overseas: a sinking feeling of, “Oh my goodness. What have I gotten my family into over here? This people group is not receiving us. They cannot understand me. I cannot understand them. I am exhausted. This is not what I signed up for.” Like my friend, they ask, “Are we even doing anything here?”

In my 17 years as a missionary I have been to retreats and heard women in Japan cry out to God for mercy in the hard soil to which He has called them. I have gathered in small groups and seen the anguish on the faces of women in Tibet whose children are paying a very high price for what they perceive to be little or no payoff. I have shared coffee with women in Europe who wonder if they’ve dedicated their lives in vain to the people in their host countries. They each ask, “Are we even doing anything here?”

Two years ago when our mission agency had a Europe-wide conference, hundreds of church planters from across the continent (which has a total Evangelical Christian population of only 2.7%) gathered for refreshment and training. As various regional leaders stood before the crowd to share updates, they literally repeated one another over and over, “Missions is a long, hard slog.” We had been in one of the world’s most atheist nations for over a year and we couldn’t have agreed more ourselves.

At missions conferences, on the field, and even here at home, we who are in Christ need to remind each other that while we are called to be faithful, it’s up to the Lord to produce the fruit. 

With all authority in heaven and earth, Jesus asked us to go and tell all nations about Him in Matthew 28:16-20. He asks us to be faithful and He promises to be there (v. 20). In Acts 1:7-8 He promises to provide us with His power through the Holy Spirit as we go out into every neighborhood here at home and abroad. As we go, He goes. We carry Christ in us into every context whether it’s in our home countries or overseas. Not only does He promise to be with us and to provide the necessary power, but He promises that our efforts will not be in vain. Revelation 5:9 tells that people will indeed believe from every tribe, tongue, and nation. There will be fruit, produced by the Lord Himself, through our faithfulness.

God’s redeemed people are God’s means for redeeming people. 

I’m looking forward to sharing a cup of coffee with my friend this week and telling her that I completely understand her apprehension—I feel it too. But, yes, I believe we are really doing something there. Because when we walk into that apartment, so does Christ in us. Though our attempts at connecting with our Somalian friends are feeble at best, Christ in us is present. Jesus fills their apartment at least once a week. As we obey Him and sit with them on the very rug from which they pray to Allah, Jesus asks us to trust Him that His power is present and He will bear fruit according to His will.

The truth about missions is that it’s a long, hard slog. More often than not, I think missionaries feel ineffective. Crossing cultures in Jesus’ name is downright painful. But we are God’s means for His ends and we must step out in faith, trusting His presence and His power, and that He will bear His fruit in His time.


Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at

When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy

by Erin Duplechin

We stood in the lobby after the funeral. We’d spent the hour before hearing beautiful stories of simple faith lived by a simple woman. Besides the fact that she was intelligent, caring, and genuinely interested in other people, one theme seemed to resonate throughout the eulogy: she showed up. She showed up to church. She showed up to serve and to teach. She showed up to be with friends and family. She simply showed up and said yes to Jesus in her daily life.

There will be no biographies written about her. There won’t be sermons inspired by her. Because she merely showed up.

In the Western world, when even Christians go after celebrity and fame, we want stories that are big and flashy. We want the “likes” and the thumbs up and the wow stories. Because the Church doesn’t often celebrate the everyday yes. We don’t celebrate the stay-at-home mom, or the man serving faithfully in his 8-to-5.

And the truth is that sometimes, even as vocational missionaries, we feel forgotten. We feel looked over. We feel like our work isn’t good enough to be recognized. A fellow missionary friend said it best: our stories just aren’t sexy enough. They aren’t sexy enough to be printed in the church newsletter or included in the Sunday sermon. They don’t bring in the big bucks or inspire the masses.

In the missions world, I know I feel increasingly more pressure to share the stories that will inspire people the most. Especially when 50 other people pay your salary, you choose to share the stories that will pack a punch. Because we want numbers and statistics and performance reports and for donors to know that their dollar is getting its worth. 25 people got baptized? Share that one. 100 people received Christ? Gold mine. You planted another church? Christian celebrity status.

I know there’s another side, and that’s that we can’t always expect people to know the right questions to ask, especially if they’ve never lived cross culturally. Or, because they can’t be expected to know our context of living, they don’t understand the magnitude or significance of our stories. And in that, we missionaries must extend grace and ask God for humility. We don’t have a right to be heard or understood or asked to preach or exulted for our work. We must aim to please God alone.

But there’s still no denying that the missionary life is often lonely and unglamorous. And often we put the most pressure on ourselves. We read the missionary biographies and the stories of our heroes of the faith and we feel like a failure. We compare ourselves to Christian celebrities and try to mimic their actions in the hopes of finally being good enough.

As we stood there in the lobby after the funeral that day, feeling more forgotten than we realized, a wise woman looked us in the eye and told us how proud she was of us, how what we do matters, how much she prays for us, and how important our simple “yes” continues to be. A daily yes to Jesus- not big, sexy, missionary stories. Not multitudes of salvations and baptisms and churches planted.

And with tears in my eyes I remembered: God sees me.

So, to you, fellow missionary, when you feel forgotten, I’ve been there too. To the ones who feel their stories aren’t good enough, God sees you and get this: He’s proud. He delights in the fact that you showed up today. That you got out of bed, that you homeschooled your kids even though you didn’t have time or energy to talk to a single national, that you got through that really difficult cross-cultural interaction, that you killed the mouse in your cupboards and the cockroaches in your shoes, that you tried your best to communicate in your second language, that you survived another day in the blazing tropical heat, that you endured a night without power and no sleep, that you choose to stay in the midst of political instability and uncertainty, that even though you desperately miss your family overseas and feel lonely, you pursue those in front of you. That you said yes and that you keep saying yes.

Because God isn’t asking for stories with big, sexy numbers and print worthy inspiration. He’s not asking for you to become famous or known. He’s just asking for your every day yes.


Erin Duplechin is a missionary wife and mama of three living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at

What Does God Want From Me?


I swayed back and forth perched on the swing. Looking out from the hilly courtyard of my flat, I could see the tall cement apartment complexes. They represented tens of thousands of people who needed to hear about Jesus.

Just beyond what I could see, was a city of two million. The vast majority did not know the love of the one true God. And then there was our specific mission—to reach high school students. There were 200 high schools and tens of thousands or more young people who had been the heart of our vision to come.

Yet, I asked God, ‘why am I here?’ It seemed as though I couldn’t touch any of them. The mission was so big and I was so small.

So with mounting emotion, I asked again, ‘why am I here?’ As I waited in the silence, I heard his answer. ‘I brought you here for you. I didn’t bring you here to be the most successful missionary, but so I could refine you and make you mine.’

It was a hard answer to accept and still is. We had spoken to so many churches and with so many people about the vision for this country and its people. How could He have brought me thousands of miles from home for…me?

But it was true and it still is true. And I have come to realize I am in good company.

Think of Abraham. God’s promise was to make him a great nation. Yet, he had no child and so Abraham’s heart, his trust in God, was tested again and again. Until after his promised child came. Then God asked for more of Abraham. He asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, the child of the promise. Why? Because more than a mighty nation, God wanted Abraham’s devotion to Him. (see Genesis 22:1-18)

What about Elijah? The prophet spoke for God faithfully. Then he gave everything on a mountain to defeat evil in Israel once and for all. The victory he had over the prophets of Baal was one of the most stunning feats recorded in the Bible. Yet, what happened next? He fled in fear and wished to die. And what did God do? He met him personally, tenderly in the cleft of a rock and with a whisper. Why? Because more than a monumental victory, God wanted Elijah to know Him. (see I Kings 18:22-19:18)

Then, there’s Peter. He was called to walk beside the Messiah. He showed great promise only to miss it and mess up again. And in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, he denied him—the one he had sworn to die for. But here too, what did God want of Peter? When he was restored to ‘feed [Jesus’] sheep’, he was asked one question again and again ‘Do you love me?’ God didn’t want Peter’s zeal but his affection. (see John 21:15-19)

In the courtyard moment, it seemed strange and just too simple to think God wanted me most of all. Wasn’t it just an excuse for not doing more, working harder, giving more fully to the mission? How could my one solitary heart be so important to him?

My heart is this important (and so is yours) because God’s work happens through surrendered lives. It happens through people who know the One for whom they are living. It happens through the active power of God at work within and through his chosen ones. And it happens, so often, after or during failures and shortcomings. It happens in ways in which everything we are is tested.

‘Who can endure the coming of the Lord?… for he is a refiner’s fire’. The greatest things God wants to bring to His world, even the completion of His work and the return of Jesus, come only through purified hearts. It is both freeing and painful. And it is what He is ultimately about in us. It is what He most wants from us.

A new year is coming. It’s a time to re-assess where we are at in our journey. Does God have our hearts? Do we believe he wants us more than anything we do for Him? Do we believe He is big enough to complete his work simply through refining us?

In the end, we cannot give what we do not have. If God is not our treasure and we are not fully open to His molding of us, we cannot give this away to others. And yet, if he is, there is no limit to the beauty, the miracles, the new life—both within and without—that we will see.

A Salute to Faithfulness

My father died two weeks ago. It was not a tragic death, except as all death in our broken world can feel tragic; his life was rich and full, lived across oceans and continents. He was a veteran missionary and pastor who loved God, his family, the Church, and people in general.

As I think about our community at A Life Overseas, the often mundane tasks that we are called to, the never-ending support raising, the time it takes to do simple things, the lows and discouragement that can pierce the heart and make us feel like Elijah, I think about my dad’s life. Because for 35 years, he did all those things and more. His was the life of a faithful servant.

If he were sitting with any one of you today, he would encourage you – because that was who he was. He would listen to your tears, he would tell you to keep on fighting for what is good and true and real; he would tell you stories of times in his life where he was deeply discouraged and where friends walked by his side through the discouragement. The he would smile his famous smile and ask you if you had any ice cream.

I said this at my dad’s funeral and I share it today as an offering and salute to faithfulness and showing up.

When I was 9 years old Lizzie Hover’s dad, Peter, died. He died in a head-on collision on a dusty desert road in the Sindh area of Pakistan. The night before he died, he had been at my parents home with his lovely wife Carol. They had talked, laughed, and discussed furlough plans as both were heading to a home leave in their passport countries in the summer. Just after midnight the following day they received the tragic news of Peter’s death.

I heard the news along with twenty other little girls in a boarding school dormitory. The collective trauma was immense. If Lizzie Hover’s daddy could die, that meant our daddies could die. Suddenly we were no longer safe from death, we were vulnerable, our jugular veins exposed.

Ever since I can remember my father has been there for me. As the only girl in a house full of boys, I enjoyed a special place in his heart. Somehow I knew this without even being told. Knowing myself and my “Princess” tendencies, it would have been a travesty to have to share that princess status with anyone else. My father was this strong force against a world that could change in an instant, in an instant like the one that took Lizzy Hover’s father.

They say that your earliest connections with your father affect your view of God. As a little girl I guess I thought God had a huge smile, knew everyone’s name, talked to everybody after church, loved a good curry, and told jokes, laughing so hard that you sometimes missed the punch line. More than that, I viewed God as completely trustworthy, he too was a strong force against a fickle world that could change in an instant.

Early memories make me smile. Dad holding me by the ocean, letting the waves come onto my good leg while I perched my broken leg on his lap; driving along treacherous roads in the Kaghan Valley and other long trips in our trusty brown Landrover across Pakistan; camping in the apple orchard at Bach Hospital; my mom and dad meeting us at the train station after boarding school – us a bit shy from being so long away from them, my dad with his bear hug so excited to see us; Dad taking me to a famous restaurant in Massachusetts, eating a delicious dinner as he tried so hard to find ways to communicate with me, a stone-faced teenager. And then later when my dad walked me down the aisle to say vows that he had already learned are impossible to keep without God.

My dad is one of those people who will never have a building named after him, nor a book written about him. But he has done something so much greater. My dad changed the world by showing up.

Early in life he showed up to villages and towns in Pakistan; to the grueling work of Bible translation; to the important job of consistent parenting. Later in life he showed up to graduations and weddings; to preaching at small New England churches; to visiting his children and grand children all over the world. His love for the world and his smile from the heart was like the warmth of the sun, radiating to all he met.

And every single day of his life he showed up as a husband, a father, and a Christ-follower. The prayers he sent up daily on our behalf are uncountable.

The last conversation I had with my dad he said this to me “It’s a strange thing, this going from death to life, you don’t know when the Lord will take you.” I said to him “Dad you taught us how to live well. Now you’re teaching us how to die well.”

I learned from my dad that the world is not just turned upside down by huge victorious acts. We change the world by showing up. My dad always showed up.

O blessed are the patient meek

Who quietly suffer wrong;

How glorious are the foolish weak

By God made greatly strong;

So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,

And turn the whole world upside down.

by Hannah Hurnardt

My dad turned the world upside down. 

Single Overseas? 8 lessons from someone who did it all wrong

By Elizabeth Spencer

The first time I spent 2 months in Ethiopia by myself, I returned to America and announced to my parents that I wouldn’t go overseas for an extended period of time until I was married because it was just too isolating. That was almost 10 years ago, when I was in college.

But life has a way of making me do things that I vowed to never to do. I graduated from college and got my first real job as an executive assistant. Before long, my boss was asking me to move to Malawi for a few months and manage some exciting projects for him. I didn’t even think as I jumped into the opportunity and a few months turned into a few years.

Those 3 years living in Malawi, single, were some of the most complicated years of my life. It was the best of times and the worst of times; my career was soaring but my soul was decaying. I hate to admit this now, but I did everything wrong that could have been done wrong. I forgot who I was and where I came from. I became a person I never wanted to be; someone I did not recognize.

Here are 8 lessons learned the hard way from someone who did living single overseas all wrong.


1. Find community that has similar values. I was strong. Or so I thought. I didn’t go to Malawi with a mission organization and I was working for the government. Though I had a lot of friends, I was never able to plug into a community of believers. Mostly that was because I was stubborn about the type of people I hung out with. In expat circles I find that there are two types of people: the believers and let’s just say the very non-believers. I thought that I could be a believer but hang with the non-believers. Part of the problem with most of the believers I encountered is that they were married and were homeschooling and had 5 kids. I know I am making huge generalizations with my comments but there wasn’t a lot for us to relate to. I wanted friends that I could go out with and dance with and travel with.


2. Live with safe people. Never underestimate how your environment can begin to wear you down over time. I lived with a male co-worker who didn’t have the same values and poked fun at me for not going out more and not wearing enough make up. My parents encouraged me a number of times to find a new living situation but he was fun and had a lot of friends and I felt cool hanging out with him. We had a great house with a pool and it was hard to make the changes that I needed to. I should have moved in with some good girls. I didn’t need the added stress of my home feeling unsafe. Your home needs to be an oasis not a war zone.


3. Stay connected with people that love you. It’s hard to stay plugged in back home with the time change and the expensive internet connection going in and out, but I wish I had made more of an effort to talk to my family and close girlfriends back in the States. It would have helped me stay more grounded in who I was and where I came from.


4. Know why you are going to live overseas. You need to know why you are living isolated in a different country and making all these sacrifices. In retrospect, I see that I was running from my real life to this exotic job; I wanted to be this international woman of mystery. Even though I played the part well, being an international woman of mystery isn’t a good enough reason to live overseas all alone. There are too many cracks in that identity where doubt and fear and loneliness can creep in. Honestly, there is only one reason good enough to live overseas: you have to be called and know it is part of your vocation. There are a lot of doubting moments and in those moments you need to know your purpose and not be fumbling with a mysterious identity.


5. Know what gets you into trouble. Is it drinking? Is it when you are lonely or feel rejected? For me it was traveling alone, which I did a lot for my job. I should have had a strict no going-out policy, but of course, I was lonely and wanted attention and always found my way to the dance floor. There is no reason not to have a great time on the dance floor, except when it leads to poor choices. Know your limits and be honest about what you can handle and where you need support as well as boundaries.


6. Know your values. Write them down and make a plan for how to stick to them. I thought I knew my values, but when push came to shove my apparent values came crashing down. First, I was a little vague about what I believed to be right and wrong. Second, the further I got from community and the lonelier I became, the more those values seemed to fade into a distant memory. The truth was, I really wasn’t sure what I believed. When put to the test, I got a big fat F. I should have done some soul searching to figure that out, but I was in a self-discovery phase of life that I didn’t want dampened by rules or regulations. Which, by the way, really got me into trouble. Knowing what you believe and what you believe in and how that plays out in your life is extremely important.


7. Remember that we are all just one degree away from being someone that we don’t want to be. Humility is important. You are going to mess up, and there is grace for you. Living overseas single is one of the hardest life trials, and it could make you question everything that once seemed certain to you. Life in a foreign country is hard enough with a spouse, but alone it can seem impossible at times. Rest in grace; make friends with redemption.


8. Know when it’s time to go home. I figured that part out too late. I was stubborn and determined to make Africa work for me. I loved the continent, and I ran my life into the ground before I was willing to wave the white flag of surrender. It was humbling to go home. I felt like I was giving up a dream. I tried to save myself and my situation by every means I could think of, and finally I fell into the arms of God and his salvation for me. I wish I could have acknowledged sooner that I was not in a strong enough emotional place to make Malawi the right place for me at the time.


I have learned much from my mistakes and experienced the sweetness of salvation and redemption in a way I never knew before. Singleness can be an incredible gift to understand who you really are, and living overseas single can heighten that understanding further. Push into God and who He created you to be without fear.


For those of you who have lived overseas single, what challenges have you faced?

What did you learn about yourself and about God through them?


Elizabeth Spencer and her husband Greg live in the desert highlands of Northern Ethiopia where Greg manages a clean energy company that manufactures wood-burning cook stoves. Elizabeth buys local because that’s all there is, and she’s an avid cook because it’s the only dining option. She travels with her husband to tiny mountain towns distributing stoves while writing about the grace that has been birthed in her life through loss, rejection, and her own poor choices. Before living in Ethiopia, Elizabeth lived in Malawi for 3 three years working for President Joyce Banda. Elizabeth and Greg met miraculously on overlapping projects in Rwanda almost 4 years ago. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Making Me Brave.