The Expatriate and Leadership

Expatriates are often put into positions of leadership simply by nature of our physical presence or because of a certain number of years survived lived in a place. Sometimes it is because a person is a gifted leader (yes, that link is a shout-out to Marilyn Gardner), sometimes they are a reluctant leader, sometimes it happens organically, and sometimes it is an appointment.


We recently welcomed four new coworkers. I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and turned to Moses for guidance. Here are a few of the principles I see from his life:

A miraculous encounter with God doesn’t make a person a good leader.

The leaders of the Israelites had a picnic with God. Seventy men, including Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu saw something ‘like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself’ under his feet. They ate and drank on the mountain in God’s stunning presence. Less than 40 days later, they led the Israelites into sin by forming a golden calf and bowing down to the idol made of their own jewels and by their own hands.

Being given authority to lead doesn’t mean a person is released from the responsibility of following.

Moses was chosen specifically and powerfully by God to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt. God worked miracles through Moses, through his staff, through his hands, through his words, miracles clearly designating Moses as the leader of the people. Yet Moses knew that these miracles and the authority to lead were not from himself. He demanded, with shocking boldness, that God’s presence go with him. While he led the Israelites, he was not exempt from following God’s ultimate leading.

Being a leader means stepping aside when another person has something valuable to offer.

Moses and his upraised staff, by the power of God, led the people across a dried path through the middle of the Red Sea. The Egyptians drowned. When the people reached the opposite shore and saw the work God had done on their behalf, Moses’ sister Miriam took up a tambourine and she led a dance of worship.

Being a leader means sometimes relinquishing authority, passing on knowledge, and trusting that others are also capable.

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro visited their camp and watched Moses address various disputes among the people. Hundreds of thousands of Israelites had come out of Egypt and Moses was clearly overwhelmed by the problems they carried with them. Jethro suggested Moses appoint men of character and honor to be leaders over groups of fifties, hundreds. Moses would teach them God’s laws and then trust them to enact justice accordingly.

Being a leader doesn’t mean a person doesn’t sin or face consequences.

Moses led the people out of Egypt and through their desert wanderings for decades. He was ‘the most humble man who ever lived’ and had a uniquely intimate relationship with God. Yet he was kept from entering the promised land because one day he had beat a rock instead of speaking to it, as God had commanded him. Water still gushed from the rock but God told Moses that because of his disobedience he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Moses climbed a mountain, God showed him the land, then Moses died and God buried him.

What have you learned about leadership in your life overseas?

*image via Flickr

They Are Not Ready…

“They are not ready…”

These may be some of the most frequently uttered words when missionaries consider passing the baton of leadership.

They can also be the most painful.


One of the leaders I work with shares the story of being a young, oppressed worker in South Africa during the time of apartheid:

A white Afrikaner man (the people group previously in power) wanted to bring him and a few others hailing from different ethnic backgrounds into a leadership meeting. At the time, this was unheard of; even in a missions organization which championed people from all nations, tribes, and tongues.

When met with resistance from the other meeting participants, the white Afrikaner suggested they at least be able to observe, even if they did not participate.

He wanted to see these young men learn and gain experience so they could step into leadership roles in the future.

In the corporate world this type of a request is common. Interns and associates receive invitations to attend prior to receiving permission to speak. This corporate model does have its shortcomings (assuming a fresh set of eyes is unnecessary), but it gears towards providing needed experience.

But in the days leading up to the fall of apartheid, even this simple request met with a refusal. The other men present were not bad men, but they were raised in a system where this freedom was not present.

The gentlemen of other ethnic backgrounds found themselves waiting in the hallway rather than gaining needed experience, the words of “they are not yet ready,” echoing in their ears.

How often are we guilty of similar tactics?

Do we engage in this subtle form of racism disguised as care and concern?

As we evaluate our leadership, are we giving opportunity to fresh faces and voices?

We must remember our own journey. Many of us were invited to give leadership a try well before we were “ready”.

Training, experience, and internship are all valuable tools.

But we may need to consider if readiness has been redefined as having equal maturity to that of a twenty-year veteran?

Our people are rising, but may not yet be at our skill level.

Most new potential leaders don’t come “pre-cooked.”

Part of our role is to walk along them for a season, allowing mistakes which will promote and stimulate growth.

Seasoning as a leader does not come in a microwave oven, drive-thru approach; but rather through the slow cooker of time and mentorship.

We must be aware of a harsh reality. It is always easier to recognize potential in our own culture and style of doing things than in one which is foreign.

When a younger leader approaches an issue differently, we should be slower to declare them unprepared.

In listening to their idea, we may in fact, hear a better, more culturally appropriate solution.

We are making disciples not clones. We call out potential and uniqueness in those we hope will carry our work into the future.

Or even exceed what we have accomplished…

One of the men who was denied entry in the above story, is currently leading the ministry.

It is one of the largest training and ministry locations Youth With A Mission has in the world.



Photo credit: sa_apartheid_crop via photopin (license)

To Our Friends Here: An Announcement About Changing Leadership

road to the mountains

The A Life Overseas community began over two years ago; it was an idea birthed from two moms who had found their voices via their own blogs, written from the Bolivian countryside and the Asian jungle. We wanted to launch an online community where authentic conversations, honest experiences, and spiritual encouragement could be shared around a common table. The unique thing about this virtual dinner party? Most of those gathered would be hacking it out overseas– this brave, varied, transitional tribe that uniquely understands transitioning in airports and reaching across cultures and raising kids on foreign soils.

Essentially, this blog collaborative was founded on the notion that there needed to be a space for things to be said, that were not being said. We foresaw a global change shaking the ex-patriot and missionary communities and we felt a need to create a place to come together and talk about what was happening. We are so very grateful that so many others heard the rumblings and decided to jump in for the ride. Writers, readers, and commenters came together. We talked. We reasoned. We disagreed. We prayed. We were challenged to think. We were challenged to ask the hard questions.

Over 7,000 comments, 375 posts and nearly one million views later, the conversations around this global table are still growing strong. We’ve been deeply encouraged by the posts and comments and real community that has taken place in this space — both here at the blog and in the Facebook community, as well. We’ve been honored to rub shoulders with so many phenomenal writers who have lent their leadership and experience here, and we’ve been both inspired and challenged by the stories, questions and authentic struggles shared by our readers.

But, like with all things, new seasons bring new paths. This, those of us here understand all too well. And after much prayer and time, we (Angie and Laura) are stepping away from official leadership of the A Life Overseas community. We simply don’t have the time it needs, and feel the Spirit tugging us both to create more margin in our personal lives. Of course, we’ll still pop in on Facebook and with occasional posts (we won’t disappear, promise!), but moving forward a brilliant leadership team will continue to foster the community here. Most of the writers we’ve all grown to love will remain, and the new leadership team will consist of Marilyn Gardner as Chief Editor, Elizabeth Trotter as Content/Guest Post Editor, Andy Bruner as our IT Specialist, and Jonathan Trotter as Community Consultant.  We are both thankful and excited for their leadership and service to this community here — both in the past and moving forward. We want you to know that we are not at odds with anyone on the team (not at all!); it’s just time for both of us to move in other directions.

Our hands might be passing the baton, but they’re also applauding already what is to come.

Thanks, friends from all corners of the world, for gathering at this table and letting us share a bit of your journey in courageous, out-of-the-box Christ-following. We’ve been honored.


Angie Washington and Laura Parker

A Blessing To Our Friends, Engaging in A Life Overseas

For all the people who live suspended between cultural tensions, grace be to you.

Grace for the good days when you can check even just one thing off that to do list, and that’s a colossal “enough”. Grace for the hard days when the overwhelming reality of hardships all around you and inside of you would like to crush your every last hope. Grace for the boring days when nothing is happening, nothing is expected to happen any time soon, and you have to just get through another long day of nothing. Grace, too, for those rare yet spectacular days full of the miraculous wonder of dreams come true, fun adventures, and the deep connection with the people around you so you don’t feel so very foreign anymore.

For all you who Get It. Thank you.

Thank you for not settling. Thank you for going out to see the answer to what if?

Thank you for daring to open yourself up to the unknown. Thank you for laying your hero’s cape at the feet of the least of these.

You have not gone unnoticed.

We see you. We see you questioning the way it’s always been done. We see you stepping beyond the gender box. We see you carrying bone crushing weighty matters with humility and a quiet plod. Continue on in your “long obedience in the same direction,” friends. Keep abiding in the only vine that will ever cause you to really bear fruit, and please know that you are not, ever, alone.


Keep reading. Keep commenting. Keep sharing about the cutting edge relevant matters that make this life overseas, somehow, work. As you were.


Read Angie’s Posts at A Life Overseas   |   Read Laura’s Posts at A Life Overseas


Missionaries are good at many things. We are adaptable, we are frugal, and we often carry a global perspective.

In my experience, one area we are weak in is in planning for the future. Our strength lies in our ability to respond and change, but at times this keeps our focus on the here and now, rather than outward to what is to come.

This is evident in our finances (but this is for another discussion), our relationships, and often in our ministries.

We are the ones who boldly proclaim retirement is not in the Bible.
We wrestle with whether it is appropriate for us to store up future funds when immediate needs are so great.
We often struggle to travel home to maintain valuable relationships due to the immensity of work which needs to be done on the field.

These are generalizations I realize. But, let’s pause for a moment to consider succession in our ministries.

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I seem to meet many in ministry who have no plan for the work to go on when they are unable to continue.

Why is this?

When our family moved to South Africa eight years ago, we desired to build something which would outlast us. I think this is a common goal and dream among ministries and missionaries.

Why is it so difficult to accomplish?

Sometimes we wonder what we will do if we pass things on.
Fear sets in as we question whether our supporters might assume we no longer have a ministry.
Often we won’t hand our “baby” off to someone who is different than us.
We can’t imagine giving things to a younger leader (wanting to protect them from the same lessons we learned in becoming a “seasoned” leader.
It is even possible to assume the right person will only come at the end of our journey.

What if that “right” person shows up earlier than we expect?
Would we be able to accomplish more things if we actively thought of succession?

The objections to this issue are fair and need to be considered;
It’s too soon.
They are not ready.
The timing must be right.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Passing things off earlier rather than later enables us to:
Release local leaders who likely will be more culturally relevant than ourselves, perhaps taking the ministry even further.
Be present for the growing pains of transition in a coaching and mentoring way.
Allow younger leaders some of the same opportunities we were afforded at their stage.
Ensure that ministries or teams are not based on us.
Set a godly example of leadership which is not power based or title hungry.

And all of this does not reduce our personal fruitfulness, but increases it. We have the freedom to pursue new opportunities and see even greater impact in the nations we serve. We can join the “cloud of witnesses” cheering our successors on through support and encouragement.

Even if our work does not include a team or organization, we should be asking if we are reproducing ourselves and our hearts?

This discussion of handing over our teams or ministries does not have a one size fits all answer.

But, I cannot see any damage in thinking of succession more frequently than we do.

We’ve seen transition done poorly. Longevity of a team or a project is so key, it is worth our consideration.

What are your thoughts or experiences in the area of succession?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes