On the Fringe

But once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others. –Henri Nouwen

Cresting the hill overlooking the community where our campus sits, I hear the chatter of my daughters in the seats behind me. My mind, however, is miles (or kilometers, shall we say) away. I had just run into a few friends, whom we have known for many years now, and chatted briefly.

As I herded my children into my car, I reflected on the experience. Though it was good to run into them (was it, though?), it was also painful – a reminder, again, that we are the outsiders. These friends have a seemingly vibrant, interdependent community – one for which my husband and I have longed. For a wide array of reasons, we have succeeded in knowing a lot of people from a variety of communities, but we have not leaned in to just one. We’re “on the fringe,” we like to say, of a lot of communities.

There are definite perks to this; but tonight, I am just lonely.

//

This past summer, we had a three and a half-month home assignment in the U.S. It was hectic, as they are. And I was keenly aware that my daughters seemed to have more friends in the U.S., where we have not lived for almost eight years, than they do in our ministry area, where they have essentially grown up.

I pondered this for some time. Was it true? Would they/we have these friends if we lived in the U.S.? There was of course the reality that we visited many different states and churches, nearly all the people we know stateside. In the end, I wondered, is it that friendships feel easier in their “home” culture, even though they haven’t grown up in the U.S.? Do they sense that we are “on the fringe” here too?

//

I have a feeling that you can relate. As cross-cultural workers, we can work alongside people all day, we can attend a vibrant church or co-op, we can be part of groups and workplaces, and still feel unknown. We can spend countless hours pursuing others, opening the doors of our home, building relationships, and have maybe one or two that takes off and goes deep – but otherwise feel like outsiders the rest of the time.

Seven years into international ministry, I am no longer surprised by this reality. It used to be a sharp reminder of our otherness; these days, it is more of a dull ache, a sense of loneliness. God has been gracious in the midst of this struggle for belonging. These are a few truths God has used to comfort me:

The longing to belong is a good, God-given one. This desire to know and be known is part of our human, image-bearing experience. This longing reflects our spiritual, emotional, and mental capacities for relationship and meaning. Any feelings of being ‘unknown’ are part of our experience in this broken world; alternatively, the joy of feeling “known” reflects the already-but-not-yet of Christ’s kingdom coming.

I am known, deeply. The truth is that each one of us is deeply known by God himself, more deeply than we know ourselves. While this may sound trite at times, I have found profound comfort in embracing the reality that the God of the universe knows me, on every level, through and through, and cares deeply for me. Nothing in my life is hidden from him; he knows the best and worst of me and loves me still. What a joy!

He knows what it is to be “on the fringe.” Christ himself came from the Father, to an earth which was not his home, in order to minister and serve and give the ultimate sacrifice for others. Though his “otherness” was different than ours, he is familiar with the struggle to belong. In his life, I find a model of living “on the fringe” which gives me a path forward in my overseas life.

I think of Jesus’ words in Mark 10, where he shares a simple mission statement for his coming to earth: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

Jesus is our ultimate example of coming to a place, fully knowing he would not belong, and giving of himself anyway. When I put aside my own feelings of “otherness” and seek to offer my life for others, I am imitating Christ. When I accept the reality that I will not fit as I would ideally love to and continue to serve anyway, I am imaging Jesus.

So I continue to lean in and pursue others, but less for what they can mean to me, and more for how I can faithfully serve both them and Christ. I am working toward setting aside my own needs for belonging and living joyfully anyway. This is only possible because of the confidence we have in Christ. He knows me, he knows the ache, and he served in love still. Jesus, help me to do the same.

When the Backpack is too Heavy

Sheila Walsh tells a poignant story of her son wanting to leave home at the tender age of six. Evidently he set out with his backpack and jacket, heading toward a pond near home. She, wanting to allow freedom but aware of his young age, kept a watchful eye from a window where she could ensure safety as well as give him his independence. After a short time he was back at the door, offering no explanation other than a six-year-old going on sixteen response of “It’s good to be home!”

Later that night as she was tucking him in, she brought up the adventure and asked him about it. His response was matter of fact “I would have gone farther but my backpack was too heavy.”

As I listened to her, I was overwhelmed by the truth in a child’s simple comment.

I would have gone farther, but my backpack was too heavy.

Sheila Walsh

These days, I feel like this child. My backpack feels so heavy, the things I carry too weighty. My adult kids and their lives; friends I know who are aching from pain, some that can be spoken and other that can’t; patients and family members struggling beyond believability; worries and fear about the future and regret about the past – a backpack so heavy I can scarcely move.

It’s all mixed together with the good stuff so I’m not always sure what the good stuff is. Sort of like my kids backpacks used to be at the end of a semester, where a mashed up moldy sandwich, an apple, and crushed chips are crumbled up together in what used to be a brown lunch bag, but mixed in with this is a perfectly good juice carton and packaged granola bar. Instead of sorting through, I throw all of it away.

I’ve always thought that the primary lesson to this story was the obvious one – a heavy backpack preventing a child from the joy and distance of the journey. If I just lighten my load I would go farther, make more of an impact, be freer to serve. And to be sure, this is critically important. But dig deeper and the symbolism goes farther.

This little six-year-old knew exactly where to go to remember who he was. and where to drop off his backpack. He knew the way Home. He knew that Home was light, and love and Mom. He knew that there would be no condemnation, just warm chocolate chip cookies, cold milk and a listening heart. He knew that at home he could rest and move forward, his burden gone. He knew home was a place to be reminded of who he was.

As I think about the times I turn around because the backpack is too heavy, I hope I have the sense of a six-year-old who goes back home, and drops off his back pack. I hope I can go back to Jesus, the source and author of love, where condemnation is erased and the load is lifted, replaced with his yoke, his burden. Back to the Church, where I can be reminded of who I am, back to the Author of all that is good and holy and right.

I don’t know where in the world you are today and what things in your backpack make it too heavy. It may be transition and displacement. It may be loss of place. It may be the burden of betrayal or feeling like you’re wasting your life. It may be a struggling marriage or longing for a life partner. It may be the sorrows of your children and their needs that keep you up at night. It may be chronic illness, depression or anxiety. It may be the death of one you love.

I do know that whatever it is, home and rest are waiting. Not home the place, but Home – the person and presence of Jesus.

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles,

I see you.

I’m starting with that, because I know that often you don’t feel seen. You stay home with the kids while your husband goes out to teach the Bible study. You hang around the back of the church, trying to keep the baby quiet. You have to leave the team meeting early so that your toddler gets his nap.

Of course, every mom of littles, in any culture, is going to struggle with similar things. But I think that this particular season of life is even harder on missionary moms.

Quite likely, you are raising your kids in isolation. You don’t have your own parents or other relatives nearby to help out. There isn’t a Mommy-group at your church or a pee-wee soccer league in your city. There might not even be a McDonald’s Playland or a safe park to walk to. And you feel trapped.

Yes, there are other ladies in your host country with small children. But they may be parenting their children very differently from you. They might live in their mother-in-law’s house. They might put their kids in all-day preschool at two years old, or hire a full-time nanny, or be okay with letting their children freely roam the streets. They might criticize you for not keeping your child warm enough or spoiling them too much or not spoiling them enough or for giving your child a popsicle, even when it’s 90 degrees outside. And you feel very alone.

Maybe you’re remembering earlier days, when you worked right alongside your husband, or when your job felt significant. When your ministry was thriving and you could look back at the end of the day and feel satisfied with all you accomplished. Now you feel exhausted but have nothing to show for it. Your newsletters are full of your husband’s adventures, but you don’t have anything to contribute. And your life just feels….boring.

And you may wonder, What’s the point? Why am I here? You know the importance of spending these years with your little ones, but it feels like you could be doing the exact same job in your home country. Except there, your life would be less lonely and less difficult.

I was you for ten years. When I see you, I remember.

This is what I learned, and this is what I want you to know today.

Be creative. You get the opportunity to take the best parts of parenting from multiple cultures. You don’t have to do it exactly like they do, but you also don’t have to raise your children exactly the way you were raised. Work within your host culture’s expectations of raising children. Maybe that means hiring a part-time nanny or housekeeper. Maybe that means letting your kids play outside in much colder or hotter weather than your home country.

Find your ministry niche. This is so, so important for moms of littles. True, you probably won’t be able to engage in full-time ministry during this season. But find something. Something that will allow you to use your gifts and interests in your host culture. Maybe it’s hospitality. Maybe it’s doing accounting while your kids are napping. Maybe it’s teaching for a few hours a week. Maybe it’s connected to what your husband is doing, but maybe it’s not. Either way is okay.

Embrace the advantages of this season. Adorable small children are a great way to start relationships. Even better, people talk slower and more simply to children—which is exactly what you need as a language learner. And if the combination of your kids and your city restrict you to your house most of the time, then think of this as an excellent season for learning. Listen to language lessons during playtime. Read books on culture during nap time. Pepper your neighbor with questions about culture. You will learn a side of your host country that your husband or teammates won’t see, and that is an important contribution.

Be brave. Cross-cultural work is always hard, but it might be easier for your husband, who has a school or office or business to go off to every day. It can be a lot harder for a mom who needs to summon up the courage to knock on the neighbor’s door, initiate the conversation in a new language, get to know the woman who just criticized your baby’s sockless feet. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay home. Fight against that tendency.

Be faithful. This season will not last forever. It feels like it—trust me, I know. The days are endless and mind-numbing, but one day you will throw away your last diaper or brush your last set of teeth. Your kids will become more independent and you won’t have to watch them every waking second. Your life will not always be this restrictive or exhausting.

Hang in there, Mom of Littles. Take joy in their giggles, pray through the long nights, and get up in the morning. God will not waste your faithfulness.

 

If you live cross-culturally and are not a mom of littles, I encourage you: Show these missionary moms you see them. Hold the baby. Offer to baby-sit. Ask for their contributions in your strategic planning. Value their voices. Work around their schedules. Look for ways to use their gifts. You and your team will be stronger for it.

My littles from nine years ago. Seems like yesterday.

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.

 

5 Thoughts for the Local Church

The local church and missionaries on the field should be on the same team, but often a wedge of misunderstanding is driven between the two.

There is a danger when missionaries feel entitled to the support of a local body. Many dig their own grave in destroying relationships with their sending churches.

Equally, misunderstanding can come within the body of Christ and be directed towards those on the field.

As a veteran of missions for over 23 years, here is my encouragement for the body of Christ about their care of missionaries.

12310052585_a53637c57e

5 Ways the Local Church can Serve a Missionary:

1. Communicate
There are two forms of communication which are essential. Communication to us, and communication for us

Please communicate to us because it is often lonely on the mission field. I remember calling home collect in the middle of the night when I happened to find a phone. Now with technology, we literally are always available.

While it is primarily the responsibility of the missionary to maintain communication, a call or email from home asking how things are going or even updating us on church life is fantastic.

When we do return, please communicate favorably for us and about us. I recently sat in a church service where the phrase “deepest, darkest Africa” was used several times. This does not create a love for the nations, but a fear of them! Language like this makes us strange and difficult to relate to (not to mention what it says of the precious people in “deepest and darkest…”).

2.  Help us connect
Returning to your church after months or years away can be daunting. Times and people change quickly. Any assistance you can provide to help us plug-in and meet new people through small groups or BBQ’s would be welcome.

These connections do not need to be ministry oriented; allowing us to “share.” Relationships are what make home, feel like home.

3. Engage us when we return
A one word answer satisfies many people as to how things are going. It can be demoralizing to sum up your entire ministry with responses of “good” or “really well”.

While this conversation is the norm, please provide someone who can celebrate our successes and empathize with the struggles we face. Nothing beats a face to face with someone else in ministry. Even better, would be a conversation with someone who is familiar with the work we are doing.

A simple service to a missionary would be having a person who “understands us.”

4. Ask us the hard questions
Many meetings with the pastors involve recaps of our ministry. This is valid and necessary. But we desire and need more.

Please engage us on a deeper level about our ministry and our personal lives. Ask questions like:
– Have you maintained freshness in your vision?
– How is your walk with God?
– Are you dealing with the stress of missions in your marriage?
How are your kids responding to life in a foreign country?
– Are you making it financially? Can you set aside some money for the future?
– Do you rest regularly?

As a leader or missionary overseas, we may not have peers in our life asking these questions. Please make us uncomfortable for the sake of our long-term success!

5. Let us rest
Trips home are often busier than ordinary life. We are living in a house which is not our own, visiting all kinds of people, all while trying to bang the drum for generating support.

It is exhausting. And worse, our co-workers on the field think we are on holiday!

While still engaging us, please don’t run us ragged!

My church has often gone the extra mile by providing opportunities for fun, or even simple assistance such as a car or a bit of pocket cash for shopping.

This post is not designed to take any shots at our supporting churches. (Ours are fantastic!) My hope is to bring awareness from a missionary’s perspective and to engage us in a dialogue.

I invite pastors, missions boards, or people who support missionaries to comment.

What would you add to the discussion?

What are your pet peeves in the way missionaries respond or act entitled?

What other suggestions do you have to assist in the relationship between the church and a missionary?

What does a missionary need to know about the local church?

Let’s discuss!

Photo credit: In the Shadow of the Cross St Martha – paint via photopin (license)

A Life Alone

After writing the post on single missionaries about a month ago a number of people who are working overseas and are single contacted A Life Overseas. And it was so good. Because we realized we had been neglecting this critical part of our community. Today our guest poster Geren St. Claire talks about what he has heard from some single missionaries through his work at CalledTogether. You can read more about Geren at the end of the post. 

*****************

A Life Alone

Everyone who has ever experienced the joyful shock of uprooting their entire life and re-implanting it in a new culture knows how surprisingly lonely such a move can be. But what many of us do not fully understand is the double burden carried by those who move overseas without the comfort and support of a spouse. Singleness intensifies isolation. Consider the following illustration:

A life alone

 

 

The intensity of isolation grows when a person does not have the support of a family. One single worker put it this way:

“Cross cultural loneliness is its own kind of loneliness. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you will never be able to integrate 100% into your adopted culture. Yet once you integrate even a little, that culture has become a part of you. You will never see or fit into your home culture the same way again. This whole process can be surprisingly wonderful, but at the same time terrifyingly isolating. It is no wonder that many of us do not want to walk this path alone. We want someone there with us who can honestly tell us, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Singles on the field often tell me about their difficulty coming to a sense of true belonging, even among their team. Perhaps that is why singles are about 40%-50% less likely to go overseas long-term. Add those numbers up: With a global total of around 500,000 cross-cultural workers, the international Church may be losing as many as 80,000 potential harvesters due to the isolation of singleness.

As we pray for the Lord to send more workers into the harvest field, we ought to consider new ways to recruit, sustain, encourage, and empower singles for the work ahead. I oversee a network of globally-called singles, and I invited some of them to share their hearts with you—both the good and bad. Here’s a summary of what they said:

4 ways to Empower Singles (As Told by Singles)

  1. Honor them. “Give… honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Singleness on the field is difficult and scary, and those who follow Christ in the face of these difficulties are worthy of honor. 71% of the singles who responded to our internal poll said that isolation is a major issue for singles who serve Christ overseas. How can you recognize and honor that sacrifice?
  1. Invite them to belong. We are designed for more than just marriage. We’ve been grafted and intimately woven together in Christ. We are one Body. One Bride. Brothers and Sisters. Adopted Children. When I read the book of Acts, I am always overwhelmed by the familial intimacy shared by the early Christians—to such a degree that the Romans mistook them as incestuous. The early Christians adopted one another into their families, and shared life with one another. We ought to do the same today. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. Melanie recounts her experience on the field,

“it seems like 99 meals out of 100, I eat alone. For about a year, I had a standing weekly ‘date’ to eat dinner with a worker family on my team. Words can’t say what this simple thing meant to me. It’s generally not enough for a worker family to say, ‘Oh, you’re welcome here any time.’ But specifically inviting me to share meals and life and events with them was a great blessing.”

Are there singles in your city? What would it look like for you to adopt them into your family? Did a single recommend this article to you? Maybe take that as a friendly hint.

  1. Don’t Look Down on Singles

There are a whole slew of emotions that can stem from being single on a team of married couples, and singles are not often in a position to express their frustrations. Staci offered some helpful examples of team dynamics that had hurt her:

 [last year,] our team leader didn’t think it was worth it to keep doing our monthly team meetings because the other married couple was out of town. Now, from my perspective, it felt as if somehow we (the singles) weren’t important enough to keep our team-meetings going…

 …Another thing I often experience is being treated like I’m a teenager. Our team leader is only a few years older than I am, but often calls my team-mate and I “the girls” and talks about how young we are and how we need looking after… it often feels belittling whether they mean it or not.

Lest we drift into pride, lets reflect on a few simple truths and ask God to expose any error in our thinking. Here are some truths about singleness and marriage that may serve as correctives:

– Singleness is not something to be pitied. Certainly, there are side effects of singleness that may warrant compassion—loneliness, insecurity, dreams lost or delayed, etc. But singleness itself is not a bad thing, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7. Making this distinction can help you immensely as you try to empathize with singles.

– Marital status isn’t something earned or deserved. There shouldn’t be pride or shame in either case, because marriage is always a gift from God.

– Marriage is a blessing. God loves good marriages, so seeking a good marriage is one way to honor God. There is no shame in desiring or pursuing marriage, because God calls it good.

– Marriage cannot be used to enhance or prove someone’s value or worth—to attempt to do so is idolatry.

– Likewise, marriage cannot complete a person.

– Marriage doesn’t make a person more holy. God sanctifies through marriage, but He also sanctifies through singleness. Given that Jesus and Paul were both single, it is dangerous to say that marriage opens a person up to ‘higher levels’ of sanctification. That may be the experience of some, but marriage has stifled the sanctification of others. What sanctifies is living in the light of community, and this can come through, or apart from, marriage.

– Singleness has some advantages that should be recognized. For example, as Melanie writes, “Many singles integrate into a host culture in a way that married folks and families don’t. When they return to their apartment each night, they don’t have a home-culture family to retreat to. Value this skill.” Likewise, the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7 about how singles are able to focus more intently on the work of the Lord, because their time and attention is not divided.

How have you hurt the singles around you by harboring false attitudes towards singleness? Where might repentance be necessary? What about confession?

  1. Hook a brotha up!

Once our attitudes are correctly calibrated (and usually not until then), we can begin to help our single friends search for a godly spouse. Most (but not all) singles have a strong desire to be married, and you might be surprised just how willing they would be to receive your help. But you need to offer help with the right kind of attitude, or it can come across as condescending.

You can network with other team leaders within your organization, or with friends back in your sending churches. Singles on the field have very few opportunities to connect with potential marriage material, and they may gain a lot of hope just knowing that the doors are still open, whether or not you actually find the right person for them.

Finally, you might consider telling your single teammates about www.CalledTogether.us, which is an inter-agency network of globally-called singles. The website has grown quickly since its May ‘14 launch to include more than 1000 singles, further highlighting their felt need for community.

Are the singles on your team open to your help in their search a spouse? Is your attitude toward singleness getting in the way? How can you help them in their search?

Conclusion

There are great gains to be made, both for the Church and for our teams, if only we can learn to love singles more effectively. And truthfully, love should not need a justification. It is its own reason. So I challenge you to connect with, belong to, and love the single God has placed around you, for the sake of Jesus’ name.

— Author Bio —

Gerin St. Claire (@gerinteed) is the cofounder and director of operations for CalledTogether. He recently completed seminary and now lives with his wife in Dallas, TX.

New Girl

The following post is one I have been re-living as of late, as we re-enter living in SE Asia after a two year stint in the States (original post is here). The whole family is thrust constantly into those awkward situations of being the new kids on the block, and I’m reminded of how hard it is to live that reality. So, for you new-to-a-situation missionaries, I get it. It’s tough, but hang in there, time will eventually erase the new. And for you long-termers, open up a little. We all know goodbyes suck and maybe you’ll have to say them to the new ones, too, (and I know you’re tired of the millions you’ve said so far) but that doesn’t mean the relationship doesn’t have immense value.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 8.30.50 PM

She answered my questions with the minimums –one sentence or two at the most. And, try as I might, she kept responding to my best-friendly with no leading comments of her own, checking her phone, obviously occupied with people not right in front of her. And then she delivered the ultimate subtle-shut-down; she asked no questions of me, the New Girl, at all. 

And so I busied myself with watching Ava play, and I tried not to take the social rejection too seriously.  I tried not to think about all the questions I’d like to ask her about this new place I’ve landed, and I ignored the loneliness of isolation, again, that started to creep in.  I told myself that the tears I blinked back were irrational at best, and that this woman sharing my space had probably just had a bad morning.  I reminded myself that she couldn’t have known that we Parkers had been waiting all week for this chance to interact with other expat moms and kidsShe couldn’t have understood how much hope we had put in this morning.

And I get it, I do.  She’s been here for years, not months. And her plate is full already–with activities and friendships and ministry and kids. I was there, honestly, just six months ago in a quaint mountain town in Colorado.  I was struggling to pursue the friendships I already had, and spotting new moms at the park found me a bit less eager to exchange numbers for fear that I wouldn’t, actually, have the time to call, after all.

But, this week I tasted New Girl, and I am still choking on the bitter. I tried to connect and fit in to this culture of other expat missionary moms, and I found that maybe I’m more square-peg than I thought.  I was reminded that white faces don’t automatically erase gulfs of culture and generation, personality and beliefs.

And I know that this is a season for me as New Girl.  And I know that, perhaps, eventually, I’ll be the one logging years, instead of months.  Maybe one day, I’ll be the girl with more answers than questions on this piece of foreign soil. But, I pray that when that day arrives, I’ll keep enough margin in my schedule and in my heart to speak vulnerable. To ask questions.  And to get the New Girl’s number.

And then make the time to call it.

*****

Okay, be honest. On a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being the epitome of friendliness), how open are you to building new friendships with those that have just landed in your area? The newbies or the younger ones or the short-termers– are you subconsciously shutting down relationships before they begin?

Send Someone Else

Do you ever have days you wonder why God sent you?

You doubt in the dark what you knew in the light?
Questions about whether we are making an impact set in.
As you contemplate your next big endeavor, you feel like saying…

“Please, Not Me!”

You are in good company.

This is exactly the same response Moses had when God told him His plan of setting Israel free from slavery in Egypt.

When Moses was called, his response was less than stellar.

“Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exodus 4:1)

So God gives him some visual aids to convince the Egyptians (and Moses himself). He turned his staff to a snake and his hand leprous. God went so far as to even promise a future sign of the Nile turning to blood. All this is follows the calling at the burning bush!

What more do you need, Mo?

“They will not believe me or listen to my voice,”

Moses is the picture of reluctance.

tumblr_n3ttt5vKzl1st5lhmo1_1280

“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:10-13)

Moses reminds God of his lack of qualifications.
He lists the reasons he cannot communicate to rulers of nations.
Should the exit appear, Moses is ready to head towards it.

“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

God reminds Moses who is in charge.

How many times do we feel as if we can not communicate well enough for the job?
After hours and hours of language class, do we feel like God sent the wrong person?
Upon giving yet another unproductive message, do we question our ability to speak in terms which change hearts and minds?

Perhaps Moses was struggling with unworthiness or guilt from his past. He did kill a man after all.

God doesn’t give Moses an exit plan, he holds him to it.

He does provide Moses with strategies, a partner in action, and more direction in accomplishing the mission.

Feeling overwhelmed or resistant is not reason for disqualification.

Rather, it puts you in good company.

God seems to like reluctant leaders. Moses, as he walked through his resistance, became one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen, leading a million people out of slavery.

This is especially true when God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves and our own abilities.

People who would be tempted to say “send someone else”, will tend to rely on God more than an over-confident, self-reliant individual.

Reluctance in leadership or in mission is often a sign we are in the right place! It means we realize the enormity of the task.

Photo By Dominik Martin

The Inevitable Pain of Loneliness

There is a depth of loneliness that one experiences while living overseas that is difficult to articulate. Away from all that is familiar, the nagging ache can accost us at odd times, almost like grief. Yet in a very real way, as a fellow writer friend said “Loneliness gives me my humanity. She connects me to millions of others around the globe who are displaced, afraid, betrayed, abandoned. Loneliness whispers, ‘see you are not alone’. The pain that she brings also reminds me that I’m still alive. And I’m more fully human for having encountered her.” In today’s guest post John Gunter speaks to the inevitable pain that loneliness brings but also addresses the hope we have in living through that pain. Read more about John at the end of the post.

city at night

As I type this, I am sitting on the back deck of my apartment in Asia.  There is a subway track in front, along with the panoramic view of sky scrapers of which most are still under construction.  It is quiet right now, as life in this crowded mega-city is readying for bed.  Other than the sound of a TV coming from an apartment of a near deaf person a floor or so below me and the hum of the occasional construction truck winding down the streets 10 floors below, it is quiet. . . it is peaceful. . . however, it is lonely.

I have been thinking about loneliness a good bit today.  Partially because I heard a tremendous sermon on it from a friend in the United States; partially because I am, in fact, struggling with loneliness right now.  It comes and goes often with me living in an apartment by myself here in Asia.

It can come with the sight of something that reminds me of a niece or a nephew or when something funny happens that I know a good friend in the States would appreciate.  It can come from a picture over Facebook reminding me that lives are moving on without me in relationships I used to hold dear.

Loneliness can come with an email informing me that I have missed yet another family event or wedding or friend gathering.  Today it came from just hearing my Dad’s voice over the phone.  Yesterday it was in learning of the passing of a friend’s grandfather.  Life is happening in many places, yet I am sitting here on an empty back deck in Asia, or so it seems sometimes.

Loneliness truly has been an occupational hazard for me in choosing this life of living and working overseas. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly would not choose a different life than the one that I have lived thus far.

My mind races with the experiences I have had, friendship I have forged, mountains I have been fortunate enough to traverse (both metaphorically and in reality). . . and I am grateful to the core.  God has been good to me well beyond my ability to express my gratitude with my feeble words.  However, this life of living and working 10,000 miles from the city of my origin, the city where I learned to walk and read and drive and hit a curve ball; this life does get lonely. Tonight is such a night.

Even in the midst of nights like this, I am drawn to the sweet reality that I am not alone.  There are others who understand me, who understand the way I am feeling at this moment.  I understand that we ALL suffer with loneliness from time to time.  We all have seasons of isolation, of longing, of heart-break. I understand this and it comforts me in a “misery loves company” type of a way.

Even more so, I am reminded of the most terrifyingly lonely moment in history.  It was the day that our Savior, the creator of the universe, the One whom willingly left His home in heaven, and humiliated Himself to the point of becoming a child, suffered the anguish of the cross.

At that exact moment, Christ Jesus cried out in heart-broken honesty “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”!  Matthew 27:46-50 was not just the retelling of a factual event, it was the honest depiction of our Savior lonely, hurt, and rejected by those whom He loved.

Though this reality does not make the sting of loneliness depart, it does make me feel better.  My circumstances have not changed. I still miss my family and friends.  I still miss companionship during nights like this.  However, there is comfort in knowing that my friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, understands me. He is with me.  He will get me through lonely times like this.

For this truth I am grateful to the center of my soul, to the core of my being.  I am grateful for Christ’s suffering, His betrayal by all those whom He loved.  Because of this, I am confident that He understands me in all things, even during lonely nights (and months) in Asia, nights like this one.

Because of this reality, I am also certain that Christ understands and is with YOU, no matter what is going on in YOUR life.  No matter what heart-break you are suffering, what loneliness has gripped you, what disease afflicts you, what addiction has taken root, Christ understands and is present.

For this, I am grateful. For this, I am drawn to praise and joy. . . the praise and joy of my friend and Savior, Christ Jesus.

What helps you when you are experiencing the inevitable pain of loneliness? 

John Gunter grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but has lived in East Asia for most of the past 15 years.  John loves his life in Asia, but misses his family, friends, church, baseball, and bar-b-que (in that order) immensely.  He enjoys scuba diving when the time and location permits. John blogs on issues of faith, purpose, singleness, and Asia at http://johngunter.net.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Communal (Running) Life Overseas

running djibouti*Read the first post in this series here: A Practical (Running) Life Overseas

I didn’t intend to build a running community. I didn’t even intend to start running. But loneliness will make you do incredible things and five years later, I am amazed.

I started running when we had a woman working with us for one school year. Heather had recently run a marathon.

“Is it safe to run here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You should go with someone at least the first time.”

“You’re the boss,” she said. “I’m running. You’re supposed to keep me safe, so I guess you’re coming with.”

And voila, I started running. I liked running fine, but I adored Heather. I would go through anything, even a 110-degree run, to spend time with her, to listen to her talk while I huffed and hacked, to pray, to review scripture together.

Eventually we got more serious about training and wanted to do speed work. Through another American and her friendship with Djibouti’s only Olympic medalist (1988 Seoul Olympics, bronze in the marathon), we were given permission to run at the stadium.

running djibouti

A handful of local girls trained there. They were young, not in school, friendly, and often injured. They rarely stretched and ran in bare feet, didn’t know about hydration or post-run fueling, and were often kept out of competitions because they didn’t belong to a club. These girls were fast, they lapped us during workouts, but on warm-up and cool-down laps, we chatted and developed friendships and we started to dream about an all-girls club.

Girls Run 2 launched in 2008 and now includes two coaches and 27 girls in two towns. The club provides running equipment, water at races, transportation to races, academic assistance, and some job skills training.

Running is by nature a solitary endeavor, but all runners can testify to the strength of a running community. A running team, race camaraderie, someone to complain about knee pain to, someone who will ask if you are meeting your goals, someone who understands why you push your body to the limits.

Living overseas isn’t always, but can sometimes feel like a solitary endeavor. My husband has a job and through his work, has a natural community. Over the years I have been much more fluid in how I engage and it has often been a lonely struggle. Running has helped meet a relational need through the development of this community.

How can those of us without a clear-cut niche develop a community overseas? How can we be intentional and creative and get involved?

You don’t need to start a club. It could be one other woman, like Heather and I. What about finding out if any of your local friends run or walk or want to start? Gather one or two and hit the road, the time together might become addicting and attractive to others. You don’t have to be fast. I began participating in races, sometimes one of three women out of a field of over 100. I have been the last person, the.last.person to cross the finish line. The first time that I finished in last place I got on television, shook the hand of the minister for sports, and posed for photos with the national running team, a gigantic trophy in my hands for finishing as the third-place woman. Third out of three. Last place. Champion. There is probably a lesson there, I was just glad to stop running.

You don’t need a lot of experience. Neighbors began talking to me about running, some asked if they could run with me. When university students found out I ran, some came to the train to join, even though they had never run before. Since I was still a beginner, we had a lot in common.

It doesn’t have to be running. Figure out what you love to do and then do it with the people around you. Notice, I didn’t say: figure out what you do well and then do it with the people around you. I do not run well. I have terrible form and turn red as beet juice. I terrify children and make them scream when I try to smile at the end of long runs (true story).

Want to build community? What do you love to do? How can you do it together?

(here is a link to the preview for the movie I mentioned in my last post about running: Finding Strong. If you get Runner’s World magazine, the December issue has a fully page ad for this film and the photo is of three of our Djibouti girls at Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, Djibouti’s salt lake).

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, (slow) marathoner and development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

 

Holiday Grace

Tomorrow is the 4th of July – Independence Day in the United States and a national holiday. It’s a day that causes laughter and cross national joking in expatriate communities where those from Britain and the United States work and play side by side; where nation building dissolves and friendships build strong.

I grew up knowing Holiday Grace. Grace that seemed shaken together, running over, doled out in extra measure during holidays celebrated far away from family and passport country.

Because holidays were times when my parents, native to Massachusetts where picture-book houses and white picket fences abound, would feel the tug of  home and family. Home and family would grab the heart and squeeze with a vice-like grip of unbelonging and a loud ‘What am I doing here, six thousand miles from all that is familiar?”

Holidays were the times when it was too easy to use the words “God forsaken” knowing that God does not forsake. Holidays were the times when it was easy to feel ‘foreign’. 

There was the time when my mom felt desperately lonely in a small city with no other English speakers, no other expatriates. The large house we lived in was surrounded on four sides by mosques, the Call to Prayer loud in the morning hours and lonely in the evening. It was Christmas time and her heart throbbed with a longing for Christmas at home in New England. Her mind was far away with real Christmas trees, snowy evenings, and family – but her body was in a small town in Pakistan. Holiday Grace came when missionaries from a town two hours away made the long trek on a dusty, partially unpaved road to surprise our family on Christmas eve.  She had gone up to the flat roof and was looking over the city, tears of longing and pity welling in her eyes, when she heard the ever familiar sounds of “Joy to the World.” She thought it was angels heard from the rooftops. And in many ways she was correct. These friends brought Holiday Grace to a young woman’s aching heart as they sat and drank hot cocoa and laughed together until late in the evening.

There was the time when we had no sugar, no flour, and little butter at Christmas. But somehow Holiday Grace abounded and our kitchen was full of spicy goodness. There were Thanksgiving meals at an international boarding school, where those who were not from the United States celebrated hard and graciously. And there were the Eid celebrations when we were invited to join the feasts of our Muslim friends, experiencing the Holiday Grace of acceptance from our adopted country.

Each holiday seemed to be met with this extra grace, Holiday Grace.

I went on to raise a family overseas and began experiencing Holiday Grace as an adult. But it was in our fourth year living in Cairo, Egypt that Holiday Grace came in a way I could never have imagined, much less orchestrated.

It was text-book unmerited favor surrounding me.

It was the 4th of July, Independence Day for the United States, and six months prior I had given birth to our fourth child. The summer was well upon us, the heat broken by trips to the swimming pool at the International School. My husband was in full-time Arabic language study and many of our friends had left for either their passport countries or holiday spots in Egypt. With four kids I was quickly running out of ideas for fun. I was in survival mode.

Added to this, my maternal grandmother had died a couple of weeks before. I felt the absence of family acutely. I  heard about the funeral through letters, but missed family so much that it throbbed.

Then came the holiday – the 4th of July.

4th of july 2Many of us who have lived overseas know that embassies celebrate their holidays well, no matter what country. The parties put on by U.S. Embassies were legendary. Free food, entertainment, swimming, games, face-painting, and raffles from large companies that donated prizes like nights in hotels, and free airline tickets to the lucky ticket holders were all there in abundance.

For a time my sadness was in a welcome reprieve.

Accompanying our family were some students  my husband had befriended from the U.S. They were facing inevitable culture shock and when he told them about the “Free party on the 4th!” several of them jumped at the chance to come. They were ready to head back to “real Cairo” where fuul beans, busy streets and the charm of the Middle East flourished,  when they asked my husband if he wanted their raffle tickets. Realizing that he would lose nothing, he said yes and so we had in our possession six tickets to holiday prizes instead of two.

And the raffle started. In what could only be Holiday Grace – I won. Not one prize, but two. The first was a breakfast for two at a large 5-star hotel in the city.

The second? A round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States that I cared to go. Anywhere. That meant a trip to see Family!

I can still remember walking up to the staged area to get my ticket, the feeling of  God’s arms enveloping me like the warmth of the Cairo summer. The missed funeral, the absence of close relatives to celebrate our growing family unit, the lonely ache for people who shared our family history – all that had crushed me during the weeks before faded into Grace.

This was my Holiday Grace. And I would never forget it.

What is your experience with holidays? What extra measure of Grace have you felt during holidays overseas?

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

Enhanced by Zemanta

Coping With Loneliness

Have you ever found yourself asking,

“What am I doing?”
“Is this worth it?”
“Is this what we signed up for?”

If so you are not alone in your emotions, although these feelings can make you feel very isolated.

Missions and any form of leadership carries with it an aspect of loneliness. Ordinary friendships become even more difficult when we take on these positions and roles.

Dan Allendar in his excellent book, Leading With A Limp, says “Loneliness also assaults a leader when he must absorb the inevitable expressions of disappointment from others. A leader bears loneliness, but also the guilt that comes with others disappointment.”

Have you experienced this?

As a missionary, we will have great successes, but also disappoint people and fail to live up to their expectations.

Sometimes the greatest loneliness in leadership comes on the heels of our greatest success.

Elijah experienced this immediately following his miraculous defeat of the prophets of Baal recounted in 1 Kings 18. Elijah just had the ultimate missionary newsletter headline.

One chapter later he finds himself on the run from Jezebel. Look at the conversation he has with God. (1 Kings 19)

Vs. 4 “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Vs 10 “He said, “I have been jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

I’m the only one left!
Where are you God?
What am I doing?

God shows up in a still, small voice; reassuring him of His Presence, urging Elijah to get back to work. (1 Kings 19:11-16)

The reality of leadership and missions comes with a realization no one can fully understand all that we go through. Except God.

But even with this amazing gift of the presence of God, it feels lonely.

Dan Allender list the following loneliness inducing traits of a leader or missionary (also from Leading With A Limp.)

– The moment we take this role, others assign to us the power to do good or harm.
– Leaders often have information they are unable to share, constantly creating a situation where they could be misunderstood by people not seeing the whole picture of our decisions.
– Honoring confidentiality puts a leader in the direct path of gossip. The tough decisions which cannot be defended or explained leave leaders vulnerable and alone.

No one can fully understand a leader, what may hurt more…is often no one wants to.

This is inevitable at some point in life and ministry. When it happens, what are some things you can do minimize the loneliness?

1. Have good Relationships – with God first and foremost, but also extremely important is our time with our family and spouse. I would also advise we seek at least one other person who can be a confidant and friend.

2. Rest – Lack of rest makes loneliness even worse.

3. Take Inventory – Are you over committed? Are you priorities in line? Remind yourself of why you do what you do….daily!

What other tips can you offer missionaries and leaders who struggle with this. Or, if you are so bold, let our Life Overseas family know you struggle with loneliness so we can be a support to you.

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