New Podcast Episodes: Marriage, Conflict, and Sex

Elizabeth and I recently carved out some time to go sit in a van in a park and talk about marriage. As a result, we’d like to share with you three new episodes of our Trotters41 Podcast!

This series on marriage is not specific to cross-cultural folks, although some of it is.

It’s also not specific to COVID-19, although some of it is.

We wrapped up the first part with A Marriage Blessing, and that is still our deepest prayer for marriages everywhere, whether you’re abroad or not, whether you’re quarantined or not. We had a lot of fun recording these for you all and we hope they’re an encouragement!

You can listen to the episodes at the links below, or find our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. The links below will also lead you to each episode’s show notes, with tons of outgoing links to recommended books, articles, and resources.

In the first installment, we talked about marriage in general, discussing a theology of marriage and what the “5 magic hours” means. Listen to Episode 4 here.

In the second installment, we talked about how we conceptualize conflict, as well as some evidence-based tools for approaching conflict, including what to do if one or both people get “flooded.” Listen to Episode 5 here.

Lastly, we talked about sex, and well, you’ll just have to take a listen to that one here.

Sex and the Married Missionary

We don’t talk about sex very much. Sure, we might joke about it (the first working title for this article was The Missionary Position), but we don’t actually talk about it very much. Truth is, most folks are scared to death to have an honest, non-joking, realistic talk about sex. Maybe with a good friend, but with their spouse? Gasp. But the truth is, it matters. It’s not the biggest deal, but it’s a real deal.

And it comes up all the time in my role as a pastoral counselor to missionaries.

A healthy, mutually enjoyable sex life is a good thing and is worth pursuing. It won’t make everything rainbows and butterflies, but it is a great mediator for the hard times, making things a little less awful.

That being said, it’s even more important to talk about this in the context of non-satisfying love lives. Turns out, the power of a non-functioning sex life to taint everything is stronger than the power of a healthy sex life to improve everything.

Dr. Barry McCarthy, researcher and writer, says,

“A core concept is the paradoxical role of sexuality in the lives of individuals and couples. Healthy sexuality has a 15-20 percent positive, integral role. Dysfunctional, conflictual or avoidant sexuality has an inordinately powerful negative role. Clinicians underestimate the impact of sexual dysfunction and conflict. Sex needs to be dealt with directly—sexuality is more than a symptom.” [1]

In other words, a healthy, satisfying sex life contributes, at its maximum, to about 20% of a person’s happiness and well-being. But when things aren’t so great, when a couple is “demoralized and alienated,” McCarthy says that “sexuality has a 50-75 percent role of subverting intimacy and threatening marital stability.” [2]

He further clarifies that he’s not talking about a problem that is acute or new, but a problem that’s been festering and has become “chronic and severe.”

It would be great if cross-cultural couples didn’t wait until their sexual issues were chronic and severe. It doesn’t have to be so difficult so often and for so long. But we must be willing to talk about it.

Discussing sex openly and honestly is crucial to having sex openly and honestly.

Writing for The Gottman Institute, Kyle Benson writes:

“Let’s talk about sex, because it turns out the most important part of cultivating a healthy sex life is talking about a healthy sex life. Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.”

Elizabeth referenced this statistic in one of her articles, explaining,

“If you can’t talk about sex with each other, the likelihood that you’re having mutually satisfying sex is pretty low. But talking about sex can be risky. You might find out something about yourself that you don’t want to know. You might feel rejected.”

So let’s talk about married sexuality on the field. Let’s figure out how to have healthier conversations about sex with our partners, conversations that are filled with safety, mutual trust, and deep attunement. Men, consider starting here: 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife.

But before we go any further, a word to our friends who are single:

Of course, single people are sexual beings too, and we need to talk about Sex and the Single Missionary, and not just in the negative “don’t do this and definitely don’t do that” manner. I hope somebody writes that article, but for now, that’s beyond the scope of this piece. Seriously though, if you write it, send it to me and we’ll see about getting it published here. It needs to be written.

Complicating Factors
Sex is really complex, and the opportunities for it to go sideways are many. Sex in marriage is often a place of deep insecurities, unmet needs, fear, shame, anger, and even grief.

And that’s in your passport country.

For the cross-cultural couple, challenges start before you even arrive. Pre-field training and fundraising might have you traipsing all over, living in spare rooms, sharing space with kids, camping out in hotels, etc. These things do not necessarily lead to a vibrant and exciting sex life. They don’t have to kill it, of course, but they don’t necessarily help.

Once you arrive on the field, you may discover local taboos that impact your marriage (no touching in public, for example) or a climate that’s way too HOT for warm bodies. Sweaty bodies under a mosquito net may look romantic in the movies, but that’s because in the movies you can’t hear the neighbors’ chickens, there aren’t giant lizards (or rats) squirming throughout the ceiling, your kids didn’t just throw up, you’re not in language school, and you don’t smell like this.

You might lack access to regular showers (or water in general) and privacy might be harder to come by; even if no one can see you making love, you might live in a place where people can hear everything. If that’s different than where you came from, chances are it’s not an aphrodisiac.

Conjugating verbs all day might not leave you with enough energy to conjugate anything else.

People often begin their cross-cultural service with a young family, or they start having kids while they’re on the field. Across the board, this is a challenging time for couples, with sexuality necessarily changing. This season always requires a couple’s sexuality to pivot. That doesn’t mean it has to be worse, but it will change. If that change is happening at the same time as all sorts of other stressors, you may not have enough bandwidth to address or deal with things.

I was discussing a draft of this article with my wife, Elizabeth, and she so eloquently put it like this, “Basically, everything in the world is conspiring against your sex life.”

But again, there is hope!

Lots of folks have written about sex, and it’s not all slutty. In fact, much of it is very helpful, and even researched. There is help available!

If this is an area of your life that is not going well, check out some of these ideas, get a book or two, and begin talking about it. If this is an area of your life that is going well, check out some of these ideas, get a book or two, and keep talking about it!


Talk about it, but not right after it. Analyzing a sexual experience right after you’ve had it risks all sorts of negative things, so DO NOT DO IT. Set aside a time that feels private and safe and talk about it. If you feel like you can’t talk about sex with your spouse, find a trusted and confidential person and begin to explore why talking about it is so hard. This does not mean you shouldn’t talk about sex during sex. In fact, learning how to state your needs and desires clearly (and kindly) during sex is one of the skills many of the books linked below deal with.

Prioritize it. Do you need to schedule it? People think that scheduling sex is not romantic, but we schedule other things that we enjoy or that we think are healthy for us. So why not this? Also, I find this reasoning compelling:

“It could be argued that the importance of spontaneous touching is one of the most overrated aspects of intimate connections, particularly in the context of a long-term relationship. As we have suggested, to have a successful party, one must plan ahead. That doesn’t mean anything about the spontaneity that may happen once the party is underway.” [3]

Plus, if you have kids and you live abroad, NOT scheduling it is nearly the same thing as PLANNING to never do it. Are hotels cheaper where you live? Get a room. Even if you only use it for an afternoon. It’s probably cheaper than dinner and a movie where you come from.

Recognize that women have desire too. If you’re a woman who has a sex drive or whose desire seems stronger and more frequent than your husband’s, you’re not a weirdo or a freak. You’re actually pretty normal. It’s time to put this damaging myth to rest. Elizabeth wrote about this:

The fact that sexlessness was primarily dependent on the man was news to me as women often get slandered in culture for being “frigid.” This mischaracterization seems key to common “Christian” teaching that women want affection and connection, while men want sex. Research shows that this traditional approach is unhelpful in the sexual arena: women want good sex too.”

Get a Do Not Disturb sign (or a pink thing). Many of us live in places without central air conditioning, meaning the door is closed when the air’s on, whether or not we need privacy. Years ago, we decided to tell our kids that they can knock on our door unless we have “the pink thing” on the door. For us, “the pink thing” is just an old pink hairband; it’s also a fantastic sex aid. We have four kids, and we want them to know they can knock on the door without making us mad or irritated — unless the pink thing’s on the door. When the pink thing’s present, they can only knock if someone’s bleeding or if the house is on fire. It might not seem like a big deal, but having a lock on the door AND the pink thing provides a zone of safety that is very helpful. And if my kids ever read this article, Hi. We also use the pink thing when we just want some privacy to talk or read the news or browse Facebook. It’s not always sexy time, so don’t freak out thinking “Whoa. That thing was ALWAYS on their door!” I mean, sometimes…

Recognize the impact of sexual assault or abuse. If abuse or assault is part of either spouse’s history, and if you feel like there’s any chance that it’s having a negative impact on your sex life, I highly encourage you to figure out a way to talk with a trained therapist who can walk with you through whatever needs to be walked through. I also realize that ongoing sexual harassment is common in some contexts. If that’s the case, again, make sure you are regularly processing with someone who can help bear those stories. You don’t have to hold those experiences alone, and you’re not weak or faithless if they leave a mark.

Deal with porn. Porn use by either spouse will change the sexual relationship. Andy Bruner wrote this:

Recovery is possible. It’s a ton of work, for sure. But it does happen. Kay said for years that when she wrote her memoir, it would be called Pornography Saved My Marriage, because that was our experience: after going through the pain together, after healing together, our marriage was stronger than it had ever been before.”

Read his full article here.


Resources to continue the conversation
Here’s a list of sex books I recommend all the time: On Making Love

Three fantastic articles from Elizabeth:

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex

What Christians can Learn from a New York Times Article About Sleeping with Married Men

Women Have Desire Too: The Thing we Overlook When We Talk About the Billy Graham Rule


I know that one article can’t fix anything, but maybe many can. So check these out, read some books, start talking.

A woman with decades of experience in living abroad and serving cross-cultural workers recently said, “Here’s to sexually satisfied and great missionary marriages around the globe!”

 Yup, that’s my prayer too. God bless, and have a fantastic day!

— Jonathan Trotter
Phnom Penh, Cambodia




[1] McCarthy, Barry. Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy (p. 5).

[2] Ibid. (p. 31).

[3] Weiner, Linda, and Constance Avery-Clark. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy (p.118).

Will Moving Overseas Make Or Break Your Relationship?

Relationship cliches about living abroad

There’s a well-worn line in expatriate circles that goes something like this: “Moving overseas will either strengthen your relationship, or break it.”

And here’s another one that gets rolled out regularly: “If your relationship was strong before you moved, it will become stronger. If there were already problems, moving overseas will exacerbate those.”

There is some truth in both of these sayings. Moving overseas is a hugely stressful undertaking. It puts enormous pressure on us—the sort of pressure that forces us out of our comfort zones and makes us change and adapt to meet the new challenges coming from every side.

No relationship can stay static when both parties in it are changing, and so our relationship with our spouse or partner will inevitably change, too.

How does moving overseas change relationships?

In a binary world, moving overseas will either strengthen or weaken our relationship. We will grow closer or more distant. We will make it or break it.

But guess what? Life and love and how we change as people and as a couple is rarely binary.

Sure, some couples will talk about how they moved abroad and it did nothing but good things for them. They are closer and stronger and more in sync than they’ve ever been before. They have a new lease on life and love. Yada, yada, yada.

[Forgive what may be cynicism here, but I would hazard a guess that many of the couples saying this don’t have children, haven’t weathered multiple medical emergencies or major natural disasters along the way, and/or have been together less than ten years.]

Other couples will move abroad and have the relationship fall apart. The move exacerbates tensions that were already there and creates new ones. Embers of frustration, resentment, anger, or pain that were already smoldering underneath the surface get stirred up and blaze to life. Couples increasingly struggle to connect and communicate well. The relationship disintegrates.

But there are many other, more complex, scenarios that can unfold when you move overseas. Here is just one…

Not either/or: One way moving overseas can change a relationship

The decision to move overseas was made together, and you’re both fully on board with this decision. You’re in a strong, stable relationship when you move. The intense experiences that come with moving initially draw you closer.

You grapple together with getting oriented in your new city and learning a new language and culture. Your strengths and differences complement each other in obvious ways. You have a real sense of being better equipped to “do this thing” together than either one of you would be alone. You (mostly) support each other well. You learn a lot about meeting challenges as a team. Trust, respect, gratitude and affection for each other grow stronger.

And then life settles into something akin to routine. The initial excitement wanes, and the extraordinary becomes more normal. More normal and mundane sorts of daily stressors (such as concerns about work, children, finances, life logistics) start to “layer over” these bigger stressors (which haven’t fully subsided) and become more dominant.

One or both of you starts to feel tired, worn out, and increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of your new life. You find yourself pulling inwards, or actively taking things out on your partner. You increasingly lack time and energy to talk about the little details of your day and what’s on your mind and heart. Sudden upswells of anger and resentment surprise you with their intensity. A growing sense of distance from your partner scares you, but you figure it’s just a phase and it will pass.

You’re both still committed to the relationship, but slowly moving into more separate inner orbits. There iss often a fine and fuzzy line between healthy distance in a marriage and unhealthy/scary disconnect, and you’re not exactly sure where that line is anymore—or whether it still lies in front of you, or behind you.

It brings both good and bad…

Whether our closest relationships grow stronger or weaker when we move overseas is not binary and it’s not static. For most of us, the pressure of moving and living overseas will make us closer and stronger as couple in some ways and at some times, and weaken us in other ways and at different times.

All this is a long (very long, sorry) preamble to why I wrote this post.

I’ve been thinking about the impact of moving overseas on relationships for many years now. My background as a psychologist and my own life experience (my husband and I met long distance and have moved internationally three times in the nine years we have been married) has made it highly relevant.

Some time ago, I realized that many of us could use a process designed to help us connect with our partner in new and deeper ways. A process designed to help us make each other a priority, talk about important topics, and learning more about each other. A process designed to strengthen and deepen our relationship.

So I’ve designed one.

And if you want it, I’m going to give it to you for free for the next month.

It’s brand new. I haven’t published it yet (I will do that before Christmas). But I want to give it away to you guys here on A Life Overseas before it even goes to press because you’re my tribe. You’re my people, scattered far and wide. You are people who are passionate about your work, your faith, and your relationship with your partner. You are people who are trying to do some amazing and wonderful things in this world—endeavors that can come at great personal and relational cost.

And if this series can help even a handful of you in some small way, that will make me happy.

So, here’s a bit more about the series and how you can get ahold of it.

Deeper Dates For Couples

Deeper Dates For Couples is a 12-week series of activities and questions that will guide you into important, interesting, and intimate conversations. Along the way, it gives you tools and uncovers insights that will strengthen and deepen your relationship.

Each week for 12 weeks we will focus on a different topic. I will give you some background information (strictly interesting stuff). Then I’ll tell you about your task for the week and share some questions you can use to kick off discussion during your weekly date.

You will:

  • Learn about each other’s strengths, sense of humor, communication style, and personality.
  • Discover brand-new insights about yourself and your partner (yes, no matter how long you’ve been together).
  • Do fun and fascinating positive psychology activities together that have been proven to make people happier and healthier.

How much time will this take? It will usually take you a total of about 45 – 60 minutes to read the chapter and do your task for the week. As for how long you want to spend talking during your weekly date…? Well, that one’s up to you.

And to help you get the most out of this series, I’ve designed a special companion journal to go with it. Your 32-page personal workbook for the Deeper Dates series will guide you through the reflection questions, discussion questions, and tasks for each week, and contains space for you to make notes and keep track of your answers and insights along the way.

If this sounds like something you’d like to have, jump on over to this page where you can enter your email and I’ll send you the book (I don’t want to put a direct link to the book file out in public space before it is officially published, so this is the safest way for me to give it away.)

If you grab a copy, I hope you find it helpful. And I’d love to hear from you about anything to do with the series, anytime.

Wherever you are in this world and in your own relationship journey, I’m cheering you on and wishing you all the best.


Small Thoughts: giving some stray ideas a place to land

Sometimes I cough up small thoughts. You know, the one-liners or one-paragraphers that end up floating, never finding a place to lay their pretty little heads?

Well, here are a few small thoughts. Some are text, some are short videos, all are simple. They range from post-fall marriage to emotional nomenclature, from guilting people into evangelism to a lullaby for spiritual warfare. Hopefully, there will be a little something for everyone.

Happy Monday!

Feelings Wheel
Sometimes, like Groot, our vocabulistics are limited. Especially when it comes to emotions. (If that makes no sense, don’t worry about it. But watch out for raccoons.)

In any case, a lot of my clients find this tool extremely helpful in identifying specific emotions and feelings. Start in the center and see if there’s a more accurate word for whatever it is you’re feeling. Note: THIS IS ALSO HELPFUL WITH TEENAGERS. : )

It’s easier to deal with my feelings (or someone else’s feelings) when I identify what it actually is that I’m (they’re) feeling.

With special thanks to Geoffrey Roberts. Visit his site for a printable version.


Circles of Intimacy
Regarding boundaries, Jesus, and the dangerous idea that we should all be BFFs. It’s a six-minute video.

These ideas are especially important for missions teams.


“New Guilt”
Why do we invite people to Jesus, telling them their guilt and shame will be taken away, and then, when they come to Jesus, immediately burden them with NEW GUILT by telling them that their failure to evangelize will cause the blood of the lost to pour all over their heads? That’s crazy!

There’s got to be a better way to mobilize cross-cultural missions (which is a great idea!) than saying, “Look, your guilt is gone. You’re free! Now here, hold this NEW GUILT while you ponder the eternal destiny of everyone in the world and how it’ll all be your fault if they don’t get to heaven.”

I think Paul’s on to something when he simply answers, “For Christ’s love compels us…”


Marriage Post-Fall and Pre-Christ
“You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)

Many marriages continue to operate under the curse paradigm, with an ongoing fight for control. The woman yearns for control and maybe freedom, while the man, simply put, rules over her. Societal norms, physical power, and even religious pressure, may be used by the man who seeks to dominate.

But this type of marriage is post-fall and pre-Christ.

When Christ rolls back the curse, this is part of it. And any echoes of control or dominance (by the man or the woman) are echoes of the fall. The curse continues.

But it doesn’t have to.


17 years of marriage, and this is all we’ve got
From our house to yours, here are eleven articles about love, marriage, and sex.


The two questions that will help people feel loved, heard, and truly seen.
If we can learn to ask these two questions (and deeply care about the answers), we’ll be a step closer to loving people like Jesus loves people. This is a three-minute video.


Spiritual Warfare Lullaby
Sometimes I get tired of the fight. I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I do, so I wrote this lullaby. Perhaps it’ll remind you of the Truth. And for the record, if someone with more skill would like to appropriate this and improve it, go for it. God bless!

Greater is he who is in me,
Than the one who’s in the world

There is no power in Heav’n or hell or earth
That can ever separate me
From the love of God our Father
From the love of God above

Like a Good Shepherd he leads me
Besides waters still and calm
In the presence of all of my enemies
Still the presence of God above

I will not fear the terror
Of the day or the night
For I know my Father is with me
In the dark he is my Light.

All the hosts of Heaven are shouting
At the victory he’s won
All of Hell continues to tremble
At the love of God above


Airplane photo by Tom Rogerson on Unsplash

Help! My spouse doesn’t feel called to this.

I’m going to wade into this thorny area today, because it’s one of the most common questions I get via email from people: “What do I do when my spouse doesn’t have the same sense of calling to the poor, or mission, or ministry, that I do?”

A common scenario is that one partner is gung-ho (naive?), adventurous, and SUPER keen to dive into mission among the poor. Meanwhile their spouse is a little more cautious (realistic!) or perhaps doubtful.

I need to make a little side note here for singles who are preparing for marriage:

For some of you, who are not yet married, this is an important issue – do NOT get married to someone who doesn’t share your sense of calling. Don’t ignore the red flags, don’t assume that they will come around. Talk, talk, talk it through. And don’t go by promises or vague agreement. The proof is in action ONLY. If they are not already living this stuff out, don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will suddenly change after marriage. 99.9% of the time it doesn’t happen.

Now, having said that, let’s get real — and a little bit more nuanced — for those of us who are already married.

Let’s say you think you may have a mismatched sense of calling. Here are 4 important questions to ask as you explore why there might be a difference in calling and what to do about it.

1. Are you prioritizing the health of your marriage?

Is your marriage healthy? Sometimes, one spouse feels neglected while the other goes off “doing radical ministry.” Some of us need a good kick in the pants about this (myself included, from time to time).

Remember Isaiah 58 – a favourite passage of us “radical” types:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and NOT to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

We LOVE the stuff about loosing the chains of injustice. Bring it on! Smash those chains. Set the oppressed free? Yes! Share your food with the hungry? Boom! Then we get to not turning “away from your own flesh and blood.” Hang on, what’s that family stuff doing in there? That’s not about justice. Or is it?

I’ve had to learn this lesson continually over the course of almost 20 years of marriage, while doing mission and living with my family in Cambodian slums. If I neglect my wife and kids, who am I to say that I love my neighbour in this slum? Loving my neighbour STARTS with loving my family. Otherwise I’m just a poser, practising piety for others to see, all the while neglecting the very first ones God has given me to care for.

It’s all connected.

2. Have you considered personality differences?

Sometimes what we assume is a difference in calling could just be a difference in personality. I’ve come to understand this more deeply as I’ve gotten to know my wife better. She has a deep love for God and the poor, but it looks COMPLETELY different from mine. I’m a thinker, pioneer, and strategizer. She’s a warm and welcoming loving presence. Compared to her, I’m a cold, dead, calculating fish.

I ask questions like, “How can we scale this initiative up and reach more impoverished people?” And all the while, she doesn’t bother with talking about it, she just gets on with loving our neighbours, one by one. At first when my wife didn’t engage in my “big picture” pontifications, I thought she didn’t care about these things as deeply. Vice versa, my capacity for one-on-one discipleship only goes so far. It would be easy for her to write me off as someone who is useless in ministry.

But by God’s grace, He has wired us differently and called us to minister in different ways. I’ve come to see that her giftings are a HUGE blessing in ministry and that we need each other.

I’ll repeat that, because the sooner you have this revelation, the better things will go for you. Trust me: You need each other in ministry BECAUSE of your differences. God brought you together for a reason.

3. Are you forgetting gender stuff?

There are personality differences, but there are also gender differences. Guys, can we just be honest for a moment here and recognize that our wives have usually faced more safety issues in their lives than we have?

When we were living in the Downtown Eastside of inner city Vancouver, I didn’t think twice about walking down a dark alley. But my wife did. I didn’t think twice about inviting a homeless crack addict to sleep on our couch, but my wife did.

(Truth is, she faced all those fears and STILL got out there on the streets night after night and hung out with prostituted women in addiction. They became some of her closest friends.)

Most of us guys have probably not had to consider the possibility of being raped or mugged just walking through a park or down an alleyway. But our wives have. Repeatedly. And those different experiences may shape how our wives approach new opportunities for mission. They often have an extra dose of insight and realistic concern about the dangers that may come up in ministry.

It’s not that they are less committed to God or the poor, but that they have a deeper understanding about the safety and security issues. Let’s embrace that insight as a gift of balance, and work with it. Not allowing fear to undermine what God may be calling us into, but moving forward with an extra level of sobriety, grace and concern.

4. Are you allowing God’s timing to unfold?

Finally, consider that God does not always reveal everything to both spouses simultaneously. Consider Mary and Joseph. The angel appears to Mary and gives her some pretty solid details about what is coming up — a child will be born, you’ll call him Jesus, he’ll be the saviour of the world, etc.

Meanwhile, poor old Joseph is left in the dark, wondering whether his wife has stabbed him in the back. Eventually, he gets the message, but consider the tension in that relationship during that in-between-time. Holy Smokes. Imagine being a fly on the wall in that carpenter’s household.

The lesson for me here is patience, patience, patience. If God is doing something, He’ll communicate in his timing to BOTH of us. Trust Him. If God is in it, He’ll bring you both along. I don’t know what challenges you are facing in your sense of calling as a couple. Each situation is unique, and some are not covered by the areas I’ve mentioned above.

There are times when you may be called to gently invite your spouse to move out of their comfort zone. The only way we can do that, is with wisdom and sacrificial love that comes from God. I do know this, we’re called to lay down our lives for our spouses. We’re called to love them and care for them and be concerned for their safety and their call into mission.

Originally appeared here.


Craig Greenfield is the founder and director of Alongsiders International and the author of the recently published Subversive Jesus. During more than 15 years living and ministering in slums and inner cities in Cambodia and Canada, Craig has established a number of initiatives to care for vulnerable kids and orphans, as well as formed Christian communities for those marginalized by society. His postgraduate research in International Development led to the publication of his first book, The Urban Halo: a story of hope for orphans of the poor which is currently available for free on Craig’s website. He loves God, the poor, and fish and chips. He’s on Twitter and Facebook too.

How Living Abroad is Like Marriage

Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be its precondition.

Alain de Botton

The same could be said for living abroad. I hear many people say they ‘fell in love with Africa’ as soon as their feet touched the ground off the plane. I’m not sure how Kenyan or Nigerian or Burundian tarmac has developed this incredible ability to inspire love for an entire continent, while American tarmac is just tarmac. But. I think the above quote by de Botton applies to living abroad as much as it does to love. We achieve compatibility with the new places we live in as foreigners, we don’t arrive perfectly adjusted. We need to know this and we need to know this is okay.

Here’s how living abroad can be like building a marriage (aka: achieving compatibility in love):

Week One

Everything in this country is awesome and fascinating and I just want to know, like intimately, know it. I want to be one with it. I think that is totally possible. I want people to see that I belong here because I’m so good at communicating, I can even do it just with my hands. Who needs words when I’m such a good fit? I fit in so naturally; wearing all the beautiful clothes and eating all the fascinating food. I adapt so easily to all the things that are done differently here. This country is the best country I could have chosen, it will make me better, smarter, funnier, more attractive. People will think I’m amazing, just because I live here. I’ll probably never leave. This country can do no wrong.

Month Six

Did I say this country could do no wrong? I meant it could do no right. It smells bad. The food is weird. I don’t understand the clothing or fashion. There are these strange noises at night that interrupt my sleep, which I really need because living here is exhausting because everyone is so weird. Dare I say everyone is so backward and wrong? Why would anyone live here? On purpose even! This is so much harder than I thought it would be. I think I made a huge mistake.

Year Three

Seriously? I still live here? And I still don’t understand anything? I mean, I understand the words but I don’t understand what they mean. Why doesn’t anyone communicate clearly? Why can’t people here just do things like I do things? Why am I the one who has to adapt all the time? Doesn’t anyone care about how lonely and exhausted that makes me? No one seems to appreciate me at all. I wish I could leave but I signed that contract. sigh Maybe I’ll make it a couple more years, if that box of chocolates ever arrives in the post. I mean, it is starting to feel like home, a new definition of home anyway.

Year Ten

Double digits, baby! Most people would have gotten out of here by now but then look what they’d be missing out on – deep relationships. Like with people who have stayed with me when I couldn’t even use a squatty potty without falling in, people who have watched my kids grow up. We’ve celebrated and grieved together, cooked and danced and prayed. This place has changed me and, this might not even make sense, but I feel more like myself than I ever did before, more like myself when I’m here than when I’m other places.

Year Fifteen

I’m the grandma expatriate around here. I say things like, “Oh, I remember back before we even had electricity,” and “That’s just the way they do things here, honey, suck it up.” Sometimes I’m afraid being here so long has made me cynical. I know how messed up things are. I know how messed up I am. Sometimes that makes for a bad combination but we’re kind of stuck together now, me and this country. I’ll never fully shake this place out of my hair. It hasn’t been easy, but its been good.

Year Twenty

(not there yet as an expatriate, two years to go in marriage)

I never did succeed in changing this place into the image of my own liking. I’m okay with that though, I probably would have made things worse. I’m the one who has changed. I’m learning to be honest and to live authentically and to work with, instead of against the culture. I think maybe, just maybe, I’ve had a small impact outside myself. I’d say that’s good enough because I’m not anxious about the future anymore. I’ve seen people and projects come and go, succeed and fail, and things keep moving along. I’m just happy to have played my part in this rich, complicated place. Its been an honor.

What year of marriage expat living are you in?



The Mother of Modern Missions?


It was a Sunday morning. Sunshine filtered through the rose trellis by Lake Balaton. I stilled my heart and reflected upon the message I had just heard.

Three pioneers of the faith were highlighted. One of them was William Carey, considered ‘the father of modern missions’. When talking about his home life, it was said that his first wife went crazy then died.

Under the crimson buds of summer opening to the full light of day, it was this lost story, Dorothy Carey’s story, that pricked my heart. I grieved and shed a few tears. I asked God to show me more lost stories of women. I pleaded for their stories to be recovered.

And when I read more about William Carey’s behavior towards Dorothy, particularly how he left her pregnant with two small children in his first attempt to go to India, I wanted to tell him a thing or two.

I could not have known that a mere seven months later, I would be in the mental ward of a Hungarian hospital, my own story on the verge of extinction.

‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own self?’

Traditionally ‘the whole world’ has been interpreted as all one could want of the secular world. Things like fame, fortune, success, an entourage of servants, etc.

But what if ‘the whole world’ were the world of missions? In this way it can be said that William Carey gained the whole world, especially regarding his legacy and esteem. But did he lose his soul in the process, even for a season?

He lost the story of his wife. The wife of his youth. The one he had vowed to love, and according to the book of Ephesians, the one for whom he was called to lay down his life.

Then, the whole world lost her story. She was seen as unfit or selfish or crazy.*

But what if he waited, and she was won by his love and sacrifice?

William Carey was the product of his culture. At the time, it was assumed that a good wife would follow him. It was also assumed he would ask her to do so. Her status in society was considerably inferior to his. This left Dorothy with an impossible choice as she struggled to embrace the pioneer mission.

It is important to remember these factors.

But we are not living in his time. We live here and now. And women are considered equal to men. Marriage is a partnership. Yet our stories, especially those of wives, especially in the church and missions, can easily be lost.

When I reflect on these things, I know them intimately.

At the time of my hospital stay, we were living in a country for which we had endured a six year process just so we could be there. Our work with students was thriving. We had labored towards fluency in a very hard language. Our children were virtually bilingual. We were excited about the future.

And then, the unthinkable. I had what psychologists call a manic episode caused by lack of sleep and a later diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Essentially, I went crazy for a time.

I was in the hospital two weeks including three days in the ICU. As I recovered, many were saying we needed to return home to Pennsylvania for my healing and long-term care. It seemed like a death to all we had fought to keep, in other words, ‘the whole world’. Children pulled out of school. Loss of relationships that were just beginning and held so much promise. Leaving this life we had built through blood, sweat and tears.

But then, my husband came to the hospital one evening and said he thought we did need to return to the States. He had been listening to the song Lay Me Down and said that’s what he felt God was calling him to do.

In the year and a half that has followed, God has picked up both of our stories and is writing things beyond imagining. We miss our overseas ‘home’ and always will. But we are in the palm of God’s hand, safe in his clasp.

My husband has walked a road where he could easily have succumbed to bitterness for what my mental illness has cost him. But instead, he has let his own story be nearly lost in order to find this new, or redeemed, story with me. I have no doubt he will be honored for all eternity for his love and faithfulness to me.

We need to remember the lost stories. In particular, husbands, I speak clearly to you — yet with compassion. You must be the protectors, the guardians, of your wives’ stories. It is the greater part of all you will do, in close relationship to your love for God. And, in the end, what is gained will far outweigh the sacrifice.

For many a story will be found and lifted up as the crowning jewel of your life unto the glory of God.


*I do not know the true state of Dorothy Carey’s heart, but I do know she hasn’t been remembered kindly.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

Marriage can really be a drain on missions.

Marriage on the field can be a constant source of distraction, discouragement, and pain.

But I hope it’s not.

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I’ve written before about marriage and its purpose, but today I’d like to take a step back and speak directly to husbands: my brothers.

This advice is carefully given, and with no slight hesitation. After all, if you want people to argue with you (and I don’t particularly enjoy it), then write about marriage. Even so, I will write. Because it matters. And because I hope the men who marry my sisters will do these things. I hope the men who pursue my daughters (in the very far distant future) will do these things. I hope my sons will do these things. Because marriage is important. It’s also really complicated.

Marriage is a complex thing (2 into 1) entered into by complex people (humans) who have to do complex stuff (live).

And you all know this already, but missions is a hard gig for marriages. You’ve got sky-high stress levels, extreme temperatures, lots of broken things, financial tightness, the fishbowl of fundraising, and a rewarding but very hard job. Sounds like fun, right? Well, if you add all of that to an unhappy marriage, I can tell you the one thing you certainly won’t be having is fun.

So, onward! What are three things you can do to care for the heart of your wife? And for the record, I’m trying all these too, man, and learning as I go.


1. See Her
Your wife needs you to really see her. She’s not touched up and airbrushed and two-dimensional. She’s not a product of Photoshop. She’s real, with body and mind and soul. And she needs you to see and value all of her.

She’s the one who shares your memories, your children, your bed. She’s also the one who shares your future. You chose her. So brother, keep choosing her. She is, after all, a daughter of the King.

Read this article (and the comments) and hear the cry of women who long to be seen. [Although it was written to singles, many of the points, as well as the comments, speak to this issue directly.]

Now, here’s the deal: it’s very hard to turn towards your wife and really see her when your face is glued to the porn screen. Watch two-dimensional fakeness, body parts flying for your pleasure, and try to see your wife as anything more than disconnected pieces. It’ll be really hard, bro.

Porn kills love.

And watching porn keeps you from seeing your wife.

Porn is really expensive. Even the free stuff. Want a reminder of the cost? Check out Matthew 14 or Mark 6. The story of Herodias’s daughter dancing for Herod reminds me of the old anti-drug campaign in the States: This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs [porn]. Herod was willing to give away half his kingdom (or behead a prophet that he didn’t actually want dead] because he thought a teen girl was hot. Yikes.

Turn to God, man. Repent. Get some strong accountability. Yeah, it’s scary, and costly, but the price you’re paying is way higher, and climbing.

– Want to see what a porn addicted missionary looks like?
– And here’s a list of resources from A Life Overseas writer, Kay Bruner.


2. Listen to Her
Listening is an extremely validating gesture. It feels good to be listened to. It’s like someone cares. So yeah, you want to care for the heart of your wife? Listen to her. Want to see how you’re doing? Complete this short quiz and then have your wife do it too. Then compare scores.

If your scores are vastly different, that’s probably worth noting and may indicate that one or both of you aren’t really listening (or communicating) very well.

Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

Need help? Check out this book by John Gottman. He’s got decades of experience helping couples listen (and hear!) each other. By the way, his research indicates that healthy couples devote at least five hours per week to specific, focused, I’m-paying-attention-to-you time. If you’re too busy for five hours per week, you’re too busy. Find some margin.

Not interested in a book? Check out this short article with some basic (but important!) info on listening.

Not interested in research? That’s cool. Check out 1 Corinthians 13 and ask how a patient, kind, non-boasting, humble, non-demanding, non-irritable, non-record keeping husband would listen to his wife. Then listen to your wife like that.


3. Touch Her
Not like that, dude. Chill.

This one’s last, but not because I want you to see her and listen to her so you can sleep with her. That’s just crude.

No, that’s not the kind of touch I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of touch that tells her you’re there for her. I’m talking about comforting touch. Intimate touch.

I’m talking about touching her with your heart.

I’m talking about holding hands and long hugs. I’m talking about a soft kiss that has nothing to do with a proposition.

I’m talking about loving her with your arms. I’m talking about showing affection in a culturally appropriate way. Often.

Ladies, if you’re reading this (and I hope you are), please help us out. We’re not really very good at reading minds. Tell us what kind of touch you want and don’t want. And ladies, can I just say one more thing, it’s OK to want non-sexual touch and ask for it, just like it’s OK to want sexual touch and ask for it.


These are generalities, I know, so I won’t feel too bad if your wife reads this and says, “That’s not me at all!” Cool beans. Just makes sure you ask her what is her? What is it that will help her feel loved and cared for?

For our 5th wedding anniversary, I bought Elizabeth a large, framed periodic table of the elements. My dad warned me that might not be such a good idea. He was so wrong. I knew my wife, and although most folks wouldn’t find that sort of gift endearing, it was a slam dunk.

If you really took the time to see your wife, to listen to her, to touch her, would she feel cared for? Loved? Probably.

If not, then ask her what would help her feel cared for and loved. Easy Peasy.

You might be thinking, “OK, remind me again why this is on a missions site?”

Well, because you take yourself (and your marriage) with you.

And because it matters.

And because we’re most likely working with people, and people often get married, even in other countries.

And because marriage is The Beautiful Hard.

Oh yeah, and because I really, really like seeing “husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church.”

May God help us all to love our wives like that!

— Jonathan T.


Ladies, I know that many of you feel loved and cared for already. That’s wonderful! However, as a pastor and lay counselor, I also know that many of you don’t. You feel widowed by Missions, unheard, unloved, and alone. That really breaks my heart. If that’s the case, perhaps this article could spark a conversation between you and your husband. If he doesn’t want to budge, or if he thinks everything is just fine, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor or member care person. You’re not alone, or at least you don’t have to be.

The Language Learning Mother

I moved to Africa with two-and-a-half year old twins. One of the first things people ask me about that year is how I learned language, because I did. And I don’t feel like I abandoned my kids or neglected my husband in order to do it.

I’m focusing on the Mother here because I typically hear from moms. I don’t hear many dads wonder how they can learn the language while breastfeeding or potty training. A father has never asked for tips on getting through a language lesson while in the throes of morning sickness. I know dads have their own struggles to learn, my husband spent the early years working way over full-time as an English professor. I also know single men and women work loads of hours and lots of moms do too. But, all those caveats aside, here I’m writing to moms, especially moms with young children. Here’s what you do:

  1. Hire help
  2. Talk with your husband
  3. Use your kids
  4. Trust grace

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On help: Pay people. Give them jobs, give yourself a break. If you want to learn the language, you’re going to have to put in the time and if you have little kids and need to cook meals from scratch or sweep up the dust several times a day, you need someone to help. This is not a bad thing, it is more people to love your kids. After my youngest was born, I paid three women: house helper, nanny, and language tutor. They also ran errands or came with me to hold the baby while I shopped. They not only helped with the kids and home but provided relational outlets and cultural learning. Those are still precious relationships for our family and I wouldn’t change those years or the money spent for anything.

On husbands: For me to learn language and spend time with people, especially when the kids were young, meant that my husband had to also value that and help me do it. We had conversations about personal goals and family goals. We talked about lowering expectations. We ate peanut butter and jelly for dinner for years. We had a less than stellar clean house. We didn’t have a lot of decorations. It is valuable to have a home that feels welcoming and comfortable and families need to decide what the priority will be in those early years. It can not be: elegant home, delicious meals, no baby-sitters, and language fluency. Talk about it. Make decisions. Sacrifice for each other. If you and your husband want language learning to happen, you both have to make it happen.

On using your kids: Maybe a better way to put this would be ‘incorporate’ your kids, but either way, you’ve got little people who are cute and friendly and can break the ice. I used to sit outside our gate and when I saw a woman walking up the street, I’d order (ahem, ask) the kids to run up to her and say hello. Since they were little and a donkey cart could come run them over at any time, I would have to follow to keep them safe, and would find myself stumbling through an awkward but friendly conversation with a neighbor.

Above all, trust grace. Trust that the struggle to learn language and balance a healthy family life has value. We’re all a mess. We all wish we could have it all, we’ve all prayed for language ability that descends like it did in Acts 2. But then we would miss out on the humility, perseverance, joy, relationships, and marital conflict resolution skills that come hand in hand with language learning. So press on, moms with young children. Press on, warriors.

Moms, how did you learn the language?

Dads, what have you done to help your wife learn?

Other more general language learning tips?

How Does Working with Human Trafficking impact a heart, a marriage, and parenting?

I am delighted today to share a conversation with my friend Lauren Pinkston. Lauren is married and has a delightful toddler who will soon become a big sister through international adoption. Lauren is super energetic, fun, and so graciously open to chatting. She and her family live in Southeast Asia and work with human trafficking. I wanted to talk with her because I wondered how working with human trafficking impacts other aspects of being a Christian and a human.

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Lauren, first of all I love chatting about these kind of topics and I know you do too. Please share a little bit about where you live and the work you do a little bit about where you live and the work you do.

I live in a creative access country in SE Asia, so it is really difficult to talk about what I do. Based on the audience reading this interview, I believe people will understand the heart behind all the dreams I have for my work in this place. I am also greatly bent towards justice, so other than praying like crazy for Good News to be spread, I want to see physical redemption brought to the people of this land.

I work in the mornings at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where I’m writing my dissertation and researching human trafficking patterns in the area. In the afternoons, I direct a new social enterprise where we employ women who are seeking safe work…from girls in safe houses to women actually running brothels. We believe that if we rescue one girl from human trafficking, we will be opening up a spot for other girls to be victimized. So, slowly, we are developing relationships with brothel owners and offering employment if they shut down their business as usual and reopen their business as a handicraft co-op.

Being a wife and mom are my full-time, fun jobs. : )


Human trafficking seems so dark, I think many don’t even know how to approach the subject. What have you learned about darkness from your work? Paradoxically, how is it not as dark as you thought?

You know, there really is so much darkness. Just last week I sat across the table from a woman who answered a phone call from a man looking to buy a prostitute for the night. As I listened to her talk so casually about selling another woman’s body, I got so angry on the inside it took everything in me not to turn the table over and scream at her to get out of my workspace.

It reminded me of just how blatantly evil walks around on this earth, and how as Believers we forget about it. We stay tucked away in our comfortable faith communities where people understand us and think like us and welcome us. We do this even on ‘the field.’ I’m guilty! We just simply forget that the majority of the world is living unthinkable realities every day.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen how truly resilient humans are. It’s incredible to see the young girls we’ve employed giggling, running around, and going about their daily lives as if they haven’t experienced the horrible abuses they once knew. His redemption really can blot out painful pasts, and I am so thankful I get to witness this first-hand.

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How has working with human trafficking impacted your marriage (for good, or maybe in ways that have surprised you?)? 

I can honestly say that there are good and bad ways that this work has affected my marriage. Some days I am so disgusted by the stories I read and the things I see that I don’t have many positive things to say about men. Some days I am so emotionally tired that I have nothing left when I come home. And some days I can’t think about intimacy because the images and filth I’ve encountered are stronger than the relationship I have with my husband.

But MOST days, honestly almost ALL days…I am nothing but grateful to have my incredible husband standing beside me. He has become my biggest cheerleader in this line of work, and supports me day in and day out with such long-suffering. I am so thankful that the women and girls I interact with can also see me interact with a husband who is affectionate, kind, and patient. When they see a God-fearing man who leads his home with intentionality and fathers his daughter with such gentleness, they see the opposite of what they’ve experienced with men before. And THIS strengthens my marriage more than anything. I am so, so grateful that my story is one that includes my loving husband.


Tell us a little bit about your daughter and the tensions you may feel knowing that many who you work with are equally valuable to God, but for complex and varied reasons have had very different childhoods.

Wow – how did you know I feel that tension?! I feel it some with my biological daughter, but I REALLY feel it when I pray for the little girl my husband and I are adopting from Uganda. Knowing that in a few short years, if she wasn’t adopted, she could easily become another statistic as a human trafficking victim…whew. I feel a lot of feels.

I just want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR!!! on behalf of all the kids that don’t have safe home environments. It makes no sense that one child can have parents doting on every single developmental milestone while another is sold by her parents to pay of a small land debt. It literally makes me sick.

But that just takes me back to the power and the purpose of the Lord’s church. Shame on us when we don’t live out the incarnational person of Christ. Just shame on us. There are too many believers in this world to still have so many children at risk of exploitation. There are too many parents that need friends and mentors so that they can raise their own children to be happy and healthy. There are too many dark places without the slightest glimmer of light.


Any final remarks you’d like to make?

Well I guess while I’m preaching, I’ll just say this: I don’t understand why the church has so much trouble being the church.

I’m thinking about light and darkness a lot in this interview, so an image of an auditorium with a stage is coming to mind. You know how, when you have a really bright spotlight shining on a stage, the other parts of the room are still dark? And when you’re standing on the stage, if you look into the spotlight, it’s really hard to see anything else in the room? The light kind of blinds you for a minute.

I feel like so many times as the church, we are that spotlight. We all clump together in our safe huddles, and become this spotlight shining in one direction so that we are too overwhelming for the person standing in front of us, while the rest of the room is left in the dark.

For example, when a hot-button topic comes up in the news (like Planned Parenthood), we shout and scream and wave our Bibles so much that the rest of the world is blinded by our yelling. They can’t hear our message. The issue of abortion is center stage, but there are pregnant, single moms and orphans without homes scattered throughout the audience. No one is wandering into those dark places of the auditorium. We can’t all go to one orphan in a group. We can’t sit beside our friends if we go to that young, scared teenager. That’s all too uncomfortable.

How I wish we could just forget about being the spotlight and instead just carry a little cell phone flashlight. If we dispersed ourselves amongst all the people in the room without light, we could all see. Sitting side-by-side with those in need, offering the little we have, and being the church that believes in lighting up the whole world. With whatever talents we have, with whatever little thing we have to offer. Just spreading out our little so that the whole room is lit up.

Lauren, I love how you peer into the dark corners of the room and say to those sitting in the dark, “I see you. You are not forgotten and we are coming for you with the Love of Christ.” Now for the day when we can hang out for hours in person :).

How has your work impacted you as a person? How has it impacted your marriage or parenting? Any questions for Lauren?

If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, she can be found at:

instagram: @lmpinkston

When Spouses Travel: A Survival Guide for Marriage

plane“Your husband is gone again!? Wow, he’s gone all the time.”

When a friend told me this I paused, “Really?”

Was he travelling too much? Were we being reckless and affecting our children in negative ways? How much is too much, anyways?

Living overseas comes with a lot of unique lifestyle changes. One of them, for most families, is separation because of travel.

My husband travels to teach, preach, and visit ministry partners. Each family is different. Sometimes, mainly the husband travels. For others, it is the wife. For some, they travel to visit projects in their local province. Others journey across the globe to attend conferences. For some it is the constant need to fund-raise. At times it is for medical help or just to connect with family in your home country.

There are actually a lot of reasons we travel. Almost all of us have this in common… a husband or wife that needs to travel as part of their ministry or family needs.

Some families navigate this in healthy ways. Too often, though, it has had a devastating affect on the family bond. Some adult missionary kids still carry the pain of abandonment they felt with their fathers’ travel schedules.

As I write this I am on day 12 of a 16 day trip for my husband. But who’s counting!? (Me.) My husband does most of the travelling, but I do some as well. This can add up to a lot if we are not extremely careful.

We have seen wonderful and terrible examples of families navigating separation. Because of this we have sought input and have an ongoing dialogue. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.


1. Honest Communication

No amount of tips or tricks can replace honest and vulnerable communication. How do you each feel about the separation? I have seen situations where the husband just plans trips and the wife simply gets informed. I once saw a leader announce upcoming travel in a staff meeting. His wife found out about it with all the staff! Yikes!

Before any trip gets planned, husbands and wives need to really sit down and be honest about what each can handle.

We then need to truly listen.

I’m so glad we were told that every trip should be evaluated by both my husband and myself… not just what he thinks is best. Together we are honest if we feel this will work. We then decide together.


2. Avoid Obvious Disasters

We made some big planning mistakes in the early days. I remember one trip where my husband was gone for two weeks (the longest we do apart). Because we were new to South Africa, we had no clue about public and school holidays. My husbands trip was over an entire school break… so I was home, alone with the kids for two weeks straight in the dark, wet winter. It wasn’t pretty. We now have a golden rule… no travel over school holidays. Bad things happen to Mom’s sanity!

When looking at a potential separation, we now ask, “Is there any obvious practical reason this is a bad idea?”


3. Prefer One Another

Sometimes one spouse is all for a ministry trip (normally the one travelling) and the other is very overwhelmed by it (normally the one staying behind).

I once had a friend tell me, “Oh, my husband never travels, I don’t like it.”

“Does he like it though?” I asked.

She looked at me, “He loves it, it’s the most life-giving thing he does in ministry.”

I walked away respecting that the husband listened to his wife. But I also wondered if the wife could also make some sacrifices to enable her husband to do something he loved so dearly. Even if just very occasionally.

When we communicate how we feel about travel, my husband and I both ask the question, “How can I prefer my spouse?” There is no pat answer to that. Sacrifices are made on both sides.

The children also need to be preferred. Some couples evaluate trips with their children. They let the children have a voice. This was wonderful for the children to pray and be honest about how they are affected by the travel. What an amazing picture if Dad and Mom said “no” to a trip because of feedback from the kids.


4. Evaluate the Seasons

Not all travel is equal. I definitely found travel much harder when my children were toddlers. It was very challenging and left me at the end of my rope. We learned some hard lessons in that time. I learned how to ask for help. My husband learned that there might be more trips when the kids are older because his wife doesn’t thrive when left alone with whining toddlers!

Perhaps there are ministry challenges, sickness, depression issues, a challenge with a child, or something else that makes separation more challenging. Often a trip would be fine normally, but because of the “season,” it’s not a good idea.

Seasons are not forever. So, don’t be threatened to let seasons shape your travel plans. We try to keep very flexible with our “rules” knowing that each season will bring a different approach to separation.


5. Own the Decision

Once a trip has been planned, we need to own the decision. If we both say “yes” to a trip, we can’t act like a victim of the decision. We can’t pout that “I’m stuck at home while he/she is out getting all the glory.” This is immaturity, and it will hurt our marriages and children.

We have a voice, and now we need to embrace our choice.

I’ll be honest, in our early days I often would punish Chris when he would return, and he would punish me. “Making up for lost time,” we would call it. Upon returning home, the left-behind spouse often expects to be “paid back” for all the extra work they did to keep the home fires burning. We have to be so careful of this. Once the family is reunited, rejoice with the victories and have compassion for the struggles, but don’t silently punish your spouse if you feel “left behind.”


What about you? Do you feel you are managing travel well? What advice and lessons have you learned along the way?

headshot-lindsey-150x150Lindsey lives in Cape Town, South Africa as a missionary with Youth With a Mission. She grew up as a pastor’s kid and dreamed of being a missionary as long as she can remember. At the age of 19 she packed her bags and headed to Africa. She’s been living the missions life ever since. Lindsey is married to Chris Lautsbaugh and together they have 2 sons, Garett and Thabo. Her passion is teaching on relationships including marriage, parenting, dating, sexuality, and friendship. In South Africa she works at a University of the Nations campus, training young people to have a passion for Jesus and people. Lindsey writes at and is on Twitter (@mrslautsbaugh).

The Anchor and The Hurricane

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I’m a dreamer. I know it’s not really possible for me to save the world, but I still dream about it all the time. I’m a great starter. Full of passion and can-do spirit, I dive right in. Don’t try to warn or reason with me, the risks don’t really mean much.

My husband is a thinker. He sees a suffering world and carefully considers where and how he can make a difference. He starts slowly, thoughtfully, because there’s no real rush when you’re in it for the long haul. The risks are carefully considered and prepared for.

Our pastor likes to ask the question of married couples, “Are you the anchor or the hurricane?”

When a hurricane and an anchor move overseas, adversity doesn’t miss an opportunity.

True to myself, I dove right in. My new culture and language right outside my front door, I walked the neighbourhood streets for hours each afternoon. It didn’t matter that I didn’t actually have any words or phrases other than “Good morning”, “My name is Anisha” and “What’s that?” It didn’t matter that my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. I figured I’d just tread water while I searched for a ledge to grab on to.

Unfortunately for anchors, hurricanes tend to whip up everything in their path and carry them along, willingly or not.

The anchor would have preferred to learn more words first. To have a base to build meaningful friendships on rather than a bunch of friendly but rather shallow smiles. The anchor would have sought out relationships with expats who have been here for years instead of focusing exclusively on local relationships. He would listen for directions and, coached by the experiences of those who already know where to find the ledge, would swim confidently in the right direction.

It’s hard for hurricanes to slow down, but the anchor you love can only be tossed and carried along for so long.

We were warned, “Your marriage will be under attack. You have to stay in tune with each other. Nothing else matters.”

I didn’t see the break in the wall until the arrows struck. Illnesses, language difficulties, overwhelming feelings of powerlessness, loneliness, depression, anger – they each hit their mark. As we tried to recover our defences, me through eating my emotions and the anchor through stuffing his down inside, we only destroyed ourselves further. My weight ballooned, he became angry and mean.

Of all the lessons learned over the last year, this one is the hardest: In all my passion and enthusiasm I fail my anchor. While I ignore and criticize the needs and God-given qualities of the one I pledged my life and love to, the Adversary gains easy ground.

It took time, but we eventually learned how to fight back. We learned to honour each other through empathy, compromise, encouragement, and acknowledging our differences are not mistakes but God’s design.

The steady anchor qualities in my husband make him a capable and safe missionary pilot. My hurricane engages and holds the attention span of pre-schoolers. Free to be and love who God created us to be – we thrive.

The dreamer and the thinker, hurricane and anchor, joined together for one mighty purpose. Not to save the world or even figure out how to change a little part of it. Those reasons are much too small.

No matter where we are, no matter where we make our home, no matter what we make our profession – this union is not about our physical world. It’s really about reflecting God’s great love.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behaviour from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
(Ephesians 5:1-2 The Message)

What about you? Are you the hurricane or the anchor?

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