My Team is My Body

When people ask me, “What is the hardest part of living overseas?” my immediate response is “Getting along with other expats.”

 It sounds so incredibly 7th grade, I know. But we are a strong-willed, convicted, highly emotional crew. And when you stick a bunch of us on a team and say, “Now go be best friends,” well, it doesn’t just happen that easily.

The storming happens. The annoyances occur. The feelings are hurt.

There was one day that I found myself so frustrated with certain people on my team that I hoped they would fail overseas and choose to go home.

It would be so much easier to do this work by myself. It would be so much faster and more efficient to put team meetings and team fellowship aside and just DO THE WORK.

After all, I came here to serve native people, didn’t I? I never intended to spend all my time coddling the emotional needs of my teammates abroad!

I would honestly never want *the field* to claim anyone. Yet there I was that day anyway, wishing this very thing on my teammates.

Wow. Sin. Sin in my heart.

I am being overly vulnerable here making you privy to my ugly thoughts. Give me some grace, girls.

Because after spending some time in Romans 12, I’ve been jolted back to a new reality. GOD’S reality.

And that reality is this:

AS A FAITH-FILLED EXPATRIATE, MY TEAM IS MY CHURCH.

When my Creator tells me to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12: 18), He’s including my team.

When my Heavenly Father tells me to love others with brotherly affection (Romans 12: 10), He’s talking about my team.

When my Redeemer tells me to outdo my peers in showing honor (Romans 12: 10), He’s referring to my team.

I have absolutely no right to love people in a different language if I’m not giving love in my own language first.

And where I live, the people who speak my language are on my team.

…………….

A dear teammate and I have had our ups and downs over the course of our first year overseas together. But any time we have needed to talk something out, I have appreciated so much her desire to sit and pray with me.

We are opposites in every way. Introvert and extrovert. Stay-at-home-mom, working mom. Humble and quiet, loud and forthright. There’s lots of room for tension here, especially when we’re sharing team time and language study and raising toddlers together.

But the greatest testimony of our first year abroad is not how much new vocabulary we’ve learned or how well we can maneuver our way around this city.

We rejoice in the fact that we love each other more than ever before. We haven’t given up. We haven’t turned away from each other.

We’ve kept pursuing what we knew would benefit everyone in the long run: TEAM.

And it’s simply because we’re the church here! Even if it’s just her and me in the room…we are the church. And the church doesn’t quit when things are hard.

Love never fails. Love doesn’t boast. Love isn’t self-seeking.

My friend and I have said that if we leave this country where we’re working and not a soul has been saved, but we still love each other, there is victory in that.

I am deeply convicted that our relationships with our teammates overflow into our relationships with host nationals.

We at Velvet Ashes are here to encourage and affirm you. We want to validate your feelings and give you a safe place to be understood.

But we also want to encourage you to go the extra mile. To die to yourself in whatever capacity that is today. We want to edify you and motivate you to be the healthiest person you can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Maybe this week that looks like reconciling a relationship on your team. Maybe it means you decide to love your teammate enough to be honest about how she’s hurt you. Maybe it means going out of your way to be kind to a teammate who has consumed your energy.

Regardless, let us desire something deeper than feel-good and back-patting posts from each other. Let us quit seeking our own validation and seek to make His name great through our love.

If the church is Jesus’ bride, how dare we defile her, in our passport countries or in our host cultures. Let us honor her, esteem her, and uphold her in a way that makes those around us rise to their feet and gaze in awe at the beauty they behold.

It starts with our teams, my friends. And I’m the greatest of sinners when it comes to missing this ministry right before my eyes.

How have you found it difficult to resolve conflict on your team? How has the Father convicted you to persevere through those difficult times? Do you have any verses you could share to preach to our hearts when times are tough?

16 Comments

  1. Jillian Rogers April 7, 2015

    Wow, this was a very good read! I think Lauren hit the nail on the head. Often times the hardest part of living overseas isn’t the culture stress or any thing related to our host countries. It’s the interpersonal relationships on the field, instead, that deliver the most difficult blows. Kudos for bringing up such a sensitive topic and for the vulnerability to work towards peace. I will be referring to this article as a team leader many times.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 8, 2015

      Thanks, Jillian, for your affirmation! I’m excited to look around your website more. Beautiful pictures!

  2. JulieB April 7, 2015

    Yes…..great thoughts!  Love two particular lines in this – ” I have absolutely no right to love people in a different language if I’m not giving love in my own language first.”  YES!  We have to get the logs out of our own eyes first!  And the other line – ” Let us quit seeking our own validation and seek to make His name great through our love.”  The great commandment to love God first and love our neighbors.  And it is through loving our team mates that people will be attracted to our Great God.  Thanks for giving us lots to think about as we look deep into our own hearts and our relationships.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 8, 2015

      Julie, it means so much to me that you caught the vision of this article and see the importance of doing the heart work. Thanks for affirming the Spirit’s teaching in my life!

  3. Casey April 8, 2015

    Another great article on a hard topic, friend! I love, love, love that you have the kind of relationship with that particular teammate to be able to share this post with us. What a joy and testimony to God’s loving work in you both. “My friend and I have said that if we leave this country where we’re working and not a soul has been saved, but we still love each other, there is victory in that.” There is such truth in this statement, such great, humbling truth because the flip side is also true: If we stop loving each other and many souls are saved, there is great loss. Thank you for your convicting writing, and may God bless and grow your team relationships ever deeper.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 8, 2015

      Thank you for explicitly stating the flip side, friend! Our team leaders worked all across Africa for 17 years and said that when they went back to visit a certain work they were a part of, the local Body was arguing and fighting. Their comment? “You taught us about Jesus, but you never taught us how to get along with each other!” So, SO important that we are the Gospel with flesh on. Living out all the things we dream about for every people.

  4. Martha April 8, 2015

    It is wonderful to broach these topics.  I would have to say that I think it might be a bit better to suggest that it is VERY important to make the very best possible of our relationships with our teammates WHILE we are learning to love our neighbours, rather than to state unequivocally that “I have absolutely no right to love people in a different language if I’m not giving love in my own language first.”  I think we not only have the right but are commanded to do our best as Christians to love everyone – and that may look different for different situations.  I do appreciate the basic idea very well – but I just don’t think that it is as linear as the way the statement sounds. Our lives are a messy web of fluctuating interrelationships and we will always need to grow in grace, to keep taking those logs out of our own eyes again and again, not just “first”.  God only demands that, as much as possible, as much as depends on us, we be at peace with all people. And some people may refuse to be at peace with us.  There is only so much we can control. Our relationships with teammates, home churches, local people, family – in fact, everyone we know! –  will ebb & flow, changing over time and through the process of our sanctification. I would hope that learning to love our neighbours would help us love our teammates more.  God will use all these means for our good and His glory, even if we’re a bit lame.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 9, 2015

      Thanks for your thoughts, Martha. I didn’t mean to use conflicting semantics. Like I wrote to Casey above, all I mean is that our work with others can be completely negated when we aren’t loving those in front of us well. Thanks for adding to the richness of this discussion! Great thoughts!

  5. Teddy Copeland April 8, 2015

    I think conflict among team members is one of the tools used most effectively by Satan. He doesn’t want to see a church planted or grow and so he sows discord. He encourages envy and criticism and pride. This was one of the biggest surprises of our time abroad.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 11, 2015

      So things haven’t changed much? Thanks for always reading and sharing your wisdom with me!

  6. MaDonna April 8, 2015

    I agree with the above, getting along with your team can be one of the most challenging aspects of living overseas that makes your head spin because it isn’t what you thought would be difficult. I honestly think that God uses those times to teach us to work together as a body of believers.

    I think what has gotten me many times is comparing myself to others and wishing I had their “gift” or their talent. God showed me these verses quite a few years ago and I’d say that it is true, but honestly it is quite beautiful when we all do what we were meant to do. Okay the verses….Rom. 12:4-8 and 1 Corinth. 12:12 – we are all members of one body and when we stop comparing, judging, being critical (of self and others) and just do what are gifting/talents are – we can see the beauty of the body of Christ. God showed me this at one team outreach – He stepped me back and let me watch the ebb and flow of how his body of believers can work together as one….like an orchestra where each have their own parts, but without the others it just doesn’t sound right.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 11, 2015

      I love what you’ve described here, MaDonna! Our team was recently discussing this very thing, and one of my teammates said something that really stuck with me! If one of us has a certain gift, then our entire team gets to take credit for that gift because we are a part of the same body. I thought you might like that, too. 🙂

  7. Jennifer April 9, 2015

    From my perspective it is important to recognize that it is not just the intra-team relationships which need to be made right, but also relationships with outsiders to the team, especially other foreigners, who are not strictly speaking “team” but who in a significance sense are still part of the same body, and are often in the eyes of the outside cross-cultural world in the same “box” in many ways. What to do, other than pray, when a “team” seems simply not prepared to talk to resolve misunderstandings and their impact, is something I continue to grapple with, including just when is the time to simply walk away despite the clear challenge from God and from what I read in the bible to make things right. To me that challenge is not restricted to those who are part of the same “team”.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 11, 2015

      Thanks for bringing this up, Jennifer. We most definitely are also under the same obligation to all people in the household of faith, whether they are on our team or not. All of our relationships link back to our personal relationship with God. But like you, I recognize that it is not always easy. We can’t control others’ actions. We can only take care of our hearts towards others.

  8. brooke April 9, 2015

    I find it hard to explain to people at home the dynamics of “team” on the field. “Team” has many dynamics all rolled up into one, that makes it special and difficult.

    1. We are family.  We become Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Grandparent, … Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions and life moments are shared with each other.  That happens in most workplaces, but we don’t have a choice whether or not to spend holidays with our co-workers.      This balance is important to everyone. Even the introverts in the group need this family.  We are friends but we are also family. In many fields we cannot seek friendships outside of our team because there is no one else. That is where this family is different.  At home you have family events, but then you have your own friends with whom you share special times as well.

    2.  We work together.  Depending on how the field is set up, we may have joint work places and visions. We must work together under the leadership of some of our team. We must work together to be a united team in our relationship to nationals. We must hold each other accountable.  And yet we also work with nationals. We have national friends and national co-workers.  They have views based on their own culture and we are living in their culture.  There are times when one or another team member may want to side with the nationals in certain decisions based on their perception of the culture. Finding that balance is hard.

    3. Friends. We are family and coworkers and friends. We need to help each other by being friends with each other. Even if there are only 3 of you, you must be friends.  Some of us don’t feel the need or friends as much as others.  Being sensitive to that is important. It goes both ways. The social types can overwhelm the introverts and the introverts can seem uncaring to the socialites.

    4. Time. We have to balance time spent with nationals and time spent with co-workers. I’ve seen the extremes in this area. Some live in a bubble of all expats while others live only with nationals and have little contact with expats.   There is no correct formula for this time spent but each case must be decided by those involved and not be judged by those on the outside.

    Without constant personal spiritual growth we will become unbalanced.  May the Lord guide each of us in our “teams”.

    1. Lauren Pinkston April 11, 2015

      This is so spot-on, Brooke. Thank you for articulating this for all of us! I resonate with every piece 🙂

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