6 People that Kill Community {The Grove}

We’ve heard it for years, right? That statistic.

“The number one reason overseas workers leave the field is because of other overseas workers.”

Someone please tell me this is no longer true. Tell me we’ve grown up and beyond that.

I don’t know what the statistics are currently. I do know from experience that overseas community, like any community, is messy. Overseas circumstances and sin and stress and personalities can bundle into big ugly ordeals that send people packing.

Or it can lead to people living alongside each other in strained, awkward relationships.

I’ve seen enough of community overseas to see some patterns, paths that we fall into that end up killing community among us. It’s not an exhaustive list because that would be a book. It draws mainly from the female experience, but I think you’ll agree it’s not gender exclusive.

Today I’d like to offer up a word about…

6 People that Kill Community Among Cross-Cultural Workers

Let’s start with a description of each.

  1. The Idealist

She loves community. She knows how amazing it is meant to be. She comes in fresh and excited, but before long she gets really disappointed. Her community is a far cry from what she longs for. She prods and pushes and pines away for real community, but ends up squelching the thing she wants most.

  1. The Withdrawn

This is the veteran who has been around for a long time and has said way too many goodbyes. She keeps relationships at a safe distance, because people are just going to up and leave again. She can’t take that pain anymore.

  1. The Competitor    

She needs to show she’s strong and capable. It might be through language learning, or relationship building, or difference making, the numbers saved. Maybe it’s through house keeping, or cooking, or party-throwing, or homeschooling, but through it all, she’s out to prove herself. She likes her weaknesses to stay safely hidden, and has a really hard time when those weaknesses inevitably show through.

  1. The Butterfly

She flits from this relationship to that, trying to meet everyone’s needs, last of all her own. She’s a people pleaser, and she wants so much to be all that everyone expect of her. But she’s deep down worn out, and doesn’t know how much longer she’ll last like this.

  1. The Independent

She’s here for Jesus, to do his work. She came to help lost and hurting people, so relationships with other foreigners are not high on her priority list. Maybe some people need to “hang out” with other expats, but not her. She’d rather you just left her alone to do her kingdom work.

  1. The Checked-Out

Her mind is made up. She’ll be leaving. Return tickets are in her inbox. It’s only a matter of time now. Mentally and emotionally, she’s done with this place and these people, ready to get on with her life. So, excuse her, please, she’s got packing to do.


Perhaps you’ve lived in community with some or all of these people. I think many of you have been on the painful end of these relationships.  For that, I’m so sorry. I understand, because… I have too. And yeah, it hurts.

But also, maybe you see yourself described above. Because… I know I do. I drew from first-person experience here. I’ve been most of them at different times.  For that, I am deeply sorry.

Here’s a word for each of the six community killers. A little something I’ve learned and am learning.

  1. Dear Idealist,

In his book, “Life Together” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,

“He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter… if we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”

He says we are to “enter into that common life (with the body of believers) not as demanders but as thankful recipients.”   Doing that, my dear idealist, will change your life.

  1. Dear Veteran,

You’ll regret it, you know. You’ll keep your heart safe and removed and then you’ll wish you hadn’t. Because you’ll see glimpses of the richness you missed out on because you held back. Yes, it will hurt again, but the pain of goodbyes means you have loved well. And that is a sweeter pain than the bitter taste of regret. The heart has an amazing capacity to stretch and love again and again, if you’ll but let it.

  1. Dear Competitor,

I know it seems hopelessly wired in your DNA, that drive to prove you’re just as good or better. Did you know it’s contagious too? When you try to outshine me, I feel pressured then to outshine you. And that’s just silliness. How old are we? How about I acknowledge your gifts, accept your weaknesses and you do the same for me? Let’s run this race together. I’ll lean on you and you lean on me. Because, wow, that’s a better way to live.

  1. Dear Butterfly,

In trying to be everything to everyone, you’ve lost yourself. Real community will want the real you, a healthy you. The real you needs to pull out that dusty word named, “No.” You need to say it with a smile, then turn around and go take a nap. When you wake up, make a list of things that re-fill your own unique, God-breathed soul. Then take some daily time and a day every week to do those things.

  1. Dear Independent,

They will know we are Christians by our love, by how we how we, the Jesus people, love one another. The work of God is to usher people into the family. We’re not meant to fly solo, friend. We’re meant to be a body. The community of God consists of those you came here for and those you are serving with. To discriminate between the two goes against the values of the kingdom. Our relationships with each other show the world what it is to be born again community.

  1. Dear Checked-Out,

It’s natural to begin to disengage when transition is coming. But please, please, can we part well? Can we reconcile our differences? Can we toast the good times and hard? Can we laugh long over the memories we share? I need to do that with you, to build an altar that says that this chapter mattered, that you matter to me.  So put down the bubble wrap and come have tea with me.


I know the sad truth. I’ve seen the sad stories. People still leave the field because of other overseas workers. Supposed allies became enemies, inflicting wounds too great to bear and stay.

But you know what? There’s my story too. And my story says, “I’ve stayed on the field, in large part, because of other overseas workers.”

Yes, the community of overseas workers is a messy ordeal of a motley crew, but also, it’s an amazing thing with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known.

They’ve shown me how to live like Jesus in this foreign place.

They’ve believed in God’s hand in my life, when I doubted it myself.

They’ve been the ones to sit and ask, “How are you doing?” and want to know the real answer.

They’ve adopted my kids as their niece and nephews.

They’ve been there for birthday parties and Christmas mornings and white elephant gifts.

They’ve been the ones I’ve cried tears with in hospital rooms.

They’ve given me oregano when my bottle is empty.

They’ve seen me through my community killing phases. They’ve loved me through these seasons and are helping me grow beyond them.

No, community is never perfect or easy, it is hard and real and very, very… good.


Which of these community killers have you experienced?  Which ones do you see in yourself?  What is God teaching you about it?

Needing a dose of real community?  There’s a few spots left in our spring Connection Groups available here.


This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions.

Photo Source : Unsplash


  1. Amy Young February 26, 2015

    Danielle, this is so beautiful and right on. When I was in the last year before a Home Assignment I was worn out of all the people moving in and out of my life. I got a new family teamed with me that year and told myself I’d be kind and polite but not overly close. Well, that family wormed into my life and heart and I’m so thankful they did. A year after that time, I felt led to email them and tell them: “You knew I was coming off a crappy time and season of loss, but I have come to realize that knowing you is more important in my life than the garbage I was going through. If I had to pick it all over again and to miss out on the yuck meant I’d miss out on you. I pick you. I love you and am so thankful you wormed your way into my heart.” And guess what, now that they are on HA, who is staying at my house this week? Community is worth it.


    (But for those of you teamed with people who are not safe or are unstable, I also understand that we are each reasonable for dealing with our own “stuff” so that we can be as safe and stable for community as possible. Not all community is equally safe or wise to invest in. Now, if you’re going through a hard time and need a lot from community, I see that as being VERY, VERY different from being an overall unstable, unhealthy person, marriage, or family.)

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 26, 2015

      Thanks, Amy.  And yes, I have similar relationships with people who wormed their way into my removed heart.  So thankful for them!

      I’m so glad you brought up the point about relationships that are not safe.  Didn’t have room to expand on that in the post, but it’s such an important fact that there ARE times when there are relationships that you should remove yourself from.

      And there are even seasons where I think it’s okay to step back a bit from certain aspects of and commitments to community when you need to focus on personal healing.  It’s a fine line to do that and not fall into isolation.

  2. Jessica Hoover February 26, 2015

    I would add one type to this. The Broken. Our experience overseas involved a difficult relationship with senior staff who were extremely wounded and broken people. They were people who still managed to do good work, but mentally, spiritually, etc…were hurting. It was hard to work under them for many reasons. It still is difficult for me to talk about and it just impacted me deeply about the need for good member care. This was a great post Danielle! Yes, I too hope that statistic is changing.

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 26, 2015

      Yes, Jess, that’s definitely another type.  Wounds and brokenness, when left untended, lead to all kinds of pain for those around the person.  I am so, so sorry for the pain you experienced.  It’s beautiful to see your heart and understanding for them even when it was such a difficult relationship.  It’s amazing to see how God can use those painful relationships to spur us on toward good things.  I see that in the way you pour yourself into member care (both directly and in supporting your husband to do so).

      1. Anonymous February 27, 2015

        What do you do when your organization doesn’t provide member care? And how do you deal with upper level leadership who fall into either the withdrawn or the broken types? I’ve heard veiled comments from others here about a certain person, who had mostly been patient with me, up until now… But it’s true, experiencing it myself makes me want to leave, if not the field then the organization. I don’t want to respond so drastically, but in moments like this it feels like community has been killed and I’m hesitant to bring it up and try to deal with it… I don’t want to open myself up again to this person’s harsh criticism over a small mistake.

        1. Danielle Wheeler February 27, 2015

          I’m so sorry for the pain you’ve been through and for the lack of support you’ve experienced.  If you’re looking for suggestions, I’d recommend going to Link Care in Fresno, CA if possible or doing coaching with CMI. Either of these could help you process what you’ve been through and help you evaluate if your current situation and organization are a good fit for you.  Praying that you get the support you need.

  3. JulieB February 26, 2015

    Thank you for the balance you all present in both the post and the comments.  So good.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about community this week and have been reading some posts by Kara Tippets http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com – She is a young mom who is getting ready to meet Jesus.  I am a bit jealous, in a good way, of the community that has surrounded her and her family.  Sadly,  this kind of loving community seems rather rare.  (For instance, she has never spent a night in the hospital alone during all of her battles with cancer because of her girlfriends – her husband most often was home caring for the 4 children).   I think that people are attracted to her and her family because of the love she has for the Lord and for people.  There is no question, that kind of love is totally contagious.  Kara is focused on pointing people to Jesus, her first love, in the middle of a very real, hard, broken,and messy time.  One quote from her blog this week regarding community that I have been mulling over was, “Community is not found – you build community one love brick at a time.”  I loved that thought.  So true.  It doesn’t happen over night.  It takes intention to build community and she and her husband have done it beautifully.  I definitely want to be part of that kind of a community – one that loves Jesus and each other so well.

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 27, 2015

      Julie, I had heard about this woman’s story via word of mouth.  I’m so glad to have the link to read more.  Thanks for sharing!  And that quote… “Community is not found, it is built one love brick at a time.”  That is some hard, beautiful truth right there.

  4. Elizabeth February 26, 2015

    So interesting that you identified the Idealist in Bonhoeffer’s quote. My husband and I had that exact same conversation when he was reading Bonhoeffer last year. 🙂

    I think after a while we are all tempted to be the Withdrawn. It’s a package deal, this living overseas, this hurting over and over again from all the goodbyes. I think we can all relate to that one. You’re right also that we all go through seasons, and after an especially hard goodbye we might be more withdrawn than at other times. (Ahem, upcoming Expat Exodus in May and June. Ouch. I’m going to have another painful one. Still mostly in the denial stage at this point.) For those times, it’s ok to withdraw to a solitary place and grieve a while.

    On the Competitor . . . more and more I am convinced this competition comes from insecurity. We compete because we feel we don’t measure up, because we feel other people are judging us, but as you say, it’s contagious. When we overcompensate for our insecurity, we are basically screaming to other people that they don’t measure up either, which perpetuates the cycle. Maybe all we really need to be screaming is, somebody please help me feel worthy! Somebody please show me how Jesus loves me and thinks of me! Show me so I can feel it! Yes maybe there are really people out there who are competing because they have a pathological need to compete and be better than everyone else, and it’s because they actually think they’re better. Yes, there are those people. But I think often it’s the other way around, and what Community can do for us is to break down those barriers and really love someone, love someone so hard and so long until they don’t feel they have to compete anymore. But then, maybe I am an Idealist in the power of community 🙂

    For me, my tendency is to be that Butterfly. I have to guard my own time with Jesus so that meeting other people’s community needs flows out of my own needs being met. And sometimes I have to say no. And sometimes I say yes and regret it later. 😉 The Butterfly is the hardest for me to avoid.

    As I said, I am a true romantic when it comes to the community found in the Church. But it’s not for lack of bad experiences! I’ve had plenty of those. . . It’s just that the good experiences have meant so much to me. Some of my community experiences are where I have experienced God the deepest. (I wrote some about that here http://trotters41.com/2015/02/23/the-church-hungry-for-community/  and will continue to share my heart there over the next several months.) I have had enough good Community in my life that it makes my heart believe in God’s great plan, and makes me hopeful that we can continuing cultivating community anywhere in the world. Yay God!

    1. Elizabeth February 27, 2015

      I think another issue I have as a Butterfly happens in larger groups like on Sundays. I want to talk to All the People. I want to catch up with everyone and find out how they’re really doing. The problem is, if I spend a bunch of time with one person, really connecting heart to heart, I feel bad that I wasn’t able to connect with another person on a deep level because there wasn’t enough time. I want everyone to know how much I love them, but I’m so constrained by the bounds of time and space! In those times it’s not that I don’t have “enough to give,” or that I should say no for my own sanity, it’s just that there’s not enough time to fully connect with all the people I care about. So that’s a definite problem for the Butterfly!

      1. Danielle Wheeler February 27, 2015

        Elizabeth, I’m looking forward to the day when I get to be the one to sit and have a heart to heart with you. 🙂

    2. Danielle Wheeler February 27, 2015

      Elizabeth, I read that book 9 years ago and that is the one quote from the book that has stayed with me.  Love that it stood out to you guys too.

      So, so sorry for the painful goodbye you have coming up.  Nope, doesn’t get any easier.  And thanks for bringing up that valid point, that it’s okay to get solitary and grieve for a while.

      I love how you describe the insecurity cycle.  That’s exactly how it is.  And I believe with you in the power of community to love so hard and so long that people don’t have to compete anymore.  May it be so!

      And the Butterfly…yep, I struggle there too.  And that’s the tricky one, because it doesn’t come off as a community killer, and is in fact encouraged in lots of communities.  Many Christian communities encourage people to say yes and serve and please everywhere, all the time.  But I’m convinced that the healthy communities don’t.

      And you should link up your beautiful post!!  The Bride truly is amazing, isn’t she?

  5. brooke February 27, 2015

    I find myself in many of these. Like previously said, I rotate between one or the other. I do think that when situational changes happen it will cause one or the other to rear it’s ugly head. For instance when everyone on my station was gone for furlough or extended research in other countries, I had to adjust to being more involved with the nationals. When they returned, they wanted a lot of time in community but I had filled the gaps with ministry and my national community. It was hard to balance the ex-pat community with my national community. I had to be Independent for a Season and then came off as being a Veteran to others when they came back.
    This was my “coping” mechanism, but it also hurt nationals when I lessened my time with them for my ex-pat community. How do you find a balance for your own longevity?

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 28, 2015

      Brooke, you’ve described the tension so well.  How do we walk the line between “I don’t need other expats” and “I live in an expat bubble”?  I honestly think the answer is different for every person, and as you’ve said, even different for one person in different seasons.

      I think it’s a combination of evaluating my own capability, the needs of the individual relationships, and then following the nudging of the Holy Spirit.  And then if I’ve truly done that, the challenge then is to let go and be at peace with the decisions, especially if it doesn’t please everyone.

      All easier said than done, right? 🙂  Grace for the journey!

      1. T March 2, 2015

        I think that gentle communication with the expats is also important.  Saying things very clearly like, “I really value my time with you and I’m so excited that you’re back!  Let’s plan to have a long visit and catch up.”  Then, maybe during that time, you could express what you’ve been doing and how your relationships with the nationals have grown, which means….  I know that it may be too late now, but…maybe next time?  Communication about expectations is a thing that I like to shy away from, but it is like shooting myself in the foot.  Also, I feel weird saying things so outright, like, “I really value my time with you,” but that is how I feel and if I say it, it can be so helpful for people to know I’m not rejecting them.

  6. Kelly February 27, 2015

    Guilty of quite a few- but so grateful for grace. And second chances! Mostly I’d say I’m a mix of idealist and butterfly. Keeps me busy! I think the bottom line for me is I need to relax and receive- not always be the giver. And enjoy the relationships that are right in front of me, not pine away for what was. Thank you for this thought-provoking post!

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 28, 2015

      Yeah, I know that busyness. 🙂  Amen to grace and second chances!  And “receive and relax” – good words.  Those could be great “breath prayers.”  Breathe in, “receive,” breathe out, “relax.”  I think I need to try that out! 🙂

  7. Laurie February 27, 2015

    When I first read this post, I knew immediately who I am if left to my own ways, without the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit. Madam Independent, reporting for duty!

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 28, 2015

      Ha!  Thanks for your honesty, Laurie.  So glad the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up on us with the gentle prodding!

  8. Sharon February 27, 2015

    Beautifully written! There was one point about 4 months in that I was about to explode and literally, part of the conversation went, “I should not feel this way. I love you and want to keep on loving you. I refuse to give up this whole venture because of how I feel right now and I’m gonna choose to love you from here on out.” I changed my expectations of her (because I was a disappointed idealist) and I’m happy to report that over EIGHT years later, she remains one of my favorite people in the whole world, and we both still live on the same side of the world. All to the glory of God.

    I’ve been the Independent and I’m praying that as I approach year 10, I won’t start doing the veteran thing.

    My husband and I have a banner we wave, “Thankfulness is the cure for what ails you.” Nearly every time we’ve gotten our feathers ruffled, dousing a huge bucket of Thankfulness onto the conversation/situation/expectation has done more good than its weight in gold.

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 28, 2015

      Sharon, what a great story!  Isn’t that the amazing thing about community?  That when you dig through the hard stuff, you actually find deeper, better relationships on the other side?

      And I LOVE that quote, “Thankfulness is the cure for what ails you.”  Oh, that that would always be our response to “ruffled feathers.”  Trying to train my kids in that too.  Next time I’ll use the “dousing a huge bucket of thankfulness” imagery. 🙂

  9. Jennifer March 1, 2015

    Thank you for this post.  I was reading from the top feeling convicted that I have been each of these things as well as suffering from them.  So it was spot on to scroll down and see that you noticed that too.  We studied Bonhoeffer’s book too and I wrote the same quote out.  Straight out of college we made a team of friends just because we went as students and saw how poorly overseas workers related.  What naiveté to think we could engineer a way to avoid sin.  I will be sharing this post with our teams.  Thanks.

  10. Kristi March 1, 2015

    I KNOW I was the idealist when I first moved overseas.  I had so many expectations for “team” of which I was unaware.  I also has so many positive experiences with others in ministry (and a wonderful network of friends to help with the not so positive) that I was not prepared to love others (expat believers) who were so different from me.

    But I was/am also the withdrawn.  I. HATE. Good-byes.  Of all the things that have rocked my little word “losing” people has been the absolute hardest thing I’ve had to do.

    I wrote the following reflection on “community” as I considered it this week.


    The Call to Commuity

    Receive My people


  11. Kristi March 1, 2015

    Oops.  Slip of the finger on the keyboard.  Sorry.

    The Call to Community

    Receive My people

    in all of their imperfections

    where your rough edges meet theirs

    sparks may fly

    but a truer image of Me will burst into light


    Receive My people

    with all their varied personalities

    where your dreams mix with theirs

    doors may open

    and the world may glimpse My grace


    Receive My people

    the boisterous and the reserved

    where strength and gentleness kiss

    hearts may bloom

    and all may feel My love


    Receive My people

    Your brothers and sisters

    where family is birthed by My blood

    heartache may come

    but you and I will bear it together



  12. Jewel March 1, 2015

    Well written.  I think I could identify myself in each category at some point or another. But the one that I think of the most, is ‘The Idealist’.    “Her community is a far cry from what she longs for. She prods and pushes and pines away for real community, but ends up squelching the thing she wants most.”  I want life to be like it was…  But I need to enjoy what I have.  Relationships change, responsibilities change, etc.  I will enjoy the good I have now and not complain about what I don’t have – in relationships.  Sometimes our expectations of others, kills.

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