I had the privilege of being on a team in Cambodia with my sister and brother-in-law. I asked my brother-in-law, Ben Tillotson, to share about the joys and struggles of being a father and husband on the field.
Can you share a little bit of your story with us?
In 2012 I met my wife Beth on a short term trip to Cambodia. We both shared a heart for cross-cultural ministry and for Cambodia in particular. We got married a year later, and in 2014 we began the process of becoming long-term workers in Cambodia. We moved to Phnom Penh in January 2016 with our 15-month old son Caleb and another baby on the way. We joined a team there that focused on church planting and discipleship and we began to learn the language, which was the main focus of our two years there. We had planned on living many years in Cambodia, but God had other plans for us, and in 2018 we moved back to the States.
What aspect of ministry and life overseas did you enjoy the most?
I enjoyed the relationships that I made at the language school we attended. I worked one-on-one with several teachers at the school, who became my close friends. They were an essential part of our survival in Cambodia and our cultural adjustment. Because of them we really enjoyed our time there. It was also a unique opportunity to disciple them as we read through scripture on a daily basis as a part of the language curriculum.
What was the most challenging?
Language school provided some of the greatest joys but also some of the greatest challenges. The first year was the hardest, learning basic communication skills and new phonetic sounds and failing over and over again. I never knew my brain could hurt so much! I also struggled focusing in the sweltering heat.
What steps did you take to balance ministry and your family?
Time together as a family was crucial for my emotional well-being. I made sure to set aside time each day to spend together, and one day a week (usually Saturday) was set aside entirely for family time – no language study. I would also take our oldest son Caleb to language school some days, and even though I was preoccupied with studying, we were able to share that experience together. One favorite Saturday activity was going to the big air-conditioned mall, just to wander around and visit the toy stores and bookstore.
What were some of the things you worried about?
I worried about our family being isolated, lacking close relationships with other expats. We were rarely around other native English speakers, which was great for immersion into language and culture, but difficult emotionally. I also worried about the lack of good medical facilities and tried not to think about ever having to use the local hospitals. My family’s safety was always a concern, especially when walking on the streets in the midst of all the traffic and traveling by motorcycle.
In what ways did you feel supported in your work/life overseas? What advice would you give for better supporting our brothers who are serving overseas?
I felt supported by our weekly video chats with our family, as well as the occasional chats with other close friends in the States. It was easy for me to feel forgotten sometimes when living overseas, so being able to maintain those relationships was important for me. I think one of the most supportive and encouraging things is to not let those relationships fade, but to maintain communication with your friends serving overseas and to be the one to initiate that communication often.
Thank you, Ben, for sharing honestly with us!
In what ways can you identify with what Ben had to say? How have you learned how to balance work and time with your family?