A Look at Calling, Mistakes, and Care for Cross-Cultrual Workers {Book Club}

As we get further into Kay (and Andy) Bruner’s story in As Soon As I Felllet me quote from one of the comments last week:

I have already finished the book–once I started, I couldn’t stop! It is so personal and honest and I see myself in some of the ways Kay thinks and deals with stress. That’s scary, but in a good way. I am definitely challenged to rethink many of my assumptions, as well. Lisette Lewis

In creating a window for us to observe her life, Kay has also made a mirror where we can look at our own lives. Last week we looked at how our childhoods had prepared us for the field and today we’re going to dive in to the ministry aspect of living overseas. Kay sent me these questions in the discussion guide she wrote to go with the book:

The Call

  • How do we understand “God’s will” and “God’s call” in our lives?
  • Jesus said that we should deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23).
  • Jesus also said that we should come to him if we’re weary and he will give us rest (Matthew 11:28).
  • Where is the line between self-sacrifice and self-care?
  • How does that work for you, in your daily life?
  • What are reasonable ministry expectations for parents?
  • How do we balance ministry and family life?
  • Is there a different expectation for those “in full time service”? Is that okay or not?
  • What about the “Cross-cultural mommy wars” between “ministry” and “home” working wives?


  • How do we know if we’re in God’s will?
  • Is the question of “being in God’s will” even the right question?
  • What about our free will?
  • What happens when we’ve made bad choices and gotten ourselves into bad places?
  • What place does regret have in our lives?
  • How do we take responsibility for mistakes without living under a crushing burden of regret?

Care for Cross-cultural workers

  • What is the responsibility of the Christian community in M care?
  • What is the responsibility of individual M’s in their own care?
  • If M’s are put on a pedestal, how does that impact the M?
  • If M’s are put on a pedestal, how does that impact the church?
  • Why are pedestals so common? What does the church gain from these pedestals? What do M’s gain from those pedestals?
  • What aspects of the M community seemed healthy to you? What was unhealthy?

I can point to the very spot in McCollum Hall cafeteria (at the glorious University of Kansas, Go Jayhawks!) where I received my call. On the surface it was a normal dinner as I chatted with my residents, there was nothing to indicate my world was about to be turned upside down. Maybe yours was similar? Where you knew you were called, but then your life went on and dishes had to be done and it would take five years to get to the field. I’d love to hear how you were called!

I can also point to the place on the Fourth Ring Road of Beijing as my cab went careening on my way home from a friend’s where God said, “This will be your last year here.” After wondering and wondering when I’d hear this, here it was.

Mistakes! For the sake of time, I’ll leave it for the comments, but let’s talk about them. OK?

I’ll let you in on the most obvious secret in the world. Velvet Ashes is 100% sold out on the importance of care — care for ourselves, our hearts, our marriages, our parenting, our minds, our stomachs and recipes, our teams, our transitions. We’ve never talked about this — so surprise fellow editors!– but in addition to choosing the Velvet Ash as our identity, we seek for Velvet Ashes to live out Luke 2:52 being like Jesus who grew in wisdom, stature (physically), and found favor with God and people.

{If you haven’t read why we are named Velvet Ashes in a while, go do it! And just be warned, you may get goose bumps.}

Kay’s given us a lot to run with. Where would you like to dive in? Grab a cup or glass and jump on in to chat about calling, mistakes, and care.

See you in the comments :),


The plan for this month’s discussion:

  • Kay will be joining us and in particular the last week of January where we can “Ask an Author.”
  • January 13: How our childhood formed us
  • January 20: Ministry related issues: calling, mistakes, and care
  • January 27: Marriage and family on the field AND “Ask an author” as Kay joins us!

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Photo Source : Unsplash


  1. Jacqueline January 20, 2015

    RE: self-care — my husband and I landed on the field in Eastern Europe 4 months ago. We brought no kids but our chocolate lab : ). We found 2 months ago that our lives quickly filled up with planned and unplanned ministry. Despite required 30 hrs of language learning to keep our lives focused, we found every day had something, someone that “needed” our attention. Or did it? In a culture saturated with unannounced 3-4 hr long visits, we felt immense pressure to accept every invitation. Pretty soon there was no time for sleep, no time for the Word, no time for each other and exhaustion. Meltdowns are “normal” but the feeling of no light at the end of the tunnel is not good.

    Our decision? Mondays are our sacred sabbath. No ministry, no social engagements. Freedom to stay in are PJs all day long, but a true day of rest. Our coworkers know and respect this. We have had to say no to many things that happen on Monday but it’s been worth it. No matter how crazy my week is, I know I have Monday to regroup. It has also made us wiser in saying no to other things.

    1. Amy Young January 20, 2015

      Jacqueline, I love this! Not that you’ve overworked, but that you and your husband recognized fairly early on the need to create space for rest and sabbath. Funny how if we wait for things to lighten up, they rarely do and that once a boundary has been established, people do respect it! 🙂 (mostly!)

  2. Kay Bruner January 20, 2015

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand in this week’s book club, the author overwhelms the reader with 3,000 questions about God’s will…  🙂  I’ll be honest, you guys, I just wrote the questions that go around in my head.  So, clearly there’s extensive confusion in my head!  Here’s a thing I wrote not too long ago about regret:  http://kaybruner.com/blog/2014/9/17/regret?rq=regret  

    1. Amy Young January 20, 2015

      Kay, I love the questions … and I think this is a safe place to talk about them! These are vast and complex topics, so it’s OK to tease them out from this direction and that :). And the post you shared — it was a good and hard read in the best sense that you are helping us wrestle with what these concepts look like when they take flesh on.

  3. Pam G January 20, 2015

    re: The Call…I love this topic, there is so much mythology around The Call.  I’m with Kay.  My husband and I have been on the field for 25 years, now, and I’m still sorting this one out, too.

    I’m sure we’ve all heard the adage (spoken in revered tones) “There is nowhere safer than in the middle of God’s will.”  The first time I heard that “truth” it was in the context of some M in the middle of Africa who had spent a long, dark night with their family as virtual hostages waiting for a hostile community to barge into their home and take revenge.  In the morning, the people had softened and reconciled….because “last night we couldn’t get to you, due to the shining guards all around your house”.  The conclusion was that this family had been protected by a host of angels who intervened because, “…there’s nowhere safer…”

    But…the problem is, that bad things DO happen to people in the middle of God’s will:  Aslan is not a tame lion, and we live in a broken world (and by the way … how do we even know FOR SURE that we are in the middle of God’s specific will for this moment?  We are, after all, finite people with self-serving convictions.)  The safety logic can go like this: If God keeps you safe when you are in His will and I am not currently safe, then I must NOT be in God’s will.  In other words…it is MY FAULT that bad things are happening and I must do something different….fast!

    This is part of the crazy-making cycle that Kay’s story describes and I will confess, that I’ve been there, too!  The seed of this myth was planted in my mind 20 years ago in the middle of a stormy night in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when a rogue wave came up over the side of our cargo ship to drench me, my sleeping children and the 30 or so villagers crying for fright that the ship was going down.  “God, what was THAT!  I’m on this ship, submitting to YOUR work and plan … can’t you keep the sea at bay?”

    Three countries and four languages later, it’s been a long journey made longer by my steely determination to try and control life by being good and beating myself up when I face the inevitable reality that I’m not…can never be… good enough.  All done under the umbrella of being faithful to The Call and the M mythology that surrounds it.

    My husband and I are still serving overseas (in Asia, now) and those messages in my head still try to drive me to “DO” something…anything…good, better, best.  But I am slowly learning to ignore them and remember that God’s loudest call in the scripture is for me to be His child…Beloved…and to rest in His everlasting arms.   Yes, there is a cross, too.  But I am to take up (accept) suffering in this world w/o blame or shame and place it, too, into His capable hands….and to know throughout at that, yes…I am loved.  He delights in me.

    1. Amy Young January 20, 2015

      Pam, thanks for wading into these deep (and I think, interesting) waters. I read your comments this morning and have been playing around with them in my mind and soul — I don’t mean ‘playing’ in an irreverent way, but in a “let me think about it this way, let me come at it from that angle.”

      There IS so much mythology interwoven with truth — and that’s why I think it has been easier for The Church to use simpler language (like what you referenced). The problem with simpler in this case, is that it dummies down something that is both knowable and unknowable.

      I’ve been thinking about various people in the Bible and what the call meant for them and what “being in the center” of God’s will cost (and blessed) them:

      1. Abraham being told he’d be a father — so in a sense called to fatherhood. But then years went by and no child. Why did God wait so long after he called him? One of God’s mysteries. And then to have two sons born by two women — both blessed by God. But what a family mess!

      2. Joseph, told early in life his brothers would bow to him. And we know the end of the story, and indeed they DID bow to him. But how many years passed? And in the midst of it, to be falsely accused, imprisoned and forgotten? Is it God’s will for us to be forgotten? Or is it that God, who can redeem anything, brings redemption to that which may not have been his heart’s desire for that person?

      3. Mary, called to be the mother of Jesus. Her call involved being misunderstood and much later, watching her son be unjustly accused and killed.

      OK, as I’m typing this out, I’m realizing I tend to have too short a view of The Call — as in your examples above, I wonder how much I’ve been influenced to hold a shorter view (as in, THIS day or situation) and yet from the examples in the Bible, God holds a much longer view.

      Hmmm. Thoughts?

      1. Pam G January 20, 2015

        Amy, thank you for wrestling in the mud with me :-).  Yes, the list is long of people called to a task by God and who subsequently experience  less than stellar circumstances.  Think of David!  He spent years hanging out in cves as a personna non grata inthe land where he would be king.  Really, God?  And I’must SO glad you brought up Mary…to be invited to embrace so much honor…and so much agony.  It boggles the mind.

  4. Pam G January 20, 2015

    Oh…and I forgot to say…another conclusion I’ve personally made in the safety logic scenario is this: “God is in control of all things.  He CAN do all things, if/when He wants to….bad things are happening to me, so He must not want to…because I’m bad (and this is good for me, I just don’t realize that yet), I’m not important enough to care about … or God is capricious.”  Mind you, this was at the heart level – it came from childhood beliefs that are so familiar to me, they felt like truth.  It took me a long, long time to realize this was my thinking, and to realize that M mythology very conveniently fueled my brokeness to creative a destructive, lie-based reality.

    So here’s the question for us all.  What is Truth and what is Myth about The Call and following God’s will?

  5. Jenny January 20, 2015

    SO good to hear you wrestle and explore The Call.  I’m in a new phase of doing that since I was a child, being a career M has been my destination and now I’m not a career M.  My adult life has been spent serving overseas and now I am (surprisingly to me) settling into life in America for the foreseeable future.   I do believe this is God’s next thing for our family…for my husband to work a normal job, our kids to do normal things like basketball and swimming, for us to be part of a local church (WOW!! THIS IS MY FAVE right now having not had the chance for so long), and for me to…well, that part is harder for me to articulate than what the others are here for, and I don’t know yet what The Call is for me here besides loving and being loved.   But I do think it is healing for all of us to have a different experience of peace and stability and restoration, running water, electricity, family nearby, a local church, and easy groceries.

    But we signed up to be lifers, met on a short term trip, married young, and have been hell bent on saving the world in a tiny corner of the highest mountains ever since.  And here we are in rural America?  For good?  The Call is mysterious more than ever.

    My earliest memory of The Call was reading a MOther Teresa book as a young girl and thinking, “I don’t think I could do that, but I could do something.  I will go and do something.”  (Yes, a lot of DOing on my mind!)  As a teen I went on short term trips and felt it confirmed…or looking back did I just gobble up all the approval I felt by God and others to serve so nobly?  Is that call or issues?  Those two things are pretty murky for me.

    We ended up pursuing a very remote tiny place no one else wanted to go, and while I have to hope God was in that, those characteristics did feed right into my own woundedness when my greatest fear was being hurt, going somewhere extremely isolated and lonely reduced the chances of relationships/hurt.  Of course I didn’t see that then, this is hindsight.  And what better place to earn God’s acceptance and be okay than by doing something hard?  That figured in too.

    I don’t know how to reconcile my missiology with my heart lately.  I feel like He brought us to the ends of the earth to save ME, to save our marriage, to save US when we thought we were sent for others who still walk in darkness today.  That feels selfish (yes, these are a few of my issues coming into the light).  It also feels amazing to be chosen and loved and delivered and rescued.

  6. Pam G January 20, 2015

    Wow, Jenny.I so identify with the challedge you are facing I this stage of life.  After a lifetime of building an overseas  identity…and now starting starting all over again.  Its another wild ride….

    You tlk of  reconciling missiology with our hearts.  What a great way to put it.  Good for you, for engaging in the wrestling match.   (Maybe we need to reexamine our missiology?) On a personal level, I sometimes wonder if that place of wrestling isn’t what God has actually called us to, because that is the point at which faith faces it’s  greatest challenge…and because that is the point at which we fade away and “Christ in me” is most evident.

    I do understand your hesitancy about seeming self-centered.  After all …aren’the we called to share the good news and be the physical presence of Jesus to others so that they will be drawn to Him?  AND isn’t it the DOing of these things (and reporting of these things thru inspirational stories the very thing that we are being PAID to do?  I doubt that anyone is writing a monthly check so that I can personally grow near to God….No cynicism meant…..my intent is ruthless realism…otherwise the temptation is to take myself too seiously, and to make what I do too important…making a very short line between The Call and idolatry.

  7. VJ January 21, 2015

    So many questions… it’s hard to know where to jump in. I think I have wrestled with all of them at various times. Kay’s story resonated with me in how my upbringing influenced my “call” … Being called to be a M was definitely the absolute best thing that could happen to you as a good Christian kid in my circle and I was definitely a people pleaser at that stage in my life. It’s uncomfortable to contemplate the authenticity of my call under those circumstances. Would I have still felt called if I had grown up in a faith-less family or in a church that didn’t emphasize overseas work? If so, does that mean my call isn’t real? Or does it just mean that God used my unique upbringing to draw me where He wanted me before I was mature enough to seek Him with pure motives?

    When we returned to the field this time, we left our family in major crisis mode as they were facing a life threatening disease diagnosed in what appeared to be the final stages. Now that’s good motivation to re-examine our call. The struggles on the field, the loneliness, the stress, the language and culture challenges never made me want to deny my calling like having to leave a loved one on his death bed. Yet, God used that to make us sure that this is what we are to be about… our family’s eternity is secure – we don’t know how many days he has left, but we know he will spend all of them with Jesus – whether in this world or the one to come. The people we are called to, on the other hand, are among the least reached in all the world – and they are also dying, only without Christ. I feel that urgency deep within my soul — and to me that is the most important confirmation of my calling. There are other confirmations that I held on to our first term, but they were mostly external – the assurances of others that this is what we are supposed to be doing. When we were on home assignment, I wanted that – I wanted our M, our church, someone to sit down and talk to me and help me figure out if I was still called, to tell me I could do it again. It didn’t happen, and that frustrated me at the time, but it was a gift in disguise. I was forced to wrestle through it on my own. To beg God for assurance from HIM alone that this is where He wants me, to cast myself at His feet and plead for His anointing, His empowering, His enabling. No one else can provide that for me and I am realizing just how desperate I am for Him. I cannot fulfill this calling on my own, I can not bear fruit apart from the Vine.

    Ms on a pedestal has always been a pet peeve — in my first commissioning service a group of us were introduced collectively as “the royalty” of our denomination. GAG! For me personally, coming to grips with my own weaknesses and dependency on Christ, has heightened my awareness of the pedestal mentality even more so. Another thing that has struck me in this regard is journeying closely with two friends who are sold out to Jesus and living sacrificially where they are – housewives and stay at home moms in suburban America, volunteering occasionally in the local church. Yet, our hearts beat as one – united in the Spirit, desperate for more of Jesus, longing to hear His voice daily, and seeking to obey Him wholeheartedly. Are our lives different? Absolutely, but our “callings” are the same – to abide in Christ, to be His ambassadors, to follow, to obey, to love, to pray – it’s just lived out in a different context.

  8. Martha L January 21, 2015

    Thanks all of you above for your comments, wonderings, and sharing about “wrestling matches” with reality, and “The Call”. It is helpful to know I am not alone. I don’t have many words today, at least not many to add, just that after 20 years overseas, my husband and I find ourselves at the crossroads of major upheaval…headed back to middle USA in August…for the foreseeable future…lots of reasons – aging parents-in-law, a child (American but not) coming off a 2-year stint overseas herself and never having lived as an adult in the US, and new visions/dreams (husband starting a business?) for the next 20 years if given that long. Each day has a different emotion or a multitude of them thinking of this change…

    1. Pam G January 22, 2015

      Martha…your posting caused me to think some more..  I can really identify with conflicted thots and emotions you must be having as you stand at this crossroad.  Been there. Done that. Still there…………So I’may thinking…maybe the real call (or more correctly, The Call to All) is To Follow?  “Following” brings to my mind the image of a journey, and a long journey it is…for ALL of us.  It leads in all kinds of unpredictable ways, offering many forks in the road where we get to choose from a variety of options that include good, bad and neutral value.  Is there a Best way or Only way or Right way?  I’m not sure anymore, but I do know that Jesus invites us to Come to Him, Follow Him, and Go tell about Him – for some of us that is “even to the ends of the earth” ( at least for a little while)  and while we are going/telling we are called to Love well and Wait with Hope on His return.  Jesus promises that wherever we physically, emotionally, mentally go on this your, that He Is With Us….a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night…His Spirit leating day-by-day…..wherever it will….even back to the middle of America.  Because this life we lead shouldn’the be about following a call to go overseas, but The Call to Follow Him.

  9. Keri Christensen January 24, 2015

    Jenny, Pam, Amy and all,

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I am new to the field and it feels good to wrestle with these thoughts early on in the process. I was raised with no spiritual direction. By His grace, I became a follower right out of high-school, which was 3 days before I left for college. In my second year of college and as a believer, I went to an M conference and was called to China. Then: I finished college, got married, he finished his MA then I went back and received my MA and our daughter was born and we worked for a long time and then he went back and got a second MA. Now: We were approved to go to China 2 weeks short of 20 years later by our sending organization. At that moment the initial call overwhelmed my spirit and knew it was the sovereignty of the creator. It just was not time for us to go before now.

    I just wanted to say thank you to all of the seasoned women out there who share their experience with us. It is so meaningful and important…keep sharing.

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