Bring It All Here

When I was only ten years old I remember sitting perched on the edge of a pew listening to a man tell about life on foreign shores serving the least. I felt something rise in my heart and I knew that somehow my life would find it’s direction to the foreign lands he was mentioning.

It seemed like adventure. It seemed like living life on purpose and full of meaning.

Fast forward to me as an adult and my amazing wandering-heart-wild-dreaming husband. We set out for the shores of West Africa and life in the remote bush of a country we’d never seen and knew only from books.

It was everything and nothing I expected all at once.

Prior to heading to the field we had a great deal of preparation. We listened soberly to to other folks tell about the difficulties of life in another land. We nodded and empathized and tried to walk forward with the knowledge that the journey would be hard.

Our newsletters were hopeful as we raised support and packed our bags. Only a few months into the adventure the newsletters got harder to write. Not only were we facing a huge influx of refugees in desperate need, but reality had set in and it wasn’t really the kind of stuff you fill up a tidy newsletter with.

Nothing really prepares you for the reality of it all.

You can’t live prepared for nights sweating through your clothes while your sheets stick to you and you stick to a bug net. A million hours of cross-cultural studies classes doesn’t give you the tools in your bag to deal with a mother who lost another baby to malaria. You can’t adequately ready your soul for the holidays spent scraping together something that resembles a Western meal to share with people you barely know. There is no way to know how the loneliness and longing for a conversation with someone who doesn’t want a single thing from you will hit you.

And all the while you have to write letters home and share with your supporters about all that God is doing when sometimes your soul feels a million miles away from Him.  It might be the truth but it isn’t fodder for newsletters.

Velvet Ashes is a community of women that get all of it and don’t need you to write us the prim and proper newsletter.

We get that you are struggling with what it is that you signed up for. We get that the other members of your team are difficult and you sometimes feel like you are treading water. It is understood that the field can be a lonely place and it can take it’s toll on a mama, a marriage, a devoted Christ chaser.

This community is for those of us who believe in giving our all because He gave us all. It is also for those of us struggling through what that means and how that looks as we live our lives scattered across the globe.

Bring your ugly half written newsletters.

Bring your aching hearts.

Bring it all to this one place.

Bring it all here.

Velvet Ashes is a place made just for you.


What were you unprepared for when you arrived overseas?  What has helped or is helping you through?    


  1. Amy Young November 19, 2013

    For some reason that I simply cannot explain, I brought not one recipe in a pre-internet era. Several months in we visited friends in another city AND THEY HAD A COOKBOOK! We copied recipe after recipe. That was 18 years ago and I’ve kept the small cookbook we put together.

    1. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

      I did a series on my blog when we were in Liberia entitled “Cooking in the Dark” because we didn’t have electricity and I felt like I was relearning how to cook. I didn’t bring a cookbook, but we did have limited internet during the day and I would piece together meals as well as I could. Not always good, but we didn’t starve.

  2. Emily March November 20, 2013

    What I was most unprepared for was that fact that God was calling me overseas, but was not calling me to be “that kind of servant.” I wanted to be the one going into the middle of nowhere and baptizing 100 people after one sermon. I wanted to go work with refugees and treat the wounded, both physically and spiritually. I wanted to make a difference “that other people could see.” Well, that’s not what I have ever had the opportunity to do, and am still not doing – so far. 😉 Talk about tough newsletters to write! How do I write month after month that I’m still just living here like I would anywhere, not feeling like I am making much of a difference… (Especially since many people back home think I’m doing something extraordinary just because I live here.) Then again, who gets to decide what makes a difference and what doesn’t? Only God can see the full picture! Only our creator knows when we are going to talk to that ONE person He wanted us to talk to, or influence someone spiritually by a simple act of love. He should be the only one who’s opinion matters. I still think it’s odd that I live in China but my ministry is not to the Chinese. It’s to the expat community. What keeps me going is the fact that God knows what He’s up to and that I am unmistakably where He wants me! So I keep trekking, knowing that we are all in this together, and each little piece of the puzzle is very important!

    1. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

      Emily, I just can’t tell you how much I relate to your story. Even when we were overseas and even when we were dealing with refugees and living in the bush the majority of our ministry was with the expat community. It was not what we expected. I’ve now become convinced that the expat community of any country, particularly in the third world, are a huge unreached people group. It also amazes me that God can prepare us and uses us for purposes that we never anticipated.

    2. Morielle November 20, 2013

      To echo Jessica: I so totally relate. Perhaps not to the working with expats part (though it makes me so so happy to know you are working with the expats in China! There was a huge number in my last city, and they were so desperately in need of the gospel) but the thorough unglamorousness of living abroad part. I’m still just living here like I would anywhere, not making much of a difference. But yes, God’s working on the big picture. I cannot see it, all I know is to keep going forward and trust and pray. And it made me feel so encouraged to read you writing the same words.

  3. Danielle Wheeler November 20, 2013

    I too had dreamed for years about living and serving overseas. And then the stark reality did NOT feel like a dream come true. It’s all about leaning on grace, which, like you say, is the biggest kind of brave. Loving this place we have to bring it all here!

    1. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

      In my experience it was leaning hard into grace when nothing around us matched what we had envisioned. I’m so glad that there is that shared experience and that it can not look anything like what we thought and we can still be used.

  4. Morielle November 20, 2013

    I was thoroughly uprepared for how helpless I would feel in the face of cultural barriers, language barriers, and just how isolated I am as a Christian on this campus. What’s helping me through? A little story from Joshua, where God calls Joshua to save his allies from the Amorites. Joshua and his warriors fight bravely and the Lord throws down huge stones from heaven. The Amorites are defeated. “There were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.” This story reminds me that the power is always the Lord’s, not my own. He does not need me to pick up my sword, the Word, and fight to share the gospel. But He wants me to. I fight in the battle, putting in my tiny little strength for all it’s worth. He wins the battle.

  5. Linda November 20, 2013

    I was totally unprepared for the lack of readjustment support and ministry support such as help to meet locals and exclusiveness of our coworkers. Being new was barely tolerated by most. It was so disappointing. I foolishly expected our seconded community to be more welcoming and supportive than any military community we had been part of during my husband’s career. We almost did not make it. I Thankfully, we left that group which cleared the way for really being part of a loving supportive team with our organization.

    1. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

      Linda, I can totally relate to this except that we never made it to a loving supportive team. There was much that we learned and much that was out of our control and we had to just chip away and try and make a difference in the way things were done and perceived. I see the purpose in retrospect, but some of those relationships are still there and difficult even now to talk about and deal with. I expected some of that, but not to the extent that we experienced it and how hard it was to speak with grace to those outside of our work about those that we worked with.

  6. Ashley November 20, 2013

    Pretty sure I was unprepared in every way possible. Perhaps because a few years earlier, as well as my entire life since 4th grade, I thought I’d be living in Africa doing this work. I did, for a short time, but the door closed. And God opened this one in a way only He could. He spoke 2 words to a woman I’d never met. She shared them with me (“China” and “m-work”…um, WOW), and I knew my life was changed forever. I still feel unprepared in so many ways. I still sooo don’t understand this culture when it seems so many of my co-laborers have it down to a T. But, when I’m struggling, I remember when she spoke those words to me. My heart stopped. I knew it was Him. He knew he’d have to slap me to get me to come here. If he called me here that specifically, surely I’m supposed to be here!

  7. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

    That was so my husband in Africa. He was totally excited and willing to go anywhere except Africa and then we went to Africa and everything he feared happened including a refugee crisis. Funny how God works and puts us where we don’t want to go because He wants to make sure we don’t do any of it in our own strength.

  8. Linda Thomas November 20, 2013

    Jessica, I remember your posts from Africa and the spots rubbed raw from living there and working there. You really were so brave and so resilient and so trusting in God for what seemed to be a stretch that might break you. I watched it develop blog post by blog post. And now, dear girl, look where God has led you as a result of it! He has used that experience to help prepare you for this new ministry at Velvet Ashes. He has turned your tears to songs of joy. He has brought beauty from ashes. Velvet ashes. You are doing what Paul encouraged us to do: To comfort others with the comfort God has given us. Bless your dear heart! I send hugs. You’re in my prayers each morning. Linda

    1. Jessica Hoover November 20, 2013

      Sweet, sweet Linda, how much I need spiritual mamas like you to point me toward the grace God has poured out on my life. I miss it so often. Yes, those blog posts full of angst over the unknown and known have been what has allowed me to speak to the hurts of sisters dealing with similar situations. I could never have known that in the midst of West Africa and the work that threatened to swallow us whole at times. Keep your prayers coming! The journey continues!

  9. Jennifer November 22, 2013

    Looking back for me it does seem amazing that I did survive and enjoy those early days… seeing how little I really did know, compared to what I know now, which is still no where near enough. The challenges of shopping for vegetables in the street market without knowing numbers or money and becoming brilliant at shopping successfully with every non-verbal skill available. Challenge becoming a normal part of life rather than the exception. After 4 1/2 years finding it challenging to go shopping in a normal western country – reverse culture shock reigns.

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