Teary eyes give way to the gleam of expectation as “beautiful feet” cross the threshold between the known and unknown. With the Gospel work firmly implanted in her deepest parts, the cross-cultural worker steps into a new life. Visions of making a global impact while living and thriving in community with a diverse body of believers propel her past fear to forge relationships and dive into roles of ministry she may only be minimally prepared for.
Seasoned saints who welcome her admire her zeal but wonder how long it will last. They’ve seen so many others lose steam in such short amounts of time. They know what I am just beginning to understand — Gospel dreams are a beautiful and necessary part of the cross-cultural experience, but they are not enough.
We showed up on the field with the lingering disappointment of a visa denial by our country of choice but Gospel dreams still intact. While we did not have the luxury of sliding right into an already established ministry with anyone affiliated with our organization, a local ministry graciously took us in. Free from the pressure of stepping into a position of leadership straightaway, we were able to observe, serve, and train for our future in ministry. We were blessed by the example of leadership and the invaluable training we received from this family living out our dreams a decade ahead. Their people loved us as their own and blessed our family in countless ways.
This time of learning and growth was everything we didn’t know we needed. The space to grow and learn as laypeople while we experienced the difficulty of transition and language adaptation was a priceless gift that continues to impact our lives and ministry.
At times, I failed to appreciate the value of the transformative experience that transition to the foreign field could truly be. I felt like my dreams had died — or at best were on hold — and I was not living up to the expectations laid out for me. I did not extend the same grace to myself that our friends in ministry afforded me.
As a freshly-minted cross-cultural worker, I held the power to joyfully experience transition into a new culture — I just didn’t know it. To change those first few months on the field, I would have had to change the goal of all my early endeavors.
Rather than thinking, “How will God use me to change this nation/people/ministry,” from the start, I should have been thinking, “How can God change me through this nation/people/ministry?” How different my transition would have been if my goal from day one had not been just to make disciples but to first be a disciple.
My sister in transition, I feel the responsibility to give you permission to change the goal at this crucial time. You are grieving real losses and processing countless unknowns. It may not be prime time to submerge yourself in ministry, but it is prime time to submit yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Your first months —maybe year(s)! — of cross-cultural work may be better spent learning and serving in humility than teaching and training others. How long that period lasts and how deeply you invest in others through formal ministry is between you and the Lord. In the meantime, you will be wise to submit to local and organizational leadership while seeking opportunities to train for ministry.
As you consider changing the goal, perhaps it will be helpful to remember that you are neither a slave nor an employee of our great King. You are an heir. You are a co-laborer. Best of all, you are a beloved daughter. We parents extend grace and patience to our children through life transitions. How much more will our Father lovingly guide us through times of change and further into fruitful ministry?
Expectations will crush you, but God will faithfully and patiently build you in all the hardest and best ways. Trust Him to lead you through transition and into a life poured out for others. Allow Him to fill you up with His goodness so much that it spills out wherever this adventurous life takes you. You don’t want to burn out before you have been transformed within transition.
If you read this as a veteran, I implore you to give those that join your ministries permission to change the goal during their time of transition and assist and encourage them as they do. Your joint efforts will benefit from the transformative experience of transition if you give the space for it to happen. Transformation, after all, is what Gospel dreams are all about.
How has God transformed you in a time of transition?