Changing the Goal: Transformation within Transition

Changing the Goal: Transformation within Transition

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?


  1. Michele June 19, 2020

    A big YES to this! This is my third host country (fourth if you count two years as a short-term assistant in Kenya). Since this town is FULL of expats, I was surprised to find so many who arrived around the same time I did in 2012 diving right into ministry. The organization I was with my first two years here seemed to encourage it. I was trained to spend the first year almost exclusively learning, so it was hard to hold my ground on that in this atmosphere. I joke with new friends (who are mostly millenials and younger) that I am ‘old school’ but I still think the best advice I can give someone who’s just arrived is everything you’ve said here!

    1. Amber June 19, 2020

      Thank you for this affirmation, Michele. I think it really is a common pitfall. It makes for exciting prayer letters, but personally can be a bust! I also think long-term the benefits far outweigh any limitations of that critical time of learning. Technically, I am a millennial but ‘old school’ in this regard.. and probably many more! Thank you for your faithfulness to train and encourage the next generation of cross-cultural workers.

  2. Tina June 19, 2020

    “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.” This statement is so true!! We were wisely counseled by our mentors to do nothing but learn and build relationships for at least the first year. This was hard work (and very misunderstood) and it was also most certainly a “full-time” commitment. However, we still are benefiting from this investment and paced approach to arrival and ministry.
    I would also add for us not-so-newbies (preaching to myself here) that processing real loss and unknowns is a constant in ministry. When we inevitably experience new losses, new disappointments, new unknowns we should also stop and check our goals. We must be sure that we are continuing the posture of submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit in us as we stay and serve year after year. After transition, pain, or setbacks we must be sure we are continuing to re-arrive if you will; to faithfully submit to the healing and work of the Lord in us so that we can continue to show up as we stay.
    Thanks for your words and for your encouragement Amber! Praying for all my arriving sisters 🙂

    1. Amber June 19, 2020

      I absolutely agree, Tina. Thank you for this reminder since I’m no longer a newbie!

    2. Michele June 19, 2020

      Such a good reminder!!

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