How to Dwell With Rats

No one prepared me for rats. And I mean, big, urban, indestructible rats . . . IN OUR APARTMENT. After plenty of time together in southern California, our teammates waited until we were somewhere half way over the Pacific to tell me that we had a problem with rodents. I guess they wanted to make sure I couldn’t easily turn around and head home.

I had prepared for many things in getting ready to go overseas, but somehow my heart was not ready for rats.

When we set our suitcases down on our very first night almost 20 years ago, I thought, “I really don’t think I can do this.” The monstrous rat traps were sitting there, staring at me – right in the middle of our living room floor.

We figured out how to call my parents that night using the old landline phones in our apartment (this was way before Skype!). When they answered and I heard their voices from the other side of the world, I started to bawl. I most definitely could not do this.

My parents calmly asked me to pull out my copy of the Word. They said, “In America in times of emergency, who do people call? People dial 911, right? And they know that help will come.” Then he asked me to open my Bible to Psalm 91:1 (another 911 I needed to remember):

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

The rat traps were still there when I hung up the phone, but by the end of our conversation, the deep places of my heart had been settled again into truth: that even though I had settled on the far side of the sea, I was secure in the hands of the Most High. I needed to dwell there . . . and there I would find rest.

So, when I think about how to encourage you for getting ready for this crazy, transition-filled overseas life, more than anything, I long for you to rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I long for you to fix your eyes on Christ, and to remember that nothing can separate you ever from His love.

You might be looking at a long list of a million things you need to pack and do and see and get done before you sit down on that airplane. As your mind fills with all of the things you might need to do to get ready, I long for you to remember this:

1. Before anything at all – before any to do list or any training manual or any seminar you attend – sink your teeth deeply into the truth about who you are and who HE is. Our great God is building His church, and you have been invited to join. He doesn’t need you to accomplish it. HE is the Vine. You are not. This is His Kingdom and His world. Let that truth seep into your heart – and let it comfort you, thrill you, and become your DNA as you embark. How amazing is it that He has asked you to be part of His great global rescue plan?

2. Cultivate true community. Resilience in this kind of work, I believe, is connected strongly to what kind of a support network you have. This is not meant to be a “loner” life. Make true friendships and community a priority so that you will have health for the long term. You will find friendships in unlikely places. Ask the Father to show you where you can find those true souls to walk this journey with you.

3. Spend time reflecting on your expectations. Ponder your expectations: for yourself, for your co-workers, for your host culture, for what your work will look like, for your sending agency. Do you have realistic expectations? Where are you being unrealistic? Do you have unspoken expectations under the surface that might cause tension when they are not met? What godly counsel are you receiving?

4. Take care of yourself. You are a whole being: mind, body, and soul. Think holistically about feeding all parts of you. Exercise. Eat well. Read good books. Take Sabbath. In the midst of busy seasons of preparation, sometimes our own self-care is the first thing we throw out the window. The Lord is not a slave driver. And He also made you – all of you. He knows how you’re wired and what you need to be a healthy you. Take care of yourself.

5. Make great memories. In all our years living overseas, we always told our boys that we were going to choose to live life fully – that wherever we were, we were going to sink in deeply, love generously, and engage with whoever we were blessed to be with – on both sides of the ocean. So, while you’re in your passport country getting ready to go, love the people there ferociously. Make lots of great memories with them. Don’t give into that temptation to start to emotionally withdraw because you know the inevitable goodbye is coming. Love big. You won’t regret it. Those memories are treasures you pack just as much as your pounds of chocolate chips and coffee.

And always remember, that there is One who shares all your memories. He will go with you. And he’s a pretty great place to dwell.

What helps you to dwell well?


  1. Patty Stallings July 24, 2016

    I love you, Renee! Such a good and timely word.

  2. Spring July 24, 2016

    I really think rats would have made me cry as well. Thank you for sharing this encouraging post

  3. Dorette July 24, 2016

    Loved this, Renee.. It includes practically everything I wish I knew before we moved to Vietnam for a few months… and in my case the rats won that round. 😉 Thank you for sharing!

  4. Jenilee July 25, 2016

    so much wisdom packed into this post! And I love the 911 tip… very true and something to remember

  5. Monica F July 25, 2016

    These are important truths you share Renee. I think another important tip, which relates to your tip #3, is giving yourself and others grace. For example, sixteen years ago, I had certain ideas about how life would be and what I could handle in a very remote village situation in East Africa. When I got there and recoiled a bit, found myself flustered, or stressed about things I didn’t think would stress me, I was really hard on myself. I didn’t want to be ‘bothered’ by things like centipedes and scorpions, but I was. It troubled me when I found myself lashing out in my heart toward the people I came to serve. I didn’t want to feel like a failure! So often, we simply can’t prepare ourselves for what’s to come… so giving ourselves grace, remaining humble, and having the posture of a learner can really do wonders for a ‘heart in flux’. It’s important to extend this grace to others we work alongside of as well, remembering that we all have our strengths and weaknesses…and are the better for it:) And believe it or not, I began to learn to dwell with those stinkin’ scorpions, or at least how to dispose of them!

  6. Karen July 31, 2016

    Thanks for your message and sharing your heart!
    Another tip for newcomers: come prepared to pay attention to the challenges of the first weeks. Although they are hard when you are first going through them, the day may come when the memories of those first days are really quite funny. Those ‘first week’ stories can be a great way of connecting with local people down-the-road … I’ve found that now (seventeen years down the road), the stories of my first weeks in this country are still a great way to entertain my local friends and to start conversations with new local people. Now that I can speak the language, they love knowing that I once was a totally lost foreigner, too.

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