My Unglamorous Overseas Life


I used to want a glamorous life, the kind that would attract attention and applause. I was the shy, unseen girl for most of my life, but when I announced I was going overseas I started to feel special. People talked about how proud they were of me when I stood in front of a church or Bible study and shared about all the adventures that lay ahead and the sacrifices it would require, all in the name of Jesus. What an impact I was going to have!

I struggled through two years of language school, humbled in my feeble attempts and huge fears. Yet, this was all just preparation for the actual work still ahead. I pressed on because the supporters at home were waiting for amazing stories to be read in newsletters with colorful pictures of a life they could hardly imagine.

I lived in a village of rural Cambodia for a year, and there I learned my brokenness. I was not the cross-cultural superhero I had always imagined I would become. Instead, I walked to the market daily and squeamishly purchased a whole chicken with the skin still on because it was the only thing available. I did not love my neighbors when they turned off our water and I was reduced to bucket baths, or when they gossiped with stinging words about our strange foreign ways. My teammate and I walked and prayed and instead of finding people with hearts open to the peace we longed to share, they commented on our weight, asked how much money we made and called us “the foreign twins who always exercise.” I longed for God to answer my prayer for a husband, and grew angry with Him when the pain of that longing raged on. I was lonely, hopeless and felt like I had been abandoned by the God who had called me. This was NOT the grand adventure. I was a failure.

There’s an underbelly of pride that masquerades as humility. “I am the worst overseas worker, and the reason the ministry is failing is because of me.” The lie from the Enemy or the voice in our own heads whispers these words and we can trick ourselves into thinking this is truth. Surely anything else would be self-asserting and excessive. We clamber up onto God’s throne and attempt to give ourselves control, believing the outcome of everything rests in our lap. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves, yes?

When I fell off my expat pedestal during those agonizing days in a little border village, in the midst of the rubble God met me with His kindness. This is what happens when we are humbled in the very best way. Right there the Father gently reminds us that He is the only One who deserves the spotlight. He is good at being God, and I most definitely am not. When I try, when I strive to fix all the things and see lack of fruit and only have low numbers to report in newsletters, sometimes He has to cup my story in His hands and remind me that I am not God. He invites us to see greatness in the ordinary, to let Him hide us in His sanctuary for a time and worship Him there with joy. It has been in these hidden moments that He has taught me to cling to Him like never before.

Romans 11:33-36 says, “Oh how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”

Whether we call our passport country home at the moment or are living in a foreign land, if we are raising sweet babies or caring for the orphans and widows, we all lead an unglamorous life in comparison to the glory and majesty of the One we serve.

How has God met you in your brokenness with His kindness? How have you experienced His greatness lately?


  1. Ashley May 10, 2018

    I have been “on the field” for two months. I don’t work with a large organization but I serve a church here and have a lot of freedom. I have Russian lessons twice a week in which my teacher keeps saying “you aren’t improving”. The ministry I am doing is not something I would choose or am even equipped for. God equipped me by bringing other leaders to help me lead! That is NOT what I was imagining when I thought about the Lord equipping me on the field, I feel the pride in wanting to do it alone! Currently, I am “falling off my expat pedestal” realizing that my heart was not prepared for this but my Big and Mighty and Living God was! Thanks so much for sharing, I feel so encouraged!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 10, 2018

      Ashley, thank you for sharing! Getting off that expat pedestal is a hard but oh, such a good place to be. I love hearing how God is encouraging you in the midst of all the adjustments and trials, and I know He will continue to do that!!

  2. Heather Henson May 10, 2018

    The details of my story might be different to yours in all sorts of ways but the underlying truth remains the same and I am encouraged by the thoughts you have shared. It’s nearing a year since my husband and I left home to serve God in a country foreign to us and it’s been an intense ‘roller-coaster’ ride. As I poured my heart out to Daddy (God) yesterday morning, I concluded through the tears that I needed to ‘get over’ myself and just determine to keep hold of my Daddy’s hand and follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Of course, (Holy Spirit told me this one day) there is so much to explore in every footstep of Jesus! Thank you for sharing from your heart.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 10, 2018

      Heather, thank you so much for sharing your own journey and heart with us! I love seeing how God is meeting you and ministering to your heart- even when that sometimes means He reveals the areas that need His tender discipline and care. Praying that you continue to hold tightly to His hand and see His deep love for you in each step.

      1. Heather Henson May 10, 2018

        Thank you Sarah. I deeply appreciate your prayer. It’s not our first M’al journey but this time I’m older and have left behind, in our passport country, my adult children and two precious granddaughters.

        1. Sarah Hilkemann May 18, 2018

          Heather, there are definitely unique challenges in the different seasons of overseas life!!

  3. Bonita May 10, 2018

    After two years of language learning God decided to deal with my damaged and broken heart when I had come to the end of all my carefully planned plans for my life and I who had been called GSD (get Sh*t done) became able to do less and less but have learned to cling to Him. I also have been surprised at how little I resemble the hero I thought I would be and how crazy that idea was that I would single handidly be able to change the community. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 18, 2018

      Bonita, He does that, doesn’t He? He brings us to the end of ourselves so we can see our pride and need for Him. I remember a couple of years ago when a good friend looked me in the eye and said, “Sarah, you are not God.” My first reaction was, “Well, of course not!” But then I realized how seeking to control, please, do all the things showed I wasn’t living and believing that statement. Oh what a hard lesson, but it is one worth learning! Thanks for sharing!

      1. Bonita May 29, 2018

        Yes, very hard. I recently heard a sermon where the speaker challenged us to separate our assignment from ourselves or try to have a clearer view that those are separate things and I think that is soo important, and yet very hard. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Kristi Ralston May 10, 2018

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I’ve been feeling this a lot lately. I work in an international school in Cambodia, so ministry looks nothing like I expected that ministry should. I feel guilty sometimes because I’m not “out there” doing “God’s work”–or so it feels.
    This is a great reminder that it’s all God’s work if we’re doing what we’re called to, even if it doesn’t make a great newsletter.

    1. Monica May 16, 2018

      Kristi, I just wanted to respond as a sister and encourage you to never compare yourself to what others are doing. I know it can be hard to resist, as there is a natural urge to compare and then feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough. In my seventeen years of overseas work I observed within myself, and other Ms a tendency to ‘rank’ what others were doing or where they were going, and this is often fueled by churches, supporters, and even missiological views. All this does is create judgment, guilt, resentment, and even division- which is not at all what the Lord intends for those He sends to do work Inside and Outside of one’s circles. Now that we are back in the States, I see people ‘here’ whose work I would LOVE to write a newsletter about- they are doing God’s work among the ‘least of these’, the broken, and so on… but are working, everyday Followers who are not living on foreign soil or supported by churches. I think as Ms we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to ‘perform well’ or ‘go all out’ , frantic to meet the expectations we have put on ourselves, or sense that others have put on us, and write that ‘killer newsletter’! Bottom line- you do YOU, but more importantly, BE a light right where you are, and when He moves you… move with Him. It’s about being Jesus right where you are! Keep shining right where you are Kristi!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann May 18, 2018

      Kristi, I feel like we do each other a dis-service by putting parameters around what ministry and serving God should look like. It’s something God has been convicting me of lately, and something I want to see changed in the M community. So, you go girl! Thank you for serving and living in a hard place, and loving the people God has put in front of you.

  5. m.dotzler May 11, 2018

    These stories are so encouraging! I love reading everyones comments! I”ve been a missionary for 3 years now. In these past 2 weeks my car broke down (money I don’t have to spend), I got pulled over on a very dangerous highway alone, lost my voice (I’m a teacher), and spend my birthday without any family. However, our good good Father literally covered me with his love and grace in each and every one of these situation. Situations which could have turned out so badly, but the Lord, in His grace, stepped in and reminded me of His LOVE for me!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 18, 2018

      Love hearing how God has met you in the midst of lots of challenges!! 😀

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