No team. No Starbucks. Just us.

When my husband and I decided to move our family for the third time since moving to Southeast Asia, we knew this move would be ambitious. Pioneering, as some would classify it. Going into an unknown country or place for the sole purpose to explore and settle. We would be on our own with just as much as our covered wagon (or large flat-bed truck) could carry. No team. No fellowship. No Starbucks. Just us. The harsh terrain. And our five small children.

When this particular province was brought to our attention, my husband was hesitant; he understood that I am a full-out extrovert who thrives with like-minded social interactions. There was a very small handful, two families to be exact, that we knew of living in the whole province. A far cry from the hub city we were now living. How would I do in such an isolated place, we both wondered? After much prayer, confirmation through His Word and the affirmation of His people, we both were confident the Lord was sending us into this uncharted territory. We still had many questions about our survival, but we choose to believe that our God would supply every one of our needs (Philippians 4:19).

Soon after unhitching our metaphorical horses, the two other western families who lived in our city went on home assignment. I went three months without having a face-to-face conversation with another believing woman . . . three months! That was an extremely lonely and draining season.

Then my bestie, a fellow expat, and I had an idea while talking via Facebook Messenger. (Isn’t that where all great ideas are formed?) Why be alone? Aren’t there literally thousands of women just like us who are struggling to thrive while living abroad? Surely we can’t be the only ones who would like to have more access to expat resources from people who have actually walked on foreign soil. Can’t we learn from one another, and connect with one another through this beautiful and wonderful thing called the WORLD WIDE web? So, we brainstormed for about a minute and a half, settled on a name, and bought our own little space in the cyber-universe. Taking Route: A community for those who are taking root while en route.

Soon after we launched, we ran across another group of ladies whose hearts were similar to ours, Velvet Ashes. Naming the community after the Velvet Ash Tree that thrives in the desert because of the deep reaching roots.

A conclusion can be drawn. I’m not the only one living overseas who is desiring for connection with like-minded and like-cultured women.

Sure, sipping a pumpkin spice latte face-to-face, or meeting up for a playdate at some magnificent, clean and safe park (or both at the same time!) would be ideal for this extrovert, but why focus on what CAN’T happen? I CAN be proactive and creative in my relationships. This means more weekend visits with friends, Facetime for Bible Studies, and habitual use of Voxer. It also means friending new people online.

My Instagram feed is now filled with online friends’ fat babies and fair-trade products. I laugh at their language mishaps and cheer them on through their cross-cultural challenges. I am spurred on through their faith and work. The Lord has called me to live isolated on an actual island but in his profound love and mercy, He has provided me a warm and unique expat community. That community includes in-person and online friends.

The internet in many ways has killed personal relationships. I would never imply that online connection is better than eye-to-eye contact, but for me and where I am in life both physically and relationally, an online community, like Velvet Ashes or Taking Route, has been a lifeline. The enemy has tried to deter me through the lie that I am alone. Isn’t he the Prince of Lies?! Because not only do I have the Lord, my family, deep intimate friendships, but I also have a group of women spread out across the globe who totally understand the significance of real chocolate chips!

How has Velvet Ashes been used in your story to let you know you’re not alone? What parts of the community were a blessing to you in the past year?


  1. Anonymous November 29, 2016

    Dear Denise,
    Your post really tugged at my heart, because I know how it feels. We went to a city overseas thinking that we would have fellowship with other Christian expats but when we arrived we quickly found out that they were too busy and overwhelmed. We had a team at first but there were no women on the team and it was dysfunctional. We did not have a church to go to. I cried often and was so lonely that I would try to find people on Skype but either internet would fail me or the time was not right. We eventually left the organization so that we could form our own team but never found teammates. Fast forward nearly 10 years and I am amazed that I lasted so long. It was by God’s grace, but in the desert I did find unexpected blessings. Because of the lack of teammates, we did have some very close friendships with locals. Eventually, we were able to start a church with other people. A young lady who came to our city recently highly recommended we check out Velvet Ashes. I read the website and signed up for the regular posts. The posts were such a refreshment to my soul and really spoke to me since they were written by people who understood my situation. I was so happy and sad at the same time that I did not know about the website earlier. When I found out I was leaving the field, I signed up for the reentry community group. I am part of my third group now and it really has carried me through this new season of my life. Thank you for starting such a special and needed ministry! I suspect there are many weary and lonely souls out there doing ministry overseas who need encouragement.

    1. Denise November 30, 2016

      I am so glad that Velvet Ashes has helped you through re-entry! I love these gals and what they are doing. The Lord has sustaining grace, doesn’t he? I am so thankful. We received a single lady as a teammate about a year after we moved and are receiving two new families within the next few years. We are so stoked! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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