On the Expectation to Live Modestly

Several years before my husband and I moved abroad, we visited some friends living in Peru. They were well into a five-year commitment to serve in a city where they were spearheading a religious community and outreach program.

I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into their apartment. I had spent time with many families working overseas, so I suppose I had anticipated meager living conditions with the typical mismatched furniture and never-ending bug problems.

But what I found brought me great comfort and joy. My friends were functioning at the highest emotional, relational, and spiritual capacity of anyone I had visited in a foreign context.

I took hot showers, slept in a large bed, and at night we sat around a flat-screen TV and watched Netflix.

Granted, we were in a city that provided access to modern conveniences like high-speed internet, taxi services, and a brand-new KFC. But the traditional expectation that foreign religious workers should live modestly kept tugging at me until I finally asked my friends about this stereotype.

When you guys move overseas, there will be plenty of things to sacrifice, they told me. You’ll be leaving family, friends, and lots of nice things behind. But you won’t stop being American. It’s okay to make your house a home and a place you actually want to return to each day. Nobody is asking you to give up EVERYTHING just for the sake of being pitiful.


Serving on the foreign field looks vastly different in 2015 than it has even in the recent past. Globalization has brought the Internet to the bush of Africa and sports cars to the unpaved roads of Southeast Asia. Rural villages are somehow connected to the international community, and fancy resorts are sprinkled across even the most remote landscapes.

Whereas expatriates used to be forced into complete abandonment of their passport culture, it is now easy to blend into a global context while still holding onto the things that remind us of ‘home.’

Still, when my husband and I finally reached the field last year and started looking for our first home, I carried the expectation of what our life should look like into that decision.

What will people think when they come to visit us? This house is too modern! Do we really need three bedrooms? Shouldn’t we be looking for an older, more traditional home?

The pangs of guilt nipped at my conscious as we considered which housing rent contract to sign.

But the guilt wasn’t coming from my Heavenly Father. The guilt was coming from my own beliefs of how donors and supporters expected us to live.

My mind floated back to the words of my friends in Peru. I remembered how healthy they were and how effective they were in their ministry.

I also considered the things I had read about culture stress from Ronald L. Kotesky.

The greater the difference in values between your passport culture and your host culture, the greater your stress will be. The more life changes you experience at once, the greater your stress will be.

For me, I knew I was juggling dissertation research, international adoption paperwork, and tonal language learning…all while raising a toddler and adjusting to a new culture. The cards were stacked against me in my first year overseas, and I needed a place where I could thrive.

So we moved our family into a new home we could feel comfortable in but with a rent payment still within our budget.

I’m in no way advocating materialism, and I definitely believe we all have to be on guard for the idols in our lives.

What I am advocating, however, is shirking off the expectation that as foreign Christian servants we must cover ourselves with sackcloth and ashes. I am advocating mental health, self-care, and maintained wellness.

We don’t all need the same things to be able to thrive. For some of us it may be a place of respite. Others of us may be working in such stressful environments that we need regular vacations and debriefings. Still others may flourish with familiar food and good education for our children.

Whatever it is that helps you thrive, feel the embrace of the Father as He wraps you in His grace. There will always be more to sacrifice, but He will open those doors in His perfect timing.

Soak yourself in Scripture, respond to the daily challenge of dying to yourself; but more than anything, let Heavenly Mercy be the heartbeat of your overseas rhythm.

Sister, you were called to shine.


How have you felt that others’ expectations of your life overseas affect your ability to thrive?

Photo Source : Unsplash



  1. Lisa C February 3, 2015

    For me, a real stress comes from worrying about supporters’ expectations. I am comfortable with our home and lifestyle, that it’s neither too much nor too little, but I always feel like I need to be really careful about what I say or show on Facebook, Instagram, etc. House help is a big one. I feel no guilt whatsoever about having someone come in and clean for me.  But I can always imagine someone looking at that and saying, “Wow, it must be nice…” It was even harder when we were stateside, living in Orlando and serving at our org’s headquarters there. Don’t post that we went to the beach again! I’d better not mention going to Disney World, even though we were gifted the tickets! Honestly, I don’t know whether our supporters would even care. But it’s always in the back of my mind. I almost didn’t even put my name on this comment for fear it would show up in my FB feed or something. 🙂

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Lisa! You cracked me up with that last sentence! : )

      I know I certainly hesitated before I started discussing my house helper in newsletters, but now I have that sweet girl all over social media. She is such a part of our family. Our house helper has been our main gatekeeper into this culture, into the hearts of people here, and into this language. She has walked so patiently with me as I’ve practiced new vocabulary; she has loved my daughter as her own; she has provided so many opportunities for us to get to know her Xtian friends. We are sharing life together…and I’m sure you feel the same about your helper. It’s impossible to have someone in your home on a regular basis without welcoming them into your heart forever. I suppose it’s all in how we talk about these people we’ve come to love. We’re not high and mighty expat employers…we are people from a different walk of life who want to share that life with others.

      I’ve thought a lot about our first furlough, and how that will look to others. We’re in a unique situation with only one supporting Body. They know us and trust us, so there’s a huge load off our shoulders this way. But my anxiety levels before that trust was built were through the roof! I cried every day before we moved to work with that Family, telling my husband, “They’re going to hate me! I don’t look or act like an M woman! I wear humongous gold earrings and talk a lot!”

      In the end, things went incredibly well and I love that Body for how they welcomed us and continue to care for us. Still…I remember that fear all too well!

  2. Kim February 3, 2015

    I completely agree with everything here, Lauren! When we moved to India I had no idea what to expect and when we looked for flats I was overwhelmed by some of the choices– most of which would have caused me even more stress had we chosen to live in them (old, veg-only allowed, over-crowded neighborhoods, etc). God knew that with the chaos all around me and all the unknowns in our new culture, my home had to be a haven for me to survive. He graciously provided us with brand new flat (still under construction) in a nice/safe neighborhood with an amazing landlord who has spent quite a bit of time with Westerners and is out of town a lot (we are a big family and can be a little loud!). Our space helps me feel a little more normal and that in itself has been a huge blessing for me. I’ll admit, though, I felt a little guilty at first because it felt “too nice” compared to what I felt we were expected to live in by other workers here and folks back home.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Hey Kim – I really appreciate what you shared here. I’m so happy that you have a home that you love, and I’m even more happy that you’ve given all the glory to the Father. I checked out your blog and had to learn more, so I followed you over to AshaBelle and I have to tell you – I’m in love with the Kiran Medallion Earrings! Do you ship internationally? Saying a word now for blessings on the Father’s work in India and that others will find the beauty in the products you’re making. You have a new friend in me. : )

      1. Kim February 5, 2015

        Hi Lauren! New friends are always welcomed 🙂 Thanks again for your post and for checking out AshaBelle. I wish we did ship internationally–that’s the hope for someday. If you’re ever in Delhi I can definitely hook you up! Prayers much appreciated.

  3. Lisette February 3, 2015

    Thank you for identifying this particular idol for workers overseas. It is such a struggle knowing what is an appropriate luxury and what is materialism.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      You’re right, Lisette. I have to keep myself in check all the time. One of the things I’ve struggled with most in my life has been the guilt of material wealth…I’ve hated how I was raised in an upper-middle class family, that I somehow married an M doctor, and that my life is for some reason full of successful people. I have had to work hard to let go of the guilt of this, but also not allow myself to have all of the luxuries that I could easily provide for myself. Just because I can afford something nice doesn’t mean that it’s my right to have it. The daily dying to self…that’s what I’m learning to do.

      1. Cecily Willard February 5, 2015

        Maybe it is about seeing what God sees?  If our focus is on stuff, then our life will be about stuff–what stuff to have and what stuff not to have.  But if our focus is on loving people, then won’t that be what consumes our thoughts and our time and our motivations?  How can we love more the people we came to love?

        It is not a simple thing.  Life is not easily dissected like this.  But maybe our heart’s cry should be, “Father!  Open my eyes to see what you see!  I came here out of obedience to you knowing that there would be sacrifice.  But my focus is not on the sacrifice, but on being yoked with you to do the task that you have called me to.  So open my eyes as I open my heart, my life and my hands to you.  It’s all yours.  Teach me how to find my contentment in you.  I thank you that you promised that your yoke would be easy and your burden would be light.  Teach me what that means.”

    2. Leanne February 5, 2015

      I have really struggled with this post since reading it yesterday. Yes, this is one of the areas that I struggle with on a daily, even minute by minute basis when I cannot help but see how we live as compared to the majority around us. It seems that the western church, in some areas, is beginning to admit it’s struggle with commercialism, materialism and the like. However I’m seeing these things replaced by a new idol, as a means for justifying our living standards, and I believe that idol is comfort. It has been sold to us in so many subtle ways and is even less tangible than the material things that it encourages. Comfort, safety, security – the new idols/justifications for what we do when we drag our materialism with us wherever we go??? Comfort is only used in the bible as a way in which a loving God ministers to us through trials, not as a lifestyle. Safety and security come from God, not from laws, or airbags, or insurance or hospitals or emergency services. Our lives are not in our hands on ANY level, our God is not a God of comfort, but of giving it ALL, risking ALL, losing ALL and in so doing gaining more than this world can ever give. Maybe we really do need to step out of our cultures, our comfort zones, I guarantee that God is more likely to meet us there in the chaos, the hard, the sacrifice, then in the safety and security of a comfortable home with a flat screen TV – that is about US not HIM. Try reading “The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected” by Nik Ripken and then lets talk about how we leave ALL our idols behind and follow Him.

      1. Lauren Pinkston February 5, 2015

        Leanne, I don’t disagree with that you said here at all. I’ll share with you a piece of a blog I wrote several months ago to assure you we’re on the same page:

        I’ve been harboring what isn’t mine—the entitlement to comfort. And the Lord has convicted me to expose it and get rid of it.
        I’m nesting in a tent of provision, but hidden under my mattress is a fear of pain and the grief of loss.
        I have no doubt that my grief is justified, nor do I believe that I should squash my feelings under my heel until they disappear.
        But my questioning has no place before the throne of the Almighty, for He has never backed out on a promise.
        He WILL be present. He WILL provide hope. He WILL do something great here.
        And He can’t continue with me until I rid myself of the entitlement to comfort.
        It’s a lesson in settling my soul in His provision instead of the happiness this world tries to offer.
        It’s a daily walk, of which I often fail. And tomorrow there will be something new to throw on the altar.
        I think there’s a huge difference in sacrificing for the sake of fulfilling others’ expectations of the way our lives should look abroad and sacrificing because the Father has asked us to do so. Idolatry will look different in each person’s life, and we need to check ourselves when our sacrifices become a platform for justification before the Throne or an area of self-righteousness in how we view others’ walks of life. I agree with you, it’s much easier to see God’s care for us (and I do believe He is a God of comfort) in the floors of a mud hut than in an air-conditioned room with a big screen. I think we would all agree with that. We find comfort in Him the more we’re willing to give it all. I’m simply trying to open a conversation about expectations of us and the root of our sacrifice, while advocating for transparency about our cultural acclimation.


  4. Joanna February 3, 2015

    Really good thoughts, Lauren. We can make anything an idol…even giving up things ‘just for the sake of being pitiful’. (What a great line.)

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Thank you so much, Joanna. I respect your life and your writing so much. <3

  5. M'Lynn February 3, 2015

    Amen! I love hearing your thoughts on this. As we’ve pprocessed similar stuff over the years, it seems there’s always something else you’d have to give up if you were playing the comparison game. It’s so important to live with open hands and see it all as a blessing. I, too remember my first glimpse into a long-termer’s abode and the glimpse showed me it looks a lot different than I thought. It has since been my pleasure so share our space with others (blessed to be a blessing).

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Living overseas has definitely taught me a whole new level of hospitality, M’Lynn. I was so curious about what it would be like to share my home with my local friends, but they love coming over and I’m learning more and more how to blend our cultures into a comfortable, wonderful time together in my home!

  6. Ruth February 4, 2015

    Thank you for this encouragement!  One of my colleagues said something very similar to me when we were apartment hunting, pointing out that we live in a HUGE, busy city and space to come home and rest and be comfortable is important.  But I still wonder, because I could live in something smaller and simpler.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Ruth, I’m so glad you feel encouraged. I think many of us could live in something smaller and simpler. I know I could. I still have days when I feel I should live in an older, moldier, smellier house…just because I know I could. When we moved into this house, I still had so much guilt, but I asked the Father to make the decision clear to us through a good relationship with our landlord. And WOW–has He made it clear! We have developed such a relationship with his family, and shared bimonthly dinners with them since we moved in. I think our Maker knows and cares about these things, too…and He puts us in the perfect places to reach the hearts of those He is calling to Himself.

  7. Amy February 4, 2015

    My husband and I also received similar advice within our first few months of arriving in Kenya.  This 30+year M reminded us that our home was our “haven”, it should be a restful place not a stressful place. Those words really opened my eyes to see things differently…& helped me not feel guilty for not wanting to look like a “pitiful overseas worker”.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Amy, I’m so glad you had a gracious, veteran mentor to lead you through house hunting. I lived in a tent in Maasai Mara one summer, and even that was way nicer than the dung mud huts surrounding me. : ) A “haven” can be anything, but it’s oh-so-important.

  8. Wendy February 4, 2015

    I think it does depend on your ministry too. If part of your ministry involves having local people in your home you need to consider what will make them comfortable. We serve in Japan and once met some US M’s who’d brought all their furniture from the States. When they had Japanese people visit, the visitors felt quite uncomfortable with the oversized sofa and sat on the floor instead. They also had difficulty with installing their US gas-powered washer and dryer. Not to mention fitting their American-sized furniture in their Japanese-sized house. Somehow we have to find a happy medium between feeling comfortable in our own home without bring so much of our home culture with us that it is hard for locals to feel comfortable there too. But again, that depends on your ministry and location. It is quite normal, for example, in Japan to have hot water and fast internet connection. But if we were evangelists in the mountains of the Philippines, that would be a different normal altogether.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      I totally agree, Wendy. It’s so important that our new friends feel comfortable in our homes, too. I love the story you’ve shared…

      Of course it’s difficult to fit everything about this topic into a short blog post. But I wanted to specifically highlight the unnecessary burden so many of us place on ourselves. Some of our friends here on the field live in a two-story house with ridiculously cheap rent. The house is old and falling apart. But they’ve told us that when they Skype with supporters back home, they place a sheet behind them so that they won’t be judged for the size of their home. This breaks my heart for them! It’s stories like these that inspired this post. I know you understand both sides of this tricky subject!

  9. Lydia February 4, 2015

    THANK YOU Lauren!  I still haven’t had the guts to send a picture of my house to our supporters…I’m sill learning to free myself from others expectations (often self imagined those expectations) to embrace what the Father has us do and be. Thank you, what you wrote is very affirming :-).


    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Lydia, you’re not alone! Please read my above comment to Wendy. My dear friends in our city feel the same way. Sometimes I don’t know if this is a learned anxiety or one that I’ve unfairly burdened myself with…I pry it’s the latter!

  10. Elizabeth February 4, 2015

    I think a lot of us have these surprises — I thought I would be living in a grass hut in the jungle, cutting and lugging my own firewood, cooking over an open fire, and washing my clothes in river water. I’ve known other women who thought that’s what moving to Cambodia would look like, too. It can be surprising when we realize you can live a “normal” life (different, definitely, but not jungle living!).

    My husband’s mentor told him that as a cross cultural worker, he will walk through a lot of doors each day. He told him that his favorite door should be his own. I think there is a lot of truth to this statement. We want to be happy where we’ve settled, and fulfilled in working for God. And we also need a place to call home in our host countries — and we need to prioritize the relationships that fill that home.

    At the end of the day, we need to love our families and our homes, and we need to do the things that keep us here, whether that’s regular vacations, time with friends, paying higher rent to have a yard, or some extra money towards decorating or our comfort foods.

    When we were on our mid-term retreat in January, we met a veteran worker in SE Asia (almost 2 decades) and he told us that vacations like this are good and that we should do what it takes to have a happy family, and I quote, “Burnout is not a good solution.” As a not-native English speaker, his somewhat stilted statement cracked me up. He was being honest though, basically saying we need to prevent burnout by pacing ourselves, and not feel guilty when we go on vacation.

    As for me and my family, we answered the call. We came across a vast ocean. And now that we are here, we will do everything in our power to make sure we thrive while we are here, in spite of the things that conspire against it.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Elizabeth, I just love your thoughtful responses. I’m pretty sure most of us saw our lives and work overseas much differently than what we’re actually doing on the field. But now that we’re here, we need to be healthy enough to stay. I agree with your husband’s mentor that our favorite door should be our own. What a great thought!

      It’s time that we didn’t wait until burnout to talk about what we need to stay healthy. Not to use materialism as a crutch. Not to depend on Western conveniences. But to throw away the expectation to be superhuman in our cross-cultural adjustment. I didn’t stop being American when I stepped off the plane, and I’ve never once felt that any of our local friends expected me to stop being American, either. Balance, balance, balance…it’s the song I keep singing! Wonderful thoughts, as always, friend!

    2. Brittany February 4, 2015

      “…he will walk through a lot of doors each day. He told him that his favorite door should be his own. “

      I love that comment.  Elizabeth, your whole response was helpful to me.  Thank you for sharing!

      1. Ashley Felder February 4, 2015

        Elizabeth, your comment reminded me of what a veteran in our org told us before we went on Home Assignment. He said, “Enjoy it. Save up lots of good days for all the hard days you’ll have when you return.” I think this is true for when we go on vacations, conferences, or retreats, too!

  11. Sherri February 4, 2015

    Thanks for opening up this loaded topic. Maybe it is where I serve, but I’ve seen more people on the opposite side of the spectrum: believing they needed certain things to survive, be comfortable, etc. and not even considering that they might need to sacrifice them. I wonder if they miss out on something God wants to do in their lives by depending on Him and not on daily Skype calls with friends back home, Netflix, etc. (not that those are wrong in and of themselves). As Wendy mentioned, we need to take into account where we live and what our ministry will be like. We don’t want our home and its appearance to be a barrier, not a bridge to reaching others for Christ. I think the key wherever we are is to think through the issues prayerfully, asking God (and local believing nationals and overseas workers, if possible) for guidance as to where to live, what’s appropriate, and so forth, and then not feeling guilty about it. If God has given us freedom, then we need to rest in that. Unfortunately, I think many don’t consider the issues. We either assume we should live in sackcloth and ashes or we duplicate our American lifestyle overseas.  We need to be intentional in our choices and then give ourselves and others grace.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Sherri, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. You’ve done an excellent job of discussing both sides of the issue. I replied to Wendy above and told her the sad story that inspired this post. But of course I back up what you are saying, too. We learn so much about our selfishness as well as the provision of the Father through the things we are asked to give up. And I personally think our entire lives should be a never-ending posture of surrender and sacrifice, whether on a foreign field or in our passport country. We will never know how big our God truly is unless we are willing to put our entire life into His hands and watch Him care for our every need…just like the lilies of the field. Thanks again for sharing!

  12. Melissa Toew February 4, 2015

    This certainly strikes a chord with me, as this topic has been a huge issue in our three years overseas. After living everywhere from a one-room grass hut to a three-room apartment where we shared a toilet with 8 neighbors, we are now in a house that in a picture looks nicer than any place I’ve ever lived in the States. Unfortunately, pictures don’t show the unstable electricity, the noisy (and nosey) neighbors, the lizards and cockroaches that run races through my kitchen . . . you ladies know how it is.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Melissa, having spent last fall with you in CG I feel like I got a glimpse at just how beautiful and sacrificial your heart is. I am so impressed with your willingness to submit to, love, and serve all of those around you…you’ve got a cheering section in me–always!

  13. Elizabeth February 4, 2015

    Agreeing heartily with Wendy that it depends on your ministry and “Somehow we have to find a happy medium between feeling comfortable in our own home without bring so much of our home culture with us that it is hard for locals to feel comfortable there too.” We also show hospitality and are much more comfortable doing this in a home that is very simple by N. American standards. But “simple” doesn’t need to mean that it can’t be tasteful and comfortable and be made to feel like a home. 

    Also, the context where one is living must be considered. We are located in the “bush” in a village in sub-Saharan Africa, we are the only foreigners here. Having a home that is anything like our home in N America is simply not an option because it is not readily available. Our neighbours are living in one roomed mud huts, and although our modest house will always appear grand in comparison, we do want to be careful in how we live for the sake of those around us – not from a fear of what they think, but just doing what we think is right for us before the Lord. 

    And while our house is nothing near N American standards, we are blessed with a simply beautiful outdoors setting that speaks peace to my soul. Maybe this makes it easier for me to deal with an old, simple, small house than the miss’y challenged with living in a crowded, noisy city where there may be no other place to de-stress.

    As M’s we need to prayerfully and intentionally consider this issue, refrain from judging others, and not be weighed down with a fear of what others might think.



    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Elizabeth, I am so thankful for the grace-filled words you shared here. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would be working in a national hospital with leading doctors and top ministry officials. I always dreamed my work abroad would look more like yours…and many days I still do! But the jobs my husband and I have are the only ones we could find in this closed country, and so we jumped at the opportunity and now we’re rubbing elbows with government leaders I never fathomed would be in our social circles. It’s really weird and crazy how the Father surprises us all, isn’t it?

      I tell you this just to say…our supporters back home have no idea how to imagine what our lives look here. They would be shocked at the amount of money the women spend on silk skirts and the men spend on cars. Even in our developing society, there are people with status, clout, and wealth–and this is the unlikely ministry we’ve been called to for now.

      I try to find peace in this and most days I have it. Other days I lust after your open landscape and bush-style house. : ) I agree with you…we have to prayerfully and intentionally consider this issue, and trust that our peers are doing the same. Judging never healed any wounds that I’ve heard of.

  14. Elisabeth February 4, 2015

    Though I appreciate some of the thoughts in this article, it definitely misses the #1 reason for living modestly ~ so the “locals” can relate to you. This has nothing to do with your supporters. As a “local” myself who was “ministered to” by Americans I can let you know that EVERY little thing you do to live like “the people” makes a HUGE difference. If you feel like you need to live like an American in order to survive, I would advise you to just stay in the US. I do not mean this to be a nasty comment. It is just the way “we locals” feel. It is hard for people to appreciate the huge sacrifices you all make when you still seem to be so very different. Thank you.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Elisabeth, I’m so sorry that you’ve had this experience with expats coming in to ‘minister’ to you. I join you in the frustration of foreigners coming in and rolling out their own red carpets and then pulling them back up when they’re gone, patting themselves on the back for the good they’ve done, and never truly experiencing the beauty of the people and culture around them. They are truly missing out, and I in now way meant to imply otherwise in this post.

      I think we are all in unique relationships with out host cultures. On a personal level, our 12-year-old neighbor spends a lot of time in our house and loves to practice his English. He is also super curious about our lives and American sports. Last weekend he asked me to teach him how to make hamburgers, we laughed together at how much he hated touching the meat, and then his parents grilled 25 burgers for a houseful of our American friends along with his extended family. It was a beautiful taste of joint community.

      Our landlord gave me $1,500 last month and asked me to order two brand new iPhone 6s for him for our visitors to bring from the U.S. — this is definitely a shock to what I expected to find in my cross-cultural experience! But these are the people the Father has given us here and I could not love them more.

      I know there’s lots of talk about ‘local’ people in these comments, but for so many of us, this is not a word in our normal conversation. Sure, when we are trying to articulate our adjustment overseas, we sometimes want to clarify what we’re learning from our host culture, so we may distinguish between our ‘local’ friends and our friends ‘back home.’ But I can guarantee for me, and for the majority of the women on this space, we don’t distinguish between the two in our real lives. The friends that have welcomed us into our new homes are our TRUE friends, and we feel deeply committed to and forever bound to these people. We don’t befriend ‘locals’ in order to have a ministry. We befriend locals because we need friends.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    2. Brittany February 4, 2015

      Your comment is interesting to me and has me thinking.  I realize that the locals’ view of the M is definitely important.  Going back to some of the comments above, I agree that the locals need to be considered when making these choices.  However, I also think that a M’s attitude can have an even greater effect.  Is the posture one of a refusal to acclimate to the culture or one of striving to live in a different culture without burning out?  For example, with me, I’ve had a few locals tell me that it is silly for me to expect to be able to deal without a dryer even though I don’t know anyone else who has one here.  I came to the field with a toddler (who began potty training shortly after arrival) and a baby.  My first 3 months were spent doing almost nothing but laundry and I finally gave myself grace to get a dryer to help with the load.  I was thrown into a completely new culture with no contacts (we are opening the field here), started language learning right away, and had to navigate everything for my family.  Someone who doesn’t know me might look at my dryer and judge me for being unable to give up my American comforts.  But those who know me know that I have that dryer BECAUSE I value my time with the locals.  I’m putting in an effort to learn the language, I’m meeting with locals for local-lead Bible study, eating the foods from local farmers, driving their car brand, etc.

      I feel like the heart of the author of this post was NOT to have people refuse to assimilate, but rather to give us the freedom to throw off the expectations of others (yes, even the locals) and let the Holy Spirit guide these choices.  People are going to judge.  Supporters, other overseas workers, and locals.  We can’t allow the weight of expectations to keep us from thriving, though.

    3. Karen Huber February 6, 2015

      Elizabeth, when we first moved overseas, I had this idea that if I was hardcore about my sacrifices, if I went above and beyond “for the Lord!” He would answer my prayers, bless our ministries, reward me in any number of ways. We took a small container of belongings (most of which were damaged), rented a small house in a rural village (in Western European standards) far away from our colleagues but in a place we wanted to minister. Well our first term was extraordinarily painful, for many reasons, but not the least of which was how uncomfortable, naive, lonely and secluded we felt in our home and lifestyle.

      When we moved back to the US for our home assignment and were faced with the option of using our precious monthly support to rent an apartment for our family of 5, or save it and live rent free in the attic bedroom of friends, I did the latter. Again, thinking God would honour my tremendous sacrifice and get us back to the field sooner. Again again, things were heartbreakingly difficult. We lasted three months in that attic bedroom, with our elementary aged son & daughter sharing a bed and our 1 year old son sleeping in a closet. I was so disappointed that God didn’t see all I was sacrificing, and felt like a failure when we had to admit moving out was the best option for our family to thrive and our relationship with our friends to survive.

      It wasn’t (then or now, back in Western Europe) about living as an American, but it was about putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves that no local, national, supporter or family member really wanted for us. And if they did have expectations on us, those are THEIR expectations, not exactly divine writ from God. It was an extreme time of learning, grace giving (and receiving) and acceptance that sacrifice often doesn’t look the same from one context to the next.

      Only God and ourselves know what our family needs to thrive and it will never look the same from one family, individual or cultural context to the next. And he wants us to LIVE! To dig deep and remain in Him. I believe that a big part of field retention for cross-cultural workers as well as authenticity in relationships with nationals is to decide what will work for YOU and YOUR FAMILY and for YOUR MINISTRY. And it’s what you do with that roomy house, that comfy sofa, that great big dinner table – how you share it and steward it in acts of loving your neighbours – that may be a greater sacrifice than going without.

      Either way, I’d caution advising people to “just stay in the US.” We don’t know their heart, their call or how God will move in and through them, regardless of how they live. I’d hate to say no to the Holy Spirit in someone because they super love Netflix.

  15. Elizabeth February 4, 2015

    To add on to my last comment; Sometimes I wonder if the challenge comes from the homes, lifestyles, and bounty of material goods we have become used to in the western world and think we can’t live without. This possibly makes it more difficult for us to transition to our host countries, and raises issues that might not have been such a big consideration for M’s 50 years ago.

    There are certainly a number of aspects to this issue! Thank you for raising it so graciously, Lauren.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Oh, I think you are right about this, too! When I first moved here, I felt like I needed so many more things to function. When I picked weevils out of my dried black beans for an hour one day, I thought, “This is ridiculous and gross! It’s totally not worth the $4 can I could buy at the foreigner store!”

      But now, weevils are no big deal and I’ve kind of embraced the planning that’s involved with cleaning, soaking, and cooking my dried beans. It’s all an adjustment…just a row we have to hoe. (Is that a phrase you’re familiar with? I’m from the Southern U.S.–I’m pretty confident that’s not a universal analogy…ha!)

  16. Laura February 4, 2015


    I appreciated your post, especially that all of us need different things in order to thrive while serving overseas. For me that’s been occasional visits to Starbucks, even though there are plenty of other coffee shops closer to where I live. At first I felt like it seemed too “American” to do, but then a friend here told me she likes meeting people there because you don’t have to worry about how long you sit and chat, which you do have to worry about at other coffee shops. Her comment took away any guilt I felt about going to Starbucks. 🙂

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Girlfriend, I totally get it! I never long for good coffee in our town…we have tons of delicious local shops. But anytime we cross the border for a visa run, I’m like a magnet drawn to the venti quad latte. The struggle is real. : )

    2. Karen Huber February 6, 2015

      I feel the exact way, Laura! Subway, too! Though when we’re back in the States and I’m in a Starbucks or Subway, I think “Oh! This reminds me of Ireland!” Also, totally culturally acceptable. Most of my Irish friends LOOOOVE Starbucks. 😉

  17. Jill February 4, 2015

    Thank you for your thoughtful perspective on this sensitive subject, Lauren!

    When I packed my bags to move over to SE Asia for a short-term assignment, my suitcases were full of plain v-neck t-shirts and all of my work-out capris with just a couple of long black skirts (that would go with my t-shirts, of course!). I had determined that I didn’t need all of my “cute clothes” — I was going to live “modestly”, and I didn’t want to chance ruining any of my “cute clothes” anyway!

    I was here for about a month when my daily attire came up in conversation. My new friends, locals and foreigners, looked nice and made an effort in their appearance regularly; however, there I sat once again in my pilling t-shirt and sweat-resistant capris. I wanted to look nice, too! I wanted my cute clothes!!! I can’t recall the exact comment I made to a friend, but she looked at me and told me that it was okay to wear my nicer clothes and for goodness’ sake, have my mom send me some decent clothes already!

    It wasn’t too long after that conversation when I had another one with another long-termer who said that an important difference between longevity on the field vs. quick burn-out is making choices / sacrifices that will help you survive and thrive. For instance, his wife doesn’t need air-con to survive the hot tropical climate of SE Asia, but she is grateful for the yearly exterminator who sprays their house to keep the unwanted insects at bay! It’s worth it to this man to pay for an exterminator every year to help his wife survive and thrive in the work they’ve been called to do!

    While I understand Elisabeth’s concerns above, there are countries where it is automatically assumed by the locals that all foreigners (especially Westerners) have money; therefore, they believe we should to live in “nicer” homes and that we should be generous to them and their country through financial means — the locals actually question us foreigners if we live any differently! If my ministry can be more effective with the locals by having a nicer home, inviting my neighbors into my home, and showing true love of God through generosity, then by all means, there is nothing wrong (in that cultural context) to have a nicer home than the local down the street.

    As I start to consider my long-term future on the field, I’m asking the Father to give me wisdom to know what I am going to “need” for my overall mental, physical, and spiritual well-being in order to be most effective for the long-haul. And you can be sure that I’m also taking into consideration what the expectations are of me, as a foreigner, in the culture where I’m living.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Jill, thank you so much for sharing your heart and such wonderful, developed thoughts! I can tell that you are reflective and really taking in all of the social norms around you as you scope out this life overseas.

      Like you, I took a trip abroad once (just for 3 months), and stuffed all of the v-neck tees and easy-to-wash pants I could fit into my single backpack. One pair of shoes, one set of cheap jewelry…I was Plain Jane. And while I loved the simplicity of it all, I noticed the looks from friends I made along the way who looked like they actually looked in the mirror each morning.

      I told someone at lunch today that when I first moved overseas, I went and bought some fabric to make an appropriate skirt for a function I was invited to. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I bought the cheapest fabric I could find. When I showed up to the party, I looked like I had ZERO respect for the other guests or my host culture. They were dressed to the hills with beautiful silk shirts, perfectly tailored skirts, and high heels. I was wearing and oversized cotton blouse, an embarrassingly cheap skirt, and Crocs sandals. I was mortified! Not because I wanted fancy things, but because it was blatantly obvious that I had created a great gap between myself and the party hosts. If buying an appropriate silk skirt and a nice blouse will help minimize those barriers, however materialistic that may sound, that is what I want to do to serve those I came to love and learn from.

      Obviously if I was in the bush of Africa or the desert of the Middle East, this would all be different. We all just need to know where we are and how to meet our new friends where they are comfortable! Thanks for processing all of this with me! <3

  18. Ashley Felder February 4, 2015

    I, too, have felt like I couldn’t live with nice things, fearful of what supporters would think. Thank you for this…I believe it’s true, and so freeing! We have lived in 3 places in the past 4 years. Each new place, I thought to myself, “it’s not worth decorating or making it feel like home…we’re moving again soon!” We’re on Home Assignment now, and when we return, we hope to be in one spot for several years. I’ve told my hubby this time around, I want to spend some money to make it home. It’s always been important to me, but I’ve neglected it for the reasons above. Of course there is balance. But, I also remember walking into a friend’s home our first weeks here, thinking, “WOW! They’ve got it good!” No, they just knew they needed to make a warm, inviting, comfy place to thrive in. Can’t wait to create the same!

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      This is great, Ashley! I was thankful that someone gave me that same advice before moving over. I packed picture frames, travel artifacts, and some of our favorite wall decor. I even spent and entire trunk packing Christmas ornaments, holiday happies, and white lights. Maybe it’s silly, but like you, our life has been a constant shifting around and moving from house to house. This is the most settled my husband and I have felt our entire marriage, even though we have only been in SE Asia 10 months. I say fill those suitcases with wall decals, burlap banners, and oversized photographs – go! : )

  19. Brittany February 4, 2015

    Oh Lauren, how helpful and encouraging this post is to me!!!  I could just reach through my computer and HUG YOU!  My family is alone here in our country (we have two small kids and #3 on the way) and the feeling that we have to live like the natives weighs heavy on our consciences.  Especially as locals always ask us how much we pay for rent or for this and that.  They don’t try to make us feel guilty, but that happens all on its own.

    However, we are living in a fairly large city (large for this country) as we complete language school, and then we are moving to a village deeper into the rural parts.  The village is very poor, but we have bought a house in the village and will be having construction done on it to make it “liveable” for our growing family who plans to plant roots for the next decade or so (Lord willing).  As we work on these construction plans, we are constantly filtering everything through: “Is that necessary?  What does that say about us?  Do we need these comforts?  etc.”

    My husband and I are planning on having a secret room accessible only through our bedroom that is a retreat.  A quiet, cozy room for meeting with the Lord, working on music, crafting… And we’ve had the conversation so many times (today even!) about whether that’s a good idea or is it selfish or extravagant.

    The Lord is so gracious to us, though.  He keeps telling us, and we keep forgetting or letting guilt persuade us against the truth, that we want to thrive here and as long as it isn’t taking the place of our God (as comfort, escape, distraction…), and it is within our means and budget, then it is a gift from HIM to pour into us and strengthen us in this difficult life He’s brought us into.  It’s not showy, but a private place for us where there isn’t much privacy.  It’s our home where our family takes refuge and we want to do whatever we can to really make our home a place to recharge and go out again.  Thanks for encouraging us in this!

  20. Brittany February 4, 2015

    Oh, and I forgot that I’ve let guilt burden me when we bought a dryer (I don’t know anyone else who has a dryer here, but for my sanity with an infant and toddler, it was necessary!) but the Lord has graciously shown me it is a gift from Him to me.  And when we move to the village, we will have a dishwasher which is another luxury that is just necessary for me!  I spend hours each day in the kitchen between cooking and doing all the dishes and it’s even more so when we have guests.  We don’t have house help here, so a dryer and a dishwasher are necessary for me to thrive in ministry here, and they are truly gifts from above!

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      Brittany – Wow! It seems like you have processed this so well and you are loving yourself and your family through it! Where in the world are you – can I come borrow your dryer? You don’t have to answer that…ha! But Hooray for you! I’ll be perfectly transparent with you–my husband and I had guests last week and we are sleeping on their sheets because I have been too lazy to stick them in the washing machine early enough in the morning to let them dry by evening time. It’s a sad case of a miserable excuse of a homemaker around here. So this is me…advocating for dryers in every home in every place. A happy wife makes a happy husband. So do clean and dried sheets! : )

      Seriously, with no house helper, chores take so much time that it’s next to impossible to do the work you are really interested in (and that supporters expect you’ll be doing). Not to mention the business that comes with being a mom of littles. You’ve got a two-thumbs-up from me to do what you need to do to stick out a long commitment in a rural village. The community will be eager to welcome you and learn all about your life, I’m sure.

      We also get asked all the questions about our salaries, how much we buy things for, etc. I have found it to be a fun game…and even like playing along now. I’m going to really struggle transitioning back into American culture where everyone is so closed off! I hope you feel comfortable sharing your life with your new neighbors, and that they will in turn share their lives with you.

      I truly believe that if you come with questions, an eagerness to learn, and a willingness to accept the practices of others, they will latch onto this model and do the same for you. Everyone on our little dirt road knows we are here, and they watch everything we do. But we are watching them, too, and learning from the things they do so well. It feels much like a partnership. We don’t feel like we have to teach ‘them’ how to have a better life…we feel like they are teaching us how to embrace community, show hospitality, and go with the flow.

      Enjoy that private room off your bedroom! I’m going to stick that idea away for a future house plan I’ll be dreaming about for now : )

  21. T February 4, 2015

    I’m so sorry to read that people are so burdened by what they think those ‘folks back home’ would think!  I imagine there are a few uninformed, cranky people who would say and really mean that you are living too fancy…but I’m sure that the majority of people would just be really, really happy for you that you can have tiled floors that are cleanable, or a pretty garden to sit in, or TV to watch.  Really!  Also, is it sometimes our responsibility to let people know that there are all types of fields and focus groups? (like the author said, they are focused on silk-shirt wearing folks!), and that could let some people at ‘home’ know that they although they themselves might not be willing to be an African bush worker, they could possibly thrive as a business consultant or professor in big city Asia?

    On another note, I really echo what someone wrote above:  It all depends on your work, and the culture you are in.  When I’d been here about 2 yrs, I was invited to an embassy person’s home…I LOVED sitting in the amazingly big and soft couch and recliners, and felt that the whole style of the house was soooo comfortable.  It was like being at ‘home’.  My husband and I decided we wanted locals to feel that when they are in our home, so we have the local traditional-styled couches.  The big thing for me, though, isn’t the couches…I struggle with CLUTTER!  Homes here are very decluttered, and that does not come naturally to me (or my kids, apparently!).  For a local to feel more comfy in my space means I need to keep it in check.  And my mind feels freer then, as well, so it is a win-win.

    I think it is fun so many people commented on this post!  The community is representing!  🙂

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

      T – You sound like such a fun person! I agree with you…I don’t think we give our supporters enough credit. They are in constant pryr for us, and are so happy to help us do the work they don’t want to or can’t do themselves. I think this is a call for us to take a leap of courage and be MUCH more open about our lives overseas! For what it’s worth, the people who receive our news always love the pictures of silk skirts : ) And hooray for clutter-free homes! I need to come live wherever you are!

  22. T February 4, 2015

    Oh, one more thing to add to benefits of househelpers mentioned throughout the comments–I read this business quote, and I have worked to apply it to my life r.e. to my househelper:  “If someone can do this at least 70% as well as me, then I should delegate it” and do the more important stuff that I’m called to today–like talk to my kid or my neighbor or do my lesson plans!  🙂  Guilt-free efficiency!

    1. Amy Young February 4, 2015

      Love that idea of 70% T! I hadn’t heard it, and can tell you, it’s now added to my “knowledge bank” — not sure what else to call it. All I’m trying to say, it “it’s a keeper!”

      1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

        I love the 70% idea, too! Tomorrow is delegation day! My toddler can definitely change her diaper 70% as good as I can. ; )

        1. Ashley Felder February 4, 2015

          We need a “like” button on here. Awesome. 🙂

        2. T February 5, 2015



    2. Amy Young February 4, 2015

      Lauren, what a gift you’ve given us in writing this post and then joining in and fleshing out these wrestlings in the comments :). You have embodied that of which you speak :)! Thanks friend!

      1. Lauren Pinkston February 4, 2015

        Amy, I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to share in this forum and dialogue with these women! These are some of my favorite conversations to have. Clearly, I have no self-control. It’s after midnight here so I’m signing off for now!

  23. Cecily Willard February 4, 2015

    My desire is to have a home where the local people can feel comfortable.  I have some items that are from the USA, and I have some nice things that I have purchased here in the country, but there are certain things I refuse to buy because I feel like my possession of them would set me apart from the people I came to love.

    I am in danger, though, when I judge other foreigners, inwardly criticizing their “extravagant” items. That is completely out of place.  I am responsible for what I do and that’s all.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 5, 2015

      Cecily, Your words are full of obedience and grace. I appreciate this balance so much. Thank you for sharing your heart! I know your new friends are blessed to be in your home.

  24. Monica February 4, 2015

    This post was excellent and has garnered so many interesting comments, as well as ideas and encouraging words.  My first overseas experience had me living in a slum area with a local family- and I feel that really shaped my attitude and understanding of how an M should live.  Incarnational ministry was the ‘big thing’ back then, ‘living like the locals’, and immersing oneself in the culture was the ‘way to do it’.  So, when my husband and I took an assignment in the hinterlands of East Africa we tried to live just like our neighbors- in huts, and carried our own water, and ate only locally available foods.  During that time I developed a very judgmental attitude about other Ms and the way they lived among ‘locals’ (regardless of their location and occupation).  This attitude reinforced our ‘hardcore lifestyle’ and sacrificial living, which I believe actually isolated me from the M community and learning more about how to live in a variety of situations.  I balked at the ‘nice homes’ people lived in- not taking into account their work role, and the people they were working with.  And then when we moved to East Asia, I began to realize how negative my attitude was- not balanced or healthy at all, really.  I have learned that it really does depend on your situation.  For us, although our work is primarily based around a minority group who live in mountain villages- the government won’t allow us to live IN a village.  So, we live on the outskirts of a minority county town in a small apartment.  We have made our apartment ‘villager friendly’, but since my husband’s work is with governmental officials and educational leaders- we also are expected to live at a higher standard because of my husband’s ‘title’.  We have found ourselves caught between two worlds really.  We are perfectly comfortable hiking into a village as a family, but when we host government partners we have to hire a land rover to escort them!  All of this has forced me to not only think about WHO we are living among and partnering with, but also HOW to carry that out in a way that makes our family thrive.

    This makes me think about my best friend growing up- her parents came to the States from Cambodia-  had a nice American home on the outside, but it was totally furnished with Asian furniture, wall hangings, and even the kitchen had different looking cooking contraptions than I had ever seen before. They retained a sense of ‘home’ within their American neighborhood- and I thought it was cool, and a very inviting home.  Would I expect them to abandon every single cultural attachment or ‘comfort’ just because they had moved to America?  Absolutely not.

    I would definitely say that our apartment in East Asia actually stresses me out because I have made it so villager-friendly that’s it’s not really functional for life long-term.  And it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve looked at other Ms in our country who have made their homes into ‘havens’, and realized how truly important that is.  Instead of judging them for decorating or furnishing in a certain way- I get to see a home that is peaceful and helps the family function well.  I still feel torn sometimes, even now as I write this.  For me it’s not so much about what our supporters think, as much as it is about making our home a place that is comfortable for us and yet not too ‘foreign’ for the community we live in.  A lot to continue pondering as our family faces the possibility of a move from our countryside apartment to a big city!

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      Monica, you have shared an incredible piece of your heart here. I’m thankful for your honesty as you describe the way your story has changed over the years. You know, the one ministry I did NOT see God calling me to overseas was loving my fellow expats. I was all prepared to love my local friends, the unreached…like, the people that other people were paying me to love. But the first challenge that met me was extending grace to my teammates and other M workers in my city.

      I can tell that you have a heart for this. And I truly believe that it’s impossible to love people who aren’t like us if we can’t love the people with the same goals, hopes, and beliefs as us. Way to go, Monica.

  25. Tia February 4, 2015

    Hey Lauren, it’s Tia from greenwood! I loved to have bumped into you on this blog. Velvet Ashes has been so good as we prepare to go. I loved this topic. God has definetly worked out this subject in me in years past (probably starting in Greenwood!) and there’s so much freedom in being okay with who I am and realizing God made me to be me and it can’t compare to others! I love that comment about big earrings and talking! I’m sure my extra booty shakes in Zumba might not suit everyone’s taste but that’s just me

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      Tia!! No WAY! So excited to reconnect with you, too! I’ve asked my CC friends about you many times. How can I follow your story and transition? I’ll never forget my first time at the Tuesday night study in Greenwood…I felt so strongly that you and I could be deep soul mates, and was super bummed that we didn’t get to share more life together. It’s great to hear from you!

  26. Angie February 4, 2015

    Housing is my big concern right now. There are so many factors to consider! One possible house is modest but far from our teammates so we’ve scratched that one out. Another used to be a bed and breakfast. What will everyone–our supporters, the nationals, our teammates–think about our family of 5 living in a 6 bedroom house?? But it is closer to our teammates and the exact same price. We are just praying daily for God to give us the house that will be the best for our family and the ministry. Maybe we haven’t even seen that house yet. We leave for our first term in 4 1/2 months and I’m just excited to see what God does!

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      I remember so many of these questions, Angie. Saying a prayer now for an undeniable peace about your housing situation and for a positive experience in ‘leaving well.’ The next few months will be so stressful and so important – I don’t envy you, but I know you will rock at it!

    2. angie February 8, 2015

      From one angie to another, I identify with your choices. We had a similar situation. Our first place in Central Asia was a small-ish house for the going rate of an two bedroom apartment. We are a family of 7. So we took the house  and thanked the Lord for that blessing. We had brought with us “comforts” but they were more emotional comforts – pics, blankets, special items, and a few other kitchen tools that helped me it realistic. We made it very homey but with locally bought furnishing, etc. We moved two more times over the first four years with each house getting nicer, but for the same (and in the end) less money! The last house was a ‘Dacha” area house that the neighbors NEEDED to rent out and was at a ridiculously low price. Never the less….it was huge! And quite fancy! So we prayed that God would allow us to use it for his glory, and we publically thanked him for doing that. We had MANY MANY guests, and even lots of overnight ones, that we would not have been able to host with the smaller house. We TRULY used the house as a place of ministry and hospitality! and ALSO…..when the guests were gone it was a GREAT “haven” for our family could enjoy and retreat. It was the best of both. Again, it’s about BALANCE!

    3. angie February 8, 2015

      From one angie to another, I identify with your choices. We had a similar situation. Our first place in Central Asia was a small-ish house for the going rate of an two bedroom apartment. We are a family of 7. So we took the house  and thanked the Lord for that blessing. We had brought with us “comforts” but they were more emotional comforts – pics, blankets, special items, and a few other kitchen tools that helped me it realistic. We made it very homey but with locally bought furnishing, etc. We moved two more times over the first four years with each house getting nicer, but for the same (and in the end) less money! The last house was a ‘Dacha” area house that the neighbors NEEDED to rent out and was at a ridiculously low price. Never the less….it was huge! And quite fancy! So we prayed that God would allow us to use it for his glory, and we publically thanked him for doing that. We had MANY MANY guests, and even lots of overnight ones, that we would not have been able to host with the smaller house. We TRULY used the house as a place of ministry and hospitality! and ALSO…..when the guests were gone it was a GREAT “haven” for our family could enjoy and retreat. It was the best of both. Again, it’s about BALANCE!

  27. Kim A. February 4, 2015

    Loved reading this and the whole discussion is great!  I totally agree that it is the difference between being long-term (lifers 🙂 and short term.  Anyone can sustain living in difficult circumstances for a short amount of time (we have done many short term outreaches sleeping on floors, in villages etc) with the full knowledge that it was short term.  What do I need to thrive at this moment (not just survive….)? Thank the Lord for His grace as He graciously and continuously teaches and guides us through this whole crazy process.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      Yes, Kim. You’ve been through such a transition–praise Him for His grace and mercy! Kissy face to you : )

  28. angie February 4, 2015

    I love this discussion. Moving to Central Asia with our 5 kids, it was a challenge to manage expectations. but in the end …..it’s about BALANCE!!! But I remember one turning point for me, as seasoned m worker said…”I’ve been here long enough to see lots of workers come and go. Some come in so “idealistic” and then often burn out quickly. You have to do what it takes for you to survive long term! It’s different for everyone! But if you need to pay 6 bucks for a box of name  brand Sugar Smacks cereal….do it!”   In the end…it’s balance. I call it the “glorious tension” that will always exist. It’s the same when you come back to the states to balance a “moderate” life. Thanks for talking about this.


    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015


      Such wisdom here! I’m just amazed by all you women who make this move and tackle this lifestyle with 5 kids–such mentors for me! I also like that you brought up that we must address this balance in our reverse cultural acclimation. I hadn’t thought to discuss this, but wow! How important that is. Whether in our passport country or host country, we are still servants of the Lord, desperately needing to rely on Him.

  29. Jacqueline February 5, 2015

    Great post! When we moved here to Eastern Europe we brought our ENTIRE HOME, that means Ethan Allen furniture to good ole’ Target home stuff to things I’d repurposed thanks to thrift stores and Pinterest. If it fit on the container it came! We even brought our chocolate lab (not on the container!). I am blessed to have supporters who were thrilled we could bring “our lives” with us because most understood the sacrifice was not really the things we left — it was the people we left — that was the real sacrifice. But what does it say to the nationals here? For this culture that sees so many foreigners come and go, it speaks volumes. “Oh, so when you say you’ve moved here to live, you mean it. You’re not here ’til you get tired. You’re really committed to staying here.” The best part has been how many have been blessed by spending time in our home. They love all things American here and are fascinated by my home. During Christmas, one young lady almost cried when she saw my Christmas tree,”It’s the most the beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” The next day she brought her friend because she knew she and her friends are always welcome to enjoy my home with me. The greatest benefit of seeming like the “Rich American” in this culture is the endless opportunity to share and be generous. Hospitality is huge here and my home has been not only a warm haven for me, but for many young women God has given me opportunity to reach out to. My home and all it’s American comforts has been one of the most used tools in our ministry. I did not expect this. Again, this could still be true had I furnished my home with stuff here.

    I do agree though with comments regarding cultural context. Had our field been different, our considerations would have been different bringing our stuff.

    If you’re ever in the Balkans, you’re welcome come over to my very American home!!

    1. Cecily Willard February 5, 2015

      Jacqueline, I don’t know where you are exactly, but we must be neighbors!  I’ll be right over to your American home 🙂  Got a Starbucks latte?

    2. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      Jacqueline, Thanks for the invite! You sound like a hostess with the mostest. I’m resonating with what you’ve shared about others’ comments as they enter your home. I hear all the time, ‘You’ve really set up a home here!’ or ‘I wish I had thought to bring all my pictures!’

      We’re here for the long haul–I want my kids to know that they can really attach to our home here…that we’re not just in another transition.

  30. Paula February 6, 2015

    I love the thought provoking comments.  So much to think about.

    We have the benefit of living in a flat that although is foreign government owed, Americans have lived in for the last 20 years, so a series of improvements have been made by the various families that make it feel more like home.  We actually have a large backyard (the best backyard I’ve had since leaving my parents’ house at 18), a bathtub, and a dryer.  We also have the benefit of a generator when very few people in the area do.  We are the only Americans in our Bible study group, and our friends’ kids have highlighted the cultural differences with their innocent comments.

    One sweet girl says she loves coming to our house because we have a park out back.  Another sibling set asked if they could swim in our pool (the very small by American standards bathtub) at Bible study one night.  Bathtubs aren’t common in our Indian government quarters, so they didn’t know what it was called.  I feel like these small incidentals though were the exact things I needed for a haven upon moving here.  We rarely have enough water to fill the tub more than a few inches full, but somehow it creates respite for me, and my toddler thrives in our backyard and by having a safe place for outside play.  We’ve also been able to host others in our backyard.

    That said, my time here is teaching me more and more about materialism, repeating, reusing, and making the most of what I have.  It’s also teaching me to be comfortable in other situations.  When we moved here I found the typical Indian living room furniture very uncomfortable.  Now I can easily relax when visiting others.   I’m also much more aware of what I spend on food when so much of the population cannot afford meat more than a couple of times a year.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      I love it, Paula. I’m learning those things along with you, too. We would love to have a yard, and are considering another move just for that reason. (Ok, and because I apparently have a love of packing boxes.) Also, three cheers for washing out our ziploc bags!

  31. Phyllis February 6, 2015

    Wow. When I had just finished reading the article itself, I wanted to quibble a little. But, now that I’ve gotten to the bottom of the comments, I’m just in awe. 🙂 You all are truly amazing!

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 8, 2015

      I’ve been quibbling all week, Phyllis, and I wrote the article! It’s a delicate topic, one that is impossible to be one-sided, and requires lots of leading from the Spirit. Thanks for reading!

      1. Phyllis February 8, 2015

        Would you or someone else want to write about–not the other side, because it’s not a simple two-sided issue, but–the other end of the lifestyle spectrum? Maybe?

  32. amanda june February 8, 2015

    After reading this article I thought, this is just the kind of article I’ve been hoping to see on this site.  And the discussion in the comments is so rich too — I don’t even know where to start. So many great and thoughtful things have been shared.

    I will say this: it’s easy (for me, anyway) to over-think things and put all kinds of burdens on ourselves that are not from the Lord — which is largely what the original article addressed. What are the expectations of those I’m serving, of supporters, of God — what am I doing wrong, where am I indulging too much? But as others have alluded to, I think we can also justify our love of comfort. It’s so easy to go from one extreme to the other, isn’t it? Serving in Asia for nearly five years I’ve definitely had times of “I have to in every way deny my own American-ness and become a blond version of the people I’m serving.” — as well as those moments of buying a $6 box of Cocoa Krispies and living off it for days!

    Ultimately I guess it’s all about our hearts and listening just to his voice — not others’ (because even the “locals,” those people who we love so much and so desperately want to serve well and influence for the kingdom — we can’t please and win them all by living one perfect way), not our own (because heaven knows I have my own distorted ideas about what I need to survive/thrive and what I need to sacrifice, and it probably changes day to day), only the Spirit, the one to whom we’re offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, the one who alone will satisfy us with his unfailing love, and he does — he wants to bless us with unexpected gifts and joys and things we didn’t think we could have; but maybe sometimes he also wants to show us that he’s more than we thought he could be, when we don’t have what we wanted.

    Still just learning and trying to hear his voice day by day. I will say I want to be cautious in this area, because it’s a concern to me — the idea that my overly-Western lifestyle or culture might be a stumbling block or a distraction in any way for the people I’m serving to see Christ and know him. But again, I can’t completely un-Americanize myself, or figure out the “perfect” way. Only his leading will do.

  33. andrea June 6, 2015

    We recently bought our first and only home, in Bolivia. I don’t believe anyone will know the significance of that for me. I wrote this recently, needing to decompress a bit.
    A close family member muttered recently, “That doesn’t look like an overseas workers’ home.”
    It stung a bit of jealousy and judgement, and I felt heavy and paralyzed for days to come.
    It’s true. Our home is beautiful. It is not a mud hut, or even a drafty, cold brick house with concrete floors and tin roof, as was our first one here in Bolivia – a house we made our home for 7 years. I call it my 7-year camping trip, which is often what it felt like.
    There was much I loved about that place – living out my convictions, experiencing life up-close among the poor, keeping it simple.
    I washed clothes and dishes by hand in ice water – my mountain spring water, I called it. I huddled with friends around the stove, bundled up with jackets and winter hats, with a cup of piping hot tea in hand to keep warm. I carried my babies on my back, wrapped in aguayo, back and forth to the market each week, buying only what I could haul with two arms and keep fresh on my countertop. I joked when people asked about not having a refrigerator. “Why do I need a fridge? I live in one!”
    I chastised myself for going to the fancy coffee shop in the city or for opting to work at my computer in the nearby airport, which was the only heated place in the entire city. I compared every decision, every purchase to my surrounding neighbors’ possibilities. And then heaped on judgement, on myself and others.

    Then unexpectedly the Lord saved me from myself, with a twin pregnancy that changed my whole world and literally dragged me out of my ridiculous pompousness. As I began to experience good and life-giving gifts through new friends and guilty conveniences, the life-sucking grip of expectations on me and others began to loosen. I started to enjoy gifts I had otherwise sacrificed and began to feel less guilty about it too.

    Now I am entirely grateful for both spectrums, learning to relish life in the most meager of places and now learning to bless others in our blessing. I pray I never lose sight of those who’ll never have that privilege. Everyday I wake up grateful for this gift we have.

    In moving overseas, you’re confronted often with everything that’s not yours: culture, language, perspective, customs, food, family… So much of life screams that you’re the outsider, the one who’s different. And I have tried so very hard to fit in. Owning a home for me here gives me roots, a  sense of permanence. And although I recognize I will never fully fit – anywhere anymore! – owning land here communicates my heart’s longing in some ways –  that I belong. That this is my place and I want to share my life with you, here.

    I figure that if I’m willing to make that investment, than it’s probably worth investing in something I love, a place that I can really enjoy and dig down deep roots, a lovely place for me, my children, my family and friends and neighbors. It has been a long time coming, and so I relish in this most unexpected gift the Lord has blessed us with. I don’t think the Lord would want anything less.


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