When we move overseas, we think we’re moving alone.
We may only be responsible for the people who share our surname and travel itinerary, but the reality is that we’re bringing a lot of baggage.
Of course you know I’m not talking about the suitcases (although there are a lot of those, too)….it’s the emotional baggage that weighs us down, my friends.
And do you know where I hear it stemming from most often? The relationship between religious expatriates and their senders.
Foreign servants and our supporting fellowships. We depend on each other and yet we inject insurmountable portions of stress into each other’s lives.
I’m here to talk about the dynamics of the first year of living abroad. But I want to write to two audiences: the goers AND the senders. And I want to be a middleman of sorts.
Because the people who go are only as strong as the people supporting them to go.
So, lest you think you’re running away to a foreign land alone, I’d like to propose a revolutionary concept: WE ALL NEED EACH OTHER. Goers and Senders.
Not in a we-need-money-and-they-need-workers kind of way. But rather, in a the-Kingdom-of-God-is-at-hand kind of way.
And I’m afraid there are a few things that need to be said on neutral turf. Here are two short letters addressed to the above.
Senders: Give Your People Freedom to Go Slow
The work that supporters do for Kingdom growth is absolutely essential.
So many times, however, churches view financial sponsorship as an investment to be paid back in Bible studies and conversions.
Sin and free will are removed from the equation. The movement of the Father is never mentioned. And a relationship with those serving abroad is limited to quarterly reports of cold, hard statistics of budget expenditures and the number of new baptisms.
The reality is that no single person has the authority or the power to manufacture people’s responses to the news of salvation.
We don’t set people apart. We don’t change hearts. We don’t call others out from the world.
All of that is the Father’s job. And it’s His job to take away sin, too.
So before we call those bringing Good News and ask how many people have responded to that News, what if we asked a few different questions?
How is your consistency in your personal quiet time with the Maker?
How are you praying for the Father to move in the country where you’re working?
How are you being obedient to the things you’re studying and with the doors He is opening?
I guarantee these questions will help you get to know those you’ve sent more deeply, and you’ll be able to better assess their work and ministry effectiveness.
If you want a good return on your investment in foreign discipleship, allow your partners to go slow. Allow them to take time to do nothing but learn the local language and study the cultural dynamics.
Support them emotionally through social media connections, physically through care packages, and spiritually through short-term teams.
Ask them how they are, not just what they’re doing. Pray daily for their well-being and all around health. Communicate your own ministry visions and struggles for your local context.
Most of all, recognize the work that is ours to do and the work that belongs to the Creator. You can serve your M’s most by decreasing your expectations of them and increasing your expectations of God.
Goers: Embrace the Freedom to Go Slow
Go ahead and take it away. That’s right, your desire to make things happen.
It won’t take long into your first year abroad for you to realize that you are the least capable and least powerful you’ve ever been. You’ll be handicapped linguistically, culturally, and socially.
You’ll make mistakes. You’ll offend people on accident. You’ll embarrass yourself to no end.
I wish someone had told my husband and me that this was the absolute best thing we could do in our first season of life overseas. It would have really helped us laugh off the day my husband tried to sell his testicles to our neighbor lady or the day I had three run-ins with the police.
I dream that all people could feel the freedom to go slow in their first year abroad. Because when new learning is coming at you from every direction, you need to be able to take it in and spend time processing it.
I also dream that we would all BE WILLING TO BE IGNORANT. I can’t say this with enough passion. Those of us coming from educated backgrounds are so used to having answers to problems that we are uncomfortable existing in a state of endless questions.
It is difficult to live our first year overseas well unless we keep our solutions to ourselves and instead ask all the questions we can possibly formulate. We must be learners, and we must accept that we are infiltrating peoples’ spaces.
We are rarely asked to come into the communities we enter. Yet we march into people’s lives as if we have arrived to solve their problems and aren’t they so lucky we’re willing to sacrifice?
I reject this philosophy, because I realize how much my individual presence in my neighborhood has changed the dynamics of the lives surrounding me.
In his book Make Haste Slowly, Donald K. Smith says:
It’s difficult to begin involvement with a different people. Frequently, the receptor group is suspicious of the outsider’s intentions and unwilling to openly receive him into their inner society.
Genuine involvement can be established, however, when you’re dependent on the host group…Then the host people will be able to maintain their feelings of self-worth and dignity…When we can become dependent upon the people (even in small ways), it sharply improves communication.
I’ll be the first to admit that going slowly is wretchedly miserable for me. I like to see results, I like to see things moving, and I like to see productivity.
But after a year of practicing this discipline in my language and culture learning, I have witnessed the second year of my ministry abroad moving so much faster than I could have imagined.
Let this be my testimony to you: Going slow has allowed me to go fast. There’s freedom and grace for you to do the same!
If you’ve been overseas for a while, what do you wish you’d know before entering your first year abroad?
If you’re planning your first season abroad, what about this article challenges your thoughts or feelings?