Where Are You Choosing Joy? {Book Club}

My sister, her husband, and their two young children lived with my teammate and me for six weeks before they returned to the US after their first term in Cambodia. While my dreams for an idyllic time of all fun and games crashed and burned (a much longer story for another time), we did have the opportunity to share our meals together, go for walks, and enjoy doing life together for those days. There were long conversations after the kids went to bed, movie nights and devotions together.

My nephew and niece enjoyed the dirt patch outside our door after two years living in the city in a 3rd story apartment. They drove toy cars out there, dug with a hammer that came from who knows where, and made up stories about the ants that marched to and fro.

When it came time to take the 6-hour taxi ride back to the capital city to fly out, my sister took my 3 ½-year old nephew around to his favorite spots to say goodbye, including a farewell to our dirt patch. My heart broke and tears flowed, let me tell you (on my part at least).

This story came to mind as I wrapped up the final chapters of For the Joy. I thought of my sister, and I thought of all of you who are walking with your kids through the challenges and glories of cross-cultural work. I thought of the ways you are helping them say hellos and goodbyes, the ways you protect and struggle with the impact your yes to Jesus is having on your kids.

I thought of the singles who are welcoming the kids on their team, all the women who are coming alongside of each other to love and listen and care. It made me so incredibly thankful for God’s Kingdom and this community, and how He knits us together to accomplish His work.

Reading this book has been so eye-opening to see how hard it is to parent on the field—so if you are doing that, please know I see you and am so grateful for you.  

Perhaps like Paula, you have a child with special needs and have to figure out how to get the best resources and help you can in a place where those might be limited. Have you said something like, “I had always believed that if our children aren’t coping, we should just be better parents”?

Or maybe you’ve had a traumatic birth like Alexis shared. If you have, I’m so sorry. I hope instead your birth-abroad stories are more adventure and peace than craziness and heartache.

Lyndal shared about raising her boys in the bush of Papua New Guinea. Anyone relate to the joys and sorrows of raising kids in a more isolated location?

Cecily shared about her own experience at boarding school as a girl and the different responses her own children had. I’m sure there are lots of different views about all the schooling options out there, and so many different factors. One thing that stuck out to me in her story is that parents truly try to do the best they can for their children. At the end Cecily concluded, “If I had my time again, I’m not sure I would send my children to boarding school. We could only make that decision with the strong assurance and conviction of the Lord”. That’s often all we can do, isn’t it?

Finally, Wendy shared some sweet and fun ways she helped her children through transition, including airport games and plane notes. Do you have any ideas or ways you’ve done those sorts of things with your own kids?

The editors of this book, Miriam Chan and Sophia Russell, shared some sweet thoughts about what they hope you were able to take away from For the Joy!

Sophia: “I hope they will have their world ‘expanded’ without leaving their homes by reading these stories from far-flung places, but also be encouraged to know that no matter where we live, we are all the same: walking with God, trusting in Him, striving to put Jesus at the centre of all we do.”

Miriam: “When we read stories/biographies, we may find ourselves identifying with the characters but more often than not, we don’t. It’s an eye-opening adventure to walk in the shoes of another person briefly and to see the world from their perspective, to hear their voices and to marvel at how God has created them and uses them in such different ways.  Each story [in this book] is unique and powerful, and we pray that God will take us into places we probably would never have journeyed on our own.”

 Here we are at the end of For the Joy! Thank you so much for joining in, and I hope this book was meaningful to you. What are your takeaways from this section or the book as a whole? Was there one woman’s story you particularly identified with? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

In June we will be reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin! Here’s a summary of the book from Amazon:

In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer. This young adult novel is a fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore.

Here’s the reading schedule:

June 2 – Ch 1-13

June 9 – Ch 14-23

June 16 – Ch 24-38

June 23 – Ch 39-48

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash


  1. Rachel Kahindi May 26, 2020

    I loved Lyndal’s story about raising hunters in the bush so much. We are not that remote, don’t live in the bush, but my boys wish for that kind of adventure. One of them frequently tells me about his dream of being a jungle boy. Like Mowgli, I guess. They try to shoot monkeys with slingshots and would love to build traps, though our dogs and cat catch everything that comes onto our compound.

    The airport games and notes are so creative. We might try one of those next time we travel. On the plane, it’s all good because of screens and devices and entertainment. But when we are at the airport hours early, after security, before boarding, waiting for the adventure to begin, it’s such a drag…

    But somehow, as I look back through this section, there’s only one thing I highlighted. It’s a good one, too. Paula said:

    “Living here in Indonesia, I have to rely on God–more than I ever did in Australia. As He strips away everything familiar and safe, all that I am left with is Him. As it turns out, He is enough.”

    I really appreciate this book. Parts were challenging, parts were encouraging. As a whole: uplifting.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 26, 2020

      That was such a good quote in Paula’s story! I think I do have to rely on the Father in my passport country, but the idea of cross-cultural work stripping everything away is definitely so good. 🙂
      I can just picture your boys and their desire for an adventure! 🙂

  2. Cindy May 26, 2020

    I jumped in at the last minute, got the book a few days ago and finished it last night–thanks to social isolation!. Loved it, found it inspiring. My husband and I are grandparents, but I related well to these stories since our 3 kids were born in East Africa and we spent a good part of their childhoods there. We have now been in North Africa for 3 years after 2 decades in the US. I loved the fresh honesty that we hear from Red in chapter 1. And I am feeling right along with her: “I plaster a smile on my face and try my hardest to fake coping. In the short term, this surprisingly helps.” Yes, frequently…. And this next quote is really me: “I’d be lying if I said I’m well suited to this environment and ministry; this simply isn’t true…It’s His pattern to send ill equipped, weak people way out of their depth so He can bless them and use them to bless others.” Yeah. I don’t tolerate heat well, and learning Arabic at age 60 is rough — even my teacher hinted that maybe I should give it a rest 🙂 But there’s so much more to this life here that God has hugely blessed me with, including knowing Him so much better now.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 26, 2020

      Cindy, I’m so glad you jumped in to read the book! I really enjoyed each woman’s story. I’m not a mom myself, but I identified with Red’s story a lot!

      Good job to you for tackling language study and dealing with the heat and everything! I’m only in my 30s and am not keen on having to learn another language. 🙂

  3. Amanda May 27, 2020

    Thank you for your comments about recognizing the challenges of motherhood on the mission field. 🙂

    Paula’s story about anxiety reminded me of our last furlough when my toddler was a hot mess and people would offer unwanted advice. I actually started obsessing over the thought that my daughter might have anxiety. As parents it is so hard to “wait out” those situations out of fear of messing up our children or hurting them. I felt physical relief upon reading the diagnosis of Paula’s child because it is what empowered her to be able to help him. Now I know that my daughter was just going through “normal” issues and emotions due to our circumstances, but it is so hard sometimes as a mom on the mission field to decide if moving back to our home country with more resources would be the best for our kiddos. What a great reminder, “There is no safer place to be, and no better place for our children, than to be in the centre of His will: with our Maker, our Redeemer, our Friend, our Saviour, our King.” Amen!

    As for Alexis’ story–I was reminded of some challenges during my birth abroad, and couldn’t imagine going through that my first year on the mission field! To be honest, I struggled with the way she and her husband did not follow their organization’s policies or advice. I don’t want to sound judgmental. It is more to say that there were times that we didn’t agree 100% with what our sending organization would recommend, but hindsight we were SO grateful that we respected their advice and rules that were formed out of experience.

    I laughed out loud reading Lyndal’s recollection of raising her baby in a village: “‘no worries, I’ll just let him cry as the baby books advised.’ Unfortunately, my neighbors hadn’t read the same books and the thought of just letting a baby cry offended all of their principles of child-rearing.” Ha! My neighbors used to rush into my home to try to rock my baby girl to sleep.

    My takeaway from this book is that as parents, we do the best we can to make decisions in raising our children. We love them in our imperfect human ways, trusting that God is working in their lives and that He will use our efforts to lead His children to know Him. The goal isn’t making the perfect decisions, but pointing our kiddos to the cross.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 28, 2020

      Amanda, thanks so much for sharing these thoughts! I don’t know if it is the combination of being women and Kingdom workers, or if it’s altogether a human thing, but I feel like we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it all right. Whether it is as a mom on the field, or a mom in our passport country, or an overseas worker, or whatever it might be, we definitely won’t get it all right! I heard someone talk about parenting as being in it for the long haul and keeping a long view, and that felt fitting.

      I have to agree, I wondered why Alexis and her husband kept going against everything their organization advised. I understand in a lot of ways, but I also feel like if we are part of an organization, we are under their authority and need to respect and listen to their guidance. But I wasn’t in their situation, so there might have been other factors that weren’t in the book. 🙂

      So glad you joined us for this book! I enjoyed your insights. 🙂

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