When You’re a Struggling Overseas Worker

When I was introduced to *Sarah, a newcomer to Canada, and her son, Austin*, at the drop-in playgroup the other day, I’m ashamed to admit that I judged her a little bit.  Her son seemed a little bit out of control (or just hangry).  And Sarah was tired and appeared apathetic.  She was due with baby number two in a week or so and was in a relatively new country and culture.  There’s no way of knowing the depth of how affected she was by the trauma from her war-torn country and the excruciating pain and loss before leaving her beloved homeland.  There’s no doubt she was missing loved ones – whether they even still lived, I do not know.  I had a sense that she was generally just feeling numb.  And then I got it.  I understood.  

Though my own experience pales in comparison to that of any refugee, I do know what it’s like to live in a foreign country where culture and language, no matter how much I learned, still left me feeling like an outsider.  Sarah’s numbness reminded of my last several years in Thailand, overwhelmed with motherhood, and weighed down with anxiety and grief.  I was numb too.  I get it.  I really do.  My heart was moved with compassion and I felt prompted to pray for Sarah and think more about how I can reach out to her and her family. 

I was also reminded of other moms on the mission field who are in the depths of the numbing shame for not handling life better than they are.  I think of single friends who are struggling despite being called.  These women struggle despite having prepared for serving overseas, despite their numerous prayer supporters, and despite a caring husband, housemate or team.  

One friend shared incredulously that she had actually been told that living in her country of service was exactly the same as living in her passport country.  “Why are you struggling so much?” they asked her.  (For what it’s worth, the two countries were vastly different in both culture and language.  Just basic daily living overseas can be exhausting, not to mention any ministry work!)

If that’s you, if this is how you’re feeling and what you’re struggling with, what I want to tell you is that you’re not alone.  You’re not the only one who has been in your position and struggled.  You’re not the only one whose feet keep getting stuck in the muddy bog, who use up nearly all their strength each time you lift your leg and break free only to get stuck as soon as that foot aims to set firm again.  

To you, I say this:

Don’t let your suffering isolate you.  Tell even just one other person your biggest burden, and you may just find they say, “I’m thankful you shared that with me.”  Or even, “Me too.”  Far too often we think that we’re the only one who has struggled with something and, for the most part, that’s simply not true.  You can even e-mail me [ beth at bethdonchai dot com ] and I would be happy to pray for you!

Seek help or ask someone you trust to assist you to get that help. It may be found in a counsellor, or your physician or both.  Be persistent in getting the help that you need. Be your own advocate or ask your spouse or friend to be your advocate.  There are wonderful online resources like those at MissionaryCare.com to give you a start in the right direction.  There are also extremely helpful counselling services available for missionaries and expatriates in many locations around the world.  Many of the counselling centres that I’m aware of, even offer some follow-up counselling via Skype.  Cornerstone Counseling Foundation and The Well International are two fantastic foundations in Chiang Mai, Thailand who offer a wide variety of counselling services.  Feel free in the comments to make personal recommendations of other counselling centres.  

Give thanks to God – you’ll find that this alone will change your perspective.  This study found that “compared with the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counseling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief.”

Paul wrote many of his letters when he was suffering or facing persecution and yet he was so full of joy and gratefulness to God.  I recognize and fully understand that this is NOT EASY but the same Spirit who empowered Paul lives within each Christ follower today.  

The people who I found to be most supportive and helpful when I struggled were the ones who had gone before me through similar challenges.  They had battled the same battles, sought the help and support they needed, overcame obstacles, moved to healthier ministry locations, made other healthy life changes and were able to now help other missionaries who were struggling.  

This was what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV):

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for when we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.   But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.  You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

So, whether you’re currently struggling on the missionary field, a foreigner living in an unfamiliar land, or one who has the capacity to support newcomers to your country, just remember that you’re not alone and that it will get better.  I pray that you, too, can get the support you need to not just survive where God has called you to be, but to thrive.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Photo credit: John Silliman on Unsplash

The Perspective of Returning Home

img_0298

I recently looked back at some of my early blog posts, dating back a little over thirteen years ago. I was in the middle of preparing to go to the mission field and, as I read, I was reminded of the many ways that the Lord prepared the way for me. I was single, young, determined, adventurous, and possessed a heart full of faith to follow the Lord where He was calling me. Now, all these years later, I am married with two small children, not as young as I used to be, just as determined, more cautious than adventurous, but still with a heart ready to follow Jesus as He prompts me through His Spirit.

We are heading back “home” to Canada this coming August and I am unsure whether to call it home or not. My mom passed away last year and my dad twenty years before that. My sister and her family live two hours away from where we’ll plant ourselves, and many of my close friends now live scattered across Canada.

Someone asked me recently about what was waiting for us in Canada, assuming we had jobs lined up and a place to live. “Oh,” they replied when my response was negative towards both of those things, “so you’re just waiting on God to see where He’ll lead you?”

The unknowns in my present are just as intimidating as they were when I was anticipating moving to SE Asia. But the difference now is that I have almost thirteen years of experience of walking through unknowns, following the lamp that the Lord’s provided to show the path in front of me, and the regular discipline of reminding myself of what is true.

I know He is El-HaNe’-eman – “faithful God” (Deut. 7:9 ESV). He never changes and, despite circumstances around us being uncertain, He is unwavering in His character.

I know He is Eliezer – “my God is help” (Exodus 18:4 ESV) – and Ebenezer – “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV). I’ve experienced His provisions countless times and often in the most surprising ways. Like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, I have set up various stones – some real, some in my journal, and some through a picture or other creative means – in my life as a way to honour the Lord and remember how He has moved to help me and others around me.

I know He is Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, and Matthew 1:23 ESV). This has been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to persevere in serving the Lord. I have never had to tackle any task, assignment, follow-up visit, language and culture lesson, visa trip, immigration question, sickness, home assignment, dangerous road, sermon or annual reunion conference by myself. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Despite Satan’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I was never alone in that village in the wooden house, never forgotten in that mountainous assignment, never left behind when my husband went off to work and I was home alone with our children. His presence has satisfied my soul, calmed my anxieties and empowered my heart.

So, I anticipate returning home with great expectations of the Lord to remain the same. I know He will lead us through new challenges and adventures, He will provide exactly what we need (and sometimes what we may think we want) and when we need it, and He will remind me that He is with us and will continue to be with us through it all.

Home has changed. And I’ve changed too. I don’t know what home even really means anymore except for it to be the place where God invites me to be, too.

If you’re returning home for the summer or for longer, which testimonies of God’s goodness is the Holy Spirit reminding you of so your soul may be strengthened?

Where Are You on the Writing Path?

img_9870

Over thirteen year ago, I began writing my blog a couple of months before I left to serve cross-culturally in Thailand.  I had wanted a place to share my thoughts, my struggles and my victories while I served in a new culture, language and country.  It’s fun to look back now and remember the situations and people I encountered and how the Lord sustained me through it all.

After a long hiatus from blogging, I made a commitment to began to write again in April and I joined an amazing community of faith-filled writers called Hope*Writers.  Through access to their online learning library, which is updated on a regular basis, and the support of the staff and community of Hope*writers on their Facebook group page, I know where I’m at in my writing journey, and how to get to where I’m dreaming to go.  I am inspired to write again and it feels like fresh air!

I’m excited to think through how the Lord might use me and my journey – my failures and successes – to encourage other women to be involved in serving God and living missionally both cross-culturally and in their own backyard, so to speak.

Hope*Writers only opens up access to join their writing and learning community a couple of times a year and next week (May 21-25) is one of those opportunities to join!

Whether you’ve thought about starting to write a blog (or start writing on it again), have an idea for a book or maybe even have published a book but you’re still interested in learning and growing as a writer, Hope*Writers is for you!

Give this short, fun quiz a try to learn where you are on the writing path and know your next step is.

This is an affiliate link but I promise I won’t ever recommend something unless I’ve tried it before and have determined it to be helpful, inspiring or both.

Looking forward to journeying with you!

Accepting a Slice of Chaos

A few weeks ago, I entered the kitchen to get a cup of milk for each of my two young daughters.  They were waiting for me in their beds, nearly ready to sleep for the night – or so I was hoping.  Suddenly, I noticed some movement on the white tiled counter.  Ants.  And not just a couple of them but a long trail of busy, black ants.  I followed their path over to the far side of the kitchen where they were disappearing into a tiny hole in the counter.  I stepped back and decided to return to my original task of the cups of milk.  The ants would have to wait until tomorrow for me to deal with them.

img_9855

In every house I’ve called home in Thailand, there have always been ant problems.  For this reason, we (initially my roommates and I, but now my husband and I and our children) have always limited any food to the dining room and the kitchen.  The ants don’t need us to generously bring them crumbs and spills to other areas of our house – they’ll go there on their own anyhow!  We also need to have our house helper or a friend keep an eye out for ant invasions when we go away for vacation or return to Canada for Home Assignment.  Ants like unlived spaces even more than places invaded by humans. The last thing we’ve had to do over the years is to simply accept that the ants would never go away completely and that we would have to learn to live with them.  Those ants in the bathroom?  Sure.  You can stay there guys.  The ants traipsing across the steps of our front porch?  Well, just don’t cross the threshold into the house, okay? Okay?

I desire to be used by God but that also means I need to follow God in whichever direction He leads.  Does this mean that I must embrace an element of chaos if I want to follow Jesus?

I think that embracing the chaos can look different for everyone, and, it may not be the challenge that God is asking you to embrace.  My husband and I are nearly totally opposite people – for him, embracing chaos is exciting (or normal – because what’s chaotic for me is not for him since he is Thai and this is his home culture!) and he enjoys the challenge.  For me, I am a natural homebody (which is quite ironic considering how the Lord has called me to be involved in Kingdom building) and I like to plan things so I know what to expect.  Accepting the unexpected opens the door for both potential failure and success.

The ants in my kitchen represent something stressful and unmanageable.  They are unpredictable and potentially destructive.  They are my storm, whereas a clean, antless house would be my calm.  But if I let the ants blow me down, increase my stress and invade my peace, what will that mean for bigger life challenges?  Sickness?  Death?  Loss or disappointment of any kind?

No, as the Lord is leading me, I must embrace a portion of chaos and ask the Lord what He wants me to look for, listen for and learn in the process.  Because stepping out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus? It’s only possible if I first step out of the boat.

What is the Lord inviting you to embrace in this season?

Five Minute Friday: Include #FMF

Ever since my daughters were born, as a part of our day, we would often call my mom via Skype while we were eating breakfast.  I’m sure it wasn’t the most thrilling conversation for my mom but it was such a normal interaction and it made it feel like she was close even though she was half a world away.

When my husband and I would see notifications on Facebook letting us know that Mom had “liked” or “loved” our most recent posts and pictures, we knew my mom was up late, favouring her night owl tendencies.  She would be faithful to leave a comment of encouragement on whatever we had shared.  We used to joke about how she “liked” everything but deep down we truly were appreciative of her efforts to connect.

Now that my mom is gone, having passed away last September, it feels abnormal to go through a breakfast without calling her.  It feels empty to not see her comments and likes on Facebook.  It feels sad that we no longer receive cards in the mail from her.  It feels strange that she’s no longer just half a world away but actually in heaven.

But we’ve found ways to include Mom in our everyday.  We talk about our visits to her in Canada.  We sing songs that were the old reliables that my mom would sing to my daughters on Skype.  My daughters draw pictures to put in a journal for Grandma.  I tell my daughters that this book or that toy or this stuffy or that dress was from Grandma.  I include extra details throughout our day that help us connect to the memories of my mom.  It doesn’t give the allusion that she’s still alive but the memories give us the full picture that she was both my mom and my daughters’ grandmother but, ultimately, the Lord’s child.

We include memories of my mom in the everyday so we don’t forget.