My dear, passionate, committed, global loving friend,
You may feel that there are few who understand your purpose as you embark on this adventure in missions. And many don’t. Don’t get discouraged, though, for there are still some who do, and you’ll find them, little by little. God has set you apart for just the tasks He has for you and there are twists and turns in this life overseas, so hang on tight.
Choosing to live and serve overseas has brought some of the most beautiful, God-ordained moments into my life. It has also brought some of the hardest and most painful moments of my life.
Things will not go as planned. You will grow weary. You will fail. You will want to give up. However, after 12 years of this kind of life, I have found that it is worth every minute. This world needs people like you out in it, pushing the darkness back, one bold prayer at a time. There are still places where the name of Jesus needs to be made known. If I could start again, I’d love someone whispering a few things over me as I began the journey of life overseas, so here are a few of my own whisperings for you.
Dive into loving, over and over again.
You will most likely fail many times at acting appropriately in the best cultural way. I’ve accidentally told some women to “gossip” instead of “role play.” I’ve mistakenly said “feces” instead of “food.” I’ve accepted a gift with my left hand instead of my right (a big no-no here!).
But can I tell you something I’ve noticed? People know whether you love them or not. It doesn’t matter whether you share a common language or whether you do the appropriate cultural thing. They recognize love. I’ve seen it when a woman hosted me for a meal where I didn’t share a common language. She lovingly tried to communicate, and I could see in her eyes that she was humbly doing all she could to welcome me and show me respect. Choose to love.
Choose also grace upon grace.
Choose grace for yourself when you fail again… grace for your neighbor who corrects you a million times on how you cook your food or how to wear your baby or how to cut up your onions. Choose grace for the teammate who sees things at such a different angle from you. Choose to be grace-oriented, no matter what.
Deciding to live with grace regarding our relationships with others takes a deep humility as you commit to consider others better than yourself. Be daring enough to have the humility to serve up a big helping of grace, daily.
Listen long and hard.
This is not only THE most important aspect of language learning but also for understanding cultural cues. There is a quote in one of my cookbooks regarding entering a new culture: “Be quiet for 5 years.” I used to laugh at that, but then after multiple years here I noticed a shift in my understanding. Instead of saying, “Why on earth do they do that?” I started saying, “I finally understand.”
When I sat in a village and saw women walk 6 hours a day to carry water to their home, I thought, “I know why they don’t wash their hands. I might not either if I had such a desperate water situation.” After years of listening and trying to enter into their mindset, I can finally speak from a depth of understanding that allows me to contribute ideas and words with so much more insight. Strive to learn and listen much more than trying to speak, especially at the beginning.
Commit to resting and doing what is life-giving.
You must learn to care for yourself. Someone encouraged me early on to take scheduled breaks. Taking breaks is one of the reasons why I am still on the field 12 years later. We often believe the lie that if we just keep pushing ourselves and work that much harder then we will finally see that breakthrough or get that ministry started. It is the opposite. Only when we take those breaks can we find the strength to continue on and persevere.
Little wounds need to be tended. If we don’t take them to the Father, then they will grow and fester and create large wounds. Take Sabbath. Take a break as often as you need it. If you need more time during a certain season, then take it!
Whatever taking time to rest looks like to you, set aside time away if you want to continue to serve. In that setting aside, stay connected to life-giving friendships. I have reached points of deep discouragement and even fear, and a call from a friend has been the life-line that has helped me push through. God has so much He wants to offer you as you rest in Him.
This world needs people like you out in it, pushing the darkness back, one bold prayer at a time.
Remember that “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
It really, really is. Nothing can compare with His joy. When all has been stripped away and you feel you are in a season of discouragement, go to the Father and find His joy. I’ve found joy in care packages and in the fan coming on after hours of power cuts in 120 degree F weather. However, the true joy that has sustained me has come from Him. It has come in those times when I’ve felt the Father’s joy even when my circumstances didn’t make any sense. Sing and rejoice in the Lord. He is so, so good to us and nothing can compare with His glory… no matter how hard our circumstances.
Become saturated with Jesus.
Bend toward the light of His face and keep bending in when you don’t understand, have doubts, or feel weary. When you finally see fruit or a breakthrough, lift your face towards His light in thanks. Bring Jesus into everything – the mundane, the endless poverty, the injustices, the failures in language, the feeling of being lost in a giant new culture.
Simple prayers have been all I can pray sometimes. After hours of sitting on a mat not understanding a word, “Oh Come, Lord Jesus.” When the 10th visitor comes before 10 am, “Oh Lord, have mercy so I can face all these needs today.” Weeping over the malnourished little baby that is skin and bones, “Oh enter in Lord Jesus and heal.” Do it all in the name of Jesus…with Him, in Him, and all in all devoted to Him.
If there was one word I would whisper over you as you go, it would be His name: Jesus.
His name is the only solution to the thick darkness of this world where you are about to enter right into its depths. He alone can shine that beacon of light into those moments that are so hard. And because you walk hand in hand with Him, His light will shine into even the darkest crevices, simply because you chose to enter into Him. Enter with Him and Go.