Five non-missiony books to help you live and minister across cultures

by Jonathan

These aren’t mission-y books. They’re not even about cross-cultural life or transition. Nevertheless, these books have been fundamental to my life (and sanity) abroad. In no particular order…

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, by Timothy Keller
Because if you didn’t have a good grasp on these concepts before moving, you’ll need to get one pretty quick after moving. I very much appreciate Keller’s deeply theological and yet tender writing in this book. Those two things do not often coexist, unfortunately.

Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller
This one makes the list because the basic story is known but the deeper message is typically missed. This book and the truths in it have the power to reshape our understanding of God’s character and of his view of us. In the world of cross-cultural ministry, God’s character and how he views us are pretty big deals. I recommend this one all.the.time.

The Psalms
I had to not-so-subtly sneak this in. Of course, this one is not co-equal to the others, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve written here and here about the importance of the Psalms in the lives of missionaries and cross-cultural workers.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero
There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor at a suburban, wealthy, primarily white church. But this guy isn’t one. So, although he writes from an American context, he also writes from a cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, church-centered context. I also love how he assumes that the majority of people are going to be truly transformed and discipled, not through professional counselling, but through consistent and loving relationships.

A Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder, by Kevin Belmonte
Life is serious, the world is a mess, and we need the aged brilliance of Chesterton. His humor, his levity in the face of a world that was no-less troubled, his talk of fairies and mysteries and paradox, it’s all for our time. Get to know the author who pretty much gave the world C.S. Lewis. You’re welcome.

Welp, that’s it. Have a great day! Oh, and if you have a book that you’d add to this list, link to it in the comments section below. Thanks for dropping by!

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*Contains Amazon affiliate links

Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.

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That Time Paul Talked About Breastfeeding {Velvet Ashes}

by Elizabeth

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My husband and I worked in local church ministry for over ten years before moving abroad to serve for the last five and a half. There’s something I want you to know about this life: you’re going to need a lot of fortitude for the journey. Working with people, in any time and any place, is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your home country or a host country. Working with people is heart-wrenching and soul-filling, and you need endurance.

This is something else I want you to know: in the years ahead, never hesitate to serve out of your feminine strength. A lot of teaching models are filled with masculine metaphors. There’s battle this, and army that. There’s fighting here and soldiering on there. The Bible itself is filled with battle-speak. We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. But the same Paul who told us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that we were to arm ourselves and stay alert and be persistent and stand firm, that very same Paul was not ashamed in his first letter to the Thessalonians to compare himself to a woman.

In I Thessalonians 2:7, Paul, Silas and Timothy jointly describe their conduct among the believers there: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). I was in a training session this summer when I first truly took hold of this verse. We had studied the great faith and love of the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, and now we were in chapter 2 studying the attributes of the men who’d told them the Good News. When we got to the verse about these three men acting like a mother, some of the men seemed to want to brush it off and focus instead on verse 11, where the letter writers compare themselves to good fathers.

But I couldn’t brush Paul’s words off. I remembered how physically demanding it was to be a nursing mother. I had to speak out: “We have this idea of a mother with her nursing baby that’s all sweetness and light. But it’s not. It’s really hard work. You have to feed yourself well, so you can feed your baby. You have to get up at all hours of the night to care for a crying child, and you have to try not to be cranky about all that lost sleep.”

As I spoke, women all around me nodded their heads in agreement, and several told me afterward how glad they were that I had said that. They had lived it, too, and they knew the challenges of mothering. You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.

Somehow this was something the apostle Paul understood. When we serve people, we have to make sure we’re getting our spiritual nourishment first, before we can pass anything of value on to them. Living and working among the continual, desperate needs of other people can physically and emotionally deplete us. And sometimes other people’s needs interrupt our planned and preferred schedules. Paul knew all this. He lived all this. At the same time, Paul felt incredible affection for the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas, and Timothy loved them so much that they shared not only the good news with them, but their own lives as well (verse 8). And they’d spent plenty of time praising them in the chapter before.

Over the past few months I have been unable to let verse 7 go. I’ve learned that in the Greek, the noun was unmistakably feminine. It was trophos: a care-giver, a person sustaining someone else by nourishing and offering the tender care of a nurse. I’ve learned that it had the connotation of mother’s care, of holding a child close, wrapped in her arms. There is familiarity here. Affection. Tenderness. The verb was thalpo: to cherish, nourish, foster, comfort, nurture, or keep warm. There is action here, decision, deliberate investment. And the phrase “her own children” (heautou teknon) indicates belonging. An inclusion. A turning towards.

All of these feminine-sounding words can illuminate our own roles, wherever God has placed us. They are not weakness. They are not unnecessary or irrelevant or dispensable. They are strength and they are resiliency and they are essential. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have a yearning for relationship that can solidify your ministry, not undermine it. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have an instinct to care for people sacrificially. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have the capacity to lead with endurance.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of these qualities, and neither should we be. It is good and healthy to identify as a woman and serve out of our God-given identity. Of course, men can be nurturers too – just see verse 11. And women can be warriors – just see Deborah. But when I read these verses, I feel so much validation. Validation of my work and validation of my worth. All those years living and ministering as a woman, they weren’t wasted. And as someone who has had a fraught relationship with the Apostle Paul over the years, these verses are yet one more reason I can love both him and his letters, for he wasn’t afraid to lean into the feminine for the sake of the people he was serving. It is something we needn’t be afraid of either.

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.

When Missionaries Starve — A message on the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God

When Missionaries Starve — A message on the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God. Recorded at ICA, Phnom Penh Cambodia, July 2017.

Click the link above to listen to the mp3, or check out the trotters41 podcast here.

I also wrote about this topic over at A Life Overseas.

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When Missionaries Starve {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

It’s something that’s caused the rise and fall of kingdoms. It’s confused the most erudite of the educated and been understood by the most childlike of children.

It’s been cherished and treasured by some, burned and ridiculed by others, and it’s absolutely necessary to your emotional health while living and serving abroad.

It is the Word of God.

The more pastoral counseling I do with cross-cultural workers and missionaries – and the more I get to know myself – the more I believe in the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God.

Many of us study the Bible as part of our jobs. We read it, parse it, argue about it, and teach it. But sometimes, in the middle of all of that, we forget to eat it.

We end up trying to feed ourselves with yesterday’s manna, and we starve.

We need to return to the slow chewing of the Word. For our own sustenance.

We need so much more than yesterday’s manna, so much more than the gorging of conferences or the regurgitations of famous teachers.

We need time with God and his Word. Today.

Each bite will not be Instagrammable. Each bite will not be magnificent and earth-shattering and memorable, and that’s as it should be, because sometimes you just need the calories.

Regular, non-crisis reading of the Word may seem to make zero difference in your life today or even tomorrow. But I promise you, in a year or ten or fifty, the consistent ingesting of the Word will make all the difference.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas

17 years of marriage, and this is all we’ve got

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Welp. That was a fast 17 years!

In the last several years, both of us have written various pieces on marriage, relationships, and sex, and we wanted to take the opportunity here, at the inauspicious 17-year point, to share them with you. Our hope and prayer is that you would find marriage to be the great signpost to Christ that it really is. (We hope you find it really fun, too.)

all for ONE,
Jonathan & Elizabeth

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Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy 

What I want to teach my daughters about married sex

When Ministry and Marriage Collide

A Marriage Blessing

Love Interruptus

3 Ways to Care for Heart of Your Wife

Intensity and Intentionality (a note about motherhood and marriage on the field)

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

Paul, the Misogynist?

Weaker But Equal: How I Finally Made Peace With Peter

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Top photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash. Used with permission.