Saturday, May 3, 2014

5 Things I’ve Learned in 25 Years Overseas

I remember like it was yesterday landing in the airport in Izmir, Turkey with 2 kids and 17 suitcases. (Believe me, the suitcases were lots easier to handle than the kids.) The team mate we’d never met wasn’t there to pick us up. Since I had a few jumbled bits of Turkish that I hadn’t used in 15 years stored somewhere in my brain, I was the natural person to solve this problem. My husband knew none. That was my fourth and last international move twelve years ago.

Next week I celebrate my 50th birthday, and I’m thinking about how I still don’t have it all together, but I’m making progress and learning.  After twenty-five years of cross-cultural living, here are my musings on what I’ve learned I’m still learning about serving overseas.

Make God Your First Priority

Ministry has ups and downs, but God never changes. Sometimes I get discouraged by not seeing results in our ministry, but I’m not here in Turkey to see a fruitful ministry, I’m here to obey and please God. All I have to do is remain in Him and trust that fruit will follow. Even if the people I disciple fall away, even if the people I share with reject the message, nothing takes away the joy of knowing God!

Your Kids Will Be Okay

Ever since the day we went to the circumcision of a neighbor’s son, and our 5 year old boy ended up behind a locked bedroom door with all the neighborhood boys WATCHING THE CIRCUMCISION while we waited helplessly outside, I’ve wondered “Are we messing up our kids by raising them here?”

I’m amazed at how God has blessed them despite challenges. We’ve had kids at the park say they don’t want to play with Christian kids. We’ve seen most of their TCK friends return home to America or Europe, but today our kids are happy and thriving. They’ve had unique and precious opportunities growing up in Turkey.

Don’t Take Life (or Ministry) Too Seriously

Learning to laugh and enjoy life keeps me alive here.  This is a country where you spend the first two years of your church plant staring at the other foreign couple seated across from you on Sunday mornings in your living room. This is the place where your star disciple falls away from Jesus or gets mad at the other believers and leaves the church. Oh the tears do fall, but it helps me to remember that our lives are about much more than ministry. So I keep looking for things to enjoy and give thanks for.

Make Friends with Nationals

Relationships with Turkish nationals make our lives richer. My closest friend is a Turk. It’s a privilege for my kids to rub shoulders with believers who choose Jesus over friends, family, and a job when the rubber hits the road. We’ve learned so much from these people about kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and God’s grace.

Take Time for Yourself

A bit of self-cares helps me to live beyond survival mode, you know what I mean? When my kids were little, I would leave the house for a few hours on Saturday mornings. Now that they’re older, I carve out time for hobbies like writing, and I try to spend a bit of time every day, okay some days, reading.  A daily morning walk, quiet time with God, and coffee dates with friends keep me sane (most of the time).

What about you? How long have you been on the field, and what is something you’ve learned that you can share with the rest of us?


  1. We've been in Ukraine for 12 years. At times, yes, ministry needs to come first, but most of the time family needs to come first, that is something I've learned. We are not a good witness or encouragement if our family is falling apart!
    And an aside, now you'll be the same age as me! :)

    1. Ha! So we're the same age Karen, and interestingly I've been in Turkey 12 years now with my family. Yes, I think you're so right that family needs to come first, in fact always, I'd say.

      I'm glad you're mentioning this because after I posted, I thought, Oh I wish I'd said more about family. Thanks.

  2. Such wisdom in these words! Thanks for sharing Betsy!

  3. Thanks for sharing, especially the part about the kids being ok. I needed to hear that!

  4. Bless your heart, Alyssa (as we say back in Texas. ;-)) It's really true. Don't you think being a MOTHER and worrying about your kids is the hardest thing of all about being overseas?

  5. We were in Niger for 13 years... now home for a short season to help some kids transition and then we head, Lord willing, for Quebec.

    Something I've learned is how God takes all things and works them together for good - not just the really hard and bad things or the wonderful and great things, but the everyday, mundane and boring things, the sweet and gentle things, the painful ones... and the list could go on. God redeems it all...

    1. So true, Richelle. And isn't it true that there are lots of everyday, mundane things. Maybe that's for our own benefit in the long run!