For me, Uganda was one big storm of color and noise and joy and hospitality. Lush green, red dirt, and rushing water. Big toothy grins, dirt under my fingernails, and small warm hands in mine. I was instantly smitten. And I began to build my life and my home.
Expat isn’t exactly a word I have ever used to describe myself. Neither is missionary, really. At 18 years old I fell in love with a country that was new and exciting to me, full of adventure and possibility. I felt that God was directing me to build my life there, yes, but I also loved the thrill and exhilaration of living in a new and foreign place.
But what about you, the missionary who has spent years or months planning to live abroad, the future expatriate who has gone through trainings and applied for work visas and tried to learn the ins and outs of a culture and prepare as best you can for a life overseas. What about you, who feels called into missions or life overseas and isn’t quite sure where to begin?
If I could, I would have you over for coffee (or chai, if you were at my home in Uganda), and I would reach across the table to you and clasp your hands and say, “Dear one. This is going to be harder than you can possibly imagine. But it is going to be more beautiful, too.”
And I would love to offer a few more pointers, that I wish someone would have offered to me, in my first years of living overseas.
Commit to being a learner. Pride is a thief and if we let it, it has the potential to hinder any good work we hope to do. We can arrive in a new place and see new ways of doing things and immediately assume that we know better - trust me, I am embarrassed to say I know this first hand. We want to rush in with ideas and solutions to problems that, honestly, we probably don’t fully understand. I am guilty of us. Fight the urge to jump in with a solution, and instead practice listening and asking lots of questions. Fight the urge to view something as a problem if locals don’t seem to see it that way. Different doesn’t mean bad. In fact, different often means beautiful. If I could go back and tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would be this: Assume you know nothing. Learn, learn, learn. As we humble ourselves to be listeners, observers, and true servants of those around us, we will learn how to best help and love in this new context. We will probably learn a lot about ourselves. And most of all, we will learn to be more like Christ. Ask God to quiet your mouth and open your heart to learn.
Point to the Savior, not yourself. Once again, it’s easy to jump in with perceived solutions. And, it feels good to be offering solutions and help to our new friends. But inadvertently, in doing this, we start our friendships with uneven footing. If we always come with the answer, we have put ourselves in the position of the “helper” and our new friends in the position of “those who need help.” Often, the very best way to love someone in their suffering or hardship is to walk with them in it, to sit next to them, to grieve with them, without trying to fix or solve anything. We offer our love as we enter into people’s lives, into their joy and into their pain as we hold their hands and pray with them, as we point them to the only One who has any answers. Ask God to give you grace to point others to Him, and to shine in and through you to those you serve.
Take it slow. I know. You have trained for this, you have prepared for this, you have prayed and been prayed over. And likely now you are surrounded by more need than you have ever seen or experienced before. It is easy to hit the ground running, to jump right in – working round the clock, never saying no to an invitation, filling up your home with those you long to serve day and night. Remember though – this is about loving for the long haul. This is about giving your best to the people you came to serve, and serving your best to reflect Jesus. And you can’t do either if you are exhausted and burnt out. You don’t have to do everything, learn everything, or know everyone today. A life of obedience is built in minutes. Do your best today, do your best tomorrow. This is how we live a life of service – relying on His strength, not our own, day by day. Ask God for rest, and for wisdom on when to say yes and when to say no.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. If you were across the table from me, we would laugh about cultural nuances and I would tell you about all the times I got myself in trouble or totally made something worse because I just didn’t understand. I would tell you stories of all the gracious people who helped me along the way. And I would pray that as you embark on this new adventure you find grace for all your mistakes (you will make them), joy in the unexpected, and more of Jesus in the beautiful places and people He has blessed you to live among.
Katie Davis Majors is the bestselling author of Kisses from Katie and Daring to Hope. Wife to Benji and and mother to her fifteen favorite people, Katie is the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization that desires to empower people in Uganda through authentic relationships, education, community strengthening, vocational training, and spiritual discipleship.
Now living in Tennessee with her family, Katie spends her average day folding laundry in her living room with little ones under foot, chopping pounds of carrots for soup for her hungry crew, and whispering prayers to Jesus, who is still her very best friend.
To learn more about Katie, click here visit her website.
Pre-Order Katie's New Book: Safe All Along
In a world constantly pulling us toward fear and anxiety, discover how to live with a steady confidence that you are never beyond the reach of God’s loving hand.
Click here to pre-order Safe All Along today!