My husband and I just returned from a wonderful conference in Budapest designed for educational support for those serving in the Europe, Russia and Central Asia. While there, I led two workshops for the ladies. One was on understanding our roles when working overseas, and the other on helping our children feel at home in their host culture.
I would like to take time to write whole articles on these topics, but for now, I’ll just give you the highlights. Think about these points and if you have some thoughts, please email me and I’ll use your ideas, when I write longer articles sometime later.Do You Feel “Called?”
• About half the group felt a personal call to work cross-culturally. That left about half of the ladies living and working overseas primarily as wives and mothers. What a relief it was to some of them to realize they were legitimate PWs ! They were doing well to be a helpmeet to their husband and a mom to their children wherever they lived.
• There was clear agreement that maintaining our homes and treating each other with love and kindness is as much our “real” work as anything we do with our organization.
Expectations and Assumptions
• We had a lively discussion about the expectations and assumptions that contribute to feeling inadequate and unfulfilled. Some suggestions: Make sure you know your agency’s expectations for you before you accept the assignment. Once on the field, be sure to ask questions, don’t just assume you know what is expected of you. Ask your husband what he is expecting you to do. Sometimes we assume we know what he most wants of us. After being on the field for some time, it is good to review the expectations of others. Sometimes they have changed because of staff changes, the age of our children, and new conditions on the field.
• Our roles change in the different seasons of our life. No season lasts forever. Think about your season of life and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Comparisons are Killers
• Comparisons with other PWs on our field, or that we have known in the past, can sap your joy and strength. Just because another PW did it, doesn’t mean you’re supposed to. When we constantly feel we are not measuring up to an impossible standard, we can become depressed and discouraged. Remember: God only made one of you and He has a unique plan and purpose for you. He gives you strength and wisdom to do what He wants you to do. Anything else brings frustration.
• Maintaining friendships is vital. Pray for God to give you good friends. Remember it takes time and effort to be a friend. Take time to write, email, or call friends back home. Take time to plan activities with friends locally. Find activities that you have to do anyway, and try to meet up with a friend to do them together. Shopping, taking the kids on field trips, or exercising all work as opportunities to build friendships.
• Acknowledge homesickness when it comes, but don’t dwell on it or let it grow into a monster. The most homelike place for one family was. . .ready for this?. . . a Do-It-Yourself Hardware Store. It was air-conditioned, clean, and had nifty gadgets. When this family was feeling particularly homesick, they would go to the DIY store and spend a few hours. Where is the most “homelike” place in your town? Go take a mini retreat. It might help reduce your homesickness.
Your Children and Their Host Culture
• Children will feel at home in their host culture when they get to know it. Learn how the locals celebrate their holidays and let your children join in any safe part of their celebrations. Do what the locals do to relax, take a stroll when and where they stoll. Spend time on the beach, or visit others’ homes, and invite them to yours. The key is for parents to model appreciation of the new culture.
• Even if your children don’t need to learn the local language, be sure to teach them “survival” language. They need to know words the locals might use to warn or help them when you are not available.
• One the most unsettling results of the discussion about children came in discussing safety. The ladies said their children are much safer in their host country than in their home country. They felt it was much more important to teach children about safety when returning home. While on furlough some parents had left their children with friends of the family they were staying with. The children were molested. Please take care about sitters, whether overseas or home. There is a wonderful resource for teaching your children about safety at: Safety for Kids
• Children can develop friendships with local children at international church groups, in extracurricular activities and at birthday parties. Keep your eyes open for opportunities for your children to make friends.
Overall, the consensus was that living overseas gives us and our children wonderful opportunities to widen our perspectives on the world. It is a joy to know the people God sends us to. Don’t waste any time or energy fretting over“shoulds” or “oughts”. And take the time to enjoy all the opportunities our host culture provides.