What questions should a couple ask each other before deciding to go into full-time missions overseas?

“Promise of a counselor, mentor and prayer”

I think you need to have an oversight who is sending you who is willing to take responsibility for your well being, individually and as a couple when you are overseas, meaning a mentor/counselor/father, mother in the faith. Without that you will be orphaned on the mission field when the attacks from the devil come – and they do.

The vital thing is to have someone to run to when you are struggling in any way who is committed to make time for you when needed and support you and see you through. It is very hard to do missions without this support, I did, but I got knocked around and suffered far too much unnecessarily.

Answer from Marilena in Australia, who has served with Lifesource Church in India, Philippines, USA for 3-4 years.

“I’m ready to give it all away and live in a mud hut… Oh, you have different ideas?”

“Yes! Let’s go! We’re going to live in a mud-hut and raise our kids to speak the local language!” Ok, wait… That’s kind of what I thought was going to happen nearly 3 years ago when my husband and I decided to make the move from a small town in Texas, USA to Uganda, Africa.

My husband had been visiting Uganda and Kenya annually since 2007. My first trip finally came in 2014, and by God’s design, my heart (like my husband’s) fell in love with the country! I was ready to move ASAP. However, some practical issues had to be taken care of first.

What if my spouse is packed and ready to go, but I’m still not sure?
This is a very heavy and fully packed question. I have met many people who told me they always wanted to go do mission work, but they weren’t 100% sure they were really called to go. Rewind. If a part of you, even a small part, wants to go, that is probably from God. Not everyone wants to go! This question alone deserves its own write up. Short-term trips are often where people either decide to “run to” or “run from” the foreign mission field. Try a short trip together if you haven’t already. So, let’s assume you’re both ready to go throughout the rest of this article!

Do we sell everything? Should we give it all away!?
A logistical and financial sustainability question will obviously be something you’ll need to sort out. Will you work abroad, or be supported from your home-side? Are you moving permanently!? It seems the most honest and practical approach is to commit 2-5 years, or an “indefinite” time. This way, as life changes, and as God leads, you won’t feel you have failed. And what about your “stuff” here at home?

One of you may feel it is more biblical to give everything away and move with only $4 in your pocket, while the other may want to sell everything and use that money to help reestablish. Others will keep everything, either in storage or just at home, knowing that in 10 years they’ll be coming back. I don’t believe there is a “right” answer. Just whatever you and your spouse feel God gives you peace with, go with that option!

Where will we actually live?
We visited the deep bush, “no road” territory, villages, mud huts, no English speakers, etc… and just a few (ok, long) hours away we also visited the city, with shopping malls, tall glass buildings, KFC and Pizza Hut (what?! Yes!), everyone it seemed spoke fluent English; it was (for the most part) regular modern civilization.

We had to decide where to call home. What was going to be practical for our work/ministry, but also what would be practical for our children. We want them to see different angles of mission life, and we don’t want them to resent it (which sadly does happen to kids on the mission field). Amazingly, we landed in the middle! We have a modern house, near a small town/city, but just on the outskirts of villages and rural life. And, thank the Lord, our kids love it here!

Will we completely adopt the culture, or keep our own?
Depending on where you feel called, this can be a very serious question! We have tried to keep a balance of respect for the culture we have chosen to move in to, but to always (to the best of our ability!) keep God’s culture as our focus. This can include things from your clothing, your food choices, your holiday celebrations, all the way to more subtle nuances of culture that you will discover once you become friends with your new neighbors.

*Please, learn about the culture and the people you want to minister to and work with. Ignorance is a poor excuse if you claim to have moved across the world out of love for them.

Do I, and/or, my spouse have the grace, flexibility, and calling for this?
My husband’s cousin gave us a framed gift that says “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you”. It resonates with me daily. Living abroad, and trying to be intentional daily to serve and witness to others can be tiring. It can be AMAZING. It can be heartbreaking. It can be full of joyous surprises and difficult scary situations. Changing one day to the next.

Nearly any missionary will tell you, You Must Be Flexible. God definitely does give us grace, but at times… My husband has my full permission to lovingly call me out, and the same for me to him. Discuss how you can encourage each other in these areas without nagging at each other or publicly embarrassing the other.

What are my expectations as a parent/spouse/child in this season?
Seasons will change, projects change, children’s needs will change, your heart will be pulled in unexpected ways… When we first moved, we knew we wanted to work together. We soon discovered that the culture change affected our 2 ½ year old more than we expected. Our 8 year old and infant son were fine, but she was overwhelmed going to the villages.

It became expected, within seconds of exiting the car we were quickly swarmed with countless little children that wanted to touch, poke, slap, pull, lick (yes, lick…) her different white skin and her tight curly red hair. I had to stay home with the kids while my husband “got to go out”. It was only for a season (ok, an almost 12 month season, but still). I had to find different ways to feel “active” on the mission field. Thankfully, God gives grace!

House guests. (Did I mention you should know the culture you are going to?) This will change everywhere I am sure; and really this hits on cultural adaptations as well. My husband and I had to discuss how we would treat house guests after our first unprepared experience!

Would I, as the wife of the home, bow and kneel to each and every one as I cooked and served them throughout their (often unannounced) visits? Or would we welcome them into our “American culture” home and live/serve as we would in the US?

We wanted to have open-doors, but quickly realized we couldn’t manage the cultural expectations of that. We set up an office to enable ministry visitors to be hosted and welcomed without encroaching into our family’s private space. We reserved our home to be just that, “our” home. We do have guests over, often actually, but with an invitation!

If possible, find a way that you can discuss your heart, mind, emotions, struggles, frustrations, and joys with each other regularly. My husband and I try (try, because it often doesn’t happen!) to “date weekly”, even if it’s just over coffee or juice at lunchtime. One day the begging street children at your front gate might absolutely break your heart and you give them food… You want to start doing a street-kids outreach program! (But your spouse rationally says, “No, not in this season.”) Then 3 weeks later you might find you are so frustrated with those kids, you want to ask the security guard to chase them away with sticks (Hypothetical thoughts here, of course).

Before you move and put yourself in a permanent position, try to lay out a way you can regularly talk to each other. You will experience emotional highs and lows, and you’ll need your spouse to help you say “Yes” and say “No” to what is best for you and your family. Depending on the area you move, with or without an expat community, your spouse will be the closest friend and biggest factor of how you survive or thrive. You will discover your expectations and needs, even your “5 Love Languages”, may change unexpectedly once you enter a new world!

*I won’t even get started on “What’s for dinner?” Just know, it will become an issue in some way at some point. Be aware of this before you move. TRY to commit to each other that you will have grace in this department too!

Please, don’t forget, your children. We are still figuring this out. Raising kids can be hard, let’s be honest. In a foreign culture you get lots of new twists added in and have to make decisions you normally wouldn’t face.

Keep them with you and homeschool, or send them away to boarding school? Thankfully more small scale international schools, or homeschool co-ops are becoming available (that’s what we are blessed to be a part of!). Will you teach them the local language, change their fashion, food, music, cultural identity, etc; or let them keep their home culture?

Have grace, have grace, have grace. Factors will be their age, and your ministry, their personalities, and your long term life plans. Don’t stress, but do consider these things, and above all, ask God to help you! There are, thankfully, additional physical resources to help you raise a TCK, a third-culture kid. (You can visit www.tckworld.com for resources) This is an incredible important topic that absolutely needs to be looked at and discussed before moving.

How often will we go back to see friends and family?
We had decided we would fly the family of 5 back to the US every other year for the holidays. We made our official “permanent move” and came home (Uganda) in April of 2018. Just a few months later a close family member passed away in a car accident.

That was not what we expected. We had to discuss who would fly home, all of us, none of us, some…? Some things you can discuss and have plans for, but when the time comes, be flexible. Again, there will never be a right answer to this question.

Some organizations bring families home once a year. Some missionaries I have personally met have been on the ground for 5+ years. It depends on your family, and whatever you feel God gives you peace with. *I will say, going back to your home country to recharge has HUGE benefits to your family and your ministry work. No one enjoys being around a burnt out, frustrated, grumpy, over tired and secretly (even subconsciously!) homesick missionary. Trust me!

Is that everything?
No. There are so many things that will need to be discussed, but we serve a good God! As the gospel has been spread across the globe you will find more and more resources and communities, both on the ground, online, and through physical books and even classes that can help prepare you in your preparations, your life on the ground, and even coming back to your original home country.

You will also find that many, it’s probably safe to say most, missionaries are happy to share about their experiences and answer any specific questions you might have. Please reach out!

As a current missionary living in a foreign country, I can say it has been one of the BEST things my husband and I have said yes to. Congratulations on considering taking that leap of faith!

However, with God, it’s really just taking one step in front of the other, as He leads. My prayer for you, and your spouse, is that you take each step/decision to the Lord, together, in prayer. May God keep you and may you know His peace throughout your marriage and life, wherever you go!

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