Living Overseas as a Missionary

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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Maybe You Can Move Halfway Around the World! Living Overseas as a Missionary

living overseas

My Story

I’ve shared already about my childhood interest in the persecuted church and my mission trip experiences as a teenager. Along with this came a developing desire to move overseas in some way.

As a senior in high school, I pursued entrance into two colleges on the East Coast (American University and Seton Hall) known for their international studies programs. I envisioned myself serving as a U.S. Foreign Service Ambassador or working for the United Nations. But when those universities proved too expensive, even with scholarship opportunities, I began to look toward some Christian universities closer to my California home.

concordia

I ended up attending Concordia University in Irvine, California, and I am so thankful. It was a perfect fit for me, and it turns out that though moving across the country seemed glamorous, I ended up loving coming home some weekends to do laundry and hang out with my family!

I loved my Concordia experience, but at the time, there were few options for international involvement. (Now, they have a program called Around-the-World Semester which is amazing! Students travel to ten-ish different countries to study and serve).

Without any viable options for international studies, I entered a wonderful program to become a Director of Christian Education, which is roughly the Lutheran church’s equivalent of a youth pastor (but not actually a “pastor.”)

I took classes in youth ministry, children’s ministry, adult education, world missions, teaching strategies, church leadership, and theology. I thought perhaps this would be a good tool to serve overseas as a missionary.

countries

After graduation, DCE students are expected to complete a one-year full-time church internship, and the leaders of the program assign you to an internship. Students stand up in front of a chapel service and they say, “Kelly, you are headed to…”

In the months leading up to the chapel service where I would find out my future, I had hoped to be assigned to a location overseas, perhaps in South America. However, a few weeks prior, I learned that wouldn’t be an option – all assignments would be within the United States.

Looking back, in my heart, I closed the door on serving as an overseas missionary at that time. I figured God wasn’t sending me overseas, so I would just work at a church here, leading short-term mission trips, and that was that.

cross

When the day of the chapel service rolled around, they said, “Kelly, you are headed to First Lutheran Church in El Cajon, California.” I was pleased, and prepared to move to San Diego at the end of the summer (2008). (But only after a last-hurrah trip with some girl friends to Europe to be tourists and also participate in a mission trip in Hungary).

I didn’t know it at the time, but my assignment was truly life-changing. I had met this guy, Jay, a few months earlier when he visited Concordia – he was a friend of a friend. Turns out he was a member at my new church in San Diego. Since the church didn’t have many young adults, we naturally started hanging out as soon as I moved there. One thing led to another, and we’ll celebrate six years of marriage next week! 🙂

wedding

For some time, I worked at First Lutheran, happily leading our youth ministry, organizing some mission trips, and helping with ministry to refugees in our community.

But soon after Jay and I got married (November 2009), we both started to feel a gentle call to serve in overseas missions. He is a pilot, and we knew of an organization that uses pilots to serve isolated people in remote areas of the world.

We began looking more into this organization. As we read blog posts by current overseas missionaries, talked to a recruiter, and prayed, we felt God’s leading to begin preparations to join the organization.

It was a lengthy process, since Jay needed to receive his airplane mechanic’s license  – a two-year process, along with some other requirements like more Bible training. We took the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, which was wonderful preparation, too!

airplane

Eventually, we were ready. Shortly after our daughter, Elle, was born (June 2012), we traveled to Idaho and spent two weeks being evaluated by the organization. We passed, and a few months later (January 2013), our family had joined as official members of the organization.

We both serve them, though technically, my husband is the “employee” and I am the “accompanying spouse,” meaning most of the time, he is the one working full-time and I just assist as possible in the midst of my role as stay-at-home mom.

We spent our first year (2013) support-raising – a process called “deputation” in missionary circles. The process was long and we were impatient to finish and get overseas, but looking back, that was a wonderful year. We witnessed God’s provision and met so many lovely, Godly people who generously provide the financial support, prayers, and encouragement we need for our service.

Jay and I were able to work together on deputation, and he was home for the whole year as we worked from home and traveled a lot to visit supporters… which meant he was a significant daily presence in one-year-old Elle’s life. (Something we miss now that he works a typical 8 to 5 job).

But, we didn’t realize all that at the time, because it was stressful to work together and we were living on a small monthly salary and therefore living with family to be able to afford to be in California, which has a very high cost of living. So when January 2014 rolled around, and we received 100% of the monthly support needed to move overseas, we were ecstatic.

idaho

We headed to Idaho for two final months of training, and planned to move to Asia in June 2014.

We were crushed when a few weeks into our training, we learned that safety concerns in our country of service meant we couldn’t go right away. In the meantime, we learned we were expecting another baby!

Life seemed so topsy-turvy. We had already been packed up and ready to go overseas, and instead, we were facing several more months in the United States.

and then there were four

We regrouped and made plans to stay in Idaho until the baby was born. We did language study, spent time with some teammates from Asia who had returned to the U.S. because of the concerns, and enjoyed a peaceful, faith-stretching time in Idaho. It ended up being a very hard year, but also a very good one, as we felt we were truly depending on God to sustain us through all the changes we were facing.

But it wasn’t over! As issues calmed down in Asia, we made plans again to head overseas after our daughter was born.

baby

Our sweet Ava was born in October 2014, and within a few hours of her birth, we learned she was born with microphthalmia, a condition where one of her eyes never really developed – essentially, it’s as though she is missing that eye.

There’s no known cause, and we were relieved to quickly learn through an MRI and eye exam that everything in her brain is fine, and her other eye has normal vision. (Something confirmed by her present-day ability to pick up the tiniest of crumbs off our kitchen floor as an afternoon snack!!)

Thankfully, she was eligible to receive a prosthetic “glass” eye (they’re actually made of silicone!), so by the time she was six weeks old, we had started the process. It’s been painless for her – just a lot of doctor visits to insert a slightly larger prosthetic into her eyelids to stretch her eyelids and encourage growth in that area. A year later, it’s impossible to even tell that she’s wearing a prosthetic – it looks wonderful!

Some of the clear prosthetic shells Ava has worn...
Some of the clear prosthetic shells Ava has worn…

But, the frequency of these appointments (every one to four weeks) meant that yet again, our overseas departure was delayed. So, we continue to live in the U.S. (We actually relocated to California to be closer to medical treatment, since there was none available in Idaho).

We hope to head overseas in 2016, as her eye treatment gets more established and we can wait several months between appointments. It’s tough when we have willing hearts and a love for the people of our intended area of service, but we can’t actually go yet! But we know the Lord is at work, leading and guiding us through every step of this crazy journey!

 

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Hear from Missionaries Overseas

Since I don’t have any overseas experience to share, I wanted to point you toward some wonderful missionary blogs I enjoy reading. For my husband and me, reading blogs was one of the first steps God used to get us thinking and talking about mission work.

I encourage you to check out their blogs! Many of them also have an option to sign up for newsletters. (Also, if you are still looking for a missionary to support or encourage, here are some great options! Each of these people are supported by donations of a team of ministry partners.)

All of these missionary families have children – so as you envision global missions with kids, they are great examples of how to do it!

  • Marla and Gabe Taviano  serve in Cambodia, serving in photography ministry, working with trafficking victims, and doing whatever God calls them to. 🙂
  • Lisa and Matthew Lind serve in DR Congo, after recently completing language school in France. I like their blog because they write very frequently, so there’s always something new!

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Resources for Missionary Wanna-Bes

 

  • Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a top-notch class offered all over the world or online. It is not just for missionaries, but it covers Biblical, historical, strategic, and cultural factors of missions in a well-done way. Perspectives offers a free at-home Family Journey.
  • A Life Overseas is a blog for missionaries and other overseas workers, with high-quality, thoughtful posts from variety of authors. Most missionaries I know read this blog. 🙂
  • Urbana is a missions conference for college students that takes place each year – the next one is coming up in December 2015. If you know a young person interested in missions, Urbana is considered the best! (Unless you attend a Concordia University, in which case, go to Beautiful Feet!)

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Do you have any questions about overseas missions? Have you ever served as a long-term overseas missionary? Leave a comment below.