A year ago, a Palestinian friend asked me if I have any brothers. When I replied with, “I have two sisters, no brothers.” His eyes grew empathetic. “That’s so sad” he said, “you must have at least one brother to look out for you, someone who will take care of things in the house too. You should have a brother.”
I chuckled. Though accustomed to the male-centralized culture, the deep sorrow and hint of injustice in my friend’s voice surprised me. “Elias, I like just having sisters. And we can all do things on our own. It’s okay. I’m not sad I don’t have a brother.” He shook his head, surely pondering the fragility of what it is to be a woman without a brother.
Yesterday, over a year later, I was praying with a friend and she said, “like our big brother Jesus.” Aha! The uncorking reality of Jesus as my brother, my BIG brother, set in. He always looks out for me. He always helps me to get things done. He is my protector, my advocate, my good friend. He even beats up the playground bullies and their demonic leader. He loves me. Perfectly. And he has taken a lot of blows on my behalf, for my honor, for my purity, and for my access into the family inheritance.
He’s the best big brother a girl could have. Looking back at the conversation with my friend, I would add, “Jesus is my big brother. I have two sisters and one BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG brother!”
And wow. I know His bigness infinitely better today than I did three years ago when I moved to Israel!
Much of that awareness is born of loneliness. Painful loneliness. Knowing the Lord and hanging out with Him out of desperation, even out of lack of anyone else to relate to. And really, there is great accuracy and great training in that statement because ultimately, HE is my beloved. And I long to live in a place of constant intimacy with Him. I want to know what is on His heart daily and I want to share with Him what is on mine. It’s a discipline. Sometimes, being vulnerable is exactly what I don’t want, but it’s still what He beckons me to.
I am blessed with a tiny community of overseas workers here – a circle of less than ten people. And I cherish them. We represent many nations: England, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the USA. We all know the purging reality of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” It’s not that we take pride in it, it’s that we know the painful, private, powerful secrets that come from that sacrifice. We know the way that this isolation cultivates inner strength and a global perspective so dear to God’s heart.
We also know that it’s weird. It’s a weird life. The ten of us likely wouldn’t be close friends in another setting. Our personalities, foci, hobbies, sense of humor, and even our callings are very different. Yet, we understand each other more than most of our families do. We are each other’s advocates. And we often hold many things in common possession a la Acts 2. We share cars, movies, travel plans, ministry, books, and, at times, our very homes. For example, I will have stayed in the homes of 4 of them by the time I move September 2. When one of us is on vacation we’ve watered plants, started cars, paid one another’s bills, and checked one another’s mail. It’s a great blessing.
Still, the freelance, non-set hours nature of our lives often means we don’t practice the solid disciplines of fun and fellowship. Of the ten of us we attend 5 different churches. We easily get isolated in our own ministry places and since most of us don’t have cars, it’s challenging to arrange to get together. And those ministry places are often very involved and easily extremely draining if we are not attentive to maintain fullness in the Holy Spirit, rest with God, and community with others.
Many of us have Palestinian friends, but many are new believers or immature believers and while they draw strength from us, they are not people we confide in, seek counsel from, or dream big with. And I admit that often, at the end of the day, I prefer relaxing and sharing life with those who are more culturally similar to me. I don’t want to have to be aware of how I should accept tea, or how I should interact with men in the house, and really, I want a break from feeling SO foreign, so different. I want a break from being conspicuous.
And so, it becomes increasingly paradoxical that surrounded by people, we often find ourselves acutely lonely. We find that those in our first countries, our friends and family, have moved on in life – they’ve married, had children; they’ve moved and changed careers. We feel that we are out of sight, out of mind. And to a degree, that’s natural and part of growing, but it also can increase the sense of foreign-ness. The country one is theoretically supposed to most fit it, now feels like a futuristic film taking place in 2034, where so much has changed in the place and in you, and you are so very unfamiliar with what used to be as natural as blinking, you feel eerily alone. You know that you look and sound like a native, but you have no idea how to use a debit machine at the supermarket, nor do you remember that you must stop when a school bus has its lights flashing. You are disoriented, almost like you’ve been in a coma for years.
I’m sharing this, not to make anyone feel badly or to complain (on the contrary, I love the honor it is to serve overseas!), but rather to give a glimpse inside the life of an overseas worker – in particular in the Middle East. I want to encourage people to ENCOURAGE and support overseas workers – to write to them, to send them care packages, to give generously, to invite them over for tea when they are in-country and really listen to their hearts, to welcome them as part of the family – because they are, we are.
I sometimes think I would never commission one of my sisters to live overseas and then not encourage her, hear her stories, ask how she is doing and what I can pray for, or send her surprise packages. I would remain actively her sister. That goes without saying for: we are family.
As I wrap up my time here (3.5 weeks left!) I am asking these kind of support questions of other overseas workers here. And I see this puts me in a good place to share what I’ve learned. And my heart burns to see the body of Christ re-configure their approach to overseas worker support. One woman I spoke with has lived here 12 years, she remained through the second intifada when the streets were speckled in tanks and curfews went on for months, she remained through intense bouts with fibromyalgia (she’s now totally healed!), and she just took her first sabbatical (6 months in her first country).
She said, at one point, “that’s just part of all this, isn’t it? loneliness.” Perhaps it is, but we should all give one big group hug to every overseas worker we know. We should ask the Lord which overseas workers we are supposed to focus on supporting and then ask Him “what does this person need right now?” And whether it’s a simple postcard with a Holy-Spirit prompted verse on it, or the person’s favorite spice she can’t find in the place she lives, or an extra $25 to help with the higher cost of water in the summer, or a group email from his former cell group proclaiming breakthrough, or an envelope full of photographs that will make her smile – we must loose the purse strings on our generosity and our love and bless the socks off those who have dropped their nets to follow him across oceans and continents to the place the Lord has knit in their hearts.
And as we loosen generosity, we break the spirit of poverty – not only in our own lives and families, but in the life of the one we are giving to, AND in the people she is living amongst. Moreover, we are actively tilling fields of the Great Commission, we are agreeing with heaven’s mandate to “Go into all the world” and we are doing it in fullness of faith, fullness of hope, and fullness of LOVE – loving the sent and loving those she is sent to. We must move into a higher revelation of love in the body of Christ. We must think of one another higher than ourselves and live out radical service.
This clarion call is ringing the doorbell in my own heart too. It’s drawing me to more laid-down love for Jesus and my neighbor. It’s asking me what my place is in supporting overseas workers. And it’s inviting me to be a stronger support to the body of Christ. I’m excited! I love it when we get stretched to live higher and freer!
In a way, I wish the support networks of my ten friends could read this blog. I want them to know how to encourage these precious, valiant friends of mine. I want my friends and every overseas worker on the planet to feel an increase in love and encouragement. And I want every church in the world to better know their overseas workers. And every overseas worker to better know her sending churces. So we can celebrate victory together, declare healing together, journey and mature together, and fulfill the Great Commission with ease and radical love.
What wondrous partnership the Lord has set-up! My heart, like a bottle of soda water, wants to burst for joy and thankfulness for all the overseas workers around the world and for those who sent them! wow! I love the family of God! We are the materials of the impossible turned possible. Hooray! The Lord be glorified in all the nations! <Jesus, thank you!>
2 thoughts on “HUG the nearest overseas worker!”
Although not a MISSIONARY here in South Korea, I relate COMPLETELY to what you’re saying. Yes, I just got married, and there are a few other foreigners around, I still feel that sharp sting of loneliness from time to time, especially when going out with non-Christian foreigners whose personalities don’t exactly chime well with mine. It’s hard! You are really going to enjoy the loss of loneliness when you get to Bethel! Did I tell you that one of my friends is also going there this fall? You guys will have an amazing time 🙂
Haha. Yes, I’ve met your friend Jess. She’s lovely.