A Guide for Overseas Workers During A Pandemic

A Guide for Overseas Workers During a Pandemic

“What on earth has happened to 2020?” I thought as I hung laundry on our balcony.

At the end of December, after a particularly intense year full of travel, sickness, family crisis and grief, I’d told Jeremy that I was praying and hoping for an awesomely NORMAL year in 2020.

#ohdearbetsy, that has NOT happened.

From the first coronavirus rumblings in January which have now become a pandemic that is slowly taking over the world, this year has been consuming, overwhelming, stressful, sad and completely unexpected.

I’m a 6 on the enneagram and even for me, this is bigger and far outside any of my worst case scenario ponderings. I did not expect, plan for or even imagine a pandemic hitting the world. And, honestly, if I had thought of it, I wouldn’t have ever expected to be riding it out in the developing world.

For those of us living overseas, a pandemic has brought unbelievably hard decisions, choosing to stay or go, weighing the repercussions of each decision. It’s meant families being separated in different countries, worry about our family back home, closed borders and airports, shaky governments trying to mandate impossible guidelines, economies crumbling, plans changing, ministry looking different and schools closing.

COVID-19 and the Expatriate

Oh, those things are happening in the United States too. But, real or not, there is something about my feet not being on American soil that makes me hold my breath and forget to breathe back out. I can’t explain it. Yet, my overseas friends will understand it.

Thankfully, as believers, we know our feet truly stand on Kingdom ground that is already fought for and won. For that, we can breathe easy. Our Redeemer lives. He holds the future in His strong, capable hands. That is truth to stand on daily.

Still, the living out of this from West Africa has been challenging. The #behindtheprayercard look is something I haven’t even known how to write about. I’ve given you a peek on instagram but putting a blog post out into the world during this time has been something I’ve wrestled through.

Early in the pandemic, we moved our girls out of boarding school because the school had to close. It was fast, hurried and exhausting. The girls quickly said goodbye as they packed and watched their friends prepare for the very last flights out of the country. They heard news of their friends being quarantined or held up in airports. Alone. Without their parents. Each country has different timelines for reopening flights so they don’t know when or if they’ll see their friends again this school year or at all due to furloughs, graduations and transitions. They never got to go back to the dorm to finish or close the year.

We self-quarantined at home as our country only had a nighttime curfew in place. I have MS which means we don’t know what my immune system will do if it faces a brand new virus. Another reason is that Abby has asthma and breathing is already challenging here due to the dry weather, the pollution and the dust in the air. We also live in a town that has many tourists, mostly from Europe. Other than Jeremy running out for groceries or supplies, we were #chezgoodwin for quite a while.

Because gatherings were canceled country-wide, our current projects of video making, shelter building, traveling for evangelism, teaching in kids church… all came to a pause.

As things around the world slowly open, close again, partly open, or wisdom simply says, “don’t go,”… we wait.

Now what? How do we walk through this season from home? How are overseas workers riding this out around the world?

A Guide for Overseas Workers During A Pandemic

I don’t have the answers to those questions. Missions and organizations do not have those answers. We’re all prayerfully trying to figure out what this pandemic means, what we should be doing, how we should be fulfilling the Great Commission in the days of pandemic.

But, although we don’t have all the answers, the world has walked this path before. Christians have walked this path before. Pandemics, sicknesses, crisis… all not new. So we look back, we pray and we ask God to give us divine wisdom for this moment.

I titled this post “A Guide for Overseas Workers During a Pandemic” which is slightly lofty and grand as I read it. But, breaking challenging seasons down into small tips and things we can do is always helpful for me. Making lists, creating life hacks {Thanks Global Trellis for that title!} and simplifying big tasks are things I love here at Our Goodwin Journey.

What’s on this guide for overseas workers during a pandemic?

1} The fear is real. I recently listened to a Typology podcast that encouraged us to put our fears out on the table in front of us. Talk about them. Look at them. Get them out into the open. This pandemic is scary. Absolutely. Put it on the table in front of you, acknowledge it and deal with it. With family and friends, be careful of stopping the conversation or minimizing the deep, hard questions. Let people talk. Let your kids ask questions. Listen as your spouse spills out their crazy fears. Allow your team to take a conversation where they need to. THEN, speak truth to it. The fear is real.

Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen

2} Keep up your devotional time. Don’t let go of this essential piece of your day because everything else is off schedule and crazy. Read your Bible, journal, write out scripture and pray the desperate prayers. Do family devotions with your kids. Plan church at home. Let it be messy. But keep doing it. We’re currently reading Panic to Peace as a family and I’m reading Anxiety Elephants on my own. Play worship music and sing out loud. Talk about favorite verses. Post them on the wall. Create thankful lists. Keep Jesus a core part of your home.

3} Keep up normal. Get dressed. Clean the house. Make dinner. Do the laundry. Organize that closet. Go through old bins you never unpacked during your last in country move. Dust off the suitcases in case you need them. Do the exercise video. Keep things as normal as possible.

4} Lower the bar a bit. We are living in unprecedented times yet social media is FULL of things we should/could be doing during a pandemic. From live-streaming the zoo to putting your kids on a perfect schedule to memorizing whole chapters of the Bible and starting to read bedtime stories to all the kids stuck at home. {all super amazing things and I love seeing my friends do them!} Yet, I don’t know about you, but all of it together can be a bit overwhelming. It’s okay to lower the bar a bit. Step back. Don’t feel like you should be creating amazing content or participating in everyone else’s amazing content. Lower the bar a bit. Relax. Chill. Netflix.

5} Create a Bucket List. I know… this is kind of raising the bar, not lowering it. But create YOUR bucket list. What does your family want to do? What books do you want to read? What tasks need done at your house? Don’t feel the pressure of other people’s to do lists. Create your own. Have some fun with it. Our bucket list includes a movie in French, home pedicures, cooking pad thai and making mango smoothies.

6} Quarantine without guilt. For overseas workers, this is a tough one. Just because a pandemic is happening doesn’t mean other things have gone away. There are still thousands of street children who are being abused and left hungry. There are still discouraged pastors living in far out villages with very few believers around them. The centers, schools, churches, feeding programs… they are all still there with incredible needs. But staying home is best for you and for them. It really, really is. Carrying this sickness to a far out village would not be a good thing. Go ahead. Quarantine without guilt.

7} Do what you can! Check in on your people. Give a little extra funds to your guard for food and soap. Prepare a care package for workers who come into your home with extra supplies. Call or text with the pastors or teachers that you work with. Connect, pray and do what you can. Kindness, grace, love, generosity and all the small things add up in powerful ways during a crisis like this.

8} Dream past this pandemic. What doors will be opened because of this time? What is God going to do around you? What hearts will be ready to hear? What could happen in what you were doing now that things have changed so much? How can you prepare in this downtime for the fresh season of ministry that is to come? Dream big!

9} Let yourself experience culture shock all over again. The things you’ve put in place to create a home in your new country might be completely off limits. The friends you normally see face to face can’t meet together. The stores look different as they prepare for what is coming. The transportation systems might not be working. It’s culture shock. You’re going to feel the pressure of living overseas in new, deep ways as you’re closed in your home listening to the news. Remind yourself of what culture shock is, how to deal with the stress of it and how to work through it in healthy ways.

10} Pay attention. I know watching the news, scrolling the numbers, and keeping up with a pandemic is not recommended. But, for those of us living in places like West Africa, we must pay attention. Limit how often and how much, of course. But you can’t stick your head in the sand {or hide under the covers} and pretend this isn’t happening. Things change quickly and without notice so keep your ear to the ground, ask local friends to listen for you, find the reputable news sources in your country and check them. If you’re on a team, appoint someone to send out updates. Somehow… pay attention.

A Guide for Overseas Workers During A Pandemic

11} Talk and ask good questions. As these updates and changes come rolling through, talk about them. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk it all through. Carry worst case scenarios to the end. Yes, we don’t know all the details. Yes, it could all be different tomorrow. But for the talkers and planners and verbal processors among us… talk, let people talk, open conversation, invite all the questions. For me personally, the questions don’t mean overwhelming fear. It means I want to have the conversation, I might see it differently than you and I have a reason for asking. Teams, families, marriages, organizations… talk and question. It’s a good thing. Saying “Wait and see” or “It will all work out” or “Stop looking at the news” does not help foster conversation or keep us from asking all the questions in our heads anyway.

Recalculating to Change – Global Trellis workshop that is perfect for this time

12} Cry. I’ll admit it. When I read the last email from our embassy, I broke down into the ugly cry. Overwhelm, fear, crazy, unknowns, feeling trapped in a scary place… it all hit at one time. It’s like sitting in the way of a tornado warning as something big barrels it’s way towards Africa. But crying is okay and part of processing what’s happening. Although my face was red and my eyes were puffy, I felt better afterwards. Crying is a release of stress, emotions and tension. Go ahead. Cry it out. I’m not sitting in the way of a tornado. I’m not without help. I’m okay. But I needed a good cry. And you might too.

13} Just keep going. Whatever that looks like for you right now. Whatever decisions have to be made or conversations that must be had or things that need to be done. Just keep going. Fight through it. Find your fight song and keep going. Dig in. Push through. One day at a time. Do the next beautiful thing.

14} Be prepared. Pack the go bag. Think through what would need to go with you, where the papers are, who will take your keys, how you’ll get to the airport, if there’s gas in the car, what you’ll do with the food in your house… be prepared as things happen quickly around the world. You might need quarantined again so what will that look like? Be prepared for a quick exit, hoping and praying you won’t need it. Other ways to be prepared… have things on hand in case someone in your house gets sick. Keep a few weeks of food in the house, get cash and above all, wash your hands!

15} Practice self-care for the whole family. Can you get on a video call with a counselor? Do your kids need someone to talk to? As third culture kids, this can be extremely traumatic. Proactively help your kids take good care of themselves right now. How is your marriage doing? Can you plan a date night on your roof or a movie in bed? Are you getting enough sleep? Eating fruit? Drinking water? Reading? Turning off the news? What about exercise? Make a list of what self-care is for you and make those things happen.

16} Get good at togetherness. As overseas families, many of us are fairly isolated much of the time anyway. A lot of us spend tons of family time together on a regular basis so this is nothing new. Dig into the things that help you stay good at togetherness. Working at home with your spouse? Yeah. Read this.

17} Take advantage of the resources. I know… lower the bar. YES. But there are still a lot of great resources available right now that might be helpful during this season. Apps are on sale, memberships fees are waved, online classes are discounted… so much good stuff to help you keep learning and growing while you wait for this pandemic to pass. Velvet Ashes has a Global Issues Support Group you can join. Missions and organizations are putting together resources for TCKs and tips for self care and podcasts specific to this moment in time. Take advantage of what works for you.

18} Keep homeschool simple. Yeah… almost all the children in the world are currently home from school and needing to do some sort of school at home or online. For TCKs, this can be daunting. Especially teen TCKs who live in a part of the world where getting out is hard in normal times, let alone in a pandemic. Our girls can’t just walk the neighborhood by themselves. We don’t have nice parks or places to go. Hot sand surrounds us on all sides. Being home truly means being home. It’s not easy. Homeschooling for a season is going to take some planning and preparation. Thankfully, keeping homeschooling simple has always been our go to rule. We find ways to make things as smooth, easy and doable for everyone. Don’t over plan, lower the bar, remember that schooling at home doesn’t look like a normal school day and take the pressure off to make things perfect. You’ll do just fine.

19} Stay calm. Put fear on the table and talk about it. Take conversations to the worst case and see what happens. Keep informed. But, stay calm, have a plan, work things through and trust that God is already there.

20} Get joy. Savor the moments, choose joy, find joy in God’s strength, hold on to hope… this too shall pass. Living out a pandemic in a developing country is definitely one of those unexpected sacrifices, but I can capture the moments and see the soft strength that God is developing in me through it all.

So, as much as hiding in bed with the covers pulled tight while Netflix stays on all day is an inviting prospect, there are some great things we can be doing as workers overseas during a pandemic.

I saw a post by my friend Denise on Taking Route about how the only good thing that has come out of this is funny memes. That made me laugh because there are some amazing ones out there. But she goes on to write about the Velvet Ashes retreat coming up and it challenged me to write this post.

We have good things coming and so much more to do in our task overseas.

We have friends to message, memes to forward, posts to write, supporters to encourage, neighbors to help and kids to entertain.

Being overseas during a pandemic certainly ups the stress, the challenge, the fear and the unknowns but we can overcome together.

What would be on your guide for overseas workers during a pandemic?

What are you doing today to help you through this season?

Who can you forward this to right now?


  1. Thank you for these wonderful words. I am just a “home missionary” in the U.S., but we are seeing lots of fearful people here, so lots of ministry opportunities. Reading this not only gave me some great ministry insights, it also helps us know how to pray for our missionary friends.

  2. it is so good to hear from you….. we here in the STATES are pretty much doing like you…..
    since I am79 and he is 83 we are being very careful….. I do go to Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center on Tues. every week….. I am doing well and getting stronger…. no chemo for a while…..you all are in our prayers.

    Love and prayers….. w and m

  3. Thanks for writing this. It’s so nice to know that others are feeling the same things!

  4. Really, really needed this today. Thank you! Continue speaking truth and from the heart… It really helps put into words what many of us are feeling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *