Living Overseas - First Term Discoveries in Missionary Life

First Term Discoveries Living Overseas

We are officially over half way through our first term living overseas.

Time flies when you are having fun… er… learning 100 new things every single day.

The first term of a missionary living overseas is so unique. It is an intense roller coaster that never ends. It is a marathon that will push you to your limits, past your limits and possibly even over the edge of sanity.

And, with being the new missionary… eventually, you start to move into a new season. You are still new but you are discovering things that make you realize you might be farther along than you thought. You might be crossing over into dropping the “new” from your job title.

The first term living overseas is stressful and full of the craziest situations you could ever imagine.

And within that, there are things I’ve discovered. Things that may or may not be specific to Africa… but things that I’m sure anyone in their first term or even 4th or 5th term will be able to understand.

All over the world, there are missionaries experiencing their very first years living overseas or their first years in a new country, outside the lines of their birth place and discovering life in another culture.

The discoveries are serious, comical, life changing and drastic.

Living Overseas - First Term Discoveries in Missionary Life

And, in no particular order, I’ve discovered that…

1} Learning is humbling. And you have to humble yourself to really learn. You can’t speed up the process or make it go away. You have to let go of all the things you think you already know and expect to learn them again. and again. in crazy, hard ways.

2} All the things you think you know… actually living them is a whole other beast. You’ve read the books about living overseas, sat in sessions, listened to seasoned missionaries, read blogs like mine… but living it out for yourself will drive you to your knees and cause you to realize how BIG this thing called overseas life can be. You will develop a deep, deep respect for ANYONE who has walked it before you. You will see how dangerous, how funny, how amazing, how life changing the entire process can and will be for you and your family.

3} Exhaustion is exhausting. Because you are learning to live all over again in an entirely new context, you will be exhausted. Mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally… you will experience a completely new level of “I’m so exhausted.” while living overseas. You will say that with a truth you didn’t know existed. You will truly will learn what it means to be fully exhausted at the end of the day. You’ve battled in every way possible just to survive the day. You’ve made decisions that impact the safety, the health, the realities of your spouse and your kids. You’ve learned things that will drastically impact the rest of your term. You’ve completed tasks that have been months in the making. You are acclimating to new situations, new ways of living life, new relationships, new leadership, new friendships, new places, new clothes, new climates, new nationalities, new cultures, new foods, new languages, new dangers… and on and on. Every single day. And you will realize that being exhausted is completely exhausting.

4} You need to be handy (or slightly creatively crazy). For instance, my outlet adapter that I use for my washing machine and my crock pot (they both happen to be from England… odd) burned up. (meaning my washing machine and my crock pot SHARE an adapter. meaning, I unplug my washer, steal the adapter so that I can plug in my crock pot. and then put the adapter back to use the washing machine. to which a friend said, “Yeah, I burn through them all the time.) So, I bought a new adapter at the local hardware store. And the new one sizzles when I plug it in. So I don’t use it. I now use a power strip to plug my washer in. And that same day, I bought a rug to put under my treadmill so I don’t get shocked when I run. But I had to lug the transformer upstairs to plug into my bedroom, stretch the treadmill cord under our bedroom door to reach the transformer just to turn the thing on because there aren’t any power outlets where my treadmill fits upstairs. And, then… I changed out the towel under my laptop so that I don’t get shocked while I’m writing to all of you. Not to mention Jeremy and the millions of little things he does every day just to make our house work right. Plumbing, electric, door locks, internet, bug spray, pillow case on the printer to keep the dust out of the printer… oh, and rehanging my suspension rod that I hang my clothes on because I don’t have a closet in our bedroom and need to buy a wardrobe of some kind but haven’t found one yet. NOTHING works overseas like it should. And you need to figure out HOW to make it work correctly… safety is a bonus.

(you also have to figure out how to tell your dad about your electrical problems without him having a fit about it and wanting to fly over the ocean and rewire the house)

5} You realize what parts of your life are CLEARLY American and what parts of your life are not. And what I mean by that is that things start to look differently. From kids needing car seats or riding up on top of driving vehicles to using dishes covered in dust or sleeping in beds that have gecko poop on them or using a washing machine that looks like a toy compared to my American dryer or even my thoughts about church, missions, politics, busyness, safety… every single part of life all of the sudden goes through this new filter of living overseas. A filter that you didn’t even realize was actually QUITE American just months before. Things look different. Customer service, traffic laws, trash pickup, economics, faith… everything is different. And it makes you think. Deep thoughts. About life. Number 3 comes in to play here. It is exhausting.

6} You become a wrestler. Because of number 4 and number 5… all the creative craziness and life filtering will cause you to wrestle. And the personal wrestling effects your kids, your parenting, your marriage, your faith, your relationships with others and especially your ministry. Your thought life and actions and how you should go about this whole new life thing. So much inner and outer wrestling happens. You become a pro-wrestler and you didn’t even know you would need such a skill.

Living Overseas - First Term Discoveries in Missionary Life

7} You will find peace in your new pace of life. Life around the world is so much slower. America is fast. In Africa (and also in Europe), the to do list will NOT get done between the hours of 1-4pm. And there is NOTHING we can do about it. So we might as well rest. Everyone else is taking a pause. And there is peace in the pause if you choose to take it. Pause. Breathe. Go to lunch. Stick your feet in the pool. Drink some ataya tea or cafe au lait or Schweppes Agrum. Enjoy the ocean breeze with your Bible and notebook. Catch a podcast. Watch a movie.

Don’t fight the pauses. Regroup, refresh and rejuvenate your soul or you will not make it living overseas.

Living Overseas - First Term Discoveries in Missionary Life

8} You will miss really odd things from home. Milk in a milk jug from the refrigerated section at Walmart. Papa Johns pizza. Even just the smell of it. Real sour cream. Cheap clothes. Drive through restaurants. Free refills. Not wondering if the ice is filtered water or not. IF they even have ice to give you. Expect to miss the weirdest things at the weirdest moments.

9} There is a grieving process. In some ways, this is just hitting me. Even though I thought I’d already worked through it. I miss being a pastor’s wife, an American mom, a friend, sister, daughter… I grieve the missed moments and events. The closing of an old life chapter and the opening of something new. I’m realizing that this is a long, long process of saying goodbye and saying hello. Grieve. Let yourself grieve the changing of times. You are changing while living overseas. They are changing. Life is changing and sometimes that is full of as much sadness as it is joy.

10} You will realize how much FUN can be had in this world. The world, apart from the insane news each day, is a beautiful and FUN place! Restaurants with swimming pools and cute baby goats walking through the cars on the road and puppies scampering through the sand and camels crossing the road and dancing neighbors late into the night. We get to see pink lakes and talk about “that time we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower with so and so” and remember the bubble tea we had in London’s China Town. We get to listen to African drums and shake hands with sweet, sweet children. We get to buy fabric and design clothes. We get to have so-not-beautiful feet. We see funny English sayings on t-shirts and signs. We get to explain the English words on the washing machine to the washing machine salesman because he doesn’t know what the buttons do on the machine. We get to bargain in different languages. We get to say things like, “Oh these prices aren’t bad. The chicken is only 4,000!” or “My dress was 10,000.” We facetime with friends in Tunisia and instagram with friends in Morocco and iMessage with friends in Ohio and email with friends in France. We have facebook groups with people from all over the world who are also experiencing really fun, really crazy things! The world is open and beautiful and expat families get to live it all while living overseas!

We can capture so much joy in every single overseas day.

11} People are not going to always know how to help you. Honestly. Everyone has a different experience when they move overseas. People are different. Their struggles are different. Their family needs things very differently from the next family. Unfortunately, so much of the missionary’s first term is try as you go, learn as you do, figure it out as it happens. You can ask 5 different expat families and they will all give you a different answer, a slightly different slant on how you could do it or not do it. And for that matter, 1 other expat could give you 5 different ways they have done it, the positives and negatives of each one and you STILL have to choose what will be best for your family… and more than likely you will choose wrong and have to choose again. It is part of why settling in and living life here is so slow. Trial and error rule the day until you know enough to make educated choices rather than shot-in-the-dark guesses.

12} Remember your youth group missions trip slogan of “Flexibility is key!”… remember it well because it will apply to your life every day. Go with the flow, learn not to fight the systems, don’t let little things stress you out and remember that you can try again tomorrow. You will learn the skill of planning far, far in advance while giving yourself option A, B and C also while knowing that none of it might ever happen or if it does it could be on a totally different schedule than you planned. But you learn to plan anyway… writing “flexible” across the days with a red gel pen. And if you arrive there… you rejoice, party and eat cake.

13} My missions journey will not look like any other missionary’s journey. Comparison will push you down and send you home. Change your expectations to meet your reality, the reality of your first term. Trust your leadership when they tell you to learn culture, study language and settle in. You won’t do much more than that on your own. If you are going for the long term, do not compare. ever. Enjoy every small victory, share God’s love, build healthy relationships and trust that God is working in small places, helping you plant small seeds that will harvest a great reward, for you or for someone else, down the road. The farming analogy will really be what keeps you going… the seasons, the elements, the ground you have to work with… all of it changes from place to place, person to person. Be a good, faithful farmer and don’t look at the fields next door with green eyes. It might take you years to get there with your fields, and that’s okay.

14} The world really is dangerous. You will have a cobra story. Do not fear. Get ready.

15} Living on missions support is a constant give and take of communication, paperwork, blessing, stretching, humility, vulnerability, patience, trust and a dose of kindness for good measure. The necessary openness of our finances, spending, time management, calendar planning, funds accountability, and budget needs are a challenge that starts long before you leave for the field and becomes of a part of every single day, every decision, every relationship for many years. And it is hard to get used to. Sometimes, it is really difficult to have so many people knowing so many things about our personal lives. But… I can say without a doubt that God is on the throne, He is pulling resources from around the world to keep missionaries on the field in expensive, hard to live, hard to raise a family, dangerous, unreached places across the globe. And Jeremy and I graciously get to be a part of it and because of that the gospel is moving forward. In light of that, I’m happy to keep an open window to our personal lives and let God take care of the rest. Beautifully, none of it is truly ours anyway and heaven is our end goal. Let’s use every resource to make His Name known and grow His Kingdom.

Those are a just a few of the things we’ve discovered already in this first term living overseas.

The lessons keep coming… one right after the other. Sometimes taking us by surprise and other times making us cry. Other times keeping us on our toes and bringing belly laughter.

What have you learned in your first or any term?

Now, if you’d like, hop over and see my 22 things I’d tell a new missionary. Because they still apply. Most every day.

And moving overseas or wonder what that is like? Here are some tips for moving overseas.


  1. Very true, every one of them…we lived in Indonesia for two years, and we even have a cobra story! As we prepare to head back overseas to a different country after 4 years in the states, this was a great reminder!

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog before, but I’ve read off and on and enjoyed it.

    This time I just wanted to say that I love this. One of my few regrets is that I didn’t keep a journal or really record anything much in my early days of life in Russia. I was just too overwhelmed at the time. But now, after many years, it’s actually hard to remember those times, even though I know that back then I thought I’d never be able to forget them.

  3. I saw this the other day. I didn’t have time to read it. Thanks for posting! There is something about this process that is so messy in every way. Things you never thought you had a problem with you are all of a sudden struggling with and in our case not just struggling alone but our whole language class gets to watch. It’s not pretty when you get frustrated or just start crying in the middle of class. It’s the stripping of everything that we hold close to us. It’s super painful and super humbling….and I know this is just the beginning!?

    1. there is a very public life of language school that will keep you on the spot sometimes. You are going through your first year with many others who are at different places in their lives. It can be so challenging and humbling. But you are right where God wants you to be!! Keep going and trusting!

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