Things that look different now that we are on the field

Things That Look Different

I’ve been thinking about all the things that look different to us now that we are living on the field.

I mentioned a few in our first term discoveries post.

But the more I think about it, the more different things I see, especially into our second term.

Things that are making us think differently and see life in new ways.

Things maybe you won’t hear a missionary talking about because they are difficult to explain or see if you haven’t seen them from overseas.

I was talking to a new friend who was asking me questions about us, about how we do things, about how we made certain decisions and in my talking about them, I realized how they might look through her eyes. This new friend is outside any of my normal circles and is looking at me through a completely different set of circumstances. And I realized in a deeper way than before, that the whole world, even other expats, may not do or say or see things the same as me. That their seeing it differently makes ME see it differently too.

Such a BASIC concept that feels very clear here.

I filed this blog post under the “Missionary Challenges” category because it truly is a challenge to have everything you’ve ever thought or done or known or understood to be laid under a totally different lens.

Living outside American borders changes your picture of the oddest things, your point of view for the world gets bigger and even opens your eyes to things never before seen about life or faith or a whole host of other things.

And I’m sensing that shift. I feel myself looking at life differently.

We’ve stepped outside our circle of normal, our comfort zone and the world has a different hue, a quirky taste, a varied feel.

Things just plain look different now.

My “I live on the field now” eyes are viewing life through a funny, odd, clear, blurry, overseas life lens.

Things that look different now that we are on the field

And I’m not sure how to explain the difference from now and then… but the difference is there.

The differences are good. They cause growth. They make us dig in and discover new pieces of ourselves and our lives.

They make me stand strong in who I am or bravely make changes in my heart. They make me pray for wisdom, seek scripture and even laugh in wonder.

Life is interesting like that…

Living on the field changes your perspective on the weirdest things.

Shopping – Never seeing prices on items and knowing you are going to have to “waxale” – pronounced wa-ha-lay – or bargain with every vendor you see. Knowing they are going to charge you more just because you are a toubab, or foreigner. Finding a picture of what you like on pinterest and walking down the street to the metal worker or builder and asking them to build it for you. Going to the grocery store and paying $10 for ice cream or $8 for a box of cereal. Stopping in to a market and needing exact change or they won’t let you buy from them. Dealing in 100% cash. Cash that in this country, is in the hundreds and thousands of cfa. Shopping is a whole new ball game overseas. It’s great for the budget because often, I don’t want to do any of those things so I stay home and buy nothing. Shopping is stressful when you are still new to the field and the language barrier is overwhelming. Plus you need to remember to throw away boxes and bags and cases quickly or the roach eggs will hatch in your house. Plus the flour goes in the freezer and the milk goes on the shelf.

Things that look different now that we are on the field

Clothing – Fashion and things in style back home go OUT the window fast. Quickly, you grab onto local fabrics, find a tailor and start designing your own clothing. Way fun. Bright colors, tye-dyes, big skirts, flowy pants… plenty of #goodwingirls creativity. I’m building a relationship with my tailor. She is a character and I love that God could use this for something amazing. And she makes cute clothes.

Things that look different now that we are on the field

She also made us matching clothes. My friend said that Jeremy and I make corny look cute. Hmmm…

Things that look different now that we are on the field

Yes, we start to look way differently at clothing and that is kind of fun. It also makes us learn how the world views modesty and different cultures view clothing choices and amounts of clothing and sizes of clothing. Or wearing clothing at all. Or showing any skin at all. Or head coverings… the world sees clothing in a myriad of ways and my American brain is trying to grasp it all. Living on the field makes this a big issue and a grand discussion.

Driving – WOW. We totally off-roaded through the sand, trash, hills, a little village and a whole lot of stuck cars to get back on the highway after bypassing a HUGE traffic jam that could have taken us hours to get through. Thank you Speed-the-Light! And that is totally acceptable driving behavior here. A ton of cars gave the sand a try but only 2 of us made it through the treacherous “road” and back on to the highway. Think tipping sideways, driving under power lines and through burning trash. You can’t do that stateside.

Things that look different now that we are on the field

And those goats in the road. everywhere.

Holidays – I can not believe how different holidays feel on the field. Without the “Hallmark” hype or the over-decorated stores months ahead of time. Without the parties and the “must do” things for each holiday. One day passes and blends with another making it hard to believe it is actually a special day somewhere in the world. Truly, once you are on the field, if you do not make an effort to celebrate or decorate or have a party, holidays pass with little fanfare. Sometimes you want to shout… “Hello? Does anybody know what today is?” because it seems even the expats have forgotten. Throw in the weather differences for a girl who LOVES all four seasons… And then, there are parts about the low key holiday feel that begins to be very nice. No stress. No big pressure to do tons of traditions or go all out decorating. A simple “Happy Valentine’s Day” means more here. The big demonstrations seem silly and overdone because it is so out of place here. And my girls are learning what parts of the holiday truly need to be recognized. Jesus’ birth. Resurrection Day. THAT is what it’s about. Not the hype going with the holiday.

A simple egg dying craft with my girls, the Bible story read and the importance of Easter acknowledged simply and with thankfulness. A new way of doing holidays for sure.

Things that look different now that we are on the field

Boarding School – Never in a million years did I EVER think I would be a parent who considers boarding school for their kids. But if we live where we live right now during our second term, we will not have access to high school for our girls close to where we are… which means what it means for many missionary families: boarding school. Yet, now that I see it played out over here with other families and other kids, I can see the immense blessing, learning experience, and benefit that boarding school can be for missionary kids and for missionary families. I do see this differently and understand it a little more on this side of the ocean. Easy? no. But possible. maybe.

*We not only considered it. We’re doing it. Read about Boarding School here.

Church – This isn’t something you’ll hear from every missionary. Probably because we are scared to say it. Church looks so different now. Church is hard. Church is work. Church is not really “church” in the sense we’ve known it and it becomes much more Church (capital C) the way the Bible describes it. A body of believers that worship together, pray together, and meet together. The building and the coffee and the beautiful music and the comfy, cushioned, air-conditioned sanctuary are just not there. The snazzy announcements and the fabulous graphics… nope. Even a printed bulletin hasn’t yet hit the scene here. The language and cultural barriers, for sure for the newbies and not so much anymore maybe for the oldies, makes Sundays uncomfortable, foreign and stressful. It is hard to connect and feel a part and walk in the door and feel like “Wow, I’m in church.” because it looks SO different on the field. Church on the field is a battle for MANY missionaries. A struggle for many who have come from full-time church staff positions and don’t know what to do with themselves in church without a hundred things to plan and organize through the service. The question of “What do you do for church?” and “Where do you go to church?” and “Do you have a church family?” are very hard questions to answer. I never dreamed this would be such an issue. But it is. Especially while you are new and trying to find your place in church ministry in a completely new setting. Sitting through HOURS of new languages – for us, everything is translated from French to Wolof so it takes twice as long as normal – and new cultural sounds, relationships and traditions. Church is an untalked about struggle for missionaries. Not all… but a pretty high number of them have a really difficult time with church while on the field. And we are finding that we are not exempt from this church struggle.

Organization – The organization that we belong to is Assemblies of God World Missions or AGWM as we call it for short. But here in Africa, we are known as AOG. Which totally confuses me. We say AG in the US and here they add in the O. That’s weird and sometimes I forget that I’m AOG because it sounds like someone else. Throw in the Brazilian AG and the Canadian AG and you have a whole other set of “AOGs” that are not AGWM AOGs. Confusing. Then, throw in ALL the other organizations and NPOs and NGOs and every other letter combination like CMA and IMB and MIS. Mmhmmm… I’ve grown up an AG girl. My entire life was wrapped in BGMC, STL,  LFTL… get the picture? But to the other organizations, they do not know how we do our budgets or that our truck came from the youth in America or that we have around 200+ people who give to us in smaller amounts each month. Things about our organizations that look different from this side. Things that are difficult to explain to others outside our organization. They have 1 church or 3 churches that give BIG amounts. Or they have one big fund for everybody and don’t have any supporters. Or they just work here and skip the whole fundraising thing altogether. They go home for furlough for 3 months or 6 months… maybe never… and our 1 year at home seems like FOREVER to them. We have to be credential holding ministers before coming to the field. They don’t and may or may not have ever been or wanted to be a pastor. They may or may not have ever gone to Bible college. I could keep going. All the things I never thought about when it came to being a full time, career missionary with an organization working overseas. I don’t think one way or the other is better… I’m just learning there are MANY differences between the orgs that I never thought about or knew about before coming to the field. And trying to explain the “AOG” to someone outside it is a new experience.

Friends – Friendship is different on the field. Missionaries are kind of thrown together with new friends. You make new friends really fast. We have made some fabulous new friends! You develop deep friendships… really fast. Yet, you have this really great new friend who knows nothing about you. no history. Lots of new friends actually who know nothing about you. People you work with who know nothing about you. The “get to know you” conversation happens over and over… sometimes with the same people because everyone is having the same conversations with everyone because everyone is always making new friends and no one deeply knows anyone… even though it feels like it. Confusing? yep. Friends move away. New friends come in. You move away. Your friends are from every single place on the missional, relational, spiritual, and every other “al” spectrum. And you build the friendship anyway. Once on the field, you realize that the expat community is rather small, everyone knows of everyone but few people really KNOW anyone. If they do, it’s generally from afar because everything changes so often, so quickly. Still confusing? yep. There are amazing people to meet on the field and once and awhile a deeper conversation takes place and it is beautiful. Hearts align and life is good. Until someone moves. again.

I could keep going.

America looks different. Seeing it from this side of the ocean. The politics. The very real first world problems. Seeing it through the eyes of the people we talk to here. What they think of how Americans live and do things. The huge contrast between Americans and pretty much every other nationality. {Think Mr. Bean’s Holiday} Looking back at our days living stateside and think about how easy it is to get things done, how it is to travel on paved, safe, roads. Or drive through a restaurant and quickly get food. Or any of those very American things.

Parenting looks different. I have conversations with my girls about evacuation plans and terrorist attacks on the beach and getting in the vehicle and locking the door.

Marriage in the desert.

My new view from on the field makes me super sensitive sometimes and other times quite strong.

I see ways I’m learning and growing and new things I’ve yet to tackle. How I’m finding a new voice and a unique perspective.

I see how God is weaving people and places together… really having no clue how it will turn out in the end but knowing He has a GREAT plan.

Because I see the plan differently.

My heart is open to the differences.

In a recent Velvet Ashes post, Jessica Hoover said, “I think if we’re honest what we crave in our deepest selves is rest. Our heart’s cry is for all of what we do to be good enough. We long to catch our breath and for what is right in front of us to be enough for more than one second. We desire to transcend science and deny the inertia known as time. The longing we feel is holy. It’s the stuff of heaven.”

God is working in the differences. He is opening my eyes and causing me to look up at Him with a new appreciation, new desires, new thoughts and new views.

It truly is the stuff of heaven that will bring us all together one day.

What is something that looks different to you from on the field?

What maybe surprised you about the things I’m seeing differently?


  1. On the field I look at myself very differently. I somehow stop worrying about a million little things that American women are told to worry over. And then I just feel…free.

    1. I’m still learning to process what that freedom looks like. but it is true… we do have a different kind of freedom to be ourselves and walk as God asks without the same pressures of home. Thanks for sharing that Holly!

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