Out of almost three years' worth of blog posts, this final post right here is the hardest to write. What can I share with you that is helpful as well as succinct? How do I summarize the lessons I’ve learned over two-plus years? I wish I could share the whole story because God has come through in so many amazing ways, and each one is worth sharing about. Nevertheless, I’ll try to keep it brief.
For those of you who are only just considering GoCorps and for those of you who have already committed to a placement, I have three tips:
Take the small steps of faith.
Expect the unexpected.
Get to know yourself.
My two-year commitment wasn’t easy, and some of the experiences I had were not necessarily what I would have chosen had I known the difficulties to come, but now I wouldn’t change any of it. God is good, and he gives such good gifts. When I applied for GoCorps, I didn’t know where the Lord was taking me. I didn’t know which placement I would end up pursuing. I didn’t know which people groups I would develop a passion for. I didn’t know I would end up living in two different countries or that I would learn two different languages, one just for fun in my first host country and one for survival in the second. I didn’t know that my team would become my overseas family. And I didn’t know that I would meet my soon-to-be husband.* But following the Lord step by step, wherever he leads, turns out to be a much better adventure than anything I could try to plan myself.
That big leap of moving overseas is actually made up of small steps of faith, trusting the Lord to lead when you can’t see what’s up ahead. For me, the whole process from GoCorps application to launch date was just one step after another without any guarantee of the end result. I had to walk by making decisions, going to training, raising support, applying for my visa, etc, but the Lord was the one who provided by opening doors, bringing my support team together, and giving me favor in the eyes of my host countries’ governments. And then the same thing once I was overseas – settling in, adjusting to culture, learning the languages, finding my spot in ministry, building relationships – each new thing was another opportunity for me to look to Jesus and rely on him to walk with me, to show me the way, and to provide.
His provision doesn’t always look like what we expect. I tried moving to Europe without any expectations for what it would be like. I knew if I tried to guess, I’d be wrong because it was all new to me. Even so, once I settled in, I developed expectations for what daily life would be like. After a few weeks, I had my weekly schedule nailed down, and eventually, I knew my routes backwards and forwards, and I had started making friends within and outside my team.
But life is an adventure, and cross-cultural life is an unpredictable one. We had short-term teammates coming in and out almost constantly for my first year, so our team dealt with a lot of transitions, both in ministry work and in living situations. One of the projects I worked with had a major leadership change that took a while to level out. My English students weren’t always consistent with their attendance. And in a country where I wouldn’t have worried about my visa status changing, my residency was suddenly cut short.
I learned to expect the transitions of short-termers and the iffy attendance of my students, but the other unpredictable and sometimes improbable things that came along made me wonder what God was doing. When my team and I became aware of the slight possibility of a visa problem for a few of us, we prayed and asked the Lord to provide. We did the paperwork. We kept up with regulations. And we just knew God would make it work for us to stay where he had clearly called us. But we got the opposite answer.
In addition to shock, sadness, fear, and anger, this unexpected situation produced a little bit of joy. I wanted to stay in my host country where I loved the people and the culture and the food and the work, but I was also tired. I needed a break (which I thought would maybe just be a weekend away or something…), and God provided. I had also set goals for my future after GoCorps in a different part of Europe, and I didn’t know how all of that could possibly work out, but then God provided. Having to leave my first host country made it possible for me to get a head start on those future plans, which still fit perfectly within my GoCorps placement.
Setting those future goals, investing in ministry projects, working together with my team, and relating well with people from different cultures all required me to know myself well, but they also enabled me to learn even more about who God created me to be. In our cross-cultural training before going overseas and in our training on the field, we did several surveys and tests to determine our strengths, our mindstyles, our personality types, etc. When you are aware of your abilities, your potential struggles, and how you view the world, then you and your team can better recognize where you fit in – which roles you would do well in, where you can stretch for a limited period of time to fit another role, and what roles you really shouldn’t pursue – and you can learn to take care of yourself well.
As an introvert, it takes me a while to feel comfortable in a group of people. Knowing that ahead of time helped me be patient with myself as I settled into my team full of extroverts. And being on a team full of extroverts taught me, for example, to be more confident in speaking up. But the great thing was that I was accepted for who I was. Yes, I grew in self-confidence, but my team didn’t expect me to change in order to match them. We appreciated each other for our varying strengths and abilities, and we were able to acknowledge our weaknesses to each other and help each other when we needed it.
We also learned to recognize in ourselves and in each other when we needed to rest. It is so easy to overwork and stretch ourselves too thin when we’re working in full time ministry. There’s always someone who needs help with something, but we aren’t of much help when we’re so physically tired that we keep getting sick, or when we’re so spiritually and mentally tired that we feel like we’ve run out of compassion. Jesus made it a priority to rest and spend time with the Father. We need to do that too. Know yourself, know your limits, and know how you find refreshment. The better you know yourself, and the better you get to know your teammates and other coworkers, the better you will be able to work together for the Kingdom.
So take the small steps of faith, expect the unexpected, know yourself, and Go.
*Finding a spouse was not my motivation to go overseas. I actually thought that if I were to meet someone eventually, it would be after my two years. But Jesus has the best timing, even if it’s sooner or later than we expect.