Dear International Worker,
To some degree, for better or worse, your plans will probably change.
Your expectations for life and work in your host country during the time of your preparation versus actually being there will most likely look different than you thought. That’s okay. It’s common, actually. If plans change in the familiarity of your home country, why would they not change when you seek to live as an expat? When you live internationally it brings several new variables into the mix that affect everything.
A few weeks ago when I was visiting the Philippines I was talking to someone I enjoy learning from. He asked what my husband and I are doing now. When I told him, he asked whether it was what we had planned on when we first came to Southeast Asia. I shook my head and we both laughed, but I was really thinking, “Of course not. You know how that stuff works.” But he got it. He knows this kind of life and has lived it longer than me, but we both understand how expectations change. It’s natural to have hopes or preconceived notions that shift once you’ve lived somewhere for a while. Experience, time, and a humble heart open to learning from people in your host country will teach you what actually works and is possible. The only reason I know this is because I’ve often tripped over my own misconceptions in the process of adjusting to new cultures.
When I was in my twenties and first arrived in Asia, serving God and others was more about my own ministry plans than anything else. I didn’t realize it. But that’s okay. Time would teach me. After a few years of learning, growing, mixed with occasions of falling flat on my face, I began to see there was a difference between my preconceived ministry ideals and what was actually helpful in communicating God’s love in my host culture. One was about me; the other about Jesus. The more I realized this, everything I wanted changed. I wanted to love God and people effectively in the context of my host culture more than anything else.
It took a little while and I never got it perfect, but I began to see how God could make this sort of fellowship and love possible in my life situation. I could’t rush it or import it from what I had assumed would work. I had to be willing to learn and wait. Plans that changed and the need to learn were not indicative of failure in my life; rather they were transformative experiences in the journey of God changing me. So if you also find your plans changing or former values completely blown out of the water by your expat experience, know that you are normal and God is continuing to work in you. It’s a good thing, but it’s not always comfortable. His favor rests on you, so He will not allow you to live without change.
Also, we can’t know what the future holds for our personal lives, our host country, or the world. Plans will always change depending on what happens with these things. Sometimes what happens on the world stage works in our favor, but sometimes it feels scary. Thankfully, God and His plans will be constant. While we can’t know His plans or what will happen in our lives, we can find an anchor in Him for everything we need.
Planning, getting training, and exploring personal strengths and weaknesses before living in your host country is a good thing. I’m not knocking that. I support it, actually. But hold all of these things loosely as life is unpredictable and long term life in your host country will most likely be different than you assume. After some time in my first host country, I remember realizing I could either seek to make my personal ministry dreams come true, or seek to know God and love others as they were. What a challenge to everything I thought I knew!
I hope I’ve grown in learning to meet people where they are on their journey; in sharing life and God’s love. I want to grow in trusting God with my own journey, even when it takes unexpected turns and the plans I hold close need to change. Almost three years into my second expat experience, my life doesn’t look like I thought it would. My husband isn’t teaching at a university and I’m not teaching exercise regularly. Good plans? Yes. What we actually ended up doing? No.
Instead we’re working in roles we never imagined. While we have a little previous experience for these particular roles, we never imagined doing these things. God is changing us so much as we learn to trust Him in new areas of life and work. He is bringing us alongside people who, like we do, crave His love and genuine relationships. Wow. Who would have ever thought? Certainly not us—at least not in the specific ways things ended up happening. There are challenges I did not anticipate and blessings I never saw coming, but I am content in fellowship with God and growing in His love with those around me. Life will never stop changing. And hopefully I will never stop learning.
Thanks for reading! I pray you are encouraged.
©2020ChrissyWinslow–All Rights Reserved
Where have I been since September? Taking time to learn and figure some new things out . A few things changed for me– again 🙂 . Nothing bad, but things that required some evaluation and time.
Below is the picture I almost chose for this entry because sometimes change feels a little sudden. It’s how I feel now as our family’s summer travel plans have a big question mark over them with recent events in the world. I feel disappointed and sad, but I know that Jesus will meet me even in these circumstances of our hurting world.
One More Update– I want to take my book off Amazon. A few years ago I wanted to learn how to write a book so I worked with a wonderful writing coach, RJ Thesman (https://rjthesman.net), who taught me how to fit writing into my life in a way that would be effective, not cause stress, etc. I really appreciated her guidance. She coached me through the process of creating and publishing a book on Amazon. I enjoyed it and I’m happy I did it. I love trying new things. But for now I want to take my book off Amazon, edit and improve it, and also add some content to make it a better resource. My heart is to help and I think if I make a few changes to the book it could help more. I want to release it again later. I am not sure when all this will happen as I have a few things going on, but I will let you know 🙂