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The Myths of Overseas Ministry

Many of us living overseas leave behind our families, our familiarities and much of our freedom to pursue a calling we carry. Some would think that is the hardest part, right? But I would dare to say that is only the start. I write this out not for pity or for pardon, but I want you to know some of the realities I face on any given day. Because when I boarded the plane, I left the comfortable to embark on living in a world with a whole new culture.

So, here are a few of the myths I have discovered along the way!

Myth #1

Living in a nicer accommodation reduces the daily struggles or concerns of safety.

Though security is a must have for any place I stay, it does not reduce the risks involved nor does it have a great effect on the regular water and power outages I face. Dogs can be poisoned. Guards can be killed. No matter where I am, I can never get too comfortable. I have to always have a heightened sense of awareness.

Myth #2

A car is a luxury in a third world country.

I can agree with this statement in a general sense, but I would dare to say it is a necessity for me. I cannot freely walk around like the locals in the towns I travel to and so a car is the means by which I am able to do the work I need to do. There is always the option of taking a motorcycle which not only comes with the dangers of riding on the back of it, but also the dangers of the intentions of the driver or other drivers when they see me carrying a purse or bag.

However, the convenience of a vehicle comes with an additional responsibility. Due to the age of the vehicles which are affordable and the rough, pot-hole filled roads, cars require more maintenance than what I am accustomed to. And, a broken down car is not only an inconvenience, it is a great risk to be stuck alone on the side of the road.

Myth #3

Shopping in supermarkets is for comfort and convenience and much more expensive.

Yes, to some degree. But shopping in supermarkets is also safer. The risk of typhoid and parasites is reduced by the more sanitary environment. And, I have to be honest, sometimes I would love to eat something familiar, like cheese. Though many familiar foods are much more expensive here, eating well is an investment in me I can’t compromise. Being able to make an occasional salad or pizza has done more for my self care than almost anything else!

Myth #4

When you move overseas, you go to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

I really don’t like this word “suffer.” Yes, there is sacrifice. Yes, there are some sufferings. But most of all, there is a heart to serve. If I allowed myself to continually suffer, I would not be able to continue to lead the ministry. I moved because I was sent on mission, knowing there is a cost, but knowing most of all it is for the joy set before Christ He endured the cross. So whatever I face, I can count it as joy and privilege to be chosen to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Myth #5

The cost of living is much cheaper.

I think this is one of the greatest lies I have uncovered while living overseas. Yes, my rent is much much cheaper than what I would pay in the states. Street food is cheap. Labor of any sorts is very cheap. But when it comes to purchasing things like furniture, appliances, cars, cell phones, computers, fuel, bicycles, and many other imported products, it is marked up an average of 30% more than what you would pay in the states.

Myth #6

Some things must be free.

You will be hard pressed to find anything to do for “free” or any service for “free.” Someone helping you carry something to the car, plant a flower in a pot, show you the right directions to take, give you information for your visas or permits, etc. all expect compensation. No parks or play areas are ever free to enter. Even toilets are hardly ever free!

Myth #7

Efficiency and clarity are common like in the USA.

I had someone tell me I will be five times less productive in Uganda on any given day than I would be in the states. Laws are not upheld. Road rules are not followed. Long lines accompany any office of importance. Even if you come with the documents you were told to bring, chances are you are still missing something. And, many times officers or officials want payment to help you if you don’t know what to do or where to go next. It often takes great persistence and bold requests to get the help you need.

Myth #8

Generous living is easy in a culture where needs are all around you.

Though it is easy to want to give when you come, it gets more difficult the longer you stay. Living in this culture as a white Westerner, I am seen as a walking dollar sign $. Almost on a daily basis I am asked for help. Someone needs school fees for their child, or a doctors visit for a sick mother, or simply food or drinking water. Yet, I also never want to reinforce the stereotype that Westerners come to give “handouts” rather than a “hand up.” But unfortunately, most of the time when someone wants to be my “friend,” it is because they see me for having money. I love to live generously, but I seek wisdom and discernment before ever handing out money.

I will also tell you that I face “missionary guilt,” when simply wanting to buy a pair of shoes or a new dress since I have been wearing the same few things for months at a time that get worn out by the harsh environment. Buying an ice cream may be accompanied with an internal questioning of how that money should have been used for ministry. I often feel I am not at liberty to spend on myself, even if it’s just a coffee. I have to maximize my donations for the sake of the people I am serving and to be accountable to the people who have given. Though these challenges are many, the joys are greater. This culture has shaped me and strengthened me I ways I can't express. I truly do feel so blessed to call this land home.

But I pray these myths give you greater insight of what it looks like to live in a place not my own.

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