Published on June 10th, 2016 | by Ellie Montgomery
This is What Working for God in the Middle East Looks Like
We call ourselves “workers.”
That’s a code word for people who have left their own culture to share Jesus in a foreign setting. I’m a worker in the Middle East. I’m not in danger by being here, but I do have to be careful about what I say online and how I present myself in person.
It’s Just Normal Life
Before I walk out my door, I put a black dress over my clothes. The long sleeves cover my wrists and the skirt goes down to the floor. Then I wrap a scarf around my hair and shoulders. Although it’s hot and humid outside, this is the outfit I wear in public every day.
As I walk down the stairs of my apartment building, I’m careful not to touch, or even look at, the men I pass. I smile at the women, though. Most of them smile back with their eyes, which is the only part of them that’s visible.
I drive down the street behind a pickup truck loaded with men who have been hired for a day of manual labor. Traffic stops occasionally to let herds of goats or camels cross the road. Usually there’s a nice view of the mountains bordering my little town, but today a breeze kicks up sand that obscures the horizon completely.
Most days, I just go through my usual routine and I don’t even think about the fact that I live in a foreign country. I buy groceries and cook food. I pay bills and save for big purchases. I make friends, tell stories, travel, call my family, and procrastinate the chores I’m not fond of.
My life isn’t always the glamorous, epic adventure my friends at home think it is. But it can be pretty hilarious.
Don’t Forget To Laugh
There are so many funny things that happen when intelligent, capable people suddenly find themselves bumbling around in a new culture. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and to just laugh.
I remember visiting a local friend’s home for the first time and meeting her elderly mother. The older woman gestured emphatically to her head when I greeted her, pulling my head down. I didn’t understand the language well enough to know what she was saying, so I very bewilderingly leaned down to tap my forehead against hers.
I learned afterward that it’s customary to greet elderly people with a kiss on the head. My friend’s mother got her head bopped instead because I was clueless!
Another time a fellow expat friend and I were practicing how to order food. She wanted to ask for apples and strawberries. Instead, she asked for babies and toilets because the words sound vaguely similar. Our language tutor couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the class.
It’s Really Hard…
As workers, we talk about life “on the frontline.” In the spiritual battle for this region of the world, we are right in the thick of it. The weight of that responsibility is heavy. I often feel like I am under the fire of the enemy’s troops as I try to build a life here.
It’s a daily sacrifice to be on the opposite side of the world from my home culture.
I miss going to church, having the freedoms I enjoy in America, and being involved in the lives of my family and friends. The transition here was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
…But So Worth It!
Being a worker is such a privileged calling. I am what Jesus told his followers to pray for in Luke 10:2 — “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (NLT). What an amazing way to spend my life!
If my story stirs something in your spirit, maybe God is inviting you into his harvest fields as well.
My advice is to find a repatriated worker in your community and ask them to mentor you. As you take steps towards moving overseas, keep your relationship with Jesus your main focus. And, don’t give up!
The reality is, this is a painful and sometimes discouraging calling. But, it is worth it in ways we won’t see this side of eternity. And there is a lot of joy along the way as well.
I look forward to being coworkers with some of you in the future.
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