Navigating Tricky University Transitions as a Missionary Kid

All transitions are tricky. They represent the end of something old and familiar, and the beginning of something new and unknown. When facing transitions, you naturally experience a period of grief and mourning over the losses that now lay somewhere in your past. God has created us with an amazing and extensive spectrum of physical and emotional responses to the changes that take place in our lives. For instance, when you’re happy, you smile. When something is funny, you laugh. When you’re angry, you find something to throw at a cat. When you lose something or someone that you love, you grieve.

In that way, missionary kids are no different than other university students. When incoming freshmen arrive on campus, they naturally miss their beds, their mom’s cooking, their high school friends, and probably their dog. They probably even miss their annoying siblings, and even their dad sitting in his recliner snoring while watching football on Sunday afternoons. But I have some dramatic news for you, wait for it, here it comes: There are some MAJOR differences between MKs who arrive at university and other American kids who show up on campus for the first time.

Profound, huh? Think about this with me for a minute. What are some of the major difference between a typical dorm student and a missionary kid who grew up in some remote corner of the world?

The MKs probably can’t go back home.

-When a student drives onto campus from Georgia or Michigan, he or she doesn’t need a visa to cross state lines but many MKs have to surrender their legal rights to live on their mission field when they make the international trip to attend university. They give up their visas just to come to college and that means no turning back. That’s tricky!

-MKs who grew up in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America are faced with a huge financial decision at Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer breaks. Should they pay $1000-$2000 for a two-week trip home, or should they pay for their school bill for this month? That’s tricky!

-When MKs leave their field, they pack up everything they own, say goodbye to their family, friends, neighbors, church members, and pets knowing that if they ever see them again, it will likely be years from now. For MKs, their “home” is thousands of miles away across multiple time zones and several international airports. That’s tricky!

-If you grew up in the States, there’s always a backup plan if college just doesn’t work out for you: Quit and go home. If your roommate snores, eats pickled garlic, steals your food, has a foot fungus, uses too many essential oils, or owns a cat, you can always jump in a car and be back at home within a few short hours. Even if MKs can afford to go back to their field during breaks, the world they knew has changed and gone on without them. For MKs, there is no backup plan. Like Cortez when he burned his ships, there’s no going back. That’s tricky!

What else is different for MKs?

The MKs are learning two new cultures at once.

The first few weeks of college life are fun to watch. In those initial days, students receive approximately 2 million details and pieces of information that you need to remember to be able to succeed. It’s essential to figure out “Can I get to Alumni 301 from the Fine Arts building in 4 minutes?” Or “Who am I going to go to lunch with today? Is there a bathroom somewhere in the student life building? Why is the line at Chick-fil-A always so long but Papa Johns is always empty? Do I really get demerits if I jump in the fountains? Why is that creepy guy in my freshman speech class trying to follow me on Instagram?” Figuring out the answers to these questions is a necessary ingredient in every student’s college experience. No matter where you grew up, you have to be concerned about more than just academics; you also have to learn dorm student culture as well. That can be tricky!

It’s easy in the swarm of college life to forget that MKs aren’t just learning “university culture,” they’re also trying to learn “American culture” at the same time. What am I talking about?

-Many MKs have been riding and driving motorcycles on the mission field since they were old enough for their feet to reach the ground but in America, they have to complete the equivalent to a doctoral dissertation just to get the DMV to give them a driver’s license. After having a crazy amount of freedom to roam the villages and countryside where they lived, they now can’t even get to Walmart. That’s tricky!

-Asian MKs are taught that feet are “dirty”, and you never touch anything with your foot. You don’t point your feet, especially the bottom of your feet, at another person unless you’re trying to insult them. If an MK has heard and been taught this way their whole life, how do you think they feel the first time their roommate puts their feet on the MK’s bed in the dorm room? That’s tricky!

-Church on the mission field can be pretty “organic”. There are likely to be small children roaming around the room and babies crying. Church music might consist of a guitar, a bongo drum, or some other traditional instruments that sound nothing like a piano and orchestra. People put on their “Sunday-best” clothing on the field and that just means that they put on their best sandals and their shirt that doesn’t have holes in it. How strange do you think it must be for MKs to walk into a typical church here in the US where 500 people are wearing suits and ties? Overseas, it’s normal for everyone in the church to greet every single person one-by-one before church, and then enjoy a meal together after church. For MKs who grew up deeply immersed in their local culture, American church culture can be suffocating and way too formal when compared to their “home” church on the field. That’s tricky!

So, what’s the point in writing all this? Well, MKs need to remember several important things about life in the States:

1. Transitions are tricky. They are emotional, tough, chaotic and will push you way out of your comfort zones. 1 Corinthians 10:13 offers a profound reminder, there is literally nothing that enters your life that you are unequipped to endure. God’s Spirit dwells in you and His love is more than able to sustain you no matter how low you go during this time of transition.

2. Transitions are unavoidable. Never try to ignore or go around the transition process. You-Have-To- Go-Through-It. Period. Double-stop. You can’t bury your past. You can’t stick your memories in a box and pretend they never happened. 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 points to the imminent changes awaiting our bodies when Christ returns. Hebrews 11 powerfully outlines the lives of men and women who bravely walked through repeated transitions with grace and power. Those people are the heroes of our faith and we stand on their spiritual shoulders because they bravely went wherever God moved them.

3. Transitions are temporary. There are five stages of transition that we don’t have time to look at here. Maybe if you contact the CGO and tell them you enjoyed this article and want to hear more, then they’ll ask me to write some more in the future…cough, cough, hint, hint, wink, wink.

Students who grew up in the States but live among MKs on campus need to remember several important things as well.

1. MKs have learned to adapt to their surroundings to try to fit in. In many contexts, MKs probably could be described as “hidden immigrants”. What does that mean? They look like Americans, but they think like the people on their mission field. They smile and nod when you make references to the NBA and NFL, but they might not know the difference between a two-point conversion and a jump shot.

2. MKs would like to understand. They need you to take time to explain movie references, pop-culture icons, and contemporary humor. It’s exhausting pretending to understand American politics and why every American thinks their culture is superior to other cultures. Don’t assume that your MK friends “get it”. Ask them follow-up questions and help them understand.

3. MKs would like to be understood. MKs grow up riding elephants, playing with monkeys, touring 1000-year-old castles, and riding canoes through crocodile infested waters. They’ve flown before they could walk. They’ve eaten stuff that would make you cringe. Their life is extremely colorful and multi-cultural. They would love to share those memories with you. They would love to include you in their world, but they need you to ask them questions to get the conversation started.

We know and are known by the telling of our stories.” Michael Pollock

Matt Jones

Photo by fauxels on

New Season – New Surrender

Encouragement for moms in transition from a mom in transition

When I was 17 years old, I remember singing the words “I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” I sang with tears in my eyes and a yearning in my heart to go. I was completely surrendered in that moment, and I wanted more than anything to serve God somewhere overseas.

When I was 28, God called my husband and me to Thailand and I had to surrender again to serve him overseas. We were living and working in an ideal ministry with people we loved all around us. Were we really supposed to leave that? I was scared and excited. The Lord made it so obvious through so many different ways that He had specific plans for us in Southeast Asia. I can remember sitting in a service one night and the preacher announced the title to his sermon “Have You Lost Your Heart for the Harvest?” That sermon was the culmination of everything that God was doing in our lives, and I knew God was calling me to surrender again to serve Him. So without hesitation, we packed up with our 3 children and headed to Thailand with great joy and expectation.

          We love our life in Thailand. What an adventurous place to raise a family. I remember thinking many times “I can’t believe this is my life. I am living the dream that God gave me as a child.” I am so grateful for the life and calling God has given us.

          So, fast forward several years and now I have come to a new place of surrender. Our oldest two daughters have left Thailand for university in the States, and everything in life is changing/has changed/continues to change almost daily. I was caught off guard and unprepared for how challenging this stage of life would be, and I struggle with how to adequately express the struggle without being discouraging to you the reader.

          It was very hard to say goodbye to our oldest daughter knowing we wouldn’t be nearby to help her when she needed us. It was super hard when she was sent away from college because of the Covid pandemic, and Thai restrictions wouldn’t allow her to come home to Thailand. She recently told us that the only place she feels “at home” is when she’s on campus at college because it’s the only place she’s been able to unpack her suitcases in the past two years. When she went through challenging times with friends and boy relationships, it was so difficult to not be able to talk face to face, especially since we are 12 time zones apart. Fast forward 8 months.

          Because of visa restrictions, in December of 2020 our second daughter had to fly across the world alone (Bangkok to Qatar to Dallas to South Carolina) to start college. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough for that either. Less than a month after she returned to the States, both of the girls tested positive for Covid and were sent to quarantine on campus for 10 days. We were powerless to help. Powerless to comfort. Powerless to do anything but watch all this unfold on a smart phone screen from 10,000 miles across the globe. (We were able to ask family to deliver Chick-fil-A to their quarantine dorm so that’s something, right?)

          I am not writing this to give 10 steps to success for other moms facing this time of life. I am not writing to say “this is how I survived” this stage of life because, honestly, I haven’t yet. But I would like to state the obvious: Living with this level of elevated tension and uncertainty is emotionally, physically and spiritually depleting. So, with that in mind, I felt compelled to write out some of the lessons that I am learning as I navigate this new season.

1. I am not alone in this struggle.

There is something about knowing that someone else has experienced the same thing that I am that is comforting. I’ll never forget the first time I read an article of another expat who was struggling to go back to her mission field just like I was. It was the first time that I had felt that way and I felt guilty. Her article encouraged me so much to realize that I was not alone and reminded me to remember my “why” for serving the Lord.

We should seek counsel from others who are walking this path ahead of us and also seek to encourage others who are going through the same thing we are. It is also invaluable to consider the cost that God paid in sending his own Son to earth to redeem us from our sin.

2. Surrender. Again. And again. And again. And again.

I used to think that surrender was a “one and done” thing. Now I am realizing that it is a continual process. Sometimes I have to keep surrendering the same thing over and over. Just when I think that I have accepted what God is doing in my life, I realize that I am holding back again. It is a gift of grace to be able to live in a place of surrender.

3. What I say to my self is important.

If I tell myself that this is an overwhelming sacrifice and I cannot do this, I will believe myself. If I remind myself that God has a plan in all of our trials and that He is sovereign over every detail in my life as well as my children’s lives, I can live with hope. Paul Tripp talks about the children of Israel and how what they were thinking influenced their response to God’s leading. He says –

“Think of the children of Israel in the wilderness as they are actually contemplating going back to Egypt. How could they possibly consider that response if they saw themselves as the miraculously redeemed, sustained, and guided children of the covenant? Could they seriously contemplate, even for a moment, a return to the very place of slavery from which God had graciously rescued them? Imagine the difference it would make during the hardships of the wilderness to say, “Yes, this circumstance if difficult, and no, we don’t always know what God is doing. But there is one thing we know. We are the children of God. He gave us his covenant promises, he redeemed us out of slavery, he revealed to us his law, and he has guided and provided for us. Because we are his children, we are never alone. The God who delivered us from Egypt will be with us, even in this tough moment. Our only hope is to remain with him, and any other option would mean denying our very identity as the children of the Most High God.”
(Lost in the Middle: MidLife and the Grace of God: Mid-Life Crisis and the Grace of God by Paul David Tripp)

That is a profound thought. Just imagine what would have been different for the children of Israel if they would have thought differently about their circumstances and about their God.

4. I must make sure I am surrounding myself with biblical truth.

God’s Word has been such a comfort and rebuke to me during this time of change in our lives. The Psalms have encouraged me over and over to pour out my heart before my God and seek His guidance. Songs with biblical truth have been especially comforting to me. I have had this song on repeat for months:

Father of Light

All praise to the name

Of the Father of Light

One who listens and hears when I call

Ev’ry step he ordains,

I shall walk without fear

In His light I’ll not stumble or fall.

He knows all of my feelings,

The depths of despair

All the limits my soul can endure.

I will trust in His name,

I have nothing to lose,

For in Him all my hopes are secure.

-Craig Courtney

5. Look for God’s hand in my life and be grateful.

God is always at work. He is trustworthy. He is sovereign. He is good. And if I take the time to look for how he is working, I will spend a lot more time being grateful and a lot less time complaining. It was a stretching time for our family when Erica had to fly back to America alone. It was hard. But seeing how God worked in her heart to prepare her and then seeing the strength he gave her and how he guided her was faith building for all of us. I wouldn’t trade the way we saw God work for anything. It takes effort to stop and notice how God is working in our lives and in our children’s lives. Psalm 66:16 says “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” I need to take time to reflect on God’s mighty hand upholding me and I need to share what He is doing with others.

There have been many days when I didn’t think I could make it on the mission field any longer. There have been many days when I wanted to quit. But there are more days when I bow my head and ask God to help me surrender to what He wants for my life. I do not want to choose my own way. He is all-wise and I trust Him. This is my prayer:

Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
  However dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand,
  Choose out the Path for me.

Smooth let it be, or rough,
  It will be still the best;
Winding or straight it leads
  Right onward to Thy rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
  I would not if I might:
Choose Thou for me, my God,
  So shall I walk aright.

Take Thou my cup, and it
  With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
  Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
  My sickness or my health.
Choose Thou my cares for me,
  My poverty or wealth.

Not mine, not mine the choice,
  In things both great and small;
Be Thou my guide, my strength,
  My wisdom and my all.

-Horatius Bonar

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Fall Schedule 2019

*Sept 15-16 Oak Ridge Baptist, Oak Ridge, TN

16-22 Central Baptist, Greeneville, TN

24 Ken Ham conference at BJU

29pm – Eastside, Greeneville TN

October 1-9 in Ottawa, KS

2-6 missions conf at Calvary, Ottawa

9-11 Maranatha for Oral Defense

11-13 Romeoville, IL

13-16 BWM meeting in Danville, IL

16-19 stay in Danville

20 Faith in Columbia, MO

27 Sedalia, MO/Tri-City MO

30-Nov 3 Huntsville, AL

*November 10 – Charleston, SC

17 – Oakwood, Anderson, SC

27-30 Greeneville, TN Thanksgiving

*December 8 Tabernacle in VA Beach, VA

15 – Matt flies to Detroit for two mtgs

19 – semester ends at BJU

January 13 2nd semester 2 begins BJU

14 Joneses fly back to Thailand

*in between meetings we will be in Greenville, SC

2015-2016 Furlough Schedule

April 5, 2015—Red Bluff Baptist, Sylvania, GA

April 12, 2015—Central Baptist, Greeneville, TN

April 17-20—Tri City Baptist, Independence, MO

April 21-26—Fairfax Baptist Temple, Fairfax, VA

May 3—Bethany Baptist, Brevard, NC

May 10—New Beginnings, Limestone, TN

May 17—Eastside Baptist Church, Greeneville, TN.

May 24 PM—Bethel Baptist, Schaumburg, IL (we will stay in Chicago all week)

May 24 AM—Romeoville Bible Baptist, Romeoville, IL

May 31—No meeting scheduled yet (Anniversary Weekend)

June 7—No meeting scheduled yet

June 10—Friendship Baptist, Raleigh, NC

June 14—Bethany Hills Baptist, Raleigh, NC

June 21—Oakwood Baptist, Anderson, SC

June 28—Bible Baptist, Hampton, GA

July 5—Heritage Baptist, Windam, NH

July 12—Bethel Baptist, Sellersville, PA (pm only)

July 17-19—Hurst Baptist, Sylvania, GA

July 26—Immanuel Ind. Baptist Church—Brooklet, GA

July 27-August 1—The Wilds (Lindsey, Erica, Trevor will be campers)

August 2—No meeting scheduled yet

August 9—Olatheview Baptist, Olathe, KS

August 16—No meeting scheduled yet (looking for mtgs in KS)

August 23-26–Oak Ridge Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, TN

August 30—Calvary Baptist, York, PA

September 6—Valley Forge Baptist Temple, Valley Forge, PA

September 12-13-14—Harvest Hills Baptist, Yukon, OK

September 15-20 AM—Central Baptist, Greeneville, TN

September 20 pm service-September 23—Twin City Bible Church, Nitro, WV

September 24-28—Whitneyville Bible Church, Alto, MI

September 30—Mio Baptist, Mio, MI

October 4-7—Faith Baptist, Warren MI

October 11—Community Baptist, Saginaw, MI

October 12-14—BWM Annual Meeting, Crosspointe Baptist, Indianapolis, IN

October 18—Calvary Baptist, Geneva, IL

October 21-25—Calvary Baptist, Ottawa, KS

November 1—Hillsdale Baptist, Tampa, FL (Am only)

November 4-8—Calvary Baptist, Huntsville, AL

November 15—Colonial Bible Church, Midland, TX

November 18 and 22—Grace Life, Cypress, TX

November 29—Carol Baptist, Atchison, KS

December 6–Abilene Bible Baptist, Abilene, KS

December 13–

December 20

December 27

January 3

January 10–Hillcrest Baptist Church, Logansport, IN

January 17—Bible Baptist Church, West Pointe, MS

January 24-27—First Baptist Church, LaSalle, IL

February 6, 2016—Return to Thailand

Guidelines for Transition into Thai Ministry

1) Forget everything you’ve ever learned. All your assumptions, preconceived notions, and opinions about how ‘ministry’ should look here.
2) Be a learner, not a teacher. This is hard after deputation. It’s especially hard for Americans.
3) Realize that asking direct questions to Thais will rarely give you anything but an affirmative answer.
4) Remember that at this point in time, the Thais will say or do anything to please you.
5) Even the best Thai English speakers often only understand a fraction of what you are saying. Idioms and compound phrases pass right by them with little comprehension.
6) A Thai person will rarely, if ever, say ‘I don’t understand’ when talking to you. It’s humiliating to them.
7) Expect stress. Heat, isolation, no communication, and lots of people will make life tough for you.
8) Modesty is a necessity, not an option. By ‘modesty’ I’m referring to the Thai standards of modesty, not American standards. It’s incredibly contradictory to teach religion but dress in a way that makes Thais uncomfortable.
9) We might have to limit our liberty to increase our ministry.
10) The Thai pastor is the ultimate authority in the local church. Give him respect and take a backseat to his leadership.