The Faucet Problem
I felt utterly defeated. I just lay there as water kept pouring out of the new kitchen faucet I was certain I had installed properly.
I grew up with a handy dad. We fixed things ourselves whenever we could. I also worked construction and landscaping from my junior year of high school through college and well into my young adult life. So when we transitioned overseas and the kitchen faucet in our little Soviet-era apartment broke, I thought I knew what I was doing.
I felt like my entire life had been rearranged.
I had no clue what I was missing. I got up … shut off the water … again … and with tear-filled eyes admitted defeat to my wife and son. I felt like a fool. I felt inadequate and ashamed. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to pack up and move back to the States.
I had lost my expertise. Or rather, my expertise was useless here, and this faucet was another line item on a long list of things I thought I knew how to do but couldn’t. This reality had been covered in my training, but it still caught me off guard. All the daily tasks I used to do on autopilot back home were replaced by different ones that demanded my full concentration. I felt like my entire life had been rearranged like the shelves of my favorite department store. It was exhausting — and discouraging.
A Neighbor’s Nudge
Thankfully, I was far enough along in my language learning that I’d made a friend in the apartment below ours who had handyman expertise. I cleaned myself up, swallowed my pride, and walked down to ask him what I’d done wrong. It turns out I was missing two rubber rings that come pre-installed in faucets in the U.S. My friend just chuckled, smacked me on the shoulder, and reminded me, “You’re not in America.” God used that nudge to break through the emotional turmoil and show me that all the hours I’d invested in language and culture learning were beginning to pay off.
These frustrations, despite being small, piled up over time. As I became disenchanted with all the things that were different from home, my failure to adapt could have grown from frustration to disdain. Without learning the language, I wouldn’t have been able to make friends within my new community. Without the support that comes from meaningful relationships, that faucet could have been the proverbial last straw that sent me home.
My Experience is not Unique
Our teammates transitioning overseas for the first time will face similar challenges. While it may seem overdramatic, the stresses of learning a new language and culture compound to the point of making seemingly simple tasks — like replacing a faucet, going to the market for groceries, or doing the dishes — feel insurmountable.
This transition time doesn’t last forever. Their new location will start to feel like home. New routines will emerge. They’ll find support in local friendships. But until they’re acclimated, these teammates are vulnerable. Like me, they feel foolish when what should be a simple victory turns out to be a decisive defeat. Those raw moments can become footholds Satan uses to begin nudging them down a road that leads to the end of their overseas ministries.
In those moments, the encouragement of close supporters and friends is essential. Their words offer crucial reminders that spreading the Gospel is worth the struggles, frustrations, and pain during those first few years on the field.
Even now, a number of our teammates are experiencing the challenges of being newcomers in the places where they serve. They’ve just finished another language lesson that left them wondering if they’ll ever be able to have meaningful conversations. They’re overwhelmed at the prospect of going to the market and having to practice their limited grocery-buying vocabulary again, and they’re really missing the haggle-free self-service shopping they did back in their home country. They’re weary from having to concentrate on daily tasks they once performed without conscious thought.
Your prayers and encouragement can help keep a discouraged new missionary from packing up and leaving.
Will you pray for them? Will you reach out to a cross-cultural worker you know, offering encouragement and a listening ear? Will you actively work to thwart the enemy’s tactics of isolation, shame, and discouragement?
When you pray:
- Praise God for the kindness of the local people who befriend our teammates as they work to overcome language and culture barriers.
- Ask Jesus to remind our teammates serving cross-culturally that His glory is worth all their effort and sacrifice.
- Pray for the Spirit to bring renewed determination and an abundance of grace to our teammates who are going through language and culture learning for the first time.