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Taking the Attitude of a Learner as You Prepare to Move Overseas

The sending church plays a vital role in preparing sent ones to move and live overseas. Rather than rely on a missionary sending organization, the church can play an active role in missionary coaching as men and women prepare for life and work overseas, thus helping them not to merely survive upon arrival but learn to thrive.

But good preparation is also contingent on the goer’s attitude. Those who plan to work overseas need to have a learner’s attitude and be willing to make some changes in how they live their lives even before they leave for the field.

When we moved to Spain in 2001, we thought we were ready. We did some preparation work but looking back there are some things I wish we would have done as well. Moving across cultures will never be perfect nor painless but I do believe prepping for life and work before moving will reap benefits.

How I Prepared for Overseas Work

  1. We sold one of our cars and learned to live in the suburbs with one car for nine months. Through this, we were able to practice increased patience, planning, and communication.

  2. We started learning the language. Neither of us mastered a second language in school (that was a missed opportunity) but we did start taking Spanish lessons from a Spaniard before we moved. We did not get to a high level before leaving but it did get us accustomed to some basics in Español.

  3. I changed my watch to a twenty-four-hour format. This seems simple, but I have talked with many people who have done this as well and no one regrets it. We knew that in our country they used a twenty-four hour format for time. Instead of writing 4:00 pm, they write it as 16:00. Changing our clocks on twenty-four hour time helped us get used to the way of telling time in Spain.

  4. We enlisted a group of close friends from churches that we served in to be prayer advocates for us before, during, and after the move.

  5. We tried to get into spiritual conversations and shared the gospel early on with the people we met. This is not my strong suit but someone gave me some valuable advice on this front: “Embrace the awkward.”

  6. We spoke to people from Spain. We tried to find people who could tell us more about the culture and people from the country to which we were moving.

  7. We read up on culture and history of Spain.

  8. Before we moved overseas, we were church planters in the United States. So, we had moved several times. We were use to starting new, which made the transition overseas somewhat easier.

  9. We ordered our day. Life overseas can often looked unstructured compared to life in the US. Fortunately, I like to create my own structure and “to do” list. Being internally motivated helps you know what you need to do each day.

  10. We started getting to know people from other cultures by going out to eat, sharing a coffee, or inviting them over to our house. This was also helpful for our children to get to know other cultures before moving into the unknown.

“Moving across cultures will never be perfect nor painless but I do believe prepping for life and work before moving will reap benefits.”

How I Wish We Had Prepared for Overseas Life

  1. While I should get accolades for changing my watch to twenty-four-hour time, I failed at changing temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius and Feet to Meters.

  2. I wish had studied more about various models of church and ecclesiology. I was a church planter and pastor for several years but embarrassingly I only knew and experienced one particular model of church that was popular in that day.

  3. I wish I had obtained globally recognized certifications. Some examples could be ESL, coaching, coffee, coding, web design, etc.

  4. If you are planning on driving while overseas, then you should learn to drive a manual shift car before you go. In fact, basic car maintenance is good to know as well.

  5. I wish I had participated in a study abroad program to learn a language. It was not even on my radar in college.

  6. I wish I had learned more about patience. I often found myself in a long line with short patience. It did not take long to learn this skill but it is necessary overseas. Go find a line and stand it. Smile and be calm.

  7. I wish I had taken the time to learn more about the basics of personal finance. Learning how to do spreadsheets would also have been nice. We have two different checking accounts. One in the states and one in our country. Each of them with their own currency. There are a lot of numbers to keep up with in transferring monies, getting reimbursements, etc. I wish I had known more about basic spreadsheets (Numbers or Excel) to help me track our spending better.

  8. Our lives in an urban area involve a lot of public transportation. We love it. In fact, we do not even have or need a car where we live but back in the day public transportation was new to us. So, if you’re able, find a bus and take it. Practice using public transportation. I wish I had before I moved.

  9. We wish we had put more thought into how to help our children during their education in another language, culture and system.

These are just a few ways we prepared and ways we wish we had prepared for life overseas. Sending churches play a critical role in this preparation, but goers also need to take the attitude of a learner.

“Those who plan to work overseas need to have a learner’s attitude and be willing to make some changes in how they live their lives even before they leave for the field.”

Resources to Help You Prepare

For further reading and help preparing sent ones to go, check out these resources.

Being a part of a non-profit sector allows us to live in and travel to many cities in the United States, as well as in Europe. As followers of Jesus, wherever we live or travel, our goal is to live out our faith in a different culture. It does not matter if you are a full-time vocational Christian worker, an international company employee, a student studying abroad, or a person who simply wants to live and work in another country—the first 30 days matter! The sooner that you can get out the door, learn the culture, meet people, build relationships, and discover what God has in store for you, the sooner you will feel at home and love your new environment. Thirty topics and Scripture verses are introduced as well as practical ways to apply what you’ve learned each day through a simple but fun application assignment. You may want to use the book as an individual devotional, with your family, or with a group. Regardless, it is short and practical so that you have plenty of time to get out and enjoy your new home.

The Upstream Collective is committed to equipping, not only churches, but also those desiring to live, work, and study overseas. We want to empower you to live out the gospel with intentionality. Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic we are moving our summer Helipad Live Workshop to an online training, coming June 2020.


Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.


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