You may never know when your Skype call, letter, package or kind text will reach the worker you love at the perfect time. God often uses these moments of connection to provide necessary doses of encouragement, wisdom, joy, laughter and hope. Staying in touch is one the most meaningful things we can do to support cross-cultural workers.
Like never before, we can instantaneously Skype family members continents away, wish a long-distance friend “happy birthday” in real time via apps and do all this at little or no cost. But, it still takes effort and intentionality to maintain vibrant connections with those living far away. Here are some practical tips for staying in touch with people you love who serve overseas.
Embrace a New Normal.
It can be disorienting to get used to communicating with someone in another time zone. Is it morning there? Is it already tomorrow for her? Consider setting an additional clock on your phone or even a labeled physical clock in your home or at your desk at work that reminds you of the time in the country where your loved one lives. Not only will this keep them on your mind and remind you to pray for them, but it will also prevent you from messaging them in the middle of their night or being confused by their references to “today” and “tomorrow.” You can giggle at the fact that one of you might always have bedhead when you Skype. It takes a little patience and effort, but it is possible to establish a new norm and get used to a five- or 14-hour gap between your two worlds.
Create new traditions.
Set up a recurring Skype date (like on the first Saturday morning of every month) or commit to writing an email every Sunday evening to ensure months don’t slip by without communicating. Establish a tradition for every time you Skype or message—for example, tell each other something you are thankful for or have a different question ready each time like, “did you learn any new words this week?” Be mindful that political situations or other delicate subjects aren’t the best topics for conversation. Focus on mutual encouragement and gratitude.
Most communication apps allow you to share a voice message, so you can send a short snippet of your voice telling your loved one something about your day or record an uplifting message for them. They will be so encouraged to hear your laugh or your voice telling them what you are thankful for about them, and it’s often more efficient to communicate when you aren’t limited to typing.
Make it a game!
If you both enjoy writing, give each other weekly or monthly “assignments” to write about something you experienced that month. Or, consider sending one another a “photo of the day” to share in each other’s lives. Or, write each other a silly haiku each week. With smartphones and apps, this takes minimal effort and can be a fun way to stay in touch. Find an easy way to consistently connect and give it your own style!
Remember who you’re talking to.
It can be hard to know what to talk about when you’re separated by time zones, cultural gaps and daily experience. But, don’t forget that you’re talking to the same person you know and love, even if their life has changed significantly. They may have faced some new challenges or learning curves, which will require some extra grace; but don’t treat them with awkwardness as if they’ve become a completely different person.
Even veteran workers have waves of homesickness, discouragement and disappointment as they continuously adapt and adjust to another culture. Be a safe place for them when they need to confide in someone without judgment. Ask thoughtful questions and be ready to listen and be an encouragement.
Don’t underestimate the power of going “old-school.”
Who doesn’t love care packages? Overseas workers are no exception! Remember and celebrate birthdays, holidays and special occasions. Those serving far from family and friends often feel the distance most strongly during these times. Even little things—like a favorite candy bar or a jar of peanut butter—can go a long way in showing you care. Just be aware that in some places, packages may be opened before they get to the recipient.
In addition, have your church or group of friends do a card shower around the holidays (or any random time) to encourage a worker you know. Send postcards to brighten their day. Love on them a little extra and show them you care in tangible ways!
How can I get involved?
Ask God to encourage cross-cultural workers through their connections with their support teams.
Why not give an extra financial donation to your worker this month? Your gift will help them cultivate Christ-honoring transformation in communities where He is yet to be worshiped.