My Story: The 90% You’d Rather Not Hear About

Today we’re thrilled to welcome Ellie Ciccarelli, a vibrant Colorado native who found new purpose in the mountains of Kenya, were she now serves the Digo people with Africa Inland Mission. The honest thoughts in this post first appeared on Ellie’s blog, Kenya Digo It?

The next time you want to ask me, or any global worker, why we’re so tired, please read this first.

Have you ever lived abroad? Have you ever lived among another people group? Have you ever stuck out like a sore thumb no matter where you turn? Have you ever tried to speak a different language 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Have you ever had to be conscious of everything you said, you did, you wore, you ate, you implied, all the time?

For those of you who have, I know you understand this. You’ve lived through it. It’s exhausting, to say the least.

My home is not my safe, comfortable, put-your-feet-up at the end of the day kinda place. It’s not always relaxing, it’s not normal, it’s not quiet, it’s not private. Our home has knocks on the door and feet in and out from 8 am to 9 pm.

That’s 13 hours a day.

Please tell me that if you worked 13 hours a day doing things for other people, trying to love them well, always needing to give something (money, time, pencils, food, phone charger, even the blender), answering questions that are hard to answer, in another language when you can’t even explain things well, that you wouldn’t be exhausted too?

The 10%

This is why AIM’s policy is to take one day off a week, one weekend off a month, and 4 weeks off a year. Because despite the perceived, “you’re at home all day, you’re just talking to neighbors all day, you don’t work a 9-5 job, what do you even do with your life,” notion of those living in developed, western countries, life here is unexplainably draining. As one of our directors says: “Life on the mission field is made up of 10% ministry, and 90% surviving. But people across the world, they only want to hear about the 10%.”

So here, I’m giving you the other 90%. Sometimes I wear the same underwear for a couple days because I have to wash all my clothes in a bucket outside and it’s raining. Sometimes we’ve been waiting at a hospital for 8+ hours with one of our neighbors who didn’t want to go alone, and there’s no drive-through to stop at and pick up food on the way home at 9:30 pm. Sometimes I’m so sick and tired of saying, “I don’t understand,” to people speaking Swahili that I just start agreeing with everything they say. Sometimes I get fed up with people asking me to take them to America because they think they’ll be rich. Sometimes I get fed up with men telling me they want a white wife. Sometimes I get annoyed when matatu drivers yell in my face as I’m already waiting to get on their matatu. Sometimes our power goes off for days and I lose all the cheese, dairy, and meat I traveled over 3 hours roundtrip just to buy. Sometimes I’m angry when we kill a few rats and more keep coming because there aren’t decent rat traps here. Sometimes I’m impatient when I can’t walk into my house and be left alone for more than 20 minutes. Sometimes I get frustrated that my room isn’t relaxing because I have to get up and answer the door every time I sit down again. Sometimes I want to cry when I feel like no matter how much I give, it’s just never enough. And sometimes, these sometimes are all of the time.

Not a carefree adventure. And yet–

I just want people to know that life here isn’t always easy. Life here isn’t a walk in the park and going to the ocean every week. It’s not laughing with your good friends 24/7. It’s not this care-free adventure. It’s difficult a lot of the time, and it’s exhausting a lot more of the time.

That being said, I also want you to understand this is not a plea for pity. It’s not a woe-me, look at my struggles, kinda post. It’s the truth. And the truth is also that most of the time, despite the annoyances, frustrations, impatience, and misunderstandings, I love life here. I love it because this is where God has put me. I love it because I’ve tried to be obedient to Him. Building relationships is meaningful and some days are filled with laughter. When I finally understand a new Swahili sentence I didn’t before, it’s a huge accomplishment. When our neighbors love us back, that makes my heart burst. Life here is also good. I want to make sure you know that. This post is to share about the 90% and try to help those who have never been in this context understand why I say, “I’m tired, I’m worn out, I need a break.”

the most important thing I can remember

The most important thing I can possibly remember is to stay at the foot of the cross. If I were anywhere else, none of this would be possible at all. So, I continue to thank Jesus. I thank the One who, despite all the times when I’m being annoying, frustrating, difficult, needy & demanding, STILL loves me. He loves me unconditionally, in spite of all my sin and shortcomings. And that’s what He tells us to do: to love those around us with the same tenacity, the same unflinching devotion, the same unconditional adoration. All of us.

So we press on.

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The Art of Saying Goodbye

art of saying goodbyesI grew up overseas. In fact, I attended 15 different schools by the time I graduated high school. So you could say I’ve experienced my share of goodbyes. (Usually I was the one leaving.)

Now that I have a family of my own and have lived in the same city and the same house, for an amazing thirteen-year stretch, I’m now experiencing more goodbyes where I am the one staying behind. Recently I visited a friend during her final week as they loaded up their tilting piles of cardboard boxes and their kids to take a new job four states away. Before I arrived, I sat in the parking lot of a shopping plaza, scrawling her going away card. It felt like my pen also flowed with my own memories of bittersweet goodbyes. And I thought, What makes for the best goodbyes?

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Free Printable Infographic: 10 Ways to Pray for Unreached People Groups


How could you make unreached people groups a regular prayer focus? A couple of ideas:

  1. Choose one day a month to pray, and even fast, for these groups. (You could choose the 10th day, ’cause we’ve got 10 ideas.)
  2. Choose one prayer request a day, starting again every 10 days.
  3. Choose one day a week to pray for UPG’s.
  4. Distribute this as a bulletin insert in your church, or make them easily available on a website or in a kiosk.
  5. Invite your small group to pray with you.
  6. Have a rice and beans fast on the 10th of the month, praying for these groups.
  7. Hang this list inside a cupboard or medicine cabinet, and pray for one request whenever you open it.

unreached people groups


DON’T MISS this list from our partner Global Frontier Missions of incredible (many printable) resources to pray for the unreached as a regular focus of your own prayer efforts.

And find more ideas to to pray for UPGs here.

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The Generation Who Can: Reaching the Unreached with News They Can’t Live Without

More printable infographics on our Tools for Your Trip page

“How Rich Should I Live?” Navigating Dilemmas of Wealth Overseas

money and wealthA friend of mine lives with her husband, helping migrants in Asia. She amazes me, you know. There are 40-50 malnourished kids who gather in their compound for a healthy meal and vitamins before school (my friend’s home is half home, half community center). They run businesses out of their home, training and empowering community members. They shuttle people to the hospital at all hours. They run a summer program, where kids are tutored by their teenage neighbors so they can excel in school.

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My Story: A Day in the Life Teaching English in Cambodia

Today we’re excited to hear from Judith, an Australian volunteer English teacher in Cambodia, who sent us her story.

I brace myself for an early morning cold shower before my host family wakes, and grab a quick simple breakfast of banana and bread. My tuk tuk arrives at seven thirty. The driver tries to dodge the pot holes and puddles from the overnight rain as he navigates his way, weaving between the trucks, cars, tuk tuks, and motor bikes. I think of the students’ short journey to school: They tell me how thankful they are to avoid biking for forty-five minutes on the congested, potholed road to the government school where a teacher may not be present, or may ask for money.

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#BestoftheBestFriday: What Paul Didn’t Say; The Gospel for the Poverty-ridden; What They Don’t Tell You

Six relevant things that saint paul never said

Nicholas Davis presents six hilarious, yet oh-so-true verses that “vamp” on Scripture. Or at least what we wish it would say. A snippet:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true for you, whatever is popular, whatever is trending, whatever is pleasurable, whenever you think you’re falling in love, whatever really famous people say, and if it’s something that will give you a higher status, think about such things and say them publicly on Facebook—like, all the time.  


Because many global workers will focus on poverty development, Kevin Deane’s article on “A Gospel for the Homeless” has some thoughts germane and timeless for work overseas, too. Like this:

I’ve discovered that ‘homeless people,’ – just like ‘immigrants’ and ‘First Nations’ – are often mistakenly talked about as one big organic unit. As though they all think and act the same. Before you start anything, get to know who you are reaching. 

25 Things They Don’t Put in the Life Abroad Brochure

Jerry Jones over at A Life Overseas (we recommend you subscribe! Great stuff) writes these particularly for all of you: those packing it up to go there, serve Him, and love them. Don’t miss his myth-busting remarks about real life abroad.