global outreach, Mental Health and Healing, Missionary Life, Most Recent, World Travel

Updates and Lessons

It’s amazing what you’ll learn about yourself when you move to a foreign country.

I’m learning that as a trauma survivor, my go-to-move is to blend in, fly below the radar, and not draw attention to myself. If I’m not seen, I can’t be hurt, right? (Trauma logic.) But blending in as an American in Serbia is not super feasible. We stand out everywhere we go. So, as a result, I’m in a low-level state of panic every single time I leave my house. I’m working on it. lol

I’m also learning that another one of my coping strategies as a child was to anticipate everyone’s expectations by reading tone, body language, listening carefully to the undertones of conversation, and adapting accordingly. Also not super possible, because Serbians in general (not all of my friends, but definitely strangers) don’t tend to give much away with their facial expressions, and I’m certainly not catching the subtext in conversations due to language barriers. Therefore, in most interpersonal interactions, I’m left with the very uncomfortable sensation that I’m missing something crucial to my survival. (Again, not a reality, just trauma logic at work.) I’m working on this, too.

Layer these types of things in with regular “culture shock” – the uncertainty and questions that come with living in a culture foreign to one’s own upbringing – and my tendency is to want to tunnel inward and basically never leave my apartment. Which is not only counter productive to our purposes here in Serbia, but is also not good for anxiety/depression symptoms in general (as we all found out in Covid lockdown).

I’m so grateful to be here with my family. My sweet extroverted husband (who is not lugging around a backpack full of ingrained trauma responses) is pretty much the only reason I get out and about. And the only way to overcome culture shock is to take risks, find “safe”/comfortable routines, and get to know people, the area, and the culture better. If it weren’t for the girls needing fresh air or my husband’s encouragement, I’d probably just melt into a little self-protective puddle in my apartment. I’m not proud of this strategy, but I do know that avoidance does work for a little while. It works until it doesn’t anymore.

We’re finishing up our fourth month here, so we’re hitting all kinds of milestones in terms of adjustments. Leading our family through this transition (while leading myself through this transition, as well) has been a huge process of trial and error, but we are figuring some things out, and that’s encouraging!

We are about three months into twice-weekly Serbian lessons, and the language is making more and more sense to us as we go. We did pivot the girls to online homeschool, because Anorah wasn’t doing well at Clever School – it was just too much change too quickly for her, I think. So, while they’re doing online homeschool for their core classes, we are also in the process of arranging Serbian lessons for Anorah and Vienna to help bring them more comfort as well. Anna is sticking with University of Nebraska High School and is in Serbian lessons with me and Kurt. She’s the best speaker of all of us, by far.

I really do feel hopeful for all of us as we identify what is working for us. God’s been so kind to give us insights into the dynamics we are facing (like the ones above), as well as sending some amazing encouragers our way to love us in the midst of everything, so we can name what is happening rather than feeling victim to emotions like “anxiety” or “avoidance.”

We really are loving our lives here. I mention the challenges, because they’re real, but there are challenges in life no matter where we live or what we’re pursuing. We are especially enjoying the deliberate pace of life here…. I’m watching my American friends ramp up from fall/Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, and things are just much less commercial here, because the economy is very different. October, to us, was a colder version of September, and November is turning out to be a colder version of October, which is just fine with us. We are just trying to take time to breathe deep and enjoy one another, eat amazing food, and visit the beautiful national park less than an hour from our front door.

In terms of Lifegate Serbia, we are stepping into a new season of helping out more with worship at all three campuses – Kurt is handling a lot of the scheduling and we are putting some new rhythms in place to free up our campus pastors to focus on other things. Our Belgrade campus is in a season of transition in its own right, looking for a new location in the midst of a crazy rental market. We also have a team from America coming this week to do some Presbytery and prayer, and we are really looking forward to hosting our friends from Fremont Campus here in our new home town. 🙂

Church in Serbia is very different from America for multiple reasons, including the assumption that Protestant Christianity is in some way a cult or sect, so we are leaning in and strategizing with the team here as well as with leaders from the US, learning what works, what can be contextualized, and what needs to be abandoned altogether. Ministry here in Serbia is all done within the context of relationships – time spent and trust built and friendships forged. Simply putting on a “good show” isn’t enough. (It’s not really all that effective in America, either.) But our friends and team here are so devoted – they love God and love each other and it’s amazing to watch the dreams of the Father’s heart unfold in their lives and in these cities we love so much.

I’m looking forward to sharing some exciting visual prayer-walk ideas with you in the near future! While the team is here, we’ll be visiting our three existing Serbian campuses and a future campus in Macedonia and putting together an interactive prayer guide so that you all can feel a little more like you’re here with us! In the meantime, thank you for sticking with us on this journey. Your prayers and support, your love and compassion for this part of the world are so, very needed. We appreciate each and every one of you.

Prayer points for November:

  1. Pray for the American team arriving this week! Pray for traveling mercies, for their flights to be on time and for their baggage to arrive with no problems. The journey here is long and strenuous under the best circumstances, and we know that their mission to pray with and for our campuses is going to be incredibly impactful. Pray for their health – physically and mentally, and that their team would feel wrapped up in grace as they travel and serve.
  2. Pray for our family as we navigate and adjust. Pray for our hearts and emotions, especially for Anorah, as we learn more about ourselves and what works for our family. We are in constant need of grace and wisdom. Pray for our boys in the US, too, as they pursue their own callings. We miss them terribly.
  3. Pray for continued health and protection over our team here. Pray for our hearts to continue to be knit together so that we have the strength and grace we need to reach those who need Jesus most. Pray for opportunities to connect with the community and build new relationships. And pray for renewed strength and vision for the people who have been working tirelessly year after year after year. We love our team here so much.
  4. Pray for God to reveal the perfect location for our Lifegate Belgrade campus. We know God loves Belgrade more than we can fathom, and we are looking for the perfect location at the right price so that we can continue to minister His truth and freedom to those who need it most. Belgrade is on the frontlines of a war against substance abuse/addiction, and it’s an important work that needs a perfect space.

Again, thanks so much for joining us as we learn and grow and share in this adventure together! We are blown away by your generosity and encouragement, and as always, if you feel led to support us financially, I’ll add a link below.

We love you all, and we wouldn’t and couldn’t do this without you. 🙂 ❤ May your household be blessed in this season to come!

The Wagoners ❤

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