Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas {31 Days of Re-Entry}

As mentioned before, one positive effect of re-entry is the perspective you gain on your time spent abroad.

I haven't been in the blogging world very long, but I have noticed that bloggers seem to like lists, so in solidarity, here's my contribution to the numerous "list posts."
(This is not me running.)
I ran my first post-baby half marathon on Sunday and all I could do was keep thinking how similar it was to serving overseas, so here it is: 

12 Race-day Lessons for Serving Overseas:

1. Run YOUR race, at YOUR pace.
My race on Sunday wasn't just for people doing a half marathon, but also included those doing a 10K and a full marathon.  Before I realized this, it was easy to compare myself to those around me thinking, They're running too fast too soon--they're going to burn out.  Or They are sooo slow.  Wow.  Hope they finish in time.  When I approached the six mile mark (of 13), some people around me started sprinting.  It wasn't until then that I realized their race was half as long as mine, so they had a completely different pace.  Short-termers and long-termers have entirely different "paces," so don't compare your race to theirs!

2. Train beforehand.
Most people wouldn't just sign up to run 13 miles if they haven't been running at all, but I know plenty of people who have gone overseas without training.  If your organization doesn't require cross-cultural training, I would definitely recommend finding a church that offers Perspectives or even signing up for a course or two at a nearby Christian College.  Many of them offer short week-long courses during Christmas or summer break.

3. Don't run through the pain.
Cross-cultural workers think that they have to have everything together.  Some of this is the fault of the church, who lifts us up as Super Christians and expects us to be perfectly spiritual.  But, just like running, when you run through the pain, you risk further injury--to yourself and to others.  It is okay to step out of the race for a while when you need help.

4. Use props, because sometimes it is just boring.
When I run long races, I like to listen to sermons or music.  When you are overseas, sometimes you just need to pamper yourself on days when life is difficult.  Listen to music.  Watch movies.  Read books.  Get a massage. Chat with a friend for two hours.  It's okay if you don't live exactly like the people in the culture at all times!     

5. Notice the course.
The course I ran this weekend was around a reservoir in Colorado.  It was a grey and misty day, but I enjoyed the farms, the mountains in the distance and even watching the people around me.  Living abroad, it's actually pretty impossible NOT to notice when you are in a setting so different from your own, but after five years overseas, I realized I was forgetting to appreciate the world around me.  It got too easy to have tunnel vision or even look at the ground on an entire trip to the grocery store because I was just so sick of being stared at (those were the days when I needed to hide out in my apartment for a few days to get recharged).  If this is you, slow down and take notice again. 

6. It's okay to walk sometimes.
Sometimes you don't need to quit the race entirely, but you'll be better able to run if you just slow down for a little while.  I certainly did this on Sunday and after walking or stopping to stretch, I felt so much more able to keep running.  Make space in your schedule for "being."  Most other cultures are actually better at doing this than western ones, so you can learn from your host culture.  Take naps when they do.  In China, it was an expectation that you would nap after lunch and people would feel so sorry for you if I told them you hadn't napped.  Rest.  You will be more productive if you do.

7.  Take the free Gatorade.
This race had aide stations every couple miles that offered water and Gatorade for weary runners.  If you are living overseas, you may not have many people offering to carry your burdens, but when you do, be sure you take advantage!

8. Use someone to keep pace.
I picked this woman that was actually older than me once I realized she was going at a much steadier pace than I was.  When you serve overseas, it is so helpful to have a mentor.  Put aside your fear and ask questions of those who have been there longer than you.

9.  It's easier if you have at least one cheerleader on the sidelines.
I ran my first half marathon in Beijing, China, a place where people were so unfamiliar with running for fun that they asked me after the race if I won it. There were spectators, but not many cheerleaders (mainly people scowling at the stupid running people who were stopping up traffic).  But being a whitey in a sea of Asians, I stood out enough to be spotted by at least three different people from my organization on the sidelines who cheered me on.  Likewise, when you are living overseas, find your "person," who will check on you relentlessly and pray for you fervently.   (Check out a recent article on A Life Overseas by Craig Thompson, "That One Safe Friend.")

10.  Sometimes you feel alone even when you are running in a crowd.
In a race, overseas, and just in life, we are really running our races alone.  Sometimes you can gather adrenaline from the crowd, but at the end of the day, you cross the finish line alone.  (Of course, if you know the Lord, you know that you are never truly alone!)

11. If you can, run with a friend.
This was the first race I actually had a friend train with me for and it made it go so much more quickly! In China, I had a "team" of two--including me--but this teammate was the hugest blessing in my life.  We were forced to rely on one another.  Seek out a friend in country--even if you can just keep in touch via Internet or text messages--who will remind you to keep running on the days you want to bow out.

12. It's not about winning the race, it's about finishing.
I will never place in a race.  In the five half marathons I have run so far, my goal has always been just to finish (and maybe shave a minute or two off my previous time).  It is easy to get competitive when you are living overseas--especially when it comes to language.  Remember that just because you pass one person, doesn't mean that you win the race.  Be faithful, my friend.  Unlike a half marathon, this race is actually not about you--and you have more than just Gatorade and energy bars fueling you--you have the Holy Spirit!  And He wants you to finish strong.  (And the last will be first, after all.)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)


Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

This post is day 11 of the series "Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock," a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected...
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You're Not the Only One Who's Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My "Call"
Day 17: Is Missions a "Higher Calling"?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)--a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

Linking up with Blessed but Stressed and Velvet Ashes

Photo: By Peter van der Sluijs (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Labels: , , , ,