Losing the Celebrity Status

When you live overseas sometimes people treat you like a celebrity.

“You must be super spiritual to be able to put up with the difficulties of living in that strange place.”

“You must have it all together if you can pick up your family and move to another country to help starving kids.”

“I could never do that.”

It’s as if they are saying: God must love you just a little bit more because you were willing to do what they aren’t sure they would do if someone asked them to follow in your footsteps.

If we’re really honest, a hint of the celebrity status often comes with working in ministry overseas.  It’s not something we talk about much.  We’re supposed to be humble right.  I’m not sure we always realize it’s there.

We don’t always like it.  When we are on home assignment, it feels like there’s a distance between us and people we meet.  There are very few places we don’t feel like we’re put on a pedestal.  We’d like to be able to be real and talk about the hard days…the days when we’re not sure whether what we’re doing on the field is really “changing the world” at all.

Our celebrity status can become an “identity” out of which we interact with people.  It’s the starting place for 90% of conversations.  People ask, how it is it in {whatever country you happen to live but they probably couldn’t find on a map}?  People talk to you as if your only identity is that of a person who lives overseas.  And we learn to meet people’s expectations.  People expect us to to update them on the great things that are happening.

Even if we complain about it, over time we become adept at living with our celebrity status.

Until we move home for good, and we lose our celebrity status.

We thought that was a part of the job we’d prefer to live without…and then we lose it.  Sometimes we realize that it has been our identity for so long that we don’t know how to relate to people without it.

What will we talk about?  Who will we choose to get together with when our social life is no longer dictated by who supports us?  What stories will we tell people that don’t involve our exciting adventures of cross cultural life?

Your acquaintances {hopefully not your close friends} are confused too. They feel like since you’re no longer living overseas you should be good.  Life is easy for you now.  And so…you see them less…which can be OK.  But you may begin to wonder, we’re they my friends or just my supporters?

You also suddenly can go to church and just sit in the pew.  You are no longer in danger of being unexpectedly asked to stand up and share in front of large groups just because you happen to live overseas.  Some days you like that.  Other days you wish someone would ask how life is going these days or what’s your heart excited about in this season.

You are also no longer accountable to report every detail of your life to people.  That’s a relief.  But then…you realize that you have less people asking you how life is.  It’s kinda weird to go from sharing with people your passions and goals and prayer requests on a regular basis to being able to live completely free from any accountability.

I’m not sure how you are feeling about losing the celebrity status … but for me it felt like I had to rebuild a part of my identity.

It can bring doubts…

….did people really ever like me before or did they just think I was a cool person?

….do I even know who I am outside of this role I’ve played for so long?

….do people really care about me now?  No one ever asks me how I’m doing.

…am I less of a person because I don’t happen to live overseas right now?

There were also moments when I felt like I may have lost my celebrity status with God too.  Maybe if people seemed to care less about me in this re-entry season, God had forgotten me too.  After all, doesn’t He love me a bit more because I was living internationally?  Does He still love me now?  If He still loves me why is this re-entry season so incredibly hard?

When we lose our celebrity status…we can lose a sense of affirmation.  We wonder…am I good person any more?  Am I really making any meaningful contribution to the world living in suburbia?

Stepping down off the celebrity status pedestal can be change…one that can cause us to ask hard questions…one that can cause us to take a hard look at our expectations of others and others expectations of us, but it can also be a transition into embracing freedom that this season of life has to offer.

How about you?

How are you finding this transition to life after full time cross cultural ministry?

Is it difficult to transition from the “celebrity status”?

Do you feel like others have difference expectations of you now that you no longer live overseas?

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Ruthie – this is a good article and I identify with what you are saying but please …. are you saying ‘loose’ or ‘lose’? There is a big difference between those two words. I suspect you might mean ‘lose’ but you also could mean ‘loose’. Please correct that bad spelling error if it is so. Thank you.

    • and then there are the times that I am reminded of my humanity through my lack of spelling abilities. thanks Joy.

  • Yes, please fix all the places where you said “loose” (like a loose tooth) and make it lose. Your good article can’t be shared, otherwise. Thanks.

  • Ah, much better, but please correct this sentence: “we can loose a sense of affirmation.”

    This post can apply to others in ministry as well. I remember feeling like a fifth wheel when my husband no longer pastored a church and I had to become accustomed to being “just” a church member. It was a new role to learn.

    Thanks for this!

  • Ruthie, thank you for this article. (and for this blog). I’ve been back in the US for 7 years after being away for over 25. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the “celebrity” factor through the years. While there were always unrealistic and sometimes even harmfully unfair expectations about someone who’d change cultures for the sake of the Gospel. (Sorry for the Christian-ese shorthand.) But it often provided an opportunity to minister in settings where, while I was hardly known, was respected enough because of my role to be given a chance to serve others.

    My “career” is basically incomprehensible to those whose lives are oriented toward “making a living” 8 hours a day. (I understand that need, too, as I struggle to make ends meet without the financial partnership of others.) Now, instead of being viewed as a “fresh perspective” on life and ministry, I find myself mostly an irrelevant outsider who has trouble finding employment and connection in a place full of strangers for me.

    As a friend and fellow missionary reminded me the other day… “We made our choices. Now we are where we are. But given the chance to start over, we wouldn’t trade what God allowed us to be part of. It’s all part of the cost of following him.”

    Daily I have to resist the lie that only good things happen to good people. God allows things in our lives for our good and his glory. A certain sense of rejection comes as a result of following this path, no doubt. But I pray that the pain of rejection reminds me of just one more reason to love the Savior.

  • One of the most glaring ways in which we experienced this was in the area of finances. OF COURSE God would provide for us while we were on the field. We were doing his work. But now that we are no longer considered missionaries, what claim do we have on his provision? Such was the subtle lie that hounded us as we sought to reestablish our lives “off of he pedestal.”

    P.S. May I have permission to print this for use in our debriefing sessions? You can see what we do at http://www.recalibrateevent.com and at http://www.paracletos.org. Thanks!

  • Hi Ruthie – Great Post.

    I think people underestimate how hard it is to lose the “celebrity status.” It’s hard not to get your identity all tangled up is something that people tell you you’re cool for doing.

    Thanks for posting.

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