Beth Watkins has had an interesting journey that's included quick exits from countries, a cross-cultural marriage, and more. Here's how she got started.
Name + Contact Info
Where and what people do you primarily serve?
I spent 6 years working in closed countries in North Africa and in South Sudan working with vulnerable and marginalized populations, specifically street children and refugees. Because of health reasons, we've now resettled back in the US, and I'm currently looking for employment and volunteer opportunities to continue working with marginalized and immigrant populations.
How do you serve those people?
I worked with small local NGOs in various capacities, but my focus was primarily on job skills and development, particularly looking to help people not have to engage in dangerous activities to generate income, and focus on helping people be self sufficient.
When did you begin to realize that you had a heart for missions or ministry?
I was so intrigued by the world outside of the US ever since I was a kid, and about high school I really started considering ministry and life overseas as a vocation. By the time I was 17 or so that set my trajectory, and worked toward a life of ministry overseas.
How and when did God lead you to this? How did you recognize His call?
It was kind of gradual, and also kind of all at once. I can trace it back through books I read, experiences in church, pleading 16-year-old journal entries. Just all along the way as I grew in my faith, and grew into my faith, I knew I wanted to serve God with my life, and this ended up being what made the most sense to me.
Did you have a clear and measurable goal for ministry?
No, I just wanted to be faithful. That led me to North Africa and I couldn't have been happier about it.
What would you do differently if you were starting today?
Thats a tough question for me at the moment. I'm currently having health struggles–it's why I had to leave the field–and they are a result of long-term stress and trauma. We still don't know the long-term affects, or how this will affect our lives down the way. So while I wish we'd had more support, and that there was more discussion about these sorts of costs for eager young people going into missions, I don't have any regrets.
Many of the challenging circumstances we faced were completely unforeseen, and all we could keep doing was just take the next step, not knowing what else was ahead. While I'm deeply sad about leaving the field, and still grappling with health issues as a result of the life I choose–doing my best to follow where God led me–I'm not sure what I could have or would choose to have done differently. What I've seen and experienced have changed me in profound ways, and while much of it was painful, I know I'm better for it. That, and I met my husband overseas, and that does make all of the rest seem worth it!
How do you connect with new partners or supporters and stay connected with your existing partners?
While I'm no longer on support, I do still blog avidly as I did while I was overseas to keep up with supporters, and I still send out a regular newsletter about recognizing our neighbors and loving them, and even our enemies, wherever we find ourselves.
What books, tools, or resources that are important to doing what you do?
I find relationships are always the best resource and tool, and reading everything you can by people who have gone before you, and also about the places and histories of the people in the places where you are are so important. Now that we find ourselves back in the US, I am trying to read everything I can from people in America whose contexts and experience are very different from mine, as a middle-class white woman. I think wherever you are, whatever you do, it's important to recognize you can only see so much from your perspective, and it's so important to seek out the voices of those who can help you understand what you can't or don't see.
What first steps or training would you recommend that others just starting out?
Get as much training as you can, and spend time really developing skills. I was pretty young and bright-eyed when I went overseas, and though God was very gracious and I found my feet while I was there, I do wish I'd taken more time developing real skills for overseas work. Which can be many things depending on what you're hoping to do, such as first aid training, ESL, grant-writing. Read books like “When Helping Hurts,” and “A Smoldering Wick.” Get and take advice from those on the ground, plan to take time to study language–it really does make a huge difference.
What is a critical mindset or perspective regarding listening, teachability, flexibility, grace, etc?
Take the posture of a learner, always. Be willing to listen first, especially in your first few years, but really at every opportunity. No matter how much you know, you know less than the locals, less than your colleagues, and really be ok with that. Even in my last 2 years overseas as I was supervising a multi-cultural team of 7, I always asked questions, always listened first, always asked advice. This doesn't mean hesitating to act, but as you do, recognize you alway wear your own cultural glasses that mean you can't always see things in the best way. Also, love people! Find people to love, and it makes the rest of it all much easier.
Knowing what you know now, would you do it all again?
Absolutely. (Though I probably wouldn't recommend to others the exact path I trod!)