Book Review

Transitions Made Easier


Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, Amy Young, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, 166 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1519622341, paperback, $10.99 at Amazon.

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service; 22 Activities for Families in Transition, $2.99 at Amazon.

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service;Workbook Prepare for and Process through your Transition, $5at www.gumroad.com/amyyoung.

Reviewed by Cassie Cahill

Transitions are not easy for anyone; for those living and moving from place to place while serving cross-culturally the changes seem even deeper. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” In the book Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, Amy Young writes about these transitions from her experience having lived in Asia for over 20 years.

Having served cross-culturally for over 14 years now, I wish I would have had this book in my hand prior to arriving on the field. It serves as a practical handbook for considering all the changes that occur when one has decided to serve overseas. It is not for someone planning to come for a one- to four-week trip but is for all who are considering establishing themselves to live and serve cross-culturally for the long-term. I appreciate that Young writes in a light-hearted, humorous manner sharing her own stories as well as her observations of others moving overseas.

It is obvious that a key factor in this transition is to keep Christ number one (chapter titled “Stay Grounded in Christ”). However, in the midst of many changes, one can become disoriented. Young says:

In all of life, but especially when we are cultivating a fertile soul, staying grounded in Christ is a big rock and worth guarding. Part of guarding your relationship with God is knowing yourself and what may or may not work for you; it also involves getting creative and throwing some should out the window.

She gives practical advice as to how to identify one of seven spiritual pathways (intellectual, relational, serving, worship, activist, contemplative, creation) that would help to connect with God on a more personal level (John Ortberg in God Is Closer Than You Think). This is helpful information especially for couples (or a family or team) who may not realize which pathway is most useful and can help one another find the best pathway for each person. When moving overseas, the usual traditions are removed, and overseas workers will need to evaluate which pathways will help them grow spiritually.

The information in this book helps one to consider the relational aspects of leaving, keeping a good sense of humor (chapter titled, “Laughter Revives the Soul”), realizing that not everything will go smoothly (chapter titled, “Accept That’s It’s Going to Be Messy”), and to consider how one adapts to change (chapter titled, “Know Yourself”).

The chapter on messiness was very helpful. Often in moving overseas, we have an idealistic view of what serving overseas will look like, but one does not realize the many changes that are happening at the same time. There are expectations—sometimes they are unmet or may be too high.  Discussing these matters with a spouse or teammate can be quite helpful. In the chapter about knowing yourself, it is very beneficial to recognize if you are a “pre-griever” or a “post-griever” since each person processes grief in different ways. For example, one person could be crying months before leaving, and another person could grieve after he moves to the new location.

Another topic Young broaches is “identity” which is quite significant. When one moves to another location, often his or her role or job may be different than what it was previously. Young warns:

While this part of you—this role, job, location—certainly can be a significant part of you, it must not become the only part. If this concept doesn’t stay in the forefront of your thoughts and conversations, it can leave you on the other side of the transition wondering who am I when this defining aspect is now gone or profoundly changed.

Young helps one to understand not only the person moving, but how the move can impact others. There are many things to consider—it is not only about selling the car or house, changing your job, and geographical location. There will be questions such as who will take care of my parents, how do I help my child say goodbye to “Fluffy,” and what will my new role be overseas? How one says “goodbye” to others can leave an indelible mark on others’ lives. 

Along with working through the relational issues, there is also a valuable chapter about the logistics of moving (chapter titled “Start Early”). This chapter deals with the benefits of both those who are more task-oriented and those who are more people-focused. Each has advantages and disadvantages. In terms of the “big move,” it gives a good picture of the benefits or cautions for each personality.

In addition to those who are starting on the field, this book would be helpful for those returning to China following home assignment. In the chapter “Your Unique Path,” Young has poignant questions to consider when going back to China. One of the stories Young shares is about making pillowcases for her nieces as an expression of her love when she was leaving to return to Asia. She realized that making the gift was not just about giving a gift and seeing the reaction on the faces of her nieces, but it was her way of processing her grief. She shared:

Working out your grief does not mean you can or even should avoid the pain; instead, it means you face the pain and walk into it. You feel it. And it is real. And it comes in waves. And some days are easier than others. But you also cling to the truth that we do not mourn as those who have no hope.

It is important for those who relocate to make time to grieve in such a way that they can leave their passport country in a healthy manner.

This book is also valuable for those transitioning back to their home country following their time in China. Its practical advice will serve well all those who find themselves in various kinds of transitions.

Young has written a companion workbook; it comes in a PDF file that can be printed or written in digitally. While it takes time, this can be an effective tool for processingthe transition experience. Additionally, a workbook for families is available with 22 activities that include discussion questions, interactive activities for younger and older children, and recommended resources. When using the workbook(s), it would be important to have read the book and then to implement the activities; otherwise some of the activities will not be very clear. 

Having lived overseas for a length of time, I have seen how people come and go. Obviously, the desire is for a follower of Christ to transition in a healthy fashion so he or she will glorify God in that process. Young has written a handbook that can assist cross-cultural workers as they proceed through these significant changes in a godly manner.  

Cassie Cahill

Cassie Cahill (pseudonym) has lived overseas in Asia with her family of four. She home-schooled her children through elementary school and has ministered to women and families.   View Full Bio