Please Stop Running

by Jonathan Trotter on July 27, 2014


In my former life (and I mean that in a totally non-Buddhist way), I worked as a trauma nurse at an inner-city emergency department in the States. One of the first rules new hires had to learn in the ER was that No.One.Runs. Even if someone just got shot or stabbed or is actively dying, no one runs. Even if you have to go to the bathroom really bad, no one runs.

Even in the middle of taking care of a trauma victim, it was better to be calm and methodical than stressed out and in a hurry. So many times I heard a senior physician or nurse tell the newbie, “Slow down. Breath. Think.” The “slowness” of the attending physician didn’t mean she cared less about the patient. It didn’t mean she was lazy. It didn’t mean she was worn out. It meant she was experienced.


Oh, How We Run

And then I joined the “overseas worker club” and I realized, WE’RE ALL RUNNING. Oh, how we run. We run to get here. We run to learn language. We run to get stats and photos that we can e-mail back to our senders. And when we return to our passport countries for a furlough, we run even faster! So much of overseas work seems to involve running and running and trying and striving.

There’s so much to do! There’s so much need! We need more money! We need more people! People are dying! If we don’t help, no one will! Go! Go! NOW! Hurry up! Time’s short!

It’s exhausting. Yeah, we’re running, but we’re also tired.

So, can I invite you to slow down for a second?

Could we just push pause for a second and invite the Prince of Peace to teach us what it might look like to live in peace, even in the ER? Even on the field?

Perhaps this is simplistic, but I really believe that overseas workers would last longer and be healthier if we could learn a bit about Rest.

After all, God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics.

In God’s economy, obedience isn’t measured by how much work gets done; it’s measured by whether the work we did was the work God asked us to do. Sometimes, it’s simply measured by a cup of cold water, lovingly given.

Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.


Jesus, Our Example

Jesus, the guy who could have died from exhaustion long before he died on the cross, is our Teacher. He provides a wonderful example of Rest. After all, he had a pretty important job to do, a high calling if ever there was one, and only 24 hours in a day, just like us.

He spent lots of time with people, loving, serving, healing, confronting, and teaching. He spent lots of time coaching and traveling and discipling.

But he found Rest in solitude. Often. He found Rest in the presence of his Father, on a mountain, away from demanding crowds and disbelieving disciples. He needed those times of refreshment; he needed Rest physically, and I believe he needed this regular Rest spiritually. So do we.

Jesus perfectly balanced exterior, people-focused ministry with deep Rest. Jesus rested in the peace and security and love and acceptance of his Father, and then turned around and loved people like crazy.

May we do the same. May our time with the Father, resting in his presence, drive us to love people. And after a time of loving and serving people, may we take our bone-weary souls back up the mountain to Rest with our Father.

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

Rest reminds me to agree, once again, that He’s God and I’m not.


Not All the Same

I grew up thinking that the only correct way to Rest was by spending time reading the Bible and praying. Of course, those disciplines are healthy and necessary, but they’re not everything. Some of us have souls that resonate with music, and the rhythm and poetry of a song can transport us into the presence of Majesty. If that’s you, then you may need to invest in some good headphones and a robust iTunes account.

Some of us require the deep colors of open space, or ocean. If that’s you, you may need to carve out time in your schedule, as a friend of mine has, to escape the concrete jungle and visit a national park. (If you live in the jungle, you just might have to visit a city and enjoy the thing called Starbucks, or electricity.)

The way you Rest will be unique, so resist the urge to compare or judge. For example, my wife reads science magazines and the periodic table of the elements and is awed by the Creator. I just get a headache (and a B minus.) She’s also found that a long tuk-tuk ride (think moto-driven carriage) through the city does wonders for her soul, giving her space to reconnect with the Father without the clamoring of four small children.

I don’t know what Rest looks like for you, but I know it will be something that connects you to Jesus. It will be something that stirs your soul and lifts your heart. Whatever that is for you, find it, guard it, schedule it, do it.

Allow your love of people to drive you into the deep embrace of the Father, and allow his heartbeat, his thoughts, to drive you back to loving people.

We do, all of us, work in an emergency department. There is death and trauma and pain and suffering all around. And yet, in the midst of the storm, in the middle of it all, there is Peace. His name is Jesus.

So if you must run, then run hard, straight to him. He’ll catch you.


Have you been running recently? How do you slow down and Rest?


~ Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas was an excellent resource in my journey to discover what healthy Rest looked like for me. I highly recommend it.

~ Photo Credit: This sign hung on the wall between the ambulance bay and the trauma rooms. I chuckled every time I passed it. It still makes me smile.


How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

by Elizabeth Trotter on July 24, 2014

The streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia are littered with garbage. The garbage stinks, and the open sewers reek. The construction on my street can be deafening, and I sometimes tire of all these sights, sounds, and smells.

But in the middle of this assault on my (admittedly sensitive) senses, I catch a glimpse of perfection: palm trees, right in the middle of the city. Green and graceful, the most beautiful trees in the world.

Often, at the end of a long and draining day, all I can manage is to shovel a spoonful of hummus into my mouth and plop myself down on the corner of the couch that has the best view of the palm trees across the street. What happens inside my soul is beyond words.

Even better than my living room view is the view from my roof. It’s a little slice of Heaven, especially as the clouds roll in, the winds blow, and the afternoon rains start falling. The air is delicious up there, and the palm and banana trees are larger and leafier on that side of the house. And even though I’m so familiar with them by now, some days I just can’t tear my eyes away.

So why do I share my love affair with palm trees? Well, because, in a very real way, palm trees sustain me.  There is a power in their beauty that lifts my spirit, calms my anxiety, and releases me from the stress of all the rotting streets and invasive noises. What would I do without my daily dose of palm trees? They’re a green paradise in an otherwise concrete jungle, and when I look at them, I stand in awe of my Creator.

They’re how I write my name in the land. The idea of “writing your name in the land” comes from the movie Skylark, one of my favorite American pioneer movies. Skylark is the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, another favorite of mine. (I have a lot of favorite pioneer movies.)

Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of a woman from Maine who moves to Kansas as a mail-order bride for Jacob, a widower with two children. Jacob and Sarah fall in love, and by the beginning of the movie Skylark, they’ve been married for a couple years.

The people of Kansas are now facing a drought. The prairie dries up a little more each day, and it has truly become a “dry and thirsty land.” But Sarah comes from a place by the sea — a cool, wet place, where drought is unknown — and she’s never experienced a season like this before.

When the wells run dry, the people of the community travel to the river, hoping to find water there, but the river is nearly dry. In desperation, Sarah’s closest friend Maggie, and her husband Matthew, tell Jacob and Sarah that they are considering leaving the prairie and settling somewhere else. Sarah is so frustrated by this possibility that she blurts out:

I hate this land. No, I mean it. I don’t have to love it like Jacob, like Matthew. They give it everything, everything, and it betrays them. It gives them nothing back. You know, Jacob once told me his name is written in this land. Well, mine isn’t. It isn’t.

Maggie replies in a thick Scandinavian accent:

“You don’t have to love this land. But if you don’t, you won’t survive. Jacob is right. You have to write your name in it to live here.

Maggie winces at the severity of her own words, and Sarah walks away, not yet able to accept this truth. By end of the film, though, we watch her take a stick, bend down, and literally write her name in the dust of the land. Her heart has taken up residence in a place that is both overwhelmingly good and harsh. And she has planted herself in it.


I still cry when I watch those scenes. Do I love the strange land I find myself in? Have I scrawled my name in it? I still get annoyed by daily life. I still struggle to understand many of the East/West cultural differences. I still get discouraged by the sin problems inherent in an exceedingly corrupt society.

But I love this land.

I love the rice fields in the rain, verdant and green. I love the banana trees, oversized and leafy. I love the palm trees too numerous to count – a sight that never grows old. I love the clouds, large and billowing, and the sunsets, pink and orange.

So what sustains you in your host country? How do you plant yourself in the place God has called you to serve? When the earth under your feet seems to crack, when your life is dry and scorched, what do you hold on to? When the soil starts to disintegrate and your well dries up, where do you go?

When no rain falls, when the crops wither away, and there’s no harvest, what do you do? What is your anchor, and where are your roots? Where have you put your signature?

How do you write your name in the land?


Living Well Where You Don’t Belong

by Editor on July 23, 2014


Today’s post is by Joann Pittman. Joann is a childhood friend from Pakistan who I reconnected with a few years ago. As a woman who has lived her entire life cross-culturally, Joanne is gifted at helping others learn to live effectively across cultures. You can read her full bio at the end, but for now enjoy this post on “Living Well Where You Don’t Belong”.


I have spent most of my life overseas, that is, not in my “passport country.” I am an American, but I spent the first 14 years of my life in Pakistan, where my father was a professor and pastor, and have spent the past 28 years living and working in China. This means that I have lots of practice in living where I don’t belong.

“Belonging” has multiple layers of meanings. One is purely internal, referring to how I feel about my place in whatever space I find myself in. Do or can I FEEL like I belong somewhere, regardless of the circumstances or living conditions?

Another aspect of ‘belonging,’ however, is external – how do the local residents view me? Do or can they view me as belonging, or will they always consider me an outsider who doesn’t really belong here.

Below are eight tips for living well where you don’t belong.

  1. Cultivate a tolerance of ambiguity. According to, ambiguity is defined as “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention,” which is just another way of saying you don’t know what the heck is going on. As those of you who live (or have lived) cross-culturally know, this is permanent state of affairs, as you grapple with a language that is different, customs that seem strange, and social systems that are often opaque. Those with a low level of ambiguity tolerance may experience more culture stress than those who can say (honestly) “I don’t have a clue what’s going on around me, and that’s fine.”
  2. Remember that the burden of change is on you, not on the locals. The locals have done things their way for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and they aren’t going to change just because you showed up, not matter how noble your reasons for being there.
  3. View everything as a privilege, not an entitlement. The American sense of entitlement is strong, and often not helpful when living cross-culturally. It is true that we have many rights for which we should be thankful, but we need to keep in mind that they are not automatically transportable. In China, for example, I am not entitled to speak freely on any topic anywhere or form an assembly or social organization. But in many ways, those are the easier things to deal with. What is harder is to remember that I am not entitled to the level of convenience and efficiency that I am used to ‘back home.’ If we can leave behind our sense of entitlement, we are then free to view everything (whether they bring joy or annoyance) as a privilege.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Maintain your sense of humor. Look for the humor in everyday life, remembering that YOU are often the main source.  You will find yourself in many funny and perhaps embarrassing situations. Go ahead and laugh about it. Laughing beats fretting every time. One of my former colleagues in China used to say that he was convinced that the main role of a foreigner in this society was to provide entertainment to the locals. I think he was right.
  5. View cultural mistakes as learning opportunities.  It’s important to remember that if you are living cross-culturally, you WILL make cultural mistakes. Fortunately cultural mistakes are not fatal, unless of course the cultural mistake you make is not crossing the street properly. In most cases, locals are very gracious towards foreign sojourners in their midst who are making obvious attempts at learning the language and culture.
  6. Limit yourself to one “why” question per day.  One of my favorite quirky Hong Kong movies is a mad-cap adventure called “Peking Opera Blues.” The movie itself is entertaining, but the poorly translated “Chinglish” subtitles add to the humor. In one scene, the beautiful damsel enters a garage and finds it littered with dead bodies (the mafia had just paid a visit), and utters (according to the subtitles) “WHY IS IT LIKE THIS?” Those of us who live cross-culturally find this question on the tips of their tongues pretty much all the time. We look are around and see so much that is unfamiliar and confusing and want to shout WHY IS IT LIKE THIS? If the question is driven by a true desire to understand, then it is fine; however, most of the time, it simply means “it’s not like this back home, so it shouldn’t be like this here,” and excessive use of the question just opens the door for a rant. So…make a rule. Only one “why” question per day.
  7. Be prepared to adjust /modify your own behaviors. In his book “The Art of Crossing Cultures,” Craig Storti suggests that cultural adjustment is really adjusting to two things: to new behaviors of the locals that annoy, confuse, and unsettle us, and adjusting or weeding out those behaviors that we have that confuse and annoy the locals. Truth be told, that’s the harder adjustment sometimes.
  8. Strive to be an ‘acceptable outsider.’  I live in China, which is an insider/outsider culture. There are two kinds of people in the world: Chinese and foreigners, and they are as mutually exclusive as Jew and Gentile. There is nothing I can ever do to be considered an insider in Chinese culture.  The best I can become is an acceptable outsider, one who is active in learning the language and culture and taking steps to gain access to the world of the insiders. It also means that I try not to settle for not being offensive; rather I make it my goal to be polite. Sometimes I even succeed! In my case part of ‘belonging’ means coming to terms with my permanent outsider status.

What tips do you have to add? Would love to hear some in the comments section. 

*This post was originally published in Communicating Across Boundaries.

Joann Pittman is a consultant, trainer, researcher, and writer who helps people prepare for and navigate the challenges of cross-cultural living. She has lived in China since 1984, working as an English teacher, Chinese language program director, English language program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has done extensive study and research in Chinese language, history, and contemporary society, and is a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese. She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons. You can read Joann’s blog Outside-In at You can follow her on Twitter.


The Sign That Matters

by Kelley Nikondeha on July 21, 2014


signMataraFive years ago we landed in Burundi. Around the small capital I noticed signs everywhere – signs of other NGOs present in the city with logos plastered on their large Land Cruisers, big placards at their local offices and signs out in the countryside wherever they had a project. The rampant self-promotion turned my stomach sour. No one could do any good thing without erecting a sign to mark it, to prove their worth and claim their territory.

For the first season I nursed a secret sense of pride over our unmarked cars that criss-crossed the city, often full of Burundian friends who shared in this development adventure. We didn’t need signs to validate our partnership or announce our project; we just did the work that needed to be done with our friends.

We managed to work in one community for three years without a single sign, but watched thirty families move steadily toward a viable and vibrant community.

Right about that time we began work with another community of 660 families in a different province. We started planting hundreds of trees together, advocated for identity cards for all the adults and birth certificates for the children. Soon we began constructing an elementary school. And somewhere amid all this activity the local officials made a strong recommendation – that we put up a sign.

Everything in me resisted the idea of a sign. We don’t need signs to do our work, we had three year’s of proof in the province next door, I reasoned. But my husband felt there was some practical wisdom in the recommendation, and decided to order the sign.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis

I’ve since learned the reasons for signs, at least ones from our own experience.

1. Signs protect your project from other organizations that would try to encroach on your hard work. It’s sad to say, but some organizations will try to take a short cut by using the infrastructure you’ve labored to build for their own project. They will see the community you’ve gathered and walk right in and hold court, telling about their livestock program or health initiative. The relationship you’ve cultivated for years they will usurp for their own work, saving them the time of hard-fought connections, leadership development and the forging of trust. I’m not exaggerating – this happened before my very eyes one summer. With no sign, they felt free to come and begin their pitch.

2. Signs act as a reminder to your own staff. Sometimes the hardest thing is recognizing that your own staff will try to skim a little something extra for themselves. They will take people to visit the project and pass it off as their own initiative so they can bolster their image or increase the chance of a better job offer in the future. Sometimes they will make small contracts with other agencies to come in and give chickens or offer some training – taking the finder’s fee for their pocket. We’ve worked with many good team members who we trust deeply, but occasionally our best discernment takes a hit or a good staff member has a moment of weakness. A sign reminds the staffer, and the people coming to meet with him or her, that the larger team of our NGO manages this project.

3. Signs help your partners remember that you are in this together. When people have lived in poverty for generations it isn’t easy to shed the fear that all this help could go away tomorrow. One of the long-term affects of the impoverished mindset we’ve witnessed is a scarcity mentality. So what often happens in the early life of a project is that the families we work with will take hand-outs from any NGO who offers, often claiming that no one is helping them or, even worse, that we are not offering the help we’ve promised. While trust develops and scarcity reflexes linger, things can get messy as other NGOs start supplementing your project with unnecessary or untimely contributions.

What the sign does is serve as a reminder that we are partners; we’re putting our name right alongside yours to show that we aren’t leaving you. The presence of that sign also means they can’t keep living from all these various handouts, they’ve agreed to engage in a trusting partnership with us and we have made the same promise to them. Together we’ll see the community move toward sustainability – but uncomplicated by the insertions of other organizations that might compromise our plan for sustainability, breaking the cycle of dependence.

I want to be clear, we partner with these families and also collaborate with many other organizations who have experience and expertise to offer to these communities. But we do so strategically, knowing what and when the community needs season to season. We also care about the credibility of the organizations we invite, ensuring we offer the best services to the families. A sign keeps it clear – if you want to partner with us here, call the number on the sign and let’s begin a conversation to see how you can work with us for the sake of this neighborhood.


PHOTO CREDIT: Kingdom Photography, Burundi

PHOTO CREDIT: Kingdom Photography, Burundi

I still wince when I see our signs. I know they’ve provided some necessary functions within our team and to the world outside. But I still wish the signs weren’t necessary. As an idealist, I wish trust was enough.

This is the sign that matters most – walking into Bubanza and seeing women filling basins with clean water, watching a man water the fruit trees and a few more at the piggery feeding the animals. Or seeing kids play on the swings and being greeted by their parents as friends in the transformative work afoot across the community. These are signs I cherish, evidence of a partnership brimming with goodness, deeper than any signpost.

Do any other development workers out there struggle with the use of signs?

What are other benefits you’ve discovered in the use of signs in your communities – or set backs?


Kelley Nikondeha, community development practitioner in Burundi

Blog:  |  Twitter: @knikondeha

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“Why didn’t they send a tractor?”

by Richelle Wright July 18, 2014

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Knowing When to Leave

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Is Jesus a Liar?

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7 Things You “Need” Before You Move Overseas

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An Airport Encounter With Grace

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I have to Believe

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