What to Write

by Editor on August 20, 2014

Productivity and results. These are hallmarks of the west, demonstrations of success that prove our worth. And when you are accountable to others, even if you live a world away, the pressure can build to show results, to document success. Our guest poster, Laura, takes us into this topic with gracious honesty. You can read more about Laura at the end of the piece. For now I know this will resonate with you so we invite you to read through and join the conversation at the end of the piece.

*****************

computer

Once a month there’s the pressure to produce results. To write a letter that proves to people who are praying and giving that I am doing my job. And since I blog, there’s weekly pressure as well.

But what about when life is culture stress and paperwork. When it’s forcing myself to attend a church service in a language I don’t understand yet. When it’s tears and homesickness and a craving for foods I can’t find at any store in town.

And what about when ministry is sitting alone in a coffee shop because I’m trying to begin building relationships with people. Or picking someone up from work because there’s a strike and the buses aren’t running. Or taking someone shopping after church because she doesn’t have a car. Or going to a monthly girls’ Bible study that I don’t lead. Or standing on a football (soccer) field staring at the kids kicking the ball because I know virtually nothing about football.

What do I write then?

When there are no dramatic stories of people accepting Christ and being baptized. No young adutls growing through a Bible study I am teaching. No amazing testimonies of teens choosing to live for Christ because of what I shared at camp.

There’s simply everyday life in a foreign country. Learning where items are in the grocery store. Learning how to drive on the other side of the road. Collecting paperwork for needed immigration documents. Finding my way to new places. Figuring out how to best communicate with new teammates. Skyping with family and friends. Learning how to use public transportation. Learning, listening to and speaking a different language.

And it can all be extremely overwhelming and exhausting. Teammates tell me to take my time adjusting to my new culture, yet each month it seems as though I need to have something amazing and ministry-related to write.

Now that I am beginning life in my third new country and culture, I am learning that all of these everyday tasks that consume the first few months of life in a new country are tasks I need to learn in order to effectively serve in that country. If I can’t find my way to someone’s house, I can’t meet her for a Bible study. If I can’t find items in a grocery store, I can’t invite people over for a meal. If I can’t communicate well with teammates, I will become frustrated.

These months of transition make for some rather uneventful, maybe even dull, prayer letters. However, I know that the relationships, the activities, the events, the leading will come. So for now I attempt to drive the curvy, country roads without becoming lost and without driving on the right-hand side of the road. I attend the Bible studies and look for ways to contribute without taking over. I invite people into my home. I listen; I watch; I learn. And I share these small victories in my blog posts and letters because these accomplishments are answers to prayer too.

How do you share with prayer supporters about the transition months in a new country? Do you feel “guilty” for not having enough ministry-related items to share?

 

Bio: Laura has served in Portugal and South Africa and is currently adjusting to life and ministry in Ireland. God has given her a heart for teen and young adult girls, as well as a love for living overseas and drinking coffee. She writes regularly about living cross-culturally at http://chattingaboutlife.wordpress.com.

*Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/computer-computers-keyboard-313840/

{ 10 comments }

Coming Home (through & to war zones)

by Kelley Nikondeha on August 18, 2014

Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis

Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis

Two weeks ago I was in transit from Burundi (East Africa) to the United States. The news flashing across multiple media outlets – CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC – highlighted the Israeli incursion into Gaza, the advancing of ISIS in Iraq, the confusion around the downed Malaysian airline in Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

I boarded my plane aware of other passengers, hoping none were travelers from West Africa. I reminded my daughter to keep her hands to herself, the transmission of Ebola on my mind. As I watched the interactive map in flight, I prayed about the outbreak of violence in Libya and Gaza while we split the difference and flew through Egyptian airspace. I moved through the skies with awareness we dodged war zones on our way home after our Burundian summer.

I’d only be home for a set of days before I’d be reminded of the systemic injustice and racism that still resides in my homeland. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer sparked cries for justice and showcased the community’s sense of marginalization. In my own country I witnessed nightly broadcasts of protests, militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed crowds and looting on American streets. Another war zone, it seemed.

What stood out in my mind with clarity – there is deep injustice here and there, at home and abroad. No place is exempt from oppression, disenfranchisement, tribalism or the need to cry out for justice on behalf of the dispossessed.

As people who travel to help others, who move across borders to defend the weak and champion justice overseas there remains the challenge to see and stand for justice at home. If we are blind to our own inequities, our dulled discernment diminishes our capacity to advocate for justice elsewhere. If we cannot stand alongside the vulnerable in our own neighborhoods then our work abroad reveals us to be altruistic adventures and not consistent peacemakers.

My personal challenge as a community development practitioner in Burundi is to bring the same eyes, the same ears, and the same commitment to justice back home with me. Yes, I see the vulnerable in Burundi, the Batwa people pushed off their land and living without protection. I hear the cries of those impoverished and homeless, as their homes were washed away with unexpected flooding one rain-soaked night. I watch with great concern as another election approaches and the majority maneuver to keep power. But when I return home I must work to bring those same sensibilities home with me and not allow my advocacy to go on furlough.

(Am I the only one who sees this as a challenge for practitioners who reside abroad and move in and out of our home country?)

Coming home has reminded me, I always travel with the prophets and their imperatives to pursue justice. Wherever I am, I’m called to stand alongside the brokenhearted. I am invited to walk with the oppressed and work for liberation. I’m exhorted to work for economic justice and equity for all and to embody God’s reconciliation wherever I am, at home or abroad.

Isaiah’s words ring in my ears: “You will be called repairers of the streets where people live…” I pray this is the testimony of my life whether I am in Burundi or the United States or anywhere in between. I hope I will have eyes to see injustice and ears to hear the cries of the vulnerable wherever I reside, always ready to do the work of emancipation. Justice knows no geographic boundaries.

Wherever we are, at home or abroad, let’s run hard after justice.

***

Do you see injustice as easily in your home country as abroad?

Is there the temptation among us to allow our advocacy work to ‘go on furlough’ when we are stateside?

What is your most unexpected re-entry struggle or observation?

Kelley Nikondeha |  community practitioner in Burundi

blog  |  www.kelleynikondeha.com   Twitter  |  @knikondeha

{ 3 comments }

“Banish the onion!”

by Richelle Wright on August 15, 2014

If you “google” family menu planning, you end up with over 87 million results in just a fraction of a second. I guess a lot of people really like to plan menus.

large_12074570196

Menu planning used to be a pretty big deal for me. Once upon a time, I grocery shopped once every two weeks, with a very specific list developed from a monthly menu plan. I loved the plotting, planning and probing – devoting, sometimes, several hours a week to those activities. It forced me to be intentional about the food my family ate. I enjoyed searching for new recipes to try. One of the best pieces of advice I’d been given as a soon-to-be missionary living on the back side of the desert, responsible for preparing something more or less edible for my family to eat – was to learn to cook from scratch… The veteran missionary who gave me that valuable piece of advice meant like totally from scratch, as in learn how to make your own tomato paste… and yogurt… and buttermilk… and marshmallows… and all sorts of other things that I didn’t even know you could make. I took that missionary’s advice very seriously.

I spent a couple of years perfecting my strategy. By the time we moved to Africa, I had a great reservoir of menu plans with things that I’d been told I’d be able to find locally and I knew how to make them all… from scratch. They were even edible, most of the time.

We landed in Niger that very first time at the beginning of the lean season… the time of year when all the expats who could left town so stores and shops that imported food were only doing so sparingly… also the time of year when all crops were planted but not much was being or had been harvested.

Except for onions.

“Banish the onion!” became the cry of my children. They cried buckets of tears while chopping onions, until they figured out that swim goggles served a great second purpose. I considered writing a cook book entitled “201 Ways to Eat Onions.”

310824_10150478113221098_894211927_n

Okay… so that is a bit of hyperbole, but it certainly felt true, then and every other August we spent in Niger. At least once the cooking started and those onions were sauteing, it always smelled like something delicious would be on the table in the immediate future.

Then, there was the week I went looking for butter… the store owner thought the trucks had been held up at the border.

Or the several weeks surrounding the bird flu scare? Niger stopped importing chickens and eggs, and the price of eggs (a staple in our diet) skyrocketed to no-longer-affordable for us.

How do you bake a birthday cake for a birthday party where 20 five to seven year-olds were coming… without eggs?

I quickly discovered that all my hard work learning to prepare meals from scratch was really just the tip of the iceberg. And all of that recipe research? It wasn’t working out as I’d expected.

I’d learned to make a menu, to plan amounts, to cook the food without shortcuts and conveniences – but I didn’t know how to adapt for African snags in that plan: converting measurements I could handle, but I was clueless what to do when several key ingredients in my menu plan just weren’t available that week.

Preparing food became an adventure of sorts.

I had to learn purposes of those missing ingredients. Take eggs, for example. Was the egg functioning as a binder, a leavening agent, or both? If it was a binder, then applesauce, squash puree or mashed banana would often work. So would a mixture of corn starch and water. When it’s purpose was to make a cake light and fluffy, vinegar and baking soda… or water, oil and baking soda tended to be more effective. If the eggs were there to bind and to leaven – well then sometimes I’d have to play around and figure out some combination of the above… or something else altogether.

Most of the time, we managed to finagle a happy ending. Or, perhaps more accurately, an edible ending where bellies were full even if we decided the dogs might be more likely to eat the leftovers than we would. Of course, that also depended on just how hungry we were, too! And I learned: Sometimes you make changes because you have absolutely no other choice

Still, I tried, for a very long time – several years, in fact – to keep up with my menu planning/list making/big shopping trip habits. In fact, when I returned to the States for the birth of our youngest, I 4.5 months worth of menus, shopping lists and recipes for my husband to give my house helper.

Then, suddenly, it was like someone flipped a switch. I just couldn’t do all that any more. Maybe I’d lived long enough in that place, been a mama preparing meals for many for long enough… I suddenly realized I no longer need a script. I could improvise. I could go to the stores and the markets with a general list of staples we always tried to keep on hand, see what was there, buy sufficient food for my family, and bring it home having a rough idea of a wide variety of meals that I could possibly prepare. Then, the day before or even the day of, I’d decide what we’d be eating. Our grocery budget decreased, less food was wasted, and my children were more able to get involved in the food prep and kitchen work – so much so that at least three nights a week, different ones were doing the bulk of the cooking. Not only that, they too have learned to look in the fridge, see what is available, and whip up something edible – even if it isn’t gourmet.

Now, the point of telling you all this isn’t just to give some nuts and bolts about how I functioned as the one responsible to feed my family on the backside of the Sahara Desert. Nor is it to imply that one way of grocery shopping/menu planning is better than another. 

I wanted to share because I learned an important lesson.

Sometimes, I venture off into a new season of life, thinking all the things that have worked in the past for me will continue to work in the new season

Often, that is true.

But what about when it isn’t.

Do I continue stubbornly following the same path when I really need to change directions? Even though I may recognize that current procedures and/or policies aren’t the only way, do I consciously or unconsciously consider my way the best… or holiest way? Even if the need to change comes in an area as mundane as how I go about my shopping, why do I hang on to the old when it isn’t working, when something new really would be better?

Sometimes, I really just need to amend my ways and reform my doings to better thrive as I dwell in the land where God has placed me. Sometimes, I need to make a choice to change.

*******************************************************

How about you?

 Please share about a way living overseas has provoked change in you – in a way that is as mundane as how you go about your grocery shopping, or in a way that is much more significant.

first photo credit: D-Stanley via photopin cc

{ 10 comments }

Not an Afterthought

by Marilyn on August 13, 2014

singles with quote

I grew up in a Muslim country where women were largely absent in the public space. The inner courtyards of my Muslim friends were where women socialized. This is where talk, laughter, eating, and discussions on birth control took place. The inner courtyards were wonderful places. Places where smells and colors mingled and to this day cause me to smile.

I also grew up surrounded by strong women. They were moms and grandmothers, they were sisters and aunties. They were also nurses and doctors,  interpreters and translators, scholars and linguists,  literacy specialists and more.

And more than fifty percent of them were single. 

I still smile when I think of sharing meals around the table with Dr. Maybel and Dr. Mary; Hannah and Phyllis, nurse midwives; Helen – a brilliant linguist. The talk was stimulating and I owe them much in shaping my life and my story.

Because here’s the thing: In a life overseas we need our single friends, we need our single brothers and sisters. We are incomplete without them. 

Every year Hannah would accompany us on our annual vacation to the Karachi coast, to a small beach hut affectionately called the “Sea Breeze.” This hut saved many a Christian worker from despairing and heading across the ocean back to their passport countries. It provided solace and rest to people who worked hard in a country sometimes hostile, other times hospitable to those of another faith. Hannah was part of our family for that week. We would rest, read, build sand castles, eat special foods, and play various games of tag in the soft sand. Hannah was vital to our family. She wasn’t a last minute add on, she wasn’t a final “plus one.” She was Hannah and she was special. Hannah was friend to both my mom and dad, older sister and auntie to the rest of us. Hannah was a gift and so were the other single people in our community.

Our single friends provide perspective and focus, they help us to parent better and love our spouses more. Our single friends are not an afterthought in the body of Christ. They are not an afterthought in the mission field. They are a sustaining force of grace and a picture of God’s good work in our world. 

So how can we let them know that they are not footnotes in the life of the missionary, in our lives overseas? 

Here are some practical ways to bring people alongside and invite them into our lives with purpose:

  • Weekly dinners – not a “once in a while”  guest, but a real part of your weekly family life. Don’t fuss with dinner – let it be the real thing. The real kids and the real you. Let them love on your kids and your kids love on them.
  • Invite them on a vacation. They might say no, they might have other plans. But they may be desperately missing nephews and nieces, brothers and sister-in-laws. Allow them to be a part of a vacation time away from the routine of life.
  • Ask your single friends to pray for you, be willing to be vulnerable. Like telling them you hate your kids – they know you don’t really, they know you love them more than life itself, but don’t be afraid to be real. Don’t worry about appearing ungrateful for being married with kids – your single friends are wise, strong people. They can handle it and they can pray. In turn, ask them how you can help them.
  • Get tips from them on connecting with nationals in your community. With less time needed to focus on kids and spouse, our single friends often have amazing ways that they have found to connect. Tag along, ask them about their friendships, gain tips on language learning and culture sharing.
  • Make sure you respect, and are willing to put,  single people into positions of influence, positions of leadership. Don’t equate marriage with leadership ability. This is a fallacy. The God-given gifts of leadership are available to single and married people.
  • Ensure that you never, ever equate godliness and holiness with marital status. That is unfair. That is wrong. Our goal should never be marriage – it should be holiness regardless of whether married or single.
  • Invest in their lives, find out who they are, what they care about, where their gifts lie. They are a vital part of the kingdom and we do well to celebrate them.
  • Recognize that singleness is not a one size fits all category – it is complex. The single people who may be serving beside you in your life overseas could come from vastly different backgrounds with varying struggles and responses to their singleness. They all have a story and we are better people for learning their stories.
  • Above all – Have fun. Don’t let this be a chore. Don’t think of this as a list of things to check off. That’s not the purpose. Don’t force friendships, but do be purposeful.

The two most influential women in my life beyond my mom were two of my boarding parents, Eunice and Debbie, both single women. Eunice came into my life when I Deb, Eunice, mewas a wee one, Debbie when I was a teenager. To this day I call them during times of joy and crisis, to pray with me, to laugh with me. They are my heroes. They are my dear friends. The community where I was raised allowed me to experience the fullness of relationships with single people. As a result, many of my closest friends today are single, living lives full of purpose and grace.

The Kingdom of God has the power to break down our divisions – those social constructs and categories that we use to define ourselves.  Single, married, black, white and more. May we always be willing to reach across these constructs and in doing so, grow into the people and communities that God desires.

What ways have you found to connect with your single friends overseas? If you are single, what would you want your married friends to do to let you know that you are a vital, living part of the Kingdom? 

Between Worlds on Amazon

Between Worlds is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble! Between Worlds charts a journey between the cultures of East and West, the comfort of being surrounded by loved ones and familiar places, and the loneliness of not belonging. “Every one of us has been at some point between two worlds, be they faith and loss of faith, joy and sorrow, birth and death. Between Worlds is a luminous guide for connecting—and healing—worlds.” – Cathy Romeo, co-author, Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses

 

 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/sunset-evening-sky-nature-human-242713/ photo art MGardner

{ 22 comments }

Language Learning Methods – Whatever It Takes

by Rachel Pieh Jones August 11, 2014

There are all kinds of language learning methods. LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical), GPA (Growing Participator Approach), community education classes, hiring tutors. Some methods require people to only listen for a set period of time, no speaking allowed. Some require classroom study. Some prohibit grammar study. My personal favorite is one called: Whatever It Takes [...]

Read the full article →

New Girl

by Laura Parker August 8, 2014

The following post is one I have been re-living as of late, as we re-enter living in SE Asia after a two year stint in the States (original post is here). The whole family is thrust constantly into those awkward situations of being the new kids on the block, and I’m reminded of how hard [...]

Read the full article →

When People Hate My Home

by Editor August 6, 2014

If there is anything that convicts a third culture kid it is a post like this! Because it’s not easy to love our passport countries and sometimes we fall into the category of the biggest criticizers. And that’s why I love this post by Lindsey Lautsbaugh – because she walks us through what it means [...]

Read the full article →

When You Second-Guess Your Life

by Lisa McKay August 4, 2014

Last night while we were getting ready for bed, my two year old started to tell me a story. He told me this story three times in a row, getting more excited and delighted every time. Was this story about the herd of cows we’d seen blocking the road to our house that morning? Or [...]

Read the full article →

Set Them On a Path

by Tara Livesay August 1, 2014

A friend recently wrote and shared this from Barbara Kingsolver, the author of the Poisonwood Bible: There was a quote in the author’s notes at the beginning that blew my doors off.  Barbara is thanking her parents for being good ones and lists a few traits she particularly values. She states the final thing she [...]

Read the full article →

The Ignorant Bliss of a Know-It-All

by Angie Washington July 30, 2014

When we stomped off to mission school we knew we were headed to Bolivia. We knew the five-fold reach of our ministry would be: churches, bible schools, social outreaches, Bolivian missionaries sent out, and mass media productions. Our shiny vision statement listed everything in plural with big numbers. We knew that we knew, beyond a [...]

Read the full article →

Please Stop Running

by Jonathan Trotter 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 [...]

Read the full article →

How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

by Elizabeth Trotter 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 [...]

Read the full article →