Tempted to Tell All

by Richelle Wright on December 19, 2014

“Mama, when we were at the library the other day, I was tempted to tell someone about Jesus and how He was born to save us. Is that wrong?”

I couldn’t help but smile.

Funny question for a missionary kid to be asking…

After all, isn’t that what missionaries do? Isn’t that what we teach kids that missionaries do?

Missionaries go, into ALL the world for this reason: telling ALL who have never heard or who have never believed or who just need to be reminded – ALL about Jesus.

The message is first one of confrontation – the horribly bad news that ALL, are sinners and that as sinners, we are unable – in and of ourselves – to DO ANYTHING to remedy our sin problem. Which brings us to the second part of the bad news: the required punishment for our sin is death.

Grasping that part of the message is necessary; thankfully it doesn’t stop there or we would ALL be without hope.

The second half of the missionary message tells of reconciliation and restoration. It’s the hopeful part… the better part.

ALL men need someone to save them. So God sent ONE, His Son.

mary&josephedit

It is what we celebrate during this holy season.

Jesus came – born as a baby, but also born to die… for ALL men.

He willingly and sacrificially took the punishment for ALL sin so that ALL men could be reconciled to God. The Good News gets even better. Jesus didn’t stay dead. God brought Him out of the tomb, alive and conquering death. Because He lives, ALL men who believe this merciful message of grace and then trust Him have the hope of ALL eternity together with Him.

So I smiled when my little one asked her question. And I told her, “Of course it’s not wrong!”

She grinned and said that next time, she’d be kind by listening to God when He was tempting her to tell…and we went on with our day… and week…

God, however, wasn’t finished with me yet. He had an additional thought with which I need to wrestle so He kept bringing my mind back around to her question.

Particularly the phrase tempted to tell.

The word tempted usually has a negative connotation. The dictionary definition, “to lure; to entice; to attempt to persuade (someone) to do or acquire something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or not beneficial,” clearly puts a negative spin on the word.

Why would anyone feeling that push or pull to share this message of hope describe it as temptation? In the case of my little one, I’m guessing it was the misapplication of a new word recently added to her vocabulary.

shepherd2edit

I don’t have that same excuse.

Reflecting during this season of Advent, I’ve been convicted.

Far too often those words “tempted to tell” accurately describe my approach to sharing the Gospel message. Telling is so “in your face.” Telling implies that somehow I know best and that the way I’m describing is right. Telling is less likely to skip the first part, the confrontational part, of the message and I naturally more comfortable with that subtle, less confrontational approach. Thus, oft’quoted words usually attributed to Francis d’Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words,” hold great appeal. “Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks” is another catchy phrase I’ve commonly heard.

I’m tempted to tell – but is it ALL if I won’t use words?

No! The idea that we can communicate why Christ came without ever speaking a word is a forcefully magnetic illusion.

Its attractiveness compels in a world that often assumes words are, at best, cheap… At worst, words are perceived as worthless and devoid of meaning. But without words, any actions and ALL good deeds I do… they point at me. My righteous life by itself is woefully insufficient. No matter how good, no matter how tempting the illusion might be, my life alone cannot ever adequately tell of the baby born to die for ALL.

nativitycollage

A godly life cannot be the good news.

A godly life, when combined with words, can herald and proclaim the good news, just as angels did in a night sky more than 2000 years ago.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.
…And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
(from John 1)
 
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How are you (in your place of ministry or country of residence)
“tempted to tell all,” particularly at this time of the year?
 

Living Nativity Photos:

 Dick Stewart

 
 

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Rethinking the Christmas Story

by Rachel Pieh Jones on December 17, 2014

*edited and reposted from the original Rethinking the Nativity on Djibouti Jones and I encourage you to read the comments there.

I am tired of the Christmas story.

Clarification: I’m tired of the way I keep hearing it and seeing it and reading it. Of course I’m tired of the way consumerism has hijacked this holy day but that’s not what I mean. I mean the typical western religious take on the Christmas story. Living in the developing world, in a place where women give birth at home, in a culture much closer to the culture of Jesus’ location and time in history, has changed the way I read the Bible.

Let’s think about how the story is presented in thousands of movies, children’s pageants, poems, novels, and kid’s books every year:

Joseph is a chump. He gets pushed around by some angels and then makes the totally irresponsible decision to drag a pregnant woman in her late third trimester to a town miles and miles away, on foot or maybe on a donkey. He plans this trip so poorly that they barely make it to Bethlehem on time and while Mary is (silently and peacefully) enduring labor pains, he is knocking on the doors of the local Sheraton and Holiday Inns. Apparently though Joseph is from this town, he no longer has any connections or relationship with people there so not only is he irresponsible, he must have been quite the jerk.

The streets are empty, no one sees this pregnant woman and harried man, no one cares until the hapless innkeeper reluctantly allows the couple to use his filthy, though warm and well-supplied with soft, cuddly hay, stable out back.

Mary gives birth, alone, the umbilical cord is magically cut, the placenta just disappears, though Joseph would have had no idea what to do with it and Mary would have been in no state to direct him. The baby has this funny glowing circle over his head, doesn’t cry at all, is wrapped in a dirty, torn blanket (or miraculously white and spotless blanket, depending), and is perhaps licked by the barn animals.

Some shepherds come and see the baby and the parents living in the filth and stink of an animal barn and leave rejoicing.

This makes for beautiful paintings, poetry, songs, and children’s plays. But does it fit the cultural norms? More importantly, is it what the Bible teaches?

the christmas story


How about this instead? (for more on this, read This Advent Season, A Look at the Real Setting) I’m not trying to add to the Biblical text, I’m not saying this is what happened. I am simply attempting to imagine another perspective.

Joseph, a man of courage and faith, realizes that his fiancee is in serious trouble. Legally, she could be stoned any day by the villagers because she is pregnant and not married. He is not required to bring Mary along to be counted in the census because she is a woman but he decides to tie his name to hers, tie his reputation to hers, and saves her life by taking her out of the village until the baby is born and emotions can simmer down. Who knows if they walked or rode donkeys but there is a distinct possibility that they rode in a cart. In any case, they arrived in Bethlehem before the day of Jesus’ birth. The Bible says: While they were there the time came for Mary to give birth. The Bible does not say: the moment they arrived they frantically pounded on doors because Mary was dilated to 10cm.

He is wise, planned ahead, and is a hero. Not merely a background character, indistinguishable from shepherds in most nativity scenes.

It is hard to imagine that a working man of integrity and faith would have been rejected by relatives, no matter how extended. Not in this culture. In Djibouti people impose on extended relatives all the time, for long periods of time, cramped into small living spaces shared with livestock. No one would turn away a pregnant relative. No, he had family in Bethlehem and he went to the home of relatives where he and Mary rested from their journey and prepared for the birth of the baby.

Some people question why the family would welcome an unwed pregnant woman. The typical image of a Middle Eastern family accepted in the west is that they would stone her. Many Americans are shocked to hear my stories from Djibouti of staunchly Muslim families loving and accepting, through tears, their unwed teenage daughters and the babies. Family and love trump law and fundamentalism more often than not. Some in Nazareth were probably angry, most probably forgave. Some in Bethlehem were probably angry, most probably forgave. Maybe by taking Mary to another town Joseph diffused rising tension among people who had known Mary her whole life. I don’t know.

The word ‘inn’ doesn’t refer to a Holiday Inn or Sheraton style building where a bed and meal can be purchased. It more likely refers to an upper room in a family home. Quite possibly Joseph’s relatives had other distant family in town for the census so the upper room was occupied. This meant the couple had to sleep downstairs in the open living space where animals were kept at night for safety and where they ate from troughs dug into the earth at one end of the room. They maybe slept on mats or piles of blankets, just as they would have upstairs. The room was warm and sheltered, probably filled with other traveling relatives.

Mary didn’t give birth alone. No place in the Bible is this written or implied. More likely she was surrounded by women. A midwife (as is often depicted in Orthodox nativity scenes), Joseph’s relatives, neighbors. Shepherds came and found the child and his mother and left rejoicing because not only had they seen Grace and Mercy in the flesh, but they had seen a woman and child well-cared for and surrounded by wise women. Otherwise, they more likely would have praised God for that Grace and Mercy and then said: What are you doing here alone and cold?! Come with us, our women will care for you! No way would they have left a young mother and infant in that state and left rejoicing.

Maybe in the West the version we are so used to is acceptable because of how we see the world. A poor man failing to plan well for his pregnant fiancee. A pregnant refugee turned away, the needy ignored in the streets as everyone goes about their urgent business. Maybe we feel comfortable imagining that in ‘those’ places people only had dirty torn clothes to wrap around their babies, that in ‘those’ places mothers allow cows to lick their newborns. Maybe this frees us from responsibility to act. If our Lord was born this way, it is not lowly or demeaning for other babies to be born alone, into a cold and unwelcoming world.

But in the culture and time in which Jesus was born, no way. Family, hospitality, food, community, these are highly valued.

We want to make the birth of Jesus as hard as possible, as cold and lonely and desperate and painful as possible. Why? Is it because we can’t grasp the infinite coldness, loneliness, desperation, and pain of what the incarnation truly meant? We wrap it up in dirty clothes and stinking animals, in physical loneliness and fear. Is our feeble attempt at re-imagining the Christmas story our way of trying to understand, to put images and emotions to something so powerfully and deeply beyond our comprehension? To bring the miracle of God-made-flesh into our realm of understanding?

No matter what other pictures we paint to describe his birth nothing can make it harder than it was. Nothing can make it more loving than it was. Nothing can make it more miraculous than it was.

Jesus left heaven and was born a human baby, destined to die a human death.

Saying that Jesus was born into the hands of a skilled midwife or into a house filled with light and laughter and community takes nothing away from the glory of that night. It simply makes it more authentic.

*these thoughts stem from the incredible book: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey and I highly recommend this book. Highly.

*a second resource is Closer to the Real Christmas Story by Jared Burkholder

How has your idea about Christmas or other Bible stories changed by living overseas?

*image via wikipedia

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Out of Darkness into Glorious Light

by Marilyn on December 15, 2014

Lightbulb

Every day I ride the subway line into the city of Boston. It’s a short ride, going from Central Square in Cambridge to the busy Park Street stop just off the Boston Commons. At one segment in that short ride we come out from the deep underground of the city and we are above ground overlooking the Charles River, the city of Cambridge on one side, the city of Boston on the other. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light of the day. It never gets old.

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In the quiet night the girl lies alone. She can hear the breathing of five others in the boarding school dormitory room where she lies. All of her roommates have been asleep for a long time.

They don’t know she is awake. They don’t know that every night she wakes in a panic, a scream just ready to break the silence. That it takes her a moment to calm, to realize she is not being attacked – she is safe with 5 other girls, all of them young teens. She cries out to a far away God, desperate to reclaim the innocence of her faith from before the attack, desperate for some measure of comfort.

The man who violated her is a respected member of the missionary community in the city where her parents work. He is a household name; a frequent household guest.

No one would ever believe her — a 14-year-old teen who is known for her sparkling personality; her love for the dramatic. She physically wards off the panic and the tears by folding her arms tightly across her chest, feeling the warm flannel of her pajamas. It’s in the early hours of dawn when she finally falls back into a dreamless sleep.

In another room and building a little boy has just woken up in tears. He has wet the bed. He cannot let the other know. The other missionary kids are white – and he is not. He is subject to sometimes merciless bullying – and no one stops it.

He curls into a ball. How can he change his sheets so no one will know? He cries out to an absent mom, longing for the comfort that would come from her presence, knowing he will never tell her.

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It’s dark and it’s painful – but abuse of missionary kids is rightly being brought into the light. The loyalty code that makes people hesitant to confront is being replaced by a Godly recognition of sin and the need for confrontation and repentance, the need for justice.

There are some horrific stories – and there are some just plain sad stories, but they can’t heal until they are brought to the light. It’s a warped sense of honor, a twisted allegiance that tells us we need to forgive without confronting and bringing to light that which has wronged or destroyed.

And the thing with light is this: Even a bit can dispel darkness, even a candle illuminates and makes room for us to see more clearly; even a little light can comfort. And God who sees into the silent, sleepy dormitory asks us to speak into the dark, speak truth where lies were planted, offer hope where despair has been rooted, offer comfort in the face of torment.

Because these ones who were hurt have been called out of darkness into His glorious light; a light that dispels darkness and blinds us with its beauty and power. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light. It never gets old.

Blogger’s note: I wrote this as I do all my posts – with a deep breath and a prayer. The post is not intended to hurt further – rather to offer a word of hope. If you know or suspect that a missionary kid around you is being abused – please in prayer speak up, bring it into the light. We must be people who protect and nurture, who call others into accountability.

Picture Credit: Stefanie Sevim Gardner 2011 Cairo, Egypt

Resources:

  • MK Safety Net – Goal is to be an encouragement and promote healing for current and former MKs (Missionary Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and their families who have been hurt or wounded by their experiences of abuse within the missionary environment.
  • Child Safety & Protection – The Alliance Mission is committed to promptly address every reported allegation of child abuse that may arise in association with our work overseas and to provide helpful resources to churches and districts that may deal with such allegations in the United States.
  • International Therapists Directory – provides an increasingly comprehensive online global listing of professional mental health therapists who are familiar with the TCK and international expatriate experiences.
  • Missionary Kids – silent no more on abuse. – An article written in 2011 by the Christian Broadcasting Network
  • Ministry Safe – a site dedicated to sexual abuse awareness and prevention
  • Dear Missionary Parents - While not on abuse, this is an excellent article just published by Michelle Phoenix.

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Real Housewives of Cochabamba

by Angie Washington on December 12, 2014

In Americana pop culture annals our time in history will be marked by the exposé-esque entertainment of: the reality tv show. Amidst the hundreds of shows about “real” people doing “real” stuff you will find a group with the prefix ‘Real Housewives of…”. We have a little joke in the missionary wife community here in my city that when we tell our crazy stories they would be great episodes of the fictitious tv series ‘Real Housewives of Cochabamba’. Granted, I have never seen an episode of any Housewives shows, I can only refer to the cliché. No, all that drama is not my style; I have enough personal drama.

Confession: I love the reality tv show Survivor. Oh the joy of being able to vote people off the island… whoops, too judgey? You’ve never wanted to kick out a few tribe members? It’s only a game, folks! Okay, okay. Yes, we love everybody because Jesus loves everybody. Yes. Sometimes, though, I just love people at a distance. You know what I mean?

About clichés, I feel I must clarify lest anyone get the wrong impression about the reference to the Housewives of Cochabamba in this here article. Sadly, the term Housewife in some contexts carries a derogatory slur towards a married woman as a lazy lady who sits around the house eating bon-bons all day “just” taking care of her home. Nuh-uh! Not these ladies! Also, the cliché of the Housewives tv show franchise insinuates jobless women who are shallow, vapid, materialistic, bored gossips. No way! This is not the case in my town!

The toil of living in a foreign land is anything but those clichés. Any wife living outside their passport country works hard, even if she has no title beyond housewife. Some days just getting food can be an arduous task.

Our joke refers to the shared nature of the absurd drama these shows portray and the craziness we encounter just living our daily lives.

Real Housewives of Cochabamba

My friend went to the shoe stand in the market of hundreds of stands and thousands of shoes. She picked up a few sandals she liked. The lady at the stand said, “Pick your favorite one.” So she chose. She tried it on and didn’t like it that much so asked to try on another pair. The vender said, “No. I told you to pick your favorite one. You picked one. That is the only one.

Another friend went to a local beauty parlor to get a manicure and a pedicure. The manicure went fine. Then came the petrifying pedicure. The gal brought out a cheese grater and a razor in order to work off the calluses. Ouch!

I got my long hair cut to a short style. The stylist tied it back with a rubber band before she chopped off the chunk of straight golden strands. The other stylist saw what she had done. She asked if she could have my hair that had just been cut. I let her take it. Next thing I know she is pinning the dismembered ponytail to the tuft of black hair at the nape of her own neck. She spent the rest of the time I was in the busy salon flipping and flaunting her new blond hair for all to see.

How about that time we went to the movies and wanted to buy popcorn? The movie had already started so they told us at the counter, “We can’t sell you this popcorn because it is to sell to the people who come for the next movie.”

Or the one with the fries? My friend only wanted fries. The place didn’t sell just fries. “Okay, so what if I pay you full price for the meal but you don’t give me the chicken, you only give me the fries?” Answer was, “No, you must take your chicken.

Or the time with the apples? Friends were not allowed to purchase all the apples at the stand, as they had requested, in the event that some other people would come by who also wanted to buy apples.

I am sure an anthropologist or social sciences genius could explain to me the undercurrents of logical reasoning below the surface of each of these encounters. These are moments of culture shock between people from different backgrounds with different value systems. Analysis would bring enlightenment. Blah, blah, blah. But at the moment? Hilariousness!

Shoes, beauty parlors, nail salons, movie snacks, and other funny food fumbles make up a sizable chunk of our lives. Not every second is spent visiting the homeless, sharing the gospel message at bible study, or wiping the snot off the precious little noses of orphans. As they say in these here parts, our halo is a little crooked on our horns. Meaning, not every moments is brimming with holiness and celestial good works. We live our lives, and sometimes they get a little crazy.

Maybe we should work on a pitch to some Hollywood producer. People would watch this stuff; I’m tellin’ ya’, they really would. Nah. Now that I think about it, I don’t want a camera crew following me around all day. Although, it would be great publicity for the ministries, right? Nope. Just no.

I want to hear your crazy stories of the Real Housewives of _________ (your city). Make me laugh. I need to laugh. We all need to laugh.

*The photo for our fictitious tv show logo was taken at this year’s Christmas party. Love these ladies!

*The Real Housewives trademark is copyrighted and does not belong to me. Duh. {smile} Okaythanksbye.

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A Christmas Prayer

by Jonathan Trotter December 9, 2014

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” The Star of Bethlehem had a point, an important point. But the star was not the point. The star fulfilled its role of leading across cultures and religious paradigms, down dusty roads and around a paranoid prince, to […]

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Creating Traditions Abroad

by Tara Livesay December 8, 2014

It may not be true for everyone reading, but many of us grew up celebrating Christmas in a certain way.  Part of the anticipation of the holiday season was wrapped up in the excitement of the traditions of the season. Growing up, my little nuclear family of four used to get the fondue pot out […]

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15 Questions To Help You Set “Relationship Resolutions” In The New Year

by Lisa McKay December 5, 2014

After we got married and moved overseas five years ago, my husband, Mike, introduced a concept that initially horrified me. He suggested that every year around New Years we name one thing we’d like each other to work on in the upcoming year. In essence, he proposed that we assign each other a New Years […]

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When You Have to be Carried

by Editor December 3, 2014

It’s December and with it the season of Advent, with all of its hope, expectation, and waiting.  Today’s piece is a beautiful picture of allowing ourselves to be carried, carried by that Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. You can read more about Erin at the end of the piece but for […]

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Debriefing Resources

by Angie Washington November 28, 2014

Thanks to the facebook followers of our A Life Overseas page we have a list of debriefing resource links. Please share any resources you have found helpful. We would love to bulk up the list with resources around the globe. Other names for debriefing include: home assignment, re-entry counseling, member care, and processing for repatriation. […]

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Do We Practice What We Preach?

by Chris Lautsbaugh November 26, 2014

The other week, I made a trip to the local police station to get an affidavit. In South Africa, this is the venue you head to make a document “official”. The officer who helped me chatted with me a bit. He inquired how long I’d been in the nation and where I stayed. Finally he asked […]

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25 Kilo Turkeys and Cultural Humility

by Marilyn November 24, 2014

We bought a turkey on Saturday – an almost 23 pounder, with no additives and gluten free (really — they had to tell us it was gluten free? Aren’t all turkeys gluten free?)  As this time of the year comes around I think of Thanksgivings we have spent all over the world and all across […]

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Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

by Elizabeth Trotter November 20, 2014

I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my […]

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