Do We Practice What We Preach?

by Chris Lautsbaugh on 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 what I do.

“I teach the Bible and train missionaries”, I responded.

The officer nodded, raising his eyebrows. He smiled shyly and glanced around. Leaning close to me he says, “I too follow the God of the Bible.”

“Oh wonderful!”, I replied.   south+african+police+service+saps+xgold+june

As the conversation progressed you could see him gaining boldness.

Finally, as I was about to leave, he  waved me closer, wanting to tell me something not all could hear.

“I am a born-again Christian.”

I must confess as I left, my first thoughts were not rejoicing or excitement.

Instead I found myself thinking,

  • “He will never last in the police force.”
  • “He is going to get chewed up and spit out.”
  • “I don’t think he will stand up to the corruption and laziness.”

I caught myself in these thoughts and had to ask a tough question.

Do I believe Christians can change nations by being in places of influence?

In South Africa, the police, the electricity and phone companies, as well as taxi drivers all have bad reputations. Allegations of corruption and laziness are synonymous with these professions.

In fact, all nations have notoriously foul or inept professions.

Be it politics, arts and entertainment (such as Hollywood), civil servants in the visa and immigration offices, road workers, Wal-mart employees, or used car salesman. These are all regular targets of our wrath and frustration.

While this is a common occurrence around the globe, I was faced with a tough question.

Do I practice what I preach?

Or perhaps, it is better said, do I believe what I say.

In the organization I work with, we espouse there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. We regularly encourage our students and people we influence to become missionaries in all areas of society.

But when faced with this in the flesh, my initial response was to foretell his imminent failure.

We want transformation in all areas, but would we encourage any of our own children, the converts we make, or our local friends and co-workers to embark on this quest?

Allen Catherine Kagina is the head of Uganda’s Revenue Authority. Yes, she is the tax lady. And she is a Christian. 2014_Allen_Catherine_Kagina

She was motivated by a desire to convert Uganda from a borrower to a giver nation. The URA has become a model public institution for developing countries.

Kagina is a sought-after speaker who regularly addresses international forums on resource management. I heard her story at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit this past August.

I was blown away. I wonder how many people did not think she would survive in this job or would be able to resist the allure of corruption?

Do we practice what we preach?

I pray for my brother at the South African Police Service.

May he be a light.
May he stand for truth and integrity.
May he reflect the justice and mercy of God in his role.

And I pray for my heart to change.

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25 Kilo Turkeys and Cultural Humility

by Marilyn on November 24, 2014

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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 the country. Pakistan, Chicago, Essex, Haiti, Egypt, Phoenix, Cambridge – all the memories make me smile.

But one stands out in my mind and to this day makes me laugh. 

To give context I did not cook a turkey until I was 34 years old and had four children.

Attending an international boarding school while growing up in Pakistan meant that we were never at home for Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday. Instead, the boarding school I attended graciously took the holiday and created their own version of a special meal (skinny chickens and mashed potatoes) followed by a musical concert. We called it thanksgiving and it was, for we were grateful for those scrawny but tasty drumsticks.

Furthermore turkey as known in the United States at that time was not available anywhere in the country outside of the American commissary, so Christmas dinner was generally chickens filled with homemade stuffing or the rich meat of wild duck.

It meant that I  never helped my mom cook a turkey. I didn’t know how to do it. I knew nothing about making a turkey or a roast, or any of those things that are considered good solid American fare.

But how hard could it be?

At 34 we found ourselves in Cairo on the Island of Zamalek responsible for 18 American college students in a semester-abroad program. I decided now was the time. So armed with my best Arabic I headed to a grocery store I knew well in Maadi.

The conversation went like this:

“Hosni, I would like to buy two 25 kilo turkeys for our feast”.

“Madame – I don’t know if I can find turkeys that big!”

“Hosni! I am having a lot of people. A lot of people ….I need TWO 25 kilo turkeys” He shook his head muttering but he had dealt with the likes of me before and knew there was no arguing.

When he called to tell me the turkeys had arrived, he apologized – he couldn’t find two 25 kilo turkeys, instead he had one that was 13 kilo and one that was 10. “I told you I needed BIG turkeys” I wailed. Hosni laughed “Oh, they are big!”

And then I went to pick them up.

They were massive. They filled two large boxes and packed beside them were their severed heads. In an instant I realized I was forgetting the weight difference between the metric system, used worldwide, and the American system, used only in America.

I had ordered over 110 pounds of turkey.

I was duly rebuked and humbled – no wonder Hosni muttered. We both laughed – he with glee and me with chagrin.  I often wondered if he enjoyed telling the story of this insistent white woman and her huge turkeys. Each year after we would laugh together about the 25 kilo turkeys.

It’s a good story to remember. The arrogance of my white-skinned insistence makes me cringe. This was only one of many times of having to admit that I was wrong; I didn’t have a clue. One of many “25 kilo turkey” moments of cross-cultural learning.

When we cross over into other cultures, we function most effectively when we can take 25 kilo turkey moments and recognize our need to listen and learn. When we cross over that bridge it is important to have cultural humility. And cultural humility put into practice means a few things. 

It means being a student of the person, or the community — not an expert, sitting at the feet of those who can teach us.

It means admitting what you don’t know, and seeking to learn what you need to.

It means seeking out those who can function as cultural brokers, as cultural informants and asking them questions, learning from them.

It means knowing the importance of culture for all who we encounter.

It means being capable of complexity. 

Thanksgiving dinner that year was amazing, the turkeys cooked to perfection. And the 25 kilo turkey moment remains a reminder, not only of an amazing Thanksgiving, but of the need for cultural humility, ceasing to be an expert and being willing to be a student of the culture where I was making my home.

This year we will share turkey with people from across the globe, who are making the Boston area their home for a short time. And our turkey will taste the better for the joy of sharing it with friends from across oceans, languages, and cultures. And we will probably tell the story of the 25 kilo turkeys and Hosni’s patience.

How about you? Do you have cross-cultural holiday stories to share? Do you have stories that highlight the importance of cultural humility? Share your story in the comment section! 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/turkey-wild-turkey-49673/

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Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

by Elizabeth Trotter on 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 salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)

This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.

So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.

A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).

Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).

Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).

These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.

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How can I end well?

Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”

As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).

When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.

So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.

God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.

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Ask A Counselor: Do I need counseling?

by Kay Bruner on November 19, 2014

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photo credit: eflon

Welcome to the first in a new series here at A Life Overseas:  Ask A Counselor!

(It sounds kind of like a game show title.  I feel like there should be flashing lights and funky music.)

Let me tell you just a little bit about myself before we get started this first time.  I’m 48 and have been married to my husband Andy for 27 years.  We have four children, a daughter (25), and three sons (23, 20, 18).  Andy and I are both Third Culture Kids.  Andy was raised in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and the wilds of North Carolina, while I’ve got Brasil, Nigeria, and Kentucky in my blood.  We met in college, got married, and hot-footed it back overseas as fast as we could go.

We worked on a New Testament translation in the Solomon Islands from 1993-2005.  During those years, Andy medicated his stress with a pornography habit while I suffered from severe anxiety and depression.  I’ve written about this in a memoir called As Soon As I Fell.  After recovery, we lived in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years, and now we’re in the Dallas area.

When we moved back to Dallas, I went back to school for a Masters in counseling.   These days, I’m in private practice.  I really enjoy working with adolescents as well as adults, but if you need couples counseling, I’ll refer you to someone else.  “One at a time, please” is my counseling mantra.

(Here’s a link to my website, where you can read more if you like.)

A while back, some of you wrote in with questions, and I thought I would start with a cluster of questions about counseling in general.

Missionary friends have been asking me this question for years:  “Do I need counseling?”

After hearing this question repeatedly and answering it repeatedly, I finally realized this.

If you’re asking this question, the answer is always YES.

Here’s why:  if you’re just going through life and everything’s dandy, you won’t be asking this question.  It won’t cross your mind!  It’s only when things start to get hairy that you realize (rightly so) that you might need help.

Now, maybe you can wait until your next scheduled visit to your passport country.  Or maybe you need to get help sooner, rather than later.

Here’s the next question: how do you know WHEN you need help?

That decision, I think, is based on your level of FUNCTIONING.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • How are my relationships? 
    • Causes for concern:  lots of conflict, ongoing isolation, a sense of disconnection from others
  • How am I functioning at work?
    • Causes for concern:  frustration, boredom, over-work, putting work above family needs
  • How am I sleeping?
    • Causes for concern:  sleeping too much or too little, insomnia, waking at night, nightmares
  • How am I eating?
    • Causes for concern:  eating too much or too little, being obsessed with food or exercise
  • How is my mood?
    • Causes for concern:  outbursts of emotion (anger, crying, anxiety), numb or shut down
  • How functional is my daily life?
    • Causes for concern:  unwanted habits or addictions, inability to accomplish normal tasks

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask a friend.  (See, told you it was like a game show!)  Get feedback.  And listen to the feedback.  It’s not easy to say hard things to other people, so if somebody cares enough to tell you hard things, pay attention.

Now, everybody can have a bad day.  I myself, living in suburbia, have bad days.  The problem is, if all the bad days are getting strung together without a lot of good days in between, that might be a problem.

So if I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m drinking 5 Cokes a day to stay awake, if my marriage is unhappy, if my children are not doing well, if I’m spending 50-plus hours a week working while feeling like nothing is ever good enough for my supporters who don’t pay me enough of a salary to live off of anyway—then I’d say functioning is on the decline.

If you’re not functioning well, you’ll probably be asking this question:

How do I get counseling overseas?

I personally think that it’s hard to get good counseling overseas.  Your options are limited. Even if you have a local counselor, that person may or may not be a good fit for you.

(How do you know if the counselor is a good fit?  You’ll LIKE the person and feel SAFE with them.  It’s really just that simple.)

You can try Skype or phone counseling, but I find that dynamic to be more a consultation than therapy.  You may get good direction and find good resources via distance counseling, but there’s something healing about being in a room with the real, live person.  Just think about how different it is to talk with your mom on the phone vs. seeing her in person after years away.  Therapy is like that, too.  At its best, it should be a very personal, intimate relationship, which I think is best accomplished face-to-face.

Another complication with therapy overseas is that you’re still living in the stressful situation.  Nobody does therapy on the battlefield, because there’s a job that takes priority over the wellbeing of the soldier.  A counselor friend of mine who worked overseas for years said, “Really, the only thing I could do was triage.”

We tend to run on adrenaline, and to not feel how bad it is, while we’re in the situation. Then when we arrive in our passport countries, there are a million other things that take priority over recovery.  It seems like there’s never a time to treat the wounds until they are absolutely septic.

This is a sad, terrible, long-standing pattern in mission work that needs to CHANGE, but I believe that the only way it will change is when individual missionaries start taking responsibility for their own well-being.

It would be nice if your home church would take this on for you, but I don’t see it happening.  It would be nice if your mission board provided great services for you, but again, not a thing I see a lot of.  There are good intentions in lots of places, but extremely weak follow-through.

In the end, you will be responsible for locating and accessing the resources for your own emotional and spiritual care, and you need to be prepared to do so.

Here’s what I wish every missionary would do.

Establish a relationship with the counselor of your choice before going overseas.  Get some recommendations from your church or from friends.  Talk to a few counselors on the phone.  Go visit one or two, until you find someone you like.

Go to several (6-10?) counseling sessions, so that you and your therapist know each other well, and you feel like you’ve processed through your backlog of issues.

Stay in touch with your counselor while overseas, via Skype, phone, and/or email.

Go back to see your therapist every time you’re in your passport country.

Here’s a place you can check for counselors who get it:  International Therapist Directory

What challenges do you face when it comes to good self-care?

What resources have you found helpful?

What questions would you like to see addressed in future Ask A Counselor columns?

Photo credit: Eflon/Flickr/Creative Commons

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Just Be Faithful

by Marilyn November 17, 2014

“I’m so tired” I think as I’m walking to the subway. Rain is falling and my feet hurt. I’m dragging at six thirty in the morning. I want to cry in this world of cold and rain. Just be faithful – It’s not like I see the Heavens open and hear the voice of God […]

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What’s Your Name? On Adopting Local Names

by Rachel Pieh Jones November 14, 2014

I moved to Somaliland and when people first heard my name they wanted to know why I had man’s name. “Why is your name Rashid? You aren’t a man. Are you a man?” Eventually I got tired of explaining that I was, indeed, a woman, despite all nomenclature to the contrary. Someone suggested I needed […]

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When on those highways and byways…

by Richelle Wright November 12, 2014

I used to find it some combination between mildly amusing and slightly annoying when I’d hear people pray for “traveling mercies,” even though at the time we were crisscrossing the state of Michigan (as well as a few adjacent states) almost every weekend seeking the financial support to head to West Africa as missionaries. Then one […]

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The Idolatry of Missions

by Jonathan Trotter November 9, 2014

Missionaries are like the church’s Special Forces, right? They go into enemy territory, sometimes covertly, tearing down walls for Jesus. They have special training, preparing them to serve in the darkest places around the globe. Missionaries are on the front lines of the Kingdom of Heaven, right? I’m sorry, but no. Wherever the Gospel is […]

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Living Overseas Can Be Hard On Love: Making Your Relationships Work When You’re On The Move

by Lisa McKay November 5, 2014

Before we moved to Laos, I worked full time as a stress-management and resilience trainer for humanitarian workers. During those years I saw first-hand the pressure that living overseas places on people and relationships. After my husband and I moved overseas ourselves, I decided to focus my energies on supporting relationships—particularly long distance relationships—and last […]

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Devil Dance

by Angie Washington October 31, 2014

Halloween. Day of the Dead. All Saints Day. This week we observe the earthly and underworld of the spiritual realm. As I regale you with tales of Bolivia, rife with ancient connections to the other-world, consider the spirituality embedded in your dwelling place. Let us begin. The Devil’s Uncle I’ve visited Potosí in the mountains […]

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Avoiding Mission Drift

by Chris Lautsbaugh October 29, 2014

We’ve seen Christian organizations publicly wrestle with change in recent times. InterVarsity is facing this pressure to allow non-Christians to be a part of their leadership. This is resulting in them being banned from certain campuses. Will they change some of their core values? World Vision battled with adopting new policies, leading to a back […]

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Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

by Elizabeth Trotter October 23, 2014

Follow Me. Jesus whispered these words to me a few months ago. I was in church. It felt like He was right there in front of me, pointing His finger at me and saying, “Elizabeth Trotter? Yes, you. I want you to follow Me. You — just you — follow Me.” Rarely does Scripture come […]

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