Brave or Dependent?

by Rachel Pieh Jones on July 15, 2013

depend2Some people tell me it is brave to raise my kids in Africa. They could get malaria or be bitten by a poisonous snake. They don’t have a Sunday School class. They can’t eat gluten-free foods. Their friends are Muslims. They live far away from cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

My initial reaction is to to say, “Well, I think it is brave to raise kids in America.” I know my heart, my soul-shriveling tendency to love the world. I know my kids, how quickly they could be sucked into the idolatry of a nation whose church is the shopping mall and whose God is the latest iPhone.

But this kneejerk reaction is wrong because it assumes brave is the right word to use to describe parenting, on any continent.

Brave is the wrong word.

Life As Fasting

Living overseas is a form of fasting. Fasting from the comforts of a would-be heaven on earth where there are hot showers, dishwashers and clothes dryers, fully-stocked grocery stores and someone else to teach piano lessons. Living overseas is fasting that says, “this much, O God, this much, I want to know you.” And, “this much, O God, this much, I want you to be known” (Michael Oh).

I want to know God deeply and I want him to be known so much that I will risk scary diseases, fast from my beloved family and worldly comforts, and teach my children to engage with neighbors of differing faiths. But to live and fast like that, to raise my children like that, isn’t brave. And I know people who don’t live overseas who want to know God deeply and want him to be known so much that they live in inner city neighborhoods and they live in the suburbs and they choose to love like Jesus. They don’t feel brave.

When I think about mothering my three children who love this steamy, desert nation, I don’t feel brave. I feel dependent. Helplessly, desperately, breathlessly, clingingly dependent.

Last week the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began. Fasting from food and water is hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth is dang hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth in the hottest month of the year is dang stinking hard.

djibouti market

And the strain will begin to show because fasting (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) emphasizes our weaknesses, reveals the longings of our taste buds and stomachs and exposes the very real, carnal needs of our bodies. Fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on food and water, and when undertaken as a spiritual discipline, fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on God.

He is the sustainer and the giver of comfort. He forgives and provides. He has prepared a place for us. He sends hope and perfects joy. He encourages the weary and heals the broken.

Some people tell me I’m brave for raising my kids here. Some people tell Muslims they are brave for committing to a challenging fast. Sometimes I think my friends in the US are brave. But I also think the point of any fast is to reveal how truly unbrave we are. And one of the things I’ve learned through raising kids (both in Minnesota and in Djibouti) is how truly unbrave I am.

Because brave is not the right word for people seeking God.

Dependent is.

How has living overseas revealed your dependency? I have learned many things while surrounded by the Ramadan fast, has God used the spiritual discipline of another religious system to encourage you?

*Part of this post is taken from Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting by Rachel Pieh Jones on the Desiring God blog. Click the link to read the original and complete post.

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • I like the word “dependent” much more over “brave.” Friends and family who don’t really understand where we live and what we do would use the term “brave”, those who know realize it is dependence on God. From our finances to our safety, as always it is not about “us” being a certain way, but about God who provides and protects us.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Totally. If it were about ‘us’ being a certain way, my life would be a disaster. But because it is about God and by grace, we can be like the woman in Proverbs 31 and laugh at the days to come, clothed in strength and dignity.

  • Colleen Connell Mitchell

    Oh, Rachel, this was so, so good. Deep, soul stirring words here. I hate when people tell me I am so “brave” or “inspiring”. I wonder what they would think if they could see me crying at the clothes line some morning from the sheer overwhelmingness (made that word up) of it all or pouting because the store that sold birthday cakes yesterday suddenly doesn’t on the day of someone’s 15th birthday. Most days, I don’t feel brave or inspiring. I feel raw and vulnerable and, just as you said, dependent. I find my a beggar on her knees way more often than I find myself feeling brave.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Overwhelmingness is a great word. Yes, raw and vulnerable. Those are good words too. Powerful and honest.

  • Richelle Wright

    Watching my friends fast with grace has shown me how unwilling I really am to sacrifice for this faith… and has proven to me that I need so much more to be dependent, for I still try to do so much all by myself.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So true Richelle. I’m really challenged by the commitment I see. It is hard! When I started learning, I didn’t understand that fully.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    So wise. so true this is. Yes to all of this. And this dependency piece ends up being what I forget when in the U.S. I think I’m supposed to, in the vernacular of a two-year old “Do by self”. So today I realize again how utterly dependent I am.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I agree, sometimes it is easier to feel less God-dependent in the US because there are so many conveniences and so much community. On the other hand, sometimes it is easier to feel more God-dependent there because I am so deeply aware of how I am between worlds, and longing for paradise.

  • LOVE this! and a Djibouti fast, in that heat . . . wow. Also, my henna looks very very similar to the one in your picture right now! It is very startling for people–I was not prepared for the stares . . .

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I’ve had people on airplanes ask me if it was permanent marker. Or they’ve asked me if those were tattoos. I want to say, “yes,” I tattoo my toddlers and preteens from the tips of their fingers to their elbows. Awesome.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Such a good word and lovely (true) thoughts Rachel! I guess I had forgotten you have a Minnesota connection. I hope to be more dependent every day.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Tara. Me too.

  • Bethany

    Yes! This is it! We are fresh on the field (just 4 months in) in South Asia…and before we left EVERYONE told us we were so brave to bring our 3 girls (age 5 and under) to a country where girls are not valued (read aborted, killed, abused, trafficked). We always said we were not brave at all…just obedient. I think I like dependent better; it really explains where we are in this season. And you are so right sister…fasting from our loved ones threatens to be my undoing (we’re talking padded room crazy) but my (adopted from Margaret Feinberg in “Wonderstruck”) mantra is:
    God is Good.
    God is on the Throne. (SEATED…not frantically running around. He is seated on His throne.)
    Breathe in.
    Breathe out.

    Praising Papa for this life-giving community He has just brought me to, and for you! Preach it Momma.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Glad to encourage, Bethany. Maybe obediently dependent?

      I want to say too (slightly off topic) that girls ARE valued in places like South Asia. I know you know this, and it is a topic dear to me. Valued by God but also valued by the majority of local people. Something I find more and more important is growing in how I communicate the whole picture of where we live – not just the parts that people in the west are familiar with (famine, war, disease, AIDS…). But to show families and joy and education and business success… you know? I’m so glad to hear of when people are dependently living in the world in ways that can show these beautiful truths.

      Yes, there is suffering and yes, we aren’t brave and let’s keep encouraging each other and keep helping people to see bigger pictures of the world and how to live in it. Excuse my babbling on about it, I think I’m preaching to the choir! Blessings on your family as you settle in.

      • Bethany

        Rachel – Thank you for this much needed reminder; that there is beauty and hope in this place. Thank you for reminding me to Speak Life in all seasons…especially the raw ones. Papa God give me eyes to truly SEE.

    • CW

      As a fellow worker and mother in South Asia, I just wanted to say thank you for your obedient dependence in coming to this God-thirsty land. We praise God for you!

  • Kristi

    These words have been an encouragement and challenge to me today … woven into my own blog post. (http://www.hopfinniger.blogspot.com/2013/07/dependency-and-fasting.html) My thoughts will return to your posting in the days to come as I learn more to embrace this fasting and see this aspect of life as a spiritual discipline.

    I’ve just started my second term in Niger – and I left 10 days after my family and I were evacuated from our homes and town due to flooding.

    My answer to your question: How has living overseas revealed your dependency on God?

    this question for me these last few days has been easy to answer … for I am at this place of utter dependency. Because I have felt divided and my heart left at home – I have felt here an empty shell. I ask myself how I can minister to those around me when I am broken and empty?

    And I have flung myself on the mercy of God … asking daily now for His strength in my weakness … for I have nothing of myself to give. Though this is no less true of each day – I am more acutely aware of it these days.

    Today as I fast … fast from my family in this time of their need, fast from the comfort of being with them and helping them, lending my hand to the trail of the unknown … my comfort comes from Psalm 121:8

    the LORD watches over your coming and going.

    My Father knew …. He knew when I bought my ticket that the flooding would happen before I left. Not only did He know …. but He is watching over … watching over my going from Canada and my coming to Niger. Watching over this time. Watching overme as I throw myself at His feet and cling to Him. Dependent, weary, and broken – trusting in Him for His encouragement and healing.

    And in this I rest. It is enough for today.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Kristi thank you for sharing your heart and these beautiful, haunting, and honest words. So sorry to hear about the flood and the evacuation and all the losses and stress that comes with that. May you experience more and more grace and the presence of Jesus.

    • Hope Egliht Johansson

      Kristi,
      Thank you for your transparency. So honored to call you friend and coworker.

  • Kristilyn

    Thank you for this – although we don’t live overseas, we live in an area of the US that is far from our loved ones and very different in culture, but that we have felt called to through our jobs. We’re currently “home” visiting friends and family in MN, reveling in the feelings of “belonging” while struggling with the questions of “Are you ever planning to move back?” to which I wish I could say “yes” but know in my heart that the answer is “no.” Because God has called us to minister where we live, and because, if we did live here again, it would be too easy to be complacent and comfortable in our day to day walk. Thank you for putting a name and context to the tension we live with – not many understand it.

  • Hope Egliht Johansson

    Thanks Rachel. Don’t stop being honest and vulnerable. I need some time to unpack this. For now, I just feel grateful for you.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Hope.

  • Elizabeth Shimer

    I’ve been living in China for the last 5 years. And I like this distinction that you make a lot. I’m re-learning a lot about dependency right now. I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to depend on God to bear whatever fruit He has planned. None of my actions or activities or areas of involvement will bear fruit on their own. I must abide and depend on Him for that.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Yes, abiding. That is key to learning dependency. Good words about fruit too, thanks Elizabeth.

  • RC

    Thanks for sharing. I raised my kids overseas for 16 years, birthed 3 in 3 different countries. I think dependency is an accurate term… but I also think that Christians in our home countries do not need to exalt the place of a missionary because we bring our sin with us wherever we go. In our home countries, we are just blinded to that true dependency on God if we have more creature comforts and friends/family upon which to depend.
    So many times we’d visit churches in the U.S. and people would come up and say “Oh, I could never do what you do.” And so many times I would want to say, but yes, even though I’m doing it, I struggle with wrong motivations, self-centeredness, envy, I grumble and complain, I get downright carnal and ugly…
    One thing that is true, in our dependency overseas, especially in closed countries where I lived and where you live, the reliance on God becomes sweeter because I cannot just pick up the latest book, easily hear a life speaker, sing out loud in fellowship. When you come “home” and can do those things… it’s like a refreshing river washing over you. However, having been back in the US for 5 years… coming back is a form of fasting as well. Fasting from the exotic locales, from foreign foods, from being immersed in the language that you are quickly forgetting, from being with a team of people going towards the same vision and purpose who also provide accountability, from taking on challenges daily just by stepping out the door. You feel like you lose some of your edge and front-line battle mentality, you lose your keen awareness of spiritual battle. Coming “home” requires a bravery of a different sort as you re-form your identity once you lose your special “missionary” name tag.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      This is so good RC, yes. Thank you for bringing up the other side of it. I hadn’t thought about the ‘going home’ part, probably because I haven’t done that yet, but your words completely resonate about how that would be fasting too. Even when we spend short amounts of time there, there are things I long for here – like the depth of the community, so many others. I really appreciate hearing this, it brings balance.

      And oh boy yes, I do bring my sin with me. It never gets lost behind like luggage sometimes, does it? When people say to me, “I could never do it,” I want to say (and sometimes do), “I could never do it either.” Because it isn’t about me and my abilities. I don’t want to live inside what I CAN do. I want to push the boundaries and hurtle myself into faith.

  • Emily @OAAA

    Fabulous post. Sharing for sure. I completely agree. I have a hard time living in the US anymore because I feel so far from God. I know that makes sense to someone else who has experienced it.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      For me it is up and down, close and far, no matter where I live. In the beginning I couldn’t figure out why but now I think it is mostly (for me) an issue of complacency, you know? I get used to something and fall back into unhelpful habits.

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  • Cheryl

    Thank you for your thoughts and words of encouragement. I have a sister named Rachel. She and her husband are both serving in Djibouti as Air Traffic Controllers at the international airport. The send me pictures from time to time so that we can get an “idea” about what it is like. Thank you for the spiritual perspective. We pray for Mark and Leah Long who are missionaries in Mali. Mark had a link to your blog in his last e-mail. God bless you and keep you as you serve Him. Cheryl

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Cheryl. It is funny to me to think about another Rachel in Djibouti. I’m sure she has been there while I’ve been flying, it is a small place.

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