A Life Overseas | http://www.alifeoverseas.com the missions conversation Wed, 27 Jul 2016 08:34:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When your husband calls you “a shell of a woman” http://www.alifeoverseas.com/when-your-husband-calls-you-a-shell-of-a-woman/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/when-your-husband-calls-you-a-shell-of-a-woman/#respond Wed, 27 Jul 2016 08:34:03 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8689 shell1For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I […]]]>

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For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I felt dead inside and couldn’t figure out why.

My husband noticed. Where before him once stood life and life abundant, he now saw a shell of a woman. He even suggested another round of counseling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it or even what it was. I was unhappy in life and unmotivated in work. Was it depression? Burnout? What???

I felt especially dead at church. That was a strange feeling, because corporate worship has always quenched my thirst and nourished my soul and made my spirit come alive. But I just buried that newly incongruous feeling and ignored it. I tuned it out and refused to listen to it. I ran to the nearest screen and numbed out on TV and Facebook and solitaire games instead.

There were so many times I wanted to go forward at church during prayer time and tell people I wasn’t OK. But how could I ask for help, when I didn’t even know what wasn’t OK? And besides, I told myself, people were watching. As part of the leadership team, I imagined all eyes trained on me, as though I couldn’t make a mistake, couldn’t make an admission of need.

Those thoughts are ridiculous, I know. Yet how many times have I done this to myself? Struggled in silence, forgetting to ask for spiritual help, forgetting to confess my spiritual neediness? Too many times. I hate the Christian practice of confession. I hate confessing my needs, my sins, my shortcomings. It’s embarrassing. It’s uncomfortable. And I avoid it if at all possible.

confessionBut I am here today to tell you that confession leads to spiritual breakthrough. That’s the very reason James and John instruct us to do it. And this photo from a recent women’s event is how I know it’s true.

I love that picture. Not because it’s a beautiful photo or because I look particularly beautiful in it (I don’t), but because of the beautiful moment it represents.  It’s a moment I got really brave and stood up and acknowledged my gaping need. It’s a moment I publicly confessed I wasn’t OK on the inside, no matter what I may have wanted others to see on the outside.

When the speaker asked people to stand in response to God’s call on their hearts, I knew I needed to. It was almost like God had backed me into a corner. He knew I’d been hiding, and this was my moment to step into the light and admit I didn’t have my spiritual act together.

Oh sure, I admit all the time online the ways I don’t measure up, the ways I’m lacking, the ways I’m seeking. But I can carefully control both the wording of my shared needs and the timing in which I share them (preferably with those needs and struggles in the past, so I can share victory, not process). The photo above shows a break from tradition for me.

When I opened my eyes, I found that every single woman at my table had stood up with me. They were admitting their own need along with me. We stood in a united request for supernatural aid. We stood with unified intention to reorient and rededicate ourselves to God. We held hands and prayed. It was a holy moment, and I almost missed it.

I could have let the call to public confession slide. I could have disobeyed God and pretended, in real time, that I had it all together. But I would have missed out on the bonding among women drawing near to God. I would have missed out on some much-needed humility. And I would have missed out on some desperately needed prayers for spiritual restoration. I’m glad I didn’t miss it, though, because right there in that moment, right there in that terrifying admission of need, is when the shell started cracking for me. 

We weren’t designed to walk around as dead, empty shells. We were made to live, to dwell, to thrive even. So if you are walking around like a shell today, remember that God has provided a cure for our communal deadness: it’s called confession. Confession is what makes space for God’s love, joy, and peace to entwine itself in our hearts. It’s what allows real life, true life, life abundant, to grow inside us. So let us confess our neediness, our brokenness, our spiritual barrenness. It might just save our lives.

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These Seeds http://www.alifeoverseas.com/these-seeds/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/these-seeds/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 10:00:28 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8206 sunflower-seed-1213766_960_720aWe’re a world away.  It’s been almost three years. Sometimes those seven years on the field feel like a dream, but the soil of that season clings in both hidden and obvious ways. We went because of a clear call. We stayed through earthquakes, teammates leaving, medical traumas, kids coming unraveled, depression, and repeated changes […]]]>

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We’re a world away.  It’s been almost three years.

Sometimes those seven years on the field feel like a dream, but the soil of that season clings in both hidden and obvious ways.

We went because of a clear call. We stayed through earthquakes, teammates leaving, medical traumas, kids coming unraveled, depression, and repeated changes in ministry direction as one door after another closed.  Each dark season found us asking again if we were to stay. Yes, (and sometimes only that) was the answer.

Every now and then there were glimpses of fruit: a transformative conversation, a chance to share the hope we have, a sense that because of the love of Christ in us, someone was being changed.  But the deepest soul-plowing, change, and growth seemed to be happening in our own lives.  We were learning the long road of obedience, learning by experience a theology of suffering and surrender.  And we kept planting seeds.

Then one day it was time to go. Literally, from one day to the next we were shown the exit sign.  We asked again, and again, Are we to stay? And this time the answer was No. God was merciful in His clear guidance. How do we explain that? A myriad small things lining up, pointing in one direction. Several large things also pointing in that direction. Mostly, though, a deep inner sense that we were hearing Him correctly.

So we left. Packed up, said farewells, rode a couple of long flights, dreamed together about what was to come next.

And those seeds?  Friends still sometimes ask about them. What do we think is the legacy we left? What do we hope will happen with the work we did, the relationships we formed, the tiny bit of the kingdom we tried to help spread?

We ask those questions ourselves sometimes, still—usually silently and while lying in the dark, feeling how strange it is to be here now, in this place, thousands of miles away. It feels like a wound that’s not quite healed or a slightly shameful scar.  I don’t know why. Maybe because there’s no way to answer, though we feel like we should have an answer.

I don’t know what will happen to those seeds. Maybe the only ones that will grow and bear fruit will be the ones planted in me during that time, though some small measure of faith inside me believes that some of those seeds will sprout toward eternity. Someone else will water. God will give the increase.

I keep coming back to this: we obeyed the call to go, the call to remain, and the call to return. We did what was given us to do, and we know the way of Jesus better now. The rest belongs to Him.

Friends of ours from our church here in Baltimore put out an album recently.  The band is Sojourne, and I’d love for you to listen to the title track, “These Seeds,” which inspired this post, especially if you’re wondering what will happen to the seeds you’ve planted (or are planting).

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RHicks HeadshotRachel E. Hicks was born in the foothills of the Himalayas and spent the bookends of her childhood in India, with moves to Pakistan, Jordan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Hong Kong in between.  She married her college sweetheart and managed to live in one place for seven whole years (Phoenix, Arizona) before God’s call moved them and their two young children to East Asia. There, they lived and taught holistic ministry alongside a local partner for another seven years. They repatriated to the U.S. in mid-2013 and now live in Baltimore, Maryland.  Rachel writes poetry, fiction, essays, and blog posts and works as a freelance copyeditor. A few of her favorite things include: electric scooters, spicy Sichuan food, hiking, and unhurried time to read. Read more of her writing at rachelehicks.com.

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Goodbye: Making a Hard Word Easier http://www.alifeoverseas.com/goodbye-making-a-hard-word-easier/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/goodbye-making-a-hard-word-easier/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2016 11:00:34 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8678 IMG_7628goodbye /gə(d)-ˈbī/ excl. / salutation spoken at a departure, extremely unpopular for certain English-speaking tribes, such as cross-cultural workers, TCKs, their loved ones, and the like. Many of us know from experience that saying goodbye can be hard, really hard. And practice doesn’t make perfect. In fact, it often makes it worse. But what makes goodbye so tough to voice? It’s not because it’s hard to […]]]>

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goodbye /gə(d)-ˈbī/ excl. / salutation spoken at a departure, extremely unpopular for certain English-speaking tribes, such as cross-cultural workers, TCKs, their loved ones, and the like.

Many of us know from experience that saying goodbye can be hard, really hard. And practice doesn’t make perfect. In fact, it often makes it worse.

But what makes goodbye so tough to voice? It’s not because it’s hard to pronounce. That’s simple enough. Rather, it’s the meaning behind the word that’s difficult. Is that because we don’t actually know the definition of goodbye? To quote that great linguist/philosopher Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Goodbye actually comes from God be with you, which, in it’s older form, was God be with ye. From there, it morphed into such shortened versions as God be wy youGod b’w’yGodbwyeGod buy’ ye, and good-b’wy. The replacement of God with good was influenced by the similar phrases good day and good night, which takes it even further from the original. Seen in this way, goodbye is related to the French adieu and the Spanish adios, which mean “to God,” as in “I commit you to God.”

So what’s so hard about saying, “God be with you”? What’s so difficult about giving someone a blessing? Why do we so often hear, “I don’t want to say goodbye”?

Maybe it’s because we do actually know what it means—at least for those who move far away. It means we’re leaving each other’s day-to-day lives. It means our informal and unplanned conversations will be replaced by emails, scheduled phone calls, and Skype chats. It means that we’ll miss being present for milestones and special moments. It means we’ll sometimes slip out of each others minds, no matter how hard we try. It means that, to a certain extent, we’ll be replaced by others. It means our paths may never cross again. It means . . . well, you know what it means.

It’s not really that we don’t want to say, “Goodbye.” It’s that we don’t want to have the need to say, “Goodbye.” And because of that, we get good at doing it badly.We pull away prematurely and become distant so it won’t be so hard at the end. We put it off as if it will just go away. We avoid hellos, heartfelt hellos, because we fear starting new relationships that won’t last.

Following are a few ideas for helping us do our goodbyes better. I considered numbering them, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s some kind of definitive list. (I also thought about titling my post “8 Mind-Blowing Ways to Say Goodbye that Have the Internet Buzzing—#4 Will Leave You Speechless,” but I couldn’t write something to match it.) Instead, I’ll just offer the following as suggestions and ideas to build upon. Here we go:

If you’re the one leaving, give yourself the time you need. It takes a while to say goodbye to the four “P”s (as named by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in Third Culture Kids): people, places, pets, and possessions. To that list I would add experiences, even though it doesn’t start with a P (e.g., I’m riding the train for the last time.) And another goodbye that will continue long after you’re gone is saying farewell to lost opportunities, dreams, and parts of your identity.

Because it takes time, don’t assume you’ll have unlimited opportunities. “We don’t need to say goodbye just yet. I’m sure I’ll see you again.” That means you’ll be cramming way too many meetings into your last week. Now that I’m back in the States, I’ve had opportunities to feel the guilt from the other side: “When are you leaving? In two weeks? Wow! I feel horrible. When can we get together for coffee?” Plan ahead and don’t put off your farewells, even though you may dread them. Within a month or so of a departure (yours or theirs), tell people goodbye “in case I don’t see you again” (gulp).

And then there is the furlough, that glorious and horrible time where the arrival and departure rub shoulders throughout the stay. Three months can seem so long to those who aren’t the ones traveling. But for those doing the staying, the furlough is part of a long-term same, while for those coming and going, it’s a short-term different.

Avoid making promises you can’t keep (I’ll call everyday!). It hurts when promises aren’t kept, even when they’re unrealistic and made in the emotions of the moment. Even worse are promises that we can keep but that we don’t (I’ll be sure to email once a month.)

A friend of mine in campus ministry, where the population is always in transition, says that the hardest part of his work comes during the final weeks of the school year. That’s when he remembers all the opportunities he didn’t take advantage of. It’s important to tie up as many loose ends as possible, but recognize that you won’t be able to accomplish all your long-term goals in just a couple weeks.

Acknowledge that goodbyes can be confusing and often come with grief and guilt. Talk about it. Explain how you feel—wanting something and hating it at the same time. If you’re the one staying, realize that you may never understand all the reasons for a departure. If you’re the one leaving, realize that you may not understand all the reasons yourself.

When it comes to moving abroad, leaving loved ones behind, emotions can be complex and hard to navigate, on both sides. In their book Parents of Missionaries, Cheryl Savage and Diane Stortz quote Carol, a mother of a missionary, who says, “Hello, good-bye. Hello, good-bye. Sometimes I think that describes my life.” The authors suggest that a group gathering can help with the goodbye process. This can take the places of so many individual farewells and can also serve as a time to celebrate events that will be missed in the future (anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc.).

Those leaving should be able to decide the where and the when for goodbyes. Maybe they want a big get-together. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they want their final goodbyes outside the gate at the airport. Maybe at the house before the airport ride is better. Preferences and feelings are tricky things. Ask. Talk it over. Be honest. Show grace.

Speaking of airports, a friend in member care talks about “airport ambushes.” That’s when revelations are made during that ride to the flight or right before boarding. They often start with “There’s something I need to tell you. . . .” They can happen following years on the field or after a three-day visit. They can come from the leavers or the stayers. Take care of important news before the goodbye, while there is still time for processing and followup in person—not during the final hug.

Yes, saying goodbye is hard, but doing it the right way can make it easier and is well worth the effort. It’s an opportunity to encourage and be encouraged, to work toward closure, to remember, to mourn together, to celebrate, to begin something new—and to commit others to God’s care. It’s a blessing to be able to say goodbye, even when it’s a mixed blessing. And as those who’ve experienced it can attest, it’s still more difficult to have to say, “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

(David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2009; Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008)

[photo: “Goodbye Summer 2011,” by deargdoom57, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Is Something Bad Going to Happen? http://www.alifeoverseas.com/is-something-bad-going-to-happen/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/is-something-bad-going-to-happen/#respond Wed, 20 Jul 2016 06:30:04 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8661 Disaster*I am on vacation and so this is a repost from a blog during the early stages of the Syrian refugee crisis. It is sadly still relevant. Is something bad going to happen tomorrow? I mean, is something really bad going to happen tomorrow? Yes. I guarantee it. Maybe not to you. Maybe not where […]]]>

*I am on vacation and so this is a repost from a blog during the early stages of the Syrian refugee crisis. It is sadly still relevant.

Is something bad going to happen tomorrow?

I mean, is something really bad going to happen tomorrow?

Yes.

I guarantee it.

Maybe not to you. Maybe not where you live. But yes, something really bad is going to happen tomorrow.

Disaster

Sometimes I catch an undercurrent of fear among Christians, a sense that the world might be careening toward the ‘End Times’, an anxiety about the future, and a worry that something might go terribly wrong. If not today, then tomorrow, or next month. (I’m not the only one, Marilynne Robinson wrote about it here)

Guess what?

Something horribly wrong already happened today.

Dead civilians and dead police officers, national holidays turned into massacres, coup attempts…If toddlers washed up, dead, on the beach isn’t horrible enough, how about swordsmen at Swedish schools, shootings on Tennessee campuses, bombs in Turkey, Syrians slaughtered, raped, imprisoned, enslaved? How about Yemenis enduring endless violence and mostly ignored by the global community?

How about girls abducted from school and forced into ‘marriages’ that are really sexual bondage? How about children going to bed hungry and kids with Downs Syndrome chained to bedposts? How about friends with cancer and spouses who cheat and lost jobs? How about corruption and injustice and greed and selfishness? How about a lack of clean drinking water and little respect for our planet?

The world is broken. There is horror and pain and suffering and grief and the only people with the audacity to wonder, ‘will something horrible happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month?’ are those who refuse to look outside their own lives. The ones who are unable to see that something horrible is already happening. The ones who are protected from global terror and famine and war and disease or from personal devastation and loss. Or who think they are because they have built up the false security of defenses and distance.

Something horrible is happening. Right now. In our world. This world. The one we live in and share and are responsible for.

The question can’t be: Is something bad going to happen?

The questions need to be:

When something bad happens somewhere else, what am I (you) going to do about it?

And when something bad happens to me (you), how am I (you) going to respond?

Are we going to be relieved that it isn’t our toddler washed up, dead, and then change the channel?

Are we going to build bigger bank accounts and buy more iPhones and plan ever more luxurious vacations?

Are we going to thank God for his miraculous provision of a parking spot while refusing to even ask the question of why he hasn’t miraculously provided breast milk from the sawed-off breasts of mothers in Sudan so they don’t have to watch their infants starve to death in their laps?

Or are we going to sell all we have and follow Jesus? Jesus who went to the uncomfortable place of shame and death on the cross? Jesus who went outside the cultural norms and touched sick people, dignified the sexually broken and abused, and who brought food to the masses, who welcomed the alien, stranger, and outcast?

How much worse does this world need to be for people to take notice?

It is time to look up from our places of comfort and see that something awful is already happening in the world.

It is time to ask, what are we going to do about it?

For people who live far away from disaster (for now), instead of being afraid of the what-if scenarios of some doomsday forecast, start loving people. Pray for enemies, bless those who persecute. Make choices with your time, money, votes, attitudes, and possessions that are loving toward people.

For those who live closer to disaster (for now), instead of being afraid of what is on the doorstep, love people. Pray for enemies, bless those who persecute. Make choices with time, money, votes, attitudes, and possessions that are loving toward people.

The world is broken and is probably only going to get more broken. God is in the business of redemption, not just of our souls but of our bodies and our planet. Fixing the brokenness is not our job, I will leave that up to the One who is more than able. But loving people and not being afraid or paranoid or isolated is the role I believe God is calling his people to, as part of the redeeming work.

Something bad has already happened. What are you going to do, now?

Here are some books and articles filled with ideas for what you can do:

5 Ways to Stand Up and Be the Church

Syrian Crisis: Christians Cannot Stand and Do Nothing

Pondering Privilege, a book by Jody Fernando about race and faith

Save

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Going Home http://www.alifeoverseas.com/going-home/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/going-home/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 07:42:42 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8668 goinghomeI sometimes catch myself using finger quotes when I say the word “home.”  You too? I’m writing this on an airplane and am currently 3 hours and 8 minutes away from “home”.  Simultaneously and ironically I am also 9 hours and 4 minutes away from “home.”  I’m in that weird spot that expats love and […]]]>

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I sometimes catch myself using finger quotes when I say the word “home.”  You too?

I’m writing this on an airplane and am currently 3 hours and 8 minutes away from “home”.  Simultaneously and ironically I am also 9 hours and 4 minutes away from “home.”  I’m in that weird spot that expats love and hate . . .  between “homes.”

My family and I have spent the last five weeks hugging old friends and fighting over road trip radio stations.  We’ve slept in a total of 26 beds and driven through 11 states (not even counting Canada).  We have re-stomped our old stomping grounds and picked up six new airport refrigerator magnets.  It has been both wonderful and exhausting.

You know the feeling.

Going “home” is one of those pieces of expat life that stretches the limits of every available emotion.  So many happy reunions followed immediately by an equal number of painful goodbyes.  Unexpected culture shock (especially in election years), non-stop bopping from the last place to the next place, feeling like a tourist where you once felt most comfortable.

It’s weird.  But good.  But hard.  But incredible.

Regardless, it’s a great opportunity to process.  Every time I go “home,” I pick up something new.  Some little cultural tidbit that I hadn’t recognized before or maybe a deeper reflection on an old reality.

Here’s what I’m thinking on my way home from home this time around.

First, “Home” is a culture too.

Sounds ridiculous to say it out loud and fair enough if you’re thinking, “well duh.”  However I’m realizing more and more that it’s not necessarily a natural thing to recognize your own culture as a culture.  Cultures are out there . . . away . . . somewhere else.  Cultures are what we study.  Cultures are fascinating.  They are exotic.  Exciting.  Confusing.  Different.

Every time I step out and back in again I am reminded that my most familiar home base is all of that, even though I never saw it that way growing up.  From the hairstyles to the body language to the propensity to bread and deep fry virtually anything,  it’s a ethnographic wonderland just waiting to be explored.

Who knew?

Two . . . International “home” going is layered.

Where I come from people move away.  We go to college.  We get married.  We find a job.  All of these carry the potential for long-term relocation.  So my childhood friends are spread out around the area.  Around the state.  Around the country.

Very few however, wander outside of the country (at least not for living).  It’s just not normal.

It’s always nice to come “home,” but I’m discovering that “home” is a contrast word.  The farther you roam, the bigger “home” gets.  “Home” has expanded for us beyond a town or a community and I start to feel like I’m home when I hit the first airport of my “home” country.  L.A., New York, Dallas, Atlanta all feel like home, at least compared to Beijing.

Ironically I feel more “at home” in the Beijing airport than I do in any other airport in the world.

It’s strange right?

Thirdly . . .  It’s OK for “home” to be a confusing concept

“Home” is a value that has been deeply embedded into my core.  So redefining it feels wrong.

It throws off my equilibrium to start wrapping my head around the layers and the nuances of “home” in a cross cultural life.  It was especially confusing the first time I went “home,” but the confusion marches on ten years later.

How do my kids understand “home” when they spend the bulk of their lives as foreigners? Am I going “home” or leaving “home” right now? Is “home” a place or people or an allegiance or a feeling?  Should I feel guilty for wanting to get back “home” even when I am “home”?  How is it that I can be at “home” and missing “home” no matter where I am?

Deep breath.

It’s alright.  “Home” is complex, for people don’t have the luxury of simple answers.  People have been wrestling with this concept long before we showed up.  That’s why we say things like “home is where you hang your hat” or “home is where your heart is.”

However, that rationale assumes that your heart can only be in one place at a time . . . and that you only have one hat.

It might not be that simple.  I’m ok with complex.

Fourth . . . Going “home” is a gap-filling time

I mourn “home” for my kids.

The experience, not the concept.  My experience, not theirs.

I know I know, they are having their own adventure and it is rich.  They are doing things that I only dreamed of when I was their age.  They are seasoned world travelers with a front row seat to the broader world and it is all preparing them to grasp the complexities of “home” in a way that I never will.

I love their definition of “home” BUT they don’t know how to play baseball.  They don’t know the joys of a small town ice cream shop or catching lightning bugs.  Fireworks to them mean Chinese New Year not Independence Day.

Going “home” for a few weeks doesn’t give them my childhood, but they don’t need that.  It does help fill in a few gaps though.  It’s a connection between their childhood and mine.  It’s a glimpse into things that I remember fondly and the missing link to the place that their passport says is their “home.”

I want that for them.

Fifth . . . Just passing through doesn’t mean I can’t love the trip

It’s inevitable in Christian circles.  Conversations about “home” end with a comment about “passing through.”

“This world is not my home.”

“My citizenship is in heaven.”

No argument from me but I do kind of cringe a little at the unspoken insinuation that love for our earthly home is grounds for a “shame on you.”   My only frame of reference for something that I can’t even begin to grasp is the closest possible thing that I can.  Even if this is just a reflection of the real thing, it’s a pretty awesome one.

Finally . . . Living abroad means I am double blessed.

It has been a great summer.  Thankful to have gone home — Thankful to be going home.

 

Jerry lives in China and blogs at The Culture Blend.

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The Question on God’s Lips http://www.alifeoverseas.com/the-question-on-gods-lips-2/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/the-question-on-gods-lips-2/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 12:10:01 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8657 ALOS JulyThe Velvet Ashes book club is reading Lilias Trotter’s biography. At the same time, I read a biography of Hannah More, poet, reformer, and abolitionist. She was a contemporary to William Wilberforce and what he accomplished in parliament, she accomplished in publishing. They were both part of the Clapham Sect. I love reading biographies and hearing of […]]]>

ALOS July

The Velvet Ashes book club is reading Lilias Trotter’s biography. At the same time, I read a biography of Hannah More, poet, reformer, and abolitionist. She was a contemporary to William Wilberforce and what he accomplished in parliament, she accomplished in publishing. They were both part of the Clapham Sect. I love reading biographies and hearing of life outside of the countries or centuries I’ve lived in. They remind me of how universal life is.

In the comments at the Velvet Ashes book club, the subject was raised about how hard it was to follow Lilias Trotter for those who came after her in Algeria. She was formidable, as were any number we could mention. Often, I find, we compare our today, this boring ordinary day, to the sum total of another’s life and come up short.

The urge to hustle for our worth is not from God.

Have I opened the first public restaurant for the working girls of London as Hannah More did? No.

Have I forsaken a clear talent that could have earned me world renown like Lilias Trotter did? With a hearty laugh, I say, “No!”

Am I a household name across a country like Da Sha, the most famous foreigner from Canada in China? Um, nope.

On Monday I looked at the writing schedule to see if this post would go live this week or next. I love writing and discussing issues here, but I am beginning to sense a stirring to hustle for my worth. Recent topics include:

Persecution—unless you count medical procedures without anesthesia, I have thankfully little personal experience in this area.

Misogyny in Missions (Parts one and two)—did you see the number of comments and the discussion on Facebook? Rich and necessary.

A book list that will knock your socks off—anyone else think Kay is one of the wisest people?

Missions and suffering and air-conditioners—another poignant discussion at the crossroads of theory and practice.

As I was praying about this post, the Holy Spirit whispered, “Amy, sometimes you make it too big. Let’s review two points. Where do I have you? Have you been faithful?”

For the most part, my work is unseen as I sit, hooked up to the Internet, writing posts, working on another book, helping to organize and support the work of Velvet Ashes. Now that it is summer and my weekly ESL class is on summer hiatus, the most consistent interaction I have with people outside of family is at the gym.

Part of me wants to play a ministry shell game where with a sleight of hand, I distract you and make it sound like I did not just admit that my most significant interaction isn’t with people coming out of human trafficking, or teaching street children to read, or changing the world with fair-trade.

All worthy. All Jesus infused. All not-my-life. Instead my current life involves talking with people wearing workout clothes.

Child, let’s review two points. Where do I have you? Have you been faithful?

Benita is consistently late to classes at our gym, but when she comes in, we nod at each other in recognition and I give her a hug at our first song break. About a year ago, before I knew her name, she said at the end of class, “I’d like to talk to you.” I assumed she wanted to complain about Johnny who was annoyingly unaware of the idea of personal space.

Imagine my disappointment with myself when she said, “My daughter failed her bar exam and is distraught. I don’t know how to help her and I can’t tell anyone. You’re the first person I’ve told.”

This spring, in short two to three minute conversations after class, we’ve talked about her marriage problems, her brother’s serious car accident, finding renters for her daughter’s house, and a bit about my book.

Yesterday, at the end of class, she came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “All it took was a hug.”

She went on, “I don’t know why I am drawn to you Amy, but you have helped me so much and all it took was a hug to know I wasn’t alone in my marriage or my life. I know you pray for me.”

Sometimes we make it too big.

Where does God have you? Have you been faithful?

Those are more life-giving questions than questions focused inordinately on impact, numbers, or words like “new, innovative, or cutting edge.” Do we need to have measures for our work and the spread of the gospel? The way this question is phrased whispers an unhealthy dichotomy for our souls. We need both—moments when we pause, review, and measure and moments where we ask, “What God has called you to? And are you faithful to it?”

Too often we focus on the former and discount the latter.

If you are like me and love and appreciate the recent conversations, but then feel sheepish about your current reality, God wants us to know that we matter. If you start to sense yourself hustling for your worth, remember the question on God’s lips is not, “How impressive are you?” More likely, it is “Are you faithful to where I have you?”

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Don’t Peak in Language School http://www.alifeoverseas.com/dont-peak-in-language-school/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/dont-peak-in-language-school/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 10:00:24 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8638 peak{Peaking: Mountain top experiences. The phrase “Peaked in High School” refers to an adult whose significant achievements all occurred in high school.} Sophomore year of high school I joined the choir class (as opposed to the cool kid musical theater club, which required auditions. Choir class accepted anyone.), but since I’m actually a terrible singer, […]]]>

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{Peaking: Mountain top experiences. The phrase “Peaked in High School” refers to an adult whose significant achievements all occurred in high school.}

Sophomore year of high school I joined the choir class (as opposed to the cool kid musical theater club, which required auditions. Choir class accepted anyone.), but since I’m actually a terrible singer, I spent most concerts silently mouthing “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon.” along to the words.

During the mid-semester solo evaluation I struggled so badly the teacher finally took his hands off the piano keys and remarked with a sigh, “Well, uh, I guess at least you can transition between your head and chest voice relatively smoothly.” That was the closest I ever came to a compliment in choir class.

The next year, I joined track (no tryouts and a guarantee not to be kicked off the team). This went well and I enjoyed being part of a team until I realized that joining track wouldn’t magically fix my slow and clumsy pace, but would do an excellent job magnifying it in front of everyone I knew. And since you can’t mime a race, I quit running. (These days I do run, still slow and clumsy, but since nobody is depending on me to cross a finish line within a certain number of minutes, I can enjoy stumbling along).

One semester I took dance for gym class (as opposed to cheerleading, which required auditions. Apparently I have a thing for new experiences as long as there is no risk of rejection). Even though I worked really hard on my end of semester modern interpretive dance, I still got a C for the class (which when it comes to gym class is exactly a rejection).

While I floundered in extracurricular activities that could have made me cool, I did alright in history, writing, and language – things that didn’t make me cool. That’s ok though, because in the end it didn’t really matter.

In grownup life it doesn’t matter if you were the cool kid or the biggest nerd in school. This is really good news for run of the mill kids like me.

Language school is just like high school. Do your best and try new things, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

As a brand new missionary, it’s easy to freak out. You finally made it to the field and now supporters are counting on you, your agency is counting on you, God is counting on you. You’ve got to do this right and you’ve got to do this well. You’re a professional Christian now – time for results! At least, that’s how it felt for me.

In language school, there are cool kids everywhere and just like in high school it’s really easy to fall into the comparison/be like them trap. Don’t. No amount of choir lessons and miming concerts could turn me into a star alto in high school and no amount of flash card drills and choppy neighborhood conversations will turn you into a culturally savvy missionary in language school.

Ok yes, language school is important just as high school is, but in the big scheme of things, even just a year from now, nobody is going to care if you talked to 10 people a day or had a private tutor. It won’t matter if you did ministry after class and preached on Sundays, or holed up at home for the hottest part of the afternoon in the air conditioning watching funny YouTube videos with your family. No one will care if you aced every language evaluation or have test anxiety and barely scraped through.

When you’re done with language school, there are only three things people care about:

  • You learned the language sufficiently for your job.
  • You were flexible when things went wrong.
  • You were kind to others.

Just after the one year mark in country, smack in the middle of culture shock and lamenting my struggles to adjust, I received an e-mail from a 20 year veteran missionary to my area. To paraphrase, he wrote, Disillusionment is normal. You try really hard in the first year, but your efforts seem to go nowhere. My wife and I evaluated our work at the 4 year mark and realized we were just at the point of breaking even. Our presence in the culture was finally about 50% positive / 50% negative instead of a mostly negative impact. It’s a shame people tend to leave at the 4-5 year mark, just when they are starting to become effective for ministry.

Admittedly, at 2.5 years in, I’m writing this post mostly to myself. Anisha, don’t peak now. You’ve got a long way to go! I finished the required language classes more than a year ago, but am so aware of just how much I lack. For a while there, I did get caught up in the Be The Cool Kid trap, but thanks to repeated bouts of dysentery (if anything will keep you humble, diarrhea will) and since I’m hard wired to ask every long term missionary I meet, “What advice can you give me?” thankfully that stage only lasted a few months.

Taking myself too seriously now would be just as ridiculous as it is in high school. So I repeat the accumulated wise words of those who’ve been at this much longer than me:

Relax. Trust Jesus. Don’t stress. Keep learning. Stick with it. Keep investing. Be nice.

When all those teenage missionary insecurities rise to the surface and life feels like I’m jazz hands-ing my way through gym class, I like to remind myself – It’ll be ok. After all, you made it through high school.

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Got advice? Go on and share it in the comments.

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When Persecution Hits http://www.alifeoverseas.com/when-persecution-hits/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/when-persecution-hits/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2016 22:00:06 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8616 persecution1“Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” – GK Chesterton A teammate encouraged us one morning with this quote just before we held multiple Bible studies with our friends, many from various unreached ethnic groups. We’d been really good at being in trouble in […]]]>

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“Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” – GK Chesterton

A teammate encouraged us one morning with this quote just before we held multiple Bible studies with our friends, many from various unreached ethnic groups. We’d been really good at being in trouble in the few weeks prior, so it was helpful to remember that this is a promise from Jesus to us.

Our country’s government seems to ebb and flow with seasons of openness and crackdowns on Christians, and we were in the midst of a heavier wave of persecution.

During that time, one of the only local house church fellowships out here was shut down by the government, scattering the believers. Following that, the government began systematically searching our team – questioning us about our personal information, whereabouts, and intentions.

There were a few days where I woke up thinking, “The chances of today being a typical day and getting thrown out of the country are just about the same.”

In the West, we hear about persecution and sometimes walk away with this image of a Paul-like, even glamourous, view of what it’s like to walk through it. From the little we went through this past year, I’ll say upfront that it’s simply not as cool as I previously thought.

On the contrary, I walked around with weak knees and constantly wondered if I was being monitored. My best friend from the now-defunct house church spiraled into depression and fought borderline suicidal* thoughts.

Doesn’t sound as awesome as Acts, right?

Completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble. I consider Acts 4, after Peter and John are dragged before the council in Jerusalem. Their prayer includes a plea for God to “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” Alongside this prayer for boldness, I also recall Matthew 10:16 where Jesus tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” because he’s sent us out as sheep among wolves.

What does it look like to become more serpent-like with our ministry? How do we keep sharing the gospel, but maybe in a different way during this season?

After Stephen’s stoning, the church in Jerusalem scatters, but God continues to bless their gospel proclamation. I confess that I’ve doubted God’s goodness and blessing during recent seasons of persecution. Yet despite my unbelief, we’ve seen some of the most promising fruit in this time than we’d seen all year. All of a sudden two people have come to know the Lord and several others are very interested.

I can’t help but believe that somehow these things are connected.

In the unreached world, you feel like you’re throwing seeds at a rocky cliff-side, hoping and praying that something will grow someday. It’s quite incredible that God is moving here in this season, and we have great reason to be absurdly happy.

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*Editorial note: I (Elizabeth) have corresponded with the author about this incident. Without releasing any personal details, I can assure you that appropriate steps were taken to care for a friend and fellow believer in psychological and spiritual distress.

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Don (not his real name) works with a team seeking to plant churches among unreached people in Asia. He blogs at www.thesowersproject.com, tweets from SowersProject, and co-hosts a missions podcast called Life On Mars, which is available on iTunes. He enjoys percussion, longboarding, theology, and robust coffee.

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