A Life Overseas | http://www.alifeoverseas.com the missions conversation Tue, 27 Sep 2016 00:43:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 42092310 The Beauty of Unrequired Sacrifice http://www.alifeoverseas.com/the-beauty-of-unrequired-sacrifice/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/the-beauty-of-unrequired-sacrifice/#respond Mon, 26 Sep 2016 17:00:17 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8993 Long winding country road leading through rural countryside in the English Peak District with beautiful evening sunlight.This post gets awkward really quick.  Sorry about that. I’ve been pondering something that I think has huge implications for people living cross-culturally.  For some it changes everything.  For others it’s business as usual. I was recently asked to teach from Acts 16.  It’s a chapter that teachers and preachers have been getting excited about for […]]]>

Long winding country road leading through rural countryside in the English Peak District with beautiful evening sunlight.This post gets awkward really quick.  Sorry about that.

I’ve been pondering something that I think has huge implications for people living cross-culturally.  For some it changes everything.  For others it’s business as usual.

I was recently asked to teach from Acts 16.  It’s a chapter that teachers and preachers have been getting excited about for centuries.  Paul and Silas in prison . . . you know the one.

It’s the singing hymns in shackles at midnight — big earthquake — doors fly open — chains fall off — trembling guard and his whole house find Jesus chapter.

That’ll preach all day long.

But that’s not what jumped out at me this time.

The part that jumped was odd because it’s a section that I’ve trained my brain to skip over.  You know what I mean, right? There are certain bits of Scripture that our minds naturally gravitate towards (namely Divine prison breaks) but there are others that we shoot through and hope that no one notices.

Like circumcision.

I warned you.  Awkward.

Timothy shows up for the first time in this chapter (before the jail scene).  He’s young and green but he gets it.  He’s a rising superstar in this brand new Jesus following movement and Paul wants to take him on the road.

One problem.

His mother was Jewish.  His father was Greek.

Do I have to spell this out for you?

Concerning circumcision . . . Timothy was un.

Here’s the big ironic kicker.  The message that Paul was headed out to share was that the Church big whigs had convened and made some really important decisions . . . specifically?

Circumcision would NOT be required for new believers.

Phew! Big sigh of relief right?

You would think.  But verse 3 says this:

“Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

I’m sorry what?!!

Paul circumcised Timothy so they could go share the message that circumcision was NOT required.

Why?

Simply put, the people they were sharing with didn’t get it yet — and fair enough — they were rooted deeply in over 2000 years of tradition which was built on some pretty strong words right from the mouth of God.  Words like, “Any uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17).

Not a lot of leeway there.

On a timeline of theology Acts 16 falls between that and words that would come later like, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing,”  (1 Corinthians 7).

If the argument (as is usually the case) is reduced to theological rights or wrongs, dos or don’ts, shoulds or shouldn’ts, then Timothy would have a pretty strong case for protest (and frankly who would blame him?).

Theologically speaking, this is not a required sacrifice.

But he makes it . . . not out of religious obligation but out of willingness to see through the lenses of people whose paradigm has not been shifted just yet.

Wow.

Implications galore.

There is something really good about unrequired sacrifice.

Entitlement gets traded for a bigger picture.  Selfishness is surrendered.  Complaining doesn’t even make sense.  Being right ceases to be the highest value.  Good things happen.

Jesus knew something about the brains and the hearts of His people when He said stuff like, “go an extra mile and give them your coat when they ask for your shirt.  Forgive more than anyone would expect, stay married longer and do good things to people who do bad things to you.” (personal paraphrase)

The final note of this part of the story says “the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (vs 5).  I think it would be a jump to say that the growth of the church was a direct result of Timothy’s . . . um . . . surgery.  However, it seems clear that those meetings could have gone much differently had he been unwilling to lay down his rightful claim to a “Back off dude!  I didn’t sign on for this!”

Just something awkward and beautiful to ponder when you catch yourself (like I do) feeling shortchanged, cheated, left out and frustrated because this life overseas sometimes feels like it has taken so much.

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/the-beauty-of-unrequired-sacrifice/feed/ 0 8993
Conflict and Our Dustlikeness http://www.alifeoverseas.com/conflict-and-our-dustlikeness/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/conflict-and-our-dustlikeness/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 04:00:18 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8969 dustlikeness1Conflict. If you’ve been in church work for long, you know what it’s like. People abound, and conflict happens. Then there’s the big blow up or the cold exit or, even scarier, the explosive exit. I’ve been in church work for a decade and a half now, and big blowups and bad exits seem to […]]]>

dustlikeness1

Conflict. If you’ve been in church work for long, you know what it’s like. People abound, and conflict happens. Then there’s the big blow up or the cold exit or, even scarier, the explosive exit. I’ve been in church work for a decade and a half now, and big blowups and bad exits seem to be the default setting for church conflict. I don’t like this kind of conflict. I run away from it – and from the scary people who cause it.

Kay Bruner likes to say that there are difficult people on the field. I say yes. Yes, there are difficult people on the field, and sometimes, they are ME. Sometimes I’m difficult, and sometimes conflict comes because I am difficult. Not because I mean to be, of course – but my good intentions don’t remove my propensity to offend.

I have a hard time fessing up when I offend, and my reason for this is two-fold. First, I don’t really like the fact that I’m still not perfect and that I still sin against others. The acknowledgement is still so cumbersome to me. But secondly (and perhaps more importantly), I fear I won’t be forgiven. Oh, I know God forgives me; I have full assurance of that. But I still don’t trust God’s people to forgive me. I’ve been in too many relationships where people said they would forgive, but they never really did.

Lately, however, I’ve had ample opportunity to seek forgiveness, and God’s people are proving me wrong. They are forgiving me and showing me the love of Christ in tangible ways. Receiving their forgiveness and their assurance of committed love is an almost sacramental experience. It’s a direct connection with my Savior: someone is sticking with me. Someone is forgiving me, giving me a second chance. That is Jesus in bodily form.

Receiving compassion for our dustlikeness helps us to be more compassionate towards ourselves – and towards others. It helps us to forgive ourselves, and in turn, to forgive others. Unmerited forgiveness is a gift we believers give each other. It points other people to Jesus and is because of Jesus. And while the usual take on conflict and reconciliation is usually “humility,” I think if we focus on that, we are missing the point. The point is, God can forgive, and God’s people can forgive, and wherever you find restoration and reconciliation happening, the Spirit of God is moving among His people.

In this way, conflict can be a conduit for grace. The only catch (yes there is a catch) is that the forgiveness, reconciliation, and move of God that I’m talking about only happen in community. And I’m convinced that one of the bravest things we can do is to stay in that community. When it gets hard, when it gets uncomfortable, when conflict starts to escalate, can we stay in relationship with others? Not in pathological or dangerous relationships, but in regular, everyday fallen relationships?

All of our relationships will have a degree of unhealth, because all of our relationships have people. Our relationships are not going to be perfect, and our community will disappoint us. And sometimes our community will be unhealthy because WE are unhealthy. Other times we will make allowances for other people’s issues, because they – and God – make allowances for ours. Let’s not make a cold or explosive exit too soon, for unconditional love is only proved unconditional when we stay.

So the next time you’re in conflict with someone on the field, think of me, the difficult one, and be kind. Be kind to your difficult person. Show them Christ’s love, and give them another chance. Or a second or a third or a seventy-seventh. If they prove to you that they intend to be difficult or abusive, then by all means draw some boundaries and don’t give them limitless chances to harm you. But maybe by giving them a second chance, you’ll prove to them what God’s love looks like, and they, like me, will recognize grace and be grateful — and you will have won a brother or a sister over.

Have you ever experienced God’s love in the midst of conflict?

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/conflict-and-our-dustlikeness/feed/ 6 8969
Little-h heroes http://www.alifeoverseas.com/little-h-heroes/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/little-h-heroes/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 11:15:31 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8949 5976828707_66a470665a_bIn a university class I’m teaching, I started the semester by having the students answer some questions about themselves: What scares you? (spiders, heights, and death were popular—or unpopular, as it were.) What is your hometown, or where else have you lived? (See how I phrased that one in case we had some TCKs in the group?) Who is your hero and […]]]>

5976828707_66a470665a_b

In a university class I’m teaching, I started the semester by having the students answer some questions about themselves: What scares you? (spiders, heights, and death were popular—or unpopular, as it were.) What is your hometown, or where else have you lived? (See how I phrased that one in case we had some TCKs in the group?) Who is your hero and why?

In answer to that last question, a few said Jesus—with a couple adding, “Because he’s, uh, Jesus.” Some chose a famous athlete or a figure from history. But for most, their heroes aren’t well-known. They’re personal heroes: my father, because he works three jobs to support our family; my grandma, because she raised my sisters and me by herself; my teacher, because she never gave up on me.

Last year, Amy Peterson wrote a wonderful article for Christianity Today entitled “Farewell to the Missionary Hero.” In it she talks about how missionary biographies of the past have portrayed missionaries as larger-than-life “saints,” often moving from one glorious adventure to another. She contrasts that with the approach of many missionaries today who are more willing to present the hardships and mundane routines of missionary life, as well as their own shortcomings. Peterson even mentions A Life Overseas and some of the authors here as examples of this new openness and honesty.

As I reread Peterson’s article, I am even more a fan, and I’m glad that she has extended the conversation outside the missionary community. So it might surprise you to hear me say that I actually don’t think we should say “farewell to the missionary hero.” I’m not arguing against her premise. No, mine is only a semantic concern. I just want to take that word hero and look at it from a different direction.

Maybe someone has called you a hero. If they did, you probably replied with something similar to what you’ve heard others say—”I’m no hero. I just did my job,” “I only did what needed to be done,” or “Those people, they’re the real heroes.”

Not long ago, a friend of mine told me that my wife and I are his heroes. Why? Because of when we sold our house and moved our family of six to another country. I can’t remember my exact response to my friend, but it was something profound like “Oh, come on.” Doesn’t he remember that we didn’t stay overseas? Hasn’t he heard how hard it was for us? Doesn’t he know that we didn’t leave behind a vibrant, growing church? Doesn’t he read Christianity Today?

But I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of hero he was talking about. In fact, most of us, when we use the word, aren’t thinking about that kind of hero. Not a demigod, which is what the Greek word originally meant. Not a folk hero—the stuff of legend—which Peterson refers to in her article. Not a superhero, with the ability to fly (or at least walk on water). Not “Heroes of the Faith,” as in Hebrews 11. Not big-H Heroes.

Sure, we still have big-H Heroes. But they’re rare, and the extreme audacity and effects of their actions are what make them so uncommon. It’s the little-h heroes that touch us most day to day. They’re the unlikely heroes, the everyday heroes, the ordinary heroes.

When most people say, “You’re my hero,” they mean, “I admire you for what you’ve done.” They’re talking to someone whom they’ve seen tackle a difficulty instead of turning away from it. That difficulty might be a burning building or a war zone . . . or something much less dramatic, but difficult nonetheless.

Few of my little-h heroes will have books written about them. They are families who are still serving faithfully overseas, long after we left. They are relief workers confronting humanitarian crises abroad. They are couples who make the heartbreaking decision to return home, because of the needs of their young child or an aging parent. They are the single missionary who hangs on in a dangerous country with little visible results, as well as the one who goes back and takes a job where she lives out her belief that God loves her for who she is, not for what she does. It is the twelve-year-old who bravely joins a local school without knowing how to speak the language. They are the national believers who choose Jesus in spite of persecution. They are the woman turned down by the mission agency who tirelessly prays for missionaries instead, and the elderly gentleman who scrimps and saves so that he can write a small support check each month. They are the parents who let their children go without letting go of them. They are the cross-cultural workers who honestly share their struggles regardless of the consequences.

I could go on, and I think you could, too.

Those are some of my heroes—and that’s just from the sphere of missions. As I’ve gotten older, I see more and more ordinary heroes in all walks of life, regular people who have earned my respect because of the decisions they’ve made. They are butchers and bakers and fulltime homemakers. They are underemployed and unemployed. The are young and old. They are neighbors and uncles. They are people who advance for good in the face of adversity; people who, when unable to advance, resolutely hold their ground; and people who, if they simply must retreat, do so with dignity.

Little-h heroes will not be public figures or gain much broad attention. They won’t be the subject of award-winning documentaries or blockbuster movies (or even their own Wikipedia pages). They simply do what needs to be done, especially when others can’t or won’t do it. They say the real heroes are “those people,” over there, and that’s true. But the real heroes are here, too, wherever “here” is. They populate our passport countries as well as the ones in which we serve. They are all around us and among us. May it always be so.

Your list of heroes probably won’t match mine. Certainly the names won’t be the same. That’s to be expected, if for no other reason than because my list will change and grow as I continue to change and grow. But that’s the beautiful thing about little-h heroes. They are imperfect people who resonate with us individually and personally at particular times in our lives.

That’s why I can be someone else’s hero. And that’s why you can be a hero, too—even a missionary hero.

[photo: “Solitude,” by G.S. Matthews, used under a Creative Commons license]

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/little-h-heroes/feed/ 1 8949
Savvy Expat Traveler or Overconfident Traveling Idiot? http://www.alifeoverseas.com/savvy-expat-traveler-or-overconfident-traveling-idiot/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/savvy-expat-traveler-or-overconfident-traveling-idiot/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 08:33:11 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8943 zen travelerWe’re expats and we fly a lot. Right? We can fill out a lot of immigration forms with our eyes closed, have passports stuffed full of visas. We can use several different currencies, even in a single transaction. We know how to pack liquids, how to sail through airport security lines, what kinds of snacks […]]]>

We’re expats and we fly a lot. Right? We can fill out a lot of immigration forms with our eyes closed, have passports stuffed full of visas. We can use several different currencies, even in a single transaction. We know how to pack liquids, how to sail through airport security lines, what kinds of snacks work best on long haul flights. We know just how much medicine our babies need in order to sleep (or was that just me?) We can navigate airports no matter the language and can use whatever type of toilet is available, with or without TP, water, or walls.

zen traveler

We’re expats, international travel is what we do and we’re totally calm about it. Or at least competent.

That’s what I thought.

I recently spent a month in Europe. Two weeks in Italy, a few days in the Netherlands, and two weeks in the UK. In Italy and the Netherlands I was on my own. By the end of those two weeks I was feeling pretty confident. Like, hey-hey, I’ve got this European travel thing down. On top of thirteen years of doing the African travel thing, I considered myself savvy.

Then, I flew to London. Here, I thought, is where I will really shine as an expert traveler. Everything will be in English! It will be so easy!

Wrong.

I got flagged in the immigration line. I was ushered into that roped off area where ‘suspicious’ travelers go. I was grilled by immigration officers. I gave terrible answers. They were all true, they just didn’t make a lot of sense because my arrival plans were complicated, my previous travel had been convoluted, explaining it all meant including places like Somalia and Djibouti.

Plus, unlike the savvy traveler I thought I was, I had forgotten to write down the name and address of the place where I was staying. I had the information on my phone but needed to access Wi-Fi, which wasn’t working in the immigration terminal.

The officer stared at me, hard, and said, “You university students think everything in the world revolves around technology.” Well, thank you sir, for thinking this 38-year old woman is a student, but no I don’t think that, I just forgot to write it down.

“What would happen to me,” he said, “if I went to the US and didn’t have an address?”

I wanted to say, “I would expect the Wi-Fi to work,” but didn’t want to make him even angrier, so I shrugged. He told me to sit back down behind the ropes.

It took a minor miracle to get me out of the airport.

I was mortified. I know better. I know how to pack and plan and how to not waste the time of people coming to pick me up. I’m not the person who gets flagged in security.

But.

Apparently I am that person. And I am that forgetful. My overconfidence led to an incredibly stressful afternoon and had me nearly dry-heaving in the lock down section of Gatwick Airport.

How about you?

Tara Livesay has provided us with hysterical examples of expat health unpleasantness and gave us the opportunity to share our one-uppers. How about sharing our travel oopses?

I don’t mean when our flights were delayed and it took us five days to get from Minnesota to Djibouti (no lie). Or when our luggage was lost and found after multiple trips around the world. What about those times when we felt oh-so-prepared and rather smug and looked condescendingly at newbies only to find ourselves locked up, in tears, or so confused we can’t remember what country we are in or where we are supposed to be headed? (Or is it just me?)

Any other travel fiascos out there?

Save

Save

Save

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/savvy-expat-traveler-or-overconfident-traveling-idiot/feed/ 10 8943
My Liberation is Bound Up With Yours http://www.alifeoverseas.com/my-liberation-is-bound-up-with-yours/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/my-liberation-is-bound-up-with-yours/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 07:00:35 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8909 key-1030724_960_720aA lot of people move to Africa on a mission. Some of them classic religious missionaries and others compassionate humanists who feel called to serve, to care, to give. I came here under that banner, thinking I was going to help to pull people out of the mire of poverty. I came here with dreams […]]]>

key-1030724_960_720a

A lot of people move to Africa on a mission. Some of them classic religious missionaries and others compassionate humanists who feel called to serve, to care, to give.

I came here under that banner, thinking I was going to help to pull people out of the mire of poverty. I came here with dreams of Africa on its feet, of people with dignity and strength. I thought I was here to give something, something that wasn’t here already.

I fell in love early in my journey on this continent. I was drawn in, and I didn’t really know why. I just knew I wanted to be here, wanted to be part of this.

I have lived here in Tanzania for over 3 years now and for close to a decade traveled the countries of East and Southern Africa. Until very recently, I still thought I was here to help.

That was before I read this quote from Lilla Watson. Watson is an indigenous Australian, and when I read her words, something in my soul stirred, like a light switching on.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

There are times when you read things and it feels as if they punch you in the gut. You breathe in a sharp breath and utter some kind of profanity in your mind. This was one of those moments. I had missed it, missed the point entirely. Missed the connection between my liberation and that of the people I am here to work with. I came to help them. I came with awareness that I was broken myself but not seeing anything that they had to offer me. I was a fool.

I realise now that my liberation is tied up deeply with theirs. I use words like dignity, freedom, and self-reliance to define what I see as the goal of development work and more specifically of the work I do. It is, at its base, about reducing poverty, but I don’t really see that as the bottom line. I want to see people able to stand on their own two feet, to take care of their own, to have the freedom to explore opportunity, creativity, leisure, family, and community.

Ask me what I need most in the world? Ask me what I most crave? To stand on my own two feet, to have the strength to take care of my own, to have the freedom to explore opportunity, creativity, leisure, family and community.

I have been looking in the mirror and failing to see my own reflection. I thought that it was them I saw when I looked, that it was them I needed to help, that it was they who needed saving.

It’s been me all along.

It is so painfully cliché to admit this; the words are coming out of me with a deeply uncomfortable cringe. “I went there to help, but it was me who was helped” is a phrase used so often it has become tired and more than mildly annoying.

But it is common because there is truth in it.

Living here in Tanzania and travelling to different parts of this great continent has offered me olive branches all along the way. It has tried to teach me what I most needed to learn. Looking back I see the same lessons over and over again, and I see myself missing them each time.

Until now, that is. I now realize that my liberation is entirely tied up in theirs. As I see more and more people, especially women, standing on their own two feet and forging a new path for themselves, I am given the courage to do the same. I am equipped by their bravery to step into my own story, to find my own capacity and power to stand in my own truth. I am given the opportunity to find my own dignity again as I let go of the pressure to please others.

I came here to help, to try to serve. But I have been called to shut up and listen, to pay attention, to recognize the incredible privilege of being allowed into the stories that I hear and for God’s sake, to start learning from some of those stories.

We all walk among those we perceive as weak, as in need of help. Sometimes people genuinely do need help and sometimes we are asked to be that support. Other times, we have just focused on the wrong things. We have missed the strength, the courage, the ways in which they have overcome, and we have failed to notice how much we have to learn.

People think Africa is full of poor people who are helpless and broken. The truth is the world is full of broken people, each in our own way. Some of our cultures and countries portray an illusion of progress; some portray an illusion of helplessness. Neither of these portrayals are really true. The truth is somewhere in the middle, in the space in between victory and defeat, where most of us walk, where we encounter each other’s stories.

May we all find the freedom to live in our own dignity, to explore our creativity, to enjoy our leisure and to love our families, our communities, our own and may we all listen to those who are teaching, even if they are not who we expected to learn from.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

photo-shannon-thomsonShannon Thomson is Canadian-born, of Scottish heritage and currently lives in Mwanza, Tanzania. She works for an international development organization focusing on community development. Shannon is married to Amani and they are expecting their first child in November. She is a keeper of chickens and stray puppies, loves yoga and good coffee. She blogs at Musings in Mwanza where she seeks to tell her truth about relationships, family, living overseas and personal wellness.

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/my-liberation-is-bound-up-with-yours/feed/ 1 8909
I didn’t know this was a cost to count http://www.alifeoverseas.com/i-didnt-know-this-was-a-cost-to-count/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/i-didnt-know-this-was-a-cost-to-count/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 11:00:47 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8903 cost-of-the-callI naively went to my pre-field orientation thinking the big pieces of saying goodbye was over. After months of goodbyes and preparing to GO, relief flooded me as the hellos and getting settled could start. Imagine my surprise when less than a month later I was sobbing harder than I did when I left my […]]]>

I naively went to my pre-field orientation thinking the big pieces of saying goodbye was over. After months of goodbyes and preparing to GO, relief flooded me as the hellos and getting settled could start.

Imagine my surprise when less than a month later I was sobbing harder than I did when I left my own family. Why was saying goodbye to people I hadn’t even known a month ago gutting me?

cost-of-the-call

Now that I am years away from those steps of the Friendship Hotel in Beijing and can look back with a cool, rational mind, of course I was going to become close with these people who shared an intense emotional experience (and hours and hours of listening to this aspect and that aspect of living and serving overseas). Our adventures started in Los Angeles as we figured out how to take a city bus to Rodeo Drive. They continued in Beijing as we melted on the Great Wall of China. The GREAT WALL OF CHINA! We were finally . . . on the field!

This was before the days of all the easy ways to connect; so when we said goodbye, we were under no delusions that we would have much contact until our organization conference. I knew I’d miss my family so the pain didn’t surprise me. It felt right. It felt honoring of the call.

However, this pain of missing new friends bowled me over precisely because they had been strangers. Who aches for people they might be fuzzy over their last name?

But you get it.

I have recently stumbled into another cost I hadn’t counted when I went to the field. I knew part of the cost involved missing milestones and events. Birthdays and weddings. Births and deaths. Holding hands during chemo and watching football with friends. The mundane and the markers. And while I wished I could be a part of everything—my life in Asia and my life in America—I got that I couldn’t.

You get it too.

The longer I stayed on the field, the more my people were tied less to Colorado and Kansas. The more I had ties all over the world, but especially in parts of the US where, were it not for life on the field, I had never heard of or would have only been a vacation destination.

For many years on the field I was anchored in a community, so I loved these ties all over the world. But then the cloud that God had over our community moved and dissipated with most of us moving to new locations.

This spring as I drove to a graduation my companion asked me what I missed about life overseas; I said it was the way life was integrated. My teammates were my friends, my co-workers, my small group. Many of us had our own apartments but all lived in the same building. We studied the word together. We celebrated birthdays together. We worked together. As I waxed poetic, she responded, “It sounds awful.”

Well, it wasn’t rosy 24/7, but it was rich and good.

In April the text read, “Aim, I’m at the doctor. I just found out I have cancer.”

In a flash I was back on the stairs of the Friendship Hotel mourning a loss it had never occurred to me would come. Sucker punched because now I’m with my people and a part of the mundane activities and the markers. Wasn’t the ache of not being a part of things with my people finally over?

The shadow side of this grief is two-fold. In part, internally I rally against the reality that while we are in the same country, we are worlds apart. How can this be? How can I not be there for this part of the journey? How is it I now find out through text messages he’s in the hospital again? These are my people, my teammates. I should be a part of this because they will always be a part of me.

The second part to this grief is again the distance I feel with people who have not lived on the field. They understand that a friend, a teammate, is ill. Very ill. Most likely preparing to leave his wife and children. What I have been unable to express is how it feels like a sibling has cancer.

In trying to quantify our relationship so that it makes sense to others, I say, “We lived in the same building for ten years. I lived on the 3rd floor and the Packs lived on the 4th floor. On occasion I baked the cakes for the kids’ birthdays. Anne stocked my refrigerator so when I’d get home from my trips visiting teachers on the field I would have food. We shared a communal laundry room. We did life together. As an adult I have spent more time with them than with my own blood family.”

I did not know when I went to the field I would now miss out on weddings, births, new jobs, and illness to the degree that I do.

I feel the need to say Jesus is worth it so you don’t think me too navel gazing. And he is. Of course he is! But he also knows this cost of being away from loved ones and he sits with me as another loss and another comes.

When do you wish you could have been with a teammate?

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/i-didnt-know-this-was-a-cost-to-count/feed/ 11 8903
Culture Shock: On the Up Curve http://www.alifeoverseas.com/culture-shock-on-the-up-curve/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/culture-shock-on-the-up-curve/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 04:20:59 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8918 marketComing up to three years in country and most days are finally ok. It’s been almost a year since I broke out in sobs because I burnt granola, or couldn’t find oats in town, or judged a friend better at everything than I am. Through the free fall from honeymoon into disillusionment and then the […]]]>

market

Coming up to three years in country and most days are finally ok. It’s been almost a year since I broke out in sobs because I burnt granola, or couldn’t find oats in town, or judged a friend better at everything than I am. Through the free fall from honeymoon into disillusionment and then the bottom scraping hostility stage of culture shock, I am now somewhere on the up curve. Life is evening out. I laugh a lot more. I feel at home. The contrast between the earlier stages of culture shock and life today is quite startling (take courage, newer friends! It really does get better!).

These days my emotions are a lot more subtle in their attempts at a hostile takeover, but separating the truth from intense feelings still remains a challenge. Here are some of the recent battlegrounds…

1) My neighbor is a jerk
My neighbor revs his motorcycle annoyingly loud, even early in the morning. What’s his problem? Doesn’t he know people are still sleeping? Then my husband’s motorcycle started to have the same problem – you have to rev the engine to warm it up so there’s enough power. Why? I don’t know, but it’s typical, really…

I feel like my neighbor is totally inconsiderate, but he’s actually just trying to get to work.

The truth is I was much more open-minded when I first arrived. Back then I knew I didn’t know anything. Now that I know some things I tend to take for granted that I still don’t most things and am way too quick to judge.

2) Cock-a-doodle-DON’T
Did you know roosters don’t start calling at dawn? That’s a myth. In reality roosters are much more flexible. The one that sleeps by the fence outside our bedroom window is somewhat of an overachiever – he starts around 1am.

A bit delusional after many sleepless nights, a friend once grabbed a shovel and whacked a rooster out of the tree by her bedroom window. Another friend, when woken in the night by his neighbor’s rooster, used go outside and loudly cock-a-doodle-do right back.

I feel like roosters are annoying, but I’ve got coffee to get through the day.

The truth is sleep deprivation amplifies stress in every area. When asked to peg to the general level of stress in my life I use the scale of Zero to “I’m gonna whack the rooster”.

3) Hallelujah I’m out of language school!
In language school (mine at least) we mainly learned the high/formal version of the language, how it’s printed in the newspaper and spoken by the highly educated. But in my town, where most people leave school by the third grade and everyone’s first language is one of hundreds of tribal languages, I quickly learned to speak more like the people around me. This is good in that it works well where I live, but go anywhere else and I speak very basically, even rudely depending on the situation.

I feel like I speak well enough and can just trust everyday conversations to eventually reach fluency.

The truth is I would get a lot out of formal language classes. Now that I have a framework for the language, places in my mind to hang new concepts (and I’m not totally overwhelmed by just trying to live every day), formal study should probably be revisited.

4) Why don’t I have friends?
Before moving overseas, I had the idea that making authentic local friends would be relatively easy. I’m nice. I’m honest. I like people. People like me. These things have always added up to friendships. But here, where the culture gap is so staggeringly wide? It’s a much different story. After a couple attempts at friendship that seemed to go nowhere, I finally thought I’d made an authentic friend. Then one day she just disappeared. I haven’t seen or heard from her in months. I’m told that’s pretty common.

I feel like it’s not worth all the effort.

The truth is I need to chuck my pre-overseas friendship expectations. My pastor in the States likes to say, “Trust plus time equals love.” Cross-culturally, establishing trust over time is long, hard work. It was a bit simplistic of me to think otherwise.

5) Watch it! You’re going to lose your witness!
I grew up in a church culture that spoke of ‘losing your witness’, the concept that you must be careful to live according to a standard of Christian holiness because to fail/sin in public would compromise the gospel message. Now, take that concept overseas where every moment is watched and evaluated. It’s pretty intense. We are openly stared at on the street and eyes peek through fence gaps while our voices carry through open windows.

I feel like I must never ever lose my temper, speak an ill word, act selfishly, or be unkind. If I do, I will be rejected by the people around me and all my hard work will be wasted.

The truth is that’s a bunch of hogwash. Yes, I am responsible for my actions and yes, my actions do impact how others perceive and respond to me – all the more reason to dump this white-washed perfectionism and live authentically. Sincerity, truthfulness, always aiming for love, owning my mistakes, genuine apologies, making amends, and forgiveness are the real witnesses.

It’s a curious thing, living cross-culturally. You do gradually start to get the hang of life, but there’s always something else waiting to happen. Still, I can’t help but feel optimistic. If I’ve learned anything through this culture shock roller coaster, it’s that while my feelings may shoot about wildly, I can trust truth to calm and guide them back.

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/culture-shock-on-the-up-curve/feed/ 2 8918
No Easy Answers http://www.alifeoverseas.com/no-easy-answers/ http://www.alifeoverseas.com/no-easy-answers/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2016 13:09:04 +0000 http://www.alifeoverseas.com/?p=8912 children-1217246_1280My mom and dad raised five children in Pakistan. At the time, options for educating children were limited. Here is her story about kids, trust, and ultimately learning that God loves and cares for her children. All five of us have come to know the God that she trusted. ***** “Do YOU think it’s right […]]]>

children-1217246_1280

My mom and dad raised five children in Pakistan. At the time, options for educating children were limited. Here is her story about kids, trust, and ultimately learning that God loves and cares for her children. All five of us have come to know the God that she trusted.

*****

“Do YOU think it’s right to take innocent children to those heathen countries?”

The small elderly woman confronted me with the question. Ralph and I were newly appointed missionaries hoping to go to India. I glanced down at my tummy- had she guessed I was pregnant? I didn’t think it showed yet. I likely mumbled something about God’s will and tried to change the subject. We did take that innocent child with us to Pakistan, not India, and in the next 10 years we had four more. We were 20-somethings, full of hope and excitement and ideals. God in His mercy hid the future with its pain and struggle and tears of raising children overseas from us.

Not too many years later it had become clear to us that for most missionaries’ children in Pakistan boarding school was a part of that future. Our mission actively supported the founding of Murree Christian School in the northern mountains, eight hundred miles from where we lived. Five children from our mission were enrolled in its first year of existence.

“How can the Lord expect such an enormous sacrifice of us?” I asked myself. “It’s too much. I can’t do it. It can’t be right.” I struggled, asking how this could be God’s will for parents to send such young children away from home.

Eddie would start first grade in my home town during our first furlough. This timing put off our painful decision for a year. But God’s call to Pakistan was very clear to both Ralph and me. Did that call have to mean sending our children away at such a tender age?

In February 1959 Ralph went off to Karachi to arrange our furlough travel leaving me at home with the three children, behind the brick walls that surrounded our tiny courtyard. The Addleton family (Hu, Betty and their two little boys) were the only other foreigners in that small town in the desert and suggested we all go to the canal ten miles away for a picnic. Eddie was so excited that we were going to travel on the Queen Mary from England.

“I’m going to sail my Queen Mary in the canal,” he said, showing me the long string he had tied to a nail in the bow of his small wooden boat.

A couple of hours later, he stood at the edge of the canal, throwing his boat into the water and pulling it back. I kept an eye on him, but he was such a careful little boy. He would never fall in – Stan (his younger brother) might, but not Ed. A jeep driving along the dirt canal road, raised clouds of dust, and we checked the whereabouts of each of the children. Assuring they were all safe, we adults sipped mugs of coffee.

I looked around again just as the jeep passed us. Eddie was gone! I couldn’t see him anywhere. I jumped up and called his name, only to see his boat floating down the canal. Hu Addleton dove in, swam to the middle and began treading water, feeling the bottom with his feet. Bettie gathered up the little ones and the picnic things loading them into the Land Rover. I stood, helpless beside the canal. The water was so muddy, the current so swift. How could Hu possibly find my little boy in that murky water?

Then Hu called out, “I’ve found him!” He dove under and came up holding Eddie’s limp body. He handed Eddie up to me and somehow I knew what I had to do – that morning waiting for the Addletons to arrive, I had re-read a Readers’ Digest article about what was then a new method of artificial respiration, called “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Eddie’s face was purple. I cleaned mud and sticks out of his mouth, before turning him onto his stomach to see a gush of water from his mouth. Laying him on his back, I started breathing into his mouth. Hu knelt beside us on that grassy canal bank praying loudly, begging God to give us back our son. How many minutes passed? I didn’t know, but then we saw a miracle! Eddie started breathing on his own!

I wrapped him in the picnic blanket and we hurried home in the Land Rover. Bettie took the younger children and Hu drove Eddie and me to the Mission Hospital fifty miles away. Eddie was still unconscious. I couldn’t voice my thoughts, “What about brain damage? How long had he been under water?”

But the miracle was not finished yet. As we neared the city of Sukkur, Eddie opened his eyes and sat up on my lap. He pointed to the lights of the irrigation dam across the Indus River. “Mommy,” he said. “That’s the Sukkur Barrage. Why are we in Sukkur?”

The Lord chose to give our son back to us, but He did not have to. We had given Eddie to the Lord before his birth. Three weeks later on his sixth birthday, my tears came in a flood. I sensed the Lord asking me to give my son back to Him, to relinquish ownership of all our children to Him, even if it meant sending them away to boarding school.

My prayers for our children began to change. While I had previously been focused on my feelings, my anticipated pain, my struggles, I was learning to ask God to fulfill His purposes for each of our children. I began to ask the Lord to show me ways I could prepare them for going away to boarding.

A year and a half later in Murree, I sat sewing name tags on Eddie’s school clothes. I heard a knock on the door and a friend walked in. She sat down and picked up a needle to help me. As we chatted, she shared a verse from Isaiah that the Lord had given her for her children in a time of crisis: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (Isaiah 54:13 KJV)

In those verses I knew I could trust the Lord to teach my children.

This did not mean abdicating our responsibilities. We were still their parents, but He would also put others into their lives to influence them in ways we couldn’t. In making this decision my husband and I also promised ourselves that if any of our five found being away from home too difficult, we would have to move to a large city with the right schools or leave our work in Pakistan. God’s call on our lives was primary, but it was first and foremost a call to Himself. The life He called us to had to be right for our children, too. He never asked us to sacrifice their best interests, only to let Him show us what was best for them. And He reminded me often that best also includes the hard.

As I prayed this scripture for our five children over many years, I asked the Lord to bring the people of His choice into their lives, to use them to mold and shape each one. I prayed for good friends and healthy friendships. I prayed for each one a “Jonathan” who would strengthen his or her hand in God. (I Samuel 23:16) I prayed for kind and loving dorm parents and understanding teachers. At times I had to accept that those in charge of my children were not always kind and loving. In God’s sovereignty, He occasionally put difficult people into their lives. But I learned I could thank the Lord for those He chose to mentor our children. I think of Auntie Eunice, a teacher who gave up teaching to spend her life as a housemother nurturing the smallest girls; of Auntie Inger, a widow, who prayed that each of her little boys would receive Christ as personal Savior; of Uncle Paul, from New Zealand, a great dorm parent to our boys. Someone said of Paul, “He gave those boys a long leash, but they knew he was there to pull them back.” I think of Chuck, principal of the school during most of the years our children attended; of Debbie, sent by the Lord to influence our own daughter, as well as so many other teenage girls. There were many others, more than I can name here.

Would we make the same decision today if we were young parents living overseas? With the internet and the homeschooling options available now, we would probably keep them home longer.

I have learned that each situation is unique. Every family is different. Each child has his or her own personality and needs. For you who are raising your children overseas, there are still no easy answers to these questions. May our loving Lord give you wisdom to discern what is best for them and the courage to trust the Lord to be their teacher. May all your children be taught by the Lord and may they experience His great peace.

About the author: Pauline Brown and her husband Ralph spent over 30 years in the Sindh desert of Pakistan. Pauline has five children and is now grandmother to 17 grandchildren, and great grandmother to a growing number of littles. She is the author of a book, Jars of Clay that chronicles the journey of a small group of ordinary missionaries in Pakistan.

]]>
http://www.alifeoverseas.com/no-easy-answers/feed/ 8 8912