A Communal (Running) Life Overseas

running djibouti*Read the first post in this series here: A Practical (Running) Life Overseas

I didn’t intend to build a running community. I didn’t even intend to start running. But loneliness will make you do incredible things and five years later, I am amazed.

I started running when we had a woman working with us for one school year. Heather had recently run a marathon.

“Is it safe to run here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You should go with someone at least the first time.”

“You’re the boss,” she said. “I’m running. You’re supposed to keep me safe, so I guess you’re coming with.”

And voila, I started running. I liked running fine, but I adored Heather. I would go through anything, even a 110-degree run, to spend time with her, to listen to her talk while I huffed and hacked, to pray, to review scripture together.

Eventually we got more serious about training and wanted to do speed work. Through another American and her friendship with Djibouti’s only Olympic medalist (1988 Seoul Olympics, bronze in the marathon), we were given permission to run at the stadium.

running djibouti

A handful of local girls trained there. They were young, not in school, friendly, and often injured. They rarely stretched and ran in bare feet, didn’t know about hydration or post-run fueling, and were often kept out of competitions because they didn’t belong to a club. These girls were fast, they lapped us during workouts, but on warm-up and cool-down laps, we chatted and developed friendships and we started to dream about an all-girls club.

Girls Run 2 launched in 2008 and now includes two coaches and 27 girls in two towns. The club provides running equipment, water at races, transportation to races, academic assistance, and some job skills training.

Running is by nature a solitary endeavor, but all runners can testify to the strength of a running community. A running team, race camaraderie, someone to complain about knee pain to, someone who will ask if you are meeting your goals, someone who understands why you push your body to the limits.

Living overseas isn’t always, but can sometimes feel like a solitary endeavor. My husband has a job and through his work, has a natural community. Over the years I have been much more fluid in how I engage and it has often been a lonely struggle. Running has helped meet a relational need through the development of this community.

How can those of us without a clear-cut niche develop a community overseas? How can we be intentional and creative and get involved?

You don’t need to start a club. It could be one other woman, like Heather and I. What about finding out if any of your local friends run or walk or want to start? Gather one or two and hit the road, the time together might become addicting and attractive to others. You don’t have to be fast. I began participating in races, sometimes one of three women out of a field of over 100. I have been the last person, the.last.person to cross the finish line. The first time that I finished in last place I got on television, shook the hand of the minister for sports, and posed for photos with the national running team, a gigantic trophy in my hands for finishing as the third-place woman. Third out of three. Last place. Champion. There is probably a lesson there, I was just glad to stop running.

You don’t need a lot of experience. Neighbors began talking to me about running, some asked if they could run with me. When university students found out I ran, some came to the train to join, even though they had never run before. Since I was still a beginner, we had a lot in common.

It doesn’t have to be running. Figure out what you love to do and then do it with the people around you. Notice, I didn’t say: figure out what you do well and then do it with the people around you. I do not run well. I have terrible form and turn red as beet juice. I terrify children and make them scream when I try to smile at the end of long runs (true story).

Want to build community? What do you love to do? How can you do it together?

(here is a link to the preview for the movie I mentioned in my last post about running: Finding Strong. If you get Runner’s World magazine, the December issue has a fully page ad for this film and the photo is of three of our Djibouti girls at Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, Djibouti’s salt lake).

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, (slow) marathoner and development worker, Djibouti

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

 

Airplanes are Time Machines

We joke that airplanes are time machines. When we come back to South America from North America it feels as though we step back in time. The clinics feel outdated. The cows on cobblestone streets look like the pioneer days in the movies. The open fires in homes and restaurants tended by women in skirts with babies slung on their backs set a scene of a bygone era.

I suppose we could also launch a mind bending conversation about the relativity of time. Like how you “skip” a day when flying from L.A. to Sydney. Or how you can “go back” to yesterday by flying from Tokyo to Honolulu. Such a thrilling life for international travelers! We’ll save all that for the science forums.

I’d rather touch on something even non-nerds can converse about: the cultural concept of time.

Yang Liu created a collection of captivating infogrpahics and put them in a book. After spending significant time in Germany and China she compares: standing in line, dealing with problems, social dynamics at parties, etc. You can see a larger sampling on Brain Pickings.  For the purpose of this post I want us to consider just this one:

Yang Liu's infographic on punctualityOn the left, in the blue box, we see the Germanic concept of punctuality. On the right, in the red box, we see the Chinese concept of punctuality. What would the image portray as an infographic on punctuality for the region where you reside?

The Bolivian rhythm is quite different than the Nebraska rhythm I was raised on. Adjusting my definition of “late” has relieved some tension. Others have tried to sanctify punctuality, as if it was included in the beatitudes. That is a mite too exhausting for me. I choose rather to ascribe to a different addendum to the Sermon on the Mount:  Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.

Culture shock still creeps up on me every once in a while, though. It usually hits me when I think I have something all figured out. I thought for sure I had the slower place down pat. Then some challenges arose in a particular relationship with a Bolivian.

Consistently, my expectations were not met. I hoped for growth. I taught for growth. We went round and round the issues, and still I didn’t see what I wanted to see in the life of this other person.

When I was venting my frustrations to a very wise lady she helped me see this situation in a new light. She asked if I loved the other person. What good Christian would say no? Of course I love this person. She then said that it was time to lift the timeline. Oftentimes when dealing with relational issues we cannot put a timeline of expectation on the other person. When we are committed to the relationship we will trust that God is helping the other person to grow and change in His timing.

Since that moment, when I see myself become impatient with another person, especially this person, I remember that I let the timeline go. What a great freedom!

The Message bible says in Matthew 11:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The unforced rhythms of grace for others.

The unforced rhythms of grace for myself.

The unforced rhythms of grace to live in company with God.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace

What is time like in your region of the world?

Are there some areas in your life where lifting the timeline expectation might relieve some pressure?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Succession

Missionaries are good at many things. We are adaptable, we are frugal, and we often carry a global perspective.

In my experience, one area we are weak in is in planning for the future. Our strength lies in our ability to respond and change, but at times this keeps our focus on the here and now, rather than outward to what is to come.

This is evident in our finances (but this is for another discussion), our relationships, and often in our ministries.

We are the ones who boldly proclaim retirement is not in the Bible.
We wrestle with whether it is appropriate for us to store up future funds when immediate needs are so great.
We often struggle to travel home to maintain valuable relationships due to the immensity of work which needs to be done on the field.

These are generalizations I realize. But, let’s pause for a moment to consider succession in our ministries.

Some rights reserved by Trinidad-News.com
Some rights reserved by Trinidad-News.com

I seem to meet many in ministry who have no plan for the work to go on when they are unable to continue.

Why is this?

When our family moved to South Africa eight years ago, we desired to build something which would outlast us. I think this is a common goal and dream among ministries and missionaries.

Why is it so difficult to accomplish?

Sometimes we wonder what we will do if we pass things on.
Fear sets in as we question whether our supporters might assume we no longer have a ministry.
Often we won’t hand our “baby” off to someone who is different than us.
We can’t imagine giving things to a younger leader (wanting to protect them from the same lessons we learned in becoming a “seasoned” leader.
It is even possible to assume the right person will only come at the end of our journey.

What if that “right” person shows up earlier than we expect?
Would we be able to accomplish more things if we actively thought of succession?

The objections to this issue are fair and need to be considered;
It’s too soon.
They are not ready.
The timing must be right.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Passing things off earlier rather than later enables us to:
Release local leaders who likely will be more culturally relevant than ourselves, perhaps taking the ministry even further.
Be present for the growing pains of transition in a coaching and mentoring way.
Allow younger leaders some of the same opportunities we were afforded at their stage.
Ensure that ministries or teams are not based on us.
Set a godly example of leadership which is not power based or title hungry.

And all of this does not reduce our personal fruitfulness, but increases it. We have the freedom to pursue new opportunities and see even greater impact in the nations we serve. We can join the “cloud of witnesses” cheering our successors on through support and encouragement.

Even if our work does not include a team or organization, we should be asking if we are reproducing ourselves and our hearts?

This discussion of handing over our teams or ministries does not have a one size fits all answer.

But, I cannot see any damage in thinking of succession more frequently than we do.

We’ve seen transition done poorly. Longevity of a team or a project is so key, it is worth our consideration.

What are your thoughts or experiences in the area of succession?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

Today! It’s my favorite day!

I’ve spent a lot of years, now, reading and rereading The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, featuring Pooh, his pal Piglet and the rest of their cohorts from the Hundred Acre Woods.

It’s a good thing I’ve never tired of either him or his pals.

Actually, the longer I read, the more I notice the mighty amounts of wisdom coming from that bear of very little brain…

I’ve read them to kids from other cultures, impromptu-like and on-the-fly-translated to French (in a less than stellar fashion, too, I’m quite sure)!  Even rural Gourmantche kids from the backside of the desert got a kick out of the pictures and my awkward, unprepared translations.

Surprisingly, Pooh Bear is quite culturally adaptable. He just rolls with whatever adventure comes his way in a surprisingly positive and yet matter-of-fact way.

winnie-the-pooh-original-drawing-with-quote

I’m trying to take lessons from him.

The last six months have been a roller coaster ride of experiences and emotions.

  • Tense times due to both security and infrastructure issues right before we left our West African home for home assignment in the States.
  • Celebrating a graduating senior.
  • Seeing long missed friends and family while leaving behind or saying goodbye to dear friends and friends who’ve become family.
  • The most amazing vacation ever.
  • My grandfather’s health taking a significant turn for the worse, leading to…
  • Our unexpected change in plans.
  • A beautiful and precious wedding.
  • Time to unwind, just our family.
  • Crazy, almost impossible to do road trips.
  • Getting “home” to re-realize that every time it is different… people change, lives move on, people leave…
  • Learning to buy groceries in America, and despising it… all over again.
  • As my children would say, “That awkward moment when you re-remember that traffic laws aren’t optional in the States…” and the resulting feeling really stupid right now minutes.
  • Tears and lost-ness for those best friend pets little girl had to leave behind.
  • Tears and longing for a play date with her first grade best friend who lives about as far away on this globe as she could be and still be on the globe – yet so excited to be making new friends in another new class.
  • Hearing friends talk about how much they are missing my children.
  • All the craziness to find all the “stuff” packed and stored and then to get it unpacked and accessibly stored.
  • Realizing what we’ve lost or ruined or forgotten in the process… and wishing we hadn’t.
  • Dropping our first off at college (a roller coaster in and of itself).
  • Discovering that even Christian schools in the States aren’t as family-focused-friendly as we’d grown accustomed to the past three years.fall leaves1
  • Just the other day hearing that my grandfather is with Jesus, wishing I would have seen him just one more time and knowing I missed that opportunity by only several hours, and my heart overflowing knowing how blessed I’ve been that he’s been a part of my life for so long.

Driving home early one morning from delightfully encouraging weekend meetings with ministry partners followed by catch-up time with the gal who’d ministered as our nanny during language school( and her lovely family), we were trying to get our gang back to school before they missed too much class. Changing curricula once again, we are seeing how different educational scopes and sequences really don’t line up – and our kids risk becoming casualties of that out-of-sync-ness. Autumn had gloriously robed the trees in red, yellow and orange neon hues like can only seen in a north woods fall while sunlight reflected from misty ponds and the bright blue sky stretched for forever. The next weekend, we would catch up with Niger friends and colleagues; just a few weeks previous, we had visited with others from our desert home. And I’d hopefully get to see the young woman for whom I’d been a nanny so many years ago while her parents studied the Bengali language. We’d also heard that the California branch of our family would be back to Michigan for Thanksgiving. So as the kids slept and I drove, all I could do was praise God from the deepest part of my cracked and piecemealed heart while trying not to sob (really bad idea when driving), all at the same time.

Isn’t that the thing about this expat life?

So full and yet at once always empty?

So much for which to be thankful, even while heart cracks and breaks and pieces scatter to the four corners of the globe?

Yes…

Each day – for every man, woman and child – has its ups and downs, its trials and its celebrations. I’d be lying to myself if I tried to say it was any different for me simply because of this life I live… or that I have it any worse or have it any better.

The ups and downs are simply different.

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So in our family, we’re really trying to keep the Pooh Bear perspective:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

…where we look for things every day to make it our favorite day.

After all, it is the one we presently have, right?

Studying through Hebrews… these words, my paraphrase of Hebrews 11:26, humble me:

Moses led his people by esteeming the reproach of Christ as mega riches and worth so much more than all of the treasures in the storehouses of Egypt. He chose each day, repeatedly, to focus his eyes and his heart-gaze forward.

How could he do that?

I know I’m always looking back, often comparing. That was what the Israelites did. But not so Moses.  Heart-gazing forward? Did you know that this is the only place in the Bible this word or expression is used? In common Greek usage, this expression often referred to an astronomer observing and detailing movements of planets, stars and other heavenly bodies. It also could describe an artist who would fix his gaze and his entire attention on his model, continually checking and rechecking details so that he captured every single one. At the very same time, the astronomer or painter would be overwhelmed with amazed wonder, thankfulness and anticipation at the sight before their eyes.

Isn’t that a totally awesome word picture?

At least that gives me some ideas of how to keep at that making today my favorite, only-looking-forward process.

How about you?

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Do you find that you struggle with these same sorts of extreme and conflicting feelings about your expat life?

How do you make today your favorite day, choosing to focus your eyes and heart gaze forward to what God has for your future?

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

Happy Birthday, A Life Overseas!

When Angie Washington and I dreamed of a safe place online for people in the trenches of working and ministering overseas, written by people living and ministering overseas. We wanted a community where honest conversations and gritty realities were honored, a space where challenge and encouragement could be shared with respect and intention.

And now, one year and nearly 280,000 visits later, amid 3,500 comments, this space is thriving. 

And we, as a community of writers, just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for making this place a corner of the web where we all want to be at least a little bit each week. The following is a little video message from us, from several different continents. . . .

Happy Birthday, friends. Here’s to another year of honest conversations from around the globe. 

Laura Parker

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We’d love to hear from you. As we plan for next year, what would you like to see more of? What topics would you like covered?

Or, would you share the ways in which this community has challenged or encouraged you? Any specific post that touched you? 

 

Want to give us a birthday present? Consider sharing this post online, subscribe via the sidebar, liking us on Facebook, or (the ultimate gift) ask your friends to connect with us on facebook, as well.

 

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

 

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

If you are raising your children in a country other than their passport country, you are raising third culture kids. The definition used most often is this one from the late Dave Pollock: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

I was raised as a third culture kid and went on to raise third culture kids for 10 years. There is much I don’t know, much I can’t articulate. But some things I do know and in these next few minutes I offer them. They are not comprehensive and they are not formulaic; there are far better and wiser voices that have documented research on the topic. But these words are offered with humility and a prayer that they will resonate with grace and hope.

Guilt will get you nowhere. If you feel guilty for raising your children overseas, I encourage you to seek counsel. Guilt is an unproductive emotional pitfall that will warp your parenting. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Living overseas is not an offense, nor is it a crime. For many it is a high calling, for others it is a career move. No matter, guilt cuts deeply and helps no one, instead causing stress, undue anxiety, and ultimately destroyed relationships. The guilt felt over raising children overseas is false guilt. No child has a say in what their parents become. My husband’s father is a mechanic. He did not consult my husband and ask him if that would be okay, and rightly so. This overseas life is not about kids agreeing or disagreeing with your life calling. It is about living well and faithfully within that calling. Lose the guilt – take a helium balloon, write the word GUILT in big letters, then release it and watch it go until you see it no more. That’s where guilt belongs – out of sight, leaving your body and your heart free to live faithfully right where you are.  Okay – so you live in Somalia or Mumbai and helium balloons are nowhere to be found. A piece of paper will do just as well. Write the words, then light a match and burn them. Watch them burn away through the light of the holy fire of faith.

Your ‘back home’ is not your children’s ‘back home’. You may have grown up in a small town, surrounded by generations of family and friends who are still in the town. That is home and that is what you miss when overseas. You miss the smell of newly mowed grass, the sounds of downtown, the feel of putting on a heavy sweater in the fall as you walk through vibrant colors of red, gold, and orange. Your children don’t miss those things. They never knew them. Their reality is not your reality. Their ‘back home’ is not your ‘back home’. When they go to their passport countries for periodic visits, that’s exactly what those trips are: they are visits. They are not going ‘home’.

Faith can get complicated. Missions work comes with a high calling and a whole lot of baggage. It is hard to discern what’s real and what’s false. Your home churches may be both safe and disturbing for you. In the west we have created an idolatry of ministry and those who live overseas are high on the pedestal. Being able to speak honestly with church leadership about your struggles, your fears, your worries that you will fall from the false pedestal helps everybody. Your kids? They don’t want the pedestal. When they find marijuana behind the churchyard, they don’t want to be the ‘missionary kids that are struggling’. They want to be able to work out their faith in safe spaces, spaces where questions are welcome and struggles are honored. Try and communicate this to those you trust, work toward creating a safe spot for faith questions.

You have the power to create a ‘place’. While holding the mantra ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’ may be helpful for you, it probably won’t be for your children. Paul Tournier, a well-known Swiss Psychologist, has some profound insights on place in his book A Place for You. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. We are “incarnate beings” and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology – Tournier calls this a “deprivation of place”. As parents, you can create ‘place’, you can create ‘home’. Through traditions that are not confined to geographic location, through family memories and jokes, through special items that will always be there, whether they be framed pictures, candle holders, or books, you can create ‘place’. My parents have lived in more homes than I can count, but when I walk into their space, whether it be a 4-bedroom home in the woods of New England, or a house with stained glass windows and a 30 foot high ceiling in Pakistan, there are certain things that speak to me of ‘home’, of ‘place’. A small painting of a New England winter, Daily Bread on the side of their table with all their mail, my dad’s desk, filled with books and papers with his characteristic hand-writing — all of this embodies ‘place’, creates a feeling of ‘home’.

Learn how to grieve well, help your children know how to grieve well. Dave Pollock, a pioneer in bringing attention to the third culture kid journey, said this: “Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.” You’ve already experienced the frequent goodbyes, the unknowns, the sometimes inconsistent journey. Know that grief is good, grief is individual, grief is rarely nicely organized, grief is physical and emotional. Because grief is a part of the journey, learning how to grieve well is critical.

Put fun into the journey. The memories of sitting in airports or at sidewalk cafes, riding in rickshaws or horse-drawn carriages, laughing at family jokes, yearly trips to the ocean where everyone was on vacation and phones and computers were left far behind – you will regret none of those. This world is a mansion and you have had the privilege of exploring many rooms with your children, and many airports connecting those rooms — so never doubt the fun of the journey, the privilege of the call.

In closing, this journey is a journey laced with grace. To communicate that grace to your kids is the biggest gift you will ever give them. Much of our past has been put into photo albums, blog posts, and memories of the heart. There is no doubt this life of pilgrimage comes with unique challenges, peculiar pains, unspoken losses –  but for all those there is always and ever Grace.

Readers — what would you add to this post? What else would help on this journey of raising third culture kids? 

Marilyn Gardner loves God, her family, and her passport and can be found blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

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on launching kids from great distances

photo“You’ve given her roots, now give her wings.”

That is what they all say.

“God loves her more than you, trust Him with her.”

That is what the spiritual and wise will advise.

As mothers and fathers choosing to live and work far from our passport countries and most of the institutions of higher learning, the day of sending a child out of the nest to college can feel even more daunting for us.

I think we can all agree, it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need the people who remind us that this is the nature of the beast. We don’t have these children in order to keep them under our roofs and thumbs for a lifetime. We can usually be rational enough to agree that we raise our children fully intending to launch them; we want to produce self-sustaining, responsible, grownup-ish  individuals.

When I am not so rational I believe I have been tricked, like someone sped up time and I wasn’t given my full 18 year allotment. In those irrational moments I think about destroying the passport, bolting the doors, refusing to buy an airline ticket, sobbing until my blood vessels burst, or thrashing on the ground with my arms gripping her ankles like a vice.  I’ve heard things like this happen from time to time. (Ahem.)

In my own upbringing I was given two “free backs”.  That to say, the first two launch missions were aborted and I returned tail between my legs, begging for mercy and access to Mom and Dad’s refrigerator.  It was the third try that finally stuck, when I was 25 years old.

I remember my parents not seeming to terribly annoyed at having me back.  In many ways they seemed happy to have me.  As we are launching our second almost fully functional adult right now, I am understanding the patience my parents exhibited upon my return(s).  Our kids grow up too quickly, and it never feels very comfortable to transition to the next phase. Change is hard. Letting go is harder. Drastically changing our long-held role, a role that can be a part of our very identity, is difficult albeit necessary.

Many years ago when my daughter was little, I was explaining to her that my new job required me to travel and I’d be gone more often.  She listened without comment. I finally said, “Change is really hard, honey.”  She thought about that a moment and said, “I agree. I hate change.  I like dollars.”  Even though our conversation never connected in any meaningful way, we found agreement.

Change stinks. 

This stuff is painful.  The idea that I will be 3,000 miles away without any knowledge of her comings and goings strikes panic in my Momma heart. It seems I’ve been telling myself that knowing where she is all the time – is what keeps her safe.  Now, I know that is ridiculous, but it is true nonetheless.   I thought it might get easier with the second child. My husband and I are finding it just as daunting the second time around.

In a letter I wrote to her earlier this year, I said,

“When they hand you a baby after you have performed miraculous feats of superhuman proportions to bring that little person into the world, they don’t tell you about what is coming; the greater pain of letting them go. They don’t tell you that those hours and hours of contractions and pushing are just the warm-up, eighteen years early, for the real pain.”

Our job as parents doesn’t end here, but it changes drastically.  We hope to take the advice of our friends and give our girl wings as we look to God, who loves her even more than we do, and trust Him with her future and ours.

~           ~           ~

For those of you that have launched your children from the mission field, what things have you found to be helpful, especially in the first year or two?  

Do you think being in a different country than your child makes the transition more difficult?

 

Tara Livesay  works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?

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I’ve often heard people explain their motivation for Christian missions work as: to keep other people from going to hell. This kind of motivation has always rubbed me the wrong way, but I could never articulate why… until now.

When we are so loud about what we’re against, what we are for gets lost in the noise.

Instead of being so against abortion, perhaps we should be investing in better parenting, adoption, and foster care. Instead of being so anti-divorce, maybe it would be more effective to invest in restoring and protecting marriages. Instead of being so bent on keeping people out of hell, we should be investing in bringing people into the Kingdom of Heaven. What is more important to you: Keeping people out of hell or bringing them into the Kingdom of God?

The distinction is quite fine, but make no mistake, it’s important.

Jesus was passionate about the profound impact the Kingdom has on people’s life. He wasn’t just talking about something that was to come, someday, after death, eventually. He was talking about abundant life right now. Not necessarily abundant financially, relationally, or even spiritually. He was talking about abundance in Him, which we can’t define with our words, but with our lives and actions. When we focus on keeping people out of hell we trade the heart-level abundance Jesus was all about for a form of fire insurance.

Being in the Kingdom of God means marriages improve, kids are raised right, churches are healthy, and communities are transformed. Simply staying out of hell really doesn’t mean anything to us right now and we can’t help but notice how little guilt and fear has motivated people to live for God. When we live our lives in such a way that it shows the Kingdom of God is at hand, the earth becomes a lot more heavenly (hey that sounds familiar).

Bottom line: the purpose of being a Christian is not to keep people out of hell and it would behoove all of us Christians to stop acting/talking like it.

Are you playing to win or are you playing not to lose? So often in this life we are playing not to lose at the cost of a true relationship with God. Another way to say it: Instead of focusing on what you are not, focus on what you are. You can’t base anything lasting on what you are not or what you are against.

So, what are you for? Nothing else really matters. Leave a comment explaining what you are for. What excites you about the Kingdom? What are the most beautiful promises of God? People are missing abundant life in God because we aren’t talking about it or living it out. So let’s start now: what is the Kingdom of Heaven like to you?

– – – – – – – – – –

– Dustin Patrick |  1MISSION in Mexico, Nicaragua, & El Salvador

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8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas

If you have a toddler or young child and you’ve moved overseas, you might have learned (as I am learning) that the adage that kids are resilient doesn’t mean that change doesn’t cost them. Most children might be generally adaptable, but many are firmly attached to valued routines and known, safe spaces. Moving comes at an energy and emotional cost to young children, just as it does to adults.

It’s been a week today since I arrived back in Laos after spending six months in Australia delivering our second child within easy reach of good hospitals. The maternal mortality rate in Laos still hovers in the shocking range of 1/49 (around 1/30 for women out in the villages without even access to basic health centers). Not even Lao women have their babies in Laos if they can easily afford to go to Thailand.

In April I left from Luang Prabang almost six months pregnant with a non-verbal 20-month old toddler in tow. I’ve returned to a new house in a new city (Vientiane) with a child who talks almost constantly, and who calls his grandparents house in Australia “home”. After six months of living with his Nana and Papa while his “Dada” came and went a couple of times on the “pane”, Dominic is understandably confused at the total upending of his world. He keeps asking for his grandparents, the green lawnmower, and to “go home.”

The first time this happened we were five hours into our flight to Bangkok. My husband, Mike, and I reminded him that we were going to Laos.

“To our new home,” Mike said brightly.

“We have two homes,” I said, equally brightly, secretly wishing I could comply with his demand to turn the plane around. “One in Australia and one in Laos.”

“No. One home,” Dominic said, staring us both down.

“Oh my child,” I said. “You are about to get very, very confused when it comes to home, for which I am truly sorry. But don’t worry. If you’re anything like me, around the time you turn 30 you’ll spend three years writing a memoir about this problem of home and it’ll all make a bit more sense.”

All flippancy aside, it’s been really hard to see Dominic struggle to figure out what’s happening and how much he misses his grandparents (and that damn green lawnmower). I have decades of practice at adjusting to these sorts of transitions myself, but watching my child missing his “home” is forcing me to acknowledge how much I, too, miss that home.

It’s also making me realize that I need to refresh my own knowledge related to helping young children deal with change. So, today, I offer you some thoughts on helping toddlers and young kiddos cope better with a massive change like an overseas move.

Dom and green lawnmower Sept 2013

1. Start talking about the transition in advance: Give them some warning that change is coming. I talked to Dominic for at least two weeks about how Daddy had gone on the “pane” back to Laos after Alex was born, and he’d come back to get us and then we’d all go on the plane. Reading them books like The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day can also help prepare them.

2. Create keepsakes: If you’re leaving people who’ve been really special in the lives of your child, create something special that’s linked to those people. Get them to give your child a keepsake (Dominic is now sleeping with the koala that his grandparents bought him in the airport). Create a small photo album, or do something else creative to help the child feel connected.

3. The phrase “new home” might help: Dominic was used to calling his grandparent’s house “home” so we started calling our place in Laos our “new home”. Now that we’re here, it’s seemed to help him to refer to “new home” “new highchair” “new bed” etc. Hopefully the “new” moniker will fade out of it’s own accord over time.

4. Expect your child to become more clingy and fearful: To a young child, the world is a big place filled with things that are hard to understand. They rely on things they recognize to make sense of everything else. After a move they may become clingy and fearful and act younger again. You might want to let them carry around their “love” objects more (e.g., if they love pacifiers but usually only have them in the crib, you might want to let them carry one around the house for a while). You should also …

5. Stick to familiar daily rituals (and create some if you don’t have many): Simple daily rituals like saying grace at mealtimes, reading stories before bed, picking out your clothes together, and watching familiar TV programs, can ground and calm your child and help them process change.

6. Give your child extra attention: I know this is challenging when you’ve just moved and there are 1001 things that need doing, but remind yourself to slow down and give your child lots of attention during the early days following a move. Put it on your to-do list (above sorting out boxes of clothes, etc.) if that helps.

7. Talk to those you’ve left behind on Skype and use photos strategically: We’ve found it helpful to have brief daily check ins via Skype with Nana and Papa during this initial week and showing him a familiar photo or two of him with his grandparents helped. We’ve also found it helpful to show him pictures of the green lawnmower on request. We haven’t found it helpful to flick through a lot of photos in quick succession from his time there. That only seems to upset him. Experiment and see what works.

8. If your child is going to be attending a new daycare or school, go and visit before the first day: Take your child to visit a new school at least once before their first day. Meet their teacher and let them see the classroom. Explain that they’ll be coming back to have fun there soon.

There’s more I could say but I’ll stop there for now. I’d love to hear from you on this. I know that many of you have done this before.

What have you found helpful or unhelpful when moving with toddlers or young children?

Dominic smiling October 2013

  Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

 

Step Away from the Guilt

Step Away from the Guilt 01

I was worried I’d grown numb to it. Maybe I’d become calloused. Hardened. Immune.

Because poverty wasn’t affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me. I’d return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my “self-absorbed” Christian friends. I soapboxed about America’s obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough. I’m not saying I didn’t genuinely have compassion, conviction, and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced, because I couldn’t reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived every day.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can’t be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

I mustn’t allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

Step Away from the Guilt 02

I realized that it isn’t about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well—using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. “Do you just get used to it?” What they are really asking is the same thing I’ve asked myself: “Did you grow numb?”

And I see now that I didn’t. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the “luck” of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but I am confident that we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What’s been your experience with responding to poverty?

Alece RonzinoAlece Headshot

After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

{Photos Source: Daniel C. White}

A previous post by Alece: Bring the Rain