How to Approach Language Learning for the Long Haul


It was my first job teaching Spanish to middle and high school students. The extent of my speaking as I roamed the aisles of antsy students was ‘¿Qué tiempo hace hoy?’ And ‘¿Cómo estás hoy?’ The kínd Spanish language students remember years down the road because the heard them 101 ways and times.

But I wanted more. I had worked really hard to become fluent in my semester abroad in Barcelona and I wasn’t going to lose it. So I traveled that summer for three weeks to Mexico translating for short term missions’ teams.

And the next year I began teaching a course where I focused on the students speaking in the target language no matter how much they knew. Both of these things were my stake in the ground to becoming a life-long language learner and encouraging others to do the same.

And so, these are the essentials I have found to achieve communication skills and life enrichment in long-term language learning.

1) Be creative: Whenever you are in a season that is a kind of lull in your language study, get creative. Spend time praying in your target language. Write your Facebook messages in the language you are learning. Watch a movie and then detail the plot to a friend. Share any other ideas below in the comments.

2) Be determined: I can’t say this enough. Don’t ever give up. In my humble opinion, the best language learners are those who keep on no matter how discouraging their experience. In this way, see language learning like a marathon with some snail-paced miles, but the finish line is still before you and you WILL get there!

3) Be prayerful: I know, I already said to pray in the target language. I am kind of big on the whole praying thing 😉 The truth is God is on the side of learning this language. It doesn’t mean He will love us more when we master it. But, it does mean He wants to give us everything we need to be successful. So pray for the write school and class to go to next. Pray for a patient language partner–I have seen this one answered for over 20 years and in two languages.

4) Be humble: This may not feel like the best thing about learning another language, but it kind of is. We have a built-in reminder that we have those proverbial feet of clay. And that, my friend, is a good thing. English is the universal language and many places we live many people want us to use it. But when we make learning the local language a consistent part of our experience, we have a reformed posture in the culture. And this is evident beyond the words we say and how well we say them.

5) Be honest: Don’t look at language learning as a box you will check off and move past. Think of it as a messy, committed, long-term relationship full of ups and downs. (Yes, sounds like marriage!) But you really do want this humbling, stretching process in your life and you will never regret your investment in it. It’s ok to be struggling. We all have been, and we all will be. If someone tells you it’s been easy for them then they are either an out-of-this-world whizz or not being honest. To learn another language is to come face to face with your humanity.

6) Be fun!!: And finally, remember the fun! Your language partner has to be someone with whom you can laugh! I laughed with Kriszti, the woman who cleaned my house in Hungary, as we remembered the early days.‘Bed…room, ok. Then…all and kitchen stop.’ And that was a few weeks into my learning! I laugh with my friends whenever I think I ordered something right and it comes to the table all…wrong. If you aren’t laughing it will be hard to keep on, so find the funny!

I hope you are encouraged through this post and feel less alone. Many have gone before you and we are still going. Until we reach Heaven, I think every believer ought to be on some kind of language journey. It gives us a rich taste of a multi-cultural world and the God of it. So, don’t lose heart, friend.

Please share in the comments any creative ways you have kept yourself in the long-haul of language learning.

When There’s Nowhere to Go But Home

n1When my husband and I decided to leave Cambodia, we had a hard time articulating why. Life was fine – very good actually. We had a decent groove with work, amazing childcare for our two children, and the most incredible faith community.

And yet. We knew.

It would have been easier in some ways if there was some sort of “reason,” like a family or health-related issue, or something to do with the kids’ schooling. But for us it wasn’t any of those. There was no crystal clear moment, no flashing light, no obvious sign, and no audible voice from God. There was just a visceral knowledge that it was time.

When we moved to Cambodia in the first place, we were young and typically idealistic. We wanted to “make a difference” with the gifts and talents God gave us and invest meaningfully in work and relationships. We loved Cambodia deeply (and still do), but after nearly six years of committing ourselves to the country, its people and to our work, we felt like we received an inaudible release. The call to Cambodia had come and gone. And that was okay. It wasn’t failure or lack of commitment, or even cutting things short. We had permission to go.

Even more, there was an instinctual, gut-knowledge that if we stayed, we were actually taking the easy route. To leave? Well…that was terrifying. It meant trusting that God would provide a new way, a new vision for the future and a new path to see it through.

That’s where we sit right now. Nine months ago we left Cambodia. We took the long way home to Canada, stopping in 14 countries to visit friends and family along the way. Each step in our journey, including the five months we’ve been back, have been important in piecing together the next phase of our lives.

It is a phase that is decidedly Canadian. It’s relearning how to live and work and operate in our country of origin. It’s about finding deep and abundant rest – in the form of closeness to family, play parks for our kids, a safe car to drive, lots of walking and biking in Canada’s beautiful outdoors, and public services like health care and libraries at our disposal. It’s celebrating our first cold, white Christmas in six years. And, it’s wrestling with all sorts of new challenges, like living simply when surrounded by overabundance and learning to make new friends and find our place in a new church community. Sometimes I feel like I’m the new girl back in high school.

It hasn’t been easy, and there are days when I desperately miss Cambodia and question our sanity in leaving.

But I still know deep in my gut that leaving was the right decision.

I am reminded of the countless times throughout Scripture where God calls people outside themselves and outside of the familiar. Whether it’s Abram and Sarai heading towards Canaan, the Israelites leaving Egypt, or Paul’s missionary journeys, God calls us out of our comfort zone and out of the familiar.

Strangely enough, for us right now, that’s Canada.

In his work, ‘The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church’, Alan Hirsch says:

“When we survey scripture with liminality and communitas [[1]] in mind, we must conclude that the theologically most fertile sections were in those times of extremity, when people were well out of their comfort zones.”[2]

And so we find that the driving motivation to go to Cambodia in the first place – one of adventure and challenge and wanting to be changed – has now driven us back to Canada.

All of this doesn’t mean that a life overseas is over for us. Not at all. It means that before we can go and minister again, we need to refresh and re-energize after coming dangerously close to burning out. And, perhaps we need enough time in Canada to remember why we left in the first place.

For now, we plod through day to day life praying for peace, the capacity to live well in our new context, and for a renewed vision for the future.


[1] In ‘The Forgotten Ways’, Hirsch defines liminality as “the transition process accompanying a fundamental change of state or social position.” Communitas is “what happens when “individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization.” Page 221

[2] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids, MI. 2006. Page 221.


Profile EditAfter spending her entire childhood (except the odd missions trip here and there) on Canadian soil, Amie Gosselin graduated from university with a BA in Journalism and a passion to travel and engage in social justice issues. Since then, she has lived in Thailand, Suriname and Cambodia working for non-profit organizations and loves that writing and stewarding people’s stories is part of her vocation. Amie is married to Steve and mom to two spunky little girls. After six years of living Cambodia, she and her family moved back to Canada where they are trying to relearn how to live in North America. Amie continues to work part time for an international NGO and is expecting her third daughter in May.  

What Living Cross Culturally Taught Me About Being a Christian


By Cindy Brandt

I have lived cross culturally almost my entire life. Born in Taiwan, I knew one language, one culture, and one worldview, until I was introduced to the strange habits of the West at age 10. As my tongue adjusted to swirling out two diverse languages, I began to know life only by straddling both the worlds of the East and the West. I was raised cross culturally, married cross culturally, worked cross culturally, and am raising my kids cross culturally. Some days I feel fractured and fragmented, but mostly I am grateful to be privileged with a unique vantage point. Like I have been given two sets of spectacles in a world where most people wear one.

It has been complicated, to say the least, navigating my faith with my two spectacles. When I was introduced to the Christian faith, many of the habits of being Christian felt awkward: standing up and walking down the aisle to pledge my allegiance, praying out loud, singing lots of songs about loving God, which felt totally irreverent coming from a culture where the word “love” was reserved only for romance.

I thought all these habits felt strange, like clothes that didn’t fit quite right, because I was a new believer, new to the ways of Jesus. But that was only part of the reason. As a child, I hadn’t yet perfected the skill of switching my spectacles. My teachers who taught me how to be Christian wore one set of lenses, and I imitated them wearing a different set. By the time I learned how to wear the western lenses, the habits of being Christian no longer felt weird; they were natural.

We all wear a set of spectacles. Everyone does. Those lenses dictate the way we view life. They determine the habits we make, what we eat, when we sleep, when we marry, and how we work. They assign value to our lives, determining what is meaningful: family, faith, honor, love. If you are like me, you wear two spectacles; some people in the world wear three or more.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that you can see Jesus wearing different spectacles. You do not have to abandon your spectacles, or switch them out for a new pair, in order to find Jesus. You do not have to forsake the cultural values you were assigned at birth, taught by your parents, passed down by your ancestors, in order to know Jesus. No, you find Jesus by looking through them.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that some people have mistaken the Good News to be changing out the spectacles for new ones. We have reduced the Gospel to be an exchange of values and habits. What I have seen in both cultures I reside in, is that there are good values and bad values in both; we are differently good and differently bad. We are quite equally flawed, not one culture can claim superiority to teach the other much. As long as we believe we are the Bearer of Right Values, we will be pronouncing ill-informed judgment on other cultures because we have not yet learned to see God through their spectacles.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is there is more than one right way to be Christian. When you see Jesus differently, your walk with Jesus is going to look differently. When people with different spectacles worship Jesus in the same way, it is likely because the dominant cultural narrative has subsumed the minority, often in the name of unity.

They say that God is the same here, there, and everywhere; therefore if you follow God, you will look like me. Uniformity is a passive form of aggression. Homogeneity is coercing everyone to wear one pair of cultural lenses. It is leaving some people stripped of their core values, robbing them of dignity, leaving them without sight to see their way forward. It is perpetuating violence in the name of a nonviolent Jesus. No, the Good News is not that there are new spectacles we get to force upon other people’s faces. Jesus came wearing old spectacles, practicing Jewish laws, performing Jewish rituals.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that so much strife, across races, cultures, and nations, happens as a result of people being unaware of their spectacles, believing their worldview is the only right way to live. They begin to see others who live differently as evil or secular. That their way of living is uncivilized, less enlightened, sub-human. They refuse to believe that others also see God, that their lenses are just as clear, their view just as bright. That God reveals Jesus to everyone regardless of what culture they were raised in, no matter what color their skin.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Good News is the possibility for every tribe and nation to participate in the life-giving, humanity affirming way of Jesus. When he taught us to love our enemies, He was showing us how to honor a different way of doing life, assuring us all that every person is made in God’s image but situated to see God differently.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Gospel makes room for everyone, those who wear this set of lenses or that, and even, that there is place for me, someone who wears both.

It is Good News, indeed, that not any of us possess the singular image of God, that we only see a partial view, so that we spend our lives inviting more people to our table, to sit, eat, and tell us what they see.


MG_9851_2aMy name is Cindy Brandt. Like a true Third Culture Kid, I feel sure I belong someplace, yet live each day in search of it. Along the way, I write about faith, culture, and beauty in the margins at I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan with my husband and two TCKs with very well-stamped passports.

“God is Disappointed With Me” | Lies We Believe


For the past three months we’ve been working through Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). If you’re new to this series, you can read the previous posts here:

Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us

Part 2: “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

Part 3: “I Can’t Trust Anyone

Today we’ll be exploring the last three lies from the book, and next month we’ll officially close out the series with an author interview. (I’m super excited about the interview!!! I bet you couldn’t tell that, could you??)


I have to be perfect

I grew up hearing sermons about the “goodness and severity of God” and about God not hearing the prayer of the sinner. Girls Bible study times were filled with questions like, “If women are to remain silent in church, is it a sin to whisper in church to ask someone the song number if I didn’t hear it announced?” and “How long should my shorts be?” So by the time I entered ministry at the age of 19, no one had to tell me I needed to be perfect; I already knew I needed to be perfect. And not only did I know I needed to be perfect, I knew everyone else needed to be perfect as well.

At the same time, I knew everyone wasn’t perfect. As a teenager, I knew my church friends were being physically and sexually abused at home, but no one would ever dare talk about that at church, where their dads were leaders. This taught me that the families around me weren’t perfect; it also taught me that they needed to appear that way. Furthermore, it taught me that the rest of us needed to treat them as though they were perfect. The appearance of perfection mattered more than actual righteousness.

Those are my stories; your stories will be different. Yet our collective stories may have taught us something dark and devious: that ministry and missionary families are (or should be) holier than everyone else. Our stories may have taught us that in order to serve God, we need to be super human. At the very least, our stories may have taught us that we need to project an image of perfection. Sometimes we extend this expectation to others and become judgmental of their non-perfection; other times we require it only of ourselves.

Of course, none of us is perfect. We all know this very well, because we all wrestle with our own sin natures. So we can become discouraged when we fail to meet our self-imposed (or church-imposed) “shoulds” over, and over, and over again. The pressures placed on missionaries, ministers, and their wives and children are often unattainable and put them at risk for depression. The painful irony here is that since they’re “supposed” to be perfect and not have any “major” problems, there’s shame both in the depression (or other mental health issues) and its appropriate treatment.

To illustrate this, Sanford once took an informal survey at a PK conference, asking for a show of hands of people who had been diagnosed with depression, placed on anti-depressant medicine, or hospitalized for depression. 80% of attendants raised their hands, at which point a woman in the back piped up with “But we’re not allowed to be!”

James says in his letter that “We all stumble in many ways,” and John’s first letter tells us, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” So the truth is, we can’t be perfect, and we don’t have to be. Yes, some of us are better than others at appearing perfect, but nobody actually is perfect. We sin, we mess up, we fail. Regularly. I repeat: we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to give the impression.

Now this is much easier to say than it is to live. All those things I’d learned in church? Well, they had impacted my conception of God and who I was in relation to Him. I hadn’t realized it before, but I had zero theology of Grace. I thought I needed to prove my worth and earn my salvation. It was only about eight years ago that I began deconstructing these harmful beliefs. For about four months that year, I met with a counselor once a week. I spent lots of time in prayer with my Bible study group, and I read lots of Paul: Ephesians, Galatians, Romans. (I’m unabashed about my love for Paul.) Over and over and over again I listened and cried and danced to Chris Tomlin’s cover of Matt Maher’s song “Your Grace Is Enough.” These things transformed my thinking about sin and grace.

That year was a turning point in my walk with God and my understanding of Grace. I relinquished the old ways of thinking — though I confess they still creep back to haunt me from time to time. In those times, I have to return to God and ask Him to renew my mind yet again. (And yes, when I forget Grace, I still sometimes beat myself up by thinking, “I should understand this better by now!”)

Our attempts to be perfect cripple our experience of Christ. His perfection, and His perfection alone, undergirds the entire Gospel. And the Gospel is completely counter-cultural, in every culture. This is why we sometimes struggle to accept it: it seems quite literally too good to be true. Except that it is true! Grace, full and free, releases us from the requirements we feel from church members and supporters (and ourselves) to meet some impossible standard of perfection that Jesus already met. In Christ Alone, our hope is found.

Grace isn’t necessarily easy medicine to swallow for us perfectionists. I would often cry my eyes out in a counseling session and then be so exhausted I could sleep for the rest of the day. A single blog post cannot easily dismantle our beliefs surrounding God’s approval and our efforts. Unraveling our thinking is, frustratingly, not an overnight process.  I do believe, however, that it’s a process He is faithful to fulfill.


I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t

This phrase reflects the Either/Or mindset that has plagued me for so much of my life. It’s this kind of black-and-white thinking that has gotten me into so much inner turmoil: If I make one mistake, then I must be a total failure. And depression ensues. The “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” attitude also gives way to futility: If I can’t do something perfectly, then I won’t do it at all. This goes for “spiritual” things like Bible reading and also seemingly less spiritual things like interpersonal conflict and offering apologies.

The tragedy of Either/Or thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge paradox or complexity. It doesn’t acknowledge that sanctification is a process. It doesn’t acknowledge that we are not fully regenerate yet and that no, we are not there yet. These are truths my beloved Apostle Paul acknowledged. (Romans 7 and Philippians 3, anyone?)

Brennan Manning said, “When I get honest, I admit that I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark.” According to Manning, living by grace means embracing all the ANDS of our lives. (Don’t you just love Brennan Manning??)

When AND isn’t a part of our collective vocabulary, we tend to believe we are judged as either 100% good or 100% bad, with no middle ground. We feel stuck. We know everything is not all right, both in our own personal lives and in our families’ lives, but since image is more important than reality (as we discussed earlier), we don’t feel the freedom to tell the whole truth. In a way, this is a consequence of believing we have to be perfect — and if we’re not, we just better keep our mouths shut about it.

I still don’t know why I didn’t feel free to tell anybody about my friends being abused. I wasn’t being abused at home; so why should I have been scared to tell anyone about my friends, whom I loved? Perhaps I had picked up on the idea that the Church is “supposed” to keep silent about these things. Just let the leaders lead; the abuse they perpetrate against their children at home has nothing to do with their reasonable service at church. Just let the teachers teach; the pain they inflict on their children at home has nothing to do with their reasonable service at church. The unspoken rule becomes: Keep these things secret. Don’t ever tell the truth. Speak up, and you’ll be punished. Speak out, and you’ll be judged as rebellious.

It’s hard to keep the ugly truth bottled up all the time, and it tends to leak out in one way or another. One way it leaks out is by escaping into another world. In particular, Sanford says people use food (either binging, binging and purging, or restricting) and sex (mostly porn) as escapes, as some of these can be hidden, at least for a time. He says the truth also tends to slip out in sarcasm, which sometimes seems bitter and angry. However, sarcasm and escapes may not be our main problem: they may only be the mechanism we’re using to tell our stories.

So what is the cure for “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t”? I believe it’s to allow ourselves to say AND. It’s to allow ourselves, as Brennan Manning said, to be honest and admit we are a bundle of paradoxes, and to allow each other to say it as well. It’s when we acknowledge our whole life’s story, the light side and the dark side, that we can begin to live by Grace alone.


God is disappointed with me

The lies in this series are all somewhat related, and this last one closely follows “I have to be perfect.” It represents the fear that if I’m not perfect, then God will be mad at me. That if I make a mistake (or several), He’ll disapprove of me. We can spend our whole lives trying to make God happy with our behavior. Working, working, working, trying so very hard to please Him.

This one is listed last in the book because it’s what Sanford calls a “holy heresy about God.” The others lies are about myself and others, but this one goes straight to the heart of God. Sometimes when we grow up in church, we get the idea that God is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can bring down His wrath, and punish us once and for all. We get the idea that we don’t deserve His love and aren’t good enough to earn His forgiveness. Not that He delights in us and sings over us, not that He loves us with an everlasting love and has saved us by His own Hand.

If that’s the kind of angry, vengeful God we know, we might end up walking away from Him.

I won’t even pretend to have all the answers here for how to deal with this lie. It goes really deep and takes a lot of time to shed. What I hope to do is to give you some resources that have helped me deal with this lie. I pray they can deepen your intimacy with God and strengthen your trust in His love.

Beginning to walk in the assurance of God’s unconditional love for us is an intensely personal journey. We walk part of it together, in safe community. We must also walk some of it alone, in the secret places of our hearts. It’s when I close the metaphorical door of my prayer closet and meet with God one on one that He touches me most personally and most deeply. I pray God will grant more and more of those sweet times of fellowship to all of us.



Brennan Manning

  • I mentioned Brennan Manning earlier in the post. The summer after I finished that four-month stint of counseling was my first introduction to Brennan Manning. My husband led our youth group through the Ragamuffin Gospel, Visual Edition. It’s an abridged version of his original work, with art. It was a balm to my soul and cemented in my mind the things I’d been learning that year.
  • This year I’ve been going through the daily devotions in Manning’s Reflections for Ragamuffins. Each day has a Scripture and a selection from his other writings. This year I’ve been on a journey to know God’s love more, and this book has been a big part of that.
  • A Life Overseas writer Kay Bruner recommends Abba’s Child. Although I haven’t read it, I love Manning enough and trust Kay enough to recommend it here.

Henri Nouwen

  • I’d never read anything from Henri Nouwen before this Lenten season, when a friend of mine in Phnom Penh gave me a copy of Show Me the Way. It’s a collection of excerpts from his many books, and it’s profoundly affected my relationship with God. I loved Nouwen’s Lent book so much that I asked my friend for more recommendations (though I haven’t been able to get my hands on them yet). Again, I love Nouwen enough and trust my friend enough to include them below.
  • Return of the Prodigal Son
  • Life of the Beloved, which was her husband’s favorite

Jeanne Guyon

  • Jeanne Guyon wrote a book called Experiencing the Depths of Jesus that affected author Timothy Sanford so deeply that he recommends it in his Parsonage Heresies book. I plan to read it this coming furlough.

The Bible

  • I know I’ve recommended Paul’s letters already, but I love Paul so much, I’ll say it again. Especially Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans. Hebrews is also helpful, but then, we don’t know who wrote that.
  • The book of First John. Also helpful is Beth Moore’s explanation of the life of John and his relationship with Jesus. Moore’s Beloved Disciple Bible study rewrote my understanding of the Apostle John.
  • The Psalms. I’ve often felt God’s love through the Psalms. (And I’m betting you probably have too.)
  • I Corinthians 13, viewed as a letter to you, from God. We know that God is love, and I Corinthians 13 is one of our best descriptions of what love looks like practically. I Corinthians 13 therefore gives us a glimpse into how God sees and treats us. This is an exercise Sanford recommends that made a big impact on me when I first read it a year and a half ago. Write it out in your own handwriting, use your own name, and ask God to show you His great big heart for you.



  • Music is a huge part of my connection with God. In particular, worship music from the International House of Prayer (IHOP) has opened up a whole new aspect of God for me: His passionate love for me and my reciprocal love for Him. IHOP music leans toward the charismatic end of the spectrum; two really gentle introductions to their music are listed below.
  • Unceasing, especially “Alabaster Box” on Track 5 and “I am Yours” on Track 12
  • JOY, especially “Every Captive Free” on Track 5 and “Marriage Wine” on Track 3. “My dad, He’s not angry. He’s not disappointed with me. My dad, He’s not angry. He’s smiling over me”
  • And a bonus: a new Chris Tomlin song I just heard at church this spring. Let the words sink deeply into your soul, healing all the cracks in it, the cracks that tell you God doesn’t love you or is angry or disappointed with you. It’s true: Jesus really does love you.


Now it’s your turn to share. What things have helped you accept Grace and receive Love from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? This is where we practice Safe Community and help each other along on the road to healing and wholeness, truth and light, peace and hope.


Forgiveness After Genocide

“Ongoing Forgiveness is key to the Development of a Nation, Overcoming Horrors of the Past.”

I recently spent some time in Rwanda. Both Rwanda and my home nation of South Africa had history altering events happen twenty years ago.

The Rwandan genocide saw two tribes kill over one million people in just a few short months.

South Africa saw Nelson Mandela released, the end of apartheid, and a new democracy established. The media predicted a war which never came.

  • Both nations experienced historical events.
  • Both nations used forgiveness as a tool to move forward.

Rwanda enacted many laws and engaged in forgiveness-based exercises. They outlawed the use of any “tribe” or “ethnicity” on public documents. Many of the genocide participants reconciled through revealing the location of bodies of their victims to the surviving family members.

South Africa, led by Bishop Desmond Tutu, embarked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which provided forgiveness and amnesty to anyone bringing full disclosure of crimes to their victims families.

Both used forgiveness. There is one difference in my observation.

Rwanda’s efforts have been ongoing while South Africa’s have been largely a thing of the past.


A quick Google search shows many events and organizations in Rwanda which are still promoting the message of forgiveness and reconciliation twenty years on.

South Africa has buried their pain under the surface of hosting a World Cup and a more modern infrastructure.

The “New South Africa” has begun, but is still yet to emerge fully for the world to see.

While being more developed than Rwanda to begin with twenty years ago, South Africa may have fallen behind the East African nation in many ways.

  • Rwanda has the fastest growing economy in Africa.
  • The nation is largely crime and corruption free.
  • Even down to the cleanliness, you can see the transformation forgiveness has brought.

These are merely my observations, and I am no expert.

But as I compared these two nations who had significant events happen literally weeks apart twenty years ago, the comparison proved interesting.

What stories do you have from your nations which demonstrate the power of forgiveness, or lack of it, in moving a nation towards transformation?


Photo credit: Dwelling via photopin (license)

On Offending and Mending – The Challenges of Cross-Cultural Living

view of the city


Of all the difficult things we do in cross-cultural moves, finding places to live is near the top. We want to create space and place – we want to create home. And often our expectations are a planet away from our reality.

At one point while living in Cairo, we were hunting for a flat (apartment) on the island of Zamalek. After a day of searching in the heat and walking endlessly down dusty streets and alley ways, we were tired and had seen some of the ugliest apartments imaginable.

My husband and I were getting increasingly frustrated, feeling the cross-cultural disconnect of trying to communicate what we were looking for in a flat to what we were being shown. Precisely at this point we walked up 8 flights of stairs and, on a scale of ugly to uglier to ugliest we were shown the ugliest flat we had seen. Ever. Anywhere. When the man showing us this particular flat asked us if we liked it, my husband looked at him and said clearly “No. This flat is the ugliest flat we have ever seen.” With a toilet seat cover made of a deck of cards, a kitchen that resembled a tiny sauna, and mirrors all over the gaudy red bedroom, it was hideous.

In that moment, by the look on the man’s face, we realized he had insulted the landlord, mistaking him for the bowab, a man who guards the front door and asks for baksheesh (a tip) once a month. “You don’t like my flat?” He said in a loud and puzzled voice. We had the grace to pause and look at each other, suddenly realizing that we had committed a no-no in apartment hunting in Cairo – insulting the landlord. But we were tired and defeated, so my husband said emphatically “No – we don’t like your flat. At all. We would never live here. It’s ugly,” and off we went. Once back on the street we took one look at each other, and in the exhaustion of the day, burst into laughter. It was completely inappropriate given we had just insulted our host, but we couldn’t stop. The incident was only one of many times when we realized we had a lot to learn about living cross-culturally.

The city we love

The reality of living cross culturally is that there are times when, despite our best intentions, we offend.  Sometimes it’s pure ignorance, other times it’s because we are tired, and still other times we are in a cultural conflict and don’t even care that we are offending. If we have never offended, then I would suggest that we have not crossed over those important relationship boundaries and are spending too much time with those who are exactly like us, rather than boldly engaging those who are different.

These moments of offense can be great for a couple of reasons.  One is that we learn from them — they are teachable moments in cross-cultural living and communication.  The other is that once we heal from the discomfort and sometimes painful residual effects, they make for great stories and we can learn to laugh at our mistakes.

I think it’s about offending and mending. We will offend. But one of the things we learn in the process is the culturally appropriate way to mend the offense in order to move forward in relationship.

Mending is often as simple as being willing to admit I am wrong and taking extra care and effort with the relationship in the future.  Other times it’s as complicated and lengthy as paying a visit and sitting in discomfort until the atmosphere thaws and we suddenly feel like all is made right. Still other times mending seems to take forever, or not happen at all.

I believe cross cultural adjustment is analogous to language learning. There are supposedly two types of language learners: those who, despite making mistakes, immediately begin practicing with the little they know, and those who wait until they have the perfect sentence structure and then go and say that perfect sentence, even if it’s just “Look at the big, green carpet!” when there is no green carpet in sight. Supposedly the first group learns far quicker because in their willingness to make mistakes and try, their language skills are sharpened. I would say the same is true in cross-cultural living and communication. There are those who go out and build relationships without knowing everything, who make mistakes and learn in the process; and those who study until they think they have it all correct, determined to make no mistakes.

But here’s the thing – there is no way we will get it right all the time. In fact, culture is so complex that it can take a long time to reflect, let alone understand, the cultures of our adopted countries. But if we don’t engage from the beginning, we will miss out on a lot of relationship building. And engaging with those around us means offending and mending, putting ourselves into postures of cultural humility.

So what does cultural humility mean? 

It means being a student of the community — not an expert.

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

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

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

It means being capable of complexity.

“Cultural humility demands self-evaluation and critique, constant effort to understand the view of another before we react. It requires that we recognize our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up the role of expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture. It puts us on our knees, the best posture possible for learning.” From Between Worlds

What do you think? What are your stories of offending and mending? This is a great topic to learn from each other, so please share your stories!

Ask A Counselor: Can We Talk About Domestic Violence?

suitcase“Would you talk about domestic violence on the mission field?”  That’s the question I got last month.  “Wow,” I replied, “I sure would.”  And then, my friend shared the story that follows.  I’m passing it along with her permission, and with a few changes made to protect identities.


There is a suitcase in my home where my dear friend, a fellow missionary, puts items she has sneaked out of her house in case she needs to initiate her “safety plan” and leave with her two small children, escaping her abusive husband.

From the time they moved to this area, I could see things going on that indicated probable relational problems. The wife had little freedom to make decisions, even little ones. The husband restricted her finances and her activities. There was significant imbalance in the weight of responsibilities. All the housework, taking care of and disciplining the kids fell to her. He was free to come and go and had copious leisure time and she had very little. He would often interrupt what she was doing and her conversations with others, causing her to stop what she was doing to do what he was asking her to do.

These would have been red flags in my American culture, but these folks aren’t American. I don’t speak their mother-language tongue to know what was being said. And of course, as missionaries, we’re taught to not judge cultural differences too quickly. My husband and I considered that their culture may have distinctly different gender-roles than those we are familiar with. But something felt wrong.

In time my relationship with the wife deepened. I began to see signs that she may, in fact, be being abused. She lived as if she was unworthy of having any wants, desires, or needs of her own. She blamed herself for their marital difficulties; she sincerely believed that if she could fix herself or God would do a work in her life (to change her), then their marriage problems would be resolved. She defended her husband and protected him, at times taking responsibility for his shortcomings and bad choices. She was afraid of displeasing him, and so on.

My husband and I read the book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. It gave us invaluable insight into what was going on, and we knew that she was being abused. Eventually, I was able to suggest that my friend read the book. She did, and she began to recognize the abuse for herself. That was the beginning of something new. So very hard, but good.

I’m going over and over the events that have transpired, and aside from all the grief I feel for my friend and the sadness at the likelihood of her leaving, I’m struggling with guilt that I didn’t say something or do something sooner. I feel this huge weight that there are probably other missionary women out there in abusive situations and other friends like me who don’t recognize abuse, who don’t do something about it for a long time, and who may have even enabled the abuse!

These are some of the things that I think would be helpful for missionaries to be aware of:

  • Abuse can be hidden behind culture and language. We’ve got to trust the voice of the Holy Spirit when He prods us with the sense that “something is wrong here.” Even if certain cultural norms are generally accepted, practices that oppress women or other societal groups should absolutely be questioned and measured against Scripture.
  • Abuse hides and even thrives behind Christian doctrine on gender roles. This topic is a mine-field, isn’t it?
  • Abusers are masters of maintaining their public reputation. Likeable men who contribute to ministry can be abusers. So we all need to be able to recognize the signs of abuse and be familiar with different kinds of abuse. *
  • On the mission field, abused women have little access to resources. In their home countries, they could flee to a family member or friend’s home. Overseas, escape can be very difficult, especially if a woman is financially dependent on her husband.
  • There is one thing I should have realized a long, long time ago. If I (and others in the missionary community) are tip-toeing around a man, expending effort to avoid any kind of disagreement or confrontation with him because I am afraid of inciting an angry or unpleasant response, there is a good chance that his wife and children are afraid of his responses too.
  • We are concerned with justice for those we are ministering to, but can so easily miss (or ignore) the injustice happening right under our noses. By not addressing, questioning, or confronting the abuser for injustices carried out in public, we have been enabling the abuse to continue.

I am so thankful we’ve been able to receive some help from an American counselor with extensive experience working with abusers and the abused. He and his wife were able to spend some time with my friend (but not her husband). We learned from him that this is not the first case of domestic abuse that he has encountered in our organization in this region.

The story continues to play out. The family is returning to their home country; the elder board of their home church is calling them back. They don’t see or acknowledge that there is abuse going on; they only see my friend’s emotional instability. Our hope and prayer had been that the husband would agree to work with the counselor I mentioned, but he refused.


*For more information on the signs of abuse, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Here is a resource that identifies how power and control contribute to various types of abuse.

Here’s a Mud Stories podcast from a woman who survived domestic violence overseas.


Let me just share a few notes with you on how domestic violence is usually treated in the States.

  • Domestic violence may include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. Economic abuse is often a factor in these scenarios, when a woman is not allowed the financial independence that might lead to her escape.
  • It’s extremely important to understand that issues of abuse are NOT conceptualized as “marital problems.”
  • While we understand that the victim of the abuse is not a perfect person, abuse is never an acceptable response to any provocation whatsoever.
  • Abuse is something for which the abusive person needs to take responsibility and seek treatment.
  • Therefore, abuse is not primarily treated in couples counseling.
  • If someone recommends couples counseling when abuse is part of the relationship, this is not best practice.  Seek help elsewhere.
  • The abuser would usually attend a Batterer’s Intervention Program.
  • The victim would benefit from attending a group for battered women (often offered at local woman’s shelters) and personal counseling for trauma recovery.
  • Women’s shelters are available in many communities, and many shelters provide services for accompanying children as well.
  • Separation is a very common and healthy boundary during treatment.

I have been asked by clients if I believe that domestic violence is grounds for divorce, and my answer to that is yes.

I do believe that domestic violence is grounds for divorce.

While divorce is never what we hope for, sometimes it is the most just and merciful outcome we can humanly facilitate.

The church has been careful to tell people that the only ground for divorce is adultery, and I am aware that this is the boundary stated in Mosaic law.

While the Mosaic law may be well-meant as a deterrent to divorce, to abusive people it becomes a boundary that allows them to skate on the side of “righteousness” while perpetrating all kinds of sin and abuse on their families.

I believe that we are held to a higher standard than the Mosaic law.  We are held to the standard of justice and mercy, as Jesus warned:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”  Matthew 23:23

“And you experts of the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”  Luke 11:46

Justice and mercy matter most.

May we never forget.

Photo Credit (changes made) 

“I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them…”

On Aug. 27, 1888 while working in Zhenjiang, Lottie Moon made the above statement finishing with the words “…for China.”


It’s one of those inspirational missionary quotes likely to land on a striking or haunting photo featuring those in this world who most likely don’t know Jesus. The desired response is conviction and motivation. Get people moving, doing, giving, going, supporting, praying, partnering… something… anything! Animate and embolden others so that they engage and global missions benefits.

It is also one of those quotes that usually prompts me to self-evaluate, asking: “Can I say the same, only substituting ‘Africa’ or ‘Quebec’ or wherever else the Lord might lead our family before our missionary journey is finished?”


This time, however, this quote provoked neither typical response.

Instead, I started thinking about all those lives already given – and not in the martyr sense. I allowed my mind to dwell on what has been sacrificed heretofore as well as what will continue to be sacrificed:

  • in my life,
  • my husband’s,
  • my kids’ childhoods and their potential futures,
  • time with tck grands and great-grandparents,
  • closer relationships with aunts, uncles, cousins,
  • weddings, funerals, family celebrations,
  • old hopes and dreams of what might have been,
  • potential jobs and careers,
  • scholarship opportunities,
  • the illusion of safety and security,
  • the innocence that was… before we saw more of this amazing yet very broken world…

No, it isn’t thousands… It’s not even hundreds.

It certainly isn’t actual martyrdom or such sacrifice

But it still costs lives, relationships, security and dreams of what could have been:

  • owning my own house and land;
  • to not have to daily depend on the financial gifts of others just to put food on the table for my children to eat;
  • actually taking a cruise with my husband for our anniversary;
  • actively planning for someday… or retirement;
  • sitting with loved ones during difficult health challenges;
  • dancing and celebrating together at weddings;
  • not leaving my family in one land while the rest of us go to another;
  • never having to uproot this family once again to go through the really hard starting over; and
  • no tears because I drop children off for school – in a new place and a new language – again.

But the very hardest part?

Knowing this:  It isn’t just me sacrificing because of these choices.

This calling that my husband and I are following requires everyone who knows and loves us – parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, children  -to sacrifice.

Once upon a time, I watched a play entitled “The Cost of Greatness.” It portrayed the life of Adoniram Judson, another one of those missionary giants from yesteryear. In this world and from a human perspective, he sacrificed much. Judson worked in Burma for 38 years until he died – 61 years old and physically broken by the difficulty of his life in that land. He endured long separations from his family, buried two wives and several children. His “first term” of service was 33 years long – after which time he made his only return to the United States. During this “home assignment,” he was treated like a hero and was much in demand as a speaker. One historian wrote about this time: “At times he would disappoint audiences by not telling of his labors but declaring the wonderful story of redeeming love. He found it difficult to frame sentences in the English after so long a time thinking in a foreign tongue.” The price he paid was immense.

I used to think the title of the play referred to the greatness of such a man, one so willing to sacrifice for God’s cause.  Not anymore.

I now believe that such sacrifice is to be anticipated for those who long to proclaim God’s greatness to those who need Him above all else.


This is the expected cost – NOT something extraordinary – for those who want our world to glimpse the greatness of our God.

I’ll never forget when our Jonathan first began school for the first time. It was a French school so we had talked about it, what he might expect and how it could be very different from what his other missionary kid friends might tell him about their school. A few days into the school year he came home and started to tell us about his day: “And Mama, did you know they say zshee for ‘J’ and zshay for ‘G?’ THAT. IS. JUST. WRONG!!!”

I get what he was saying. French school took something that Jonathan knew and believed good and right… then turned it upside down and backwards.

In the economy of this world, we’d think that those willing to proclaim God’s greatness should receive great reward.

That price tag of “sacrifice required – and not just by me, but by all who care about me” seems upside down and backwards

~ but for these words ~

I long to know Christ 

and the power which is in His resurrection, 

and to share in His sufferings and die even as He died…

Philippians 3:10 – Weymouth New Testament


Do you agree? Why or why not?

Why do you think so many of want to proclaim God’s greatness but then feel like we shouldn’t have to sacrifice to do so?

Has sacrifice surprised you? How?

final photo by Danette Childs, missionary with Via Abondante, Niger

When Grief Bleeds


Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Loss singes the soul, and death does indeed bite.

We are not the only ones who grieve, to be sure, but those who’ve lived abroad certainly know this to be true: it hurts to leave. It hurts to return. And when others leave, whether by death or call or transfer, that hurts too.

Our stories are the ones written with contrails, straddling continents and seas. And these stories, the good and the bad, the ones that heal and the ones that hurt, must be written. And remembered.

Some would say to get over it.
Stop crying.

Some might accuse.
     Too little faith.
     Too little thought of Heaven.
     Too much focus on the past.

As if holiness requires Novocain.


But grief is a part of our story now. Indelible.
Grief bleeds through the pages of our lives, marking the pages and stories that follow.

Failing to acknowledge these chapters is to censor. To edit out.
To delete plot twists and main characters. To murder history.

So we leave the pages as they are, splotched and imperfect.
Because on every single ink-stained page, He remains.
Comforter. Rock. Shepherd. God.

He remains the God who grieved.
He remains the God who understands.
He remains the God who comforts.
He remains. And He is enough.

So we keep feeling, refusing to numb. We keep sketching out these life-pages, confident that He knows our stories. He loves our stories. He redeems our stories.

And we keep trusting that in the end, our stories are actually a part of His story.

And He’s really good with words.


*photo credit

Social Media, Volunteers, and Communication

The world has grown more and more connected due to technology and open communication across the world-wide web.

Thirty years ago you didn’t know what was happening with a particular friend or acquaintance serving across the world unless you got a newsletter that arrived to your mail box four to six weeks after it had been written.

Thanks to the magic of social media we now know when there has been a tragedy at any school across the globe, or a baby is being born in Haiti,  or when a child is admitted to a hospital in Madagascar, or when Ebola is ravaging Liberia.

Thanks to the Internet, our Moms know when we have a terrible tropical illness and can worry (er, I mean pray) right away rather than hear about it once the illness is all cleared up and better.

Within minutes of putting our feet on the floor each morning, if  we choose to, we can know more news than folks could gather over several weeks time 50 years ago.

Maybe that is good.  Maybe it is not.


Certainly this vastly increased connectedness has changed and influenced how we “do missions” and how we communicate with donors and family and friends “back home”.  The days of snail mailed newsletters with six-week old news are long gone. Most ministries and non-profits have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and an Instagram account. If you want the news from your favorite non-profit, you should be able to find it in a nano-second.

The ways in which social media has changed things are probably too numerous to count.  Today, I’m examining just one of those ways.

Social media, frequent updates, and the connectedness results in an increased desire and demand for visits and requests for volunteer opportunities. People see (in real-time) the exciting updates and they want to be a part of what they see.

Most of us realize that we cannot discourage or disallow potential donors from seeing the work first hand, after all most people would find it pretty sketchy if we said visitors are not allowed.  When legitimate work is happening, we want to prove that to donors as best we can. It makes sense for them to SEE it.

The question becomes, how can we communicate the nuances of our individual organization’s needs without offending or upsetting those that want to help? Sometimes not needing help can feel hurtful to an interested friend. How can we communicate those things really well?  How can we say “We have a full-time, year-round staff. We don’t really have any work for volunteers”, without sounding ungrateful, dismissive or unwelcoming?

Where I work, we often get requests from visitors to come see a birth.  Social media and sharing the news of babies born at our Maternity Center equals a sweet level of support and much curiosity. The easiest way for me to answer those inquiries is to ask how well it would work for strangers to walk into a birth and observe it in the developed world. (However, I recognize that sounds rude, so I don’t ask that.) Do any of us want to invite strangers into intimate and private moments such as the birth of a child?   Can you imagine if your OB or Midwife said, “Oh, this is So-and-so and her team. She is visiting your town this week and she/they wanted to see a baby be born in this town, so I invited her to your birth. Hope that’s okay. Ready to push?”

(Maybe materially poor people are not automatically seen as needing equal privacy or respect by those of us that are materially wealthy.  I hope that can change somehow.)

It is not uncommon for many of us working in poor countries to receive a note saying something similar to this, “What can we do, we will paint walls, build things, or do anything you want.”  How can we kindly explain that all around us there are men and women in need of work, and if at all possible we prefer to offer a chance at employment for folks hoping to feed their children in our area.  It is not that we don’t want these interested friends to see the countries we are working in; it is that we want to be cognizant of what each country needs.

Another thing I have noticed over the years, whenever we have several visitors on a clinic/program day, we communicate less with the Haitian women we serve.  Try as we might to stay on task and allow our visitors to just hang out and observe the days activities, we always end up spending much of the day speaking English and sharing information with the guests. Suddenly, several hours in, I will realize that I have not engaged with the new mother and baby in front of me in her own language because I’m being polite and chatting with the American in the room. That is my fault, not the fault of the visitor. Finding the balance is tricky.

Social Media tends to show the exciting part of our lives abroad.  The snapshots we share produce an interest without giving the full picture of what is needed. This leaves us to figure out how to communicate in a way that does not turn donors away. 

The easiest way for any of us to successfully consider things from another perspective or point of view is when it is very gently and carefully explained.  Sometimes writing doesn’t allow for the very best communication to happen, a lack of tone can cause defensiveness or offense.  (We learned this the hard way. We frequently hear, “Oh, they are anti teams” based on this post I wrote several years ago – but I am not anti short-term-missions, I just think it can be done differently, more respectfully, and better.)

Over the years, as I have learned the culture of my host country and grown to love my new home, it has become increasingly more important to me to protect, love, and respect the people we work with just as we desire to be loved and protected. I’ve realized that there is an imbalance of power that allows us to do things that take advantage of our inherent power. At times it seems more loving (to Haitians) to say “no thank you” to some offers for help. Without a doubt, that has meant a loss of potential ministry partners and donors.

What about you?

As you work in your respective fields, how have you allowed visitors and short-term teams to come see your work without compromising the privacy,dignity, or needs of those you live and work with abroad?  

Do you find it difficult to communicate well without causing offense?

Is it possible to put the people you are serving first, or does a need for funding require a compromise in that area?

Do you feel like social media positively impacts your work?  Are there any drawbacks? 


Responding to Beggars

I’m not even going to pretend to offer rules on how to respond to beggars. I’m not even going to define ‘beggar.’ There are lots of varieties of people who ask for money or help and I don’t like calling them beggars. I prefer to call them Saada or Abdul but for simplicity, I’ll call them beggars. (The following was written after I read 9 Quick Tips for Responding to Beggars by Someone Who Knows Them by Craig Greenfield.)


There are a lot of beggars in Djibouti and with the new stoplights (that’s right, Djibouti recently got stoplights), street corner begging has increased. By street corner begging, I mean when you stop at a red light (that’s also right, in Djibouti most drivers stop at red lights) and kids swarm the car.

There are other places where people beg and there are beggars who come to our door. I want to talk about two kinds of interactions – the ones on the street corner and the ones at the front door.

I have to confess that I haven’t always responded well to street corner beggars. I used to ignore them. Stare straight ahead. Continue the conversation with the passenger. Pretend there isn’t a young girl holding a baby or a boy with a pouty look tapping his fingers against his lips for ‘thirsty.’

Then I read a story about Jesus where the first thing he did was look at the person seeking help. He looked at him. Step 1 and it cut me to the heart.

Okay, I can look at them. Ignoring someone is not honoring their personhood, it is not offering them the dignity of acknowledging that they, too, are made in the image of God. So I started looking.

And I saw the same kids on the same corners all the time. So I started engaging with them. In the first few seconds they could only repeat the ‘give me money’ request and couldn’t hear that I was asking them their name. But slowly, their faces would change. Their eyes would ignite, they would start to smile. They dropped their fingers from their lips and said, “My name is…”

“Where is your mom?” I would ask. “Is she working? Where is your dad? Why aren’t you in school?”

We would chat until the light changed and the conversation would resume the next time I stopped. The kids on my regular corners stopped asking for money. They waved, some saluted, some made running motions because we also saw each other on my early morning jogs, sometimes they joined me for a block or two.

I never give them money. I do sometimes suggest places they can go for help – the neighborhood mosque or the Catholic-sponsored charity for street kids.

The beggars who come to my house are regulars. We know each others names, I know a little bit of their home life stories. They are usually mothers with heaps of young children that I know are their own because we’ve lived here long enough to see women through several pregnancies. I also don’t give these women money but when they come by, about once a week, I raid my cupboards and fridge and hand-me-down clothes. If they have a medical prescription, I take it and fill it. If they are in labor, I drive them to the maternity hospital and pay the bill.

It isn’t easy. I lose my patience. Sometimes I’m grumbling inwardly as I stuff bags or I thrust the food at them and don’t interact in a warm way. I’m greedy and selfish and lazy. My mind fills with excuses and judgments. But I try to keep going back to Jesus, who looked at the needy. And I started looking, really looking and recognizing individuals. Sometimes that makes it harder because now I know them and I can’t fix their situation. I can’t stop drug abuse or spousal abuse, I can’t solve endemic problems, I can’t force parents to keep kids who seem so sharply intelligent in school. But…

I’m learning that the most important question to ask is not: How can I solve this problem? It is: How can I love this person well?

It starts with looking at them and from there, it is a long road of growth and challenges. Along the way, we each need to be led by our own situations, contexts, convictions, and the Spirit filling us.

How about you? How do you respond to beggars?