That time I accidentally told someone to go to a witch doctor

By Tamie Davis

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“Just have faith in God and He will heal you.”

What does this statement sound like to you? A statement used to guilt a person who is sick? The beginning of an attempt to manipulate God? A formula for something we humans can’t guarantee?

Once I was teaching a seminar to Christian university students in Tanzania. We were talking about how to help someone who is suffering, and I said that you should never say “Just have faith in God and He will heal you.”

To me, that statement is destructive in a myriad of ways. It’s theologically unsound for a start: it sounds like God is holding out on you, a tease who refuses to heal you until you are good enough. Perhaps he is just like the animist powers, able to be manipulated, but just as capricious. On a human level, it’s also just cruel: it suggests to sick and vulnerable people that their suffering is their own fault. After all, if they had more faith they would be well.

So in this seminar, I said you should never tell someone who was suffering, “Just have faith in God and He will heal you.”

Every single person in the room objected vehemently. None of them viewed it as a manipulative or insensitive statement. They all said they would be happy for someone to say it to them.  I was astounded.

Later on, a Tanzanian friend and cultural mentor illuminated the situation for me.  She said, “If they don’t go to God for healing, they will go to the witchdoctor.” She helped me to see that in the Tanzanian worldview, healing is available. The question is: where will you go for it? To God or to the witchdoctor?

The reason the students objected so strongly to my statement that you shouldn’t say “Just have faith in God and He will heal you” was because it sounded like I was taking getting your healing from God off the table. It sounded like I was saying the only option was to go to the witchdoctor.

To these students, the statement “Just have faith in God and He will heal you” wasn’t a formula, and it wasn’t a quick fix: it was a statement of Christian perseverance! Filling in the blanks, I think the meaning of that statement for them was something more like, “Even when it seems like it would be better to go to the witchdoctor, stick with God and trust Him for your healing.”

I found this whole experience deeply humbling. In some contexts, even African contexts, “Just have faith in God and He will heal you” is a manipulative and cruel statement. Such false teaching must be combatted. But for these particular students in this particular culture, the statement “Just have faith in God and He will heal you” was a call to discipleship. I needed to hear that statement as they heard it. What I read as a sign of Christian immaturity was in fact a sophisticated weapon for combatting the desire to seek out evil forces. How thankful I am for my cultural mentor who helped me to make sense of all this!

The life overseas is one of choosing to leave many things behind: family, friends, familiarity, competence, a particular lifestyle. But this experience brought home for me that it must also be one of choosing to leave behind our superiority, of not assuming that my way of seeing things is right, or even that my theology will be the right fit for this context. It’s choosing to believe that the people I’m among may have a better sense of where God is at work in their world than I do, and that I have a lot to learn from that.

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1Tamie Davis is an Aussie who lives with her husband and two sons in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They partner with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students and blog at meetjesusatuni.com

Do you need “A Year Of Awesome”?

Do you need a...A couple of years ago now, I read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Following the great success of his memoir Blue Like Jazz, Miller slumped into something akin to a low-grade depression. When two producers proposed turning Jazz into a movie, Miller discovered that his life didn’t actually bear any resemblance to a great story. After he realized that he was just drifting through his days, he decided to figure out how to live a better and more inspiring life story.

So, track with me carefully here: Million Miles is Miller’s memoir about how the process of making his other memoir into a movie shaped his thoughts about the meaning of living a good story and ultimately changed his life.

It’s a testament to Miller’s nuanced self-analysis and his skill as a writer that this solipsistic little book is actually really good.

Earlier this year, I found myself remembering Miller’s thoughts on memorable moments. In Million Miles, he writes about a kayak trip to visit friends who live on an island. As he paddles away after his visit, the entire family jumps (fully clothed) into the lake to mark the farewell.

This made a big impression on Miller. Later in the book he argues that memorable moments—times when we do crazy things or work hard to make a day stand out—stamp our life narrative with extra force. They carry particular power to shape our memories and flavor our personal story.

I found myself thinking about this because, during the last four years, our little family has had a lot of moments that are very memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Our baby broke his femur while we were living in Northern Laos. I broke an ankle. My husband had two spinal surgeries for herniated discs, was diagnosed with cancer, and went through more surgery and chemotherapy. I’ve had five cellulitis infections (a serious complication of my chronic condition, lymphedema). We moved house three times and countries once. Last year, my husband started a new job as country director for the largest NGO in Vanuatu a mere two and a half weeks before Cyclone Pam (the strongest storm then-recorded in the Pacific) devastated most of the country.

Many wonderful things have happened during this time too, of course. However, when I look back on the last several years, these mega-dramas and other hardships stand out with unfortunate clarity.

So on our wedding anniversary this year—our seventh—I issued a decree. This year was going to become a “Year Of Awesome”.

I set us the challenge of finding something extraordinary to do each month for the entire year. Something fun. Something adventurous. Something delicious or out of the ordinary. Something magical.

Or, at least, something that had the potential to be magical. Points awarded for trying.

I declared a “year of awesome” because in some ways it felt like we were paddling hard just to keep our heads above water, and it had felt that way for a long time. Because, with everything on our plates and two kids under five who have been terrible sleepers for most of their lives, it was easy not to stretch to create moments and outings and days that are memorable for lovely reasons. And because I trust that the lovely, the fun, and the wondrous carry just as much power to shape our stories and our spirits as the hardships.  

We’re four months into the year of awesome now. We’ve been out on a glass-bottom-boat, journeyed out to islands, snorkeled over bright coral, celebrated our birthdays with champagne, and gone camping on the beach with baby turtles. So far, so good.

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So, do you need some encouragement to stretch a little to experience some of the wonderful things where you are? Do you need permission to take some time to celebrate the lovely and the beautiful? Do you need a year of awesome?

If you live overseas (particularly if you’re a missionary or an aid worker) you may almost feel like you shouldn’t do this sort of stuff. Or, at least, like you shouldn’t be seen to be doing too much of this sort of stuff. You know that the primary reason you’re in Vanuatu (or Egypt, or Mozambique, or wherever) is not to go camping with baby turtles. And if you do that and share the photos on facebook or your blog, you might feel a bit worried that people will get the wrong idea.

I don’t want to downplay that tension, but I do want to say this: Most people can handle nuance, particularly if you’re good at telling your stories. So practice trusting people. And practice telling your stories. All of your stories. Living overseas brings with it some unusual stressors. It also brings with it some unusual joys. So tell them about your work, and about the frustrations and other hard things that are happening. And tell them about the beautiful and the fun. Give them a chance to celebrate the good in life with you.

This will help them get to know you better. And it will help kill that destructive, still-pervasive, myth that being a missionary or an aid worker is all about sacrifice and struggle and pain, and if you’re not hurting on some level most of the time, you’re not doing it right.

So there you have it. Now, my friends, go out and find something awesome to do where you live. And enjoy.

What is something awesome you’ve done in the last 12 months?

An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

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By Danica Newton

Dear Parents of MKs,

Hello. It’s me, an MK. I write this on behalf of other MKs who haven’t found their voices yet, who are still in the midst of constant transition, who haven’t sorted through the confusing and complex joys and sorrows that come with growing up MK. I write this on behalf of my own MK self, to say the things I didn’t know to say, things that were buried deep down and that, as a kid, I could only access through intuition, through approaching carefully sideways in order not to stir up the vortex of emotions. I speak as an adult MK, raised with one foot in Polynesia, another in Melanesia, and a hand straddled all the way over the Pacific, planted firmly in Texas. If the world were a Twister mat, we MKs would be pros at maneuvering ourselves into epic contortions as we shift right-foot-yellow to left-hand-blue.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Transition causes trauma. We know this from academic research across fields. Transition because of divorce causes trauma. Transition because of health diagnoses causes trauma. Transition because of death causes trauma. Transitions from village to town every six months, and then to the States every few years, definitely causes trauma.

During the London Blitz, children were trundled off to the English countryside for their own safety. The philosophy of the time dictated that children were better off not knowing what was happening, that more information would be detrimental to them psychologically. In fact, some of the advice to parents was to tell their children that they were going on holiday to the country, or even, not to tell their children anything about what was to occur. This may have helped the adults not have to struggle to find explanations for the changes their children were experiencing, but it wasn’t helpful for the children experiencing the change. The problem with this way of approaching necessary transition, in short, is that it stems from the perspective and needs of the adults, the ones who already have power and control in the situation, the ones who already have a voice.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your children are not experiencing the transitions you take them through in a vacuum. Just because they may not be verbalizing the trauma, or expressing it in ways that are easily understandable, does not mean they are not experiencing trauma from the transition. When I was sixteen, I stayed behind in Texas while my parents and younger siblings went back overseas. I remember that time as confusing and dark.  But years later, adults who were close to me at the time have told me things like: “You seemed so mature,”  “You handled it so well,”  and “We had no idea it was so hard for you, you seemed fine.”

I seemed fine because at that point I had spent the majority of my childhood in transition. Moving from village to town and back again. Moving from town to America. Moving from America back to town, back to village. Every transition required that I assume the cultural mores, dress, language, and customs of the place I was moving to. By the age of sixteen, I was an adept cultural chameleon. But how was I able to put on a new skin for each new place? I became an expert at compartmentalization. I carefully packed each place, with its friendships, food, smells, sights and sounds, into its own suitcase in my mind. Into the suitcases also went my feelings connected to the place. My love for the people. My pain at the heart bonds being broken. My anger at having no control. The compartmentalization is why I presented as so mature and well-adjusted to the adults around me.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your MK may look like they are doing well.  Your MK may even say they are doing well. Please consider that your MK may be very adeptly doing just what MKs do best – assimilating the culture they are in. The culture that says all things happen for the good of those called according to His purpose. The culture that counts it joy when hardships are faced. The culture that counts everything as loss for the sake of following Christ. The culture that celebrates the leaving of father and mother, the leaving of brother and sister, to follow the Call.

Your MK may look like they are doing well. They may even say that they are doing well. But please consider how long they have been in transition. Consider that it’s only when we feel safe, when we have been stable and settled for an extended amount of time (for some, it takes years) before we can begin unpacking the suitcases and examining the emotions that were previously too difficult to process. If your MK moves every few months or years, they may still be in self-preservation mode. Like it was with me, they may not be able to examine the trauma of transition except by carefully looking sideways at it, from an emotional distance.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your child needs you. They need you to listen, with no judgement or defensiveness, to their feelings. They need you to lay yourself low, to make yourself nothing for their sake, to humble yourself even to the point of death of self. They need you, as the person with all the power and voice, to create space for their fledgling voices. They need to be able to say, “This hurts me.” They need to be able to say, “I don’t want to leave.” They need to be able to say, “I miss _____.” They need to be able to mourn, to be angry, to rage against the dying of the light.

I’m going to say something now, Parents of MKs, that you probably don’t want to hear. But what I share with you, I share from my own experience, and from that experience I can reassure you that although this will be difficult to hear, there is hope for redemption.

My parents’ choices brought me pain. I didn’t know how much pain until I found myself, sobbing and unable to breathe, in the grips of powerful flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and threw me in a little ball onto my bedroom floor. All of the goodbyes and hellos, the shifting and the changing, all of the transitions and the leavings, finally caught up with me.  This breakdown precipitated some conversations with my mom and dad, who are still on the mission field.  Conversations that had to wait until they could get to me. But once they got to me, my mom and dad presented me with the greatest gift they could give.

That gift was listening.  They listened to me, with a complete abandonment of self and agenda. I had years of loss to deal with, and my mom sat with me on my front porch, twin cups of coffee steaming in our hands, as I cried and talked and she cried and listened. She never once tried to justify her choices. She simply acknowledged my pain, and acknowledged that it was caused by the life she had chosen for me. My dad listened, too. We took long, cool walks through the expectant predawn stillness, him quietly receptive by my side as I poured out the pain in my heart. He apologized for the pain his choices had caused me.

I talked to God, too. My parents’ empathetic response to my pain opened space for me to be able to voice the very scariest thoughts that I kept buried deep, deep down. One day, heartsick and angry and alone, I looked up to God and shook my fist in his face. “Why, God?” I asked, tears sticky on my cheeks. “Why did my family have to suffer? Why did you make MY family suffer for YOUR gospel? Couldn’t it have been some other family? Why, God? Why MY family?”

As I sat, raw and trembling, I felt his warm, gentle touch. I heard him whisper so sadly and kindly to me, “I know. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m here.” And that was enough.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know. 

You need to check your defensiveness at the door. You need to acknowledge that your choices brought pain to your child.

When my parents came to me, and acknowledged the trauma my siblings and I had experienced, when they apologized for the pain they had caused, they did not negate the Good Work they have done. They did not negate a lifetime of service for the Kingdom of God.  They did not negate the fruit they had harvested for the King. Instead, they further confirmed Christ to us. The humble Man of Sorrows. The One who laid down His life. The One who sought out the voiceless, the weak, and lifted them up.

Even though your choices to answer the Call of Christ have caused trauma for your children, and believe me when I say that they have, your choices to give space for their pain can make way for their healing. I ask you, on behalf of my fellow MKs both grown and still growing, to give this gift to your child.

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

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13161296_10156874097135022_561442390_oDanica is an MK from the Solomon Islands, who now has found her own little village in the mountains of New Mexico. She lives there with her husband and three children, three goats, two dogs, and an assortment of chickens. Danica has a degree in special education, and is currently working on a master’s degree. When she’s not writing papers for school, she enjoys playing mad scientist in her kitchen, rereading her collection of LM Montgomery books, and working on her yoga moves. Danica sometimes finds time to write about her experiences and feelings, at www.ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com.

How to Witness the Miracle: When Tears Become Laughter

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So, it’s been a heavy year. There’s been a lot of tears and raw grief. There’s been a lot of therapy and the chance to heal in healthy relationships. Right now, there’s a season of counseling aimed at dealing with the trauma in my life.

Yes, heavy, I know.

Which is why my soul has been crying out for perspective. The kind which mingles tears with laughter. The one that sees how the cracked vessel of humanity can open a door to the glory beyond.

So I am sharing some humorous, yet tender glimpses into the life of a girl I once knew. She’s had some funny and yes, sad, moments in the crazy days of figuring out how to save the world. She’s gotten it more wrong than right, but no one can doubt her heart.

She has something to teach all of us. And I hope she’ll make us laugh, and maybe cry a little too. She’s worth knowing, and maybe you know someone like her too.

Something tells me we need to remember them all as we make our way on this long road home.

It’s the early, starlit days of youth. The clear nights of a Montana sky, with their twinkling grandeur, have got nothing on her. She’s too young and crazy, full of passion and self-importance to heed any caution.

It’s the summer of ’94 and she’s spending nine weeks in West Kensington, Philadelphia. She is living on the edge of the notorious Badlands. There’s been a drive-by shooting one block and one week before she comes. She goes door to door and gathers kids, some black, some Hispanic, some white. She loves on them all summer, even on the rest days. She runs the bases of kickball hard and throws with aim slightly off as she tries to get the little rascals. She jumps up and down and swings her limbs for ‘Father Abraham’. She gets a bit pudgy as she eats too many white chocolate-covered Oreos donated in abundance to her mission team. Over the phone, she breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, convinced he doesn’t share her fervor for urban missions.

She gives beyond reason. At the end of those nine weeks, she leaves her heart on West Tioga Street. She doesn’t know how she will ever get any of it back. She has done it all wrong, only returning for one visit and exchanging a few letters. She can only cry as she remembers the desperate reality of those dear children. She aches for what she does not know of their lives today. But the naivety worn by her oh-so-sincere heart captures me. I want to thank her for reminding me how to love without reserve. She shows me how real-life stories seldom have happy endings, as far as where we think they will go. Yet her twinkling eyes shine bright with the glory of the Great Story.

It’s still early, but she is starting to realize she cannot save the world. These are the Latin American Years. She translates and serves as a part of summer missions’ teams in Mexico and Honduras. She teaches the Bible story in Spanish before a hundred or more kids at VBS. Little Miguel with his spiky hair laughs at the words that twirl around her mouth and fall with the spin and thud of marbles.

On a later trip, she learns to sleep in a hammock which she falls into, exhausted. Her head hurts from being everyone’s brain as she translates the English into Spanish and vice versa. It amazes her how the corresponding sides smile as if her voice descends like wings of eagles. In her week of rest from translating, she tries the local guanabana and Montezuma takes revenge on her innocent stomach. She sways in a hammock as she determines to believe the motion will heal this sickness. She finds her way back to the church and Kids’ Camp. She sings loud and lifts her hands high in flowing, Hawaiian-colored pants. She cannot believe she wore them, but the pictures say she did.

She’s still jumping in with both feet and literally, dancing in the rain. She’s starting to weary and is woefully lacking in good missionary methodology. Yet, I want to tell her to ‘hang in there because I wouldn’t trade you for another.’

And now there’s a husband. Here she is all grown up, or so it would seem. Her missions’ journey is picking back up in a new country, new language and yes, with a fairly-new husband. One of her first days in country, her new boss sends her and her very brave husband out on a sort of Amazing Race about the city. Later she will call the horror of it all the Amazing Survival.

She and her dear husband (who you will instantly love) start out from a district just obscure enough to require two buses and a tram to get back to. The first address they are given is so hard to find, they will abort this phase of the mission entirely. Their first move is brilliant. They hop on the first tram they see and go in exactly the wrong direction. And now it begins. How each of a hundred times they are lost, she literally throws her too-sweet man at stranger after stranger. A thousand times, in a thousand ways, he learns to say the only phrase ‘they’ knew ‘beszélsz angolul?’ Do you speak English?

These two are trying to get it right, after all, they’ve committed to a whole year! And she does a good job that day, her maiden voyage as the wife of a missionary. She makes sure her hubby can handle all future stressful and uncomfortable language-challenged moments. But I would remind her that all of the packing that’s happened since can be considered ‘payback.’

Did I really sign up for this? This, for her, is when it becomes long-term, with greater sacrifice and did I mention children? Yes children. All thousand miles and points of light in a constellation of new life. She goes from filling two suitcases with child #1’s things only to learn to reduce three children’s things into a single suitcase. American baby food and ointments are easily replaced by the local fare. These are the days of flights, flights and more flights and the children so little. These are the days when the endless stream of comments must stop. You know the ones. ‘It’s good to do this [insert mission] when…’ ‘When you are young.’ ‘When you are both young.’ ‘When you don’t have kids.’ ‘When your children are little.’ (Dear souls actually say this last one and well Lord, love ‘em because I am not sure I can ;))

Early on this mama finds herself on the flight back to the States with a ten month-old. Heading west over the Atlantic, you know the day, like the song, that never ends? When you subtract hours only to add them back again in a way you’ll never understand. Flying east over the ocean, he is the miracle baby who falls asleep on takeoff, his chubby feet hanging out of his sleeping gown. He awakes only on landing while the woman in front exclaims, ‘A baby?!’ But coming back?? Well, it was somewhere between the crawling up and over our laps and necks, dropping every toy a 101 times, and no screen (Can you believe there was no screen?!) that she looks at her husband with wild eyes and panting breath and says, ‘We…don’t…have…to…thrive…only……..sur…vive.’

Clearly she has begun to understand what this whole crazy life is all about. Survival. Plain and simple. This mama is from not too long ago. She’s failed again and again and her upcoming book will bring many, many more stories of all such things. What do I do with her? I wrap her in my arms as she cries and I shower her with grace, for she could never give it to herself.

Then, I dry her eyes and teach her how to laugh.

 

 

When the lights go out

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I want to do all the things. All the very good things there are to do in this world. So I overcommit myself. I don’t say “no.” I say “yes” instead, and spread myself too thin. Then my soul suffers. My work suffers. My sanity suffers. My family life suffers. My spiritual life suffers.

I suffer in silence, thinking I’m all alone. I’m the only one failing at everything. I’m the only one who can’t pull it together. I’m the only one who can’t catch my breath, who can’t catch up on work, who can’t catch up on school, who can’t catch up with friends, who can’t catch up with the God I say I love so very much.

And I, insecure missionary blogger that I am, am afraid to tell people.

To top all that off, the heat in Southeast Asia has been crushing me. The past two months have held record highs here, and we get a lot of power cuts. I echo Ramona Quimby in Ramona the Brave who shouted out “Guts! Guts guts guts!” when she wanted to say bad words. Instead, I yell “Cuts! Cuts cuts cuts!” and very nearly lose my mind.

After one particularly grueling 12-hour all-night power outage, something inside me broke — flat out broke. I lost my hope. I began to question everything. Why are we here? Why can’t we live in America? Why exactly do I serve this God of mine? And where the heck is He when I can barely sleep or even breathe in this heat?

I was struggling under the weight of all the expectations I had for myself: be a good mom, be a good wife, be a good home educator, be a good missionary, be a good team leader’s wife, be a good friend, be a good writer, be a good editor, be a good Christ-follower. And I couldn’t do any of it.

(If there’s one thing that overnight power outage taught me, it’s this: I am not nearly as good a person as I thought I was. Cuts cuts cuts: bad words all around.)

Finally, finally, I asked for prayers. I asked my closest friends and family in the States. I asked my teammates. I asked a few women in my organization. Then I confided my struggles to some other home school moms in my city.

I was met on so many levels by “me too.” I went from being alone to being supported. I went from drowning in my despair of cross-cultural servitude to feeling supernaturally upheld.

The next time the power went out in the middle of the night, I didn’t curse this land or this life or this electrical grid. I didn’t panic. I stayed calm and waited. I sang a worship song (which shocked even myself). I retained my sanity and my faith — something that could only have happened because people were praying for me.

The next day I remember waking up and thinking, seriously? Seriously? Is that really all I had to do? Ask for prayer? Why did I keep my struggles to myself for so long? Why did I think I had to hide? What kind of appearance did I think I needed to keep up anyway? Why did I think I couldn’t ask? Help came fast when I asked.

I spun my hopelessness wheels for too long. But I’ve learned again that I can ask. I can ask for prayer sooner rather than later — and so can you.

So today, if you’re spinning your hopelessness wheels, if you’re afraid to confide in someone or ask for prayer or even for practical help, can I encourage you to ask? Just ask. The God of the universe is here to help. The Body of Christ is here to help. Help is right here waiting, even when the lights go out and we find ourselves in the dark.

All we have to do is ask.

10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked

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Most MKs are asked hundreds of questions during their families’ home assignments. Ironically, many of us leave our passport countries feeling unknown. In all honesty, we usually don’t answer questions well. Our fumbling answers can create distance.  Many times we feel as though these questions are asked politely, without time or desire to listen to our answers. In order to avoid awkwardness or unintentional hurt, MKs can detach and dispel memorized responses.

This makes it difficult for those who truly want to connect. Have you ever longed to know an MK, but don’t know how to reach his or her heart?  Have you sensed that we struggle to respond to your questions, but don’t know what else to ask? As an MK, I’ve learned that certain questions can unlock the heart.

Here are ten questions MKs would love to be asked. There are two different types of questions for two different locations: church-lobby questions and coffee-shop questions.

CHURCH-LOBBY QUESTIONS

Ask these questions when you want make a friendly connection with an MK. Stop. Look the MK in the eye. And listen. Since we are asked so many questions, we usually gauge our response based on the question-asker’s body language.

Question #1 What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you overseas?

Like most MKs, I’ve made enough cultural blunders to fill a book.  Most of these mess-ups include public bathing, getting lost, and/or eating unique cuisine during my family’s travels.

I love sharing these humorous memories. I can easily tell pieces of my story and describe my life as an MK. A side note: Prepare to laugh. (We tend to regularly embarrass ourselves cross-culturally.)

 

Question #2 What do you miss about your host country?

“You must be thrilled to be back!” and “You must miss the US terribly!” and “I don’t know how you live over there!”

While on home assignment, I struggle with these frequent, well-intended assumptions. Most people don’t realize I miss Japan (my host country) every day. “How could you miss a country that you don’t technically belong to?” People wonder. Sometimes I feel as though these longings are misunderstood or unrecognized.

 

Question #3 Can you describe a regular day in your life?

This is my favorite question. In reality, my daily life doesn’t look that different from any other normal teenager: breakfast. School. Homework. Church. But that’s not the point.

I love this question because it indicates genuine curiosity and desire to know the details of my life. Not my parent’s life. Not details of our ministry or the culture I live in. But my life.

 

Question #4 Where’s your favorite place to go in your host country?

This is an easy question for MKs, instantly relieving stress. My answer would be the sushi bar ten minutes from my home in Hiroshima. Sushi is my ultimate comfort food.

This question and the pursuing conversation recognize our love for our host countries that have become a significant part of who we are.

 

Question #5 Which places do you feel most at home?

When I visit the United States, many people tell me, “You must be so glad to be home!” They don’t realize that I left home to return home.  I have many homes, not just one.

“Home” is an ambiguous term for MKs. To answer this question, we might even name a place where we’ve never actually lived. Once, my sister told a church member she felt most at home in Thailand (with other MKs). Sometimes it’s the people, not the place, which creates this sense of belonging.

 

COFFEE-SHOP QUESTIONS

These questions aren’t supposed to be asked in a church lobby.  Ask these questions when you are intentionally investing time and energy into the life of a specific MK.

Coffee Shop Questions

Question #6 What’s the hardest and best thing about being missionary kid?

I would never trade my MK experience. But some people unintentionally dismiss the hardships of life abroad: “You are so lucky!” They exclaim, “You have such great experiences!”

I agree whole-heartedly. But good is always intertwined with struggles. MKs need permission and a safe place to talk about them, without fear of judgement or a quick beckoning to focus, instead, on the positive.

 

Question #7 What characteristics of your host country’s culture have become a part of you?

Many MKs look like one country and act like another.

If you scroll down and look at the picture next to my bio, you might not realize that I’m part Asian. Outwardly, I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Inwardly, I have Asian mannerisms, though-processes, and cultural tendencies. Sometimes I receive strange looks from people who don’t understand the “Asian” side of me. This question conveys positivity and curiosity of the ways my host country has changed me.

 

Question #8  What scares you most about visiting/returning to your passport country?

Visiting the US scares me. This seems ironic, since I was born in the US and am American. But I don’t know how to live life in the US anymore. While in Japan, I am accepted as the foreigner. But in the US, I feel like a foreigner who is expected to fit in.

By asking this question, you will help us process these fears, which is key to a healthy adjustment.

 

Question #9 What are some of your deepest losses as a missionary kid?

When I became an MK at nine-years-old, my entire world “died.” We left family, comfort, and literacy. My family and I had to create a new world in Japan while learning to read, speak, listen, and write.  Even going simple places (like the grocery store) seemed stressful. This significantly impacted my sense of identity.

Most MKs also lose a grounded understanding of their passport countries. Change is a constant in an MK’s life. And with this comes overwhelming, accumulating losses.

 

Question #10  How can I pray for you?

One time, my parents were presenting to a small group in Ohio. A lady came up to me after the presentation. With a kind smile, she asked me how she could pray. I started rehearsing my memorized response, “Please pray for the ministry…” She stopped me mid-sentence. “No, no, no. Your parents already covered that, and I will definitely be praying. But how can I pray for you?

I stared at her. Tears welled. This was the first time anyone had asked for a prayer request from me, personally.

*******

These are the top ten questions that resonate with me. One of my MK friends recently told me that during home assignment, she wanted to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.” The questions themselves are not as important as the spirit of those who ask them. Ask specific questions. Ask sincerely. Ask with your whole heart and with your full attention. This is what truly matters most to MKs.

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

Head Shot-- Taylor Joy MurrayTaylor Joy Murray, a 17-year-old Third Culture Kid, is passionate about supporting the globally mobile through her writing. She wrote Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition when she was 13 years old. The book shows the pain and raw emotions during cross-cultural transition. She currently writes from her own struggles to answer TCK questions on her blog, www.taylorjoymurray.com.

In the Light, in the Dark, Remember


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Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.

In Where Is God when It Hurts? Philip Yancey quotes these words of Joseph Bayly, former director of InterVarsity press and former president of David C. Cook Publishing. Then Yancey adds,  “Yet sometimes the darkness descends so thickly that we can barely remember the light.”

Missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot has this to say about God’s truths in the dark times:

Take the word of the Lord in your darkness. If He died to let us live in His company, is he likely to abandon us just because things look dark?

Missionaries are known for shining light in dark places, but that doesn’t mean that they never experience the pain and confusion of personal darkness themselves.

What about you? Did you wake up this morning to bright sunshine . . . or do you find yourself in a dark night of the soul?

Following are some promises of Jesus that we will all do well to recall, regardless of current circumstances. If you’re living in brightness, may these add to your joy and confirm your resolve. If you feel enveloped by darkness, may even one or two push against the shadows and take root in a corner of your heart.

As you read the promises below, I hope you’ll be able to hold tightly to each one. But if you find it hard to hold on to them, know that the one who said them is holding on to you.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

So then, don’t worry saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all theses things will be given to you as well.

The one who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away.

For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.

What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.

And whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.

But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

(Philip Yancey, Where Is God when It Hurts, Zondervan, 1977; Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet: The Bible’s Light for Daily Living, Servant, 1985; All scripture quotations are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.)

[photo: “Exodus 3:2 – the Burning Bush, B&W,” by zeevveez, used under a Creative Commons license]

Parents of Third Culture Kids, Failure, and Redefining Success

(revised from the original Who Wants Failure? on Djibouti Jones, written at the end of a year in Minnesota during which my husband worked on his PhD in Education Development)

TCKs and Failure

I opened the letter from my daughter’s first grade teacher and read it.

“Crap.” I wrinkled it into a tight ball, threw it in the garbage, and started crying.

She had tested into the gifted and talented program.

The parents of Third Culture Kids (at least me and at least sometimes) are probably the only parents in the world who want their kids to fail. At least while they are in their passport countries. If they fail here, it will be easier to go back there.

This is why I cried when my First Grade daughter, who should have only been in Kindergarten, easily passed into the Gifted and Talented Program at her American elementary school. It is why I cried when my son won first place trophies in wrestling tournaments and why I cried when my other daughter got her serves over the volleyball net.

There is no gifted and talented program where we live. There is no wresting team. There are no volleyball nets at school. There’s a French school where kids are trained to believe they are stupid, there’s wrestling but only with dad and the punching bag that hangs from the ceiling in the middle of our living room, and there aren’t girls sports, unless you consider dodging goats and donkey carts a sport.

So what do you do…No, how do you feel when these precious TCKs could stay in a country where they would have access to incredible resources and experiences and exposure? Just think what they could accomplish! Just imagine what opportunities they could have! How I could brag on Facebook!

But, in August they are going back to Africa.

Parents feel pain because it hurts to not be able to give good things to the people we love. Until we learn to redefine what those ‘good things’ are.

We feel confusion. Our children ache to go back to that place, the country that seems to steal so much from them, yet gives so much to them that they call it home. They don’t feel these losses because they have eyes to see the gains. They see the sweat, swimming with whale sharks, camping on the beach under the stars, hiking around active volcanoes and scrambling through lava tunnels, playing football (soccer) in the dirt yard with friends, dodging those donkey carts and goats. They love their friends, their school, their routines, and the traditions we have created.

And parents feel hope. Because wrestling trophies, volleyball games, and a certain definition of what makes a quality education aren’t the most important things. Loving people, engaging in the world, experiencing adventure, deep contentment, embracing diversity, and above all, delighting in God…these are the things that matter and these are the things that are happening in the lives of our TCKs.

It’s possible that if we lived in Minnesota, my children could succeed at all the events that make Instagram beautiful. But it is also possible that they wouldn’t. And, it is possible that they might succeed in other things, in other places.

My kids have literally seen a widow give her last two coins to a blind beggar. They have tucked food into the shirt pocket of Mohammed, who has no arms and stands outside the post office. They have prayed for and seen God heal friends with medical issues. They are learning to have courageous faith, to go against a crowd, to cross cultures. They live the reality that the pleasures of this world are not what satisfies.

Oh God! Hold them, keep them. May faith, may delighting in You alone, above all that America or our adoptive country have to offer, be their lifelong legacy of success.

How do you (and your kids) handle the losses and gains of parenting (and being) TCKs?

10 Ideas for Professional Development on the Field

Luke 252

When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park.

But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a COLLEGE student. I was practically an ADULT.

(Did I also mention I chose an out-of-state school and I knew no one in the state. I was awash in new relationships and trying to be cool enough to make friends and the humidity was killing me.)

That picnic is one of my vivid memories. I can remember the covering of the picnic area. I remember how I felt. I remember the cute boy I hoped I’d get to know. But what I remember most is the message the campus minister gave.

He quoted Luke 2:52. Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God. As freshman, Mike encouraged us to be like Jesus who valued growing intellectually, physically, and relationally—with people and God. The seed of intentionality was planted in me.

Fast-forward about ten years when I was in my mid-to-late twenties. I had started my career as a teacher and was on a professional track when I moved overseas for a two-year commitment.

It was assumed (by me, I admit) that just going overseas to teach was professionally enhancing. It was a different era, so I don’t say this with any blame, but the idea of professional development wasn’t a major focus.

But then two years turned into three and five and eight and even I had to admit it looked like a “career.” (Though the free spirit in me resisted this label like I was being chased by an ax murderer.)

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

I am so grateful for A Life Overseas and the articles and comments related to:

  • Taking care of our bodies—the role and importance of food, sleep, exercise, and physical self-care.
  • Taking care of our relationships—with spouses, local friends, children, teammates, and family back home.
  • Taking care of our relationship—with God and tending to our souls.

Here’s the pitfall we can inadvertently create: just by being overseas we are working in “interesting locations” that will professionally enhance us. For a season it is true, but what happens when it turns into a, um, career.

Three points I want to make before moving on:

  1. Every adult on the field is a professional. A profession is what you invest the lion’s share of your “work” time and effort into. Let’s not confuse location (inside versus outside of the home) with professional/non-professional in this post and where I want this discussion to go.

  2. Many organizations will invest in the professional development of those in public leadership.

  3. Every adult on the field needs professional development.

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Because I had started off in a professional environment that built professional development into the system, I was used to taking professional development cues from the system. But most agencies or those serving independently do not have a strong professional development track for non-senior level leaders. This is said, not with blame, but neutrally like “the sky is above us.” So what are we to do?

Here are three principles when it comes to professional development:

1. We are to value professional development for ourselves, not expect our organization to provide it for us. How much do you budget per month or annually for professional development? If the answer is “zero,” start to budget a small amount. Be willing to spend time, money, and effort.

2. We need to broaden the idea of professional development. Most of us who live, work, and serve overseas are multi-professional people. We might have our main profession, be that mothering, educating, translating, book keeping, ITing, or any other ways we work. But we also have to be able to communicate our work, improve our people skills, and grow in our understanding of how to use technology.

3. We can view professional development as life-long. You may be with your organization for two years, twenty, or forty, but you are going to be with yourself longer than that. Keep growing.

I was telling a friend yesterday about this post and she asked me, “What about millenials?” Her question confused me. She clarified, “Do you really think millenials will be willing to invest money in this area?”

Hello millenials, I know you’re reading this! I love millenials and without hesitation, I answered, “I do. From my experience, they are hungry to grow. They are open to input.”

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and found favor with man and God.

Professional development is not about a stage of life but a mindset, a willingness to grow, and can take on many faces. Here are ten ideas to professionally develop on the field:

  1. Attend a professional conference.
  2. Read a book a month, a quarter, or a year with an eye for professional development. Yesterday I bought a book about mentoring.
  3. Invest in tools to support your work—cooking is not my part of my profession, it is part of my survival. If you compared my kitchen to others, you could easily see who is professional and who isn’t.
  4. Invest in skills to support your work. Need better photos for your blog or newsletters? Take an online course. Need to improve on public speaking? You can work on that too.
  5. Listen to podcasts. Moms this one is for you. Leader, I love this one. Want to communicate your message better? Listen to this series (only seven podcasts).
  6. Join or form a private Facebook group — and then participate!
  7. Write down five areas you want to grow in. Find someone you admire for each area and learn from them.
  8. Watch a movie—in part for entertainment—but with an eye for a specific area such as fostering a team, leadership, character development, or perseverance.
  9. Do research—search google, look on pinterest, watch TED talks
  10. View yourself as a multi-professional person.

Lest this post sounds like one big “Work harder, work faster, work is awesome!!!” post, let’s remember where it started. At a picnic. With friends. Having fun.

I write to you what I wish had been said to me many years ago: “You can be responsible for your professional development. Living overseas doesn’t mean this is an area you have to count as part of the cost. Like Jesus, you can grow in wisdom and stature and find favor with man and God. Keep growing. Life is hard. Invest in people. Invest in your profession. Have fun. Jesus delights in you. His delight will never wane. Never. ”

Share in the comments what you do for professional development. Which one of these ideas are you going to try this week?

On New Paths

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About six months ago, I started running. I’ve been working on healthy eating habits and increasing fitness, and running found its way into that routine. As exercise goes, I really enjoy it and have been proud of my progress – consistently running 3 miles in 30 minutes. A fun running partner, a wide, flat dirt track, and the cool mountain climate keep me motivated. I’ve even started thinking of myself as a runner. This is what I do: I run.

I’m on vacation at the moment, but being the dedicated new runner that I am, bought new shoes and scouted out a path. It’s a cement path (so that’s different) and on a hill (that’s different too) and quite a bit hotter here (different again), but I’m not one to be intimidated. Looking forward to the run, I woke early, laced up, and headed out.

1.67 miles and 21 minutes later, I thought I was going to die. I was so slow and clumsy I probably could have walked the path faster. My legs hurt even worse the next day.

I run well on my level dirt track up at 5,500ft, but a narrow cement path up and down the side of a hill at sea level? Not so much.

This is exactly what it feels like to transition cultures and languages. Exactly.

In my own culture, I run well. I’m confident and satisfied with my progress. Sure there are still risks, I could trip or overdo it and hurt myself, but mostly it’s ok. I know where to step.

Change countries and that run I thought I could do so well is now a struggle. I’m using new muscles to climb and descend, and they protest mightily. I don’t know the path and have to slow right down so I won’t trip. The cement is hard and uncomfortable. I miss my running partner. I miss my dirt track.

I think I like running, but in this new place don’t like it at all. I feel weak and incapable. It’s not easy or natural, not at all like I expected it to be. I’m quick to feel like a failure. Am I even a runner? Has this all just been one big delusion?

Given enough time, patience, and effort, I could eventually run well on this cement path.

In time, I’ll run well in my new culture too. This new path is so very different than my comfortable dirt track. It’s challenging, frustrating, and I’m not as strong as I thought I was when we started, but I’ll get there. I am, after all, a runner.

***

“What’s it like to move to another country?” That has got to be one of the most difficult questions people ask.

What’s it like? Well, we collect rain water and have a generator. Every six months we all take de-worming meds, pets included. Our town can get pretty crazy; it’s kind of like living in the wild west. For special occasions we cook pig, sweet potatoes, and greens over hot stones in a large pit. The people are hard working and talented farmers who light up when they laugh. Life here is different, really different, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Attempting to describe what it’s like to move languages and cultures can be a tricky thing. I tend to give descriptions and information about the town, people, and how we live, but all those facts don’t do such a good job of communicating how it really feels to live cross-culturally. Facts may be interesting and illicit a fair amount of “Oh, wow” in response, but they are still pretty difficult to relate to.

What’s it like to live another culture? I think it feels a lot like running a new path, and if you’ve ever tried it, then I bet you can relate.

***

What do you think? What’s it like to transition cultures?

Changes at A Life Overseas

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Change. We in this community know this word and all of its connotations all too well. We have experienced both the good and the difficult of change.

In order for things to continue to run well, change is often necessary. So I’m here today to tell you about good change for this community. 

For the past nine months, perhaps even longer, Elizabeth Trotter has acted not only as Guest Post Editor, but as Editor in Chief. She is amazing. She does this along with parenting, homeschooling, loving others close to her (and many of us far away), writing excellent content both in this space and her own blog, and I’m pretty sure she cooks, does laundry, boils water, and all the other stuff that comes with raising a family overseas. She is officially our new editor as I (Marilyn) have had to step into some other responsibilities.

Elizabeth’s husband Jonathan is a well-known force at this space and continues to write and support Elizabeth in ensuring excellent content and sanity for all.

Andy Bruner is our tech editor – if our site looks better on your mobile devices or tablets, you have him to thank. We are so grateful to him for keeping the site online and running well!

I will continue to be helping with some social media and supporting the rest of the team.

This space is technically made possible because of the hard work of the people I’ve mentioned above, but we know the site would be nothing without you, our readers. Thank you for reading, sharing, encouraging, arguing, laughing, agreeing, disagreeing and emailing. We are so grateful for you and for this community.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3 he says this:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I offer this to you today, as a prayer for this community. As part of the unstoppable global Church, may we know Christ. May we share Christ, May we grow more like Christ. 

When There is No “Other Hand”

fiddler

Although I’ve not seen it in years, Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite shows/movies. I’ve watched the movie many times and seen the performance live as a musical theatre production at least twice.

The scenes that have found a permanent place in my memory are what I call the “other hand scenes.” These are scenes where Tevya, a hardworking, ebullient, loving father and husband is talking to himself and to God. He is trying to make sense of the changing world around him and his value of tradition, yet also trying to figure out where tradition is not merely tradition but something far greater, something that cannot be compromised. The ‘other hand’ scenes are great pictures of a dialogue between a man fully comfortable communicating with his God.

We learn early on the value of tradition for Tevya:

“But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!”

“Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer-shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

“Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!”

The ‘other hand’ scenes come as Tevya watches his daughters, one by one, fall in love and want to marry. First his challenge is that his oldest daughter wants to marry a poor tailor, but ‘on the other hand he’s an honest hard worker’. We watch him process and ultimately compromise tradition, giving his blessing on the marriage. We see a similar pattern with his second daughter and feel his pain as she heads off on a train to Siberia to be with the man she loves.

But there comes a point where Tevya won’t compromise. Where in his own words “there is no other hand;” where it’s less about tradition and more about bottom-line belief.

I think a lot about this, about compromise, about what I am and am not willing to compromise. Communicating across cultural boundaries is a lot about give and take, a lot about compromise, a lot about negotiation. And when we communicate across truth claims and faith differences, make no mistake — we are communicating across cultural differences, we are communicating across boundaries.

We live in an age where many are quick to criticize dogmatic truth claims. One of our friends who works on interfaith dialogue says that there are times when he shakes his head in disbelief because those who get together for interfaith dialogue water down their truth claims so much that they all sound the same.

That’s not dialogue. That’s monologue

When a Christian says that it doesn’t matter if Jesus is an allegory, and a Muslim says that the creed is unimportant then it’s not an interfaith dialogue – both have given up essential elements of their faith.

There are other times where people clearly and graciously state their claims, and, even if it bothers you, they won’t back down. There is no other hand. They will listen, and ask questions, and have genuine interest, but they are compelled to hold fast to certain tenets of their faith.

When it comes to tradition, belief, and truth claims I feel a lot like Tevya. I have this running dialogue with God, trying to sort out where and when I am willing to compromise and when I realize there is no other hand. Because if I bend that far, I’ll break.

“On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break. On the other hand… No. There is no other hand.”

What about you? Have you struggled to work through faith, what you will compromise, and what you won’t, particularly in a cross-cultural context? I invite you to join the conversation – we need your voice.

Note: This post was adapted from the original, first published in 2013 at Communicating Across Boundaries.