At the Night Market, Some Flavors Are Better Left Untried

 

In my last post, I talked about the cultural mistakes we often make when we move overseas—mistakes that can make us laugh or cringe or even wince in pain or regret. Below is one of my own that I enjoy laughing about. I invite you to laugh with me . . . and maybe cringe a little, too.

While living in Taipei, we got many opportunities to try new and (to us) strange foods, especially at the night markets. I was game for tasting most things at least once. But sometimes it took me a little while to work up my nerve—like when I waited a few years before trying “stinky tofu.” (Ends up it’s not as bad as it sounds, or smells.)

For a long time, I’d seen mounds of small black spiral shells sold as a snack at night markets, and I wondered what they tasted like. Actually, I also wondered how you’d eat them. I figured a snail, or some sort of other creature, was cooked inside, so maybe you sucked the meat out, or maybe the shell was cooked to the point where it was soft and you were supposed to eat the whole thing. I didn’t know, but I saw the locals walking around with plastic bags full of them, so I assumed they tasted good.

One evening I finally gave in to my curiosity and confidently walked over to the lady selling the black shells. It’s the custom for vendors at the markets to provide a small bowl of samples for potential customers to try. This lady was no exception, as she had a paper bowl holding a few shells sitting on the front of the table. I grabbed one of the samples, put it in my mouth, and sucked on it as I walked away. While the shells looked spicy piled up on display—with a few peppers mixed in—I tasted nothing. Flavorless. And I was disappointed to find no meat inside.

The next night, I was at the same market, and I wanted to try one more time. So I grabbed another sample from the shell lady. Again, no matter how much I worked it around in my mouth, no meat, no flavor, just a shell. Come on. Why do people buy those things? I walked back to my family and told them how I’d wasted my time and was glad I hadn’t wasted my money.

That’s when my son looked back at the table . . . and said, “Dad, that’s not the bowl for samples. That’s where people put the shell after they’ve tried one and need to throw it away.”

This story was originally posted here.

[photo: “Luodong Night Market,” by LW Yang, used under a Creative Commons license]

TCK Lessons: “What About the Internet?”

by Tanya Crossman

In part one of this series, I explained the lesson “Everyone leaves.” This is something most TCKs “learn” through their experiences growing up internationally. I chose to leave space at the end of the piece to reflect on how this “lesson” affects TCKs, rather than jump straight to solutions. When we skip straight to “it’ll be okay,” we don’t stop to sit with TCKs in their sadness and grief. We miss the opportunity to act as witnesses, to listen, to say that their feelings about this are valid. It’s hard to listen to pain, so we don’t often take enough time to wait in that place. I wanted to create space, to honour the sadness, even in blog posts.

Now it’s time for part two – but I’m not jumping into the solutions just yet. I’ve decided to address something else first: What about the internet?

A really common response I hear from parents, and even older ATCKs, is that with the internet and social media, TCKs these days can stay in touch with their friends after a move. It’s not the same, but surely it makes things easier. A lot of TCKs I interviewed for Misunderstood had heard this, too. There’s a few problems with this idea, and I want to break them down.

 

The internet doesn’t erase loss
Most of the time these comments aren’t comforting for TCKs. It makes them feel that they aren’t supposed to grieve, or that they shouldn’t show their sadness. The ability to stay in touch after a move doesn’t take away the sadness of losing that person from their daily life. And there’s no guarantee, even with the internet. When a child says goodbye to a friend, they don’t yet know what that friendship will look like on the other side of the move – whether it will continue or not, whether they will ever see their friend in person again or not. Sometimes there will be reunions, but not always. It is so important for TCKs to be able to grieve friendships that change or are lost. Their feelings of sadness are real and valid and need to be expressed – and are worth listening to.

“‘Graduation’ was a word that most people in my grade did not want to say, because ‘graduation’ meant ‘goodbye’. I used to say this a lot to my parents but they just kept telling me that “back in my day we only had snail mail and you guys get email and Facebook and so many other opportunities to stay in touch.” I gave up trying to make my point – it’s not the same. If home is where the heart is then after we all graduate my home will be in Korea and America and other places I’ve never been to, because that’s where my friends will be.”
Katherine, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

It’s not the same
Friendship online is different to friendship in person, for many reasons. Also, not everyone is good at online connection. It relies on a different set of interpersonal skills, and sometimes a friendship that is amazing in person just doesn’t translate that well to long-distance. Lots of TCKs hold onto the hope that staying in touch online means they’re not really saying goodbye. It doesn’t end well. I’ve heard so many stories of ways TCKs struggle with delayed grief – because they thought staying in touch online would erase the problem. One mother told me she learned to expect the sadness to hit her son a year after being left behind. A teenage boy spoke to me of being deeply hurt by a friend not investing as much in maintaining their friendship online. A young adult woman found she was offending friends; she learned to tell herself this wasn’t really goodbye, so she didn’t have to be emotional about it. When a person leaves, the friendship as it has been ends. A new friendship can be negotiated thanks to the wonders of the internet, but it will be a NEW friendship. There is still sadness is losing what was, even when there is a continuation of connection.

“I had to say goodbye to a close friend knowing I would not see her for at least five years. I missed her so much. Immediately after she left, I could not make new friends. I think I was still sore from the goodbye. I still talk to her online but it really isn’t the same. I do believe I will see her again, although I know the relationship will never be the same. A lot can happen in five years, and people change.”
Joy, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

It’s not just one person
We’re not talking about one or two friends moving away – we’re talking about one or two a year. Or more. No matter how much time and energy you invest in online relationships, there will always be people you don’t keep up with. There’s just no way to stay in touch with that many people, especially if you’re also working hard to build new connections in person. While having the ability to stay in touch via the internet is amazing, and so good for TCKs, it also adds complications. The more time I spend investing in friends online, the less time I can spend investing in people nearby. And while it’s so valuable to stay in touch with friends who used to live nearby, it’s also important to continue building new relationships. The friends I stay in touch with from previous locations know certain parts of me, have shared certain parts of my life. But if I don’t invest in new relationships, I won’t have friends who knew THIS part of my life.

“People who haven’t moved as much or as far do not understand that it is usual for TCKs to have more than one best friend. They are my best friend in this circumstance and this location.”
Callie, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

Who is in control?
Remember that we’re talking about children. They don’t have full control over their lives and ability to connect. Younger children especially can’t just stay in touch, because the ability to do so is filtered through their parents, and their friends’ parents. TCKs are heavily dependent on their parents to support the maintenance of friendships with people in other places. And even with parents’ support, it’s not always that simple. Time differences can make it really hard to coordinate schedules. Perhaps a TCK is living in an area without reliable internet access – or her friend is. Plus, I have heard many internet-age TCKs tell stories in which a friend moved away with little or no warning, and was never heard from again – especially if they were in primary school at the time. Staying in touch via the internet is great in theory, but it doesn’t always happen in practice – and TCKs often don’t have much control over that.

“Friendships maintained online helped and still help me a great deal. They served as a way to reminisce and share in the processes and challenges of life with other TCKs. My parents have been very gracious with making opportunities for me to visit friends – this includes driving long(ish) distances, being willing to host friends, and encouraging me to keep in contact. They make a point to ask about the lives of my friends who live far away who I talk to. I would encourage TCKs to be consistent and keep in contact with their friends online and through texting. But don’t let those relationships be the only ones, because they can take away from building relationships in person.”
Becca, as quoted in Misunderstood

 

The internet: worth it, but not without complications
A Third Culture childhood is a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations, but it is not without difficulties and complications. Erasing mention of hard things doesn’t solve the difficulties. The internet is a tool, and a good thing overall, for most kids in most situations. But it doesn’t solve the problem of how frequent goodbyes through childhood affect a person. It adds different opportunities, and also complications. It changes what goodbye looks like. But it doesn’t erase the underlying lesson, that “everyone leaves”.

Read more TCK articles by Tanya.

Originally published here.

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Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.

TCK Lessons: “Everyone Leaves”

by Tanya Crossman

The experience of living overseas as a child is very different to the experience of living overseas as an adult. The impact of childhood experiences last a lifetime. They are formative experiences – they teach us how the world works. We all internalise ‘lessons’ from our childhood experiences.

TCKs grow up between cultures, learning lessons from more than one cultural viewpoint. Often these messages contradict one another, and learning to navigate this conflict is part of what makes a TCK. The lessons they learn about how the world works, therefore, often come less from individual cultures and more from the fact that they juggle more than one cultural viewpoint. The experience of being “in between” greatly affects their understanding of the world.

As I interviewed hundreds of TCKs there were a lot of repeated themes, and even specific phrases, that became familiar. These were the lessons these TCKs had learned through their childhood experiences. In this post I’m introducing one of the most common lessons of a TCK childhood: Everyone leaves.

I heard the exact phrase “everyone leaves” in scores of interviews. Even when a TCK lived in one place a long time (even their whole childhood) most did not live fully immersed lives in their host culture, and were therefore affected by the mobility of other expatriates. That is to say, if TCKs didn’t move on themselves, they watched many of their friends leave. On top of this, most TCKs make trips to visit family in other countries, where they reconnect and then have to say goodbye. Or they attend conferences with their parents’ organisations, where they have friends they make and farewell every year. The end result is that goodbyes form part of the background of a TCK childhood.

It can be hard for adults to really internalise what this feels like for kids – how it shapes them. Perhaps a story will help. When leading sessions on transition with students, I ask how many times a close friend has moved away from them. Not just an acquaintance or classmate, but someone they felt close to. I get a lot of wide eyes and dropped jaws – how can anyone expect me to tally that number?? Some just roll their eyes and refuse to even try. One 10 year old lifted both hands and started opening and closing his fingers, representing an ongoing and endless number. One time, a 5th grade girl got a very determined look on her face – she was intent on counting to an exact number. She kept going while the class moved on to discuss another question. When she lifted her head again, I turned back to her and asked if she had her number. “Yes,” she answered, “it’s 23.” Before even finishing primary school, this girl had said goodbye to 23 people she felt close to.

It’s important to remember that different TCKs respond differently to this challenge. There are several quite rational responses to this experience. Some TCKs try to avoid the sadness of goodbyes, by denying that the goodbyes are real or painful. Others try to create emotional distance to blunt the pain.

“I lived with a mentality that ‘everyone leaves’. I just recently moved off to college and I had a really close friend get mad at me for pushing her away and trying to do anything I could to minimize the hurt I knew was coming. Honestly I still expect us to eventually lose touch anyway because people move on. That’s all I’ve ever known.” – Maddie, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I never feel sad until a half hour before the person I know leaves. It hurts too much, so I numb myself to the pain, block it out, and refuse to think about it until it’s actually happening.” – Faith, as quoted in Misunderstood

Some TCKs decide it’s not worth the pain to invest in relationships, especially if they know a goodbye is imminent – such as when they will be leaving soon, or the other person will. “Soon” being anywhere from six months to two years. Another common reaction is a highly developed ability to connect superficially – to be warm and friendly and welcoming – while holding back their deeper selves. There is great vulnerability in sharing my whole self when I know that the deeper a relationship gets, the more it will hurt when the (inevitable) goodbye comes.

“I didn’t want to devote myself to new friendships because I knew it would just be another goodbye at the end of the six months.” – Eve, as quoted in Misunderstood

“I remember feeling ‘popular’ but looking back, the majority of my friendships were quite shallow and superficial. I did not open myself up to the different possible friendships I could have had. I did not properly invest time or emotions in my ‘friends’. I was prepared to say goodbye to those people from day one.” – Siyin, as quoted in Misunderstood

Other TCKs dive deep into relationships as quickly as possible because they don’t know how long they have. This can create friction outside non-international circles, as they may come across as too eager, or be labelled as too intense.

Whatever method a TCK develops to help deal with the emotional stress of goodbyes, the commonality is that this is an essential survival skill for them. The goodbyes and the losses that go with them can be very overwhelming to a child, especially because it is the only experience they know.

I feel the urge to switch to something hopeful here, so I don’t depress you. But please stick with me a minute longer, as I offer a sobering reflection – to help understand how the “everyone leaves” lessons affects TCKs who don’t yet know there is any other way to experience the world.

Imagine you are 9 years old, and every year of your life you have said goodbye to a close friend, and had to make a new friend. In your world, friends only last a year or two. Is it really worth the effort this time?

Imagine you are 13 years old, and you’ve learned the skill of being warm and friendly and fitting into yet another new circle of friends, but you doubt it’s possible to be truly known by any one person. Am I going to be lonely forever?

Imagine you are 17 years old, your best friend is moving to another country, and this time you’re desperate not to lose them. You think about all the ways to stay in touch and plan around time zones, trying hard to ignore the sinking feeling that it won’t be the same.

How hopeful would you feel, as you look ahead?

Every child’s experience is different, of course, but the weight of having to keep building new friendships, and negotiating long-distance friendships, is something most TCKs experience to some degree.

Losing friends hurts – and that’s okay. The best first step for helping TCKs, especially when they are young, is to validate feelings of loss. Instead of saying “Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends” a far more helpful thing is to say “You’re right, this is really hard. It won’t always feel this way, but right now it’s totally okay to feel sad or angry.”

Instead of telling them things you hope will make them feel better, ask them questions that invite them to share how they feel right now.

Listening to a child’s hurt is HARD – it’s painful to hear. But it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer them. Listening well says, “I see you. I hear you. The way you feel is valid. You’re allowed to be sad, and you’re allowed to tell me about it.”

I plan to write more in future about how to help TCKs with this, but for now I want to stop here, with the truth that losing friends hurts – and that’s okay. We hurt because we’re losing something that matters. It’s a good thing to attach to someone enough that it hurts to lose them.

None of us can “fix” the pain of losing a friend. I can’t change that this friend is moving away, or that our company is moving us away, or any of the circumstances that cause a child the pain of loss. I can’t fix it. But every time I talk to groups of TCKs about this, they share that they don’t actually want someone to fix it. They know it can’t be fixed – and they don’t like adults acting as if it can be. They just want someone (especially their parents) to listen to them, and to say it’s okay to be sad. And that is something we can do.

 

In part 2 of this series, I will consider a common response to “Everyone leaves” – namely, “What about the internet?”

Read more TCK articles by Tanya.

Originally published here.

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Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.

Lord, Keep Me Weeping

by Stacey Hare

The day began by watching my deceased neighbor be buried in his front yard. The day ended by watching another neighbor beat a little boy violently. Death and violence are a part of everyday life here in the village. There is a part of me that asks the question: Is it ever okay to put my headphones in to drown out the constant strain of yelling that surrounds our home? Is it okay for me to look the other way while a grown man beats a whimpering child? Is there ever a reprieve from the wailing at funerals, the violence, the fighting, the disease, and the death that surround us in this place? Is there a time to just send someone away saying, “Be warm and filled”?

The week before that terrible day, my husband Dave and I went over to our neighbor’s house to talk about their grandson’s health. The grandmother was very thankful for the medication we brought her, and the grandfather greeted us warmly and thanked us. This grandfather has been blind for about two years, and I’ve seen another of his grandsons leading him around the village.

We regularly hear fighting coming from that house at all hours of the day and night. The night before my neighbor died, I had been having a rough day with my kids. I went outside late at night to look at the stars and pray, and I heard them fighting. My first reaction was not to pray, but instead to roll my eyes and wonder if the hollering would ever stop. That is something I am ashamed of now. Why? Because the next day I went back to their house and found the grandfather lying dead in his bed while family members were digging him a grave outside. Women were in the house wailing and men were outside drunk, alternating between arguing and singing loudly.

When I went into the house, one of my friends (the deceased’s daughter) explained to me what had happened. Allegedly, her father had gone to the city to withdraw his retirement in order to pay for a surgery for his eyes. It was a considerable sum of money and when he got home, his wife (my friend’s step-mom) and her children demanded the money. When he refused to give it to them, they beat him, inflicting injuries that led to his death.

The week before, he was greeting me at his front door. That morning he was lying dead in the middle of his living room, allegedly due to domestic violence. His second wife and her children have left town out of fear of retribution from the family.

And then it hit me – while I was rolling my eyes at the shouting emanating from their house, this blind grandfather was being beaten by his own family members. I am ashamed that my first thought was for myself rather than the well-being of my neighbor. I see clearly now that my response was not Christ-like.

All over Scripture, we are called to not tune out the sufferings of the poor and needy. When my children ask what to do about the sufferings of our neighbors, I call them to consider that Proverbs tells us that we are to look them in the eye and breathe in the sufferings they bear. When we turn our eyes away, put the headphones in, ignore the screams we hear, and close our ears to the cry of the poor, we will ourselves “call out and not be answered” (Prov 21:13). We are told that “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (Prov. 28:27).

I know what you are thinking: “You must be great at parties.” But, consider the biblical characterization of Christ as a “man of sorrows.” Would I be flattered or insulted to be known as a “woman of sorrows”? Should I rather be someone who is carefree, loves to laugh, and is fun to have around? My home culture calls me to pursue “my best life now,” but Jesus says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). I am persuaded that a life of weeping and constant prayer is the only appropriate response to the sin and suffering that surround us. The lightheartedness of knowing that “everything’s going to be okay” is not for this life now, but instead for the next.

But this way seems too hard, and some may wonder if it is even healthy for someone to strive to bear the burdens of the blind, orphan, and abused as a way of life. In the face of this concern is the trusted verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). I am confident that Jesus loves to answer the prayers of his children as we ask him to strengthen us as we seek to strengthen others.

With all of that said, I do long for reprieve. I long for a place where the sounds of peace fill the air. I seek a better country where an unimaginable joy takes hold of everyone, and we can laugh, really laugh. And I know that this is not just a fantasy. This place exists and I will one day live in the presence of my God. And so today I can choose to open my eyes, to listen to the wailing, to grow not in numbness, but in compassion. Because I know that for every wound inflicted on this Fallen Earth, I will one day feel the healing touch of my Savior. And by His grace, I will hear those same voices, no longer wailing, but worshiping with me.

Until that day, Lord, keep me weeping.

Originally published here.

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Stacey Hare and her husband, Dave, are Bible translators in Cameroon with World Team and are the parents of four adopted children. You can read their blog at: haretranslation.blogspot.com.

Why Expats Love Community and Struggle to Find it Again

I love me some community. Who doesn’t? Am I right?

It’s one of those super-slick buzz words that makes every experience sound better.

“Yeah, we live in a mud hut, have no internet, eat tree moss and get malaria twice a year . . . but the sense of community is amazing. “

“Heck yeah. Sign me up.”

It is by far what expats love most about their life abroad and what they (oh so naively) think they can reproduce when they go home — so they try . . . diligently . . . but they fail . . . miserably.

What’s up with that?

Why is it so hard to recreate that magical sense of camaraderie and connection that seems effortless over there?

 

I have a theory. Here it is.

 

Expat community rises and falls on two key ingredients.

PROXIMITY and NEED.

Let me put it a different way.

 

Community happens when incompetent people get mashed together.

 

It’s how we know we’ve arrived — we need each other in ways that we could never imagine on our home turf.

Simple stuff.

Stupid stuff.

Incredibly uncomplicated, previously no-brainer stuff that we mastered at the age of five is suddenly and painfully beyond our grasp.

Stuff like buying toothpaste.

And using toilets.

And saying words.

We instantly feel like bumbling idiots so we lean on anyone who can empathize. They point us in the right direction and the seeds of community are planted.

They explain the difference between green tea and mint toothpaste — we have a laugh and share a story. They explain the hazards and strategies of local toilets and we find ourselves talking about things that we haven’t even shared with our best friends.

Relationships go deeper quicker because our conversations are fueled by vulnerability.

No one says it out loud — “Hey I’m a bumbling idiot and you seem like a slightly less bumbling idiot, think you could help me out here?” — but that’s the field where community grows.

We huddle up — and we help each other — because we would fall apart if we didn’t.

We move forward together and learn to function at varying degrees of competence but all of us (even the long time vets) are operating at a fraction of the functionality of the average local person.

And THAT my friends, is where the magic happens. Somewhere along that path we actually start loving it to the point that we CHOOSE neediness over self-sufficiency — and it makes perfect sense to everyone around. Why in the world would you go to the store for eggs when your neighbor has nine in their fridge?

It’s a solid system.

And we love it.

So much so that we long for it wherever we go, especially back “home” — but “home” is a different reality.

You’re not a bumbler there.

Scratch that. You’re not supposed to be a bumbler there. You speak the language, you know the culture, you’re HOME for crying out loud . . . which makes the incompetence upon returning all that much more painful.

It’s a shared ache for so many global “returnees” . . . “I miss my community.”

So then, we (oh so naively) come blazing back into our old world armed with our new discoveries, fully prepared to fix the less enlightened . . .  if they would just listen . . . and do everything we tell them . . . and buy houses on the same block . . . and share eggs.

We tend to skip straight to the glorious comradery because we have long since forgotten the mashup of incompetence. It’s not hard to sell but it is nearly impossible to deliver. It’s a slow, painful realization that the whole world doesn’t want to reorganize their lives around our epiphanies about community. People don’t choose incompetence if there are other options and now you have jumped back into the land of the Non-Needies.

It’s awkward for competent, fully functioning, proudly autonomous people to ask for help. Why would you do that?

Go get your own eggs.

The natural consequence of competence is independence which is the flip side of community.

Write this down.

In any transition, it is unfair to compare the end of the last thing to the beginning of the new thing.

It just is.

But we do anyway.

 

Three simple thoughts and I’ll shut up:

 

This is your story — but it’s not ONLY your story. Consider the other angles and the perspectives of the people around you.

Go easy on the unenlightened — transition tends to inflate our sense of “rightness” and make it easy to judge the one’s who “don’t get it.”

Be patiently persistent —  Great community CAN happen again. It will look different (it has to). It may take longer — but it’s worth the intentionality to never give up.

originally posted on The Culture Blend

4 Reasons Churches Should Visit Their Missionaries

by Beth Barthelemy

About a year ago, we had our very first visitors since arriving on South African soil (about a year before that). After months of anticipation, our pastor and friends from our U.S. church arrived to spend a week with us.

They did not come as a short term team, with a particular ministry focus. We had no projects lined up for them. They did not come to “check up” on us, to make sure we were worth their investment. They did not have a list of questions with which to assess our effectiveness or success. They came with a simple purpose: to be an encouragement to us.

Throughout their visit, both my husband and I wondered, “Why aren’t more churches doing this?” We have friends whose churches give generous financial gifts but offer little other support. After just a short stint on the field, we see our deep need for all kinds of support from sending churches. Long-term missionaries need you, beyond your monthly check and prayer. They need you to visit them.

Here are four reasons why.


1. It is a major encouragement to the missionary.

The very night they arrived, I told my husband, “I already feel so encouraged – it’s like such a lift to my spirit.” They didn’t have to actually say anything – just the act of planning the visit, making the long trip, and arriving at our door, was a gift in and of itself. They could have turned around and left and I would have been so thankful.

But then, over the course of the week, we were able to have meaningful conversations — about our family life, about how our kids were doing, about my husband’s classes and his students, about how we’ve struggled this year and how we’ve grown this year. Being able to share all of that, to hash it out with people who’ve known us and invested in us prior to the field, was huge.

 

2. It enables the church to see and experience the ministry.

Before our pastor and friends arrived, we lined up a handful of experiences which would give them insight into our ministry. They attended classes with my husband, and we hosted a dinner with students that evening. They met our coworkers at the college and from our organization. They spent hours in our home and played with our kids. They took a tour around our city. They attended our church and chatted with our pastor here.

At the end of the week, they expressed how valuable it was for them to be able to put faces to our ministry here. It’s not just numbers anymore, but peoples’ lives, stories, hopes. It’s not just a vision for ministry anymore, but a tangible experience of that ministry. And we’re not just a picture on their wall, but a family whose life and work they intimately got to be a part of for a week.


3. It reminds the missionary that the ministry isn’t just about them.

While we were fundraising in the States, we were regularly encouraged by the excitement and support people provided. It was obvious that this discipleship ministry in South Africa, this raising up of Christian leaders, wasn’t just about us or God’s leading in our lives. It was about so much more – about many individuals who were joining us in this ministry and churches who were behind this mission. We truly felt like Paul when he wrote, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you… because of your partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:3, 5).

After being removed from our churches and circles of partners, however, it became easier to forget that this was indeed a team project. On hard days, especially for me at home with kids most of the time, I found myself asking of the Lord – “Why am I here again? Did we make a mistake, coming to South Africa? Is all of this sacrifice really worth it?”

Over the week that our sending church visited, I was reminded in a deep and meaningful way that this ministry was never about just me. Sure, we are the face of this work, but we could not be here without our churches behind us, without our amazing base of partners, all who have affirmed God’s leading of our family in this direction and expressed desire to be a part of this ministry. Tearfully and humbly, I have thanked God multiple times for his goodness in sending our church to us so that He could remind me that it’s not all about me. I needed that reminder, and he gave it to me in a powerful way.

There is no price tag you can put on that kind of encouragement.

 

4. It’s an investment in your long-term missionaries.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t it really expensive to send people just to visit?” Yes, it is. Many churches are sending multiple short-term missions teams out every year, some with great effectiveness and others without. There may be great value in redirecting some focus onto the effectiveness of long-term missionaries. After all, they are the ones who are with locals day in and day out, for years, developing relationships, training future leaders, and have potential for a more lasting impact.

Additionally, there is great value in just “being” with people. We are prone to believe that unless there is tangible achievement or numerical results, nothing has been done and our efforts have been wasted. This is simply untrue. Sending people for the primary purpose of encouraging your missionaries is indeed doing something very valuable. It is practicing the ministry of presence. Being with people is encouraging, rejuvenating, and motivating.

In general, churches would be wise to consider their investment in their long-term missionaries — and I mean beyond the financial investment. Long-term missionaries need much more than just your money every month. We need your prayers, your emails, your intentional connection, your teaching, your accountability, your resources, your care. Sending a few key people to visit your long-term missionaries is an investment in them and in that ministry. Our church ministered to us in profound ways, by simply showing up at our home and being a part of our life for a week. And we are so thankful.

originally published here

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Beth Barthelemy is a wife, mother to three young children, and cross cultural worker. She and her husband, Ben, moved to South Africa in 2016 to be involved in teaching and discipling future Christian leaders. She has an MA in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can find her at www.bbbarthelemy.blogspot.com and www.instagram.com/bethbarthelemy.

A Dirty Little Secret of Singles on the Field

I have just returned from spending a week in Germany with a group of missionaries. While with them I lead several workshops, one of which was “Being Single in Missions.” Since I’m still jet-lagging and processing conversations we had, today I will share a post from a couple of years ago about singles and online dating. We will hear from three singles. How well does your organization make space for talking to singles about dating?

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I’m not a fan of dirty little secrets. Dirty little secrets are laced with shame and create hiding and distance.

I am a fan of having confidants and knowing how to hold a confidence. Oh the joy of being known and feeling safe enough to trust someone with a piece of yourself!

I first became aware of this dirty little secret in a conversation with married friends around a pool in Thailand. We were chatting and I mentioned a stat from some research I’d conducted for a presentation at a professional conference. During my research, I’d learned that 32% of the singles in our organization had either tried or were currently trying online dating. 

We were in a fairly large organization so this was no small number.

Online dating

With shock and a tinge of panic, they said, “No! We are going to lose too many singles to eHarmony!” That is a fairly common response from married folks on the field. Is it any wonder many singles are ashamed to admit they might want to try online dating? The result is that many singles have no idea how many others are trying it–and once they find one or two, it’s almost like they have fallen down the rabbit hole, left to wonder, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?”

Shame from fellow servants isn’t the only pressure singles can face. On the other extreme, many folks back home want to know why a single is not on a dating site and pressure, pressure, pressure them to try and get married.

Of course, not all singles are the same and their experiences are going to vary as will their definitions of “success” when it comes to online dating. Since this topic is broad, my goal today is simply to say online dating is happening and to get the conversation started. Instead of talking in stats and hypotheticals, I contacted three singles I know who started dating someone via online dating in the last year and asked if they would share their stories with us and they agreed saying, “Finally. Finally, we as a community can talk about this!” So as to not get bogged down by whether you know them or not, I’ve changed their names. 

How long have you been on the field?

Ann: I’ve been on the field since 2003 (with a one year and a half year home assignment since then).

Beth: I was on the field for 2 years. I’m back in the States now.

Cici: I’d been serving with my organization for nine years when I signed up for eHarmony. I’d been overseas for about half of that time.

 

What factored into doing (or not trying) online dating?

Ann: I had a few friends on the field join eHarmony and they were really honest about the process, with the struggles and ups and downs of online dating including dating long distance. One of my friends on the field met her now husband on eHarmony and she really encouraged me to think about joining. I knew she didn’t suggest it lightly because she had joined eHarmony the year before with no “success.”  I felt like I had a pretty realistic and balanced view of long-distance online dating and, with a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided that I would join while I was on home assignment since had time to invest in it and could theoretically meet someone in person faster while in the U.S.

Beth: The most significant thing that factored into using online dating was the fact that there were very few single men on the field. I lived in a very small expat community and all the men my age were married. I had dabbled a little in online dating during college (but it wasn’t really successful). However, after I moved to China, I decided to try my hand again after realizing that the options on the field were very limited.

Cici: Several of my friends had met their husbands through online dating, so I knew it could work. When I decided to try it, I factored in cost, safety, and timing. When I joined eH, I was planning to be on the field for another year, and I only signed up for three months because I didn’t want it to consume my time for that long. For me the timing seemed good because I wasn’t too far away from being back in the States if I met someone, but I was far enough away from being home, that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t meet anyone. I originally looked at it as “practice” for when I got back to the States because I rarely interacted with any single men where I was living.

 

Did you feel this was something you needed (or wanted) to hide from your team or organization? Did you feel comfortable sharing it?

Ann: Since online dating is pretty common I didn’t feel like it was something I needed to hide though it wasn’t something I necessarily advertised. I’m more of a private person that way and so it wasn’t unnatural to me that I wouldn’t share it with just anyone. My close friends knew about it though.

Beth: To be honest, I didn’t tell a lot of people on my team about meeting the two guys I dated these past two years online. I felt really ashamed and lot of people were really concerned about it (online dating is seen by the Christian community as not such a great thing — or at least that’s been my experience). Only a few people knew about the first guy I met when we first started dating. However, because of my first experience, I was a little more open telling people about Ben (my current boyfriend).

Cici: I chose not to share with my teammates, but that was based on team dynamics that were already in play. I did tell former teammates about my online dating, including teammates who were still with my organization. I chose not to tell my organization at the time; however, I have been honest and open about the timeline of when I met my now boyfriend and how we met when I’ve been asked questions about my future plans and when former (but who were current when we met) teammates found out via social media.

 

What was the reaction when people heard you were trying it out? Or succeeding? (All three of you have succeeded, so to speak)

Ann: Most people, what they hear that my boyfriend and I met online, say something to the effect of “lots of people meet that way now” or “so-and-so also met their boyfriend/husband online” as if to assure me and/or themselves that it’s a common and valid way of meeting people (not something I struggled with though). I expected more people to ask me what that meant for my life/calling overseas, but I’ve been surprised at how few people ask that.

Beth: I kinda answered this above, but it wasn’t always positive. I started talking to Ben in September but we never actually met in person until I visited him in February over Chinese New Year. People were really worried about me going to Australia and visiting Ben (I had friends on the ground there and I felt comfortable with the whole situation — my friends and family all knew where I was and where I was going so I felt that I was safe enough. I had met Ben’s family on Skype so I was fairly comfortable with the whole thing.) After Ben and I met in person, people were way more open to it and very excited about it.

Cici: Everyone seemed supportive, and I think this is because it’s becoming far more common for couples to meet online. For people who didn’t even know I was dating someone until a couple of months after we begin communicating, there was definitely surprise. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that people had been receiving regular updates on my life and ministry and assumed they knew everything that was going on in my life. However, aside from family and close friends, I chose to keep my relationship private in order to maintain a distance between it and my decision to move back to the States.

 

What have been the challenges and blessings of trying online dating while on the field?

Ann: I met my now boyfriend online while I was still on home assignment. Dating long distance definitely has many challenges and it has its blessings too. Since all we can do is talk while I’m on the field and he’s back in the states, we do a lot of talking! We have lots of good conversations though I miss the opportunities to just go out and do something with him and experience life together that way. But we’re able to build a really good foundation of communication (and the fact that we spent some time together during my home assignment before I went back on the field was really helpful!) Another big challenge has been figuring out how this new relationship and my life on the field fit together, and how and when to return to the U.S. so that we’re not always long distance and we can actually be together to figure out where this relationship is going.

Beth: I did date a guy my first year in China who lived in another city in China, but it didn’t pan out. The challenge was his approach to faith/Christianity — he was really liberal and eventually said I needed to show more of a commitment in physical ways I wasn’t willing to do. This is the downside to online dating. You don’t actually know how they will approach the physical aspect to your relationship until you’re in it.

However, this past year I have seen the absolute blessings associated with online dating. Ben is the man I have been looking for my entire life. Because our relationship started on Skype and emails, we were able to be open and honest with each other. Our relationship started as a friendship first before developing into something deeper. My relationship with Ben is not founded on the physical aspect (which is something that has really tripped me up in past relationships). It’s founded on our love for the Lord and on our friendship and care for one another.

Communication is one of the strongest aspects of our relationship because we have had to work so hard to do it well since we live so far apart. I feel that this is one of the best benefits of online dating. You really get to know someone and who they are. Ben is from Australia and I’m from the US, so it’s been challenging, but because we started this relationship at a distance, it’s made it easier dealing with it since we know it will eventually end (he’s moving to the US sometime next year).

Cici: The challenge for me was how time-consuming it was. It can be like having a part-time job, which was a little stressful when I was trying to prepare to move back to the States. However, it was also a welcome distraction from all of the drama that was going on in my life at the time. Waiting for communication and emails because of the time difference was difficult as well, especially the more I got to know my now boyfriend. Another blessing was feeling like I had a personal life that not everyone was privy too. Much of my life is public knowledge, and I appreciated being able to get to know someone without everyone at home or on the field watching.


Ann, Beth, and Cici thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for helping to remove some of the shame singles might experience in this area.

For the rest of us, what could online dating for singles on the field mean?

  1. Let your single friend or teammate bring up the subject. Just like a married couple may or may not want to discuss infertility, some singles will want to talk about online dating a lot (maybe too much for your taste) and others not at all.
  2. Try not to use language like “we’re losing so many singles to online dating.” This elevates location and current assignment over following God and tends to shut down conversations.
  3. Write your prayers, run your prayers, bake your prayers, however you best pray, pray for singles and the pressures they face when it comes to dating, not dating, leaving the field, and staying on the field. Pray that above all else, that they may know the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in them, the hope of glory.
  4. Might I remind us of the obvious: singles aren’t just women, they are men too. I know this post is female heavy and hope to hear from men so that we can learn from your experience as well.

 

Let’s Talk about Sexual Harassment

#metoo

Kavanaugh vs. Blasey Ford

Running while Female (aka, living while female)

Its time to talk about sexual harassment again. I am not coming at this from a political angle. But recent US political events highlighted, again, that sexual harassment is a very real and present danger and can have long-term consequences, sometimes leading to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, high blood pressure, and PTSD.

Organizations, teams, families, friends, coworkers, everyone living abroad needs to talk about this.

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What does harassment look like? Here’s just a few examples based on personal experience:

Leering. Open-mouthed, wide-eyed stares. Kissy-faces. Sexual hand gestures. Men cupping imaginary breasts. Men pulling down their pants. Pulling my hair and yanking on my clothes. Calling me a whore and a prostitute and an infidel and describing what they would like to do to me or simply shouting, “sex!” Throwing rocks and soda bottle caps. Trying to trip me. Jumping from behind and shouting, in an attempt to scare me. Spitting. Following. Mimicking my walk. Walking behind so closely they step on my heels. Drawing the finger across the throat. Grabbing my breasts, pinching and/or punching my ass, dumping a bottle of liquid on me while I wait on the corner.

(Lest I give the impression this only happens where I live now, I have experienced sexual harassment in every country I’ve spent significant time in.)


Unfortunately, even while women shout and educate and train, I don’t have high hopes that sexual assault or harassment will stop. But I also don’t want to sit in a place of anger and humiliation. These experiences need to be redeemed.

The first thing I did after a particularly upsetting incident was visit two friends, one Djiboutian and one expat, who live together. I told them what happened, they told me what they experience, how they respond. We prayed for each other. This is how we start to redeem sexual harassment. Together, we refuse to be silenced.

I own my story. I listen to the stories of the women around me. I say, me too. That happened to me too. (I actually wrote this essay four years before #metoo. Just sayin’.) I tell my story, I don’t hide it because it is embarrassing, because my reaction wasn’t what I wish it were. I hear the women around me say, me too. And, I’m sorry. And, I’m angry with you, for you. We are the walking wounded. Yes, we are wounded, but yes, we are walking forward, out the front door. And knowing that Asha is walking out her front door, Mumina out hers, Sarah out hers, Carrie out hers, I gather all their strength and step out mine.

I recognize that there is nothing new under the sun and I read about the women of faith who have walked this path before. Dinah. Tamar. Esther. The Levite’s concubine. Their tears are not forgotten. Not by women and not by the Creator of all humans.

I learn, to the depths of my core, that I am created in the image of God. I learn how to offer that same truth and dignity to others, to lessen the incidents of my own dehumanizing of others, like beggars at my door or men I might lump into a clump of harassers. I honor the men who rise up to defend me.

I talk to my husband about it. Men need to know what this does to women, they need encouragement and exhortation to talk to other men about it. It needs to be a team discussion topic.

I use words to illuminate the raw places of my soul and wrote this to my body after a boy grabbed me through the car window while I was stopped in traffic. I encourage anyone who has been harassed to write a letter to your body.

You are my body. This is all I’ve got. This color, this shape, this height. These are my muscles, you are strong and enable me to walk down the street or run or bike. Underneath these clothes, these are my stretch marks and scars and cellulite patterns. This is my voice and the way I laugh. When I walk, this is the way my butt swings, this is the rhythm of my hips and the sway of my shoulders.

Sometimes when people call me a whore, I’m tempted to round my shoulders over, to curve my back, to turn in on myself. I become so conscious of the way my hips move that I trip over the stones in the dirt road. I’m so aware of the teensiest bit of bouncing in my body, that I feel my face burn red, as though there were something to be ashamed of in the jiggle.

There isn’t something to be ashamed of here.

You are my body. You are all I have to walk around this world in. It is hard enough to escape the shame and guilt of all the ways I am weak and fail my friends, my family, my work. I can not let people add to that shame by allowing them to put that on you, too.

So I won’t.

You are a temple, a holy place where the essence of ‘me’ dwells. We will walk in the glory that is this body, this temple. I promise to own it. Care for it. Use it. Wear it with confidence even in public. There is no shame here.

What else can you do to process harassment in a healthy, restorative way?

P.S. I wrote a follow-up to this piece on my blog, about what happens to me almost every time I write about sexual harassment, if you’re interested.

Some more pieces:

The Story Women Need to Tell

This Is My Body. Thou Shalt Not Break It.

Freedom from the Silence of Shame

Signs You Need a Vacation Like RIGHT NOW

Greetings from Bali! My husband and kiddos are currently enjoying the roof top pool while I sit in the quiet of our hotel room sipping chai tea. About half an hour ago I had a 90 minute massage. An hour before that I had a caesar salad and steak lunch. Life is pretty good at the moment, but a week ago? That’s a whole different story.

A week ago I was angry that a patient died before my husband could reach her with help. I wasn’t angry out of compassion though. I was angry over the interruption of my quiet family day. The thought actually crossed my mind, “Why did our day have to be interrupted when she was dead anyway?”

Ouch. That’s ugly.

But that ugly thought is important because it’s a red flag. I’m not normally an ugly person. I usually have compassion on the people around me. When I feel angry at being inconvenienced by suffering and tragedy rather than moved to action, it’s a big fat warning that I need a vacation like RIGHT NOW.

There are other signs too…

Involuntary twitches

It’s almost comical, but I’m so not kidding. The muscles under and around my eyes start to involuntarily and constantly twitch. Even if I’m telling myself I can hang on a bit longer, I know its past time to get away when my eyelids start jumping.

Word loss

As stress accumulates I begin to struggle to give simple explanations and narratives. Answering questions like, “Which way did you go to get around the road closure?” is about the same as asking me to explain Space-Time Continuum to my 7 year old.

The old joke rings true: I look worse than my passport photo

It’s hard to get good sleep when your mind is running a hundred miles an hour. That lack of sleep shows, especially on my face. When the dark circles under my eyes and a constant grouchy no-smile mouth start to make my passport photo look like a glamour shot, I know it’s time for some serious rest.

People start to notice

“Oh wow you look tired.” my friend said and as my shoulders slumped she followed up with, “When was the last time you guys took a vacation?” If friends are telling me it’s time to take a break, then it really is time to take a break.

Overly sensitive

True story – This week I held myself a full-on pity party complete with big, rolling tears because friends who spoke English were talking together in their own language and I couldn’t understand them. My four year kept stroking my cheek and saying, “Mommy no crying. Mommy ok.” It was ridiculous, and I knew it, but when you are overly tired you’re also overly sensitive.

All the Problems Are Ginormous Problems

Our freezer, fridge, and washing machine are all on the same circuit in our home. I am constantly forgetting to not boil the electric kettle or turn on the microwave or start the rice cooker while the washing machine is on. The overloaded circuit and my forgetfulness is a pain in the neck. Unless I’m overly stressed and then it’s the worst thing ever and a legitimate reason to quit and go back to America, the land of strong electricity.

I can’t remember why I ever wanted to move overseas in the first place

Left too long, all of these signs of stress culminate in a giant loss of perspective. Our work begins to feel meaningless and I struggle to remember why we ever moved overseas. This feeling is a sign of burn-out and I know if left to fester, it’ll take a lot more than 2 weeks on the beach to recover.

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I’d bet that most of us are not that great at making sure we get the rest we need. Go on and book that vacation before something silly like overloaded circuit breakers has you making plans to move.

Senders Make Sacrifices Too

Much of the time living in Cambodia, I don’t feel like I am making huge sacrifices for God. In fact, I’ve found many things to love about living here. I am so settled here that I sometimes forget that other people have made sacrifices for me to be here. Reminders come in the form of my children, when they miss the family and friends they’ve left behind. They come in the form of Skype sessions with my parents, when I realize anew how very much they miss us.

So I am sandwiched in the middle of two generations of people who have, in many ways, sacrificed more than I have – much more. My parents. My children. I have caused people I love to suffer — and I did it voluntarily. You might not hear many people talking about this. You are more likely to hear people talk about the sacrifices of the missionaries themselves (whether or not it’s a missionary who is speaking). But I think that does an incredible injustice to the thousands of people throughout the world who are sacrificing right now to send a loved one abroad.

My best friend in America was the kind of girl who dropped everything the day Jonathan’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, just to sit with me in my shock and grief. She’s the kind of girl who would drive to my house when my husband was out of town, so that after my babies were asleep, we could talk for hours and hours. She’s the girl I laughed with and cried with for eight wonderful years, and she’s the girl I still laugh with and cry with during furlough visits. She’s also a writer. About a year after we moved overseas, I asked her to write about how she felt saying goodbye to me. This is what she wrote.

A Letter from Home

by Teresa Schantz Williams

Last year, Elizabeth and Jonathan and their foursome said goodbye to their families and friends and flew toward the adventure God chose for them. Those left behind, with none of the distractions of a new culture, slowly adjusted to their absence. The Trotters were missing from the daily landscape of our lives, and knowing this was going to happen didn’t make it less painful.

At first when they left, I kept forgetting. I’d pick up the phone, punch in their number and sheepishly hang up. Or I would think I saw Elizabeth coming out of the library and wave too warmly at a confused stranger.

It was like when you rearrange the contents of your kitchen cabinets and spend the next four weeks trying to relearn where you store the salt. Things weren’t where they were supposed to be.

Their pew at church was too empty. No squirmy bodies next to Elizabeth’s mother, Mary, munching on grandma’s snacks and vying for grandpa’s lap. Those first few months were hard on the families stateside, especially as news of distress and health crises came their way. Powerless to help, family prayed.

A missionary wife once told me she hadn’t understood what the extended family sacrificed when she and her husband left for the mission field. She had since come to see that they relinquished precious time with their children and grandchildren, forfeited shared memories of celebrations and milestones, and suppressed their instinct to rescue when things went wrong.

Some are called to go.  Some are called to let go.

If you have to say goodbye, this is the century to do it in.  My grandmother had a dear friend who was a missionary with her husband in Burma during the 1950’s.  Somehow they held their friendship together with letters and furloughs, and in the long silences between, they prayed.

Facebook, Skype, blogs, email have closed gaps. Within the digital universe, both sides of the ocean can post photos and videos and updates. Elizabeth can share funny stories about the kids, so women back home can “watch” them grow. To celebrate their special days, one can browse their Amazon Wish Lists to find a gift, or select something from iTunes. Even international travel is more feasible than it once was. Visits are possible.

Nothing substitutes for presence. These days, I can’t sit next to the bathtub and hold Faith while Elizabeth brushes the boys’ teeth. I can’t watch the boys wrestle or Hannah belly-surf down the stairs. I can’t go to a girly movie with Elizabeth and rehash our favorite parts on the drive home. I can’t watch her eat the frosting from the top of a cupcake and leave the rest because she only eats the part she wants.  I can’t hug her.

I concentrate on what I can do.  I translate twelve hours ahead and try to anticipate what they might need.  1 p.m. here?  Asleep there.  I pray that the girls aren’t waking them in the night, that their colds will soon be gone. I pray that they will be able to play outside every day this week. That Elizabeth can find hummus at Lucky’s grocery store.  I pray the details.

I can look over Elizabeth’s shoulder and see the frontlines of world missions and watch God’s plans unfold.  I can see what the Holy Spirit has done in her, enabling her to do things I wasn’t at all sure she could do. (Bugs, germs, smells, change in all forms.) And through her blogging, the special qualities I knew were inside her are out where others can see (humor, insight, modesty in all its expressions).

Perhaps it sounds overdramatic, but I’ve concluded that for me, missing my missionary friends is a standing invitation to resubmit to God’s plans. My true and proper worship.

“I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (2 Timothy 1:3, NLV)

Originally published here.

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Teresa Schantz Williams is a freelance writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a ministry family.

 

 

 

 

Global Humility – A Book, A Challenge, A Prayer

“Building bridges means moving beyond my enclave of cultural comfort, moving to a place of cultural humility and willingness to learn” – Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging 

Five weeks ago we moved from an apartment in the multicultural city of Cambridge, Massachusetts to an apartment in a city nestled beneath the kewa rash (black mountains) of Kurdistan in Northern, Iraq. We are learning to live and love in a city and country that we have known just through visiting. With this move, our daily life has changed dramatically.

We arrived in Rania like new born babies, eyes wide open to everything around us. Like babies, we don’t have language to describe our feelings and we too want to cry when we are hungry, or sleepy, or thirsty. But we are not babies, we are adults and we have many years behind us that effect how we engage and interact in our new surroundings.

A Book: 

It is within this context that I completed reading Global Humility: Attitudes For Mission by Andy McCullough. In this book, he asserts that the number one factor affecting missions in our world is lack of humility. It’s a powerful and troubling assertion. It’s also an important one. Those of us who are Christians engaged in cross-cultural work, whether we be missionaries or not, have the important task of communicating across many boundaries. To do that well, humility is essential.

“….I am persuaded that the aspect that needs training, more than any other, in cross-cultural workers, is humility. How dare you turn up with all the answers when you don’t even know what questions people are asking? Pride and mission are polar opposites. Pride pollutes mission. The mission of Christ is humble mission.”

McCullough divides the book into six sections:

Moral Humility: Thinking about Sin

Public Humility: Thinking about the World

Semantic Humility: Thinking about Languages

Intercultural Humility: Thinking about Differences

Incarnational Humility: Thinking about Leadership

Theological Humility: Thinking about Thinking

From the introduction: There are many dimensions to Global Humility. Moral Humility condemns the sins of attitude; ethnocentrism, arrogance and judgementalism, that are more with us than we realise. Public Humility transforms geography and history; every nation tells its own story of the world, but can we learn to see the world through other eyes? Semantic Humility motivates Christians to study language, and insists upon inculturation of the gospel. Intercultural Humility demands more than mere acceptance of the fact that different cultures think, relate, are motivated and feel differently, and proposes celebration of God’s wisdom and purpose in cultural diversity. Incarnational Humility interrogates the role of leadership in cross-cultural church planting. Finally, Theological Humility challenges the way we teach the Bible. If different cultural ‘lenses’ cause people to read the Bible differently, how are we as Evangelicals to understand this difference? Is our theology so brittle that it shatters when thrown up against another approach, or are we able to learn and adapt?

Andy McCullough knows that of which he writes. Raised in Cyprus, he has worked cross-culturally across the globe in India, multi-cultural West London, and Istanbul. He writes with both authority and, I dare say, humility as he approaches and dissects the idea of global humility.

McCullough has also done his homework, and while all may not agree with his conclusions, particularly in his section on theological humility, it will challenge readers to figure out what they do believe about apostolic and interpretive plurality in scripture.

A Challenge: 

From the beginning, I began reading with great interest.  In my previous work as a public health nurse in the United States one of my specialties was speaking on cultural competency and the importance of cultural humility within the broader subject. My audience was rarely Christian, instead it was health care professionals (doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, health administrators, and more) who wanted to bring the best healthcare possible to their communities. I constantly stress and define cultural humility as a part of these trainings, but McCullough’s work and writing on Global Humility far surpasses anything I have previously studied or read from either Christian or non-Christians engaged in this work.

While I began reading Global Humility in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a job where I was a part of the dominant culture, I finished reading it in Kurdistan, an autonomous region in Northern Iraq. I am one of only seven foreigners in a city of 230,000. I wake up daily knowing that one of the most important things I can do is gird myself with an attitude of humility.

But to look at humility through McCullough’s lens brings a breadth and depth that I have not previously encountered. Take, for example, Moral Humility – what does it look like to confront my own “attitudinal sins of superiority, ethnocentrism, judgementalism, arrogance….. Not while sitting reading this book, but only by crossing a border or crossing our cities and meeting new people, can these attitudinal sins be dealt with.[1] In the first chapter “Tamar: Voice from the Margins” McCullough has strong words about judging and the lack of humility, implicit and explicit, in the act of judging:

“One of the great sins of those who cross cultures, particularly those who travel from the powerful to the powerless, is the sin of judging. The centre judges the margins. The strong judge the weak. The missionary judges the heathen. The Christian judges the non-Christian.”  

He gives an overview of the story in ways I have never thought about and says this: “God will do what he always does. He will raise up a voice from the margins to save the centre, to put the Holy Family back on track. That voice belongs to Tamar.”

“Know that Christianity is always changing at the margins more profoundly than at the centre, and position yourself accordingly. Know that churches or movements with no input from the margins will die.

It is, in the end, the marriage of Judah and Tamar that brings forth Christ! When Judah was proud, he nearly burned Tamar and would have forfeited her contribution to the story. When Judah humbled himself, he was able to learn and be changed. Reform movements so often start at the margins and create a synthesis with the centre. But can the centre heed the margins? This demands humility.”[2]

Each section is equally compelling as the reader is invited into examples, stories, and definitions of the particular focus. The book is much like one of its quotes and becomes “about getting out of your story (where you/your people/your values play the main character), and getting into someone else’s story where they are the main character, and you realise you are just a cameo, your culture a caricature. It is to move from the centre of your story to the periphery of someone else’s.”[3]In this case, the entire book took me out of my story and comfort zone, into a thought process that was painful, necessary, and eye-opening.

In the interest of space, and to keep this at a readable length, I must stop and just urge you to read this book! I believe that it is critical in today’s world. I am not a missionary, but as someone who is a Christian, and works cross-culturally, I have found this to be one of the most thought provoking, challenging, and important books that I have read in a long time.

A Prayer:

In my workshops on cultural competency, I always end with a challenge and a word on being capable of complexity. In this context, it feels fitting to end with a prayer. To do so, I will use McCullough’s final sentence in the introduction, his own hope for the words and thoughts in his book. To me, it is a powerful prayer and benediction, an “invocation for divine help, blessing, and guidance”:

“And most of all, I hope and pray that it envisions and equips you to pursue with your whole life the goal of Christian mission: indigenous expression of ancient truth.”

Global Humility: Attitudes for Mission is available from Malcolm Down Publishing Ltd through Amazon. Purchase your copy here.


[1] Page 14 Global Humility: Attitudes For Mission

[2] Page 22 Ibid

[3] Page 62 Ibid

Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers”

It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life! Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

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Now, most missionaries don’t dress their kids in navy and white, and rock music isn’t seen as much of a threat. But I sometimes wonder if young parents have exchanged a “solution” from the ’80s and early ’90s for a new “new approach”?

– If we can give our kids enough vision.
– If they can get enough gifting of the Spirit.
– If they can catch a fire for social justice.
– If they can quote John Piper or Bill Johnson (depending on your stream),
– If they can get energetic like Young and Free or Rend Collective….

THEN OUR CHILDREN WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

And the world better watch out, because we’re releasing an army – no, we’re waking up an army and then releasing them, and they will rule the world. For Christ.

This is hyperbole, of course. Sort of.

I feel like I’m watching a replay, where passionate young parents think they’ve found “the solution,” which, when applied correctly, will help their toddlers “tear down this wall!”

I hear parents from both ends of the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum talk like this. I see parents Instagram like this. And it’s not from a bad heart, I know that. It’s from a gut-level desire to see our children succeed. We want them to have God-sized dreams and we want them to chase those dreams until they actualize their potential and save the world. I get it.

But can I sound like an old guy here? OK, well, here goes. THEY ARE JUST KIDS. Remember, they’re three years old. Or seven. Or even thirteen. They don’t need to save the world. They need to learn how much they’re loved. They need to learn about mercy and grace and hard work. They need to learn how to read, and sometimes, they just need to learn how to use the toilet.

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Have we forgotten the simple things? Have we forgotten the power of quiet love and small faithfulness?

Have we forgotten Paul’s advice to work with all your heart, whatever you do?

Have we forgotten John the Baptist’s counsel to the soldiers? “Be content with your pay.” To the tax collectors? “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to.” To the crowds, “Share your food, share your wealth.” Have we forgotten that small lives lived in small places matter too?

Have we forgotten the instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?

You know, maybe those instructions aren’t for everybody at all times, but they at least apply to some people some of the time.

It may be that God will call my child to do simple things well, with faithfulness and honesty. He may want them to grow into men and women of integrity who do banal things, boring things. That does sound to me like something God could do.

Not all are called to be apostles.

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As cross-cultural workers, we may be more naturally inclined to love big, global, world-changing talk. Perhaps that’s how we got here. Our children, however, with their individual callings and giftings, may not resonate with the ideas the same way. Remember, what motivates and inspires you might crush your child.

Be careful you don’t project your desires onto them. Do YOU want to save the world? Fine then. Go forth and do it. Maybe God’s called and gifted you to do it. Awesome! But you’re not them and they’re not you.

 

An Alternative
You know where normal people go to worship? You know where normal people go to learn and grow, slowly, steadily?

The local church.

You want to bless your kids? Be part of a local church. Church should be a place where slow faithfulness and deep relationships are encouraged.

Cultivate in your children a deep love for the local church, wherever that is, and see what happens. Be careful that your family isn’t so holy and set apart that you cut yourself off from local fellowship. I’ve seen fundamentalist-conservative families and hyper-charismatic families do this, flitting from church to church, never finding the perfect fit. Consider honestly assessing your family’s pattern of church involvement.

Hopping around might not be detrimental to you, but your kids may end up lacking the attachments that will really make a difference in the long run.

Again, the old man speaks: settle down! Get used to church being not perfect. Find a local, inadequate, warty Church, and love her. Love your brothers and sisters and let your kids develop some long, slow relationships with real humans. Read Eugene Peterson and Tim Keller. [I hope this goes without saying, but it’s important to clarify: I’m NOT saying you should stay in an abusive, legalistic, graceless church just for the sake of staying. That type of environment could suck the life right out of you, and your kids.]

Now, of course I realize that our overseas communities are largely transient. And I realize that there may not be an identifiable church where you’re at. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s not the case; if we lack a good church fellowship, if our kids are Homescapes MOD flipped and flopped from here to there and back again, that might be more on us than on our circumstances. Don’t blame the environment or the cross-cultural lifestyle unless that’s actually what’s caused the disconnect.

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May our children play. May they explore and experience life, without needing some grand purpose or some world-altering goal.

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, flowing straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

And when they doubt our love or His, may they remember. May they turn.

And in their search for Home, may they find the One who’s been standing there all along, at the other end of baggage claim, with a beautiful hand-written sign, that says “Welcome Home.”

 

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Further Reading:
I realize this has been heavy. I realize it’s potentially been a downer. So I’d love to dialogue with you about it, if you want. We can visit in the comments below or on Facebook. Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you too. This issue is worth some conversation, for the children’s sake.

In the meantime, here are some articles that explore similar ideas:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

It’s Not All About War

The Idolatry of Missions

Why Be a World Changer [I don’t know this author, but I’m indebted to him for his well-formulated thoughts on this issue]