Newsletters and the People Who Read Them

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of readers. . . .

Now that we’ve reached the end of 2019, it’s time to work on that end-of-the-year newsletter. Or maybe you’re still working on your November newsletter, or your October newsletter, or even a bi-annual summary—since you missed getting out your 2018 installment. (It happens.)

It’s not easy juggling all the demands of cross-cultural work, including the doing and the living and the reporting of it all in meaningful ways to a diverse audience. When you sit down in front of your blank template, whose faces do you see looking back at you? Who reads your newsletters, emails, prayer updates, and blog posts? How do you manage all their sometimes competing expectations?

How many of the following might see what you write?

your friends who adore you and have your photo on their fridge
your teammates
coworkers from other agencies
Mom and Dad
supporters weighing their budgets for next year
the nationals you serve
those in your host country who are glad you’re doing what you’re doing
those in your host country who wish you’d stop doing what you’re doing
your college professors
people who like pictures
people who like numbers
people who like stories
your field supervisor
the head of your agency
your high-school English teacher
a children’s Sunday School class
an uncle who said you wouldn’t last
an aunt who prays for you every day
people who read only a couple issues a year
people who read every word, and between the lines
a member-care worker who tells you to look after yourself better
a board member calculating your ROI
the person whose face you see only after hitting “send”

Did I forget anybody?

It’s enough to give you writer’s block. Is that where you’re at now?

If so, here are seven fail-safe steps to get you on track:

#1. To paraphrase a paraphrase of Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the honest.”

Chances are, what you’ll write won’t be exactly what everyone is expecting or needing. Not every newsletter is for every potential reader. That’s a kind of perfection that’s impossible to achieve. And what you write won’t be perfect either. The life you’re living and the work you’re doing isn’t perfect, so trying to portray it as such wouldn’t be honest and true.

Not all truths belong in a newsletter, but there needs to be a place for all truths. We all need at least one person to share the hardest details with.

Not all truths belong in a newsletter, but a newsletter should contain only the truth. Perfection? Not so much.

Michael Frizell is no Voltaire, but as an author and educator, he has experience writing and teaching writing. In a recent issue of The Learning Assistance Review, which he edits, he shares about a graduate student who told him that she’d hit a wall while composing her thesis. He passed on to her some advice he’d received years before when he was working on a thesis as a student himself. A professor had told him:

Get a piece of poster board and write, in big letters, “I’m not writing the great American novel!” and hang it above your desk. That way, whenever you sigh and throw your head back, you’ll be reminded to just get it written.

“Of course I’m not writing the great American novel,” you might be saying. “I’m not from America!” Maybe your poster should say, “I’m not writing the great Korean novel” or “I’m not writing a New Testament epistle” or “I’m not writing an Oscar-worthy movie script.” Or how about “It’s not like I’m even writing a graduate thesis”?

So now on to the rest of my list of seven.

#2 . . . Actually, I don’t have any more steps, fail-safe or otherwise. Seven is such a cool, complete, perfect number, but I’m going to fall well short of that. I could try to squeeze out a couple more, but I need to get this post published before the year’s up, and I’m running out of time.

I’m not writing the great American novel, after all. So much for cool, complete, and perfect.

And that’s the honest truth.

(Michael Frizell, “Letter from the Editor,” The Learning Assistance Review, National College Learning Center Association, Fall 2019)
[photo: “Erasmus’ hands,” by Jim Forest, used under a Creative Commons license]

A man’s perspective on rest, healing, and renewal (plus a discount on a men’s retreat!)

by Sean

I was 42 years old and had been serving internationally for nearly 20 years before I took a break.  I don’t know how I made it that long. But I know that I just barely did.

I don’t mean I didn’t take a vacation or time off work during a holiday–those breaks came and went over the years.  But, those times still left me mostly in charge: managing activities for the family or coordinating travel itineraries.  Or, more often, facilitating workshops and speaking at our large staff “retreats.” You know–the kind where you’re meant to be relaxing in nature and enjoying time away from the hustle and bustle of ministry–but somehow still on the clock?   

No, I mean the kind of break where you just show up, unplug, and stop serving others.  

Oof!  Honestly, that last statement would have felt like sacrilege to me a couple years ago.  I’m a missionary, for goodness sake. And a ministry leader on top of that. Serving is what I’m called to do.  

To make things worse, after decades at this pace, terms like rest and healing and renewal were fluffy words I associated with weakness, not the man I wanted to be.  Today I look back and wonder, how unhealthy had I really become?  

Maybe better put, how prideful had I become?

In 2017, our lives all but fell apart when we were faced with a mental health crisis for one of our six kids. We were living in Africa and helping grow a global organization.  We were experienced cross-cultural workers and had weathered quite a lot already. For so many years our marriage, our family, our ministry, and our faith had somehow been enough.  

This was different.  We found ourselves asking questions we never had like “How are we going to make it through this and not lose hope?”  And even more alarming questions we never imagined we would ask, like “Where is God?” and “Why has he lead us to a life on the field, only to abandon us on the streets of Nairobi while the hyenas wait for nightfall to come and rip us apart?”  The heartache was so deep and the fog of confusion so thick, we could barely remember what called us there in the first place.

Our story, through tragedy, has brought us to a place of redemption today, but it includes hospitalization and rehab and intensive counseling.  I can hardly believe it now, but we celebrate it all.  

I was shaken as a man and broken as a leader.  At some point, I was forced to stop serving and just focus on recovering.  As our family was rebuilding, my wife gave me a gift. She blessed me to go to a retreat just for men living and working cross-culturally.  

Perhaps for the first time, I gave myself permission to invest in my own soul.  

Over the course of the week, I met with a Christian counselor and processed some trauma and unresolved grief.  A whole team of professionals (counselors, coaches, pastoral care providers, financial advisors, doctors, the list goes on…) were there at my disposal.  They’d come on their own dime, and not representing any particular team or organization.  

And I wasn’t in charge of anything! 

I prayed.  I think I felt something like Jesus must have when he would get away from the crowd to be alone or with the father.  I met other guys who were just like me–husbands and dads and brothers–allowing themselves to stop for a much-needed moment and decompress.  

But, as restful as it was, that’s not even the best part.  As God was healing me, I was remembering… my calling.

I returned home with renewed vision for the relationships in my life, perspective on ministry and leadership, and confidence that God was still with us.  He had been through it all.

My experience was transformational, in the truest sense of the word.  In fact, it was so profound that I went back to the retreat the next year.  Though I was no longer in crisis, my encounters with God the second time around were equally life-changing.

I regret not doing this sooner. I hope my story inspires you to take real breaks that God will use to remind you of your calling, refresh your soul, and refuel you for the journey ahead.  I was misguided by my own thinking for too long about where the strength would come from to fulfill my mission to serve.  

These days, I’m embracing my weakness and desperate need for this kind of recharge.   And, I’m not the only one. My wife and kids, teammates, and the very people I serve see and feel the changes too. 

I’m convinced that building this type of pause into my rhythm is going to help keep me healthy so my family and I can stay fruitful and have long-term impact.  I shouldn’t wait until the next crisis comes along to give myself the grace to pursue rest, healing and renewal. Neither should you. 

Momentum Men’s Conference was created so guys who are global workers can have neutral, unbiased input from professionals into their lives–with no strings attached.  I know first-hand how important this is in order to have personal and ministry vibrancy with each passing year on the field. 

If you have men in your life serving cross-culturally, and they’re anything like me, they probably won’t sign up for a retreat like this unless you first give them the blessing to do so.  You can help get them there by clicking this link.  Type in “A LIFE OVERSEAS” in the discount code section and Field Life will give you $200 off the final price.

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

Sean and his wife Celia have spent nearly 20 years in cross-cultural mission. They have lead small frontier teams, given national leadership to a large global mission organization in East Asia, and helped build a ministry in Africa before co-founding Field Life. Now serving in their fifth country, Sean and Celia live in Southeast Asia with four of their six children (two in university).

Stupid Expat Days and How to Love Them

There are days that expats have to live but normal people never do. I call them Stupid Expat Days. 

Where I come from you run to the post office to renew a passport IF you even need one. Not so where I live now. 

This time around it was my 8-year-old son who was up for renewal.

That means a big, inconvenient, miss work, skip school trip in the middle of the week to the embassy which is in a different part of the country and that’s just the travel day. By the time that day actually arrived, I had two painful weeks of prep already invested. Faulty websites that gave no confirmation of an actual appointment. Ridiculous phone calls to embassy staff who gave me the equivalent of  “go with your gut — if it feels like you’ve got an appointment then show up.” Traipsing across the city at the last minute to track down documents we thought were in our living room. Getting stuff filled out and notarized and searching for the dirt cheapest plane ticket because this was not a planned expense.

Found them. They were SO CHEAP . . . for about 20 seconds.

That’s when I realized I had the little toggle switch set on US Dollars and I was reading it in Chinese Yuan. My happy price got multiplied by 7.

We booked a train.

That meant five hours there and a 1 hour subway for a 30 minute meeting only to sprint back to the subway so we could ride another hour to get to the five hour train home — with an 8 year old who gets cranky when he’s tired.

I woke him up at 4:30 am. It was nearly 1 am when we returned home.

Normal people don’t have to do this stuff. This is a stupid expat day if there ever was one.

Here’s the thing. I’ve only got this kid for a little while and time is moving way too fast. 

Passports are the perfect pictoral, timeline reminder of that. Five years at a time we fill out the paperwork and catch ourselves saying how did that even happen? Where did that time go? Look how cute he was.

Looking at my son reframed the whole stupid day for me.

Normal people don’t GET to do this stuff. It was a holiday not a waste of time. Special expat father and expat son bonding, just me and him.

I became dead set on tattooing the phrase “PASSPORT DAY” on his brain so he will tell his kids about it years from now as if it were the pinnacle of his childhood.

“When I was your age we got to do PASSPORT DAYS and they were AMAZING!”

When am I ever going to have 20 straight hours to hang out with this kid and do NOTHING but eat total junk, ride on trains, take selfies and chase a little blue book?

I’ll tell you when . . . when he’s 13 and then NEVER AGAIN.

Great. Now I’m crying because passport days don’t come often enough.

Thanks Blog.

Loving Stupid Expat Days is not simply putting a happy stamp on the hard stuff and it runs far deeper than just “looking on the bright side”. It was a long, long, long day but we found the best bits and we chose to hang out there. I love passport days and my hope is that because I choose celebration, even in the context of the irritation my kids will too.

Judging by the pictures, we’re on the right path.

This was us at the beginning of the day.

And this was us at the end.

I clearly got beaten by my son at Passport Day.

But we both won.

Bring on the Stupid Expat Days.

originally posted on www.thecultureblend.com

On Being an Immigrant

by Seth Lewis

Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained, and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.

It wasn’t until I moved to Ireland that I learned what it means to be an outsider. All of a sudden I was an immigrant who was totally unfamiliar with the deep assumptions and unwritten consensus of my new home. I made a lot of mistakes, following the rules I grew up with instead of the unfamiliar rules of Ireland.

People were forgiving, but I soon began to realise that something was different. In Alabama, I was a homegrown local boy the community had invested themselves in. I was one of them, and they wanted me to succeed. They cheered me on, and I can still hear those cheers now, all the way across the ocean. In Ireland, I appeared out of nowhere as an unknown, a “blow-in” with no roots, no investment, no history. People were friendly, yes, but many were also suspicious, and how could I blame them? Who wouldn’t be?

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was going to have to prove myself, and that all my qualifications and experience from America would do nothing to help me. I was going to have to start over from scratch, and this time I would have natural suspicion instead of natural trust from many of the people around me. If I had to describe that realisation in one word, it would be this: Lonely. I could no longer have the underlying confidence that I would always be supported by a wide community where I had deep roots. I was on my own this time.

Ten years later, I’ve learned a lot about how to fit in Ireland, what is expected of me, and what people mean when they say “I will, yeah” (they won’t). Ireland has been working her way under my skin, while I’ve been working hard to win her trust. In many ways I’ve gained it, and she’s given me great opportunities. I also have deep friendships with people I know will help me whenever I need it, even when I mess up. Without a natural reason to trust me, they have chosen to do so anyway. These are blessings, and I know it.

I also know that I will never have in Ireland (or anywhere else) what I had in Alabama. I won’t be able to relax in the natural camaraderie of a shared cultural history. I won’t be able to draw on a reservoir of native goodwill like the one I left behind with those who invested in my growth, those I grew up to resemble. I live in a land of other people’s reservoirs now. None of this is Ireland’s fault, so how can I complain if I’m treated differently sometimes? I know it isn’t deliberate. It’s just the natural result of not having natural ties. Wouldn’t I do the same? Haven’t I?

All things considered, Ireland has gone out of its way to be welcoming and generous to this blow-in. And yet, there are still occasional reminders of my status. There are times when I know, without having to be told, that my words have less weight than those of others. Other times, people find ways to tell me. Sometimes it comes from strangers, like the time I was in a slow queue at Lidl and the lady in front of me explained the delay by saying: “Sure, they’re all foreigners anyway.” I kept my mouth shut, because I knew my accent would give me away as a foreigner, too.

I can’t always keep my mouth shut, though. Wherever I go, I bring my accent with me, not only on my words, but also on my ways of thinking and my basic assumptions. I know I’m different. I know it can be hard for people to understand where I’m coming from, and I know that means I will always have to work harder to earn their trust.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m genuinely thankful for the experience of being an immigrant. It has reshaped my heart in ways I wouldn’t trade for all the natural trust in the world. Knowing I have to work harder to get the same hearing and opportunity that is freely given to others (as it was freely given to me in Alabama) has humbled me and shown me how I took that trust for granted and thought of it as my birthright, never considering the experience of those who didn’t enjoy the same advantages I had.

Overcoming the natural suspicion of others has strengthened my resolve, while simultaneously softening my attitude towards those I naturally tend to suspect. Experiencing the trust extended by people who have no natural reason to give it has taught me what grace looks like and has spurred me on to do the same for others.

I know my experience is not unique. I wonder how many Irishmen in Alabama could tell a similar story in reverse? Anyone who has left their home and their roots in order to replant their lives in a new place has likely tasted some of the same things, whether in a new country or a new county. As for me, I love my new home, and I’m proud to be able to call myself a citizen of Ireland, where being a blow-in has made me a better man.

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

Seth Lewis has lived on the south coast of the Republic of Ireland for the last ten years with his wife Jessica; two of their three children were born there. He works with a network of local churches who are committed to church planting and also assists with a local Bible college and youth camp ministry. Before moving overseas, Seth worked with a church in Virginia. His accent doesn’t really fit anywhere anymore, and he’s okay with that. You can find him online at sethlewis.ie.

“Real” Thinking About Money and a survey

Several weeks ago the post I’m Tired of Asking You for Money resonated with many. On Facebook it reached more than 7,000 people, was liked/loved/laughed at 130 times, shared 64 times, and received 24 comments. Needless to say, author Erin Duplechin isn’t the only one tired of asking for money!

Unbeknownst to Erin, I had a rough draft of a finial survey to help me understand the needs and pressures related to finances. Seeing the reactions to Erin’s post, I’ve been thinking about finances and my own reactions to raising support. I thought this post was going to go in one direction—I’ve researched proverbs in the Bible related to mind, heart, and hands of support raising and what Lady Wisdom has to say about the subject—maybe another month that post will see the light of day.

Today, I was reminded of what I wrote in Getting Started: Making the Most of Your First Year on the Field.

“Moving from a ‘real’ job before I went tot he field to a ‘ministry’ one meant that my finances went from being (mostly) my business to the whole wide world’s business. Not quite, but that is how it felt. I needed to add my parents to my bank accounts so they could handle financial stuff in the States; I needed to discuss specific dollar needs and funds raised with anyone who would listen, and I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to raise more money to cover ‘nonessentials.’ (I did not, a decision I would come to regret when I did not have medical evacuation insurance.)

As a teacher I knew I earned my salary through my hard work. As a cross-cultural worker I did not make money; I raised support and lived off the generosity and faithfulness of many dear people. To this day, decades later, I still find myself thinking in terms of earning a ‘real’ salary versus being on full-time support.”

You can read more in Chapter 7. As I worked on Getting Started, it struck me that we only use the word “real” with “salary.” When was the last time you heard the phrase “my real body” as opposed to a “my ministry body”? You don’t. You have a body, I have a body. Or “real weather” versus “ministry weather”? No such distinction. The enemy may have also warped the idea of “real” when it comes to your livelihood.

I need to think more theologically accurately about finances and need your help. Would you take a few minutes to fill out the survey? The intro says:

“We understand that finances in full-time ministry can be complex. On the one hand, we live by faith, trusting God. On the other hand, He has entrusted us with a certain degree of personal responsibility. In addition, we all come from different passport countries with different health care, educational, and retirement systems. This survey is completely anonymous so that you are able to share freely. Thank you for taking the time to help us understand your world better so that we can serve you more effectively. Our hope is to foster financial contentment and the ability to rest in the Lord’s provision.”

Please take the survey here.

Here are a few of the results thus far:

What are your current three most pressing financial stresses?

—PhD tuition. Possibility of monthly
salary cut. Savings being depleted (yet, grateful I had minimal savings).
—Needing to raise support for our children’s educational needs — high school 
—Retirement, retirement, retirement.
—big repair for our vehicle, saving money
—Churches dropping us because we were forced to change fields, the rising cost of living abroad, the dropping value of our sending country currency

What financial issues and areas would you like to discuss or provide training? 

How to feel confident in direct asking for support. 
Retirement // How to send your kids to college // Balancing saving and wise living.
Communicating with donors.
Finding new partners when you feel your resources are tapped out.
I think at this point churches receiving training on why they can’t just drop support out of the blue is most urgent.

Thanks for taking the survey!


Do you find waiting hard? As my niece said, “I just want to know what will happen, then I can wait.” Advent is a season of waiting for the birth of Christ and the beginning of the Church Year. In this workshop, you will be introduced to the role of the Church Year, the role of waiting in spiritual formation, and how to wait. 

Photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash

How to Care Well for MK’s {An Interview With an Expert}

DSC_1084.jpg
Picture taken from the MK2MK website, Summer Missions page

I think of Donna Kushner as a hero. She is a champion of MK’s and TCK’S, their stories, journeys and life struggles. She was so moved by the need to care for MK’s better, she pioneered a ministry called MK2MK (Missionary Kid to Missionary Kid) under the umbrella of Cru, officially forming in 2000. Since then, she has touched the lives of thousands of MK’s making them feel seen, known and truly loved.

Donna was so kind to take the time to answer a few questions about her work as well as give insight into MK’s and their families. She is available to answer any question you might have about caring for MK’s. She would also be an outstanding mentor if you would like to begin a ministry like hers for your missions or ex-pat organization. Just comment here or e-mail her at donna.kushner@cru.org.

Could you tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you have served as a missionary?

I grew up in California and came to Christ as a freshman in high school, when a friend in PE class invited me to a Bible study for teenagers. I had never heard the gospel and was ripe fruit, having just experienced the painful divorce of my parents. This was in the Jesus people era, and we were passionate about sharing the gospel. So missions was a natural outflow of my early Christian experience.

My first mission trip was the summer after I graduated from high school, I went to Italy with Operation Mobilization which, back in the day, was rugged with a strong focus on prayer. It was there that God called me into full-time ministry. My husband and I later served in the Middle East and France working with Arab students for ten years. When we returned from overseas, we joined a team focused on training missionaries. I developed a program to train the kids/teenagers as well as sessions for parents about raising children cross-culturally. MK2MK grew out of that program. 

What is the purpose of MK2MK?

The core of all that MK2MK does is based on the idea that MK’s understand each other’s experiences. Therefore, they are able to connect and minister to each other in unique ways.  We want to empower young adult MK’s to come alongside younger MK’s in discipleship, as well as help them navigate the challenges of identity, transition and grief. 

Why did you begin the ministry of MK2MK?

When we returned from overseas, our oldest daughter was 13. At that point, Cru did not have any resources to help teenagers navigate this huge transition. It was a challenging time for her, as well as for us as parents. A year after our return, we were invited to organize a four day debrief for teenagers whose families were returning. We saw a need and said yes. At that time I would say the landscape of MK care was like a desert. My husband and I were given the opportunity to change that and knew God was calling us to do it. 

Would you briefly describe this ministry?

MK2MK is a ministry of Cru that focuses on providing, what we call, a ‘flow of care’ for MKs from the point when their parents decide to move overseas until they have completed their transition back to the US (or wherever their passport country is). This includes cross-cultural training (we have a team that runs children and teen programs at the venues where staff are trained), field visits, discipleship, conferences for kids and teens on the field, debrief conferences and mission trips.

MK2MK is able to achieve this flow of care, because our methodology of training college-aged MK’s through a summer internship program provides a strong volunteer base that is able to assist the long-term MK2MK team with the ministry. MK2MK serves not only Cru MK’s but also MK’s from many other organizations through our month-long mission trips. (learn more here: https://mk2mk.org/summerinternship)

What are the most important things you have learned about missionary kids over the years?

Missionary Kids are some of my absolute favorite people!  They have challenges that are unique to their life experiences and they have benefits as well. Sometimes these experiences have drawn them to Jesus and other times they have pushed them away. My heart has always been to be a person who will advocate for them and give them the opportunity to use their voice especially when that voice is being muted or ignored. I have found that when an MK has the opportunity to experience the community of Third Culture Kids it is usually transformational for them. It helps them integrate the parts of their world and provides a sense of belonging that is so important for us as human beings. 

What are the most important things you have learned about missionary families over the years?

Every family is unique, and most every missionary parent is doing the best they know how to raise their children. Missionary families have the same challenges as other families. Pretty much everything you see outside the missionary community you will also find within the missionary family context–except it may be more hidden because there is so much pressure living in the ‘fishbowl’. Working on having a healthy marriage and inviting your kids into the ministry you are doing are the most essential things for missionary parents to be thinking about. 

If you could sit down with every MK, what would you most want to tell them?

You ultimately own your MK experience. You can resent it or embrace it. God is crazy about you for who you ARE not for what you do. He understands every part of your MK experience, including the pressures you feel and the doubts you may wrestle with. He is OK with you bringing those to Him. In fact, He welcomes it. There are people, like the staff of MK2MK, who care deeply about you and desire to welcome you into MK community.  

If you could sit down with every parent of an MK, what would you most want to tell them?

Your child/teen needs time with you that is 100% focused, so put the phone down (as far away as possible, at the other end of the house!), put the work down and give them your time and attention. The ministry will always be there, but they are only with you for such a short time. I have had so many teens tell me that they wish their parents would put their phone down. They might not tell you this but they all feel it. Children are resilient but just like a rubber band, they CAN break. Be prayerful about how much you expect and how resilient you expect them to be. Your child’s story is their story. Just like you, as a parent, needed to find your own way, so they need to find theirs. They will make their own choices and some may be painful for you. But it is their story not yours. 

If anyone would want to start a ministry like MK2MK within their mission, how would you advise them?

First, I would say GO FOR IT! There are incredible needs and opportunities to minister to MK’s. if you want help feel free to e-mail me (donna.kushner@cru.org). As far as how to start, I think it is important to connect with leaders within your organization AND connect with parents and teenagers.  Engage leaders who have children and teenagers as they will likely have a felt need for ministry to their kids. Find a mentor from an organization that you respect. I reached out to David Pollock, author of Third Culture Kids. Get time with them to learn what they did. Read as much as you can and become an expert on MK’s and missionary family care. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with the ALO community?

Our children are 100% of the future. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of every ministry to ensure that they have a robust MK care ministry. We can gain the whole world, but if we lose our kids it is all for nothing. 

Thank you Donna, for sharing your heart and passion. As Donna said, please don’t hesitate to reach out to her with any questions and/or the desire to develop MK/TCK and missionary family care in your sphere of influence!

How to Help Our Kids Say Healthy Goodbyes

My kids have to say a lot of goodbyes.

We live in Djibouti but my husband and I are both from Minnesota. Our family spends some summers in Minnesota and when we leave Africa, we have to say goodbye to friends and coaches and teachers. Then, come August, when we return to Africa, we have to say goodbye to grandparents and friends and cousins.

Other goodbyes are more permanent. Expatriate families come and go often here. Military and diplomatic families have two-year postings. Businesses move their employees on. Development workers finish projects and leave. Families leave for health reasons, for children’s education, because of insecurity, because they are finished with their work. Local families send children abroad for a French education in Europe or an English one in Canada or the United States.

One spring my daughter had to say goodbye to one of her best friends. They finished fourth grade, the friend was moving to Europe, my daughter was staying. I thought I would have to help with the goodbye – maybe give some ideas or provide some words for how to talk about what they were feeling.

And though we did talk about it, my daughter excelled in love her friend well and in saying goodbye wisely. She showed me how to do those things selflessly and creatively. 

Here’s what she did:

Got Personal. She wanted to give her friend something unique and precious, something that would remind her of their friendship, not a quick toy or bag of candy. She looked at the store and she also looked through my box of gift ideas. Then she saw two matching picture frames in a box in our storage area. I’d had them for years and never used them. Each was 8×10 and covered with sparkly stones. The outer edge was looping wire – perfect. That led into the next idea:

Created Memories. She scoured my computer for photos of the girls together. The next time her friend came over to play, they printed the photos and designed photo pages, slathering them with stickers and phrases cut out from magazines that made them giggle and reminded them of shared memories. Each girl decorated two photos. One to go in the frame and one extra. They signed the back of the frame with their names and hearts.

Kept Memories. She also made her own photo page. She wanted to remember her friend, too. Sometimes it is harder to be the one left behind, the hole seems so noticeable, while the friend who moves away is on to the next adventure. She made her own frame and photo page and propped it up in a prominent place on her bookshelf.

Took Time and Used Her Talent. Two days before the final departure, she and a third friend wrote an original song for the girl who was leaving. The two girls practiced it with me for several days, then performed it and recorded it and gave the girl a sheet of paper with the words written down.

My daughter didn’t cry while she practiced the song with me, but I did. I still do, sometimes, when we watch the video.

Goodbyes will always be hard, but they are also opportunities to help our children remember a good friend with delight and to help them celebrate. I believe this contributes to resiliency and a willingness to engage in the next friendship that comes along, without dreading the sadness of the inevitable goodbyes.

How do you help your kids say goodbye well?

Are You Meant to be a Missionary? (a half serious, but of course completely reliable, 10 question quiz!)

Ever wondered if missionary service could be right for you? Take this quiz and find out!

Select all appropriate answers and tally scores for your final results.

  • Do have a call from God?
    Yes [ 20  ]  
    No  [ 20  ]       
  • Have you ever worked as a hair dresser?
    Yes [Greenlighted. Skip quiz and proceed to missionary service.]
    No [Continue this quiz in emotional insecurity like the rest of us.]
  • Could your wardrobe consist of only long and loose clothing?
    Yes [ 20  ]   
    No [ ? ]
    If ?, can you promise to never wear a bikini? Yes [Continue quiz.]   
                                                                                       No [ Service restricted to Australia.]
  • Do you wait patiently when people and appointments run late?
    Yes [ 20  ]   
    No [ 5. You do understand this is a missions quiz, right? ]

  • Can you live with limited or no access to dairy?
    Yes [ 50 ]
    No [ Service limited to Switzerland, possible expansion option to other European countries. ]
  • Speaking of food, do you like rice?
    Yes [ 20  ]
    No, but I’m willing to eat it [ 10 ] 
    I hate rice [ -20 ]
  • Can you repair the following:
    Water pump pressure switch [ 20 ]
    Gas oven [ 20 ]
    Computers [ 20 ]
    Relationships when you screw up [ 100 ]
  • How important is access to social media?
    Very important [ 5 ]
    Important [ 5 ]
    Somewhat important [ 5 ]
    Not important [ 500 + extra crowns in heaven ]
  • How do you feel about raising financial support?
    Delusional (It’ll be easy) [ 5 ]
    Realistic (Hard, but I can do it) [ 10 ]
    Dread (I can’t think of many worse things) [ 20 ]
  • I am a…
    Helper [ 50 ]
    Organiser [ 50 ]
    Do-er [ 50 ]
    Complainer [ -100. Please don’t go overseas. ]

Are you meant to be a missionary?
Scoring:
0-20: Nope.
20-74: Potentially some potential, but we’ll need to work out a lot of kinks out first.
75-200: You’ll do.
200+: Golden. Better get to it!

***

On Family Albums and What I Didn’t Know

Our family albums tell amazing stories. Picnics in the shadow of the Great Pyramids of Egypt; bucket baths in Swat Valley – home to Malala the brave; hiking in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains; feeding pigeons outside the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul; climbing on canons in Quebec City; wandering through Topkapi Palace with cousins, an added bonus; early morning train journeys from Ankara to Istanbul; roaming the streets of Cairo and boat rides on the Nile.

Amazing stories, each one of them. Each one an entry into a thick family album.

And then the stories changed, and with them the photographs. Those fading photographs changed from plane rides to road trips, from palm trees to sugar maples, from apartments in a large Middle Eastern city to a Victorian home on Main Street in New England. Suddenly there were leaves to rake during golden autumns. Warm winters with no need for snow boots changed to delighted cries of “It’s snowing” followed by sledding on the small hill in our back yard. Spring saw us aching for the warmth of summer and forcing forsythia to bloom and bring color and new life. And then there were the summers, where daily trips to the ocean, even if it was for only an hour, were necessary as we experienced the magic of low tide on rocky New England beaches.

We were no longer on planes every year, our passports ready to be stamped. Our suitcases had layers of dust on them and the trunks that had so faithfully crossed the ocean found other uses storing legos and other toys. The reminders of our former lives were reduced to photo albums, stories, stamps in our passports, and Arafat and Rabin, sworn enemies, looking out at us from a heart-shaped frame on our mantle.

Our photo albums capture points in time, but not the whole narrative. Not the narrative of transition and loss, of starting a new life and trying to recreate home. Written through every picture is the hidden narrative of finding home within transition. Finding home in a world that changed frequently.

And what about our children in all of this? What about those blonde and dark heads, those blue and brown eyes, those toddler And elementary school bodies that even then were growing into a space far beyond our walls of safety? What about those kids captured so well in photographs, and yet – not really captured at all?

I knew nothing of the third culture life when we began this journey. I knew that I felt most comfortable between worlds but I had not discovered the language to articulate this. I knew I felt different in the United States then I did in Pakistan, but the research was new and not mainstream. I was a third culture kid raising third culture kids, and I didn’t have a clue as to what that really meant.

Shallow roots are tender, they need care as they are being transplanted. We hurt shallow roots because we didn’t know any better.

In the midst of such constant change, how do we still find a way to be in the world, to build a home under ever-changing conditions? I think the answer is found not in the concept of home per se but what a home provides us, which is a place of dwelling. To dwell is to linger, to safely be.

Dr. Michelle Harwell

When we live lives that take us miles from family and home cultures, we learn that a home is far more than four walls and a roof. Home becomes people, routines, precious objects that make their way across oceans and transitions, and digging up roots that, though shallow, are still roots.

How do we navigate all of this? How do we adapt when change and transition feel like the only constants?How do we keep up the rhythms of home, and a sense of belonging when the walls of home have moved?

As children, I think we take for granted that a home is gifted to us. It’s made for us through the routines, the four walls that surround and the emotional rhythms that build a sense of familiarity and holding. As we grow, that sense of belonging to a place and a people translates to a more robust internal belonging and holding that allows us to venture further and further out into the world.

Dr. Michelle Harwell

I didn’t know back then – but now I do know, and this is what I would tell my younger self:

Let them grieve the walls that have moved! Those walls are so much more than just safety from the elements. The walls and roofs are places that provide comfort and safety when the outside world feels too much. Let them grieve the memories and people who have wandered into that space. It will never be the same, and they need room to grieve this – whether they understand it or not. Let them grieve the stuff left behind.

Let them find their sacred spaces and their sacred objects, for sometimes it’s all they feel they have. Give them time to reclaim what was lost, for reclaiming is an Edenic quality.

Let them grieve, and then walk with them as they move on. Encourage their tentative forays into new relationships and hobbies. Remind them that they can love two places without being disloyal. Listen to their faith questions and encourage them to seek truth. Help them to understand saudade and how to “kill the saudade.”

Learn the language of transition and use it in your family. Even if others don’t understand, your family can grow in their connection and understanding of each other through a language of transition. Find transferable rhythms, rhythms that are more than place. Reading and tea times, portable traditions, and regular times of remembering are transferable across geographic boundaries.

Build in them a sense of resilience by connecting them to the bigger family story, the bigger spiritual story. The research on resilience being integrally connected to knowing they are part of a bigger story is critically important in this conversation.

Let them know that God is a God of place, creator of space. That through His story is a thread of remembrance and redemption; woven in his word is a story of home and belonging. Give them glimpses of the eternal as they struggle with the fleeting.

And know that it will be okay.

How do I know? Because I now have the privilege of friendships with five adult children spread across four time zones, three states, and two countries. I have listened in wonder as they each articulate their own stories. As we have talked through some of this with them I have marveled at their grace and forgiveness toward two parents who didn’t know, two parents who loved deeply but didn’t have the tools of transition and navigating the third space and defining home. Two parents who continue to find rhythms of transition and figure out this mobile life where place matters.

“At two and a bit, he understood neither distance nor time. What he understood was that we were there, but he was not. For the first time in his short life, he learnt how to say goodbye.”

Danau Tanu author of Growing up in Transit

Gandalf’s Scream, Love, and Why We Need More Anger

Anger is a wonderful, powerful, amazing, informative, life-giving, protective resource. Or at least it can be. Anger can be a redemptive sword, when it’s wielded by love.

 “Anger is a surgical weapon, designed to destroy ugliness and restore beauty. In the hands of one who is trained in love and who can envision beauty, the knife of righteous anger is a weapon for restoration.” – Allender & Longman

We’ve too often seen anger as the enemy, while all along it was begging to be our teacher. We’ve loved to pray and sing emotional ballads like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but have we dared to sing, “Enrage my heart for what enrages yours”?

That sounds crazy, right? And scary.

As Christians, as cross-cultural workers, we’re way more comfortable with holy sadness than holy anger. And that’s not without cause; sadness is safer. More tame. Anger can destroy. Anger can harm deeply. Anger is like electricity — or fire. Both have tremendous potential to destroy, and even kill. But they also reveal, energize (literally), and make magic.

Have you flown on the fire of a jet engine, propelled through the night sky like a populated comet? Have you ever activated a dozen tiny suns with the flip of a switch? These miracles are astounding, and possible due to the power of white-hot fire and lightning fast electrons flowing on demand.

To be sure, arsons exist, but so do steel magnates. They both harness fire for their own purposes; one to destroy, the other to build. I’ve seen the burns and tissue damage wreaked by a lightning strike, but I don’t scream and run away every time I see an outlet.

Again, anger is just energy. It’s an emotion, neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor dysfunctional.

“Feelings are information, not conclusions.” – Greenberg

“Feeling angry or annoyed is as human as feeling sad or afraid.” – Greenberg

We have to be careful, at the start, that we don’t moralize some emotions as good, others as bad, some as holy, others as sinful. That’s not accurate, spiritually or scientifically. [See The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions.]

It’s also important to distinguish between the feeling of anger and the actions of aggression. The two are not the same thing. Greenberg offers this helpful reminder:

“Anger should not be confused with aggression, which comprises attacking or assaultive behavior. Feeling angry does not mean behaving aggressively, and people can be aggressive without feeling any anger at all.” – Greenberg

Chances are you’ve been hurt by someone who acted aggressively. Perhaps their anger/aggression left wounds you’re still recovering from. Chances are you’ve hurt someone in similar ways. So I understand if all this talk about the goodness of anger feels like bile in the brain.

In my ministry as a pastoral counselor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I hear all the stories. I hear terrifying stories and sad stories. I hear stories that make me livid and stories that make me hug my kids a little tighter.

Early on, I assumed that my main job was to help angry people feel their sadness. After all, I feel sadness early and often; it’s my default setting, and it’s easy. But now I realize that just as often, my job is to help sad people feel their anger.

Accessing the motivating, informative energy of anger has been pivotal in my own journey of healing. It has propelled me to have HARD conversations, it has steeled me for necessary conflict, and it has helped me surface on the other side, grateful. I am grateful for the gift of anger; without it, I fear I would have gotten stuck in my own depressive hole.

I used to think that anger and love were separate things, but now I realize that anger can be separate from love, but it doesn’t have to be. Anger is sometimes the energizing force that results from violated love.

In his book on extra-marital affairs, pastor and clinical counselor David Carder goes so far as to say that the partner who was cheated on MUST get angry:

The language of anger is never pleasant; however, it is not only OK to say it with intensity and force, but it is absolutely necessary for true recovery to occur. People do not get better until they get mad.” – Carder

 

Anger as a Sword (that we desperately need)
Tolkien understood the strategic use of anger, and when the Fellowship needed salvation, he gave it to them, in the form of a furious wizard. When faced with an ancient evil from the deepest shadows, the men, hobbits, dwarf, and elf fled for their lives. There was no escape until an old man with wisdom and anger stood firm.

The scene unfolds on a bridge under the mountains, with enemy hordes on one side, the Fellowship on the other:

“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring [his sword] gleamed, cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.

You cannot pass,‘ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.

Glamdring glittered white in answer.

There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments. The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.

You cannot pass!‘ he said.

With a bound the Balrog leaped full upon the bridge. Its whip whirled and hissed.”

In the film, the emotion of the scene overwhelms. Gandalf stands between the darkness and his charges. He is fighting with all his might, not for his own honor or power or kingdom; he is fighting for his friends.

He looks back at his friends, slowly and compassionately, fully aware of what he must do. He raises his staff and sword, slams them into stone, and screams at the fiery evil, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

At that point,

“A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.”

Oh that more leaders would have the courage to stand firm, full of love and anger, willing to protect the helpless, and to speak to the Shadow!

These are the times when we need the sword of anger. What a dangerous shame to reach that point, to need the power of a bright sword, and to leave it in its scabbard. Anger is the sword that we keep sheathed because we have no idea how to wield it. We’ve only seen people hurt by it. But if we could figure out how to use it, to wield it sparingly, but well, we might realize how much good it could do.

When we lose access to flaming, holy anger, we lose access to so much. We need a revolution in how we as the Church think about, talk about, and experience anger.

“Righteous anger warns, invites change, and wounds. True anger is paradoxical in that it has the strength to inflict pain, but it burns with the desire for reconciliation. It is bold, but it is also broken.” – Allender & Longman

What if we used anger to protect, not to control? With the aim of blessing and restoring relationships, not for revenge? What if anger were an expression of solid love, not malice or contempt?

“[Righteous anger] wounds for the greater work of redemption. It is full of a strength that is neither defensive nor vindictive, and it is permeated by a sadness that is rich in desire and hope.” – Allender & Longman

 

Our Incompetence Damages People (and the Church)
We don’t know how to wield anger, and we can’t fathom that someone else might. So we run away from it, we bury it, we criticize it. But just like outlawed grief, outlawed anger is dangerous.

“Anger that is driven underground eventually bursts out in uncontrollable and destructive ways.” – Greenberg

When you cancel out anger (your own or others’), you rob yourself of vital information. Information that could help you to see a situation or respond to a situation. Instead of denying or blocking anger, we need to get curious about it. What is hurting? When did it start hurting? As Greenberg says, we “should not be too afraid of receiving its message.”

“Each time people control or cut off a significant experience of anger, they not only cut themselves off from important information from within, but they also cut themselves off from others.” – Greenberg

Failing to give space for anger is terribly invalidating, and unloving.

“Invalidation of a person’s most basic feelings is one of the most psychologically damaging things one person can do to another.” – Greenberg

What would have happened if someone in those Catholic dioceses had felt a burning against the injustice of child abuse? Imagine if some leader somewhere would have pulled a sword on those pedophiles and screamed, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

It should not have taken an investigative journalist. It should not have taken decades.

What if someone at USA Gymnastics had heard about Larry Nassar’s perverse, ongoing sexual assaults of its gymnasts and, with fire in their bones, done whatever was necessary to communicate: “NOT ON MY WATCH!”

I’m so grateful for Rachael Denhollander and her tremendous courage as a survivor, to protest and advocate. But it shouldn’t have had to be her. It should have been some adult years earlier who got angry, and in their anger, determined to protect young women instead of an organization.

Gary Thomas, theologian and author, recently penned a powerful article about the church’s complicity in domestic violence in Christian marriages. The title of his article? “Enough is Enough.” He might as well have called it, “You Shall Not Pass!”

Calling on church leaders to stand with wounded women, to stand against abusive men, Thomas writes:

“Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, ‘This is over’ and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.”

Anger is present in our churches. Anger exists in our missions. But our anger is usually aimed at the people who are upsetting the status quo, threatening the “way things are,” and calling evil things by their true name.

But what if, instead, we were energized by a blazing love to protect the vulnerable, to defend the weak and the powerless?

What would that look like?

It would look like Gandalf, fire in his eyes, standing alone and sacrificing himself to save his friends.

It would look other worldly, because it is. It would look like the Kingdom of God among us, flipping the world upside down, giving honor to the weak, protecting the throw-aways.

It would look like the Church caring about the children on the outside.

It might look like offended religious men, sitting around a table trying to figure out how to solve this “problem.”

It would look like Bonhoeffer, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Martin Luther.

It would look like Paul, defending the magisterial beauty of grace.

It would look like a pastor calling the police as soon as he hears about abuse, refusing to keep things “in house.”

It would look bright, shimmering. It would look like hope to those bound in the darkness; a glimpse of the rising sun.

But to those who thrive in the shadows (religious or otherwise), it would terrify, reminding them that their reign will end. Justice shall be King.

It would look like all these things and more, for

It would look like Jesus.

 

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

Torn Asunder, David Carder

Enough is Enough, Gary Thomas

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings, Leslie Greenberg

The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions

I Belong to You

by Laura Hope

As a child, my parents moved often. We left Israel when I was 3 years old only to move from state to state in the USA for the next ten years due to my father’s work. When we came back to Israel when I was 13, I struggled with a sense of belonging and my identity. As the years went by, I continued to struggle. Living as a Christian amongst Muslims and Jews was complicated. As a teenager, I learned the art of adapting and becoming like a chameleon to fit in. 

After an attempt to set fire to the congregation we attended, a fear came over me and I did not talk much about my faith.  I remember when I was just 13, the next-door neighbor kids stoned my brother and me because we were seen attending the Feast of Tabernacles. Their parents were invited to go and they happened to see us there, and the persecution began. When we left the apartment, they amazingly apologized for that incident. After my car accident at age 17, I broke free from some of that fear and the Lord helped me to share my testimony to most of the Aliwhites and Druze in the Golan. In the year 2000, there was a huge open door.

After completing my BA in Theology in Jerusalem, that fear of not belonging came again. Being born in Israel and spending many years in Metulla in a Jewish village, with a family that had a ministry to the Arabs, I was misunderstood by many Arab and Jewish believers who either thought I loved the Jews too much or that I loved the Arabs too much. I felt I would always be a foreigner and never fit in or belong, even though I was born in this country.

At one point I was seriously trying to do DNA testing to find out if we did have Jewish heritage because of Jewish names we had in our family from Holland. But in the end, I felt it was chasing the wind and it could hinder possibly other open doors God was giving me. When it came to marriage, I wanted someone on equal terms as myself.  That meant someone who would accept me for who I was and to whom I would not have to prove myself. 

When Remi came into my life, I did not feel that it mattered to him what I was. He could have cared less if I was Arab or Jew or African. He just liked me and pursued me. I was attending a seminar shortly after we were married, and someone who always made me feel rejected and nervous walked into the room. Remi whispered in my ear, “Do not worry, you belong to me now.” Somehow that woke me up and gave me a huge sense of security.

I think this is what God wants us to remember. God wants to whisper in our ear and assure us that we belong to him. We are not our own. If we can hold on to the promise of the one to whom we belong, we will find our hearts at home. It is easy for me to forget whom I belong to! In a land of so much insecurity, one can easily lose their focus on eternity and how our kingdom is not of this world.

Recently, my son was having trouble at school, and I was questioning whether it was time to move him to a different school or home school him. We resolved the issue and he is still in the same class. When I told an acquaintance that I was struggling with whether to home school him or not, she asked me a question: “Do you want your son to suffer from not belonging as you have?” This person felt it was more important that he felt as if he belonged to the group, and then find private lessons tailored to him.

I must say I do not want my son to have to deal with this feeling of not belonging, but the other half of me wants him to realize that as believers there is something more important than fitting in. If we can hold on to God and allow him to place his love as a seal on our hearts, we will find security that will not be shaken. Because truly we are like Father Abraham who himself was a stranger or alien in the promised land.

We are strangers believing by faith that we will reach a Golden City of the New Jerusalem that is to come. I want my son to base his sole identity NOT in his school or his peers, but on the one to whom he belongs. Whom do you belong to? To whom have you given your heart? Does it belong to your Beloved, the King of Kings?

God wants to cover us like a mother hen and bring comfort to his people. He wants to sing over us with songs of love. He wants us to know deep down and say, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.” Knowing this down deep will bring a deep sense of security that the world does not give.

If you have ever suffered from the feeling of not belonging, I want to invite you to look to the One whose heart is so ravished by you! Our God takes delight in you, and he wants you to belong to him. He wants to place his seal upon you so you will never forget that you belong to Him. He wants to sing over you with songs of joy.

Lift up your eyes and find comfort from under his wings. Let him surround you with the wings of his presence so that you know that it does not matter where you went to school, where you have lived, where you are from, or what job you work at, but what most matters is that you never forget that you are not your own, you belong to your Beloved.

Originally published here.

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

Laura Hope grew up as a third culture kid, she has been directing the Heavenly Light Bookshop since 2009. She has a blog, poetofdreams.com. She holds a BA in Theology. She has two boys nearly 8 and 7 years old. Her hobbies are herbalism, exploring ancient Biblical sites, and art. She is currently residing in Jerusalem and she loves to encourage and inspire others in their pilgrimage of the heart.