When We’re Shaken {a poem}

by Krista Besselman

Author’s Note: I wrote this poem while trying to trust the Lord as I processed both the Ukraine crisis and an unexpected health challenge. I chose to focus less on me and how I feel, and more on God and Who He is, drawing comfort from familiar passages like Psalm 139 and Psalm 46.

You know everything I’m thinking,
All my words from first to last,
And the answers to the questions
I was too afraid to ask.

There are forces set in motion
I could never understand.
They’re so big they overwhelm me
But You hold them in Your hand.

Please remind us in the moment
That our greatest fear arrives
You are greater than the evil
That would tear apart our lives.

We can see both good and evil.
We rejoice and yet we grieve,
Taking comfort in Your presence
And Your promise not to leave.

Though Your love exceeds our knowledge,
Show its height and depth and length.
When our world feels like it’s shaken,
Be our refuge and our strength.

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

Krista found a heart for missions accounting in Papua New Guinea and still uses what she learned in her seven years there to support Bible translation from Texas. She writes poetry to process the ups, downs, and outright crises of life. Her favorite poems call herself–and others–to remember God’s faithfulness in every situation.

Was Jesus Punctual?

by Suyai R. Cameron

I remember meeting many missionary families in church who loved Jesus so deeply that they had decided to leave their countries behind and move to the narrowest and longest country in South America: Chile. Although each one possessed different personalities, they had some similarities that made them stand out from the local crowd. One of the most obvious was their love of structured time and the way they expected everyone, including nationals, to always be punctual – and how frustrated they became with the laid-back attitude of Chileans when it came to starting times, and especially finishing times, of every church meeting or get-together.  

Over the years, many of them opened up to me and shared, among myriad things, how they found themselves feeling disrespected by the apparent nonchalant attitude of Chileans towards time. Even though I was born and bred in Chile, I was raised by a French grandmother and British grandfather, and so I have always been acutely aware not only of how important time and efficiency are for most Westerners, but also how easily frustrating different aspects of any culture you migrate into can be. After moving to the UK as an adult and having spent almost fourteen years here, I can now further empathise with the expats I met in Chile and can better understand the massive gap between the Western and the Latin American concepts of time and how we experience it. 

The English phrase ‘don’t waste your time’ has an equivalent in Spanish: ‘no pierdas el tiempo’, which strictly translated means ‘don’t lose [the] time’. There is, nonetheless, a subtle difference between the English and the Spanish. Whereas a Westerner feels they can control time (by deciding whether to waste it or not), a Latin American feels they cannot control time (it gets lost). 

One of the many anecdotal theories I have come up with over the years is that efficiency permeates everything in the West. Countries function in apparent order; people respect queues; and if you meet a friend for coffee they will give you an exact hour of their time and then have something planned to do right afterwards. In Latin America, however, it is relationships that seep into every aspect of life. If you’re invited for lunch, you will probably also stay for dinner; you will be more likely to find a job if you know the ‘right’ people; and if you meet a friend for coffee, you will stay there for at least two hours, if not more. None of these things is inherently right or wrong. They are simply different ways in which cultural mindsets are wired and entrenched deep within us. 

The other side of the cultural coin is what we experienced when we arrived in the UK and started inviting people to our house. We quickly realised we couldn’t just ask someone to come for lunch on the same day – we had to agree on a date at least a few weeks beforehand. When they finally arrived and departed after two hours at the most, we were left wondering what on earth we had said or done that had offended them, as they had left so soon. We were used to people staying after a meal for hours on end, just talking about nothing and everything. There is even a Spanish word which has no translation to English: sobremesa (literally ‘on the table’). It is used to describe the period of time after everyone has finished their meal but are still sitting down and chatting about life in a leisurely manner for a long time. Here, it seemed that if our guests intended to stay even a wee bit longer than two hours, we needed to actually do something together, like go for a walk or play a game. Leisure for leisure’s sake was simply not on the cards.  

I remember pondering about the frustration Western mission partners felt about Chileans not complying with set times. The palpable irritation they felt when a meeting started half an hour or more after the set time whilst people took time to greet everyone in the room and catch up before it started, or when people casually walked into the church service forty minutes after it had already begun. Most Chileans couldn’t really grasp this and usually considered issues revolving around time as secondary and not to be taken into account that seriously. 

Many times, this cultural clash got me thinking about Jesus – was he actually punctual? Although we know the Bible was written by Middle Eastern people, our minds tend to somehow forget this, and we end up mostly reading it from a Western perspective. Even growing up in Latin America, many are taught by Western mission partners and thus tend to use the same lens. We are drilled in church with the overuse (or, dare I say, misuse) of ‘God is a God of order’ (1 Corinthians 14:33) and that therefore one should always be mindful of time and respectful of time. 

However, we can see throughout the Bible how relationships trumped efficiency most of the time. We see Jesus taking his time – days – to get to his friend Lazarus, who had died, even though people found it hard to accept that he wouldn’t hurry up and feared he would be too late. We have the Mary and Martha story, where Jesus praises Mary for simply sitting at his feet whilst Martha is making sure everything is ready and on time. We witness Jesus giving children unrestricted time to come to him despite the open frustration of his disciples. It is hard to imagine Jesus rushing people around to start or end a meeting, although I can’t picture him wasting time either.  

Once my husband was told off for having preached just over twenty minutes at a church in the UK as surely he should have been able to preach five-minute sermons following the example of how Jesus taught (e.g. the parables)? I couldn’t help but think about Jesus feeding the multitudes as they stayed for the whole day just to listen to him teach for hours and hours. Just because you can read a parable in less than five minutes, it doesn’t mean it actually happened as quickly in real life! 

So, was Jesus punctual? I believe it would be fair to say that perhaps Jesus wasn’t necessarily punctual, but he was indeed always on time. There is a difference. We see Jesus interacting with people from different backgrounds and gently adjusting to their culture whilst still modeling a countercultural way of living, even when his own experience of time knows no bounds. When ministering cross-culturally, how you experience time can be a challenge both for yourself and the ones you are ministering to. As with everything in life, we need to accommodate our cultural expectations accordingly. 

Nevertheless, as Christians we belong to a much wider subculture. Depending on where we were raised, Jesus’ cultural understanding of time might not exactly match our cultural (mis)understanding of it. One thing is clear though: he always made time for people at the exact moment when they needed it, even when it did not seem ‘convenient’ or ‘right.’ The God of the Universe walking among us was – and is – all too familiar with time being eternal and with our hearts yearning for time spent with him no matter what our watches may try to dictate. Jesus didn’t see people as interruptions, but as valuable enfleshed souls requiring unconditional love and every single ounce of his attention, despite our own earthly understanding of time. 

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

Suyai R. Cameron cannot imagine a life without writing. She has lived in forty-six houses (and counting) across two continents and feels at home in at least four countries. Together with her husband and their son, they have been serving God in Northern Ireland, UK, for more than a decade. On top of working as an editor and translator, she enjoys dark chocolate, reading books under her velvety weighted blanket, leisurely walks through lush forests, and pondering on the intersection between the Bible and ordinary everyday life. You can follow her on Instagram at @suyai.r.cameron and on Facebook as Suyai R. Cameron.

When the Third Culture Kids Are Not Alright

by Elizabeth Smith

Editor’s Note: Christianity Today recently published an article by Rebecca Hopkins (who has written for A Life Overseas in the past) titled “The Missionary Kids Are Not Alright.” This guest piece by Elizabeth Smith was submitted prior to the publication of the Christianity Today article, but it beautifully addresses the concerns raised in the article. ~Elizabeth Trotter

I don’t know how many times my father told me that he had been around the block a time or two. All the troubles I faced in my childhood, he had faced too. He had experience to guide me through the complexities of life. What a gift to possess that level of expertise! I can’t relate.

That’s because years later, I looked into the eyes of my own baby as a helicopter took off behind me, leaving us in a village in the middle of the jungle. There were no blocks here. I had not been around them. I had no experience for my own cross-cultural challenges, let alone my son’s third culture challenges. While I navigated American sleep-training in Papua New Guinean baby bilums (portable baby hammocks), I could only wonder what it would be like growing up in a world of blended cultures. 

What was it like ducking under a mosquito net to pull up Paw Patrol on the tablet?  What was it like deciding between cereal or roasted taro root for breakfast? What was it like transitioning from running naked and free in the village to having to wear clothes all the time in America? (That one I knew would be hard!)

In those years, there weren’t a lot of resources for little Third Culture Kids. Most resources came in the form of terrifying statistics of suicide rates among TCKs or support groups for struggling adult TCKs. When it came to preventively nurturing TCKs, there was a void. Until Raising up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids was published.  When the author, Lauren Wells, founded TCK Training, she outlined the unique needs of TCKs and how to support them in practical ways. 

Finally I saw how TCKs are influenced by more than one culture but belong to none of them, and I saw how that impacted their identity. I saw how TCKs were praised for smiling through the confusion and uncertainty of transitions, and I saw how that stunted their emotional intelligence. I saw how TCKs normalized loss, transitions, deep poverty, social injustice, crime and more, and I saw how that added to an unstable Grief Tower threatening to collapse. I saw how TCKs expect to go back to their passport countries as adults, and I saw how subconscious expectations set them up for lives fraught with disappointment. 

Most importantly, I learned that when supportive adults provide preventive care, these challenges can be mitigated. When TCKs receive support and preventive care like this, they experience the unique gifts they’re entitled to: high emotional intelligence, healthy empathy, responsible adaptability, a beautiful mosaic identity, and rich contentment in life. I clearly shared a passion with TCK Training, and in time I joined their team, helping to train TCK parents and caregivers in preventive care.  

The question most of us have is: How do we as supportive adults provide preventive care for the TCKs we love? That is the question TCK Training was created to answer! Here are some of the ways TCK Training can help you as you seek to help the TCKs in your lives. 

 

  1. Parent and Caregiver Education. We realized early on that the most efficient and practical way to care for TCKs is to empower the adults already in their lives. For that purpose, we have a huge archive of workshops, with more being added monthly. We have practical tips for all ages, from TCK toddlers and elementary-aged kids to teens and university-aged TCKs, but the foundational information on how to practically care for TCKs is found in our Raising Healthy TCKs workshop.
  2. Family Curriculum. To take the education we provide in workshops and bring that to your TCKs, we developed the Family Curriculum. These are fun lessons that you can do as a whole family that specifically target the key challenge areas for TCKs. 
  3. Debriefs. There is a very widely spread myth that children are resilient. What this looks like in practice is that they don’t receive the care that their parents receive from their sending agency. So TCK Training offers debriefs geared specifically for the kids or for the whole family. Again targeting the key challenge areas for TCKs, our debriefs focus on the TCKs while also supporting the parents with practical ideas on how to care preventively. 
  4. Family Care Packages. Our family care packages are a year of care in the form of monthly or bi-monthly check-ins. These packages are excellent for families who want someone in their lives who is prioritizing the emotional lives of their TCKs. 

 

As I’m writing this, we’re packing up from our time in Egypt and preparing to transition to Jordan. My son is a pre-griever, so we’re making space now to think through our losses.  We’re breathing deeply as we do brunch one last time on the Nile. We’re talking about how much we’ll miss our resident stray cat as we dip pita bread into baba ganoush. We’re thinking about how much time we’ve spent in Egypt and wondering how this will change us. We’re crying because it was beautiful, and we will miss it. 

I still haven’t been around the block. The village streets in Egypt are more like a labyrinth, anyway. But I’ve been around the globe, digging into research and collecting stories from TCKs worldwide. Through my work with TCK Training, I’ve learned that the number one thing TCKs need is for their parents to make space for their grief and loss and to sit with them and say, “It makes sense that you feel that way. I do, too. Let’s learn together how to walk around this block.” 

~~~~~~~~~~

Elizabeth and her family are full-time travelers. They started their global journey doing mission work in Papua New Guinea for 5 years. Now Elizabeth works remote for TCK Training, traveling for in-person debriefs, conferences, and speaking engagements. She never travels without her French press, chef’s knife, flyswatter, and pop-up hamper. Elizabeth is the author of the upcoming book The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabethvaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining

Seeing Dignity Instead of Misery Among the Poor

by Amy Straub

I used to assume that life must be joyless for those without all the material comforts that were commonplace to me. When I considered people who had only the clothes on their backs and just enough food for each day, my first and strongest reaction was pity. I felt it often in our early years in Zambia, and that revealed a lot to me about my true priorities. When we equate poverty with misery, our core values are exposed. 

In speaking of poverty, I’m not referring to a life-threatening lack of resources (absolute poverty), but to the many people around the world who are deemed “poor” in comparison to Western standards. People in relative poverty have their basic needs met, but they have a smaller than average income for their society. It’s easy to assume that people in these circumstances must be miserable when we view them through the lens of our own experience. It requires deeper insight to explain the unexpected joy and laughter that are so often found in places of material emptiness.

Our western worldview clashes with the scripture that plainly affirms, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (I Timothy 6:8). These words force us to acknowledge that contentment, satisfaction, and even outright joy are possible with very little. Maybe they’re even most possible with very little. But those of us who were born into privilege can’t internalize this through personal experience. We have to learn from those who understand this paradox because they live it every day. The ones with limited resources who embrace their lot with joy can teach us that poverty offers a different kind of fullness that is invisible to our eyes. 

This is not to minimize the adverse effects of poverty on individuals and families or to gloss over the depth of human need around the world. Poverty in itself is not a virtue, and making light of the suffering of others is irresponsible and potentially even harmful. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of poverty simply because kids in the slums flash beautiful smiles. God takes suffering seriously, and he calls us to align with his heart for those in need. Like him, we must accurately name poverty and its effects. And when we acknowledge its true weight, we see that the burden of poverty is directly proportional to the measure of respect that we owe the poor for their joyful endurance.

******

Several years ago near our home in Kitwe, the water main to a high-density neighborhood broke. For weeks, hundreds of people lost access to running water in their homes. With a heavy heart I watched young and old carrying buckets from the Kafue River back to their houses, and I wondered how they were coping. One day I found myself driving behind a pickup truck that was carrying several men with large barrels of water into this neighborhood. I felt a wave of pity for the massive inconvenience they were experiencing. 

Then the truck hit a pothole, and water from the barrels splashed all over the men, soaking them from head to toe. My pity deepened at this added difficulty, and I fully expected to see signs of frustration. But instead of getting angry, the men erupted into laughter. As they laughed they caught my eye, giving me the opportunity to laugh with them. I will never forget that moment or the impact it had on my perspective, and they will never know how much their joy taught me. Over the years, as I have had the privilege of observing hundreds of moments like this, my pity has been transformed into deep respect. 

When we have the honor of knowing people in poverty who radiate joy and bubble over with easy laughter, we become uncomfortably aware of our own misconceptions. Our view of the world is often clouded by our privileged (and therefore limited) perspective. Those who are content in their poverty demonstrate that the less a person has, the greater their ability to treasure each good gift that comes to them—however small it might be. A cup of water, a glowing lightbulb, a filling meal, family and friends. Maybe it’s those of us in the wealthy minority world, trapped in an endless cycle of consumerism, who are most to be pitied. “One who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). Excess quickly becomes a burden, but those in need are able to receive everything as a gift. 

******

Pity is a common reaction to poverty, but there’s another response that is worse, and that’s judgment. Assuming that people in poverty must deserve their condition also reveals how wrongly we rank material things. If poverty is a punishment and we are well off, then we must be upstanding people who deserve the comforts we have. While it might feel good to view ourselves so highly, scripture condemns this attitude as an insult to the God who intentionally became poor. 

From his example of poverty, Christ taught that living for both God and money is an unattainable goal. We have to choose which will rule us. Scornful religious leaders mocked Jesus for this teaching because of the discomfort they felt when they heard it. In their hearts they knew they loved money more than God. His response to them was a sharp rebuke: “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Contrary to many human assumptions over the centuries, wealth does not equal decency. Christ goes even further than this and describes poverty not as a punishment, but as a spiritual advantage (Luke 6:20-26). In contrast, he warns that wealth can be a spiritual hindrance (Mark 10:23-25).

Material wealth isn’t wrong in itself, but it comes with unique blind spots and temptations. God doesn’t require us to repent of our wealth, and material blessings shouldn’t incite feelings of guilt. But in order to thrive spiritually, we must reject the belief that wealth brings joy, and instead trust the God who says we can be content without it. 

We grasp and affirm the truth of scripture only as much as we participate in it. If we are blessed with abundance, we have the opportunity to hold it with open hands and practice letting it go easily. Contentment grows in a heart that doesn’t clench its fists. We do not live to serve our wealth, consumed by our focus on and protection of it. Rather, we live to serve with our wealth, looking outward to find needs and meet them. Through the spiritual practice of generosity, we become steady streams of goodness to others. 

And if we are granted a life of poverty, we have the privilege of walking with the One who had nowhere to lay his head. Contentment grows in a heart that knows solidarity. Christ chose a life of poverty, and because of this, those who have nothing of material significance in this life are able to identify with him, lean on him, and receive from him in ways that are beyond the grasp of the wealthy. It’s the needy who are driven to ask, seek, and knock. One of the beautiful mysteries of scripture is that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith (James 2:5). This truth is displayed around the globe, and it has been a privilege to see it firsthand in Africa. 

My husband and I are part of a ministry that trains African church leaders to plant churches and equip believers in their own languages and communities, taking the gospel into areas of Africa where foreign missionaries would be ineffective. We’ve met rural pastors who have so few spiritual resources that they travel for days, sometimes on foot, to attend our ministry training conferences. Their hunger for theological education, Bibles, and ministry resources is profound, and it is matched by an equal volume of joy when those resources are secured. Witnessing this deep faith and passionate love for God and his word has challenged and encouraged us again and again throughout our years here. 

******

We owe a debt of honor to our brothers and sisters in the developing world who are actively growing vibrant communities of faith with far fewer resources than we enjoy in the western world. The center of global faith has shifted away from the affluent west, which reveals that it’s not an abundance of resources, but a deeper dependence on God, that ultimately turns the world upside down. 

Instead of pitying or judging those with less, we can de-center our own perspective and learn from the experience of others. We can lay down our assumptions and take up humility. We can learn to recognize and avoid false comparisons. I might be miserable in certain circumstances, but that isn’t necessarily true for others. Many people have developed far more fortitude than I have. It’s ultimately unhelpful to measure the majority world by minority world standards.

Furthermore, if wealth hasn’t rendered the West content and grateful, why should we assume it is – or should be – the ultimate goal of those without it? The comforts of this life are a gift, and we should seek to relieve suffering whenever possible. But the need that drives us into community and into dependence on God is not ultimately an enemy to be defeated. Treating it as such reveals what we believe is most important in this life. 

Poverty does not equal misery or failure any more than wealth equals contentment or success. Rich and poor alike are marked by the image of God, and it is this imago dei that endows each person with intrinsic and sacred value. This is what shines through when joy and laughter are found among those in poverty. They are not oblivious to their suffering; they are putting it in its proper place. It is momentary and fleeting, and it will someday be overshadowed by a weight of glory. Not having treasure on earth, they have the opportunity to see the eternal with unclouded eyes. 

May we honor the poor as Christ did. May we recognize their dignity and value them for their personhood rather than their possessions. And may the words of our savior in Luke 6:20-21 remind us of his heartbeat for those in need:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Together we have the opportunity to carry this heartbeat into our global communities, while looking forward in hope to that kingdom where the hungry are filled and the weary rejoice. 

~~~~~~~~~

Amy grew up in Minneapolis, MN, where her idea of travel was her family’s annual trip to Kansas. That all changed when she married Ben, a Canadian TCK with a travel bucket list as large as the globe. Together they moved to Kitwe, Zambia, where they have served for the past 10 years at Central Africa Baptist University and in their local Zambian church. They have four kids, two dogs, and five guinea pigs. Amy enjoys reading, having people over for shared meals, exploring new countries with her family, and the year-round sunshine and gardening of the Southern Hemisphere. She sometimes enjoys homeschooling, and has permanently retired from Minnesota winters.

Do Local People Have Anything to Teach Us?

by Stacie Ellinger

We moved house ten days ago. We are in a beautiful, leafy part of Adelaide, Australia. The summer sun enters through the many windows, creating an open, airy, bright feel. There are local playgrounds. The street cleaners have cleaned the street twice since we moved in. The footpaths are flat and wide enough to walk on. 

It is such a contrast to the Cambodian open-to-the-street house that we lived in for five years. I’ve been reflecting on the difference between the two neighbourhoods a lot over the last few days. Superficially the environment here is “nicer,” it’s definitely cleaner and quieter, and there is less chance of things being stolen here. 

Yet I find myself missing our community in Cambodia. I miss my kids playing on the street with the neighbours. I miss chatting to the recycling collectors as they collect our cereal boxes. I miss the ladies doing cross-stitch together in the late afternoon. I miss the fact that when we moved in, the neighbours introduced themselves and brought over food. 

It’s been ten days since we moved in here, and I am assuming the houses surrounding us have people in them. I haven’t seen any of them. 

It seems like a total cliché to say that I miss the community in Cambodia. It’s the one thing that all short-term and long-term missionaries who return from Southeast Asia say. “I learnt so much about community, about eating meals together, about living intergenerationally.” And even though there is an element of truth in that, I wonder if it comes up so much because it’s the one thing that we westerners are “allowed” to say that we have learnt from Southeast Asians. 

Ok, that’s a big statement, so hear me out. 

The act of going overseas for missions comes with an unspoken list of assumptions. Assumptions from the people going about their ability to live cross-culturally, assumptions about their giftings, skills, and knowledge about the Bible. Assumptions from the people who are staying about the sort of activities the people who are going will do. Assumptions built upon stereotypes and pedestals and upon our historical knowledge of “missions” and “missionaries.”

Even if I acknowledge that God is already in the country where I am going, I still carry the assumption that I have some theological insight or understanding that they don’t. An assumption that I have something to give and that they need that something. When unchallenged, assumptions like these bring attitudes of superiority, and when added to the historical complexities of colonialism and the current global wealth inequalities, they become fertile ground for “white saviourism.” We carry the idea that our education, our knowledge, our wealth, and our theological perspectives are crossing cultures to be given away, generously and freely, to those who don’t have or who don’t know. 

So back to my big statement. 

Criticising the western understanding of community is a bit in vogue. We know that isolation is increasing among western nations. We hark back to the good ol’ days of the 1950s (the sitcom version, not the realistic 1950s of post-war PTSD and racial segregation). We talk of missing nuclear families, of the rise of individualism and self-promotion on social media, of the financial struggles of working 2+ jobs, of the over-scheduling of wealthy kids’ schedules. Coming back from a Southeast Asian country and saying that they taught us about community fits into that narrative, but it doesn’t ask us to actually critique our culture in new ways. It doesn’t challenge our understanding of the world. 

Opening myself up to be discipled by Cambodian Christians, allowing their leaders to challenge the significance I placed on my own personal life experience and education, and learning to read the Bible through a cultural lens different to my own took time and a level of humility I often struggled with. And it’s a journey that people “back home” seem less willing to hear about. It’s not a story about what I did or what I brought. It’s a story about learning where I was wrong, misguided, or blinded in my understanding.

Living in a society where allegiance to a patron — whether that be a political, social, or religious leader — influenced how you lived your life, whom you called on when you were sick, or whether you had financial security completely changed how I viewed Jesus’ interactions with his disciples, their confoundment at his death, and their empowerment at Pentecost. As a non-American who has never had to pledge allegiance to anything (and who would in fact be mocked as an Australian for pledging allegiance to anything but a favourite football team), words like Lord and Kingdom began to take on a different meaning. In Australia, comfort and financial security are the biggest values that drive our society (as evidenced by our intense focus on keeping the covid pandemic out of our country and continuing life as “normal”).  

But what does allegiance to a Kingdom of identifying with the poor, of radical welcome, and of healing others mean for my financial resources? What do I do when my allegiance to another kingdom cuts me off from the way that society operates? How does our understanding of the Bible change when we understand honour and shame from the perspective of a culture that is more similar to the honour-shame culture of the ancient Middle East than the guilt and innocence focus of my homeland? 

One of my greatest challenges was building friendships. For example, in the church community I was a part of, it was not ok to invite just one or two people over for dinner to get to know them. That was seen as favouritism. Instead, I was asked to invite the whole church community. (Now, I’m not sure about you, but I am much better at hosting 4 people for dinner than 25. Or at least I was!) What do we do when our local community’s understanding of friendship requires us to completely change our previous understanding of friendship? Is one of them wrong? Is the other one right? Or are they just different? 

When we enter a new country as foreigners, whether intentionally or not, we are asking locals to understand us, to understand a bit of our culture and to understand how we think in order to get to know us. Is it too much to expect that the reverse will not also happen? That the locals might ask us to change? For those of us who come representing Jesus, we deliberately and vocally ask them to change their perspectives and understanding of the physical and spiritual world. As iron sharpens iron, surely, the locals’ understanding of the world can challenge our understanding. Their knowledge of God can reveal new things to us. And God can use that to shape our understanding of ourselves as our own cultural sins and blind spots are revealed to us. Surely our western practice of community is not the only thing that can be challenged by believers in the Global South.   

Cross-cultural service is not an invitation to go and do. It’s an invitation to go and be. To be transformed by the renewing of our minds as we learn from other members of the body. Our cultures and our experiences of God are as diverse as the climates and landscapes around us. When God calls us to not conform to the patterns of the world, He is inviting us to notice these patterns. To see which patterns block or harm others. To see which patterns stop the light from getting through. And like any pattern, we must acknowledge that the patterns of the world look different from a different vantage point.

By taking the time to immerse ourselves in another viewpoint, we open ourselves to see the bigger picture more clearly. We cannot do this on our own. We need others to be with us on this journey. The beauty of faith is that it is not a static place; it is an invitation to grow closer to God and each other as we press deeper into relationship. When locals and foreigners can join hands to seek the Kingdom of God together, we truly become the family of God on earth. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Stacie and her family served in Cambodia for six years before returning to Australia in 2020. She enjoys good books, good movies, and good chocolates and misses the heat of Cambodia terribly. Stacie now uses her aid, development, and missions background to run educational workshops for schools and churches about the complexities of poverty alleviation and ‘doing good.’ She blogs at www.walkhumblyinitative.com.

What’s in a Screen Name?

by Kat Borba

This year I did something that was really hard for me. I changed my Instagram name. 

What a ridiculous thing to call “hard.” In the grand scheme of life and death, who cares about the name listed next to my pictures of kids and pets and sunsets? Except, for me it was something that had tethered me to Japan. It was something I hadn’t felt I could fully release. I created the account when I lived in Japan, and my Instagram name reflected the person I was in that place. “JapanKat” might not have been the cleverest of names. I’m not even sure I gave it all that much thought when I chose it. But as the years went on, it became linked to my identity. I was JapanKat. 

When we returned to the States, the thought of changing my username was too much. It would be one more severed tie to a place that still held a piece of my heart. So I kept it. I would tell myself that I’d only been gone a little while. I just wasn’t finished being JapanKat. 

But that “little while” morphed and stretched. Babies were born, and jobs were changed. We moved, and moved again. Time marched on, yet my Instagram name stayed frozen in place. Occasionally I would think, maybe it’s time for a fresh start. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Would changing my name be a betrayal of the woman who made that account? Could I be ok if I cut the last outward tie to my former home? What if God called us back?

In the midst of my questioning, God spoke a soothing word to my anxious soul. I am more than my screenname. I am more than my job. I am more than the place where I live. I am more than my past, and I am more than my future.

So after eight years, and much wrestling, I opened my account and changed my name. I’m not going to lie: it stung a little. It seems silly to share how much I agonized over what to be called now. After much internal debate, I decided on “Katerpiller.” It felt right. If I’m going to be pouring so much of my identity into a screen name, it should reflect change and growth. Tears were shed that day. They were tears of release, tears of mourning the person I thought I was, and tears of accepting the truth of who I am in Christ. 

That next Sunday at church, we sang a familiar song. But this morning, the refrain felt like it was written just for me.

I am who you say I am.

And so I am. 

I am his beloved. I am his delight. I am his daughter. I am chosen by him. 

This is true no matter where I live and no matter what I do. My identity is in God: my father who loves me, my Shepherd who leads me. 

And it is also true that I can hold Japan in my heart as a gift from God. I can treasure that chapter of my life without finding my identity in it. And maybe that’s the point I’ve been struggling to understand. I must not define myself by where I live, by my job description, or by how I serve. I am more than all of those things, because God says so. It’s not that I discount these things. I’ve been shaped and forever changed by living and serving in Japan. That experience has made me who I am. Yet, it is not who I am. The distinction is blurry and hard to hold down. I’m sure I will struggle to keep my identity where it belongs: in Christ. 

But if one day God does call us back to Japan – or to anywhere else on this earth – I hope that I go firm in the knowledge that I am not defined by where I live or what I do. No, I am a daughter of the King, and I am defined by Him only.

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

Kathryn Borba served as a missionary in Japan for three years. Then God called her and her family to return to the States. She now lives out her calling to serve the nations through missionary support, encouragement, and education.

I Too Am a Foreigner

by Ivy Cheeseman

I’ve been contemplating these thoughts for years, but I’ve been hesitant to share them. Most importantly, I didn’t want to make any unfair comparisons. Unlike some of my foreign friends from other nations, I’ve never fled a house being burned by soldiers. They’ve endured so much trauma, and they can’t return. I, on the other hand, can go back “home” anytime I want.

Neither did I want to be misconstrued as being political. I’m not here to offer political commentary on complex issues such as immigration. As a Christ follower, I live in this place in order to serve others.

And lastly, I have a wonderful network of local friends who have helped me navigate life in Thailand. By highlighting my inner struggles, I didn’t want to discredit the kindness of my Thai neighbors.

But despite all those things, I still feel a connection to other global nomads who are wandering far away from the country of their birth. Some of us have “figured out” life in our host country; most of us are still working on the lifelong process. When I meet a stranger in Thailand who stares at me with a mixture of confusion and suspicion, these are the things I wish I could tell them.

1. In my country, I was once a competent adult.

I don’t know how many times (especially in my first year here) that I’ve stood in the grocery store attempting to read the tiny Thai script on the back of a product. I want desperately to explain to the person next to me that I’m really not stupid. I once understood chemistry and calculus. But right now I need help telling the difference between a bag of flour and powdered sugar. My breakfast of pancakes with maple-flavored syrup (which Thais think reeks of urine) depends on it.

2. My odd habits are shared by millions of unseen others.

I’ve tried to adopt Thai customs that do not conflict with my own religious or personal convictions. But it’s hard to kick the bizarre American within. My Thai friends may never understand why I have a little round machine on my kitchen ceiling whose sole purpose seems to be alerting the neighbors that I burned another batch of popcorn. Once, my husband went outside to explain the beeping sound to a concerned neighbor. He used the wrong tone/verb when explaining the pot of burnt beans, and essentially explained that the reason smoke was billowing out of the kitchen was that he had just lost his virginity. Which leads me to the next point.

3. I’m trying harder than you think to learn your language and culture.

But “picking up” a language as an adult is not as intuitive as I once thought. When I make mistakes and sound like a child, please know I’m trying my best. If you speak clearly and simply, I can probably figure it out. When I revert to hanging out with my English-speaking friends, it’s not because I don’t love your culture. It’s just nice to occasionally have a conversation where I understand 100% of the words. Or to have a listener understand what I mean when I talk about a “Thanksgiving dinner” or “living on a farm” or . . . “a pot of burnt beans.”

4. Not all foreigners are alike.

Southeast Asia attracts many backpackers and long-term residents. Some are lovely. Others get drunk and do extremely offensive and illegal things like taking selfies on top of ancient, sacred structures. I’m terribly sorry for the way foreigners have mistreated this culture and its people. I know I will make many of my own mistakes, but please give me a chance to learn through relationship. I am extremely grateful for my many Thai friends and neighbors who have taken that risk.

Perhaps some of the residents where you live can relate to these sentiments. Foreigners around the globe, regardless of why they live in a land not their own, are real people. When you meet a struggling immigrant face-to-face in Walmart, I see only one Biblical way to respond—with love. If you’re not sure what that looks like, a smile is a good place to start.

So the next time you see a foreigner grappling with your language or culture, think of me, and have compassion for them. With smelly foods, weird customs, and a thick accent to boot, I, too, am a foreigner.

 

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. . . . I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40

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

Ivy and her family have served with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Southeast Asia for the last 10 years. She enjoys hiking, writing, and seeing God’s grace and power shine through the local church.

Why Do We Assume Western Theology is Superior?

by Tamie Davis

When asked about the value of African theology for Western Christians, the late Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako said, “Well, Christianity is thriving where we are, and it’s waning where you are, so maybe there is something that could be helpful to you all.”1 It’s a gracious invitation with a little sting in the tail, reminding us that for all the seminaries and books and libraries in the West, Western churches are still heavily in decline. Bediako’s point was not that book learning or academic rigor are not valuable – on the contrary, he was a significant contributor to both, teaching at universities for a good part of his career. But the perceived theological riches of the West are not mirrored by growth in the church, which might get one asking how shiny they really are.

Theology fuels the church, and it fuels mission. In 1792 when William Carey wrote his famous essay about the use of means, he was responding to a theology in which God’s sovereignty was so great, a Christian’s obligation to share the gospel was effectively removed. Carey deconstructed this theology, arguing that evangelism has always been part of the church’s witness and that using means – like ships to sail to India and money to fund missionaries – was not at odds with God’s sovereignty but rather an outworking of the Great Commission. He was part of the modern Protestant missionary movement, a tradition in which many of us find ourselves today. Theology matters, and it can contribute either to the decline of the church or to its growth.

My aim here is not to critique Western theology or to start laying blame for the decline of the Western church; it’s to ask if we have the humility to listen to theology from the Global South. After all, as we note the growth of the church in Africa, it would make sense to suppose that theology has played a role in it.

I often hear concern from my fellow missionaries about the kind of theology which has fueled this growth. They say things like, “The church in Africa is a mile-wide and an inch-deep.” The assumption is that the kind of growth we are seeing in Africa is like the seeds sown on the rocky soil without strong roots, or the ones that look good to start with but then get choked by the weeds of the world. I hear that Africans, with all their talk of prosperity, do not have a well-developed theology of suffering or perseverance.

And yet, as Marilyn Gardner reminded us recently, the church in the Global South is well-practiced at suffering, whether it be a result of religious persecution or socio-economic circumstance. Knowing what it is to live without safety and security, Africans may have fewer faulty theological assumptions that need to be unpacked than those of us whose lives are more comfortable and less precarious. As my Tanzanian friends assure me that ‘God is able, just pray and have faith,’ I ask them, ‘But what if it doesn’t work out? Is that a sign that my faith is poor or that God is not able?’ And they laugh. They laugh! Because my question seems ludicrous. They say to me, “Tamie, you know God is still God, right?” How’s that for a theological statement!

And theology is carried out in bodies and practice as well. When someone dies in Tanzania, very little attention is given to blame, but for three days or more everyone gathers and just sits together out of sympathy. And these sympathy visits continue well after that period. I was once visiting an older mentor whose husband had just died, when someone else turned up. Her husband had been a church leader, and the visitor was a pastor who had worked under him. This pastor had driven for two days to sit with her in her grief. He listened, and they cried and prayed. It was a couple of hours. Then he ate a meal and drove the two days back the other way. I can only imagine his weariness, but Sunday was coming and he needed to be back with his congregation. Tanzanians may not have a theological answer to ‘why God?’ – it may not be the question they’re asking – but I think they’ve understood a great deal of the compassion and self-giving of God. We must grapple with the fact that these practices are profoundly theological.

The Holy Spirit is clearly at work in Africa, growing Jesus’ church. Why would we think that as he was doing that, he was focused only on numbers or only on endurance? We can recognize the Holy Spirit’s work in growing his church numerically in Africa; why are we so reluctant to think he might be doing it theologically as well? It doesn’t have to look the same as ours to be true, because it’s responding to a different context.

In championing African theology, Bediako did not think that African theology ought to be transplanted into the West. He spoke of African theology and Western theology as “overlapping circles, sharing in their overlaps certain common elements and features, which . . . give them a ‘family’ air.”2 That makes sense: Western and African Christians share a brother and a Father yet contend for their faith and are grown in very different places. Like a family, there are times when we need each other. The song ‘Waymaker’ became a bit of an anthem for 2020, bringing hope in a global pandemic and becoming a prayer for breakthrough as the US grappled with racial violence. It’s an African song, penned and sung by Nigerian worship superstar Sinach. In 2020, it was African theology that people found they needed.

To come back to the digging analogy—for all our depth, it’s possible those of us who’ve dug a mile deep have somehow found water rising around us. If our African sisters and brothers are standing at the top, offering to hoist us out to see the progress they’ve made on their hole and learn from that, wouldn’t that seem like a good idea?

I am not advocating for an uncritical acceptance of African theologies, or any other theology from the Global South. To be sure, some are faulty, just as there are many false teachers in the West. But those of us who ‘live overseas’ are rarely in danger of uncritical acceptance; many of us are here to give, contribute, teach and train. Indeed, we are used to hearing about poverty and famine in Africa, and it’s easy to assume that this is true theologically as well, that somehow all the ‘good theology’ got concentrated in the West like the world’s capital. We may even be told this by local people who are beholden to our greater monetary wealth or who are used to thinking of that which comes from the West as better. But Jesus spoke time and again of how wealth warps theology, and that ought to give those of us from wealthy countries pause about the quality of our own theology.

The kingdom of God is growing in Africa; are we sufficiently poor in spirit to be inheritors of it, together with our African sisters and brothers?

 

References

  1. Quote appears in various places attributed to Kwame Bediako, though the original source is unclear. It can be accessed here.

  2. Bediako, Kwame, “African Theology as a Challenge for Western Theology.” In Christian Identity in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Martin E. Brinkman and Dirk van Keulen, 8:52–67. Studies in Reformed Theology. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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

Tamie Davis lives in Tanzania with her family and is doing a PhD looking at the theology of prosperity of a group of Tanzanian women.

I Used to Laugh at Ghosts

by Katherine Seat

“Aren’t you scared while your husband is away?”

“I’ll lock the door at night, and the windows have bars on them.”

“Locked doors can’t keep out ghosts.”

I don’t think I actually rolled my eyes or laughed out loud, but that was my attitude. In my early years in Cambodia, we lived next to a house full of Christian women training for ministry. When my husband was away, they worried about me. They didn’t seem to believe that I was genuinely unafraid, and I could not understand why they were afraid.

I didn’t know if I believed in ghosts or not. But what I did know was that because of Jesus, I had nothing to fear. I told them that the God of the Bible is stronger than any possible evil spirits, ghosts, or demons. He is the creator of all things, and Jesus has already conquered death. I felt satisfied that I’d given them the right reasons for why they didn’t need to fear.

I’m not the only Australian who gives off vibes of disbelief when Cambodians talk about the spirit world. My Cambodian husband Soeun also faced this attitude. When he was in Australia, he tried to explain some of his childhood to an Australian seminary student. Soeun’s friend was asking him about life in Cambodia. They were talking about all sorts of everyday things like rice, fish, and evil spirits. The conversation was progressing normally until he got to the evil spirits. It was surprising for Soeun when his friend’s tone of voice became incredulous.

“So people see a head floating around?”

His friend thought seeing spirits sounded like a crazy idea.

 

The Chasm
A huge chasm lies between Cambodian and Australian culture. The unseen world is part of life for Cambodians. In Australia, ghosts are more at home in a movie or book. As an Aussie married to a Cambodian, I find myself staring across this huge chasm. Even though I’ve lived in Asia for over ten years, I’m realising I haven’t been taking enough notice of this difference.

It’s unbelievable that people actually believe in evil spirits—that was Soeun’s friend’s response. This view might be typical of Westerners. But zooming out, we see that Westerners are actually the odd ones. Many, maybe most, cultures around the globe have an awareness of the spirit world. And if I understand correctly, throughout history most people also considered the unseen as a regular part of their life, including in Biblical times.

Our Western culture only stopped doing so recently, around 300 years ago during the Enlightenment. Since then we have used science to explain everything. Using science is all I’ve ever known, so I felt surprised to realise I’m in the minority from a worldwide and historical point of view.

 

My Current Life in the Chasm
My family and I only moved to a village a few years ago. We are near an area of historical and spiritual significance, and visible reminders of history are everywhere. We are daily surrounded by the local animism that’s mixed with Hinduism and Buddhism.

My husband keeps noticing that people here live under fear more than anywhere else he has lived in Cambodia. For example, they might not go to a peer’s funeral. Some avoid using their own name in phone calls near temples at night, and we know of one family who moved house within 24 hours in response to a dream.

One day two pythons slithered into our yard. I was surprised that the neighbours didn’t want to kill and eat them. Instead they advised us against capturing the snakes as it would anger the Neak Da (territorial spirits). Pythons are believed to be Neak Da’s pets. To keep ourselves safe, we should have honoured the snakes by spraying perfume on them and letting them go free.

Our neighbours were surprised to see that Soeun isn’t afraid of Neak Da. They know we are Christians, but they did not know that would have any bearing on how we interact with the unseen world. Perhaps their knowledge of Christianity came from foreigners who wouldn’t appear to believe in Neak Da anyway.

As far as we know, there were no other Christians in our immediate area before we moved here. So we were very excited when a few neighbours decided to believe in Jesus. In the days and weeks that followed, some strange things happened. People had dreams. Evil spirits were seen flying around our house. People heard strange noises at night. It looked like the new believers had disturbed the spirit world. It was as though the spirits weren’t happy. They had had the place to themselves, and now some people had ruined it by following Jesus.

We, along with our prayer supporters in Australia, had been praying for our neighbours. I couldn’t wait to write a newsletter and tell them the good news! But when I went to write the newsletter, another strange thing happened. I found myself staring across that chasm again. Talking about flying heads had seemed so matter-of-fact when I was talking to my husband. But when I imagined Australians reading about it, it seemed crazy. I toned the news right down so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable seeing the chasm.

 

Living Under Fear
Something else has happened since we moved to the village: my mental health has become worse. Not only do the locals here live under more fear than in other places, I do too. It could be a coincidence, of course, and some might say it’s related to the spirit world. I do know that from a scientific understanding, my brain is tricking me into feeling fear when the rational part of my brain knows there is nothing to fear.

A counsellor explained to me that those fears are actually my brain reliving feelings that I’ve had in the past. The “smoke detector” part of my brain is supposed to alert me when there is danger. But mine is sending danger signals even when I am safe. It’s a post-trauma response from events that transpired a decade ago. Somehow it has come to the forefront of our lives since we moved here four years ago.

Psychology has helped me learn about how my brain works, and this awareness has been so helpful. And hearing and reading God’s word is a constant part of my life. But for me in this season, those things have only reached the rational part of my brain. I know the correct answers, but I still feel stranded in yesterday, always in danger.

The right answers haven’t brought me relief from the recurring dread. The only thing that makes me feel safe is God’s people —praying friends and pastors who seem to represent the presence of God.

It makes me think back to the right reasons I gave my concerned neighbours. Did it really help them as I had thought it would?

 

Learning to Listen to the People We Serve
When my family moved into a fearful neighbourhood, I began to experience my own fear. It has debilitated me in some ways, and it definitely makes life harder. But it also helps me to understand the people around me.

I now have some experience of what it is like to live with fear. When I see the people around me changing their behaviour according to the unseen, my thoughts and feelings are totally different from when I saw it in my earlier years. The intensity of their emotions can’t simply be dismissed or argued away.

Locals live with the fear of the spirit world. If I want to have deep connections with them, I need to be aware of what it is like for them to live with evils spirits as a real part of their everyday life. When we minister to people in situations like these, we must have an awareness of their needs and worldview.

For many of us from the West, our church traditions are heavy on studying the Bible with a focus on rational thinking. Sometimes a truth might be applied to correct our thinking, when in fact it’s not a “thinking” issue. While correct thinking is vital, we sometimes miss the role that emotions play in our life with God.

All of this makes me wonder if an emphasis on cognition hinders our ministry to those from the Global South? My husband’s Australian friend just totally dismissed the whole idea as being crazy. If he had wanted to show respect and build rapport with Soeun, he would have needed to take the ideas seriously.

I made the same mistake. I thought I was taking it seriously. I didn’t completely dismiss my neighbours’ fear of ghosts; I explained why we don’t need to fear them. But just because I know different worldviews exist doesn’t mean my “right” answer will fix people’s problems. Curiosity and compassion are a better first response. We should listen before we speak. This is easier said than done, of course. Dismissing an idea because it sounds crazy, or thinking that you have the answer to something you barely understand will be counterproductive to sharing God’s good news.

My own struggle with fear has led me to re-evaluate my response to the neighbour women who were so concerned about my safety. I now regret that I gave them the right answer of why they shouldn’t fear, without stopping to realise that they were afraid. Now I know that even if I have the right answer to counter my own fear, it’s possible to still feel afraid. I know what it’s like to have people try to help me without acknowledging my fear. When that happens, their help feels more like harm.

My prayer is that the next time I’m faced with concerned neighbours, I will seek to connect with them emotionally rather than thinking I can quickly correct their thinking with an out of context Bible verse.

I pray I will stop to listen and seek to understand the other person’s perspective first.

I pray I remember that God was here long before me.

I will pause and ask, “What is God already doing in this person’s life, and can I join in?” rather than “How can I fix this?”

I pray these things for the sake of his Holy Name. Amen.

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

Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher.

I’m Not the Same Person Anymore

by Krista Horn

I’ve known for a long time that living overseas has changed me. Of course it has.  But the extent to which it has shaped me – how I think about the world, how I interpret Scripture, how I relate to others – is most obvious when I return to my passport country.

We returned to America six months ago for a Home Assignment, and I have routinely discovered ways in which living overseas has changed me. There are relatively small, insignificant changes like the fact that I now prefer to drink water from the tap instead of a filter simply because the ability to drink clean water straight from the tap feels like a magical experience. But there are also big, significant changes like how we choose to spend our money and how we interpret media.

My expression of my faith has also been impacted by living overseas. For example, while I appreciate the ease with which I can worship in America – the familiar songs, a recognizable worship style, blending into a crowd – I’ve found myself longing for the chance to work at worshipping again. It takes mental energy to sing in a foreign language and translate words in my head, and it requires extra physical stamina to stand for such a long time in a Kenyan worship service. I have to work at worshipping with my Kenyan brothers and sisters, and a unique blessing comes with that. Sometimes my worship experience in America feels incomplete without expending extra energy to participate in it.

My prayer life has been impacted too. As someone who lives outside my passport country, I’ve gained an increased awareness of the rest of the world, and I pray for people and places that weren’t on my radar before I moved overseas. I also know how encouraging it is to be someone living in a foreign country who is the recipient of prayers of people on the other side of the globe. Those prayers are meaningful and helpful, and I’ve chosen to be a person who also prays for others around the world.

I can pray for others around the world because I now think of others around the world much more often than I used to. I can’t have a conversation in America about Covid or church or the school system without also thinking of how these topics are affecting people in other places. When people discuss the healthcare system, I can’t help but think of the Kenyan healthcare system we work with, as well as those in surrounding countries where our medical residents hail from (and plan to return to when they graduate).

When someone mentions travel, I not only think about travel within the United States, but also about travel in Europe and the Middle East, which directly impacts what route we can take back to Africa. When climate change and the environment are brought up, I recall the plague of locusts in our region and the droughts that have persisted in our host country. I can’t help but think of people outside the American context. My life overseas has expanded my previous worldview and shrunk my sense of self, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I’ve also been humbled to realize that any amount of time spent overseas has the power to change a person, not just living overseas full-time. Recently I met someone who served overseas for six months and was forever changed by it. I am nearing six years of living overseas, and I have been forever changed by it. And I know people who spent six days overseas and were forever changed by it. I was reminded of this when a woman at church approached us and said she wanted to financially support our ministry because she had been on some short-term missions trips that changed her. She has been involved with missions ever since, including supporting long-term folks like us.

No matter how long you’ve spent overseas, it has the power to change you. It can make you rethink your preconceived notions. It can make you practice your faith in new ways. It can make you care about people and places you knew little about before. It can expand your worldview and shrink your sense of self.

And quite frankly, those sound like good changes to me.

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

Krista Horn married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. They have lived and worked at a mission hospital in Kenya since 2016. While her husband is busy on the wards, Krista stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field. When she’s not homeschooling or cooking from scratch or helping her boys search for chameleons, she loves to curl up with a book and eat chocolate from her secret stash. Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

The Hope of Christmas

by Krista Besselman

Author’s Note: I wrote this poem for my 2020 Christmas newsletter. This year it feels like people need it even more.

When the days feel cold and lifeless,
Like the darkest winter night,
May we bring the hope of Christmas
To a world that needs more light.

When it feels like nothing’s sacred—
Nothing chaos can’t destroy—
May we bring the hope of Christmas
To a world that’s lost its joy.

To a world that thrives on outrage—
No forgiveness, no release—
May we bring the hope of Christmas
Through the promised Prince of Peace.

There is fear and death and darkness
But through faith we rise above
As we show the Christ of Christmas
To a world that needs His love.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Krista found a heart for missions accounting in Papua New Guinea and still uses what she learned in her seven years there to support Bible translation from Texas. She writes poetry to process the ups, downs, and outright crises of life. Her favorite poems call herself–and others–to remember God’s faithfulness in every situation.

Between Christmases

by Katherine Seat

Streams of uniformed children walked into school, trampling on the scattered grey snow. As I watched from my window, I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was all wrong and weird.

I knew well ahead of time that Christmas is not a public holiday in China, but I still felt surprised. School and cold weather should not be present on December 25th.

Christmas to me meant the end of the school year and the beginning of summer holidays. That was all I’d known, my entire Australian childhood. It was for family, church, and water fights.

“We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between.” –Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds

The author was writing about her experience as a child growing up overseas.  She spent her formative years outside her passport county. I can also relate to it as an adult living overseas. I spent my formative years in my passport country, but most of my adult life I’ve lived outside it.

Before I visited China and then moved to Cambodia in my 20s, I was comfortable in Australia at Christmas. That was all I knew growing up. It surprised me that banks were open on December 25th, even though I had known that would be so.

But I would not be comfortable in Australia now, as most of my adult life I have been in Asia. I don’t think I know how to be an adult in Australia or what one would be expected to do at Christmas. But I know there are expectations as people plan weeks or even months ahead.

I was uncomfortable in Asia, but now I’m a lot more comfortable. The feeling of school and cool weather being wrong is long gone. In fact, I appreciate the cooler weather.

At first it didn’t feel like Christmas without Christmas trees and gift exchanges. But now I don’t feel that way. Some years if I have energy, I do trees and gifts — but if not that’s fine.

Christmas trees and Santa Clauses are now visible and available where I live. This wasn’t the case in northern China 20 years ago when I had my first overseas Christmas. Both Asia and I have changed.

Now I’m most comfortable between worlds. Not in Australia where Christmas is such a big deal, and yet also not going about my usual work day in Asia either.

So what are my Christmases like in this season of life? I still think of December 25th as a holiday. I feel like it is the right day to celebrate Christmas, even though I don’t believe there is anything spiritual about that date.

We join the local church to celebrate Christmas. It never feels like a proper Christmas to me because they have it on a Sunday. Local churches choose any Sunday in December or January to celebrate Christmas. It’s usually a big, noisy affair and includes a nativity play and meal. It’s an amazing display of God’s gift to us, the biggest time of the year for the young church in a Buddhist nation.

In Australia we have a church service on December 25th no matter what day of the week Christmas falls on.

So far I have been able to take December 25th off every year; I know this is not the case for many. There was one close call when I was helping at a school, but luckily I had dengue fever so I stayed home anyway.

My husband and I didn’t have a tradition of doing presents. Since our children have been old enough to know what’s going on, they have decided they need presents!

Our favourite way to spend December 25th is having a quiet day at home. I usually buy special food. Something delicious that is easy to prepare, often something foreign that we don’t eat on a normal day.

Some years we get together with other expats for a meal, sometimes not. I love that we can make a big deal of it if we want to, but if we are feeling like a low-key day, we have freedom to do that too.

What about you, O fellow expat or repat? What are your Christmases like? And how are you feeling about this Christmas?

Are you excited to be able to choose your favourite Christmas traditions and adapt? It could be an opportunity to create your own Jesus-focused fusion of cultures.

Or maybe you are dreading being in a place where you’re away from family and there are no signs of Christmas? It might not even feel like Christmas at all.

Or are you missing that expat friend whom you used to do Christmas with? Life hasn’t been the same since they moved back to their passport country.

And if you are back in your passport country, you might also have mixed emotions.

Maybe you are looking forward to finally having a proper Christmas? You’ll have it with the right people and the right weather.

Or are you dreading the first in-person family Christmas since the death of a loved one?

Or perhaps feeling overwhelmed at the commercialism and obligations?

Maybe the church in your passport country seems so different to how you remember it? Perhaps it feels Christmas time would be more meaningful with people from around the world?

I don’t know if you will be in a world that is comfortable to you or not this Christmas. Whichever it is, I hope you can still celebrate that the maker of the universe entered our world.

The light of life among us dwells
Oh, hear the darkness quake
as angels all proclaim
The glory of Immanuel!

 

(Lyrics from “Maker, Made A Child,” by Abi Marthinet-Glover, Alanna Glover, and Jake Marthinet-Glover. Emu Music, copyright 2020.)

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Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher.