Help Us! Interview Your Local Friends

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So we think one of the greatest problems which we as a community can make when we talk about international missions is to only include voices from, well, white faces. This is why several months ago we introduced a feature here at A Life Overseas called Voice of the National. It was the idea that we wanted to hear from the people we were serving, with humility that we, as expats, have much to learn from them. Richelle from Africa posted a beautiful interview with a local friend which you should totally read here, and which encapsulates the hope for this feature on the blog.

And this is where you come in.

We’d like to hear from the locals in your neck of the woods. Would you consider asking one or all of the following three questions to a local friend or coworker or church member? Record their answers– DON’T edit them!– and email them to us. We’ll be collecting them and producing a post with all of their responses together from all around the world. It should make for a fascinating read to all of us as we hear from locals who live alongside foreign aid workers in their countries. Here are the three questions– ask one or two or all.

Questions to Ask Your Local Friend

1 What do foreign missionaries do well? How have they helped your country?

2. How could foreign missionaries better serve your country and people?

3. What is your dream for your country?

That’s it! You don’t have to quote their answers per se, if that makes it awkward, just shoot us the summaries as you can best remember. Of course, if you’d like to take actual notes on their answers, that would be great, too! Send your answers with “Voice of the National” in the subject line of the email to:  alifeoverseas@gmail.com. Be sure to include your name, where you are living, and what your relationship is with the person you interviewed. Please give first names only (and if they want to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too.) Of course, please get their permission to share their answers online with the community, as well.

Responses need to be completed and sent in by OCTOBER 22. We’ll put together a fabulous post by the end of the month!

Thanks for your participation in this project! We are hopeful about what we can all learn when we take a moment to stop and intentionally listen to the amazing people we all work alongside. 

Something, perhaps, many of us need to do more regularly.

Laura Parker, Co-Editor/Founder

The Changing Face of Missions (In Which the U.S. Falls Behind)

An article in Christianity Today [1] recently commented on the hefty June 2013 report, “Christianity in its Global Context”. [2] The particular aspect of the Global Context report that Melissa Steffen chose to focus on is revealed by her article’s lengthy title, “The Surprising Countries Most Missionaries Are Sent From And Go To.’
I won’t reproduce Melissa’s ‘gleanings’ here but encourage you to go read her article if you’re interested [1]. Suffice it to say the results of the Global Context report are very telling with regard to the nations that are currently sending “missionaries” into the world. The USA still sends the most missionaries into the world, but when you look at it proportionately, against the number of church-going Christians in the sending nation, PALESTINE leads the bunch followed by Ireland, Malta and my near neighbor Samoa. The USA comes in 9th according to these ‘handicaps’. Of course, there are other ways to spin the data; missionaries per capita for instance would yield different results again.
Jay with Colleagues
Recently I was at a breakfast meeting with fellow mission leaders when one made a comment that Brazil was the largest sender of missionaries nowadays. I almost choked on my passionfruit pancakes. Before I had time to respond, the conversation had moved on so I just dismissed the comment as erroneous. That same morning a good friend and colleague from Brazil, a missionary in Kolkata India, sent me the link to Melissa Steffen’s article. God was obviously humbling me – happens often. In terms of total missionaries, Brazil is indeed up there, second only to the USA, with 34,000 missionaries being sent at the time the research was undertaken (2010).
In 2002 Philip Jenkins [3] stated the obvious to his largely non-Christian readership: the center of gravity for global Christianity has shifted. He wrote, “Soon, the phrase ‘a white Christian’ may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as ‘a Swedish Buddhist’.” Mission statistician and strategist, Patrick Johnston [4] more recently observed, “The globalization of the mission force… is an unprecedented phenomenon.” and notes that, “from 1980 onwards the massive increase in missions was in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and especially Asia.”
 
It seems the face of missions is rapidly changing along with the changing context(s) of Christianity.
Have you experienced this first hand? I have. I prepare Kiwis (New Zealanders) to work alongside a vast variety cultures in mission and development work. I also now routinely work with colleagues from many nationalities in my international roles.
 
Not so long ago you all you needed was a modicum of cultural sensitivity to engage cross-cultural work, now it’s essential to have a high level of “inter-cultural competence”. This competence is becoming more commonly known as CQ (Cultural Intelligence). David Livermore [5] is focusing on this growing subject in mission.
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Does this surprise you that the United States ranks ninth in terms of sent missionaries?  And that Palestine ranks first?  How does this reality of a higher number of various cultures serving as missionaries affect your own work? 
Jay Matenga– Jay Matenga is based in New Zealand and has over 20 years experience as a reflective practitioner of mission mobilization.
Work: http://pioneers.org.nz & World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission Mobilization Taskforce.
Footnotes & links:
3. Jenkins, P. (2002). The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
4. The Future Of The Global Church: InterVarsity Press/Authentic Media/GMI, 2011
Photo above is Jay recently in Thailand with mission colleagues from Egypt, China, Peru and Brazil.

Carrying Water

Today’s guest post comes from Tamara White, former domestic missionary, current international consultant and therapist.

Tamara White Carrying WaterWhen I was in Haiti, high up in a mountain village, I was greeted every morning by a little girl who carried water for her family. The container was as big as her torso, perched perfectly on her sweet head. It seemed too heavy for such a tiny girl and I mentioned this to the pastor’s wife. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we’d like for everyone to have accessible water but really, it’s good for the children to carry water. It is the least of their battles.’ She, of course, was right. I was there to teach about PTSD but during my stay I was informed about their battles for education, gender equality, food insecurity, and opportunity.

‘Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ Plato

That was my mantra as I dove into inner-city ministry twenty years earlier. There were fun battles. Walking through a foot of snow to the latest ‘hole in a wall’ food haunt with friends. Teaching the Sunday School lesson from on top of the classroom table with some nice hip hop moves for ‘Moses’ and, my favorite – being ornery late at night and blaring Luciano Pavarotti into my Tupac driven neighborhood. And, there were dark battles. Perplexing injustice and violence, exhausting vigilance for safety, and the loneliness of pouring myself into others when I was still becoming whoever ‘I’ was. But there was something even more destructive that was leaving my soul ragged and orphaned. Depression and anxiety.

I attended small groups with other twenty somethings living in the city. I probably looked like I connected but internally, I felt void and unmoved always feeling like I was looking in. In staff and community meetings I was robust in debate but would give a big sigh as I crawled into bed feeling a mere shadow of my former self. The only time I truly felt myself was when I sang. I’ve always sang and performed but during those years, I loved worship because I felt alive, like my inner and outer being had finally merged for those few moments.

I remember helping some friends from the Jesus People apartment out of their car. We were talking about simple things. Familiar things. I was ‘spirited’ in my share of the conversation. As the wife gathered her belongings from the back seat her husband looked at me over the top of the car and said, ‘you know, Tam, it is okay to be angry.’ Me, a sweet Kansas girl happy to serve and eager to go that extra mile, angry? Shortly after that conversation one of the young women in our ministry told me, matter of factly, that I was just ‘not real.’ No one had ever said something like that to me. I was the one people sought out not dismissed.

Those two interchanges were simple, almost benign, but enough observation to slice into my façade. I was angry. And, I was submerged, not real and not accessible. I didn’t have a clue what that meant or how to deal with it so I did what any reasonable person would do and had a breakdown and left. It would not be the last time I would slowly, imperceptibly, fade away, and fall apart.

That was before I made frenemies with my nemesis. Before the devastating symptoms there are alarming whispers and I’ve learned to lean in and listen but, mostly, I’ve learned to care for myself. To those who are also the prey of depression and anxiety, this may mirror your own effort to be present instead of being submerged and fighting to breathe. Often and sadly, as a leader, or missionary, or, ‘person of repute’ as my mother would say – you do not get to be depressed or anxious. Which means you are a fool or crazy or, the very worst – needy.

After numerous battles fought, with some won but many lost, I decided that my truest offering might be to merge my 20 years of experience in ministry with the artful ministry of the soul – counseling. I know from experience that the demands of ministry, particularly in impoverished and vulnerable communities, can ‘out-crisis’ my crisis any day leaving me to silently fade and flat line. In combination, I know how vapid and confusing it can be, when faced with the challenge of serving in communities with a prevalence of trauma and consequential mental health decay, all while trying to honor culture and expressed felt needs. But my offer to you would be through my new mantra:

“Living well and beautifully and justly is ALL one thing.” Socrates

When I am not congruent in mind, body and soul, when I do not indulge in beauty and creating beauty, then justice seeking is really a mirage of intention. The Gospel tells me that I am free to float to the top, to engage, to wonder aloud about all these pains and to live in kindness because my battle matters too.

After becoming acquainted with the battles of the people in that mountain village in Haiti, what was it then that unnerved me about that tiny, little girl carrying water on her head every day? Quite simply, it was because it said, ‘I am in need.’ It was Christ, at high noon, asking for a cup from the shamed woman at the well. I get to share a cup of water with Christ when I admit, ‘I am in need.’ And when we all gather at the well, the water just might turn to wine. It’s most often not our choice what we get to carry in life, whether it is water or depression or injustice. The real battle is to be present, flatfooted and standing in our space in this world. I don’t allow my battles to remove me from my life anymore. I carry them, on my head if I have to, so I can live well and beautifully and justly. And that is kindness.

What hidden battles do you carry? What would it cost you to carry them on your head for all to see?

Tamara White, MA, NCC – Ministry: www.zoeroots.com  Practice: www.zoecounsel.com

Tamara WhiteTamara has over 20 years experience in urban, international, and diverse populations serving complex situations of individuals, teens and families in crisis. She founded and directed two nonprofit organizations in Chicago and Denver serving homeless families, teens, gang members and single mothers, with a focus on addictions, attachment, trauma and life skills.   An undergrad student of theology, organizational development, and communications she holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Her areas of expertise are trauma and PTSD, addictions, pre/post adoption, therapeutic parenting and attachment, grief and loss and, of course, depression and anxiety. Tamara is a single, adoptive mother who resides in Colorado with her children who amuse her, pets who shed, and friends who make her laugh.

From Africa to Asia, a Transitional Interview

Sarah Witt FamilyAfter eight years of service in Botswana, Sarah and Kevin Witt felt a stirring in their hearts. They began to pray about the next step. With two small children and one on the way they chose to leave comfort and a semblance of normalcy in Africa for the unknown awaiting them in Asia.

If you are just starting out, or you have lost count of how many times you have uprooted, hopefully this interview with Sarah will help you feel not so alone during your own times of transition.

After 8 years in Africa you recently decided to move to Asia. What spurred that decision?

I am not sure we ever really had a time table in our heads, to begin with. As the years passed the thought of leaving became more and more distant as Botswana became our home and our lives.

Quite honestly, some of the decision to make a change came from a conflict with leadership.  The conflict was quickly resolved and the relationship still was strong, but it caused us to look a little deeper.  When we did, we realized we were too comfortable and just moving to the rhythm of life.  We were accomplishing things, but not growing like we wanted.  We both knew we needed to be open to the changes that the Lord was making.  It would have been easy to continue to stay in Botswana and ignore what He was trying to say to us, but we both knew in our hearts that wasn’t what we needed to do.  We decided to put in our resignation before we even knew where the Lord was going to send us next.

Our hearts have always been in Africa, so naturally we figured our next assignment would be within in Africa.  When our friend suggested we come and check out the Philippines, we almost laughed.  “No way, we’re Africa missionaries!”  Kevin went and visited. Shortly thereafter we determined that was indeed where the Lord was calling us.

Elephants are a big thing in Botswana!!!As a missionary in a time of a major transition what is your greatest challenge?

I was very comfortable, after eight years in Botswana, getting around the town and knowing where things were at and how to access materials and supplies.

Arriving in the Philippines meant starting over in every aspect.  Not only in establishing our home, but also starting the process of learning to just “live” in a new country and place.  It’s almost like I felt like I was a new missionary all over again and that my previous 8 years of service never happened! Learning a new culture and a new place and how to get resources has really been my entire life since arriving.

Also, just the sheer fact that it’s a totally different continent with different faces and places creates some culture shock. We are learning a different culture, and how to live in a big, crowded city, versus the African bush!

What advice would you give to someone considering a huge change in their life?

Lots and lots of prayer and most of all grace!  It’s hard to take a step of faith and change directions after being in one place for so long.  I don’t know that I have it figured out, but I do know that I tend to be hard on myself.  I think I expected to just jump in and know what to do.  I am learning to take it slow, build a supportive home for my family and children, and learn this new place as I go.

Pray through it and give yourself the grace to make mistakes along the way, it’s part of the journey.

Be open to other areas of ministry, not just the ones that you originally thought you would be a part of.

Sarah Witt PhilippinesIn what ways is your life in Asia similar to your life in Africa?

I’ve discovered wherever you go in the world people still need Jesus.  I know, that sounds cliché right?  Really though, the needs don’t change, there are just different looking faces behind those needs.  Kids here are still begging in the streets and needing stable homes.  There are a lot of cultural roots that run deep into the hearts of religion here just as there is in Africa.  Their traditions are very much a part of who they are and both are very rich and colorful.

What adjustments have you had to make since you arrived in the Philippines? 

I had no idea really what to expect. I moved here sight unseen as Kevin was the one who “scouted”.  In some ways, I think it was a blessing as I am not sure I would have ever agreed to move here!  With Africa, it was about the rawness and beauty of the place.  With the Philippines, it really has been the people who have drawn us in.  They practice hospitality as though it’s second nature.   I think it’s hard for us to not compare the two places and there are for sure pro’s and con’s to each country of service, but we are learning to be present in where the Lord has us for the “now”.  It’s easy to keep one foot back in a place that you love and considered “home” when you’re not really sure if this place will ever really feel like the home you once had before.  I am trying not to do that, as I want both my feet solid in this place, so that I can learn as much from them as I did the Africans.

Since we are serving independently, we have to be pretty focused and purposeful about our ministry and how we go about it.  Our first year is really committed to learning as much of the language and culture as possible.  We have a few things planned, but aside from that, we’re just learning what the country needs and how we can help.  It’s hard because we’re so used to “doing” and not sitting still. But there is something quite wonderful about taking the time to really get to know people and settle in.

As the mom, my ministry focus is our children and home schooling… something I never thought I would do.  At times I miss those days of functioning 100% as a missionary, but I love that my children are my ministry right now. As our children get a bit older, we’ll incorporate them into our ministry so we can give them a good world view and missions experience.

Sarah Witt HeadshotAdditional thoughts regarding transition?

Give yourself lots of grace.  I am learning that now.  Don’t expect to come in and fall right into place and for everything to work out exactly like you think it will.  Remain open to God’s plans and timetable.  I am learning to enjoy the adventure in the small things that are normal.  Taking time to really look around and see people and things instead of trying to always figure out what I should be doing. I think as missionaries sometimes we’re really hard on ourselves and as one who raises support as well, we feel we have to be “doing” to show our supporters.  It’s true, we do, but sometimes just the daily normal things produce the most ministry.

– You can find Sarah on facebook and on her blog

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In what ways can you relate to Sarah? Has comfort led to complacency in your life? How do you decide if / when it is time to change things up?

Boxing Match. with God.

I feel like we’re in an epic boxing match with God right now.

And he’s the one most definitely winning.

It’s as if we’re stuck living a bad version of Groundhog Day, the cycle of hope and disappointment playing out in a thousand different scenarios.

It goes a bit like this:

  1. We think God is moving in an area or situation. Circumstances shift to underscore this possibility. And, so . . .

  2. We pray. We get excited. We begin to think, “This is it–the realization of the Dream, the purpose for our lives, the plan God’s been orchestrating all along.”

  3. We taste hope and get drunk with it–  in finances or career, ministry, business, or relationship.

  4. The anticipation rises and gloriously carries us for a few days, until

  5. WHAM! Knock-down, drag-out, smack-down. The opportunity wasn’t at all what we thought. The position got given to someone else. Another donor had to drop us, oh, and the air conditioner just broke. The magazine didn’t like my writing. The ministry already has enough help. The business idea didn’t make any money, after all.  A well-meaning soul hands out gut-punching criticism.

And just like that, we deflate. Hope gets the wind knocked out of her, and we find ourselves on the mat, head spinning and nose bloody, wondering what in the world just happened to our dreams.

But, there’s still some fight left in us, we tell ourselves– at the beginning, at least.  There’s still some fight left.

And, so, we regather. We shake our heads and stand back to our feet, positive that that last experience wasn’t really “it,” anyway, and that God needed to make us stronger with that one, in order to give us this next one. 

But, in the sport of boxing, a fighter only has to taste three knockdowns before the match is called a TKO.  A body and a brain can only be pummeled so much, I guess.

Trouble is, it feels like suffering only three would be a vacation– an experience similar to lounging on the beach sipping little drinks with umbrellas.

Because what we are learning about this cycle we find ourselves spinning in

of hope, expectation, disappointment, and discouragement,

is that it can eventually begin to affect an outlook, a personality, a trust, a person’s ability to hope in the first place.

Because, really, how many times can a fighter get back up?

How. many. times?

Apparently, at least one more.

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Fighting anything lately yourself?

Related Posts: on Feeling Hammered {video of my kid battling waves}, on Depression, on Culture Shock/Culture Pain

 

*from the archives of Laura L. Parker, former aid worker in SE Asia

The F Word

The end of the school year brings loads of changes, some nearly universal and some unique to people with international identities. Julie Martinez, working and writing in Cambodia shares a personal story and the hopes of a family and a son in transition.

Freaked out.  Frustrated.  Fear.  Failure.  These are some of the F words that we have been slinging around the house lately.  We have also been slinging around the F word Frittata, but that is a different story.  We are in the process of transition and it is creating moments of drama and tension.  My son who was born in Honduras and has lived in five different countries is now returning to America to attend university and emotions are running high.

This is a boy who has grown up in airports.  He can navigate any airport anywhere.  From the time that he was 3 months old he has been a flying across the world. I am afraid that when he remembers his childhood he will tell stories of terrible airplane food and rushing through airport gates laden with carry-ons.  Or will he talk about a lifetime of good-byes?  Of constantly downsizing our lives to fit into two suitcases?

This is a boy who has lived an unconventional life.

Tanzania 01-2005 057He knows how to barter in local markets like an Arab trader.  He can hop on a motorcycle fearlessly and navigate unknown roads in third world countries.  He is unique.  He has been chased by elephants; climbed volcanoes; and has stood where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.  He has seen the world and much of it on the road less traveled and all before he was 18.

 

So, how does he transition to the USA?  How does he navigate the world of fraternities, finals, football, fast food, and other Americanisms?  My son is a third culture kid which means he is not fully American nor has he taken on the culture of his host country.  He has created a third culture—a culture unique to him.  He travels to America as a hidden immigrant.  One who speaks the language – looks the part – but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.

He knows this and he is fearful—fearful of failure and is freaked out.  His F word is Fear.  Fear is paralyzing, sends people into tailspins.  Fear is seemingly depriving him of oxygen and causing him to make questionable decisions.  My F word, on the other hand, is frustration.  I am frustrated because I can’t help him and truthfully, he won’t let me which also frustrates me.  He will be 18 soon and naturally wants to navigate life on his own.  And the reality is I can’t fully help him—he sees the world through a different lens than I do and he is going to have to figure it out. IMG_1799

Living overseas is wonderful, but there are prices to be paid and they are paid by all.  God calls us and He equips us . . . but there are aspects of this cross-cultural life that aren’t easy nor are there easy answers.  I wish I could wrap up this post with a three-fold solution.  There isn’t one.  The only thing that I can offer is that maybe it is time for a different word.  Not an F word, but a G word and that is grace.  That God will cover my son in His grace and that God in His grace and mercy will lead him and that His grace will carry him in the hard places and through the mistakes and the hard-times that are inevitable.

What kinds of G words carry you through your F seasons? In other words, we would love to hear how grace meets you in weakness and uncertainty.

Julie T. Martinez, Development Director N. Cambodia

People For Care & Learning, follow her blog at People for Care

And the Winner Is . . .

We so enjoyed watching 176 votes/comments come in for the international photo contest we ran last week. We asked you to submit your favorite pictures representing “The Face of My Nation,” and we were stunned by the captions and beauty you highlighted from the people you live among around the world.  And now, without further ado– the winners.

Our first place winner, with over 80 votes, is Rob from Haiti with the following photo and caption:

 ”To the very last pixel, this photo of Michel represents the tenacity, determined resilience, and spirit of the Haitian people.”

haiti

And our second place winner is from Bill and Tammy in Tanzania 

“Pure Love Between Sisters.”

This and That 057

 

Congratulations to Rob and to Bill and Tammy! Our first place winner will receive a $25 giftcard to Amazon, and our second place winner will get a free downloadable version of the novel, Love at the Speed of Email, authored by our own Lisa McKay.

Thanks to all who voted and submitted photos. We will occasionally be hosting these community events more in the future, and what a good reminder this one was of the gift it is to live among and learn from international people groups. 

Laura Parker, for the editorial team

Photo Contest: The Face of My Nation

We were so thrilled to have had so many wonderful submissions for our internationally-flavored photo contest from readers last week. The theme was Face of My Nation, and I think you’ll agree that these pictures paint beautifully the people that our community here at A Life Overseas is blessed to interact with daily.

Here’s how the contest will work: Look at the photos and choose your favorite. Comment the NUMBER of the photo in the comment section. You can vote more than once, but only once per day. Voting will end Saturday night, EST,at 9 pm. We will tally the comments , and winners will be announced next Sunday, June 16th. We will be giving away a $25 gift card from Amazon, and we have a few other surprises up our sleeves for winners, as well.

Obviously, please like and share this post to stimulate more voting. And, again, thanks to all who participated! We’re sure you will enjoy the following as much as we did, as they are beautiful reminders of the gift living overseas truly is.

– The Editorial Team, Laura, Angie and Rachel

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ONE. From Rob in Haiti.

 “To the very last pixel, this photo of Michel represents the tenacity, determined resilience, and spirit of the Haitian people.”

haiti

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TWO. From Cydil in Albania

 “Though mostly blind, when this Muslim man recognizes me, out of love and respect for my father, he takes his hat off and taps it on my head five times in some sort of blessing.”

albania

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THREE. From Mika in Uganda

“I was distracted on a recent Sunday morning by these boys who couldn’t decided if it was more interesting to continue playing in the rain or to commit to actually joining the church service.”

boys and rain

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FOUR. From Alyssa in Mexico.

“This captures the life that ignites within the children and people of Rocky Point, Mexico when others spend a little time simply playing.”

mexicomissionaries

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FIVE. Mary Kay from Ghana.

“Helen is the face of the future of Ghana as she fetches safe water to drink for the first time from her village’s new borehole.”

Helen gets water from well

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SIX. Bill and Tammy from Tanzania 

Pure Love Between Sisters.

This and That 057

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SEVEN. From Michelle in Senegal.

“Beautiful girls waiting for their religious lesson.”

girlsmissions

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EIGHT. From Joel in Asia-Pacific

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few . . .”

JWilliamson

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That’s it! Thanks again to all of our contestants. We so enjoyed seeing photos from literally all around the world! Remember voting will end Saturday, June 15th. To vote, simply leave a comment with ONE number– the number of the photo you liked most whether because of subject, caption, or quality of photography. You can vote more than once, but only once per day. Please feel free to share this post, as well, to encourage more voting. Thanks, friends!

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To Love Two Places

Heidi and her husband are overseas newbies. They moved to Kenya in October, 2012, to capture the stories and images of the people and work across Africa. Her story of loss and gains is a poignantly beautiful look at the early days. Some Life Overseas readers are looking forward to those days, some are looking back on them, and some are smack in the middle of them.

EagleFlyingIt’s been nine months now since the airplane’s wheels lifted off of our beloved Minnesota soil and I felt arrows of sorrow shoot through my chest. My heart was already heavy, burdened with the faces of goodbye, and I struggled to swallow as the mighty Mississippi River shrank into a ribbon and then disappeared behind a cloud.

And that was just the beginning of the heart pains.

Eight months ago, I took off my wedding ring and hid it away, because I didn’t want the streets of Nairobi to steal it from me. But my finger’s nakedness is still stark and shrill.

For three months, we rode matatus, those reckless, necessary public transit vans that added color and anxiety to our days. But despite the sunburns, blisters, and tears, we grew. We learned how to walk the streets like everybody else, we started to recognize the people we passed each morning, and we gained camaraderie with our fellow vehicle-less man. We started to belong.

Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.
Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.

Now that we found a car and have settled into a sensible routine, the pain comes in a different way. The kite bird that caws like a seagull reminds me of our favorite vacation spot on the shore of Lake Superior. The still, warm evenings fill me with the longing to have a bonfire in a backyard covered with crackly leaves. And the road that circles our neighborhood ­­­­and serves as our nightly walking path makes me wish that the football field in the middle was a lake teeming with goslings and that my best friend was chatting beside me.

This homesickness sneaks up on me, startles me. And leaves me wondering why. Why now? We spent two years of our married life looking forward to our move to Kenya, and now that we’re here, we can’t stop gazing backwards.

It’s a fine art, I’m realizing, to live in the present moment, to take each heart pain as it comes and pray that it won’t last long. Or that it will bring us one step closer to calling this new, lakeless city home.

This afternoon, as we sit on our doorstep beneath our avocado tree with our Kenyan mutt nuzzling us for more attention, I feel my heart beginning to open, to sense that I am splitting in half. It comforts me and it scares me, because to love two places will be dangerous.

But it will also be beautiful.

How do you handle a split heart? What are the things you miss the most about your home country? What will you miss about your host country?

Me (1)

       Heidi Thulin, missionary writer in Nairobi, Kenya

blog: Thulins in Africa  ministry: On-Field Media 

“This is My Fate” A Lesson in Cultural Humility

As soon as the angry words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I was speaking to Rehmet, the woman who helped me care for my kids and my home.

She was a Punjabi woman, uneducated, illiterate, with a smile that stretched across a beautiful, weathered face and a personality as big as her smile.

We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and Rehmet had come into my life by way of her husband who had done some handiwork for us around the house. She had five children and lived in a slum on the outskirts of the city. She was tireless in her energy and her talking. At one point I despaired to my mom that I couldn’t understand her. “She speaks so quickly!” I wailed. “My Urdu can’t keep up”. My mom began to laugh – “Don’t worry” she said. “She’s actually speaking Punjabi”.

Fate - Homes in a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, Pakistan. [1500x1000] - Imgur

(photo credit)

We had slowly developed a relationship that went far beyond employee/employer. I considered her my friend. We would sit down with tea, communicating with my limited Urdu and her fluent Punjabi. We would mate socks together, cook, scrub vegetables, and rearrange furniture. She loved my kids, and I thought I loved her.

But there we were. A Pakistani woman and an American woman side by side, me letting my tongue loose. She had ruined some clothes by bleaching them and I was angry. After all, if this had happened in the United States I would voice disapproval over the mistake and demand my money back.

But, I was not in the United States.

Looking back on the event, I cringe in embarrassment. I don’t even remember what the clothes looked like – but I will never forget the sadness and resignation on Rehmet’s face. She looked as though she had been kissed by a Judas, betrayed by one she thought she knew.

I began to apologize. My speech, so articulate while angry, suddenly lost any semblance of cohesion. I was fumbling over my words, over my grammar, most of all over my ugly heart.

She looked at me with tired, brown eyes, her gaze steady and unyielding. Then without pause, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is my fate.”

I went cold. I would rather have heard anything but this. I would rather she yelled, screamed, got sarcastic, quit the job… anything would have been better.

I, the person who talked long and wrote hard about wanting to empower people, had taken advantage of what I knew to be a cultural value – a servant is subservient to the employer. In a culture where she was a minority as a woman and as a Christian she would never have other opportunities, this was her fate. Even if she wanted to walk out on the job, she couldn’t have. Rehmet did not have choices and I had used that against her. I had taken advantage of education, relative wealth, and influence in my ridiculous reaction to a simple mistake.

And I had done this, subconsciously knowing that it would pack a mighty punch. That is what made it so painfully wrong. My white-skinned entitlement made me cringe. Who was I? Why had I reacted this way

It was important to confess – to Rehmet, but also to God. For I had acted in a way that hurt another, had wounded knowing she had no recourse.

Rehmet and I were able to repair the relationship, largely because of her generosity of spirit and sheer joy in life. In her bucket of life experience, this was small change and she would not remain low for long. But the story has stayed with me, for it reminds me of how important it is to have cultural humility.

For cultural humility demands a process of self-evaluation and critique; a constant check of attempting to understand the view of another before we react and recognizing our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up a role as expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture.

It’s a hard subject that demands honesty but what do you do when you have caused offense? When you have wounded in a place where you are a guest? When you have exhibited cultural superiority instead of cultural humility?

By Marilyn Gardner

Marilyn Gardner grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

Triggered by the Tragedy at Sandy Hook

One Saturday morning I woke up to humid Asian heat rising over my bed and the sound of cranky motorbikes on the way to the market. Oblivious that a tragedy had happened while I slept, I got up and went about my morning routine. When I finally logged onto my facebook, I became numb at status after status. Then I closed the computer.

And I went about my day as if nothing happened.

 On December 14, 2012, on the other side of the world, tragedy struck an elementary school in my home country, leaving 20 children and 6 adults dead. Like many missionaries, I processed this tragedy far away from any English news channels.

In preparation to move overseas I learned about culture shock. I anticipated language and culture barriers and times of intense loneliness. I did not expect anger and confusion.

I did not expect to feel anger over injustice and violence. I did not expect to be confused about evil.

I had lived in Asia two years before I first identified the inward pain I was feeling. A friend and I were driving around a temple in Cambodia. My friend says, “A little boy asked if I wanted sex.” An exploited child had approached a white man.

Anger swelled when I visited the genocide museum in Cambodia where 17,000 people were tortured during the Khmer Rouge. I ran out of the museum, about to vomit. I stood under the tree where heads were slammed against, and I hovered over the pit where their remains were dumped.

In the last three years I have felt confused so many times.

  • I visit my friends in the dump and carry them a water filter. I want to do so much more.
  • I see the blond streaks of malnutrition in the dark hair of Asian children.
  • An 18-year-old man says to me in a tongue had worked so hard to learn, “Please, Lana, pray for me. My mother is dead from AIDS. I never met my father. I wake up at 5 a.m. to clean the orphanage, then take my bicycle to work 12 hours a day to support the orphanage that raised me, and we still barely have enough to eat. I want to get my education and attend Bible college, but I can’t get out.”

I did my best I could to stuff the pain, to be tough for the orphans, and be grateful for what I have.

The children who died in Sandy Hook gave me permission to acknowledge the pain and confusion.

After the tragedy, my friends posted on their facebook. “I hugged my kids a little tighter before school this morning.” One of my friends shut down her facebook for a week because she could not handle the negative updates. Another friend cussed at the killer on her page. Every parent said they were confused, “Why, why, why?”

It hit me. The kind of news my Americans friends had received is regular dinner table news where I live in Asia. “The army burned down a village today. Mrs. Jones just sent pictures of a boy they rescued who has burns from head to toe,” someone will say over a typical meal.

I remember thinking, “If my friends are angry that 20 kids died, no wonder I’m such a wreck after three years of this kind of evil.”

So, I googled the news. I read the articles on Sandy Hook. I pulled up pictures of the innocent children who died. I cried over them, one by one.

Then I wept for the evil I see in Asia and remembered:

Jesus wept.”

Evil happens overseas. It happens alongside so much joy and love. The collision creates anger and confusion. How do you deal with the painful mix of emotions on the mission field?

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Lana Hope lived in a sticky-humid Asian world where she spent two years caring for teens and meeting Jesus in unexpected places.

Beyond Good Intentions

Working with the materially poor is really tricky. We want to help, but it’s not always easy to determine what is helping and what is hurting. How are we supposed to fulfill our biblical mandate to care for the materially poor without creating dependencies?
Puerto Peñasco is a small city just an hour south of the Arizona-Mexico border. Almost every weekend, well-intentioned Americans drive here and hand out countless suitcases of old clothes. The recipients are incredibly happy, sometimes even moved to tears. Neither the giver, nor the receiver, has ever stopped to ask why so many people are without clothes in the first place.
I work for an organization called 1MISSION and we employ a few locals who work full-time in the barrios of Peñasco. They go from house to house training people in Community Health Education (CHE). I asked them to research this clothing conundrum, as they spend a lot of time with the very people who receive these clothes on a regular basis. They quickly had an insight I had missed. Many houses they visit have numerous piles of dirty clothes behind it. The clothes are everywhere you look. In one case, we observed a young family paving a sandy road with old clothes so their small car could pass through. According to the trainers, it is not a supply problem, but a stewardship problem. One trainer put it this way, “They don’t need clothes, they need to learn how to take care of their clothes and make them last.”

The Americans thought giving away clothes was fulfilling the biblical mandate to clothe the naked. The reality is, actually clothing the naked in Peñasco requires us to respect the poor as stewards of resources, not helpless victims of circumstance. The problem is bigger than a lack of stuff, so should our solutions be bigger than handing out stuff.
You see, God didn’t ask us to take pictures of ourselves caring for the poor, he asked told us to actually care for the poor. Relief, done without development, will hold a community back. Relief has a place; there are cold people that just need a jacket, there are hungry people who just need some rice. Not to mention, the Bible makes it pretty clear what’s expected of us. The problem is when relief is detached from long-term development. Without development, the outcomes of relief are temporary and usually do more harm than good. As international do-gooders, we have to focus on long-term solutions that will last beyond our presence. If you were to leave right now, what part of your work would last beyond your presence?
Giving “free handouts” has unfortunately become the rule rather than the exception. This has left many communities and lives worse off than before. Free has huge costs. 
How about you, where have you seen good intentions fall short?
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Dustin Patrick served as the Field Director for 1MISSION in Northern Mexico. After three years, he handed off all operations to the local team he recruited and trained. He now lives in Phoenix and leads all the creative endeavors for the same organization. He blogs about development work and more at GoodMud.wordpress.com.