“Help! I’ve Fallen off the Pedestal and Now it’s Crushing Me!”

Pedestals. They’re built high and they fall hard. In this guest post Carole Sparks takes us into the anatomy of a fall. It’s not an easy story but the redemption is there and it is sweet. May you hear these words today and know that there is “no hierarchy in the kingdom.” You can read more about Carole at the end of the post.

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Help—I’ve fallen off my pedestal and now it’s crushing me! 

On leaving the field

We moved overseas to follow that noblest of callings.  Everyone thought we were great, amazing, uber-Christians.  Even those outside of our religious circles thought we were super-awesome to move halfway around the world with our young children on this grand adventure.  Our training did nothing to quash those ideas.  I remember phrases like “called-out ones” and “specially chosen.”  They said, “If God called you, He will equip you to learn the language.” and “God is already at work there.  You are just joining Him.”  And even though our mouths said, “Hey, we’re just normal people, taking the next step in God’s will,” our hearts just knew there was something special about us.  Otherwise, why would God have called us?

But I started building my pedestal a long time before we bought extra-large suitcases.  As a child, missionaries were my heroes.  They were mysterious—speaking a language I couldn’t understand and proficiently using chopsticks.  They were glamorous—taking the attention of the entire church, where everyone listened with rapt attention.  They were noble—sacrificing all ‘for the sake of the call.’  Oh, if only I could be one of them . . . if only I could stand in front of a church and everyone listen to ME!!

We arrived on the field full of vision and idealism.  What others had started, we would finish!  If it took two years or twenty, we were in it for the long haul, ready to plant our lives among our people group, to follow Christ’s pattern of incarnationality and Paul’s “all things to all men” philosophy.  Our exit strategy said, “When workers are no longer needed in this place, we will leave.”

We learned language . . . mostly in our own strength, supplemented by God’s response to the prayers of those who loved us and remembered us.  We learned a little about how to share Truth and a lot about how NOT to share Truth.  Somewhere along the way, we came to realize that we really weren’t anything special.  If anything, we were the weak ones, called out so that God could get even more glory.  But the people back home still thought we were a couple of levels above the norm.

Just before we returned to the US for a six-month stateside assignment, God blessed us with some encouraging stories.  So we ‘poured out our passion’ to as many groups as we could fit into our time in the US, sharing those stories and challenging people to pray—even to come and join us in the work.  We thought we were thriving.  Without a doubt, we were good at the promotional aspects of mission work.  People laughed; people cried.  They told us that we were the most interesting missionaries they had ever heard.  They gave us money.  It was everything I had dreamed of as a child.

Within two weeks of returning to our assignment, however, things began to fall apart.  A trusted friend had warned us about second-term culture shock, but it just never went away.  And we had not rested (spiritually or physically) while we were stateside.  Obstacle after obstacle pelted our family:  many small things and a few big things.  After less than a year, we fled for counseling, where we patched our spirits up, established stronger boundaries, and cried.  At least I cried . . . a lot.  But when we jumped back into culture and service, we felt restless, unsettled.  We searched our hearts for some sin to confess but found none that renewed our contentment.  We hung on, waiting out the trials because a change was coming.  That change passed.  New workers were coming.  They came.  The sense of discontent just got stronger.  Still, we held on.  We were committed to this people and this work.  Plus, people depended on us to be ‘their’ missionaries.  They prayed for us.  They gave to support us.  How could we abandon all that?

I had quietly but most assuredly fallen from my pedestal.  I was not the mysterious, glamorous, noble missionary that I had dreamed of being.  I was a broken, middle-aged woman with fragile children and few ‘success stories’ to share.  I lay there under my pedestal as it crushed my lungs and prevented me from voicing my disillusionment . . . my failure.

There are many reasons that we came ‘home’ (I use quotation marks because it still doesn’t feel like home.  People say it never will be ‘home’ again.  I’ve been ruined for ‘home’ until we get to Heaven.)  Ultimately, God either called us to come back or released us to come back.  Or both.

I share this story to let you know that the pedestal is punishing.  It holds you to standards that are not God’s, and it isolates you from those who love you.  Kick it out from under you.  Kick it far, far away.  Missionaries are no more ‘called’ than anyone else who obeys God’s direction for his or her life:  teachers, doctors, steel workers, pastors, truck drivers, baristas, lawyers.  There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom.  There are simply those who obey and those who don’t.

I have no doubt that God called us overseas and that He used us for the full six-and-a-half years we lived there, my personal motives notwithstanding.  Whatever God gives us to do next and wherever He takes us, we will be operating in our giftedness (which comes from Him), not in our sense of noble sacrifice or our desire for attention.  It’s time for us to back out of that ‘professional Christian’ status, to simply live out the Christ-life as people who love Him, each other, and those around us.  It’s time for us to focus more on His glory than ours.  Francis Chan said it well in Crazy Love (44-45):

It doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now.  Your part is to bring Him glory—whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 a.m. so you     can stay awake to study, or watching your four-month-old take a nap.

The point of your life is to point to Him.  Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His.

Have has the pedestal held you to standards that are not God’s? How has it isolated you from those who love you? 

Carole and her husband have twice found themselves “walking Jesus” in coastal African cities—the second time with two small children.  Now, in something resembling a Christian mid-life crisis, they are beginning again (hopefully with a little more wisdom) and watching God work even as they re-prepare.  Carole can be found blogging about whatever God puts into her mind at http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

A Life Alone

After writing the post on single missionaries about a month ago a number of people who are working overseas and are single contacted A Life Overseas. And it was so good. Because we realized we had been neglecting this critical part of our community. Today our guest poster Geren St. Claire talks about what he has heard from some single missionaries through his work at CalledTogether. You can read more about Geren at the end of the post. 

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A Life Alone

Everyone who has ever experienced the joyful shock of uprooting their entire life and re-implanting it in a new culture knows how surprisingly lonely such a move can be. But what many of us do not fully understand is the double burden carried by those who move overseas without the comfort and support of a spouse. Singleness intensifies isolation. Consider the following illustration:

A life alone

 

 

The intensity of isolation grows when a person does not have the support of a family. One single worker put it this way:

“Cross cultural loneliness is its own kind of loneliness. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you will never be able to integrate 100% into your adopted culture. Yet once you integrate even a little, that culture has become a part of you. You will never see or fit into your home culture the same way again. This whole process can be surprisingly wonderful, but at the same time terrifyingly isolating. It is no wonder that many of us do not want to walk this path alone. We want someone there with us who can honestly tell us, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Singles on the field often tell me about their difficulty coming to a sense of true belonging, even among their team. Perhaps that is why singles are about 40%-50% less likely to go overseas long-term. Add those numbers up: With a global total of around 500,000 cross-cultural workers, the international Church may be losing as many as 80,000 potential harvesters due to the isolation of singleness.

As we pray for the Lord to send more workers into the harvest field, we ought to consider new ways to recruit, sustain, encourage, and empower singles for the work ahead. I oversee a network of globally-called singles, and I invited some of them to share their hearts with you—both the good and bad. Here’s a summary of what they said:

4 ways to Empower Singles (As Told by Singles)

  1. Honor them. “Give… honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Singleness on the field is difficult and scary, and those who follow Christ in the face of these difficulties are worthy of honor. 71% of the singles who responded to our internal poll said that isolation is a major issue for singles who serve Christ overseas. How can you recognize and honor that sacrifice?
  1. Invite them to belong. We are designed for more than just marriage. We’ve been grafted and intimately woven together in Christ. We are one Body. One Bride. Brothers and Sisters. Adopted Children. When I read the book of Acts, I am always overwhelmed by the familial intimacy shared by the early Christians—to such a degree that the Romans mistook them as incestuous. The early Christians adopted one another into their families, and shared life with one another. We ought to do the same today. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. Melanie recounts her experience on the field,

“it seems like 99 meals out of 100, I eat alone. For about a year, I had a standing weekly ‘date’ to eat dinner with a worker family on my team. Words can’t say what this simple thing meant to me. It’s generally not enough for a worker family to say, ‘Oh, you’re welcome here any time.’ But specifically inviting me to share meals and life and events with them was a great blessing.”

Are there singles in your city? What would it look like for you to adopt them into your family? Did a single recommend this article to you? Maybe take that as a friendly hint.

  1. Don’t Look Down on Singles

There are a whole slew of emotions that can stem from being single on a team of married couples, and singles are not often in a position to express their frustrations. Staci offered some helpful examples of team dynamics that had hurt her:

 [last year,] our team leader didn’t think it was worth it to keep doing our monthly team meetings because the other married couple was out of town. Now, from my perspective, it felt as if somehow we (the singles) weren’t important enough to keep our team-meetings going…

 …Another thing I often experience is being treated like I’m a teenager. Our team leader is only a few years older than I am, but often calls my team-mate and I “the girls” and talks about how young we are and how we need looking after… it often feels belittling whether they mean it or not.

Lest we drift into pride, lets reflect on a few simple truths and ask God to expose any error in our thinking. Here are some truths about singleness and marriage that may serve as correctives:

– Singleness is not something to be pitied. Certainly, there are side effects of singleness that may warrant compassion—loneliness, insecurity, dreams lost or delayed, etc. But singleness itself is not a bad thing, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7. Making this distinction can help you immensely as you try to empathize with singles.

– Marital status isn’t something earned or deserved. There shouldn’t be pride or shame in either case, because marriage is always a gift from God.

– Marriage is a blessing. God loves good marriages, so seeking a good marriage is one way to honor God. There is no shame in desiring or pursuing marriage, because God calls it good.

– Marriage cannot be used to enhance or prove someone’s value or worth—to attempt to do so is idolatry.

– Likewise, marriage cannot complete a person.

– Marriage doesn’t make a person more holy. God sanctifies through marriage, but He also sanctifies through singleness. Given that Jesus and Paul were both single, it is dangerous to say that marriage opens a person up to ‘higher levels’ of sanctification. That may be the experience of some, but marriage has stifled the sanctification of others. What sanctifies is living in the light of community, and this can come through, or apart from, marriage.

– Singleness has some advantages that should be recognized. For example, as Melanie writes, “Many singles integrate into a host culture in a way that married folks and families don’t. When they return to their apartment each night, they don’t have a home-culture family to retreat to. Value this skill.” Likewise, the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7 about how singles are able to focus more intently on the work of the Lord, because their time and attention is not divided.

How have you hurt the singles around you by harboring false attitudes towards singleness? Where might repentance be necessary? What about confession?

  1. Hook a brotha up!

Once our attitudes are correctly calibrated (and usually not until then), we can begin to help our single friends search for a godly spouse. Most (but not all) singles have a strong desire to be married, and you might be surprised just how willing they would be to receive your help. But you need to offer help with the right kind of attitude, or it can come across as condescending.

You can network with other team leaders within your organization, or with friends back in your sending churches. Singles on the field have very few opportunities to connect with potential marriage material, and they may gain a lot of hope just knowing that the doors are still open, whether or not you actually find the right person for them.

Finally, you might consider telling your single teammates about www.CalledTogether.us, which is an inter-agency network of globally-called singles. The website has grown quickly since its May ‘14 launch to include more than 1000 singles, further highlighting their felt need for community.

Are the singles on your team open to your help in their search a spouse? Is your attitude toward singleness getting in the way? How can you help them in their search?

Conclusion

There are great gains to be made, both for the Church and for our teams, if only we can learn to love singles more effectively. And truthfully, love should not need a justification. It is its own reason. So I challenge you to connect with, belong to, and love the single God has placed around you, for the sake of Jesus’ name.

— Author Bio —

Gerin St. Claire (@gerinteed) is the cofounder and director of operations for CalledTogether. He recently completed seminary and now lives with his wife in Dallas, TX.

What to Write

Productivity and results. These are hallmarks of the west, demonstrations of success that prove our worth. And when you are accountable to others, even if you live a world away, the pressure can build to show results, to document success. Our guest poster, Laura, takes us into this topic with gracious honesty. You can read more about Laura at the end of the piece. For now I know this will resonate with you so we invite you to read through and join the conversation at the end of the piece.

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Once a month there’s the pressure to produce results. To write a letter that proves to people who are praying and giving that I am doing my job. And since I blog, there’s weekly pressure as well.

But what about when life is culture stress and paperwork. When it’s forcing myself to attend a church service in a language I don’t understand yet. When it’s tears and homesickness and a craving for foods I can’t find at any store in town.

And what about when ministry is sitting alone in a coffee shop because I’m trying to begin building relationships with people. Or picking someone up from work because there’s a strike and the buses aren’t running. Or taking someone shopping after church because she doesn’t have a car. Or going to a monthly girls’ Bible study that I don’t lead. Or standing on a football (soccer) field staring at the kids kicking the ball because I know virtually nothing about football.

What do I write then?

When there are no dramatic stories of people accepting Christ and being baptized. No young adutls growing through a Bible study I am teaching. No amazing testimonies of teens choosing to live for Christ because of what I shared at camp.

There’s simply everyday life in a foreign country. Learning where items are in the grocery store. Learning how to drive on the other side of the road. Collecting paperwork for needed immigration documents. Finding my way to new places. Figuring out how to best communicate with new teammates. Skyping with family and friends. Learning how to use public transportation. Learning, listening to and speaking a different language.

And it can all be extremely overwhelming and exhausting. Teammates tell me to take my time adjusting to my new culture, yet each month it seems as though I need to have something amazing and ministry-related to write.

Now that I am beginning life in my third new country and culture, I am learning that all of these everyday tasks that consume the first few months of life in a new country are tasks I need to learn in order to effectively serve in that country. If I can’t find my way to someone’s house, I can’t meet her for a Bible study. If I can’t find items in a grocery store, I can’t invite people over for a meal. If I can’t communicate well with teammates, I will become frustrated.

These months of transition make for some rather uneventful, maybe even dull, prayer letters. However, I know that the relationships, the activities, the events, the leading will come. So for now I attempt to drive the curvy, country roads without becoming lost and without driving on the right-hand side of the road. I attend the Bible studies and look for ways to contribute without taking over. I invite people into my home. I listen; I watch; I learn. And I share these small victories in my blog posts and letters because these accomplishments are answers to prayer too.

How do you share with prayer supporters about the transition months in a new country? Do you feel “guilty” for not having enough ministry-related items to share?

 

Bio: Laura has served in Portugal and South Africa and is currently adjusting to life and ministry in Ireland. God has given her a heart for teen and young adult girls, as well as a love for living overseas and drinking coffee. She writes regularly about living cross-culturally at http://chattingaboutlife.wordpress.com.

*Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/computer-computers-keyboard-313840/

When People Hate My Home

If there is anything that convicts a third culture kid it is a post like this! Because it’s not easy to love our passport countries and sometimes we fall into the category of the biggest criticizers. And that’s why I love this post by Lindsey Lautsbaugh – because she walks us through what it means to both appropriately love our passport countries as well as how to respond to those who don’t.  You will recognize the name as Lindsey’s husband Chris is a regular contributor to A Life Overseas. But Lindsey is new to this space and  the wisdom and grace she shares  in this piece are welcome additions.  You can read more about Lindsey at the end of the piece. 

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I was 19 and just beginning to explore a future in missions. An internationally diverse group of us traveled all around Namibia doing presentations in local high schools. To begin our presentation, each team member would introduce themselves.

“My name is Lindsey and I am from the United States of America.”

As the only American in the group I secretly revelled in the loud cheers and applause that I got each and every time. No other person got that sort of response for their nation.

Fast forward 10 years… how times have changed.

My husband and I, on a Sunday morning, were listening to our local church pastor. He was preaching out of 1 Peter on how to live in an anti-God society. I remember the moment so clearly. Our pastor was really finding his groove.

“What do Christians do when their nation is so corrupt or so violent… completely opposed to the Kingdom of God? God has strength for those who live under rulers of nations like Iraq, Zimbabwe and the United States!”

We stared straight ahead but could read each others minds instantly. “Did he just compare our President to Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe?”. Yes, he did.

We were not blind to the changing perception of our home country. If we did have any doubts that times and perceptions had changed, this church service erased them.

A few months later we had a prayer time with all our staff and students at our Bible School. For some reason, those leading the time felt to pray for America… not something we had done before. The prayer topic was not well received to put it lightly. As everyone broke into groups to pray, a strange silence enveloped the room (not normal for a prayer time in Africa!).

After 10-15 minutes the leaders spoke up, “What is going on? Why is no one praying?” Finally someone broke the silence, “In order to pray for a nation you have to have something good to say about them, I can think of nothing good to say about America.” Person after person admitted this was true for them too. This awkward-ness was compounded by the fact that their were several Americans in the room.

The reality is, people from many nations other than America have these similar stories and worse. No matter where we go in the world, there is a high likelihood that one nation or culture is despised or looked down upon by another nation or culture.

What do you do when you are a “missionary” trying to serve, connect and engage with those who do not accept your nation?

I can tell story after story of people who have talked down to, insulted, or otherwise disliked my “home nation”. Here are 3 things I’ve learned in this process:

Humble yourself and listen well

Hearing people demean my nation is not comfortable on many levels. I can feel defensive of my nation as a whole. I can also feel personally wounded. I can easily think, “If they believe all Americans are arrogant and stupid… what does that mean about me?” Honestly, it doesn’t help when people try to re-assure me that I am the exception to this rule.

Every time I am in these situations I instantly remind myself to “stay humble and listen well“. Don’t get defensive, antagonistic or rude in any way. Don’t just ignore it either. This is an opportunity to learn deeply and be formed more into the image of Christ who humbled himself to the point of death on the cross. Clearly, this is not death on the cross.

Even if people truly do hate my nation, God loves those people. Let God humble us enough to love and listen to them well. As we listen, perhaps there is a chance to apologise for a true wrong that was done to them in the name of our country. These chances are missed when we don’t humbly listen.

Lastly, in this humbling we get a small taste of those who endure xenophobia, racism and sexism on a daily basis. It is only a small taste, but it is an opportunity for deeper empathy and compassion.

See the opportunity for true relationship

These opportunities have often been gateways to true and deep friendship.

A few weeks ago a person said to me, “Well, I’m sure your nation is going to bomb Russia for this Ukraine situation. You have a bomb for every problem”. The cynicism was heavy in his voice.

I carefully listened and then felt to ask, “Do you see me in this same way? Arrogant and walking all over people?”.

Instead of ignoring the comment or even silently agreeing in my mind I felt to reach out in true relationship. He stopped in his tracks, surprised I had said that. Instantly he softened and we had a good chat, both of us affirming each other.

To another friend I once admitted, “I sometimes am intimidated to meet new people in South Africa. I feel that once they hear my accent I will instantly be judged. I actually feel embarrassed to talk to new people.”  My friend was shocked and our friendship went to a whole new level with my admission.

These moments of division can actually be a turning point towards true relationship if we pursue it lovingly and sincerely.

Let it soften you, not harden you

 I have found there are two ways to become hard hearted.

First, we can harden our heart towards others. “All people from __________ culture make fun of me because of my nationality!” We began to make generalisations and blanket statements… just like was being done to us. Hurtful comments towards our home nation can harden our hearts towards others. We carry resentment. We don’t feel accepted.

Constantly work towards keeping a soft disposition instead of becoming hard and bitter.

Sometimes, though, we join with haters and say, “Yes! My nation is so terrible… they are so materialistic, I can’t stand it.” This is an error.

It is appropriate and Christ-like to love our nation of birth, to bless them and want to see the best for them. Don’t let your heart become hard towards your nation of birth.

I’ve seen so many missionaries who seem to be in missions because they can’t stand their own nation… not because they love their nation and the nation God has called them to.

 Fight with everything you’ve got to stay soft in heart.

 What about you? Have you ever faced this in missions? What lessons have you learned along the way?

headshot-lindseyLindsey lives in Cape Town, South Africa as a missionary with Youth With a Mission. She grew up as a pastor’s kid and dreamed of being a missionary as long as she can remember. At the age of 19 she packed her bags and headed to Africa. She’s been living the missions life ever since. Lindsey is married to Chris Lautsbaugh and together they have 2 sons, Garett and Thabo. Her passion is teaching on relationships including marriage, parenting, dating, sexuality, and friendship. In South Africa she works at a University of the Nations campus, training young people to have a passion for Jesus and people. Lindsey writes at thisisloveactually.com and is on Titter (@mrslautsbaugh).

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Photo Credit: The photo was taken by Cliff Gardner (Marilyn’s  husband) on a recent trip to Iran. It is not intended to offend anyone, rather to bring out the point of the post. On a side note when walking through the bazaar an Iranian woman grabbed the arm of one of the delegation and said “Where are you from?” When she responded “Amreeka” the woman shook her head and said ” “Welcome, where have you been? We have been waiting for you for 32 years.” It was a genuine expression that was to be repeated over and over during their time in Tehran and Qom.

A word on guest posts: We have had a number of submissions and I apologize if you have not received a response. Please continue submitting to alifeoverseas@gmail.com with a copy to marilyngardner5@gmail.com. If you have not received a response and you sent some time ago – feel free to send again! We will catch up and we love your engagement with A Life Overseas!

Living Well Where You Don’t Belong

Belonging

Today’s post is by Joann Pittman. Joann is a childhood friend from Pakistan who I reconnected with a few years ago. As a woman who has lived her entire life cross-culturally, Joanne is gifted at helping others learn to live effectively across cultures. You can read her full bio at the end, but for now enjoy this post on “Living Well Where You Don’t Belong”.

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I have spent most of my life overseas, that is, not in my “passport country.” I am an American, but I spent the first 14 years of my life in Pakistan, where my father was a professor and pastor, and have spent the past 28 years living and working in China. This means that I have lots of practice in living where I don’t belong.

“Belonging” has multiple layers of meanings. One is purely internal, referring to how I feel about my place in whatever space I find myself in. Do or can I FEEL like I belong somewhere, regardless of the circumstances or living conditions?

Another aspect of ‘belonging,’ however, is external – how do the local residents view me? Do or can they view me as belonging, or will they always consider me an outsider who doesn’t really belong here.

Below are eight tips for living well where you don’t belong.

  1. Cultivate a tolerance of ambiguity. According to Dictionary.com, ambiguity is defined as “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention,” which is just another way of saying you don’t know what the heck is going on. As those of you who live (or have lived) cross-culturally know, this is permanent state of affairs, as you grapple with a language that is different, customs that seem strange, and social systems that are often opaque. Those with a low level of ambiguity tolerance may experience more culture stress than those who can say (honestly) “I don’t have a clue what’s going on around me, and that’s fine.”
  2. Remember that the burden of change is on you, not on the locals. The locals have done things their way for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, and they aren’t going to change just because you showed up, not matter how noble your reasons for being there.
  3. View everything as a privilege, not an entitlement. The American sense of entitlement is strong, and often not helpful when living cross-culturally. It is true that we have many rights for which we should be thankful, but we need to keep in mind that they are not automatically transportable. In China, for example, I am not entitled to speak freely on any topic anywhere or form an assembly or social organization. But in many ways, those are the easier things to deal with. What is harder is to remember that I am not entitled to the level of convenience and efficiency that I am used to ‘back home.’ If we can leave behind our sense of entitlement, we are then free to view everything (whether they bring joy or annoyance) as a privilege.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Maintain your sense of humor. Look for the humor in everyday life, remembering that YOU are often the main source.  You will find yourself in many funny and perhaps embarrassing situations. Go ahead and laugh about it. Laughing beats fretting every time. One of my former colleagues in China used to say that he was convinced that the main role of a foreigner in this society was to provide entertainment to the locals. I think he was right.
  5. View cultural mistakes as learning opportunities.  It’s important to remember that if you are living cross-culturally, you WILL make cultural mistakes. Fortunately cultural mistakes are not fatal, unless of course the cultural mistake you make is not crossing the street properly. In most cases, locals are very gracious towards foreign sojourners in their midst who are making obvious attempts at learning the language and culture.
  6. Limit yourself to one “why” question per day.  One of my favorite quirky Hong Kong movies is a mad-cap adventure called “Peking Opera Blues.” The movie itself is entertaining, but the poorly translated “Chinglish” subtitles add to the humor. In one scene, the beautiful damsel enters a garage and finds it littered with dead bodies (the mafia had just paid a visit), and utters (according to the subtitles) “WHY IS IT LIKE THIS?” Those of us who live cross-culturally find this question on the tips of their tongues pretty much all the time. We look are around and see so much that is unfamiliar and confusing and want to shout WHY IS IT LIKE THIS? If the question is driven by a true desire to understand, then it is fine; however, most of the time, it simply means “it’s not like this back home, so it shouldn’t be like this here,” and excessive use of the question just opens the door for a rant. So…make a rule. Only one “why” question per day.
  7. Be prepared to adjust /modify your own behaviors. In his book “The Art of Crossing Cultures,” Craig Storti suggests that cultural adjustment is really adjusting to two things: to new behaviors of the locals that annoy, confuse, and unsettle us, and adjusting or weeding out those behaviors that we have that confuse and annoy the locals. Truth be told, that’s the harder adjustment sometimes.
  8. Strive to be an ‘acceptable outsider.’  I live in China, which is an insider/outsider culture. There are two kinds of people in the world: Chinese and foreigners, and they are as mutually exclusive as Jew and Gentile. There is nothing I can ever do to be considered an insider in Chinese culture.  The best I can become is an acceptable outsider, one who is active in learning the language and culture and taking steps to gain access to the world of the insiders. It also means that I try not to settle for not being offensive; rather I make it my goal to be polite. Sometimes I even succeed! In my case part of ‘belonging’ means coming to terms with my permanent outsider status.

What tips do you have to add? Would love to hear some in the comments section. 

*This post was originally published in Communicating Across Boundaries.

Joann Pittman is a consultant, trainer, researcher, and writer who helps people prepare for and navigate the challenges of cross-cultural living. She has lived in China since 1984, working as an English teacher, Chinese language program director, English language program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has done extensive study and research in Chinese language, history, and contemporary society, and is a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese. She is the author of Survival Chinese Lessons. You can read Joann’s blog Outside-In at joannpittman.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, So Make Sure You’re a Part of One

Some of you are packing your bags, and with that, packing up a life overseas. There is so much that goes into this – from the practical, like tickets and packing, to the reflecting and the goodbyes. Today we hear from a blogger/writer Becca Garber who has been overseas with the military. As she packs up her bags she lets us get a glimpse into her life and raising small children overseas. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post. 

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I live in a little town in Sicily, Italy, because my husband is stationed here with the U.S. military. There are about 5,000 Americans here, and most are here for about three years. You would think that a military base overseas would be a close-knit community, and for many individuals it is exactly that.

However, one of the confessions I hear most often from friends and acquaintances is that they – or someone they know – feel very isolated. The list of reasons for their isolation is as varied and complicated as they individual. They miss the community they left, they didn’t chose to move here, or they feel like they are living in a fishbowl in base housing. For those of us that live in the surrounding Sicilian towns, we face further barriers because of language and cultural barriers with our neighbors and a lack of public community spaces.

Becoming comfortable with an isolated, insulated life is not how we were meant to live. I believe strongly that we should live in community, that we should go outside frequently, that we should know our neighbors, that we should welcome them into our homes (a lot! all the time! standing invitation!), that we should cook for them, that we should accept their food, that we should be open and nonjudgmental and communicative and truthful even if we don’t like them.

Even if we can’t speak their language.

The person I’m aspiring to emulate in all of this is, of course, Jesus, who hung out with everyone (saints and sinners) everywhere (temples and wells, open fields and street corners). He came to love and live with people, and I think we are hardwired as humans to need and love and crave human interaction, support, and community.

If you feel isolated, if you want to live in community, the only person who is going to change that is you.

When my young family and I moved to Sicily three years ago, we were warmly welcomed into a wonderful community of Christians, and that helped us to turn around and return the favor to other newcomers. Here are a few things I am glad we did to build our community and avoid isolation in Sicily. (And then I’ll share some things I wish I’d done.)

Things I am glad we did

  • We invited people into our home regularly for meals, Bible study, game nights, book club, play dates, birthday parties, holidays, and anything we could think of. As a general goal, we had someone in our home at least once a week for at least one of these reasons. People love to see inside other people’s homes. People don’t mind the scattered toys and dirty floors. If they do, they are probably learning — just like I am — to get over it and to enjoy the real, honest person who was brave enough to invite them in.
  • We attended religious services (in our case, the base chapel) regularly, even though we didn’t always like it. If we were in town, we went to chapel, even with visitors. What we didn’t like — the music, the nursery — we tried to quietly contribute to and improve, at least for a season.
  • I got very involved in a women’s Bible study; that became “my thing.” Maybe because they offered free childcare? I’m not ashamed to admit it! Either way, those women became my best friends during our time overseas.
  • We vacationed with another family. The first time, they invited us to join them on a trip to northern Italy; the second time we invited them to rent a house on the beach with us. Both of these trips were messy at times, but ultimately so much more fun than going by ourselves.
  • I met up at the market each week with a friend. We had a standing agreement to buy our vegetables together at 9am on Wednesdays. This kept us both accountable to go to the market in our town, a key part of Sicilian life.
  • I invited other moms to go on adventures with me for the day, like to a nearby town, or to ride a tour train with our kids. Or to go on a hike with their dog if they don’t have kids!
  • I invited myself over. A LOT.

Things I wish we’d done 

  • I wish I had gotten my kids involved in the local culture in some way (preschool, sports, even a regular Italian babysitter). That contact is more for me than for my children, because they will be too young to remember any Italian or maybe anything about Sicily. But those contacts with Italy would have helped me so much. I would have had more Italian acquaintances, and I might even have had some real Italian friends. I would also have learned more about holidays, family structure, and food.
  • I wish I had taken Italian lessons. I got books but barely studied them. I knew I needed to just bite the bullet, spend the money, and get a tutor for a few months to launch my understanding. But I never did.
  • I wish we had sought counseling when we needed it for our marriage or our parenting. There were resources through our church, but we never took advantage of them. Sometimes you just need an outside perspective.
  • Lastly and most importantly, I wish I had invited people over sooner, not just after I got to know them pretty well. The best place to get to know someone is usually over a meal, even if the meal is peanut butter and jelly with both of your kids in a messy kitchen.

Think about the place where you live right now. What will you regret not doing after you leave? What were your expectations when you arrived? How can you make them happen?

Parenting and marriage are hard work, especially so far from home. You need people and you were designed for community.

Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own.   One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.

This post originally appeared in Becca’s personal blog and has been adapted for ALOS. Picture credit http://beccagarber.com/

 

 

Rethinking Witness

Rarely does the faith of a missionary kid look exactly the same as their parents.  While the journey  begins and is rooted in the faith and calling of our parents, it grows and is sustained through our own decisions of faith. In today’s guest post we hear from a third culture kid/missionary kid and her journey of rethinking witness and growing into her own faith. Karissa Knox Sorrell gives us just a glimpse of her honest journey and with it food for both thought and discussion. Please join us today in “Rethinking Witness.” You can read more about Karissa at the end of the post.

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On Easter Sunday this year I read a passage from the gospel of John in Thai at my church for a service called Agape Vespers. During Agape Vespers, bilingual volunteers read the gospel in a variety of languages. It’s the passage about Jesus appearing to the disciples after he rose again and Thomas asking to touch Jesus’ scars.

I used to read the Bible in church sometimes, back when I was an MK in Thailand. My Thai youth group friends knew that I wasn’t an adept reader of the language; they would nod and smile encouragingly whenever I read Scripture with my second-grade-level fluency.

Those people loved me. It didn’t matter to them that I spoke their language imperfectly or could barely read it: they cheered me on. My family had come into their Buddhist country holding the flag of Jesus high. We had turned many of them away from the religion of their families. Yet the church became their family, providing them with both recreation and support. Did they love us because we brought them Jesus, or because we gave them a family when they needed one?

It was a very different experience reading Thai again twenty years later in front of my Eastern Orthodox church friends in Franklin, Tennessee. I had practiced at home, but when I was standing in front of the entire church with hundreds of eyes staring at me, I faltered. Phrases that had slid easily off my tongue at home became slush in my mouth. Words that I had read easily before were now unintelligible before my eyes. Somehow, with several skipped words and incorrect tones, I finished reading the passage.

Afterwards, people came up and asked about the Thai. I told them about my past: evangelical Protestant missionary kid, Jesus lover, previously able to speak Thai, more rusty now.

Sometimes I wonder how far removed I am from my old missionary kid life and my old missionary kid faith. In Thailand, I took on my parents’ missionary status as my own. It was easy to stand up for Jesus when I was surrounded by people who didn’t know him. I had all the right answers, and I had abundant enthusiasm. Yet even though I witnessed to my friends over and over, I don’t think I ever led anyone to Jesus.

Today my faith still exists, but it is not always full of enthusiastic answers. Some of the old standby answers perplex me now. Maybe I have become more like Thomas, searching for a faith I can touch, a faith that allows me to doubt sometimes. Like the experience of reading Thai again, talking about Jesus with people feels more like floundering than fluency now.

I don’t witness to people anymore. Well, not with words, at least. I’ve stopped worrying about sharing my message and started trying to truly see people. Looking back at my high school years in Bangkok, I hope that my actions spoke over the rattle of my words. I hope that my friends saw in me a person who cared for them, who listened to their problems, and who tried to make them laugh. I hope they saw me as a friend who just wanted to share life with them, not a friend who was afraid they were going to hell.

People don’t need to be preached to about Jesus. Instead, they need to be loved with Jesus’ love. They need me to listen, bring them casseroles when they have babies, and go with them to difficult doctor appointments. They need to know that I accept them for who they are: humans created by God and worthy of love. My faith is no longer about how many people I can convert to Jesus; it’s about how many times I can find God in someone.

How have you witnessed without words to your community? When have you seen the face of God in the people around you?

KarissaKarissa Knox Sorrell is an educator and writer from Nashville, Tennessee. She writes about her upbringing as a missionary kid in Thailand, her conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and her wrestling toward authentic faith. When not writing, Karissa works with ESL teachers and students. Read more of her writing at http://karissaknoxsorrell.com and follow her on Twitter at KKSorrell.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/bible-holy-book-christianity-138977/

 

 

Moving Abroad with Older Kids: Where’s the Road Map?

We welcome my “neighbor” Sarah Goodfellow, who lives in Peru (I am in Bolivia), as our contributor today. I am so very excited that there are now two regular writers from South America on the team for A Life Overseas. Yeah! Learn more about Sarah on the Writers Page. Even if you do not have older kids yourself it is most likely you know someone who does. This piece will give you a look at some of the things families live out when they make a cross cultural move. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks!    – Angie Washington

Sarah Goodfellow

When we moved to Peru over 3 years ago, our kids ranged in age from 2 to 9 years old. We only knew one other family that lived abroad with older kids, so we had no instruction guide for how to do this with older kids. We were clueless. We knew it would be hard for them to leave the only home they had really ever known, their school and neighborhood friends, their soccer teams and Brownie troop. We just didn’t know how hard it would really be and that, over 3 years later, it would still be hard.

Our youngest knows Peru as home. There was no transition period for her when we moved because she had all that she needed at the time- her mom and dad. For her older sister, Riley, almost everything changed with one plane flight. She arrived in a new country and was thrown into a new school where everyone spoke a new language. She went from doing life with friends she had known for 5 years to spending her days with kids that she couldn’t even communicate with. That first year was rough to say the least.

What I didn’t expect was how hard I would take it all as the parent. We had prayed and talked through everything about our move and decided that putting our kids into a Peruvian school was important to us. We just didn’t realize what we were asking of our kids. The day I rode in a taxi and dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten in a language he didn’t understand at all about broke my heart. This wasn’t the kindergarten experience that I had dreamed of for him.

Watching Riley navigate 4th grade and fitting in and feeling awkward and being the only one in her class with a different culture, language, and skin color almost made us throw in the towel on the whole living abroad thing. She changed that first year. She went from being loving and kind to being angry and rude. We knew it was because she was in so much pain and we knew we had caused it by making her move. Riley had a very strong faith before we moved, but that also changed. She questioned how a God that loved her would take away everything she loved and make her live in such a hard place. She wondered if the point of being a Christ follower was to be miserable.

Oh, how my husband and I questioned ourselves that year. What were we doing to our children? There was no joy in serving the Lord. Only lots and lots of pain. It’s one thing to choose for yourself to follow God into the hard places, but to choose to put your kids in the hard places? That’s a heavy burden to carry.

Thankfully we are now further down the road and finally in a place where we can say that it was worth it. I can give you the practical reasons:

  • our kids are fluent Spanish speakers
  • they appreciate and know Peruvian culture
  • they are more confident in themselves

But, more importantly, we have grown closer as a family and each of us has grown in our faith. Riley’s doubts were valid and real. And in the end she chose to trust, rather than turn away. We all did and continue to each day. Living abroad can make even the most faithful adult doubt in a loving God. Asking a child to deal with the intricacies, contradictions, and alienation of overseas life almost seems cruel. Some days I still worry that it is. But we continue to trust that God has not only called us here, but also our kids.

Do you have older kids in the field? What have you done to help them with the transition and difficulties of living abroad?

Or were you the older kid who had to move overseas? What advice do you have for us parents?

Sarah Goodfellow, NGO worker in Lima, Peru

 blog: But Now To Life the Life       NGO: Krochet Kids Intl

Dancing On One Leg: The Gift of A Year in Dakar

Today’s guest post is a gift to those who have just finished their first year overseas as well as to those who have been overseas for 15 or 30. Corrie Commisso takes us on a journey through her first year in Dakar, Senegal — a year of new words, new foods, new ways of interacting, most of all new ways to think about life. You can read more about Corrie at the end of the post but for now – enjoy this piece.

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Dancing On One Leg: The Gift of A Year in Dakar

Soo demee dëkk fekk ñépp di fecce benn tànk defal na ñoom.
If you go to a village where everyone dances on one leg, you should do the same.

(Wolof Proverb)

It’s mid-afternoon. The sun is blistering, high in the sky, a hole punched through the orange haze of dust and diesel fumes that has swallowed up the city. The humidity hangs on you like a wet blanket; heavy and oppressive.

You navigate through the crowded city streets, inching along in the sea of vehicles jockeying for position as they dodge horse carts, pedestrians, herds of sheep and goats and cows.

Horns blare. You join in and beep at a taxi in front of you who is straddling two lanes.

It’s hot. You’re tired. You’re already 20 minutes late and it’s not looking like you’re going to be arriving at your destination any time soon.

But you’re not upset. You accept the fact that you’ll get there when you get there, and when that taxi finally chooses a lane and nearly runs you off the road, it’s ok. Because he sticks his hand out the window and gives you a thumbs-up to say, “Thanks.” And there’s something about that thumbs-up that takes away your urge to share another universal hand signal. Instead you chuckle and shake your head. You think about trying the thumbs-up the next time you’re in the States and wonder how that will go over.

And this is how you know that finally, you are easing into the rhythm of life here, that all those things that seemed so strange and foreign and just plain wrong have become your new normal.

Now, when you greet someone on the street on your daily walk to buy bread, you don’t look at your watch impatiently. Instead, you begin:

— Peace be with you. 

— Peace be with you, too. 

— How are you?

— I’m at peace.  

— And your family?   

— My family is at peace. 

— And your children? 

— Yes, the children are well. 

— And the heat? 

— Yes, it’s very hot today. 

— You are in good health? 

— Yes, thank you, my health is good. 

— So, how are you? 

And you repeat this greeting, sometimes two or three times before going on your way.

You’ve stopped making To-Do lists, because you know that even the best plan of action can be thwarted by an inconvenient power outage or a blue and yellow car rapide stalled out in the middle of a highway. 

And yet you also know that help is only a moment away, no matter where you are. You know this from personal experience, from the time you decided to drive your truck on the beach only to find out a few minutes later that your four-wheel-drive wasn’t working. And when you panicked just a little because the tide was coming in and you were buried in the sand past your axles, 20 young men appeared out of nowhere with a wooden board to help dig you out.

When it comes to food, you know all the local dishes — yassa poulet, mafé, ceebu jenn —and you have a regular favorite. You don’t break into a sweat anymore when you are seated with a group of people around a large bowl heaped with rice, carrots, onions, turnips, and a whole fish on top — scales, eyeballs, fins, and all.

You’re wearing things you’d never get away with in the States…funky prints, chunky wooden jewelry. You’ve mastered the art of the fuggi jaay — which literally means to shake something out (fuggi) and then to sell it (jaay). At first you were intimidated by the maze of tents that makes up the traveling clothing market where vendors dump huge bundles of Salvation Army castoffs from the U.S., but now you know exactly how to sort through the piles of clothes, how much things should cost, how to score a mint-condition Gap t-shirt or practically new pair of Sketchers.

And when you hear the echo of the local mosque’s prayers, five times a day, you no longer tune them out like white noise in the background of your daily life . You watch as young men and old men bend over their prayer mats, and you take a moment to whisper prayers of your own.

You barely notice anymore the trash that piles up along the side of the road, on the beach, against the wall of your house. And when you do, you don’t think about how careless people are, but you think that if you had to support your family of six on $85 per month, you wouldn’t really care where the trash went, either. You recognize the problem for what it is: a symptom of the poverty that seeps into every corner of life here in Dakar.

And this is maybe the thing that you will never get used to, the thing that will never be normal to you: the dirty, outstretched hands of talibé boys forced to beg for their teachers, the exhausted mothers with babies tied to their backs pleading for bread or milk.

Can you feel it? Can you feel the prick in your heart every time you hold your palms open to show that you have nothing to give? Can you feel the weight of the poverty and the emptiness of religion? 

And in the middle of that, can you hear the laughter, the exuberant greetings, the rhythmic drumming of the djembéplayers? Can you smell the fresh fish being cooked over an open fire, the hot bread just out of the brick oven at the bakery? Can you see the wide smiles, the dancing women with their high-pitched trilling voices, the children giggling at you from behind their mother’s skirts?

Because for every difficulty here, for every impossibility, for every little thing that makes you raise your eyebrows and askWhy?, there is something else that makes you smile at its beauty, wonder at its simplicity. There is a rawness, an openness, the simple humanity of needing one another.

And because you have lived and breathed these things, because you have embraced them and come face-to-face with your own prejudices and weaknesses and inadequacies, you are forever changed.

I am forever changed.

This is the gift of a year in Dakar.

Have you just finished your first year? What gifts have you received from your adopted country? Or have you just finished your 15th year? What do you continue to love and consider a gift? 

Although she’s a passport-carrying, Starbucks-loving citizen of the United States, Corrie is also a wanderer, an adventurer, and a Delta Frequent Flyer Member who currently calls West Africa home. Hailing from Boston and a true New Englander at heart, she’s been known to occasionally “pahk the cah.” She and her husband live in Dakar, Senegal, where they work with English language students at Dakar’s Cheik Anta Diop University.

Picture courtesy of Tony Watters

Can I Speak Love in English?

Anyone who has spent a fraction of time living and making their home overseas knows what it’s like – the overwhelming, exhausting, inadequacy of language. The learning it, the using it, the not knowing enough of it. And that’s why I love this post by Shannon. Because she takes us to a different place and asks an important question: Can I Speak Love in English? 

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The elevator door opens, and an elderly halmeoni (grandmother) brightens up to see me entering with my three small children. “Aigo!” she sings. “Ippeuda!” And I ready myself for the deluge of words that flood over me like drowning waters. Of course, they come, and I struggle to breathe.

My children look up at her wrinkled face and smile. They listen to her dote on them, let her touch their faces, respond to her invitation for hugs. They listen to her question me eagerly, and they see my blank stare and hear the nervous words that tumble out, surely with a laughable accent. “Mollayo. Shil-lae-hamnida.”

I don’t understand. Excuse me.

The elevator door opens–my escape. And we blow kisses to halmeoni as Mommy hustles the crew out and into the busy city of Seoul.

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“What did she say, Mommy?” Such innocence. My preschoolers still think their mom knows everything.

In truth, my cheeks are flushed with shame. How can I live here and not speak the language? What must the locals think of this foreigner who chooses their city but not their tongue? What do people back home think of me when I shake my head to their comments: “Oh can you speak Korean?”

Then I stop walking as a thought emerges. My children stand at my feet and look up at my face, waiting.

I worry about what people think, but all I need to remember is being faithful with what God has given me. And a tug on my hand reminds me of those gifts.

You see, when we arrived in Seoul, I carried one crawling infant and one growing inside me. Two pain-encouraged births later, I found myself overwhelmed with mothering three at home in a foreign country. Despite the efforts of tutoring and personal study, I could not grasp more of the language than its basics needed for grocery shopping and trivial conversation. It wasn’t just time; I needed sanity. It’s hard to learn a new language when you can barely finish a sentence in your own.

So I had to let it go. Unlike other overseas workers who must speak in the native tongue to socialize or to function in society, almost everyone with whom we interact speaks English. Our service here is primarily to the international community.

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But the guilt clung to my shoulders, slumping them. You can’t speak Korean! it hissed at me, as if that was the test I needed to pass before being deemed cross-cultural or even Christian. You can’t love Koreans if you can’t speak to them! Wait a second. Is that true?

Didn’t my children love that woman in the elevator?

Doesn’t the man at the chun-won store smile every time he sees my family, even passing on the street?

Don’t the cooks at our favorite kimbap place speak with me in a hilarious blend of English and Korean–all of us laughing and apologizing and bowing and…loving?

Can’t I speak love in English?

“Mommy, let’s go!” my four-year-old urges, with a hand tug to emphasize each word. I look down at him and my heart fills. It fills with emotion–with love, with appreciation, with grace–it fills with beautiful things that words cannot contain.

And I feel okay with it all. Maybe my weak motives for learning Korean would have resulted in a prideful heart. Maybe I would have seen myself as the ultimate missionary or the model expat. Maybe God gave me this season of love without words to see–really see–this country, these people, and especially the little ones holding my hands and strapped to my back. Maybe it was by His grace that I was kept from the language.

In His season, I will learn it. But for now, I will speak love in English:

with smiles,

with gestures,

with service,

with openness,

but most of all . . . with humility.

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………………..

Have you allowed your own insecurities to come between you and the people you should love?

How has God merged you into the culture in which you live–and reflecting on that, how was that His best for your acclimation?

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The Inevitable Pain of Loneliness

There is a depth of loneliness that one experiences while living overseas that is difficult to articulate. Away from all that is familiar, the nagging ache can accost us at odd times, almost like grief. Yet in a very real way, as a fellow writer friend said “Loneliness gives me my humanity. She connects me to millions of others around the globe who are displaced, afraid, betrayed, abandoned. Loneliness whispers, ‘see you are not alone’. The pain that she brings also reminds me that I’m still alive. And I’m more fully human for having encountered her.” In today’s guest post John Gunter speaks to the inevitable pain that loneliness brings but also addresses the hope we have in living through that pain. Read more about John at the end of the post.

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As I type this, I am sitting on the back deck of my apartment in Asia.  There is a subway track in front, along with the panoramic view of sky scrapers of which most are still under construction.  It is quiet right now, as life in this crowded mega-city is readying for bed.  Other than the sound of a TV coming from an apartment of a near deaf person a floor or so below me and the hum of the occasional construction truck winding down the streets 10 floors below, it is quiet. . . it is peaceful. . . however, it is lonely.

I have been thinking about loneliness a good bit today.  Partially because I heard a tremendous sermon on it from a friend in the United States; partially because I am, in fact, struggling with loneliness right now.  It comes and goes often with me living in an apartment by myself here in Asia.

It can come with the sight of something that reminds me of a niece or a nephew or when something funny happens that I know a good friend in the States would appreciate.  It can come from a picture over Facebook reminding me that lives are moving on without me in relationships I used to hold dear.

Loneliness can come with an email informing me that I have missed yet another family event or wedding or friend gathering.  Today it came from just hearing my Dad’s voice over the phone.  Yesterday it was in learning of the passing of a friend’s grandfather.  Life is happening in many places, yet I am sitting here on an empty back deck in Asia, or so it seems sometimes.

Loneliness truly has been an occupational hazard for me in choosing this life of living and working overseas. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly would not choose a different life than the one that I have lived thus far.

My mind races with the experiences I have had, friendship I have forged, mountains I have been fortunate enough to traverse (both metaphorically and in reality). . . and I am grateful to the core.  God has been good to me well beyond my ability to express my gratitude with my feeble words.  However, this life of living and working 10,000 miles from the city of my origin, the city where I learned to walk and read and drive and hit a curve ball; this life does get lonely. Tonight is such a night.

Even in the midst of nights like this, I am drawn to the sweet reality that I am not alone.  There are others who understand me, who understand the way I am feeling at this moment.  I understand that we ALL suffer with loneliness from time to time.  We all have seasons of isolation, of longing, of heart-break. I understand this and it comforts me in a “misery loves company” type of a way.

Even more so, I am reminded of the most terrifyingly lonely moment in history.  It was the day that our Savior, the creator of the universe, the One whom willingly left His home in heaven, and humiliated Himself to the point of becoming a child, suffered the anguish of the cross.

At that exact moment, Christ Jesus cried out in heart-broken honesty “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”!  Matthew 27:46-50 was not just the retelling of a factual event, it was the honest depiction of our Savior lonely, hurt, and rejected by those whom He loved.

Though this reality does not make the sting of loneliness depart, it does make me feel better.  My circumstances have not changed. I still miss my family and friends.  I still miss companionship during nights like this.  However, there is comfort in knowing that my friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, understands me. He is with me.  He will get me through lonely times like this.

For this truth I am grateful to the center of my soul, to the core of my being.  I am grateful for Christ’s suffering, His betrayal by all those whom He loved.  Because of this, I am confident that He understands me in all things, even during lonely nights (and months) in Asia, nights like this one.

Because of this reality, I am also certain that Christ understands and is with YOU, no matter what is going on in YOUR life.  No matter what heart-break you are suffering, what loneliness has gripped you, what disease afflicts you, what addiction has taken root, Christ understands and is present.

For this, I am grateful. For this, I am drawn to praise and joy. . . the praise and joy of my friend and Savior, Christ Jesus.

What helps you when you are experiencing the inevitable pain of loneliness? 

John Gunter grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but has lived in East Asia for most of the past 15 years.  John loves his life in Asia, but misses his family, friends, church, baseball, and bar-b-que (in that order) immensely.  He enjoys scuba diving when the time and location permits. John blogs on issues of faith, purpose, singleness, and Asia at http://johngunter.net.

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Third Culture Kids in the World of Faith

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By Cindy Brandt

Every person in the congregation put their right hand over their chest and started reciting something in unison. Like having discovered I was driving on the wrong side of the road, I frantically tried to make the correction and catch on to the protocol. Rather panicked, I looked to my American husband for guidance, but having spent years abroad with me, he was a bit confounded as well.

We were living in China at the time. Me, a TCK born in Taiwan but raised in an international school, and my husband from the US. During the summers we usually travel back to Colorado to spend time with my husband’s family. That particular Sunday happened to be the Fourth of July, and as was customary at this church, they recited the pledge of allegiance during the service to honor the occasion. Having spent time trying to communicate our faith to people outside of America, we sensed a sudden jolt of dissonance at the way patriotism and church tradition intertwined.

I grew up in Taiwan and can be considered a “missionary convert”. Attending a Christian International School, I began my journey as a TCK as my educational life existed in an American cultural bubble in the midst of the broader local Chinese culture. Infused into the ethos of the school were Christian teachings, and I received my faith wrapped in red, white, and blue. I became an expert shape shifter. At home, I spoke my mother tongue and watched Taiwanese TV. At school, I switched modes and studied, socialized, and worshipped in English. If conversion is defined as a definitive turning from one identity to another, then my entire existence was one continuous conversion experience. Managing two distinct cultural identities became my vocation, the framework through which I developed emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

After graduating out of the small community I was raised in, I entered the larger world of ideas. With my persistent TCK curiosity about other cultures and customs, I discovered the vast disparity between what people considered meaningful. For instance, in Taiwan, birthdays for children are a minor affair but a really big deal in America. In adulthood, I began to understand the motivation and values behind my Chinese family upbringing and how it differs so drastically from the sentiments of my American in-laws. Having been exposed to both cultures and in fact, embracing both as the norm as a TCK, those differences do not induce fear but challenge me to expand room for what is true. I realized the faith passed onto me by American missionaries were clothed in a set of cultural patterns but the God I believe in is not limited to one outfit.

I began to convert again. Previously, I adopted faith traditions as a Chinese girl welcoming American Christian practices. Now, I must discover how the religion of my childhood can possibly be truth for all cultures. The more I searched the Bible and the more I experienced encounters with my big beautiful global family, the more I became convinced such diversity of peoples must reflect the very character of God. In other words, the closer we draw in our faith quest to find Truth, our embrace of the variety in cultures broaden.

In the west, Christian hospitality looks like wedding and baby showers; presents with lovely gift wrap, crafty party favors and pretty decorations. In Asia, hospitality manifests primarily with food and lots of it! Big, boisterous banquets where the amount of leftovers indicate the level of intentional love. Neither form of this spiritual exercise has the monopoly on faith. On the contrary, being exposed to both cultures expands one’s view of the outworking of our beliefs.

By the time our scrambling minds understood what was happening, the reciting of the pledge was halfway through. We felt sheepish and awkward for not joining in the custom, the familiar feeling of not belonging quietly crept in. I fight the urge to disappear, to flee this discomfort of exclusion. I remember I am bound to this community by marriage and by faith. I am reminded the TCK life can’t be forever reaching for a place to belong, but to bravely stay and still the voices in my head telling me I can’t fit in. Soon, a friendly face leaned over the pews and explained to us what was happening. The simple explanation communicated embrace. My complicated story entered a space, and instead of threatening the community with a different culture, it required explanations and elicited hospitality. Perhaps it caused some to be reminded not all who go to church pledge allegiance to a country, but that faith makes room for all cultures.

Our generation is in need of voices with storied backgrounds. TCKs who participate in a faith community are equipped to bring about a certain vitality and prophetic voice. They embody a different story to congregations with a single narrative. In this fast paced society of sound bytes and noise, we need the sharpened clarity brought by multiple cultural lenses, a valued asset TCKs possess. They live outside the box, upset the status quo, captivate larger dreams, and compel those around us to examine preconceived notions and to live with deeper integrity and passion.

A Note from the Author: My name is Cindy Brandt. Like a true Third Culture Kid, I feel sure I belong someplace, yet live each day in search of it. Along the way, I write about faith, culture, and beauty in the margins at cindywords.com. I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan with my husband and two TCKs with very well-stamped passports.