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.

city at night

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

Tcks and faith 1

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.

Big News!

Dear Friends,

We are continually so, so grateful for the ways this community and its conversations have spiraled out to the far reaches of the globe and down into the hard realities of working and seeking God internationally. Thank you for being here. We’re over 200 posts into this conversation about missions, and  1500 comments in, this community here in this corner of the web is a strong, honest, brave one.

As founders, Angie and I have a few small things to announce about the future of A Life Overseas. We hope you’ll find the following as exciting as we do:

RSS FEED/NEWSLETTER FIXED

We are so sorry for those who couldn’t get signed up for the RSS feed, either weekly or daily. We hadn’t realized that we had hit our limit of 2,000 subscribers through the service we were using. However, we changed some things around and everything should be working now. You should be getting our blog posts into your inboxes now. If you’re not sure if you are subscribed (or the old system wouldn’t let you), head over to the sidebar and sign up today.

GUEST POST EDITOR, CHECK!

We are grateful for the new leadership of Marilyn Gardner as our new Guest Post Editor. Marilyn will be handling all the correspondence with our guest posters and will be scheduling guest authors. If you are interested in pitching an idea or article (500-700 words) to Marilyn, feel free to writer her at: alifeoverseas {@} gmail.com and put “GUEST POST” in the subject line.

WELCOME KELLY JOHNSON and ALECE RONZINO to the TEAM

Angie and I are excited to watch the writing team continue to grow with more qualified and varied voices. We’re especially honored to have Alece Ronzino commit to writing as a quarterly author (you’ve already read some of her words here) and the talented Kelley Johnson will begin as a monthly contributor beginning in March. Below are their bios:

Alece HeadshotAlece Ronzino. After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

 

profile pic no markKelley Nikondeha. Kelley is a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader, mother of two beautiful children, lover of God’s justice & jubilee.  She leads theological conversations atAmahoro Africa and is chief storyteller for Communities of Hope. Kelley lives her life in transit between Arizona and Burundi. She’s in transit between continents but also in terms of her own experience of motherhood, discipleship, theological engagement and living into God’s dream for the world. She savors handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann. She is fueled by space and snacks (and Diet Coke). She blogs at kelleynikondeha.com and you an find her on twitter at @knikondeha.

Join us in welcoming Alece and Kelley to our writing team. Ladies, we are honored to haver your words here.

 

A LIFE OVERSEAS GOES INSTAGRAM:  #alifeoverseas

We want to invite your pictures into this community. If you are on instagram and if you have a photo that represents your life internationally, would you tag the picture #alifeoverseas? Your photo will automatically show up on this blog in the sidebar. 10 photos will be shown at a time. We think it will add incredibly interesting content to this site. Here are some guidelines for tagging:

* To cause photos to show up on the feed, tag them #alifeoverseas in your description of the photo on instagram.

* Think of photos that depict INTERNATIONAL LIVING and MINISTRY. (Not necessarily pictures of your dog back in Minnesota or you and your spouse on a date at the mall. Think scenery, nationals, activities, food, etc.- photos that depict the  uniqueness of your life and work overseas.)

* Be careful posting pictures of children or nationals without permission. As always with social media, please use discretion when posting photos of people or minors without their consent or knowledge. Be respectful, not exploitative.

* People will be able to read the descriptions of your photos, so we’d love for you to give us some context for your photo– who you are, where you work, what’s going on, etc.

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As always, thank you so much for joining us here, and thank you for your patience with us as we continue to juggle managing this space along with . . .  our normal, very full lives.

Soldier on, friends,

Laura and Angie 

Co-Founders/Editors 

Pardon My Dust

A Life Overseas mitchell Family 798

I taste it on my lips after a long car ride. I feel it in the pores of my skin at the end of the day. I resign that no matter how much I scrub, my feet with never be free of it. I brush it from my children’s hair at night and from my husband’s boots in the morning.

It is the dust of this place where we live, where we serve. It is the dust of the mission field.

It is surprising to find, when you think about it, how often Jesus talked about dust in the gospels. All those stories about washing feet? At their core, they are about dust. Thus the need to wash feet. And then there is this, his instruction to his disciples as he sends them out to the mission field:

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Matthew 10:14

If you have ever met a missionary, there is one thing you might have noticed: our dirty flip-flop wearing feet. I always say the scripture should have read, “Blessed (and dirty) are the feet that bring the Good News.”

You see we live and work and walk in places where roads are made of dirt, dirt that turns to mud in rain. We go out to meet God’s people in tucked away corners of the world where floors are made of red clay  or gray dirt or covered in desert sand. We live in homes where open doors and open windows leave everything covered in a thin layer of outside. We are dusty people.

And this, really, is only appropriate, because Jesus’ words above to His disciples about shaking the dust off their feet in the place they are not accepted imply an assumption: while you live and work and try to bring the Good News to a place, you will get dirty with its dust. And if you are in fact accepted and welcomed by the people of that place, the assumption further implies that you will wear the dust of that place for a long time. It will cling to you. Become part of who you are. So much so that it is not easily washed away or shaken off in the face of hardship, sacrifice, disappointment, or fear.

The dirt of your end of the earth sticks and clings and blends with who you are, seeps in through your pores and begins to pulse through your veins. For me, it is that dust that propels my legs to climb the next mountainous uphill to reach my brothers and sisters in a faraway village when I think I cannot walk another step. It is that dust that sends me day after day to the clothesline and the rice cooker and the bean pot rather than packing for the nearest city and the best artisan burger and hottest shower I can find. It is that dust that makes my hands reach for the hands of the poor and the sick and the lonely, to stroke their heads and kiss their faces before I begin to waver in hesitancy. This place, it has become part of me. My heart beats with bits of its earth, I’m sure. My soul sings in its tongue. Its people have opened their doors and their hearts and their homes to me and to the God I have come to serve. And so its dust has clung to my feet.

That kind of clinging, it transforms a person. It makes us part of a place as the place becomes part of us. It gives us the strength to keep living this utterly dependent, overwhelming beautiful life: seeking, serving and sharing Him. It allows us to leave a place without leaving it behind, to become advocates for the people there we love, to encourage others to go to that end of the earth, to be changed forever by wearing the dust of a place that now runs through our very core.

There are certainly times for shaking off dust, as Jesus says, but very often for us missionaries, the implied opposite is true, we become dirty with the love of a place of its people and wear its dust as a part of us forever.

What are some ways you wear the dust of the place(s) you live/have lived? How has the culture of that place(s) clung to you and changed you? What color is the dust you wear?

Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa RicaColleen

blog: Blessed Are The Feet work: www.saintbryce.org and Mercy Covers initiative

Previous post here on A Life Overseas: When Your Missionary Teen Struggles

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Confusing the ‘American Dream’ for the Good Life

Today A Life Overseas welcomes Jody Fernando as a guest poster. Today Jody writes an insightful post on the ‘good life’ and the Christian message and it’s guaranteed to generate some good conversation. You can read more about Jody at the end.

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Chasing the wind

A deep bass beat rippled through the darkness of the dance club.  Strobe lights flashed outlines of bodies, some clinging, some flailing, some just sitting and staring.  A newly arrived English teacher to Burkina Faso,West Africa, this wasn’t exactly the way I had anticipated learning about a new culture.  However, my new West African friends had mistakenly assumed that because I was American, this would be the scene in which I felt most comfortable.  I am neither a clubber by personality nor a dancer by ability.

I ordered a Coke and did my best to play wallflower – not an easy task for one of two nasaras (white people) in the room.  Pondering the scene, I realized ironically that I was the only person in the room not donning the “American” uniform of jeans and T-shirts.  As the beat shook the walls, we abandoned our attempt at conversation and coolly turned our attention to the crowd, all the while Solomon’s warning about chasing the wind thundering through my head (Ecclesiastes 1 & 2).

With tight Levi’s, smooth moves, and Coke bottles, the clubbers of the night chased their imagined version of what they dreamt the abundance of the West must be like. I recognized it as the unspoken ‘American Dream’ – the relentless pursuit of riches for oneself, comfort, materialism, image obsession and endless entertainment.

In class, my Burkinabé students echoed similar assumptions, believing that American streets were literally paved with gold.  Consequently, it wasn’t difficult to understand why a ticket to America was their dream come true (especially since most of the roads in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city, were not paved at all).  This mentality recurred throughout Ouagadougou – American flags on T-Shirts, pictures of American movie stars on billboards, or American rock classic playing in restaurants.

As I grew to love the warmth of African hospitality and graciousness, I also grew increasingly fearful that such cultural strengths would be blown away by the very winds they were chasing.  

“This isn’t what you want,” I challenged my students one day as we discussed the opulence of American culture, “I know it appears enticing, especially in comparison to the poverty, hunger, and injustice people here face on a daily basis.  But what I see being chased – the pride of “image”, the greed of materialism, the selfishness of “independence” – is a façade.  It won’t get you any further than where you are now.  Financial poverty in America is limited, but spiritual poverty is widespread.  Not many go hungry for food, but droves starve for love, recognition, and success.  The injustice to our own is not as blatant as what many countries see in their leaders, but there are still many left unfairly forgotten, neglected.”

Living in America, I know full well the great gifts offered by my homeland.  Yet both Americans and the world alike need be cautious to mistake the American Dream for an authentically good life.  The good life in America is not, as many movies broadcast, a big house, flashy car, and fat paycheck.  It’s not even a trip to Disney World or luxurious day at the spa. In contrast, it lies in the richness of relationships, the depth of meaningful callings, careers, and passions, and the sweetness of community known throughout the whole world wide.  While it may take on a different flavor, sing in another key, or follow different rules, the good life knows no national boundaries.

Complicating matters even further, because the world so often views America as a Christian nation, it can be easy for those from other countries to assume that this materialistic, indulgent version of a ‘good life’ is also tied to Christianity as well.  This association hurts the gospel we carry forward, and leaves many with a broken interpretation of what it truly offers.

Like some of my West African friends, many Americans waste valuable time chasing the wind.  Sadly, we are not alone in our misguided pursuits.  The realities of globalization necessitate the world-at-large to exercise greater caution, discernment, and wisdom in embracing which aspects of our worlds we export to each other.  For Americans, surrounded by such abundance, the line between needs and wants becomes indistinguishable at times.  Yet an authentic life, one that chases more than just the wind, works hard to flesh this distinction out.  Both in America and across the globe, may the faithful not confuse the flashiness of the American dream with the rich blessings of a life well lived.

What does a ‘good life’ look like where you live?  What are effective ways to help people around the world separate the notions of the abundance of America/the West from the message of the Christian faith?

Jody ALOSAbout the author: Jody Fernando does a lot of living between worlds.  A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean.  Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents.  She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blog Between Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry

 

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Embrace the Chaos

We are happy to welcome guest writer Michael Andrzejewski to A Life Overseas. As you read his story take a moment to be aware of the gift of chaos on your life right now. How can you embrace it as the divine provision that it is?

Michael Andrzejewski Embrace the Chaos dinner plates

Normally supper starts out calmly at our house. We gather around the table, fill our plates with food, someone thanks the Lord, and we eat. Old fashioned family dinner. 

It happens almost every night. We don’t eat in front of the TV. We still eat at the table. Together. 

It reminds me of eating with my grandparents as a kid, but I’m not as ornery as Papa used to be.

We talk about how our day went. We talk about tests and homework and activities and everything that involves the logistics of a family of seven.

Then, about the time that I’m dismissing myself from the table, it spirals into chaos.  Pleas of “Don’t leave me alone!!” have known to come from my wife.

Movie lines are recited. Imitations are done. And, there’s a bunch of, “…then, he was like….and I was like….and then she was like…” followed by howling and cackling.

Chaos. Joyful chaos, born out of a genuine desire to spend time together and be around one another. 

I confess. I don’t always deal well with it. From the comfort of another room, I’m heard yelling about inside voices and stuff being broken.

Chairs slide across the kitchen, music gets turned to 11, and five kids sing and do dishes and sweep, all while goofing off. With the door shut it sounds like a bar fight. Every now and then it gets pretty close to that, without the booze.

Kids aren’t perfect and neither am I, but I’m trying to learn to embrace this chaos. I’m not going to try to harness the energy or teach a lesson or boss anyone around. I want to try to ride the wave because I know that one day it won’t always be like this.

One of these days, the manna’s going to disappear. And, it’s not coming back. 

I would’ve loved to taste that bread from heaven. The bread of angels. It was so new and so original that the Israelites named it something akin to “doohickey” or “thing-a-ma-jig.”

Manna. It was never seen before and unless it makes a special appearance at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, it probably will never be seen again. It is a perfect type of the Lord Jesus. It was sent from heaven and definitely has a palpable saving quality to it.

But they got tired of it. They got sick of it and started asking for meat. They wanted more. They wanted better. Numbers 21:5 says that they loathed the “light bread.” They fussed and complained until God sent them what they wanted, along with a side of consequences.

The Psalmist tells it better than anyone else I’ve ever heard.

“Then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalms 106:12-15)

With a little pairing of the Scriptures, it comes out like this: 

  • They believed his words but forgot his works.
  • They sang his praise but didn’t wait for his counsel.
  • They lusted, then they tempted God.

Here’s what happened to Israel after leaving Egypt: They lived in grace for a time, until they decided that they knew better. They were fed with bread that God prepared especially for them and especially for that time. They tired of the first angel food cakes and began to complain.

They wanted everything to go back to normal. Egypt normal. Their thankfulness and joy lasted only for a short season. They remembered the garlic and leeks, but they totally forgot about those other little details of bricks, taskmasters and bondage. They had a serious case of selective memory. 

They didn’t embrace the chaos. Like a running back imitating John Heisman, they stiff-armed the blessings of the Almighty and kept right on running toward destruction.

One thing that living in a different culture and on the foreign mission field has done for me is force me to loosen up, relax and depend upon God. The money may not be in the bank when I think it’s supposed to be there. The response to the Gospel may not be as quick as I think it should be. The separation from friends and family may be tougher than I want it to be, and everything may look chaotic and out of order, but…

…I’ve got nothing greater than I can do other than embrace the chaos and realize that God’s smack dab in the middle of it all. He’s the city calmly at the eye of the storm.

This is my manna. What I have is what God has prepared for me at this time, and in this place, for one simple reason – because He wanted to do it like that.

Occasionally, being on the mission field, following Jesus, living in the overflow can feel like a wilderness situation, until we stop and throw our arms around the chaos and hold on tight. Embracing the chaos is determining to find Him in it all. It’s not bitterness and it’s not begging to go back to Egypt.

It’s looking across the table at your brothers and sisters and saying, “…and then he was all like….and I was like….”

Complete with howling and cackling.

Tell us about your chaotic provision. What mundane happenings around you might you be overlooking as God’s handiwork? Please take a moment to share in the comments section below.

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Michael Andrzejewski bio picMichael Andrzejewski. Missionary. Writer. Normal Guy. Serving in Western Europe since early 2008, with his wife Nina and their 5 kids, Michael loves to share his stories. A graduate of West Point but an introvert by nature, he swims upstream while struggling to pastor cross-culturally. Passionate about both the Gospel and football, he constantly searches for really good sushi. His stories have been published by several small-town newspapers and magazines. He opines about missions at michaelandrzejewski.com and looks forward seeing Jesus one day. Follow him on Twitter (@cbcportugal).

A God Not Limited by Geography

Some thoughts on living in the United States and in Asia, and how God will never be limited by geography. I wrote this originally nearly a year and a half ago, when we first relocated back to the US: 

It’s hard to reconcile the two lives I’ve lived in the past two weeks. One overlooking rice fields, the other at the foot of Pike’s Peak. One with Mississippi-summer-heat by 9 am, the other too chilly even for my cutest of skirts. One with scooters flying and orchids climbing, the other with bikes on trails beside pine trees and aspens.

In many ways, it’s a bit of an out-of-body experience that leaves me still feeling like a fish-out-of-water.

Like the times when I’ll start to bow politely {or “y”} to an elderly person, like we’d always do in Asia for a greeting, and then have to make like I’m  super-interested in something related to my shoe. Or the times when I just can’t seem to read the menus on the board fast enough and the line behind me grows longer, causing the lady at the cash register to politely huff.  There are moments when I’ll start to answer in Asian and catch myself, moments when I have to really concentrate to drive on the right side of the road,

moments when the options at the grocery store make me simultaneously feel as if I’ve won the lottery and gotten buried by a landslide. 

And then there are differences that run deeper than the 27 flavors on the yogurt aisles or the position of a steering wheel. This American life has a different pace than our Asian one did. It’s faster, but in many ways, it’s easier, too. Simple tasks, like signing my kid up for soccer or getting a bookshelf for our living room, can be accomplished ohsoquickly here. With one stop. In a language and system I intrinsically understand. In fact, Matt said the other day that he felt much more efficient working in the States because so much of his energy wasn’t’ expended on basic family survival. And I get this.

But sometimes easier can translate into a false sense of spiritual-numbness, too.

I remember in Asia, I prayed literally every time I got in a car because the driving was so incredibly stressful– I prayed we wouldn’t hit a baby and mother on a scooter, I prayed the police wouldn’t stop us, I asked for angels to surround our 20-year-old car. And here? Well, honestly, I haven’t prayed once for God’s protection driving– maybe because I don’t feel like I really need it.

In SE Asia, I also remember pleading with God for the grace to be positive and thankful when I walked out with groceries from the local 7-11, and it was painfully the same five things to eat for breakfast and lunch: cereal, yogurt, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, and noodles with ketchup. But here in the States?  We sit down to feasts nightly, and I’m not sure we’ve eaten the exact same thing twice in two weeks. And while I do breathe gratitude for the abundance, I’m not forced into a place of pleading when I sit down to my grilled chicken, yeast rolls, and broccoli that you can buy pre-chopped and in little steamer bags.

Back here at home, I don’t have to beg for supernatural understanding with a language I never could quite fully get. I don’t have to grasp for Spirit-grace like a rope out of a pit. I don’t have to praylikemad that I’ll be able to survive another day on 50% oxygen.

And I do have a natural fear that all this abundance will quickly become my norm, the expected. And my nice used van will somehow become too small, and Walmart will somehow not have exactly what I want {is that really possible?}, and I’ll complain about that. Or, worse, that I’ll be in such a rush that I’ll be rude to the lady at the checkout counter. I have a fear that the things I’ve learned overseas will fade quickly, like a childhood memory or summer camp or a New Year’s resolution I only kept till Febraury.

But, then, then I remember that God is always, always in the business of transformation. And to say that transformation can only take place overseas is a lie, just like it’s a lie that says the change that happened there will disappear when you are living back in your home country.  

God has never been bound by latitude, after all.

And to claim that he works more or better in one location than the another is stuffing him in a box he’ll keep refusing to stay in.

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Do you fall into the assumption that God does more or better work in and through you while living overseas? What is the danger (is there a danger?) of this subtle belief? 

Laura Parker, Co-founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia

 

Happy Birthday, A Life Overseas!

When Angie Washington and I dreamed of a safe place online for people in the trenches of working and ministering overseas, written by people living and ministering overseas. We wanted a community where honest conversations and gritty realities were honored, a space where challenge and encouragement could be shared with respect and intention.

And now, one year and nearly 280,000 visits later, amid 3,500 comments, this space is thriving. 

And we, as a community of writers, just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for making this place a corner of the web where we all want to be at least a little bit each week. The following is a little video message from us, from several different continents. . . .

Happy Birthday, friends. Here’s to another year of honest conversations from around the globe. 

Laura Parker

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We’d love to hear from you. As we plan for next year, what would you like to see more of? What topics would you like covered?

Or, would you share the ways in which this community has challenged or encouraged you? Any specific post that touched you? 

 

Want to give us a birthday present? Consider sharing this post online, subscribe via the sidebar, liking us on Facebook, or (the ultimate gift) ask your friends to connect with us on facebook, as well.

 

The Voice of the National – Global

Next Door NeighborsEarlier this month we invited you to participate in a post designed to further the conversations surrounding missions around the world. This post is the summarized compilation of the answers you sent us. Thank you to everyone who took the time to sit and listen. Even if you did not contribute to this post we encourage you to use these questions as launching points for gaining deeper understanding, trust, and connections.

 

Allow me to introduce you to our international panel

 

– In Nicaragua, Cassie interviewed her friend Juan.

 

– Ellen spoke with Samuel, from a very rural nomadic community of pastoral people in Northern Kenya, who moved up from teacher, to headmaster, to school inspector and is now: Constituency Elections Coordinator Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for Kenya.

 

– Dustin interviewed Dr. Hugo Gomez who works throughout Central America. He the president of Global CHE Enterprises with community development efforts in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

 

– Levi submitted answers from a group of local pastors in Japan.

 

The first questions speak of impact.

 

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

 

Juan said:

The missionaries that I have found to be the most helpful are those who are open to sharing their lives with us and at the same time learning from us.  They have had different experiences in their lives and are able to share and learn with us about how to live in a more peace and just-filled world.  Missionaries also have a lot of access to financial capital and resources, which can be beneficial if it is used correctly.

 

Samuel said:

The core issue is the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

They blend the spread of the gospel with developmental issue in areas that touch on humanity development (medical work, education, part time jobs in their areas of specialization etc.).

They come in handy in very remote areas in seeking solution to perennial problems bedeviling residents of the far flung marginalized communities. Just thinking of how for example they help during boreholes breakdowns, means of transport from time to time, cases of expectant mothers that develop complications during deliveries to referral hospitals.

Through exchange programmes for students and interns empowerment in relevant fields is enhanced.

Revenue collection in Missionaries run facilities am thinking of the Buffalo country Kijabe (The hospital and the academy and all those replicated in the country)

Hold Nations accountable to the people in some instances.

 

Dr. Hugo Gomez said:

– Role Model of Commitment to the calling obeying the Great Commission and Great Commandment leaving their comfort zone even Short, Middle or Long Term.

– Set example of Wholistic Ministry amidst biased or dichotomized widely spread worldview.

– Conduct good studies, keep statistics way far better than most of us nationals.

– Help nationals plan and evaluate more objectively (specially whenever evaluations are in a participatory style)

– Set good models of Stewardship/Administration for Ministries and Institutions.

– Set good examples of punctuality, order and ornamentation.

– During the 60s introduced diversification of crops in contrast with Monoculture/monocrop growing corn and only corn (staple food).

– Have done New Testament Translations to most of the 24 languages and whole Bible translations to about a dozen Maya languages.

– Have provided or channeled scholarships both in-country and abroad for theological studies, secondary and university and post graduate studies

– Have trained and equipped Christians (and non-Christians) for ministry

– Have helped or invested in projects of infrastructure, church facilities, schools, clinics, housing, wells and other well-intentioned projects.

 

The Japanese pastors said:

Believers visiting from another country can give a great example of what it means to be a Christian: ‘Not what to do, but what to be.’ (This was explained to be especially true for Japan, which doesn’t have the Christian heritage of a country like the UK.)

 

Also, having Christians from different countries attend Japanese churches acts as an ‘object lesson’ in having international worship. … teams to Japan should not try to be Japanese, but rather seek to love the Japanese, and thus give an example of what it means to share Christian fellowship across cultural barriers.

 

The second question addresses assessment.

 

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

 

Juan said:

I have seen all types of missionaries here in Nicaragua.  There are several that come here, don’t learn Spanish, live in their huge houses on the outside of town and have no real and meaningful interaction with the local people.  But there are other types of missionaries who choose to live among the poor, immerse themselves in their communities, come as learners and have an impact through relationships.  We really need more of the second!

 

Samuel said:

Missionary work has come of age thus the need for the current crop of missionaries to live with realities of time in their engagements with the local communities.( Building of partnerships in activities undertaken to add value to works done once they leave.)

Supplement government effort in alleviation of suffering among the citizenry.

 

Dr. Hugo Gomez said:

– By  increasing cross-cultural understanding efforts.

– By  increasing contextualization in contrast with culturalization which leads to alienation.

– By  continuing to train and equip national leadership.

– By empowering national leadership by gradual delegation of authority.

– By helping in multiplication of local leadership.

– By “working with” instead of “doing for”

– By letting nationals design and build once safe and widely accepted technical specifications are met.

– By avoiding systematic relief services.

– By encouraging nationals to invest their local resources (human, material, financial, livestock, property, etc) as much as possible.

– By promoting and encouraging Transformational Development Ministries like CHE.

– By continuing to witness about the Good News of Christ to non-believers and to disciple new believers

 

The Japanese pastors said they would like:

People with a willingness to: make friends, receive help, listen & learn, give the language a go. Good communication before and during ministry. Establishment of sustainable ministries. Respect for the local leadership. Humility.

“The pastor is the shepherd, so before you do anything with his sheep you should ask him.”

“The best type of missionary is a person with a broad heart.”

 

The third question gives us a look at the future.

 

3. What is your dream for your country?

 

Juan said:

My dream for Nicaragua is that all people could live in peace and out of poverty – with their day to day needs met while feeling like they are contributing to the great society.

 

Samuel said:

To see a country anchored in the Lord, that is at peace with itself and its neighbours

A country where human suffering is minimized and where there is room for all to grow in all spheres of life.

A country where there is equitable distribution of resources.

 

Dr. Hugo Gomez said:

To see individuals, families, communities continuously multiplying in and through Community Health Evangelism towards Transformational Development in the Abundant Life the Lord has made available for all here on earth and for eternity.

 

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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.

What have you learned lately from the people of your current nation of residence? 

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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.