Voice of the National ~ Aminatou

About a month ago, we had a conversation here about one of those unsettling and sometimes divisive (at least as far as opinions about best practices) components of our expat, international lifestyle – local men and women employed to handle those domestic tasks and home maintenance labor.

One thing I did pick up from that conversation was that for many of us, we find it a challenging life choice wherever we fall on the continuum, and it often involves great extremes of feelings… and opinions we are often too willing to share.

In our time overseas, we’ve had full time help, live-in help, part-time help and no help at all. That about covers the range of possibilities! We’ve had great help, adequate help, annoying help and bad help. That also about covers most of the possibilities. We’ve hired, fired, discovered, trained, trained for others, paid medical bills, advanced education fees, financed motorcycle and car loans, submitted the equivalent of social security to the government because of our help, and doled out retirement and indemnities – to name a few. At the risk of repeating myself, That about covers the gamut as well.

As expat, international workers, we all shared our thoughts, ideas and opinions. I thought it might be interesting to hear from “the other side. ” What do these hired workers, men and women who come into our homes and practically live day in and day out with us:

  • think of us,
  • think of what we’ve come to do, and
  • think of how we go about doing it?

But the very biggest question I had?

the help 2
Screen shot from The Help.

Could I convince someone to actually really, truly, openly and authentically talk with me, risk the revealing  and answer some possibly difficult questions about his/her interactions with expats, about what it is like in his/her shoes… or would he/she simply parrot the answers he/she believed I would want to hear?

God was gracious.

I have a friend who has spent almost 30 years working as “la bonne,” (or domestic help) in the homes of expats. She is currently working in the home of expats and she agreed to talk with me… as long as I would protect her identity. (You know? I bet I could sell this as a book or movie idea… except? Drats! It has already been done!) Thus for the sake of her privacy, I will call her Aminatou.

1. In what ways do you have a connection to missionaries or foreign aid workers?

I have worked in the homes of foreigners and strangers for most of the last thirty years. I married my husband when I was 16 and immediately began working as a house helper. My employers have been Lebanese, French, Canadian, American and German. I have always had a very good relationship with the wives and women in the homes where I have worked. I consider those women not only my friends, but my sisters.

2. What is the honest opinion about missionaries and foreign aid workers held by the people of this region?

We are a very poor and needy people here. We know that the aid workers and missionaries who come make mistakes and sometimes people get hurt and things get messed up. But it is good to think of others. It is good to teach others how to help themselves. I believe that is the goal of most of the workers who come here. We have to be patient with the times bad thing or injuries happen. We must be thankful for the good.

3. How have missionaries or foreign aid workers helped you personally?

They have employed me and sometimes members of my family. They have become like my family, praying for me, listening to me, sharing their lives with me, living in community with me and sharing things when I need them. I want to be very careful with my words and the things that I say because my employers, even those who have not been kind, have helped me and my family.

4. How have missionaries or foreign aid workers helped your region specifically?

We have faith based international workers (Christian and Islamic) here and also those who come to help us grow our economies and to figure out  and learn better and smarter ways to use the resources God has already provided for us here. I think both groups have helped Niger, although it would be good to see the different groups collaborate more. I do think it is the Christian missionaries who do the most  to help this land. Muslim missionaries rarely listen to the people. Christian missionaries do sometimes. It is the developmental workers, the Peace Corp and aid workers who do the best job of listening to what we want, where we think we need help and then try and assist us in coming up with and funding a plan.

5. Do you see any negative effects of missionaries or foreign aid workers in your region? If so, explain.

Sometimes. But I feel it would be ungrateful and disloyal to answer that question. I believe I said earlier that the positive far outweighs the negative. People will make mistakes and God uses those mistakes to teach us more patience, more suffering and more thankfulness.

Screen shot from The Help.
Screen shot from The Help.

6. What advice would you give to new missionaries or foreign aid workers coming to your region?

Focus your attentions and efforts on working with young girls and young women. If you want to see this country truly change, that is where the work must start. People assume that because so many of this people are Muslim, that girls and women can have no impact. They are wrong. They are your best resource and will have the most significant and explosive impact for changing this place.

7. What advice would you give to missionaries or foreign aid workers who have been in your region for a long time (many years)?

Don’t plan so much, inchallah. Leave the future in God’s hands and have faith. Be prudent when you do feel compelled to plan. Never stop praying because God works through his Jesus followers, and even in places like this, where missionaries and others often keep to busy and get discouraged, God keeps working.

8. What is the oddest thing you have ever seen a foreigner do?

We probably don’t have time to list all of the strange things I’ve seen foreigners do? One family I used to work for had me watch their children at the pool. The children would swim for awhile and then I was supposed to take them home and give them another bath. I still don’t understand the point of that.

9. Do you feel like you have a say in what you do or do not do when working in an expat’s home? Or do you feel obliged to do what is asked, even if it is hard or uncomfortable for you?

I am a Muslim. I am happy with my faith and do not plan to ever change or convert. I also believe that I honor Jesus well as a Muslim. Some of my employers will ask me if it bothers me to cook using pork or food that does not qualify as “halal.” I appreciate that. Some do not ask but simply assume. I try to do whatever it is that my employer asks because my job is important. I am thankful for my sisters who try and understand that there are some things that are very hard for me to do, and are willing to find out about those things and offer to let me live and work according to my conscience.

10. Do you like this job? Or do you dream of something different? Do you ever feel completely comfortable in this job, helping others live at a standard you cannot achieve for your own family?

My husband used to be a school teacher. But he is from another country and then laws were passed so that he could not work as a teacher in this place. He sometimes gets jobs as a répétiteur (like a tutor, a person hired to work with students to memorize the text of their lessons so that they can recite them in class the next day). But I have to work or my children cannot go to school. Some day, I dream of becoming a small business woman, with my own tiny boutique where I am my own boss and still able to help provide for my family.

There are some days when I am not easy of heart working for expats. I daily work with luxuries and realities, like you said, that my family cannot access or achieve. But because I work, my children eat, have clothes and a home, can go to the doctor when they need to and we have the hope that our life will continue to get better.

Even with all that my employers have, I would not like to live as they do.

11. If you could give one message to your past, present and future employers, what would that be?

I am smart and I am strong. Treat me as your sister and respect that about me. Treat me as an equal, even if I didn’t finish primary school or can’t read.

When your house helper makes a mistake or does something you don’t understand, ask him or her about it. Don’t first assume bad motivations.

If you feel compelled to talk with your other expat friends about your helper, please be sure to let your helper know whether the recommendations will be good or bad. What you say when you get together can ruin careers… and lives.

That is the way I strive to treat you.

12. What have you learned from your connections with foreigners?

I have learned that no matter where in this world people begin, we are, in the end, more alike than we are different. When I was young, I did not believe that and foreigners where different, dangerous and from the devil. Some days that is true of all of us. Some days it is true of only some of us.


What did you find most interesting, most informative or most unexpected about Aminatou’s responses to these questions?

If you could ask her any question at all, what would it be and why?


– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

What if my kids start resenting “the work?”


This question must cross the mind of every missionary parent, at least at some point.

I know it has crossed mine… and more than just once.

First, I wonder- What would it look like, their resentment, I mean? Would my child become angry and act out? Would I see sullen and negative with constant complaining discouraging everyone around him? What if my child grew sad, depressed and began to withdraw from life in general? Could her resentment of my calling impact current or future desires to have a relationship with Jesus? Might one of them dislike missions and end up with a deep standing, negative attitude towards missionaries or others working internationally? What if they begrudge the opportunity to have normal childhood experiences? Will my kids feel I’ve somehow deprived them by my choices? Will the hours my husband and I have spent ministering to others spur jealousy and envy of missed afternoons by the pool or mornings spent playing alone in the sand because Mama was busy translating at the computer? What if they are convinced I’ve chosen God and my career over them?

I don’t like to think about those questions very much.

I have often heard it said: God first, spouse second, children next and then ministry and career after that. I’m also not so sure what I believe about that way of thinking and ordering priorities these days.

We like to put things in a hierarchical, linear fashion, don’t we? It makes sense and who does not want to have their priorities organized, and lined up correctly, right? Maybe my discomfort with this idea originates within – I know my own heart when I apply a ranking like this to my decision making process. If it is something I want to do, I pull the God-first trump card and I can hear myself saying –

  • “God has asked me to walk this path for this season…”
  • “God has deeply impressed in my heart that…”
  • “Look how God has opened up all these doors for me to…”
  • “I would have never sought this opportunity myself. God truly dropped it right into my lap and I know He wants…” or even
  • “I’m not so sure what He wants me to do, but I’m going to move forward and trust Him to shut the door if…”

What makes this doubly hard and so tempting is that I tend to be a “Yes-person.” Aren’t many of us involved in ministry or service to others, internationally or otherwise? I easily act as though I believe that if I don’t do a needed job, no one will and it won’t get done… which is no better than behaving as though I’m critical to eternal success.

On the other side, suppose I’m looking at the exact same situation, but instead of excitement or anticipation, ambivalence and reticence regarding some upcoming task, new responsibility or unexpected ministry opportunity overwhelm both my feelings and thinking process. I can just as easily approach any discussion with the “truth” that any ministry must always, under every circumstance, come after family responsibilities, claiming –

  • “My children really need me around more on Saturday afternoons. I don’t think I should give up any more family time already…”
  • “I’m so tired lately. I don’t know how I can be a godly wife, mama, chauffer, house help AND missionary all at the same time…”
  • God would never ask me to sacrifice my children and their needs for the sake of…”
  • “God expects me to take care of my husband, children and home before I get involved in other ministries…” or
  • “My bigger ones are starting to feel I care more about… than I do about them.”

This perspective is a huge temptation because I do love my family and I’m a perfectionist, another trait shared by many who have followed this calling and career path. After hearing about  a very simple, logical priority ladder to consult when making decisions explained, I know I can follow that flow chart, organize all my decisions so that they fit and thus “be” perfect.


Please don’t think that I think that any of the above statements are categorically wrong, or that any who might have said them or something similar are using high and haughty words to justify the desires of their own heart. In fact, for others, that may never be the case. I just know my own heart, its stealthy deceitfulness – and I know that it is a huge temptation… because when I say something along those lines, really… how CAN anyone else hold me accountable for my decisions and my corresponding courses of action? Either way, I’m obeying God, right? I’m either putting Him above all… or I’m keeping my priorities in line, all based on man’s wisdom… and what I want to do. Very few will dare to tread on a friend’s or a colleague’s or even a spouse’s (sometimes) toes asking hard questions and really seeking to help him/her evaluate those priorities and the decision making progress, spending time in passionate prayer for and with the other person regarding each step, each opportunity. I know I rarely willingly agree to be either one of those two people.

Maybe I’m also convinced of this ~

There may be times when it looks like I’m sacrificing my family or my children because of something I know I’m supposed to do. There may be moments when my children do resent the work or the fact that they don’t have some opportunity that they want to pursue. My husband may question my commitment to ministry when I tell him that our children really do need a break from Sunday school in a second language. There will probably also be seasons where our partners back home wonder what’s the point in sending all that support money just so I can be wife and Mama on the back side of the desert.

I guess I don’t think there exists a cut and dried answer to the question… I can’t reduce it to a simple, logical priority placement plan. I WISH it was that easy. I do know I need to find a place of sincerity, moderation and balance.

Yet there’s no guarantee. Even if I, by God’s grace, do land on a right priority balance between following God, caring for my family and devotion to ministry and others ~ my children might still resent “the work” or at least some aspect of this life. Maybe part of my job includes discipling them while modeling and living authentically before them this struggle to find balance and perspective?


I’m curious. What do you, in general, think about all of this?

Do you find it difficult? Why or why not?

What do you think about the prioritization hierarchy I mentioned above? Is it helpful to you?

How do you keep right priorities and balance in your life?


– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

The mercury’s climbing…

Let’s talk about the weather… even though frankly, I’d really rather not –

-but that is because it is miserably, uncomfortably hot these days.

When we talk about the weather here, we say we have three seasons:


miserably, uncomfortably hot, and

even worse.

That miserably, uncomfortably hot has begun… well over 104’F/40’C during the afternoon… every day, most of the day. We still have a long chunk of time  (and I know it will only get worse) before we get to the start of the rains and a return to the simple hot, probably sometime in mid to late June.

I dread this time every year; I also recognize that this, too, shall pass. I can finally accept that productivity declines, naps are imperative, tempers run short, power and water cuts will be frequent (and if you are on one of those lines that gets cut first, then remember that God is developing long-suffering in your life), clothes will be dripping sweat most of the time and some nights sleeping on a wet cotton cloth on the relative coolness of the tile floor is a simple given. I have friends who evaluate the heat by how many showers they take in a day – a 5 shower day is pretty bad. Other friends of mine categorize using an independent heat index – how long it takes to start sweating again once dried off after a shower.

And that has been March, April and May every year I have lived in this desert land.

But yesterday…

…yesterday I caught myself doing one of those things I detest. One of my new-to-Niger-this-year friends mentioned that it was getting very hot in the afternoons. I replied with some supposedly witty comment to the effect of “you ain’t felt nothing’ yet!”

How did my comment encourage, edify or exhort my friend? It didn’t. Not one iota. In fact, it was probably discouraging. Instead of benefiting my friend, I have decided that those words somehow exalted me and my status as one of the vets of many Marches, Aprils and Mays. With those words, I swaggered arrogant, using my status as a long-termer to make myself look good… and tough… and maybe a little unfazed by the heat when someone else was wondering how in the world she was going to survive… I like to think, after all, that I am one of those “real” missionaries.

Maybe because of the nature of one of the particular ministries with which I’m involved – with the constant interplay between the new or limited term folks, newbies, versus the long-term vets, oldies – I easily catch myself adopting this boastful, arrogant attitude. Not helpful by any stretch of the imagination, I flaunt past experiences and challenging times I’ve survived like trophies for which I’ve competed and thus earned. This focuses attention on me. In a sense, I step into the limelight to take credit for what, in reality, God has done. I can make myself look more important or more spiritual that way, right?

There is a corollary:

I miss opportunities to direct eyes towards God, towards both the comfort as well as the miraculous thrill of experiencing His sustaining grace offered to each of His servants, regardless of status, length of service, place of service, type of ministry or difficult situation.

Many years ago, someone much wiser than I recorded these words:

 “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things…” (Jeremiah 9:22-23, NASB)

When I came to the mission field, I expected cultural challenges and occasional times of tension between seasoned workers and those with less experience. I recognized that both groups would have potential great contributions to make to the team effort and that the perspectives, skills and knowledge of each would be different and would carry significant value. I was also not so naive as to believe we would all get along perfectly all of the time. What I did not expect was that one day, I’d find I had adopted the veteran “culture,” myself, forgetting or minimizing in my mind what it was like to be fresh to the field, living it all for the very first time. I forgot just how the know-it-all, done-it-all, survived-much-worse-than-this message intentionally or unintentionally communicated by the oldies could so completely take any and all wind out of my sails.

And let me tell you – in this sort of heat? Any breeze is a necessary and delightful respite.

As a newbie, I had determined to maintain an attitude that valued teamwork, unity and only constructive confrontation in battles worth fighting. Now that many consider me a weathered vet of what it means to live and minister in this place, I easily forget that determination. I make those funny but cutting comments that are no better than boasting about the wrong things and that work against the hope of unity far more often than I care to count.

I guess I could blame it on hot season… If I actually said that out loud here, people would understand, laugh and mostly likely agree.

When I’m honest, though, I know the problem originates from within… all the number on the thermometer does is reveal what stays mostly hidden on the inside.


 If you are a new-to-the field missionary, how does it make you feel when veteran missionaries minimize your struggles or compare what you are going through to their past experiences or other occasions that seem more traumatic?

If you are a seasoned overseas worker, what checks and balances do you use to prevent boasting about yourself or your past accomplishments? How can you still use those same experiences and stories to encourage rather than discourage less seasoned colleagues?


photo credits to my colleague, Jessica Neff

 – Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

In the Face of Deep Disappointment

“Men and women enter ministry for various reasons.  ‘Because I want to be a deep disappointment to others as well as to myself’ is rarely listed among them.”

~ Jeff Manion The Land Between

Why are you, as an international worker, doing what you are doing?

And do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

I first read that Manion quote a few weekends ago. It isn’t even a key point in the book. but somehow reading it felt like blowing a tire (which we recently did… twice) on our Land Cruiser – and now I’m working to get that tire fixed and changed so I can move on.

Actually, I started reading this book several months back, but I got distracted and my enthusiasm petered out partway. So I set it aside and promptly forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were having a “discussion-” tensions are running high and people are a little on edge in our corner of the globe these days- and? It tends to show. Tim asked me what I was reading to both encourage and exhort. Not really wanting to answer his question, I tossed the Manion book vaguely (but gently) in his direction, implying that I was… That was not exactly truthful, for I hadn’t actually opened the book for a couple of months. It wasn’t, technically, a lie, because I had started and not yet finished it and it WAS STILL on the table beside my bed, available for me to pick up and resume reading any day…

I still felt guilty.

So that week I picked it up again – this time determined to finish it, hopefully be encouraged and exhorted… and promptly lurched over that quote.

How much of your time  – as an international worker, parent of TCKs, home schooler, language learner, church planter, disciple, translator, expat spouse, blogger/writer, people rescuer, gopher, fund raiser, friend,  awareness trainer, child of aging parents far away, Jesus follower… place whatever label you want on any of the many things that you do and hats that you wear – do you spend feeling like you’ve not measured up, not done enough, caused more harm than good or failed God, others and yourself, all of whom expected, all of whom deserved, so much more of and from you?

When I first stepped foot on this continent, like most fresh-out-of-the-gate missionaries, I was gung ho and sure:  God was going to use me for great things. I was available, good at what I did and I had no doubt I’d really impact people in this community as I lived serving Him and loving others. The icing on the cake would be that we’d look like that cool missionary family who always at least seemed to have it mostly all together.

That illusion lasted all of about 8.3 days.

And actually, lately, I’m acutely aware of how I rarely ever EVER measure up…

  • in the eyes of my local friends and colleagues – to some impossibly perfect and totally hypothetical missionary created from memories of someone here before me… a “mythological” Gladys Aylward, Isabel Crawford, Mother Theresa and Helen Roseveare all rolled into one;
  • in my eyes – to my own preconceived ideas of who I’d be, how I’d act and how much I’d be able to accomplish and how quickly and efficiently I’d get it done; or
  • in the eyes of family, friends and partners back home – to some image I’ve tried to carefully craft so that others would be impressed and therefore want to continue teaming up with us.

Whether it be in service, in time available, in ministry, in language or in how I relate to the person standing beside me that moment, I  often wonder if I’m not just falling short of some impossible standard I’ve set for myself, I’m also disappointing others.

Such disappointment deflates because:

  1. I do care what others think. I do want people to be happy with me. I like it when others label me “competent,” and just maybe, they are the tiniest bit impressed, with me or my family or my ministry.
  2. Recognizing number one above spotlights clearly that I’m still wrapped in concern for my own reputation and how I present myself to others…

And maybe that’s the point.

I need to stop worrying and striving to portray an image of me that I want people to believe and remember

…so that I am completely available to “put on” Jesus and more truly represent Him,

after all, don’t I want people to believe and remember Him?

I adjust my perspective.

I admit that apart from God I am inadequate for the task.

I stop worrying about what other people think of me.

Instead, I begin to concentrate on obedience and what God thinks of me.


As an international worker, how do you combat discouragement and the fear of disappointing those with whom you work and those to whom you minister? 

Do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

“Hard work is always hard work…”

Photo by Chris Peterson

Many, many years ago, I was a competitive gymnast.

Unlike most of my teammates, I delighted in the challenge of the balance beam.

Dancing, flipping, leaping and tumbling on nothing but a strip of wood wrapped in suede four inches wide, 16 feet long and lifted four feet above the ground exhilarated, thrilled and terrified my heart all at the same time! Ninety seconds of performing with literally palpable spectator suspense pushed me to try and do things I never dreamed possible.

I no longer relish that public balancing act like I did when I was younger.

On the other hand, I don’t see escape looming anywhere in the future. If I want to… or feel called and compelled  to… continue this expat, ministry oriented life my family leads, regardless of where we land, that is one of those things that will remain – the hard work of  seeking to graceFULLy negotiate balanced, obedient lives in very unbalancing worlds and situations.

We recently had a fascinating, thought provoking conversation here  about struggling and whether or not choosing suffering furthers God’s work. The general consensus was that it could, but it wasn’t necessarily necessary. In fact, there are as many good and right possibilities as there are individuals, and each one has to determine what is right, most effective and God’s will for him or her.   One may even find that what “is right” changes for different stages of life or in subsequent seasons of working on the field. My own words in this conversation echoed those thoughts: “I DO think there is a right and a wrong – but [they aren’t] black and white. The right and wrong comes in living obediently to how God specifically directs me, my family, or our team. The fact that it ISN’T black and white comes in recognizing that God doesn’t direct and organize cookie cutter lives, paths or ministries. Each one is as unique as the mix of individuals He brings together to do His work.”

Shortly after writing that, however, I remembered: when the Bible actually speaks of man doing what “is right” in his own eyes, it isn’t typically a good thing. That phrase, or something similar, occurs several times describing a historical period when Israel was ruled by judges. It was a cyclical time of ignoring God and falling away, capture,  captivity and servitude, a calling out for rescue, provision of that rescue, finally followed by re-dedication to whole-heartedly seeking God… until life and ministry resumed, got busy and distracting, and the people once again started disregarding God’s path and plan.

I’ve also found that same grouping of words in Proverbs…

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12.15, ESV)

Another verse?

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21.2, ESV)

There’s a tension that exists between:

  • clear standards to which I’m accountable whether they are good and right according to me. AND
  • still perceiving then obeying God’s specific and unique will for me where I’m living obediently in accordance with personal ideas and convictions.

I must work to balance those two, recognizing and admitting those times when what I think is God’s right plan for me is really nothing more than that which is right in my own eyes.

Like Belarussian gymnast Svetlana Boguinskaya said, “Hard work is always hard work!”

I find myself still trying to dance, flip, leap and tumble away on a very narrow strip. Not physically, of course, but in maintaining a balance by seeking what is right and best and God’s plan for my family and our unique situation without falling into the trap of simply choosing what’s comfortable or expected and then calling it “God’s right plan for me.”

This time the stakes are enormously higher. A slip or a fall no longer results in skinned legs or a turned ankle, some tears, tenths of points deducted from a total score and a missed podium opportunity.

The importance of maintaining that balance while still contending graceFULLy in the myriads of circumstances common to this life could have much larger, longer, even eternally significant, impact.


How do you find that balance between discerning God’s right plan for you

rather than simply doing what is right in your own eyes? 

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright


When the pieces don’t fit


It has been an absolutely and totally crazy first semester to my son’s senior year of high school.

It hasn’t been anything like what I hoped and dreamed for him.

In August – barely a week into the new school year – the river rose, the dike failed, the campus flooded and school abruptly stopped. Local authorities declared the campus officially a part of the Niger River until waters would recede and the dike could be rebuilt and reinforced – in April of next year.

The next three weeks a frenzy of activity ensued:  rescuing textbooks, school records, computers, pianos from the flooded campus buildings – mostly by canoe, cleaning and restoring furniture and other equipment that had sat in murky river water and worse for several days, new buildings located and readied (and anyone who’s tried to prepare local buildings in the developing world for habitation or use, knows that is no small feat), and finally schedules and classes rearranged and redistributed to spread our staff over two campuses while trying to make up lost educational hours.

School began again, but now everyone was already exhausted and in most cases, just tying the proverbial knot and hoping to hang on until Christmas vacation. That definitely included me.

So yes… Last Friday, relieved, I exhaled “Finally…”

Today, school books are mostly sequestered away in book bags shoved under beds or armoirs awaiting the New Year and we’ve got a bit more time on our hands to catch our breaths, bake, read, watch movies, build bonfires and roast marshmallows and, of course, work on jigsaw puzzles.

And that’s when it dawned on me… the Christmas season is nearly half over and as far as I was concerned, it hadn’t ever actually arrived. Or, I hadn’t noticed it had.

Then I started thinking about possibly my favorite family Christmas tradition: puzzle pieces spread on a table by the tree which becomes a cooperative family effort accompanied by often profound conversation, friendly competition, childish chatter, laughter, some frustration, hot chocolate or cider… all of which always leads to neglected bedtimes.

Remembering puzzles pierced the fog.

How can a missionary forget Christmas? How does one who lives and longs to communicate the message that, at its very core, is “God so loved… that He gave His only Son…” forget to ponder and celebrate both the Gift and the Giver? At this time of the year, especially?

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little less than the “good” missionary.

Many moons ago, as we sat in classes to theoretically prepare us to be those “good” missionaries and our imminent departure for the mission field, I heard someone say that Jesus was the first and only 100% missionary.

He alone has fully entered a foreign culture and completely become a participant of that new world while integrally remaining Who He was, back in His “heaven” culture.

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. God with us.

While I was able to intellectually grasp that concept when I first heard it, I believe I now have a better been-there-and-tried-to-have-done-that-but-mostly-failed understanding of at least this one aspect of what Jesus accomplished.

Christmas time always reminds me that it’s really hard, a sacrifice, to give up what you know and love to start all over in a world where most things are unfamiliar, you can’t communicate (for even if you can say the words, you’re sure to get the context or the nonverbal stuff all wrong), and skills once mastered must be completely relearned in a new context. Which you do. You learn. You adapt. You change. You become… And then you go home to think you’ll catch your breath to discover that you no longer fit. So you keep learning. Adapt again. Change some more.

It feels like someone has dumped all the puzzles, mixed up the pieces, thrown you back into the wrong box, and you now can’t figure out where or how you fit.

According to the Bible, Jesus has been there and done that.

He knows culture (and reverse culture) shock, burn out, and learning to live life while walking faithful and obedient in a strange new world. That’s a part of what we’re remembering during this “holy-day” season.

Additionally? Remembering this First Advent heralds the imminence of a coming, second one. 

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. He will FOREVER be God with us.


As you celebrate this season, what do you find hard? What do you love about an expat Christmas?

 What thoughts meander through your heart and mind as you remember that God is, remains, and will be forever with us?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

Generating Gratitude?

Thanksgiving is this week…

and so I feel a bit stupid starting out like this –  

I REALLY can’t stand listening to a generator.


I know. You’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”

First, I’ve listened to them an awful lot lately.

Additionally, generators are noisy, they stink, there’s usually a big puff of black smoke as they start up, I’m quite sure they can’t be good for the environment and they consume a whole lot of diesel fuel and that gets expensive. Those might actually be considered valid reasons. They aren’t the ones behind my stronger than ambivalent dislike.

My antipathy towards those monstrosities authorizing electricity for some while everyone else plunges into darkness is simply sinful.

I detest them because I don’t have one…  while everyone else around me does… repeatedly jogging my memory of something I’d rather ignore.

When the power goes out – I’m stuck sitting in the dark trying to mark papers until I get frustrated and my head aches (candlelight is hard on these getting-older eyes of mine), or I’m finishing looking up the Zarma words with unfamiliar symbols for Saturday’s Bible study, or I’m washing dishes hoping they’ll look as clean in the daylight as they do under that dreamy flickery glow, and all the while I’m praying that the little ones don’t wake up because the difficulty of rejoining Mr. Sandman increases exponentially when the air seems deader than the inside of a tomb.  I’ve also discovered I sweat buckets at 11:00 at night when working near even the tiniest flame.

I used to begrudge those who experienced nothing more than a blip when the current sagged or disappeared altogether. I think I’ve gotten past that. I don’t wish they didn’t have one because I don’t, and I certainly understand why they use their generators. If I had one, I’d be using it, too.

EACH time, however, I hear a generator roar into life I’m vehemently reminded of something I’d rather ignore…. or perhaps convicted is more accurate…

I balk at the instruction to give thanks in all circumstances, and I see that reality in instant, slow motion replay each time I hear those machines jolt into life. I’m content to growl and complain. In some worldly, twisted way, it brings pleasure of the immediate but temporary kind.

I don’t want to thank the Lord that the local powers that be have once again denied me power.

My father-in-law served for some years in Haiti and tells of visiting a local electric company. Night had fallen, the plant was up on a small mountain outside of town, and he could see the city lights. An employee began pointing out different neighborhoods and then with a sly grin told my father-in-law to watch.


He switched a button; an entire neighborhood went dark. Then he laughed. According to Dad, those guffaws were just shy of the rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-out-loud kind.

I won’t assume something similar goes on here. And I can live and still function adequately with this particular frustration common to the expat experience of life in an impoverished, still-developing locality.

I can also willingly choose to refuse to give thanks.

We’ve had a smattering of power outages in recent days and weeks. More than normal. Each time I hear the neighboring generators roar into life, a still small voice calls to mind my own words: “I don’t want to thank the Lord that the local powers that be have once again denied me any power.” The voice doesn’t stop there, however. It continues, whispering, “It isn’t the electric company denying you power. You’ve done it to yourself, by not choosing gratitude.”

Not only am I stumbling and sweating it out without electricity, I’m also self-rendered powerless spiritually, choosing to be a victim of circumstances when God offers me joy and contentment.

Just like that dude at the electric plant in Haiti, by refusing gratitude, I’m flipping a switch, laughing… and plunging myself and those around me into darkness.

Choosing gratitude, however?

Choosing gratitude siphons any clout out of darkness. It leaves opportunity for vibrating voltage, exhilarating energy, and contagious current.

An electrical stream of thankfulness pulsating powerfully can provide perspective and light for me as well as for those nearby.

William Faulkner noted:

“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”

Faulkner was absolutely right…


What, in your life, reminds you of those times you reject a thankful spirit?

 As you celebrate Thanksgiving, not just this week but throughout the year, how are you intentionally producing, discharging and using up gratitude?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright