Finishing Thoughts

The time has come to write my last post here at A Life Overseas. I have very much enjoyed sharing with you over the last few years, always impressed by the quality of conversation we find. Thank you for that.

As I’ve mulled over these finishing thoughts, I found myself wishing we could talk face to face, to share these last moments in a more intimate way. Although I’ve not known you personally, the effects of your conversations here have been personal and both challenged and encouraged me greatly. I owe you a debt of gratitude for that.  

In saying farewell, I’ll leave you with the three thoughts clambering around my head these days…

Our work is not our identity. Our work overseas certainly forms a part of who we are, but thank God it is not entirely who we are. We are valued in God’s kingdom whether at home or abroad simply because we are His dearly loved children. That identity, not our job title or the place we live, is where we must ground ourselves. You are deeply loved and known by God, whether you work overseas or not.

How we share our stories matters greatly. On the quality communication spectrum, the pull towards an advertising/hype type model in ministry pegs on the low end. I know it’s hard to find a balance. Churches and individuals financially support us, are interested in our work, and expect updates. This is right and good. I know at times we also face the perceived, or maybe very real, pressure to demonstrate ourselves as a worthy investment of prayer and money. But there is a difference between sharing stories and selling ourselves as world changers. We do not need to have the best, most exciting, most results driven ministry news. Faithfulness and vulnerability go farther. In our actions and in our communication we have a choice to be glossy and sensational, or humble and open.

Serving overseas is not a great sacrifice. Yes, serving overseas does involve sacrifice. I will not downplaying the hardships. But when we think about it, what transforming aspect of life doesn’t involve sacrifice? Consider marriage and children. We don’t frame conversations about our spouses and children as purely sacrificial (at least I hope not or we have other issues to deal with!). We give the pregnant woman our earnest congratulations not because parenting is easy, but because in the scheme of life we understand the preciousness and value of children. In serving overseas there are costs felt, some quite painfully so, but the experience ultimately gives far more than it takes away.    

***

Thank you again, friends, for the space you’ve allowed for me to process and grow. I am still overseas, still learning along with you, and forever appreciating our many conversations.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26

Life on Loan

This morning the bible app on my phone sent me Matthew 6:34:

“So don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Staring at the screen I thought, “Huh. Well, I don’t have the capacity to worry any more this year anyway.”

Not exactly a great spiritual insight, but it’s where I’m at. Any space previously available for future worrying is simply filled up by today.   

This is not for lack of worrying opportunity. 2020 has done it’s best to throw all of us in a tizzy. I’m not challenging the validity of fears we’ve experienced living through a worldwide pandemic, they just don’t belong to us heaped up together all at one time. Today has enough trouble of it’s own.

If there’s anything 2020 has been teaching us, it’s that we can throw predictability out the window. What will the world look like in six months? I don’t know. Six months ago I certainly didn’t see worldwide shut downs coming. Neither could I have guessed a surprise pregnancy during this pandemic would leave us displaced, unable to return to our overseas home.  

Living overseas does tend to throw enough unpredictability at you on a regular basis that you gain a sense of the future not really belonging to you. Every year we face the possibility of losing our visas. Every summer friends and colleagues leave the field (including those I counted on staying forever). Every school year we face new challenges in meeting the academic needs of our children. Every month brings the possibility of changes in financial support. The list could go on and with time you learn to loosen your grip on the future and what you feel ‘should’ happen.

Still, despite all our familiarity with unknown futures, it’s easy to feel like 2020 is a push too far. We shouldn’t be experiencing loss of work, home, and connections. My children shouldn’t be suffering through mandatory isolation and social distancing. I shouldn’t be at risk for a potentially life threatening illness. My husband shouldn’t be experiencing loss of meaningful daily work.

Grief is an appropriate response, but as the months tick by I can’t help but wonder – Isn’t life just on loan to us anyway?

This brief existence, these few fleeting years, are all we have. This notion of life being temporary is exactly what lead us to live our lives the way we do in the first place. Life is precious, but it doesn’t occur decades at a time. Life only lends moments at a time, I only have today.

We may wrestle with the disappointment and sadness of our lost hopes for the future, but may that sadness not consume us into worry. May we not miss the time we have been given or lose sight of the treasures in front of us in this very moment.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but the future never really belonged to me anyway. I do have today, though. And today will bring enough worries of its own.

God is great and ever so good

My friend Barbara wrote to me recently, “God is great and ever so good.”

Her words struck me at a particularly vulnerable moment. I found myself repeating her words over and over when fear crept in. I couldn’t predict what I felt was a very fragile future, but I could speak truth over it – God is great and ever so good.

I have known loss, but in that loss God showed Himself great and ever so good.

I have known loneliness, but in that loneliness God showed Himself great and ever so good.

I have known despair, but in that despair God showed Himself great and ever so good.

God’s greatness and goodness are not dependent on my situation or my feelings. I know this, but believing and living it is entirely different. Barbara’s summation of truth sent me back into the scriptures, pulling verses that have for years comforted my heart and pointed me away from fear. With the world so upside down at the moment, I wondered if you too are facing unknown and could use reminding of just how great and good God is…

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Rev 4:11

 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies.” Psalm 103:2-4

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Psalm 107:8-9

 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
John 14:27

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:22-24

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

The world is unpredictable. Heartache and difficulties are a part of life. Take comfort for the truth remains- God is great and ever so good.

Love Thy Neighbour (unless they’re obnoxious)

You know the good neighbour story Jesus tells about the guy robbed, beaten and left half dead on the side of the road? All these religious types walk on by and he’s eventually helped by an unlikely traveler.

Me? Oh you bet I’d stop. It’s like those YouTube videos that pop up in my newsfeed every so often. Some vagrant looking woman sitting alone and crying on a park bench. All these people just pass by and I’m watching like, What’s the matter with you people? She needs help! And finally some guy comes along and asks what’s wrong. I’d be that guy. I’d help.

But I’ve never passed a woman crying on a park bench, or an injured man on the side of the road.

Reality goes like this…

A few years back we had upstairs neighbours who used to throw things at each other. We’d hear them stomping around and pushing over furniture all in a rage. They did everything exceptionally loud – watched tv, got drunk, had sex. I was all Halleluiah!s the day they had a fight on the lawn and she was hauled off to jail.

Another neighbour with a brain injury told me her husband only kept her around for the disability payments. She’d do her best to stop me and deliver the same 20 minute monologue every single day: You know I’ve only got two thirds of my brain, stop me if I’ve told this story before, but I never much liked religious people. Bunch of hypocritical… I’d peek out the front door to make sure the coast was clear before darting to the community mailboxes.

A notoriously tetchy neighbour gave me the finger and yelled, “Get the %&$# out the way!” when she had to slow her car to pass me around a tight corner. I shot back in the exaggerated bible belt voice I save for occasions like these, “Always nice to see you! God bless!” Surely I could kill her with passive aggressive kindness.

Here recently, I watched as my hot tempered neighbours silently wheeled stolen motorcycles through their gate and hid them in the back. With the system here, there was nothing I could do about it. I somehow managed to change my squinty eyes death stare to a tight lipped smile the next time I saw them.

Then there’s the older kids at the end of our street. They made my son cry. I roared like mad woman and sent them scattering. Mess with my child and things will get fierce.

Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Oh, I do love my neighbours. Lots of neighbours. Just not these. But since these are only a few compared to the lots of neighbours I love, I figure it balances out.  

Heck, I’m good at loving neighbours. I taught years of Sunday school, was a middle school youth group leader, and co-led a bible studies for teen girls. None of that is for the faint of heart.

Before I moved overseas, I spent time with teenagers every week at a therapeutic group home. Most of them are not that lovable. Three summers in a row I spent a week at a camp for refugee kids. A bunch of them aren’t that lovable either.

Love my neighbours? I moved to the literal other side of the world to support my husband as he flies out to remote villages. He picks up sick people that would otherwise die and transports missionaries who would have to hike for days through dangerous jungle terrain.

I’d say I’m actually pretty darn good at loving my neighbours, thank you very much.

Jesus: “This is what God does. He gives his best –the sun to warm and the rain to nourish– to everyone, regardless: good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.”

Yeah but that’s God, so of course he has enough love for everyone. It comes with the territory. I’ve got love for most everyone, a few obnoxious cases aside.

Jesus: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

///Awkward silence///

The way God lives towards me? So it’s not just about an old bible story, set up YouTube videos, and the do good projects I pick?

Oh man. That changes things.

***

The good neighbour (good Samaritan) story is found in Luke 10:30-37. The Jesus quotes are taken from Matthew 5 & 22, The Message and the New American Standard

This post originally published on www.namasayamommy.com

The upside down-ness of socially distant life

As these last days and weeks have dragged on into months of isolation and distancing, I can’t shake the upside down feeling. Not much is as it should be. My family is out of place and out of sorts. Just this week with slight loosening lock down measures I took my children with me to the store, their first outing in two months. My five year old daughter talked to every person she met and rushed through the telling of all the names of friends she misses any time she had a captive audience. She is starved for connection. We all are.

Yes, there is Zoom and Skype and FaceTime. Yes, we WhatsApp with friends and family attempting to connect in meaningful ways. Yes, we remind ourselves that flattening the curve is important and the upside down-ness is not forever. The parts of our beings made for connection, real life physical connection, still starve.

Moving overseas, the connections with those we left behind took on a different form. We grieved the losses, but understood new connections would be made in our new home. My own parents, siblings, nieces and nephew, and friends were missing from my day to day life, but these in person holes were soon filled. A new, real life community formed around me. I am Aunt Anisha to countless mission nieces and nephews. While thousands of miles separate me from my mother, older women step in to provide comfort and guidance. New friendships forged in the shared experience of living overseas lend peace and hold us up when the homesickness strikes.

But now? Now when all the daily connections are missing and new relationships cannot be formed to fill the gap?

Recently our mission community experienced a exodus of expats. Our hearts hurt to say goodbye to many friends who had become family. Sharing my sadness with a teammate, she responded, “Yes. Sometimes I can feel so alone here. But God always reminds me that when I am lonely and my friends have left, He is the friend who never leaves me.”

We were created for connection- real life, physical connection with other people. People made in God’s image, fleshy carriers of His love and goodness.

God, how I miss your people! I pray. I thought I knew how to do this, how to cope when saying goodbye and forging new relationships is such an innate part of mission life. Surely I should be able to cope with these temporary distances, but they are so hard!

The distance is hard. We all feel it. We’ll keep those Zoom sessions and WhatsApp messages. Instead of stopping to talk with neighbors, we’ll cross to the other side of the street and shout across our greetings as we pass. We’ll remain socially distant and wait.

In the waiting, may my upside down heart remember that there is a Friend who is never distant, who is always with me, who created me for connection, and will provide for that ache just as He always has.

Disappointed

We had a rough year. From running our base on our own to riots in town, we were happy to close the door on 2019. 2020 would be a good year. We had a furlough coming! I couldn’t wait to relax, let down my cultural guard, connect with friends and family, and forgo cooking from scratch.

 We had pinned so many hopes on a good furlough, then COVID-19 happened.

We watched the spread and wondered if we would be able to make it out of our country of service. Thankfully we left just before countries around us started closing to transit flights. We landed in the US on March 6 and enjoyed one week of freedom before social distancing orders took over. Our furlough plans crashed down around us as spending time with much of our extended family, friends, and our sending church became impossible.

We still have a lot to be grateful for. We are safe. We are provided for. We do not lack. But man oh man we are disappointed.

Disappointment is where I sit today and type out this message to you. A part of me feels like this disappointment is a sign of just how self centered I really am. The world is sick and I feel sad because I can’t take my children to the movies?

That’s the thing about disappointment, no amount of attempting to reframe my mind to be grateful for what I have really helps. I am thankful for where we are and how we are able to wait out this virus in safety, but I am also really, truly, sad about my dashed expectations.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Luke 24:13-35. It’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but as far as the two disciples in the story are concerned, Jesus is dead. They walk along the road to Emmaus rehashing the events of the last years and days. They are heartbroken and confused. Jesus appears, unrecognized, and walks alongside them asking what they are talking about. The disciples recount the story of Jesus and the crucifixion, then say my favorite line of the entire passage, “but we had hoped that he was the one…”  

But we had hoped. Can you hear the disappointment? Can you hear the sadness?

This is where I find myself, walking loops around the neighborhood, talking to Jesus, recounting events and spilling out my spoiled hopes.

I had hoped to use this time to let my children experience American culture.

I had hoped to make memories with family we haven’t seen in years.

I had hoped to spend hours catching up with friends over coffees or pizzas.

I had hoped to share face to face stories of all the things we’ve experienced over this last term.

I had hoped…

In the Emmaus story, Jesus listens. He lets the disciples share everything on their mind, all their disappointments, before saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all the prophets have spoken!”  

I don’t believe Jesus was angry with them. The passage is full of tenderness, of walking alongside, of listening, and of explaining. Jesus took them back through the story from the beginning and expanded on all the scriptures, he replaced disappointment with understanding and peace. At their invitation he even went on to stay and eat with them before being recognized.

As I pour out my disappointments, I ask for understanding and peace. I know the One walking alongside me. I’m not looking for some bigger reason of why this virus had to happen, but I am asking for understanding that even in the midst of everything, God is still good. I long to hear that gentle chastisement, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe!” and for his outlining of truth-

Truth that God is at work in a broken world. That he cares for us all. And that no disappointment, no matter how small, is too small for his attention and teaching.

Reasons to fall in love with serving overseas

Last month, I wrote about some of the harder parts of serving overseas. If that post was a downer, this one is all about highs. I’ve fallen in love with serving overseas. Here are some of the reasons why…

You get to live a life most others either can’t or won’t.
A couple years ago, as I tried to explain to a shocked new acquaintance how my life overseas may sound wild, but I’m actually just a really normal person, my dad interrupted and said, “No, Anisha. You are not normal. Normal people don’t do what you do.” And it’s true. There aren’t many of us who can or even want to give up careers, sell our possessions, and plant our families in a foreign culture without any goal of financial gain or advancement. It is precisely this ‘not normalness’ that makes serving overseas so special.

Serving overseas expands your world view.
I am the daughter of an immigrant, my first words were not English, and for most of my growing up years I lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Even so, I held a very narrow view of the world based exclusively on my own life experiences. It wasn’t until I moved overseas that I met people whose thoughts and view of the world were alien to mine. Moving overseas teaches you that you don’t hold all the facts. What a great lesson to learn! The world could use a lot more humble, open minded people.

You are free to value what is really important.    
We left the rat race. We are not accumulating debt in new vehicles, or a mortgage, or all the gadgets that go with them. We aren’t emotionally weighed down by constantly comparing ourselves to the neighbors (and honestly, when we do it’s quite humbling because many of our neighbors live in one room homes with a dirt floors and grass roofs). By removing ourselves from any pursuit of the American Dream we are free to give ourselves to the things that really matter – family, neighbors, and living lives of service.

 Your heart makes room for friends from all over the world.
America, England, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Spain, Indonesia, Germany, China, Australia, Switzerland, Singapore…When I think of friendships, these are the countries that go with them. Being overseas, it doesn’t take long before you begin racking up friendships from around the world.

You will make significant bucket list progress.
Visit a castle: did it.
Snorkel coral reefs: did it.
Ride an elephant, ride a camel, learn to drive a motorcycle: Yes, yes, yes.
Live on another continent and learn to speak at least two languages: Yep (on my fourth continent) and yep.
Swim with whale sharks – still working on that one.
                Actually, a lot of the cool stuff we’ve done overseas was never on my bucket list. Things like, seeing The Lion King in London’s West End or sledding 8 kilometers down a Swiss mountain at perilous speeds – those things just kind of happen when you live overseas.

For certain, living overseas is not for the faint of heart. There are many tough aspects of this life, but don’t let that overshadow all the rest. There are plenty of reasons to fall in love with serving overseas. I’m smitten.

The Harsh Flip Side of Serving Overseas

Those of us who live and serve overseas have a lot to be excited about. We experience many unforgettable, life shaping moments. It’s just that these great moments come with a pretty harsh flip side. If you’re considering moving overseas and are caught up in the excitement, or perhaps already are overseas and feeling a bit disillusioned by your experience, this post is for you. Here’s to acknowledging the inevitably downright miserable side of living this incredible life.

You will make your mom cry.
Maybe your parents will be supportive and proud of your decision to move overseas. Maybe your parents will be heartbroken and angry at your decision. Either way, moving far away from your family, especially if you have children, is painful if not devastating.

You will feel that your life is completely out of your control.
So much about living overseas is outside of your control. We could argue that the sense of control we have over our lives in our passport countries is just an illusion, but illusion or not the feeling of lack of control overseas can be overwhelming. A big one that comes around yearly for many people is visa renewal. Every 12 months your family’s home, work, and future rests in the hands of a few government officials.

You’ll look and feel like an idiot, especially in the early years.
Thankfully we’ve found most people in our host culture to be gracious and forgiving. Still, especially at the beginning, it doesn’t matter how well respected and credentialed you were before moving overseas, you will lack the vocabulary and cultural knowledge of a local pre-schooler. It’s hard to seem impressive when you need someone to teach you how to properly use a squatty potty.

You will lose your friends.
Not that you’ll part on bad terms, you’ll just likely drift apart. The friends you left behind will move on with their lives and the constant rotation of new people overseas means you will exist in a world of perpetual hellos and goodbyes. Some are able to hang onto a few close friendships with the aid of social media, but the gap left by those who are no longer in your day to day real life can feel more like a chasm.

You will feel a lot of doubt about your future.
In serving overseas, you step outside of the traditional career building ladder. When will it be ‘too late’ to go back and enter the workforce? If you do go back, who would employ you? If you stay, what about retirement?  Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.

***

Was this post depressing? Sorry about that. There are so many wonderful aspects of living overseas and those are good things to get excited about. I’ll tell you about them next time.      

Are You Meant to be a Missionary? (a half serious, but of course completely reliable, 10 question quiz!)

Ever wondered if missionary service could be right for you? Take this quiz and find out!

Select all appropriate answers and tally scores for your final results.

  • Do have a call from God?
    Yes [ 20  ]  
    No  [ 20  ]       
  • Have you ever worked as a hair dresser?
    Yes [Greenlighted. Skip quiz and proceed to missionary service.]
    No [Continue this quiz in emotional insecurity like the rest of us.]
  • Could your wardrobe consist of only long and loose clothing?
    Yes [ 20  ]   
    No [ ? ]
    If ?, can you promise to never wear a bikini? Yes [Continue quiz.]   
                                                                                       No [ Service restricted to Australia.]
  • Do you wait patiently when people and appointments run late?
    Yes [ 20  ]   
    No [ 5. You do understand this is a missions quiz, right? ]

  • Can you live with limited or no access to dairy?
    Yes [ 50 ]
    No [ Service limited to Switzerland, possible expansion option to other European countries. ]
  • Speaking of food, do you like rice?
    Yes [ 20  ]
    No, but I’m willing to eat it [ 10 ] 
    I hate rice [ -20 ]
  • Can you repair the following:
    Water pump pressure switch [ 20 ]
    Gas oven [ 20 ]
    Computers [ 20 ]
    Relationships when you screw up [ 100 ]
  • How important is access to social media?
    Very important [ 5 ]
    Important [ 5 ]
    Somewhat important [ 5 ]
    Not important [ 500 + extra crowns in heaven ]
  • How do you feel about raising financial support?
    Delusional (It’ll be easy) [ 5 ]
    Realistic (Hard, but I can do it) [ 10 ]
    Dread (I can’t think of many worse things) [ 20 ]
  • I am a…
    Helper [ 50 ]
    Organiser [ 50 ]
    Do-er [ 50 ]
    Complainer [ -100. Please don’t go overseas. ]

Are you meant to be a missionary?
Scoring:
0-20: Nope.
20-74: Potentially some potential, but we’ll need to work out a lot of kinks out first.
75-200: You’ll do.
200+: Golden. Better get to it!

***

All the days ordained for me

How such an awful day can start with so much promise, I’m really not sure. The sky shown high and a glorious sapphire blue, and the air so calm and clear it seemed to magnify the beauty of the mountain ridges behind our house. I left home the morning of September 23rd feeling thankful and full of happy enthusiasm for the day.

Within half an hour of registering those feelings, the shooting and fires started. Our town erupted in riots. Smoke hid the sky and the atmosphere took on an eerie, apocalyptic glow as ash floated down around us. I could not stop my body from shaking, even after my family was together and safe at home.

Government offices along with hundreds of homes, shops, and vehicles – all burned. The official death toll hangs at 33, with many more injured. More than 11,500 people fled, our family included.* 

Of all the things I ever thought could happen to us overseas, September 23rd was not one of them. The experience left me wondering, If this can happen, what else?  

We are back in our mountain town now and life would almost seem normal, except it isn’t. The nightmares have stopped, but we still shift uneasily in our seats when Special Forces rest their machine guns under restaurant tables next to us.  

A long road to healing stretches before us as a family, but also for our town and province. Some things are already a little clearer, a little lighter, but there’s still so much that isn’t. All of us battle with uncertainty over the future and the lingering feelings of powerlessness in the face of so much evil.

We came back to the mountains shakily, unsure of what the ‘right’ decision was. If the government says the town is now safe, does that mean it really is? Are we foolish bringing our children again to this place?

At some point, I guess you just make the best decision you know how to make and go with it. The future is uncertain, but this is nothing new. Yes, God is with you, but there comes a point when you realize it’s quite possible that next time He might not rescue you. At least not in the way you would want to be rescued. You may have to live the very thing you fear, or worse.

In the immediate aftermath of the riots, my mom sent me Psalm 139. As I read through the familiar passage, verse 16 practically jumped off the page. It reads, “ Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

All the days – every single one of them – even September 23rd, are all known, all recorded. That awful day, no matter how surprising to me, was known to God long before I was born. The God who made everything knew that my family would be in this town on that day. He knew what we would see, how we would feel, and in the terrifying unknown He knew what would become of us.

If you are staring down the unknown, wondering if your decision is right or safe or wise, make the best decision you humanly can and then rest in this – God loves you, knows you, leads you. He never leaves you. You may feel powerless, He is not. All the days that stretch out in uncertainty before you are known to Him. The God who made you, even made everything, holds you in His hands.

***

*https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-papua/indonesia-says-over-11500-have-fled-violence-hit-papuan-town-idUSKBN1WI1E8

5+ Questions to Ask a Visiting Missionary at Dinner

Ok, so you’re inviting a visiting missionary over for dinner. For sure you’ll ask them about their ministry and all they are experiencing God doing in the hearts and lives of the people they serve. This is good and important, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you talk about. In my experience, most missionaries have an arsenal of hair-raising and side-splitting stories. Once you’re past the meat of your dinner conversation and moving on to tea and coffee, why not try some of these?…

Have you had any near death experiences?
Once, in a war-torn country in West Africa, the taxi I was riding in lost its breaks while heading down the side of a mountain. When the road plateaued a bit, passengers jumped out and started throwing rocks under the tires to try to get it to stop. We eventually did stop, but not before blowing through a military checkpoint. The image of army officers shouting and waving machine guns is forever imprinted in my memory. There was also the time I forgot to close the curtains and our gardener saw me naked. I am convinced mortification is an actual cause of death.

What are your most prized food items?
Cheese. We recently went through a cheese drought and it is hard to explain how deeply and completely this loss affected me. A few years back I also heard rumors of Dr Pepper making it to the shelves of a grocery store in another city. I still scan every shelf of canned drinks in hopes of one day scoring this elusive soda.

What about weird cultural experiences?
My husband once came home and said, “I shook hands with a bunch of topless women today.” Lest you think this comment is evidence of impropriety, let me assure you that these women were proudly dressed in their traditional attire and welcoming my husband to a wedding. I saw the pictures. Their skirts were beautiful.  

Have you met any famous people?
Does having dinner with the president of The Gambia count? All right, actually I was one of about 200 people having dinner in the same room as the president. I still have no idea why I was included, but it’s pretty fun to say I had dinner with a president. I also have an Indonesian friend who used to be on TV and once saw Richard Simmons in an airport.

Are you reading any good books?
At least where I live, there isn’t much to do in the way of entertainment. No movie theaters, malls, amusement parks, or bowling alleys. We get up, do our work, come home, and don’t travel after dark. Since we’re practically on the equator, it gets dark by 6 pm which means lots of hours at home. In the absence of outside entertainment, we read a lot. Actually, if you really want a good book recommendation, ask my 8 year old. He gets through books faster than I can find them. But back to the point – most missionaries I know like to read and not just books you’d find in the religious section of the book store. I just finished Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, a fantastic true story of an Italian teenager in WW2.

Other potential conversation topics
Hot sauce experiences.
Strangest places you’ve slept.
Animal encounters, both wild and domestic.

Bonus question: Can we visit?
If you just spent a couple hours with me in conversation over spaghetti in your kitchen and would actually consider making the trip to see me in my kitchen, this is the conversational equivalent of offering a diamond ring. YES! Yes, absolutely yes. Thanks for asking.


In general, I find missionaries to be pretty interesting and fun loving people. I have laughed myself to tears, been profoundly moved, and shaken my head in disbelief at stories from fellow missionaries. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing what questions to ask. I hope these help you move beyond the formality of missionary dinner talk, and to get to know your missionary a little bit better.

Bon appétit!

If I could tell you three things…

Hey there Christian. If I could share three things with you, here’s what they would be:

  1. Time is so much shorter than you think.
  2. You are so much richer than you think.
  3. You don’t have to find your calling.

Let me explain…

Time is so much shorter than you think. Truly, it is. We’ve got what? 80-90 years max? Maybe that sounds like a lot, but remember at least the first 18 of those are spent growing up. Suppose you lived in perfect health all of your adult years right up until your 90th birthday when you suddenly wake up in heaven. That’s 72 good workable years on earth. Maybe it sounds like a long time, but it isn’t. Not really. At 38 years old, 20 of my workable years are gone. Twenty years. Poof. Gone. Just like that.

The point is, it doesn’t feel like it’s been twenty years since high school. If two decades can pass that quickly, what about the next five? What if I don’t have five more?

Time is so much shorter than you think, so don’t let it just pass you by. There is a big, good world out there! Your life is an important part of it.

You are so much richer than you think. If you have a computer and internet at home to read this blog post, you are rich. You might not feel rich, but that’s not the point. I say this with heaps of love – unless you lack the resources to pay for basic needs like shelter and food, you are not poor. Not in terms of global poverty.

Recently, I bought my daughter new light up shoes for her first day at school. We exited the shop and as she danced happily on the sidewalk in her new shoes, a filthy, bone thin woman with crippled legs, wearing flip flops on her hands, dragged her body along the path in front of us. She is poor.

We have such a responsibility, you and I, to care for others. I don’t know why we were born in this time and in the affluent places we were, but I do know that the great gift of our circumstances is not meant only for ourselves.

You don’t have to find your calling. I’m not sure why in the western Christian world there seems to be such a big emphasis on the concept of finding your calling. As if there is one specific thing you were born to do and if you don’t figure it out you’ve somehow missed God’s plan for your life.

The thing is, your calling is really simple and you probably learned about it way back in Sunday School. Ready? Here it is – Love God. Love others.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

That’s it. That’s your calling. You can’t miss it because no matter what your job is, or where you live, or who you live with, that calling remains the same.

Love God. Love others. You don’t have to find your calling because you already have one.

Putting it all together. If we round all that up, here’s the charge:

Love God with your whole heart. He’ll fill it with love for others and there’s no telling where that love may lead you. Across the street or around the world, wherever you go know that you have far more to give than you may think. You are rich. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a gift you were given. Use that gift generously. Use it humbly. Use it today.