Saying Goodbye: Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Change is in the air. After three years here in Luang Prabang, we’re leaving. My husband, Mike, is taking up a new job in Vientiane (the capital of Laos), so we’re packing up our life here and moving. We’re also having another baby in just over four months.

Because of the lack of quality medical care in Laos, it would be less than wise for me to give birth in this country. Because I have a chronic health condition called lymphedema that makes enduring hot weather heat difficult and damaging, it would also be less than wise to stay here, heavily pregnant, through the worst of the hot season and then make a late-date dash to Thailand to deliver. So the plan for months had been for me to leave Laos with our toddler in mid-May when I hit the third trimester, and go home to live with my parents for five months around the delivery of baby number two.

Given that I am now 37, I am sure that my poor parents thought they were at least a dozen years past any chance that I would turn up pregnant and alone on their doorstep needing sanctuary, much less do this twice within three years. Just goes to show you never know in life. It also goes to show that when you raise third culture kids who choose to continue on as global nomads, you run a serious risk of being permanently pegged as their home base. Parents, take heed.

So Mike and I had it all planned, you see. But in the past two weeks all our carefully stitched-together plans have come unraveled. Mike has re-herniated a disc in his back that was operated on only six months ago. An MRI indicates that the injury requires another surgery, after which he won’t be able to lift anything heavier than ten pounds (including our toddler) for at least ten weeks.

I won’t bore you by relaying all the reasons we settled on our new plan of action, I’ll just jump straight to the details. We’ve scheduled Mike’s surgery for April 12th, and Dominic and I will leave for Australia on about the 18th, right after Mike comes out of hospital.

This new plan moves my planned departure from Luang Prabang up by a month, to just one week from today. It also means that Mike and I will be apart for a full 14 weeks before he arrives in Australia just before (hopefully) the birth of our second child. Mike will have to oversee the pack up of our house, move to a new city, and start a new job by himself while he’s still recovering from surgery. In short, it all sort of sucks.

In the wake of this latest medical drama, I haven’t thought a great deal about leaving here as a move. The fact that I won’t be coming back to this beautiful little town that’s been home for three years hasn’t really sunk in.

They say that practice makes perfect, but when it comes to leaving places and people I think it might be the opposite – on one level, anyway.

You do get better at coping with the logistical demands with practice. I can now tackle a multi-stage pack up of our lives, logically parse a dozen complicated flight itineraries, and shift from place to place without breaking too much of a sweat. Over time, however, the emotional demands of serial itinerancy are becoming more difficult for me to acknowledge and address, not less.

Given the sudden rush and how the pressure has accelerated all the deadlines on an already daunting to-do list, it’s perhaps understandable that this departure still feels unreal to me. I’m not exactly flush with time to sit around and think about things I’ve loved here, things I’ll miss, and all the joys and grief that this town has born witness to. There won’t be a farewell party, or many leisurely dinners with friends that would provide opportunities to tell them how we love and appreciate them, and thank them for how they’ve enriched our lives. I’m thinking more about how to survive this change than how it feels or what it means.

To be honest, though, I don’t know how much deep processing of this departure I’d be doing even if our plans hadn’t been up-ended. So far I’ve moved countries about a dozen times and houses at least twenty. I’m continually getting better at the logistics of relocation, but I’m starting to worry that I’m getting worse at saying and feeling meaningful goodbyes. The last time I deeply grieved a move I was sixteen. Now I tend to disconnect easily, perhaps too easily. And I wonder if this is linked in important ways to another trend I’ve noticed – my growing tendency to settle somewhere new lightly, perhaps too lightly.

Right now, I don’t know. All I know right now is that a week from now we’ll be on a plane, heading for a hospital in Bangkok that I’m way too familiar with. A week after that I’ll be preparing to board another plane. Then the kaleidoscope of life will be given another sudden twist and I’ll be “home” in Australia with winter coming on, minus one husband and plus two parents. I’ll be looking for a new normal for our toddler and for me for the following six months.

And then, we’ll be leaving.

And arriving.

Again.

What have your experiences been with moving?
How do you mark departures and say goodbye?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Website: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

The Help

We stood in the driveway staring at the house we had rented in Port au Prince, “This looks like New York,” she declared. “My family will call me bourgeois living in a huge house like this.” She was correct in her observation, it was a very nice house; similar in size to every house we’ve ever owned or rented.

The disparities between our socio-economic realities are pointed out in similar ways on a weekly basis.

For five years Geronne has lived and worked with our family.

The tired statement “Most Haitians live on $1 a day” only serves to annoy me. I once worked for a mission that loved to remind its donors of that. I always wanted to scream, “BUT ONLY BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT YOU PAY!

Our family has taken that impossible-to-live-on amount and multiplied it by approximately ten. Even the math morons in the crowd know that only amounts to $300 per month. A low wage in our economy is a high wage in hers.

Our friend Geronne, a person we love, a person we do daily life with, is working a job with our family for a salary that is significantly more than all of her eight siblings are making out in the village. That should feel good, right?

She enjoys running water and electricity and meals and shelter in addition to her small salary. She jokes that she hates visiting her village home because she likes sleeping with the comfort of a fan. That should feel good, right?

Troubled by the fact that Geronne’s sister was raising Geronne’s daughter for her, we asked Geronne if her daughter Jenny might want to move into Port au Prince, too. Our culture imposed on hers, we wanted to see mother and daughter under the same roof. I want the same opportunities available for her daughter as I want for my own. Geronne’s salary increased when we agreed to pay for most of Jenny’s schooling. That should feel good, right?

With the money she is earning Geronne is building a house out in the village. Slowly but surely she adds the next piece and continues to plan for her future; for her daughter’s future.

Without Geronne’s help in our home we could not both work our “jobs”. The amount of laundry and cleaning necessary to run a household of our size is close to a 40 hour a week job. She helps with cleaning. She helps with kids. Occasionally she cooks the evening meal. She is the reason everything runs as well as it does. When something comes up that keeps us from coming home on time, Geronne steps in and handles caring for the kids. It is not an exaggeration to say that without her we would be rendered ineffective. We trust her. We love her.

She tells us she loves her job and is so glad to have met us in the village seven years ago. She tells us we are family. She is happy. We are happy. It all sounds so warm and fuzzy and fair and equitable. Right? Everybody wins, right?

For some reason, that is not exactly how it feels. Something about having ‘help’ in our house leaves me feeling off balance.

When Geronne started asking Jenny to help with things we put our foot down. “Geronne, we don’t want a fourteen year old working in our house” we said. Her reply disquieted our perceptions, “You want your children to know how to work. That is why you don’t want me to pick up their toys. I want my daughter to know too. She needs to learn how to run a household just like your children. I need her to learn by doing.”

When Geronne decided after three years of living together to start making coffee in the morning, we bristled a bit and said, “Please. Stop. We can make our own coffee!” Her reply, “I am awake earlier than you and I like to it. Please don’t tell me not to do something kind.”

My husband Troy is no Lord Grantham, and I’m certainly nothing like the Countess. So, why do we feel uneasy? Have we watched enough Downton Abbey to be troubled by the disparity between “upstairs” and “downstairs”? Is it because we are white and Geronne is brown and something in the history of our lineage bothers us? Is it because I can leave this island any day I choose – and she cannot? Is it because I cannot fully imagine being willing to do the work she does for room and board and $300 a month? What is it that makes it so uncomfortable?

I don’t have any desire to be filthy rich. I don’t yearn for flashy cars or fancy vacations. I don’t want or need everyone to have the same income level. That is not it at all. It has occurred to me that even if I could pay Geronne a U.S. salary, I’d still find the whole arrangement a bit unsettling.

As I’ve come to love Geronne I’ve realized that she doesn’t necessarily want what I have either. She is not silently seething about anything I have while she switches the fourth laundry load of the day. She would like her daughter to be educated, her simple country home to be built. When she gets ill she would like to have the cash flow to go visit a competent doctor. In her culture, gainful employment means a lot of pressure to share the money she makes with many others. Given the choice, she would probably prefer a lot less of that pressure.

I’ve recently decided that this dilemma, this uneasy feeling, is not one that can be solved. It will always feel odd to me to have someone doing my housework. It will always feel uneasy knowing how vastly different our economies are. I was born in Omaha, NE. She was born in La Digue, Haiti. I went to school and learned to read. She went to school then dropped out in fourth grade and did not learn to read until she was in her mid-thirties. I went to college. She doesn’t have anyone in her family that went to college. I don’t think $300 is very much money. She does.

I have decided that maybe it should make me uncomfortable. Maybe my discomfort keeps me in check. Maybe I am better suited to face each day here because I want to find ways to close the gaping distance between us.

What about you? Do you have household help? Is it easy or uncomfortable for you, and why?

~          ~          ~          ~

Tara Livesay  works in Port au Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with with her better half): @troylivesay

Triggered by the Tragedy at Sandy Hook

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

And I went about my day as if nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus wept.”

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

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

Beyond Good Intentions

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

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

Missionary Motivators

Why are you a missionary? What motivated you to live a life of challenge, adventure, and sacrifice? How did you make the decision to serve in such an intense capacity?

We have lived in Bolivia for over 11 years. From the time I was seven I knew I would live outside the U.S. for most of my life. My husband was in high school when he made the same realization. Those initial prodding desires led to practical steps: Praying. Maps as wallpaper. Counsel. Training. Meager living. Extreme serving.

my husband with one of the Dreamers at our orphanage years ago

So, what got you to the mission field?

I see 5 main reasons people serve on the mission field.

  1. Call of duty – a commissioning ceremony, a scripture that spoke to your heart, a sense of obligation
  2. Itching for adventure – you crave risk, you’re an adrenaline junky, boredom terrifies you
  3. Bleeding heart – your heart breaks at the plight of the downtrodden, compassion fills your soul
  4. Way of escape – deep down you know you had to get away, you are running, you are seeking refuge
  5. Purpose driven life – you want your life to count for something significant, fulfillment

I suppose I might as well give voice to what many are thinking. What about number six? Certifiably crazy. Okay, yes, I can see some validity to that being a common motivator. Right? Smile, I’m just kidding.

my daughter feeding the same little girl in the first picture

Then there’s the fact that what gets you to the mission field might not be what keeps you there. Maybe you are not meant to stay forever. Maybe life happens and you have to move back. Maybe you hate life as a missionary. Maybe you knew this was a short term thing to begin with so you are content to return. Maybe you feel you would be more effective in accomplishing what you feel God wants from your life by being based back “home”.

Those who choose to live as missionaries for the rest of their lives will encounter moments (read: hours, days, weeks, maybe even months) of questioning. Healthy evaluation is helpful and necessary. Putting words to why we continue on in this lifestyle might be hard, but it is worth the effort.

Can you answer with gut honesty and full disclosure transparency in one sentence: Why are you a missionary? Care to share? Dare to share? The comment box is open. Thanks!

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Adoption day for this same little girl four years after coming to The House of Dreams Orphanage here in Bolivia. She’s in Europe now with her beautiful new family.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

(Philippians 3:12-14 msg)

– Angie Washington, co-editor of A Life Overseas, missionary living in Bolivia

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

Is Justice Worth It?

As I scoured the internet last week for inspiration, I stumbled upon this video about justice. . .

And I immediately thought of you all.

Because you, this community at A Life Overseas, you make others– the different, the poor, the oppressed, the lost– your own. 

Don’t. Stop. Fighting. For. Them.

Is Justice Worth It? feat. Micah Bournes from World Relief on Vimeo.

Laura Parker, co-editor, is a former humanitarian aid worker in SE Asia

Emergency Departure

What is your plan of action when the political situation around you deteriorates to the point where your safety is at risk?

A big part of my training as an attorney is managing risk. In risk management, the potential risk of an action or situation is weighed against the potential benefit. When the risk outweighs the benefit, a good risk manager recommends against taking the risk.

In 2010, as I was preparing to lead a missionary-care team to Thailand, pandemonium broke out in Bangkok. In no time, the Thai army was in the streets and the U.S. State Department issued a Travel Warning against travel to Thailand. In a flash, the seesaw of risk vs. benefit slammed down on the side of risk. We all wanted to go, but our safety was central, and our sending church could not knowingly send us to a place that our government declared an unsafe place.

During this time, the missionaries we knew were also faced with a very important question: What should our family do?

When you live in a country that becomes unstable, questions like this are tremendously difficult. I was amazed to discover that the missionaries and their church did not have a policy and procedures for handling emergency situations. What about you and your sending organization?  What is in place for when emergency situations come to you?

So that’s my lawyer side.

Often my lawyer side butts heads with my faithful-follower side.

Eventually we made it to Thailand after the unrest was quelled. During our visit, the missionaries ask the question,“Are we supposed to be (or called to be) safe?”

My missionary friend asked this question after reading an article (that neither one of us can now find) that discussed the impact on congregations where the missionary/church leader left when political instability and individual safety became too great an issue. One paraphrase that was burned into my mind went like this:

The people in the churches we plant are learning a very different Christianity than what was lived 1800 years ago. Now, new Christians are learning that Christ is great when things are good. But as soon as safety becomes an issue, we’re outta here.

This stands in stark contrast to what Rodney Stark shows in his The Rise of Christianity: Through many of the biggest plagues and crises, it was the Christians who stuck around while the others bailed, and that made Christ a person worth believing in.

It also brings to mind Francis Chan’s discussion of praying for safety in Crazy Love:

We are consumed by safety. Obsessed with it, actually. Now, I’m not saying it is wrong to pray for God’s protection, but I am questioning how we’ve made safety our highest priority. We’ve elevated safety to the neglect of whatever God’s best is, whatever would bring God the most glory, or whatever would accomplish his purposes in our lives and in the world.

What do we do with THAT?

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I want to leave you with these questions today: How do you strike that balance between the risk manager in you (or organization) and the potential that is always greater than can be calculated when working with God?

If you operate under an emergency evac policy, what are some of the guidelines you follow? What are some guidelines you wish you didn’t have to?

If you work in a place that is constantly unstable or dangerous, how do you reconcile the competing safety and savior factors? How does the “changing face of missions” change our reactions or plans to emergency situations?

Ice Cream and Poverty

My 7-year old went to her Somali/Arab/Afar dance class one Saturday afternoon. The guard outside informed us that there was no longer dance on Saturday afternoon, no matter that we had signed up, no matter that we had paid just last week.

Discouraged, we ran errands instead and ended up at a store which sells Magnum Bars. Be thankful drool doesn’t come through the internet. Mmmm….Magnum Bars….mmmm…My husband was a country away, my twins were at boarding school two countries away, dance class was canceled…We decided to buy two ice cream bars and eat them while taking a stroll through the neighborhood together.

I left the store with three little white plastic bags of items like canned corn and tomato paste and toilet paper. As I reached the car I heard my Somali name.

“Luula! Luula!”

I knew immediately which woman it was, or rather, which type of woman it was, as awful as that sounds. And my heart sank.

Homes of hard-working, creative, intelligent people

Her type is beggar. Her name is Arwo. Her need is a black hole of desperation. I despise everything about how I think of her and confess my sin as quickly as it rises.

I put the groceries in the car, take my daughter’s hand, and walk to Arwo. We grasp fingers and ask after one another’s children. Mine are in a fabulous private school. Hers can’t afford the notebooks required to attend free local schools. People are staring. One man tries to shoo her away from me but we ignore him.

She asks for money, for 1,000 franc, about $5.50.

I say no.

She presses. I say no again.

We say goodbye and I leave her there on the corner. Lucy and I return to the car, take the ice creams out of the box where they have already started to melt. It may be the cool season, but this is still Djibouti, still the hottest country in the world.

We eat our ice cream and walk, hand in hand, and I feel sick.

I really struggled to find a photo. Wanted to be careful to not objectify or bow to stereotypes. So here is me and my lovely, holding hands.

I have a history with this woman and of wrestling with these issues of poverty, of wealth. It would be impossible to scratch the surface in a single post. Especially because the wrestling continues. I have no answer.

Should I have given her money? My reasons for saying no are complicated, guided by prayer, study, local counsel, experience. But they aren’t hard and fast, and I still waver.

Should I have offered her an ice cream bar? I know she wouldn’t have eaten it. She would have nibbled the top and left it to melt. Ice cream isn’t what she needs or wants or likes.

Should I have offered her the canned corn from my groceries? Maybe.

Should I have stopped struggling and wrestling and feeling guilty so I could enjoy the walk with my daughter? Probably.

If I ask, “What do you think/do/feel about poverty?” or “How do you handle or react to poverty?” I think the dialogue would be vague, massive, impersonal. Instead, I have presented you with one situation, one example, one narrow glimpse at an overwhelming issue many face on a daily basis.

I told you what I did. I’m not at all sure it was the right thing.

What would you have done? And, I’ll just go ahead and ask it: How do you deal with poverty?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                        Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

To read more about how I approach issues of poverty, here are two recent pieces that come at things from slightly different angles.

Contributing to Relational Poverty

Who is Poor? Who Decides?

Breakfast with Gracia Burnham

Gracia Burnham and me at IHOP standing conveniently in front of the globe

I arrived at the restaurant way too early and waited in the foyer Wednesday morning.  Part of me still expected her to show up with an entourage.  A driver and bodyguard at least!  She is that much of a rock star to me.

Over a decade ago Gracia Burnham, author of ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’, became a widowed mother of three after 16 years of missionary service in the Philippines. Her husband was killed after they both spent a year in captivity in the jungle.

Now she was having breakfast with me. Wow! She is so much more wonderful in real life than I had imagined in my mind. Can you believe it? So sweet, kind, humble, gentle, smiley, and peaceful. And very short!

I asked if I could blog about our chat and she graciously agreed.

Q: This is my favorite quote from the book –

Because the Abu Sayyaf — and all of us — still retain the power of personal choice, the option of standing stubbornly against the will of God. And that obstinate stance is, apparently, something an almighty God is not willing to bulldoze. Of course, he could have fired heavenly lasers into the brains of Janjalani and Musab and Sabaya, forcing them to wake up one morning and say, “Okay, Martin and Gracia, this has been long enough. Feel free to hike off whenever you like.” But that would have made them puppets instead of independent human beings with free will of their own, for which they will be eternally responsible.

In this section you give some vivid imagery of who God is not. He is not a bulldozer, not a sharpshooter, and not a puppet-master.  Could you give me an image of who God is to you?

Gracia:

God herds me. I see God like a herder behind and around some sheep and they are all milling around and God has his arms out and they are being herded by him. God as my leader? No, I don’t see God out front leading or guiding. God is my herder.

Q: Do you miss living overseas? I’m sorry, people probably ask you that all the time.

Gracia:

I don’t get asked that very often. People assume that I am content and happy to be in the United States. And there is a chosen contentment. But I very much miss living overseas. I would much rather be in the Philippines.

Q: What new trends do you see in this generation of missionaries who are just getting started out as compared to when you began as a missionary over two decades ago?

Gracia:

What I see in today’s missionary is a strong emphasis on safety and comfort. And who am I to say that making a safe and healthy home is not the way to go? But it is a trend. The missionaries going now are talking about the big house they are going to have and where it is going to be and how it is going to be better than the standard of living of the people they are ministering to. Whereas, years ago, the idea was to go to the people and if all they had was one white t-shirt to wear then you wore one white t-shirt. Maybe you had five white t-shirts that you rotated. But the people only ever saw you in one white t-shirt.

Another thing I see happening in the States is the efforts of the church have shifted. Now, all the focus is on getting people on short term trips. I sat in on the board meeting of a group of churches as they discussed their strategy for missions. I had to bite my tongue when they said that the whole of what they were going to do was try and get everyone in their congregation to go serve for a week or two on a short trip. Where is the part where we teach children about the people of the world? When do we pray with the young people so they can ask God if they are called to be a missionary? When do we say to a child who feels called to the mission field, “Yes, okay, we will train you, and pray with you, and spiritually prepare you for a life of sacrifice and simplicity”?

Yes, the simple lifestyle. I don’t see as much simplicity in today’s missionary. The focus is on safety and comfort. Before, the focus was on sacrifice and simplicity. Different lifestyles. We are in different times, so there are different focuses.

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Discussion question:

What pros and cons do you see in the two different missions focuses Gracia highlights? 1. Sacrifice and Simplicity 2. Safety and Comfort

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

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Click here to hear the back story of when Graica Burnham called me, me?!?, on the phone: A Call from Gracia Burnham.

Related links: The Changing Face of Missions – – Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti – – A Case for Short Term Missions

The Joys and Pains of Making New Friends

Last November, I wrote a post about finding community, pointing to the danger of relying mostly on a virtual world and not connecting well with people around you. But saying, “Find community,” is almost like simply saying, “Lose weight” without sharing ideas on how to go about doing so.

In real life—or perhaps I should say, in life back in our home culture?—making friends is often uncomplicated. But when you’re living overseas—or, when you’re returning home after living overseas—making friends can be a bit lot more tricky. (Of course, being a global citizen, I realize the term home conjures up much confusion for many of us.)

Nevertheless, despite the risk of oversimplifying, here are some thoughts on ways to find community, realizing that your environment, your personality, your culture and your host culture are all factors that play a role insofar as what will work and what won’t. Here are some thoughts about what’s worked for me, and some thoughts about the joys and the pains of making new friends.

Whitewater rafting with friends on Java, Indonesia: Making new friends can be a scary yet very rewarding experience

Today, I feel like my heart’s been put through a wringer. Two weeks ago, I was in Bangladesh, participating in an emerging leader training camp. Once I got back to Thailand, a colleague arrived for a week worth on intensive training, site visits, meetings, and more meetings. All of the above was very good, and I can still indubitably say, “I love my job.”

Last night, though, after I had dropped off my colleague, I went to dinner at the home of dear, dear friends. I smiled as I walked into their house, the aroma of a dinner prepared with love filling the air. My friend Becky wasn’t home at that moment. She was taking their dog for a walk. Still, I walked in and set the dinner table, simply because that’s what good friends do. And then I curled up in a chair in their living room and took a nap till everyone was at home and we visited about our day.

All was OK till after dinner, when I helped Becky take photos of furniture. See, they’re moving back to the US this summer, and they’re getting ready to sell some furniture. Suddenly, their leaving became a painful reality that stabbed and simply wouldn’t stop hurting. I realize that the pain is exacerbated by me being tired. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am saddened by the fact that my dear friends are leaving, that I’m not just losing one friend, but I’m losing family.

It’s not that I’ve not gone through transition before. In the past 20 years alone, I have lived in more than 10 different cities and in 6 different countries. I’m no stranger to good-byes. But for many of those moves, I was the one leaving, and I had gotten good at guarding my heart.

This time around, I’m staying, watching as my friends are packing up their world bit by bit, selling stuff, preparing for the uncertain transition, and I know that though we’ll remain friends, much will inevitably change.

Here’s the deal, though: When I first met these friends a short few months ago, I knew they were leaving. I could have played it safe and chosen to protect my heart and not accepted a hand of friendship. But I didn’t. Nor did Becky play it safe and opt not to forge a new friendship so soon before having to wrap up many years of living in Thailand.

Does it hurt to know that Becky and her family are leaving soon? More than I care to admit. If I could start over and avert the pain of loss, would I choose not to befriend Becky and her family? Not for a moment! I’d be poorer for it. In that sense, I have to agree with one of my favorite philosophers, Winnie the Pooh, who said,

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.

It’s also not that I don’t have other friends in town. I’m blessed that I have several other friends, though none of my other friends here represent what Becky’s family represents for me as a single person: Theirs is a home away from home away from home.

Nor is it that I won’t be able to make new friends, or deepen existing relationships. But I realize that it is a rare gift to be such good friends with an entire family.

Floating on a lake with friends from church: Jamie, me, Becky, Holli and Sandra

And so, tonight, as a reminder to myself and perhaps an incentive for one or two of you, I’ll list a few ways in which I was able to find community in the past. Here’s what’s worked for me over the years of living abroad:

  • Years ago in Taiwan, when I realized that my circle of friends included hardly anyone outside my work world, let alone outside my circle of faith, I joined a choir where I was challenged in so many ways: musically, linguistically, socially and spiritually. Several years later, when I moved back to Taiwan after time in the US and Kenya, I was welcomed right back and started building new relationships among my choir friends. (Ironically, some of my non-Christian friends were much more instrumental in my return adjustment than Christian friends were. But that’s another topic all by itself!) To be sure, I didn’t expect my non-Christian friends to meet my need for spiritual community. What they did do, though, was leave me with amazing memories of making incredible music to God’s glory—even though they saw it merely as culture.
  • Ironically, making close friends in the US was hard in California, yet very easy in Iowa (where I did support raising). Perhaps that would be my advice for moving to the US then: Move to the Midwest! 😉
  • In Kenya, finding community looked differently yet again. At a stage during my three years in Kenya, I moved to a different village in order to be closer to a few friends with whom I could share some cultural commonalities. It is in the village that I learned the importance of having friends who share more than created and learned common bonds.
  • In Indonesia, where I worked at an international school where I was one of very few Christian teachers, I had good friends at school. But since I knew I also needed a faith community in order to thrive, I chose to attend a women’s retreat to get to know other Christian women. May I add that I don’t particularly like women’s church camps? At that camp, though, I made amazing friends with whom I’m still in touch.
  • After moving to Thailand, I tried the same route of attending an interdenominational church camp. This time around, it didn’t work for me at all! I didn’t make any new friends at camp. In Thailand, finding community has worked differently yet again.
  • In Chiang Mai, making friends at first happened as a result of accepting an invitation to a Thai small group even through I understood no Thai yet. In the process, however, I got to know some precious Thai friends.
  • And while our new Compassion office was not yet open and I got to work from home, I chose to leave home daily and work from a coffee shop instead. Though I like variety and like exploring new places, I chose to keep going to the same coffee shop every day so I could get to know the names of the staff, and so someone would smile back when they recognized me.
  • Another key to finding friends came by way of the church where I chose to worship. Rather than visiting several churches in town, trying to find a place that felt just right, I opted to chose between two options only, and soon started going to just one church, even though I knew no-one there. There, I tried out various Bible study groups as a way not only to grow, but to connect to community. (I chose not to stay at any of those studies.)
  • Despite not knowing anyone at church, because I kept going to the same church and kept just being my friendly self, a stranger walked up to me after church one day and struck up a conversation. Viv became a cherished friend, even though I learned very soon that she and her family were returning to New Zealand hardly four months after we met.
  • Over one of our first coffee visits, when I commented that I was looking for a place to exercise, Viv told me about a women’s Bible study that I could join as well as about a taekwondo class at the local Korean church. Me? Do taekwondo?! I wondered. I’ve never done martial arts, and had I known then what I know now what amount of coordination it takes to do taekwondo well, I might never have thought to give it a try… But give taekwondo a try I did, and at class, I met a wonderful new friend, Sandra, who introduced me to a whole slew of friends, including our mutual friend Becky.
I’m one of the oldest members in taekwondo class. What fun!

I would say God has answered my prayers for close community here in Chiang Mai, and as hard as it is to prepare to say good-bye to some friends, I know I’ll make new friends again. If I’ve learned anything in the 20 years’-10 cities’-25 homes’-6 countries’ worth of moves, it is that making good friends takes risk. It takes stepping out of your comfort zone. It takes being yourself, yet allowing God to challenge you to not be too comfortable hiding behind “being yourself.” The introvert in me, for example, wouldn’t mind just waiting for others to come to me. But, as as Philosopher (Winnie the) Pooh says,

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Through my connections with Viv and then with Sandra and Becky, I have connected with a rich variety of friends, men and women who challenge and bless me in a different ways, people who have caused me to say, “This, too, has become home to me.”

  • How about you? What’s worked for you in terms of making friends in a new culture?

Adéle lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
and considers herself blessed having a rich variety of friends in many places.
Some of her adventures are found at www.AdeleBooysen.com.

The Changing Face of Missions

I want us to consider how globalization is effecting us as missionaries. Fritz Kling wrote a book entitled “The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church” His book will be the backdrop for our discussion. In it he identifies two characters; Missions Marm and Apple Guy.

The Missionary
By: Marc Milligan

Missions Marm – An older, single woman who loaded her trunk (or perhaps even a coffin packed with belongings) onto a ship or plane for her trip to the field, knowing she would only see “home” for an extended furlough every five years. Communication was by sporadic mail service. A lifetime of service seemed too short to accomplish the task.

Brett, the surfer  dude with a taste for big fat............
By: thefuturistics

Apple Guy – a young, hip family man, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and sporting scraggly facial hair who excels at multi-tasking and staying in constant communication with those at home. His family would soon fly into join him for a three-year commitment after renting out the house they were maintaining in the United States. The goodbyes were brief because family is planning a  visit for a sight-seeing trip in a few months.

“Mission Marm” had given up all of her Western accoutrements and conveniences to serve in any way or place that she was needed. “Apple Guy” brought his gadgets and toys with him to a place he had chosen.

The changing of the missions guard brings up several questions:
– Will the next generation bring enough depth and commitment to difficult cross-cultural assignments?
– Are older missionaries prepared to minister and teach Christian faith to people in complex and changing cultures?
– Will Apple Guy and contemporaries know how to forge relationships in less developed and less powerful countries?

Kling states, “Right now, over 400,000 Christian missionaries are living in countries other than their own…the future of the global church will look very different. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky is reputed to have explained why he always seemed to be the first player to the puck: “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where the puck is going to be.” I wonder…if the global church (is) skating to where the puck was going to be.”

While many of us identify with Apple Guy (we are, after all, reading a blog), can we learn from and embrace the strength of a Mission Marm? In my twenty plus years I have seen many changes in missions (think no email, Skype, or smart phones). While toting my Apple products, I can see a distinct difference in the thinking and attitudes of younger missionaries.

Don’t think: “How will missions adapt?”

Think: “How will I adapt?”

Here are some thoughts for discussion:

How can we maintain the strength and commitment of a Missions Marm?
What do we need to guard against in being Apple Guys?
How can we draw on the strengths from both generations to accomplish the task?

Let’s Discuss!!

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

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For more about this topic, I encourage you to pick up The Meeting of the Waters.

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:

hot,

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.

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 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?

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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