Want Exotic? Go Live Overseas.

One of the most wonderful things about raising a family overseas is the unique experiences the entire family gains from the local culture. And while culture shock is a beast and culture pain can strip you bare, there is a deep goodness in tasting life in a foreign land.

Below is a small collection of videos which depict different aspects of life for our family of five in SE Asia. I found that one of my roles involved documenting our life abroad (in the original site “alifeoverseas”), which I was able to do often through videos and blogging. I found that when I took the time to do fun videos or posts about the things that were exotic, interesting or funny about our lifestyle in Asia, it turned difficult realities into more hopeful ones. Here are a few snapshots:

A local market:

A local snack (yup, worms):

A local spa treatment (fish eat your feet, for real):

A local past-time (that would be an ostrich, and I’ve actually never seen a local ride one):

A local lunch experience (bikes are awesome):

And more food (whole family eats for 5 bucks):

Some local transport (in which I screw up the language):

Subscribers, if you can’t see the above five videos, please click through to the site.

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And, so now, it’s your turn. What is an exotic aspect of living where you live right now? What do you love? Do you have a video or photos or a blog post you can link for us to see? Please post it in the comments, would you?

Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia

“Hard work is always hard work…”

gymnastics_spsl_subdistricts_2009_cp-0743
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.

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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

 

Do not gaze upon Jesus turning water to wine (or To Drink or Not To Drink)

Not long after arriving in Thailand as a Christian aid worker, I felt like it was time to try some local cuisine: Thai beer. I enjoy a good beer and love trying local drinks that are well-made. On this particular occasion, my wife and I were with a Thai Christian who was showing us around and helping us pick up groceries at a small store. I wasn’t suffering; I just thought that might be a good time to pick up a Thai beer. The problem was I wasn’t sure what my friend’s stance on alcohol was. So, in one of my sillier moments, I thought I’d avoid any awkwardness in asking by hurrying up and buying the beer while my friend was down another aisle. As I approached the cashier, I noticed my friend was heading towards the cashier. The man behind the counter must have noticed the nervous look on my face, because he points to the sign next to him that says in four languages “You must be 18 to purchase alcohol products.” My 30-year-old bearded face was probably pretty shocked and then embarrassed as I searched my pockets for an ID that I did not have. Right at that moment, our friend comes up behind me and says, “Any problems?” I quickly motion to the cashier that I don’t want the beer and turn red-faced to my friend to say, “No problems.”

As embarrassing as this moment was for me, it raises an interesting dilemma with more questions than answers, especially for young missionaries and Christian aid workers.  Here are a few questions to reflect upon.

1. What is your stance and why?

I grew up in a fellowship and denomination that frowned upon alcohol use with few exceptions for cooking and desserts. I was always amazed that my friends who came from “old world” Christian faiths not only had alcohol with dinner and at parties but even had wine at communion. I could hardly imagine how they could do that with a clean conscience. After all, didn’t I learn that the bible condemns drinking?

Since then, I have actually come to read and learn more about alcohol in the bible on my own. I now enjoy a good beer and nice glass of wine with a clean conscience like my friends’ parents did when I was growing up; however, I try not to encourage overconsumption or consumption at all for those in recovery.  Think about your own position and be prepared to discuss it when the times comes — because it will likely come soon.

2. How do you deal with a disconnect between your preference and the culture of where you are?

I have a friend who was a missionary in East Africa. Like me, he enjoyed a nice, cold beer. However, many in his community could not drink in moderation. Christians in their church made a conscious effort to show the love of God through sobriety and abstinence from alcohol. His solution: No alcohol within 50 kilometers of his town.

At the same time, on the other side of the continent, friends in West Africa who came from churches where “one drop is a sin” ministered to communities where the people have survived on a local millet beer for centuries. The water wasn’t safe for anyone to drink.  The missionaries had to choose between the lightly fermented, horrible-tasting local beverage or the fully fermented, higher alcohol content, decent-tasting one. These friends looked past their upbringing and chose health, palatability, and joining the community.

In both of the above instances, the missionaries were intentional and ready to share their decisions with others.  The ways we deal with these dilemmas affect our witness and opportunity to be a part of a home that is not our own. Alcohol use, though not usually considered a salvation issue, can have a profound effect on your group.

3. How do we discuss it?

A church worker in Australia who grew up in South America recently faced a job decision: Having looked for a job working for a church for many months, he finally found a church that wanted to hire him. In the employment agreement, however, the church leadership required him to promise not to partake in any alcohol since it would be sinful. In response to this difficult position, he presented a paper discussing the ways in which Proverbs 23:31-32 has been misconstrued. When they were unmoved by his argument, he signed the agreement even though he felt his home church was being condemned every Sunday when they took communion with wine.  But rather than just sign it and let it be or break it in secret, he continues to dialogue with leadership in a spirit of love and learning.

“Nothing to see here; it’s just pizza.”

For some of us, our organization or supporters ask us to agree that we won’t

partake of any alcoholic drink. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the issue go away. In fact, as younger missionaries and workers are thrust into cultures where alcohol is a part of the accepted culture, our arguments domestically about alcohol make agreements like this more frustrating.  When discussions don’t take place with the why, our reaction may not be one of strict compliance.

So, how do we have these discussions in a spirit of love and learning?

That’s where I want to hear from you.  Also, feel free to drop some theology on us.

Justin Schneider — USA (until something better comes up). blog. twitter.

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Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping

Expatriates are told to prepare for Culture Shock and expect to experience it within their first year.

But what about after that year? What about after seven years? Nine? Fifteen? What about the frustrations and tears, hurt and stress, internal (or external) cries for ‘home’? What about those days when you will do anything to get.out.of.here?

After the first year, I thought I was free from culture shock. Now I would delve deep, adapt, feel more local than foreign. So when I continued to struggle with cultural issues and when that struggle increased and peaked around year seven, I thought I was crazy. Failing. The Only One.

This wasn’t culture shock, I had moved well beyond shock. So what was it? I discovered that two things happen, after culture shock, as we root in a land not our own, as we love hard and get involved and take risks.

  • Culture Pain

Culture pain comes when the difficult, or different, or confusing aspects of a new culture begin to affect you at a deep, personal level. Living overseas is really your life now. This is your past, your present, your future. This is where your children learned to walk and ride bikes, where you laugh and grieve and build a tapestry of memories.

Things like corruption and poor health care, attitudes toward HIV, education of girls, adoption, or poverty, religious rituals, children’s rites of passage, are not theoretical anymore. This is now you giving birth, your daughter in the classroom, your adoption papers misplaced, your coworker recently diagnosed. These issues are now yours to navigate. And sometimes, that hurts.

  • Culture Stripping

Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. It doesn’t stop. Ever. Not even when you return to your passport country. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up pork. You give up wearing blue jeans. You give up holidays with relatives. And those are the easy things. Your ideas about politics and faith and family, your sense of humor and taste in clothes, the books you read, evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality.

You have little instinctive protective layers between you and the world. Buffers like fluency, shared history, family, no longer buoy you. You are learning, but you will never be local. And so you also are stripped of the idealized image of yourself as a local.

This also hurts, but it is a good, purposeful pain. 

Kind of like Eustace in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was turned into a dragon and failed to get rid of the scales on his own but Aslan comes.

“That very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when we began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt…he peeled the beastly stuff right off…and there it was lying on the grass…and there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been…I’d been turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’re no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.”

  • Glad for it

The arms, the new self, this new way of living and seeing the world look different than before you moved overseas. Not perfect, not like anyone else’s, and still sensitive. But different because the shock, the pain, the stripping, have changed you.

And you are glad to see it.

Have you experienced Culture Pain? Culture Stripping? Culture Shock? Did one surprise you more than the others? Linger longer? Cut deeper?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

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Struggling Missionaries (or, Does our Suffering Help the Cause?)

Something has changed. I am not sure exactly when it happened, and only in looking back can I see that it did.  But there is no arguing it; things are different now than when we first got off that plane. Back then we were fired up – and ready to take on the needs of the poor even if it meant that we had to sacrifice anything and everything of our own. We had just sold the sum of our earthly possessions back in America, and it was time to give it all for those in need.

That was almost four years ago.

Four years of power outages, bad roads, no money, missing home, water shortages, mystery sicknesses, car trouble, and countless cultural frustrations that brought us to our knees daily.  As evidence I submit the following, a photo of our first “kitchen” in Ethiopia.

Now, though, things are easy, or at least easier.

We used to wash dishes in tubs of cold, cloudy well water; we now have a $50 instant water heater next to the sink in our indoor kitchen. We used to spend hours waiting for taxi’s; we now drive a new (if you can call 1997 new) car that rarely breaks down and even has seat belts for all of the kids. We used to run out of water a few days a week; we now have a tank on the outside of our house that keeps the showers on even when the city pipes offer up nothing but air.

Not that life is all perfect and roses now. We still live in a foreign land, and people yell “Ferenj” (foreigner) at us when we walk down the street. Our skin is still the wrong color. We still can’t get Oreos or chocolate chips at the supermarket. On the other hand, we don’t even like Oreos anymore. You don’t miss what you can’t remember.

Part of me, though, feels that with this shift we are not here for the same reasons that we came for.  Even though I know that is not true. If anything, we are exponentially more effective today than when we first arrived.

We came to help orphans. When we got here we had to work at helping just one child. Now we help hundreds.

Less complications = more help.  Right?

The truth is, though, I kind of miss the struggle. I miss the closeness to God that I felt when I was hurting for the least of these. I miss feeling like I was doing something of value just by being here.

But should I? Was I ever really helping the kingdom more because the couch legs were falling off? Was I somehow holier when I smelled like a tribal person because the water had been out for two weeks?

People keep asking me when I will write a second book. My first was about how we sold everything to move to Ethiopia, messed up our perfect lives to rescue children who were being killed due to a tribal superstition, and nearly lost ourselves in the process. The second book, if I were to write one, would be boring as all get out! I am left to wonder what part of this change our lives has gone through is good.

 ——————————–

Today with this post I want to pose a question to all missionaries, missionary hopefuls, and missionary supporters.

I want to open a discussion about suffering and productivity. I honestly don’t know where I land on this. Some days I am all about making our home as comfortable as possible so that we can “last” longer in this place. Other days I am ready to give it all up so that I can help more people who have nothing themselves.

When visiting friends I can see that every missionary has a different point of view when it comes to how much is “enough”. I know it will never be the same for everyone. Still, I am left here wondering: is there a right and a wrong when it comes to how we should live as missionaries?

Okay.  Enough said by me.  What do you think?

  ——————————–

Levi Benkertlives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with his wife and four children where they together created a ministry called Bring Love In that unites widows from the local community with orphans from the government orphanages to create new families.  He wrote a book called No Greater Love and writes a personal blog at www.LeviBenkert.com

Resolution: To Love Relentlessly

This is true of me: I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I try and live by a motto of resolving what I want to accomplish on a particular day, a specific week, or during a particular season.

It is, however, that time of year when we reflect on the blessings of the past year, and we look with anticipation at the year ahead. And so, as you look ahead at 2013, I’d like to challenge you to seek to live in such a way this year that every component of life — every relationship, every action, and every thought — is connected to and flows from the lifeline of a relationship with God himself so that Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:35 would be true of us today:

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer equated this life-giving relationship with Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music, a melody that forms the basis of a multi-layered musical composition.

Some years ago, while living in Kenya, I rewrote 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, and today, I’ll revisit this passage yet again not only as it pertains to 2013, but to this very day, and every day.

Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins

If I speak a slew of languages, but I don’t love relentlessly, I’m nothing but a dog howling at the moon.

If I share God’s Truth with children and adults alike and have enough faith to move to foreign lands, yet I don’t have relentless love, it’s as if I’ve done nothing, and journeyed nowhere.

If I give up luxuries, opportunities and resources to serve with the poor, if I live alone beside rice paddies, but I don’t love relentlessly, I am no-one.

It matters not whether I can speak with a funny accent, pray with passion, believe without limits. Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins.

Relentless love never, ever gives up, even when life is tough.

Relentless love cares more whether others feel loved than whether I’m comfortable.

Relentless love doesn’t want what God hasn’t given.

Relentless love doesn’t do things to be seen or heard.

Relentless love doesn’t care about my opinion and my needs, but listens to the opinions of others, and takes it to heart.
Relentless love puts others first.

Relentless love doesn’t get angry when yet another person asks for help or misunderstands me.

Relentless love forgives, again and again.

Relentless love doesn’t rejoice when others fail.

It finds joy in truth and in seeing others discover this Truth.

Relentless love doesn’t give up, but puts up with all things knowing that it is part of God’s greater plan, and trusts that God has the best at heart. Always.

Relentless love seeks to see the best in others. It doesn’t look back and wish for better days from the past. It pushes onward, knowing that beyond this mountain, far greater things await.

Relentless love is consistent. It is not like a fleeting shadow.

Relentless love doesn’t wilt, nor dies. It’s not “on” one day and “off” another. It is consistent. You can depend on it, even though you cannot depend on things and systems, even though you cannot always even depend on other believers.

Though I don’t know or understand all at this stage, the day will come that I will understand fully. I will no longer be craving insignificant pleasures. Instead, I will grow in understanding and maturity.

Right now, I don’t see things clearly. It’s like a window splattered with mud. But the day will come that all impurities will be removed. I’ll see clearly, just as God sees me clearly. I’ll know Him as He knows me.

But for now, while we are not yet there, there are three things I can hold onto:

Trust in God, always. Believe that He is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do.
Let hope be the fuel that compels me to move forward: Hope in God.
And the best yet: Love relentlessly, without ever giving up, for that is the way God loved me first.

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  • What do you resolve to do this day? This year?
  • Whom do you believe God is asking you to love relentlessly?

Adele Booysen lives in Thailand and works for Compassion International

blog:  www.adelebooysen.com.

Landfill Harmonic and Redeeming Rubbish

A missionary friend shared this little video with me. Maybe us mission minded folk here at A Life Overseas can talk about it too.

 

Take a walk in our town and you will pass by large green trash bins, usually overflowing. If you see the lid of the dumpster propped open with an empty two liter soda bottle it means one thing: pilfering. You learn to not be alarmed when you walk by and hear a rustling from within. Tawny arms and legs scavenge through the refuse. Should I be ashamed that I laughed once when I saw a couple items come flying out that opening as if the bin itself spit out some parts it couldn’t chew all the way?

I have many trash tales I could tell.  This is one of my favorites. Members of our church adopted a Bolivian child. They first encountered their daughter as an infant rescued from a trash bag thrown under a bridge on the rocky banks of a dry river bed. Her name suits her perfectly: Victoria. What a story of victory her life has been. She is a vibrant child getting ready to attend kindergarten. I marvel every time I see her.

Can you love what’s been thrown out with the trash? Can you deny the opinion of others and stoop to scoop a redeemable piece out of the trash heap? Can life be found in a putrid, rotting pile?

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

No matter if our life started in a trash bag, a pristine hospital room, or a stable; redemption must be the focus.

As Mary awoke on a day like today, the day after the first Advent, she gazed at the Infant on her breast. The fate of all humanity hung on that Life, cradled in her arms. The scent of dung and unclean animals hung in the air. A pungent reminder of the task of redemption ahead.

My friends took a baby from the clutches of an early coffin in the form of a trash bag, and roared, “NO!” in the face of death. Mary held an Infant in the midst of a detestable stable, filthy darkness all around, and gave the world LIFE.

What surrounds you? When was the last time you visited a dumpster and communed with humanity? What steps have you taken towards the smelly, filthy humans living around you awaiting a Redeemer?

I am speaking in quite a literal sense, though feel free to sweep it away under the figurative rug, should you so desire.

Jesus made us a promise. This promise shares rank with other powerful statements bestowing upon us faith, hope, and love. Sweet Jesus promises: the poor we will always have with us.

In the context of keeping precious communion with Christ the disciples receive a rebuke. They took issue with the extravagant “waste” of the woman anointing Jesus. How odd our human affinity to identify waste. Jesus promises the disciples that they will always have the poor with them and that they should help them, too. Then He draws us into the heart of the matter. He tells us to keep first things first. What we see as waste, he sees as valuable, precious, and necessary. (Mark 14)

Let us first waste ourselves on communion with Christ. From that “wasted” time communing with Him we can go to the “waste” of our community and bring the sweet smelling aroma of redemption.

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Where have you wasted your life lately? Or better yet, with whom have you wasted your life lately?

 

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

Merry (Tacky) Christmas

This Christmas Eve, I’m remembering another Eve not so long ago which was spent in flip-flops and not snowboots, with skype and not flesh-and-blood. And this season, as I pray for you, my friends who are living internationally, I will ask that your holidays be rich with the love of Jesus– even if you are forced to decorate in epic-tackiness. Maybe you can identify with this post I wrote last year in SE Asia: 

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I’m not afraid to say that we’re having a tacky Christmas this year–  tackier than I experienced while growing up in the deep South, and tackier than when we were married-young and living-in-government-housing college students.  I’m finding that celebrating a Christian holiday in a country that’s 96% Buddhist limits your decorating options, and so, we’ve settled for a

sadly sparse, and glaringly-obvious fake tree,

plastic ornaments and a foil star, reminiscent of last year’s sale items at the Dollar Tree,

and, {perhaps the ultimate in Tacky} a fringed and foil Merry Christmas sign that adorns our kitchen wall.

But, I am learning this year some important lessons, in terms of cheap garland and plastic evergreen and celebrating so very far away from home.  I am learning that

The Spirit of Christmas far outweighs the decorations of it,

That the Holidays are about what you DO experience and not about what you DON’T have,

and that the message of December 25th is the same on the remaining 364 days of the year, and it has always been that

Love Wins.

His Love.  My Love.  Our Love.

And the rest is really just decorated plastic, anyway.

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How are you feeling this Christmas season? What are the gifts of spending the holidays internationally?

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Surviving Christmas as a Missionary

As a missionary, Christmas can be a season which summons our most intense feelings of homesickness.

-You are away from friends and family. No matter how broken family structures become, people always get together over the holidays.

-The nation you serve in often does not “feel” like Christmas. The first warm weather Christmas I experienced was a shock to my senses. Now, I find Christmas sneaks up on me as I serve in a nation with a lesser degree of the materialistic, “mall decorated prior to Thanksgiving” kind of atmosphere. It just doesn’t look or feel like the holidays.

– Most individuals and families have more traditions wrapped up in Christmas than any other time of the year. Missing those family gatherings or celebrations can bring a sense of isolation and loneliness.

As I write this, my family is on a short furlough in the United States for Christmas. We attempt to return once every three years for the holidays. But in those other two years, we have incorporated a few strategies to both survive and celebrate being away during the “merriest” time of the year.

Some rights reserved by riverrunner22 on Flckr.com

Here are some tips I have learned from 20 plus years on the missions field:

1. Acknowledge Things Will Be Different
In order to succeed in celebrating, you have to be in the right frame of mind, or you start miserable. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking we can make a “mini-American” (or wherever you are from) Christmas on location.

2. Establish New Traditions
How does the nation you are in celebrate? Embracing a new custom can be one of the best parts of the season.

South African’s celebrate with the braai. A braai is a  BBQ on steroids. It take most of the day while you slowly cook food and socialize. The main course is meat and more meat. Chicken is considered a vegetable. We started a tradition of cooking some nice meat, making a casual afternoon of relaxing and enjoying the company of some of our friends.

We have also added a camping vacation to this season as Christmas falls over the kid’s summer school holidays.

3. Something Old, Something New
Find a tradition you can replicate in addition to new customs. We still find a Christmas tree, even though it makes the tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” look like a prize winner! Our kids make ornaments rather than pulling antiques out of storage.

4. Find Community
Don’t spend it alone.

Let me say this again. Find someone to celebrate with.

Self pity and mourning will creep in otherwise. Invite friends, others missionaries, or even some of your co-workers for a meal and fellowship.

5. Use Technology
You can still “attend” the gatherings back home with the increase in technology. As you tell the stories of your celebration, don’t be surprised if people at home are a bit jealous of the nice weather and fun you are having!

So, if you are discouraged. Don’t give up.

Keep trying things till you embrace a new tradition.

Whether you are home or abroad, invest the time it takes to make this celebration special.

All throughout the Bible, celebrations were times of remembrance. Israel needed to pause and takes stock; remembering who they were and what God had done for them.

Don’t let a change in geography rob you or your family from creating memories. And of course, celebrate Jesus breaking into time and space, forever changing the planet.

Merry Christmas!

What are some of your overseas (or domestic) tips for missionaries or expats?

 

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

When the pieces don’t fit

Finally…

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.

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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

Fighting Fear: Peace Like A River

Last month I wrote about how much I miss the promise and illusion of safety the developed world offers when my baby is sick over here in Laos. I know, however, that the fears that underpin my longings aren’t caused by living in Laos. They are only magnified.

This month I thought I’d take another look at those fears from a different angle, and share a piece that I wrote almost a year ago now, Peace Like A River. In one of life’s painful ironies, this essay was published the day before the accident that broke Dominic’s femur. It is a piece I’ve returned to several times since then, and the triangular relationship between peace, fear and love is one I continue to puzzle over.

 Peace Like A River

Two weeks after Dominic was born, my husband, Mike, announced that he was going out for a bike ride.

“Just a 50km loop,” he said. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

I nodded and told him to have a good ride, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to clutch him and beg him not to go. I wanted to demand that he tell me how I would survive if a car hit him – which happens to cyclists all the time, you know – while he was being so irresponsible as to be out riding for fun. Fun. What was he thinking to be indulging in something so very dangerous and call it fun?

I had expected my son’s birth to deliver love into my life. What I had not expected was that right alongside love would come something else, something that would assault me more often and more viciously than I had ever imagined.

Fear.

In the weeks following the miraculous trauma of Dominic’s arrival, I found myself battling fear at every turn. I would see myself dropping the baby, or accidentally smothering him while I was feeding him in bed. The thought of unintentionally stepping on his tiny hand while he was lying on the floor made me stop breathing. Whenever I left the house I visualized car accidents. I lay awake at night when I should have been getting desperately needed sleep thinking about the plane ticket that had my name on it – the ticket for the flight that would take all three of us back to Laos.

How, I wondered, am I ever going to be able to take this baby to Laos when I don’t even want to take him to the local grocery store? What if he catches dengue fever? What if he picks up a parasite that ravages his tiny insides? What if he gets meningitis and we can’t get him to a doctor in Bangkok fast enough? What if the worst happens?

What if?

One of my favorite hymns was written by a man who was living through one such horrific “what if”. After learning that all four of his children had drowned when the ship they were traveling on collided with another boat and sank, Spafford left immediately to join his grieving wife on the other side of the Atlantic. As his own ship passed near the waters where his daughters had died, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

This hymn is one of my favorites because it puzzles me. I’m awed and confused by Spafford’s ability to write these words in the face of such loss. Because of the story behind it, the song demands my respect.

Plus, I really like that image in the first line of peace like a river.

I think of this line sometimes when I’m out walking around town, for Luang Prabang is nestled between two rivers. The Mekong is a force to be reckoned with – wide, muddy, and determined. Watching the frothy drag on the longboats as they putt between banks gives you some hint of the forces at play underneath the surface. Mike likes the Mekong, but my favorite is the other river, the Khan. The Khan is much smaller, and at this time of year it runs clear and green, skipping over gravelly sand banks and slipping smoothly between the poles of the bamboo bridge that fords it.

I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers. But they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere. They don’t always run clear, either. But all that silt that muddies the waters of the Mekong? It ends up nourishing vegetables growing on the riverbanks.

Dominic is five months old now and the worst of the post-natal anxiety appears to have subsided. I managed to get myself to board that plane back to Laos and it no longer terrifies me to see Mike head out the door to ride his bike to work (most days, anyway). My fear of what ifs never leaves completely, though – it’s always lurking around waiting to be nurtured by my attention and amplified by my imagination.

I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t banish that fear altogether – that I never felt “perfectly” peaceful – but I don’t feel that way any more. I’m learning to greet that sort of fear respectfully without bowing before it. I’m learning to use it as a reminder to turn toward gratitude rather than worry. And I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

Peace like a river.

What does peace mean to you? What does it look like?
If you live overseas, have you learned anything new about peace from your host culture?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

Sunday’s Inspiration

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,
Your Children

– Max Lucado, in response to this week’s school shooting in America
Read the above and more from Christian Post  here

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“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. Its a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. . .

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. . . .

Why?  Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return.”

– Lamentations 3, The Message

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May this Sunday find you resting from worry, waiting  in hope for Messiah, and tasting the reality of Immanuel.

Struggling with something in particular? Experiencing anything deeply good? We’d love to hear about it.  You can comment here.