Banished from Bolivia

We messed up. Most times I want to end that sentence with a question mark. We messed up? Truth is, we all mess up, sooner or later.

  • Thomas Edison – scores of failures before the light bulb
  • Abraham Lincoln – lost dozens of elections
  • Albert Einstein – expelled from school because he was a dunce who asked too many questions

Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. The quantity of motivational pep talks in no way compares to the quantity of embarrassment one feels after a failure. Call it what you will — mess ups, screw ups, failures, errors in judgment, inexperience, sin — it still hurts.

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We came to Bolivia after my husband got his Business Administration degree and after we attended one year of mission school. With a ten week old baby strapped to my chest and my hands clasping the toddler fingers of our two-year-old and our three-year-old we stepped onto Bolivian soil with high hopes for our internship. The mission school program required two years: one year of classes, three months in Mexico with an affiliated missionary, and then back to the States to finish the year with classes. We did the first year of classes. We knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia. We knew that a missionary couple affiliated with the school had been in Bolivia for seven years. We asked for a modification to the program. Considering the ages of our kids and the fact that we knew we wanted to serve in Bolivia we asked about a year long internship serving at this ministry as the second year of the program. They approved our request.

We stayed the year in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (11-01 to 12-02). Then we went back to the States for a few weeks to visit family and supporters. Before that first trip back we decided we wanted to do one more year with this ministry. They agreed to that. We came back and worked even harder.

During those two years we: started 64 bible schools, oversaw an outreach program that facilitated the bible school students teaching moral formation to 50,000 public school students, taught two classes each at the local bible school, ran the children’s ministry at the church, participated in the G-12 discipleship system of the church, and traveled extensively throughout Bolivia doing conferences for pastors and church leaders. We were also intensively learning Spanish. Did I mention we had three small children as well?

In our non-denominational, independent circles people applauded our fervor and passion. Our time commitment was coming to a close and we began to discuss what came next. Tensions had been building and we felt like some things would need to change if we were going to continue with this ministry.

The discussions became muddled and personal. Many hurtful things were said. They told us they would like us to connect with their ministry and come under their covering. We decided it would be best to tell them that we would no longer be working with them.

That’s when the proverbial fecal matter hit the gyrating, bladed appliance.

We were:

  • told the operations in our charge had grown too fast and things were unbalanced.
  • told to relinquish all our financial partners’ information.
  • accused of owing thousands of dollars to the ministry.
  • visited by lawyers threatening to take us to prison.
  • immediately removed from every position and our keys were taken away.
  • slandered and the church members were told to stay away from us.
  • told to leave Bolivia and never return.

I was stunned. I knew things had become tense. We had seen things we didn’t agree with. That is why we were stepping away. We turned in our official letter of resignation from the volunteer positions we had assumed as interns. It was shoved back across the desk, rejected.

I was baffled. We didn’t receive a paycheck from them. The people who partnered with us funded the operations and covered our family budget. They had asked us to consider staying on with them. We decided not to. So why didn’t they just let us go? Why did they have to make life so difficult for us?

Why did they banish us from Bolivia?

We messed up? Yes? No?

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Our options for how to respond dizzied me. We could: cower, blame, defend, reason, negotiate, formulate excuses, quit, throw a fit, accuse, cry, shrink back, play the victim, bend under the oppression, fight, etc.

Through many tears and prayers and the advice of our home pastor back in the States we decided that it was not necessary to leave Bolivia, but that we would start out afresh in another city. We liked Cochabamba best of all the cities we had visited. We moved.

—  —  —  That was ten years ago. This November marks 12 years for us in Bolivia. —  —  —

In my mind I replay scenes from those first two years as missionaries. I want to say that all has been redeemed; some has, not all. I wish it never happened the way it did; but it did. I would like to have a better starting out story; but we don’t.

The regret tally marks scratched on my soul still burn. What could we have done differently? In retrospect the list is enormous. At the time, though, I believe we did the best we could with what we knew.

I would like to dress this up with a bow and a pretty ending. We could compare the numbers from our first two years and the following ten. Since our move to Cochabamba we: started a K-12 Christian school, pastor a church of 100+ people, help thousands of pastors throughout the Spanish speaking world with conferences and online resources, have provided care to 53 orphans, published a more than a dozen books, employ more than 60 Bolivians, mentored 3 career missionaries, and own the only bowling alley in town.

The balance of numbers feels superficial. We are not newbies any more, but we are nowhere near done with life. I am 37 and my husband is 38. Who knows how this thing will finish?

Does it do you any good to know we messed up? That we feel wronged? That regrets loom over my head like ominous vultures circling a bleeding carcass? That my dutiful dedication to the works of the ministry often find their motivation in paying a penance or seeking validation?

If there can be any good sucked from hearing our tale of woe it will not have been told in vain. Maybe the good comes from knowing we made it through. We are still serving as missionaries. Bitterness didn’t beat us.

I fear my words will be interpreted as complaining or moaning. I worry you will feel sorry for me – which I want none of, for it does no good to wallow.

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Hurts come. Each situation is unique. I feel unqualified to advise anybody walking through relational struggles. I can only speak of character and say:

  • Keep a tender heart before the Lord
  • Forgive Forgive Forgive
  • Learn and grow in spite of the pain
  • Pray Pray Pray
  • Love people

The words of Maya Angelou might give you solace.

“Do what you know to do. When you know better; do better.”

Pray with me this prayer attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Do you find yourself disillusioned, discouraged, disheartened, defeated, or destroyed?

What are you doing to keep yourself moving through this valley?

Who can you trust at this crucial time?

Back to School, Internationally

Growing up in suburban Minneapolis, every first day of school was essentially the same. I knew the school, the teachers, the students. The school supplies in my backpack, all from Target, were familiar and reliable. I knew the date of the first day and it never changed at the last minute. I knew I would vomit, or at least feel sick, the day before, that combination of dread and excitement too much to handle with poise for a timid introvert.

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learning how to ride the bus to school in Minnesota

Now, sending my children off to their first day of school in the fall, I battle that same dread and excitement (no more vomiting though). One of my kids goes to her first day with a backpack and plastic bag overflowing with supplies, a water bottle cradled like a baby doll in her arms. She goes to the French school in Djibouti. The other two go to their first day of school with carry-on luggage and airplane tickets. They go to boarding school in Kenya.

The first day of school in Djibouti is a moving target and we aren’t always certain until the week before. Students and teachers are constantly in flux, hello new and goodbye old, and in the first week of classes my daughter will likely come home with an entirely updated list of school supplies (speaking of school supplies…we want to buy local but let’s face it, Crayola crayons actually color, cost less than $0.50/crayon, and don’t melt, Scotch tape actually sticks, Elmer’s glue sticks don’t shrivel and dry up before being opened. Some school supplies are purchased in the US.)

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lunch at school in Kenya

School choices are intensely personal and complex and I expect we will host challenging and engaging conversations about school choices and options and successes and mistakes here in the future, keep your eyes open for that. But…

…for now, since many of us are in the busy, chaotic throes of putting kids on planes or on buses or in carpools or walking shoes, busy packing lunches or snack boxes, filling water bottles, shopping for last minute school supplies, re-arriving in our host countries after a summer vacation…how about one quick question:

What school option(s) have you chosen for your family? Here is my answer:

Three different local French schools in Djibouti. A preschool in Somalia. Boarding school in Kenya. One year of American public French immersion school. Intermittent homeschool of history and English. A few weeks of preschool in France. Not necessarily in that order.

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goodbye to the goat on the first day of school in Djibouti

I’m curious and would love to hear how expatriates around the world decide to educate their children.

A word, a couple words (for those with constant changes, a short paragraph): how have you chosen to educate your children?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, introverted development worker, Djibouti

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

Missionaries Dread This

Missionaries deal with many things. Poverty, Disease, Visas, Political upheaval, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and more.

Perhaps the part of the job or calling which brings the most dread is support raising.

Every job has things which we do not like. Whether you are in business, medicine, or missions. I have yet to meet a missionary who enjoyed raising the necessary funds to do the job.

So whether you are a life long fundraiser, a soon to be sent out new missionary, or even one whose role is to fund overseas endeavors; here are some suggestions for raising support.

By: Phoenix Wolf-Ray
By: Phoenix Wolf-Ray

Ask –The most obvious, but often most neglected part of support raising is to ask. Sometimes God does tell people not to ask, but for the body to function the way it is designed, we need to make our needs known. God can provide, but 99% of the time it is in the context of relationship, not a check falling from the sky.

Communicate – Too often missionaries depart and no word is heard from them. With technology, there is absolutely no excuse to lack communication. Be brief. No one wants to read your daily journal. A web page or a simple email newsletter using services like Mailchimp are simple even for beginners.

Connect– When you share, you want to connect. Do not tell people how hard life is on the field, or drone on about the sacrifices you are making. Tell stories, especially of individuals. If you are a family on the field, tell things through your children’s eyes. Sharing our journey of adoption has connected us with other families who have walked that road. They make a beeline for us, because of our mutual connection.

Causes – People are interested in investing in causes or projects. Frame some of your needs around these. It can be a great way to fund ministry projects. Some will give to causes, but would never give towards “missions” in the traditional sense.

Think beyond yourself –What is your greater ministry doing? How are the nationals you trained or developed different as a result of your involvement?  What are your “graduates” investing in others since they’ve left you? All of this is apart of your fruit and your mission. Share it!

Think outside the box –Support raising is so much more than newsletters. You can raise support for others outside or your immediate family like your national workers. This helps you accomplish your goals.

When you travel home, host a dinner or provide a taste of your nation at the weekend service. People remember this. We brought South Africa vuvuzela’s made famous by the World Cup with us. The church knew we were there and remembered us!

The bottom line is, no one really enjoys raising support. But, rather than throw up our hands in exasperation, let’s share what has and has not worked.

I invite you to help others in this endeavor. We are all on the same team after all!

What has been successful for you in raising support?

Are there other principles you would add to the list I’ve shared?

 

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

Voice of the National ~ in which I find myself in a really awkward, uncomfortable conversation

It was one of those conversations that I could have never planned on happening… and it was so super awkward when it did – but God allowed it… He even had it happen with most of my biggers standing right there and listening… absorbing…

But first, a tiny bit of the back story.

Our son graduated from high school at an international school in W. Africa, we vacationed in Scotland and then flew back to the States for a whirlwind, but long road trip through the western United States. The goal was LA for a wedding and then we wanted to create some family memories before the chapter of life where all-the-kids-are-still-just-kids-and-in-our-home closed. We picked several places we planned to stop and wanted to see… But there were also some of our stops we just stumbled upon. This was one of those stops.

I’d never heard of the Crazy Horse Monument, but it is in the Black Hills region of South Dakota and we decided to take a look.

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It is pretty impressive and we highly recommend a stop if/when you are ever in the area.

While we were wandering around, looking, browsing, reading… I stopped at the table of an older Native American gentleman. He was selling books on Native American spirituality as well as ones on the life and history of the Lakota warrior and leader, Cha-O-Ha, more commonly known as Crazy Horse. These children of mine, all prolific readers, tagged right along. After all, if Mama was going to buy a book, they wanted their input heard and to be front of the line to read said book.

I asked a few questions and he immediately started talking. And the one of the first things he said was,

“Missionaries, of all white men, have done us the greatest disservice. I want nothing more to do, ever, with the Christian idea of God.”

My wide-eyed children and teens jerked their heads to look at me. I know they wondered what I was going to do and say. I don’t think they’ve ever heard someone… anyone… say anything like that. At least not to our faces and certainly not in English.

This gentleman never noticed their shocked, even slightly horrified, expressions, for he had already launched into his story.

And his story broke my heart. I will try to retell it, using as many of his words as I was able to recall, after the fact.

First forced to live on a reservation, he and his siblings were then shipped off to a parochial boarding school for their education. Repeatedly harangued on the subject of the inferiority of all not white, he learned that even though the white missionaries told him he was precious to God, they didn’t really believe that, for they considered him a lot less than worthy… and really nothing more than a project to earn their own brownie points with God. Required to cut their hair, wear strange, confining and unnatural clothing, conform to western sensibilities, speak an unfamiliar language, abandon their culture and traditional practices…, he, his older siblings and other Native Americans attending his school were also punished if… or rather when… they gave hints of being homesick or longed for anything different. In other words, it was forbidden to demonstrate any desire for what they had lived before. According to this man, the punishment for such rebellion and ungratefulness to God was severe. Adding insult to injury, the education they received was, academically speaking, pitiful. One of 7 children in his family, he claimed to be the only one  who went to college and earned a degree. Today, he is the only one gainfully employed.

As a child, he felt coerced into multiple, desperate, professions of faith by men and women he could recognize as thinking they were well meaning… Today he despises how they had did what they did… Today, he has very little patience or respect for anyone affiliated with missions work… Today, he emphatically and vehemently scoffs at the idea of a god at all like the God “those missionaries claimed they worshiped.”

“Missionaries came,” he insisted, “saying they offered help and hope and words of life. They didn’t. They deceived. Our physical needs may have been crudely met, but they manipulated, emotionally and spiritually manhandling us. At least we knew where we stood with the Army and the trappers and the others who sought to take away what we had.”

I didn’t know what to say or how to react.

I had not in any way, shape or form participated in any of the horrible things that had happened to this man and his siblings, yet because I am a missionary (and want to be unashamed as I wear that description), I knew I couldn’t walk away silent. Appalled by what this man had experienced, I was equally horrified knowing I needed to, in some way, address this with my children all circled around – both compassionately and honestly. In other words, I knew he needed to know… my kids needed to know he knew… that we were missionaries and that there were some very human, imperfect missionaries who did strive to “do it” right.

That opportunity popped right up.

He asked us where we were from. One of my gang said “Niger” – pronounced the French way… “Nee – zhair.” He looked a little confused, so I added: “We’re from Michigan when we’re in the States. But we work in Niger (English pronunciation), West Africa.

The obvious follow-up question was, “What kind of work do you do there?”

“Ummm… We are missionaries.”

Awkward, very awkward, silence.

Then he asked me why I felt it was my job to convert the rest of the world to Christianity.

I replied something to the effect of,

“Sir, I can’t explain why Christian missionaries treated you the way you described being treated. I don’t understand it myself. I hope and pray every day that my life, my actions, my words are never experienced or understood even remotely as you experienced and understood the missionaries you knew as a child.

As a missionary myself, I have never believed my job was to ‘save the world,‘ nor is it to convert others to a brand Christianity that looks just like mine. I’ll try to leave convicting and the converting for God to do. My job is to love with all my heart and obey the God I say I serve and worship. I try to love and serve the people He places in my life the very best way that I know how. If in that loving, God gives me opportunity to talk about Who He is, what He means to me, what He’s done for me, why I do what I do, what i read in the Bible about how to be in a right relationship with Him… I want to do so truthfully, graciously, gently and kindly.

And yes, Sir. It is my prayer that through those types of conversations, relationships, friendships, etc., God woos others to see Jesus’ sacrifice and gift, to seek forgiveness and to become followers of Him.”

In that answer, I think God satisfied my children’s questions… and most of them skipped off to find their daddy and move on to the next thing.

But this gentleman wasn’t satisfied. Instead, he was a actually a little bit angry. I think he’d heard those sorts of words too many times before. Sadly, he’s apparently never experienced someone fleshing those words out in person in such a way that he could perceive it.

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We spoke for a few minutes longer. I thanked him for sharing his story and for helping me and my children to learn and see from the perspective of another. And I was ready to go. His anger and frustration were intimidating and exhausting. But before we left, I asked him if I could tell my missionary friends what he had shared with me. He agreed – and then thanked me for asking.

Somehow, that last question – asking permission to share his story – allowed us to part comfortably and on essentially cordial terms.

And I’m sure there’s a further lesson (or two) that God will teach me through this story – but several weeks later, I’m still not sure what they are. I do want to glean all that God would have me take from this difficult-for-me encounter.

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How would you have answered this gentleman’s question?

How would you have handled this encounter if you’d been standing in my shoes?

What could I/should I have done differently or better?

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– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

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

(Please note... Words in quotation marks are an approximation of our conversation as it occurred and as I recall it to the best of my ability, as this was not a planned interview.)

Words Matter

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In health care we have a story we call “The 71-Million Dollar Word Story”.

It involves a young man from Cuba, the absence of a skilled interpreter, and a misdiagnosis.

The man was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. He was riding around with his friend when he complained of a bad headache. He thought it was because of the strong smell of gas in his friend’s car but by the time he got home the pain was so severe that he was crying.  He went into a coma soon afterward and was transferred to a local hospital in a comatose state. The family was sick with worry as they waited in the emergency room for this man to be assessed. The word ‘intoxicado’ was used and, in the absence of a professional interpreter, it was assumed that the young man was ‘intoxicated’, had taken a drug overdose and was suffering the effects. The family had no idea this was the way the words were interpreted. Had they known they could have attested that the young man never used drugs or alcohol, that health was extremely important to this young athlete. Rather, ‘Intoxicado’ was a word used in Cuba to mean a general state of being unwell because of something you ate or drank. It was the only word they could think of to express the sudden onset of his symptoms.

The misinterpretation of this word caused a misdiagnosis resulting in an 18-year-old becoming a quadriplegic, for in reality he had suffered a brain bleed and lay for two days in a hospital bed without proper treatment. Had the hospital staff made the correct diagnosis the man would have left the hospital in a few days, on his way to college and a normal life.

This tragic event resulted in a lawsuit and if this man lives to be 74, he will receive a total payment of 71 million dollars.

Because words matter.

Words are our primary way of conveying everything from symptoms to silliness.

All misuse of words doesn’t result in tragedy. Sometimes the results are humorous. Like when Pepsi translated a “Come Alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!” ad into Chinese it was translated literally as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Or when the “Got Milk”  campaign was adapted for a Spanish market, the phrase was understood as “Are you lactating”.  And then there was the more personal time when my friend called a Pakistani man a laxative instead of by his name – just the slip of one sound resulted in a not easily forgotten faux pas.

Because words matter.

Those of us who work across cultural boundaries understand and experience this on a daily basis. From asking for juice at a local grocery store to communicating during emergency situations, we need our words. Words are something we miss most when we first arrive in a country. We know what it is to struggle to communicate, to struggle to find words.

Most of all, we long for words to communicate the gospel story, long to put words together to form sentences and thoughts that have meaning; life-giving, God-breathed meaning.

There’s a well-known story in the New Testament where Jesus used words, words to convey living truth to a thirsty heart. He used words that confound and challenge, attract and puzzle. He used words with a woman who was culturally from a completely different background than his own. He communicated across cultural barriers and boundaries to a woman at a well who was just getting water, a normal part of her every day life. Jesus used words to change a woman’s life.  He used words to change hearts and ultimately an entire community.

Every time I tell the story of the 71 million dollar word, I am challenged anew. For as big and as tragic as the 71 million dollar word is, there are many times when our words have eternal implications that go beyond lawsuits and tragic life events.

Words matter. And so I work to use words in a way that brings hope and life to thirsty hearts.

How have you used words in the past week to bring life to the community where you live? Have you longed to use words more effectively lately? Join the conversation through the comments.

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

 

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Not Hating Your Husband’s Ministry

We welcome Danielle Cevallos as our guest writer today. Her words come to us from Bangkok, Thailand where she and her beautiful family serve.

Danielle Cevallos Thailand

Early in our marriage my husband and I did ministry alongside of one another. However, in the past 5 years, God has called my husband to something that has forced me to really look at how “we” do ministry.  Today he works with an organization that requires him to travel every month. He now trains and encourages national leaders. While it is amazing to see what God is doing all over the world, this has been the first season in our lives where we have not been side by side in ministry.

I would get frustrated that he got to go off into the world and do these awesome things, while I was at home. I wanted to be a part of the adventure and the awesome God things that he got to be part of.

What I didn’t realize at the time,

was that I already was.

I began praying that God would help me to know what ministry “together” looked like in this season in our lives. Here are some things that he gave me

Prayer

About a year ago, God began to  show me that this really is the answer to everything! Yes, God is sovereign. But, he has chosen to use our prayers to change things. To make things happen. When I began to pray specifically for my husband and his ministry, support raising, and the specific leaders that he was working with, my heart became considerably more involved in the work that was going on. I was able to encourage him, and lend a new kind of support that I am embarrassed to say, I had not been giving before.

Hold down the fort

My husband has always been helpful in our home. He enjoys taking our girls places, and working on things with them. He does dishes and folds laundry While he is gone, it is hard.  Early on, I used to let him know, in a no-so-subtle way, how hard it was.  Imagine how supported one might feel going off into the world knowing that your wife was at home, and super ticked off about it. I prayed hard for a heart that was willing and for the grace to make it through the days while he was gone. I thanked God and my husband for how awesome, present and invested he was while at home. Slowly God has begun to change my heart in this way.

Be ready and available

While there is not always an opportunity for us to work side by side, there are times when those opportunities do arise.  I have edited countless newsletters and emails. I have gone on coffee/dinner/support dates. I have travelled to India and worked with the women there. I have written blog posts.  I have worked part time, and as of late, have gotten a job in Bangkok so that we can get visas to live there. When it is needed, I try to be available and positive, for whatever he needs.

Give him time to decompress, talk, and relax

When my husband would come home from a trip I would immediately want to hand everything over to him. I learned that one way to support him was to give him some time when he got home. If that was a dinner out, a late morning in, a long conversation about the trip or a Starbucks, then I tried to give him that.  I want him to feel okay about leaving both before and after returning home. It isn’t always easy, but one more day, night or morning won’t kill me.

Danielle Cevallos Thailand 2

Recently we moved to Bangkok so that my husband could be closer to the work God is doing in Asia. This has been the biggest way I have had to support his ministry thus far. God asked me to leave my life behind for this work. Perhaps the biggest thing that has helped me keep a right perspective is knowing that the same God who calls us, equips us. If he is the one calling my husband, and our family, then he will equip us, both on the front lines and on the home front.

What do your roles in ministry look like within your marriage? What has been helpful in keeping a good perspective on that?

Danielle Cevallos– Danielle Cevallos, missionary in Bangkok, Thailand. Believer in Jesus. Wife to a traveling missionary. Mother of two beautiful young ladies. Friend of amazing women. Southernized New Yorker. Carrie Underwood lover. Fountain Coke/Starbucks addict. Run-on sentence writer, and special educator.

blog: This Life I Live  Twitter: @d_cevallos

Plays well with others

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Plays well with others

Follows directions

Shows respect

 

In elementary school, they used to have a pretty simple way of letting us know how we were doing in life, at least according to their limited observations in a few key categories. They graded us fairly simply; we were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

When I was a kid, before the part where we got in deep trouble, my Dad used to tease my sister and I.  Whenever we would ignore an assigned task or disobey him, he’d say, in a long drawn out way, “fooooolllllowwws dirrrrections”.

As we get older we all seem to learn to what level we must follow directions. We develop into rule followers or rule pushers and we inch our way toward maturity falling in line or leaning hard on the limits. Either way, we are most often striving to find our way to a “satisfactory” rating.

Most of us find it far more difficult to ‘play well with others.’  I’ve been wondering lately, what would our first grade teachers say on our report cards today?

Eight years ago, as we prepared to move our family abroad, we were told “the number one reason people leave ministry abroad is that they cannot work well with others within their organization or community.”  We gave that statement the side-eye. What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”?  That hardly seemed possible.

Two and half years into our time in Haiti, we split up with the organization we’d come to serve.  We couldn’t see eye to eye with our boss-people.  They were happy to see us go. We disagreed on far too many things to continue on together. It was a painful and discouraging break-up.

If we have heard it once, we have heard it a hundred times. “We are leaving our organization to start our own thing. We just can’t work well together with our leadership.”

In all working relationships there are times of disagreement, times of disappointment or frustration. It happens between equals, between leaders and their support team, between friends.

My husband recently shared something his buddy said.  This friend had spent many years watching people come and go in Haiti. He believes one of the biggest problems in smaller organizations is that most organizations lack a committed and loyal “number two”. He further stated that he had seen over and over how great working relationships break down and the person in the number two role chooses to move on to start something alone when their interpersonal relationships with leaders and/or co-laborers get challenging.

Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same but they compliment each other.

I am not leading an organization, but I am part of the body. I am in my place and one of my roles is to compliment the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.

I’m learning as I age that not every hill is a hill to die on. When my life is over it would devastate me to hear the people I worked with say, “She always had to win. She did not compromise.”  When disagreements come and compromise seems improbable, I have an opportunity to ask myself, “Do I want to win, or do I want to be part of a body doing my part.” “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be the church?”  This is not to say we should not share or shape the culture of our organizations by speaking up when we feel God’s prompting to do so, but it is to say that there are ways to differ in opinion in a gracious, humble, and respectful manner.

Perhaps there are those of us doing work abroad that are not necessarily called to “start our own thing” or to act in the head leadership role. Maybe, like my husband’s friend said, what is most needed are loyal and faithful “number twos” that can recognize how easily the devil comes to destroy relationships, plant doubt, and stir discontent among us. It could be time to try harder to play well with others.

What about you? Are relationships in your work abroad causing more stress than the work itself?  Are you called to a number two position? Do you play well with others?

 Tara Livesay – works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti

Blog: Livesayhaiti.com    Twitter: @TroyLivesay

What do they need?

DSC_0739 2

It’s a simple question. It typically comes from a genuine place in our hearts. We enter a community, or we visit one, and one of the first things we see is the overwhelming need. Whether it’s the splintered relationships of a gossipy suburb in America or it’s the vast physical poverty of the Mathare Valley in Kenya; needs can be blinding.

The problem is when we are so blinded by what’s wrong that we can’t see what’s right.

When I lived in Mexico, it was obvious that people needed housing. We met one family in particular, who I’ll never forget, who lived in a boat turned on it’s side. It wasn’t a nice yacht-like boat either, it was a simple wood boat; basically a small step up from a canoe. It was so obvious that we should start building houses. We knocked on doors and asked local pastors to find out who needed a house the most. For months, we brought groups down from the USA to spend their weekend building houses for people who desperately needed them.

We wondered why we weren’t getting more participation from locals. Why did we rarely meet the dad/husband of the family? Why wasn’t the local government jumping on board and where were all the local churches?

One time, at the last minute, an American group cancelled. They simply wouldn’t travel to Mexico because of the reported danger. We had already bought the materials to build the home. The problem was, who was going to build it? My wife and I were great missionaries, but terrible construction workers. We visited the families that were “next in line” for a house and asked for their help. We asked them to spend a few days helping one of their neighbors build his house.

One guy became the informal leader of this crew of strangers-turned-friends. Once the house was built, he stood up and thanked everyone for helping. He acknowledged that the community had a lot of needs, but as long as there are people willing to help each other like this, everything will be fine.

After that experience, we started telling everyone on the “waiting list” for a house when/where the house builds were. All of a sudden, we had hundreds of dads/husbands involved. Local churches got involved and the local government even started supporting us. The community no longer saw us as an agency that built houses for poor people. We were a volunteer organization mobilizing community members to help each other. Eventually, people started helping out that weren’t even trying to get a new home for themselves; they just wanted to help others.

Fast forward a few years and there are hundreds of families that know each other. Their kids walk to school together. They share meals together in the evening. They attend church together. It’s like we accidentally built an incredibly connected and effective neighborhood watch program.

The point is this: if you only focus on a problem, you’ll rarely find a lasting solution. We were so blinded by the physical poverty, we completely missed the fact that people wanted to help each other.

When you enter a community asking the question, “What do they need?” you are missing what they have to offer. And what they have to offer (and encouraging them to offer it) will be a game-changer.

Ask yourself: Have I been so blinded by what’s wrong that I’ve missed what’s right? Take an inventory of the assets in your community, you might be surprised how much quicker solutions come when you’re actually looking for them.

 

– Dustin Patrick,  1MISSION in Mexico & Central America

Blog: GoodMud | Twitter: @DustinPatrick

Bring the Rain

Alece Ronzino Bring the Rain

Africa has the greatest storms. The rainy season finally comes after months of drought, and by the time the first drop falls, the earth is cracked and parched. Lakes and ponds have all but dried up. The tall savannah grass is brown and brittle.

The earth is thirsty. Ready. Waiting.

And then, out of nowhere one day, the storm clouds roll in.

The blackened sky sobs heavy tears. You can feel the thunder deep in your bones as it echoes through the plains. The lightning makes you jump and paralyzes you with awe all in the same loud, bright instant. The wind reminds you that only God could tie the trees down tightly enough.

Africa’s storms are altogether wonderful.

And altogether terrible.

Water rushes into homes, through the cracks in mud hut walls and the gaps in old thatch roofs and the seams in tin shack ceilings. Gusts of wind blow right through bedrooms and marble-sized hail destroys gardens. Those with only their feet for transportation run for any cover they can find — the bus stop, the liquor store, the first home they can reach in the village.

The storms are harsh. And unrelenting. And inconvenient.

And yet, they are welcomed.

There is a joy about the rainy season. “We need it,” is what you’ll hear.

Africans find it easy to say. Easy to see. Easy to recognize and acknowledge that as challenging as the storm may be, good will come of it. It is, after all, an answer to countless prayers for the sun-scorched ground.

They know that the thirst can’t be quenched without the storm.

Spring can’t come without the rain.

New life can’t bud deep beneath the surface of the dry, crusty ground until the heavens unleash their fury.

The drought doesn’t end until the storms start.

We need them.

I need them.

I need the storms in my life. Not as punishment or discipline or as some cruel cosmic joke that leaves God chuckling to Himself. I need them because of what’s waiting on the other side that I can’t see yet.

I need them because sometimes my heart grows cracked and dry, forgetting what it feels like to be filled to overflowing.

I need them because when everything in my life has turned the bare, barren brown of winter, I’m desperate for the life-awakening green of spring.

I need the storms. Even when I hate them.

Bring the rain.

What storm — large or small — are you facing right now?

How can you choose joy in the downpour?

 {Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kigaliwire/4403135333/}

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

The Purpose of Missions: Uh, What is It Again?

I’m not going to lie– my idea of missions has had an extreme makeover during the last several years. I pushed off shore thinking I knew so much about loving-well and Jesus-following in another culture, but I continue to learn that I probably know-wrong more than I know-right.

And this can be very disheartening for the hit-the-ground-running missionary. Independent or with an organization. Short-term or long-term. With kids or single. Social-justice-minded or gospel-driven or leadership-developing . When you continue to have your neat-and-tidy-boxes of the purpose of overseas missions {and effectiveness} slam-dunked with the realities on foreign soil in the 21st century, you tend to falter a bit.

Which leads me to a question I’d love to have us as a community discuss:

What, really, is the purpose of international missions? 

Is it to develop communities or to fight social injustice? Is it to disciple or evangelize or convert? Is it to be Jesus-with-skin-on or is it to save people from hell?  Should it look like developing national leaders or empowering the local church or handing out boatloads of resources?

And I know it sounds a bit wild, for me to even be asking this. But, honestly, really, I’m serious, I’ve had conversations over the past two years with lots of missionaries here and in SE Asia, and many of them have very different opinions on the answer. And this feels ineffective and . . . well, wrong-somehow.

Doctors know they are supposed to heal. Car mechanics fix vehicles. Teachers teach. What should be a missionary’s main goal? And is there a most effective way to reach it? 

All right, the gate is open, regardless of what latitude you call home:

 In one sentence, what is the chief purpose of overseas missions? And (the real conversation-starter) what is the most effective way to reach that goal? 

And, while we’re in the conversation, do you think that the main purpose of missions has shifted over the last generation?

*****

– Laura Parker, co-founder and editor, former aid worker in Thailand

 

Also, would you consider sharing this conversation via Facebook or twitter to ask your friends to join in the conversation?  I’d love to see what the general consensus is. Honest, respectful answers welcome! 

Celebrate and Vacate

Today is my daughter’s Golden Birthday: 12 on the 12th! Yeah for Gabrielle! So today’s A Life Overseas post is dedicated to celebrations… and vacations!

Washington kids (Gabrielle is in the middle)
Washington kids (Gabrielle is in the middle)

Celebrate the small stuff! Celebrate the big stuff!

Don’t let the work take up so much room that you “don’t have (make) time” for: celebrations, travel, relaxing, fun, vacations, parties… breathing.

When one finds themselves in a long season of frustration the reasons can come from two different places:

#1 – – One has lost the vision / passion / motivation and must return to face the question eyeball to eyeball: why? Why am I here? Why have I sacrificed? Why can I hope?

#2 – – One is exhausted and needs to combat the fatigue with exhaling.

Exhaling

Work is like inhaling. We inhale stress. We inhale troubles. We suck it up and push through and that taxes our beings.

Exhaling is breathing out all that we have sucked up. It takes the form of a break. Because, really, if the work is breaking our backs maybe that is a sign we need to take a break from the work.

Little breaks are vital. Take one day off a week. Contrary to the opinion of some, I do not believe that two half days constitute a full day off. I say a day off is: no work from the time you lay your head down to sleep one night until you lay your head down to sleep the next night.

Make space for margins in your life. Anticipate holidays and enjoy them. Put birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days on your calendar and in your budget so that you can fully embrace the importance of the days.

7 – 7 – 7

Every 7 days how about you take a break? (I know you’ve heard it before… but you need to hear it again: Even God took a rest.)

Every 7 weeks how about you get away for a few days? (It’s about every other month.)

Every 7 months how about you take a vacation? (But that is almost 2 vacations a year!?!? Yes. I hear you. Please keep reading…)

Vacations

Here’s a nice way to look at it.

Single? Once a year do a vacation just for you. And then once a year do a vacation with friends or family.

Married? Once a year do a vacation with your spouse. And then once a year do a vacation with another married couple or a group of friends.

Kids? Once a year do a vacation with the whole family. And then once a year do a vacation by yourself (if you are a single parent) or just with your spouse.

family vacation

Furloughs are NOT vacations

When you travel back to your passport country and you are speaking in churches, meeting with potential donors, and going to conferences you are working. That is not a vacation. If you would like to combine your vacation time within your furlough time, by all means do so. Be sure you, and others, can distinguish vacation from furlough, though. Maybe a week of vacation before furlough or a week after. Maybe the middle week to break up the work time. Guard it. Value it. Enjoy it!

What’s the next celebration on your calendar?

What creative ways have you found to “exhale”?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Carrying Water

Today’s guest post comes from Tamara White, former domestic missionary, current international consultant and therapist.

Tamara White Carrying WaterWhen I was in Haiti, high up in a mountain village, I was greeted every morning by a little girl who carried water for her family. The container was as big as her torso, perched perfectly on her sweet head. It seemed too heavy for such a tiny girl and I mentioned this to the pastor’s wife. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we’d like for everyone to have accessible water but really, it’s good for the children to carry water. It is the least of their battles.’ She, of course, was right. I was there to teach about PTSD but during my stay I was informed about their battles for education, gender equality, food insecurity, and opportunity.

‘Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ Plato

That was my mantra as I dove into inner-city ministry twenty years earlier. There were fun battles. Walking through a foot of snow to the latest ‘hole in a wall’ food haunt with friends. Teaching the Sunday School lesson from on top of the classroom table with some nice hip hop moves for ‘Moses’ and, my favorite – being ornery late at night and blaring Luciano Pavarotti into my Tupac driven neighborhood. And, there were dark battles. Perplexing injustice and violence, exhausting vigilance for safety, and the loneliness of pouring myself into others when I was still becoming whoever ‘I’ was. But there was something even more destructive that was leaving my soul ragged and orphaned. Depression and anxiety.

I attended small groups with other twenty somethings living in the city. I probably looked like I connected but internally, I felt void and unmoved always feeling like I was looking in. In staff and community meetings I was robust in debate but would give a big sigh as I crawled into bed feeling a mere shadow of my former self. The only time I truly felt myself was when I sang. I’ve always sang and performed but during those years, I loved worship because I felt alive, like my inner and outer being had finally merged for those few moments.

I remember helping some friends from the Jesus People apartment out of their car. We were talking about simple things. Familiar things. I was ‘spirited’ in my share of the conversation. As the wife gathered her belongings from the back seat her husband looked at me over the top of the car and said, ‘you know, Tam, it is okay to be angry.’ Me, a sweet Kansas girl happy to serve and eager to go that extra mile, angry? Shortly after that conversation one of the young women in our ministry told me, matter of factly, that I was just ‘not real.’ No one had ever said something like that to me. I was the one people sought out not dismissed.

Those two interchanges were simple, almost benign, but enough observation to slice into my façade. I was angry. And, I was submerged, not real and not accessible. I didn’t have a clue what that meant or how to deal with it so I did what any reasonable person would do and had a breakdown and left. It would not be the last time I would slowly, imperceptibly, fade away, and fall apart.

That was before I made frenemies with my nemesis. Before the devastating symptoms there are alarming whispers and I’ve learned to lean in and listen but, mostly, I’ve learned to care for myself. To those who are also the prey of depression and anxiety, this may mirror your own effort to be present instead of being submerged and fighting to breathe. Often and sadly, as a leader, or missionary, or, ‘person of repute’ as my mother would say – you do not get to be depressed or anxious. Which means you are a fool or crazy or, the very worst – needy.

After numerous battles fought, with some won but many lost, I decided that my truest offering might be to merge my 20 years of experience in ministry with the artful ministry of the soul – counseling. I know from experience that the demands of ministry, particularly in impoverished and vulnerable communities, can ‘out-crisis’ my crisis any day leaving me to silently fade and flat line. In combination, I know how vapid and confusing it can be, when faced with the challenge of serving in communities with a prevalence of trauma and consequential mental health decay, all while trying to honor culture and expressed felt needs. But my offer to you would be through my new mantra:

“Living well and beautifully and justly is ALL one thing.” Socrates

When I am not congruent in mind, body and soul, when I do not indulge in beauty and creating beauty, then justice seeking is really a mirage of intention. The Gospel tells me that I am free to float to the top, to engage, to wonder aloud about all these pains and to live in kindness because my battle matters too.

After becoming acquainted with the battles of the people in that mountain village in Haiti, what was it then that unnerved me about that tiny, little girl carrying water on her head every day? Quite simply, it was because it said, ‘I am in need.’ It was Christ, at high noon, asking for a cup from the shamed woman at the well. I get to share a cup of water with Christ when I admit, ‘I am in need.’ And when we all gather at the well, the water just might turn to wine. It’s most often not our choice what we get to carry in life, whether it is water or depression or injustice. The real battle is to be present, flatfooted and standing in our space in this world. I don’t allow my battles to remove me from my life anymore. I carry them, on my head if I have to, so I can live well and beautifully and justly. And that is kindness.

What hidden battles do you carry? What would it cost you to carry them on your head for all to see?

Tamara White, MA, NCC – Ministry: www.zoeroots.com  Practice: www.zoecounsel.com

Tamara WhiteTamara has over 20 years experience in urban, international, and diverse populations serving complex situations of individuals, teens and families in crisis. She founded and directed two nonprofit organizations in Chicago and Denver serving homeless families, teens, gang members and single mothers, with a focus on addictions, attachment, trauma and life skills.   An undergrad student of theology, organizational development, and communications she holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Her areas of expertise are trauma and PTSD, addictions, pre/post adoption, therapeutic parenting and attachment, grief and loss and, of course, depression and anxiety. Tamara is a single, adoptive mother who resides in Colorado with her children who amuse her, pets who shed, and friends who make her laugh.