Leaving On A Jet Plane

Way back in June of last year, the same weekend that I published my latest book, Love At The Speed Of Email, Mike and I learned that we would be leaving Luang Prabang in April 2013.

Mike’s position is being handed over to a Lao national staff member, which is good. Working yourself out of a job is exactly what you want to do in international development, and Mike’s good at that sort of capacity building.

So this move is a good thing, and we always knew we wouldn’t be here long term.

And, yet.

There’s a difference between knowing you won’t be somewhere long term – that you might be moving in “oh, a year, maybe two” – and suddenly knowing that the clock is ticking.

When we first received the news we had ten months. Now we have less than three.

We’ve spent that seven months alternately thrashing out possible next steps and avoiding discussing the topic because it had gotten all too exhausting. We’ve tried on one possible future after another – holding them up to us mentally and looking them up and down to see how they fit.

The possibilities, and the questions, seem endless. Where will be we most useful? Doing what? Where do we want to be? Doing what?

Australia? The US? Stay in Laos? Move somewhere in Africa? East Timor? How important is it to have access to decent medical care during this season? How much permanent damage am I risking by continuing to live in the tropics with a health condition that’s aggravated by heat? How important is it to my sanity to be able to keep doing some work myself while also being our children’s primary caregiver? Where am I going to have this new baby that’s due to join us in six months? How important is it to Mike’s well-being and the health of the whole family system for him to be doing work he enjoys and believes makes a difference? Does that work have to be in the humanitarian sector? If not, what else is out there? Where do we start looking? Do we want to put down some roots – we who don’t even own a car at the moment, much less a house? Where?

And so it goes. It’s been a long, hard discussion with no easy answers. Mike and I have been forced to acknowledge that as well matched as we are, we are still different people, who want some different things in and from life. We’ve come to realize that some of what first drew us together five years ago has shifted and changed. We’ve had to confront, again, some of the constraints that my health condition and parenthood place upon us. We’ve repeatedly collided with the myth – the hope – that there is an option out there that will be a perfect fit for everyone. That neither of us will really have to forgo some things that we really want.

Ironically, during the six months when people all around the world have been reading the memoir that details the fairytale of our early romance, Mike and have been getting dirty in the trenches of our marriage. We’ve been battling depression, injuries, and some growing and unacknowledged resentments. Failing to communicate well. Trying to come to grips, still, with the earthquake that parenthood has been in our lives. Getting up in the middle of the night again and again and again. Praying for that perfect option (or, failing that, clear guidance) and having neither materialize. Replaying conversations about the future that we’ve already had dozens of times in an exhausting, maddening, spiral of thoughtful decision-making. Waiting.

We’ve been struggling to figure out how to love each other well when it doesn’t come nearly as easily. 

I have moved countries almost a dozen times so far, and these sort of limbo seasons that herald drastic change are my least favourite part of living overseas. There is some excitement at the thought of a brand new adventure, but there is also sadness and a numb sort of exhaustion. Especially when you’re leaving something familiar for the unknown, it’s easy to identify the good in what you’ll be leaving behind and impossible to fully visualize the good that might be lurking just around the next bend in your path. Do this too many times and you risk never really sinking deeply into places or people, never really tasting the good of the present, because part of you is always aware of a looming horizon. Of more coming change. Of yet another inevitable departure.

I don’t know how many more of these transitions my life will hold, but this one, at least, is inevitable. We have fewer than 100 days left in this little town we’ve grown to love and then we’ll be leaving on a jet plane. It’s just … we still don’t know where that plane will be going.

What’s a tough decision you’ve had to make in your own relationship – one where all the pieces didn’t seem to fit neatly? What did you decide to do?

And, what is your least favourite season of living overseas?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

A Case for Short Term Missions (Guest Post: Seth Barnes)

I am a progeny of the short-term missions movement. My life was shaped by trips I took as a teenager to Guatemala and Peru. And here’s the ripple effect: in addition to sending tens of thousands to the field, my family has been profoundly affected. My daughter Estie just left with her college group to Ecuador, my son Seth Jr. has spent a year in Nicaragua, and for the last 17 years, my parents have spent three months doing medical ministry in Kenya.

From www.sethbarnes.comBuilding on that early experience as a teenager, I’ve spent 25 years doing short-term trips and it seems that my blog “Are short-term missions becoming faddish?” has made me something of an “authority.” Over 60,000 people have looked at it since I wrote it a year ago. And the tide of emails in my in-box like the one I just received made me realize that perhaps it’s time for a considered response.

So, be warned, this is gonna get long – hang in there!

A random person recently wrote me saying, “Hey, I am doing a speech opposing short term missions [STMs] today, I was wondering if you have any data or statistics that would work for this?”

I’m afraid my response wasn’t too encouraging: “You may have mis-read my perspective.” I wrote. “I believe your position is unbiblical. Luke 9 and 10 is a clear biblical precedent. My issue is not STMs, but STMs done poorly, which is most of the time these days. If you’re ‘opposing STMs’ then you’re opposing Jesus.”

What’s going on here? Is this a tempest in a teapot, or do we need to trash short-term missions and start over?

On the one hand, STMs have become over-the-top faddish when you can now sign up for a “missions cruise,” – I wonder whose “have-your-cake-and eat-it-too” thinking produced that? On the other hand, when you go to a bad restaurant, do you give up on eating food? Many of us attend dull churches, but believe in the concept of church. Everywhere in life there are examples of excellence contrasted with poverty of imagination and execution.

STMs are a necessary part of discipleship. The people who would do away with them are missing a big chunk of Jesus’ pedagogy. Jesus was big on faith – asking us to do a trust-fall with the Father. How else are you going to learn faith if not by being thrust into unfamiliar territory with an overwhelming assignment? You can study diving all you want, but until you jump off that high dive, you don’t know diving.

STMs are also a necessary part of missions. Paul went on a series of STMs and jump-started the long-term mission movement. Usually when planting a long-term work in a community, those planning it are going to begin to establish relationships in a series of forays that culminate in a long-term commitment.

STM teams work – sometimes spectacularly. The uneven results they can produce open the door to criticism. Here are the most prevalent criticisms:

*They cost too much.

*Short-term missionaries can’t do a missionary’s job.

*Short-term missionaries should help the needy people in the U.S. first.

Jesus tells us, “Go into all the world spreading the good news.” The passive approach to faith is an oxymoron – we can’t sit still and practice the kind of risky faith steps that Jesus advocated. Christ sounded a clarion call to battle. Religion for couch potatoes placing a premium on safety or formulas doesn’t sit well with our Lord. We’ve been commanded to get out of the malls and into the streets. The question before the court then is not one of a mandate. The questions are: What we should do with the mandate we’ve been given? And, just how far should short-term missionaries go with their mandate? Are there any limits?

Sometimes, the critics score a bullseye. Mission trips too frequently are costly. By definition they can’t incorporate the follow-up work that only someone with a long-term commitment to a particular mission field can. Often they are overly ambitious, aspiring to pierce the darkness in a place like Romania, when the light may be dimmer next door in Philadelphia.

Other criticisms are more easily countered. Some critics dismiss short-term missionaries out of hand with the comment that “They’re not really missionaries.” To which I say, if being a missionary means something other than sharing the love of Jesus cross-culturally, then it is true, short-term missionaries may not measure up. Yes, often they do have a quick-fix mentality in a world where change may be measured at a glacial rate. However, I suggest that labels are a peripheral issue. Jesus called us all to be missionaries. He sent his disciples out in pairs as the first short-term missionaries (Mark 6:7-13). To judge the validity of the STM movement, we need to dispense with old preconceptions and look at the fruit, not the duration of the term or even the commitment of those involved.

Another criticism in the same vein is that the ministry on a mission trip is more to the short-termer than it is to those to whom they’re ministering. To which I say, “So what?” It’s true that STM leaders may seem more focused on the needs of their group than they are on the ministry they’ve undertaken. Often the changes that occur in their lives are profound. It may frequently be the case that short-term missionaries are the primary beneficiaries of their trip; however, the most successful models of STMs emphasize a partnership in which both participants and nationals benefit equally as they develop relationships with one another.

These kinds of criticisms persist and confusion flourishes when STM leaders embrace questionable models of STMs. Because there are so many flawed models floating around, they inevitably tarnish those models of STMs whose fruit has stood the test of time.

When STM groups come in for criticism, most often it is because they have adopted one or more of the following flawed models of short-term missions. Let’s look at the six worst:

QUESTIONABLE MODELS

1. No Preparation

2. No Prayer

3. No Jerusalem

4. No “Ends of the earth”

5. No Stewardship

6. No Perspective

Some critics see STM groups as being on a kind of philanthropic sightseeing tour. An STM team can be a negative experience for both long-term missionary and participant alike if the team is inadequately prepared and is seen as a necessary inconvenience. The same team can have an incredible impact if they are trained and come to the field with the right attitudes.

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The above article was used with permission from Seth Barnes, President of Adventures.org. Since 1989, they have taken over 100,000 young people overseas on short term missions trips. You can check him out at his blog, SethBarnes.com or on twitter @sethbarnes

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What are your thoughts on Short Term Missions? How have you seen them positively affect people, help your long-term ministry, or impact the culture where you are living?

Long-termers: What do you want short-termers to know before they start their trip? Advice for them? 

Rice Christians and Fake Conversions

I remember our first year on the field literally thinking, “No one is ever, ever going to come to faith in Christ, no matter how many years I spend here.” 

I thought this because for the first time in my life, I was face-to-face with the realities that the story of Jesus was so completely other to the people I was living among. Buddhism and the East had painted such a vastly different framework than the one I was used to that I was at a loss as to how to even begin to communicate the gospel effectively.

And so, the Amy-Carmichael-Wanna-Be that I was, I dug in and started learning the language. I began the long, slow process of building relationships with the nationals, and I ended up spending lots of time talking about the weather and the children in kitchens. And while over time, I became comfortable with helping cook the meal, I saw very little movement of my local friends towards faith.

But, then we started hearing about Western teams that came for short term trips or long-term missionaries who visited the villages around the city where we were living. Sometimes they would do vacation bible schools for the kids, other times they would show a film. Sometimes they would do a sermon or go door-to-door. Other times, they would help build a bathroom or a water well or a new church. (And these efforts were definitely noble, costly, and helpful on many levels.)

But the surprising thing for me was that these teams (both long and short term) seemed to come back with conversion stories. 

These Americans — many of whom didn’t know the language and hadn’t studied the culture– often came back thrilled to have witnessed several locals seemingly convert from Buddhism to Christianity.

After three days of ministry.

Here I was learning from living in the culture, that the leap from following Buddha to following Jesus was seemingly a gigantic one, yet it seemed that every time I turned around Western teams were having wild success in convincing nationals to make it.

And they would tell their stories or I would read them online, and I would immediately begin to shrink a little, or a lot.

What was I doing wrong? I obviously suck at being a missionary.  These were my logical conclusions.

******

About six months into our time overseas, I first heard the term “Rice Christians.”

The term is used among the missionary community to describe nationals who make a profession of conversion (inauthentically or without true understanding) in order to get the product (clothing, food, rice) that is being delivered by the Western worker.  It seems that if you add the strings attached to the given supplies with the “don’t cause conflict or disagree” cultural value of the Asian country where we lived,  a subtle social game can quickly develop.

It could go a bit like this: uneducated villagers, a little (or a lot) in awe of the white American, are provided with goods they desperately need, entertainment that encourages their kids, and attention by the wealthy Westerner, all of which they gladly accept. And at some point over the course of the event, the Westerners share honestly about their religion and eventually ask for public professions of faith.

And, seriously, what’s an impoverished person, raised in a culture of respect, supposed to do in light of  this turn of events? In many ways, isn’t agreeing with the views of the outsider the most polite and most effective response for the national– the path that both provides for their families while still showing respect for their visitors?

Perhaps, perhaps they become Rice Christians for the day.

And maybe we missionaries don’t really give them many other options. 

Note: I am by no means saying that the gospel can’t move mightily and quickly among a people group. I’m not saying that we should all begin to doubt the faith of those that come forward in evangelistic outreaches, either. I’m also not throwing short term missions under any kind of bus because I’ve seen this in both short and long-termers. I am saying, though, that perhaps we need to consider the position we put people in when we enter their worlds with gifts and programs. And perhaps we need to re-evaluate some of our “numbers.” 

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Thoughts on this? What is your opinion/experience with pairing the gospel with humanitarian aid? Can that become manipulative? In your area of the world, are people quick to receive the gospel?

 Laura Parker, Co-Founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia

 

Living Around Danger

One of the biggest challenges of living and working in South Africa is the constant awareness of crime. Near the top of the list in violent crimes such as murder and rape, South Africa poses a bit a of a safety threat. Poverty drives muggings and home robberies. Very few nights pass when I do not look out my window to investigate some strange “noise”.

How do you deal with this in missions?
Where do I find peace as a husband and father?

By: Alan Cleaver

The initial year was the most difficult in this aspect of culture shock. I found myself jumpy and suspicious, casting a watchful eye over each passerby. As the months rolled into years, I have adjusted, becoming “smart”; knowing more potentially dangerous situations. Now 7 years on, fear is not an issue. There remains an ever-present “alertness” which you never totally realize is happening till you leave the country.

Let me share a story of an incident which happened to our family:

One day we came home to find our home had been broken into. Breaking a window on a side door, the thieves quickly entered removing televisions, laptops, jewelry, and other items which had memories attached to them. They were good. The house was only vacant 45 minutes.

The initial response was mostly relief. They only took stuff. No one was home so no one was hurt.

Then the possible scenarios start to unfold

But what if….?
What if we came home in the middle of the robbery?
What if this happened when my wife was home alone?
What if they come back?

That’s when the fear comes. Insurance can replace items, but no one can replace a life of a loved one. The lingering affects are nightmares and heightened awareness. For days and weeks, we found ourselves hustling our valuables into a safe each time we left the house. Our kids felt unsafe for a period of time. Then anger comes…

There is an irony to this story.

The incident I just explained did not happen on South African soil. It was not in a violent third-world country.

The robbery our family experienced was on our recent visit to the United States while on furlough.

We live and work in statistically one of the most dangerous places on the planet, and we get robbed in small town America.

Crime is a reality on the mission field, but these things can happen anywhere. Fear does not limit itself to geography, it can happen on the home front.

We can take all the precautions we wish, but can never eliminate the risk. Sometimes, when we feel the safest, (I was not waking up at night looking out of windows in rural Washington State!), is when we are at the greatest risk.

The bottom line on crime, whether abroad or at home, peace comes through trusting God.

Crime is a real part of a missionary’s life.

But never let the potential of what might happen stop you from obeying and living overseas if you are called to. While not a guarantee of “health, wealth, and safety“, being where you are meant to be is the place you can sleep the best at night.

Peace comes when you place yourself and your loved ones in the hands of an all powerful God.

What are some other keys to peace in a difficult environment?

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

The Corpse in My Car

On a rainy day one August, I had a dead body in my Land Rover. Her name was Caroline, and she was 16. She had drowned on a Tuesday. Her body was found that Friday.

Not being from the area of Kenya where I was living at the time, Caroline’s body had to be transported up into the Nandi hills, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from my village. When I was asked if it would be possible for me to help by driving the body home, I didn’t think twice. My car was big. I would do it.

It was only after I had said, “Yes” that reality set in. It’s not that I’m afraid of a corpse. It’s just a shell, after all. But the young girl had been dead for three full days, and her body had been in the river the entire time. As a precaution, I grabbed some Tiger Balm to put under my nose, and left for the house where I was to pick up the body.

My upper lip was still burning from the Tiger Balm when I rounded the corner to the hut. I greeted the solemn crowd, not sure whom to convey my condolences to. One man stepped up. “Thank you for coming. Now, are you brave?” Before I could answer, I was led through the crowd and into the mud hut.

Except for the body, there was nothing in the living room, not even a single chair. “This is it,” the man said somewhat nonchalantly, pointing at the body. “Now, let’s see who will drive with you.” Before my eyes had adjusted properly to the darkness in the hut, we were once again outside.

I folded the back seat down to make more space in the very back of the truck, and spread out a tarp. Some men carried the body to my car on a stretcher of sacks and a sheet. The eerie silence was interrupted by the shuffling of their feet on the soil and by the sound of the sheet sliding onto the tarp. No-one cried. Everyone simply stared. Then, someone said a prayer in Nandi, and I wished I could speak the local language so I could understand more of what was happening around me.

People started piling into the vehicle. A grandpa was helped into the front seat. The girl’s dad squeezed past the body to sit beside it. More and more people crammed onto the two narrow, drop-down seats in the back of the truck:  An uncle, three kokos (grandmas) from the community, and John, the neighbor who was with the girl when she fell in the river and drowned. Caroline had died alone. Now, she was surrounded by loved ones. Someone covered her face with a veil, and off we went.

As we passed through the market, John asked me to stop. He needed to buy Doom. While we waited, the rain started pouring down. The roads were already drenched and streams were flowing on both sides of the road. John came back with the can of insect repellent and emptied out much of it onto the body as well as onto their feet of those sitting close to the corpse. “To keep the flies away,” he responded to my puzzled look.

I wasn’t sure which of the smells were the strongest: That of the poison, that of the corpse, or those of the old men and women who don’t have the luxury of regular showers, all of which trumped the smell of the Tiger Balm. To make things worse, I couldn’t open my window because of the downpour.

David (the director of our ministry on the Kipkaren River) called soon afterwards. “Adéle, are you scared?”

“No, David,” I assured him. “What is there to be afraid of?”

The answer came to me hardly two minutes later, as we started fishtailing on the muddy road. To add insult to injury, the road we were on was incredibly bumpy. All of us were bouncing in our seats while I tried my best to keep the car on the road. I felt badly that Caroline was having such a bumpy last ride, but what could I do?

I passed two small cars that had ended up in the ditches on the side of the road and prayed that God would protect us from sliding into a ditch, too. Not much later, as I rounded a bend in the road, going at no more than 10 kmh (5mph), there were two trucks that had gone off the road… It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to pass.

“No worries,” an agui (grandpa) exclaimed. “Go back.”

It was clear that we had to turn around

Very carefully, I made a U-turn, and we headed back to where the road had forked. This put us onto an even worse road, one that would take us through two, strong rivers with water way above my tires.

And so the journey continued, all the way back to the Nandi Hills where I had picked up orphans the year before. I recognized many a beacon on the road, including three of the homes along the way where I had picked up children. How ironic, I thought, last time I was here, I brought good news for the children and their guardians. Today, I’m the bearer of sadness.

The last stretch of the journey took me down a road that had likely not seen a car in ages. And then we were there. It had taken two hours to cover the 25 miles.

I got out to say, “Pole” (sorry) to the family while some men carried Caroline’s body to the small hut. Women started wailing. This was family time, and I needed to make my way back to my village. One koko agreed to drive back with me to show me the way home. She knew a shorter way home, one that would take us past many more stranded vehicles, but not through the rivers again.

I was relieved to pull into our compound 90 minutes later, just as the sun started setting. “Two more children fell in the river at Turbo today,” a colleague told me while I washed my vehicle. “Their parents are now around here looking for them.”

Sad as they were, river drownings weren’t unusual in our village and certainly not in many other villages around my continent. This is Africa. And life in this part of Africa can sometimes be tough. Yet we have hope. I cannot imagine life without it.

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Tell us a wild story from living internationally, wouldn’t you?

Adele Booysen currently lives in Thailand and works for Compassion International.
She is relieved that her job with Compassion doesn’t included any undertaking responsibilities.

Next Door Neighbors

This is a get-to-know-you post! In the comment box leave the answers to one or more of the following.

Questions:

1. Where do you currently reside?

2. What languages do you speak?

3. What is the proper greeting ritual in the nation where you are currently living?

4. What’s the craziest thing you have eaten?

5. If your country was a vehicle which one would it be and why?

This will be fun! You might want to check back later to scan the comments to see if you have some geographical neighbors here at A Life Overseas.

NOTE: I understand that some people in restricted access regions may not be able to disclose certain specifics, so general answers and pen names are welcome so everyone who wants to “play” along may indeed do so.

While you are here, if you like, you can add your blog to the directory page and grab a button for A Life Overseas to put on your site. Thanks!

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

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

What Frames My World

I sit here in the night time silence and remember.

The air hung swollen that day, pregnant with rains ready to be delivered.  The dry blowing out with fits and bluster begrudgingly making way for the wet to come.

I watched the winds blow the first real cloud cover we had seen in months onto our evening horizon.

That evening I wrote a story in pixels to send to “Grandmother” and “Grandfather” in America. (I bet my parents never guessed they’d have QUITE so many grand babies!)  I must say I have raised camera happy children a world away.  They are anything but shy of the lens.  And a few of them are maestros behind it as well!

We sat in the fading light huddled together with bursts of giggles over silly shots and dramatic poses.  I managed to sneak in a few “keepers” too.

All at once my crutches went walking away without me, held hostage by my then almost four year olds.  ”Eh” I call out, “ITA- ita silu de, ita be arfa wa gobadu ana.”

Everyone dissolves into laughter as I tell my preschoolers:  “You, if you take my crutches, you will have to pick me up and carry me. ”  I think they strongly considered my response a challenge.  I can only hop so far on one leg.  {But oh how they have carried me these years in their prayers.  Now feisty first graders, they carry me still.  I am humbled to tears by a love so big it reaches across continents and oceans.}

I watched them turn the crutches I lean on into picture frames for my lens.  I snapped away arresting time, freezing moments in place.  I didn’t want the light to leave.  I held it captive with my shutter and refused its departure.

Could the very thing the enemy meant to disable and destroy become that which frames the greatest release of God’s glory in our lives?

Some of you know my broader story.  Born too early with multiple birth defects, 23 surgeries by age 13; standing on one leg, 2 crutches and an eternity of grace.

I have watched God turn the things meant to take me out into that which He has used to bring me in. Again and again and again.  Into slums in India, leper colonies that refused any other witness.  Into hostile trash dumps in Africa and onto national stages in Central Asia.  Most of all, deeper into His heart.  I am certain the enemy is regretting his efforts because every single one of them has backfired– his current attempts included.

Do I think it is God’s perfect plan for me to have one leg?  Absolutely, categorically not.  Do I know God is a good Papa who works ALL things together for my good?  I stake my very life on it.

The limitations, challenges and obstacles that could disable me, when submitted to Jesus, become the very things that frame the greatest displays of His goodness in and through my life.

Impossibilities are His greatest invitations. Miracles can’t exist without them. {And how we are trusting for a miracle now, a miracle as big as our growing family from all over the world.  We are radically trusting for each and every one of our children in South Sudan to be fully sponsored so we can keep our doors flung wide… }

Let me ask you my friends: what crutches, what challenges are you holding onto that God is waiting to turn into a picture frame for His beauty to be revealed in your life?

All He needs is your YES.  He really will do the rest.

Michele Perry: Artist, Author, Executive Coach & Founder of Iris Ministries work in South Sudan
blog: From the Unpaved Road | twitter: @micheleperry | work: Iris South Sudan | USA: Create 61, Edge Creative Consulting, LLC

This I Used To Believe

National Public Radio in the USA used to do a segment called This I Believe, featuring short pieces on people’s most passionate and strongly held beliefs. The essays that resulted from this project span topics ranging from life as an act of literary creation to being nice to the pizza delivery guy. They are united only by the clarity and conviction each writer brings to their chosen topic.

My husband and I were talking about these stories one day when we decided to flip the premise around and discuss things that we used to believe.

There were a lot of these things. Some of these changes in belief were pretty fundamental to faith and identity. And more than a few of these changes were sparked by living overseas.

You don’t need to live overseas to grow and change. Life has a way of confronting us with differences in perspective and practice, giving us opportunities to learn new things, and inviting us to grow in empathy no matter where we’re living.

Moving overseas, however, tends to accelerate this process of change. When everything around you changes it is almost impossible not to change, too. If you open yourself at all to your new culture you will gain new ideas about what’s “normal”, and new ways of understanding right and wrong, honor and shame.

This will, over time, change some of your beliefs about yourself, life, others, and God.

Sometimes our beliefs change suddenly, much the way an earthquake alters the landscape or re-routes a river in one formative instant. Traumatic events, sudden loss, and massive life changes are often the catalysts for these sorts of sudden shifts in beliefs.

More often, though, our beliefs change slowly, in the manner of a river eroding its banks or an oil tanker changing course. These sorts of changes happen so gradually that they only become clear only when you check your rearview mirror or raise your eyes to see a different vista stretching out in front of you.  

Most of my own belief changes have happened like this – incrementally. Here are 10 things I used to believe, six moves, 15 years, and another lifetime ago.

  1. That I knew a fair few of the “right” answers to life’s big questions.
  2. That only people who said “The Sinners Prayer” and “accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior” would go to heaven.
  3. That talking people into saying The Sinners Prayer was more important than talking with them.
  4. That that which does not kill you makes you stronger.
  5. That you only really ever have one home.
  6. That living somewhere for three whole years would mean that you really understand a place and its people.
  7. That staying put in your home culture was the easier, safer (and therefore always second-best) option.
  8. That access to good hospitals isn’t really that important.
  9. That the tougher, more remote, or dangerous the place that you lived, the more cool points you earned.
  10. That cool points really mattered in the grand scheme of life.

What are some of your “this I used to believe” statements?
For those of you who live overseas, how has living cross-culturally changed your beliefs?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

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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