Ice Cream and Poverty

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

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

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

“Luula! Luula!”

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

Homes of hard-working, creative, intelligent people

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

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

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

I say no.

She presses. I say no again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

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

Contributing to Relational Poverty

Who is Poor? Who Decides?

The Joys and Pains of Making New Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Changing Face of Missions

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

The Missionary
By: Marc Milligan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think: “How will I adapt?”

Here are some thoughts for discussion:

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

Let’s Discuss!!

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

——

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

When Missions Goes Hollywood

 Anybody can have a good website.

Anybody.

And that includes missionaries and ministries and humanitarian efforts that want and need. . .  money.

And oftentimes, what you see IS what you get– honest efforts at helping others, effective means of sharing God’s love with a community whether it be in education or poverty reduction or leadership training or whathaveyou. 

But, I’m on the ground here in SE Asia, which happens to be somewhat of a Christian mecca for missions organizations in all of Asia, and a story I’ve seen repeated more than once from or by the missionaries here is one of

false advertising.

Because anybody can have a good website.

And, let’s be honest, a good website with moving pictures of the impoverished or the primitive, sells.  Or fundraises,to be more specific.  And since so much of the work here is support-based, it’s a bit of a game that missionaries and organizations have to play.  We live in a virtual age, after all, when the validity of a company is based in large part by the flashiness of its website, and nonprofits are having to compete, naturally, if they want to survive and raise the necessary funds to further their visions.

And I get it.  I understand the language of SEO tags and google analytics, but my greatest struggle is when ministries paint a picture for their online viewer that isn’t actual reality or when they use content that actually exploits the people they are supposed to be helping.

The hard reality is that Hollywood sells.  The dramatic, the photoshopped, the extreme, the well-crafted word, the grungy graphics, the SEO-optimized– this is the stuff that raises funds, faster.  And funds are what the missionary or relief organization needs to stay operational, to stay on the field, to continue the work.

And I’m not pointing fingers, because I look back at my own communication of our past 18 months, and I’m left nervous that I myself have painted too grand a picture of the work here, have cropped reality too often, or have used brush strokes that have highlighted self far too frequently.

But, really, what’s a missionary to do?  Give the ‘audience’ what they want–  inspiration that will translate into the writing of checks, and thus, the ability to do more ministry?

Or deliver the brutal truth of failed efforts and the boring everyday and, more than likely, watch their financial support go the way of their old-school website stats?

I mean, really, {and I’m sincerely asking} where’s the line between honestly recording the good cause and softly manipulating to further it?

*post archived on LauraParkerBlog

**************

Thoughts?  What do you think of the connection between fundraising and Hollywood?  Stories, rants, opinions? How do you handle this tension with your donors back home?

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– Laura Parker, former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

Concrete churches in a bamboo world

After going to an Ash Wednesday service on Ash Wednesday, my wife and I were talking about the history of some of the practices most associate with Christianity yet possibly, or likely, have their roots in pagan rituals or practices. As it turns out, rabbits and eggs are ancient symbols of fertility, and several people groups use ashes to symbolize the frailty of life.

This discussion reminded me of conversations we had in Thailand. Visiting hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, most of the buildings were on stilts, often made primarily of wood and bamboo. Each village we visited had one concrete building emerging from the panorama similar to how I imagine cathedrals once looked in medieval Europe. Just like then, it was the church building.

At first, we had the response many western Christians have when they see a church building in a country claiming only 1% Christianity: a touch of pride and hope. But when we spent more time with the communities, we saw people who lived their lives in raised homes and who sat on bamboo floors; life was lived in familiar buildings outside of the church building — and outside of the church.

Then I ran into a team of missionaries working in Phayao, Thailand who also wondered why the Western church building should be the house of worship for Eastern people. The team not only wondered why they needed the typical, Western church building but also whether the practices and rituals at Buddhist temples were inherently Buddhist or were just methods of worship familiar to Eastern people and could be redirected towards the worship of Jesus Christ. After all, before the God of Abraham and Isaac, other religions sacrificed animals as offerings, and our God re-appropriated the practice twice.

After years of studying the language, culture, religion, the missionaries created a raised space (second floor) where attendees light incense and bow to the cross and wai when scripture is read. Instead of a buddha in front, a cross is hung. The people sit on the floor with their heads lower than the cross and feet pointed away from it. The sermon message was brief and the service centered around communion and scripture with a little bit of chanting. It was definitely focused on Christ. But at what point does it become too syncretic? Here’s a little bit of insight from the team in Phayao working on contextualized evangelism.

As Derran Reese emphasizes, “The crux of the matter is how the community uses and negotiates the meaning of the relevant symbols and forms in light of its faith in the triune God.” For example, does shifting “Got milk?” to “Got Christ?” allow the community to worship God instead of consumerism? That’s the question we should ask — or something like that.

Exploring the rituals of our faith can be scary. I mean, what is ch
urch without a building that looks like a church?
As giant church building construction continues, small coffeehouse fellowships and liturgies in old Mason lodges and communities under bridges begin to do something different in the United States. Are we perhaps yearning for something beyond the building?

So, what symbols do we keep and what do we leave? And what do we redirect towards the worship of the divine that is currently being used to worship another divine?

How do we encourage a foreign faith to become familiar?

I’d love to read your thoughts and experiences.

 

The Aim of Language Learning

I posted a note on Facebook about a language lesson and received this comment, “Are you still studying language? I thought you’d be fluent by now.”

Ouch.

It has been more than a decade. What’s my problem?

I can make a list of excuses. I speak two, sometimes three languages. I had two-year old twins when we arrived and added another baby. My family endured an emergency evacuation, searing conflict, work crises…I could say this particular language is just plain too hard: there are few textbooks, the two that exist are error-filled and not my dialect. The written form is young and still working out spelling kinks. Or I could say I’m stupid or I’m not a language person. Or I haven’t worked hard.

In other words, I could blame language difficulty on situations, the language itself, or my failings.

But I have worked hard. I’ve put in forty-hour weeks. I’ve studied faithfully all these years. I have a degree in linguistics and love languages and language learning. I use all the languages every day. I’m highly conversational.

So the question lingers, why do I still have language lessons? What’s my problem?

This, fellow expats, is the wrong question.

Raise your hand or leave a comment or tweet it out if you moved overseas under the impression a good solid two years of immersion study would have you fluent.

Oh how many times I’ve heard this and then seen people leave, far from fluent, after 2-3-4 years.

Language learning is hard, so hard that the best advice I’ve heard is: “Anyone who wants to learn a language well must have a solid theology of suffering.” (pretty good advice for all of life, I’d add)

Will language learning never end?!

The reality is, you might not ever reach fluency. Or it might take you years longer than you thought. Your spouse or coworker might fly past you, you might fly past them. But this is not about you. It is not about your speed or adeptness. What is wrong with me when language comes slow is the absolute wrong question.

The right questions are: How does God want to change me and use me while I learn this language? How does God want to accomplish his purposes through me while I learn this language? How can I love people while I learn this language?

The point, the aim, is not fluency. The aim is to honor God, to be used by him, to become more like Jesus, to love well.

Work hard, study hard, don’t give up. There will always be fables you don’t know, proverbs you’ve never heard, jokes you miss the punch lines of, songs you can’t quite follow. This is why I still have a language tutor.

There will always be people who need jobs, people to love and relate with, people to visit in their homes and invite into yours, people who delight in helping you discover the beauty of their culture at ever-deepening levels. This is why I still have a language tutor

God will always have lessons in humility, patience, endurance, treasures of the exquisite in the unique turn of a phrase and in the relationship. This is why I still have a language tutor.

And as you labor and learn and laugh at yourself, remember. The aim is not your own fluency. The aim is God’s work in and through you, however and at whatever speed he plans to accomplish it.

What motivates you to keep studying language?

Advice for newbies or oldies?

Funny language faux pas?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

Avoiding a Messiah Complex (with a Giveaway!)

Do I have your attention? (if not, keep reading…there will be a giveaway later on!)

Do you really think missionaries view themselves as a Messiah to the people they reach?

No, but this complex starts with a small thought, attitude, or even temptation.

That temptation is rooted in arrogance.

What!?

Missionaries being arrogant?

Aren’t the words associated with missions, words like “service, suffering, and sacrifice?” How could that lead to arrogance?

Our perceived external humility in serving others, can easily lead us into internal pride.

Being a missionary feeds our human desire to be indispensable or needed. It feels good to hear people say they could not make it without us.

Some rights reserved by Israel Defense Forces

I listen to young missionaries proclaim their desires all the time:

“To rescue people out of their poverty.”
“To help those who cannot help themselves.”
“I know I have something to offer these people.”

If we are not careful, this youthful zeal can work its way deep in our hearts. It begins with a legitimate desire to help. Slowly, subtly, this godly desire turns into an air of superiority. Pride at its root says “I am better than them.”

I’ve had numerous times in my missions career where my desire to give and serve was superseded by a focus on what I was getting out of the work, or at least what I thought I was earning from God.

For me, it stemmed from a false perception which believed climbing the ladder of good works endeared me more to the Father.

If we have a misunderstanding of grace and our acceptance from God, our service can quickly become a merit badge of honor. Worse yet, it could be a way to work off our bad deeds, attempting to balance the cosmic scales of good and bad.

I meet many missionaries who are doing great things, but for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been one.

Jesus reserved some harsh words for these people, the Pharisees. (Matt. 23:27)

As missionaries, is our service an attempt to climb the ladder to God?
Do we desire to be indispensable to those we serve, because deep in our hearts; we must be for us to feel “ok’ with God.
If people don’t need us, have we lost our value, losing one of the greatest tools we have to earn the acceptance of God?

I realize these are drastic examples.

We must ask ourselves if we can see even a hint of this attitude as we look in the mirror.

How often in our marriages do we serve hoping to be noticed, rather than being motivated by love? It is the default mode of the human condition and is more common than we would like to admit.

Our society tells us the only way to success is to be bigger, better, faster, or stronger. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate our missions and service in light of the free gift of grace.

Are we giving to get?
Is our service more for those we minister too or for our own personal peace of mind and security with God?
If people did not “need” us, would we feel less valuable?

In my book, Death of the Modern Superhero: How Grace Breaks our Rules, I explore how the world pushes us to be superheroes in our families, marriages, and even in ministry. The world tells us nothing is for free; hard work is the key to achieving anything.

The gospel of grace breaks these rules. We are accepted by God and cannot improve the work of Christ by our missionary efforts.

In our missionary endeavors, do the “rules” of the world motivates us more then the grace of God? They shouldn’t.

We don’t have to be superstar missionaries.
Rather our success is defined through faithfulness and obedience.
We like to say, “If we only impact one, it is worth it.” But deep down, would our pride allow us to be at peace with this?

Applying grace to our missionary lives is not a once off event, but rather a continual journey of soul-searching and contemplation. We may begin to find success in one area, only to have another rear its head. For the rest of our lives (and ministry), we will need to apply the message of grace on the missions field.

How have you experienced this temptation? What tips can you offer to avoid  a “Messiah Complex”?

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

——

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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

Thieves, Cannibals, and other Comic Relief

This guest post comes to us from Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica.

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Because the stress levels that accompany missionary life can often be so over the top and we are constantly battling our fears and fighting for peace, it is imperative that we as missionaries keep our sense of humor and ability to laugh at ourselves.

Nothing can cut through the stress of a miserable day or a humiliating cultural mistake like a good laugh. It’s important for us to remember that as serious minded as we missionaries can be, there are many aspects of our lives that are truly humorous.

The other night, our family enjoyed a good long laugh reliving our favorite missionary mishaps. It was so good to enjoy a little comic relief.

We laughed recalling my confusion of trying to make sense of the English that the islanders spoke at our first mission post in the West Indies. We thought we had taken the easy way by heading to a mission post where they spoke our language. Only they didn’t. It might have been English words, but it was not my English.

Our first day on the island I befriended a young girl and her cousin who was very pregnant. A few days later when I saw my new friend again, I asked her how her cousin was. She responded, “She go up she make she baby.” I smiled and said “good” and hoped it was. Later when I saw the cousin arrive back on the island with a newborn baby in her arms, I realized that “she go up she make she baby” translated to “She went to hospital on the mainland to have the baby.” Relief.  It was good.

One afternoon, my neighbor across the street cornered me on the road to my house. Her face was set stern and her tone harsh. I had not yet learned that our perception about this was wrong and that it was just the natural countenance of these people, so my stomach did a flip when she blurted out, “You take things from people?” I stared blankly. She repeated it more loudly, “You take things from people?” I tried to figure out what in the world she could possibly think we had stolen from her. My southern upbringing told me to be gracious as my head spun and I responded, “Oh no, ma’am. We’d never take anything from anyone.”

She looked back at me crestfallen and said, “Oh, because I bake you some bread.”

“OH! That kind of take things from people! Yes, yes, we do that!” said the missionary standing in the street feeling like a total fool. By the way, it was the best bread I have ever eaten and I’m so glad I took it.

One of our kids’ favorite memories is the morning in Costa Rica. In the midst of breakfast men peddling chairs arrived at our door. With three little ones and morning sick wife looking on my husband tried to politely turn them down. They were quite insistent that we really needed these chairs. The kids were screaming for their breakfast. I was totally incapacitated. In his frenzied state to get back to the chaos taking over our home, my husband closed the door, proclaiming loudly what he meant to be “No thank you, I have to go feed my children now.” Only in the confusion of the moment, he declared that he needed to go EAT his children.

Well, it worked anyway. Those men backed down the walkway with their plastic chairs and never came back again. If you ever run across a Costa Rican who is under the impression that Americans are cannibals, it’s our fault. Sorry.

We try hard, we missionaries. We try to learn the language. We try to learn the culture. But in the process, we mess up. A lot. Sometimes it’s awful and it’s stressful. But other times, it’s just plain funny.

And it’s good to laugh about it. Because if we take ourselves too seriously, we’ll never survive this wild ride called life overseas.

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So, today, let’s take the time to laugh together. Tell us about a communication/cultural mishap you’ve had in the field that you can laugh at now. Let’s lighten up our missionary hearts today and share a bit of laughter and fun.

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Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica

blog: Blessed Are The Feet work: www.saintbryce.org and Mercy Covers initiative

Previous post here on A Life Overseas: When Your Missionary Teen Struggles

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

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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Reminiscing and Dreaming

Today’s guest post comes from missionary mom Shannon Kelley. Here, Shannon shares a practical idea for being intentional as family as we leave last year behind and look forward to the New Year.

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I’m a big fan of the New Year. There is something hopeful and exciting about it. I love reminiscing over the past year and dreaming about what will be in the next. This New Year was very different from years past.  Instead of hanging with family and watching the ball drop went to sleep at 8, since the sun goes down here at about 6pm and we now think 8pm is late. We celebrated by pumping water into buckets for a shower and trying to not jump every time a homemade firework went off right outside our window.

Before we moved to Haiti our family made a couple promises. One was to sit down yearly and have a family meeting where we are truly honest about: where we are, what needs to change, and are we still aligned with what God called us to. In an effort to spice up New Years in a little remote fishing village in Haiti, and keep our promise of sitting down as a family to really talk about where we are in this crazy journey of following God, we did just that on New Year’s Eve.

It’s not really about resolutions. It’s about coming together to be honest and take inventory over the past year and prepare as best we can for the New Year. It’s about realizing life is too short to not really dive in to what God is calling us to. Want to join us?

Make it fun. Make snacks, give everyone fun paper and a pen to write on, make it a game or sharing time. Give the kids crayons so they can draw their answers if they want. Or if your kids are older, designate a “scribe”. Take is seriously but make it fun! If you are single or want to do this alone, find your favorite place to cozy up, grab your favorite journal and make it a special moment just for you.

Write it down. Don’t just talk about it. Writing it down makes it a memory, holds you accountable, and helps propel you after this exercise is over.

Pray.  Ask for blessings and honesty during this time. Take time for the questions; force yourself to authentic answers, past the pat answers.

Here’s the list we use. Feel free to modify the questions to suit your situation. Grab some pens and paper, get some popcorn popping and ask your family some or all of these questions.

-Think back over the past year. What would the theme of the year be for you?

-Where did you see God specifically move?

-What worked for you and your family and ministry?

-What could have been better?

-Set aside 5 minutes of brainstorming big dreams for the New Year.

-What are you letting go of in 2013.  Quit something.

-2012 was the year….

-2013 is the year I will…

Now share some of your answers, even if it’s just with your immediate family. Telling others has boldness in it and inspires others while empowering you.

You can leave a comment here with some of your family’s answers so we can motivate each other. I added some of the answers from our family below.

Shannon Kelley – lives in a remote fishing village in Haiti working with Harvest Field Ministries.  blog: www.shannon-kelley.com/blog   twitter: @alohashannon