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

When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage

The words flew like arrows, each piercing through the thick air between us, not one missing it’s target, cutting deep into the flesh and tearing what we once held dear.  No amount of armor could protect us in this place, our hearts were open, bare, raw, and being ripped to shreds.

Yes we had taken that oath, we had stood before hundreds of our dearest friends and family and promised.

I will always love you.

I will always cherish you.

I will go through the fire with you.

I will always take your side.

And yet today here we stood, battle ready, armed to the teeth with every harsh word and criticism we could muster.  Fighting not as one, but against each other.

What was once one was very near to becoming tw0.

Although time (and the counsel of good friends) has helped reveal the things in our hearts that needed to change, and brought to light the errors in our thinking that took us to this awful place, I blame the mission field for our struggles.

Yes, we were not giving one another the attention we deserved.

Yes, we even had somewhere along the way stopped praying together.

Yes, we had allowed all sorts of weeds to grow in the field of our marriage.

But the question I have been asking this past season as we focus our attention together on building back what was lost is this– how did we get here?  What was it that distracted us or pulled us apart?  Like I said before, I blame the mission field.

Yes, I know all sorts of people are already looking for the comment button to tell me how any marriage can slip, and that no matter where you are, you have to work at it.

Yeah, I get that.

But the truth is most mission fields are like wild fires, burning out of control and consuming everything in their path.

We come in with a passion in our hearts for the lost, but instead often our entire lives are consumed in the flames.

(Know please that I say all this with out any hint of ‘better than thou sinner who liveth in the country you were born in’, I just need to say it like it is today. This gig is tough.)

In a few months we will celebrate our fourth year here in Ethiopia. We won’t likely throw a party, or even talk about it much. We’ve never been big on sentimental dates in our family. But as I sit here reflecting on what we have endured, as I look back to the struggles that our marriage has borne in these years, I feel that a celebration is in order.

Because we are survivors.

You see the conversation above was not the first like it, nor will it likely be the last. We have seen this desolate place in our marriage more times than I can count, and most of them have been since we moved here.  The constant frustration of clashing cultures, the feeling of not accomplishing much, the patience it takes to get through one day, it all threatens to rip a marriage from its foundation.

When we first moved here, I thought that it was funny that missionaries were so focused on when their “furlough” would take place or when they were going to get a “vacation,” I scoffed at their petty behavior and dove in head first to the work that we had come for. Soon after, things started to take their toll, our passion began to wane, and then I saw what they were talking about.

Today can I just honestly say what I’ve learned the past four years? Living on the mission field is hard on a marriage.

Brutal, in fact.

Jessie and I have realized that we need to do whatever it takes before it is too late. We are being more intentional about communicating, giving one another the time we need to rest, and trying to slow down the pace of life.

We’re learning that we must work hard to protect our marriages while overseas, and that God has to stay center.

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I wrote a book that came out several months ago, and one of the criticisms I have gotten was that I was too honest about the struggles that we bore when moving our family to Ethiopia. The book, ‘No Greater Love’ (Tyndale Press) came out in July and was quickly named the number one hot new release on Amazon.  I write about our journey overseas and into our current ministry, placing local widows with local orphans.

This week, I’m donating TEN copies of  No Greater Love to the community here at A Life Overseas. To enter, simply click on the rafflecopter giveaway below.

Entries will close Feb. 18, and you’d help us all out by sharing this post and giveaway with your friends. Good Luck!

* You can read more about Levi’s family and their journey bringing orphans and widows together locally at www.bringlove.in 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

——

I would like to give away 10 copies of my book to readers of A Life Overseas. You will have your choice of Kindle or print versions (print version only available in US/Canada/South Africa).

In order to enter, all you need to do is:

1. Subscribe to receive A Life Overseas posts in your inbox.
or
2. Like our A Life Overseas page on Facebook.

That’s it! Simple! Both these tasks can be accomplished in the right hand column of this page.

Already subscribed or a Facebook friend? No Worries, You are Already entered to win! Entries close Feb. 13th.

Want a bonus entry? Head on over to Chris’ blog, www.nosuperheroes.com, to find an additional way to win a book.

Thanks for your faithful support and input to  A Life Overseas.

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

Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping

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

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

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

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

  • Culture Pain

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

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

  • Culture Stripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Glad for it

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

And you are glad to see it.

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

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

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

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

That was almost four years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less complications = more help.  Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry (Tacky) Christmas

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

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

sadly sparse, and glaringly-obvious fake tree,

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

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

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

The Spirit of Christmas far outweighs the decorations of it,

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

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

Love Wins.

His Love.  My Love.  Our Love.

And the rest is really just decorated plastic, anyway.

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

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Fighting Fear: Peace Like A River

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

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

 Peace Like A River

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

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

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

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

Fear.

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

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

What if?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace like a river.

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

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

The Beast of Culture Shock

Culture Shock can be a beast. It can be an unexpected, slow drain that leaves you stressed and angry without really knowing why. This culture shock typically hits hardest during the first year of living overseas, but it can creep back in unexpectedly after a furlough or a vacation or even 6 straight hours at immigration in a foreign country (we all know how fun that can be).

My husband and I said that culture shock was like learning to live on 50% oxygen. People also say that the process of adjusting to a new culture is a bit like going through the stages of grief. In this vlog, which I made almost a year and a half ago, I talk about our own process of dealing with culture shock in SE Asia.

(Subscribers may need to click through to the site to view the above video)

Thoughts? How has culture shock affected you or your kids? How do you handle it? Funny stories, advice, tips? 

More on Culture Shock: Stressed Out Missionary (LauraParkerBlog)  |  5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Field

~ Laura Parker,  former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

 

Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”

Hudson Taylor said it, David Livingstone said it. “I never made a sacrifice.” A life spent as a foreigner, away from traditional comforts, away from family and home country, a life of talking about Jesus, in these men’s opinions was no sacrifice.

While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree. What these men did with their lives in China and on the African continent is the very definition of sacrifice.

A sacrifice is a giving up of something loved, something precious in order to gain something better.

I heard a young woman working in Uganda say that her life doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In the next sentence she talked about hardships and how some days she doesn’t know how she will get through the day. That is sacrifice. I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.

Every step of obedience, every life choice, every risk taken, whether it is getting married or not, having children or not, living overseas or not…brings with it a gain and a loss. Negating the reality of the sacrifice cheapens the reward, the sense of joy, fulfillment, purpose, the God-honoring obedience.

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:

“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”

“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”

“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones. I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

And feeling the sacrifice makes the privilege, the reward, so deeply precious, so treasured, so urgently prayed for.

Livingstone said (emphasis mine),

It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Not a sacrifice, but rather a privilege.

Can this life not be both? Are sacrifice and privilege juxtaposed against one another or could they perhaps go hand in hand? It is a privilege to sacrifice.

Living with hair in the drain instead of my head, away from loved ones during a crisis and on everyday days, international borders between me and my kids, living like this is a sacrifice. It hurts, it tears, it might leave you weeping on the couch some nights, snortling into your husband’s shoulder. But it is not in vain. It is not without joy. It is not without faith. Feel the pain and the joy of it and then render everything sacrificed as rubbish and count the privilege as gain.

I will not say that I have never made a sacrifice.

I will say that I have never made a sacrifice in vain. I have never made a sacrifice that didn’t bring with it a deep, residing joy. I have never made a sacrifice without faith that there is a reward coming which will, like Livingston said, far outweigh these present sufferings.

With my eyes steady on the prize, I sacrifice. Never in vain, (almost) never without joy. Always with faith.

In what ways do you feel the sacrifice? Experience the privilege?

                                                                                                                       -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

When Your Missionary Teen Struggles

Today’s guest post comes from missionary mom Colleen Mitchell. Here, Colleen talks honestly about the struggle of watching a teenager battle isolation overseas.

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I have often written about how one of my greatest struggles in living life as a missionary is a battle with loneliness. After nearly a year in our current mission, I find that some hard growing up over the last couple of years has helped me to accept the burden of loneliness that comes with this life. But I’m facing a new struggle this time around, one that pains my heart worse than my own loneliness ever did. It is watching my teenage son adjust to the reality of life in this place, battle the unavoidable loneliness it brings.

In our past mission posts, I was always a mom to little guys, little enough that being with their mom and dad was all they needed to be content. This time around, we headed into the field with a much different dynamic. Our five boys are now fourteen, eleven, nine, seven and five. The middle two boys tend to pair into a nice friendship (when they’re not trying to kill each other) and the two youngest boys form such an adventurous little pair that we’ve affectionately labeled them our little hobbits.

My oldest is the one who is left without a built-in companion among his brothers. He also happens to be my most reserved kid when it comes to meeting new people and trying new things. Not so much an introvert, but a thinker and a reader who is a little slow to jump in.

This child has spent most of his life surrounded by a large and exuberantly loving extended family, a lively faith community and lots of like-minded families. Friends were built in to his life without much effort required. As he headed toward his teen years, we encouraged his participation in activities that allowed him to initiate new friendships and relate to a variety of people.

And just when he’d hit a social groove that I firmly believe would have carried him through his teen years with rewarding friendships, we made the decision to head back into the mission field. And I sometimes struggle with the cost this young man has had to pay. 

Making friends in a different culture is more than challenging. It seems impossible at times. And the majority of his life-long friends at home have gone on with lives that now seem exactly as they are, a world away.

I try to remember that fourteen was probably going to be hard and fraught with social issues wherever he found himself. I try to remember that there is much good to be learned in a slow, intentional and somewhat lonely life. But, this Mama Bear wants all to be well for her cubs. And watching this man-cub’s transition has been hard.

I find my heart constantly crying out for him, begging God to give him a friend at his side. I remind myself that if this life was God’s calling for our family, then it is God’s calling for this child as well, part of God’s plan for his life. And I cling to the notion that His plan is undoubtedly for this young man’s welfare and not for his woe.

He is noble and strong in this walk. He is learning. He is growing. Now for my mother’s heart to find the courage to let her son be the man he is meant to be.

Maybe that is the real challenge here.

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Do you have teens living abroad with you? How have you helped them make the adjustment to life in a foreign culture? What are some ways to help them find friendships? 

Colleen Mitchell is a wife, mother to five sons walking this side of heaven and one already home, and foreign missionary serving in the Chirripo mountains of Costa Rica. She has heeded her mother’s command to use her words when she needs to express something and blogs her missionary heart at Blessed Are The Feet.  She is actively engaged in the work of her family’s non-profit foundation St.Bryce Missions (www.saintbryce.org) and in founding the Mercy Covers initiative, a micro-enterprise cooperative for women reaching out to orphans and trafficking victims through its work.

On Finding Community

I had hardly been in Kenya a month when friends came to volunteer at the children’s home where I was working. They hand-carried a care package from a lady at our home church: Some notes from her Sunday school class. Some Christmas treats. And a little green guy: an M&M character whom we promptly named Kiptoo [kip-‘toe], the Kalenjin name for a boy born at a time when visitors are at your home.

It was 2005, and the cross-Atlantic trip from the US to Kenya was officially Kiptoo’s first as a stowaway. Since then, Kiptoo has listened to the songs of the Dinka in Sudan, slipped around on muddy trails in the D.R. Congo, and marveled at sunsets in South Africa. He has also walked on the Great Wall of China, cringed at critters in a market in Hong Kong, and sunbathed in St. Thomas.

Fear not: Kiptoo is not Wilson. We’re not planning on building a raft anytime soon, and I definitely don’t talk to him. Despite ascribing responses to various experiences to Kiptoo, he is very much simply a 2-inch-tall plastic container.

So why bother lugging the little stowaway around the world in my camera bag? Kiptoo really is a means to an end. He’s a fun way to share with friends the places I go, the food I try (or won’t try), the things that I see. He’s a way to connect my friends to my world without seeming narcissistic. And he’s plain fun.

‘Cause when you’re single and get to travel a lot for work, traveling isn’t always exciting. Long layovers at airports, well, they’re long, regardless of how many books you carry with you. And thus, you create fun Facebook updates and blog posts. And when you see something breathtaking and you’d really like to take a photo but it would be fun to have a person in the picture, too, Kiptoo is usually keen to crawl out from under the passport pouch and pose. Or when you’re moving to yet another new country where you know no-one, it’s fun to say, “Kiptoo and I are exploring today. We’ve discovered this road up the mountain from where you can see the entire city…”

If I lugged my little M&M all around town with me, though, and if, after a few months in my new city he was all I had to show in terms of someone with whom to explore, well, it would be fair to say that I’m on a downhill slope. Someone throw me a lifeline, quickly!

Dare I ask, What if Kiptoo was like some of our other tools for survival? Would being content with Kiptoo’s company be anything like settling for virtual community rather than going through the hard work of nurturing new friendships? Maybe not. At least friends on Facebook talk back, right? And a good Skype call with a friend back home can be the best medicine to a weary soul any day—but especially when you’re new to a new to an area.

Virtual community should never take the place of real friends, though. It doesn’t matter how many readers subscribe to your blog, how many friends you have on Facebook, or how many followers you have on Twitter: None of that compares to real friendship, to walking off with a smile in your heart (and on your face) after connecting with a new friend and seeing new relationships bud. As my (real-life, long-term) friend Idelette from shelovesmagazine recently pointed out:

“There are some nights when you simply put away the phone [I’d add laptop and iPad, too] and you savor the now of conversation and the gift of Presence.”

I learned that the hard way. Years ago in Kenya, I went through one of the hardest seasons in my life and I discovered what donning the heavy boots of depression felt like. The main reason was that I did not have close friends around me. I was surrounded by dear Kenyan colleagues who were kind to the core, by 100 orphans whom I loved dearly and who gave the tightest hugs imaginable. I even had regular calls with friends back home. But there was no-one right there with me who would ask me tough questions, no-one with whom I process “stuff,” whether important or insignificant.

Some dive buddies from work and I in Boracay, Philippines

Around that time, I explained my state of mind to supporters, equating the experience to scuba diving. As a diver, you are required to have a dive buddy. Your dive buddy checks that your gear is in order, and keeps an eye on your under water. As I’ve become a more experienced diver, I have found that the most enjoyable dives are with buddies that also marvel at the little things, like watching how an anemone moves when you swim by, or how a goby stands guard at the entrance to its burrow, disappearing abruptly, leaving you wondering if you had imagined seeing it. In my world, a good buddy is someone who enjoys the dive as much as I do, all while keeping an eye out for my safety.

On a recent dive in the Philippines, two colleagues and I teamed up as buddies, and having two buddies, not just one, was an even better experience. One of them was always close enough to share a discovery, or close enough for me to share in the joy of what they had just seen.

Life overseas is very much the same way. Though one friend is great, community, by its very nature, is plural. Just one friend cannot meet all your needs. In fact, I have seen (and experienced) how unhealthy that is.

But I’ve also experienced how hard it can be to forge life-giving community when you live in remote parts of the world. There’s no denying that.

To withdraw into a world with only virtual community, though, can be a slippery slope. While I pray that what we have here grows into a place where you can come back and learn from others, where you can meet people who are in a similar situation as yours, people who can pray with you and challenge you to think differently about your circumstances, in the end, this community is just a means to an end. It’s a tool to help you connect with your own real-life community, right where you are. 

It’s true that Intentional Community = Greater Joy. And the joy and the benefits of community are things that must be actively pursued.

“Joy is not something you find when the circumstances change. It’s something that changes the circumstances,” says Erwin McManus.

So, I’d like to challenge you:

  • What can you do to connect to community right where you are?
  • What can you do to bless someone else today? Might it be time to turn off your phone, close your laptop, and be intentional about connecting to people around you?
  • What can you do this week that’s simply fun and would make you smile from the depths of your soul?

Wherever you find yourself today, may God fill you with joy. And may that joy open up doors to rich soil of community, to a place where you can thrive and live in such a way that others will find Hope through you, so your work and ministry is more than a means to an end, but Christ in you would become both the means and the end.

Adele Booysen – Currently oversees the leadership development program with Compassion International in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Happily single, Adele appreciates the company of wonderful friends around the world, while she practices her Thai cooking and taekwondo. You can read more about her adventures at www.adelebooysen.com.