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

Sunday’s Inspiration

The histories of hymns fascinate me. I feel connected to the flesh and blood humans who poured their life into words we let our lips form to lift our spirits. My favorite Christmas carol is no exception.

Here is the story from good ol’ wikipedia:

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune we now expect.

A hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1840, Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, that propels the carol we know today.

The creation of my beloved stanzas spanned over one hundred years. Wow! Take heart! Your efforts, coupled with those who have gone before and those yet to come, effect eternity!

Hebrews 11:39 -40 proclaims this truth after the long list of heroes of the faith:

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. (msg)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

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What is your favorite hymn or Christmas carol? Why do you love it?

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– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

Surviving Christmas as a Missionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Find Community
Don’t spend it alone.

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

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

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

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

Keep trying things till you embrace a new tradition.

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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

 

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

When the pieces don’t fit

Finally…

It has been an absolutely and totally crazy first semester to my son’s senior year of high school.

It hasn’t been anything like what I hoped and dreamed for him.

In August – barely a week into the new school year – the river rose, the dike failed, the campus flooded and school abruptly stopped. Local authorities declared the campus officially a part of the Niger River until waters would recede and the dike could be rebuilt and reinforced – in April of next year.

The next three weeks a frenzy of activity ensued:  rescuing textbooks, school records, computers, pianos from the flooded campus buildings – mostly by canoe, cleaning and restoring furniture and other equipment that had sat in murky river water and worse for several days, new buildings located and readied (and anyone who’s tried to prepare local buildings in the developing world for habitation or use, knows that is no small feat), and finally schedules and classes rearranged and redistributed to spread our staff over two campuses while trying to make up lost educational hours.

School began again, but now everyone was already exhausted and in most cases, just tying the proverbial knot and hoping to hang on until Christmas vacation. That definitely included me.

So yes… Last Friday, relieved, I exhaled “Finally…”

Today, school books are mostly sequestered away in book bags shoved under beds or armoirs awaiting the New Year and we’ve got a bit more time on our hands to catch our breaths, bake, read, watch movies, build bonfires and roast marshmallows and, of course, work on jigsaw puzzles.

And that’s when it dawned on me… the Christmas season is nearly half over and as far as I was concerned, it hadn’t ever actually arrived. Or, I hadn’t noticed it had.

Then I started thinking about possibly my favorite family Christmas tradition: puzzle pieces spread on a table by the tree which becomes a cooperative family effort accompanied by often profound conversation, friendly competition, childish chatter, laughter, some frustration, hot chocolate or cider… all of which always leads to neglected bedtimes.

Remembering puzzles pierced the fog.

How can a missionary forget Christmas? How does one who lives and longs to communicate the message that, at its very core, is “God so loved… that He gave His only Son…” forget to ponder and celebrate both the Gift and the Giver? At this time of the year, especially?

Needless to say, I’m feeling a little less than the “good” missionary.

Many moons ago, as we sat in classes to theoretically prepare us to be those “good” missionaries and our imminent departure for the mission field, I heard someone say that Jesus was the first and only 100% missionary.

He alone has fully entered a foreign culture and completely become a participant of that new world while integrally remaining Who He was, back in His “heaven” culture.

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. God with us.

While I was able to intellectually grasp that concept when I first heard it, I believe I now have a better been-there-and-tried-to-have-done-that-but-mostly-failed understanding of at least this one aspect of what Jesus accomplished.

Christmas time always reminds me that it’s really hard, a sacrifice, to give up what you know and love to start all over in a world where most things are unfamiliar, you can’t communicate (for even if you can say the words, you’re sure to get the context or the nonverbal stuff all wrong), and skills once mastered must be completely relearned in a new context. Which you do. You learn. You adapt. You change. You become… And then you go home to think you’ll catch your breath to discover that you no longer fit. So you keep learning. Adapt again. Change some more.

It feels like someone has dumped all the puzzles, mixed up the pieces, thrown you back into the wrong box, and you now can’t figure out where or how you fit.

According to the Bible, Jesus has been there and done that.

He knows culture (and reverse culture) shock, burn out, and learning to live life while walking faithful and obedient in a strange new world. That’s a part of what we’re remembering during this “holy-day” season.

Additionally? Remembering this First Advent heralds the imminence of a coming, second one. 

Fully God. Fully man. God incarnate. He will FOREVER be God with us.

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As you celebrate this season, what do you find hard? What do you love about an expat Christmas?

 What thoughts meander through your heart and mind as you remember that God is, remains, and will be forever with us?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

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

Fighting Fear: Peace Like A River

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

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

 Peace Like A River

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

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

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

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

Fear.

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

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

What if?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace like a river.

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

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

Sunday’s Inspiration

Dear Jesus,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully,
Your Children

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

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

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

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

– Lamentations 3, The Message

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

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

The Song that Made Them Stand

Generations collide on the mission field today, like they do all over the world, I guess. The differences in the ways we view the world, the way we do life, the way we engage in other cultures can be leagues apart from those 25 years older, or younger, than ourselves. And oftentimes an error the younger crowd makes is in a sweeping dismissal of the wisdom and experience of those who’ve walked with Christ for decades. The following story is one I remember during my first year overseas in SE Asia. It’s a reminder to me still, as it was that morning, of the legacy so many seasoned missionaries are leaving behind them. 

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Today I had the gift of watching what brought the Sunday crowd to its feet.

And it wasn’t the praise chorus that I had sung at InterVarsity in college, now sung by a group of expats on foreign soil. And it wasn’t the excellent sermon on the faith of Abraham.  It wasn’t the song about God’s beauty or the one about our need to worship him.

It was a hymn– an old tune my own mama used to sing to us and one we’d sung in the church-of-my-roots in North Carolina.  It’s a song largely forgotten by the post-modernish church culture Matt and I gravitate towards; its the kind of song with 16 verses and words that remind you of Old England.

This morning, though, I remembered the goodness of those who’ve gone before, because when the first notes of Great is Thy Faithfulness began to play, the seasoned warriors rose to their feet–

unprompted, spontaneous, unified.

I looked around as these veterans of the mission field declared to God, together, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided,”

and I cried for the power of it.

Because these older, wiser souls had left home and family before the convenience of Skype and email.  These men and women have hacked out a life overseas, and have stuck– for years, not just months.  They have lived in the realjungles and have said many more goodbyes than these lips have uttered.  They have been weathered by the winds and fires of a life-laid-down and have tasted Stranger over, and over, and over again.

I felt like I was a child among giants.

And I was reminded, by the simultaneous rising, that the song that made them stand,

is a Truth that has enable them to.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God My Father.

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou Changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness.

Morning by morning, New mercies I see.

All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

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What wisdom have you gained from a seasoned missionary? Stories to share?

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Pianos Aren’t in the Bible

You can find verses about stringed instruments. There’s stuff about joyful noises and music. But you go ahead and try to find mention of a piano in your bible. Not gonna happen, my friend.

Water purification systems aren’t in the bible either. Neither are AIDS prevention programs. Not a mention of slave trafficking awareness. You’re not going to see tent meeting crusades either. Other unmentioned activities: youth sports outreaches, bible smuggling, university campus bible studies, business as missions, and orphanages.

These are strategies developed towards a desired end. Is it okay that none of these things are strictly ‘biblical’? Must everything we do as missionaries be found bound in the bible? As providers of humanitarian aid must their be a touch of divinity mixed in with our humanity?

On his blog Seth Godin says,

“Non-profit failure is too rare, which means that non-profit innovation is too rare as well. Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don’t.”

Read the whole article here: ‘Non-profits have a charter to be innovators‘.

Then come back and chat about it. You can add your thoughts in the comments  below.

We are a strategic bunch of people. We push limits. We challenge. But do we fail enough?

Is “failure” actually a sign of effective ministry? How have you failed in your work in the last 3 months?

To further the discussion on the tension between validity and innovation:

  • As a missionary do you find yourself running tally marks on a mental spreadsheet to make sure your existence counts? How effective is this mentality?
  • As a humanitarian relief worker do you justify the dollars sustaining you by logging as many “wins” as you can? What would you do differently without performance pressure nagging you?
  • Where do we derive our validity as we work in our different fields?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie

photo credit: Ariana Terrence

 

My Job Description

The trees.  They know how to lift their arms to heaven and let go.

Autumn comes late to Florida. All the way in early December.  I watch the old season as it turns gold, catches flame and surrenders to the wind.  Our autumn comes in an instant and usually lasts less than a week.  It reminds me how suddenly seasons can change.

A little over six years ago I showed up site unseen in the middle of a war zone in Central Africa.  On Christmas day, I flung wide the rickety gates of my newly rented compound, welcomed home my first 12 children and served Christmas dinner for 1,000.  It was a path paved in miracles and Jesus coming where I least expected Him.

Almost six years later, our base is established on 40 acres of our own land. One of my greatest joys was to turn the keys over to an integrated field team of indigenous leaders, missionaries, and some of my first children {who came a little older to our family}.  They have grown up, been trained, and returned to serve.  That brings tears to a mama’s eyes.

I initially came to my adopted nation with a hunger to find the hurting and the broken and to love them well…. To give away all I had so they could fly higher and farther than I could or would.  I came with a job description to love and to learn, go low and slow and do only what I see my Papa in heaven doing.

In September I moved back to my childhood home in Florida.  I continue to serve my precious family in South Sudan, raising awareness as a founder so often does.  I look forward to when I next visit and can spend the long hot days hugging my babies.

The transition back to the USA was in many ways far harder than the one going the other way.  Between my 18th bout of cerebral malaria soon upon arriving back and then a terrible dental mishap that electrified my mouth and blew out my trigeminal nerve, it has been quite a welcome back!

I returned with a longing to live out what I was learning there, hereCould the same simple faith and relentless love of Jesus work here too?  Was it really just about stopping for the one person He set in front of me every day?

In the weeks since I relocated, we have a vibrant growing family here who wants to find out what missional community looks like here.  Not a strategy session, not a project to fix people’s problems, or worse fix people themselves.  Not complicated theory, but an intentional journey to the margins of our community. 

I found out this weekend in our small county alone there are 900 children in our school system registered as homeless.  There are multiple camps set up for the homeless.  There is a growing problem with human trafficking.  Suddenly my lessons of holding the broken and learning to be a friend to the outcast didn’t seem foreign at all.

All mission is local.  All ministry is local.  Your organization can be global and international in its scope and vision, but missions can only be lived out right where you are. 

My heart is leaping this morning.  I feel like my Papa in heaven has given me the best gift ever.  In a season of looking for presents, He has extended an invitation to be present among the invisible and overlooked hurting ones right in my midst.

I am reminded. My address has changed. My job description has not.

So my friend, what have you considered your job description to be in missions?  Look at your calendar and it will give you a pretty good idea. 😉 Take some time ask Jesus if He would like to speak to you about His heart for your daily purpose right where you are.

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

Sunday’s Inspiration

Helen H. Lemmel’s chorus in her well known hymn gives us pause today.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The first part of chapter 12 of Hebrews as heard through the voice of the Message Bible speaks of where we place our gaze, too:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

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Does your soul need some adrenaline today? I am sure you are not the only one. Let us keep our eyes on the story of Jesus. May we know His grace in a deeper way.

As a way to build community that matters here, take a moment and leave a comment letting us know of something you are struggling with or something we can pray for you about. As you are leaving your comment you can take a look at some of the things others are saying and pray for them.

Peace to you.

(Photo credit: Dave Forney at The Forney Flyer)

Missionaries as Human Traffickers?

If you’ve read here for any amount of time and clicked on a few links, you’ll know that I am passionate about the injustices of modern day slavery. You’ll have read that my husband has been an undercover investigator into brothels and that we now work full-time promoting rescue efforts in SE Asia.

Which is partially why when I read a recent article equating missionaries with human traffickers my skin bristled and my temperature started to rise. 

In the article, a human rights activist, Matthew McDaniel, is interviewed about the long term effects the missionary community has had on a particular cultural group in Thailand called the Akha. McDaniel, who has since relocated to the US with his Akha wife, advocates on behalf of this particular hilltribe group. He talks about the “business” in Thailand of missions organizations taking children from impoverished villages for the purpose of education or religious indoctrination, while raising funds on the premise that children are orphaned or trafficked, which in many cases is not factual. He talks about the financial gain which organizations often make from their stateside donors because of this type of marketing and communication and the irresponsibility of removing children from their local culture to raise them in a largely Western one. He writes,

“Might I add that the mission enterprise of removing Akha children is a three legged stool. The parents don’t know that their children are advertised as orphans or abused by the missions to the US and other churches nor that the missions collect a lot of money for this, which is far beyond what it would take to feed the entire family in the village together. The church people don’t know the real situation for the Akha in the villages or how they came to be at the mission and how the finances work. Only the missions know both stories and keep them carefully segregated. Under UN regulations to move a person from one point to another for exploitation and or financial profit by MEANS of DECEPTION is human trafficking. Thus missions qualify as human traffickers.” 

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“Well, after I left the rate at which they took children from the Akha villages accelerated greatly. Now it is in the thousands of children. It is very big business, as it brings a huge cash flow to the missions, the children are the bait for that money, but little of the money ever goes to the villages or defends their culture and language.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t believe in taking kids away from their parents and destroying their culture and language.”   – Matthew McDaniel

And while you can find the entire article here, just the above quote is enough to spur a conversation here about the way we do missions. And while I am not claiming to agree hook-line-and-sinker with McDaniel’s perspective or statements in the interview, I think he raises excellent points that we here at A Life Overseas don’t want to shy away from

because hard questions and honest conversations lead to more effective ministries.

And, so, the floor is open. Read the article (or don’t, it’s long, fairly one-sided and there’s lots there, again, that we are not claiming to agree with), browse the below questions, and tell us about how you’ve seen some of these concerns played out in your area of the world. Remember, it’s okay to disagree with each other or with the material. The entire point of controversial posts like this are to “stir the pot” and get us engaging on ways we might be doing (unintentionally and maybe with excellent motivations) more harm than good.

  • Should a Christian organization ever remove a child from his/her native culture? Even for the purpose of spiritual teaching?
  • Are missions organizations abusing the terms “orphaned” and “trafficked” in an effort to raise more money?
  • Are most missions organizations concerned about the anthropological effects of their efforts?
  • Is it ever okay to hold the promise of education (or rice or benefit or job-training) in front of the impoverished like a carrot, in order to achieve our own goals of sharing our faith, or, worse, raising more money?
  • When a group removes a child from a village, under the premise of education, but with the underlying motivation to teach them about Christianity (or to raise more funds for their organization), is that, indeed, a form of human trafficking?
 – Laura Parker, Co-founder & Editor, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Politics: Always great dinner conversation

“So you wanna talk politics, do ya?”

Only a month ago, the United States completed the most expensive, (seemingly) longest election season ever.  If you thought you could avoid this through international living, I hate to burst your bubble, but it just gets more complicated.

In this blog post I want to make a few practical recommendations on how to handle politics overseas as missionaries and Christian aid workers, and then open it up to your questions, comments, and stories.  You can often learn these things later, but I also suggest these as a part of your preparations for going overseas.

Now let’s jump right into it.

1.  Know your politics, or at least how the system works.

I spent part of the election schedule overseas, and then finished up here in Texas.  In the States, it was a terribly divisive time where my family and friends had to remind each other, “I still love you.”  Just like I’ve asked my Aussie friends what it means to be a commonwealth nation and what happens if you don’t vote in a country that requires it by law, they want to know what the heck an electoral college is and what the tuition is.

This is number one, because the people we build relationships with will not only want to know about us as individuals but also about us as ambassadors of our home countries.  I’ve found it to be rare that people care about my particular political stance – 5 years ago, all of us were referred to as “hijos de Boosh” in Mexico – however, it is anything but rare to be asked questions about politics.

I won’t go into the theology of politics here; please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.  Instead, I’ll jump to the next obvious recommendation:

2.  Seek to understand the system where you are.

Over the last 9 years in Thailand, the “Yellow Shirts” and “Red Shirts” have dominated politics.  In 2010, I was set to go to Thailand for the first time with my church.  Next thing I knew, martial law had been declared, police and protesters were clashing in the streets, and one of Bangkok’s giant malls was on fire.  As a result, embassies from around the world issued travel warnings and bans on going to Thailand.  And then, just a few days later, the warnings were rescinded and I had to go before my church leadership to explain what in the world was happening in Thailand.

I learned a lot about the constitutional monarchy and the political divisions in Thailand that affected not only town halls but also churches and Christian organizations.  In addition to my research, I added a Thailand section to my newsfeed.  As a result, I was able to (a) understand local issues in case questions arose from supporters and families, and (b) avoid cultural faux pas that could cause more frustration.

3.  Be aware of the cloud the USA casts, and the remaining storm damage from colonialism.

Many of the countries in which we work share an unfortunate history of being a former colony. And more countries than we realize suffered or continue to suffer from poor military decisions made by the West.  Even more unfortunate, the process of domination was occasionally characterized as our duty to “uplift and civilize and Christianize them,” as U.S. President William McKinley said about his decision to colonize the Philippines.  You may not remember these directives, but the people who were affected by them do.

My apologies to those readers who are not from the United States, but my home country casts a large shadow.  With only 5% of the world’s population, U.S. headlines often occupy about 95% of the international headlines abroad.  Often these headlines elicit negative responses to America and to those who appear to be American (this is why I stay up with my Canadian headlines, too).

When I was living in Uganda for a short time, I had been told it was a great place to be American because of the increased AIDS and malaria aid given by the Bush administration.  That’s why I was shocked when a Muslim man I met asked the precursor to Kanye West’s infamous claim: “Why does George Bush hate black people?”  Even when in “friendly” territory, it helps to know the history and cultural diversity that surrounds you.  Just as the War on Terrorism crosses borders, sometimes our politics do, too.

Post-colonialism runs deep and can appear in strange ways.  In Thailand, some organizations attribute their struggle in obtaining legal status to the country’s intense pride as a never-colonized nation.  While some surrounding neighbors are open to missionaries and aid, the Thais take pride in their autonomy and are quick to say (indirectly), “Back off.  We got this.”  Understanding your countries’ relationships currently and historically helps avoid awkward pitfalls and works to support the mission of reconciliation Jesus calls us to join.

In her book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God & World Affairs, Madeleine Albright emphasizes that we cannot understand a country’s politics without understanding their faith.  As a group seeking to share our faith, I say that you cannot understand people from a religious standpoint without understanding their politics.  In Christian missions and international living, we honor our host countries and the people we meet through this process.

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Please join us in the conversation:  How have you dealt with political discussions while living overseas?  How have political convictions helped…or gotten in the way?  What suggestions can you make from your own experiences?

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