What Frames My World

I sit here in the night time silence and remember.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This I Used To Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

Want Exotic? Go Live Overseas.

One of the most wonderful things about raising a family overseas is the unique experiences the entire family gains from the local culture. And while culture shock is a beast and culture pain can strip you bare, there is a deep goodness in tasting life in a foreign land.

Below is a small collection of videos which depict different aspects of life for our family of five in SE Asia. I found that one of my roles involved documenting our life abroad (in the original site “alifeoverseas”), which I was able to do often through videos and blogging. I found that when I took the time to do fun videos or posts about the things that were exotic, interesting or funny about our lifestyle in Asia, it turned difficult realities into more hopeful ones. Here are a few snapshots:

A local market:

A local snack (yup, worms):

A local spa treatment (fish eat your feet, for real):

A local past-time (that would be an ostrich, and I’ve actually never seen a local ride one):

A local lunch experience (bikes are awesome):

And more food (whole family eats for 5 bucks):

Some local transport (in which I screw up the language):

Subscribers, if you can’t see the above five videos, please click through to the site.

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And, so now, it’s your turn. What is an exotic aspect of living where you live right now? What do you love? Do you have a video or photos or a blog post you can link for us to see? Please post it in the comments, would you?

Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia

“Hard work is always hard work…”

gymnastics_spsl_subdistricts_2009_cp-0743
Photo by Chris Peterson

Many, many years ago, I was a competitive gymnast.

Unlike most of my teammates, I delighted in the challenge of the balance beam.

Dancing, flipping, leaping and tumbling on nothing but a strip of wood wrapped in suede four inches wide, 16 feet long and lifted four feet above the ground exhilarated, thrilled and terrified my heart all at the same time! Ninety seconds of performing with literally palpable spectator suspense pushed me to try and do things I never dreamed possible.

I no longer relish that public balancing act like I did when I was younger.

On the other hand, I don’t see escape looming anywhere in the future. If I want to… or feel called and compelled  to… continue this expat, ministry oriented life my family leads, regardless of where we land, that is one of those things that will remain – the hard work of  seeking to graceFULLy negotiate balanced, obedient lives in very unbalancing worlds and situations.

We recently had a fascinating, thought provoking conversation here  about struggling and whether or not choosing suffering furthers God’s work. The general consensus was that it could, but it wasn’t necessarily necessary. In fact, there are as many good and right possibilities as there are individuals, and each one has to determine what is right, most effective and God’s will for him or her.   One may even find that what “is right” changes for different stages of life or in subsequent seasons of working on the field. My own words in this conversation echoed those thoughts: “I DO think there is a right and a wrong – but [they aren’t] black and white. The right and wrong comes in living obediently to how God specifically directs me, my family, or our team. The fact that it ISN’T black and white comes in recognizing that God doesn’t direct and organize cookie cutter lives, paths or ministries. Each one is as unique as the mix of individuals He brings together to do His work.”

Shortly after writing that, however, I remembered: when the Bible actually speaks of man doing what “is right” in his own eyes, it isn’t typically a good thing. That phrase, or something similar, occurs several times describing a historical period when Israel was ruled by judges. It was a cyclical time of ignoring God and falling away, capture,  captivity and servitude, a calling out for rescue, provision of that rescue, finally followed by re-dedication to whole-heartedly seeking God… until life and ministry resumed, got busy and distracting, and the people once again started disregarding God’s path and plan.

I’ve also found that same grouping of words in Proverbs…

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12.15, ESV)

Another verse?

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21.2, ESV)

There’s a tension that exists between:

  • clear standards to which I’m accountable whether they are good and right according to me. AND
  • still perceiving then obeying God’s specific and unique will for me where I’m living obediently in accordance with personal ideas and convictions.

I must work to balance those two, recognizing and admitting those times when what I think is God’s right plan for me is really nothing more than that which is right in my own eyes.

Like Belarussian gymnast Svetlana Boguinskaya said, “Hard work is always hard work!”

I find myself still trying to dance, flip, leap and tumble away on a very narrow strip. Not physically, of course, but in maintaining a balance by seeking what is right and best and God’s plan for my family and our unique situation without falling into the trap of simply choosing what’s comfortable or expected and then calling it “God’s right plan for me.”

This time the stakes are enormously higher. A slip or a fall no longer results in skinned legs or a turned ankle, some tears, tenths of points deducted from a total score and a missed podium opportunity.

The importance of maintaining that balance while still contending graceFULLy in the myriads of circumstances common to this life could have much larger, longer, even eternally significant, impact.

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How do you find that balance between discerning God’s right plan for you

rather than simply doing what is right in your own eyes? 

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

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

 

Do not gaze upon Jesus turning water to wine (or To Drink or Not To Drink)

Not long after arriving in Thailand as a Christian aid worker, I felt like it was time to try some local cuisine: Thai beer. I enjoy a good beer and love trying local drinks that are well-made. On this particular occasion, my wife and I were with a Thai Christian who was showing us around and helping us pick up groceries at a small store. I wasn’t suffering; I just thought that might be a good time to pick up a Thai beer. The problem was I wasn’t sure what my friend’s stance on alcohol was. So, in one of my sillier moments, I thought I’d avoid any awkwardness in asking by hurrying up and buying the beer while my friend was down another aisle. As I approached the cashier, I noticed my friend was heading towards the cashier. The man behind the counter must have noticed the nervous look on my face, because he points to the sign next to him that says in four languages “You must be 18 to purchase alcohol products.” My 30-year-old bearded face was probably pretty shocked and then embarrassed as I searched my pockets for an ID that I did not have. Right at that moment, our friend comes up behind me and says, “Any problems?” I quickly motion to the cashier that I don’t want the beer and turn red-faced to my friend to say, “No problems.”

As embarrassing as this moment was for me, it raises an interesting dilemma with more questions than answers, especially for young missionaries and Christian aid workers.  Here are a few questions to reflect upon.

1. What is your stance and why?

I grew up in a fellowship and denomination that frowned upon alcohol use with few exceptions for cooking and desserts. I was always amazed that my friends who came from “old world” Christian faiths not only had alcohol with dinner and at parties but even had wine at communion. I could hardly imagine how they could do that with a clean conscience. After all, didn’t I learn that the bible condemns drinking?

Since then, I have actually come to read and learn more about alcohol in the bible on my own. I now enjoy a good beer and nice glass of wine with a clean conscience like my friends’ parents did when I was growing up; however, I try not to encourage overconsumption or consumption at all for those in recovery.  Think about your own position and be prepared to discuss it when the times comes — because it will likely come soon.

2. How do you deal with a disconnect between your preference and the culture of where you are?

I have a friend who was a missionary in East Africa. Like me, he enjoyed a nice, cold beer. However, many in his community could not drink in moderation. Christians in their church made a conscious effort to show the love of God through sobriety and abstinence from alcohol. His solution: No alcohol within 50 kilometers of his town.

At the same time, on the other side of the continent, friends in West Africa who came from churches where “one drop is a sin” ministered to communities where the people have survived on a local millet beer for centuries. The water wasn’t safe for anyone to drink.  The missionaries had to choose between the lightly fermented, horrible-tasting local beverage or the fully fermented, higher alcohol content, decent-tasting one. These friends looked past their upbringing and chose health, palatability, and joining the community.

In both of the above instances, the missionaries were intentional and ready to share their decisions with others.  The ways we deal with these dilemmas affect our witness and opportunity to be a part of a home that is not our own. Alcohol use, though not usually considered a salvation issue, can have a profound effect on your group.

3. How do we discuss it?

A church worker in Australia who grew up in South America recently faced a job decision: Having looked for a job working for a church for many months, he finally found a church that wanted to hire him. In the employment agreement, however, the church leadership required him to promise not to partake in any alcohol since it would be sinful. In response to this difficult position, he presented a paper discussing the ways in which Proverbs 23:31-32 has been misconstrued. When they were unmoved by his argument, he signed the agreement even though he felt his home church was being condemned every Sunday when they took communion with wine.  But rather than just sign it and let it be or break it in secret, he continues to dialogue with leadership in a spirit of love and learning.

“Nothing to see here; it’s just pizza.”

For some of us, our organization or supporters ask us to agree that we won’t

partake of any alcoholic drink. However, that doesn’t necessarily make the issue go away. In fact, as younger missionaries and workers are thrust into cultures where alcohol is a part of the accepted culture, our arguments domestically about alcohol make agreements like this more frustrating.  When discussions don’t take place with the why, our reaction may not be one of strict compliance.

So, how do we have these discussions in a spirit of love and learning?

That’s where I want to hear from you.  Also, feel free to drop some theology on us.

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

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Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping

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

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

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

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

  • Culture Pain

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

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

  • Culture Stripping

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Glad for it

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

And you are glad to see it.

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

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

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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

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

Resolution: To Love Relentlessly

This is true of me: I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I try and live by a motto of resolving what I want to accomplish on a particular day, a specific week, or during a particular season.

It is, however, that time of year when we reflect on the blessings of the past year, and we look with anticipation at the year ahead. And so, as you look ahead at 2013, I’d like to challenge you to seek to live in such a way this year that every component of life — every relationship, every action, and every thought — is connected to and flows from the lifeline of a relationship with God himself so that Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:35 would be true of us today:

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer equated this life-giving relationship with Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music, a melody that forms the basis of a multi-layered musical composition.

Some years ago, while living in Kenya, I rewrote 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, and today, I’ll revisit this passage yet again not only as it pertains to 2013, but to this very day, and every day.

Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins

If I speak a slew of languages, but I don’t love relentlessly, I’m nothing but a dog howling at the moon.

If I share God’s Truth with children and adults alike and have enough faith to move to foreign lands, yet I don’t have relentless love, it’s as if I’ve done nothing, and journeyed nowhere.

If I give up luxuries, opportunities and resources to serve with the poor, if I live alone beside rice paddies, but I don’t love relentlessly, I am no-one.

It matters not whether I can speak with a funny accent, pray with passion, believe without limits. Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins.

Relentless love never, ever gives up, even when life is tough.

Relentless love cares more whether others feel loved than whether I’m comfortable.

Relentless love doesn’t want what God hasn’t given.

Relentless love doesn’t do things to be seen or heard.

Relentless love doesn’t care about my opinion and my needs, but listens to the opinions of others, and takes it to heart.
Relentless love puts others first.

Relentless love doesn’t get angry when yet another person asks for help or misunderstands me.

Relentless love forgives, again and again.

Relentless love doesn’t rejoice when others fail.

It finds joy in truth and in seeing others discover this Truth.

Relentless love doesn’t give up, but puts up with all things knowing that it is part of God’s greater plan, and trusts that God has the best at heart. Always.

Relentless love seeks to see the best in others. It doesn’t look back and wish for better days from the past. It pushes onward, knowing that beyond this mountain, far greater things await.

Relentless love is consistent. It is not like a fleeting shadow.

Relentless love doesn’t wilt, nor dies. It’s not “on” one day and “off” another. It is consistent. You can depend on it, even though you cannot depend on things and systems, even though you cannot always even depend on other believers.

Though I don’t know or understand all at this stage, the day will come that I will understand fully. I will no longer be craving insignificant pleasures. Instead, I will grow in understanding and maturity.

Right now, I don’t see things clearly. It’s like a window splattered with mud. But the day will come that all impurities will be removed. I’ll see clearly, just as God sees me clearly. I’ll know Him as He knows me.

But for now, while we are not yet there, there are three things I can hold onto:

Trust in God, always. Believe that He is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do.
Let hope be the fuel that compels me to move forward: Hope in God.
And the best yet: Love relentlessly, without ever giving up, for that is the way God loved me first.

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  • What do you resolve to do this day? This year?
  • Whom do you believe God is asking you to love relentlessly?

Adele Booysen lives in Thailand and works for Compassion International

blog:  www.adelebooysen.com.

Landfill Harmonic and Redeeming Rubbish

A missionary friend shared this little video with me. Maybe us mission minded folk here at A Life Overseas can talk about it too.

 

Take a walk in our town and you will pass by large green trash bins, usually overflowing. If you see the lid of the dumpster propped open with an empty two liter soda bottle it means one thing: pilfering. You learn to not be alarmed when you walk by and hear a rustling from within. Tawny arms and legs scavenge through the refuse. Should I be ashamed that I laughed once when I saw a couple items come flying out that opening as if the bin itself spit out some parts it couldn’t chew all the way?

I have many trash tales I could tell.  This is one of my favorites. Members of our church adopted a Bolivian child. They first encountered their daughter as an infant rescued from a trash bag thrown under a bridge on the rocky banks of a dry river bed. Her name suits her perfectly: Victoria. What a story of victory her life has been. She is a vibrant child getting ready to attend kindergarten. I marvel every time I see her.

Can you love what’s been thrown out with the trash? Can you deny the opinion of others and stoop to scoop a redeemable piece out of the trash heap? Can life be found in a putrid, rotting pile?

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

No matter if our life started in a trash bag, a pristine hospital room, or a stable; redemption must be the focus.

As Mary awoke on a day like today, the day after the first Advent, she gazed at the Infant on her breast. The fate of all humanity hung on that Life, cradled in her arms. The scent of dung and unclean animals hung in the air. A pungent reminder of the task of redemption ahead.

My friends took a baby from the clutches of an early coffin in the form of a trash bag, and roared, “NO!” in the face of death. Mary held an Infant in the midst of a detestable stable, filthy darkness all around, and gave the world LIFE.

What surrounds you? When was the last time you visited a dumpster and communed with humanity? What steps have you taken towards the smelly, filthy humans living around you awaiting a Redeemer?

I am speaking in quite a literal sense, though feel free to sweep it away under the figurative rug, should you so desire.

Jesus made us a promise. This promise shares rank with other powerful statements bestowing upon us faith, hope, and love. Sweet Jesus promises: the poor we will always have with us.

In the context of keeping precious communion with Christ the disciples receive a rebuke. They took issue with the extravagant “waste” of the woman anointing Jesus. How odd our human affinity to identify waste. Jesus promises the disciples that they will always have the poor with them and that they should help them, too. Then He draws us into the heart of the matter. He tells us to keep first things first. What we see as waste, he sees as valuable, precious, and necessary. (Mark 14)

Let us first waste ourselves on communion with Christ. From that “wasted” time communing with Him we can go to the “waste” of our community and bring the sweet smelling aroma of redemption.

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Where have you wasted your life lately? Or better yet, with whom have you wasted your life lately?

 

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

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