The Shame of AIDS

One of the leading issues in many of the nations we live and work in is HIV/AIDS.

The statistics from South Africa on this issue are shocking.  Conservative estimates place infection rates at 10% of the nation, or over 5 million cases.

You would assume with these facts, the signs of this disease would be everywhere. Only they are not.

The shame of this disease hides it from the public eye, keeping it as a private issue. It is illegal to ask someone their status. The numbers alone make it a reality that many we work with will have this disease, but often we do not know this as a fact. In my eight years in this nation, I have met two which have declared their status or confided in me. A young South African man who grew up in the impoverished townships says he too only knows of two.

By: Anthony Easton
By: Anthony Easton

Two people! Many others hide alone in shame.

That number increased to three recently.

I met Musa Njoko.  She was well-known for her gospel music, but now her fame comes from her Aids activism. She has shared the stage with President Bill Clinton promoting awareness.

As she told her story, several things stood out to me.

Her courage As secretive as this disease is today, when she came out it was an isolation sentence. She dealt with this through her faith in God and her sense of humor.

Musa related the story of swimming at a public pool. As her and her family were enjoying the water, she noticed the pool was quickly emptying for fear of “catching” the disease. She joked, “well family we have the whole pool to ourselves! ”

Her recognition of progress – South Africa has come a long way in HIV treatment. Leaders in the past declared the disease a myth or a creation of the West. They advocated going to traditional healers (witch doctors) or taking vitamin B12. The former head of the AIDS commission willingly had unprotected sex with an infected woman, feeling safe because he showered afterwards. This man is the current president of South Africa! There was even a myth circulating which said the remedy was sleeping with a virgin. This only made things worse.

Today anti retroviral drugs are available for free.

Her faith in the future Musa says South Africa has one of the best prevention programs in the world now. As she still lives in one of the most vulnerable communities, She sees change.

My prayer for South Africa is for a greater openness. Unfortunately, the people who hurt Musa the most were in the church. They called her a slut and a whore. I would love to see more people like Musa, declare their status. But, more than the infected coming out, I would like to see less affliction. The church must change their mindset.

From what we see of Jesus, the HIV positive people are exactly those he would spend time with. They may be similar to the lepers in our midst today whom Jesus loved.

Do we?

What about your nation? How is progress being made on this global epidemic? What is the attitude of the church towards those infected in your country of service?

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

“Approximately how many times a month do YOU go out to eat?”

I can’t remember the first time we received one of those questionnaires in the mail…

Since that time, many more have arrived – although now it is not  uncommon for a link to show up in our inbox, requesting us to respond to a list of questions at an online site which then tabulates our input  and communicates our replies to whatever agency posted the questions. You would think I would have grown accustomed to this. I haven’t. Instead, I find it harder and harder to keep a good attitude, simply answer the questions and send them back. At the same time, I do understand the motivation behind and the significance of those questionnaires; in theory, I support their validity and see their worth… which makes it hard to argue that they shouldn’t be sent.

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photo credit: Brenson Jennings

So I won’t.

On the other hand those questionnaires never fail to, at very best, discourage me. At worst, I get downright angry – as in sinfully angry, even though I hope I know that neither discouragement nor hurt nor sin was the intent.

Perhaps this happens more to those of us who raise the bulk of ministry and work funds from churches and organizations rather than individuals. And maybe those mailings are not as frequent as I seem to recall. But the longer we walk this road, the more I battle resentment each time one arrives.

Often those questionnaires include inquiries like:

  • Have you seen anyone come to the Lord in the past year? How many?
  • Have you personally led anyone to a saving relationship with Jesus?
  • How many people are you presently discipling?
  • How many Bible studies… sermons… Sunday school classes… VBS programs have you conducted during the past 12 months? How many attended those programs?
  • What do you do to continue to grow professionally?
  • Do you watch movies? If so, approximately how many movies per week?
  • How much time do you spend on the internet?
  • Do you hire local help?
  • How many times in a month to you go out to eat?
  • Describe your last family vacation.
  • How do you communicate with your ministry partners? How frequently do you communicate – i.e. write prayer letters?
  • What is the state of your marriage? How are your children doing spiritually?
  • How can we best pray for you and your family?

Those agencies that “send” families like mine to do a specific job as their representatives want to be sure they are good stewards of the investment they are making. They should be.

I also mostly believe the questionnaire senders genuinely are concerned about physical, emotional and spiritual health and growth in addition to the well-being of our families. They ask because they want to probe and find out how their international workers are really doing.

Does anyone else ever similarly struggle? Why do I bristle inside at this sort of accountability? I think I do partly because some of those questions require a level of accountability that I believe should only be reserved for  those willing to be held similarly accountable themselves. Otherwise, such answerability leaves the one answering vulnerable and exposed and often feeling powerless. Sometimes that may be unintentional, while other times it is the clear purpose. After all, what if I give the wrong answers and as a result, I lose support that my family needs to remain on the field?

We are currently in the process of traveling around and visiting our ministry partners, describing and explaining to them what has happened in our region, lives, ministry and family over the course of our last term, I’ve been thinking about accountability… a lot. We aren’t just answering questions and emailing our responses back. This time, we are standing before committees and supporting church members – and we are sometimes being asked to answer private and hard questions. Thankfully our experience this home assignment so far has been partners who genuinely demonstrate their love and concern. Yet something is still missing.

I think I’ve finally come to an understanding of why I adamantly resent (sometimes rightfully so and other times arrogantly and wrongly so) those questionnaires (and sometimes the face to face meetings with pastors and/or missions committees in different churches).  Generally, it appears that the accountability goes one way – missionaries always answering to those who send the money and pray the prayers. I could never imagine asking the sending pastor of one of my churches how much money he spent for his family vacation.

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photo credit: Brenson Jennings

Accountability ~

Or the ability to give an account.

Another way to say it:  The capacity, capability or gift of giving to another an explanation, a justification, an explanation,  a reason for specific actions, words, attitudes, choices etc., and then the accepting of responsibility for any resulting consequences.

International workers DO need to be held accountable by those who invest in and partner with them.

But shouldn’t international workers also be holding their partners similarly accountable?

Why is it that money equals power? Accountability always seems to flow a single direction – the one receiving funds has to answer a lot more to the one providing. As long as that check arrives and partners attest of their prolific prayers, it is assumed that the recipient has no reason to ask, check up on, or expect anything more from the partner…

It doesn’t feel very authentic.

Instead, resembles more a modern day type of indentured servitude.

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Do you agree with these observations? Why or why not?

Have you personally experienced anything like this?

How do you suggest we go about facilitating and encouraging more authentic, genuine and caring accountability between international workers and those partnering with them?

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

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

Sacrifice, Sheep, and Raising Children in a Cross-cultural Context

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Beginning Monday evening through all day Tuesday, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al Adha – the feast of sacrifice. 

Eid al Adha is the second of two feasts that occur after Ramadan. This feast is the biggest and most important holiday of the Muslim year and concludes the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam. It is considered the ‘Greater Eid’.

Significant to Eid al Adha is the sacrifice of an animal. A goat, sheep, camel and sometimes even a cow, is sacrificed and cooked to perfection, a feast for family and friends.

Thinking about Eid al Adha takes me back to both my childhood in Pakistan and to raising children in the Middle East. My mind returns to a walk-up apartment, a dark stair-well, and a bleating sheep.

Every year as Eid al Adha came around our neighbors purchased a sheep and, in the absence of green space, the sheep made its home in our stairwell. At the time we had no household pet and our children bonded with the sheep, delighted with the plaintive brown eyes and the friendly “baa” that greeted us every time we came and went from our apartment.  This was ‘their’ pet. All the while my husband and I knew that this sheep had a preordained purpose – to be fattened in anticipation of the Feast of Sacrifice. The leftover vegetables on our stairwell were indicative that this would be one fat sheep to slaughter.

And so the day would inevitably arrive. The stairwell was silent as our children trooped downstairs. “Where’s the sheep? What happened to the sheep?” 

As parents we were in a predicament. Not only did we know that the “pet” sheep had been sacrificed, we knew that we would be offered tasty meat from our neighbor’s kitchen later in the day. What do you tell your kids?

You tell them the truth.

You tell them it was never their pet and that our family would be invited to share a feast with people who graciously invited us to witness and celebrate something that meant a great deal to them, and that included eating meat from the sheep. We needn’t have worried about communicating the truth; children make things far less complicated than adults – they accept, they learn early that the world is bigger than them, that people are more important than pets and dogma.

When you are raising children in a country where you are graciously received as guests, you learn valuable lessons of what is important. My own parents had modeled well respect and love for their adopted country of Pakistan so it was not difficult to remember what the bottom line was — and that is relationships and loving your neighbor as yourself. Growing up in Pakistan I don’t remember big religious debates, but I do remember a lot of tea being served, a lot of laughter, many holiday celebrations with neighbors and friends, and in all that some wonderful talks. It was this that was important as we celebrated Eid al Adha with our neighbors and friends.

As guests in the country of Egypt, we were treated kindly despite our frequent mistakes and gaffes in both language and culture. While we didn’t hold to the same truth claims, bridges were built and relationships strengthened as we shared in the celebrations of our Muslim friends and neighbors. And in doing so we prayed that some of the nails in the coffin of misunderstanding between east and west, between Muslim and Christian would be removed.

Sheep were going to come and go but our neighbors and friends? They would be staying. And so our children learned early and reminded us later (when we, their parents were prone to forget) that people and our relationships with people were key to living out a life of authentic faith in a cross-cultural context. 

What have you learned from your children about understanding and acceptance in the context of living an authentic life of faith overseas?

Marilyn blogs about communicating across the boundaries of faith and culture at Communicating Across Boundaries and can be found on Twitter@marilyngard

Image credit: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

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Afflicted

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Over the years we have tried with patchy success to create a habit of frequently asking ourselves whether the things we are doing make sense and if it seems like ‘God is in it?

 

We hope to avoid getting trapped into routines or habits without truly examining what we’re doing. We desire to be purposeful about the choices we make. It is helpful to examine ourselves to assure that our motivations and attitudes are pure.

 

It is important to step back and look at what stress or fatigue is causing in us and in our reactions to things. If we are driving around and going about our days with an undercurrent of anger or an attitude of superiority toward people we’re here to love and work with then we don’t really belong here. Those of us living here can think of a few crotchety old missionaries that are mean and negative and angry toward this country and all of us can easily become that crotchety old missionary if we’re not careful.

 

In the last several months we’ve had an epiphany of sorts. We’ve discovered that most of us that are here working with “the poor” can and do unwittingly find ourselves in a bit of a distressing position of superiority. It is not a position we knowingly choose nor is it what we want. It just kind of happens when we stop paying attention to our heart attitudes.

 

We don’t know very much, but we do know that Jesus calls us to become incarnate. In order to live that way we need to see ourselves as we really are.

 

We are the poor and needy. We are the afflicted.

 

When I see myself in the women Heartline is serving, when I see my own manipulation and excuses, my own poverty, my own pride  – I am suddenly able to serve and work together with the women with an attitude of humility and grace rather than superiority and judgment. It is the difference between serving from a position of eminence and authority in a top-down sort of way, to serving like Jesus served with a meek ‘power under’ approach.

 

The only way to remain genuinely humble when doing this work is to be perpetually aware that we too are the afflicted ones. There is vulnerability in that, but it is a necessary thing.We are every bit as miserable; our passports and perceived wealth simply mean our misery is better disguised

 

God is not made known in our ability to fix or heal “the poor people”. We are all weak and wounded,after-all.

 

Jesus calls us to stop trusting in our own capacity to do good or make change. If we trust in His ability rather than our own we’ll avoid acting superior. God is made manifest in our ability to recognize that we have nothing to offer apart from Him and that we are every bit as much in need of love, healing, and restoration as the people with whom we work.

 

…Pray for all of us to entirely give up believing in ourselves and our own abilities. Pray for healing, freedom, and restoration for every. single. afflicted. inhabitant of our little island and this big world.

 

Tara Livesay works in Maternal Healthcare in Port au Prince, Haiti

Blog: Livesayhaiti.com    Twitter: @TroyLivesay

Help Us! Interview Your Local Friends

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So we think one of the greatest problems which we as a community can make when we talk about international missions is to only include voices from, well, white faces. This is why several months ago we introduced a feature here at A Life Overseas called Voice of the National. It was the idea that we wanted to hear from the people we were serving, with humility that we, as expats, have much to learn from them. Richelle from Africa posted a beautiful interview with a local friend which you should totally read here, and which encapsulates the hope for this feature on the blog.

And this is where you come in.

We’d like to hear from the locals in your neck of the woods. Would you consider asking one or all of the following three questions to a local friend or coworker or church member? Record their answers– DON’T edit them!– and email them to us. We’ll be collecting them and producing a post with all of their responses together from all around the world. It should make for a fascinating read to all of us as we hear from locals who live alongside foreign aid workers in their countries. Here are the three questions– ask one or two or all.

Questions to Ask Your Local Friend

1 What do foreign missionaries do well? How have they helped your country?

2. How could foreign missionaries better serve your country and people?

3. What is your dream for your country?

That’s it! You don’t have to quote their answers per se, if that makes it awkward, just shoot us the summaries as you can best remember. Of course, if you’d like to take actual notes on their answers, that would be great, too! Send your answers with “Voice of the National” in the subject line of the email to:  alifeoverseas@gmail.com. Be sure to include your name, where you are living, and what your relationship is with the person you interviewed. Please give first names only (and if they want to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too.) Of course, please get their permission to share their answers online with the community, as well.

Responses need to be completed and sent in by OCTOBER 22. We’ll put together a fabulous post by the end of the month!

Thanks for your participation in this project! We are hopeful about what we can all learn when we take a moment to stop and intentionally listen to the amazing people we all work alongside. 

Something, perhaps, many of us need to do more regularly.

Laura Parker, Co-Editor/Founder

You’re in Good Company

Sometimes it really feels like we're on this journey alone.
Sometimes it really feels like we’re on this journey alone.

If you are a missionary overseas, what you do (if you’re doing it right) is not easy. It’s hard work and despite how others picture it, it’s not always rewarding.

We’ve all heard stories of missionaries who have worked for years and have done little more than survive. This can be discouraging and for me personally it has come incredibly close to ending my missions “career” multiple times. I used to think that if I wasn’t producing fruit like I saw others producing, this must not be where God wants me. In my defense, the Bible does kind of say that.

If you’ve felt this kind of deep seated disappointment and have become cynical towards the God who sent you into what seems like a losing battle, this post is for you.

Think through the prophets of the Old Testament. What kind of fruit did they produce? Day after day they were preaching the destruction of the kingdoms in which they lived. Who today would consider these prophets successful? They were outcasted, they had no ‘relevance’ and they surely struggled with their purpose and mission in this world. They were turned away, beaten, made fun of, left to die, and ignored all in a days work. Think of Job. This guy did everything right and God basically handed him over to be thundered by Satan… and for what? To prove a point? How could Job not be a little frustrated? God’s answer is equally as frustrating as the whole ordeal but I guess it’s one of those things we simply can’t understand.

And we can never forget about John the baptist. He lived out in the middle of nowhere, ate weird food, and made his own clothes. His life wasn’t easy or envied. He spent the end of his difficult career in prison. After a few years in prison, he questioned whether or not Jesus was even the God he had told all those people he was. He was gruesomely murdered because some bratty girl performed what must have been a pretty entertaining dance for the right person at the right time.

If you’re frustrated by your lack of results, lack of faith, or lack of leadership potential hear this; you are in good company. Some of the biggest heroes throughout the Bible questioned their purpose, their effectiveness, and their very allegiance. Think of Moses, Peter, and even Jesus who wondered why God had forsaken him at the end of his life. The message of the modern day church is loud and clear: good leaders never falter and good Christians never question their faith. The Bible tells a different story. What would a church today do if King David applied for a job as an associate pastor? Infidelity, murder, public indecency… he wouldn’t even get an interview.

This is where I write an inspirational plea to make you excited about the journey you embarked on with optimism and bright eyes so many years (or months) ago. Unfortunately, I have nothing for you in this regard. All I can say is that you are in good company and I hope you can take comfort in that.

How do you cope with discouragement and obstacles on the mission field?

 ——–

– Dustin Patrick |  1MISSION in Mexico, Nicaragua, & El Salvador

Find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Disclaimer: The flip side to this post is that there is a time for bearing fruit. Please don’t use the fact that you face discouragement and obstacles on the mission field as an indicator of success (i.e. “Satan must really not want us here, we’ve yet to accomplish anything!”). It could very well mean this is not where God wants you. Please seek council if you are having a hard time telling the difference. If this is something you are struggling with and there is no one you can talk to openly and honestly to, please reach out to me personally using the links above. I’m happy to be a sounding board to those in this very tough, and all to common, situation.

Ice-Cream Theology

Statistics show that the majority of people die.  This is an undisputed fact. Yet fear of death is one of the top phobias of the human race. According to Jerry Seinfeld it ranks right after fear of public speaking. Consult with wikipedia and you will find fear of death a bit farther down on the list after: flying, heights, clowns, and intimacy.

Have you ever been afraid of death? I have.

For the first few years in Bolivia a reoccurring fear gripped me. I was afraid my husband would die. And beyond that I was afraid of what I would do if he did die. No matter how irrational that fear was, it ate away at me as I fixated on it.

Two veteran missionaries came to visit us. They were our teachers in mission school. Now they had come to speak at a conference and see how we were doing. One afternoon we went out for ice-cream. My fingers tapped and I wiggled in my seat waiting for the right moment to ask their advice.

“I am worried about if my husband dies what will happen to us,” I blurted.

Everyone stopped clinking their cute little spoons on the glass ice-cream cups. The background noises of the open air restaurant spun around my ears in increasing volume. The awkward, loud silence made my heart beat faster.

One of the seasoned men had the guts to speak first. I think he asked some clarifying questions. I didn’t cry. Although my worrisome tone made him speak in a calm low voice. The others just sat stunned. I can’t remember any specific advice. I remember faces of confusion and pity.

The sole brave speaker told a story, “My grandpa used to listen to gospel hymns about heaven, and he died an early death.” How disconcerting, and odd. So much for that session of ice-cream theology. As far as I was concerned their advice had the consistency of the puddle of pink goo that had accumulated in my dish. Weak. Milky. Useless.

Fears and anxiety marked a struggle with deathly imaginations that lasted more than five years.

Sure, I prayed. I begged God to take away the terrors. I wanted the answer fast. I wanted him to bleach my soul. This was not His plan. The answer came slow. The trying of faith and the formation of long suffering were His chosen path for me.

ice cream at frozz

Not long ago my husband and I sat across a tiny table and chatted during our weekly tradition of ice-cream on Tuesdays. He scooped up a big mound of Snickers Twisters and I slurped a Choco Frio. That frightful conversation of despair at an ice-cream shoppe years ago flashed through my mind.

An awareness filled my soul. I no longer feared the death of my husband. What I had hoped would happen as suddenly as a brain freeze had come upon me slowly like the creeping up freeze of the winter months after a sticky summer and a cool fall.

My answer came. Thank you God!

No mater how irrational, fears can feel all consuming. Maybe you don’t fear your husband’s death. Maybe you do. Maybe you are struggling with other kinds of fears. First, don’t stop praying. Second, talk with trusted people – even if they don’t have any good advice for you, it is good to shine light on the darkness.

What have you found helpful in your life for confronting fear?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

The Changing Face of Missions (In Which the U.S. Falls Behind)

An article in Christianity Today [1] recently commented on the hefty June 2013 report, “Christianity in its Global Context”. [2] The particular aspect of the Global Context report that Melissa Steffen chose to focus on is revealed by her article’s lengthy title, “The Surprising Countries Most Missionaries Are Sent From And Go To.’
I won’t reproduce Melissa’s ‘gleanings’ here but encourage you to go read her article if you’re interested [1]. Suffice it to say the results of the Global Context report are very telling with regard to the nations that are currently sending “missionaries” into the world. The USA still sends the most missionaries into the world, but when you look at it proportionately, against the number of church-going Christians in the sending nation, PALESTINE leads the bunch followed by Ireland, Malta and my near neighbor Samoa. The USA comes in 9th according to these ‘handicaps’. Of course, there are other ways to spin the data; missionaries per capita for instance would yield different results again.
Jay with Colleagues
Recently I was at a breakfast meeting with fellow mission leaders when one made a comment that Brazil was the largest sender of missionaries nowadays. I almost choked on my passionfruit pancakes. Before I had time to respond, the conversation had moved on so I just dismissed the comment as erroneous. That same morning a good friend and colleague from Brazil, a missionary in Kolkata India, sent me the link to Melissa Steffen’s article. God was obviously humbling me – happens often. In terms of total missionaries, Brazil is indeed up there, second only to the USA, with 34,000 missionaries being sent at the time the research was undertaken (2010).
In 2002 Philip Jenkins [3] stated the obvious to his largely non-Christian readership: the center of gravity for global Christianity has shifted. He wrote, “Soon, the phrase ‘a white Christian’ may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as ‘a Swedish Buddhist’.” Mission statistician and strategist, Patrick Johnston [4] more recently observed, “The globalization of the mission force… is an unprecedented phenomenon.” and notes that, “from 1980 onwards the massive increase in missions was in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and especially Asia.”
 
It seems the face of missions is rapidly changing along with the changing context(s) of Christianity.
Have you experienced this first hand? I have. I prepare Kiwis (New Zealanders) to work alongside a vast variety cultures in mission and development work. I also now routinely work with colleagues from many nationalities in my international roles.
 
Not so long ago you all you needed was a modicum of cultural sensitivity to engage cross-cultural work, now it’s essential to have a high level of “inter-cultural competence”. This competence is becoming more commonly known as CQ (Cultural Intelligence). David Livermore [5] is focusing on this growing subject in mission.
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Does this surprise you that the United States ranks ninth in terms of sent missionaries?  And that Palestine ranks first?  How does this reality of a higher number of various cultures serving as missionaries affect your own work? 
Jay Matenga– Jay Matenga is based in New Zealand and has over 20 years experience as a reflective practitioner of mission mobilization.
Work: http://pioneers.org.nz & World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission Mobilization Taskforce.
Footnotes & links:
3. Jenkins, P. (2002). The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
4. The Future Of The Global Church: InterVarsity Press/Authentic Media/GMI, 2011
Photo above is Jay recently in Thailand with mission colleagues from Egypt, China, Peru and Brazil.

Terrorists and the Unshakable Kingdom

I have felt quite shattered by the terrorist attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Dear friends have been shattered by the bombing of a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. There are shattering events every week around the world but it is always these human-on-human horrors that shake to the core.

Terror is nothing new to the world but it is new to me to obsessively check Facebook and Twitter and email until I know the people I love are safe. It is new to me to have the terror strike a place I have been, a place of which I have photos. It is new to me to receive a letter from the director of my children’s school describing how their community has been affected.

As a friend from Minneapolis who also lives in east Africa, said, “It is coming from both sides.” Because it is likely that at least one of the terrorists is from Minneapolis. My beautiful, beautiful city.

I am so sorry, with tears sorry, that I don’t feel this kind of sorrow or shock when terrible things happen to people you love. I feel compassion and grief and I pray with and for you, but when it pierces personal, there is a different kind of sting. And honestly, I think I would explode if I felt like this after every story of the horrible things people inflict on each other.

Earlier this year Lana Hope (hope!) wrote Triggered by Tragedy at Sandy Hook. She wrote about all the painful, grief-filled things she had seen in Asia. And then she wrote,

I remember thinking, “If my friends are angry that 20 kids died, no wonder I’m such a wreck after three years of this kind of evil.

No wonder I’m such a wreck. No wonder that last night, after Kenyan officials finally announced the standoff was over, I turned off all the lights, lit a candle, lay on the floor, and wept. For all of it.

Candle Wallpaper

There are few words in times like this, only whispers in the dark, candles barely flickering. No one I personally know was injured or killed. I am still spared another whole level of grief. God be with me when I am not spared because I don’t know how a person continues to breathe.

That is what I am praying for those who taste these tragedies unique and devastatingly close. That you will continue to breathe. In and out. That there will be breath for you when you wake and must face another day. In and out. And that you have someone to hold onto, tight. Someone to hold onto you, gentle.

I am reminded of two sustaining truths, one through Lana’s post.

Jesus wept. Jesus knew grief and pain and loss. But his grief was not without hope.

Because he was bringing in, still is bringing in, an unshakable kingdom. I feel shaken. The kingdom is not shaken. I feel shaken but my trembling legs and wavering heart kneel on a firm foundation.

Though the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. Psalm 75:3

Maybe today we could share our hope. What are some of your most precious promises? What do you cling to when you feel shaken?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, slightly weepy development worker, Djibouti

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

*image credit Stefano Brivio via Flickr

The Story Behind the Statistics

As missionaries, we often report statistics as a way of conveying the impact we are having.

Numbers of salvations, people taught, clinics opened, or people rescued from the evils of society.

Behind these numbers are people, stories, and often difficulties.

One the people we’ve been training, recently had an interesting situation which drove this reality home afresh to me. He comes from a gang-invested environment where crime and violence are common.

As a relatively new convert, he came to our discipleship program and followed up as a student in our Bible school. We saw great change occur in his life. He was one of our local success stories. He was a newsletter statistic.

But he has a story and challenges behind the numbers.

He recently attempted to share with some of the gangsters in his area. As he was, they asked him to rob some of the foreign workers whom work with our organization who he shared accommodation with. Rather than do this, he took the little money he had in his own account, attempting to give it to the gangsters.

When he presented it to them, they wanted more, and a fight ensued. Our student was beaten up.

He chose this route to avoid stealing from those training him. His reward for loyalty was violence. His changed life got him physically beaten.

By: DFID - UK Department for International Development
By: DFID – UK Department for International Development

While I rejoice in his loyalty, I mourn with the pain it cost him.

This was such a reminder that the changes our people make often costs them. They can be persecuted, shunned, or in some cases killed.

We toss around phrases as gospel workers such as, “count the cost“, but these events are when reality rears it’s ugly head.

The people we influence are so much more than numbers on a page. There are stories behind these statistics.

It’s exciting to report the joyful stories, but we also have stories of pain, suffering, and persecution to contend with.

These are a sobering reminders of the reality change often brings. Things change positively for eternity, but difficulty might actually increase in the interim.

When tempted to sugar coat the gospel and only speak of love, joy and peace; we remind ourselves the Bible also warns us of challenges and persecution follow those walking in the Truth.

Let’s never allow people to only become statistics, but keep their stories before us to stay in touch with the reality.

A changed life always is cause for celebration, but let us not be so naive to think that life will be smooth sailing from this point on.

This is the dilemma of missions.

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

And then I read “When bad Christians happen to good people…”

Last time I wrote here, I shared a recent and very awkward conversation I’d  had with a Native American gentleman, a man who’s previous encounters with missionaries had convinced him that there was no such thing as a good one, an encounter made all the more awkward because my children were standing right there listening.

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I was a bit surprised by how many of you responded and I truly appreciated your kind comments, wise observations, and the wealth of your own personal experiences shared.

One dear mentor friend, however, graciously and ever so gently challenged me and my response to this man.

While she agreed with me that what happened to him was not my responsibility, she also pointed out that he is a casualty of “white privilege” or a system that has granted me and others who look like and behave like me lots of opportunity while oppressing and almost militantly hindering any escape from that oppression so many others who are different… or foreign… or immigrant. While I did not “build that house,” I have grown up and lived my life taking for granted at best and sometimes assuming entitlement at worst to all the freedoms, licenses, prospects and hopes as though they result from something I’ve worked hard to achieve. I have grown up and lived my life under the shelter of that edifice, benefiting from a system that I find abhorrent.

It is all the more repugnant as I discover I’m unwittingly a part of it, and possibly unknowingly propagating it in said ignorance.

Quite frankly, when I responded to the gentleman that day at the Crazy Horse Monument, I sincerely wanted to kindly, gently, compassionately, and graciously address him. But my priority truly was, “What in the world are my kids thinking.” So in hindsight, I was far more concerned with what I perceived to be their needs and their shocked, questioning faces than owning what my people had done to his people many years ago. As BFGuy noted in the comments section:

“Sometimes the people of God do things in the name of God that brings shame to the heart of God.”

I wanted to protect my kids; I did not want them to see that side of Christianity.  I felt defensive and definitely “put on the spot.”

God does that sometimes. Sometimes He gifts us with a chance to be tested. Just ask Job. And sometimes, we fail… and need to seek forgiveness… but then move on and learn from our mistakes. It is humbling that God risks trusting us, already knowing what we will do, already knowing He will have to redeem our mistakes.

My friend so kindly acknowledged my predicament, but also pointed out how I missed the opportunity for such a teachable moment, to model for my children how to set aside my story for the moment and to care about someone else and their story above my own. He’d just shared with me a litany of horrible and heartbreaking experiences, a childhood full of pain, confusion, anger and sorrow. Yet in trying to answer the question he posed, I forgot that Jesus does not need me to defend Him. Instead, He wants me to be His voice, His hands, His heart broken for the lost and hurting in a world that needs Him. My words shifted the focus from the man’s story and his pain to my story and my justification for what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Was it any wonder that his response was an angry, resistant one?

Then my friend continued, “…notice his change of heart when you threw him a bone, that you would share his story with missionary friends.” It was that moment that the conversation shifted back to his story and not my own. It was also at that moment that his angry tone and accusing gaze began to dissipate.

At first, despite the gentle rebuke of my friend, I really wanted to believe my answer had been a good one. It might have been… at a different time and in a different place. But as I think back through my years of parenting, when one of my children deeply hurts and I can’t fix it, a quiet, broken-hearted willingness to let my child see my own tears – tears for his pain – that speaks most to hurting hearts. Listening and saying nothing other than asking for permission to cry with him because I can see the results of wounds…? That has been my best response.

In a sense, I had that opportunity with that gentleman then and there, but I did not take it… or at least, did not do so as well as I could have – and I’m learning again the same lesson Job’s friends needed to learn.

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I really hadn’t planned on writing about this topic again, but my thoughts continued returning to this encounter and the responses I received. That is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful possibilities of this forum. We can not only encourage and build up one another, but we can also share what we are learning and lovingly exhort each other when we see red flags.

I probably still would have moved on to another topic... until I read the blog post referenced in the title.

This is not a thing of the past at all.

It is, in fact, one of those “Really? Still?” tragedies of the church today:  well-meaning we may be, but that doesn’t keep Christians… missionaries… from hurting those we strive to serve, those we think we are helping and saving.

We must learn to accept responsibility for (as both individuals and a group) and own those mistakes, to truly learn to weep with those we have hurt regardless of how innocently, and to then seek forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration through time and those tears.

We do not, after all, simply have experience; we are entrusted with it. We must do something–make something–with it…”
-Patricia Hampl

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Can you think of a time when you did more harm than good? Are you willing to share your experience and how you learned from it?

What is your experience with “white privilege?”  How can we best combat this problem as international workers?

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Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

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

When a Spade Is Not a Spade

Some time this summer, when I was in the US for meetings and briefly stopped by a friend’s home, I helped in her garden. Gardening is something I miss here in Thailand, and I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands in the soil.

“Would you mind getting me a spade?” my friend asked. I happily complied, coming back with what I thought was a spade.

“That’s not a spade,” my friend smiled. “That’s a shovel. The spades are next to the shovels. Remember the Grant Wood painting, American Gothic?” she asked. “That‘s a spade.”

“I thought that’s a pitchfork,” I said, but didn’t want to argue the point.

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That might be the problem with calling a spade a spade, I thought as I walked to the shed. What you call a spade, I call something entirely different.

Since English is my second language, plus since I’m from a country where we speak more of the Queen’s version of what we all call English, I simply assumed that either I was wrong, or that it was another cultural difference, like how we call an eraser a rubber. (I learned long ago to just call it an eraser, in case you are envisioning terribly embarrassing situations.)

Not that I’ve not had moments of extreme embarrassment when it comes to language bloopers, the best probably being the time I was an exchange student and kindly asked my host dad at dinner table to knock me up the next morning at 5. “What exactly do you want dad to do, Adele?” my host mom asked while my host brother and sisters were literally rolling on the floor laughing and my host dad was probably trying to do the Heimlich on himself from having inhaled his last bite of dinner. “Ummm, knock on the door to wake me up?” 18-year-old me replied, completely oblivious of what I had just asked my host dad to do.

Back to the spade, though. I was busy gardening, and I wasn’t going to pull up a dictionary app to look up the real meaning of spade. But tonight I finally did… I’ll find a good time to point out to my friend that it was not an American vs. English issue. She was wrong. I did have a spade. What she should’ve asked for was a pitchfork. (The language correction is done in good spirits, both ways, in case you wonder about the joy I seem to find in anticipating telling my monolingual friend that she doesn’t know her own language.)

My point is not that we make language bloopers. My point is that we can sometimes be completely convinced of a fact about our own culture or about our host culture, and we might be completely wrong. We might think we’re calling a spade a spade, and may even fight tooth and nail to defend what we believe is true, only to find out that we were wrong.

That’s why we need cultural informants whom we can turn to, or friends who can lovingly correct us. That’s why we need to give people permission to help us if we’re wrong, ’cause wrong we will be, more often than we’d care to admit.

We may have even held on to some theological convictions for all time that may be completely off, but we refuse to be open to the Holy Spirit helping us see something in a new light. And that’s why we need to ask God to lovingly help us see the Truth as he intended it, not as it’s been filtered through culture and theologians over time.

How about you? Have you had a wrong impression, whether of your host culture, an incorrect interpretation of something from your own culture, or a theological conviction that you’ve changed your mind on?

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Adele Booysen works in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and the US,
and often has to eat humble pie as she adjusts from one culture and one language to another.