Man of Flesh: Compare and Contrast

The yellow sun setting over Chiang Mai made us feel super.
The yellow sun setting over Chiang Mai made us feel super. (No rights to Superman pics.)

By now, you’ve all heard:  Jesus Christ and Superman have a lot in common.  In fact it came out in the news this weekend that the movie studio sent a lot of prepared sermons to preachers and pastors across the U.S. (additional links here and here).  It makes me wonder if the guy who showed a preview of “Man of Steel” as part of his sermon at my church a few weeks ago is hip to Hollywood and actually received an advance sermon copy.

As a child, Superman was my number 1 comicbook hero, I loved the stories.  I still remember how amazed I was when my mom showed me a page from a coloring book that showed Superman and Jesus together, shaking hands.  How awesome was that!  I know Jesus’ street cred went way up that day in my mind.

After seeing “Man of Steel” this weekend, I was taken aback at how human Superman seemed.  In a more real, less angsty way than the WB tv show, Superman, the Kryptonian, became fully human.

This struggle between humanity and superior being was also on display in Spock during “Star Trek: Into the Darkness,” and will likely be seen in the next Wolverine movie.  (These are the only two movies I’ve seen in the theaters for a long time, I promise.)

But something about this “Man of Steel” didn’t quite seem right.  Then it hit me:  Jesus was not a man of steel at all, but a fully human, weak man, made of flesh.

There’s that, which is pretty obvious.  But playing into the mythos of Superman is the idea of how he saves us.  It’s the same way many WANTED Jesus to save them way back when: We want Jesus to punch evil through building after building (spoiler alert: Superman punches people through buildings).  In other words, we want Jesus to take up our idea of a sword and start chopping away for our forgiveness and freedom from sin.

Scholars call this the myth of redemptive violence.  The idea that the only way to seek peace from violent perpetrators is to overthrow them violently.

But we know a different Jesus than that, don’t we?  The sword is not a sword of our making that we then put in Jesus’ hand with permission to slashing evil.  Rather, the sword comes from him — from his mouth (symbolism anyone?).  While on earth, Jesus could have been king.  But that is not how God chooses to work.  He chose to humble himself and become a baby, the weakest, most defenseless being.  And then he lived a life that showed us a way to fight that threw violence out the window while displaying a form of rebellion against the powers that be.  This is the life we are to model — and it doesn’t fit into any box we have created.

In fact, in the movie, the film creators show us exactly what we try to do to Jesus.  At one point, the U.S. Army brass is expressing concern about Superman’s allegiance.  He responds by saying, “General, I grew up in Kansas for 32 years, you can’t get more American than that.”  As missionaries, this should scare us the most when we consider the story of Christ.  Are we making Jesus American (or some other nationality) when we share about the Gospel?

I mean, after all, even the guy who played Superman wasn’t American.

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Much of this issue focuses on the role the church plays in reaction to society.  How do you handle the balance?  Have you heard the comparison between Jesus and Superman?  How do you respond to the comparison?

How are you avoiding making Jesus belong to a certain country or people?

And the Winner Is . . .

We so enjoyed watching 176 votes/comments come in for the international photo contest we ran last week. We asked you to submit your favorite pictures representing “The Face of My Nation,” and we were stunned by the captions and beauty you highlighted from the people you live among around the world.  And now, without further ado– the winners.

Our first place winner, with over 80 votes, is Rob from Haiti with the following photo and caption:

 ”To the very last pixel, this photo of Michel represents the tenacity, determined resilience, and spirit of the Haitian people.”

haiti

And our second place winner is from Bill and Tammy in Tanzania 

“Pure Love Between Sisters.”

This and That 057

 

Congratulations to Rob and to Bill and Tammy! Our first place winner will receive a $25 giftcard to Amazon, and our second place winner will get a free downloadable version of the novel, Love at the Speed of Email, authored by our own Lisa McKay.

Thanks to all who voted and submitted photos. We will occasionally be hosting these community events more in the future, and what a good reminder this one was of the gift it is to live among and learn from international people groups. 

Laura Parker, for the editorial team

Fourteen Things Expat Dads Want To Tell Expat Dads

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Last week my husband changed the oil on our car. Then he helped our seven-year old daughter sew a dress because I am worthless with anything remotely craft related. Then the two of them went outside and shot water bottles with a BB gun. This is one seriously rockin’ dad.

Over the years I have met other seriously rockin’ dads and for Father’s Day, I wanted to write about being a father overseas. Alas…I’m not one. So I enlisted the words and wisdom of wise, fun, creative, deep, spiritual dads, men I admire for even more than their dad-ing. These are men committed to serving God and their local communities but I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts they are giving the world is their children, because of how they have lived and loved and parented.

They have over 50 years cumulative experience in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In honor and celebration of these dads and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring other dads, here are fourteen things expatriate dads do well, in their own words (condensed and combined by me).

 

  1. Raising kids well and spending time with them is more important than ministry and work. One dad phrased it like this, “We were committed to never sacrifice our kids on some ‘altar’ of the ‘great work’ or ‘high calling’ that we were pursuing.”
  2. If possible, don’t work too much. And when the work is done, it is done, time to play.
  3. Commit to taking time off. One dad took his family on a day trip every two weeks to get out of the crushing cement city life.
  4. Enjoy and explore the country together. For one dad this means the beach and hiking in volcanoes and trying new restaurants, crawling around caves.
  5. If something is lacking, create what you can. Be the football coach, or start the team. Pay a little extra for access to a swimming pool. Build a bunny cage. One dad spoke of the lack of outdoor spaces for bikes and play in the city. He makes sure to get his family to grass and trees on a regular basis.
  6. Build habits and memories that transport well. Pancake Fridays. A prayer box filled with photos of family and friends from across the world, prayed through at every lunch. Family scripture memory. One dad is a ‘Tree.’ He forms a shape with his body and the kids scramble up like moneys. He claims this is possible in any country on the planet, even in airports.dad3
  7. Be honest about struggles. One dad shared how valuable it is to share burdens vulnerably with his kids so they can learn and grow as well. Let them know about dad’s work and calling and as possible, help them enter it.
  8. Know each child individually. Their friends, their experiences, their reactions. And respond accordingly.
  9. Celebrate and encourage the unique gifts of your kids and the place you live. One dad takes his son big game hunting and encourages his archery skills (2nd place at the Africa Regional Field Archery Championships!)
  10. Help kids process being a Third Culture Kid. Talk about where they come from and where they are, both the positives and negatives (with emphasis on the positives).
  11. Be wise about immersing them in the local culture and wise about when it is time for distance. One dad spoke of his children’s fluency in the local language. Another spoke of realizing, when his daughter was about to hurl a rock at kids who were teasing her, how much emotional pain she was experiencing and that he needed to step in.
  12. Be flexible about education options. Within one family, four children utilized four different educational opportunities.
  13. Encourage courage. One dad taught his children to use local buses by 10-12 years old. But also draw appropriate boundaries for your context. This same dad said no taxi rides without at least one male teenager or an adult.
  14. Be willing to make hard choices, and to stand by them with faith and joy. One dad said, “We gave up much and our kids gave up much to serve as we did in Central Asia. But we gave up Central Asia rather than leave our kids resentful when that became necessary.”
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sometimes dad scares us

Dads, what have you learned over your years? Moms and kids, how are you going to celebrate the dads among you this Father’s Day?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

Truth, Courage and Vulnerability

“This week,” I recently told the 25 students in the online class I had been teaching for BGU, “I want you to engage with someone who is different from you. Ask them questions so that you can understand more, not to interrogate them. Seek to understand their worldview. Your assignment is to journal about what you learned from them.”

The class was called “Globalization and Cross-Cultural Engagement,” and I had no idea the assignment would be so profound for many of the students. One got together with a Hindu colleague and asked questions about the Hindu faith. Another sat down for an enlightening conversation with a transvestite friend of his daughter’s. One student addressed faith for the first time in more than 20 years with her sister who had walked away from the church years ago.

One student after another confessed to it being the first time they truly tried to understand while withholding judgment, and without seeing to convince the other person of how wrong they were. And several students reported that there has been a shift in their relationships in the cases where they interviewed someone they had an existing relationship.

Listening to the other person ushered in a sense of trust, which opened the door to being vulnerable and speaking truth.

Dr. Brené Brown (whose TedTalk has been viewed more than a million times and is worth watching again, even if you’ve seen it before) recently published a new book called Daring Greatly. In it, Brown says,

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

If you’ve listened to that famous TedTalk, you might remember Dr. Brown referring to her study on shame, explaining, “Shame is … the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” To overcome that fear, she says, takes “excruciating vulnerability.”

So, here are my challenges to you:

  1. Would you seek ways in which you can become a safe place for others to share their hearts, even if their worldview differs vastly from yours? Would you take on the challVulnerabilityenge I gave my students and interact with people who might be different from you, and simply seek to understand rather than to change them?
  2. And would you ask God in which ways you may need to be courageous enough to be vulnerable and share something with a friend, or with a spouse, or with your child, something you’ve been too afraid to share? (Having prayerfully taken on this challenge myself, I can testify that this may be hard, but it may lead to greater depth and greater trust in that relationship.)

If you’re willing to take on one of these challenges (or both), would you mind writing a simple comment saying you’ll do it (without sharing details, unless it’s to share the response to the first challenge).

I pray that this exercise in truth, courage and vulnerability will till the soil for richer, deeper relationships.

Adéle Booysen works for Compassion International
and usually calls Chiang Mai, Thailand “home.”

Missions and Money: A Never Ending Tension

The Bible is full of truth.

Sometimes, the challenge lies in which blend of truth to apply. Many of these tensions surround missions and money.

Let me present three areas missionaries deal with.

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.
2. Being generous to the poor and needy.
3. Saving money for your future, children’s education, and ultimately an inheritance. 

All these areas are supported by a multitude of Scripture. We cannot pick and choose our favorite, but rather find a way to apply an aspect of all these truths.

Some rights reserved by epSos.de
Some rights reserved by epSos.de

Here is a small sampling of the truth Scripture presents in these areas. The Bible talks about money often, we should take notice! (All verses from the English Standard Version)

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”  (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)

“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6)


2. Being generous to the poor and needy.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17)

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)


3. Saving money for the future of you and your family.

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22)

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11)

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

I realize these verses are but a sampling of the dilemma we face. It would be easy to dismiss them saying, “Yes but…”

As believers and missionaries, we tell people they can’t pick and choose which truths to apply. Neither can we.

As missionaries we need to have a degree of application stemming from all these truths in our life.

I would go so far to say all missionaries need to wrestle with issues of financial support, being generous to the poor, and saving for our future. Neglecting any of these is neglecting a part of the Word of God.

I have witnessed missionaries who ignore truth in these areas. Some are now older and wondering where they will be since they have lived a life of trusting God to provide.

Trusting God is true. But trusting God is one truth. We cannot take it at the expense of others, including providing for our future.

My goal is not to make absolute statements, rather to provoke “A Life Overseas” discussion.

Would you help us learn from each other by answering one or both of the following questions:

For a moment of honesty….which one of these is most difficult for you? (Just because we are in ministry, does not mean being generous to the poor is always our easiest one. True Confession. It is the hardest for me!)

What is your experience in dealing with blending these truths? How do you reconcile them?

Ready! Set! Discuss!

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

I think I’m just gonna start calling it “Missionary Survivor”

We like to watch that reality show Survivor

survivorlogo

DVDs of different seasons are oft requested “gifts” for Christmas or birthdays. We’ve been known to spend hours downloading seasons from iTunes or elsewhere on line, hanging out at the Rec Center with its satellite TV hoping to be able to watch it… or reading word for word the synopsis of the most recent episode even when we don’t have access to watch it.

We enjoy the actual surviving stuff… the unique competitions are intriguing… and we find comments about not eating chocolate for three whole weeks downright amusing.

We watch the show as a family and we use it as a teaching tool with our children – a basic intro to many aspects of American culture. It also gives us some amazing and great opportunities to talk about relationships… how what we do, what we say, who we are, the choices we make can all impact immensely how we get along with others and in general, our dealings with other people.

One section of every episode is sure to garner lots of questions and discussion from our tribe: tribal council. One comment repeatedly uttered at my house while viewing the final tribal council of a season is that those people on the jury are making conclusions and judgments about things that they aren’t really qualified to judge… on things that they’ve got no real right to pronounce… and deciding, not for legitimate reasons, but rather based upon knee jerk reactions: “Who do I like better?”

Sometimes, life on the mission field feels like one unending tribal council, especially when some short term folks arrive in a place.

Don’t get me wrong. I see great value in short term – as in non-career – folks coming and serving. Some ministries, like international schools that service TCKs (in other words, kids like mine), would be improbabilities without the contributions of short term workers.  Most of them simply could not continue to function without those who commit to come and serve for a single school year – sometimes more and not infrequently, less. I’ve spent the past 3 years working at one of those schools and I’m thankful for so many who’ve come to fill in for a season and then continued on to the next appointment God had for them. They are often the ones bringing new life, new rededication, new ideas, new energy and lots of excitement – things that those of us who’ve been here battling it out without a break for a while find hard to muster every day, all the time. They are the sprinters… we are the marathoners. And that is perfectly okay because both are needed and, at least in this environment with which I am experienced and familiar, I honestly do not believe that one is more essential than the other.

But sometimes? There are those times that arrive with short termers, personnel often nursing unrealistically high expectations mixed with very little grace – and their own time in a locale serving is just not long enough for them to recognize any need for unquestioning grace. Assuming that an exhausted long-termer has just stayed a few months too long and should have gone home for that needed break instead of remaining another year and “dragging down the positive vibes and energy of a community” may be an accurate assessment. Yet it is also simplistic and fails to recognize any value of stick-to-itiveness and perseverance despite not performing at the highest level. It serves no purpose other than selfish, wimpy whining and instead of motivating positive change, only drags further down at least one member, if not more, of the community.

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Such attitudes and even sometimes the corresponding words expressing the “outsider’s” version of what veterans serving in a place should be, how they should act, how much enthusiasm they should exude, how much vulnerability they should offer…  instead of being gently and lovingly offered are instead played like cards in a game. Then it becomes a contest, old versus new. Other times, the short termers make assumptions about the who, the what, the where, the how, the why – and don’t bother to stop, to slow down, to listen, to learn and to try understand the history, and it becomes a battle of wills. What about instances where newcomers barge right through the door of a community, wanting to tell established members of that community they are dysfunctional-doing-it-all-wrong – when clearly, the community was surviving and even thriving before that. As a long-termer, it is hard to swallow the attitude of “the experts have arrived – so take note, listen to knowledge, repent of the error of those old way and by the way, we expect you to make changes immediately.”

The craziest thing is – those short termers may be right. At the very least, they are raising valid concerns, placing disquieting or ignored issues on the table, and prompting good discussion concerning matters that do need to be thought about and perhaps changed. They have a really valuable and good tendency of shaking things up a bit and unsettling the old-timers.

But in my experience, no one wants to listen for potential innovation while feeling like they are sitting in one of those final Survivor tribal councils – being judged, criticized or called to account by someone who doesn’t have the whole picture and who hasn’t walked in my shoes for long enough to at least have developed a few blisters. Even the most graciously teachable (much less your average, every day long term international workers) will find it hard to accept arrogant correction and attitude from someone who hasn’t been there, done that persistently over the long haul… from someone who hasn’t gone through the suffering, sacrifice, cost and hard work of having lived and ministered on the field for repeated years, repeated terms. I don’t want to imply that one is harder than the other, and they share similarities, but they are still different. And no, two weeks of power cuts cannot equate to an understanding of what it is to live like that for months unending; months of power cuts does not equate to an understanding of what it is like to live without the benefit of electricity, ever. Six months without a hug from your grandmother isn’t the same as loving children through the death of their grandma twice… when it happens and then once again when they return back to their passport country and really discover what it means to be there without her there.

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So what do we do? How do we learn to work together?

Whether old or new… long or short… How do we learn not just to accept different, but also respect and see the value of the other’s contribution even when we may not like or value all that the other stands for and does?

If you are a short-termer (or a newcomer), how do you avoid becoming critical and closing off the hearts of those old fogies who frustrate you?

As a long-termer, how do you remain teachable and willing to consider innovations and challenges to the comfortable status quo of your community, even when the enthusiastic short-termer (or newcomer) becomes offending?

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– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

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

(posed photo snapped  by one of my children at  a school banquet)

Photo Contest: The Face of My Nation

We were so thrilled to have had so many wonderful submissions for our internationally-flavored photo contest from readers last week. The theme was Face of My Nation, and I think you’ll agree that these pictures paint beautifully the people that our community here at A Life Overseas is blessed to interact with daily.

Here’s how the contest will work: Look at the photos and choose your favorite. Comment the NUMBER of the photo in the comment section. You can vote more than once, but only once per day. Voting will end Saturday night, EST,at 9 pm. We will tally the comments , and winners will be announced next Sunday, June 16th. We will be giving away a $25 gift card from Amazon, and we have a few other surprises up our sleeves for winners, as well.

Obviously, please like and share this post to stimulate more voting. And, again, thanks to all who participated! We’re sure you will enjoy the following as much as we did, as they are beautiful reminders of the gift living overseas truly is.

– The Editorial Team, Laura, Angie and Rachel

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ONE. From Rob in Haiti.

 “To the very last pixel, this photo of Michel represents the tenacity, determined resilience, and spirit of the Haitian people.”

haiti

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TWO. From Cydil in Albania

 “Though mostly blind, when this Muslim man recognizes me, out of love and respect for my father, he takes his hat off and taps it on my head five times in some sort of blessing.”

albania

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THREE. From Mika in Uganda

“I was distracted on a recent Sunday morning by these boys who couldn’t decided if it was more interesting to continue playing in the rain or to commit to actually joining the church service.”

boys and rain

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FOUR. From Alyssa in Mexico.

“This captures the life that ignites within the children and people of Rocky Point, Mexico when others spend a little time simply playing.”

mexicomissionaries

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FIVE. Mary Kay from Ghana.

“Helen is the face of the future of Ghana as she fetches safe water to drink for the first time from her village’s new borehole.”

Helen gets water from well

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SIX. Bill and Tammy from Tanzania 

Pure Love Between Sisters.

This and That 057

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SEVEN. From Michelle in Senegal.

“Beautiful girls waiting for their religious lesson.”

girlsmissions

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EIGHT. From Joel in Asia-Pacific

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few . . .”

JWilliamson

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That’s it! Thanks again to all of our contestants. We so enjoyed seeing photos from literally all around the world! Remember voting will end Saturday, June 15th. To vote, simply leave a comment with ONE number– the number of the photo you liked most whether because of subject, caption, or quality of photography. You can vote more than once, but only once per day. Please feel free to share this post, as well, to encourage more voting. Thanks, friends!

Like what you see? Consider joining our active facebook community or subscribing to get posts to your inbox — either once per week or in real-time (look on the sidebar for the easy signup sheet).

To Love Two Places

Heidi and her husband are overseas newbies. They moved to Kenya in October, 2012, to capture the stories and images of the people and work across Africa. Her story of loss and gains is a poignantly beautiful look at the early days. Some Life Overseas readers are looking forward to those days, some are looking back on them, and some are smack in the middle of them.

EagleFlyingIt’s been nine months now since the airplane’s wheels lifted off of our beloved Minnesota soil and I felt arrows of sorrow shoot through my chest. My heart was already heavy, burdened with the faces of goodbye, and I struggled to swallow as the mighty Mississippi River shrank into a ribbon and then disappeared behind a cloud.

And that was just the beginning of the heart pains.

Eight months ago, I took off my wedding ring and hid it away, because I didn’t want the streets of Nairobi to steal it from me. But my finger’s nakedness is still stark and shrill.

For three months, we rode matatus, those reckless, necessary public transit vans that added color and anxiety to our days. But despite the sunburns, blisters, and tears, we grew. We learned how to walk the streets like everybody else, we started to recognize the people we passed each morning, and we gained camaraderie with our fellow vehicle-less man. We started to belong.

Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.
Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.

Now that we found a car and have settled into a sensible routine, the pain comes in a different way. The kite bird that caws like a seagull reminds me of our favorite vacation spot on the shore of Lake Superior. The still, warm evenings fill me with the longing to have a bonfire in a backyard covered with crackly leaves. And the road that circles our neighborhood ­­­­and serves as our nightly walking path makes me wish that the football field in the middle was a lake teeming with goslings and that my best friend was chatting beside me.

This homesickness sneaks up on me, startles me. And leaves me wondering why. Why now? We spent two years of our married life looking forward to our move to Kenya, and now that we’re here, we can’t stop gazing backwards.

It’s a fine art, I’m realizing, to live in the present moment, to take each heart pain as it comes and pray that it won’t last long. Or that it will bring us one step closer to calling this new, lakeless city home.

This afternoon, as we sit on our doorstep beneath our avocado tree with our Kenyan mutt nuzzling us for more attention, I feel my heart beginning to open, to sense that I am splitting in half. It comforts me and it scares me, because to love two places will be dangerous.

But it will also be beautiful.

How do you handle a split heart? What are the things you miss the most about your home country? What will you miss about your host country?

Me (1)

       Heidi Thulin, missionary writer in Nairobi, Kenya

blog: Thulins in Africa  ministry: On-Field Media 

You Owe Me Grace

Friends,

I am 30 weeks and a gazillion eons pregnant. My belly is the size of Canada and my brain is the size of a mustard seed (and, trust me, this mustard seed isn’t up to moving any mountains). Pregnancy and childbirth – it’s a Serious Design Flaw, if you ask me. And it’s not like there aren’t better systems out there on the market. Kangaroos, for example, have a perfectly reasonable reproductive system in place.

(Please note, if you’re tempted to mention Eve, original sin, or anything to do with apples in the comments, don’t. I’m in no mood.)

So I’m currently hanging out with our toddler in the land of ice cream and honey (also known as Australia) awaiting the birth of our second child. Meanwhile my husband, Mike, is starting a new job in Laos, overseeing an in-country move, finding a house, buying a car, etc. He won’t be here for another two months.

I was going to write something about pregnancy and cross-cultural living but, well, mustard seed. Instead, I’m going to share an unpublished piece I wrote shortly after we moved to Laos called You Owe Me Grace. This piece still makes me laugh and think. I hope you enjoy it.

Dom Lennox Head 28.4.13-7

You Owe Me Grace

Ever since my husband, Mike, and I moved to Laos three months ago, perhaps the single word that has best described life is, “eventful”. Few weekends, however, have been as eventful as this last one. This weekend was the first time we bought a puppy home, the first time we cooked dinner in our new place, the first day we took possession of a golf cart as our household vehicle, and the first time we crashed it.

The town where we live, Luang Prabang, is small enough to navigate without a car. We’re still debating whether we’ll get a motorcycle or make do with our feet and bicycles, but while we figure it out we’ve decided to take our landlord up on her offer to use the golf cart that was parked on the property when we first arrived.

I’d like to be able to explain how this afternoon’s accident happened, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve seen Mike safely navigate four wheel drive trucks backwards down dirt tracks barely wide enough to fit a bicycle (though, come to think of it, how we got stuck down that track in the first place could be the subject of a whole other article, and I’ll tell you right now it certainly wasn’t my fault). I’ve been Mike’s passenger on the back of motorcycles and in cars that he has capably piloted on three continents. I’d say without hesitating that he is a better driver than I am.

Except, apparently, when it comes to golf carts.

The golf cart’s not hard. I mean, sure, it doesn’t have lights, or turn signals, or power steering, or brakes that work well. You can’t see out the plastic windshield at the front very well because it’s all scratched up. And you do have to come in the house on an angle or you’ll bottom out. But, still, the thing is significantly smaller than the width of our driveway, which is why I remain puzzled as to how exactly Mike managed to ramp the curb while turning into the house and then drive full speed into our gate.

As “full speed” here was approximately the velocity of a decrepit ride-on lawnmower, no one was hurt – unless you count the abdominal strain undoubtedly experienced by the three neighborhood men standing nearby during their subsequent laughing fit. These men didn’t even try to pretend that it wasn’t the funniest thing they’d seen all month, and I can’t say I blame them. How often do you get to see two foreigners, carrying three kilos of tomatoes and drinking iced coffee out of a plastic bag, pilot a golf cart into a stationary object?

“I think it’s OK,” I said to Mike after we came to a standstill, laughing a little myself and having no clue whether what I’d just said was in any way true.

I hopped out and stared at the front of the golf cart. It was leaking a black, oily-looking, fluid.

Mike was considerably less amused than the rest of us.

“I don’t think it’s OK,” he said, grim, as he got out to survey the damage. “If that’s oil, then it’s definitely not OK.”

The neighborhood men had wandered over to take a closer look.

Bo di,” I said to them, shrugging.

No, they agreed with my rudimentary Lao, “cannot do”. The men went on to say many other things, too, but goodness knows what they were. The options are endless, really. They could have been offering to help us push the cart into the driveway, or they could have been inquiring as to whether we had the brains God gave a water buffalo. Even if I could speak Lao fluently, however, I’m still not sure I would have been able to understand them given that they were still laughing hysterically during the entire one-way exchange.

As Mike and the neighborhood men maneuvered the cart into the driveway I totted the tomatoes, destined for that night’s adventure in “make your own pasta sauce”, into the house. I was chopping away by the time Mike came in.

“I can’t believe I did that,” he said.

“Honey, it’s really OK,” I said. “No one was hurt. It can be fixed. It’s not a big deal.”

“I know,” Mike said, sighing. “But I feel stupid.”

“Yeah,” I said supportively. “I can see why.”

This didn’t quite make him laugh, but it came close.

“You’re taking this much better than I am,” he said. “That’s really good.”

I thought this last statement over while I did the rest of the chopping, and 36 tomatoes later I’d realized something that I’m not at all proud of.

By far the largest part of me genuinely isn’t that fussed about the golf cart. Accidents happen. The money and hassle that will be involved in getting it fixed are annoying, sure, but they are completely overshadowed by the much more important fact that no one was hurt.

But I also realized that there is a small and grubby part of me that can be secretly glad when things like this happen to Mike – a part of me that claps its hands and makes a notation on a mental list of, “silly things that Mike has done in the year and a half since we’ve gotten married”. This list has things on it like: parking ticket in LA (two), leaving a bank card in an ATM, and… driving the golf cart into the gate.

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse that I’m not cataloging these incidents because I’m secretly more frustrated than I act when they happen. No, what is happening is much more self-centered than mere repression. The small part of me that rubs its hands in glee at moments like these is happy because I know, I just know, that one of these days I’m going to do something dumb on a scale so epic that Mike cannot yet fathom it. I’m going to book non-refundable international airtickets for the wrong day, or write off a vehicle considerably more expensive than the golf cart, or give the wrong bank account number when I’m trying to transfer money internationally.

Oh, wait, I’ve already done that last one.

The point is, part of me is glad to tell Mike that a dented golf cart is no big deal because I’m hoping – no, expecting – that when I do this next silly thing Mike will smile serenely and tell me everything is fine. Because he will, after all, owe me grace.

Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly the spirit of what Jesus had in mind in Mark 12:31 when he instructed us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, even if my actions in being unruffled by golf cart mishaps seem to check the box.

Oh well, I’m sure Mike will give me more opportunities in the months and years to come to get my attitude and my actions in a decent place at the same time. And who knows, I may even give him some. After all, there’s a first time for everything.

How do you handle these sorts of mishaps (which can happen a lot when you’re living overseas)?

Have you ever caught yourself feeling “owed” grace? How do you combat that?

Lisa and Mike overlooking Luang Prabang Laos

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

Storytelling

Troy

 

As I interact with the precious people of the island I inhabit, and as I build relationships and get to know women on deeper levels, something unusual and confusing happens in my heart and mind.
I find that I want to honor and remember every last detail of every story shared with me – AND – I want to forget immediately, all of the painful things I am trusted with each week.

 

When we first moved from Minnesota to rural Haiti, long before I could authentically say, “I love this place and I love these people”,  I found it quite easy to take photos and paste stories on the world-wide web about the lives of other people. Many years into our journey, I write less and my husband takes fewer photographs than he did in our early years here.
I think a lot about the responsibility that comes with telling the stories of Haitian people. We’re not journalists, we’re not hired to tell stories, we’re not experienced professional writers. We’re sharing Haiti from one unique perspective that certainly cannot even begin to cover all of the angles. We’re not experts on this culture or country. We never will be. We are searchers. We are changing day by day because of our experiences here. We are learners that care about this tiny little piece of land in the Caribbean.

 

“It’s about collecting other people’s pain and trying to hide it, write it, 
catalog it, transform it, understand it, avoid it.” 
Emily Troutman

 

Every day, month, and year on this beautiful and complex island brings us to a greater realization of how little we understand.  The only “experts” around here are the people who have been here a couple of weeks or months.  (Ouch. Was that too much snark? I repent for my snarkiness and admit that I give myself this pass to be snarky because with time a lot of us realize that we know less. Most of us laugh at how little we understood back when we thought we knew it all.)

 

We’ve come to care deeply about this place and her people. Our biggest fear in sharing our experiences in Haiti is that we, in places of discouragement or frustration, might disrespect the people of Haiti or generalize when generalizing is simply unfairWe never want to do that.  We don’t wish to preside as judge of anything; it is impossible for us to completely understand the complexities of the lives of the people of Haiti.  It is unlikely that outsiders and newbies could ever totally comprehend history and culture.
 
A large portion of what happens each week is never written. The stories left untold usually remain that way simply because framing them without all of our personal biases and disillusionment would be impossible.  Those stories are for late night exchanges between trusted friends over a bottle of wine. They are to be trusted to God in humility and prayer. Some stories are so difficult we simultaneously want to remember and forget.It is painful to read comments from people who despise this little island. We get them occasionally and over time we’ve found that it doesn’t hurt in the least to be told we’re crappy parents or people, or that we’re stupid or abusive to “force” our kids to live here.  Our skin has thickened enough to take that. But when people say terrible things about Haitians it grieves us.  The level of animosity and prejudice can be shocking.  Those odious words have actually served to help me be more aware of the times I am “down on Haiti” and making generalizations based on one discouraging encounter.
 
We’re grateful to know that there are those in the world that follow along and pray, that care deeply about the struggles of the people of Haiti.  We are grateful to know that the Internet allows each of us to have a team of prayers, givers, and lovers of our respective lands – standing with us to love the worthy and beautifully unique people we walk with around the globe.
 
Our prayer and desire is that we share the stories with the utmost care and respect for the dignity of the people that we so want to esteem and uphold. We are guessing that is your prayer too. 

~              ~              ~             ~

Do you struggle with which stories to tell, and which stories to hold close to your heart?  Do you ever feel frustrated by unkind feedback from the stories you share?  

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

        blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

Celebrating 100 Posts!

lanterns-crooked

Well, friends-from-all-latitudes, it’s been a pretty amazing first six months here at A Life Overseas. When Angie (from Bolivia), and I (Laura, moving from SE Asia to Colorado at the time) first talked about creating an online space to honestly talk about what it means to serve internationally, we weren’t sure if the idea would take. We saw the need for it in our own lives and experiences overseas, but we weren’t confident other people would be as excited about the idea as we were.

But, you, you, friends have proven us wrong.

You’ve visited our pages over 113,000 times in the last six months, and lately you’ve been viewing our articles over 20,000 times each month. But you just haven’t just read and moved on, you have engaged with this community here in real conversations by leaving nearly 2,000 comments, as well. Over 500 of you get our posts to your inboxes and over 800 of you participate in the Facebook community, too.

And all of this, with 100 posts. These articles were written by a team of writers and guests from all walks of life, in every corner of the globe– the missionary mom in Bolivia, the single woman in Thailand, the dad loving orphans in Africa. We’ve talked about issues that are unique to this community of expats, from raising Third Culture Kids to wondering if the mission field was messing with our faith itself. We’ve talked about the realities of sacrifice and culture shock, and we’ve honestly talked about hard things, like sexual abuse on the mission field. This community has discussed fake conversions and hiring national house helpers, short term missions and even protocol for engaging in religious practices of other faiths.  We’ve talked about fundraising and kid-raising, about saying goodbye and about saying goodbye again. We’ve hit topic after topic relevant to the unique community that we are as international aid workers and missionaries.

And all of this, in just six. short. months. Imagine what the next six might bring.

We can not thank you enough for investing here in this conversation, for sticking with us to this, our 100th post. This community of nomads here at A Life Overseas is turning out to be a powerful one. And we’re grateful you each are a part of it.

Laura Parker, Co-Founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia

*****

In an effort to celebrate, we are launching two special events today. To begin, we are hosting our first ever photo contest! And yes, there will be prizes. The theme for this contest is: “Face of My Nation.” We’d like you to look through your photos and select one you think represents the people of the country where you are currently working and living. Please include a one sentence caption, explaining the photo or what you love about it. Submit the photo and caption, along with your name, country where you are working and how long you’ve lived there,  with “Photo Contest” in the subject line to: alifeoverseas{@}gmail.com. We’ll close entries on June 5, then we will post the winning 5 photos for the community to vote on starting June 7. Prizes will be announced soon, but please go ahead and submit your favorite pictures! Only one entry per person, please.

Also, we’re hosting a link-up party today. We know that many of you are excellent bloggers yourselves, and we’d like the chance to foster community and get to know each other a bit better. So, take a minute and choose your favorite post from the past 100 you’ve written, and link it up below. {Go ahead and link us specifically to your favorite post, not just your blog homepage, if you would.}

Here’s to praying the next 100 posts, for your personally and for the team here at A Life Overseas, is as encouraging and challenging as the last 100.

{In addition to linking up your posts below, we’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to see more of in the next six months from this collective blog. Topics, features, ideas? Also, if this site has encouraged you or spoken to you in a particular way, we’d love to hear that, as well. We heart feedback.}

*******



Fundraising

The summer heat of Oklahoma turned our dingy, grey duplex into an oven. I shuffled papers around, crouched over my bulging belly on the crusty, rust colored shag carpet. Expectancy within, the birth of our third child. Expectancy all around, our impending move to Bolivia. The two events would occur in the fall, just weeks from each other, respectively. The papers contained names and addresses.

We finished our mission school classes and counted down to our launch. Consumed with the tasks of unhooking from our natal culture, we took a step of faith. Our most recent correspondence announced to the world we had quit our jobs. We would derive our sustenance from the generous financial gifts people sent to us. Per our instruction in missions school, we took strategic steps to divide our contacts in lists for effective communication.

crusty rust colored shag carlet and paper piles

‘List A’ : people who had given money in the past or who were sure to give in the near future.

‘List B’ : folks who needed to stay informed whether they gave or not, and the praying people.

‘List C’ : all the rest.

My two chubby toddlers took sweaty naps while I sorted the print-outs into three piles.

With my brain fully engaged in the act of classifications, a simple voice whispered at the corner of my soul, “I am your only list.” My fingers flew, filing on the floor, as I knelt before the homage to our own proficiency. I breathed out a distracted, “Yes, Lord, you are on the top of ‘List A’”.  In penitence to effectiveness, my sorting sped up.

Then the grace, oh the amazing grace of my God, came in thicker than the squelching humidity sticking to my skin. This time the voice flooded every corner of my heart, “I AM your only list.”

A a parent, I change my tone if I have to repeat myself. I recognized the tone. I let the papers slip from my hands. Palms turned upwards, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I repented.

That pertinent conversation, rubbing at my impertinence, happened in 2001. Have I really lived by those words over a decade? When panic attacks, I go back to those words. As I scramble to reduce, cut back, and suck it all in so we can make it, these words bring comfort.  In seasons of abundance and in times of drought I rely, by faith, on my Only Source. My God. Through tears of joy, fear, or sorrow, I can say with Paul,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

We trade independence and live in dependency. I cringe when I have to answer, “No, we are not with an organization, we are ‘independent’ missionaries.” For I am NOT independent! I am completely and utterly dependent upon my God. I take faltering steps, trusting Him to show us the path.

He overrides my lists. He requires I draw close to Him all the time. He points out His unique provision. Through other people, by creative ideas, and with undeniable miracles, He proves to me He is my only list.

————————————————

listThis piece comes as a response to the many messages, emails, and comments from newbie missionaries who read A Life Overseas.

There are millions of ways to get money as a missionary.

Let’s take up a collection right now. What?! Not a collection of money, silly. A collection of resources in the comment section below. Don’t be shy! What methods have you employed to finance your passion? My kooky list is included…

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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