America, Meet the World

Hello America. Meet the Rest of the World.

Note: This is not a political post but one of identification.

The closer we get to the election in the United States, the more comments, eye rolling, and jokes I am hearing as an American living overseas.

My journey as an American in missions has spanned over 25 years. When I began, everyone loved and warmly welcomed Americans. I can remember being in the Philippines and everyone shouted, “Hey Joe” at me, referring to G.I. Joe. It was with warmth and not derision.

The looks of disbelief started with the war in the Balkans and increased with the invasion of Iraq.

Upon moving to South Africa under Bush II, I often wished I could change my accent. Things improved remarkably over the last eight years under Obama. His African roots may have had something to do with this.

I will never forget Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which aired live on local television in South Africa. I stood next to multiple nationalities of people who were stunned to witness the peaceful transition of power. Many of their nations changes leaders with bullets and violence, not handshakes and civil exchanges.

As this election approaches, I feel like the 8 years of goodwill is up and I can once again expect ridicule as the circus of the coming election unfolds.

Africans are constantly commenting in my Facebook feed about what they are witnessing. Here is one recent comment:

_”Just love watching the American politics at the moment. Making South African politics look good. Is Donald Trump the Julius (Malema) of America?_”  (Just so you know, most South Africans would consider Julius to be a disruptor and not a positive influence. But it shows the world is watching! )

One constant thought has been running through my mind. This helps me identify with the pain of other nations. I do realize my understanding is still very limited.

The pinprick of pain I feel from the current madness is nothing compared to the agony many nations have been under for years.

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While dysfunction is now the rule in America, I’ve never been faced with a dictator or tyrant leading my nation. While there are many inspiring leaders in Africa, her people have also witnessed genocides or imposed famines.

Voting in America is still a choice which is not forced through threat or intimidation.

The pain of a nation does not disappear quickly. I still see German youth cringe when Hitler or Nazism is mentioned. Even after multiple generations, the decisions a nation makes can have a lasting effect.

I have very good friends from Zimbabwe. For years, whenever a bad leader was mentioned, theirs was on the list. The shame of this is hard, even though it is no fault of their own.

It is the strength I see in these people which well help me to endure the jokes and mocking which is sure to follow the current circus in the United States.

In a small, very small, way I feel I am identifying more with my international friends from nations with really bad leaders.

 

Note: Since this is a post about identification and not politics, I ask that you refrain from leaving political comments and only discuss the issue of identification. Thank you.

Photo credit: indifference via photopin (license)

Don’t give it all away

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My internal situational analyst is part fascinated, part disturbed by Jesus’ challenge to give everything up and just follow Him. “If I go and do likewise,” it asks in a small voice, verging on terror, “If I give everything up, how will I live?”

One of my organization’s guiding principles while I was serving in Uganda was to have its workers strive to live comfortably, but at a similar level as their neighbors. We began our service term expecting great sacrifice, and looked forward, to some degree, towards how that sacrifice might bring us closer to God.

At team meetings, we would hear each other’s struggles as we sought to live out this principle – whether to purchase a large refrigerator to preserve more food and save on cooking time, or stick with a smaller one that would better match those in neighboring homes. Or, whether decorating our home in a way that comforted and inspired our spirits would be wasteful among families with no expendable income. Around and around we’d share, wondering whether we were benefiting too greatly, whether we were sacrificing enough.

Interestingly, our neighbors were often confused by our self-imposed emotional turmoil. We had already given up so much, they would point out. We didn’t behave like other NGO workers, with their flashy cars and gated homes. We sat in our compounds on the same tiny wooden stools we offered our guests, our children chattering and playing with theirs. We didn’t need to hobble ourselves with a finicky charcoal stove. “Just get the gas cooker,” they would say, smiling and slapping their stomachs. “Don’t worry. We will benefit also.” While we made plans for the feast we could prepare if we had a steady heat source, all mention of the personal I was stripped from conversation, and the communal we slipped into its place.

This was an answer to my worry-question. By seeking to live as a neighbor in this context, I had signed on not to give up everything I had in pursuit of some kind of personal religious experience; I had agreed to share access to our gas cooker and other resources as part of a what’s-mine-is-ours Kingdom lifestyle. How much more comforting to answer Jesus’ call, knowing I wouldn’t be alone in the following. The journey would be up to us, not just me.

Originally published in Purpose Magazine, November 2015

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eh1Esther Harder spent six years in Uganda and Rwanda as an English / Math / Computers teacher, football coach, and peace facilitator. Currently, she works in a library where she is known as the computer literacy instructor, homework mentor, crocheted-flower coach, and the you-dream-it-I-make-it resident artist. Esther blogs at roamingpen.blogspot.com.

I Believe, Help My Unbelief

In work, ministry, and life we all experience frequent seasons when things don’t work out quite the way we had hoped.

In missions, our internal dialogues consist of “Am I making a difference?” or “Will these things ever change?”

When we are trusting for provision, for a breakthrough in our health, or seeing a life changed, there is very fine line between losing hope or accepting the limitations of the change that will happen, all while still believing in a God who could do the unexpected.

We’ve all heard the stories where people are told to “just have faith”. I personally have seen a friend who was told her father died because of a lack of faith.

Is that the answer? More faith?

This year has brought several of these challenges to our family. Ministry disappointment, divorce of those close to us, and various health related issues.

We found ourselves wrestling with the delicate blend of serving an all-powerful God on a broken and imperfect planet. Sometimes this process results in times of throwing up your hands, wondering what is happening.

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A passage of Scripture has been in the forefront of my thoughts for a few months. It seems to reflect this very tension.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit. In the dialogue which preceded the healing, Jesus asked the boy’s father how long this has been happening? The fathers respond with,

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus points out the key word in the father’s statement.

“IF”

“And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”

How many times in the depths of frustration do we catch ourselves uttering “If?”

We almost feel guilty for this. Of course Jesus can do it. He is God after all.

Yet in our humanity, we utter that two letter statement of doubt, often in fear of getting our hopes up.

“If.”

Not so much if you are capable, but if….

  • You will do this for me, not just others.
  • The provision happens in my bank account, not always my neighbors’.
  • The healing we see working in our communities will find its way into our own homes.

Yes, He can,…but will He break into a broken and fallen world and touch MY situation.

The father in the story utters a phrase which is so profound.

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

I believe…..help my unbelief.

I believe in truth, I believe in principle, I believe in the unchanging character of the one I serve.

But…

Help my unbelief, which comes with emotion, fear, doubt, and weariness

As we turn to the New Year, it is good to do two things.

Acknowledge and be honest about…

  • the fears that our ministry will never achieve all we hope,
  • the doubts that God will answer OUR prayers (not just those of others),
  • the weariness which can border on frustration, tempting us to pack it in and go home

These are areas where we cry out to God to help our unbelief.

At the same time, we need to remind ourselves of what we DO believe.

  • I believe in the unchanging character of a good God.
  • I know God is on my side and working for my benefit.
  • I trust Immanuel, God with us, is not leaving us alone in this journey.

Acknowledge the unbelief and ask for help.

Remind ourselves of the truth which forms our foundation. (Preach it in the mirror!)

Take some time as the year wraps up to reflect and reset. We all need it.

I Believe….Help My Unbelief

 

Photo by Tiago Muraro

The Language of Sport

Language study is one of the hardest and most time-consuming efforts missionaries make.

There is, however, a language which is common to the world and far easier to learn.

This is the language of sport.

When my family arrived in South Africa as lovers of sport, we missed a trip to the Super Bowl by my wife’s hometown team. At the time, we just did not know how to watch the game. Now I could tell you many ways.

Instead of watching the Super Bowl, in the early days our TV was tuned to cricket. I attempted to understand this game and its rules. Especially difficult was the idea of playing to a tie over five days!

I’ve seen how learning, watching, attending, and playing the local sports of a nation can build bridges and bond you to a culture.

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Here are 7 things I have learned sports can do:

1. Provide conversation. Wearing a soccer jersey or making a comment about the latest sports match can open up a conversation in an easy manner.

2. Earn you respect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been met with a quizzical exclamation about my knowledge of a local sport or team. This inquiry is also met with a sly smile of admiration and respect.

3. Tell people you are embracing culture. Multiple times I’ve had people compliment me on my embrace of the culture when they learned my kids played rugby at school or as an American I was attending a cricket match.

4. Give you an insight into the nations vices. Attending sports matches also gives insight into issues a nation deals with. One cannot attend a cricket match in South Africa without observing alcohol abuse to epic proportions. While sad, it brings awareness to the needs of a nation.

5. Provide Exercise. Our staff often engages in weekly soccer/football matches, which opens doors of relationship while gaining valuable exercise. I’ve been able to participate multiple times in bicycle races as well.

6. Help you to have down time away from ministry. All work and no play….happens in ministry often. A balanced, long term missions career must include relaxation. Playing or attending sports makes for wonderful relaxation.

7. Make memories for you and the family. I will never forget sitting in a Cape Town monsoon watching the local rugby team with my youngest son. We make an annual trip to a rugby match as a family. And of course, the early Saturday mornings of watching my kids play these sports will etch South Africa into our family story.

What would you add to this list?

How does the language of sport help you embrace the culture you live and serve in?

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Photo credit: Nivali via photopin (license)

Dangerous Stories

Sometimes the stories we tell of those we minister to can become dangerous.

I’ve been at this missions thing for 23 years now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

I often reflect on things I did in the past and cringe. Hindsight is always 20/20, but perhaps others can learn from my mistakes.

One mistake centers around how I have reflected the stories of others to my own supporters and sending churches / organizations.

One of the things our organization does is partner with nationals who are also involved in missions. We attempt to raise monthly support for them and use our network to assist financially.

We often highlight one of these nationals in our periodic newsletters. We share what they are involved in and add something like, “your support to Project Grace helps this individual/or family to accomplish this work…”.

This approach seems harmless enough, but there are several dangers involved.

We realized this when years later, one of these people who had since moved on, contacted us and confessed that they had harbored bad feelings to us for how we represented them. He felt we were “using” him to show how great our ministry was. This dear friend carried this hurt for years till he finally was able to express it. We were so grieved and set about attempting to restore the relationship.

There are some lessons here. We can share dangerous stories without even intending to. There is an appropriate sharing of stories which must happen. How can we guard against the danger but still share to the glory of God?

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5 Signs You are Telling Dangerous Stories:

1. Carefully consider your words. If the person were standing next to us, would we reflect our stories in a different way? There is always a temptation to embellish poverty, lostness, or a person’s state of need.

2. Avoid any hint of superiority. This is rarely intended, but so many sharing times promote a “they are so primitive, we must help them see the light” mindset. I’ve sat in far too many testimony times where people ignorantly share how horrible a foreign land was, not thinking that there are nationals from those very places present!

Sometimes, the people we are attempting to show the gospel of grace to, walk in massive grace with us!

3. Ask their permission. This was the biggest mistake I made in the above story. This helps you cut through any misguided motivations in a hurry.

4. Share in the blessings. If you benefit materially from sharing a story, it would be good to extend a blessing to the friend or co-worker you shared about.

Imagine what this scenarios seems like for a national:

  • They know you are sharing their story.
  • Often we as missionaries live a higher lifestyle than those who’s stories we share.
  • Even the most noble of people would have a question or two about the use of funds which was in part gained by their story.

Sharing the resources promotes open communication. We’ve receive donations and when sharing the blessing, told our friends, “We told your story and people were blessed. They ended up blessing us so we wanted to pass some of this on to you.”

5. God must be honored. Are stories shared in a way which is honoring God or us?

Do we become savior, rescuer, and the lifter of people’s heads or is that place reserved for Jesus?

No one sets out to say this, but our words can convey this if we are not careful.

Attention Life Overseas Community!

I am sure we have countless stories and mistakes made in this area among us. Let’s share and learn from each other!

What pieces of advice would you add to the five I have mentioned? How can we avoid Dangerous Stories?

Photo credit: Seyemon via photopin cc

Creating Traditions Abroad

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It may not be true for everyone reading, but many of us grew up celebrating Christmas in a certain way.  Part of the anticipation of the holiday season was wrapped up in the excitement of the traditions of the season.

Growing up, my little nuclear family of four used to get the fondue pot out every Christmas Eve. We would make an event of it and after dinner we cleaned up and headed to a candlelight service.  After church we were allowed to open one gift, saving the rest for the big-show Christmas morning.  Each year we went around the circle opening one gift at a time starting with the oldest family member and going around to the youngest.

Now a mom to seven children, I have not done as well as my parents did at creating traditions for my kids.  The main obstacle to creating tradition?  Living far from family and the places we learned and practiced our traditions.  Our family has been in Haiti for five of the eight celebrations that have happened since we moved, making it difficult to get any sort of traction on tradition making.

Each year we celebrate Christmas with different visitors to Haiti, we find ourselves facing unpredictable work schedules at the Maternity Center.  Traffic and uncertain political situations in the country change what we choose to do for Christmas Eve. All that to say, it can be fairly challenging to make a tradition in this environment.

We have succeeded at one singular new tradition, no matter where we find ourselves in the month of December.

The one thing we have done every year for eight years is create a little video production with our kids to give as a gift to our family and friends far away.  It started as a last minute idea in 2007, the year we were back in the USA having our last child. It has now become an annual tradition and we have the joy of seeing the kids change year to year in the  “Annual Christams Extravaganza”.  Our kids love watching the old ones and seeing how their voices and faces have changed.

Today I am curious what things you and yours have done to try to create traditions abroad in your new homes.

Have you come up with things that make it feel like Christmas even though you are far from those you typically celebrated with in the past?  

What new traditions have you created?

 

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(The three photos in this post are from the 2009 Christmas production. Live animals for a nativity scene. Chocolate for bribing children.)

Find the Christmas rap of 2011 here. (Grown kids in Texas made an appearance too.)

Find 2012 here.

Do We Practice What We Preach?

The other week, I made a trip to the local police station to get an affidavit. In South Africa, this is the venue you head to make a document “official”.

The officer who helped me chatted with me a bit. He inquired how long I’d been in the nation and where I stayed.

Finally he asked what I do.

“I teach the Bible and train missionaries”, I responded.

The officer nodded, raising his eyebrows. He smiled shyly and glanced around. Leaning close to me he says, “I too follow the God of the Bible.”

“Oh wonderful!”, I replied.   south+african+police+service+saps+xgold+june

As the conversation progressed you could see him gaining boldness.

Finally, as I was about to leave, he  waved me closer, wanting to tell me something not all could hear.

“I am a born-again Christian.”

I must confess as I left, my first thoughts were not rejoicing or excitement.

Instead I found myself thinking,

  • “He will never last in the police force.”
  • “He is going to get chewed up and spit out.”
  • “I don’t think he will stand up to the corruption and laziness.”

I caught myself in these thoughts and had to ask a tough question.

Do I believe Christians can change nations by being in places of influence?

In South Africa, the police, the electricity and phone companies, as well as taxi drivers all have bad reputations. Allegations of corruption and laziness are synonymous with these professions.

In fact, all nations have notoriously foul or inept professions.

Be it politics, arts and entertainment (such as Hollywood), civil servants in the visa and immigration offices, road workers, Wal-mart employees, or used car salesman. These are all regular targets of our wrath and frustration.

While this is a common occurrence around the globe, I was faced with a tough question.

Do I practice what I preach?

Or perhaps, it is better said, do I believe what I say.

In the organization I work with, we espouse there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. We regularly encourage our students and people we influence to become missionaries in all areas of society.

But when faced with this in the flesh, my initial response was to foretell his imminent failure.

We want transformation in all areas, but would we encourage any of our own children, the converts we make, or our local friends and co-workers to embark on this quest?

Allen Catherine Kagina is the head of Uganda’s Revenue Authority. Yes, she is the tax lady. And she is a Christian. 2014_Allen_Catherine_Kagina

She was motivated by a desire to convert Uganda from a borrower to a giver nation. The URA has become a model public institution for developing countries.

Kagina is a sought-after speaker who regularly addresses international forums on resource management. I heard her story at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit this past August.

I was blown away. I wonder how many people did not think she would survive in this job or would be able to resist the allure of corruption?

Do we practice what we preach?

I pray for my brother at the South African Police Service.

May he be a light.
May he stand for truth and integrity.
May he reflect the justice and mercy of God in his role.

And I pray for my heart to change.

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)

This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.

So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.

A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).

Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).

Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).

These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.

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How can I end well?

Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”

As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).

When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.

So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.

God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.

Four Things You Could Do

There is no shortage of  instructions on the interweb.

In any given month it is quite likely you will be instructed on multiple topics.  The list could include:

 Ten things not to say to your single friends

Five things Christians should stop saying

Ten things for a healthy marriage.

Five reasons your teen is rebelling.

Those never ending lists just serve to overwhelm me.  Say this. Don’t say this. Do that. NEVER do this.

I can barely follow directions. Kraft Mac and Cheese has one step too many for me.

There are SO many instructions and they all run together and before I know it I have applied one of the items to the wrong problem.  After reading all those articles I learned that my teen was rebelling because I was too controlling. Somehow I got mixed up and became certain one of the keys to a happier marriage was to be more controlling.

As you can see, there is a HUGE margin of error here.

 *             *             *

Today, I shall add fuel to the fire…

My list of things you “should” do to care for yourself.

One caveat, I don’t actually care if you reject my entire list. These are just some things that have been helpful to us in eight years overseas.

Guess what?  Just because they helped us, doesn’t mean they will necessarily work for all of you.

Therefore, today I present to you:

Four things you could do.  (Four possible not mandatory ways to care for yourselves and your families while working/living/serving and growing “overseas” .)

  1. Time Away/Rest
  2. Community
  3. EMDR and Counseling
  4. Prayer

Time Away/Rest – I don’t have to tell you this, you have heard it a kajillion times. “Even Jesus took time away”.   So do that.  Be like Jesus.

We all do what we do because we believe it to be important, even necessary, work.  There is a tendency in all of us to cast ourselves in a role that is irreplaceable, as in “without me this cannot happen” – so I cannot rest. Well,  here is the thing: If that is true, you have got larger problems than just needing a rest.

Take time off. Leave work and “mission” for a time and regroup. I am not suggesting you be  a lazy lard. I am suggesting that within a system of accountability you take time away every so often because that is good for you and your family.

Community – This is easier for some than it is for others.  There is a great benefit to living in community with other believers.  In this day and age there is a way to have an on-line community and an in-real-life community. If you can have both, you have the best of both worlds.  There should be a few people in your life that you can share your deepest fears and joys with on a semi-regular basis. There should be people that you allow to speak into those things.

EMDR and Counseling – Right now you are wondering where the heck the train left the track, you did not see it coming.  Stick with me, please. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and it is a type of trauma treatment.  Any of us that spend significant amount of time living cross culturally are almost guaranteed some trauma.  I could give you sixteen examples but I will simply share this testimonial:  After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti we discovered that PTSD was not just something soldiers in combat have.  EMDR seemed like hocus pocus to us at first, but we can tell you it absolutely helped us with the trauma of the earthquake and other previous trauma we had not dealt with at that time. It was an effective way of dealing with small and very large traumatic happenings.

If trauma is not your issue, perhaps basic therapy/counseling would be a way to process some of the stressors of living cross-culturally.  Going to talk to a professional to get some advice, feedback, or help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of being a real, living, feeling, human being.  Marriages fall apart under stress and living abroad is stressful.  I am no math expert, but after some rudimentary calculations I can see that perhaps counseling would be helpful for those doing marriage outside of their home culture.

Prayer- This is a big one…Maybe even the biggest one. There are two parts to this suggestion.

First, have a team of people in place that you know you can count on when you call or write them with a prayer request or urgent need.  Whether they are your parents and siblings, your home church, or a circle of friends, you will find that you need a group that will carry you when things are very difficult.

During one of our years in Haiti we had a personally devastating set-back that made it hard for us to get out of bed for a couple of weeks let alone accomplish our daily tasks.  There were those “back home” that carried us in prayer until we were back on our feet and able to face life again.  On another occasion we were in a parking lot in Port au Prince when I sensed danger. I could not identify what it was, but I knew I needed to go back to the car with our kids.  That afternoon when I returned home I had an email from my Dad that said, “Where were you at noon? I had a strong sense you were in danger and I prayed for you guys until it passed.”  You will likely have times when these intercessory prayers will absolutely matter.

Second, make prayer a part of your breathing. As you go about your day, be seeking God in each interaction and task. Try to make family and spouse prayer times a high priority.  Try to pray with your community and carry one another’s burdens. None of us were meant to do this work alone, call on your Heavenly Papa and ask for His help.

As soon as I finished this list I remembered that there is a fifth thing.  I guess I failed at internet bossing, cannot even count it out correctly.

5. Excercise Regular exercise will help you feel better about everything that is hard about your life. You could give that a try too.

 

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This ^ combines prayer, community, and excercise – three of the five happening on one run.

 

That is my list of four five. 

What else would you add? 

What ways have you found helpful when taking care of yourself?

A Philosophical (Running) Life Overseas

running wealthOther posts in the series:

A Practical (Running) Life Overseas (tips for starting to run as an expat)

A Communal (Running) Life Overseas (building community while doing what you love)

A Philosophical (Running) Life Overseas 

I run with my iPhone. In an armband. With earphones. In Djibouti this makes me feel excessively wealthy, especially when I consider that runners I knew, interviewed, ran with, have died in search of a better life than the Horn of Africa can offer.

The armband Velcro melted off months ago so I twist it all around itself to keep it on. The earphones are missing the cushiony part on one side and only one earplug actually works. In places were suffering means you still use the iPhone 4 or can only go out to eat twice per week, this constitutes severe deprivation.

I wear a waist belt packed full with four bottles of water I freeze overnight and Gu and Chapstick and enough change for a taxi or a phone call or another bottle of water. The zippers rusted out on the pack so none of the pockets close. The Velcro salted over and I have to continually retighten it to keep from losing the belt. This means I drink more water while running than some people drink in a day. I have more money in my running belt than some earn in a day.

I alternate between Asics and Saucony shoes. I wear running pants and shirts and sports bras and socks that, even though I bought them on clearance and keep them until they literally fall apart, mean I spend more on my running clothes than most of the people I run by in the early mornings will spend on clothing for the year.

I struggle with this. Here I come, burning calories because I have more than enough to eat. Here I come, with the leisure time to spend running. Here I come, wearing my rich clothes. Here I come, with my fancy gadgets.running and wealth

Am I not supopsed to run until everyone, everywhere, has the time, money, and energy to run? I could stay inside and use exercise DVDs to stay in shape, I could join a club (if there was an affordable one with functioning machines) where I would exercise indoors and street kids wouldn’t see me. I could quit exercising altogether.

But. I am very aware of my privilege, running is an example of that privilege. Not running, or running in secret does nothing to address this issue. It would simply mask my abundance. There is a subtle lie here, easily believed, that hiding behind walls or being ashamed of quality running shoes would somehow make the economic difference between myself and many Djiboutians less true.

So I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to hide and I’m not going to run in terrible shoes that will cause an injury.

What should I do? I can make wise choices about my clothes and shoes and gadgets. I can make them last as long as possible and can not be pressured to buy the latest model or fashion when there is nothing (drastically) wrong with the one I have. I can give my water bottle, still half-full, to the boy begging, when I realize I won’t need it all today.

I don’t plan on quitting running. I don’t plan on running barefoot (tried) or without water (tried) or naked (never tried). But I do think about the people I run by and pray for them. I smile at the kids and slap their hands, high-five style. I greet the older women, macooyo, grandmother. I cheer on the few other runners.

When I run in Djibouti, I’m entering the dust and heat and sunrises of this nation. I’m passing the donkey carts with loads of grass and sticks, jumping over cat carcasses. Smelling rotisserie chickens and fresh baguettes. I’m waving at women weaving baskets and humming along with the call to prayer. I pound my fist on taxis when they drive too close and explore side streets that lead to the ocean. I’m greeting shopkeepers and promising fruit stand guys that I’ll come by later for their delish-looking mangoes. I know when construction starts a few blocks over and when a new family set up a shack in the empty lot on the corner.

Instead of hiding my abundance from Djiboutians, when I run, I am learning to engage with them.

running and wealth

And I don’t feel the disparity in those moments. I don’t know, maybe they do, but I have had men selling bananas tell me the only reason they went out to watch the half marathon was because they thought I would be running in it, felt they knew me, and wanted to cheer.

This idea of ‘relationship’ doesn’t solve issues of economic divides. But at least running in the streets makes me aware and forces me to think, relate, respond. I’m still working on how to live with my plenty with integrity, how to be generous without feeling pressured, how to live with gratitude without guilt, how to live with my eyes wide open and my heart tenderly malleable.

This issue is a marathon issue, probably even an ultra. I have a long ways to go.

Do you run (or engage in other similar activites) in a developing country? In what ways do you feel compelled to mask your abundance?

A Communal (Running) Life Overseas

running djibouti*Read the first post in this series here: A Practical (Running) Life Overseas

I didn’t intend to build a running community. I didn’t even intend to start running. But loneliness will make you do incredible things and five years later, I am amazed.

I started running when we had a woman working with us for one school year. Heather had recently run a marathon.

“Is it safe to run here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You should go with someone at least the first time.”

“You’re the boss,” she said. “I’m running. You’re supposed to keep me safe, so I guess you’re coming with.”

And voila, I started running. I liked running fine, but I adored Heather. I would go through anything, even a 110-degree run, to spend time with her, to listen to her talk while I huffed and hacked, to pray, to review scripture together.

Eventually we got more serious about training and wanted to do speed work. Through another American and her friendship with Djibouti’s only Olympic medalist (1988 Seoul Olympics, bronze in the marathon), we were given permission to run at the stadium.

running djibouti

A handful of local girls trained there. They were young, not in school, friendly, and often injured. They rarely stretched and ran in bare feet, didn’t know about hydration or post-run fueling, and were often kept out of competitions because they didn’t belong to a club. These girls were fast, they lapped us during workouts, but on warm-up and cool-down laps, we chatted and developed friendships and we started to dream about an all-girls club.

Girls Run 2 launched in 2008 and now includes two coaches and 27 girls in two towns. The club provides running equipment, water at races, transportation to races, academic assistance, and some job skills training.

Running is by nature a solitary endeavor, but all runners can testify to the strength of a running community. A running team, race camaraderie, someone to complain about knee pain to, someone who will ask if you are meeting your goals, someone who understands why you push your body to the limits.

Living overseas isn’t always, but can sometimes feel like a solitary endeavor. My husband has a job and through his work, has a natural community. Over the years I have been much more fluid in how I engage and it has often been a lonely struggle. Running has helped meet a relational need through the development of this community.

How can those of us without a clear-cut niche develop a community overseas? How can we be intentional and creative and get involved?

You don’t need to start a club. It could be one other woman, like Heather and I. What about finding out if any of your local friends run or walk or want to start? Gather one or two and hit the road, the time together might become addicting and attractive to others. You don’t have to be fast. I began participating in races, sometimes one of three women out of a field of over 100. I have been the last person, the.last.person to cross the finish line. The first time that I finished in last place I got on television, shook the hand of the minister for sports, and posed for photos with the national running team, a gigantic trophy in my hands for finishing as the third-place woman. Third out of three. Last place. Champion. There is probably a lesson there, I was just glad to stop running.

You don’t need a lot of experience. Neighbors began talking to me about running, some asked if they could run with me. When university students found out I ran, some came to the train to join, even though they had never run before. Since I was still a beginner, we had a lot in common.

It doesn’t have to be running. Figure out what you love to do and then do it with the people around you. Notice, I didn’t say: figure out what you do well and then do it with the people around you. I do not run well. I have terrible form and turn red as beet juice. I terrify children and make them scream when I try to smile at the end of long runs (true story).

Want to build community? What do you love to do? How can you do it together?

(here is a link to the preview for the movie I mentioned in my last post about running: Finding Strong. If you get Runner’s World magazine, the December issue has a fully page ad for this film and the photo is of three of our Djibouti girls at Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, Djibouti’s salt lake).

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, (slow) marathoner and development worker, Djibouti

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

 

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