What do they need?

DSC_0739 2

It’s a simple question. It typically comes from a genuine place in our hearts. We enter a community, or we visit one, and one of the first things we see is the overwhelming need. Whether it’s the splintered relationships of a gossipy suburb in America or it’s the vast physical poverty of the Mathare Valley in Kenya; needs can be blinding.

The problem is when we are so blinded by what’s wrong that we can’t see what’s right.

When I lived in Mexico, it was obvious that people needed housing. We met one family in particular, who I’ll never forget, who lived in a boat turned on it’s side. It wasn’t a nice yacht-like boat either, it was a simple wood boat; basically a small step up from a canoe. It was so obvious that we should start building houses. We knocked on doors and asked local pastors to find out who needed a house the most. For months, we brought groups down from the USA to spend their weekend building houses for people who desperately needed them.

We wondered why we weren’t getting more participation from locals. Why did we rarely meet the dad/husband of the family? Why wasn’t the local government jumping on board and where were all the local churches?

One time, at the last minute, an American group cancelled. They simply wouldn’t travel to Mexico because of the reported danger. We had already bought the materials to build the home. The problem was, who was going to build it? My wife and I were great missionaries, but terrible construction workers. We visited the families that were “next in line” for a house and asked for their help. We asked them to spend a few days helping one of their neighbors build his house.

One guy became the informal leader of this crew of strangers-turned-friends. Once the house was built, he stood up and thanked everyone for helping. He acknowledged that the community had a lot of needs, but as long as there are people willing to help each other like this, everything will be fine.

After that experience, we started telling everyone on the “waiting list” for a house when/where the house builds were. All of a sudden, we had hundreds of dads/husbands involved. Local churches got involved and the local government even started supporting us. The community no longer saw us as an agency that built houses for poor people. We were a volunteer organization mobilizing community members to help each other. Eventually, people started helping out that weren’t even trying to get a new home for themselves; they just wanted to help others.

Fast forward a few years and there are hundreds of families that know each other. Their kids walk to school together. They share meals together in the evening. They attend church together. It’s like we accidentally built an incredibly connected and effective neighborhood watch program.

The point is this: if you only focus on a problem, you’ll rarely find a lasting solution. We were so blinded by the physical poverty, we completely missed the fact that people wanted to help each other.

When you enter a community asking the question, “What do they need?” you are missing what they have to offer. And what they have to offer (and encouraging them to offer it) will be a game-changer.

Ask yourself: Have I been so blinded by what’s wrong that I’ve missed what’s right? Take an inventory of the assets in your community, you might be surprised how much quicker solutions come when you’re actually looking for them.

 

– Dustin Patrick,  1MISSION in Mexico & Central America

Blog: GoodMud | Twitter: @DustinPatrick

The Introverted Expat

Introverts seem to be getting more attention these days, which might make most of us uncomfortable. 35 Quotes for Introverts. 27 Problems Only Introverts Understand. Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Donald Miller wrote about How to Get Along With an Introvert. How about the expatriate introvert?

Hi. I’m Rachel and I’m an introvert.

introvert1I don’t like change. I don’t thrive in new situations. I don’t get excited about meeting new people. I am oversensitive to noise and smell and touch. Places like airports and airplanes and developing world markets make me feel lightheaded and induce extra trips to bathrooms, if there are any. I am not good at surface conversation and at parties I prefer to find one or two people, settle onto a furesh (a long, low Somali cushion), and talk about the things that make us cry, or make us laugh, or make us furious, in other words the deep waters of our souls.

I just spent almost a month alone in Djibouti for the first time in my life. Is a wife and mother allowed to say this: For the most part, I enjoyed it.

I love people but sometimes I don’t like them. I love being with people and sometimes I want them to leave.me.alone.

I notice things my extroverted husband doesn’t. I pick up on subtle cultural cues and learn hand gestures as quickly as spoken vocabulary. I am comfortable being an outsider at a party because it is okay with me to sit back and observe. I am the first to know where burning tires block the road because my extra-sensitive sensors smell them first.

The expatriate world is peopled by extroverts, or at least people masquerading as extroverts. There are lists of ‘successful’ expats and often one of the primary underlying characteristics is extroversion.

People person. Talkative. Adventurer. Bold. Risk-taker.

Added to this is the pressure on Christians to ‘love Jesus out loud’ and many CEIs (Christian Expat Introverts) start to suffocate or shrivel. This quote from Susan Cain, author of Quiet (link below) captures it:

“Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly.”

There are good reasons extroverts do well overseas. How do you learn a language? Typically by talking. How do you dig below the surface of a new culture? Typically by asking a lot of questions and getting involved. Expats have to communicate and build community and go to the market.

But expats also have to listen well to learn that language. To go deep, they have to be alert to nuances that locals might not even be consciously aware of. In that crowded market, expats don’t have to befriend every stall keeper. They can zoom in on one or two.

introvert2

While extroverts seem to be the type of expats who thrive, I beg to differ. Introverts bring unique skills to the overseas experience, family, workplace. We need each other.

If you’re an introvert:

  • Know it. There are strengths and weaknesses. Recognize your limits and when you need to back off. Knowing yourself well and planning accordingly releases pressure, decreases the chance of burnout, and will help you not yell at your children/spouse/dog/taxi driver.
  • Own it. Don’t be ashamed. So you are more sensitive to smells and are the first one to notice the sewage or the roses. Let your nose guide you to a new restaurant or to finding the bag of rotten hermit crabs stinking up the house (true story). Being an introvert is not the same as being timid and it is not weakness. It is courage and vulnerability, just like being an extrovert. Live it well.
  • Use it. Language learning will be exhausting because it requires copious amounts of time with people and you might be more hesitant to open your mouth and practice. Do it anyway, do it afraid, as Tara Livesay wrote. But remember that introverts thrive on deep, intimate conversations. This is fabulous for language learning and will enable you to develop vocabulary and to probe deeper into cultural aspects of language. Introverts are top-notch observers and are often excellent resources for cultural cues and subtleties.

If you are an introvert, married to an introvert, or find yourself working with an introvert, (so pretty much if you are alive and relate with humans) read Quiet by Susan Cain or watch her TED talk.

Are you an expat introvert or extrovert? How do you thrive?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, introverted development worker, Djibouti

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

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

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

******

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

******

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

*****

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

*****

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

*****

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

*****

SIX. Bill and Tammy from Tanzania 

Pure Love Between Sisters.

This and That 057

****

SEVEN. From Michelle in Senegal.

“Beautiful girls waiting for their religious lesson.”

girlsmissions

*****

EIGHT. From Joel in Asia-Pacific

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

JWilliamson

*****

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).

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.}

*******



Coping With Loneliness

Have you ever found yourself asking,

“What am I doing?”
“Is this worth it?”
“Is this what we signed up for?”

If so you are not alone in your emotions, although these feelings can make you feel very isolated.

Missions and any form of leadership carries with it an aspect of loneliness. Ordinary friendships become even more difficult when we take on these positions and roles.

Dan Allendar in his excellent book, Leading With A Limp, says “Loneliness also assaults a leader when he must absorb the inevitable expressions of disappointment from others. A leader bears loneliness, but also the guilt that comes with others disappointment.”

Have you experienced this?

As a missionary, we will have great successes, but also disappoint people and fail to live up to their expectations.

Sometimes the greatest loneliness in leadership comes on the heels of our greatest success.

Elijah experienced this immediately following his miraculous defeat of the prophets of Baal recounted in 1 Kings 18. Elijah just had the ultimate missionary newsletter headline.

One chapter later he finds himself on the run from Jezebel. Look at the conversation he has with God. (1 Kings 19)

Vs. 4 “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Vs 10 “He said, “I have been jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

I’m the only one left!
Where are you God?
What am I doing?

God shows up in a still, small voice; reassuring him of His Presence, urging Elijah to get back to work. (1 Kings 19:11-16)

The reality of leadership and missions comes with a realization no one can fully understand all that we go through. Except God.

But even with this amazing gift of the presence of God, it feels lonely.

Dan Allender list the following loneliness inducing traits of a leader or missionary (also from Leading With A Limp.)

– The moment we take this role, others assign to us the power to do good or harm.
– Leaders often have information they are unable to share, constantly creating a situation where they could be misunderstood by people not seeing the whole picture of our decisions.
– Honoring confidentiality puts a leader in the direct path of gossip. The tough decisions which cannot be defended or explained leave leaders vulnerable and alone.

No one can fully understand a leader, what may hurt more…is often no one wants to.

This is inevitable at some point in life and ministry. When it happens, what are some things you can do minimize the loneliness?

1. Have good Relationships – with God first and foremost, but also extremely important is our time with our family and spouse. I would also advise we seek at least one other person who can be a confidant and friend.

2. Rest – Lack of rest makes loneliness even worse.

3. Take Inventory – Are you over committed? Are you priorities in line? Remind yourself of why you do what you do….daily!

What other tips can you offer missionaries and leaders who struggle with this. Or, if you are so bold, let our Life Overseas family know you struggle with loneliness so we can be a support to you.

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

The Joys and Pains of Making New Friends

Last November, I wrote a post about finding community, pointing to the danger of relying mostly on a virtual world and not connecting well with people around you. But saying, “Find community,” is almost like simply saying, “Lose weight” without sharing ideas on how to go about doing so.

In real life—or perhaps I should say, in life back in our home culture?—making friends is often uncomplicated. But when you’re living overseas—or, when you’re returning home after living overseas—making friends can be a bit lot more tricky. (Of course, being a global citizen, I realize the term home conjures up much confusion for many of us.)

Nevertheless, despite the risk of oversimplifying, here are some thoughts on ways to find community, realizing that your environment, your personality, your culture and your host culture are all factors that play a role insofar as what will work and what won’t. Here are some thoughts about what’s worked for me, and some thoughts about the joys and the pains of making new friends.

Whitewater rafting with friends on Java, Indonesia: Making new friends can be a scary yet very rewarding experience

Today, I feel like my heart’s been put through a wringer. Two weeks ago, I was in Bangladesh, participating in an emerging leader training camp. Once I got back to Thailand, a colleague arrived for a week worth on intensive training, site visits, meetings, and more meetings. All of the above was very good, and I can still indubitably say, “I love my job.”

Last night, though, after I had dropped off my colleague, I went to dinner at the home of dear, dear friends. I smiled as I walked into their house, the aroma of a dinner prepared with love filling the air. My friend Becky wasn’t home at that moment. She was taking their dog for a walk. Still, I walked in and set the dinner table, simply because that’s what good friends do. And then I curled up in a chair in their living room and took a nap till everyone was at home and we visited about our day.

All was OK till after dinner, when I helped Becky take photos of furniture. See, they’re moving back to the US this summer, and they’re getting ready to sell some furniture. Suddenly, their leaving became a painful reality that stabbed and simply wouldn’t stop hurting. I realize that the pain is exacerbated by me being tired. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am saddened by the fact that my dear friends are leaving, that I’m not just losing one friend, but I’m losing family.

It’s not that I’ve not gone through transition before. In the past 20 years alone, I have lived in more than 10 different cities and in 6 different countries. I’m no stranger to good-byes. But for many of those moves, I was the one leaving, and I had gotten good at guarding my heart.

This time around, I’m staying, watching as my friends are packing up their world bit by bit, selling stuff, preparing for the uncertain transition, and I know that though we’ll remain friends, much will inevitably change.

Here’s the deal, though: When I first met these friends a short few months ago, I knew they were leaving. I could have played it safe and chosen to protect my heart and not accepted a hand of friendship. But I didn’t. Nor did Becky play it safe and opt not to forge a new friendship so soon before having to wrap up many years of living in Thailand.

Does it hurt to know that Becky and her family are leaving soon? More than I care to admit. If I could start over and avert the pain of loss, would I choose not to befriend Becky and her family? Not for a moment! I’d be poorer for it. In that sense, I have to agree with one of my favorite philosophers, Winnie the Pooh, who said,

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.

It’s also not that I don’t have other friends in town. I’m blessed that I have several other friends, though none of my other friends here represent what Becky’s family represents for me as a single person: Theirs is a home away from home away from home.

Nor is it that I won’t be able to make new friends, or deepen existing relationships. But I realize that it is a rare gift to be such good friends with an entire family.

Floating on a lake with friends from church: Jamie, me, Becky, Holli and Sandra

And so, tonight, as a reminder to myself and perhaps an incentive for one or two of you, I’ll list a few ways in which I was able to find community in the past. Here’s what’s worked for me over the years of living abroad:

  • Years ago in Taiwan, when I realized that my circle of friends included hardly anyone outside my work world, let alone outside my circle of faith, I joined a choir where I was challenged in so many ways: musically, linguistically, socially and spiritually. Several years later, when I moved back to Taiwan after time in the US and Kenya, I was welcomed right back and started building new relationships among my choir friends. (Ironically, some of my non-Christian friends were much more instrumental in my return adjustment than Christian friends were. But that’s another topic all by itself!) To be sure, I didn’t expect my non-Christian friends to meet my need for spiritual community. What they did do, though, was leave me with amazing memories of making incredible music to God’s glory—even though they saw it merely as culture.
  • Ironically, making close friends in the US was hard in California, yet very easy in Iowa (where I did support raising). Perhaps that would be my advice for moving to the US then: Move to the Midwest! 😉
  • In Kenya, finding community looked differently yet again. At a stage during my three years in Kenya, I moved to a different village in order to be closer to a few friends with whom I could share some cultural commonalities. It is in the village that I learned the importance of having friends who share more than created and learned common bonds.
  • In Indonesia, where I worked at an international school where I was one of very few Christian teachers, I had good friends at school. But since I knew I also needed a faith community in order to thrive, I chose to attend a women’s retreat to get to know other Christian women. May I add that I don’t particularly like women’s church camps? At that camp, though, I made amazing friends with whom I’m still in touch.
  • After moving to Thailand, I tried the same route of attending an interdenominational church camp. This time around, it didn’t work for me at all! I didn’t make any new friends at camp. In Thailand, finding community has worked differently yet again.
  • In Chiang Mai, making friends at first happened as a result of accepting an invitation to a Thai small group even through I understood no Thai yet. In the process, however, I got to know some precious Thai friends.
  • And while our new Compassion office was not yet open and I got to work from home, I chose to leave home daily and work from a coffee shop instead. Though I like variety and like exploring new places, I chose to keep going to the same coffee shop every day so I could get to know the names of the staff, and so someone would smile back when they recognized me.
  • Another key to finding friends came by way of the church where I chose to worship. Rather than visiting several churches in town, trying to find a place that felt just right, I opted to chose between two options only, and soon started going to just one church, even though I knew no-one there. There, I tried out various Bible study groups as a way not only to grow, but to connect to community. (I chose not to stay at any of those studies.)
  • Despite not knowing anyone at church, because I kept going to the same church and kept just being my friendly self, a stranger walked up to me after church one day and struck up a conversation. Viv became a cherished friend, even though I learned very soon that she and her family were returning to New Zealand hardly four months after we met.
  • Over one of our first coffee visits, when I commented that I was looking for a place to exercise, Viv told me about a women’s Bible study that I could join as well as about a taekwondo class at the local Korean church. Me? Do taekwondo?! I wondered. I’ve never done martial arts, and had I known then what I know now what amount of coordination it takes to do taekwondo well, I might never have thought to give it a try… But give taekwondo a try I did, and at class, I met a wonderful new friend, Sandra, who introduced me to a whole slew of friends, including our mutual friend Becky.
I’m one of the oldest members in taekwondo class. What fun!

I would say God has answered my prayers for close community here in Chiang Mai, and as hard as it is to prepare to say good-bye to some friends, I know I’ll make new friends again. If I’ve learned anything in the 20 years’-10 cities’-25 homes’-6 countries’ worth of moves, it is that making good friends takes risk. It takes stepping out of your comfort zone. It takes being yourself, yet allowing God to challenge you to not be too comfortable hiding behind “being yourself.” The introvert in me, for example, wouldn’t mind just waiting for others to come to me. But, as as Philosopher (Winnie the) Pooh says,

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Through my connections with Viv and then with Sandra and Becky, I have connected with a rich variety of friends, men and women who challenge and bless me in a different ways, people who have caused me to say, “This, too, has become home to me.”

  • How about you? What’s worked for you in terms of making friends in a new culture?

Adéle lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand,
and considers herself blessed having a rich variety of friends in many places.
Some of her adventures are found at www.AdeleBooysen.com.

Landfill Harmonic and Redeeming Rubbish

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

 

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

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

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

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————

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

 

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

On Finding Community

I had hardly been in Kenya a month when friends came to volunteer at the children’s home where I was working. They hand-carried a care package from a lady at our home church: Some notes from her Sunday school class. Some Christmas treats. And a little green guy: an M&M character whom we promptly named Kiptoo [kip-‘toe], the Kalenjin name for a boy born at a time when visitors are at your home.

It was 2005, and the cross-Atlantic trip from the US to Kenya was officially Kiptoo’s first as a stowaway. Since then, Kiptoo has listened to the songs of the Dinka in Sudan, slipped around on muddy trails in the D.R. Congo, and marveled at sunsets in South Africa. He has also walked on the Great Wall of China, cringed at critters in a market in Hong Kong, and sunbathed in St. Thomas.

Fear not: Kiptoo is not Wilson. We’re not planning on building a raft anytime soon, and I definitely don’t talk to him. Despite ascribing responses to various experiences to Kiptoo, he is very much simply a 2-inch-tall plastic container.

So why bother lugging the little stowaway around the world in my camera bag? Kiptoo really is a means to an end. He’s a fun way to share with friends the places I go, the food I try (or won’t try), the things that I see. He’s a way to connect my friends to my world without seeming narcissistic. And he’s plain fun.

‘Cause when you’re single and get to travel a lot for work, traveling isn’t always exciting. Long layovers at airports, well, they’re long, regardless of how many books you carry with you. And thus, you create fun Facebook updates and blog posts. And when you see something breathtaking and you’d really like to take a photo but it would be fun to have a person in the picture, too, Kiptoo is usually keen to crawl out from under the passport pouch and pose. Or when you’re moving to yet another new country where you know no-one, it’s fun to say, “Kiptoo and I are exploring today. We’ve discovered this road up the mountain from where you can see the entire city…”

If I lugged my little M&M all around town with me, though, and if, after a few months in my new city he was all I had to show in terms of someone with whom to explore, well, it would be fair to say that I’m on a downhill slope. Someone throw me a lifeline, quickly!

Dare I ask, What if Kiptoo was like some of our other tools for survival? Would being content with Kiptoo’s company be anything like settling for virtual community rather than going through the hard work of nurturing new friendships? Maybe not. At least friends on Facebook talk back, right? And a good Skype call with a friend back home can be the best medicine to a weary soul any day—but especially when you’re new to a new to an area.

Virtual community should never take the place of real friends, though. It doesn’t matter how many readers subscribe to your blog, how many friends you have on Facebook, or how many followers you have on Twitter: None of that compares to real friendship, to walking off with a smile in your heart (and on your face) after connecting with a new friend and seeing new relationships bud. As my (real-life, long-term) friend Idelette from shelovesmagazine recently pointed out:

“There are some nights when you simply put away the phone [I’d add laptop and iPad, too] and you savor the now of conversation and the gift of Presence.”

I learned that the hard way. Years ago in Kenya, I went through one of the hardest seasons in my life and I discovered what donning the heavy boots of depression felt like. The main reason was that I did not have close friends around me. I was surrounded by dear Kenyan colleagues who were kind to the core, by 100 orphans whom I loved dearly and who gave the tightest hugs imaginable. I even had regular calls with friends back home. But there was no-one right there with me who would ask me tough questions, no-one with whom I process “stuff,” whether important or insignificant.

Some dive buddies from work and I in Boracay, Philippines

Around that time, I explained my state of mind to supporters, equating the experience to scuba diving. As a diver, you are required to have a dive buddy. Your dive buddy checks that your gear is in order, and keeps an eye on your under water. As I’ve become a more experienced diver, I have found that the most enjoyable dives are with buddies that also marvel at the little things, like watching how an anemone moves when you swim by, or how a goby stands guard at the entrance to its burrow, disappearing abruptly, leaving you wondering if you had imagined seeing it. In my world, a good buddy is someone who enjoys the dive as much as I do, all while keeping an eye out for my safety.

On a recent dive in the Philippines, two colleagues and I teamed up as buddies, and having two buddies, not just one, was an even better experience. One of them was always close enough to share a discovery, or close enough for me to share in the joy of what they had just seen.

Life overseas is very much the same way. Though one friend is great, community, by its very nature, is plural. Just one friend cannot meet all your needs. In fact, I have seen (and experienced) how unhealthy that is.

But I’ve also experienced how hard it can be to forge life-giving community when you live in remote parts of the world. There’s no denying that.

To withdraw into a world with only virtual community, though, can be a slippery slope. While I pray that what we have here grows into a place where you can come back and learn from others, where you can meet people who are in a similar situation as yours, people who can pray with you and challenge you to think differently about your circumstances, in the end, this community is just a means to an end. It’s a tool to help you connect with your own real-life community, right where you are. 

It’s true that Intentional Community = Greater Joy. And the joy and the benefits of community are things that must be actively pursued.

“Joy is not something you find when the circumstances change. It’s something that changes the circumstances,” says Erwin McManus.

So, I’d like to challenge you:

  • What can you do to connect to community right where you are?
  • What can you do to bless someone else today? Might it be time to turn off your phone, close your laptop, and be intentional about connecting to people around you?
  • What can you do this week that’s simply fun and would make you smile from the depths of your soul?

Wherever you find yourself today, may God fill you with joy. And may that joy open up doors to rich soil of community, to a place where you can thrive and live in such a way that others will find Hope through you, so your work and ministry is more than a means to an end, but Christ in you would become both the means and the end.

Adele Booysen – Currently oversees the leadership development program with Compassion International in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Happily single, Adele appreciates the company of wonderful friends around the world, while she practices her Thai cooking and taekwondo. You can read more about her adventures at www.adelebooysen.com.