Serving Well – a Book, a Resource, a Shared Life

I can’t remember when Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter first entered my online writing life. Perhaps it was when the former ALOS site founder and I were discussing one of their posts, perhaps it was before – no matter, at some point I realized that our online friendship had become one that I looked to for wisdom, laughter, and venting. We who are a part of A Life Overseas know well the value of online friendships.

When I was approached to write the foreword for their now newly-released book I was both honored and humbled. I share it today with our community with a hearty endorsement for the book Serving Well. Within this volume is an invitation to live fully, love well, grieve loss, fight injustice, and embrace friendship.

When it comes to missions, missionaries, and the missions’ conversations, we live in a cynical and skeptical age. Those who are serving or want to serve overseas are assaulted with everything from failed missionary blogs and podcasts to heated debates on colonialism and white saviors.

Despite the cynicism, God is still moving people to places around the world where they are putting down roots in unfamiliar soil and seeking to write their names in the lands where God has directed them.  They seek to live out God’s story in a cross-cultural context.

Where do those who are intent on pressing forward in a life of cross-cultural service turn? How can they live well in places where they don’t belong?

Jonathan and Elizabeth’s book, Serving Well, emerges as a bright light and resource for those who are intent on pressing forward. Transcending place, this book is a wellspring of wisdom, perspective, truth, and encouragement for cross-cultural workers. Beginning with preparation, the book covers everything from preparation to returning, with sections on grieving, marriage, children, communicating and more. It can be read consecutively or, depending on the reader’s needs, by section.

I am a missionary kid, a failed missionary, and someone who continues to serve cross-culturally. I met Jonathan and Elizabeth as all those identities merged, and I read their words and heard their hearts with incredible gratitude. Here was the real deal. My cynical heart found solace and foundational wisdom and understanding through their writing. This couple is living out God’s big story, and they are living it out in a cross-cultural setting. Their writing reflects their lives – the good, the hard, the awful, and the fun. We are not only invited into their words, we are invited into their lives. In Elizabeth, readers will find a friend and wise confidante; in Jonathan, they will find a counselor and brother; and in both they will find a couple who exemplify cultural humility, godly leadership, and deep joy in the journey of serving.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to people in Thessaloniki, Greece and says this: Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”* In the library of mission’s literature you can find many things, but to be invited into a life through a book is something rare and precious. Serving Well is not just a book – it is a shared life.

This excerpt is from the forward of Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker ©  Wipf and Stock February, 2019 by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter.


Other Endorsements:

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad——or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace——both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do——read this book!”
——Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
——Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

You can purchase Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker on Amazon or directly from the publisher Wipf & Stock.

*Thessalonians 2:8

Hello World!

How do you greet people where you live?

I asked this question recently on Facebook because I was working on an essay: To Kiss or Not to Kiss? (check out that piece for a somewhat more thoughtful look at cross cultural greetings). I wanted to see what greetings were like around the world.

to kiss or not to kiss

Even though the kissing isn’t always smooth and sometimes results (my fault) in full on lip smacking with my friends (it tends to bond us), I’ve started to prefer it to hugs. I remember in France in my language class my husband tried to joke about the French being more sexual than Americans because of the kissing. The joke fell flat (as all jokes made in broken foreign languages tend to do) and now I’ve come to think the exact opposite.

A kiss is really a cheek brush (unless you make my mistakes or are greeted by a rural, elderly, nomadic woman – in that case, prepare for the real deal). But a hug? That’s full body contact, that’s a man’s arms around me and my body pressed against his (hence the rise of the side hug, which feels kind of awkward and half-hearted).

The comments on the Facebook thread were fascinating and while I hope you’ll read the more thoughtful essay about greetings, I wanted to simply share the variety of possibilities in saying, ‘hello’. (I didn’t link to each person, but if you’d like to find them and greet them Facebook style, you can find this thread on my Facebook page). Some comments I edited for length or clarity.

Malaysia, from Khalid: A traditional Malay greeting resembles a simple handshake, but incorporates both hands to initiate the greeting. The two people lightly grasp both hands and then bring both to rest, palms down, on their own chest. The gesture symbolizes goodwill and that you greet the other person with an open heart.

Kenya, from Denise: The usual greeting is “Habare za asa bui?” meaning “What is the news this morning?” or “Habare za mchana” for afternoon. Usually, it is shortened to “Habare.”

Nigeria, from Tina: Sanu, How was your night?

Nicaragua, from Amanda: Kiss on the right cheek, but more of a cheeks close together with slight kiss noise.

South Sudan, from Danielle and Lucy: a hand shake and ask “how are you?” and also “how is your family, home, job..” as a sign of respect you might shake hands while placing your left hand on your right arm. When good friends go to shake hands they often slap their hands together like a high five handshake combo.

Uganda, west Nile region, from Elizabeth: One tribe greets by grasping the right hand of the person bring greeted, then touching the person’s hand to the greeter’s chin, then forehead (or forehead, then chin.)

Thailand, from Dorette: A ‘wai’ – palms facing each other (like praying position) and you bend a little while saying ‘sawadeeka’ if you are a lady and ‘sawadee kap’ if you are a man.

Indonesia, from Mary: In rural Java, you say, “Good Morning, or afternoon, evening. Where are you going?” No kissing, seldom a hand shake or a hug. If you know the people the question is “Have you taken your bath yet?”

Paraguay, from Monica: “Air kiss” each cheek. Except men to men, they handshake.

Australia, from Kami: “GDay. How ya goin?” and a kiss on the cheek for a friend.

US, Minnesota, from Tamzan: In Minnesota, we only speak to people we know. (Similar to in Idaho, from Mere)

US, Maine, from Susan: As cars pass each other, drivers lift their index finger off the top of the steering wheel. If the drivers are friends, there is also a kind of backwards nod.

Philippines, from Mary: Filipino greeting— KUMUSTA

South Korea, from Shannon: Seoul: “Anyanghasaiyo” with a bow (usually just a head bow, but if the person you’re greeting is a generation older, you bow at the waist, even repeatedly)

US, Hawaii, from Shannon: More formally, it’s a kiss on the right cheek (cheeks touching, air kiss) for girl-to-girl and girl-to-boy, but never boy-to-boy. Casually, it’s calling “howzit” loudly with a shaka.

Switzerland, from Melissa: “Guete Morge” (in the morning) otherwise “Grüezi” or “Grüezi mittenand” (the last part means to everyone…so if you are greeting more than one person). What you do: say those words if you are passing folks on the stairwell, on the hiking trail, and keep on walking. If you are meeting up with people on purpose: if you are acquainted well, its three alternating kisses on the cheeks. If you are friends, then a hug.

Ethiopia, from Sherri: Men shake hands and shoulder bump. Women at least 3 kisses on the cheek.

Holland, from Olga: “Hoi!” And it’s usually three kisses.

Romania, from Alice: Before about 9am: “Buna dimineata,” from 9am to about 6pm: “Buna ziua,” after 6pm: “Buna seara.” Among evangelical Christians these are replaced by: Pace (peace). Two women will kiss each cheek. A man with a woman he knows well may also involve a double cheek kiss. Men shake hands.

Afghanistan, from Caroline: Women to women or men to men, three kisses on the cheek, right, left right. Hold hands and say at the same time, pretty much over the top of one another “how are, are you well, how is your family? how is your mother? is everyone well? Praise be to God.” You say all that with few pauses and then, if you really want to know you take a breath and say, “You. Are you well?” If a woman or man is greeting the other gender, no eye contact, no touching, place your hand over your heart and ask the same rapid questions, but no personal follow up.

Afrikaans culture, from Jocelyn: Shake hands with people you don’t know but with friends it’s a quick kiss on the lips.

Korea and Cambodia, from Cassie: Bow and say hello using different forms of the word depending on your relationship with the person you’re greeting. The deeper the bow the more respect is shown, so to elders and superiors you bow from the waist and to peers you may bow just your head. There are also different versions of the word “hello” signifying formality similar to English (i.e. hello, hi, hey). In Cambodia hold your palms together pointing upward close to your body and bow slightly. The height at which you hold your hands signifies levels of respect. To peers you put your hands at chest-level, to parents and teachers at mouth-level, to the king at forehead level.

Somali/Afar culture in Djibouti, from Rahma: Women and men shake hands and kiss the hand of the person they’re greeting. When you’re greeting an older person you kiss the forehead/top of the head. The younger greeter is always the one to stand up first to greet an old person. In cities, 2 or 3 kisses on the cheeks, handshakes, or “Salam” with your hand on your heart.

US, deep South, from Gillian: A brief hug among women and/or sometimes a sort-of-kiss on the cheek with older ladies. Men greet with a firm handshake or a hug. Lots of “sir” and “ma’am” whenever talking with someone even slightly older.

I think it is obvious that greeting people is extremely important and how to do it is one of the first things we need to learn and incorporate as we move abroad. But it also gets confusing, especially in areas with multiple traditions mashed together.

Rhonda wraps it up pretty well: We are at an international school in South America. So, with the nationals, we either kiss on the cheek or shake hands -depending on the situation. With the North Americans we shake hands or hug and with the Asians we nod, shake hands or kiss on the cheek. Those are our three largest populations. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. It can be kind of complicated.

How do you greet people where you live?

Adventures in Awkward

 A little humor for your weekend…

Disclaimer:
If you struggle with prim and properness to the point of easily offended you should not read this post.  There are words that are used to describe human bodies.
One day my husband, Troy, declared that his “life had become far too weird for description.”
I beg to differ and am going to try to describe.  It might very well be far too weird…. But not too weird for description.
Late morning on a Saturday I arrived at a house we were overseeing for teen-moms in Haiti. The young ladies had been invited to swim and spend some time over at our house.  They’d been informed of my arrival time in advance but in true Haitian style they did not begin to shower, change, pack, or get ready until they saw my face standing in their kitchen.  Like many warm climate cultures, time is not a thing.Eventually we made it to the car. At least one of us was annoyed. Five young women, three babies, and I packed into the truck.  We arrived at our house quickly, it was just a few blocks from where they lived.

The young women and their three sons all came in and sat down.  No one talked. We all sat staring at one another. There were moments of awkward before I asked why in the heck they were so quiet?  “We’re not used to it here” they replied.  I looked to Troy to do his comedy routine or lighten the mood.  He gave me a look that said, “This was your idea.”

We got warm bread from the little bakery across the street. We all made sandwiches with the bread and the conversation started flowing a little more freely.  After we ate I asked the ladies if they wanted to swim or watch a movie?  Everyone squealed at the idea of swimming.  I had taken my stupid pill that morning because it never occurred to me to qualify if they knew how to swim.  I figured if you are signing up to swim, and even squealing about swimming, that means you know how to swim.  First world (rookie) mistake.

The ladies did not own swim suits.  There had never been a reason for them to own suits. They were all size negative something on bottom and something not so easily defined or described on top…  ample we’ll call it.My teenage daughter handed out running shorts to all five of them but we were a little bit stumped on the tops.  They all thought wearing their bra as a swim suit top was sufficient and since it was the only thing we had, we went with it.We learned early in our time in Haiti that breasts are not really a thing here. No one cares if you see them, no one gets all worked up about them, they just don’t do in this culture what they do in most North American cultures. They are not necessarily something to be uncomfortable about seeing.  Modesty or concern about what is showing on top is not on the radar for the vast majority. Showing a boob is like showing a foot – of little consequence.

In our first years here Troy regularly encountered female employees lifting their shirt to wipe sweat off their face as he spoke with them, or showing him a boob rash or infection before he had a chance to run for cover.  More than once he found himself consulting on issues of the breasts. (A breast consultant as it were.)  Let’s just say he saw some things in the early years.

One time when he was very sick with Dengue Fever, a bra-less woman holding only a shirt around her front half showed up at our door asking to visit him.  Not gonna lie, my willingness to embrace the culture pretty much ended right there.  Sorry topless lady, you cannot visit my husband bedside.  All this to say, we’ve been totally desensitized to boobs.

ring_buoysFive young women headed across the drive way in their shorts and bras to swim.   After they got in through the gate, one by one they hopped in.  The fourth girl into the water was  five months pregnant.  She jumped into the deep end. She did not know how to swim. 

What felt like four lifetimes (but was really five seconds) passed while I set the child I was holding down on the driveway and jumped in to pull the drowning pregnant girl to the shallow end.  There was nothing very heroic about it. I envision all good rescues starting with the lifeguard , dressed in a red Speedo, swimming expertly across open choppy waters, muscles glistening in the sun, hair sun-dyed the perfect streaky blonde. This particular rescue was quite a bit less Baywatch.

I was instantly in contact with the drowning person. It took three seconds start to finish.  No time for the sun to glisten at all.

At that point we paused and called for a pretty crucial moment of clarity. We spent a little time determining who could swim.   That seemed wise what with five people already in the pool.  It turned out that only one girl  actually knew how to swim.

Those of us not swimming were helping with the three babies and our own small army of children and we were kind of chuckling about how dumb we are.  We were not surprised when two or three girls got out of the pool to check out our son’s bikes.  Next thing you know, they started riding the bikes around the driveway and what we very generously call our yard.

It occurred to me to ask my husband  when his friend Harold was coming over to work on his computer.  Troy shrugged and said “any time”.   Harold was new to Haiti.  I asked Troy if it might be wise to give Harold a heads up about the scene upon opening our front gate. Troy thought about it and said, “Yeah. Probably.”

Troy called Harold and this is what I heard him say – “Hi Harold. You’re still coming?  Okay. Well. Uh.  Here’s the thing. We’ve lived here a while so maybe some really odd things have become sort of normal to us.  Uh.  Ok.  I’m just calling to tell you that there are teenage girls riding bikes in their bras in my yard.  That might be sort of alarming to you. So I thought I’d tell you.”

I was laughing so hard by the time Troy finished his awkward explanation.  The absurdity of it all was hilarious.  Troy made is deceleration again: “My life is far too weird for description.”

(Now proven untrue by the way.)

The funnier part was that when Harold arrived he walked in and toward us at champion race-walker speed, across the driveway straight into the house without looking left or right.  He clearly wanted no part in the bizarre happenings at our house that day. We couldn’t blame the poor guy.

Modesty is defined differently from culture to culture.  Things that are considered provocative in one place, do not cause even so much as a raised eyebrow in another.
Do you have things that you have grown used to seeing that once made you squirm?  
I have laughed at this awkward moment many times over the years, but we all know that sometimes it is a bit more difficult to laugh and challenging to navigate.
Any moments, funny or awkward, you’d like to share?

Words Matter

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In health care we have a story we call “The 71-Million Dollar Word Story”.

It involves a young man from Cuba, the absence of a skilled interpreter, and a misdiagnosis.

The man was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. He was riding around with his friend when he complained of a bad headache. He thought it was because of the strong smell of gas in his friend’s car but by the time he got home the pain was so severe that he was crying.  He went into a coma soon afterward and was transferred to a local hospital in a comatose state. The family was sick with worry as they waited in the emergency room for this man to be assessed. The word ‘intoxicado’ was used and, in the absence of a professional interpreter, it was assumed that the young man was ‘intoxicated’, had taken a drug overdose and was suffering the effects. The family had no idea this was the way the words were interpreted. Had they known they could have attested that the young man never used drugs or alcohol, that health was extremely important to this young athlete. Rather, ‘Intoxicado’ was a word used in Cuba to mean a general state of being unwell because of something you ate or drank. It was the only word they could think of to express the sudden onset of his symptoms.

The misinterpretation of this word caused a misdiagnosis resulting in an 18-year-old becoming a quadriplegic, for in reality he had suffered a brain bleed and lay for two days in a hospital bed without proper treatment. Had the hospital staff made the correct diagnosis the man would have left the hospital in a few days, on his way to college and a normal life.

This tragic event resulted in a lawsuit and if this man lives to be 74, he will receive a total payment of 71 million dollars.

Because words matter.

Words are our primary way of conveying everything from symptoms to silliness.

All misuse of words doesn’t result in tragedy. Sometimes the results are humorous. Like when Pepsi translated a “Come Alive! You’re the Pepsi Generation!” ad into Chinese it was translated literally as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”. Or when the “Got Milk”  campaign was adapted for a Spanish market, the phrase was understood as “Are you lactating”.  And then there was the more personal time when my friend called a Pakistani man a laxative instead of by his name – just the slip of one sound resulted in a not easily forgotten faux pas.

Because words matter.

Those of us who work across cultural boundaries understand and experience this on a daily basis. From asking for juice at a local grocery store to communicating during emergency situations, we need our words. Words are something we miss most when we first arrive in a country. We know what it is to struggle to communicate, to struggle to find words.

Most of all, we long for words to communicate the gospel story, long to put words together to form sentences and thoughts that have meaning; life-giving, God-breathed meaning.

There’s a well-known story in the New Testament where Jesus used words, words to convey living truth to a thirsty heart. He used words that confound and challenge, attract and puzzle. He used words with a woman who was culturally from a completely different background than his own. He communicated across cultural barriers and boundaries to a woman at a well who was just getting water, a normal part of her every day life. Jesus used words to change a woman’s life.  He used words to change hearts and ultimately an entire community.

Every time I tell the story of the 71 million dollar word, I am challenged anew. For as big and as tragic as the 71 million dollar word is, there are many times when our words have eternal implications that go beyond lawsuits and tragic life events.

Words matter. And so I work to use words in a way that brings hope and life to thirsty hearts.

How have you used words in the past week to bring life to the community where you live? Have you longed to use words more effectively lately? Join the conversation through the comments.

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

 

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