Storytelling

Troy

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

~              ~              ~             ~

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

 

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

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

“This is My Fate” A Lesson in Cultural Humility

As soon as the angry words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I was speaking to Rehmet, the woman who helped me care for my kids and my home.

She was a Punjabi woman, uneducated, illiterate, with a smile that stretched across a beautiful, weathered face and a personality as big as her smile.

We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and Rehmet had come into my life by way of her husband who had done some handiwork for us around the house. She had five children and lived in a slum on the outskirts of the city. She was tireless in her energy and her talking. At one point I despaired to my mom that I couldn’t understand her. “She speaks so quickly!” I wailed. “My Urdu can’t keep up”. My mom began to laugh – “Don’t worry” she said. “She’s actually speaking Punjabi”.

Fate - Homes in a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, Pakistan. [1500x1000] - Imgur

(photo credit)

We had slowly developed a relationship that went far beyond employee/employer. I considered her my friend. We would sit down with tea, communicating with my limited Urdu and her fluent Punjabi. We would mate socks together, cook, scrub vegetables, and rearrange furniture. She loved my kids, and I thought I loved her.

But there we were. A Pakistani woman and an American woman side by side, me letting my tongue loose. She had ruined some clothes by bleaching them and I was angry. After all, if this had happened in the United States I would voice disapproval over the mistake and demand my money back.

But, I was not in the United States.

Looking back on the event, I cringe in embarrassment. I don’t even remember what the clothes looked like – but I will never forget the sadness and resignation on Rehmet’s face. She looked as though she had been kissed by a Judas, betrayed by one she thought she knew.

I began to apologize. My speech, so articulate while angry, suddenly lost any semblance of cohesion. I was fumbling over my words, over my grammar, most of all over my ugly heart.

She looked at me with tired, brown eyes, her gaze steady and unyielding. Then without pause, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is my fate.”

I went cold. I would rather have heard anything but this. I would rather she yelled, screamed, got sarcastic, quit the job… anything would have been better.

I, the person who talked long and wrote hard about wanting to empower people, had taken advantage of what I knew to be a cultural value – a servant is subservient to the employer. In a culture where she was a minority as a woman and as a Christian she would never have other opportunities, this was her fate. Even if she wanted to walk out on the job, she couldn’t have. Rehmet did not have choices and I had used that against her. I had taken advantage of education, relative wealth, and influence in my ridiculous reaction to a simple mistake.

And I had done this, subconsciously knowing that it would pack a mighty punch. That is what made it so painfully wrong. My white-skinned entitlement made me cringe. Who was I? Why had I reacted this way

It was important to confess – to Rehmet, but also to God. For I had acted in a way that hurt another, had wounded knowing she had no recourse.

Rehmet and I were able to repair the relationship, largely because of her generosity of spirit and sheer joy in life. In her bucket of life experience, this was small change and she would not remain low for long. But the story has stayed with me, for it reminds me of how important it is to have cultural humility.

For cultural humility demands a process of self-evaluation and critique; a constant check of attempting to understand the view of another before we react and recognizing our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up a role as expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture.

It’s a hard subject that demands honesty but what do you do when you have caused offense? When you have wounded in a place where you are a guest? When you have exhibited cultural superiority instead of cultural humility?

By Marilyn Gardner

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

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 Changing Face of Missions

I want us to consider how globalization is effecting us as missionaries. Fritz Kling wrote a book entitled “The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church” His book will be the backdrop for our discussion. In it he identifies two characters; Missions Marm and Apple Guy.

The Missionary
By: Marc Milligan

Missions Marm – An older, single woman who loaded her trunk (or perhaps even a coffin packed with belongings) onto a ship or plane for her trip to the field, knowing she would only see “home” for an extended furlough every five years. Communication was by sporadic mail service. A lifetime of service seemed too short to accomplish the task.

Brett, the surfer  dude with a taste for big fat............
By: thefuturistics

Apple Guy – a young, hip family man, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and sporting scraggly facial hair who excels at multi-tasking and staying in constant communication with those at home. His family would soon fly into join him for a three-year commitment after renting out the house they were maintaining in the United States. The goodbyes were brief because family is planning a  visit for a sight-seeing trip in a few months.

“Mission Marm” had given up all of her Western accoutrements and conveniences to serve in any way or place that she was needed. “Apple Guy” brought his gadgets and toys with him to a place he had chosen.

The changing of the missions guard brings up several questions:
– Will the next generation bring enough depth and commitment to difficult cross-cultural assignments?
– Are older missionaries prepared to minister and teach Christian faith to people in complex and changing cultures?
– Will Apple Guy and contemporaries know how to forge relationships in less developed and less powerful countries?

Kling states, “Right now, over 400,000 Christian missionaries are living in countries other than their own…the future of the global church will look very different. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky is reputed to have explained why he always seemed to be the first player to the puck: “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where the puck is going to be.” I wonder…if the global church (is) skating to where the puck was going to be.”

While many of us identify with Apple Guy (we are, after all, reading a blog), can we learn from and embrace the strength of a Mission Marm? In my twenty plus years I have seen many changes in missions (think no email, Skype, or smart phones). While toting my Apple products, I can see a distinct difference in the thinking and attitudes of younger missionaries.

Don’t think: “How will missions adapt?”

Think: “How will I adapt?”

Here are some thoughts for discussion:

How can we maintain the strength and commitment of a Missions Marm?
What do we need to guard against in being Apple Guys?
How can we draw on the strengths from both generations to accomplish the task?

Let’s Discuss!!

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

——

For more about this topic, I encourage you to pick up The Meeting of the Waters.

Avoiding a Messiah Complex (with a Giveaway!)

Do I have your attention? (if not, keep reading…there will be a giveaway later on!)

Do you really think missionaries view themselves as a Messiah to the people they reach?

No, but this complex starts with a small thought, attitude, or even temptation.

That temptation is rooted in arrogance.

What!?

Missionaries being arrogant?

Aren’t the words associated with missions, words like “service, suffering, and sacrifice?” How could that lead to arrogance?

Our perceived external humility in serving others, can easily lead us into internal pride.

Being a missionary feeds our human desire to be indispensable or needed. It feels good to hear people say they could not make it without us.

Some rights reserved by Israel Defense Forces

I listen to young missionaries proclaim their desires all the time:

“To rescue people out of their poverty.”
“To help those who cannot help themselves.”
“I know I have something to offer these people.”

If we are not careful, this youthful zeal can work its way deep in our hearts. It begins with a legitimate desire to help. Slowly, subtly, this godly desire turns into an air of superiority. Pride at its root says “I am better than them.”

I’ve had numerous times in my missions career where my desire to give and serve was superseded by a focus on what I was getting out of the work, or at least what I thought I was earning from God.

For me, it stemmed from a false perception which believed climbing the ladder of good works endeared me more to the Father.

If we have a misunderstanding of grace and our acceptance from God, our service can quickly become a merit badge of honor. Worse yet, it could be a way to work off our bad deeds, attempting to balance the cosmic scales of good and bad.

I meet many missionaries who are doing great things, but for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been one.

Jesus reserved some harsh words for these people, the Pharisees. (Matt. 23:27)

As missionaries, is our service an attempt to climb the ladder to God?
Do we desire to be indispensable to those we serve, because deep in our hearts; we must be for us to feel “ok’ with God.
If people don’t need us, have we lost our value, losing one of the greatest tools we have to earn the acceptance of God?

I realize these are drastic examples.

We must ask ourselves if we can see even a hint of this attitude as we look in the mirror.

How often in our marriages do we serve hoping to be noticed, rather than being motivated by love? It is the default mode of the human condition and is more common than we would like to admit.

Our society tells us the only way to success is to be bigger, better, faster, or stronger. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate our missions and service in light of the free gift of grace.

Are we giving to get?
Is our service more for those we minister too or for our own personal peace of mind and security with God?
If people did not “need” us, would we feel less valuable?

In my book, Death of the Modern Superhero: How Grace Breaks our Rules, I explore how the world pushes us to be superheroes in our families, marriages, and even in ministry. The world tells us nothing is for free; hard work is the key to achieving anything.

The gospel of grace breaks these rules. We are accepted by God and cannot improve the work of Christ by our missionary efforts.

In our missionary endeavors, do the “rules” of the world motivates us more then the grace of God? They shouldn’t.

We don’t have to be superstar missionaries.
Rather our success is defined through faithfulness and obedience.
We like to say, “If we only impact one, it is worth it.” But deep down, would our pride allow us to be at peace with this?

Applying grace to our missionary lives is not a once off event, but rather a continual journey of soul-searching and contemplation. We may begin to find success in one area, only to have another rear its head. For the rest of our lives (and ministry), we will need to apply the message of grace on the missions field.

How have you experienced this temptation? What tips can you offer to avoid  a “Messiah Complex”?

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

——

I would like to give away 10 copies of my book to readers of A Life Overseas. You will have your choice of Kindle or print versions (print version only available in US/Canada/South Africa).

In order to enter, all you need to do is:

1. Subscribe to receive A Life Overseas posts in your inbox.
or
2. Like our A Life Overseas page on Facebook.

That’s it! Simple! Both these tasks can be accomplished in the right hand column of this page.

Already subscribed or a Facebook friend? No Worries, You are Already entered to win! Entries close Feb. 13th.

Want a bonus entry? Head on over to Chris’ blog, www.nosuperheroes.com, to find an additional way to win a book.

Thanks for your faithful support and input to  A Life Overseas.

Surviving Christmas as a Missionary

As a missionary, Christmas can be a season which summons our most intense feelings of homesickness.

-You are away from friends and family. No matter how broken family structures become, people always get together over the holidays.

-The nation you serve in often does not “feel” like Christmas. The first warm weather Christmas I experienced was a shock to my senses. Now, I find Christmas sneaks up on me as I serve in a nation with a lesser degree of the materialistic, “mall decorated prior to Thanksgiving” kind of atmosphere. It just doesn’t look or feel like the holidays.

– Most individuals and families have more traditions wrapped up in Christmas than any other time of the year. Missing those family gatherings or celebrations can bring a sense of isolation and loneliness.

As I write this, my family is on a short furlough in the United States for Christmas. We attempt to return once every three years for the holidays. But in those other two years, we have incorporated a few strategies to both survive and celebrate being away during the “merriest” time of the year.

Some rights reserved by riverrunner22 on Flckr.com

Here are some tips I have learned from 20 plus years on the missions field:

1. Acknowledge Things Will Be Different
In order to succeed in celebrating, you have to be in the right frame of mind, or you start miserable. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking we can make a “mini-American” (or wherever you are from) Christmas on location.

2. Establish New Traditions
How does the nation you are in celebrate? Embracing a new custom can be one of the best parts of the season.

South African’s celebrate with the braai. A braai is a  BBQ on steroids. It take most of the day while you slowly cook food and socialize. The main course is meat and more meat. Chicken is considered a vegetable. We started a tradition of cooking some nice meat, making a casual afternoon of relaxing and enjoying the company of some of our friends.

We have also added a camping vacation to this season as Christmas falls over the kid’s summer school holidays.

3. Something Old, Something New
Find a tradition you can replicate in addition to new customs. We still find a Christmas tree, even though it makes the tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” look like a prize winner! Our kids make ornaments rather than pulling antiques out of storage.

4. Find Community
Don’t spend it alone.

Let me say this again. Find someone to celebrate with.

Self pity and mourning will creep in otherwise. Invite friends, others missionaries, or even some of your co-workers for a meal and fellowship.

5. Use Technology
You can still “attend” the gatherings back home with the increase in technology. As you tell the stories of your celebration, don’t be surprised if people at home are a bit jealous of the nice weather and fun you are having!

So, if you are discouraged. Don’t give up.

Keep trying things till you embrace a new tradition.

Whether you are home or abroad, invest the time it takes to make this celebration special.

All throughout the Bible, celebrations were times of remembrance. Israel needed to pause and takes stock; remembering who they were and what God had done for them.

Don’t let a change in geography rob you or your family from creating memories. And of course, celebrate Jesus breaking into time and space, forever changing the planet.

Merry Christmas!

What are some of your overseas (or domestic) tips for missionaries or expats?

 

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

The Most Important Question for a Missionary

This may be the most important missionary message I have ever shared. It certainly is one I must apply the most frequently.

The longer I am in missions, the more I gain a sensitivity to a perceived sense of superiority. It is not intended, but it is the message we often communicate.

I hear it with new, zealous missionaries who are convinced they have something to offer the poor helpless souls of such and such nation.

If I am honest, I still hear it from my own mouth after twenty plus years.

CC on Flckr by by babasteve

Well meaning, willing to serve; of course
But dripping with an unintended superiority complex; yes

Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility,  interviewed countless people on the field, asking them about the experiences they’ve had with missionaries. A common response was one which causes us to think.

“Missionaries could more effectively minister the gospel if they did not think they were superior to us”.

Elmer, in his book , raise the questions of attitudes. As missionaries, do we minister from a desire to serve or a sense of superiority.

He defines servanthood as “the conscious effort to choose one direction and one set of values over another.”

This is difficult in normal life, but when we cross cultural barriers, the choice becomes much more difficult; but perhaps even more essential.

Elmer goes on to state, “Many missionaries are like me: well intentioned, dedicated and wanting to serve, but also naive and in some denial about what it means to serve in another culture.”

Desire to serve is not enough, we must guard against ministering from a place of superiority.

Here are some beliefs or statements that may help us gauge how we are doing:

  • I need to correct their error (meaning I have superior knowledge, a corner on the truth).
  • My education has equipped me to know what is best for you (so let me do most of the talking while you do most of the listening and changing).
  • I am here to help you (so do as I say).
  • I can be your spiritual mentor (so I am your role model).
  • Let me disciple you, equip you, train you (often perceived as let me make you a clone of myself).

“Superiority cloaked in a desire to serve is still superiority”

Ouch!

The Bible calls this pride.

Jesus himself came to Earth as a suffering servant. “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Although superior, He did not cling to that, taking the form of a servant. (Philippians 2:7)

Whether you serve cross-culturally or domestically, we must ask ourselves if we are ministering from a sense of superiority.

Take a good, hard look. It might be painful, but your effectiveness will benefit from it.

When is the last time we learned something from the people we are serving?
What aspect of the foreign culture have you implemented into your life?
Can we receive from those we serve, or do we always have to be in the place of power as the giver?

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