Money Gives us Power over People

Last month at A Life Overseas, we discussed the dangerous stories we can tell in order to raise funds.

This requires further consideration if we provide funds, pay national workers, or are just generous in any way. While the debate on this one is hot and heavy, I doubt we can make absolute statements.

“Always and never” are tricky when settings, organizations, and methods are so different around the world.

What I would like to look at is the power money gives us over people.

Even something as simple as “good, ole Godly generosity”; sharing money puts us in the place of power. As foreign workers, we must always be aware of the power we have (real or perceived) over those we work with.

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Here are some things to consider about the power of money:

1. Clogs open and honest conversation. Disagreement or varying opinions might be silenced when a person feels they can’t “bite the hand feeding them.”

2. Puts someone in the receiver position and us as the giver. When possible, I would recommend anonymous giving. Once, I was given a wise suggestion of using an intermediary to deliver the funds. In our case, I used an African who was a peer. This created separation between the giver and receiver which was needed as we worked side by side.

3.Places hurdles in communication. If we offend or hurt someone, it no longer only an issue of confrontation. In many cultures, these conversations with leaders are difficult, but now we have the added obstacle of a being a leader who gives money!

4. Makes us think we have the right to criticize. When giving, it is a small step to feel we have the power to tell people how to use the money. We must guard against criticizing spending habits. There is a place for discipleship and education, but this must come carefully.

I had the biggest fallout of any teaching from a sermon when I spoke about money. I was called a racist who did not want Africans in missions. Ouch!

While painful, these people felt free to express their opinions because I was not personally giving them funds. I never would have seen the delicate nature of the topic if they stayed silent to keep their wallets full.

5. Moves us into a parent / child relationship. Do we prevent people from hearing bad news? “The donor did not give this month”, etc. We can feel the need to protect people from reality to cushion the blow. We cannot take that power, even if we feel it protects. They are not children, but adults.

6.Brings Pride. Being the missionary who gives requires humility. We cannot possibly know all the pressures, demands, and issues built into a culture. We do not always know best.

7.Keeps People in Poverty. If we help people, but only as much as the country’s economics warrant, we may actually pay people less than we should, thereby keeping them in poverty. I’ve seen this happen when NGO’s give people a minimal amount, unintentionally keeping them in poverty.

As you can see there are many issues to consider when money is involved. Money is not evil. The people we reach out to need it.

The real issue is HOW we engage with money. This is something each missionary needs to ask in light of the culture, customs, and situation they find themselves in.

One size does not fit all. But, integrity with finances is timeless.

What is the expression of money with integrity you are called to walk in?

What other resources can you suggest for study in this area?

 

Photo credit: 21 The Coins of the Money Changers via photopin (license)

Devil Dance

Halloween. Day of the Dead. All Saints Day. This week we observe the earthly and underworld of the spiritual realm. As I regale you with tales of Bolivia, rife with ancient connections to the other-world, consider the spirituality embedded in your dwelling place. Let us begin.

The Devil’s Uncle

I’ve visited Potosí in the mountains of Bolivia a few times. It claims the title of populated city with the highest altitude in the world at 4,100 meters (13,451 feet), a high place. It used to be filthy rich. Conquistadores stripped their silver mines bare then raped and pillaged the land. The duress of depressing poverty left only meager spelunking tours and an ominous statue of the Devil’s Uncle in every cave.

Residents visit the caves regularly to sprinkle on the statues coca leaves, cigarettes and other items to appease the bad tempered spirit. Nicknamed Tío his visage takes many forms prominently displayed throughout the shrunken city. The ignorance of the rage of the Tío is told to have led to the atrocious devastation Potosí suffered. The fear of his punishment grips the hearts of many Bolivians.

Some PG images in this music video filmed in Bolivia, shared solely for cultural context:

Devil Dance

A dispute caused by the actions of a Peruvian pageant contestant had leaders claiming that the ‘Devil Dance’ belongs to Bolivia alone. Called the ‘Diablada’ in Spanish, the dance interprets the fight between good (the arc angel) and evil (the Devil and the seven deadly sins). The dramatic costumes, flailing arms, and vigorous jumping dance steps leave a deep impression on the onlookers. Centuries ago Jesuit choreographers intended to send a clear message to the tribal people of the land that would one day become: Perú, Bolivia, and Chile.

This dance is kept alive as a devout remembrance of the powers in Bolivia. Many believe that to allow this brazen display of syncretism to be extinguished would signal the downfall of the nation.

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Blessings and Curses

One lady said to me, “I am a Christian, not a Catholic. Though, I do think it is important we observe cultural traditions so that our children can proudly carry on the Bolivian culture to the next generation.” She said this to explain why she practices the first Friday of the month ritual called the Q’owa during which elements are burned so as to fill the house or establishment with a smoke of blessing. The elements include coca leaves, tiny sugar statues, and dried animal fetus.

During this purification ritual one procures blessings from the Pachamama to ward off curses of all sorts, according to their practitioners.

Spiritual Warfare

These are only three examples of spiritual engagement in Bolivia: burnt animal sacrifices to the Pachamama, dances displaying deep seated beliefs of powerful principalities, and gifts laid before the Devil’s Uncle by people cowering in caves. I could go on. I imagine you, too, could share about the spiritual practices of the people of your nation.

Related articles:

Participating in the religious ceremonies of other faith traditions
This I Used To Believe
Can Nations Change?
Voice of the National ~ an uncomfortable conversation

Since the start of this blog collaborative people have requested articles on the topic of ‘Spiritual Warfare’. Due to the beautiful diversity of denominational and theological beliefs represented in our global readership we the editors have requested the team of writers avoid attempts to indoctrinate or persuade, thereby excluding people. Rather, we present what we believe and invite people to respectful conversations in hopes to promote encouragement and growth.

Coca: Repurpose or Eradicate

Bolivia’s top export is coca leaves. It happens to be the main raw ingredient of cocaine, though it does have many other uses. Some believe that eradication is the only solution for the evils produced by drug lords. Others are convinced that the crops can be repurposed for harmless uses.

Might these be two different approaches to the spiritual practices of the nations we serve?

We can enter with the belief we are called to eradicate evil and any evidence it ever existed. Like in Chile where the 31st of October is not Halloween but legally observed as the national holiday: The Day of Evangelical Churches and Protestants.

Or we can take the approach of repurposing, or redeeming, the spiritual practices. The famed story of the Peace Child shows us a missionary who saw the story of Christ in the practices of the tribes who would offer a child to establish peace. Salvation came to the people through the message of this tradition.

Ghost Stories

Under the influence of the oppression of evil spirits in your life and the lives of the people of your nation, what works? Let’s talk about it. Share your stories of liberation from the hand of the enemy. Share the practices which brought freedom.

photo credit: Bolivia Travel Site

Avoiding Mission Drift

We’ve seen Christian organizations publicly wrestle with change in recent times.

InterVarsity is facing this pressure to allow non-Christians to be a part of their leadership. This is resulting in them being banned from certain campuses. Will they change some of their core values?

World Vision battled with adopting new policies, leading to a back and forth battle as to whether this caused them to drift. Unfortunately this happened in full view of millions.

Even pawn shops have drifted. They were founded by the Fransicians as an alternative to loan sharks, designed to help the poor. Over time, pawn shop owners lost their identity and drifted from their purpose.

Could this ever happen to our charities?

Tale of two organizations:

Two organizations were founded by Presbyterian ministers to help sponsor children in need. One drifted.

Child Fund, formerly Christian Children’s Fund has nothing to do with Christianity anymore, while Compassion International has remained mission true.

Both Harvard and Yale started as Christian educational institutions set on developing Christian formation. Neither are today.

Mission drift is inevitable if you do nothing to prevent it.

We must take steps to actively prevent it. It is the natural course for organizations without focused and deliberate steps to stop it

Peter Greer is the president of HOPE International, a global faith-based microfinance organization based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He recently spoke at the Catalyst Conference I attended.

He has written a fantastic book, Missions Drift, which I highly recommend. All of the above examples are detailed this book.

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Missions True Organizations

“In its simplest form, Missions True organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all costs. They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable (unchanging): their values and their purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.”

This does not mean Missions True organizations do not change, adapt, or strive for excellence. Jesus’ ministry looked different for different folks.

Young life started with barbershop quartets as an evangelism strategy. These would not be nearly as efffective today, so they adapted while maintaining their mission.

5 Things Missions True Organizations Do:
1. Recognize Christ is the difference.
2. Affirm that faith sustains them.
3. Understand that functional atheism is the path of least resistance. (becoming Christian in name only)
4. Be willing to make hard decisions to prevent drift.
5. Differentiates means from mission – changes to reinforce core identity, not drift from it.

The book details countless examples of this and how organizations can give themselves check-ups.

Greer lists 7 Steps to prevent drift (these are all entire chapters in the book.) I’ve detailed these to a greater extend on my website, NoSuperHeroes. Click here to read, 7 Steps for Preventing Missions Drift.

The book is a very encouraging read to those of us in faith-based missions and development. He shares an incredible quote from Matthew Paris, a confirmed atheist, who wrote the following in the British Times.

Now as a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGO’s, government projects, and international aid efforts. The alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

Staying Mission True in our lives will bear fruit!

The concept of drift is not isolated in our teams. It happens organizationally, but also on a personal level. Countless marriages start out well and then drift, finding themselves in a entirely different place. Our personal walk with God and mission is not exempt either.

If you believe you are immune then you are the most vulnerable.

Let’s not be naive and bury our heads in the sand. Ask the hard questions.

In what areas of life and organizations are we at risk for drift? Where has it already occurred?

For more on this interesting topic, please visit missiondriftbook.com. Remember to stop by NoSuperHeroes for further discussion from Peter’s book on the topic of Missions Drift.

photo credit: Bev Goodwin via photopin cc

What’s For Dinner?

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My husband once ate camel hump with the former president of Somaliland. He said it was gelatinous and flavorful. A big, jiggling pile of fat. Yummy.

Our first night in Somaliland we ate fried flying ants. Our boss plucked them out of the air and dropped them into a pan of melted butter. “Tastes like bacon,” he said. Welcome to the country.

In an effort to meet people and learn language, I drank unpasteurized camel’s milk in Somaliland. The ladies selling it said, “you can’t learn Somali if you don’t drink camel’s milk.” I don’t know if the milk helped me learn but I do know it helped clean out my intestines. I had to run home and barely made it to the bathroom before multiple explosions rocked my body.

At a wedding in Djibouti I received a delicacy of small bits of meat dried until beef-jerky-like and soaked in rancid butter, kept in a tightly sealed wooden jar buried in the ground for months and then smoked to add a burnt charcoal flavor. I’m sorry Somalis, I struggle to appreciate muuqmaaq.

My language helper invited me to a diiqo – the gift-giving party after a wedding, like a wedding shower. I watched her two mothers (her father has two wives and they all live together) prepare the gifts. Muuqmaaq placed in aluminum bowls and set inside xeedhos, woven baskets shaped like inverted hourglasses. The xeedhos were sealed with a mixture of dates and black pepper. The dates and pepper were mashed with the women’s bare hands until it was a sticky mush and then smeared all around the outside of the baskets, to be eaten later, when the gifts were opened.

All of this could hardly be as bad as what I prepared for my family our first years in Africa. I had no idea how to cook and lived in a country with few packaged or convenience foods and limited variety. This is a great way to lose weight. But losing so much weight is also a great way to lose wedding rings (true story).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’ve moved countries and now live in a former French colony where there is Cheese! Chicken! Eggs! Refrigeration! There is even bacon and wine. Still, we are short on peanut butter, non-chocolate cereal, and brown sugar but honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

djiboutiliciousI, oh master of the disgusting food so bad we still gag when we talk about it, actually self-published a cookbook, Djiboutilicious: celebrating culture and cooking in a country as hot as your oven. It is a compilation of recipes from men and women (and even a few kids) who have lived in the Horn of Africa for years and includes loads of photos, a few local recipes, and mainly Western food recipes using locally (in Djibouti) available ingredients. And I’m serious about that hot as your oven line, a few weeks ago my daughter and I baked cookies in our car. Just saying.

I’d like to give two copies of the book away (assuming my end-of-the-road Djibouti post office can find your end-of-the-road post office) and I’d also like to try some of your recipes. Leave a comment about the grossest thing you have ever eaten OR share a favorite recipe and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Djiboutilicious. I’ll randomly choose the winners June 20 and will inform them via email. I’m asking for your one-uppers here, so while you should probably bite your tongue at the next dinner party in your passport country, but no holds barred for this post!

What is the grossest thing you have eaten in your life overseas?

What is one of your favorite recipes?

Reflections of God

Many times in missions, we speak of the difficulties with greater frequency than the good things.

We talk about racism.
We speak of our various phases of culture shock.
Stories of being hurt by those we work with abound.
Even at times, we venture into difficult topics like trauma or loss.

What of the positive?

I don’t mean newsletter stories of lives changed or projects completed.

What do we love about the people we work with?
What traits are present in the cultures or nations we work in which serve to glorify God?

Since all human beings are made in the image of God, there are glimpses of the Almighty which shine through in all peoples, cultures, and nations.

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We can easily point out the negatives of a culture, but what of the positives?

When people meet me as an American, they are quick to point out all our deficiencies and failures as a nation. But, what of Americans generosity and value of human life resulting in simple things such as customer service, free speech, and freedom of religion.

It is so easy to see all you do not like.

Can we take a moment to pause and see the hope and treasures our nation or people reflect of God?

In South Africa, I work in a land rift with horrible crime statistics, corruption, and an all too often broken family structure.

But as a land, South Africa and her people reflect these traits of God as they are made in his image.

– A peaceful transition to democracy.
– A land of opportunity and hope for all of Africa.
– It’s people have incredible abilities in the arts, such as art, writing, and most of all singing.

People will often look at the development here and say, “This is not real Africa”. Essentially we are saying Africa can not develop and must remain poor. This nation reflects a God given ability to “take dominion” and make things better. I love that about South Africa.

And its natural beauty in many areas is second to none.

How about you?

The only rule here is – only positive things!!! (and no criticizing or critiquing others positive statements- no one can debate what I love about America because it is how I see God through her people and my nation)

So let’s go!

Share.
Rejoice.
Learn.
Worship.

What do you love about the people you work with? How do they reflect the image of God?

What are your favorite things about the cultures or nations you serve in?

Photo By Sylwia Bartyzel

A New Racism

Anyone working in missions will come face to face with the reality of racism at some point.

Historically it has been an issue of skin color. In most nations black was wrong and white was right.

I live and work in South Africa. Perhaps there has never been a nation where racism was more evident than in the apartheid regime which Nelson Mandela led a peaceful overthrow of.

While historical racism is still alive, there is a new, more subtle form of racism which is occurring.

The new racism is Western or Non-Western.shadow pyramid

We may not make these statements out loud, but in many of our minds they ring true.

Only Western people can work with money.
Only Western people can study science.
Non Westerners are not able to think in a linear way, thereby will never grasp certain concepts.
Only the Western people write about how to be African.

I’ve seen elements of this first hand.

When dealing with cultural differences, we always say things like, “Well, in the West, we do it this way…”

Where is the West anyway?

Once when speaking, I was introduced by an African gentleman. He said, “You know he is a white man, because he wrote a book!”

As you can see, this thinking goes both ways.

Do we assume those of us from the West are more capable to do things efficiently?

We stereotype that Westerners are on time and Africans are late. I know plenty of late Westerners!

This appeared in a blog post I wrote about passing off leadership of a team. I was appalled to have someone comment that, “Most often, the role we missionaries play overseas can NEVER be filled by a national. It is completely outside of their cultural understanding.”

What!?!

When we have these thoughts, I would encourage us to examine our hearts to see if we are working with a motivation of servanthood or superiority.

There is a little bit of racism in all our hearts. It is our natural, default setting of selfishness to think our view, our culture, and our perspective is the right one. I see it in my heart. Do you?

It may not be a black or white style that is what we historically define as racism.

What ways do we see a new racism at work in our nations?

If we are honest, and bold enough to say so, where do we find elements of it in our hearts?

PhotoBy By Fabio Rose

Cigarettes, Multiple Wives, and Loving Jesus

Imagine a man native to the region where you live. He gets Jesus. Grows. Starts a church. It flourishes. The dozens become hundreds. Your little missionary heart bursts with pride to see this man so successful. The church secretary and the volunteers overlook his hot temper and his prejudice towards people of a certain skin tone because, well, the church is growing, right?

Now, put a lit cigarette in that pastor’s hand while he preaches on Sunday morning. He takes a few drags and taps off the ash in an ashtray on the pulpit. He lights up a couple more before the final benediction. How many elders, do you think, would have his butt and the butts in that ashtray kicked to the curb before the sun when down on that holy Sunday?

Do I endorse smoking? Not so much. But I also don’t endorse racism.

Which one gets overlooked and which one gets condemned?

A Subculture

Issues like smoking, alcohol, styles of dress, entertainment choices, and language define and divide. These things can keep us apart from the very people we would hope to help. They cause church splits and drive wedges in mission organizations.  They hold some people out of relationship with God and bind others in a fake one.

“Jesus consistently focused on people’s center: Are they oriented and moving toward the center of spiritual life (love of God and people), or are the moving away from it? … Jesus could say that the “tax collectors and the prostitutes” who were a million miles away from the religious subculture, but who had turned, converted, and oriented themselves towards God and love, were already in the kingdom. … The “righteous” were more damaged by their righteousness than the sinners by their sin.” – John Ortberg

Bridge

Barriers and Bridges

Am I no longer a Christian because I occasionally have a beer or a glass of wine? Have I lost the faith because I consult with a counselor instead of only relying on the bible and prayer to solve problems? Does the tattoo inked on my arm separate me from the favor of God?

barrierIt may be time to redirect our energies. We can construct, reinforce, and repair our structures only to find we built a barrier instead of a bridge. We defend the standards we erect. We stay inside those high walls, unable to reach out to the people.  Then comes the sad part; others cannot get in because they lack the tricks to traverse its enormity.

Might we utilize our creativity and resources to construct bridges instead? Could we assure instead of shun? Can we accept rather than inspect?

Your Stance

Look down at your feet. Where do you stand? On a barrier or a bridge? The great thing about feet is that they move. We can modify our direction by an awareness of our motivations.

Would you support a national pastor who led well and loved Jesus, if he regularly smoked?

How about if he had tattoos? Or multiple wives? What sub-cultural barriers have we constructed, unwittingly or consciously, which may push people away from Christ? Or worse, keep us away from people?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Disappointed by A National

If you have been in missions any length of time, you have experienced disappointment with a national person you’ve trusted.

It’s not a question of if, but when.

Someone will break your trust, they might steal from you, or worse.

I know of national workers who were entrusted with a ministry only to overthrow the leader; stealing the work.

Extreme. Maybe.

But at the very least we will have people we invest in disappoint us.

It could be through sin. At times they fail in areas of money, sex, or power. Perhaps they just vanish.

I’ve recently had this happen to me…(again).

Someone I believe in and spent a lot of time with went AWOL. They fell off the deep end. The guy disappeared from the face of the Earth. Choose whatever word picture you want, he is gone.

He didn’t steal from me. There was never a hint of inappropriate action towards my wife or children. He just left.

I’m disappointed.

My story is common. So when, (again, not if), this happens how should we (I) respond?

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1. Trust
The number one response when someone lets us down is to stop trusting. We view all the nationals through the lens of one person. When one lets us down, find another to invest in.

2. Hope
I’ve seen a common trend in many shame based cultures. If someone feels like they’ve failed or disappointed a mentor, the default response is flight. We need to know that raising up men and women of God is a long journey, not a sprint. There will be failings and restarts. So with the person who has let us down, we must maintain hope that they will return. Again and again, just like someone did with us.

3. View them as people, not “nationals”
Over the years, I have heard far too many negative statements about not being able to trust nationals, questions as to their motives, or false beliefs that they simply are not “civilized” enough to succeed. That’s Rubbish! They are people. Any pastor, business leader, or human being who works with people has had the same sense of disappointment we experience. People are broken. Isn’t that the ultimate reason why we do what we do?

At the end of the day, if we are not “risking” with people enough to be disappointed at times, what are we really accomplishing?

So yes, be hurt. Be disappointed. Sigh a good sigh.

Then get back up and go back and invest in someone else. Be willing to be let down again.

(Here concludes my motivational pep talk to myself……and many others)


Please lend your voice. What points would you add for dealing with disappointment?

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

Photo by Andy Bullock77 via Flickr

The Signs of Christmas

What are the signs which point to Christmas coming?

In every culture there are different visuals which alert us to the coming of this holiday season.

When I first moved to South Africa, Christmas snuck up on me because I did not see the normal American signs. Once I learned the new signs, I could anticipate its approach.

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Here are a few signs which pop up in virtually any culture.

1. Things appear. Things which are unable to be found for most of the year, begin to appear around Christmas. Certain music, different types of food, and of course decorations. It is the time of year some people appear in church for the first time all year! Each nation is different, but all have things which appear.

2. Gifts. Some are large, some small, many spread over multiple days. But Christmas seems to universally include gifts. Children line up to meet Santa Claus or Father Christmas and make their requests known, provided they have been more nice than naughty.

3. Wrapping. More than any of other holiday or celebrate, gifts are wrapped in elaborate packaging. A quick google search reveals this to be a huge industry, netting 2.6 billion USD per year. Some estimate the amount of paper thrown away could encircle the globe over 9 times! (226,800 miles of discarded paper)

These are all signs Christmas is nearly upon us.

But these are not the true reality of Christmas, yet they can point us to what Christmas is all about. Here are three signs Christmas has come.

1. Jesus appeared. Titus 2:11 tells that “the grace of God appeared bringing salvation for all people.” Just as certain foods or decorations appear at Christmas, it reflects the true appearing that occurred. Grace came. Jesus appear. God came to Earth.

2. Jesus gave himself as a Gift. As we exchanged gifts with loved ones, it points us to the true gift which Christmas represents. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,…”

Only this gift is not based on being naughty or nice. That represents wages or what is do to us. The true gift an act of grace from God to us. We were all naughty. Jesus, unlike Santa Claus, does not weigh out the good from the bad. Rather, he forgives us and gives us what we need to learn how to be “nicer”, even though we will never perfect this.

3. Christ Wrapping Himself in Humanity. Philippians 2:6-8 describes the ultimate act of humility, when Jesus took the form of a man. “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,…” Other versions say he “wrapped himself in humanity.” Creator God taking on the form of the creation, wrapping himself in weakness. Wow.

As we see the signs of Christmas appearing, the exchanging of gifts, and the wrapping of presents; they all stand as reminders to point us to the true reality Christmas brings.

In other religions, you must appease the angry and distant gods with gifts.

In Christianity, Jesus appeared and came near, giving us the gift of salvation, as he wrapped himself in humanity.

This is the true sign of Christmas.

What other signs in your cultures or nations are signs of Christmas that point to the true meaning?

Merry Christmas!

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

Photo by D Buster via Flickr

When Cross Cultural Differences Are Shocking

I was busy working yesterday morning during my daily precious kid-free hour, when I heard my three-month-old baby give a great shriek of panicked distress from outside. It was the sort of scream that makes a mother drop everything and bolt for the source.

When I located the source he was naked, sucking frantically on his fist, and still kicking his fat legs in protest. Our housekeeper was carrying him inside. She looked at me and grinned, then pointed to the garden tap and my child’s bare, wet bottom.

“Alex poo poo,” she said.

I leaned over and patted Alex on the head.

“Welcome to the world of cross cultural differences, little one,” I said. “They’re not always going to feel comfortable.”

After spending the best part of my life so far hop-scotching around the globe (not to mention some time working in a maximum security men’s prison and some more time working with the police) I like to think that I’m fairly unshockable. But then something happens …

I meet someone at a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans, for example, who tells me they’re on a health kick that involves drinking their own urine every morning.

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Source: nydailynews.com

I visit my parents in the Philippines and learn that some penitents there mark Easter by beating themselves bloody and then recreating the crucifixion.

I go to childbirth classes in an area of Australia that some might refer to as being “well populated by hippies, tree-huggers, and granola-types.” There, one of my classmates proclaims that she’ll be having a lotus birth. Later, I learn that a lotus birth means you don’t cut the umbilical cord after the baby is born, but wrap up the entire placenta and carry it around with the baby until the cord stump rots out and falls off, “naturally” detaching the placenta.

Three weeks after we moved to Laos, I accompany my husband, Mike, on my first trip to the villages. Right in front of me – just after I’ve been introduced as Mike’s wife –the village chief turns to Mike and inquires whether he will also be taking a Lao wife during his time in Laos. He even asks this in English. It was awesome.

The other night I asked Mike about these sorts of things.

“You’ve lived and worked in 15 countries now,” I said. “What cross cultural difference has shocked you lately?”

Mike paused. I wondered if he was remembering that this article was going to end up on the internet and calculating the risks of saying anything too disparaging about the Powers That Be in our current host country.

Then he smiled.

“Once in Tajikistan, a local co-worker I didn’t know well informed me just 30 minutes before his wedding that I was going to be the best man,” he said. “That came as a bit of a shock. It also came with a lot of sheep-fat-eating and vodka-drinking responsibilities that I really didn’t want. There was also the time in a village in Uganda when the women were so happy we’d installed two borehole wells that they sang and danced for two hours without stopping.

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Occaisionally these cross-cultural shocks are wonderful – moments of surprising collision with a different sort of beauty or love or kindness, and you’re moved and humbled and enriched all at once.

Sometimes these sorts of moments are shocking simply because they fall outside the boundaries of anything we have considered before. Voluntarily drinking your own urine, for example, is just not something I’d ever thought of before that moment in New Orleans. It’s not something that I’d say is necessarily wrong. It’s just, well, icky. And I have trouble understanding how it could be a good idea to drink something your body has already disposed of as a waste product once already.

However, sometimes the shock we can feel in these cross-cultural moments goes beyond surprise. Sometimes I can’t just shrug my shoulders and think “not for me, but to each their own.” Sometimes there is a healthy dose of serious judgment mixed in there. These are the cross-cultural encounters that I find more enduringly troubling, because they force me to grapple with my fundamental ideas about right and wrong.

I think, for example, that certain widely-practiced initiation ceremonies (e.g., Female Genital Mutilation) are not just different. They’re wrong. I’m probably on pretty firm ground with FGM, but what about when it comes to other cultural sexual practices that differ markedly from the Westernized norms? What about mutilating yourself physically in the name of religious devotion? What about practices or customs that disregard or objectify women?

Sometimes it’s hard to know when a cross-cultural shock is simply a serendipitous invitation to broaden my worldview and when it’s OK to draw a line in the sand and dare to label a particular practice or custom as “wrong”.

Many of you, I know, have lived among worlds for some time now. You might have become quite practiced at waking up one morning in Arusha and then, just 48 hours later, greeting the sunrise in Los Angeles. You might feel equally comfortable shopping for vegetables at farmers markets in Bangkok or Sydney. You might even be able to switch languages (and adopt an attendant, different cultural persona) with a casual and admirable facility.

But I’d wager that cross-cultural differences still sometimes catch you completely unawares. Do share your own stories below …

Have you been shocked by a cross cultural difference lately?

And when do you think it’s ever OK to point to a different cultural practice that you find shocking and label it “wrong”?

Benefits of Raising Kids on the Mission Field

Plenty of emphasis is placed on the dangers of raising children on the mission field. The thought of crime and disease sends shivers down the spine of a parent contemplating “the life overseas.”

Choosing missions for your kids causes them miss out on grandparents and culture in our home countries.

It becomes so easy to contemplate or fear whether our children will one day resent the choice we’ve made for them.

But, let’s be honest.

There are so many benefits to living on the field and having our children grow up in this atmosphere.

Let me share a story with you we recently experienced.

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Some rights reserved by Lyn Lomasi

Our oldest son has reached the age where the initial conversations about the birds and bees need to happen. As parents, my wife and I want to tell him these things before he hears it at school.

So I planned a special night away for “the talk.” As I began to share the big picture, something became quickly apparent.

He was totally clueless! At one point, he even asked if sex was a musical instrument (sax).

My wife and I are thrilled to have had our son make it to 8 1/2 years old and be completely clueless about these things. Growing up in our home country would have rendered this impossible.

Every situation, every culture, and every nation has negatives for children. I could give you a list of the things I do not like about raising my kids on the missions field.

But, I would rather give you a list of some of the benefits.

Other perks include:
International perspective.
Interracial perspective.
Less materialistic emphasis.
Less television.
Less cynical, critical, and sarcastic.

For all these I am grateful, and I believe my children have benefitted from “A Life Overseas.”

So now, it is your turn.

We all can name a negative or two(perhaps many), or list the sacrifices we have made on behalf of our kids.

But, what if we do the opposite?

Share a few of your benefits to raising children on the mission field. 

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

“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