After Moving Season

by Ellen Bragdon

It’s September again. I’m back in Southeast Asia, and that means rainy season, so my umbrella better be in my purse at all times. I’ve stubbornly put out my fall decorations, though this place has never seen “fall,” and I’ve just paid $7 for a small head of Australian broccoli.

In June, another expat on Facebook posted, “It’s PCS (permanent change of station) season again. Thanos just snapped his fingers… and they’re gone.”

We’ve been doing this expat thing for only 2 1/2 years, and I can already count up on both hands the number of friends that we’ve made and have moved on. This summer was particularly bad for our family on the lost friends spectrum. A lot of the families that arrived when we did moved on in June. They were the ones that had power of medical attorney for our kids. They were the ones that had our extra house keys. Those relationships formed an important background of support for us. We knew they were there if we needed them.

We spent 6 weeks in the U.S. this summer soaking up the free Dr. Pepper refills, the piles of queso and chips, and the green space and playgrounds. I was ready to return to my own bed and my own space (and to a diet where I would hopefully lose the 5 lb. I gained in the U.S.) But I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel to be back in a place where I’d be reminded that some precious people weren’t going to be a part of my daily life anymore.

I said to myself that I needed to put on my big girl pants, take a deep breath, and dive in again to the endless work of making friends. I’m still saying that to myself. Saying it doesn’t make it any less hard to do, though. Some days, I’d rather curl up in my yoga pants on my couch with a book and decide to make do with friends from 18th century British classics.

“I don’t like making friends with people who are leaving.” A friend said this recently, and it got me thinking. I don’t like it, either. The problem is that if you’re an expat, your friendship pool just got really small if you’re only going to make friends with people that probably won’t leave. And even if you’ve decided to have as many local friends as possible, they can leave, too.

The leaving rate is much, much higher in expat life than it was in my old life in the U.S. Even there, though, it happens regularly. One of the families that we were closest to moved away the year before we came overseas. I’ve been texting with friends with unstable work situations in the U.S., and I’ve realized that some of them might be gone when we return. I’ve learned that the only guarantee that I’m going to get is that friends will come and go.

Here’s what I’ve decided at this point in my expat journey:

If you count the cost, the cost will often be too high. So don’t count it. Be open to love and community anyway.

A few weeks ago, I noticed another expat in our community was selling some books on our group chat, and it looked like she shared my tastes. We met, and now our oldest sons have new friends, and I have a regular coffee date. But I had to text those difficult words, “Would you like to go to coffee?”, not knowing what the answer would be.

She told me today that she strongly felt God telling her to be open to making a new friend. I (probably) only have a year left in this country, and she knows that, but she isn’t counting the cost. I thanked her for that, and I thanked God for reminding me that He will provide the relationships He thinks I need.

Another brave family invited us out for lunch after church. They saw that our family was a part of their regular routine, and they recognized their need for new friends as this year begins. We said yes, and now we have friends to go to lunch with, and they now know about a new Bible study close to them to try out.

There are valuable and beautiful relationships out there to be had, but we have to open ourselves to them. I don’t always feel strong enough to try, but I’m going pray for the strength I need. The alternative doesn’t look so great to me.

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Ellen Bragdon lives with her husband and 3 sons in Manila, Philippines. She spends her days homeschooling, searching for imported Dr. Pepper, sweating, and discovering new varieties of Asian food. You can find her at www.suburbansagagoesglobal.blogspot.com.

To My Expat Friends

Dear expat friends who have my back and hold my heart,

When I say my husband and I are arguing about packing suitcases and that my back hurts, you know what I mean. You’ve also slammed doors and said things you regret because peanut butter weighs a lot and tennis rackets don’t quite fit. Thanks for letting me vent.

You aren’t afraid of dengue fever, typhoid, or malaria. You’ve been vaccinated and have that little yellow card and your kids have the BCG scar on their upper arms. You aren’t grossed out when I mention that we deworm our entire family twice a year. Thanks for helping me feel normal, healthy even.

When I’m broken about the poverty I see and conflicted about how to respond to beggars and barely able to hold all my spiritual questions, you’ve carried it with me, and helped me process. Thank you for sharing your own messy insides.

When I haven’t had the courage or the energy to go a wedding or a funeral alone, thank you for coming with me, for dancing with me, for holding my sweaty hand, for passing me Kleenex.

When friends or family from far away experience tragedy and I can’t be with them, you don’t spout platitudes. You know the pain of a lonely grief. Thank you for letting me weep, for weeping with me. Thank you for bringing us food. When friends or family from far away experience delight and celebrations and I can’t be with them, thank you for joining me in the joy, though you don’t know them. Through your loving response to their delight, I feel your love for me.

Help me not to be the ugly expat. Help me not complain, help me not set myself apart from local friends and coworkers. Challenge me to engage and adapt. Give me a safe place to process my questions and discoveries. Come with me as I explore. Thank you for helping me discover who I am in this new place and for allowing me the space to grow and change.

Thank you for being our family on holidays and birthdays, for creatively forming our own expat traditions like Easter egg hunts through rocks and thorns and goats at the beach. Like Thanksgiving baseball games. Like day-after-Christmas camping and whale shark diving.

We probably won’t have long years together but since we are all lonely and vulnerable and feeling exposed, our conversations go to the deep waters of our hearts faster than I’ve experienced elsewhere. Thank you for being willing to jump into life with me, quickly.

Thank you for calling me when you found brown sugar at the grocery store.

Thank you for loving my children and for letting me love yours.

When we say goodbye, we don’t promise to keep in touch. We probably won’t and that’s okay. I care about you. Our friendship has been deeply true. I might follow you on Facebook or Instagram but we both need to move to the next new thing, the friends who live close by. You are always and forever welcome at my house and I know I will always and forever feel welcome and comfortable in yours, no matter what country we might live in. I will always rejoice with your good news and mourn with your losses and pain. You made these months or years rich and that is no small treasure.

We are expatriate friends. We help each other pack. We pay each other’s bail or electricity bills. We check on each other’s pets. We sit through long watches of the night beside hospital beds. We share peanut butter. We know the inside jokes and laugh at the morbid humor. We care about the same obscure regions and quote the same strange proverbs. We’ve walked through births, marriages, deaths, divorces, job losses, wayward children, jet lag, national disasters, loneliness, misunderstandings, birthdays, private joys and public celebrations, entrenched sins and personal successes. We dream together and root for each other. I am so, so thankful for you.

If I never see you again in this life, come find me in the next. We have so many stories to share with each other.

Love, your forever-wherever expat friend,

Rachel

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Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider

My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!

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How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically

 

1. Living Well Abroad: Theologically
How we think about God matters. Of course it does. You already know that. But we sometimes forget that our theology also plays a vital role in how well we fare on the field.

First, we must remember that productivity does NOT equal fruitfulness. Indeed, our aim is not even to be fruitful, but to stay attached to the Vine from which all fruit comes. Our aim is to know him and his heart, to “remain in him.” Staying attached to the Source, hearing his heartbeat, is the only way we will be able to do “the will of him who sent us.”

There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all. Let me repeat: There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all.

He does not expect you to kill yourself in his service. Now, you might die in his service, of course, but it should not be because you’re a workaholic.

If you want to thrive abroad, you can’t try to meet your deep insecurities through making someone (a missions boss, a sending church, God) happy. No amount of productivity will heal the wounds in your soul.

In fact, trying to meet your own deep emotional or psychological needs through missions will tear you up. And it won’t be good for those close to you either.

Resources:
Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please stop running
The Idolatry of Missions

 

1.a. Simple prayers are your friend. 
For me, after we’d gone through a really rough patch (misdiagnosed typhoid fever, culture stripping, bad news from home, etc.), I clung to one simple cry-prayer: “I will worship the Lord my God; I will serve only him.” It’s a declaration from Jesus at the peak of his temptation. It’s what Jesus fell back on at the very end. So I did too. And honestly, for a while, it was the only prayer I prayed.

That being said, in Matthew 4, when Jesus made that declaration, Satan left him and angels came and ministered to him. I’m not a businessman, but that seems like a pretty good trade.

Speaking of Satan…

 

1.b. Your theology of Satan matters. A lot. 
Don’t give Satan more credit than he’s due. Don’t blame him for everything.

Why not? Well, it’ll keep you from taking responsibility for your own stuff, and it’ll keep you from doing the hard interpersonal and INNER personal work that you need to do.

Here’s my general rule: don’t blame Satan for things that are reasonably foreseeable.

If it was reasonably foreseeable that eating that street food would give you giardia, don’t blame the devil when you get sick and can’t leave the bathroom! I’ll be really sorry you’re sick, but you don’t need to bring the devil into it to garner my compassion and prayers.

If you ignore Sabbath and run yourself ragged, don’t blame Satan when you feel depressed and burned out. Don’t blame the natural result of your workaholism on “the darkness.” [Note: I am NOT saying that depression and burnout always result from a missionary’s failure to Rest. But if a person has been burning the candle at both ends and then starts to feel the flame, it’s not fair to blame the devil.]

Proverbs 7:6-9 provides a noteworthy example of reasonable foreseeability:

“While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain, I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell.”

The wisdom literature doesn’t blame some massive evil scheme for this guy’s sin. Its lesson for us? Do the hard work of not being naive. Do the hard work of getting some common sense. And don’t open your computer at night or visit the red light district when you’re lonely and it’s dark.

Resources:
Before You Cry “Demon!”

 

1.c. You need a robust theology of Heaven. 
You want to live and thrive abroad long-term? You’re going to have to have a pretty good grasp of Heaven. I’m not talking about end-times theology, I’m talking about the reality of eternity, for the saved and the lost.

Resources:
Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
When you just want to go home
The Gift of Grief

 

 

2. Living Well Abroad: Spiritually
There are two powerful words we need to understand deeply. Those words are “Yes” and “No,” and they are sacred words indeed.

Initially, when you move abroad, you don’t know anyone and you’re probably in language school, so you can say yes to everyone and pretty much everything. But watch out, because your ratio of yeses to nos will have to change. If you want to stay healthy, you will have to start saying no to more and more things. And if you don’t make that transition well, if you don’t learn to say no, you will end up saying yes to all the wrong things.

Recently, I heard a preacher boldly state: “Satan is always trying to get your yes.” Indeed, from the beginning, the Liar has been getting people to say yes to stuff that will make them say No to the Father. And it continues.

Balancing our yeses and nos can get tricky, triggering our Fear of Missing Out or our fear of being completely overwhelmed, which is why I love that Justin Rizzo, a musician at the International House of Prayer, sings about “the beautiful line to walk between faith and wisdom.”

Learning when to say yes and when to say no requires both faith and wisdom. After all, it is possible to say yes to too much because of our “faith,” and it is possible to say no to too much because of our “wisdom.”

Again, this is precisely why we need to spend time connected to the Vine. We must remind ourselves often of this truth: The most fruitful thing I can do today is connect with the heart of Jesus.

May God give us the grace to serve with both faith and wisdom. Not as opposite ideas, fighting for domination, but as buffers and guardrails, keeping us from veering too far to one side. Or the other.

 

3. Living Well Abroad: Relationally
Life abroad can be bone-jarringly lonely, so connecting with friends is vitally important. Those friendships might surprise you; they might be with expats and nationals and folks you first found strange. But whatever the case, deep connection with other human beings IRL (in real life) is crucial to whether or not you “live well” abroad.

Resources:
Velvet Ashes (this links to their articles tagged “friendship”)
10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships

 

3.a Marriage
I’ve been living with my best friend for nearly 17 years. And frankly, we’d like to stay friends. If you’re married, I’d like for you to stay friends with your spouse too. Here are some ideas that have helped us…

– Google “First date questions” and screen capture the results. Next time you’re out on a date or alone together, whip out your phone and get to know each other again.

– Be a tourist for a night. Pretend you don’t speak the language and go where the tourists go. (I realize this might not apply to everyone, but I know it’ll apply to some.)

– If you have kids, try to get away for 24 hours. Because even 24 hours away can feel like forever. And when you’re away, don’t talk about work or the kids. (And if you don’t have anything to talk about besides work and the kids, take that as a sign that you need to get away more often!)

– Read a book about marriage. I’m continually amazed at how little effort we put into the one relationship that we want to be the deepest and longest and best.

– If a book is too much, check out The Gottman Institute on Facebook. Follow them and read an occasional article. 

Dudes, remember this: your wife lives here too. If you’re doing great but she’s really struggling, you gotta push pause and figure it out. Are you both thriving?

And when it comes to arguing, remember the age-old adage our marriage therapist said over and over and over: “If one person wins, the couple loses.”  : ) 

Resources:
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Marriage is the Beautiful Hard
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

 

3.b. Parenthood
We moved to Asia when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three. And the loss of how I used to parent nearly killed me. Really. Most Saturdays, I’d get depressed and overwhelmed by all the good we had left behind. Here’s a snapshot of what helped me…

Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already, so ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

Remember, use other parents and their ideas, but don’t judge yourself by other parents and their ideas. Some ideas will work for others that will not work for you. Figure out what’ll work for your family. Then do those things.

Be Crazy.The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. We have a badminton court on our roof and a ping pong table in our garage. And we use our moto as a jet ski during rainy season. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed.

Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it.

Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question destroys kids.

 

Resources:
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

 

4. Living Well Abroad: Psychologically
At various points in our overseas journey, Elizabeth and I have needed debriefing, coaching, and counseling. In fact, so many of the good things in our life and ministry have been directly influenced by specific psychological help.

One area that’s so simple (and important) to talk about is meta-emotions. Simply put, meta-emotions are what you feel about feelings.

Don’t freak out on me just yet. I know this sounds like a Pixar movie.

But honestly, a healthy question that we need to ask much more often is this: How do I feel about what I’m feeling?

For example, if you feel angry at your host country and then feel GUILTY for feeling angry, your feelings of guilt will actually block you from dealing with the root of your anger. Does your anger make you feel like a bad person? A bad Christian? Like you’re a failure because you don’t even like the people you came to serve?

You see, how you feel about your feelings will make a huge difference with how you handle them. Do you keep talking to God about your feelings? If you’re ashamed of your feelings or believe that you shouldn’t have them, chances are your praying will cease forthwith. And that’s not cool.

An illuminating question in all of this is, “How were emotions handled in my family of origin? Did I grow up in an emotion coaching home, where emotions were safe and expression was easy? Was I taught how to feel and name and share my feelings?”

If so, that’s awesome. It’s also pretty rare.

Did you grow up in an emotion dismissing home? Were emotions anything but safe? Did you hear, “Don’t be sad/angry/whatever”?

In your family, did emotions hurt people? If so, I’m sorry. The first step is to acknowledge that this is the case, and maybe see a counselor.

Why does this matter? Because meta-emotions will massively impact what you do with your feelings, and what you do with your feelings will massively impact how you do with life abroad. 

 

Resources:
Meta-Emotion: How you feel about feelings
A Life Overseas Resource Page
Here’s an 11 minute video outlining a tool I use with about 90% of my pastoral counseling clients:

 

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This material was originally presented at an international church here in Phnom Penh. If you’d like to see the handouts and/or listen to the audio of that presentation, click here. The message is also available as a podcast. Just search iTunes for “trotters41” or click here.

Misogyny in Missions {part 2}

by Tanya Crossman

I love writers who get me thinking – whose words promote discussion and exchange of ideas. I often have that reaction to Jonathan’s writing, and his thoughts on the “Billy Graham Rule” (and the thoughts in the post he referenced) definitely stirred a lot of ideas in me, reflecting both on Scripture and on how this works out in practice – especially as a single woman in ministry.

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“All things are permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:29)

This is a great guideline for Christian behaviour. Just because I have the freedom to do anything does not mean I should use that freedom to sin, or cause others to sin. In regard to gender separation, some people would argue that the BGR (Billy Graham Rule) is a small sacrifice in order to protect a greater good. Sure, I could have lunch with my opposite-gender coworker, but it’s a simple thing to not do, in order to protect my reputation/purity/spouse/ministry/whatever. The problem I have with this idea is that it implies (or even says outright) that cross-gender friendships are not beneficial. I realise that some cultures do have strict taboos, but theologically I take issue with making this part of Christian culture. Humanity, male and female together, was made in the image of God – we need each other in order to have full expression of our God-reflection.

We desperately need this full expression in the church. Too often in the church women don’t advance or have their voices heard because no one in power will talk to/meet with/befriend them – for the sake of propriety. If we limit cross-gender working relationships, our churches will lack the insight single women have to give. As a single woman in ministry I met one-on-one with pastors and bosses and coworkers – most of whom were men, and often married. If my male coworkers had time with the pastor we all worked under but I didn’t, that would have spoken volumes about my value/worth as an employee – or my relative lack of it.

It is possible to do this well, with integrity, without restricting the access and influence of women. Our meetings weren’t secret. We usually met in public (lots of cafes!) during business hours – part of the work day. In most cases I knew their wives well and we socialised together outside work. When single coworkers married I usually got to know their wives and they became part of my social circle. While I had less time with the pastors, given that they did not have an intimate mentoring role in my life (though often their wives did invest in me more deeply), I still felt very valued and heard, and one-on-one time was an important part of that.

“Reject all appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22)

A big reason given for BGR type restrictions is to “avoid the appearance of evil” as a Biblical command – but that’s not what the Bible says. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to reject all kinds of evil – “appearance” was a mistranslation which has been corrected. But even if we accept the “appearance of evil” translation, what is it about cross-gender friendship that we think looks evil? What is wrong about a man and woman having a conversation, or a meal? If I lack the ability to recognise innocent (and beneficial!) friendship, the problem is in my own mind and heart.

Many times Christian friends have told me sincerely that a man and woman cannot be close friends without at least one of them developing “feelings” for the other. That isn’t true in my experience, certainly not as a blanket rule. Sure, there is a place for wisdom – and Jonathan’s call to honesty is crucial – but there is nothing inherently evil about a cross-gender friendship! A man and woman talking together are not on the precipice of potential sin. And where does this leave our same-sex-attracted brothers and sisters? This seems to tell them they can’t have friendship at all – not just no romantic attachment, no family life in their future, but no close friends. What a horrible, isolating message. We are built for intimacy – and when we reduce intimacy to sex, we all lose.

I realise that concern with “appearance” is often connected to protection from false accusation – if everyone knows I never spend time with someone of the opposite gender, they won’t believe a false rumor should it crop up. I actually went through a period of extreme caution around any one-on-one time with men, in response to a specific “threat” – a former leader in the ministry spreading slander alleging impropriety among the remaining leadership. In this case there was a clear “danger” of false accusation and guarding against that protected a vulnerable ministry. I relaxed my extreme precautions when the threat was over. The problem with this as an all-the-time precaution is it does nothing to address issues of mind and heart – it only addresses how others see me. There is a dangerous sense of safety in being a “whitewashed tomb” – but if my heart is clean and honesty keeps me accountable, there is no need for legalistic rules that don’t fix anything.

Strict BGR restrictions can actually fan the flames of heart issues. If I buy into the appearance-of-evil thing, that it is somehow potentially sinful for a man and woman to spend time together, I will look at any interaction with suspicion. It may stroke my ego – that this person has something else on their mind when they look at/talk to/think about me. It may stoke my paranoia – that this person may be dangerous to me, may want something from me. It may stir gossip – that the two people I see talking must be doing something more in private. In each case, it makes me feel wary of cross-gender friendship – I can’t trust people, as they may be snares, predators, or deceitful. Instead of encouraging healthy relationships within the church, such separation and legalism encourages suspicion and gossip.

“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

Sometimes we as the church just need to calm down – enjoy healthy friendships and be family to one another without making a fuss about it. As a single woman I have become annoyed on multiple occasions at assumptions made (and gossip spread) by and among church people. If a man and woman are seen having coffee, suddenly people are talking about them and whispering that they’re an item. We can’t see two people together without making huge leaps, big assumptions. Why is that? Why do we assume that if a man and a woman are talking, there is something “going on”? Can’t two people having lunch be, you know, eating? Yes, we all know of situations in which there was something nefarious going on, but the problem wasn’t in public – it was in private.

One issue I have with this sort of gossip is that it can push what should be a healthy friendship underground – if meeting publicly occasions gossip, is it better to meet privately? But as Jonathan pointed out, secrets are a bigger problem. And imagine what this does to dating – it’s impossible to get to know someone without the whole community being engaged, watching with bated breath, making it much more pressured. Community involvement in a relationship is good – but until there is commitment, let’s leave space for healthy and innocent friendship.

A note about abuse

I know many women who have a paranoia response as a reaction to past abuse – and far too many women have experienced abusive, misogynistic or exploitative treatment. This is an important reason that the church needs to demonstrate healthy relationships between men and women. We need to know – and show our children – what this looks like! I need to see what healthy interaction looks like (both in and out of romantic relationships) so I can identify unhealthy/abusive interaction when I see it. Radical separation of genders can leave people more open to abuse. We learn that certain people are/aren’t safe, rather than certain types of behaviour/interaction are improper. I think it can also play into the sense of entitlement connected with rape culture – all women are sexually “dangerous” and therefore any woman who gives me a little of her time must be “up for it.”

“Don’t cause another to stumble.” (Matt 5:29-30, Matt 18:6-9, Rom 14:20, 1 Cor 10:31-32)

This concept appears several times in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul. There are two concepts – to prevent oneself from stumbling, and to protect others from stumbling. To prevent myself from stumbling, Jesus advocates radically removing from myself that which is a problem. If I have trouble being in a room with another person without seeing opportunity for sin, the problem is not the other person – it is my own heart. I need heart surgery, not to remove the so-called “opportunity”. Removing the opportunity does nothing to address the problem.

Paul depicts believers with different convictions in fellowship with one another, neither group needing to be “corrected”. So while I disagree with the need for strict gender separation, and will happily engage in respectful discussion about this practice, I will also do my best to respect the consciences of those I interact with. If a couple has decided between them that they will not be alone with a member of the opposite gender, I will not seek to break their trust.

Conclusion

I think strict BGR behaviour stirs fear, lack of trust, and assumptions about the thoughts/motives of others. I also think it means we miss out on full and free fellowship – we lack what the other half of our community has to offer. There are great benefits to cross-gender friendships which we lose when we create legalistic rules as a huge buffer from actual sin. Instead, wouldn’t it be great if we all cultivated healthy friendships with each other? Let’s practice being family to one another, with innocence and purity, calling out the best in one another.

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TC_headshot-sqTanya Crossman went to China to study for a year and ended up there 11 years, working for international churches and mentoring Third Culture Kids (her book about TCKs will be released later this year). She currently lives in Australia studying toward a Master of Divinity degree at SMBC. She enjoys stories, sunshine, Chinese food and Australian chocolate. | www.misunderstood-book.com | facebook: misunderstoodTCK | twitter: tanyaTCK

5 Thoughts for the Local Church

The local church and missionaries on the field should be on the same team, but often a wedge of misunderstanding is driven between the two.

There is a danger when missionaries feel entitled to the support of a local body. Many dig their own grave in destroying relationships with their sending churches.

Equally, misunderstanding can come within the body of Christ and be directed towards those on the field.

As a veteran of missions for over 23 years, here is my encouragement for the body of Christ about their care of missionaries.

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5 Ways the Local Church can Serve a Missionary:

1. Communicate
There are two forms of communication which are essential. Communication to us, and communication for us

Please communicate to us because it is often lonely on the mission field. I remember calling home collect in the middle of the night when I happened to find a phone. Now with technology, we literally are always available.

While it is primarily the responsibility of the missionary to maintain communication, a call or email from home asking how things are going or even updating us on church life is fantastic.

When we do return, please communicate favorably for us and about us. I recently sat in a church service where the phrase “deepest, darkest Africa” was used several times. This does not create a love for the nations, but a fear of them! Language like this makes us strange and difficult to relate to (not to mention what it says of the precious people in “deepest and darkest…”).

2.  Help us connect
Returning to your church after months or years away can be daunting. Times and people change quickly. Any assistance you can provide to help us plug-in and meet new people through small groups or BBQ’s would be welcome.

These connections do not need to be ministry oriented; allowing us to “share.” Relationships are what make home, feel like home.

3. Engage us when we return
A one word answer satisfies many people as to how things are going. It can be demoralizing to sum up your entire ministry with responses of “good” or “really well”.

While this conversation is the norm, please provide someone who can celebrate our successes and empathize with the struggles we face. Nothing beats a face to face with someone else in ministry. Even better, would be a conversation with someone who is familiar with the work we are doing.

A simple service to a missionary would be having a person who “understands us.”

4. Ask us the hard questions
Many meetings with the pastors involve recaps of our ministry. This is valid and necessary. But we desire and need more.

Please engage us on a deeper level about our ministry and our personal lives. Ask questions like:
– Have you maintained freshness in your vision?
– How is your walk with God?
– Are you dealing with the stress of missions in your marriage?
How are your kids responding to life in a foreign country?
– Are you making it financially? Can you set aside some money for the future?
– Do you rest regularly?

As a leader or missionary overseas, we may not have peers in our life asking these questions. Please make us uncomfortable for the sake of our long-term success!

5. Let us rest
Trips home are often busier than ordinary life. We are living in a house which is not our own, visiting all kinds of people, all while trying to bang the drum for generating support.

It is exhausting. And worse, our co-workers on the field think we are on holiday!

While still engaging us, please don’t run us ragged!

My church has often gone the extra mile by providing opportunities for fun, or even simple assistance such as a car or a bit of pocket cash for shopping.

This post is not designed to take any shots at our supporting churches. (Ours are fantastic!) My hope is to bring awareness from a missionary’s perspective and to engage us in a dialogue.

I invite pastors, missions boards, or people who support missionaries to comment.

What would you add to the discussion?

What are your pet peeves in the way missionaries respond or act entitled?

What other suggestions do you have to assist in the relationship between the church and a missionary?

What does a missionary need to know about the local church?

Let’s discuss!

Photo credit: In the Shadow of the Cross St Martha – paint via photopin (license)

The Language of Sport

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

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

This is the language of sport.

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

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

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

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Here are 7 things I have learned sports can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you add to this list?

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

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Photo credit: Nivali via photopin (license)

Dangerous Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Signs You are Telling Dangerous Stories:

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine what this scenarios seems like for a national:

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

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

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

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

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

Attention Life Overseas Community!

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

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

Photo credit: Seyemon via photopin cc

The Sign That Matters

 

signMataraFive years ago we landed in Burundi. Around the small capital I noticed signs everywhere – signs of other NGOs present in the city with logos plastered on their large Land Cruisers, big placards at their local offices and signs out in the countryside wherever they had a project. The rampant self-promotion turned my stomach sour. No one could do any good thing without erecting a sign to mark it, to prove their worth and claim their territory.

For the first season I nursed a secret sense of pride over our unmarked cars that criss-crossed the city, often full of Burundian friends who shared in this development adventure. We didn’t need signs to validate our partnership or announce our project; we just did the work that needed to be done with our friends.

We managed to work in one community for three years without a single sign, but watched thirty families move steadily toward a viable and vibrant community.

Right about that time we began work with another community of 660 families in a different province. We started planting hundreds of trees together, advocated for identity cards for all the adults and birth certificates for the children. Soon we began constructing an elementary school. And somewhere amid all this activity the local officials made a strong recommendation – that we put up a sign.

Everything in me resisted the idea of a sign. We don’t need signs to do our work, we had three year’s of proof in the province next door, I reasoned. But my husband felt there was some practical wisdom in the recommendation, and decided to order the sign.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis
PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis

I’ve since learned the reasons for signs, at least ones from our own experience.

1. Signs protect your project from other organizations that would try to encroach on your hard work. It’s sad to say, but some organizations will try to take a short cut by using the infrastructure you’ve labored to build for their own project. They will see the community you’ve gathered and walk right in and hold court, telling about their livestock program or health initiative. The relationship you’ve cultivated for years they will usurp for their own work, saving them the time of hard-fought connections, leadership development and the forging of trust. I’m not exaggerating – this happened before my very eyes one summer. With no sign, they felt free to come and begin their pitch.

2. Signs act as a reminder to your own staff. Sometimes the hardest thing is recognizing that your own staff will try to skim a little something extra for themselves. They will take people to visit the project and pass it off as their own initiative so they can bolster their image or increase the chance of a better job offer in the future. Sometimes they will make small contracts with other agencies to come in and give chickens or offer some training – taking the finder’s fee for their pocket. We’ve worked with many good team members who we trust deeply, but occasionally our best discernment takes a hit or a good staff member has a moment of weakness. A sign reminds the staffer, and the people coming to meet with him or her, that the larger team of our NGO manages this project.

3. Signs help your partners remember that you are in this together. When people have lived in poverty for generations it isn’t easy to shed the fear that all this help could go away tomorrow. One of the long-term affects of the impoverished mindset we’ve witnessed is a scarcity mentality. So what often happens in the early life of a project is that the families we work with will take hand-outs from any NGO who offers, often claiming that no one is helping them or, even worse, that we are not offering the help we’ve promised. While trust develops and scarcity reflexes linger, things can get messy as other NGOs start supplementing your project with unnecessary or untimely contributions.

What the sign does is serve as a reminder that we are partners; we’re putting our name right alongside yours to show that we aren’t leaving you. The presence of that sign also means they can’t keep living from all these various handouts, they’ve agreed to engage in a trusting partnership with us and we have made the same promise to them. Together we’ll see the community move toward sustainability – but uncomplicated by the insertions of other organizations that might compromise our plan for sustainability, breaking the cycle of dependence.

I want to be clear, we partner with these families and also collaborate with many other organizations who have experience and expertise to offer to these communities. But we do so strategically, knowing what and when the community needs season to season. We also care about the credibility of the organizations we invite, ensuring we offer the best services to the families. A sign keeps it clear – if you want to partner with us here, call the number on the sign and let’s begin a conversation to see how you can work with us for the sake of this neighborhood.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kingdom Photography, Burundi
PHOTO CREDIT: Kingdom Photography, Burundi

I still wince when I see our signs. I know they’ve provided some necessary functions within our team and to the world outside. But I still wish the signs weren’t necessary. As an idealist, I wish trust was enough.

This is the sign that matters most – walking into Bubanza and seeing women filling basins with clean water, watching a man water the fruit trees and a few more at the piggery feeding the animals. Or seeing kids play on the swings and being greeted by their parents as friends in the transformative work afoot across the community. These are signs I cherish, evidence of a partnership brimming with goodness, deeper than any signpost.

Do any other development workers out there struggle with the use of signs?

What are other benefits you’ve discovered in the use of signs in your communities – or set backs?

 

Kelley Nikondeha, community development practitioner in Burundi

Blog: www.kelleynikondeha.com  |  Twitter: @knikondeha

Story-telling and the Short Term Mission Trip

Claude & I celebrating 5 years of community development in Burundi!
Claude & I celebrating 5 years of community development in Burundi!

We just said good bye to a team of friends who left Burundi last night. Their send off included one last party with friends, good food and the experience of the Burundian drum corp. As they loaded their luggage into the cars and headed to the airport, I thought back over the week.

I remember, in a word, the vibrancy of the first few days up-country as our guests mingled with our Batwa communities. I remembered the moment Godece washed my muddy feet after I fell down the rain-soaked hill of Matara. I’ll never forget the leaders of Matara parading toward us with gifts – a chicken, a branch of green bananas, beans and fruits – all from their abundance. Now they bless us with their first-fruits, after 5 years they have more than enough to share. These are the snapshots from a full week – and if there were time I’d tell you so many more things that took my breath away during this week of visitation and celebration.

Even this morning, as I’m hung over with exhaustion (and an eye red and watery from some kind of scratch or infection) I can remember these few things clearly. I can articulate them even through the fog of my aching bones and coffee-craving. Because we prepared for this all along.

Let me share quickly (because I am really tired) how we practice story-telling and prepare our teams for their return home after their short term mission trip…

1. Give me a word.

At the end of day one or day two, the team is usually buzzing. There is still a sense of disorientation but now, after the first few experiences on the field, there are new sensations added to the mix. You can see that people are still fighting the jet-lag and that they are trying to get their minds around what they’ve just witnessed with the Batwa friends.

This is when, around the relaxed setting of the dinner table, I begin to prepare the team for their return. I look around the table, look at each team member and, after clicking the glass to get their attention, I say, “Give me a word.” I instruct each person to give me one word to describe what they are feeling or what they are seeing thus far.

You can give just one word without explanation. There is freedom in that request – especially for team members who don’t know all the others. One word is not a heavy burden. Also, for people still reeling with a mix of emotions and exhaustion, one word is manageable.

This week some of the words were familiar, joy, heaven, rightness, overwhelming, freedom, love, sustainable, transformation. Mine was vibrancy.

Some people felt the need to elaborate. Others didn’t. But everyone offered one word. It was the beginning of putting words to the experience, starting to frame this trip as it developed.

2. Tell me one moment.

About halfway through the trip I invite the team to share one moment that arrested their attention or provoked some emotion or new awareness. Sometimes this happens around a meal, but sometimes amid a time of devotions. No one is rushed, but no one is skipped either. Everyone tells the group a moment that stands out for them – even if it echoes someone else’s.

Now I watch people strong more words together around what they are experiencing in Matara, in Bubanza, with our various friends and projects. One is touched by the encounter with a driver, the conversation they had driving through one neighborhood in particular. Another shares the recognition that now these local friends have access to healthcare because there is a little clinic with a nurse on duty. Someone else notes that for the first time they’ve witnessed joy beyond circumstances when they saw the Batwa women dance.

For me, my moment was when Godece washed my muddy feet. She took my feet in her hands as her son poured water over them. She wiggled her fingers in between my toes to dislodge dirt and tiny stones. She rubbed the bar of soap over my feet and coaxed out the cleansing suds. It was a sacramental moment between us.

Stories being shared around the table!
Stories being shared around the table!

3. A break to rest.

Near the last days of the trip, the team starts to ware a bit. They’ve been on the go for days, they’ve been eating unfamiliar foods, their schedule is irregular and they are feeling it. Despite all the goodness, I can see they need a break. We also know that this is when many of our guests hit the saturation point. So many sights, so many faces, so many stories swimming in their brains – accompanied with all the emotions sloshing around their hearts.

So we plan a set of hours for the team to relax. When there is time, we take the team away for an entire day to a resort to rest. They can walk on the beach, take long naps or read a book by the pool. On shorter trips, we end the day at 3:00pm and allow the team to relax for the rest of the day. They can take a swim, enjoy dinner at their leisure or skip it entirely and go to bed early instead. We just ensure that there is some unscheduled time for the team to rest, to practice some Sabbath amid the trip.

What I’ve learned is that this time allows the stories to seep in deep. This time allows the thoughts criss-crossing their minds to untangle a bit. The rest allows the team members to recalibrate, but also to absorb what they’ve been experiencing. Open time allows the stories to find their place and for deeper connections to emerge.

The truth is that team members have busy lives back home, so we can’t just assume there will be reflection time once they return to their city. But knowing how critical that reflection time is to their ability to process all the local experiences, we make sure to offer space while they are with us.

I assure you, this is not wasted time in-country. Sometimes we don’t need one more story or one more visit across the city, we need time to contemplate all the other stories encounters thus far.

Often the best conversations happen in the following couple of days after the time of rest and reflection. People have put thoughts together and return to us with great observations and questions. I love when this happens before they leave us, when there is time for engagement before a continent separates us again.

4. How was your trip?

On the final night I invite the team to each share the moment that stands out for them, the one that rises to the top. Often I will have them break into teams of two to share for about 5 minutes each. When we come back to the large group, everyone shares the story again, but in about 3 minutes. Then I challenge them to find another team member and now share that same story in 2 minutes.

We are practicing.

Once the time is done I remind them that when they get off the plane, the question they will most often hear is “How was the trip?” This is your moment to honor those friends in Burundi, to say something true about the people or the place. Don’t waste it by saying “It was great” or “I loved it there.” Take the opportunity to share something true about your time among our friends.

So we practice in Burundi so that our team is ready when they land in Houston, Vancouver, Melbourne or wherever. They can share their moment in 2 minutes or so, offer a sterling memory of their time among the people of Burundi. Maybe people will want to hear more… and over coffee you can share more stories, pictures and such. But even if all you get is 2 minutes of their attention, in that time you honor your friends in Burundi and your time overseas.

I’ve had several people over the years tell me how grateful they were for the preparation time in Burundi. They reported that upon landing home, when they were jet-lagged and out of sorts, they kicked into gear when the question was asked. They pulled from the memory of the words, moments and stories they shared around our table and were ready to say something true about their trip.

This is one important way we can prepare our teams for homecoming from the moment they arrive with us in-country… practice storytelling the entire time. Yes, it will offer you a sense of where the team members are as you listen to what affects them. But almost more important, you will prepare them to tell their story well when they return home. I know they will take the goodness of Burundi home with them and spread it like good seed whenever they share a story or a moment or a word.

[This is the third post in a series on How To Host A Mission Trip based on our ten years of practice in Burundi!”

How do you facilitate story-telling for your short-term mission teams?

Have you ever returned from a short term mission trip and felt tongue-tied?

 

Kelley Nikondeha  |  community development practitioner in Burundi

Blog | www.kelleynikondeha.com    Twitter | @knikondeha

 

When Friends Do the Next Right Thing

What do we do when the people we love do the next right thing? What if that next right thing leads them away from us?

When we say yes to God, we must often say no to the places we already know. And when God leads us overseas, we enter a communal life that is punctuated by goodbyes. Just like an airport, the missionary community endures constant arrivals and departures. But God is the travel agent here, and He hardly ever places anyone on the same itinerary. Perhaps we knew this uncomfortable truth before we said yes; perhaps we didn’t. Either way, though, we must now live with the consequences of our obedience.

And I, for one, sometimes grow weary of it.

These expatriate friendships of ours tend to grow swift and deep, and ripping ourselves away from those friendships is painful. This summer, I have to say goodbye to two friends, whom I love and respect, and will miss terribly. And I am still somewhat in denial.

I have never had any doubts that they are following God where He leads them next. They are doing the next right thing. Even in the leaving, they are doing the next right thing. They are honoring their friendships and saying their goodbyes thoughtfully and tenderly. They are setting up ministry for the workers who will follow them. They have listened to God, and they are doing what He says. But they will leave a gaping hole in my heart and in this city, and they can never be replaced.

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What am I supposed to do when my friends do the next right thing?

I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do do: I grieve. Because when a member of the international community leaves, all hearts bleed. The hearts of the leaving, and hearts of the staying. There is just no stopping that.

So I grieve for myself: it’s hard to say goodbye to people I love. I grieve for others in the community who must also say goodbye: these goodbyes are their losses too. I grieve for the ones leaving: they must say goodbye to a life they know in order to build a brand new life somewhere else.

And I also grieve for people who have not yet come to this area of the world — people who are making plans to live and work here, and even people who haven’t considered it yet, but will someday. I grieve that they will never know the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of the international community here.

So what can we do, as the body of Christ?? We are ALL involved in sending, receiving, and being His workers. How can we provide smooth takeoffs and soft landings for our brothers and sisters??

When our friends leave, can we say goodbye with love? Can we send them on their way with our blessing? Can we give ourselves the space to mourn these losses? Can we keep our friends in our hearts and in our minds and in our email inboxes, no matter where they live in the wide world?

When we leave, can we accept loving goodbyes and understand how utterly we will be missed? Can we depend upon God — and His people — to help us settle in our new home? Can we open our hearts to new people and new places, while still remembering those who love us from afar?

When new missionaries arrive, can we welcome them wholeheartedly, even though we know we will most likely have to say goodbye to them some day? Can we tell them where to set up their utility bills and show them where to buy furniture and help them fill their refrigerators?

When churches send out new missionaries, can we send them with our love and with our support? Can we resist the temptation to pull our hearts away too soon, in an attempt to ease the coming pain? Can we never cease to pray for them?

When missionaries return to their passport country, can we welcome them? Can we open wide our arms and our hearts and our homes to returning workers? Can we listen to their stories without judgment, and extend much grace in a time of great unsteadiness?

We were never meant to walk alone. So can we, as the global Church, be Christ to each other? Can we need each other, and can we be needed? Can we cushion each other’s pain during goodbyes and hellos? Can we do these dreaded transitions with bodies spread across the world, but with hearts beating as one?

 

Can you share a time when people have been there for you in your goodbyes and hellos? Or share what you have done for someone else in their time of transition?

Perhaps you haven’t seen goodbyes and hellos done well. If so, what do you think the Church needs to learn about sending and receiving workers? How can missionaries and mission organizations do better welcomes and farewells? How can we do this transition thing better, as senders, receivers, and goers? 

Photo Credit

Giving Good Gifts

Day One family

The Batwa people live on the edges of Burundian society, marginalized in their own country. Local humanitarian workers tell tales of these people who thwart good gifts and show little gratitude, making them notoriously difficult to work with.

One organization generously gave corrugated metal roofs for the thatch-constructed homes. But soon after the installation, the aid workers discovered the metal was sold.

Another religious-based agency gave these families window insets and doors for their unsecured homes. It didn’t take long for word to travel back to the team – all the items disappeared, probably sold for quick cash.

These organizations promptly labeled this Batwa community as ungrateful. They said the people were incompetent to care for the gifts or unable understand the value these gifts could add to their community well being. “They are troublemakers,” the workers said. We were warned to stay clear of them and help someone else or our energies would be wasted.

But my husband had learned to not take the solitary narrative of the NGO workers as gospel. Claude visited this community often and forged friendships with them. He listened to the stories told by the chief, the mamas trying to feed their children, the men looking for regular work. They painted a different picture about the good gifts.

The Batwa families lived in frail homes on the side of a barren hill. “Winds whip across the terrain plying the metal roofs off,” one man shared. The families would try to secure the metal sheets with heavy rocks on all four corners of the roof, but still the rambunctious winds would pop off the metal and the rocks. “Given the conditions, how feasible is it to do roof repair every time the wind blows?” he asked.

The window insets that shut tight and doors that locked were fine gifts, one mother said. “But I have eight children, no husband and no food. What would you do?” she asked. She decided, like all the other mothers, to sell the material for food that fed her family for weeks.

The chief told my husband about the many moves the families had made in the last set of years. These people had no deed for their land; they lived at the mercy and whim of the government officials. With no stability there was little interest in securing homes and bettering this place. Our Batwa friends knew better to build their homes on shifting sand.

When we listened to all the stories, we came up with a very different assessment of the situation. Our Batwa friends weren’t guilty of being ungrateful, incompetent or troublemakers. They had families to feed and no jobs, no fertile land, no stability. These facts radically altered their priorities and shaped what, in fact, were considered to be good gifts.

We began to frame the difficulty another way – the problem rested squarely on the shoulders of the givers, the ones giving gifts too soon to be useful, the ones giving gifts without enough relationship to know if what was on offer was necessary or timely. The trouble is that a roof over your head is little comfort when there is no food in your belly – and many organizations never take time to listen to that story. Instead, good people get labeled as ungrateful and miss out on strategic help from others.

Despite the advice of other organizational leaders, we began working alongside our Batwa friends two years ago. We planted trees to begin to break the gusts of wind that barreled up the hillside and threatened the homes. We worked hard to get identity cards for thousands of men and women so they would have legal rights – and eventually they got the deed to their land. Wells with access to clean water came in last year followed by a new school and a health clinic.

Day One child

In our community development efforts over the past six years we haven’t always done it right. We’ve learned there is more than one story in operation so we must lean in and listen well. We also discovered the importance of working out of relationship with our Batwa friends so that we better know their needs – and any mistake made can be untangled together over time.

During the intervening years other groups have come to give goats, shoes and more offers of metal roofing. But they weren’t the gifts the community needed then or now. Currently the community leaders have asked for help growing pineapples and learning some trades they can use in the marketplace. They are naming the gifts they need to move forward.

When our friends ask for locking doors or a roof over their head – we’ll be eager to give that good gift and they’ll be ready to receive it. Until then, we’ll keep working on the necessities we discern together. Maybe the best gift we can give one another is long-term friendship and the readiness to give partnered with the willingness to listen to the whole story.

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Was there a time you were tempted to offer the gift you wanted to give before asking the community members what they wanted or needed?

When has listening to the stories of your community members changed your praxis and opened up new possibilities?

Have you listened to the long history of your community, shared over multiple meals with different people, to learn what they’ve lived through before you arrived? How did that alter your perspective about them and your work?

 

 ~ Kelley Nikondeha, community development practitioner in Burundi, living in transit between  Bujumbura & Phoenix

blog:   www.kelleynikondeha.com |  twitter: @knikondeha | organization: www.communitiesofhope.tv

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