On the Fringe

But once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others. –Henri Nouwen

Cresting the hill overlooking the community where our campus sits, I hear the chatter of my daughters in the seats behind me. My mind, however, is miles (or kilometers, shall we say) away. I had just run into a few friends, whom we have known for many years now, and chatted briefly.

As I herded my children into my car, I reflected on the experience. Though it was good to run into them (was it, though?), it was also painful – a reminder, again, that we are the outsiders. These friends have a seemingly vibrant, interdependent community – one for which my husband and I have longed. For a wide array of reasons, we have succeeded in knowing a lot of people from a variety of communities, but we have not leaned in to just one. We’re “on the fringe,” we like to say, of a lot of communities.

There are definite perks to this; but tonight, I am just lonely.

//

This past summer, we had a three and a half-month home assignment in the U.S. It was hectic, as they are. And I was keenly aware that my daughters seemed to have more friends in the U.S., where we have not lived for almost eight years, than they do in our ministry area, where they have essentially grown up.

I pondered this for some time. Was it true? Would they/we have these friends if we lived in the U.S.? There was of course the reality that we visited many different states and churches, nearly all the people we know stateside. In the end, I wondered, is it that friendships feel easier in their “home” culture, even though they haven’t grown up in the U.S.? Do they sense that we are “on the fringe” here too?

//

I have a feeling that you can relate. As cross-cultural workers, we can work alongside people all day, we can attend a vibrant church or co-op, we can be part of groups and workplaces, and still feel unknown. We can spend countless hours pursuing others, opening the doors of our home, building relationships, and have maybe one or two that takes off and goes deep – but otherwise feel like outsiders the rest of the time.

Seven years into international ministry, I am no longer surprised by this reality. It used to be a sharp reminder of our otherness; these days, it is more of a dull ache, a sense of loneliness. God has been gracious in the midst of this struggle for belonging. These are a few truths God has used to comfort me:

The longing to belong is a good, God-given one. This desire to know and be known is part of our human, image-bearing experience. This longing reflects our spiritual, emotional, and mental capacities for relationship and meaning. Any feelings of being ‘unknown’ are part of our experience in this broken world; alternatively, the joy of feeling “known” reflects the already-but-not-yet of Christ’s kingdom coming.

I am known, deeply. The truth is that each one of us is deeply known by God himself, more deeply than we know ourselves. While this may sound trite at times, I have found profound comfort in embracing the reality that the God of the universe knows me, on every level, through and through, and cares deeply for me. Nothing in my life is hidden from him; he knows the best and worst of me and loves me still. What a joy!

He knows what it is to be “on the fringe.” Christ himself came from the Father, to an earth which was not his home, in order to minister and serve and give the ultimate sacrifice for others. Though his “otherness” was different than ours, he is familiar with the struggle to belong. In his life, I find a model of living “on the fringe” which gives me a path forward in my overseas life.

I think of Jesus’ words in Mark 10, where he shares a simple mission statement for his coming to earth: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

Jesus is our ultimate example of coming to a place, fully knowing he would not belong, and giving of himself anyway. When I put aside my own feelings of “otherness” and seek to offer my life for others, I am imitating Christ. When I accept the reality that I will not fit as I would ideally love to and continue to serve anyway, I am imaging Jesus.

So I continue to lean in and pursue others, but less for what they can mean to me, and more for how I can faithfully serve both them and Christ. I am working toward setting aside my own needs for belonging and living joyfully anyway. This is only possible because of the confidence we have in Christ. He knows me, he knows the ache, and he served in love still. Jesus, help me to do the same.

Questions for Jesus about Re-entry

by Anna Brotherson

Jesus,

Did you ever wake up in the morning and forget, for a second, where you were?

Did you ever get a thrill down the back of your spine when you realised you’d actually done it — actually come to earth and lived among us?

Does it all feel like a dream to you now?

Do you ever imagine the life you didn’t choose — the one where you didn’t come to us?

And if you do imagine it, how do you feel? Are you glad you chose Earth?

And now, Lord — do you miss it?

Do you remember the first time you ate warm bread dipped in olive oil?

Do you miss the feeling of sand between your toes?
(Have you made plans for sand in the place you’re preparing?)

Do hot tears run down your cheeks when you remember the ones you loved, who are no longer with you?

Is there anything there that reminds you of here?

Does anyone there talk about here?

Is there anyone there who has felt anything like what you have, who has experienced here like you have?

Does anyone there feel like you feel when the topic of first-century Judea comes up?

Did you know it would feel like this, after all had been done?

Do you miss it?

Despite the pain, despite the cost and the loss, the dirt and the sin — do you miss it in any way?

Do you have a few bits & pieces up there to remind you of it?

Do you wish you had more?

Or, are you able to just look ahead — look to the day when all the best of it is back — the bread, the sand, the warm hand of a friend on your shoulder, the affectionate hospitality of women, the laughter of children, the breeze, the birds, the splash of water on your face?

Are you busy rebuilding all that now? Does it take your mind off the loss?
(Is that what I’m supposed to do now?)

Were you, like me, relieved and yet desperately sad to leave, that day when you went “home”?

Does home feel like home to you now?
(It doesn’t, for me.)

Now that you’ve been here with us, eaten with us, touched us, loved us — can you bear the wait until we’re together again?
(I’m not sure I can.)

Would you do it all again?
(I would, in an instant.)

Was it worth it?

~~~~~~~~~~

Originally from Tasmania, Australia, Anna spent nine years living and working in a big city in Southeast Asia, along with her husband Derek and their three children. In early 2020 they moved to Sydney, Australia, where Anna spends her days taking care of her family, teaching Biblical Greek at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, and helping women as a childbirth doula. Anna is the author of Lewis’s Interesting Life, a picture book for TCKs.

The Burden: a poem of brokenness and calling

by Erica Shelley

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, was broken by the reality of child temple prostitution and was moved to action.  In 1904, Amy was praying and saw a vision of Jesus kneeling amongst trees; she sensed that he was asking her to share his burden.

Reflecting in a private autobiography, Amy later wrote:

“Sometimes it was as if I saw the Lord Jesus Christ kneeling alone, as He knelt long ago under the olive trees. The trees were tamarind now, the tamarinds that I see as I look up from this writing. And the only thing that one who cared could do, was to go softly and kneel down beside Him, so that He would not be alone in His sorrow over the little children.”

This poem is inspired by Amy’s vision, and by all the times Jesus draws us in to share one of his burdens. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I found Jesus
Kneeling in a garden
A wild garden.
Not amongst olive trees,
But amongst birch,
Pine needles under his knees.
A warm spring wind blew through,
Waves rippling through the leaves.
He was off the trail,
Alone
Except for the raven
And the chickadees. 

 

I had been walking,
Praying.
I had thought I had discovered something,
Something he had long ignored.
I was broken by an injustice,
Burned by its ugliness,
Shocked by how unfair.
I was raging at him,
Demanding
“Don’t you care?”

 

I thought I had discovered something,
But around that corner
He was ahead of me,
Already there.
His shoulders were heavy,
And tears ran into his beard.
The burden was already his;
It wasn’t mine for me to share. 

 

I felt the pull to draw closer,
Felt compelled to kneel beside.
His words, unspoken,
Dropped like a stone
Into my deepest well inside.

 

“Will you let yourself be broken,
Be poured out for me?
Will you surrender yourself here,
Will you let me sift through every fear?
Will you walk with me into darkness,
Will you tolerate the pain?
Will you give up your comforts,
Will you allow yourself to be changed?
Will you open your eyes,
Will you choose to care?
Will you kneel with me before the Father,
Ready to see and hear?
Will you pray, ‘Your will be done,
Your Kingdom come?’
Your own kingdom must be released.” 

 

His questions can’t be answered;
I can only cry.
I know it is going to be a journey,
Death to self
A daily fight.
I hold the cross before me,
And the world dims behind.
Jesus, go before me,
Jesus, walk alongside.
Jesus, give me strength
To lay down my life. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Erica Shelley is a mother, writer and teacher. She spent three years living in Uganda, where she taught at a Christian school in Kampala. She has also had opportunities to do short-term literacy work in Ghana and in remote Indigenous communities in Canada. She currently lives in northern Ontario, Canada, with her husband and two sons, and continues to wrestle with what a missional life looks like in different contexts. Erica can be found on Instagram as ericamshelley.

 

For the Times When You’re Exhausted, Discouraged, and Tempted

Some truth is just worth remembering. These musings about discouragement and temptation spilled out six years ago; perhaps they can encourage people even still…

We moved to Cambodia about two years ago, and it’s been good. But it’s also been very hard. I’ve had my days of doubt, fear, and deep discouragement. I’ve looked around at the poverty, abuse, corruption, and I’ve despaired. I’ve heard that raspy, wicked voice taunt, “What can you do? Why are you even here? What about your kids, think of what you’re doing to them? You are completely ill-equipped for this. Did God really call you here?”

But on this mountain climb called Mission, there is a phrase that has been to me a strong foothold. When I’ve despaired, it’s grounded me, and when I’ve been near to giving up, it has given me rest and peace.

It’s what Jesus said when he came face to face with the Father of Lies, Enemy Number One, Satan:

I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

In Matthew 4, Satan attacks Jesus, desperate to win. At this point, Jesus has not eaten for forty days. He hasn’t talked with friends for forty days. He’s lonely, tired, exhausted. Hungry. And Satan himself shows up, on the prowl, to attack.

Satan won’t shut up. He keeps talking and stalking, “You want food, right? Nice, fresh-baked bread? How long has it been, Jesus? Eat.” “How about you prove God cares for you? I don’t think he does. Jump.” “OK, everyone wants stuff, power, and control. You want some? I’ll give it all to you. Bow.”

Jesus answers Satan and gives us a key.

When I’ve despaired, this key has given me hope.

When I’ve been tempted, this key has given me a way out.

When I’ve needed more strength for the climb, this key has provided it.

Over the last two years, when I could pray little else, I’ve stuttered, “I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.” I’ve prayed it silently and I’ve prayed it out loud. When I’ve been discouraged, I’ve begged, “God, help me worship you. Help me serve only you.” When I’ve been tempted, I’ve declared it, as a reminder to Evil and myself; I’m with Jesus.

We sometimes imagine the Tempting of Jesus as if it were a nice chat between buddies. Satan tempts Jesus and Jesus coolly brushes it off with a simple, “Oh, Satan, you silly, the Scriptures say…” But these two were mortal enemies, the Prince of Evil vs. the Prince of Peace. These temptations were real and Jesus felt them.

So, when Jesus answers this last temptation, he was saying so much more than “No.” He was emphatically saying, “I will not listen to you, Satan. I will worship only One, and you’re not Him. I will not follow you, or obey you, or bow down to you.”

He was making a dramatic gesture towards the Father and shouting, “I’M WITH HIM!”

Anytime you wrestle with evil or temptation, you have to know Satan’s smarter than you. You do not “have this under control.” He’s stronger, has more charm, more experience. He has more time, more resources.

You can’t outlast him, outsmart him, or outcast him. But you can resist him. And you must.

How?  With this resolution: There is only One God, and I’m serving Him. Let this be your stake in the ground, your line in the sand. In stating and restating this truth, you disarm and deflate Satan, reminding him that he loses because Jesus wins.

What was Satan’s response to this declaration? He left. What was God’s response? He ministered to Jesus through his servants, angels.

Put another way, Satan responds by leaving and God responds by coming. And that’s a pretty good trade, I think.

Yes, there is temptation and despair and discouragement. And evil. But there is still Hope, and his name is Jesus. And I’ve decided that with everything in me, until my last breath, I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

Jesus says in Matthew 4:10, “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’” When Jesus said this, he was in effect saying, “That’s what I’m doing right now, I’m honoring the Word and obeying my Father. I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.” When we respond to the ancient command (originally from Deut. 6:13) in this way, we make a serious statement of intent, impacting both Heaven and Hell.

 

Would You Even Like Jesus?

Would you even like Jesus?

Would you like him, if he came into your church and started yelling about houses of prayer? Or would you call him just another angry man?

Would you like him if he told you to sell even some of your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or would you call him a socialist?

Would you like him if he told you to stop sleeping with people you weren’t married to? Or would you call him a legalist?

What if you realized he wasn’t a Conservative?

Or a Liberal?

Or white?

Would you like him if you found him crying by himself on a hillside, talking about a rebellious city? Or would you call him an emotional wreck?

I don’t know, would I even like him?

What about the time he let those guys chop up an innocent man’s roof?

Would you like it if he hadn’t planned ahead and all of a sudden asked you to feed a few thousand people?

What would you think when he dozed off during a life-threatening storm?

He is not as tame as we make him, after all.

Would you like him when he let the prostitute get a little too close? Or would you start to wonder about his dedication to purity?

Would you like him when he befriended your political enemy, visiting his house and sharing a meal? Or would that be a red line crossed?

You see, we sanitize and sanctify Jesus, stripping him of context and personality, until he looks (we think) like us.

But he’s not like us. Thank God.

So, would you like him?

What if he showed up in your deepest pain and you saw his eyes, red with mercy and compassion? Would you like him then?

What if you heard him cry, “Forgive them!” And you knew he was talking about you? Would you like him then?

Would you run to him, grasping his sleeve for acceptance and love?

He’d let you.

He’d love you.

He’d heal you.

After all, he liked you first.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

“We have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be — ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.” S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Today, wherever you find yourself on this fine globe, may you have the courage to put aside the abstractions, lay down the hypotheticals, and show your neighborhood the healing reality that is “Jesus with his people.”

May the passion of the Christ, the power of the Father, and the presence of the Spirit, help us in this task, for his glory and the salvation of many.

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

This Is Who We Are

Who are we over here at A Life Overseas?

As editor-in-chief of this blog collective, I’d like to give you my answer to that question. A Life Overseas is an online space where writers and readers show up to tell their stories. We share stories of wounds and stories of healing. We share stories of loss and stories of hope. And sometimes, we share stories that don’t yet have a label.

Our writers meet here from all across the denominational spectrum. Each of us is a different permutation of cultural and intercultural and cross-cultural experience. Yet we all show up here once a month, or once every few months, to connect across feeble lines of prose and shaky lines of code — and sometimes even shakier lines of internet cable. But we keep showing up anyway.

Why would we do such a thing? Well, we do it because we love you, and we don’t ever want you to feel alone in the life you’re living and the joys and challenges you’re facing. More than that, though, we do it because we love Jesus. We show up because there is something so compelling about this Christ-Man that we cannot help but speak about Him.

So we show up to worship this God-King of ours. When I say worship, I don’t just mean the songs we sing when we gather together as the Body of Christ on Sunday morning or Sunday evening or whenever it is we gather together. Rather, I mean that we are here to collectively proclaim His goodness and remember His power and hope for His return.

That doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Our readers and writers have lots of denominational, cultural, and personality differences, just like the global Church we represent. But we can experience an incredible amount of unity among diversity when our sole focus is Jesus and His healing, saving, forgiving power. When everything else is stripped away – our abilities and our doctrinal differences and our shadow comforts and even our heart languages – Jesus still remains.

Christians from all over the world and from every faith stream gathered together this past Sunday to worship this Jesus, the Risen King. Jesus brought us together this week and truly, He is what brings us together every second of every day, regardless of our other differences.

Jesus the One and Only is the only one who can define us as a people. We are the people who belong to Him, and we are the people who believe in Him. We are the people who are cherished by Him, and we are the people who are redeemed by Him. We are the people who daily lift up His name, and we are the people who are waiting for Him to make everything right again. That is who we are.

 

The following four songs express our relationship to Christ and recall the deepest foundations of our faith. May they remind us, the people of God, who we really are.

 

“We Believe” from Newsboys.

“This I Believe” from Hillsong.

“Even So Come” from the Passion conferences.

“Even Unto Death” by Audrey Assad, written in response to the execution of 21 Coptic Christians in 2015.

For the times when you ask, “What good is that?”

The feeding of the five thousand is such a familiar story to me, it seems like I’ve always known it.

Jesus sees a huge crowd of people coming to look for Him and asks Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” When Philip only answers that they don’t have enough money to purchase food for everyone, Andrew points out a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. “But what good is that with this huge crowd?” Andrew asks.

But what good is that??

What good is that?

This is something I repeatedly say to God.

“I offer you this, God. My life, my heart, my all.”

And then I turn around and faithlessly say, “But what good is that, with 7 billion people on this planet?” It’s nothing, not good for anything. You’ll never do anything important or valuable with that, I tell Him.

But Jesus is never in a quandary about how to use His created resources. When He spoke to Philip, “He already knew what He was going to do.” He already knew He was going to provide for the people. He already knew He was going to use a small sack lunch to feed the hungry crowd. He already knew He was going to perform a miracle and blow their minds yet again.

He already knew.

He knew He didn’t need much from the boy, only a little bit. He knew only a meager offering was required, because God Himself would multiply it.

And after He multiplies it, and everyone has eaten as much as they wanted, Jesus instructs them to “gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.”

So nothing is wasted.

First He takes next-to-nothing from one of His followers. Then He multiplies it, filling empty bellies. And then — oh then — He scoops up the leftover bits of His miracle-working, and He wastes none of it. Not a single scrap.

So when I mourn over my offering to God, grieving that it’s not enough, perhaps I should dry my eyes. Perhaps I should remember instead.

Remember that He is the One who gave me my loaves and fishes in the first place.

Remember that when I offer my daily bread back to Him, He will use it as He sees fit.

Remember that He is the One who will multiply my small sacrifices for His own glory.

Remember that He is the One who uses even the leftovers of His miracles.

Remember that He is the One who will never waste my worship.

So when I tell Him still one more time, “What good is that, God,” perhaps I would be better served simply to still my mouth, to quiet my questions, and to wait. To wait, and keep watch for Him to use even the crumbs of my life for Himself.

Which is all I really want anyway.

adapted from here

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any

Your kids aren’t going to remember what you get them for Christmas. They’re just not.

At least I don’t.

My mother died when I was a teen, my dad when I was in my early twenties. And when I think of the holiday seasons with them, I remember them. I don’t remember their gifts.

I remember my mom stomping down snow and scattering bird seeds to feed the menagerie of winged color that knew where to find a good meal.

I remember slow evenings around rock and wood and fire.

I remember egg nog, sipped slowly, and luminaries of sand and wax.

I remember Christmas Eve walks with family, sometimes comfortable and sometimes minus twenty.

I remember their love, not their presents.

Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

christmas-letter-1

Your kids don’t need more stuff. They need you.

To put it bluntly, there will come a Christmas without you. Hopefully, it’ll come much later, but it might come sooner. That’s not a morbid thought, it’s a centering thought. Your kids will always have stuff. They will not always have you.

So hug them. Read to them.
For Christ’s sake, be silly with them and show them that joy exists outside of presents.

Dance with your children and make memories. Watch Elf together and belly laugh. Schedule some down time. Block it out on your calendar because it’s important. Say no to something so you can say yes to something better.

Pause long enough this holiday season to cuddle with your little one. Or listen to your big kid. Don’t spend so much time watching football with your kids that you never play football with them.

Remember: it’s not about stuff. It never was, and it never will be.

Please, don’t give your children something so cheap as things. Stuff never connects people in meaningful ways. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect, isolating the user: “I play with my stuff and you play with yours.”

Stuff fills our hands, making it harder to touch another person’s soul.

Stuff fills our ears, blocking out the heart-cries of the near ones.

Stuff fills our eyes all the way to the periphery, keeping us from seeing the tremendous value in the people right here.

Remember, the best memories are not made of money. The best memories are made of people and places. If you have money, spend it on memories. If you don’t have money, that’s ok too, because money’s certainly not a prerequisite for memories.

Remember, for this Christmas and the ones to come, the gifts won’t be remembered. Your presence will. Or your absence. Both of my parents are absent now; I can’t change that and neither can they. But while they still could, they gave me memories. And I do remember.

I remember my mother’s last Christmas. She was sick and we all knew it. That last Christmas morning, she sat on the couch and held a large stuffed bear and watched her children. And she smiled.

And that smile remains one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.

 

*from trotters.41.com

Why Are We Here?

Why are we here? Why have we chosen lives that cause us to engage suffering in very raw ways? Visible ways? Why do we expose our hearts to people in pain?

Why do we use our passports for more than an occasional vacation? Why do we live in places where we sweat more than we thought possible? Places where we get diseases we can’t even spell?

We say goodbyes. Our kids say goodbyes. And sometimes we say goodbye to our kids. Why?

To give someone clean water?
Access to healthcare?
A chance at democracy?
Education?
Sustainable agriculture?
Counseling?
Economic viability?
The Bible?

Yes, of course.

But there’s more, isn’t there? Those things, by themselves are good and right and worth doing, out of common decency and love for humanity. But on top of all that, indeed, overarching all those good things, is Jesus. He takes those good things and infuses them with something else entirely. Something holy, eternal, and altogether lovely.

wawh1

The Gospel compels us to love as we’ve been loved, and that’s something worth remembering. If our work gets separated from the Word, we’re in trouble. We must let our “roots grow down into him, and let [our] lives be built on him.” Then we’ll overflow with thankfulness, strong in truth. (Colossians 2:7)

We must remain in him, refusing to forget the Story of his immense love and our surprising salvation. (John 15:5-8; Romans 5:8)

Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

Why are we here? Because the story is bigger than suffering and pain and death. Because there is a glorious, mysterious hope that’s code-named Jesus.

Why are we here? Because we are awed by the love of God. The magnificent, sky-shattering love of God that tears time and dimensions to deliver a Son. Because there’s a Savior who was willing to bleed his heart out for the “bad guys.”

Like me.

And you.

The Gospel is a time-capsule from the future, announcing what will be. Not what might be, or could be. What will be. And in part is already.

It’s a saving. Available to all, because of One.

It’s redemption.

It’s a Father who loves unendingly and perfectly. Fully. And wholeheartedly.

It’s justice that won’t blow up in our face (although that’s what we deserve), because it’s been disarmed, defused, and fully satisfied by a Lamb.

The Gospel is peace with God.

We echo a messenger from another time and place who said, He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

We say he lived, and he lives still: “But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.” (Acts 2:24)

The Gospel travels to “the land where death casts its shadow” and does what light does, revealing reality, removing fear: “[T]he people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined. (Matthew 4:16)

May we never forget the Gospel.

Through our medicine and our activism, our education and our micro-finance, our preaching and our translation, our counseling and our parenting, may we preach his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

May we preach the Gospel of a poor man who purchased the world: Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14)

May we preach the Gospel of a day-laborer who’s coming back for his Bride.

May we preach Jesus, the One who steals death’s sting: “And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Check Out infoneter

May we remember the truths penned by John Donne in “Holy Sonnet 10”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death does not win. Jesus does, and “everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

So why are we here?

Because Jesus is here, proclaiming “that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)

And that, my friends, is Good News indeed.

If I’m Perfect

I know I’m not perfect, but if I’m really honest, I want you to think I am.

I want to learn the language well. I want to serve my neighbours well. I want to relate to my team well. I want to communicate to my supporters well. I want to write well.

I want to be the best missionary I can be. That’s a good goal, right?

“I can tell. You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?” my colleague commented. While I certainly knew I wasn’t perfect (sinner saved by grace!), pegging me as a perfectionist felt like something to be proud of. Like you could trust the quality of my work because, well, I did it.

I think perfectionism is born out of the misguided belief that if you are careful enough, virtuous enough, perfect enough, then whatever it is you fear, won’t devour you. Better yet, it won’t even exist.

she could have done better

My deep down darkest fear is rejection. I’m afraid I’ll always be making language mistakes and never be taken seriously. I’m afraid my neighbours and teammates won’t like me, my supporters will move on to more exciting missionaries, and you’ll think my writing sucks.

So I bank on perfectionism because if you like what I do, maybe you’ll accept me as well. With the language I pretend to understand more than I do, jumping to conclusions instead of asking for an explanation. I try to impress my neighbours and teammates with thoughtfulness and conjured spirituality. I try to impress supporters with engaging newsletters. I try to impress you with thought-provoking and inspiring blog posts.

The truth is: Perfectionism is no saviour. It’s a prison.

Last Sunday at our expat fellowship a long time missionary talked about a conference he recently attended. While all these big and important people gave talks at the front on the mission work of this particular group, in the back sat a quiet row of older national men. A generation ago, at great cost to themselves and their families, these men opened whole areas of our island to the gospel. They were pioneers, enduring even the martyrdom of family members for the sake of the cross.

While I’m busy grasping greedily for your approval and acceptance through perfectionism, in the back row sit the quiet faithful.

At fellowship we read the famous passage from Philippians 2:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the very nature of God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Jesus, the God-man with the whole of heaven at his command, used none of it to his own advantage. He humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death.

Throughout the gospels we see example after example of Jesus doing something radical, even distasteful, every time the favour of the crowd turns towards him.

Jesus feeds 4,000 but doesn’t stick around. He is transfigured in the presence of his disciples and makes them promise to tell no one. He calms the sea, and when they reach shore, He goes to heal the strong man tortured by demons — and the people drive him out of town. Immediately after the triumphant entry to Jerusalem, Jesus enters the temple and in a fury throws over tables.

About the people who praised Jesus, even those who believed in him, it’s written in John 2:24-25, “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”

How is it then that I, as a Jesus follower, perfect my talents and abilities to my own advantage with the hope I will receive crowd approval?

If perfectionism is the prison, proof of my enslavement to the thoughts and opinions of others, then dying is the key. Embracing the cross, counting myself as dead with Christ, is the only way out of the cell. It’s the only way to really live.

The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

Rejection is my deepest fear, and while I embrace chains of perfectionism holding out for fleeting approval from the world around me, Jesus is calling out, “Don’t look to them, follow me. I love you. I gave myself up for you. You are accepted not because of who you are or what you do, but because of who I am and what I did.”

As I wrestle with this truth, I’m still learning what it means to live it out day to day. I know I can be more honest in my conversations and ask for help when I don’t understand. I can look for ways to serve my neighbours and teammates with no strings attached. I can write my supporters newsletter stories focusing on what God is doing in others, rather than what I am doing for others. I can write to you with honesty and vulnerability, even if it isn’t perfect.

I’m learning that doing well doesn’t depend on how capable I am, but on who holds my gaze.

 “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1b-2

***

A final word: Ditching perfectionism doesn’t mean settling for shoddy work. We still do our best. Ultimately, all of this is about who gets the glory – Me? Or the Lord?

When You Have to Wash Seven Times

By Erin Duplechin

I was a city girl dropped suddenly into the jungle. It was 2013, the hardest year of my life. Our family of four had packed up and moved to Papua New Guinea and the transition hadn’t gone smoothly.

In addition to the two little people who depended on me for everything, culture shock had hit me hard. We lived in a house with a dirt floor for five weeks. I washed clothes and bathed in the river and cooked our meals over a fire.

I found myself in a culture that celebrated men and extroverts, of which I am neither. And my husband excelled in language and culture learning, while I was much slower.

The whole year was spent largely focusing on my children, their health, and their adjustment. They faced countless ailments as their bodies tried to ward off new and unfamiliar sicknesses.

Nine months in, we found ourselves in the hospital with our then two year old who had to have surgery in a place where the nurses didn’t wear rubber gloves and the floors were coated in the dust; this undid me.

When 2014 came though, it appeared as though we’d had some breakthrough and my kids seemed to have fully transitioned to life in Papua New Guinea. We were finally hopeful.

But, while my kids were doing well, I came to see that I was not. My energy had largely been focused on caring for my children, and I realized rather quickly that I had failed to take care of myself. Shortly after the new year, I had what I would later learn was a panic attack.

I had been in the middle of a conversation when my breathing suddenly quickened and I struggled to catch my breath. I lay down with silent tears streaming down my cheeks, waiting for my breathing to normalize and the chest pain to subside.

My eyes found my husband while he stroked my head and told me — and my two small children watching — that I was okay, that Mommy was going to be okay.

My body had had enough stress. I was like a bucket of water, full to the brim, and finally a small drop had caused the water to spill over. And it scared me.

I had never struggled with anxiety like this before. It made me feel more vulnerable than ever.

I wondered whether I’d continue to have panic attacks for the rest of my life? Would I need medication? What did these episodes say about me, my mental health, and my spiritual maturity?

Was I the girl that just couldn’t hack missionary life? Would I be one of those missionaries that left the States a spiritual giant, but came back a complete wreck?

Regardless of all these unanswered questions, I knew my body was trying to tell me that it couldn’t be strong anymore; it needed help, it needed to be cared for. And my heart and my soul needed rest too.

But I felt like a failure. I felt like Papua New Guinea had taken so much from me: my children’s safety, my comfort, my identity, and in return had given only malaria and heartache.

And I was in the company of other missionaries who had gone through harder things than I had, and some of them let me know it. I felt so indescribably weak and insufficient. I believed I was a failure and that everybody knew it.

I remember one day reading a dear friend’s text message: “You are being healed.”

“I don’t feel healed,” I responded.

There were days when I felt light and whole and days that were dark with the reality of my humanity, the knowledge that I was damaged and fragmented and that only God could repair the broken places.

She and I dialogued a bit about healing, and she reminded me of this story from II Kings 5:8-14:

“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash, and be clean”?’ So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

My western mind is trained to want things fast and easy. How like Naaman I am; how I wish God would wave His hand and boom, Alakazam! — I’m fixed.

But the reality is that, more often than not, healing is slow, measured. It takes effort; you have to make a choice to get into the waters.

And sometimes you have to wash in the waters more than once.

There will be always be another area that needs healing. Always.

Because we are human and frail and because this isn’t our final destination, the road will always meet us with obstacles. People will disappoint us and hurt us. Circumstances will fail to meet our expectations. Our bodies will give out.

I was faced with a decision: go to the waters or stay where I was.

I remember closing my eyes and asking Jesus where He was. The picture immediately came to my mind: He was in the water. Not outside it, not waiting on the edge. No, He was in the water, beckoning me to come and join Him, a smile spread wide across His face.

And then came my revelation: Jesus wasn’t afraid of getting my dirt on Him.

When He heals, He is close and He doesn’t care if the water gets murky. He is the God-Man who wasn’t afraid of spit and a little dirt. He didn’t mind the bleeding woman grabbing his garment. His hands freely and willingly touched lepers. And when the harlot washed his feet He’d said it was beautiful.

He’ll touch you and me too. Because our issues and ailments are no match for His compassion and mercy. For it is His delight to heal, His utter joy to make things right.

So I went to the waters and said yes to the healing, with Jesus by my side. And I continue to go there with Him; I continue to give Him access to the broken places in me.

He’ll stay there with me until it’s finished, until all of me is restored.

Come everyone, come to the waters… Wash and be healed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Erin Duplechin is a missionary wife and mama of two living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at erinduplechin.com

 

When You Have to be Carried

shepherd

By Erin Duplechin

I’m in the middle of the Papua New Guinean jungle.  And I’m freezing.  Thin top sheets are piled on top of me and my daughter’s small, square blanket, but it’s not enough.  There wasn’t a reason to bring thick blankets.  Though skin is like fire, I shiver and teeth chatter.  Body hurts; joints, muscles, I ache all over.  My stomach does flips over and over again and it’s all I can do to pry myself out of bed to walk outside to the pit toilet.

I lie there, eyes closed tight, hoping just to sleep through the worst of it.  When my husband joins me later, he wraps arms around me, legs around me, trying to spread warmth.

The nurse had spoken it that night: malaria.  The sickness that scares those who aren’t familiar with it.

It’s our last day in the village.  Tomorrow we leave.  This isn’t how I wanted to say goodbye.  How can I say all the things I wanted to say?

Morning comes, I can still barely move.  Our village house is packed up about me, my children in the arms of their brown-skinned sisters.  The world around me has blurred.

The news comes that the truck has arrived to pick us up.  It’s a fifteen minute walk away that starts with a large, steep hill.  I pray for the strength to make it to the truck.  I get out of bed, my village mama helping me.

They give me a staff to lean on, but after only a minute or two the staff isn’t enough and I must lie down on the dirt and grass.

Every ounce of strength has left me.

Hands pick me up, guiding to the path.  The dark-skinned man comes toward me.  He isn’t much taller than me, a Highlands man.  On his head, the grey hair far outnumbers the black.  He is the papa of brown and white skins- my papa.  He bends down in front of me, the women help me sit in to him.  I wrap weak arms around his neck.  He lifts up his white daughter.

We climb the hill in front of us.  His breathing heavies, but he doesn’t stop.

We make it to the top of the hill, he gently sets me down.  Mama is there to pick up the slack.  The two of them come on either side me, each pulling an arm over their necks, putting their arms around my waist.  We move slow, easy.  They keep pace with me, letting me rest when I need to, holding up my frail body.

Finally we see the truck and soon I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat, eyes closed again.  I can’t say goodbye like I want to.  Mama finds my hand again.  Tears brim and spill, and I pray they speak while my voice remains silent.  Papa too, his hand grabs mine and squeezes.  Brown and white, embraced and melded.

There are other times I’ve felt this way, weak and immobile.  Times when the body’s strong, but the heart feels feeble.  Times when uncertainty comes quick: I don’t know if I can do this.  But always, always, Papa comes.  I lean in to him, and he carries me.  Arms of strength, arms of love. 

I think of the Shepherd.  He lets me rest in green meadows; He renews my strength.  He brings me to His banqueting table, laden with the finest and richest of fare, His love banner flying high.  And I think of how he carries his sheep in his arms.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

He will carry the lambs in his arms,

Holding them close to his heart.”

Isaiah 40:11

And when He left the ninety-nine and the one was found, did he not, with great delight, carry him on his shoulders?

“And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”Luke 15:5

I am learning, for really the first time in my life, that my strength is not enough.  And it never will be.  That weakness is a gift.  That I must give way to the journey; that I must give thanks for the process.  Surrender in its purest form: giving thanks in all circumstances.  I am learning. 

I’m learning to give thanks for spilled milk, and messes, and yes, even malaria.  For what a joy to be carried in sickness.  What a joy to feel physical healing.  What a joy to know when skin shivers and body aches that the Son Himself shared in sufferings greater and more painful.  So, right now I say thank you, Jesus; You are wonderful in all your ways.

Give me the Good Shepherd, the Papa of the flock, my Care-giver and Keeper on High.  For He is familiar with my ways and knows me deep and wide.  And when I suffer or stray, his arms find me.

I wrap puny arms tight.  His breathing  isn’t heavy, it’s slow, patient.  I lean in now, giving way to the weakness, finding His warmth.

When have you had to be carried? 

 

Erin is a missionary wife and mama of two living in Papua New Guinea. Before moving overseas, she served as a worship leader and continues singing and writing songs abroad. She writes regularly about God and jungle life at erinduplechin.com