God’s Tender Mercies {and a survey}

Hello ALOS friends,

Before we jump into the meat of this post, I have a request. After writing Looming Transitions  to help you with their transitions  and All the News to help you stay on the field via good communication with supporters, I want to help people navigate their first year on the field. In December I’m going to start (and hopefully make good progress) on a book geared especially for the first year on the field. Every year on the field is unique and special, but like other “firsts” in life, that first year on the field is often in a category unto itself. Would you help by taking this survey? It could take 10-30 minutes depending on how much detail you want to go into. Thank you in advance for sharing your experiences with others! Here is the survey.

This week is Thanksgiving in America. I wrote the following years ago in the midst of a very crazy season on the field. Making lists in November of what I was thankful for became an annual discipline to train myself to not miss the ordinary blessings in my life. I wrote:

Still, in the midst of the craziness, I am conscious that I truly do have much to be thankful! Limiting myself to this past week, here are several random pieces of life that I am thankful for:

—Getting to see new things in China. I had never been to Inner Mongolia, the province that borders Mongolia. The population is pretty evenly split between Mongolians and Han Chinese … racial tension does exist. As an outsider, it was cool to see all of the signs in Chinese and the old Mongolian script (not the Cyrillic style that is used in Mongolia). KFC in English, Chinese, and Mongolian! You don’t see that every day.

—Mutton! I’m thankful that I don’t live in a place where the main meat option is mutton (um, like Inner Mongolia). Man, but that is “meat with an attitude”!

—I’m thankful that my job includes the excitement of going out to see and encourage teachers and the fun of heading home and knowing when you wake up on the last day of a trip “tonight I’ll sleep in my own bed.”

—The hand-knit sweater my Chinese Mama made me – it weighs about five pounds (not an exaggeration!!!) but on cold days like today, it warms me outside and in. How many people have two mothers who really love them? Wow.

—Popcorn. Ok, that was my lunch today! But I love being an adult without children so I can eat what I want without having to set a nutritional example :-).

—Chocolate, Stain Remover Stick, and a commentary on British Lit. Isn’t that a great list?! It is what the team I’m visiting tomorrow has asked me to bring them. And it just about sum up what’s important in life!

—Indonesian Dancing. Last night a former student invited me to a dance performance at Beijing University. We’ve been doing a lot together recently – she has a tender spirit and knows where I stand on things but has no real interest in them herself … but I keep hoping!

—Playing CARDS! The same student and her boyfriend came over Saturday night for dinner and to play cards. They taught me a Chinese card game that is very similar to hearts … only I found out the hard way that you don’t want both the Queen of Spades AND all the hearts. The Queen is a ton of negative points regardless!

—Pumpkin bread and helpers! I’ve been cooking down pumpkin to make pumpkin bread for teams when I got to visit them. Saturday Gabe (age 4) and Nate (age 2) helped me by stirring and dumping as I made my bread for my next round of travels.

—My students!! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE them??? Well, I do. Today they handed in papers on their beliefs about reparations, finishing off that unit. How can you not love someone who write:

“Firstly I thank teacher Amy to give us some articles about reparations and these materials make us discuss, know different opinions.”

“In this unit we learned five articles, all of which focused on the understanding of reparation. I was a little shocked and excited to know these all, in such a direct way. I mean, just at one time, all these different (even opposed) opinions rushed into my brain and shook my former perspective strongly.”

—My job! I often think that I have the BEST job in our organization. I get to teach students and encourage our teachers … what is not to love. Wow. I feel that so much of what I do does make a difference and I know that not everyone can say that about their job.

I was given a promise earlier this fall by a friend when I was going through a rough period. The promise was “Don’t hold back Your tender mercies from me. My only hope is in your unfailing love and faithfulness.” And He hasn’t. Even in just this past week my cup runs over – He has been faithful over and over.

Tis time to be thankful!


P.S. Actually all of Psalm 40 is a good one to read this week. And thank you for helping with the survey: Remembering Your First Year.

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

25 Kilo Turkeys and Cultural Humility


We bought a turkey on Saturday – an almost 23 pounder, with no additives and gluten free (really — they had to tell us it was gluten free? Aren’t all turkeys gluten free?)  As this time of the year comes around, I think of Thanksgivings we have spent all over the world and all across the country. Pakistan, Chicago, Essex, Haiti, Egypt, Phoenix, Cambridge – all the memories make me smile.

But one stands out in my mind and to this day makes me laugh. 

To give context I did not cook a turkey until I was 34 years old and had four children.

Attending an international boarding school while growing up in Pakistan meant that we were never at home for Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday. Instead, the boarding school I attended graciously took the holiday and created their own version of a special meal (skinny chickens and mashed potatoes) followed by a musical concert. We called it thanksgiving and it was, for we were grateful for those scrawny but tasty drumsticks.

Furthermore turkey as known in the United States at that time was not available anywhere in the country outside of the American commissary, so Christmas dinner was generally chickens filled with homemade stuffing or the rich meat of wild duck.

It meant that I never helped my mom cook a turkey. I didn’t know how to do it. I knew nothing about making a turkey or a roast, or any of those things that are considered good solid American fare.

But how hard could it be?

At 34 we found ourselves in Cairo on the Island of Zamalek responsible for 18 American college students in a semester-abroad program. I decided now was the time. So armed with my best Arabic I headed to a grocery store I knew well in Maadi.

The conversation went like this:

“Hosni, I would like to buy two 25 kilo turkeys for our feast”.

“Madame – I don’t know if I can find turkeys that big!”

“Hosni! I am having a lot of people. A lot of people…I need TWO 25 kilo turkeys.” He shook his head, muttering, but he had dealt with the likes of me before and knew there was no arguing.

When he called to tell me the turkeys had arrived, he apologized—he couldn’t find two 25 kilo turkeys. Instead he had one that was 13 kilo and one that was 10. “I told you I needed BIG turkeys,” I wailed. Hosni laughed, “Oh, they are big!”

And then I went to pick them up.

They were massive. They filled two large boxes, and packed beside them were their severed heads. In an instant I realized I was forgetting the weight difference between the metric system, used worldwide, and the American system, used only in America.

I had ordered over 110 pounds of turkey.

I was duly rebuked and humbled; no wonder Hosni muttered. We both laughed—he with glee and me with chagrin. I often wondered if he enjoyed telling the story of this insistent white woman and her huge turkeys. Each year after we would laugh together about the 25 kilo turkeys.

It’s a good story to remember. The arrogance of my white-skinned insistence makes me cringe. This was only one of many times of having to admit that I was wrong; I didn’t have a clue. One of many “25 kilo turkey” moments of cross-cultural learning.

When we cross over into other cultures, we function most effectively when we can take 25 kilo turkey moments and recognize our need to listen and learn. When we cross over that bridge, it is important to have cultural humility. And cultural humility put into practice means a few things. 

It means being a student of the person, or the community — not an expert, sitting at the feet of those who can teach us.

It means admitting what you don’t know, and seeking to learn what you need to.

It means seeking out those who can function as cultural brokers, as cultural informants, and asking them questions, learning from them.

It means knowing the importance of culture for all whom we encounter.

It means being capable of complexity. 

Thanksgiving dinner that year was amazing, the turkeys cooked to perfection. And the 25 kilo turkey moment remains a reminder, not only of an amazing Thanksgiving, but of the need for cultural humility, ceasing to be an expert and being willing to be a student of the culture where I was making my home.

This year we will share turkey with people from across the globe, who are making the Boston area their home for a short time. And our turkey will taste the better for the joy of sharing it with friends from across oceans, languages, and cultures. And we will probably tell the story of the 25 kilo turkeys and Hosni’s patience.

How about you? Do you have cross-cultural holiday stories to share? Do you have stories that highlight the importance of cultural humility? Share your story in the comment section! 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/turkey-wild-turkey-49673/