April 18, 2015 § 2 Comments
What do you see when you see a dock?
A place to study the horizon?
To dip a toe in the water?
To dive in?
Or is it a place find a port in a storm?
To lower your sails?
To step onto dry land?
Is it a place for casting off or coming home? Much depends on the compass of your heart.
If for you, the dock is too short, out of desire or necessity, you build it forward, step by step, plank by plank, as you go—through the spray and the mist and the fog. And when you’ve built till you’re more coming that going, you see another shore—build, step, build, step. You are there.
This is crossing cultures. This is creating a bridge. This is going from home to home.
Then, at some point, out of desire or necessity, you step back onto the bridge. You must have been gone a long time, because what was once a complete span now has sections missing. You need to build again to close the gaps. And at times you’re simply on a dock again, building to a shore you cannot yet see. Strange. It was a bridge before.
This time while you’re crossing, you find that in the mist, there are others with you, and when they talk, you understand them, because they are speaking your language.
“Where are you from?” you hear someone ask, and the answer, “That’s an interesting question.” “You, too?” one says. “Me, too,” another replies. You understand them, not because you use the same words, but because when you speak you agree on the impreciseness of their meanings: near, far, hot, cold, friends, enemies, rich, poor, family, strangers, here, there, hello, goodbye. Their meanings are slippery, like the damp boards beneath your feet. And the slipperiness is smooth and comfortable.
In time, you cross the bridge again and again, sharing familiar greetings with those in the misty middle. But never do you set out without having to repair what was built before. You continue . . . build, step, build, step.
What is a bridge, but a paradox, leading from from home to home, from not-home to not-home? Your heart’s compass spins. The shores, they push and pull, they give hugs at arms length, they don’t plan on changing, but they do. The same can be said of you.
And then, out of desire or necessity, you settle down farther inland. You put down roots in loose soil. There’s a dock over the next, next hill. You go to visit from time to time and walk it’s length. You listen to the slap of the waves. You breath in the smell of the ocean. You taste the salt in the air . . . and you remember the sounds and the smells and the bitter-sweet flavors of where you used to be.
What do you see when you see a dock?
You put down roots in loose soil, but you still speak the language of the bridge.
*These thoughts are inspired by Mission Training International‘s “Pair of Ducks.” MTI uses two rubber ducks—a “yay duck” and a “yuck duck”—to show cross-cultural workers and Third-Culture Kids that all the places they’ve lived in have their good and bad parts.
April 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Finals. In just a few short weeks comes that time of the school year when students sit down to tests that have the sole purpose of showing how much they know. Or as some would put it, the purpose of the tests is to show how much they don’t know. Gapminder’s “Ignorance Survey” fits into this second way of thinking.
Gapminder is a foundation that promotes a better understanding of statistics to aid in global development. It’s cofounder, and most visible spokesperson, is Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor, statistician, and professor of global health. (To see Rosling and his statistics very much in action, go to “5 Stat Sites That Eat Pie Charts for Lunch.”)
If you’re not worried about finding out what you don’t know, click over to The Guardian‘s “Population Quiz: How Well Do You Know the World?” It’s an interactive collection of 9 questions from Gapminder’s “Ignorance Project,” covering such topics as life expectancy, education, and income.
After you’re done, come back and watch Hans Rosling and his son, Ola, explain in a TED Talk how our intuition has been hijacked—to the point where most people, including educators and the media, score worse on Rosling’s tests than if they’d picked the answers at random. Or as the Roslings put it, they do worse than chimps grabbing at bananas. “Only preconceived ideas can make us perform worse than random,” says the elder Rosling, at the “Ignorance Project” page.
At the end of their talk, they give four “practical tricks” for overcoming those preconceived ideas. But before you jump ahead, if you haven’t done it already, you really should try the “Population Quiz.” If you don’t know what you don’t know, you won’t know what you need to know.
(The “Population Quiz” will calculate your score, and if you don’t get 100% right, click on “Show Answers” at the bottom of the results page.)
(Hans Rosling, “Population Quiz: How Well Do You Know the World?” The Guardian, November 7, 2013)
April 4, 2015 § 2 Comments
I may have to stop reading Dave Lewis’s blog at Paracletos.org. Sure, it’s an amazing resource for gleaning insights from around the Web on member care and cross-cultural life, but it’s starting to get in the way of my originality. I’m particularly frustrated with his “Casual Friday Resources.” Lately, it seems as if when I come up with a new idea to write about, the same idea pops up on Casual Friday, and I see that others have thought my thoughts before me . . . often in more complete and coherent ways.
Take for instance, my last post on missionary expectations. Since I was focusing on Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, I knew that what I had to say would more or less be a reworking of their research and observations. But I wanted to bring attention to the topic and their book, because, you know, not enough people are getting the word out.
As I was putting my thoughts together, Dave linked to a post by Bliss on the blog Velvet Ashes, “an online community of women serving overseas.” In “Burnout: A Retrospect,” Bliss writes, “Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that burnout is the best thing that ever happened to me.” That link inspired me. The folks at Velvet Ashes and I are thinking in the same direction.
But then, just yesterday, Dave linked to Velvet Ashes again, this time to an interview with Eenigenburg, the other author of Expectations and Burnout. Come to find out, Velvet Ashes is doing a two-month series on the book as they read through it one or two chapters at a time. Come on, guys! What am I going to do?
All joking aside, here is what I’m going to do.
Many times I’ve heard variations on the well-known words of D. T. Niles, a Methodist evangelist from Ceylon, who wrote,
Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his Master’s table, and, as evangelist, he calls others, too.
I figure it’s much the same with promoting member care. I’m just a beggar letting other beggars know that food is out there for hungry souls. So head on over to Paracletos.org and Velvet Ashes. There’s some great feasting going on at each of these. And as I find more resources, I’ll continue to let you know about them, joining others who are doing the same.
And as far as originality goes, there can be all sorts of room for creativity in how we point others in the right direction.
(Robynn Bliss, “Burnout: A Retrospect,” Velvet Ashes, March 8, 2015; D. T. Niles, That They May Have Life, Harper, 1951)
March 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Remember the good old days when you could pack 70 pounds into each of your two checked bags on international flights? That meant that when our family of six moved overseas as missionaries, we could take 840 pounds of clothes, books, sheets, cake mixes, and the like. And we used just about every ounce of it.
It could be argued that we didn’t need to take that much with us, but we’re Americans, after all, and we Americans don’t often pack light. I’ve traveled with people from other countries, and even on short trips, I invariably seem to end up lugging the largest pieces of luggage. What if there’s a pool nearby? Better bring swimming trunks, and a towel. What if it snows? What if I spill something on my Friday jeans? What if I need work shoes? What if somebody throws a formal party?
There’s also another set of luggage that missionaries tend to overpack. It’s the bags that hold our our assumptions, our plans . . . our expectations.
Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. What they found is that our pre-field predictions often don’t measure up to our on-field experiences. (I say “our” because though the book is written for and about women, most of its insights and lessons easily apply to both sexes.)
The authors gave the women a list of 34 expectations, and asked them to rate each one on the degree to which it applied to them. Then the respondents went back and evaluated the list against what actually came to be in their lives as missionaries.
In 14 of the areas, the women reported that their expectations exceeded what they found in real life. The 10 with the highest percentage of expectations greater than reality include some very deep, personal issues:
75.4% Am fruitful
70.4% Am a prayer warrior
67.6% Am growing spiritually continually
62.7% Am spiritually dynamic
65.8% Continually trust God for everything
57.5% Have a daily quiet time
56.5% Have a successful quiet time
56% Am well balanced in areas of ministry in and out of home
55.1% Have miraculous stories to tell of how God is using me
50.9% Embrace my new host culture
The disconnect between expectations and reality often leads to disappointment and guilt. And as the authors point out, this can lead to burnout. It is difficult to move steadily forward when we are dragged down by the weight of our overpacked luggage.
So how can we pack less? How can we lighten our load? Here are some suggestions.
- Read fewer biographies, read more people.
Stories about missionaries can be very inspirational, but when inspiration is the main goal, they can often leave out the flaws and shortcomings. When we assume that real missionaries are super human, then we are discouraged when we don’t measure up. That’s why we need to have honest conversations to find out the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. But not everyone will give you the unvarnished truth. It usually takes time to earn someone’s trust. And you’ll need to ask questions that get people rethinking their responses, to speak beyond the safe and familiar answers. Try asking a missionary, “What do you wish you’d known before you moved overseas?” “What have you learned?” “What would you tell yourself as a younger missionary candidate if you could?” “What are some of your unmet expectations?” (For other examples, see the questions asked of missionaries in Eenigenburg and Bliss’s survey, printed in the appendix of their book.)
- And when you read, read between and outside the lines.
As But just as some books—and missionaries—are only completely positive, some are entirely negative. Be cautious in drawing conclusions based on either side. When you hear what sounds like cynicism and despair, be slow to judge. Context is important here, too. Find out the whole story. And don’t say, “That will never happen to me . . . not with my faith, my preparation, and my plans.”
- Remember that short stories can be good literature, too.
Before packing your bags, talk to those missionaries who have failed and come home early. I say “failed” only to grab your attention. I don’t really count those missionaries as failures. Instead, I understand that most are people who have struggled with some great disappointments and have made the extremely difficult decision to return. What can they teach you about packing? Know that “ex missionaries” who left under less-than-ideal situations often fade into the woodwork and aren’t often sought out for their expertise. But they just may be the ones with the most to offer.
- Don’t book a ride on the magic plane.
A ride on the magic plane is the one in which you fall asleep half way across the ocean and wake up “A Missionary,” with all the super powers that that entails. You may arrive at your destination with increased confidence, but you’ll still be the same person who stepped onto the plane. You’ll still need to deal with the same issues and weaknesses that vexed you back home. In fact, you’ll probably see your struggles increase in the crucible of cross-cultural service. Simply taking on the title missionary doesn’t change who you are the inside, in the same way it didn’t change those missionaries you’ve idolized in the past, or those teammates you’re traveling to join.
- Pack your own bags
Here’s another throwback to days gone by. Before 9/11 and TSA protocols, ticket agents would ask, “Did you pack your bags yourself?” That question isn’t asked much anymore, but it’s an important one for missionaries. Yes, getting input from those who have gone before is important, but the luggage holding your expectations needs to be filled by you, not by your sending agency, supporting churches, supervisors, teammates, or even other members of your missionary family. Get clarity on other’s expectations and work out disagreements before disillusionment is allowed to set in. And don’t set yourself up for failure in their eyes by over predicting the positives in order to gain support—or to convince yourself. Sometimes you’ll find that other’s assumptions are unreasonable and need to be corrected. Sometimes you’ll find that you’re trying to please voices that exist nowhere except in your own head.
Before you head to the mission field, prepare thoroughly, and pack carefully. When it comes to packing your expectations, it isn’t just about seeing how much you can get into a suitcase and still get the zipper closed. It’s also about being discerning and knowing what to leave behind.
But you don’t want to go empty-handed, either. Hopes, dreams, and plans are important. Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And if you’ve got room, you might want to take that swimsuit, too. Just in case.
March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Is rain a good or bad thing? It depends, you’d probably say, on what you’re doing at the time.
But when we hear “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” we usually interpret it as “Bad things happen to good and bad people.”
I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, in the Sermon on the Mount,
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)
In context, Jesus is talking about how we should give something good (love) to bad people, in the same way God gives the sunshine and rain to them. There certainly are places in the Bible that talk about bad things happening to good people, but I don’t think this is one of them.
E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, point out that we often miss the meaning of Bible passages when we don’t see from the point of view of the authors and audiences of Bible times. (I’ve written about that here.) This seems to be one of those passages.
In our modern American culture, we often pray for nice, sunny days. We want good weather for an outdoor wedding, for a trip to the lake, or for a long drive. And by good weather, we usually mean the absence of rain—and warm, but not too warm, temperatures are great, too.
If all of our prayers were answered, we’d probably have the longest drought in history. Of course, then our attitude would change and we’d think of rain as a blessing. That’s the way farmers most often see it. Of course, an ill-timed rain can keep them out of the fields, and over saturation and flooding can ruin a harvest. But it’s the lack of rain that causes the most problems.
Last year, the UN reported that the majority of the world’s population, 54%, now live in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization, 55 years ago, the urban population accounted for just 34% of the total. Two thousand years ago, that percentage was much less.
In Jesus day, the people had a direct tie to the land and the goods that it produced. Think of all the agricultural metaphors Jesus used to get his message across. But today, living and working in air-conditioned buildings with drinkable water only a faucet handle away, much of my thinking about rain centers around my walk to and from the car.
I try to pray less about the weather than I used to. Rather, I want to pray that I will be able to make the best of my day regardless of whether it rains or not. I realize that God is not going to tailor every weather pattern to my scheduled activities, in part because my wishes for that day may be just the opposite of what others want or need. As C. S. Lewis puts it, my down hill could be someone else’s up hill:
Yet again, if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all it’s dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. If a man travelling in one direction is having a journey down hill, a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves.
Yes, I pray fervently when tornados touch down nearby or typhoons threaten or droughts bring about famine. But I pray less for weather variations simply to enhance my day. Actually, let me restate that. I pray fervently when severe weather threatens me, but my sporadic prayers are less than fervent when it comes to famines or flooding half a world away.
We all need to pray less for our corners of the world and more for the huge swaths of people who face disastrous weather each day. We need to pray that those of us with much will help those with little who are at the mercy of the elements. We need to pray that our down-hill walk does not cause someone else a more difficult journey. We need to pray less for our will and more for God’s will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
(“World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More than Half Living in Urban Areas,” United Nations, July 10, 2014; “Global Health Observatory (GHO) Data: Urban Population Growth,” World Health Organization; C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Centenary Press, 1940)
[photo: “Face à Face,” by D. Julien, used under a Creative Commons license]
Three Ads: Pretentious Pronunciations, a Never-Before-Seen Oz, and a Lying Dad (get a Kleenex for the last one)
March 14, 2015 § 2 Comments
I don’t have much of an intro for this—just that I saw these three commercials on Adweek, and I like them.
The first one gives us the “correct” pronunciations of some brand names—many are foreign, and expensive. I sometimes pronounce Adidas as “Ah-dee-dahs” just as a joke, because it rhymes with la dee das and sounds so highfalutin. Didn’t know how cultured I am. After hearing several of the “right” pronunciations, my eight year old said, “Yeah, I think people are going to stick with the old ones.”
The next one is an extended commercial that gives the back story for Comcast’s XFINITY, a system that lets blind people select their own movies. Watching this is a step beyond seeing the world through other’s eyes—especially since that world is Oz.
And this last one is from MetLife Hong Kong. Made me cry . . . each of the four times I’ve watched it so far.
TCKs as Prototypical Citizens and Culture Shock as Exaggerated Poop: Ted Ward’s Views on Growing Up Abroad
March 6, 2015 § 4 Comments
According to the Taipei Times, the sport of river tracing may have have been birthed in Taiwan in 1982. That year, a Japanese expedition team representing the Osaka Grassshoes Society traced the Nantsi River to the top of Taiwan’s Jade Mountain. (How’s that for an epic-sounding adventure?) Years ago I got to chaperone a group of junior-high-school students in a much less demanding trek, hiking in and up a fast-moving mountain river in northern Taiwan. We had a great time wading, swimming, crawling, and climbing. Not only did we find the spring that was the river’s source, but we also enjoyed—and discovered a lot during—the getting there.
So it is with quotation tracing, finding the origin and context of well-known, though often misquoted and misattributed, quotations. There’s much to be learned from tracking down quotations, and now that I’m older, I find that quotation tracing is more suited to a more sedentary lifestyle, as well.
My target quotation this time is one that we read often in literature about Third Culture Kids. And just like river tracing in Taiwan, it comes from the 80s. It’s Ted Ward’s
TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future.
I used this form of the quotation a few years ago in a blog post that I wrote. Sadly, at the time, I hadn’t checked the source. Had I done so, I would have seen that the original comes from page 57 of “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” in Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family. The chapter from Ward is an abridged version of a presentation he made in Quito, Ecuador, at the International Conference on Missionary Kids, held in 1987. (David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, are two who point to this source.) I would have also seen that the quotation has been paraphrased over time.
Speaking about the qualities that define Missionary Kids (MKs) as world Christians, Ward says,
Another characteristic is the loyalty to Christian values, even above the social pragmatics that we deal with in any society. There are characteristics of the internationalizing community of Christ that may very well, in this increasingly shrunken world, become characteristic of the church in general in the twenty-first century. One of my propositions is that the missionary kid of the nineties will be the prototype of the Christian of the twenty-first century [emphasis mine].
Because Missionary Kids are a subset of Third Culture Kids, it’s not a stretch to apply what Ward said to the larger group as a whole, but it’s interesting that his comments in this context refer not to general global citizens but to citizens of the community of Christians. This is understandable, though, as Ward’s audience was missionary families, and if he were talking to expat families in general, I would think it logical that he would apply the same principle to the broader category of all TCKs.
But looking at Ward’s presentation as a whole, I find something even more interesting. It’s his strong pronouncements of how MKs should embrace the advantages of their lives abroad and should not focus on the perceived negatives. “I view the MK growing up experience,” he says, “as very positive and very valuable, in comparison with the experiences available to their cousins who are stuck back home.”
To combat negative stereotypes applied to MKs, Ward uses somewhat blunt language, language that grates against my way of thinking. But one of his goals seems to be to shake up our assumptions, and my discomfort shows that he has been successful in that with me.
At the time that he spoke at the Quito conference, Ward was serving as dean of International Studies, Mission, and Education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before that, he spent 30 years at Michigan State University, teaching in the areas of education and curriculum research, and taking a leading role in the field of theological education.
While at Michigan State, Ward was a colleague of Ruth Hill Useem, the sociologist and anthropologist who coined the term Third Culture Kid. Ward describes Hill Useem’s technical usage of TCK as the
cultural variables that are not definable in terms of ours and theirs. She was talking about the dynamic of that which is different because people from outside settings residing in an inside setting do not take their primary identities ultimately from either, but they take it from the commonness that they have with others who are doing the same thing.
Ward believes that the later, popularized usage of TCK is a misuse of the term. According to Ward, Hill Useem applied it to particular new cultures—new communities in a distinct time and place—that expats form inside their host country. This is different from how we currently use TCK (or MK) to describe a broad group of people raised overseas. Instead, Ward says, the term has become “static,” with “standard values” and “generalizations about it which lead us to the wrong questions.”
What are some of the wrong questions? They are nonsense questions. “Is it OK to be an MK?” “What are the problems of being an MK?” They’re dumb questions, but they’re the questions that a static view of culture leads you to.
Then you get preoccupied by rootlessness. Oh, come on. Millions of people in the world are rootless. Don’t get paranoid about thirty thousand kids when ten percent of them are rootless.
It is this kind of negative thinking, especially by parents of MKs, that Ward opposes. For instance, in the area of culture shock:
Words like culture shock—good grief! Talk about popularization of some bad research! Culture shock—for the most part largely exaggerated poop! Incompetency, yes, but incompetency comes in all kinds of forms.
And about American expat parents who are concerned about their children’s lack of understanding of US culture, he responds,
I find more MKs understanding the nature of American society than people who are raised wholly within it. Would that we could get that message across to parents. Paranoid parents have got to be helped.
Ward also laments missionary parents’ worries about reverse culture shock. Years ago, it wasn’t so easy for missionaries or their children to return “home,” so they weren’t so apt to influence their children towards the inevitability of going back. One qualification of MKs as prototypical world Christians, says Ward, is their ability to serve God anywhere, without being tied down to a particular country or culture, especially the one from which they came.
Ward believes that the long-term work of missionaries has changed. “A career missionary today does not get buried in China at age forty-seven under great mounds of Chinese soil,” he states. “He gets buried at age forty-seven at a North American mission offie desk under mounds of paper.” Ward doesn’t want this sort of mindset to be passed on to Missionary Kids.
Ward has given me, a former missionary and current parent of several MKs, a lot to think about, and I wonder how I would have responded if I had been in his audience 27 years ago.
While tracing Ward’s quotation to its source, I’ve been challenged, affirmed, and stretched. I’ve learned a few things and I’ve read some things that I’ll be pondering for a while. I’m grateful for the work that Ted Ward has done for and with cross-cultural workers and their families. And while I’m not on board with everything he’s said (for instance, I don’t think that culture shock is “largely exaggerated poop”), I do understand that there can be a tendency toward paranoia and excessive navel gazing.
We need balance. It’s good to look inward, with caution. But it’s also good to look up and out and aim for some mountaintops, to hike some rivers, to look with optimism at the path ahead, and to see the landscape from a different perspective.
(Ian Bartholomew, “Taiwan’s Rivers Offer Vast Potential for Adventure,” Taipei Times, August 19, 2001; Ted Ward, “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family: Compendium of the International Conference on Missionary Kids, Quito, Ecuador, January 4-8, 1987, Volume I, Pam Echerd and Alice Arathoon, eds., William Carey, 1989.)
[photo: “Consumer Confidence!” by Chris & Karen Highland, used under a Creative Commons license]