September 27, 2018 § Leave a comment
When you go to a new culture and miss the signs . . . or don’t realize how you don’t quite fit in.
At first I thought I’d just let the above stand on its own . . . but I have more to say.
I’m fascinated by these clips of trucks getting stopped in their tracks, of them having their tops peeled back in shiny silver ribbons, of drivers second guessing themselves and hitting the overpass anyway. Yes, it makes me laugh, but it makes me cringe, too. I have empathy for these drivers, especially the ones in moving trucks, heading to a new place with all their worldly possessions packed up behind, having left the rental company after confidently telling the agent at the counter that they’d waive the insurance. “I won’t be needing that, thank you very much.”
When we moved overseas, we had our share of cultural miscues and language faux pas and just mistakes in general. Then after that, we had some more. And while we laughed at many, some were cringeworthy and some were painful to us or even hurtful to others. That’s what happens when you don’t see the signs or can’t understand what they say. That’s what happens when you think somebody needs to lower the road or raise the bridge, because “It’s not me. My truck is the right size!”
And then when we travelled back to our passport country, somehow the bridges were lower there than when we left. Or had our truck gotten taller? Either way, something didn’t fit anymore.
During one of our furloughs we borrowed a van from some friends for our visits to see supporters. It was a conversion van with a raised roof that the owners had just had repainted. (Spoiler: Yes, this is going where you think it’s going.)
Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .
August 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
We can tell a lot about each other by looking at our autocompletes. For instance, start typing “I can’t find my” into a text message and see what it thinks will come next. For me, it’s “keys,” “wallet,” and “phone.” That’s pretty insightful: I have a car, I’m a guy, and I’m absent-minded enough to have my phone in my hand and wonder where it is. But I’m not all that unique. You’re autocomplete may very well say the same thing (even if you’re not a guy). We, and our autocompletes, are products of the cultures that produced us.
So what happens when you relocate to someplace new and different? Your old autocomplete is now out of whack and needs to be retrained to match your new surroundings. Sure, some of it is dealing with single-word typing discrepancies like theatre vs theater or fighting spell-check battles over your friends’ names (Yes, I really do mean Mrak!). But it also goes deeper than that. It’s a change in how you live and act and think. It’s transitioning from normal to strange to new normal.
I just texted “I can’t find my llama” to my wife. On my third try my phone gave in and swapped out “wallet” for “llama” as one of my choices. It may take a while, but as you transition, your autocomplete will catch up—maybe just in time for a trip back
home, far away, that place where the foreigners come from.
So what are your autocomplete settings right now? Where do you fit in with the sentences below?
It all depends on where you are, and where you are in your getting there.
From normal to strange to new normal.
Wow, you can speak two languages? You
. . . must be a genius!
. . . must be average.
. . . must be ready to move to another assignment where you’ll need to learn two more.
Read the rest here. . . .
July 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.
In reference to missionary/member care, Neal writes, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).
Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care?
Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:
I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?
Read the rest at A Life Overseas. . . .
June 28, 2018 § Leave a comment
After my mother’s death last year, my sister and I sorted through the items in her house, and I came home with some boxes that Mom had saved for me, holding grade-school spelling books, newspaper clippings, cards and letters, and old grad-school acceptance letters. There were some posters, too, ones that I’d used to decorate my room when I was a university student.
Do you remember those Argus posters with inspiring words printed over inspiring photos? (If you don’t, ask your parents—it was that long ago.) I recently unrolled a few of them, and remembered them hanging on my wall. There’s the photo of a sailboat against the horizon, reading, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for.” And there’s the image of a man climbing a nearly vertical cliff face. That one says, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
That’s one of the “If” phrases that used to guide me, but I don’t believe it as much now after living overseas. I can’t say for sure it was the location that changed my thinking. Maybe it was just the time that went by, and I would have come to the same conclusions regardless of where I lived. But I can’t separate the when and the where—from the experiences that made up my life then and there.
If it is to be, it is up to me
You’ve got to admire that mountaineer on my poster. He’s straining for his next handhold, his bearded face a display of determination. He knows that he must—he will—reach the summit. He knows the printed message is true. It’s made up of 10 two-letter words. How cool is that?
I understand what the poster is getting at—that we shouldn’t wait around for others to get things done. But somewhere along the way I learned that I’m not the center of the making-things-happen-universe. And it’s a good thing for the world that I’m not. Now I’m more on board with an image that says something like “If it is to be, it is up to God using whomever he sees fit to grace with the opportunity to join him. Finding what I can do to help is the part that’s up to me.” Not too catchy. Too many words and letters for a good poster. And for the picture? How about a guy pausing as he climbs the stairs?
If you want something done right, do it yourself
This phrase is a second cousin to the one above. . . .
Finish reading at A Life Overseas.
Risk and the Cross-Cultural Worker: An Interview with Anna Hampton, Author of “Facing Danger” [at A Life Overseas]
May 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
Dr. Anna Hampton, along with her husband, Neal, have lived and worked for nearly 20 years in war-torn Islamic countries. This includes almost 10 years in Afghanistan, where they started raising their three children. Their experiences led Anna to write Facing Danger: A Guide through Risk (Zendagi, 2016), which is based on her doctoral dissertation at Trinity Theological Seminary.
Many cross-cultural workers recognize the need to develop a theology of suffering, but you write that a theology of risk is also necessary for resilience on the field. You cover this in depth in Facing Danger, but could you give a short elevator speech on how the two are different?
A theology of suffering asks a different question than a theology of risk asks. When I was a young mom facing daily threats of all kinds but especially kidnapping and murder, I needed to be able to evaluate what God was calling me and my children to that day. We hadn’t suffered the reality of kidnapping, but we were facing the risk of it. So how was I to think, to process my emotions, hear God’s voice, and then make a decision on what I was to do?
While risk and suffering are closely related and really go hand in hand, they are not the same thing. A theology of suffering does not answer the challenges of how to think, feel, and make decisions in risk. Instead, a theology of suffering answers how I am to respond to God in suffering, how I am to think, feel, and view God’s heart once I am in suffering. Suffering in many ways is more of a “static” scenario, whereas risk is inherently dynamic—one is moving toward or away from risk and danger, and the situation is often unstable and confusing. A theology of risk answers how I am to act on the opportunities presenting themselves in risk: Risk equals opportunity for both great loss and great gain.
For the rest of the interview, go to A Life Overseas. . . .
March 28, 2018 § Leave a comment
After I wrote about debriefing last month, some people responded with versions of . . . Sounds like a good idea, but where should I go?
That’s a great question, and I’d like to point you to a place where you can find some options. Here at A Life Overseas, click on the Resources link at the top of the page, and you’ll see a list of debriefing opportunities under the heading “Re-entry and Debriefing Resources.” It’s not an exhaustive list, but with the continued help of this community, we can make it more so. Can you give us the names, URLs, and locations of other places you’d recommend? Just comment below or leave your contributions in the comments section at the end of the Resources list.
Of course, Where? isn’t the only question worth asking. So as you think about what might be a good fit for you, here are some more questions to get you started. . . .
. . . finish reading at A Life Overseas
March 2, 2018 § Leave a comment
When we first moved to Asia, one of the customs we needed to learn was not wearing shoes in someone’s home. It’s one of those cultural things. But starting out, we had our reasons for wanting to leave our shoes on. It’s convenient. What about the holes in my socks? I don’t want you to smell my feet—and I don’t want to smell yours! It just doesn’t feel right.
But It didn’t take long for going shoeless inside to become our habit, and even our preference. Then we’d fly back to the West and upon landing we’d again be in the land of most-people-wear-shoes-in-the-house. Of course, we still could take ours off, and we often did. But sometimes it was easier just to leave them on. Then it was back on the plane (where, a recent headline proclaims, you should never take your shoes off), and we’d start to reset our minds about a whole range of things.
Back and forth. Back and forth. It can all get pretty confusing. Sometimes we need help sorting things out—things much bigger and deeper than clothing choices. A great opportunity for processing on those issues, whether you’re finishing a term, or a lifetime, overseas, is a set-aside time for in-depth, personal debriefing. And for that kind of debriefing, regardless of the location, shoes, and socks, don’t belong.
OK. Now I’ve moved to speaking figuratively, so let me continue in that vein and talk a little about feet. Most of us aren’t that crazy about how ours look. There are crooked toes, calluses, bunions, blisters, unclipped or ingrown toenails, and pasty-white skin. And then there’s that smell. Yes, missionaries may have the beautiful feet of Romans 10:15, but they don’t always seem that way to the ones who own them—thus the socks and shoes. Debriefing, though, should be about openness and trust, showing your feet, so to speak, as they truly are. But that’s not always easy.
To read the rest of this post, head over to A Life Overseas. . . .