Mom and Dad, Thanks for Letting Us Go without Letting Go of Us

Following is an open letter my wife and I wrote to all parents who give so much to their children who are missionaries. We wrote it several years ago, while we were serving in Taiwan.

Dear Mom and Dad:

Thank you for raising us to know about God and his love for the world.

Thank you for letting us go without letting go of us.

Thank you for forgiving late birthday cards.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for giving up time with your grandchildren.

Thank you for your e-mails and letters and calls.

Thank  you for sending Barbie Dolls, Tic Tacs, Koolaid, socks, Reader’s Digests, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Thank you for your questions about our new home and work.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when we tell you how exciting it is to live in another part of the world.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when, two days later, we complain about living in that same place.

Thank you for not making us feel selfish for wanting to go.  Sometimes we feel that way on our own.

Thank you for listening to our stories about people you’ll never meet with names you can’t pronounce.

Thank you for being our ambassadors.

Thank you for sending clippings from our hometown newspaper.

Thank you for telling us about our neighbors, classmates, and cousins—all the stories that don’t make the news.

Thank you for letting our brothers and sisters stand in for us when we’re too far away to do our part in the family.  (They really should get their own letter.)

Thank you for loving us.

Thank you for trusting Jesus to take care of us when you can’t.

Thank you for being proud of us.  We are proud of you.

We chose to be a missionary family, not you, and we understand that our move has meant many sacrifices for you.  You are not only a part of our family but an invaluable part of our team.

With all our love,

Your children

[photo: “leaving us,” by Petras Gagilas, used under a Creative Commons license]


Got a Couple Hours? Take Time for Cairo

When it comes to movies, I’m often late to the game, as I usually catch them on DVD well after they’ve been released in the theaters. So only last week did I bring Cairo Time (2009) home from the library and watch it with my wife. I had not heard about it before and only picked it out because of the title and synopsis on the case. Sometimes that leads to disappointment, but this time, it paid off.

Cario Time is directed by Ruba Nadda, an Arab-Canadian, and stars Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. Clarkson plays Juliette, the wife of a UN worker who travels to Egypt to meet her husband for a long-awaited vacation. When she arrives, her husband is unable to leave his work in Gaza, so his friend, Tareq (Siddig) picks her up at the airport and introduces her to the city. Tareq is a dashing gentleman, and he and Juliette develop a relationship over the next several days. As several reviewers mention, Cairo is another major character in the story, as Juliette is swept off her feet by a city that also frustrates her. In a way, her relationship with Tareq mirrors how she feels about Cairo, enchanted yet perplexed by her own feelings . . . infatuated by the exotic newness while drawn back by her own “culture.”

Included on the DVD is a “Making Of” segment, in which Nadda says that the reason she became a filmmaker was because she “was desperate to shed light on the common misconceptions the West has of the Middle East.” The segment also includes behind-the-scenes footage from a “very Islamic, very religious” part of Egypt where they filmed a scene. The director was warned not to go there, but they did anyway, and she says it turned out being “one of the best days of [her] life.” They met a poor family there who welcomed them, gave them sodas, and asked about Seinfeld. With accompanying footage, Nadda tells this story:

The man’s wife, she’s veiled, she said “I need to be validated, I need to show the world what I look like.” And she began to unveil. And I was like, “But you’re going to be on camera. The West will see you.” And she said, “I don’t care. I want to show people that I exist.”

Cairo Time is not a fast-paced movie. Rather it moves at a deliberate, thoughtful pace. As Clarkson says in “Toronto Q & A” (also on in the “Bonus” section of the DVD), the director “had the courage to let there be silence.” Nadda adds,

I wanted to show a story that wasn’t about immediate gratification, you know, which is, I find, sometimes, a bit North American. It was “Cairo time.” . . . Cairo is so crazy and chaotic and beautiful, bustling, but it’s also an assault to the senses, and that chips away at your guard and it forces you to slow down whether you like it or not.

[photo: “Pyramids,” by Wilhelm Joys Andersen, used under a Creative Commons license]

African-American Expats

Here’s a book that I’d like to read . . . as soon as it’s written.

The Center for Intercultural Dialogue is calling for chapters and chapter proposals for a proposed book with the working title The Hidden Lives of African Americans Living Abroad Series, Book 1: Articulating the Opportunities and Challenges of Living Internationally. The overview of the book includes the following:

While anecdotal data indicate that the experiences of African Americans living abroad qualitatively differs from those of European Americans, there is a substantial lack of scholarship that investigates the ways in which national and ethnic identities are expressed (and experienced) cross culturally by Black Americans living overseas. In many ways, the everyday lived experiences of African American expatriates living abroad remain unknown—and largely neglected by mainstream media and academic research. This series seeks to examine and highlight what life is like for African Americans living abroad.

And here are some of the suggested chapter topics that look particularly interesting to me:

  • What it’s like to be the only African American in the country
  • “But you don’t have blonde hair or blue eyes”: Encountering and overcoming stereotypes of the “All American” image abroad
  •  “How do they treat Black people there?” Addressing the pre-departure fears of friends
  • Perceptions of African Americans abroad
  • African American Image in Overseas Advertising
  • Returning to the U.S. and Readjusting to Home

As a White American, I’ve often wondered what it is like for Black Americans living overseas, with the extra challenges of facing stereotypes and prejudices . . . layered on top of and intertwined with the other difficulties of cross-cultural living. Hopefully this book—and the whole series—will draw together some good stories and research and create a meaningful discussion.

Go to “CFP African Americans Living Abroad” for more information and submission guidelines.

[illustration: “Blank Open Book,” by DonkeyHotey, used under a Creative Commons license]