Vulnerability: Letting Others See What Is Hard to Look at Ourselves

December 28, 2016 § 1 Comment


I recently wrote about Steve Saint’s travels with Mincaye, when Steve—the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint—was logging thousands of miles on his way to speak to thousands. But that was before an accident in 2012, while testing an experimental wing at I-TEC, that left him as an incomplete quadriplegic.

Since then, Steve has openly shared about his struggles and pain. In a post he wrote last month at the I-TEC blog, Steve talks about his feelings of insignificance. “It is hard to feel very important when Ginny has to help dress me and when I need a bib at dinner time,” he writes. “But then when I’m lamenting that I no longer count I’ll get a letters from someone thanking me now for trusting God in suffering. Go figure.”

I’d like to add my vote saying that Steve still counts. I am so grateful for his honesty, for his willingness to be vulnerable. He is truly serving through his scars.

Here is how he begins his post:

About half of the time I can only function at about 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, with no warning I crash to about 1 or 2 in 10. I lose the tiny bit of feeling in my hands, the bands around my body begin to clamp down so tightly that I go into spasms just trying to stand up. But worse than the physical torment I struggle with, the increased pain is accompanied by an involuntary hardening in my “heart”.  I sing along in church and hear preaching that used to move me, and I feel nothing. 

But, the physical pain and spiritual feelings take second place to an almost constant sense that my life has no significance anymore. But I’m not the only one struggling to have my life count. . . .

I hope you’ll take the time to read the rest of “No Count People?

And on the topic of letting others see us as we are—if you haven’t watched it yet (or if you’d like to watch it again), here’s Brené Brown’s TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability,” in which she says,

I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

(I’m sure this makes me a prude, but before you gather the kids around the computer to listen to a video that Uncle Craig recommended, please note that it has a touch of PG language.)

(Steve Saint, “No Count People?” I-TEC Blog, November 29, 2016)

[photo: “Let There Be Urbex,” by darkday, used under a Creative Commons license]

Those Friendly, Friendly Drive Throughs and “Food Houses”

December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment


It’s that holiday time of the year, which means lots of traveling and probably some quick meals along the way. If you’re wanting to up your grabbing-a-bite-to-eat game, take a look at Business Insider‘s list of the top 25 US limited-service restaurant chains, published earlier this year. Below are the ten restaurants with the highest customer-satisfaction scores. (By the way, if you’re wondering, “limited service” means pay before you eat and includes fast food and fast casual.)

  1. Firehouse Subs
  2. Chick-fil-A
  3. Papa Murphy’s Pizza
  4. Ben & Jerry’s
  5. In-N-Out Burger
  6. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
  7. Krespy Kreme
  8. Fuddruckers
  9. Jersey Mike’s Subs
  10. The Habit Burger Grill

I guess you could say this is a pretty congenial group of eateries—offering good food at a good price with good service—but if you want to know just how friendly the American food-distribution scene is, you need to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. In his book End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells about his friend Mincaye’s first trip to the States. Mincaye is from Ecuador, a member of the isolated Waodani (Waorani, Huaorani) tribe.

After he and Steve return to Ecuador, Mincaye describes grocery stores to members of his village. To him, “food houses” are wondrous places with endless amounts of food (people take it out but no one brings it in), and taking it out is oh so easy:

The only thing you have to do is when you are leaving, you have to go by the place where the young foreigner girls stand. They look at you very seriously. But if you just stand there and smile, when they smile back, you can take all your food and go eat it happily.

At this point, Steve corrects Mincaye’s story by explaining that the food needs to be paid for and shows the group a credit card.

“Don’t worry,” Mincaye explains. ” They just give that thing right back to you, and then you can go and eat all your food!”

But someone wants to know how food can be gotten when you’re out driving and not close to a food house. Mincaye knows the answer. That’s not a problem for Babae, as he calls Steve:

Babae has friends everywhere. Whenever we are away from the big, big food house and my stomach hurts, telling Babae, he just stops at one of his friend’s houses. They open the little windows in their walls and hand us food. Those people really like Babae, just like we do.

I really feel special now. I guess those people really like me, too!

(I’ve written about Steve and Mincaye before, but if you’d like to know their full stories, read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and Saint’s End of the Spear, or watch the movie of the same name.)

(Emmie Martin, Tanza Loudenback, and Alexa Pipia, “The 25 Best Fast-Food Chains in America,” Business Insider, May 9, 2016; Steve Saint, End of the Spear, Tyndale, 2005)

[photo: “Service with a Smile,” by Broken Piggy Bank, used under a Creative Commons license]

Steve Saint: Serving with Scars

June 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

8628515338_c776ab1942_mAfter hearing the news of Elisabeth Elliot’s death, I went back to the post I had written in 2013 about her and Steve Saint.

That led me to look for an update on Saint, as it’s been three years since he suffered a severe spinal-cord injury, leaving him an “incomplete quadriplegic.” What I found was another “next chapter” video produced last year by his Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (I-TEC).

In it he talks about the value of using our suffering, our scars, to help others who are suffering in the same way. He refers specifically to Christians ministering to those who don’t know about Christ’s love, but his advice can also be applied to Christians sharing honestly with each other, not hiding the hurts they have faced, not “with makeup over all their wounds.”

People want to see Christ followers who have scars where they have wounds, so that they know that, hey, this person has been where I am, and then they trust us. So it’s time to take the makeup off, time to quit buttoning our collars up to our throats and wearing masks. People want to see that we have hurt.

I appreciate Saint’s willingness to show us how he is doing, even when he’s not doing as well as he, or the rest of us, would like. The whole of “God Doesn’t Waste Hurts” is well worth watching.

A few months before this video was posted, Saint spoke at the 2013 Global Missions Health Conference. During his presentation he fell, and used that moment as an opportunity to talk about North American missionaries. As people from the audience rushed to his aid, he said, “Wait a minute. I can do this.” And as he worked to get himself into a chair, he added,

You know, this is like missions. Whenever something happens that we don’t expect, we North Americans  always want to run in and fix it. And sometimes what we need to do is we need to just wait and give the people there a chance. . . . I can do this, I just need a chance.

You can watch his complete presentation on YouTube. It’s titled “Let God Write Your Story (But What If We Don’t Like the Next Chapter).”

[photo: “Cracks,” by Jamie Johnson, used under a Creative Commons license]

Steve Saint and Elisabeth Elliot and the Revealing Epilogues to Their Stories

November 15, 2013 § 5 Comments

2325686115_9baa8eafd4_nIn doing research on Scott Wallace’s work with isolated tribes of the Amazon, I came across his March report about two Waorani Indians who had been killed by members of an “uncontacted” tribe. According to witnesses, “the assailants belonged to a clan of Taromenane, a branch of the Waorani who spurned contact with evangelical missionaries in the 1950s and continue to roam the forests of Yasuní as nomads.”

I knew about the Waorani (Woadani, Huaorani, Auca) story, that their original contact with Western Christians had resulted in the spearing death of five missionaries in 1956, but I hadn’t updated myself on what was currently going on with the tribe. I also knew that the son of one of those missionaries, Steve Saint, had continued the work with the Waorani and that last year an accident had left him partially paralyzed. Again, I hadn’t kept up with his situation and assumed that his recovery was complete.

Following through a number of links, here is what I found: Steve Saint and Elisabeth Elliot (wife of one of the slain missionaries) living out their lives after tragedy, grabbing hold of their all-too-often idealized stories, stripping away the neatly tied bows, and letting the loose ends speak.

Our stories are part of God’s story, and by adding their epilogues, Saint and Elliot show that all our stories are best told completely, fairly, and honestly.

Steve Saint: All Is Not Good, but Let God Write Your Story

One year ago this past June, an accident left Steve Saint partially paralyzed from the neck down. Saint, the founder of the Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (I-TEC), was testing an aluminum wing when it became unmounted from its stand, striking him in the head.

Steve Saint was five years old when his father, Nate Saint, was killed by the Waorani Indians in Ecuador. The story of their deaths is told in Elisabeth Elliot’s book Through Gates of Splendor and in the film End of the Spear.

Due to the continued efforts of Saint’s Aunt Rachel and Elliot—wife of Jim Elliot, another of the five killed—many of the Waorani became Christians. And as teenagers, Steve and his sister, Kathy, were baptized by two of the men who had killed their father—in the Curaray River next to the beach where the killings had taken place.

After Rachel Saint’s death, Steve Saint was invited by the Waorani to come live with them, which he, his wife, and children did, for a year and a half. Later, he started I-TEC to “enabl[e] indigenous churches to overcome the technological and educational hurdles that stand in the way of their independence.” I-TEC’s most famous invention is the Maverick, a “flying car” developed to help Christian workers reach “frontier” areas.

Since his accident, Saint has produced a series of six videos, called “The Next Chapter,” telling about his injury and recovery. The first was filmed a week after the accident, with Steve speaking from his hospital bed. The last came a year later. In it, Saint begins, over footage of him struggling to get up in the morning,

I think, maybe in some of the recordings we made earlier on, what I wanted to show was, you know, how wonderful things were, and I think we gave the impression that, you know, all is good now. And there is good now, but not all is good. . . . You know, stand up, and that’s the worst, standing up is just agony in the morning, you know, trying to get these stilts, ’cause I can’t feel from my waist on down . . . and I can’t feel most of my arms, and I certainly can’t feel my hands. . . .

I was privileged to meet Saint and his good friend Mincaye several years ago when they gave an interview at a ministry I worked for. Mincaye, now a Christian, was part of the group that speared Saint’s father. I am encouraged by Saint’s faith and dedication. Despite his current condition, he has kept his trust in God. Three months after his injury, he told the Ocala StarBanner, using much of the same language that is part of the video above:

My motto has been, “Let God write your story,” and that’s what I have always done. Opportunity comes in strange formats. You have a lot of people, nowadays, who want to write their own story and have God be their editor, when something goes wrong. I decided long ago to let God write my story.

Elisabeth Elliot: We Are Buffoons, but the Work is God’s

It’s been a long time since I read Elisabeth Elliot’s Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot. I remember being inspired by Jim and Elisabeth’s lives, but also discouraged. It seemed that their level of faith was unattainable for someone like me. If they were the definition of missionary, then I probably shouldn’t even try.

I’ve had trouble in the past putting missionaries on pedestals. But experience has taught me that missionaries are imperfect people, too, especially my experience living out my own far-from-perfect missionary life.

In 1961, Elliot wrote The Savage My Kinsman, chronicling her two years working with the Waorani. Twenty years later, she penned an epilogue that includes a brief explanation of why she left them: because she wanted to provide a better education for her daughter and because the “differences” between her and her fellow missionary, Rachel Saint, meant that they were “not in any strictly truthful sense really working together.”

“One of us, it appeared, must go,” she writes. “My decision was a painful one.”

But while Elliot doesn’t want to gloss over the difficulties of her story, neither does she want to “magnify the trivial.” According to Elliot, there are two “dangerous” extremes in the way Christians interpret life, and the stories we tell:

One is the sheer triumphalism which is the coin of much religious telecasting. Make it appealing. Make it cheap. Make it easy. Be a Christian and watch your difficulties dissolve. Obey God and everything you touch will turn to gold. The other is the exposé. Out of a very muddy notion of something called equality, and perhaps also out of an exaggerated fear of hero-worship or cultism, springs an urge to spy out all weaknesses and inconsistencies and thereby discredit practically all human effort, especially when its intention is an unselfish one.

To be sure, the life of a missionary—the life of a Christian—is a natural mix of victories and defeats. Elliot saw this in her team’s contact with the Aucas: the highs (“the Auca Indians were finally reached”) and lows (“nine children were left fatherless”), the joys (“the Aucas heard the gospel”) and sorrows (“they also got polio”). And her list goes on.

How we long to point to something—anything—and say, “This works! This is sure!” But if it is something other than God Himself we are destined for disappointment. There is only one ultimate guarantee. It is the love of Christ. The love of Christ. . . .

God keep us from sitting in the seat of the scornful, concentrating solely on the mistakes, the paltriness of our efforts, the width of the gap between what we hoped for and what we got. How shall we call this “Christian” work? What are we to make of it?

Elliot continues with these thoughts in another epilogue, this one added to Through Gates of Splendor in 1996, marking the 40th anniversary of the missionaries’ deaths:

[W]e are tempted to assume a simple equation here. Five men died. This will mean x-number of Waorani Christians.

Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Cause and effect are in God’s hands. Is it not the part of faith simply to let them rest there? God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice. . . .

The massacre . . . was interpreted according to the measure of one’s faith or faithlessness—full of meaning or empty. . . . The beginning of a great work, a demonstration of the power of God, a sorrowful first act that would lead to a beautifully predictable third act in which all puzzles would be solved, God would vindicate Himself, Waoranis would be converted, and we could all “feel good” about our faith. Bulletins about progress were hailed with joy and a certain amount of “Ah! You see!” But the danger lies in seizing upon the immediate and hoped-for, as though God’s justice is thereby verified, and glossing over as neatly as possible certain other consequences, some of them inevitable, others simply the result of a botched job. In short, in the Waorani story as in other stories, we are consoled as long as we do not examine too closely the unpalatable data. By this evasion we are willing still to call the work “ours,” to arrogate to ourselves whatever there is of success, and to deny all failure. . . .

I think back to the five men themselves, remembering Pete’s agony of indecision as to whether he should join the others in the venture; Ed’s eagerness to go even though Marilou was eight months pregnant, his strong assurance that all would be well; Roj’s depression and deep sense of failure as a missionary; Nate’s extreme caution and determination; Jim’s nearly reckless exuberance. . . .

[W]e are sinners. And we are buffoons. . . .

It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package—our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.

(Scott Wallace, “Uncontacted Group Kills Two Natives in Ecuador,” National Geographic News Watch, March 11, 2013; Doug Engle, “Partially Paralyzed, Inventor and Missionary Saint Letting God Write His Story,” Ocala StarBanner, September 2, 2012; Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009; Elisabeth Elliot, The Savage My Kinsman, Ventura, CA: Regal, 1996; Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2002)

[photo: “Humility,” by Toni Verdú Carbó, used under a Creative Commons license]

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