Sunday, December 28, 2014

Purpose

For lunch today I made sup bayam and ayam semur. Baby spinach soup and chocolatey brown chicken in a sweet and tangy sauce over steamy white rice felt just right. I sliced up papaya for a little dessert afterwards.

I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich. A proper sandwich, the kind with thin sliced ham, crunchy iceberg lettuce, tomato, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo and mustard. I’d stuff cool ranch Doritos inside just before the first bite.

Lunch has a whole new meaning in Papua. Life feels like it has a whole new meaning in Papua, only trouble is I don’t really know what it is.

Of course I know why we came. The why hasn’t changed and last week, as my husband flew his first flight to an isolated village way up in the jungle covered mountains, the why felt so big and all consuming.

I’m pretty sure my neighbors on one side don’t like me. I don’t really know the family on the other side. At the end of my road there is a really nice young couple with a little boy about Isaiah’s age that are always friendly when we pass by or stop to talk. They sell fried food from a cart on the main road a few yards from their front door. Today we bought fried tofu and bananas.

A couple weeks ago, coming back from a ladies’ bible study with some girlfriends, we had to stop the car in the middle of the road. A crowd approached and as they did I hurried to cover my son’s eyes. A man was being beaten in the street. I locked my door and prayed. Guilt and helplessness pierced me through. We heard the next day that the man died. We had witnessed a murder.  

There’s a girl at the market who sells mustard greens and always smiles. I don’t know her name, but she’s possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met. A little down the road from her there’s a mama selling pumpkin who is always kind to me. 

As I look to a new year what I really want to know, the thing I want to look back at the end of 2015 and see and understand, is what my part is. To know my purpose. To know where I fit in the great big why of our life here.

I’ve never been big on New Year resolutions and finding my purpose in Papua probably wouldn't make a good one anyway. Instead, I step into 2015 with eyes open in anticipation and good hope stretched out before me. 

Neighbors, merchants, farmers, street children, drunks, all right outside my door.  The needs are great, so much bigger than I am. 

Before we arrived in Papua, I felt my kitchen table would be my place of ministry. A place to provide hospitality and encouragement, friendship and the gospel, starting first with my own little family and extending to whoever might find a seat there. 

I don’t know what 2015 will bring. I don’t know my purpose in the grand scheme of our life here, but that’s ok. In the meantime, my heart and kitchen table are open.

*******
This post is a linkup to www.velvetashes.com where others are discussing their 'one word' to focus on for 2015.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

For Stress and Beauty

I'd been taking aspirin for a week. The headache never leaving, only waxing between mild and intense flashes of pain. By the Saturday morning I couldn't keep my eyes open.

"I think I need a blood test." I told Ben. A persistent and increasing headache is one of the first signs of Malaria.

The three of us loaded onto the scooter and headed to the pharmacy. Thirty minutes later I held a negative blood test in my hands. Not malaria, thank God. A second test showed high white blood cells indicating some kind of infection. "Show it to your doctor." The nurse told me.

As we loaded back onto the scooter, my headache easing again, we spotted her. She stopped us in our tracks, this black and white beauty. More the size of a small bird than a butterfly, her delicate velvet wings beating to her own rhythm. 

On the way home we stopped to pick up our new motorcycle from a friend's shop. Feeling quite a bit better, I drove the scooter and Isaiah the familiar short distance home while Ben took the motorcycle. My son's small arms wrapped around my sides, we headed off.

The bumpy road home is all gravel and red dirt. I drive slow, putting my feet down at the slippery parts. I know this road, where the smoothest parts are, where the gravel is loose and the back tire slips.

Rounding the familiar bend the scooter starts to speed up. I pull hard on the front and back breaks, but can't stop. On the slippery gravel I start to loose control and unable to slow the scooter down we hit a large rock. The scooter falls to the right and we fall with it.

Our friend had been driving behind us and saw everything. He jumped out of his truck and lifted the scooter off of my leg. Isaiah stood behind me crying, but unhurt. A small patch of grass on the side of the road had cushioned his fall.

Isaiah rode home in the truck and I drove the scooter. I hadn't noticed my bloody knee until I stopped the scooter in front of Ben and said with shaking voice, "We fell off. I couldn't stop. The accelerator is sticking. Isaiah is ok. He's in the truck."

At home Ben poured me a glass of Sprite and ordered, "You need to sit down and drink." He checked Isaiah over and hugged him, listening and answering questions of what happened. I cleaned and covered my scraped up knee. The cuts were long, but not too deep. Still shaking and sipping my drink, I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer of thanks. We were ok.

A few hours later our long time friend arrives to stay for the week. We haven't seen him in twelve years, but he still wears the same infectious smile. We will finish language school and move home in just 10 days. Our friend arrives in the midst of chaos, but with him peace and laughter arrive too.

And that's just it. The velvet black and white beauty soothing my persistent headache. Grass grown long before on the side of the road in just the right place to catch and cushion my son's fall. Friendship that brings joy even after a decade apart.

This is nothing new. Life here, life back in our old home. Stress is real and intense, but so is beauty and God's goodness. Not as small pinpricks of light shining through darkness, but as the brightest light of hope forcefully pushing back the dark and filling and freeing our hearts and minds.

  "And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."   
Romans 5:2 The Message

  
Pushing back the dark

 ******
This post is a link up to Velvet Ashes where others are discussing beauty this week.
 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Anchor and The Hurricane

I'm a dreamer. I know it's not really possible for me to save the world, but I still dream about it all the time. I'm a great starter. Full of passion and 'can do' spirit, I dive right in. Don't try to warn or reason with me, the risks don't really mean much.

Ben's a thinker. He sees a suffering world and carefully considers where and how he can make a difference. He starts slowly, thoughtfully, because there's no real rush when you're in it for the long haul. The risks are carefully considered and prepared for.

Our Florida pastor likes to ask the question of married couples, "Are you the hurricane or the anchor?"

When a hurricane and an anchor move overseas adversity doesn't miss an opportunity.

True to myself, I dove right in. My new culture and language right outside my front door I walked the neighborhood streets in the hot afternoon sun for hours each day. It didn't matter that I didn't actually have any words or phrases other than "Good morning", "My name is Anisha" and "What's that?" It didn't matter that my feet couldn't touch the bottom. I figured I'd just tread water while I searched for a ledge to grab on to.

Unfortunately for anchors, hurricanes tend to whip up everything in their path and carry them along, willingly or not.

The anchor would have preferred to learn more words first. To have a base to build meaningful friendships on rather than a bunch of friendly but rather shallow smiles. The anchor would have sought out relationships with expats who have been here for years instead of focusing exclusively on local relationships. He would listen for directions and coached by the experiences of those who already know where the ledge is would swim confidently in the right direction.

It's hard for hurricanes to slow down, but the anchor you love can only be tossed and carried along for so long.

Of all the lessons learned over the last months, this one is the hardest: In all my passion and enthusiasm I fail my anchor. And in that moment, in ignoring the needs and God given qualities of the one I pledged my life and love to, the Adversary wastes no time.

"Your marriage will be under attack." So many warned us. "You have to stay in tune with each other. Nothing else matters." I can still see the sincerity in their eyes.

I didn't see the breach in the wall. I didn't see the Adversary forming ranks around us until the first flaming arrows hit.

We fight back standing strong with feet planted deeply in peace. God's words as a sword gripped tightly in our hands. Faith a shield around us. Our Saviour on our minds and the deep knowing of His truth felt right through to our guts. There is no fear. We know that this is not a war against flesh and blood. Neither does victory come by our own power.

The dreamer and the thinker, hurricane and anchor, joined together for one mighty purpose. Not to save the world or even to figure out how to change a little part of it. Those reasons are much too small.

No matter where we are, no matter where we make our home, no matter what we make our profession, this union is not about our physical world. It's really about a transcending Love.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Eph 5:1-2 The Message)

        
The Anchor and The Hurricane

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mercy Floats: A Free E-Book

What 18 year old knows the answer to the question, "What should I do with my life?"

I surely didn't. I only knew my restless soul and quitting college to move into an apartment with my best friend sounded like the fastest way to freedom.

My father saw straight to my heart and asked a new question, "What about missions?" Sitting together one evening in our family's basement office he opened www.mercyships.org

The faces caught me first. Before and after pictures of men, women, and children. Cleft lip and palate, goiters, cataracts, club feet, the joy of restored lives practically jumping through the screen.

"Why don't you do something like this?" Dad asked.

And I did. For two remarkable years I lived and worked on-board the Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis and sailed the western coast of Africa.

Wounded men, women, and children received back their dignity. The lame walked, the blind received sight, a future of promise and possibilities returned for the hopeless.

Mercy Floats is a collection of letters and stories sent home during the ship's outreach in Benin, West Africa.

The opportunity to live and work on the M/V Anastasis was a life changing gift for me. This book is my gift to you. It is my hope that the stories within these pages spark the same intense passion for a healed world in your heart as living them did in mine. They are a testimony of God's grace, love, and mercy for all the world.

To download the book click the book cover. This book is given freely, please feel free to share it as well. May it be an encouragement to you and all who read it. 
 
http://www.benhop.co.uk/files/Mercy%20Floats.pdf

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Raging Sea

With the end of summer my inbox fills with stories and newsletters from friends having gone for a week or months as volunteer in some capacity. Some stay close to home, some go abroad. No matter where they've gone or for what length of time, my heart is on fire as I read their stories. 

My heart is on fire because that's how it began for me also. Raking leaves for the elderly in Chicago. Cleaning up school yards and helping with a kids program in Mexico. Playing with Hopi Indian children in Arizona. Building a medical clinic and loving on orphans in Benin. Holding hands and praying for the sick in The Gambia. Painting a school building in Sierra Leone. Working alongside church leadership in Guatemala. Hanging out with teens at the group home.

Those trips sparked a profound change in my heart. The deep desire to see the world healed and realising that I had a part, no matter how small it may be, took root and forever pulled my eyes up off myself.

Today it's six months in to this new life in Papua and I feel the change. It is deeper, more cutting this time. There is no relief after a week, month, or even year. I'm still here, still will be here, for years to come. And change keeps pounding at my heart door demanding to renovate the whole place.

Do you remember the story when Jesus fed thousands from five loaves and two fish? "You give them supper" he'd told his disciples. And despite their hard, unbelieving hearts Jesus worked his miracle and the disciples then gave out the food watching as each man, woman, and child had their fill.

Can you imagine it? You know there is no way this is possible, but somehow with all your doubts and limits it's still your hands that are handing out the miracle. You aren't just standing by witnessing the miraculous you, even in spite of yourself, are actively part of it. 

As soon as the meal was finished Jesus insists his disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side. He's going up the mountain to pray and will meet them later. They get in an go. I can only imagine the conversations they must have been having by the end of that day.

Late that night a storm rises and the disciples struggling at the oars are badly battered by wind and waves. Fear overtakes them at the sight of Jesus walking across the raging sea. They were scared out of their wits."A ghost!" they said, crying out in terror.

But Jesus was quick to comfort them, "Courage, it's me. Don't be afraid." and Peter boldly asks to walk out on the waves. "Come ahead." Jesus responds, and Peter steps out of the boat.

Looking down Peter sees the waves and as fear overtakes he begins to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!" Jesus did not hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, "Faint-heart, what got into you?"

And that's where I find myself.

I've been part of the miracle. In all those weeks and months in other places it was my hands that carried and gave away grace and love both tangible and intangible.

Eyes still wide remembering miracles of how the smallest offering could multiply beyond our wildest dreams we got in the boat and headed to the other side.

These last few weeks a storm rages. The compounding loneliness of being away from family and friends, the continual stress of immersion into a new language and culture, the to-the-bone tired and brain ache that we just can't shake, the anticipation and sadness of soon leaving a town and friends we've come to love to start all over in a new town, waves and wind batter and we struggle at the oars.

Desperate for Jesus I jump out of the boat and as I sink in fear Jesus grabs my hand and I hear him say, "Faint-heart, what got into you?"

As the two of us climb back in the boat the wind and waves die down. How could I forget? All those miracles. My own hands a part of them.

"Faint-heart, what got into you?"  

I was afraid, Lord. I took my eyes off of you.

I'm sorry. I know better. Thank you for always rescuing me.

*********
Italicised scripture quoted from Matthew 14: 13-31, The Message


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rich Missionary

"Beef is expensive." She didn't even look up as she said it. Was she just stating facts? Or did she not approve of my meal choice?

The social chasm between us suddenly grew wide. Or perhaps I only just noticed it for the first time. There we stood, me firmly planted on the 'rich' side and her on the 'poor' side. The width and depth of the chasm made crystal clear by the price I was willing to pay for red meat.

We live well here in Papua. Our home is small, but modern. We have a western style toilet rather than a squatty potty. We have a shower rather than a tiled tub of water and a ladle. We have a full size frigde/freezer and a stove with an oven. We have a washing machine and a covered place to hang clothes to dry protected from the elements. We have air-conditioning in the bedrooms. Our home and furnishings are provided by our agency and they took pride in helping us feel comfortable without being too extravagant. We are well cared for.

There are a lot of much nicer, bigger, elaborately furnished homes around than ours, but there are volumes more simpler homes. To afford a place like ours you need to be educated and have a good job. These homes are out of reach for the majority in our community.

I bought the beef anyway. A couple days later my living room filled with children who enthusiastically gobbled down their very first mouthfuls of sloppy joe. Moms and Dads joined us and took home extra sandwhichs in ziplock bags.

At last, when everyone had returned home with full tummies and my living room was back in semi-order, I sat down and breathed out a prayer of gratitude for the day, for my home, and for beef.

I thought about Jesus's story of the rich man preparing a great banquet (Luke 14:16-24). The man invited all the well-to-do's of the community who all made excuses as to why they couldn't come. So the rich man sends his servant out to the streets to invite the poor and the crippled. 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full'.

As I sit thinking about the rich man in Jesus's story I see that he wasn't afraid to open his very nice, big, modern, well furnished, expensive food on the table home to the poor. The rich man wasn't concerned about protecting all the nice stuff he owned, he  filled his home with beggars and cripples.

If this story is a picture of love and grace extended, of open places at God's table for those marginalised and dismissed by society, then you'd better believe it also has huge implications for how I go about life today.

The children and families that came to my home are far from being beggars. They live in the middle income bracket here and some even live in houses much fancier than ours. We have enjoyed the hospitality of their homes and I hope they in turn enjoyed the hospitality of ours. Never the less, I am seen as rich if for no other reason than my skin color and country of birth.

I have much to learn about living well as a rich person, and specifically about how to do that in my new culture. I know that I mess it up.

"Don't worry about the beef." a friend said. "Pork is expensive too and people buy that. Just make enough for everyone to take home leftovers." And another, "And keep your front door open. It means your heart is open too."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You're Doing It Wrong

Dear Missionary,

It's pretty clear you're doing this all wrong. 

You missionaries living in guarded compounds, you're obviously not really invested in your community. You alienate your neighbors with barbwire topped fences.

You missionaries living in houses and apartments in local neighborhoods, you are risking the safety and well being of your family. Thank God for those missionaries in that guarded compound nearby that welcome you with open arms and shelter you in times of trouble.

You who buy imported western food, don't you know how important food is to a culture and that by avoiding it you are avoiding connecting with your adopted home?

You who buy food from the local market and street vendors, don't complain when you get typhoid or amoebic dysentery. It's your own fault. You know how unsanitary all that is.

You who use cars and drive everywhere you go, how will you ever become part of your community if your neighbors only see you coming and going through tinted windows?

You who walk or bicycle everywhere, your community is embarrassed to have the only missionary without a car. If you had a vehicle you could use it to better help the community.

To the missionary full on embracing your new culture and abandoning your own, you're "going tribal" and that's a pretty foolish thing to do. You're headed towards a cultural identity crisis.

To the missionary clinging tightly to your home culture, opening up those clenched fists won't make you unAmerican or whatever. You're alienating yourself by not loosening up.

You who go on furlough every summer are basically telling the people you serve that your vacation is more important than pastoring that young congregation, translating scripture, or helping the suffering community through that health crisis. Your actions don't match your message.

You who wait years and years before taking a few months away are going to have a nervous breakdown. Missionary burnout is well documented and you jeopardize the long term work.

To the missionaries who own modern appliances, what a frivolous waste of donations. You should be living at the same standard as the people you serve.

To the missionaries without modern appliances, you are frivolously wasting time doing things the hard way when you could be spending that time ministering instead.

You who attend language school, you are probably substituting a classroom for relationships within your community.

You who learn language on your neighborhood streets, your approach takes forever and if you just went to a school it would be a much more efficient use of time. You could get to actually ministry sooner.

You who attend the expat church on Sundays, think about the message you are sending to the local Christians. It might not be with words, but with your actions you're saying there's something wrong with their churches. 

You who attend the local church are neglecting worshiping in your own language and culture. You hypocritically insist the local Christians should worship authentically in their own cultural way, but you don't do it yourself.

To the missionaries who send their teenagers off to boarding school, you are risking the emotional health of your kids when they are already at their most vulnerable ages.

To the missionaries who home school their teenagers, you alienate them from all their friends who have gone off to boarding school and risk their emotional and academic development.

You who pastor and translate and evangelize but don't include seeking justice and meeting physical needs because that's just not your ministry, aren't ushering in God's Kingdom here on earth.

You who spend all your time doctoring and building clinics and teaching new farming methods are forsaking the gospel and might as well just be humanitarian workers. There are more important and eternal things at stake.

You who hire house helpers, gardeners, and cooks should be ashamed of your colonial attitude.

You who do it all yourself without house helpers, gardeners, and cooks, are pretty selfish and stingy for not providing employment when as a westerner you clearly have the funds to do so.

To the missionary already decades in the field, your methods and mindset are outdated.

To the brand new missionary, you haven't been here long enough to understand the complex layers of this culture and in your zeal you're making some really stupid and damaging mistakes.

Hope this helps and you feel suitably convicted.

Thanks,

Judgmental, but totally righteous, Missionary Me

******


Alright, alright, please forgive the ridiculousness above. What I really want to say is: 

I'm so thankful you're here. 

It can feel like we all have differing views of how best to serve and what foreign ministry actually means and that can get pretty critical and messy. Truth is I need you. I even need your differing views. 

Thanks for not letting me settle.

Here's to lovingly and humbly encouraging each other to seek God's face in every aspect of our lives and service. 

Your sister and fellow sojourner,

Anisha



*************

Over at Velvet Ashes this week the discussion centers around the word humility. Hop on over and check out what others have to say.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Over The Brick Wall

"You're right on track. It's around month four and five that you generally hit a brick wall."

Sitting across from our base leaders on their recent trip to our town, we recounted the events of the last few weeks. Lots of head nodding sympathy returning to us. They were right, we hit the brick wall full on and it hurt.

Our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days were compounding. My repeated illnesses draining what little energy we had left. I'd stopped worshiping and writing, the very two things that call me back and recenter my heart. I started having dreams about quitting language school and would wake up happy, only to emotionally crash at the realization I hadn't and wouldn't quit. The fact was that life would remain hard for some time to come and we were plum worn out.

"Why don't you take a month off, Anisha? Let your body heal completely and maybe cook some American food? You are doing well with your language. Later if you want to study more you can do another unit, or could even get a tutor in Wamena."

Sometimes you are running so fast that the wall just comes out of no where. Sometimes you need someone from the outside to see clearly for you.

As we recover from the dizziness of a full on collision, the truth comes back into view.

Expectations of what I think I should be capable of are deceiving. There is no shame in resting.

In the wake of abandoning full time classes, my body is finally beginning to feel whole.

I find myself enjoying my family more. My son's day to day behavior has even improved.

Relationships with local friends are more fulfilling. I no longer try to sneak past the open door hoping not to be seen because my brain is too tired to struggle through another conversation.

After five months of being unable to cope with the stress of cooking in a new country, I made pizza from scratch and was able to improvise on the ingredients we can't find locally. The idea of preparing a meal no longer induces panic.

I'm writing again.

I'm worshiping again.

I am enjoying language learning again.

Next week I'll start back with relaxed tutoring sessions on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Without a defined curriculum and the freedom to direct my own learning the tight ball of anxiety in my chest is disappearing.

My wise Mama recently wrote, "You are in Papua for more than this." Yes. We did not come to only burn out emotionally and physically. We are meant for more and sometimes we just need to take a step back and remember the bigger picture.

There is no shame in resting. We'll make it over this wall.






Friday, August 15, 2014

The Flame Beneath

This frog nearly burned.

The water was cold when I jumped in. Anyone who's ever swum in a mountain river or cold spring knows the fastest way to comfort isn't tiptoeing in from the water's edge. It's eyes squeezed shut, knees tucked tight, head down cannonballing the deep end.

I cannonballed into my new culture and although the cold water sent shock waves through my body I came up strong and full of fight and excitement. Caught up in my new surroundings and the dream come true of finally being allowed to swim in this pool, if I even saw the match strike I certainly didn't give it any attention.

I didn't see the wood beneath me start to burn or feel the water heating.

Sudden and increasing sickness scooped me up and although I wanted to swim was forced out of the water. If I hadn't gotten sick I would have stayed. I would have burned.

When you are swimming well and discovering new things everyday, it's hard to recognise the changing water. It's hard to see the flame beneath you growing.

When did I stop worshipping? When did I start to make cultural sensitivity and the desire to be accepted the first place in my life? When did I abandon the most important for the sake of the second?


Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.'  This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."
(Matthew 22:37-40 The Message)
 
"When are you going to write again?" Ben asked. "When I can write about all of this well." I responded. When I can see clearly and admit that what kept me in the water was pride and fear.

Pride that getting out would mean admitting I am weak. Fear that by admitting I am weak I will disappoint you.

Pride and fear are liars.

Scooped up onto the water's edge, body recovering from illness, I see with new eyes.

I didn't burn. It was gift.


**********
Culture Shock can take us under, heck LIFE can take us under. The stress of adjustment and challenging of expectations can burn us up.

Today, over at Velvet Ashes others are sharing their stories and perspectives on Culture Shock as well. Check it out.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

30 Children's Books I Don't Mind Reading Aloud For The 100th Time

It's story time at my house and I'm eyeing the books my almost four year old selected. He looks adorable in his fire engine pajamas with arms full of books, but all I see is that one book and all I can think is Oh man. Not that one again. ANY BOOK but that one. I groan inside as he brings an absolutely awful children's book and cuddles up next to me.

But I love my son and passing on a love of reading is important so with a smile and pained enthusiasm I reread that awful book for the hundredth time.  

Thankfully, there are also a ton of truly wonderful children's books out there. Looking back over the last year, here are thirty that we absolutely love. Most of these books were purchased as part of the P3/4 collection with Sonlight. If you purchase these books through Sonlight you need to know that many of the stories are included in treasury books. While treasury books are nicely compact, we've found that we miss out on illustrations which are often either much smaller than the original, or missing altogether.  

These 30 stories are our top parent cringe-free picks for bedtime reading that not only captivate my son, but that we actually enjoy reading aloud even for the hundredth time. If you're looking for more stories for your own kiddos or gifts of kids you love, check out this list. I bet you'll love them too.

1)  Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
2)  Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
3)  One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
4)  Lentil by Robert McCloskey
(Can you tell we love McCloskey?)
5)  Swimmy by Leo Lionni
6)  Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
7)  Curious George by H.A. Rey
8)  Titch by Pat Hutchins
9)  Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
10) Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
11) The Tub People by Pam Conrad
12) Bedtime for Francis by Russell Hoban
13) The Berenstain Bears and the Spookey Old Tree
14) What Do People Do All Day? By Richard Scarry
15) D.W. The Picky Eater by Marc Brown
16) Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
17) Owen by Kevin Henkes
18) The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman
19) If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
20) George Shrinks by William Joyce
21) Crictor by Tomi Ungerer
22) Harold And The Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
23) Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig
24) The Tall Book of Nursery Tales by Aleksey Ivanov, Olga Ivanov and Raina Moore
25) Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales retold by Val Biro
26) The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories by K Pully
27) Busy Timmy by Eloise Wilkin
28) Horten Hatches the Egg by Dr Suess
29) Mr Happy (or any of the Mr Men and Little Miss books, really!) by Roger Hargreaves
30) Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

And there you have it folks! Our thirty favorite, and very rereadable, children's stories. Happy reading!
  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stop freaking out. Sticks and rocks are awesome.

Sorting through my three year old son's toys and deciding what to pack or give away before moving overseas brought with it a special kind of guilt and stress.

We gave away van loads of toys. The only items that made it into our suitcases were a deflated soccer ball, skateboard, scooter, handful of cars, a stuffed bear, and books. Only the most favorite of the favorites made it.

"Don't worry, Anisha. Kids are fine playing outside with sticks and rocks." Yeah, sure, sticks and rocks are fun, but they can't take the place of all this other stuff he needs.

I mean, have you ever been to Learning Express? That place is amazing. Rows and rows of toys that are not only fun, but educational. All the things my child needs to safely and cleanly develop gross and fine motor skills, develop a love for science and math, prepare for a lifetime of learning, and endless opportunities for imaginative play.

I've read the parenting books and blogs for crying out loud. My preschooler needs a sensory bin. His neural pathways are at risk without one.

Since a sensory bin didn't fit in my suitecase and clinging to the hope I can pull one together and figure out the rest in our new country, we moved overseas.

OK, so at this point all you experienced parents are probably shaking your heads, but I'm new at this parenting gig and sometimes I freak out a little. I know that. After scaling down the toy selection so dramatically, here's what I also know: You are right.

Without the beloved sensory bin, we dig in the dirt.

Instead of a kid size kitchen, we create elaborate dinners with cut up leaves, branches, rocks, and whatever else can be found.

The mini work bench with oversized screws and plastic hammer is replaced with the opportunity to use real tools (with supervision of course!). Helping to hammer down nails or working with a spade and fork to prepare and manage the garden.   

Without a playground or swing set nearby, we climb and swing from trees.

After four months without a toy filled room inside, we spend a lot of time outside. We know our neighbors and learn so much about the culture. We are all better for it.

To my pre-Papua stressed out mommy self worried about the opportunities my son would have to learn and grow: You are well intentioned, but stop it. Rocks and sticks are awesome. There's a whole world out there and you are beyond blessed to experience it without the weight and distraction of far too many toys.

Our usual playground

*********

Over at Velvet Ashes this week the theme is "Hindsight". Head on over and check out what others are saying!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

One of my favorite stories of all time is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven't read it, you really should! Recently I had my own very bad day, or rather, sequence of days. This post is written with thankfulness to Judith Viorst, the author of Alexander's bad day, who taught me many years ago that "some days are like that".

 **************
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We lost power last night and there was a mosquito in my room and it buzzed in my ear all night and bit my forehead. When I got out of bed this morning even though the power was back on I still didn't see the puppy pee on the floor and stepped in it on the way to the bathroom. My clothes out on the line still weren't dry so I had to wear damp underwear and I could tell it was going to be what my friend Alexander calls a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

At breakfast Ben ate weet-bix and Isaiah ate coco puffs and I picked the cornflakes and there were ants in my cornflakes. My powdered milk was lumpy even though I used a whisk.

I think I'll move home to Florida.

In the taxi on the way to language school Ben and Isaiah sat in the front and I smooshed in the back with the puppy, but the lady next to me didn't like dogs so I had to hold the puppy on my lap and his paws made my skirt muddy. I tried to be friendly and said good morning, but the lady didn't even answer back.

My friend Alexander is right, it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

At language school I forgot to make coffee and don't remember anything from the first two hours except how my eyes stung from tired. In class I got my words mixed up and instead of saying, "I know." told the teacher, "I'm god." because tahu and tuhan sound the same and who can remember the difference with no coffee?

At breaktime I checked e-mail and saw a message from another missionary mom. I'd told her I was tired and it's hard to parent a three year old while going through language school and she said she was pregnant and homeschooling three kids when she was at language school. Yeah well that's nice for you, I thought. And I secretly hated her for being able to do what I can't even though Jesus says to love your enemies. I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking about other missionary moms.

I think I'll move back to Florida.

After school we walked home in the rain without an umbrella because our umbrella is in our shipment and our shipment is still in customs. The puppy wouldn't walk in the puddles so I had to carry him home and I smelled like dog and had to have a shower even though all I really wanted was a nap.

For lunch I ate tofu and rice for the 186th time in a row. My fish was dry so I added hot sauce, but I added too much and it burned my mouth and made my eyes water.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

After lunch we called for an update on our drivers licenses and after months of waiting and promises that today would be the day we were told to try again tomorrow.

Yeah well by tomorrow I'll be in Florida.

For dinner I ate tofu and rice for the 187th time in a row and there were mushrooms in the chicken. I hate mushrooms.

And there were grammar drills for homework. I hate grammar drills.

The warm water ran out in my shower and I had to wash my hair in freezing cold well water and the power went off while I was drying off and I had to find my pajamas in the dark. I stubbed my toe in the dark. I hate the dark.

When I went to bed a mosquito buzzed in my ear and bit my forehead. I bet it was the same one.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But my friend Alexander's mom is right. Some days are just like that.

Even in Florida.


**************
Hey thanks for reading! Humor and a thankful heart keep me from packing my bags on those very bad days. What keeps you from packing yours? Or are you in the process of packing your bags to move? Those are stressful days! What helps you find peace and gain perspective?

Over at Velvet Ashes this week the discussion centers around the word prompt 'pack'. So head on over and see what others are saying.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Learning to live cross culturally is like...lipstick?

I love a good analogy. Remember when I wrote about the muddy red road, pencils, assassinsteething pains, and lessons from my puppy? Analogies help me better understand truth and emotion, and when it comes to adjusting to living cross culturally my love for analogies increased a gazillion percent.

So when I read the invitation over at Velvet Ashes to link up and share thoughts, wisdom, stories and fears about how God prepared me/prepares us for serving overseas I had one thought, "Ooo! A perfect time for analogies!"

Almost there! Preparing to head to Papua.
With the phrase in mind, "Learning to live cross culturally is like _________." I opened up an online random word generator and with one quick click had five completely random words to fill in the blank. Lipstick, band, spaghetti, gate, and screwdriver.

I smiled and silently nodded my head. Yes, of course living cross culturally is like that...

Learning to live cross culturally is like wearing lipstick.

While I love the idea of wearing lipstick I hate actually wearing it. I hate how it's sticky, dries my lips, stains cups, and most of all I hate my husband's complete refusal to kiss me because he'd end up wearing it too.

Learning to live cross culturally is like lipstick because while I love the idea of being a well adjusted culturally able missionary, the process of becoming well adjusted kinda sucks. Sure, the result is pretty, but it's also uncomfortable. It's sticky, dries up emotional energy, leaves it's mark on everything around you, and even stifles relationships.  

Learning to live cross culturally is like being in a rock band.

Like a really good rock band, the kind where the musicians meld together and magic happens. The kind of band that produces music that decades later still stirs powerful emotions. It's beautiful.

Or...

It's like a really great band's breakup. The kind where the members' individual struggles, personalities, and opinions crush relationships and abruptly end an otherwise promising future. But we don't have to end this way. See screwdriver analogy. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like eating spaghetti.     

As a 19 year old I spent 8 months as a laborer on a construction site in Benin, West Africa, building a medical clinic. Three ladies cooked the work crew lunches each day.

One day, we brought spaghetti for them to prepare. I'll never forget the look on the rest of the work crew's faces as the stared at their plates of wiggly pasta. "It looks like worms!" one shouted and no amount of, "It's only pasta." would change their minds.

When you live cross culturally even something as 'normal' as spaghetti isn't normal any more. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like opening a gate.

Like opening hundreds of gates. Little by little, with every new word learned, relationship made, meal shared, story heard, prayers spoken, gates open and we connect. The 'locals' stop being locals and become neighbours, friends, and family. 

Learning to live cross culturally is like a owning screwdriver. 

Four months into learning how to live here in Papua, even though I don't feel prepared or even equipped for this task, I see clearly that God has given me the tools I need to not only survive, but to live well.

Those quirky parts of me, like the analogy loving part that I would have never thought had any connection to living a well adjusted life overseas, have absolutely everything to do with it. Seeing life through stories helps me to process, make sense of, and adjust to the world around me. Analogies are my screwdriver for life.

But what if I need a wrench or a hammer and all I have is a screwdriver? That's the most brilliant part of all. Those times when I don't have the proper tool for the job, someone else does.

As you prepare for living in a new culture, or to step into whatever challenge lies ahead of you, know this: You'll never really be prepared. And that's perfectly ok. You don't have to be.

"I pulled you in from all over the world,
    called you in from every dark corner of the earth,
Telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side.
    I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’
Don’t panic. I’m with you.
    There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
    I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you."
Isaiah 41:9-10 The Message


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Learned From My Puppy About Cross Cultural Life

As we sat down for breakfast Ben thought he heard Scatter chewing on something plastic on the patio. Opening the door to investigate I see Ben's eyes widen in frustration as he yells out, "No Scatter!"

The puppy found something to chew on all right. He'd pulled down the mango seed Ben was germinating, chewed off the new growth, and left a few teeth marks in the seed pod.

That's when I realised Scatter and I have an awful lot in common. We are both trying to figure out our new homes. We both screw it up. And here, where the small things can quickly become really big overwhelming things, it's pretty easy to do.

What have I learned from my puppy about living cross culturally?

I learned that if you run through high grass, you're going to get ticks. Although others have certainly gone before us, living cross culturally is still pretty far off the beaten path of 'normal life'. And when you leave that well worn path for the adventure of high grass, you are going to pick up some nasty blood sucking bugs along the way.

I learned that it takes someone else to get the ticks off. Feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, grief, jealousy, you name it I've felt it, all suck the life out of you. It's pretty much impossible to get rid of them on your own. God's love and forgiveness working directly in my heart and through those around me yank out those tightly clinging parasites.

I learned that even though you wag your tail and give your best puppy eyes, some people still don't want to play with you. Sometimes they are even downright afraid of you. I wrote before about people not wanting to sit next to me in the taxi. Sometimes when I talk with people they give off an uneasy hesitation and scepticism of my motives. Their eyes questioning, "What do you really want from me?"  

I learned that sometimes, even though you've been told not to, you still pee on the floor. It's hard to remember all the rules in a new culture especially when the rules don't exist in your own culture. I still forget it's rude to hand over money with my left hand. I forget to bring money for the offering at the Ibadahs. I forget to make polite comments about someone's home when I visit. The rules are new and I forget.

I  learned that when it comes down to it you can have a ridiculous amount of fun with a just stick or a pile of dirt. It really doesn't take much. My attitude is pretty much everything. So kick complaining to the curb and enjoy whatever is right in front of you!


 ************

Animals teach us so much about life in general. What lessons have you learned from furry or feathery friends?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Question: Advice on Serving in Mexico

Recently, I wrote to many friends who are nationals of countries that receive missionaries. All of these friends have worked with westerners and many of them have served as missionaries themselves. I asked my friends to respond to one question, “What advice would you give a western missionary coming to serve in your country?” 

So far we've heard from Kae from Malaysia, Sugi from Java, Indonesia and Soro here in Papua. If you missed any you can read Sugi's letter here , Soro's letter here and Kae's letter here. 


Advice from Jonas and Bet on serving in Mexico

Intro: I met Jonas and Bet at Elim Bible Institute in New York. They lived in the apartment below us and were both graduates of the school from Mexico. Teaching Spanish and serving in one of the local churches, Jonas and Bet have two very practical tips for missionaries coming to Mexico.

Q: What advice would you give a missionary coming to serve in Mexico?

1) Beware of your body language.  

When ministering in other cultures, people probably will not understand your native language (specially when you talk in other language in front of them) but body language is almost internationally understood. 

If there is an issue with someone in your team, or you feel frustrated with the situation, try as much as possible to address the issue privately. Even when people don't understand what is being said, they may perceive you as an angry person and loose the confidence to approach you (or trust you) so I guess the title for this first thought could be "Beware of body language and tone of voice"

2) Probably very obvious but could be tricky... "Learn the language"
 
I am sure missionaries all over the world want to learn the language of the people they are ministering to. But I've known many people that will not speak another language until they feel confident to do so without mistakes.

The thing is that by being willing to use (speak) the tiny little bit of language you know people perceive you as open, vulnerable, humble, approachable and must important of all without pride (arrogance) which is a very common perception of third world countries about Americans.
 
So I would encourage all missionaries to use the language they are learning, even if it's not perfect. A great thing that opens doors is to be willing even to tell people to feel free to correct you as you speak. They will feel more confident around you and will want to spend time with you.


**********
This is the last scheduled post in the One Question Series for now. I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to sharing more one question interviews in the future.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Grief in a New Culture

So many things are different here, even grief.

This past Wednesday Isaiah and I joined the Ibadah Keluarga, a bible study for families held weekly in homes. Ben usually joins as well, but this week he stayed behind to supervise repairs to our a/c unit.

Isaiah praying at the Children's Ibadah
Everything at Ibadah was much the same as it always is. Friends gathered, husbands, wives, children in tow, grandmas and grandpas, aunties and uncles. We crowded together in the livingroom and even spilled out onto the porch.

We sang, prayed, and listened as families shared about their week. So and so is graduating school, so and so has malaria, so and so is looking for work.

We've forged many friendships through attending Ibadahs. This week, like all the others, sitting close together, worshipping together, I couldn't feel more at home.

Children run in and out of the house. Someone stands in the open front door and shares scripture and what it means to them. We sing and pray again. Afterwards we shake hands, fill plates with Indonesian and Papuan food and sit down together to talk and laugh.

Time to go and I thank the family for opening their home. "Terima kasih, Bapa." I tell Bapa Alex, shaking his hand, and head home.

The next morning via text message we received word that Bapa Alex had a heart attack and died just a few hours after we left. An Ibadah Penguatan, a "Strengthening Devotion" would be held that evening at the family's home.

I didn't know Bapa Alex personally and this week was the first time I had been to his home. Still, his sudden death shakes me. This family was one of the first to start the GKII denomination church here in Sentani. We attend one of the church plants that grew out of this family's work in the town. He and his family are well known and loved by many in Sentani.

With Bapa Alex's passing, I realised I have no idea how to grieve in a new culture. The idea of a church service held in the home immediately after a death is very new to me. Friends have talked about how important specific number of days after the death are. The third day and the fortieth day being the most important, and how friends and family interact on those days.

Although the 'how' of grief may be different, the heart of grief remains the same. A beloved father and mentor is gone. He will be sorely missed by the community he loved and served. I am glad to have had the opportunity to shake his hand on this side of eternity.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8


This week at Velvet Ashes others are sharing their stories of grief as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Question: Advice on Serving in Malaysia

Recently, I wrote to many friends who are nationals of countries that receive missionaries. All of these friends have worked with westerners and many of them have served as missionaries themselves. I asked my friends to respond to one question, “What advice would you give a western missionary coming to serve in your country?” 

Every Monday, internet access permitting, I post their responses. Last week we heard from Sugi from Java, Indonesia and the week before from Soro here in Papua. If you missed it, you can read Sugi's letter here and Soro's letter here.

 Advice from Kae on serving in Malaysia

Bio: A Malaysian growing up in multicultural but still very Eastern cultured Malaysia, Kae first met the ‘West’ in her late teens at university in England. She later married a western culture French husband, and the two encountered many cultural clashes at the beginning. She describes finally coming to the understanding that their actions weren’t just about individual personalities, but also a reflection of each other’s culture. 

Kae describes her family life as “a bright and noisy space, and with our bicultural or third culture kids, I can say the journey has been exhilarating, excruciating, enriching.” Kae highly recommends the book Foreign to Familiar for anyone interested in better understanding how to navigate cross-cultural relationships.

Q: What advice would you give to a western missionary coming to serve in Malaysia?

I think one main difference is perhaps where the west values efficiency, or goals and objectives achieved, the east values RELATIONSHIPS, or networks and contacts made. So I spend and value my time differently: for me every moment I spend chatting and eating with someone is as valuable if not more, as every moment a westerner may spend doing something else to achieve a goal. 

I hope a western missionary will learn to appreciate the importance "easterners" attach to dialogue, communication, building relationships. I hope you will then find less frustration in how long it takes to get things done. Things will get done when the groundwork is laid, when friendships are made, but first, let's go and have a cup of tea, get to know you and get to know me! 

**********

What about you? Are you from a country that typically receives western missionaries and charity workers? What are we doing wrong? What are we doing right? E-mail me your thoughts on anisha@benhop.co.uk

  

Friday, June 20, 2014

3 Months In: Photo Favorites

Hard to believe it's been more than 3 months since we arrived in Papua. I feel like we've both lived here an eternity and just arrived yesterday. So to commemorate the last few wild months, here are my favorite moments in photos...
 
Best buds Isaiah and Andi playing in the rain.
Travelling the world with this guy.
Ben's flight to the villages and realising how truly important helicopters are in providing physical and spiritual help to very remote and isolated communities. Video of the flight here.
These three wonderfuls
Beach day in this tropical paradise
See what I mean? Tropical Paradise!
Friends showing us around our new town
Praying at the children's Ibadah
Our smart, funny, sweet, strong, handsome Isaiah!
Juicing fruit from the market
Before the puppies were stolen
Introducing friends to British Pancakes
Scatter coming home
Birthday Parties with wall to wall children
 There you have it, my favorites! Wonder what the next three months will bring?