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.


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,



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!