Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting Creative

First off, THANK YOU!!  Seriously, I was in a low, low spot last time we talked and you girls did a fantastic job at pointing me back to The Truth and letting me know I am not nuts to feel all lonely and weird.  You guys rock!  And I hope some of you who were right there with me in the Pit of Despair found encouragement in the comments too.

And yes, this last week has been much better.  We were able to make some connection at a church we've been attending, we invited some acquaintances over for the day and my two big boys went to day camp for two days giving me the break of having just the baby and the puppy.  Funny how that seems like a break now.

Ok, so now on with today's thoughts.

Something I really have enjoyed about living here in Costa Rica is the challenge of creating things that most people just run to Target and buy.  Like these coasters for example.  I made these yesterday out of fabric from my stash.  Our dinning room table has issues with watermarks and we needed something to help prevent that. 

There is something very important about creating, using the skills God has given us to make our environments better, more efficient, more pleasing.   I believe it's part of what makes us Humans, created in the image of God.  After all, He is creative God.

I think we probably would agree that a cultural value in the US right now is one of consumerism.  Instead of making, people buy.  Instead of using what they have, they buy something, usually plastic, to solve a problem.  Now, hear me out, I am not saying buying things or plastic is bad, but there is another way.  One that seems to be forgotten in my home country.  Honestly, I am glad I have been forced further down this path of making and creating to keep my family clean, feed and living in lovely surroundings.

In the hopes of inspiring you to continue what you are already doing, making do and making it awesome, here's a few of my favorite projects from the last few months.
Here in Costa Rica, so often what you're looking for doesn't exist, or is so astronomically expensive, it is out of reach.  And I realize Costa Rica is overflowing with variety when compared to some of the place you all are living in! 

Por ejemplo, baby swings.  When we came in September, Quinn was 3 months old.  We had to leave his baby swing in the States and I knew there was no way we could afford one here (somewhere in the $250 USD range).

My babies love to swing.  Quinn is no exception.  So I got to thinking, and with the help of a friend, found a baby swing idea, found a tutorial online and made it.

And before you think I have all sorts of mad seamstress skills, I sew straight lines.  That's it.  See, both sewing projects have straight lines?  Well, the coasters have some wonky ones too, but really, those are suppose to be that way.

I don't know about where you live, but here mold can become a problem.  Most people don't have dressers for that reason.  So when it came to clothes storage in our bedroom, we had to think outside the box dresser.  Here's what we came up with.

Now yes, we have to make sure to keep our clothes neat and tidy, but really, it's been working out just fine.  And the baskets are good for all our unmentionables.  Oh, and because things like dresses and dress shirts really should be hung, here's what my husband rigged up.

 And one last one.  Quinn is at the point where mobiles are great.  Again, many baby things here are a fortune, and really, I don't like the look of most mobiles anyway.  So for Christmas, I made him this bird one.  Again, I used fabric from my stash, found the cute bird pattern online, and stuffed them with old rags.  Then I went to our back yard, found two sticks, tied them together and tied the birds on.  He loves it!  He laughs and wiggles every time he sees it. 

Ok, so now I want to see what you amazing people have done with your God given creativity!

What is one of you favorite projects you've made to solve a problem (chances are, one of us is having the same problem, so help a sista out!), to make a more lovely environment, or to help your family in some way?  Make sure to link us to a photo if you have one!   

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Creative presentations

Chrysti asks: How do you share your ministry with churches and supporters? What creative ideas do you have? My husband works in IT, and we used an old server to explain how each part of the computer helped different ministries within our own organisation.

This topic reminds me a little of some that we've had in the past. You might also be interested in reviewing the wisdom offered here (about including children in presentations) and here (connecting with supporters while you're on the field).

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, January 28, 2013

In which I'm charged by a hippo...

I finally made it to the Parc W for a combo camping/safari trip! I considered it a major accomplishment; the last several tries, I've ended up staying home with sick littlers while my husband took the biggers. It was a fabulous trip - well worth the effort, and something I'd recommend to anyone traveling through this part of the world! 

We did have one very exciting-to-the-point-of-actually-scary moment, however.

Photo by Melissa Gray.
Friends offered to give us a boat ride (thankfully they had an outboard motor), and we were cruising around a large island in the middle of the Niger River where elephants often tramp around, crashing through trees looking for something to eat. That was what we were hoping to see! Several other animal call that island home as well, so we also looked for monkeys, birds, crocodile slides and hippos; you don't navigate the Niger without  continually scouting for those creatures. Since the growth along the edge of the river was thick, we were puttering along only about 20 feet or so from the shore.

I sat in the front of the boat. As we trolled quietly, I gently and repeatedly reminded the kids to stay quiet so they wouldn't startle any animals we hoped to see. Out of nowhere, a flash of grey starts running along the shore only visible in glimpses through the thinner plant growth. I pointed at it, but couldn't exactly tell what it was due to the speed at which it was moving and the brevity of those glimpses.

Then we came to a small, slightly open place.

Photo by Melissa Gray.
That flash of gray was a lumbering hippo racing for the water. Those animals can run, FAST! When it reached the break in the trees and growth, it turned towards the river, and plunged in... just as we passed directly in front of the enormous creature. That crash into the river spawned a tiny tsunami, rocking our boat - in more ways than one...

The motor instantly roared into a much higher gear... and our boat captain guided us out of there!

Photo by Melissa Gray.
He and I talked about what happened... after we were several hundred meters away, back up the river and again cruising slowly in much deeper water.

Neither one of us believes that the hippo was actually charging us, per se. We imagine it dozing and sunning itself when out of the blue we cruised by, motor puttering. It heard the motor, and on top of that, the high pitched voices of small children. It startled, panicked and then rushed headlong for the safety inherent submerged in the river. 


That's what we insist (and I will continue to insist) on telling ourselves since believing that comforts compared to thinking the animal was angered and responding aggressively... Hippos DO, after all, have a nasty reputation throughout Africa and among those populating the shore and earning their livelihood in, on and around this river.

Getting charged by a hippo is not the only point of this post, however.

Seeing that creature rumbling along pell-mell but also directly toward a boat containing me and several of my munchkins... while knowing the potential consequences should we have  any closer of an encounter than we did... inspired certain thoughts and rather intense, volatile feelings and emotions...

...thoughts, feelings and emotions with which I've been living for what seems like a really long forever right now.

For God appears to be up to something. As best we can tell, He seems to be pushing us towards a significant change. We aren't sure exactly what it is, but it feels as if it is charging towards us.

Our son graduates from high school this June, and while our original plan was that he'd be returning to the States for a gap year, probably working with someone in our church, God continues to impress upon our hearts that we all need to return to the States at this time... Once there, we will have the time and space to discern the next step the Lord has for us. We don't know that we won't be back to our present field of service. But we are leaving for this home assignment also not knowing that we will.

And so, while we always feel the pressure of finishing a term well, winding things up so that we don't leave preventable strings and loose ends hanging around over which others may trip or have to knot them together is much different this time.

Over the next few months, I'll be sharing about our journey. I'm likely to share a bit about how we, as a larger than average family, prepare for home assignment, how we help our children to finish a term well and then make the perhaps permanent (or at the very least for some of them long-term) transition back to life in our home country. And since I "think with my fingers as I write," hopefully this will help me to process all of the many upcoming changes through which our family is about to adventure.

As I think about all that entails, my heart is pounding just as hard and fast as the butterflies flitting and fluttering around in my tummy and that mild but never quite completely letting up surging of adrenalin continues to pulse.

Just like it did when that hippo crashed into the water, mere feet from our boat.

How about you? 
Do you have any major changes coming up in your life, 
about which you are free to share?

How do you deal with/help your children cope with all of the imminent change and transition that will ever be a part of the expat lifestyle?

- Thanks to Melissa Gray for kindly sharing several of the hippo photos in this post!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 11

Yesterday was my turn to post here, and I did start writing, but I just couldn't find enough time to finish. So, fellow writers, please forgive me for being a day late. There was nothing scheduled for today, so I'm going to go ahead and post now.

Here's another installment of the ongoing series! Earlier posts: chapter 1chapter 2chapter 3chapter 4chapter 5chapter 6chapter 7chapter 8chapter 9 and chapter 10.
I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds.
Psalm 77:11-14

Last time we talked about What If; today we're on If Only.

I enjoyed three of the examples in this chapter, so I'm going to share them in full:
     Jim refused to contract the If Only disease, even though he was constantly exposed to it. Jim and his family had left everything to go to Africa as missionaries. While there, Jim contracted a virus similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. He has been sick for twelve years. For six of those years he was bedridden. He has consulted thirty-five doctors on three continents without finding a cure, and he is only able to work limited hours.
     This dear family visited us last summer. While Lois and the girls toured Colorado Springs, Jim stayed in our basement and read. Occasionally he joined his family, but he could climb the stairs only once a day and had to conserve his energy. This is after twelve years of suffering. One might think bitterness, self-pity, impatience, and anger would characterize this man. But that's not what I saw. His physical disease didn't cause him to think, If Only we hadn't gone to Africa. He was at peace with what God had allowed. Lois told me that once, during his six-year stint in bed, she asked Jim, 'Don't you ever feel sorry for yourself?' He responded, 'Pitying oneself takes too much energy. I don't have any energy to spare.'
     How much time do we spend in self-pity, thinking If Only my situation were different? Jim didn't allow himself the luxury of If Onlys. He was content with what God had allowed in his life (pages 164-165).
     Recorded in the wonderful little book Green Leaf in Drought is a saga of If Onlys. When the Communists ordered all missionaries out of China in 1947, Arthur and Wilma Matthews had just traveled to a remote part of China, and were prohibited from leaving. As all their colleagues escaped, the If Onlys plagued their hearts and minds. 'If Only that letter had not come, inviting us here. If Only Arthur had not signed that petition for world peace, which angered the authorities. If Only....'
     Wilma became so distraught over their situation, so paralyzed by the 'If Onlys,' that on Easter she could not sing 'He Lives.' She felt God had deserted them. Alone in her drab kitchen, she turned to a pamphlet by A. B. Simpson titled, 'The If in Your Life.' She read the account of Lazarus's death and how Martha had said to Jesus, 'Lord, If Only You had been here, my brother would not have died.' And Jesus could have been there; He was not far away. He knew all about it and He let Lazarus die.
     Wilma realized a great truth: There's an if in every life--something God could have done differently if He had chosen to do so. He has all power, yet He often allows that if to be there. God wanted to meet Wilma's if with His if, just as He had for Martha. Jesus told Martha, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?' (John 11:40). Martha wanted Lazarua to be delivered from death; Christ wanted Lazarus to be triumphant over death.
     Two years later, the Matthews were allowed to leave China. Despite severe testing and horrible circumstances, they deliberately chose not to think about the If Onlys and to focus instead on God's Loving Sovereignty. As a result they had internal peace, and God was glorified (page 165).
My fingers got tired before I typed the third story, but I found it online with a quick search: you can read Andrew Murray's rules here (and spend some time with someone I greatly admire while you're at it). According to Linda Dillow, he wrote those rules when he was in great pain. Someone came to him for advice, and he gave her the paper he was writing for himself. His choice--and what he was encouraging his visitor to do--was to focus on God and God's purposes, instead of the If Onlys.

(Side note: I love that Linda Dillow uses so many examples from missionary life!)

The anecdote to If Only and to so many other distrustful maladies is remembering the works of the Lord (Psalm 77). We need to meditate on what He has done for us and tell others about it. Somewhere I once heard of rewriting Psalm 136, which tells the story of God's faithfulness to Israel, and making it fit with my own life story. I love that idea. Something along the lines of
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

To Him who allowed me to be born into a wonderful family of people who love Him,
For His mercy endures forever.

And blessed me with a happy childhood and early education,
For His mercy endures forever....

Would you like to share a Psalm of your life? If you do, I might come back and finish mine up. How are you doing with fighting If Onlys these days?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Not Measuring Up

Sometimes it is blatantly obvious that I don't fit in here.  I clearly don't have the skin or hair of my neighbors, but neither do I have their habits.

A few days ago, we took a Skype call in the wee hours of the morning.  It wasn't the wee hour in California, where they were making the call, but here, we were pretty zonked waiting for 2 AM to roll around.  Needless to say, it was really late by the time we went to bed.

An early morning visitor at the gate seemed to come just a few minutes after I'd closed my eyes.  I'd normally ignore it, thinking it was just a door-to-door salesman, but their persistence made me think it was an emergency.

I grabbed my robe and unlocked the front door, hair all crazy, eyes puffy, all the while freaking out that I'd been "caught" sleeping in.  Women rise before the sun here, and I could already imagine the thoughts in their minds before I even opened the door.  "Lazy foreigner.  Does she just sleep all day?"

It turned out to be a couple of government agency gals sent out to poison any standing water in our community because of a dengue outbreak.  They wanted to inspect the inside of my house and our back yard.  WHAT?!?!  For real?

I almost had a panic attack at the thought of not being able to prepare before letting them inside.  Paraguayan women have a very high standard when it comes to floors. If they live in a home with a concrete or tiled floor, it WILL be mopped and shined at least once a day.  If their living area is a dirt floor or simply the yard, then they will have swept that yard so clean that no grass grows and the dirt is packed tight like concrete.

As these girls were looking around our home, taking notes on that official clipboard then tilting it slightly so I couldn't read it, I was just sure it said, "No standing water.  Adequate drainage.  Dirty floor.  Unkempt yard.  Lazy.  Sleeps too late."

Truth is, I've never had to live off the land, so I don't rise when the sun does, nor do I sleep when it goes down.  In fact, my body rebels against this heat so badly that I reserve most of my manual labor until the sun is long gone.  And homeschooling two high schoolers doesn't leave much time for daily floor scrubbing, which, considering our dog, would have to be done several times a day to keep a Paraguayan-style shine.  Nor do I have much skill in whipping up a totally-from-scratch meal several times per day.

So I can either let this drive me crazy, exhaust me from trying to "do it all," or go for option 3.  I'll take door #3, Monty. I laugh about the areas I don't measure up and let them poke fun at what they consider my laziness.  I ask for their advice on recipes and housecleaning.  I let them see my embarrassment as I humbly reveal my inadequacies.   I defer to them and choose to be teachable, so that they understand we are on level ground.

And do you know what I've found?  That these shy, closed people who see themselves as inferior to neighboring countries, who have had not-so-positive experiences with foreigners in the past, view me as a peer rather than an authority. Someone they can let in to their circle. Someone who needs help and isn't afraid to admit it.  Someone who came to teach and to learn.

They let down their guard, that protective stance that expects me to tell them that what they're doing is all wrong.  And the door opens to friendships that give access to more important things than cooking and cleaning and what time I wake up.
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in  me.  1 Cor 12:9b
Do you ever struggle with living up to the expectations of your neighbors?  Folks "back home"?  Other missionaries?  How could God use your weaknesses for His glory?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let Him Have His Way With Thee

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,
saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

These are my life's verses.  I always felt left out during high school and Bible college because everyone had a life's verse and I didn't.  I remember asking God to to give me a life's verse.  I hadn't intended for Him to bring difficulty in my life to show me my life's verse, but He did, and now I officially have my life's verse.  God is good.  :)

During high school, my future plans consisted of marrying my pastor's son and then going on to become a pastor's wife.
During my first semester at Bible college, I felt the Lord leading me into missions.  I broke up with that pastor's son telling him God was going to send me to NYC to be a missionary.  (I really love NYC!)
During my second year of Bible college the Lord brought me and the man who is now my husband together, and I knew the Lord was sending me to Australia, not just Australia, but Australia's Outback.
We married, finished Bible college, completed deputation in a record two years and then...
we waited...and we waited...
for three years we waited on our visas for Australia.
You know the phrase, "hurry up and wait"?  Yeah, I knew it all too well.
That was so hard.  Here we were ready to head to the land God called us to, but for some reason He told us to wait.
I learned many things during that 3 year wait, but today I will share just two...
~ I Learned To Delight In Him - Psalm 37:4
       I learned this verse didn't mean that God would give me the whelms of my heart, but that it means that I needed to allow His desires to become my desires.  And to do that, one must…
- Love Him Matthew 22:37
- Serve Him
          - Please Him
- Delight in Him
~ I Learned To Trust In Him - Proverbs 3:5-6
        I had to learn to truly trust God.  Trust God, not myself.  He created the universe.  He knows the beginning and the end.  We don’t even know what will happen in the next 10 minutes, yet we feel our worrying will somehow control what happens.  Allow God to have complete control.  Think of when you were a little girl with your Barbie dolls.  You played out the scene as you saw fit.  You had control.  They went with what you wanted.  Go with what God wants.  He has your absolute best in mind.
Oh, if we could only imagine the blessings we miss out on by not following God’s best.
I remember hearing this saying in Bible College, “Don’t doubt God in the light what He gave you in the night.”  We had (well-meaning) people come up to us and say, "Are you sure it's God's will for you to go to Australia?"  Or "what's your plan B?"
After those three years, God opened the door for us to move to Australia.  It's hard to believe that we've been here for over a year.  I love back at those three years and am amazed at what God did in our lives.  He is so good, and I wouldn't trade that time for anything.
Delight in Him, Trust in Him, Follow His will for your life, I promise you will never regret it. 
I'll close with a song... 


His Way With Thee

Would you live for Jesus, and be always pure and good?
Would you walk with Him within the narrow road?
Would you have Him bear your burden, carry all your load?
Let Him have His way with thee.

His pow’r can make you what you ought to be;
His blood can cleanse your heart and make you free;
His love can fill your soul, and you will see
’Twas best for Him to have His way with thee.

Would you have Him make you free, and follow at His call?
Would you know the peace that comes by giving all?
Would you have Him save you, so that you can never fall?
Let Him have His way with thee.

Would you in His kingdom find a place of constant rest?
Would you prove Him true in providential test?
Would you in His service labor always at your best?
Let Him have His way with thee.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Traveling with baby

Chrysti asks: What are your tips for travelling with a little one on furlough? How do you survive the long flights and car rides? Do you take your children with you wherever you go, or do you have grandparents babysit?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Called Overseas to Cook and Clean?

When God called me overseas, I had no idea how much time I’d spend cooking, cleaning, home schooling, playing games, and driving kids to sports practice. Just as if I were still back home in America. I even asked myself, “Why am I here, anyway? I can mop floors and teach reading back home.”
I had no idea that when I led a women’s study group, I’d feel bad about leaving my kids home with my husband, and when I spent days on end caring for a sick child without leaving the house, I’d feel vaguely guilty for neglecting my “ministry” responsibilities.
Years ago I asked a more experienced woman, “How do you manage to have a ministry outside of your home?”
Her answer flabbergasted me.

She said simply, “I tried that once, and it didn’t work for me.”

I’ve been chuckling about it ever since. Her open, honest attitude somehow freed me to be myself and find my own way.

Mothers Serving Overseas Come in all Shapes:

Women cross-cultural servants come in all different colors of the rainbow. Some are basically “working” mothers, hiring childcare or sending kids to local daycare or school while they serve or study the language. Others choose to center their lives more closely around their homes and children.

Find the Balance that Feels Right for You:
I’m probably somewhere in the middle, which means I burn the candle at both ends! I enjoy homeschooling and caring for my family, but my heart yearns for more than just “staying at home.” So making my home a center of hospitality has worked for me. I also visit women friends when I can.

Let Go of Guilt
I tend to compare myself with other women who seem to have a higher level of involvement outside their homes. This is dangerous because inevitably I then feel guilty. But I’m learning to relax in who God is calling me to be and also to give this freedom to others, who may not share my views.

Comments From Other Women Servants:

When I asked other women serving in Turkey for their views on ministry inside and outside of their homes, here is what they said:
  • “Part of loving my teaching them…how to love others outside of our circle.”
  • “My family is my first ‘ministry.’ Any ‘ministry’ work that happens outside the home is just icing on the cake.”
  • “Since the kids were 6 mo. old, we've had roughly 15-25 hrs/week of childcare for them.”
  • “Considering the difficulties our kids go through to adjust to the new cultures, we need to give them the appropriate mother time. Actually, I find Turks very family oriented…As much as possible, I liked to do ministry that included my children. So often the children when they were young were the catalyst to relationships with other Turkish mothers.”
  • “Knowing myself, I will always work more than I should…The Lord has given me kids to slow me down, to disciple me, and to teach me that my value doesn't come from my productivity..."
  • “Balancing family vs. ministry isn't possible. Once things are "balanced," someone inevitably gets sick, a situation or crisis arises in the work, or some other thing comes up. When you view family as ministry, you can move your fulcrum to one end or the other as needs arise..." 
  • “Perhaps our most lasting and important gift that we give to our local friends is the model of a family that is submitted to Christ and trying to make him central.”
  • “While I had children at home, my strategy was to make home my primary place for outreach, discipleship and showing hospitality. Serving my husband and kids was my primary ministry, and they supported and helped me in reaching out and serving others too.”
I was encouraged by their wisdom. What are your views?

updated from my archives

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stuck in a Shoot-Out

The mere mention of it makes our stomachs churn, and our palms sweat. We don’t want to deal with it, we get hurt by it, and it’s just plain unpleasant. The sad thing is that we missionaries face it a lot. In our training, I learned the surprising fact that the number one reason missionaries leave the field is that they can’t get along with other missionaries. That’s’s not the food, not the language, and it’s not even adjusting to the culture. It’s the other missionaries.
I think we all know that this is a sad, but true, reality. We’ve heard horror stories of missionaries burned by their fellow missionaries, or by their sending agency. We’ve also heard of sending agencies disappointed by their workers on the field. Many of you have probably experienced this, or know someone who has. Maybe you are even “getting burned” right now.
The question is why are so many missionaries hurt by other missionaries? Well, I hate to break to all of you, but missionaries are sinners. We sin against other people, and we get sinned against. We are all broken people in need of grace and there is just no way around that. We need to recognize that, own that, and be gracious to every other broken person that shares this planet with us.
But that statistic about missionaries is still out there, so we have to ask what makes conflict on the mission field such a deal breaker? First off, the stakes are high. The call to missions is one that requires loss and sacrifice…loss of home, familiar culture, and support systems.  After giving up so much, the cost of failure is great and often missionaries may perceive that others are getting in the way of their “mission” or their “calling.”
Second, I think that many missionaries are people who push the envelope, who get in the action, who like to be breaking into new territory and conquering new frontiers. I distinctly remember one of our missionary trainers saying something like, “With so many John Waynes on one team, there is bound to be a shoot-out.” This is right “on target.” We have egos, and we get offended. We get annoyed when our agendas get sidetracked, or our pride gets bruised. We live in a pressure cooker of language learning, fund-raising, and really, really bad traffic. So we fire away and in the process we get hurt, and we hurt others.
But can we find any positives when we are facing conflict? Is there a way to deal with it,  and maybe even be better for it in the end?
I just want to share a ffew practical steps for how to cope when you are stuck in a "shoot-out."
1.       Deal with it.  Avoiding conflict is a bad idea, and usually causes more problems for everyone involved. It’s human nature to avoid unpleasant circumstances. Things go unsaid, tension builds, and a silent volcano is ready to explode just beneath the surface.  Suddenly something triggers an eruption and words are said, bridges are burned, and damage is done. Don’t hold it in. Deal with it, face it, and resolve it.
2.       Go directly to the person involved. If you have a conflict, talk to God and talk to the person involved. Matthew 18:15-20 is well known by many people…it’s the Gold Standard for conflict management. But do we practice it? I claim to follow it, but how often do I call my mother or my friend to talk about the person I have conflict with before I even bother to talk to the person I’m complaining about? The Bible is telling us to go to the person involved before everyone else.  We cannot control someone’s reactions, and eventually others may need to be involved, but initially we need to confront the person who has offended us.
3. Be humble.  If you want to have a healthy conflict where everyone benefits, then you must go through it in humility. Pride is the source of so many problems…from conflicts with God, to conflicts in our marriages, to conflicts with co-missionaries. If you go into a conflict with “winning” as your number one priority, then you will end up losing. Every time. Seek to understand where the other person is coming from, pray for them, and open yourself to being used by God to build them up through the experience.
4. Don’t hold grudges. Do your very best to resolve the conflict in a calm and loving way. Forgive, and don’t hold it against the person. We have been forgiven so much by God, that we don’t have a right to withhold forgiveness from others. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the famous passage on conflict is followed by the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18: 21-35). When we realize how much we have offended God it becomes easier to forgive others. Don’t leave things open-ended, but seek to resolve the conflict, forgive the others involved, and move on. Even if you cannot find a common ground and you must part ways, you can still do so in a spirit of forgiveness.
5. Hold on to your integrity. In Romans 12:18 Paul exhorts us with these words:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As much as we can, we need to be at peace. Even in a conflict, we need to hold on to our integrity and not stoop to back-stabbing and name calling. We cannot be responsible for someone else’s actions, but we can be responsible for our own actions and the witness we bear for Christ in the middle of a conflict. Your integrity in difficult moments speaks volumes about your relationship with Christ. Don’t forget that in the middle of the conflict, other people are watching and waiting to see how you will respond.
6. Embrace it as an opportunity for growth. Okay, this one is a lot easier said than done! Have you ever noticed how much the Bible talks about suffering to grow, and walking through painful circumstances to grow in character? Well, conflict is kind of the one-stop shop for character growth…humility, self-control, suffering, and pain all wrapped into one experience! Through conflict, we have a choice to grow in bitterness and anger or to grow more like Christ. Jesus Himself was misunderstood and falsely accused. We can rejoice in moments when that happens to us because that is when we truly learn to identify with Christ. 
The truth of it all is that our world is broken, and it has been damaged by sin. That is why we are on the mission field anyway, right? If we are going to engage that world we are going to run into conflict. Period. Remember all the John Waynes out there?  There is no other path but right into the fight sometimes, and we need God’s perspective on what to do when we are in a shoot-out. I know this is tough, and I’m writing about it because I’ve been walking through conflict myself recently and I’ve been learning a lot about what not to do.
Conflict hurts but I encourage you to hang in there. Keep your eyes open to what God is showing you. These moments of hurt and struggle are often the moments when God shows up big time and does serious work in our lives. Just maybe someday we can look back and thank Him for it.
So…what are your thoughts about missionaries and conflict? What advice to you have for those who are in the middle of it right now?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's Been a Month!

Ok.  I am going to be honest here.   I am in a low spot.  Can I just tell you what the last month has been like for us?

Just before Christmas we had some issues with getting our Costa Rican driver's licenses, and to make a realllllly long story short, we had to road trip it to Panama.  With sick kids.  With a mama with mastitis.  4 days before Christmas. 

Then it was Christmas.  Our first one here.  While I was being proactive this year and thought ahead to some things, with our last minute trip, I was scrambling to wrap and make and finish things.  The actual day was good and we were able to spend time with some new friends, but it was still our first Christmas here, with all the emotion that goes with something like that. 

Then camp started. Here's the thing about camp ministry, there are seasons that are very, very intense and then there are seasons that are easier.  Well, right now, is a very, very intense season.  January is our summer camp time (It's summer here, and coffee picking time, so no school!)  My husband is leaving the house at 5:15 am and not getting home until at least 5:30 or 6, sometimes more like 10:00 or 10:30 pm.  And we have one car.  And no friends.  And three little boys.  So guess where I am all day, every day?

And then, two weeks ago, our puppy chewed on our laptop power supply and effectively rendered my computer useless. only connection to the outside.  Oh, and there was no cable in all of Costa Rica (that we could find) that would work for our machine.  Gracias a Dios (thanks be to God!) through  several  kind friends, we were able to get one from the States brought down last week. 

I feel in a lot of ways we have hit up against the culture several times over the last month, and it has left us a bit black and blue. I am not trying to complain, but as I sat down today to write here, I felt so inadequate to share anything, because right now, we're not thriving.  Frankly, we are working on just surviving here.  Just getting through the day with everyone semi dressed, fed and moving forward. 

I was reminded the other day how important it is to be honest in community.  It doesn't do anybody any good to pretend that I've got it all together. I don't, as has been made painfully clear this last month. But when I can be honest with myself and with people around me, when I can be open about what I am dealing with, it lets the Body of Christ work.  And really, that is a beautiful thing! We aren't meant to do life without each other.  I need people to pray for me, to encourage me, to redirect my thinking back to the Truth.  And in turn, I need to pray for others, to encourage others, to remind them of the Truth. 

So now that you know my junk today, how about you? What has been the hardest thing for you in the last month, or last hour?  What is your biggest hurdle right now living overseas?  And how can we pray for you?

Oh, and thanks for letting me vent a little.  I know you guys all understand culture stress here.  It's good to be understood! Thanks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Homework

Ashley asks: Our oldest daughter just entered 1st grade and is attending Russian public school. We are excited about the possibilities for her to become fluent in the language and to make friends within our community, but I'm nervous about how she/we will manage the homework in coming years. I am already having to used the dictionary just to do 1st grade homework! Do any of you moms whose kids have gone to public school in a foreign language have any pointers or encouragements on how to make it work?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, January 14, 2013


Les porteuses d'eau - Young water carriers
Photo by DeGust, Flickr Creative Commons

Every day, driving around this city, I see beautiful young children just like these gorgeous girls - diving and disappearing into the infrequent large metal dumpsters... or scrounging about trash piles strewn across the rutted, sandy roads... or picking and poking through refuse thrown behind shack-slash-boutiques... They are almost frantically searching for something - anything, really - that might somehow be redeemed.

They bury their hands into messes that assault my nose and turn my stomach.

Somehow, they come up with previously unremarkable, destroyed or discarded treasures that given another opportunity and shown some patience and work will become valuable and worthwhile. 

Each day I see Jesus in these kids.

Two thousand years ago, once and for all. 
And still today... Every day...

... because He dives into the horrendous, atrociously odiferous mess of this world... He scrounges about in the trashiness of every culture and life... He picks, prods and pokes through the icky stuff shoved way back and out of sight... 

He uncovers the discarded and gives them dignity; the washed up in His tender, patient  hands become full of worth.

He redeems, renews and restores all that I feared, all I never dreamed could really be.

I'm so thankful and I'm learning to pray: "May others see this same Jesus-spirit in me."


What is one of your prayers for 2013?

What is something you see every day that convicts you and encourages you to be more like Jesus?

(*1) Photo is titled "Les porteuses d'eau - Young water carriers" and was taken in December, 2009, in Niger by DeGust.
(*2) I recently posted this same entry on our personal blog. It has been slightly reworked, but sorry for the repeat if you've already seen it. School starts up again tomorrow and it has been crazy busy.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 10

I'm still working through my series on this book. I like to savor books. If you want to review, here's what has gone before: chapter 1chapter 2chapter 3chapter 4chapter 5chapter 6chapter 7chapter 8 and chapter 9.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 
(Quite possibly my very favorite verses.) 
This chapter is about the first of two similar "spiritual diseases," What If and If Only. Do you suffer from either of these? Can you trust God with your What Ifs?

Linda Dillow actually recommends facing our What Ifs by asking ourselves what would be the very worst possible thing that could happen with them. Then continuing, "Would God still be God, would He still be Sovereign? Would He still be Love and Goodness?" (page 155). I questioned that, and Linda herself said that she wondered about it; she concluded that it was Biblical, though, based on the examples of Paul and Esther, among other things. And I agree. For myself, I would have to add not to dwell on the first part of that little monologue, though!

There is more about not dwelling on our anxieties here, too. In an earlier chapter it was "worry is like a rocking chair." This chapter calls it "playing ball with God." We don't want to toss our worries to God and then catch them back again, back and forth, back and forth. No, once we've given Him our worst What Ifs, we need to leave them with Him and trust.

Reading this chapter reminded me of a few What Ifs in my life right now. We need to move on to a new location, but we still don't know where to, and in my opinion this deciding and moving process has been taking forever. My What Ifs: What if we're still in this very same spot a year from now? What if we do move, and the next five years are no better than the past five have been? (Or if they're worse?) Amazingly, when I write it all out like that, really, it becomes so much bearable. God has been very, very faithful through the past five hard years; I know for sure that He will be with us no matter what is ahead.
Remember: Contentment comes from a proper relationship to God, not from a response to the circumstances  Our What Ifs will either drive us to God and faith or they will drive us to worry and dependance on self (pages 153-4).
Do you have some What Ifs in your life now? What do you think of Linda Dillow's recommended questions to ask ourselves? Do they help you with your current What Ifs, or have they in the past?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Judge Not...

[Note from Phyllis: Christie is our newest writer. Please welcome her! Her bio is up on the contributors page now.]

I wish I could say that boarding that first flight out of the country automatically wipes out those ugly things that shouldn't be in the heart of any Christian, but I can’t.  One of the nasty gremlins that pokes its head up from time to time is a tendency to be judgmental, which can lead to bitterness if it’s allowed to stick around.

For those of us who've experienced first-hand how “the rest of the world” lives, dealing with our fellow Christians in the home country can be tough.  I have a tendency to get very frustrated, very impatient, with their petty grievances about what I deem to be unnecessary things.  I don’t always tolerate the drama over things that seem so trivial. 

It can show up on furlough, when good friends invite you to an expensive restaurant, call all the wait staff by name, and order the usual.   You've always avoided asking them directly for support, because, well, you’re good friends and that’d just be awkward.  While you’re praying that their invitation meant they’re picking up the tab (it didn't), they’re going on and on about how they admire those on the foreign mission field and just wish they could afford to support you monthly.

Or you visit your home church and hear there was a split over the color of the brand-new carpet, with half the church now congregating at First Other Temple up the street.  And you think about church service under the mango tree in your service country, or people living in dirt-floored huts, or why the home-church folks even bothered replacing the practically new carpet anyway?  Something in the missionary brain is wired to make instant calculations of all the things exorbitant amounts of money could buy on the field, or how many months of support that would work out to be.

Sometimes you don’t even have to be stateside to have this gremlin bite you.  Facebook and those let-me-fill-you-in-on-life emails are great places to find all sorts of things with potential to drive you crazy.

So how can we avoid this ugly, reverse form of culture shock? 

1.  Recognize that most people who haven’t LIVED in another culture won’t understand where you’re coming from.  Their level of exposure to real poverty may only be those starving orphan commercials that come on late at night.  I’m sure you can remember a time when you weren't as aware of the rest of the planet either—times you did things that make you cringe now.  We’re all at different places in this journey, so allow your brothers and sisters some grace if they just don’t “get it”.

2.  Share about your life.  Well, as much as you can.  It’s not cool to be “that missionary” who can turn every conversation around to a story about life on the field, and keeps a photo slide show on his phone to show everyone he meets.  But don’t reserve stories about everyday life only for your PowerPoint presentations, either.  Share bits and pieces with friends over coffee, show pictures when someone seems interested. And share about specific needs and projects that might cause your friends and church mates to get excited about what you’re doing.

3.  Don’t mistake their lives for superficial just because they aren't ministering in a far-off land.  Maybe Cousin Bob’s calling is to evangelize the guys at his job, and his shiny new iPhone is necessary for that job.  Maybe Little Susie’s going to be the next John Tesh, so refrain from telling her mom that in underdeveloped nations, the cost of those piano lessons would feed a whole family for a month.  

As un-fun as it is sometimes, we knew we were going to be living on donations when we signed up for this, and it’s not Susie’s mom or Cousin Bob’s fault that our ministry field looks different than theirs.  Nor does it make their ministry less valid than ours.  Recognize that God could be using their assets in another area for the kingdom, and that’s okay.

Are there things that cause this little gremlin to pop up in you?  How do you keep him from making himself at home?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guest post: Starting out on the field

I recently received an email from someone preparing to leave the States for the field for the first time. She asked what advice I would give her. I really had to think about it! We've been on the field for ten years and going back to those initial days stretched my brain a bit :)

I shared three things with this young mother that I will share here as well. Please add your own tips too!

1. Laugh at yourself.
 This was probably the greatest asset we had during our first term. Being able to laugh at our language blunders, our mishaps, our infancy-like living skills was a grace gift that kept us on the field and thriving. If you don't laugh, you'll cry, trust me!

 2. Trust.
Uncertainty and change of plans is so much a part of being a missionary. Flexibility is a must; but you can only be flexible if you trust that Someone is directing your steps. When my husband and I first arrived on the field, we had a letter of invitation to study at a college in one particular city. However, as we were in flight from the states to the field, the college sent an email informing us that they were withdrawing their invitation. This meant that in our lay-over city we had to figure out another city to land in. Trusting the Shepherd and Director of our steps preserves those inner resources you'll need for other things.

3. Bring a Kindle!
One of the things I craved (and still do) is reading material in English. This past stateside, I hesitantly purchased a Kindle but now I am so glad I did! Not only do I have hundreds of books to read in English, but most of them I have downloaded for free or very low prices. Being on a budget, this is a great way to keep yourself nourished and fed at a reasonable price. {I guess an ipad would do this too, but I don't have one so I really wouldn't know!}

Okay, now it's your turn. Some of you have been on the field much longer than I have. What advice would you give? What about you newer ones?

Arabah Joy is a missionary serving in East Asia with her husband and four children. She blogs at

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Medical questions

Ashley asks: Since many countries have differing medical philosophies, how do you approach medical care for your family overseas? Do you avoid it? Do you trust it? Do you double check every prescription before following treatment plans? When we first arrived in Russia, I was so afraid of Russian medical care, but the more we've experienced it, the more we've realized that often times the phrase "It's not wrong, just different" actually does apply. BUT, then there are the times when we've gotten prescriptions or have been prescribed therapies that would never be recommended in the US, or there are times where our US doctors are telling us to pursue treatments that don't exist where we are. How have your families dealt with the different medical systems and figured out when to have faith in the available medicine?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Coping with Reverse Culture Shock

So you've moved yourself and your entire family to a new country. You've lived there for two years, changing and adapting to the culture. You think you've adjusted to the culture shock. Now you find you and your family back in your home country on furlough. After a few days there, you may have realised that things in your home country don't feel like they did when you left. You may have expected it to be normal, but normal has been replaced by your life in the country you now serve in.
You might experience reverse culture shock when you return to your home country.

Image Credit
This was something that surprised me when I went back to the US for the first time after moving to England. The first big shock was how big the grocery stores were—going to Meijer after 2 days of being back in the US was a bad idea. People were also more friendly than those who live in our part of England. We would go to someone's home for dinner, and be disappointed when we didn't get offer a cup of tea afterwards. When we went to church, complete strangers gave us... wait for it... HUGS!

Through all the differences, I learned to cope with reverse culture shock and temporarily adjust to life back in our home country.

Here are some tips to help you and your family cope with reverse culture shock when you return to your home country:

Acknowledge that the culture shock is there, and expect that things are going to be different. Things in the US have changed. I have changed through living in my host country. Expect others to find that you're different, too.

Find a place that reminds you of your host culture. This might be a pub, coffee shop or a park. It'll be different for everyone. It could even be a place in your mind or having a cup of tea in a corner of a room wherever you might be staying.

Talk to someone who has recently been in your home country to find out what has changed since you were last there. If you haven't been back to your home country in a long time, you might want to talk to someone who has recently been there to find out what and how much has changed. Are there new things happening at church? New cultural norms?

Spend time with someone who understands what you're going through. When my husband and I were last in the US, we found great encouragement talking with some good friends of mine. The husband was an expatriate from Albania and the wife grew up as a missionary kid. Both of them understood what it was like to not really fit in the culture they were in, and that was comforting to us.

Whatever you do to cope with reverse culture shock, remember to run to our Saviour first. After all, he left his home to join us on earth. He probably understands what we're going through, right? :)

How do you cope with reverse culture shock?