I’m dreaming of a White Christmas

That is so true.  I grew up in a region where we usually had a white Christmas. Where the snow covered the ground for weeks. Where it sparkled in the light of street lights like diamonds.  

It isn’t just about the snow. It is about the traditions.  If I lived in my home culture I would have been shopping on Black Friday, I would have been hearing the Holiday music in all the malls. I would have been attending work parties and family gatherings and school programs. I would have been involved in our church choir or play. My home would be decorated and Christmas cookies in the jar.

But here I am mowing my lawn. I have some lights but no tree. I can barely find Christmas gifts anywhere.  I may gather with other expats in the area to celebrate. My national church will celebrate the holiday in their church all day long. No one makes cookies or knows about Santa Claus. In one way it is better because they remember the true reason – the Birth of Christ our Saviour!

I want to hangout with my family and wrap presents. But I will now adapt to new traditions, church all day, special food, beautiful flowers in bloom at this time of year.

In the Culture:

What culture do you live in? I live in 2 or 3, I think. I have a home culture, or two or three. I have a host culture and then there is the in between.  I have the culture of the nationals and the culture of the expats.

What do I live in the most? Which culture should I embrace? Which culture will offend the least amount of people? Which culture is expected of me? Which culture will help me minister the most?

I don’t have an answer, only the question. If I ask a national, they want me to know their culture only – but they have no idea what my home culture is. They don’t know what culture shock is.  They don’t know what it takes for me to survive in their culture. They will never know.

Somehow I have found a happy median. It isn’t necessarily halfway but it is somewhere in the middle where I can touch at least 3 cultures. Somehow I straddle them all and pray for wisdom in each situation.  Yes, I will offend even when I try to adapt. 

Forever it will be a conflict in this life of a missionary. Just as forever it will be a conundrum in a Christian’s life – or it should be.

Our citizenship is in Heaven.  We don’t belong to this world, we haven’t yet been to our home culture. As we read Scripture we learn to be more and more like our home culture – or we should. But we are somewhere in the middle. We have our host culture – which is full of sin. We have our home culture – Heaven. We have the middle culture of the church where we mix with others of our home culture who are living in this host culture.  We disagree with each other as to how much we adapt to the host culture. Yet we are all expats in this world.

American churches?

While I have been travelling to visit various churches in the USA, I have been surprised by many things. Some are positive things, others are negative things. Some excite me, others sadden me.

  I love to meet pastors and their wives around the country. I am excited to hear their joy in serving, the things that brighten their eyes as they share. But so many are hurting. They have been “abused” by their elders and churches. They struggle to make ends meet. They are attempting to share their hearts and preach what God has laid on their hearts but yet they are blocked at every turn.  Most of the time it is the strong Christians in the church doing the harm.

  I am excited to see the mission-minded hearts of congregations who send out short term teams and support missions. I am saddened by churches who are only looking inward to their own needs and don’t see the needs of their community.  

  Most churches are welcoming and someone greets you and asks more about you. But there are the few churches where I attend and no one even greets me.  Do they not want visitors? 

  How exciting it was to see that youth group made up of multi-cultural kids all wanted to learn more about the Lord.

  How sad it was to see the frowns on faces when an announcement was made about serving in the homeless district downtown.

  All churches are hurting, all have problems – because a local church is made of human beings, we bring our sinful nature with us. But we need to be proactive in welcoming visitors, in spreading the Gospel, in serving their community, in caring for their pastors, etc…

  I don’t want to judge, because I know that I too can fail.  We must each think of what we can do and how we can change.

How to celebrate when it hurts?

I don’t know the answer, I just see the difficulty for so many right now.  Somehow I have not been as sensitive to this in past years as I am this year. I know of many people who are celebrating their first Christmases without loved ones.  A husband, wife, grandparent, daughter, son, or friend have passed away this year.  Christmas is a time full of memories and traditions for most of us. We remember Christmas how it used to be and try to imitate the best of those memories. But that is hard to do when our loved one isn’t around.

That first holiday alone is hard for the widows. Who will they have their morning coffee with this year? Why even cook a special meal?  The widowers didn’t even take time to pull out the decorations because their loved ones aren’t around to care.  Or the grandma in the nursing home how is very forgetful, somehow knows that her kids didn’t take time this year to visit and she tries hard to hold her head high.

We must celebrate at Christmas because it isn’t about us or traditions, it’s about our Saviour being born in fulfillment of God’s plan made so long ago. He set in motion this segment of His great design so that Christ would humble himself and come to live as a man for 33 year so that he might die to save you and I.

We must celebrate Jesus’ birthday, yet many will mourn and remember their loved ones. Those who died in Christ will be mourned in a hopeful way and that should bring comfort.  But wounds of love take time to heal and we must allow the tears of healing to flow and the memories to wash over us as treasures from the past.

Thus as we celebrate our Saviour, we must be sensitive to many in pain.

Struggling in 2 cultures?

38I struggle in my passport culture, because I’ve lived elsewhere so long. I struggle in my host culture, because I have many customs of my passport culture. I struggle in my family, because I miss them yet don’t see them often. I struggle in my home churches, because I can never just be a “normal” member.  I struggle in my friendships because no one understands my mix of cultures. I struggle in my devotion time because my life has an ever-changing schedule and few norms. I struggle to open up to others, because sooner than later I will say good-bye. I struggle to share the real me, because even I barely know me. I struggle to worship in one language or another.  I am always missing one style or another.  I struggle to fit in where ever I go. I struggle…

That is the heart of someone that lives in many cultures.  We never fit in, but learn to try. We have friends that come and go and yet we always say good-bye. We want to love deeply but are afraid to do so because it will never last over continents and oceans.  Some of us just give up and don’t even try.

The One and Only Constant in my life is My God.  He is immutable, and knows all the cultures that make me who I am. He has never left me and He is the only One to whom I will never say a good-bye. 

When the schedule lulls and the changes of jobs, location, and friendships occur. I find myself lonely and hurting for all those good-byes. But when the schedule is tight and there are people to meet and serve, there is no time for a pity party. Life just goes on and we set aside those ponderings for another time.

I struggle and yet I love the job, the lifestyle, the new cultures, and my friends on both sides. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve so uniquely. I thank Him for His stability in my life. I pray for His grace to make it through another struggle, day by day, moment by moment, until we meet face to face.

Do I judge too much?

She came into the church service a little late.  She sat down in the last row. No one noticed her at first.  As the children’s choir stood up and began to sing, she stood right up where she was and began to sing the lyrics right along with them. She knew almost all the words and many of the actions. If the choir squatted down then she would sit down if they stood back up, so would she.

images (80)Everyone glanced back at her and began mumbling about her. The judgmental looks from all the women around her were noticeable, but she kept singing.  The kids kept singing and slowly most of the people just ignored her and let her sing. But there were a few women that wouldn’t let it go. They kept talking about her and glancing back.
At that moment I realized how sad the situation was.  You see, she was mentally handicapped. She came to church to sing and be in the presence of saints. God measures the heart and at that moment she was bellowing out songs of praise.  Her motives were pure and childlike. It was the members of the congregation that had the problem. They were judging and looking down on her. Their disgust at her bold singing was to their shame.
I listened to her sing another song along with the congregation. Her voice was the loudest of us all. I began to realize that we were the ones not worshipping.

Am I just like those women? Do I judge others for how they worship or their looks or their actions?  I should be examining my own heart.

dating on the mission field

SAM_4445So can you date a national?  Are you racist if you say, “No!”  Have you considered the cultural differences?  In some mission fields the differences are striking while on other fields the differences are minimal. 

What happens if you do fall in love with a national? Is that national merely a gold-digger, looking for a passport to a better country? What will happen to your ministry? Will you have to leave the mission organization? Will you start over raising support as a couple? What nationality will your passport become?  How will other nationals view your ministry with one spouse being supported by outside help?

These are all logistical questions that go beyond the regular questions of whether or not you have chosen a good and godly mate. And even more so, they are questions that single missionaries face if they ever get the chance. Most of us have chosen to follow the Lord and give up the remote possibility of meeting someone.  When you live in a village in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by people with very little education, no electricity or running water, you find that you have little in common with which to start a relationship of that level. (Don’t get me wrong, I have many close friends in the village, but I could never imagine a guy that makes $300/year supporting me as his wife!)

So we follow the Lord in Faith. Sometimes he brings an Helpmate along our paths and then we face all those logistical questions, but more often than not, we are alone. We have comfort and companionship in Christ and in Christ alone. We live a life in which our family cannot really understand us and those we minister to cannot really comprehend where we come from either.  Our co-workers which understand us a bit often are coming and going; as are we.  So in Christ and Christ alone we find solace, rest, fellowship, love, comfort, a constant friend.