Thursday, August 30, 2012

Toto, I've A Feeling We're Not In Bolivia Anymore

I woke the day after arriving home from Bolivia and opened my eyes to a new world. Toto, I've a feeling we're definitely NOT in Bolivia anymore!

For one thing, I cannot step out of my house and wave down a motorcycle taxi. I've really had to think about it more than once when preparing to leave the house that I would need other transportation. And if I do happen to ride a motorcycle here, not only am I not allowed to ride side saddle, but I am also strongly encouraged to wear a helmet at all times. And a skirt is probably not the best idea either, here in a America. Furthermore, carrying groceries in my lap is also frowned upon.

It has also been strange to adjust to wearing seat belts and noticing that everyone here owns and drives cars. Not only that, but I own and must drive a car! No more walking blocks to get to where I am going. Everyone has their own private portal to beam them to where they want to be.

Then there's the language barrier. Here where I live in the EEUU English is the language. My mind is still living in Spanish. The Sunday after I returned, I nearly greeted a sweet old lady in Spanish with exuberance...only to recall just in time that she only understands English. Oops. No español for me as a means of communication for now.

There's also the form of greeting. I was kissed an average of 10 times a day in Bolivia as a normal form of greeting. (I hasten to add it was on the cheek!) Here, if I were to lean in for the kiss, they'd think I was interested a little more of a relationship than they were expecting....

Next I went to the store. I was amazed and kept marveling over how clean it was, how much space they had between displays and items, and by the sheer number of things and the level of quality available. It was overwhelming. I left as soon as I could.

Then there are restaurants. The array of choices at the average American restaurant is dizzying. Rare is it to find a place with three or four items on the menu to choose from. No, how about twenty or thirty items?

Perhaps a bit of vanity on my part, but one thing I quickly adjusted to was having more clothing choices. I took a total of two pairs of pants and perhaps six shirts for the summer. Regardless the number, it all fit into a carry on size suitcase.  Fast forward to arriving home, where it was tempting to change clothes several times a day just for the sheer fun of it. Look, another outfit I haven't worn in months! COOL!

It was also very difficult to remember where to dispose of toilet paper here. I know, TMI, but hey, in the interest of being authentic, it has taken quite a while to readjust.

My stomach has also taken quite a while to get used to American food again. It cries out in protest everytime I make it digest American food. Perhaps it misses rice at every meal and chicken every day. And where did my soy con jugo every morning go??

And you know what? This is going to sound really funny, I know. But it is really weird sometimes to see so many white folks around. I was used to never seeing them and it comes a shock at many gringos! At one point I attended a conference and was one of two gringas. Only two white Americans present out of a thousand and twenty.

Toto, I've a feeling we're definitely not in Bolivia anymore! And gosh, it feels like it's taken weeks to readjust, when really it hasn't been long at all that I have been here...

Me extraño mucho a Bolivia y espero con ganas de volver. Toto, no estamos en Bolivia nunca más.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Picture Perfect Mission

Picture perfect. That is what the glossy magazines and slick videos show at church when it comes to mission. Happy people, surrounded by little kids who are all smiling broadly while hugging new found friends, or if they are not smiling, it is a reflection of their grim story which is told in stark words beneath the photo. Mission trips and organizations encourage picture perfect mission to reflect the shiny, prosperous generosity and the little commitment necessary to "make a difference" in the world. A week or two weeks in a new exciting surrounding, with loving, sweet little children to steal your heart. Building projects or medical missions bring hope and relief to people who have so little. Money is magically worth much more in other countries and is easy to throw around to the awe of the impoverished hosts. Its heady and exhilarating, and takes at least two weeks or a month to recover from and come back down to the ground after arriving back home. Then the world is back to normal, and the culture shock is blurred once again by the everydayness of surroundings so familiar.

I suspect that is not the whole truth to the meaning, reason, and design the word mission should invoke when spoken or discussed. I suspect there is much more to it than modern Americans are willing to even think about or discover for themselves. And I was content to accept this picture perfect version of mission until this summer. I was not only content, but sure there was no other way to view it.

Several weeks into my "living in mission" project, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and irritated that my version of mission and my preconceived ideas of what it should look like was not happening. I was sure I was just wasting my time because nothing seemed to be visibly happening because I was there.  The ideas of what I thought I would doing were not happening at all, and I was stuck with a task that while interesting, was not what I considered "mission" enough. I was becoming discontented and disillusioned quickly and complained about it until someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. "What is mission?" At first I wanted to retort a quick cliche, but saw that the pat answer was not going to work. There had to be more to it than the usual light remarks about making the world a better place and helping those in need.

I had to really wrestle with and search for the meaning behind mission for myself. I was caught up in the perfect picture meaning of it, and caught up in my expectations of what I thought it would look like or be. I pictured myself being benevolent and accomplishing something so everyone could measure and see for themselves how wonderful my work was, and how much I was able to do to change many lives and make them all live better, like the prosperous Americans I know and am around.

What is mission? Why do it? There are plenty of books out there to discuss the topic, but I had access to none of them. All I had was my Bible and a journal to write through the thoughts and questions that were flooding my mind.

So I visited the "great commission" first. Matthew 28:19. Go and make disciples it said, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things Jesus had told the disciples. A verse often quoted, it is true. But this time I noticed something. It didn't say go and build buildings, or go and hold week long VBSs or go and give gifts. It said go and make disciples.

Make disciples. So how does that look in my life? How does that translate to mission?
It struck me that while I was busy in my job while living overseas, I had the perfect and golden opportunity to make disciples. I had two or three people already asking me for direction or guidance about serious problems, and I nearly missed the mission work right before me. Making disciples can include building buildings and holding VBSs, it is true. But I think it means building relationships and sharing lives and holding each other's hands through difficult times. I think mission means using my heart and mind to bring another into a better knowledge and awareness of the saving presence of Christ and His love. Bringing another alongside and sharing the bumps and working together to gain a better understanding of how the Kingdom should work.

I'm taking time to think through what I learned and what I think about mission. My time overseas has definitely changed me and my ideas in a lot of unexpected ways. I'm excited about what I am learning and recognizing, and excited about what the future might hold. Picture perfect or otherwise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Have You Seen?

"How have you seen God today?"
I pause, eyebrows frowned in thought as I consider the day, the moments that passed almost unconsciously, thinking of incidents and mind photographs of the day. Snapshots of time flash before my minds eye.
The laugh of a little student when I called her "Señora". The kind greeting of the man next door who is the school janitor. Chatter and laughter at lunch with Cisia, my co worker and friend. I see each face and think of each person all in a moment.

"How have you seen God today?"
Today it was in the provision of sending help at the moment I needed it. Today it was in the hug of a friend. Today it was in a surprisingly gruff remark from an unexpected place. And yes, a gruff remark can show me God. Sometimes I need a gruff remark directed at me.

I wish I had thought to journal this every day I was away. I wish I had thought to look for and write and record how I saw God each day. But I can look back and remember, and look back see moments I saw God. And I try to capture them with words now, so later I can again remember and see it afresh.

And perhaps now is the perfect time to begin a daily journal of how I see God each day. He is ever present. I just need to have the eyes freshly opened and clear to see Him.

How have you seen God today?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Culture Shock

After a summer spent living overseas, culture shock is setting in. For some reason, upon arrival, culture shock is not so bad, although I did experience a little then. But the return home is when it really begins to show.

Returning to my culture has at times felt like I am visiting this country for the first time. I marvel at this because I have not ventured too far yet for knowing how difficult it could be for my heart. I know too well what I will see, and I am not sure what effect it will have yet, being so recently returned from a place so different.

Culture shock is the shock of experiencing a different culture and ways of living. It is seeing blunt truth and grim reality without the rose colored spectacles, or the dull vision of one who views the same things every day. Suddenly, sharp and clear things stand out that before were not noticed or were blurred by the fact that it is so every day to us. Things that made sense before are suddenly shown to be completely wrong or absolutely ridiculous in light of experiences felt or seen in other places.

Suddenly, the woman standing in front of me demanding a drink to be made very specially despite being told it would require extra and unavailable service is even more noticeable than before when I remember the woman who came and picked crusts off our plates to eat for her supper.

Suddenly the over commercialism of our lives is too much and sickening when I remember the children whose parents live in something we would not consider keeping our pampered pets in, and who have no running water. And yet they gave us the little they had.

Culture shock is sitting on the porch, eating a meal and realizing it was cooked over an open fire, made from the chickens running in the yard, from hands who work to just make a way to eat. Culture shock is eating in a restaurant and beggars coming and asking for the leftover scraps of food from your plate, to make their meal from. Culture shock is watching a man pick food from a garbage.

Culture shock is a restaurant at home where children whine that they don't like what is before them, they want something else instead. My heart turns sick because I have seen skinny kids who are glad to have just one hot meal a day.

Culture shock is beginning for me. I have seen and lived in another place too long to take it lightly when I return to my own country. It is challenging. It is difficult. And I do not want it to dull. I do not want to become blind again, vision blurred by the fact that I see these ridiculous attitudes and ways of living every day. Better to remember and learn and grow in gratefulness and generosity. Better to let the culture shock me and change me for the better so I can in turn change the culture.

Friday, August 3, 2012


A new experience on the journey, and that is being completely alone. I have never had to face being alone before. Always I lived or stayed with people, always there was someone around to talk to or be with. But suddenly, I am alone, and it is an adjustment.
I am learning that I am very much a people person. I love people! I like to be with them, talk to them, find out how they think, and what their heart is like. I like to just sit together, even if we don't speak with words. I like to give someone a pat on the shoulder, and I like an exchange of smiles and glances. I am energized and excited by people.

And I am learning there is a time and a place to be so outgoing, and a time and a place to learn to be introspective and not depend on people to give me the energy I look for or need from being with others.
I can't say it is to the point where I love being alone, but I am beginning to enjoy some things about it.
I think it is important to learn to balance my natural personality tendancies. For instance, being such a people person, it is a good balance to experience living and being alone. I can learn to care for myself and find what I need emotionally through other avenues. I can make allowances and accomodate others better if I can find another side of my personality.

On the other side of the coin, someone who is very much a loner should also learn to be in community and living with others. But I think it is possible for loners and people like me to find a way to invite others into their lives and form community while still taking care of the person inside. Making ways to be alone, and with others, and still sharing lives and experiences and being companionable. I hope it is a grace I can learn, to invite others to share in my life. I want them to discover in my life the reason I am living here: Christ who is in me.

I am alone, yet not completely alone. I live alone, yet Christ is with me, and I am not alone. Christ lives in me, and is always there.

I am not alone.