28 November 2012

Where am I?

I'll be honest, when I was originally offered the position in Latin America, I didn't have the most thrilling of opinions about the region. I loved the job, but the location was...well, at least there are llamas! Part of it stemmed from wishing I could learn a new language other than Spanish, part was because the culture seemed largely homogenous to an outsider, and part was because there are so many other intriguing cultures around the world that I wanted to explore! 

My opinions have changed since moving to Lima and seeing lots of Latin America. While there are some similarities, there really is so much variety from country to country and city to city! There are a myriad of languages, cultures, and landscapes, and it's all pretty cool. And the region is home to eight cities that we classify as mega cities: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Bogota, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Caracas, and, of course, Lima! Around the continent and within these cities you can find pockets of immigrant cultures that are anything but Latin, and there are workers focused specifically on reaching these groups with the Good News. 

When I moved to Lima, Peru, I never expected that I'd have to work in Chinese, but that's what I found myself doing a few weeks ago as I edited prayer cards and videos for individuals here ministering to the Chinese community (which is the largest in Latin America). It was a delightful change of pace- although I'm glad I don't have to work with Chinese script often! I've never been so happy that I only had to learn Spanish to do my job!

While I'm still an outsider in Lima, I speak Spanish and get along quite nicely, but in one cab ride from my apartment I was quickly immersed in a sub-culture where I didn't understand the language or the customs, and everyone was trying to feed me despite my protests! I had a giant plate full of shrimp dumplings at 11am served by an elderly buddhist woman who insisted on bagging up what I didn't eat to send with me. I had fried wontons in a chifa (Chinese restaurant) while my friend discipled a young believer after the lunch rush. And then I had soup, egg rolls, and sticky bean pudding at two in the morning at a closed chifa during a Chinese Bible study on the outskirts of town. It was a whole new experience, a bit like traveling to a new country without ever leaving my city. There were definitely moments where I found myself asking, "Where am I?!"  

Anyway, I highly enjoyed getting an insider's view of the Chinese immigrant community here, and I am always impressed with the diligent work and long hours that our staff puts in to build relationships and share the Gospel. They are faithful laborers! Below is a short video promo of the work with the Chinese community in Lima. Check it out if you have time, and then don't forget to do what you can to support the work, not only with the Chinese of Lima, but with people everywhere! Pray, Give, Go! 

25 November 2012

What will your legacy be?

A friend shared this video recently and I think it is great! It's the follow up to a story from decades ago and shows such a clear picture of the impact the Gospel can have on a person, a community, a people, and the world. How remarkable to be able to return years later and see the legacy of faith that remains where one faithful family shared the Gospel in word and deed. I don't know about you, but I want to leave that kind of legacy!

What do you want your legacy to be?

I think that's a good thing to keep in mind as you make decisions and plans. It should help you focus upon that which you spend you time, money, and energy. Because, as Beth Moore say, "The legacy you leave tomorrow is dependent upon the choices you make today."

If you have 15 minutes, check out this great story:

Never the Same from Pioneers-USA on Vimeo.

And I love Nicole Nordeman's song aptly titled- Legacy:

I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me 
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest 
You could take my picture and hang it in a gallery 
Of all who's who and so-n-so's that used to be the best 
At such'n'such ... it wouldn't matter much

I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights 
We all need an 'Atta boy' or 'Atta girl' 
But in the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides 
The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy 
How will they remember me? 
Did I choose to love? Did I point to You enough 
To make a mark on things? 
I want to leave an offering 
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically 
And leave that kind of legacy

I don't have to look too far or too long awhile 
To make a lengthly list of all that I enjoy 
It's an accumulating trinket and a treasure pile 
Where moth and rust, thieves and such will soon enough destroy

Not well traveled, not well read, not well-to-do or well bred 
Just want to hear instead, "Well Done" good and faithful one...

24 November 2012

"Never Once" Again

Living in the overseas bubble that I do, I am rarely in the loop of new movies, tv shows, fashion, or music. Granted, I'm not the hippest or trendiest of people even when I'm in America: I don't listen to Top 40 pop radio, I don't read US Weekly, and I can't remember the last time I watched Entertainment Tonight or MTV. But when I live in the US of A, I manage to at least be aware of most things. 

But not here. I came to the realization watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade just how behind the times I have become. Something like 85% of the musical artists and celebrities that were shown, I hadn't even heard of before! Neon Trees?! What in the world is Neon Trees? Anyway, it was another sobering reminder that repatriation is coming up soon (T-minus 60 days) and I will be heading back and trying to fit in to an America where I never particularly felt like I fit before- but now I will be bringing along two years of Latin culture and M life. 

It's honestly something I've worried about in the back of my mind since leaving the states more than a year and a half ago. I remember being a freshman in Paris and being warned of the horrors of reverse culture-shock! Our program director made it sound like this horrible stressful psychological thing and I worried what it would look like for me, only to not have a problem with it at all. I was returning home after a semester abroad, at the same time as all of my friends coming home from college for the summer. We picked up where we would have if I had spent that semester in Gainesville, and I had an internship and a part-time job, and all of my activities, and it was a great summer. America seemed a bit odd and exciting for the first week or so, but aside from people getting sick of stories beginning with "In Paris..." there really were no ill-affects. 

So when I went abroad again for my senior year of college and then came home two days before graduation, I wasn't prepared for the terrible reverse culture-shock that nearly strangled me when I got back to the States. It was completely different. I was gone for longer that time, of course, and then came back to America and went from being a productive hard-working student at an elite school in Paris to an unemployed college graduate living in my childhood bedroom, all before I even overcame the jet-lag. All of my friends were moving on to internships, jobs or grad-school, and I was still trying to figure out what I even wanted to pursue. It was reverse culture-shock mixed with a large dose of what I call life-shock, and it was ugly. 

I remember walking into Panera one day (it was my office when I first moved home because my house still had dial-up internet) trying to stay positive about my hopes for finding a job in my field (this was 2008 and prospects were not great) and seeing a lovely pan au chocolat (which they had gauchely labelled "chocolate pastry") in the pastry window. Ah! I thought, at least I can have a little taste of the Paris I am missing so badly! I took my pastry and coffee and sat down to work. I took one bite...and cried. I literally sat in Panera blinking away tears because that thing was not a pan au chocolat. It might look similar, but it was not the same as my beloved Parisian treat. (Some of you may be familiar with my "I don't eat french pastries outside of France" rule. This -and several other terrible disappointments- is where it comes from!) 

Here's a tip for those of you who have never experienced this before and may be facing similar transitions: if at any point you find yourself crying over a bad pastry (or insert your country's signature food) you *may* be experiencing reverse culture-shock!  For me, that terrible pan au chocolat at Panera was a final sign that reminded me that, like it or not, I was living in America again, and I was not the same person I was when I left. I was a cultural mutant now. Someone who loved barbecue and Dr. Pepper as much as Nutella crepes and Orangina. And it was weird. And it was hard. And, for lack of a better term, it pretty much sucked. It was quite a while before I got to a new normal and was really okay.

Now don't get me wrong, I know God had a purpose in that season of life. I kicked and screamed, and cried over my 50,000th job application, and begged God to open a door to go somewhere other than Daytona. And instead, there I sat for more than 2 years, and for a long time it felt like the hits just kept on coming -until God started to reveal to me more about Himself than ever before. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, I felt beaten up and exhausted, and I did the only thing that I could do: I held on until the blessing came. In retrospect I am so thankful that God didn't lift His hand when I fought the means by which He was instructing me. I came to appreciate that God needed to break me in certain places in order to shape me more into His image. He brought me to a point where I was seeking Him fervently and crying out to know Him better. And the growth that resulted from that season, I still see impacting my life today. It was not the path I would have chosen, but I would not take back the hard times if it meant also giving up the growth in my relationship with Christ. 

So with that background, probably more than you needed to know, you can kind of understand why the realization that I am going back to the US in 2 months isn't a completely happy one. Call it self-preservational instinct, but most humans don't like to put themselves back in the same situation in which they were previously hurt. If you've been hit in the stomach by a 4-year-old with a baseball bat before, next time you stand farther away from the piƱata. Unfortunately, there's no avoiding this one. I have to go back to America, and I have to find a job, and I have to find a place to live, and I have to figure out what life is going to look like now. And I really hope that I don't get clobbered once again. 

Some days I am handling it better than others. I'm thankful for patient friends who have calmly listened to my freak-outs and put up with my stress-induced meltdowns. And I'm even more thankful for them not asking me if I know what I'm going to do when I get home. ;-) The truth is that I feel a bit confused and lost and completely unsure about what's next, and that in turn stresses me out because I'm supposed to figure it out at some point but I don't have any idea of how I'm going to figure it out. So I am daily needing a reminder that no matter how dark the road ahead may appear, no matter what the battle looks like or how incapable I feel... no matter what...I never walk alone. My God is faithful. It was true in 2005, and in 2008, and it'll be true in 2013. It isn't always easy to keep that in perspective, but the Lord, my God, is faithful. And nothing is too hard for Him. He is not constrained by a cruddy economy or my personal limitations. Like Beth Moore says, "The weaknesses of God's children do not strain the strength of God." I've loved this song since I first heard it, but I listened to it for the first time in a while this week and it hit home once again:

"Never Once"

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

The chorus echos my heart's cry right now:  "Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say, yes, our hearts can say- Never once did we ever walk alone, never once did You leave us on our own. You are faithful, God, You are faithful!" He is faithful when I'm swamped with work in Lima, Peru, and He will be faithful when I am trying to figure out life in America again. I will never walk alone.