Five non-missiony books to help you live and minister across cultures

by Jonathan

These aren’t mission-y books. They’re not even about cross-cultural life or transition. Nevertheless, these books have been fundamental to my life (and sanity) abroad. In no particular order…

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, by Timothy Keller
Because if you didn’t have a good grasp on these concepts before moving, you’ll need to get one pretty quick after moving. I very much appreciate Keller’s deeply theological and yet tender writing in this book. Those two things do not often coexist, unfortunately.

Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller
This one makes the list because the basic story is known but the deeper message is typically missed. This book and the truths in it have the power to reshape our understanding of God’s character and of his view of us. In the world of cross-cultural ministry, God’s character and how he views us are pretty big deals. I recommend this one all.the.time.

The Psalms
I had to not-so-subtly sneak this in. Of course, this one is not co-equal to the others, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve written here and here about the importance of the Psalms in the lives of missionaries and cross-cultural workers.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero
There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor at a suburban, wealthy, primarily white church. But this guy isn’t one. So, although he writes from an American context, he also writes from a cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, church-centered context. I also love how he assumes that the majority of people are going to be truly transformed and discipled, not through professional counselling, but through consistent and loving relationships.

A Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder, by Kevin Belmonte
Life is serious, the world is a mess, and we need the aged brilliance of Chesterton. His humor, his levity in the face of a world that was no-less troubled, his talk of fairies and mysteries and paradox, it’s all for our time. Get to know the author who pretty much gave the world C.S. Lewis. You’re welcome.

Welp, that’s it. Have a great day! Oh, and if you have a book that you’d add to this list, link to it in the comments section below. Thanks for dropping by!

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That Time Paul Talked About Breastfeeding {Velvet Ashes}

by Elizabeth

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My husband and I worked in local church ministry for over ten years before moving abroad to serve for the last five and a half. There’s something I want you to know about this life: you’re going to need a lot of fortitude for the journey. Working with people, in any time and any place, is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your home country or a host country. Working with people is heart-wrenching and soul-filling, and you need endurance.

This is something else I want you to know: in the years ahead, never hesitate to serve out of your feminine strength. A lot of teaching models are filled with masculine metaphors. There’s battle this, and army that. There’s fighting here and soldiering on there. The Bible itself is filled with battle-speak. We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. But the same Paul who told us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that we were to arm ourselves and stay alert and be persistent and stand firm, that very same Paul was not ashamed in his first letter to the Thessalonians to compare himself to a woman.

In I Thessalonians 2:7, Paul, Silas and Timothy jointly describe their conduct among the believers there: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). I was in a training session this summer when I first truly took hold of this verse. We had studied the great faith and love of the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, and now we were in chapter 2 studying the attributes of the men who’d told them the Good News. When we got to the verse about these three men acting like a mother, some of the men seemed to want to brush it off and focus instead on verse 11, where the letter writers compare themselves to good fathers.

But I couldn’t brush Paul’s words off. I remembered how physically demanding it was to be a nursing mother. I had to speak out: “We have this idea of a mother with her nursing baby that’s all sweetness and light. But it’s not. It’s really hard work. You have to feed yourself well, so you can feed your baby. You have to get up at all hours of the night to care for a crying child, and you have to try not to be cranky about all that lost sleep.”

As I spoke, women all around me nodded their heads in agreement, and several told me afterward how glad they were that I had said that. They had lived it, too, and they knew the challenges of mothering. You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.

Somehow this was something the apostle Paul understood. When we serve people, we have to make sure we’re getting our spiritual nourishment first, before we can pass anything of value on to them. Living and working among the continual, desperate needs of other people can physically and emotionally deplete us. And sometimes other people’s needs interrupt our planned and preferred schedules. Paul knew all this. He lived all this. At the same time, Paul felt incredible affection for the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas, and Timothy loved them so much that they shared not only the good news with them, but their own lives as well (verse 8). And they’d spent plenty of time praising them in the chapter before.

Over the past few months I have been unable to let verse 7 go. I’ve learned that in the Greek, the noun was unmistakably feminine. It was trophos: a care-giver, a person sustaining someone else by nourishing and offering the tender care of a nurse. I’ve learned that it had the connotation of mother’s care, of holding a child close, wrapped in her arms. There is familiarity here. Affection. Tenderness. The verb was thalpo: to cherish, nourish, foster, comfort, nurture, or keep warm. There is action here, decision, deliberate investment. And the phrase “her own children” (heautou teknon) indicates belonging. An inclusion. A turning towards.

All of these feminine-sounding words can illuminate our own roles, wherever God has placed us. They are not weakness. They are not unnecessary or irrelevant or dispensable. They are strength and they are resiliency and they are essential. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have a yearning for relationship that can solidify your ministry, not undermine it. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have an instinct to care for people sacrificially. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have the capacity to lead with endurance.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of these qualities, and neither should we be. It is good and healthy to identify as a woman and serve out of our God-given identity. Of course, men can be nurturers too – just see verse 11. And women can be warriors – just see Deborah. But when I read these verses, I feel so much validation. Validation of my work and validation of my worth. All those years living and ministering as a woman, they weren’t wasted. And as someone who has had a fraught relationship with the Apostle Paul over the years, these verses are yet one more reason I can love both him and his letters, for he wasn’t afraid to lean into the feminine for the sake of the people he was serving. It is something we needn’t be afraid of either.

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan’s at A Life Overseas today. . . .

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My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!

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How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically

Click here to read about the 4 areas.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas . . . 

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“If we honestly face the sadness of life in a fallen world, then only our hope in Christ can preserve us from insanity or suicide.” – Larry Crabb

That’s an intense statement, and I sort of choked when I read it for the first time. But the more I chew on it, and the more I ponder my own life with its episodes of emotional and intellectual crisis, the more I think it’s correct.

I spent three years working as an ER/Trauma nurse in an urban hospital in the States, and that bloody, chaotic trauma room forced me to “honestly face the sadness.” Those were dark days indeed; I was ill-prepared, psychologically and theologically, to deal with the darkness and the depth of the pain I witnessed. I was far outside of the Christian bubble, and reality bit hard.

For many people, moving across cultures, often to developing places, serves as their wake-up call. Missions becomes their trauma room, where they see suffering and poverty and grief up close and personal. People often move to Cambodia bright-eyed and in love, and then after a few months, or perhaps a year, the accumulation of the poverty and the corruption and the darkness forces them to “honestly face the sadness.”

Have you seen that happen?

Of course, the sadness was present in their affluent passport countries too, but money and familiarity have a way of disguising and hiding pain, like gold lacquer on cardboard.

But when the suffering is really seen, honestly, it does what Martin Luther wrote about nearly 500 years ago; it “threatens to undo us.” Of course, it doesn’t have to undo us, but it certainly threatens.

Finish reading the article here.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not. {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

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Let’s talk about conflict, ‘cause that’s fun. I mean, hypothetically, at some point in the (distant) future, you may or may not experience an uncomfortable disagreement with someone. Maybe.

In this imagined scenario, the ensuing “discussion” could arise between you and your spouse or kids or co-workers, or maybe even — like this would ever happen — yourself.

So, when conflict comes, what will you do? Will you run away scared? Hunker down? Gear up? Lock and load?

Whether your natural tendency is to ostrich or explode, these two principles must be remembered:

Principle #1 – Conflict always has Context

Principle #2 – Conflict always precedes Closeness

How many of you have ever experienced conflict? Go ahead, raise your hands. Do you see all those hands raised? Yeah, me neither, but I’m guessing that all over the world people on their phones or laptops are raising hands. It’s a pretty shared thing, this interpersonal junk. (You can put your hands down now, we don’t want people thinking you’re a weirdo. Oh wait, you’re a missionary. Nevermind.)

Conflict is not something “out there” that other people deal with. This is us. This is our story.

Finish reading here.

Our first book!

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We’ve compiled over 50 of our short essays into a new book. The book covers topics like transition, TCKs, grief and loss, conflict, marriage on the field, and more. The Kindle version is $1.99 and is available here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!

We are ordering a bunch to have with us here in Phnom Penh, so if you’re local and you’d like a hard copy, check back with us in a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for all your support along the way.

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

 

Misogyny in Missions {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas today. . .

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Ladies Who Lunch – With Men

That’s the name of an article I shared on Facebook recently, not knowing it would unleash a torrent of opinion. How should men and women interact? If they work together, what sort of rules should we put around their interaction? How do we safeguard marriages while treating women with respect?

Do our rules surrounding male-female interaction demean women?

It was an interesting discussion, and one that I think our community needs to have.

Click over to A Life Overseas for the discussion.