Monday, June 28, 2010

The Monkey "Serves" the Fish

**A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island.  In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current.  It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance.  Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling.  At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters.  Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. 

For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest.  Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey.  He had successfully helped another creature.

Even though the monkey may have had good intentions, it was arrogant for the monkey to act on the belief that what was good for monkeys would also be good for fish.  In cross-cultural ministry, good intentions are not enough because it is our actions that become the basis for others' impression of us.  That is why it is so vital for cross-cultural ministry workers to learn the local cultural patterns so that our desire to serve will be seen as serving and not be misinterpreted. 

I have to admit that all too often, I have unwittingly played the part of the monkey. 

A true humility is what is needed to keep one from becoming like the monkey...a proper perspective of the holy God we serve brings a proper perspective of self - defined by lowliness of mind, gentleness of spirit and meekness of attitude.  And one must always remember that while humility is mandated, its expression is always culturally defined

In many cases, it could be that missionaries don't actually have an attitude problem and yet are still charged with communicating superiority for another reason: cultural misinterpretation.  When we are inclined to serve others from our own frame of reference, it is often perceived as superiority or racism.  True servanthood must be a conscious effort to choose one direction and one set of values over another.  The Bible has given us a model of true servanthood in Christ, but we must follow him in his humble servant role, not in his Lord and Christ roles.

If you have any encouragement
from being united with Christ,
 if any comfort from his love,
 if any fellowship with the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being likeminded,
having the same love,
being one in spirit and purpose. 
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 
Each of you should look not only
to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others. 
Philippians 2:1-4

...All of you, clothe yourselves with humility
 toward one another, because,
 "God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble." 
I Peter 5:5

"If you ask me what is the first precept
of the Christian religion,
I will answer first, second and third, Humility." 

"Humility is the garden of all the virtues." 

"If anyone would like to acquire humility,
 I can, I think, tell him the first step. 
The first step is to realize that one is proud. 
And a biggish step, too. 
At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. 
If you think you are not conceited,
it means you are very conceited indeed." 
C. S. Lewis

**The Monkey "Serves" the Fish and other information and quotes taken from the book Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life, Interrupted

I heard a saying when I was in Bible School that went something like this..."a missionary has be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment's notice."  In the choir, we added "sing" to that list when we were asked to sing on the spot more than one time.  During the 15 moves our family made over the period of 2 1/2 years in 2006 to 2008, I added "move" to that growing list of things missionaries need to flexible about. 

I had a plan for this summer and it didn't include moving!  I mean, we always knew it was a possibility that the Bible School would decide to move a staff family in to this apartment to take over the dorm responsibilities.  In fact, we are very much in favor of that plan since we see the need for onsight supervision and discipleship of the students that live here.  Since we do not form part of the Bible school staff, we have been limited as to our involvement with the students in those areas. 

Problem was, up until a couple of weeks ago, there didn't seem to be any possibility of change, so the announcement that we needed to give up our apartment by the end of July came as rather a surprise.  We had hoped for a few months' notice to give us time to find another house and make ministry decisions. 

It is what it is, however, and so we're accepting this as part of God's plan for us (since we know that this didn't take Him by surprise at all).  In fact, we're thinking that maybe this is actually a push from God to get us moving in a different direcion altogether! 

To give a little background on our situation, when we arrived in Mexico nearly two years ago, it was not necessarily a commitment to work here long-term.  In fact, we'd made it clear to leadership that we were thinking to only stay for two to four years while we worked on three areas of our lives: 1) family stability (the move to Mexico being the15th move for us in 2 1/2 years), 2) unity in our marriage and 3) recovery for me. 

We left Venezuela in June of 2007 with our family in pretty bad shape.  The instability we'd had in our family life and ministry, the political situation in the country, and my pregnancy (I had been greatly affected by heat exhaustion) all combined to create an unhealthy family environment.  The kids were actually exhibiting physical symptoms of anxiety and stress (Micah had a chronic choking feeling for months, Micah and Gracia were underweight and all three of them were highly insecure).  Add to that disunity in our marriage and my struggles with emotional health and the pit we were in just got deeper and deeper.  Already prone to and experiencing depression and exhaustion, I was all set up for the post-partem depression I went through after Jkaile was born in July of that year. 

Looking back, I can see God's hand in moving us to a place where we could find healing for our family...first at our home church in Arkansas where we received the love and support of friends and family, counseling/medical attention and spiritual growth and secondly here to Mexico where we've had the blessing of living in the same house for nearly two years, the support of the mission community and the relationships we've built in a local Mexican church that has become like family for us. 

Therefore, as we began looking around for another house to rent, Miguel began realizing that maybe our time here in Mexico is done.  As we re-evaluated the goals we'd had of family stability, unity in our marriage, and recovery for me, we began to realize that while we haven't "arrived" (will never fully "arrive"?) in any of these three areas, we have certainly made significant progress in all three.  Enough so that we are beginning to consider wider options for our family, even a transition to serving in another country. 

You see, Miguel's deepest desire and longing is to work in a tribal church planting the jungle.   We tried to do that in Venezuela, but at that time in wasn't possible because of the situation in the country with the government ordering most missionaries to leave the tribal works and our family's state of being during that time.  Tribal work has continued in Venezuela, but in a very limited form while restructuring of mission work has been taking place.  It is obvious that Venezuelan churches have the responsibility of sending Venezuelan missionaries to take over the task of tribal church planting in areas where it is difficult or even impossible for foreign missionaries to serve. 

After I found myself in such a deep pit three years ago (emotionally, spiritually and physically), however, I knew that it was not going to be possible for me to return to Venezuela.  I had to make the very difficult decision to tell Miguel that I needed help (we all needed help!) and that for my health and the health of the family, we couldn't return to Venezuela as we'd planned.  This created tremendous tension between Miguel and me, and yet for one of the first times in my life, I took a step towards taking care of myself.  One of the main reasons I fell into that pit in the first place was that I didn't know how to take care of myself emotionally...I was raised in such a way as to feel that expressing my needs was somehow wrong or bad.  I think Miguel struggles with the same issues as well...therefore, we had not been able to take care of our family's needs either and we all suffered for it.  I had allowed bitterness and anger towards Miguel to build instead of seeking healthy ways of taking responsibility for my own problems and needs.  While it is true that Miguel struggled to know how to take care of me and the kids, I needed to take responsibility for taking care of myself and my needs so that I could become the wife and mother that my family needs me to be. 

During these last three years, I have come through my depression and am now seeing the end of that struggle.  I will probably live with a tendency towards depression for the rest of my life on this earth, but now I know better how to prevent falling into that trap and how to climb out if I do fall again.  I am learning how to take care of myself in every area of my life and am learning to live by God's grace and God's grace alone.  I am currently meeting with a friend for counseling on how to set up a structured family life so that no matter where we are or what situation we find ourselves in, we won't be so prone to the chaotic family life that has characterized our family so far. 

And Miguel and I?  Well, we're doing better than we ever have before...we are more open to each other than we ever have.  Unity no longer is a foreign concept to us; it is a reality that we are enjoying every day.  We are at the place where I have been able to let Miguel know that I will honor his ministry decisions even if it means returning to Venezuela and he has let me know that if I am not in agreement or at peace with that decision, then he will not pursue that option.  And let me tell you, I would not have thought that to be possible even just a few months's a beautiful gift that God has given us! 

God has also been doing an interesting work in my life in another area that involves culture and culture day a book was dropped into my life that has had an incredible impact on me.  God used the message of this book on cross-cultural ministry and servanthood to convict and humble me.  I began to realize that many (or at least a lot) of the conflicts that Miguel and I have had in our relationship can be attributed to my insensitivity to his's too much to go into here, but suffice it to say that I had been communicating arrogance and superiority in certain areas of my life without even realizing it.  Not just to Miguel, but to my shame to other Latins as well.  I credit the newfound unity and openness in my marriage (and other relationships) to the changes that God is making in me with regards to my increasing awareness of the importance that culture plays in relationships.  As I've made obvious efforts to better understand Miguel and his culture, his trust in me has risen to new levels.  And praise God, that has drawn us closer together than we've ever been before.

So all that to say that we really don't know what will happen or where God will lead us in the next few weeks and months!  We haven't yet been able to meet with leadership and share about our thoughts and ideas since many are out of town during the summer break.  I honestly can't say whether we're packing for a move to another house here in town or packing to leave Mexico.  Miguel would really like to return to Venezuela and work towards joining a tribal church planting team there (something that would be easier for our family since the kids and I are all Venezuelan citizens along with Miguel), but we are open to wherever God might lead (as I've reminded Miguel, there's a lot of jungle out there!). 

To be honest with you, I'm not jumping up and down for joy at the thought of leaving Mexico...frankly, it would be more comfortable to stay.  Neither am I all too thrilled at the thought of returning to Venezuela...there would be many challenges for our family there and I have to admit to some serious concerns.  And yet what I am excited about is the adventure that God has waiting for us right around the corner.  As His plan unfolds for us, I know that it will be perfect.  I am throwing myself in God's hands and trusting Him to take care of me every step of the way.  My heart is ready to accept what God has planned for us, even if it means making some pretty big sacrifices on my part.  Not sacrificing things that shouldn't be sacrificed, obviously, but I'm talking about sacrificing things like selfish desires for comfort.  And I have seen God's hand preparing me to identify with Miguel's people and the challenges facing them during these difficult times, if that is what God is asking me to do.  If not, then I will be just as ready to identify with whatever culture we find ourselves in order to become true cross-cultural servants.  I consider it a great privelege to be allowed to serve God in this way.

So yeah, a lot going on with us these days...just reading this over again is such a testimony to me of God's love and faithfulness.  I do not feel worthy of His grace and yet that's just it, it is not ME, but CHRIST IN ME that is worthy.  Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.  Amen.

Okay, gotta go...Mexico is playing Argentina in an important World Cup soccer match and the game is about to start!

¡Viva México!  ¡Sí se puede!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Baby Shower (No, Not For Me!)

I have been attending the Wednesday morning Ladies' Bible study group at our local Mexican church for a bit over a year now.  This group of ladies is amazing and plans many of the social activities that go on in the church.  Earlier this year, as they were assigning work roles, I was placed on the planning committee for events (such as baby and bridal showers).  About a month or so ago, I was notified that not only was I on the planning committee, I was The Head of the Planning Committee!  Yikes!  Not only did I not feel qualified, having never really planned things like showers before, I was concerned about being able to plan the showers according to the Mexican customs and such.  But they assured me that they felt I was qualified and that besides, they like the American way of doing things!  But they also said they would let me know if anything I planned wasn't appropriate.  I was stuck. 

There are other committees in charge of the food, the decorations, job entails planning the actual program for the showers and events.  It's not that I didn't want to help out, I was just a little concerned about being the one in charge!  Especially with a double baby shower coming up at the end of a super busy month...the Sunday after our MK school's graduation, in fact!  Apparently, others on the planning committee were pretty busy that week, too, since it was very hard to get us together to work on anything...

I had the rough outline of the shower put together in my head, but I had set aside the day before the shower (Saturday) to do the final planning.  And wouldn't you know, I woke up that day with a terrible cold/flu that Jkaile was so kind to share with me (he comes into our room at night and drinks out of my water bottle!).  I am so very grateful that God gave me the strength not only to plan the shower, but make it special as well! 

I made these cards for each of the Moms and babies
for everyone to sign.

Place and Date...

One of the games was a relay-Blindfolded
Change the Diaper!

Melissa, one of the Moms.
The other Mom has been on complete
bed rest and couldn't attend.
We have prayed long for the health 
of this other mother and child...I heard that her 
 precious little girl was born this last Saturday! 
Melissa, however, still has a couple of weeks to go...

The second game was 
Mommy Multi-tasking...
such fun! 

I wanted to take pictures of the devotional, but the batteries in my camera died.  :(  Darn.  You can find it here, however, if you care to take a look.  It's a relatively short devotional, but very sweet and meaningful!  I asked different ladies from the audience to give each of the eight parts and it turned out to be a neat way to give it. 

Now for the next event, I plan to delegate, delegate, delegate!  

Horned Lizard

This is a Horned Lizard!  They are quite interesting little animals and Micah has been wanting one for a pet for a long time.  He finally got his wish this last week when JD came home with not one, but two of them!  Horned Lizards are harmless and eat mostly harvester ants, which Micah has been collecting from an anthill out in the street in front of our house. 

Brave boy!

After seeing (and smelling!) the size of the larger lizard's 
deposits, not to mention the fact that he escaped twice
inside the house (yes, he could climb out of that box!), 
we decided the bigger one would
regain his freedom out in the yard.

Three Teeth in a Week

First tooth to go...

Second one went a couple of days later while
enjoying that sucker...

Third one gone...some story about Micah
and a flying eraser...

Busy Busy Busy Days!

May was a Busy Month!  Besides the two birthdays, there were the odds and ends of school activities...this year, Barb, the kindergarten teacher, had all the kinders and any moms who wanted to join them out to her house for a swim party!
Barb, our hostess
(side note...Barb taught me in 3rd grade
at the MK school in Colombia before spending 
quite a few years in the Philippines!  She has now
spent several years here in Mexico teaching
MKs, some of whom are children of
former students, like Jojo!)

The pool was small, but lots of fun!

Then there was the Awards Ceremony and Graduation Day for Binimea, our MK school.  

The 1st and 2nd grade class performed a song
they learned in Music Class.  Gracia was quite nervous,
but did very well! 

Gracia receiving an award for Bible memorization. (yes, 
everyone is looking at me waiting for me to take the picture).
She received the Reading Award as well for reading
at least one book very six weeks
over the course of the school year.

Micah also received several awards for Bible memorization,
Bible reading (he read the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke), 
and the Reading Award for reading 20 books over the course 
of the school year.

JD received a letter for playing on the basketball team.
And while he did not receive other awards, I did want
to mention that he read 18 books during the school
year, which is way more than he usually reads!  
We are proud of the hard work he did in his first
year at Binimea and his grades exceeded expectations!