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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Introducing Christian Veterinary Mission

Since we are halfway through our series on Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, I thought we could take a break and watch a video.

I'd like to introduce Chrisitian Veterinary Mission to you.  This is the video they have produced for the 2010 theme: Rest for Your Soul.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Foreign Is A State Of Being

Note: This is Part 3 in a 6 part series of an exploration of the book Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission.

One of my first experiences outside of the US was a trip to Mexico with my Jr. High youth group.  Packed into a van loaded down with Pringles and tape casettes for the road, we headed south of the border to an orphanage.  The children lived in a low, long bungalow with dirt floors and iron bars instead of glass in the windows.  In the front of the building was a dirty courtyard where the kids ran barefoot, kicking up dust and a deflated soccer ball from morning to night.

I remember thinking that we were doing something so great.  Playing with the kids all afternoon.  There were so many of them and they wanted to braid my hair and show me where they slept, since they had no other belongings to be admired.  We were there for hours, playing and loving on the kids.

The afternoon was hot and the sun beat down on the treeless courtyard.  My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and my face was gritted with a layer of dirt.  My hair clung to my neck and shoulders.  All I could think about was the sparkling, cool water bottle I had left in the van.  Oh, to have a sip!  Nobody else seemed to notice the thick air or how their sweaty shirts clung to them.

So in a moment undetected, I slipped past the heavy iron perimeter gate and popped open the back door of the van. The crisp, fresh water was now like bottled bath water, but never was there a drink more refreshing.  I relished it. Only, I was not alone.  Little Mexican eyes popped in and out of sight through a crack in the wall surrounding the orphanage, and soon I found myself chastised by my leader and the orphanage director.  If the children don't have any water to drink,  you should not tease them on this hot day by drinking your water in front of them.  It was only then that the light bulb went on: I realized they must be thirsty too.  

I learned an important lesson that day.  It is shocking to a missionary to realize that the good intentions she has  do not always match the needs of the people she goes to serve.  Missionaries serve in other places because they desire to make a difference in the lives of others.  They desire to serve not only their spiritual needs, but to minister to their physical needs as well.  But in their only partial understanding of the culture, and their exuberance, sometimes what they give the needy is a game of dusty kickball, when what they really need is spiritual and physical water.

Unrealistic expectations about the host culture are common among missionaries.  Sue and Robynn touch on many of these.  For some, it is the expectation that she can adapt to her new culture to a great degree.  She can become like the people.  For others, it is a struggle when the host culture does not embrace them and their good intentions with the appreciation and/or admiration they think should be forthcoming.  Maybe they are not even welcome.  Many missionaries do not expect to have to "work to find a place in the community" (p. 127).  Many missionary women expect to make friends with nationals.  What they may not be prepared for is trying to figure out if the friendship is wanted, or if ulterior motives like money or help or a green card may be driving the befriended national to play the part.

What does all this mean for me?  I am finding it important to think through exactly what I anticipate happening, and then challenging those expectations with the opposite!  The what-if's loom large right now, and it's important to keep an open mind.  But it can be discouraging to think that I may not be appreciated by the Thai people, I may not befriend anyone without them trying to gain something from me, or that I may not be welcome at all in my new culture.  Sue and Robynn explain there is only one solution.

I must remember that heaven is my real home.  The Bible says we are only sojourners on this earth, waiting for the day when we can truly go Home.  The fact is: I am not home here in Manhattan, KS as much as I am not home in Chiang Rai, Thailand.  My roots belong somewhere else, and I am only visiting for a short time here.  So, when the going gets tough and I feel like an alien in a foreign land, it's because I am!  It may be hard, but it's temporary.  And the anticipation of one day finally being Home - that is an expectation that will not be disappointed.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Chickens And Water Wings

Note: This is Part 2 in a 6 part series of an exploration of the book Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission.

Let's face it: I'm like a chicken trying to swim with the swans.  This missions stuff is relatively uncharted territory, and I own few skills to navigate here.  While there is bound to be a learning curve regardless of my experience, the fact is I've never dipped my toes in the pond before, and I don't even know if chickens can float.  I'm not about to just dive into the deep end, strap on an Eddie Bauer backpack and hop the first train to Thailand.  A swimming chicken needs the buoyancy, faithfulness, and the security of water wings (I'll leave you guessing as to whether that pun was intended), better known as the mission agency.

A mission agency's role is essential in the life of the missionary.  They help her figure out where God may be calling her, what ministry may be a good fit, and how she should best prepare for the swan-swimming pond.  They help figure out how much money she needs and  help her raise it, and they talk and pray through the hard times with her.  They support and encourage her on the field, and make sure she is cared for.  They support the chicken in her endeavors to swim.

However, misunderstandings can happen between the missionary and her agency when communication breaks down, or when she does not feel supported or cared for by her agency.  Sue and Robynn explain that for the relationship to work, both sides must do their best to agree upon responsibilities, roles, and expectations of the missionary and the agency.  If these areas are not settled before the swimming starts, a chicken may end up feeling as if her water wings have sprung a leak.

I am so grateful to call Christian Veterinary Mission my agency.  Not only do they care for me as a missionary, but they care for me as a person.  They are delightful, God-honoring people with a twisted sense of humor (as only vets can manage), and do a great job making sure that each of their fieldworkers is well-supported in their ministry overseas. They have experience working overseas themselves, and have gone through many of my own experiences.  They give wise advice.  I have been well tended by CVM, and I am so thankful God placed me in such a wonderful organization.  Not only have they guided me through my preparation to serve overseas, but they have proved their intentions to care for me after I leave by their obvious love and support for the CVM missionaries already afloat in their own ponds.  As far as this chicken is concerned, CVM water wings are just what I need to jump in!

"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers."  Ephesians 1:16

Part 3: Expectations and Nationals

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Perfect Clay Pot

Note: This is Part 1 in a 6 part series of an exploration of the book Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission.

Expectation #1:  A missionary woman should be perfect!

It doesn't seem like it should come as such a shock to a person that she is not perfect.  What human being with a belly button is?  (My seventh grade science teacher warned my class to never trust a person without a belly button, as this proved they could not human.  This is my only take-away lesson from seventh grade science.)  Instead, when a person comes to know Christ, she admits she is faulty down to the core of her being, and takes on Jesus' perfection as her substitute.  So, why should it come as a shock to a missionary that she doesn't have it all together?

Our authors Sue and Robynn explain that for a woman in misisons, having idealistic expectations about herself and what she can achieve for God is not uncommon.  Missionaries go because they desire to live lives that reflect Christ's love.  They desire to do that well in a different culture: to speak fluently, to have meaningful relationships with the people, to always minister in the right way so as to point to Christ, to have a clean home and offer generous hospitality all the time, to have successful programs or bible studies, to (insert your favorite missionary daydream).  But those hopes and aspirations become her measuring stick by which she falls short when living real life in another culture.  And this feeling of personal failure can contribute to burnout over time. She hasn't accomplished enough for God, and she is disappointed.

This is a timely warning for me, and I am grateful to be tuned into my unrealistic expectations before nosediving in Thai culture myself!  I am a Type A personality, along with most other vets.  We are a group of driven, detail-oriented, achievement-seeking people.  We like to do well.  We like math and science: they follow formulas.  You add X to Y and you always end up with Z.  Formulas for science, formulas for life.  Such a nice way to live, don't you think?

But in a different country, all the X's and Y's, and formuals for that matter, are coded in a different culture; as impossible to understand as the label on the grocery store package that has a picture of what appears to be a steaming cup of tea, but contains something completely unimbibable.  (That is not a hypothetical example -  I bought a box of lotus root starch that way.)

I am bound to have and create misunderstandings; to not like some people I meet and have some people not like me.  I will find it difficult to connect with people, or to understand their needs and how to serve them well.  I will not know the right things to say to point them to the cross, or if I do, I won't know them in the right language.  I will fail, and I will be disappointed.

But Robynn reminds us that we are called, chosen and clay.  Though we are as fragile and unimpressive as  clay pots, women in missions should remember we are called by the Potter, who fashioned us.  He knows the difficulties, and does not ask us to do more than He has made us to do.  He is in charge, and we can trust him with the less-than-ideal results. It is good for me to remember that He chose to put this clay pot in Thailand.  Not because I can do it all, but because through my weakness His power is known (2Cor 12:9).

Next up: Expectations of her sending agency

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Expect Some Expectations

A couple of weeks ago I was recommended by two separate individuals a book addressing cultural adaptation and learning to live successfully in another culture.  Okay, that's nice, but I've already read lots on this subject.  Maybe I'll get around to another book about this sometime. 

Ah, they replied, but specifically, this book works through particular hurdles women in missions need to be aware of in their own lives while ministering overseas in order to avoid dissatisfaction and exhaustion.  Oh, well now that's more like it!

Ever since picking up Expectations and Burnout: A Woman's Guide to Surviving the Great Commission, I have had a difficult time putting it down.  Chock-full of experience from the field, co-authors Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss identify six areas where women tend to have unrealistic assumptions about ministering in another culture, and how to handle the disappointment that comes from unmet expectations.

I have found the book insightful, and helpful in identifying some of my own expectations for the field that I was not aware I had.  Over the next few weeks, I'd like to journey with you as I prepare to minister in another culture and try to expect the unexpected.  So, check back, and be expecting some expectations!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Obsticality Reality

Obsticality:  n. The condition in which obstacles inhibit rapid (or any) progression in the preferred direction(s), and in fact the preferred directions become obstacles to one another. Example:  Rachel's life is an obsticality.

It seems as though I've been paralyzed with indecision lately. Too much to do; what to do first?  The top priorities are:

  • Raise full support to live in Thailand
  • Write a Master's paper (which must be thoroughly researched first)
  • Finish the last semester of Master's classes well
  • Prepare to leave for and live in Thailand
  • Maintain status of "live human being"
How do you manage five full time jobs at once?  An obsticality, indeed.  If left to my own devices, I will certainly fail at all of these priorities and crumple into an unidentifiable and useless lump.  2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds me that I am but a feeble vessel God is shaping to display His goodness, not my own.  The stretching hurts sometimes, but it's worth it in the end.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

He Swung His Legs Over

This past week I had the opportunity to attend CVM's 9th Annual Shortcourse. It was a blessed time to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, and fellowship with other Christian vets that have a passion for sharing Christ's love through veterinary medicine. This year's theme was "Rest for Your Soul", based on Jeremiah 6:16

This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls."

What a nice command, right? But how is that possible when so often our lives are caught up in sickness, conflict, financial trouble, job insecurity, stress, loss of loved ones, deadlines, and hardship on all sides? When the wind howls around us and the waves crash down? Can we truly have rest in a restless world?

Peter knew this rest for his soul. It's what caused him to swing his legs over the edge of a boat on the night a storm raged so fiercely he thought he might die. Though outwardly, Peter's world was in turmoil - slammed like a rag doll into a battered boat, terrified and exhausted, the wild spray stinging his skin and eyes to blindness - the deep current in Peter's soul was quiet. He knew to Whom he belonged.

Rather than fighting against the crashing waves in his own power, Peter allowed Jesus to give him true rest. Though the outward appearances look bleak, all we need to do is swing our legs over and go to Jesus, who is faithful to bring us through the storm.