Monday, November 7, 2016

The "R" Word

Some days I forget that we are a biracial, multi-cultural, dual-citizenship family. I become absorbed in the details of "wife" and "mom"; I see Fernando simply as "husband"; and I see my kids as "son" and "daughter." Other times, I am acutely aware of our physical appearances, linguistic habits, and family idiosyncracies.

This used to happen when I attended a local Garifuna congregation. Sometimes I would be absorbed in greeting a friend or singing along when, suddenly, I'd notice someone staring or feel a child rubbing my arm and be reminded of my foreigner status. Other times I felt so much like a fish out of water I felt like all eyes were on me when, in reality, people around me were going about a usual Sunday morning as if I looked just like them.

Having children has added a new element to my understanding and experience of "us" and "them," "white" and "black," "same" and "different." Likewise, living in a neighborhood that is fairly representative of the ethnolinguistic mosaic of this region has broadened my perspective of these concepts, leading me to four conclusions:

1) We live in an excellent location for raising a biracial/bicultural family.

La Ceiba, a port city, is home to several ethnolinguistic groups:
  • Spanish-speaking Latinos form the majority.
  • Garifuna people are the largest minority.
  • English creole speakers from the nearby Bay Islands ("Islanders" or "English) move to the mainland in search of jobs; their ancestory is African often mixed with British.
  • Miskito people hail from remote eastern Honduras and western Nicaragua and speak an Amerindian language with influence from English.
  • Quite a few North American retirees, missionaries, aid workers, and tourism entrepreneurs live in the city and surrounding areas.
Discipleship group I led a few years ago with Garifunas, a Misquito girl, and a North American girl

As for Garifuna speakers, many have excelled in a variety of fields, from politics to law, education and medicine. Their food, music, and dance is popular among the general population. Garifunas have the reputation of being more peaceful and less violent than other groups and are known to take care of each other and even outsiders who live in their communities. For example, it is unheard of for Garifuna children to be abandoned to the streets, while several families in Fernando's home community have raised non-Garifuna children who were given to them by desperate families. For these reasons and more, I am grateful to be included in this group.

Friends in some good times and some bad times in the past six years

In general, we live in a location characterized by diversity and an easy-going acceptance of differenes, from pronunciation to style of dress, from music preference to religious affiliation. Consequently, we can go about our daily lives as a mixed family with a lot of freedom. At the same time, this kind of environment can create the illusion that racism does not exist, which leads me to the second conclusion:

2) A multicultural environment does not create immunity to stereotypes, negative attitudes, and racial tension.

I've mentioned before that if you were to take a walk with me and the kids just along our block, we would greet neighbors in Garifuna, Spanish (Latinos), and English (Islanders); a small space is called home by three distinct groups, four if my ex-pat status is included. Furthermore, we have Garifuna neighbors from distinct regions of the country; some are from the rural area where Fernando grew up, while others are from communities near urban centers, and still others grew up speaking Spanish in the city. Some of our Latino neighbors are proudly from La Ceiba, while others moved from other regions.

OneStory workshop with Latinos in Costa Rica in 2011

It is common to see kids of different races playing together and overcoming language barriers to have fun together. However, some of the adults don't always associate with each other apart from a brief greeting, and others even use what I consider derogatory terms to relate to people of other races. Sometimes nothing is explicit, but one can perceive a general sense of distance and the drawing of lines between "us" and "them," between obvious ethnic differences and the more subtle distinctions within a larger group. And before you know it, suddenly one has thoughts like, "___ are loud. ___ are superstitious. ___ are generous. ___ are hard-working. ___ are unfriendly."

In this apparently peaceful and friendly environment with less obvious fissures, how does our family respond?

3) Being a mixed family gives us unique vantage points into racial and cultural dynamics.

Mixed families are not uncommon in La Ceiba, and I have enjoyed meeting more than a few North American women married to (Latino) Hondurans. Our particular combination tends to bring out curiosity by friendly strangers when we go out. Being a mixed family allows us to interact with a variety of people. Our main social circle is Garifuna, but Fernando and I speak Spanish and have had significant interaction with Latinos, and we both speak English, which is a bridge with our Islander neighbors. We have gotten to know other missionaries and ex-pats, and Fernando has interacted with Misquito believers in various projects. Our kids look "Latin American" and wouldn't draw attention to themselves by themselves (fascination with their appearance is a topic for another blog post...).

One of Fernando's cousins ready to dance Wanaragua, a masked dance reenacting a battle technique Garifunas used against British who took over their land on St. Vincent island; men would dress as women and dance for the colonists, and when the drum music reached peak intensity and volume, they would stab them so their cries would not be audible.

As a result, it's been fairly natural for me to get to know our neighbors of different backgrounds, crossing over the unspoken lines, hearing bits and pieces of what they think of each other. While interesting from an anthropological perspective, it can be challenging as a believer. As a Christ follower, mother, and ex-pat, how do I respond to these dynamics? This has led me to the fourth conclusion:

4) We (I) must be vigilant, humble, and intentional as we interact with others in a way that honors God and those He sent His Son to die for (the world).

As I mentioned, we live in a context that, at first glance, is quite friendly to a variety of races and cultures but, upon greater examination, has less obvious divisions, stereotypes, and distrust. In the same way, it could be tempting to think that, as a mixed family, we are one step ahead and just a bit better than others at showing the love of Christ without discrimation. But, suddenly, the realization comes that this kind of mentality is yet another nuance of the "us versus them" phenomenon. Do I consider myself superior to others because I claim to be more open-minded and fair? Do I think I am superior because my kids and I step over those invisible lines? If so, I am back to square one and sorely missing the entire point of the gospel of Christ.

Earlier this year, reading through the gospel of Matthew, I was struck by the wide variety of people Jesus interacted with. Regardless of race, age, gender, social status, and other affiliations, Jesus addressed sin, spoke truth, showed compassion, and maintained His singular focus on the Father's will -- something truly un-human. In Ephesians, Paul describes God's purpose of revealing His salvation to all people and uniting believers in Jesus Christ. While I eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of God's kingdom, in the meantime I must be vigilant, humble, and intentional.

I must be vigilant to guard against negative attitudes toward "others" and prideful attitudes about myself or those I affiliate with. This includes responding to gossip and comments; am I honoring Christ and loving my neighbor in conversations? Do I think of myself more highly than I should? Am I open to what God wants to teach me and how He might want to alter my understanding of someone and the group they represent? Am I being intentional about treating all people with kindness and respect? This really isn't easy or natural! Yet I can't afford to coast along trusting in my own understanding because I have two small people following behind me. What example do I set for them and the other kids on our street who like to observe me, neighborhood "gringa"?

Miss A and our beloved baby-sitter, Miss K

May the Lord, the Creator of all people, who sent His Son for whoever would believe in Him, grant us wisdom and genuine love in our daily lives as we interact with the people and groups around us. May we look beyond the lines of "us versus them," be that between different races or even subgroups in our social circles. May He give us hearts to quickly repent when we are tempted to consider ourselves better than others and believe we have all the answers, but instead may the Holy Spirit lead us to follow Jesus' footsteps of seeking the Father's will, standing up against sin, and showing compassion to all He has sovereignly placed in our lives. And may He give us grace to help those who are watching us and looking for an example to follow.

"14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." Ephesians 2:14-21

Friday, September 16, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 5: No Place Like "Home"

This is the final post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a missionary wife and mom. Strategies mentioned so far include:

Strategy #1: early morning solitude
Strategy #2: a weekly day of rest
Strategy #3: friends and mentors
Strategy #4: a pretty and organized home
Strategy #5: getting out of the house

Strategy #6: No Place Like "Home"
A particular area of vulnerability for missionary women is "rootlessness" and raising a family far from where we grew up and/or where our family members live. Fernando and I both think it's important for me and our kids to go back to where I'm from every few years, and having his full support to do this is incredibly helpful. Also, looking forward to the next planned trip "home" is a powerful antidote to the occasional and inevitable bout of homesickness.

Five benefits of spending a few weeks in Washington State include:

1. Family Time
My parents are great sports about living far away from their two grandchildren, and we stay in close contact via Skype and email. But there's nothing like spending time together face-to-face. Every single day Mr. J mentions memories of our trip in May. We hear airplanes two or three times a day, and he runs to the window because he thinks they're all going to Washington!

2. Strengthening Roots

Mr. J and Miss A are experiencing a very different childhood than I had, from the obvious material world (climate, food, etc.) to intangible cultural values (polite versus impolite behavior, for example) to the deeply-rooted worldview around them (such as explanations of the supernatural, death and illness, or people's relationship with nature).

As their mom, I want them to have the opportunity to discover some of the world I grew up in and develop a sense of heritage from their North American roots. I feel my responsibility to is provide this opportunity and give each of them as individuals the freedom to respond according to their preferences as they grow up. (As I write this, I note personal expression and freedom as a value from my home culture!)

When we arrived to my parents' place, Mr. J walked around outside, looking around as if he had landed on another planet! He stayed close to the house and, over the next few weeks, ventured farther away until he was roaming with confidence and familiarity. It was beautiful to observe him experience springtime, picking dandelions, rolling in (antless!) grass, and "helping" my parents with gardening. He learned the word "piano" with the instrument I grew up playing; he enjoyed library books while being rocked in the chair where my grandma rocked my Dad and his siblings; he played with toys my mom had saved for when she'd have grandkids. It was a time to say, "This is where I'm from and, in part, where you are from, too. This is part of who we are."

Intrigued by an new-fangled contraption: the dishwasher

I rocked my babies in the chair where my grandma used to rock my dad as a baby

The 19th century piano I grew up playing

This rhododendron was a gift from Mr. J's baby shower in 2013, a symbol of roots, friendship, and belonging.

3. Soaking up Beauty

The last time I had been in Washington during springtime was in 2005; I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself with the green, flowers, and even the rain! I had forgotten about certain kinds of flowers and how good the fresh air smells when everything is growing (I don't have allergies, though!).

Changing climates and views can be a catalyst for awakening one's spiritual senses, and I was reminded of truth by what surrounded me: how God's creation is more majestic then human ability to admire it; how the temporary beauty of flowers reflects how life is fragile and fleeting; how God refreshes the earth and our souls by His lavish goodness; and how we long for the new earth and eternal home He promises us.

4. Quiet and Perspective

Having grown up in a rather private, quiet, and orderly context, I have learned that noise, unpredictability, and a more public way of life trigger culture stress. When this kind of stress accumulates. it really helps to know I will have a little break. My parents live in a very tranquil place, ideal for personal retreat, reading books, journaling, and regaining perspective on the "big picture." I have been incredibly blessed by this safe haven, where God has reminded me of what is most important and has given me strength to once again leave this comfort zone. I probably would get very bored and lonely and miss the spontaneity, interaction, and entertainment after awhile! But a few weeks of quiet and reflection are a welcome refreshment.

5. Practical Needs

Finally, another benefit of these trips is taking care of details, such as social security numbers for the kids or renewing drivers' licenses. Clothes and home items are usually less expensive and better quality in the States, and I can find things like mattress protectors, surge protectors, or kitchen utensils (I learned the hard way that surge protectors are imperative if a fridge is to survive power surges!). My parents had fun with the kids while I ran errands, included a much-needed haircut!

In conclusion, I praise God for the variety of ways He meets the needs of His daughters living in cross-cultural situations. I recently read through 2 Corinthians and was impacted by Paul's unwavering faith in God's strength despite human weakness and challenging circumstances. He truly is faithful in both small trials and overwhelming tests of faith. I'm also thankful for each person whose care and support are part of this provision!

Coming soon: what do immunizations have to do with culture shock and attitude checks?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 4: Decorating and Strollers

This is the fourth post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field through healthy habits, such as:

Strategy #1: early morning solitude
Strategy #2: a weekly day of rest
Strategy #3: friends and mentors

Strategy #4: A Pretty and Organized Home
"Homemaking" is not a skill I would identify as a strength or interest of mine. In fact, I didn't really cook until Fernando and I got married (fortunately, he is very easy-going when it comes to food!). However, I have learned that if my home is organized and aesthetically pleasing to me (even if it doesn't look professional or perfect), it adds inspiration, peace, and joy in everyday life.

I am an organized person by nature. One way I respond to stress is cleaning and decluttering. I find it both energizing and calming to put my living space in order, and even more where we live: many homes do not have built-in bedroom closets or bathroom cupboards and drawers; the humidity makes stored items smell like mildew; and roaches love plastic, cardboard, and paper. As a result, I am extra motivated to give away what we don't use and keep clutter to a minimum.

While I always enjoy admiring others' interior decorating results, it is definitely not my area of expertise. But when I surround myself with simple, meaningful, and pretty (to me) objects, I feel much more at home. For example, one of my favorite items is a glass full of shells collected since I've lived here: the first time I went to Fernando's home community, our honeymoon, Mr. J's first trip to the beach, etc. Some other objects that remind me of dear people and rich memories:

Washington calendar on the fridge 

Pictures of both sides of our family

Wedding gift from my brother, who lives in China

A cross-stitch gift sent all the way from an Argentinian friend who serves in Papua New Guinea. We met in Mexico.

From my "Salvadoran mamá" who hosted in me for six months in 2009 

From a college friend's YWAM trip to Guatemala about ten years ago

Strategy #5: Getting out of the House
While creating a beautiful home environment is important, it's also good to get out of the house!
On the weekends, the four of us like to go out as a family for a walk: along the water in a nearby Garifuna community, the wharf in La Ceiba, or a botanical garden with large trees. It does us a world of good to spend time outside together.

Most late afternoons, when the sun gives way to shade, I put Miss A in the stroller and help Mr. J put his shoes on, and we take a walk in our neighborhood. After fresh air, exercise, and opportunities to get to know our neighbors better, we always feel better when we get back home. Mr. J has been more interested in the big kids' makeshift soccer matches, jump rope sessions, and bicycles.

Some days it can be tempting to stay home and avoid cross-cultural interaction or feeling observed, but usually I am refreshed by the beauty of God's creation, a safe neighborhood for our family, and the reminder of what I do have in common with friendly neighbors. One day, I ran into several mothers who, like me, were putting off going back into their hot kitchens to make dinner for picky kids! :) Conversations can include how to fish frijoles out of toddlers' noses, why the pesky ant population has suddenly increased, natural teething remedies, etc. A good laugh about commonalities is medicine to a foreigner's soul!

The next post is about one of my favorite strategies: visits back "home" to Washington State.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 3: Communicating with Friends & Mentors

This is the third post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field. (Find part one at this link and part two here.) In summary, although missionaries are vulnerable to burnout, we can intentionally and creatively maintain consistent rhythms, such as solitude early in the morning and weekly days of rest, and occasional breaks, such as visits back "home" to Washington State, customized to our needs.

Strategy #3: Communicating with close friends and mentors

Being a highly relational person, I derive joy, energy, and inspiration from communicating with others. Thanks to technology and the internet, missionaries can maintain ties with family and friends far away from where they live. God uses close friends and mentors to make me feel connected and cared for, as well as instill accountability.

A consistent habit I make high priority is answering personal emails at the end/beginning of each month. Receiving a note from a friend sharing their latest adventures, trials, opportunities, prayer requests, and insights from God is a beautiful gift and always makes my day. Throughout the month, I can think about these friends, pray for them, and then reply with news from here.

God has used friends to break into specific moments and needs when I least expected it. Here are a few examples that remind me of His faithfulness and care:
  • I was once on a trip to an island known for antagonism toward Christians (I'll let you guess where) in a rural area and quite sick. I needed to get better because seeking medical care would put our team and those hosting us at risk. I specifically remember being in a makeshift outdoor sanitary facility (!), while being observed by a cow, hoping someone would think to pray for my health. A few weeks later, in another country, I received an email from a girl I went to college with, telling me that a few weeks before that she felt a strong prompting to pray for my digestion but wasn't sure what that meant. Wow!
Sick, but covered in prayer
  • During a time of particular loneliness as a single missionary, a friend, who didn't know I was feeling so lonely, emailed me to say she felt the pressing need to pray for a husband for me, a partner in life and missions. I was more than OK with that, and I'm quite happy with how her prayer has been answered. :)
I was sitting alone at this table when I received that email

  • On the day of our red-eye flight from Seattle back to Honduras this past June, I was dreading the good-byes and returning to some of the challenges of life here. (Ironically, the sermon at church the day before was about Jonah...) A friend, who had no idea I was feeling this way, gave my mom a last-minute note for me detailing her prayers for me, including joy and perseverance, and a special gift for our work. What a blessing to remember her words even driving past the remnants of a crime scene on the way to our house from the airport in Honduras.
God uses people to remind me He is Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of specific, sometimes unseen, needs, reminding us we are not alone or forgotten.

This year God has blessed me with a wise, fun, and caring prayer partner. I met Lori a few years ago at a Bible study for North American women. She and her husband have had lots of adventures as retirees in Honduras. We meet at her house every other week or so to pray together. What a blessing to receive her wisdom and encouragement in the Lord.

Miss A and I at Lori's house for a Christmas party

Another mentor figure is Tammie. She and her husband serve in pastoral care for CTEN. Tammie and I stay in touch via email and Skype, and I can always count on her to pray, be a sounding board, and share helpful information in crucial times. This kind of relationship can be a tremendous source of strength for missionary women.

I could list many others who bring a smile to my face, refocus my attention on what is most important, and strengthen my faith. No doubt, besides cultivating a close relationship with the Lord, friendships and mentoring relationships are one of the most crucial factors in maintaining vitality and avoiding burnout on the field.

Next post: what on earth do interior decorating and strollers have to do with avoiding burnout?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 2: Obedience and Consistency

This is the second post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field (click here to read the first part). In summary, although missionaries are vulnerable to burnout, we can intentionally and creatively maintain consistent rhythms and occasional breaks customized to our needs.

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness..." 2 Peter 1:3a

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

Strategy #1: A sacred start to the day

A consistent rhythm that helps me thrive is rising early. A few years ago, I shared about a "typical day" here in La Ceiba, including reasons for an early start to the day. These days, I find it more helpful than ever to spend about an hour to an hour and half (depending on when my kids wake up) alone.

A refreshing thunderstorm early this morning

First, I read the Bible passages for the day according to a Scripture reading plan. I focus my mind on truth I can meditate on throughout the day, and I love working toward the goal of reading through the Bible this year.

Next, I plan tasks for the day, such as meals or errands, and answer emails.

I find this time incredibly energizing for these reasons:
  • It's quiet and cool, and I'm alone!
  • The rest of the day flows well when I plan ahead, stay organized, and have a disciplined start.
  • I thrive on completing tasks in a focused, uninterrupted way, which doesn't usually happen the rest of the day. :)
  • Regardless of what the day brings, I can enjoy some sense of accomplishment.
This habit is like making a deposit in my energy/vitality account, a safe and consistent space to gain perspective on life, and a sacred time dedicated first and foremost to the Lord.

Strategy #2: Sabbath

To be honest, a weekly day of rest has never appealed to me very much! But in college God taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of observing a Sabbath.

I was a workaholic, double majoring and double minoring while playing flute in the music department, exercising, and socializing... as soon as I finished homework. ;) Spring quarter of my last year, I felt very convicted about not taking a day of rest, but I thought it would be impossible to keep my grades up and perform a concerto (solo accompanied by orchestra), among other year-end concerts. If I hadn't managed to take a day of rest previously, how could I pull it off now?

Performing with the university orchestra, a big highlight from college

I committed to abstain from homework, practicing, and exercising on Sundays, as much as possible. To my surprise, it was a success! God provided the time and more energy Monday through Saturday for academics and music, and I had more time for Him and for friends on Sundays!

Graduating from Western Washington University in 2003

Recently, I felt the familiar sense of conviction, as I brushed off the idea of Sabbath. After all, taking babies to church (babies and children stay with their parents during the service) and the daily tasks of taking care them just doesn't seem restful, so why try? However, I find that when I prepare ahead of time to keep chores to a bare minimum and simply take a step back, breathe, and enjoy a quieter day to focus on Him, God refreshes me both physically and spiritually -- and this benefits those around me, too, of course!

Obeying God first and foremost is foundational in fostering vitality and reducing the likelihood of burnout, regardless of how this actually pans out as seasons of life ebb and flow. I smile when I think of God's generosity, giving us gifts that draw us close to Him and refresh us: His Word, His presence, solitude, rain, rest, and memories of His faithfulness. I'm curious what you find helpful for maintaining spiritual vitality and would love to hear from you, either a comment or personal message. May we walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit's leading and receive the blessings God has prepared for us!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Maintaining Vitality and Preventing Burnout on the Field

I'm reading through the Bible this year, currently in Proverbs, and Prov. 13:12 stood out to me:

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."

God graciously fulfilled my desire to take Mr. J and Miss A to Washington State to spend some time with my family. When I thought about what to share on this blog, I decided it would be better to fit it in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a woman on the mission field.*

Photo credit:

Women in cross-cultural missions can be vulnerable to burnout for various reasons.
  • Running a home and raising children in a context different from where we were raised ("rootlessness").
  • Dealing with infrastructure and safety issues, especially in the developing world.
  • As a result, having fewer opportunities outside of the house and experiencing consequent isolation.
  • Managing language and culture learning curves in friendship and fellowship.

This is not at all to say that missionary life is a drag or is unfulfilling! But I believe missionaries have the responsibility to intentionally maintain habits that nurture our walk with God, relationships, and general health (or sanity!) for the sake of our families, those we serve, and the gospel of Jesus. I find that consistent rhythms are essential, as well as occasional breaks from everyday life, such as a family visit in Washington.

One key is to recognize signs of culture fatigue or weariness. For me, this can look like:
  • Getting sick more often.
  • Feeling tired and irritable even after sleeping well and engaging in normally restful activities.
  • Having difficulty concentrating on what people say to me in conversation (in any language) and avoiding social settings.
  • Wanting to control minutiae, especially in my home environment, to feel peaceful and secure.

My goal is to minimize the source of these "symptoms" through wise choices, especially on a daily basis. This is why I love how our Creator God gives us freedom and creativity to pursue Him and enjoy His many gifts! Several habits I find helpful and refreshing include:
  1. Getting up early to read the Bible.
  2. Observing a weekly day of rest.
  3. Communicating with close friends and mentors.
  4. Keeping our home organized and pretty (to me).
  5. Getting out of the house.
  6. Taking trips back "home" to Washington.

Upcoming posts will discuss each of these more in depth. I'm happy this topic is being raised and widely shared in social media because awareness can strengthen relationships between missionaries and those who pray for them and support them from the home front. My hope is that those who pray for us will be encouraged by how God ministers to us through their love and kindness.

Photo credit:

*I experienced missions as a single woman, but for simplicity's sake will write from the perspective of a wife and mom.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Land Between: Motherhood and Missions

I love to read, even just a short chapter every few days when I have the chance. I recently read The Land Between, by Jeff Manion, which gleans insights from the Israelites' journey through the desert that apply to "finding God in difficult transitions" (subtitle). Manion divides the book into five sections: the Israelites' complaint, their meltdown, God's provision, God's discipline, and spiritual growth in dry, uncertain times.

In a nutshell, the author claims that the way believers respond can radically determine their future: "your response to hardship may have a greater impact in shaping who you become than the hardship itself" (p. 46, emphasis mine). The "Land Between" is fertile ground for either bitterness or deep spiritual transformation, and the choice is ours.

What I liked about this book:
  • It's easy to read and remember with vivid descriptions of biblical passages and real-life examples.
  • The author has a good sense of humor. For example, he ate the same type of power bar for all meals three days straight to get an inkling of what eating manna was like!
  • It speaks to readers from many different life stages and situations.
  • Readers are challenged to face sinful tendencies, such as complaint or resentment, and, by God's grace, choose a better response to their current circumstances.

How does it relate to missions?

While this book is not specifically addressed to missionaries, but rather to believers in the U.S., it does address issues pertinent to overseas ministry.

Most missionaries at some point find themselves in dry, uncertain stretches, especially when they are becoming established in a particular country or ministry. Like the Israelites, they might wonder if they really signed up for what they find themselves doing and experiencing when reality clashes with former expectations or suppositions.

At times, it's easy to question if the effort and sacrifice are worth it, and it's all too easy to blame oneself or others when tangible results appear scarce. Sometimes the day-to-day, time-consuming details -- repairing things that break, long lines at the bank or grocery store, using purified water instead of tap water for cooking -- seem like manna, not like a Mt. Sinai mountain top experience.

As Manion says, we have tremendous opportunity either to grow frustrated and bitter or to trust in God's sovereignty and receive what He has to give each day.

How does it relate to motherhood?

Most of us young moms have heard that "the days are long but the years are short"; the daily responsibilities of caring for young children feel endless, but someday we will tell other young mothers to soak up those moments with their kids while they can.

I think it's easy for women to give of themselves until they feel dry and gradually, maybe imperceptably, grow resentful and exhausted. This book was a reminder to me that my attitude while caring for my family day has far-reaching implications for the future.

Someday I want to look back on these tiring but very precious years and know I trusted and received God's provision for all my needs, and, by His grace, reap a great harvest from consistent faithfulness and gratitude.



The Land Between can serve as a kind of "desert roadmap," whether journeying through what feels like a painful, unforeseen detour, or whether trudging through a dry, tedious stretch of life. It reminds us of our spiritual heritage: the mistakes others made that we can avoid; God's provision for His servants; an eternal perspective as we anticipate the heavenly Promised Land. I'm sure all of us benefit from these reminders, whether on the mission field or wherever we call home, and in whatever time of life we find ourselves.

Photos taken from:

Friday, April 15, 2016

What's Coming Down the Street? (and what it has to do with ministry)

This post is a peek out our front window, where what comes by might look different from in your neighborhood, and what on earth this has to do with ministry.

I played undercover detective, trying to take pictures and videos without showing people's faces or letting them know they were being filmed! (Below is a video where I got caught!)

We live in a very middle-class neighborhood by Honduran standards. It's packed full of cement block/concrete plaster homes with metal roofs (i.e., it's hot and noisy), and there are guards at the entrance. It's nice enough to be safe and not too nice to draw attention to ourselves; I am the only gringa resident so far.

You know it's hot when this is what a stick of butter looks like.

Activities start early in the tropics (click here for a blog series about a "typical day"). By 6:00 A.M., big vans called busitos pick up kids for school. Although Honduras has public schools, families do whatever they can to send their kids to the multiple private and/or bilingual schools for a better education. Public schools do not offer bus service to students. Many families pay for a busito to take their kids to and from private school each day. They herald their arrival by honking (the effect on light-sleeping toddlers merits a separate post).

A busito bright and early

Meanwhile, neighbors also leave for work. Those who don't have cars can either 1) go to the neighborhood taxi stop to take a colectivo, which has a lower fare and a general route taken by all the passengers, or 2) walk 10-15 minutes to the highway to wait for a public bus.

While many residents are leaving, construction workers are arriving. Homes continue to be built and sold in this area, including one house right down the street from us right now. Workers begin at about 7:00 A.M., rain or shine. Manual labor is essential since heavy machinery is scarce.

At any point in time, one of the security guards, called wachis (for 'watchman'), might walk or bike by our house as they patrol our neighborhood street-by-street. You'd see them carrying a gun and maybe listening to music or texting on their cell phone at the same time. In spite of having guards, multiple houses have been broken into (once again, that's a topic for another post!). The wachis are friendly and have even been kind enough to let me know why the power or water might be out, if they know!

Speaking of water, tap water is unsafe for drinking and cooking. Purified water may be bought at the corner store but is most conveniently purchased from vendors that pass by daily in large trucks. Usually one young man walks down the street calling out the brand of water being sold (my personal favorite is Pingüino, for 'penguin,' because anything cold sounds refreshing :) ) so that residents can be prepared when the truck comes by. It costs about $1 to exchange an empty jug for a full one. Mr. J could easily help the vendors out since he is a pro in yelling, "¡Agua, agua!"


Most people cook with gas stoves: it's cheaper than electric, and you can still cook when the power is out. If your gas tank (chimbo) goes out (fyi, in my experience, it usually goes out before you have people over for lunch), you can either get one at the corner store or call a gas company to send someone on a motorcycle and exchange a full tank for your empty one. It's kind of like pizza delivery. The motorcyclist honks loudly as he comes down the street so that the buyer knows he's there.

For the most part, other vendors are not allowed in the neighborhood. Before the guards were hired, people came by selling brooms and cleaning supplies, bread, pots and pans, and other articles. But now the only regular vendor sells guineos, green bananas, which are prepared boiled as a filler for lunch or fried in slices for dinner. Since we never buy guineos, I reasoned I could get a great video without being detected; why would the vendor/driver look my way? I was wrong!! Here's how that played out:

Garbage pick-up is provided free by the city government. You never know what day or what time the garbage truck will come by, but you can hear the specific honk of the truck when it enters the neighborhood, alerting you to haul your garbage out to the curb. This happened yesterday at 6:30 A.M. Happily, my family members slept right through it (whew!).

As for animals, there are dogs and cats who roam the neighborhood, and prior to the guards' installment, some farmers used to herd their cattle right by our house; apparently, the neighborhood was built where they used to transfer their herds between grazing areas.

Given the warm climate and fairly open culture here, people often go out in the late afternoon. Just on our street, there are Latino, Garífuna, and islander kids of different ages. Mr. J likes to run around with them when they're all out at the same time. Sometimes they kids like to come to gate to see him or come in to play, especially if they know we have oranges, watermelon, or bananas on hand. :)

So what does this list have to do with ministry? Looking out our window, I see many needs and opportunities, including:

1) Family Influence

Only one of kids we know on our street lives with both of his parents. In fact, two little ones are in the care of their aunt since their mothers immigrated to the U.S. It's clear that some of the children are well-loved and cared for, while others are lonely, and most are friendly and love to talk. By giving them a piece of fruit, looking in their eyes, smiling, addressing them by name, we can communicate God's love to them in a simple way. When we go out to walk together as a family, when Fernando hugs and kisses us when he gets home, they can see that there are loving, committed fathers and, over time, understand that God is a loving Father. Many are still too young to care about language, racial, and cultural boundaries; by being kind to everyone, we can set an example for our kids and develop relationships, or at least goodwill, among our neighbors.

2) Education

When I observe how difficult it can be for people to earn a living, particularly those whose trade is in manual labor, I think of how important access to education is, particularly for young people, including those who would not dream of studying at a higher level. It reminds me of a young man who works with Fernando. He thought he would become a mechanic but now isthe first in his family to work toward a college degree and is thriving in his studies (in his second language!). I am happy that Fernando can be involved in providing studies, training, and preparation for people who might not have access to it otherwise.

3) Violence and Insecurity

When I see the wachis come by, I am reminded of the toll that violence and crime take on a country and its people (it's easy to grow numb to that because it's "normal" to us). Beyond the more obvious physical needs, there is a desperate need for integrity, fear of the Lord, and courage. When I see how God is shaping young men's lives through mentoring, the opportunity to serve others, and accountability, I hope that many more young people can be reached. I think of those who have been robbed at gunpoint but who refuse to participate in crime, even in the midst of financial need. There is opportunity to help young people walk in a direction that not only benefits their individual lives but also the future of society.

In conclusion, some of the sights and sounds outside our window can be entertaining (or, at times, annoying!), but they point to the deeper reality of what God has called us to be as a family and do as His servants. Please pray that He will help us glorify Him as we interact with others and carry out projects here, that His kingdom would come here where we live as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10), and that we would "shine like stars" (Phil. 2:15).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Invitation to Church

You're "invited" to a Honduran church service by means of this blog post. As one family of believers -- body, building, bride, and other metaphors -- there are many members and many forms of worship. Here is a glimpse of how people here gather to worship and hear the Word taught. It would be inappropriate for me to actually take pictures during a service, so I hope this description paints a clear picture.

By means of introduction, in September Fernando was asked to assume temporary leadership in a church whose pastor had had to relocate. This congregation, in a community about 20 minutes east of La Ceiba, had been without a pastor for two years and greatly desired a leader. Fernando had previously served with a pastor friend at his church in La Ceiba but felt his help was no longer needed. In the past few months, he has really enjoyed getting to know this group of believers, preaching on Sundays and facilitating small groups, children's and youth outreach events, and leadership training.

Because the church met on Sunday evenings and Fernando would usually arrive home late, I hadn't gone with our two kids. But now that they meet on Sunday mornings we can go as a family.

If you hopped in the car with us and came along, we would take you to this community, turning off the highway toward the ocean and onto a dirt road toward a small concrete building. We would pass by children playing and animals, such as chickens and pigs. Getting out of the car, you'd have to watch your step because rainy season creates puddles and mud in the sandy ground, and you'd have to step onto concrete blocks and some wood planks onto the bare concrete floor of the church.

A street in this community (from this link)

You would hear worship music playing in Spanish and Garífuna, and you would be greeted with a handshake at the door. You would see handmade decorations hanging from the wood rafters of a metal roof, feel the welcome breeze from a few fans high on the wall, and take a seat on one of the plastic chairs. You would probably see people kneeling to pray, preparing their hearts for the service, either at their seats or at the platform, where a glass podium, sound system, instruments, and decorative back curtain are located. Open windows would allow you to see people walking by outside, going about their daily activities. People of all ages would trickle in, even after the service officially starts, often greeting each other with handshakes or, between women, the cheek-to-cheek air kiss typical in Latin America.

If you're a man, you'd be wearing nice slacks and a dress shirt, or a polo shirt if you're a young adult or teenager. If you're a woman, you'd want to wear a skirt or dress knee-length or lower. In Honduras, dressing semi-formally is considered important, especially for those who are in front leading worship, giving announcements, or preaching. If you brought your baby or came along with Miss A, women would ask to hold him or her; babies are more than welcome in church gatherings, and other women are always more than happy to hold them.

The service is usually held 9:00-10:15, but starting and ending times are somewhat flexible; people are more focused on the event of the moment than following a firm schedule. After an opening prayer and Scripture reading, worship would begin, and the motto seems to be, "the louder the better." Instead of projecting lyrics on a screen, songs are learned through repetition and, especially in Garífuna, call and response style. Instruments usually include Garífuna drums and rattles, sometimes a drum set, a piano, and sometimes guitar. Raising hands and swaying to the music is common (Mr. J really likes participating in this way!). After the announcements and offering, you'd see Fernando step to the front to give the message.

Fernando preaching (several years ago)

In this community, like others located close to larger cities, Garífuna is still used but is becoming gradually eclipsed by Spanish. Fernando preaches in Spanish so that everyone can understand, but he speaks Garífuna when preaching in more rural areas. People often respond to sermons by calling out, "Amen!" and sometimes clapping. You'd hear very soft piano music in the background during the sermon. Fernando has appreciated the spiritual hunger and openness of this particular group of believers, who give their full attention the duration of the sermon.

After the final prayer, people talk and shake hands before leaving. We, like they, would return home to eat the main meal of the day around noon and rest a bit during the afternoon.

Holding hands on the way to church

Before finishing this post, I have to share about going to church with my parents on a visit to Washington. Right before the service started, there was a countdown (minutes and seconds) on the screen. When someone in front began literally right at the start time, I had a laughing attack. (This is called "reverse culture shock.") How good to know that with different customs and approaches to worship we serve the same God and are the same family!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Evidentiality and Being a "Missionary Wife"

One of my favorite features of the Garífuna language is what linguists call "evidentiality," which indicates that information is reported but not witnessed first-hand. In Garífuna, nege ("neh-geh") is added to a word or phrase.

láhuyahuba   nege
it.will.rain     evidential
'they say it will rain'

chülügietu            nege          lúguchu
she.arrived.early  evidential  his.mother
'they say his mother arrived early'

Sometimes Garífuna speakers add nege to utterances in Spanish:

él  quiere  trabajar  en  Tegucigalpa  nege
he wants   in   Tegucigalpa  evidential
'supposedly he wants to work in Tegucigalpa'

A common characteristic of Amerindian languages, some languages have specific distinctions of how information was received: sight, sound, common knowledge, etc. (Here is an article on how one Arawakan language does this.)

So what in the world does this have to do with being a "missionary wife"? In a nutshell, these days I find myself adding nege to ideas about missions and to information about our ministry work. I am not directly involved, and this has been a big change for me. What has led to less direct involvement in hands-on ministry, and is this a good thing or not?

A Winding Road

The start: A kindergarten Sunday school class about missions sparked my interest, and at age six I felt led to become a missionary in another country.

Going to church with my grandpa at that age

Rekindling the flame: In college my dream of learning Spanish came true, and involvement in a campus ministry group revived that initial spark from when I was little.

Testing it out: Wanting a "trial by fire," I spent one year in Colombia in a missions school with outreaches, immersed in Spanish and surrounded by Latinos who loved Jesus. (I still really miss Colombia!) I wondered if I would stay single, so I focused on my relationship with God and what I felt He was calling me to do.

Outreach trip to Panama

Unexpected outcome: After preparation to be a Bible translator in Mexico, I ended up working in linguistics training for Spanish speakers and other support roles. I traveled, lived with other single girls and with families, and discovered I did best in academics, encouraging others, and administrative helps.

Linguistics students

Marriage and a new culture: I married Fernando! My focus became learning a third language and adjusting to a third culture (Garífuna), supporting his work in theological training, and helping out at our local church.

Becoming a mom: I knew that I ever had children I would want to spend their early years at home with them, and He has allowed me to do that with Mr. J and Baby A, while still helping Fernando with adminstrative tasks and learning how to take care of a house in this part of the world.


As a single, my focus was outward, and I was very social. In my 20s, God allowed me to meet many kinds of people in very diverse places, participating in a wide variety of activities. A decade later, He has directed my attention to those closest to me and to the everyday tasks of our home.

The assistant chef

Official "ministry" looks like emails, online banking, and newsletters, while unofficial "ministry" is playing peek-a-boo, giving a cup of water to the garbage collectors, and showing kindness to our neighbors of all backgrounds (even if they don't always interact among each other).

In the meantime, Fernando has led people to Christ (nege), visits people grieving lost loved ones or caring for relatives in hospitals (nege), and preaches and teaches several times a week (nege), among many other wonderful things (nege).

The Final Word

Opinions abound when it comes to women's roles in family and ministry, either as a "pastor's wife" or "missionary wife." (I'm not opening that can of worms on this blog!) Here is what I do know:
  • God gave me the desire and opportunity to serve in missions in Latin America; this is part of who I am and always will be, regardless of the specific tasks I do or the corresponding titles.
 I love being her mommy!
  • God has graciously blessed me in different seasons, each with their purposes and characteristics -- as a young single, newlywed, and now a mom of little ones -- and He is preparing what is yet to come.

  • It’s all about His glory and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven; my joy is being faithful to whatever He calls me to and cheering on others as they do the same, without competition or comparison.

Much more could be said, but the main point is that I have peace about what God has called me to do now and want to live it to the fullest. I don’t need to be directly involved to praise Him for what He is doing beyond my current scope of ministry. I am happy hearing Fernando tell me about what he is doing (nege), and I wouldn’t change where He has me now, deeply investing in those closest to me. I also am looking forward to what He has prepared for the future and know that faithfulness in the present everyday details will directly affect whatever lies ahead.

Praise God for being our unchanging Rock (Is. 26:4), for being the Father who rewards what His children do in secret (Mt. 6:4, 6, 18), and for including even imperfect and limited people in His plan (1 Cor. 3:6-9)!

(And now off to fold the laundry.) :)