Thursday, April 24, 2014

Earthquake Disaster

It seems everyone loves those moments when missionaries are totally transparent. Even other missionaries love unfettered honesty. Those "Uh oh. I'm human" blog posts get more view counts than any others. I guess it encourages us to know we aren't alone in our imperfection. There are others who struggle with not having all the answers or making wrong decisions.

And, alas... today's post is such a moment. I will declare it up front: Uh oh. I am human.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Giving Up Fun for Good Friday

Holidays remind the far-flung family member of home, tradition, and making memories with family. I still feel disappointment at the lack of Christmas "spirit" over here. But after having several years to adjust the lens of my worldview a bit, I am able to see parts of our own culture a little more objectively, though I’m sure I’m still biased.

I remember our first couple of years being asked by new believers whether we were having a Good Friday service (or a Christmas service, depending on the holiday). We almost laughed at them, replying, “No…” (“Or course not!” we thought. “Who goes to church on those days?”)

The next couple of years I felt a sense of frustration at the question. Perhaps I was fighting the Holy Spirit’s nudging to introspect about the matter. My attitude: “Humph. That’s old-fashioned. They only ask that because that’s what the state church did for years.” South Africa’s state church during apartheid was the Dutch Reformed church. Other denominations did not have as many rights as the attendees of the state church. The Dutch Reformed had a Christmas and Good Friday service. Naturally new believers in our ministry asked if we were having one.

And now we’ve completed the circle, having both a Christmas and Good Friday service in our little Baptist church. We often combine with the other two Baptist churches in our region for these special services and sometimes have a meal or snack afterwards.

A year or two ago, a blogger asked missionaries what negative aspects they noticed about America and American culture when they return to the States after living abroad. From my perspective, I have come to realize how saturated Americans are with fun. Fun, fun, fun. I catch myself telling my kids to “go have fun” when they play and judging a whole occasion’s worth by whether it was fun or not. Homeschool reviewers call this or that curriculum “fun.” It’s become a right—especially on the holidays!

Americans don’t go to church on the religious holidays, unless they happen to fall on a Sunday in which case we all feel gypped out of our full holiday anyways, because that would ruin our fun. I was frustrated to “give up” my already much-lessened holiday to a day of ministry, which is most definitely in the work category, not the day-off category.

If you have to go to church on Christmas and Good Friday, well…all those rosy pictures you had in your mind of fuzzy-wuzzy family traditions? You can chuck those out. Cinnamon roll brunch after opening presents in our jammies in front of the Christmas tree (after reading the Christmas story, of course)—replace that with getting up early, dressing up the kids to go to church on a muddy, rainy day. And the fancy meal Mom was going to make while the kids all attempt to break their brand-new toys in record time this year? She can’t make it, since she’s at church. You’ll have to do that on Christmas Eve. Oh, but that’s not our tradition, comes the outcry!

On Good Friday if you go to church, you’ll have to replace “fun” with serious sitting still to meditate on Christ’s suffering. That nice long weekend off of work and school when the kids stay home in play clothes and decorate eggs together and then have an Easter egg hunt? That’s out. (at least on Good Friday) Even though of course eggs have nothing to do with Easter, as we all know. “New life!” we call it, trying to make Easter “fun” by mixing a celebration of spring in with Christ’s resurrection, all the while shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at those “syncretistic Africans.”

I have felt angry before at the Africans on Easter weekend: they take days that were made holidays in South Africa solely for worship and observing their religious importance, and use them for drunken parties with constant cacophonous music playing 24 hours all Easter weekend. But how much better are Americans when we say that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, yet feel frustrated at having to go to church to actually worship Him corporately with other believers?

I’m not trying to be too harsh on Americans. I’m not glorifying the natives and saying that African culture is better. Actually their going to church on Good Friday and Christmas isn’t even their own culture; it’s the Afrikaners’. I still think American Christianity is the best expression of Christianity in the modern world. And I like a hard-boiled egg as well as anybody, though did anyone ever think of what an oxymoron it is to eat “deviled” eggs on Easter?

I don’t have all the answers yet for how exactly to observe these holidays. But I am thankful for being put in this position that is forcing me to think more about our traditions. I think we’re one step closer to “rightness” in our feelings when we worship Christ with other believers those two extra days a year—on Christmas and Good Friday. It might not be fun; but that’s not what those days are about, right?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

But I Liked That Pot!

Joanna Burdett and her husband are missionaries serving in Madagascar. Her last post on her blog really hit home with me, so I wanted to share it with you. (Please stop by her blog. The Burdetts are NEVER short on adventures!)

This post is about a process, not a lesson learned and checked off the list.    The call of Jesus is to follow Him. Sure, sometimes that means  Sunday School and Sermons, village outreaches, health clinics that help hundreds of people or disaster relief during cyclone season.  Those are the more visible acts of following that look good in prayer letters.  Then there’s a normal day – choosing joy when the geckos nibbled most of the cinnamon rolls that were supposed to be for breakfast, smiling at the beggar who is not happy with the donation just given, praying for someone who takes advantage of you, dealing gracefully with people who steal from you, or speaking kindly to someone you’d rather pinch.  I don’t always follow that well. (yes, missionaries struggle too!)

There is a beggar in our town who is wheeled around by three different kids.  He has cerebral palsy, probably no education and has most likely begged his whole life.  He knows our truck and will wait by it until we come out from the market to give him money.  He also comes by the house for rice.   He has also asked for batteries and soccer cleats.   The other day he tracked me down in the road to ask for something more than rice.  His speech is slurred and I didn’t understand what he wanted.  Yesterday, Bobby called me to say the crippled guy wanted a pot because his was stolen.  That’s what he’d been trying to tell me!  Did I have a pot I could give him? Yes.  Did I want to give him that pot? No.  My first thought was “but I like all my pots!”  Then the Spirit rebuked me.  The guy didn’t have any pot and I was fretting over which one to release!  Even then, as I gave him the pot, the temptation was strong to mention how valuable a gift he was receiving. ( I can’t believe myself even as I write this!)

Sometimes we feel like we have given and given and can’t give any more.  If one more person asks us for something, we will scream.  Then Jesus asks us to give again.   Jesus said if any man would follow Him he was to deny himself, take up his cross and follow.  For me, yesterday, following meant giving up the luxury of four pots so that a crippled guy with cerebral palsy could have one.  Today, it means doing/being/saying whatever God asks of me today.  Tomorrow?  Well, let’s just say I’m so very grateful for new mercies every morning.  I have a feeling this will be a life-long lesson.  Hopefully, next time I will more quickly respond with a cheerful heart.

-- Joanna Burdett, Madagascar

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

INTERNATIONAL DINNER: Brazilian/Lebanese Fusion (Kibe)

Kibe (pronounced kee-bee)

I was first introduced to Kibe by Adele, a dear Brazilian lady in our church in New York City.  She is one of the best cooks I know, so we are always delighted to taste her creations.  Most recently I was reminded of Kibe when I posted a request for idea for a Brazilian snack to take to a church potluck.  Althea responded with this recipe.  She’s a veteran missionary to Brazil (a veteran missionary is one of those people who has been in her host country forever but still looks really young, at least on her prayer card).  Althea says you can’t have a party in Brazil without Kibe.  This notion was confirmed by Lilian, my cousin’s wife, who actually IS Brazilian.  She says it might be Lebanese, but it's also one of her favorite comfort foods.

Kibe is probably Brazilian like Pizza is American (or is it Italian?), but whether you call it Lebanese or Brazilian, it’s delicious, and will be hit—at your dinner table or your church’s International Potluck.  Here is Adele’s version of Kibe.

3/4 cup bulgur wheat (see substitution below)
1 cup water (to cover)

2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup cilantro
3/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
½ tsp. cinnamon (optional)
½ tsp. pepper (to taste)

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Oil for frying

1. Cover bulgur wheat with water and soak overnight (or use boiling water, cover wheat and let rest ½ hour)

2.  Finely chop/mince the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, green onion and cilantro.  Combine with meat in food processor and pulse for 1 minute.

3.  Drain the wheat and press excess water out.  Add wheat, salt and pepper to the food processor for an additional 2 minutes.

4.  Make “cigar” shaped meatballs by taking 1-2 tablespoons of meat and rolling between hands.  (“Football” shaped might be more authentic, but Adele likes hers more skinny and long like a cigar, and I think they are easier to cook evenly.)

5. Roll “meatball” (either cigar shaped or football shaped) in bread crumbs. 

6. Evenly coat bottom of frying pan with oil and fry in small batches over medium heat.  Every 2 minutes, roll another third of the way around, for a total of 6 minutes.  Remove extra drippings after each batch and keep oil fresh.

Substituting hard-to-find ingredients has always been second nature for me.  Growing up in Mexico on a tight budget and long before free trade made for great training ground.  Today I live in one of the most international cities in the world, and I’m sure there is nothing I couldn’t find here if I tried.  I don’t know if I’m cheap or lazy, but most days I think it’s more fun to see what substitutions I can come up with from my own cupboard.  The first time I made Kibe, I tracked down the proper ingredients, the second time, I used these substitutions.  Both ways seemed pretty authentic!

If you can’t find bulgur wheat in your corner of the world, try this:  pulse wholegrain brown rice in the blender ¼ cup at a time to coarsely ground.  Soak and treat the same as bulgur wheat.  White rice would probably work, too.  It should be raw when you grind it.  

If you can’t find mint leaves try a package of peppermint tea!  It is dry, therefore more concentrated, so I just used the leaves from one tea bag plus a bit more parsley. 

Both substitutions ended up tasting quite similar to the “real deal”.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Where Thieves Break Through and Steal

Lessons from a Thief
Lessons from a Thief
Since being robbed three weeks ago, I have been pondering the effects of a break-in on my spiritual and emotional state. Here are some missionary musings of mine:

The Danger of Danger

Besides the obvious physical danger that danger poses, it can also tempt your spirit to worry and fear, and secondly to discouragement, the latter being perhaps more dangerous than the first. After some of the adrenaline from the first rush of fear has subsided, discouragement creeps in to trap you in the Slough of Despond.

Maybe I should mention cynicism here as well, because when a missionary is discouraged, it is easy to be cynical about the people--all the people--around him. Whatever growth may exist in the handful of believers is easy to overlook, and the culture's faults all magnified. David said in his haste, "All men are liars." And a missionary in his discouragement may make similar negative universal statements.

"These people always... never..."
"This is impossible. A church will never happen here."
"No one is trustworthy."

Of course we know these statements aren't completely true or fair; and in our meeker moments we remember to close our mouths when angry, because a man who can control his spirit is better than he who conquers cities.

So that's the lesson I learned from danger--that we must remember to submit to God who allowed it, and not to "charge God foolishly." That we must not forget all of the blessings of growth and the work God is doing in some people's hearts, just because of personal attacks.

Evangelizing Thieves

Which brings me to my next point. Some have mentioned that maybe God will use this to bring the thief (our neighbor) to the Lord. That sounds great, doesn't it? I also long to see miraculous conversions--a well-known drunk turning sober, and the like. I know God can do that!

Unfortunately in this specific case, the above encouragement on seeing this boy enter the Kingdom was our consolation several years ago when he stole from us. We did attempt to evangelize him, and he came to church for a while, and we even baptized him! (Which if you know Seth, is saying something.)

He eventually quit church, however, and is no longer a church member. So while trying not to be complete wet blankets and unbelieving in God's ability to save, we're not getting our hopes up too high, lest we battle even more discouragement over this boy.

So the lesson learned here--well, one lesson that we've learned is to be even slower to baptize children and teens until we are sure that they have committed to following Christ.

Why Africa Is Poor

I have so much to say on this subject that I will try to do the opposite and keep it short. We lost money in the valuables the thief took and to install "burglar bars" afterwards. We lost a lot of time as well.

But we are not the only ones being robbed. Several church members and neighbors have been robbed, not once, but a number of times in their lifetimes. While it may not touch us as seriously because of our savings account, think what it means to a poor person who saved for a long time to buy a personal computer and cannot replace it easily.

One reason Africa is poor is high crime rates. Obviously there is so much more interconnected than that point alone, and certainly more reasons why there is poverty, but it is devastating to people already struggling with finances to have someone take the little they have--and then not have the money to either replace it or to buy the security to prevent the next occurrence.

Treasure on Earth

We love things too much. I was reminded of that when I read The Sermon on the Mount shortly after the break-in.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Missionaries may sometimes excuse their materialism by remembering what they left behind, and thinking that it's okay to hold tight to the things they brought over with them--their consolation. But it's not. Our heart cannot be in things! Does the extent of our frustration when we have to go without a luxury or convenience communicate how much we treasured that thing?

It's almost as if I can hear Jesus saying, "Don't you get it? Those things are temporary. It's obvious that that's why you shouldn't love them! They can be stolen. They can get old and break. They will pass, so why would you set your heart on them?"

We are pilgrims looking for a city. Let's travel light and not burden ourselves, or rather, our hearts, with extra lovely treasures. Tools? Those are nice. But each in its place...with its correct priority.

In heaven, our treasures will never fade or be stolen. That is a beautiful thought to someone who's been robbed. That means that those treasures must be leagues better than the treasures here below! My "wanter" must be broken, for me to value things so highly here below that are useless toys from the Dollar Tree in comparison to the treasures that can be stored up in heaven.

The Generosity of God's People

What makes me want to fall on my knees in humility and gratitude, though, is when American Christians sympathize and give to replace our things. This has been done already. Did we love our things too much? If so, no word of judgment from them.

In the middle of our discouragement over the depravity of some people, Christians reminded us of God's grace and gave us just a glimpse again of the love and beauty that will one day be constantly present in God's eternal Kingdom. Thank you. It eliminates much fear and discouragement to know that we have friends like you.


Having gone through these different stages of learning from our robbery, there are so many things to be thankful for.

Our children were safe.
We were safe.
They did not take more.
We have the money to secure our house better.
We were born as Americans.

What we love most cannot be touched, and what we love next most wasn't touched.

But best of all...well, I'll simply quote Matthew Henry after he was robbed:
“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Road Rage

I was on the scooter, heading up the steep, bumpy hill I hate the most. The traffic was its usual nightmare of congestion. Motorcycles were bobbing all around, and the potential for collisions with cars, tuk tuks, motorcycles, pedestrians, and animals was a matter of inches. It is more like playing with bumper cars than driving, only you see how close you can pile up vehicles without actually hitting each other too hard.

(This is the kind of road I prefer. No traffic!
Although I don't prefer the 100 foot cliff just to the right of the picture!)