The sway of life, back and forth, two steps this way and one step that way, a spin or two, countless dips, crescendos and rests. It is the dance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. No matter where you are or what is going on, it is always in play. The dance.
Several years ago, we moved from familiar to unfamiliar as we moved into another culture and another country. That move way a crazy tangle, as the unfamiliar steps outweighed the familiar ones and nothing seemed right. It was a tough time for us. We were fighting to quickly learn and change the unfamiliar things into familiar ones. Little by little, we adapted and learned the dance. We weren't experts, by any means, but we survived and learned to move in and out of situations and life.
Another change in scenery was much easier. The dance seemed a little more familiar than unfamiliar. There were slight adaptations to be made, but it came easier this time. We learned to laugh when we made mistakes, and to give ourselves grace when we weren't perfect.
Last week, we found ourselves in another country and culture yet again.
The dance seemed equal parts familiar and unfamiliar there. In some ways, it seemed easy, like the gentle sway of life 'back home' and we adapted quickly. In other ways, it was very foreign and we found ourselves making many mistakes. The street signs and driving customs were quite different and caused us to have many exciting moments - luckily we can laugh about them today! We
were blind to the ever-so-slight mannerism differences that distinguish 'alien'
from 'native' and count ourselves blessed to have had people around us who
pointed them out to us and helped us navigate the dance a little better. We learned a lot. We laughed a lot. We enjoyed the dance.
Whether you leave the country
or you never leave your county, you will inevitable experience the dance. When you try out a new church, you
enter into the dance of new verses old.
When you begin a new class, the dance begins.
When you drive in a different region that you are unfamiliar with, that
balance between familiar and unfamiliar begins to rock.
How you navigate the dance is the key.
Welcome to The Dance that is
life! May you enter with passion
and laughter and an eagerness to learn!
My days have revolved around questions for the past several weeks.
That is not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all! In
fact, I love questions! Maybe because in my pre-missionary life I was a teacher - and for several of those years, I was an inquiry-based science teacher. The word "inquiry" in that statement shows how much I lived a life of questions.
Questions, for me, are an avenue to answers. I need questions. If I don't ever ask the the question, I won't ever find the answer. I use questions to find direction. I use questions to guide me. I use questions to dig deeper.
Jesus was a question-man. He used questions to guide, to give direction, and to make people dig deeper within themselves to find the answer. He made them think. Many times, when someone asked a question of Jesus, he simply turned it around and asked them for the answer.
To the man who asked, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?", he answered with the question, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?"
(Luke 10:25-26) The man answered correctly (showing that he had the answer in his mind all along). Just after that, the same man asked, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied by telling a story (the Parable of the Good Samaritan). At the end of the story, Jesus asked the question, "Which of these three proved to be a neighbor?" Again, he answered the question with a question and made the man think deeper.
There are many more instances in Scripture that illustrate this same point - Jesus valued the use of questions.
So many questions roll around in my head each day:
What can you see from the other person's perspective?
Put yourself in their shoes... how does it look and feel from their side?
What can I do to turn this into a positive experience?
Since I can't change other people, what can I do and change about me that
would make things better?
What is the most important step I could take right now to move me forward?
How is God speaking to me?
Is God trying to get my attention?
What is God trying to do with my character?
What questions are rolling around in your head? What are you asking yourself? Use those questions and listen to the answers that you hear. Let them
guide you and give you direction and help you go
I’ve been rereading The Journey by Adam Hamilton as part of my preparation for Christmas this year, and I am once again struck by the similarities of the town I have grown to know and love and the town of Nazareth.
I currently minister in Patarcocha, a small village in Peru. It is not modern, by any means. In fact I only know two people who have real toilets, and our house is not one of those two. Patarcocha is still a village that lives life the way it has for the past several hundred years. People still cook with wood on adobe stoves. Women still wash clothes in the stream. Fields are still
plowed by hand with oxen pulling a wooden plow, and the planting is still done completely with the labor of family and neighbors. Sheep are led out to the fields each morning and brought home each night. It is generally a quiet
place with a slow lifestyle.
In the research that I am reading about Nazareth, the tiny town
of Mary and Joseph was incredibly similar. Nazareth was a town of 100-400
people. My village of Patarcocha has a population of 200. Nazareth
had very little in the way of‘modern conveniences’. The people of Nazareth were manual laborers - carpenters, bakers, farmers, potters, shepherds, etc.
They made their goods and took them to the nearest big town to sell them
in the markets or to the more wealthy‘city people’. If a family from Nazareth was able to provide for a better education for their child, they sent them to Sepphoris. Men or women who wanted a better paying job would travel to Sepphoris to work for people who had need for paid laborers or housekeepers. People from Nazareth could actually stand at the edge of town and see the bigger, better Sepphoris in the distance.
Life in Patarcocha is much the same as in Nazareth. We can see the bigger
town of Chupaca just at the base of the mountain, and across the valley lays the large city of Huancayo. People who can manage the funds quickly find a way for their child to attend school in Chupaca. Goods are traded in
Chupaca or Huancayo. And the population is changing rapidly in Patarcocha due to the flight of the youth and men, both headed to Lima or Huancayo for the promise of better jobs and a better lifestyle. Patarcocha today is,
therefore, a village that is predominantly populated by single or abandoned
mothers, children, and abandoned elderly.
I’m particularly struck by the verse in John 1:45-46 in which Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” in response to the news that Jesus had been born. It is a sentiment spoken many times today regarding Patarcocha. When people learn that we live there, they can’t catch themselves before the words spill out, “Why?! Why would anyone live in Patarcocha? There’s nothing good in Patarcocha. They are country people.
Backwards. Quechua Wanca.” Of course, there is a scowl on the face that goes with the sentiments. This has always made me sad, that people look at the people of my village with such a low esteem.
Maybe I cannot completely change the view of others toward my village or my people, but I can take every opportunity to say what a great place Patarcocha is. I share with others about the wonderful things I have learned while living here. I work constantly to build up the esteem of the people here and point out to them all the beautiful things about life here and about the people whom I have come to call family. And I know in my heart that God is doing a great work in hearts and lives here. You know what? Something good DID come from Nazareth and something good lives in the people of Patarcocha.
These are beautiful people with so much to give to God’s kingdom and they
are doing it, one step at a time. I think I would have loved Nazareth too, had I lived there more than 2000 years ago.
Is there a ‘Nazareth’ in your area?
Is there a place or a neighborhood or a town that others look down
upon? I urge you, during this time
of preparation for Christmas, to consider that place and to look for the good in
your local ‘Nazareth’. You never
know what you might find unless you look for it.
I am married to an odd man. Now, some of you who know my husband are busting out laughing right now, and others who know my husband are highly offended by that statement because you hold Billy in high regard.
Everyone just hold your horses and listen for a second…
Last week, we went over to visit our best Peruvian friends, Elva and Alfonso. We went to bake bread, a Peruvian tradition on November 1st.
I arrived first as Billy was trying to finish up something at the house
and would follow shortly. Upon my
arrival, I was greeted with hugs and kisses and the usual jokes and fun. Then Alfonso asks me, “Where is the
happiest man in Patarcocha?”
I’ll give him that - my husband IS the happiest man in Patarcocha (our village in Peru).
I have continued to think about that question/statement from Alfonso for several days. I can’t think of a better way to be known. It is such a testimony to who my husband is. He is always laughing, always smiling, always joking. This weekend, I listened to a lecture by Gary Moon and he talked about how followers of Jesus are “odd -- oddly loving, oddly joyful, oddly peaceful”. My husband is definitely all of those things, and it is evidenced by the fact that people in our village actually describe him in that way!
I always knew that he was odd. I’ve spent 27 years with him! Now I’m wishing that I could be as odd
as he is. I’m now praying for an
odd life…oddly loving, oddly joyful, and oddly peaceful.
And I’m praying that one day, others will call me odd,
We recently had an interesting experience that took me by surprise.
We had been noticing the absence of an acquaintance of ours, a woman in
her early 40s. She was our only real connection to the owner of our house (her mother is the owner). We usually
saw her a couple of times a month, as her family still owns farm land around our house and she came to check on crops. She always came to the back door and we talked. But lately, we hadn’t seen her and it became noticeably odd since it is now time to replant the fields and she was not around.
So we mentioned it to our neighbor.
“Oh. You didn’t know? She is in prison.”
Wow! That was a shocker! Well, not really… we knew that she was in some sort of trouble because we had received warrants and court summons for her on several occasions since our house belongs to the family and is evidently listed as her legal address. We passed these papers on to her when we would see her and she took them and laughed them off, so we weren’t too surprised that she was in trouble, but prison was an extreme we hadn’t considered! We continued to talk to the neighbor (who is a cousin) and found out that she is in prison for HUMAN TRAFFICKING! That was a shock, for sure! But, small town gossip being what it is, we weren’t too ready to believe the first story down the pipeline. However, a couple of weeks later, another family member showed up at our door to sell us tickets to a fundraising dinner to help the family pay for legal fees. The family member was truthful and told us that she was in prison for the same crime that we had heard about before.
This really took me back a bit. How do I feel about knowing that I have been sitting around chatting about life with a human trafficker? I really wasn’t
sure how to feel about it. I had some astonishment and some anger.
I was surprised that we had been so naïve and hadn’t seen it, although
that isn’t something that just pops out in casual conversation. I felt a little violated. I was a little scared that I had been that involved with someone who had so little value for human life and I had allowed her to be close to me or to my daughter. Frankly, the whole thing gave me the heebie-jeebies.
But why, exactly, does this bother me at all? I know for a fact that we have treated, ministered to, and prayed for terrorists and narco-traffickers in our medical campaigns. I have personally translated for battered and abused women and children as they met with the doctor, only to have the husband/father/perpetrator show up later in the day for treatment. We minister to alcoholics and drug addicts. We know, for a fact, that practicing witches have been in our ministry and bible studies and their children have attended our schools. None of that gave me much alarm or caused me to think twice. So why does this human trafficker get under my skin?
I really don’t have an answer. I’m still trying to work this out in my own mind and my own heart. I’m seeking God’s guidance on this one. And I’m struggling with it. I know that Jesus summed up the whole law in two statements - love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. And then we have the teachings about ‘who is your neighbor’, which basically gets summed up into every human on this earth is your neighbor, and that all have sinned and
fallen short. So why is this so hard?
My good friend and missionary colleague, Louise Reimer, is working in the women’s prison here in Peru. She enters the prison each week and holds Bible study and discipleship groups with women there. Interestingly enough, the
human trafficker I’m writing about appeared in her class one day. Just one day. She hasn’t been back since that one encounter.
I have so much esteem for my colleague. I’m so glad that God called her to that ministry! In many ways, I feel that she is so much stronger than I am.
I’m not sure that I could go into that situation each week. I think God calls each of us according to the gifts he has given us and I guess he knew that I wasn’t the one for a prison ministry, but Louise was. She sees past their crimes and their issues and sees real people who need Christ and need a fresh start. She doesn’t see murderers and drug dealers and human traffickers. She sees people with names and families. She sees a series of poor choices and bad decisions. And more than anything, she sees possibilities and hope for change and growth and a different future. I’m really proud of my friend and her ministry.
My 8 year old daughter wants to make a surfboard. She has been talking about it for a couple of months now. It isn’t so surprising, really. Her older
brothers have gone through surfing stages. She spent a significant portion of her youngest years watching them carry their boards out into the waves, first in South Padre Island, Texas, and later in Costa Rica. When she could only crawl, she was placed on her hands and knees on her brother’s board and gently floated around in the shallows. Surfing is a part of her good memories of her brothers. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that she wants to build her own surfboard, right?
The irony here is that we are missionaries in the Andes Mountains of Peru. We live at 11,400 ft. I laugh when we are in planes sometimes and they announce that we are flying at 11,000 or 12,000 ft. “We LIVE at that altitude!” I
always silently comment. We are FAR above sea level, and this kid wants to build a surfboard! There is no water in sight up here. In fact, we frequently have no water in our pipes, much less water enough to surf or even float somewhere. We don't even have a bathtub!So why does this kid think she needs to build a surfboard?
I still can’t give you the answer to that question. I’m trying to be a supportive mom and be encouraging of creative endeavors, so I haven’t squelched the idea. We’re just not ready to move forward on this project yet, so to speak. But it continues to be in her plans, so it continues to be on my mind.
What is she thinking? What is she going to do with a surfboard?
I was contemplating this when it came to me that Noah’s family probably had some of the same concerns.
What is he talking about? Why does he think we need a boat? There isn’t any water in sight! We obviously aren’t going to need to float anywhere. Has Noah lost his mind?! What are we going to do once we finish building this monstrosity of a boat?
Maybe she knows something we don’t know. Maybe the next big flood is coming (although highly unlikely and unbiblical – God promised not to do that
again). The people here believe in the flood story. There is no denying it, in their minds. Daily we find reminders that this mountain was once covered by the sea. Fossilized shells and sea creatures abound in the rocks that we walk
on. Fossilized coral shelves form layers on the mountain, giant white and grey stripes on the rocky landscape. Yes, the Quechua Wanca people whole-heartedly believe in the flood story. They live amidst solid proof that it occurred. I have always loved that a piece of the Bible story is right here and so real for the Quechua people, and that those connections have always been there for me to use as springboards to sharing more about God and his Word.
Maybe my daughter and Noah have a special spiritual connection,
something that makes them both look out at giant mountains and no water and seepossibilities. Maybe in today’s
world, Noah would have had a surfboard.
I don’t think I’ll suggest that to Sarah – she will try to balance two
goats on her board, then two chickens, then two guinea pigs… Come to think of
it, had she been a boy, we were going to name her Noah James…
As we move through this difficult time of adjustment and transition, we seem to be on a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes excited about new places and new opportunities and new challenges, sometimes so devastated at the thought of leaving the people we love and work with every day, sometimes paralyzed by the idea of picking up and moving again and starting over.
Building new relationships, saying goodbye to old ones. New ministry plans and vision and focus, yet thinking about the ministry here in Peru and praying that the seeds that we planted and fostered will continue to grow and spread. It is just a strange time of ‘in-between’worlds.
This time also causes me to do a lot of reminiscing and thinking back to what my original ideas were when we were transitioning to Peru. I never dreamed that I would be living in a primitive adobe house with no toilet! I never dreamed that my big challenges each day would be whether or not we have water, or whether or not the road would be open, or whether or not there would be grass to feed our goats. There are good things that I never dreamed about, too. I never dreamed that we would start two school programs, that we would have a community greenhouse or that we would have 30 abandoned elderly that we would feed and take care of. I never dreamed that we would teach Bible classes in the public school or that we would build 4 playgrounds in rural Peru.
Another ‘I never dreamed’ moment… One day, when I was well into a full-blown case of pneumonia (for the third time in four years), I was trying to take a shower. It was a miracle that we even had water that day! Our shower is located in an outhouse away from the main adobe structure, so I was pretty isolated and alone. During my shower, I began coughing. My coughing spells had gotten progressively worse over the past few days and left me gasping for air and panicked as to whether or not I would be able to take that next breath. This time, my coughing left me doubled over on the floor of the shower, naked and wet and wondering if this was the end. The thought crossed my mind, “When they find me dead on the floor, I hope Billy comes up with a good cover-up story! This is NOT the way I expected to die on the mission field. I always knew that I could die on the field, but I thought it would be doing something heroic or noble… carrying Bibles into the jungle, or trekking the highest Andes Mountains with locals, or at the hands of an angry
anti-Christian mob. I never thought that I would cough to death on the shower floor! This just won’t do!!! Oh, Billy - Please come up with a better story before my funeral!” I was totally serious. So serious that I laid there and cried.
I laugh about that story now, but it really wasn’t funny then. I spent the
next 5 days in the hospital.
There are so many good memories here. Days when we have spent all day sitting in someone’s field talking while they harvested a crop or sifted wheat or watched their sheep graze. Memories of sitting and embroidering for hours with community ladies, fingers literally bloody because I am so inept at this art form that even 4 year old Peruvians can do. Remembering how my name sounds when twenty preschoolers squeal it at the top of their lungs and run to hug my knees. Remembering watching a tiny‘disabled’ student, Kenyi, as he ran the 50 yard dash for a hundred amazed on-lookers... a miracle in action.
Memories…how will we ever live through the next couple of months? This transition gets harder by the day.
In Genesis 1:26-27, we read that God created man in his own image and
likeness. As a parent, I can somewhat liken this idea to the fact that our children carry our genes and in doing so, carry our image and our likeness. Sometimes they appear more like us than other times, in both physical appearance as well as personality and character
traits. For me, I know that I have been made in God’s image, but sadly I also know that I am a poor image bearer at times. I think of myself as a fruit basket… the basket represents God’s image in me, or you might see it from the perspective that the basket is the Holy Spirit within me. Over time, my basket has grown in its ability to function and to bear
fruit. Sometimes, I am a really capable basket and I bear fruit well: as in Galatians 5:22, sometimes I am doing well, I’m in balance spiritually, and I am doing a decent job of showing love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, the image of God is shining through and I am bearing His image well. Yet, there are other times when I manage to ‘upset the apple cart’, so to speak (forgive the pun). This week was one of those times:
I’ve been having a particularly difficult time with our mission work and a transition that is in process.
It is taking its toll in many ways. I’m WAY out of balance spiritually, emotionally, and physically. And
when I’m out of balance, sin finds an easy foothold. I have been stressed, tired, very emotional, physically in pain… and the
downward spiral is hard to control. So, a couple of days ago, my emotions (and sin) got the best of me and I
became venomous. Suffice to say, I was NOT a good example of the image of God. I was less-than loving, less-than
joyful or peaceful, much less-than patient or kind. I’m positive that goodness was not in me that day, nor was gentleness or
self-control. But what was still there was the image… or the fruit basket. Today, days after upsetting the balance of everything and spoiling all of the good fruits I had, I’m working to restore balance and ask for forgiveness of all who were left in the wake.
No matter what we do or how much trouble we cause or how much the balance is upset, we cannot erase the image of God.
Just as our children cannot erase the genes of their parents and won’t ever lose that inheritance, we cannot lose the image in which we were created. ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the
redemption that came by Christ Jesus’ (Rms. 3:23-24). The image is still there. All have sinned. All have fallen. But the image remains.
As a coach, counselor, and caregiver, I think the message that many need to hear is that ‘it’s not over yet!’ The image
is still there! Through Christ, there is grace - grace enough to allow us to re-balance the basket and begin to
replace the lost fruit. Interesting how fruit was the image in the beginning of sin, but fruit is also the image to
show us how to move forward and be better image bearers. So grateful for grace today, as I work to upright my apple cart…
A few weeks ago, after giving a short talk in Atlanta on the ministry and what we do in Peru, a gentleman asked me, "What do they call you?" I was taken aback by the question for a minute.
"What do you mean, exactly?", I questioned.
"I mean, how do you fit into the community? How do they see you? What place do you hold?"
I had to laugh in thinking about that question again this morning as I watched Billy open the front gate in his bathrobe, giant pipe wrench in hand. A neighbor was outside the gate with a broken pipe fitting and she brought it to Billy to try to pry open. In this case, on this day, we 'fit' into the community as plumbers. Actually, this has happened on many an occasion and the community has come to know Billy as the guy who has all the tools that might be needed, as well as the know-how to fix almost everything. So, I guess a lot of times, Billy is a Fix-it-Man.
Two days ago, a young mother was knocking on our door for advice about her daughter's fever. This, too, happens a lot. When someone needs a bandaid or cotton balls or guaze, first aid help, or minor medical advice, they often come to see us. There is a medical post down the hill (about a 30 minute walk) or up the hill (about a 20 minute walk), but both posts are not manned full-time - only a couple of days a week for a couple of hours. For real medical help, people must go to the next "big town" (a 20 minute drive in a taxi), or go to Huancayo (a 45 minute - 1 hour ride in a taxi or combi van). In the case of mild injuries, first aid, or motherly advice, we are the go-to people. So, sometimes, we hold the position of local community health folks.
We hold other 'roles' as well... sometimes, we are the people who always have eggs. Sometimes, we are the English homework helpers. Sometimes, we are the people who know how to give parasite medicine to animals. We are the people who have an extra pick and shovel to loan out. We have been called on to be the emergency fix-the-broken-water-line people. Occasionally, we are the people who will give the little old ladies a ride down the mountain so they can go to town to shop. Of course, we have always held the roles of teachers and missionaries, but somehow those began to fade away as we built deeper relationships and gained new names and roles.
In our time here, we have been called "Hermano and Hermana" (Christian brother and sister) most often. But we have also had many days that we have been called Professor, Teacher, Pastor, and Doctor. I was especially excited on the day that I was finally called Tia (aunt) by some neighbor children... to be called Tia was a sign that I had finally arrived at the most informal, familial place I could possibly hold. We also became Neighbor and Family during the past year - true milestones.
I'm still not exactly sure how to answer the question posed to me a few weeks ago, "What do they call you?" Seems like a really long list and a long answer! I think that I can sum up all of the above into three names: Family, Neighbor, Friend. And really, that's all I ever wanted to be!
I just returned from spending several days with family. We gathered for the exciting occasion of seeing our oldest son graduate from university. Being missionary parents from 3000 miles away is not easy or fun – we were NOT going to miss out on graduation! Not all of the extended family could come so far away, but several aunts and uncles and cousins, grandmothers, a
great grandmother, sisters and brothers were present.
I have to be honest –generally, the days leading up to these gatherings are brutal for me. I really want to see everyone, but the anticipation of the family dynamics and relationships set me on edge. I am really an
introvert who puts on an extrovert face when out in public. The truth is that one-on-one conversations or small gatherings are much more my style. So the idea of a big family gathering is usually a little unnerving. In the words of my mother, “just the thought makes my neck itch”. I just want everything to go well and for everyone to get along.
As usual, things went great. That’s how it usually happens… I get all stressed and worked up about it, in anticipation of the ‘what ifs’ and the possible scenarios that generally don’t come to pass. Actually, I really enjoyed the time together.
I had a great time catching up on family things that I have missed while out of the country. Spending time sitting and chatting with siblings, watching the cousins hang out together, hearing news about others in the family who couldn’t make it, and
reconnecting. It was great! We were even privileged to meet several of our son’s friends and get to know them a little better – they have become his family, of sorts, and so they are important to us, too.
On the last morning of our visit, the whole gang headed to the IHOP for a farewell breakfast. As we sat there and enjoyed our last moments together for a while, I was ever so tuned in to the variety in the family conversation. Families have a way of talking all over the place and somehow it all connects. During this morning’s conversation, we shared old stories – about the time when Billy broke his ankle jumping out of a friend’s jeep, how that event and the broken ankle later caused our boys to need to crawl under the house and extract the very dead opossum, somehow that story warped into a discussion on a specialized type of amphibian worm-thing that lives underground which was then shown around the table via smart phone internet photos, a discussion on snakes and organ growth, remembering the time that Granny put a live boa in her purse to go into a restaurant because it was too hot to stay in the car, remembering the meteor shower that always occurred during our annual family trip to the farm, recalling the times when they boys blew up various and assorting things in the backyard, etc. Throw into this conversation a couple of sidebars on syrup flavors, remembering when we used to pick strawberries and blueberries and make homemade jellies, a retelling of the story of the squirrel that was kept as a pet and the subsequent other random pets that we all remember, a small side conversation that was an obvious attempt at stirring up family controversy (failed attempt, thank goodness), and a discussion about the beach trip from the day before and the ‘shark sighting’that
turned out to be a plastic whale toy.
I was participating in the conversation, but at the same time, was keenly aware of the diversity and randomness of it all. And the fact that we had a newcomer at the table made me even more aware – Was she thinking that we are all crazy?
How is she viewing this conversation? I had a deep respect for the family ‘culture shock’ that she must be experiencing
during this loco breakfast conversation! I finally decided that if she could live through a weekend family gathering like this, she can do anything!
The weekend finally came to a close and we had to say our goodbyes until our next trip to the USA. I left feeling so blessed to have this family, to have spent these special days together, and to have experienced yet another foray into the art of family conversations. So much
history and relationship was expressed during these days.
Once again, we left our family and friends behind as we headed back to
our mission field of service.
Months, sometimes years, go by between these fun times together. Our hearts hurt deeply as we realized
how much we miss them and long for those crazy, random conversations that say so
much about who we all are.
Can’t wait till Christmas!
What will we talk about then?!