While we were in Texas during July and part of August, we were able to visit with many of you and share some of the stories from our work. You heard stories of work we do with the local church in Spain, within our community, with refugees, and with other workers around the world. Our hearts were warmed by conversations we had with you and by the response you had to our work in hospitality, care and counseling.
Just yesterday, we received the following note and we were asked specifically to please share it with you, our partners and the heroes of this work:
Dear Friends of Laurie and Billy,
Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My name is Tabitha Cox. My husband, Trent
and I just spent 6 weeks at Billy and Laurie Drum’s house in Antequera, while they
traipsed around Texas visiting as many of you as they could. While there, I felt the
urge to write you, their prayer and financial supporters, to say “thank you” for your
support of the Drums and their incredibly multi-faceted ministry both in and out of
Spain. Between refugee work in Greece, church work in Antequera, mentoring and
coaching missionaries all over Europe and the Middle East, as well as new
missionaries about to leave for the field, they pour into countless lives and impact
the nations for Christ in unimaginable ways. And this year, we became one of those
Trent and Billy grew up together in a small town in Texas, but as usually happens,
once kids leave home for college and lives take different paths, they tend to lose
touch. Fast-forward a “good number” of years and, much to the surprise of any
Caddo Mills resident I assure you, both Trent Cox and Billy Drum end up on the
mission field – one in Ethiopia and one in Peru. Yet given that they were with
different organizations on different fields and living quite remote, without normal
telecommunications, they still did not have contact with each other.
Well, that changed last fall when Billy reached out to us with a short message during
a stressful time of political unrest here in Ethiopia, offering prayers and a place to stay
should we need a break. That one-week in October shaped this whole last summer
as Trent decided to take a mini-sabbatical with Billy coaching him through the
preparation and even joining him for the first 3 weeks of walking El Camino de
Santiago. Not that Billy was needing any more work, not that he didn’t have
anything to do for 3 weeks before leaving Spain for the States, but simply because
that’s what they do…help where they can. It doesn’t matter if you’re with another
organization, or on another continent, Billy and Laurie serve everyone selflessly and
Not only that, but they also offered for us to come and stay in their house for the
second half of the sabbatical. They offered their home as a place of rest and refuge.
Now I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many people who would open up
their home to a family of five, but they did. And they did so lovingly and generously.
So again, I want to say “thank you.” By loving and supporting the Drums, you have
done the same for us. You won’t know in this life time how many lives you’ve
touched and how many people you’ve blessed through your partnership with this
fine family: Peruvians, Spaniards, Refugees, and even other missionaries. So please
accept the gratitude of just one of the many beneficiaries. God bless you. Your gifts
are surely a sweet smelling offering to the Lord.
Tabitha and Trent Cox
Friends, we too would like to thank you again and again and again for the faithfulness you have shown to this ministry. Many of you have been supporting us with your prayers and financial gifts since the very beginning. Some of you have joined our team along the way. And some of you are brand new teammates. It takes all of us to do this work around the globe, and we are so honored to be doing it with YOU!
We continue to have other workers and families contact us and ask for a time to come to our home in Spain and receive care and counseling and rest—to take refuge from the storm of life and find warmth and safety and respite. These are people who work in places like the Middle East, East Asia, and other tough areas that we cannot name for security reasons. Because of your generous support and our hands-on hospitality and counseling, we are able to offer healing and renewal that keeps people in the field. Thank you— we thank you, and the people we care for thank you.
PS… not only did Trent and Tabby (Ethiopia) stay in our home and receive respite and retreat this summer while we were away, but our pastor and his family also spent time in our home and were able to have people over to visit and share fellowship and fun times in a different setting. It was fun to return home and hear stories from the congregation about how much fun they had barbequing and sitting on our patio, playing with the dogs, and enjoying our place with our pastor as host. Our home was definitely well-used this summer and we are so happy to have been able to share it with others. I love that our home is a place of safety and rest and community!
We returned to Spain from our time in Texas with bittersweet emotions… so happy to get back to Spain and back to our work and our friends and family here, but also it is always tough to leave friends and family behind in Texas and say ’adios’ until the next time we get to come Stateside.
We left on a sunshiny day and a small tropical storm was floating around in the Gulf. Just three days later, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey began his assault on our beloved homeland. We have amazed and been deeply saddened by the news reports that continue to scroll across our news feed.
One of our sons (Ryan), lived in Corpus Christi and evacuated as Harvey upgraded to a Category 3. Both he and his girlfriend Sara are staying in my mother’s home for now. On Wednesday (before Harvey hit), they had been given 30 days notice that their apartment building had been sold and they were being evicted as the new owners take over the building. Now, evacuated and with no apartment to return to, they are permanently seeking a new life and living space in College Station. This is a time of upheaval, transition, and grief for them as they leave the place that has been home for many years (10 years for Ryan, and a lifetime for Sara).
Miles and Hattie and our yet-unborn granddaughter Lily ♥ (news flash!!!) live in the Montgomery area. Their apartment building’s bottom floor was reached by an over-full Lake Conroe, but they did not have to evacuate. They have, however, lost work hours due to being cut off from road travel—work hours that this young couple CANNOT afford to lose! It takes every penny to pay the rent and doctors and buy groceries. There is not enough each month, and there certainly isn't any extra. This is a time of great stress for them.
In the midst of all of this, it is so hard to be so far from Texas and our loved ones. As care and counselor people, it is hard not to be there to listen to stories and help people navigate their feelings and grief and all that comes during these times. As hospitality people, it is hard not to be there, opening our doors to others and doing all that we can to feed people, provide for people, and care for those who need a safe place to land and regroup and recover. This is what we DO! And it’s so hard to not physically be THERE to DO IT!!! *silently screaming*
It is, however, warming our hearts to see so many of our friends and neighbors rising to the occasion and doing just that… serving and loving and caring for their neighbors. Some of YOU, our partners (we already knew you were the best!), have been in the big fat middle of this crisis. You have gone down to affected areas and physically rescued people. You have literally opened your doors and given up bedrooms and seats at your dinner table. You have made your homes and businesses places of hospitality and giving. You have taken donations of goods to distribution centers. You have personally gone out to serve the rescuers and those in staging areas. YOU ARE AWESOME! We knew you were! And the fact that you are serving makes us both proud and makes us feel, in some way, connected to our greater Texas family.
Your heart should be touched to know that your Spain friends are concerned for Texas. News reports of the storms and devastation have gone international and our friends are watching. We have had many of our Spanish friends contact us and ask about you. Everyone here knows that we are Texans—we don’t even remotely hide it! We wear our Texas heritage like a banner! Actually, it is a literal banner… we have a Texas flag hanging on the front porch of our home in Spain! Several times each day, friends have sent us texts to check on our mothers and our families. Those who have met some of you when you have come to visit us in Spain have asked about you by name. They have seen photos of flooded churches and homes and they want to know that ‘our people’ are okay. In a very real sense, they consider you brothers and sisters, family in Christ. You are being prayed for and loved. Please know that!
Continue on, Friends. Continue serving. Continue loving your neighbors. Continue to take care of each other. Know that you are loved!!!
Many of you shared your prayers and love with us as we grieved the loss of Sarah’s best friend, Rompeolas. Sarah saved her birthday money and Christmas money for 10 years with only one goal in mind—to buy a horse of her own. In Spain, that dream came true when Sarah bought a beautiful, well-trained Anglo-Arabian horse named Rompeolas (Wave Breaker). Together, they trained and competed in show jumping and spent countless hours together in the country. Sadly, in February, the vet began seeing signs of a liver issue. By March, our beloved Rompeolas was suffering and losing weight and the vet announced that there was nothing more that could be done—she had to be put down. Moments later, we were saying tearful goodbyes to a dear member of our family. Many of you sent condolences and said to let you know when Sarah would be ready to find a new horse. If you would like to be a part of getting Sarah back in the saddle, you can send gifts electronically to https://paypal.me/billydrum and we will give your gift to Sarah.
leave of absence.
a temporary release from a place of employment.
Most overseas workers, be they humanitarian aid workers or military people or folks like us, have a designated time period every so often when they are released from their station. In some workplaces, this time is called “furlough”. Because most people have only used that word in the military sense, it conjures up the mental picture of rest and relaxation and soldiers on vacation. Allow us to share what furlough is for us.
Furlough is a four letter word.
Actually, furlough is a series of four-letter words.
Rest: Yes, this is a time of rest for us. Rest from our normal routines and roles. In a perfect world, we will have actual physical rest during this time. But we all know that this isn’t a perfect world. So rest takes serious intentionality and planning and work.
Work: We actually do have to take care of some business and work while we are in the States. Our care roles have not stopped, because people don’t stop needing care while we are in Texas. Billy continues to meet with his coaching appointments and counseling calls via Skype. We continue to work with the Member Care Team and the TMS Europe team. And we keep touch with the work and relationships we have back in Spain. We even continue to host people in our home.
Host: While we are in Texas, we are also hosting a family in our home in Spain. They are on sabbatical from the work they do in Ethiopia, and we offered them our home as a place to escape and rest during the summer.
Chat – Meet: This is a time of meeting up with people, going out to lunch or dinner or out for coffee. It’s a time of reconnecting with friends and partners. It’s a time for long chats over good food and drink. It’s a time of laughter around the dinner table. And it’s a time to meet new friends.
Team: This is also a time for us to meet with our existing team – the people who partner with us
financially and prayerfully, the people who are the backbone of the ministry. Without these heroes, we could not do the work we do! This is a time for us to speak to the church congregations that support us and a time to meet with the individuals who partner with us, to hug necks and say thank you and share the stories from the field. It is also a time to find new partners, a time to meet new people and share the vision and the work and give people the opportunity to join us and become members of the best team around!
Road / fuel: While we are in The States, we are not static. We have friends and family and partners all over the place! The home office is in Atlanta. We have family from Colorado to the tip top of Texas to all the way down to the coast and everywhere in between. We have ministry partners in even more places than we can count. And we do not own a vehicle. Thanks to a wonderful friend and team partner, we have a truck on loan for our time here. We cannot take a loaned vehicle to all the places we know folks, so we are consolidating visits to keep the mileage down and the fuel costs lower. Even so, we will log at least 2500 - 3000 miles in our few weeks here. Thank goodness fuel is cheaper here than in Spain!!!
Help / give back: This is also a time to help and to give back to our community and to the churches and people who are so faithful to our team. A couple of our partners are active in local missions and have asked us to visit and to help them by giving them a different set of ‘eyes’ on the situation. We are helping to facilitate some coaching conversations around next steps for those local groups.
Bottom line – our time in the States is not exactly a time of release from work. Is there any time for rest and play? Yes. We have carved out time each week, time that we have intentionally protected and put boundaries on so that we can get some rest and some down-time. We have a great partner who hosted us at their ranch in the country for a couple of days, and we will be headed off for a few days of Texas country time in North Texas next week. We were in the USA for the 4th of July for the first time in ten years, so we took advantage of time to enjoy picnics and fireworks.
Body: Our bodies are paying for all this USA food! Texas barbeque, good hamburgers, Mexican food, and Blue Bell ice cream. It’s all just too good, and comfort food is usually not great for the waistline. PS…it’s HOT here! Like, ridiculous hot! Our daily walk and exercise routine has taken a major hit due to heat and humidity.
Haze: If we look like we are walking around in a haze, we probably are. Things feel a little fragmented during this time. Our normal routine is off. We’re trying to juggle family and friends and speaking and work roles. For some reason, everything seemed to hit crisis mode just as we packed to come back to the States. Our water well at our home in Spain is at a critical state – it’s almost dry. Our landlord was murdered the day before we left. We are hosting people in our home in Spain while we are 5000 miles away. Our sons here both have their own issues with vehicles and jobs and living arrangements. Both our mothers are moving households. None of those things are within our control, but that doesn’t make them less stressful. There is a lot on our plate, and trying to balance that with meetings and speaking to groups and get some rest and renewal… it’s just proving to be a little difficult. Busy is not good for the soul. Fear is not good for the soul. Stress is not good for the body for the soul. So, yeah, we might look a little hazy.
Love: We love Texas. We love our families. We love our team and our partners and all the folks we represent, the people who pray for us, the people who recognize us and run over and hug our necks. We love being here. We also love Spain. We love our friends and our church family there. We love our leadership development work. We love caring for people in far away places, people who put their life and love on the line every day for the sake of others. This time of ‘furlough’ is about telling the stories, about sharing with friends and family, about being present and listening. And, as always, it’s about LOVING WELL.
Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ~Matthew 22: 37-39
The countdown is on. It's almost time. We are packing and getting things ready. Very soon we will head back to The States for homeland assignment, that couple of months that we spend back in our passport country every 2 years or so. It's a time to reconnect with family and friends, with all the people who support us and partner with us, with church, with culture, with all that is 'home' in Texas. It's an exciting time for us, but also a terrifying time. For different reasons. I'll go in to some of them here over the next couple of weeks. The exciting and the terrifying things about going 'home':
Church – Going back to Texas always means we get to go “home” to church. Yes, we go to church all the time in Spain, but there is nothing quite like going back to your home church. Seeing old friends, hearing the organ and the choir, saying the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed or singing the Doxology (no – we don’t say any of those in our church – in Spain or in Peru). There is something very meaningful about worshiping in your first language, about not having to think through the cultural nuances of everything that is being said in your second language. It just feels like ‘home’. On more than one occasion, I have been known to shed a few tears standing in church back in the USA as a familiar hymn was played.
Culturally, sometimes it is a little hard to go back to church in The States. There are some things that we have adapted to very deeply after 10 years overseas. Like music, for instance. It is very odd to be standing in our home church and hearing a song in English, and realizing that we no longer can remember the words in English! We have sung it so often in Spanish, that it now sounds really foreign in English! Weird! And most popular contemporary worship songs, anything that has come out in the last 10 years, we actually learned in Spanish and NOT in English – so we don’t even know the words in English.
Another tough one is timing. In both Peru and in Spain, music is the first part of the service and it lasts a good 45 minutes to an hour, at least 8 songs. Then the preaching follows, and it, too, lasts about 45 minutes to an hour. So we are quite accustomed to that pace now. It’s a little bit of a shock to the system to sing one or two songs and then sit down. And to hear a 20 minute sermon. Just when my mind and my body started to get good and engaged, it’s all over! In Spain, when we have been asked to share about some mission work that is going on or a need or an outreach, we are expected to use a minimum of 20 minutes to share. In The States, we are lucky to be given the Minute for Mission spot in any church we go to, and we are warned to not go over 5 minutes. *sigh* If we are asked to preach or teach in Spain, we have at least 45 minutes. Oh, USA… fast and furious is not always warm or relational. It just feels hurried, and frankly, I’ve had enough of ‘hurry’ in my life. I’m concerned with connection and relationship nowadays.
I have missed my home church, the traditions, the church family. I have missed going in to have coffee and a cookie and hug a few necks before and after the service. I’ve missed watching the little ones run down the aisle for the children’s sermon. I’ve missed being a part of our Sunday School class and our small group community. I’ve missed pot luck dinners. Yes, I think I’m ready to go home and be a part of my home congregation again for a while. I’m ready to reconnect.
Food - Oh my gosh! Food! I’m really excited to get to Texas and eat some good ‘home’ food. People ask us all the time about typical foods from home, and it’s a tough question to answer because most of our favorites aren’t really from Texas at all. I miss Mexican food. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish food is NOT the same as Mexican food. Just because both speak Spanish does not mean cultural foods are alike. For one thing, the majority of Spaniards do not like really spicy foods. So you can forget a good jalapeño or habanero salsa. We made salsa last month for a meal we had for a mix of North Americans and Spaniards and all the local friends were fanning their mouths and fussing at me because it was too hot. I happen to be really lucky to have a wonderful Mexican friend who lives here in Spain, and she keeps us from going crazy for lack of Mexican food. And praise Jesus, can that woman cook!!! So, I haven’t died from lack of good enchiladas yet, but I’m still really looking forward to the Beto Plate at La Casita – just sayin’.
Other foods we are ready for – chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes and cream gravy (no kidding, my mouth just gushed), Texas barbeque, hot wings and blue cheese dressing, and, Katy bar the door – get me to some crawfish etouffee and some boudin! And did I mention Blue Bell? DEFINITELY some Blue Bell!
You’ve probably already guessed why I’m terrified to go ‘home’ and visit all my favorite foods. I’m going to gain a gazillion pounds! It’s very common for mission workers on furlough to gain weight. Aside from the fact that we eat all our favorite things, our bodies are no longer used to the North American diet. In Spain, we eat more of a European / Mediterranean diet. And our food hours are vastly different. Lunch is never before 2pm, and dinner is at 9:30pm or so. Lunch is the big, cooked, family meal of the day. Dinner is very small and very late. No going to bed with a heavy stomach. We use exclusively olive oil. Spaniards don’t cook with butter and almost never use it on bread. Lots of chicken and fish and pork, almost never beef. There are very few preservatives in foods. Some preservatives that are used in the USA are actually banned in Europe. And there is little to no fast food in our town. Eating on the go is taboo. There is only one drive-thru here (McDonalds) and it is outside of town. Basically, our entire digestive system gets flip flopped when we hit American soil.
A friend once said, “It tastes real good at the time, but so does sin… and we all know where that leads.” HA! It’s true that if I was a big girl and would control myself when all those yummy foods pass in front of me, then I wouldn’t have a problem. It’s true that I have the option of saying no, or eating healthy. But it’s also true that I only get to go home once every two years… and who wants to say no to Blue Bell Cookie Dough Ice Cream on a hot Texas summer day? And that Beto Plate – it has been calling my name since 2015, the last time I was home.
Maybe duct tape? Or a mask?
I’m so ready to go see my favorite bookstores! And guess what – they will be FULL of books in ENGLISH! And there will be a huge selection. And I won’t have to try to look them up on Amazon and then realize that the title is not being released in Spain, or that it won’t ship outside the USA, or that there isn’t a Kindle version available. Oh, you have no idea how lucky you are to have bookstores full of English books available to you! For the past 10 years, my best bet for finding books has been to shop the airports when I am traveling. Airports have a halfway decent selection of books in English, and by “decent selection” I mean that you can usually find the top ten on the best seller list. But more than ten or so, not so much. And airport bookstores are pricey. So we spend our layover time perusing the shelves and reading the book jackets in ENGLISH (*giddy giggles). If it sounds like a good one, we jot down the info and try to find it on our Kindles. A good stand-in for the lack of bookstores in my country is the lost and found section at hotels or the swap library in hotel lobbies. I have picked up a couple of really decent reads in hotel lobbies and left one behind for someone else. But none of it compares to sitting in a real, honest to goodness bookstore – cup of coffee in hand, no schedule, just wandering and looking and sitting down to a stack of things that looks really interesting. My husband and I used to go on Barnes and Nobel dates (we’re cheap) where we would go in, get a cup of Starbucks from the café, and then roam around the store for hours.
The downside to all of this is the temptation… I will want lots of books(“I NEEEEEEEEEED this one!”), but books are heavy. Like, real heavy. Seasoned travelers and movers know that a couple of books can make or break that weight limit on your baggage at the airport. So, I probably will suffer more than a little grief over books I won’t buy. My Kindle is a lifesaver and is my only source for most reading material overseas, but at heart, I’m a real paper hardcopy book kinda girl. Give me the real thing, with real pages to turn and savor. But, thank you, Kindle, for being an awesome substitute.
A good bookstore date (or 2, or 5)… I’m really excited about that!
*Stay tuned for the next installment... coming soon!
The only source of knowledge is experience. ~Albert Einstien
In April, as most of you were enjoying your Easter Sunday complete with new church outfit and brunch and flowers and egg hunts, a group of eight Texans boarded planes and crossed the ocean to come and see and experience and learn the answer to the question, “Why Spain?” Why is Spain a place for mission work? What is the state of the church and the culture and the people?
Eight inquisitive minds spent a week here to dig deeper in to the history of Spain, specifically the religious history of Spain. We visited sites from many different time periods and religious backgrounds. This group may have been little, but they were mighty in their pursuit of knowledge! We visited synagogues and mosques and cathedrals. We learned about Romans and Visigoths and Moors and the Spanish Catholic Kings. Sadly, we learned much about war.
“What we learned about Spain’s religious history was most surprising. We were expecting a country with a large practicing Catholic population. But what we found were empty churches, and many smaller towns with no active church – either Catholic or protestant,” recounts Marilyn.
“I was so saddened and burdened by the lasting harm that has been done by religion in Europe,” says Donna.
She was referring to the history and it’s lasting effect on the culture here. Many people today do not wish to have anything to do with religion or with the church because of the long-standing history here. Several local friends have had this discussion with us. Locals openly say, “Why would I want to have anything to do with the church? Religion leads to fighting and war. It always has. From the beginning of Spanish history, we’ve seen nothing but war based on religion. And we’ve watched the church play politics and cause extortion and oppression. Pfff! I want nothing to do with that!” Sadly, this is the truth for many here. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? Remember the years of forced conversions and torture in the name of religion? And most recently, the Spanish Civil War and a dictatorship. Religion has not been a bed of roses in Spain.
“What impacted us most was the dinner and conversations we had with your local church leadership team. Bernardo’s testimony of what happened to him as a young man in the Catholic church was startling. What the church did to him… if you did not worship in the exact way the church leaders demanded you to, or if you questioned why… to hear that he was physically removed from the church during an active mass in front of everyone, that he was slapped in the face at the altar and physically dragged and kicked out the door. Then to hear the story of the other woman, Maricarmen… how she read the Bible in her home and the priest admonished her because common people are not allowed to read the Scriptures. How the priests took Bibles away from people and piled them up and burned them in the churchyard. This did not happen 1000 years ago – it happened in the 1970s! I was amazed to sit and hear these stories from people my age. I did not realize that Spain did not have religious freedom until 1978. Wow!”
Donna adds, “Seeing all the communities where there is no presence of a healthy church… it’s staggering. The numbers of people in the tens of thousands just in the small radius of travel that we did. So many people who don’t know Jesus! I’m reminded of the verse that the fields are ripe for the harvest, but the workers are few. Who will go?”
It is true. 26% of Spaniards consider themselves atheists. Only 7% of Europeans say faith is an important value for them, while only 3% of Spaniards say faith is an important value. From the 1930s to the 1970s, Spain was a dictatorship with mandatory Catholicism as its religious base. By the fall of the dictatorship, people felt extreme oppression by the church and began the exodus. Now, while amazing cathedrals are on every corner, they are mostly empty. And protestant churches are few and far between – many protestant churches are small congregations (less than 100) and are mostly found in the urban hubs. Small towns dot the Spanish countryside, each within a 10-20 mile radius of the next, but you can drive for hours and not find a congregation of believers.
Patricia shared her thoughts, “I grew up saying a little hand rhyme:
‘Here is the church, here is the steeple; Open the door and see all the people.’
But by putting the hands together a different way, it all changes:
‘Here is the church, here is the steeple; Open the door, but where are the people?’
“Empty buildings. That’s what I saw. Empty cathedrals and churches. The reality of what has happened in Spain because people were forced – by politics, by power, and by greed. If you dictate to people what they must think, if you don’t allow for any discussion or respect for differences or thought, if you silence people, you will just drive them away from the church. And in just a few years, no one is interested in being involved in the church because it caused them so much pain and loss of freedom, loss of speech, just loss.”
So, what was the big take away from the trip for these eight team members?
“All week I was learning about this history and the effects on the church and faith here, and I was wondering how a missionary can spread the good news in a country where religion has been so damaging and misrepresented? Billy and Laurie and their church leadership team desire to witness the Truth to their community. They said that living by Jesus’ example, by loving your neighbor, good conversations, gaining respect, small steps – Jesus will open the hearts of people,” commented Ernie.
Another team member replied, “It was amazing for me to learn about the culture and history and religious influences in Spain. It gave me a greater appreciation for the work in Antequera and how to demonstrate what life looks like as Jesus followers. In fact, that’s a new term I’m using now. I realize how the word Christian has been used to damage others and it is now having a negative effect on people. I am personally working more diligently to be a follower of Jesus. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the mission work in Spain and the impact the Drum family is making on the church and the community there.”
Amanda added, “When Paul went to the Gentiles, he was ministering to a people whose culture was different than his own. When he went to others, he approached them via their own culture. In my psychology career, I know how important culture is in order to relate to others. This trip has really solidified that understanding for me in terms of what cross-cultural workers do for The Kingdom. I think, as believers, we need to understand the uniqueness God has gifted each culture with. Our job isn’t to change their culture to be more like us or to fit our idea of what it means to be a Christian, but rather to help them see what it means to be a Christian within their culture, and use that uniqueness to His glory.”
Please pray for healing; for God to heal generations of wounds caused in the name of religion. Pray for Jesus to find unique ways to come alongside people and love them well, to meet them where they are, and to warm their hearts with his love.
We are THOSE parents. The parents who didn’t show up to the birthday party. The parents who left early. The parents who didn’t send money. You know the ones…
One of the hardest things about doing what we do is that we are no longer living in a culture where we know all the rules. We don’t always understand the unwritten norms, the subtle innuendos, or how to do things the ‘right way’. Because we’re the immigrant parents. We’re the parents who didn’t grow up here. We’re the people who are sitting in the parent meeting with a classroom full of other parents and we’re trying desperately to keep up with the vocabulary. Except for the two parents who are a doctor and a dentist, we probably have more years of higher education and more degrees than anyone else in the room – yet we are definitely struggling to keep up and we leave every meeting with more questions than when we walked in.
My first realization of this was several years ago, back in Peru, when my daughter was beginning her foray in to the education system. Just registering her for school was a challenge. I suddenly realized that there was a huge difference between every day conversational Spanish and professional level Spanish vocabulary. The next big hurdle was the school supply list and the shopping that ensued. Guess what, folks – there are MANY different words for specific types of papers and pencils and notebooks, none of which were taught to us in language school! So, there I was, THAT parent… the one who is standing in the school supply aisle looking confused and bewildered and asking the five year old to help translate the list. The one that finally, in a fit of desperation, after an hour of confusion, just hands the entire list to the sales person and says “Help me, please.” Yep, that was me.
Need I remind you that I was a school teacher for 15 years?! A Master Teacher, at that! I was Team Leader. I was the Science Department Head. I was a trainer for student teachers and was a mentor to new ones as they began their careers. Yet, there I was, in tears in the school supply aisle, begging a five year old for help and surrendering my list and my cash to a sales girl.
Y’all… being the immigrant parent IS NOT EASY! It’s a huge blow to your dignity and identity. It’s constantly being the parent who doesn’t get it. It’s constantly praying that you can ask an intelligent question without embarrassing your kid or yourself, all the while realizing that you are a highly educated person back in your home culture. But here, in your new culture, you’re THAT parent… the one who doesn’t ever understand and makes a gazillion mistakes. The one who’s child is having to translate the permission slip before you sign it, because the vocabulary is WAY above your pay grade.
I’m thinking about this today because I’m having yet another one of those moments. It’s probably the umpteenth one in the last few weeks. Two weeks ago, I sat in another parent meeting and listened to the instructions for the 3-day field trip. Once again, I caught most of it, but still managed to miss enough that I was forced to ask questions to other parents around me. Thank Goodness, there is one parent in the class who is always super nice and willing to help me understand and fill in the gaps. Who makes sure that I heard the part about packing a sack lunch or sending an extra drink. And still, I miss things and I make mistakes.
This weekend, our daughter was invited to a surprise birthday party for a church friend. The birthday boy was turning 16. My only information for this party came through a text message invitation to my daughter. She was to bring 3 euros to help with a group gift. Be at the church at 7pm. That’s it. So, we thought, "teens, gathering at the church = good deal" and we planned to go out on a little date night while she was at the party. It wasn’t until we went to pick her up that we realized there were other parents there. Hmmm. Then, the next day at church, one of the parents was fussing because so few people came to support the party. Then another parent was complaining that people were so busy with their own agendas that they didn’t come – just sent their kid. Oops…I think that’s me. Once again. The unwritten rules bite me in the booty.
THOSE parents (*eye roll, sigh*).
Today, our daughter is receiving an award at school. The award ceremony is mid-day. She tells me that it is only for students and teachers, it’s an in-school assembly – no parents are invited. She swears that she doesn’t have to dress up or anything, her gym clothes are fine (it’s PE day). And yet, here I sit, praying that I’m not missing something; praying that we aren’t proven to be THOSE parents again today. Again, I’m feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing, like I’m failing at parenthood. Even though I have lived in the Spanish-speaking world for 10 years now, I still don’t always get it. No amount of cross-cultural teaching and language school can prepare you for the unwritten rules.
Being an immigrant parent is hard.
*UPDATE: We didn't miss anything - hallelujah! It really was an in-school awards assembly and there really were no parents there. All is well with the world... this time.
Sad news from our home. We had to put Sarah’s horse, Rompeolas, to sleep. She was not eating well and losing weight. The vet had done blood tests and found a problem with her liver, which we had hoped to combat with a special diet and some medication. But it turned out to be a terminal condition. She was very weak and was obviously not well. On a Friday morning in March, we went to the stalls to find she was having trouble breathing and was in shock. Her body was shutting down. The vet came and gave us no option but to do the humane thing. We went to get Sarah from school so she could say goodbye and hold her as they gave her the injections to put her to sleep. Very sad time around here. Lots of tears. Lots of grief. Sarah has lost her best friend and teammate and is now without her much loved buddy and her sport. She had saved her money for 10 years to buy her horse and is now starting over after only having Rompeolas for one year. Please remember Sarah in your prayers.
We recently spent some time in Jordan so we could get face-to-face with the work going on there, and to visit and encourage our peers. We visited a clinic run by dear friends. The clinic serves many refugee communities. We also visited a school run by other peers. The school serves as a hub for people in the community to come and learn not only English, but to also study holy books together. We also went to several historical sites and had some cultural learning time.
One of my dearest friends in the area told me to call her buddy, Mohammed, and get him to take us around Petra. Mohammed is Bdoule (a Bedouin tribal people) who was born in a cave in the ancient city of Petra. The Bdoule around Petra hail from the Huwaitat tribe, direct descendants of the Nabateans and therefore are the rightful heirs to Petra and this land. However, since UNESCO awarded Petra with world heritage status in 1985, the Jordanian government removed the Bdoule from the archaeological site and their land in order to protect it. The mountains continue to be inhabited by Bdoule people today, although most have been moved to a nearby community that was specifically built for them by the government, known as Umm Sayhoun. Many continue to practice their cultural way of life, choosing to sleep in the desert caves and herd sheep and goats in the surrounding hills. My friend gave me Mohammed’s contact information and said, “Give him a call! He’s the best! You’ll love him! Tell him *Karen sent you, we’re good friends.” All the while, I’m thinking that this sounds unreal. Am I really going to call up a random Bedouin guy and tell him *Karen sent me? And then meet up with him, sight unseen, and go off in to the Jordanian desert on a donkey? Evidently so.
We did call Mohammed and I had my doubts. What are the odds that Mohammed the Bedouin guy is going to actually be there when we arrive at the designated meeting spot? What are the odds that he is trustworthy and safe – safe enough to just jump on donkeys and head off in to the desert with him? Rest assured - after a day full of hiking and riding donkeys in the desert, learning about the history of the area and seeing these amazing historical sights through the eyes of a true local, a man who was actually born and raised in this very spot, we were more than pleased to have met Mohammed! *Karen’s friend was a gem and we had a wonderful day with him in his element.
When it was time to head home at the end of the day, Mohammed said, “I’ll take you home the back way. We will ride out the other side of Petra and take the donkeys home. This is the area no tourists get to see.” So off we went, through more rugged terrain, more caves, and more desert. We came out in Umm Sayhoun, the community where many of the Bdoule now live. We dismounted our trusty donkey mounts and they all turned their faces toward home and walked themselves through the streets. Mohammed said, “They know where they live. They’ll go home alone.” Mohammed put us in his truck and drove us back to the place where we were spending the night.
Before we got out of the truck, Mohammed asked what we were doing for dinner. We hadn’t made plans yet, so he invited us to go out in to the desert with him again, to watch the sunset over Petra, and to enjoy a traditional Bedouin meal. If Billy Drum has a life motto, it is probably, “Never turn down a traditional meal, especially not one cooked on a campfire under the stars!”
By far, this was our favorite part of the day. First of all, you just can’t beat a sunset… never, on any given day, can you do better than a God-breathed sunset! And to watch it while standing in the desert mountains between Petra and the Jabal Haroun ("Aaron's Mountain") was priceless. After sunset, we went to sit around the campfire, where we met up with Mohammed’s brother and two other men of the family. One of them looked like he could have been Moses’ brother, quite elderly (yet still able to sit fully cross-legged on a rock) and smoking. Both of these men were fully dressed in the traditional heavy full-length Bedouin dishdash robe and headscarf.
We were immediately given glasses of hot tea with mint that had just come from the kettle on the fire. I’m positive that our glasses were refilled at least three times - I thought I might float away on mint tea! Then they took our glasses and served tea for themselves. Guests first - Hospitality first, always. I so love the emphasis on hospitality in this culture.
As we warmed ourselves by the fire and waited for dinner to cook, we talked with Mohammed and his brother, Abraham. Mohammed had talked with us freely all day long, but in his brother’s presence, he was subdued and took his place in the family as second in line. Abraham was the leader of conversation for the night.
We discussed life in Petra, life as a Bedouin, and life in general. Abraham entertained us with history and shared stories with us about ancient times in the area. We were sitting in the desert below the area where it is believed that Aaron, Moses’ brother, died and was buried. And that began quite a conversation – a conversation that I never dreamed I would have! Never would I have ever believed it possible to sit around a campfire with several Jordanian Bedouin men and discuss stories from our holy heritage, but there we were, doing just that!
Abraham asked us if we knew of Moses.
“Yes”, we said. “We know stories of Moses. These stories are in our holy book.”
“Yes they are”, replied Abraham. They are in your Book of Exodus. We also have stories of Moses and Aaron in our book.”
We responded, “We have many stories in common. Many of our prophets are also prophets in your Quran. And your namesake, Abraham, is in our book.”
He smiled. “Yes, and your name, Sarah (pointing at our Sarah), is from that same story.”
And so the door was open, and we went on in to the evening, discussing Moses and Aaron and many other stories that we have in common. We are trained for these conversations, we study for these conversations, we always hope for an open door to these conversations, but it is still amazing and breathtaking when we actually find ourselves sitting IN THESE CONVERSATIONS! Divine appointments and blessed interactions. Two different faith foundations finding common ground and building bridges together.
We dined on an absolutely amazing meal of chicken, potatoes, eggplant, onions, and whole heads of garlic, all cooked under the campfire; literally, under the campfire in a pit that was covered with wood and set ablaze an hour ago. We sat on the ground, cross-legged, and ate with our hands straight from the pit that cooked our meal. It was glorious!
After dinner, as the fire died down and the evening was coming to a close, I asked Abraham one last question. “What do you like the most about Bedouin life and culture?”
Without hesitation, he responded, “That’s simple. We live a simple life. The more simple your life, the more happiness in your heart. We are simple people. We have only a few things, not many things. We live simply. This makes us very happy. It’s good to live a simple life.”
In our initial training so many years ago, we are told to live out our lives as a witness. I've always admired St. Frances who said ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.’ The way we live speaks so much louder than our actual words. I try to do that, but sometimes I let life get in the way. I unintentionally ignore my neighbor. I get frustrated at someone in traffic and respond in a way that is not appealing. I say things that I wouldn't want my children hearing or repeating. No, I am not perfect. I don’t think any of us are.
There are those times, though, when something does shine through; where you do make a difference; where you do exemplify the gospel through living your life well.
I got a glimpse of this in action this month. It happened during a time of prayer. Actually it began before that. I was preparing breakfast and I received a message on WhatsApp. "Hola" (Hello) was all it said and no name was associated with it, so I was suspicious. Then I noticed that the number was from Peru and I thought that maybe it was someone I knew from our time there, so I asked “who is this?”. I was not prepared for what followed.
The message was from a former neighbor. We knew him during the time we lived in Huancayo. He is now 14 years old, but when we lived next door to him, he was around 5 or 6 years old. He used to come over and play with Sarah at our house. We always fixed a snack for the kids and had backyard play time together.
In the subsequent messages, he told me how he was hoping for a better life and how hard it was for his family now - his younger brother and his mother. A few years ago, his mother took the kids and fled from the father due to the abuse. We had suspected that was happening all those years ago, but the system in Peru is not in favor of interfering in family violence cases and there was nothing we could do. There was physical and emotional abuse and oppression. His mom was not permitted to earn an education because the father said she couldn't. They now live in a small one room apartment with her working at whatever she can find.
He told me how much it had meant those many years ago to play at our house with Sarah. His words were "I felt safe. I knew that you cared". It struck me that all these years later this young man took the time to contact me. I know that during that time many years ago, I probably did not say anything intelligible to him in Spanish! It was our first year on the field and we were still working hard to learn the language. In fact, I probably didn't say a lot to him at all, as he was busy playing and running around the house. The thing that I did do is live out the gospel for him. He saw a glimpse of the Kingdom in our family and it was something that he liked. He saw kindness and ‘love your neighbor’ acted out daily.
During our text chat I was able to counsel him some and to pray for him. I now have a chance to stay in touch and in some way continue what God started in him almost 10 years ago. We have texted back and forth quite a lot over the past month. Who knew that my Whatsapp texting app on my phone would become such a link between worlds?! Josue has started asking me deeper questions about faith and life. He’s open and he’s seeking and he needs someone who feels safe and will talk to him. So, I’m here, on Whatsapp on my cell phone, connecting to Peru and to Josue and a relationship that was started 10 years ago over toys and games and cookies and juice. ~Billy
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the princess Sarah (13) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in el campo in Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!