Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love 'em, Dread 'em, or ...?

What do you do about Sundays?  I remember the conflict dh* and I had back in our infamous “Jungle Camp” training, when the leaders disallowed Sunday services as a group.  The intent was to train us to find our own ways of worshiping and self-feeding, considering most of us would be allocated to places without the option of an English church service.

There we sat with open Bible and a tiny baby in our arms, trying to “do church” by ourselves.  Of course the luggage restriction (one suitcase and one apple box apiece) had been filled with cloth diapers and baby things, so we had failed to bring even a small hymnal.  It was an awkward and unrewarding experience each Sunday of “camp.”

Sure enough, once we arrived in our Guatemalan village assignment, we were faced with the reality of no viable church options.  Often we attempted “church” by ourselves at home.  Sometimes we were blessed to receive sermon tapes from supporting churches.  Then the post office went on strike and we received nothing for many weeks and months, forcing our return to sleeping in on Sundays self-feeding again.

Other times we attempted to join local indigenous church services.  Those were always educational for learning about the people and culture, but rather disappointing if we had hoped to actually worship.  For me, it was the slow torture of sitting on a hard bench with no backrest, trying to keep a one-year-old quiet in the women’s section, while Jim sat across the room with the men, unable to help me out.

Being pregnant at the time, those long services always meant at least one trip to the outhouse with a toddler in tow, and then convincing him (and myself) to go back into the tightly packed pew reeking of the same cook-fire smoke and sweaty feet that sent me to the outhouse in the first place.

Then there was the Sunday we were in the Mam-speaking church, and my baby suddenly decided it would be fun to start showing off his “what-does-the-Indian-say?” trick, patting his little hand over his mouth while making LOUD woo-woo-woo-woo noises.  One by one the other toddlers and babies started copying him. 

Watching to see how the other mothers handled it, I saw them give their papoose (colorfully typical “Mobi” wrap) a tight yank, whereupon each child became quiet instantly.  Not mine.  I had to waddle out into the dirt yard, sit on a stone, and wait out the service with my incorrigible (though amusing) baby.

Those were the days…. Since then we have tried Union Church, home church, local church, Mexican church in the city, and everything in between.  Currently we are back to another “union church” of sorts, using podcast sermons from the Internet, which we watch and discuss with other ex-pats in our community. 

At one point we recognized the irony that we had come to this country so indigenous people could worship in their own language – yet we were requiring our own dc* to worship in their second language.

How about you?  How do you feel about Sundays?  Love ‘em?  Dread ‘em?  Or are they just one more painful reminder that “We’re not in Kansas any more”?

IRL:  For me, “sleeping in on Sunday” is still a weekly temptation no matter where we live.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Speaking of Missy's OVARIES.... (a.k.a. "How Annoying is Your Fish Bowl?")

Once I heard an American complain about all the rude foreigners at Disney World who pushed right into him as he patiently waited in line for the rides.  North Americans have an enormous bubble surrounding them, which they fully expect strangers to respect. 

Touching is perceived as pushing. 

Most global workers eventually adapt our concept of “personal space” so we can survive without being so prickly with those we came to reach, where personal space is an almost non-existent concept.  However, what about emotional space?  Have any of you experienced the trauma of having a very personal issue treated rudely?

Today I am calling on the collective wisdom of our WOTH readers to address a tender subject: how do you handle infertility cross-culturally?  Short of wearing a t-shirt saying “Please stop talking about my ovaries!” what can be done to get the message across that this is a private matter American women do not want discussed publicly?

Missy (not her real name),  a global worker in her early 30’s, works here in Mexico and has been married for almost five years with no children.  She is a private person who struggles with the fishbowl effect of living in the public eye, where everyone seems preoccupied with her apparent inability to give her Mexican husband offspring.  Mind you she has never seen a doctor or had any “problem” diagnosed, but since her sister-in-law seems to be “Fertile Myrtle” it is presumed there is a “problem,” and that the "problem" is hers and not her husband’s.

The humiliation she has endured is unbelievable.  Can you imagine having people actually touch your belly and weep aloud over the death of your ovaries?  What’s worse, people say hurtful things about how Missy is selfish for not caring that her poor husband has the embarrassment of having an infertile wife.  One woman told her she should stop focusing her attention on helping other people's children (which is her ministry), and then God might consider giving her a child of her own.  Really?

Almost comical (if it weren't true), meddlers regularly offer Missy home remedies like powders in her drinking water, special teas, and fermented pineapple cores.  Once she was given a foot massage to stimulate her reproductive organs.  The very worst are men who make public prophesies and suggestions too graphic to print here, and tell of visions they have had of Missy’s birth canal.  Really!

Missy herself would be at peace with God opening and closing her womb according to His will and purposes.  She would be content to wait several more years to start a family or to adopt children if that’s what God wants.  Her husband and dmil* (see side bar) are supportive, though probably clueless as to her predicament.  If and when she does get pregnant, she would like the glory to go to God, not to the "friends" who offered advice and potions.

Her question to you is this:  How can she communicate to her adversaries that she is a private person who is quietly trusting God?  How can she be gracious, while calmly but strongly telling people to shut up stop meddling and leave her alone?

Is it possible to relay this message without offending people cross-culturally?  How would this scene play out in your part of the world?

IRL:  Living in a fish bowl can be pretty annoying sometimes.

P.S.  I voted against the "Stop Talking About My Ovaries" t-shirt, but I did find this one at
that says "mom-to-be:  Just waiting to find out WHEN." 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Earthquakes and Hurricanes and Drug Wars! Oh, My!

…And what they “think” they know, they know very little about.  Pardon me for jumping in the middle of an unfinished thought from last week’s post.  (That's a risk you take when you let a writer publish minus an editor.)  We were talking about our loved ones who cannot relate to our lives because they have never seen where and how we live.

What they do know about our host countries often has nothing to do with us personally.  How often have you gotten frantic phone calls and emails about some disaster that made the news, but that didn’t affect you in the least?

The first time I heard about an attempted coup in Guatemala was when the letters started coming (back in the pre-computer age).  We lived within a few miles of where the incident occurred, but it didn’t touch our lives at all.

Here in Oaxaca we are seldom affected by hurricanes, since we live in the high desert.  We might get a lot of rain, and some bridges might collapse, but very rarely.  Still people hear about flooding in Oaxaca and envision us floating away in a makeshift boat with our few belongings.

Most times the “earthquakes” people read about are only “tremors” in reality.  Even the earth shaking, truly frightening quakes we have experienced have never caused any personal harm or damage to our house or recording studio.  If people only understood, they would not be so impressed.*

Back in 2006 Oaxaca was in the news due to ongoing riots in the capital city.  Short-term teams saw the news and cancelled their trips even though we live an hour away from the airport.  Nowadays it’s kidnapping and drug-related violence that grab attention, even though most of the trouble is far away from our southern state.

But what does it say to people when they perceive that we live in these hotbeds of danger and unrest?  Are we fools to live and raise children in such unsafe places?

My policy is not to judge people based on the news and crime in their cities.  If I were to focus only on the Associated Press for my information, I might question anyone’s sanity for wanting to live in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. (Shivers!)

The truth is that MOST people live in those places and are safe.  Most people can eat at a Cracker Barrel, attend public (or Amish) school or college, and visit the Empire State Building without witnessing a single shooting. 

The sad fact is that most people in the world have no option to pack up and go someplace safer even when danger is imminent and real.  I consider this when loved ones imply we should move “home” and be safe.  We are where God has placed us, and we will stay until He moves us on.

Even when the news stories affect us directly, we are better off in the will of God than in the safest town in America outside of God’s protection.

IRL:  If they only knew…..  Then again, maybe they wouldn’t pray so fervently if they knew how safe we are, so let’s leave them to assume what they want.

*On a serious note, were any of you adversely affected by the earthquakes in Costa Rica or China last week? I don't mean to make light of earthquakes just based on my limited experience.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That Disconnect with our Dearest

"The last few weeks I was blessed to have my little brother visit and experience my life here in Mexico.  Often for single missionaries the people that we love most never know what our lives are truly like.  We try to explain, send pictures and tell the stories, but it is not the same, and in reality attention spans of those listening are relatively short since they have no way to connect with the realities described. 

This is not a lack of concern or caring, but simply a reflection of an absence of shared experiences that would allow one to connect with another’s life.  It was truly a joy to share my life with my brother for those three weeks, introduce him to the people I care for, places where I live and work, and travel with him through the mountains, coasts and valleys of Oaxaca.  I should have been thankful, joyful, but when I left him at the airport for his trip home, I couldn’t stop the tears."

I would say to Chariti, the writer of this blog post excerpt, that being single has its definite challenges and unique sorrows, but the longing for loved ones to “get” our life is common to us all, newbies and old-timers, single and married alike.

This summer I once again experienced that disconnect with some of my dearest family members and friends.  How can they relate to my life when they have never seen where and how I live?  Why do I even bother rambling on about what they cannot possibly envision?  I can enter back into their lives fairly easily, but very few loved ones have imaginations that enable them to enter into mine.

What I love about short-term teams is that blessing of having people from “home” in my real home, sharing a meal around my table, gradually “connecting with the realities” that I’ve been trying to describe in blogs and prayer letters for all these years.  I love it when they reach that “aha” moment of realization that my life is not to be pitied, but envied.

When people say, “I could never do what you do, “ I suspect that they have no idea what my real life is all about.  How could they say that, when I lead such a fulfilling and happy life?  When they ask, “When are you going to retire, move ‘back home’ and settle into living in the U.S.?” I know that they are missing some vital piece of information I haven’t been able to communicate adequately.

Once again, I am thankful for my IRL (real life) friends who share my life on the field.  I’m also thankful for each of you who are living parallel lives in your dots on the map.  It brings me great cheer to be reminded continually that I am not alone.

IRL:  Chariti, you are not alone, either, and I’m sure I am not alone in saying you will be missed when you move on from this particular field of service.


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