Thoughts from El Paso

The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Friends – One of our dear friends, Sami DiPasquale, and a former student from the Middle East Studies Program that my husband started many years ago, lives and works in El Paso. He loves the community deeply and recently wrote a beautiful and challenging post about the grief the community is experiencing. I am honored to post this on Communicating Across Boundaries.


I don’t know how to express my grief from these last couple of days. Our communities in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez are deeply hurting and in shock. My family and our team of coworkers are safe, but we also know that many in our community are just one or two steps removed from victims of the massacre that took place at a nearby Walmart. One of our coworkers was planning to be at that same Walmart Saturday morning but had changed her plans. Another coworker lives very nearby and the shooter was apprehended not far from her apartment. Many from our neighborhood shop regularly at that Walmart since it is close and easy to get to by public transportation. So this act of terrorism hits very close to home.

I want to give a little context to this shooting from my perspective. Someone from far away traveled to the border, to El Paso, in order to inflict great harm on our community. This harm did not come from the south, from one of the thousands of people seeking asylum at the border a mile from my house. This harm was not inflicted by immigrants. This harm was not even inflicted by anyone from El Paso who was unhappy with the situation on the border.

The terror, the murder, the invasion that our city experienced Saturday was brought to the border from inside of the United States, not from outside of the United States. The irony runs deep and bitter. We as a nation have long been told to fear the possibility of terrorism at the border. On Saturday terrorism hit the border in El Paso for the first time in recent memory. And it had a different face than we have been told to expect. According to the ongoing investigation, it had the face of nationalist white supremacy and targeted racial hatred towards immigrants and those of Hispanic descent. A list of the victims has not been released but we know seven of those killed were Mexican citizens who were shopping at Walmart on Saturday.

If you pray, please pray for El Paso and Juarez and for the families of the victims of the shootings. Please pray for healing for El Paso and Juarez, and for the other cities that have experienced similar atrocities. But also please examine your own heart and your own prejudices.

Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly

Sami Dipasquale

The words we use to talk about others matter, the fears we stir up matter, the walls we build against those who are different than us matter. Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly. And then they manifest themselves in the kind of terrorism we experienced on the border on Saturday. Do not let your homes, your workplaces, or especially your places of worship flirt with this temptation. The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Last night I attended a vigil hosted by faith leaders from many religious traditions. Our mayor and members of congress were also present and shared. The overriding message was a spirit of love overcoming hate. I have great hope in the capacity of the people of El Paso (a city that is 83% Hispanic and made up of many immigrants) to love and be hospitable. El Paso is the friendliest place I have lived in the U.S. Maybe that is another reason that El Paso was targeted; because it has served as a model for the rest of the country as to what it looks like for a community to respond in compassion to strangers in need. A network of 30 groups in El Paso, mostly churches, has been providing temporary shelter for asylum seekers for the past few years, and now sister churches across the border in Juarez are sheltering those affected by the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Many of these churches have very limited resources and they are not giving out of their surplus but out of their faith and a belief that they must help those in need regardless of the circumstances. We have much to learn from these brothers and sisters.

Thank you to all of you have reached out to check in and send your love. I am very grateful for your friendship and support! Many of you have asked how you can help. The best way you can help is by combating the dangerous attitudes described above wherever you are, and by loving those you come in contact with regardless of their background.
If you would like to support families of the victims of the El Paso shooting, the El Paso Community Foundation has started a fund and is accepting donations. https://payments.epcf.org/victims

Over the past year I have been working with members of our team in El Paso to formalize a new initiative, Abara, focused on addressing some of the most pertinent issues in the borderlands. Currently we are supporting migrant shelters on both sides of the border, hosting border encounters for those who want to learn more, and connecting with others engaged in similar work. We hope to inspire connections, contribute to positive narratives about the border and invest in a generation of peacemakers. If interested you can learn more about what we are doing and ways to support this work through the Abara website. You can also sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and ways to get involved.
https://www.abarafrontiers.org

About Sami DiPasquale: Sami was born to American parents in the country of Jordan and spent the majority of his childhood and young adult years in the Middle East – living in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt and then India – before completing college in the United States. He holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. He has spent the last eighteen years immersed in refugee and immigrant communities in the U.S., working in refugee resettlement with World Relief in the greater Chicago area prior to joining Ciudad Nueva and then starting Abara. Sami’s desire to engage border issues through Abara has emerged out of 15 years of neighborhood-based work with youth and families at Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach. He lives and works with his family in the Rio Grande District, a beautiful community in the heart of El Paso, Texas where most of his neighbors have recently moved from Mexico and are striving to acclimate and pursue their dreams.

It Just Doesn’t Go Away

IMG_5986It just doesn’t go away – written anonymously

This week at Communicating Across Boundaries we received this letter. We’re putting it out there and inviting you our readers to help us know how to respond.

I’m appealing to my community out there who grew up with Where There Is No Doctor or The Village Medical Manual. I need your help. It seems that I have developed this thing. It’s a malaise of sorts and it lives deep inside me, down at the bottom of my soul, in the lurking murky waters. I don’t know how to really even describe it. It’s thick and tangible. It washes over me and erodes joy and contentment at times when I least expect it.  

I’m afraid I may have a chronic case of ennui. Most of the time the symptoms lie dormant but occasionally—when my routines are disturbed, when life is a little off kilter, when friends are traveling, —they flare up, these “feeling(s) of weariness and dissatisfaction: boredom.”

What advice can you give me? What prescription would you write? Are there home remedies you would suggest?

I’ve tried ignoring it. I look away. I pretend I didn’t see it. The shadows out of the corner of my eye are just shadows, I reason. In the ignoring it does seem to shrink, I think, a little. And just when I get excited that maybe it’s vanishing, maybe it’s gone, it bubbles up again inside of me. Very. Much. There.

I’ve tried exterminating it. I’ve tried talk therapy. I’ve imagined exorcisms and interventions. I’ve tried waking up and pretending I’m normal. I’ve wished it away, washed it away, worked it away. But alas, to no avail. It always seems to comes back.

I’m afraid it’s chronic.

What do you think is wrong with me?

Is it an addiction to adrenaline? Am I just longing for adventure and excitement? Am I looking for something to look forward to?

It is residual grief and sorrow that comes from a life of perpetual transition. Too many goodbyes. Too many separations. Is it merely thick sadness?

Is it restlessness? Is there in me another type of biological clock ticking and tocking telling me it’s time travel again? to move far away? Am I somehow unquieted, unsettled? Am I really just bored?

To be honest I think it’s all those things. I’ve lived, by God’s complete grace and kindness, most of my life in a bigger playground. I grew up in Asia, graduated from college in North America, met my husband in the United States, we spent the first years of our married life back in Asia. It’s been a grand life. We’ve seen a lot of places, had coffee in a lot of cafes, traveled on a lot of airplanes. It’s hard to settle down. And although we’ve lived in the United States for almost a decade, it’s still hard to shake this thing that lingers inside me–this grief-adrenaline withdrawal-unsettled-restlessness at work in my soul.

I’m appealing to you whatever your medical training may be: doctor, nurse practitioner, midwife, chiropractor, auyrovedist, naturopath, homeopath, quackyopath. What remedy do you have for me? My symptoms seem intense these days. I need your advice!

Can you relate? What would you suggest? How have you pushed past this in your own story? Marilyn and I would love to hear from you.

“It’s a Long Way to go for a Friend” Guest Post by Pauline Brown

I’m so happy to feature my mom today in this post on friendship. You can read more about my mom here and here. She is a gifted, amazing woman, the author of the books Jars of Clay ordinary Christians on an Extraordinay Journey in Pakistsn and Cat Tales and has modeled friendship well through the years. Enjoy this piece on friendship and please add your thoughts in the comment section.

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Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt
Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt

It was a long way to drive for a friend.  Can we do it?  Should we? 

We got the phone message after church that Sunday from a funeral director in my home town. Our friend Phil had died, and Phyllis, his widow, wanted Ralph to come and officiate at the funeral the following Wednesday.  We talked it through – it would mean driving the whole day Tuesday and back on Thursday from western New York to central Massachusetts.  And we’re not as young as we used to be…

This started me thinking about the whole idea of friends and friendship. Just what is it that makes an acquaintance into a friend? Some never make it. They come into our lives and fade away and we barely remember them.  For most it takes time and sharing life’s experiences. Then, rarely, we meet a special person who becomes an instant kindred spirit friend.

Some are friends from childhood and teen years. For those of us who have moved far from our birthplaces only a few of these will last through years of geographical separation.  I have a love/hate relationship with social media, but its great blessing among a few others is the way we can reconnect with people from our past.  Not long ago I received an email from one of the few friends left from my High School class.  Joan had persevered with her daughter’s help in searching me out after losing my email address. We talked on the phone and she updated me on news from Mary Lou and Jessie, who moved to our town when I was in grade school and from the other Polly, a girl I had known perhaps from the age of four when I started going to Sunday School.

When my family moved across town in my ninth grade year,I started walking to High School with Joan, along with her cousin Gaynor and Lucilla. Lu came by my house and we walked together to where we met the other two. In those early morning walks and occasionally in the evening we talked about life and boys and teachers and the world’s problems. We worried and prayed as older boys were leaving school to fight in World War II. Then it all came really close to home when boys in our class started leaving. After graduation Lucilla and I worked together for the summer at two different jobs, but that would make another whole story. We went our separate ways to college and marriage. We moved overseas and she lived in Pennsylvania. A few years ago she died quite suddenly, and although we hadn’t seen each other often, I realized how much I would miss her. Joan was the one who called to tell me, and Ralph and I went with Joan to her graveside service in the Catholic cemetery in my home town.

There are those special friends I keep in touch with from my four years at Gordon College. Bev phones a couple of times a year, and we get together with her and her husband Don when we’re in their area once a year or so.  I called Maggie last summer when we were driving to Massachusetts to spend July 4 with Marilyn and her family. “I thought I’d be hearing from you,” she said. “It’s that time when you usually come through.”  We went out to lunch together, and it was as if no time had lapsed since our last meeting a whole year before. Others we only hear from at Christmas time, but I love our holiday mail.

Some of the richest friendships are with those people we lived and worked with in our years in Pakistan. Many were with the same mission, and we became like family with all our quirks and idiosyncrasies.  There are Ray and Jean;and Shirley, whose husband Warren has gone to be with Lord. We shared a tiny house with these two couples when we first moved to Pakistan.  Living that way for nearly 3 months with five kids under five and only two bedrooms, a shared kitchen in a corner of the verandah, it’s quite an amazing gift of God’s grace that we remained close friends.  Then I think of Bettie and Hu and all we shared through the years. Hu pulled our oldest son out of a muddy canal saving Ed’s life. When Hu and Bettie’s two sons visited us one year when we were in the USA, Marilyn, then in high school, told me, “I didn’t know whether to introduce them as my best friend’s brothers or my brothers’ best friends!” Phyllis and Hannah and Dr. Mary, are single women who gave themselves to serve the medical needs of the women and children of Sindh. These, among others, I count as special friends.

Not all our friends in Pakistan were from our mission family or from our generation.  We were blessed with many from other missions and countries and denominations.  Occasionally one turned into a friend from an unlikely beginning.  I never expected to call Ruth a friend.  She scared me.  She had strong opinions and she wasn’t shy about voicing them.  Then she dropped in on me one day in Murree when I was sewing name tags on Ed’s clothes, getting him ready for boarding school.  Ruth pulled a chair over next to me picked up a spare needle and started helping me.  We talked that day, and shared how hard it was to be sending our kids away at such a young age.  Ruth shared a verse from Isaiah 54:13 that God had given to her for her children:  “All your children will be taught of the Lord and great will be the peace of your children.”  I took that as a gift that day, and have prayed it ever since for our children, then their wives and husband, and our seventeen grandchildren, now our great grands.  That was the day the woman whom I never thought I would call a friend, became so special to me.

One thing that stands out in all these special relationships – we seem able to drop right back into a genuine intimacy no matter how much time has passed.  I never hear a word of criticism nor do I voice any:  “Why haven’t I heard from you?” Or “why don’t you call more often?”  We just accept the special gift of whatever time we have and get on with catching up on the news.  Friendship involves a special kind of love and when such a relationship lasts for decades it is very much about grace, that acceptance that says without words, I know you, we know each other with all the good and the bad, the strength and the weakness,  I’m just so happy to be able to be with you, and let’s do it again – sooner!

So we did it for our friends, Phil and Phyllis, remembering a good man, a funny man who always had a story.  “Stop me if I’ve told you this before” but no one ever stopped him.  He was our friend so we drove to Massachusetts on Tuesday, shared with his family and friends at his service, and drove back on Wednesday, tired, very tired, but knowing we had been blessed in Phil’s life by a very special friendship.

Guest Post – A Single Perspective

On this day before Valentine’s Day I am so excited to have my beautiful niece Amy write for Communicating Across Boundaries. Amy is single – which you may have picked up from the title! And I purposely bring our attention to this single perspective on this day before Valentine’s Day, when suddenly rational people think that they need a partner to be complete. Amy has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before in a fabulous post called “So Many Proposals”, a post that I highly recommend you read if you missed it. But for now she brings you: 

A Single Perspective by Amy

cupid-single-love-sex-valentines-day-ecards-someecards

I have reached a point in my life where I cannot seem to get away from engagement announcements. They seem to follow me wherever I go. Provided, I am a 20-something living in the day and age when social media has taken over the world. One would point out that I am of “prime” marrying age, so I shouldn’t be surprised that the number of rings adorning my friends’ fingers is rising exponentially.

Until recently, I have felt particularly annoyed and frustrated about the topic of “marriage” or “dating” or “relationships”. Why? Because my 25.5 years of existence have been spent as single as a “single person” could be. (And I expect this Valentines’ day to be spent in the same way that the last 25 have been: lacking a “plus-one”)

What has frustrated me the most is the societal connotation that marriage (i.e. finding your life partner, your other half, your soul mate) is the ultimate fulfillment of life. Thus, single people are incomplete, unfulfilled, or severely lacking in a serious way.

You may read this and think, “She’s ridiculous. Of course single people are valuable and fulfilled.” But in all seriousness, look at the culture in which we live. Movies. TV. Music. Books. Commercials. The majority of stories in any form of media today have some form of love interest. Even if it is a broken relationship or even just a side story. Particularly, in the Church and Christian communities, there is an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) expectation for 20-somethings to be married (or actively seeking).

As I mentioned, it has only been until recently that I have overcome my frustration in this topic. For a very long time, I did believe myself to be unfulfilled, incomplete, or somehow inadequate as a result of my singleness and the fact that no one (as of yet) has had any desire to marry me.

This year, my family celebrated Christmas together at my parents’ house in Wisconsin. I had the realization that the Marrieds currently outnumber the Singles in my family (4 to 3). We had a discussion one day about how Marrieds and Singles each face a unique set of challenges when it comes to navigating social landscapes and finding genuine love and support in a community. (Each group does, however, enjoy a unique set of perks as well) It was at that point that we realized that neither group truly appreciates the struggles of the other.

What we need to do is debunk the idea that having one relational status is any better or worse than having any other relational status. It’s just different.

Individually and collectively, we put far too much weight on our marital status as a defining factor of our identities.

I will take a moment to note that I do not at all intend on discounting the immense value and blessing of marriage. I do have a deep desire to be married and to raise a family someday. We need to be able to find a balance between glorifying marriage and the alternative: glorifying singleness—and I dare say the answer is simply to glorify God. He is, in fact, the creator of us all and facilitator of all relationship s.

God created humans to be in relationship with Him first and each other second.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and the second is like it, to love one another. First and foremost, as Singles and Marrieds, pursuit of relationship with God and finding one’s identity in Christ should always come first.

1 Corinthians 7 is where Paul addresses this topic by saying is oft quoted declaration that “I wish you were all as I am…” i.e. single. But if you have to, as a result of your lacking self-control and in order to avoid burning passion, you should get married. I, personally, have found there to be a lot of tension in this passage. The Single in me, says “That’s right! Power to the Single people!”. But the cultural expectation and inner desire for marriage say “What about us?”.

Let’s break it down for a sec. At the time that this passage was written, particularly for women, your economic and social status (and general livelihood) were intimately tied to your marital status. Marriage was synonymous with security on a great number of levels. Ultimately, marital status WAS your identity. Essentially, Paul is taking a cultural norm, a cultural expectation, and blowing it out of the water.

What Paul is saying is that it’s better to be single because it’s easier to devote yourself to serving God and seeking after his will (I mean, seriously, nuns and monks!). It’s harder to do that when you devote yourself to another person in marriage. What he’s not saying is that celibacy and remaining single is the end all be all of human existence. He’s also not saying that marriage is either. The end all be all of human existence is to please God. Relational or marital status does not define your value or how “fulfilled” you are. Only God can do that.

If I have learned anything in my 25 years on this planet, it’s that God calls us each to different seasons of life at different times for specific purposes. I fully intend on embracing this season of singleness to live it to its fullest potential, in the hopes that when I do get married, I will be able to live that season to its fullest.

What about you? If you’re single, how do you deal with a world of couples? If you’re married, how do you include your single friends? 

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Amy brown

Amy is a twenty-something woman living in Washington DC. She spends her time with Autistic children, baking things, and taking pictures of the aforementioned (and other things). She has traveled the world leaving pieces of herself, even as she gathers pieces of the world to take along with her. Enhanced by Zemanta

More Than a Tourist: Living Deeply Across Cultures

I’m honored to have Jody Fernando guest post today at Communicating Across Boundaries. Jody blogs at Between Worldsa blog I highlighted as a favorite new blog that I’ve discovered. It was my brother who first sent me a link to an article she wrote in the fall and that’s all it took to bring me in. The article was called When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White and it provided hard and necessary discussion, evidenced by the fact that it went viral and is still being widely shared across social media sites.  Jody is a beautiful, thoughtful writer providing much-needed perspectives on crossing cultures, racial inequalities, racing biracial kids, and faith. You can read more about Jody at the end of the article.

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More than a tourist

When I first started to cross cultures, there was a distinctly romantic quality to every adventure – fascination with food and language and buildings and transportation and landmarks. I would inhale the smells and sights and textures with wide eyes, captured by the difference they represented. I would wrap my tongue around the words and sounds, attempting to capture some small meaning with my own mouth. Culture captivated me, and I drank it in with every cup of tea I shared.

As time has passed, however, this romantic captivation slowed, and I found that crossing cultures no longer carried the same zing it once did. In fact, it required more energy with each new encounter for I no longer entered ignorant about my own assumptions and inadequacies.  When I enter a new culture these days, it is slower, more observant, less enraptured. I walk carefully and quietly, curious but patient about the new realities I encounter. After nearly half a lifetime of loving across a culture, the exoticism of such differences is being slowly replaced by a simple expectation of normalcy and humanity.

In short, I expect now to find people when I travel – not exotic animals on display in a zoo.  I expect that those people will be fully human, with all sorts of wonderful and terrible qualities within.  I expect that there will be some things I admire deeply, some that make me a bit angry, and some that I will simply never understand.  Rather than try to stereotype a group at large, I try more frequently now to understand individuals.

In light of my personal shift over the years, I was quite eager to read Joseph Shaules’ book A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience in which he writes about the differences between the surface aspects of culture that are more “exotic, artistic, ceremonial, and visible” and the ways that culture subconsciously programs our minds. As I read Shaules’ book, I was struck by how much I could relate to even though I’ve never lived outside of my home country. It reminded me that it’s not always necessarily to leave a homeland to live between worlds, especially in the US.

In a particularly chapter on personal growth and deep culture learning, Shaules outlines specific attitudes that help cross-cultural sojourners develop intercultural sensitivity that I find especially helpful for all of us who live between worlds:

  • Engagement. While tourists may spend their days relaxing at the beach or isolating in museums, learners of deep culture stumble through navigating daily realities and rubbing shoulders, facing higher levels of stress, confusion, and energy because they engage the culture around them, let go of their control, and take chances. They don’t give up even when they make mistakes or fail.

  • Reconciliation. Deep culture learners use the conflict of their contrasting cultures to build connections between all of their worlds. They recognize that while we might adapt to the ways of another place, we always bring pieces of our own identity to the table, and that these pieces remain valuable in any cultural context when presented with humility and flexibility.

  • Inner and outer practice. By maintaining an open and curious attitude about the surface (outer) aspects of culture, deep culture learners grow as they consider the strengths offered by understanding the visible cultural differences in a new culture. At the same time, deep culture learners must also learn to pay close attention to what happens inside (inner) themselves in order to better understand how and why we respond in situations that cause cultural stress.

  • Breaking routines. The first time our notion of cultural normalcy is shaken is hard to forget. For Shaules, it was the discovery of lime and chile potato chips, for me, it was apple Fanta. The shock of discovering a new take on an established routine can be jarring, and when these day-in-day-out routines are interrupted, we’re forced to wake up and notice small realities around us. Breaking these routines on purpose can be one way to increase deep culture learning. Take a different route to work. Eat a new food. Change a service transaction to an engagement with another human being.

  • Planning the journey. Intentionally look for local places to engage cross-culturally. Attend a church outside of your tradition or demographic. Volunteer. Attend events where you are the minority. Make an effort to go local when you travel as well – hit homes instead of hotels. (Shaules’ book offers a great list of organizations that can help with this process.)

  • Language learning. It’s impossible to learn a culture deeply without speaking the language of that culture. Internationally, this obviously means language study either in person or online. For those who belong to the majority culture, however, I’d suggest that this may also mean listening a great deal more than we speak – even in our own language. For even if we speak the same language, we don’t always communicate the same way. As we seek to interact across cultures more deeply, it’s essential to learn the language of those we’re attempting to love.

  • Entry point. Cultivate relationships with people willing to help you navigate a new culture. I have had countless guides along the way – people who have been patient with my questions and willing to help me understand more deeply. Please note that this isn’t a one-time deal, but an on-going relationship. No one will be able to tell the ins-and-outs of cultural learning over a single cup of coffee.

These attitudes are only the tip of the iceberg presented in A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience, and I’m deeply grateful to Shaules for the insight he gives into deepening cultural understanding.  As the worlds shrinks, these are skills we all need, and this book will provide readers ample material for personal reflection and discussion.

Have you read Shaules’ book?  What were your most valuable take-aways?

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About the author: Jody Fernando does a lot of living between worlds.  A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean.  Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents.  She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blog Between Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry.

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 12 “By the Waters of the Maumee, We Sat Down and Wept”

In my faith journey this past year, I’ve discovered some people who have walked the road before me and can offer wisdom, challenge, and comfort when I need them most. Aaron Friar is one of those people. He comes from a protestant background, has attended many churches in the past, and has a deep and abiding respect for the traditions of his past even as he is fully a part of the Orthodox church today. Today his post gives me joy and encouragement as I move into the ever-new (for me) yet ancient traditions of the Eastern Orthodox faith. You can read more about Aaron at the end of the post.

By the Waters of the Maumee, We Sat Down and Wept

Marilyn’s series on the Reluctant Orthodox has spurred me to share a bit of my own faith journey. I offer this in tribute to her present struggle to discover and live the ancient, yet ever-present faith of the Orthodox Christian Church.

My honeymoon with the Orthodox Church ended on that hot summer day, in Toledo,Ohio. I had left a vibrant Protestant summer camp and traveled eight hours south to attend a Parish Life Conference hosted by our local diocese and to partake of the best that the Orthodox Church had to offer. I was newly chrismated  into the faith and had high hopes of finding answers to long-held questions about God and the Church. I came seeking Bible study, catechesis,and motivating talks encouraging me in my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found instead was a business meeting with a little bit of Church sprinkled on top and not a very civil meeting at that. The one motivational speech delivered by our bishop about welcoming newcomers into the Church was received by the assembly with a debilitating apathy, and I began to seriously wonder what I left behind for this exalted faith once for all delivered to the apostles. But I clung to the words of the convert priest Fr. Peter Gillquist of blessed memory that perhaps this was still the right faith “delivered to the wrong people.”

All I knew was that my heart lay in pieces as I strolled the banks of the Mighty Maumee crying out loud to the God who rescued me from the jaws of multiple church divisions only to land me in this uncertain, foreign land. But just like the Israelites who were also exiled in a strange land, I had to learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a new way and in a new place:

 By the Waters of Babylon

There we sat down and we wept, when we remembered Sion…

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.*

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem… If I forget thee O Billy Graham, O Chuck Swindoll, O C.S. Lewis, O Keith Green, O G.K. Chesterton, O Rich Mullins, and all the other countless men and women who brought me to the threshold of that moment. Without all of them, I would not have known the Lord Jesus Christ, let alone His Church. And mystically they were the ones testifying to me in that moment that the treasures contained in the Orthodox Church were buried in a field for which a man must sell all that he has to obtain it.

It may be the right faith for the wrong people, but who was I to count myself among the righteous? What made me think I could plumb the depths of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God by simply joining the right church? The flood of purifying tears I shed by that river made plain to me that my journey was just beginning. I had not found the true Church; she was finding me. I did not make it; no, it is making me. It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man…

My prayers are with all who find themselves on a similar road of discovery. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on Him while He is still near (Isaiah 55:6).

*(Psalm 137

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Aaron Friar lives with his wife and four children in Boston and blogs at Like Mendicant Monks.  The family name Friar comes from a mendicant monastic order in the Middle Ages which traveled from place to place rather than remain in a cloister. Over the years, the family’s desire to travel has taken them to numerous encounters in different parts of the world. If you are in the Boston area and want a tour of this beautiful city, be sure to contact him and he can arrange a custom-designed tour through his work at Boston Pilgrim. 

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Lessons From an Ill-Fated Holiday Feast – A Guest Post

As promised earlier in the month in a call for stories, today I bring you one from a reader’s childhood in Mozambique. Writer Heidi Carlson takes us back to a poignant memory of excited kids, a mom desperate to recreate tastes of her home country (the U.S.) and how it didn’t turn out quite like any one thought it would. More on Heidi at the end of the article but for now, enjoy this story of an ill-fated holiday feast.

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A naked, fluorescent bulb dangled from the ceiling.  The power source – a dusty car battery – lay on the red cement floor.  Figures in varying stages of acute fatigue cast shadows on the cement block walls that were hosts to various shades of deteriorating white.  Humidity engulfed them as they quickly stripped off every possible layer of clothing, only preserving the most minimal, acceptable amount of modesty.  A mosquito whirred its wings in dizzying flight on the window screen.  In a split-second, a gecko expertly ran down the screen from the top corner and ate his hearty meal just as we were beginning ours.  This was not the setting of a military interrogation, but the setting of our Thanksgiving dinner.

How did it come to this? How did we get here, across the days and miles?

A school bus, two plane rides, a crowded-goats-included public bus, the back of a pick-up truck over the mountain along the lake, across no man’s land by bicycle, a hitchhiked ride in a businessman’s Land Rover, and, finally, a twelve-hour journey in the “first class” car of a very slow train.  What it amounted to was complete exhaustion.   I have since felt similar exhaustion in the days that followed the birth of each of my children.  That delirious exhaustion is notorious.  I also have felt the same weary, travel-induced walking coma in Portugal when, after several flights and time changes, our hosts treated us to a traditional Portuguese feast of bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) at 10 pm.  The feast was impeccable.  I remember every delicious bite – before I rudely crashed back on the sofa and surrendered to my primal need for sleep.

But this post-train ride Thanksgiving was a joyous homecoming with a feast fit for the prodigal son.  Mom had waited for months, then weeks, then days and hours for our return from boarding school and had prepared traditional American fare – almost.

Helmeted Guinea FowlTurkey was not available in Mozambique, so she marinated and roasted a local guinea fowl.  Pumpkins?  Not available.  How about sweet potato pie instead? There was an assortment of other dishes spread across the table in the buzzing glare of the bulb.  With few words and weak smiles, I forced myself to be gracious and eat something before I crawled under the mosquito net and went to bed.  Locally grown guinea fowl sounds like a foodie-gourmet-heritage breed kind of thing to eat.  But this wild guinea fowl? Not so much.  The first few movements of the jaw brought out the rich flavor enhanced by the marinade.  The following 20 or so chews failed to break down the tight sinews.  It was like chewing gum, but guinea fowl gum.  After the flavor was gone, the muscle was still there. Really good flavor, we kept saying sincerely.  It was true.  But it didn’t mask the toughness of the wild fowl.

Then there was the sweet potato pie, the other item on the menu I remember distinctly.  It tasted just as a fine sweet potato pie should taste.  That is to say, it doesn’t taste at all, and should not be substituted for, the expected pumpkin pie.  The two are not remotely related.

I felt so guilty.  We were forcing grins and trying to keep our lids open for a meal Mom had prepared with great love in expectation of our return.  One could say it was a complete flop as far as holiday meals go, but I don’t think so.  We took away several lessons.  First, don’t try to recreate food from the home country with inadequate substitutes.  Early members of the vegetarian movement can relate to this.  No, tofu does not taste like chicken, so don’t tell me it does. Use available ingredients to make something delicious that stands on its own without having to be compared to a dish from yesteryears and yestercountries.

Second, ill-fated meals often become the most memorable.  We can look back and laugh at the comedy of this event and the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.   At the time, we were not laughing.  There were probably some unkind words spoken, considering we all just wanted to get some rest and start a new day.  But now when my fish bake is overcooked and mushy (nasty!), I can laugh about it and regret just the foul flavor, not also a foul attitude.

And the third lesson is for parents of children in boarding school who may have traveled many miles and perhaps even days to get home: Hold your horses and let the kids get some rest so they can give the proper attention to a meal they’ve waited months to eat.

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Heidi CarlsonMore about the author: Heidi is a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mom. She is also a multiple-marathoner, a scuba diver, a third-culture kid and a follower of Jesus.  Born near the front range of the Rockies, she grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there.  An Africanist by education, a U.S. Air Force veteran by skill set, and a homemaker by choice, she enjoys making home wherever the family goes.  With three children aged 4, 2, and 2 months, mommy hood leaves less time for scuba diving and training for long races, but she manages to find the time to roast coffee at home and share her thoughts at willtravelwithkids.