A Life Overseas – Failed Missionaries and “But God”….

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Readers – I’m at A Life Overseas today talking about failure. I would love to have you join me!


When my husband and I left what was supposed to be a three-year missions commitment in Pakistan after one year, we were angry, hurt, and deeply wounded. We didn’t leave Pakistan, but we did leave a missions community that I had been a part of since birth. This community had raised me, loved me well, and shown me a lot of grace. Though there had been times of deep pain, loneliness, and misunderstanding in my childhood, I had been nurtured and loved in extraordinary ways, and those were the memories that I held to.

I had failed at the one thing that I thought I would be great at.

We moved to the capital city, Islamabad, and my husband began working for a USAID program. Pregnant with our second child, I stayed home with our little girl and began to meet other expatriates in the community. We ended up making deep friendships at our international church, and on the surface we were doing well.

A Time of Cynicism

But the wounds of failure went deep and soon gave birth to cynicism and anger toward the entire missionary community. “They” had hurt us.
“They” were hypocrites. “They” were spiritually superior. “They” made stuff up. “They” embellished facts to get money.

WE however? WE were real. WE were genuine. WE admitted failure. WE lived off our own hard-earned money, thank you very much. WE loved Pakistanis more than “they” did.

It was exhausting. Because we all know that bitterness and hatred are a bitter poison to drink. And while cynicism, when analyzed, can be a tool for discernment, we didn’t analyze our feelings. Because that would have taken work. Yes, we were hurt, but we were also lazy. We did what we had always challenged others not to do – we made broad, sweeping judgments and used labels. Ultimately, labels are lazy.

The Problem

We desperately wanted to cut ourselves off completely from missionaries, but here was one of the problems: My entire family was involved in missions in some capacity. My parents were career missionaries. I had brothers who were connected with missions in tent-making roles. I had other brothers who were pastors, or on missions committees. And then there were our friends around the world, working in some amazing, quietly world-changing projects. A Christian Ashram in Varanasi; medical work in various parts of the world; work in translation and education – people working in these projects couldn’t just be labeled, because they were our family and friends and we did believe that their work mattered, that they mattered. There were times when we longed to wear the title of missionary again. We had been schooled well, but incorrectly, that missionaries were a level above average. We struggled, feeling like we had fallen out of favor with an exclusive club. Sometimes it left us angry and cut off from connection with like-minded people. Other times it was a relief.

But God in His gracious big picture view knew that it wasn’t the title or the place for us.

Read the rest of the piece here. 


A Life Overseas – “But they aren’t as smart as I am”….

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As a public health nurse working with underserved communities in Massachusetts in cancer prevention, I’ve been greatly challenged as we look at racism and inequality in communities that we serve. We are doing this because the evidence of health disparities in non-white communities is overwhelming. One of the ways to begin to address this is by seeing our programs and communities through the lens of racial equity, looking at why, historically, these communities have had worse health outcomes. Studies show that much of this is a result of prejudice and bias on the part of health care professionals; some of it conscious, but much of it unconscious.

It is hard, hard work. Like looking into a mirror and seeing the flaws on my skin, I come face to face with my own prejudices and my own wrong beliefs. I have continually had to confront my deep need for forgiveness and healing.

In every area of life, racism, prejudice, and bias exist – and that includes missions. We are an incomplete body when all we see is white leadership; when our missions conferences are overwhelmingly led by speakers who look like we do. We are a crippled group if we are only led by those who look like us, think like us, and act like us. And we are desperately in need of grace and forgiveness if we think this is okay.

In writing about racism and prejudice, I must first acknowledge my own inadequacy in talking about these things; there are far better and wiser voices, but in obedience I’m opening the door to a conversation that I pray will lead to something good. I also must admit that it is not an easy conversation to have, but it is too important to avoid.

I grew up as a privileged, little white girl in a country where people had varying shades of brown skin. It took me a long time to recognize my prejudice and even longer to be aware of my privilege. Some of my recognition of this came when I began to write. The more I wrote, the more I articulated my perspective, the more I was reminded that that’s what it was – my perspective. I viewed the world through a particular lens and that lens affected all my experiences.

As I moved on to writing Passages Through Pakistan, I realized how my childhood was affected by growing up in a land that had been colonized not many years before I came into the world.

There was a darker side to high tea I would only confront much later. This pleasure that so delighted me as a little girl was a survival of Pakistan’s colonial past. The “British Raj” era, or the era of British rule, lasted for almost 100 years. It included the entire Indian subcontinent. Pakistan was born in 1948, and my parents arrived only five years later. I was completely blind to my privilege as a little, white, English-speaking girl. I cringe now at what I took for granted. 

Those who were white and English-speaking went to the head of the line. Those who were white and English-speaking could casually criticize Pakistanis without thought. We traveled where we pleased, we went first class or third class on trains –it was our choice. We were educated and would have a world of opportunity. I thank God for parents that had the conscience and determination to discipline me and teach me in various ways that I was not better than those around me. Still, with a strong personality and ego to match, those lessons sometimes fell on ears unwilling to listen and a heart that would need continual reminders that privilege is not something I earned or deserved.”*

When I went back overseas, I was no longer a child. As an adult I had to confront some of my ugly and just plain wrong thoughts. Among them were these subtle, and deeply dangerous thoughts….


Read the rest here at A Life Overseas. 

Living Effectively in the Here and Now (AKA I’m not in South Asia anymore so….)


June is the month of transition for overseas workers and their families. It’s the month where many make the decision to stay – or to leave. 

Decisions to leave are not made lightly – I know this. They are made with butterfly filled stomachs, hurting hearts, and a lot of soul-searching tears. The decision to leave a place where you have invested your heart also comes with many fears and questions.

What will it be like for us on the other side? 
I’ve learned how to live well here – and it’s taken time. 

How will those invisible skills be used in my passport country? 


How will we live effectively? 

We haven’t heard from Robynn in a while – but today she’s at A Life Overseas talking about what it was like to move to the United States after living so many years in India. 

In a talk she and her husband gave at their church, she speaks to these questions. For all of us who have asked, or are asking, these questions, this post offers wisdom and grace for living well in the here and now.


 I recently was asked to talk to our church about how I live out my faith. It got me thinking. In 2007 we were “redeployed”. It’s a long story but we knew God was moving us from South Asia to Manhattan, Kansas. As I processed that move it struck me that Jesus must have Kingdom of Heaven Purposes in mind and yet I had no idea how to minister to people here. I remember asking someone how to talk about Jesus here, how to do good works in His name here in Manhattan. Her response was, “I don’t know! You’re the overseas worker!” She seemed like such an intentional person. I was so shocked by her response. I asked a few others. No one had anything very tangible or helpful to tell me. So….I consciously decided to pretend that everyone here was from South Asia! I would do what I knew to do! I would do what I’d been sent out by my church to do….but I’d do it here!

Here’s a little bit of what I mean:

I recognize I’m here for the Kingdom’s sake! My life has significance. I firmly believe Jesus asks us to live somewhere for a reason. We were brought here on purpose!

Intentional Involvement:Lowell and I intentionally think how we can get involved. I joined the PTO. I volunteered in the lunch room at Bluemont Elementary and then TR. Lowell joined the Friends of Sunset Zoo board. He’s now a court appointed special advocate for kids in the legal system. Those were all strategic decisions. How can we hang out more with people that needed hope? That seemed to be a good place to start. 

Read the rest here

An Excerpt on Friendship & Loss


Friends, there is a giveaway of Passages Through Pakistan on Goodreads! It ends on June 7th, and two books will be given away. In honor of the giveaway, I’ve included an excerpt from the book on friendship and loss. I hope you enjoy! Also – the electronic version of Passages will be released on June 15!


Friendships formed in our small community were and are unique. We forged relationships with likely and unlikely people, and they occupied our hearts and souls. Together we faced birth, death, tragedy, sickness, political instability, separation from blood relatives, car accidents, boarding school, tension in relationships, food rations, and so much more. 
These memories and events were woven together into an immense tapestry. But unless cared for, a tapestry gets loose threads, and those threads can unravel into holes – holes of too many goodbyes, unraveling of loss. We push the losses aside, dismiss the goodbyes as just part of life, part of being third culture kids. 

But buried losses don’t stay buried. Like a submarine, they eventually surface, and we realize that they were never gone. So our griefs, our goodbyes, would surface later in life, like angry monsters demanding a redo of the goodbyes, demanding time to grieve the losses, demanding another chance. But we get only one chance at childhood. When that childhood is lived thousands of miles and oceans away from the place you live as an adult, you can’t go back. When our childhood is good and lived with a sense of wonder, it outweighs the pain and grief that came along the way. We may long to recreate it, perhaps because in it we see something of what the world should be, what the world could be. But recreating it is an impossibility, and in our case, even revisiting the places and people was impossible. 

…Like so many things in childhood, I didn’t know what I had until I lost it. 

I didn’t realize the extraordinary community I had around me until I was no longer in Pakistan, until I had to forge my way in the rocky and seemingly hostile territory of my passport country. 

From Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith, pp 104 a 105, Tonga Rides

Enter the giveaway here

Purchase Passages Through Pakistan here

“Passages Through Pakistan” on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/211505298?ref=em-v-share

A Life Overseas – A Third Culture Kid’s Story of Faith

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Readers, I’m over at A Life Overseas today and I would love it if you joined me!

There is no single story when it comes to the third culture kid; the missionary kid. While we can learn and grow from research and the common themes that have emerged to form a perspective, each child has their own story. Like fingerprints, these stories are unique, formed by family of origin, personality, and life experience. There is no single story around faith either. Instead, the mystery of faith weaves through a life – sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, but always present. 

When I set out to write my memoir, Passages Through Pakistan, I thought it would be about belonging. After all, wasn’t that what I had worked through for a number of years? Wasn’t that part of my identity? But the more I wrote, the more I realized that the common thread woven through the narrative was not belonging. It was faith. So today I have included two excerpts from the book. My prayer is that if you are a parent or a third culture kid,  you will know beyond doubt that your (and your child’s) faith journey is infinitely important to God; that he can turn ashes into beauty and mourning into oil of joy.*

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…the mystery of faith weaves through a life – sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, but always present.

All adults can point to a time when they go from the naïveté and simplicity of childhood and cross over into the complicated world of the adult. Some of these coming of-age moments are dramatic, some are profound. All are life-changing.

It is easy to dismiss these moments. They may seem undramatic, insignificant. But to the individual, the drama they represent is a one-way passage out of childhood. Once we pass through we can never go back.

For many years, I would only tell happy stories about my childhood, stories of midnight feasts and camp outs, of traveling to beautiful places and life-long friends. Years went by before I could admit that some of my childhood memories were deeply painful. If I acknowledged just how difficult they were, I would be betraying my parents and my childhood. More than that, if I mentioned the painful parts, I would have to deal with the pain, and some of it went deep.

The real reason I didn’t want to tell these stories was more complicated than I wanted to admit. My parents’ faith had led them to Pakistan and sustained them through the years they were there. If I was a healthy child, then teenager, then adult, no one could criticize their life choice. Here was their best defense against those critical of the missionary life. If I admitted the pain, if I was truthful about the hard stories, their defense was stripped.

But was I really worried about them? Or was I more worried about what would happen to my own faith?

Read the rest at A Life Overseas – A Third Culture Kid’s Story of Faith

A Life Overseas – Relax!

Readers, I am at A Life Overseas today talking about how God is at work in places where we go — and because of this, we can relax.

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In August of 2015 I had the privilege of going to the Kurdish area of Iraq to work with refugees. On my first day there, I was traveling to a mobile health clinic when I got into a conversation with a pharmacist. One year before she lived and worked in Qaraqosh in the Nineveh province of Iraq. When ISIS entered the city, Christians were given three choices: Convert, pay a massive tax, or leave. She got out on the last bus to leave Qaraqosh. As we were talking I asked her what she would want me to communicate to Christians in America about Christians in Iraq. “What?!” she said in astonishment. “There are Christians in America!”

I love this story for many reasons, but the main one is that it reminds me yet again that long before America was born, the Church had been established and was growing even as it endured persecution, human mistakes, and petty gossip. I found out later that the pharmacist’s church was built by St. Thomas two thousand years ago. God and the Church had not left Iraq. They had been there all along. 

In my parents early years in Pakistan they felt like pioneers. They stepped out in faith just a few years after Pakistan had become a nation and left the shores of New York Harbor along with two other young couples. There were three couples with five children between them and for three months they lived in two rooms, the only foreigners in the city. My mom talks about the day they arrived in Pakistan in her book, Jars of Clay: 

As we stood on the deck of the Steel Recorder with our little ones around us on November 4,1954, we felt like pioneers. Today was the day we would finally set foot on the soil of Pakistan. Our years of study, preparation, and prayer, had brought Ralph and me, and Ray and Jean to this place at this point in time. We expected to spend our lives here in Pakistan, serving God and telling people of his love. We had not come on a short, fact-finding tour, gathering material to write an article or even a book. This would be our life.

However, we soon learned that others had been there before us, preparing the way.

More importantly, God was, and had been, at work preparing the way before they arrived.

You can read the rest here! 

A Life Overseas – To the Displaced and the Exiled

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Readers – I am at A Life Overseas today sharing an essay from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. I hope you’ll join me!

To the Displaced and the Exiled

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas! 

For the Women in Mexico

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For the Women in Mexico

 by Robynn

“I was born and raised in the US midwest, but am now raising my two kiddos on the west coast of Mexico. I am blessed to serve alongside several other mamas, as we live in community and do life together. All 5 of us read your blog here, as well as ALO (A Life Overseas), and so many posts have felt like a lifeline over the to. I doubt any of us have ever commented before- just wanted to give a shout-out and say thank you, sincerely, thank you for the effort and time and honesty. We are deeply appreciative. Many posts have been discussed in our staff meetings or over a breakfast table, and exchanged in emails as encouragement, comment on a situation or challenge. Take a breather, and rest well, we’ll look forward to your return.” –Dana

 I can’t imagine forgetting the moment I read the above comment that a reader, Dana, wrote on the blog. On May 22, 2015, Marilyn concluded, after looking at my life from afar, and living through her own life’s lovely chaos, that was it was time for the two of us to take a break. Both of us had had family celebrations, we were both up against some difficult circumstances, both of us were spread too thin, we had been tempted to ‘repost’ something from the past one too many times that week. It was clearly time to take a break.

 We received several loving comments that day. Many of you affirmed our need for rest but it was Dana’s remarks that really registered. How could it be possible that we had befriended complete strangers, hidden half a world away?  How could it be that our words had been part of their conversations? We were humbled and honoured.

I have found myself often praying for you, Dana, and for your circle of friends. This post on endurance is for you.

I think that in light of the expectations we live under, from ourselves or from others, whether real or perceived, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to get bogged down. It’s easy to feel undervalued, unappreciated and unknown or unloved. It’s easy to give up! I know. I’ve been there.

But God highly values perseverance. He places so much stake in it that he puts all of his power behind it, to support it, to endorse it. Paul writes to the Colossians in chapter 1 verse 11, “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you have all the endurance and patience you need.”

I wish I would have discovered that tiny nugget of a verse tucked away in Colossians years ago. I wish I had happened upon it while we still lived in North India. But I didn’t– I missed it. It wasn’t until years later, living here in Kansas, that a friend showed it to me.

All of the Power of God….all of His glorious power will strengthen you. For what? What would God dedicate all of His glorious power to? To what cause would He give all of this glorious power? He gives it so that you will be strengthened. Not strengthened to work harder, to entertain more guests, to lead more people to Christ. Not strengthened to lead more team meetings, to fill out more forms from your sending agencies. Strengthened so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need.

God so values endurance and patience, He’s willing to donate all of his glorious power toward it!

But why to endurance? What does endurance accomplish? I think the answer maybe is in James 1:2-4,

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Endurance results in our completion, our perfection. God is so completely committed to that! He wants to see us grow up. He longs for it. So much so that he has staked all of his glorious power behind it.

Years ago while reading these verses I told God how annoyed I was that it was endurance that brings about my perfection, my completion. I am still baffled by that, if I’m honest. Why couldn’t it be another virtue? Why not compassion? Or service? Endurance implies something to endure. The very words assume sorrows to go through, suffering to embrace, tears to cry, disappointments to lament. To endure means to go through that and more. It hurts. There will be pain and often true agony. Endurance means accepting from God that which will make us perfect and complete.

How odd and amazing that He provides all of this glorious power to strengthen us for such a high calling –He strengthens us to endure!

Dana, my new friend yet unmet, and others who read from far away places, this is my prayer for you. I pray that you and your precious circle of friends will experience God’s glorious power today. My hope is that you will be strengthened from the inside out, that you will have patience and the uncanny ability to endure….and that you will be filled with joy.

(Most of this is loosely quoted, tweaked and adapted from Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission by Sue Eenigenberg and Robynn Bliss, 2009)

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/town-mexico-rural-village-469252/

A Life Overseas – A Note from an Impostor

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Readers – will you join me this Monday at A Life Overseas? Here is an excerpt from my brutally honest past history with missions.

On Wednesday of last week, Laura Parker announced changes and new leadership at A Life Overseas. Later that day I received a lovely note on Twitter from Denise James, co-author of the amazing blog Taking Route. Two days later, I received another encouraging note from Jillian Rogers, another woman from this community.

And with that encouragement and love from afar, I write this honest response to this community.

As a missionary kid/TCK I never wanted to be a missionary. When good folk at the Baptist churches that gave sacrificially of their time and money, not to mention a good part of their prayer lives, asked me if I wanted to be a missionary when I “grew up,” I would look at them and pray they didn’t see the panic under my response. No. No. NO. I did not want that. My best friend and I — we were heading off to Emory University to wear mini skirts and smoke cigarettes. Oh yes we were. Nancy was from Macon, Georgia, and I had fallen in love with Macon through her, though I had never been there.

And yet, a few years later I did not go to Emory. Instead, I headed to Chicago and chose nursing as a career — largely because I knew I could use this skill overseas. I knew just one thing: there was no way I was raising my family in my passport country. I couldn’t fathom living in the Western Hemisphere, more specifically the United States. So as soon as I became a nurse, I began making plans to go back to Pakistan and work.

The year following my graduation into the real adult world of patients, supervisors, night shifts, and more was one of the most difficult of my life. While God’s voice was whispering into my heart, I wanted no part of it. Though on the surface I taught Sunday School to junior high students, and sang “special music” during services, I was dead inside. My days were spent with patients, my evenings at punk rock bars in Chicago. And so I decided I needed to go home. The easiest way for me to go home was to get other people (you know, the ones who give sacrificially) to pay for it.

So I joined a short-term mission. The impostor act was in full swing at this point.

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

Have you ever felt like an impostor? How did that go for you? 

You Can’t Empower Those You Pity

“The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”~ Teju Cole

It was after we had been in Pakistan a week that I realized, despite the bleak surroundings of still present flood waters, mud and brick homes that would have to be rebuilt from the foundation up, and scarcity of basic supplies of food, that not one time had I felt pity for anyone we met.

I had come back to Pakistan after seeing my childhood home, Jacobabad, devastated by flood waters in the fall of 2010. Seeing the New York Times picture did a number on my soul and a few weeks later I was on the ground in Pakistan, and my heart was in Heaven.

IMG_4874Every day we were surrounded by women and children. Women in brightly embroidered shalwar/kameez with dupattas gracefully draped over their heads. Children of every shape and size, some picked on by older siblings; others naughty as can be, into all sorts of laughter and mischief; older teens, slightly more self-conscious but curious and eager to ask questions and observe.

Their resilience was remarkable. Their ability to withstand this devastating flood courageous. They were so much better than me – there was nothing to pity.

We laughed until our sides ached; cried until our souls felt crushed; raged at poverty and injustice; got excited at seeing a mom learning how to care for a wound; felt joy as we watched women and children gather around when we arrived; and each day at the end of a long, hot clinic, we were satisfied. We were not leading – we were being led by a dedicated and gifted team of Pakistanis. I had been on many trips to serve in the past – yet this was the first time I had been on a service trip where I was led by someone from the country where I was serving.

And not once had I felt pity for those who came into our lives.

Maybe that’s why this trip was going so well — because pity doesn’t help. You can’t empower those you pity.

Pity insults. Pity humiliates. Pity sees others as ‘less than’ not ‘equal to’ or ‘above’. While compassion is a vital part of love and moves us to action, pity looks on as a superior bystander.

In the last few years a conversation has started about what is termed the “white Saviour complex” – when people like me get on planes and go to places like Pakistan, thinking they are going to save the masses from starvation, devastation, and Hell, trips that are sometimes made of pity for the less fortunate. And there is merit to what has been said. Teju Cole wrote a challenging and provocative piece about this last year soon after the Kony 2012 video went viral. It was a piece that first made me cringe, then made me angry, and finally made me nod in agreement.

Too often we go with heads and egos held high. Too often we want to serve instead of to learn. Too often we pity those around us. Too often we decide what those around us need – instead of asking them what they need.

So what do we do – just stop going? No – I don’t think so. But asking ahead of time what is needed is imperative. Realizing that we don’t hold all the answers is critical. Humility of heart and body must be present in all we do.

If we go with pity and seeing ourselves as doing any ‘saving’ then several things happen: We burn out, unable to last long. We subconsciously want to be thanked and praised. We fail to respect the very people we have come to serve, instead seeing them as incapable of being partners and leaders. We don’t acknowledge the bigger problems behind those that are visible. We don’t acknowledge God as God – and us as human.

I know a post like this just begins the conversation about service. It’s a big topic, but as churches and other organizations around the country get ready for summer service projects, gear up to ‘go’, it behooves all of us to dig deep and ask the hard, but important question – Why, really, are we doing this?

And If we go? Our charge is to go in humility, with a heart to learn; never to go out of pity and above all, know we are not, will never be, the Saviour.

“There is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.” Teju Cole in The White Saviour Industrial Complex

An Ode to the Well-meaning and the Clueless

As a child of missionaries growing up in the sixties through the late seventies, I have more than a few funny stories about some of the things that were sent our way — clothing and such sent to the “poor missionaries” in Pakistan. This post is an ode to those who sent them – but before you judge my heart and attitude, please read through to the end.

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You tried so hard!

You went through your children’s clothes, certain that you could find something, anything really, that you could send to the children of missionaries. You pictured the huts we lived in, the threadbare tunics we wore, the lack of stores and supplies.  You thought we would never know the difference between Levis and no name jeans.

You advertised and arranged special drop off times so those clothes could make their way from your basements to our homes, our bodies.

You packed up oatmeal, and flour, thinking that surely we would use these products and be so excited. It never entered your mind that chocolate chips and taco mix were what we craved.

You really did send teabags to the part of the world that invented tea.

You sent pants with no zippers and old-fashioned dresses, all with love and a pure heart. And we mocked with hearts that were mean and not pure.

And I thought you were well-meaning and clueless. And I laughed.

And then I began meeting some of you. And you really didn’t know. You really were giving us gifts from your heart. You were taking time and energy that could have been used in a hundred other ways to care for us so far away.

You put little stitches on big warm quilts and sent them our way so we could be warm. And with each stitch you prayed for us. You prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

When my mother and I went over a cliff in the mountains, with only a barbed wire fence separating us from certain death – you were praying. When my brother got in a near fatal accident in Turkey, you were praying. When we faced illness, and sorrow, and separation, you prayed. When babies died, and boarding school was too hard, and people hurt us, you prayed.

You were so much better than me – with my arrogance and my “well-meaning but clueless” song and dance. You prayed with a fervor and love that I never had. You knew what it was to care for people you had barely met.

I still have two of your quilts. And when I look at them I think of how much I judged – and how wrong I was. And I thank you in my heart. 

Labor of Love

I met Dawn Hobbie Sticklen when I responded to a post she wrote about the Muslim community in Joplin, Missouri. Since that time we’ve communicated over blogs and twitter. Today I’m sending you to her blog “Since You Asked…” to read a piece that she posted yesterday. If you’re wondering how you might break out of your comfort zone this year, her essay will be a great challenge and encouragement.

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In July of 2010, Cheryl Fogarty and seven others from Joplin, MO, boarded a plane bound for Haiti.  Once on the plane, Cheryl felt a wave of peace envelop her and she told herself, “This is what you’re supposed to do.”

And then she got off the plane in Haiti. 

Cheryl, who suffered from chronic asthma since childhood and depended on inhalers and several medications to breathe freely, was unprepared for the stench of decay she inhaled when she stepped off the plane and into the suffocating heat and humidity of Port-Au-Prince.  Her immediate thought was, “Surely God didn’t bring me all the way here to die.”  Once again, she began to pray.

Six months before her first trip to Haiti, Cheryl began a quest to understand her life’s mission.  As she recently told me, “I had achieved all my goals.  My husband and I have been together for twenty years.  We have four children, a beautiful home, and my practice is thriving.  Yet, I felt there was something more I was supposed to do……Read more here!

 

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What Haiti Taught Me

Today’s guest post is from Joanne M. Choi. Joanne is a freelance writer who will go anywhere to get a great story! Her passion is staying up-to-date on people and society.
You name it, she has written about it. She currently writes for Color Magazine and is the fashion blogger at Boston Event Guide. Otherwise, her time is spent finishing her first Young Adult novel, volunteering with Boston Cares, and traveling.

From the moment my feet touched down at Toussaint Louverture International Airport last year, my eyes took in this completely new world with both wonderment and confusion. That reaction was not unexpected as this was my 1st time to the Caribbean, Haiti, and on a missions trip. The feat was fierce as our group waited for our rides.

My first impression of Port-au-Prince as we drove away from the airport was beauty in the midst of chaos. It seemed like a place colorless and dusty with patches of vibrancy all the more brilliant for its unexpectedness.  Think endless rubble, children trying to dust off our van, potholes, the random art, and the brightly painted taptap buses with many Haitians crammed inside and out.

That crammed impression was furthered when looking upon Haitians conducting their day-to-day activities.  Those selling goods, other buying goods, graceful women passing by with items balancing nicely on their heads.  The men who seemed to be just hanging around adding to this tableau of densely configured spaces.

The children’s eager faces peered at us excitedly from windows and doors when we arrived on that first Monday to the Caped Orphanage to conduct a weeklong Vacation Bible School. I wonder what we represented to them as we emerged with, most of us armed with our supplies for the week and one with her guitar.

The perpetually smiling Pastor Dimanche and his wife ran the orphanage that had a fence around the property and a gate (I was pleasantly surprised) though the children shared the beds and others slept on the floor.  The Dimanches had one biological son and the rest of the children were between the ages of 2-20.

Schnadine, whom they called Bébé, was the youngest in the orphanage.  Like a delicate figure skater, she walked around carefully in frilly little dresses.  I adored her.  The older children made it a point to include her in games. Bébé had miraculously survived the earthquake and been rescued from the rubble though sadly her Mother had not survived.

As we started singing, John Carey burst into sobs as his thin legs dangled over the seat. Large sad brown eyes stared ahead as I did my best to soothe this overwhelmed child that seemed to have a sorrow within him so profound.  He fell asleep in my arms. What I didn’t know that first day was that only 8 days prior, unable to care for him, his mother had dropped her little boy off at the orphanage.

Even though some kids were shy and did not approach me right away, others did.  One teenage boy with a charming smile inquired, “Do you have parents or brothers and sisters?” I did and we started chatting.  The floodgates opened; he wanted to know the background about the other Americans in my group. Soon, there was a group of older kids gathered around me listening.  I felt like a storyteller weaving in our lives so they could understand us better.

Many children touched and tugged at my hair when I didn’t have it pulled back. “Do you cut your hair?” a teenage girl asked me urgently, seriously while widening her eyes and gazing at me. Confused, I answered, “My hair used to be much longer but now I keep it at shoulder length.”  The other girls around me nodded in seeming awe.  Then, I realized why they asked me. We shared the same hair color, the children and I, but the texture of their hair was different from mine.  I wondered if I was the first Asian person they had ever met in person. It did seem at times that I was one of few Asians in the whole country.

“We call them the United Nothing,” quipped Frenaud, one of our translators, when we both looked at a white UN vehicle with its protective bars that seemed out of place.  To say this is a complicated country whose relationships with other nations like the US are extremely complex is an understatement. Many American, myself included, are not taught in school/aware that Haiti was the first free black republic in the world and once more prosperous than the US.  The issues related to foreign aid are layered.  Reading Margaret Trost’s book On That Day, Everybody Ate, Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti, and Philippe Girard’s Haiti provided glimpses and helped with my general ignorance.  As did watching the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations filmed in Haiti.

After the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was in the news and on the hearts of many people in the US and around the world, and I hope the focus continues to be there.  I believe that the Haitians can and should take the initiative, working together with self-sustaining charity models. In my opinion, charity-supported models will not break the learned helplessness cycle that is ultimately self-defeating.  Haiti is a country on the verge. It won’t take a day or a year to break free from the effects of generations of poverty, a high illiteracy rate, deforestation, and corruption, but there are Haitians who can take it in the right direction.

Why did I come? Something inside was compelling me and it felt both emotional and spiritual. Also, I didn’t want to be sitting around all the time focusing on myself, my own uncertainties about the future and the path I had chosen.  I knew that I needed perspective and if I did this now, it would be the start of giving back in ways that felt real and relevant.

I still think about the precious Haitian children in the orphanage and writing this now helps me process my thoughts. To the world, they have little prospects and only the guarantee of one hot meal of day until they leave the orphanage. I take comfort in knowing that the children have their hope for a better future along with a spirit of faith and joy.

Information on aid and relief organizations associated with Haiti.

Fonkoze – http://www.fonkoze.org/

Fonkoze, which means “let’s talk” in Haitian Creole, is an micro-lending organization.  They say that they are the largest micro-finance organization servicing Haitians in poor, rural based areas.

Zafen – It’s Our Business https://www.zafen.org/

Zafen, which loosely translated means “our business” in Haitian Creole, is another micro-lending site but it’s built on the KickStarter model.   It allows folks to post their projects (mostly education projects and medium – large enterprises) online and set fundraising goals.  Funders can then A) pick from an array of featured projects and B) Select how much they want to give.  100% of your loan or donation goes directly to the project.

Haitian Artisans For Peace International – http://www.haitianartisans.com/

Support Haitian Artisans and the expansion of the arts in Haiti

International Institute of New England – http://iine.us/

Many Haitians have relocated to the States after last year’s earthquake.  The IINE, located here in Boston, helps recent immigrants adjust to their new lives in New England through workforce development programs and money-saving workshops. The staff is experienced and incredibly passionate about what they do.

Haiti Habitat for Humanity – http://www.habitat.org/intl/lac/89.aspx

This branch of HFH provides both temporary housing and construction skills to the communities affected by natural disasters in Haiti

J/P HRO – http://jphro.org/

The mission of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization is about bringing sustainable programs to the Haitian people in a timely and efficient matter. Co-founded by Sean Penn.

GiveLove – http://www.givelove.org/

GiveLove is focused on teaching the Haitian people about thermophilic composting. Co-founded by Patricia Arquette and Rosetta Getty.

Project Medishare for Haiti – http://www.projectmedishare.org/

It is an organization dedicated to sharing its human and technical resources with its Haitian partners in the quest to achieve quality healthcare and development services for all.

Partners In Health – http://www.pih.org/

The mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone.

World Relief – http://worldrelief.org/Page.aspx?pid=2723

Christian organization that works with local churches to serve the most vulnerable.