On Being a Single Missionary

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Now that I’ve been back for a few months from my year in Malawi, I’ve had more of a chance to reflect and process my time there. I wanted to take some time to share some thoughts from the field that I hope are helpful for other people.

Many of my closest friends are women who have served overseas as a single person, and we’ve been able to talk and discuss and share our experiences. In our conversations, there are some common experiences that I think that we have had, and I wanted to bring them to light. There are definitely great advantages to going overseas single, but there are also some unique challenges, and I will be perfectly honest that it is really difficult. Hopefully I’ll highlight some of both. Note: My community in Malawi was amazing, so some of these experiences aren’t fully mine, but I can definitely relate to each of them.

1) We experience deep loneliness. I had a friend state it this way: “I have never felt loneliness in my life, until I moved overseas.” I think all people who go overseas experience loneliness and isolation, but those of us who are single feel it even more. In our home countries, we rely on our wider social networks to get the relational care that we need (because we know that God created us to be in relationship with other people). When we are overseas, we don’t have these social networks to rely on for support. “It is not good for [wo]man to be alone” is true, yet as single people, we ARE alone. We can form friendships with nationals, and our singleness allows us to do that better, but it does not replace having another person who’s experiencing the same things with you to process with.

Another extra note: I understand when married people tell single people to be satisfied in Jesus alone, and that a husband won’t fulfill their needs. I think while that might be true, I can tell you most women living overseas are satisfied in Jesus, otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone overseas single. YET, they also realize how much easier life would be (and less lonely) were they to have a partner on the field.

2) Our target cultures don’t know what to do with us. For most of the world, marriage and kids are the norm. Single women are strange to most of the people in the unreached worlds we are trying to work in. We don’t fit neatly into a category, therefore, it can be harder to make entrance into communities. When I was on my own, to start up conversations were so much harder, as I couldn’t talk about my husband or my kids. When my teammates arrived, and I took our their kids for walks, I immediately got into conversations that I hadn’t been able to have before. 

As time went on, and people got to know me, it gave me an opportunity to share about where I was at with marriage, and why I needed God to send a man who loved the nations in order to be married, which was a testimony in and of itself, but it is tiring needing to explain. 

3) Our married teammates and other workers don’t know what to do with us. No matter how hard we try to understand one another, our lives are just different. That doesn’t mean we can’t thrive living together, but it is easy to misunderstand a single teammate. Most married people have forgotten what it’s like to be single, and most often times, have never experienced living overseas as a single person. Families are trying to seek to protect their own families and their time, which is important, but they often forget that single teammates need family too, and are often left out of things. Oftentimes, their married with children teammates subconsciously expect that their singles should do more, since they are single and should obviously have more free time than them. Single teammates often don’t have somebody else to advocate for them. I have experienced great times with married people who have watched out for me, and my teammates treated me as family. Not everybody got to experience this, and I feel my experience was more of an exception than the rule.

4) We face more safety risk. Particularly for single women, we often times are easier targets. Without a man around, we are harassed more (#yesallwomen). I feel this in the States, but especially overseas, I find that I’m always thinking about whether or not what I am doing is safe, and what type of perception I am giving off. When I first landed, some other expat women had their house broken into with machine-gun armed men. I was living alone at the time (my other teammate was living at another property and had similar sentiments), and it was terrifying for a while to think about. I’ve learned, however, that God really does protect. Despite the increased safety, I saw the hand of God over me in such profound ways, and that knowledge actually allowed me to sleep through the night. 

5) We have to learn to do things we’d never do anywhere else. Manage travel. Yes. Keep passports. Yes. Money exchange. Yes. Fix cars. Yes. Figure out the house. Yes. Clean up the plumbing mess. Yes. Manage workers (including males). Yes. Cook. Yes. Clean. Yes. Interacting with police, government officials, etc. Yes. Say no to the countless people that ask for money. Yes. Kill bugs. Yes. <Sigh> Living overseas is a lot more complicated than living in our home country, and as single people, we don’t have anybody to partner to do these things with. I’ve had to learn to do things that I never thought I’d ever have to before. And really, this can be one of the most tiring things about living single— learning to navigate life all on your own. And that’s tough… But I’ve come out of this tough as nails and have gained experience because of it.

6) We are oftentimes laying down our deep desires for marriage. While Paul may say he wishes all were like him and were able to be celibate, I have found very few single missionaries that actually wished that for ourselves (they do exist). Rather, many have counted the cost and have laid down a deep desire of their heart in order to pursue another desire of their heart. It can be hard watching others who have partners to minister with while we don’t have it. I have also seen those who have wrestled with their calling with a mate who might not have the same calling or vision, and the challenges of what they should choose. It is not easy. (More on this in a next post)

7) We have opportunities to be accepted into and experience our target culture in ways married people can’t. As single people, it is easier to be “adopted” into families, and have people watch out for us. One friend said she was able to be daughters to multiple people, and I found many people watching out for me and acting as my “uncle” (which is like a dad). This is a special experience. I also got to experience culture in ways families and marrieds can’t. I spent a week living in the village with some women, which would have been difficult for a married couple and especially a family. Those were unique experiences that really helped me engage with culture that I wouldn’t otherwise been able to have.

8) We are able to both express and experience God in important ways on the field. Single people play an important role in what God is doing overseas. I don’t know that I would go overseas single again, but I wouldn’t trade my time overseas as a single person at all. My understanding of God as a bridegroom has increased exponentially, and I have really come to know and trust in God’s protection, provision, and love for me in ways I never would have otherwise. God really does pull through and He will hold us and walk with us as we walk out.

Conclusion: It was hard, but it was amazing. I wish I had done it younger, rather than in my thirties, but I don’t regret it at all. For those of you considering going overseas as a single person, understand there will be challenges, but there will be great rewards. For those of you who might be on teams with singles, support them, love them, be considerate. You can make or break their experience. For those of you who are just reading this but not on the field, please find the single workers that you know, and send them an e-mail, call them, visit them, send them a gift on their birthday, encourage them, and pray for them. It is not easy, and they could use all the support they can get!

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33 Reasons to Be Grateful

I have much to be thankful for. What better than to reflect on that on a birthday. So forget about the 5 day positivity challenge. Here are 33 things I am thankful for on my 33rd birthday:

1) The unrelenting love of Jesus for me. Even in the midst of my confusion, He has not stopped in pursuing me and allowing His love to set me free.
2) The ways God has formed me in His image. I express His beauty, His passion, and His love for people.
3) Being a strong woman leader. It’s taken me a long time to embrace both being a woman as well as being called into ministry as a leader. I love that God has made me uniquely to bless the body of Christ in ways that only I can.
4) Communities that love the nations (Epicentre and WCF). What a blessing to be a part of a community passionate about the nations and so rich in experience. I’m so grateful for the many people in Epicentre and WCF that allow me to not feel so crazy in the ways I think.
5) Malawi and the people there. He has created such a beautiful people in the Yao and it has been a privilege to partner with those there, Malawian and not alike.
6) Provision from day to day. I don’t have much (3 suitcases to my name), but I’m grateful I have a place to rest my head, a car to drive, and good food to eat.
7) A family that has been incredibly supportive in the journey I’ve been on. I’m not always the best at showing it, but I am thankful for the ways that my family has set the way and foundation for my life. They have to trust in God as much as I have in letting me go.
8) Being single. Don’t get me wrong. I really want to be married. But more and more, I have realized the things God has formed in me and allowed me to be by being single. I am grateful to be able to run after Jesus wholeheartedly in the ways I can as a single person, and the ways I can serve and love people uniquely. I’ve not always been grateful for this, but I know this season is a gift.
9) Dreams in the Night. One thing that I’ve been learning is that God speaks to me in dreams. It’s been crazy the types of dreams I have had over the past few years that have played out in real life later. I never thought I’d be the type of person to experience God that way, but it’s been a fun adventure.
10) Dreams of the Heart. I love that God gives us dreams. And I love that as I know Him more, my dreams reflect more of His dreams. I love dreaming about Asia, dreaming about the nations, dreaming about how to see people awakened to God’s presence in their lives. I love that God not only gives, but deeply cares about these dreams and passions.
11) The Bay Area. I’ll always be Bay Area at heart. I love the nature and the outdoors. I love that people are present and are willing to go deep. I love running on the Los Gatos Creek Trail and at Rancho San Antonio. I miss those things living in LA.
12) Los Angeles. I used to hate LA. I still don’t love LA as a place primarily because it’s ugly (I love connecting with God through nature). But, I love the people here. I love that people dream and are willing to take risks. I love the excitement of living in LA. And the food ain’t bad either.
13) My Running/Fitness Journey. In high school, I could barely run a mile. I think in college, I weighed over 200 lbs at one point. In 2007, after realizing how out of shape I was, I set my mind to learn to run and get healthier. 3.1 miles seemed impossible, but that fall, I ran my first half marathon, and then finished my first (and most likely only) marathon in 2008. The girl who couldn’t even finish a mile finished a 26.2 mile run at a faster pace than my one mile in college. I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. Every time I go out for a run, I’m reminded of that.
14) Counseling. I love counseling. Not counseling others, but getting professional counseling. Been so blessed to be able to have seen a counselor for the past two years and explore areas of personal growth and I wish others would be able to experience the joys of doing so. I highly recommend it!
15) Friends who help take care of me and love me. Going out to the field, I have had friends who have let me stay at their places, let me borrow their stuff, bought me food, and been a listening and praying ear. I’ve been one who’s found it hard to receive in the past, and it’s been a learning point for me to receive well.
16) Opportunities to see the world. God once told me in my early twenties that He would take me to see the world. I’ve had the chance to travel to 18 countries and experience so many different cultures. I can’t wait for more of that.
17) Being Asian. It’s taken a long journey of understanding the complexities of living as an Asian-American. More and more, I love who God has made me to be and I believe I have a unique voice as an Asian in this world. I’m excited to see it play out as I embrace my ethnic identity more.
18) God’s Protection. Living in Malawi helped me to experience that God really is a protector. He’s guarded me from multiple possibly dangerous situations, and I’m ever so grateful for that. It’s helped me experience the love of God in new ways.
19) Fuller Seminary. Fuller and I have a love/hate relationship. I spent five years of school there, and sometimes, I wondered to myself whether all this head knowledge really mattered. I had heard so many people who had grown more cynical, and felt like there were so many people who didn’t love Jesus. But then again, I’ve had so many meaningful friendships develop from my time here, and have met so many people who are on fire for God. Plus, after going to the field, I really realized how helpful some of my classes were.
20) Classes and PapersI am so thankful for a few classes that have shaped and transformed my time and life. Power Encounters, Inner Healing in a Cross-Cultural Context, Cross-Cultural Communication, Formation of Emerging Leaders, Biblical Foundation of Missions, Christian Ethics. These classes have shaped and formed my thoughts so much. And in reality, papers (yes, those darn 20 page things) are the things that have affected my heart the most and have sunk the deepest.
21) Freedom to Worship. This is both on a political level as well as a personal one. Having been in countries that are closed, or are difficult to worship, there is great privilege in being able to worship freely. I also love that God has shown me what fun it is to be able to worship freely and fully in His presence.
22) Home of Christ. The church I’ve been a part of since I was 5 years old has been foundational to my growth. I’m thankful for their partnership and the ways they have been my primary financial support for my time in Epicentre. I’m thankful for aunties and uncles who are always there for me and encourage me. Thankful for the elderly men and women who are my prayer warriors.
23) Rest. God loves rest. He gave us rest and recreation. God has been showing me about this more and more, and I’m grateful His desire is NOT for us to go crazy and run around like chickens with our heads cut off. I love that He loves us having fun, resting, and enjoying creation and people.
24) Internet and a Networked World. I love that bridges that were once impossible to cross are no longer as big of divides. It’s amazing that while I was alone in Malawi, I could easily send messages and Skype with friends across the world. I love that a good number of my Facebook friends are ones that I’ve made around the world. 
25) Culture. I realized that I love learning about how people live. How people sleep. How people eat. How people spend their time. What makes them tick. God’s made so many people unique and I love seeing how God reflects Himself through different peoples, and how the gospel can take root and grow in it.
26) Mentors. I’m thankful for people who have come into my life, even if it’s only for a few moments, and have spoken words about who I am and given me direction that have helped to set the trajectory of my life. They have believed in me and helped me step into who I am. 
27) Women who have let me speak into their lives. One the other end, I’m super thankful that there have been women who have trusted me enough to allow me to speak and share about Jesus in their lives. I’m thankful for friendships that have grown out of these relationships, and thankful that these women continue to pray for me. 
28) My previous life. I used to be a teacher. I loved that time of my life. Now that I’m out of it, I miss it. I don’t miss the grading or the planning, but I loved being able to shape and form kids. I loved having co-workers to see day in, day out. I probably won’t go back anytime soon to classroom teacher, but I do hope to have teaching be a part of my life.
29) Communication. I took for granted how important being able to speak until I lost the ability in Malawi. I love that love shows so much, but I personally love using words. There’s power in words and there’s power in communication. Words can heal and they can hurt. I want to be somebody that uses them to heal.
30) Love. Actions can speak so much. The foundation of all ministry is love. I love that about Jesus. I love that love is more important than all things. Love conquers all. That’s amazing.
31) Hope. I’ve seen a lot of very difficult things, particularly living in Malawi where corruption and death are happening all the time. It can be so hopeless. Even for my life, seeing unfulfilled dreams and promises have often left me feeling sad and confused, but then God reminds me that having hope is really important, and in fact, having hope can carry us on to the next moment. I love hope.
32) My faith and relationship with Jesus. What an adventure it’s been with God. What an adventure it’s been to walk with a living God who is taking me left and right, up and down. I don’t know what’s next, but it’s never been boring, and I’m a better person because of it.
33) 33 years of life. God’s given me life, and each year hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been good. I’m grateful for the hard moments, the disappointments, the failed relationships, the broken situations, and thankful for the victories, the joys, the fun times… They’ve all been given, and I will not take things for granted.

Thank you God for my life. Thank you for taking me to 33. I’m excited about what’s next.

Re-Entry: The Journey “Home”

My current season in Malawi comes to an end in just about 2 weeks. At least for now, I’ll be heading back to the United States to rest and reassess  this next season that I’m entering into.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m excited about coming “home”.

I don’t really know how to answer that question.

What I am really excited about is seeing where the Lord is leading me next. In each step of transition that I’ve had in my adult life, big or small, God has always prepared the way and shown me that He knows what’s best for me. And while not everything has fully ended up how I expected it to, it just means there’s a lot more of God’s story in my life to be written. That is a very exciting notion.

I’m mixed, however, in emotions about journeying back “home”. I really don’t know how re-entering my home culture is going to be.

Yes, there is so much more familiarity to living in the States. There is more convenience. There is far less culture shock (though being an Asian-American living in a state as diverse as California, it will always exist to some extent). And I can get produce. And cheese. And sushi. And Asian food. I can walk outside and not be stared at. I can go for a run and wear shorts! *gasp*.

But, I don’t really know that it’ll feel like “home”. I don’t know how I’ll respond to a fast-paced developed city after having lived in a laid-back rural setting for a year. I don’t know how I’ll confront the millions of choices that are before me when I enter into the nearest Target, after having been in stores that usually have about a few dozen items. I don’t know how my connections will be with people who are my close friends, as my life has changed dramatically, as has theirs.

And I don’t know how it will be to feel like I’m still not settled, and the United States is not where I see myself being forever. My time in Malawi has only solidified desires of my heart to be in the nations and to see others mobilized for the nations. And so many of these developments of my soul have happened in the secret places between Jesus and me, and will continue to grow there.

There are many layers to this journey of re-entry, and in what I have read, the re-entry process into home culture is often more difficult than entering into a new culture. I really don’t know how I’ll respond.  I can imagine myself becoming self-centered, moody, and withdrawn. I hope I’m not that and I will be able to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in my life.  I won’t have much to give to others, but perhaps it is a season to learn how to receive. Honestly, I just don’t know how I will be.

So I ask your forgiveness now, my friends in the States, if I come “home” and seem to have trouble fully engaging as I might have done a year ago. Have patience with me. I need people to help me. If you are able to, I’d love to have you walk with me. And if you are not able to because of life stage and circumstance, don’t worry. I understand too. 🙂

I realize that my life will continue to be like this for the rest of my life. I’ve always seen myself to never be settled. I’m not an aimless wanderer, but a call to the nations means a life of entering and leaving, meeting and saying goodbye, and no settling except upon the solid rock of Jesus.

I have hope for this re-entry, though not for trying to find “home” again. Malawi has been my home for the past year, and a beautiful one, it was. I have hope in the fact that I am trying to find my way to the only real home that we all will have one day.

14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14

 

Change of Plans

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept to his way without turning aside.” Job 23:10-11NIV

For those of you who don’t get my monthly newsletters, I announced big news earlier this year that I would be changing my term here in Malawi and returning back to the States in June of this year. I wanted to share a little bit about that process.

I signed up for an initial term of 2.5 years. I knew God was calling me out to whatever the first long-term team was for our church, and it was Malawi and 2.5 years was the term.  It is not a long period of time. To move into a new place, get your bearings down, and learn enough language and culture to adequately do any direct ministry would require a minimum of at least 3-5 years. I know that in order for the gospel to truly take root and transform an unreached people group, we need more than just short-term investment. I think short-term trips have their place and can make an impact, but not without it being part of a longer-term vision.

Last September and October, I hit a very difficult time out here. I was teamless (at that point, nobody was in sight to come either) and I was asking a lot of questions to God about my time in Malawi. Here I was, in my 30s, single, in a continent I had never dreamed that I would ever be in, in a culture that didn’t know what to do with me, completely alone, for 2.5 more years! A few personal events had happened that really brought the emotions I had been feeling from my whole journey to the surface. I went to God with them, and in the midst of it, I heard him say to me that my time in Malawi was to be a year. He highlighted what he had spoken multiple times: that my role was to prepare the way.

I spent a few weeks discerning with trusted people and had intercessors praying with me. I really did wrestle with it. On one hand, if God was giving me the release to move on from Malawi, I would be okay taking it. On the other hand, I needed to be sure it was God and not my emotions, and I needed to work through what I was hearing. In my discernment process, I had felt confident that God was indeed speaking to me, which led me to the question of being able to be okay with ending my term early.

It’s a hard thing for somebody like me to end something early, especially something as big as Malawi. I like to be responsible and finish what I start. I had raised ministry partners for 2.5 years, told people I’d most likely be gone and not back in the States for 2.5 years, and had pretty much told God that the only way that I’d leave Malawi was if He brought my my husband (which wasn’t totally out of the question as I left for Malawi, but wasn’t a likely thing either). Would I be disappointing my teammates if they did end up coming? What about the church? What about the people and churches that were supporting me? What about the Yao people that I have come to serve? After a year, I’d barely have enough language to even buy food at a market, let alone proclaim the good news of Jesus and disciple people. And was I leaving because I didn’t trust God for my future?

In the midst of this wrestling, God began to unravel some of the lies that were in my heart. As a young woman, I’ve struggled with self-image and my weight in particular, and I think at some point in my youth, I decided subconsciously that if I weren’t able to be of worth as a woman with my “lack of physical beauty”, I could at least be somebody that could serve others well. I was quite a capable and independent person and did find acceptance from people due to my talents and abilities. As I prayed about my time in Malawi, this really became highlighted to me, and God ministered to my heart and reminded me that He wasn’t concerned about my “usefulness”. He gladly accepts my willingness to surrender my life before Him completely, but He is just as concerned about the things on my heart and doesn’t need me to be the sacrificial lamb for Him. He’s done that for me. (On a separate note, God used other events these past few years to help me embrace and understand my beauty…) And I realized, to walk away from Malawi was actually a step of faith just as much as staying there, and I realized how much I had changed and grown in my faith and trust in God through this whole process, and the step away was where He was leading me. I realized in a new way how much God loved me. Through all this, I was able to feel free to move forward from Malawi.

Fast forward now to March. Nearly six months after I initially felt God say a year, God’s only confirmed that decision that I made so tentatively a few months ago. He’s used situations, circumstances, and even dreams that I’ve had and dreams others have had to confirm that this is indeed the path He has for me. In 2013, I had no idea what was next, and by the beginning of 2014, it was so clear where God was leading me to (another story for another time). My teammates are here now, and I can leave knowing that I was here to prepare the way for them to be able to serve long-term. Plus, I’ve seen that against common sense, God has indeed been able to use a broken vessel like me to make a difference among the Yao, simply because I was available.  And while there are still a whole lot of question marks about the future (When’s Asia? What about family and marriage? Where will I live? Will I have a car? What will my community look like?), there’s also a lot of peace that God knows what’s next.

I sometimes think about the set of circumstances that led me to this point. So many divine things had happened that if they had not, I would not be where I am now. If my teammates had come out when we thought they would, and I hadn’t been alone, things might be different. If I hadn’t went through the difficult life circumstances that I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have wrestled with God the way I did. And perhaps I might still be here, not having dealt with some of the deep places of my heart that struggled with truly understanding the way God felt about me. But God knew what I needed, and what felt like dark places actually ended up being what led me to light.

So I head back to the States in June, excited about the future and what God has next, but moreso, returning with a trust and faith that God is indeed God and all He was concerned about was my willingness to follow Him, one step at a time.  That’s all that really matters. The verse I started with expresses what I know to be true. While I was only here in Malawi for a short time, I know it was the Lord leading me here and away, and it was the Lord using this time to test and refine me, and I pray that I would come out of this time as gold. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Things I Will No Longer Take for Granted

I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s not because there’s been nothing going on to write about. In fact, I’ve realized things have been so intense, I really don’t know how to communicate the things I’ve experienced, so I haven’t wanted to.

However, I think some lighter things might be a good thing for me, so I’ll give some of my contributions about living overseas, and particularly in a developing world context, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing it.

For my first post, I wanted to share some things that I will not take for granted after having been away from home for nearly 7 months. Please friends, enjoy what you have. 🙂

  • Running Water – While I normally have running water, it does turn off quite often, usually when the power goes off. I have learned that in life, not having running water is a huge pain in the ***. For a few hours is slightly annoying, but after about 6-7 hours, you really begin to realize how much you actually need water (beyond just for drinking). You never long to do dishes as much as when the water is gone. (Reliable electricity is nice as well).
  • Unlimited, High-Speed Internet – I am incredibly grateful that I have internet, and it is fairly fast. I am able to stay connected to people, which was a huge help during the months alone. However, looking at the amount of youtube and other videos posted on the internet by people back in America, I forget how fast and how much bandwidth we use back home. Being on a limited data plan makes you very aware of each video and each call (a one hour google video hangout sucked up nearly 500 MB of data). Also, I have yet to have a skype call that hasn’t broken up yet.
  • Target/Walmart/Safeway/Whole Food/Any Grocery-Convenience-Drug Store/Fast Food – Need medicine? Want a ready-made meal, or pretty much ready-made anything? Trash bags? 2-ply toilet paper? Recipe call for sour cream, cream cheese, butter? Want any cereal beyond Corn Flakes? Yah, those pretty much don’t exist here. Perhaps if I drive 4 hours, I MIGHT be able to find them. When I went to Cape Town and we first went into a grocery store, we were blown away that there were more types of coffee than there were total items in the biggest store in town (perhaps a slight exaggeration, but probably not by much).
  • Doctor/Dentist/Pharmacist/Nurse – There are a total of two doctors for the entire hospital here, serving a region of tens of thousands. When I had Malaria, we didn’t even consider going to the doctor, for none really could be found here. We self-diagnosed (with a legitimate test) and self-treated. That would never happen back home, but it’s the best option we have unless we want to go for a drive. Even if I went to the big city, I’m not sure I trust the care there… I’m debating whether it’s better to leave my teeth uncleaned or to get them cleaned in Malawi… My American friends, use your Obamacare and see your doctor down the street, even if it takes a while to get that appointment! You don’t get that privilege here!
  • Street Lights – You really don’t appreciate street lights until you don’t have them. Particularly when the roads are full of pedestrians and bikers. High beams have become my best friend.
  • Paved, Maintained Roads – When I’m trying to go out to the villages, I spend at least half of the time driving on dirt roads, or off road. The paved roads that we do have here do break down quite often, and with rainy season, there are more potholes than ever. Today, we heard that a bridge on a major road to one of the big cities broke, which means no vehicles can go that direction. Let’s just say that my car has taken quite a beating. I’ve had three of my four tires go flat at some point or another, and there have definitely been moments where I’ve had some problems, leading to my next point.
  • Your Local Car Dealership – I know most people hate to go to their local car dealership or even cringe going to a mechanic. When my car breaks down, I need to find a local mechanic to tell me if what’s wrong can be fixed entirely in town. 9 times out of 10, it can’t. Then, I need to take a trip to one of the big cities (3-4 hours away) to get pieces/parts/people necessary to see if the car can be fixed. If there is a part on the car that needs to be replaced (like my car needs now), they either need to go to a junkyard and find a car and salvage the piece, or they’ll need to go to S. Africa. I’d give anything right now to pay $300-$400 dollars to my local Toyota get a piece replaced and fixed in a day. My car has been missing the piece for nearly 2 months now. I’ll still end up paying $400 dollars or more and I’m still waiting.
  • Mosquito-Free Anywhere – My dear 4-year-old teammates Elijin asked a great question the other day. He asked why God would make mosquitoes. All they do here is make people itch and cause death via Malaria. It’s one thing to just cause itching, which is annoying in itself. It’s a whole other thing to be one of the highest causes of death in an area, particularly in children. I enjoy sleeping without being enclosed in a net. As a bonus, I will also never take for granted being in bed without bugs. Even if I’ve eliminated the mosquitoes, I don’t think I’ve gone one night without some type of little bug crawling on my bed or body.
  • Places open past 5 pm/Night Life – With half the area living without electricity, most life seems to die down by about sunset or slightly past. If you drive anywhere beyond 7 pm, the streets are deserted, and there is nowhere to go (and even if it was, driving at night can be very dangerous). While some people do gather around market areas, it’s not much of a place for a foreigner to go socialize, so unless I’m at a friend’s place for dinner, my night life consists of DVDs and the internet.

I hope I will never take any of these things for granted ever again. It may seem like life here is very difficult, and in many ways it is, but it isn’t all bad. Next up is a list of things I am grateful for living here.

God is Malawian

An expat friend I met here in Malawi told me a story once about the differences between foreigners and Malawians. She works in a hospital that regularly has foreign workers/researchers/etc., but most of the employees are Malawian. They were trying to meet at a specified location in order to have a meeting. The foreigners drove together, and the Malawians did as well. They all left at the same time. The foreigners arrived, and waited and waited and waited for the Malawians to get there. An hour later, the Malawian car finally arrived. It turned out that they had stopped to drop something off here, and pick somebody up there, and get some money somewhere else, hence the extra hour delay. This is a very Malawian thing to do. It just makes sense.
My language helper, Shamim, regularly exclaims somewhat jokingly how lazy she thinks I am. The reason? I have a washing machine. It makes no sense to her why I would use a washing machine when I could just wash my clothes by hand… I explain to her that I can save 2 hours washing by hand by putting in the machine, and that gives me 2 hours to do other things. The explanation did not work out well.
This has been one of the biggest ways my life has changed out here. I’ve learned to slow down the pace of life dramatically, because the culture just doesn’t allow for it. I’m sure my parents will be thrilled to hear that, as their biggest criticism of me growing up was that I needed to just “slow down”. I’m always in a rush, and being here makes me realize how much our culture is one of rushing. I’m realizing how valued efficiency is in the States, but I’ve realized that is not necessarily a godly value, it is a Western one.  There is something really beautiful about being able to stop, slow down, and take your time. The Malawians generally get the things done that they say that they will. It just might take a little more time.
I see the ways God is Malawian. I see the ways culture here reflects His heart far more than the rat race that exists in the States. He is not in a rush to get things done. Efficiency is not high on his list of priorities. Patience is. He let his people wander around the desert for forty years just until they really understood how important it was to just trust Him. He allowed Abraham to wait years and years before promises ever came to be. He let Jesus live thirty years before He ever did any ministry. And we continue to wait eagerly for the return of the coming King.
I came to Malawi laying down nearly all of my dreams and hopes and even God’s promises for this season. That has been my greatest challenge and lesson… Can I trust He’ll get the things done that He’s said He would? Just because there’s a delay in my perspective does not mean that there is in His. So, this season of living in Malawi reminds me to just wait on God. He’ll get to wherever He says He will go, there might just be a few detours and rest stops along the way. He’s in no rush at all… Just like the Malawians.

The Goodness of God

This week, I hit something that I have been dreading for a long time. Something I had considered an open door from God for a long time had suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly shut in a very divine way.

I was dreading it, because I have been for a while wondering if the door would shut, and moreover, wondering how my heart would respond to God if and when it did shut. I had seen the reactions of my heart in the past when this would happen, and even as recently as last year, I was at the point of deep sadness, confusion, and even anger at God. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it again, and what it would do with me, and what it would do to me and God, especially as I’m out here in a place I’m still not quite sure why I’m here for.

My heart response surprised even me. As quickly as it happened, I found myself able to rejoice, and trust in His absolute goodness. I was disappointed, yes. I was sad, yes. But I also was able to quickly say, “God, you are good, and you must be working good through this situation.”  There was something incredibly peaceful and joyful about being able to say that, and really believe it from the depths of my heart.

I felt the pleasure of the Father in that moment. I felt the truth of the line “He is jealous for me”, and could tell my bridegroom had been ravenously protecting me, and leading me in this season. And I realized that I had stepped into a new place of authority and confidence in who I was in God, and that this was the secret to living a joyful life submitted to God.

God clearly led me to this open door, and allowed me to see and experience the open door, and then subsequently shut it. I found out that being in Malawi in this season is the very reason that shut the door that I so longed for to be open. But, I also know that if I were not in Malawi right now, along with the up and down journey that I’ve been on to get here, my heart would not be where it is with God, in that place of absolute trust in His goodness. And I would not trade that for the world.

If God brought me all the way out here just to help me experience this truth, I think it would all be worth it.

Being Real, Finding God

Today hits the 50 day mark of leaving the US and arriving in Malawi. And I have a story to tell of what God is doing in me here, and it has nothing to do with ministry.

For the past 50 days, I have been trying to make sense of life out here, including getting my house together to a liveable state, finding a language helper, following up on discipleship relationships, etc. Those things are all good. I’m grateful for some type of consistency in my schedule. I’ve been thankful for the many blessings that have come my way. Ministry has been exciting, and for the most part, we have been pleasantly surprised at what God has been doing. His is indeed moving out here amongst the Yao, and it is a privilege to see it.

Yet, upon reflection this week, I realized something… I have been merely surviving, but not thriving.

I had been surviving on my connections to friends back home, searching for people to chat with and bring me some life. I had been surviving by reading news and scanning facebook whenever I was bored. Yet, these things were actually drawing my spirit into a deeper place of loneliness and sadness as I began to grow weary of my life in Africa. I found my old issues creeping up more than ever, and my insecurity had reached a new height. And really, I wasn’t surviving, I was coping with living here, and more truthfully, trying to escape. (Ironically, I had written a post about the benefits of the connection just a few weeks ago, which I still hold to be true… It’s just that I had taken it too far).

I’ve been far from God since I’ve been here, even though I know I’m exactly where I know God’s called me. I’ve been far from letting him minister to me. And I didn’t realize it, because I had been escaping. I realized the depth of my weakness, and for the first time in nearly two months, I literally cried out to God. I didn’t ask Him anything. I didn’t say much. I just cried to Him. Right in that moment, I felt a release, and then clarity. He pointed out to me my birthday, September 4th, coming up in just about a month… And I felt Him calling me to Him, saying I needed to let go of my ineffective survival techniques, and press into Him and Him alone. I made a decision in that moment that I needed to stop coping/stop escaping and start finding God this next month before my 32nd birthday.

The next day, I got a confirmation that this was exactly what God wanted me to do. Pastor John felt a leading to pray for me, so he asked me (using technology in a good way) what was going on and how he could be praying. I shared that I felt like I needed to find God here in Malawi and wanted to disconnect from the things I was using to escape. He then shared Pastor Chris Rattay’s story about him being in Mexico and realizing he was escaping by going to Netflix, and decided to cut it off and press into prayer and worship. That’s when God began to break through in crazy healing ministry. It spoke to my spirit, and I knew this was indeed God speaking to me.

So, beginning August 6th until my 32nd birthday, I’m going to be finding God here in Malawi. I’m disconnecting from my surfing/gaming/chatting. I’ll still send out updates, prayer requests, respond to e-mails, have some calls here and there, but I need get rid of everything that prevents me from pressing into God. Those cannot be my default. God needs to be.

When I came out here, I felt it was partly for moving Epicentre’s ministry forward, but I also knew it was never primarily about the ministry. I knew He brought me out here because He wanted me to experience a part of Himself that I couldn’t experience anywhere else, and His desire for me here was to thrive, not just survive. He called me out here because he wanted me to trust Him for absolutely everything. I needed to be out here in Malawi, where everything else is stripped away, to realize how incredibly weak I am, and how incredibly in need of God I am. I am very grateful. I trust His good ways completely, and that is a good foundation to start from.

I don’t know what I expect to find. I don’t know what He has for me here in Malawi. I don’t even know what it means to look for God. I know He’s right here with me, but I need to see Him meeting me in those deep places of my spirit and soul that I know only He can. I need to see Him meeting me in those places of pain and confusion and uncertainty of the past year and these next few years. I need to see Him meeting me in my identity and wooing me into Himself.

And as He has called me, I fully expect Him to do it. For that, I am greatly excited.

Please pray for me this next month. Please pray for the Yao first and foremost. But as you think of it, please pray for my own journey of finding God in the unique way He wants to reveal Himself for me in Malawi.

Glimpses of Malawi: Driving Adventures

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I’ve been driving for almost half my life. I consider myself a fairly good driver, though I know some may beg to differ with my aggressive tendencies. I always considered it good preparation for when I went overseas.

Well, in some ways it’s been helpful, but driving here in Malawi is a whole new ballgame. First, I had to learn manual. Having driven automatic all my life, adding two more limbs to the equation was definitely a challenge. Then, I had to learn driving on the left side of the road. I’ve definitely had my fair share of driving on the wrong side of the road, and you won’t believe how many times our wipers have gone on instead of our turn signal.

All the paved roads are basically two lane roads, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal. Except here, there are people walking right on the side of the road, along with bikes everywhere. Driving 100 km/hr (~60 mph) is definitely a lot scarier here, as the potential for casualty is much higher. Worse yet, goats, chickens, and cows will appear out of nowhere and they completely ignore all horns. We’ve definitely had closer encounters with animals than anything else.

At night, imagine all the walkers, bikers, and animals, only it is pitch black. There are no street lights (which I never appreciated so much until now), and many Malawian vehicles have broken ones. Nighttime driving has led us to at least one encounter with hitting a police barricade early in our driving. Fortunately, despite having every reason to give us a hefty fine, by the grace of God, we were let off without anything.

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Most of our time is actually not spent on the paved roads. We spend most of our time driving out to the villages, or in our neighborhoods, where most of the roads are dirt. I can probably count the amount of times I’ve driven off-road back in America on one hand. Here, off-road is the normal.

In the villages, you never quite know if you’re going to clear something with your car. There is at least one bridge that every time we drive over, many villagers question if we’re going to make it.

Another day, we decided to take an exploratory trip of some of the villages, as we were trying to map out the different Yao villages. We turned on one road and saw what was above. The road was clearly smaller than our vehicle (no visual illusions there). At one point, we got stuck in a ditch, and nearly couldn’t get our car out. Yet again, God grace got us out and we weren’t left stranded hours away from civilization.

It’s a daily adventure with the driving. We have gotten ourselves quite a few bumps, bruises, and scratches on my Toyota Rav4, but it’s definitely been an experience.

Glimpses of Malawi Life: Sunsets

Originally, I thought I’d have profound things to say here. I have things  that could be running through my head all the time, out here especially. So many issues to work through: missiologically, spiritually, emotionally. Discipleship and work in a cross-cultural context can be messy business.

But in the midst of all this, mostly, I find myself fascinated in just learning about Malawi life, particularly coming from a Western, developed world view. There are things that are hard, but definitely things that I enjoy. So, over these next few weeks, I thought it’d be good to give you all a glimpse of life here in Africa, good and bad. 🙂

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Glimpse of Malawi Life: The Sunsets

Malawi really is beautiful. Our town of Mangochi is small and simple (one of these days, I’ll give you a tour), and the lack of development allows you to really appreciate the natural beauty.

In my nearly two months here, I’ve been struck by the beauty of the sun. Los Angeles is known for it’s sunsets, but mostly because of the pollution that contributes to the array of colors that we enjoy. Malawi does not have that pollution (there are probably only a few dozen cars on the road in our city), yet somehow the sunsets here are far prettier than I’ve seen anywhere else. God really is shining down here.

It was worth it just to come out here to catch a glimpse of it. 🙂 Come visit!

Here’s another:IMG_20130701_171059