The Wall (School Age Kids)

In conversation with my brother-in-law tonight we discussed the wall missionaries hit at around 30 or 35 (give or take) in their lives. Life wasn’t easy when overseas as a young single or even a young couple. But it is nonetheless decidedly different when you have kids, and those kids are hitting school age. Especially when the culture primarily bleeds things you don’t want your kids to learn.

We’re hitting a wall where staying overseas means stepping up our lives substantially. Figuring out how to get our kids in school and live a sustainable lifestyle in this other culture. It’s a wall which causes a lot of people to just move home. And maye that’s what we’ll do. Who knows (though it isn’t our plan right now).

Anyhow, my brother-in-law tonight got to discussing this and mentioned, this is a wall people hit in America too. Actually that’s a big encouragement to me. Even life in America gets tough when your children reach a certain age and life suddenly picks up a certain stress and complexity. Being overseas may add a bit of complexity to it, but life itself reaches a tough point around now.

Figuring out how to get through this next stage of life is a part of life as much as it is a part of missionary life.

America for a Missionary

America for a missionary is a funny place. To us (and especially our children) it’s a great playground filled with delicious food, fun things to do for cheap (or free), and a whole culture who doesn’t treat us like lepers. People don’t stop my children in the street and rub their hands through their hair, people don’t stop to gawk and take pictures. We may personally feel very out of place here, but to everyone else around us we fit in, at least a little bit.

And then there is the fact that my work, when in America, looks very different from my normal work. Support raising is primarily fun meals with fascinating people and then interesting travel and catching up with old friends. Also, I get to be home with the kids a lot more than in regular life.

But it isn’t real life. It isn’t normal overseas life and it isn’t the normal life of a normal American. It’s something “other”. There are times, like runs through beautiful open spaces, where it’s invigorating. And then there are times, like when someone starts talking about their new vacation home, where our eyes glaze over and we get exhausted trying to engage. This is our third furlough in the last eight years, and it increasingly feels cross-cultural to come visit this place.

Though there are some things that we get used to again instantly, like how the roads are wide and people drive carefully. Or how the snack isles are filled with things I find delicious (instead of spicy chicken heads or pickled octopus).

I’m most thankful for the friends that care for me. Love me. And engage with me, even when they’re completely at a loss as to how to continue the conversation. I’m thankful for the sunshine. And I’m thankful for a God that gives rest to His people.

A Missionary Without Honor

We’re on furlough stateside now and it’s the first furlough that I’m wondering how much longer we have overseas. In the past we have always thrived and then, in the last year, found our boundaries. Suddenly where we live isn’t obviously long-term-able for the family. I’m not saying we’re leaving right now—we’re not planning on it. But eventually we will be.

Anyhow, I’ve been chewing lately on why I’m so opposed to leaving. The first and most obvious reason is I still believe overseas is where I am called to be. But the second reason is fear.

We’ve been outside of America for a long time and frankly, I’m not real sure what life looks like state-side.

But it occurs to me what I would miss the most (and maybe what I really fear) in leaving the mission field, is the honor I have being there. I’ve been in-country long enough to be somewhat senior. Not the most senior, by any means, but many people have been there shorter than I have, which earns me some respect for longevity. But then there is that which is undeserved, the honor given just because I’m white, or because I speak Chinese, or whatever.

Someday moving to America means someday giving up an immense amount of honor—honor I’ve grown used to. But that is kind of a lame reason to stay overseas. I hope I lean on the Lord enough to have the strength to stay exactly as long as I’m called. Likewise, I hope I have the courage to leave when it’s time, even though America is intimidating. And even though I would be forfeiting a certain amount of honor with which I’ve definitely grown quite comfortable.

A Weekend Near the Border with Burma

I’ve taken trips to the country-side before. But this one was different for a number of reasons. First of all, it was my first such trip with no other foreigners to share the experience. As such I imagine there were several things which would have made me laugh had someone with a Western perspective been there to share the experience with me, but rather I glossed over them or moved on too quickly.

That said, there was still plenty of note. I travelled with a local pastor friend of mine. I could explain all the relationships and these peoples roles, but it was an unusual event because they all have ties to the government and should never have been hosting a foreigner, so unfortunately I have to leave out the interesting details. Suffice it to say we were headed to see my local friend’s old buddy of the Lisu minority (the people to whom James Fraser of the China Inland Mission famously preached). This Lisu friend was my first interaction with a Lisu minister of any sort, let alone one connected somehow with the government. The Lisu pastor explained to me that he would have to be very careful about how he handled hosting me, but that as long as I wasn’t given the chance to preach in one of the churches he would probably not get in trouble.

We arrived on a Saturday night around midnight and Sunday morning we attended two of the three services our Lisu host normally attends and where he preaches. The first service was a Mandarin speaking service with people who were Lisu, Jingpo, and Han. I was the only foreinger, and the only one who had probably ever attended the service. Foreign missionaries still work amongst these people, but usually (I would assume) with the underground church. We met on the second floor of a country-home which had an open-air living room. The service began in no remarkable fashion, but then I was asked if I would be willing to stand and sing a solo worship song. That was new.

I did my best, when asked about 5 minutes later, to sing Come Thou Fount in a manner reasonable enough to not be too embarrassing for those attending. I think I did alright all things considered. But the suddenness of being asked did cause me to realize just how few worship songs I was comfortable singing from front to back without forgetting the words (especially under pressure). They later did compliment me on my singing, but I have every reason to believe it was a sympathy complement and not an encouragement to pursue this as a career.

We proceeded from there to a Lisu service where I understood nothing of what was said. It is a very interesting sounding dialect. Despite this, it was wonderful to see these people worship, and the way three of the male elders gathered half way through worship to sing an accapella rendering of some worship song in their language—perfectly harmonized. It would have been comparable to a chamber choir or whatever they’re called in the States.

That afternoon I took a bit too long of a nap and therefore the host felt uncomfortable waking me to take me along for the third service. This did make it possible for me to go for a run on the mountains which was something I wanted desperately to do. The paths were only remarkable in that almost none of them weaved slowly back and forth up the mountain, but rather were literally straight up from the village to the peak, often at an incline so steep I could barely maintain grip with my feet while I attemped to move at a pace faster than a crawl.

Later the brother-in-law of our host (we called him Er-Jie-Fu or, the husband of the second eldest sister) arrived and spent some time with us. Erjiefu wore a very large tooth around his neck from a wild boar he had killed himself. I like most people I meet in the city, he was stout, strong, and dark skinned from a life of pretty intense labor. He maintained farming all of the family’s land on steep mountain sides while the rest of the family was now involve in ministry or other work.

Erjiefu insisted on showing us around the grounds a bit, including the crops they were growing in bark on stilts around their house. Even my local native-speaker friend had never heard of this plant, but we were told it sells for a very high price to be used in Chinese medicine. We tried a bit of it (supposedly good for your eyes), but it was nearly flavorless and I’m sure I didn’t eat enough to know if the eye-thing is true.

After this we were shown a bees nest they keep (though they looked like black wasps… but do wasps make honey?), and then given some of the honey. It’s my understanding that bees honey doesn’t really go bad, but this seemed quite … um … bad. In fact the honey was a slightly green color (not orange or yellow) and had a bit of a rancid taste to it. I don’t know if this the result of the strange crop these bees were probably feeding off of, or if the honey had truly turned. It was everything I had to down the small spoonful worth of the stuff I was given for as interesting as it was, it tasted something terrible.

Later as a going-away gift I was given the remainder of the honey in an old plastic jar, as well as some instant coffee (everyone in this country thinks Americans love their Nescafé).

That night around nine when I was ready for bed, the host finally returned from his crazy long day, and he wanted to take us for some late-night cookout. I was very sleepy but could tell he really wanted to go, so I went for the ride. It was a half an hour in to the village, and then quite a bit from there. We didn’t get home until midnight again, but they were quite blessed by my attendance. They offered to bust out some wonderfully brewed local wine, but apparently they really meant grape-juice. A distinction that is very clear in Chinese, and therefore I can only imagine he was joking intentionally when he mentioned it. That said, I would have been quite surprised if they drank real alcohol as it’s something the Lisu believers famously don’t partake of.

The next morning I was guest of honor at Erjiefu’s courtyard, pig-raising, house and then sent on my way.

Beautiful mountains. A spontaneous singing role. Probably-rancid honey. The whole deal. A very interesting weekend.