If You Want To Go Far

african proverb
African Proverb

I was waiting in the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The words in the picture above were emblazoned in large script across a wall within the terminal. I was two days in a two-week journey. I would have to go much farther to reach the intended destination, with two more airplane trips before reaching our place in  Zambia.

I reached my destination. And the proverb proved true. I managed quite well because I didn’t travel alone.

Perhaps the most difficult part of doing non-profit work abroad is working with other people, whether that be with other expatriates or nationals. I think it’s harder than language acquisition, cultural understanding, or raising funds.

I never lived in Africa, but I like the quote. I did live in Honduras a number of years. Building relationship with the locals who helped me in my work was probably the most important thing I ever accomplished.

When the ladies who started off with a broom or a cleaning rag realized they were a valued part of a team, the work began to take a life of its own. It wasn’t dependent on the crazed zeal of a white woman  – me! – from the States who wanted to feed and educate their children. The staff began to see that it was their choices and work that was changing the community around them.

I know that everyone tired of hearing me preach and screech about the importance of el equipo, the team. Somehow, someway, during the years I was there, we changed the dynamic from boss and underlings to a group of ladies who had taken ownership of the ministry.

Now, I have some perspective on my time in Honduras. I can see that teamwork both between persons differing cultures as well as those within the national culture is hard but fruitful work. Even short-term trips require lots of teamwork on everyone’s part for a successful trip.

Traveling far can mean traveling home, too. That’s where I am in my personal journey. I hope I can remember that I want to travel far, not fast; with others, not alone.

This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a website devoted to encouragement for women serving overseas.

 
Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

What On Earth Am I Doing Here?

first grade me
First grade me

When I was six years old, I recall a discussion between my mother and father. I was seated in the back seat of the Buick, and my parents were concerned about the new school term. In a few months, I would begin the first grade in pubic school. For the first time in history, blacks and whites would share the same classroom in our small Louisiana town. My parents had some misgivings about what may happen in 1969.

To my parents’ surprise, I spoke up.

“I believe integration is the right thing,” I said confidently from the back seat.

I had been uttering high falutin’ words since I started talking. No one was surprised by that. It was my words afterwards that left quite the impression.

I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but my mom said I delivered quite the civil rights discourse from the back seat. My parents at the time were Southern Democrats, who believed that the separation of races was the American way. According to mother, my little speech convinced my father that I would be alright, and even perhaps, our little village would be just fine if the few black and Native American families sent their little ones to school with the rest of us.

And so it was.

I did not grow up to be a civil rights lawyer.

I did however grow in my conviction to be a voice for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the neglected ones in society. My beliefs led to career choices such as working with at-risk students, learning disabled children, emotionally disturbed children, the homeless, and the poor in Mexico and Honduras.

I believe that everyone has a calling, a sense of what their purpose in life should be. It may be multiple things – mother, wife, teacher, choir member, and any number of career paths. For the Christian, I don’t think it always mean one specific thing, either.

Rather, I follow general principles that serve as my framework for life’s choices.

1. The servant is not higher than the master. Jesus uttered these words to his disciples in Matthew 10:24.  Jesus came to serve, and so must I. This statement also implies that I serve the master first.

2. The one lost sheep is just as important, if not more so, than the other 99 who are in safety. Matthew 18:12 is a profound example of Jesus’ perspective of looking out for the ones in danger and not playing it safe in this life. Looking for the One Sheep is an  adventure that can yield the most marvelous friendships with people you may never encounter unless you are looking for the One Sheep.

3. Humility yields better position than self-promotion. Everyone agrees with this idea in theory, but it’s harder to put into practice. I am afraid I have violated that a bit in my years in Honduras in my desire to see our ragamuffin ministry receive funding and prayer support. In the end, though, it’s best to take the lowest seat at the table.

4. Be happy along the way. If I want to finish life well, finding enjoyment in my work and life is very important. Religion doesn’t mean putting aside everything that’s fun and enjoyable. A few nights ago, for instance, I shared a pizza and beer with a few friends. We laughed until we cried. I wasn’t inebriated. I just had a good time.

This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a site devoted to helping women who feel called to serve in other countries. Follow the link to Velvet Ashes to read more.velvet-ashes

Can You See Me?

Last week, I misplaced one of my hearing aids. I wanted to fix my hair, so I took them out and laid them on the bathroom counter. When I finished, I saw only one on the counter. After a few minutes, I located the second one. It had been on the counter the whole time, but I couldn’t see it because the neutral color blended into the similar color of the countertop.

I wear hearing aids due to a family-inherited trait. I am moderately deaf in both ears. I lose sight of those small devices quite often. They are meant to be not easily seen, to protect the vanity of the user who wears them behind the ear. Personally, I would prefer them to be bright yellow or orange as my hair covers them.

The phrase that comes to mind when I lose one of these tiny instruments for a moment is “hiding in plain sight.” If you think about it, lots of things as well as people are hiding in plain sight. They are there all the while, but we don’t seem them. Our mind fools us, and we can’t see what is in front of our eyes.

I think that the poor often hide in plain sight. We don’t see them. Our own concerns and issues form such a tight context around our lives that we can’t see the sometimes urgent problems in the lives of others.

I am no longer working in Honduras, but I am still concerned with the overlooked and unseen poor children there. I have many young friends who are not enrolled in the new school term that began in February due to lack of funds for things like shoes or school supplies. Later this week, I am shipping a small shipment of shoes and school supplies, although I didn’t have enough funds to buy shoes for all of the children.

If you are not involved in helping someone in your own community or abroad, please consider being generous with the poor. They can’t repay you, but God makes a promise to do just that. Proverbs 19:17 states that whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done. Even if you can’t quite imagine a literal recompense from God, perhaps you can agree that helping poor children ultimately benefits everyone, as well-nourished and educated children will make the world a better place, not just for them, but all of us.

Here are a few pictures of the children in Honduras. Donors are always welcome. Information concerning giving is available at His Eyes Ministry site or their Facebook site.

 

kids
Some of our kids only eat once a day, or eat only beans and tortillas daily. A daily meal makes a great deal of difference in the lives of these children. The cook is trained to use nutritious ingredients in the meat spaghetti sauce that children may normally not eat, such as texturized soy, carrots, and other shredded veggies.

 

10980758_1434317170193865_6435298442360535369_n (1)
The center provides tutoring in skills such as math, English, and computers. The public schools are subpar in this community.
10848793_1435697306722518_8340251530058849797_o (1)
Mariela is always hungry. Her mom supports the family by making and selling corn tortillas. Unfortunately, she seldom earns enough to feed her family well.
11030832_1441510786141170_5266553576985460979_o
Nicolle is a typical child in the project on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

A note about photos: I have been questioned why our children appear healthy and well-dressed. I do not like to manipulate emotions of readers by posting children who appear sick, dirty, or with torn clothing. Also, our children are aware they are being photographed, so they chose their best clothing for photographs. The ministry also provides clothing at little cost to parents. In some cases, clothing is free, but we feel it lends dignity to charge a small fee. In addition, the men and women who sort and sell clothing receive a small recompense as their salary.

Saturday Morning Post

Here’s a few links to interesting reads from the week.

Cultural and Missional Articles

Please Don’t Say They Are Poor But Happy from A Life Overseas by Rachel Piehl Jones. I hear this far too often. Oh, they are poor, but happy. How would you know? Did you judge this from a photo? Or a conversation lasting more than five minutes with a local while visiting a foreign country?

Global Rules of Greeting, an NPR piece that brings up how close is too close in differing cultures. Of course, the article is inspired by creepy shots of Joe Biden and John Travolta, both who were captured noshing on women’s necks in public.

Dear Doctor Dobson, an article by Robyn Bliss about parents living in less than ideal foreign countries and how they raise their children in such places as Pakistan or East Asia.

Good Books 

If you have the time and inclination to dig deeper into the interplay of culture and communication, I recommend the following:

1. Among Cultures: The Challenge of Communication by Bradford J Hall. It’s a textbook, i.e. not for light reading, that I used for a linguistics class but it’s a great resource for anyone considering living abroad.

2. Peace Child by Don Richardson is an older classic for the missionary type. It’s a true story of Don’s adventures living among a tribe in Papua New Guinea who were at time still practicing child sacrifice as well as cannibalism. Don was able to influence the culture to become non-violent. He did not ask them to be like Westerners.

What are you reading this week?

Church and Chicken

20839495I can see my English students are drifting. They look confused, intimidated, or just plain bored. So, I throw out English words that most Hondurans know already, even if out of context. I challenge them to give the Spanish equivalent for English words.

“Church,” I say.

“Ah, pollo!”

The class nods in appreciation. Everyone in Honduras knows church means chicken. In Honduras, Church’s Chicken is a popular franchise.

“Wrong!” I shout exuberantly.  

The gringa is confused,” they murmur.

Even if they don’t truly believe me, I have their attention. We can all agree that taco means taco, and pizza is pizza, no matter where you are. But church? What’s up with that?

I grew up attending church every Sunday morning in Louisiana. My mama often served fried chicken after church. Grandpa said grace, and we passed the chicken, white gravy and farm-raised vegetables.

Church and chicken. Made sense to me. Today, fried chicken is not a Sunday rite. Neither is going to church for most of us.

I rarely eat fried chicken today. I like it, but I had my fill before I reached puberty. Not long ago, I had my fill of church, too. 

Living in a foreign country, I found the meetings didn’t always seem relevant to my needs. I was often the only white person in the crowd, and one of the few to drive a car. I tired of flatterers who favored la gringa for reasons more related to funds than friendship.

I quit the church, just like I dropped fried chicken years ago.

Now, I am living in the US again. I attend services most every week. I realize now that the power of gathering in Christ’s name has power. I feel it when I join my voice in prayer or praise with the congregation. I sense the Spirit in the words spoken in wisdom and comfort.

I am linking this post to Velvet Ashes, where the site’s moderators are posting about the topic, community. Is community only achieved in church?

No. Of course not.

Yet, it’s one of the best places to experience community. Jesus said, where two or three are gathered, there I am.  It’s powerful. It’s real.

The Coffee Break

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mural, Cafemania, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

When I was a little girl in Cajun Louisiana, my mother and aunt often chatted over French roast coffee in the afternoon. I remember my aunt’s polished red nails, as well as the occasional cigarette. It was the 1960s. Many women stayed home to raise children. Smoking was not taboo.

Forty-five years later, the smell of hot coffee or nicotine smoke often brings me back to those days. Today, Starbucks and McCafe deliver caffeine through drive-through windows. We connect through texts and social media more than face-to-face encounters.

In Honduras, at least in the capital, the coffee break is still honored. At three o’clock, capitalanos* in Tegucigalpa stop working. Men step into sidewalk cafes and relax with associates over a cup.  Women visit a relative or a neighbor, often serving crisp, unsweetened bread called rosquillos alongside thick, sweet cups of coffee.

Even though Honduras is heavily influenced by the mores of the United States, I hope this custom doesn’t change. The impromptu caffeine klatch builds a sense of community. In a country where institutions are failing, and gangs are quickly filling the void, the locals need soothing rituals more than ever before.

This week, the folks at Velvet Ashes are discussing community. Velvet Ashes is a gathering place online mainly for expat women. Come back later this week to join in the discussion here or at their site, with your comments or blog posts of your own. And bring some rosquillos, please.

Do you have memories of coffee breaks? Or do you honor the tradition in your locale? Is the after-drink cocktail somewhat the same? Let’s start a conversation.

*capital residents