Day 15: White in Uganda {31 Days of #WOKE}

White in Uganda: What I learned about "whiteness" through living six months in Uganda.
by Leslie Verner

Uganda hoisted a mirror in front of my face, reflecting my whiteness back to me. In the six months I was there, from July to December of 2000, I began seeing and knowing myself–and all the hidden baggage my race represented.

I rode three different taxis home from work in the congested city of Kampala, Uganda, to our village on the outskirts of the city. At first, my host mother accompanied me, but I eventually mustered the courage to do it alone. Clambering out of the taxi van, I walked the final fourth of a mile home down the dusty orange road guarded by banana trees with huge waxy leaves. The children were already waiting for me.

Muzungu, muzungu! Give me money!” They stroked my arms, remarking on my “feathers,” and each one grabbed a finger to escort me the final way home.

Our home was the nicest in the village. Though it didn’t have running water, we had electricity, four solid brick walls around the yard and a large metal gate to protect us from “robbers.” My host mom indicated that they were putting themselves in greater danger because thieves would assume they were housing a rich foreigner.

Though Kampala had many expats, I wasn’t interested in meeting them. I was one of 21 interns dispersed around the globe in a variety of developing countries with the Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program at Wheaton College. The purpose wasn’t to be helpful, travel or even make a huge impact (though we hoped that would happen, too), but simply to observe, listen and learn about the culture. Because of this, we were discouraged from spending too much time with other expats.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed in my tiny room before dinner, I flipped through the guide book I had brought along and reviewed the history. Besides the undercurrent of fear (Uganda had come out of a bloody civil war just a few years before), I was curious about the assumptions others made about me because I was white. Though I was a student, they assumed I was rich. How else could I afford to fly here? But in working at the all-Ugandan organization, I also sensed a hesitation to allow me to do useful work.

I paused after rereading that Uganda had been a protectorate of the British government from 1894 to 1962. My only context for colonization was reading and watching the film Out of Africa, a book published in 1937, but taking place in the early 1900’s about a woman from Denmark moving to east Africa to start a coffee plantation. The film glamorized life as a white woman living in colonial Africa.

But as a white woman in Uganda, I sensed that I was not trusted. It had only been 38 years since the country had been liberated from the rule of whites. Though I was not British and had nothing to do with the history of imperialism in Africa, I was still snagged in the web.

Along with a feeling of distrust, I also noticed a hardly veiled acceptance of white supremacy. Attending a graduation ceremony, I was asked to stand as I was the “honored guest.” At a Christian meeting at the university that was attended by several hundred students, I was asked to give an impromptu speech. At church services, I was ushered to the front for VIP seating. At a ceremony celebrating the development of a local non-profit that I attended in a village several hours away, the news camera stayed fixed on me even though I had nothing to do with any of it.

To be white was to be noticed, honored and lauded.

An article written 14 years after I lived in Uganda, “Shell and Bolton’s Discriminatory Advert in Uganda Highlights the Problems of Race in Africa talks about an overtly racist advertisement asking specifically for white applicants. In it, the author suggests that “privileging of people based on their skin color has permeated all aspects of African societies.”

And in a Lonely Planet forum, a traveler asked the question: “What is the attitude of the locals towards whites, especially in rural areas? Is there any kind of resentment or xenophobia?” One answer was as follows: “If you are Asian (especially Indian, but they throw all Asians in the same bag), it is pretty racist, but you’ll be fine. If you are Caucasian, they’ll love ya.” Also on this forum was a discussion about certain clubs and restaurants that were only for white expats, not for Ugandans.

Although I often resented the stereotypes my African friends had about muzungus, being in Uganda was the first time I noticed my own whiteness and the effect it had on the people around me. Unlike most Americans, my African family ate at different times of day, exchanged elaborate greetings in passing, viewed time and relationships differently and completed ordinary tasks in ways that often seemed bizarre to me.

A white shape snipped from the page of white culture and pasted onto a canvas splashed with exotic colors and textures, I finally saw my own race.

To be white was to be suspected. To be white was to be feared. And yet to be white was to be envied.

I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw in the mirror.

***

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about being white in China, so be sure to come back and join in the story-telling.

Have you ever lived abroad? What did you learn about your home culture through that experience?

If colonialism is still an undercurrent in Uganda and other African countries, how much is segregation, Jim Crow and slavery still leaking into our thinking in the United States today?

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Introduction: 31 Days of #WOKE

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

I’m white, but barely noticed my whiteness until recently.

I’ve always thought white people were boring, actually. Friends from other cultural backgrounds had interesting food, festivals, cultural dress, customs and languages. Those from non-western countries lived communally, cherished family and celebrated holistic living. They did not divide the sacred and secular. They saw the holy in the ordinary, messy, seasons of life.

Like many from the U.S., I’ve been around people of other cultures, religions, languages and ethnicities my entire life. I attended a Jewish preschool, fell for an African American boy in kindergarten, ate fried tomatoes, onions and eggs with my Colombian friend in sixth grade, obsessed about boys with my Jewish friend in seventh grade, had black teachers, had a few African American, Indian and Latino friends in high school, taught in a 100 percent black school in inner city Chicago after college, another racially diverse school and even at a school in Chinatown.

But I also experienced other cultures abroad: I went on short term mission trips to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lived in a village in Uganda for six months in college, spent five weeks in Tajikistan, traveled in Europe and Thailand and taught and studied in China for five years.

You’d think I would have known.

But it wasn’t until I moved to a nearly all white area in the U.S.–the last stretch of plains with tumbleweed cartwheeling up against the mighty Rocky Mountains–that I began to see my whiteness. And it was then that I saw all the shadows it casts.

What Does it Mean to be “Woke”?

According to Urban Dictionary, being “woke” means being aware and knowing what’s going on in the community.

Merriam-Webster “Words We’re Watching” describes it like this:

“Stay woke became a watch word in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better. But stay woke and woke became part of a wider discussion in 2014, immediately following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The word woke became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action. Activists were woke and called on others to stay woke.”

I am on a journey. I have not arrived, nor will I ever be fully “woke.” But I am learning. I am growing. And I am slowly beginning to see.

The first time I ever wrote a piece about race, I wondered if I had a right to speak. I wondered if I knew enough or if I was going to say something stupid, offensive or ignorant. But an African American friend of my husband’s responded to my post in a way that gave me courage. “Thank you,” he wrote. “Because I’m tired. It’s refreshing for this message to come from someone who is not a person of color for once.”

Ijeoma Oluo recently wrote an article entitled, “White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves.” The more we understand our whiteness, the more we can understand how our whiteness affects all the people of color around us.

What Can You Expect in the Series?

Have you ever rewatched an entire movie with commentary from the actors and director on? (I have.) That’s what I’m hoping to do in this series. Mostly, you can expect stories from my life. For each post, I’ll ask myself (and possibly answer) the following questions:

What did I learn about whiteness through this experience?

Are there any blind spots that I missed the first time around?

How can I analyze this experience utilizing the concepts I am learning?

But I’ll also include practical information and resources as well as a few posts from some friends of mine who are people of color.

I’m mostly writing for myself, but you are invited along on this journey. I sincerely welcome your input, comments, links, corresponding stories, questions and even criticism.

When my dad taught me to drive, I sat in the driver’s seat of the parked car as he shuffled around on the outside until he disappeared from my view. He wanted me to understand the devastation of a blind spot. Please help me to discover mine.

Table of Contents

Here are some possible posts that will run every day beginning March 1st, 2017 (check back here each day for an updated link). Most definitely subject to change;-)

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Okay. *deep breath*

Let’s do this.

Be sure to sign up for email updates so you don’t miss a post! And please share if you feel this could benefit someone else.

 

Scared, but excited,

Leslie

A series exploring whiteness and racial perspectives.

A Fellow Failed Missionary {a review of ‘Assimilate or Go Home’}

As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance.Missionaries are the elite. Sometimes assumed to have the “highest calling” a Christian can have, they are asked to speak at the pulpit, gather small groups in crowded living rooms, share color-saturated slides of exotic peoples and lands, put out glossy monthly newsletters and receive money from well-wishers. They are the darlings of the church—proof that those sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings do, in fact, care about the lost. And at the very least, the pew-sitters go themselves for a week or two to sidle up to and admire the work these long-term warriors are doing on the front lines.


I should know.

I’m a recovering missionary myself.

So when I came across the work of D.L. Mayfield recently, I felt an instant bond and got my hands on her new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith as quickly as I could. I was not disappointed.

Having written for McSweeney’s, Christianity Today, Relevant, Geez, The Toast, and Conspire!, among others, Mayfield is an experienced story-teller. This, her first book, is a collection of candid, wry essays that illustrate her lofty aspirations to save communities of refugees she entrenched herself among in America. Though she does not berate herself per se, she humbly concludes each snapshot of her do-gooder attempts by admitting that the results were rarely as she hoped.  As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance. Instead of making converts, she was reminded of the impoverishment of her own soul. 

Through heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, stories, she begins to internalize the truth that Henri Nouwen proclaimed, that “When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs.”[1] Ministry as she knows it is turned on its head as she discovers that the person who most needs saving is herself.

***

As a person who was also “called to missions,” I lived six months in Uganda, taught in an inner city school in Chicago and served five years in China. I can relate to many of the struggles Danielle wrestles with in her book. Like her, as a teenager I drank from a steady stream of missionary biographies, impassioned sermons and pleas to be “sold out and radical” for Jesus (which always meant selling everything, rejecting white picket fences and secretly judging anyone else who didn’t feel similarly called). I did the Christian college thing, went to the hard places and tried to live the radical life. But then I was called somewhere I never intended to be: right back where I started.

It wasn’t until I returned to the “normal” life of the “uncalled” that I began to understand the extent of my own poverty as I no longer embodied the shiny Christian label of “missionary.” I was just me.

***

In a recent interview on the podcast, Relief, put out by The Englewood Review of Books, Mayfield states that her new goal in life is no longer to save the world, but is now “to save her own people, the evangelical do-gooders.” While the book spotlights her own misplaced motives, she indirectly points out the deficiencies in white evangelical Christianity that seek to be generous without the commitment of long-term relationship, hospitable without being willing to live among the poor or bold in evangelism without regard for the culture, language or background of those they are trying to serve.  

Assimilate or Go Home is a necessary read for any and all who aspire to be the “do-gooders” and world changers. Similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s fictional work about a bumbling missionary family in Africa, The Poisonwood Bible, I would venture to say that this should be in every do-gooder’s library as a study in humility and even, at times, a study in what NOT to do.


So in Mayfield, I’ve found a kindred spirit. She is another bent, broken, humbled and slowly maturing follower of Jesus who is realizing that the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way backward, and the way to life is through death–to herself, her dreams and her propensity to make herself the hero of her story.

***

“The Way of Jesus is radically different.
It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.
It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place.”[2]
~Henri Nouwen

***



[1] Nouwen, Henri. “August 19.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins, 1997. Print.
[2] Nouwen, Henri. “June 28.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins. Print.

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Buy the book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and check out Danielle’s blog!

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White People Are Boring

Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Though Im as white as they come, most of the time I wish I lived in another country–or at least didn’t live surrounded by other white people.  Having traveled to multiple countries, I find other cultures, ethnicities, exotic foods and customs fascinating.  I especially love collectivist cultures in South America, Africa and Asia where spontaneous visits, eating off the same plates, invitations to family meals and sitting around chatting for hours are the norm, not the exception.  People are not seen as individuals, but draw their identity through being a part of the whole.  Because of this, the church instinctively knows how to move as one unit with more fluidity than we do in the west.

In China, I was close to a young Chinese couple that led a small house church.  When a couple in their group started having martial problems, they didn’t just refer them to a book to read or a counselor to go to, they MOVED IN WITH THEM.  Literally, moved into their house for several weeks to help them work through some of their issues.  Can you imagine something like that happening in western countries?

In Uganda, friends would go out on weekends and visit friend’s homes unannounced.  I remember meeting an African family studying in America at my college and they complained that they just didn’t know how to make friends in a culture that didn’t just “drop in” on each other, but had to plan everything weeks in advance.  In China, it took me weeks of being stood up to realize that I was planning too far in advance (one week).  When I asked my Chinese students when you should ask someone to dinner if you wanted to go on a Saturday, most said Friday–the day before.

Since returning from living in China five years ago, I’ve definitely struggled with some of my motives in wanting to live overseas.  Yes, I felt that God had “called” me overseas and to this day, I am in tears when I hear missionaries share in church or if I see videos meant to inspire people to go.  Just this Sunday a man stood up in church and shared about a short term trip to Ecuador and every part of me wanted to jump on a plane in July–with or without my family–and be there.  But I have also had to wrestle with the fact that I liked being viewed as different, special and radical–both in my own culture and in other cultures.  And I am addicted to adventure, the exotic and the Next Thing.  I live in the tension, wondering if I’m “called” or if I’m just eager for change.  

So instead of looking for ways to go abroad, I’m struggling to be content where I am.  And that means loving the people right here in my city in Colorado, which happen to be 92% white.  But so far many of those boring white people have certainly shocked me.

My first friend after we moved last year is a woman I met at the park.  We connected and since our kids were the same genders and ages, agreed to meet up again sometime.  Though colorful tattoos decorated her arms and back, I didn’t think she was too different from the other women I had seen around.  She mentioned that she and her husband own a martial arts academy, so naturally I googled it and her as soon as I got home.  Turns out before kids she was not only an instructor, but a world champion martial arts competitor.  

One of our neighbors is a stay-at-home dad who is in a band on the side.  A woman at church mentioned she takes snuff when she goes to her in-laws.  Out of a Bible study of 20 women I’m in, over half have lived abroad.  A woman we had over from church yesterday told us about her daughter who is a professional synchronized swimmer.  And I mentioned to two women at a moms’ group that I started a blog and both of them happen to be writers as well.

As I wrote last week about trying to notice people all around me, part of this is realizing that I am making unfair assumptions about people as “boring,” writing them off before I even have a chance to know them.  But what I’m really doing is not building a wall around others, but around myself.  Because I can’t know others well unless I also allow myself to be known.  

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also”  (1 John 4:20-21).  

We are called to a life of loving others, no matter their outer appearance.  

So I’m praying for open eyes to see people without prejudice or prejudgement.  I’m striving to be content where I am.   And I’m asking that God help me to see people as He sees them and love them as He does.  Because, truly, no matter what country, culture, race or custom, those who know Jesus are my brothers and sisters, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28). 

I, not God, am actually the one making the distinctions and declarations, because God Himself looks at us all and simply sees His beloved children.  And I long to see people of all colors (including my own) as He does–full of beauty, life, creativity and His very characteristics.


Do you ever feel like white people are boring?  Do you have any stories of people who have surprised you?

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Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Goodbye to the Other Leslies

I really thought my life as a nearly 37-year-old would look very different from the way it actually looks today.  

As a 20-year-old, let’s say, I envisioned my future self as living in another country, speaking another language and having a family with bi (or tri)-lingual children.  I planned on raising them to love other cultures, attend local schools, eat ethnic foods and travel the world.  We would possibly even live without plumbing.  And my husband would be right there beside me–leading people to Christ and possibly even preaching or teaching in other languages.  That’s how it was supposed to go.

And if I stayed single? (my plan B) I’d get my PhD and have lots of disciple “children” in another country, like Amy Carmichael, who was a single missionary in an orphanage in India for over 50 years.

Oh how God has a sense of humor.

Though I was on that very path, God U-turned my life six years ago to bring me back exactly where I started (or so I thought).  And I found myself living a life I never dreamed I’d live:  an “ordinary” one.


The crossroads of life have a catch.  Once you pass them, you can never go back. 

I recently listened to a podcast called Sorta Awesome that talked about saying goodbye to all of your potential yous that never came into existence.  And I feel it’s time that I bid those other Leslies adieu.

I really thought my life as a nearly 37-year-old would look very different from the way it actually looks today.

 
Goodbye to the single Leslie who would change the world.

Goodbye to the Leslie who would marry someone of another race and have gorgeous bi-racial children.

Goodbye to the Leslie who would marry someone in full-time ministry.

Goodbye to the Leslie who would get a PhD studying an ethnic minority in northwest China.

Goodbye to the Leslie who would be a social worker (my first major).

Goodbye to the Leslie who would transform the inner city of Chicago through her badass teaching methods…think Dangerous Minds (I tried that, actually, and that Leslie didn’t materialize).

Goodbye to the Leslie with 6, 8 or 10 children (probably not biologically possible for me anymore), or the Leslie who would be the “mom of boys” or “mom of girls” (I have a boy and a girl).

Goodbye to the Leslie who would be a nurse (I got accepted to nursing school, but didn’t go).

Goodbye to what could have been.

Hello and welcome to what is.  To what God has done, is doing and will do.   

Thank God for the roads taken and the roads not taken.  Because at every crossroads, He was there.  He was pointing, guiding, urging, leading and holding my hand, whether I knew it or not.  

Goodbye, fair Leslies.  Those would have been good lives, too, were they what God had planned for me.  It turns out He wanted me to be a teacher, live for a time in China, be single for a season, finally marry an actor in Chicago, have two adorable stinkers, move to Colorado and begin a little blog

And “ordinary” is relative, after all.  This Saturday night, I cooked dinner to James Taylor in the background, with my one-year-old daughter on my hip, helping me deliver cardamom, cumin, coriander and turmeric to the counter to make chickpea curry.  Meanwhile, my sick husband was curled up with tea, a cozy blanket and a book at the kitchen table.  

In the other room, our son played with our former Saudi Arabian exchange student, laughing and making trucks talk back and forth.  My daughter got bored “cooking” and dove into the cardboard box in the living room that is our best new toy.  

Earlier in the day, we all squashed into our Corolla to drive 45 minutes up into the snow-covered mountains to Rocky Mountain National Park, pausing on turn-outs for breath-catching views.  We put the kids to bed after dinner and conversations about the intersections of Muslim and Christian theology and melted into the couch to watch a new British murder mystery T.V. series. 

Yes, our life is ordinary.  But ordinary is the way your foot eventually molds grooves into stiff shoes.  It is the way a gorgeous new dress gradually becomes “you” and a natural part of your wardrobe.  “Ordinary” for us does not look like “ordinary” for others.  In fact, your “ordinary” may be very exotic to me, and vice versa.  Ordinary is no longer a bad word to me.

Though I am not changing the world at a macro level, love, cultures, food, friends, laughter and challenges are happening at a micro level under my roof just as they would have had I found myself on another path.  This is the Leslie that God intended to be.  So I will stop turning to look back at those other Leslies that could have been and allow them to fade into the distance, granting them a fond, but firm farewell.  I do not regret a single road taken.  Though life is not as I expected, it is still pretty spectacular, even in all its ordinary-ness. 


What about you?  How does your life look different (so far) from what you had planned for yourself?  How have you seen the grace in that?  I’d love to read your stories in the comments!

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I really thought my life as a nearly 37-year-old would look very different from the way it actually looks today.

Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving {31 Days of Re-Entry}

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Jesus, as I leave China, I thank you for this chapter of my life.

a time to be born and a time to die,
Gifts and talents I never realized I had were born, but I have also been forced to die to myself, my “rights,” and my desire for the comforts of home.

a time to plant and a time to uproot,
By your grace, many seeds of Truth have been planted and many of my assumptions and presuppositions have been uprooted.

a time to kill and a time to heal,
You have had to kill the sin of cynicism, prejudice, pride, grumbling, and gossip in me and you have brought healing to many of my broken places.

a time to tear down and a time to build,
At times I have felt like a failure.  I have started work and had to tear it down again.  I feel like I have wasted time and money in the process.  But other times, I have had the chance to see projects succeed and flourish. 

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
I have cried for reasons I could not always explain and laughed at myself and the bizarre aspects of the culture I have lived in.  This laughter has been a healing balm on days when I have just wanted to weep.

a time to mourn and a time to dance,
I have mourned what I have missed back home:  new babies born, being in friend’s weddings, funerals, family holidays, and watching my nieces and nephews grow up.  But I have rejoiced over reaching personal goals in language, understanding the culture and seeing Christ change lives.  I have danced with joy in these moments.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
I have had to let go of dreams by moving abroad.  When I first came, it was the hope of a spouse and children and the longer I stayed, I knew I would also be letting go of the possibility of a successful career back home.  But certain dreams were not meant to remain scattered and God has shown me which ones He wants me to pick back up again.

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
Relationships have surprised me since I moved across the world as I have kept in touch with some and not with others.  God has begun to take away my guilt for not keeping in touch with every friend I ever had and reminded me that sometimes friends are for a season–and that is okay.

a time to search and a time to give up,
I was searching for a spouse, and it is when I finally gave up that I found him.  I was also searching for significance and have been constantly reminded my life is in Christ.

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
I have kept many gifts and treasures I have collected over these years abroad, but as I try to move into and actually thrive in my new home, this has meant throwing away anything that is keeping me tied to my past in unhealthy ways.

a time to tear and a time to mend,
I have had to tear away my fears, doubts and insecurities in order to minister here.  I have needed you to mend my shattered heart, sewing it back together and making it stronger than it was before.

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
My time abroad is constantly on my mind, but I need your help in discerning when people really want to know and when it may be better to keep silent.  You have also taught me that hearing comes from listening and listening comes in silence.

a time to love and a time to hate,
I have loved hard.  It has been a tough love in this place that was so much like an arranged marriage to an incompatible partner at times, but in the end I loved much of what I hated at first.  Now, I mainly hate that I have to leave.

a time for war and a time for peace.
I have done battle in this place–with my sin, through conflict with others, in my mind as I’ve tried so hard to adjust and assimilate, and emotionally as I’ve wrestled with issues of injustice, materialism, poverty and suffering that I never had to consider before.  But you have given me moments of sweet peace that remind me that this world is not my home. 

What do workers gain from their toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end…

I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.

God does it so that people will fear him.

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to serve you abroad.  Now help me to serve you back home with the same love, intensity and awareness of You.


Ecclesiastes 3: 1- 11, 14  (in bold)
New International Version (NIV)

If you are leaving soon, try out this exercise and write a prayer for each of the segments of this Scripture passage, praising God for what He has done in your life during your time abroad.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 28 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)


Photo: Juan R. Lascorz [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 24: The Call to Displacement {31 Days of Re-Entry}


I just don’t fit in here.  Will I ever belong?  Will I always feel like an outsider? Will I make a difference?

These are questions I asked myself after moving across the globe to live in rural China, but this was certainly not the first time I had asked them.  I thought this after changing schools multiple times during elementary and middle school, beginning high school and college, and moving to Chicago to begin teaching in the inner city.  I have asked them for the past five years since returning from China and over the last six months after moving to a new city in the U.S..  Life thus far has been a series of shifts and faults in the earth that I have falsely assumed should be stable ground, leaving me scrambling for stability and significance.

I first read the book Compassion, written by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison, sitting on a straw mat on the front porch of a house in a village on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.  I was 21 and just learning what it meant to feel “displaced.”  I have come back to a particular chapter in the book several times over the past 15 years, called “Displacement,” through multiple moves and job changes, to be reminded of God’s view of my shifting world.  It is a bit abstract, but I have found it to be so helpful in putting the transitions in my life into perspective that I am sharing many of the parts of the chapter that I have starred and underlined over the years with you.     

Moving from the Ordinary and Proper Place
Christians love to talk about community.  This book mentions that the “desire for community is most often a desire for a sense of unity, a feeling of being accepted, and an experience of at-homeness” (62).  But the authors challenge that  “the paradox of the Christian community is that people are gathered together in voluntary displacement.  The togetherness of those who form a Christian community is a being-gathered-in-displacement. 

According to Webster’s dictionary, displacement means, to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place.  This becomes a telling definition when we realize the extent to which we are preoccupied with adapting ourselves to the prevalent norms and values of our milieu” (63).

The authors suggest that “The call to community as we hear it from our Lord is the call to move away from the ordinary and proper places.  Leave your father and mother.  Let the dead bury the dead.  Keep your hand on the plow…The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home” (63).

“Why is this so central?  It is central because in voluntary displacement, we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace…Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings” (64).

The authors illustrate Jesus as the ultimate reason why we should move towards displacement through the examples of His birth in Bethlehem, being taken to Egypt to escape King Herod, leaving His parents to be in the Temple, going to the desert to be tempted for 40 days and continually moving “away from power, success and popularity in order to remain faithful to His divine call…Jesus’ displacement…finds its fullest expression in His death on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem” (65). 

To Disappear as an Object of Interest
The authors do warn against romanticizing displacement, as many who have been displaced for tragic reasons are broken and feel that they have suffered irreparable damage.  But in this, followers of Christ are called “to solidarity with the millions who live disrupted lives” (66). 

“Voluntary displacement leads to compassionate living precisely because it moves us from positions of distinction to positions of sameness, from being in special places to being everywhere…To disappear from the world as an object of interest in order to be everywhere in it by hiddenness and compassion is the basic movement of the Christian life.  It is the movement that leads to community as well as to compassion.  It leads us to see with others what we could not see before, to feel with others what we could not feel before, to hear with others what we could not hear before” (67).

Struggling with the desire to be distinctive, significant and extraordinary, some of my biggest hurdles in life have come when I have not felt useful.  I first experienced this in Uganda when I found that my presence was often more of a detriment and burden than an asset because I could not speak the language and was just learning about the culture.  I lived with an African family and their maid who cooked for me, carried up my water from the river, cleaned my room and washed my clothes.  When I offered to help with the dishes, my host mom told me she didn’t think I could get them clean enough.  Proud and indignant, I set my alarm for 5 am the next morning and quietly took my place in the yard next the maid to scrub pots and pans. 

Now, I am currently wrestling with not only not living overseas, but being a stay-at-home mom in a very homogeneous neighborhood in America.  I have certainly “disappeared from the world as an object of interest” and struggle with guilt over not living the radical life I once thought I would live.  But the chapter addresses my current struggles in the following ways:

“The implications for each of us individually vary according to the specific milieus in which we live and our concrete understandings of God’s call for us…for many people it does not even mean physical movement, but a new attitude toward their factual displacement and a faithful perseverance in their unspectacular lives…Therefore, the movement toward compassion always starts by gaining distance from the world that wants to make us objects of interest” (67).

Recognizing Our Displacement
“What does this mean for us in terms of voluntary displacement?  If voluntary displacement is such a central theme in the life of Christ and His followers, must we not begin by displacing ourselves?  Probably not.  Rather, we must begin to identify in our own lives where displacement is already occurring.  We may be dreaming of great acts of displacement while failing to notice in the displacements of our own lives the first indications of God’s presence” (71).

“In our modern society with its increasing mobility and pluriformity, we have become the subjects and often the victims of so many displacements that it is very hard to keep a sense of rootedness, and we are constantly tempted to become bitter and resentful.  Our first and often most difficult task, therefore, is to allow these actual displacements to become places where we can hear God’s call” (72).

“It often seems easier to initiate a displacement that we ourselves can control than freely to accept and affirm a displacement that is totally out of our hands.  The main question is, ‘How can I come to understand and experience God’s caring actions in the concrete situation in which I find myself?’…God is always active in our lives.  He always calls, He always asks us to take up our crosses and follow Him” (72-73).

Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize…We do not have to go after crosses, but we have to take up the crosses that have been ours all along.  To follow Jesus, therefore, means first and foremost to discover in our daily lives God’s unique vocation for us” (73).

“The more we are able to discern God’s voice in the midst of our daily lives, the more we will be able to hear Him when He calls us to more drastic forms of displacement…But everyone must live with the deep conviction that God acts in her or his life an equally unique way…when we have learned to see Him in the small displacements of our daily lives, the greater call will not seem so great after all” (74).


How has moving away from the “ordinary and proper places” helped you to be more compassionate towards others? Where in your life is displacement already occurring?  How have you heard from God in this? 

~~~~~~

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This post is day 24 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”? {31 Days of Re-Entry}

During one of my trips back to America while I was living in China, I remember bemoaning to a mentor of mine about being single. She comforted me with the statement, “You have a higher calling.”

You mean I have a more important call than my friend living back in America with three kids? I thought.   

“You have a higher calling.”

“You are DOING IT–you are going!”

“Be radical and sold out for Jesus!”

“Do big things for God.”

“I could never do what you do.”

“God has called YOU!”

It is statements like these that make it so difficult to return from the mission field to the humdrum life where you blend in with everyone else–and instead pursue a “lower calling.”

Growing up in the church, youth group, summer camps and Christian college, I had never really noticed these appeals to our pride until a few years ago. Our first year of marriage, my husband and I led a team of college students back to China with the organization I had been with. We had a week of training, complete with all the inspiring sermons, small groups, emotional praise and worship, prayer and individual devotionals I had been used to all my life. Not having grown up in the church, my husband would point out aspects of the messages I had never noticed before and how missions was made out to be the end-all, the only option for any Christian who was truly “sold out for Christ.”

An actor by trade, he actually saw many parallels between this group and all his acting teachers, who also considered the art to be a “calling.”

I was called to missions, but my husband was called to acting. Doctors feel called to save people. Artists are called to their particular art form–to dance, paint, sing, sculpt, compose or photograph. And the expectation is that you are either all in, or you are a sell out. Calling is not just a Christian term, it is a human term for people who are searching for purpose and meaning in life.

 A quick Google search will lead you to articles such as: “10 Ways to Determine God’s Calling in Your Life,” “Find Your Calling: 5 Steps to Identify Your Purpose,” “4 Steps to Finding Your Calling,” “10 Signs you Found Your Calling,” and “Oprah On Finding Your Calling–What I Know for Sure.”  It is not just Christians who want to make a difference in the world. 

In February of 2015, in an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “I Don’t Have a Job. I Have a Higher Calling,” one researcher noted that “those who can connect their work to a higher purpose—whether they are a janitor or a banker—tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, put in longer hours and rack up fewer absences.” God has put eternity in the hearts of man (Eccl. 3:11) and placed a desire to live for something or someone greater than ourselves within each of us.

The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, has sold over 32 million copies world-wide for a reason.  We want to have purpose.  “What is your calling?” is a common question in Bible studies and small groups that assumes that each person has a unique and purposeful calling from God, though the “call to missions” seems to be the golden badge while the others are silver and copper.

Karen Yates puts it like this in her article “Your Calling is Closer Than You Think,” “We have an expectation that our calling is discoverable. It’s the gold nugget buried within the river bank. Search for it, be patient, don’t give up, we’ll find it (or stumble upon it) one day, eventually, and our lives will never be the same.”

When I answered the call to missions, I thought that it was an “all-in or all-out” situation. I felt sure God wouldn’t call me to do something halfway, so I threw myself completely into my work overseas. As mentioned in previous posts, God’s will for me turned out to be very different than I’d planned and I was heartbroken when I began to realize that I was going to have to be in the “all-out” camp of “less-than” Christians.

Missions, as it turns out, was a call on my life, but not the call. My call was first and foremost to intimacy with Jesus Christ.

I had left my first love to serve at the altar of my usefulness and worshipped what I could do for Christ rather than what He had already done for me. I had made my call to missions my idol, tightly winding my identity all around it, so that when I returned home I unraveled. I had no idea who I was anymore if I wasn’t “Someone’s friend or sister or daughter who is giving up everything to serve God in China.” I was just me again–Leslie without the “higher calling.” Leslie who lives in Chicago. Leslie the teacher. Leslie the wife.

Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, my calling had become my precious ring I clung to for security and significance.  It took leaving, getting married and reentering American life to pry my fingers off of what had started out good, but had slowly become something I worshipped.  God had always only wanted me to hold it with open hands.

Karen Yates remarks, “The problem I see with that over-used, over-emphasized, over-preached word “calling” is that many of us have limited the definition of “calling” to a profession, a career or a role. In this view, calling is about what we do, not about who we are. Calling becomes about assignment—my calling to be a mother, or a psychologist, or a missionary, or a teacher; my “calling” to “go into ministry” or “go on the mission field.” And then when our children walk out the door, when we lose our jobs, when our spouses suddenly die, when the funding doesn’t come in, when we become desensitized with our workplace, or when we simply grow old and hunched over, what then? Where is our calling?” (Yates, “Your Calling is Closer than You Think”)

I do still believe God calls us to specific work at specific times. Sometimes it is through a burning bush moment, but often it is walking through one open door in obedience, then the next, then the next until we find that we are somewhere very different than where we started. And I do think that telling the nations about Christ is a privilege and a joy that is very different from other callings. But we need to be careful with the superlatives, lest we throw ourselves wholeheartedly at the altar of our call instead of at the altar of our Savior.

What other phrases does the church use to inspire us to go instead of remind us who we are in Christ? Have you ever struggled with this issue of calling? What have you learned over the years?

Related Articles:

Your Calling is Closer than You Think,” by Karen Yates, Relevant Magazine, May 28, 2013.

The Idolatry of Missions,” by Jonathan Trotter, A Life Overseas, Nov. 9, 2014.

Farewell to the Missionary Hero,” by Amy Peterson, Christianity Today, Sept. 14, 2015.

“I Don’t Have a Job.  I Have a Calling.” by Rachel Feintzeig, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2015.


This post is day 17 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days during the month of October. Check out my other posts in this series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)


Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays
and Taking Route

Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie {31 Days of Re-Entry}

I am an experience junkie.  There, I said it.  I’m addicted to change, hilarity and the absurd, being stretched and emerging with ridiculous tales.  I don’t know how I survived college intact since I took advantage of as many opportunities as would possibly fit into my schedule. 

My sophomore year, I debated whether or not I should do a six month internship in a developing country.  When I asked a trusted professor in his 50’s, he told me, “I think you should do it.  If I died tomorrow, you wouldn’t have to mourn me at all for the amount of experiences I’ve already had in my lifetime.”

So I lived with a Ugandan family in a village with no indoor plumbing for six months, commuting into Kampala each day to volunteer at a Compassion International child project (don’t be too impressed–I mostly did filing and editing!).

But I thought of my professor’s words…

When I saw a woman balancing 20 pounds of water on her head and a baby on her back who would most likely never travel more than a few miles from her home in her lifetime.

When I saw dying women in the slums covered in flies and dirty children running all around them.

When I realized the girls my age that I befriended had to scrounge for food to feed me when I spent the night at their house. 

And later in China, when my students’ dreams were to “go to America,” and I knew they would most likely only be able to take a job teaching back in their poor village and marry a man chosen by their parents.


In Ningxia, China, with my student, the first in her village to go to college

And I wondered:  Would the sum total of their life experiences equal:

a less fulfilling life? 

a less abundant life? 

a less valuable life?

a less meaningful life? 

Using my professor’s words, would the reverse be true of their “limited” existence–that we’d have to mourn their lives more because they hadn’t had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, travel to 10 different countries or earn a Masters degree?   

With every experience I am given, I am given more responsibility.  I am held more responsible to tell other’s stories, educate those back in my passport country, to be the one voice in the crowd and in the church that can honestly say, “But it isn’t done that way everywhere.” 

And I can honestly say that while these experiences are addicting, this kind of exposure to the world and the level of responsibility that it brings can be almost immobilizing.

I feel guilty that I can spend thousands of dollars travelling when it costs me $300 to educate a girl in Uganda for the entire year.

I am burdened when I think of visiting children in an orphanage in Tajikistan who were paralyzed simply because they were never held, sitting hours on plastic toilets in the courtyard.

I am sickened by the 12 year old Thai girls I saw in Chiang Mai in the arms of their 65 year old white tourist “patrons.”

And I ache for the countless women in China that were forced to have abortions because they would have exceeded the number of children allowed by the government.

Yes, I am an experience addict, but the more that I see of the world, the more I find that the experience math just doesn’t compute.  Every life is a valuable life, regardless of the amount of experiences.  That soot-stained old man selling sweet potatoes on the side of the road in China every day from 7 am to 10 pm is JUST as valuable as me.  

God has gifted me with these opportunities not because I am more loved or valuable, but because He expects me to do something with what I experience.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 12 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas {31 Days of Re-Entry}

As mentioned before, one positive effect of re-entry is the perspective you gain on your time spent abroad.

I haven’t been in the blogging world very long, but I have noticed that bloggers seem to like lists, so in solidarity, here’s my contribution to the numerous “list posts.”

(This is not me running.)

I ran my first post-baby half marathon on Sunday and all I could do was keep thinking how similar it was to serving overseas, so here it is: 

12 Race-day Lessons for Serving Overseas:

1. Run YOUR race, at YOUR pace.
My race on Sunday wasn’t just for people doing a half marathon, but also included those doing a 10K and a full marathon.  Before I realized this, it was easy to compare myself to those around me thinking, They’re running too fast too soon–they’re going to burn out.  Or They are sooo slow.  Wow.  Hope they finish in time.  When I approached the six mile mark (of 13), some people around me started sprinting.  It wasn’t until then that I realized their race was half as long as mine, so they had a completely different pace.  Short-termers and long-termers have entirely different “paces,” so don’t compare your race to theirs!


2. Train beforehand.
Most people wouldn’t just sign up to run 13 miles if they haven’t been running at all, but I know plenty of people who have gone overseas without training.  If your organization doesn’t require cross-cultural training, I would definitely recommend finding a church that offers Perspectives or even signing up for a course or two at a nearby Christian College.  Many of them offer short week-long courses during Christmas or summer break.

3. Don’t run through the pain.
Cross-cultural workers think that they have to have everything together.  Some of this is the fault of the church, who lifts us up as Super Christians and expects us to be perfectly spiritual.  But, just like running, when you run through the pain, you risk further injury–to yourself and to others.  It is okay to step out of the race for a while when you need help.

4. Use props, because sometimes it is just boring.
When I run long races, I like to listen to sermons or music.  When you are overseas, sometimes you just need to pamper yourself on days when life is difficult.  Listen to music.  Watch movies.  Read books.  Get a massage. Chat with a friend for two hours.  It’s okay if you don’t live exactly like the people in the culture at all times!     

5. Notice the course.
The course I ran this weekend was around a reservoir in Colorado.  It was a grey and misty day, but I enjoyed the farms, the mountains in the distance and even watching the people around me.  Living abroad, it’s actually pretty impossible NOT to notice when you are in a setting so different from your own, but after five years overseas, I realized I was forgetting to appreciate the world around me.  It got too easy to have tunnel vision or even look at the ground on an entire trip to the grocery store because I was just so sick of being stared at (those were the days when I needed to hide out in my apartment for a few days to get recharged).  If this is you, slow down and take notice again. 

6. It’s okay to walk sometimes.
Sometimes you don’t need to quit the race entirely, but you’ll be better able to run if you just slow down for a little while.  I certainly did this on Sunday and after walking or stopping to stretch, I felt so much more able to keep running.  Make space in your schedule for “being.”  Most other cultures are actually better at doing this than western ones, so you can learn from your host culture.  Take naps when they do.  In China, it was an expectation that you would nap after lunch and people would feel so sorry for you if I told them you hadn’t napped.  Rest.  You will be more productive if you do.

7.  Take the free Gatorade.
This race had aide stations every couple miles that offered water and Gatorade for weary runners.  If you are living overseas, you may not have many people offering to carry your burdens, but when you do, be sure you take advantage!

8. Use someone to keep pace.
I picked this woman that was actually older than me once I realized she was going at a much steadier pace than I was.  When you serve overseas, it is so helpful to have a mentor.  Put aside your fear and ask questions of those who have been there longer than you.


9.  It’s easier if you have at least one cheerleader on the sidelines.
I ran my first half marathon in Beijing, China, a place where people were so unfamiliar with running for fun that they asked me after the race if I won it. There were spectators, but not many cheerleaders (mainly people scowling at the stupid running people who were stopping up traffic).  But being a whitey in a sea of Asians, I stood out enough to be spotted by at least three different people from my organization on the sidelines who cheered me on.  Likewise, when you are living overseas, find your “person,” who will check on you relentlessly and pray for you fervently.   (Check out a recent article on A Life Overseas by Craig Thompson, “That One Safe Friend.”)

10.  Sometimes you feel alone even when you are running in a crowd.
In a race, overseas, and just in life, we are really running our races alone.  Sometimes you can gather adrenaline from the crowd, but at the end of the day, you cross the finish line alone.  (Of course, if you know the Lord, you know that you are never truly alone!)

11. If you can, run with a friend.
This was the first race I actually had a friend train with me for and it made it go so much more quickly! In China, I had a “team” of two–including me–but this teammate was the hugest blessing in my life.  We were forced to rely on one another.  Seek out a friend in country–even if you can just keep in touch via Internet or text messages–who will remind you to keep running on the days you want to bow out.

12. It’s not about winning the race, it’s about finishing.
I will never place in a race.  In the five half marathons I have run so far, my goal has always been just to finish (and maybe shave a minute or two off my previous time).  It is easy to get competitive when you are living overseas–especially when it comes to language.  Remember that just because you pass one person, doesn’t mean that you win the race.  Be faithful, my friend.  Unlike a half marathon, this race is actually not about you–and you have more than just Gatorade and energy bars fueling you–you have the Holy Spirit!  And He wants you to finish strong.  (And the last will be first, after all.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

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This post is day 11 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)


Linking up with Blessed but Stressed and Velvet Ashes

Photo: By Peter van der Sluijs (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons