Bethlehem’s * Story

Your partnership means that some families have experienced radical transformation.  

Consider Bethlehem’s* story. Bethlehem’s father died when she was three years old. He was the only person generating income, as her mother was primarily responsible for taking care of children. After his death, Bethlehem’s family fell apart and she had to go to live with her aunt. At first, Bethlehem was welcomed in and well cared for by extended family. did well in her new living conditions and she was treated like a family member. However, when she was alone with one of her cousins, he raped her and she became pregnant.

Bethlehem hid her pregnancy as long as possible, but when this was no longer possible she told her aunt what happened. Her aunt did not believe her and she began to tell members of the community that the father was someone from school in order to avoid shaming the family. Because Bethlehem did not have any other options, she remained with her aunt until she gave birth. However over time the Aunt forced Bethlehem to leave her house and she was forced to start living with other people. Bethlehem started to beg along the roadside with her baby in hopes of having food to eat.

When Embracing Hope staff first heard her story, they visited her and found her living in filthy clothes and crying. All Bethlehem needed was some people to believe in her and give her a chance. While family had harmed her and cast her off, now there was an opportunity for the love and compassion of Jesus to break into her shame. Bethlehem’s daughter, Ababa*, was welcomed into the Day Care where she was loved on and cared for while also receiving nutrition, socialization, health care and a safe, caring place. Bethlehem took the opportunity to start working.

Today she is full of life and dignity. She works as a cleaner and also has her own small business selling clothing. And Ababa is in 2nd Grade and thriving at Embracing Hope’s school.

Their story encapsulates the beauty of what God does as the Psalmist captures it in Psalm 113:7 – 9

“He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.”

He took an orphaned young woman who was raped and cast off and has brought her to the place of honor. O God, do it for so many more.

*The fictional names Bethlehem and Ababa have been used throughout he story in order to protect the true identity of this family.

5 Meaningless Observations about life in America…and 1 more serious one

Our return to the US always brings with it a few surprises…here are my top 5 frivolous ones…and one not so frivolous…

1. How can Walmart possibly already have 2 aisles dedicated to Christmas right beside the aisles for Halloween and its was only October 1st?

2. How much more money can my Medical Insurance company waste by sending me multiple documents that are the wrong documents time and time again? I see a potential cost savings mechanism in their future…

3. How many hotdogs is it unsafe for you and your daughter to consume during a home assignment? (asking for a friend)

4. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy no matter what continent it happens to be on.

5. How many new flavors of potato chips can they invent? Buffalo Wing…Everything Bagel… Lime…Loaded Potato…and today Maple Bacon? Although the Canadian influence in me welcomes All Dressed and Dill Pickle flavors 🙂

And now for this more serious observation.

The culture of incivility that is growing is alarming to me.

Keep in mind that we’ve been gone for awhile. Perhaps my absence from the US for an extended period of time even disqualifies me from making the observation. However, it seems to me like there used to be a time when we were quicker to believe the best about one another, give the benefit of the doubt and to choose to disagree without attacking the other person’s character.

But, coming back this time, it seems like so many are quick to brand someone else the enemy, call each other names and then broadcast those differences in the public forum of social media. We seem to have become very quick to post and slow to listen…and among Jesus followers it appears to me to be exaggerated all the more.

While we used to try to hash out differences over lunch in relationship with each other (and then leave those differences at the table), it seems that now we try to ineffectively hash out those differences in the public social media forum with others chiming in to add fuel to the fire.

As I was preparing this post this morning, I was reminded of a passage from Zephaniah 3:16 – 17. I wonder if there might be something here about how to combat this incivility. Rather than saying, “Yeah, but they were uncivil towards me first”…what if we reflected on this verse?

“Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

There are two ways that I believe this passage turns us.

First, it turns our attention to God. We do not need to prove ourselves nor do we see ourselves as victimized and lost in shame. Rather, we catch a glimpse of our Heavenly Father taking great delight in us…singing over us. Rather than a need to prove my worth and rightness…I see the one who has already settled it.

Secondly, it turns us outward. When we read this verse in its communal setting we see that those around us are also those that God is with. He is taking great delight in them…and He is rejoicing over them with singing, too.

So, while we might passionately disagree, that does not mean that others are the enemy. As we catch a glimpse of the delight of God expressed in ourselves and those around us, perhaps we can continue to disagree, but while believing God’s best about one another.

What to Say… And Not Say to Someone on Home Assignment

We have met so many wonderful people and had so many great conversations during our home assignment. We have been loved on, breathed into and cared for in so many ways by great people from coast to coast.

However, I know that is not always the case for workers on home assignment. It can be hard coming back. At the same time it can be hard for people in our home countries to know how to engage. They get tongue tied and are insecure in how to relate to “people like us.”

I share these things not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Honestly, I have said more than my share of insensitive things in my life. 

But,  in case you end up face to face with a returning cross-cultural worker, these are some conversations you might want to avoid…followed by some questions that a worker will feel encouraged by you caring enough to ask.

6 Conversations that deflate a Worker on Home Assignment…

1.I once knew a missionary in your country…followed by stories of how super successful their ministry was and never getting around to listening to the actual work these workers are doing now.

I understand that this can start as an attempt to find common ground with someone. However, it can end up making the worker feel like a loser while a person shares about how easily their friend assimilated and how they have been living vicariously through that person for decades.

2. Do you really think its safe there for your family…

This comment recently caught me off guard. It was asked as a very emotion filled rhetorical question in a setting where I had known the man for a total of 5 minutes. He said, “Surely you are not planning on taking a newborn into that country are you?” Now, if you are close enough to me personally to ask this question, then maybe its worth asking. However, if we have never met before and you are trying to give direction into my life, this question doesn’t work so well. It simply leaves me wondering, “Since when was the Gospel about safety?”

3. “I love what you are doing among the poor [or fill in the blank] , but it doesn’t seem like there’s much Gospel in there.”

Now, we all know of ministries that have lost their bearings and over time chose to remove any kind of Jesus markings from their identity. But may we give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when we’ve merely caught a small glimpse of their life’s work.

The Bible has a lot to say about serving people’s physical needs AND sharing the Good News in Word, too. For this to happen effectively in most settings (including in North America) it can take years just to get started and the fruit is not quick to be seen.  Let us trust the Sovereign One to bring His redemption in His way.

4. It must be great to be back Home in America where you can get everything you’ve been missing. Or, “Your children must feel so deprived living in a place like Ethiopia.”

The short answers here are “No.” and “NO!”.

Of course there are great things about returning to this place called America. The first stop for my one daughter and I when we return to the United States is Sheetz for a hotdog. Gross, right? But truthfully the things we miss about America are “simple things”, because the place we call “home” is 7,000 miles away. We miss a good salad, drinking water from the tap, hot showers on demand, ice cream, and yes…Sheetz hotdogs.

They love the place they call “home” and there are so many special things about it.

5. You guys are heroes. Somebody needs to be doing what you do, but I can’t imagine doing it.

I am just a very simple guy who has the great privilege of God calling him to another part of the world to partner in what He’s doing. I am no hero.  

The truth is that we all have our part to play and we all are missionaries in the truest sense of the world. While you may get the privilege of serving Jesus here among people that look like you and talk like you,  I get the privilege of serving Him among people that look totally different than me. However, we both are privileged to be in the place that He has called us to be.

Last one…

6. Do you really think that’s going to work? You know that place is a really hard place…

Let’s be honest. It can be difficult to be a believer anywhere. Jesus promised that in Matthew 10:16 – 20. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” But then Jesus also gave us a great promise, “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Honestly there are many things that we’re not sure are going to work when we set out to do them. Many times I don’t even know how to measure whether they are a success or not. All I really know is that God is faithful to see us through. I also know that while our world seems increasingly dark,  Our God has a different perspective.  May we glimpse His perspective.

Whew. Glad we made it through those. Now, for some Positive Questions that you can ask a worker. And if you are a compassionate listener, watch for how life is breathed back into them!

Five Questions that Encourage a Cross Cultural Worker on Home Assignment.

1. How are things on the ground? (And then actually listen. A worker assumes you’ve forgotten about them and their work while they were away and that gets reinforced if you are tuning out. Be willing to listen. They are not whining, its just that things on the ground can be tough and indescribably lonely.)

2.How have you seen God move? What’s He putting in your hearts? (Most workers have some God stories, but they might be reluctant to share them since time has passed in your relationship. So ask them. And then sit back and watch their passion engage).

3. How are you doing with being back in The US (or wherever) since this no longer feels like “home?” (I know that person looks like the person you remember, but now they are different. They think differently and they are quite possibly having a hard time being back. Don’t take offense…its just that some things have changed in their hearts and minds.

4. How can we help and get behind you in your current needs? (This doesn’t always need to be money. Maybe you could provide some childcare, a meal or two, share your pool for a day…there are many practical ways to help relieve some pressure and give some respite).

5. What would you like prayer for? Can we pray now? (Many workers spend a good deal of time pouring out, but little time receiving. Commit to pray for them, but then pray for them right there. Spend some time soaking them in prayer on the spot.

So, there you go. Enjoy your conversations with the workers you know. Open up your home and your heart…and expect God to deepen your relationships.