Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why We Should Care About Black History

Just a few months ago, Grace asked me what I was reading on my Kindle.  It was If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas.  "A book about American history," I told her.

She replied, "The history of white people in America or the history of black people?"

I was totally taken aback.  "Uhhh....both," I stammered.  "It's about about the Founding Fathers."

But I couldn't stop thinking about it.  My perceptive daughter was right.  The American history of white people, and the American history of black people are not the same.

I grew up on U.S. history books celebrating my country's foundations.  Freedom, liberty, justice, equality for all.  A city on a hill.  Using money with my Founding Fathers' pictures on it.  Seeing their names on bridges and roads and monuments.

And yet...yet...yet....America granted freedom and equality only to some.  For hundreds of years.

While us white folks celebrate the roots of our equality and freedom, our black neighbors and friends look back at an entirely different history.  One of chains and oppression.  For hundreds of years.  In fact, in our "Christian" nation, their oppression was government and church sanctioned up until as recently as 50 years ago.

I've followed the rules of good trans-racial parenting and read my kids the books with black children and by black authors, and I've taught them African-American history.  I remember the day when Grace said something to me about her "ancestors who were slaves."

I corrected her, "Oh Honey, you are not African-American; you are just African...with an American passport.  Your ancestors were not slaves."

There was genuine relief on her face. "PHEW!" she said with typical childhood drama.

And for the first time, I thought about what it must be like to know that your ancestors were slaves.  It was a relief to Grace to know that hers were what about all those who were?  As a white American, I can find a comfortable place in my country's heritage of freedom and equality.  But what about those who were given no part in that?  Those whose ancestors were put into chains by my ancestors?  Those who often still feel those effects?

I've learned that in building a friendship, often the conversation that shifts an acquaintance to a friend is a discussion of each person's history.  You can go for weeks--years even--of conversations about the present, about kids and weather and politics, and never really know a person.  It's not until you start asking How do you feel about your childhood?  What were your parents like?  How did you meet your husband? that a friendship really starts going to another level.  To really know a person, history matters.

So when we think about the racial divide in America, why do us white folks want to keep the past in the past?  It's very possible that many of us may be legitimately non-racist, open to friends and co-workers and neighbors of all races and ethnicities.  But yet we as a society keep hitting against this towering wall between black and white.  Could it partially be because we white folks fail to acknowledge our very different histories?  That our black friends don't just want to be valued as people, but to be valued as black people?  That they want to contribute to society, contribute to our lives, because their histories have something important to add to our own?

We white Christians wax eloquent about racial reconciliation, and yet the Christian Church remains the most segregated institution in America.  What are we doing wrong?  Could it be that we are neglecting to listen, to learn, from our black brothers and sisters?  Could we be missing out on something remarkable because we are unwilling to ask them, What does the gospel look like to someone with your history?  How has it shaped your theology and your faith?

In his book Black and Reformed, Anthony Carter writes, "If the predominantly white church in America desires to know the reality of a providential relationship with God in the midst of oppression as repeatedly demonstrated with ancient Israel, she need only plumb the depths of the rich spiritual heritage of her darker brothers and sisters."***

Seems like we're the ones who are missing out.  And in the meantime, alienating our brothers and sisters in Christ who long to be heard and understood.

It's Black History month.  Do we pay attention?  Do we acknowledge that many of those who share the same citizenship and neighborhoods as us have a very different history?  And therefore, a very different perspective that we can learn from?  And do we consider how perhaps we need to not just learn about Black History in general, but Black History in the Church?  

Many say America was, and is, a Christian nation.  And though I will readily agree that much of America's success came from our foundation on Christian principles, would a black Christian agree that America was a Christian nation?  What are we communicating if we insist we are a Christian nation, but neglect to acknowledge that the enslavement and oppression of black people was decidedly un-Christian?  

By adopting four black African children, I am giving them my American citizenship.  Simply because of the color of their skin, someday my children will take on the burden that all African-Americans have shouldered for generations.  I'm hoping, for their sake, that the future of America will look better than it does now.  But more importantly, I hope that they won't have to look far and wide for a racially integrated church.  I hope that white folks will value their perspective not just because they are American, but because they are black and they are African.  I hope people will seek out my children's perspective.  I know I've already learned so much by being their mom.  I hope the rest of the world wants to learn from them too.

***Anthony Carter's book is a great place to start increasing your understanding of the Black American Christian perspective.  Black and Reformed:  Seeing God's Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Grace Went to Amani and Lily Turned Eight

Last week was pretty exciting around here.

First, our wonderful, long-time friends drove in for the week.  Imani and her mom stayed with us, and Caleb joined Grace's fifth grade class on their epic 4-day trip to the Amani Rainforest.  This trip is highly anticipated by every HOPAC student, and is often mentioned by seniors as their favorite HOPAC memory.  

I had the privilege of taking the first HOPAC elementary class to Amani way back in 2003.  Gil and I later chaperoned a few other times.  In fact, one year baby Grace went along!  

Gil got to chaperone this year, while I held down the fort at home.  But it was so special to hear Grace's stories and see the pictures of places I had been with my class so many years before.  

Chameleon hunting at night

Tea plantation

Tea factory

Gil and Grace came home just in time for Lily's eighth birthday.  My little introvert does better in small groups, so she had just a few friends over.  They made Valentines, played Twister, and had ice cream sundaes.  

I keep telling my children to stop growing, but they just doesn't listen.  I guess we better work harder on obedience.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

We Have Not Learned Our Lesson About Adoption Corruption

Sometimes I think I am a glutton for punishment.  

I keep clinging onto vestiges of hope that maybe international adoption can work in developing countries.  But I am drawn like a bug to a zapper when I see books like this one:

And yes, I felt like a zapped bug.  This time, I got to read 312 pages describing (in sordid detail) the stinking cesspool that was the Guatemalan adoption industry.  And an industry it was, since at its height, thousands of children were exported from this tiny war-torn country every year.  In fact, for several years, 1 out of every Guatemalan 100 babies were sold to America.  And while thousands of American families fawned over pictures of "their" children, fixed up nurseries, and prayed desperate prayers, the millions of dollars being sent to Guatemala were being used by adoption agencies, lawyers, judges, and orphanages to manipulate, buy, or just plain kidnap children away from their mothers.  

And the pit in my stomach just continues to grow.  

As I've said over and over, I wish it wasn't true.  I so desperately want to support all international adoptions--I really do.  And it would be one thing if collectively the American Adoption Community looked at Guatemala and said, Wow, we really learned our lesson.  We won't ever let that happen again.  But the hardest part about all of this is that America still has not learned its lesson.  It still is turning a blind eye. 

You might have read the post I wrote last year called Children Are No Longer For Sale in Uganda.  After Uganda's adoption industry turned into its own cesspool, the Ugandan government finally got in control of it and passed some new laws.  Perhaps the most significant of those laws is that any foreign adoptive parent needs to now foster the child in Uganda for one year before adopting.  

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the following on the United States Department of State website last week:

What does this mean?  It means that some American adoption agencies are trying to get around the one-year fostering law by finding Ugandan families to "proxy foster" the child....until the requirement is supposedly met and the American family can swoop in and take the child back to America.



How clear does Uganda need to be?  How spelled out do they need to make the law?  It's even written in English.  You must live in Uganda for at least one year to adopt a child.   Is it really that hard to understand?  But hey, I guess if Madonna is able to ignore adoption residency requirements, then anyone can.

Some will say, Well, adoptive families wouldn't be able to get away with it if it wasn't okay.  Really?  Then they obviously have never lived in a developing country before.  They have absolutely no idea the depth of the corruption that they are enabling, that they are contributing to, in the name of rescuing a child.

Sigh.  I'll say it again:

If you're feeling called to adopt, choose a Hague-Convention country.  Do your homework; don't just trust your agency.  Ask the hard questions.  Read the country's laws for yourself.  Support adoption reform.  Remember that adoption corruption is rampant and you cannot assume the best.

Please, please, America (and it really is mainly America), let's learn this lesson.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

10 Myths About Africa Many Americans Believe

1.  Africa is a country.

Geography is a lost subject from where I come from, so let me just remind everyone that Africa is a continent.  A large continent, in fact, as you can see from the diagram below.

Source: Kal Krause, “The True Size of Africa”
Africa is also an incredibly diverse continent, made up of 54 countries. Those countries north of the Sahara tend to be more Arab, those south of the Sahara tend to be more "Bantu" (what you would traditionally picture as African), and those on the Horn (Ethiopia, Somalia, etc) tend to be a fascinating mixture.  But even then, I am being incredibly general, as there are thousands of African tribes and ethnicities that are as diverse as as a European would be from an Asian or South American.

I am going to debunk the following myths with what I have learned by living in Tanzania, since that is the country I am most familiar with.  However, keep in mind that I will be speaking broadly, and knowingly countering the stereotypes about Africa with more stereotypes (albeit, hopefully more accurate stereotypes).  In any culture or country, people live along a spectrum, and it's important that we don't ever lump an entire group (or continent) of people under any particular label.  My main goal is to use what I have learned in Tanzania to change the mental picture many Westerners have of Africa.

2.  Africans are all poor.

Yes, poverty is a huge problem in many African countries.  (Of the 25 poorest countries in the world, only 4 are not African.)  But that doesn't mean there aren't any middle-class or rich people.  Even though Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, there are many rich people here.  Economic class distinctions are huge, and since the concept of equality is not valued the way it is in the West, rich people are usually treated better and with far more respect and privilege than poor people.

3.  Africa is not clean.

It's true that public areas in Tanzania are often trash-filled and untended.  However, that says more about a lack of infrastructure than the character of your average Tanzanian.  Tanzanian homes, vehicles, and businesses tend to be very clean--much cleaner than what I have often seen in America.

4.   Africans do not have access to clothes or shoes.

Maybe that was true in the past.  Maybe it still is true in some war-torn countries.  But in Tanzania, it is absolutely not true.  Fabric is locally designed and printed and plentiful.  Hundreds of tons of cast-offs from American and European thrift stores are shipped over and sold in the local markets.  I buy most of our clothes here now.  There is no lack of clothing--and therefore, no need for you to send over your shoes or clothing.  If you are supporting an organization that needs clothes, send money instead and support the local economy.

5.  Africans dress in rags.

I have found that Tanzanians dress far more professionally and formally than those from my home state of "casual" California--and this is regardless of their economic status.  Women hardly ever wear shorts in public, and you rarely find a woman in the supermarket wearing the equivalent of yoga pants with unkempt hair.  Dry cleaners and salons are everywhere and people regularly have their clothes individually tailored.  Even those who work manual labor dress professionally for the bus ride and change into work clothes when they arrive at their job.  In social situations, I often feel under-dressed.

6.  Africans all live in villages.

Like most of the world, Tanzania is rapidly becoming urbanized.  We live in a fast-growing city of five million people, and it is predicted to reach 20 million in the next 30 years.

7.  Village life would be perfect if white people weren't messing it up.

So I'm not going to get into the complicated mess of colonialism, but let's just say that yes, I agree that white people have done a lot of messing up in Africa (to put it mildly).  But let's not swing in the other direction and assume that village life was or is peaceful and idyllic.  Of course, beauty can be found anywhere, but female circumcision, child marriages, polygamy, alcoholism, albino murders, women who walk miles to find water, illiterate children, lack of basic health care and high infant and maternal death rates are not to be sugarcoated by some convoluted notion of the "noble savage."

8.  All Africans are black.

If all Africans are black, then all Americans are Native American.  Colonialism happened on both continents.  However, European diseases managed to wipe out most Native American populations, and African diseases managed to wipe out most European settlers....and the rest is history.  South Africa probably has the most well-known white population, but I also have white African friends from Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania, whose families have lived here for generations.  There are also hundreds of thousands of Indian (Asian) families who have been East African citizens for over 100 years.

An Indian (Hindu) wedding ceremony in Tanzania.

9.  Poverty is Africa's biggest problem.

Absolutely, poverty is a huge problem.  But I am convinced that worldview is a bigger problem, and specifically how that plays out in governmental corruption.  Which is why sending "aid" to Africa (in its many forms) is really just sticking band-aids on a cancerous tumor....and why the gospel offers real hope.

10.  Africa has been evangelized.

Northern Africa?  Definitely not.  Sub-Saharan Africa?  Partially.  There are still thousands of villages in Tanzania without a church.  There are still dozens of languages in Tanzania that don't have a Bible translation.  However, it is true that Christianity has spread like wildfire throughout sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades.  Unfortunately, it's often a version of the Prosperity Gospel.

Missions has most definitely changed in Africa in recent years.  Gone are the days of pith-helmet-clad white men tromping through the jungle to preach the gospel to remote villages.  In fact, there are far fewer white missionaries who are engaged in church planting and evangelism.  Instead, western missionaries are narrowing their focus to equipping and training Africans to do the job themselves.  I don't have statistics, but I'm quite confident there are many more African missionaries in Africa than there are western missionaries.  And that's how it should be.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

I'm Not Faking the Joy

In the summer of 2003, Gil and I returned from our first term in Tanzania.  We had been broken in just about every way imaginable.  I had been mentally ill for at least a year of our two-year term.  We had been criticized and left on our own in ministry.  We had no idea what we were doing in our very young marriage and hurt each other deeply.  And the guy we invested in most had stolen from us.

But we had more disillusionment waiting for us back home in California.  Though we had been sent out with much fanfare, our return was a lot less enthusiastic.  Not one group in our home church asked us to share about our time in Tanzania.  So we put together two evenings in our home for people to come hear about it.  We sent out about 50 personalized invitations to all our supporters and friends. We cleaned our little apartment and I spent the afternoon cooking Tanzanian food.  The first evening, four people came.  The second one, no one came.

It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  Gil and I both slipped into depression.

Yet despite all of that, two years later, we went back to Tanzania.  And now it's been almost 13 years.  So what does that make us?  Saints?  Martyrs?  Angels? or....Stupid?


We did it for the joy.

Earlier this week, many of you read the post I wrote for A Life Overseas, called Dear Supporter, There's So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You.  I wrote that post in a very general way, so that other missionaries could use it and share it.  And though everything I mentioned was true of me, it was true over a 12-year span.  It's not necessarily true now.  I am glad you read it, but I kept thinking that I wanted to say more to you--the people who know me personally, either in person or through my writing.

Yes, I have often felt like a failure.  Yes, I have just as many personal sins as any Christian anywhere.  Yes, I have often struggled with what to tell you because I fear your judgment.  Yes, I have often felt disconnected with those who sent us out.

But I am not faking the joy.

We returned to Tanzania because there was a significant need we were gifted to fill.  And there is joy in significance and there is satisfaction in filling a need. There is always joy--in a deep conversation with a student, in that light that goes on when someone understands an important concept, in a changed life.  There is joy in learning.  There is even a way to find joy in feeling ignored or going without or being afraid because of how hard things points us to Jesus.

True, we had a lot to learn.  Sometimes I see those 20-something young people, with passion in their eyes and fire in their bellies, ready to go change the world for Jesus.  And I want to pat them gently on the head and say, Be teachable, Younglings.  You have no idea what is about to hit you.

Gil and I pushed through the difficult years of early marriage--through 6, 7, 8 years (it takes a long time, doesn't it?) before heading out into relatively peaceful waters.  We pushed through thousands of cultural mistakes into a place where we could have a voice here. We persevered through years of struggle of living in a developing country.  When I look back on the early years of this blog, I am amused by how many posts were about electricity and driving and shopping.  How much it consumed me then, and how little I worry about it now in comparison.  Part of that is because Tanzania has changed for the better.  Part of it is because I just got used to it.  And part of it is because we adapted our lives, like when we purchased two forms of back-up power.

And we adapted our expectations for our support back home.  We don't sit around and wait for people to come to us anymore.  We realize that people are busy and distracted (just like we are!) and it's unrealistic (and arrogant) to expect a red-carpet.  So instead, we take the initiative to come to you--to your groups and meetings--and we find that once we are there, people are very interested and supportive and encouraging.

We've learned and grown a lot, but we've also changed our expectations, and that's half the battle.

So yeah, there's the failure, and the loss, and the rejection.  But what I also want to tell you is that the joy keeps increasing, and increasing exponentially.  When students come back and tell us about the impact they are having on others.  When pastors come back and tell us that their church went from 10 to 105 in one year.  When we can get through new struggles because we have the experience of the old ones.  We have incredibly deep friendships here.  We have fun.  We like life, most of the time.  The longer we stay, the more the joy increases.  It just took a while to really get going.

I do want to be real with you; I do want you to understand what myself and other missionaries feel and experience.  But I don't want you to either put me on a pedestal or feel sorry for me.  Many years ago, I believed John Piper when he said Missions is gain!  Missions is hundredfold gain!  And I believed Jesus when he said that if I gave up houses and family that I would get a hundredfold in return.  That in losing my life I would find it.

I don't know if every missionary you know is there yet.  I don't know if I could have said it myself ten years ago.  But the longer I live, the more God's promises prove to be true.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dear Supporter, There's So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You

Dear Supporter,
I wrote you a newsletter today.  I told you about the success in our ministry, about the lives being touched and the happy stories.  Everyone was smiling in all the pictures.  But there is so much more I wish I could tell you.
I wish I could tell you that lots of times I feel like a total failure.  I’ve asked you to pray for the Big Event, or the Camp Sign-Ups, or the Grand Opening.  You might not realize that afterwards, I don’t always tell you how it went.  That’s because sometimes, despite weeks of hard work and lots of prayer, the event is a total flop.  Five people show up.  Or no one.  And I can’t bring myself to tell you.
Then there’s the time when I realize that I’ve hurt a national friend.  Or a missionary colleague and I are having a huge conflict.   Or I’ve made a major cultural mistake.  Or I’m just not learning this language.  Or everything blows up in my face.  There are many, many times when I wonder why I’m here, or if I really am the right person for this job.  But I’m afraid to tell you, because then I think you will wonder why I’m here or if I am the right person for this job.
I wish I could tell you about my personal struggles.  Sometimes I feel like you make me out to be more spiritual than I am, but I wish you knew that becoming a missionary didn’t turn me into a saint.  In fact, sometimes I think it brings out the worst in me.  I wish I could tell you about the immobilizing depression or the fights with my spouse.  I wish I could tell you that my anxiety was so bad that I needed to travel to another country to see a professional counselor.  I wish I could tell you about that time my friend was robbed at gunpoint in his home, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks afterward.
I wish you knew that I hate it here sometimes, and there’s nothing more I want than to go home.  But I know I need to stay, so I don’t tell you because I’ve heard the stories of friends forced to go home because they confided in the wrong person.   I don’t tell you because I can’t imagine you would want to support such a flawed person.
Read the rest over at A Life Overseas.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

What Should We Think About Those Refugee Neighbors?

"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'"

This is not a political post.  This is not about Trump.  This is not about what you think about Trump's views on immigration and refugees.  Please don't try to convince me one way or another.  I have read the executive order, I do have some (varied) opinions, but that's not what this is about.

This is about what we are commanded to do as Christians.  Because even if you think that the government should deport every illegal immigrant, even if you believe that for the safety of our country, no Muslim should ever be allowed in ever again, you still have a responsibility before God to aggressively love the refugees, Muslims, and immigrants (even illegal ones) who are already in your community.

And they are there.  They might not be your literal neighbors, because they often tend to keep to themselves (who wouldn't, under their circumstances?).  But they are in communities all throughout the United States.

Here's where the Syrian refugees have been resettled.  Source, New York Times.  

Here's where the Somali refugees have been (recently) resettled.  Source, WND.

And here's where the Iraqi refugees are living.  Source:  CDC.  

You might not see them every day.  They might live in different parts of town and shop in different stores.  But they are there, and probably not too far away.  You might need to make an effort to find them, by shopping where they shop, or perhaps checking out a website like this one or this one.

They are our neighbors.  And since loving our neighbors is the second-greatest commandment (according to Jesus himself), we have an obligation to love them--regardless of our political views.

I wonder how many immigrants and refugees have never stepped foot into a white American home.

I wonder how many are struggling with language, with American culture and transportation and cooking, who have lost literally everything and have nothing, and yet are being ignored by Jesus' Church.

What an incredibly, pathetically, wasted opportunity.

I realize I am biased here.  After living all these years overseas, if I ever moved back to the States, the first people I would run to would be immigrants and refugees.  They would be my people.  They would be where I would feel comfortable.  I would long to live in their neighborhoods and it wouldn't be a sacrifice for me.  But I realize that's because I already have African friends and Muslim friends and Asian friends and they are not strange or different or scary to me.  They are hospitable and curious and absolutely fascinating.

So can I just assure you that once you get to know a person from a strange country, I promise that you will find more similarities than differences?  That you will find mamas who fret about what they feed their children and dads who like to tickle and you will find fear and hope and joy and all the things you are familiar with.  You will learn so much, and you will be indescribably blessed.

Whatever your political views, don't let it get in the way of Jesus' command to love your neighbor.

"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'

The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'

Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"