Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On How I Became More Politically Correct

When we were in NYC in September, we took the kids to see the Broadway production of Annie.  It was fantastic and our kids loved it.

One of the orphans in the show was a little African-American actress.  If I had seen this production ten years ago, I probably would have thought, Seriously?  A little African-American girl in a Depression-era 1933 New York orphanage?  Like that would have happened.  How politically correct can you get?  Is that really necessary? [As if Annie is all that historical in the first place.]

But in 2013, all I could think was, I am so incredibly happy that my kids can look up on that stage and relate to one of the characters in a more tangible way.    

And they noticed.  Oh yes, they did notice.

I used to roll my eyes at this type of political correctness.  I was all about racial equality and I had friends from many different races.  I spent years growing up in Africa and my boss at my college job was African-American.  But the idea of sticking a non-white person into a TV show, book, or billboard (that wouldn't otherwise have one) often seemed kind of forced, like the publisher or producer was saying, Look how inclusive we are!  Like they were going out of their way to be politically correct.  I couldn't understand why it was such a big deal.

Then I adopted three African children, and everything I thought about race started to shift.  I started noticing when there were only white characters in children's books, and gravitated towards the ones that had other skin colors.  I appreciated children's TV programs that included other races.  I got irritated that standard band-aids are peach colored.

I know very well that there are African-American adults who don't approve of white folks adopting dark-skinned children.   I am very self-conscious about this.  I could care less if there are white people who don't approve of our inter-racial family.  Phooey on them.  But knowing that there are African-Americans who disapprove makes me insecure.

I have been the racial minority before; I know what that feels like.  I have been racially profiled and possibly even discriminated against because of my race.  But I have never, ever been oppressed because of my skin color, nor were my ancestors.  In fact, usually my race did the oppressing.

That is the one aspect where I can't relate to my children.  And it is huge.  I know that's why some African-American people don't approve of our family, because will I really be able to prepare my children for this racial world they are entering?  And it does worry me, a little bit.

But let me say this.  I have never before been so motivated to try to understand the African-American perspective.  I am reading African history, African-American literature.  I am working to see the world through their eyes.  We are celebrating MLK in this family.  I want to know.  I want to understand.  I want to get it.

And isn't that the pathway to racial reconciliation, anyway?  Understanding?  Valuing others as we value ourselves?  Getting why it's so important to have an actress in Annie have dark skin?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It's easy for those of us on the non-oppressed side to think that everything is hunky-dory, maybe we even have a non-white friend, that we are not racist, so therefore we are fulfilling God's ideal.  But are we really trying to understand those of other races?  Are we going out of our way to welcome them into our homes, our churches, our lives....to bring about true reconciliation?  

I am ashamed that it took me so long to get it.

My children gained a family when we adopted them.  But sometimes I think that I am gaining even more.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

All I Deserve

You deserve clean bathrooms.  

When we were on our cross-country trip, I saw this slogan many times at a particular type of truck stop.

Now, let me get one thing clear:  I like clean bathrooms.

But seriously.  Do I deserve clean bathrooms?  Is this an unalienable right?

I've noticed that we as Americans have this obsession with what we deserve.

Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.
Because I'm worth it. 
Sometimes you  have to forget what you want to remember what you deserve.  
I have to do what's best for me right now.
You deserve a break today.
The change you deserve.

It is completely ingrained in us.  Ingrained in me.  Down to the basic worldview level, we don't even realize how deeply we believe this concept until we spend time in another culture.

There were many times in Tanzania when I was forced to come face to face with my deeply held beliefs of what I deserve.
I would get angry when I wasn't given good customer service, especially when I was paying for something.
I would be infuriated when someone would deliberately cut in front of me in line or cut me off on the road.
I would rant and rave when the power would go out for seemingly no reason.

All of these things happened on a daily basis.  Now, it's true that I would rarely express this anger verbally.  But inside, I would seethe.  I wasn't the only one.  At our mission prayer meetings, a regular request was for anger issues.

Tanzanians are some of the most friendly, generous, hospitable people I have ever met.  But they were a socialist country for 30 years, so customer service is not the norm.  Their culture has different rules on waiting in line or what is acceptable on the road.

And I noticed:  Tanzanians are rarely bothered by these things.  They are content.  They are peace-loving.  They have been raised to be community-oriented instead of focused on what they individually deserve.

I finally began to ask myself:  Why do I deserve customer service?  Why I do deserve regular electricity?  Why do I deserve to have my place in line?

Because I don't.

Honestly, I deserve death.  I deserve God's judgment.  That's really all I deserve, and since I've been given life and grace, is there really anything else I really need--let alone deserve?

I know there's a fine line here.  I believe in having high expectations in people and helping them do their best. I believe that fighting against injustice and oppression is usually a worthy pursuit.  I believe that every person has value because we are created in the image of God.

But.  I am seeking to override that mentality that my American society has hard-wired into me:  that I deserve relationships that don't wear me out, opportunity to "follow my heart," healthy children, "me time," my own home filled with things that make me happy, vacations, physical beauty, and even clean bathrooms at a truck stop.....and I have a right to be angry when I don't get those things.

...in humility value others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

I'd like to see some American company use that as a slogan.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Tradition

"Are we going to eat my pumpkin?"  said Lily. [After all, that's always what we did with pumpkins in Tanzania.]

"Nope, we're going to carve them," I said.  "We will put faces on them."

"Why?" said Lily.  

"Because it's fun!"


Oh, the wonders of American tradition through the eyes of a four-year-old.  

You're right, Lily, it doesn't really make sense.  But doggone it, you're going to experience the fun things we do in America.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


We moved in two weeks ago.  And since our anniversary was last week, that means that it was almost exactly 13 years ago that we lived in this apartment.

Not much has changed.  Well, except the rent.  

We even are using the exact same washer/dryers that we used 13 years ago.  
15 years ago, actually, since I lived in Number 9.

We had left practically nothing in the States. We brought nothing with us from Tanzania except 7 boxes, most of which were filled with gifts for other people.  

We had no furniture, no kitchen supplies, no toys for the kids, and no warm clothes.  

Yet here with are, with a full home.  
Pam gave us a recliner.
Maggie gave us a bed for Josiah.
Gil's folks gave us a couch from their own house, and Gil's mom went garage-sale-hunting for weeks.
Nicole snagged us a fantastic fridge.
My parents brought down the bunk bed that my brother had slept in, that my Dad had slept in. 
Folks from Hillside gave us bags of warm clothes.
and Valerie wrote to us a few months ago and said, "My Dad just passed away; do you want his furniture?"  She gave us beds and a table and and a dresser and a whole kitchen full of supplies.   

One of the best things about this apartment are the little bathroom heaters.  Gil can't stop me from turning that on.  

I didn't spend three hours cooking down tomatoes to make that sauce.  It took me 10 minutes to make dinner.  That, too, is a beautiful thing.

My cup runneth over.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Some Of Us Are Cold

Some of us are bringing our bed covers out with us in the morning.  

Some of us are working with ear muffs on.

It's in the 60's sometimes out here in Southern California, and some of us with African blood are really cold.  

Gil won't let us turn the heat on yet.  He says, If this were Finland, we'd all be wearing shorts.  

Shoot....It's going to be a long winter.

Friday, October 4, 2013


A habit is defined as
A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition

When you live in a place long enough, you form habits.  They are comforting.  Your body goes through the motions even when you are sleepy; your car goes into autopilot; you don't have to use so much mental energy when going through your day.  Habits can be a really good thing.

In Tanzania, I used to spend a lot of time helping new folks get oriented.  I would tell them, "It feels so strange...but don't worry, give yourself six months to get used to things."

It's funny, now, being on the other side of that.  I am American, yet my habits are still Tanzanian.

I constantly forget what side of the car to get into.  A couple times, I actually have gotten into the right side of the car, ready to drive, and sit there confused for a few moments before I start feeling stupid.  I keep turning on the windshield wipers instead of the indicator...oops, we're in America, that would be the turn signal.  Driving takes total concentration as I keep reminding myself, Stay on the right side of the road.  I drove to Ikea by myself the other day and was extremely proud of myself.

I was incredibly excited to go to Costco to stock my kitchen.  In the last eight years, every time we've been home, I've gone to Costco with my Mom and purchased the following:  cold medicine, Parmesan cheese, deodorant, and taco seasoning.  Sometimes chocolate chips, depending on how we were doing with space.  I always checked out the weight of everything I bought.  It's how world travelers think.

So anyway, the thought of going to Costco to buy whatever I wanted was pretty exciting.  But once I was there, I didn't really know what to do.  The first things I put into my cart were a large bag of rice and a large bag of beans.  You mean, those are not the first things you buy at Costco?  Old habits die hard.

The first few times I went shopping, I kept forgetting to buy dishwasher detergent.  I sort of forgot I had a dishwasher.  When I finally remembered and started my first load, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

When I'm in store, I mentally walk through the steps.  Get out your wallet.  Slide your card.  Sign the little thingy.  

I feel clumsy and awkward.  I feel like if I looked international, people would understand my awkwardness, but I look like I belong here, so I should know what I am doing.  If I happen to mention to strangers that we just moved here from Tanzania, I might as well said Mars.

I praise God that I am living in a place I remember, that hasn't changed all that much in 8 years.  That helps a lot.  It's all coming back to me, as if waking up from a long sleep.

And I am thankful for the chance to remember what it feels like to be new.  Pray for your missionary friends today, who are adjusting to a new place somewhere out in the world.  And go out and hug that immigrant woman who just moved in down the street.  Show her how to work her dishwasher.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

So....What are you doing this year?

We're getting that question a lot.  Here's the answer.

We are not on vacation.

We are not even on sabbatical. 

When I was a kid, it used to be called furlough.  Most mission agencies don't call it that anymore because furlough means a leave of absence or vacation.  Which it is not. 

Instead, we call it Home Assignment

First of all:  Why are we staying a whole year? 

Our mission requires us to be in the States about 20% of our time.  In the past 8 years, we've been in the States approximately 7 months.  So we're kind of making up for lost time.  There was never a good time to take a Home Assignment while we were at HOPAC.  Since we are between ministries now, it works.

Secondly:  What exactly are you doing if you are not on vacation?

Let me start by saying this: 
We all talk about the Body of Christ.  But as missionaries, we are more keenly aware of our need for it than we would otherwise recognize. 

We cannot do what we do without the Body of Christ. 

I'm not just stating that figuratively.  We cannot.  

We are an extension of the Church in America, and specifically five congregations in California, so we need to be connected to them. 

That does not easily happen when we are 10,000 miles away.  It's been 8 years.  A lot has changed in your lives; a lot has changed in our lives.  So many people are new in these churches that they don't even know who we are. 

So it is important that we spend time in the States so that we can continue that personal connection.  Because if we don't have the Body behind us, there is no use in us going.

So what are we doing this year?
  • Sharing our vision for ministry with any small group or individuals who want to hear about it.

  • Preaching in churches (well, Gil is, anyway!)

  • Serving our supporting churches in any way possible.  We will especially be helping out at our sending church here in So. Cal.  We told FCC to consider us as part of their staff...and put us to work!

  • And most importantly, doing everything we can to make connections with people.  We will be having people over for dinner once or twice a week; we will be attending whatever social activities we can manage at our five supporting churches....for example, this month Gil is attending two different Men's Retreats at two different churches!
We were offered a rent-free, full-sized house about an hour away from here that we could have lived in all year.  We turned it down for two-bedroom apartment, because we wanted to be close to FCC.  If the whole point of us being here is to connect with the Church, then we'd better be nearby.

We'll be doing other things as well--Gil will be studying and preparing curriculum for his upcoming new ministry, we all will be deepening our level of Swahili, and we will be spending lots of time with grandparents. 

So if you attend one of our supporting churches, I hope you'll see us a lot.  If we invite you over for dinner, it's because we want to get to know you (again).  We love you; we need you.  And we hope that we will live up to our calling to be your extension of the Body of Christ in Tanzania.