Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Covered in Dirt

You guys. This is now the second time this has happened.

Right outside our back door is a strip of dirt that is meant for flowers but has since had a roof built over it, so it is just dry loose dust. This is just one step behind candy in terms of temptation level for my kids. I regularly have to sweep Elly away and wash off her hands, feet, and face. However, the damage Elly does to herself is nothing compared to when Judah decides to help Elly play in the dirt.


He literally got the bucket I use to wash the dishes, filled it with dirt, and gave her a dirt shower. I came out to investigate because they were both giggling madly.

If he's anything like his Dad, he will one day claim that his sister always made up stories and got him in trouble. Let it be known that at least at this point, big brother is responsible!

 But, on the other hand, he's also totally adorable (he came up with this one himself), and my scream at the end is because Elly took a bag of roasted soybeans and poured them on the ground.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Good and Hard of Growing Up Overseas

I have been thinking a lot recently about growing up as a third-culture kid overseas. A friend of mine from college has been pouring out her heart on her blog in a series on third-culture kids. I am looking around me and watching my language school friends and realizing that their kids will be sort of like me and my friends growing up, and my friends now may or may not be prepared for what that means.

And so... I feel like I should write again. My college journals were filled with all of the processing around what it meant to have grown up as a third-culture kid. I have done internships counseling tcks, read books, been to seminars, to the extent that it no longer felt different to talk about life as a tck. I was living life among people who hadn't experienced that life, so talking about it didn't benefit anyone but me, and after I came to a place of peace I grew quiet. Now it's different. Now I am looking back, looking from a place of healing and peace, looking at the lives of my own kids and the kids around me here. 

Often from Americans I hear comments about growing up overseas that make me chuckle or make me angry. I have had people ask me if I'm really sure I should take my kids away from all the privilege and security and safety of life in America. First of all, there is some arrogance there in our assumption of how much better America is than the rest of the world. Thank God that kids growing up overseas quickly learn how awesome the rest of the world is. Secondly, if I tell my kids that my top priority is security and safety rather than obedience to a holy God, what kind of life am I setting them up for? No. I would much rather give my children a life lived in the adventure of following God away from the land of many beguiling comforts if that is what He would have us do.

More common are comments and worries about schooling and medical help, and look, as a mom, those are real things that we are responsible for in the lives of our kids. Those are legitimate concerns. I personally know that my education overseas was such that when I came back to the US I was always ahead of the curve compared to my peers academically, so I rarely worry about that side of things. The tcks I know are often extremely successful and intelligent. However, I am right in the middle of adjusting to a different medical system overseas with a very different way of thinking, and particularly when we get to Papua that will be pretty scary. But .... that doesn't impact my kids emotionally. 

When it comes to just the comforts and experiences of growing up, I actually feel SO thankful that I get to raise my kids overseas. I mean, look. Judah and Elly will be bi-lingual, they will deeply know a second culture. They will know rain forests and volcanoes. They will have held tree kangaroos and cockatoos. They will have seen ancient Hinduism and the rise of southeast Asia. They know people of all different races and religions. Kids in the US go to amazing playgrounds and pools that are created so that America's kids have some safe version of the jungle life Judah and Elly will have at their finger tips, real, natural. 

So - there is so little regret and hesitation in my heart over all of that. Sure, I missed out on some things in the US. I think what I gained growing up in Indonesia was worth even more. Each culture has it's strengths and weaknesses. My children will know and experience those things in two cultures. When young moms grieve the loss of things for their littles, usually it's actually loss on the parent's part, not the kiddos.

Don't get me wrong. There will be pain and hard things. But, truthfully, there would be pain and suffering in any life I would choose to give them. Anywhere. There are benefits and drawbacks to both places, but no life protects them. What is true, though, is that growing up overseas brings specific experiences that are different than the usual struggles for those growing up in the West. I do ache for my kids because although every kid is different, I so personally know the tough things that this lifestyle will bring, particularly in cultural identity and grief. More on that later....

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Being a Part of the Neighborhood

"Well... no one in the neighborhood really likes them." 

My neighbor and friend, Mrs. Lilis, was responding to my questions about some mutual friends of ours. I continue to try to understand the dynamics here of what makes someone appreciated and what is really disliked. Ibu Lilis is a Christian, and one of the only ones in our area. I was asking her how she was treated by our Muslim neighbors and she assured me that although they don't want her to raise dogs (Muslims aren't supposed to touch dogs), she otherwise has great relationships here. 

"But what about the couple on the corner, the older couple that plays grandparents to my kids? They have a dog. What do the neighbors think? "

Ibu Lilis said, "Well, yes, they have a dog. But they aren't liked. Because of the dog, which the neighbors don't like and has occasionally wandered off into the neighborhood unwatched, but more because they don't build relationships in the neighborhood." 

"What do you mean? They have been friendly to me, and they are friendly to you too, right?" 

"Well yes, but then when my father died, they didn't come to the funeral. *shakes head in shock*... to my own father's funeral!"

(insert me internally counting my blessings that someone mentioned to me the death and the funeral that was held just hours in time for me to race home and attend, since don't understand the garbled community announcements that come from the  mosque loudspeakers. Funeral crowd pictured on the right)
"Yeah, Ibu, I haven't seen her at the monthly ladies meetings and I wondered what people thought of that."

"She doesn't come to the ladies meetings, he doesn't go to the men's meetings, they didn't come to my father's funeral, and they haven't come to the neighborhood weddings. So, no one likes them because they don't build relationships. People ask me sometimes, "Is that what Christians are like?""

"Is it because they are from Bandung and have just been here a couple of years? Is it different in Bandung?"

"There's another couple from Bandung just a few houses down. They have built great relationships, but this couple seems like they want to live here but not build friendships. In fact, the landowner doesn't want to continue leasing to them so he raised the rent exorbitantly this year, but they agreed to pay it and everyone is disappointed."
*insert me chuckling at the totally Javanese indirect communication and the total avoidance of uncomfortable direct conflict*

"He is a Chinese Indonesian, right? I have heard that the Javanese are often frustrated with the Chinese community because they are said to keep themselves separate and don't involve themselves well in the Javanese community."

"Well yes, the Chinese are often perceived badly by the Javanese. But there's the other couple down the road that are Chinese Christians, the ones with a Downs Syndrome boy. They are kind and loved here because they are involved." 


I don't know how things will be in Papua, but it constantly amazes me, the absolute importance of friendly involvement in your community here. It's SO important for me to smile as I walk or drive through my neighborhood. It is an absolute necessity to visit the bereaved and attend weddings, even of the neighbors you barely know. It seems to me that how one takes part in the local community is what forms your reputation. 

I absolutely love this, but it is hard when that value for community comes in conflict with our Western value for a timely schedule and privacy. For instance, as I was writing this Isaac was gone at church and I was home with wiggly Elly and asthmatic Judah. Toys were scattered all over the floor and Judah was still in his underwear when a neighbor came by to talk to Isaac. There's never any calling or scheduling ahead of time, it's just drop by, no matter how inconvenient.

The same thing happened earlier this week twice with a guy that Isaac's gotten to be friends with in the neighborhood. Twice last week he dropped by and I made them hot sweet tea while they chatted on the porch for hours. But this week he dropped by in the morning while Isaac was finishing his homework just before class, and again while he was in class the next day. What then?   

When we were invited to be in our neighbor's wedding, the kids were just recovering from being sick (and you know, running to a squatty potty in the middle of the ceremony with a kid with diarrhea didn't sound fun), I was exhausted and overwhelmed  and in the most culture shock/stress I have experienced since being here. I wanted to say, "I am so sorry, the kids are still sick, we can't make it."  And last week when we were invited over for dinner by Mr. Wiwid Elly hadn't napped and literally cried for 15 minutes straight when they arrived to pick us up. I told Isaac, "I can't go like this, I can't hold a crying baby and try to interact at someone else's house!"

In all of those cases, we went, and in the end the kids did surprisingly well, and we are thankful for the way we can see relationships form and strengthen every time we do reach out. We've made so many mistakes too, though, over our time here. It can be super draining too, and we love our time at home as a family. It's important to have that renewing quiet time together, but at least for us that's where we can easily rest, and fail to reach out. I never want our love for our privacy and our own schedule to mean that we make our own comfortable refuge and can't manage to venture out into the uncomfortable world around us. Particularly for me, as mom, who for a while won't have a scheduled job outside of the home to push me outward. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What is left for Westerners to do?

Early on in our time here, just a couple of months, we had a visit from a man that was in charge of us at one of our churches in the US. We'd never met before so we loaded on our motorcycles in the rain and met him at his hotel for dinner. I hadn't realized it beforehand, but he is also a professor whose expertise is Christian work around the world. Happy to be talking with an intellectual and intimidated to be talking to someone who could so effectively evaluate our own work, we asked for his perspective.

"I don't believe there's really anything left for Westerners to do around the world except train. The rest of the work should be done by the local Christians."

The same thing was echoed this week from another man who has worked in this country for 40+ years. "You came here from the West. There is a local church here. Why aren't they doing the work? Please in whatever you do, focus on training and motivating the local church."

I believe this too. There are exceptions. There are specialty jobs that no one locally can do yet. We can all benefit from each other, all around the world. Is there a place for an African, European, or Asian in serving the church in the US? Absolutely. The same should be true for outsiders here. People from outside of a culture can provide unique perspectives and can be really helpful.

However, we from the US are coming from a culture that likes to think that we are the best and we need to rescue everyone around the world all the time. We do that with charity and missions and politics. It ends up a bit messy because we are not, as it turns out, the answer to all of the problems and neither does everyone want our help. Let us not be a self-perpetuating industry that circumvents the responsibility and ability of the local church to do the work here.

But it IS true that education and training is empowering. Education and training are perhaps the greatest thing that we can bring to developing societies, to developing churches. There is much to discuss about how we train, considering that we come with Western methods and materials to cultures that work quite differently.

Especially in cultures that are relational but really always, because the church is about discipleship, training and empowering work best in the context of relationships. In my conversations with local believers here I have been asking them to identify their points of need and how Westerners can be valuable. So often the answer comes with - grow to know and love the students you work with so deeply that you can see behind the curtain, under the surface, so that they can be raw and show you their fears and doubts. Disciple, journey, mentor, and love them to be strong leaders who will carefully shepherd the church here.

Ahh - how my heart sings at these discussions. Training is Isaac's heartbeat. Discipleship is mine. It's really cool to see the Indonesian church express their longing for the very things God pointed us here to do.

Local church at work in this photo! Compassion International works through local churches here in Indonesia, and all of the leaders and tutors that we met with were really cool Indonesian Christians who loved on kids and organized a fantastic program.