Archive for May, 2014

His communication really this difficult?

When I was growing up I was a pretty shy kid. I remember in early high school waiting for the minutes of the school day to tick away in hopes that I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. I’m not sure where this anxiety or anti-socialism came from but it was pretty real. Once I left the classroom and headed for the track and the roads as a runner however, I became a pretty cocky, talkative guy. So those two worlds were as weird for me as I was trying to figure out life.

Through the years, I think I have battled social pressure to say the right thing at the right time. Can I tell a funny joke, a story, say something sarcastic? What if what I say is stupid and everyone else looks at me funny or has no response whatsoever? I think this is one of the reasons why students in high school and college don’t ask enough questions. There is a lot of peer pressure and image faking out that we do. I still feel this from time to time if I’m in the room with folks from my own culture where the social rules are generally the same. Sometimes we grow out of it and become comfortable in our own skin. Sometimes we don’t.

And then I made the choice to live cross-culturally. . .

There are definitely expectations, rules, and norms but often the missionary or cross-cultural worker is pretty slow to figure these things out. Compound that with an inability to understand sarcasm in a language or be the guy that says the most clever thing. In the end what do you have? Simple communication. That’s it. People talking to one another, trying to be friendly, and often times going deep into a person’s heart language and connecting at a deep level.

As we learn Narnian, conversations become deeper and deeper all the time. Last week I was able to tell the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to a group of friends. I talked to a tutor this week about the lifestyles of my grandparents and the family drama that they had. Daily I talk to Harry (a made up name), the corner shop owner I keep referring to, about international news. Korea boat sinkings, crazy people murdering one another, world geography . . . and then today the honor killing that recently took place by a woman’s family in Pakistan. There is never a moment for either of us where we are thinking, “Hmmm. . . I wonder if I should or should not talk about this. Will my friend think I’m strange?” We simply don’t have the cultural depth to process all that crap on the fly. So we communicate. We hang out with each other, relax, and become friends.

Learning another language is far more than understanding grammar constructions, putting a sentence together, or becoming confident in listening to native speakers talk. Reading, listening, speaking, understanding – yes, all these things happen but that isn’t the sum of learning a different language. You basically strip down to nothing and enter a new culture as a little baby. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day that moved to a country in Eurasia recently. He said he went out to the road to buy something one time when he first arrived and took all the money out of his pockets. He had no idea how much the purchase should be, how much money he had in his hands – he knew nothing really. He was at the mercy of the seller. And, so many situations are like this as you enter into a brand new culture. Tom and Elizabeth Brewster wrote a book titled Bonding and the Missionary Task 30 years ago that compares the new language learner as an infant that is in desperate need of bonding with their mother. If that bonding process doesn’t take place, they will never grow and develop into maturity.

I’m not sure where I am in the whole language learning process. We were around the Narnian language for 5 years in the US as we worked with refugees who were brand new to the country and spoke this language on a continual basis. Starting in February of 2012, after many years of hearing the language and having a several hundred vocabulary word base, we started meeting with a tutor using the Growing Participation Approach as advocated by Greg Thompson. Our language tutor/nurturer was one of our best friends and we met with her 2 hours a day twice a week and it really pulled us along. Until we moved to Narnia, we had not realized what kind of foundation this had given us. Further, the 5 years of working with the group of people we currently live with helped to throw away all the social anxiety that we may have felt initially as we moved.

In October, we began meeting with separate tutors 5 days a week 3 hours a day and have been doing that consistently ever since. The tutors began polishing our very terrible sentences and I (won’t speak for Janessa here) am at the place where I can talk about anything to anyone. I guess it is a certain level of fluency. We made a very strong decision not to get involved in an international English-speaking church or to hang out with expats and English speakers much. We found a community with few to no expats and put our hand to the plow. Other than chatting with each other and family on Skype, we operate inNarnian. It has been very, very lonely at times but we’re glad we are where we are. Still so, so long to go. I still struggle a lot with understanding native to native speech, but on the fly I can understand and communicate most things. I still feel very rigid and like I’m starting an old pick-up sometimes when I speak and I hope that eventually goes away. But I have never had this social pressure in Narnaian to be clever, say something amusing, or try to fake people out. I’m just too stupid to do so at this point. And that baby-like mindset and necessity of bonding has stripped all that away.

I share all that just to give a bit of an update on language, but also to muse over the challenge of being authentic as we communicate with folks in our own culture. We simply are people. Just people. And we want to get to one another don’t we? And if we’re Christ-followers we want to communicate the best news on the planet that Jesus is alive and giving an invitation to follow Him. So why don’t we do that? Why don’t we just talk and listen to each other and communicate the story of Christ in our relationships?

Maybe I’m being overly simplistic. But maybe I’m not. It isn’t exactly easy to humble yourself to the point of being like a baby and babbling a load of garbage/gibberish out that makes sense to no one in your neighborhood. I know that we can’t rid ourselves of our cultural knowledge and expectations in our own culture, but I want to continue to take what I’ve learned in language development into all my relationships. We’re just people. We need each other. And we all need Jesus. Let’s talk about that with one another and learn to serve together in God’s Kingdom. At the end of the day, that is all we’re doing out here.

I constantly meditate on Christ’s example of making himself nothing, becoming the very nature of a servant and going to the cross (Philippians 2). Christ could have chosen to make an entrance in so many different ways – something powerful, something flashy, something quick. He chose a long, slow path of becoming a baby being born into a refugee family. One day I will do a PhD on bonding, the incarnation, and how all of this precedes community transformation. Learning and growing together. . . one day. J

Thanks for letting me ramble on about language. It is kind of our world at the moment and we’re thankful for God’s grace in the midst of it.

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Serving by helping us serve

As many of you know, we are in a pretty dire need for workers to come out here and contribute to the work in rural Narnia. If you are in transition, have felt God calling you for a long time, or simply want to give 3-12 months to becoming more like Jesus in service to hi/the discipleship process, please consider coming out.

General Team Member Summary:

“The Team” is the Job Description
As we invite people to come work with us, we are very aware of the need to define roles and meet realistic expectations. It Conflict almost always arises in mission work when expectations are not clarified and to that end we want to clearly assert that being a team member is by far the most necessary realization for anyone coming to serve with us. For years, villagers in our area have seen a society that is broken and it is that brokenness and gossip about it that dominates many conversations on the hillside of Narnia. NGO’s and other organizations have come to many areas of the country and done a lot of projects to help the society. Our goal, however, is a bit different. We are trying to show our village who Jesus is. With the team living together or in close proximity, every single villager will know when we laugh, when we fight, when we show peace, when we tell the story of Jesus, and everything in between. This harmony and unity will be the most important piece to showing what a transformed community looks like. So as you come, your most necessary realization is that you are now part of a team that embraces daily servanthood with people very different from you. That gets practically worked out in helping with a little farm, doing house chores (fetching water, cooking over a fire, cleaning), being part of at least one concentrated area of ministry upon arrival, participating in weekly house church services, and assisting in the communication of the Gospel with story-telling/skits as needed. This is just part and parcel of being on our team and participating in our Jesus-community.

Specific Description:
We are looking for someone willing to serve for 3 months-2 years alongside our Jesus-community who is committed to showing who Jesus is to villagers from a Hindu society. The proclamation piece of our holistic model is met primarily through Gospel story-telling. Areas of potential service will include farming/gardening, hospitality, serving in a local school teaching English, providing basic medical training and treatment or participating in a women’s widow friendship group. A shorter length of service means that you will likely have limited Narnian speaking skills; there must be a high emphasis on working hard and showing the Gospel to the community. Upon arrival each member will work to discover their niche and gain coaching, encouragement, and discipling from older team members on serving unreached peoples.

Job Duties:
The person needed will do general manual labor such as hauling water, cooking, assists with gardening, contributing to Gospel story-telling, participating in weekly team meetings and house church fellowship, assisting or leading one of the above mentioned daily ministries. Above all of these duties, the person in this role will have a strong prayer and devotional life, have a strong desire and initiative to learn the Narnian language, embrace servanthood, strive to live in unity with the team, and desire to learn from villagers on how to live in a new context. Further, the team member will embrace the reality that the village is their home and that this life is not something merely to be endured until they go to the city. This is your new life in the Kingdom of God.

Using your Professional Skills to Serve
In line with our mission to bring community transformation to a village community in Northwest Narnia, we are interested in talking with college students and those with professional skills who have a calling to serve Jesus, work alongside those in the community, and help pioneer a move towards transformation in their field.

Walking Together
Any worker, regardless of their field of expertise, comes in with the assumption that the community itself holds the keys for community transformation. As the unreached experience the power and love of Christ, slowly we see a society changed. All should realize they are called to walk alongside and have power-under Kingdom mindset. Christ came to serve and give his life; we do the same as we walk with villagers together in demonstrating Kingdom transformation.

Love for Jesus and the Narnian People
Without flinching, this is what must bleed out of any potential work. Life and labor in our village is too difficult and there are too many frustrations for the first requirement to be a “professional in your field”. First and foremost, the potential worker must be compelled by the love of Jesus and guided by His Spirit. This is so critical and an underlying assumption for all on our team.

Broad Areas of Focus
1. College Students who want to experience serving the unreached in community transformation
As part of your discipleship process, we believe our team has an incredible opportunity to live among rural villagers in NW Nepal learning what it means to serve on a team, announcing and demonstrating the Kingdom of God. You will learn language, see Gospel storying happen among the unreached, and participate in community-wide, community-driven development.
2. Education Specialist
Education and literacy are lacking in our region but many villagers have taken up the challenge to provide quality education in their villages. A person is needed to come alongside the local schools, provide encouragement and cooperation, and develop discipleship relationships with staff and students. Education specialists are also needed to develop extracurricular activities along with parents in the village and teach a day or two a week to teammate’s children. There is also a need for conversational English for graduating secondary school students as many will move to the capital city to work or go to college. This hodgepodge of activity will strengthen and support the system villagers have established and inspire creativity amongst each other.
3. Agricultural and Environmental Specialist
Everyone in our community is a farmer and it is this life-work that surround social and religious activities. Poor irrigation systems and polluted water is a major problem in the village. Training and walking alongside to bring these improvements is necessary as well as the development of rooftop gardens for the team.
4. Healthcare Workers
There is a tiny health post in our village with the nearest hospital being several hours walk away. Servants are needed to come alongside the Nepali staff at the health post providing care in their area of expertise and training to other healthcare workers. Discipleship relationships and demonstrating Kingdom ethics are paramount for someone in this role.

A Pioneer Spirit Using Local Resources
All who come to the team must bring a pioneer spirit as they will likely be one of the first in their area of service to speak into our context. Their voice will be one of the first from outside the community to ever be heard. This is why it is so important to both facilitate trust and have a pioneering spirit to start new initiatives that have never been done before. Further, such work will come from local resources in a way that is sustainable and can be multiplied.

Community, plungers, and Language – Sometimes the Poop Gets Stuck Inside the Toilet

The last couple weeks our toilet has been giving us trouble and we don’t have a plunger. We finally broke down today and went roaming around our neighborhood and the next neighborhood over for a small hardware store. All the shops here in our area are set up like small shops operated out of people’s garage/basement. I went to the corner store and asked our friends who work there about plungers and how I could find one. They weren’t really following my description so I said in Narnian “You know when the poop and water gets stuck, you have to go like this. . . “” And then I motioned like I was violently using a plunger. They knew instantly and sent me to the next neighborhood over. I did not have a street name, area of that neighborhood or anything. I simply knew that there could possibly be a hardware store in an area that consists of several hundred houses with dozens of people operating shops from their garages.

So we took off up the hill and about every 2 or 3 minutes we would stop at a shop and ask which which direction the hardware store may be. Everybody kept telling us the same direction so we felt good about it. After about 10 minutes or so, we arrived at a busy area with lots of shops. There was a small shop with hardware-looking things so I began to explain to the female shop owner what I wanted. She wasn’t catching it, so I again gave my phenomenal Narnian language description. . . “You know, sometimes the poop gets stuck inside the toilet and you have to use this. You go like this.” (again motioned like a crazy, mad guy trying to fix the toilet with the plunger.) Several teenage girls and a handful of primary school students gathered around us laughing at my description. They were embarrassed for me and also disappointed that they did not know the English word “plunger” that I attempted to use only briefly. They, being great Narnians, had 2 small boys (probably aged 4 or 5) lead us about 50 yards to a place that sells plungers.

When we arrived at what would be the final destination, I again told my whole poop being stuck story and they instantly hooked me up with a plunger that cost a dollar. All the way back down the road filled with houses and with the folks who led us to our destination. I felt like we were carrying the Olympic torch and our new friends were so happy that they helped us out. Janessa says we were greeted by their smiles of satisfaction. I even stopped back in the second store where I got all the teenagers laughing at me and said, “We found it. Thanks a lot!”

One of my favorite things about Narnians and living here is how incredibly helpful people can be. We would have had every single person along the road walk us to the plunger place if we needed them to. Though this is the city and people are very busy, I love that neighbors feel like neighbors and going plunger shopping doesn’t feel lonely. The simplest of things are meaningful when done with a community.

In the end the toilet was fixed and we lived happily ever after. Fun times in Narnia just living life.