Transformation is slow, Miracles don’t happen every day

the way of transformation is slow. Miracles don’t happen every day. . . I guess that is why they are miracles. Life can be brutal and so many find ourselves in situations that we never predicted. The life we are living is likely not what we imagined for ourselves. But here we are, trying to make the best out of what has been given. Clearly, we do get to have these glory moments when it seems like the universe has revolved around our exact situation and nothing could be better, but many of us live pretty normal lives with normal interactions. And it is into this mundane sort of stuff that we find this slow, slow path of transformation.
I am thinking of a conversation I had with a dear friend several years ago. She was talking about working with several of her friends from Southeast Asia and she mentioned that she had some sexy ideas of saving the world abroad. But God led her to a small ethnic enclave community in a less than glamorous location in Minnesota. I came across her note recently:
The deeper I get into ministry and presence here in this community, the less and less I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster. Part of that is that when I stick around I get to see people healed! It’s such a process, and God has really spoken to me a lot in the past few years about sticking around. First I thought I was going to move to “Africa,” then I committed to go to grad school in California. I finally gave up on all my sexy dreams of going abroad to stay in my studio apartment in Minneapolis. But I wouldn’t trade the peace that comes from being obedient for any beach, ocean, or stardom. God’s got plenty in the pipeline comin’ our way…and it ain’t gonna be boring. And you know, it doesn’t feel like such a revolving door of insurmountable needs when you stick around because you’re more CONNECTED to people, resources, and you don’t see people isolated in their problems.
This old email today reminds me that the pressure is off. Transformation is not in my hands. Sure, we have a role to play. We work our tails off around here to try to do our part. . . .But God is the the Divine One who transforms. As we commit to daily surrender and love, God alone does His miracles. They don’t happen every day and in my life I would dare say they don’t happen often. But they do happen. Grueling, hand to the plow sort of relational discipleship is where we get to see God bust in and do His work. The pressure is off. The stress is not ours to carry. Christ bore all that. . . . Walking faithfully is our part.
The ministry context we are in continues to evolve and solidify. We are mostly working with Bhutanese-Nepali believers very new in their faith. Our dear friends don’t really have much of a framework for all the vision statements, flow charts, and processes that a mission organization such as mine employs. The amount of education, years of experience, and presentations I have given doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. We continually find ourselves amid Nepali relationships with a completely different paradigm for understanding success or ministry. It is in the midst of this context that I have to come back to the simple truth. My Nepali friends would give their life for me. They may not get exactly it is what I do or even how I would like to come alongside and serve but they know Jesus. They love as Christ loves and give as He gives. Maybe clout, recognition, and all that jazz is way overrated.
The pressure is off. We’re not the Messiah and were never asked to be so. We faithfully walk over a long period of time and God does His miracles. Donors looking for a big, janky project may not get super excited about the slow grind of transformation that begins with many whom the world has ignored but we are convinced that this is what Jesus does. He takes the wisdom of this world, flips it on its head, and shows His matchless glory. 
May we all continue to let go of things that we were never intended to carry. May we realize that we are not nearly as important as we think we are and perhaps we were never intended to put all of our emphasis on hitting a home run at this moment or that moment. The way of transformation is slow. Miracles don’t happen every day. When we stick around, we get to see people healed and made whole! That is beautiful guys. . . . so, so beautiful.


Blind Travel Underrated 

The end of August finds us moving into a new rhythm as much of our summer was poured into the pioneering of youth and children’s ministry for a Nepali congregation here in Pittsburgh. Molly and I were able to spend hundreds of hours in the homes of new believers and that has established such a broad base in terms of relationship. If it were up to me, I’d spend all day every day doing just that. But this next few months has me balancing a lot more things – continuing education, discipleship curriculum development, admin sort of assessing what we’ve learned so far, as well as continuing on with hospitality and visitation.
I had just finished a video meeting this morning with ITeams workers in Ukraine, the Middle East, South Africa, India, and the US when I decided to visit some friends that I am close to about 30 minutes’ walk from here. The route is pretty straight forward but things didn’t go exactly according to plan. I haven’t posted much on blindness and travel lately so here we go. . .
I headed down Brownsville Road (the main corridor in our neighborhood which has pretty heavy traffic) and people were out and about. A lady on her steps early into my walk greeted me and about 10 minutes into my jaunt, another woman ask me to come over to her. She asked me for 2 dollars so she could take the bus and I responded that I didn’t have any cash on me. I’m all about the blind and independence but with a 70% unemployment rate among the blind I usually chuckle when I get hit up for money. 
So I continued on when a few minutes later two construction workers stopped me telling me I couldn’t walk down the sidewalk any longer. I assertively told them where I needed to go and these two dudes walked me across the street amid busy traffic, got me past the construction, and got me back on the path on my original side of the street. I couldn’t have asked for more understanding people.
I have several apps on my IPhone that I use to alert me to where I am. I knew the address where I was going but I had actually forgotten the name of the cross street. I don’t like to use GPS as it runs my phone battery down and it doesn’t really teach me to navigate. I simply asked Sire on the IPhone what my location was. I needed the 200 block. I asked Sire at 551, 315, and finally she told me that 220 Brownsville was on my right. I turned the corner and went to my friend’s house whose entrance is on the backside of that block. I found their door just fine but no one was home. Yep, 32 minutes of walking but not so much success. I tried to get a hold of them to no avail. I stayed for several minutes in front of their house and prayed over the family and home.
I started my walk back and I came upon a funny intersection and without knowing it continued down the wrong road. By the time I realized that I had obviously made a mistake I was several blocks off course. I got my cross street coordinates, I had never heard of either of those roads. Again, I didn’t have a ton of battery so I didn’t do GPS just to float me back home. I listened for the loudest traffic I could hear, assuming that traffic was Brownsville Road. I made a couple wrong turns away from the traffic but finally I got to a somewhat busy intersection and got my coordinates again. One of those roads I was familiar with but the cross street normally runs parallel with this road I was on, not crossing it. SO yeah, that was freaking confusing but I kept following the steady flow of traffic and got back up to Brownsville Road.
I am talking pretty chill about this right now but when I get lost (which certainly happens from time to time) I go through a few emotions. The first is usually frustration. I start asking myself, “why in the hell does this have to take so long? Can my life be simpler? Can I just go visit someone?” Then, if I can’t figure out my way out of the situation quickly, my emotion can progress to fear. Half the time when I ask people for directions they give terrible clues and when I need help the most, there usually is no one outside. Having coordinates that I can’t really assess don’t really help. So yeah, there definitely is a level of fear. This can then be followed by determination mixed with anger and usually is ensued by me saying a bunch of crap to myself that shouldn’t be repeated.
I have never gotten so lost that I couldn’t find my way again. Today was no different. My walk home took over an hour when it should have taken 30 minutes. But once you can learn to problem solve (not simply go from point A to point B) it gives you a lot more confidence the next time you get turned around. There is also a sense of accomplishment and joy that comes with getting out of a tangled mess. So once I got back up to Brownsville Road, I could sort of continue on with a much better attitude of prayer that I had for the previous 45 minutes I was walking around.
The moral of the story is that it is not the worst thing in the world when you get lost. I had a text conversation on the way home with Molly and Charity that was humorous. And the many people I got to pray for because of a longer walk today was well worth it. Many have asked how I get around or what travel entails so I share this one with you. No need for sympathy or commendation . . . it’s just my life. 
The bigger story within the story is how easily rattled we all are by pretty mundane things. Annoyance that my friends weren’t home. The lady begging for money. Getting turned around in the hood. These don’t need to be meltdown moments. Exercise is good. Prayer is even better. Take it down a notch Trotter and try again.

Discovering the Story of God

One of the reasons in creating this blog and mission page was for readers to be able to get a small glimpse into the daily routine as we serve here in Pittsburgh. Over the years I have shifted quite a bit (at least I feel like I have) in the way that I talk about this missions life. Refugees, the marginalized, the lost, or even “those we serve” are terms that just don’t make it into my conversation most of the time. I’m sort of done trying to help readers or potential missions supporters understand who is on the inside and who is on the outside.  

Clearly, I know enough about Scripture to make some judgment calls on defining parameters and strategic mission guides our decisions. But more and more, I find my life being so surrounded by my Nepali brothers and sisters that it feels sort of strange to say these are the people I serve. Or they are in some way marginalized and in need of my charity (no pun intended). I needed a sound system speaker today and the first person I called was an 18 year old Nepali guy. If I need a ride somewhere, again I’m gonna call a Bhutanese-Nepali friend. The “people I serve” are simply my family, friends, and neighbors. While our stories and personal background may be altogether different this family is done with labels.


In light of all that, I’ll share a small window today in one of the things we’re doing to help disciple each other around here. I give the first bit here as a backdrop, helping anyone reading to understand that discipleship is a two-way street in which we are constantly learning from each other.


Bible Discovery Tool

We are using this simple tool to help each other think about Scripture called Bible Discovery. I believe it was originally intended to be a method to use with people who have no biblical literacy at all or who have never heard the story of God. We are using it primarily with new believers. Basically, you take 30 or so stories from cover to cover in the Bible and you read them one at a time together. The first time through students read alone. Then someone reads aloud while students listen to the passage. Next, students take turns retelling the story to each other. If they have omitted anything, students in the group help. If they included something that was not directly in the passage, students bring clarity to that as well.


After reading, hearing, and speaking the Word of God this way, we ask a few basic questions. What do we learn about God? What do we learn about people? What do we need to change in our lives to obey? The multiplicative edge to it is that anyone can retell the story or start their own group of sharing these stories with others.  


We are doing this in 3 different forums in ministry right now. We do this at a Nepali youth group that meets every Saturday. I host a very small discipleship group of 3 young men where we are doing this as well. And then on Sundays, we lead a small children’s church for a Nepali congregation where we use the Bible Discovery process as a foundation for all that we are teaching. The goal is for this format to be expanded into various age groups of people and amongst various groups of believers and seekers in the Nepali community.


Being Transformed During Our Own Team Study

Probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever gotten to do in ministry is meeting with our current ministry team (that has consisted of Molly and Charity over the last few months) and does the Bible discovery together. Our commitment is that God should be dealing with us first and we should personally be discovering the story of God afresh. We find ourselves overwhelmed with huge questions about God, struggles, doubts, and man, it is so incredibly challenging to honor Jesus with our obedience at times. There have been many Tuesday mornings where we stop, with tears in our eyes, wrestling with big questions about God, realizing that He is God and we are not and we still have so much to learn. On more than one occasion, I let my rich theological education interfere with simply hearing Charity or Molly and I have to let this discovery of the Bible be renewed again. These two ladies continually remind me that I don’t know everything and the Spirit is deep, deep at work in their hearts.


The Bigger Picture

I guess I’m blogging about all this today to give some of you a glimpse into the bigger picture of what it is that we’re after around here. The mission and aim of our work is to see transformation come individually and collectively to the Bhutanese-Nepali community here in South Pittsburgh. This includes a holistic scope including people’s spiritual, emotional, economic, educational, and vocational needs. We choose to start with the foundation of the story of God as it is His very Kingdom alone that inaugurates all transformation. The Lord’s Prayer after all was that God’s Kingdom would come on this earth as it is in heaven . . . in bible studies, in personal relationships, in business practice, in health care . . . in all of it. His Kingdom come. His will be done.


So we are thrilled that we get to do all the relational stuff that I have talked about before. Inviting people into our homes, being present in theirs, communicating in Nepali about very personal issues – those are huge, earth shattering sorts of things in our work. There is so much love and trust in that. Now though, we get to come alongside our neighbors and discover the actual story of God together. Such a story has always led to and always will lead to God’s creation being renewed and transformed. We all feel like this is something we can give our lives do. So we continue to study. Continue to talk. We continue to obey. Ultimately, this is all about worship and hopefully when it is all said and done, Christ will be reflected as the true and beautiful Lord that He is.


There is the window guys. Thanks for reading and peeking in a bit tonight. The story of God is the story of all stories and the one we continue to fix our gaze upon. 



Identity and being the right person

i remember where I was sitting back in 2005 when I wrote my first blog. Blogging was a new term to me and I was living in the Mariana Islands at the time. Blogging helped me connect with the rest of the world outside my tiny island and gave friends and family a window into my world. I’ve written off and on for the last decade on a variety of topics, creating a sort of identity online. I would imagine that more than a handful of entries have been composed on the topic of missionary identity and being true to myself as I live cross-culturally.
The gig can be difficult to explain to my neighbors when they ask directly how I get paid or where my office is located. Missions isn’t exactly an office 9-5 sort of deal. Then you have the whole complication of fundraising, donors, a central office near Chicago and on and on. Generally speaking, I’m okay with the lack of clarity. Amongst my native-born American friends I have tended not to fit in as much as I would like as we’ve lived for such a long period of time now in a culture that is not our own, communicating in a language other than English. The values of Nepalis have blended with my own American values. I speak only Nepali to my son. Charity speaks only English. Our lives are like this weird sociological experiment that we are sort of okay with . . . well, most of the time. J Honestly, identity can be a real challenge but we try to do our best to remind ourselves that a cultural or vocational identity isn’t ultimately all that important. Being understood isn’t exactly the mandate of Scripture. Obedience to Christ is what counts and His greater calling and connection to the Spirit is what we hold tight in our grasp.
Today I went to the park with a friend of mine and his two kids. Charity, Amos and Molly came along. My friend has been in the country 5 years or so and is disabled. His kids are extremely intelligent and his wife works hard during the day. I was having this weird moment at the park . . . battling yet again with my identity as a missionary. Everyone at the park was a stay at home mom or they were retired. The fact that I have a different sort of schedule where I can take neighbors to do things like this has been enabled by this missionary status that I’m so blessed to live. But I was still struggling as I sat there chatting away in Nepali with my friend. Charity, Molly, and the kids were all running around, the kids rambling on in perfect English. My friend and I sat alone on a bench and he told me so many different details of his life. For nearly 2 hours he asked me everything under the sun.
My friend (let’s call him Hem) was commenting on so many different things and I could just tell he rarely gets the opportunity to do what he was doing – sitting and talking. He discussed how our government provided funding for beautiful places such as the park where we were sitting. He thought it was so cool how you could make food there if you wanted. We talked about war and how my dad was wounded there. Hem was amazed that this park was right in the heart of the city but off in the distance you could see the forest. He lamented his hearing difficulties and struggles with coping with boredom. He dropped a heavy burden on me as he seemingly is not able to overcome something in his personal life right now. He wanted to know what the bible said about it. Hem is in his 40s and at one point he told me we should go swing so he grabbed a swing and started flying through the air.
As the conversation continued, I realized that Hem was seeing some pretty massive identity issues of his own. He has only been a Christian for a few years and now he is forced to take his mostly Nepali-Hindu worldview and squeeze it through the lends of Jesus. He has been transformed and he is a wonderful husband and father but everything is so new. He has a hard time understanding his kids because their Nepali kind of sucks. They speak very simple Nepali, operating most of the time in English. He watches others sort of adjust quickly in an extremely fast paced society while he is sort of forced to figure things out on his own. The isolation that Hem must feel at times has to be unbearable.
But there we were today . . . swinging along. I realize that if I didn’t have this sort of missionary identity that I would not have been able to speak directly into his situation. I likely wouldn’t have learned this language, have the time to invest in the relationships I have, and I sure wouldn’t be at the park at 10:30 on a Thursday morning. Hem held a very long embrace today as we left. Identity is all a matter of perspective. 
Later on today, I was talking to a Nepali church leader and he shared that the elementary age children probably understand less than 40% of the Nepali language as they are growing up in America. Identity struck again. Uprooted from Bhutan, off to Nepal for 20 plus years. . . . This is the story of most of my neighbors. Only recently have they been able to be resettled in this great country. If our friends and neighbors didn’t have much, at least they had the ability to communicate easily with neighbors and family members. But the cultural adjustment is extremely accelerated in the Nepali community right now. Changes are coming so fast that even kids within their own families won’t be able to understand each other well in a matter of years.
As I sat and talked to this ministry leader I asked him what he would suggest since we are developing youth and children’s programs at his church. I explained that we need to train leaders but the young people have to be able to understand the gospel. They have to be able to understand those doing the teaching. It was sort of a tangled mess. In that tangle though, I was thankful for this missionary identity. Our small little team here in Pittsburgh can be these amphibians going back and forth between American and Nepali cultural, switching on and off English and Nepali. Without that sort of identity we simply wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing.
All Nepali language speaking with the adults and elders. A mix of English and mostly Nepali with older teenagers. All English with very little Nepali as we work and talk to the kids. These are the ways we communicate with our neighbors and the different modes of ministry before us. Coping with our own identity as missionaries makes it possible to relate, at least a tiny bit, to the identity struggles of our friends. 
I’m thinking of another person who had an identity dilemma on His hands. Heaven to earth. God became man. Jesus was divine and human all at the very same time. The incarnation is a beautiful example for us. We, like Jesus, simply want to lay our lives down and live out the Kingdom. The incarnation was slow and so often, so is the transformation process. Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. He knew who He was. So too, must we.

Keep Risking and Loving No Matter What the Cost

Wow, for a guy who has kept a blog since 2005, the long, long absence here is a bit over the top. I have written quite a bit in the last few months but nothing I felt like blasting out on the blog here. This one comes out of reflection after 10 months in our new city. Lots of things have changed for us over the last year and a half. A move back from Nepal to the Sates, adjustment to life with a toddler, continual mourning of the loss of my mom, and the constant journey of the ebb and flow of friendships due to relocation.
The latter is where I find myself thinking this week. We have lived with people on the move for the last 8 years or so and learning from those in the Bhutanese-Nepali community has been life-changing. Our actual city has changed a few times as well in that time and we have had to say goodbye to a lot of folks dear to our hearts. Sometimes the goodbyes have been extremely disappointing, knowing there is no way possible we’ll see those guys again. Other times there has just been some real painful stuff with people where you have to close the door for your own health and well-being. The one that really gets me is the folks that you feel like you’ll remain close to forever, but as geographical distance separates you, so goes the relational connection. The conversations and texts become fewer and fewer and that friend becomes sort of a distant memory.

A lot of our friends are former refugees and they move a lot. They move within the same city, out of state, and sometimes even out of the country. It just feels like there is constant movement and loss. I realized this week that feeling is sort of overwhelming and can cause me at times to retreat and not invest as deeply as I once did in relationships. There is also a sense from my Nepali friends that nothing is really set in stone. . . we can’t really know that this friend or that relationship will remain as things change. Uprootedness and being stateless for 20 years will certainly do that to you. So I sort of walk this tension of trying to give my whole heart, really lay my life down for those I grow close to. . . . but it sure isn’t easy. In a moment those dear to us could slip from our grasp.

We have a college student, Molly, serving with us in our ministry right now. She has come over from Colorado and she has just been able to step right in, develop conversational Nepali, and bond with Nepalis so well. I’d put her up against any missionary I know despite her being so young. In that process though, she has grown so close to Charity, Amos, and I. It is as if we’ve known her our whole lives and we’ve been able to form a bond with her that I really can’t compare to anything we’ve ever experienced. Tears are shed together, laughs fill the air, amazing compatibility in ministry is happening. She has become the kind of friend where we just want to be together to sacrifice together, to love each other well – all of us would willingly do anything for one another.

Molly has a month remaining on her term here and there is certainly a promising possibility that she’ll return here to work long-term. But that isn’t a given. She is helping us realize though, that it is just so worth it to keep investing, keep risking, and keep loving.  

Without a whole lot of loss and a whole lot of transition, none of the relationships that have sprung up all around us would be happening. Without brokenness and loss our friends from Bhutan wouldn’t be here. Without us walking away from an amazing community in Minnesota, we would have never gone to Nepal. And without the crazy losses we experienced in Nepal, we wouldn’t be here able to risk and love yet again in this new context.

As weird as it may sound I sort of hate moving. I don’t like all this uprooting and moving around. It sort of drives me crazy to try to relearn a new neighborhood, build trust, and on and on. But here we are. . . . looking loss in the face. . .holding our ears to drown out the screams of Satan that tell us that it just isn’t worth it. The lies that say it isn’t worth it to uproot. It isn’t worth it to give your heart away. It isn’t worth it to cry with new friends and rejoice when the time is right. We close our ears to those things right now and we feel deeply, we invest, we listen, we spend a lot of time with neighbors. And we trust Jesus with all our hearts that He knows what He is doing.

So our little team – Charity, Molly, Amos and I are being surrounded by amazing Nepali friends. People that want us in their lives. We’ve had people tell us stuff so deeply emotional and personal that you just walk away in disbelief that we are invited into it. A young man admitted to our little team being the only Americans he has met in 6 years in this country who have learned his language and really understand where he has come from. That broke me, not because we are doing anything extra special but because this sort of depth is possible for so many. Countless stories to share here, but we keep risking, keep trying.

So there is what is going on after my long silence. I don’t know what neighbors will move tomorrow or who may come into our lives unexpectedly, but I choose not to fear. I choose love in the midst of a lot of loss and abandonment. I choose not to listen to the shouts and cries of the enemy who would try to get us to stop investing and loving. There are just too many good friends far and near who continue to shine so bright for Christ and care for us. We’ve experienced such deep love of our Savior so here we are. . . laying our lives down once more. Charity, Molly, Amos . . . thanks for teaching me this over the last few months and showing me what hope looks like.

A Window into Our New Life in Pittsburgh’s Little Nepal

Giving a window into our lives of doing cross-cultural mission here within the US border is often hard to describe. We have been sending missionaries to other countries for centuries and the globalization and urbanization of our world has seemingly caught the Church off guard. While geographically close to International Teams headquarters outside Chicago, our neighborhood and the folks we work with are culturally, experientially, and often linguistically very far from the majority in our own city.
So I sit down with a family I have never met this week and within moments they found out exactly how much money we paid for our house, why I can’t see, that my mom died of a heart attack, as well as very personal struggles we’ve faced in our extended families over the years. This is Nepali culture at its finest. You often cut to the chase and figure out what these people are all about. I didn’t flinch and responded cordially as this particular family responded to the conversation discussing how they had moved from Washington state to Pittsburgh. Within the hour or so that I was at the apartment with our pastor, there must have been 15 or so people that came in and out of the apartment. Neighbors, friends, relatives. . . this is life in an event oriented culture being squeezed hard by the IPhone calendar and time is money new America that they are growing to love.
Being good neighbors means you often don’t get to plan for it
We rarely if ever announce when we will be popping in. This is simply life in the ethnic enclave in which we live. People drop everything and host. If they feel like they can’t give enough attention to guest, they call down the hall and get a neighbor to step inside and show more welcome. We would call this being inconvenienced on a regular basis. Our neighbors call it being neighbors.
Visits to our home are very frequent. Almost daily someone stops by. One of our neighbors (I will call him Hem) has pretty much been flying solo since he arrived in the US at the age of 15 in 2011. He arrived with limited English and lived in a very strained family situation. Once he got to legal adult age, he moved out and moved across the country here to Pittsburgh. Still in high school, he moved in with some relatives that he was somewhat close to and is about to graduate. It is hard for me to imagine moving to an entire new country at age 15 where almost everything is the reverse of what you know. It has undoubtedly been terrifying and hellish for our neighbor but he plows on. Hem comes over several days a week staying for a couple hours at a time. We discuss life, faith, English, Nepali, and everything in between. I never expect him to come when he comes. But he comes. . . and we open the door and do all we can to welcome.
Playing with Home Field Disadvantage
Several years ago I heard former prof and church planter, Earl Creps, use the term “playing with home field disadvantage”. He used this term in reference to mission and how we have to get really good at getting off of our turf and rolling in the nooks and crannies of our community where people live. We often are pretty good at playing well when on our own turf – church building, scheduled programs, or inviting someone over at 6pm on Friday night. Each community and context is different, but in our world it is the home. I think in 7 ½ years of working with Nepalis I have met someone at a place other than my home or their home about 2 or 3 times. Life happens in the living room and kitchen and there is rarely any proposed plan to it all.
None of this is a complaint (at least not today) as this is simply life in our urban village. But we continually learn that we can’t put a whole lot of stock into big ministry programs, large church gatherings, and making sure someone shows up for a small group meeting. Life just doesn’t happen like that around here. We show up and sometimes there is a lot of work to get done relationally, missiologically, and pastorally. Sometimes there isn’t. But ministry and life happens so quickly in these moments.
I’m a super prompt guy and I would prefer to structure my days with office hours, coffee shop meetings, a very structured, controlled environment to teach about Jesus, and on and on. I’m not sure that exists for folks in our position. But it is sort of hilarious that I’m probably more wired to do that than to do this. The former is called America and this is urban Little Bhutan-Nepal Pittsburgh. So we, as any good missionaries would do, try to stop whining about having the same ministry conditions as our suburban pastor friends and embrace this fun, unpredictable dance that we do.
Staying Spiritually Alert
Undoubtedly a much more ministry program, structured environment will come one day. For now, we ebb and flow with whatever. Just a few days ago I had the thought that this home stuff (People coming over all the time and us being in homes all the time) must be combined with very deliberate mission. Though we don’t get to plan when a person comes over or vice versa, we have full control over being spiritually alert, ready, and deliberate in what the Lord is asking us to do. Maybe it is community research. Maybe it is sharing a parable. Maybe it is gathering with a few friends to pray. Whatever it is spiritual alertness is so critical. God reminded me of this a couple days ago and it really has changed the landscape completely. I have noticed that I’m not trying to squeeze culture realities into my expectations but just let life happen as it happens, focusing centrally on Jesus and His mission.
Tonight we went across the street to our neighbors place and it was straight chaotic in there. Kids running around everywhere, mom talking through Skype with relatives as she prepared food in the kitchen, and a 15 year old girl engaging us in a deep conversation. She didn’t waste any time by making small talk. She told me she was sort of stuck between the traditional Nepali ethnic church and wondering what American churches are like. We talked about how many American youth groups screw around way too much but then no one who visits her hard core ethnic youth bible study ever come back because it is so serious and adult-ish. She was really troubled and wrestling wanting the Gospel to really be Good News to her Hindu friends from school.
After our son had gotten done terrorizing the place we came back home and made supper. 10 minutes later we got a knock at our door. Hem was here. He too began to talk about being stuck between cultures. He wants to learn English so badly. I was able to share with him a really critical piece of my own discipleship that God has shown me this year, honoring Jesus with our obedience. Then Hem wanted me to tell him the parable of the seeds/soil. He mentioned that he is experiencing his faith going deep down into the soil and springing to life. I made him give me very real practical examples of why that is true. 
The conversation was everywhere. Sitcoms, impersonating people, planning to study a Christian book together, talking about unity in the Nepali and American church. . . . he even stopped at one point, placed his hand on my leg (very Nepali. . . take it easy guys) and told me how thankful he was that we moved into his neighborhood. He said he was being challenged and motivated in so many ways. He spoke into my heart about God using struggles such as blindness and him coming to America to make us stronger and a bolder example for Christ.
Laying Your Life Down
In our neighborhood I guess I’m trying to say that so much of life and ministry is displayed by dropping what you’re doing and caring for each other. That moment, whether it is 5 minutes or 3 hours, makes all the difference in the world. And God in His sovereign plan has seen fit that we be able to switch back and forth between English and Nepali as we engage our community. So there is the window. It took me a while to get it out in words tonight, but there you have it. We don’t get to plan this life. .. but honestly do we in any culture or circumstance? Life happens and we stay spiritually alert. A Psalm that I can’t get out of my heart the last few weeks. Want to carry it into what will probably be another extremely spontaneous day tomorrow.
Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My heart and my strength may fail, but God you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 72

Raising and Educating Your Kids in the City 

Charity and I have been involved in cross-cultural ministry for about 13 ½ years now. We have lived in the city, a rural village, and on a tropical island. We have lived in places where it is so cold that your spit freezes as soon as it hits the ground and we have worn tank tops, sandals, and shorts year ‘round. Seeing the world from several angles and worldviews gives you a perspective that can never be taken away. Some neighborhoods where we’ve lived were dominantly Muslim, others dominantly Hindu, while another was Catholic mixed with a lot of spiritism. We are all different and everyone around the world chooses a certain pathway for their family and often they have the best intentions; they are leading out of the worldview and values they hold most important to them.
Most of our adult life has been in the city. Charity was once chased into a car by a guy demanding her to stop (he was calling from about half a block away) wherein she sped away and quickly got the heck out of there. She still really doesn’t know what that guy wanted but she wasn’t going to stay around long enough to find out. I’ve been pick-pocketed a couple times (very nice criminals indeed as I was in a huge crowd in Baguio, Philippines). I’ve had dudes try to start fights with me for accidentally bumping into them as my eyesight faded. One neighborhood we lived in was on Cops one night and I sort of held my head in disgust as one of the notorious high-crime intersections was just a few blocks from our apartment. I could tell you so many more stories of bizarre encounters, bus riding chaos, and danger as life in the city brings so many people together from all walks of life. Public transport and foot travel are much more prevalent and you rub shoulders a lot. 
Contrary to what many may think however that is our family has never really felt scared or threatened or anything of the sort. As we have lived in the city, these places have become our home. We have loved city living far more than most and as we enter into city living yet again in Pittsburgh the feeling is no different. It has been pretty honoring and respectful to have neighbors or cars roll down the window at intersections telling me it is safe to cross. People are looking out for the blind guy most of the time.
This time around though there is a new criticism that has been thrown our way. What about Amos? What about your son? It is usually asked diplomatically but the gist of it is, “Don’t you know you should be thinking about your son? Aren’t you worried about his education? Aren’t you afraid to see him grow up here?” Ironically, our neighborhood is not the inner-city. It is urban but nowhere near as dangerous as some of the other spots where we’ve lived. I also realize that we’re not a target as much as many of my Nepali friends. New immigrants don’t know the laws so well, can’t communicate in English fluently, and are often afraid to go to authorities. So naturally my friend’s perspective around here is altogether different from mine.
But yeah, I get asked these sort of questions at least every 2 or 3 weeks. Most of the time these questions come from Christians who know full well our commitment to serving Jesus in spots that aren’t soccer moms first choice to live. I get asked these questions from friends who don’t share our missionary convictions as well. Interestingly I often feel in the moment that I need to defend myself as a parent as if I’ve made some horrible decision putting my family in the very spot to which God has called us. I don’t feel like the people asking the questions of my decisions often need to defend their choice of neighborhood. Nor should I.
But what about you? Nevermind the people you are trying to help. You have to start thinking about you. You have a family now. Hmmm. 
Charity has been an educator for years. I have a graduate level education and like to think that I’m pretty smart. This boy is being exposed to more culture, global awareness, and difference than we ever were at his age. How many missionary kids have we all met whose education was crap? I am scratching my head to think of too many kids of missionaries who dropped out of high school, got involved in a life of gangs and drugs, or performed in the lower 10 percentile on standardized test. I’m sure there is someone out there but I haven’t met them. So many folks living and working in situations like us have an extremely deep value of education and development but the incubator for that to happen is altogether different from others. Perhaps by living in the city, growing up speaking 2 languages, understanding 2 of everything our kids actually start to get a better education? Perhaps what Amos will learn in growing up in a low-income urban neighborhood far outweighs the best academy up the road? Perhaps his discipleship will blossom as he is surrounded by need and opportunity. My goal here is not to hate on suburban living or anything of the sort but I’m wondering if we can have some respect for one another as parents as we choose to live in neighborhoods that are very different from each other. 
Again, I go back to my assumption that most parents are trying to give their kids what is best for them based upon their worldview and core values. So yeah, our core values happen to be that the city is better than anywhere else. I didn’t say that it is wrong or stupid to live outside the city but we live here because we think it is the best place. I guess we all make decisions that way. I sure hope you don’t live where you live because it was like the third best option. And our family has this crazy value that Christ wants His Kingdom to come to our little neighborhood in south Pittsburgh as it is in heaven. He wants to see Nepalis engaged in our lives and Jesus wants to make himself known in a clear, beautiful way. So we live here. We live with two houses almost touching ours and we walk everywhere. This is the city to which God has called us.
But what about safety? What about education? Aren’t the public schools bad there? I had a Nepali high school senior talk to me about the next neighborhood over (a borough/suburb). He said the public schools here have metal detectors and that the school district there does not. He said they will never, ever need metal detectors because nothing bad will ever happen there. Really? That is quite a claim. That high school is about 10 minutes or less from my house. Somewhere along the way my community has surrounded around this young Nepali Christian and told him that the next borough over is bliss and where he lives is a pile of something something. Our kid is not even 2 years old and we’ll make decisions about education as they come. We’re not going to raise a son who thinks that the schools and teachers in his neighborhood are a bunch of losers who don’t care about anything or anyone. 
There are so many ramifications that produce good and bad education; a lot of them center around money and power. Surprise, surprise. As for safety, I’m just not sure that is a value that we put at the top of our list. Comfort and safety are all things we long for our family to have but I’m just not seeing them bleed out of the pages of Scripture.
So here we are, trying to start this new life in Pittsburgh. Dozens of families already know who we are as we walk around. There is a real sense of community living so close. Maybe before we judge parents decisions we can assume the best in them. What values and worldview do they have? Maybe there are bigger life circumstances or reasons they do what they do. We walk and live out the Gospel and let the chips fall where they may.
If you are living in the city, the suburbs, raising your kid in a village on the mission field, just sent your kid to international boarding school – I choose to see the best in you. I know you want what is best for your kid and have made decisions accordingly. Life is too short to point the finger and expect everyone to be just like us. But just for the record, city living is pretty great. You should move to our block; we’d love to have you over.