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Family Minimalist Misfit Missionary Parenting Patience Perspective Thankful The little things

The Pen

One of the hardest things to do when you’re told what to do, is to do it.

My youngest daughter, Andreya, is 12 years old. She has been doing internet school with Northstar Christian Academy for three years now; she’s an excellent student and a quick learner. There are times when I watch her work that I wonder, what was I doing at her age? I think we had the four-color Bic© pens (red, blue, green and black) that were marks of being uber-cool back in the day. When those went out of style, I remember distinctly a folder called the Trapper Keeper© that only the coolest of the cool kids had in their lockers.

Needless to say I was not one of those cool kids.

Coming from an Finnish immigrant family background, we thrived on frugal living and rarely wasted precious resources on multi-color pens and fancy folders. At the time, being a first-generation Finn, I appreciated both sides of the coin. I knew Mom and Dad hated waste and thus, I managed to hide my brown-bag lunches of Finnish Rye bread with cucumbers and ham (a delicacy for me today) from the cool kids metal lunchboxes with their thermoses filled with Spaghetti-Os©. How I envied those those Spaghetti-Os©!

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Since lunch was the shortest period of the day, I usually managed to hide my lunch and remain generally unscathed from the mocking of any of my peers. It was my simple #2 pencil, blue pen and plain paper folder that got me into trouble. Why couldn’t I fit in and carry the newest and shiniest?

One evening, after a meal of thoroughly Finnish fare, I gathered the courage to ask for the coveted Bic© pen and Trapper Keeper© folder. Prepared for the worst, I steeled my nerves for the expected lecture of why we can’t buy such things. Instead, I was met with gentle explanations of why, in the middle of the school year, we just couldn’t afford to purchase new school suplies. Everything that was listed in the supply list had already been purchased, we couldn’t do anything this year…but…maybe next year.

While I was disappointed, I left the table without as much as a word knowing any pleading would then be met with sternness as my parents were “old school.” Once they said their mind, that was it and I knew it.

On the bus as I made my way to school the next day, with my plain supplies in tow, I envied all of the other kids with their brightly-colored backpacks, lunch boxes and multi-colored pens. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks when my friend Barbara once again asked why my things were so “old fashioned.” I changed the subject.

The weeks rocked on and by the second half of the year, due to the many problems these pens and folders were causing among the students, the school came out with a new set of guidelines requiring students to return to plain pens, pencils and folders. Suddenly, I was in the “in crowd” without even trying. The day this was announced in school, a collective, and painful, sigh was heard throughout the campus.

Later on that evening, at another fully-Finnish dinner complete with short, Scandinavian glasses filled with milk, I explained what had happened to my parents. I clearly didn’t think things through for upon hearing this news, they proceeded to carry on about the importance of keeping things simple for what felt like (to my 10 year old ears) an eternity. My ears only perked up when they praised me for not resisting their decision months earlier to not purchase the envied supplies.

Looking at my daughter now studying for her Science test on Ecosystems, I value the simplicity our life here in Africa gives us. She sometimes bucks the system and wishes for McDonald’s© fries and going to Claire’s© to buy tween jewelry, but she generally goes with the flow.

Thanks, Äiti and Isä (Mom and Dad) for keeping it simple. In today’s life of quarantines and closed airports, it has meant more to me than I could have ever known.

I didn’t need the pens or folders anyway.

P.S. – Andreya got a 100% on her Science test.

Categories
Despair Dreams God's call Kingdom Misfit Missionary

A Foreigner

I’ve been a missionary practically all of my adult life. I came to the field when I was in my early 20s and have been here for 32 years. So, I think it would be safe to say that I’m in this thing for the long haul. When I think about what else I could be doing with my life, I’m stumped, for I don’t know where else I could possibly go or what else I could possibly do! Where else would I, the misfit, fit? What other niche could I hope to fill elsewhere?

By no means has life here been a cakewalk, we’ve had our challenges just like everyone else all over the world. What has helped me keep steady on this course is knowing that everyone all over the world faces their own unique set of challenges. There’s no escaping the ups and downs of life; running away when things get tough won’t ensure easier passage to the next stage. Running away might bring you from the frying pan into the fire.

What causes us to run? To give up? To look for greener pastures? Wasn’t what we’re struggling with today a dream we had once upon a time?

The children we hoped and prayed for fall off the rails.

The dream job no longer holds the promise we thought it had.

The brand-new house holds, instead of joyful moments, stress-filled evenings of budgeting, painstaking work, and brainstorming of ways to pay all of the bills.

Or, in our case, the mission you dreamed of puts you in intractable situations day in and day out – making you wonder how you will ever make a difference.

Disappointment, dejection, and misunderstanding can lay such heavy burdens on our shoulders that we ultimately decide to throw away the dream to escape the load. We didn’t get out of “it” what we put in, and that stings. No one notices, no one seems to care, so why should we?

Perhaps the mistake we’ve often made isn’t found in what we are doing, but in our motivations. If we work with the thought that we “deserve” to be treated in a certain way or “should” be recognized for all of our efforts, we are sure to be disappointed. In this world’s system, for example, it’s expected for one to be rewarded in the here and now. When someone retires from a long-term job, a pension is offered, parties are thrown, and there’s usually some kind of gift presented to the retiree.

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What happens, however, when that company holding their life insurance goes under or they lose other benefits? (I recently read an article about this happening in the news.) The disappointment that comes in a moment like that could be overwhelming – what about all the years of service, were they for nothing?

In God’s Kingdom, our mindset needs to change from that that we see in the world. People outside of the Kingdom work for the here and now, while we of the Kingdom work for what we will find waiting for us in eternity. Understanding why we work helps us keep a firm grip on our reality – that this world is not our home and the recognition for what we do won’t necessarily come in this life.

I’m a foreigner here in Burundi where I live and serve. I have loved this country for decades; there is an unexplainable draw that this land has on me. My “foreign-ness” is on open display daily; obviously, I wasn’t born in Burundi and it’s commonplace for me to be called, “Mnyamuhanga” (foreigner) many times during the day while I am out. While I don’t feel like a foreigner, I know that to the people who don’t know me – I am.

Mnyamuhanga, foreigner, this term is often used in a derogatory way that could, if I allowed it, discourage me. I certainly don’t get much emotional reinforcement in being a foreigner here, but I’m not in this country for emotional reinforcement. I’m here because of a calling that I can’t explain, because of a love that I can’t fathom, and because of a message that has changed me forever. My motivation for being here doesn’t have to do with how I feel, it has to do with eternity. I know Someone Who has changed me and Whose love for me supersedes everything else that matters in life. It’s now my turn to serve the world around me with that same unchanging love, even if to them I’m mnyamuhanga.

The emptiness we feel from day-to-day when we’re not recognized for what we do fades when we see Jesus represented in those around us. It’s for their joy that I work, for their joy that I serve, and when the time comes for this earthly to be changed into heavenly, I’ll have my reward.

2 Corinthians 1:24 NASB “…(we) are workers with you for your joy.”

Categories
Choices Church planting Comfort Courage Destiny Familiarity Family Missions

Abnormally Normal

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“If you do not hope, you do not find out what is beyond your hopes.”                           Clement of Alexandria

I’ve hoped and dreamed and trusted for so many years for so many things – some have come to pass and some haven’t. Why have some come to pass and others haven’t? I don’t think I’m able to grasp the “why” of each circumstance, but I do know that I somehow still find in myself the grip of my going on with my dreaming, hoping, and trusting.

What if what I’ve dreamed of, hoped for, and trusted is on the way is just beyond this moment I’m in?

What is the alternative to dreaming, hoping and trusting?

I’ve heard it said that if you shoot for the moon, you might hit the stars. If you shoot for nothing, that is exactly what you will get. I think the chance of hitting a few stars is more appealing to me than achieving nothing at all!

As if our own internal struggles weren’t enough to tempt us to discouragement, there are those who have taken up the cause to help us “think things through logically.” Or to be “wise” in the way we approach things. Indeed, we are to live in wisdom, but not the wisdom that this world is accustomed to:

1 Corinthians 1:20,21, CEB “Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? In God’s wisdom, He determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.”

Wisdom that comes from God will always run cross-grain to that what this world considers to be wise. Certainly my life doesn’t appear to have been lived wisely as far as this world’s wisdom is concerned. First of all, I didn’t get a degree that would promise me a lucrative career; imagine spending years studying Theology and Christian Social Ministry. It doesn’t bring in much money even though I earned my Master’s Degree – nevertheless I loved every bit of my studies. A part of me wishes I could go on further but time, location, and cost give me reason to pause!

Where I’m located (Burundi) also presents a problem as far as the wisdom of this world is concerned. I’m far from family, friends, and my home culture – I can’t tell you how painful it is to be far from our families but The Name is worth the living and giving of all of our lives (see Acts 5:41, that’s a blog for another day). To fit in, I’ve had to learn languages, cultural cues that make no sense to me, and face misunderstanding on every side. Why choose to be far away? Why choose such a road? How will you afford retirement (we have saved regularly but it’s far from what is projected that we would need later on in life, missions work is not lucrative)? How will you pay for all the things you say you’re going to do?

There are no easy answers to any of those questions as far as “normal” people are concerned and it’s painfully obvious that I’m not a normal person and I didn’t marry a normal person either. We are a terrific misfit couple and are comfortable in our “abnormal” normal (for us) life. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle or feel anything, it simply means that the One Who pulls us to do what we do, hope for what we hope for, dream as we do, and trust when everything says “give up” is far more powerful than any opposition and hardship we face.

Who will step in and resuce me when things go upside down? Not anyone who has tried to convince me to do something more “reasonable” with my life – for they would find something unfortunate to say even if I lived “safely” according to what the world thinks is wise. The only One Who has the power to save, and has saved me each and every time I’ve needed it, stands by my side keeping watch over me and mine.

Psalm 11:1,4 LB “How dare you tell me, ‘Flee to the mountains for safety,’ when I am trusting in the Lord?…But the Lord is still in His holy temple; He still rules from heaven…”

He still rules and that is more than enough for me.