Saturday, December 29, 2007

Listing and Listening - and Comments on 'Screams in the Desert'

After having a pretty light workload for many months I’m entering a busy season. How will I respond to the challenge? Two weeks – 14 days! – after I return to life in the office I leave on a two-week international trip. Then it’s a week to recover and catch up before leading a week-long training in research methods (if registration figures are high enough to avoid canceling it). Immediately after that (the next day) is a trip to Indiana to teach a couple of Perspectives lessons, then out to San Diego (probably flying from Indy) to teach on the history of Islam (new topic for me - much study required). I go back to Denver for a week, then have 2-3 nights of additional Perspectives teaching (different lesson, but one I know) in Arizona. That’s a lot of travel and teaching to prepare for. In between I want to get more editing done and keep the magazine running, among other tasks.

If all this goes as expected, January 1 to February 28 will be very full, maybe more than I can manage. Or so it seems. Of course, here I am in Seattle, with plenty of down-time between things; these trips will take me away from home but may actually include some wide-open spaces for thinking, praying, resting, working, and friend-making. It’s just hard to predict from this vantage point.

In response, I’m ‘listing,’ in several senses of the word: ala Saint Nicholas (making a list and checking in twice), in the sense of the Tower of Pisa (responding to the shifting, settling ground beneath one’s feet, structures flexing some but groaning under pressure, possibly causing spectators more and more unease about the looming collapse), and as a sailboat does in a good wind (sails stretching, winds drawing the whole vessel to new angles as they carry it along).

I think I need to keep listing in that simple sense of making and using lists as a tool to get my head around what is real, what is important, what can be done, what should be done. The key is to ‘list’ past the point of being stressed out, to the point I think of as ‘numbering my days aright.’ Or to put it more plainly, I need to get beyond the point of recognizing real problems to the point of making good plans. That, of course, is more work, but well worth it.

What’s the key here? Mmm, maybe it’s listening to God, seeking and submitting to the wisdom and direction he offers freely to all without finding fault, finding my resources, safety, and strength in him rather than in my assets, favorable circumstances, or personal achievements (all of which are considerably more elusive, I find!)

Listen God, I’m Speaking

“One Sunday I was teaching a group of four and five-year-olds about Samuel. Samuel was a young boy who was sleeping when he heard a voice call his name. He thought it was Eli, the priest, but Eli told him it was God and that he should reply, “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.” I asked the children questions and they knew the story pretty well, so I decided it was time to act out the story to reinforce the importance of listening to God.

“One little boy was excited, yet a little nervous to portray Samuel. After some encouragement, he was ready to begin. He heard his name called out and ran to ‘Eli’ and then went back to answer God. He heard his name being called again and in his nervousness called out, ‘Listen, God, I’m speaking!’ His little face looked up at me and he said, ‘That wasn’t right, was it?’”

That’s from Sue Eeningenburg’s Screams in the Desert, one of the books I read on my 24-hour journey from Denver to Seattle (see below). Don’t you love the title? It also lived up to its subtitle, “Hope and Humor for Women in Cross-Cultural Ministry.” The author did a good job choosing aspects of her life with which other women could identify – not just church-planters in the Middle East but women working in other parts of the world and in other kinds of cross-cultural ministry, too.

I think it would be most useful to married women with kids. Life can be much different for single women in cross-cultural ministry. There are some things single women have in common with the missionary moms, but in many ways their lives are more like those of those women’s husbands. I suspect many of single women reading this book would feel that difference pretty strongly: that this is a book for moms. Actually, I think much of it would jive with moms who aren't living overseas, too - any woman who is trying to live wisely and follow Jesus while navigating marriage, parenting, keeping house, and keeping sane.

This book is set up as a devotional. Personally, that's not a format I prefer. I want to read things in bigger chunks. I still can, of course – if I don’t mind skipping over the “Stop and read 1 Samuel 3 and answer the questions below…” bits. But many of those for whom it is written probably have less time to read and a greater need for takeaway, from the time they give to something like this. So, this may be the best approach for them.

And some of the “questions below” revealed great insights into the stresses and traps of cross-cultural living. Any one of these would be great to throw out in a team meeting for further discussion. I suspect the author, who probably does a good bit of member care / counseling / encouraging / training, has used these questions with others many times.

I know women (and men!) who could write volumes about these topics:

“What is the worst culture shock you have experienced so far? How could you have prepared better for culture shock? Share your answers with your sending agency to help others.”

“Do you prefer routine or adventure? Why? …What situation is tempting you to feel unsettled or afraid?”

“How has your self-image been affected by living in a different country?”

“What changes have you seen in the relationship between you and your children since you moved overseas?”

“What are the challenges of growing in godliness in a cross-cultural setting?”

“What looks impossible to you right now?”

“If there is one thing or person that intimidates you, what or who is it?

“In what ways have you adapted to your host culture? Why? In what areas have you decided not to culturally adapt? Why?”

“What is the hardest thing about being hospitable in a different culture? Brainstorm with your family for a strategy to help make hospitality less stressful for you.”

“Are there any areas of your life that you are holding back from God or in which you are angry at him for intruding?”

“How has living overseas intensified or decreased the feelings of loneliness?”

“Of what are you most afraid in your new country? List the reasons you are afraid. Verbally give each reason to God and explain to him why you are afraid.”

“Write out some ways that your faith has grown since leaving your home and arriving in your new country.”


Paul Merrill said...

The list of questions about how one is dealing with cross-cultural stress reminds me of why I'm happy to be in the States for now.

And Kenya's election results (currently rioting) reminds me of that too.

Anyhow, happy new year, Marti!

Marti said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, Paul. Much as I'm still oriented toward the whole cross-cultural ministry realm, it is something of a relief not to be feeling those stresses for myself in the flesh.

Yes, the violence just seems to be getting worse. God bless Kenya!

Happy New Year!