Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fonkey English

One of the best parts of living overseas has to be all of the "fonkey" English that we're privileged to see. Here are a few of the funny (and a bit inappropriate... sorry!) things that we've encountered here in Russia.

 Not quite sure how child-friendly this brand name is, but yes, we do own this car-seat.

 Dare I even translate this into English?? Um, it says... "Megafart!" 
This is a casino and apparently "fart" means luck.

And this is one restaurant that my husband and I have never considered for a date night. We did however do some research and found out that, thankfully, Puberty is a town in the Czech Republic.

Ok, so what are some of the funny signs/stores/brands that you've seen where you live? If you have a link to a similar post on your blog, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ideas for Making the Most of Skype

Alyssa originally posted this on her own blog, and she kindly offered to let us repost here. Please take a moment to go visit her, too: Momentary Missions.

Picture this: Two children, best friends for years, now separated by an ocean. They were so eager to chat online that they could barely eat breakfast, and now they sit in front of the computer.  Finally! 
Eagerly they exchange greetings, and for the first 3 minutes, conversation flows excitedly across continents.  Then… silence.  The awkward moment where they want desperately to keep talking, but they have no idea what to say. 
What’s a Momma to do?  This is the moment where a mother’s heart begins to question.  How can I help them through this transition?  Why on earth did I bring them here in the first place?
We recently moved overseas, and this moment has played out in our home several times over the past weeks.  Inspired to work hard at keeping in touch, I brainstormed a list of ideas to help encourage better Skype chats that feel like real playtimes for my kids.  Today, I’d like to share a few of our tested favorites.
1. Ask Questions.  Remind your kids that their friends have things going on in their lives too, and those thing are still part of their friendship equation.  I often have to prompt my kids with questions to ask.  Sometimes I know things about their friend’s lives that help with this.  If I know from Facebook that their friend was sick, or visited their Grandma, this is a piece of information I can feed to my kids to help keep conversation going.
2. Play Games.  Connect 4, Hangman, and many other games can be played via Skype. Kids talk more while they are playing together.
3. Draw and Color.  My daughter loves to color and draw, and so do most of her friends.  They like to do a 10-minute draw, where for 1 minute they both draw with red, then another minute with red, and so on.  After 10 minutes, they show each other their photos.  They talk while drawing, free of self-conscious silence.
4. Plan listening dates.  We often listen to an online radio station here, and it’s available anywhere.  So the kids will set a time with their friends, and they both listen.  Then they Skype and talk about the programs or songs they heard.
5. Let the kids give tours.  This can be a little dicey with an expensive laptop and a small child, so often my husband and I will carry the laptop around the apartment or playroom, and let the kids show the person on the other end anything they want to share.  Then we encourage their friends to do the same.

What other ideas have you implemented for helping your kids stay in touch with their friends while your family is deployed or serving overseas?  Leave me a comment, I’d love to give them a try.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Expat community

I don't have any more questions waiting now (send some!), so I'll ask another one of my own: How involved are you with other missionaries and the expat community? Any specific tips for navigating that area? What ways could I be a blessing to the missionary community here? 

After almost 12 years, "alone" (i.e. not really alone, of course, but without any English speakers nearby), we've moved to an area with other missionaries, and we're really enjoying the fellowship. I feel a little lost in it sometimes, though.

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Homeland Security

Is it weird to say that I felt safer with my family
  • living in W Africa with all the possibilities for disease, injury or illness
  • knowing (as we watched military planes fly up river and then return) that there was a full-fledged war going on just a couple hundred miles up river
  • recognizing that terrorist activity was all around us... and probably infiltrating our "neighborhood" as well
  • driving in developing country traffic every single day...
than I do living in the developed west?

photo from one of the local Niamey newspapers

It may be weird, but it is true ~ and this is the first furlough I've EVER felt this way.

Usually, it has been a huge sigh of relief to land back in this land and re-realize that
  • the hospital and emergency room are literally down the road and around the corner - like 3 minutes away
  • reading about wars and rumors of wars that now seem distant and far away although still heartbreaking
  • not even hardly thinking about terrorist activity unless we get a warning from the US embassy that used to be just down the road and then worrying and praying and worrying and praying... for our friends
  • driving on freeways where 60 mph is taken for granted - almost every single day and there are real road signs to give me a clue where I am...

but this time, I'm struggling to feel that same peace and relief!

This is the first time I've ever seriously worried about the affects of living in the United States for more than a vacation on my family... on my children... on me.

It hit home, not suddenly and right away, but has crept up a bit stealthily.

We landed at the Detroit airport and were met there by a grandfather, an aunt and dear friends - a family we dearly love and count among some of our favorite people. Of course, our big kids were all excited to see and greet a few favorite peers. The two littlest girls, however, really didn't remember anyone from our previous home assignment, and were initially quite hesitant. It didn't take them long to connect with our dear friend, however... and now every time they see their "auntie-by-choice" they go running for a hug.

One thing that has both amused and embarrassed me, however, has been my girls' fascination with our friend's fingernails. She goes fairly regularly to a salon and has her nails manicured. A new thing for these girls (their mama tends to bite her fingernails and has never even painted them, much less gone for a manicure), their fascination - at least at first - bordered on, if it didn't fall right over the line, downright obsessive. So much so that at times, I think our friend has not quite been sure what to do.

At first, I just found this funny. I mean, they've grown up with women and girls regularly getting intricate henna designs inked onto their hands and feet or spending hours having tiny, detailed patterns and braids woven into their hair. It isn't like this is the first time they've had a friend go to a salon to have something fancy and beautiful done to look dressed up and feel pretty. I really didn't understand why they were so caught up in someone who had their fingernails done. Of course now they beg to get fancy nails themselves. Thankfully, my friend remains sweetly patient - and just laughs when our often goofy Elsie Mae grabs her hands to stare mesmerized at her fingernails... even if its the 83rd time and she did the exact same thing the day before.

So what's so scary?

I'm watching a similar pattern repeat itself in a myriad of ways - where that fascination with something different and new and lovely becomes a consuming compulsion and never fail recipe for discontentment.

Back in Niger, we could never forget that we were among those in this world who did have what we needed, and in abundance: shelter, clothing, food, water, friends who loved us, a calling for which we felt passionately, a God in whom we hoped and trusted... We also recognized quite often that we couldn't have everything we wanted or even thought we might need and that that really was better than okay. Our kids were quite familiar with regularly choosing contentment over entitlement. In other words, we loved (and devoured with our reconstituted milk) Oreos when someone sent or brought them from the States; we thrilled when we occasionally actually found them in one of the local grocery boutiques; but for the most part, those cookies never actually crossed our mind and were quite easy to live without, without a second thought.

Here, it is a totally different world. 

Within weeks, the abundance and overwhelming selection in the cereal aisle at the grocery store becomes a taken-for-granted sort of thing. Readily available abundance allows hearts to callous.. and then assume... and then insist. A single option in the house at breakfast time becomes not enough -  3 or 4 or more choices are necessary just for things to feel right, for children (and their parents - if I'm brutally honest) to be just barely satisfied, much less bask in overwhelmed gratitude for such an amazing and rich profusion of every imaginable opportunity. 

It becomes so easy, so commonplace... so expected... to focus on what this person or that person has that I don't... be it something simple like food, stylish jeans, a smart phone, or regular manicures. Maybe even worse? When God does, perchance, bless with said sorts of things, they become our source of security. They become our illusion of safety and control, replacing an ever present awareness of an absolute dependence on God.

And right now, I'm finding this reality scares me more than all those scary things back in Niger ever did.
"What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.   And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body..." (Matthew 10:27-28)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Your mission leaving

From an anonymous reader: Have any of you had your ministry organization decide to pull out of the country where you are serving? How did you deal with the emotions of this? What next steps did you take?

It's not quite the same situation, but this question reminds me of two posts from the old Missionary Moms blog: Dissolved I and Dissolved II.

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Letting the Body of Christ Do Its Job

As missionaries, we have a lot to do in terms of our ministries and caring for those around us (families, as well as friends and neighbours). We are the body of Christ to them. But sometimes life takes us by surprise and we have to let the body of Christ care for us.

When we had a miscarriage earlier this year, I was astounded by all the help we received from our church and organisation. It was a blessing to get a couple of meals provided. We had many offers to babysit our son while I was in hospital. So many people offered their help, and we didn't know what to do with it all.

My husband wanted to make certain to take up every offer of help. I thought we didn't necessarily need the help, though. I felt bad—like we were using them. And besides, how were we going to have all these people help us when we didn't necessarily need all the help?

As a friend of ours was giving us a lift to hospital the week I miscarried, either my husband or I made the comment that we didn't know what to do with all the offers of help, and that we felt guilty for taking it. Our friend kindly reminded us that this is an opportunity to let the body of Christ do it's job. Let them serve—we may not need it, but they do.

This has been one of God's blessings in the midst of our loss: We could allow the body of Christ do what they're called to do. We let them come alongside us and meet our needs. We let them take us to and from hospital, bring us meals, sit with me in hospital, babysit, and keep me company at home. Never in my life have I imagined experiencing the body of Christ from this perspective! It's humbling.

The body of Christ has done its job well.

Because of this, I've been given a new perspective on the body of Christ. As far as I can remember I've always been on the giving end of it... not the receiving end. It's very humbling. I find myself challenged to give more, especially out of the grief that we're experiencing.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35 (ESV)

Are you walking through a season of trials right now? Let me encourage you to seek encouragement and help from your church, friends and family. If you're not in a season of trials, how can you be the body of Christ to someone near you?

(A version of this post was originally published here.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Nobody Even Cares!"

Our first full week back in the US for a two-month furlough, we were offered the opportunity to stay in a family member's lakeside cabin for a few days.  We piled in as many folks as possible and did our best to get the most fun out of 15 people squashed into a tiny two-bedroom house.  It was absolutely terrific.

Before we'd gotten settled in well, the youngest in the crowd (my seven-year old nephew) injured his foot running around the pool area.  He immediately began to cry, but when he noticed the skinned area bleeding, those cries became wails and his volume exponentially increased.  We adults pitched in with comments meant to distract him while Mom administered first aid: "Wow! That was quite an acrobatic stunt you performed!" "You have got to be the toughest little monkey around!" "You are gonna have the neatest band-aid in town!" 

His response?  He made the saddest little face ever and looked up at his mom, barely eeking out in a whisper, "It hurts so bad and nobody even CARES!"

We were well-intentioned in encouraging him and trying to keep the little guy from freaking out, but he just wanted us to recognize his pain and let him cry a bit.  

I wonder how many times I do this with adults who are dealing with a bit more than a scraped foot, and even with my children as they deal with the inevitable and constant change involved in our lifestyle.  Sometimes folks just need me to come along beside them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and acknowledge their pain.  Instead, I tell them how strong they are, give them a pat on the back, and point out how God is going to use this for His glory. 

Sure, there is a place for encouragement, but my nephew's reaction reminded me that sometimes, like Job, people need me to simply be there for them, sitting beside them as they grieve and giving them permission to react to the pain.  

How does this look in real life?  As a mom, how do you allow for healthy grieving and adjustment?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Public transport

This is a spin off from last week's question. We recently moved from a small town, where we only had to use buses to go to other cities, to a much larger city, where almost everything involves public transport. I'm finding that it's a bit different now with four children, than it was the last time I lived in a big city. So, I'm curious: Do you use public transportation? Do you have any tips for navigating buses (and more) with children?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kids on the Field: Traditions with a Twist

This last weekend was Labor Day in the States (does the US have to do EVERYTHING different?  Why is our Labor Day in September and not in May like everyone else?)  Our oldest is attending a school that runs on the US schedule and so he got US Labor Day off.  Funny, I know.

So in an effort to teach our kids not only the Tico holidays (He had Costa Rican Mother's Day off two weeks ago and will have Costa Rican Independence Day off in two weeks) we thought we would try to do some traditional Labor Day things, you know with a Costa Rican Twist.

Now, Costa Rica doesn't have many lakes which figure heavily into Michigan Labor Day traditions (you are never more than 6 miles from a lake in The Mitten State).  But you still roast hot dogs over the fire and camp right?  Well...

We have had a fire in our driveway a couple of times and that was the plan...until we remembered it's rainy season and there was a impressive downpour late afternoon.  So we made pigs in a blanket (I used my pizza dough recipe and wrapped it around the hot dogs and baked them.) and had carrot sticks and chips...totally Labor Day food.

And then we went camping.  We have a great covered deck, so early that day we rigged up a tent of sorts with a tarp, a few sheets and some clothes pins.  The boys had a blast getting everything ready.  The plan was to sleep out there in our "awesome sleeping bags"!  Well...

As I was getting the boys ready for "bed" our middle guy said, "I can't wait to go in the tent!  I don't want to sleep in there. I like my bed!"  Yeah, I like how in the same breath he's excited and not excited. But we tried to talk him into it...and it worked for a whole half hour while they played. And then when it was really time to sleep, he gave up and came in.  Our oldest lasted another 5 minutes without his brother.  So much for camping!   Shhhh, don't tell them, but I was glad I didn't have to sleep out on the hard deck...just sayin.

Ok, so what Traditions do you give a Twist? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Driving (or not)

I'm a little late here, but it's still Tuesday, and I'm back online! Hurrah! (Send me some more Tuesday Topics, please.)

Here is a topic that came in while I was gone:
After 12 years of living in the Middle East I finally double parked my car on the outer lane of a busy street for the FIRST TIME. I turned on my hazard lights before I ran into the store. Just like everyone else does! I said a prayer for my car, that it wouldn't get hit by oncoming traffic, and I also repented for all the times I've judged drivers for doing that! Maybe I'm finally getting contextualized here!

On a serious note, what is traffic like where you live and how do you feel about driving? Or if you don't drive how do you feel about that?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)