Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Together: Coffee again

I'm back! Sorry about the unplanned break here. I had to be out of town unexpectedly for two weeks. It was all good, I just didn't have time to plan ahead.

We're still recycling Ashley's coffee chat idea and questions. If you want to participate, please send your answers to me (fylliska@gmail.com). I'll compile them and post them next week. Feel free to send a photo of yourself to go with what you write, too. Here are the questions for this time:

-Do you have a funny kid story or cross-cultural/language mishap story to share?
-What is one verse that God has used to encourage you recently and why?
-How can we pray for you today?

And then, to discuss something today, let's have some travel chat in the comments: What was the last trip you took? Where to and what for? (Just send your email with your answers for the coffee chat off to me first, please. Then come back here for some chit-chat in the comments box, if you still have time. Thanks!)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Prayer for "After..."

This is isn't the blog post I've been planning to write... the one I've been working on.
But as we face another imminent transition in upcoming months... this IS where my heart has been resting, where my mind has been dwelling much... 

The story starts with an evening years ago, 
hanging out around a campfire with family and friends in one of our favorite Niger spots, 
watching the sun set from a West African sand dune...

Three gals, traipsed over the sand dunes - probably heading home before dark. I captured them with my telephoto lens in not the best of light. Their picture intrigued me then. Perhaps more accurately, it haunts me, now.

I wonder about their stories.

They could be sisters. That isn't hard for me to imagine... 

I can easily picture my four oldest girls walking along through the sand~ wrapped in wild African print, draped in light weight, flowing scarves, scuffing $1 cheap flip-flops along the sand and munching on a piece of fruit. They'd chatter and meander, enjoying a reprieve from the unrelenting sun that now ducked behind the horizon. Immersed in each other's company just like these girls, mine would be mostly oblivious to any and everything else going on around them. 

Then a thought crossed my mind: I wondered if two could be keeping the third company as she'd been sent to a nearby market to buy millet which she'll then pound before preparing her family's meal. 

That second scenario isn't so much like my girls' story... 

...and not because my girls never run to a nearby shack, 
buy then bring something home, and 
prepare it for the rest of the family.

They, in fact, have often been asked to do something just like that.

They are, several times every day in fact, still asked to do something similar - something that contributes not to their fun and amusement but to the well-being of our family.

But other times they lay on their bed and watch YouTube or Fairytail videos on a Kindle... read books they've checked out from the library... walk back over to the school next door just to work, earning money they then deposit in the bank and use to fund many of the fun or frivolous things teenage girls love to do... dream of another wedding in Southern California... picture seeing friends from Niger soon... look forward to celebrating a might-as-well-be-a-brother's wedding... imagine a high school graduation and all that comes next... share war stories about working on earning that drivers' license and having to drive with Mama clutching the door and trying to appear calm just to do so...  encouraging one another for yet another round of imminent upcoming goodbyes... 

My girls loved and miss their life in Niger and are so thankful for the opportunity they have had to spend so much of their growing up time in that place, even knowing all of the things they've "missed" in the States. Now, barely shy of two years back in America, they miss Africa and their friends there something awful, but have come to terms with that because "after Niger" has always existed for them... They've always had something farther off and more away just over the metaphorical horizon.

It is not the same for those three girls growing up in a village in Niger, which, according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development report, is still ranked low... 187 out of 187... Niger is a land whose people are - particularly women, girls and children - almost ALL vulnerable.
The girls in this photo? They probably do not know how to read, even if they were permitted to attend school for 2-3 years. They may have never seen a television, much less surfed the internet. They may already be married and have children waiting for them back by their huts. Their husbands or fathers may have a cell phone... however it is unlikely that they would carry one. For them, their "after" is Niger... and mostly just as they know it.

I hope my girls never forget just how blessed they've been, how much lavish grace they've been gifted. I hope that, in my concerns and sometimes anxieties for their future, I never forget.

I pray that after Niger and that even as we transition from home assignment to a place that couldn't be more different, they never forget... and begin to feel entitled. 

I can see that danger nipping at their heels, at my heels, already. 

I hope they fight hard against their own entitlement and a culture that increasingly encourages narcissism, and that each time they start to believe and presume desires (even the worthy ones) to be needs or rights, they consciously recall and fix in their minds images like the one above... and then really remember how amazingly gifted their lives have already been...

I hope they remember that their "afters" are ALWAYS gifts to be shared, sacrificed, spent and well-stewarded... for the benefit of others and the glory of God...

...for the rest of their lives.

May it ever be so... for each one of us.

Rewrite/rework of an original post entitled
A Prayer for "After"
and published on Our Wright-ing Pad
April 5, 2013.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: When Africa Was Home

I'm always on the hunt for great kids' books.  I love finding ones with wonderful illustrations, great stories, clever words and ideas.  I love how books can be such a conversation starter for kids too!

We just were introduced to this great one When Africa was Home by the amazing folks at MTI.  Our boys love it!  I ordered our own copy and they asked me to read it four times the first day we had it.

It's one of the only books I have found written from the perspective of a TCK.  It's about a boy from the United States who spends most of his life in Africa.  When his father's job ends, they have to move back to the US, but for this little guy, the US is not home, Africa is home. 

The illustrations are lovely and while my boys think of Costa Rica as home, they could relate to lines like "How could he climb a mango tree with shoes on?"  It has provided a lot of good moments to talk about what they miss about their host country and how they feel about being in the US right now for home assignment. 

When Africa was Home  is now out of print, but you can find it used on Amazon and Half.com. 

What books have you found to be helpful for your kids as they navigate being a TCK?


Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Women of our Host Countries

When I saw on the calendar that it was my turn to post this weekend, I immediately thought of International Woman's Day and how OF COURSE I would post on some topic celebrating womanhood... Then I remembered that this holiday doesn't even exist in much of the world, despite it being an "international" holiday. If you were here in Russia on this day though, you would definitely think that everyone on earth MUST be celebrating. It is a huge deal. Everyone gets the day off of work, women everywhere are walking around town with bouquets of flowers in hand, there are gifts, chocolates, dates, cards, celebrations, store discounts, billboards... Women are given the most royal of treatments on this day.

I love this holiday in Russia because I think Russian women are truly amazing. Many of them have been dealt much hardship, but on the whole, Russian women are strong, brave, beautiful, and deep. I wanted to share a few things with you that I love about Russian women, but my main hope for this post is that you will share with the rest of us about the amazing women in your host cultures. Let's celebrate the incredible women that God has created around the globe, and tell about the wonderful qualities that He has instilled in them. I'll start by telling you a bit of my impressions of Russian women:

Like I said, Russian women are strong and brave. Given the recent history that today's women have lived through, Russian women have fought to protect their families and to survive and thrive amidst many challenges. One such example is that there are many broken homes due to alcoholism. This has left many many women as the primary breadwinners, caretakers of their children, and often even the caretakers of their parents too. Many women sacrifice so much in order to care for their family.

Here are a few of my strong, beautiful Russian friends carrying a bunch of heavy bags 30 minutes to a train stop just as it starts to rain.

Russian grandmothers are incredible. I love babushkas. They know how everything works (or should work...and aren't afraid to let everyone know!). They are resourceful and frugal. They are incredibly independent and strong despite their age (I am in shock every winter watching babushkas walking over ice-covered sidewalks with their groceries each day). One thing that I think is so amazing about Russian culture is the responsibility that many grandmothers feel in the care of their grandchildren. They will often live with their children while their grandchildren are young so as to help care for them during the physically taxing years of early childhood, or if not living with the family, they will often times live close by, taking the grandchildren for the weekend, helping to take them to and from pre-school or school, watching them on the playground, and taking them on special outings.

Our sweet neighbor, Babushka Anya (whom I met a number of years ago helping cross the street while carrying groceries through a snow storm!)

Russian women in the church are a tremendous source of life and wisdom within the congregation. There are very few male believers in Russia, so the women have to take on many responsibilities for the livelihood of the church. On the whole, these women are faithful, amazing, and yet humble servants. Given the hard history that the older generation of believers especially has endured, these women have persevered and become solid pillars of faith who have tremendous wisdom to pass down to the younger generations.

I could continue on for a long time about the beautiful qualities of Russian women, but I want to give each of you a chance to share! Please share in the comments one or two (or more) things that you admire about the women in the culture where you serve!

Happy Women's Day, my incredible missionary mom friends!! I praise God for creating each one of you and for the incredible ways that you reflect His image. As we celebrate International Women's Day here in Russia, I am celebrating YOU!

What do you admire about the women in your host country?