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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Missionary Mama: Raw and Ugly

Have you ever felt like God was calling you to the mission field? Has that notion dominated your thoughts and prayers for a long enough time that you're beginning to believe it's not just an emotional, knee-jerk response to a cool video, a David Platt book or a compelling speaker you were exposed to?

Well, I know where you are if that's you. I know how it feels. I've been there. And now I'm "here" and I want to get agonizingly REAL today about some things you might face if you take that leap. Maybe I'm tying to scare you away a little.  Maybe I'm trying to help you vet yourself before the field chews you up and spits you out.   Maybe I'm just looking for an opportunity for some catharsis and this seems as good a platform as any.   Jury's out . . .

When I said to the Lord "use me" or "take my life", I'm beginning to think that what I really meant was "don't touch my children" and "you can bring me anywhere you want as long as I retain enough comforts to feel safe and connected to my old life".  But "take my life and use it for your glory" was what I THOUGHT I meant.

And God, in His infinite wisdom and unwillingness to play by MY rules, did everything I didn't want Him to do.

And every day is a seemingly endless battle to take my eyes off myself, my circumstances and my own pain and put them on HIM.  Every day.  All the time. Even when I sleep, which is not much anymore.

The root of some of the most tragic pain on the mission field stems from the environment I'm in.

WHERE He has placed me has the makings of struggle.  

We are in a very remote village of indigenous people high up in the mountains of a province. It is breathtakingly beautiful here. It is also menacingly isolated.
We have no wifi (gasp, faint, seize!).   We have a little personal "hotspot" type deal that has to be loaded and runs out unexpectedly.  If we skype, watch videos or download anything, it is akin to revving our engines and watching the gas meter drop before our eyes. And you may think "whaaa, First Word problem number 23, 455"  but, people, that wifi is what connects me to my kids, my family back in 'Murica and the friends I left behind and our supporters. When it has to be policed and monitored and makes a dent in the budget,  I hesitate to use it.

When I hesitate to use it, it's lonely for me.  But yet, I'm never alone here.  Never.

The language barrier is another tricky aspect of being here. I am starting to pick up the language here pretty well after four years. I understand a good bit of what is being said. The daunting part is answering.  Tagalog is a language that is so much easier to understand than to speak. One verb can be conjugated 80 ways!  The precious kids in my center understand my fumbling, silly, Taglish and I'm not afraid to try new words on them. But when it comes to adult conversation - my pride just won't let me try too much.    I have Rosetta Stone. I need to make the time to use it.  The language barrier contributes to the isolation factor. A lot. The notion that people speak English in The Philippines isn't exactly accurate. Many do. But the kind of conversation my heart longs for just isn't.  I want slang and deep words and culturally saturated talk. I need my BFF for that.  And I'm pretty sure she has moved on. I would expect that.

The distance from my two biological kids is crushing.  The fact that we moved to The Philippines with six kids and are down to TWO under our roof is panic inducing! Yes, it's normal that kids grow up, they start their lives, they find their own paths - blah, blah, blah - but my kid have been, for a long time, some of my closest friends. And I feel the distance tangibly. The corners of their lives where I am not allowed are screaming at me through our skypes.  They have pain and they don't want us to worry. They have expenses but they don't want to ask their missionary parents to chip in. They have physical complaints but know our insurance isn't good enough and so, they don't mention things until they are GLARING and we want to hop on a plane and "fix it".

The fact that I'm the leader is another double-edged sword. I run a shelter for street boys. I handle the staffing, the schedule, training in behavior management of the kids, leading of staff devotions, meetings with adoption officials and social welfare officials, traipsing around in the hot, dirty streets to meet suffering kids (the BONUS of the work, right there. The TIP TOP IN love job) , the donor contact, the newsletter writing, the child sponsorship updates . You get the idea. And the reason I don't sleep. And, sheesh, I sound like martyr right here. Like I'm a contortionist who has figured out how to pat herself on the back.  NO! That's not why I unrolled the list. Not even close. I say that because, the pressure NOT to crack, flip out, turn over a table and run from the center screaming profanities is often looming.  If the leader falls, the whole house of cards tumbles down around us.  I've seen it in churches and secular business. When those in leadership can't get their schtuff together. Everything crumbles. Fact!

My own family who is here serving alongside me. The enemy does a bang-up job of opening that Pandora's box of Mama Guilt and there's no shortage of reminders from flesh and blood people that I have my own kids to "worry about".  Do they not think I know this? It's a teeter-totter of balance to have an abused, neglected, slow-to-trust child coming toward you at the same time your well-loved, cherished, adored OWN child is coming toward you. Who to reach out to first is not the obvious "your own" or "who needs you most".  It's a minefield in the heart and mind of a mother who already feels like she's not enough for either of them.

The perception of the people around us is difficult to swallow. We are a bank to some (ha! The Irony . . . ) , a novelty to others, a status lifter for some as the idea that you have foreign friends elevates you in the culture.
What I'm not is "just me".
There's a city nearby that is filled with missionaries. They often place their kids in the same school and attend one of two or three churches. They have a missionary community. I came here vehemently NOT wanting to join that community. Maybe it didn't seem "radical" enough for me if I lived here and had a bunch of white friends and put my kids in private school. To tell you the truth, it looks pretty appealing to me about now.  I envy those missionary Mamas who have friends right in their neighborhood with no agenda except to be friends.

The perception of the people back home  is always in the back of my mind. Have I become one of those weird, cultureless missionaries to them? The ones with the sensible shoes and the funky accent who prefer long skirts and asks them for money in round about, back door ways?  Do they feel funny telling me about their vacation or showing me their dog's new dress because, well . . .the starving street kids and all?    Do they pour their $6 coffee into a Kangaroo cup because they feel wasteful and unspiritual drinking that caramel machiatto in the presence of a missionary?  Sometimes I feel that. Often it's in my head I'm sure.  Not even a reality.
Do they feel sorry for me because instead of being a home-owning, miata-driving Mama who spends time filling up my cart at Target and Aldi, I've morphed into a chick who borrows her kids cars and sleeps in the guest room at her parents house?  Not sure if that sounds pitiful or spiritual right there. It is what it is.

And trust me, mission-minded friends. I could head right back up to the top of this blog post and spiritualize EVERYTHING I've shared as a struggle. I KNOW all the verses about "losing your life to save it" and "counting everything as loss" and "not looking back after picking up the plowshare" and "taking up your cross and following Him".   I know them by heart. They are ABJECT TRUTH.

They never change. HE never changed.

I have changed.  This is not a cry for help. I do not believe I am burning out. I love, adore and breathe the work that we do here.  Part of my lack of sleep is my excitement to get started each day. Promise.

But for those of you feeling THE CALL, I want to crack open the back door and let you peek into the messy part of the house.   I want to be raw and real with you about the painful side of serving God in a place that isn't your first country doing work that sweeps you up like a tidal wave.

And  I also want to encourage you to CLING to the relationships you have before you go. Cultivate them.  Take the time. Hone them. Cherish them.  Because the ones you skip out on in favor of some lesser "task" are likely to be the ones you crave when you get neck-deep in your new life.

Trust me on that.  Please.

And top-of-the-heap advice to my"called but not yet moved" friends: keep your walk with the Lord as first place. Every day. Even when you don't feel like it or your facebook has 27 notifications or your kid wants "cuddle time" during what was intended to be your "quiet time" with your Maker.

There is NO SUBSTITUTE for a deep, abiding walk with Jesus. No touchy-feely song and no sitting by a stream.  NOTHING sustains the heart, calms the mind, renews the vision and banishes the arrows of the enemy like time in prayer and meditating on God's word.

Trust me on that, too.

And so, now you know.  You still coming? I'll bet you are. Because His voice rises above the noise and you know it.