Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Earn This….”

Having survived the rigors of Mission Training International and exiting the US through the World Harvest Mission offices in Philadelphia, we’re semi-permanently gone from American soil.  It was a strange feeling when the wheels lifted off from Philadelphia International airport, knowing that my plane ticket was one way, with no immediate plans to reside again in the US.  Sad and exciting all at once.  A highlight of our stop in Philadelphia was getting to stay with my long lost cousin Kelly and her family!

We’re currently doing hard time in Dublin, Ireland.  Ann’s parents are the most amazing hosts:  beautiful meals, cozy beds, and even luxurious trips down to Wexford.  You know you’re a really terrible father when your seven year old son wakes up and tells you he thinks he’d like a fish pedicure today!  Where did I go wrong??!?  We’re all getting a little spoiled by BB and Granda.

Our next challenge is getting our household goods to Kenya.  Our intricate plan was to ship our household goods to Dublin, have them held in a storage unit until we got here, and then pack them into about a dozen duffle bags to take with us on the flight to Nairobi as excess luggage.  On advice from a number of experienced Kenyan travelers, this is cheaper and more secure than trying to get a shipment through Kenyan customs.  This would have all worked out great, except all of our stuff is stuck in England!  Not really sure what happened, but a very long time clearing customs, and now waiting for a partially filled truck to bring our less than truckload sized shipment to Dublin.  There’s every chance it might not make it here before we’re schedule to depart for Nairobi on 17 September.  We’re not sure what to do about this, so right now our plan is to pray that somehow it gets here before we leave for Africa.  It’s going to make for a pretty sparse house (and chilly nights, without blankets) if our shipment doesn’t arrive.

While down in Wexford we visited the longest sandy beach in Ireland, Curracloe Strand.  I went for an hours run on the perfect sand, the wind blowing off the Irish sea.  Running along this beach is kind of surreal, which you’ll understand from the pictures below:

The picture on the right is how the beach looked the day I ran it.  The picture on the left is the same beach, as they were shooting the Omaha Beach invasion scene from the movie “Saving Private Ryan”.  As I was running down the beach, I couldn’t help but envision the nearly thirty minute opening scene, which veterans of this amphibious assault have said closely captures the feeling of being there.  If you don’t recall, the movie centers around Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) organizing a group of soldiers to extract Private Ryan (Matt Damon) from the village of Ramelle, where he is preparing, with limited resources, to defend a key bridge from a Nazi mechanized division.  Unbeknownst to Private Ryan, he has lost three brothers in the war, and the military elite has decided that Mrs. Ryan should not have to receive the news of her last son dying on the battle field.  He must be extracted at any cost.

The cost turns out to be exceedingly high.  Men are killed during the search for Private Ryan.  Once he is eventually found, he refuses to leave his post, and Captain Miller’s group joins the soldiers at Ramelle to defend the bridge.  In the climactic scene, the messiah-character Captain Miller, having been mortally wounded, in the middle of the conflagration, turns in agony to Private Ryan and groans “Earn this!”  The battle won, Private Ryan returns to the US, and his mother.  The movie closes with an elderly Private Ryan at Captain Miller’s grave, in tears.  Did his survival, his extraction, and the life he led thereafter, justify the sacrifice of Captain Miller and his men?  He turns to his wife and sobs “Am I a good man?  Have I lived a good life?”

How many people have sacrificed for me?  My great-great-great grandparents who got on a boat, fleeing starvation and hoping for a better life in America.  My own parents who somehow kept a roof over the head of a family of eight, and managed to get us all through college.  The countless teachers, mentors, and friends, who took that little extra time with an immature and impulsive kid.  Does my life do justice to the sacrifices made?

As a follower of Christ, this takes on special perspective.  The ultimate “extraction”, the ultimate sacrifice, was the creator of the universe choosing to enter the battle ground of human history.  If we were subjected to Private Ryan’s mandate to “earn this”, we’d be crushed under the weight.  The paradox is, no one could live a life good enough, or be a good enough man or woman, to “earn this.”  Instead, this act of love is given freely.  Instead of “earn this”, we get Matthew 18:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  We get rest from our burdens, a life of freedom and delight, joy and peace.

We could use your prayers for a safe travel and smooth transition to life in Kenya.  We need our shipment to arrive from England, we need a ride from the airport, probably a place to stay in Nairobi for a day or two, and safe passage for Heidi Wright and Bosco to Nairobi.  Thank you to so many of you who’ve been so amazingly supportive in too many ways to count.

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As is….

We’re currently at Mission Training International, near Colorado Springs.  We’re two weeks into a three week training course.  It’s very difficult to describe what this course is about.  The course addresses the issues which arise when one transitions from their home culture to another culture.  Everyone has experienced this to some degree, whether starting a new school, moving to a new area, or hanging out for a little too long with your in-laws.  I didn’t mean my in-laws, but other peoples’ in-laws.

Everyone here is headed towards overseas work:  China, North Korea, North Africa, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Honduras, the list goes on and on.  The thrust of the course is the challenges, chaos, mistakes, and blessings of moving from my home base, my culture, my comfort zone, my language, to another culture, language, etc.  All this while trying to function on a team, learn a new language, be effective in whatever work you’re doing……

We were read a letter from a guy who had been working in France for twenty years, Princeton grad, fluent in French, who felt that after all that time, he was only functioning at 60% effectiveness.  With all the unspoken, undefined cultural cues, he felt he could never function in France as a Frenchman.  Multiply this with the variables of African vs western culture, race, tribal differences,  poverty, and language barriers, and the move to working and functioning in Kenya seems a little intimidating.

We were told to write the words “As is” on our name badges.  You know the dollar store, where they have the row of slightly flawed, imperfect items?  As is…  If you decide to buy “as is”, there’s an understanding that the item isn’t perfect, but it’s probably functional, and you’re stuck with it.  And we have to accept that we enter another culture, “as is.”

To better understand our own “as is”, we’ve been taken on a roller coaster ride of self-examination.  I’ve never really been a fan of too much self-awareness.  Not a comfortable place to be.  So we’ve been going through individual and group exercises which identify our conflict resolution styles, examining where we go under prolonged, severe, stormy stress.  Load of fun.  I had Ann stick a fork in my eye for a little variety of pain.  The basic idea is that you can identify your style, your preconceptions, your fears, your flaws, and then choose not to be a victim of them.  You can be intentional, aware, of your entry posture and likely tendencies  in your new culture.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more stressful, we were put through a simulation.  In case anyone reading this might one day be here, I won’t go in to details.  But think about your worst nightmare, hostage setting, separated from your family, executions, bombs, etc.  Brutal.  And we’re paying for this!

Overall, one of the most transformative, educational, grown-up things I’ve ever been through.

I’ve applied for college, med school, residency, hand surgery fellowship, and a marriage license, and I’ve never been through such a thorough and exhausting application and preparation phase.  Our hope is we leave here better prepared to function in a foreign culture.  The challenge is this:  how much of your belief system, your comfort zone, your preferences, your language, your food, your clothing style, your preconceptions, are you willing to leave behind, to enter and become a real functioning part of another culture?  To the extent that you can abandon yourself, and become Kenyan, you will function more effectively in Kenyan culture.  But in the end, we’ll just be “as is”.  Bwana asafiwe!

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