Coffee along the way

Coffee along the way
Coffee along the way

March 30, 2012

The Guilt Factor....

Lately I have been thinking a lot about my own culture – things we do and don’t do and used to do…..It is so different from our host culture – sometimes quite the opposite!  For example, the people here are really not individualistic at all and we really are!  My husband was reading to our boys about the Groot Trek (the Great trek) that occurred in our history – the personalities were so strong and the beliefs so bold that they soon broke off in splinter groups and went their own ways.  Yes, we are a headstrong stubborn people!

But that is just one aspect – culture runs so deep, we don’t see half of it!  The thing that got me thinking about my culture is a workshop about being in a multi-cultural team that will be presented in April.  Usually a missionary thinks about the other culture much more than her own!  In any case I just realized again what a strong Guilt Culture we have.  I sent out a short questionnaire asking two questions – What is lawful on the Sabbath?  And What is worse in our culture – to lie or to lose your temper.  The responses were quite interesting!

But the What is lawful on the Sabbath said it all – we justify why we do what we like on our supposed day of rest because we feel guilty!  Yes, shopping can be done (even shopping for the whole month!) as long as we went to church, or read our Bible or said a short prayer somewhere on the way….guilt.

Other places it comes out as well – we buy a lot of stuff to make up for the time we don’t spend with our kids – guilt.  We give something to the poor man sitting on the pavement if our child feels sorry for him – guilt.  We feel guilty after indulging in too much to eat, etc, etc.  Marketing people should catch onto this scoop to get people to buy their products!  Something like “Don’t you feel guilty that you spend 60 hours or more at the office? – No problem - send our flowers!” 

Well, all this to say I am from a guilt culture and at the moment this is what is dragging me down!  I feel guilty that I don’t get out more – visit the ladies in my village more, do more!  I feel guilty when I wish that not one more sick person will shout “Odi” for me to come out and help, I feel guilty that I don’t spend every waking moment I have that I am not teaching, baking, cooking or cleaning in language studies!!  Guilt, guilt, guilt!  Oh, to be free form it!  But then I think, if I am free of this guilt – what will drive me?  And then I feel guilty just thinking about all this guilt I have!  All this guilt stems from a "doing culture"  If you don't DO, then you ARE nothing, no respect, no status, etc and if you don't have all that then guilt sets in...... (see note at bottom)

But “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”  And “I have come so that they may have LIFE and have it to the FULL”   Guilt, shame, cultural bonds, heritage – these are all things that the enemy uses to keep us down, keeping us to not live in fullness.  Don’t get me wrong, not all things in our different cultures are wrong, but there are some things that definitely need renewing in every culture!  I guess my question as a missionary is always – “Am I doing enough for You Lord?”  

May the Holy Spirit help me sort out through all of this and bring growth and life where there are still desert areas.  And as I struggle through it may I learn valuable lessons that one day I may share with the people here as they will also face some serious cultural/Biblical issues…..


Here are some very broad characteristics of doing cultures:
  • Status is earned (e.g. the work you do in your job). It is not merely a function of who you are (e.g.  birth, age, seniority).
  • Status is not automatic and can be forfeited if one stops achieving (e.g. you quit your job).
  • Great emphasis is placed on deadlines, schedules etc.
  • Tasks take precedence over personal relationships in most cases (e.g. your family may not like it but they understand if you have to miss a family birthday party because you have work to do).
  • People are supposed to have a personal opinion, which they are expected to verbalize.
And here are some very broad characteristics of being cultures:
  • Status is built into who a person is. It’s automatic and therefore difficult to lose.
  • Titles are important and should always be used, in order to show appropriate respect for someone’s status.
  • Harmony should be maintained, and therefore direct confrontation or disagreement is to be avoided. Saving face is highly valued.
  • Relationships often take precedence over tasks. Much time is spent on greeting and farewell rituals or getting to know someone before agreeing to do business with them.

March 29, 2012

A tempting thought

A temptation I sometimes have is to look at the life of a lukewarm believer and think “What an easy life!”  True, on Judgment Day they might be saved by the seat of their pants….

It is at these times that I ask myself if this is all worth it!  The more we pray, set ourselves apart, surrender all, the worse the day seems to get!  More heartache, more funerals, more sick people – even my own children fell sick after we decided to all pray and fast (as in simple meals) for a time!  It is then that you seem to see all the empty comments on facebook, see all the things people busy themselves with or receive all these very empty forwards in your inbox of so-called believers…..adding insult to injury!  And you wonder, yes, you wonder, how easy life looks when you have enough money to spend on what you wish, when you can do what you please when you feel like it!  With the emphasis on the YOU, of course!  Tempting this easier life…..

Just before you judge me too harshly, remember this is an age old problem!  Just read a few Psalms!  But, it is obviously not right to rationalize all these feelings, it is the place to think about it and see the truth and be set on the right path again!  It is definitely not the right question either – the question being “Is IT worth it all?”  When asking it this way I, me and myself is at the center….No, the right question to ask and consider is, “Is HE worth it?”  And that changes everything! Jesus said to count the cost!  And so I have to think hard again…….. but always come to the same conclusion - Jesus IS worth it!  Jesus is the only One who is!  So yes, I keep calm and carry on – believing firmly that He knows my comings, my goings, my thoughts, my hurts, hopes and dreams!  And He wants all of me.  

And so, I give myself afresh to You Lord.  You are worthy!  You are actually the only one who is!! 
And on those days when trouble rises with the sun, I will remember the words of Hezekiah –
“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater Power with us than with him.  With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.  And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.”

Bella. I love you Jesus!

March 15, 2012

I can’t do math in a foreign language!

There I was, standing like a tall fool in the shop, just handing over all the money in my hand to pay for the margarine…..
My first language is Afrikaans, second English, then the official language of the country. Currently learning the local language, understanding general German and Dutch……in listing all this not to brag, but to show what a confused person I am!

I asked for the price of a small block of Rama – 60M - right, I need 5, so how much is that again?  I tried to multiply in Portuguese, nothing came to mind.  I tried to count out the right amount, again nothing!  Why I didn’t just count and multiply in Afrikaans or English, I really don’t know!  So I just handed her my bundle of notes and hoped she would be honest!  She looked a bit curious at me and then asked “You did want only 5?”  “Yes”, i said, trying to sound intelligent but not succeeding.  Slowly she handed me back my excess notes….Hmmm, I had math up to grade 12 – and I did well in it!  Physics and Chemistry at University and I can’t multiply?

I once stood in a store where they only sold half liter milk cartons and I tried in vain to figure out if half a liter was cheaper than one liter – here buying in bulk costs often more, not less – so in the end I had to run outside and ask my dear patient husband what 22x2 was!!  And then, to my shame, I went in and said “This language is sooo easy!” (I meant to say difficult, but by that time I had confused everything!)  haha  I am sure a psychologist would quickly label me one way or the other!!

Division also seems to be a problem……this happened today after the “Rama” incident -  the man behind the counter told me the milk (again milk – maybe I have a thing about buying milk?) cost 360M and I just looked at him – stared actually, as I divided 360 by 6 – then he slowly said in a strong Indian-accented-English – three …. sixty.  I smiled and said in perfect Portuguese (just to show I was not a total idiot!), “Fine, I’ll take one box of milk at ….3….60” and handed over the money – this time the correct amount at least!

In my defense I can say this – with all the thoughts going through my mind as I try and do math I do understand why I am so clueless – here are some thoughts that race through my mind – Is the shop trustworthy?  Is the product fresh?  How long since this has expired?  Is this price so good because it has expired?  What is that funny smell?  Do I really need this?  When will we be in town again - how much should i buy?  How much is this in Rand?  How desperate am I for this product, etc, etc!! In short…..Shopping stress!!
 So, I have to admit that my brain just freezes when I have to count and multiply or divide under stress – I just cannot do it!  I rely heavily on the honesty of people around me, to help me along the way as I stumble and stutter.  

And so, I guess in more ways than one I am a fool for Christ!

Bella, who does NOT like shopping in any culture!

March 14, 2012

Being here

In all my various training (and all were very good!) I have never come across this subject “Your heart will break daily. And how to handle it.”  Never once.  But as I read Paul’s letters I see his heart breaking, I hear his agony over the new believers turning away.  Or the prophets living with people who refused to believe at all. Why then do we ignore this part?  It is kind of unavoidable!

Living amongst very poor, illiterate people who have never heard the Gospel has to touch you in some way.  So many times we just think of our mission like this:  swoop in, learn the language (if at all!) change them for the good and swoop out again.  It doesn’t work like that.  And maybe that is part of the problem here in Africa – modern missionaries are too detached – some not even living in the country where they “work”, others coming in in big campaigns and leaving again very quickly in their planes/4x4’s.  Coming in and doing something, with the emphasis on the DO.

Here I find a different scenario – living with the people focuses not on doing but really on being.  You are with them out here.  Sure you do, do stuff, but usually you can only do so much.  In living with them you see the suffering, the sick, the dying – and as this week is turning out, living through suffering on a daily basis!  To be is so much more heart breaking, than to do.  If you are doing something then you feel at least you are getting somewhere, doing things makes you feel good about yourself and what you are doing.  Being is not that at all.  Being is….well, against our nature and most times painful!  It is taking out your heart and holding it up, it is being vulnerable.  To be with people is to not about doing things - very hard for us westerners!  We like to see change!  We want to fix things!  We cannot sit still and simply BE.  And I think partly because it takes so much more to BE……
But back to my point - nowhere have I been (?) prepared for this – how to handle the being part.  How to react when nothing can be done to save a life, only sitting there next to the bereaved, simply being.  How do I handle it when the people have this very fatalistic view on life and death – it is simply not talked about.  How do I cope with funeral after funeral?  When nothing more can be DONE? (On the other hand, I wonder if a prospective missionary with stars in his/her eyes would be able to actually take this in?  Maybe it will scare more than half of them off in any case?)  This is what I find hard. 

In saying all of this I guess I am looking for answers myself – how to handle all of this….how to cope with it right here and now?  But as I turn to The Word, I am very much encouraged by God, when asked who He is – He didn’t say “I do this and I did that”, HE simply said “I AM”.  And although I might be mixing a few things up here all of this makes total sense to me.  He who is I AM, is with me and He sees my broken heart.  He too, was really with the people.


March 05, 2012

Love stories,,,,,

There is something about fairy tales, folk tales, legends that touch our hearts, isn’t there?  Why else would these stories be told over and over again?  There is something in the human heart that yearns for good to overcome evil, for justice to prevail, for love that lives happily ever after!
Take stories of where the prince falls in love with a mere servant or slave girl, someone who is not deemed worthy to be his bride, as one example.  I know analogies all fall short but if we don’t go too deep, doesn’t this kind if story show true love in all its glory?  No station in life or vocation can tear them apart although all evil obviously tries its very best!  And in the end love conquers!

In the same way to be loved by Jesus – the Prince of Peace, the Almighty God, King of kings – me, the beggar girl, the poor and unworthy slave loved by Jesus!  I am not worthy of His love, but still He loves me.  I can do nothing to impress Him, He already accepted me just as I am.  And He really, really loves me.  And evil will try and destroy that love – not from His side, but from….. my side!  Will the poor beggar girl keep on believing that the Prince really loves her?  Will she be swayed by popular belief that she is not capable of staying true or that she cannot be really and truly loved by anyone this amazing?
Or if she does enter into a relationship with The Prince, will she always doubt that He could really love her?  And as time goes by and she realizes that He knows everything about her, will the doubts return because she thinks that when people get to know her inside and out they could not possibly love her?  Or will she believe the Prince and take Him by His word?

Why is it so much easier to believe the lies the devil tells us than the Truth?  Why do we have to fight against it daily?  Could it be that we focus so much on ourselves and our own weaknesses (of which there are many!) and then so easily slip into believing lies, because we see daily evidence of our shortcomings…..or is it that the enemy knows that if we would stop believing the lies, he would be in real trouble here on earth and throws everything at us to keep us in this “submission”? 
The other night just before I fell asleep, after a really bad day, I suddenly saw and felt God looking down at me – just the way I look down at my sleeping children – a look filled with love overflowing, a love so deep, it hurts – and HE had that look when He looked down at me…..

He does really love me, the poor beggar girl, and I am transformed by Him!  Glory!

Bella, unworthy but still loved by the King.