Category Archives: Accompaniment

Being in Global Mission together with our brothers and sisters in other countries

reminded that I’m a foreigner

Serving abroad, for me, comes with the caution to not be ‘the foreigner who comes in thinking they know it all.’  It’s a temptation; after all, Christians here honor me as a missionary, thinking I’ve made great sacrifices in order to be here.  I have a masters degree from the USA, so I’m treated as a scholar.  I speak several languages, have some free time now that the boys are in school, and seem to have an endless amount of resources that could help the local church and people.

But I’m still so clueless.  This week I started on a project meant to help pastors with preaching and thinking about theology after they leave seminary.  A quarterly preaching newsletter that offers ideas for sermons, reflections on scripture texts, and a short theological piece.  For our first newsletter, Eric took two of the topics (the cross, and Easter) and I thought, I’ll cover the topic of doubt, using the story of “doubting Thomas.”

I went to the library and immediately found tons of material.  (Did you know Thomas meant “the twin”? Maybe doubt is a twin of worship – the two not opposites, but connected?)  On my way out of the library, with all my handy research, I asked a local student if people here talk about “Doubting Thomas.”  No, it turns out that there might not be a Malay word for doubt.  We could translate belief and unbelief, trust and distrust, but doubt to me is something in between  – “finding it hard to believe.”  Wanting to believe but hesitating.  That’s not as cut-and-dried as belief or unbelief.  It just didn’t translate.

And so I was plunged into again realizing that I am a foreigner.  I don’t know language or the art of translation; I don’t know what stories from Scripture are the biggies for people here; I don’t know how local theology approaches belief.  I end up feeling like I don’t know much.

But, I didn’t give up.  Today I went backwards: find a good story (Zacchaeus) and a theme in it (promises).  And I ended up having a lot of fun, downloading the Malay language Bible on my phone and writing a draft of a topic that I think will be at least comprehensible.  That’s the key in all of this, not giving up.  An arrow has to be pulled back, and back, and back, before it can be “flung forth” towards its target.  Yesterday I was a little down, today I’m a little hopeful.  Cade’s French lesson yesterday was “comme ci, comme ca.”  It comes, it goes.  Sometimes I feel right at home here, sometimes I feel like a clueless tourist.  The key is being open to the idea that tomorrow might be better.

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Country Coordinator … ?!?

We have news! In addition to Eric’s work as a seminary professor and leader at the still-somewhat-new Lutheran Centre at Sabah Theological Seminary, I have been asked by the ELCA to step into a new role: Interim Country Coordinator for the ELCA “YAGM” program in Malaysia.

YAGM stands for Young Adults in Global Mission, and Malaysia is one of 8 sites around the world that host Lutheran young adults in their 20s for a year of volunteer service. Sites include Argentina, Jerusalem, Madagascar, the U.K., and soon to be Rwanda, among others. It is a year of “being Church” in a new way for not only the young adults, but also the communities in which they serve. The current Malaysia country coordinator, fluent in Swahili, has been called to support the companion synod program between the St. Paul (MN) synod and Tanzania. He will use Swahili a lot more in Tanzania! Part of what I am learning is the variety of ways that the Lutheran Church approaches global mission – from national programs like YAGM, to synodical ventures like St.Paul-Tanzania, to long-term partnerships like ours at STS.

I am excited about this position – it seems like God’s hand in it when the ELCA found itself in need of – 1- an ordained ELCA pastor who -2- lives in Sabah, -3- speaks Bahasa Malaysia, -4-has a work visa (which are hard to come by), and -5-has met the young adults currently in country (I shared 2 weeks of language training with them in September). When the Church needs someone with those characteristics, and there is exactly one person in the world having them … well, it seems like God was making a way for the YAGM program to have a leader. The current coordinator will be in Sabah for another two months to coach me on all that I need to learn.

This *theoretically* still allows time for me to continue writing projects, while *happily* giving me reason to travel into the interior of Sabah as well as leading retreats throughout Southeast Asia. It also links me with communities in which I can learn more about life and faith in Malaysia. Together we can share the most Lutheran elements of the Gospel with communities who are only just now receiving Bibles and the Small Catechism translated into their language. New doors are opening through these resources, and new roads are waiting for me to travel as I support and learn with the generous young adults coming from the USA.

As a post-script – you can learn more about the YAGM program at www.ELCA.org. The ELCA is doing amazing things – you can learn a ton from surfing the ELCA page or from following it on Facebook. As a reminder – you can follow our blog or facebook page – just google Flung Forth Anew & you’ll find us! Remember to click “follow” here to be alerted when a new blog post is shared. It’s not too many e-mails – we promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site visit #1 – visiting YAGM Evan at the school where he teaches English to immigrant (undocumented) children. These are the staff with whom he works & lives. In the center you’ll see Peter Harritts, outgoing coordinator, who built the YAGM program in Malaysia. I find that I will be meeting many people and learning about the amazing work that they do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This picture was on the wall at another YAGM volunteer site. I took it to mean me – joining in this mission. But I hope you read it as YOU and know that by supporting ELCA Global Mission with your prayers, donations, and love, that you are reaching kids who need to know that there is a place for them. In today’s “glocal” world, connections abound.

Video

ELCA Presiding Bishop’s message includes a Shout-Out to Malaysia

Recently, each synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – having 65 synods) watched this video at their annual Assembly. So many people have excitedly told me about the stories of the Church in Malaysia being shared in the video. If you wonder what the ELCA is doing to “Change and Save Lives” in the USA and beyond, watch this video.

Playing “Half the Sky” with my boys

Today is Sunday. The Sabbath. A day to rest and recover, to recharge for the rest of the week. We went to worship at a Church that meets in our apartment building and got home by 11:30 and promptly turned on all our screens. Some days I’m sad when we are all attached to screens, but today we needed the rest. My husband turned on his baseball-league-managing game. The kids were transfixed by a reprogramming of the Masters golf tournament. I settled in to catch up on facebook. Ahhhh…. Peace.

A friend on Facebook had invited me to play a game. It’s called “Half the Sky” and it is based on a book of the same title,

about how women hold up half the sky –caring for their homes, their communities, daily making small improvements and investments and using their creativity to find empowerment to change their world. The game starts with a mother whose daughter is sick, but she cannot afford a doctor or medicine. She collects mangoes from her garden, sells them for money, barters them for a ride to the hospital, and trades her hours waiting there for the medical services that will save her daughter’s life. The game has drawings with dialogue, simple but fun games to play; it donates real immunizations and books as you play, and through all of it, it makes you think.

Soon the boys were playing along with me. I love that they were so focused on the female characters (click here: author ratios for why female voices are so often lacking). I asked Dante if it seemed fair to him that the women were getting all the attention – and though he is usually all about fairness meaning exact equality, he seemed to understand why it was important that the women in the story are being empowered.

Then we played part of the game where you get to collect books in a game. We talked about places near us that are just like the game – needing books, and specifically books in the right language (not only English!). There is a school for immigrant children just down the hill from us, and another school run by the owner of a jungle lodge we’ve visited, that are both in desperate need of basic supplies, including books. Imagine a school with no library – or a whole community with no library. As a US American, that seems almost impossible. Maybe there are such deserts in inner cities or on First Peoples’ reservations. That is the point of the Half the Sky game – to lead your thoughts down these paths, to make improving a community seem both possible and needful. It makes you look around where you life and see either how much you have, or where needs exist. Near us, an immigrant island had a suspicious fire last week where 200 homes burned down – probably 1,500 people lost their homes. Our kids went through our things and sent many clothes, toys, and we especially included a few picture books. It has new meaning to us, playing this game and interacting with our world.

The next stage of the game is based on microfinance loans. Muhummad Yunus won a Nobel prize for starting a bank that would loan small amounts to people in poverty, because even the smallest gains made by the loan recipients meant so much to their family and gains trickle through the whole community. Today Kiva.org is a microfinance powerhouse. You loan $25 (US dollars) and choose the recipient. Loans are paid back within 18-24 months. As a new pastor, I had loaned $50 of my own money, letting the youth of our congregation choose the recipients. Since then I’ve re-loaned the money as it was paid back, and have loaned to 13 different individuals/groups, to expand their market stalls, buy a motorbike for a taxi business, build a barn for livestock, buy materials for their tailoring business. So as we played in the game, we opened a window to Kiva and looked back at the people who we’ve loaned to. The last loan we made was to a woman in the Philippines – little did we know she would practically be our neighbour in our new land. Off we went to Google maps, where you can make the little man walk all over the land on the map.

Up popped a congratulations screen on the game – this time with several flags. The boys have a flags-of-the-world poster and went to identify the flags. One of them was from Kenya, which led to looking at the pictures of our missionary friends in Kenya, Mike and Leslie Fonner. Their picture is one of many in a collage on our dining room table, with a clear plastic tablecloth over it, so as we eat, we connect to our friends and family around the world.

From the game, we wandered through flags, gender issues, empty libraries, Kiva loans, and what the Philippines look like. And I realize just how rich my kids’ life is. I wonder what they will do, growing up with so many connections and so many supports (because we couldn’t live this life without the love of family, the Church here and at home, the schools the came from and to, and probably a hundred other things that I take for granted each day).

And though I am excited for my kids, I also know that what I really feel is my own self being changed. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get extra US books to these immigrant schools, and whether English books are helpful or if there is another path that needs to be trodden – to get books in Bahasa Malaysia to kids in need. I think about how much we have (when we came with only 2 suitcases each – we still have enough to share). I think of the families rebuilding homes after fires. I begin to see more than my portion of the sky – to explore connections to Half the Sky.

See where your adventure takes your head, heart, and life: https://www.facebook.com/HalftheGame.

My favourite word: Fling

A lot of people don’t listen to the words in music. I remember once being in the car with Eric, singing along to a song that said, “I don’t care whose ring you wear, ’cause as long as no one knows then nobody can care” (Uncle Kracker). Yikes! Who could actually sing that to someone? It’s a great song, but every time I hear it, I think, Yikes.

So I’m clearly a person who cares about the words of songs. The right wording at the right moment in the song brings me elation. When the words and music match, I remember how music opens us up to the divine, and I am so grateful. Even when I’m listening to the blues, I am gladdened. It doesn’t have to make sense (but please, try to make the lyrics of your songs make sense. Please.)

For years one of my favourite parts of Christmas is hearing the words of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The whole song is evocative of how we long for peace, for rest, for hope as the generations unfold and year turns to year. But my favourite line is: “…when peace shall over all the world it’s ancient splendors fling; and the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.”

It’s my favourite because I always have the image of angels flinging peace, like bits of golden glitter, over all the world. Maybe like pixie dust, or the twinkling of stars, or just like big handfuls of glitter. You know, if glitter gets on you or your stuff, you will never get it out. It’s powerful stuff. A camp counsellor at Mar-Lu-Ridge once glittered the sleeping bags of the male staff quarters one summer, and I bet those bags are still sparkling. That is probably why I imagine peace being tossed over the world like glitter – because it is beautiful at first, and because it has staying power that no one expects. That is how I want to imagine the peace of God that passes all understanding.

Our blog is called Flung Forth Anew because we want to be like that glitter, like that peace – tossed all over the earth, with gifts that not only make beautiful the ministries we land in, but that after we have served, that changes will last, both in sites where we go and in our hearts when we return home. We trained with ELCA volunteers going to Nairobi, Kenya; Tokyo, Japan; Ethiopia; Cameroon; and with our leaders who are centered in Chicago, Illinois – and the ELCA has volunteers both in 1-year and long-term positions in more than 90 countries. We are flung across the globe. And with each new place that we visit or serve, we are made new, our eyes sparkle with the connections between people and ministries and organizations.

In the hymn, ancient splendors are flung forth anew into today’s world so that the whole world can give back the song which the angels sing. May all of us, wherever we have landed, be a sparkle in the Father’s eye, a force for peace in the world, and glitter that catches people’s eye so that they want to explore God’s kingdom and live into God’s reign of peace.

A little like Jonah

Caedmon makes a wish with a dandelion.

Way back, before we started thinking about becoming missionaries, the Rhyme Bible was preparing us.  If you’ve got kids in your life, you should learn about the Rhyme Bible – most kids have theirs memorized.  And for us, Caedmon’s favorite story was about Jonah.  “God said to Jonah, ‘I have a little task.  Get up and go to Ninevah, and do what I ask.  The people there are wicked, so tell them to obey, but Jonah got on board a ship, and sailed the other way.”  And our kids shout, “Ut-oh, Jonah, you should’ve gone to Ninevah!”

So when things started falling into place for us to become missionaries, we had the Jonah story ringing in our ears.  It wasn’t so much about being afraid of God sending us a storm or a big fish – we know God works through more than fear.  It was a sense of being sent, and of what happened to Jonah after the fish.  He went to Ninevah, expecting no one to pay him any heed – but the people there responded about 100 times more passionately than he was ready for.  It was like the people there were hungry for a message, and when God sent Jonah to them, it wasn’t so much about Jonah’s work as it was the people being prepared by God, for God.

And so as we head to Malaysia, we feel a little like Jonah.  Honored (if quite nervous) by being chosen; curious (to see what God is already doing); and hopefully, humble, because though the Rhyme Bible talked about people being wicked, the story then and now is about people needing connection to God.  And having talked and prayed together, our family believes that God has already put things in motion in the Church in Malaysia.  We are excited to get there and meet the active people of God, and learn about all of God’s children there.  And like Jonah (if you read to chapters 3 and 4) we expect to learn a whole lot about ourselves and how much we rely on God’s living word.  Our hope is to be a little like Jonah – maybe skipping the fish guts part and hopefully finding joy in serving God and the Church.

Which answer do you want?

Trozzo’s with Global Mission director Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

During our preparation to be sent as missionaries, we had a time of Q & A with our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson.  One fellow asked a question (I can’t remember what) which the bishop reflected back to him.  His response was perfect:  “Which answer do you want, the neat one or the crazy one?”

I think that’s a fair question, for all of us.  What kind of life do you want?  What kinds of relationships do you want?  What brings you joy, what soothes you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

For a lot of us, our days are spent putting things in order.  If it’s not in order at the end of the day, it may mean a sleepless night.  It takes everything we have to “let go and let God” even for 8 hours.  Things being out of order means we don’t have the neat answer that would, I think, feel *so* good and be *so* easy.

But since we’ve become missionaries (the kind that have a plane ticket and a passport), so many people have not only laughed with us about the craziness of moving to the other side of the world, but they’ve talked about the times when their life wasn’t neat, times when things felt risky, and yes, crazy.  They’ve talked about where they saw God in the mess.

So which answer do we ultimately seek – the neat one, or the crazy one?  Well, of course it’s both.  We need order in order to function, and we need for life to have surprises.  And sometimes, what seems neat is actually all kinds of under-the-surface crazy, and what seems crazy is actually an elegant step or solution.  Either way, we are not the ultimate, and we are not in charge.  God is in all of the answers, and God is in the questions as well.your comfort zone/ where the magic happens