America the great

Disclosure: I have no interest in a debate (there’s enough of that going on) especially in any forum online or through social media. This is merely an attempt to express my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. I’m writing to exercise my freedom of speech. 

As many are expressing, I’m deeply troubled about the upcoming presidential election.  I’m not a historian, political analyst, or sociologist (although that is probably one of the lenses I’m coming at this from since I graduated with a Sociology major). I am a Christian, wife, missionary, teacher, traveler, writer, American. I’m coming at this through these lenses too.

I’m not entirely sure who I’ll vote for when it comes down to it; but I do know I will vote; and I do know who I will not be voting for.

What has me feeling uncomfortable, frightened, and flabbergasted, is this whole notion of ‘Making America great again.’ What does this mean exactly? You mean the great America that chased Native Americans from their own land? You mean the great America whose Puritans executed women by burning them at the stake? You mean the great America that advocated for slavery, discrimination, and segregation? You mean the great America that idolizes sports figures and lusts over celebrities? You mean the great America who endorses those who claim they want to ‘protect our borders’ and ‘keep em’ out’ at all costs? You mean the great America that wants freedom- but only if that freedom aligns with the values of one particular party or class? You mean the great America that wants to bring God back, so we can affix the label of “Christian Nation” to ourselves once again, only to banish or deport anyone who doesn’t ascribe to that label?

This. This is what I fear.  America becoming ‘great’ again. Actually, I think America as a ‘great nation’ is a faint notion.  Maybe we had our day back in the early 20th century, when we allied ourselves with nations around the globe to stop the spread of fascism. Or maybe it was when we gave women the vote. Or maybe it was in the dawn of the space age. Regardless of when it was, or if it was, perhaps now, America is on its way out. History shows us that while nations rise, they also fall.  During the Cold War, America was seen as one of two superpowers, the other being the Soviet Union.  Are we at all disillusioned in believing America is ‘the Superpower.‘ Or worse, that it should be? With Superpower mentality, authoritarian rule is not far behind (Russia, China anybody?) History reminds us that these empires began with what were once great Superpowers in their day:

The Persian empire (550-330 BC), the Byzantine empire (330-1453) the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the British Empire (1603-1997), the Third Reich (1933-1945).

Maybe this sounds very unpatriotic, but I’ve traveled enough, lived enough places, and met enough people to realize I’m not just a U.S. citizen; I’m a global citizen.  Jesus didn’t lend himself to any one particular nation.  God doesn’t just care about what happens to Americans. He cares about what happens to South Africans, Syrians, Nigerians, Afghans, Mexicans, Cubans, Burmese, Russians, and so on. As a missionary, the plight of the world’s citizens concern me, not just my country’s.  As a missionary and a Christian, one of my greatest concern these days is religious freedom. Not just for myself, but for others as well.

Through a sociological lens, I am seeing the upcoming election in a much broader scope. In my studies, I remember learning about other times when fear rhetoric was used to compel people to rally behind something or someone they believed would offer protection.  But there’s a cost for this protection. The truth is, when you succumb to fear, or resign yourself to support a person, a cause, or an ideology as a result of fear, it always backfires.

These quotes sum up my thoughts well:

“One of the saddest chapters in the history of Christianity is how the courageous church of the martyrs became — with the help of the state — a fearful and persecuting church. Under Charlemagne, the punishment for refusing to be baptized into the Catholic faith was death. Conversion at the point of the sword became a cultural norm”

“A government that can shut down a mosque can shut down a church. A president who insults entire categories of human beings with impunity will not hesitate to attack any religious community that dares to criticize him.”

-quotes from Joseph Loconte, assoc. professor of history and contributor to the Washington Post.

New Year New Direction

This week we are excited to share with you the new direction we believe God is moving us.
Recently, we were put in touch with missionaries who have been praying for team mates.  They’ve been working beyond their capacity, and are in desperate need of help. Every day they’re turning people away from their ministry because they don’t have the human capital they need. What a shame to turn people away, people who could be followers of Jesus. This doesn’t have to happen!

As this need was shared with us, we felt called to respond and go.  Our prayers have also affirmed us. We’ve been praying to be a part of a team. We’ve been praying that for our first term we could join veteran missionaries in furthering the gospel.  We’ve been praying about teaching as our primary ministry platform. And we’ve been praying that this would take place in a Spanish-speaking country.

Well, about two hours west of Madrid, Spain is perhaps just the right opportunity.  The missionaries who have asked for our help are ministering in a region of the country where over half of the population are immigrants. Of those that are immigrants, most are Moroccan Muslims.

Immigrants are leaving North Africa in droves.  Spain is the second most highly emigrated nation in the world.  Meaning after the U.S., more immigrants resettle in Spain every year than anywhere else. Some seek refuge, others seek better opportunities through jobs.  Many need to learn English or Spanish, or both.

We are passionate about this for several reasons. This is a direct ask for us to come and use our skills and experience as teachers of English.   There’s need down the road for small business development, and lots of entrepreneurship potential. There is an INCREDIBLE opportunity to share Jesus with the UNREACHED.  And then there’s this: at this point in history, when there’s more migrant movement than at any other time, Europe may just be “the place” to reach the Muslim world. Here, maybe we can help bridge west and east, Christianity and Islam, Christians and Muslims. How humbling to be part of the reconciliation story between these two groups of people.
That old adage is true: “when God closes one door, He opens another.”

As we move towards this, here are a few important steps in our timeline.

  • Jan-Feb 2016- Finish out our ministry roles at NMSI’s home office
  • March 2016- Visit Central Spain; Begin Visa process; TESOL certification
  • April-May 2016- 4-6 weeks of field training for cross-cultural ministry (Center for Intercultural Training, North Carolina)
  • Summer 2016- Finish fundraising if needed, register for language school (in Spain), proposal for ministry development due to NMSI
  • July/Aug/Sep 2016- Say our goodbyes, prepare for deployment, move to the field as soon as we have visas

Ways we’d love to partner with you:

  1. Pray. For each other, undoubtedly, our greatest source of power.
  2. Be relational. Let’s be friends! Let’s encourage and admonish one another in our walks of faith!
  3. Give. Monthly, to sustain a long-term commitment, or one-time gifts to help with start-up costs.
  4. Go. On mission, whether that’s globally or locally. Engage others with the gospel.
  5. Connect.  In church, small group, or among friends or family who share a heart for Jesus.

Thanks for journeying with us.  We are eternally grateful to you and the vital part you play in this ministry. We would love to hear from you and how we can be walking with you in your faith this year. How can we be praying for you?

CLICK HERE to partner with the Hemming ministry!

Two Americans in Cuba

Our “taxi” for the week, stopped along the way from Holguin to Santiago for coconut water

Justin and I recently returned from Cuba. It’s approximately 90 miles from Key West and took just a little over an hour to get there from Miami.  It’s so close, yet so far away. Cuba is unlike any other place Justin and I have ever visited….and we travel a lot.

Our purpose in going to Cuba was to survey the country’s viability for future ministry.  To aid in our assessment, we were asking 3 main questions: what’s the market and political climate like, what’s the church doing, and what needs do they have?

Our scope was limited to two major cities in the eastern part of the island: Santiago and Holguin.  Both have roots as Spanish colonial cities. We didn’t visit any part of the western island, including Havana, but feel we got a good representation in the east.

From the airport, we were picked up in a two-toned turquoise/white, 1956 Ford, with lime green interior.  It was fantastic.  Essentially, this was our “taxi” for the week.  Owned by a local pastor, he graciously allowed his son Ornello to drive us to and fro as needed.  Other forms of transportation included motorcycle taxi (a little scary when my helmet wouldn’t clasp) and horse and buggy (yes this is even more popular in Holguin than in Amish country). Transportation alone made you feel as if you stepped back into time.

Revolution Square, Santiago
Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (or Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption)

Our first destination, Santiago, was a hilly city, full of character.  We wove in and out of small cobblestone streets on foot and were able to take in quite a bit of the city’s history, such as Revolution Square, numerous colonial era buildings, a beautiful blue cathedral, and lots of local shops, uniquely Cuban. In Santiago we stayed with a Cuban family in their small but quaint home.  We had luxuries like running water, electricity, and our own room, rare considering many Cubans dwell in small spaces with multiple generations.  We even had an electric water heater- which Justin refused to use (picture a coiled light bulb with a cord coming out one end, which you submerge under water for about 5 minutes until water boils) Perfectly safe!


Holguin, another colonial influenced city, was very flat. Hence the mode of transit here was the horse and buggy (which only cost a few cents to ride!). Of particular interest to me was the city’s cemetery.  When I asked to see this, our friend Carlos just kept saying, “Really, the cemetery? You American is crazy.” The tombs were beautifully white-washed, ornate, and mostly Catholic iconic. Some of the tombs for Spanish settlers, dated back to the mid 1700s!

In Holguin we stayed with a local couple and their baby, but in a much smaller space.  There are pros and cons to staying with locals when you travel.  On the one hand, you generally get a much more authentic and hospitable experience, which we certainly did.  On the other hand, you may not sleep for 4 nights because what you hear out your window at night are neighbors blasting music til 3 a.m., a cat in heat, dog fights, and roosters crowing in the wee hours of the morning. The bucket baths and flushes weren’t a ton of fun either.

The “hill of the cross” in Holguin….over 450 steps! 

While there was much beauty, and some of the stunning architecture tricks you into thinking you’re strolling somewhere through Europe, Cuba’s poverty is not hard to find. People live on an average of $20 per month.  Foods such as rice and beans are subsidized, but many foods beyond that, are expensive. Speaking of food, I personally was not impressed.  Rice and Beans are the staple, and while we had some variations with lentils and yuka, overall the food was a bit blah.  One of my least favorite foods was the ham and cheese sandwich.  This is found everywhere and often they’re left out for days until they sell.  The ham is reminiscent of spam, and I have no idea what kind of cheese it is. One was enough for me. Thankfully, at different points we were able to introduce a little pork, and a little fruit into our diet. While it wasn’t great, I am grateful our meals were prepared for us, and they did certainly try to please our palates.

Back to my earlier thoughts. One Cuban said despairingly, “A man will work hard all his life, and have nothing to show for it.”  In Cuba, working hard to work your way up simply doesn’t happen.  Wealth is taken out of the country.  Those who have money, leave, and they take their wealth with them.  Too many shops are closed.  One man told us Cubans are not good consumers. Either way, it’s a vicious cycle that affects sellers and customers, or rather the lack thereof. Not a great climate for small businesses or your average entrepreneur.

Transportation in Holguin

Religion in Cuba is a hodge-podge of Protestant (Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, etc.), Catholic, Santeria, and like anywhere, a lot of nominal believers at that. However the Church we saw is a bright spot. The bulk of our time was spent listening to, talking with, and meeting pastors, youth leaders, seminary teachers, and church staff. We absorbed a lot of information and asked a lot of questions (with the help of translators- though our Spanish was getting good by the end of the week!). One of our main take aways was that the Church is actually thriving in Cuba.  They have a strong presence, strong leadership and sound structures which put them in a good position to continue training leaders and planting churches.  Many want to be pastors and missionaries, and the Church could always use more resources to support full-time Cuban missionaries or pay pastors full-time salaries, but it is evident God is very much alive and moving in this nation.

Beautiful “playas” (beaches) in Guardalavaca, Holguin

Cuba is a beautiful country. Gorgeous terrain, green mountains, lush valleys, sculpted farmland, pristine beaches, interesting cities, and beautiful people. Most of all, beautiful people.  I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting my first communist country, but I suppose I assumed that all people would be staunch-faced, and on the lookout for anyone who behaved outside their conformity. What I found was the opposite.  People were warm, friendly, and excited to share their country with us.  We got our fair share of “stares” in large crowds, but I imagine what they were really thinking was nothing like what I thought they were thinking. Cuba is a difficult place to live, even for Cubans. It’s unpretentious in that what you see is what you get.  Tourism doesn’t seem to have robbed this country of its soul.  Yet.

Because in 5-10 years Cuba could look completely different, I’m so glad we went now.  When this country gets its first Starbucks or McDonalds, it will forever be changed.

Thanks Cuba, for allowing us to experience all of your raw, undefined, and complicated beauty.

With new friends, Carlos & Madelin outside their home in Holguin




Metaphors of God: Bread & Vine

Continuing with Winner’s ideas of metaphors for God, bread and vines have much to say about God.


When we think about bread, the metaphor is quite straightforward. Bread represents the broken body of Christ; and vines, which bring forth grapes to produce wine, represent the blood Christ shed during his crucifixion. This is integral to our understanding of communion.

How does your church offer communion? Do they provide wafers and juice like most churches? I once visited a church where a stale wafer and small juice cup were pre-packaged as one and served to the masses. How did it taste going down? About as great as it sounds.  Stale and sugary. Our church provides some type of salted, herb cracker and juice. Several weeks ago I was preparing communion for a service during one of our programs. Instead of going for the wafer/cup combo, I brought home-made, whole wheat biscuits. I tore them into pieces and placed them on a plate next to a wine glass (which was filled with juice- because, well, the American Christian church hasn’t quite made the leap to wine yet).  Our participants came forward and dipped their chunk of biscuit into the juice and ate.

I’m not interested in changing church traditions, or suggesting we are there to indulge our taste buds, but is it out of the question to enjoy communion?  Could the point be to remember AND to enjoy? I will go out on a limb here and say that Jesus not only wanted his disciples to remember him during the last supper, but also to enjoy a last meal among friends.

Bread is visible throughout scripture.  It is the most basic of food, yet it curbs hunger like nothing else. God provides manna for the wandering Israelites, oil and flour cakes to feed hungry prophets, and Jesus breaks bread at his own final supper.  Here bread was provision, satiation from hunger.  We (American Christians) are not hungry when we take communion, so the point becomes about remembrance,  about accepting an invitation to sit down to dinner with God. When we go to a dinner party, we remember when food tastes really, really good. Wouldn’t we remember Jesus better if he were a chocolate croissant? An apple streusel muffin top? A rosemary ciabatta bun? An asiago sage scone? Or even a simple yeast loaf?


I grew up in a church where drinking alcohol was prohibited.  It is unclear whether the message was drunkenness is sinful, or drinking is sinful.  Either way, I learned alcohol is wrong. Many Christians grow up this way unfortunately. I get the slippery slope of the vine, that drinking often leads to drunkenness, which is good for no one. I have been “drunk” exactly twice in my life. Once on a bottle of wine at my own goodbye party, the other on champagne and an empty stomach at a fancy wedding. Neither time was pleasant, and I have no desire or intention to repeat that.

Some churches go to the other extreme. My friend wrote to me about all the hipster churches in DC where pastors talk about drinking from the pulpit. She writes, “The way it comes out is almost like a high schooler boasting about a weekend of binging because it’s young people who grew up in a faith tradition that didn’t mingle drinking with God.”

Isn’t it interesting the church sits on such a wide spectrum when it comes to the vine? Why do so many Christians refuse to drink the symbol that Christ himself chose? Christ did in fact drink wine, so can’t we carve enough room in our churches to discuss bringing wine into communion? Church leaders are often gauged on whether or not they’re against alcohol. My husband often says, “it’s a shame Christians are often known for what we’re against, rather than what we’re for.”

As with bread, wine as the blood of Christ metaphor is straightforward.  Winner’s metaphor breaks down a bit for me when she dives into being inebriated with Christ. Though, I can appreciate the point she is trying to make:

“It sounds like the excess of falling in love with your college sweetheart, only moreso and as in Song of Songs inebriation seems the right metaphor. This is why Jesus is hymned not as grape juice but as wine; because He is dangerous and excessive. He is more than you will need, and He is more than pleasure, and if you attend to Him, you will find so much there that you will be derailed completely.  And you will think your heart might break. And then…He will withdraw and you will be miserable and sick until He returns.” 

Jesus, in excess, can be dangerous. In your inebriation, He will make you do crazy things like give up the American dream and move to a communist country.

The metaphors of body and blood are obvious.  What’s more subtle are indulgence and inebriation. When we indulge to “taste that the Lord is good” and inebriate ourselves in His love and radical call, we find ourselves fully satisfied at his table, or miserable without Him.

Metaphors of God: Clothing

A good friend and I together just finished reading Lauren Winner’s new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God.  If you are reading this, it’s unlikely you have read or will read her book (though I recommend you do), so I will strive to give you a snapshot here, as well as several personal reflections that may inspire or challenge or frustrate your current understanding of God. Winner certainly did that for me. And I appreciate her for it.

Have you ever thought about the ways in which we describe God? Thought about the metaphors we ascribe to Him? Father, Savior, King, Judge.  These are some of the most common metaphors we know. What do you notice about them? For starters, they are powerful. They are masculine. They exude a certain kind of authority.  But what about clothing? Laughter? Smell? Bread & Vines? Fire? A woman in labor? I’ll go on a limb here and say these are not the first metaphors that come to mind when we picture God.  However, each of these metaphors is used in scripture as God, to describe God, or to reveal characteristics of God to His people.  In this series of blogs, I’m going to focus on one metaphor per blog for the next 5 nights.


Think about the “clothe yourselves with….” passages in Scripture. These verses literally mean “to put on” the things of God. Things like compassion, humility, kindness, righteousness. What does it mean to be clothed in righteousness? When we “wear” these things, in a very real sense, we are wearing God.  Let’s also think about the practicality of clothing.  Clothing provides warmth and protection from abrasive elements.  It provides security and conceals our vulnerability (nakedness).  I believe this is why God gifted Adam and Eve with clothing as they left the garden.

Clothing also communicates something about who we are, and how we feel.  What I call my “style” is simply another way of non-verbally saying how I feel about who I am on a particular day. When I am really sensing my “extra baggage” so to speak, I want to be in comfy, pajama like clothing- long, loose fitting, soft cotton. Clothing that comforts, as God comforts.  When I have been properly exercising, watching my carb intake, and drinking plenty of water, then I wear a fitted shirt and pencil skirt that hug my curves and communicate my confidence.  Wearing God gives me confidence.  When I want people to see me as a “do-gooder” and subsequently admire me, I wear one of my promoting a hunger free Africa, or stop trafficking young girls in Asia advocacy t-shirts. In my clothing, I can stand for things, as God stands for many things.

Clothing also creates barriers.  In Europe, Priests, Friars and Nuns wear clothing that indicate a closed, cloistered status.  Burmese people dress in modest, simple longyis. When I lived there I wore sun-dresses. In Liberia, women wear vibrant lapas that hug every curve. I wore mostly muted colors that were loose and breathed against my skin. Japanese people dress for success. I got more than enough wear out of jeans and a flannel button up shirt. Clothing was always a barrier overseas. And it’s just the same in America. Prisons across this country require that men and women wear uniform jumpsuits.  When one is in a prison, one stands out. Clothing creates barriers.

My friend who read the book with me reminded me about a commercial on TV for an online service, something similar to Angie’s List. My friend wrote, “The Angie’s List woman is dressed with cropped boot leg style khakis and a loose fitting cardigan. The woman promoting the new online service is wearing skinny jeans and a tailored shirt.  They are making Angie’s List look dated simply by comparing the clothing of the women. So what does it mean that we are clothed in righteousness? How can I learn to see that when I look in the mirror, rather than my own perceived measuring of success and failure?”

Clothing says a lot.  About us, and about God. If we are willing to see clothing as a metaphor for God, then I believe we are a little closer to understanding much about how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how deeply God values us, to put us in His cherished animal skin garments.

His are the hands that stitched together the first clothes, and He is the One who clothes.

Life in Myanmar, so far!

It’s been a little over three weeks since arriving in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma, for those of you who are old school). It’s taken me a bit to feel “settled,” get over jet lag, and get my bearings. Yangon is a large, fast-paced, evolving city. My constant is having my guy here. He has been tremendous in helping me assimilate and feel “at home.”

Myanmar is interesting. It’s a predominantly Buddhist culture, but also a post-conflict, post-military-dictatorial society. Seems a bit against the odds doesn’t it that I would end up working and living in two post-conflict cultures back to back. But then I guess almost every culture is post-conflict on some level, if you look back far enough. With Myanmar though, it is a bit jarring that Buddhism and conflict would merge in the same place. But every country has a dark side, and every religion does too.

Speaking of religion, Burmese people seem to be very religious. It’s predominantly Buddhist, but there are a hefty percentage of Muslims and Christians. In fact, at the school where I work, there are three managing directors; ironically, the American director is Buddhist, one of the Burmese directors is Christian, and the other Burmese director is Muslim. They appear to work together quite harmoniously. If you can imagine that.

Outside my apartment complex every morning, and earlier than I would prefer on my off days, there’s a call to prayer over a loud speaker. When I’m up and about I can hear my neighbors chanting, and when I pass by various shops and residences in my area, I observe folks praying. Anywhere in the city, you’re bound to see monks in burgundy or pink robes go about their daily life. People hustle and bustle about their day, but in one way or another, pay homage to their religion.

A week or so ago, I visited the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous temple or shrine in Yangon with SP friends. Varieties of little Buddhas and dragon characters pop up all over the complex. The pinnacle bell is covered in gold, and really big diamonds sit at the top. It’s massive, it’s ornate, it’s over the top. We walked through the complex marveling at “all that glitters is gold.” But despite the undeniable beauty and craftsmanship, it felt overwhelmingly sad. Here’s all this…..for nothing. I mean it’s beautiful and all, but it’s straight up idolatry. Buddhism seems peaceful and tranquil when compared to practices like voodoo or animism or even extreme Islam, and so we may tend to think of it as less threatening.

I have at least. But perhaps it’s just because their idolatry is more subtle. Underneath that tranquil expression of devotion is a soul in dire unrest, so distant from the true God, the true Source. Much as the wandering Israelites were.

Yangon is a melting pot of foreigners and locals now, which wasn’t the case a few years back. The country has just opened its doors, and there’s a lot pouring in. At times it’s fun to experience the truly local, indigenous culture, and other times, I just need my Starbucks. Well, actually they don’t have Starbucks here, but there are a few places that come close I suppose.

There are things about local culture I love, and things I loathe. I love the people, most of whom seem to be very kind in their hearts. I love the smell of garlic and oil sizzling on the street carts, and even though I haven’t been brave enough to eat street food yet, it does smell really appealing. Another thing I love is the simplicity and functionality of things. No need for frills and fluff when most people live on a few bucks a day. I love the women’s colorful wraps and dress, and appreciate the modesty they show. I like Burmese music surprisingly, and there are enough places I can go to feel “normal” that at times, it doesn’t seem so “foreign” here. I’ve also been told it’s one of the safest cities to live in, and up to this point, I have no reason to disagree with that.

Loathe is a strong word I realize, but I LOATHE getting around this city. The traffic is terrible, and really just an unpleasant experience in general. In Japan I took the train everywhere. It was clean, efficient, and easy to figure out. In Liberia, I drove everywhere, or rode as a passenger which was really easy and comfortable. Here, I take taxis everywhere. So every ride begins with negotiating over price, then waiting to see if the driver wants to take me there. Sometimes he doesn’t because my work is so far from where I live, then I have to start all over again. On occasion I’m lucky and get to ride in a clean, air-conditioned cab, but most of the time it’s a run-down, rickety old station wagon with no A/C and a driver who chews and spits red betel juice out the window. Even at 8 o’clock in the morning when the sun is out, it’s sweltering, and the 1 hour cab ride to work leaves me drenched in sweat! Then there’s the traffic congestion on top of that! A surplus of cars and drivers, and a lack of road space and infrastructure to support it all, is a big problem for Yangon. Another thing I loathe is feeling dirty. The apartment where I’m staying is clean, but the area surrounding it is essentially a big mud hole, and my feet are disgusting any time I walk outside. And if I’m not dodging mud holes, I’m trying to dodge disease-ridden stray dogs, which are everywhere! At times, I think how did I ever complain about living in Liberia?! I joked with one of my old housemates recently, that for third-world countries, we really had it made there!


I would be remiss if I didn’t end by saying that this is where I chose to be. This place, while different and difficult at times, is where I get to watch my fiancé shape lives and be shaped into the man who will lead our ministry someday. This is where we get to explore and assimilate and face the challenges of overseas living together. This is where I am blessed to receive full-time work for just three months.

This is where I enjoy my work and the students I interact with every day. Where the locals I am meeting are warm and friendly and helpful. Where I am reminded yet again of God’s heart for the poor. Where Justin and I find ourselves surrounded by a solid faith community, comprised of locals and expats alike. Where we are growing as a couple and laying the groundwork for our marriage. Where we are sharing one more adventure, before our BIG adventure. I am blessed to be here, and more updates and pictures to come as I find the time…..and the internet speed!

Coping with transition

Sometimes, you find yourself in limbo. That in-between period, when you’re just waiting, about to walk through transition, not entirely sure where you’re headed next.

For me, it’s been like that since April. It started when I had to evacuate Liberia due to the Ebola outbreak, traveled around Europe, got engaged, traveled around Europe some more, came back to Liberia, welcomed a new roommate, said goodbye to another, and am now mentally preparing for my big exit, and subsequently, my next big step.

Although most of our team did not want to leave Liberia in April, I have to admit, I was ready to. On top of needing a break, and missing my fiance, that whole deadly virus thing was also a little alarming. My main fear, I’m a little ashamed to say, was not that Ebola would wreak havoc and leave a high death toll in its wake, but that it would spur further travel restrictions which might prevent me from leaving the country- meaning after months apart, I wouldn’t be able to meet up with my long-distance boyfriend. I was also at the mercy of my supervisors.  If they asked me to stay and be part of the relief efforts, how could I refuse? The days leading up to the evacuation decision, “do we stay or do we go”  were ridden with anxiety.

So naturally, I had a meltdown in front of my boss- like, literally, I sobbed in front of him.  Thankfully, he was patient and gentle with me. I admired him greatly in that moment. Serving in the field as long as he has, he learned to cope well with the many transitions our organization has faced in a developing context.

Shortly after that conversation, I did leave Liberia. I flew to London, and spent the next week there.  It was refreshing to shop, visit cafes, eat scones, peruse museums, and walk walk walk, soaking in the vastness of London’s finest. I was having a great time. Liberia felt a world away, and that left me feeling guilty, as many of our team remained there responding to a devastating viral outbreak.

After a week in London, I flew to Prague.  When I walked out of the arrivals gate, and saw my boyfriend’s face after months apart, things felt right again. My “normal” had returned. It’s funny how a person stabilizes you.  It felt too good to be in his arms again, and we relished the next 10 days together, lavishing each other with love, laughs, and talks of our upcoming marriage. Oh yea- he proposed to me on that trip, like, in front of a castle, in Prague, did I mention that?

Our time in Prague was precious, but altogether too short.  Soon Justin went on to his new destination, Myanmar.  I left the next day and returned to London. This time, waiting. Waiting for the green light to return to Liberia. I decided I would make the most of that waiting, and travel.  So, from Heathrow, I took a coach to Manchester to visit a dear friend. We spent a few days walking the towns of Cumbria, in the Lake District. After that, I visited a family I knew in the midlands.  I spent those days walking through some of England’s most beautiful towns and pastures, daily checking my email to see if and when I would return to Liberia.

After about a month away, I returned to Liberia. I jumped right back into teaching and immediately faced  yet another transition.  Three of my students were still in the states, and wouldn’t be returning to Liberia until late summer. Since I’ll be gone by then, there will be no goodbye for us.  It’s nearly impossible to have closure when you know you can’t say goodbye.

In a few short weeks, I’ll be facing yet another transition.  Liberia, my home of 2 years, will see me off as I go back to Tennessee.  I’ll have to say goodbye to the incredible community here. There’s the tough transition out of here, and the tough transition back there.  Not only will I be transitioning geographically, I’ll be transitioning from SP to New Mission Systems International.  Justin and I both feel it is right for us to serve together in missions, now.  I’m considering moving to Myanmar for a few months to work with Justin and NMSI. By the end of the year, Justin and I will return to the sates, where we’ll spend a month or so with our families, get married, then start our life together -perhaps the biggest transition of all!

I’m beginning to process where I’m at, and that I’ll be leaving behind what I’ve known for the past two years. I’m overwhelmed. Transition is hard, even when you know you’re supposed to be moving on. With all the goings and comings and unanswered questions of how, when, where, what, and how much, I am just trying to cope, well.

As I was reading through Numbers in the OT today, I found encouragement. Here’s what I wrote: At the command of the Lord, they camped, and at the command of the Lord, they set out.They kept the charge of the Lord at the command of the Lord by Moses.’ (9:23) “Everything was done at the command of the Lord.  The people knew that if the cloud of the Lord was hovering over the Tabernacle, then they would stay. But if the cloud moved, then they would set out from their camp.  They waited for the Lord’s leading either way. The people waited on the Lord to move or act or lead, and then they followed.  It’s pretty simple, right? An easy concept to grasp. Yet the Israelites couldn’t always grasp that, and neither do we. We often move ahead of the Lord, before we’ve truly allowed him to lead us. And sometimes we stay back, when he’s clearly leading us onto something new.

In times of transition, we often face the same decision I did a month ago: do we stay or do we go? It’s the same thing the Israelites faced centuries ago. Do we stay or do we go? Do we stay in Egypt, or walk into the wilderness? Do we stay in the wilderness, or do we keep going? For 40 years, they were stuck in perpetual transition, waiting on God to bring them into the Promised Land.  They did not always cope well with that.  They grumbled, complained, rebelled, and often walked contrary to God’s commandments because they were sick of where they were at. They were sick of being in limbo, of waiting. The thing is, God PROMISED that he would honor the  covenant he made with their fathers, and bring them into their own land.  They just didn’t want to go through the transition to get there.

We have a choice when it comes to transition.  We can stay or we can go.  If we’re facing unknowns, we can stay right where we’re at, or we can keep moving forward. We serve a God who will command us to do one or the other. The choice is ours, and if we’re willing to follow His leading, then that is the difference between coping well, and simply coping.