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The Side of Evangelism That No One Really Talks About

When we hear the word “evangelism” it’s easy to think about sharing Christ as a thing to “do” rather than a way of life. It’s one of those tasks to check off on our list. We usually associate it with talking to people about how they can know Christ or preaching the gospel. 

Often times, witnessing becomes an “event” and this mindset sticks with us for years. I remember making events out of passing out tracts, or going into city streets or shopping malls to pray for people, or even putting together special services to invite friends to church. I call this the “foray approach,” in which we go out with a specific goal of winning people to Christ. Sometimes I feel this approach causes us to feel that we’re off the hook once the event is over.  I often wonder about the “going out” part. Yes, we “go out” to another country because we feel that people need Jesus and we sense God calling us there. Once we’re there, we “go out” into the streets and markets and public places to meet people, or we plan an evangelistic event or outreach. But is that all there is?

I think oftentimes what we miss is that evangelism can happen all the time, with your neighbors, as you go about your daily tasks. Our lives can speak the good news without us ever saying a word. If we feel we have to constantly go out from our daily lives so that we can share about Jesus, then it’s good to ask ourselves how our lives are a witness to Jesus during those times when we’re NOT going out. Are we ever off-duty when it comes to evangelism? I don’t think so. 

But what does that mean? That we have to constantly look for an opportunity to speak to people about Jesus? Maybe, but maybe it also means something else. We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. So why don’t we use more actions in our evangelism and fewer words? St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” Obviously, we cannot always be speaking. I believe this means we are to live the gospel, not only speak it. We should not put a barrier around ourselves and then only when we do an evangelism event or “foray” do we evangelize, and when we’re done we go back into our safe place.

Jesus came and lived among those he served. He became like us in order to communicate with us. He didn’t drop down from heaven once in a while and preach a sermon. He demonstrated the good news through his everyday life. His actions spoke, as well as his words. When Jesus is truly in us, our actions will be as a witness to who he is. Helping your neighbor carry in the groceries, giving someone a ride, giving a gentle answer to someone who is upset, asking questions rather than reacting. All this is part of action evangelism that is not dependent on planned events. We sow seeds into peoples lives, realizing that people are at different stages. Our job is to be faithful to the stage they are at, and bring them one step closer. Sometimes that means using words, many times it does not.

What are some ways you’ve shared Christ with others with your actions? 

How I learned four languages

Sitting in my German class last night, I began to reflect on the languages that I’ve learned and how it came about. Moving to a new country without knowing the language and buckling down to master it is no small feat. I hope that sharing some of my experiences will encourage you.

I grew up in a monolingual home, and my first real exposure to a foreign language was studying German in high school and college. You may have studied Spanish, or French, or even Japanese or Russian. All I really remember from that class is three goofy boys making stupid jokes about German and ruffling the teacher’s feathers (who was by the way Swiss, and my husband says Swiss German isn’t really German). I sat there thinking, ‘let’s get on with it’!  In college, I continued the study. This time my teacher spoke proper Hoch Deutsch. Lots of books, reading, and writing. Basically zero interaction with native speakers. Looking back, I think no wonder it was so hard! I later traveled to Germany, and I distinctly remember visiting the home of my German pen pal Bettina, sitting with her father in their living room after dinner sipping Sherry (which I hated). I actually managed to keep a conversation going with him for an entire hour. I collapsed into bed later proud of myself and exhausted.

Now I find myself sitting in a German class again. But guess what? Something stuck from all those years ago. I was able to jump in at a B1 level, basically a year into an intensive program. People often ask me, ‘if you’ve only been in Germany for two years, how come you speak German so well?’ I mutter something about having studied in school many years ago, perplexed that it has somehow helped me all these years later.

What has helped me the most in learning a language?

Above all else, living with locals. This means that the new language is spoken in your home. Learning a language while single and living with locals is by far the best trick to learning well and fast. If I lived with an English-speaking team member or a spouse, it would have shielded me and slowed me down. Going overseas single was the best thing I did. My housemates were my language teachers in real-time. You can’t learn a language in a vacuum.

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Here are a few things I remember from my language learning experiences:

When I first started studying Thai in Thailand, I couldn’t even HEAR the differences in the five tones. They all sounded the same to me. “Maa” pronounced in five different tones has five different meanings. It was so frustrating that they all sounded the same to me and that my teacher insisted they weren’t. I thought she was kidding.  She wasn’t. She also pronounced “Pa” and “Ba” (with no puff of air after the P), and I thought it was the same sound. Nope. I had to train my ears and my tongue in new sounds. It takes time and it felt like I was not making any progress day to day. But somehow I got to fluency.

Which brings me to another point. People ask me things like “how long did it take you to learn Thai?” I honestly don’t know how to answer that question. At what point have you “learned” a language? When I can do basic daily tasks in the language? When I can communicate my feelings to someone? When I can make a joke in the language? I don’t know. I’m always learning. I’m not even sure I’ve learned English yet.

When I studied Thai, knowing the phonetic alphabet was really helpful for me. I could write down exactly how to say the words without using the letters I hadn’t mastered yet. Because the writing system is hard, it was good to get myself speaking and using phonetics, which later helped me to write better. With Shan, however, the writing system is so easy that it was better to learn that first rather than depend on phonetics. After one year of learning Thai, I started learning Shan. Shan has 2 different tones than Thai. The other three are the same. It took me four months of mispronunciation before I finally got those two tones right. It felt like forever. I am very grateful to my patient Shan friends who nursed me through it.

I discovered that there comes a point in language learning where you’re able to keep learning without classes or studying. You may need to look up words sometimes, but there’s enough momentum to keep you moving forward. Study is always helpful, but once you’ve reached that point the learning isn’t going to stop even if you put the books away. Typically I’ve found that if I leave the country for a while and come back, my language has not been lost, but rather compacted down deeper into my brain. Some breaks are good.

Do I get languages mixed up? Yes. I never mixed up Thai and Shan, I have no idea why, because they are actually quite similar. But I do mix up Norwegian and German a lot. They are also similar. In the beginning, when I tried to speak German, only the Norwegian words came to my mind. Now I find it the other way around. German has taken over completely. That’s because I’m immersed in it every day. I have to think really hard for a minute to engage the Norwegian corner of my brain. I’m confident it’s still in there somewhere though. I’ll find out this summer when I spend two weeks in Norway. The good thing is that it comes AFTER I’ve taken my German language exam. Otherwise, I’d be in trouble.

When I studied Shan, I carried a small notebook with me everywhere (that was before smartphones) and wrote down words I heard that were either new or that I wanted to look up later. Even if I never went back to the notebook, just writing it down helped me learn it. I have always been able to understand more than I can write or speak, so writing it down helps you move from merely comprehending to being able to use the word yourself.

In the beginning, I translated everything in my head, but the need to do that lessened over time. Eventually, I understood words and meanings without having to go through English. This is a huge step in moving toward fluency. There are certain things that just can’t be translated. Language is culture and culture is language. Culture is influenced by the environment, religion, worldview, history, etc. There will always be unique words and expressions that exist only in that language. This can sometimes make whatever language you’re speaking seem limited. It is. Knowing more than one language opens your eyes and heart to a different way of looking at the world.

Everyone says that it’s easier for children to learn a language than adults. One of the reasons this is true is because kids aren’t afraid to try. Adults get hung up on themselves and fear the embarrassment of saying something wrong. So we tend to only want to say something if it’s RIGHT. It’s hard to learn a language if you’re perfectionistic about it. It takes humility and a willingness to mess up, say something really stupid once in a while, and trust the patience and graciousness of your hosts. Relationships do tend to be shallow in the beginning, and it can be lonely as a result. It’s important not to get stuck there, however, and to use it as a motivation to keep trying!

One thing is sure, the more I learn of a language, the more I feel I don’t know it yet. There are constantly new horizons to explore. Learning a language is an exciting adventure and journey. I hope that some of my experiences and observations encourage you.

Ten Surprising Things About Germany (from an American ​perspective)

I’ve had the privilege of living in Germany, my husband’s home country, for just over two years now. I’ve learned some surprising things about this place I now call home. I had traveled to Germany before, but as most of us know, the way you experience a country as a visitor, and the way you experience it as a resident, are two different things. My list is actually pretty long, but I’m going to share ten of the ones Americans may find the most surprising. I want to add that most of these things make sense once you understand the reasons for them.

  1. Paying cash only at most restaurants: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve enjoyed a nice little meal somewhere, only to be told, ‘sorry, we only take cash’, and then making a run to the nearest ATM. I suppose I’ll eventually get used to it, but I’m having a hard time learning to carry cash around with me. Incidentally, bakeries only take cash as well.
  2. Thirsty? If you dare to ask for “Leitungswasser” in a restaurant, you’ll most likely get a strange look, or be brought a bottle of water that you have to pay for. That’s right, water in restaurants is not free. In fact, you can’t even get tap water to drink (unless you’re lucky). I may or may not have been known to sneak a bottle of tap water from home into my purse, taking a sip when needed. When I forget, I go home parched. Because paying for water at a restaurant to me seems like a waste of money. I have been told by Germans that since going out to eat is something special, people want their water to be special too. German tap water quality is very good, and it’s definitely good enough for me to wash down my food.
  3. Kitchens are like furniture. Apparently, kitchens in Germany are a status symbol. That translates into, every tenant in every apartment has to bring and install their own kitchen. I’m talking counters, cupboards, sink, stove, dishwasher, fridge, and anything else you want. You are presented with an empty room with water and electricity access coming out of the wall somewhere. When you leave, you take it all with you. This creates so much headache and expense for the tenants! You have to look for the words “Einbauküche” or EBK on a rental advertisement if you want the kitchen included. In many cases though, this means you are getting the previous tenant’s throw away kitchen, and the landlord won’t take any responsibility for it. Until recently, tenants were also expected to paint the entire apartment white before leaving. Thankfully, this law has changed, but it can be included in an individual contract.
  4. People trust other parents with their kids. The first time my son was invited to a friend’s birthday party, my husband dropped him off. I had no idea who the family was, and he had only met them once. Likewise, when my son hosted a birthday party, not a single parent stayed to chat or watch their kids play. I had prepared food for them, and I was surprised. It seems that kids’ birthday parties are seen as free babysitting and a chance for the parents to have some time to themselves. Needless to say, this made it harder for me to get the know the parents.
  5. Bombs. WW2 bombs, “Blindgänger” are still a part of everyday life in Germany’s cities. Tens of thousands of them lurk underground, getting more dangerous year by year. Every year, hundreds of bombs are unearthed during construction projects such as building underground parking garages, and an average of one spontaneously explodes. In the destruction of Germany’s cities after the war, buildings were rebuilt by hand (mostly by women) using the rubble that was laying around. In a hurry to build a shelter before winter arrived, thought was not given to what may be out of sight. Unexploded bombs lie beneath countless buildings today. No one knows how many. The American bombs are the trickiest to deal with. Here’s an article on the topic (in German).
  6. Churches (called Gemeinde, not Kirche) that are not part of the State are seen by most as being cultic. I could write several posts on this topic alone, but let’s just say here that even the Baptists are considered to be a cult by most in Germany. Catholicism and Protestantism are part of the regular public school curriculum, but being born again or living one’s life with Jesus is seen as extreme.
  7. Airing out the house. I think this, along with separating garbage, could be given religion status in Germany. It’s included in rental contracts and is one of those things that must be done properly. Forced-air systems are rarely used in German homes, causing a lack of air circulation. The only way to circulate air is to open all the windows (that have no screens). This must be done at least once a day and is called “shock-airing”. Mold is a common problem, especially in the winter and in older buildings. Usually, the tenants are blamed for mold and held liable for it, being told that it’s because they haven’t aired properly. This makes no sense to me. When Germans encounter problems such as this, they usually come up with a brilliant technology to solve the problem or create a law or system to help. In the case of mold, tenants are used as a scapegoat instead of for example requiring apartments to be painted with anti-mold paint (which exists).
  8. Carrots. That’s right. Carrots always come in huge bags. I’m assuming this means that Germans consume large amounts of the vegetable. I hardly ever buy them (because I can’t fit it in my fridge or eat it before it spoils) or I buy them frozen if I can find them. But for some reason, carrots mostly come in 2-kilo bags. That’s a lot of carrots!image
  9. Sundays are different. Everything is closed except for restaurants and some bakeries. If you didn’t buy enough milk to last the weekend, too bad. Quiet is expected on Sundays. This means you cannot do your laundry or vacuum, or drill a hole in the wall. You’d also better not be caught hanging your laundry outside to dry on a Sunday. By many, Sunday is considered a “family day” and they won’t even visit with friends on Sunday as a result.
  10. Teachers cannot be fired. They are called “Beamter” or civil servants, part of a system that was established under Bismark. If a teacher does a bad job, they are re-shuffled and moved to another location. Sometimes, because they are immune to being fired, this gives parents and even the school they work for very little recourse. Here’s a tiny view of this complicated system.

Four things Thai culture taught me

When I walked out of Don Muang airport for the first time in 1998, I entered into a whole new world. On many levels, I was already aware of that. What I wasn’t aware of was how much it would change me. The person I was then was to be shaped, through relationships with people in the culture, and new experiences. I believe these changes have brought a better balance to my life and a more holistic understanding of God. They have also enabled me to see things differently. I’ve picked out four of the biggies to share with you. 

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  1. I learned to slow down. On the surface, I was forced to slow down my pace of life. I was used to getting ten things done in a day, now I could do one or two. Things take longer, and there are more steps and hurdles to accomplishing a task. On a deeper level, I began to see the people around me more, and less of my “urgent” to-do list. I used to always have to be doing something. I was compulsive about it. The need to be productive, to use my precious time on earth as efficiently as possible. While I do think we need to consider carefully how we invest ourselves, I have stopped always trying to produce, as if my life depended on it. Because it doesn’t. I can sit happily in a chair for several hours, without feeling the need to get up and rush around and be productive. Time to reflect, time to just BE. To take things as they come, and wait for what he brings us. God does not judge us by our level of productivity.
  2. I learned to live simply and love it. Most Thai people live simply, in relatively small spaces with few possessions. What they do own has an important purpose. While many people long for bigger, nicer houses and nice cars and furniture, there are also many who say “phaw yuu dai” meaning, “I have enough to get by and I’m content”. These people look to what they have, not what they don’t have. Their definition of “phaw” or “adequate” is probably very different from mine. Currently, I live in a place where people invest a lot of time and money in making their homes beautiful. My home, in contrast, is very simple and lacks much that isn’t necessary. I joke that I camp in my house. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can’t imagine creating a home full of decor and cushy furniture. It would feel silly, superficial, a waste of investment and a striving for material things. The Thais view this current life as a temporary state. Everything is impermanent. Especially in a tropical climate like Thailand’s, things tend to decay very quickly. They, as I, would rather spend their time and energy investing in things that are permanent or beyond this life. No need to strive for more or better when we have “phaw yu dai”. I remember arriving with my pickup truck in the village where I was to live. The bed was full, but not heaping over the sides. The locals were amazed at how much stuff I had, just coming here as a single person. They helped me unpack, and in curiosity looked at all the funny unnecessary stuff I had. By my western standards, I had really limited my household goods. I remember finally getting rid of the tiny rattan couch I had purchased because it was in the way. I replaced it with mats and cushion on the floor.

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3. I learned to accept some things as they are. Thais tend to be really good at that. As a westerner, being plopped down into a rural Shan village, I could see a lot of things I thought needed to improve. Why was there only a muddy one-track road to the border? Couldn’t there be a cell phone tower somewhere nearby so we could talk to people outside the village? Couldn’t people screen their houses so there’d be less malaria and dengue fever? Why do the schools use rote learning, which we know isn’t good for kids? I was imagining a “better village”, one that conformed to my western ideas of how things should be done. A lot of development efforts are based on this. They see an underdeveloped situation and want to develop it. Because it’s better, right?

I’m not so sure about that anymore, in fact, I’m sure it’s not better.  What if we first learned to accept things as they are? What if living that way was normal for you? If someone came along and pointed out that your way was inferior, I imagine you’d find yourself feeling inferior as well. Infected by the “I gotta have it better” bug. Discontent. Striving. Dependency on the person who comes from the better world.

4. I learned that I am not the hero. Repeatedly driving a sick friend to the hospital in the middle of the night, I think it started to dawn on me that I was not actually the hero. Sure, I probably saved his life, but if I hadn’t been there, the locals would have found a way to get him there. There was so much suffering and needs around me, at most times I felt at a loss as to how I could help. The situations were so complex and so foreign to me. I am glad that I knew better than to give money to people. It doesn’t solve anything and probably makes it worse. I could not stop poverty, or AIDS, or take away the draw of the city and jobs. I could not erase statelessness or families that split up.

I have learned to see my role as an alongsider, not as a hero. Alongsiders journey together with friends. They are in it together and act as a friend would, not as an outside savior person would. They accept things as they are, and seek help from God together.

So I am not the same person I was before I set foot in Asia. I love the many gifts Asia has given me. I have learned about the interconnectedness of all things and to not judge. That our clear-cut western thinking doesn’t work well in complex situations with many considerations. That a little contentedness can go a long way in allowing God to show Himself. And that, most importantly, different cultures hold the keys to the antidotes for my culture’s ills.

 

 

 

The hidden gifts of jetlag

It’s 3 am. My stomach is growling, I have a headache, and I can’t sleep. Jet lag. All of us who’ve traveled internationally across time zones have experienced this in some way or another. I just came back from a trip that had me away from home for 6 weeks, in a time zone 9 hours difference.

Over the years I’ve noticed something very unique about returning from these trips. Everything feels fresh, the possibilities and opportunities feel open and unspoiled. It’s like starting over, a reboot, a new perspective.

Yes, there are projects I left unfinished before I left (can anyone say, ‘moving into a new apartment?’), and my to-do list is a mile long. But before I dive in, sitting on the couch in the middle of the night, I am able to step back, look at it all, and see things from a unique perspective that I don’t have any other time. This enables me to start new habits, new routines, and re-focus my priorities. That exercise routine that seemed to flop before I left? Now’s the time to get it going again. Being more strict with keeping track of my grocery budget? This is the easiest time to set up a better system and use it. That ministry project I’d been putting off? I have new passion and vision to tackle it.

This “magic” tends to wear off in a couple of weeks, and usually lessens with the jet lag. Yet when taken advantage of, I can establish enough of a new pattern to get some momentum that will continue to carry me when the effect wears off.

There is a downside. Sometimes coming back is a bit like experiencing a crash after a high. The weeks away were filled with wonderful people, activities, and a sense of fulfillment. Coming home to an empty quiet house in a place where I only know a handful of people can feel like a let-down. I remember experiencing something similar after a youth conference as a teenager, or after a missions trip. This is the place where God meets me, and the place where I turn to him for help. I need him more than ever during these times, and I am keenly aware of my limitations. Yet he also gives me that new perspective as a gift. I can lean on him to be the helper and sustainer in the changes I’m making during this unique time.

In what ways have you experienced something like this when returning from an international trip? How has it helped give you an extra boost?