Archive for August, 2016

Blind Travel Underrated 

The end of August finds us moving into a new rhythm as much of our summer was poured into the pioneering of youth and children’s ministry for a Nepali congregation here in Pittsburgh. Molly and I were able to spend hundreds of hours in the homes of new believers and that has established such a broad base in terms of relationship. If it were up to me, I’d spend all day every day doing just that. But this next few months has me balancing a lot more things – continuing education, discipleship curriculum development, admin sort of assessing what we’ve learned so far, as well as continuing on with hospitality and visitation.
I had just finished a video meeting this morning with ITeams workers in Ukraine, the Middle East, South Africa, India, and the US when I decided to visit some friends that I am close to about 30 minutes’ walk from here. The route is pretty straight forward but things didn’t go exactly according to plan. I haven’t posted much on blindness and travel lately so here we go. . .
I headed down Brownsville Road (the main corridor in our neighborhood which has pretty heavy traffic) and people were out and about. A lady on her steps early into my walk greeted me and about 10 minutes into my jaunt, another woman ask me to come over to her. She asked me for 2 dollars so she could take the bus and I responded that I didn’t have any cash on me. I’m all about the blind and independence but with a 70% unemployment rate among the blind I usually chuckle when I get hit up for money. 
So I continued on when a few minutes later two construction workers stopped me telling me I couldn’t walk down the sidewalk any longer. I assertively told them where I needed to go and these two dudes walked me across the street amid busy traffic, got me past the construction, and got me back on the path on my original side of the street. I couldn’t have asked for more understanding people.
I have several apps on my IPhone that I use to alert me to where I am. I knew the address where I was going but I had actually forgotten the name of the cross street. I don’t like to use GPS as it runs my phone battery down and it doesn’t really teach me to navigate. I simply asked Sire on the IPhone what my location was. I needed the 200 block. I asked Sire at 551, 315, and finally she told me that 220 Brownsville was on my right. I turned the corner and went to my friend’s house whose entrance is on the backside of that block. I found their door just fine but no one was home. Yep, 32 minutes of walking but not so much success. I tried to get a hold of them to no avail. I stayed for several minutes in front of their house and prayed over the family and home.
I started my walk back and I came upon a funny intersection and without knowing it continued down the wrong road. By the time I realized that I had obviously made a mistake I was several blocks off course. I got my cross street coordinates, I had never heard of either of those roads. Again, I didn’t have a ton of battery so I didn’t do GPS just to float me back home. I listened for the loudest traffic I could hear, assuming that traffic was Brownsville Road. I made a couple wrong turns away from the traffic but finally I got to a somewhat busy intersection and got my coordinates again. One of those roads I was familiar with but the cross street normally runs parallel with this road I was on, not crossing it. SO yeah, that was freaking confusing but I kept following the steady flow of traffic and got back up to Brownsville Road.
I am talking pretty chill about this right now but when I get lost (which certainly happens from time to time) I go through a few emotions. The first is usually frustration. I start asking myself, “why in the hell does this have to take so long? Can my life be simpler? Can I just go visit someone?” Then, if I can’t figure out my way out of the situation quickly, my emotion can progress to fear. Half the time when I ask people for directions they give terrible clues and when I need help the most, there usually is no one outside. Having coordinates that I can’t really assess don’t really help. So yeah, there definitely is a level of fear. This can then be followed by determination mixed with anger and usually is ensued by me saying a bunch of crap to myself that shouldn’t be repeated.
I have never gotten so lost that I couldn’t find my way again. Today was no different. My walk home took over an hour when it should have taken 30 minutes. But once you can learn to problem solve (not simply go from point A to point B) it gives you a lot more confidence the next time you get turned around. There is also a sense of accomplishment and joy that comes with getting out of a tangled mess. So once I got back up to Brownsville Road, I could sort of continue on with a much better attitude of prayer that I had for the previous 45 minutes I was walking around.
The moral of the story is that it is not the worst thing in the world when you get lost. I had a text conversation on the way home with Molly and Charity that was humorous. And the many people I got to pray for because of a longer walk today was well worth it. Many have asked how I get around or what travel entails so I share this one with you. No need for sympathy or commendation . . . it’s just my life. 
The bigger story within the story is how easily rattled we all are by pretty mundane things. Annoyance that my friends weren’t home. The lady begging for money. Getting turned around in the hood. These don’t need to be meltdown moments. Exercise is good. Prayer is even better. Take it down a notch Trotter and try again.

Discovering the Story of God

One of the reasons in creating this blog and mission page was for readers to be able to get a small glimpse into the daily routine as we serve here in Pittsburgh. Over the years I have shifted quite a bit (at least I feel like I have) in the way that I talk about this missions life. Refugees, the marginalized, the lost, or even “those we serve” are terms that just don’t make it into my conversation most of the time. I’m sort of done trying to help readers or potential missions supporters understand who is on the inside and who is on the outside.  

Clearly, I know enough about Scripture to make some judgment calls on defining parameters and strategic mission guides our decisions. But more and more, I find my life being so surrounded by my Nepali brothers and sisters that it feels sort of strange to say these are the people I serve. Or they are in some way marginalized and in need of my charity (no pun intended). I needed a sound system speaker today and the first person I called was an 18 year old Nepali guy. If I need a ride somewhere, again I’m gonna call a Bhutanese-Nepali friend. The “people I serve” are simply my family, friends, and neighbors. While our stories and personal background may be altogether different this family is done with labels.


In light of all that, I’ll share a small window today in one of the things we’re doing to help disciple each other around here. I give the first bit here as a backdrop, helping anyone reading to understand that discipleship is a two-way street in which we are constantly learning from each other.


Bible Discovery Tool

We are using this simple tool to help each other think about Scripture called Bible Discovery. I believe it was originally intended to be a method to use with people who have no biblical literacy at all or who have never heard the story of God. We are using it primarily with new believers. Basically, you take 30 or so stories from cover to cover in the Bible and you read them one at a time together. The first time through students read alone. Then someone reads aloud while students listen to the passage. Next, students take turns retelling the story to each other. If they have omitted anything, students in the group help. If they included something that was not directly in the passage, students bring clarity to that as well.


After reading, hearing, and speaking the Word of God this way, we ask a few basic questions. What do we learn about God? What do we learn about people? What do we need to change in our lives to obey? The multiplicative edge to it is that anyone can retell the story or start their own group of sharing these stories with others.  


We are doing this in 3 different forums in ministry right now. We do this at a Nepali youth group that meets every Saturday. I host a very small discipleship group of 3 young men where we are doing this as well. And then on Sundays, we lead a small children’s church for a Nepali congregation where we use the Bible Discovery process as a foundation for all that we are teaching. The goal is for this format to be expanded into various age groups of people and amongst various groups of believers and seekers in the Nepali community.


Being Transformed During Our Own Team Study

Probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever gotten to do in ministry is meeting with our current ministry team (that has consisted of Molly and Charity over the last few months) and does the Bible discovery together. Our commitment is that God should be dealing with us first and we should personally be discovering the story of God afresh. We find ourselves overwhelmed with huge questions about God, struggles, doubts, and man, it is so incredibly challenging to honor Jesus with our obedience at times. There have been many Tuesday mornings where we stop, with tears in our eyes, wrestling with big questions about God, realizing that He is God and we are not and we still have so much to learn. On more than one occasion, I let my rich theological education interfere with simply hearing Charity or Molly and I have to let this discovery of the Bible be renewed again. These two ladies continually remind me that I don’t know everything and the Spirit is deep, deep at work in their hearts.


The Bigger Picture

I guess I’m blogging about all this today to give some of you a glimpse into the bigger picture of what it is that we’re after around here. The mission and aim of our work is to see transformation come individually and collectively to the Bhutanese-Nepali community here in South Pittsburgh. This includes a holistic scope including people’s spiritual, emotional, economic, educational, and vocational needs. We choose to start with the foundation of the story of God as it is His very Kingdom alone that inaugurates all transformation. The Lord’s Prayer after all was that God’s Kingdom would come on this earth as it is in heaven . . . in bible studies, in personal relationships, in business practice, in health care . . . in all of it. His Kingdom come. His will be done.


So we are thrilled that we get to do all the relational stuff that I have talked about before. Inviting people into our homes, being present in theirs, communicating in Nepali about very personal issues – those are huge, earth shattering sorts of things in our work. There is so much love and trust in that. Now though, we get to come alongside our neighbors and discover the actual story of God together. Such a story has always led to and always will lead to God’s creation being renewed and transformed. We all feel like this is something we can give our lives do. So we continue to study. Continue to talk. We continue to obey. Ultimately, this is all about worship and hopefully when it is all said and done, Christ will be reflected as the true and beautiful Lord that He is.


There is the window guys. Thanks for reading and peeking in a bit tonight. The story of God is the story of all stories and the one we continue to fix our gaze upon. 



Identity and being the right person

i remember where I was sitting back in 2005 when I wrote my first blog. Blogging was a new term to me and I was living in the Mariana Islands at the time. Blogging helped me connect with the rest of the world outside my tiny island and gave friends and family a window into my world. I’ve written off and on for the last decade on a variety of topics, creating a sort of identity online. I would imagine that more than a handful of entries have been composed on the topic of missionary identity and being true to myself as I live cross-culturally.
The gig can be difficult to explain to my neighbors when they ask directly how I get paid or where my office is located. Missions isn’t exactly an office 9-5 sort of deal. Then you have the whole complication of fundraising, donors, a central office near Chicago and on and on. Generally speaking, I’m okay with the lack of clarity. Amongst my native-born American friends I have tended not to fit in as much as I would like as we’ve lived for such a long period of time now in a culture that is not our own, communicating in a language other than English. The values of Nepalis have blended with my own American values. I speak only Nepali to my son. Charity speaks only English. Our lives are like this weird sociological experiment that we are sort of okay with . . . well, most of the time. J Honestly, identity can be a real challenge but we try to do our best to remind ourselves that a cultural or vocational identity isn’t ultimately all that important. Being understood isn’t exactly the mandate of Scripture. Obedience to Christ is what counts and His greater calling and connection to the Spirit is what we hold tight in our grasp.
Today I went to the park with a friend of mine and his two kids. Charity, Amos and Molly came along. My friend has been in the country 5 years or so and is disabled. His kids are extremely intelligent and his wife works hard during the day. I was having this weird moment at the park . . . battling yet again with my identity as a missionary. Everyone at the park was a stay at home mom or they were retired. The fact that I have a different sort of schedule where I can take neighbors to do things like this has been enabled by this missionary status that I’m so blessed to live. But I was still struggling as I sat there chatting away in Nepali with my friend. Charity, Molly, and the kids were all running around, the kids rambling on in perfect English. My friend and I sat alone on a bench and he told me so many different details of his life. For nearly 2 hours he asked me everything under the sun.
My friend (let’s call him Hem) was commenting on so many different things and I could just tell he rarely gets the opportunity to do what he was doing – sitting and talking. He discussed how our government provided funding for beautiful places such as the park where we were sitting. He thought it was so cool how you could make food there if you wanted. We talked about war and how my dad was wounded there. Hem was amazed that this park was right in the heart of the city but off in the distance you could see the forest. He lamented his hearing difficulties and struggles with coping with boredom. He dropped a heavy burden on me as he seemingly is not able to overcome something in his personal life right now. He wanted to know what the bible said about it. Hem is in his 40s and at one point he told me we should go swing so he grabbed a swing and started flying through the air.
As the conversation continued, I realized that Hem was seeing some pretty massive identity issues of his own. He has only been a Christian for a few years and now he is forced to take his mostly Nepali-Hindu worldview and squeeze it through the lends of Jesus. He has been transformed and he is a wonderful husband and father but everything is so new. He has a hard time understanding his kids because their Nepali kind of sucks. They speak very simple Nepali, operating most of the time in English. He watches others sort of adjust quickly in an extremely fast paced society while he is sort of forced to figure things out on his own. The isolation that Hem must feel at times has to be unbearable.
But there we were today . . . swinging along. I realize that if I didn’t have this sort of missionary identity that I would not have been able to speak directly into his situation. I likely wouldn’t have learned this language, have the time to invest in the relationships I have, and I sure wouldn’t be at the park at 10:30 on a Thursday morning. Hem held a very long embrace today as we left. Identity is all a matter of perspective. 
Later on today, I was talking to a Nepali church leader and he shared that the elementary age children probably understand less than 40% of the Nepali language as they are growing up in America. Identity struck again. Uprooted from Bhutan, off to Nepal for 20 plus years. . . . This is the story of most of my neighbors. Only recently have they been able to be resettled in this great country. If our friends and neighbors didn’t have much, at least they had the ability to communicate easily with neighbors and family members. But the cultural adjustment is extremely accelerated in the Nepali community right now. Changes are coming so fast that even kids within their own families won’t be able to understand each other well in a matter of years.
As I sat and talked to this ministry leader I asked him what he would suggest since we are developing youth and children’s programs at his church. I explained that we need to train leaders but the young people have to be able to understand the gospel. They have to be able to understand those doing the teaching. It was sort of a tangled mess. In that tangle though, I was thankful for this missionary identity. Our small little team here in Pittsburgh can be these amphibians going back and forth between American and Nepali cultural, switching on and off English and Nepali. Without that sort of identity we simply wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing.
All Nepali language speaking with the adults and elders. A mix of English and mostly Nepali with older teenagers. All English with very little Nepali as we work and talk to the kids. These are the ways we communicate with our neighbors and the different modes of ministry before us. Coping with our own identity as missionaries makes it possible to relate, at least a tiny bit, to the identity struggles of our friends. 
I’m thinking of another person who had an identity dilemma on His hands. Heaven to earth. God became man. Jesus was divine and human all at the very same time. The incarnation is a beautiful example for us. We, like Jesus, simply want to lay our lives down and live out the Kingdom. The incarnation was slow and so often, so is the transformation process. Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry. He knew who He was. So too, must we.