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.


Keep Risking and Loving No Matter What the Cost

Wow, for a guy who has kept a blog since 2005, the long, long absence here is a bit over the top. I have written quite a bit in the last few months but nothing I felt like blasting out on the blog here. This one comes out of reflection after 10 months in our new city. Lots of things have changed for us over the last year and a half. A move back from Nepal to the Sates, adjustment to life with a toddler, continual mourning of the loss of my mom, and the constant journey of the ebb and flow of friendships due to relocation.
The latter is where I find myself thinking this week. We have lived with people on the move for the last 8 years or so and learning from those in the Bhutanese-Nepali community has been life-changing. Our actual city has changed a few times as well in that time and we have had to say goodbye to a lot of folks dear to our hearts. Sometimes the goodbyes have been extremely disappointing, knowing there is no way possible we’ll see those guys again. Other times there has just been some real painful stuff with people where you have to close the door for your own health and well-being. The one that really gets me is the folks that you feel like you’ll remain close to forever, but as geographical distance separates you, so goes the relational connection. The conversations and texts become fewer and fewer and that friend becomes sort of a distant memory.

A lot of our friends are former refugees and they move a lot. They move within the same city, out of state, and sometimes even out of the country. It just feels like there is constant movement and loss. I realized this week that feeling is sort of overwhelming and can cause me at times to retreat and not invest as deeply as I once did in relationships. There is also a sense from my Nepali friends that nothing is really set in stone. . . we can’t really know that this friend or that relationship will remain as things change. Uprootedness and being stateless for 20 years will certainly do that to you. So I sort of walk this tension of trying to give my whole heart, really lay my life down for those I grow close to. . . . but it sure isn’t easy. In a moment those dear to us could slip from our grasp.

We have a college student, Molly, serving with us in our ministry right now. She has come over from Colorado and she has just been able to step right in, develop conversational Nepali, and bond with Nepalis so well. I’d put her up against any missionary I know despite her being so young. In that process though, she has grown so close to Charity, Amos, and I. It is as if we’ve known her our whole lives and we’ve been able to form a bond with her that I really can’t compare to anything we’ve ever experienced. Tears are shed together, laughs fill the air, amazing compatibility in ministry is happening. She has become the kind of friend where we just want to be together to sacrifice together, to love each other well – all of us would willingly do anything for one another.

Molly has a month remaining on her term here and there is certainly a promising possibility that she’ll return here to work long-term. But that isn’t a given. She is helping us realize though, that it is just so worth it to keep investing, keep risking, and keep loving.  

Without a whole lot of loss and a whole lot of transition, none of the relationships that have sprung up all around us would be happening. Without brokenness and loss our friends from Bhutan wouldn’t be here. Without us walking away from an amazing community in Minnesota, we would have never gone to Nepal. And without the crazy losses we experienced in Nepal, we wouldn’t be here able to risk and love yet again in this new context.

As weird as it may sound I sort of hate moving. I don’t like all this uprooting and moving around. It sort of drives me crazy to try to relearn a new neighborhood, build trust, and on and on. But here we are. . . . looking loss in the face. . .holding our ears to drown out the screams of Satan that tell us that it just isn’t worth it. The lies that say it isn’t worth it to uproot. It isn’t worth it to give your heart away. It isn’t worth it to cry with new friends and rejoice when the time is right. We close our ears to those things right now and we feel deeply, we invest, we listen, we spend a lot of time with neighbors. And we trust Jesus with all our hearts that He knows what He is doing.

So our little team – Charity, Molly, Amos and I are being surrounded by amazing Nepali friends. People that want us in their lives. We’ve had people tell us stuff so deeply emotional and personal that you just walk away in disbelief that we are invited into it. A young man admitted to our little team being the only Americans he has met in 6 years in this country who have learned his language and really understand where he has come from. That broke me, not because we are doing anything extra special but because this sort of depth is possible for so many. Countless stories to share here, but we keep risking, keep trying.

So there is what is going on after my long silence. I don’t know what neighbors will move tomorrow or who may come into our lives unexpectedly, but I choose not to fear. I choose love in the midst of a lot of loss and abandonment. I choose not to listen to the shouts and cries of the enemy who would try to get us to stop investing and loving. There are just too many good friends far and near who continue to shine so bright for Christ and care for us. We’ve experienced such deep love of our Savior so here we are. . . laying our lives down once more. Charity, Molly, Amos . . . thanks for teaching me this over the last few months and showing me what hope looks like.

A Window into Our New Life in Pittsburgh’s Little Nepal

Giving a window into our lives of doing cross-cultural mission here within the US border is often hard to describe. We have been sending missionaries to other countries for centuries and the globalization and urbanization of our world has seemingly caught the Church off guard. While geographically close to International Teams headquarters outside Chicago, our neighborhood and the folks we work with are culturally, experientially, and often linguistically very far from the majority in our own city.
So I sit down with a family I have never met this week and within moments they found out exactly how much money we paid for our house, why I can’t see, that my mom died of a heart attack, as well as very personal struggles we’ve faced in our extended families over the years. This is Nepali culture at its finest. You often cut to the chase and figure out what these people are all about. I didn’t flinch and responded cordially as this particular family responded to the conversation discussing how they had moved from Washington state to Pittsburgh. Within the hour or so that I was at the apartment with our pastor, there must have been 15 or so people that came in and out of the apartment. Neighbors, friends, relatives. . . this is life in an event oriented culture being squeezed hard by the IPhone calendar and time is money new America that they are growing to love.
Being good neighbors means you often don’t get to plan for it
We rarely if ever announce when we will be popping in. This is simply life in the ethnic enclave in which we live. People drop everything and host. If they feel like they can’t give enough attention to guest, they call down the hall and get a neighbor to step inside and show more welcome. We would call this being inconvenienced on a regular basis. Our neighbors call it being neighbors.
Visits to our home are very frequent. Almost daily someone stops by. One of our neighbors (I will call him Hem) has pretty much been flying solo since he arrived in the US at the age of 15 in 2011. He arrived with limited English and lived in a very strained family situation. Once he got to legal adult age, he moved out and moved across the country here to Pittsburgh. Still in high school, he moved in with some relatives that he was somewhat close to and is about to graduate. It is hard for me to imagine moving to an entire new country at age 15 where almost everything is the reverse of what you know. It has undoubtedly been terrifying and hellish for our neighbor but he plows on. Hem comes over several days a week staying for a couple hours at a time. We discuss life, faith, English, Nepali, and everything in between. I never expect him to come when he comes. But he comes. . . and we open the door and do all we can to welcome.
Playing with Home Field Disadvantage
Several years ago I heard former prof and church planter, Earl Creps, use the term “playing with home field disadvantage”. He used this term in reference to mission and how we have to get really good at getting off of our turf and rolling in the nooks and crannies of our community where people live. We often are pretty good at playing well when on our own turf – church building, scheduled programs, or inviting someone over at 6pm on Friday night. Each community and context is different, but in our world it is the home. I think in 7 ½ years of working with Nepalis I have met someone at a place other than my home or their home about 2 or 3 times. Life happens in the living room and kitchen and there is rarely any proposed plan to it all.
None of this is a complaint (at least not today) as this is simply life in our urban village. But we continually learn that we can’t put a whole lot of stock into big ministry programs, large church gatherings, and making sure someone shows up for a small group meeting. Life just doesn’t happen like that around here. We show up and sometimes there is a lot of work to get done relationally, missiologically, and pastorally. Sometimes there isn’t. But ministry and life happens so quickly in these moments.
I’m a super prompt guy and I would prefer to structure my days with office hours, coffee shop meetings, a very structured, controlled environment to teach about Jesus, and on and on. I’m not sure that exists for folks in our position. But it is sort of hilarious that I’m probably more wired to do that than to do this. The former is called America and this is urban Little Bhutan-Nepal Pittsburgh. So we, as any good missionaries would do, try to stop whining about having the same ministry conditions as our suburban pastor friends and embrace this fun, unpredictable dance that we do.
Staying Spiritually Alert
Undoubtedly a much more ministry program, structured environment will come one day. For now, we ebb and flow with whatever. Just a few days ago I had the thought that this home stuff (People coming over all the time and us being in homes all the time) must be combined with very deliberate mission. Though we don’t get to plan when a person comes over or vice versa, we have full control over being spiritually alert, ready, and deliberate in what the Lord is asking us to do. Maybe it is community research. Maybe it is sharing a parable. Maybe it is gathering with a few friends to pray. Whatever it is spiritual alertness is so critical. God reminded me of this a couple days ago and it really has changed the landscape completely. I have noticed that I’m not trying to squeeze culture realities into my expectations but just let life happen as it happens, focusing centrally on Jesus and His mission.
Tonight we went across the street to our neighbors place and it was straight chaotic in there. Kids running around everywhere, mom talking through Skype with relatives as she prepared food in the kitchen, and a 15 year old girl engaging us in a deep conversation. She didn’t waste any time by making small talk. She told me she was sort of stuck between the traditional Nepali ethnic church and wondering what American churches are like. We talked about how many American youth groups screw around way too much but then no one who visits her hard core ethnic youth bible study ever come back because it is so serious and adult-ish. She was really troubled and wrestling wanting the Gospel to really be Good News to her Hindu friends from school.
After our son had gotten done terrorizing the place we came back home and made supper. 10 minutes later we got a knock at our door. Hem was here. He too began to talk about being stuck between cultures. He wants to learn English so badly. I was able to share with him a really critical piece of my own discipleship that God has shown me this year, honoring Jesus with our obedience. Then Hem wanted me to tell him the parable of the seeds/soil. He mentioned that he is experiencing his faith going deep down into the soil and springing to life. I made him give me very real practical examples of why that is true. 
The conversation was everywhere. Sitcoms, impersonating people, planning to study a Christian book together, talking about unity in the Nepali and American church. . . . he even stopped at one point, placed his hand on my leg (very Nepali. . . take it easy guys) and told me how thankful he was that we moved into his neighborhood. He said he was being challenged and motivated in so many ways. He spoke into my heart about God using struggles such as blindness and him coming to America to make us stronger and a bolder example for Christ.
Laying Your Life Down
In our neighborhood I guess I’m trying to say that so much of life and ministry is displayed by dropping what you’re doing and caring for each other. That moment, whether it is 5 minutes or 3 hours, makes all the difference in the world. And God in His sovereign plan has seen fit that we be able to switch back and forth between English and Nepali as we engage our community. So there is the window. It took me a while to get it out in words tonight, but there you have it. We don’t get to plan this life. .. but honestly do we in any culture or circumstance? Life happens and we stay spiritually alert. A Psalm that I can’t get out of my heart the last few weeks. Want to carry it into what will probably be another extremely spontaneous day tomorrow.
Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My heart and my strength may fail, but God you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 72

Raising and Educating Your Kids in the City 

Charity and I have been involved in cross-cultural ministry for about 13 ½ years now. We have lived in the city, a rural village, and on a tropical island. We have lived in places where it is so cold that your spit freezes as soon as it hits the ground and we have worn tank tops, sandals, and shorts year ‘round. Seeing the world from several angles and worldviews gives you a perspective that can never be taken away. Some neighborhoods where we’ve lived were dominantly Muslim, others dominantly Hindu, while another was Catholic mixed with a lot of spiritism. We are all different and everyone around the world chooses a certain pathway for their family and often they have the best intentions; they are leading out of the worldview and values they hold most important to them.
Most of our adult life has been in the city. Charity was once chased into a car by a guy demanding her to stop (he was calling from about half a block away) wherein she sped away and quickly got the heck out of there. She still really doesn’t know what that guy wanted but she wasn’t going to stay around long enough to find out. I’ve been pick-pocketed a couple times (very nice criminals indeed as I was in a huge crowd in Baguio, Philippines). I’ve had dudes try to start fights with me for accidentally bumping into them as my eyesight faded. One neighborhood we lived in was on Cops one night and I sort of held my head in disgust as one of the notorious high-crime intersections was just a few blocks from our apartment. I could tell you so many more stories of bizarre encounters, bus riding chaos, and danger as life in the city brings so many people together from all walks of life. Public transport and foot travel are much more prevalent and you rub shoulders a lot. 
Contrary to what many may think however that is our family has never really felt scared or threatened or anything of the sort. As we have lived in the city, these places have become our home. We have loved city living far more than most and as we enter into city living yet again in Pittsburgh the feeling is no different. It has been pretty honoring and respectful to have neighbors or cars roll down the window at intersections telling me it is safe to cross. People are looking out for the blind guy most of the time.
This time around though there is a new criticism that has been thrown our way. What about Amos? What about your son? It is usually asked diplomatically but the gist of it is, “Don’t you know you should be thinking about your son? Aren’t you worried about his education? Aren’t you afraid to see him grow up here?” Ironically, our neighborhood is not the inner-city. It is urban but nowhere near as dangerous as some of the other spots where we’ve lived. I also realize that we’re not a target as much as many of my Nepali friends. New immigrants don’t know the laws so well, can’t communicate in English fluently, and are often afraid to go to authorities. So naturally my friend’s perspective around here is altogether different from mine.
But yeah, I get asked these sort of questions at least every 2 or 3 weeks. Most of the time these questions come from Christians who know full well our commitment to serving Jesus in spots that aren’t soccer moms first choice to live. I get asked these questions from friends who don’t share our missionary convictions as well. Interestingly I often feel in the moment that I need to defend myself as a parent as if I’ve made some horrible decision putting my family in the very spot to which God has called us. I don’t feel like the people asking the questions of my decisions often need to defend their choice of neighborhood. Nor should I.
But what about you? Nevermind the people you are trying to help. You have to start thinking about you. You have a family now. Hmmm. 
Charity has been an educator for years. I have a graduate level education and like to think that I’m pretty smart. This boy is being exposed to more culture, global awareness, and difference than we ever were at his age. How many missionary kids have we all met whose education was crap? I am scratching my head to think of too many kids of missionaries who dropped out of high school, got involved in a life of gangs and drugs, or performed in the lower 10 percentile on standardized test. I’m sure there is someone out there but I haven’t met them. So many folks living and working in situations like us have an extremely deep value of education and development but the incubator for that to happen is altogether different from others. Perhaps by living in the city, growing up speaking 2 languages, understanding 2 of everything our kids actually start to get a better education? Perhaps what Amos will learn in growing up in a low-income urban neighborhood far outweighs the best academy up the road? Perhaps his discipleship will blossom as he is surrounded by need and opportunity. My goal here is not to hate on suburban living or anything of the sort but I’m wondering if we can have some respect for one another as parents as we choose to live in neighborhoods that are very different from each other. 
Again, I go back to my assumption that most parents are trying to give their kids what is best for them based upon their worldview and core values. So yeah, our core values happen to be that the city is better than anywhere else. I didn’t say that it is wrong or stupid to live outside the city but we live here because we think it is the best place. I guess we all make decisions that way. I sure hope you don’t live where you live because it was like the third best option. And our family has this crazy value that Christ wants His Kingdom to come to our little neighborhood in south Pittsburgh as it is in heaven. He wants to see Nepalis engaged in our lives and Jesus wants to make himself known in a clear, beautiful way. So we live here. We live with two houses almost touching ours and we walk everywhere. This is the city to which God has called us.
But what about safety? What about education? Aren’t the public schools bad there? I had a Nepali high school senior talk to me about the next neighborhood over (a borough/suburb). He said the public schools here have metal detectors and that the school district there does not. He said they will never, ever need metal detectors because nothing bad will ever happen there. Really? That is quite a claim. That high school is about 10 minutes or less from my house. Somewhere along the way my community has surrounded around this young Nepali Christian and told him that the next borough over is bliss and where he lives is a pile of something something. Our kid is not even 2 years old and we’ll make decisions about education as they come. We’re not going to raise a son who thinks that the schools and teachers in his neighborhood are a bunch of losers who don’t care about anything or anyone. 
There are so many ramifications that produce good and bad education; a lot of them center around money and power. Surprise, surprise. As for safety, I’m just not sure that is a value that we put at the top of our list. Comfort and safety are all things we long for our family to have but I’m just not seeing them bleed out of the pages of Scripture.
So here we are, trying to start this new life in Pittsburgh. Dozens of families already know who we are as we walk around. There is a real sense of community living so close. Maybe before we judge parents decisions we can assume the best in them. What values and worldview do they have? Maybe there are bigger life circumstances or reasons they do what they do. We walk and live out the Gospel and let the chips fall where they may.
If you are living in the city, the suburbs, raising your kid in a village on the mission field, just sent your kid to international boarding school – I choose to see the best in you. I know you want what is best for your kid and have made decisions accordingly. Life is too short to point the finger and expect everyone to be just like us. But just for the record, city living is pretty great. You should move to our block; we’d love to have you over. 

The Bonding of Community, Language, and Culture Rooted in Love

Often I reflect on entering a culture, remaining there, living life with people – that is sort of what has surrounded us for the last 13 years. Then I have this little kid now who bring concepts like bonding, trust, and identification to extreme levels. Our little boy has certainly sparked some of the thoughts here.
Today I Revisited Brewster’s “Bonding and the Task of Mission.” This article was written in the mid-80s but it has been an article that I have looked at over and over again. I have been asked to talk with some folks working with Nepalis in our new city about learning language. I was going over some thoughts today about all this today and figured I’d throw them up here on the blog as I guess that sort of the point of having this place to post.
Here are the thoughts as they came this afternoon. . .
1. English is an international language so it sort of takes us off the hook.

People all around the world are trying very hard, and often succeeding in learning English. No matter where you go in the world, you can find some English speakers in a given culture or ethnic enclave right here in the US. While it is true that you can find people who speak English,, you. only find certain kinds of people. Generally good English speakers fall into the categories of the young generation, wealthy, or very well educated. We bar ourselves off from huge segments of the population by using the “English is an international language” as an excuse. The only way to fully engage and belong over the long haul is to be able to communicate with everyone.


2. The bar of learning a foreign language as an American has been set pretty low.

While our country is changing so rapidly and diversity has given us a much broader perspective on language, it still remains that many growing up in the US who have English as their first language will never learn a foreign language. I remember I was talking with a buddy of mine from the Dominican Republic a few years back and he said, “Students can take 3 or 4 years of Spanish in high school, get a 100% on everything, get straight A’s, and graduate and can’t speak Spanish at all. Shouldn’t that mean you fail??” I laughed a lot as there is a lot of truth in that. Not the best example in the world, but the bar is just so low in terms of progress. I have lived abroad in a couple different context and the bar for foreigners, missionaries included was set extremely low. I talked to a few Nepali friends who had hung out with the missionary crowd through the years and they were saying that probably 30% of foreigners in the capital could speak Nepali and maybe would know the language in the more rural areas. I can’t say whether or not those stats are representative but wouldn’t it be cool if people in the countries where we lived wouldn’t be shocked that we speak their language simply thankful that we can communicate easily? There just isn’t a whole lot of expectation and we can often just go with the flow. If we can’t communicate though, what exactly can we do? That question was posed by a short-termer to me some months ago. Great question.


3. The alarm will eventually go off if you think about it long enough.

For me, I was sitting in the living room of a Bhutanese-Nepali family’s house back in 2009. I realized that I couldn’t communicate with anyone in the house over 45 years old. I couldn’t tell them even basics about food or drink. The goal and aim was to live in deep, life-giving relationship in which I would share the stories of Jesus and His Word. I can still feel the way the chair felt on my forearms as that alarm went off. It was a clarion call and I have tried to lead my family in this call. I’m not a great Nepali language communicator but I’ve worked hard toward the goal and by God’s grace we are decent communicators. For those going down this road, I would think that an alarm will go off at some point and they’ll be undone until progress happens.


Imagine if my 14 year old son had been sitting in another room these last months, never eating any milk, not communicating with his parents or others? He’d be highly, highly dysfunctional socially, emotionally, and physically. I have watched him grow in Nepali and American culture, understanding words and phrases, showing mannerisms from both cultures. He has bonded. What a delight it is for we as parents watch him grow that way and I see the joy in the actions and hearts of Nepalis as they watch him bond in his special way with them as well.


These thoughts however aren’t just for the missionary. I think those new to the US (or any country for that matter) will have to grapple with pushing themselves away from their safe, ethnic enclave and entering full on into society. Methods, classes, strategies are all fine and good but so much of this is about entering into a new life with people whom you wouldn’t naturally hang out. Here are Brewster’s thoughts on language: 


“Normal language acquisition is essentially a social activity, not an academic one. As a result, gaining proficiency in the language is normal for the person who is connected and has their sense of belonging in the new society. But language study will[often be a burden for the one who is bonded to other foreign missionaries ” (or anyone that holds a common language that we attach to in the starting moments of crossing cultures, I should add). 


So I’m thinking of the critical role of cross-cultural relationships in those early days for missionaries and those brand new to the US. As I will be walking with people on both sides of this in terms of learning language, I’m reminded that so much of this boils down to a decision to enter and belong to a society. It isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy either.


Lest any of us pretend that learning culture or language is the end all, may we be reminded of Paul’s words in his letter to Corinth. It is the love of Christ, expressed in thousands big and small ways that take all this effort, struggle, and linguistic jazz and set it on fire by God.
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13, NIV)

Pittsburgh Vision trip and photos

July 3-10 was spent in Pittsburgh seeing if this is for sure the spot God has for us during the next phase of our lives. Many were fasting and praying during our visit and that was surely felt. We could have not planned a better visit and walked away with more confirmation than we did. We have submitted a proposal to International teams to launch a team focused on serving Bhutanese-Nepali there and if all goes smoothly in the approval process, we will arrive in early September.

We were able to stay with good friends of ours from Minnesota who originally came to the US as refugees from eastern Nepal. The mother and father of 3 girls in their 20s have all moved to Pittsburgh and two of the daughters reside there with their family. We had a fun time of eating goat meat for the 4th of July and watching fireworks from our friends’ first home (a non-rental). We had such a great time catching up, talking about Nepal, and they taught us loads about Pittsburgh as well. Pictured below is Amos with our friends’ kiddos.

Amos and Durga's kids (1)

Much of our time was spent walking through the hilly, but quite compact neighborhood of Carrick in south Pittsburgh. It definitely has the layout of an eastern city with narrow streets, houses very close together, and lots of storefronts. Brownsville Rd., the main corridor in the neighborhood has 4 or so Nepali businesses and you can find Nepalis almost everywhere you look on this main thoroughfare. One of our first interactions was with an older Bhutanese lady and her younger relative. We greeted them in Nepali and struck up a 5 minute conversation or so about what we were doing in the neighborhood. There is nothing like halting city hurry with the slow Nepali lifestyle. We later saw this same woman at an ESL class in the neighborhood.


A shot from the streets where upwards of 80% of Nepalis live above small store front businesses.

Zion Christian Church is a Pentecostal church right in the heart of Carrick and has seen Nepalis move in all around its building. You would have to be blind (no pun intended) to ignore this major demographic change in the area. You can see a Nepali jewelery store from the front door of the church and more than 80% of the storefronts have Nepali folks living atop in apartments. Less than a block to the south is a fairly large Nepali store. Across the street from that store is an apartment complex with more than 30 Nepali families making it almost 100% Nepali. These sort of nooks and crannies could be told of over and over again throughout the Carrick neighborhood

C building
Here is the notorious “C Building” where Pastor Dan Cramer of Zion Christian spends a lot of his time and where we were able to meet several families. It is a 1 minute walk from the front door of the church.

Gorkhali store

The Gorkali Store is a nice size Nepali grocery store that is just directly across from the C building. Dozens of folks can be found shopping and congregating here.

Zion Christian Church

Zion Christian Church is located in the middle of so many things Nepali. Built in 1926, Zion began meeting here in the early 1990s. A food pantry, ESL/citizenship classes, children/youth programs, a dance ministry, furniture provision, and home visitations are just some of the practical ways Zion has chosen to welcome Nepalis as they’ve moved to Pittsburgh.

Perhaps most significant to our trip was the way that God began to speak specifically about the Carrick neighborhood, confirmed as we walked around and prayed, smelled the Nepali spices wafting from storefronts, and heard the bells ringing off to Hindu gods. We both just had this overwhelming sense that this particular neighborhood was the spot to which we are to give our lives. Though there is a buzz of excitement around Zion and the vibe you get from the Nepali community is extremely exciting in such a concentrated area, I don’t think either of us have ever felt the level of lost-ness that we felt as we visited folks. Kind, welcoming, and extremely easy to talk to were the new neighbors we met, but ripples of idol-worship, fear, and hopelessness abounded.

I remember walking outside our friends house towards the end of our trip where I was just pretty emotional over the Hindu worship that was happening where we were staying. I had just talked with a recent high school grad who said she had never really been to any church since coming to America. As we talked I realized she knew next to nothing about Jesus. Jesus came. He lived a perfect, awesome life, so that our potential new neighbors would live. As we pray and prepare for what is most likely our next step we are gripped with the incredible responsibility to take the Gospel where it has never been Though this is geographically as far as you could possibly get from the foothills of Nepal, we find ourselves whispering the same prayer that we have prayed amongst ourselves and Nepali neighbors over the last 7 years – ? Jesus come. Come in power. Use us, as messed up as we are.”

So there is a snapshot. The Lord used many of you in simple, amazing ways to stir things in our hearts and confirm what the Lord has for us. Stay tuned for the details and keep praying. Can you believe we get to do this?

Oh yeah. . . huge side note. . . having Nepali language skills in an American Nepali neighborhood was sort of like the weirdest, coolest, most peculiar thing ever. It has turned the tide for us in our ability to talk about most things Nepali and really understand this story of uprootedness and new Nepali life on a deep level. We can’t communicate how blessed we are to have had the time over the last several years to give to this. It will be such a gift and honor to converse with elders, those who didn’t get much of a chance to have an education, and those who simply don’t want to have to worry about parsing every verb as they struggle with life in a new land.

Life is a mist. All die.

 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15
In the last month and a half I have had the honor to sit for hours at a time with many people close to me who are getting up in their years. With the loss of mom 16 months ago, the precious gift of life is still fresh on my mind. We are not promised tomorrow.
I spent most of the afternoon with Phil and Julie Parshall, former missionaries to Bangladesh and the Philippines. Phil was a seminary professor of mine who served for 44 years overseas and has become one of the leading scholars and practitioners in Muslim ministries. Way ahead of his time in terms of mission contextualization, published by IVP press and others, fellowships at Yale and Harvard, living in inner-city Manila for years – the list could roll on. He was a highly sought out speaker and writer for much of his career. He is now staying in a retirement community not far from us and in his late 70s. I was humbled at the years and years of service this couple has given to the Lord. They continue to serve others in their missions retirement community as well as advise younger folks from a distance.
Last weekend I was able to spend time with my aunt and uncle who are in their mid70s and early 80s. They too, though living a very different life from Phil and Julie, retold their story of raising their children in the midst of challenging times. Their story is one of trial, heartache, and eventual contentment. To hear of their attempts to get up one more day and try again is inspiring. They were there at the hospital with me and my parents when I was born 2 months premature and have watched God unfold His miracle over my life. They have been a source of encouragement and supporters of our ministry for years.
Two weeks prior to that visit Charity and I spent time with her grandparents out in Arizona who are also in their early 80s. They spoke of their journeys, serving in ministry, and raising a family with numerous challenges. They have a daughter who has battled mental illness for years and have lived a life of sacrificial service. Simple truths and stories here and there marked our visit and challenged us deeply.
These last weeks have been pretty monumental in terms of regrouping for what God has next for us. As I sat with Phil and Julie today, I couldn’t help but reflect on the verse I wrote out here from James. Life is a mist. We have one life to live and certainly need to make it count. As I watch all of these folks reflect on their lives, I am first of all humbled by their prayer and financial support towards our ministry over the years. Secondly, I’m struck with this deep sense of purpose and urgency for the task ahead. God doesn’t waste experiences and there is something beautiful, strategic, and most likely challenging coming around the corner for us.
Yesterday, we celebrated my son Amos’ first birthday. Mom would have loved to be here with us. She wasn’t. She is gone.
Gone. It all ends for us at some point. All die. Life is a mist.
While sitting in Phil’s duplex today I began thinking about all the events at once – leaving Nepal, Amos’ first birthday, mom’s death, visits with aging friends and relatives. All die. My dear friends and family members who are getting older will live out their days in small houses, retirement communities, or assistive living facilities. Some of them will be remembered by people far and near; some of them won’t. They will drift off the radar and their lives will come to a close. Life is a mist. All die.
So this heart is heavy and a clarion call has been sounded to raise the banner again. Do what I can with the breath that I have and the life of Christ that is in me. To live is Christ and to die is gain. I’ve got one life. One. Let’s make it count.