Thursday, November 19, 2015

From the other side of things

Fellow Americans,
I’ve spent the last decade living on small islands on the other side of the world from you. I’m called an expatriate, which when I first learned that word felt like some kind of betrayal of my home country. Now I just know that it means I live away from my old home, in my new tropical home, and just happen to be the foreigner, the one who looks different, the one who can barely pass a driving test in my second language.
For 10 years, I’ve lived in cities along with 200,000 Muslims. And since it’s been on islands, we live closely. I can smell the garlic cooking on their small stoves from my own kitchen. I’ve heard the calls to prayer over dinner, have drunk countless cups of tea in homes with Arabic verses scrawling the walls.

I’ve been asked often by Americans if I’m scared living here. Sometimes, yes. But most of my fears revolve around other people’s driving skills and REALLY BIG SPIDERS and mosquitos’ disease-carrying propensities—the same fears my Indonesian friends have. I also have three small children depending on me and motherhood just makes me feel vulnerable. I send my husband into the jungle every day to fly small single-engine airplanes in remote places with no other safe alternatives for travel. And sometimes my fears are about silly things, like when I care way too much about what others think of me.

But I know what you’re asking.

You mean, am I afraid of the head-covered neighbor who shares cookies with my kids when I come for visits? Am I scared of the friend who drove my husband to the hospital on the back of his motorbike when he had dengue fever? Am I nervous about the elderly couple that passes my house on their way to the mosque, holding each others’ hands? Does my kids’ doctor terrify me? What about the lady who stocks her small store with mozzarella cheese at the request of her few American patrons? Do I duck and hide from her?

I don’t have any easy answers to the questions in the news today. I know there are weighty security issues  to consider. And I don’t talk politics here. But one thing I know and love about America is that it’s the home of the brave. 

I yearn for more of that in my blood. I want to live more bravely tomorrow than I did today. To make a difference in someone’s life.  To answer “yes” when it’s my chance to give.

I’ve already got a mixture of America swagger where I’m pretty sure “freedom” is the answer to many problems, along with a big dose of church-learned sacrifice where I know “love” is the answer to them all. And now, after watching my friends here drop whatever they’re doing to welcome me into their home and country, I’ve got a bunch of Asian hospitality running through my veins.

And yet, I want even more. I’m itching to save a life today. To free someone who’s in bondage. To heal another in pain.

Before we get started, it’s good to recognize that helping people is messy and full of risk. We must be wise and thoughtful in how we do it. No one knows that better than this extremely safety-conscious pilot family, in which there are checklists for everything, abort points, weather reports, weight-and-balance formulas, etc. In order to get the job done well, we must have a plan, assess the risks, consider the what-ifs.

But whether it’s flying into the jungle or opening our home to someone different than us, helping people will cost us. To be honest, many of those risks are emotional ones. The mess of other people’s situations will dirty our own hands.(My own mess of cultural mishaps certainly costs this gracious host county of mine.) And yet what it does for our souls? I’ve said many times that Indonesia both breaks my heart and fills it. Living here both wrecks my life and resurrects it.  It teaches me to be brave, and leaves me feeling utterly vulnerable.

Things that cost a lot are worth a lot, too.

I watched this principle lived out again and again in how many of my Indonesian friends live. I've seen Indonesians with almost nothing, generously give all they have for someone else in need. I've witnessed gifts handed to orphans, funds raised for earthquake victims,  prayers whispered for the hurting. All done by those who check a different religion box than I do.

The bravest things I do here are small, coming from a very personal place, with my small children in tow. Are you a friend who gets terribly nauseous, too, when you’re pregnant? I’ll bring you my favorite morning sickness snack—popcorn made on my stovetop. Are you lonely in motherhood, wondering if you yelled too much at your kids today? I’ll meet you under the mango tree to tell you I did the same, too. Is your child sick and you’re sure you’re about to lose the only thing that matters to you? Call me and I’ll sit by the hospital bed and plead with a God I’m learning to trust for both your child and mine. I know you'd do the same for me. 

Want to be truly American today? Whatever you do, whatever you believe, be brave. Risk what you fear losing to gain what no one can ever take away from you.

"Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts." Thomas Aquinas


  1. Love, love, love! Beautiful. I am an expat in a non-Christian but also non-Muslim country and it hurts my heart to see the fear and debate going on over people fleeing for their lives. I want my fellow Americans to know how incredible and welcoming other cultures have been for me.

    1. Erin, thanks so much for joining in with this important message of gratitude and courage in the midst of cultures that aren't like our own. Great to hear from you!

  2. What a beautiful, strong perspective! Thanks for sharing & convicting me to live BRAVE today.

  3. I want to live more bravely in the place where God has me. Thank you for your words today.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I just checked out your blog and I love it!

  4. I agree. Helping people does cost, but it's worth a lot, too. :)

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