Friday, October 25, 2013

training // goodbyes & hellos

Saying goodbye to Colorado, then Virginia, and then a "hello" to this beautiful Honduras.
On our last couple of days at our training at MTI, we had all completely bonded more than most all of us had even imagined we would. We knew that we were being asked to live completely in community for a month -- every meal, every time you wanted to use the internet or sit on a couch, every time you went to class, you had to be with everyone. That's a lot of people time. And a lot of other-people's-kids time. We went in afraid that we might not really have an down time or that we might just get too much "people time". And for people like us, you know - extreme extroverts - if we're afraid of too much people time, that really means something.

Well by the end, the extroverts & introverts alike were broken hearted to be leaving. We all had kind of just blended into one giant family; there were times where each of us had been a part of the "village" that it takes to raise each kid, we had eaten plenty of meals with every person there, and together we'd been through plenty of both ups and downs. Even plenty of those moments where everyone has so much fun getting really too into games that you're playing. Sounds just like a family, right?

After this month of making family with people who are all going out all over the world, our training had to come to an end. And, of course, at that end when we have bonded so much, our trainers had us go through probably the hardest topics we'd cover: grief & loss, and goodbyes & hellos. During our day spent on grief & loss, we were asked to go deep and explore those losses we are guaranteed in our new vocation:

1) the loss of a stable home; a place that is familiar to you, that offers warmth and security, a place of refuge. This is the loss of consistency and dependability and balance. 2) the loss of safety; this is the most underestimated loss in missions. In America, one of our core values is safety and comfort -- what happens when you find out that the system is corrupt and justice isn't there. There are so many "what ifs" of what could actually happen to you now. 3) the loss of competence; who are we when we are stripped of our ability to contribute in a new language and a new culture? 4) the loss of identity; how to you grieve when you realize that in many ways you'll never be an insider anywhere & when you realize how much of your identity was set outside Christ before? 5) the loss of support system; we're now entering a vocation that is a revolving door of relationships, and we're being asked to grieve the loss of friendships that must be transitioned out in order to make room for new ones. 6) the loss of quickly and easily attained goals; going and making disciples of the nations is a job that's never done. It's hard to feel like you've made a difference.

We had a two hour period of time where all we did was grieve together; we sat and prayed with and in front of each other and let each other cry. It's honestly what we didn't even realize that we needed... to be able to grieve these kinds of losses of everything we know and hold dear with people who are doing the same thing. "A heart awakened to great love is also opened to great pain."

And if one day full of facing our heartbreak and pouring tears wasn't enough, we had another one the very next day -- our last full day of classes. This time our focus was on saying goodbyes & hellos and opening up to each other about the people, places, even pets, that we are having such a hard time saying goodbye to. Our trainers gave us TONS of advice on how to say our goodbyes well, because healthy goodbyes are part of a gift that we're giving to those we are going to say hello to, so that each person gets as much from us as the last. We have to let people know what residence they have taken up in our hearts, as well as admit that it hurts. But we can't forget about our "I can't wait to go!" attitude, in being firm in what God has called us to.

Our last day was our goodbyes and a time of "praying around the world" -- praying specifically for each missionary that is going out into the field from our training class. And the list is amazing; they are going out to Mexico, South Sudan, Ecuador, Thailand, Honduras (not just us, another couple too!), China, Nigeria, Swaziland, the Middle East, Kenya, Albania, Japan, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Niger, Malaysia, and Central Asia. Our trainers then did our commissioning, and gave us an incredible example of how to say our first "good goodbyes". As in African tradition, one of our senior trainers, who is South African, led everyone in walking each group that left out of the building, following them all the way down the driveway, and waving them goodbye until they couldn't see us any more. (It was so incredibly precious, and obviously made Lesley cry.)

And with that, we had to say one of the hardest goodbyes we've had to do in a while, just because of how unique it was. We had not had a close community of people around us in a long time, since all we've done over the last year is move around and travel. We also had never had to say a goodbye to people dear to us that we may, quite literally, never see again. But it hurts because we loved well. 

Please be praying for us as we are about to say the really, really hard goodbyes -- goodbyes to home and to family. Please be praying that we would do these really well, even when that means relishing it how much it hurts. Next step is Honduras! Next step is a brand new kind of life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

training // what we're walking away with, pt. 3

Our MTI training class family :)
In hopes that these posts would not be too long, we've split them up into more achievable lengths. To read about the beginning of our cross-cultural training, please read "what we're walking away with, part 2." 

In reference to thinking about our personal values & beliefs (from our previous post), as Americans, and as Christians, we had to explore when we should embrace a new culture's completely different values, and when we should protest them in our training. Of course, God's Word is absolute -- we must always conform to what the Word asks of us, even if it directly contradicts a culture that we are living in. Because when we obey God, we make a statement that He is trustworthy, loving, and in control; He is not vindictive, unpresent, or mean. Him giving us commands does not take away from His mercy or compassion or knowing of all things. We are just making the statement that He is God and we are not.

But what about the areas that the Bible is unclear on? For this, we explored the ministry of Paul.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23: Paul’s Use of His Freedom

"19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, 
to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. 
To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not 
under the law), so as to win those under the law.21 To those not having the law
 I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law 
but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak
 I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that 
by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel,
 that I may share in its blessings."

We learned that Paul was motivated to be spiritually fruitful, morally faithful, and culturally flexible. Conforming and embracing a new culture was permitted in his ministry when Christ-centered principles were not compromised; where he could enhance the unity for people he was sharing the gospel with. But he never violated his allegiance to Christ.

One of the values we are called to have as followers of Christ is to be people who take rest and keep the Sabbath. We spent an extended amount of time on this topic, and  had to ask ourselves this question, "We would never intentionally and maliciously break any of the other commandments, so why do we do it with this one?". We explored our tendency to overwork, especially coming from our culture in the U.S., and it's impact. It seems that even when our sole job is to work in ministry, we are so tempted to break this command that God has given us. God asks us to start our week in celebration and awe of what He has done... to start & work from a place of rest, not rest from a whole week of work. Taking rest & Sabbath is being obedient no matter what is convenient; it is declaring that we are marked and set apart for God. It was really beneficial for us to explore this often glazed over or forgotten concept with our classmates and trainers, especially to try to seek out why we personally act the way we do towards taking rest, and to help us see ways where we can actively place rest into our lives. The day that was devoted to learning this really taught us that everything, every bit of time and moment, doesn't have to be qualified & counted for. Disciplines of rest and play, even of taking time to see God's bigness and "wasting time" has it's own time, place, and function. (Luke 10:38-42, anyone?) BOY, did we need to hear that lesson. (Again.)

Our "Transition Bridge" exercise.
Another major topic of discussion during our lessons was transition and stress. Remember the crazy looking picture from our extras post? With that exercise, we were learning about the different phases of transition: settled to unsettled to chaos to resettling to new settled; and how our big transitions in life take at least 2 years to complete. Yep, years. And everyone will go through these phases at different times and paces. With transition, of course, comes great stress. Especially that tricky time of complete chaos that feels like you have no "normal", no sense of steadiness. For this, we learned about identifying different kinds of stressors (and how Jesus experienced these same kinds while on Earth), our personal signs & symptoms of stress, and how to make a plan for managing stress BEFORE it happens. Then, to take it to a whole other level of truly learning about ourselves under stress, we then had to undergo an intense high-stress simulation for about two hours. It was amazing what we learned about ourselves when simulating a situation of what you do when the unthinkable happens directly to you.

Amazing what all they can fit into just two weeks, huh? We were so floored by the reality of what is soon to be happening in our lives and all of these multiple facets of our new lives, that we are just so thankful for amazing trainers that have so much experience in both decades of mission work personally and in years of teaching so many other training classes. Without their passion, authenticity, and real, honest, open stories of all of these lessons and principles having to be put to use, we would not have learned half as much as we did. Thank you so much to all of the staff at Mission Training International to being so committed to teaching each and every person that comes to learn from you.

Please stay posted on even more that we learned from our training there. More, you say? Yes, even more.


If you'd like to read more blogging from our classmates:
- "Embracing Inefficiency", by the Janicek Family
- "Missionary Boot Camp", by Alexis
"Entry Posture", by The Russell Family

Monday, October 21, 2013

training // what we're walking away with, pt. 2

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10

Since the very first day of our cross-cultural training portion of our time at MTI, we have been eager to share about it all with you, our blog readers & ministry team. But when you are learning things that make you understand even more of how just so very complicatedly human you are, it's so hard to explain it all. All of the topics we learned about hit us to our very core, and it was just a taste of what life-changing and challenging things we know we'll be experiencing by working in cross-cultural ministry.

As one of our classmates excellently put it, it all felt a whole lot like "missionary boot camp". All topics were things that are incredibly hard to even talk about with someone we know really well, let alone with people you'd only known for two weeks. But, the one factor we had working in our favor is that we are all in a common place and can absolutely relate to one another. This helped us to just grow even closer as we explored these so-hard-I-don't-even-really-want-to-go-there-right-now places. One of the greatest things we are walking away with is that we now have a vocabulary to explain a lot of these hard places, feelings, struggles, and reactions.... and people who we can reach out to that are always going to be right there with it us.

Please forgive us if the way that we explain it all doesn't quite make sense yet. :)

To start us into getting down to the nitty-gritty really fast, the first item on the agenda was to discuss conflict. This began by doing an assessment about ourselves completed by us, by people that are close friends & family, and by exploring our last conflict we'd had with someone. Talk about intense homework!! ... calling a person close to you and asking "how well do I handle conflict, how does it make you feel, and what I could I do better?". With this, we learned a TON about different conflict handling styles; how we perceive others' styles and what we can appreciate about & what we might need to confront about them. We also learned that we can most often be misunderstood in conflict when we overuse our dominant style of handling conflict. This section was so helpful in us understanding and being able to pinpoint why we react the way we do in so many different situations, and was really helpful to us even in just understanding each other even better!

We also went through several different sections on adjustment and culture shock. We had to explore ourselves -- what our personal values & beliefs are, and how they influence the filters through which we view things -- and come to an understanding that literally everything we see as "normal, natural, right, and good" could be challenged in the new culture that we are moving to. But that doesn't mean that different values and beliefs from our own are automatically wrong; most everyone across the world acts from a place that is normal & good from their own frame of reference. We do have to be prepared that many countries, including Honduras, have different focuses on everything from the degree of directness that is appropriate, on productivity, the importance of time, on change & tradition, on privacy, equality vs. hierarchy, relationships vs. tasks, etc. We have to be ready to step into each one of these different ways of operation and see the value in them, even if to us they do not seem "natural" or even logical.

We learned that when we will be living and working across cultures, we'll be frequently finding that our personal values will be in conflict with the values and expectations of the people of the culture we're in. Our values could be affirmed, but they could also be challenged; and it will be up to us whether we feel it is most appropriate to change to their comfort zone, or retain our own value either modified or as is.

What do I mean by personal values? I mean how much value we put into things like independence, education, intimate friendships, routine, law & order, safety, effective use of time, schedules, equality, freedom, justice, cleanliness, self-reliance, respect, even adequate resources. What our personal values are and how much weight we put into them will effect the lifestyle choices that we will make on the field. And the reality is that we can't please everyone... "try to please all and you will end up pleasing none." We must first consider God, our spouse/family, and the people we're working with when making our lifestyle choices. And we learned through this training that the most important thing to do when making decisions is to consider our longevity -- it was very clearly explained to us that if we do not live in such a way that we can take care of ourselves long term, we will end up burn out and will have a high, high risk of coming back prematurely.

But often every choice we have to make feels so much harder to make as missionaries, since we have so many more stakeholders that we have to consider. All of a sudden new people (like our supporters, sending organization, nationals of our new host country, sending church, other co-laborers,etc.) that are all effected by or have weight in the decisions that we have to make. And some decisions and lifestyle choices for us will occur daily on the field; things like food, clothing, scheduling, housing, and even what our male/female family roles will look like, are all decisions that are under a microscope for us while working in a new cultural that is unlike our own. We have to live in such a way that balances us taking care of ourselves for the purpose of longevity, and living in a context to where we are not a distraction of the Gospel. 

In hopes that these posts would not be too long, we've split them up into more achievable lengths. To read about the rest of our cross-cultural training, please read "what we're walking away with, part 3". 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

training // a double weekend wrap-up & a birthday

We are loving Colorado and our time spent in community with fellow missionaries about to enter the field so much that we wanted to share about some of our other great experiences here outside of class while you wait for our "part 2" portion of what we're learning about at training. This Saturday marks the end of our training and the end of our cross-cultural training portion of the training. Be on the lookout after that to hear from us on all that we have learned from this second half of training soon!

Our second weekend in Colorado, we went on an adventure out to the Garden of the Gods -- a spot that everyone had told us was a do not miss! We went with our close friends we've made here, Casey and Keri. It was such a beautiful day and the sun was so warm coming down on us. The rock formations were awesome and we saw a lot of registered rock climbers enjoying the park, and even accidentally happened upon a wedding! Here are some pictures of the beauty: 

Then after lunch, we headed to this little town called Manitou Springs just to explore. We were quickly told by a local townie that there were 7 naturally carbonated springs full of different minerals that we needed to try while we were there! People have been drinking from them for hundreds of years because of the health benefits of the mineral contents, and each one of them tastes completely different.

Pictures from three different springs that we found & tried!
Well, since we were just along for the ride of whatever this town had to offer, we went off to find them! They were truly very different from each other just as had been described to us! Thankfully that sweet lady had also given us some little cups to use so we didn't just dunk our faces in. :) 

Lesley's birthday was on the following Thursday, but we can still count it in the double weekend wrap-up, right? Well, it was the deepest, most stressful day of our training but Jamey made sure we still celebrated it well! He had a surprise cake brought out at our community lunch AND took Lesley out for a dinner date complete with an ice cream run! It was so great to get our own little alone time away from the training center. 

Our new friends at MTI also helped make Lesley's birthday extra special as well! It was so amazing. They decorated our room door with signs, balloons, and gifts and were so, so gracious to us and showed us that they have been really been paying attention to things we like! They thoughtfully stocked Lesley up on her favorite candy, tea, a Spanish gift bag, AND got her a new Camelbak water bottle for Honduras since her's was breaking. It was such a blessing! She also got mailed cards and gifts from family, including a beautiful arrangement of flowers! She felt so loved and at home for our first birthday away from Virginia.

This past weekend, we intentionally spent time having a more calm down time since our lives will be getting much crazier and more fast-paced as soon as we leave training. On Saturday morning, Jamey spent time with 4 other friends tackling a really difficult 1500 piece puzzle, and Lesley had a ladies coffee & tea morning with her small group here to share our life stories with one another. 

We then went out to Red Robin for lunch to get Lesley's free birthday burger (and endless fries!!) and something wonderful happened.... 

...... our HOKIES were on the tv right in front of us! While we were in Colorado! It was wonderful! 

Later on that day, Lesley spent the afternoon babysitting for a couple she's gotten to know here that has four kids so that they could go on one last huge shopping trip to get everything they need to move to Niger. Jamey got invited to go play mini golf (where he got completely beat!), and we spent the rest of the day just resting our bodies and minds. 

We were overjoyed on Sunday when we found a church that we really loved with awesome biblical teaching. We and our friends left feeling so refreshed from the sermon; it was exactly what we needed, especially after the draining week we had. Then for the rest of the day, Jamey went on a hike with a bunch of the guys from our training class, and Lesley had re-doing nail polish party with some of the little girls & their moms, and painted a lot of tiny little polka dots on tiny little finger nails. :) 

We having been SOAKING in the wealth of knowledge we are receiving here, and we are so excited to share it with you in just few short days! Please be praying with us that our last days here will go well, as well as our goodbyes with our great new friends. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

training // want to learn some more? here's four extras.

If you can't already tell from our first post about training, we're absolutely LOVING our training at MTI in Palmer Lake, Colorado. Just so that we can share in the love with you all, our ministry team and blog readers, we wanted to give you four "extras" in this blog post to learn more about our time here! 

1. // Here is a video from Lesley's language learning techniques practice group using the Hindi language, that we explained in that first post. Bonus points for anyone who can translate it into English!

2. // Here's some other perspectives about our language learning from some sweet friends that are at training with us. Please be praying for their language learning & ministries as well!

From our sweet friend Keri, pictured above, who just served her first year working with orphans in the jungle in Ecuador & is about to return for another year: For her first post, click here and for her second post click here.

And from Alexis, about to go serve in Africa as a doctor to street children in Nigeria: click here to see her post.

3. // Here are some other ways we spend time having fun & getting to know each other! The ladies of our training group love to get together once each weekend for a themed get-together.

Our first ladies night was a nail polish party. Almost every one of the ladies here came out for this one! Jamey got lovingly "kicked out" of our room so that we could turn it into a nail salon, full of a range of nail polish colors, painting stations, even lavender foot soaking stations!

My henna partner was our great new friend, Sonia, who is moving to Tegucigalpa, Honduras!

The second party was a henna party! We watched a video and learned about how women are using henna as a way of sharing the gospel around the world. As they are doing henna with their house guests, they draw little symbols into these intricate designs to help them remember the story of the gospel that they tell them while they are drawing on their henna. It was so cool to see how people are taking an existing cultural norm and using it to share the most amazing news the world has ever known. We celebrated with them by drawing our own henna designs! We loved it!

My pretty henna designs! (and my favorite fuzzy blanket in my lap that
my sweet husband packed for me to bring to cold Colorado.) 

4. // Here is a teaser photo for an upcoming blog post. Can you even tell what we're up to during this training session from today?

Monday, October 7, 2013

training // what we're walking away with, pt. 1

The first half of our training at Mission Training International is complete, and for two weeks we've been learning about language... but we haven't been learning Spanish or even about Spanish. Wait, what?! After we say that, most people are completely confused as to why we are here and why we're even doing this. People want to say, "Why can't you just go right into Spanish school? Wouldn't that be faster?".

Well, at first we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We knew that this training had received a lot of praise from past missionaries, and that it was required of us by our mission organization. But, we also knew that there must be good reason that GCM, along with numerous other organizations, require that their missionaries attend. AND there had to be good reason that each training session was filling up at least six months in advance. We were definitely very curious!

We came to learn a lot about language over these two weeks that we had never even thought about concentrating on. We first got a huge overview of phonetics -- we learned about how we produce sounds and how to use mouth position, tongue placement, vocals (or the absent of), etc. to make a myriad of different sounds that are found in languages all over the world. We definitely broke open the box of 44 sounds that we typically use in the English language. We even learned things like that we only use low "l" sounds in English, but in Spanish, there is only high "l" sounds. If we tried to learn Spanish with only the sounds that are comfortable to us, that we are used to using, we would be literally hurting Spanish speakers ears! Our Spanish accents would be so far what it should be that they may even be unrecognizable to a native speaker. We are so thankful for being taught to make different sounds, and even taught a language of how to explain them, instead of blindly trying to figure out how to produce them later on in our Spanish learning.

Our training classroom at MTI. 

The second portion of our language training involved us being provided with tools of how to pick up on language, make what we are learning applicable to our real lives (for example, not learning a list of verbs all at once, but learning verbs in contextual phrases that we would actually use!), and how to make language learning our own responsibility, instead of simply relying on a teacher to do all of the work for us. Through this training, we have developed a plan, complete with very specific and practical activities & ideas of how to go about our language learning as part of our daily lives, incorporating it into everything that we do. The focus of these techniques is truly to consistently draw the language IN in multi-sensory and multi-entry ways. Sometimes we "do" to learn and remember, sometimes we associate, sometimes we speak, sometimes we just listen. It's awesome!

We had the great opportunity to practice a number of the learning activities with language tutors of various languages. Now, before you get the urge to ask, let us explain that we were not able to practice in Spanish specifically because it is practically impossible that they could find tutors for every target language of each missionary here at training! So we all got to try our hands at the languages of our helpers that are at MTI: Chinese (Mandarin), Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian or French. Lesley really felt like she picked up Hindi really quickly and Jamey had fun with his group learning Bulgarian! We also just felt like the activities really came off the page and into "life" by getting to practice them together as a small team. They are extremely effective and it is very encouraging to us to have these!

Lesley's Hindi language tutor. 
During this time of exploring language learning techniques, we have also been implementing weekly times of "Growth Groups" (small, intimate groups of about 4-5 people of the same gender) for smaller community & accountability, weekly times of personal coaching with previous missionaries, daily times of quiet personal reflection time (completely unplugged), and daily times of bringing our joys & thanksgivings to God. It has been really wonderful to work these new specific & intentional times into our lives as things we hope to continue doing even after we leave here.

Could you ask for a more beautiful homework spot?!!

Our weekends are times of free time, rest and sabbath.... and lots of homework to prepare for the upcoming week. :) The first weekend that we were here, we decided to just jump right in and get into the amazing amount of beautiful nature that is available to us here in breathtaking Colorado. We visited the U.S. Air Force Academy and went on a hike just behind it. Unfortunately, the intensity level of the hike was a bit more than we had expected and than had been explained to us. We still really enjoyed it, but it was really difficult because we were still getting used to the higher elevation here and it was REALLY steep both up the mountain and coming down. We had to be very careful the whole way, and Jamey often had to help short-legged, short-armed Lesley on the practically all-fours rock climbing we had to do! :)

Our Hike at Eagle Peak! Note the "mountain lions are a real danger here" sign. There was an eight step system on what to do if you encountered one. That's kind of a lot to remember if/when you're scared out of your mind.
But, no matter how difficult the hike might have been for our first week here, we really enjoyed getting to spend time with the group that went with us (including a 3 year old in a hiking backpack and an amazing 6 year old climber!) and of course enjoyed the view. You can enjoy it, too, below:

The view at the top of the mountain from both sides. :)
We've completely loved Colorado, MTI, and all of the amazing people. We've been able to have completely new experiences... including our first October 3rd snow!

Our October 3rd snow dusting :) It was like a high of 45 that day. 
Please be praying for us as we enter the second, and much more emotional, portion of our training here at MTI. For the next two weeks we are going to be exploring our own personal lives, as well as how to transition into cross-cultural living.