Saturday, September 25, 2010

Of Blue Swords, God’s Sovereignty, and TCKs

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy literature. Some of my fondest memories growing up revolve around the evenings my family would spent listening to my dad read books aloud to us. It was even better if the electricity was out, and it was winter, so we’d read by candlelight and near the kerosene heater wrapped up in quilts. While my dad read a wide variety of books to us, my favorite authors ended up being C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jules Verne. I remember my brother and I impatiently telling our dad to stop weeping every time he read the part about Aslan’s death: he already knew he would rise from the dead! We wanted to hear the rest of the story! I also remember one afternoon, when my mom had left the house for language study, taking a chair into my parent’s bedroom so I could reach The Two Towers, left on top of their dresser. Gandalf had been dead too long; surely he couldn’t have actually died. I must have been nine at the time, and stood on the chair skimming the book (yes, skimming, a skill that I have yet to really be good at in grad school) until I found the paragraph where Gandalf makes his re-appearance. I remember not reading much—just a sentence where Gandalf actually said something to the hobbits—slammed the book shut and put it back on the dresser, content to wait until we got to that part of the book for the rest.

When I was old enough, I re-read the works by Lewis and Tolkien, and discovered other stories by them too: Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooten Major, Leaf by Niggle, a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Screwtape Letters, and Perelandra. I also discovered other fantasy writers along the way. A few of my favorites have become: Robin McKinley, Madeleine L’Engle (to an extent), Gail Carson Levine, and Philip Pullman (maybe more on why I like his works later). The themes that go through so many of these works resonated not only with my experience as a Christian, but also as a TCK (Third Culture Kid, a far more descriptive term than “Missionary Kid”). One of my favorite characters recently has been Harry Crewe from McKinley’s The Blue Sword.

A quick synopsis for those of you who haven’t read it: Harry Crewe, an orphaned Outlander girl (probably about 16 or 17 in the book) goes to live with her older brother’s army commander and his wife at a station on the edge of a colonized territory (“Outlanders” are equivalent to the British in several ways here). Across the border is Damar, a place the Outlanders don’t understand and see as strange; rumor has it that it’s a magical land but any rational person would know that’s just impossible. In a quick succession of events, Harry is kidnapped by King Corlath of Damar, and she goes on to become the next bearer or Gonturan, the legendary Blue Sword that has not been wielded in centuries but has saved the kingdom previously from invasion by the dreaded Northerners (think Mordor).

A few of my favorite passages include:

  • (after a decisive battle) They avoided the fort of the Outlander town, lying peacefully in the sun, untroubled by the tiresome tribal matters of the old Damarians. The Outlanders had known al along there were too few of the Hillfolk to make serious trouble; and if the earth had shivered slightly underfoot a few days ago, (after Harry had in fact brought down a mountain on the invading Northern army) it must be that the mountains were not as old as they thought, and were still shifting and straining against their place upon the earth. Perhaps a little volcanic activity would crack a new vein of wealth, and the Aeel Mines would no longer be the only reason the Outlanders went into the Ramid Mountains. To have this paragraph at the end of the major battle scene where you’ve been informed of all the fantastic details just made me deflated and mad at the stupid Outlanders. But it made me think: how many times have people in our day and age cited “natural” causes for things that have happened because of God’s supernatural intervention? To believe the things they can only see with their physical eyes? And if they can’t naturally explain what they see with those eyes, dismiss the event or experience entirely?
  • "There was never a chance of that, my dear, [getting the Outlanders to actually fight the invading Northern army, something they were very capable of doing; however, the trouble was they didn’t believe the army to be a threat, even if it existed] believe me,” replied Jack. “You are attempting to be logical, I suspect, and logic has little to do with the government, and nothing at all to do with military administration” This passage just makes me smile every time I read it. So unfortunately true on too many accounts.
  • …the sense of dislocation was almost a physical thing, like a stomachache or a sore throat; but Jack’s words now eased and the sore place a little. The bridge could stretch to cross this chasm, perhaps, after all. Throughout the book, Harry deals with the feeling that she is between worlds, or of both worlds but having ownership of neither. This puts her in a position of bridging two separate sides of a chasm, causing both sides question her loyalties, motivations, cultural bearing, and at times, sanity. I find the physical strain she experiences interesting, because too many times I’ve had that feeling as a TCK. Apart from the physical dislocation felt in getting over jet-lag or re-adjusting to a different diet, there’s sometimes a physical soreness that comes when you realize that you’ll always be missing a place or someone, and that you can never completely call one place “home.” Its easy to question God’ sovereignty and control over not only your circumstances at this point, but also what kind of vessel He’s shaping you into. In my own case, I wondered if He hadn’t made some mistakes. But comfort comes when you realize that you’re not the only one who feels this way, and God brings people into your life with the right things to say at the right time, reminding you that you’re still in His sovereign plan, the work He’s doing on you is not a mistake and is in fact, good.
  • I’m missing what I don’t have, she thought…Its nothing to do with what I should be homesick for…its that I don’t belong here. It doesn’t matter that I’m getting burned as dark as they are, that I can sit on a horse all day and not complain. It doesn’t matter even that their Water of Sight works in me as it does in only a few of their own. It is only astonishing that it would work on one not of the Hills; it does not make that one any more of the Hills… I found this passage to be resonant of the definition of a TCK found in David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken’s book entitled Third Culture Kids—the experience of growing up among worlds: “A TCK is an individual who, after having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than that of their parents, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.” Put simply, there’s always the question, hanging uncomfortably over one’s head, concerning cultural identity: “where do I belong?”

Many of the themes found in fantasy literature also involve eternity, being part of something bigger, and walking by faith. These easily mix with the TCK theme, and the existence that many of us have come to have (I’ve had too many conversations with my fellow TCKs concerning all this that I think I can speak safely for them in this matter). It’s a lot to juggle, and can be overwhelming at times. Thankfully, we serve a Savior who makes the burden light.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Ten-Year Honeymoon

After the English language service at Patan Church, chia (milk tea with sugar and spices) is served at the back of the auditorium. It’s a legitimate excuse for people to linger, chat, and fellowship after the service. There’s no lack of interesting people to talk to. Over half of those who come are Nepali college students or young career people, the rest are tourists, missionaries, diplomats, UN workers, and businessmen that come from any obscure country you can think of. I came with seven of my hostel mates, and while we stayed within arms-length of each other (yes, we are all girls—we do stick together!) we ended up all talking to various people.

I ended up in a conversation circle with a guy named Ryan. He and his wife have been in Nepal for the past ten years, working with orphans and female victims of trafficking. They are involved in all stages, from taking the children off the streets or rescuing the girls to schooling them, housing them, providing vocational training, and the like. How did they become involved in such work?

“I’m originally from Calcutta; my wife is ethnically Nepali but grew up in India. We met at a YWAM arts training seminar, married, and came to Nepal for our honeymoon. Once we got here though, we felt God calling us to stay and work here. So, here we are, ten years later…still on our honeymoon!”

This comment made me smile—a lot. Interacting with my church family here, I have been confronted again with their passion for their Savior. It has been like opening a furnace and being singed by flames. It’s made me examine my own life, revealing ways I’ve “eclipsed the Son,” (thank you Rick Holland!), become lukewarm, or allowed myself to become too comfortable. Here are a few slices:

  • The elder who led the service at my Nepali church two weeks ago hammered home the principle of Malachi 3:10, challenging congregants not just to tythe their financial resources, but their time too. In this same service, the pastor spent a lot of time discussing suffering, focusing on the sovereignty of God and how we can trust Him in the midst of trials. Talk about preaching to the choir on both accounts! Since, I grew up in this church, I know that many of the congregants give $2 at most for their tythe a week, and have had trials ranging from extended sickness and spouses working abroad, to persecution from Hindu family members and planting churches in some spiritually dark areas of the country. While some of these are similar to things we face in the States, much of it is compounded by the poverty situation too many of them are in. While they acknowledge that it’s hard, the hope they have in Christ shines through all their actions, and doesn’t take away their joy or their willingness to love other people with the resources with which God has blessed them. Their boisterous singing (which takes up a good hour of the service) is evidence of that!
  • When I stopped by SWM—the school I worked at last summer—Nelson happened to be working in the office. His church also has an English language worship service, which I was able to attend regularly last summer. I asked general questions about what had been happening at SWM since I’d been gone, but in addition he updated me on the AWANA ministry at his church, the Putalisadak English language service, and the new youth centre (targeted at adolescent boys to keep them off the streets) he and some of the other young men at his church are now involved in. I had been informed of plans for such a center last summer, so it was good to hear how these plans had begun to come to fruition. I was reminded again about how impressed I had been with the attitude of the teachers and members of SWM: that their service is an outpouring of gratefulness to a God who loves them. What less would they give in response to so radical a love?
  • I’ve been reconnecting with many of the missionaries that I grew up around, but instead of being the sassy-and-shy MK, I’m now their office mate or fellow alto section member (yes, I’ve joined a choir; more on that later!). I’ve received the Reg-digested version of the history of Western missions (complete with its entanglements in colonialism), and begun to hear more of his personal stories (he’s had more than a few adventures). In the course of making another point, he recalled a conversation he had with the village headman about 20 years ago when his family first arrived in Nepal. “I told the guy, ‘Right, bideshis [foreigners] get sick and die just like Nepalis. If that happens, where do we get buried?’ He showed me, and that was the end of that.” Later, I had the passing thought such a conversation should be part of grad school orientation or printed in the graduate handbook, but my immediate thought was “wow…most people don’t see the possibility of death as part of the mission’s package anymore.”

These are just a few of the passing moments I’ve had with people that God has used to make me stop and think about my own response to His glory, love, and sacrifice on my behalf. While there are areas that I’ve certainly grown in this past year, I can recall too many selfish decisions or missed opportunities to act in joyful obedience as well. The fact of the matter is, there is a God who, for reasons I can’t entirely fathom, desires communion with me, His creation, and has done some incredibly radical things to make that possible. I haven’t always responded to the invitations to love Him in return. While its inevitable that I’ll continue to fail in this area, there’s grace to cover this, and its no excuse not to respond.

So, please pray that:
~ God will continue to reveal sin in my life, and that I’ll continue to confess and renounce it.
~ I would look forward to and guard my own daily time with God, and not give in to laziness
~ I would step out in faith and take the opportunities God has given me to love people while I’m here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to life behind the tiger cage

Mornings are a happening time in my neighborhood. The monkeys and peacocks scream for breakfast (my friend Laura actually heard them when we skpyed this morning!), and the tiger roars for his/hers. While there is a very tall wall between the tiger’s cage and the outside world, if Kathmandu ever experiences another severe earthquake (as it did in the early 20th century), that wall will come tumbling down and that tiger will be on the loose. Perhaps the hostel could petition the government for an exception to their arms law....

Not too much has changed since I last left Nepal. Reg, one of the people I am working with, met me at the airport and said that, in a week’s time, it will feel like I never left. That much I have found true. Apart from the consistency of hungry zoo animals, the city is still just as busy, just as dirty, and just as adherent to its own form of common sense (which, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz reminds us, is cultural sense, not common). For example, when I purchased a SIM card for my cell phone, I had to provide the names of my father and grandfather, as well as my photograph and both my thumbprints (in addition to a copy of my visa). When purchasing items from different floors of a local supermarket, I had to make transactions on each floor; I couldn’t bring all my items to one counter.

I was able to walk into my church today without causing much more of a stir than “you’re back! How long for? Eight months?! That’s wonderful!!” Subtle things have changed. Like, Amit and Anu’s (the pastor’s son and son’s wife, both with whom I grew up) little girl is now MUCH bigger, and Amos and Anita (more friends from church) now have their daughter, Angel, who is going on ten months next week. Ramesh, Niran, Anish, Sunil and Arun are the boys I left them—I got a whispered “jaimashee” from Arun (more words than he gave me last time), Niran asking if Robert (my own younger brother) is as fat as he was last year, Ramesh asking all the obvious and silly questions just to get my Nepali flowing again, and their mom alternating between complaining how lazy they are and how well they’re now doing in school (three have now graduated high school and are studying at local colleges).

It felt good to be back in Nepali church again. Pastor Samuel spoke on 1 Peter 4:1-11 today. My own pastor in the States, Milton Vincent, preached on this passage last week, so it was interesting to hear my Nepali pastor preach on it. He had two big points to make: one on suffering and one on prayer. Pastor Milton’s had been all about prayer. Samuel however said maybe three sentences about prayer to wrap up his sermon; the majority of it focused on suffering. In talking about suffering, he emphasized that this was our lot as Christians, that God’s character remained good and sovereign no matter our circumstances, and that often, our sufferings are ordained by God to prune us make us more fruitful for His kingdom.

Tomorrow: English service at Patan Church. This coming week: Nepali lessons begin, and more steady work with the NGO. Stay tuned!