Posts Tagged With: Peregrinatio

Christmas far from home

This is my second Christmas outside the United States, far from friends and family.

And honestly, it’s a little rough. I never meant to spend two consecutive Christmases from my youngest brothers (they’re not even teenagers yet and I miss them terribly).

Being far from home has definitely made me more appreciative of carols and anything remotely familiar about Christmas. I’ve always loved Christmas carols, but now I play them constantly–and before Thanksgiving. I’m not in the US, I reason, so I don’t have to abide by that silly rule anyway. ūüôā I’ve written in the past about how much carols mean to me, but they’re extra special this season, for the same reason as this man’s blog post.

A couple of weeks ago, when we first arrived in Serbia, I was admiring everything Christmas I could see–the obnoxious advertisements, the skinny teenage boys dressed up in Santa gear, the blatantly commercialized shop displays with outrageous ornaments and gaudy decoration. I think it may have concerned Jordan a bit (I usually complain about the commercialization of Christmas), so he found an English-speaking Anglican church in Belgrade and surprised me with it.

“They’re having a special Advent service,” he told me.

Music to my ears. It was the best Christmas gift he could’ve given me.

Even with its loneliness, being away for Christmas is its own gift. Being far from my familiar, comforting traditions, I have to search for a deeper meaning, something new that I can’t fall back on like a cozy sweater or blanket. I’m reminded once more how lonely Mary and Joseph must’ve felt, going all the way to Bethlehem themselves, finding every door shut in their face, worried about the coming child and what to do.

Jordan and I have shown up in cities with our backpacks, no map, no reservation, and struggled to find a place for the night. But we’ve never done it while in labor, or done it because the ruling government forced us into a census.

Volunteering with these refugees has shown me, again, how much I have to be thankful for. I’m reminded, as I look at these lined faces, these tired eyes, that¬†Jesus was a refugee.

When the Holy Family fled to Egypt, they traveled a well-worn route, Joseph seeking employment and all three fleeing the massacre of the innocents. They weren’t the only family trying to get to safety. In fact, they probably came across other families and groups along the way, just like the refugees today.

Today as I was looking at the five or six boys under age 10 waiting in line for soup, I saw young Jesus. I looked at the teenagers with their ill-fitting sweatshirts and wispy mustaches, and saw Jesus traveling to Jerusalem with his family and even later, during his ministry as a homeless rabbi. I looked at the young men, often letting the little boys cut in front of them in line, and thought of Joseph, doing his best to keep his young family safe, even if it meant leaving their homeland, family, and language behind.

I miss my home, my friends and family, and my language, too–but I’m privileged because I chose to be away. I’ve never felt connected to Joseph before, but suddenly I saw him in all the faces passing by me.

Jesus was a refugee as a child and homeless as an adult. That thought keeps echoing through my mind on Christmas Day. Hopefully it is a truth that will stick with me through the rest of the year.

Categories: Serbia, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I believe in social justice

“I appreciate your passion for politics and subcultures,” someone recently told me. It wasn’t exactly a compliment based on other things that were said, but I was troubled for a different reason.

I had spoken out over an #Alllivesmatter “news article” published by the ConservativeTribune, explaining that it was rather inflammatory considering several unarmed black men had recently been killed by police, and that this website strays pretty close to the Alt Right movement. And while the response to my comment was tolerant, at least, it bothered me.

Because I don’t speak out about #Blacklivesmatter because it’s a hot topic or a political issue. I don’t think the “liberal media” is driving me into a frenzy, or that I have to be knowledgeable about stuff because I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international affairs.

Okay, yeah, obviously, I like politics. I like debating and sharing and discussing ideas. But that’s not why I speak out, nor why I believe in social justice.

The Christian Right, for better or worse, has been tied to the Republican party for the last 40ish years, and are a pretty vocal bunch. Unfortunately, because some of these social justice ideas (prison reform, welfare aid, education reform, etc) are championed more by the Democrats than Republicans, many Christians immediately view it as suspect.

I once read an article basically saying Christians had no business even using the phrase “social justice,” let alone getting involved, because the word “social” came from Marxist “socialism” and is therefore heretical to anything Christian. (This is where I could go on a very, very long rant about how American Christians hold onto their Republican/American identity more than they care about their Christian identity, but I’ll try to end that here).

I didn’t speak up about that news article because it disagreed with my political beliefs. It did, but that’s not why. I spoke up because I believe that every human is made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. I spoke up because my faith demands that I point out injustice¬†(By the way, the Hebrew word for justice doesn’t actually mean what most Americans think it means. Christian political scientists differentiate between two types of justice: restorative/primary justice, and punitive justice. We’ve forgotten than the Bible refers to both, not just punitive).

Contrary to some family members’ opinions, I don’t oppose Trump because I’m a flaming liberal (actually, I’m still registered as a Republican, but I feel no compulsion to vote for someone just because they have a red R by their name). I don’t consider myself liberal, nor a Democrat. I’m independent and a centrist.¬†And I got that way because I read Deuteronomy, Numbers, Psalms, Jeremiah, the minor prophets, the gospels, Ephesians, and James. I became that way by reading about Christian martyrs and leaders through the years.

Don’t knock on social justice, guys. Christians have long been involved in movements that expanded personal freedoms and justice to oppressed people, and ¬†they did it not because it was a convenient political tool, but because they believed that to be true to their faith, they needed to act.

As a Christian, it is a lifelong journey to view and review my political and social beliefs in light of what the Bible actually says. If I’m not careful, I can cherry pick any verse to support whatever cause I want. I can focus on the few times the Bible talks about marriage and divorce (important topics, yes) and build my entire one-issue voter profile and support, or I can view those verses alongside the hundreds of times God called the Jews and Christians to care for the stranger, the widows, the orphans, the vulnerable in our midst. And I can adjust my political beliefs accordingly (Okay, so maybe I have more in common with the Evangelical Left than I thought–and yes, they do exist).

This isn’t about political issues. This is about human beings.

This isn’t to draw a line a divide evangelicalism from social justice. I think we can work together, learn from each other, and even learn from each other’s different interpretations of Scripture. An example:

All my life, I grew up listening to the Widow’s Mite story in the gospels, learning that it was important to sacrifice everything for Christ, even my financial comfort. The widow was praised for her trust and sacrifice, and it was pretty clear that one day, I should hope to do the same. This is good, true, theology. (The Christian Right does a decent job focusing on the theology of a person’s relationship with Christ)

Then, when I was 22, I moved and started looking for a new church. Our first Sunday at an Anglican church had the Sunday Bible study meeting about the Widow’s Mite. “Okay, I grew up with this, I know the drill,” I thought. But instead I was taken through commentaries, translation of Greek words, and the religious/social customs of 1st century Jerusalem. And then I learn that Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees, the elite religious leaders, for creating a system of oppression, for forcing the woman to tithe her last mite rather than taking care of her in her old age. This was a scathing review of how the religious group focused on their own needs rather than ministering to their community, like synagogues are supposed to. (The Christian Left does a pretty decent job of focusing on the theology of a person’s relationship with the rest of the world).

So, which one’s right? Which one has more truth to it? If you were reading the last two paragraphs trying to pick apart one argument, you missed the point. Both are true and important to learn.

So why do I believe in social justice?

Simply put, because Jesus tells me to.

Categories: Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Keeping my heart soft

I love travelling abroad because it allows me to experience new ideas, cultures, people, and more. It’s awesome. Except for when it’s not. Like, for example, when we experience racism.

As a white woman I’ve experienced sexism at home and abroad, and I’ve also experienced a bit of racism overseas. Sometimes it comes in this really obvious and uncomfortable form of white privilege (“You are white! You get the best seats in the restaurant!” or “Look! The white person thinks this shop is better than the others. Let’s go see what she’s doing”).

Sometimes it comes in ambiguous form of a shopping attendant stalking me around the grocery store, watching every move I make (Does she think I’m going to steal from the store because I’m white? Does she think because I’m white/foreign I will need help reading labels? Is she trying to provide superior customer service to the white girl? Leave me alone!)

And sometimes it’s the abrupt, ugly, faceless side of racism usually experienced through institutions and systems. No one’s spewing racial epithets in my face, no one’s flashing obscene gestures because of my skin tone, but I still get the short end of the stick because I’m an immigrant/expat.

**Quick aside: I haven’t experienced a bad, racist situation in Korea. Koreans as a whole are extremely polite, formal, and kind people. I’m also white, which most Koreans view as an “okay ethnicity.” My fellow immigrants/expats who are of African or Arab descent are more likely to have¬†hurtful experiences because of their ethnic origins.**

Still, there are definite issues with systemic racism in Korean government and culture. For example, if I have a problem with my employer and need legal advice, there is a government agency set up with English teachers in mind for me. However, there are plenty of stories of grievances and concerns being brushed aside. Or if they are taken seriously, the judge might set a court date beyond my visa expiration so I can’t attend my own case in court.

As a foreigner new to Korea, I am immediately at a disadvantage in¬†Korean society. I know their alphabet, but I don’t know their language. I don’t know the ins-and-outs of political games. I don’t have a neighbor who knows a lawyer who could help me. I lived a somewhat insular and isolated life, often surrounded by other people who are just as disconnected as I am. It’s¬†no one’s fault–that’s just life. It happened to me when I moved to Florida, where I didn’t know a single soul and my car broke down. Jordan and I had to rely on the kindness of strangers and a decent towing company the same weekend we showed up in Tallahassee (yes, it was stressful). And that was in our own country! So you can imagine how much more difficult being in a foreign culture/country is.

Now, it would be very easy for me to look at the problems in Korea and complain. “These awful Koreans!” I could sneer. “They treat foreigners terribly. How dare they do that to fellow human beings! I deserve better treatment!” I could huff and complain about their faults (and they do have faults) and swear, “America is better! I’m going home as soon as I can.”

That would be easy. That would be the emotionally “safe” approach. It would also be the wrong one.

Because the truth is: the only reason America treats me better is because I’m an American citizen. I’m also not an ethnic minority in my country. If I were an immigrant/expat in the United States I would be receiving the same (if not worse) treatment at the hands of the American government.

The honest truth is that being an immigrant anywhere is hard. And I’ve got one of the easier experiences for reasons I’ve already listed.

So I have a choice. When faced with systemic racism, when watching a really negative, wrong experience unfold, I could harden my heart. I could hold onto my anger and seethe, pointing fingers at all the things the Koreans do I disagree with.

Or, instead, I could keep my heart soft. I could funnel the anger I feel at injustice into something productive and helpful. Stoking anger at the Korean government whenever I see a slight (and to be clear, I haven’t seen very many) might give me energy, but it won’t help me fix Korea’s problems. What it can do, however, is grant me empathy toward others in similar (or worse) situations than I am in.

Hardening my heart means walking away from Korea with frustration taking up more space than it should. Softening my heart means processing my hurt and accepting that injustice occurred, but I don’t have the power to do anything about that particular instance. Hardening my heart means focusing on my own pain. Softening my heart means looking for opportunities to feel others’ pain with them because I know exactly how it feels. Hardening my heart means condemning Korea for their problems and ignoring my own country’s problems. Softening my heart means acknowledging that racism and xenophobia are¬†a worldwide, human problem. Hardening my heart means comforting myself with indignation. Softening my heart means using my experience to ease the path of immigrants in the US.

Keeping my heart soft is difficult. It makes it vulnerable, open to more hurt in the future. So this is definitely a work in progress for me. You’re welcome to encourage me in my path or point out missed opportunities as we go along.

My time in Korea overall is positive. I don’t want people to read this post and end with the thought, “Wow, Adrianne sounds miserable over there.” Because I’m not. I’m loving the chance to actually live abroad and explore a culture vastly different from my own. Overall I have had wonderful, positive, and friendly encounters with Korean people and I haven’t personally experienced much discrimination by institutions.

Still, living in an isolated rural village without access to a car is hard at times. Not knowing the language is rough, though I’m trying to bridge some of the gap there. So when we return to the States, where everything is easy for us (we know the language, we know the customs, we own a car, we have social networks to keep us from disaster, etc), I’m definitely going to try to offer kindness and social support for immigrants in the United States.

We all need a kind smile and a helping hand some days, especially us immigrants.

Categories: South Korea, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A call for unity: My election thoughts (so far)

So how ’bout this election cycle, hmm?

This will certainly make it in the history books.

I’m intensely interested in politics, though I try to keep my political rants to a minimum on social media. But I’m breaking my half-silence to talk about unity. And yes, Trump. Because, unfortunately, no one can say anything this election cycle without talking about him. But I want to make this post more about unity, if that’s okay with you.


This election has been the most divisive and rhetoric-filled in my short memory (Clinton became president right after I learned to walk), but I’m pretty sure it’s been quite a while before I can remember as well. When Trump announced his candidacy, no one was really sure what to make of it. Was it a joke? Satire on the current political climate? Publicity stunt? A way to push moderates to Hillary in the general? None of us really thought it was for real. Probably not even Trump. I laughed when I heard and immediately wrote him off.

“He won’t win the presidency,” I assured my non-American friends. “He won’t even win the Republican primaries.” Well, here’s me now crossing my fingers and hoping still that he won’t win the primary.

Anger over the current establishment, both at the federal level and at party level, have reached record highs over the past few years. Pundits point to the rise of a candidate as a celebrity (Obama in 2008) and the emergence of the Tea Party in the Republican party. We all know the Republican party has been fracturing for years now, the party elites ignoring the base. In their (little) defense, however, who even is their base anymore? Evangelical Christians, once the bulwark of the party from 1980s onward) are shifting and changing stances. The party is hemorrhaging Latinos and other minorities over hardline stances on immigration reform (or non reform). The log cabin Republicans and other moderates are increasingly tired of putting up with “traditional values.” ¬†For a decade or so scholars have lamented the “polarization of American politics.


So perhaps we shouldn’t have been so shocked when Trump swooped in and capitalized on the grievances and anger felt by a large swath of the American public. What I mean to say is, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so shocked. After all, Nikabrik turned to a second-best candidate¬†in Prince Caspian.

But here I am and here we are, and here the American electorate is. While I believe that many of the people have good reason to feel disenfranchised from the economy and politics, what they do with this anger is even more important.

I am seriously concerned right now for the US. ¬†Trump has whipped¬†the latent anger¬†into a frenzy, coaxing rage into nonsensical action. We were already divisive before. Some of my conservative friends say “liberal extremists are dangerous for this country.” Some of my liberal friends say “all Republicans are idiots and racists.”

My conservative friends:¬† “The Liberals” do not get together in a back room and plot how to take down America.

My liberal friends: The Republicans aren’t trying to keep us in the Dark Ages or destroy all the progress we’ve made as a nation.


We can and should clash with ideologies, ideas, and action plans, but we have to trust that the other party are just like us and have the same goals, they just chose a method that’s misguided. Our social contract isn’t just with the government. It’s with one another. If that trust breaks apart, we have nothing left.

And Trump is stoking that narrative, blatantly calling for “them” to be silenced, carried out in stretchers, removed, etc. Who is “them”? Anyone who protests his rallies or disagrees with him, however respectfully. It’s “the blacks,” the “Mexicans,” the “Muslims,” and most recently “our communist friend’s [Bernie Sanders]” supporters.” Sometimes protests just make the division worse. But Trump isn’t calling out the differences in our beliefs and ideologies, he’s insinuating there’s differences in what makes us human. Words have consequences.

This ” us versus them” mentality is incredibly, incredibly dangerous. I would hope that we can all disagree on policy, economics, even religion, and still have more that unites us than divides us.¬†This mentality of social identity assures us that we are better than the “others.” And superiority breeds indifference which breeds suspicion and hate¬†which eventually turns to violence and discrimination. Just ask the Bosnians, the German Jews, the Tutsis, or the Yezzidis, to name a few. While the “us versus them” belief doesn’t always lead to ethnic cleansing or genocide, every instance of ethnic cleansing and genocide begins there.


Friends, don’t¬†buy into the rhetoric that distances “us” from “them.” We are all one, American, and in this mess together. And Trump’s bombastic, violent rhetoric has energized some of the worst parts of ourselves,inciting¬†violence, death threats, and mobs on the streets.

This disintegration of trust is dangerous to all of us. At this point, I’m not even concerned with who’s going to win the presidency any more (I still think Trump won’t win in the long run). I’m concerned¬†with¬†how our country is going to recover from this ugliness.¬†Regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, regardless of who wins the general election, we will still be left with angry, hurting, resentful people willing to lash out at anyone that unintentionally stirs up their own fears and insecurities.

So what are we going to do? How are we going to mend this?


My conservative friends: Please be troubled by what’s happening in the Republican party. Be a Christian (or Muslim or Jew or agnostic) first and a Republican, like, fifteenth. You don’t have to be liberal to be against Trump’s tone, fascism, or division. Please be willing to pray, to speak, and to act against this growing violence. Be willing to listen to another point of view before writing someone off as a “bleeding heart liberal” or “whiny black kid.”

My liberal friends: Remember that as disgusting as you find Trump’s tone and his supporters’ response, as protester you must behave better than them. Protest all you like but do it peacefully, respectfully, and constitutionally. Think of the nonviolent tactics¬†of¬†the Civil Rights Movement. And remember that most protests only cause Trump supporters to dig in their heels. Be for unity rather than just against Trump.

My Christian friends: Christ rescued us from our hate. He loved us before we first loved him. He loved us despite our unworthiness to be loved. Speak truth, but speak it in love. ¬†God loves the Trump supporters that scream racial slurs and willingly embrace the neo-Nazi comparisons. And God loves the reckless youth that rip posters and disrupt¬†rallies. We are to bandage the bleeding (and at this point we’re all bleeding because we’re all human) and hope for the despairing (and despair was definitely one of my emotions after Super Tuesday).

These sentiments that Trump has tapped into are larger than I first thought, and they will not–cannot–be ignored.

So what are we going to do about it?



Categories: Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

What we have learned

I began this voyage with lofty¬†ideals, high hopes, and (I admit it) stars in my eyes. “We’re going on a peregrinatio,” I exclaimed. “We’re going to learn so much and it will be grand!”

Yes, well. Six months later, I’m back home. I put on a couple pounds of muscle, have really beat-up feet, and if I’m lucky will dream in Spanish once in a blue moon. Inner change is more subtle, and if you read other bloggers’ thoughts on reverse culture shock and how travel changed them, a common theme is that some days, it seems like nothing has changed. Rarely are there huge revelations in life that alter your greater course. But there are little things, here and there, that show me that my perspective on life has shifted.

Jordan and I hoped this trip would teach us about ourselves and each other, as well as show us how to draw nearer to God. And I do believe it has done that. This trip, this adventure, put us in stressful positions, which revealed our character, both to ourselves and one another. While it is tempting to be in the middle of an argument in Spanish over how badly I need a bathroom and think, everything will be better once I get home,¬†it’s not true. Home has its own share of problems, mostly because the problems reside inside ourselves, not out in the world. Our issues, baggage, and problems are not created by stress, but revealed by it. At the risk of sounding shallow and cliche I will repeat Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”


It’s a shame, but it’s true. This trip has forced us multiple times to look in the mirror and say, “I am the one creating the problem. I was wrong to ________, and I need to take care of my own reactions to the scenario at hand, and then the anger and much of the stress will disappear.”

And, yes, that happened. We discovered flaws¬†in Jordan that neither of us liked. We found defects in my character also that we think need to go. We have been able to take stock of ourselves, our relationship, and see it from a different angle, thanks to the backpacking trip, and discover what strengths we create in our marriage, together, as a unit. This better understanding of ourselves helps us know what unpleasant issues we bring into our marriage (because, let’s face it, we’re all human and we all sin), as well as what unhealthy emotional habits we want to break before we pass our flaws down to our unsuspecting children. We all pass baggage down to our kids, but there’s a big difference between a hatbox and a freight container. I’m aiming for the hatbox. And hoping to nip hurtful behaviors in bud, at 3 years of marriage, rather than at 20 years, when most people look over their relationships.

Personally, I also think I have grown more flexible. If you’ve met me, you know I’m a little type-A and enjoy planning things. We went to two cultures (Arabic and Latin American) that, well, don’t. My sister and I joked that cinco minutos means when I feel like it,¬†manana¬†means someday, and luego means never.¬†So I got pretty good at last-minute changes, making plans ten minutes before we get on the bus, and going by word of mouth on important decisions. It was not easy at first. But now I think I can go with the flow a little better and adjust expectations (and Lord knows I need help with my expectations). Fumbling through Spanish also taught me a bit of humility and confidence at the same time. I learned quickly that I am not as intelligent and skilled as I like to believe, but gaining the knowledge and wisdom of another language over time also showed me what I can become.


This whole adventure in backpacking wasn’t always the ideal situation. There were countless sleepless nights on buses, and I went five days with 14 hours of sleep once. I almost had a crying, emotional breakdown twice during that stretch. But I made it!–through a lot of prayer and trust, I made it. Adventure isn’t supposed to be easy, otherwise it would be called a tea party. And anything, really, can be an adventure, with the right outlook, so I learned that my attitude dictated how the day went more than the external circumstances (unless we missed a bus and were stuck in town for three extra days waiting for the next bus. Then it was external circumstances). I hope this trip has made me a more positive person–not one that ignores the sad, frustrating things in life, because that’s called denial and is unhealthy–but a person that can appreciate the joy and goodness more fully because of the bad things that happened previously.

Trusting God, also has been a huge theme throughout our trip. Being young, nearly-broke, and in a new place puts people in vulnerable situations, as most of us in our 20s will readily tell you, and in these vulnerable places Jordan and I have found we seek God more and lean on Him faster. This trip put us in foreign countries where our broken Spanish had to suffice, constantly moving from place to place, and always on a very strict budget. God provided and protected us through the whole trip, and we’re immensely grateful for it. Our trust in Him grew on the trip, and I hope that our faith continues now that we’ve returned to familiar, comforting things in our own country.


I have learned so much from this trip (from Norwegian grammar to making yucca bread to using the bathroom in an open field without a wall for support and my jeans keeping my legs close together) that warrants its own post, but this is long enough for now.

On your trips, what have you learned? What other times of stress have you encountered that made you a better person today?

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Poverty: Shock, shame, and guilt

When my dad was a child, he (like most his age) didn’t always want to eat what was for dinner. My grandfather, like most parents, was very exasperated with him. One night my grandfather had enough. He resorted, in desperation, to what other parents were using then.

“Don’t you realize there are starving children in Asia that would be lucky to have this much food on their plates?” he asked (probably with a raised voice).

My dad, ever quick with words, grabbed up the plate and shoved it across the table. “Well here, then! Send it to ’em!”

I think the story ended with my father going in time out, then eating the cold dinner. I doubt my grandfather tried that logic again.

It brings up a good point. Why do we tell children about the starving children in Africa at dinnertime? Is it to make us feel lucky or blessed that we have food on our plates? Is it to motivate us to help others in need? Has a child, when confronted with that reality, ever said, “Well geez, Mom and Dad, I had no idea that kids like me on the other side of the world didn’t have enough to eat. Thanks for the broccoli. I like it now!”?

While the intentions behind that phrase are good, I don’t think its very effective (and not just because teaching empathy to children is one of the hardest things in the world).

When I went to my first developing region (parts of Mexico and Belize, later Nicaragua) I wasn’t shocked by the poverty I saw there. Believe me, it was there. I just wasn’t shocked. This probably has something to do with my personality (I rarely feel a strong sense of culture shock), but also something to do with what I have been told my whole life. I can’t even count the number of times people returned from mission trips, youth groups, or a well-meaning adult has told me, “You are lucky to be American, to never want for food or a roof over your head. There are people that live on less than $1 a day!”

And it’s true. It’s all true. I am blessed. I have never wanted for food, even in the first couple months of marriage when almost all of our food budget was used up buying basic ingredients. I have never unwillingly spent the night outside, even when our housing situation was up in the air (though that was due more to generosity of friends than our bank accounts). There are people so poor, so destitute that it is shocking. But hearing it over and over deadens the impact, particularly if someone never does see that poverty firsthand. I have now been through some very poor regions of the world. Jordan had gone through some poor parts of the United States (and they do still exist). So we have seen with our own eyes the dirt floors, the cardboard walls, the trash heaped everywhere. And I wonder, would I be more shocked if I hadn’t heard the statistics before? I don’t know. I just think that sometimes a person can’t understand an idea or reality unless they have seen or experienced it for themselves. No amount of slideshows or well-meaning speeches from youth group pastors will make them understand.

Absolute poverty is terrible. And we should do something about it. But the way we motivate one another is also important. A good way to get the attention of complacent, insulated teenagers that all have iphones and nice clothes is probably to shock them. But shame is the worst motivator, and guilt probably not a lot better.

During my time in impoverished places, I have felt more compelled and eager to act not from the shame of being from the wealthiest country in the world, but from the smiles and dignity of the poor, and my gratitude for my own wealth. I don’t know how most Americans are, but I do know that Jordan and I are very frugal with our money, as we were taught to be from childhood. We tithe, we sometimes (not often) give special gifts to church, we stick to a budget and try to do the best we can. We have fun, of course, I mean, we’re on this trip! We stretch our money as far as we can, and so are able to do so much more than someone with the newest smartphone, latest design of clothes, new car, or whatever other material “needs” he spends his money on. So because I know that we are careful with our limited income, that we spend responsibly, and try to avoid companies with unethical business practices, I am not ashamed of my wealth. We are are far from rich, compared to the average GDP per capita of the United States ($54,678.17 in 2014), but we have so much more compared to some people we have met. Rather than shame, I am thankful¬†for what I have and the small amount of excess we can give away.

Shame doesn’t motivate. It might make us give a dollar to a beggar once or twice, but it doesn’t change our hearts. Gratitude does. Shame also usually involves showing the people in need as just and only that: poor people. Photos of starving African children often precede a commercial to give money. This shock-and-shame technique, I think, doesn’t just hurt us rich people, but also strips them of their human dignity. When was the last time you looked at a photo of a starving child and thought, “I wonder what her name is. I wonder what type of music makes her smile”? Really, we even have a well-known phrase for them: the starving children in Africa. While the poorest of the poor are victims of income inequality and the trouble it brings, that is not their sole identity. They are not, and should not, be only known as victims.

We should feel compassion for the least of us, and we should want to help them. True help, or “sustainable development,” however, only comes when dignity is preserved on both sides of the equation, when giving is done from abundance and gratitude, and when receiving is done with agency and respect.

I don’t have any real answers for how to combat poverty. I’m still figuring life out, and poverty is a complicated issue. But I don’t think I’ll use the “starving children in Africa” trope to shame my children into eating their vegetables.

Categories: Culture Quirks, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Miscommunications and humility

I don’t know about you, but I hate being misunderstood.¬†That happens a lot right now.

Well, it happens in many places, if you buy into my Myers-Briggs personality trying to express several things at once and being misunderstood by most people.

But right now, because my Spanish isn’t always that good, I’m misunderstood and probably thought less intelligent because I can’t express my thoughts or I take a long time phrasing relatively simple sentences. When people mumble or speak quickly, that adds at least two levels of difficulty apiece to my understanding. So it’s very easy to become frustrated, resentful, and even slightly bitter about my isolation. It was worse in Nicaragua, because I really didn’t know squat. But it’s here, too, especially when I’m working at the reception. The other night, several Argentinos came into the hostel and wanted to know “where to buy….blah blah.”

I said, “Que?” And they looked at me strange. “Sorry, my Spanish isn’t that good. Can you repeat that, please? Where to buy…?”

“OH MY GOD! This girl doesn’t speak any Spanish!” one yelled loudly–in English.

I was really frustrated then, but was so mad that it was difficult to translate my thoughts into Spanish. “I can speak Spanish!” I said.

“Where can we buy food?” the first man repeated.

“Okay, like, what type of food?” I asked. They stared at me like I was stupid. “Restaurants, supermarkets, what do you want?” I asked, growing more angry.

“Bars, or restaurants,” they said.

Then I gave them directions, and almost gave them bad ones. Like, two-miles-out-of-your-way bad ones. And it really rankled me. And it still does, when I think about it, four days later.

Or, for example, today it took a full five-minute conversation for the grocery store clerk to understand that I was looking for vanilla. I kept trying to describe vanilla (without knowing the word for “spice”) and the poor woman kept smiling and saying she didn’t understand what I was asking. I said it was for cooking, a little sweet, and used in cookies and cakes. It had flavor. She took me to spices for cooking meat. I explained it was liquid, and she frowned. I said it was used for breakfast sometimes.

“Ah! Desayuno!” she exclaimed, and pulled me to the next aisle.

Turns out, I had already looked there, but missed it. Top shelf at the end of the aisle. She was kind throughout the whole embarrassing thing (I think I apologized for my Spanish three times), and in the end we understood each other. But something as simple as saying, “where’s the vanilla?” turns into a long, drawn-out process when I don’t know the word for “vanilla.”

But feeling stupid is a part of learning, even though I despite it, and it does keep my ego in check. So every time I think, “Spanish is stupid!” I remind myself that English has it’s own share of ridiculous conjugations and idiosyncrasies. When people are incredibly rude to me, as I am obviously struggling yet trying, I just remind myself that they’re jerks and I am acting better than them, even if my Spanish isn’t.

And I pray. I practice. I learn patience. I learn humility. When I realize I can’t even say, “By the way, last week I wanted you to buy me some cake,” in Spanish (grammar structure in that is hard!) without thinking for a full minute, I just take a deep breath and should say, “Okay, God. I am weak. I am fallible. I need help.” And even though my Spanish hasn’t improved by leaps and bounds, my reliance on God has grown a smidgen. And that’s more important in the long run, anyway.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives is beautiful and filled with churches and cemeteries. Unfortunately, it was also raining and we didn’t have an umbrella.¬†But our guide was great and we saw many wonderful, moving things.

Our tour drove us to the top of the mountain and we walked down, stopping along the way. We started at the Chapel of Ascension, which is actually a mosque. The Muslims share the chapel/mosque two days out of the year (Day of Ascension in Gregorian and Julian calendars). This is, of course, traditionally where Jesus ascended back into heaven.

This area is filled with apartments and homes belonging to Palestinian Arabs, the ones that are allowed to live in the East Jerusalem annexation of 1980 (following the Six-Day War of 1967). While most Palestinians are pretty peaceful now (and are probably just happy they’re not stuck in the West Bank), there are problems with Arab youths assaulting Jewish funeral-goers. And the not-forgotten bad memories of what Jordan did during its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Old City: destroying synagogues, churning up cemeteries and using headstones for pavement, and building a hotel over a Jewish holy place. While Jordan was condemned for invading Israel in 1949ish (interestingly enough, by the Arab League), it was never condemned by the UN for destroying cultural and spiritual places of Israel during the 19 years of occupation.

On a brighter note, this is how Jesus came down from Bethany on a donkey to enter Jerusalem. The place where he traditionally stopped and cried for the temple and the Jewish people has a church, designed by the same architect/monk who did the Chapel of Angels from Bethlehem.


The outside of the Church of Dominus Flevit is supposed to look like human tears. The altar inside has a mosaic of a hen and her chicks, from when Jesus wishes he could gather his people up like a mother hen. The view from inside it astounding. This architect was blessed with vision.


We walked down a ways and saw the Garden of Gethsemane (near the bottom of the Mount of Olives, probably a 20-30 minute hike from the Old City through the Kidron Valley). Here, the same architect built the Franciscan¬†Church of All Nations, so-named because many countries donated money to build it. ¬†It is also called the Basilica of Agony, for this is where Jesus prayed before his arrest. Originally, Empress Helena built a Byzantine church there in the 4th century, and centered the church to face a large white stone, the rock Jesus wept, bled, and prayed on. It was destroyed by the Persians and/or an earthquake, of course, and when the Crusaders came through a couple hundred years later they didn’t know about the stone. They just rebuilt the church at a different angle, covering the rock. It was eventually abandoned, until Barluzzi excavated and built a new church with the stone as the center point.

It is a breathtaking church, full of darkness and sorrow. The windows are of alabaster, a translucent stone, rather than glass, to let only a little light through. The glass doors are covered in metalworking designed to resemble olive trees, and the stones inside are all dark.


Above the stone and altar is a painting of Jesus praying on the stone. To the left is a painting of Judas’ kiss, to the right Jesus revealing himself to the guards. The front of the church was filled with pilgrims coming to touch, kiss, and pray over the white stone in the floor. This was a church created to weep in–the imminent agony and suffering of Jesus is present, but Barluzzi also made the church a perfect piece of worship all on its own, just the building. Through the architecture you cannot help but think of Jesus’ prayers in the middle of the night.

After touching the stone, Jordan and I sat and prayed for a bit. Everything seemed so real. Recalling the story of Jesus’ prayers and sweating of blood, his readiness to die for¬†me,¬†it felt like I was hearing it for the first time, it was that powerful. It’s amazing how easily I move through my life and forget what God did for me, who did nothing to deserve this love or sacrifice. I have people in my life, I believe, who would jump in front of a bullet for me. I have the blessing of loving many people in my life that I would do the same. But to know that someone, a real person, prayed and cried over the decision to actually sacrifice his life for mine–and did it–before I could know or appreciate it was very moving. Being in this basilica brought it all back to me.


The remains of the Garden of Gethsemane.

We ended our tour at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, a church by Greek and Armenian Orthodox. Copts, Syrians, and Ethiopians also have some rights in the church, and Muslims come in to pray sometimes. According to one tradition, after Jesus’ death Mary was taken back to John’s home and fell into a coma (perhaps from grief). She died, and was buried. On the third day Jesus came to his mother’s tomb and took her to heaven. The mourners saw the tomb was empty but smelled of fresh flowers, so eventually a church was built there in the 5th century. Evidence does exist that the church (which was built and rebuilt multiple times) is over a 1st century graveyard, but there isn’t any evidence of Christian worship before the first church there. There are other legends that Mary lived in Ephesus with John or went to Britannia with Joseph of Arimathea.

To get to the crypt, we walked down 47 steps and passed the burial place of Joseph (Mary’s husband) Mary’s parents, and Queen Melisende. She was the daughter of Baldwin II and the cousin once removed¬†of Baldwin I, one of the main leaders of the First Crusade and the second ruler of Jerusalem (though he was the first to accept the title King of Jerusalem). Even though she was a young woman, she inherited the kingdom of Jerusalem from her father (and before that, his cousins). The crusaders and Europeans in modern-day Israel loved her and thought she was an amazing ruler. She lived from 1105 to 1161, when she suffered a stroke.

Down at the bottom of the crypt is the empty tomb of Mary, with lavishly decorated icons and reliefs around the cave walls. Pilgrims write prayers and slip the pieces of paper through the cracks in the glass case to land in the empty stone coffin. Some donate money. This place is definitely worth a visit, though I wouldn’t put it as high on the list as the Holy Sepulchre or Church of Agony/All Nations.

By then it was sunset and we had to rush to the bottom of the Mount of Olives, cross the narrow Kidron, and climb back up into the Old City. We entered through the Lion Gate, which was where the old Roman fortress was at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. The guide showed us the way down the Via Dolorosa, which we followed until it was time to get to our hostel.

While it wasn’t ideal for it to be raining during our trek, we are both so glad that we made Mt. of Olives a priority on our short trip!

Categories: Israel, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Land flowing with milk and honey

Capernaum, a small town on the bank of the Galilee was where Jesus found several of his disciples. It is also where we began our day.


There is a church dedicated to Peter over the ruins of what they think is Peter’s house. This big building suspended over the ruins is the church, and Franciscans run it (if I got their habit correct). When excavations were done in this area, they found the remains of a house with the ruins of a 5th century and 3rd century churches around it (built in an octagonal shape, which was popular at the time). Because of this, they believe it was the home of Peter. Surrounding the area are the remaining walls of the town. The largest building left more-or-less standing is a 4th century synagogue, which is the feature image for this post. The white stones are from the 4th century, but the black stones beneath are from the synagogue that Jesus taught at. From this town Jesus called Peter, James and John, and Andrew to Him.

Mt. Beautitudes was about a 20-30 minute drive away, near the town of Tabgha. IMG_0470

Every so often a pope comes and preaches the beatitudes to the congregation. Throughout the gardens surrounding the church are the beatitudes in Latin and English, creating a very peaceful environment. When we were there we passed by several Bible studies. This is the view from Mt. Beatitudes. Can you believe how green everything is, even during winter? Below, in Tabgha, Jesus fed the multitude with the two fish and five pieces of bread. We also visited that church, which, fittingly, was decorated with tiles in the designs of fish.

We journeyed far up into the northern parts of Israel, the Golan Heights, which borders Lebanon and Syria. We didn’t see much of a military presence, but we did pass an Israeli tank and a couple of UN trucks. The UN is on the border to monitor what happens in Syria.

Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain is Israel, is the border point shared between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. IMG_0514

We ate lunch up on one of the mountains. Everything was covered in snow, but slowly melting. Several of us were eager to see Syria, so our bus driver found a good overlook into Syria. It was a park, full of families playing in the snow (it may be the first time some of the children have ever seen snow!) and we got a good look at the southeastern corner of Syria. Everything there, at least, seemed peaceful.



Behind my head is a UN camp, and beyond that are Syrian villages.

The mountain tops were cold! I think everyone in the van was ready to descend and go to Banias. It is a park and archeological dig at the bottom of Mt. Hermon, in Golan Heights. It was originally called Paneas, after the god Pan. Arabic doesn’t have the letter P in it, so they pronounce everything with a P into a B (unless they’re from Morocco), so the name was eventually changed.

There are beautiful springs and a waterfall in the park. This is a bad photo because I took it.



On the other end of the spring is the archeological site, the place of Caesarea Philippi. Herod the Great erected a temple here to the god Pan and dedicated it to the Roman caesar. Later, Philip built a town around the area, and even later Agrippa lived here. According to tradition, this is the site that Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It is also the place that Peter told Jesus he was the song of God. I found it ironic that in a city centered around a temple to Pan, a temple to Hermes, and a temple to Zeus, Jesus halted his disciples and asked them who He was. And how Peter answered.


The grotto behind Jordan was the back wall of the temple to Pan.

We returned to Nazareth right as the sun set, and settled in for another cold night. The next morning, our last day in northern Israel, was split between the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river.

We stopped in Tiberias, named after the caesar (how did you guess?) and walked along the Sea of Galilee for a while. Storm clouds rolled in quickly and it began to rain. While we were somewhat disappointed in our time being cut short by rain, it did remind Jordan and I of the story of Jesus calming the storm. And the story of Jesus walking on water. We could just barely see the other side of the lake. It’s also incredibly deep.



About 20 minutes later it stopped enough for us to get out and see the Jordan river. This is as near as people can guess where Jesus was baptized–give or take a couple miles. We were both surprised at how small it was. When I imagined the Israelites fording the Jordan to conquer Israel, or John the Baptist hanging out there for days on end, I pictured something a little bit more like the Mississippi river. Not quite that big, but not this either. In the words of our guide, “what we Israelis call a river you Americans call a sewage drain.” We compared notes with our German roommate back in Jerusalem, and he laughed and said that “the Jordan river is so small you can spit across it.” That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much.¬†IMG_0538

Then we finished our trip back to Jerusalem!

I suppose this speaks of my ignorance, but the thing that has surprised me the most about Israel is how green everything is. Seriously! Look at this gorgeous land!

IMG_0466Now I understand why the Israelites called it the land flowing with milk and honey–especially since they’d just spent 40 years in the desert. This much green was shocking to us, and we had just spent around 9/10 days in the desert. I also have been surprised at how many mountains there are here. Of course, most of the mountains are in the north–where I’ve been, so perhaps it’s a little out of perspective. All of these mountains make me a little relieved we aren’t hiking the Jesus Trail, though. These steep hills would have made the Galilee region quite remote 2,000 years ago, so now I have a better understanding why everyone thought the disciples were country bumpkins.

Tomorrow we visit Bethlehem (in the West Bank) and the Mount of Olives!

Categories: Israel, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nazareth – Boyhood home of Jesus

We left Jerusalem early in the morning and spent about an hour and a half in the bus to get to Caesarea.

Our four-day tour of northern Israel began there, but we will spend three nights in Nazareth and take day trips out to the other cities. This is a self-guided tour, so transportation is provided, as well as the arrangements with the Nazareth hostel, but once at museums or small towns we hope off the bus and explore by ourselves. It’s nice to be independent, but it would also be great if the bus driver talked more about the stops before he dropped us off. However, this is half the price of a religious tour (our first choice). We decided to do this type of tour and look up our questions on the internet later. Both of us paid attention in Sunday School, so it can’t be that confusing, right? Haha.

We began in the ruins of Caesarea. There is little left of the town besides the harbor and remains of the Byzantine and Crusader periods.


Jordan sits in Herod’s theater above. Herod (like the evil Herod from the Christmas story) designed, planned, and built this town and dedicated it to Caesar. I am near the ruins of Herod’s temple now. The Mediterranean Sea is behind me.



From there we journeyed on to Nazareth. Today Nazareth is a small town of around 80,000 (at least that’s what a local told me), of Arabs. Very few Jews (ethnic or religious) live in Nazareth. Perhaps so many Arabs live here because it’s in northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese border. I think these Arabs (some are Palestinian Arab) have lived here for a very long time, before Israel was a state. Today, about 70% of the population is Muslim (no surprise because almost all of the town is Arab) and 30% Christian. I believe the religion percentages used to be flipped, Christians outnumbering Muslims, until there was some violence near Lebanon and many Christians moved further south. So here, there are churches and mosques side by side, with Christian Arabs keeping the churches open. I think it must be very difficult sometimes to be a Christian Arab (especially a Christian Palestinian Arab!), but I am so grateful for them and what they do here in Israel.


We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Catholics believe Gabriel visited Mary. It is built directly over the center of 1st century Nazareth. Below the plaza you can view the ruins of houses. Inside the church, where the altar is on the main floor, the Franciscans have left part of the ruins open and viewable behind the altar. The Greek Orthodox and the Copts have churches where they think the annunciation happened, but we ran out of time to visit those.


The basilica’s outer walls are decorated with artwork of Mary and Jesus. Many countries sent one piece of their own. Above is a very famous Madonna and Child from the Greek tradition. Below is something a little less known.


It was really neat to see each culture’s imaginings of Mary and Jesus–a great reminder that, in a way, Jesus is all of our ethnicities and created us to be a mosaic of beautiful colors and cultures that, pieced together, all point directly to him.

Afterward, we visited Nazareth Village. A tourist attraction by the YMCA and run by local Christians, it offers visitors a chance to see the Nazareth Jesus grew up in.


There were all the typical animals in the village, as well as living history actors that tended the animals, crafted carpentry, and wove clothing. There is even a rooster that thinks he is a sheep! It was hilarious to see this rooster walk around with the sheep and goats, completely clueless that he’s not a part of the herd.


Our guide said that “Deek”¬†(Arabic for rooster) has hens and chicks of his own, but prefers to be with the herd. He walks around with them, tries to head butt the rams, and waits at the sheep’s pen in the morning to be let out with the shepherd.

Within the village we were able to see homes, a typical small-town synagogue, and oil press.


We greatly enjoyed ourselves at the little living history museum!

We ended the day at the Centre International de Marie. This is across the street from the Basilica, and is run by the Chemin Neuf Community, a French Catholic organization. A volunteer told us that the center was begun by a Frenchman who believed that Mary should not be the dividing point among Christians, but a point of unity. He built the center, and because of that belief the chapel on the top floor is called the Chapel of Unity. We went through their 55-minute interactive movie about Jesus’ life through the eyes of Mary, and it was quite moving. It started with the prophecies and went all the way to the resurrection, and by the end I was sniffling. This is why I still have not watched “The Passion of the Christ.” I think if I watched that I would be a wreck for the next three days. The center is run by donation only, and I think if you’re in the area it’s well worth an hour visit. And you may even get your photo on their facebook page, like us!

It was uncommonly cold, and since night was falling we rushed back to our hostel for warmth. Everyone we meet in Nazareth has assured us that “this weather isn’t normal! It hasn’t been this cold in over 10 years!” but that doesn’t exactly change the fact that we’re sleeping in our coats again. Oh, well, I suppose the more dramatic the experience the better the story afterward. And hey, at least we missed the snow from last Saturday! ūüôā

Categories: Israel, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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