Have your cake and eat it too

I miss being skinny. Three, four years ago while I was teaching I was a size 2, and occasionally I could squeeze into size 0 pants. I killed backpacking trips because I didn’t have a lot of resistance on me. But I was also sick and unhappy. My panic disorder had bested me as an adult, and my nonstop 100+ heart rate and nausea just killed my appetite.

Kids pay attention to the weirdest things. We’d line up to go down to the cafeteria and they’d clamor to see what I was bringing for lunch. “That’s all you’re eating, Ms. Clonch?” “Yep. Ms. Clonch just doesn’t get that hungry at lunch.” I wish I would have told them why.

I wish when a couple kids would go down for their weekly visit with the school psychiatrist, I would have put my hand on their back and whispered, hey, I go to a psychiatrist too.

Ah. so many regrets.

When I miss being skinny, I remind myself I don’t miss the crying and the throwing up and the anxiety. I don’t miss not being able to eat out with friends because of the stress. I don’t miss passing up on fun things because I was afraid.

I’m not disciplined enough to lose the weight I’ve put on (let’s just be real). I still hang on to my skinny pants, and maybe one day I’ll get the motivation to fit back into them. But for right now, I’m happy. my mental health is clear thanks to one tiny capsule a day. My appetite is back to normal. I can say yes to a piece of cake without fear that I’ll have a panic attack and throw it up later. I’m not at risk of dying of a heart attack, and I’m not a glutton. Having thighs has no bearing on my spirituality. My body is God’s temple, and your body is God’s temple too, regardless of our weight. In our love of skinny, let’s not make it an idol.

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The Buddhists do it better

“‘Is he actually an expert in religion?’ the Japanese Buddhist asked.  

I tried to explain that in the West it is not always considered essential that missionaries be well trained in Christian theology.

He replied, ‘I can only say that if we Buddhists send someone to another country to train the people in Buddhism, it is first required that they be experts themselves.’

There is some validity to the expectation of respondent peoples. They believe the one who is sent halfway around the world to convert them from religious systems that have commanded their faith for many centuries should be able to communicate alternatives intelligently and clearly.”

(From David Hesselgrave’s Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally)

_______________________

The Christian God is a God of great strength and power – a God that takes the lowly and uses them to make his name great, but God isn’t in the business of magic tricks and sleight of hand. He wants us to pray WHILE we’re diligent, not instead of it.

Think about the practical proof of this:

Do you lock your doors at night or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Dad, do you buckle your baby girl securely in her car seat or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Husband, when your wife is diagnosed with cancer, do you ask that a man of faith treat her and not a doctor?

O ye of little faith!

Pastor, do you study throughout the week for your sermon, or do you pray the moment after the last hymn ends that you’d just say the right things?

O ye of little faith!

What foolishness. Of course we don’t abandon all common sense in our everyday lives to pray instead.  So why don’t we extend this same thinking to our missionaries? Why can’t missionaries carry logic over to other countries too? Why are missionaries sent over to other countries just because they’re willing, even if they’ve had no preparation? Why are missionaries told in hard times: “Just pray about it. God will bless your work.” Why do missionaries have to stop using their brains in the name of “seeing God work”?

I’m glad that the banner over the gates of heaven doesn’t read “abandon all reason ye who enter here!”

It’s one of the biggest lies of our generation that hard work and faith are mutually exclusive. Where would we be without the combined MILLION hours of study from Zwingli and Calvin to Edwards and Spurgeon and Ravi Zacharias and everyone in between? Had they put down their notes and just prayed, would you have ever heard the messages or read the commentaries or even be half the Christian you’re striving to be today? Would you? Check your fear at the door. It’s okay to say no. It’s not that God’s not capable, it’s that he hasn’t chosen to work that way. Let’s honor him by working the way he’s laid out for us to. And that’s hard work and faith. Let’s be saints AND soldiers.

2 Timothy 2:16 – “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the Word of Truth.”

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Inadequacy and Honesty

It doesn’t matter who remembers your name a hundred years from now, because Christ will never forget it.

_____
Your worth isn’t found in how many people clap for you as you walk across the stage to graduate.

Your worth isn’t found in how many guys like you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you get along with other people.

Your worth isn’t found in how many friends you have.

Your worth isn’t found in a number on the bathroom scale.

Your worth isn’t found in how much you can open up to people.

Your worth isn’t found in your ability to overcome shyness.

Your worth isn’t found in success.

Your worth isn’t found in the acne on your skin.

Your worth isn’t found inside or outside your comfort zone.

Your worth isn’t found in what your parents think of you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you make conversation.

Your worth isn’t found in how awkward you are.

Your worth isn’t found in your grades.

Your worth isn’t found in accolades.

Your worth isn’t found in how much of a leader you are.

Your worth isn’t found in how well you can sing, write, speak. run. work. exist.

YOUR WORTH IS FOUND IN CHRIST.

It’s not just found in Christ; your worth IS Christ. My worth is Christ. God, I am yours. And since I am yours,

I am loved.
I am loved.

I am good enough, because Jesus is good enough – because his robes are mine. I wear white, not because I’m pure, but because He is; not because I have no sin, but because He washed it away, and because He chooses to hold my hand.

God. holds. my. hand.

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I’m so over being a Proverbs 31 woman

I wouldn’t say training with New Tribes is difficult per se, but I would say it’s heavy. Nate and I and our team will learn a language that no outsider in the history of ______ tribe has ever learned. We’ll use our training to match sounds with symbols, put down their language in written form, teach them how to read it and write it, teach them how to teach others. We’ll share the whole story of the Bible with them for the first time in the history of their heart language. They’ve heard bits and pieces of various religions in a common trade language, but never in their first language. We’ll translate the Bible for them. We’ll train pastors in the truth of the Word. We’ll teach them how to recognize and reject unsound doctrine that comes in the form of the Catholics and Charismatics and the Muslims who try to tickle their ears like Timothy talks about. And eventually, little by little, we’ll tip toe backwards until we’re gone and they’re self sufficient and they don’t need us. They’re developing and preaching sermons in Romans by themselves like total ballers. And they’re discipling others; they’re raising their children in the truth for every generation until Christ comes back!

*I’m saying “we” loosely. I don’t aspire to be a woman pastor over men.

But what if I teach them the wrong things? What if I was too interested in watching Netflix than in my preparation for this and so I’ve missed points in my theology or I’ve not given a sound defense against witchcraft and sorcery and the other things they’ve been involved in for so long? What if I don’t translate parts of Paul’s epistles accurately because I missed the nuances because I was lazy back in America? God will hold me accountable, not because I didn’t pick the best words for translating the crux of the passage and, dang it, Laura, you’re so dumb, but because way back when I consistently threw my time away. And at judgment day, we give account for our time.

There’s a misconception in Christianity that God just wants you to be willing, and that’s all he requires. Not hardly. If you’re going to go out there and represent Christ, you had better know what you’re talking about; otherwise you’ll make a mockery out of Christ because of your ignorance. And that’s happening all over the world right now. One of our teachers at school doesn’t miss an opportunity to remind us of this.

“How will you help them take every thought captive to obey Christ if you don’t truly understand and appreciate what is holding them captive in the first place?”  

“Your Sunday school answers won’t work out there. The fortresses Satan’s built around them over centuries aren’t made of sand. 

BUT the weapons of our warfare are divinely powerful for the destruction of forces.        2 Cor. 10:4

For some reason we love to sit around and ooh and aah at the Proverbs 31 woman, but what we need are more 2 Timothy 2:15 women – “Study to show yourself approved…rightly dividing the word of truth.”

So I guess it’s time to get started.

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God, make my feet beautiful

Before we came here, I thought the reason our training was two years was to teach us the ins and outs of phonetics, grammar and linguistics; how to learn an undocumented language from indigenous people; how to translate and all that jazz. One year in, and I’ve learned that’s the easy part, relatively speaking, and that’s not why we’re here for two years. We’re here for other things.

We’ve spent hours upon hours learning about the nature of animistic religion, and I’ve learned a million new things about the complexity of making disciples in other cultures.

We’ve read and talked about the intricacies of various religions, and practiced thinking through “how would you combat this minute detail to the people powerfully enough to defeat it?” As we hear about all these new gods during class I keep thinking, whoa. This is totally opposite of what God really is like!

If they only knew.

And it never once has been a thing of oh, yeah it’d be nice if God is who you think he is, but he’s actually like this. It has always, ALWAYS been, oh, if you only knew! he is so, SO much better than you believe him to be!

How much we take it for granted that the God who created this world is good. He could have been evil and unfair, and we wouldn’t have been able to do a thing about it.

The following examples are oversimplifications, but they’re common themes in many belief systems –

Tribal societies constantly try to commune with ancestors to help them during times of grief. The people find oneness with them because their ancestors were there once and can understand what the living are going through. Oh, but Jesus, that’s why you came to earth and clothed yourself in flesh! Because you know what it’s like; because when we pray to you, you know what we’re going through. You get it. You’ve been here. We have camaraderie with you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies all have a creator God, but he is distant, uninvolved and uncaring. God, you wept for us; you sent your only Son to buy us back. You banished us in paradise, but you spent the entirety of Genesis – Revelation pursuing us. You love us incomprehensibly.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies believe that if you bother the creator god with anything that’s not dire or urgent, you’ll invoke his wrath and he’ll kill you. God, you want to know our smallest cares and our deepest desires; you never get tired of hearing our voices. You long for us to talk to you.

But who will tell them?

Tribal societies teach that women or other marginalized groups are born with an evil spirit. But we are created in the image of God himself. We have honor and worth and dignity. We are beautiful and prized and worth more than our ability to bear children. We have inherent value.

But who will tell them?

How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

God, make my feet beautiful because right now they’re calloused and ugly.

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How Common Core Helped Prepare Me for Bible Translation

Several weeks ago, New Tribes’ head translation consultant came to teach us a course about communication and identified ten reasons translations fail to communicate. Here’s one of them. And it’s a principle from 6th grade common core that we spent hours harping on –

One of the most overlooked reasons why a translation fails to communicate is the reader misunderstands the purpose of a text. 

OMG Yes.

Reading Information text standard 6.6 “I can determine the author’s purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed.”

My kids had better be able to say that still with honesty.

Okay. Back to present times.

Of the 7000 languages currently being spoken in the world, only 1300 of those have completed New Testaments, and of those 1300, only a fraction communicate clearly and are consistently used. The rest have long since been thrown away or are never opened.

Everything we say, no matter how small, communicates purpose. Within the first few seconds of listening to someone talk, we’ve already determined their purpose and are interpreting the information we’re hearing in light of that purpose.

As you read these, notice how your mind immediately jumps to purpose:

“A guy walks into a bar…”

“Once upon a time…”

“Sift the flour into a large bowl…”

“Dear heavenly father…”

“When I went to WalMart the other day, I saw this little boy…”

“Could I talk to you about something?…”

We don’t identify the purpose from the definition of each individual word but from our familiarity with cultural signal posts. We know that the purpose of “once upon a time” is not to give the instructions for a recipe but to begin a fairy tale. The words by themselves don’t clue us into the purpose; cultural patterns and past experience do.

Here’s another example:

Before heading out the door for work, a husband calls back to his wife: “Don’t forget; It’s Monday!” What’s the purpose of his statement? Is it a simple statement of fact that it’s Monday? A sarcastic implication that he hates his job? A reminder to put the trash on the curb soon because it’s garbage day? An expression of excitement that it’s pizza night for dinner? The wife knows his purpose because she knows their routines and schedule and her husband’s body language and voice intonation. Being able to correctly understand the intent of the comment “it’s Monday” has nothing to do with her knowing that It’s is a contraction for it is, and Monday is the word for the second day of the week. Because the wife understands the purpose of the comment, she knows what to do with the information.

“The human memory resembles a bank of remembered situations much more than it resembles a dictionary.” 

When purposes of Scripture passages are misunderstood, hearers don’t know what to do with the information. Tragically, this problem plays out all over the world as good Christians with good intentions think that to be fluent in a language is the only prerequisite to translating the Scriptures. Consider how confusing it would be to read Matthew if you didn’t understand the purpose of genealogies; or you couldn’t differentiate between background text, prophecy, hyperbole, narrative, instruction, warnings and condemnations; or If you thought future events were occurring now and parables were to be taken literally. The Bible would be impossible to understand.  

Across cultures, the biggest question in someone’s life is oftentimes, “What’s my purpose here?” The Bible has the clear, soul-satisfying answer to this, but for people to be able to understand their purpose and how that fits into God’s purpose, they first have to be able to figure out what’s the purpose of this sentence? 

Literacy programs are foundational to the clear understanding of the gospel and its ability to be passed down through generations. I’m thankful God led me to study English in college and let me teach for a few years afterward. I’m thankful I got to do something I love, and I’m looking forward to learning a completely undocumented language in the future and combining all my loves: language, literacy and Christ.

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Honor and shame, rape and conversion

To open up our class on honor and shame cultures, the professor told the story of an Asian woman who was being raped in a car by four men when she saw her uncle about to pass by in his vehicle.

…Pausing so we could contemplate what would happen next, he then continued…

The woman buried her face in her hands as well as she could so her uncle couldn’t see or recognize her. She was more concerned with not bringing shame on her family than in rescue from her attackers. Through that illustration and others, we were introduced to how hard it can be for people living in an honor shame culture to proclaim Christ. It can bring great dishonor and shame to the family, and they’ve been taught their whole lives to avoid these at all costs. If a girl would rather endure gang rape and suffer the humiliation silently her whole life, we can’t expect her to profess Christ unless the gospel can radically change her worldview. The Jesus film and quick fix methods can’t accomplish this. Nobody in honor/shame cultures casually converts to another faith.

In much of the world people would not say cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” but cognatus ergo sum, “I belong, therefore I exist.” Because of the emphasis people place on their identity, the missionary must be able to redefine family for the people in light of the family of God Furthermore, he must explain the phenomenon that God adopts us into his family, to which we have allegiance. A Christian must be willing to disavow allegiance to their biological family if they don’t accept the faith and be willing to face the shame that brings on them and their family.

A changed mindset of this magnitude can only be accomplished through the power of the Spirit. In the hours of talking through the content, the professor relayed a story from his time on the field. One month, after he’d spent many years in the people group, a few believers from the tribe wanted to go down river to start telling their people group in a neighboring village what they had learned about the true God. The rapids were raging and showed no signs of letting up. Unwilling to wait any longer, the people pushed their canoes into the water. The missionary reluctantly got in and huddled in the back scared to death, After a few minutes, one of the new tribal believers turned back and said, “Don’t worry. Father will take care of us.” Without a care in the world churning in his soul, this esteemed older village man called God Father.

What a perfect reminder that we’re not doing anything to change the world. God is. May we be faithful when the ambition fades and the desire becomes heavy and sticky in the intense humidity. May we live by what we know is true in those days we don’t feel it. May we stay when we want to come home; when we want our kids to know their grandparents and their cousins. May we grieve and cry for our sacrifice and then get up and wash our faces. May our souls be glad when our hearts are raw, when we hate the people, when we’re so done with not being appreciated. May we stay to hear the word “Father” from blood-bought lips.

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