Culture and Communion

I want to tell you a story.

In my role as area communications coordinator I’ve had the privilege of visiting many countries in Asia and the Pacific to assist Wycliffe organizations in their communication and media development. Years ago a colleague and I went to India to facilitate their rebranding.

While there, we walked the Wycliffe organization through the branding process and helped them craft a communication strategy. But more than that we forged friendships, lovely cross-cultural friendships that have enriched my life and taught me new things.

Last week I was in Bangkok for area leaders’ meetings.

AY3E9467.JPGSitting beside me was the director of Wycliffe India, a long-standing friend from that visit years ago. On the last day of our meetings we shared communion together, and even after all these years, I was touched once again by this man’s gentle and gracious spirit. For you see, I offended him deeply in the sacrament, yet he did not hold it against me.

When the plate was passed to me I picked up the loaf of bread with both hands, tore off a small piece and held it in my right hand, then returned the bread to the plate and handed the plate to Alex with my left hand. He took the plate without flinching, set it down in front of him and deftly broke off a piece of bread one-handed. He set the piece on the table in front of him, then picked up the plate and passed it along with his right hand. His left hand was in his lap. In Indian culture, as in many places in Asia, the left hand is considered to be dirty and offensive. One never touches another person with the left hand; never hands things to someone with the left hand; and never uses it for eating. Ever. When I held the bread with my left hand, and then handed the plate to him with the same hand, I was essentially defiling the sacred loaf. He had every good reason to recoil or even refuse to eat from the same bread. But instead, he understood that I’m American and though I’m trying to remember all the subtle cultural differences, even after 11 years I sometimes forget. I did better with the communion cup.

In the quietness of my prayer that day I thanked God for Alex who gave me grace and space to be who I am, and for the Body of Christ that chooses not to be easily offended but rather to graciously love and forgive one another, just as our Lord does us.

Media in Mission: our back story

20151012_163939(0)Last month I had the privilege of speaking at a conference in Dubai. While it was a difficult and exhausting week, I saw God working in my life in surprising ways. Though I and my colleague had prepared well for the event (we were the main speakers for the four-day conference) there were times when I literally prayed, “God, I don’t know what I should do now or what I should say now” and I know in my heart God was in the moment. Without fail, when I felt inadequate, God spoke through me or to me. It was an odd and beautiful week between God and me.

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My colleague Yu TaeBum and I in front of the most expensive hotel in the world! (No, we didn’t stay there. Didn’t even go inside. Good thing they don’t charge for photos.)

One of the times God came through for me was on the last day of the conference. The theme of the conference was Media in Mission but I spoke on the mission of God and his people, which is my resounding theme. After a couple days of speaking, the organizer came to me saying people wondered what my presentations had to do with our work in media and communications. Talk about disheartening! The organizer asked if I could say more about media and less about God’s mission. But I can’t. God’s mission is where my brain automatically goes these days. So I asked God what to say to make this relevant for the group.

On the last day, on our way to the venue, he told me. I just knew what to say next. I scrapped my presentation, and while the group was going through the usual morning start-up stuff, I quickly made a new powerpoint. (Anyone who knows me as a speaker will understand the miracle in that statement – I hate making powerpoints; it takes forever to get them right. But there I was, whipping one together in no time at all.) Then I got up and spoke about knowing our “back story”. We in media have to know our back story if we want our products to have an impact on our audiences.

For example, a picture of someone handing a water bottle to another person is nice. It shows friendship; kindness; generosity or whatever. It’s a feel-good photo. However, with the back story of someone helping a child left orphaned by a tsunami, or someone gently caring for a woman who was just rescued from an abusive situation, or two coal miners sharing a drink after being trapped for three days underground, suddenly the photo has depth and emotion. Without a back story, a photo is just a pretty picture. With a back story a photo becomes a message.

In missions, our media would be just a lot of pretty pictures if we didn’t know the back story of how God is reaching out to redeem this broken world and restore it back to the beautiful creation it was intended to be. We are just a bunch of nice people doing nice things if we don’t know the back story of how we are called to be God’s people — the presence of God himself– in this grief-stricken world, embodying kingdom characteristics of peace, justice and righteousness; love, mercy and grace so the world can see the heart of God through us.

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Those of us in media have the distinct privilege of showing the world through expressive, endearing and compelling means the wonder of who God is. The back story of our ministry should radiate out of every piece of media we produce or we have failed at our jobs. It’s not about telling touching stories, making  good products or applying trendy techniques; it’s all about pointing people to God — about displaying his glory and revealing his heart for the nations.

 

 

So much to love about Kenya

I really should do a travel blog…not that I’d be any good at it, but travel fills up a fair bit of my life so it seems only logical to talk about it. Another thing I do a lot of is editing, but I’m thinking that wouldn’t be as fun a blog as one about travel.

My room at the guest home where we met.

My room at the guest home where we held our meetings. Doesn’t it look like something out of Karen Blixen’s book?  (More pictures below)

Seeing new places is always nice, yes (though what I see most often is the inside of conference rooms around the world – and surprisingly, they all look alike). But meeting new people is one of the nicer perks of my job. Last week I was in Kenya for Global Alliance communication leaders meetings. I arrived late Sunday evening and left very early Friday morning so our organization in Kenya arranged transportation for me. Raymond, the man who drove me from and to the airport, is a cheerful, talkative, middle-aged man devoted to God and to his country. It was a delight to chat with him as we drove the dark quiet streets of that otherwise bustling city.

Raymond is proud of Kenya, proud to announce that Kenya is progressing so quickly now that he anticipates they are on a trajectory to becoming a first-world nation within his lifetime. He told me about how they are implementing a new constitution and how the new constitution secures rights for women and other marginalized people. He told me about how the nation is becoming a significant player in the world of technology. And he talked about how the government is cracking down on corruption, which is often a key factor in holding nations back from development. Evidently they have a law that requires people running for a public office to reveal their personal finances and explain how they attained any wealth they have. A slogan used by the media to expose corrupt public figures is: shame the name.  If anyone has gained wealth through devious ways or relationships, they will be publicly shamed and their name will not go far in the political arena. As a result it seems the community and political leaders are truly seeking to serve the nation and its people, and it’s working. Kenya, or at least Nairobi, is a beautiful place, well-developed and well-groomed from what I observed.

Raymond was also proud of the church in Kenya. He told me about how his church alone has sent out and supports missionaries to — get this — Sudan (yes), Australia (oh?), the United States (chuckle), and England (wait a minute…) Yes, England, the land that had colonized them in the past. I find that beyond fascinating. To me it demonstrates a heart of sincere forgiveness and grace – to desire to bless the nation that had formerly subjugated your nation. And when Raymond told me about this, he tone was gentle and cheerful. He told me he fasts every Thursday and devotes that time to praying for the missionaries from his church and for God’s mission in many other places. He said he tries to support missions as he is able. He doesn’t have much to offer (as though fasting and praying wasn’t “much”), so to contribute financially, he pays the monthly phone bill for a mission leader in his church. He just wants to do whatever he can for God, for God’s people, for Kenya and for Kenya’s people.

I wish I would have gotten a photo of Raymond so you could see his smile — but it was hard to see his very black face in the darkness and I didn’t want to blind him with a flash while he was driving. You’ll just have to trust me when I say he looks every bit the saint that he is.

We had good meetings in Kenya — three days of ideas and information exchange. And we spent a morning at a game park — because you can’t go to Kenya and not see something. But despite all that, a highlight for me was the two half-hour trips through the dark city listening to Raymond enthuse about his beloved country and his beloved church. God bless Kenya! God bless the Church in Kenya! and God bless Raymond!

A guide took us down to the water where we didn't see the hippos but we did see this laughing croc. Evidently he keeps his mouth open to cool off among other reasons.

A guide took us down to the water where we didn’t see the hippos but we did see this laughing croc. Evidently he keeps his mouth open to cool off among other reasons.

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The pic isn't great, but that's a lion lower right and a curious giraffe upper left. We were about 20 feet from the lion.

The pic isn’t great, but that’s a lion lower right and a curious giraffe upper left. We were about 20 feet from the lion.

A new twist on an old way to stay in touch

I own a business. Did I ever mention that before? Yes, I own a business. It’s called BLoomin’ati’s (actually, I’m not sure how it’s spelled, but it is my business — mine and my grandson’s.)

The B is for Brock, my oldest grandchild, son of Celeste who lives in Chicago. (Here’s a selfie he took with my camera.)

Brock at his best

Brock at his best

The L is for Lola. That’s me. (Lola is the Filipino word for Grandmother.) I’ll add a selfie we took together, just for the fun of it.Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.00.16 AMIMG_7989

The rest of the word is a play on the name Lou Malnati’s, Brock’s and my favorite pizza place in Chicago. (You really have to open that link… the picture alone makes me want to come home.) Brock took me there for my birthday last year. Well, he sort of took me there. His mother drove us, since he’s only seven years old. (Come to think of it, I think she paid, too.)

Anyway, B and I have this little business venture going. You see, my mother, who is 86 years old, is in a care facility for the elderly. While she enjoys good health and a clear mind most of the time, she does suffer from memory loss. Although I try to call her several times a month, every time I call I get the same greeting: “Dawn! It’s SO good to hear from you. I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth, it’s been so long since we’ve talked.” At first I’d smile to myself and just respond with something like, “Yes, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve been traveling (or working, or ..whatever…)” But then I got to thinking, Wait a minute. My mom thinks I rarely call her. She thinks (or could think) I don’t care enough to keep in touch. That made me feel sad. So I enlisted the help of my grandson.

Here’s our deal. Every week I write a letter to my mom but, since postal services in the various places I live and travel are often unreliable, instead of sending the letter directly to her, I email it to Brock. He prints it out, writes the envelope, adds a stamp and sends it off to her himself. Now every week she gets a letter from me — you know, the paper kind you hold in your hand and read in good light. This way she knows I am thinking of her even when she forgets my calls. I pay Brock a wee bit of money to do this for me each week, so he’s a happy camper, as well. IMG_0647

Now when I call my mom, instead of hearing how long it’s been between calls, I hear her rave about the adorable envelopes she gets with Brock’s handwriting on them and aren’t they just the cutest thing ever and she’ll never throw them away because they are just too precious for words and I should just see how cute these envelopes are and, oh yes, “thanks for the letter, Dawn.” But I don’t mind.  She’s happy and Brock’s happy, so I’m happy. It’s a win/win any way you look at it. (Here’s a sweet picture of Brock reading to my Mom.)30F66646-5AFA-431F-8E52-CD8808FBEE67

When you live far from your family — mother or grandson or anyone else — you need to find creative ways to maintain relationships. I’d be interested in knowing what other things people do to stay in touch. Have you heard any good ideas?

On Solitary Confinement and the Value of People

A friend and I were talking recently about the whole purpose-of-life thing, and how we were created to be relational. Part of being made in the image of God includes not only having the capacity to enjoy being in relationship with God and others, but actually needing to. My friend, a trained counselor who worked with residents of the State penitentiary in South Dakota for 20 years, said, “That’s why solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments we can inflict on people. It runs contrary to our very raison d’etre.”

I thought about that last Monday. I was en route to Papua New Guinea and – to get the cheapest tickets – had to overnight in Cairns, Australia, for two nights. (yeah, right….oh darn!)  I found a “hotel deal” online and booked it, proud of myself for keeping the entire cost of the trip at more than $500 savings over what the travel agent had quoted.

Such a deal.

The booking agent for the hotel sent me an email saying I should call him when I land at the airport, before grabbing a taxi. Taxi? What about the airport shuttle service advertised on the website? Oh, that is no longer operative. Just take a taxi. It shouldn’t cost much – no more than $25.

The taxi driver pulled up to the hotel entrance — right there next to Jucy Rentals.  IMG_2728In one smooth move I got out of the car, glanced inside the hotel, turned back to the cab and almost asked the driver to stay for a minute… just in case I needed a quick escape. I chided myself for being jumpy. Instead I paid him and watched him drive away.

The entrance to the hotel was secured with a formidable double lock on the door handles. The lobby, visible through the glass doors was abandoned; the front desk cleared of typical travel aids – brochures, pens, flower arrangements….people.  The coffee shop to the right – or what was once a coffee shop, was stripped of all appliances and furniture. It now seemed to serve as a storage unit for unwanted kitchen trolleys.IMG_2736

I waited. In a few minutes Michael appeared, breathless and sweaty. He apologized for being late, opened the door and ushered me in, all the while talking about how this hotel had gone out of business but “his business” still rented rooms in the building (not sure how that happens, but there we were…) He apologized for the condition of the elevator, which needed a holistic facelift. He promised me that my room would be better. And it was. In fact, the room was lovely – clean and bright.

Michael turned on the air conditioner, pointed to a few food establishments on a tourist map, and showed me where I could find the Asian night market if I wanted some cheap souvenirs (I didn’t tell him I live in Asia and go to Thai markets regularly.) Then he said, “So there you go. If you need anything just call me on my cell phone.” And with that he was gone. Gone, I say. And I realized suddenly that I was all alone. There was no desk clerk downstairs to call with questions or requests. No concierge. No doorman to monitor the people who come or go. There was no phone in my room.  No food. No room service or wake up calls. No internet. Nothing. I was totally on my own. (Okay, there was internet available – three blocks away and you had to sit on the curb outside a travel office to log on. I went there but felt funny sitting on the street trying to download 122 emails while tourists in beachwear walked around me.)IMG_2733

I felt strangely uncomfortable. I usually enjoy being alone. I like having down time. But I realized on Monday that I only enjoy being alone when I know there are people about. Funny, eh? This aloneness was more like voluntary solitary confinement. And I didn’t like it. Not one little bit.

I gave myself a pep talk about how I didn’t really need anything or anyone, so it shouldn’t bother me that no one was around. I went through a mental checklist of fears and desires. Nope, I was perfectly alright. So why did I feel restless? Because no one was around.  But really, Dawn, why is that such a big deal? I don’t know… it just is.

That evening I was sitting on the little balcony having a cup of tea when suddenly a young woman entered the courtyard below my room yelling obscenities at the moon and overturning picnic tables. When she saw me she decided I was a better target for her verbal abuse than the faceless moon – another indication of how we need people, even if only to vent on them. I asked her if I could be of any help (hoping she’d say ‘no’ and mentally trying to calculate exactly how much help I was willing to give considering I had no back-up.) She didn’t answer my question with a direct “yes” or “no” but her word choices clearly communicated her desire that I leave her alone, which I was only too happy to do.

After a restless night, I decided the next day to check into a different hotel, even if I had to pay double. I told the new hotel desk clerk my story and he was graciously sympathetic. He said he couldn’t discount a room below the hotel standard rates, but he could give me a free upgrade with wifi. I wanted to cry. I don’t know why, but my emotions by that time were very close to the surface and I truly wanted to cry. I went to my room and you know what? I stayed there – alone, mind you – the rest of the day. I didn’t go out or talk to anyone, but I was at peace. Why? Because I knew there were people around if I needed them and that was good enough. Funny what a difference people make.

There’s no real point to this story. Just telling you what happened to me while traveling this week….and solemnly warning you to avoid solitary confinement at all costs.

February Flower Festival

It’s Flower Festival week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and fortunately for me I was able to get in on the fun. I’m attending back-to-back meetings in Bangkok but had the weekend off. I used the free days to fly up to Chiang Mai to visit with Ling Lam, a young woman from Hong Kong who is the journalist on our communication team. We spent the day doing weekend things like playing her ukulele (she played, I listened) chatting over a long lunch in the mall, and walking through a street market that reminded me of a mini Wisconsin State Fair, Rose Bowl Parade and Taste of Chicago all rolled into one.

We ate Pad Thai prepared for us right there in the street.

Street Vendor in Chiang Mai Street Vendor in Chiang Mai

(Click the link above to watch the video)

 

IMG_2535 IMG_2532We strolled past tables selling home-made soaps in local fragrances of jasmine, lemongrass, and mangosteen. We sampled strawberry preserves but passed on the cup of freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice. We photographed the blue-ribbon-winning orchids and flower arrangements fit for the King (literally). And we stayed long enough to watch the parade of one marching band and six floats constructed from  fresh orchids, roses, flowers and other natural products.

Parade float made with flowers

Parade float made with flowers

Elephant made with rice.

Elephant made with rice.

Elephant made with black sesame seeds.

Elephant made with black sesame seeds and small orchids.

It was a regular home-town event complete with  a parade princess talking on her cell phone.  (Click the link and watch for the girl in white on the second float.) I had a great day with Ling, who, by the way, is there for a condensed study course in Thai. Nope, I’m not making her learn the language for her job; she just wants to. She is using her vacation time to take a university language course in a foreign land just ’cause. Yea, I get to work with some pretty impressive people.

Ling Lam, a beautiful Chinese woman beside a beautiful float in beautiful Chiang Mai.

Ling Lam, a beautiful woman beside a beautiful float in beautiful Chiang Mai.

Loving your job!

Tae-Bum eating a healthy lunch

Tae-Bum eating a healthy lunch

IMG_2519Yesterday Tae-Bum (senior video production specialist) and Kyung-Suk (assistant project manager) and I were sitting around the table eating lunch and talking about…. well…. you know, the regular things people chat about over brown-bag lunches. Tae-Bum told us about his birthday celebration last week. His family all went to Yellow Cab Pizza for a treat, but with great discipline he took his own food — hard-boiled eggs and fresh veggies! For his birthday! Because he is on a diet.

In a couple of months Tae-Bum will be going to gather footage for a video we will be producing about a church tucked high up in the Himalayan Mountains. He had visited the site several years ago and well remembers how difficult the trek was to reach this particular language community. So to prepare for the trip, he is dieting and working out at the gym three days a week. He wants to be fit and able to carry his cameras, lenses, tripods and gear up the 15,000+ feet of breath-taking (literally and figuratively) Himalaya highlands. That’s what I call dedication to your job!

Here are some photos from his last visit. FYI, you can click on the photo to get a larger image. It’s worth the click, believe. me.

Tae-Bum doing what he loves to do.

Tae-Bum doing what he loves to do.

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006

Photo by Tae-Bum Yu, 2006