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Parasites, Poverty, Pumpkins, and Pho

It’s not the endless armies of cockroaches or soldier ants storming our doors (and windows). Not the parasites extruding from the mango fly I killed near an enormous display of laundry drying inside -- for two days -- to avoid mango flies (washed this laundry again, because #firsttermmissionary). Not the incapacity to access the internet most of the time on most days. Not the months, and months, and months of deluge. Not the constant chorus of “white man!” and giggles whenever I take my kids out of the house. Not the complete lack of private space and quiet time in a culture whose hospitality I admire but do not fully understand.

Each of these challenges to my privileged existence ran through my mind as I considered my friend’s question: what is the hardest part about living in Africa so far?

Furthermore, it's not the extensive cooking process (starting with scrubbing and bleaching everything and ending with the inability to replace/repair broken kitchen items), nor complete absence of pumpkin-flavored drinks in October. Not my kids’ days starting between 4 and 6AM due to the bustle around us. Not the lack of organized activities, library story hours, indoor play places, or preschool options. Not the appalling condition of the roads that have induced vomiting on multiple occasions. Not the abject poverty confronting our excess nearly daily.  Not the late presentation of diseases that might otherwise have been treated, but now require palliation that families often can’t afford.  Not the difficulty engaging in corporate worship due to language barriers (even in an English-speaking area), white kid attention span, and lack of a nursery (though this one almost topped the list).

When it comes to mission locations, our hospital compound is pretty deluxe. We’re in the mountains, with temperatures usually between the 60s and 80s Fahrenheit year-round. We have a large hospital with many visiting specialists, and experienced long-term missionaries who are mentoring us well. We have a nice, simple, three-bedroom apartment with indoor plumbing, tiled floors and painted walls. Our kids have a swing, a sandbox, and bug-spray. We have plenty of Indian spices and a relatively constant influx of Western treats from generous family and friends.

The reality of why it is hard for this American girl to live in such a beautiful place is simple: I must daily, all day, confront myself. In the U.S., there were myriad ways to distance myself from stressful situations and negative internal attitudes at the end of a long day (or long night, or long month): froyo, Vietnamese takeout, Hallmark channel, football games, bargain hunting, the gym, non-vomit-inducing road trips, and friends who don’t need directions to my home nor explanations for my neuroses.

Escapism is a tendency I never confronted until we moved here, where I live mostly within a 50 yard radius (with the exception of weekend hikes) and interact essentially with immediate family and a few neighbors. I can’t drop my kids off with friends or family to go to work or run errands, so my impatience remains in my face (and their faces) for days and weeks on end. I can’t settle into a (cushioned) pew with a sigh and a cup of coffee to re-center my mind on Scripture, so my tendency to focus on non-eternal issues often remains unchecked. I can’t predictably wake up before my children to start the day with prayer, so I am frequently short-tempered and spiritually dry. The depth of my selfishness is basically inescapable here. I can blame my self-centered heart on my circumstances, but I can’t deny its existence.

Even as I write this, I am recognizing the circular logic at play. In the U.S., I was tempted to avoid myself with readily available distractions. Here, I am tempted to avoid myself by blaming my circumstances. There may be nothing new under the sun, but there is plenty new to me.

While the problems are different cross culturally, the answer remains the same: look to Jesus. Don’t escape or excuse self. Eyes off the bugs, the rain, the broken things, the froyo, and the comfortable church experience. Eyes fixed on Jesus, the good Author of the greatest Story ever told. 


  1. Thank you for sharing your heart. Though I am no missionary in a foreign country/culture, "life" here does the same thing to me. Always need to be reminded to focus on Jesus.

    1. This truth is for all of us, believers at home or abroad! Glad these words could encourage you today.


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