Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2018

Dashing through the City, in a one Moto Open Tuk-Tuk

In the past week, I was vomited on in a tuk-tuk, found a squashed gecko under my couch, encountered at least two rats outside, and received vaccines for Japanese Encephalitis, typhoid, and rabies. I have not bought any gifts, eaten a single piece of chocolate that did not taste like chalk, nor experienced an ambient temperature under 77 degrees (with the exception of soaking in the cold while trying to rearrange our tiny freezer). Not good, not bad; just different. This is the mantra to repeat during your first year in any new place (within the majority or minority world). Our family has moved from different to different over the past few years. Two Christmases ago, we enjoyed visits from our Cameroonian neighbors, caroled in the patient wards, and shared a delicious potluck with fellow ex-pats. Last year, we traveled from Africa into a Winter Wonderland and experienced a whirlwind of reunions in both New York and Arkansas. This year, Advent looked like moving to the other side of th

Loving Something Better

Woke up to this magical black and white world. God is such a masterful artist, and I am going to miss this view of His handiwork. Yes, I'm going miss this. People sometimes assume cross-cultural workers are different kinds of humans. That maybe we don't like where we were born, have some kind of unquenchable thirst for adventure, or don't want our kids to experience any of the good things we did growing up. None of those could be further from true for me. I am a Buffalo girl, through and through. I don't like change (I am a type A+ control freak). My heart hurts to think about our kids missing snow days, football/hockey with extended family on Sunday afternoons, huge free libraries, gorgeous parks, amazing public education, four uniquely delightful seasons, and all the beauty/privilege that accompanies life in America.  I love all those things. But I love Something else more. I want to teach my kids to obey God, no matter the cost. If they are called to liv

We Do Not Have a Disease and We Are Not the Heroes (And Other Things You Might Assume About Cross-Cultural Workers)

Whenever moving our family to a developing nation comes up in conversation, several responses are typical. Most often, surprise. Followed by awkward silence. (e.g., "Oh, wow. That's really something." [...]) Right. We suddenly went from interesting potential friends to people with a possibly-contagious disease.  Similarly quarantining us from "normal" Americans are the responses that falsely attribute hero status to us (e.g., "That's something I could never do. I give you a lot of credit."). I haven't figured out the best way to respond to this sentiment, though I usually want to say something to this effect: "You could do it. Really. We are not heroes. And we don't deserve any credit for doing exactly what God has equipped us to do." On many occasions, we've been engaged in conversations about why we should stay in America. Acknowledging our country's great needs, along with our country's great resources (

An Algorithm for a Mind that Doesn't Mind Jazz

My brother once told me that people who didn't like jazz don't like to think. Or at least, that's the general premise I remember. He may have been more diplomatic in his actual phrasing. Today, I re-encountered jazz during a brief and full night out. Alone. I went to the library to return a stray book found under the couch, stopped at Walgreens' to pick up some salt (hey, big spender!), and walked across the street to attend a free college concert. Listening to some familiar big band tunes brought me back to high school, which I suddenly realized was half my life ago. The space between me and the girl I was when I last regularly listened to jazz didn't make me feel old; it made me feel grateful. In this half-lifetime, I have completed thirteen years of formal higher education, fallen in love, married a cancer survivor, brought three little ones into the world, witnessed several miracles, lived in West Africa, and spent a year in near-gypsy style as we prepare to

High-Income WASP Schooled By Low-Income Minority in Language Acquisition

I am the poster child educational privilege. I was born in a high-income country to a married mother and father, both of whom completed masters’ degrees. They taught me to read before I started Kindergarten. With those advantages, I cannot remember a time when I was the person least likely to understand what was happening in a room. Learning a language as an adult (a sleep-deprived adult, in fact) will turn that paradigm upside down. For a very, very long time (maybe forever): I will be the person who knows the least about what is happening in a room in Cambodia. Despite the patient work of our language helpers the past month, I am just as likely to say “I am sad” as “I am happy” when greeting someone in Khmer. And probably most likely to say nothing at all intelligible. Fortunately, medical school and residency helped cultivate humility: while I was never educationally disadvantaged, I was often the individual with the least working knowledge of a subject. Completing trainin

Life in the Excluded Middle

The term “spiritual warfare” is polarizing, even among people of faith. Most Americans, particularly post-modern millennials, find the concept of an unseen battle unsettling at best (trending downward into bizarre and pathologic at worst). A classic missiological (fancy term for the practical theology of missions) framework presented in “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” (Hiebert, 1982) suggests that the majority world understanding of spiritual forces is often more Biblical than is Western rationalism. In Western thinking, matters of religion (spiritual problems) are handled entirely separately from matters of science (secular problems). On the contrary, the majority world recognizes significant overlap in the day-to-day management of faith and physical problems. Spiritual problems and attacks are thought to manifest in physical ways. This bio-psycho-social-spiritual interface is known as “the excluded middle”, since the minority world practically (and in many cases, actually) de

Why I'm Not Looking for a Tribe, and Hope My Children Won't Either

A lot changed in America during the two years we were in Africa. Froyo and cable TV pretty much died.  Facebook is aging, and Snapchat has reduced communication to pictures of people pretending to be puppies. Food trucks have finally received the credit they deserve. Flossing is no longer merely a means of combating plaque, but also a dance move. Minority treatment and immigration reform are receiving much-needed press. We have a president who used to be a reality TV star. Did I miss anything? Like all things, language changes over time. Each generation champions certain terms that embody their values. Milennials who are geographically displaced and virtually detached have recently adopted the term "tribe" to describe "their people". For so many reasons, this term is troubling. Throughout history and in much of the world today, conflict between tribes has resulted in devastating loss of life and opportunity. In low and middle income countries ( LIC, MIC ), tribali

#teamhelm on Mission

If you follow us on Facebook, it might seem we have been part of an episode of The Amazing Race (or perhaps a spin-off  of Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego).  We returned to the United States from Cameroon in December, spent a few weeks in Buffalo for Christmas, and moved to Arkansas where Isaiah was born January 24th. We traveled to Pennsylvania, making stops in Louisville, Baltimore, Reading, Boone, and Nashville, before returning to Little Rock. At the end of April, we moved to Rochester and then immediately visited Boston. In the past few months, we've been extremely blessed to stay in two beautiful mission houses (thanks to Immanuel Baptist and Pearce Memorial!), as well as the welcoming homes of many family members and friends along the way.  The kids were so excited we fit everything in their car for the move from Little Rock to Rochester that they volunteered to ride in the back, Cameroon style. Poppa Tim supervised. Bottom line: we've put a ton of miles on