Friday, August 08, 2014

What I miss about Djibouti and some pictures

Lions and babouins and caracals-- Oh my!
It has been three weeks since movers loaded our materials possessions into containers and we boarded a flight out of Djibouti, so I thought I'd share some of the things I'm already nostalgic about in no particular order.
  • the wonderful friends we made
  • the ease of going to the beach, the islands and the pool any day that struck our fancy.
  • the ease of driving around town--not dealing with traffic jams or missing the turnoff
  • smoked salmon pizzas at all the pizza places (don't knock it until you try it) 
  • parties hosted by the French military community (great music, food, dancing, atmosphere etc.)  
  • never feeling cold (except in the embassy)
  • letting our dog run off leash on the tidal flats
  • Camp Lemmonier (while we rarely went, it was comforting to know that we could go catch dinner and a movie at camp or pick up junk food and electronics at the Exchange)
  • the French Protestant Church and its pastor-- so many nationalities and theologies together
  • ecumenical collaboration (since the government only permits one Protestant and one Catholic congregation in town, it is a very small world indeed)
  • Seven Seas/the embassy commissary: keeping our food bills down and our freezer stocked with cookie dough, bread dough and other luxuries
  • the massive embassy housing-- our daughter got to have an upstairs and downstairs playroom. We could hold parties on our roof.
  • road trips with our friends at Phoenix Travel
  • snorkeling and whale shark trips with our friends at Dolphin 
  • the old garrison town vibe: small town meets international hub
  • compound living: with so many toddlers and nannies, our house was always full of life.
walking the tidal flats to nearby Turtle Island
Air show at French air base

at a 40s party at French air base

Does your church rent 2 boats like this to spend the day on an island?!

Loading boat for church retreat

church retreat on Maskali Island

driving on the Grand Barra 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Closing Credits Time #ForeignServiceProblems

Some of the people Evelyn will miss the most. Photo by Lyn Englin
With my globally nomadic life I often feel like I'm living in a movie. Except instead of 2 hours, my movies last about 2 years.  It is closing credits time again, and we've been attending a string of goodbye parties for friends whose assignments are also ending. (FYI: The French events are extra cinematic with the nostalgic American dance tunes and visually dramatic venues.)

Closing credits time is when we attempt to tie up all the loose ends of our life here. When something can't be done I try to tell myself that it wasn't that important after all. I begin to lean out instead of in; no point starting something new, of meeting new people, of becoming more attached.  The folks I'd intended to reach out to and get to know better? That woman who was going to tutor me in Swahili? The themed parties we were going to host?  The Sheikh Djibouti dance school we joked about creating?  Not going to happen.

Being a global nomad is a bit like channel surfing.  On one hand, you get a glimpse of what's on every station. On the other, you're left wondering how the story lines would have progressed if you'd stuck around.  

Closing credits time in the foreign service isn't about "happily ever after."  It's about saying goodbye and going separate ways.  As folks who study these things know, it generally takes about two years to really get your full stride once you've moved to a new place-- to form friendships that go back years (2, to be exact), to have bonded with those who are slow to trust, to have integrated yourself into a community--to have found your niche.  Most foreign service assignments are three years long, but we're heading to yet another two year gig because Algiers is also considered a hardship post.

Now sure, at each post some folks are ecstatic to leave, but those folks weren't so happy where they were; I'd prefer to keep falling in love and having sad goodbyes.

And so, a toast to Djibouti!  Thanks for the beautiful memories. I will miss you all--especially those whom I was only just starting to get to know better.  May your lives be filled with bright sunny days.       

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Lubumbashi, DR Congo: robocops, pizza, and skinny jeans

There is a giant robocop at the busy intersection near the Methodist building in downtown Lubumbashi. There is also an Italian-style flowing fountain and a sleek food court/shopping centre featuring South African chain restaurants (including Galitos and Pizza Inn). Every direction I look I spot young women wearing tight fitting jeans and fancy tops.  Am I tripping on malaria meds or has reality shifted?

I've been coming in and out of Lubumbashi, DR Congo since 1995. It is the first big city after crossing the border from Zambia and the capital of Katanga, so pretty much a required entry point for getting to the United Methodist conference of North Katanga. Since Lubumbashi is a transit town for me, I'm only here a handful of days each year.  This has created a surreal time-lapse photography experience as I've watched the city change.

There was a time that this city depressed me--everything was rundown like out of a post-apocalyptic movie and the vibe was a mix of paranoia, bitterness, and an exhaustion that comes from barely surviving. Later, the city stressed me out--chaos, crazy cars, corruption and cruelty. The vibe was that of those hustling to climb out of their poverty by any means available. My North Katangan friends who had moved to this sprawling city with dreams of financial success were suffering more than they suffered back home.

Today, however, as I wandered around downtown and rode out to dine at a friend's house on the other part of town (the road was now paved all the way there!), I thought to myself how alive and healthy the city seemed.  I marvelled at the building renovations, new construction and beautification efforts. Even on the radio there was an anti-littering public service announcement.

Countless new businesses catering to the emerging middle class. It occurred to me that I need to rethink my wardrobe for next time; I was clearly the least fashionably dressed woman on the street.

Today I started seriously thinking that I would enjoy living in Lubumbashi... now if I can only convince the USA government to reopen that consulate here they closed years ago so that my husband can be the first to apply for the job. ;)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Happy in Djibouti

Hands down the best music video I've seen made in Djibouti.  Congratulations to everyone involved in this project!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tourism and Terrorism in Djibouti

Hiking in Foret du Day, Djibouti
As most of my readers probably know, last weekend two suicide bombers went to a popular restaurant in downtown Djibouti and killed themselves and a Turkish citizen as well as wounding over a dozen other expatriates. Al Shabaab claims responsibility and threatens to attack again. While I've always felt safe here in the pocket of calm that is Djibouti, last weekend was a sad reminder that no place in the world is immune to terrorism.  My heart breaks for all those who were impacted directly by the attack.

I am also sad for all the local businesses and their employees who will suffer financially because of reduced tourism activity (especially with Camp Lemonier back in lockdown mode).   My good friends at Phoenix Travel Services had several cancellations, and our pals at Dolphin had so many snorkeling/scuba excursion cancellations that they've announced they are closing at the end of the month (hopefully to reopen in the fall).

The thing is that while, yes, you might want to think twice at the moment about going out for drinks and/or clubbing at places popular with ex-pats in Djibouti in the evenings, I still feel safer here than I do in much of the USA in terms of fear of being a victim of a violent attack or mass killing.

So, on that note, let me do my part to promote Djibouti tourism by telling you a bit about the great overnight road trip we took in Djibouti via Phoenix Travel Services. We drove to Lac Assal (which we'd visited before), lunched and took a quick swim at the beach in the bay of Goubet, and slept at the campground up in Foret du Day (high elevation, so nice and cool).  The next morning we hiked around the 'forest' (sadly, due to climate change, most of the trees are dead, so it was like visiting a ghost forest. We toured a reforestation program, though) and then crawled through lava tunnels on our drive back to Djiboutiville.

The rare dragon tree is found in Djibouti

Bay of Goubet--great spot for lunch or even camping

Hiking in Foret du Day

The campground huts

more of the campground. Quite civilized camping.

nursery at the Foret du Day reforestation program

We were told this is a highly hallucinogenic plant--traditionally popular at wedding parties


climbing lava flows

crawling through lava tubes


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Should we Send a Team? A Historical Perspective (A Mission Trip FAQ)

 Here's the scenario: Your congregation, which has excellent ministries in your own community, feels called to get involved in a ministry in a faraway place. Some of your congregants say that you should send a team to offer assistance and build relationships. They want to get to know the leaders and the ministry before making a decision on whether or how much money should be sent. Besides, they say, these trips let us learn from each other in profound life-changing ways. Others are skeptical. They say that the 'help' that teams give is often not helpful and can even be harmful. Too often these trips smell of poverty tourism and are insensitive to those we visit. Considering the thousands of dollars spent on plane tickets, those ministries would be much better off if you just sent financial support instead.

Who is right?  

The practice of sending teams to faraway places for a week or two is relatively new. So new, in fact, that the church is still figuring out the why and how of it. Some readers remember the days before 'mission trips' were commonplace. Back then, international ministries were viewed as solely the domain of professional full-time missionaries. Congregations would collect funds to support these missionaries and the programs at their mission stations. Occasionally, people from the USA would make lengthy visits to these mission stations to help out with specific tasks and train to be a missionary.

By the 1960s, we began to explore the idea that international ministries could be done by people who weren't called to be career missionaries. Instead, regular folks (often recent college graduates) would volunteer to spend a couple years or so sharing their skills and/or testimony of faith in faraway places. President Kennedy was inspired by these such programs when he founded the Peace Corps, which in turn inspired an overall increase of international volunteering.

As airline travel became more affordable, middle-class working folks began using their vacation days to see the world. It didn't take long before many of them got the idea of using their vacations to visit ministries they had supported for years or do something to address the problems they had witnessed in their travels. Over time, some even decided to bypass the old American-managed mission stations and work directly with local church leaders.

When organized volunteering trips began popping up in the 1970s, many rejected as absurd the idea that anything significant could be accomplished over such a short period-- especially when the volunteers were amateurs. However, as more and more Americans returned home from these trips with testimonies of how their eyes had been opened and their understanding of the world transformed, the practice spread like wildfire. By the 1990s and 2000s, these 'mission trips' had become a massive phenomenon.   

Why am I giving this history lesson? 

It is critical that we understand that, 'mission work' as most of us understand it is not "the way we've always done it;" we are learning and evolving. As tech people would say, we're in beta mode, and beta mode is a beautiful thing.

While countless people have written about the ways in which we have unintentionally done (and continue to do) some damaging stuff in the name of 'mission work,' we aren't who we once were. We aren't geniuses yet either, but if we want to get smarter about how we interact with our sisters and brothers around the world, we are going to have to keep putting ourselves out there.

So should you send a team?  If you've been invited and you'd like to go, then I say go for it. But, be sure to

  • Honor the voices of dissent; They are providing constructive criticism.
  • Go to learn; The people leading the ministries you are visiting have much to teach you.
  • Do your homework; Attend a seminar led by VIM or FPM trainers, read books on cross-cultural collaborations, research the region (history, traditions, etc.) and the ministry itself. 
  • Focus on building relationships. Being supportive friends of the ministry's leaders is primary; 'doing stuff' is secondary. 
  • Only offer help that has been requested. (Don't you hate it when someone gives you 'help' you didn't need, but you don't want to hurt the relationship by asking them to stop?) 
  • Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up. The only thing short-term about a mission trip is the length of the visit. Have multiple debriefing and 'next-steps' meetings with your team-- even years afterwards. Use the gift of modern technology (ex: video conferencing) so that leaders of programs you wish to assist can lead these strategic planning conversations. 
  • Have fun!

*I am writing with the assumption that most readers are from congregations in the USA and thus focus on history from that perspective. While I am also focusing on international mission trips, much of what I write applies to domestic mission trips as well. 

Recommended Further Reading:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why I'll Stop Talking about "Short-Term Mission Trips"

Recently I've read several books and academic papers on the subject of "short term mission trips." I've been gaining new insights and historical perspectives that I look forward to sharing on this blog. That said, from here on out I will be avoiding use of the popular label "short-term" mission trip.


I'm glad you asked.

Let's stop and think grammatically about it.  In this case, "short-term" is functioning as an adjective.  But what does it describe? The trip? That would be redundant. The mission? hmmm.. While sometimes that makes sense (just as sometimes candy and alcohol have medicinal purposes), generally speaking, it is a contradiction in terms.  

I argue that a significant percentage of unhealthy mission trip practices would disappear if those going on these trips understood themselves as committing to a life-long relationship with those involved in the ministries they are going to visit. When there isn't a long-term commitment, what we are doing is sending folks on educational voyages/pilgrimages (which can be a very good thing--I just think we need to use a separate name for it).  I'll save that soapbox for another day, though.  ;)

So, until I have a better term, I'll be dropping the 'short-term' when blogging about mission trips.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Land Sailing in the Grand Barra, Djibouti

As part of my on-going campaign to highlight the perks of life in Djibouti, I bring you photos of our embassy's recent land sailing adventure in the Grand Barra. Having no experience, I was nervous at first, but it was quite fun. The place has a shade shelter and tables/chairs, so our group did a pitch-in lunch. There is a also a basic western-style bucket-flush toilet there. 

Tip: Fearing my sunglasses would be insufficient protection from the swirling sand clouds, I brought along my tinted swim goggles. Very glad I did. 

That's me

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Short-Term Missions: Don't Forget the Importance of Follow-up!

Here's something to chew on:

In Randall Friesen's 2004 DTh in Missiology (via UNISA)  research report titled "The Long-Term Impact of Short-Term Missions on the Beliefs, Attitudes and Behaviors of Young Adults," he found that “post-trip regression in participants’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviors one year after returning from the mission experience was...significant. This regression indicates that inadequate attention is being paid to participant re-entry, debrief and follow-up….It is counter-intuitive to invest discipleship resources on returning short-term mission participants; however, the data indicates that is where the most significant discipleship challenges are found.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mourning Zibi in Djibouti (or, Mourning with Strangers)

Last Thursday evening at the Djibouti Protestant congregation's women's association meeting, Yolanda announced that Zibi had died.  "Who?" was the general response.

Zibi, a Cameroonian footballer had recently moved here on a contract from a Djiboutian team. Between his training schedule and the birth of their son, Zibi and his wife Princess were strangers to most of us at church. But, they had presented themselves to the senior pastor upon their arrival, so as far as the women's association and the church council were concerned, we had a moral responsibility to pay our respects to Princess and offer financial assistance in her hour of need.

And so, last night, there we were-- a menagerie of foreigners (Congolese, Malagasy, Cameroonian, Ethiopian, Swiss, German, French, American, etc.) gathered in the sparsely furnished apartment of a dead man we didn't know so that his widow--a foreigner like us--could ritually mourn his passing with the support of a community of faith. A handful of his teammates--some I'd seen at church--were there as well. Perhaps they were also flatmates.  

Princess sat in the circle with us.  I noticed her bald head (in mourning or her style?), her muscular build (also an athlete?), and the face of an emotionally drained but spiritually strong woman. As we sang, she changed her son's diaper. Her way of mourning that evening reminded me of a friend of mine.

When the church leaders had finished offering all the words, songs, and gifts of comfort they had brought, Princess informed us that Zibi had been a happy man. He wouldn't want to be remembered through songs of mourning. Could we close instead with a joyous song of faith?

And so, we did.