Margie Hord

Expat by Default

Reverse Culture Shock Revisited

person holding black mask

by John Noonan (Unsplash)

Culture shock, as most of you know, is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”. But strangely enough, when you return to your native country, it is common to experience reverse culture shock. Yep, even after all these years, it takes time to adjust, in my case when I visit the US or Canada.

group of women facing backward

By Becca Tapert (Unsplash)

Greeting old friends, I’m not sure what to do for a moment. Oh yes, no kiss on the cheek, just a quick hug, or merely a “hi” and no physical contact. Well, in Quebec it’s a kiss on both cheeks, but I always forget where to start. Meeting people, I’m not quite sure whether to shake hands or just nod “Hi”.

Pedestrian heaven? Even before I get to the street corner or crosswalk, a driver is slowing down, and I almost do a double take. At a streetlight, if there’s a button to press to get a light to cross, I may forget the first few times. But sometimes I want to cross in the middle of the street, and I can’t! I have to walk to the corner, to the stoplight or crosswalk, and then return. What a drag!

woman standing infront of shelf

By Marie-Michèle Bouchard (Unsplash)

The abundance of foods and goods “up north” is mind-boggling. There are so many varieties of everything to choose from that it’s hard to decide. Consumerism has affected my adoptive home as well, with all kinds of milk and cereal, for example, but it’s still nothing in comparison. Food is the biggest constant in terms of variety, but there’s clothing too. In that case, it’s actually a boon to find jeans that fit, waist, length and all.

By Satria SP (Unsplash)

Part of the reverse culture shock is realizing how much those countries “up north” have been changing. They are ever so much more multicultural that in the past! Especially in larger cities, the variety of nationalities, races, and languages represented never ceases to amaze me. In Mexico City one finds a fair mix, but it’s barely comparable, and limited to certain areas, such as those where embassies abound, or in “el barrio chino” (Chinatown). I think I may only have seen a woman wearing a hijab in my city once.

Another aspect of culture change is that of sexuality. Gay culture is much more open in the US and Canada. At a high school reunion, I incurred in the politically incorrect faux pas of asking an old classmate where she and her husband were staying, as she had mentioned “we” at some point. “I never said I had a husband”, she stated. Later I confirmed that her current partner was female.

Language may not be culture, but it’s a part of it. When in the US or Canada I can’t think of words in English, I feel slightly like a foreigner. Those who don’t know me personally must wonder if I have mental lacunas!

In the dollar store I wanted a pad of colored paper but couldn’t think of the name. So I explained what I was looking for, and the attendant responded, “You must want construction paper.” Ah yes. “Cartulina” in Spanish.

round green and yellow fruit lot

By Hoach Le Dinh (Unsplash)

My sister asked me to buy limes in the grocery store. Upon my return, she suggested that I had forgotten what she’d wanted, because I’d brought lemons. We don’t have those in Mexico, that I know of. We have big or small “limones”, mostly green, some with a tinge of yellow. So the two English words would be represented by one term in Spanish, but the yellow lemons are nonexistent in the Mexico I know.

Living crossculturally is fun but can be confusing at times. My kids and grandkids have experienced the opposite kind of reverse culture shock, after living in the US or Canada and returning to Mexico, where they grew up. But that’s another story…

Wrinkle Free? That’s Not Me!

By Ravi Patel (Unsplash)

Once, when I was in my 40’s, a photographer took my picture for a passport, and upon seeing the results, I hardly recognized that person! Before the days of Photoshop, he had smoothed out my face to remove the expression lines. My reaction: That’s not me!

We don’t usually love our wrinkles, and since then I’ve collected a few more… or the same ones have deepened. Yet, that experience made me realize that at the same time, like our often-under-cover gray hairs, they are badges we’ve earned. They tell a story. They speak of the wear and tear of wind and sun, but also of sorrows, fears, and laughter. They let others know we represent the voice of experience, for what it’s worth, and can draw a degree of respect.

Have you ever seen those “well-ironed”, tightly stretched faces in a magazine or a mall? It may be a movie star or other well-heeled woman we’ve seen, that suddenly seemed rather unreal. Those images bely the signs of time’s passing in the crinkles and sags in their hands. Somehow they seem alien, hardly human. How can we identify with one who denies her years and thus, to some extent, her humanity?

Despite my rant, I do confess that, like many women, I am no stranger to wrinkle creams and such. Softening those lines is no sin, to be sure, but it’s a thin line that separates self-care from vanity.

A middle-aged married friend was travelling on her own and far from home in an area enjoyed by tourists. Feeling carefree, she suddenly realized that part of her enjoyment was that no men were ogling her, flirting or making her uncomfortable, as when she was younger. The signs of age protected her, as it were, from undesirable approaches, perhaps more than a wedding ring (not always visible).

Not worrying so much about how others perceive us is freeing. Accepting that my face and body are not eternally young takes time, but once I crossed that hurdle, it was liberating.

Once I got a laugh out of the fact that my face clearly shows my age. Having donned a sequined T-shirt and skinny jeans tucked into high boots, I hopped up the steps of a city bus and showed the driver my senior card, offering him my reduced fare. He glanced at my face, confirmed that I was indeed a senior, and said no more.

Much as we women love to enhance our attractiveness, as the years go by we are often tempted to despair at the wilting of the flower of youth. At the same time, we grow to appreciate more than ever the reality that inner beauty is the only one that lasts and even improves…the only one that truly matters! It is undoubtedly reflected on the outside as well, with a smile, a kind look, a peaceful demeanor.

Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Thanks, King Lemuel, for commending us for more than our outer looks!


P.S. Many of you know that the woman in the pic isn’t me!

Gone but Still Present

brown wooden rocking chair inside dark room

Photo by Anthony Delanoix (Unsplash)

You’ve lost a loved one: a parent, a spouse, a child. A huge hole seems to have been gouged out in your heart. Their absence is overwhelming at times. The empty spot at the table or in the bed… Special holidays will never be the same again; they tend to bring memories flooding in more than ever, and the hole is bigger than ever.

Yet… those people live on in our memories! Our lives have been enriched by theirs. Reminders pop up unexpectedly, constantly.

Recently I returned to the home where my parents lived for decades. Its new owner, my sister, has left her own imprint on it, and yet there is still so much of Mum and Dad that endears them to me.

person opening photo album displaying grayscale photos

Photo by Laura Fuhrman (Unsplash)

Going over albums of photographs galore is a bittersweet experience. They cover decades of achievements and family times. Pics of Air Force times in Great Britain, others of glowing newlyweds or proud graduates, a bushwhacking biologist, babes in arms, a beaming Mum greeting the President of Peru, and so much more.

On occasions classical music wafts from the kitchen, in homage to my Mum.

As we scrub the window screens before putting them in for the summer, I recall how as kids we used to sing songs we learned from Mum to pass the time away, sometimes while one washed dishes and another dried them. My sister pulls one out from the recesses of her memory–White Coral Bells, which I may not have heard since childhood– and the words come back as I join her!

pile of spinach

Photo: Monika Grabkovska (Unsplash)

In a recipe book, a note in our mother’s handwriting reminds me where I might find an alternative concoction when I decide to bake something with fresh rhubarb.

selective focus photo of shovel on sand

Photo: Markus Spiske (Unsplash)

The gardens are no exception to the rule. We owe the yumminess of rhubarb and berry plants outside to Dad, as well as the rich colors of flowering shrubs and perennials. My sister’s painstaking work on the garden he toiled over for so many hours is a reflection, too, of his labor of love. The special touch of fresh blossoms in some nooks of the old home reminds me that his spirit lives on.

Fine furniture and old clocks tell stories of my father as well; some he designed himself.

person wearing pink crew-neck shirt with hand clasped together

Photo: Ruben Hutabarat (Unsplash)

Memories aren’t always triggered by that which we see, hear, or touch. Occasionally, my family members will use one of “Dad’s prayers” for grace at mealtime, concise and simple. These are imprinted in the mind and heart.

Even away from the old home, there are moments which remind me of my heritage. A woman who has never met me before tells me, “You look like your Mum!”

Not all that comes to mind is warm and fuzzy. There’s the room where Dad suffered for so long, and his spidery signature barely recognizable once his sight failed him.

forest with fogs

Photo: Stanislava Stanci (Unsplash)

The details of our stories will be different, but surely there is a common thread: Gone but still present, are those loved ones we recall. More than a memory, they remain in our physical resemblance, the objects they left, the habits they instilled, the songs and stories, the recipes and prayers, and even the values that set us on our way.

Indeed, they are knit into our DNA.

“All Dolled up”: Amealco, a Magic Town in Querétaro, Mexico

Each of Mexico’s magic towns (“pueblos mágicos”) has its own personality, its own kind of magic, and Amealco, in the central state of Queretaro, is no exception.

After visiting two nearby “magic towns” where the popular Queretaro dolls were visible everywhere, I was delighted to visit a town that is even closer to its origins: Amealco. In Nahuatl, Amealco means “place where water springs forth”, and creativity also springs forth in local crafts and culture.

“Breathe, relax, enjoy”… was the message this place brought me. After visiting nearby Peña de Bernal, with streets lined with shops and street stands catering to crowds of tourists (with a lot of junk as well as local or Mexican crafts), it was a relief to find fewer tourists and considerably less commercialism. The other relief was the climate, perhaps in the low 70’s F (low 20’s Celsius), after the sweltering dry heat of the lower valleys. My visit coincided with the long Easter break, so certainly there were more tourists than on your normal weekday, but there was an obvious difference from the previous spots.

Amealco, compared to Peña de Bernal (with its characteristic rock monolith) and Tequisquiapan (both in the “Wine and Cheese Route”) is unique in that it is more specifically enriched by its indigenous surroundings. Although one can identify Otomi women in the other towns and in the state capital, often selling their ware, they are more ubiquitous here, as their native communities are nearby.

Santiago Mexquititlán and Santiago Ildefonso are in the municipality of Amealco. Each boasts its own traditional costume for women. Narrow pleats and ruffled necklines are especially distinctive.

In the town square of Amealco, besides the church and the large letters for photo-ops that are now the fashion all over Mexico, there are bronze-colored statues of “the Otomi doll”or “the Maria doll” and her male companion. The handmade cloth doll with looped ribbons in her braids became famous worldwide this year as a larger-than-life version of her travelled around the world.

One drawing card here is the Museo de la Muñeca (Doll Museum), which includes a considerable variety of artisanal dolls from around the country, many made of cloth, some of palm leaf, and so on. In recent years the National Indigenous Doll Festival has created another opportunity for tourists to come in greater numbers.

Nearby, on the same side of the town square, are the Tourist Office and also a cooperative store where Otomí women offer a variety of crafts from the area: exquisitely embroidered items, clothing, dolls (of course), furniture, woven palm items, and even natural remedies.

For those who wish to stay longer, there are a good number of hotels and restaurants; one can take advantage of side trips to the Otomí towns, to a waterfall, and so on. Outside town is the impressive theme hotel “Misión la Muralla”, which offers Mexican-Revolution-based décor and activities.

Just as “la muñeca” has been taken from this region around the world, Amealco would like to take you into its heart. It’s all dolled up and waiting!

Lagging Behind… or Going at Your Own Pace?

The trail around the small lake is the perfect place to walk or jog. Ducks and geese swim lazily and an occasional graceful heron can be spotted, preening or looking for a snack.

Bougainvillea arches cover some portions of the path. In the distance I may be lucky to spy one of the local volcanoes, sometimes tipped with white.

Run, Walk, Jog, or Amble

People of almost all ages show up in the cool of the morning. A few top-notch runners whiz by, obviously training to compete in races. Others jog along at a more moderate pace. A few, like myself, walk briskly, giving their bodies a fair workout.

At the same time, there’s a handful of walkers who shuffle along or move with a  gait, aided by their canes. Perhaps some have had a stroke and need to get in better shape.

Disabled… or Different and Able?

One man has an obvious limp, but runs along at a decent clip all the same. I don’t imagine he plans to enter any competitions, but he does beat me!

Even nature speaks of different abilities. One of the geese along the path has drooping wings, perhaps wounded in a fight in its “duck-eats-duck” world. No longer able to fly, it can surely still swim and fish all the same.

It is all too automatic to want to compare myself to others. I feel daunted when skilled athletes sprint by. Then again, it’s all too easy for me to feel superior when I pass others who are merely strolling along.

Different Styles

Style and purpose differ too. Some of my fellow-walkers are already attired more formally. A couple of women have their good earrings on; one wears a flowered scarf. A likely professional has his office gear on. I see that a few have come prepared with bread crumbs to feed the birds. I myself lose my pace all too often, tempted by wonderful photo ops.

The flora and fauna have their style, too. Besides the water fowl, there are two cocky roosters, and one of the workers speaks to them by name. More elegant, a pair of peacocks show off their iridescent plumage. Dressed to


Go at Your Own Pace

Wait a minute! There is really no need to compare. Casual or formal, fast or slow, focused on competition or therapy or the zest of life… each of us is unique. The point is not to parallel another’s speed, style or purpose. It doesn’t matter if others think I’m “lagging behind”, as I’m not in a race. The point is to live for my own purposes, or if you will, those I was made to carry out. The Creator has made each creature to be marvelously different.

Follow the pace and the path that’s set out before you!

Note: In a blog post last year, I linked the concept of “going at one’s own pace” in both physical and spiritual endeavors. 

Good Grief

low-angle photo of lightened candles

Photo by Mike Labrum (Unsplash)

Grief is real. Taking time to grieve is necessary and legitimate. Grief never ends completely, they say, although time and grace temper it.

Over just two years, I lost the three people closest to me: my Dad, my Mum, and my husband. Each loss ripped a piece from my heart. The last one left me with an empty house as well.

Keeping busy most of the day kept me from dwelling on the pain, but sometimes as my head hit the pillow, reality set in and my eyes flooded with tears. I would try to shoo away the regrets and what-ifs, but sleep could be a long time coming.

Not only did my housemate of years pass away; dreams died as well. All those “when we retire, then we can do this and that, and more” dreams. The places we still wanted to visit, the ways we still wanted to serve the Lord and others.

It was time to decide to continue with some of those dreams on my own, and to seek guidance for new ones as well. Gradually, time for “recuping” and regrouping.

A year or so ago, I shared about my first months of widowhood in From Mourning to the Morning Light. It’s hard to imagine what grieving would be like without God’s presence and the comfort of his Word.

Grieving is enriched by gratitude. Those special memories soften the pain. Talking and writing about them has been part of the healing process.

The Oil of Gladness

clear glass cruet bottle

Photo by Roberta Sorge (Unsplash)

The prophetic words of old were later claimed by Jesus to be referring to his ministry, which included giving “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit”. That’s for me!

In Biblical times, hosts of different Oriental nations would anoint their guests with olive oil. Among the Jewish people, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to their office, representing consecration. Oil was a part of celebration, and also represented the Holy Spirit. That’s what is given to me!

Oil was also used for healing. The good Samaritan poured wine and oil on the wounds of the man beaten by robbers. Sheep were also anointed with oil, as we are reminded in the Shepherd’s Psalm: “Thou anointest my head with oil.Shepherds apply oil to keep sheep’s noses free of annoying nose flies, and to combat an infection called “scabs”, caused by parasites.

The oil of gladness: welcome, consecration, healing.

A Time to Dance

close up photography of woman dancing beside sunflower field during golden hour

Photo by Blake Cheek (Unsplash)

Just the other day, my daily reading included the famous passage that reminds us that “To everything there is a season.” A list of contrasting seasons follows.

What jumped out at me was this: “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

It hit me that gradually I had been able to cry less, laugh more (though I never quit!)… and was ready to “dance.” Little did I realize that at a women’s retreat the following day, I would be participating in a group that was learning choreography for a cheerful number!

Dancing is a celebration. Dancing often means rejoicing with others. In the Jewish tradition, it often means a spiritual act of adoration.

In Biblical times and still in some cultures today, mourning is expressed with loud laments and other manifestations of grief. In our culture, there are even those who will say, “Don’t cry” in an attempt to comfort the mourner. Let us not discourage tears, a normal outlet for our emotions.

“Good grief” lets tears come. It takes its time to heal. It cherishes the memories. It welcomes the embraces of those who comfort.

In due time, the season of dancing will come. The oil of gladness will bring healing.

My Old “Nail”: A Reminder

Big and rusty, it sits on a small kitchen space with other decorative items. Some have questioned its presence, as it isn’t particularly attractive.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, they say.

I was on the Atlantic coast of Canada beside an old lighthouse that is now just a tourist attraction. There in the sand, I found it. Huge compared to normal nails, it had probably been washed up by waves. In my eyes, it could be a hundred years old or more.

It spoke to me of history, of outlasting modern technology. I imagined that time-worn object holding together a historic structure such as the blockhouse in the same town, or as part of the old wharf that burned down and had to be rebuilt.

Its tip was blunt and not sharp, so one might call it a metal peg. For some reason, it reminded me of the Cross.

The nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet must have been gigantic, like this one. No nice slim “needles” that went in easily. Nasty, tearing apart flesh and tendons, with blood pouring forth.

I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it’s a fact.

One day I was leading the service at our little church, and I took my nail or peg as an object lesson before the Lord’s Supper. “Hold it as if it were piercing your hand. Think upon what it meant for our Lord’s hands to be pierced”. My brethren passed it around.

No one told me how they felt, but to me it was a strong reminder of the reality of what becoming human meant for the Messiah. It meant sharing our pain and bearing our sin and agony.

Not everything we possess or display is supposed to be pretty. Some objects are a piece of nostalgia: old letters, a crude drawing by a preschooler, a snapshot of a scrawny newborn. They often speak to us of love.

There are those who insist that Christians should not use the cross as a symbol, especially as a piece of jewelry. My husband once said, “If someone you loved had been murdered with a gun, would you wear a gun in their memory?” I respect that point of view, but it differs from mine.

Much as today’s crosses in churches or worn around neck tend to be smooth and attractive, they are nevertheless a reminder. In nations where it is a crime to be a Christian, the cross is a revolutionary statement. In China, crosses have been cast down from places of worship. For many, wearing a cross is a way of saying, “This is who I am. I am proud to be the object of my Savior’s love. I want to be identified as a believer. I want you to ask what that means to me.”

The “old rugged cross” has spoken to many across the ages.

Rusty nails can also bear a message.

Simple objects can be reminders.

Let us remember.

Not Just Christmas: The Extended Mexican Holidays

selective focus photography of truck carrying party hatsMexicans don’t worry much about political correctness when it comes to holidays. Two of the big ones are Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) and Christmas. They may have become more secularized over the years, but their names still denote their Christian origin. Another distinguishing characteristic is that they tend to last longer than in many other parts of the world.

“Christmas vacation” isn’t just a few days or a week long. If you’re a student or teacher, you may have up to three weeks free! It’s also the time when many employees look forward to their annual aguinaldo or Christmas bonus, so spending is at the max.

white candle lot

One custom I heard about my first year in Mexico was that of posadas. Traditionally, these are nine days of religious ceremonies or processions where believers travel to different homes and “ask for posada” or lodging, reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay. Hand-held candles light the way. At each place they sing, asking for lodging, until finally they are accepted. There a celebration is held and piñatas are broken gaily.

That’s the tradition, but as I discovered, in reality nowadays the term posada is often used for a pre-Christmas party of any kind! In fact, I have rarely seen the type that is described above. Mexicans love to party, and as some have observed, they may be “broke” when it comes to anything else, but there’s always enough money for a party!

There’s a humorous phrase that’s surfaced in recent years to refer to the extended holiday season: “el puente Guadalupe-Reyes”. Usually puente (“bridge”) refers to a long weekend, but in this case it refers to this extended time of celebration between December 12th (the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) and January 6th, Epiphany or Kings’ Day (Día de Reyes). In particular, food lovers will joke that it’s the time to abandon diets for a while!

Some celebrate Guadalupe day by making pilgrimages to the Basilica in Mexico City, but most cities have a church dedicated to this virgin and will have fairs with food stands and games set up around it. Parents will dress their children up in Indian costume to represent Juan Diego (or a feminine counterpart) to visit the church. Those who are in the know will avoid driving anywhere near such sites at that time of year!

From early on in December, dinners and parties abound, so that it’s hard to plan anything without many guests apologizing because they have a commitment. (My birthday is on December 11th, so I should know!) Schools, companies, offices, churches, groups of friends… each wants to celebrate!

The culminating activity, family-oriented, is Christmas Eve. Taxi rates soar on December 24th. From days beforehand, markets and stores bustle with shoppers preparing for the feast. Roast leg of pork is a favorite, though turkey is another option. A popular and eye-catching salad is ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve salad), which includes beets, oranges and peanuts, among other ingredients. Stuffed chiles are also common fare. A dish I had to get used to is bacalao or bacalao a la vizcaína, a complex and pricey mix of salted codfish, tomato, chiles, capers and more. The codfish, preferably Norwegian, is previously soaked to reduce the salt content and then shredded or cut up and seasoned as it cooks.

Image result for ponche navideño

The most typical beverage of the season, which I only get to enjoy two or three times a year at most, is ponche, a hot punch which is chockfull of fruits such as guavas, apples, sugar cane, small yellow tejocotes, and sometimes tamarinds or hibiscus flowers. Spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with panela or piloncillo, this hits the spot on cold winter nights.

Each family has its own Christmas traditions. Catholics may sing a lullaby to the Christ child in their nativity scene. Others may have a posada with small candles and songs. Where there are children, a piñata is a must! Peanuts and miniature fruit are the traditional filling, but nowadays candies and such often take their place. Sparklers, sky-bound lanterns and firecrackers add to the light and sound. A more modern type of entertainment for some families is an after-dinner karaoke sing.

What about gifts? That depends. Some groups or families organize a gift exchange at any of the smaller Christmas parties. Either the 24th or the 25th, there may be gifts under the tree, especially for children. Santa Claus, a more recent import, may or may not be involved. In the past, “el niño Dios” (the Christ child) was said to bring presents, but I haven’t heard of that tradition among our acquaintances.

It strikes me that, as with American or Canadian Thanksgiving, the focus is mostly on eating and socializing, just enjoying family. That takes the pressure off too much expectation of gifts.

Image result for Dia de reyes carta

What kids look forward to most is January 6th, el Día de Reyes! (A little-known fact is that it is the the Twelfth Day of Christmas in Western tradition, with December 25th being the first day.) It’s those “three kings” or magi who really bring toys and such, as far as most are concerned. Our Mexican relatives, at one point, gave the little ones clothing items such as PJ’s for Christmas, so January 6th was the BIG day for presents.

So, much as you’ll see lots of Santas in malls and elsewhere, after Christmas you’ll begin to see trios of men in costume, even in the main square or zócalo, offering photo ops and more. One inevitably is dark-skinned or has his face painted black, as the legendary Baltazar (Balshazzar) is of African origin. His companions are Melchor and Gaspar.

On the eve of “Reyes”, children will put out a shoe for the kings, ideally with their letter of gift preferences. Food will be left out for the horse, the camel and the elephant: peanuts, hay or grass, water, etc.

In more recent years, it became popular to buy helium balloons the day before, put their wish list inside and send it to the heavens. Probably that was invented by balloon-sellers! It has been fun to see multi-colored globos drifting upwards at this time of year. However, the latest trend is to promote a return to the traditional “letter in a shoe” as more eco-friendly.

The last diet-quashing goodie of the season is the rosca de reyes, a ring cake or sweet bread in the shape of an oval wreath. It is meant to represent the elaborate headdress of “the kings”, with colorful candied fruit (figs, candied fruit strips, etc.). It’s delicious, usually made with agua de azahar (orange blossom water) as well. Usually this is accompanied with hot cocoa. The special emphasis is on the plastic baby doll (now, several babies!) representing the Christ child, hidden from Herod. In Spain, the tradition was to have a large haba or fava bean in the cake. Each person has to cut their own piece of rosca, and those who find the figurine are supposed to host the party or contribute to the tamales on February 2nd!

Wait, February 2nd? Right, Candelmas or the day of the Virgin of Candelaria. Were the tamale-makers jealous of the bakers? Anyway, for some reason it’s traditional to celebrate with tamales on that day, perhaps with the excuse that they are wrapped up like the Christ child? Catholics dress up a rather large image of the Christ child on that day to have it blessed in church.

In the end, we might say that the season lasts longer than I first mentioned! Perhaps we should call it the “puente Guadalupe-Candelaria”?

To the Other Side of the World: Unity in Diversity at “The Word Made Fresh”

Asia, a continent I’d never really planned to visit! But this year the opportunity arose, and, as some of you may recall, this was my year for the word “brave”, so I took the bull by the horns to plan a trip across the Pacific. The occasion: the LittWorld conference for Christian writers and editors, offered every three years by MAI (Media Associates International). This year it was in Singapore, that amazing city-state that is an island not far from the equator.

Previous to the conference, MAI president John Maust shared his expectations: “At LittWorld 2018, global publishers and writers will look at fresh new ways to help today’s readers see and apply the power of the Bible in their everyday lives and to know the Word made flesh.”

After one flight to San Francisco and a six-hour layover, I set off for 16 hours across the Pacific. The longest night ever, that I can remember. Time for three meals, a good snooze, and four movies! (Including Paul: Apostle of Christ) Shortly before we arrived, a blood-red sun appeared on the horizon in the midst of a jet-black sky… surreal!

Writers, editors, graphic artists, publishers and more from 52 countries gathered to share, learn, network, and be challenged to use their gifts and knowledge to reach out to even more with a message of hope, the Good News. Some participants arrived from “closed” countries which made their attendance somewhat risky. Fiction, non-fiction, cartoons, film, and poetry were represented. Journalist Lekan Otufodunrin from Nigeria spoke on writing for Internet, as well.

Plenary sessions included speakers from quite a number of nations. One that made a special impact on us all was by Ramez Atallah, of the Bible Society of Egypt. He shared how, after the shocking news of the decapitation of 21 Christian Egyptian workers in Libya in 2015, they were led to publish more than 1.5 million tracts with a reflection on the tragedy. The reality of modern-day martyrdom, and the unswerving faith of those men, spoke with a powerful message to both Christians and non-Christians around the world.

Conference-goers could choose a track of their interest to focus on. For the first time there was a screen-writers track, led by Simon David Hunter.

In the magazine track, magazine editors covered quite a range in terms of their public and more. A Kenyan couple spoke of their work with a young people’s magazine with a distribution of 30,000, which is distributed in many secondary schools. At the other end of the spectrum, Gökhan Talas from Turkey publishes a magazine in a country of 70 million inhabitants and only 7,000 evangelicals, so he seeks to include topics of general interest which include culture and the ancient Christian history of the country. Daniela Encheva from Bulgaria started a magazine for women with small offerings given with much sacrifice in a time of economic crisis.

How can our writing stand out from the rest? The emphasis of accomplished writer Miriam Adeney was not on flashy style, but on having a Christian worldview that adds freshness and hope. Otherwise, she warned, our message may sound like everything else out there. Her own work is proof of the pudding. Her book “Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity” has been recognized as a gem even by secular publishers, and shares touching stories of what God is doing in the church “in every nook and cranny of the globe” as the focus shifts from the European and North American church to the third world. In the closing ceremony, Miriam was rewarded with MAI’s Lifetime Training Award for “her stellar equipping and encouragement of writers in multiple nations across more than four decades”.

In the past I had taken a workshop with Jeanette Windle, whose riveting novels set in different countries involve guerillas, drug mafias, terrorists and more. This time I attended her non-fiction workshop, as this area is more down my alley. She has written the testimony of the mother of the Amish schoolhouse shooter, and how the forgiveness of the affected community helped her heal. During my trip to Asia I was privileged to read All Saints, the story of a dying Anglican church in Tennessee which was unexpectedly revived with the arrival of Burmese immigrants from the Karen ethnic group. The case was one of such hope that it became a movie as well.

The sampling above represents only a small number of the options available at LittWorld. Yet undoubtedly most attendees would agree that most important of all was the opportunity to meet others from different nations, different ministries, different experiences and perspectives. From each we could learn and be encouraged.

Among others, I was excited to meet two people whose names I knew from reading Our Daily Bread: Tim Gustafson and Amy Boucher Pye. I always like to remember what name goes with the initials on my daily devotionals!

No less important are the many others I met, including a Russian woman and two Laotian women who took a walk with me to the beach, where after the drizzle stopped, a spectacular rainbow delighted us. Sisterhood across cultural “barriers”… I was touched when the Laotians commiserated with me over the loss of my husband; one had been widowed much younger than myself.

All of this took place minutes from the beach in beautiful, tropical, multicultural Singapore, with its four official languages and a rainbow of religions. The Singaporean team of LittWorld, including pastors, publishers, and writers, did an excellent job of hosting the event. During morning devotionals, songs were projected in both English and Chinese. At the closing banquet, many attendees showed up in colorful garb from their native countries. Many different tongues could be heard in the dining hall and elsewhere. Yet in that diversity, the unity of Christ’s people focused on similar goals made for magnificent harmony.

As several mentioned… it was a foretaste of heaven.

How I Almost Wrecked a Friendship and What I learned

A long-haired woman sitting on a dirt path in a misty forest

by Andrew Neel, Unsplash

Friend or Traitor?

I have a confession to make. Those who know me might not believe how nasty I can be. Years ago, I gossiped behind a friend’s back about her family, and she found out about it. All of a sudden, when I called her, she was curt, busy, stand-offish. Any suggestion that we get together soon received vague answers. It took me a while, but reality finally sank in. She knew what I’d done and saw me as a traitor more than a friend.

Now don’t get me wrong. She was not a petty person, the type that is easily put off, a fly-by-night friend. She had been an example and a spiritual mentor to me. Losing that trusting, open relationship was devastating to me.

At first I was on the defensive. It wasn’t such a big deal, was it? I hadn’t really lied, nor had I revealed any deep, dark secret. Why would it be taken so seriously?

Eventually the truth set in. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and repentant. I knew that waiting for things to calm down was not a solution. I had to ‘fess up if I wanted to save, If possible, our friendship. My husband accompanied me to make a visit, for moral support.

Friends? Confession

by Cristian Newman, Unsplash

Our unexpected arrival met with a lukewarm welcome. It was so long ago that I don’t recall the details, but I probably said something like “We need to talk”. My fears as to the reason for her aloofness were immediately confirmed. I made my confession and asked for forgiveness, hardly daring to receive it.

My friend oh-so-graciously accepted my admission and my plea for reconciliation. Trust did not blossom immediately, but took its time. The rift eventually became barely a crack, a distant reminder of hurt and healing. Over the years, our families shared dozens of gatherings and important life events together. Knowing that the relationship had withstood such a major shake-up made it all that more valuable. Above all, God had touched us both, humbling me and giving her the grace to forgive.

Words can Wound… or Heal

So what’s the takeaway? The fact that we’re all broken people is nothing new. I messed up big time, inflicting wounds on others. We’ve all been there, done that. Healing is not a given, but it’s up to each of us to initiate it… or not. When that takes years, the wounds fester and major surgery may be required. I’m glad I took action before it got harder.

Mister James, Unsplash

I also learned that something apparently insignificant can be a major trigger. That reminds me of that reference to the tongue being a spark or flame that sets off a fire, even “the whole course of one’s life”. Gossip (in spoken or written form) is one of those “accepted evils” that is seldom equated with immorality, and is practiced by those who seem to be pretty good people. Yet I’ve seen it destroy a church. Misunderstandings, a close cousin, have wrecked marriages. On social media, words have even led to suicide.

Again and again, I’ve had to review this lesson: When in doubt, shut your mouth.

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