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This is where I hope to share thoughts, insights, and opinions that arise from our missionary experience.

What I share here may be more "candid" than what you'd find in our other more promotional pages.

[Sorry about the technical difficulties with the type-setting, farther down the page!]

First Days in Antigua

After being home the entire winter season (and a particularly bad one!) we weren't ready for the heat back in the tropics.

Pastor Fremio picked us up at the airport and brought us to his house.  They have an upstairs room for visitors, the same one where Dale and I stayed when we were here for the visit in '07.  For a family of 3 it was a bit tight for 2+ weeks but it was 'home', and when we saw the condition that many live in here - and the hospitality of Fremio & Maria - we felt very blessed to have this much.

We soon learned how to get to town.  We got daily papers and scanned the classifieds for rental homes.  At first we make calls from the wall phone in Fremio's small engine repair shop.  Eventually we got a cell phone.  Things were slowly coming together.

Getting used to church almost every night was another adjustment for us.  And our language skills were not enough to understand but little that went on.  Thankfully worshiping in the Spirit does not require an understanding of the words being sung.  It helps but you can certainly worship God without knowing the words!

Christina had a bad first couple days.  This was expected.  She missed her friends and family - perhaps especially her little nephew, Joshua.  But one of the neighborhood girls wanted to spend time with her, even though she was being very shy.  Her name is Abigail, and Beth overheard her say to Christina, "Girl, you better start talking to me because I'm going to be your friend!"  It seems like, from that day on, Christina has made a good adjustment to Antigua.

The Dynamic Here – Between the 2 Languages and People-Groups - - With Us in the Middle

One of the challenges I love about this new assignment is the two different communities we are living and working among.  There’s the English speaking side, which reminds me of Jamaica.  And then there’s the Spanish side, which of course reminds me of my son-in-law because he’s also from the Dominican Republic, as all these folks are.  I would say that we have more readily bonded with the Spanish side, even though our Spanish skills are not so great, because they are also “strangers in a strange land” so to speak.Antigua has a population of about 70,000 and I’m told that 15,000 today are from the D.R.

The other dynamic at play, of course, is Christian and non-Christian.  Generally speaking, if someone is a Christian you can almost sense it before it becomes known, and in some cases it’s very obvious whether they are or are not.  When walking downtown in St. John’s we often do not have a warm fuzzy feeling.  We stick out like sore thumbs, of course, and sometimes the racial hatred and disdain for us, simply because we’re white, is quite palpable.  We’ve already experienced this to a lesser degree in Curacao (one time Emily was even assaulted), and to an even lesser degree in Vanuatu.  For some reason the Lord has always had us with predominantly black populations (they were not “African Americans” in Vanuatu, so forgive me for not using the more politically correct term).

Obviously, we love black people.  I like to think that it's not because they're black but because they're people.  While here I'm constantly reminded of what Dr. King said about - - it's not the color of the skin but the content of the character that matters.  Wow.  If only people would really live by that!  After sharing my testimony in church one time a lady came up to me and suggested that the reason God has us in places with black folks is because He used black people so much in my earliest days as a believer.  Which - if you know my testimony - is very true.  I owe a lot to my good friends, Tracey & Marty, and don't forget about Joe & Nona, and others.  Where would any of us be, without certain key people He has placed in our lives for our spiritual growth and benefit?

Our Spanish Skills (or lack thereof)

The bad thing about being in an English-speaking place, of course, is that we don’t use our newly acquired Spanish skills as much as we would if we were in a Latin American country.  At present, I do well when reading, and I do OK in a private one-to-one conversation (with a very patient person), but in group situations I do not fare well.  Beth actually does much better than me.  My excuse is that “women are more relational”.  Also, she makes a zillion mistakes but keeps forging ahead anyway, while I balk when I make mistakes and then try to correct myself and get all fouled up.  People seem to understand her even though she makes mistakes.  Beth is more colorful, and she connects better with the people than I do.  I may take refresher classes that are available for free here at the Venezuelan embassy.  Their next enrollment is in the fall.  The studying-on-my-own thing so far has not worked for me (but I haven’t given up on that, either).There have been some opportunities to do manual labor together with people from the church.  These have been great for getting to know people, and hopefully being accepted.  They can see how bad my Spanish is, but they laugh and they seem to get what I’m trying to say, anyway.  The team coming from Jacksonville next month will be alternating between an English-speaking church in Bolans, and the “Asamblea de Dios” here in St. John’s, so this will also be interesting to see how they do, “toggling” back-and-forth.

 Cross Cultural Communications

Now that we’re in our 4th country as missionaries [if you include the year of language school in Costa Rica] – having met, worked with, and gotten to know so many

different kinds of people in all these places (including the different peoples within a country) - - I feel that I’ve learned fairly well how to ‘gauge people’, and I guess this is a good skill set to have as a missionary though it might not be the type of thing you’d find in a résumé or job description. 

Well, what is my point here?  It's that you have to be able to work together with people that don’t think like you do.  Their entire frames of life-reference are (often radically) different than yours.   Now I know that the USA is becoming more and more “cross-cultural” but when you’re out there in other countries it’s totally different.  We've seen missionaries who seem to want to keep their north American mindset in dealing with others in these settings, but for the most part they don’t seem successful among those people.

(Well, we could talk for awhile on that one, too, because it does depend on the context, for I’ve noticed that some people seem to want their missionaries to just act like north Americans as if to say, “because we’re curious about the United States and we want to have someone who will show us what kind of attitudes these north Americans have”). 

Beth and I have never been like that, though.  We’ve always tried to ‘meet’ the people on their terms, while realizing there are limits in how much you can “be just like them”. 

In one case this philosophy seemed to backfire on us because we focused on a satellite church that was more indigenous and saw us more as an unwelcome intrusion, while the main (“mother”) church was much more westernized, multi-culturally integrated, and progressive.  So in a sense we were off in a corner, trying to ‘reach the true people’ of that place – but being met with a cool reception, while what was REALLY happening in terms of the real move of God and presence and power of the Spirit was with the larger more progressive-thinking congregation (and they were much friendlier, too!).

 

But for the most part I feel that one of the tasks of the missionary is to approach the people humbly and with respect.  Allow them ‘space’ to be who they are, and to express their Christian faith within their own cultural frames of reference.  Otherwise, we put undue pressure on them to be something that they’re not.  It grieves me when I see people trying to ‘imitate the missionaries’ but not really having a living direct relationship to God, for themselves.  Imitating can indeed be a good starting point, but the goal of course is for them to “own” it for themselves.

 

Well, one thing I wanted to get to here was the directness and “bluntness” of many cultures in developing nations.  As westerners we were first taken aback by this.  There are accepted ways of relating in many other countries & cultures that may seem crude or even cruel and demeaning.  When I reflected on this, I realized that these people do not have what I guess I’ll call the “luxuries of nuance” or shades of meaning.  In the cases of Vanuatu and Curacao, for example, the national languages – Bislama and Papiamentu, respectively – are local languages not spoken elsewhere.  Their vocabularies are much, much smaller than an international language like Spanish, French, or English.  So, do you see what I’m driving at?  - - Their possibilities for word selection are much more limited.  Their lives are simple.  Their language is simple.  And there’s a clear chain of command in their societies, so what is spoken often comes in the form of directives and commands – with not many “pleases” or “thank you’s”.  

 

(At this point I think I’m speaking more of Vanuatu than Curacao, for although Papiamentu is the national language of Curacao they also have three other “official” languages, including English – so some people you meet speak only the Papiamentu, while others with more education could actually speak all four languages – this always amazed me…)

 

Here in Antigua people certainly do know about politeness, because of the British moorings I suppose.   We are still "learning Antiguans" (as well as Dominicanos) so we'll have to wait before saying more on this...  After almost 3 months I feel I'm warming up to the people and the culture here, after a slow start.  The problem there could have easily been largely with me, because of homesickness and missing my family.  We still experience the "Missionary Loneliness" here, perhaps more because there's no other missionaries due to the small size of this country.  But hopefully as we continue to engage the culture (again - both cultures) we will build relationships and feel more at home in our newly adopted country.

Team Coming July 10th

Our first team is coming in less than a week, now, and so we will welcome the opportunity to see such a large group of our 'countrymen' as they come to do a VBS in one of the English churches and help us with the set-up of the day care center in the Spanish Church.

[Note:  the team came and was a great success, glory to God!]