Having an Agenda

“What is your agenda for Ethiopia this time?” a friend asked me. “Or do you have an agenda?”

I laughed. As my dad would have said, boy-howdy, do I have an agenda! Several agendas, in fact. A friend has invited me to think about how to be more strategic and organized in the work in Ethiopia that keeps coming my way. That will be one of my agendas.

In my suitcase, as I fly out of Portland, I’m carrying a bag of dried apples. I’m taking them

The apple orchard is young, but thriving. Apples have been imported to Ethiopia from Kenya and South Africa at great expense. We want to make Maji famous for its apples.

The apple orchard is young, but thriving. Apples have been imported to Ethiopia from Kenya and South Africa at great expense. We want to make Maji famous for its apples.

to Maji to show the agriculturalist, Ato Markos, who coordinates the Maji apple orchard what a dried apple looks and tastes like. The 1000 apple trees he’s planted aren’t yet bearing more than he can sell locally, but they will! I need to talk with his leadership team about their marketing plan. And if the grid does get to Maji, might they start a fruit-drying endeavor? Why truck the water in the apples all the way, 500 miles, to Addis Ababa?

This young woman is the one nurse serving the Maji clinic.

This young woman is the one nurse serving the Maji clinic. Photo by Maureen Evans

Another major goal for my time in Maji is to get a solar unit installed on the town’s clinic. This came as a request from church leaders, and took me over a year to organize. The clinic is delivering up to thirty babies a month. Night deliveries take place in the dark—the electric grid hasn’t reached Maji yet—and the midwife and nurse sometimes have to hold flashlights in their teeth to have hands free. A simple solar unit will allow for night lighting and charging cell phones. I’ve found a solar supplier in Addis Ababa and he is sending the unit and an installer with me in the vehicle I’ve rented for the trip.

While in Maji, I will also meet with the

Zerihun is the lead translator for the Dizi language. The alphabet he helped develop is being embraced by the church and the local government.

Zerihun is the lead translator for the Dizi language. The alphabet he helped develop is being embraced by the church and the local government. Photo by Maureen Evans

translation team for the Dizi language, the language of the people of Maji. Dizi has been reduced to written form—that’s the technical term for developing a writing system that covers all the sounds of the language. Now the New Testament translation is almost finished. The translation team is meeting with expert linguists in Addis Ababa several times a year to check for consistency (is the same word in Hebrew, Greek or English translated by the same word in Dizi, for example). They are also holding community checking events, reading passages and listening to discussions to see whether the intended meaning of the translation is what was actually communicated.

Try reading Dizi!

Try reading Dizi! Photo by Maureen Evans

I don’t know the Dizi language, but I’ve been supporting the translation team for several years. I  meet with them and listen (in Amharic) as they talk about their progress, frustrations and concerns. I’ll take a report back to donors, and go over the budget for next year’s work. This trip I’ll start to ask questions about a literacy program. We don’t think about this, having so many centuries of written language of our own—but once there is an alphabet and written materials, the next problem is that no one knows how to read!

And then, speaking of literacy, when I get back to Addis I’ll meet with people who helped Janie and me last January as we began creating stories and art for early-reader books for Ethiopian children. Again, we have such a thriving publishing industry in the US, it’s hard to imagine that almost no books are published in Ethiopia, and there is nothing at all for beginning readers. They drill their 241-letter alphabet, and then start the sink-or-swim process of reading text books.

Children, parents, teachers and librarians in Ethiopia and the US have created the

We'd love to be part of creating fun, colorful, culturally appropriate easy readers for Ethiopian children like these cuties!

We’d love to be part of creating fun, colorful, culturally appropriate easy readers for Ethiopian children like these cuties! Photo by Jeri Candor

beginnings of about twenty simple, illustrated stories appropriate to Ethiopian culture. Now we’re looking for help in the translation and design stage. (We haven’t even addressed production yet!) The enthusiasm, the creativity, the goodwill of volunteers is keeping us going in spite of the steep learning curve for this cutting-edge cross-cultural effort.

In Addis Ababa I’ll be following up with young artists and writers to move from the inspiration stage to the revision stage of creating art. I’ll be looking for someone who has design skills and knows Amharic. I’ll meet with some people who have tried their hands at translation—that’s a creative endeavor as well, because our subject-verb sentences trot along using words like building blocks, each in its own place, but Amharic encrusts the verb with not only prefixes and suffixes, but infixes! We wouldn’t know an infix if we heard one!

So that’s my agenda! I’m writing on the plane to Minneapolis, the first of three legs of my journey. I’ve been crazy-busy getting ready for all this. Now wish me well! My jet lag, the possibilities of picking up intestinal bugs, and political unrest in parts of Ethiopia may be greater problems than the inherent challenges of the work. But that’s the way it always is. Our contexts are part of the work.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I have for creativity, spiritual and relational growth as I do this work that keeps coming to me from God. Thanks to all of you who have contributed encouragement, prayer and resource to be my partners!


The cell tower in Maji was down when Odyssey II got there. Nahosenay missed cell reception because he had a new girlfriend. But Yacob and Stephanie said the quiet surprised them. It left  space in their minds that made it worth being out of touch.

What the -- Power Monkey? (1)

I brought a Power Monkey with solar panels, but could I figure out how it was supposed to work?

power monkey audience copy

So I recruited help with that Power Monkey . . . but we never did get much power out if it.

Originally, though, the lack of connectivity had more than one member of the team anxious. How would we stay in touch with husbands and families? How would we update our supporters and friends? The power grid hasn’t reached Maji. it’s one thing to go off-grid with one of the new power technologies creeping into the scene in the USA. It’s another challenge to live altogether without. How would we keep our cameras juiced up, people asked me? Our phones? Yacob’s Jambox? Before we went we researched some options—Power Monkeys that charge with small solar panels or a car charger, clever solar blow-up lanterns for the supper table, flashlights, of course, and candles.

Once there, we stayed in a house that had been built in 1990 by John Haspels and his crew, with some help from my husband Mark.  Janie and I share a room, partly out of practicality, and partly because giggling together at night, problem solving, and sharing our impressions, is so precious.

A translation team of three Dizi men, nearing the end of a many-year project to develop an alphabet for the Dizi language and translate the New IMG_0173Testament, uses one of the rooms as an office. Our Odyssey team took over the bedrooms and our cook set up beauties burners on the floor in the kitchen area. Our hosts dug a new latrine nearby just for us. (Troy gets extra stars from the women for carrying a camp toilet in his checked luggage for night-time use in the former bathroom!) Young boys from local families make a few Ethiopian Birr carrying water in bright blue jerry cans for cooking, hand washing and our bucket-baths.

The doors of the house stood open to the light and air all day. Chickens minced through, checking for yummy crumbs. 

“Look out,” Janie said to one of them. “The cook is right here, watching you!”

IMG_0171Our struggles were temporary, of course. One of my goals in going to Maji was to gather the stories of people for whom Maji, and the neighboring government center in Tum, is home. How does the lack of power impact their lives? What difference would it make if we could help bring both public and private money together to create a mini-grid and  power co-op (maybe solar, maybe micro-hydro, maybe some combination)? Janie and I recruited Maureen to help us interview and photograph for this dream.

I’ve done some work with folks from the international arm of USA’s National Rural Electric Co-op Association (NRECA), in co-operation with Obama’s Power Africa initiative and the power sector of Ethiopia. They are developing a whole-country strategy for power. I want the people of Maji to have electricity to ease their lives. I tell Janie I feel like a politician trying to bring home the pork.

In fact, supplying power to Government centers like Tum is a priority for Ethiopia, but Maji’s remoteness has so far held back progress. Some businesses have generators. The cost of diesel is prohibitive—$4 per gallon in a place where even the top government official makes only $250 per month. Fuel is brought in by truck over roads that wind down into the Gibe River gorge and back up, deeper and deeper into the mountains of SW Ethiopia. Chinese and Korean companies have laid asphalt now, but eventually, going as far as we do toward the Sudan boarder, gravel takes over. No one is even trying to market individual solar units this far from the import sources.

According to my friends here, there was a recent government meeting with federal level officials in the nearest big town, Mizan Taferi. The provincial leaders said, “We were told Tum was a priority for electrification. What is happening?”

You are still a priority, they were told. But the grid runs out in Jemu, about eighty miles away, and to bring electricity any further, the government would need to build a sub-station. The Maji area officials left the meeting and turned to each other. “Then we will put our hope in Caroline and the people (from NRECA.” Yikes! The pressure is on!

The NRECA folks attended a world summit on power and other development issues in early January. While they were in Addis they did some of the policy research it will take to advise Ethiopia on how to improve the entire power sector—how to expand participation in the grid, which runs along every roadway, but only reaches a less than 25% of the population; how to handle the power that will be exported to neighboring countries when the dam on the Blue Nile River is finished; how to build mini-grids with solar and micro-hydro power and start co-ops to administer them.

Meanwhile, school boys in Maji tell us they study at night by flashlight—something they

Before we left, these boys got their semester grades. The tall boy on the right came first in his class.

Before we left, these boys got their semester grades. The tall boy on the right came first in his class.

have to buy themselves. What they earn carrying five gallons of water several hundred feet will buy one battery. And foreigners who will pay for water to be carried don’t come often. These boys compete for spots in the university system with youth from Addis Ababa, Jimma, Mekele—cities where electricity is lighting up their study tables.

These boys’ mothers still cook over wood fires on the floor; homes are filled with smoke, causing sinus, upper respiratory and eye infections, especially in young children. The town shuts down at eight o’clock when the sun goes down.

Still, when I asked the boys if they have hopes of passing the competitive university entrance test, they all laughed and said yes. Of course they do. Aren’t humans people of hope?

Ethiopian Odyssey II–Artists

A card by Stephanie from Ethiopia Odyssey I.

A card by Stephanie from Ethiopia Odyssey I.

Ethiopian Odyssey I had taken four artists deep into the Omo region of Ethiopia, capturing the beauty of that land and donating their art to raise money for Ethiopia Reads, the non-profit my sister Janie helped start. Ethiopia Reads plants libraries for children in Ethiopia.

Odyssey II came into my life when Janie told me she wanted to go to our childhood town of Maji, Ethiopia one more time while she was still hale and hearty. “But I’ll only go with you or Chris,” she’d said. Since Chris (who also speaks Amharic) is a full time elementary school teacher, I became the tour guide of choice. Janie’s artist friend, Stephanie, had heard her talk so much about Maji, she suggested this trip become Odyssey II.

“Okay,” I had said, and we settled on January, 2016. At the time it seemed so far away and so unlikely I hardly took it seriously. Finding myself in Ethiopia at the end of January, with a team of eight including Janie and Stephanie, amazement washed over me—we were in Maji, and my new friends were finding SW Ethiopia as beautiful as I do.

As I began to write, the four artists (two Ethiopians and two from the US) were hard at Yacob paintingwork. Yacob, who teaches at the fine arts college in Addis, wore an apron and sat on the ground spread-legged, painting. We dubbed him Mr. Pandora, and enjoying the jazz coming from his Jambox through his phone.

As always in Ethiopia, a small crowd gathered to watch whatever we did. The Ethiopians from Addis were as interesting in Maji as we foreigners!

As always in Ethiopia, a small crowd gathered to watch whatever we did. The Ethiopians from Addis were as interesting in Maji as we foreigners!

Nahom, a full time artist, also from Addis Ababa, finished one painting by sitting against a tree and bracing his canvas-board on a rock. His second piece he started, pinned to the tree. He stood back, reaching at arm-and-paint-brush-handle length to apply the paint, just as I picture painters doing.

Troy, from Connecticut created a

The breeze was stiff that morning, but Troy was resourceful.

The breeze was stiff that morning, but Troy was resourceful.

studio for himself by arranging some pieces of corrugated iron to shelter his easel from the mountain breeze of Maji. The report came back that he had found his zone, so we didn’t disturb him.

And Stephanie took shelter from the wind in the former mission teacher and nurse’s house until mid-afternoon. She produced gorgeous washes of color representing the hills and ridges around us, then gathered everything up and headed back out into the sunshine after lunch.

The other four of us wandered the former mission compound, drinking in the view from the western side, over the valley and through the gap. We marveled at the eucalyptus trees that were big when Janie and I were children fifty years ago, now grown so huge it would take all four of us to reach around them. Janie and I tried to visualize—where was Mom’s circular rose garden? Dad’s shop, which we called the magazine (emphasizing the second syllable as the Italians did when they taught the word to the Ethiopians)? The grove of false-banana trees where we caught the tree frogs Janie tried to toilet train?

Poignant moments, with a sister and playmate, overlooking the scene that back-lit our play so many years ago.

Poignant moments, with a sister and playmate, overlooking the scene that back-lit our games so many years ago.

And as friends from Maji town met us on the path, the others wandered on, leaving me to shift into Amharic and play that bridging role I love so much.

The stars over us the first night were brilliant in a totally dark sky. The moon rose later, so bright there was no need for flashlights. The peace of that place soothed us all in mind, body and spirit.


I was on a roll, blogging about my big walk in September. Feeling more balanced in my new, single life; beginning to believe that I would not have to live a diminished life now that Mark is gone; settling into my little rental house in North Portland, Oregon.

This picture was taken six or seven years ago at  a family Thanksgiving at the farm where Mark and I lived. I hope we treasured the time!

This picture was taken six or seven years ago at a family Thanksgiving at the farm where Mark and I lived. I hope we treasured the time!

Then my brother-in-law Bob’s health plunged. It wasn’t a surprise that he was sick—he’d gotten a terminal cancer diagnosis in February. But he’d outlived the prognosis with no pain and fairly good energy. He’d been learning auto body work from an online community of car guys in order to renovate his old MG—(is that what you do to cars, or am I borrowing terminology from Mark’s field of carpentry and building?)—well, he was bringing the MG back to life. He’d been in the shop or in the yard, working with my sister, all summer. To all of our surprise, he started seeing a Chinese doctor, having acupuncture, and cheerfully drinking a bitter tasting brew of healing herbs (this is Bob, a Vietnam vet who was raised Irish Catholic on the south side of Chicago!)

Then he woke one Saturday in late September feeling as though someone had kicked him in the liver. I’m guessing ice crystals began to form around Cathy’s heart that day.

Tylenol didn’t work for long for the pain. Soon Bob was on the same hydrocodone medication Mark started out on. The hospice policy of requiring a six month prognosis and stopping all curative care keeps people from signing up in time to really get the help they need, so more and more hospitals are experimenting with “transition care” or “palliative care” that allows families to get pain management help sooner. Cathy got them signed up.

Bob was no longer driving, so I took him to that appointment, and Cathy left work early to meet him there. I saw the gray in his complexion—was it the opiates, or the pain, or the cancer? I knew that look too well.

Bob insisted that I drop him off at a spot away from the main entrance of the building, but facing a direction from which I could conveniently get headed back home. He moved slowly, pulling himself up and out of the car seat. He walked stiffly, bravely down the sidewalk. I sat where I’d parked and cried.

I got used to it again, that gray, pinched look, and became Bob’s favorite driver for what became daily trips for acupuncture. This was a surprise to all of us—Bob had been crusty about feisty, independent women (though he was married to one, isn’t that the way it is!) and did I mention Viet Nam and Chicago’s South Side? It probably didn’t help to be Catholic in such a determinedly Presbyterian family. On those drives, Bob and I learned to appreciate each other before we had to say good bye. I asked his advice for minor home repairs I was making in my new single life and he loved being in a position to help me. He talked to me about his feelings about death. We often drove in silence. Everyone in the family laughed that I was at the top of his list of drivers.

In November, after a bout in the emergency room, which brought us all to the hospital to say good-bye to him, Bob recovered enough to get home by ambulance to a hospital bed in the living room. Friends and his brother came to say good-bye. Cathy gave her guests a tour of the kitchen and said she could only take care of Bob and herself, they’d be on their own. Her daughters and their boyfriends began to spend all there free time at the house, cooking, playing card games, sitting by Bob’s bed talking, sorting through pictures, listening to stories they’d never heard before.

But as Bob’s pain got more intense his medication had to be increased, and he was awake less and less of the time. By Thanksgiving week he was mostly “away,” and every day we thought we’d lose him. I took to stopping by Cathy’s house any time I was out, sometimes staying to talk or play games. Sometimes just giving hugs and heading back to my own quiet house, the place I live alone now that I had gone through what they were facing.

All my plans for blogging, all my concentration, all my interest in the walk I’d taken and the thoughts I’d had while I walked evaporated.

Bob began to struggle to breathe. He sometimes woke confused and tried to get up—he’d been a survivor. A scrapper.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I woke to a text that Bob was breathing peacefully at last. I dressed and ran down. I must have walked into the house minutes after he had taken his last breath. Cathy, her girls and their boyfriends were nested in the couches around Bob’s hospital bed. I crawled in with them and we held each other. We cried. We talked. Our brother Chris came over later with his guitar and we sang a few songs. Bob wasn’t a singer, but he liked that part of the Kurtz ethos, and we sang a couple of old anti-war songs for him. “The boyfriends” went shopping and made a two-dozen-egg omelette for us. It was about eleven o’clock but it felt like only an hour had passed.

After the funeral home collected his body, at about three in the afternoon, I walked through a wet and drippy afternoon back to my house. It seemed dim and desolate. In the middle of my storm of tears I was able to reassure myself that I hadn’t gone back into the cave I’d been in after Mark’s death. This was a strong memory trigger, but for my own grief, it was only memory, and I’d get back quickly to the balance I’d come to in the intervening year.

Still, when it came to changing my ticket to Ethiopia and Kenya, where I was going to stay with Miriam and her family for Christmas, I couldn’t face, and chose to miss Bob’s memorial service. It didn’t occur to me until later—how strong the impulses are from childhood, and I was trained to be independent and self-reliant—that I could have invited an unrelated friend to attend with me, to be my support, that I wouldn’t have needed to go as support for Cathy. At the time, all I knew was that it was too soon to go to another memorial service. I knew I would only cry, and then go home alone. I needed to get away from death and grief for a while, to my sunny, dry-season eastern African home.

When I came back to Portland in January, my sister Janie welcomed me back to a season where “no one is actively dying,” though another brother-in-law’s cancer is advancing and we’re all bracing ourselves for another bout of grief and memories. Janie’s been a hero, constantly reminding us that it may feel as though there’s not enough attention and love to go around, but actually there  is. None of us need to be a martyr or do without. We can all continue to live rich and joy-filled lives even as we face these hard times together.

And so I go social dancing (Salsa and West Coast Swing) several nights a week. Cathy has taken up rock climbing, which she does with her daughters and the boyfriends. And Janie lives up to the plaque I found for her, “Garden Diva.” We cover for Mom’s care so that Chris and his wife can go to the cafe to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We sisters go to yoga together and we gather to sing around the piano on Sunday nights at Mom’s house. And we hug each other a lot.   

Starting Out

My rite-of-passage pilgrimage began with a bus ride to Astoria from Portland, a journey of two and a half hours for an amazing $20. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and snuggled against my backpack, I fell asleep before we were out of the Portland metro area. When I woke, the air in the bus was moist and cool, the windows were streaked. Oh yes, I thought. Fall has begun. In the Coastal Range it rains. At the coast it rains, though the foreseeable reports had predicted sunny days.

Unloading at the Astoria bus station I wandered around looking for a place to eat lunch and chose the Wet Dog Brewery and Pub for its name. I fortified myself for the coming walk with fish and chips and cider. I was self-conscious about my pack, which seemed gigantic and attention-grabbing on my back, but too heavy to carry any other way. I stood it on a bench by the entrance while I kept an eye on if from the bar (I also hadn’t yet figured out that no one else would want to pick it up, either.) 

The taxi driver who took me to Fort Stevens State Park wanted to visit, and when I told her my story, confessed that she had never gotten over the death, five years ago, of her daughter’s father. She felt responsible, because she had kicked him out. “He was always drunk or at the bars. I got tired of it. But maybe if I’d just helped him get help . . .”

I assured her he’d had plenty of chances to get help, he’d made his own decisions and she needed to forgive herself. Talking about my hike reminded her that she has wanted to hike Saddle Mountain in the spring, when the wild flowers are in bloom. Maybe this year she would do that, she said. Maybe it would help her start over. As I paid her and said good-bye, I wondered how many other people I would meet whose full names I wouldn’t find out, whose story’s ending I wouldn’t hear.

American service men inspect a shell crater after the Japanese attack on Fort Stevens.

American service men inspect a shell crater after the Japanese attack on Fort Stevens.

She had dropped me off at Battery Russell, and I wandered around getting my bearings and reading the historical brochures and placards.  This was the only spot on the continental United States to be fired on by a foreign power since the war of 1812–in June of 1942, a Japanese submarine ten miles out to sea slipped beneath a fishing fleet and fired 5.5 inch deck guns in about a fifteen minute attack. There were no injuries or casualties; one shell created a crater in the local baseball field and others fell in the forest and on the beach.  After the war, Japanese Captain Maeji Tagami admitted he thought he might be firing on a submarine attack station and would not have dared if he’d known the fire-power the battery had. Fortunately for him, the guns at Battery Russell stayed silent, because they didn’t know how sustained an attack it was, and didn’t want to give away their position. After that, civilian guard squads began patrolling the Oregon coast.

After I read this surprising local history, I walked some miles to the hiker-biker section of Fort Stevens State Park campground (bikers in this case are not the Harley guys but people on bicycles, riding the popular bike route down Highway 101 and along scenic side-roads). Oregon State Park hiker-biker campgrounds are small, with no vehicle access, but with picnic tables, fire pits and usually a near-by port-a-potty. In Fort Stevens I learned that one quiet mission of a good picnic table is to deliver packs directly onto hikers’ backs. Hoisting my pack from the ground to shoulder height was not easy nor pretty—it was much harder to handle its 35 pound weight with my arms alone, than to carry it on my hips and legs, resting against my back, anchored snuggly against my shoulders.


It wasn’t long before the second sole joined the first. The duct tape needed replacing once, when I wore through it on the bottoms, but otherwise held for the whole trip! Now to find some Shoe Goo . . . Mark fixed more than one pair of my shoes with Shoe Goo.

Next to me at the camp ground was a man who was biking from Vancouver, BC to San Francisco. We shared bemused frustrations that our “guides” in blogs and books were in their 20s, and that we no longer had their stamina. That night, his Thermarest mattress developed a slow leak. Meanwhile, I had been too careful to heed the operating warnings to screw the valve of my new Primus stove onto the fuel canister gently. Between eating my reconstituted lasagna and heating up dishwashing water, all my fuel had leaked out. In the morning, I did not find more fuel in the little KOA store nearby, and walking the mile back to my camp, the sole of my camp sandal decided to part ways from the footbed. I hadn’t even started walking yet. How quickly misadventure could find me. How much my neighbor and I were going to be affected by our simple problems: sleeping, eating. It doesn’t take much to be very uncomfortable once we leave home. As I carefully repaired my sandal with duct tape, I imagined Mark watching over my shoulder. He was chuckling.

Planning my trip, I’d been stymied by the lack of a town or campsite within twenty miles of Fort Stevens State Park on the northern tip of Oregon’s coast. Both my blogger and the official OCT site were suspiciously silent about camping in unofficial spots, but both said don’t camp on the beach, and warned that patrols will run campers off the beaches near towns and state parks. The last thing I wanted was trouble with the law. That, I thought, would completely destroy the spirit of my pilgrimage.  I imagined the incredible inconvenience of packing up in the sandy darkness and wandering on . . . to where? I didn’t realize, until I’d been on the beach longer, the dangers. By the end of three weeks, I was watching the ocean over my shoulder with some trepidation—after seeing memorials to strong young men drowned within three minutes of being swept off rocks by sneaker waves, the tsunami warning signs and escape route maps at every state park, the signs warning against napping on the beach or standing on logs, which weigh thousands of pounds and could be lifted by the surf, or could roll.

But there was no other option, I was going to have to camp on the beach halfway between Fort Stevens and the town of Seaside on my first real night out.

Low tide at mid-morning gave me a wide, packed beach to walk on. As I came out of the forested campground area to the beach, I felt my spirit lift in response to the ocean that faded away miles from me; the call of the waves, one replacing another constantly, never pausing; the bright sunlight on the sand and water. How could the beach not be a healing place for me to be?   

The rusting bones of the Peter Iredale.

The rusting bones of the Peter Iredale.

I headed out, south of the wreck of the Peter Iredale, the most accessible wreck of the “Graveyard of the Pacific”, a treacherous band of coast from Tillamook, Oregon to Vancouver, BC. The Peter Iredale, with her royal sails above double top and topgallant sails (I don’t know what these are, but they sound wonderful) had set out from Liverpool, England to Portland, Oregon in 1906 with 1000 pounds of ballast, 25 crew members and two stowaways. Approaching the Columbia bar (which has accounted for 2000 wrecks) the Peter Iredale ran into mist, rain and wind and was blown to shore. In the weeks of waiting for weather to clear so they could tow the ship back out to sea, she listed to the side and become embedded in the sand. Captain Lawrence abandoned her with a toast: “May God bless you, and may your bones bleach in the sands.” Being iron, those bones have rusted instead.

In the misty morning air, I saw what I thought at first were jeeps carved out of sand. When I got closer I saw that they were military trucks, exactly the color of the sand. They had hauled trailers to the beach, and men were swarming around, launching rubber rafts into the surf. I wondered if a search was going on. The surf was too calm for surfingI, something done in wet suits on our beaches. Fishing boats were white dots far beyond the helicopter that whipped over and circled out from shore. Children may splash in the foam, but no one really swims in the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast.

An hour later, the jeeps roared by, followed by an emergency vehicle which sank into the sand and got stuck. When I came abreast I felt confident enough that there hadn’t been a real emergency to joke with the young man dashing from one tire to another, pulling at the sand.

“I hope you don’t have someone dying in there!”

He laughed. “It was just a training. Now we’re just trying to get off the beach before the tide comes in.” 

I walked on, the tortoise to their hare, picturing their truck lifted off its wheels by the tide and washing out to sea.

Around noon I reached Sunset Beach State Park, a day-use site about six miles along. I walked up from the beach and ate my lunch perched on a big rock. My plan was to go just a little further before I camped, but I had the whole afternoon, the sun was hot, and I wanted shade. I looked around for something more in keeping with the spirit of a pilgrimage, but the only shade I found was a band along the east side of the outhouse (vault toilet is the new term) there at the wayside. I leaned myself and my pack against the wall and took out my journal to write.

As I rested by the Sunset Beach outhouse, a group of ecologists from the Willamette Valley, on the other side of the Coast Range, drove up. They clustered at the trailhead a few feet away for a mini-lecture by a local park ranger. I sidled over to listen. Early settlers had stabilized the dunes by planting European dune grass and what they thought were coastal pines, she said. But the species of pine they planted grew tall and straight, more like the lodgepole than the coastal pine. “They fell like matchsticks in the storm of 2007.” In the Great Coastal Gale of 2007, winds of 129-137 mph had whipped the coast of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, and given us Oregon’s only technically defined hurricane.

Scotch Broom is beautiful in the spring. Unfortunately, it's growth habits and aggressiveness make it an ugly invader.

Scotch Broom is beautiful in the spring. Unfortunately, it’s growth habits and aggressiveness make it an ugly invader.

In the aftermath, local residents worried about the fire hazard of all that felled wood so the park district cleared it, but then Scotch broom, a European import, moved in. Scotch Broom  grows aggressively. It produces thousands of seeds every year, and the seeds stay viable for years. It spreads into monoculture stands that crowd out native plants and habitat.  It’s a noxious weed in India, New Zealand and South America as well as Oregon. The ranger talked about observing what a site “wants to be” and recreating preferred eco systems. She spoke with regret—this site wants to be a coastal prairie, but because of the Scotch Broom they’ve had to replant pines. If the still immature coastal pines win the battle for dominance, she hopes that they will eventually shade out the encroaching invader.

The ecologists drove on, and I spent several more hours of refuge  by the outhouse until, when the sun began to drop toward the sea, I set off down the beach to set up camp. It wouldn’t hurt to shorten my walk into Seaside the following day, I decided, so I walked for about an hour. Tillamook Head appeared ahead of me, the point that separates Seaside from Cannon Beach.

Gulls lined up between the edge of the sand  and the dune watched me as I trudged by.

Gulls lined up between the edge of the sand and the dune watched me as I trudged by.

I began to suspect that camping on the beach sounds more romantic than it is. I knew enough to worry about high tide—I could see where the last tide had reached, but might a sneaker wave rise up in the middle of the night to sweep me off to sea, tangled in my bivouac tent? There was no picnic table to lift me or my pack out of the sand, so sand would get into everything. Since I don’t  a sleep with a gale-force fan, the ocean was going to disturb me with loud talking all night long. And there was the matter of no water or facilities. Since I had no choice, I walked clear up to the low dune that parallels the ocean on that stretch of the coast, found a level spot on the sand and pitched my tent.

All the vehicles and day visitors disappeared before the sun set. I experimented (moving slowly so I didn’t kick sand up into my food) and found out that freeze dried food will indeed reconstitute in cold water, and that cold water will not enhance its taste. A chilly mist rose up and sent me to bed early. As I crawled into the bivouac tent, again, I moved slowly and carefully so that I would take as little sand as possible into my sleeping bag with me.

I got up once in the night. To the south—it looked so very close—I saw the lights of Seaside sparkling red and white under the high full moon. I smiled. For the first time I felt as though I really was on a pilgrimage, the dots really would connect, one step would lead to another, one day would lead to the next, and my way would lead to one new place after another. Actually, and metaphorically.

In the morning I woke early. The colors of the sea and beach were as light as a watercolor. The wind had stilled. The air felt warm. The beach was mine, as if it was the first morning of creation and I was the first woman. I walked down to the tide line, shed my clothes and waded up to my knees into the ocean. I splashed water on my body and laughed at the cascade of goose bumps. I probably said out loud what Mark and I had called to each other in Lake Longano, Ethiopia, when we went for our morning swim: “Re-freshing!”

Everything Turns

The Basillica de Santiago

The Basillica de Santiago

In the summer of 2013 my sister Jan and her husband walked for a week in France along the ancient pilgrimage trail called the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. The city of Santiago, in western Spain, was built in Medieval times around a cathedral where a relic of St. James, the patron of knights, laborers and pilgrims is said to have been buried. On the coast, a few miles further, Finisterre was believed to be the westernmost point of Europe, and there sins could be cast into the sea and washed away.  Some historians say these pilgrimages to the sea began long before the Christian era, but in Medieval times pilgrims began to walk to Santiago and Finisterra from as far away as Russia, merging like rivulets along the way to form a river of millions, protected from bandits and raiders by international honor for pilgrims, and served by hostels and ale houses established all along the way. Jan was on this pilgrim way when I told the family that the doctors had found Mark’s aggressive cancer. She and her party lit candles in cathedrals, and placed stones on wayside cairns for him.

When I heard their story I knew that’s what I needed to do at the end of my first year without Mark—a pilgrimage. To delineate these two parts of my life. To leave the difficult months behind and start to focus on the future. I wondered, what friend would be free to go with me? Or could I do it alone? And just as I had that thought, I came to the suggestion in the guide book, “If you are undertaking this pilgrimage for spiritual reasons, consider going alone.” That’s when I got excited. I imagined studying French and Spanish while I grieved (why not?) and walking in Europe as a pilgrim, heading west to cast my sorrows into the sea and start fresh.

The language study never happened. This year I couldn’t even concentrate to read. But walking, getting out of my head, getting my body into the physical world did happen. It happened a lot, so the idea of a walking pilgrimage as a rite of passage stayed with me.

One problem: Mark died in October, and October wasn’t going to be a good time to be outside anywhere in the temperate zone. As I thought more about rites of passage, I realized they have a wide target area. Among the Nuers of South Sudan and the Oromos of Ethiopia, men pass from boyhood to adulthood—from youth to wisdom—in age groups. Among the Nuers, any given boy may be on the older or younger side of his age group when the Men of the Spear decide the timing is right for their ordeal ceremony—when the weather is warm, when the cows are giving milk to nourish the boys, when the odds are good for successful healing from the bone-deep lines he will cut across their foreheads.

We make a parallel set of calculations—when we’re ready to marry we choose a weekend when our mother-in-law can come from New York, when our brides maid or best man is available, when the venue of our dreams is free. Whether we’re completely ready to enter the adult world or not, we graduate in late May with the rest of our college classmates. There is a randomness about the exact date of a rite of passage, and still it works. Surely September for my rite of passage would work.

In June I was delayed from moving into my new house in Portland. At the end of a year of pain and chaos, living in my grown children’s homes and families, not having either of my own—could I bear to live out of a carry-on roller-bag and sleep on my sister’s futon for eleven more days? Beth Rasmussen, my daughter-in-law, suggested I fill the time by doing things I have never done before . . . such as go to the nude beach on Sauvie Island. Yikes! I told her the time for that had passed a few decades ago!

Trying to come up with a plan of my own, of course I thought of walking. I thought of the coast. And I discovered that there’s an Oregon Coast Trail (the OCT), an official hiking pathway, walking the beaches for about half of the 400 miles, scaling the headlands that break through our beaches, and (around certain rocky bays,) walking the shoulder of Highway 101, the artery that connects the West Coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska.

And September on the Oregon coast is one of its best months.

The woman who introduced me to the Oregon Coast Trail is a blogger, Bonnie Henderson, who hiked from Astoria to the California border on the OCT in 2009, averaging seventeen miles a day. If she could do it, I could do it, I thought. I’m in good shape. I had walked my first ten mile hike when I visited Mark’s parents in Kentucky in May. I had found a trail that reclaimed the old railway bed through the Cumberland Gap, a trail first pounded out across the gap in the Cumberland Mountains by Eastern Forest Bison, then followed by Native American hunters as what was called the Warriors’ Path. In a classic example of US land being wrested from the native residents, attacks on settlers were militarily put down and a wealthy land speculator paid Daniel Boone to hack a rough road through to the Kentucky River. In the next decade 300,000 settlers poured through the gap from Virginia and Tennessee to Kentucky. I had followed up that long hike with others in Bend, Oregon following the irrigation canal, and in parks in the foothills of the Cascades.

Tillamook ice cream--a sight to make Oregonians smile.

Tillamook ice cream–a sight to make Oregonians smile.

In June, while I waited for my new house to be ready, I packed a book and one change of clothes and took the bus to the coast. I walked about fifty miles, from Cannon Beach to Oceanside, west of the town of Tillamook, where the most popular Oregon cheese and ice cream are made.

That walk sealed the plan. In September I would make my rite of passage on the Oregon coast, a journey from Astoria to the California border, from grieving to putting together a rich new life.

I trained by looking up urban trails in Portland and walking early in the morning, before the summer days got too hot. I borrowed a pack. I went with my sister Jan on an overnight hike on Mount Hood. I talked with her about trail recipes.

All these vibrant colors I found unexpected at Kelly Point Park seemed to confirm the joy I would find in walking.

All these vibrant colors I found unexpected at Kelly Point Park seemed to confirm the joy I would find in walking.

For my final training hike I loaded up my pack in early September, and set out for Kelly Point Park, a thirteen mile round trip walk from my house. Some urban project has given Portlanders cheerfully painted parking barriers at the first fishing spot in Kelly Point Park. I was still feeling fairly fresh and excited when I got there, took a break, snapped some pictures of my new best friend—my niece’s backpack—and ate a power bar.

Does every journey turn at some point into a painful trudge?

By the time I got back to North Portland, I could hardly walk. I staggered slowly along the sidewalks of my own neighborhood, consumed with thoughts of who I could call for a ride. From Chautauqua Boulevard and Lombard, six blocks to my house on to Wall and Depauw streets? Unbelievable. Surely I could make it home. I was only one week from my projected leaving date, I had all my gear collected and packed, and now I knew there was no way I could make the hike as Bonnie Henderson described it. She is one tough cookie.

I studied the map: could I walk 15-25 miles a day without a pack and stay in towns instead? But I had all that gear, and my pack packed so tidily, with everything in its own pocket, and all that intriguing freeze-dried food. So I cut my ambitions down and studied the walk to Florence, Oregon, the halfway town. I spent hours creating my own itinerary of 8-13 mile days that would end me up in either a town or a campground, working with Bonnie Henderson’s blog, the Oregon state’s OCT page, the Oregon.gov Biking-the-Coast web page, lists of state parks and Google Maps.

Comfortable, funky, inexpensive (if you stay in one of the dorms) this hostel has a European feel. Wish we had more of these all over the state!

Comfortable, funky, inexpensive (if you stay in one of the dorms) this hostel has a European feel. Wish we had more of these all over the state!

A week later, when I got to Seaside, Oregon I said to the proprietress of the Seaside Lodge and International Hostel, “I’m thinking of this as a pilgrimage, and I’m finding that everything has turned metaphorical.”

She said, “Life is a pilgrimage, and everything is metaphorical. We just don’t usually notice.”

My first metaphor had begun to echo in my head as I stumbled home from Kelly Point Park: can I do this hard thing? Walking the Oregon coast day after day, my physical world and my emotional world came more and more into congruence–both on a journey, both struggling with a question that was physical and spiritual at the same time: can I do this hard thing?

Beginning at the End

I traveled the coast by bus and by foot--"Shank's pony". Wonderful, grant-supported bus system, $20 RT from Portland to Tillamook!

I traveled the coast by bus and by foot–“Shank’s pony”. Wonderful, grant-supported bus system, $20 RT from Portland to Tillamook!

I’m home from my long hike on the Oregon Coast Trail. In my three weeks away, I went from the northern tip of Oregon, near Astoria, to the small town of Yachats, almost halfway down the coast. I took the bus around some bays that would have forced me onto on the narrow shoulder of Highway 101 for miles and miles, and even so, walked about 165 miles.

The perfect ending of my time alone unfolded spontaneously—a mini-family-reunion in Bend, Oregon. I left the coast by bus on Friday and, in the kind of providence that seemed to meet me all along the way, Friday was Customer Appreciation Day and we all rode free! I spent the weekend with my sons, their wives, and the two eighteen month olds, who were so dear, even as they struggled with how to share books, a stuffed monkey and a grandmother.

While in Bend I walked again on the Central Oregon canal that so comforted me as Mark was dying. The Cascades stood bare and gray—did they have so little snow last fall? I only remember them after the snow began in early winter.

The beauty of the Oregon coast is the combination of beach, rocks and forest.

The magic of the Oregon coast is in the combination of beach, rocks and forest.

I have just come back inside from days and days spent out on the beaches or on the forested headlands of the West Coast, not surrounded by what we have created but by what God created: the ocean sloshing restlessly on the edge of land; the deep forested headlands made from volcanic flows from as far away as Idaho; the moon, which started full on the first day of my walk, then went dark, and was making its way back; the sun, that warmed every day and then dropped over the far edge of the sea every evening. 

“God has such a positive personality,” I found myself thinking. Where do our difficulties, our sorrows, our cancers come from? Theologians, philosophers and myth-makers have struggled with the source of evil for millennia and all the definitive answers they develop seem to evaporate just as quickly with the turning of times and cultures.

I don’t understand tragedy. What I do know is that my spiritual practices and the divine presence I’ve experienced have given me strength to go through my grief, and they promise to return me to peace.

Walking five to fifteen miles a day with a thirty-five pound pack on my back, I had lots of time to think. School was starting up back in the Oregon towns and cities, so most of the time I had the beaches and forest trails completely to myself. I countered my tendency to obsess by singing as I walked, or by praying my contemplative prayers of releasing what I can’t control and accepting my situation just as it is, committing to wait patiently for my future to unfold.

Classic Oregon coast view, from another blogger who loves hiking. Here's the link.

Classic Oregon coast view, from another blogger who loves hiking. Here’s the link.

On some of the headland trails, the walking got so tough there was no room in my head todo anything else but tell my feet to keep going. That’s a gift walking has given me throughout this grieving and reshaping year, relief from my constant cerebral activity.

I’m home now. Tremendously grateful for my house in Portland, for the abundance of food and the ease of preparing it, for my comfortable bed, and for my community, the family and friends I can see and those I can’t see but can still communicate with. I do feel a rite of passage has taken place; I am more ready to embrace the new shape of my life. I did also realize that I have one more first-anniversary-without-Mark to face: the anniversary of his death on the 30th of this month. The literature says that these anniversaries will feel less painful as my new-normal becomes familiar. This was my third time to come home from travel to an empty house, and it felt a little easier. I take that as a good sign: peace and joy are on their way back.

Maji Lore

Dorothy has a flashback--she is fourteen years old and learning to drive!

Dorothy has a flashback–she is fourteen years old and learning to drive!

Ah, the lore of Maji! This summer Dorothy Russell Hanson sat in the old yellow Jeep that she remembers learning to drive in—it’s the same Jeep that her parents rolled down an embankment when the grass was too high to see the edge of the road.  Her mother’s pelvis bone broke in the accident, and local people carried her several days on a homemade stretcher into Maji.

Dorothy’s dad, Fred Russell, gathered up the equipment and parts that scattered as they rolled—he found all but the knob of the Jeep’s gear stick.  He offered an Ethiopian Birr for its return (about $0.25), and several weeks later, someone walked into Maji with it and claimed his reward!

Maji on the horizon--the town and mission are on the saddle above this section of the road.

Maji on the horizon–the town and mission are on the saddle above this section of the road.

Two Daughters of Maji and three “grand-daughters of Maji” made a visit in August. There is no hotel or guesthouse in Maji, so Dorothy, Jenny Keefer, Jenny’s three daughters and their husbands traveled from Mizan and back.  It made  a long day of travel and a short visit in Maji, so they weren’t able to get down to the beloved waterfall, where the mission gristmill once ground grain for local families during the day, and ran a generator for a few hours of electricity every night.  But they could hardly believe the good road where once there was only jungle.

Dr. Yshak accompanied them, and took clinic supplies in.  He stayed on for ten days, and reports that he and Ato Marcos gathered people from eight of the ten local churches to pray for peace, as the Dizi and Suri people have both been traumatized by recent inter-ethnic violence and death.  Then they went out as a community, into the orchard, to weed and plant eucalyptus seedlings in the nursery.

Ato Markos with first fruits.

The four hundred apple trees planted last year are growing—some even producing the first, small apples—and the ground has been plowed and holes have been dug for six hundred more.

Dr. Yshak says that the church is assuming ownership of the orchard, and is proud of the project.  The church is packed on Sundays, and people stand outside the windows to hear the sermons and participate in worship.  This is the first time in the 55 years since Presbyterians went to Maji for the Dizi people to feel the winsomeness of Jesus, and to long for God’s presence with them in this way.  I think the church’s prayer, fasting and confession conferences with Dr. Yshak and Ato Markos have broken through some spiritual resistance. Sermon, prayers and singing in the Dizi language may also be allowing the Holy Spirit to enter people’s hearts in new ways, breaking through the self-hatred that was a legacy from years of oppression and slaving.

Worship in the Maji church.

The crowded Maji church.

How exciting to be walking with the Dizi people, giving them something to develop and take hold of to build their own spiritual future!




Angel Voices in the Dizi Language

"Mish kids" borrow from the culture around them! I was about this age when I made my Dizi language dictionary.

I grew up hearing people “sing” to each other from the hillsides around Maji.  Their language is a tonal language, and common conversation has a musical quality to it.  When people walked from market home, or spent the day out with the cattle on the hillsides, they called to each other,  mellow and sweet.  Or they played gourd flutes with five tones, and the flutes sounded much like their calling.

 Sagu, one of the school boys who worked for Mom to earn enough for school clothes and notebooks and pencils, loved to teach us girls words in his language.  I “nationalized” a tiny spiral notebook and started a dictionary when I was about eight.  Listening to sermons in the two to three languages of every Sunday morning in Maji (English sometimes, Amharic Sagu, right, with Dad and Mom and the Maji health department head (I think). Sagu went from the Maji school to end up with two Masters degrees!always, Dizi always) I grabbed a word in English or Amharic that was repeated, then listened for some repeated word in the Dizi translation, and wrote it down.  I dreamed that I would someday be the only white person to speak the language of the people of Maji.


When I was in Maji this January, a small choir came up from the town of Tum to sing in church.  We guests all stayed in one of the old mission houses; I woke on Sunday morning before light to soft voices singing and the sound of soft picking on the traditional instrument called the krar.  It was Ethiopian Christmas morning, and in my half-dream state, I thought at first I was hearing angel voices.  When one sang, the others respond over and around and with her melody.  I lay and prayed while the Dizi choir from Tum practiced in the next room.

It turned out that the lead singer (right, below) had been a shaman.  They told me she had been possessed by twelve evil spirits until Jesus set her free.  Her daughter (left) plays the krar, and  her husband is a skilled drummer.

Ethiopian Christmas morning in the Maji church--praises in the Dizi language and musical style

This woman is composing songs in the Dizi spiritual tradition.  She is composing the kinds of songs she used to sing to the chief, or in honor of the spirits she served.  These are the kinds of songs the Dizi people grow up singing when they try to appease the spirits and guard against the evil eye, only now she sings in praise of a God who showed his face in Jesus, and who is stronger than all the spirits who have haunted her people.

The choir sang three songs that day.  One was much like Psalm 106, an ancient Hebrew hymn of remembrance, praising all the mighty works of God.  But it was her last song that made the hairs on my arms stand up.  The packed church was completely silent as she sang to the krar accompaniment.  She looked down, swayed from side to side and sang in a high, reedy voice.  At the end of every line she let her voice trail off.  She was almost wailing, and she added a tremulo, something I have never heard the likes of.  I knew I was hearing a song deep in the spiritual traditions of the Dizi people, from a place foreigners had never been allowed into.

People listen intently to "cultural" music in church

People listen intently to “cultural” music in church

I knew I was seeing deep contextualization taking place–people taking their experience with Jesus and pulling it into the continuity of their lives and cultures, making it their own.  They don’t have to move into anyone else’s culture, they don’t have to use anyone else’s hymns or praise songs, they know their own style of worship can be turned in the direction of Jesus and used to praise God.  When this happens, we know that the Spirit of God is working with them and will help them communicate their experiences in such a way that their message truly is good news to those who hear.

It’s been over sixty years since Presbyterian missionaries Fred and Daisy Russell first went  to Maji, and now it looks as though the good Kingdom of God, the Shalom of the Beatitudes and of Jesus’ introduction of his ministry–to heal people, to loose the bonds of the captives, and set the prisoners free–will begin at last to come to the Dizi people.

Roads More Traveled

Have you heard the one about the first road in Ethiopia?  So when King Menelik ordered a car from Queen Victoria, his British advisers told him the car would need a road.  The road was built, the car arrived, and as he ran along on his first trip out, the car discovered that various Ethiopian animals had gotten used to using his road.  He came first to a goat and

Ethiopian goats using the road

Ethiopian goats using the road

said, “Hey!  This is my road!”

The goat said, “I like this road.  I want to use this road, too.”  So the car agreed the goat could use his road if it paid a fee–two birr  and fifty centimes (the Ethiopian money).  However, the goat only had two birr, so it gave the money to the car and scampered off into the underbrush.

The car went on and came to a dog using his road.  He said, “Hey!  This is my road!”  And just like the goat, the dog said, “I like this road.  I want to use this road, too.”  The dog agreed to pay the fee, but only had three birr.  The car took the money and drove off, because he didn’t have change, either.

Donkeys use Ethiopian roads with impunity

Donkeys use Ethiopian roads with impunity

Then the car came to a donkey, standing in the middle of the road.  The car said, “Hey, this is my road.  Get out of my way!”  The donkey said, “I like this road.  I want to use this road, too,” and  it agreed to pay the fee.  The donkey even had exact change.

To this day, when a donkey in Ethiopia sees a car, it just stands there in the road, because it paid its fee and has every right to use the road.  When a goat sees a car, it scampers away because it knows it owes fifty centimes.  And when a dog sees a car, it chases after the car shouting, “Give me my change!  Give me my change!”

With apologies to Robert Frost, in Ethiopia every road is heavily traveled.  And until recently, there have been no sign posts on Ethiopian roads–there was only one road to anywhere you wanted to go, and you had to know  where to turn at one of the few crossroads, or you had to ask someone.  In Amharic, queen of passively elegant languages, you did that by asking, “Will this road cause one to go to Maji?”

 You can hear the relief in people’s voices when they tell you the road is coming in Ethiopia. It means they will finally be connected to the rest of the inter-connected globe, and to all the creature comforts the world has created–fuel to run grain mills, so women don’t have to pound grain by hand; matches; batteries for radios; clothes; plastic basins and buckets to use instead of gourds.  I had been told that the road was coming to Maji, and what a difference the new road made!

My companions on the new road told me which sections  the Koreans are building and which sections the Chinese are building.  They told me how the Koreans treat Ethiopians and how Chinese treat Ethiopians (there’s even a joke in Amharic about Chinese English!)  I remembered conversations with Ato Solomon Nega.  He had been a street boy, taken in by Presbyterian missionaries and given work in people’s homes and the guest house.  I worked for him after he had become the Bethel Synod coordinator.  He could tell me which missionaries were tender-hearted, which were selfish, which hadn’t worked through residual attitudes of racism . . . Ethiopians are gracious, but they miss nothing.

As the road of short term mission trips becomes more and more heavily traveled, we need to be aware of how we come across to our hosts.  I heard someone recently say that white men are the only population in the world methodically taught to say no to other people.

Cross-cultural roads can be rough going.

Cross-cultural roads can be rough going.

And I suppose that means white women have learned unique ways to get around white men and their bold “No!”  Are we aware of these differences in culture?  Do we ask people what would be helpful from a partner–and then shut up and listen?  Do we know to listen for a “no” that comes in silence, or in polite evasion?

Will we do the work it takes to make sure our cross-cultural relationships can bear the weight of linking us as the "body of Christ?"

Will we do the work it takes to make sure our cross-cultural relationships can bear the weight of linking us with the rest of the "body of Christ?"



I’ve also heard it said that short term trips are an expensive way to do mission–high transport cost per time spent in the field, no cultural understanding, no shared language,  and relationships too new for deep spiritual conversations.  But they are very efficient ways to get education.

Let’s be sure we go as gracious guests and learners when we travel into the majority world, and not just dominate with our wealth, expertise and confidence.  The church is not our road; we all, like the donkey, belong there!