7 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself Before Returning to America

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We all know that hindsight is 20/20. God doesn’t give us a script for each stage of life. John Flavel famously quoted: The providence of God is like Hebrew words—it can be read only backwards.” We had traveled back and forth between countries for nearly 10 years, and even experienced reverse culture shock, but
I knew moving back to America was going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced. I read many books and articles about re-entry and re-acclimation, but my future was foggy.
So if I could get into a DeLorean with Michael J. Fox, flip the flux capacitor, and travel back one year, here are 7 things I would tell myself:
  1. The first several months is survival mode. Allen, moving your family back to the States will be chaotic (see previous post). From the time you purchase your one-way plane ticket until several months after you land, you will be in for a ride. So don’t have high expectations for your wife and kids. Your only goal is not to kill anybody. If you do that, you’ll be doing great! So don’t make any long term plans. Don’t make a lot a new rules for your kids. Just breathe in. Now, breath out.
  2. Transition back to the States takes much longer than you’ll expected. Allen, you are not going to want to hear this, but you will not be settled for two to three years. Finding a new job and a new home takes time. And even after that, it takes several cycles of going through re-occuring calendar events for it to feel normal again.
  3. Waiting is the name of the game. This is similar to #2, but a bit more spiritual. While you wait, God will reveal many of your idols that you presently cannot see. You will be in a holding pattern until you repent of your idols. Be encouraged for you will literally learn Psalm 23:2 – God will make you rest and lie down in green pastures.
  4. Give lots of grace. Allen, give grace to your extended family and friends, for they have no idea what you are going through. Give grace to your immediate family, for none of them have ever gone through anything like this, and they will struggle just like you. And give grace to yourself, for you will walk through a dark valley and hit many walls. What I’m about to tell you is completely un-American: it’s OK to be down and even depressed for a season. It’s a normal part of the transition process.
  5. It’s OK to feel invisible and out of place. When you left for Peru, you were a square. When you lived in Peru, you became a circle. When you move back, you will changed again; you will become a triangle. Because you’ve changed so many times, you’ll face two identity problems: (1) All your American family and friends still think you are a square, and treat you like a square. That’s why they will say things like, “Are you glad to be home?!” You will struggle to answer that question. (2) There is another problem: when you move back, you will still think of yourself  as a circle. You will still see yourself as a Peru missionary, but that too will change. You will no longer be a square or a circle; you will become a triangle! In short, everyone will be confused. And that’s completely OK. More than anything, you will rediscover that your true identity is in Christ. This will stabilize you in the midst of your identity crisis.
  6. You will not pick right back up with your former colleagues. This will throw you for a loop. You are tempted to falsely think you can jump right back into relationships that you once had. They will be nice to you, but they honestly will not know what to do with you. You’re no longer working overseas somewhere, but now you’ll be on their turf. Some might even see you as a threat. So slow down, re-learn the terrain, re-build your networks, and don’t over assume good graces with your former peers & colleagues. 
  7. Pray for advocates. This is a direct overflow of #5 & 6: because you feel invisible and cannot jump right back into the game, what you need more than ever are advocates. This will become essential for your job search. Most hire people with whom they have a relational connection. So begin to pray that God will rise up advocates who connect you to the right people and the right job.
If you have lived in another country, what would you say to yourself if you could travel back in time? I’d love to know your thoughts!
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Reflections on our Amazing Trip to Easter Island

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The day we flew away from Easter Island, I wrote the following journey entry:

“As the Easter Island Guide Book warned me: ‘You will leave Easter Island with more questions than answers.’ This is so true! Due to the small population & size of island, the history of the Rapa Nui has often been seen as a microcosm of all humanity. Today I read 2 Chronicles 33, and I noticed several similarities between the Rapa Nui people & the Israelites: their downfall & rebirth as a nation.

  • Both the Israelites & Rapa Nui were one of the smallest nations in the world.
  • Both nearly became extinct due to their idol worship.
  • Both were rescued from their near demise.

Looking over the island, here are two reflections:

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1. Thoughts on Idolatry

Most contribute the downfall of the Rapa Nui culture to their worship of the stone statutes (called Moai). One guide said it took 2 years and a crew of 20 people to carve only one of these huge stone statues (the biggest is 70 feet high and 270 tons!). And they have counted 887 Moai all around the island – that is a lot of man hours!

ahu-akahangaSince the Rapa Nui lived 1,000 years in isolation, and they believed that all other “islands” of the world had sunken, they thought they were the last survivors on earth. They also believed a divine king would one day return to the island to save them, but to gain his attention, they needed to make bigger and taller Moai. The problem was that the island’s resources could not support the construction of more Moai. They had to cut down more trees to make more Moai, but over time they deforested the entire island. And once the trees were gone, civilization fell into chaos. No wood for fires, fishing boats, farming, or housing. Civil war broke out among the tribes. All the Moai were toppled face down (that’s why most are not standing upright today). Soon after they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.

Both history & Scripture teaches an important lesson about idolatry: it always leads to destruction. Paul says that behind every idolatrous practice is a demon (1 Cor. 10:20-21), and the end game of the demons is death (John 8:44). In short, idolatry is dangerous for a people’s existence. Where are the Canaanites today? Where are the northern tribes of Israel? We have “Jews” that trace their linage back to Judah, but the idol worshippers of northern Israel were sent into permeant exile. Where are the Mochians or the Chimus? If you come visit me in Trujillo, Peru, I can show your their temples in ruin.

EasterIslandSantiagoVacation-194There is a parallel between Manasseh’s son, Amon, and the children of the Rapa Nui. Amon brought out his daddy’s idols for worship; which led to his quick downfall (2 Chron. 33:21-25). It is no secret; the idols of Rapa Nui’s past are the main reason why tourists come to the island today. And tourism is the main industry of the Rapa Nui. So the BIG QUESTION for the Rapa Nui is: Will they bring out the Moai as idols and worship them like Amon worshipped his father’s idols? If so, God might just let capitalistic consumerism over take their little island. Can Easter Island support the exploitive power of international hotel chains, tons of tourists and major industry turning their island into a remote Disney Land? Although the very Moai were crafted to provide protection & prosperity from the outside forces (thus most of them face inland), will these stone statues once again be their demise? Or will the 5,700 remanent of Rapa Nui survive like the faithful Jews, and turned to God and worshipped Him alone? These are the questions the Rapa Nui youth face today.

2. Thoughts on Grace

I am moved by how God is so gracious. The Chronicler adds material that is not recorded in Book of Kings: Manasseh repents in exile. The Assyrians literally took him into exile with hooks; he was brought very low. Perhaps when the Rapa Nui dwindled from 10,000 to 111, a chief repented of his ways, was converted by hearing the gospel from a Christian missionary, God was greatly moved (as with Manasseh), and restored a people from a near destruction. I have no clue if this ever happened, but I would not be surprised something like this is true. How else did the three crosses get placed on one of the main hills that overlooks the village of Hanga Roa, the very place where they were exiled on their own island for about 70 years (from the annexing of Chile in 1888 to their release in 1966).

The main point is that God is more moved by repentance than by rebellion. Yes, God punishes the wicked, even Judean kings who burned their children on a flaming altar or people who eat each other; however He als restores anyone who repents of their ways and turns to Him for forgiveness. Destruction is for the rebellious, but relief is for those who repent. We know that Manasseh truly repented because he issued many reforms; and he was the worst of the kings, even worse than wicked Ahab! Yet God loves to forgive. He even brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem from exile and restored him as king. What amazing grace! Perhaps that is why we see the Rapa Nui resurge today.”

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Christ, the Church & The Lego Movie

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Yesterday, I took my 4 daughters, along with 10 other  kids, to see The Lego Movie. Despite that it was dubbed in Spanish, I literally laughed the entire time. I woke up this morning feeling like Emmet. Even that cute yet annoying tune buzzed through my brain: “Everything is awesome!” (If you watched it, don’t lie – you had the same experience!)

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

[If you haven’t seen the movie yet, come back latter to read this entry.]

OK, I’m a pastor, and I admit that the entire meta-narrative isn’t exactly a consistent Biblical worldview (i.e. the prophesy is true – there is a chosen one!). But I’m fine with it, because this movie is told from a kid’s perspective. Just as if I would be gracious to my 6 year-old’s imaginary world of My Little Ponies & Littlest Pet Shop, so I will not point out all the gaps. Rather, let me share with you several awesome themes of redemption that I found:

1. We all have a special role to play on God’s team

What is refreshing about The Lego Movie is that it does not just celebrate the repetitive theme that “everyone is special” but places our specialness in a community context. The second line to the theme song (“…everything is cool when you’re part of a team”) actually interprets what the movie means by awesome.  As Cuidon of Christianity Today says: “The Lego Movie proposes that our different roles in the larger story make each of us totally necessary and special, even if we don’t all look and act the same.” One can easily see how the all the members of a local church are very special because all are very needed to make disciples and be salt and light in the world.

2. We all have a creative role to play on God’s team

The Lego Movie also connects our collective awesomeness to our creativity. I agree with Gray Ewing, that we are all builders that image the Master Architects creativity in making a better world. “In creation,” Ewing states, “God has basically given us a bunch of colorful blocks and told us to go play with them in meaningful ways.” Yes, we do have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28), but not in an oppressive way like President Business, but in a caring way like Emmet and his motley crew of master builders. We make the world more awesome through innovation, creativity, and many times through improvisation.

[Side note: Richard Bauckham does a brilliant job in his book The Bible & Ecology, of making a biblical case that the cultural mandate is a call for creative care of the earth, rather than cruel exploitation of the earth as some Christians in the past have interpreted.]

3. We all have to follow the rules on God’s team

A major turning point in the movie is when Emmet improvises a speech to the other master builders. He tells them how they can enter the unscalable, impenetrable Office Building. It will not be by building a bat mobile, a pirate ship, or a rainbow train. Rather, Emmet surprises them all and says that following instructions is the most subversive thing they can do! “No one will expect it!” Another thing I loved about The Lego Movie is that they don’t portray rule following as boring and dumb, but rather as the most counter-cultural strategy against President Business. To be on an effective team, yes, we have to follow the rules, especially the rules our Master Builder tells us in the blue prints of Scripture.

4. Even the most unlikely people are chosen to be on God’s team

Right when President Business is about to glue Emmet, all seems to be lost! Yet Emmet improvises again (something he seems to be growing in) and says he has a secret weapon. This spikes President Business’ curiosity and asks, “What is it?” “Our hands,” replies Emmet (If the dialogue isn’t exactly right, I did watch it in Spanish!). What Emmet says next is the most surprising moment of the movie, he tells the undeserving, cruel President Business that he too is special, that he is the chosen one, and the most gifted master builder he knows! Although Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius) already said that had made up prophecy about the chosen-one, what Emmet says still communicates a powerful point: electing love changes even our enemies’ hearts. Emmet chose to love the villain. As Emmet lavishes his love on President Business, his perpetual angry face melts away into wonder.

Perhaps when President Business becomes part of the team is the most powerful gospel moment in the movie. The good news is that the Divine Architect is real and His prophecy is true. God does have a Chosen One and He is the real hero of the story.  His death on the cross looked more idiotic and unpractical than Emmet’s double-decker couch (which interestingly saves them all). The cross was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. We too are like President Business, and Jesus’ counter-intuitive act of love melts our hearts. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).

Christians, lets me honest. Look around. Not only are many of us as bizarre as Uni-Kitty, as simple as Emmet, as narcissistic as Batman, but we are also as mean as President Business. We do not deserve to be on the team. And that is precisely what makes election so beautiful, so touching. Although we are the most unlikely people to be on God’s team, He has chosen us to do some awesome things. So let’s keep extending the hand like Emmet and work together as God’s unlikely team, because we know that one day everything will be completely awesome!

What did I miss? What other themes did you you see?

Best of 2013 Series

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Tis the season of posting top lists. So I thought I’d join the fun share my favorites of 2013. I’m using these posts as a way to learn what voices shaped me this  year. Here are my topics I’ll be reviewing the next few days:

  • Most Impacting Books
  • Most Listened to Podcasts
  • Most Listened to Music
  • Most Used Apps
  • Most Impacting Movies
  • Top Youtube Videos

If you have already posted you top lists for the year, please share with me in the comment section. I’d love to see what shaped you this year!

Celebrating Peru’s Independence

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The month of July is a fun one for us.  We not only celebrate the independence of our home country, but Peru also celebrates it’s independence on July 28th.  It’s a pretty big deal and girls have lots of school activities and get 2-3 weeks of vacation.  Here are few fun pictures of our youngest two girls representing the Andes mountain region at a “taste of Peru”.

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