In his book Soul, Self, and Society, Rynkiewich asks the question, “What will it take to be in mission with Postcolonial people?” I have been pondering the thought-provoking list of principles he then shares. Here are those ten principles he offers as a possible answer:

  1. Kenosis. Empty yourself. Do not grasp your own ideology, privilege, or authority. Identify with the other.
  2. Guest. Receive hospitality. You are the guest; the other is the host. Learn what that means in Scripture and in the cultural setting.
  3. Forgiveness. Seek the forgiveness of the other for the privileges you and yours have received from unequal colonial, neocolonial, or globalizing oppression.
  4. Good news. News is good when the recipient thinks it is good. Identify with the poor and oppressed. Discover what good news would mean to them. Speak of God’s great love in Jesus Christ, and follow with practices that are good news.
  5. Reconciliation. Learn where people have been hurt and are hurting. Seek to mediate God’s reconciliation in those situations. We have a message of reconciliation, and we have a ministry of reconciliation.
  6. Justice. Study the structures and behaviors that give rise to injustice, then become an advocate for the poor and oppressed.
  7. Settle down. The poor and the oppressed have had a succession of do-gooders pass through their neighborhood, and most have kept going. Stay in the place that God has sent you, pray for ‘the good of the hood,’ and work for the community.
  8. Relate. The poor have heard ‘good news,’ but there was little good in it. Develop relationships that honor the other.
  9. Submit. Submit yourselves one to the other. The other has a vision, a goal, a plan. Discover what it is and what your place in it can be.
  10. Give. The measure of a religion is not what it does for its own adherents, but what it does for those who are not adherents. Be clear that what you do, you do because of Christ and for the other, and not for yourself. Give yourself.” (p. 97)

There’s a language learning method called “Growing Participator Approach.” I’ve written about it before (like here), as this is the strategy that SIL International recommends for their members who need to learn languages once they’re on the field. I received training in the method during pre-field training at GIAL. I also participated in a refresher workshop during my first term in West Africa.

The Growing Participator Approach method was developed by Greg Thomson. One of his mottos that sums up the philosophy behind it is, “Don’t learn the language! Rather, discover a new world, as it is known and shared by the people among whom you are living.” (Thomson 2007) If you might be interested in using this method, there are lots of great resources on this website.

I was recently reading over again some of the materials describing the method and its parts. In particular I was reading about the fourth of the six language learning phases, called “deep life sharing.” As I read the following description, I reflected on what I’ve experienced in West Africa as I’ve discovered the world of Wolof.

When we first begin living in a host community, we experience everything as they stories. After all, our most powerful means of thinking is our language and the concepts it includes, or rather, our languaculture—the “things themselves” and the actions that involve them, and the ways they are talked about, and the intermingling of actions without words, and actions with words, in a continuous flow of human life. We have no hope of leaving our own languaculture back in our home country. It is the only way we can make much sense out of our experience at all. But over time, we want host people to nurture us into the story that they are living, and the stories that they are telling. It isn’t a matter of replacing labels from one language with labels from another language. Rather, it is a matter of discovering a whole new collection of story building pieces, and possible stories built from them, possible ways life can go. … As we go through the phases of the Six Phase Programme, we are nudged more and more into the story that host people are living. By the end of Phase 5, we hope that we are living their story with them, though still plagued by our native “accent” (not just an accent in our pronunciation, but also in our understandings)… We can thus see Phase 4 as pivotal in this regard as well as in so many others. It is the phase of the great cross-over, going from living life among host people largely as a they story, to living the host story with host people. (Thomson 2007: 43)

Thomson also writes,

To make a long story short, we recognise that people grow in their “language ability” through participation in the host people group. We see host people as living a shared life, and ourselves as being nurtured into it, or apprenticed into it. Talking and listening are a huge part of the life we are being nurtured into, but there is not a thing called language that is independent of the ongoing process of talking and listening, or independent of the stream of actions and experiences in which talking and listening are embedded. (For sure, there are mental processes that go on inside the heads of the talkers and listeners, and we do keep those in mind as well, but those processes develop primarily as a result of the external activities of participation in the host languaculture.) (Thomson 2007: 33)

And finally,

Being nurtured into a host people group is a priceless privilege. Treat it as such. (Thomson 2007: 37)

It sounds wonderful. And it is. And it is also difficult. Thomson describes the difficulty in words like “long,” “tough,” “slog,” “struggle,” “pain,” “slow.”

I found something I wrote late in my first term in West Africa, when I was probably somewhere in the “deep life sharing” phase of learning Wolof. Perhaps it gives a glimpse of that difficult growth which happens with the priceless privilege of relationships with host people.

Did what I find here repulse me? Or was what repulsed me the things I realized about myself here? 

I fought with you about what you made me feel I needed to be. But maybe you saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, maybe you were drawing something out of me. Was I fighting you? Or was I fighting what you expected of me? Or was I fighting myself, something in myself that I didn’t want to be? 

I tried to show I cared about you in my way, in the process tripping and stumbling over myself and my words and my cultural baggage. But you graciously hid that you minded. Then you tried to show me you cared about me in your way, leaving me feeling frustrated and uncomfortable and lonely. But I hid that I minded, and I tried to return it. I knew you were doing your best. And I hope you know I was doing my best.

Whose expectations were more unrealistic? Yours of me? Or mine of you? 

You never seemed very interested in the work I was doing… But the days I did what seemed so insignificant — putting on my shoes and traveling to your house, sitting down and doing nothing but spending time with you and yours — that’s when you noticed and were interested and appreciative.

Quotes taken from:
Thomson, Greg. 2007. “Growing Participatory Approach: Resource packet for Phase Four.”

I’ve gotten a small taste of cross-cultural partnerships since working in West Africa. When Christians from different countries or cultures decide to join in ministry together, money issues inevitably come up. So I’ve been meaning to read for some time this book on that very subject:


In January I finally got around to it and highly recommend the book for any individuals or churches involved in cross-cultural ministry.

The author astutely makes the point time and time again that money issues in cross-cultural partnerships are often merely the surface manifestation of deeper clashes– between differing cultures’ values, communication styles, views of power, concepts of honor, etc. And so, though the book seeks to address the inevitable money issues, it does so by looking at the more fundamental issues of differing worldviews held by Christians of different cultural backgrounds.

Lederleitner’s most helpful point is made at the outset. She states that one of the most obvious signs that we don’t yet truly understand our partners from a different culture is when we speak of them or their ways with disrespect. On p. 34 she writes:

In order to work together well we need to listen to one another. We need to not only grasp how our partners feel and what they believe but also take the additional step to understand why such feelings and beliefs are wholly logical within a given context. If we can see the logic of a person’s worldview, if we can value it as being wholly reasonable given a unique cultural heritage and history, from that place of mutual respect and dignity we can find new and creative ways to overcome obstacles and work together. If we never take that step, at some level within our hearts we will continue to demean how others think and function in the world.

It occurs to me that this could apply to many contexts, not just cross-cultural partnerships.

What is our tone when we speak of our partners from cultural backgrounds different from our own (when they’re not around)? This may best reveal whether or not we “get” where they’re coming from and how well we’ll be able to collaborate with them. And of course, this is a two-way street.

Lederleitner also shares the following seven principles from Philippians 2 for cross-cultural partnerships:

  1. Intensely and actively look for the good in each other.
  2. Stay focused on the bigger issues you have in common.
  3. Take the extra steps and invest the time and creativity necessary to meet not only your own needs and requirements but those of your partner as well.
  4. Set aside your legitimate power and do not pick it up again.
  5. Know that God will reward humility and obedience.
  6. Expect that partnering well will take a lot of work, and that is okay.
  7. Know that if you choose to work in respectful and loving ways, you will shine forth with the powerful radiance of the glory of God. (p. 182-186)

And I needed to hear this inspiring reminder that she gives on p. 193:

How can we grow to maturity in Christ if we do not work together? How will we ever overcome selfishness and sinfulness if all we compare ourselves with are those who look and act just like us? We partner and work with our brothers and sisters around the world for reasons far deeper than any specific ministry outcome or objective. We partner cross-culturally because in the deepest recesses of our soul and being we need one another to become the people that God created us to be!

Lederleitner covers a wide range of topics. As I reflect on things I’ve experienced and seen in West Africa, I found her treatment of the various issues quite insightful. She puts things better than I ever could, so if you’re interested but need more to whet your appetite and read the book, more excerpts are below:

on individualist vs. collectivist cultures: “Individualism is a luxury that can only be maintained if there is a healthy, growing economy and a well-developed national infrastructure. Since many people take those things for granted, we misunderstand others who approach life without those safety nets. … To the individualist Christ admonishes us in Matthew 6:24 that we must love God more than money. To the collectivists Jesus says in Matthew 10:37 that if we do not love him more than our family members, we are not worthy of him.” (p. 38-39)

on the currency of face: “A core concept in many collective societies is ‘face.’ Many people in individualistic cultures make the mistake of assuming it is the same thing as reputation. However, its meaning and role in society is far greater. Individualistic cultures navigate life by utilizing a currency of money, but collectivistic cultures navigate life by using a currency of face. … The best comparison I have found to explain the seriousness of the concept of ‘losing face’ is to compare it to a person in an individualistic culture who has just discovered that a criminal has stolen his or her entire pension fund.” (p. 45-46)

on the stock put in words: “Some cultures are low context, which means they rely heavily on words, both written and spoken, to discern meaning. These are often cultures that are comfortable with more direct methods of communication. They are also often those with a more individualistic and egalitarian worldview. Many others are quite different. High context cultures place very little stock in words. They often do not believe what people say. Instead, they look to the context or actions to determine meaning.” (p. 47)

on standards of stewardship: “We want honesty, integrity and sacrifice on the part of our non-Western partners. We want them to be meticulously good stewards of the funds we give to them. However, are we applying that same standard of excellence, care and stewardship to the funds God is entrusting to us?” (p. 54)

on how we view rules: “If we are from a culture steeped in democratic values, we tend to be more absolute in our view of rules, and we feel all must carry them out fairly and consistently. However, much of the world does not function this way. They feel relational connections mean they are not bound by the same rules. … Universalism and particularism are the terms that deal with this phenomenon. … Trompenaars and Hamden-Turner write, ‘People from both societies will tend to think each other corrupt. A universalist will say of particularists, “they cannot be trusted because they will always help their friends” and the particularist, conversely, will say of the universalists, “you cannot trust them; they would not even help a friend.”‘ So for the exact same reason we can end up distrusting one another.” (p. 57-59)

on margin of time: “For people with a monochromic worldview, time is quite simply a commodity. It is an asset that should not be wasted or squandered. … Schedules and deadlines are critical, and anything that gets in the way is a nuisance. Another worldview is the polychronic orientation to time. … Storti explains that for polychronic people, ‘time is limitless and not quantifiable. There is always more time, and people are never too busy. Time is the servant and tool of people and is adjusted to suit the needs of people.’ … If we enter cross-cultural partnership with no margin of time, it will not go well.” (p. 62, 64)

on giving money to relieve one’s own discomfort: “In the United States, for example, we are notorious for thinking if we just throw money at something, everything will be better. We often do this instinctively because internally we feel such great disequilibrium and heartache at the disparity of resources. We give quickly, almost out of instinct, because we want that uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling to go away. Instead of living with that tension and allowing it to be an irritation in our soul that over time can grow into a pearl of great wisdom, we short-circuit God’s process for lasting transformation by giving money quickly and moving on.” (p. 89)

on dependency being an excuse: “When I hear ‘fear of dependency’ discussed in my own culture…at times I feel it is used as a smoke screen for people being unwilling to make a long-term strategic commitment to a specific area of the world. … We want to be ‘free.’ We want to respond when we want to respond. … Before we can adequately address the issue of dependency, we also need to do some serious soul searching and address the role our own self-centeredness might be playing in the debate.” (91-92)

“Partnering well will not come naturally for many of us. … The issue of dependency and the law of unintended consequences can serve as tutors, keeping us humble. The complexities can lead us to even deeper dependence and reliance on God and on one another so that we discover better ways of working.” (p. 97)

on fostering fiscal integrity: “In the West we often like direct communication styles, and we bristle at having a backdoor avenue for getting at the truth. We want ‘all the cards on the table,’ and we want everything to be upfront. However, in many cultures the best way to ensure good fiscal integrity is to form a network of contacts who can verify that the results being portrayed are true.” (p. 117)

on accountability going both ways: “For many cross-cultural partners, it is hard to know how to implement accountability structures and still model values such as dignity and mutuality. Perhaps this tension would not even be present if accountability processes always went both ways and were more holistically integrated throughout all of our work and ministry processes. In Christian ministry we often model worldly processes so that those with less power and resources are accountable to those with greater wealth and power. If we want to truly begin to foster dignity and mutuality, we need to gain greater sensitivity to the power dynamics in our partnerships.” (p. 120-121)

on forgiving and remembering: “Lederach writes, ‘The challenge of reconciliation is not how to create the place where one can “forgive and forget.” It is about the far more challenging adventure into the space where individuals and whole communities can remember and change.’ Da Silva writes, ‘Traditionally, forgiveness has tended to be associated with forgetting. … “Forgive and remember” seems like a wiser safeguard; it ensures that we remain alert to not repeating similar painful and unjust actions in the future. Memory makes the past available to us so that we can work through events and traumas without trivializing or denying them.’ An Angolan proverb says, ‘The one who throws the stone forgets; the one who is hit remembers forever.’ … As we forgive, both sides to be committed to remember, to listening to others and to expressing concern if a former bad habit rears its ugly head. We will not change if that concern is silenced.” (p. 130-131)

on the idolatry of being needed: “Innate in all of us is a desire to be needed. However, if we work from that motivation or ethos, any short-term gains in the partnership will likely be overshadowed by long-term dependency.” (p. 137-138)

on the inevitability of conflict: “Ting-Toomey writes, ‘Conflict exists as part of the human condition. It is an inescapable phenomenon in all societal organizations.’ … Weiss and Hughes write, ‘Many mistakenly assume that efforts to increase collaboration will significantly reduce conflict, when in fact some of these efforts…actually produce more of it.’ Working more closely in collaboration raises dissimilarities to an even greater pitch. Things can be more easily tolerated when we do not spend a lot of time together and when we do not have to actively engage together to get a task done. … Often when conflict arises we hold to a paradigm that one person is right and the other is wrong. In cross-cultural partnership, that paradigm is not helpful. Both processes might be ‘right’ given distinctive contexts. However, neither approach might work for collaborative efforts across cultures.” (p. 158-159)

On January 28, Genesis and the New Testament translated into the Oniyan language were dedicated. An SIL colleague in the country where I work shared these photos of the event with me (thanks, Sharon!).


Right, N* the head translator and left, J* a member of the translation team

The people group that speaks Oniyan – the Bëliyan – live in the southeast corner of the West African country where I work. I first learned about them while doing research for a project assigned in my pre-field Scripture Engagement course back in 2013. By then I knew I was headed to this West African country and so wanted to do the project on one of the languages/ people groups of that country. I interviewed the Bëliyan pastor who headed up the Oniyan Bible translation team, Pastor N*. I also interviewed several SIL workers who made trips there for literacy work and pastors’ training; one named Jim had lived among the Bëliyan with his family for a number of years and knew them well. For a while, it looked like I might be assigned to work in the Oniyan project. That changed once I arrived in the country for my first term. Still, I think of them with fondness since learning about them was essentially my introduction to this country and its languages.


Jim and his wife, Petey, at the Oniyan dedication

The gospel was first preached among the Bëliyan 40 years ago by Catholic missionaries. There are some Bëliyan Christians but they’re a small minority; it’s taken years of those few Christians living out their faith in the villages for Bëliyan to even believe that one can be a Christian and not give up his or her Bëliyan identity.

Years ago, early on during Jim’s work among the Bëliyan, he and Pastor N* asked the Bëliyan about what they believe. It was a survey, a kind of worldview assessment. They had two target audiences: the old men who were in their 70s or 80s and the young men in their 20s and 30s. They were especially interested in seeing if there was a change in worldview between the elders whose beliefs were shaped before the arrival of the gospel among them, and the young generation of Bëliyan who would have grown up with some exposure to the gospel through the missionaries.  So they asked them all kinds of questions about God, if He is personal, the spirit world, who controls things here on earth.


The answers of the old men were much what they expected. The Bëliyan in general are very animistic in their beliefs and religious practices. They live in a remote part of the country and have resisted the influence of Islam, maintaining instead their traditional spirit worship, sacrifices at the sacred places, and use of fetishes to discern the future. But the members of the younger generation also answered in much the same way as the old men, which suggested to Jim and Pastor N* that perhaps their view of the world has not been as influenced by their exposure to the gospel as one would hope. And if the gospel was only preached to them in French or maybe in the trade language but not in their language – their heart language – this wouldn’t be surprising. This finding was added motivation for the Oniyan translation team to work to make God’s Word available to the Bëliyan so that their hearts may be reached and their beliefs transformed by Scripture.

After they’d answered all the interview questions, the old men were sitting around and talking with Pastor N*, having just discussed all these questions about God and the world. One of them said something that Jim has never forgotten. The man was so old that he’d gone blind, and the man sitting next to him was half-blind. He said, “We are so blind about the ways of God; we understand so little. And if there’s a blind person walking towards a huge thorn bush or towards a cliff, you should stop him and keep him from going over the cliff.” And then he looked at the pastor and said, “Don’t forget about us.”


God hasn’t forgotten the Bëliyan. May God’s Word spread among them, and through the Oniyan Scriptures, may they come to a deeper understanding of God, the world, and themselves.

*This country is a sensitive location. To protect the identities of national Christians, I don’t include their full names.

That’s the title of the GIAL course I started yesterday. After our first class session, I’m excited and grateful for another chance to learn and study. It’s an anthropology course. It will give me further training for living among the minority languages and cultures of the West African country where I work. I look forward to diving into these books!



Ahmet was 11 months when I moved into his grandparents’ home. That made him my “host nephew.” I remember the first time I met Ahmet; his mother, who lives several houses away with her husband and children, had him on her lap as we chatted in the living room. She got up and left the room to go check on something, leaving Ahmet with one of her brothers, Ahmet’s uncle. Ahmet, who up until that moment, had been staring with wide, uncertain eyes at the strange white woman, burst into tears when he realized he was no longer in the safety of his mother’s lap. He was soon taken out of the room; he was apparently not having anything to do with that strange white woman.

I was so taken with Ahmet. He is adorable. But, for a while after I moved in with his relatives, Ahmet would still have nothing to do with me. We celebrated his first birthday soon after I started living there; that was also not that long after I’d been in his country for one year. I guess that made us about the same age in West African years. He wasn’t yet walking. He wasn’t yet talking; and I was learning to speak his language. I guess we were learning Wolof together.

If what I had told people before I left the US was true in response to their question, “What will you be doing?” – becoming a baby again, learning to walk and talk again but in a new world – then that made Ahmet and I peers and companions in the endeavor.

On a daily basis, Ahmet and his mother and siblings were in and out of the house where I was living. Ahmet would be left with his grandmother or one of his aunts or cousins while his mom went to the market. Ahmet became a part of my daily life. At some point along the way – though imperceptibly to me as I look back on it, for in the daily rhythm and monotony, how does one trace the shifting, the changing in the way people relate? – Ahmet warmed up to me. I don’t know exactly when I realized that he wasn’t crying or looking for an escape from me anymore. But six months after meeting him, he was giving me hugs.

As I’ve spent the past seven months in the US continuing to process and reflect on my first term in West Africa, I’ve thought of Ahmet as a representation of the West African people and culture I was coming to know and learning to love. I’ve gleaned insights on this knowing and loving from the writings of a dear friend Esther Meek, whose books I’ve quoted here before. In her 2014 work A Little Manual for Knowing, Meek writes, “For all of us, entering a knowing venture requires at some point that we trust: We must trust others who know what we do not yet know, about the world, even about ourselves.” (p. 23)


In West Africa, I had to put my life into the hands of people I didn’t know, trusting that they knew this new world in which I was living, that they knew what I needed to know.

And I was surprised and touched on the occasions when that trust was reciprocated. Ahmet had begun letting me hold him. When he started walking, he’d look for me, wander over to my room. He would sit on my lap during meals around the bowl. When he started talking, he’d say my Wolof name with a cute little lisp – “Yashine” – that made my heart melt. The family and the neighborhood kids started joking that Ahmet thought I was his mom. They’d ask him, “Ahmet, kan mooy sa yaay?” (who is your mother?) And sometimes he’d reply, “Yashine.” And they’d all smile or laugh and say, “Ahmet, doomu Yacine Toubab” (Ahmet the child of Yacine the white person).

Meek writes, “All knowing is coming to know what we do not yet know entirely. What’s more, where reality and knowing are transformative, coming to know isn’t going to be linear or additive. …What it means is that the thing we do not yet know but pledge ourselves to know is not just a mere procedural step away. It’s going to take something like a miracle.” (p. 26) Ahmet’s acceptance and embrace of me, who had nothing in common with him, felt a little bit like a miracle in some ways.

Why? Well, I’d taken a risk by moving to a foreign country, by choosing to live with a local family.

What was the risk? Rejection. I’d risked rejection by people like Ahmet. I couldn’t follow a procedure to force the acceptance. I couldn’t demand their embrace of me. Even in living among them, I couldn’t presume that they would let me into their existence. I had to come to know them and learn to love them on their terms. I was welcomed as a guest, yet – as a guest in Ahmet’s family – I had to offer welcome to him as he chose, in his own time and in his own way, to invite me into his life.

I guess this was true of every interaction for me in West Africa. I was a guest trying to live in a posture of welcome.

As Meek writes, “Welcome can’t guarantee the very thing it looks to do. So it risks rejection. It is made to depend on the response of the other. It honors that response.” (p. 41) And again, “Any knowing venture…will be blessed with reality’s fertile disclosure only as it ensures a welcoming space, in which respect, humility, patience, and attentive listening are practiced.” (p. 45)

For every Christian worker in a foreign country, he or she must decide what this posture of welcome will look like for him or her. For me, it has meant living with a local family, learning a local language, often eating the local food, sometimes wearing the local style. I have wanted to do as much as I can to learn the culture, the mindset of the people among whom I live. Meek has given me words to express this, and one of them is indwelling. She writes, “Indwelling involves empathetically putting yourself inside the thing you want to know, and taking it inside you. Indwelling is a strategy to invite the real.” (p. 48)

Indwelling feels so fitting to me as a Christian. After all, we Christians are those who have been transformed by the miraculous reality of the incarnation, Jesus who indwelled our human existence to bring us salvation. As a follower of Jesus, my indwelling of West African reality will never in and of itself bring salvation. But my indwelling can help me better see how the Saving One is at work among them. My indwelling can help me better understand them and be understood by them so that I can then better point them to the One who saves.

I lived in their homes because I wanted to know a little better what it was like to do so. I wore their clothes because I wanted to know a little better how it felt to be in their clothes. I learned one of their languages because I wanted to see the world more the way they did. As I came to know this culture and learned to love the people, I was slowly transformed.

And yet there were limits to what I would do and how much I’d be changed. I was not indwelling in order to become West African. I was seeking to know and love West Africans, not become one of them. Trying to become one of them would be disrespectful towards them and dishonest towards myself. And so I related to Ahmet as an adopted aunt, but I wouldn’t try to play the part of his actual mother. And so I asked to have my own room in my host family’s house, even though in their culture it would have been more normal for me to share with others. And so I didn’t get my hair braided, largely because I just couldn’t get over the irony in the fact that they’d pay for wigs that looked like my hair and then ask me why I wasn’t getting my hair braided to look like their hair. Again, Meek captures this dynamic when she writes, “If knowing involves self, the self that knows must be there, at home, present. This involves being okay with not being some other, including the thing that is the not-yet-known. Presence grants otherness to others. This is essential to healthy knowing… Presence is being present to attend to the other without being threatened by it. It is being present to welcome hospitably the yet-to-be-known.” (p. 39)

As I walked this ambiguous line between indwelling West African reality and remaining myself, I had to patiently wait for the West Africans that I was living with, eating with, worshipping in church with, to invite me into their world. I could never predict what form the invitation would take or when it would come. It was on their terms, and all I could do was accept it. Sometimes it was literally getting pulled into the dance line or circle (symbolic on so many levels). Sometimes it was having the calabash of rice shoved into my arms while lunch was being prepared and being told to go get it ready for the meal with no instructions (and I had to trust my memory of what I’d seen done countless times but had never done myself). Sometimes it was getting called on to give condolences on behalf of my group on the occasion of a death (in my third language in which I did not feel confident). Sometimes it was being offered in marriage (entirely in jest) by my host family members, because this is a way to make conversation, joke, and solidify ties in their culture.

On each occasion, I had the choice to hold up my hand and say, “Wait, hold on. This is not who I am. You don’t understand me or the culture I come from. You can’t expect me to do this.” Or rather, to accept it as an invitation to be led one step further into their reality. And then humbly fumble my way through.

It could easily come across as romantic and rose-colored. Yes, it was rewarding and exhilarating. But it was also hard and uncomfortable and isolating. It felt useless and pointless much of the time. It wasn’t until I was preparing to leave for furlough that I started to put my finger on why. When the object of your knowing and learning to love is another person, ideally the trust, interest, and deeper understanding is mutual. However, when you are a guest in a foreign country, your efforts to understand are not reciprocated by everyone. How could you have learned to understand them except by leaving your culture and entering theirs? And so how could you be understood by people who have never entered your culture? We foreigners must make the larger effort, whether or not it is always reciprocated.

There were exceptions to this rule, though, which give me hope to continue. Meek compares it to a dance, writing, “The dynamic of knowing is overture and response. In our knowing ventures, we should notice that we take a step, make an overture, and then wait for response. In light of the response we take another step, and then look for further response. A waltz is liable to move a couple around the entire dance floor. So our journey, and our relationship in its overture and response, moves us together in surprising though recognizable directions. … Overture and response are asymmetric. First one partner acts while the other receives, then the other acts while the first receives. A dance requires asymmetry to move forward. Each move is a gesture of hope–in hope of gracious response. Each partner has to be okay being off balance for a time, and waiting for and trusting the upcoming move of the partner.” (p. 82)

I as a foreigner may need to accept being off balance more of the time than the West Africans in the dance. But again, it is on their terms. It’s on Ahmet’s terms.

My last day in Ahmet’s relatives’ house before leaving for furlough, his mom said they’d come over after the evening meal to say goodbye. After we’d finished eating, we sat in the common area where the television was on, as we did every evening. Ahmet’s mom came walking through the door from outside. I noticed Ahmet wasn’t with her. We chatted. And then she said to me, “Yacine, you know what’s funny? I told Ahmet we were coming over to say goodbye to Yacine and he said no, he wasn’t coming. He just went to bed.” She laughed and I smiled.

And so, Ahmet didn’t say goodbye to me. Who knows what his two-year-old brain understood of what was happening. But if these were his terms, all I could do was accept them.


January: Weekend discovery of a nearly secluded beach with friends.


February: Honored to be a witness at Lisa and Alioune’s civil marriage.


March: My SIL Wolof Research Project teammate Eva and I at the annual meeting of workers among the Wolof people group, updating them on our work researching the Scripture needs of Wolof-speakers.


April: The SIL branch during our annual gathering of everyone in country.


May: Joining into the dance of the Presbyterian women at the national church’s Pentecost celebration.


June: Back in the US and after my first report at a supporting church at City Reformed Presbyterian, having fun with visiting friends as we dress up their daughter in my West African garb.


July: Celebrating our birthday with my twin brother!


August: Back in the Dallas area for further training courses at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, enjoying the summer wildflowers.


September: During Q&A after a report in supporting church Christ the King Presbyterian, listening to the experiences of a veteran SIL worker and other learned ways of “turning down marriage proposals”.


October: With my Principles of Multilingual Education professor and classmates at the completion of this GIAL course, one of four I took during the fall semester.


November: During a report at supporting church Evangelical Presbyterian, showing my family’s old prayer card from the years when the church supported my parents as missionaries in France.


December: Taking visiting friend and SIL colleague Sue out to Tex-Mex as part of her introduction to the US.