Monday, March 10, 2014

Must Read for Missionary Wives

I came across this article and it will encourage missionary wives not to compare their husband's missionary endeavors with others. It is so tempting to get discouraged when you don't see much visible fruit sometimes, and you look at other mission fields and works that seem to just explode with growth.

http://networkedblogs.com/UwVRV

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Living in the Canary Islands



Occasionally we will get an email from one of our supporting churches, particularly a mission group, asking about our field so they can prepare for a mission's conference highlighting our ministry. Sometimes they want to know, "what is it like?" on your field. I started to ponder some tidbits about the Canary Islands, and what it is like to live here. These are totally random and are generalizations--I have learned to be careful as there are always exceptions to the rule.

1. The Canary Islands are sometimes known as the Fortunate Islands, because they are blessed with fantastic weather. Nothing to complain about here--although the locals do! We enjoy mild, spring like temperatures nearly year round. Our island, Tenerife, has several "micro" climates, with the north side of the island being more lush and green due to more abundant rainfall, and the south being more arid and desert like. We don't really have hurricanes, but occasionally strong winds, flash floods, or a meteorological phenomena known as calima, which is basically fine particles of sand from the Sahara desert carried over in a cloud that gets trapped in the atmosphere, causing high temperatures and sand clouds that look like haze--and everything gets covered in dust.

 The dry conditions have been great for my allergies,  as we live in an area with less rainfall and not much pollen. You can be on one side of the island and have rain, but drive just 20 minutes down the highway and it is bright and sunny. During the winter, you can even see snow on the highest elevations. We have a range of desert, sub tropical, and pine forests within minutes of each other. You can usually see the ocean no matter where you live due to the fact that the houses are built on the mountain slopes, terracing each other much like a movie theater or auditorium--giving all a view.  On a clear day you can see some of the other neighboring islands.

2. You won't need a lawnmower in Tenerife. If you are lucky, or blessed--you may have a small, postage stamp size (in comparison to the size yards we are accustomed to in the United States) garden or patio off the back of your apartment or townhouse. If you do have a garden, it will be covered in volcanic pebbles or tiled like a patio. The Canary Islands are famous for their wooden balconies which are found on many older structures.

3. Real estate is high and land is expensive. Expect to pay at least $800 a month for a two or three bedroom apartment and over $1,000 for a townhouse--which are not detached but more like a duplex, and by American standards they are small--less than 1500 square feet. You will have a difficult time trying to make American furniture fit--whether it be a couch, sofa, dining room set, or queen size bed. I had to get rid more than half of our furniture that we had in the United States before coming here, and we still didn't have room for all that we brought on our shipping container.

4. The people don't seem as quite as friendly, at first, as Americans. It took us quite a while to get used to the reserved nature of the islanders, perhaps because they are leery of foreigners, and it takes them a while to get to know you. Americans will talk to perfect strangers at the checkout line in a grocery store, for example, but here it is rare. I was a little discouraged about this when we first came to the islands, but now I see where it just takes time (a lot of time) to build relationships. I also had to get used to people staring at us. It used to offend me, but now I am used to it and just smile back.

5. Nothing gets done before 9 am. If you are an early bird and like to beat the crowds, forget early morning shopping. Major grocery chains open around 9, and malls and shops don't open til 10 am. Even McDonald's in most areas don't open til 11 am. Forget 24 hour shopping--major grocery chains and shopping centers close at 9 pm and are closed on Sunday as well. On the same note, get used to the afternoon siesta--mom and pop stores in town all close from 1-4, or 2-5 pm and reopen for a few hours in the evening. This can be very inconvenient and you have to anticipate your needs in advance.

6. Most everything is imported, so buy it when/or if you find it! If you find something you particularly like, you might want to buy a quantity because it will be sold out next time you come back and will take months to restock, if they ever do. I get frustrated when I want to buy a particular electronic or household item, such as a simple vacuum cleaner bag, only to have them tell me they are sold out. Occasionally they will import an American food or item that we like, so I have been known to buy all that is on the shelf! We take so much for granted in the US. You will not easily find all the goods and varieties you are used to at home. I have to shop one store to find fresh milk, another for peanut butter, and another for Cheerios. Forget specialty items like your child's favorite breakfast cereal or candy bar--but really, you can live without most of that stuff. There is a lack of specialty foods for diabetics, such as sugar free pudding, desserts, but they are starting to develop more of it, especially gluten free items but it is very expensive.

7. Society is very orderly here. We used to be missionaries in Mexico so we were used to corruption, bribes, and disorder in the government. The Canary Islands are clean. If you go to the store, people respect the person standing in line--they will not cut in front of you like they did in Mexico where it was a free for all. When you go to the deli counter or meat market, you will take a number and wait your turn.

8. Even though things are orderly, it will still take longer to get things done--after all, it is an island. Although better than Mexico, no one seems to be in as big as a rush to get things done. Money doesn't seem to be as big of a motivator as their leisure time. People don't mind closing shop Sat. afternoons and Sundays, and for what seems an endless amount of religious holidays.  Repairmen might take longer, and if you need a special part it probably has to be ordered from Madrid, which means waiting. Get used to it..... Even store lines move slower. People just seem more patient.

9. The United States is not the center of their world. Try to quit comparing how things are done back home as if the way we do everything in the US is the best. Over and over again we find ourselves commenting to one another how we think it is odd that they do something the way they do it and how we could improve their "system" or way of doing things to make it more efficient. More than likely, there is a reason for why they do it the way they do it, and it works for them. Government offices seem to send you on an endless trail of hopping from one department to another--and often they themselves don't know how to answer your question and will send you to the wrong place looking for answers. I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when something goes smoothly and the business matter gets resolved quickly. Very rarely will you have all the needed documents they ask for, especially the immigration department! I will have to say though, our experience in Spain has been much better than it was in Mexico and the people for the most part are helpful.

10. People don't get dressed up as much. I have a closet full of nice skirts, jackets, and blouses that I seldom get an occasion that calls for it. I like to dress up for church, for example, but dressing up here is putting on their best jeans or khakis, and shirt. Men seldom wear ties. They sell nice clothes in the mall, so people must wear them somewhere (probably the discotheques and special events like baptisms, confirmations, and weddings). I once mistook my doctor for the janitor because even professionals don't dress up for work. Jeans, sandals, tank tops are the "uniform" for most and anything goes.

11. On that line, modesty has been thrown out (maybe that is why so many people stare at us--because we are modest) and my husband has learned to put his eyes down to the sidewalk when walking down the street, seriously. One time we were walking down the boardwalk near the ocean and a woman was topless, wearing only her bikini bottom, talking to another man in front of her husband (or partner as is common here) as if it was perfectly normal. Tops are optional at the pool/beach for women and they don't wear too much on the bottom either! It is rather shocking for our more modest American visitors to say the least.

Living in the Canary Islands Part 2


Continuation of my previous post, Living in the Canary Islands Part One

12. Restaurants are plentiful on the island of Tenerife, but really good restaurants are hard to find. This might be arguable by some, but in my opinion the food is mediocre and serving sizes will disappoint the American who is used to big portions at reasonable prices. In all fairness, we don't eat out a lot, but our limited experiences have been disappointing.

 Once we went into a Mexican restaurant with a group, and they put luncheon meat ham in our burritos and tacos. That was all they had on hand. If a restaurant isn't busy, don't go there! If the locals don't eat there, it is for a good reason.

There are no big chains such as Olive Garden, Longhorn steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, but we do have McDonalds, Burger King, and a few Subways.

American style breakfasts are unknown, mostly because the Spanish aren't breakfast eaters. If you order pancakes at McDonalds, you won't get pancake syrup--they will put the same sauce as you get on ice cream sundaes--chocolate or caramel. Coffee is strong, espresso style--and in my opinion tastes rather bitter--even if you order the "Americano" it won't be like your favorite cup of brew in the US. The Spanish love their coffee and often go out to cafes on a daily basis for a cup with friends.

Dinner is served very late--probably after 8 pm. Maybe that is why they aren't big breakfast eaters! If you go out for dinner around the typical American dinner hour, you will have the restaurant to yourself, and the waiters might not be ready to serve you. By the way, tips are not mandatory, and if you leave one, it doesn't have to be 15%. A few coins will suffice.

13. I feel safer here than I do in the US. I let my girls walk to the park by themselves without worrying about them being kidnapped or molested--they are more afraid of a stray dog than anything. I have had my wallet stolen, and a group from the US had their rental van broken into and personal items taken--and tourists are a target for pick pockets. That being said, there is far less serious crime such as homicides--or at least if seems that way, maybe because I don't listen to the news much.

14. Family is important, and their social life revolves around birthday parties, baptisms, first communions, Sunday barbecues, and they all pull together for their own. Most married couples only have one or two children at the most, and a family with three children qualify for the "large family" discount.

The islands are mainly Spanish, but are very culturally diverse with immigrants from Central and South America (Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil) Cuba, Romania, the Philippines, and West Africa. It is also a favorite destination for Europeans, particularly among the British, Scandinavians and Germans. We encounter very few Americans. You will need to learn Spanish in order to get by, although most people study English in schools. The Canary accent is very distinct and have a dialect of their own. One island, La Gomera,  has a language of whistling which they still teach in the schools.

15. The island is predominantly Catholic, and holidays, traditions, and rituals are important to their culture but many young people are atheistic, or humanistic. The Virgin Maria and saints are the icons of their worship. Most people don't really "practice" their religion, but perhaps cling to it for their parents or grandparents sake, baptizing their baby, celebrating the first communion, and going through confirmation. Most are familiar with the word "evangelicals" which to them translates something other than a Catholic. Most have never heard of a Baptist. To them we are all thrown into the same category as "sects" or cults which can't be trusted or considered mainstream religion. It is not like the US where you see churches of various denominations on every other corner. We have to overcome a lot of preconceived ideas that are buried deep in their heritage. Immigrants are much more open to the gospel than the Spanish people.

16.The Canary Islands are very modern and cosmopolitan due to the internet, cell phones, television, and global travel. Medical facilities and hospitals offer modern technology and clean, sanitary facilities. Medicine is socialized, and for the most part everyone has their basic needs met although they may have to wait for longer than you would in the states. Private medical insurance is fairly affordable, for example, our family pays about $300.00 per month for a policy which covers doctor visits, hospitalization, and many lab tests and procedures. That being said, we pay much more for other consumer goods, such as food, gas, electricity, and clothes.

17. Tourism drives the economy here (second is agriculture, producing bananas and tomatoes). There are two international airports on the island of Tenerife. Right now we are having 30% unemployment rates, but there is a slight improvement in the past few months as tourism is on the rise. Many people have been unemployed for several years during this time which the islanders refer to as the "crisis." They collect approximately $500 per month in unemployment benefits.

18. Many here are passionate about soccer, or futbol as they know it. People are divided as to whether their favorite professional team is Barcelona or Madrid. The islands are a sport enthusiast's paradise, with biking, surfing, tennis, golf (if you can afford it as 18 holes will set you back around $100), hiking, and plenty of sunshine to cooperate with outdoor endeavors.

19. We don't have any poisonous spiders or snakes to worry about here. Our worst plague is a cockroach, the big palmetto bugs like they have in Florida. We don't have screens on the windows, but have fewer mosquitoes in our area due to the drier climate.

20. The people are well educated yet very traditional in their approach to education. Home school is not an accepted method of education and you would have a difficult time incorporating your child into the university system if they don't possess the certificates given in the lower grade levels. Most think that home schooling is illegal, but that is open to discussion depending on how one interprets the law. On mainland Spain some have gone to court and have won their legal battle to "educar en casa" but I haven't heard much being done here in the Canary Islands yet. We had to put our daughters into the school system here last year in order to receive our Spanish residency.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Keep Plowing

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." Galatians 6:9


After returning from the United States, I have to admit that it took me a while to readjust to my every day life in the Canary Islands. The girls and I had a great visit with our family and friends, and coming home was a bit of a let down as we got back into the daily routine of home school, home keeping, and ministry.

Our small church had lost a few people in the past several months, for various reasons. Some left to find work elsewhere, as we still suffer a 30% unemployment rate, and it is especially difficult for immigrants to find permanent jobs. Others leave because they simply lose interest in the things of God and choose a different path, or Christians leave to go to a different church that offers more of what they are looking for in a church.

Whatever the reason, as a missionary wife, it is never easy when people leave. Sometimes there is a temptation to take it personally. You question yourself, wondering if you did or said something wrong to offend the person, or maybe you could have done more to meet their needs. One thing the Lord has been teaching me is that part of the ministry is learning that people will come and go, and it is our responsibility to help them as much as we can while we are discipling them, but don't beat yourself up when they do choose to leave. We do what we can to show them love, care, and truth--but when for some reason they decide to depart and go elsewhere we have to learn from our mistakes (or try to learn what we can do to better serve the people the Lord has committed to our shepherding), yet continue to plow so as not to be discouraged in the work. It is the nature of the ministry that people will come and go and you must learn how to accept that in a positive, constructive manner that helps you become more effective in ministry.

For me, it was learning more about what is expected of me in my role as a missionary wife, and what expectations are realistic, and what expectations I was placing on myself that really are imagined or impossible to achieve--you have to realize that we can not meet everyone else's expectations and needs. For example, we imagine that they didn't "like" us or my husband's preaching style, or we should have called more often, showed them more attention, etc. I can not think of too many professions where the wife and family is automatically placed in the "fishbowl" of public opinion like they are in the pastorate and missionary life--with the exception of politicians and celebrities.

As I was suffering a bit of discouragement, the Lord spoke to my heart about not growing weary in well doing, and to keep on going in our efforts to reach people despite what seems to be an impossible task. One Sunday morning we arrived at church, and I began doubting that anyone new would come, and started to doubt why we were even here, as if it was a waste of our time. That very morning a lady from Cuba came in--and at the end was very joyful, saying she was going to bring her daughter and husband next week. Sometimes you are almost surprised when God answers your prayers. Since then several new visitors have come, and the Lord knows just what you need, and when you need it, to keep you pressing forward. By God's grace, I am learning to embrace my role as a missionary/pastor's wife and enjoy helping other women in our church become better Christians, wives, and mothers.