Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Written Interview With Anna Hampton on A Life Overseas Blog.

I was privileged to meet Craig Thompson a few months ago at a conference focused on how USA Churches can better care for their global workers.

Craig clearly has a heart for encouraging and helping global workers especially in transition, but also in risk.  He asked if he could interview me for the the "A Life Overseas" Blog, and so here is the link to a recent written interview that Craig Thompson conducted with me these past couple of weeks via email. 

Risk And The Cross-Cultural Worker

Head on over and check out the interview, but also the many helpful articles they've published. 

Between Velvet Ashes and A Life Overseas, there are so many more helpful articles and tidbits for global workers no matter your passport country.

Cross-Cultural Risk Axiom #9

ax·i·om ˈaksēəm/
  • a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.
  • Example: "the axiom that supply equals demand"
  • synonyms: accepted truth, general truth, dictum, truism, principle;

#9 Reduce Uncertainty with Subjective Probability

"If the outcome of a decision in question is highly uncertain and has significant consequences, then measurements that reduce uncertainty about it have a high value." (1)
I was surprised when I read this in the research, but a very helpful risk expert, Douglas Hubbard (2), amply demonstrates in his research on assessing the intangibles in (business) risk that we can effectively reduce the uncertainty (which increases our clarity) by utilizing subjective probability. 

Why is this important?

It helps us measure what matters and thus make better decisions (3). And when lives are at stake, this is responsible stewardship.

Doing this does not mean we are making assessments without some knowledge and input of information.  When we are in a risk situation, and we are worried about a specific risk event/threat, we can make educated guesses (subjective probability analyses) about what we think won't happen and is unlikely to happen, and that reduces the number of items we are uncertain about and helps us focus in on what really needs to be focused on.  

Hubbard suggests that the framework for reducing uncertainty best utilizes Applied Information Economics (AIE) to measure the uncertainty.  

The general framework for any sector is this: 

1. Define the Decision
2. Determine what you know now. 
3. Compute the value of additional information (if none, go to step 5). 
4. Measure where information value is high. (return to steps 2 and 3 until further measurement is not needed or time runs out)
5. Make a decision and act on it (return to step 1 and repeat as each action creates new decisions).

This is important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is so that we aren't distracted by risk threats that aren't real (what we fear as opposed to actual situational reality).

AN Example of Using AIE
For example, over a year ago, I was very worried about the active ISIS threat against our international church (they had surveilled and fairly specifically threatened to attack).  So Neal and I utilized the AIE adjusted for cross-cultural kingdom work and had a conversation where we applied the 4 aspects of risk analysis (frequency, severity, geographic proximity, and demographic proximity), and we reduced our uncertainty by talking through what we subjectively guessed would most likely happen and what would most likely not happen. 

In our discussion, we reviewed the current ISIS threat at that time in our neighborhood/city/country/region, we reviewed the police presence as well as location of the church, and we reviewed the risk mitigation that had been put in place. 

We also discussed the longevity of the risk threat - we were about 6 months out since the threat had been revealed by the police to our church leaders. While new threats and new "chatter" were continually coming in, in reality, the threat level had not increased or changed much (nothing new had been added to the constant verbal threat of "we will kill the infidels and anyone who converts" yada yada yada.).  

We also reviewed the current political climate, and through a subjective analysis of all that data, we decided all the signs pointed to there being more certainty there would not be an attack.  We reduced our uncertainty of an attack by subjective probability.  

In fact, there has been no attack and no increased threat of an attack for over a year, which means that threat most likely can be considered inactive although the risk mitigation procedures are still in place as a deterrent. (The severity of the attack is high, so this is appropriate).

There is no hard and fast rule on this risk axiom and how to use it, and one's gut about the situation is very important. I will stress that Neal taking the time to talk me through this was important for me to get a grip on my emotions and fear level so that I could calmly interact with my teenagers that Sunday morning and go to church.  Their mental health and resiliency is necessary for us to be able to do what we do, which includes thriving in a Muslim cross-cultural environment. 

Three Skills/Awarenesses
So there are three important skills or awarenesses that will help us reduce uncertainty more effectively: 

1. The first important skill needed (and I should probably develop this much more), is learning how to evaluate the types of intelligence information coming in when making risk decisions. In Hubbard's words, this is "Assessing the information value."  I also touched on it in this blog post: Weighing the Voices/Information Speaking Into A Risk Threat. 

2. Also important is becoming self-aware of the presuppositions we carry into risk analysis.  Westerners (anyone who has been educated and grown up in Greek/Roman Empericism) is that we seem to think we can have certainty.  We seem to carry this idea into our theology, our missions analysis, our parenting, and yes, our risk analysis.  

A Theology of Risk will be weak when a Greek cultural presupposition is imposed on one's Biblical Hermeneutic. It means we believe we can arrive at a universal truth through emperical deduction that answers the risk questions we have with absolute certainty.  This approach tends to ignore dependence on the Holy Spirit and listening to His voice. Sometimes we are led into danger and sometimes the Holy Spirit leads us out of danger. Both are seen in the Bible and our calling is to obey Him.

Risk is inherently confusing and it is a risk simply because we don't know what will happen. We cannot control evil.  The risk threats coming in are purposely confusing to us because our enemy is trying to make it foggy and scare us out of acting.  But cross-cultural risk is also opportunity to push forward God's kingdom in unreached areas, so it is imperative we know we are called to move forward and what the REAL risks are. 

3. Utilize Applied Information Economics appropriately to Cross-Cultural Kingdom work: 

Taking Hubbard's General AIE Framework, in Cross-Cultural Risk when we are reducing uncertainty, the AIE would look (something) like this:

  1. Define the risk threat and the decision that needs to be made; 
  2. Determine what you know now: current political situation, police protection level, risk mitigation measures in place, change in threat chatter, frequency and timing of the threat, your calling in this risk situation; run the risk threat through the grid of the 4 aspects of risk assessment:  What is the frequency of this threat, the severity, the geographic proximity, and the demographic proximity of it? This will further help you decide of this threat is real and needs more of your attention. Make sure to both analyze the threat with the 4 aspects of risk analysis to rationally think/talk/graph through the real risks, and then evaluate one's emotions in light of that analysis. (See the RAM Action Guide.)
  3. Compute the value of additional information:  Is there time to gather more information or does a decision need to be made? What value will more info add? If the Embassy and the Police will not have any new specific information, than that won't add valuable info to the decision making process.
  4. If you need more information, go back to steps 2 and 3 and work the problem, get more info, talk to more people.
  5. Make the decision and act. (Re)Assess as the risk environment changes. 
Probability Measurements
There is one piece I didn't really summarize, and that is how to assign probability measurements.  I would like to suggest you utilize what works best for you - whether numbers on a scale from 1-10 or 1-5, or words like, "Highly unlikely, unlikely, Possible, likely, Very Likely, whatever is your preference, begin using a standard analysis as a team or as an individual assessing your risk.  That way you will have consistency in the rational part of your risk assessment and decision making.

You can access the Microsoft Excel Spread Sheet on the Risk Resources page of my blog.  It already has formulas that will graph and draw the geometric shapes of what you put in if you want to see your thoughts on a graph. But you can do this internally or on a paper napkin as well, to help yourself quickly analyze uncertainty.

The main point is that just by thinking through the subjective probabilities, you will have more clarity on what specific threats you may be facing and you can move to both how to mitigate and discussing with God and others what you are called to.

It's ironic that scientific research by Douglas Hubbard gives us certainty that we can reduce our uncertainty by subjective probabilities.

(1) How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, Douglas Hubbard, Wiley, 3rd Ed., 2014; p.8.
(2) Ibid, p. 9. 
(3) Ibid, p. 9.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Thinking About Suffering...

How should we write a Theology of Suffering Statement? It's common for me to be asked about the connections between risk and suffering, a topic I'm just a beginner in and don't feel that I really have an answer for.  But here are some beginning thoughts on writing a theology of suffering statement for those facing cross-cultural risk. 

Asking "How to write a Theology of Suffering (TOS) is not a simple question, especially when a team knows first-hand the realities of the type of suffering that possibly lay ahead.

Thinking about suffering is such hard work and involves facing pain and fear.  My answer would have been different in any year before this year!

When it comes to suffering and writing a statement on suffering that will sustain me, I think the first thing I need to do is think through my deepest biggest fear.

That tells me two important things:
  •     What aspect of God do I need to meditate on and also have the hardest time trusting in?
  •     What aspect of me in my relationship with myself do I need to pay attention to? What are my weaknesses, because that is usually related to my fear, and that is exactly how the enemy will attack me in suffering. It is also the point where God will allow pain to enter to transform me into more of His likeness. Therefore, self-awareness and knowing oneself is supremely important, especially in constant life-and-death situations where people must endure well for days, weeks, and months on end for Kingdom purposes.
If I wrote a statement right now, I’m fairly certain for me I’d turn to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar’s quote (see my last chapter), and spend time thinking through how that would influence a statement I would write for myself. 

As a starting point, Neal and I wrote our Theology of Risk (TOR) statement back in 2000 before we first went to Afghanistan.(It is possible a TOS and TOR statement could be the same, but some may feel the need to write a unique for each. Do what you feel works for you).

It is based on Hebrews 11:35-38:
Our Purpose is to live by simple trust and confidence in Him, unflinching, un-awed and un-dismayed by the troubles we may face, holding staunchly to our calling and enduring steadfastly with our gaze fixed on Him.
My biggest fear has changed since I lived in Afghanistan.  It used to be more related to just rape or kidnapping.  Sometimes the passion and ignorance of youth and nationalistic fervor makes us immune to the very real and present dangers.  However, God’s grace is amazing in that!

No, my fear now is that I will not remain faithful to Him under persecution and deny Him (Matt 10:33). 

I’ve told Kayla Mueller’s story so many times as a modern day martyr, but it makes me wonder if I could do it. She was kidnapped, regularly raped, and tortured but remained faithful. For her, her TOS statement seemed to come down to the Shema as quoted by Jesus Christ. I include here her story as I have pieced it together from media reports and have shared her story publicly to thousands.

A modern day martyr, Kayla Mueller:
“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you,”Kayla wrote in a letter to her father in 2011. “I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering,” she wrote.

Images of children suffering in the early stages of Syria’s ongoing civil war prompted Mueller to leave her home in Arizona, in December 2012 to help refugees. She found the work heartbreaking but compelling. Mueller was captured by ISIS on Aug. 4, 2013, in Aleppo, Syria — ten days before her 25th birthday.

She was given to the senior leader of ISIS at the time as a war trophy. She was held with three Yazidi women, and they were all systematically raped by him. They all had an opportunity to escape, so Kayla urged them to go without her, knowing without the language and as a foreigner she could easily cause them to get caught.  They escaped with her letters.

She was a hostage for 18 months and killed in early 2015. Besides raping her repeatedly, there were reports of torture. The very hands meant to relieve suffering experienced horrifying suffering as they ripped out her nails.  I suspect the torture had to do with her being pressured to convert to Islam.

Most Christians working among Muslims experience pressures to convert as well. The reason I suspect she was being pressured to convert is because of the very last thing she wrote to her parents was a clear declaration of her allegiance.

Kayla quoted Jesus Christ, who was quoting the Shema of Deut 6, which is the exact opposite of the recitation of the Islamic Creed.
Mark 12:28-30. "The first of all the commandments is hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment.”

Kayla Mueller, a young woman of 24 years, our sister in Christ, Courageous and faithful to the end.

I have found two helpful guides on understanding internal suffering.  The first is from Mother Teresa, in her book “Come Be My Light.” Her experience was extremely unique and her type of experience is shared by only three other Christian saints in the past 2000 years (that I've found so far).

However, what is more typical is the principle: “What is most personal to me is usually most universal to people.”   In other words, for those living authentically and willing to admit it, what fear I have is very likely what fear the other has.  But we only know that when we can share vulnerably in a safe environment.

So the characteristic of a theology of suffering statement or statement of conviction on suffering should be a short statement (1-3 sentences) that energizes and refocuses one quickly when needing to face pain in the next moment.  I like how another mentor of mine described it (sorry – the quote is long):
“My sin and my gift were two sides of the same coin, but if I hadn’t done the work of taming my gift, I know it would have destroyed me. Energy is one of the most precious gifts God has given us, and we don’t want to waste it by being drawn into negativity. All of our energy should be used for reconciliation. We always have a choice. We can either expend natural, constructive energy that comes from an intentional focus on Christ, a willing attitude, creative work, and regular exercise, or we can expend negative energy, which comes from self-pity, bitterness, and resentment.

When we are living on natural energy, we will get tired but we won’t burn out. That kind of energy is easily replenished by rest and exercise. There is another form of energy that arises with fear. The adrenaline created is meant to be used strictly for crisis situations, so if we constantly run on that energy, we will find ourselves depleted and exhausted. Either energy can be used within the circumstances God has placed us, but one will lead to life and renewed energy and the other will lead to death and burnout.”

So she redirected her negative energy by quietly stepping back into the gentle, transforming silence of attentiveness, paying attention to what she was feeling and surrendering those feelings to God.”
By Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp, from “The Hidden Life: Revelations from a Holy Journey”

Understanding and experience the spiritual direction of one's soul, paying attention to the movements of the soul will help in thinking through the suffering statements needed to face danger.

The Holy Spirit will be faithful to help us know what is needed right now for the tasks He has given each of us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Subtle Influence of "Enshalla"

In many places in the Islamic world, conversations and sentences are ended with a one-word phrase:  Enshalla (also spelled Inshallah).

Enshalla - in one word, the phrase "If God wills it" encapsulates an entire Islamic-philosophical approach to life. I've heard missionaries use this word without thinking or qualification.

"Enshallah" is equivalent to saying "unfortunately," one of the most pagan words in the English language. Since when do we base our lives on fortune or ill-fortune!??? This was something the Greeks were concerned about due to the immoral and capricious behavior of the gods who they believed ruled life and nature.

No, when living and working in cross-cultural risk, engaging in Divine endeavors in dark and un-reached areas, we do not base our daily living and future on "Enshallah" or on fortune or "unfortunately."  These words, and even more - this type of thinking - should be stricken from our speech and thinking.

When a Muslim says, Enshallah, "if God wills it, he or she is saying, "If Allah wills it."  We do not base our lives...and our deaths... on the decisions of a god whom we do not follow or believe in, a god who did not die for us out of his justice, hesedness (kindness) and great mercy.

Yes, I believe in appropriate acculturation, but "Enshallah" crosses the line of what is acceptable, and I do not believe this phrase and type of thinking would be approved of by Jesus.
What does our Lord Jesus Christ teach?
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:10-13
His will in heaven to be done on earth. The supreme God outside of time, is in history past, present, and future. It means that His will on heaven is to be done here on earth, and we are to pray and live to that end. His will is for us to live abundant life.
The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10
It means that when I end a conversation with my Muslim friend or colleague, I can say, "See you tomorrow!"  I don't have to end it also with "Enshallah" because I already know God's will:  God's will is that I live abundantly, which means he does will for me to still be around tomorrow.
"If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days." I Kings 3:14

 "The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. I Peter 3:10

Monday, May 7, 2018

Gangster Jihad and Church Planting around Al-Shabaab

A new term for some of the splinter terrorist groups gaining power around the world is "gangster jihad." (1)   It seems appropriate - in many ways, the jihadist radicalization process is a religious counterpart to gang recruitment, with jihadism offering criminals a shot at spiritual redemption, not simply a sense of purpose, belonging, and protection.

In the case of Al-Shabaab, their focus is more on nationalistic and clan-related affairs.  They operate in northern Kenya, Mozambique, and in Somalia.  Al Shabaab has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the past, and has Wahhabi roots. This places it squarely in line with Sunni Islam and its goal is to spread Shariah law throughout the horn of Africa.

US policy since President Trump's election has relaxed the rules of US engagement, resulting in a dramatic increase of civilian deaths.(2) This does not help foreign Christian workers in these areas, disrupts the sovereign power in Somalia, and makes any Christians planting churches - whether expatriate or Africans exceedingly dangerous.

 Al-Shabaab is responsible for the Westgate Mall Shopping Center attack in Nairobi, a shopping place well known to be frequented by foreigners. They are also responsible for the Garissa University College attack.  The reasons for the attack were complex, although what hit the media was the targeting of Christians. 

Church planting in northern Kenya, Mozambique, and Somalia regions is fraught with danger from this gangster jihad group.

(1) First seen in a confidential security report. I do not know who originated this term. It appears as early as 2014 in a book, song, and news reports. 

(2) These sources used for this blog: 
  •; and 
  •; and