Uniquely Deep

The Struggle with Crossing Cultural Boundaries

[ I wrote this article over 15 years ago. It is still as true today as it was then]

We all know the story of Jesus coming up to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 (v. 1-26). I remember the first time I heard the story as a child, in Spanish, in Puerto Rico. I was about 6 years old. I have heard it many times since then and I’m still intrigued by the story.

We are taught about the grace of of Jesus towards the “sinner” and about His offer of living water for those who “thirst.” Yet, it seems to me that there is more to this story than that which we are so easily led to conclude. This story is not just about Jesus’s offer of eternal life as much as it is to whom he offers it and how. This story is about how Jesus reached out cross-culturally.

Jesus begins by talking to this woman. A basic “Howdy do?” He speaks to a Samaritan which was considered a “taboo.” It was the custom that neither culture related to each other, much less talked. Not only did the two people groups go their separate ways, they literally went hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid the land where they lived. AND A WOMAN? This is even worse. Not only did Jesus dare to go through their land (already breaking through boundaries), but he even DARES to TALK to a woman, and not just any Samaritan woman, but an adulteress. Three strikes!

Jesus opens His conversation with, “Will you help me please?” Jesus does not ask if he could help HER, but the other way around. By asking her if she could help Him, he shows true humility. To allow someone to HELP you is one of the most hardest things for some people to do. It is an act of Humbleness. To ask an outcast woman from and outcast people is an even bigger deal. After all, Jesus had much more to offer this woman, He had eternal water. This is the most important lesson that Jesus teaches us in cross-cultural ministry: To HUMBLE ourselves.

Jesus asked a simple question. He didn’t care what the answer would be. In fact, He knew what the answer was before he asked. Yet He asked anyway. He knew it would be the opportunity that He needed to open a conversation with her. He didn’t come to her saying, “I’m a Jew and I have a lot to offer to you. I want to help you by giving you eternal life.” Jesus went about it differently. He knew that He had a need and that this woman who struggled in life could still help him. She was a woman whose culture and life was different in all ways. This woman could still fill his need. He was thirsty and had nothing to draw water with. She did. In turn, Jesus saw her need, and in order to help her, he had to start a conversation. His goal was to come to her with humility. He didn’t want her to feel threatened or fearful. He wanted her to feel comfortable. After all, He was in HER territory. Therefore, this dialogue had to be within HER comfort zone. By this action Jesus showed her that he might be a Jew, but He was NOT above her, and was willing to ask for her HELP. We see a WILLINGNESS to consider others as equals, and to make others comfortable.

The first lesson in cross-cultural ministry, is to break down barriers by opening a dialogue allowing the other person whom you have come to help (serve) to first HELP (serve) YOU. By this I don’t mean to “demand,” but “ASK,” “Will you help me?” or “Could you help me?” In North American society I have learned that people don’t ask for help unless they have to. North American culture lives by the rule that says, “Everyone takes care of their own business.” To other societies this seems obnoxious and proud. As Christians, Jesus teaches us to put aside the wrong things we are sometimes taught. Let me say this from a Latina point of view: It is necessary for people to put aside their preconceived notions that they can not talk to us because “we” don’t understand them, and if we do, it is only to “teach” us. They make sure to make the latina knows it is her job to learn to speak English, and not the American’s job to learn Spanish. Many people come to me saying, “You are in America now, you need to speak English.” What people don’t realize is, it is not the language that makes me Latina, it is the whole culture that is different. I am different in the way I converse, think, do, eat, and so on. In the Latin culture (or Hispanic culture), for instance, to not ask others for help (even if they have little), is seen as arrogant and prideful. We also know that if you need help, it is our duty and desire to help you because we are all Familia. We then expect you to help us when we have a need. On the flip side, the Latino and other minority cultures, are also afraid to ask for help, but for other reasons: we believe that we will not be helped. Due to the experience that we have been told, “Help yourselves.” Or “if I help you, you wont learn.”

Jesus did not demand water from the woman at the well, and I’m so glad he didn’t. She would have felt offended and would have left right away only to come back with several Samaritan men to throw Jesus out. The story would have been different: “Jesus runs away from the angry Samaritan Mob.” Jesus didn’t do that. He sat at the well, the Samaritan’s well. When a woman approached the well he kindly asked, “Will you give me a drink?” Jesus in turn offered His help. He awaits for her response, within her cross-cultural context and on her grounds. He offered to fill her need. This is compassion, to offer help and fill the needs of others. Yet, permission needs to be there. American culture, just as much as other cultures, needs to learn to ASK.

Help is seldom asked for filling the need that we have. Maybe because we don’t think they can. Maybe because we think that they are too different and will not understand. Maybe we think we are here to help them, not the other way around… Today however, the Hispanic population and other minority groups are increasing in the USA rapidly. Sometimes Americans don’t realize that many Europeans are in “their territory” just as much as Hispanics are in “yours.” (Many minorities have been here for generations, and Everything from California to Texas was once Mexico.) Goodness, even I forget when I cross from the Anglo-white culture into the Latino and back. Let us then be humbled in our approach to cross-culturally ministry. Let us be compassionate and willing to reach out in their context with LOVE and humbleness. Let’s learn from Jesus and how he approached other cultures. Only then will you be given the opportunity to offer your help and service to other groups.

Let me then be the first one, “Will you give ME a drink.”

Uniquely Mi Vida

The Struggle with Housework

I am not ashamed to say this: I hate doing dishes. I do. And dusting… mostly cause I’m allergic to dust and mold..

The passionate dislike of dishes, however, does not have to do with allergies. That started when I was growing up and my mother, God bless my dear mother who is now in heaven, had this great idea that EVERYONE would take turns doing the dishes. Seeing as she cooked day after day, it all made sense that my brother, Dad and I would help. Our names were written on the calendar. Everyone agreed. It was a great PLAN! Right? Wrong!! There was one problem: the “boys” refused to do their part, always having an excuse. Somehow they found themselves “OUT” when it was their turn, and even “homework” would finally show up for my brother… which had NEVER HAPPENED before. In short, I got stuck with the dishes, and cleaning the kitchen. At the age of 11 I put my foot down. “No work without pay.” So, I learned the value of capitalism and that lazy people who choose not to work should pay those who do it for them.

Then I had my own little dorm room and my own little house with no one else’s chores to do. Which was fine, because I didn’t have time. In the midst of 15-17 credit hours at the university, 15-20 hours of work, and volunteering for the church, who had time to clean, cook and do dishes??? So I learned to prioritize. Clean the living room and dining room, ignore your bedroom and don’t let anyone in it. Do dishes if you don’t want roaches and mice, and use paper plates when you know you don’t have time. Later, Todd came along and he had to help, too, especially with the dishes.

Marriage came, and before the children, we divided work evenly: I sweep, mop and vacuum. Todd dusts, pick up, and mows the yard. I cook, he does dishes. He does laundry, I fold. I cleaned the bedroom, and he the bathroom. Okay, I had to help him some. NEAT, Huh? Then our great plan fell apart… little by little our children popped into this world and there goes the kitchen, the bathroom, and even the living room. And don’t forget the bedrooms!

I needed a plan! I needed a desperate new plan! Because kids took more time than I thought.

Kids just don’t understand the rule of CLEAN AFTER YOURSELF. Yeah.. that didn’t go well. Soon toys were everywhere. A living room filled with a baby swing, walker, floor blanket and toys. To add to the chaos, both Todd and I were working and going to Seminary. It wasn’t pretty. I had my dad hounding me. “Your house has to be a house of order just as your life.” Or “Beti keeps our house clean, and remember that being holy means that your house has to be clean too.” Or more directly, “your house is in such a mess.” In exasperation I said, “Well daddy, you have 2 children, I have 3. I work full time, and Todd works full time, and we both go to school. Your wife is stays home clean and taking care of kids all day, plus she has help from her family, I only have Todd. Of course my house is messier than yours.” He did stop. No guilt here, because I knew that my house was not going to stay perfectly clean daily.

I knew, shamefully, that he was right to some extent. He had a point. I needed to get the house a little bit more under control. I wasn’t able to keep up with the dining room or bedrooms because, incidentally, that was the playroom, and my bedroom was always a mess. I was able to I maintain the living room, and did my best to keep the dirty dishes under control. I learned during the busy times that I had to have ONE area where I was free of chaos. Except that my kids messes spilled into that area as well. Needless to say, keeping a 2 bedroom house clean with one baby, a toddler and a Pre-K was next to impossible, no matter what I did. My solution: Saturday became cleaning day for everyone. And Sunday? It all better stay clean! Then we began picking up and cleaning as a game, (until they figured out it wasn’t). Another thing I taught my girls was to pick up their toys every night before going to bed. And thus my living room stayed clean, at least overnight, and the mess contained. It was cleaned daily, you could tell “kids live here” but things were mostly picked up and the main areas were cleaner from dust and dirt, even if clutter was still around.

As time went by and the children got older, we moved into bigger houses. It was easier to divide areas of the house to contain the mess. My girls had their play room, I had my living room. They had their bedrooms and bathroom, I had mine. Rules had to be made. Besides a chore chart, we had (and still do) general rules: Rule 1: no playing in the living room and no toys outside of the play area or bedrooms. Rule 2: Pick up your stuff before going to bed. Rule 3: You take it out, you put it back (goes for friends too) and rule 4: Hubby shares the cleaning, especially when Mom is still at work. (And the cooking).

Soon those rules became essential. We were busy. Everyone grew up and became busier. Things may have gotten out of hand off and on, especially when we were gone from sun up to PAST sun down. So I learned the busy “Mom rule” of: letting it go for a day or two. I had to be at peace with not every room being perfect and things being out of place. Yet, after a week of chaos, life had to get back in order and so did the house. I needed to get my growing kids, my laid back husband and my stressful self consistent, so the main area still had some semblance of cleanliness. WE NEEDED A NEW PLAN! And believe me, we have gone through many of them. Family meetings, chore charts and dish days. Although never perfect, the mess was under control. We had our great days and our “I’m too tired” days, you know, “Let it go” days. But I get stressed when it is too much, and I’m stubborn. I have to have areas that are clean from chaos so here is what worked and still works for us:

  1. Have a “Good Morning” habit Pick up one area of your bedroom, like make the bed, pick up dirty laundry, or put away your make-up (personal items) before heading out. (Or all of them).
  2. (From my husband) Clean as you cook. I must admit he is better at this than me because I get distracted. Another similar one, clean as you watch TV. I don’t mind this one.
  3. Parents share the load 50/50: Whoever is at home, or has a day off from work, helps maintain the house. Both home? Then split the load.
  4. As mentioned, a daily chore chart works great but when your kids are older, everyone takes care of their own areas.
  5. Do a 15 minute quick pick up when arriving from work and 5-10 minute one before going to bed. If time allows do a quick sweep or vacuum so dirt wont accumulate until your cleaning day.
  6. Take turns in the kitchen, one cooks, another does dishes. Here your children/teens need to be involved in this area. (They have to learn to cook sometime)
  7. Have a laundry folding party. This means do laundry, and while everyone watches TV have everyone fold their own clothes. When the kids are old enough to do their’s, have them do their own laundry.
  8. Organize: Make sure that you have a place for everything and everyone knows where it all goes. This keeps messes to a minimum and easier to keep up with.
  9. If friends or family come over, they clean their own messes and dishes. You will be surprised how helpful they can be.
  10. Keep your main area picked up. This alone will save you a lot of headaches.
Best way to get rid of clutter: garage sales!

Needless to say, it all seems simple. Well, it isn’t. You have to work at it, you have to agree together and you have to be as consistent as possible. This is NOT to say that it has to be perfectly clean daily, it never will be unless you have a housekeeper. It will at least give you some peace of mind or at least contain the mess. It does help if you love the rooms. So if you don’t love the rooms, redo them until you do. It is easier to be motivated if you love the way it looks. Most likely it will be easier for the kids to keep their room clean if they love the way they look. I must add that any house, whether it be small or large, if it has a lot of stuff, it will look messy no matter what. So do your best to keep it as organized as you can. If you have too much stuff, get rid of some of it. Garage sales, giveaways, however you want to de-clutter, go for it. Give yourself a motivation to make it look presentable at least your main areas.

After you have a plan that works for you and your family, you be surprised much easier things can become if everyone helps. Now your “house” becomes your “HOME.” It makes a BIG difference when you have an organized home. Bigger still if it is picked up and clean for the most part and often (note that I did not say “daily” or “always”). Make it a home that everyone can enjoy and others can visit. Plus, you won’t have a nagging parent. LOL

So was my father right? Sadly, Yes. Our house should be a reflection of God’s work in us. It shows the blessing that He has given us. It shows how we take care of what He has given us. It shows God that He can trust us more and more with material things because we can take care of them. Just like we ought to be good stewards of the money God provides, we must be good stewards of the materials he provides and gifts us with. We need to remember that in the end, it is because of God that we have what we have. That is my motivation to do my best to keep up with my home, at least picked up and in order.

By wisdom a house is built. Through understanding it is made secure.
Through knowledge its rooms are filled with priceless and beautiful things. ”

-Proverbs 24:3-4

Enjoy your new UNIQUE, not perfect, just unique, good looking home. Let it be a reflection of you… just remember, the kid’s room, yeah that is their reflection, so don’t sweat it if they can’t keep up. They will eventually. In the meantime relax in your own personal “spa” you call “HOME” or a bedroom or, well, any room. Do your best, and you will LOVE showing it off, specially to your Dad. (The day after you cleaning day 😀 )

***Please share your ideas and pointers in the comments below***

Uniquely Mi Vida

A Struggle with Budgeting

UGH!

Our budget is in turmoil. Okay, not in turmoil just… just shrinking. Now we have to revisit it and tighten the already tight belt. Sometimes I feel suffocated, light-headed, or on the verge of panic when I think of it. The worries come and ask, “What Am I going to do??” Taking a new job has a way of doing that, at least for ministers. We must be the first ones to be willing to take less, and give more. We are willing to help whenever and wherever. We are willing to be the first line item to take the cut until things change. Our hearts are definitely invested and we trust God… but our pocket books… well, the pocket books just don’t agree with you or the math.

So, we decide to redo our budget. The giant question is: What we need vs. what we REALLY need. Forget the needs vs. wants idea… that was left behind like several ages ago… at least 2 decades ago. So much for a temporary thing. Sure we make more than we did when we started, but I can account for that thanks to inflation. (We once made much more money because we were in-between ministries.)

Yet, I have to check myself, because even when “X” amount of numbers in the income line do not exceed “X” amounts in the expense column, and it doesn’t add up… we are some debt because of semi-new/used vehicle. Thanks to the fact that the car that had been paid off for more than 3 years ago went and decided to collapse on our last vacation trip. It just rolled over and DIED. Fixing it was worth more than the car and the amount we had. And in a little town God provided! It was a top notch, last year’s model. Not a High end car but an economical, American car that had what we needed, new car warranty and all for 40% less with less than 6,000 miles. God is good!!

With that said, we took God’s hands and walked into a new ministry. At first we were concerned. Will we have to go back to being bi-vocational? Yes..ugh.. We were wrong, I mean we should and normally would have to, my superintendent would “Highly suggest it.” (Please know that I love my superintendent, and I’m not just saying that because he may read this, because I’m sure he wont..LOL). The thing is that God had gone before us and taken care of our needs:

First, I had paid my health insurance for the year so I don’t have that expense. Since we don’t make much we were able to get a healthcare subsidy, but because it is still so expensive, I went with the lower end of coverage. We save what we can to pay high deductibles. Regardless, I have coverage, not much, but enough to get by.

Second, I had saved every thing I could in preparation for our move. Todd and I both worked at substitute teaching and this allowed me to save one paycheck of every 4 checks. Sometimes 2 of them If I could. I was also able to save my tax return and still able to pay my daughter’s college bill for the semester. (Mind you, thanks for her scholarships, it was HUGE. So I paid it in 3 months time.) Not that the savings will carry us through… it creates a cushion for emergencies even after moving expenses. We just don’t have to worry..much anyways. Somehow God has kept our savings intact even when I have to dip into it.

Third, that new car God provided? Well, my monthly payment is $176. I pay a little more between $180-$200 to bring down the interest as much as possible. I mean, why give the companies more money when all I have to do is pay and sacrifice a little more each month. Over time, most of the money winds up being in my pocket, not theirs. I understand other people wanting to get these expensive cars, with all the high end stuff, brand new or used with many miles at low payment. I learned to take my time, research and yes, expect a miracle of a deal. My vehicle wound up being $10,000 less than the sticker price plus my $5,000 down. I learned that if I can pay a good portion in cash, we can pay off the vehicle in 4 years or less (preferably in 3 yrs average). It must have a monthly payment that is low, really low and reasonable for the type of car, mileage and age. It takes patience, research and lots of prayer.

Fourth, it turns out that the church I am at had a college endowment for students of the church that go to our Nazarene University. My daughter is the only one. It turns out what is given to her per semester is roughly the amount I was having to pay. Plus she was accepted in the internship program so that covered her part. She had not been able to find a job in the Spring while at school so her portion was not in her savings at all. (This is all a God given gift).

Yes, God has gone before us. Yet, we had a part to play. We had to take responsibility as faithful, trusting, called servants of God.

We revised our budget. EVERYTHING was tightened. The question to answer was: What is the minimum we can live off while things were tight. Realizing a second job was not right for now, either one of us. Realizing that the church needed us 100% of the time, and last, realizing and eventually, knowing that somehow God will provide.

In the meantime we have sacrifices to make:

  1. No eating out weekly much less, daily! We go out ONCE a month if the money is there and we limit $10 per person plus tip. We rotate Restaurant pizza 2x a month, setting a budget for $15-20 bi-weekly and the other 2 weeks, frozen pizza. NO JUNKY fast foods. Eating leftovers or sandwiches when out and about. This means I have to cook more often. That means more time in the kitchen, which in turn, helps me keep it cleaner. So what about groceries? See #2
  2. No JUNK FOOD! Avoid, avoid snacks, chips, pop as much as possible. This is hard for my husband who grew up drinking sodas like water. I have to limit his intake, which is not easy. So no more 7-eleven, Sonics or whatever… generic sodas if needed all the way. We have Fruits, popcorn and granola bars for snacks. Hey, I suffer too! It means no candy for me. (I’m hoping one trip to ROSS and one bag of their sour gummies at $3-4 a month is feasible.) We purchase everything generic, and frozen vegetables are better and not much more than the canned. Buy on SALE, and yes, on clearance. Right now I’m trying to stay at a $225-$250 grocery budget here in Texas with 4 adults. Luckily, for my budget, one of my girls is going back to college so it will be easier and hopefully the second one will get a job… but she has her own bills to pay.
  3. Cell phones- I’m highly considering cutting data usage to save us $20 a month and cancelling a phone that is not absolutely necessary. In the meantime we have learned that buying an “AT&T GO” phone for $20 or less, and adding us to the plan saves an additional $15-$25 per person, per month which is added to our “plan.” We spend less on 5 cell phones and plans in a year than some people pay for a single phone. I mean really, add up the costs. Why give them your money for a phone they expect you to throw away. We just keep the phone until it is no longer working. We have saved over $500 a year doing this.
  4. No ENTERTAINMENT outside the house. Now before you all think I’m crazy or faint in disbelief: Let me say that we do budget for ONE event out a month. But we keep it simple. Beside that, we have found out that our family movie nights consist of staying at home, renting a movie, the pizza mentioned above and popcorn. We have learned that family games, whether it be board games, Xbox or the like, also makes for a great family time. Hanging out together not only brings you closer as a family and adds more fun memories but also helps with a budget.
  5. AVOID STORES outside of your list. This is is my weakness… I love sales, clearances, antiques, garage sale shopping and more. So I am having to restrain myself to what I need only, or just $20-30 a month for shopping for home and clothing. (Or roll it to the next month for a funner time later). If you are tempted to go to one of those stores just repeat after me, “I DON’T have the money for …”. Also, when shopping, stick to your list as much as possible. Or send the one in your family that hates shopping. They will go in with the list and back without seeing anything else. (Unless you know that there is a clearance in electronics, then don’t send in your husband alone).
  6. AVOID NAME BRANDS: Don’t get the expensive stuff, health and beauty supplies especially, avoid the fancy brands. Consider a lower cost brand, generic for most. Learn to always buy generic medicines, and such. This will save you half. You don’t really need to go to “ULTA” to buy the items you find at Walmart for 30-50-% less. Basically, be smart. Do your research. DON’T be IMPULSIVE, And if you can’t help it, make sure it is more than 50% off and you NEED IT.
  7. Credit cards are FOR EMERGENCIES, especially if you are in DEBT. If you know you don’t have the money to pay it in full then don’t buy it. If you are expecting the money to be there the next month due to a bonus, an extra paycheck, a raise, or overtime, make sure that you have paid off your debts first before using it. It is ESSENTIAL NOT to RELY on your credit card for your everyday expenses. Unless your debts are paid and you are in a habit of paying it in FULL, MONTHLY; leave your credit card at home. You can call the credit card company and set a limit that you can afford until healthy habits develop. I started at a $250 limit while in college, than added $250 increments as time went on and FROZE it at $2000 (in case of emergency). That is to say, you DON’T spend your limit, is just there in case you need it. I usually use my credit card for: Christmas, vacations, emergencies, big items and work. (Mostly because I hate to carry my debit card or cash during those times). I make sure the MONEY is available to pay it in FULL on a monthly basis. I just refuse to give the company more of my money. So yeah, they don’t make any money from me. So if you are one of those that only pay your minimum amount, month after month, I’m sure you are their favorite customer…cause the moment you can’t, they will garner your wages and all that interest, you made them rich. Me? well, they won’t get rich from me because I don’t give them a chance. Which means: I get FREE service and they pay me to use their money. YAY!!!

So those are my sacrifices, and our new, hopefully temporary, budget. (Please note that numbers 6 & 7 ones are constant rules for our standard BUDGET)… did I mentioned that I haven’t gotten my haircut yet? Yeah… sacrifices. I will have to wait for Christmas for my perm, and do my own hair dyeing too. I think I’m going to have to use Todd’s hair grooming set to groom my dogs for the next 4 months… that alone will save me $200. That said, I better save for Black Friday as well… (Lucky for me, I do have points saved up).

I say all this to say, God has provided: our home, our food, our medical needs, our daughter’s college bill and more. So, we are trusting in God that all these sacrifices will be rewarded someday. I hope one of those rewards is going on a mission trip back to my Island of Puerto Rico. And when my minivan is no longer running, God will provide us another vehicle.

However, there is one area we will NEVER sacrifice or CUT DOWN ON: Tithes and Offerings. Since God has provided we return to HIM what he asks, what He needs to continue to reach people in our town, in our state, in our country and in our world. He does that through us. As HE has been faithful, we too MUST be FAITHFUL to HIM. So we give 10%, our tithe, and more for missions and special offerings, because we are GRATEFUL and we LOVE HIM.

I Give to GOD because HE has given all to me and continues to provide, daily. I have a new car, a van that runs well, I have no credit card debts, I have a home, yes even internet, food is on the table, our lives are not missing anything. And this crazy unique budget that I have to do… well, I would do it all over again if HE asks. I have FAITH that someday it might be easier and I can then tithe and give even more. Someday, I will be able to relax by the beach and enjoy my family…in the meantime I will dream as I watch a clip of a beach, true HULU (only $6.99 a month). And if I get desperate, there is always the lake nearby…