Wednesday, July 23, 2008

23,161 Air Miles Later....

On Sunday afternoon, I arrived back to Dallas seriously needing a hair cut, averaging 3-4 cups of coffee a day, thinking Dallas was suddenly a small city, and desiring to stay in the same time zone for a while! I'm looking forward to getting some much needed rest and talking with friends and family before the school year hits.

As usual, I’ve struggled to figure out what to write about! Where do I start? It has been one incredible trip- full of unbelievable sights, incredible people, beautiful cultures, and an overwhelming thankfulness for people like YOU who have helped to make this trip possible. While I know I probably won’t see the effect this trip has had on me for years to come, I did want to take a short moment to share one thing that has really stuck out to me the last couple of weeks. Due partly to my hangover of over 2 continual weeks of jet lag, it may not be the most well-thought blog, but it may be one of the most honest! :)

(And for those of you that are wondering, I am planning on continuing this blog past this post! So.. if you so feel inclined, please continue to check it out!)

During the past 6 weeks, I’ve been immersed in different cultural extremes: the laid-back, relationship driven Europe, the mysterious (at least to me) Arab culture, and the ever polite and friendly Asian culture. One thing that has amazed me is to see how much a person’s culture effects the way they behave, dress, think, and most importantly to me, believe.  For example, the majority of the Montenegrins are Orthodox, most of Qatar is Islamic, Thailand is mostly Buddhist, and Hong Kong is a combination of Buddhist and Taoist. During much of the summer, I was in areas where the Christian population was under .01%. That's one in 10,000 for those that didn't pass 7th grade math. :)

One of the most challenging and refreshing processes I have gone through this summer has been thinking about whether I believe Jesus to be the “way, the truth, and the life” because I grew up in the buckle of the bible belt or because I truly believe He is the ONLY WAY to eternal life.  Is it prideful and/or close-minded of me to think that my religion is "right" and everyone else’s is wrong? How can I be sure? Is Christianity the same as all the other religions?

Here's a pop quiz: What is the one thing that distinguishes the Christian faith from all other religions in the world? Well, besides the fabulously trendy t-shirts. The answer is GRACE.  Every other major religion in the world (stop me if I'm wrong) tells us that in order to get to heaven or a better afterlife, we are to follow a set of rules and/or be a good person. The bible tells us that we are saved through the gift of God, and all we are to do to inherit eternal life is to accept that gift (Eph 2:8). It isn't based on us going to church, reading our bible, staying away from R rated movies, never dropping the F bomb, and refraining from spaghetti strapped shirts (gasp!). Its all about accepting the fact that we can't do it on our own, and believing in the ONE who can give eternal life.

While I know this may shock some of you (okay, not really), I don't have all the answers to life's difficult questions. Heck, I don't even have answers to life's most basic questions. (My ACT scores will prove this.)  But one thing I do know is that there is no way that I could ever EARN my way to heaven. If heaven is a perfect paradise inhabited by a perfect and holy God, how wrong would it be to think that I, a person who sins daily, could come into that place on my own? That would be like me dousing myself with liquid food coloring for 25 years, jumping into a clear pool, and expecting the food coloring not to spread. There would have to be something that would be able to make me completely clean to not contaminate the cleanliness of the pool. That is what the gospel is all about- Christ's blood cleansing us in order that we may enter into the kingdom of God. (Not to make this sound like a southern baptist sermon, but if anyone has any questions about any of this, I would love to chat with you.)

Let's be honest here- this is not what I was planning on writing a blog about. Shouldn't I have something more "profound" to say after a trip around the world? But really, what is more profound than the simple truth of the gospel? I thank the Lord for showing me first hand the uniqueness of the gospel. I also thank him for showing me how it can not be held back by cultural, language, and geographical borders. But that's a whole other blog in itself. :)

As I mentioned before, I do plan on continuing this blog for a while, and hope to post more thoughts from the trip once I have some time to reflect more on it. Thanks for checking in once again. Enjoy your last few weeks of summer!

Till next time...


Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Diversity of Cultures

Hello devoted blog watchers, thankful procrastinators, bored summer-ites, and everyone in between!

Well, I have had a very eventful few days! I definitely expected some craziness in Athens and a few “aha!” moments in Thailand, but I wasn’t expecting what happened in the middle! First things first…

My time in Athens started out pretty rough with sad goodbyes in Montenegro, delayed flights, and lost luggage (found 2 days later). But, I am thankful to report that I had a great time in Athens. I was able to meet up with another single female traveler (a specific prayer request of mine) that could stomach hanging out with me for 3 straight days. Plus, through the awesomeness of facebook, I was able to meet up with a college friend also traveling in the area. The picture above is the three of us doing what they did best at the Parthenon. Not posed at all, of course!

While I did love all the sites in Athens, I would have to say that my time in Ancient Corinth was my favorite. It lacked the tourists feel of Athens and contained more authentic Greek culture. It also got me out of the busy city and included a pretty sweet hike, which is always a plus for me.  (for you facebook-ites, this is where my new profile pic comes from)

From Athens, I flew from Greece to Qatar, and Qatar to Thailand. This was an unexpected cultural experience. For those of you that don’t know where Qatar is (I didn’t), it is next to Saudi Arabia in the Arab world. Talk about being in the minority!  When I checked in for my flight, I was the only caucasion and one of only 2 girls. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that due to my stereotypes, I was more anxious about these 2 flights than any before it. The majority of those on the plane were dressed in traditional Muslim attire and many of the women wore full black hijabs that wouldn’t allow you to see their EYES. As I’m sure you can imagine, this part of the trip got me thinking. Is it really fair for me to be extra-anxious on this plane ride because most are wearing Islamic dress? I REALLY don’t think it is. But is there a way for me to not think those things if I'm ever in a similar situation? How is it right to judge an entire culture on the extremists? I really don't know enough about this culture. Maybe I can add that “learning more about the Arab world” to my growing list of things to do once I get back.  

I will also add that out of all the airlines that I have flown on, Qatar Airways had the best customer service and facilities on the plane... just a note...

I guess I will talk more about my experiences in Asia once I arrive back on home soil. I will hopefully have more time to put together some complete thoughts then. :)

As always, thanks for all the support, interest, and encouragement! 

Till next time..


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Leaving Montenegro

Greetings Friends, Families, and Random bloggers!

Well, time has definitely flown by! I am sad to report that I will be leaving Montenegro tomorrow afternoon. The next 13 days will be filled with plane rides, jet lag, and different culture extremes. First, I will be landing in Athens, Greece for some days of reflection and relaxation. After that, I will be spending time in Thailand and Hong Kong. The plan is to land back in Dallas on July 20th. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Montenegro. While I am excited to see what lies next in this unreal summer, I am sad to be leaving here. In addition to enjoying the beautiful countryside, I have had some incredibly hospitable hosts. This would include the native Montenegrins and especially the non-native workers I have met in the area. I have been humbled by their selfless dedication to make me feel at home. I hope and pray that I'll have the ability to show the same hospitality to someone else in the future.

The last 2 weeks have been filled with teaching English classes, spending time with believers and non-believers, and traveling about the area. My passport has been getting some "love" going to various cities in Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia. It has been an eye-opening experience to visit these areas. It is embarrassing to admit (but I guess I'm going to admit it anyway) that I was expecting this area of the world to look war-torn and deserted after the unrest the last 20 years. Well, my expectations were completely blown out of the water. I'm convinced that Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro contain some of the most beautiful sights and people in the world. My two favorite cities (besides Herceg Novi) would have to be Dubrovnik, Croatia (where the above picture is from) and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  Both were filled with beautiful country sides and wonderful cultural and historical roots. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to see parts of these countries and would love to visit them again another time.

To close out my time in Montenegro, I'd like to share just a few of the cultural differences I've noticed. I thought it would best do to a comparison between the way I think and the way most Montenegrins think. So... I hope this gives you a good idea of some of the cultural differences! 

Me: I should never see 60 year old men and women wearing speedo's and bikinis.
Montenegrins: You should wear as little wet material as possible when swimming. One pieces will make you sick, giving you kidney disease.

Me: If the sign says you're open from 8-5, you're going to open from 8-5.
Montenegrins: Sure, we're open from 8-5, but I want a coffee break. So, too bad, we're closed for the next 30 minutes. 

Me: Its rude to tell someone they are overweight upon meeting them.
Montenegrins: What if they don't know? I'm only helping them.

Me: I need to have 10 things accomplished to have a productive day.
Montenegrins: The most productive thing I will do today is spend time talking with friends and family over coffee.

Me: Air conditioners are God's gift to mankind.
Montenegrins: Stay away!!! Air conditioners will make you sick!!!!

Me: Redheads are God's gift to mankind.
Montenegrins: Redheads are tourists. Therefore, I will stare at them continually.

Me: Walking around with wet hair during the summer feels good.
Montenegrins: Do it and your face might get paralyzed! 

Me: You should walk on sidewalks and drive on streets.
Montenegrins: You should drive on sidewalks and walk on streets.

Me: When driving in a car, there should be at least 5 feet or at a guard rail between you and huge cliffs. 
Montenegrins: Guardrails are for wussies, and I'll let you reverse on the cliff until you get to the spot where you'll have "at least" 2 inches from the cliff to let me pass you. 

All kidding aside, I admire the Montenegrins for the priority they put on spending time with family and friends. In their culture, nothing is more important.  I think us busy-body Americans (of whom I'm the worst!) have a lot to learn from them. I'll let them keep the bikini's and speedo's, but I hope I can bring their practice of making time for people back to my world in the states.

Till next time-