Entering the Latrine: The Barrier of Otherness

Behind the scenes of "How to Use the African Pit Latrine", Kampala
"First, you must enter the latrine." -- Wilbur Sargunaraj

Isn't that always the way forward? First thing is to get in there. To abandon all that holds you back and the voices which insist that this isn't the place for you.
I felt awkward when Pamela handed me a menstrual pad.  She had made it herself along with what seemed like thousands more.  She explained that they were made from all-natural materials, were eco-friendly, could be washed and reused for up to a year, were leak-proof, and life-changing. "You should take some home for you wife as a gift," she added without a tinge of satire.

I fumbled the OPAD, as the product was named, in my hand nervously and asked her how these pads were impacting the lives of girls in Uganda.  Pamela explained that girls from poor families and communities couldn't afford to buy disposable pads and suffered from teasing at school due to the inadequacy of traditional menstrual rags which leaked.  As a result, girls tended to miss an average of 5 school days per month (best-case scenario) and many would drop out of school altogether.  The OPAD was a simple solution -- cheap, durable, hi-quality, reusable, transformational -- and Pamela's little operation was beginning to lift up a generation of young women. [Special Note: I'm please to announce that Trinity will be adding OPADS as a new partner.]

Transforming mission looks like this.  It may be simple.  It will be uncomfortable.  It will involve stepping across the threshold to enter a place that a normal person -- even a normal you -- would not ordinarily want to enter.  It's not the kind of thing for which respectable folks line up and it probably doesn't resemble the mission trip that First Baptist Whatever goes on every year.  It's the best kind of "cutting edge" -- the uncool kind.
I've been trouncing around Kampala these last few days with my friend, Wilbur, and my sister, Gloria, shooting footage of African latrines, dancing boda-boda drivers and rapping baristas.  My companions have (and not only on this trip) modeled well for me what it means to break barriers and to enter the world of the "other".  Actually, I am finding it difficult to get this idea out of my head.  Could it be that the most serious problem we have as humans or specifically as the Church on mission is the ancient barrier of otherness -- to cross that most uncomfortable threshold (Acts 10:25, 28)?

But if I can do that-- if I can enter the world of those who are different than I, then I have the chance to truly understand them.  Inside, I can hear their stories, appreciate their gifts, and become familiar with their struggles.  Inside, I can discover how to bring the Kingdom to bear in their unique contexts and how I can fight alongside them in their particular battles against a broken and fragmented world.  Outside, I'm not sure what I can do.

Anyway, I am still pondering.  I invite you to do the same.  I also invite you to start breaking some barriers and to experiment with entering the world of the "other".  You might be very surprised with what you find.
Now for some Pit Latrine action! I had a blast holding the camera for the latest "Supercall Solution" with Wilbur Sargunaraj.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.


#ssseastafrica begins!

Having just enjoyed a New York style slice (yes, a Chicago boy can appreciate certain NYC charms), I'm about ready to board my overnight flight which will ultimately land me in Kampala (by way of Brussels and Kigali) and thus start the Simple Superstars of East Africa journey-- three weeks of work, prayer, conversations, filmmaking, concerts, brainstorming, and more with the incredible people that make up the #ssseastafrica (2014) team.

Perhaps I'll talk about each of them as the trip progresses. For now, I'm so grateful for those whose generosity has made the trip possible. You can still give by going to our website. And be in prayer for myself and teammates Gloria, Wilbur, and Talargie as well as the many friends we'll be working with along the way.

I'll do my best to keep updating the blog. But connect with me on Twitter and FB as well.

For now, I look around the Newark airport and like so many US airports I see its workforce full of immigrants from around the world. West Africans, Nepalis, Ethiopians, Mexicans, Iraqis, Indians and others cooking, cleaning, driving service vehicles, pushing wheelchairs, running shops. Invisible people with thankless jobs and incredible stories. I love the people on the move. I love being around them. I have nothing insightful to say about them just now. Just ... I love them and I'm glad the Lord has taught me how to see them.


Palestinian Resolution Exposes an Illinois Baptist Blindspot

This past week I attended the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association.  Some of you are probably wondering what the heck such an event entails, but please, muscle past.  I want to skip the discussion of what we Baptists do when we hang out and move right on to a specific resolution that was passed regarding the Palestinian Church.  

A resolution* was passed calling upon Illinois Baptists and churches to be active in ministering to Palestinian children, to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian Church as a whole, to pray for government officials and other leaders in Israel and the West Bank, and to pray for Palestinian people in general.  Nothing at all is objectionable in these resolutions.  However, as I listened to the hurried process, I couldn't help but think of how blind we are.

Just the night before during a corporate prayer meeting, it had been mentioned that Muslims outnumbered Southern Baptists in the state (not that there aren't other evangelicals) and I happen to know that my denomination will very soon lose the only missionaries we have in Illinois who are exclusively focused on reaching Muslims (not that there aren't a few other workers ... just a few though). And yet, this resolution was entirely focused on the Palestinian People in Palestine. Consider the following:

Palestinians in Chicagoland

  • Population Estimate: 85,000
  • Palestinians are primarly located in Chicago's Southwest suburbs including Bridgeview, Oak Lawn and Orland Park. They are predominatly Muslims and may be the largest Arab diaspora in Chicagoland.
  • While there is a portion of the Palestinian community that is traditionally Christian, there are very few evangelicals and no known churches in Chicagoland intentionally seeking to reach Palestinian Muslims. New Engagement/Planting Efforts Needed: 80.

Our research team has estimated that as many as 80 new gospel engagement/church planting efforts are needed among the Palestinian diaspora in Chicagoland. It stands as one of the greatest evangelistic needs in our state and yet it was entirely ignored by a well-meaning resolution committee and a ballroom full of Southern Baptist leaders.  I suppose a few others may have considered this but the proceedings were rushed along very quickly.  There was really no time to call our attention to the diaspora peoples.  After all, we couldn't possible sacrifice our precious Common Core or Concealed Carry discussion time.

Followers of the Lord Jesus, may we not be blind to the presence and continued movement of diaspora peoples among us.  The endless migration of peoples from one end of the earth to the other and back again is perhaps the most impressive human force in the world today.  The least reached people groups on the planet have cousins in Toronto, siblings in Toledo, and classmates in Taipei.  The extent to which we do not notice is an important measure to revealing just how out-of-step our churches, mission agencies, and denominations may be with the leading of the Lord of the Harvest.  In 1974 Ralph Winter chided the global Church for our people blindness.  His prophetic challenge is just as appropriate today.

[*NOTE (Nov. 11, 2014)- In light of some of the feedback I have received, I want to emphasize that I did support the resolution that was presented.  It was a good one and, for someone like myself that is so passionate for the nations, perhaps the most important.  I'm actually quite grateful that it was brought forward and regret that we didn't have more time to consider it.  So, actually, I mean no disrespect to any individual or group associated with the resolution or even the program procedures.  My use of the first-person, plural pronouns in the article is intentional.  This is a self-critique of my own "tribe" because as I travel around the world speaking, teaching and writing and challenging all manner of evangelical groups to address their blindness to the presence of diaspora peoples among them I do no want to be guilty of pulling my punches within my own family.  As the prayer meeting at the Illinois Baptist annual meeting reminded us so well, certain things should simply not be and I believe that 2000 years is long enough for peoples to be without the gospel especially here in Chicagoland where we have the ability to take it to them. I am grateful for the strong responses that this article has generated and pray that the Lord uses it to not only lead us to greater engagement among Palestinians (here and there) but among all peoples.  As always, I appreciate my readers and my respectful critics.  My we ever be as iron sharpening iron on our way to the Master.]

On the Road: "Simple Superstars of East Africa"

I am thrilled to publicly announce one of the biggest trips thus far in the history of Trinity International -- "Simple Superstars of East Africa"!

Coming in November, a handful of Trinity teammates will be traveling to Ethiopia and Uganda with our dear friend, Wilbur Sargunaraj for what is sure to be an busy and fruitful several days of work.

The highlights and goals of our trip are as follows:

  • To host 3-4 "Simple Superstar" community concerts feat. Wilbur Sargunaraj to bless children and families impacted by poverty, HIV/AIDS in both Ethiopia and Uganda.  Local leaders from our ministries Goh Bright Future and Endiro will help us facilitate this.  In most cases, these concerts will include free meals for members of the community.
  • To investigate opportunities for potential international or local workers to "MoveIn" to needy communities as well as to secure part or full-time employment.  The need for more laborers in this mission field is critical and we hope this trip will enable us to develop concrete plans for mobilization.
  • To record multiple short films and music videos which will highlight our East African children's work, raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges presented by global migration, and to honor some cool aspects of East African life and culture.  Films will be used specifically by our East African ministries (Goh Bright Future and Endiro) to raise awareness and to mobilize prayer and laborers.  The diaspora short film will be premiered at Manila 2015: Lausanne Global Forum on Diaspora Mission
  • To study more carefully diaspora South Asian Hindu and Muslim populations especially in Uganda and opportunities to minister among them.
  • To facilitate greater collaboration between our Ethiopian and Ugandan ministries in order to share best practices and resources.  We hope to see more church planting result in Uganda and more self-sustaining mission practices in Ethiopia.
Financial Needs for the Trip [GIVE NOW]:

We need to raise a large amount of money in a very short time in order to make this trip possible.  The team that is going will include myself along with teammates originally from India, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Uganda.  It will be a fantastic, multi-cultural team.  Here is a breakdown of the costs:

Air Travel (5 persons):      7300
Community Concerts:       2000
Lodging:                             500
Vehicle Rental:                   400
Sound mixing/recording:    Donated
Video recording/editings:   Donated
Total:                                   $10,200

Raised thus far: 10.2% ($1050)

That is a large amount of money that we need to raise very quickly.  Please give your gift of support today.  We have well over a thousand people who follow our ministry, pray for us, and have been blessed by our work in the past.  If everyone gives even a very small amount, we will be well on our way.  Give now here!

[Note: Your gifts of support are made to Trinity International Baptist Mission a licensed 501c3 charity. Your donations are fully tax deductible and you will receive a giving record. Our online giving is secured by PayPal.]


Knowing the Migrant Savior

("Turn to Clear Vision", by C. Lorance)

I'm thinking about what it means to "know Christ".  

I think we (Western, evangelical types) tend to mean by this a kind of emotional and intellectual adherence to certain theological positions/statements.  Maybe even really loving those truths and singing songs about them and stuff like that.  But, the Incarnation and Crucifixion were more than mere theological realities ... they were lived experiences of Lord Jesus.  The migrations and the sufferings of the Savior are a part of who He is (kind of a big part) and I am wondering if "knowing" Him in these things is even possible for the perennially comfortable, albeit theologically orthodox crowd who has never known the loss of displacement, the pain of culture loss, and the agony of physical torment.  Is there a sense in which one who knows nothing of orthodox confessions of faith or acceptable theological systems may nevertheless "know" something of Jesus, and that quite intimately, because they too were a migrant and they too suffered?  

Look at the Crucified Foreigner, pierced and bleeding impossibly far from home.  Does he look more like a suburban evangelical shopping at the local Lifeway for just the right Jesus fish to stick on his late model Camry or rather like the Syrian Muslim woman who was survived rape, torture and an impossible trek through the desert to bring her children to the relative safety of a refugee camp in Jordan?  I'm not saying that she knows enough about the Savior.  I'm just saying that maybe we don't either.  I'm just saying that perhaps there needs to be a bit more give and take in mission than we tend to allow for -- that the objects of our proclamation may themselves have something important to proclaim about Christ which we ignore to our own peril.


Help Fund South Korea Trip for the Global Diaspora Network


Last night, Katherine and I booked our tickets for our upcoming trip to South Korea to attend the annual advisory board meeting of the Global Diaspora Network.  Of course, we booked out tickets in faith that the Lord will provide the money we need to pay for the trip. Indeed, already, we have gotten a sponsor from Korea who is totally sponsoring Katherine's ticket.  Praise the Lord!  Another $2000 will be enough to cover my ticket and to cover additional in country expenses for our week-long trip.

Ready to give?  Give now by clicking here!

Here are some details of our trip:

I have been serving with the GDN since 2011 when I was appointed as a Diaspora Mission Catalyst at the very first board meeting in Paris, France.  In that capacity, I have been seeking to catalyze mission to, through and beyond people scattered from everywhere to everywhere.  I teach, train, write, speak, mobilize, provide consulting, write and edit, and do a number of other things.

As we move into this year's board meeting, there are a number of purposes that Katherine and I have in mind.

1. Katherine is serving as a the prayer coordinator for the movement and has been for the past year.  In that capacity, she has been seeking to mobilize and inform lots of prayer around the world for the work we are doing.  The entire board is eager for her to attend her first meeting so that she can encourage us all and be encouraged by us.  We also believe that personally sitting in on our deliberations will help her tremendously in crafting prayer requests and mobilizing prayer in 2014-15.

2. I am serving on the editorial team which is working to produce a comprehensive compendium (big book) on diaspora missions and missiology that we hope will fill an enormous gap in the Church.  We anticipate this book becoming a prominent resource in most Christian graduate schools and seminaries in the years to come as well as being utilized widely by mission agencies and local churches who are working among diasporas.  The editorial team is meeting during this board meeting for a progress check and to make key decisions in route to releasing the book in 2015.

3. In 2015 in Manila, Philippines, the GDN will host a major international forum on diaspora missions which
will bring together 400 selected leaders from around the world to collaborate on what God is doing in the migration of peoples from everywhere to everywhere.  In addition to presenting and providing general leadership at the Forum, I am in charge of the team which will plan the three evening sessions.  The content of these sessions in particular and the evening sessions in particular will be major points of discussion during our Korea meeting.

4. Katherine and I will be meeting with our friend, Wilbur Sargunaraj to discuss several upcoming projects and to make a couple short films on cultural intelligence and South Korea.  The $2500 goal for fundraising includes some money to offset his expenses in coming to Korea.

I also should just add that Katherine and I haven't gotten a chance to travel alone together in forever.  I think the last time we did a trip like this was before we got married.  So, the timing is right for us to get away and have a totally new cross-cultural experience together.

In light of this, I hope you will consider this trip a worthy investment in the Kingdom of God.  Many of my readers have supported me through the years on various trips.  I hope you will do so again this time.  As always, the gifts are 100% tax deductible and you can give quickly and securely right now using our online giving center.  While you are there, you may want to also support the next East Africa trip which is scheduled for the summer.  It is a major event.


Many blessings!!!

Mail your support to:
Trinity International Baptist Mission
112 Horizon Circle
Carol Stream, IL 60188


Bhutanese Take On Technology Abuse and Relationships in the Short Film "One Day"

Today I want to commend a group of young Bhutanese creatives who are seeking to make a positive difference among the Bhutanese refugee global community through film-making.  The short film entitled "One Day" is clearly a beginning effort by a group that is just becoming acquainted with the medium.  However, they take on a very important issue (i.e. how social media and technology impact personal relationships) and they do so with clarity.

I hope you will watch "One Day" and share it with your friends.  Also, I encourage you to visit the YouTube Channel of Tassie Bhutanese Entertainment and encourage these youth.  Personally, I believe that Bhutanese-Nepali young men have a natural penchant for the creative arts and that this may be a very significant sign of hope for their future.

By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the unique genre of Nepali cinema, you will find certain things rather shocking.  For example, their is a rather unexpected scene of violence that non-Bhutanese viewers may find laughable or otherwise unappealing.  However, I found that it rather fits very well into what I've come to expect in Nepali films and is actually a kind of powerful symbolism to communicate the destruction that social media sites can wreak on family relationships.


On Muslims Coming to Christ

I've recently read through a wonderful series of posts over on the Circumpolar blog (one of my absolute favorites).  In the series, Warrick Farah, one of the brightest missiological minds hiding out with me in cyberspace*, explores the phenomenon of Muslims coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  His series is super insightful and a true must-read for those involved in missions among Muslim peoples.  Rest-assured, I will be passing it around to my teammates.

Here are few of my favorite insights from the Circumpolar Series:

1. "Conversion" to Christ tends to be a gradual and incremental process for Muslims.  Here's a quote from part 1 of the series: 

The overall experience of Muslims, however, is that conversion is a gradual process that takes place over many years (Haney 2010, 68Larson 1996a;Teeter 1990, 307-308). Gordon Smith notes that Muslim conversions to Christ “do not tend to rest or pivot on a decision or a particular act of acceptance. Rather, it has been well documented that these conversions are slow and incremental” (2010, 84). Qaasid cannot point to the moment of his conversion, but he knows he is a disciple of the Messiah. Thus, conversion is a process that transpires over months or years. The sometimes apparently sudden decision to “follow Christ” is only one essential step in this process.

I hope that this insight will be an encouragement to those who have become discouraged because they haven't seen "fruit" in their ministry among Muslims.

2. Farah points out in part 5 of the series that identity is a much more complicated issue that the typical debate surrounding "insider movements" and contextualization.  I think there is a lot of room to develop this idea further, but the fact that the series at least raises the issue is very helpful.  Here's a potent quote:

Identity is far more complex and dynamic than is unfortunately portrayed by many evangelicals on all sides of the issues. Layers of identity abound for people in every culture, and belonging to multiple traditions is a reality in today’s globalized world.

I would hesitate more than Farah does in quoting Rebecca Lewis and Georges Houssney in a way that makes them appear to be equal opposites in the debate on insider movements.  Positions aside, the level of argumentation and research simply isn't the same between these two.  I'll leave it at that.

3. I love the insights related to Muslim women coming to Christ.  Farah guesses that 80% of Muslims who come to know Christ are men and calls for much more research and evangelistic emphasis to be directed towards Muslim women.  Wow! That should deeply encourage all kinds of women who have been considering missions.  You are needed!  I should also point out that the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today is the Syrian refugee crisis (expected to total 4 million externally displaced refugees by the end of 2014) and that this has heavily resulted in the displacement of Muslim women.  There is a heavily female human tidal wave of Syrian refugees now flooding the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere.

Farah's most compelling insight in part 7 of his series is that Muslim women who come to Christ are greatly influenced by stories of Jesus's affirmation and positive treatment of women.  This clearly calls for missionaries to emphasize such stories in their evangelism of Muslim women.  

[*By the way, if you haven't noticed, there is a tremendous amount of really great missiology that is being done in the non-traditional realms of blogs and other social media outlets.  As traditional missiology publishers struggle to transition from print to digital/online formats to keep up with the times, a solid cadre of excellent missiologists have produced and are producing truly top-notch resources that are being heavily consumed by all manner of missionary practitioners.  Besides ... ah hem ... myself ;-) ... I love reading CircumpolarIndigenous JesusTallSkinnyKiwiThe Long ViewThe World is Our NeighborhoodAcrosscultureFaithful Witness and Missiologically Thinking.  You have any favorites that I've missed?] 

[Photo by Rifqi Dalgren]


Urgent Need! Help us Replace Gloria's Stolen Laptop!


Gloria Katusiime serves as a part of the Trinity International family as the Exectutive Director of Endiro, a business as mission endeavor based in Kampala, Uganda that is using the vehicle of coffee shops to generate financial support for ministries that are rescuing HIV/AIDS orphans and transforming "child-headed homes" with the hope and wholeness of Jesus Christ.

Support Gloria Now!

In the coming months, you will hear a lot more from me about Endiro and Endiro Coffee as we launch our third coffee shop, re-launch our website and social media sites, develop our newly established board of directors, and explore ways to bring the incredibly delicious Endiro Coffee to North America.  But for now, we need some urgent help:

A couple days ago, Gloria's home was broken into and thieves stole a bunch of stuff.  Most important among these items was her laptop which is vital for managing the business and ministry components of Endiro as well as for staying connected with people through email, Skype, etc.  I was saddened to hear about this and with Gloria's birthday coming up next week (shhh ...), I wanted to make every effort I could to replace her old laptop.

Children perform at Young Achiever's School
So, I have set up chance for you to make a safe and secure, tax-deductible donation online at Trinity's main ministry website.  My goal is to raise $700 for Gloria as quickly as possible and get it to her by the end of the month so that she can purchase a good, new laptop for her work.   Again, since Gloria and Endiro have officially become a part of the growing global Trinity International family, you gift is fully tax-deductible in the United States.  Just follow this link to give now!

Thanks so much for supporting the new and growing work of Endiro.  I think you will be very excited about what it coming in 2014!


Reflections on the Past Decade of Missiological Research

Recently the International Bulletin of Missionary Research came out with their latest review of doctoral dissertations for the field of missiology.  This is something that they try to do every decade in order to try to understand trends and possibly to identify gaps in missiological research.

Okay ... so most of you are probably asleep right now.  Sorry.  This is something that I'm interested in and ... well ... ultimately, that's what I write about.  It's not like any of you are paying for this.  ;-)

Anyway, I read through IBMR's review and had some random thoughts that I felt like sharing.  Here you go:

1.  I notice that it is still the case that the overwhelming majority of doctoral projects focus on the past hundred or so years of missions.  Roughly 85% of "historically-oriented" dissertations focus on the period of time since 1800 meaning that we continue to understand very little about the first 1,800 years of mission history.  That's a problem, I think. Because, you know, history is really important.

2. There are a couple interesting nuggets about gender in IBMR's report.  In particular, three-quarters of the dissertation authors were men.  The article points out that with about half of all missionaries and more than half of the world's church members being women, this signifies an important under-representation in the field of missiology.  I want to register my personal surprise given the fact that most of my classmates at Wheaton College who were earning the MA in missions and intercultural studies were women.  It was like 4 out of 5!  But then again, whenever I'm hanging around at missiology society meetings, it tends to be a bit of a boys club.  I'm not sure what exactly is going on here.  Are women just more interested in getting to work than in research and lecturing?  Thoughts?

3. Only 3% of dissertations had a primary focus on the unevangelized world -- i.e., where missions and missionaries are needed most.  That seems sad to me and kind of wasteful.  We've long been saying that only 1 in 10 missionaries works among the unreached and this research fact makes me wonder if part of the reason for that is that too few teachers of mission are focused on pioneer missions.  If there is a hidden bright light here, it is that a number of dissertations were focused on the unevangelized living in diaspora in the so-called "World C" (evangelized) nations.  Does this reflect the fact that diaspora missiology is catching on as a new pioneer missions priority?  Does it reflect a move of the Spirit in the Church and the world to complete the Great Commission through the movement of people from everywhere to everywhere?

4. Finally, I was kind of surprised to see that over 1500 missiology dissertations were written during the past decade (roughly the same period of time that I have been involved in missiology).  Of course this doesn't count missiology dissertations completed as a part of a D. Miss or D. Min degree.  Does this mean that there are about 2000 new missiology "doctors" out there?  And if so, what are they doing?  Are they all battling for the seemingly small number of teaching positions available?  Since I still don't have a doctorate, should I be nervous that when I finally do get around to it that I won't be able to land a professorship?

Read the full IBMR report here.

[Photo by AstronomyBlog]


The Baptism of Lord Jesus: iBenedictines Blog

Today, according to the traditional church calendar is the Feast of the Baptist of the Lord Jesus.  Not something that gets recalled a lot in (ironically enough) my Baptist circles.  However, I love this story and especially the rendering in Matthew 3.  Go and read it today and then click over the today's very important post at the iBendictines blog.  Here's a quote:

iBenedictines: "It is a reminder that life is not to be measured in length of years or in achievements, as we usually consider them, but in fidelity to vocation. The Baptism of Jesus marks the point where he definitively accepted the public phase of his mission, but there was no denial or denigration of what had gone before. The ‘hidden years’ are just as important for our salvation as the last three.

Each one of us is a vocation, called and chosen by the Lord to live in this particular place, at this particular time. Everything we do is, potentially at least, a means of attaining the holiness to which we are called. That knowledge is both a great freedom and a great responsibility As we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, let us ask his help in rededicating ourselves to his service — in the way that he chooses rather than the way we would choose for ourselves."

[Photo by Negrisima]


I'm Calling on the Bhutanese Refugee Community to Stop Killing Yourselves!

With now over 70 thousand Bhutanese refugees in the United States, the suicide rate among them remains staggeringly high.  A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal (India) called attention to this problem.

American Dream Becomes Nightmare for Bhutanese Refugees - India Real Time - WSJ:

report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal U.S. government agency, published in Oct. 2012, stated that in the three years to Feb. 2012, the rate of suicides among Bhutanese refugees resettled in America was 20.3 per 100,000 people.
This rate was almost double that among the U.S. general population and exceeded the global suicide rate of 16.0 per 100,000, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

Now, I greatly appreciate contributing author, T.P. Mishra, continuing to raise awareness on this important issue.  However, practically every article I read on the topic seems to get lost in some confusing points.  Let me elaborate:

1. The title here (American dream becomes nightmare ...) is very misleading as it suggests that somehow coming to the United States has created a suicide crisis.  However, as the article itself points out, the suicide rate of these people in the refugee camps was as high as it is now.  Coming to America, hasn't resulted in more suicides.  It simply hasn't improved the situation.

2. These articles always end up talking about the pressures of resettlement including culture shock, employment stress, relationship problems, and other financial difficulties.  However, they usually fail to mention that these pressures are faced by practically every other refugee group entering the U.S. and the Bhutanese commit suicide as startlingly higher rates than other refugees.  That is to say, while resettlement-related issues may be cited in any given case, these alone cannot be blamed for the suicide as they are experienced by other peoples who do not commit suicide.

At the end of the day, the Bhutanese community must be willing to ask the really difficult questions about how suicide as a viable option for dealing with problems has become deeply embedded in the psyche of the people.  Every Bhutanese refugee that I know (over the age of 20) has personally seen one or more dead bodies hanging from trees in forests near their camps.  I have seen several Nepali-language films in which a main character commits suicide and in which this act is not condemned by the film but rather seen as somehow noble, good, or rational.  And there is an undercurrent of spiritual ideas which suggest that those who commit suicide can enter the realm of ancestors and even be worshiped as household deities.  This last idea is not what may be considered "mainstream" Hinduism/Buddhism/Christianity but is a subtly influential folk belief that may be responsible for giving people the idea that suicide is not an "escape" or an "end" but rather a means of rectifying problems (more on this idea in chapter 5 of my book Ethnographic Chicago).

I encourage the Bhutanese community leaders (now various kind of community organizations have formed in practically every city where Bhutanese refugees have been resettled), to adopt the following initiatives:

1. Reject an introverted and culturally isolationist posture towards Americans who want to help and other diaspora groups and instead welcome strong partnerships with others in seeking to solve this problem.  God has not created a world of isolated peoples cut off from one another but has created us for cross-pollination.  The Bhutanese will not solve this problem alone.

2. Seek to create community-based preventative counselling opportunities for those who have personally witnessed, attempted, or considered suicide (this will be almost everyone).  Get people talking about it honestly especially with experts who are trained not only in mental health but also in cultural anthropology.

3. Publicly reject and criticize any media (songs, films, etc) which portray suicide in anything other than a tragic and immoral light.  Call upon musicians and actors/actresses to condemn suicide publicly.  (Like performing artist Wilbur Sargunaraj recently did.)

4.  Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian spiritual leaders should engage together in interfaith dialog towards the development of a joint statement about suicide which can confront and condemn the folk beliefs which penetrate and influence EACH faith group.  Surely, the pundits, lamas, and pastors can all agree that suicide is a violation of God's will and desire for his children which are created in his image and endowed with great value.  Suicide is a violent act of murder which is sinful in God's eyes.  It is never the answer to the problems that we face in life.  Such as joint statement should also suggest concrete ways of dealing with stress and depression such as through spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation and Scripture reading as well as through investing in important relationships and by seeking help from community and spiritual leaders, qualified volunteers and trained professionals.

[Photo by Mlhradio]