9 Reasons I can’t buy into the Enneagram.

I first heard about the Enneagram several years ago and was reminded of it again a few years later when I heard Ian Morgan Cron, the author of a popular Enneagram book, The Road Back to You, speak at a conference. His talk was fun, winsome, and I wanted to like the concepts he espoused. I had taken an Enneagram test online many years before and I had gotten a 5. But in talking to many of my closest friends at that time many of them labeled me a 7. However, talking to work colleagues who only know me in that context, it seems they think I’m a 4 and one at the time said that I’m definitely not a 7. I’ve taken five tests in all and gotten 5, 4, 7, 3, and 6. That’s right, I’ve never gotten the same result twice.

I’m aware that Enneagram enthusiasts will all say that either that’s because tests aren’t really accurate, or it just means I don’t actually know myself, or I haven’t studied it enough, or I haven’t read the right book or taken the right test, or I need to spend more time with it all so I can really understand what I am. I’ve heard it all. So I have spent a long time – years in fact – evaluating the Enneagram and I want to share my conclusions. This blog entry has taken me four years to write, so please believe me when I say I don’t say this lightly, but first let me address those Enneagram adherents.

If you looove the Enneagram, please don’t @ Me

Look, I’m not telling you not to like it, but I am asking you to question it. If you love it passionately then you’re probably not going to love this blog entry. So let me start off by saying this: If you truly, deeply find it helpful I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong for that. I most likely won’t convince you of anything, but before you go, I would ask you to please consider one thing: Is it possible that there are more than these 9 personalities? And for the Christians, is it ok that other Christians don’t want to be defined by something non-Biblical, even if you do? I’m just asking you to consider these things. If that’s all you do then feel free to stop reading here. Again, I’m not trying to convince you that you shouldn’t like the enneagram if you do.

I only ask that if you continue reading that you afford the same respect to me that I will try to do to you. I do realize that #NotAllEnneagramLovers applies here. I might also ask the courtesy of turning off your brain’s Enneagram typing system. I know you’ll try to put me in a box the longer your read this (you may have just decided that I’m a 4 because I said ‘put me in a box’ for example, or maybe I’m a 5 because of how verbose and cerebral my wording may seem.) I’m asking you nicely, please assume for a moment that I’m just a human and not a number.

Also keep in mind that I’m explaining why I don’t like the Enneagram, not why the Enneagram is “wrong.” If you read it as me saying “the Enneagram is wrong/bad/stupid for these reasons then you’re not reading it the spirit that I’m trying to write it. I might say I believe it can be “hurtful,” for example. I am not saying it always is. If you stick around for the whole entry I promise I will talk about a few things that I do find appealing about the Enneagram, so maybe that will motivate you to get to the end.

1) There is no credible psychological research that supports the Enneagram

When I first decided to write this entry I knew it would ruffle some feathers because I have many friends who love the Enneagram. And I debated starting with this objection because it’s a very harsh reality, but I feel that it must be said up front.

There is no sound psychological evidence that backs up the Enneagram. In my experience of reading about and discussing the Enneagram, when adherents refer to “researching” the Enneagram they’re talking about reading books by Enneagram proponents and not conducting actual psychological research to try to determine the scientific validity of the typing system.

I will hasten to say that the same could be said for the MBTI, however the difference there is I actually like the MBTI (wink)… no ok, I will have more to say about the MBTI in relation to all this further down, just stick with me for now.

I actually did search a few academic databases and found startlingly few works in peer-reviewed journals that seem to offer any real validation to the nine types, let alone the idea that they are either mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive. What research has been done is either inconclusive (one Canadian study claims to affirm the enneagram, for example, but actually only affirms that the people in the study believed in personality types) or too small, outdated, and questionable in their methods. The only real study of any size is almost 40 years old and seems to only be seen as being valid by enneagram proponents, not the academic psychology community.

What I did find was many social science researchers questioning the enneagram, if not out right dismissing it. Perhaps the best summary of this when encapsulated when Rebecca A. Newgent wrote her Ph.D. thesis entitled “An investigation of the reliability and validity of the Riso-Hudson enneagram type indicator.” In the abstract she states “While some research on these enneagram systems has been conducted, [she lists the studies] limited empirical validation has occurred.” And even her own study is largely inconclusive, only had a small sampling, and was weakened by its reliance on self-report and lack of diversity of its volunteers.

In her discussion she writes “It is generally undesirable to have ipsative scales because the scale affects the psychometrics estimated” and continues to expound upon why this weakness lead to her results. In other words: when personality assessments require you to choose between multiple desirable options regrading yourself (IE: am I more spontaneous or reliable?) they’re largely seen as unhelpful assessment tools as they fail to capture the complexity of humanity because people are more likely to select what they see as the better trait. I might feel spontaneous at that moment, or I might want to be spontaneous, or I might’ve been recently told by someone who doesn’t know me well that I am spontaneous, and I might undervalue being reliable while still actually being reliable, I might center my identity around being reliable but I might still berate myself for not being reliable enough when I make one small slip up. And this is just one of dozens of questions that are asked in these kinds of assessments.

I asked a clinical psychologist and a licensed counselor about their opinion on the Enneagram and neither of them had ever even heard of it. Both of them said approximately the same thing, however: these tests can be useful for a person to think about their personality and get to know themselves, but they shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules of nature.

The discussion in the aforementioned study also points out another weakness of the Enneagram. You have to pick a dominant type – you can’t mix and match things from across the circle – which leads me to my next objection-

2) It feels less like “typing” and more like stereotyping

The premise of the Enneagram is that a person has a “dominate type” which should become apparent as you “research” the Enneagram. Yes, you can have “wings” (albeit only the numbers to your left and right) and you might have slightly different healthy and unhealthy behaviors based on which number is across the circle from you (which might be the most wildly arbitrary thing in the whole typing system; more on that later) But you can’t say that I’m a 1/8 even split. Or a 4/7. So instead of seeing the broad spectrum of your various traits and comparing to others you’re lumped into a stereotypical group and are assigned several arbitrary behaviors that make you “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

If you say to a Enneagram adherent that you don’t at all feel like you fit in with the description you’re given, save for a couple of descriptors, you’ll be told that not everyone fits every part of their description. So what if you don’t fit more than 30% of any of the traits of any number? What if you’re exactly 50/50 of two different numbers that have no relationship?

They’re not mutually exclusive They’re not collectively exhaustive

Types that have no official relationship can have a huge amount of overlap. 1’s are perfectionists – well often perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with being achievement driven and vice versa, but those two types have no relationship in the Enneagram. Every type has another type in a another part of the circle that could be coupled with it if cross-typing were allowed, but instead most Enneagram authors espouse that people only have one dominant type.

I’ve found other people like me who, despite being introspective, emotionally healthy people who have done a great deal of self assessment, don’t identify with any of the types – or might equally identify with several. Despite this there’s no “spectrum” on which these types exist (unlike MBTI or the DISC assessment) which doesn’t give the wiggle room for the many complexities in human personalities.

3) The types are often used as either a bludgeon or an excuse

While I’m not saying there is no appropriate use of the Enneagram I can say for certain it has many improper uses – though this is definitely true of all other personality assessments as well. I personally have seen more of the system’s abuse than good use.

A bludgeon:

“You’re not a 2! You’re a 9!” or “You’re not a 7, you’re not that fun.” or “Well you just don’t know yourself, that’s why you haven’t figured out your type.” or “With as much as she argues? Definitely an 8” or “Have you really researched it? because I think it applies to everyone.” or “Ignore him, he’s just being a 1.” or “Sometimes it just takes a really long time for you to accept your type.”

To the people who say these things: Do you realize that every time you assign a type or tell someone they’re not a type that you’re subtly insulting them? Each type have some positive characteristics and some really negative characteristics (except 6, which might be why the study I mentioned in point one found it to be the least valid type in self-assessments due to its vague-ness) and in declaring someone’s type you’re insinuating some pretty strong intimate knowledge of that person – depending on which book you read. Also if you say that because someone doesn’t feel they fit into one of the categories that means that they don’t know themselves (and indicating that you clearly know them better) is not only insulting, it’s pretty arrogant. These uses of the enneagram aren’t helpful, they’re hurtful. Implying that because someone doesn’t identify with your system of categorizing people that they are either ignorant, deluded or in denial is not edifying in any circumstance.

An excuse

“You know that because I’m a 4 I’m not going to react well when you say that kind of thing to me” or “you have to forgive her for being a jerk, she’s an 8” or “you can’t expect any different from him, he’s a 9 and they’re kind of lazy” or “Look you just have to get out of his way, he’s a 3 and he has to do it his way.” or “I know the only thing I mentioned was the spelling error, but I’m a 1, I only see your mistakes.”

part of this is because Enneagram really drives home the belief that personality is static. To be fair, most type indicators seem to adhere to this. There was one book of those I read that tried to say personality is what you build to protect yourself like a cast around a broken bone – that was a very different take that totally clashed with the other books I’d read. Either approach doesn’t really get at the complexities of personality. If you believe that your personality is only a result of your victimhood then you’re going to lean into the victim mentality. And if you believe that your personality is static then it makes it easy for you to rest on your laurels and just say “it’s who I am” and you often either become a victim of your own traits or others do.

If your goal in taking a personality assessment is to be able to say that you’re never going to change, then you’re doing it wrong. Yes, we all have quirks that aren’t likely to change, but that doesn’t mean that we do nothing to mitigate them. Real maturity is just as much about doing things that don’t come natural to you as it is about accepting who you are. Just because it’s your natural response, doesn’t mean it was the right response. And just because you have a particular number assigned to you by some guys who made a up an assessment in the 60s doesn’t mean that you can’t do things differently! Which leads me to my next issue…

4) The “ancient” origins enneagram are false

If you’re an Enneagram apologist and you’re still reading you’re probably wondering if I’d read all the same books you have. If you’re like most I’ve encountered then you have a specific one you want me to read that you think will change my mind on this. Up to this point, the more I read the less I’m convinced and so far I’ve read three different books on the topic. It’s amazing how they somehow manage to both say the same things while still contradicting one another, but one thing all of them claim is that the Enneagram is an ancient typing system. This is easily debunked.

These books make vague references to ancient writings, which, when researched, bear no resemblance to the Enneagram of today. The only idea most of these “sources” had in common with the modern Enneagram is the concept of a limited number of types of people – meaning that these same ancient roots have equal in common with every other personality assessment in use today. And usually the “types” in question aren’t personality types, but were more abstract ideas about the soul, spirits, or facets of culture.

The word “enneagram” wasn’t even really popularized until the 20th century by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, an Armenian new-age spiritualist, but his talk of it still didn’t look much like the Enneagram we know today. It wasn’t until Óscar Ichazo invented the first modern take on the Enneagram in the 1960s that we get writings that look like what you’d read about in contemporary Enneagram literature. He had a student, Claudio Naranjo, who broke with him and started teaching the Enneagram himself in the 70s – Ichazo said that Naranjo’s Enneagram wasn’t legit, that he – Ichazo – was the only one who taught the real Enneagram, because he wanted people to come to his school and pay him to teach them about it, but he couldn’t claim a copyright on it without admitting that it was not ancient knowledge – which was a big part of his sales pitch. It’s Naranjo’s teachings that all the books, tests, and seminars about Enneagram are based on. What’s more is Naranjo actually is on video saying that the Enneagram was dreamed up by Ichazo.

One of Naranjo’s earlier set of students were Jesuit priests who integrated Christian beliefs into the Enneagram, such as associating the nine types with the seven deadly sins, which later prompted some Christian authors erroneously claim that the seven deadly sins are a potential source of the “ancient” Enneagram. In reality there is no hard historical evidence of any concrete link between the Enneagram and Christian teachings before 1970.

So no, this specific typing system isn’t ancient at all. In fact it’s predated by Pepsi cola. That alone doesn’t invalidate it, but it does call into question the wisdom of some of the authors who continue to espouse its ancient origins despite the lack of any real evidence that there is any true connection between the Enneagram invented in the 20th century and any ancient writings.

And while I don’t like to be an alarmist about these kinds of things, I do feel that we should all consider the claims of former-Occultist-turned-Christian, Marcia Montenegro who has been interviewed on several podcasts regarding the ties that the Enneagram has to new age spiritualism and the occult. Here’s an interview with her on Cultish.

5) It’s a poor typing tool

When I take the DISC assessment I get similar results to the first time I took it. When I take MBTI variants I get similar results. But when I take an assessment for the Enneagram I’ve never gotten the same result twice.

Those in favor of the Enneagram have told me that this could be because I’m not taking the correct test, or because I don’t know myself well, or even because tests don’t work at all for typing the Enneagram and the only way to discover your type is by reading more books about it until you accept the category you fit into.

Regardless of which is true – all of these statements mean that Enneagram systems aren’t very good at fitting people into its various types. Because there is no definitive test, there really isn’t a definitive understanding of each type. While there are a handful of traits that most authors agree on, most authors have pretty different nuances in their understanding of the types. Reading the description of a 6 in one book can be pretty different from the description of a 6 in another book.

Of course, the basic descriptions remain the same across books. For example, type 2 is a helper who can tend toward matyrdom – this seems widely agreed upon. At that level those descriptions feel less like types and more like horoscopes since they’re so general, but they’re hard to argue with. However, the types really start to break down when each author does their own take on what specific secondary traits are manifested in a “healthy” and “unhealthy” 2 – often getting so caught up in the minutiae of the type that it decreases the number of people who will read and say “oh that is me.” Continuing with the 2 as an example. Most of us know someone who extremely helpful, but can tend toward martyrdom – those two characteristics often go hand in hand. In The Road Back to you Ian Morgan Cron tells a story about a supposed 2 who bought a car for a family without asking them – this is an example of a 2 who often is helpful, but only in the ways that they want. Well I know some helpful people who still struggle with a martyr complex who have that characteristic, yes. I also know others who don’t. “Ah yes,” adherents will say, “that just means they are healthy.” Well, yes and no. They still might have a big struggle with anxiety – which is a chief characteristic of a 6. “Well not every characteristic fits every person of that type” adherents will suggest, but this occurs to the point that I don’t feel comfortable saying – or even thinking that the people close to me fall into these types as I find most people might have 2-3 characteristics of any given one of these types at most.

In addition, the fact that they can be frustratingly rigid, the arbitrary relationships between these different types makes them confusingly fluid at times, but I’ll get to that in the next section.

Most typing systems have some level of flexibility in them, but the required flexibility to accept the types in the Enneagram strains credulity to me. I had a person I worked with tell me he thought I might be a 4 – I read the description of the 4 and found part of it to be somewhat like me – or at least I could see why he would think it was like me – and the rest to not only be unlike me, but rather repellent to me. I won’t get into those specifics as I don’t want to insult people who feel they have those characteristics. I don’t see how I could claim to identify with a type where half the description I can kind of see, but the other half I not only don’t identify with, but I actually don’t really even like. I also don’t see how I can identify as a type when the person hearing said Identification might be thinking of a different set of characteristics depending upon what book they’ve read, or what experience they’ve had with other people who identify as that type – that, in my opinion, makes it a very poor typing system.

6) The relationship between types is arbitrary

Ah, but Will, you might say, there are “wings” and also possibilities that people’s relative stress or emotional health might cause them to act differently – that explains why people have all these different characteristics which may seem inconsistent at first to the less trained eye.

In the Enneagram there are relationships between the different types that add to the tangled web of complexity – such that while they can be frustratingly austere (there’s no room for a person to be an even mix of two types) they can also be staggeringly fluid. For example, a 7, if “healthy” can take on the good characteristics of a 5, but if unhealthy OR stressed out (depends on who you ask, and no admission that these are two are wildly different things) they can take on the negative characteristics of a 1. A 1, if healthy can take on the positive characteristics or a 7, but if stressed/unhealthy can take on the characteristics of an unhealthy 4. Why? Because that’s the way they fall around the circle. Seriously. That’s the only reason for these relationships.

I haven’t heard a logical reason for these relationships between the types. In all three of the books I read, as well as the materials provided by the Enneagram Institute, there is absolutely no explanation given for why these supposed relationships exist. They just are. What’s more – these explanations make typing nearly impossible, but provide Enneagram adherents with a bevy of tools to keep the ball in the air when discussing the types with skeptics.

I know a person (really well) who fits a lot of the description of a 9 but occasionally acts like a 6. So an Enneagram proponent might say well he’s an unhealthy/stressed 9 because an unhealthy 9 takes on the characteristics of a 6 – but I can tell you that this is one of the healthiest people I know and, if anything when stressed he takes on the characteristics of a 2 – not the unhealthy characteristics of a 2, mind you, in fact he would never act like a martyr, but instead would just get to work being helpful. Maybe he’s a healthy 2 then – except the 2 characteristics are largely a result of stress in his case. Maybe he’s a healthy 8 who is taking on the characteristics of a 2! Nope, he hates conflict – really runs away from it. Maybe he’s just a six who is healthy and therefore taking on the healthy characteristics of a 9 – well no, because he doesn’t take on the characteristics of a 3 at all, but especially not when stressed.

Do you see why I’m having trouble buying this typing system? All of these relationships are arbitrary and they make it so that when you try to explain why you aren’t a type then you get questioned as to whether you’re healthy or unhealthy/stressed. In reality most of us have both healthy and unhealthy parts of our thought processes – making it nearly impossible to determine whether a person is a “healthy” 6 or an “unhealthy” 9.

I also want to address the confusion between “stressed” and “unhealthy.” The Enneagram institute actually uses the words “integrated” and “dis-integrated” which are terms taken directly from new-age-spiritualist roots of the Enneagram – Christian Enneagram writers have shied away from these terms and instead have chosen to use the words “stressed” or “unhealthy.” The problem is these are totally different things. As I said above, most of us have healthy and unhealthy aspects of our lives and to different degrees, but health is something that ebbs and flows – often taking hits quickly, but healing more slowly. Stress can set on very quickly or slowly and it can ease up quickly or slowly. Also stress isn’t bad. Stress is like friction – it isn’t comfortable, but it gets the gears moving. People’s response to stress is also largely dependent on how healthy they are, and there are such things as healthy coping mechanisms. Stress is to weather as health is to climate. And while they are two very different things they’re often used interchangeably in discussions about the Enneagram which makes it even more difficult to determine what a type is. Are they stressed? Are they unhealthy? Are they dis-integrated? Who knows?

7) It is a perfect example of the Barnum/Forer effect.

The Forer effect, also known as the Barnum effect is a psychological principle wherein people rate various personality assessments as highly accurate to themselves specifically, despite the types being general. This is the same basic principle that leads people to treat astrological signs as legitimate personality types.

This is also the same trick that con-artists use to convince marks that they have supernatural powers. A “psychic” with a room full of people can say something like “someone here has lost someone close to them.” That is general enough that it probably applies to half the room. From there things might get a little more specific, but only enough to allow the people who are engaged to become more certain that they’re the intended person. By the time it does get specific, the mark is willing to dismiss anything that doesn’t seem to fit because they’re hooked.

The issue is that even if you examine these individual types, they’re simplified. Someone says “perfectionist” and instantly all the perfectionists say “that’s me” without considering that there are many degrees and kinds of perfectionism motivated by different things and manifesting different ways. I’m not just making this up; depending on who you ask there might be three, four, or even five different kinds of perfectionism (click those links if you don’t believe me) – are they all 1’s? Or you say “creative” regarding 4’s and guess what? Once again – as I believe most people recognize – there could be three, four, or five different kinds of creativity. As a personal side note here, this also bothers me because it further denotes “creativity” as equivalent to “artistic.” Not everyone is artistic but everyone has some form a creativity since we’re made in the image of a creator.

Yet, the Forer effect shows that someone who has identified themselves as a perfectionist will look at the rest of the description and rate it as accurate. Especially after given a handful of other general traits with which they agree. So a person who calls themselves a 4 might be told “creative, sensitive, introverted” – three common traits that often go together – and then rate the rest as accurate because they so heavily identify with those first three.

It doesn’t fit perfectly? We’ve got wings and healthy/unhealthy relationships to explain that. – why you ask? Because that’s where they are around the circle. And soon your thinking becomes patterned around it and you start to see it everywhere thanks to the Tetris effect (the effect that causes us to make things fit together even if they really don’t) and the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (the effect that makes us ignore details until we relate them to ourselves; the way you start to see your car everywhere after you buy it). These are also common psychological effects found in believers of pseudo-science and conspiracy theories. Read up on them – they’re pretty intriguing.

8) It neglects the many basic realities about people and personality

The idea that personality is static is suspect at best. In my humble opinion, it’s just demonstratively false. Physical changes in the body can drastically effect personality. Anyone who has been close to someone who has gone through heart surgery would probably tell you that they saw some personality changes in that person. I knew a woman who didn’t know she had an ovarian cyst – she slowly became a different person for a while, and once it was removed, returned to her old self. I knew a guy who I thought was the most care-free person I’d ever met. He went through a series of traumatic events and quickly became a pretty different person. I’ve had friends to whom I was very close, who changed quite suddenly and radically for reasons I still don’t understand.

Changes to personality can happen because of hormonal changes, changes in medication, trauma, age, and new studies have suggested that even gut flora plays a big role in personality changes. Often these changes are temporary and small, but sometimes they can be large and sometimes they seem to be life-long.

But perhaps my biggest issue with this belief is that it turns us or others into victims of our personality. I know personally that I have chosen to make changes in my life that have fundamentally altered who I am over the years, but more importantly I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in me, maturing me, and transforming me every single day.

When I was in high school I was fundamentally not a good listener. My youth pastor and I honestly only had an “ok” relationship at the time. We were pretty different and while he was a great guy, I probably wasn’t mature enough to appreciate him at the time. One day he straight up told me that if I could just learn to listen it would be really good for me. I actually don’t remember the last part of what he said; I doubt I was listening. But enough got through to me that between that – and my dad talking about one of the great pastors he respected only lacking the ability to listen – I decided at the age of 15 that I was going to be a better listener. A large part of my job now is interviewing people on video – often about sensitive, life-changing things, and I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m really good at making people feel comfortable and listened to.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t unhealthy as a teenager. I was immature. I had some people I respected point out how I was immature. Instead of saying “this is just part of my personality, I’m not the best listener. That’s just not going to be a skill I have.” I decided to go against what was natural for me and instead make a concerted effort to change that part of me. I’m not perfect at it. I can still get distracted when I’m talking with someone, but the key here is that I didn’t say “that’s not me – that’s not my gifting – that’s no who I am.” I saw a clear way that I needed to improve and I went after it. Now it is much more natural for me to sit and listen to someone else tell their story.

In the Christian faith there is a fundamental doctrine that we are all born sinful. Because of Original Sin, the world we live in is cursed and so are we. As such we have a sin nature. depending upon which theological camp you belong to you may or may not believe that your sin nature can be overcome in this lifetime, but either way it is there. This idea isn’t present at all in any discussion on the Enneagram – even the Christian discussions on it. In fact it’s almost the opposite – the concept is often presented in a way that says our personalities cannot be sinful – that it can only be “unhealthy.” Therefore there is no need for repentance and sanctification, there is only need for “growth.”

I, for one, believe that there are personality traits that are sinful – we all have them – and that the process of sanctification is a supernatural course that goes far beyond character growth. This by the way is not just my opinion.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”

2 Corinthians 5:17

I have definitely seen people’s personality radically changed by the presence of God in their life and that leads me to my final thought…

9) It asks me to define myself – at the core of my personality – using something other than Jesus or scripture.

Both of the Christian books I read about the Enneagram mention the root for the word personality coming from the word persona – which is true, but I was surprised none of them talked about the fact that the concept of a “person” as we think of it today; largely came to being during the 13th century thanks in no small part to relating this word to the Trinity and discussing the three persons of God. It was odd to me that in a Christian discussion on personality this was not mentioned.

I want to again emphasize here that introspection is important to the Christian walk – self reflection, seeking counsel, having honest conversations – these are important components to growing as a disciple of Jesus. So don’t hear me saying that there is no value in taking this or any other personality test. Don’t hear me saying that there is no value to seeing what non-christian assessments can teach us about ourselves and the way the world sees us.

This is, however, where the rubber meets the road for me when it comes to total acceptance of this or any other typing system – the Myers-Briggs included. As believers in Christ we can learn about ourselves from anything, but we can only be defined by Jesus.

Submitting to God is a difficult but necessary daily component of Christian growth. What I dislike the most about the Enneagram is it asks me to submit my identity to something other than He who is revealed in scripture.

Yes, there is a ton of truth to be learned outside the bounds of the Bible. However, there can only be one place where Christians find their identity. Yes, we can learn much about ourselves, but there can only be one person who can tell us who we are.

There is only one love language. Die. to. self.

Christine Caine

I was at a conference years ago when I heard Christine Caine explain that it bothered her when people said “I can’t do that because it’s not my love language” she really challenged my thinking because I like the idea of love languages, I like the idea of personality types, and gifts assessments because they let me say “no, you should’ve approached me like this…” or it gives me that smug sense of superiority when I can guess a person’s MBTI or DISC type.

When she finished her thought she said “there is only one love language. Die. To. Self.” The last three words she emphasized as if each were it’s own sentence. I was, as the kids say, “shook.” Because she’s right. The christian life is a continual death-to-self. There is no room for us to submit to any label, name, or identity that Christ himself hasn’t bestowed on us.

Ok, but what about the MBTI?

For me personally the Enneagram has provided what all personality assessments try to and that is an opportunity to look at myself – which isn’t a bad thing. One thing that it taught me is to stop relying on personality types to define who I am. As I said at the start, I am a fan of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I used to make a practice of trying to guess people’s types and if someone wanted to talk about the MBTI, I would gladly oblige ad nauseum. What I realized from looking into the Enneagram (and talking with people who love it) is that I was allowing the MBTI to be a hitching post instead of a guide post in my life. Sure, I’ve got personality traits that I like about myself, but that shouldn’t stop me from dying to self as I am called to in scripture.

Honestly I’m grateful for the Enneagram rubbing me the wrong way because it revealed to me how much I’d come to see the MBTI as a defining factor in who I am. And while I do think it is better (and far more flexible) than the Enneagram – many of the same arguments I make here against the Enneagram could be said of the MBTI. Assessing the Enneagram has forced me to reassess the MBTI and as a result I’ve become more cautious of what I anchor my identity to.

After all that, what can possibly be good about the Enneagram?

Having said all this, fair is fair and I promised I’d tell you some of the good things I can see about the enneagram:

  • It gives me a mirror, even if an imperfect one. And this list of traits can be used as a guide of things that I need to put in check, rather than things I’m just supposed to accept about myself
  • It does emphasize “growth” and “health” even if these terms are often used in vague, new-age ways – they’re still components to the Christian faith and important to reflect on.
  • Obviously some people do find it helpful in seeing themselves and becoming more self-aware – both are important first steps in any journey toward maturity.
  • The fact that different friends of mine would each label me as different parts of the personality actually shows me what parts of my personality I’m showing to others and it makes me ask myself what does that mean – I don’t think I’m being disingenuous, but I’d like to believe that I’m becoming better at being content in any circumstance and recognizing what is needed for the moment rather than being reactionary based on my whims.
  • For many people I’ve encountered, the Enneagram seems to have been their first foray into this kind of introspection and self-assessment – it’s not a bad place to start that process.
  • It gets us all to look at other personality types and encourages us to think bout the vivid complexities of others’ thought-processes and how they might actually be totally different from our own.

I will be a little surprised if anyone who is passionate about the Enneagram has actually read this whole thing, but I do want to thank you if you have. I know back when I was a big-time MBTI evangelist that I didn’t take it well any time someone mentioned these kinds of criticisms. Because of course I wouldn’t take kindly to people criticizing the thing I’d used to define myself. I often say that what angers me reveals what my idols are.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended…”

If you’re upset with me or my tone or something I’ve said or implied here then I want you to know that I’m well aware that I’m a sinner saved by grace and I do humbly ask for God’s grace to be at work as these words are read and considered. I probably haven’t convinced any Enneagram adherents to change their minds, but that wasn’t really why I wrote this. I wrote this largely for other people like me who found the Enneagram to be lacking. I wanted you to know that you’re not alone. And for any people who truly love the Enneagram I hope maybe you’ve come to understand those of us who don’t. Thanks for reading.

10 Fun and free things to do on the internet during your quarantine

Stuck at home? Still have an internet connection? Here are some fun things to check out

1) Go google maps sight-seeing

When google first offered its satellite view it was always fun to poke around and find interesting things that are visible from space like one the many shipwrecks sitting in the desert of the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, or The Airforce’s Aircraft boneyard (you can also find area 51, well at least what the government wants you yo think is Area 51), or the huge craters of the nuclear testing sites outside of groom lake (zoom out and head south west to see more) or any of the crazy things on this list (ever wondered where the world’s largest swimming pool is? they got that.)

But now, it doesn’t stop there! Thanks to Google street view you can look around at Times Square, Stand at the foot of the worlds tallest building, Burj Kalifa in Dubai, or walk around in The Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Yes, I know it’s nothing like actually being there, but it still is a little fun to be able to hop from the Forbidden City in Beijing to flippin’ Antartica in just a few clicks!

2) Go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole

I am an information addict, I’ve known that since I became acquainted with the term, so Wikipedia is where I often get my fix. What’s fun about Wikipedia is that because all the articles are interlinked you can navigate from one page to another and find constant new things. I’m sure I’m not introducing this to you for the first time, but if you’re looking for a place to start try Wikipedia’s list of unusual Wikipedia articles. It’s quite extensive, and I doubt you’re going to exhaust the list quickly. There’s also games you can play with Wikipedia similar to the six degrees of Kavin Bacon – you could pick two seeming unrelated topics and see how few clicks it takes you to get from one to the other, navigating only using the links inside the articles. Or pick a really well-known historical event or figure and find the longest path you can make from any given topic back to it.

In addition there of course is plenty of summarized history, science, and general knowledge about our world. Do you know how many stars there are in the Paramount Logo and why? Who was the Holy Roman Emperor to hold the title for the shortest period? Maybe you’d be interested in the creepiest articles on Wikipedia. Or this list of interesting articles that will all take you down the rabbit hole. WARNING: Some of these articles are down-right sad, so click at your own risk.

After a while you might find yourself typing random words into Wikipedia and seeing what comes up. “Incident” and “controversy” will give you some intriguing articles. “Failure” will lead you to some cautionary tales. And “Worlds biggest…” will usually give you some fun lists of ships, buildings, mountains, aircraft, canyons etc. Have fun!

3) Brave the subs of Reddit

If you’re not familiar with Reddit, then I should warn you – there is a lot of unwholesome stuff on there, but if you stick to the main subs then you’re likely to get more wholesome stuff, though the discussion everywhere gets pretty non-family friendly. Reddit is a social media platform that is built around discussion and info aggregation. It’s divided into subreddits or “subs” that specialize in a single topic. Your favorite TV show, band, movie, sports team, and even many podcasts all have subs dedicated to them.

If you’ve never visited reddit, I recommend visiting a few of the more popular, wholesome subs. r/AskReddit is one of the largest – click “Top” to browse the most popular posts and click whether you want to browse from just today, this week, this month, or all time. Select some of the more interesting questions and answers that have come up there.

r/Aww is one of my favorites; it’s just pictures that make you say “aww!” There are “humor” “funny” and “jokes” some of those get pretty blue, and even more are just meta humor that you’d have to be a Redditor to appreciate. There’s also r/Showerthoughts which is a list of odd, funny, or interesting epiphanies – the kind you have while in the shower.

The Top ShowerThought of all time

If you want to see people reacting to satirical sites as if they’re real then you can visit r/AteTheOnion. Or if you want to hear stories that people have told on the internet but are way to ridiculous to be true, then head over to r/thathappened. One of my personal favorites is r/WritingPrompts where people submit ideas for a plot and others submit the stories that are inspired by them.

I feel like I should emphasize the above warning, especially if you get an account and start interacting on there Reddit isn’t always the friendliest place, but it can be a fun place to lurk.

4) Learn a new language on Duolingo

It is downright amazing that Duolingo is available for free! There is a paid version, but even without it you can spend all day on this site (and the mobile app.) Not only does it have dozens of languages, it makes learning fun by having these game-like quizzes and it tracks your accomplishments and awards you points – putting you on the leader board against all other Duolingo users. I recently spent 100 straight days trying to learn Romanian.

What is especially cool about Duolingo is that it is actually saving dying languages. There are more people learning the Irish language on duolingo right now than are native speakers. Another fun fact about Duolingo: the most popular language being learned on Duolingo in Sweden is actually Swedish. Go figure.

5) Watch movies and TV shows for free (legally)

There are plenty of places to watch stuff for free on the internet – but here are a few you might not know about

Public Domain Films – If you consider yourself a movie buff and you’ve never watched a Buster Keaton silent film, now’s your chance to put up or shut up.

Rerun Century – There are many great TV series that are in the public domain. Most of the Dick van Dyke show is available, as well as the Jack Benny Show, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Documentary Heaven – You like documentaries on some pretty obscure topics made by people you’ve never heard of? Here you go.

Tubi – many more recent TV shows and Movies for free. I recommend the TV show, “Leverage” it’s basically a weekly Oceans 11. Also if you haven’t watched “The founder” – it’s intriguing. It’s the true story of how McDonalds came to be starring Michael Keaton.

IMDB TV – Also has a lot of newer TV & Movies. I recommend Lie To Me if you’re into detective shows. If you want something twisty and mind bending (and don’t mind the R rating) then Memento is a must watch. If you want to watch a family-friendly drama that is kind of slow, but very sweet “Whale Rider” is an excellent choice.

Many others- there are plenty of legit places to stream movies and TV for free. Youtube actually has quite a selection as well and if you have a TV connected box like a Roku, Fire Stick, or Apple TV, most of the above services have apps for all of those.

6) Download the You Version Bible App

You knew this was coming. But really, do you know how cool You Version is? In addition to the App – which has virtually every translation of the Bible now – there’s a kids app and apps on TV connected devices where you can watch free video content. You can follow friends and send each other messages, or do a Bible study together and participate in discussion.

Also have you checked out their Youtube channel? Or their Bible App for Kids Youtube Channel. Or BONUS an even better Youtube channel in the same vein is the Bible Project – which has some really cool content.

7) Take some personality tests and get to know yourself (and others like you)

My personal favorite personality test is the Myers Briggs Personality Test (MBTI) The official MBTI has to be given by a trained professional, but you can take test that is a pretty good facsimile here. Also really popular right now is the Enneagram, which I’m not as big a fan of (but that’s another blog entry) one of the challenges with it is that there is no definitive test for it (I myself have gotten a different result from every test I’ve taken) and some Enneagram proponents will even tell you that you really just need to read about the nine types and think over it, asking your friends, and really taking time to get to know yourself. But the first one that pops up on Google is this one – which you have to make an account for unfortunately.

There’s also the DISC test the always telling Political Compass Test, Or you could try this list of different tests you can take to get to know yourself that includes both IQ and EQ tests. Who knows, maybe you belong in MENSA.

After you’ve taken some tests you can find groups on Facebook filled with other people who have your same personality. Sometimes it’s fun to go to these pages and ask “Does anyone else….?” questions and find out how similar you are to others with your same type.

8) Read funny Amazon Reviews

If you’ve never Googled “funny amazon reviews” then you are in for a treat. There a bevy of well known Amazon products that are home to some of the most absurd reviews. I should warn you, not all products are family friendly. Here’s one of my favorites that didn’t make the above list. I was with a group of friends not long ago and we read some of these out loud and were all in tears from laughing so hard.

10) Read/Listen to classic books (or volunteer to transcribe/read them)

Project Gutenberg is a great resource if you have a tablet or e-reader and enjoy classic books. There are 60,000 titles that are all public domain. The works of Robert Lewis Stevenson, Jules Vern, Mark Twain, and HG Wells are all available here. If you’re like me and you actually absorb things better when they’re read to you then LibriVox is the site for you. It’s free public domain audio books.

If you’re already a connoisseur of classic literature and you’ve read all of those, then you could volunteer to help with either project. If there’s a book that isn’t in either above library (and is public domain) then you could offer to transcribe it for Project Gutenberg, or record a reading of it for LibriVox.

Moldova 2019 – Days 5 & 6

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Day 5

Our last two days in Moldova were marked with changes of plans. On Wednesday we had planned to take a day trip to Romania with Kathryn, Brian, Ellie, & Tim. We had hired a driver and were loaded up in his van with our passports, but on our way there our driver got a phone call when we stopped for coffee.

Missionaries in Moldova (and other countries like it) have a short-hand way of explaining why things go wrong or take too long – later when asked why our plans changed Kathryn simply would say “Moldova.”

The level of corruption in Moldova’s government is pretty intense. Bribes are seen as part of the political process, so occasionally a low-level political official will do things just to get bribes. On this particular day the politician in charge of the boarder crossing was requiring a particular form for all passenger vans leaving the country – except this form actually is unobtainable.

So the many professional drivers who shuttle people in and out of the country are left with a choice; bribe someone or pay an enormous fine. Our driver was actually trying to figure out how to get us on a bus that wouldn’t have the same restrictions, but after he explained the situation we opted to return to Chisinau (Quishe’Now.) Our driver insisted that he show us something interesting in Moldova so on our way back into town we stopped by a convent with a beautiful church.

A painting in the church explaining the punishment that awaits sinners with no mention of grace; helps explain the shame-ridden culture.
one of the ubiquitous crucifixes found at crossroads

While we were there, a nun gave us a tour. She couldn’t have been taller that 4’9″ and had several gold teeth and a lot of spunk. She explained about a tradition that none of us had ever heard of the Easter Orthodox church – one that I’m fairly certain no other Christian denomination believes in – the Holy Fire of Jerusalem. You can read the linked article if you’re curious about it, but it’s safe to say that it is very different from any Christian belief we have in the west. This is part of the Orthodox tradition that feels largely influenced by culture and history – it’s these kinds of beliefs that often make discussions with the nominal Christians that much more challenging.

I personally enjoyed this time as it allowed me to get to know Ellie and Tim even more. Tim and I had a nice discussion on the state of the institutional church – or should I say I rambled on about it and Tim patiently listened and chimed in. In the realm of more trivial things we talked about various accents in the U.S. and asked them if they could identify the differences between various accents. We also spent a fair amount of time discussing various U.S. and U.K. idioms. Though my favorite came up when Tim saw the church we visited and exclaimed. “Flippin’ Doodah”

You might say “Flippin’ Doodah” if you saw this too.

The primary purpose of this trip is to show love to Kathryn and Brian – spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them a mental/spiritual health boost. Since we could do that in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) just as well as we could’ve visiting Romania, it actually made little difference to us and worked out all the same. When we got back to the city we visited the “Mall Dova.” No joke. That’s the name of the mall in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) which is really as nice, if not nicer than Lennox Square in Atlanta.

Proof that I’m not making this up

After lunch at “Lord of the Wings,” we bumped into a missionary couple that Kathryn had introduced us to at her church on Sunday. They’re from the US, specifically Athens Georgia. This is particularly amusing since our whole team is from Georgia originally. Of all the people in Moldova we could’ve run into it’s probably the only other people from Georgia. We decided that this was all part of God’s plan for the day.

When we got to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment I took the opportunity to grab a video interview with Brian and Kathryn – updating everyone on their ministry here in Moldova – you can look for it on Frazer’s site in a few weeks. It’s always great to get them to sit down and talk about what’s been happening in their ministry. I realized that we’ve done it two or three times before this, so I actually pulled up the oldest video I could find of them to show to the girls.

A frame from the video shoot this week (not color graded, sorry)
A frame from a video Brian and Kathryn did about seven years ago

The extra time in the afternoon also allowed the others to get some rest and gave Mandy an opportunity to spend time with N. They baked brownies together – or more accurately N demanded that Mandy teach her how to bake brownies step-by-step and Mandy obliged. Thanks to Mandy bringing some flour from the U.S. (Kathryn says the flour here doesn’t make for good brownies) they turned out quite tasty.

God blessed us with this extra time with the Girls. We played more games and just enjoyed spending that much more time with them. Later in the evening after dinner the girls showed us several dances including this traditional wedding dance:

During this time Brian took some of the extra money that we had donated to help one of the girls that used to be in their care purchase some things for her home. This young woman is transitioning to independent living. Those of us from stable families in the U.S. don’t even notice how much we have and how easy it is to get basic things – need an iron? Mom will buy one. Need kitchen utensils? Here are some that belonged to grandma. These girls don’t have that luxury. Once again, I have to say thank you to our many generous supporters who are now part of this young woman’s support system.

The young woman we assisted gave us these bracelets she makes as a thank you

Day 6

Our sixth day was another one that required an adjustment to plans. We had planned to visit an outlying village and a ministry there, but due to some scheduling confusion on their part, their staff wasn’t going to be there on that day. Instead we when to Streshen (approximate spelling) and visited one of the families mentioned in my last post who are very unusual in that they are native Moldovans who are dedicated to foster care. They’re still building their home and currently have two girls, but have room for four. Since the orphanage in their town had closed they’ve been trying to find homes for the children in that area.

They recently lost support from one of the organizations they’d been relying on so we were able to bring them some supplies; cleaning and hygiene products. We got to talk with them and were blessed to see their passion for the orphans of their country. Because orphans aren’t valued, foster care is very uncommon. These people love Jesus and they’ve built their life around showing love to the least of these.

We stopped by the Orphanage in Streshen where many of the girls that Brian and Kathryn have cared for came from. It was shut down recently which is why the family we visited has been working hard to make sure the orphans in their area are cared for.

The facility didn’t look small until we heard that it had held 600 children. One of the girls that is living with them now came from there and apparently earned a reputation for getting into fights – which is both hard to imagine seeing her now, but easy to imagine seeing the close-quarters that she had to share.

In the afternoon we stopped for lunch and coffee. One of the girls, O, called to talk to Brian and Kathryn about having an especially hard day at work. I couldn’t help but realize how big my network of support is. If I have a bad day, there’s a long list of friends and family I can call and talk to, but these girls have Brian and Kathryn – Mamasha and Papasha – and not many others who they can lean on during difficult days.

I was chatting with my mom on facebook and told her about the day O was having and my mother happened to be in her morning prayer time – she said she would pray for O, so I took a screen shot of that message and sent it to O and explained that my Mamasha was also praying for her. That evening she was in a remarkably positive mood despite having had a terrible day – she expressed thanks for the prayers. It is amazing how the family of Christ can support each other around the world.

I was honored to have two of the girls actually sit down for interviews on camera. M, and N. M sat with Kathryn and let her interpret. Listening to her talk about who Jesus is to her is so moving. And I’m excited to share a few clips from her story with the Frazer family soon. N insisted on doing her interview in English, it was precious and very sweet to hear this distilled use of language – perhaps the most meaningful bit was her answer to the question “Who are Brian and Kathryn to you?” She struggled for a moment and finally just said “Love.”

N during her Interview

It is extremely important to me to be respectful of people’s stories. Whenever I do interviews with people who have experienced trauma, I never want for them to feel used, or coerced in anyway. This was part of the reason why it worked out well for these interviews to take place on the last day after I’d gotten to know them.

I was especially glad when Kathryn asked M after her interview how she felt, asking if she felt used, and she smiled and said that it felt good to tell her story. While Kathryn knew the whole story, this was the first time that M had shared the story in full all at once. What was even more amazing to me was her talking about her desire to go into missions in Africa.

Kathryn and M between interview questions.

Afterwards Mandy died M’s hair – something she’d been looking forward to all week. She actually came in this morning and shouted look at my hair! It’s now bright pink.

One of the girls, A, fixed us a traditional dish that was somewhere between grits and cornbread.

A, cutting this dish with thread.

Later Matt regaled us with one of his favorite children’s books – the girls laughed and made “awwww” sounds as he read the sweet story.

Also note the bright pink hair

After that Brian helped me give M a photography tutorial. She’s got a really good eye for photos, so I mainly went over the camera functions. We left her with a lens – used one donated by a Frazer member – and an inexpensive tripod that I bought for the trip.

Gotta hand it to Brian – he really did a great job of explaining some technical photography terms in Romanian

I had several people donate older digital cameras to us and Kathryn will be delivering those to the kids at the Cupcui orphanage on her next visit. She says that the kids there will be really excited to use them.

After that none of us wanted to leave for the night. “A” even offered to call all of our bosses to ask them to let us stay longer. All of the girls expressed that they wanted us to stay. We visited a while longer and headed back to our apartment with Kathryn and Brian where we stayed up late hearing from them enough crazy, funny, and heartbreaking stories to fill several books. I hope someday they do. Finally at 1am we called it a night.

I’m currently sitting our apartment. We’re waiting on the owner of the Air BnB to stop by for us to give him the keys. M and A came with Brian and Kathryn to drive us to the airport. Tonight we fly to Frankfurt where we’ll stay the night before flying back to Atlanta in the morning.

I want to emphasize how grateful Brian and Kathryn have been for us being there. They’ve been here for over five years now and this is the first trip that we – as in Frazer – have been able to do. I hope that we’ll soon be able to make it a yearly trip. In addition to offering Brian and Kathryn support, having these girls know that there is a whole family of people who are praying for them back home really means a great deal to them.

So one last time, thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who gave to make this trip possible. We got to participate in a substantial amount of ministry, but it also was a great encouragement to Kathryn and Brian to finally have friends from their home church see all that they’re doing here. Thank you everyone who helped make this trip happen. And thank you for reading my typo-laden blog.

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Moldova 2019 – Days 3&4

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Day 3

We started the day traveling to a village to visit a fascinating historical site. The area has archeological finds that date back to when this region was part of the Roman Empire. As well as evidence from the kingdom that followed that era which at one time encompassed part of Moldova and Romania. The most fascinating thing was this cave that has been used for different purposes by different groups through the centuries and is currently a small monastery. You can see how it would’ve made for a good hiding place or military outpost as it has a outlet onto a ledge overlooking the surrounding valley. More recently it was used by the church as a place for prayer and meditation. The place is filled with museum pieces of importance to the Orthodox church. Many Icons, carvings, and different things used during worship and meditation.

Today, this cave still has an occupant: a solitary monk who studies there all day and is available to answer questions. This monk looked like he stepped out of a time machine that came from the 1200s. He eagerly explained (in Romanian) about the history of the cave as well as the history of the languages in this region. These history lessons are helpful in understanding the challenges that Brian and Kathryn face in their work. As I’m sure anyone who would read my blog can probably recognize, the culture and history of a country (or city) has a great deal to do with the roadblocks that missionaries (and pastors) face when following their calling to be the hands and feet of Christ to people in that place.

Just like in the States – in any country really – there are preexisting assumptions and prejudices about faith here in Moldova and this comes from years of cultural Christianity – again, not unlike the U.S. – only instead of mainline Protestantism, the primary influence is Eastern Orthodoxy. And instead of American materialism throwing things off, it’s deep-seeded historic influences that often manifest in what appears as superstition. One small but very ubiquitous example is the placement of large crucifixes at every crossroad outside of the city – a carryover from an old superstition about evil spirits being present where roads meet.

To be fair, the Orthodox Church is like any other Christian sect – it has many faithful, sincere Christians, while also having a large number of nominal participants who partake in the ritual out of duty. I have been moved each time we’ve walked into one of these churches. There is no doubt the God is at work in and through the Orthodox Church even though it looks very different from Church where we’re from. Though they face similar challenges to the church in the US.

The Orthodox Church up the hill from the cave

When we got back to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment we spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with the girls. We played games and ate dinner. These young women are all working toward independent living – going to university and preparing for life. Their day-to-day lives are very similar to any college student in the U.S. and what I’ve heard repeatedly from Brian and Kathryn on their visits back home is that all their girls would want us to know that they are just like us.

They wouldn’t want to be seen as charity cases or just as someone with a tragic backstory. They’re all vibrant, energetic, creative, talkative, people with opinions, hopes, and dreams. They like music and movies and at at least one restaurant we visited they were scoping out the cute guys. It seems like they’ve been laughing at least half the time that we’ve been here as they’re constantly joking around. They each have enough personality to fill a room by themselves. Only God truly knows how different things would be for them without this ministry.

I know this will sound obvious, but I’m just struck by how these young women could be my niece or younger sister – or the daughter, sister, or cousin of anyone reading this back home. Meeting them in person, it becomes harder and harder for me to stomach the reality of the orphan crisis here and what the kids in this country experience all the time. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to solicit some kind of emotional response, I’m just trying to be honest about my own epiphany. When I took Spanish in high school I learned the difference between the verbs for knowing something because you have knowledge and knowing something or someone because you have personal experience with them. Knowing them makes the reality of what is happening here all so much more personal.

M & A – That’s a tube of Ice Cream, by the way.

It was after dinner that night that we came to what probably will be the highlight of the trip for me personally. If you’re reading my blog for the first time then you won’t know that I recently finished my MFA in film and television directing. As a part of that I produced a faith-based short film about foster care. It tells the story of a teenage girl with an abusive mother who comes to live with a foster mom.

Kathryn had requested that I send them a subtitled version of the film a while ago, but due to the cost of having it done I hadn’t been able to make it happen up to this point. Thanks to the generosity of the many people who supported us, we paid to have my film, Refuge, subtitled in Russian. While Romanian is the language here, pretty much everyone speaks Russian as well as it is more of a trade language in this part of the world. I burned several copies onto DVD and brought them with me. You can see the trailer here:

Honestly, after I got here I was nervous to show the girls the movie. I even said to Kathryn and Brian that I wasn’t sure they’d like it, but Kathryn assured me they would. Only M and A could be there to watch it. I was surprised that they leaned in throughout the whole thing, at one point saying that the character of Claire reminded them of one of the other girls that Brian and Kathryn had cared for. They laughed at the humorous moments and they demanded more after the story was over. It was a huge personal compliment to have them enjoy the story as much as they did and a big treat to watch how engaged they were.

Day 4

We started the day by splitting into two groups. Kathryn, Matt, and I all went to QSI, an international school here in Chisinau (pronounced like Quiche-Now; I’m going to keep writing that until I remember to say it correctly.) This school is all English speaking and apparently has a substantial tuition, so it mostly is made up of children of people who work in the embassies and wealthy locals. Ergo these are not impoverished orphaned children. They are, however, a long way from their home and live pretty isolated lives. For many of these kids their family might be the only people from their home country throughout all of Moldova. Kathryn has gotten to know the principal of the school and has been able to form relationships with some of the kids in the school, once again showing the reach of their ministry exceeding what is expected.

Story time with Mister Matt

At both QSI and the international preschool which we visited afterwards (where Kathryn also volunteers), Matt “Mister Matt” Williams provided his services as story reader extraordinaire. Matt works in the Pike Road branch of the Montgomery Public Library and as a part of his responsibilities he reads stories to over 700 kids a month. Needless to say that the kids really enjoyed Mister Matt’s interpretation of several fun children’s books. The teachers were actually pretty engaged too and expressed thanks to us for stopping by for the morning.

At the preschool Kathryn had to translate one of the books into Romanian

Meanwhile, Mandy and Karen went with Brian to pick up supplies for kits that we’re giving to three different ministry groups. Once again, thanks to the generous support of our partners we were able to spend over 5000 Lei on donations. That’s a little under $350, but the 5000 number is much more reflective of the amount of supplies they were able to purchase. They then sorted everything into kits for the different groups.

The kits included shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste deodorant, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, tooth brushes, razors, shaving cream, dish soap, laundry detergent, cleaning products, trash bags, baby wipes, baby lotion, hand sanitizer, and some candy to top it all off.

These kits are for:

  • CTI, an organization that looks to provide shelter and care for single mothers and their children
  • The Ciabanu family, a Moldovan family who took it upon themselves to help foster and find homes for all the kids being forced into homelessness when an orphanage was closed in their village.
  • The Vitalie family, who in addition to having four kids of their own have taken on four more boys to care for.

We got to make a delivery to CTI, a home for single mothers and their children. Single motherhood is almost impossible here as the culture shames unwed pregnancy, while also creating the conditions for single-motherhood to occur. This is one reason why children are so often abandoned, so CTI is as much an orphan prevention ministry as it is a ministry to single mothers.

The clothesline outside of CTI

While we dropped off those supplies Karen and Brian did the lion’s share of dinner prep for us and the girls. We sat and watched a movie and wrapped up our evening, heading back to our apartment. The girls all turned in early as they all have exams coming up.

By the way, while we ate dinner M was meeting with a Moldovan who has been doing mission work in Africa. She’s curious about it. Me: speechless.

Thanks for reading thus far, and thanks everyone for the continued prayers as well as the financial support that made all this possible.

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Moldova 2019 – Day 1 & 2

Day 1

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Support Kathryn & Brian

Waiting to check in at the Atlanta airport

Our first day was mostly spent traveling, first from Montgomery to Atlanta then to Frankfurt Germany (at which point it felt like 1AM to us) then onward to Chisinau, Moldova, which I was only a little surprised to discover is properly pronounced more like “Quiche-Now.” Our trip was blessedly smooth and all of our many bags made it! This was especially exciting as most of our baggage was actually gifts for orphans or resources for Kathryn and Brian and the four young women they have living with them.

Waiting right across from the baggage claim were Kathryn and Brian along with one of their girls, who we’ll call “M” for the sake of my blog. Also present were UK missionaries Tim and Ellie who, Kathryn has told us are awesome musicians. Specifically, Kathryn said that Ellie has a voice like an angel. I like to make decisions for myself about who is and isn’t tonally angelic, so this evening I took a moment to listen to their music and, well, ok, Kathryn is totally right. They’re working on an album and doing some cool stuff. You can read about it here.

We went to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment where they and their four girls live. M, O, N, & A. All the girls speak English pretty well, but they’re more comfortable speaking in Romanian and it has the added benefit of allowing them to talk about us without us knowing. Teasing – to the point that might seem harsh in the states – is kind of part of the culture. Despite this, the girls are very sweet and expressed appreciation for us. They’re full of energy and laughter even though we pretty fatigued at that moment because of being awake for over 24 hours.

Sorry, not the best picture, but you get an Idea of this apartment

Kathryn and Brian had made gift bags for all of us and we were able to deliver some of our gifts to the girls. Crest toothpaste is especially beloved. To be clear, they have perfectly good toothpaste here, but they don’t have “Crest”, so it is pretty special to get it. The power of branding is amazing.

After gifts were exchanged and Christmas gifts were stowed away, we went on a walk around the surrounding area. We saw some beautiful parks, a few government buildings, Moldova’s take on the Arc de Triomphe, and finished the walk with a visit to an Orthodox church.

The church was especially beautiful inside and we happened to be there during their All Souls Day observance. Being that it is a place of worship photography is discouraged, but I did record this audio of their stunning chorale.

All of this without microphones

Our dinner was a pilaf dish prepared by N, who really did a fabulous job. Several of us has seconds. Despite being very tired it was fun to share a meal. Kathryn and Brian have worked very hard to create a real family environment for these young women and it shows in the way they relate to one another. While much of the time the girls simply refer to them as “Brian” and “Kathryn.” They’re often referred to as “Papasha” and “Mamasha” and Kathryn tells us that when one of the girls does something similar to her, they’ll say “Well, you are my Mamasha.”

After dinner we checked into our Air B&B which is clean and roomy. Brian picked up some breakfast foods for us and Kathryn helped us get our luggage up to our room. After putting it off as long as we could, we called it a night.

Day 2

Blessedly, we all slept pretty well. After breakfast Kathryn picked us up to take us to Cupcui, a village that’s about an hour drive from Chisinau (Remember, it’s pronounced Quiche-Now.) I have to brag on the team for handling the drive, crammed into the Jones’ Honda Element and crossing some pretty bumpy roads. Everyone handled the trip like champs with only the aid of some ginger chews to settle stomachs. . . and Dramamine.

The structure of the villages is pretty different from what we’re used to in the US. Chisinau is the only “city” and many of these villages really wouldn’t fit your picture of the word “town.” They’re more like large neighborhoods, each with farms, stores, churches, and varying houses. We even passed through Moldova’s wine country.

A small taste of the farm country.

At Cupcui we went to a children’s home there with which Brian and Kathryn have had a long-standing relationship. We helped put on a fall festival of sorts. M came and helped as well – the kids there LOVE her – and we met a few more missionaries from the Assemblies of God church. The team dove in and related to the kids the best they call could – this in spite of the language barrier. These kids would soften anyone’s heart. The moment I walked in I was met with a hug around the waist from a little boy.

It’s hard to accurately explain the poignant nature of moments like this without sounding trite. Kathryn pointed to one of the older girls living in the orphanage and showed me a picture of her from when they had first started visiting Moldova years ago. There are many mission workers who are pouring into these kids, but it would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that Brian and Kathryn are having in these kids’ lives. At the end of the many games, crafts, and other activities Kathryn offered a Bible lesson where she had kids read scripture verses and used a pumpkin as an object lesson. What kind of object lesson, you ask? Well I don’t speak Romanian, but the Kids paid attention quite well, so I’m guessing it worked.

After the festival activities were concluded, we took a walk around Cupcui village and right at that time a funeral March came passing by. This is a part of the Moldovan tradition as much as it is part of the Orthodox church in this region. There was an open casket on the back of a flatbed truck that moved slowly down the road. Ahead of it were people scattering flowers, dropping bread and drink offerings, and carrying wreaths. Directly behind the truck there was a woman leaning over the body of what was likely her elderly mother. She had tears in her eyes and we were instructed to make the sign of the cross when they passed. There was a larger crowd of mourners walking behind them. I didn’t get a photo of this because it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but it was a moving thing to experience.

We stopped and ate lunch and drove back into Chisinau. On the way we did get stopped by police, which is a regular occurrence here. He was cordial and once Kathryn showed him her credentials he let us on our way. More eventful, however was when Kathryn saw a gentleman that she’s gotten to know just from seeing him on the street. She quickly pulled over and grabbed some of the extra food from our lunch, went across the street, and gave him some food. I caught a photo of it. Though, Kathryn probably wouldn’t want me broadcasting it to the world. I just have to brag on my friends for loving people – even when they’re not directly in their sphere of ministry.

That evening, back in Chisinau we were treated to attend a service at the International Fellowship Church where Kathryn and Brian are active members. We got there in time for sound check, so I got a little of the praise band practicing. One of the songs they played had a very eastern European feel and even ended with “HEY!”

I was struck by how integral Brian and Kathryn are to this community. In the above video you can see Brian training a volunteer to run lyrics during the music. In the photo below Kathryn was called up to make an announcement because she’s organizing a thanksgiving meal later this month. There are enough US Americains (including the US Ambassador) who attend there that they decided to have a potluck meal where all the different countries represented are going to bring a traditional dish from their country. The gentlemen who gave the message was from Norway so he promised to bring some rotten fish.

The music and message were both a blessing – but the community it self is what impacted me the most, especially seeing all the races and languages represented in the congregation. After the service they invited people to pray with their prayer volunteers – and Brian and Kathryn stood up and shuffled to the side to be available for people to pray with anyone who needed prayer.

I’m just amazed at how despite the fact that their whole life here is volunteering in ministry – they’re also fully integrated into their church as volunteers in ministry. At Frazer, the church we’re all from, we have agreat emphasis on every member being a minister. They’ve really lived that DNA out in their approach to life in Moldova.

After the service we went to dinner at a new restaurant with lots of fine Moldovan cuisine. I don’t say that sarcastically. I’ve been to eastern Europe before and Moldova’s food is much better than my previous experience. One of the standard dishes in this part of the world is called plăcinte. And it is not at all what it sounds like. Pronounced “pla-chin-ta” it’s a light pastry – kind of like a large croissant – with some kind of filling. We had it with cheese, potato, meats, and pumpkin. We also had sausage and a few vegetable dishes, one of which was called “mother-in-laws-tongue” though I’m fairly certain no tongues – or mothers – were involved in the making of the dish.

After we got back to the apartment where the team is staying Brian and Kathryn sat and talked some and we got to hear about some of the recent struggles in their ministry. Needless to say ministry anywhere is hard, but in a place like Moldova there are many unique challenges and they have had some truly difficult circumstances over the years. We sat and listened and assured them that we, their church, are here and ready to listen and pray and do whatever we can when these situations arise.

These first couple of days have already been a blessing, and we’re excited to kick off another day here. Thank you all for your prayers and support. We have had a great trip thus far and we’re grateful for the many people who have partnered with us through financial contribution as well as intersession – please keep those prayers up as we head into another day this morning!

Moldova 2019 – Day 0

Tomorrow our team departs for a trip to Moldova, a small country between Ukraine and Romania. A former Soviet block country, Moldova is so unknown that when we first started partnering with mission organizations there, spell check still didn’t recognize the name of the country.

The only thing to come out of Moldova that you might’ve heard of is the pop Song, Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone. It was a internet viral hit in the early 2000’s because of this guy’s dance. That has nothing to do with our trip, I just thought you’d enjoy a fun fact because things are about to get sobering really quick.

There it is, if you’re curious.

According to last year’s statistics, the GDP per capita of Moldova is less than 5% of the US’s, making it the poorest country in Europe. Given that, it’s not terribly surprising that among its many struggles the orphan crisis at epidemic levels there. Children are often abandoned and Moldovan orphanages have children aging out in their early teens, leaving them susceptible to human trafficking.

Brian and Kathryn Jones are missionaries in Moldova who are members of Frazer, my church here in Montgomery, AL. The Jones were living and working in Montgomery when they started to feel the call to move to Moldova full time after a few short-term mission trips. Since then they’ve been learning Romanian and have filled several roles while working there including being over a house full of orphan girls. They now are working with a smaller group of girls, helping them finish school and transition to independent living. You can read all about them and partner with them financially by clicking here.

I’m leading a small team to visit Brian and Kathryn and we’ll be getting to do a lot of different things; visiting with orphans, packing meals, reading aloud to kids, teaching photography lessons, and helping with a fall festival are all on the itinerary. These are all the more typical “mission trip” things we’ll be doing, but as I’ve been telling everyone the primary purpose of this trip is to be a support to our missionaries on the ground.

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.

Proverbs 25:25

This will be my 14th mission trip, and my 10th international mission trip. Over the years I have come to the belief that the best thing a short-term trip can do is be supportive of the local long-term missionaries. I’ve been friends with several mission families and I know that the isolation of living overseas can be soul-crushing at times. I say this to encourage anyone reading: visit your church’s supported missionaries, and ask them ahead of time what you can do to be an encouragement to them.

I’ll be giving updates as I’m able, but please be praying in the meantime for an easy trip and for our team to be able to adjust our sleep schedule quickly.

Rocky

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

Released in 1976, a small independent film written by and starring a mostly unknown actor won best picture. This film had a lot against it. It was very low budget, the script was written in the course of three days. The casting was tumultuous with the producers not believing that the lead actor was right for the role he created and the other principal roles weren’t cast until late in the game. Yet, it reached $117 million at the box office – an absurd amount for a film in that day. It received ten Oscar nominations and won three.

So this one my top the list of the “I Can’t believe you haven’t seen it already.” I have seen so many scenes, clips, and “making of”s that I feel like I had already seen it. And I had seen a lot of it, but sitting down and finally watching it knowing what I know now about how unusual it was that it succeeded, makes the event more enjoyable. Watching it in sequence did make one thing clear to me: Rocky is definitely not about boxing.  All good sports movies have this in common, but I was struck by how little time is actually spent watching boxing during the run time of the movie. The final fight is pretty short and other than a few minutes of fighting at the beginning the rest of the movie is more about Rocky and his relationship with Adrian.

Watching Rocky in the context of a modern view really does make one question how it could’ve won best picture, but in 1976 we were still willing to accept a fictional story about an every-man who went from not being able to climb some steps without getting winded to beating the heavyweight champion in a few weeks. The greatest achievement of this film is that it shows a good man, a blue collar, normal guy – and does it without showing life to be hopeless and cynical – and yet somehow it is almost universally loved by audiences, critics, and the industry.

As with watching most movies from this time, the cinematography was much more simplistic. Mostly medium-wide shots of any given scene while close ups were rare and extreme close ups were non existent. The camera is static and outside of the action for pretty much all the movie except for the scenes where Rocky is running, but even those are wide and are pretty simple tracking. Compare this to the Creed films – especially the first Creed wherein there is an entire fight shot in one long stedicam shot. Not to take away from Rocky – it was original – it was THE original. It does hold up quite well in spite of this. And the slow-pace and simple story is something that we miss today in modern cinema. It’s innocent and fun – and that’s rare on this list.

Rear Window

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

Rear window isn’t a perfect movie, but it is darn close. This is another one that I was embarrassed to say that I’d never watched before. I was very familiar with it and I’d probably seen about half the movie watching various documentaries and youtube videos talking about the greatest films, and there is no doubt that this one deserves to part of any list of the greatest American movies.

I don’t want to oversell it, but it is so unique, so unmarred by its age, so beautifully shot, it’s hard to ignore the brilliance of the film. If you’re not familiar with it the film takes place entirely in one room, but the story is happening in the surrounding apartments. Jimmy Stewart plays Jeff, a photographer who is laid up in his apartment after breaking his leg. In an era before air conditioning and netflix he has no choice but to entertain himself by watching his neighbors in the surrounding buildings who all leave their windows open. He has nicknamed several of the characters and becomes increasingly involved in their daily activities. Eventually he becomes concerned at the suspicious activities of one of his neighbors whose wife is suddenly no longer present.

The brilliance of the film is the fact that while the story is taking place around the neighborhood and beyond, the entire film takes place from the perspective of the main character who never leaves his living room. Despite this we have a compelling a-plot, coupled with a love story, and several sub plots – all told visually as he looks in on various neighbors and gets snippets of their life. There is almost no score throughout the film – instead you’re allowed to feel the eerie calm that comes with being unsure about one of your neighbors being a vicious murderer. There is only natural sound – which often includes the sounds of one of the neighbors playing piano – a happy sound that is often dissonant with the feeling that the lead character is experiencing.

This is such a different film that everything that is similar would be considered derivative, which is why any aspiring filmmaker both loves it and hates it. It represents a spent idea that can be rehashed only as a tribute, and it has many times. It’s one of the standard episodes of a long-running show. It is fun to see Castle‘s take on it. I recently stumbled across Family Guy‘s tribute to the classic film. Once you’ve become a plot that people mimic repeatedly, you know you’re a classic film.

The Birth of a Nation

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

The Birth of a Nation is a awful reminder of the world that was, and perhaps the world that still is to some degree. It’s a ficticious account of the Civil War and life following. It’s the oldest film on this list, having been produced in 1915. At over 100 years old the piece is remarkable for a number of reasons: its racism, its length (the first 12-reel/3 hour film), and its unique position as the first film to be screened at the white house.

I’m aware that there was a remake that was intended as a sort of correction to the numerous faults of the original. I haven’t had a chance to view it yet, however.

I don’t have much good to say about this film. Any three hour long silent film is going to strain to keep the attention of any human born after 1910. It is dreadfully boring and would be difficult to watch even with a less objectionable subject manner. But seeing as this film was used as a recruitment tool for the revitalized KKK in the earlier part of the last century, I don’t have to explain why I’m shocked that it was chosen for the AFI top 100. There is no doubt that it was the most historically important film of 1915, but any number of films over the 100 years were a higher quality and more truthful.

Much of the first half of the film could be seen as a relatively acceptable fictional account of the Civil War. The main objectionable part of this is the large number of roles played by white men in black face. The second half of the film really goes off the rails when it begins to depict a fabricated version of the antebellum south that is besieged by an uncivilized and tyrannical black political majority. The film then shows the creation of the Ku Klux Klan who rides in and saves the day. The film has quite rightly been the subject of a great deal of criticism for its inaccuracies and general racist tone. The one thing I’ll say about it is that the fact that this film is still in the modern vernacular at all is an indication that censorship has not won out. The film was an early victory against film censorship. While I’m very much for free speech, and I’m glad it wasn’t censored (for the president censorship sets, mind you, not because I do not find the matter abhorrent.) I wish censorship could’ve been tested on something that was less objectionable.

Firm Foundation week 5: The Global Mission of the Church

Introduction:

1) What’s been your experience with Global mission work?

The Global Mission of the church

2) Read Matthew 28:16-20. This bit of scripture is called the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. As we talked about last week the word for “make disciples” is a Greek word that takes the noun “disciple” and makes it a verb. It is different than the word for preach or teach. Why do you think Jesus commands specifically to make disciples instead of simply preaching or teaching?

3) Read Proverbs 25:25, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Today the global church is growing faster than ever before and soon there will be far more Christians in China and Africa than the US and Europe. Are we still called to go to these regions even if they already know Jesus? How else might we be called to support them?

4) Short term mission trips are sometimes criticized as less beneficial to the people overseas. What are some of the pitfalls of short-term missions? When do you think they are beneficial?

If you want to read more, here’s a good article on this discussion: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2006/march-online-only/commonpitfallsstm.html

5) Read Luke 10:29-37. There is actually much more in scripture about simply loving foreigners and travelers in our presence than there is about going to far off lands, how does that inform the way we can help accomplish the mission of Christ here as well as overseas?

6) Read Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5, 1 Kings 8:41-44, how might these passages challenge our view of refugees and immigrants?

7) How are you actively helping accomplish God’s global mission now?

Wrap up:

8) We’ve covered several topics over the last few weeks; Discipleship, Evangelism, Holiness, Scripture, the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Global missions. Of these topics what is the area that you need to learn more about or what is your chief growth area?

9) What can you do to, or continue – to improve in this area? Do you need to read more scripture? Do you need to study a specific topic? Do you need to take a mission trip? Do you need to start to serve in an area of the church? Do you need to commit to attending worship more often? Do you need to commit to spend more time with God? What next step can you take and how can this group help you?