Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield | Book Review

Before beginning this book review, I want to point out that my scheduling of this book for review was well in place before the Executive Order signed on Friday, January 27, 2017, went into effect. However, Divine Providence likely knew of the events to come, and as D.L. Mayfield’s memoir shares the author’s experiences working with and living among refugees and immigrants in my hometown, Portland, Oregon, it is definitely a good time to look at what Mayfield’s thoughts and reactions are to her experiences. AND this is a good time for all of us to begin to search for ways to help the marginalized among us, no matter who received your vote in November. We are needed now more than ever before to stand up and share the goodness and generosity that made America great in the first place.


A social justice activist and writer shares her personal experience working with refugees and the ways her faith has been challenged and strengthened—leading her to experience the power of God’s love and find her true spiritual calling.

Determined to save the world, one soul at a time, nineteen-year-old D. L. Mayfield left her conservative Christian home to become a missionary to Somali Bantu refugees in Portland, Oregon. But after a decade proselytizing, she realized that she had not converted one single Muslim. “I am pretty much the worst missionary ever,” she despaired.

Yet in her time working with these displaced people, Mayfield’s eyes were opened to something much bigger. “I started to read the Scriptures with new eyes, informed by the people who the Bible was written by and to—the people at the margins of society. And it was so much better than I could have believed. The blessings of Jesus were to be found in the most unexpected places. The kingdom is real, alive, and changing everything—liberating, setting free, healing, and preaching news that is actually truly good, in the here and now.”

Assimilate or Go Home is the story of her awakening. Mayfield shows us how God’s love is transforming lives, and makes clear that instead of saving the world, we can join God’s party by loving all of our neighbors—especially those on society’s edge. With vulnerability and a touch of humor, Mayfield reflects upon how her faith was challenged, and urges all of us to reconsider our concepts of justice, love, and being a citizen of this world—and the kingdom of God.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield
Published: Harper One (August 16, 2016)
Source: Purchased
Format: Paperback, 224 pages

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“I used to want to witness to people, to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life. To live with eyes wide open on the edges of our world, the margins of our society.”

BOOK review:

The quote above sums up what D.L. Mayfield shares with her readers in a collection of essays on her life as a missionary serving refugees and immigrants in Portland, Oregon. Mayfield’s experiences are many and at times stun her into wondering why she is doing what she is doing.

Mayfield struggles to communicate with non-English speaking people, and she herself does not speak any of their languages. How do you help those who don’t understand you when you ask if they are hungry, or thirsty, or feeling sick? How do you cope with the feelings of uselessness you feel when you can’t understand these people or treat their needs.

All of these things are the subject of Mayfield’s memoir which explores her feelings of failure and inability to do what she has believed to be the work of missionaries since her childhood.

Mayfield’s writing is pleasant and at times lyrical in her storytelling. Some of her essays even hold a bit of humor and charm in them. However, the underlying facts are brutal to those of us who have never experienced extreme hunger, health needs, or poverty. I think the harshness of these needs also struck Mayfield harder than she ever expected.

The transformation Mayfield experiences during her time serving the Somalis in Portland is clearly one she found filled with an increased faith of her own. Her wisdom is ancient, found in the daily grind of life, and shared as the way she lives her days.

Mayfield teaches us that the benefit of working with those less fortunate is actually a two-way partnership. What she learned from her Somali neighbors and friends was a story of resilience and courage. What they learned from Mayfield was acceptance and kindness. What a lovely story in the end; what a difficulty journey to get there.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who believed as a young person you were going out and change the world. Read Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home and you’ll learn just how hard it is to do that. And she’ll show you just how much you’ll be the one doing the changing.

About the Author:

D.L. Mayfield, Author
D.L. Mayfield, Author

D. L. Mayfield lives and writes in Portland, OR with her husband and two small children. Mayfield likes to write about refugees, theology, and downward mobility, among other topics. She has written for places as varied as McSweeneys, Christianity Today, Image journal, and the Toast. Her book of essays, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith is forthcoming from HarperOne in August 2016.

Connect with the author:

Website | Twitter

Have You Ever Considered Giving Up Your Writing?

GIVE UP YOUR WRITING?

Maybe you’ve come across some of the posts asking the question: Have you considered giving up your writing?

In recent days and weeks, I’ve come across several posts, both blog and on Facebook and Twitter, asking similar questions. My blog plans have included this topic for some time, but the increased interest moved this post up on my editorial calendar.

LET’S GET SERIOUS–Have YOU HAD THOUGHTS OF QUITTING?

Perhaps like this rusty relic, an Underwood typewriter from the past, you sometimes feel battered, worn out, at a loss as to how to move on, and you just want to throw up your hands and quit. I think lots of us have.

Last week K.M. Weiland posted a similar question on Facebook. I was stunned when I began typing a comment with the word “yes” front and center! To be honest, I have considered giving up my writing. In fact, as recently as the last few days of 2016. And many times throughout that long and arduous year.

I happen to have a live-in cheerleader, however, my husband, Bob. He won’t let me give up. He too is a creative and in some respects understands the “enemy” when it comes near. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

What can cause a writer to give up?

In my case, I felt a heavy cloud of depression and unending conflicts from health issues. I’m certain these were talking over any desire I had to write and finish my memoir. How do I know this? Because as soon as I finished my comment on K.M.’s Facebook post, I turned to thinking about the remaining revisions and edits to my manuscript and discussions I’d had with a publisher.

However, there are many reasons causing us to consider setting our writing aside. Perhaps you have contemplated this decision in the midst of everyday burdens, health issues, and more. Note that K.M.’s Facebook post received 101 comments. You can scroll through and read about some of the reasons given.

reasons writers stop writing

The variety of reasons a writer might be tempted to stop writing is broad and usually personal to the writer. Here are a few:

  • Day job and its stresses;
  • Health issues–injuries, surgeries, PTSD and more;
  • Financial stresses;
  • Having and/or adopting children into the family;
  • Writer’s block, stuck and can’t get started, hiding muse;
  • Critique and/or writing groups;
  • Will the truth I am writing hurt friends or family; should I write my story.
  • Publishing aspect of sending your book into the world;
  • Marketing aspect tiring and overwhelming;
  • Lack of encouragement from people in the writer’s life.

Any or all of these things can interfere with your creative life. The one thing to remember is none of these is your fault. However, you are the one who can take charge and make a difference.

Here is a small package of encouragement from Linda Wisniewski, author of  Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage:

Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be. I hurt when I do this, because it’s not natural. And it never works. But when I stretch my Self, instead, the results are different. When I’m reaching for my personal goals—to be a good mother, wife, friend and writer—I feel my balance return. And the sense of relief, as I become more the woman I truly am, is simply grand. [emphasis added]
Linda C. Wisniewski, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage

What to do when the urge to quiT hits?

Take a deep breath, take a walk, meditate, listen to some music you love, read a good book. And think about nothing related to writing for a few moments.

Then, give yourself as much time as you feel necessary to rid yourself of any negative feelings you’re experiencing. It is important to overcome the negativity before attempting to write.

When you feel like you’ve hit that point when writing is something you want to do, try it. Find a quiet place, clear your mind. Try free writing or journalling. Write anything: your thoughts, your feelings, or ideas for a project. It doesn’t have to be structured. Just write.

Perhaps afterwards, in time, you’ll sense a desire to return to that project or outline or revisions you’ve been avoiding. I use the word “avoid” carefully, because we aren’t necessarily avoiding our work. Our lives are avoiding the work, and we are held somewhat victim by our lives.

Remember that rusty Remington typewriter above? Like that typewriter, a little refurbishing and refreshing is all we need to get our writing underway again. From rusty, shabby, unhappy, wandering writers, we can become the writers with initiative, motivation, a desire to write. Like the Remington here, we’ll feel shiny and newly energized!

I’d love to hear from you

Please leave your comments below. It doesn’t matter if you agree, disagree, or feel I’ve missed the mark. Let’s come together for discussion because though many say they would never give up their writing, many of us do feel that emotion. “Talking” about it may help.

One Word in 2017: Listen

Last week I wrote about three words–past, now, and future— to begin the year 2017. Today I want to share my One Word for 2017–listen.

The word “listen” doesn’t reflect excitement or adventure ahead. So why would someone pick it as their one word for an entire year?

Give a “listen” and find out…

Listening is important in all we do.

Dictionary.com defines listen as follows:

  • to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear
  • to pay attention; heed; obey.
  • to wait attentively for sound.

The word “attend” appears in each of the above definitions in some for or another. Perhaps the word implies the importance of learning because if we pay attention we generally pick up more instruction. Using the ear to give attention to someone or something implies giving our full attention.

WHY THEN would a writer choose the word “Listen?”

Perhaps to learn from others the grander points in the world of writing. Or perhaps the writer is hoping to pick up tips on things essential to publishing a book.

It seems it would be obvious that a writer may also be looking for ways to make his or her name known, and he or she listens for the names of those writers from whom to learn in the classroom, via podcast or video, or some other means.

PERHAPS THE WRITER LOOKS FOR DEEPER MOTIVATION

The hardest thing I try to do is listen to my own heart and mind. Those two places are where I believe everything I feel about my writing is stored. Storage places I can access in the quiet to listen to my personal dreams and desires about writing.

Do you find it hard to listen to your heart and mind as it relates to your writing life?

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT LISTENING TO YOUR HEART’S DREAMS?

Meditation comes close to what I believe is listening to our own thoughts and feelings, much like meditation can bring a person into communication with a higher power. Personally, I have always found it difficult to settle myself into a meditative state of mind. I was raised by a mother who believed we had to be busy 24/7. Settling into a meditative state takes great effort on my part.

The choice of the word “listen” forces me to practice a meditative state of mind in order to hear those things I hold dear about my writing life. If I don’t assume quietness, I will not hear the thoughts and dreams encouraging me to move forward in my writing practice.

In a few days, I will be sharing a post in which I pose a question to all of you about your own writing life. This is a question I have struggled with in 2016, and a question I have come close to answering this question in a way that may surprise you.

These are the kinds of questions I believe we need to spend some time reflecting on early each year to get our writing lives in order. This meditative state will not only help us focus on our dreams, but also on our writing.

Three Words to Begin 2017: Past, Now, and Future

JUGGLING THE PAST, NOW, AND FUTURE

Confessions are good for the soul so I confess now I am not a good juggler. Sometimes life presents us with a juggling act which seems outside our abilities. And often the start of a new year does the same.

The questions I asked as I wrote this post were:

  • Where did 2016 go?
  • What does 2017 hold in the way of goals?
  • What about now–the present, today, even tonight?

WHERE DID 2016 GO?

Wherever it went, it dragged by. I felt this year would never end. My days were ones of sitting and lying down to relieve relentless, intense pain. A short break in the early fall led me to believe the journey was almost over. Then a setback occurred.

I am still attempting to reach the end of the journey created by a fall last January. Things are so much better I am able to write a few hours a day on this blog and my book review blog. One good result from my immobility is a stack of books finally read.

Another accomplishment was accepting that some degree of pain will always be with me as a result of a fusion. I’ve also accepted that walking with a cane does get doors opened for you.

WHAT DOES 2017 HOLD IN THE WAY OF GOALS?

A top priority for me in 2017 is the hope of more therapy helping me to reach a higher level of activity. This would allow me to engage in daily activities without the need of pain medications. If I am told I need to take one pill a day, I can handle that. The narcotic haze is not something I enjoy nor do I want it interfering with my creative life.

Other than that, I have decided I am not establishing any set-in-concrete goals for 2017. My plan is to do something different this year. The concept came to me as I searched for a suitable graphic to include with this post. Not finding one, I set about creating my own which is inserted above. The word “now” was not easy to find in the company of the words “present” and “future.”

Days with therapy or doctor appointments and home exercises create a need for flexibility. Working those things around my writing life means there has to be a give and take. That leads us to the “now” option.

WHAT ABOUT NOW–THE PRESENT, TODAY, EVEN TONIGHT?

The word “now” is defined by Dictionary.com as “at the present time or moment.” In my opinion, “at the present time or moment” can mean today, this hour, or a variety of other phrases. It means I have the flexibility of moving something from today to another day. It doesn’t mean I can forget about anything forever. Things go better as long as I get something done and don’t leave it hanging ad ifinitum.

Last week I picked up something from Jamie Raintree, writer and blogger at JamieRaintree.com. I was reading a post by Jamie on time blocking and productive time. I’m not a rigidly organized soul, and my writing proves that when I confess I’m a pantser. This resulted from almost 40 years working for attorneys unwilling to track billable time. Their cry was “it doesn’t let me create the pleas and arguments I need to win!” If I’m worrying about when or how I’m going to get everything done on today’s schedule, I’ll never get it done.

Jamie has created a Time Blocking Worksheet. About her system, she says:

The idea is that you schedule your days in chunks, marking off large time periods for certain types of work, but leaving the details of what work you’ll accomplish more open.

Based on that statement, I decided to download Jamie’s worksheet and give it a try. If you’re interested, you can see an image of Jamie’s worksheet and download it here.

I like the idea of categorizing creative and personal priorities and assigning days. I currently use a similar time blocking tool. Yet, it lacks the flexibility of Jamie’s system. Thank you, Jamie!

CONCLUSION

What about 2016? I am disappointed. I struggle with losing time on my manuscript and maintaining my blogs and newsletter. But truthfully, there wasn’t much I could do about it.

What about 2017? I don’t know yet. We’ll see what comes down the path.

What about NOW? I’m going to use it to the best of my ability as I’m able. Really can’t do more than that can we?

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING OR 2017? SHARE WITH US IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.