Handing Out The Questions

I was on the plane flying back to the U.S. I floated in and out of napping, daydreaming and glancing at the movie. In six days I was scheduled to give an ‘update’ on my year in Asia. I’d been given one hour. Oh my, one hour.

Such face to face moments are precious. I wanted my audience to ‘meet’ my friends and neighbors, to come into my classroom, to eat the dinner my students prepared, to see Hope shared in another culture– basically to join me! I wanted them to see and hear my life. How could that happen?

Then I thought of how I had used written questions in my newsletters and the response I had received. Over the years I had sent a list of questions that I was often asked –from grammar questions to personal pleas for help. I would include no answers – just the questions.

I asked my readers to sit in my office with me and ponder over the question, the inquirer, and me. I asked for prayer for the ability to be salt and light in my response. Many readers wrote back how insightful this had been for them. They saw my job and my life in a much different light.

There over the Pacific in Seat 58C I decided I would try it live. That next week everyone at the update would get a question to ponder.

I would soon see my people reaching for their strip of paper and reading aloud.

Do you like our China?

Why did you come here?

Should women be soldiers?

What’s your favorite Chinese food?

What’s the difference between the future and future perfect tense?

Why do you put ice in your drinks?

How can I improve my spoken English?

What’s the best university in your country?

Who will you vote for?

Would you ever marry a Chinese?

Why does your country argue over abortion?

Do you celebrate Christmas like they do on ‘Friends’?

Do you believe in the God?

Do your parents too? Friends? Boss?

How can I increase my vocabulary?

How do you teach children right from wrong?

Why do Americans want to leave home when they are 18?

Do you believe in ghosts?

Does everyone have a car?

What do you do when you’re lonely?

Do you eat pork?

I told the listeners that these were not all asked in one day or one week. But my teammates and I had heard them all at one time or another. Our time together was not about giving my answers or responses but to give them an idea of my life. As they each read their question out loud there was surprise, smiles, and comments. “That would be hard – how much time do you have?” “My kids haven’t heard about moving out at 18.” “A co-worker asked me that once.” “I’ve never been asked a spiritual question at work.” “Where do you start!?”

Naturally there arose a desire to know how I responded. Later meetings in smaller groups gave opportunities for this. But at this large gathering I only had time to point out that different situations and questioners bring a variety of responses. Large classrooms and restaurants versus a cup of tea with two students are just two examples. The response from the audience was much like from my newsletter readers.

Some were amazed at the challenges that the questions brought to their friend – the simple ESL teacher. Yes!

Others wondered about the impact on the quiet student. Oh yes! Even when I had no idea they were listening.

Some worried about my responses. Of course! I need wisdom – to answer or just listen.

One person didn’t know how they would handle this in their own country. See? Our lives are not completely different!

I heard about this for days to come.

For one hour my two homes came together.

How do you bring your life abroad back to your passport country?

What questions would be on your list?


  1. Karen August 21, 2016

    What a great idea for communicating with people about your life! I love it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Barbara August 21, 2016

      Glad it was helpful, Karen. It was amazing how some questions got the group talking!

  2. Susan August 21, 2016

    Might we all listen well to the questions posed to us today..and the questions we pose to others. Lord grant us wisdom to listen and then respond. Wonderful post! Keep up the writing…we have much to learn of Him through you.

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      Yes! I know I need to spend more time listening. Might help me in giving better answers! Thanks for the encouraging words.

  3. brooke August 22, 2016

    Awesome way to involve the audience! Now you have my mind running:) I may put something like this into my next email update. Thanks. I love that one about would you ever marry one of us? I get that lots too:)

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      I’m so glad it was helpful! We all need ideas for those updates, right?

  4. Michelle August 22, 2016

    Interesting idea! And yes…that “would you marry a local?” question. That one comes every. time. I meet a new person. And if I brush it off with some casual answer like, “Maybe, if God chooses” instead of going straight to the heart of the real reason why I wouldn’t (i.e. at this point I know of no followers of Jesus native to this place), it’s followed quickly by, “What about my brother–or nephew–etc.?” How’s THAT for a question to hand out to your supporters? 🙂

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      I think it would be a great question for supporters, Michelle. Give them a little idea of some of the situations we face. Just to hear someone say ‘that would be hard’ is often encouraging to me.

  5. Charlotte August 22, 2016

    What a great way to involve the people who support me. Thank you!

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      Makes me so happy to know others found this helpful. We all need ideas for communicating with supporters, right?

  6. Amy Young August 22, 2016

    Barbara, I love this idea! Thanks for helping all of us start a file so the next time we have to make a presentation, we are ready 🙂

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      Glad it was useful! I’m also always looking for a new ‘keeping-in-touch’ idea. Just recently was talking with a friend and we regretted never seeing each others’ presentations.

  7. Emily Lofgren August 22, 2016

    This is so great! Brings back amazing memories from when I lived and taught in China. Oh, how I miss it! The questions were fun. They always asked if I had a boyfriend or if I liked Chinese boys. Perhaps my favorite thing students would say was, “Teacher, you have a colorful life!” Or “How colorful is your life!” It made me smile.

    1. Barbara August 22, 2016

      And don’t forget ‘vivid’! It always makes me wonder what Chinese words I use that make Chinese smile. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Valerie Browne August 25, 2016

    Barbara, this is a FANTASTIC idea and I will certainly steal with zeal! Changchun misses you and it’s good to “hear” from you on Velvet Ashes! You have TONS of wisdom from years of service to share with all of us!

    1. Barbara August 29, 2016

      Steal on! Good to hear from you too and thanks for the encouraging words. It really does make me happy to know this was helpful.

  9. Murofushi August 27, 2016

    This is exactly what I needed when I first went to Japan in 1976. These questions are timeless and have led me down a thought filled path already. Should be required reading for anyone stepping outside their comfort zone.

    1. Barbara August 29, 2016

      Thanks for your comments. It is funny, isn’t it, how thought-provoking a few questions can be. No matter what side of the adventure you may be on.

  10. Ruth August 28, 2016

    Great idea for connecting with people both in your passport and visa countries! After more than 30 years making presentations, I don’t remember any that would have provided more insights into the “real life” of the “expatriate” than these. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Barbara August 29, 2016

      30 years! Thank YOU for your encouraging response. Would have loved to sit in on some of your presentations!

  11. Jennifer August 30, 2016

    Such a good article. It made me think about how often I ask those kinds of questions in my own home country, especially the hard questions. I’ll surely be thinking about that more often. Keep writing. I want to read more from you here.

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