Dangerous Stories

by Chris Lautsbaugh on January 22, 2015

Sometimes the stories we tell of those we minister to can become dangerous.

I’ve been at this missions thing for 23 years now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

I often reflect on things I did in the past and cringe. Hindsight is always 20/20, but perhaps others can learn from my mistakes.

One mistake centers around how I have reflected the stories of others to my own supporters and sending churches / organizations.

One of the things our organization does is partner with nationals who are also involved in missions. We attempt to raise monthly support for them and use our network to assist financially.

We often highlight one of these nationals in our periodic newsletters. We share what they are involved in and add something like, “your support to Project Grace helps this individual/or family to accomplish this work…”.

This approach seems harmless enough, but there are several dangers involved.

We realized this when years later, one of these people who had since moved on, contacted us and confessed that they had harbored bad feelings to us for how we represented them. He felt we were “using” him to show how great our ministry was. This dear friend carried this hurt for years till he finally was able to express it. We were so grieved and set about attempting to restore the relationship.

There are some lessons here. We can share dangerous stories without even intending to. There is an appropriate sharing of stories which must happen. How can we guard against the danger but still share to the glory of God?

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5 Signs You are Telling Dangerous Stories:

1. Carefully consider your words. If the person were standing next to us, would we reflect our stories in a different way? There is always a temptation to embellish poverty, lostness, or a person’s state of need.

2. Avoid any hint of superiority. This is rarely intended, but so many sharing times promote a “they are so primitive, we must help them see the light” mindset. I’ve sat in far too many testimony times where people ignorantly share how horrible a foreign land was, not thinking that there are nationals from those very places present!

Sometimes, the people we are attempting to show the gospel of grace to, walk in massive grace with us!

3. Ask their permission. This was the biggest mistake I made in the above story. This helps you cut through any misguided motivations in a hurry.

4. Share in the blessings. If you benefit materially from sharing a story, it would be good to extend a blessing to the friend or co-worker you shared about.

Imagine what this scenarios seems like for a national:

  • They know you are sharing their story.
  • Often we as missionaries live a higher lifestyle than those who’s stories we share.
  • Even the most noble of people would have a question or two about the use of funds which was in part gained by their story.

Sharing the resources promotes open communication. We’ve receive donations and when sharing the blessing, told our friends, “We told your story and people were blessed. They ended up blessing us so we wanted to pass some of this on to you.”

5. God must be honored. Are stories shared in a way which is honoring God or us?

Do we become savior, rescuer, and the lifter of people’s heads or is that place reserved for Jesus?

No one sets out to say this, but our words can convey this if we are not careful.

Attention Life Overseas Community!

I am sure we have countless stories and mistakes made in this area among us. Let’s share and learn from each other!

What pieces of advice would you add to the five I have mentioned? How can we avoid Dangerous Stories?

Photo credit: Seyemon via photopin cc

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The Minority Experience

by Sarah Goodfellow on January 20, 2015

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I am white. My husband is white and my kids are all white. Until four years ago that had no effect on our lives. And then we moved from the United States to Peru and became minorities. 

I expected to learn a lot from our move to Peru. I expected to learn about poverty and injustice. To learn Spanish and about the Peruvian culture. To learn to be more patient and forgiving. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from being part of the minority group.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about the color of my skin and my children’s skin. It keeps me from leaving my house sometimes because I just can’t handlethe stares and comments. It causes my 5 year old daughter to cry after being called “gringa” (white girl) too many times to count. It makes my 13 year old hate riding the bus. It makes us the target of violence. While all of the neighborhood kids play freely outside, I constantly worry about my kids while they are outside of my home. My children’s safety is affected by the color of their skin. When my 10 year old asks to ride his bike to the mercado with his friends, fear is my first response.

And this fear doesn’t even have a history of slavery and ownership, lynchings and the KKK, oppression and injustice behind it. Or being an illegal immigrant, always living in fear of deportation. Or being labeled as dangerous and a possible threat to our government.

These are all things that non-white people in the United States have to deal with and I never did because of the color of my skin. Everywhere I went people assumed I was to be trusted and treated me as such. And I never would have realized what a privilege that is unless we had moved to Peru.

Ultimately it is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an ex-patriot. I have had a small taste of an experience that will stay with me forever. That has changed the way I think about race relations in the United States.

So, I am thankful for our experience as a minority. I have learned that white privilege is real. I have gained empathy for those whose skin color affects their daily life. I have learned to listen. My experience of the United States isn’t everyone’s experience, just as my experience of Peru isn’t everyone’s experience. And, perhaps most importantly to me, my kids have learned all of this as well. I hope this is a life lesson they will never forget. I pray that their experience as a minority translates into them being more compassionate and caring adults. That when they see racial injustice they will be moved to do something about it.

And I hope that we always remember to listen to and value the experience of the minority, wherever we live.

Do you live in a country where you are the minority? What has your experience been?

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Competing, contrasting or complimentary?

by Richelle Wright on January 13, 2015

Our last January in West Africa, we took the family camping at a nearby game park.

We camp a lot in the States – sometimes even in some pretty out-of-the-way places, but that was the first time I’d ever camped in Africa, under an African sky, in a really remote location. No city lights. No electricity. No paved roads. No leaving the campsite without a guide in a vehicle or with an armed guard when on foot. Hippos and elephants nearby in the river. Lions hunting on the other side of the rocky ridge that sheltered the campsite.

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In some ways, it was surreal, like something I’d only see on a television show on one of those nature or documentary type channels back in the States; I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it was really real. Yet in other ways, it really felt a whole lot like “regular” camping with our gang back in Michigan.

Except for one thing.

Want to know the one thing that was totally, vastly, drastically different?

The sky.

It seems kind of funny to see those words… to hear myself think them…  For, no matter where in the world you or I stand, we can gaze upon the same sun, the same moon, many of the same stars and constellations, the same celestial bodies…

Not since I was a child growing up on the wide open US plains do I remember gazing up at such an sweeping expanse, unbroken by trees or buildings or telephone poles… unbroken by anything. Never before had the stars seemed so numerous or the moon so bright, thanks to nearby electricity -for even if there were no lights in the immediate vicinity, there always were, just over the next hill or distant grove of trees.

Watching… staring… at that sky… was nothing less than remarkable!

During the day, the sun appeared closer – bigger, brighter and more blinding than I’d ever noted before. At night, the moon was full and so bright that even my ever-becoming-more-and-more-night-blind self could see clearly and walk to the bathroom without fear of scorpion or snake while not using a flashlight. The rest of the sky appeared a dappling of stars almost blending into white clouds rather than the sometimes sparse sometimes smattering pinpoints of bright light I was accustomed to viewing. Both sun and moon shared that expansive space although on opposing horizons each morning and night.

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Most remarkable was discerning, for the first time ever, the actual path those cosmic bodies traced across the sky. Early evening as the sun set and darkness deepened, juxtaposed, the moon rose and myriads of stars appeared, just peeking over the edge of the eastern horizon. Late into night, “tracking” a group of lions or spotting mongoose and honey badgers, I’d note that the moon and stars had migrated overhead. In the wee hours of the next morning, sipping coffee by the while getting the gumption to coax sleeping toddler littles and teen biggers out of bed, those same heavenly bodies had completely traversed the sky to the western skyline and then quickly submerged out of sight.

Nearing the end of our term and weary after combating several successive seasons of fatigue and burnout, tracing these sky routes was a gift, a reminder from God’s creation just when I needed refreshing.

I’d begun viewing life as only a pattern of day and night, one after the other, monotonous, numbing and purposeless in its repetition. While real and valid, my perspective limited what I was able to see.

Thankfully, perspectives are not written in stone; they can change.

A different, altered outlook can proclaim the very same cyclic monotony “revolutionary:”

  • of openings and closings…
  • of pushing and pulling…
  • of starting, persevering and finishing
  • of arrivings, continuings, migratings, traversings and departings…
  • of beginnings culminating in endings sparking new beginnings…
  • of opportunities mixing with impossibilities…

Perspectives can not only change.

Their contrasts can also compliment.

One can help bring the other more starkly into focus, just as the moon on one side of the sky highlighted the sun’s brilliance in reflecting the same light that emanated from the opposing horizon.

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May 2015 be a year of changing old, worn and wrong outlooks.

May it be a year of recognizing and renewing those complimenting perspectives as well.

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How about you?

How do you think God might be planning to grow and change you as you minister this next year?

*Originally published as Competing or Contrasting? Choices for 2013...
at Missionary Mom's Companion and
 slightly edited for A Life Overseas.

*Moon photo - Dick Stewart, Captured Memories Lansing

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Ever Becoming – One Word 365

by Alece Ronzino on January 11, 2015

Ever becoming

We are so grateful to have Alece Ronzino join us again this year. Alece is well-known to many of us in her work to both free and challenge us by inviting us to pick just one word to guide the year. While lengthy resolutions often spell defeat, one word can impact us in ways we can’t imagine. As her website says:

“Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway.

Choose just one word. 

One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.”

We invite you to enter the conversation in this piece and connect through the comment section below!

Ever Becoming
by Alece Ronzino

I set out to be brave last year. 

I waffle back and forth in my opinion of how well I actually lived it out. But there are moments when I find it easy to recognize the small acts of personal bravery that marked my journey through 2014.

I opened my heart to possibilities. I allowed myself to enjoy the present without needing to know where things may (or may not) lead. I let my guard down and let others in. I used my words more — like when I wrote about depression and suicide, even when it terrified me. I leaned into relationships and established healthier boundaries. I faced a devastating loss and didn’t fall apart like I once thought I would. I started going to church again.

From the outside looking in, I’m sure my life didn’t look very brave to others. But from the inside looking out, I see it: 2014 demanded courage of me. 

Let’s be honest though. The year didn’t end with me arriving at some grand finish line with an“I am brave” medal hanging around my neck. But I never really expected it to. That wasn’t the point.

The year did, however, end with me feeling more confident that I am becoming brave. And, when I force myself to remember the truth, I know that the process of becoming is far more valuable than the arrival at being

I hear Sara Bareilles in my head: Show me how big your brave is. 

And my brave is bigger this January 1st than it was last January 1st. Shoot, my brave is biggertoday than it was yesterday. And that, friends, is all that matters, isn’t it? It’s the best any of us can do really.

My last brave step of the year was choosing my one word for 2015: Wholehearted. 

I’m determining to live more wholeheartedly. To be all-in. To be fully present. I’m committing to give myself permission (and a nudge) to be truly myself. To stick to my guns. To live, write, and speak with integrity (in the fullest sense of the word — with wholeness and completeness in all parts of me).

I’m purposing to show up this year, in every way.

In each situation, in each decision, and with every single person, I want to show up wholeheartedly. Even when that means facing my fears. Or candidly sharing the vulnerabilities of my heart. Or taking a huge risk. Even when that means flying solo. Or saying no. Or standing my ground when I want to run away.

It’s a good thing I developed some extra bravery. This wholehearted business is daunting.

When I’m falling short and feeling like a big hot mess of a failure, do me a favor. Remind me to extend myself grace, and to focus on the journey rather than the destination.

Never arriving.

Ever becoming. 

Will you join me?

What word do you want to guide you through 2015? 
Join the One Word 365 community »

Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

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Singing Songs of Joy in a Foreign Land

by Marilyn January 7, 2015

In Psalm 137 the song-writer gives us a picture of a people displaced, in exile. They are by a river and they are weeping. They hang up their musical instruments and those around them shout at them to sing songs, songs of joy. “Pull up your bootstraps people! Sing songs of joy. It’s not that […]

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My Hope For You in 2015

by Rachel Pieh Jones January 5, 2015

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could hope for you only and fully that all your days be merry and your nights be bright and your path be smooth and the sun shine gently on your face? I do hope the road rises to meet you and that you find joy in every relationship and […]

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When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t

by Jonathan Trotter January 1, 2015

My parents had their life all mapped out, and then their baby was born with chromosomal abnormalities and died at home, surrounded by tubes and oxygen tanks, only a month old. As a teenager, I had my life pretty well planned out (get my pilot’s license, be Nate Saint). But then my mom got cancer […]

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Missions Field or Land of Opportunity?

by Chris Lautsbaugh December 29, 2014

One man’s mission field is another’s land of opportunity. I realized this in a fresh way as I was interacting with some immigrants to South Africa from Malawi. They were telling me about their home nation, Malawi. The common descriptions were of a lush, green, and beautiful nation which was peaceful. They left their homeland […]

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Why Knowing Our Stories is so Important

by Editor December 26, 2014

When I first read this post from Abigail Alleman, I knew it had to be published around Christmas. For it is a story about entering into stories, about becoming more a part of the places we live, entering the world God has called us to, fully with all our broken pieces. It is a story […]

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The Tree That Tells Our Story

by Elizabeth Trotter December 23, 2014

My parents came to Cambodia to celebrate the American version of Thanksgiving with us, and they stayed for the traditional setting up of the Christmas tree. After we finished stringing the lights and hanging the ornaments, and the youngest child had placed the heirloom angel from my husband’s childhood on top, we all sat down to admire […]

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Let Earth Receive

by Kay Bruner December 22, 2014

Let’s just go ahead and say this right out loud:  when you live overseas, Christmas can be really hard. It’s hard to be away from family and friends.  That’s the big one.  It’s the season of Together, and you’re not. In addition, the carols are sung to the wrong tune, spiral-sliced honey ham does not […]

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Tempted to Tell All

by Richelle Wright December 19, 2014

“Mama, when we were at the library the other day, I was tempted to tell someone about Jesus and how He was born to save us. Is that wrong?” I couldn’t help but smile. Funny question for a missionary kid to be asking… After all, isn’t that what missionaries do? Isn’t that what we teach […]

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