The Changing Face of Missions

by Chris Lautsbaugh on March 6, 2013

I want us to consider how globalization is effecting us as missionaries. Fritz Kling wrote a book entitled “The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church” His book will be the backdrop for our discussion. In it he identifies two characters; Missions Marm and Apple Guy.

Missions Marm – An older, single woman who loaded her trunk (or perhaps even a coffin packed with belongings) onto a ship or plane for her trip to the field, knowing she would only see “home” for an extended furlough every five years. Communication was by sporadic mail service. A lifetime of service seemed too short to accomplish the task.

Apple Guy – a young, hip family man, wearing shorts, flip-flops, and sporting scraggly facial hair who excels at multi-tasking and staying in constant communication with those at home. His family would soon fly into join him for a three-year commitment after renting out the house they were maintaining in the United States. The goodbyes were brief because family is planning a  visit for a sight-seeing trip in a few months.

“Mission Marm” had given up all of her Western accoutrements and conveniences to serve in any way or place that she was needed. “Apple Guy” brought his gadgets and toys with him to a place he had chosen.

The changing of the missions guard brings up several questions:
– Will the next generation bring enough depth and commitment to difficult cross-cultural assignments?
– Are older missionaries prepared to minister and teach Christian faith to people in complex and changing cultures?
– Will Apple Guy and contemporaries know how to forge relationships in less developed and less powerful countries?

Kling states, “Right now, over 400,000 Christian missionaries are living in countries other than their own…the future of the global church will look very different. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky is reputed to have explained why he always seemed to be the first player to the puck: “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where the puck is going to be.” I wonder…if the global church (is) skating to where the puck was going to be.”

While many of us identify with Apple Guy (we are, after all, reading a blog), can we learn from and embrace the strength of a Mission Marm? In my twenty plus years I have seen many changes in missions (think no email, Skype, or smart phones). While toting my Apple products, I can see a distinct difference in the thinking and attitudes of younger missionaries.

Don’t think: “How will missions adapt?”

Think: “How will I adapt?”

Here are some thoughts for discussion:

How can we maintain the strength and commitment of a Missions Marm?
What do we need to guard against in being Apple Guys?
How can we draw on the strengths from both generations to accomplish the task?

Let’s Discuss!!

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

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For more about this topic, I encourage you to pick up The Meeting of the Waters.

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at NoSuperHeroes.com on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • great book! it was required reading for all with our organization a few years back and i found it both inspirational and challenging (http://ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com/2011/04/times-are-achangin.html). in fact, i almost used a quote from this book in my post this week.

    i think a big part of the dynamic between missions marm and apple guys is the continual acknowledgement that although we are on the same team, even though we are both international expat workers, we come from two different cultural backgrounds… perhaps as radically different from each other as from our local colleagues in our place of service. and we need to offer each other the same grace and mercy we’d offer our local colleagues, we need to be willing to dialogue, we need to hold on to our individual expectations and ideas of best practices with open hands and be willing to change, we need to respect each other, and we need to be teachable.

    another thing that i don’t remember if this book addresses or not – expat workers and colleagues come from all over the globe. it just isn’t the interplay between missions marm and apple guy, both from the west. it may be missions marm from korea and apple guy from brazil. we see it happening here in w. africa all the time, now…

    • Way to add another layer to the discussion, cross-cultural brings a whole set of new challenges. There are many posts on this site that begin tackling a never ending discussion on that one!

  • Dalaina

    ooooh, love this topic! I am married to THE Apple Guy who managed to get a satellite internet connection in the middle of the Amazon jungle before we even had an indoor toilet. But our co-workers are in their late-60’s and lifetime missionaries in the bush who didn’t even have walls on their jungle house until 10 years ago. Sometime I feel like I could never measure up that kind of fortitude and (pardon the expression, but I can’t come up with a more accurate one) bada$$ness. It’s mind blowing to me! And then I realize, I don’t have to. God put me in THIS generation with all its benefits… and misfortunes. I don’t have to say goodbye to home for years and years at a time (air travel is cheap and easy). There comes a responsibility to make sure I am spending my time wisely engaging in local relationships and not living online, but this isn’t an either/or situation.

    The last thing I want to say as a mother, as a missionary and as an MK – I think our families, specifically our children, are SO much more healthy than they were in years past where children were routinely sacrificed on the altar of ministry. Even in the bush,I am not required to send my 5 year old to boarding school because there are resources available thanks to kindles, computers, and internet. My kids can grow up with a sense of belonging and identity because they will be able to maintain roots in their home country because they get to visit often. They will know their grandparents for more than just an annual Christmas gift. I reject the notion of missionaries from generations past that allowing our families and children to fall apart in the effort to spread the Good News is holy or God-designed. This is one specific area where our advances in technology has made our burden so much lighter and where modern missionary culture is getting it right.

    • Andrea Kroeze

      Could not agree with you more! What a privilege we have to be overseas missionaries at this point of time in history with all its benefits to help us stay connected to our “homes” while serving across the globe, yet how much we have to learn from those who have gone before us! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • Great points ladies, even throwing in the topic of education via technology – excellent. I had not even considered that area!

    • LOVE your thoughts 🙂

  • Marla Taviano

    I accidentally bought this book on my Kindle last year and really enjoyed it. I don’t have any brilliant thoughts to share, but I’m the proud owner of my Great-Aunt Leona’s Travel Journal from 1949 when she was a Missions Marm in Ethiopia. And my aunt, uncle, and 5 cousins were missionaries in Indonesia when I was a kid, and we would spend hours making cassette tapes to send to them (singing, skits, chatting) in care packages that arrived 2-3 months later. And last year, my husband, our 3 girls and I went to Cambodia for 5 weeks and now keep up with all of our friends there via Skype, Facebook, and other social media. I’m super-grateful for the age we live in. I can’t get over how crazy it is.

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  • Tanja

    Interesting subject! I can’t pretend I’m not Apple Family, with my iPod and the kids’ iPad and my hubs’ iPhone…. but, and I know this is somewhat a side topic, I do have an issue with all this technology “flaunting”. I appreciate these gadgets so much for what the have to offer us, especially expats far away from home, in convenience of communication and entertainment. With my iPod and being able to watch TV shows from home on it I don’t miss having a TV and satellite much at all. But I feel like when we take all these fancy gadgets outside and use them in front of our local friends who don’t even have enough food to eat or money to pay for school or a doctor if needed, I feel like we put them in a spot where we are almost “leading them into temptation” to covet those things. I know that they know our lifestyles include many of these things, but I feel the need to try to limit how much I “show them off” in public anyway. This has nothing to do with hiding things or pretending that I am poor, which I don’t. (Fat chance anybody would believe that since I drive around in a nice, new Hillux…) But the car is fulfills a very visible and commonly accepted need of transportation that I can’t fill otherwise, the gadgets, on the other hand, are not something I HAVE to show off in order to live or to do my work. So I try not to.

    • Now that opens a can of worms – thanks for doing that! Its always good to put ourselves in the people we are reaching out to’s shoes. We have to challenge ourselves to balance adapting and even embracing a local way of relaxing and doing things versus parachuting in and creating “little pockets of America on foreign soil.” (or wherever home is). There is not a one size fits all answer, but as with many of our discussions, awareness and openness to embrace local culture is the first step.

  • tony and amber elswick

    This is such a great topic for us to think through. We are just beginning our missionary journey. Its finding the balance of both and knowing the people we are ministering to and how it is affecting them, as with a myriad of other things we bring with us physical or culturally to other countries. Our generation of “apple guys” can have a tendency to have some pride over or gadgets and way of doing things. God is glorified with apple guy and missions marm are able to worship together and show others how to worship. What a beautiful thing when the two are blended and not polarized. —amberE

  • Every overseas team should be talking about the topic of multiple generations at work in their country / field.

    Can I be an Apple Marm? I feel stuck between the two you define in your post. I can see the value of employing the techie tools to enhance the work we do. But I wonder about how the Bolivians perceive us and our gadgets. Will they think that they must have all the latest toys in order to be an effective witness for Christ? More followers of Christ being the general goal, are we communicating (overtly or inadvertently) that only people with a certain lifestyle can reach out to others? Then again, as technological advances flood the nation, not making use of them might cause the Bolivians to perceive us as archaic and irrelevant.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Chris.

    • Apple marm? LOL… Angie! I love that! My sentiments, exactly, though! I don’t fit either extreme well… stuck somewhere in the middle. Maybe we can help be the bridge between the other two extremes, with the reality that as the years continue to march by, we will, someday, be the authentic mission marms?

  • Dave Lewis

    I am technically (age-wise) in the “marm” group (got a parallel term for guys?), but I think much more like an Apple Guy. When I was on the field I mourned the fact that our leaders (all older guys) did not benefit from what the younger ones had to offer. All great potential comes with great challenges attached. I believe it behooves organizational leadership to adapt to the new realities. Agile software concepts have a lot to offer for the future of missions.

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