What is a “fruitful” ministry?

What comes to mind when I ask you, “What does a fruitful ministry look like?” Or “What makes an outreach event or discipleship relationship fruitful?”

I’m guessing that you didn’t struggle to answer those questions. Of course, your answer may contain nuance and offer context, but my point is that we all have pictures of what fruitfulness looks like.

In my former organization we held annual meetings, which were often a highlight of the year. Getting to be with my friends in person was a highlight and I loved hearing reports of what was going on around my country of service and other countries in the region.

But I also felt tension.

Undoubtably, someone would share a report of how they fit 1,352 people in their living rooming and had robust Bible studies every week. Okay, maybe the number was closer to 13, but when my “great testimony” involved one or two who were showing spiritual interest, I didn’t feel very fruitful.

And maybe where you live, the mortality rate for young children is high. Or someone coming out of drug addiction goes back into it, does that mean we are less fruitful?

Not necessarily. However, much of the tension you and I feel can be tied back to the question “What does fruitfulness look like?”

I recently released a book, Becoming More Fruitful in Cross-Cultural Work, that explores this idea of fruitfulness.

Everyone, whether individuals or organizations, has metrics of what success looks like. But over time, those metrics can become the primary way we evaluate our fruitfulness. Much like the Galatians, cross-cultural workers can inadvertently turn our metrics into a modern version of “the law” and be enslaved by it. As I studied Galatians, it dawned on me that Paul could as easily have written his letter to the Galatians as a “Letter to the Great Commission Worker.”

The Galatians had access to freedom in Christ and yet, they kept returning to the comforts and familiarity of the law. It’s understandable because the law was familiar. It was known. It was easier to track and measure. And the law wasn’t “bad,” it was incomplete.

If Paul had written to us, he would have become exasperated with us too. Too often we have substituted our own “law” and live under the bondage of ministry metrics—or what we wish a ministry context could be.

Now, I’m not anti-metrics. We need to have goals and reasons for being on the field, doing what we’re doing. However, we—both individuals and organizations—can easily slip into a modern-day version of the law à la metrics. But if our metrics, location (where we are allowed to be), and what we are allowed to do become the primary definition of “a fruitful ministry,” like the Galatians, we stay enslaved to something that never could provide freedom and life.

I wondered, “Did God call you to the field to set others free in Christ while you stay trapped in an unintended form of ministry bondage?” What if collectively we moved our metrics down a peg and allowed walking with the Spirit to be the true measure of fruitfulness? 

Over and over as I researched and wrote this book my mind was blown. For one thing, the fruit of the Spirit is not like the gifts of the Spirit. You and I don’t get all the gifts, we get some of them. But the fruit? We can have all nine all the time. All nine all the time. I have another question for you:

How much in your life do you experience:

Love,
Joy,
Peace, 
Patience, 
Kindness, 
Goodness, 
Gentleness, 
Faithfulness, and 
Self-Control?

If your answer isn’t “24/7 Baby!” then this book is for you. In it you’ll find that God has upward fruit (toward him), outward fruit (toward others), and inward fruit (toward yourself) for you. When God talks about fruitfulness, He has true, holistic, all-of-your-life fruitfulness for you.

Guess where grapes, the metaphor that Paul uses, produces fruit? In rocky soil. In other words, in the messy realities of your life on the field. So, fruitfulness isn’t just for the early morning “Tea and Jesus” time. It’s also for public transportation, annoying teammates, and doors that won’t open.

Because these concepts are to be discussed and wrestled with in community, Global Trellis is hosting a four-week book club in October to discuss Becoming More Fruitful. You (and people you work with) can join here and participate or receive the recorded meetings.

Redefining fruitfulness is both simple and hard. So instead of all of us reading the book and saying, “Yes, that’s the kind of life I want to live” and then moving on without much really changing, we’ll discuss the book for four weeks, allowing new roots to take hold.

We’ll discuss:

  • The fruit of the Spirit and the idea of metrics
  • The upwardly oriented fruit: love, joy, and peace
  • The outwardly oriented fruit: patience, kindness, and goodness
  • The inwardly oriented fruit: gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control

My hope is that this book will enable you and your organization to further experience the freedom and growth that God has for each one of us, even in the midst of ebbs and flows of what we’re able to do.

Becoming More Fruitful is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. Check it out here.

A version of this post first appeared here.

Don’t Just Missionary On

Onward, Christian soldiers.

Soldier on, Christians.

These don’t mean the same thing, at least not to me.

Paul uses the word soldier to describe someone faithfully acting in obedience to God when he exhorts Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3 NIV). It’s a good thing to be Christian soldier.

But when we use soldier as a verb, such as in soldier on, it can take on a different meaning. Around the early 1900s, to soldier on the job was introduced, meaning, oddly enough, to act as if you’re working hard while only putting in minimal effort. And then the mid 1900s gave us the shorter to soldier on, which means to keep going in the face of difficulty or trouble.

In this latter sense, soldiering on, too, is a good thing. But that’s not how the phrase often comes across today. When I hear “soldiering on,” I think of a joyless trudge, just putting one foot in front of the other without resting, without taking time for reflection, without asking questions, without sharing heartfelt emotions, without asking for help or relief or sympathy or grace.

That’s how the best soldiers do it, right?

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

Do you ever feel that you’re only “missionarying on”—where your service overseas is a joyless trudge, just putting one foot in front of the other without resting, without taking time for reflection, without asking questions, without sharing heartfelt emotions, without asking for help or sympathy or grace?

Please don’t get me wrong: Suffering is part of the equation. Persevering when things are hard, really hard, is often necessary. And sometimes we simply must put our heads down and do the work that must be done. But if being a missionary feels only like a slog through thick mud, day after day after day, loaded down, with no relief in sight or hoped for, then something needs to change.

If that’s the case for you, tell some someones how you feel—someone who will listen without judgment, someone who knows you well, someone who is on your side, someone who understands, someone whom you trust, someone who can make a difference.

Don’t settle for trudging.

Don’t be content to let your “have to” devour your “get to.”

Don’t assume that carrying an overly heavy burden is all there is and all there ever will be.

Onward, Christian missionaries.

But please, please don’t just missionary on.

[photo: “boot,” by eltpics, used under a Creative Commons license]

Fighting My Inner Cynic

 

We were hosting another vision trip for bright-eyed twenty-somethings, and I found myself trying desperately to stifle another eyeroll. A recent college grad was explaining his plans to move to Afghanistan and eventually completely revamp the entire education system. 

“Oh, would you try to do that before or after your closest friends are kidnapped and killed?” 

“How innovative of you! I bet none of the countries that have poured billions of dollars into the country have ever tried such a thing! It’s a good thing that you’re here and can show them how it’s done.”

These are things I was tempted to say, but by the grace of God and the knowledge that I could unleash my eyerolls later, I kept my thoughts to myself.

If you have been on the field for more than a few years, perhaps you are familiar with the cynicism that so easily creeps into the consciousness of the field worker. It’s the uneasiness we feel when new co-workers arrive, but their excitement and fervor feel more like ignorance than vibrant ambition to us.

It’s seeing new teammates talk about the great spiritual conversation they had with a friend but privately thinking that it will not ever really go any further than that. After all, you have had many similar conversations.

There’s no denying how jaded we can become after experiencing countless disappointments and atrocities. Like tire tracks on a dried-up dirt road, my mind had created expectations for disappointment, for nothing to actually turn out well, and for people I love to eventually leave the field. 

What had happened to me? I came to the field with so much excitement and hope. But the difficulties and disappointments had taken such a toll that I could not even respond with a kind word to our young friend’s enthusiasm. Granted, his ideas were lacking historical awareness, but my attitude towards any lofty plan or vision was one of sheer cynicism rather than tempered optimism. 

For most of us, our expectations have been forged by the fact that life on the field can be brutal. Endless goodbyes, evacuations, and friends who had been murdered had all taken a heavy toll on my own ability to retain any sense of optimism. While I had dealt with the trauma of the painful events, I had not acknowledged the fact that my mind had been trained to expect the absolute worst. And I wanted everyone else to expect the worst, too.

I would really love to tell you that I had some special encounter with Jesus or a few breakthrough sessions of therapy that completely turned around my critical attitude. I wish I could report that I now listen to people’s well-meaning aspirations and feel the urge to empower them rather than poke holes in their dreams. But that would not be entirely true.

Not long after feeling convicted about what a downer I had become, a friend and fellow worker came to stay with us. She also happened to be a mental health professional, and she too was feeling the cynicism sneak in when spending time with new arrivals. Together, we prayed for a renewed spirit of joy and compassion when met with the tender naiveté of our friends. 

She asked me what I was like when I first landed in Afghanistan, and I confessed that I secretly thought that I was going to be like Mother Teresa. She shared her own misguided expectations of being in perfect, harmonious friendships with all of her teammates and local friends. We both laughed until we cried as we remembered our hopes that had been blown to smithereens by the ruthless realities of life on the field. We, too, had once been the newbies with preposterous ideas. The only difference was that we did not have the audacity to actually voice them out loud upon our arrival. 

This little moment of clarity did help me to approach short-term visitors and field hopefuls with more tenderness and grace. My friend encouraged me to share my stories with them in a way that was personal rather than didactic. Our stories of heartbreak, disappointment, and times of despair are both true and relevant. 

Rather than telling someone to adjust their expectations, a story gives listeners the option of taking in new information and assimilating it into their own perspective. The difficulty, of course, is that many stories are painful to retell. It is far easier to say, “Trust me, you are about to have your heart ripped from your chest and repeatedly stomped,” than to tell the stories of friends’ tragic deaths. It is more expedient to let newly arrived ladies know that it’s only a matter of time before they are sexually assaulted on the street than to share with them personal experiences of violation. But lasting relationships and trust are not built on ease and expedience. 

When I am really honest with myself, I have to admit that I want people to believe what I say simply because I have experience they do not have. This is unreasonable, pretentious, and ultimately says a lot more about my pride than anyone’s naivete. 

Jesus could have quite easily told his listeners, “Trust me . . . I’m actually God and I know everything.” Instead, he approached the crowds and his disciples with relatable stories and agricultural metaphors. He explained hidden realities with the familiarity of the mundane. Despite his intimate knowledge of each person he encountered, he still took the time to ask questions. “Who do you say I am?” “Where is your husband?” “Where have they all gone?” “Are you going to leave, too?” The compassionate curiosity of Jesus exposes my pride and impatience. 

The freshness of new field workers also tends to highlight how much my faith has changed. Sure, my expectations have been weathered by hardship, but my belief that God is truly a salvager of the perverse, atrocious, and devastating has taken some blows. I want to believe that the wreckage I see is not the end of the story, because my hope is still in the all-powerful God who has promised to make all things new. But asking God for the improbable now requires a painfully honest examination of my heart, because the temptation is to expect disappointment rather than relinquishing the actual fear of failure and disappointment to Him. 

When new co-workers arrive with a head full of dreams and hearts full of hope, their excitement and joy have the potential to ignite new ideas, bring fresh perspective, and remind us to expect beautiful gifts from the Father. The Spirit of God has birthed dreams in their hearts and a fire in their bones, and it may look entirely different than anything I have ever imagined.

That new field worker will eventually be a seasoned one. The hardship and heartache will eventually take up residence, and they will need the refreshing and reassurance that we have also needed. 

As we welcome new arrivals, may we choose to bless their dreams and listen to their hopes with tenderness. May we hold space for them when the disappointments feel crushing, and may we find fellowship together in both joy and heartache. 

Is Christ Still Worth It?

In 2007, worker friends of mine were martyred in a country in Central Asia. I was in my mid-twenties, single, and praying for direction for the desires the Lord had given me for his kingdom. I was so shaken by their deaths. I remember how, shortly after it happened, I was swimming furiously in the gym pool, praying to the Lord, ”Who will take their place? Please, send me.”

I couldn’t make it to the memorial in the US, but a pastor friend shared with me the eulogy he had given. One line has had a profound effect on me. After talking about all the challenges these worker friends faced, and their many adversaries, he said something like, “You may hear about all this opposition and all the difficulties they faced, and their lives may not sound appealing to you. But the truth is, their lives did not appeal to them either. They loved Christ more than they loved their own lives.

~~~~~~~

I remember when we were first getting ready to go overseas. My husband and I had the opportunity to share at a church together. I was passionate, convinced that Christ is worthy and that he is worth our sacrifice. I was so glad we were finally (at age 33 and 32) on our way to serve Christ in the Middle East for the rest of our lives. 

The first three years were exciting. We had a lot of adrenaline, and we were planted in really good spiritual communities. During that time we joined a team to help plant a church. We felt like we were finally living our dream life. Then the Lord called us to another ministry in another country. 

The last four years, since arriving in this country, we have faced many difficulties: significant health problems, a brutal treatment to catalyze physical healing, an excruciating language learning season, deep loneliness, unresolved trauma flaring up with intense symptoms and a need for additional counseling/therapy. A tragedy a year ago left us reeling, and we are still processing the shock of it. Our efforts in relationship building haven’t borne the fruit we hoped; right now the path doesn’t seem very clear. The ground at times feels shaky underneath our feet. What can we stand on? At times we feel like the wind in our sails is just…..gone. 

We have been overseas for seven years now. According to a friend, who is also a clinical counselor and who has done a lot of research about mental health in workers, we are right at the burnout period. And frankly, we feel it. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot I love about our life here. I love where we live. I love the beauty around me. I am so thankful for the expat community we have started to get to know. Our kids are doing really well at school. But I don’t love how lost we feel right now, how very little we have to go on for ministry. We have dreams for the work here but struggle to find our place in it. 

We shared some of this with our church this past summer, asking for prayer. I wondered how they might hear what we shared. Did our lives sound as unappealing as the ones from my friends? We were definitely not sharing the glamorous, attractive stories that you sometimes hear from workers when they come home. We were not doing the best job at recruiting, if you ask me.

A question swirled in my head: What would motivate any of our friends at church not only to keep praying for us, but to maybe one day also go overseas? Is Christ still worth it?

Is Christ worth years and years of language learning? Is he worth the death of who we are in English for what we can be in another language? Is he worth our praise when we have more questions than clear answers from him?  When the ground doesn’t feel firm, and our confidence feels shaken, is he worth it? 

The thing is, Christ hasn’t changed. He is still the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). He is still the one who knows the end from the beginning, whose footprints sometimes are unseen as he leads through the sea (Psalm 77:19). He is still the one who creates the visible out of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). He is still the one whose arm brings salvation (Isaiah 59:17).

Christ is still the one who stoops low even as he has all authority on earth (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the one who gives himself to us so completely, so joyfully, so powerfully, so lovingly. The one who is our life — our only life!

This verse in a new song by CityAlight and Sandra McCracken captures why we can still love Christ even when we don’t love our lives: 

On the road that You walked
With the weight of the cross
All my pain and my sorrow You held
So to You I shall hold
You redeem every loss
For my Lord, You have given Yourself

Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
And if I should remain in the valley today
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself

Yes, friend, in the valley the risen Christ is still worthy and worth it, because there we get Him – all of Him – forever.

Missionary Job Description: Feel Awkward

An Introvert Moves to India

Shortly before we launched as missionaries to India, I was gifted a book. The title was something like Home at Last.

This book disturbed me.

In it, the (obviously extroverted) author writes we will be with people all the time in Heaven/The Earth Made New, and won’t that be wonderful?! After this statement, the author moves on to other beautiful theological musings and descriptions of Home. I skipped these and read again the people-all-the-time thing.

Oh no, I quietly panicked. I don’t want to be with people all the time. What if I’m not cut out for Heaven?! 

Then we moved to India, where your arms seem to touch the arms of others nearly all the time, at least on the bus and sometimes even at your house. My neighbors, worried I would feel lonely or homesick, made sure never to leave me alone. 

The good part of this is that I was also never hungry. And Indian food is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

The difficult part is that sometimes I wanted everyone to take their curries and chapattis and palak panir and go visit someone else.

I actually like being around people. And I want lots of people to be in Heaven. But I need time to think about the meaning of life, you know? Otherwise, I feel like I stop understanding the world and my place in it. I lose track, becoming internally displaced. Sometimes I need a minute to think about Everything. 

I’ve heard that’s called being an introvert.

Several times that first year, I locked my main door from the outside and sneaked back into my house from a side door, so people would think I was not at home.

Ahhh. Alone at Last.

Then my extroverted husband would bounce home like Tigger and wonder why I was locking out all the unreached people we had come to minister to. And I would wonder why I wasn’t more like him. And I would think to myself, “I can do this. I can be more like Joshua. I just need time to think about how to do that…”

Thinking, by myself, was my safe place. Language learning, making cultural mistakes, and being observed made me want to run and hide.

But when I went home and had my quiet moments, I found something in myself I hadn’t expected. The reason I was hiding was not always to analyze. Sometimes I hid for the sake of hiding.

Sometimes I hid because I was afraid.

That’s Awkward.

A friend of mine once said that the main job description of a missionary is to feel awkward. 

You feel awkward in your host country. Then you go home and feel awkward, too.

I like knowing all the rules, especially social ones, and I like to go to sleep at night knowing that I didn’t offend anyone, and that I said what I meant to say, and was understood and didn’t talk too much or too little, and that nobody around me was ignored or suffered hurt feelings because of things I said or other people said. If I can’t sleep, I make a list of people I might have offended and pray over it and give it to God and sometimes follow up the next day.

Enter India. Instead of my neatly organized, slightly neurotic list-making, that first year I went to bed at night thinking about how to leave someone’s house.

I often visited a friend, and after a couple of hours would try to leave. She would ask me to stay longer. I would sit. A while later, I would try to leave again. She would ask me to stay longer. I would sit. After playing this up-down game for some time, I could tell my friend actually wanted me to leave. I wanted to leave, too. But she kept telling me to sit and stay, and I kept sitting and staying. 

So, instead of analyzing the minute nuances of human interaction, I wondered how in the world people go home in India.

One awkward moment was tolerable. The problem was, I knew the awkwardness was going to be repeated multiple times daily. I was going to feel awkward. Often. And make other people feel awkward. And not be able to say anything to make it better, because all I could say was, “Nice to meet you, I have a brother who is older than me and a sister who is younger than me, do you want to drink chai?”

Honestly, it’s only because of my extroverted and goal-oriented husband that I kept going out the door. He would laugh with me over my faux pas, and they would become funny instead of tragic. Then he would remind me that making mistakes doesn’t kill you and that I have something to give the world. Something beyond just avoiding mistakes.

He would remind me that it’s worth the risk because maybe someone I felt awkward around might love Jesus someday. My shame might bring God glory.

Joshua and I argued a lot that first year, as he learned to be more introverted and I learned to be more extroverted. But I still thank him for his constant encouragement to exit our house. Because some of my favorite memories of my life are of my first year in India. They’re much more interesting than the memories I made just sitting and thinking. Funnier, too.

A Special Gift

But my introversion wasn’t all a stumbling block. It turned out to be a gift, too. I realized it was a gift after the 37th time that my friend Sai told me not to say danyavad

I had lost sleep over this. Why in the world couldn’t I say thank you? What was wrong with being polite? What was I supposed to say instead?

It took multiple discussions (with people) and late-night analysis sessions (by myself) to finally understand why North Indians don’t say thank you to family members and close friends. The answer revealed something hidden deep within the culture, something that would help me understand why it’s so difficult for a Hindu to pick up their cross and follow Jesus. (I tell that entire story in my book, Hidden Song of the Himalayas.)

Using Your Gift

Introverts, don’t let your gift hold you back. I know some days it seems more prudent to wait until you speak the language or understand the culture before you really invest in others. But the only way to get to that place is through the forest of awkward not knowing. It’s like when you’re learning to drive, and you really want to slow down because everything is happening so fast, but sometimes it’s safer just to keep going. 

Introverts, appreciate how God made you. Use your gift to do the uncomfortable work of cultural analysis that will make you a true insider. Let it be difficult. Let it hurt. Let it be awkward. It’s worth the cost.

At the same time, it’s okay to take a break. Just know that when you come away with Jesus on a mountain because you’re overwhelmed by the crowds, if they follow you there, He will provide. He will provide with what little you have, even if it’s just a few loaves of bread and a handful of tiny fish. Because He has compassion for you, and for the crowds, too.

While the awkward moments never completely subsided, I learned to decipher certain subtle linguistic and social cues in India. I learned to understand my friends, their language, and their unique perspectives. After seven years in India, I could finally picture myself in the Earth Made New, surrounded by people, arms touching as we stood together under the tree whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations.”

Ahhh. Home at Last!

Getting my friends home is God’s story to write. My part is to pick up my cross and walk out my door.

Will you join me?

Some Seeds Die

When I was growing up, my family often sang prayers before mealtime. Our repertoire included “God is good and God is great,” “Hands, hands, hands,” and “I owe the Lord a morning song.” Another family favorite was the “Johnny Appleseed” song. Perhaps your family also sang this song. Based on the historic figure John Chapman, the legend of Johnny Appleseed has made its way into Disney movies, folklore, and prayer-songs[1].

The second verse of this song has not been sitting well with me for years. We sing:

“And every seed I sow, will grow into a tree.
And someday there will be apples there,
For everyone in the world to share.
The Lord’s been good to me.”

While I appreciate the encouraging, hopeful words, in recent years I have found that they grate at my soul. Is it ok to teach our children lies or half-truths, even in the context of a children’s song? Not every seed will grow. Jesus was clear about that. But this song gives us a nicer, cleaner, easier way to teach our children that seeds grow. We do learning activities with our children, and we assume that the seeds we plant in the little pots on our porch will grow.

But often they don’t.

I have learned this over the past decade of ministering in a slum community. Quite literally, many seeds do not grow. There is a grassy field only a stone’s throw from our house. We would love to plant small trees there, or flowers, or vegetables. But the roaming sheep and goats immediately devour anything edible. We recently tried transplanting a fairly good-sized tree from a pot to this field. Within an hour the goats had devoured all the leaves and left it a bare stick. Our six-year-old son cried as he watched our plant get eaten.

Even the pots on our porch often fail to produce the plants we were expecting to grow. Whether it is the neighboring chickens that wander onto our porch to eat the new seedlings or a curious child who decides to pick at the pots, new seeds often have no chance to grow. We did a gardening activity with thirty of our elementary school students recently: planting spinach, chili peppers, and kangkong. We faithfully watered the thirty little pots. Hopeful sprouts sprang up. But now a month later, two small pots are all that remain.

Sadly, ministering in hard settings often yields similar results as our gardening efforts in the slum. Have you been in your location for years but not seen anyone come to know Jesus? Do you know the heartbreak and despair of sowing for years but not seeing any fruit? Have you poured yourself into the work and not seen what you had hoped to see? Or perhaps the pain and disappointment is related to your team? Have people you trusted and mentored not produced the fruit you were hoping for?

These past few months have felt like a season of pruning for me. Teammates have left. We had to send an intern home suddenly because of a breach of trust. And multiple students that we had poured into have stopped coming to lessons. Sometimes the heartbreak feels too much to bear.

So I have started singing a new version of the Johnny Appleseed song with my children:

“And every seed I sow will grow into a tree.
But that is not true, ‘cause some seeds die.
And then I’ll sit on the ground and cry:
‘The Lord’s still good to me. Even when the seeds die.’”

This feels more in line with Scripture. Some seeds die. Three quarters of the seeds, in fact, if Jesus’s parable of the soils is mathematical. Some seeds fall on the path and are eaten by birds. Other seeds fall on rocky soil and cannot grow. Some seeds begin to grow but are choked by the worries and riches of this world. Only a quarter of the seeds fall on good soil. (See Matthew 13 for more details.)

Wherever you are, wherever you are sowing seeds, may you be encouraged today. Not with an “everything will be ok” or “every seed will grow” lie. But may you be encouraged to lament the areas in your life and ministry that are disappointing. May you know today that God sees, God hears, and God cares.

And may we be able to join our voice with the voice of the prophet Habakkuk and proclaim:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19a)


[1] As I wrote this article and googled the song, I discovered that it was actually created by Disney in 1948, originally titled “The Lord is Good to Me.” However, the words that I grew up singing are different than the original.

New data shows how missionary kids can suffer. Here’s what parents can do about it.

TCK Training’s research into the experiences of globally mobile Third Culture Kids included some hard truths, especially when it comes to the experiences of missionary kids. Missionary Kids are experiencing abuse and neglect at higher rates than American children. Dramatically higher, in some cases.

Now that we know this, what do we do? The bottom line is: we need to talk to our kids. We need to understand their perspective and how our lives can appear to them. We need to provide clear assurance to them that they are and will continue to be loved, listened to, protected, and cared for.

Abuse
Let’s start with the ‘good’ news. While 28% of Americans experienced physical abuse from an adult member of their household before the age of 18, only 16% of missionary kids in the TCK Training survey reported the same. 16% is more missionary kids being hurt in their homes than we want to see, of course, but it’s still a positive sign. 

Now for the bad news. 11% of Americans experienced emotional abuse from an adult member of their household before the age of 18. Among missionary kids, that number was 40%. That’s 2 out of every 5 missionary kids. Nearly four times the rate seen in the American public. 

The rate of sexual abuse (from an adult or child at least five years older, experienced before the age of 18) was a little higher among missionary kids than among Americans – 24% vs 21%. In addition, 26% of missionary kids experienced child-to-child sexual abuse, and 28% experienced grooming behaviour. 

Neglect
When we move on to talking about neglect, the news gets worse. 10% of the American public reported experiencing physical neglect as children. In the TCK sector, Missionary Kids were the most likely to report physical neglect, at 14%. This means that as children, 14% of missionary kids worried they would not have enough to eat, or would not have clean clothes to wear, or would not have a parent able to take them to the doctor if they needed to go.

This doesn’t mean 14% of missionary kids went without food, clothing, or medical attention. It means that for 14% of missionary kids, this was a significant worry during their childhood. 

11% of Americans reported experiencing emotional neglect as children. More than three times this number of missionary kids, 37%, reported experiencing emotional neglect as children. That’s more than 1 in 3 missionary kids who as children felt they were not loved, special or important, or that their family was not close and supportive.

Again, this does not mean a third of missionary kids are unloved, but that a third of missionary kids are not sure of this – they do not feel loved, do not feel special, do not feel important, do not feel that their family is close and supportive. 

Now what?
The goal of this research is not to scare people away from mission work, or life overseas in general. It does, however, bust the myth that the mission world is a safe bubble in which children are protected from all kinds of potential harm.

Even when your own children are untouched by abuse and neglect themselves, it’s highly likely their friends are affected. These things are happening in our communities, all around the world. This much is clear as I speak with child protection officers and TCK caregivers in various mission organisations in (and from) various countries. Many have even suggested to me that TCK Training’s research likely paints a better picture than reality, given their own experiences on the field. 

Now that we know, what do we do? 

1. Talk to our kids. These things are happening, and we can no longer pretend they aren’t. We need to talk to our kids about what abuse is, what neglect is, and how to recognise this in their interactions with others. This will enable them to recognise unsafe behaviour directed toward them and also help them identify friends in trouble.

Discussions about safe/unsafe touch, private parts, bodily autonomy, the difference between secrets and surprises, and listening to our internal sense of safety and discomfort is essential — even with very young children. This is especially true when we are living in a culture with different ideas of what is acceptable than we ourselves might have. 

We need to teach children that they are allowed to say no, they are allowed to feel safe, and they do not have to obey every adult at all times. Then we need to back them up. We need to let them say no to hugs/kisses when they are uncomfortable. We need to allow them privacy in the home. We need to give them permission to set boundaries — even if this creates some tension or embarrassment in our community. To do otherwise sets them up to potentially accept abuse down the line. 

2. Understand their perspective. We also need to listen to our kids. Once we’ve taught them that they have a right to feel safe, we need them to tell us when they feel uncomfortable about a person or situation — especially if this happens when we are not present.

For this communication to happen, they need to know that we will listen and believe them when they tell us, and that we will take action. That means we will not put them in that position again but will discuss what will make the situation safe/comfortable for them — or find an alternative.

Often this will mean discussing self-advocacy, how to ask for what they want/need, or to say no/set boundaries. Sometimes it will mean being present — not leaving them alone at a certain friend’s house or extracurricular activity, whether in the short term or long term. It might extend to finding a different form of transport to school, or even changing schools. 

The other important part of listening is understanding how they view their life and world. Things that seem safe to you may not seem safe to them. Anything that frightens them or creates anxiety in them is worth taking time to explain and create plans for. No question or fear is wrong or stupid or a waste of time. Listening to what is on your child’s heart, validating their emotions, and assuring them you have a plan to take care of the things that worry them is vital. And it brings us to our third and final point of advice.

3. Provide clear assurance. Neglect is, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire, more about the child’s perception of physical and emotional security than about the actual provision of food and love. The child’s worry and anxiety about physical provision can be as big a burden as actual lack of physical provision. That is, carrying the mental/emotional burden of not knowing whether there will be enough food each day/week has a deep impact on a child — even if dinner is on the table each night. 

Missionary Kids reported experiencing Physical Neglect at a higher rate than American children. Anecdotally, we believe that in most cases this is due more to carrying the burden of worry than to not having enough.

Many missionary kids are part of the support raising process, ensuring the family will have enough money to return to their host country and stay there. They take on a sense of burden to provide for the family, often without knowing whether or not there is actually enough (especially when younger).

In some cases, missionary kids know exactly how little money there is – or believe the family is in more financial trouble than they are. This can happen when children are included in requests for prayer/support, or the family prays together for their financial needs to be met. Parents often believe that when God provides, this will strengthen their children’s faith. Instead, many children remain in a state of long-term anxiety, unsure their daily needs can/will be met. 

It is vital that missionary parents clearly communicate that they will provide for the family’s needs and that the children do not need to worry. Children need to know there will be food on the table, and they never need to worry about that. 

37% of missionary kids lacked assurance they were loved, special, and important. It is crucial for all missionary parents to clearly communicate this, in words and deeds. Give each child one-on-one time, for conversation and for play. Listen to what is important to them.

If God entrusts you with the irreplaceable ministry of raising up a precious child, do not let that child believe the ministry of child-rearing, of modeling the protecting and faithful love of God, is less important to you than any job — even the work of spreading the gospel. 


A Life Overseas is committed to supporting global families in every way we can. Understanding abuse, its prevention, and caring well for the abused is part of that. If you would like to read more, the following articles are a good place to start:


Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Is It Possible to Parent Well?

Somewhere between the 1,100-mile move and the wheels falling off (not literally, but figuratively) of our family’s parenting vehicle, I asked the question:

‘Is it possible for me, as a career missionary, to parent well?’

It seems I crucify myself between two thieves: Fear and Self-Doubt. And there are probably a million other places I can go which defeat me as a parent.

But, fellow cross-cultural parent, I am not writing this for any of us to stay in places of shame or defeat. I believe God has a fresh word for all of us amid the uncharted waters of loving our kids in new spaces, both figurative and literal.

When we were first considering a dramatic ministry change, I called a friend to pray over me and my family. She saw a picture of me trying to protect my kids from what this new call and accompanying relocation could do to them. As I released them, they were in scary places I had no control over, and they were shaken. Yet, my friend’s word of encouragement was that without this ‘shaking up’ they would never establish themselves in their own unique relationships with God.

Whether you are in transition, or simply in the throes of what missionary journeys can do to us as very human parents who still struggle, may I offer this same word to you for your children?

It is easy to chastise ourselves for what the calls to ministry in new places and often countries and always cultures can do to our kids. And while we consider their desires and preferences, sometimes a transition happens despite our children’s deep desire to remain in a specific place.

A little over a year ago, this was my story.

This is not a post about knowing all the answers. I am far from a place of confidence along the parenting journey. We have walked through some excruciating experiences in the past year.

However, I’m choosing to be vulnerable and share some universal parenting truths that are currently keeping me and guarding me as a parent. Perhaps there is some daily bread for you too, in this offering.

  1. There Is Divine Strength to Parent: Missionary or not, it is a hard thing, at times desperately hard, to be a parent. From the moment our children come to us so needy for our love and care, we feel out of our depth to meet those needs. What starts as the newborn phase of physical exhaustion moves rapidly to the deepening emotional and spiritual needs of growing people. This past year has felt like the most exhausting in my fifteen years of parenting, yet the promises of God remain, ready for me to grasp and embrace. These three Biblical promises alone, remind me of the truth of sufficient strength for my every need:

“But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11, NIV)

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)

2. Comparison Leads Us to Futile Places: We can learn much from parents further along the road, as well as from our peers. But, when our ‘learning’ becomes construction of standards by which we compare, there is only the wilderness of dry rivers and dust-eating attempts to find nourishment. This is true primarily because there is a whole story that goes with each family. There are places we cannot see — especially those places that are far from social media — that tell a different story than the external. This is not to dampen the joy of those who are experiencing places of genuine flourishing as parents, but there is not a parent on this earth who has never struggled. We are all co-journeyers on this long road home, none of us having it all together.

3. As You Press into the Heart of God, He Will Teach You How to Parent Well: Truly, the best thing we can ever do is to learn the manifest heart of our Abba Father. As we learn His heart, this is the place from which we learn to parent. His love is infinite, always seeking us, pursuing us. We see how he has loved his covenant people though they strayed time and again. This gives us the grace to continue to love our kids when they do not love us back and ultimately when our hearts break in big and little ways. We remember that yes,

“The Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:12, NIV)

But, He also is a God whose kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. (Romans 2:4, NIV)

God never stops being our Abba, for we are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, He gives us the strength to know His heart FOR US in our brokenness, mistakes, and sin. Then, we too, can give that same heart to our children.

4. He Who Has Called Us Is Faithful: As I have felt the guilt of following God and therefore causing my children to enter hard places, I have had to remember God’s faithfulness. Just as he called me to be a parent, so he calls me to do this as I am His child, surrendering my life to Him. My oldest son just began high school. It is his ninth school. I would not have chosen this for his story. Yet, God. He is the ultimate Author, and He chose our journey as missionaries to shape our children’s lives too. I think of all of the ways my son has needed to trust God in new things. I trust our journey as his parents has been for his good. And I can trust that for my other two children. No matter their current struggles or strengths, it is God who owns them and the entirety of their stories. The final chapter of completion is His to write. I could desire nothing more than that their journey would lead them to His arms and that we would dance together in that great and Final Day at the Wedding Feast of God.

There is much more that could be said as parenting is incredibly profound. What I offer here is meant to encourage the brokenhearted, the struggling, the doubting, the fearing among us. If my own journey is any indication, that will undoubtedly be you in one or many parenting seasons.

And the truth is that, though we are deeply imperfect, we can parent our children from the strength, hope, and heart of God. This is the promise of Christ in us.

You know about jet lag. Do you know about heart lag?

Jet lag, sweet terrible jet lag. It leads to entire chocolate bars consumed at three in the morning or entire novels devoured in the first three days after an international flight. Might lead to sickness, crabbiness, headaches, complaints, arguments. Every expatriate knows about jet lag.

But do you know about heart lag?

Every time I come back to Djibouti or go back to Minnesota, I feel shock. And then I feel shock that I feel shock. It has been twelve years; I should be used to the coming and going by now. I thought after a decade the transition would get easier, but I find my heart lagging more and more behind my body.

In some ways it does get easier. I know our routine and our stores and our friends and the languages. But in some ways I find the return more jarring than ever, increasingly so. Why?

Expectations. expect not to be jarred, not to be shocked. I expect both sides of the ocean to feel normal, and they do. But when those two normals are so far from each other, when one is green and leafy and one is brown and dusty, when one sounds like robins and one sounds like the call to prayer, the normality of such variance is shocking.

Deeper Cultural Knowledge. Now I am aware of the deeper differences. I see beyond the tourist-culture-shock things like garbage and the driving and the heat and the clothes. I see the values, the fundamental differences in worldview, the different political structures and family functions and religious practices. And these differences both rub against the deeper things of my soul and resonate with those deeper things. This means that a much more profound part of my identity is experiencing the shock.

Personal Change. I have been changed now precisely because of interacting for so many years with this deeper cultural knowledge. Those changes affect the way I act on both sides of the ocean, so the transition requires digging deeper to uproot and replant. It involves more struggle.

Home. Coming home instead of going on a trip or returning to a relatively new place changes the way I see it, changes the way I respond to the inundation of the changes. Small developments happen while I’m gone, and as a long-term expat, I notice them. A corner store turns into a restaurant, the newspaper is under new management, the mosque has a new voice. Home changed in my absence, and I have to catch up.

These things could all easily be considered culture shock. But I recently started thinking of them in terms of jet lag. I decided that they are the result of heart lag. The shock factor is there, but I know I will move beyond it quickly, and I know what resides on the other side – settling, ease, comfortable familiarity. My heart just needs some time to catch up.

We give our bodies time to adjust, and people tend to be sympathetic to the traveler who falls asleep in the middle of a sentence at 7 p.m. after flying for thirty-eight hours. Let’s give our hearts time to adjust too. Be sympathetic to the traveler (even when it is yourself) who needs a few days for their heart to catch up to their body.

 

Originally published on February 2, 2015.

When you feel torn between aging parents and your call

I remember the first time I felt the angsty feeling of anticipation coming up the escalator at Denver International Airport. My long trek across the ocean, through customs, and on one last final airport train was nearly over, and I was almost to my people!

Over the years, who greeted me changed as sisters may or may not be in town and nieces were born; but the one constant? My parents. It was all I could do not to shove people on the escalator as I craned my neck, hoping for a first glance.

And then one year, as I practically ran towards them, it happened: my parents looked shockingly older than the last time I’d seen them. They began to resemble my grandparents more than my mental picture of my parents. Though still in good health at the time, I had a stronger sense than I’d ever had that my parents would one day, Lord willing, be the old-old and not the young-old. What would be my role in helping them? How would I navigate it with my sisters? Would my parents be a factor in my leaving the field?

If you stay on the field long enough, you will probably wonder similar questions. Last fall, one of you contacted me asking for resources to help with aging parents. I wasn’t aware of many resources outside of anecdotal stories and the fact that when I mention the topic, it was a familiar scenario as cross-cultural workers entered middle age.

With this in mind, last spring Global Trellis decided to tap into the collective wisdom from those who have already walked this path and conducted a survey.

What came through loud and clear is that everyone’s story is unique and holds both beauty and pain. In addition, 12 areas that require attention and/or factoring in emerged:

1. Every journey is unique
2. Communicating with siblings
3. The role of faith (your parents’, siblings’, and yours)
4. Transitions you and your aging parents might experience
5. Legal and financial issues with aging parents
6. Property and Belongings (helping with maintenance and/or downsizing)
7. The underlying question: To return or stay?
8. Supporting from a distance
9. The Big 3: Safety, Comfort, and Dignity
10. Navigating aging parents with an agency, a board, or independently
11. Grief experienced with aging parents
12. Doctors appointments and declining abilities

As you read over that list, I don’t know how you feel or where you are in this journey. Thinking of these 12 areas may feel overwhelming, depressing, exhausting, torn, and lonely. You may also feel grateful for people who are helping and the mercies God is extending to you and your family.

All can be true.

Sometimes what we need is information. We have a situation that is solvable and what we need is help getting information to solve it. Sometimes what we have a situation that we need help managing the tensions that come with it because there is no easy or exact solution.

Often the best way to manage a tension is in community. Sharing your story, asking your questions, being with others who are also walking the path you are on. With that in mind and in response to the survey we conducted, Global Trellis has compiled a list of resources (it’s being formatted now, I can get it to you when it’s ready) and created a one year cohort to cover the 12 topics listed above.

The Aging Parents Cohort will run from September 2022 through August 2023 and registration closes at the end of August. You can read about it here and register for it here.

Since those early escalator days, my dad has gone on to be with Jesus and my mom is now considered to be more a part of the “old-old” than the “young-old.” I have to admit I hate seeing my parents age. I hate knowing that they will die. But I am so grateful that while God has ordained for each of us to walk out own paths, He has not left us stumbling alone.

How Much Sacrifice is Enough?

Moving to a new country and new culture is full of surprises. One surprise for me when I moved to Southeast Asia was that every single temple is filled with idols. There is not just one idol per temple.

We once visited a temple which, when literally translated, is called “The Temple of 80,000 Idols.” It was in a part of the country that we hadn’t visited before. We were tourists there and able to take pictures freely. The temple was full of idols, tiny idols and small idols, medium-sized and giant. There were very, very old idols, some made of stone, some made of gold, some made of plaster and clay. Each idol is a reminder of a god whose desire for sacrifice is never satisfied. The temple itself represents a religion of fear.

We walked through the dark stone halls of the temple, with idols inset in every wall, nook, and cranny. The hall opened up to a larger chamber with a 20-foot high gold idol in the center, surrounded by LED lights, flowers, and gifts of fruit.

Idolatry is a religion of more. It is a religion with an appetite that is never satisfied and a thirst that is never quenched. Whatever sacrifice you give to idols will never be enough.

Seeing the idols in another culture revealed the idols in my own. Why are Americans so dissatisfied, always seeking but never finding purpose, always looking, always consuming more? Why are we full of anxiety, stress, depression, and disconnection?

Could it be that we are restless and dissatisfied because we are offering our lives to idols instead of giving our worship to the Living God?

God provides true peace and rest. Satisfaction and peace can only be obtained through relationship with the Living God. As Christians, we “abide” in God’s love. We do not earn it or strive for it. Our salvation is a gift that we accept in gratitude and thanksgiving.

So we ask ourselves: are our lives at peace, or are we always striving for something more? Even as cross-cultural workers, we must ask ourselves these questions. What consumes me? What consumes my time, energy, money, devotion, and dedication? What part of my life is never satisfied and never at peace? What sacrifices am I making to idols that are robbing my life of purpose, peace, joy, and unity with God?

We have to ask ourselves if we, too, have sacrificed at the feet of idols who refuse to be satisfied. When will we seek the True God who can provide the purpose and peace our hearts long for, and that our daily lives so desperately need? When will our devotion lead to fulfillment and peace?

Even as a missionary, I can at times be tempted to think God is satisfied by my sacrifices. After all, I have sacrificed for Him. God has called me to that sacrifice, and it pleases Him. I have gone up to the mountain of the Lord holding on to my small faith and His big promises. But it is His sacrifice for me that brings me into a peaceful, fulfilling relationship with the Living God.

The familiar story of Abraham offering Isaac is often told from the perspective of Abraham, a loving father who is willing to obey God no matter the cost, even if that means offering up his one son. And that is true and part of the story.

But the story’s hero is not Abraham. The hero is Jehovah Jireh: “the God Who Provides.” In this story, God has already revealed himself to Abraham, but Abraham still doesn’t exactly know what kind of god is the Lord?

Is God a god like the Canaanite god of the Ammonites, Molech, who will demand child sacrifice by fire for his wrath to be appeased? Can God be appeased for now? Will he ask for more later?

Will he be like Baal, who demands more and more, always upping the ante and requiring stranger offerings, more and more dedicated signs of devotion?

Or is YHWH different? Different from the demons the people have known in the past? Different from the idols?

Who is this God that is calling Abraham? Who is the God who is asking Abraham to put his faith in Him?

God is the God who is satisfied not by our sacrifice but by His sacrifice for us.

Abraham climbs up the mountain and prepares to sacrifice. But as Abraham raises his arm, knife in hand, to take the life of his son, the angel of the Lord stops him. And in this moment, we see that God is the God who provides the sacrifice that saves our life and brings us into a relationship of peace with him.

Worshiping the true God will provide us satisfaction and peace. God does require us to sacrifice, but he has already paid the price in full. We do not work to appease God; instead, full satisfaction is found as we accept the full love God offers to us.

As God called Abraham, God has called us. We must continue to offer our small faith. We must continue to cling to His big promises. But we must remember: it is God who is the hero of our story, too. He is the one who provides. He is the one who satisfies. And it is His sacrifice for us that will always be enough.

As we work across languages and cultures to share His love and bring Him glory, we remember that we are enough because His sacrifice is enough. We have peace and fulfillment because He has provided the sacrifice for us. Truly, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Sing Along with Me: How Long?

broken mirror reflecting sky


Returning to the States after serving overseas was a hard time for my wife and me. We were grieving our losses and were struggling with the difficulties we’d already faced and those we saw ahead. We prayed and prayed but didn’t receive clear direction from God. In our spiritual malaise it was hard to slide back into a church service and cheerfully sing praise songs. So we often stayed seated while others stood, and prayed silently while others sang.

While we didn’t hear the audible voice of God in answer to our prayers, we did read the words of David in communion with our prayers:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1-2a NIV)

We still sometimes find ourselves sitting and praying during our church’s worship service, and we still sometimes call to God with the opening words of the 13th Psalm. So when I saw syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly’s post at On Religion last month, “Open Bible to Psalms: What Messages Are Seen There but Not in Modern Praise Music?” it caught my attention. And then as I read on and saw him quoting Craig Greenfield, a past contributor to A Life Overseas, I was pulled in.

In his essay, Mattingly discusses Michael J. Rhodes’ analysis of the 25 top Christian worship songs (from a ranking by Christian Copyright Licensing International). Rhodes finds that in their lyrics, justice appears only once, enemies “rarely show up,” and there is no mention of the poor, widows, refugees, or the oppressed, even though those are common themes in the Psalms. “Maybe most devastatingly,” he writes on Twitter, “in the Top 25, not a SINGLE question is ever posed to God.”

Craig, who has spent years living among and working with the poor overseas, responds by lamenting the lack of lamenting in our worship, the absence of mourning with those who mourn over the state of a world that’s “all messed up.” He writes, “Sometimes it’s a broken, evil place and His Kingdom has not yet come in full.”

The Psalms often express lamenting in blunt questions posed to God, questions such as “How long?” Are you familiar with the Irish rock band U2’s “40” from back in 1982? It opens with words taken directly from Psalm 40 and concludes with the refrain “How long to sing this song?” That’s a reference to another of their well-known recordings (from the same album), “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” decrying violence in the world, in which they sing, “How long, how long must we sing this song?” For many years, U2 closed their concerts with “40,” while the band members left the stage one by one and the audience sang, “How long to sing this song?” repeated again and again well after the stage was empty.

Psalm 13 isn’t the only place where the psalmist cries out to God, “How long?” And that’s not the only kind of question asked in the Psalms, either. There are plenty of “whens,” “whats,” and “whys,” as well.

I think, too, of another song containing an outpouring of questions directed at God. It’s Kings Kaleidoscope’s “A Prayer.” I was introduced to Kings Kaleidoscope when I listened to and wrote about the podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The band and its lead singer, Chad Gardner, came through Mars Hill Church, where Gardner led worship until resigning. Each of the main episodes of the podcast opens with King’s Kaleidoscope’s “Sticks and Stones,” which tells of the band’s disillusionment with Mars Hill. (If you haven’t listened to the podcast, you might instead recognize the tune from a 2019 Lexus commercial.)

“A Prayer” opens with the question, “Will I fall or will I misstep?” It speaks of silence and anxiety, and transitions to an over-and-over-again “Jesus, where are you? Am I still beside you?” Then comes a “bridge” of no words and no music—in the version below, a full 30 seconds long. It’s a powerful moment and makes me wonder if this is what the psalmist’s “selah” might have sounded like. And then the quiet is followed by a solo violin and Jesus’ enthusiastic answer:

These are two song I can stand up for and sing, though I doubt I’ll hear them led from a church stage. U2’s “40” has been around too long, and the group is far from what most people would call a “worship band.” And when Kings Kaleidoscope released “A Prayer,” it came out in two versions: clean and explicit. The clean rendition is embedded above, while the explicit one contains the f-word, as Gardner uses it to describe the violent fear he’s experienced. Some laud his raw authenticity. Others consider it a sinful word choice.

One more thing, though: I don’t want to stray too far from Rhode’s original thesis. While I’m concentrating on the general absence of questions in our church singing, he emphasizes the scarcity of questioning in the context of addressing poverty and justice. I have to confess that my “How longs?” mostly concern my inner turmoil, rather than grieving the hurt occurring around our globe—the grieving and hurt that many of you live among and see firsthand. I, like the church as a whole, have a ways to go to align my thinking with the Psalms, to be able to sing with and for those who are marginalized and oppressed.

Shortly after his tweet, Rhodes, In Christianity Today, wrote,

We’re talking about a revolution in the way we sing and pray, a revolution driven neither by smoke machines nor by the theological flavor of the week but by the very scripts God has given us to use in our life with him. Sounds like a lot of work. But if we embrace it, we might find ourselves singing our way toward the justice that our God loves and our world longs for.

(Terry Mattingly, “Open Bible to Psalms: What Messages Are Seen There but Not in Modern Praise Music?On Religion, July 25, 2022; Michael J. Rhodes [@michaeljrhodes], Twitter, September 14, 2021; Craig Greenfield, “Worship Music Is Broken. Here’s What We Can Do about It.Craig Greenfield, September 17, 2021; Rhodes, “Why Don’t We Sing Justice Songs in Worship?Christianity Today, September 30, 2021)

[photo: “Broken Mirror on Mass Ave,” by essygie, used under a Creative Commons license]