Welcome Tara Livesay . . . And A Few Announcements

Angie and I wanted to take a quick minute today to introduce you all to our newest monthly contributor, Tara Livesay. Tara lives in Haiti, with her seven children and husband, and is working with pregnant women and new mothers there.  We’ve been watching her for a while, and we think this community will be challenged by her words as much as we have. Here’s her official bio and a photo of her precious family:

Tara Livesay.  Tara is the mom to seven unique personalities and wife to her best-friend, Troy. The Livesays have been living, learning and working with women in Haiti for seven years. During that time they have come to recognize that God is not made manifest in their ability to “fix” anything, but in their own need to be fixed. Tara is a slow and aging distance runner that enjoys writing, potato chips, diet coke, and spending time with her family. She is a self-confessed cynic and a hard core realist. (No one has ever accused her of being an optimist.) She is passionate about maternal health and is pursuing her midwifery certification while she works in a relationship-based maternity center serving women before, during, and after labor and delivery. She writes regularly at: www.livesayhaiti.com.

Take a minute to welcome Tara to the monthly writing team! You can check out the bios of our other monthly contributors HERE.

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Also, you’ll notice a new feature on the sidebar we are offering for subscribers. Because of the wonders of mailchimp, we are now offering readers the option of receiving posts in real-time as they hit the web OR the receiving the posts for the entire week once, on Friday mornings. As we add new writers and new guest posters, we wanted those with overflowing inboxes to have the option of simplifying!

What?! What’s that you say? You haven’t subscribed yet?! Now’s your moment, friends– that top right sidebar is just waiting for you to check it out.

And a community update— It’s been a big last few weeks in this online space. We’ve given away 23 books in three weeks (two written by our own team of writers here) and in the last week alone we had over 5,000 page clicks on our site. We’ve tackled issues like sexual abuse on the mission field, the strain international life can put on a marriage, the trouble with learning a language, and the tendency we all have to communicate poorly to supporters. And the conversations that have come from these posts, and from YOU, have been inspirational and challenging and deeply, deeply good.

So, thank you. Thank you for reading and commenting and sharing. Thanks for engaging. Something powerful is being built here in this corner of the internet, and we are thrilled to watch it unfold.

Laura Parker, for both Angie Washington and I, the Editors

Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti

Guest writer and missionary to Haiti, Shannon Kelley, shares a short term missions experience.

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It’s a typical Sunday.  My family walks over dirt roads about a mile to a little cinder block church.  We are the only non-Haitian’s there.  We sit amongst our friends – people with hard lives that get down on their knees and pray prayers that make Jesus feel palpable in that room.  The kids sit mostly well-mannered in fear of being shushed by some of the elders in the church.  There is no fanfare. We sit in our usual seats. A couple guys bang on handmade instruments to worship.  It is beauty.

Several weeks later I sit within those same walls. This time a group is visiting on a short-term mission trip. Today there are plants and decorations lining the “stage” and the crackling of a mic with a short in it makes it impossible to understand much.  The pastor spent last week’s offering on gas for a little generator to power a mic and keyboard player just for today, for the group.  The handmade instruments I love sit unused in the corner.  The blan (white) pastor leading the team gets up and introduces his team by name, making them parade to the front.

As the service wears on, a few of the moms of the group motion for some kids to come sit with them. They proceed to chat and play with them while, unbeknownst to them, the congregants are praying.  The elders that typically shush the kids shake their heads and don’t say anything because they don’t want to insult the visitors. The kids know this and take full advantage of playing with cameras and phones and other gadgets, being generally disorderly in comparison to the usual way they’re expected they behave.  I sit there and wonder how we would feel if we were sitting in a church in the States and a group of people from another country came in and acted that way.

Church ends and the visitors go on to do their week of serving the community. I watch as the labor they do takes away jobs from the nationals, like construction and painting. The money from their airplane tickets could provide employment for Haitians which in turn feeds families.

Sometimes service from foreign groups can be fruitful and I can see the need for it. They leave the village better off by training pastors, educating Haitians, and supporting the long term missionaries. I wonder, though, if the risk of having a group who might do more damage than good is too great.

I’m struggling with the good of short term missions.  I see the side of it that is good because it shows people a different part of the world and challenges their faith. But are we searching for substance in our lives at the mercy of those we came to help?

I don’t know the answer. Let’s talk. What has your experience been with short-term teams? What methods effectively help all those involved, nationals and foreigners alike?

More on STMs: A Case for Short Term Missions  |  Is the Price Tag Worth It?  | Rice Christians and Fake Conversions

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Shannon Kelley lives in a rural fishing village with her  family on the Southern tip of Haiti where they fight for families. Follow their journey here:
www.shannon-kelley.com/blog

When Missions Goes Hollywood

 Anybody can have a good website.

Anybody.

And that includes missionaries and ministries and humanitarian efforts that want and need. . .  money.

And oftentimes, what you see IS what you get– honest efforts at helping others, effective means of sharing God’s love with a community whether it be in education or poverty reduction or leadership training or whathaveyou. 

But, I’m on the ground here in SE Asia, which happens to be somewhat of a Christian mecca for missions organizations in all of Asia, and a story I’ve seen repeated more than once from or by the missionaries here is one of

false advertising.

Because anybody can have a good website.

And, let’s be honest, a good website with moving pictures of the impoverished or the primitive, sells.  Or fundraises,to be more specific.  And since so much of the work here is support-based, it’s a bit of a game that missionaries and organizations have to play.  We live in a virtual age, after all, when the validity of a company is based in large part by the flashiness of its website, and nonprofits are having to compete, naturally, if they want to survive and raise the necessary funds to further their visions.

And I get it.  I understand the language of SEO tags and google analytics, but my greatest struggle is when ministries paint a picture for their online viewer that isn’t actual reality or when they use content that actually exploits the people they are supposed to be helping.

The hard reality is that Hollywood sells.  The dramatic, the photoshopped, the extreme, the well-crafted word, the grungy graphics, the SEO-optimized– this is the stuff that raises funds, faster.  And funds are what the missionary or relief organization needs to stay operational, to stay on the field, to continue the work.

And I’m not pointing fingers, because I look back at my own communication of our past 18 months, and I’m left nervous that I myself have painted too grand a picture of the work here, have cropped reality too often, or have used brush strokes that have highlighted self far too frequently.

But, really, what’s a missionary to do?  Give the ‘audience’ what they want–  inspiration that will translate into the writing of checks, and thus, the ability to do more ministry?

Or deliver the brutal truth of failed efforts and the boring everyday and, more than likely, watch their financial support go the way of their old-school website stats?

I mean, really, {and I’m sincerely asking} where’s the line between honestly recording the good cause and softly manipulating to further it?

*post archived on LauraParkerBlog

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Thoughts?  What do you think of the connection between fundraising and Hollywood?  Stories, rants, opinions? How do you handle this tension with your donors back home?

 Want more? Don’t miss a thing! Consider subscribing to have posts sent directly to your inbox or connect with us on Facebook (both on the sidebar).

– Laura Parker, former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

blog: LauraParkerBlog    work:  theExodusRoad

Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

The instant message to her friend said, “I hate them. They don’t know anything about me.”

Four years earlier we had landed on foreign soil.  The flight that carried us, and our 100 pounds each of luggage, was just short enough to cry the entire way.  We felt strongly we were on the right path, but that did not make it painless. Eager to know, love, and serve we dove in fully committed to the people of our new home.  Each day felt long and overwhelming. There was so much to learn, so much to do.  We wanted to be trusted and loved.  We wanted to trust and love.

“God, protect our children from harm”, we earnestly prayed.

From the very beginning we knew and were told that discouragement would come and it might come in the form of illness or an attack on our family or marriage. We were armed with knowledge about quickly identifying that.

We stayed busy managing multiple programs, building relationships with our neighbors, hosting short-term teams, and raising our family. Our kids thrived. The two oldest excelled in language acquisition and spoke circles around the adults.

I wish I could get away from them,” she typed to her friend.

Just shy of our three-year anniversary abroad, we decided to work with a new organization.  As we learned the language and confronted the cultural issues, we outgrew the stateside leadership and couldn’t convince them our opinions were worth respecting.  With sadness we packed and moved a few hours away to a new area, a new assignment.

After our move our daughter grew more and more angry. She distanced herself from us in ways we didn’t understand. She put walls up and refused to let us into her life.

“She is a teenager, this is normal,” we said.

Even as we said it, it didn’t make sense. We’d always been such a tight-knit and happy family.

Confused, we confronted her.  “Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not.” She lied.

One night we decided enough was enough.  “You’ll stay home from school tomorrow and we WILL talk”, we said. She shrugged; she walked away and slammed her door.

I woke up early that morning.  Angry and hurt, blaming and upset, I went for a run. “God, she hates us for no reason. She is terrible to us. She keeps hurting us. Lord, please tell me how to punish her”, I prayed.

Running fast, fueled by anger, I asked again, “God, this is so terrible – what should we do with her?”  The answer came so clearly I checked my ipod to see if I had heard it there.  I asked again. The response stopped me dead in my tracks. “Give her gifts. I love her. Give her gifts.”

Totally bewildered I sprinted home to tell her Dad, “We’re not supposed to punish her. We’re supposed to give her gifts.”

Over the period of the next several hours we ignored every hurtful word hurled and every angry action. We took our daughter to treat her to gifts.  It confused us and it confused her but we spent the day spoiling her.

Late that night she walked up the stairs into our office and handed us a four-page letter.  She asked us to read it immediately.  As I read it hot tears poured down my face.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

“You warned us, you told us to be careful.”

“It happened many times.”

“I was afraid.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I am ashamed.”

“I should have known how to stop it.”

For three years our little girl had been subjected to the crafty and culturally accepted advances of someone we trusted and saw as her friend, an innocent playmate.  It wasn’t until we moved away from it that she could begin to feel the all consuming and confusing mixture of shame and pain over what took place.  She turned her rage inward, she turned it on the people she trusts most to love her.

When they were together it was always within our walls.  She worked on her language skills and he tried his English.  A few nights a week for years the kids played outside near the gate together. Other kids almost always seemed to be right with them. “They are so cute working on language like that,” we thought. Because he was in the same grade as her we had thought of him as her equal.  Yes, he was nine years older than her but he seemed like a child in some ways.

Sobbing together on the floor of our office, I said “This is not your fault.”

“But you told me that someone could try to hurt me.”

“You told me.”

And so it began, the long and grueling process of hurting and healing together.  The HIV rate in our host country demanded tests for her. The emotional damage and deep shame demanded much more.  It continues to demand MUCH more.

As it turned out my warnings were about bad boogie men and not about a friend, not about someone in the same grade in school as her. My warnings didn’t help prepare for the sly way he would move in on her and manipulate her feelings and guilt her into thinking she had chosen it.  He was an adult, and in his culture having sex is his right.

As parents that boarded an airplane filled with faith and a desire to serve God abroad, praying, “God, protect our children from harm” we were devastated. Our Father had not heard us.  We felt He had looked away.  Having entered the mission field aware and on guard we felt so stupid for missing it, for not knowing, for not seeing.

The road has been long. The anger rises up without permission. The grief hits us all at unpredictable times.

Give her gifts, Lord.  We love her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sexual abuse of children is a complicated issue world wide.  In certain cultures it is endemic. Kids being raised in a second or new culture are at an increased risk.  How aware are you of this issue in your culture and what measures do you take to try to protect your children?

(The author of this important true story has chosen to remain anonymous yet may be addressed as ‘Jessica’ in the comments.)

In the Presence of My Enemies {Giveaway}

I am excited to send these out!

You can win one of 3 hardcover books sent to ANYWHERE in the world!

How far does your forgiveness reach? That was the question pulsating in my heart as I read the harrowing true story of Gracia and Martin Burnham, ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’. During my first year in Bolivia, Gracia became a widow after 17 years of serving the Lord alongside her husband in the Philippines. He lost his life as a victim of brutal gunfire after a year in captivity at the hands of kidnappers.

Gracia tells the story of what that year was like, of her husband’s death, and of the redeeming grace of God that allows her to continue to minister to people who need Christ’s forgiveness. The following excerpt addresses the searing question: Why?

Because the Abu Sayyaf — and all of us — still retain the power of personal choice, the option of standing stubbornly against the will of God. And that obstinate stance is, apparently, something an almighty God is not willing to bulldoze. Of course, he could have fired heavenly lasers into the brains of Janjalani and Musab and Sabaya, forcing them to wake up one morning and say, “Okay, Martin and Gracia, this has been long enough. Feel free to hike off whenever you like.” But that would have made them puppets instead of independent human beings with free will of their own, for which they will be eternally responsible.

A bit of author background from the website ‘Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation

Gracia Burnham is the widow of Martin Burnham and the mother of Jeff, Mindy and Zach.

For 17 years she and Martin served with New Tribes Mission in the Philippines where Martin was a jungle pilot delivering mail, supplies and encouragement to other missionaries and transporting sick and injured patients to medical facilities. Gracia served in various roles supporting the aviation program and also home-schooled their children–all of which were born in the Philippines.

While celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at Dos Palmas Resort off Palawan Island, the Burnhams were kidnapped on May 27, 2001, by the Abu Sayyaf Group, a militant group of Muslims. They seized several more guests and took them to Basilan Island, an ASG stronghold.

In the ensuing months some of the hostages were killed, but most were set free. From November 2001, only the Burnhams and one other hostage remained in captivity.

During their 376 days of captivity, they faced near starvation, constant exhaustion, frequent gun battles, coldhearted murder-and intense soul-searching about a God who sometimes seemed to have forgotten them.

On June 7, 2002, in a firefight between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf Group, Martin was killed. Gracia was wounded, but was freed.

Since that time Gracia has authored two books, In The Presence Of My Enemies, and To Fly Again. Her oldest son, Jeff, and his wife, Sarah, have accepted an assignment with Flying Mission Services in Botswana, Africa. Mindy is now married to Andy Hedvall, a “missionary kid” from South America. Mindy has completed her course of study at New Tribes Bible Institute in Waukesha, WI and Andy continues in his training there. Zachary is now attending Calvary Bible College in Kansas City. Gracia resides in Rose Hill, Kansas..

You can enter to win by referring someone you know to the A Life Overseas blog, twitter feed, or facebook page. Leave a comment to let us know your chosen method of communication:

  1. Sharing a link of the facebook page
  2. Tweeting something nice using our handle @alifeoverseas or hashtag #alifeoverseas
  3. Promoting A Life Overseas blog on your personal blog
  4. Sending a personal email
  5. Texting a message
  6. Making a phone / skype /Magic Jack /etc. call
  7. Talking about A Life Overseas in real life with a real person

A nice button for your linking leisure:

It will be my privilege to send you one of these books. I really wish everyone reading this could win one. This book is that good! I will pick a winner from the list of comments on this post on Monday evening, February 25th.

EDIT: The drawing is now closed. Congratulations to our winners: Laura Davis, Bonnie Schilling, and Nicky!

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

Concrete churches in a bamboo world

After going to an Ash Wednesday service on Ash Wednesday, my wife and I were talking about the history of some of the practices most associate with Christianity yet possibly, or likely, have their roots in pagan rituals or practices. As it turns out, rabbits and eggs are ancient symbols of fertility, and several people groups use ashes to symbolize the frailty of life.

This discussion reminded me of conversations we had in Thailand. Visiting hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, most of the buildings were on stilts, often made primarily of wood and bamboo. Each village we visited had one concrete building emerging from the panorama similar to how I imagine cathedrals once looked in medieval Europe. Just like then, it was the church building.

At first, we had the response many western Christians have when they see a church building in a country claiming only 1% Christianity: a touch of pride and hope. But when we spent more time with the communities, we saw people who lived their lives in raised homes and who sat on bamboo floors; life was lived in familiar buildings outside of the church building — and outside of the church.

Then I ran into a team of missionaries working in Phayao, Thailand who also wondered why the Western church building should be the house of worship for Eastern people. The team not only wondered why they needed the typical, Western church building but also whether the practices and rituals at Buddhist temples were inherently Buddhist or were just methods of worship familiar to Eastern people and could be redirected towards the worship of Jesus Christ. After all, before the God of Abraham and Isaac, other religions sacrificed animals as offerings, and our God re-appropriated the practice twice.

After years of studying the language, culture, religion, the missionaries created a raised space (second floor) where attendees light incense and bow to the cross and wai when scripture is read. Instead of a buddha in front, a cross is hung. The people sit on the floor with their heads lower than the cross and feet pointed away from it. The sermon message was brief and the service centered around communion and scripture with a little bit of chanting. It was definitely focused on Christ. But at what point does it become too syncretic? Here’s a little bit of insight from the team in Phayao working on contextualized evangelism.

As Derran Reese emphasizes, “The crux of the matter is how the community uses and negotiates the meaning of the relevant symbols and forms in light of its faith in the triune God.” For example, does shifting “Got milk?” to “Got Christ?” allow the community to worship God instead of consumerism? That’s the question we should ask — or something like that.

Exploring the rituals of our faith can be scary. I mean, what is ch
urch without a building that looks like a church?
As giant church building construction continues, small coffeehouse fellowships and liturgies in old Mason lodges and communities under bridges begin to do something different in the United States. Are we perhaps yearning for something beyond the building?

So, what symbols do we keep and what do we leave? And what do we redirect towards the worship of the divine that is currently being used to worship another divine?

How do we encourage a foreign faith to become familiar?

I’d love to read your thoughts and experiences.

 

The Aim of Language Learning

I posted a note on Facebook about a language lesson and received this comment, “Are you still studying language? I thought you’d be fluent by now.”

Ouch.

It has been more than a decade. What’s my problem?

I can make a list of excuses. I speak two, sometimes three languages. I had two-year old twins when we arrived and added another baby. My family endured an emergency evacuation, searing conflict, work crises…I could say this particular language is just plain too hard: there are few textbooks, the two that exist are error-filled and not my dialect. The written form is young and still working out spelling kinks. Or I could say I’m stupid or I’m not a language person. Or I haven’t worked hard.

In other words, I could blame language difficulty on situations, the language itself, or my failings.

But I have worked hard. I’ve put in forty-hour weeks. I’ve studied faithfully all these years. I have a degree in linguistics and love languages and language learning. I use all the languages every day. I’m highly conversational.

So the question lingers, why do I still have language lessons? What’s my problem?

This, fellow expats, is the wrong question.

Raise your hand or leave a comment or tweet it out if you moved overseas under the impression a good solid two years of immersion study would have you fluent.

Oh how many times I’ve heard this and then seen people leave, far from fluent, after 2-3-4 years.

Language learning is hard, so hard that the best advice I’ve heard is: “Anyone who wants to learn a language well must have a solid theology of suffering.” (pretty good advice for all of life, I’d add)

Will language learning never end?!

The reality is, you might not ever reach fluency. Or it might take you years longer than you thought. Your spouse or coworker might fly past you, you might fly past them. But this is not about you. It is not about your speed or adeptness. What is wrong with me when language comes slow is the absolute wrong question.

The right questions are: How does God want to change me and use me while I learn this language? How does God want to accomplish his purposes through me while I learn this language? How can I love people while I learn this language?

The point, the aim, is not fluency. The aim is to honor God, to be used by him, to become more like Jesus, to love well.

Work hard, study hard, don’t give up. There will always be fables you don’t know, proverbs you’ve never heard, jokes you miss the punch lines of, songs you can’t quite follow. This is why I still have a language tutor.

There will always be people who need jobs, people to love and relate with, people to visit in their homes and invite into yours, people who delight in helping you discover the beauty of their culture at ever-deepening levels. This is why I still have a language tutor

God will always have lessons in humility, patience, endurance, treasures of the exquisite in the unique turn of a phrase and in the relationship. This is why I still have a language tutor.

And as you labor and learn and laugh at yourself, remember. The aim is not your own fluency. The aim is God’s work in and through you, however and at whatever speed he plans to accomplish it.

What motivates you to keep studying language?

Advice for newbies or oldies?

Funny language faux pas?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage

The words flew like arrows, each piercing through the thick air between us, not one missing it’s target, cutting deep into the flesh and tearing what we once held dear.  No amount of armor could protect us in this place, our hearts were open, bare, raw, and being ripped to shreds.

Yes we had taken that oath, we had stood before hundreds of our dearest friends and family and promised.

I will always love you.

I will always cherish you.

I will go through the fire with you.

I will always take your side.

And yet today here we stood, battle ready, armed to the teeth with every harsh word and criticism we could muster.  Fighting not as one, but against each other.

What was once one was very near to becoming tw0.

Although time (and the counsel of good friends) has helped reveal the things in our hearts that needed to change, and brought to light the errors in our thinking that took us to this awful place, I blame the mission field for our struggles.

Yes, we were not giving one another the attention we deserved.

Yes, we even had somewhere along the way stopped praying together.

Yes, we had allowed all sorts of weeds to grow in the field of our marriage.

But the question I have been asking this past season as we focus our attention together on building back what was lost is this– how did we get here?  What was it that distracted us or pulled us apart?  Like I said before, I blame the mission field.

Yes, I know all sorts of people are already looking for the comment button to tell me how any marriage can slip, and that no matter where you are, you have to work at it.

Yeah, I get that.

But the truth is most mission fields are like wild fires, burning out of control and consuming everything in their path.

We come in with a passion in our hearts for the lost, but instead often our entire lives are consumed in the flames.

(Know please that I say all this with out any hint of ‘better than thou sinner who liveth in the country you were born in’, I just need to say it like it is today. This gig is tough.)

In a few months we will celebrate our fourth year here in Ethiopia. We won’t likely throw a party, or even talk about it much. We’ve never been big on sentimental dates in our family. But as I sit here reflecting on what we have endured, as I look back to the struggles that our marriage has borne in these years, I feel that a celebration is in order.

Because we are survivors.

You see the conversation above was not the first like it, nor will it likely be the last. We have seen this desolate place in our marriage more times than I can count, and most of them have been since we moved here.  The constant frustration of clashing cultures, the feeling of not accomplishing much, the patience it takes to get through one day, it all threatens to rip a marriage from its foundation.

When we first moved here, I thought that it was funny that missionaries were so focused on when their “furlough” would take place or when they were going to get a “vacation,” I scoffed at their petty behavior and dove in head first to the work that we had come for. Soon after, things started to take their toll, our passion began to wane, and then I saw what they were talking about.

Today can I just honestly say what I’ve learned the past four years? Living on the mission field is hard on a marriage.

Brutal, in fact.

Jessie and I have realized that we need to do whatever it takes before it is too late. We are being more intentional about communicating, giving one another the time we need to rest, and trying to slow down the pace of life.

We’re learning that we must work hard to protect our marriages while overseas, and that God has to stay center.

*******

I wrote a book that came out several months ago, and one of the criticisms I have gotten was that I was too honest about the struggles that we bore when moving our family to Ethiopia. The book, ‘No Greater Love’ (Tyndale Press) came out in July and was quickly named the number one hot new release on Amazon.  I write about our journey overseas and into our current ministry, placing local widows with local orphans.

This week, I’m donating TEN copies of  No Greater Love to the community here at A Life Overseas. To enter, simply click on the rafflecopter giveaway below.

Entries will close Feb. 18, and you’d help us all out by sharing this post and giveaway with your friends. Good Luck!

* You can read more about Levi’s family and their journey bringing orphans and widows together locally at www.bringlove.in 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Serious Play: An Invitation to Life and Work as Worship

Before I jump into the post, please know that when I refer to work, I do not only mean paying jobs, but any role that keeps you occupied throughout the day.

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I love my job. I even have a sticker declaring that very fact stuck to my laptop, just below the arrow keys. Not that I need a reminder. I really do love what I do.

I found the sticker in a tiny basement bookstore in Taiwan, a few years ago, while I was a preschool teacher in Taipei. Here’s an important thing to know about me: I am not a preschool teacher. But I had returned to Taipei to do research on theology of work, and getting that particular job was a great place to do my research, especially in light of the fact that teaching four-year-olds was not necessarily something I felt passionate about.

So, when I first bought the sticker, it really was to remind me that I needed to focus on that which I did love about my job: being in a position where I was able to unlock the world of reading and writing to a bunch of little ones, and to touch their lives through the way I interacted with them. That, I found very rewarding.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I had resigned from being a missionary in the boonies of Kenya for several reasons, one of which was to try and understand the challenges the majority of Christians face in the workplace. One visitor to Kenya (let’s call her Annie) once told me, “What you do [as a missionary] is meaningful, Adéle. What I do just pays the bills and helps me come on trips like these.”

I wanted desperately to help people like Annie understand that work didn’t simply have to be endured, and that all of us are called to serve God regardless of our job titles. I figured, though, that I couldn’t challenge others to embrace all of life and work as worship had I not recently worked in a “secular” environment. And so I left the village and moved back to Taipei (where I had worked at a media ministry for several years before), and ended up teaching preschoolers at a prestigious international school. The career shift was an eye-opener, to say the least. A year later, I took a similar assignment, this time in a Muslim context, in Jakarta.

Along the way, I learned about the concept of serious play from a former professor of mine, and once I tossed my preschool teacher hat, I ended up interviewing almost 30 people from various walks and seasons of life and from several countries who LOVED life and work, and called them serious players. I also found some people who didn’t love their jobs, and called them reluctant workers.

A serious player, I concluded, is someone who is able to say at the end of the week, “I enjoy life. I like what I do—at work and in life—a good eighty percent of the time? But life’s not only good for me, I get to make a difference in my community.”

Serious play is a lifestyle based upon the assumption that the majority of an individual’s time—both in the workplace and in life—is not only spent doing what you are naturally gifted to do (using your skills or aptitude) but also doing what you love to do (your passion or burden) so that work is enjoyable and thus becomes play. And if what you do has significance (it has purpose or is meaningful), it is considered serious.

You can also look at this as working with your mind and your strength, with your heart and with your soul.

When you’re able to do this, work becomes worship,
and you are able to say “I love my job,”
because you’re doing what God
had uniquely created and positioned you to do.

What’s more, you are able to use the talents God had given you in such a way that opens a door for you to “enter into the Master’s joy” (Mt. 25:21). What’s not to love about that?

Serious players, I had found, tend to have the following characteristics.

  1. They are energized and have an energizing effect on their environment.
  2. They are psychologically self-employed.
  3. Serious players have what they need—and perhaps a little more.
  4. They have high self-esteem.
  5. Serious players are able to, and choose to, swim upstream or go against the tide.
  6. They live in the reality of positive, self-fulfilling prophesies so that good things keep happening to them.
  7. They do not allow one area to completely drain them but instead, by living integrated lives, allow different areas to synergize each other.
  8. They are willing to take calculated risks.
  9. They are successful in various fields.
  10. For serious players, work is a natural, enjoyable expression of self.
  11. They take time to invest in relationships.

So, how about you: Are you a serious player? What is it that you love about what you do?
If you’re a reluctant worker, what changes would you need to make in order
for you to become a serious player and thus enter into the Master’s joy?

**************************

Adéle’s doctoral dissertation was devoted to the study of serious play, for which she interviewed serious players such as Kurt Warner, Mako Fujimaro and F.W. de Klerk  as well as stay-at-home moms, struggling small-business owners, and successful business people—all serious players. Adéle has written a book on serious play and her goal is to get it published in the not-too-distant future.

Adele Booysen, challenging college students in Asia with Compassion International

blog:  adelebooysen.com |  work

 

Avoiding a Messiah Complex (with a Giveaway!)

Do I have your attention? (if not, keep reading…there will be a giveaway later on!)

Do you really think missionaries view themselves as a Messiah to the people they reach?

No, but this complex starts with a small thought, attitude, or even temptation.

That temptation is rooted in arrogance.

What!?

Missionaries being arrogant?

Aren’t the words associated with missions, words like “service, suffering, and sacrifice?” How could that lead to arrogance?

Our perceived external humility in serving others, can easily lead us into internal pride.

Being a missionary feeds our human desire to be indispensable or needed. It feels good to hear people say they could not make it without us.

Some rights reserved by Israel Defense Forces

I listen to young missionaries proclaim their desires all the time:

“To rescue people out of their poverty.”
“To help those who cannot help themselves.”
“I know I have something to offer these people.”

If we are not careful, this youthful zeal can work its way deep in our hearts. It begins with a legitimate desire to help. Slowly, subtly, this godly desire turns into an air of superiority. Pride at its root says “I am better than them.”

I’ve had numerous times in my missions career where my desire to give and serve was superseded by a focus on what I was getting out of the work, or at least what I thought I was earning from God.

For me, it stemmed from a false perception which believed climbing the ladder of good works endeared me more to the Father.

If we have a misunderstanding of grace and our acceptance from God, our service can quickly become a merit badge of honor. Worse yet, it could be a way to work off our bad deeds, attempting to balance the cosmic scales of good and bad.

I meet many missionaries who are doing great things, but for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been one.

Jesus reserved some harsh words for these people, the Pharisees. (Matt. 23:27)

As missionaries, is our service an attempt to climb the ladder to God?
Do we desire to be indispensable to those we serve, because deep in our hearts; we must be for us to feel “ok’ with God.
If people don’t need us, have we lost our value, losing one of the greatest tools we have to earn the acceptance of God?

I realize these are drastic examples.

We must ask ourselves if we can see even a hint of this attitude as we look in the mirror.

How often in our marriages do we serve hoping to be noticed, rather than being motivated by love? It is the default mode of the human condition and is more common than we would like to admit.

Our society tells us the only way to success is to be bigger, better, faster, or stronger. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate our missions and service in light of the free gift of grace.

Are we giving to get?
Is our service more for those we minister too or for our own personal peace of mind and security with God?
If people did not “need” us, would we feel less valuable?

In my book, Death of the Modern Superhero: How Grace Breaks our Rules, I explore how the world pushes us to be superheroes in our families, marriages, and even in ministry. The world tells us nothing is for free; hard work is the key to achieving anything.

The gospel of grace breaks these rules. We are accepted by God and cannot improve the work of Christ by our missionary efforts.

In our missionary endeavors, do the “rules” of the world motivates us more then the grace of God? They shouldn’t.

We don’t have to be superstar missionaries.
Rather our success is defined through faithfulness and obedience.
We like to say, “If we only impact one, it is worth it.” But deep down, would our pride allow us to be at peace with this?

Applying grace to our missionary lives is not a once off event, but rather a continual journey of soul-searching and contemplation. We may begin to find success in one area, only to have another rear its head. For the rest of our lives (and ministry), we will need to apply the message of grace on the missions field.

How have you experienced this temptation? What tips can you offer to avoid  a “Messiah Complex”?

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

——

I would like to give away 10 copies of my book to readers of A Life Overseas. You will have your choice of Kindle or print versions (print version only available in US/Canada/South Africa).

In order to enter, all you need to do is:

1. Subscribe to receive A Life Overseas posts in your inbox.
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That’s it! Simple! Both these tasks can be accomplished in the right hand column of this page.

Already subscribed or a Facebook friend? No Worries, You are Already entered to win! Entries close Feb. 13th.

Want a bonus entry? Head on over to Chris’ blog, www.nosuperheroes.com, to find an additional way to win a book.

Thanks for your faithful support and input to  A Life Overseas.

In the Face of Deep Disappointment

“Men and women enter ministry for various reasons.  ‘Because I want to be a deep disappointment to others as well as to myself’ is rarely listed among them.”

~ Jeff Manion The Land Between

Why are you, as an international worker, doing what you are doing?

And do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you’ve set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

I first read that Manion quote a few weekends ago. It isn’t even a key point in the book. but somehow reading it felt like blowing a tire (which we recently did… twice) on our Land Cruiser – and now I’m working to get that tire fixed and changed so I can move on.

Actually, I started reading this book several months back, but I got distracted and my enthusiasm petered out partway. So I set it aside and promptly forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were having a “discussion-” tensions are running high and people are a little on edge in our corner of the globe these days- and? It tends to show. Tim asked me what I was reading to both encourage and exhort. Not really wanting to answer his question, I tossed the Manion book vaguely (but gently) in his direction, implying that I was… That was not exactly truthful, for I hadn’t actually opened the book for a couple of months. It wasn’t, technically, a lie, because I had started and not yet finished it and it WAS STILL on the table beside my bed, available for me to pick up and resume reading any day…

I still felt guilty.

So that week I picked it up again – this time determined to finish it, hopefully be encouraged and exhorted… and promptly lurched over that quote.

How much of your time  – as an international worker, parent of TCKs, home schooler, language learner, church planter, disciple, translator, expat spouse, blogger/writer, people rescuer, gopher, fund raiser, friend,  awareness trainer, child of aging parents far away, Jesus follower… place whatever label you want on any of the many things that you do and hats that you wear – do you spend feeling like you’ve not measured up, not done enough, caused more harm than good or failed God, others and yourself, all of whom expected, all of whom deserved, so much more of and from you?

When I first stepped foot on this continent, like most fresh-out-of-the-gate missionaries, I was gung ho and sure:  God was going to use me for great things. I was available, good at what I did and I had no doubt I’d really impact people in this community as I lived serving Him and loving others. The icing on the cake would be that we’d look like that cool missionary family who always at least seemed to have it mostly all together.

That illusion lasted all of about 8.3 days.

And actually, lately, I’m acutely aware of how I rarely ever EVER measure up…

  • in the eyes of my local friends and colleagues – to some impossibly perfect and totally hypothetical missionary created from memories of someone here before me… a “mythological” Gladys Aylward, Isabel Crawford, Mother Theresa and Helen Roseveare all rolled into one;
  • in my eyes – to my own preconceived ideas of who I’d be, how I’d act and how much I’d be able to accomplish and how quickly and efficiently I’d get it done; or
  • in the eyes of family, friends and partners back home – to some image I’ve tried to carefully craft so that others would be impressed and therefore want to continue teaming up with us.

Whether it be in service, in time available, in ministry, in language or in how I relate to the person standing beside me that moment, I  often wonder if I’m not just falling short of some impossible standard I’ve set for myself, I’m also disappointing others.

Such disappointment deflates because:

  1. I do care what others think. I do want people to be happy with me. I like it when others label me “competent,” and just maybe, they are the tiniest bit impressed, with me or my family or my ministry.
  2. Recognizing number one above spotlights clearly that I’m still wrapped in concern for my own reputation and how I present myself to others…

And maybe that’s the point.

I need to stop worrying and striving to portray an image of me that I want people to believe and remember

…so that I am completely available to “put on” Jesus and more truly represent Him,

after all, don’t I want people to believe and remember Him?

I adjust my perspective.

I admit that apart from God I am inadequate for the task.

I stop worrying about what other people think of me.

Instead, I begin to concentrate on obedience and what God thinks of me.

**************************

As an international worker, how do you combat discouragement and the fear of disappointing those with whom you work and those to whom you minister? 

Do you feel as though you are accomplishing what you set out to do? Or do you fear you are not only disappointing yourself, but others as well? Why?

– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

Making 2013, No, The Rest Of Your Life, Count (Guest Post by Jack Fussell)

The New Year is upon us and many of us find ourselves wanting to see some things happen differently in 2013.  Diets are started, churches attended, gyms joined, addictions abandoned as part of our resolutions and then within a few weeks we slowly revert to our old habits and behaviors.  I must admit that I’ve made my fair share of resolutions over the years…and I’ve broken many of them too.  For many, resolutions are nothing more than momentary reactions to exterior behaviors. They’re made quickly and usually broken with just as much speed.

Last year I became hungry for something more and started looking into a different way of processing the year.  I started feeling like my life was leading me instead of me leading my life.  I worked on writing a life plan for a few days and then…well, life got busy and I walked away.  As I started this year I made the decision to take some time for reflection and processing and come up with a long term plan for the person I think God wants me to be.  The two methods that I’m choosing to use are Michael Hyatt’s Life Plan process and Donald Miller’s Storyline.

The older I get the greater sense of urgency I have to make this life count.  I don’t want to simply be remembered as a collection of behaviors or activities, I want to be remembered for who I am, for the character I play in God’s big story.  When we fail to think through who we are, we become extras in God’s story.  We live lives that aren’t vital to the overall story line.  I want to live a life that is extraordinary, one that has courage, failure, risk, pain and beauty.  I don’t think these types of lives usually happen by accident because without a plan, life, deadlines, assignments, and so much more steps in, fills up our lives and defines who we are.  In this type of life we’re constantly being swept away by a current of average, and expected.  God has given me a limited amount of days and I think those days are worthy of an above-average and unexpected story.  

So this year I am trying something new.  Before I look at annual goals, before I look at ministry, photography projects, and organizational strategies, I look at my life. Who do I want to be?  What roles do I want to play?  What is my desired outcome?
What do I want the final episode of my life to look like?

My goals, projects and strategies are formed from the context of this life story.  What I do each quarter, month and moment are determined by the character and roles that I’m aiming towards.

******

Question: What’s the story you want to tell in 2013?  In a sentence, describe your goals for the year ahead. What will you do to move towards that goal?

*******

 Jack Fussell has served as humanitarian worker outside of the US for the last 8 years.  He’s currently working as a social entrepreneur partnering with other creatives to love the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. Jack and his wife are also freelance photographers and are joined on their journey by their three tribesmen.  You can follow Jack on https://www.facebook.com/jackfussell on twitter at @travelingtribe or visit his photography portfolio at www.flyinghousestudios.com