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.

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.

Thank you for hosting my niece (again)

Dear ALOS family, I wrote the following letter five years ago (?!). At that time my nieces were ages 9 to 16, now they are, 14 to 21. Those younger sisters who were just watching the oldest? This summer all four of them participated in three different trips. I see how that first trip five years ago is still rippling out. I can’t show you exactly how your investment in teens will play out. But as an aunt watching, I can tell you God is using your investment in ways you can’t imagine. I want to write a follow-up letter to this one. But for some context, let’s start here. Again, I say, “Thank you for hosing my niece and nieces! I’m thinking of you and praying for you . . . and grateful for your investment in what you might find annoying!” With blessing, Amy

Dear Missionary who hosts summer teams,

I write this letter to you with egg on my face. Many moons ago I spent a summer in China teaching English for six weeks to English teachers from around Anhui Province. Because it was “long enough to form meaningful relationships,” I maintained an interiorly superior attitude that many one- or two-week summer trips were a waste of time.

At least for us on the field. After I quit my job, packed two suitcases, and moved to China, I was now one of you. My belief that week-long trips were meaningful and useful for those who went on them, but not us, only solidified. I wasn’t like “them,” I really got to know the culture. I didn’t just swoop in and out. I “made a real difference” (even now I roll my eyes at myself. Pride is so ugly). I’d join in the discussion about whether short trips were worth all the time, money, and effort that went into them. Was any real difference being made?

Oh knowing everything can be such a burden, can’t it?

Those questions? They are good questions. They should be asked. We should wrestle with them. But what God has shown me this summer is that the boundary lines of my understanding are significantly smaller than I believe them to be.

Put another way? I think I know more than I do.

And maybe you do too.

If you host summer teams, this is a huge thank you card to you. If I could hire a sky writer? I would. I would fly over you and write, “Thank you! You have no idea what a difference you have made.” Well, maybe all I would actually write in the sky is “Thank You!” But what I mean is, “You have no idea what a difference you have made.”

I have nieces that range in age from 9 to 16. The older ones are starting to go on summer trips. Their church begins the process with trips in town, and then the next summer trips within the US, and then international trips.

I have watched how their church takes months to prepare the participants. How they are intentional about serving instead of having “cool experiences.” How they are joining in the Great Commission.

This was our first summer as a family to have a girl go on an international trip. (Side note, if it has not happened in your family yet, it is a little weird when you are suddenly not the one going on that trip. When you are not the one sharing stories and prayer requests.)

I know, because I’ve been in your shoes, how much work it is to prepare for a team to come in. Even a team who is doing work you desperately need done. There are moments you wonder if it is worth it. There are moments you are sure it is not.

What you might not see, what I had not seen before, was all of the preparation. The preparation of supplies for parties and clubs. The preparation of their hearts. The cultural information they are learning. The ways that those who are coming to you truly want to serve. They want to help you with your calling. They want to work.

What I also had never seen before is that, especially for teen and college kids, you are not just getting one person, you are getting a herd of people. You only saw my niece, but her parents, aunts, grandma, friends, and especially her three younger sisters are now invested in your ministry.

She came home changed.

She knows your name, dear missionary. She has shared the stories you told. Our family now agonizes that children in your village have permanent brain damage because Tylenol isn’t available when they get a fever. The children that she spent a week feeding, playing with, and singing to? We know their names. A place on the globe, the place that is dear to you, is now dear to us.

I understand that this letter is still rather focused on the difference this trip made for her. It is rather “sent one” focused.

I guess what I am trying to say, is thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts to her. For sharing your story for the umpteenth time. For putting up with teens who refused to eat the food you worked so hard to provide, eating instead another granola bar (not my niece, but she shared stories of her teammates too!).

Before this summer, I only saw these trips through the lens of how much work they were for me on the field. What I didn’t grasp was how, like the loaves and fishes Jesus used to feed the masses, summer trips can feed the Great Commission. They can feed God’s heart for his people. They feed future generations of missions. That one week will ripple out through the years in ways you and I can’t imagine.

You might not remember my niece’s name because you will see several trips this summer. She’s a quiet girl. She’s the one who will hold the disabled four-year-old for hours and sing to them. She’s the one who now sees the value of learning the language because the quiet cook on your property? She wishes she could have talked to her.

She came home changed by the poverty she saw. She returned and the word she used more than another other to describe the people she served? Joy. She saw how God is not White and American and Well-educated. When the cook started to sing How Great Thou Art in your language and my niece sang it in English? She will carry that for the rest of her days.

The extra hours these trips cost you? The foolish questions the participants ask? The food they won’t eat? It is worth it. God took the diamond of summer trips and tilted it so I saw more of its beauty than I have before.

Thank you for hosting my niece.

Her loving aunt,

Amy

P.S. I still have opinions about short term trips. But they are a bit fuzzier than before. My overwhelming sense that I really knew what was the right way to “do missions” has been, um, challenged. Love will do that, won’t it? Slow me down enough to keep me really asking the questions and not just spouting off the same answers I have for years. I’m sorry if this letter is a bit all over the place. I’ve reworked it and reworked it. But I feel all over the place, so how can my words not be as well?

4 Resources for Your First Year

I had flown to China before, but that was always with a return ticket. When I moved to China, my ticket was one-way. Back in the day, smoking was allowed on the flights. I was on a Chinese based airline and I began to understand some of the changes I was in for when the flight attendants commandeered the last three rows of the middle section and build a blanket fort.

They took turns going into it for smoking and rest breaks. You can picture the waves of smoke that escaped when someone went in or out.

Do you remember the feeling as you disembarked from the plane? Though late at night and exhausted, the muggy August air smelled . . . like not my home country. I had finally arrived. To this day, if I arrive at an airport late at night and it’s muggy and the wind blows just right, a small wave of exhilaration washes over me. 

Ah, the first year on the field.

Welcome to those of you who have recently arrived on the field or are in the throws of getting ready to move to the field. We’re so glad you’re here!

Though you’ll be going through many transitions and your journey will be unique, you do not need to go it alone.

Do you wish your first year came with a handbook?

I wrote Getting Started: Making the Most of Your First Year in Cross-Cultural Service to be just that. Getting Started enables you to glean from those who have gone before you, to stay close to God, and to grow in cultural knowledge—all the while flourishing in fulfilling your call.

What’s one unexpected pitfall of the first year?

Ironically, it can be staying connected to God. In your passport country you knew how to stay spiritually fed and understood the language spoken at church. With time, you’ll make friends, learn the language, and even start worshipping in another language. But as you’re establishing yourself in your new host culture, stay Connected: Starting Your Overseas Life Spiritually Fed.

Do you have any tips for my first year?

In addition to buying the two books mentioned above, you bet I do! Here an article I wrote with 3 Tips For Your First Year.

What does role deprivation look like?

While it will look different for each person, there tends to be two universal signs you’re experiencing role deprivation in your first year … as uncomfortable as role deprivation is, it’s one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us! Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation.


A couple of years ago I was going to host a year-long group for those in their first year and we would work our way through Getting Started, but then the pandemic happened and not many people were able to move around the globe. I’ve created a survey to gauge interest in a group running from September 2022 through June 2023 for people early in their missionary journey. Could you either take this survey or share it will people who have been on the field less than two years.

Take the survey here.

We truly are glad you’re here. We need you and your fresh eyes and hearts! Welcome.

And thanks for helping with the survey, Amy

What we can learn from the SBC

I’m currently reading The Soul of Desire; Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community by Curt Thompson, MD. In April I was privileged to hear him speak in person on this topic.

While the neuroscience is fascinating, what stood out was the role of beauty. And all of the ways that we humans can contribute by putting beauty into the world. Though “beauty” may seems small, putting beauty into the world truly is one of the most powerful things we can do, according to Dr. Thompson.

I’m also in the midst of edits on a book I’m writing about the fruit of the Spirit. Last week I was working on a section that very briefly mentioned the shameful past in missions involving our own complete mishandling of abuse and boarding schools. In fairness to my editor, she hasn’t served overseas and her “world” isn’t ours of cross-cultural service, so she wasn’t familiar with this part of our history. She commented to the effect asking if it was necessary to mention the abuse (I was writing about goodness and it seemed out of context).

I’ve left it in because it seems disingenuous to me to highlight goodness without acknowledging that “badness” can exist if we aren’t walking with the Holy Spirit.

This morning I read This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse from Christianity Today … which is the polar opposite of beauty. If you haven’t read heard about it, basically the Southern Baptists in the US kept an extensive list of pastors whom they knew were sexual abusers and did not (a) address it, (b) involve the local officials, or (c) support the victims.

Why write about beauty and abuse here? With you? For us?

Because it’s all true … beauty is powerful and unaddressed abuse is powerful. At times we Christians are shameful at the lengths we’ll go to in covering up sin and not addressing it.

As God has “beauty” and “abuse” on my radar, I’ve been mulling how every now and then we need to slow down and affirm a few of the basics. Beauty is powerful. Today let’s each seek one small way to do or say or share something that is beautiful. Abuse is also powerful and not to be tolerated. Today, if you see abuse in some form seek one small way to do something or say something or address it in some way.

You can cultivate beauty. You can! I love that cultivating beauty doesn’t mean you have to become a world-renowned artist. It can be as simple as noticing a person on the outside of a conversation and inviting them in.

Sadly, abuse can also be cultivated when we turn a blind eye, excuse, or downplay it. I believe that we are getting better at addressing abuse. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve become immune to tolerating abuse … too much abuse still exists in the world.

While this is not the most beautiful piece I’ve written, it is the beauty God has nudged me to put into the world today. What is He nudging you to put into the world?

Photo by Marc Schulte on Unsplash

Aging Parents from the Field (Survey)

Last week Global Trellis shared the following post about a survey we are conducting to create resources to help you when you have aging parents and are on the field. We’re surveying those of you who have already walked this path because we want to glean from your wisdom and experiences.

Reading through the responses thus far, I’ve been reminded how heavy phase of life is. How much you love your parents and how every family path will be different. So, thank you in advance if you are able to help with the survey. For all of us, let’s pray for our brothers and sisters walking this path right now. Here’s the brief into, then you can see the questions, and take the survey. We’ll share the results!



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, Global Trellis decided to tap into the collective wisdom from those who have already walked this path and conduct a survey.

This is where you come in. We need your help.

We’ll take your survey answers and use them to create a resource to help fellow cross-cultural workers. Below, I’ll share the questions on the survey. Please share with those you know who have walked this path.


Aging Parents Survey Intro

Hello friend, this survey is for those who have already walked the path (or are walking it right now) with aging parents. Several people have contacted us wanting help with this significant (and weighty) question: Do you have any resources to help with aging parents for cross-cultural workers?

Thank you for taking the time for this survey. You’ll notice that this survey is rather extensive, so as a thank you, 10 of you will be drawn for a $10 amazon gift card.

We appreciate your time and help. Amy for the Global Trellis Team

The questions:

1. Briefly share your situation with aging parents.

2. What options did you consider for you and/or your parents?

3. What additional factors were involved as you considered your options?

4. What did you do from the field to help your parents (if anything)?

5. How did other people near your parents help you or the situation?

6. What do you wish other people had done?

7. Do you have any tips for communicating and working with your siblings?

8. How did you honor your relationship while on the field? Any suggestions for doing this?

9. How did you navigate the pain around your parents aging and the shift in relationship?

10. If you’re with an organization: How did your organization help you?

11. If you’re with an organization: What do you wish your organization had done?

12. Do you know of any resources for helping with aging parents while on the field?

On behalf of the many you will help, thank you!

When you’re not sure what to pray for your organization

When I first went to the field I didn’t know how strong my relationship with my organization was going to be. I had no idea I would stay on the field as long as I did and that the next two decades were going to be so formative for the rest of my life.

So, it’s not surprising to hear that in those early days I prayed for my organization . . . sort of. My teammate and I prayed for “leaders” and “decisions they made.” As the years passed and I grew to know the names of the leaders—both on the field and in the home office—I could pray more specifically. But if I’m honest, I can’t say that I prayed as faithfully or as reflectively as I could.

Any organization is clearly made up of more than “leaders” and “decisions they make.”

Whether you’re with an organization or not, we all know of organizations and people who are in organizations. We’re all impacted by organizations—often for the good, sometimes for the less-than-good, and at times for the bad.

Eugene Peterson in On Living Well has this to say about growth (I bet you thought I was going to say prayer! Read what he said and think about how growth and prayer are related):

Christian growth, like any kind of growth, needs to be in continuous touch with the sources of its nourishment. If it develops more activity than its roots can support, it loses productivity. If it initiates activity that has no basis in its roots, it will wither quickly, to be replaced the next week by another cut-flower fad.

What struck me—both for growth and prayer—is the importance of roots. Of course this makes sense, but every now and then it’s good to circle back to the obvious and camp there for a moment.

Your ultimate roots are in God, not an organization you are with or may work with. One of the ways we can do this is through prayer for organizations. A common question for business owners is “do you make time to work on your business or do you only work in it?”

Life can be so full and loud and the urgent is often knocking at the door. If we’re not intentional, we can become like the business owner responds to the needs of the day and works faithfully in and rarely on the calling of her business.

I don’t want to just to just talk about prayer, but give you a few ideas and then time to pray for an organization you love.

1. Is there anything you fuss or worry about in your organization? Since your mind is already ruminating on that area, start there. Instead of pretending it doesn’t annoy you, be honest about it and pour your thoughts, concerns, and grievances out to God. (You just might be surprised how you change in the process too.)

2. This A Life Overseas article Let us pray for each other contains four scriptures to guide your prayer. You can adapt it to praying for your organization.

3. Global Trellis has adapted the Examen to lead you specifically through praying for your organization. You can read the Examen and the adaptation here or download the resource here.

If you’re new to the field, my hope and prayer is that this article will help you pray “better” (is there such a thing?) than I did when I moved to the field. And if you’re further along in your journey on the field that this will be used by the Holy Spirit to nudge you to pray for your organization this week.

May our prayer roots grow deeper. Amen and amen.

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

Let’s review being incarnational

Last weekend I taught a two hour seminar to writers on “Becoming an Incarnational Writer.” The point of the workshop is to help writers think about their readers and not just the words they wrote. In my pre-field training we looked at the incarnation as a model for how we could enter into our new host cultures.

It was good stuff! But I thought I knew far more than I actually did. How hard can this incarnational stuff be when you go in the name of Christ and carry good news? Right? (Ha, oh sweet ignorant Amy.)

Incarnation means “was made flesh.” In particular, that God was made flesh and entered humanity as Jesus. Whether you are preparing to go to the field, in your first term, or been on the field for a lifetime, what do you notice about the incarnation from these key phrases from scriptures:

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

“In the fullness of time God sent forth his son.” Galatians 4:4-5

“Christ came into the world that he might save sinners . . . Christ might display his immense patience as an example.” 1 Timothy 1:15-17

He comes “lowly and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah 9;9

“He humbled himself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death.” Phillpians 2:8




What stood out to you? I was struck again by how integral dwelling and humility are to an incarnational approach . . . and how long they take!

Humility means to “have or show a modest or low estimate of your own importance.” Because this is read in so many locations and by such a wide range of experiences, no one way to be humble exists that is the same for each of us. But the work of having a low estimate of our own importance starts internally and is manifested externally.

It also works not only in your host country, but in your passport country too. Many A Life Overseas readers may not actually be living overseas as you read this. Perhaps COVID or family needs or visa policies have brought you to a land that you do not feel deserves the humble touch. You may be right, I don’t know. But I do know that incarnational living isn’t just for when we go to the field.

Which brings me to the second core concept that stood out to me: dwell. Being incarnational involves dwelling. I found three definitions that helped unpack what true dwelling involves:

—to live in or at a specified place

—to linger on

—to think, speak, or write at length about

What convicted me was not that concept of dwelling, but the focus of my dwelling. Maybe it’s the same for you. What do you linger on in your thoughts? What do you chew on in your conversations like a cow with her cud? Venting is fine! Having real emotions and reactions to hard situations is healthy and good. But choosing to dwell instead of process and move on is perhaps not the patience or obedience of incarnation.

Here are five principles or nuggets I noticed about the incarnation that I hope encourage you:

1. Jesus was a helpless baby. He started out as a baby! We do not have to know everything. Whew :)!

2. Jesus grew at the same rate as everyone. It’s true that he was teaching others at the ripe old age of twelve. You too will have some areas you excel in. But overall being incarnational means that you too will have to “work the program.” You’ll have to grow and achieve step-by-step.

3. Jesus built community. He had family, friends, and co-workers.

4. Jesus communed with God. We know that Jesus pulled away and spent time with God. Building community and spending time with God need to both exist in an incarnational life.

5. Finally, Jesus stayed focused on his “assignment.” Just like us, Jesus had many opportunities vying for his time such as healing the sick, addressing political messes, instructing the masses, building furniture, and on and on. While he did all of those things when the intersected with his God given assignment, they were never out of proportion in his life.

As you’ve read this post and thought about your own incarnational experience, and in particular wherever you happen to be right now, what stood out to you?

Photo by Olivier Chatel on Unsplash

Can I get a witness?

Dear reader,

As I sat down on Monday to write this post, I prayed and asked God for ideas.

Okay, I whined and said, “God, I have no ideas. I have crumbs of thoughts and I don’t feel well so I know I’m more prone to being whiny.” And then I wrote an email to a friend.

“Friend, . . . this is just an ‘I need a witness’ email because I don’t know anyone else who is dealing with an ongoing medical situation from hell and I know you have in the past.

This current round has been going on since early November. And just when I think I’ve turned a corner and maybe am moving towards not feeling icky and controlled by either having to be vigilant about food or spending so much time with treatment, another flair up happens and I feel discouraged.

Logically, I know that at some point I will feel better (my past history reminds me), but at the moment, I am a bit despondent at the whole process and how long this is taking and how yucky I feel.

All this to say, I know you get it and just knowing there is a fellow sojourner and one who gets it helps me to bear this. I remind myself, “You know, you have walked this path, and Amy you are not alone.” So, even though you don’t know it, you have been helping me on this path these last few months.
Much love, 
Amy

The thing is, to look at me, you would think I’m fine. And the truth is, I am fine and I am also not fine. Knowing that I know one other person who walked this path and could reach out to her, was a comfort to me today.

I thought, that maybe you too have an area of your life that others might not know is giving you fits. And that you too might be fine and also not fine at the same time. I chose the above image because you might feel like you’re all alone in a desert.

While whatever you are facing is unique, I’m also willing to bet that someone else would nod in a “I get you” kind of a way.

So, today if you need a witness, someone to say, “I see you and I get that part of you is not fine,” either leave a comment or send an email to someone who may not know that they have been traveling with you.

We’ll pray for you and bear witness to your current not-okayness.

With love to you too,
Amy

Fire-building and the end of the year

Have you ever watched someone build a fire who doesn’t know what they are doing? They have all of the elements—tinder, kindling, and fuel—but they often make one key mistake.

They do not leave enough space for oxygen.

And without oxygen, no amount of trying will lead to an actual fire. Instead, even with the best of intentions and effort you have … a pile of wood.

I heard Juliet Funt speak this year and then read her book A Minute to Think. What she shares is probably something you’ve sensed deep in your soul and didn’t need her to tell you: busyness is epidemic.

And we cross-cultural workers, sadly, are no exception. Funt quotes Juliet B. Schor, who calls the way we choose to operate “performance busyness. There is no ‘they’ doing it to us anymore. From corporate executives to sheep farmer to retiree, our driving pace and pressure has become fully internalized.”

That resonated with me. For many of us, we might not physically go to a work place and report to a boss in person. But it doesn’t matter because, it’s true, I have internalized performance busyness, and I bet you have too.

In both our heads and hearts we know this isn’t the way of Jesus. Funt, though not a Christian, points to a deeper truth: “There is visible work and invisible work. Thinking, pondering, considering, reframing, mulling, concocting, questioning, and dreaming—none of these require a single muscle to be moved in order to be enacted. We only see the results when completed, not in the process.”

For three years Global Trellis has created an end-of-year packet that allows cross-cultural workers to reflect on the year that is ending and prepare for the upcoming year.

As someone who saw an advanced copy said, “I just skimmed the packet. The colors are soothing, and in a year of less capacity than in the past, it feels nice to have a guide through this.”

Jesus loves to do invisible and visible work with you. We need to value and make time for both.

If you are wanting a minute to think about this past year and gather thoughts for the next, you can. The way of Jesus involves oxygen for your soul to reflect, think, and even dream. Either take a few minutes now to review your year with Jesus or you can get the reflecting packet here.

Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

Do you need to make this change?

I’m almost done reading The 4 Season Solution by Dallas Hartwig. In it he argues that too many of us are living in a perpetual summer time and need to return to four-season living.

Having rhythms be a part of life is not new; just think about creation. God didn’t simply “make everything.” He wove ebbs and flows and rest into the seven days. Or think of the pilgrim festivals listed in Deuteronomy 16 and they ways that Passover, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths added rhythm to a year.

The author highlights four areas that are often out of balance:

—Sleep

—Food

—Movement

—Connections

Depending where you are in the world, the difference in daylight hours between summer and winter can be a few hours, or they can be dramatically different. Yet, many of us on-the-field live as if we are in the peak of the summer all year long. Why?

I would argue because we have mixed the truth with lies. Yes, what we are doing is important and at times even vital. But even Jesus knew that he, in human form, was not the answer to every need placed before him. So, how can we return to the truth that our ministries, organizations, and lives need to have more seasonality to them?

Let me unpack the four areas a bit more. In summer, people tend to sleep less, which is fine . . . for a season. Does your sleep have rhythms over the year? Or do you tend to go to bed or get up at the same time all year without regards to when the sun goes down or comes up?

When it comes to food, in my opinion, this is a strong suit for us. Do you tend to eat seasonally? For many of us, there is no option but to eat seasonally! However, this is changing around the world, and you probably have more out-of-season options available. Summer eating tends to have more fruits and carbohydrates available. Thinking of the food you eat, are you noticing that your body craves different foods in different seasons? (Hint: it should.)

Moving on to movement (see what I did there!), this can be another strength for us on the field with the amount of walking many of us do. The author advocates that we get as much everyday-movement that involves lifting and carrying things as we can instead of the mindset of “intense workouts.” So, some of you reading this may need to move more . . . and some may need to move less, or at least differently. As you look over the past year, are the ways you move your body the same all year round? Do you notice seasonal variety to how you move (or exercise) your body?

The final area is the one I hear the most lament over when it comes to overseas life: connection. Many of us are connected to people; the problem is how often we rotate in and out of physical proximity to each other. Or how often our lives are feast or famine. For instance you may have a holiday without any extended family and then eat every single meal in a week on furlough with someone precious. As you think about your connections, do you have long-term connections that you maintain? What are your connection-rhythms like over a year? Is your door open all year round, or do you have seasons where you withdraw a bit more?

Near the end of the book, Hartwig suggests that if you notice you have been living in perpetual summer for a while, it is not enough to simply want to live differently. You need to have an intentional and prolonged fall and winter to reset. Afterwards you can emerge into the rhythms of a typical spring, summer, fall, and winter.

I know that Covid has thrown many of us personally or organizationally out of whack. I am thinking beyond Covid-life, both before and life after our current season. What were your rhythms before Covid? What might they look over the next few years? Have you learned to live with a four-season rhythm to your life and ministry? Or do you tend to live in perpetual summer because what you do is so important it is worth the sacrifice?

Of course there are times when this is true and what you are involved in has a sense of urgency to it. I’m in a more busy season myself because I’m the chair of a board that needed to let the Executive Director go. We are in an “all hands on deck” season. But we need to remember this is for a season. I am already thinking about how I need to guard against this level of busyness becoming my new normal. And how after this summertime phase, we may need, as an organization, to have an intentional fall and winter season — which might sound backwards when you hire a ED or have a new team member.

What that looks like when we have programs that will continue and actual people with actual needs, I don’t know. But I do know that if I, and if we, do not ask the question, we are doomed to stay in perpetual summer.

God has so much more for us. Let’s not get tricked into living such one-dimensional lives.

And all God’s people said . . . .

Amen!


Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

It’s okay to be happy

Last week I listened to the audio version of The Preacher’s Wife by Kate Bowler. While focused on America and the “Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities,” I was struck by the pendulum swings of what worked in one era, sounded tone deaf in another.

In acknowledgement of our own pendulum swings, I find that currently most online spaces for cross-cultural workers emphasize the hard parts of being a cross-cultural worker. Which, I know, is in response to those hard parts not being given any space. This was a needed course correction that may not leave enough space for another story to coexist.

As I thought about my post this month, the book of Psalms came to mind. I love the richness of life represented by the different types of psalms and the variety of lengths.

So, in the spirit of Psalm 117, the shortest psalm, I remind us that it is true that life on the field can be confusing, disappointing, and hard. 

It is also true that on the field is interesting, exciting, and easy.

You do not have to hide your happiness. It is okay to be happy on the field.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay