Don’t Just Missionary On

Onward, Christian soldiers.

Soldier on, Christians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t settle for trudging.

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

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

Onward, Christian missionaries.

But please, please don’t just missionary on.

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

Sing Along with Me: How Long?

broken mirror reflecting sky


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because There Just Aren’t Enough Words to Describe the Overseas Experience, Here Are a Few More for Your Lexicon

airplane wing and clouds

Over the years I’ve created a collection of new terms for old things—things that are common to traveling and living overseas but that haven’t had common labels. Most of them have come to me while I’m in the air, looking out the window or thumbing through an inflight magazine.

I’ve posted these before on my blog, but I’ve yet to hear anyone use a single one in casual conversation, so I’m thinking they need a broader audience. I hope that some of these can make their way into your vocabulary. I’ll keep my ears open.

bait and glitch
You find a cheap plane ticket online and go through all the steps to buy it, double and triple checking all the details, and then when you select “confirm,” you get that encouraging message that says, “The fare you’ve selected is no longer available.” Maybe it’s because the search site wasn’t up to date or because someone else recklessly grabbed the last seat while you were prudently making up your mind. If it’s the latter, it just proves the old standard, “Time flies when you’re choosing flight times” (or something like that).

direct flight to the dog house
This is what you receive after you proudly show the money-saving itinerary—that you just booked—to your spouse, and said spouse points out that it includes a 14-hour layover (also known as a “wayover”) and that you and your four children will need to collect all checked baggage between each of the five connecting flights. Travel to the doghouse does accumulate frequent-flyer miles, but they can only be redeemed for undesirable trips, such as to overnight stays on the living-room couch.

metapacking
Carrying a suitcase in a suitcase so that you can bring back more stuff than you take. This can be as simple as a duffle bag inside another piece of luggage, but in its purest form, it is a checked bag precisely fitting inside another checked bag. The term metapacking can be extended also to encompass using a cheap or broken suitcase to transport items one way and then disposing of that suitcase after you arrive. Seasoned travelers always keep a broken suitcase lying around.

eurekathing
Something you find inside your luggage when you start packing—something you haven’t seen since your last trip. Discovering it brings out such responses as “Oh, that’s where that is,” or “I do have one of those.” A wad of ten-dollar bills is eurekaching, a piece of jewelry, eurekabling.

tetrisness
The feeling of accomplishment one feels after packing every necessary item just right in a suitcase. A landmark study out of the University of Gatwick-Hempstead shows that tetrisness activates the same portion of the brain as when one successfully folds a fitted sheet.

TSAT
The TSAT (pronounced Tee Ess Ay Tee or Tee-Sat) is an oral exam in which family members yell questions and answers from room to room concerning Transportation Security Administration regulations:

Is it the 3-1-1 rule or 1-1-3 . . . or 3-2-1 or 9-1-1? Does deodorant count as a liquid? What about wet wipes? Or snow globes? Or chocolate-covered cherries? Can I take nail clippers in my carry-on? What about tweezers? Duct tape? Scotch tape? Chopsticks? Toothpicks? Javelins?

fortnightlies
Countless requests—for coffee, a get-together, or a meal—made by friends who have just realized that your departure for a long or permanent stay is only. two. weeks. away.

vontrappish
How you feel when you’re ready for bed the night before a morning flight, with all your luggage placed neatly (more or less) next to the door—lined up like the von Trapp family ready to sing “So Long, Farewell.” You may have mixed feelings, and you may or may not sleep. In extreme cases, you hear yourself humming the tune.

flotsam and jetsam and thensam
The abundance of things that people give you and your children right before you leave for the airport or get on the plane. This includes gifts, souvenirs, snacks, word-find and sudoku books, coloring books with a four-pack of crayons, and those faces with metal shavings that you form into a beard with a magnet.

disafearance
Leaving your tightly locked up (?) house thinking you might have left the iron on (even though you don’t remember having done any ironing) is one thing, but watching your hand zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack and then just two minutes later checking to see if it’s actually there because you’re afraid that you didn’t in fact zip your passport into the front pocket of your backpack but instead, due to a muscle spasm, may have opened the car window and tossed your passport onto the shoulder of the highway—or what if it just spontaneously combusted, leaving no smoke or ashes? That’s disafearance.

duffling
Upon hearing the counter agent at the airport say that your checked bag is three pounds overweight, you feign frantic action by grabbing zippers, patting your pockets, turning in circles, and saying things such as “I could . . . ,” “Well, I . . . ,” and “What can . . . ,” hoping that the ticket agent will take pity on you and say it’s OK. Be careful that your duffling isn’t too aggressive or the agent will actually let you follow through on solving the problem.

terminal fowliage
Birds that have somehow gotten into an airport and fly around amongst the rafters and indoor trees. Birds stuck inside a place where people come to fly. Sense the irony?

flaggle
A flaggle of tourists is a group of middling to senior travelers, led by a tour guide with a flag and bullhorn. The flag is akin to the kind I and my friends used to bolt onto our banana-seat bikes when we were kids. Oh, if only we’d had megaphones, too. You can tell that the flaggle is on the return leg of their trip when you see them bringing home food and souvenirs packed in large, branded gift bags or boxes with tied-on handles.

making a this-line’s-not-for-you-turn
After standing patiently in an airport line for fifteen minutes and realizing that it doesn’t lead where you need to go, you nonchalantly walk away—as if standing in lines is simply your hobby and you’re now looking for another place to queue up for more pleasant amusement. (Aren’t you glad you came early?)

shuftle
The standing-room-only shuttle bus at some airports that shuffles passengers on the tarmac from plane to airport terminal (or vice versa). This word can also be used as a verb.

Sadow-Plath effect
Happens in the moment when you accidentally kick a pulled carry-on with your heel and it flips onto one wheel and mo.men.tar.i.ly balances before flipping completely over or wobbling back to both wheels. This brief pause at the top of the carry-on’s arc is actually a tiny breach in the space-time continuum, caused by the rapid upturn of the luggage in combination with the forward motion. The effect is named after Bernard D. Sadow, inventor of the wheeled suitcase, and Bob Plath, creator of the rollaboard.

glizing
Glizing is the act of experiencing the wonderfully smooth exponential forward motion as you stride confidently on an airport’s moving walkway. This only happens when you’re not in a hurry, in part because, as studies show, the walkways do little to speed you up, and often slow you down.

BlackNSquare
When you try to describe your piece of luggage at the lost-luggage counter, all you can remember is that it’s part of the BlackNSquare line made by the Yuno company. Question: “What Kind of luggage do you have?” Answer: “Yuno, BlackNSquare.” Yuno also makes the upscale models BlackNSquare with Handle and BlackNSquare with Wheels.

preseating
To sit down, with plenty of time before boarding, able to relax because your bags are checked, you’re definitely at the right gate, and a quick look shows that your passport is right where it’s supposed to be. You take a deep breath and contemplate the hopeful possibilities of your trip. You can charge your phone, read, or people watch. You’re free to walk about and might grab a cup of coffee, browse the bestsellers in the bookstore, or window shop expensive luggage and watches . . . and on the way, you can go glizing.

passenger of imminent domain
This is the person directly in front of you on a plane who, upon sitting down, immediately pushes their seat back as far as it will possibly go. Intuiting that something must be hindering it, they try to force it back farther, again and again. There. Must. Be. Something. Keeping. The. Seat. From. Reclining completely flat (possibly your knees). Finally, leaving the seat fully back, they lean forward to watch a movie.

chipillow
The bag of snacks that you bring from home that bloats up once you reach higher altitudes. With care, it can be used to rest your head on, due to the fact that it’s in the same food group as the neck croissant.

FASL
Flight Attendant Sign Language. Includes such specialized hand maneuvers as indicating the exits by extending the arms to the side, palms forward, pointing with two fingers, Boy Scout style, and mimicking the pulling of life-vest inflation cords using the crook of the thumb and first finger with the other fingers fanned out, subliminally showing that everything will be “OK.”

single-entré seating
The rows in the far back of the plane where you no longer get a choice between the brazed beef medallions over a wild-rice pilaf and the broiled fish and mashed potatoes. You get the fish.

cartnering
This is the act of hovering next to the food cart as it’s making its way down the aisle. Timing a trip to the bathroom with the distribution of meals is truly an art form, and it is best done passive-aggressively (such as by wearing a smile while dancing from one foot to the other).

Silent Gotcha Port
The “SGP” is the small screw hole on the seat armrest that looks as if it must be the place where you plug in your earphones.

Queen Ramona’s Veil
The dark mesh curtain that separates business class from coach. Its main purpose is to protect those in the front of the plane from projectiles thrown by the riotous mob behind, who are known to catapult dinner rolls at each other using slingshots fashioned from their airline-provided sleep masks and who sometimes divide into teams for prolonged games of ultimate Frisbee. In small planes, the curtain, only a few inches across and resting next to the cabin wall, is known as Queen Romana’s Veilette. Its purpose is purely psycho-social.

The term “Queen Ramona’s Veil” comes from the name commonly used for the wood-and-iron gate employed by the overly paranoid and little-known British Queen Ramona II to separate her highness from the filthy hordes sometimes present in the steerage portion of her royal sailing ship. Mention of the barrier is made in the English dirge “The Death of Queen Ramona at the Hands of the Filthy Hordes.” (Can you tell that I rarely get to fly business class?)

seatemic (pronounced see-uh-tehm-ic)
Your connecting flight is delayed and you have no time to spare so when it lands you run as fast as you can (and by “as fast as you can” I mean a combination of running, jogging, speed walking, walking, stopping, and wheezing) across the airport and arrive at your gate just as they’re closing the door and you speed down the gangway and board the plane and force your carryon into something close to an available slot and find your seat and quickly strap in so the plane can take off. . . . Now all you can do is sit still, sweating, with your heart racing and your veins coursing with adrenaline. Your body is in a fight-or-flight response but something tells you this is a different kind of flight. If you are suffering from these symptoms, you are seatemic.

no-watch list
Movies on this list are not allowed to be shown in-flight. The list includes Red EyeAirborneNon-StopFlightplanSnakes on a PlaneQuarantine 2: Terminal, and Plane of the Living Dead. And, yeah, some of these shouldn’t be shown on the ground, either.

altivism
Gazing out of an airplane window, seeing the new landscape below, and feeling joyfully overcome with the real and imagined possibilities.

post-ping che-klatches
The sound of seatbelt buckles popping open the instant the plane stops at the gate and passengers hear the OK-now-you-can-get-up tone. This allows those in window seats to immediately grab their carryons, put them where they were just sitting, and wait, hunching under the overhead bins.

welwelwel-ke-come
This is the glorious sound of the immigration agent thumbing through your passport looking for an empty page—and then adding the stamp that says you’re free to enter.

dyslistening
The condition by which your over preparation for answering an expected question in another language overwhelms your auditory senses and you answer the query you’ve anticipated, no matter what is actually said, as in responding to “How many would you like?” with “Yes, but no ice, please.”

visatrig
The act of trying to predict which agent in the office will be the most likely to give you your visa or other important document and then conducting complex calculations concerning the number of people in line in front of you to see if you will get the agent you hope for. A domestic version of this is sometimes encountered in the DMV.

unchewing
The physical and mental reaction that occurs when you realize that the chocolate-covered, cream-filled donut that you just took a bite of in your host country is in fact not a donut and that’s not chocolate and the filling might very well have gristle in it.

[photo: “Fight over Slovenia,” by (Mick Baker)rooster, used under a Creative Commons license]

Hiding Abuse Does Not Protect the Mission

The mission. The mission. The mission.

What could be more important to missionaries than the mission?

But talk about the supreme importance of the work of the church can be used to silence those who would expose sin in the church. Russell Moore pointed this out last month, writing in Christianity Today about Guidepost Solution’s investigation into sexual-abuse claims, and allegations of coverup, in the Southern Baptist Convention. Guidepost’s findings include an email sent by the executive vice president and general council of the SBC’s Executive Committee, in which he comments on those bringing accusations against the SBC:

This whole thing should be seen for what it is. It is a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism. It is not the gospel. It is not even a part of the gospel. It is a misdirection play.

This line of thinking has played out on the mission field, too, as can be seen in published reports on the treatment of victims of child abuse overseas. For example, in 1997, the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s Independent Commission of Inquiry reported on claims of abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy, a boarding school in Guinea run by the C&MA from 1950 to 1971. About the students at Mamou, one missionary mother told the commission,

They were never allowed the freedom of expressing their hurts, their problems, their emotions to us. Each week the obligatory letter was not only read but censored, and forced to be rewritten if it appeared at all negative. This destroyed a vital link that could have helped maintain a fragmented family bond. They were repeatedly told not to share adverse happenings either by letter or by word on vacation with parents, lest it upset the parents and interfere with the work they were doing for God. The hidden message to the child was that God was more important, work was more important to the parents that [sic] one’s own child.

The commission summarized the reasoning behind censoring letters as “Children were advised not to upset their parents, lest their ministry to Africans be compromised and Africans left to their pagan ways.”

In 2010, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) reported on its findings concerning New Tribes Mission’s Fanda Missionary School, in Senegal, which boarded children from the mid 1980s to 1997. GRACE states that the MKs living at Fanda

were not allowed to voice concerns or complaints to their parents regarding the conditions at Fanda. They were repeatedly told by those in authority at Fanda that such complaints would hinder their parents’ work and result in Africans going to hell. In some cases, their letters were censored of all bad news in the name of the Lord’s work.

And also in 2010, the Independent Abuse Review Panel of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) filed a report on past claims of offenses among Presbyterian missionaries. Aware that some would rather that those who have been abused or who are aware of abuse “keep such information to themselves,” they refute the following three statements, which they label as myths:

1. The current mission of the church will be hurt by revelations of past abuse on mission fields.
2. The reputations of former missionaries, current staff, or advocates will be damaged by the investigation of allegations against them.
3. What is in the past is best left alone.

Sadly, the reports referenced above do not represent all the investigation summaries written over the years, nor do official reports cover all the wrongs that have occurred. We cannot pretend that abuse, whatever the kind, can be relegated to a certain denomination or organization (that group), place (over there), or time period (back then).

We must be alert. Talking points for conversations with children—and adults—should include that secrets shouldn’t be kept, wrongs shouldn’t be hidden, and complaints shouldn’t be silenced in order to “protect the mission.” That needs to be said out loud over and over again to combat all the times that the opposite has been spoken or inferred.

Abuse in the church hinders the mission, not the exposing of that abuse. Silencing or shunning those who make accusations hinders the mission, not the act of hearing them out.

Again in Christianity Today, Moore returned to this topic last week. In “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain without Swearing,” he states that claiming to speak on behalf of God to shield abusers and to accuse accusers is tantamount to breaking the third commandment:

Sexual abuse, in any context and by any institution, is a grave atrocity. It’s worse when this horror is committed—or covered up—by leveraging personal or institutional trust. But using the very name of Jesus to carry out such wickedness against those he loves and values is a special evil. When sexual abuse happens within a church, violence is added to violence—sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Predators know this power is great, which is why they weaponize even the most beautiful concepts—grace or forgiveness or Matthew 18 or the life of David.

It’s also why institutions seeking to protect themselves will take on the name of Jesus to say that victims, survivors, or whistleblowers are compromising “the mission” or creating “disunity in the body” when they point out horrors.

There’s more to the mission of the church than just going and making disciples. There’s listening to and looking out for the oppressed and the vulnerable. There’s shining the light in dark places. And there’s speaking and acknowledging what is true.

The mission. The mission. The mission. The whole mission.

(Russell More, “This is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse,” Christianity Today, May 22, 2022; Report of the Independent Investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention, Guidepost Solutions, May 15, 2022; Geoffrey B. Stearns, et. al, Final Report, Independent Commission of Inquiry Regarding Mamou Alliance Academy (C&MA), November 15, 1997; Amended Final Report for the Investigatory Review of Child Abuse at New Tribes and Missionary School, GRACE, August 28, 2010; James Evinger, et. al., Final Report of the Independent Abuse Review Panel Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), PCUSA, October 2010; Moore, “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain without Swearing,” Christianity Today, June 21, 2022)

[photo: “Padlock on Red Door,” by Andy Wright, used under a Creative Commons license]

Shining Your Light without Burning Out

“Raise your hands in the air as high as you can,” says the motivational speaker on the stage. Then, looking over the crowd reaching skyward, he says, “Now, reach higher,” and they comply. The lesson? You can always do more, even when you think you’ve done as much as you can.

“I’ll give it 110%,” we say.

“Leave it all on the court,” they tell us.

But pushing ourselves beyond our limits can lead to burnout. When that happens, we can’t function anymore, and that’s not a good thing. And yet, for a cross-cultural worker, being burned out can feel like a respectable reason for leaving the field. I have nothing left to give. I’m spent. I worked too hard.

When my wife and I moved back to the States, I sometimes said it was because we were burned out, and that may very well have been true. But there were other times when I felt I didn’t deserve the label. It seemed that it should be reserved for the ones who’d worked a lot harder than I had.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” we sing.

According to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, Revision 11, “burn-out” is an “occupational phenomenon” (rather than a medical condition). It is defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” showing itself in

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and
  • reduced professional efficacy

Christina Maslach, professor emerita of psychology at UC Berkely and co-developer of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, says that while overwork is one of the factors that can lead to burnout, it’s not the only one. In fact, she identifies six mismatches between the work environment and worker that can cause job burnout. In a presentation at a DevOps Enterprise Summit three years ago, she described these as

  • demand overload,
  • lack of control,
  • insufficient reward,
  • breakdown of community,
  • absence of fairness, and
  • value conflicts

When I heard this list, I couldn’t help but think of the topics discussed in Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss’s Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. And even though Maslach is addressing a group of tech leaders, the content of her talk applies to people in other areas, including those working cross-culturally. Across all occupations, burnout, says Maslach, is like the canary in the coal mine. When the canary can’t breath, the solution isn’t to toughen up the bird but instead to find out and fix what’s wrong with the air. To put it another way, she says, prevention is a better strategy than coping.

I would encourage you to watch Maslach’s presentation, whatever your role in cross-cultural work, as leaders or followers. Some of you have a leadership position in your organization or on your team and can influence the situations of those under your authority. Some of you are your own boss. All of you have jobs that include responding to the expectations of others (agencies, sending churches, supporters, team leaders, supervisors, coworkers, and the like). Maslach’s insights are useful to us all.

Of course, serving and living overseas adds extra layers to what we call our “workplace,” and there will be some factors of cross-cultural life that are out of anyone’s control. But when we see the effects of a toxic environment, what of the six problems above can we or others solve or mitigate, working towards turning mismatches into good fits?

What can we do, though, if we’re feeling overwhelmed while waiting for (asking for, hoping for, praying for) circumstances to change? How do we foster personal health in an unhealthy environment? Several years ago, I wrote a post titled “Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving?” in which I presented another option for those who are able to survive overseas but for whom thriving seems out of reach. To suggest that we “strive,” though, might sound to some as if I’m saying we need to “try harder,” and that isn’t my intention. If I were to write that post again, I’d insert some advice from Aundi Kolber. It’s to “try softer,” which is the name of a book she’s written. For my purposes, I’d rephrase it as “strive softer.”

Kolber, a licensed professional counselor, writes that it’s not necessary for us to “white-knuckle our way through life.” Instead, we should practice “paying compassionate attention” to ourselves. She describes this as “in a sense, learning to steward for ourselves what God already believes about us—that we’re valuable and loved.”

When we are not paying attention to our inner worlds, we are susceptible to emotional burnout, exhaustion, emotional dysregulation, and chronic pain. Because our brains are shaped around what we notice, it’s important that we become better and more effective at listening—and responding—to what our minds and bodies are telling us. This is the journey of trying softer.

In Try Softer (the book’s subtitle is A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode—and into a Life of Connection and Joy), Kolber covers a lot of ground, diving deep into such subjects as trauma response, neuroscience, attachment theory, windows of tolerance, and boundaries, helping us learn how to understand ourselves and how we came to be who we are. Then she follows that up with “new practices and rhythms,” practical suggestions to help us try softer. It’s well worth a read. Or if you’d rather just get a short overview of what Kolber has to say, you can follow this link to a 45-minute video interview she had with author and podcaster Nicole Unice.

Striving softer isn’t just for staying on the field. It’s what we should do to continue walking with and serving God, wherever we are. It’s a good way to live life.

Giving anything more than 100% can’t be done.

Leaving it all on the court means your playing days are over.

Burning out isn’t an honor you earn from maximum effort.

And as for “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” I can think of a whole lot of other songs that are more worth singing.

(“Burn-Out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases,” World Health Organization, May 28, 2019; Christina Maslach, Understanding Job Burnout, presentation at DOES19 London, July 1, 2019; Aundi Kolber, Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode—and into a Life of Connection and Joy, Tyndale, 2020)

[photo: “Lights Out,” by Pulpolux !!!, used under a Creative Commons license]

Take a Look Ahead (or Behind) through the Lens of Expectations

I like making lists. I like asking questions. I like making lists of questions. And that’s what I’ve done here on the topic of expectations for working cross-culturally.

We all set out on the journey abroad with high expectations. Of course we do. Without those expectations we wouldn’t begin. But based on the realities we encounter, or on the competing requirements of others, are our expectations too high? It’s not that we should lower them all, or jettison them altogether. Instead we should aim to recognize and understand them, have conversations about them, and modify them when necessary. There’s much to suss out along the way.

When contemplating the questions below, understand that the purpose is to identify what you expect—as in what you think, believe, or assume will happen, not what you hope, want, wish, would like, need, demand, pray for, desire, fear, or know (though they may overlap with your expectations). So if you read a question and want to respond with “I can’t know that,” then remember that that’s not what’s being asked for.

Inspired by the research and writing of Sue Eenigenburg, Robynn Bliss, and Andrea Sears (which I discussed last month), I can think of a number of ways for utilizing this list. The most obvious is for new candidates readying for cross-cultural work, to ask themselves these questions to consider aspects of their move that they’ve never considered before. Comparing answers with teammates, family members, agencies, and church representatives would be helpful as well—and could help head off later disappointments, misunderstandings, and conflicts before they occur.

Future workers could also share their expectations with veterans in the field, or with those who have returned from overseas. This could allow them to hear from those with experience in dealing with too high—or too low—expectations.

I could see using these in a team-building (or team-understanding) exercise, or as discussion starters for future cross-cultural workers to get to know each other. Each person could choose a few questions, or draw some from a hat, and use them as conversation starters.

For those already on the field, there is always a future ahead with many unknowns, even after many of these questions are already behind them, and thinking about the expectations they still hold could be insightful.

They could also look at these questions to think back on their past assumptions, comparing them to what actually has come to pass—or comparing them to how their expectations have changed.

They can ask themselves how disappointments have affected their well-being and their relationships with others and with God. And they can consider the effects of having not expected enough. Those could then produce lessons they could share with new workers coming after them.

And the cycle continues.

So here’s my list. Use it however you see fit. I don’t expect every question to apply to you, but I do expect that some will . . . and I hope and pray they’ll be helpful.

What are my expectations?

  1. When will I depart?
  2. What training or orientation will I go through?
  3. What kind of visa will I need?
  4. What will I need to do to get and keep a visa?
  5. What will my official role be in the country?
  6. What will the minimum financial support necessary be for me?
  7. What will my financial support level be?
  8. How long will it take to raise support?
  9. How consistent will my financial support be?
  10. What kind of response will I get from supporters for one-time or special financial requests?
  11. What financial responsibility will I have to my sending agency?
  12. How will I handle previously acquired debt?
  13. What salary (or personal-discretion funds) will I have?
  14. How much control will I have over ministry funds?
  15. What will the cost of living be?
  16. How favorable (or unfavorable) will the exchange rate be?
  17. In what kind of setting will I live (rural, urban, etc.)?
  18. What specific country, area, or city will I live in?
  19. What will be the location of my work?
  20. Will the location of my work change?
  21. What kind of housing will I have?
  22. How close will I live to my teammates?
  23. How often will I move?
  24. Will I have a housekeeper or other domestic helper?
  25. Will team members provide babysitting or other childcare?
  26. How will my home be used for ministry?
  27. What will I use for transportation?
  28. What will my standard of living be?
  29. How much will my education, preparation, training, and past experiences prepare me?
  30. How easily will I embrace the culture?
  31. How much will I fit in to the culture?
  32. How will the local people receive me?
  33. How much will culture shock/stress affect me?
  34. How long will culture shock/stress last?
  35. How easy will it be to get items I’m used to in my home culture?
  36. How will I celebrate holidays?
  37. How will I acclimate to the weather?
  38. How will I adjust to the food?
  39. What will my diet look like?
  40. What kind of food will I eat at home?
  41. How often will I eat out?
  42. How long will it take to develop relationships with local people?
  43. How close will my friendships be with nationals?
  44. Will I have a best friend, and if so, who will it be?
  45. What will my work responsibilities be?
  46. What people group will I work with?
  47. How will I partner with other teams, agencies, or workers from other denominations?
  48. How will I partner with local churches/believers?
  49. What will a new church plant look like?
  50. What role will I and my family play in a church plant?
  51. What methods will I use for outreach?
  52. What kind of work will I do?
  53. What physical needs will I work to alleviate?
  54. What will be my balance between meeting physical and spiritual needs?
  55. How will I integrate aspects of the host culture in presenting the gospel and in developing church practices?
  56. What will my typical day look like?
  57. What will my typical week look like?
  58. How long will it take to complete the projects I have planned?
  59. How will government restrictions affect my work?
  60. What will my supporters, my church, and my sending agency want me to accomplish?
  61. What will be the results of my work?
  62. How fruitful will my work be?
  63. When and to whom will I hand off my work?
  64. How will I define success?
  65. Where will I do language learning?
  66. What method will I use for language learning?
  67. How long will it take to learn the language?
  68. How many languages will I need to learn?
  69. What level of fluency will I achieve?
  70. How difficult will it be for me to learn the language?
  71. What language will I use for my work?
  72. What language will my personal worship be in?
  73. If single, will I date and pursue marriage?
  74. If I have children, how will living overseas affect them?
  75. How will my children’s faith develop?
  76. What involvement will my children have in the ministry?
  77. What kinds of relationships will my children develop?
  78. How will my children be educated?
  79. What relationship/interaction will my children have with my home culture?
  80. What will my children do after graduating from high school?
  81. How will I help my children make the transition to college if they attend?
  82. How large will my family be?
  83. How big will our team be?
  84. How will we go about adding new team members?
  85. What individual roles will different teammates have?
  86. How dependent will team members be on each other?
  87. Will the roles of married and single team members differ, and if so, how?
  88. Will male/female roles differ on my team, and if so, how?
  89. Will husband and wife roles differ on my team, and if so, how?
  90. How will team decisions be made?
  91. How will we handle team conflict?
  92. Who will oversee my work?
  93. What input will I have in agency decisions?
  94. What kind of personal boundaries/privacy will I be able to maintain?
  95. How much personal autonomy will I have?
  96. How, and how often, will I communicate with supporters?
  97. How openly will I be able to communicate with my supporters?
  98. How many will read my newsletters, prayer emails, etc.?
  99. What kind of prayer support will I have?
  100. How much communication will I get from supporters?
  101. How involved will my home church be?
  102. How often will representatives from my church and agency visit?
  103. What will happen during church/agency visits?
  104. How often will I host short-term teams?
  105. What will short-term-team trips look like (housing, projects, logistics, etc.)?
  106. What steps will I follow to make personal/family decisions?
  107. Will I be able to express any political views?
  108. How will I balance ministry/family/personal time?
  109. How many vacation days will I have?
  110. What will I do when I need to take a break, to rest, or to get away?
  111. What hobbies and personal interests will I engage in?
  112. What opportunities will I have for continuing education?
  113. Will I be able to pursue professional development?
  114. Will there be opportunities for professional advancement?
  115. How will I determine God’s will?
  116. How will God communicate with me?
  117. How often will I experience miracles?
  118. How will I practice my personal spiritual disciplines?
  119. What will my prayer life be like?
  120. How, and with whom, will I have weekly worship?
  121. How will my faith change?
  122. What will spiritual warfare look like?
  123. What risks will I face?
  124. How safe will I be?
  125. What will I, my family, and my team do if threatened with physical persecution or violence?
  126. What sacrifices will I need to make?
  127. What will be my capacity to handle change?
  128. What will be my biggest challenge?
  129. How resilient will I be?
  130. How will my and my family’s health be?
  131. What will local medical care be like?
  132. Will I travel outside the country for health needs?
  133. What member care will I receive?
  134. What self care will I practice?
  135. What will I do if I experience symptoms of depression or other mental illness?
  136. How would my team, agency, or church respond to finding out about my experiencing mental illness?
  137. Who will I be able to share with with complete openness and honesty?
  138. How will I deal with disappointment and failure?
  139. What will I do if I feel overwhelmed?
  140. How will any previous trauma affect my life abroad?
  141. How would I address moral failings in my life?
  142. How would my team, agency, or church respond to finding out about any moral failings in my life?
  143. What temptations will I face?
  144. How will I handle temptations?
  145. What kind of personal accountability will I have?
  146. What rules/practices will I have concerning alcohol and tobacco?
  147. What rules/practices will I have concerning the internet?
  148. How will my family at home respond to my being away overseas?
  149. How will my relationships with family back home be affected?
  150. How often will family from home visit?
  151. What events will happen with my family members back home while I’m away?
  152. Will I be able to travel back home for family events there, such as births, illnesses, funerals, emergencies?
  153. When and for how long will I have home service?
  154. How will reverse culture shock affect me (and my family)?
  155. What kind of send-offs and greetings will I get when traveling?
  156. What opportunities will I have to speak at supporting churches?
  157. How long will I stay abroad?
  158. What would cause me to leave the field?
  159. How will the decision be made for me to leave the field?
  160. What kind of work will I do if I leave the field?
  161. How will I fit in with my home church when I return?
  162. How long will my teammates stay?
  163. How will I prepare for retirement?
  164. How will I change while living overseas?
  165. How will things back home change while I’m away?
  166. What legacy will I leave behind?

[photo: “Mr. W. MacDougall chief Air Observer & Miss J. Grahame spotting,” from State Library of Victoria, used under a Creative Commons license]

Excess Baggage: The Weight of Unmet Expectations

In the five years since Andrea Sears conducted her survey on missionary attrition, she’s been steadily analyzing and releasing the results, topic by topic. Late last year at her Missions Experience blog, she posted the data on how “expectations factors” affect missionaries’ decisions to leave the field. Her findings show that at least half of the former missionaries surveyed “experienced disconnects between their expectations and reality” in the five areas of

team members, reported by 62%
community, 58%
relationships back home, 54%
ministry results, 52%
job responsibilities, 50%

And in looking at how unmet expectations contributed to the respondents’ attrition, she finds the top four factors to be

team members, reported by 65%
job responsibilities, 64%,
community, 61%
family life, 56%

These findings are interesting in and of themselves, but they remind me of the results of another survey, one that formed the basis of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss (a past contributor to this blog). In their book, published in 2010, the two take a deep dive into the role expectations play in navigating cross-cultural work. In 2013, I referenced their work when I wrote about the topic of expectations at my blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and hope to address it here in the coming months. To start, I’d like to repost my article below, in a slightly edited form. It originally appeared under the title “Missionaries, Don’t Let Your Expectations Weigh You Down“:

I remember the good old days when you could pack 70 pounds into each of your two checked bags on international flights—at no extra cost. That meant that when our family of six moved overseas, we could take 840 pounds of clothes, books, sheets, cake mixes, and the like. And we used just about every ounce of it.

It could be argued that we didn’t need to take that much with us, but we’re Americans, after all, and we Americans don’t often pack light. I’ve traveled with people from other countries, and even on short trips, I invariably seem to end up lugging the largest pieces of luggage. What if there’s a pool nearby? Better bring swimming trunks, and a towel. What if it snows? What if I spill something on my Friday jeans? What if I need work shoes? What if somebody throws a formal party?

There’s also another set of luggage that cross-cultural workers tend to overpack. It’s the bags that hold our assumptions, our plans, . . . our expectations.

In 2010, Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss surveyed 323 female missionaries on how their expectations corresponded to reality on the mission field. The results form the backbone of their excellent book Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission. What they found is that our pre-field predictions often don’t measure up to our on-field experiences. (I say “our” because though the book is written for and about women, most of its insights and lessons easily apply to both sexes.)

The authors gave the women a list of 34 expectations and asked them to rate each one on the degree to which it applied to them. Then the respondents went back and evaluated the list against what actually came to be in their lives as missionaries.

In 14 of the areas, the women reported that their expectations exceeded what they found in real life. The 10 with the highest percentage of expectations greater than reality include some very deep, personal issues:

75.4% Am fruitful
70.4% Am a prayer warrior
67.6% Am growing spiritually continually
62.7% Am spiritually dynamic
65.8% Continually trust God for everything
57.5% Have a daily quiet time
56.5% Have a successful quiet time
56% Am well balanced in areas of ministry in and out of home
55.1% Have miraculous stories to tell of how God is using me
50.9% Embrace my new host culture

The disconnect between expectations and reality often leads to disappointment and guilt. And as the authors point out, this can lead to burnout. It is difficult to move steadily forward when we are dragged down by the weight of our overpacked luggage.

So how can we pack less? How can we lighten our load? Here are some suggestions.

  • Read fewer biographies. Read more people.
    Stories about missionaries can be very inspirational, but when inspiration is the main goal, they can often leave out the flaws and shortcomings. When we assume that real missionaries are superhuman, then we are discouraged when we don’t measure up. That’s why we need to have honest conversations to find out the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. But not everyone will give you the unvarnished truth. It usually takes time to earn someone’s trust. And you’ll need to ask questions that get people rethinking their responses, to speak beyond the safe and familiar answers. Try asking a missionary, “What do you wish you’d known before you moved overseas?” “What have you learned?” “What would you tell yourself as a younger missionary candidate if you could?” “What are some of your unmet expectations?” (For other examples, see the questions asked of missionaries in Eenigenburg and Bliss’s survey, printed in the appendix of their book.)
  • And when you read, read between and outside the lines.
    As Eenigenburg and Bliss discuss, too many books on the lives of past missionaries paint a picture of spiritual perfection. One of the best-known missionary legacies is that of William Carey, who is often called “the father of modern missions.” In 1792, a sermon he delivered gave us the words, “Expect great things; attempt great things.” But I doubt that all of his expectations were met in his later life as a missionary in India. During that time a five-year-old son died; his wife, Dorothy, suffered from severe mental illness, became delusional, and died at the age of 51; his second wife died at 60; and his son Felix, after becoming a missionary himself, suffered tragedy and walked away from God. In Expectations and Burnout, the authors discuss this aspect of Carey, citing James R. Beck’s book, Dorothy Carey: The Tragic and Untold Story of Mrs. William Carey. Beck writes that Carey has often been portrayed as “never discouraged and never complaining” but adds that he wrote in his journal, “I don’t love to be always complaining—yet I always complain. The context for “Expect great things; attempt great things” is the life and work of Carey, not a Pinterest board or a poster of a snow-capped mountain range. But just as some books—and missionaries—are only completely positive, some can be entirely negative. Be cautious in drawing conclusions based on either side. But when you hear what sounds like cynicism and despair, be slow to judge. Context is important here, too. Find out the whole story. And don’t say, “That will never happen to me . . . not with my faith, my preparation, and my plans.”

Before you seat out for the field, prepare thoroughly and pack carefully. When it comes to packing your expectations, it isn’t just about seeing how much you can get into a suitcase and still get the zipper closed. It’s also about being discerning and knowing what to leave behind.

But you don’t want to go empty-handed, either. Hopes, dreams, and plans are important. Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And if you’ve got room, you might want to take that swimsuit, too. Just in case.

(Andrea Sears, “Expectations Factors,” The Missions Experience,” October 14, 2021; Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss, Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, William Carey, 2010; “Expect Great Things; Attempt Great Things,” Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey, D. D. [1761-1834], updated November 22, 2013)

[photo: “Heavy Luggage,” by Maurice Koop, used under a Creative Commons license]

Missionary Stories and Hymn Stories: Saying “Amen” to “Depth and Complication”

“British missionary William Carey is often called the father of modern missions,” writes Rebecca Hopkins in Christianity Today. “Adoniram Judson has been titled the first American missionary to travel overseas.”

And for many of us, that pretty much sums up the origin of missions in the West. But Rebecca has more to tell us in “How Black Missionaries Are Being Written Back into the Story,” as she adds in Rebecca Protten and George Liele. Why are they notable? Because both left America and planted churches before Carey or Judson went out—Protten to St. Thomas and later present-day Ghana, and Liele to Jamaica—and both were former slaves.

If Protten’s and Liele’s names are new to you, grab the January/February issue of CT to read their stories, stories that, as Rebecca writes, “add depth and complication to the sometimes too-simple narrative of missions history.” Depth, because of the inclusion of Black Christians that sit outside the traditional narrative of the White American church. Complication, because Protten and Liele were not “commissioned” and “sent out” in the traditional sense, and because questions remain as to how complicit they were in the evils of their day—Protten in regards to “cultural genocide” and Liele in regards to slavery.

I like the phrase “depth and complication.” Too often we Christians find comfort in our “too-simple narratives,” leaving out difficult details, and leaving out people, as well.

Rebecca’s article and that phrase were in the back of my mind a few weeks ago (pardon me while I go on a stream-of-consciousness trek here) when I heard on the radio the end of an interview with the African-American composer Thomas Dorsey. I looked up more on Dorsey, known as the “Father of Soul Music,” and here’s what I found.

The son of a Baptist preacher and church organist, Dorsey started his musical career as a blues piano player, often performing in bars and brothels, and later toured with the “Mother of the Blues,” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. Then in 1921, after attending the National Baptist Convention, he committed himself to writing gospel music. But it wasn’t a full commitment, as he didn’t completely turn his back on the blues culture of the time, which included “dirty blues,” risqué songs filled with double entendres. It was in this genre that he cowrote his most popular blues piece, the hit “It’s Tight like That.” As Dorsey tried to introduce his bluesy gospel songs in churches, his mixing of the secular and holy rankled many preachers. And as Dorsey tells Steven Kaplan in Horizon, he believed preachers felt upstaged by his music. “I got kicked out of some of the best churches in town,” he says.

He found a better welcome in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where, in 1931, he helped establish the first gospel choir. But it was the next year when his life truly changed, resulting in his writing the classic gospel song “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Following is the story, told by Dorsey in the documentary, Say Amen, Somebody. It takes place after he had travelled to St. Louis, while his wife remained in South Chicago:

Anyway, I was in a revival, and my wife was to become a mother. I went away with a feeling that she’d make a lovely, lovely mother when I came back. I knew my people were well when I left home. And they sent for me to come to the door. As a boy brought me in a telegram, I took it and read it, almost fell out . . . says “Hurry home. Your wife just died.” I don’t know how you would accept that. I couldn’t accept it at all. And a friend of mine put me in a car, took me right home. I got home. I jumped out and ran in to see if it was really true. And one of the girls just started crying, said, “Netty just died! Netty just died! Netty just died!” and fell on the floor. The baby was left alive, but the next two days, the baby died!

Now what should I do then and there? And then they tried to tell me things that would sooth . . . be soothing to me. But none of it’s never been soothing to me, from that day to this day. But two fellows come by, I forget their names. They were friends of mine. And they were telling me about it and I says “I don’t know what to do and I don’t know how to do.” And I just tried to make my little talk to the Lord, but it was wasted I think. And I called the Lord some one thing and one of the others says, “No, that’s not his name, say, ‘Precious Lord.'” I said, “That does sounds good,” and . . . got several Amens on precious Lord. And ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, I started singing right then and there. . . .

And he bursts into the chorus of his most famous song.

I’d never heard that story told before, had you? But if you’re like me, you have heard a story that includes another couple from Chicago, deaths in the family, a telegram, and a church song. It’s about Horatio and Anna Spafford, dedicated Presbyterians and friends of the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. In 1873, following the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire and after some personal financial setbacks, the Spaffords decided to take some time away in France. Anna and their four daughters went ahead, with Horatio to follow. While the five were crossing the Atlantic, their ship collided with another and sank. All of their children drowned, and the telegram Anna sent to Horatio began, “Saved alone what shall I do.” Weeks later, as he crossed the Atlantic himself to be with Anna, Horatio passed by the spot of his children’s deaths, and that evening he penned the words that became the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” It begins,

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well (it is well),
With my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

This is where the hymn’s origin-story ends, but not the story of the Spaffords. Three years later, with changing views that put them in conflict with their church, Horatio and Anna formed a new congregation, with Horatio at the helm. He taught that the members of the church, which he considered the true bride of Christ, were to forsake all worldly attachments.

Then, in 1881, the Spaffords, with their two young children, born after the tragedy at sea, led fourteen others to relocate to Jerusalem to await Christ’s return. The group, dubbed the “Overcomers,” became well known for its works of charity, helping those in need, regardless of their religious affiliation, and making no effort to proselytize. But word of their beliefs and lifestyle also spread. Each member was given a new name, and all lived communally in a compound. Education for the children was considered unnecessary. And celibacy was required. While the group considered Horatio the leader and his wife a prophet, Anna became more and more vocal and her power came to usurp her husband’s. After his death, she became even more controlling. Marriage in the group was abolished, with Anna matching up couples to spend nights together in bed to train them in resisting temptation.

Over time, the sect grew, including new members from Sweden. It was this group’s emigration that inspired Selma Lagerlöf to write her novel Jerusalem, based in part on what she learned spending time at the American Colony, as the commune was called. For her body of writing, Lagerlöf later became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The main building where the group lived still stands and is now The American Colony Hotel. If you’d like to learn more about the Spaffords and their Jerusalem church, you can read Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem, from which much of this information is drawn.

Depth and complication.

Lillias Trotter, missionary to Algeria, thought a lot about the importance of resisting the world’s attractions, too, though her beliefs were less extreme, and more orthodox, than the Spaffords’. Trotter, born in 1853, became a skilled watercolor painter, and the celebrated art critic John Ruskin took her under his wing. Trotter wrote to a friend that Ruskin said if she devoted herself completely to art “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.” She did not see giving her life to painting as her path, though, and instead gave herself to serving the downtrodden women of London through the YWCA. When she reached her early thirties, she felt God calling her to mission work in North Africa, but she was turned down by the North African Mission due to a heart condition. She went anyway, along with two other single women. She served there for 40 years, founding the Algiers Mission Band, which later merged with the North African Mission. She died in Algiers at the age of 75.

Trotter’s story would be largely forgotten if not for the diligence of Miriam Huffman Rockness, who researched her life, wrote her biography, and maintains the Lilias Trotter blog. Her blog has been my main source for learning about Trotter, and it’s there that I found out how Trotter’s writings became the inspiration for a classic hymn. It started with Trotter creating a devotional pamphlet titled Focussed. In it, she uses the French word attrait in place of attraction, writing,

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine “attrait” by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you.  For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win.

Do you see traces of a hymn in there? Helen Lemmel did, and in 1922 she produced “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full on His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

And now, if I may, I’d like to circle back to Thomas Dorsey.

After writing his biggest gospel song, Dorsey went on to produce more church music and co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. “Precious Lord” became a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, and as reported by the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, shortly before he was assassinated King asked blues saxophonist Ben Branch to play it at a rally that evening. “Play that song tonight,” said MLK. “I want you to play it like you’ve never played it before in your life.” Mahalia Jackson, whom Dorsey had previously mentored, sang “Precious Lord” at King’s funeral.

When my way groweth drear, precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone;
Hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall;
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn;
Thru the storm, thru the night, lead me on to the light;
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

We love our missionary stories and our hymn stories, but we do them a disservice when we omit important people and details.

Depth and complication.

Amen.

(Rebecca Hopkins, “How Black Missionaries Are Being Written Back into the Story,” Christianity Today, December 13, 2021; Steven Kaplan, “Gospel Man,” Horizon, Volume 25, Issue 7, American Heritage, 1982; Say Amen, Somebody, directed by George T. Nierenberg, GTN, 1982; Jane Fletcher Geniesse, American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem, Doubleday, 2008; Miriam Huffman Rockness, “A Brush in the Hand of God,” Lilias Trotter, April 4, 2014; Huffman Rockness, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” Lilias Trotter, October 26, 2012; “Ben Branch,” National Civil Rights Museum)

[photo: “Sand Dune Patterns and Shapes,” by Jeff Sullian, used under a Creative Commons license]

Can You Talk the Talk? Swimming in the Alphabet Soup of CCW-ese

How are your language skills as a cross-cultural worker? No, I’m not talking about the language(s) you’ve learned for living and working in your new home. I’m referring to your fluency in CCW-ese, or the jargon that cross-cultural workers often find themselves swimming in. Immersion is the best way to learn, right?

I’ve put together a collection of vocabulary below to help you see just how fluent you are. Does it all make sense to you?

The next time you’re on home service and someone asks you to say something in your new language, call this up and start reading. (By the way, some of this may not apply to you, as it’s slanted toward the experience of someone with a US passport. In other words, your dialect may vary.)

Hello, I’m a CCW living overseas. I’m part of a larger group of expats that includes such people as EAWs working with NGOs to help IDPs in low GDP countries and FSOs serving with the DoS. My journey abroad started with PFO, where the MBTI and the RHETI showed me I’m an ENTP and an Enneagram Type 2, respectively. Then my spouse and I, along with several others, were briefed on CPM, DMM, M2M/M2DMM, T4T, BAM, and DBS strategies and were shown how to write an MOU. After that, it wasn’t long before all of us were following directions from the TSA and walking through the AIT scanner at places like ORD, LAX, and ATL, headed for other places such as BKK, NBO, and PTY and parts beyond. It was hard for my MKs to leave our POMs behind, but they were looking forward to their new lives as TCKs, growing up with other GNs and CCKs, on their way to becoming ATCKs.

One of our first steps upon arriving at our new home—which is among a UUPG in the Two-Thirds World, just outside the 10/40 window—was language learning. We started out using LAMP and GPA with some TPR mixed in, as well. Someday, I think I might try my hand (so to speak) at ISL.

We’ve also had to make cultural adjustments, for instance switching from letter-sized paper to A4, switching from the NFL to FIFA, and learning how to switch out RO filters for our water. And when we take trips to other locales, we’re sure to bring along a voltage converter and adapters to knock the power down from 220/240 to 110/120 and to use C, D, E/F, G, H, I, J, L, M, and N plugins when necessary.

Then, before long, we were hosting STMs and engaging with the locals by using our TEFL certifications to teach ESOL. A few of our students are hoping to take the TOEFL or IELTS and get I-20s and F-1 visas.

At some point, we expect to fly back for good, filling out a CBP Form 6059B for the last time, again hoping that nothing in our bags will bother DHS’s CBP agents. That will mean no more yearly IRS Form 2555 to claim the FEIE, no more scheduled chats with fellow workers around the globe using P2Pe apps (every Saturday at 13:30 GMT), and no more jumping on the HSR for a quick getaway.

It’ll be another big change—RCS can be hard. But we’ll be prepared, because we’ll have built a RAFT, which should keep us afloat through the transition.

And, of course, we’ll be sure to keep connected through ALO.

[photo: “Alphabets,” by Tomohiro Tokunaga, used under a Creative Commons license]

We Are Mars Hill

I’ve listened to the entirety of Christianity Today’s Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast with great interest, eagerly waiting for each episode to be released. But I’ve held off recommending it too enthusiastically until the final segment aired, to be sure it didn’t go off the rails, or at least my set of rails.

Well, the twelfth*, and last, episode came out on December 4, and after listening to it, I encourage you to do the same. Even if you don’t take in the whole series, I think you should still listen to the ending segment, titled “Aftermath.” Why? Because I’ve come to the conclusion that We Are Mars Hill, and it is the closing episode that makes that clear to me.

Like many, I first heard of Mark Driscoll, co-founder and lead pastor of the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, when Donald Miller introduced him in his 2003 book, Blue like Jazz (though at the time he was simply “Mark the Cussing Pastor”). And later, he caught my attention by infamously stating,

There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by God’s grace it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done. You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options. But the bus ain’t gonna stop. . . . There’s a few kind of people. There’s people who get in the way of the bus. They gotta get run over. There are people who want to take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off, cuz they want to go somewhere else.

In time, Mars Hill grew to, at its largest, around 13,000 attending at 15 sites in multiple states. Over the years I kept up with news coming from the church as Driscoll became more of a celebrity and accusations against him became more newsworthy, culminating in his departure from the church in 2014, followed by the dissolution of the church network. This came after Driscoll’s fellow elders declared him guilty of having a quick temper, using harsh words, displaying arrogance, and leading with a domineering manner, characteristics that had spread through church teaching and relationships.

One thing that makes the Mars Hill saga relevant is that there seems to be something of Mars Hill in so many of us—the desire to find something big and powerful that removes ambiguity and tells us how to to do things the right way, the desire to have confident leaders who aren’t afraid to brawl with easily identified enemies, the desire, especially for men, to regain significance in our culture and in our churches and in our families.

And if we’re not careful, very, very careful, we’ll climb aboard the bus and travel confidently down the same road. Yes, We Are Mars Hill.

By “we,” I mean the global church, because all of us must take care. But a smaller “we” are workers sent out from the Western church to take the gospel abroad. For better or worse, we are influenced by the values that have made their way through the church landscape back home, affecting how we do ministry and how we define success. It’s easy to believe that we will succeed if we can only get everyone on board, doing the right things—and if we don’t take our foot off the gas. How easy it is to measure our worth by what we are doing for Christ rather than what Christ has done for us . . . and we can never seem to do enough for Christ.

In the last episode of the podcast, David Zahl, editor in chief of the Mockingbird blog, warns against the kind of gospel that came out of Mars Hill, a gospel that first presents a “life shattering and extremely exciting” grace that saves us from the condemnation of the law, only to return to it again:

[W]hat happens is you bring the law back in so it becomes a kind of a . . . Law, grace, law is the way that we would normally put it. The disposition that comes through is this very sort of Get better . . . to try harder, to pull themselves together. Eventually what you’ll have is what you have in every other element of the culture, which is burnout. You’ll have people who wake up one day and’ll be like, Hey this isn’t actually working.

There’s also another way in which We Are Mars Hill—or we can be. It’s in taking our place alongside those who have been hurt by the church. In a followup interview, the podcast’s host, Mike Cosper, comments on those who were drawn to participate after listening to earlier episodes. One was “Lindsay,” who shares in the final segment about what she went through dealing with an abusive husband who was enabled by Mars Hill leadership. Cosper describes her reasoning as “I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who experienced something like this,” but it took hearing from others to come to that realization. Cosper adds, “Someone who’s been through an experience like that—domestic violence and church hurt and everything else—it’s like, man, that’s hard stuff. And so to have the courage to come forward took a lot.”

We honor that courage by showing those like Lindsay that they truly are not alone. Have you, too, ever been wounded by individuals or an organization or an institution in which you put your trust? Even if we haven’t been run over ourselves, we can still pull over to the side of the road and attend to those who’ve fallen under the bus’s tires.

And then there’s Jen Zug, a former member of Mars Hill and assistant to Driscoll. In 2014, she wrote an open letter to the church, “The Story of How Mars Hill Church Broke Up with Me,” which she reads from in episode twelve. Her letter ends with “I will always love you, Mars Hill, like a school girl remembers her first crush. But I choose to continue forward on the mission God gave me through your influence, even if you choose another direction.” Several years later, she and her husband, Bryan, visited another Seattle church that just so happened to be meeting in a building formerly owned by Mars Hill. That Sunday the church was spotlighting a ministry that offers therapists for pastors and missionaries. In her notes from that service, says Cosper, Zug wrote, “Christians are messy people, and sometimes Christians in full-time ministry are even messier than usual.” Cosper adds that “that posture and that ministry struck her as unimaginable at Mars Hill.” It is with this new congregation in an old Mars Hill building that the Zugs have now found the kind of authentic community that they originally had in Mars Hill’s earlier days.

If you haven’ t already, I would encourage you to listen to all of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It fills in details for those not familiar with the whole story, with lots of interviews, sermon clips, and personal perspectives. It even takes off on a couple tangents with two “bonus” segments: In one, Cosper talks with Joshua Harris (of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) about his deconstructed faith, and in another, he looks at the Acts 29 church-planting network, of which Mars Hill was a product. In total, the podcast is over 17 hours, so if you don’t have that much time to give, the last episode presents a good overview, touching on many of the important issues. (It’s two-and-a-half hours long, so it still covers a lot of ground.)

The voices in “Aftermath” are striking, too. I’ve already mentioned Lindsay and the Zugs, but another poignant story comes from Benjamin Petry. His father is Paul Petry, one of two elders dismissed from the church in 2007, the day before Driscoll made his bus comments. This past September, the younger Petry travelled to Driscoll’s new church in Phoenix, seeking some sort of reconciliation. He asked Driscoll to call his father to say he was sorry, but that call hasn’t happened . . . at least not yet.

At Christmastime, we remember Jesus’ coming to the world to make things whole. But that celebration can also put a spotlight on the brokenness that will continue until he comes again, asking us to mourn with those who mourn. It was the podcasts’s final installment that brought tears to my eyes, in listening to the stories from people who once called Mars Hill their church. Some of them are now doing the hard work of asking for and offering forgiveness. Some are celebrating the holidays in their new churches. Some are picking up the pieces and trying to figure out what to hang on to and what to let go of.

All are worth hearing. They are part of our family. I hope you get to listen to them.

(*Counting the two bonus installments and a “side story,” there are fifteen episodes in all.)

(Mark Driscoll, clip at Joyful Exiles, October 1, 2007; Mark Cosper, “Aftermath,” The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Christianity Today, December 4, 2021; Cosper, “Why the Mars Hill Podcast Kept You Waiting,” interview by Stefani McDade, Christianity Today, December 8, 2021; Jen Zug, “The Story of How Mars Hill Church Broke Up with Me,” The Pile I’m Standing In, August 12, 2014)

[photo: “one-sixty-six/three-sixty-five,” by Laura LaRose, used under a Creative Commons license]

“Quiet” Insights: On Introverts, Pseudo-Extroverts, and Voices in a Crowd

Did you hear the one about the team of five cross-cultural workers who walk into pre-field training and take the Myers-Briggs personality assessment? Three of them get a code that’s “E” something something something, while two have “I” as their first letter. Then four of them turn to one of the “I”s and say, “Wait, what? You’ve got to be kidding. You are so not an introvert!”

Perhaps you’ve been part of a team like this. Perhaps you’ve been the one diagnosed with the suspect “I.” Perhaps you’ve been one of those who claim to know an extrovert when you see one.

Now this is where the facilitator steps in to explain that for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) the words extrovert and introvert don’t mean what we commonly think they mean. They’re not “loud” and “shy” respectively. Nor do they signify who is or who isn’t the “life of the party.” Rather, it’s an outer-world versus inner-world thing. As the Myers-Briggs Foundation asks at its site: “Where do you put your attention and get your energy?” Is that place inside, among your thoughts, or outside, where the people are.

But still, what about those who claim to be introverted when we all know better. We’ve seen them in action. We know how outgoing they are. Did the test fail them? Did they answer the questions incorrectly? Are they not self aware? Or are they trying to have it both ways?

Come on, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s got to be . . . an extrovert, or at least someone who wants to be the center of attention.

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, gives us a lens through which to look at this dichotomy. You may have already read Quiet. It was published in 2012, after all. But I just got a copy a couple months ago, by way of a coworker, so I’m a little late to the game. Fellow ALO writer Rachel Pieh Jones has mentioned Quiet a couple times here at this blog, in 2013 and 2017. Maybe we need to bring it up every four years. If so, I guess it’s time again.

To Be or Not to Be . . . Yourself

When it comes to being either an introvert or an extrovert, Cain points out that it’s more than a simple either/or situation. Rather, there’s a spectrum between the extremes, even including “ambiverts,” those who find themselves right in the middle. But she also explains why true introverts can come across as extroverts, and she presents a vocabulary for discussing it. For example, there are “socially poised introverts,” who are “interpersonally skilled” while retaining their introversion. Some introverts “engage in a certain level of pretend-extroversion” when circumstances call for it. And some are “high self monitors,” meaning that they are “highly skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation.”

Does that last one sound like people who can change how they act depending on their surroundings, say, in a new country? It does to Cain. Here’s how she describes her journey from being a “pseudo extrovert” as a corporate lawyer to becoming who she is now:

It took me almost a decade to understand that the law was never my personal project, not even close. Today I can tell you unhesitatingly what is: my husband and son; writing; promoting the values of this book. Once I realized this, I had to make a change. I look back on my years as a Wall Street lawyer as time spent in a foreign country. It was absorbing, it was exciting, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people whom I never would have known otherwise. But I was always an expatriate.

Here is where Cain draws a line between mimicking extroversion in a purposeful, healthy way, versus in a way that is detrimental to one’s own identity. The person who does the former “acts out of character for the sake of worthy tasks that temporarily require a different orientation,” while for the the latter, she offers up an example of someone who’s denied her true self, “acting out of character in the service of a project she didn’t care about.” (Again, do you see how this could apply to those serving overseas?)

Cain writes that “if we act out of character by convincing ourselves that our pseudo-self is real, we can eventually burn out without knowing why.” “But even if you’re stretching yourself in the service of a core personal project,” she says, “you don’t want to act out of character too much, or for too long.”

So if being a pseudo-extrovert is a positive response to the task before you, how do you cope? One way, Cain tells us, is to follow the advice of psychologist Brian Little, and make for yourself plenty of “restorative niches.” A restorative niche can be in the form of a location or an activity, a place of rest or a way to relax. It’s “the place you go,” she writes, “when you want to return to your true self.”

Can You Hear Me Now?

Much of Quiet consists of Cain defending the 1/3 to 1/2 of us who are introverts in a world that exalts the “extrovert ideal,” identifying introverts’ strengths and admirable qualities. (Full disclosure, according to the MBTI, I’m an introvert—an INFP to be exact.) And one of the points that she makes is that introverts are worth listening to, even when their words are softly, or rarely, spoken.

“If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas,” she writes, “then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day.” “Don’t mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas,” she explains.

So let’s go back to that team at the beginning of this post. If you were the team leader, how would maximize the creative potential of your group, for instance, in a brainstorming session—getting input from everyone, including introverts who act like introverts, at least during team meetings?

One thing to understand, writes Cain, is the “startling conclusion” that brainstorming simply doesn’t work. Research shows that individuals working alone (such as introverts who might rather think things over in solitude) produce more and better ideas than groups do. And the larger the group, the less productivity. More and better ideas are produced when people go their separate ways and think on their own. But there is an exception to this, she says. It’s brainstorming online. Not only does it work, but the larger the group, the better it works. Why? Well, according to Cain, while online group work is collaborative, it also represents “a form of solitude all its own.”

Cain writes that psychologists have come up with three reasons for why group brainstorming isn’t successful in producing the best outcomes: “Social loafing” is when some people in a group stay quiet and let others take the lead. “Production blocking” is caused by members needing to speak one at a time, requiring others to pause and listen. And “evaluation apprehension” comes about when people are afraid that others will think that their ideas aren’t good enough. These factors can affect extroverts and introverts, but it’s easy to see how they can inhibit introverts even more.

In light of this, Cain gives this advice, applicable to employees and team members alike:

If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing their ideas. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically, or in writing, and make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas until everyone’s had a chance to contribute.

So here’s another story. It’s about a team in which all the members understand that introverts and extroverts are different inside, even when they might seem the same outwardly. They recognize that introverts who act outside their comfort zone, even for a purpose they believe in, need time to recharge. They also create the space and the time for introverts to formulate their thoughts and share their ideas. And they listen closely to everyone, even those who speak in still, small voices.

(To read even more about introverts serving abroad, take a look at these posts from Anisha Hopkinson and Jerry Jones.)

(The Meyers-Briggs Foundation, “Extroversion or Introversion,” adapted from Charles R. Martin, Looking at Type: The Fundamentals, CAPT, 1997; Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Crown, 2012)

[photo: “Hand adjusting audio mixer,” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono, used under a Creative Commons license]


My CCW Top 40 “Playlist”

I’m not a very sophisticated musicophile. I like what I like without a lot of reasoning, don’t follow specific genres, can’t decipher a lot of lyrics (or don’t remember those I can), and don’t have targeted-enough tastes to pay for any online subscriptions. So I was recently listening to my free Beatles-ish Pandora station and the song “Nobody Told Me (There’d Be Days like These)” cued up. I thought to myself, “Now that would be a good descriptor for some of my time overseas.” And that got me thinking about what other titles could make up a top-40 “playlist” for when I was a cross-cultural worker (CCW).

After a little more thinking, here’s what I came up with. I can’t vouch for the lyrics to these songs (see “can’t decipher” and “don’t remember” above), so please show me some grace on that. Speaking of grace, my list doesn’t include any hymns or worship songs. If so, “Amazing Grace” would be on repeat throughout. Instead, I decided to go with church music’s secular cousins—twice removed—this time around.

Any titles you’d add? Maybe something a little more contemporary? As you can see, I’m kind of lacking in that area. Anyway, if you know these tunes, hum along with me.

  1. I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane
  2. Hello
  3. We’ve Only Just Begun
  4. Upside Down
  5. Tongue Tied
  6. Now I Know My ABCs
  7. All Shook Up
  8. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  9. Homesick
  10. It’s Going to Take Some Time
  11. I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)
  12. Don’t Stop Believin’
  13. I Will Survive
  14. With a Little Help from My Friends
  15. Stayin’ Alive
  16. Two Worlds
  17. The Same Moon
  18. On the Road Again
  19. Hello, Goodbye
  20. I’ve Been Everywhere
  21. Running on Empty
  22. Say a Little Prayer
  23. I’m a Believer
  24. Hallelujah
  25. Beautiful People
  26. Another Day in Paradise
  27. What a Wonderful World
  28. Tell It like It Is
  29. If I Were a Rich Man
  30. It’s a Small World
  31. We Don’t Need Another Hero
  32. Keeping the Faith
  33. Against All Odds
  34. Hit Me with Your Best Shot
  35. Nobody Told Me (There’d Be Days like These)
  36. I Will Survive (reprise)
  37. One Day More
  38. I’m Still Here
  39. Should I Stay or Should I go?
  40. Goodbye

[photo: “spinspinspin,” by Shannon, used under a Creative Commons license]