Welcome Tara Livesay . . . And A Few Announcements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Missions Goes Hollywood

 Anybody can have a good website.

Anybody.

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

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

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

false advertising.

Because anybody can have a good website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*post archived on LauraParkerBlog

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

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– Laura Parker, former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

Rice Christians and Fake Conversions

I remember our first year on the field literally thinking, “No one is ever, ever going to come to faith in Christ, no matter how many years I spend here.” 

I thought this because for the first time in my life, I was face-to-face with the realities that the story of Jesus was so completely other to the people I was living among. Buddhism and the East had painted such a vastly different framework than the one I was used to that I was at a loss as to how to even begin to communicate the gospel effectively.

And so, the Amy-Carmichael-Wanna-Be that I was, I dug in and started learning the language. I began the long, slow process of building relationships with the nationals, and I ended up spending lots of time talking about the weather and the children in kitchens. And while over time, I became comfortable with helping cook the meal, I saw very little movement of my local friends towards faith.

But, then we started hearing about Western teams that came for short term trips or long-term missionaries who visited the villages around the city where we were living. Sometimes they would do vacation bible schools for the kids, other times they would show a film. Sometimes they would do a sermon or go door-to-door. Other times, they would help build a bathroom or a water well or a new church. (And these efforts were definitely noble, costly, and helpful on many levels.)

But the surprising thing for me was that these teams (both long and short term) seemed to come back with conversion stories. 

These Americans — many of whom didn’t know the language and hadn’t studied the culture– often came back thrilled to have witnessed several locals seemingly convert from Buddhism to Christianity.

After three days of ministry.

Here I was learning from living in the culture, that the leap from following Buddha to following Jesus was seemingly a gigantic one, yet it seemed that every time I turned around Western teams were having wild success in convincing nationals to make it.

And they would tell their stories or I would read them online, and I would immediately begin to shrink a little, or a lot.

What was I doing wrong? I obviously suck at being a missionary.  These were my logical conclusions.

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About six months into our time overseas, I first heard the term “Rice Christians.”

The term is used among the missionary community to describe nationals who make a profession of conversion (inauthentically or without true understanding) in order to get the product (clothing, food, rice) that is being delivered by the Western worker.  It seems that if you add the strings attached to the given supplies with the “don’t cause conflict or disagree” cultural value of the Asian country where we lived,  a subtle social game can quickly develop.

It could go a bit like this: uneducated villagers, a little (or a lot) in awe of the white American, are provided with goods they desperately need, entertainment that encourages their kids, and attention by the wealthy Westerner, all of which they gladly accept. And at some point over the course of the event, the Westerners share honestly about their religion and eventually ask for public professions of faith.

And, seriously, what’s an impoverished person, raised in a culture of respect, supposed to do in light of  this turn of events? In many ways, isn’t agreeing with the views of the outsider the most polite and most effective response for the national– the path that both provides for their families while still showing respect for their visitors?

Perhaps, perhaps they become Rice Christians for the day.

And maybe we missionaries don’t really give them many other options. 

Note: I am by no means saying that the gospel can’t move mightily and quickly among a people group. I’m not saying that we should all begin to doubt the faith of those that come forward in evangelistic outreaches, either. I’m also not throwing short term missions under any kind of bus because I’ve seen this in both short and long-termers. I am saying, though, that perhaps we need to consider the position we put people in when we enter their worlds with gifts and programs. And perhaps we need to re-evaluate some of our “numbers.” 

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Thoughts on this? What is your opinion/experience with pairing the gospel with humanitarian aid? Can that become manipulative? In your area of the world, are people quick to receive the gospel?

 Laura Parker, Co-Founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia

 

Want Exotic? Go Live Overseas.

One of the most wonderful things about raising a family overseas is the unique experiences the entire family gains from the local culture. And while culture shock is a beast and culture pain can strip you bare, there is a deep goodness in tasting life in a foreign land.

Below is a small collection of videos which depict different aspects of life for our family of five in SE Asia. I found that one of my roles involved documenting our life abroad (in the original site “alifeoverseas”), which I was able to do often through videos and blogging. I found that when I took the time to do fun videos or posts about the things that were exotic, interesting or funny about our lifestyle in Asia, it turned difficult realities into more hopeful ones. Here are a few snapshots:

A local market:

A local snack (yup, worms):

A local spa treatment (fish eat your feet, for real):

A local past-time (that would be an ostrich, and I’ve actually never seen a local ride one):

A local lunch experience (bikes are awesome):

And more food (whole family eats for 5 bucks):

Some local transport (in which I screw up the language):

Subscribers, if you can’t see the above five videos, please click through to the site.

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And, so now, it’s your turn. What is an exotic aspect of living where you live right now? What do you love? Do you have a video or photos or a blog post you can link for us to see? Please post it in the comments, would you?

Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia

Merry (Tacky) Christmas

This Christmas Eve, I’m remembering another Eve not so long ago which was spent in flip-flops and not snowboots, with skype and not flesh-and-blood. And this season, as I pray for you, my friends who are living internationally, I will ask that your holidays be rich with the love of Jesus– even if you are forced to decorate in epic-tackiness. Maybe you can identify with this post I wrote last year in SE Asia: 

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I’m not afraid to say that we’re having a tacky Christmas this year–  tackier than I experienced while growing up in the deep South, and tackier than when we were married-young and living-in-government-housing college students.  I’m finding that celebrating a Christian holiday in a country that’s 96% Buddhist limits your decorating options, and so, we’ve settled for a

sadly sparse, and glaringly-obvious fake tree,

plastic ornaments and a foil star, reminiscent of last year’s sale items at the Dollar Tree,

and, {perhaps the ultimate in Tacky} a fringed and foil Merry Christmas sign that adorns our kitchen wall.

But, I am learning this year some important lessons, in terms of cheap garland and plastic evergreen and celebrating so very far away from home.  I am learning that

The Spirit of Christmas far outweighs the decorations of it,

That the Holidays are about what you DO experience and not about what you DON’T have,

and that the message of December 25th is the same on the remaining 364 days of the year, and it has always been that

Love Wins.

His Love.  My Love.  Our Love.

And the rest is really just decorated plastic, anyway.

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How are you feeling this Christmas season? What are the gifts of spending the holidays internationally?

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

The Song that Made Them Stand

Generations collide on the mission field today, like they do all over the world, I guess. The differences in the ways we view the world, the way we do life, the way we engage in other cultures can be leagues apart from those 25 years older, or younger, than ourselves. And oftentimes an error the younger crowd makes is in a sweeping dismissal of the wisdom and experience of those who’ve walked with Christ for decades. The following story is one I remember during my first year overseas in SE Asia. It’s a reminder to me still, as it was that morning, of the legacy so many seasoned missionaries are leaving behind them. 

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Today I had the gift of watching what brought the Sunday crowd to its feet.

And it wasn’t the praise chorus that I had sung at InterVarsity in college, now sung by a group of expats on foreign soil. And it wasn’t the excellent sermon on the faith of Abraham.  It wasn’t the song about God’s beauty or the one about our need to worship him.

It was a hymn– an old tune my own mama used to sing to us and one we’d sung in the church-of-my-roots in North Carolina.  It’s a song largely forgotten by the post-modernish church culture Matt and I gravitate towards; its the kind of song with 16 verses and words that remind you of Old England.

This morning, though, I remembered the goodness of those who’ve gone before, because when the first notes of Great is Thy Faithfulness began to play, the seasoned warriors rose to their feet–

unprompted, spontaneous, unified.

I looked around as these veterans of the mission field declared to God, together, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided,”

and I cried for the power of it.

Because these older, wiser souls had left home and family before the convenience of Skype and email.  These men and women have hacked out a life overseas, and have stuck– for years, not just months.  They have lived in the realjungles and have said many more goodbyes than these lips have uttered.  They have been weathered by the winds and fires of a life-laid-down and have tasted Stranger over, and over, and over again.

I felt like I was a child among giants.

And I was reminded, by the simultaneous rising, that the song that made them stand,

is a Truth that has enable them to.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God My Father.

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou Changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness.

Morning by morning, New mercies I see.

All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

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What wisdom have you gained from a seasoned missionary? Stories to share?

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Missionaries as Human Traffickers?

If you’ve read here for any amount of time and clicked on a few links, you’ll know that I am passionate about the injustices of modern day slavery. You’ll have read that my husband has been an undercover investigator into brothels and that we now work full-time promoting rescue efforts in SE Asia.

Which is partially why when I read a recent article equating missionaries with human traffickers my skin bristled and my temperature started to rise. 

In the article, a human rights activist, Matthew McDaniel, is interviewed about the long term effects the missionary community has had on a particular cultural group in Thailand called the Akha. McDaniel, who has since relocated to the US with his Akha wife, advocates on behalf of this particular hilltribe group. He talks about the “business” in Thailand of missions organizations taking children from impoverished villages for the purpose of education or religious indoctrination, while raising funds on the premise that children are orphaned or trafficked, which in many cases is not factual. He talks about the financial gain which organizations often make from their stateside donors because of this type of marketing and communication and the irresponsibility of removing children from their local culture to raise them in a largely Western one. He writes,

“Might I add that the mission enterprise of removing Akha children is a three legged stool. The parents don’t know that their children are advertised as orphans or abused by the missions to the US and other churches nor that the missions collect a lot of money for this, which is far beyond what it would take to feed the entire family in the village together. The church people don’t know the real situation for the Akha in the villages or how they came to be at the mission and how the finances work. Only the missions know both stories and keep them carefully segregated. Under UN regulations to move a person from one point to another for exploitation and or financial profit by MEANS of DECEPTION is human trafficking. Thus missions qualify as human traffickers.” 

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“Well, after I left the rate at which they took children from the Akha villages accelerated greatly. Now it is in the thousands of children. It is very big business, as it brings a huge cash flow to the missions, the children are the bait for that money, but little of the money ever goes to the villages or defends their culture and language.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t believe in taking kids away from their parents and destroying their culture and language.”   – Matthew McDaniel

And while you can find the entire article here, just the above quote is enough to spur a conversation here about the way we do missions. And while I am not claiming to agree hook-line-and-sinker with McDaniel’s perspective or statements in the interview, I think he raises excellent points that we here at A Life Overseas don’t want to shy away from

because hard questions and honest conversations lead to more effective ministries.

And, so, the floor is open. Read the article (or don’t, it’s long, fairly one-sided and there’s lots there, again, that we are not claiming to agree with), browse the below questions, and tell us about how you’ve seen some of these concerns played out in your area of the world. Remember, it’s okay to disagree with each other or with the material. The entire point of controversial posts like this are to “stir the pot” and get us engaging on ways we might be doing (unintentionally and maybe with excellent motivations) more harm than good.

  • Should a Christian organization ever remove a child from his/her native culture? Even for the purpose of spiritual teaching?
  • Are missions organizations abusing the terms “orphaned” and “trafficked” in an effort to raise more money?
  • Are most missions organizations concerned about the anthropological effects of their efforts?
  • Is it ever okay to hold the promise of education (or rice or benefit or job-training) in front of the impoverished like a carrot, in order to achieve our own goals of sharing our faith, or, worse, raising more money?
  • When a group removes a child from a village, under the premise of education, but with the underlying motivation to teach them about Christianity (or to raise more funds for their organization), is that, indeed, a form of human trafficking?
 – Laura Parker, Co-founder & Editor, Former aid worker in SE Asia

The Beast of Culture Shock

Culture Shock can be a beast. It can be an unexpected, slow drain that leaves you stressed and angry without really knowing why. This culture shock typically hits hardest during the first year of living overseas, but it can creep back in unexpectedly after a furlough or a vacation or even 6 straight hours at immigration in a foreign country (we all know how fun that can be).

My husband and I said that culture shock was like learning to live on 50% oxygen. People also say that the process of adjusting to a new culture is a bit like going through the stages of grief. In this vlog, which I made almost a year and a half ago, I talk about our own process of dealing with culture shock in SE Asia.

(Subscribers may need to click through to the site to view the above video)

Thoughts? How has culture shock affected you or your kids? How do you handle it? Funny stories, advice, tips? 

More on Culture Shock: Stressed Out Missionary (LauraParkerBlog)  |  5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Field

~ Laura Parker,  former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

 

5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field

Just last year, I was a culture-shocked newbie stumbling through my first months living overseas.  And we came as independents {we still are}, brought three small children with us, and probably arrived before we had technically raised enough money to sustainably stay. You could say we’ve done a lot wrong in regards to our transition into full-time missions.

But you could say we’ve gotten a lot wrong about a lot of things.

Regardless, here are a few pieces of advice I wish I had been given {and then been humble enough to listen to} during our first year overseas:

1. Learn the Language, First and Only. When we got here in April of 2010, we hit the ground in a full-out sprint. We gave ourselves very little time to adjust or get culturally-acclimated. Instead, we dove into ministry in a panicked frenzy. And while much may have been accomplished at the girls home we worked for, our long-term ministry and effectiveness have suffered because it has taken us so. much. longer to learn to communicate.  We’ve had individual tutors, we’ve done 6-week long classes for tourists, we’ve promised {and then re-promised} to do Rosetta Stone daily, we’ve made flashcards and more flashcards. And we still only have a workably-mild grasp of the language. I assumed we would be fluent by now, honestly, and it frustrates me that I still have to pre-plan my Thai phone calls.

Learning the language while you are in the thick of ministry is like trying to get your Masters when you have small children and a full-time job. You can still do it, but it is much harder and much slower and much more frustrating. Trust me, the three months or six months {or more?} you devote to simply learning the language and adjusting to your new culture will pay off dividends in your long-term effectiveness. 

2. Sandwich Vacation. I wish our family would have taken a vacation between when we left the States and when we showed up in Asia. The stress and emotional weight of the goodbyes at the airport are brutal, for you and for the kids. And the stress and emotional weight of diving in to your new culture are equally as brutal. I wish we would have given ourselves a breather between the two— a few days at some nice hotel or some beach somewhere to process the leaving, to rest from the moving process, to collect ourselves.  I think for the kids that would have made the “adventure” of moving overseas more enjoyable, right from the start. {I think it would probably be an equally great idea as a family transitions from living overseas back to home, too, for the same reasons.}

3. Do Not Dive In. Really, Stay on the Dock for a While. The tendency for go-getters is to go-get-some-ministry-on — especially if your term overseas is two years or less. Your plane lands, and the Great Clock of your missionary life seems to start its countdown.  And so you give yourself a week to get settled, and then you attack whatever ministry it was you came to do. I get this tendency. I’ve lived this tendency. However, I wish I wouldn’t have. Because it takes more time than you think to find housing and food and the closest place to buy lightbulbs. It takes time to begin to learn the culture, to figure out your role in ministry, and to look realistically at the effectiveness of your/your organization’s work. People that jump in too quickly tend to either A) Burn Out or B) Make a Mess of Things. It’s better to avoid both of those, I am thinking.

4. Beware of Going Solo. We did not come with a missions organization. We did not come with a team. We lived out in a rural area, where we didn’t know the language, at all. {Because, obviously, I hadn’t listened to the advice of other missionaries to learn it first.} The kids didn’t have a school to make friends at, and on so many levels we felt very alone. And while I’m not a big fan of some of the hoops missionaries have to jump through because of missions organizations and while I understand the risk of your team “not working out,” I do know that community is essentialAnywhere. 

5. Expect Disappointment. From yourself. From your marriage. From the ministry you came to serve. From the culture. From your finances. From the nationals and other missionaries. From your walk with God. From your kids. And while I am typically a sunshine-daily optimist, I know I would have done better during our first year if I had lower expectations. When you are gearing up to go, you can feel a bit like you are attending a perpetual pep-rally of sorts. And in some ways, you need this inspiration to just get on that plane.

However, when you expect to walk into your new very-foreign land with the guts of Hudson Taylor, making converts like Billy Graham, while toting kids around as well-behaved as the Duggars, well, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Grace, grace, and more grace. I guess that’s advice that translates anywhere.

* Adapted from original post on LauraParkerBlog, 2011

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All right, let’s play a game. Pretend you have the ear of a new missionary, heading to the field. Assuming they want advice, what would you tell them to do or not do? Is my advice off?

– Laura Parker, freelance writer and former missionary in SE Asia 

 

10 Reasons Not To Become a Missionary

1. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Are Going to Change the World. First, high expectations doom to disappoint, but, also, maybe your desire to change the world is trumping your desire to serve. Ask yourself if you would be happy moving overseas to a much harsher environment in order to quietly help a local, while getting no recognition and seeing no fruit in the process.  If you can answer honestly yes, then maybe you’re still in the running. {Don’t worry, we thought we would’ve answered yes, but found out that we really had some unhealthy saviour-complexes to begin with. You can read about that here: On Living a Good Story and Not Trying So Hard and The Guy in the Orange Shirt .}

2. Don’t Become a Missionary to Make Yourself Better. My first mission trip was as a middle schooler to Jamaica. I’m not really sure how much good we actually did, but I do remember one of the missionaries we worked with. His name was Craig, and he had some of the biggest glasses I’d ever seen. And the dude talked to everybody about Jesus. Everyone– the pot-smoking Rastafarian in the line, the tourists at the store, the check-out guy at the food stand. And I remember turning one time to another missionary who worked with him and asked what made him so “good” at evangelizing.  The older missionary said, “Craig?  Oh, he didn’t come to Jamaica and become like that. He was already like that in the States.”

And I think Craig with the big glasses dispels the lie that if you move overseas, then you will magically become a superhero Christian. Um, false. What you are here, you’ll be there. And while it’s true that the change of environment can spark growth, it doesn’t mean you’ll go from luke-warm average Christian to Rob-Bell-Cool-On-Fire-Mother-Theresa just because you suddenly find yourself on another continent. Pretty sure it doesn’t work that way.

3. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Have the Answers and the Nationals Don’t. Westerners have clunky shoes.  This is just true. We are loud and obnoxious and, good Lord, arrogant. Our DNA has us descending on other cultures and dictating ways they can “fix” themselves, while throwing money at their problems. I think I’ve learned that every good missionary LISTENS, first. And listens, a lot. {Don’t worry, I suck at this still. You can read about that here, Rich Guy with the Crappy Car or Quiet Heroes.}

4. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Can’t Hack Transition. We’ve been overseas now for less than two years, and we have moved houses three times, taken two major trips, and have gotten close to and then had to say goodbye to over 15 good family friends. People come and go on the mission field. Terms are up and governments change the visa laws. You find a deal on a house or the house you are in has rats. When you sign up for missions, like it or not, realize it or not, you are signing up for a transient lifestyle. {On Moving House, Like A Lot and New Girl both speak to this reality.}

5. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think You Are Really Pretty Great, Spiritually-Speaking. There’s nothing like moving to a foreign country to reveal all the crap that’s in your heart.  Seriously. I have cussed more, cried more, been more angry, had less faith, been more cynical and, generally speaking, have become in many ways a worser person during my last two years of serving in Asia. Call it culture-shock if you will, but I tend to think the stress of an overseas move thrusts the junk that was conveniently- covered before out into the blazing-hot-open.

6. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Think Living on Support is Cake. It might look easy, but it is most definitelynot– this monthly process of holding your breath and praying that you get a full paycheck , while knowing that even thatpaycheck is based on the kindness of your parents or your friends or the lady you know hardly has two pennies to rub together anyway. And then, when you do have a little money, you stress about how you should spend it —  Should I treat myself to a coffee? Do the kids really need to go to the pool today? Should I buy the more reliable scooter or the used one that will {probably?} be just fine?

And then, and then, shudder, there’s that awkward process of asking for it in the first place and feeling like you are annoying-the-heck out of the same people, who happen to be the only people you know  — like that pushy lady selling Tupperware down the street.

The whole thing might be great for your faith, but it can sure be a killer on your . . .  heart, finances, sense of self-worth, savings, relationships, budget, fun, and freedom.

7. Don’t Become a Missionary if You Aren’t Willing to Change. Flexibility is more important than I ever thought it would be in an overseas life. So is humility, actually. Unfortunately, neither of these qualities is naturally at the top of my Character-I.Q. However, I have learned that the more determined you are to stick to your original plan– regarding ministry or living situation or friendships or organizations or personal growth– the more painful it is when that plan changes, and change it most definitely will. It’s the ones who humbly hold things loosely that I think can go the distance with far less collateral damage.

8. Don’t Become a Missionary at the Last Minute, on a Spiritual-Whim, Spontaneously. And yes, my Charismatic friends may disagree a bit here, but moving overseas, especially with a family and especially in any kind of committed-capacity, is not something to be taken lightly. It’s not necessarily a move that should be felt at a tent-meeting on Friday and plane tickets bought for the the next Monday. Training is important. Spiritual, emotional and cultural preparation has immense value. Turning your heart to a new place often takes time to fully root. So, give it a little time. Don’t be afraid to put the brakes on a bit, and heaven’s sake, don’t think that you’re more godly if you decide, pack and go in record time. This is not the Olympics, and sloppy leaving can take more time to clean up than you realize.

  1.  Don’t Become a Missionary to Fix Your Kids. Jerking a rebellious teenager from liberal American society and sticking them in an African hut so they can “find God,” is not a valid parenting technique. Family and personal problems will follow you overseas, in fact, they may be amplified. It’s important not to buy into the lie that forcing your kids to be missionaries will supernaturally make them love Jesus. That might happen, but moving a rebellious teen might also royally backfire on you, and should never, ever, ever be the primary reason a family takes up missions.

10. Don’t Become a Missionary to Find Cool Friends. Now, I’m not saying you won’t find amazing friends– maybe the best in your life– but there is no denying that the mission field can draw some pretty odd ducks. {Of which, I, of course, am not one. See #7 regarding my natural humility.} Don’t be surprised, though, if you find yourself in a church service with ladies wearing clothes from the 80?s singing praise songs from your middle-school years like Awesome God, but without even the drums. Don’t be surprised, too, if your social interactions are awkward at best with many of your fellow mission-souls. Living out the in jungles for twenty years might do wonders for your character and strength and important things, like, oh, the translation of the Bible into another language, but it can sure do a number on a person’s ability to shoot the breeze in a church lobby somewhere.

But, there, again, maybe there’s a necessary shifting that has to happen to your definition of cool, anyway.

– Revised and Extended from LauraParkerBlog‘s original list, posted Jan 2012

Laura Parker, former missionary in SE Asia.

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What would you add to the list?  Bring it. Even if you are not a missionary, pretend and add to the list.

Bloom Where You’re Planted and All That

I’ll be honest, this missions gig hasn’t gone like I thought it would. 

When I was a teenager, I devoured books on Amy Carmichael, determined to live in some hut rescuing orphans. I wanted to “accomplish great things for God,” and I assumed that meant a dramatic adventure, namely, taking a plane somewhere.

When I had kids and my husband began feeling the pull towards a life overseas, the dream began to morph.  Now, I’d just be Amy Carmichael with Kids, my children walking amongst the impoverished, learning a sacrificial love, developing a sold-out faith on foreign soil {while at the same time maintaining a sense of national home, cultural-relevance in America, minimal transition-issues, and general up-to-date fashion sense}.

I thought before we began this journey that it would be easy to find our niche of ministry– we are working for free, after all. I assumed we would do what we came to do, and when that shifted, I assumed it’d be simple to find the gaping hole of need that we had been divinely equipped to fill. That the Story of our purpose here and role would make sense, sooner, rather thanlater. 

But, two and a half years in, and I am continuing to find that Amy Carmichael I am not, that missions can be brutal on a family, and that fog is no respecter of the Jesus-disciple. 

And I was reading just the other day in this book I happen to love, and the words caught my breath, as is often the case when I have the guts and discipline to really ask the Living Word to speak.  And it said simply this:

And now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 corinthians 13

And I’ve read that a million times, but this week, it’s struck a new chord. Because, this, this is what I so desperately need– faith, hope, love– qualities not dependent on my circumstances, missed expectations, or personal doubts.

Faith. That God is in the smack-dab-middle of writing a good Story — for me, for us, for them.

Hope. That beautiful things can rise from ashes. That the next bend could bring what we’ve been waiting for all along.

and LoveFrom God, for God, and for all his kids around me. The extravagant, never-stopping, everybody-included kind.

And I don’t know where you find yourself this weekend, what circumstance or fog or barrier weighs heavy on your soul. Maybe it’s a job you hate or money that can’t stretch far enough. Perhaps it’s a child you don’t have yet or one who’s drifted far, on purpose. Maybe it’s the  drag of the mundane or the failure of the adventure. But whatever it is, whatever circumstance threatens to speak doubt or anger or depression, my prayer for you, for me, is that these three will keep on remaining,

faith. hope. and love.

Played out in a million, daily, gritty, far-from-dramatic choices

The kinds of choices Amy Carmichael probably made, but that never made her books.

 – from the archives of LauraParkerBlog, 2012
Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia.

Short-Term Missions: Is the Price Tag Worth It?

Short term mission trips are a popular thing these days in Christian circles. In fact, estimates are that literally millions of individuals, mostly young people, serve on short term trips (1 week up to a year) every year worldwide. Now that’s a lot of people and a whole truckload of money. Here’s an article written last year asking some sobering questions about short term mission trips:

Consider this: a group of 15 high school students {with four adult leaders} want to go on a missions trip to Africa. They write support letters, hold spaghetti dinners, call up grandma across the state line. The cost of the trip is 8 days out of their summer vacation and $1800 USD out of somebody’s pocket. Per person.

The goal of the trip is to paint the outside of a church, do a VBS for an hour four evenings, and “love the orphans” at the local orphanage {a.k.a. play soccer and give lots of hugs, since they don’t speak the same language}. The group gets called to the front of the church for a send-off prayer before and produces a killer video that makes their mothers get teary after. There are lots of Facebook updates and instagram pictures of the trip– rich American teens hugging on dark African orphans– which become the profile pictures of the participants for a good six months post-travel.

The church got painted, which locals could have done for about 30 bucks maybe.

The orphans got hugged, and then had to say goodbye to people that they’ll never see again and who promise to write, but never really do.

The four days of VBS got delivered. And included the same bible stories which  the previous four short term teams had also told. Through the mud of translators and with songs and hand motions that didn’t really make cultural sense.

And the grand total of this particular missions trip: $34, 200 USD. Ouch.

In a country where the average wage might be $2USD a day. That would be the equivalent of 17,100 days of work for a local. At that rate, the money could have gone to give 46 single mothers honorable employment for an entire year.

In this part of the world in Asia, it could provide clean water filters for 1,700 homes in village communities or it could begin a business to give hundreds of future prostitutes another choice or it could fully fund several national pastors for a whole year.

Ouch, again.

And maybe I shouldn’t knock what I myself have tried, and tasted the benefits from. I went to Jamaica on my first summer missions trip as a jr. high kid, and I still remember the stories. My husband has led a half-dozen missions trips for teenagers during his work as a student pastor. And some of our ministry here in SE Asia has been based on the idea that there  is incredible value in the mentorship of young adults as they travel and volunteer internationally. {And we have seen that it has.}

I get it.

And I know that maybe that money wouldn’t have been given to support those other {more cost- effective} endeavors, anyway. I understand that  motivating a Westerner with an experience which could make him or her a financial supporter of missions for the rest of a career has value. I get that there is intrinsic value in letting the third world know that they are not forgotten by the first, and I can see that a missions experience for a teenager could translate into a lifetime of living overseas themselves.

Yet, yet. $34,000. For eight days? When people are starving and children are trafficked and pastors themselves don’t have access to Bibles?

It’s hard to swallow. Or justify sometimes.

Or, is it?

originally posted here:  LauraParkerBlog, former missionary to SE Asia.