From Africa to Asia, a Transitional Interview

Sarah Witt FamilyAfter eight years of service in Botswana, Sarah and Kevin Witt felt a stirring in their hearts. They began to pray about the next step. With two small children and one on the way they chose to leave comfort and a semblance of normalcy in Africa for the unknown awaiting them in Asia.

If you are just starting out, or you have lost count of how many times you have uprooted, hopefully this interview with Sarah will help you feel not so alone during your own times of transition.

After 8 years in Africa you recently decided to move to Asia. What spurred that decision?

I am not sure we ever really had a time table in our heads, to begin with. As the years passed the thought of leaving became more and more distant as Botswana became our home and our lives.

Quite honestly, some of the decision to make a change came from a conflict with leadership.  The conflict was quickly resolved and the relationship still was strong, but it caused us to look a little deeper.  When we did, we realized we were too comfortable and just moving to the rhythm of life.  We were accomplishing things, but not growing like we wanted.  We both knew we needed to be open to the changes that the Lord was making.  It would have been easy to continue to stay in Botswana and ignore what He was trying to say to us, but we both knew in our hearts that wasn’t what we needed to do.  We decided to put in our resignation before we even knew where the Lord was going to send us next.

Our hearts have always been in Africa, so naturally we figured our next assignment would be within in Africa.  When our friend suggested we come and check out the Philippines, we almost laughed.  “No way, we’re Africa missionaries!”  Kevin went and visited. Shortly thereafter we determined that was indeed where the Lord was calling us.

Elephants are a big thing in Botswana!!!As a missionary in a time of a major transition what is your greatest challenge?

I was very comfortable, after eight years in Botswana, getting around the town and knowing where things were at and how to access materials and supplies.

Arriving in the Philippines meant starting over in every aspect.  Not only in establishing our home, but also starting the process of learning to just “live” in a new country and place.  It’s almost like I felt like I was a new missionary all over again and that my previous 8 years of service never happened! Learning a new culture and a new place and how to get resources has really been my entire life since arriving.

Also, just the sheer fact that it’s a totally different continent with different faces and places creates some culture shock. We are learning a different culture, and how to live in a big, crowded city, versus the African bush!

What advice would you give to someone considering a huge change in their life?

Lots and lots of prayer and most of all grace!  It’s hard to take a step of faith and change directions after being in one place for so long.  I don’t know that I have it figured out, but I do know that I tend to be hard on myself.  I think I expected to just jump in and know what to do.  I am learning to take it slow, build a supportive home for my family and children, and learn this new place as I go.

Pray through it and give yourself the grace to make mistakes along the way, it’s part of the journey.

Be open to other areas of ministry, not just the ones that you originally thought you would be a part of.

Sarah Witt PhilippinesIn what ways is your life in Asia similar to your life in Africa?

I’ve discovered wherever you go in the world people still need Jesus.  I know, that sounds cliché right?  Really though, the needs don’t change, there are just different looking faces behind those needs.  Kids here are still begging in the streets and needing stable homes.  There are a lot of cultural roots that run deep into the hearts of religion here just as there is in Africa.  Their traditions are very much a part of who they are and both are very rich and colorful.

What adjustments have you had to make since you arrived in the Philippines? 

I had no idea really what to expect. I moved here sight unseen as Kevin was the one who “scouted”.  In some ways, I think it was a blessing as I am not sure I would have ever agreed to move here!  With Africa, it was about the rawness and beauty of the place.  With the Philippines, it really has been the people who have drawn us in.  They practice hospitality as though it’s second nature.   I think it’s hard for us to not compare the two places and there are for sure pro’s and con’s to each country of service, but we are learning to be present in where the Lord has us for the “now”.  It’s easy to keep one foot back in a place that you love and considered “home” when you’re not really sure if this place will ever really feel like the home you once had before.  I am trying not to do that, as I want both my feet solid in this place, so that I can learn as much from them as I did the Africans.

Since we are serving independently, we have to be pretty focused and purposeful about our ministry and how we go about it.  Our first year is really committed to learning as much of the language and culture as possible.  We have a few things planned, but aside from that, we’re just learning what the country needs and how we can help.  It’s hard because we’re so used to “doing” and not sitting still. But there is something quite wonderful about taking the time to really get to know people and settle in.

As the mom, my ministry focus is our children and home schooling… something I never thought I would do.  At times I miss those days of functioning 100% as a missionary, but I love that my children are my ministry right now. As our children get a bit older, we’ll incorporate them into our ministry so we can give them a good world view and missions experience.

Sarah Witt HeadshotAdditional thoughts regarding transition?

Give yourself lots of grace.  I am learning that now.  Don’t expect to come in and fall right into place and for everything to work out exactly like you think it will.  Remain open to God’s plans and timetable.  I am learning to enjoy the adventure in the small things that are normal.  Taking time to really look around and see people and things instead of trying to always figure out what I should be doing. I think as missionaries sometimes we’re really hard on ourselves and as one who raises support as well, we feel we have to be “doing” to show our supporters.  It’s true, we do, but sometimes just the daily normal things produce the most ministry.

– You can find Sarah on facebook and on her blog

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In what ways can you relate to Sarah? Has comfort led to complacency in your life? How do you decide if / when it is time to change things up?

The F Word

The end of the school year brings loads of changes, some nearly universal and some unique to people with international identities. Julie Martinez, working and writing in Cambodia shares a personal story and the hopes of a family and a son in transition.

Freaked out.  Frustrated.  Fear.  Failure.  These are some of the F words that we have been slinging around the house lately.  We have also been slinging around the F word Frittata, but that is a different story.  We are in the process of transition and it is creating moments of drama and tension.  My son who was born in Honduras and has lived in five different countries is now returning to America to attend university and emotions are running high.

This is a boy who has grown up in airports.  He can navigate any airport anywhere.  From the time that he was 3 months old he has been a flying across the world. I am afraid that when he remembers his childhood he will tell stories of terrible airplane food and rushing through airport gates laden with carry-ons.  Or will he talk about a lifetime of good-byes?  Of constantly downsizing our lives to fit into two suitcases?

This is a boy who has lived an unconventional life.

Tanzania 01-2005 057He knows how to barter in local markets like an Arab trader.  He can hop on a motorcycle fearlessly and navigate unknown roads in third world countries.  He is unique.  He has been chased by elephants; climbed volcanoes; and has stood where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.  He has seen the world and much of it on the road less traveled and all before he was 18.

 

So, how does he transition to the USA?  How does he navigate the world of fraternities, finals, football, fast food, and other Americanisms?  My son is a third culture kid which means he is not fully American nor has he taken on the culture of his host country.  He has created a third culture—a culture unique to him.  He travels to America as a hidden immigrant.  One who speaks the language – looks the part – but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.

He knows this and he is fearful—fearful of failure and is freaked out.  His F word is Fear.  Fear is paralyzing, sends people into tailspins.  Fear is seemingly depriving him of oxygen and causing him to make questionable decisions.  My F word, on the other hand, is frustration.  I am frustrated because I can’t help him and truthfully, he won’t let me which also frustrates me.  He will be 18 soon and naturally wants to navigate life on his own.  And the reality is I can’t fully help him—he sees the world through a different lens than I do and he is going to have to figure it out. IMG_1799

Living overseas is wonderful, but there are prices to be paid and they are paid by all.  God calls us and He equips us . . . but there are aspects of this cross-cultural life that aren’t easy nor are there easy answers.  I wish I could wrap up this post with a three-fold solution.  There isn’t one.  The only thing that I can offer is that maybe it is time for a different word.  Not an F word, but a G word and that is grace.  That God will cover my son in His grace and that God in His grace and mercy will lead him and that His grace will carry him in the hard places and through the mistakes and the hard-times that are inevitable.

What kinds of G words carry you through your F seasons? In other words, we would love to hear how grace meets you in weakness and uncertainty.

Julie T. Martinez, Development Director N. Cambodia

People For Care & Learning, follow her blog at People for Care

And the Winner Is . . .

We so enjoyed watching 176 votes/comments come in for the international photo contest we ran last week. We asked you to submit your favorite pictures representing “The Face of My Nation,” and we were stunned by the captions and beauty you highlighted from the people you live among around the world.  And now, without further ado– the winners.

Our first place winner, with over 80 votes, is Rob from Haiti with the following photo and caption:

 ”To the very last pixel, this photo of Michel represents the tenacity, determined resilience, and spirit of the Haitian people.”

haiti

And our second place winner is from Bill and Tammy in Tanzania 

“Pure Love Between Sisters.”

This and That 057

 

Congratulations to Rob and to Bill and Tammy! Our first place winner will receive a $25 giftcard to Amazon, and our second place winner will get a free downloadable version of the novel, Love at the Speed of Email, authored by our own Lisa McKay.

Thanks to all who voted and submitted photos. We will occasionally be hosting these community events more in the future, and what a good reminder this one was of the gift it is to live among and learn from international people groups. 

Laura Parker, for the editorial team

To Love Two Places

Heidi and her husband are overseas newbies. They moved to Kenya in October, 2012, to capture the stories and images of the people and work across Africa. Her story of loss and gains is a poignantly beautiful look at the early days. Some Life Overseas readers are looking forward to those days, some are looking back on them, and some are smack in the middle of them.

EagleFlyingIt’s been nine months now since the airplane’s wheels lifted off of our beloved Minnesota soil and I felt arrows of sorrow shoot through my chest. My heart was already heavy, burdened with the faces of goodbye, and I struggled to swallow as the mighty Mississippi River shrank into a ribbon and then disappeared behind a cloud.

And that was just the beginning of the heart pains.

Eight months ago, I took off my wedding ring and hid it away, because I didn’t want the streets of Nairobi to steal it from me. But my finger’s nakedness is still stark and shrill.

For three months, we rode matatus, those reckless, necessary public transit vans that added color and anxiety to our days. But despite the sunburns, blisters, and tears, we grew. We learned how to walk the streets like everybody else, we started to recognize the people we passed each morning, and we gained camaraderie with our fellow vehicle-less man. We started to belong.

Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.
Itasca, the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in northern Minnesota.

Now that we found a car and have settled into a sensible routine, the pain comes in a different way. The kite bird that caws like a seagull reminds me of our favorite vacation spot on the shore of Lake Superior. The still, warm evenings fill me with the longing to have a bonfire in a backyard covered with crackly leaves. And the road that circles our neighborhood ­­­­and serves as our nightly walking path makes me wish that the football field in the middle was a lake teeming with goslings and that my best friend was chatting beside me.

This homesickness sneaks up on me, startles me. And leaves me wondering why. Why now? We spent two years of our married life looking forward to our move to Kenya, and now that we’re here, we can’t stop gazing backwards.

It’s a fine art, I’m realizing, to live in the present moment, to take each heart pain as it comes and pray that it won’t last long. Or that it will bring us one step closer to calling this new, lakeless city home.

This afternoon, as we sit on our doorstep beneath our avocado tree with our Kenyan mutt nuzzling us for more attention, I feel my heart beginning to open, to sense that I am splitting in half. It comforts me and it scares me, because to love two places will be dangerous.

But it will also be beautiful.

How do you handle a split heart? What are the things you miss the most about your home country? What will you miss about your host country?

Me (1)

       Heidi Thulin, missionary writer in Nairobi, Kenya

blog: Thulins in Africa  ministry: On-Field Media 

“This is My Fate” A Lesson in Cultural Humility

As soon as the angry words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I was speaking to Rehmet, the woman who helped me care for my kids and my home.

She was a Punjabi woman, uneducated, illiterate, with a smile that stretched across a beautiful, weathered face and a personality as big as her smile.

We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and Rehmet had come into my life by way of her husband who had done some handiwork for us around the house. She had five children and lived in a slum on the outskirts of the city. She was tireless in her energy and her talking. At one point I despaired to my mom that I couldn’t understand her. “She speaks so quickly!” I wailed. “My Urdu can’t keep up”. My mom began to laugh – “Don’t worry” she said. “She’s actually speaking Punjabi”.

Fate - Homes in a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, Pakistan. [1500x1000] - Imgur

(photo credit)

We had slowly developed a relationship that went far beyond employee/employer. I considered her my friend. We would sit down with tea, communicating with my limited Urdu and her fluent Punjabi. We would mate socks together, cook, scrub vegetables, and rearrange furniture. She loved my kids, and I thought I loved her.

But there we were. A Pakistani woman and an American woman side by side, me letting my tongue loose. She had ruined some clothes by bleaching them and I was angry. After all, if this had happened in the United States I would voice disapproval over the mistake and demand my money back.

But, I was not in the United States.

Looking back on the event, I cringe in embarrassment. I don’t even remember what the clothes looked like – but I will never forget the sadness and resignation on Rehmet’s face. She looked as though she had been kissed by a Judas, betrayed by one she thought she knew.

I began to apologize. My speech, so articulate while angry, suddenly lost any semblance of cohesion. I was fumbling over my words, over my grammar, most of all over my ugly heart.

She looked at me with tired, brown eyes, her gaze steady and unyielding. Then without pause, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is my fate.”

I went cold. I would rather have heard anything but this. I would rather she yelled, screamed, got sarcastic, quit the job… anything would have been better.

I, the person who talked long and wrote hard about wanting to empower people, had taken advantage of what I knew to be a cultural value – a servant is subservient to the employer. In a culture where she was a minority as a woman and as a Christian she would never have other opportunities, this was her fate. Even if she wanted to walk out on the job, she couldn’t have. Rehmet did not have choices and I had used that against her. I had taken advantage of education, relative wealth, and influence in my ridiculous reaction to a simple mistake.

And I had done this, subconsciously knowing that it would pack a mighty punch. That is what made it so painfully wrong. My white-skinned entitlement made me cringe. Who was I? Why had I reacted this way

It was important to confess – to Rehmet, but also to God. For I had acted in a way that hurt another, had wounded knowing she had no recourse.

Rehmet and I were able to repair the relationship, largely because of her generosity of spirit and sheer joy in life. In her bucket of life experience, this was small change and she would not remain low for long. But the story has stayed with me, for it reminds me of how important it is to have cultural humility.

For cultural humility demands a process of self-evaluation and critique; a constant check of attempting to understand the view of another before we react and recognizing our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up a role as expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture.

It’s a hard subject that demands honesty but what do you do when you have caused offense? When you have wounded in a place where you are a guest? When you have exhibited cultural superiority instead of cultural humility?

By Marilyn Gardner

Marilyn Gardner grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

Tombstones

She sits in my office, crying.  “Why am I so depressed?  Nothing terrible happened to me.  I love my parents.  I loved living overseas.  I can’t wait to go back.  But why do I get so depressed?”

I get out a stack of paper, and draw a tombstone on each sheet.  On each tombstone, I write one of the losses she’s mentioned in passing.  As I write, she remembers others.

And on the floor of my office, we memorialize a life of subterranean loss.  We realize that every time there’s a major life transition—graduation, marriage, moves, births—there’s been an episode of major depression, as this mass of grief wells toward the surface.

So we sit with it.  We weep, we mourn.  We write, we talk, we pray.  And God heals.  He really does.

Some thoughts about TCK wounds:

  1.  To be human is to be wounded.  It’s part of the deal.  We didn’t choose this gig, but here we are.  And we’re not getting out of here without getting hurt–TCK, civilian, whatever.
  2.  TCK wounds of loss and grief are a particular subset of the human condition of woundedness.  There’s good research on this.  (See Third Culture Kids, by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)  We might not like it, but there it is:  our deal to deal with.
  3.  Our TCK’s are losing their whole lives, every time we put our families on a plane.  And sometimes none of us recognize it until years later, right about the time parents are thinking, “My work here is done.”

Some things that can help:

  1. Fix our own junk.  Our kids have enough stuff.  They don’t need to be worrying about mom and dad’s issues, too. Go first.  Make it OK to be sad.  To be mad.  To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.
  2. Let them have their own voice about their own story.  It is way too easy for the Adult Standard Version to be the only version.  Let the kids tell their side, even if it’s not how you remember it.
  3. Do it right.  Take all the vacations.  Have the family fun nights.  Break “the rules” if it means your kids will be happier and healthier.
  4. If you think something is wrong, you’re right.  Get help.

 

On our first furlough, we asked our kids to write something for our newsletter, and this is what we got.  Our 5-year-old drew a picture of a boat.  (Read, constant transition?)  And our extroverted 7-year-old couldn’t figure out why people in America were inside their houses all the time.

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What emotions are you feeling right now, as you read this blog?

Sad, glad, mad or scared?

What emotions or behaviors are you seeing in your children that might indicate pain and grief?

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This guest post offered by Kay Bruner– MA, LPC-intern, former missionary to the South Pacific.

Please check out her insightful blog, where she talks often about Third Culture Kids and their unique struggles: Kay Bruner

Triggered by the Tragedy at Sandy Hook

One Saturday morning I woke up to humid Asian heat rising over my bed and the sound of cranky motorbikes on the way to the market. Oblivious that a tragedy had happened while I slept, I got up and went about my morning routine. When I finally logged onto my facebook, I became numb at status after status. Then I closed the computer.

And I went about my day as if nothing happened.

 On December 14, 2012, on the other side of the world, tragedy struck an elementary school in my home country, leaving 20 children and 6 adults dead. Like many missionaries, I processed this tragedy far away from any English news channels.

In preparation to move overseas I learned about culture shock. I anticipated language and culture barriers and times of intense loneliness. I did not expect anger and confusion.

I did not expect to feel anger over injustice and violence. I did not expect to be confused about evil.

I had lived in Asia two years before I first identified the inward pain I was feeling. A friend and I were driving around a temple in Cambodia. My friend says, “A little boy asked if I wanted sex.” An exploited child had approached a white man.

Anger swelled when I visited the genocide museum in Cambodia where 17,000 people were tortured during the Khmer Rouge. I ran out of the museum, about to vomit. I stood under the tree where heads were slammed against, and I hovered over the pit where their remains were dumped.

In the last three years I have felt confused so many times.

  • I visit my friends in the dump and carry them a water filter. I want to do so much more.
  • I see the blond streaks of malnutrition in the dark hair of Asian children.
  • An 18-year-old man says to me in a tongue had worked so hard to learn, “Please, Lana, pray for me. My mother is dead from AIDS. I never met my father. I wake up at 5 a.m. to clean the orphanage, then take my bicycle to work 12 hours a day to support the orphanage that raised me, and we still barely have enough to eat. I want to get my education and attend Bible college, but I can’t get out.”

I did my best I could to stuff the pain, to be tough for the orphans, and be grateful for what I have.

The children who died in Sandy Hook gave me permission to acknowledge the pain and confusion.

After the tragedy, my friends posted on their facebook. “I hugged my kids a little tighter before school this morning.” One of my friends shut down her facebook for a week because she could not handle the negative updates. Another friend cussed at the killer on her page. Every parent said they were confused, “Why, why, why?”

It hit me. The kind of news my Americans friends had received is regular dinner table news where I live in Asia. “The army burned down a village today. Mrs. Jones just sent pictures of a boy they rescued who has burns from head to toe,” someone will say over a typical meal.

I remember thinking, “If my friends are angry that 20 kids died, no wonder I’m such a wreck after three years of this kind of evil.”

So, I googled the news. I read the articles on Sandy Hook. I pulled up pictures of the innocent children who died. I cried over them, one by one.

Then I wept for the evil I see in Asia and remembered:

Jesus wept.”

Evil happens overseas. It happens alongside so much joy and love. The collision creates anger and confusion. How do you deal with the painful mix of emotions on the mission field?

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Lana Hope lived in a sticky-humid Asian world where she spent two years caring for teens and meeting Jesus in unexpected places.

Beyond Good Intentions

Working with the materially poor is really tricky. We want to help, but it’s not always easy to determine what is helping and what is hurting. How are we supposed to fulfill our biblical mandate to care for the materially poor without creating dependencies?
Puerto Peñasco is a small city just an hour south of the Arizona-Mexico border. Almost every weekend, well-intentioned Americans drive here and hand out countless suitcases of old clothes. The recipients are incredibly happy, sometimes even moved to tears. Neither the giver, nor the receiver, has ever stopped to ask why so many people are without clothes in the first place.
I work for an organization called 1MISSION and we employ a few locals who work full-time in the barrios of Peñasco. They go from house to house training people in Community Health Education (CHE). I asked them to research this clothing conundrum, as they spend a lot of time with the very people who receive these clothes on a regular basis. They quickly had an insight I had missed. Many houses they visit have numerous piles of dirty clothes behind it. The clothes are everywhere you look. In one case, we observed a young family paving a sandy road with old clothes so their small car could pass through. According to the trainers, it is not a supply problem, but a stewardship problem. One trainer put it this way, “They don’t need clothes, they need to learn how to take care of their clothes and make them last.”

The Americans thought giving away clothes was fulfilling the biblical mandate to clothe the naked. The reality is, actually clothing the naked in Peñasco requires us to respect the poor as stewards of resources, not helpless victims of circumstance. The problem is bigger than a lack of stuff, so should our solutions be bigger than handing out stuff.
You see, God didn’t ask us to take pictures of ourselves caring for the poor, he asked told us to actually care for the poor. Relief, done without development, will hold a community back. Relief has a place; there are cold people that just need a jacket, there are hungry people who just need some rice. Not to mention, the Bible makes it pretty clear what’s expected of us. The problem is when relief is detached from long-term development. Without development, the outcomes of relief are temporary and usually do more harm than good. As international do-gooders, we have to focus on long-term solutions that will last beyond our presence. If you were to leave right now, what part of your work would last beyond your presence?
Giving “free handouts” has unfortunately become the rule rather than the exception. This has left many communities and lives worse off than before. Free has huge costs. 
How about you, where have you seen good intentions fall short?
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Dustin Patrick served as the Field Director for 1MISSION in Northern Mexico. After three years, he handed off all operations to the local team he recruited and trained. He now lives in Phoenix and leads all the creative endeavors for the same organization. He blogs about development work and more at GoodMud.wordpress.com.

Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not.” She lied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

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

“It happened many times.”

“I was afraid.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I am ashamed.”

“I should have known how to stop it.”

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

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

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

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

“You told me.”

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

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

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

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

Give her gifts, Lord.  We love her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Case for Short Term Missions (Guest Post: Seth Barnes)

I am a progeny of the short-term missions movement. My life was shaped by trips I took as a teenager to Guatemala and Peru. And here’s the ripple effect: in addition to sending tens of thousands to the field, my family has been profoundly affected. My daughter Estie just left with her college group to Ecuador, my son Seth Jr. has spent a year in Nicaragua, and for the last 17 years, my parents have spent three months doing medical ministry in Kenya.

From www.sethbarnes.comBuilding on that early experience as a teenager, I’ve spent 25 years doing short-term trips and it seems that my blog “Are short-term missions becoming faddish?” has made me something of an “authority.” Over 60,000 people have looked at it since I wrote it a year ago. And the tide of emails in my in-box like the one I just received made me realize that perhaps it’s time for a considered response.

So, be warned, this is gonna get long – hang in there!

A random person recently wrote me saying, “Hey, I am doing a speech opposing short term missions [STMs] today, I was wondering if you have any data or statistics that would work for this?”

I’m afraid my response wasn’t too encouraging: “You may have mis-read my perspective.” I wrote. “I believe your position is unbiblical. Luke 9 and 10 is a clear biblical precedent. My issue is not STMs, but STMs done poorly, which is most of the time these days. If you’re ‘opposing STMs’ then you’re opposing Jesus.”

What’s going on here? Is this a tempest in a teapot, or do we need to trash short-term missions and start over?

On the one hand, STMs have become over-the-top faddish when you can now sign up for a “missions cruise,” – I wonder whose “have-your-cake-and eat-it-too” thinking produced that? On the other hand, when you go to a bad restaurant, do you give up on eating food? Many of us attend dull churches, but believe in the concept of church. Everywhere in life there are examples of excellence contrasted with poverty of imagination and execution.

STMs are a necessary part of discipleship. The people who would do away with them are missing a big chunk of Jesus’ pedagogy. Jesus was big on faith – asking us to do a trust-fall with the Father. How else are you going to learn faith if not by being thrust into unfamiliar territory with an overwhelming assignment? You can study diving all you want, but until you jump off that high dive, you don’t know diving.

STMs are also a necessary part of missions. Paul went on a series of STMs and jump-started the long-term mission movement. Usually when planting a long-term work in a community, those planning it are going to begin to establish relationships in a series of forays that culminate in a long-term commitment.

STM teams work – sometimes spectacularly. The uneven results they can produce open the door to criticism. Here are the most prevalent criticisms:

*They cost too much.

*Short-term missionaries can’t do a missionary’s job.

*Short-term missionaries should help the needy people in the U.S. first.

Jesus tells us, “Go into all the world spreading the good news.” The passive approach to faith is an oxymoron – we can’t sit still and practice the kind of risky faith steps that Jesus advocated. Christ sounded a clarion call to battle. Religion for couch potatoes placing a premium on safety or formulas doesn’t sit well with our Lord. We’ve been commanded to get out of the malls and into the streets. The question before the court then is not one of a mandate. The questions are: What we should do with the mandate we’ve been given? And, just how far should short-term missionaries go with their mandate? Are there any limits?

Sometimes, the critics score a bullseye. Mission trips too frequently are costly. By definition they can’t incorporate the follow-up work that only someone with a long-term commitment to a particular mission field can. Often they are overly ambitious, aspiring to pierce the darkness in a place like Romania, when the light may be dimmer next door in Philadelphia.

Other criticisms are more easily countered. Some critics dismiss short-term missionaries out of hand with the comment that “They’re not really missionaries.” To which I say, if being a missionary means something other than sharing the love of Jesus cross-culturally, then it is true, short-term missionaries may not measure up. Yes, often they do have a quick-fix mentality in a world where change may be measured at a glacial rate. However, I suggest that labels are a peripheral issue. Jesus called us all to be missionaries. He sent his disciples out in pairs as the first short-term missionaries (Mark 6:7-13). To judge the validity of the STM movement, we need to dispense with old preconceptions and look at the fruit, not the duration of the term or even the commitment of those involved.

Another criticism in the same vein is that the ministry on a mission trip is more to the short-termer than it is to those to whom they’re ministering. To which I say, “So what?” It’s true that STM leaders may seem more focused on the needs of their group than they are on the ministry they’ve undertaken. Often the changes that occur in their lives are profound. It may frequently be the case that short-term missionaries are the primary beneficiaries of their trip; however, the most successful models of STMs emphasize a partnership in which both participants and nationals benefit equally as they develop relationships with one another.

These kinds of criticisms persist and confusion flourishes when STM leaders embrace questionable models of STMs. Because there are so many flawed models floating around, they inevitably tarnish those models of STMs whose fruit has stood the test of time.

When STM groups come in for criticism, most often it is because they have adopted one or more of the following flawed models of short-term missions. Let’s look at the six worst:

QUESTIONABLE MODELS

1. No Preparation

2. No Prayer

3. No Jerusalem

4. No “Ends of the earth”

5. No Stewardship

6. No Perspective

Some critics see STM groups as being on a kind of philanthropic sightseeing tour. An STM team can be a negative experience for both long-term missionary and participant alike if the team is inadequately prepared and is seen as a necessary inconvenience. The same team can have an incredible impact if they are trained and come to the field with the right attitudes.

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The above article was used with permission from Seth Barnes, President of Adventures.org. Since 1989, they have taken over 100,000 young people overseas on short term missions trips. You can check him out at his blog, SethBarnes.com or on twitter @sethbarnes

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What are your thoughts on Short Term Missions? How have you seen them positively affect people, help your long-term ministry, or impact the culture where you are living?

Long-termers: What do you want short-termers to know before they start their trip? Advice for them?