What C.S. Lewis, Paul, and the Sword of Damocles can Teach us About Living in Terrible Times

The sword hangs by a thread, suspended above the throne, pointing down. Threatening.

One strand of horsehair, fastened to the pommel, is strong enough. Barely. One breeze, one bit of weakening fiber, and death is certain.

And so, no matter how powerful the king becomes, no matter how many successes he has, the sword remains above him, ominous, looming, damning.

What’s the sword hanging over your head, threatening to snap loose and cleave? What’s the thing that’s unresolved and maybe even unresolvable? What’s the impending doom that’s imploding joy?

Is it the politics of your passport country or your host country? Visa issues or money problems? Social unrest and violence where you live or where you’re from?

Is it the well-being of your church or your children? Your health or your marriage? Is it an imminent deconstruction?

Do you drown in a deep awareness that one tiny thing could shift and it would all come crashing down?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We live in an ever-more connected age, which seems to be resulting in an ever-more frightened age. Things seem to get scarier and scarier, more and more unstable. Darker. A U.S. news site just ran this headline: It’s Hard To Not Be Anxious When Nowhere Feels Safe Anymore.

Governments fall, global alliances splinter, trusted institutions falter and misstep. Racism blooms like a mushroom cloud and injustice rains down unchecked.

It’s exhausting and terrifying and oftentimes paralyzing.

 

How should we then live? How should we then minister and love across cultures?
C.S. Lewis speaks to us, cautioning against a common (and paralyzing) error. Lewis writes, “[D]o not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

He continues, speaking of his very atomic circumstances, the sword his generation lived under:

“Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

OK. Depressing.

But somehow, it’s not depressing for Lewis; it doesn’t lead to numbness or retreat or despair. Instead, for Lewis, this awareness leads to LIVING. He goes on to encourage the fearful of his time, and us too:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

So may I encourage you, my dear reader: don’t forget to live. Plant yourself where you’re at, scratch your name into the land, and connect heart and sinew with the people of God and the people God loves. Live!

 

Chase the Light & Notice the Life
We need to know and remember, deep in our gut, that we can face this darkness and not die. It’s a hard sell, I know, but notice how Paul juxtapositions death AND life in the same verses. They’re both there, and they’re both weighty:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the DEATH of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we LIVE under constant danger of DEATH because we serve Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus will be evident in our DYING bodies. So we LIVE in the face of DEATH, but this has resulted in eternal LIFE for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NLT)

My best friend recently pondered this collision of life and death, musing about our desperate need to chase the light, especially when it’s dark. She wrote:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light. 

~ Elizabeth Trotter

 

Conclusion
Living under the sword of Damocles is draining and terrifying. But even there, Christ is.

And because Christ is, we can dance in the light as much as we fight in the dark; we can laugh as much as we mourn. Our lips can crack into smiles as often as our hearts crack into pieces.

As long as this age endures, the sword will remain. And yet.

The lone strand of a horse’s hair, weakly holding back death, has been replaced by the strong mane of a Lion’s love. And we are saved.

So live, dear one.

Chase the light and remember the King.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*More on the Sword of Damocles

The cure for my contempt (and yours too)

There’s so much contempt in the world.

Do you sense it? I hear it crashing through our walls in Cambodia as our neighbors fight and scream at each other. I see it in the taxi driver in Prague as he grips the steering wheel hard, honking and yelling at those who’ve deeply offended him. I smell its stench on Twitter.

And I sense it in me.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

We must remember the mercy of God. Our families, churches, and ministries all need us to remember the overwhelming and beautiful mercy of God. Mercy is a mysterious thing, softening us to others and their stories, while also hardening us to the unavoidable and incontrovertible troubles of cross-cultural life and ministry.

And so we need – I need – to remember the mercy of God. The simple Jesus Prayer (above) and the simple song (below) are helping me deeply; perhaps they will help you too.

I will kneel in the dust
At the foot of the cross,
Where mercy paid for me.
Where the wrath I deserve,
It is gone, it has passed.
Your blood has hidden me.

What a tragedy if we cross sea and mountain, stone and water, and forget the mercy of God.

When missionaries forget mercy, we risk becoming arrogant jerks, convinced of our moral, educational, theological, and organizational superiority. A Cambodian friend of mine recently expressed her frustrations; “Missionaries always think they know everything about everything!” This happens just as easily on the theologically conservative side as the theologically liberal one.

We become the religious elite, thanking God that we’re not like the heathens. We don’t say it like that, of course, but the attitude can creep in; we’ve all seen church-planting folks who were anything but kind. We’ve all seen NGO folks who were just mean. Somewhere along the line they lost “the wonder of his mercy” and it shows.

May I never lose the wonder,
Oh, the wonder of Your mercy.
May I sing Your hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Amen.

If forgetting mercy doesn’t make us arrogant, it could make us depressed instead.

We can get stuck in our lostness, convinced we’re failures who will never measure up to God or our supporters and senders. The sad ones need the mercy of God too, to show that it never depended on us anyway, that there’s nothing to earn, nothing to prove, just a merciful God who is full of love and whose compassionate face is turned towards us.

Mercy, mercy,
As endless as the sea.
I’ll sing Your hallelujah
For all eternity.

Mercy prepares us for worship, which in turn fuels missions. Feeling the weight of his mercy naturally leads to a cry of Hallelujah!

Mercy means we don’t get stuck in our lostness or theirs. Mercy reorients us from us to him, and he is beautiful. Mercy reorients us from them (the arrogant, rude, terrible people around us) to him, and he is glorious.

So may you remember mercy this day, and may that remembrance keep you from both arrogance and despondency. May a deep awareness of the mercy of God stir up in you a shout of hallelujah. And may that shout echo across seas and over stones, revealing to all peoples the Hope of the Nations.

~ Jonathan

 

Power’s Out Protocol (or What to do When Things Get Real)

It’s hot season here in Southeast Asia. It’s also there’s-not-enough-power-and-water-to-go-around season. It’s odd to have a full day with water and power and sanity.

Now, I know the audience here understands what I’m talking about. Some of you are roughing it WAY more than we are, and some of you aren’t. But you know, I’m so over one-uppers.

Whether you never have power or you live in paradise, the unexpected happens. Stuff hits the fan when it’s spinning and when it’s not. It’s inevitable.

When the government announced daily power cuts “for the next 72 days,” I knew our family needed a protocol: a power’s out protocol. So the six of us sat down and crowd-sourced this thing. We bounced around some ideas and landed with these seven. They’re not foolproof, and perhaps you’ll want to change it up. Fine.

But as for the Trotter Six in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, well, we taped this thing to our wall and it’s become part of our family vernacular.

1. @#(Q^&#!!!! (bleep)
This is also a part of our family vernacular. Now, to the pure all things are pure, so I’ll let your brain fill this in however you will. It could be Ramona Quimby’s GUTS GUTS GUTS or it could be a simple, “Well gosh darn it.” It could be more.

Whatever it is, this first point allows us and our children to acknowledge that this sucks. It’s hot, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and we’d rather have electricity and all the modern marvels that it brings.

We don’t STAY here, in the first step, but we do allow it. The alternative is to try to rush past reality, forcing ourselves and our children into a hazy universe where Christians are never uncomfortable, where Christians aren’t allowed to feel (or voice) difficult emotions, and frankly, that’s not very Biblical.

So we allow step one. And then we keep stepping.

 

2. Breathe
The power of a simple breath is astounding. It can reset the soul and pause a freak-out episode (the technical term). Taking a few slow deep breaths changes you physiologically, too. I do an exercise with clients where I use an app to measure my own heart rate; I get a baseline and then I take a few slow   deep   breaths  —  in through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and slowly exhale through the mouth. My heart rate visibly drops about 5 beats per second.

I also do this regularly when driving in Phnom Penh, or when getting ready to step up to the stage to preach. It’s not magic, but sort of.

When the power goes off, heart rates go up. Breathing helps.

 

3. Remember, “This will NOT last forever”
It is lasting right now. We established that in the first step. But where we live, we can be pretty sure that it won’t last forever.

Purposefully remembering this obvious truth broadens our sense of time, putting the current darkness (or heat) in perspective. It doesn’t fix it, it doesn’t turn the lights back on, but it does inject a dose of the fuller reality. Darkness may last for the night, but joy comes in the amperage. I mean morning.

 

4. Do your regular life
This one’s courtesy of my ten-year-old. She said, “Well, I just think I should do my regular life. It’s not a big deal.” She’s wise.

Sometimes, we just have to breathe, buckle up, and do what’s next. Elisabeth Elliot would agree, I think, as she was famous (or infamous) for telling people to “do the next thing.” In fact, she often quoted an old Saxon poem:

From an old English parsonage down by the sea There came in the twilight a message to me; Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven. And on through the doors the quiet words ring Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrows, child of the King, Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer; Do it reliantly, casting all care; Do it with reverence, tracing His hand Who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener, Working or suffering, be thy demeanor; In His dear presence, the rest of His calm, The light of His countenance be thy psalm, Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing. Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

 

5. Say something you’re grateful for
This isn’t just some kitschy saying, belonging on hand towels at your grandmom’s house. This is actually evidence-based. And Biblically-based, turns out.

This is step five, NOT step one. That’s important. We do want to shepherd our kids and ourselves into an overarching attitude of gratefulness. But forcing gratefulness too soon just leads to hypocrisy and resentment.

 

6. Remember, “We’re not alone in this”
It’s not just that misery loves company, it’s that company can help misery. I’m not the first person to feel miserable, not the first to be adversely affected by the weather, not the first to feel anger when the rich neighborhoods get treated preferentially, and I’m not the first to despair when the lights go out. Others have done this. Others are doing this. LOTS of others, in fact.

This can build empathy, if we’ll let it. We know what it feels like to taste rain after a drought. We know how refreshing a cool breeze can actually be. And we know the near-psychosis that can develop when sleep deprivation and unrelenting heat bear down on a soul.

Perhaps we’ll remember this when we’re tempted to judge the refugee who’s been sleeping outside for who knows how long, exposed on so many fronts. Maybe we can recall these days when we’re tempted to condemn the “foolish” choices of the poor. Take away consistent, reliable utilities, the support systems of a functioning society, the protections of a healthy legal system, and watch.

I’ve only experienced a tiny fraction of these things, and even then, I only experience those things for small amounts of time. But I know, more than ever, that I am human. I am weak, and I desperately need the power of God, the fellowship of the Church, and a resurrected earth.

 

7. Use your resources
I don’t know why, but we need reminders.

Like I said, we need reminders.

Use your resources. It’s a motto in our house, so we put this one last, and then we made another list outlining our resources. What are yours?

What do you have at your disposal, or what could you reasonably attain, that would make the situation a bit better? It’ll be different for everyone, but I’m amazed at how many people never pause long enough to take inventory.

So pause, think for a second, “What resources do I have to help me through this?”

For us, in this hot season with power cuts, it’s meant investing in a deep cycle battery and inverter. It’s meant eating out a bit more. It’s meant taking a little vacation we hadn’t planned on. We’ve changed our family schedule to take advantage of the times we’ve got power. It’s meant finding the coffee shops with generators to write stuff like this.

So hey, you, what are your resources? Are you using them? Do you need help brainstorming? Ask around, crowdsource, and then USE YOUR RESOURCES.

 

Conclusion
This protocol won’t fix everything. It might not even fix anything. But we’ve found it a little helpful. It at least gets our brains out of the block when the power clicks off.

Does it apply to more than a power cut? Yeah, I think so, but you tell me. Maybe you’ve got something else going on in your life, like a diagnosis, or a death. Maybe you’re dealing with something so very hard but also unshareable. A power cut’s easy to talk about on social media; not all hard things are.

Yup, this stuff’s hard. And yeah, I wish it’d stop or go away. And yet, we have breath in our lungs, a Father who loves us, and hope.

And we have a future.

And oh what a future that will be…

 

From our toasty home to yours, peace to you,

Jonathan

 

A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

Jonathan and I are thrilled to introduce you to our new book, Serving Well. It is our deepest hope that this 400+ page book will encourage and equip cross-cultural folks through the various seasons of life and ministry.

It’s available on Amazon here. If you’re in the States, our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

You can read the Serving Well press release (with book excerpt) here.

From the Back Cover
Are you dreaming of working abroad? Imagining serving God in another land? Or are you already on the field, unsure about what to do next or how to manage the stresses of cross-cultural life? Or perhaps you’ve been on the field a while now, and you’re weary, maybe so weary that you wonder how much longer you can keep going.

If any of these situations describes you, there is hope inside this book. You’ll find steps you can take to prepare for the field, as well as ways to find strength and renewal if you’re already there. From the beginning to the end of the cross-cultural journey, Serving Well has something for you.

 

Early Reviews for Serving Well
Serving Well is an important voice in the search for honest, experienced conversation on living and working cross-culturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Dig in!”
– Michael Pollock, Executive Director, Interaction International and co-author of Third Culture Kids

Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
– Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Serving Well is a must-read book for missionaries and for those who love them. This is a book you really need if you are ‘called to go, or called to let go.’ In Serving Well we read both the spiritual and practical, simple and profound, funny and compelling in chapters written by Elizabeth and then Jonathan Trotter; hearing from each their voices and their hearts, the struggles and the victories, ‘the bad days and the good days’ of preparing to go and serving well overseas. Their down-to-earth yet godly insights were born from living overseas and from authentically wrestling with the ‘yays and yucks’ of missionary life. They draw wisdom from both Scripture and sci-fi authors, Psalms and funny YouTube videos, encounters with Jesus and encounters with cops looking for a bribe. Take two books with you to the mission field: the Bible, and Serving Well.”
– Mark R. Avers, Barnabas International

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad–or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace–both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do–read this book!”
– Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Overseas workers face a barrage of junk when they arrive on their field location: identity issues, fear/anxiety issues, and faith issues. I have worked with missionaries for well over a decade now and see how these common themes cry out for a grace-filled approach to truth and authenticity. The Trotters live this out loud, intentionally seeking a way to minister out of their own pain, striving, humor, and failure. Keep this reference close at hand!”
– Jeannie Hartsfield, Clinical Counselor, Global Member Care Coordinator, World Team

“This book is the definitive guide to thriving in cross-cultural ministry. The Trotters have distilled years of experience into pithy chapters filled with helpful tips and wise insights. Put it on your must-read list.”
– Craig Greenfield, Founder, Alongsiders International, author of Subversive Jesus

“In this must-read missions book, Jonathan and Elizabeth unearth the underlying motivations of the cross-cultural call. Penned with copious compassion and startling transparency, Serving Well is sure to make you laugh, cry, and, in the end, rejoice as you partner with God in His global missions mandate.”
– David Joannes, author of The Mind of a Missionary

When the Thief Steals

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ Jesus

Thieves steal. Sometimes the impact is NOW; you know it immediately and you feel it deeply. Other times, it takes some time; the bomb’s on a delay. And then it blows and you begin to realize all that was taken. All the time lost, the lives shattered, the relationships fractured. It feels like the wind gets knocked right out of you and you can’t even tell if the crater in your soul feels like anger or sadness or some other concoction of pain. But it’s definitely pain.

Sometimes the thief steals stuff, but often it’s more. Much more.

Maybe the thief looked like a robber on the back of a moto, or a home invader. Maybe the thief was a corrupt government, stealing freedom, opportunities, and futures. Maybe the thief was a cruel family member, or someone from your church or mission, a “friend.”

Whoever they were, they stole, they destroyed, and they killed. Or at least they tried.

 

Where was God?
Where was God when innocence was taken, when the thief came? It’s a valid question that burns hot, and it must be asked. Jesus asked it. Yes, I know God brings life and he brings it abundantly. But sometimes I wonder why he can’t just kill the thief and be done with it!

Theft involves loss, so grieving is certainly important here. But there’s so much more than sadness or grief. Theft is also an attack, with fear and insecurity its bloody aftermath. It is a terrible unsettling.

It’s even more unsettling and isolating if others don’t recognize the theft. Perhaps the thief looked perfect. Thieves often look not like thieves.

Have we not yet learned that looks can be deceiving? Have we not yet learned that the most malicious thieves are also skilled at masquerading as angels of light? They’ve learned from the best.

So where was God? Where is God?

 

The Justice of God
There are no easy answers. I know that. There are no golden tickets or magic bullets here: but there is the justice of God.

“Now, Lord, let your anger arise against the anger of my enemies. Awaken your fury and stand up for me! Decree that justice be done against my foes. Once and for all, end the evil tactics of the wicked!” Psalm 7: 6, 9

In the end, can we throw ourselves not only on the mercy of God, but also on the justice of God? Can we trust him with this? I know the right answer, but I still have to wrestle with the right question. Do you? I know the Bible verses, but I still find myself wrestling with God in the crushing darkness of night. It is an ancient tradition, this grappling with God. Maybe I’ll leave this match with a limp, but maybe I’ll also leave with a new name.

“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”  Psalm 121:1

The Shepherd knows what it’s like to lose, so when he speaks of the thief, it’s not hypothetical. It’s real and he knows it. The thief has flesh and bone; the thief has a face. But so does the Judge.

I don’t know you, and I don’t know your story, but I’m guessing you’ve known a thief too; a thief who mimicked the dark one, a thief who stole and destroyed. So please remember this, dear one: The thief who destroyed will be destroyed in turn, by Love. Our God is justice and he burns with fire against the thief who would hurt a little one.

He is a warrior with all the advantage. It’s true that our God is gentle and meek. It is also true that our God is consuming. It is also true that our God commands an army, the likes of which has never been seen.

This is our King.

I believe there’s a Man who’s seated on a throne
And He’s coming back to bring forth justice.
~ Laura Hackett Park

He does not allow abuse to go unanswered. He does not deny or blameshift or dismiss injury. He pursues the thief to the end, demanding reparations. He sees what was done. He knows the truth.

And in a great turning, he actually helps us get revenge. Because the best revenge is a life well-lived. A life enjoyed.

And life is what he gives. A life free of the thief and the thief’s thievery.

He brings life and life to the full, rich and satisfying. He brings life and life abundantly, more than you expect. He brings life until you overflow.

 

The Stars
After walking down into the depths of hell itself, the Poet in Inferno leads Dante up and out. They descended into hell together, but they did not stay there. In the end, they returned to the land of the living, where Dante speaks words that shake me to my core. At the end of the journey, at their surfacing, he simply says,

“Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”

The stars! Life! With crisp air and a clear line of sight!

If you’ve known the thief, then you’ve walked through hell. My prayer for you, then, is that you would someday soon, “rebehold the stars.” The Poet is with you, descending and then ascending again, reminding you of the reality of a billion astronomical wonders. So may you live!

His justice does roll down like a flood. So may you feel washed and protected in the torrent, while evil itself is swept away.

And when your path lies in shadow, may you remember that even the shadow is under his wings. And his arms are everlasting.

 

With much yearning for the stars and the One who breathed them,
~ Jonathan Trotter

 

Be merciful to me, O God
I trust in Your help
You are my refuge, my defense
And into Your hands

I commit my way to You
Come fulfill Your will in me
Stretch out Your strong and mighty arm
Let Your mercy lead me on all my days

Cover me, cover me, cover me
Under the shadow of Your wings
God, cover me, cover me, cover me
Under the shadow of Your wings
~ Laura Hackett Park

 

The Missionary Life Cycle (in Five Stages)

Like any really good assessment, these five categories are totally made up.

There are no peer-reviewed studies parsing these five stages of cross-cultural work. There is no quantified, objective data set; still, please feel free to say you’re in “Stage 3 – Wing 4.” That would make me happy. And remember, if you say anything with exactitude, we’ll all think you know what you’re talking about.

The lines of demarcation between these stages are blurred, and in some cases overlapping. Just roll with it. And remember, this isn’t the Rubicon, so feel free to cross back over to an earlier stage if you’d like.

Are you ready?

We’ll look at the two options within each stage, we’ll list some common statements you might hear from folks taking each option, and then we’ll look at some primary goals for each stage.

This is more Wiki than Webster’s, so please add your thoughts, explanations, arguments, additions, or funny jokes in the comment section.

Idealist/Ignorant – Pre-field

You know the idealist, right? If you’re on the field, you probably were one. Once.

We need the idealist. Often, the idealism of youth or new belief motivates people to the field in the first place; that’s not bad. In fact, idealism is a fantastic place to start; it’s just not a fantastic place to stay.

Idealism is not what’s dangerous; ignorance is.

The main difference here is that the ignorant person doesn’t know what it is that they don’t know. And it’s a lot. The idealist knows they don’t know everything, so they’re safer. The idealist is a day-dreamer, aware of the reality around them, while the ignorant is lost in a fantasy dream world at night, unaware that their sick child is vomiting in the bathroom down the hall and their wife has been up three times already and the dog just peed on the clean laundry. Yeah, ignorance is dangerous.

Things you might hear the idealist say: “This is all so amazing! God’s going to do amazing, new, prophetic things in this glorious season of fresh wind. He is calling the nations to himself and he’s calling me to the nations. Will you donate?”

Things you might hear the ignorant say: “I don’t need a sending church or org or agency. I read a book and I feel super called! Also, I served a person once on a short-term trip and now I’m going to save the world. Will you donate?”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Don’t be ignorant.

  2. Protect your ideals, while purposefully listening to the reality of some who’ve gone before you. You’re not the first person God’s called across cultures, and you won’t be the last.

 

Learner/Survivor – Arrival to Year 2

Landing in a foreign land will sometimes feel like just trying to survive. That’s ok. But if the functional goal for your first term is just to survive your first term, you’re a survivor, not a learner.

A learner is an idealist who’s landed. They don’t know stuff, but they’re super excited to find out. They don’t know how to even ask for stuff, but they’re going to find out. They don’t know who’s who and what’s where and when’s good, but they know how to breathe, ask around, walk the street, and…learn.

The learner’s goal is to figure stuff out, to learn about a culture, a history, to meet new people, to make new memories.

The survivor’s goal is to not die.

Things you might hear the learner say: “I don’t know where to buy milk; let me find someone to ask.”

Things you might hear the survivor say: “I don’t know where to buy milk, but as soon as I find out, I’m buying 9 gallons so I don’t have to go back out on the street again for at least a week… SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! Where do I buy a refrigerator?!”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Learn as much as you can (about language, culture, workers who’ve come before you, the state of the local church before your arrival, etc.)

  2. Recognize your need for mentors, and find some (expats and nationals).

 

Established/Workaholic (Year 2 to Year 7)

Getting established in a foreign field is quite an accomplishment. You know the language and you’re driven to finally start doing the work you’ve been called to do.

At this stage, folks start to realize that they can’t do as much as they thought they could. Folks start to get overwhelmed by the complexity of the culture, because now, they’re starting to really see much more of the culture. The established will face a crisis, and the risk is that they respond by turning into a workaholic, shouldering all the responsibility for all the souls all the time.

Things you might hear the established say: “There is so much work to be done, we should get involved in mobilizing local believers.”

Things you might hear the workaholic say: “There is so much work to be done, and if we don’t do it all, who will?”

Goals for this stage:

  1. See the task for the S I Z E that it is, without succumbing to depression or despondency.

  2. Disciple others into the roles to which God’s calling them, remembering the axiom that the “resources are in the harvest.”

 

Experienced/Pessimistic (Year 7 to Year Infinity)

(What? You know you’ve met missionaries who’ve been on the field f o r e v e r…)

The experienced are those folks who’ve got tons of knowledge. They’ve been around the block and they’ve seen a lot of folks come and go. They’ve probably had ministry initiatives succeed and they’ve probably had more fail. But they stayed. And they’re relatively happy. Their words are nuanced and balanced, and the people themselves are fairly enjoyable to be around.

To the pessimist, however, everything new is bad, and everything old is bad, because everything is bad. These folks are a little harder to be around, unless you are them. Then they’re easy to gripe – I mean chill – with.

Things you might hear the experienced say: “Well, that could work, but the few times we tried it that way it didn’t work. Want to talk about some alternatives?”

Things you might hear the pessimist say: “$#@!@#(*!!! [or “gosh darnit” if they’re Baptists] Sure, try that. It won’t work, just like what we tried didn’t work. Because nothing will work. This ground is rocky and hard and I want to leave but I’m too worried about what people will say about me, and I haven’t saved enough to retire.”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Nurture the idealists.

  2. Mentor the learners.

  3. Caution the workaholics.

  4. Avoid the pessimists.

 

Learner/Know-it-all

If you’re in this stage, you knew we’d come back to this. If you’ve been around long enough, you knew the earlier discussion about being a learner was too perfunctory. Congrats.

You know a lot more now that when you started. But if you’re healthy, you also know how much you don’t know. And so, you’ll still be a learner.

Someone who’s been on the field a loooong time without being a learner is dangerous. They have a LOT of experience, but it’s dated. Some of it will of course still be accurate, but it won’t be tinted with the wisdom that combines age-old knowledge with present-tense reality.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2012 someone told us that you couldn’t get fresh milk in-county. So, for the first month we drank UHT milk, which is an abomination.

I’ll never forget the day, a few months in, when I went to the grocery store and saw rows and rows and rows of fresh, refrigerated, amazing milk. Skim, whole, 2%, and chocolate!

Even if you do know everything today, you won’t tomorrow. (And you don’t know everything today.)

Goals for this stage:

  1. Be willing to ask questions, even of the younger people, and even if you’ve been on the field for longer than they’ve been alive.

  2. Share your wisdom and experience with those who will listen. There will be some who will listen. Find them and offer yourself.

  3. Don’t be a jerk.

 

Conclusion

Whatever stage you’re in, welcome! And might I offer a few pieces of advice that I think would help this whole cross-cultural life and ministry thing to be more enjoyable and more effective?

  1. We need to nurture the Idealists while cautioning the ignorant. Don’t treat them as the same, because they’re not.

  2. We need to mentor the Learners, helping them to find milk and refrigerators. It’s not their fault they don’t know stuff. (Help the survivor too, but add a little encouragement that survival is possible, and thriving is possible too.)

  3. We need to encourage the Established. They’ve been on the field long enough to know the size of the job, but they might not have been around long enough to see the resources at their disposal, which might include you (whether you’ve been on site longer than they have or less than they have).

  4. We need to listen to the Experienced. As the saying goes, Get experience as cheaply as you can, for many people have paid a high price for it and will gladly give it away for free.”

  5. And lastly, we need to keep Learning. All of us, all the time. If this comes naturally to you, awesome. Please help others. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to do some pondering on the phrase “growth mindset.”

This missionary life of serving others and sharing the Gospel is too hard, too good, and too important to forget these things.

May the Father of all light continue to lead us all out of the darkness, into the dawn, and straight to his heart.

 

All for ONE,

Jonathan T.

10 Life Lessons That Leading Worship 600 Times Taught Me

It just sort of happened.

As a teenager growing up in an a cappella church with an a cappella youth group, I sang a lot. In a non-instrumental church, any guy who can loosely carry a tune will be asked to carry that tune. And so I was. Over and over. And over. No guitar skills necessary.

In college, our inter-denominational student ministry needed a band leader. I still lacked all guitar skills, but no matter, they tagged me and I became the de facto leader for our Thursday night gatherings.

And then I actually started working for a church, leading the youth and worship ministries. I led worship nearly every Sunday for about six years. And that’s how we get to 600 plus.

I recently sat down to ponder what life lessons those experiences taught me. And as Elizabeth and I enter our 8th year of living and ministering across cultures, these “life lessons” have begun to look a lot like “cross-cultural ministry lessons” too. So I hope they are an encouragement, a blessing, and perhaps a challenge, to you as well, wherever you find yourself on this great planet we call home.

1. It’s not about me. 
Whether I’m standing before a group of 15 or 500, it’s not about me. It’s about the struggling mom of littles, the financially-strapped couple wondering how to make ends meet. It’s about the widower who feels his loneliness deep in his bones. It’s about the teen who’s trying to figure out who she is — and who God is.

Of course, it’s not about me.

And of course, it’s not primarily about them either. It’s about the Father who is longing to connect with his beloved people through moments of communion and community. It’s about the presence of the only One who is worthy; it’s about what the Spirit is saying to his Church.

 

2. Sometimes, you just have to show up, even when you don’t feel like it. 
When you do anything over and over and over again, even if it’s a good thing, there will come a time when you don’t feel like doing it. Well, what’s a worship leader (or missionary) supposed to do? Is it inauthentic to stand before people when you’ve had a crappy night’s sleep, or when you’re in the middle of a big fight with your wife, and pretend that things are OK?

I really had to wrestle with this. Every Sunday is not a glorious day, and there were many Sundays where the last thing I wanted to do was go to church, much less lead people in worship.

Showing up and doing your job, even when you don’t feel like it, isn’t inauthenticity. It’s actually maturity.

One question that continues to help me with this is, “Who is benefiting from my NOT revealing everything?” Am I hiding my true self from people in order to protect myself? In order to avoid intimacy? Or am I not revealing EVERY THING IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT to get myself out of the way and help people meet with God? Is it for me or for them? If it’s for them, then it’s probably OK. (Of course, this assumes that at some point, and with some people, the leader will be authentic and vulnerable.)

God is worthy of worship whether I feel like it or not, and sometimes I need to stand before him and worship not because of my feelings, but in spite of my feelings. This is true about leading worship, and it’s true about leading life.

 

3. Smiling matters. A lot.
Effie was a kind old lady who became The Great Encourager of my 16-year-old self. When I was just starting out, someone told me, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.” I looked at Effie a lot.

It’s pretty good life and ministry advice too, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.”

 

4. Eye contact matters.
I’ve seen worship leaders who never look at a single person in the audience. That M.O. can look super-spiritual, and maybe it is. Maybe they’re lost in total adoration, caught up in the moment. Or maybe they’re just super disconnected from the people their leading.

In life abroad too, I’ve seen people who never notice the people in front of them. So look at people, look at their eyes, wonder about their stories, ask about their stories. If you do, you will impact people very deeply; for when it comes down to it, we are all longing to be seen, even if we’re desperately afraid of it.

 

5. Church people are the worst.
Some people at some churches hated me. They disliked my style, my music, and maybe even my face. It’s just the way it is. Some people will not like you no matter what you do. That does not necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong or bad, but it does mean that you (and they) are humans.

 

6. Church people are the best.
It was church guys who painted our house when my mom was sick with terminal cancer.

It was the “casserole ladies” who fed us.

It was inter-generational trips and Bible studies that showed me how to be a Christian adult, not just a Christian teen.

It was a man, a leader in the church, who came to my side when I couldn’t finish leading God Moves In a Mysterious Way. The cancer-induced tears were drowning me. He stood with me, shoulder to shoulder. We were two men at the front of a church, one young and crying, unable to voice anything. The other, older, an elder, choking tears and singing through empathy.

I will never forget that moment, because in that moment, standing vulnerable before God and his people, I was not alone. I was joined by a man thirty years my senior, and I was saved.

 

7. Complainers complain.
It’s what they do. But it is possible, sometimes, to maintain a positive relationship with complainers. And when it’s possible, it’s also extremely valuable.

But sometimes complainers are just toxic and keeping relationship with them is inadvisable. One key difference? If the complainers really want what’s best for you and for the church, they just really disagree with you, it’s probably best to try to maintain a friendship. If they’re out to control and dominate, manipulating through pressure and threats, to meet their own twisted needs, yeah, run away.

 

8. Every minute leading people requires two minutes NOT leading people.
At least.

The times that you’re NOT leading are more important than the times when you are leading. It may not look related, but sabbath has a direct impact on Sunday. Hong Kong news directory

 

9. Displaying authentic emotions, even tears, in front of people, may be the most “leaderish” thing you ever do.
We live in hard times, and my current job as a pastoral counselor has convinced me (again) that most people do not feel free to really feel their feelings. They feel societal, religious, familial pressure to “keep it all together,” whatever that means. By showing emotions, leaders can help change this. We must change this.

 

10. If at the end of the day, people only remember your skills (or skinny jeans), you’ve failed.
When it really matters, people won’t care about your vocal ability. People won’t care about your flashy .pptx or Prezi or Keynote. People won’t care about your hair style or flannel shirt or your perfect DMM strategy. At the end of the day, people will ask, “Did he care about us? Did he care about the Church?”

Basically, what matters when the sun sets are these three things:

  • Was I a person of faith, even in my doubts?
  • Did I demonstrate hope, even through my despair?
  • And in a world gone mad, did I love like Christ?

May God help us all to live towards that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As I drafted this article, I wept. I remembered my church, the Red Bridge church of Christ, and my breath caught.

You see, as I pondered, I realized something: I needed them way more than they needed me. That’s just the truth. I was in front of them, but they were leading me. I taught them new songs, but they taught me what Jesus looked like with skin on. I cried in front of them, and they joined their hearts with mine and embodied those beautiful people who mourn with. I got frustrated with them and I’m sure they got frustrated with me, and yet, we stayed friends. I’m so very glad we did, for those dear saints showed me what a “long obedience” could look like.

I’ll forever be grateful for the group of God’s people who invited a scrawny teenager with a pitch pipe to stand, to cry, to lead. They taught me so much, and I will never forget them.

 

In a world gone mad, sympathy is not enough. Here’s something that is…

Cross-cultural workers often have tons of sympathy. We see the needs (physical, spiritual, etc.), we answer the call, and we GO. And that’s just great.

Sometimes we stir up sympathy for the poor and the marginalized; we fund raise with pictures aimed to generate pity and money. And that’s not so great. But it is relatively easy.

Sympathy is a powerful start, but it is not the finish. So I don’t want to talk about sympathy. I don’t want to talk about the pros and cons of feeling (or generating) sympathy. I want to talk about something much more potent.

I want to talk about empathy. I want to talk about the power of empathy in a world gone mad.

 

“Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re really paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” ~ Brené Brown

 

Understanding Empathy
“Empathy can be defined as a person’s ability to recognize and share the emotions of another person…. It involves, first, seeing someone else’s situation from his perspective, and, second, sharing his emotions, including, if any, his distress.” ~ Dr. Neel Burton

First, we’ve got to be able to recognize emotions. In fact, the ability to accurately see emotions (ours and others) is a huge part of emotional intelligence. I wrote more about that for the IMB here. Jesus did this splendidly, and it changed peoples’ lives.

Second, we’ve got to be willing to share those emotions, even the not-so-fun kind. This requires a willingness to really walk alongside of, to enter into, to incarnate. We’ve got to be willing to ask the questions “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” while staying in the present with the human in front of us. When we do that, people will feel seen.

But while sympathy and empathy share a lot of letters, they differ greatly: “Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”*

We know this is biblical, right? I mean, we know that slapping people with truth is not the Way. We know that just being sorry for people is not the Way. We know that the Word came and dwelt among us, lived and breathed, fought temptation, fought hunger and weariness. He did not just feel sorry for us from on high and give us a handout.

He walked our roads.

I’m not really saying anything new here; I’m just using new words to talk about old things.

 

Consider the Differences
Sympathy demands action, words, movement, gifts. Now! Empathy is healing, even in the silence. Empathy does not freak out when “nothing can be done.”

Sympathy may make me feel better, helping me to feel like a caring and thoughtful person. Empathy, on the other hand, may leave me feeling worse. Because now I FEEL what the other person is feeling.

Sympathy gives stuff to the person and leaves.
Empathy listens to the person and then gives what is necessary, even if that is just time.

Sympathy requires very little heart.
Empathy requires fully engaged hearts.

Sympathy is quick and Instagrammable.
Empathy is slow and rarely easy to communicate to a third party.

Sympathy is one-size-fits-all. A big box store.
Empathy helps us to hear each person’s story, to feel their story, and to respond specifically, lovingly.

Sympathy often produces platitudes, evidence of disconnection.
Empathy happens in proximity and leads to greater connection.

Which one’s easier for you? Which one’s easier for your church or organization?

 

Why Empathy is So Hard
“I cannot empathize with an abstract or detached feeling. To empathize with a particular person, I need to have at least some knowledge of who he is and what he is doing or trying to do. As John Steinbeck wrote, ‘It means very little to know that a million Chinese are starving unless you know one Chinese who is starving.’” ~ Dr. Burton

I often hear people talking with great emotion about “the lost” or “the nations” or UPGs. And that’s fine and good, but I’m afraid that sometimes this generates sympathy for the nameless masses, with zero awareness of the need for empathy. The desire to help, even the desire to see people rescued from hell, can block us from doing the hard work that’s necessary to actually empathize. Sympathizing can be dehumanizing.

So we must recognize what’s going on. Remember, sympathy is not inherently bad. But it’s not inherently enough, either. If it gets us out the door, if it motivates us to offer help, and self, then sympathy can lead to the genesis of empathy.

But sympathy that never outgrows itself risks turning us, our organizations, and our churches into heartless benefactors, with very little Christ-likeness left.

And so we must remember.

We must remember that we follow the King of Empathy, the One who Incarnated. Immanuel.

How unique among the gods!

 

May we remember to imitate our Father, offering our hands and our hearts.

May we remember to walk the dusty roads with our hands out, not just our handouts.

 

May we remember to listen, to hear, and to see humbly,

As we follow our God, The King of Empathy.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

*https://www.dictionary.com/e/empathy-vs-sympathy/

Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

Would You Even Like Jesus?

Would you even like Jesus?

Would you like him, if he came into your church and started yelling about houses of prayer? Or would you call him just another angry man?

Would you like him if he told you to sell even some of your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or would you call him a socialist?

Would you like him if he told you to stop sleeping with people you weren’t married to? Or would you call him a legalist?

What if you realized he wasn’t a Conservative?

Or a Liberal?

Or white?

Would you like him if you found him crying by himself on a hillside, talking about a rebellious city? Or would you call him an emotional wreck?

I don’t know, would I even like him?

What about the time he let those guys chop up an innocent man’s roof?

Would you like it if he hadn’t planned ahead and all of a sudden asked you to feed a few thousand people?

What would you think when he dozed off during a life-threatening storm?

He is not as tame as we make him, after all.

Would you like him when he let the prostitute get a little too close? Or would you start to wonder about his dedication to purity?

Would you like him when he befriended your political enemy, visiting his house and sharing a meal? Or would that be a red line crossed?

You see, we sanitize and sanctify Jesus, stripping him of context and personality, until he looks (we think) like us.

But he’s not like us. Thank God.

So, would you like him?

What if he showed up in your deepest pain and you saw his eyes, red with mercy and compassion? Would you like him then?

What if you heard him cry, “Forgive them!” And you knew he was talking about you? Would you like him then?

Would you run to him, grasping his sleeve for acceptance and love?

He’d let you.

He’d love you.

He’d heal you.

After all, he liked you first.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

“We have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be — ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.” S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Today, wherever you find yourself on this fine globe, may you have the courage to put aside the abstractions, lay down the hypotheticals, and show your neighborhood the healing reality that is “Jesus with his people.”

May the passion of the Christ, the power of the Father, and the presence of the Spirit, help us in this task, for his glory and the salvation of many.

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers”

It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life! Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

~~~~~~~~~~

Now, most missionaries don’t dress their kids in navy and white, and rock music isn’t seen as much of a threat. But I sometimes wonder if young parents have exchanged a “solution” from the ’80s and early ’90s for a new “new approach”?

– If we can give our kids enough vision.
– If they can get enough gifting of the Spirit.
– If they can catch a fire for social justice.
– If they can quote John Piper or Bill Johnson (depending on your stream),
– If they can get energetic like Young and Free or Rend Collective….

THEN OUR CHILDREN WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

And the world better watch out, because we’re releasing an army – no, we’re waking up an army and then releasing them, and they will rule the world. For Christ.

This is hyperbole, of course. Sort of.

I feel like I’m watching a replay, where passionate young parents think they’ve found “the solution,” which, when applied correctly, will help their toddlers “tear down this wall!”

I hear parents from both ends of the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum talk like this. I see parents Instagram like this. And it’s not from a bad heart, I know that. It’s from a gut-level desire to see our children succeed. We want them to have God-sized dreams and we want them to chase those dreams until they actualize their potential and save the world. I get it.

But can I sound like an old guy here? OK, well, here goes. THEY ARE JUST KIDS. Remember, they’re three years old. Or seven. Or even thirteen. They don’t need to save the world. They need to learn how much they’re loved. They need to learn about mercy and grace and hard work. They need to learn how to read, and sometimes, they just need to learn how to use the toilet.

~~~~~~~~~~

Have we forgotten the simple things? Have we forgotten the power of quiet love and small faithfulness?

Have we forgotten Paul’s advice to work with all your heart, whatever you do?

Have we forgotten John the Baptist’s counsel to the soldiers? “Be content with your pay.” To the tax collectors? “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to.” To the crowds, “Share your food, share your wealth.” Have we forgotten that small lives lived in small places matter too?

Have we forgotten the instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?

You know, maybe those instructions aren’t for everybody at all times, but they at least apply to some people some of the time.

It may be that God will call my child to do simple things well, with faithfulness and honesty. He may want them to grow into men and women of integrity who do banal things, boring things. That does sound to me like something God could do.

Not all are called to be apostles.

~~~~~~~~~~

As cross-cultural workers, we may be more naturally inclined to love big, global, world-changing talk. Perhaps that’s how we got here. Our children, however, with their individual callings and giftings, may not resonate with the ideas the same way. Remember, what motivates and inspires you might crush your child.

Be careful you don’t project your desires onto them. Do YOU want to save the world? Fine then. Go forth and do it. Maybe God’s called and gifted you to do it. Awesome! But you’re not them and they’re not you.

 

An Alternative
You know where normal people go to worship? You know where normal people go to learn and grow, slowly, steadily?

The local church.

You want to bless your kids? Be part of a local church. Church should be a place where slow faithfulness and deep relationships are encouraged.

Cultivate in your children a deep love for the local church, wherever that is, and see what happens. Be careful that your family isn’t so holy and set apart that you cut yourself off from local fellowship. I’ve seen fundamentalist-conservative families and hyper-charismatic families do this, flitting from church to church, never finding the perfect fit. Consider honestly assessing your family’s pattern of church involvement.

Hopping around might not be detrimental to you, but your kids may end up lacking the attachments that will really make a difference in the long run.

Again, the old man speaks: settle down! Get used to church being not perfect. Find a local, inadequate, warty Church, and love her. Love your brothers and sisters and let your kids develop some long, slow relationships with real humans. Read Eugene Peterson and Tim Keller. [I hope this goes without saying, but it’s important to clarify: I’m NOT saying you should stay in an abusive, legalistic, graceless church just for the sake of staying. That type of environment could suck the life right out of you, and your kids.]

Now, of course I realize that our overseas communities are largely transient. And I realize that there may not be an identifiable church where you’re at. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s not the case; if we lack a good church fellowship, if our kids are Homescapes MOD flipped and flopped from here to there and back again, that might be more on us than on our circumstances. Don’t blame the environment or the cross-cultural lifestyle unless that’s actually what’s caused the disconnect.

~~~~~~~~~~

May our children play. May they explore and experience life, without needing some grand purpose or some world-altering goal.

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, flowing straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

And when they doubt our love or His, may they remember. May they turn.

And in their search for Home, may they find the One who’s been standing there all along, at the other end of baggage claim, with a beautiful hand-written sign, that says “Welcome Home.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Further Reading:
I realize this has been heavy. I realize it’s potentially been a downer. So I’d love to dialogue with you about it, if you want. We can visit in the comments below or on Facebook. Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you too. This issue is worth some conversation, for the children’s sake.

In the meantime, here are some articles that explore similar ideas:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

It’s Not All About War

The Idolatry of Missions

Why Be a World Changer [I don’t know this author, but I’m indebted to him for his well-formulated thoughts on this issue]

Out of Office Reply

Some things will just suck the blog right out of you.

Furlough and book editing are apparently two of those things.

Our family spent the summer back in the States, and while we very much enjoyed catching up with friends and family, it was exhausting. You all know that already. We’ve been back less than a week and have enjoyed the company of a plumber, the air con repair guys, inspiring traffic jams, a long power cut, and extroverted mold.

So yeah, my apologies for being a bit “out of the office” when it comes to our community here. Seems a life overseas sometimes gets in the way of A Life Overseas.

Anyways, I also wanted to give you a heads up on Elizabeth’s and my new book, Serving Well: help for the wannabe, newbie, or weary cross-cultural Christian worker. I’m neck deep in editing and will be submitting another draft to the publisher this week. Hopefully it will come out mid-2019.

It is a great honor to parse these words, and our deepest hope is that they would bless and encourage folks for years to come. So would you mind praying? Pray for wisdom in what to cut and what to not cut. Pray that the global church would be blessed through this work.

Pray for the wannabes, the newbies, and the weary ones.

And know that, although I’ve been a bit less communicative, my heart is still here. I am still for you and the work to which you’ve been called. I still serve in a local international church here in Cambodia and I still do pastoral counseling and debriefing.

And I’m still editing and formatting and working on that dang bibliography.

May God’s mercy be with you.

 

All for ONE,
Jonathan T.

Death is right around the corner. So live!

I’ve always thought like this.

I’ve always believed my life was going to be very short. Nearly every time I publish an article or preach a sermon, I think, “Well, I said it, I guess I can die now.”

I don’t have a desire to die, it’s just that I live with a gut-level realization that I could die. Any minute.

It’s not morbid. At least it doesn’t feel morbid. It feels realistic. And frankly, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been amazed at how people can not live this way.

Thoughts of imminent death don’t fill me with dread or motivation. They don’t scare me into action or inaction. You know what they do fill me with? You know what they do generate in me? Gratefulness. God’s got this world, and it’s his job to run it, to save it. I show up as long as I can, obey as best I can, love every one I can, and then leave. Soon, I’ll exit stage right and the whole thing will keep going. The curtain won’t go down. Grace will keep going.

So how do we live with an awareness of our imminent mortality? How should that awareness impact our lives and ministries?

Well, what did Jesus do when he knew his time was short? He spent time with his friends, he washed feet. He said some things. He prayed.

He spent some very “unproductive” time at his favorite hillside garden retreat. He didn’t race the clock or yield to a flurry of last minute ministry activity. He walked. He prayed.

As cross-cultural Christian workers, we often allow the specter of death (ours or others’) to fling us into frenetic activity. But I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about living with an awareness of death. In his case, he was writing to those living under fear of death by atomic bomb, but his broader points apply here too.

He said,

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Living and working cross-culturally is hard, and we often forget the joys of the little things. We need rhythms of rest and Sabbath to restore us, to remind us of how much we need the “sensible and human things.”

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We’re one month into a four-month trip Stateside, and before we got here, Elizabeth and I made a purposeful decision to do the “human things”: we decided to set aside the first month to reconnect with family, to play together, to travel a bit for fun, and to rest. And I’m so glad we did.

This first month back has been precisely what we needed. I’m sleeping better. I’m seeing a counselor to debrief our last term in Cambodia. It’s wonderful. One of my kids noticed the change and said, “You’re different, dad. You are laughing more.” The kid was right.

The job is hard. The ministry is hard, and we all need to remember to slow down, to live.

We all need to work hard and we need to Sabbath hard.

Remember, regular times of rest are evidence of discipline, not laziness.

Regrouping, reconnecting, restoring, recreating, are godly endeavors, after all.

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Well, I would talk more, but I’m busy. I’m busy laughing with my kids, playing in the grass, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering that there is good in the world. Do you need to do that too?

After all, Christ is Risen!

 

 

More resources:

Can humor be a spiritual discipline?

Please Stop Running

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)