Surviving Christmas as a Missionary

As a missionary, Christmas can be a season which summons our most intense feelings of homesickness.

-You are away from friends and family. No matter how broken family structures become, people always get together over the holidays.

-The nation you serve in often does not “feel” like Christmas. The first warm weather Christmas I experienced was a shock to my senses. Now, I find Christmas sneaks up on me as I serve in a nation with a lesser degree of the materialistic, “mall decorated prior to Thanksgiving” kind of atmosphere. It just doesn’t look or feel like the holidays.

– Most individuals and families have more traditions wrapped up in Christmas than any other time of the year. Missing those family gatherings or celebrations can bring a sense of isolation and loneliness.

As I write this, my family is on a short furlough in the United States for Christmas. We attempt to return once every three years for the holidays. But in those other two years, we have incorporated a few strategies to both survive and celebrate being away during the “merriest” time of the year.

Some rights reserved by riverrunner22 on Flckr.com

Here are some tips I have learned from 20 plus years on the missions field:

1. Acknowledge Things Will Be Different
In order to succeed in celebrating, you have to be in the right frame of mind, or you start miserable. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking we can make a “mini-American” (or wherever you are from) Christmas on location.

2. Establish New Traditions
How does the nation you are in celebrate? Embracing a new custom can be one of the best parts of the season.

South African’s celebrate with the braai. A braai is a  BBQ on steroids. It take most of the day while you slowly cook food and socialize. The main course is meat and more meat. Chicken is considered a vegetable. We started a tradition of cooking some nice meat, making a casual afternoon of relaxing and enjoying the company of some of our friends.

We have also added a camping vacation to this season as Christmas falls over the kid’s summer school holidays.

3. Something Old, Something New
Find a tradition you can replicate in addition to new customs. We still find a Christmas tree, even though it makes the tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” look like a prize winner! Our kids make ornaments rather than pulling antiques out of storage.

4. Find Community
Don’t spend it alone.

Let me say this again. Find someone to celebrate with.

Self pity and mourning will creep in otherwise. Invite friends, others missionaries, or even some of your co-workers for a meal and fellowship.

5. Use Technology
You can still “attend” the gatherings back home with the increase in technology. As you tell the stories of your celebration, don’t be surprised if people at home are a bit jealous of the nice weather and fun you are having!

So, if you are discouraged. Don’t give up.

Keep trying things till you embrace a new tradition.

Whether you are home or abroad, invest the time it takes to make this celebration special.

All throughout the Bible, celebrations were times of remembrance. Israel needed to pause and takes stock; remembering who they were and what God had done for them.

Don’t let a change in geography rob you or your family from creating memories. And of course, celebrate Jesus breaking into time and space, forever changing the planet.

Merry Christmas!

What are some of your overseas (or domestic) tips for missionaries or expats?

 

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes 

My Job Description

The trees.  They know how to lift their arms to heaven and let go.

Autumn comes late to Florida. All the way in early December.  I watch the old season as it turns gold, catches flame and surrenders to the wind.  Our autumn comes in an instant and usually lasts less than a week.  It reminds me how suddenly seasons can change.

A little over six years ago I showed up site unseen in the middle of a war zone in Central Africa.  On Christmas day, I flung wide the rickety gates of my newly rented compound, welcomed home my first 12 children and served Christmas dinner for 1,000.  It was a path paved in miracles and Jesus coming where I least expected Him.

Almost six years later, our base is established on 40 acres of our own land. One of my greatest joys was to turn the keys over to an integrated field team of indigenous leaders, missionaries, and some of my first children {who came a little older to our family}.  They have grown up, been trained, and returned to serve.  That brings tears to a mama’s eyes.

I initially came to my adopted nation with a hunger to find the hurting and the broken and to love them well…. To give away all I had so they could fly higher and farther than I could or would.  I came with a job description to love and to learn, go low and slow and do only what I see my Papa in heaven doing.

In September I moved back to my childhood home in Florida.  I continue to serve my precious family in South Sudan, raising awareness as a founder so often does.  I look forward to when I next visit and can spend the long hot days hugging my babies.

The transition back to the USA was in many ways far harder than the one going the other way.  Between my 18th bout of cerebral malaria soon upon arriving back and then a terrible dental mishap that electrified my mouth and blew out my trigeminal nerve, it has been quite a welcome back!

I returned with a longing to live out what I was learning there, hereCould the same simple faith and relentless love of Jesus work here too?  Was it really just about stopping for the one person He set in front of me every day?

In the weeks since I relocated, we have a vibrant growing family here who wants to find out what missional community looks like here.  Not a strategy session, not a project to fix people’s problems, or worse fix people themselves.  Not complicated theory, but an intentional journey to the margins of our community. 

I found out this weekend in our small county alone there are 900 children in our school system registered as homeless.  There are multiple camps set up for the homeless.  There is a growing problem with human trafficking.  Suddenly my lessons of holding the broken and learning to be a friend to the outcast didn’t seem foreign at all.

All mission is local.  All ministry is local.  Your organization can be global and international in its scope and vision, but missions can only be lived out right where you are. 

My heart is leaping this morning.  I feel like my Papa in heaven has given me the best gift ever.  In a season of looking for presents, He has extended an invitation to be present among the invisible and overlooked hurting ones right in my midst.

I am reminded. My address has changed. My job description has not.

So my friend, what have you considered your job description to be in missions?  Look at your calendar and it will give you a pretty good idea. 😉 Take some time ask Jesus if He would like to speak to you about His heart for your daily purpose right where you are.

Michele Perry: Artist, Author, Executive Coach & Founder of Iris Ministries work in South Sudan
blog: From the Unpaved Road | twitter: @micheleperry | work: Iris South Sudan | USA: Create 61, Edge Creative Consulting, LLC

Politics: Always great dinner conversation

“So you wanna talk politics, do ya?”

Only a month ago, the United States completed the most expensive, (seemingly) longest election season ever.  If you thought you could avoid this through international living, I hate to burst your bubble, but it just gets more complicated.

In this blog post I want to make a few practical recommendations on how to handle politics overseas as missionaries and Christian aid workers, and then open it up to your questions, comments, and stories.  You can often learn these things later, but I also suggest these as a part of your preparations for going overseas.

Now let’s jump right into it.

1.  Know your politics, or at least how the system works.

I spent part of the election schedule overseas, and then finished up here in Texas.  In the States, it was a terribly divisive time where my family and friends had to remind each other, “I still love you.”  Just like I’ve asked my Aussie friends what it means to be a commonwealth nation and what happens if you don’t vote in a country that requires it by law, they want to know what the heck an electoral college is and what the tuition is.

This is number one, because the people we build relationships with will not only want to know about us as individuals but also about us as ambassadors of our home countries.  I’ve found it to be rare that people care about my particular political stance – 5 years ago, all of us were referred to as “hijos de Boosh” in Mexico – however, it is anything but rare to be asked questions about politics.

I won’t go into the theology of politics here; please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.  Instead, I’ll jump to the next obvious recommendation:

2.  Seek to understand the system where you are.

Over the last 9 years in Thailand, the “Yellow Shirts” and “Red Shirts” have dominated politics.  In 2010, I was set to go to Thailand for the first time with my church.  Next thing I knew, martial law had been declared, police and protesters were clashing in the streets, and one of Bangkok’s giant malls was on fire.  As a result, embassies from around the world issued travel warnings and bans on going to Thailand.  And then, just a few days later, the warnings were rescinded and I had to go before my church leadership to explain what in the world was happening in Thailand.

I learned a lot about the constitutional monarchy and the political divisions in Thailand that affected not only town halls but also churches and Christian organizations.  In addition to my research, I added a Thailand section to my newsfeed.  As a result, I was able to (a) understand local issues in case questions arose from supporters and families, and (b) avoid cultural faux pas that could cause more frustration.

3.  Be aware of the cloud the USA casts, and the remaining storm damage from colonialism.

Many of the countries in which we work share an unfortunate history of being a former colony. And more countries than we realize suffered or continue to suffer from poor military decisions made by the West.  Even more unfortunate, the process of domination was occasionally characterized as our duty to “uplift and civilize and Christianize them,” as U.S. President William McKinley said about his decision to colonize the Philippines.  You may not remember these directives, but the people who were affected by them do.

My apologies to those readers who are not from the United States, but my home country casts a large shadow.  With only 5% of the world’s population, U.S. headlines often occupy about 95% of the international headlines abroad.  Often these headlines elicit negative responses to America and to those who appear to be American (this is why I stay up with my Canadian headlines, too).

When I was living in Uganda for a short time, I had been told it was a great place to be American because of the increased AIDS and malaria aid given by the Bush administration.  That’s why I was shocked when a Muslim man I met asked the precursor to Kanye West’s infamous claim: “Why does George Bush hate black people?”  Even when in “friendly” territory, it helps to know the history and cultural diversity that surrounds you.  Just as the War on Terrorism crosses borders, sometimes our politics do, too.

Post-colonialism runs deep and can appear in strange ways.  In Thailand, some organizations attribute their struggle in obtaining legal status to the country’s intense pride as a never-colonized nation.  While some surrounding neighbors are open to missionaries and aid, the Thais take pride in their autonomy and are quick to say (indirectly), “Back off.  We got this.”  Understanding your countries’ relationships currently and historically helps avoid awkward pitfalls and works to support the mission of reconciliation Jesus calls us to join.

In her book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God & World Affairs, Madeleine Albright emphasizes that we cannot understand a country’s politics without understanding their faith.  As a group seeking to share our faith, I say that you cannot understand people from a religious standpoint without understanding their politics.  In Christian missions and international living, we honor our host countries and the people we meet through this process.

***********

Please join us in the conversation:  How have you dealt with political discussions while living overseas?  How have political convictions helped…or gotten in the way?  What suggestions can you make from your own experiences?

Justin Schneider — USA (until something better comes up). blog. twitter.

The Beast of Culture Shock

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

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

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

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

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

~ Laura Parker,  former humanitarian worker in SE Asia

 

Are you Succeeding As a Missionary?

Missionary success is difficult to measure. People are our job, so what is the measuring stick of success?

Salvations?
Newsletter Headline Inspiring Events?
Good Conversations?

While it is nice (and often true) to say if one person believes,  it is worth it;  will the missions committee or our financial backers agree?

We define success in missions through three main components:

1. Faithfulness

Of all the long-term workers I respect, this is the common trait which makes people my missionary heroes. Miracles and massive numbers are cause for rejoicing, but nothing make me want to emulate someone like faithfulness. Hearing stories of the sacrifices people make or the way they engage with the culture, inspires my heart.

I recently spoke to an international leader in my mission who was still riding buses to his various training appointments in Africa. This man has the respect of a continent because he is willing to pay the price to live as they do.

When we moved to Africa, we set out for as long as was necessary to see something established which would outlast us. This goal cannot be measured by numbers or statistics. We will only be able to declare “Mission Accomplished” through being faithful.

Point to ponder: Are we simply being faithful to what God has called us to?

2. Obedience

Faithfulness cannot be our only measuring stick or ministry becomes our god. To truly be submitted to the right thing, we must include obedience as a measure.

  • Obedience causes us to adjust for different seasons in our lives. Seasons may involve pulling back in your children’s younger years.
  • Obedience may call you to walk away from a success with no plan as to the future, much like Abraham.
  • Obedience tells you when it is time to move on, passing off leadership at the right time.

Merely focussing on faithfulness brings a sense of endurance and no retreat. This can easily turn into self-guided ambition. Obedience enhances a desire to never give up, shaping it with wisdom from above.

Point to ponder: More than success, financial provision, or even happiness; are we being obedient?

Some rights reserved by Maxfear ® via Flckr CC

3. Sphere

Imagine if I could gain an agreement for a large donor to support us provided I engage in the creative arts? I would be way outside of my sphere. (folks who know me around the world are laughing at this thought.)

I am not called to dance or art, I am a teacher. My life message is the grace of God. If I am not engaging in this sphere, I am failing as a person and thereby a missionary.

When my family moved to South Africa, we had a desire to work on a smaller missions campus. God brought massive growth, so we needed to adjust our expectations. He was calling more workers into the field. Who were we to argue over personal preferences?

The same is true if God has called and gifted some to work in small groups. This is their definition of success, rather than large crusade-like numbers. They’re effectiveness, and resulting measure of success, comes through many one-on-one relationships.

Point to ponder: Are we doing the ministry God has gifted us uniquely to do regardless of what brings in the finances?

If we have peace in answering these three question several things are accomplished:

  • It takes away guilt when we are called to an “easier” or even a beautiful, scenic field.
  • It relieves the pressure of performance carried with the stereotype of being a missionary.
  • It allows us to enjoy the “ordinariness” of missionary life as much as the “miracles.”
  • It helps us be real people, sharing not only the joys of life, but also the struggles and frustrations.

Missionaries are real people.

We define success by faithfulness and obedience in the sphere of our gifting, not numbers or newsletters.

How do you define success? What elements would you add to this discussion?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog:  NoSuperHeroes  Twitter: @lautsbaugh  Facebook:  NoSuperHeroes

When my child is sick: Missing the promise and illusion of safety

On Friday my fifteen-month old baby, Dominic, started running a fever for the first time in his life. We live in Northern Laos. The hospital beds here are full of dengue fever patients at the moment, and fevers of any kind aren’t to be taken lightly.

I did what any worried mama living out of reach of good medical care does nowadays … I googled. And after 24 hours of fever and fussiness, my husband and I put Dominic in his stroller and set out for the doctor who runs an after-hours clinic out of her house down at the end of the little dirt lane we live on.

Going to the doctor here is a little different than going to a doctor at home. There is no such thing as an appointment. The clinic opens when the doctor comes home from her work at the hospital at about 5:30pm, and she sees patients on a first come first served basis.

When you arrive at the clinic you take off your shoes and pick up a number outside the door. Then you wait your turn on a bench in the front of the room while Dr Payang sees people in the back of the room where she has set up a desk, a chair and a camp bed. Only a large dresser that acts as a partial screen separates the waiting room and the consultation area.

We waited our turn with half a dozen other families, and exhaled in relief when the tired doctor peered into Dominic’s mouth with a small flashlight and then showed us the source of all that heat – a throat infection. She handed over some antibiotics, wrote down the dosage instructions on a sheet of paper to make sure that we had the details right, and we headed home.

Living outside the reach of carpeted, colorful pediatricians’ offices is possibly my least favorite aspect of our life in Laos. I miss ambulances with their purposeful sirens and English speaking paramedics. I miss emergency hotlines. I miss gleaming hospitals with their bright lights and shiny instruments and reliable X-ray machines. I look at my baby when he’s running a fever and I really miss the promise and illusion of safety that all provides.

I say promise because, let’s face it, medically-speaking, Dominic would be safer if we were living in the more developed world. Malaria, dengue fever, and the tropical parasites that thrive in our garden here don’t even exist in most of Australia. And some of the more globally equitable childhood maladies, like meningitis, you really want to catch and address fast. As we learned the hard way when Dominic broke his femur at five months of age, you can’t address things fast when you live in a small town in Northern Laos.

But I say illusion because living right next door to the best hospital in the world can’t guarantee you safety or grant you total control. It just can’t. No matter how much we might want to shield our children from catastrophic injury or illness, we never erase those risks entirely. In fact, Dominic would be more at risk of experiencing something like a car accident in that situation. We don’t own a car here in Laos, so he rarely rides in one. The same could not be said if we were still living in our previous home, Los Angeles.

So the questions that I must continually confront are these: How do we calculate risk? How much risk are we willing to tolerate, and to what end? What do I do about fear? We are living in Laos because my husband is doing work we both believe makes an important, tangible difference in the lives of people poorer and much more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life than we are. Is that a good enough reason to have my baby risk dengue fever? On average, the answer to that question so far has been yes. On average.

Now, three days after starting antibiotics, Dominic’s fever is gone. He had seemed to be much improved, but two hours after going to bed last night we woke to the sounds of retching and screaming. It heralded the start of Dominic’s first all-night vomiting marathon. This morning has brought more vomiting for him and more questions for me.

So now I’m off to consult google again, this time about oral rehydration. If only I could search out answers to all of my questions so easily.

Do you feel any tension over how your choices impact your children?
How do you resolve that tension?

——————-

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Adapted from original post on LauraParkerBlog, 2011

*********************

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

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

 

Avoiding the Missionary Kid Syndrome

We’ve all heard horror stories of P.K.’s (Pastors Kids), M.K.’s (Missionary Kids), and W.K.’s (Whatever other ministry oriented kid turned out bad).

While my wife and I have a long way to go to declare success, here are some things we have been practicing to keep missions appealing.

1. Priorities
I can hear all the above mentioned K’s shouting “Amen”. Most families with the dreaded K syndrome, are linked to more time, energy, and focus being placed on ministry than family. It’s fashionable to say “family first”, but much harder to live that out. It will require making sacrifices, many schedules, and constantly re-evaluating the season your family is in.

Missionary Family
By: Andrew Comings

Billy Graham, when looking back over his life and ministry, had one regret. He wished to have spent more time with his family. You can read about it in his autobiography, “Just As I Am”

2. Boundaries
Going hand in hand with priorities, is making decisions to keep boundaries. Since our children are young, we have made the decision for only one of us to attend evening meetings. We want to place a priority on the boy’s routine. This also gives each one of us the chance to have some quality time with the two boys before bed.

There are little choices that need to be made like this each day. Your checklist never gets fully accomplished, so something has to give. I recently read a book by Andy Stanley I bought in response to his leadership podcast. In Choosing to Cheat, Andy shows how everyone cheats. You will either rob your family of time or you will create that time by trimming things in your ministry.

3. Involve them
Seemingly contradicting a previous point, this is the balancing act of parenting. Our kids love being involved in the ministry. They recite testimonies from our weekly staff meetings, know the people we work with, and put their faith with ours when we dream bigger than ourselves.

My wife was a pastor’s kid when she was growing up (still is actually). She recounts with fondness sitting at the top of the stairs, eavesdropping on board meetings. Her father was excellent at involving her, even asking her opinion on things. He made ministry attractive!

4. Protect them from some of the Ugliness
On several occasions my wife or I, have stopped friends from telling horror stories of crime or human failure in front of our children. They will learn the ugliness that missions brings soon enough. We do not want to keep them in a bubble, just ease them into real life. Living on the mission field, they still have to confront issues of crime and poverty in their own childlike ways.

5. Be Positive
Your children will know more than anyone if you really do not love the people you minister to or the nation you are in. Love what God has called you to and they will too.

6. Advertise them
Ok, this might sound a bit like exploitation. Hear me out.

Present your mission as a family mission. When we are at home visiting churches, we always bring the kids on stage with us. In our newsletters, there is always a corner for what is going on in their lives. We’ve found that other young families in churches connect with us, and have become a part of our team.

Do you have anything to add to the list? What makes ministry or missions attractive to your kids?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog:  NoSuperHeroes  Twitter: @lautsbaugh      Facebook:  NoSuperHeroes