Marching band and missionaries are basically the same

This truth hit me smack between the eyes.

I didn’t see it coming. I’m not sure I like it. (Hello, one seems fun but maybe a bit shallow and the other purposeful, deep, you know, important.)

But the truth is marching bands and missionaries are basically the same.

It is marching band camp season in the US. With an oldest niece as the drum major and a second niece is in the percussion section (her first year), let’s just say that the insight marched up to me.

Here is how marching bands and missionaries are basically the same

1. Regional flavors exist. Here is the U.S. it turns out that band in Iowa, Colorado, and Texas are, um, not the same. Mission work in Ghana, Thailand, and Brazil are, um, not the same.

2. The whole is made up of parts. Like other bands, marching bands are divided into sections. So, sometimes the flutes are off by themselves practicing their little fluty hearts out. Other times, the entire band is together working on their show. You, dear missionary, may be a part of a team, a city team, a region, and maybe even a much larger organization. If you get together for annual or bi-annual meetings, it’s kind of like seeing the show that God is working out through your different efforts.

3. The work is same-same, but different. Every year the marching band learns a new show. They do not pull out the show from the year before and dust it off. No, they learn a completely new show. Now, they are, for the most part, playing the same instruments, wearing the same outfits, and marching with the same marching techniques. Here is where missions can learn from marching bands: are you working on a new show? Or are you pulling out last year’s show? Worse yet, have you been playing the same show for the last four years. If you are bored, of course check with the Holy Spirit, but perhaps, you’ve been putting new wine in old wine skins, so to speak.

4. New members come each year. The nature of a marching band is that the commitment is four years, so that means every year there are newbies in with oldies. There are those who are familiar with what they are doing with those who are just learning. There are those who have never marched before and learning to march is actually harder than it looks. We are in a season of welcoming folks new to the field. It is exciting but,

5. Getting everyone’s feet going up at the same time and height takes a lot of practice. You do about 10 steps over and over. Most common word heard in this phase? “Reset!” Oh that everyone just got it right away. Instead, you reset and do it again. Which leads me to . . .

6. It can be less glamorous than it appears. What do most people see? Your marching band performance. Costumes, props, music, precision. What do they not come to watch? The three hours you were out on the practice field where you might spend a whole morning on 20 seconds of the show. When it comes to missions, what do most people hear about? The dramatic, the annoying (hello visas, I’m talking about you), the moving. Which can perpetuate the myth that everything we do is so fascinating we are basically floating through life.

7. Growing pains. Bands do not stay the same size year after year. Three years ago, the band was made up of 40 members. (Side note: it is impressive that a small band can produce a show as impressive as a band with hundreds. Size isn’t the key factor, committed members is.) Obviously this is a small marching band. This year, there are 70 members. Exciting? Yes. But that means the majority haven’t been a part of the band for more than one year. In a few years it could grow back to 50 or so. Bands do not stay the same size, and chances are neither has your organization or the number in your country of service.

8. The curse of history. Want to know who gave my drum major niece the most problems during band camp? The returning members.

Stop and pause on that one for a moment.

They have won state for five years in a row. They had a beloved band director retire over a year ago. Last year was the first year for the new (and talented) new director. There was a bit of bemoaning the good old days (“Why did you bring us out here to starve? We had it better in slavery in Egypt!.)

9. The blessing of history. With returning members and a history of state championships, the band isn’t starting from scratch every year. Instead they are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. They are adding to a story that started before them and will continue after they graduate.

10. In the end, it is worth it. Both marching bands and missions are about something bigger. Something that is living and dynamic. Something that pushes you to the limit physically without guarantees of glory. Something that offers a common purpose, fellow sojourners, and the chance to be a part of something that might not look like much on the ground, but the view from above? Now, that is something to behold.

Were you in a band? What did playing in a band teach you about missions? What instrument did you play?

(I was never in a marching band, but I did play about six different instruments. Not well, mind you: piano, flute, alto sax, guitar, drum, and violin. My true love? Public speaking.)

Living Overseas Can Be Hard On Love: Making Your Relationships Work When You’re On The Move

Before we moved to Laos, I worked full time as a stress-management and resilience trainer for humanitarian workers. During those years I saw first-hand the pressure that living overseas places on people and relationships. After my husband and I moved overseas ourselves, I decided to focus my energies on supporting relationships—particularly long distance relationships—and last week I pressed “publish” on a new, free resource I want to share with you on making long distance relationships work.

How To Make A Long Distance Relationship Work: 50 Best Tips

If you’re NOT in long distance relationship

If you’re not in a long distance relationship you’re probably wondering if there’s anything here for you, so let me speak to you first.

When you move overseas, you’re hit with myriad challenges all at once. You need to make a thousand and one decisions in quick succession. You need to learn a new environment, new people, a new job, and maybe a new language. You need to do all of this at the same time your normal support systems (familiar friends, family, routines, jobs) are stripped away.

Moving overseas when you’re single has it’s own constellation of additional challenges. It can be less complicated in some ways, but lonelier. If you’re single and missed these posts recently right here on ALO, check them out—Not An Afterthought, and A Life Alone.

If you move overseas with a partner and/or a family you’ve carried a very important part of your identity and support system along with you. In some ways this is great—some of the bumps of transition can be softened when they’re shared. In other ways, however, partners and families add an extra level of complexity to a taxing situation. And partner and/or kids can want extra attention and support right when you feel stretched to the breaking point yourself, when you’re struggling most with your own overload, fatigue, and ricocheting emotions.

What’s the bottom line? Moving overseas can take a real toll your most important intimate relationship. When you’re in survival mode during those early days following a move it’s extremely difficult to actively invest in and nurture your relationship with your partner. And once you start to emerge from survival mode, it can be difficult to reshape the new patterns you have been laying down and fumble your way towards a closer connection again.

I acknowledge all of that, but I’m here today to say it’s really important to make your relationship with your partner one of your top priorities. There are many reasons to do this. Here is just one: Marriage and relationship problems are one of the most common reasons people need to leave the field and returning home.

Where to start with this? There are many things you can do to build connection with your partner. Today, why don’t you check out the following articles from the long distance relationships tips page. Set aside a bit of time, pick one or two and discuss them:

If you live overseas and you’re in a long distance relationship

If you live overseas and you’re in a long distance relationship, well… you like to keep things extra-interesting, don’t you? If it’s any consolation, I’ve been there. So has Shannon Young, Steffani Taylor and Dawn Othieno.

Come visit us over at Modern Love Long Distance. We’d love to share with you, support you, and hear more about how you make your long distance relationship work.

Your turn to share your stories and strategies with us.
What are things you and your partner do to help “make your relationship work”?

Book Giveaway: My Hands Came Away Red

This month, Moody Publishers has offered to give away three copies of my Christy-award-nominated first novel, My Hands Came Away Red. Below  is a little about how I came to write this novel and what I learned during the process. You can find out how to enter to win a copy of the book at the end of the post.

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Cori signs up to take a mission trip to Indonesia during the summer after her senior year of high school.  Inspired by happy visions of building churches and seeing beautiful beaches, she gladly escapes her complicated love life back home. 

Five weeks after their arrival, a sectarian and religious conflict that has been simmering for years flames to life with deadly results on the nearby island of Ambon.  Within days, the church building the team had constructed is in ashes, its pastor and fifty villagers are dead, and the six terrified teenagers are stranded in the mountainous jungle with only the pastor’s teenage son to guide them to safety.  Ultimately, Cori’s emotional quest to rediscover hope proves as arduous as the physical journey home.



The Story Behind My Hands Came Away Red

When I was eighteen years old, I went on a ten-week short-term mission trip to the remote island of Camotes in the Philippines.

My motivations for signing up were complicated. I was looking to “do some good”, sure. But I was also looking for a grand adventure. And I chose the backpack team mostly because I figured it would be less work than a construction team.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I’d envisioned acting out gospel stories for eager kids, hiking along gorgeous beaches, and bonding with new friends around a campfire. To be fair, there was some of that. But right along with it came no shower, and no toilet. We washed clothes in buckets and slept in tents. We pumped our drinking water through hand-held filters. We hiked up to 15 miles a day. There was an absolute epidemic of blisters. And there was heatstroke.

I didn’t have the gracious fortitude to be thankful for it at the time, but all of this roughing it did come in handy later when I buckled down to a task I’d set myself before I even left on the trip…

Someone should really write an honest story about a mission team that collides with some of the worst this world offers, I’d thought after reading an article about piracy in south east Asia one morning, months before leaving on the trip.

Somehow, during the following weeks that thought slowly became a conviction.

I should do that.

Then it morphed into a promise.

I will do that. After all, how hard could it be?

I never dreamed at eighteen that it would take me eleven years to fulfill this promise, or that the story would be so profoundly influenced by my own life in the decade following my mission trip. I never dreamed that I would learn so much about writing and life along the way.

When I started writing the book I knew some of what would happen to my characters. What I didn’t really know was how they would react and cope when the world they thought they understood was rocked so violently. How they would begin to find hope again. How hope would have changed.

During the years it took me to write the book, the story wasn’t the only place I encountered these issues. In various jobs as a young psychologist I counseled murderers, debriefed police officers after traumatic incidents, reviewed hundreds of case files on children’s deaths, conducted risk assessments of child sex offenders, and ran workshops on stress and trauma for humanitarian workers on the front-lines of disaster and conflict all over the world. Among other things, my career has been a whirlwind tour of some of the worst experiences life has to offer.

People often say that you should write what you know, but I felt driven to write this novel more by what I didn’t know than by what I did. Writing my way into this story when I couldn’t see the way out was sometimes exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, and always difficult. I often wondered whether my personal sanity would have been better served by writing a romance novel instead of a book set in the middle of a civil conflict in Indonesia. But as I labored to write this novel while also working to try to help people profoundly challenged by their own witnessed and experienced traumas, several life lessons were being ingrained.

I learned, for example, that when I hear myself asking the question “how hard can it be?” the answer is almost always “much harder than you think is possible.”

On a more serious note…

I learned some about sitting with tough questions in life, staring them down honestly, and respecting the fact that there are no easy answers that satisfy, and sometimes no answers at all that satisfy completely.

I learned a lot about the temptation to let the magnitude of suffering and evil apparent in this world overwhelm, and ultimately paralyze.

And I learned a little about the responsibility we have to choose hope in the face of all that – even when it doesn’t seem to make any earthly sense.

OK, now that I’ve talked about some of what I learned through writing, I’d love to hear from you about reading.
To enter to win a paper or electronic copy of My Hands Came Away Red answer one or more of these questions by leaving a comment on the facebook page of A Life Overseas or here on the blog:

  1. What is a book you really loved, one that stuck with you long after you finished it?
  2. Has a book ever changed your life? How?
  3. What is one thing you’ve learned from reading?

Thanks for entering! I’ll randomly select the three winners on May the 16th and email you shortly after that.