Dear younger self, what’s your motivation for missions?

by Roberta Adair

Growing up, I believed with my whole heart that Jesus was the Savior of the whole world and that missionaries were needed to “take his light into a dying world.” Missions Week at my church felt more exciting than Christmas, and I imagine I was one of many kids who grew up in that church in that era who wrote on commitment cards that they’d be willing to take His light into the dying world.

At some point, I think this morphed into a belief that it was my responsibility to learn about the things that were dark and wrong and dying and to do something about it.

Yet over the past several years I’ve found myself increasingly sensitive to how Christians talk about the countries they’re moving to and the places they hope to minister. In my own self-importance and ignorance, I have also been guilty of speaking in these ways.

Before I went to India for a six-month internship, I remember reading articles about poverty, trafficking, pollution, and the treatment of Dalit. I was participating in a program about international development, yet much of what I focused on were problems rather than the beauty, ingenuity, creativity, and generosity of the people who were teaching me.

Before moving to Kosovo for a three-year apprenticeship, I remember learning about the war, ethnic tensions, corruption, and unemployment rates. I talked to people about going to a “post-war, post-communist country that is 90% Muslim with 40% to 60% unemployment.”

I still feel embarrassed over how I misrepresented a country and a people I came to love. Now I wish I could go back to those who heard me speak and tell them about the Kosovo I came to know: a country with super motivated students who are largely self-taught in English, where families included and cared for me like a daughter, where I experienced remarkable hospitality through sacrificial meals, coffee, and time. I’d want to describe Kosovo’s circle dancing, cheek kissing, and big dramatic hand gestures more than rattling off statistics.

Before moving to Japan, I remember learning and telling people about mental health issues including hikikomori and high rates of suicide, low birth rates, and (related to my specific timing due to moving after March 2011) the earthquake and tsunami. I especially remember saying the phrase over and over: “Japan is the second largest unreached people group in the world.”

I don’t want to come across as cynical, as I still am motivated by these statistics. I grieve that millions of people in Japan live and die without knowing Jesus — without his forgiveness and hope, without freedom from shame, and without experiencing acceptance and love in the family of God. I also believe that issues related to poverty and injustice matter. They matter to God, and they should matter to me and to all of us who follow Him.

But if I could go back, here’s what I would say…

I would talk to Younger Roberta about how she talked as an outsider about things she knew little about — even if she’d respond with, “Hey, I read a book/read an article/watched a video on YouTube/heard on a podcast.”

But, you goofy, intense, bit-of-a-know-it-all Young Roberta, you neither know much about the people whom these issues impact, nor do you have meaningful relationships with actual, real life people there. Don’t go with a pointing finger and answers; please go with curiosity and a desire to see the image of God in those you seek to love.

I wish I could ask Younger Roberta about how it might feel as an American to hear someone preparing to come to the U.S. give presentations about gun violence, economic disparity, the opioid epidemic, homelessness, and our past and current divisions around race. Would she have felt defensive, ashamed, and frustrated that problems were drawing people to her country rather than love and curiosity?

These are incredibly complicated problems without simple answers, and no country is the sum of its problems. Do we think we can solve a country’s problems, or are we humbly willing to go and – in time – be part of the conversation?

I would tell Younger Roberta to be careful how she presents countries and people to others. Be cautious when pointing out problems, even though it’s sometimes necessary to communicate the why while raising support. Consider trying to frame issues and problems within a bigger picture including beauty, kindness, and shadows of the kingdom of God.

I would also ask Younger Roberta about her insecurity. Did pointing out problems in India, Kosovo, and Japan make you feel significant for going there? Specifically, why did you feel like you had to prove so hard that Japan is a real mission field? Did quoting disturbing statistics make you feel more important or less “soft?” Were you trying to prove to others or to yourself that your going mattered?

Rather than self-importantly reciting the statistic about Japan being “the second largest unreached people group in the world,” I would now prefer to explain that our boys are some of a handful of kids from Christian families in our city of 50,000 and how lonely this is for them. Or maybe I’d contrast driving by thousands of people going to the Shinto shrine on New Year’s Day with our church service on the same day with a few dozen faithful Christians.

Rather than citing suicide statistics, I’d want to consider the people we care about who have had their lives impacted and upended by suicide. What is an honorable way to talk about their lives and struggles?

Rather than quoting stats about aging pastors and churches, recognize that this is a huge, complex topic. It’s not made simple by Westerners giving money to young Japanese Christians to replicate Western churches in Japan. It’s not made simple by using a specific program or method.

A decade-plus after moving here, I have a lot fewer “answers” or accidentally judgmental questions (“Are they holding onto power? Are they not passing the baton well?”) and have a lot more respect for older pastors who have worked hard, sacrificed much, and tried their hardest to remain faithful.

Mostly I’d want to talk with Younger Roberta about how I’ve changed my mind on many things — or at least how I see aspects of the culture with a bit more nuance. I’d talk with her about my decades-long struggle with a savior complex and needing to learn again and again from Jesus who “moved into the neighborhood,” who “dwelt among us,” and who shared his life with a group of friends. In short, I’d want to tell Younger Roberta that I hope she will feel and demonstrate a lot more compassion and a lot less judgment the longer she’s here.

Of course there are problems here. There are problems related to loneliness, shame, demographics, and workaholism. There are problems for men, women, marriage, kids, the elderly. There are problems related to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, typhoons, mudslides, geopolitics.

But it’s not a country made up of the sum of its problems. It’s a country made up of people who are curious and quirky and kind and broken and shy and outgoing and proud and hilarious. And I’m a guest here.

There are shadows of the kingdom of God here which are more visible to me the longer I’m here, even in this place where 99% don’t identify as His followers and haven’t received new life in Jesus. Parts of the culture that I originally viewed as wrong, broken, and even damaging, I’ve come to see as the opposite. (The “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” axiom from mission training comes to mind here.)

I wonder how it works for missionaries who go to a country to do development work and have more of an expert role. I admire people who are doctors, community development leaders, teachers at seminaries, and human rights lawyers. I marvel at their commitment and courage, yet I’m genuinely curious how they maintain a learner’s posture when they arrive “on the field” as experts in their field.

Perhaps it’s a weird blessing that I’m not an expert in much. Most of the time I feel like I’m just fumbling along. Even so, I imagine Younger Roberta might have struggled to receive correction, guidance, and advice from Now Roberta with her grand opinions and scattered thoughts and unfinished sentences and a naughty toddler on one hip, shooing a kid out of the kitchen with her foot, and her hair getting frizzier by the moment as more neighborhood kids cycle through her small house. But I still hope she would listen and consider.

Because, my goodness, I don’t want us to be motivated by problems. I want us to be motivated by love.

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

Originally from Pennsylvania (USA), Roberta lived in Kosovo for three years before getting married and moving to northern Japan in 2012. She and her husband partner with a Japanese church and have four young and energetic boys. She enjoys hiking, camping, and having friends over for average and boisterous meals.

So You Want to Cross Oceans and Cultures. Are You Ready?

Is your passion for the glory of Jesus Christ stronger than anything else?  Do you believe in the depths of your soul that he is the greatest treasure of the universe, and that heaven and hell are real?

You may envision the glory of adventure, you might be full of noble good works, and maybe new challenges thrill you.  But all of this will be crushed under the magnitude of the difficulty of learning another language, the isolation of being away from your home and culture, and the tears of your parents….or your children.

It’s got to be about Jesus, not you.  Not your fulfillment.  Not your vision.  Not your success. Ultimately, it’s got to be just about him.

If you are married, is your spouse steadfastly unified with you in this passion?  In work such as this, there is no such thing as a spouse that is along for the ride.  After Jesus, prioritize your spouse.  If God wants you to do this, he’ll make you united in your vision.  Or at the very least, he’ll give your spouse the willingness to humbly seek after that vision.

Are you willing to submit yourself to stringent accountability?  Hundreds of people will be keeping you accountable.  Every church who puts your picture on their wall.  Every person who writes a check each month.  Every child who prays for you at bedtime.  All of them will expect you to live a life of integrity and humility.  All of them will be expecting to hear from you regularly.  Are you—or are you willing to become—a good communicator?  Are you willing to vulnerably share with people beyond your group of close friends?  Are you even willing to share your life in front of large crowds?

Are you adequately trained?  Good intentions are great, but they are not enough.  You can have the most willing, servant-like heart, and yet be more of a liability than a help overseas. Do you have a valuable skill to share?  Education, business, agriculture, linguistics?  If you are planning to be a leader, administrator, or church planter, have you proven yourself first in your home country?  Are you an avid, dedicated student of the Word of God?  If not, then now is not the time for you to go.  Get trained first.

Are you willing to be more teachable than you ever have been in your life?  Forget everything you thought you knew about people. Be ready to reconsider what church looks like, what productivity looks like, what wealth and poverty look like. You’ll be starting from scratch with an entirely different worldview, and even right and wrong won’t seem so black and white anymore. Think every aspect of your theology is set in stone?  Get ready to have your world rocked.

Are you ready to be patient and to persevere?  There certainly is a place and a purpose for those who serve overseas for just weeks or months. But real fruit and lasting change?  Be prepared for it to take much longer than you ever expected. Years longer. Know that God will need to do some serious work on you first, before your impact will be measurable.

Do you feel inadequate, weak, and overwhelmed with this task?  If so, then that’s right where God needs you to be in order to use you. Open your hands, your heart, your plans. Be willing. Be weak. Be okay with failure. You don’t need to have strength, or super-spirituality, or even courage.

You just need to trust.  Trust, obey, and be faithful.

I Believe, Help My Unbelief

In work, ministry, and life we all experience frequent seasons when things don’t work out quite the way we had hoped.

In missions, our internal dialogues consist of “Am I making a difference?” or “Will these things ever change?”

When we are trusting for provision, for a breakthrough in our health, or seeing a life changed, there is very fine line between losing hope or accepting the limitations of the change that will happen, all while still believing in a God who could do the unexpected.

We’ve all heard the stories where people are told to “just have faith”. I personally have seen a friend who was told her father died because of a lack of faith.

Is that the answer? More faith?

This year has brought several of these challenges to our family. Ministry disappointment, divorce of those close to us, and various health related issues.

We found ourselves wrestling with the delicate blend of serving an all-powerful God on a broken and imperfect planet. Sometimes this process results in times of throwing up your hands, wondering what is happening.

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A passage of Scripture has been in the forefront of my thoughts for a few months. It seems to reflect this very tension.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit. In the dialogue which preceded the healing, Jesus asked the boy’s father how long this has been happening? The fathers respond with,

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus points out the key word in the father’s statement.

“IF”

“And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”

How many times in the depths of frustration do we catch ourselves uttering “If?”

We almost feel guilty for this. Of course Jesus can do it. He is God after all.

Yet in our humanity, we utter that two letter statement of doubt, often in fear of getting our hopes up.

“If.”

Not so much if you are capable, but if….

  • You will do this for me, not just others.
  • The provision happens in my bank account, not always my neighbors’.
  • The healing we see working in our communities will find its way into our own homes.

Yes, He can,…but will He break into a broken and fallen world and touch MY situation.

The father in the story utters a phrase which is so profound.

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

I believe…..help my unbelief.

I believe in truth, I believe in principle, I believe in the unchanging character of the one I serve.

But…

Help my unbelief, which comes with emotion, fear, doubt, and weariness

As we turn to the New Year, it is good to do two things.

Acknowledge and be honest about…

  • the fears that our ministry will never achieve all we hope,
  • the doubts that God will answer OUR prayers (not just those of others),
  • the weariness which can border on frustration, tempting us to pack it in and go home

These are areas where we cry out to God to help our unbelief.

At the same time, we need to remind ourselves of what we DO believe.

  • I believe in the unchanging character of a good God.
  • I know God is on my side and working for my benefit.
  • I trust Immanuel, God with us, is not leaving us alone in this journey.

Acknowledge the unbelief and ask for help.

Remind ourselves of the truth which forms our foundation. (Preach it in the mirror!)

Take some time as the year wraps up to reflect and reset. We all need it.

I Believe….Help My Unbelief

 

Photo by Tiago Muraro

Missions Field or Land of Opportunity?

One man’s mission field is another’s land of opportunity.

I realized this in a fresh way as I was interacting with some immigrants to South Africa from Malawi.

They were telling me about their home nation, Malawi. The common descriptions were of a lush, green, and beautiful nation which was peaceful.

They left their homeland for South Africa, also a beautiful land. But on the day I was having this conversation, we were bracing ourselves though near gale force winds blowing sand through every opening on buildings. You could hear their longing for home in their voices.

And, they remarked often how they had left safety for crime. These immigrants left home to live in shacks in an impoverished, crime ridden community.

A community which I consider to be a part of my mission field.

Why you ask?

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“There are no jobs in Malawi”

These middle class Malawians left peace and safety to become impoverished foreigners in a land which often projects xenophobia (fear of the foreigners) onto those with different passports.

All this to have a chance to work.

  • They gave up peace and relinquished better houses.
  • They chose to move far from family, often leaving behind spouses and children.

South Africa is my mission field. But to these beautiful people from Malawi, it is a land of opportunity.

One man’s nation in need of “missions” is another’s land of opportunity.

As I got to know these natives of Malawi, I found myself wondering why they chose this life. What drives educated folk to choose a downgrade in lifestyle in hopes of climbing higher in the future?

In my years in South Africa, I’ve met Zimbabwean doctors and Rwandan lawyers cleaning houses and washing cars. Often they fled political turmoil or tyrannical dictators for a crime-ridden, but governmentally stable nation.

I get this. Sad as it is, I can make sense of it.

But leaving a family in a peaceful land is harder for me to grasp.

I came away struck by the power of hope. These people left home in search of a better life.

In my nation, we call that the “American dream.”

I found myself so drawn to the hope these saints carried in their hearts.

In this time of year, Christmas, we speak often of the power of hope. Here was a tangible example of that hope.

I have hope to see transformation in South Africa which motivates me to serve here.

My friends share a similar hope that South Africa will be a land which provides their families a brighter future.

This is a lesson I do not want to forget.

One man’s mission field is another’s land of opportunity.

May God bless South Africa as well as the immigrants and refugees seeking a better life within her borders.

Photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

Do We Practice What We Preach?

The other week, I made a trip to the local police station to get an affidavit. In South Africa, this is the venue you head to make a document “official”.

The officer who helped me chatted with me a bit. He inquired how long I’d been in the nation and where I stayed.

Finally he asked what I do.

“I teach the Bible and train missionaries”, I responded.

The officer nodded, raising his eyebrows. He smiled shyly and glanced around. Leaning close to me he says, “I too follow the God of the Bible.”

“Oh wonderful!”, I replied.   south+african+police+service+saps+xgold+june

As the conversation progressed you could see him gaining boldness.

Finally, as I was about to leave, he  waved me closer, wanting to tell me something not all could hear.

“I am a born-again Christian.”

I must confess as I left, my first thoughts were not rejoicing or excitement.

Instead I found myself thinking,

  • “He will never last in the police force.”
  • “He is going to get chewed up and spit out.”
  • “I don’t think he will stand up to the corruption and laziness.”

I caught myself in these thoughts and had to ask a tough question.

Do I believe Christians can change nations by being in places of influence?

In South Africa, the police, the electricity and phone companies, as well as taxi drivers all have bad reputations. Allegations of corruption and laziness are synonymous with these professions.

In fact, all nations have notoriously foul or inept professions.

Be it politics, arts and entertainment (such as Hollywood), civil servants in the visa and immigration offices, road workers, Wal-mart employees, or used car salesman. These are all regular targets of our wrath and frustration.

While this is a common occurrence around the globe, I was faced with a tough question.

Do I practice what I preach?

Or perhaps, it is better said, do I believe what I say.

In the organization I work with, we espouse there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. We regularly encourage our students and people we influence to become missionaries in all areas of society.

But when faced with this in the flesh, my initial response was to foretell his imminent failure.

We want transformation in all areas, but would we encourage any of our own children, the converts we make, or our local friends and co-workers to embark on this quest?

Allen Catherine Kagina is the head of Uganda’s Revenue Authority. Yes, she is the tax lady. And she is a Christian. 2014_Allen_Catherine_Kagina

She was motivated by a desire to convert Uganda from a borrower to a giver nation. The URA has become a model public institution for developing countries.

Kagina is a sought-after speaker who regularly addresses international forums on resource management. I heard her story at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit this past August.

I was blown away. I wonder how many people did not think she would survive in this job or would be able to resist the allure of corruption?

Do we practice what we preach?

I pray for my brother at the South African Police Service.

May he be a light.
May he stand for truth and integrity.
May he reflect the justice and mercy of God in his role.

And I pray for my heart to change.

Avoiding Mission Drift

We’ve seen Christian organizations publicly wrestle with change in recent times.

InterVarsity is facing this pressure to allow non-Christians to be a part of their leadership. This is resulting in them being banned from certain campuses. Will they change some of their core values?

World Vision battled with adopting new policies, leading to a back and forth battle as to whether this caused them to drift. Unfortunately this happened in full view of millions.

Even pawn shops have drifted. They were founded by the Fransicians as an alternative to loan sharks, designed to help the poor. Over time, pawn shop owners lost their identity and drifted from their purpose.

Could this ever happen to our charities?

Tale of two organizations:

Two organizations were founded by Presbyterian ministers to help sponsor children in need. One drifted.

Child Fund, formerly Christian Children’s Fund has nothing to do with Christianity anymore, while Compassion International has remained mission true.

Both Harvard and Yale started as Christian educational institutions set on developing Christian formation. Neither are today.

Mission drift is inevitable if you do nothing to prevent it.

We must take steps to actively prevent it. It is the natural course for organizations without focused and deliberate steps to stop it

Peter Greer is the president of HOPE International, a global faith-based microfinance organization based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He recently spoke at the Catalyst Conference I attended.

He has written a fantastic book, Missions Drift, which I highly recommend. All of the above examples are detailed this book.

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Missions True Organizations

“In its simplest form, Missions True organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all costs. They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable (unchanging): their values and their purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.”

This does not mean Missions True organizations do not change, adapt, or strive for excellence. Jesus’ ministry looked different for different folks.

Young life started with barbershop quartets as an evangelism strategy. These would not be nearly as efffective today, so they adapted while maintaining their mission.

5 Things Missions True Organizations Do:
1. Recognize Christ is the difference.
2. Affirm that faith sustains them.
3. Understand that functional atheism is the path of least resistance. (becoming Christian in name only)
4. Be willing to make hard decisions to prevent drift.
5. Differentiates means from mission – changes to reinforce core identity, not drift from it.

The book details countless examples of this and how organizations can give themselves check-ups.

Greer lists 7 Steps to prevent drift (these are all entire chapters in the book.) I’ve detailed these to a greater extend on my website, NoSuperHeroes. Click here to read, 7 Steps for Preventing Missions Drift.

The book is a very encouraging read to those of us in faith-based missions and development. He shares an incredible quote from Matthew Paris, a confirmed atheist, who wrote the following in the British Times.

Now as a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGO’s, government projects, and international aid efforts. The alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

Staying Mission True in our lives will bear fruit!

The concept of drift is not isolated in our teams. It happens organizationally, but also on a personal level. Countless marriages start out well and then drift, finding themselves in a entirely different place. Our personal walk with God and mission is not exempt either.

If you believe you are immune then you are the most vulnerable.

Let’s not be naive and bury our heads in the sand. Ask the hard questions.

In what areas of life and organizations are we at risk for drift? Where has it already occurred?

For more on this interesting topic, please visit missiondriftbook.com. Remember to stop by NoSuperHeroes for further discussion from Peter’s book on the topic of Missions Drift.

photo credit: Bev Goodwin via photopin cc

Missing God in Missions

Over the last twenty plus years in missions I have learned we go through seasons. We are currently on a furlough, and it is times like these where you can see things in a way which brings greater clarity.

There is something which slowly and subtely was missing from my missions. I was not misusing ministry funds or walking in immorality.

But my focus had drifted.

Not even to bad things.

If our focus is on our product, numbers, programs, or fundraising strategies, we are not practicing missions. Our efforts may be closer to business or entrepreneurial endeavors.

Often when we feel consumed by these things, we remind ourselves that the focus should be the people. We look to serve, to bless, to lift out of poverty or rescue out of injustice.

While these things are good, and in many ways a better focus, this still is not truly missions.

After awhile our mission begins to look like any other humanitarian organization. What is different from us and the Red Cross or the Red CrescentHow is our care of people unique to those in any other NGO or non-profit group? Are we the peace corp with a fish sticker on our bumper?

Are we guilty of missing God in missions?

The Apostle Paul is perhaps the greatest example of a life lived for God and doing it in a sold out manner. He was the greatest missionary in history, having suffered shipwrecks and multiple forms of persecution.

The mission was important for Paul, but it was not the core.
He created great programs and products.
His life influenced the masses, people everywhere were blessed.

But these were not the focus.

Focus

Paul’s primary focus was God himself.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”   Phillipians 3:8-9  ESV

This passage was written while in prison! Being in prison, on mission, paled in comparison to knowing Christ!

What makes missions unique from entrepreneurial efforts or humanitarian causes is its focus first and foremost on the Creator. Missions must flow out of this.

Mission can become an idol. In other words, when living on mission replaces God; we have a problem.

I share this from a personal place of being stuck on this concept for months. A sabbatical or furlough is designed for this.

Refreshment, rejuvenation, but most of all Refocus.

Much of this post has been inspired by Skye Jethani’s book, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. This is a fantastic, thought-provoking book I recommend to all.

I’ve blogged extensively on this in the last weeks and months. It is the place where God has me and is not letting me “move on.”

I wanted to share it with our Life Overseas community.

It is so easy to get busy.  Without even realizing it, we find ourselves in a place of missing God in missions.

This challenge / encouragement does not come from a place of constant success.

Instead, I ask you to consider this from a fellow sojourner. From one who sees even more my need to keep my walk with God first and foremost in my missions endeavors.

Does this resonate? Do you disagree?
Other than an “official” furlough or sabbatical, how do you build in check ups to see how things are going?

Photo by By Nicola Perantoni

Reflections of God

Many times in missions, we speak of the difficulties with greater frequency than the good things.

We talk about racism.
We speak of our various phases of culture shock.
Stories of being hurt by those we work with abound.
Even at times, we venture into difficult topics like trauma or loss.

What of the positive?

I don’t mean newsletter stories of lives changed or projects completed.

What do we love about the people we work with?
What traits are present in the cultures or nations we work in which serve to glorify God?

Since all human beings are made in the image of God, there are glimpses of the Almighty which shine through in all peoples, cultures, and nations.

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We can easily point out the negatives of a culture, but what of the positives?

When people meet me as an American, they are quick to point out all our deficiencies and failures as a nation. But, what of Americans generosity and value of human life resulting in simple things such as customer service, free speech, and freedom of religion.

It is so easy to see all you do not like.

Can we take a moment to pause and see the hope and treasures our nation or people reflect of God?

In South Africa, I work in a land rift with horrible crime statistics, corruption, and an all too often broken family structure.

But as a land, South Africa and her people reflect these traits of God as they are made in his image.

– A peaceful transition to democracy.
– A land of opportunity and hope for all of Africa.
– It’s people have incredible abilities in the arts, such as art, writing, and most of all singing.

People will often look at the development here and say, “This is not real Africa”. Essentially we are saying Africa can not develop and must remain poor. This nation reflects a God given ability to “take dominion” and make things better. I love that about South Africa.

And its natural beauty in many areas is second to none.

How about you?

The only rule here is – only positive things!!! (and no criticizing or critiquing others positive statements- no one can debate what I love about America because it is how I see God through her people and my nation)

So let’s go!

Share.
Rejoice.
Learn.
Worship.

What do you love about the people you work with? How do they reflect the image of God?

What are your favorite things about the cultures or nations you serve in?

Photo By Sylwia Bartyzel

Cigarettes, Multiple Wives, and Loving Jesus

Imagine a man native to the region where you live. He gets Jesus. Grows. Starts a church. It flourishes. The dozens become hundreds. Your little missionary heart bursts with pride to see this man so successful. The church secretary and the volunteers overlook his hot temper and his prejudice towards people of a certain skin tone because, well, the church is growing, right?

Now, put a lit cigarette in that pastor’s hand while he preaches on Sunday morning. He takes a few drags and taps off the ash in an ashtray on the pulpit. He lights up a couple more before the final benediction. How many elders, do you think, would have his butt and the butts in that ashtray kicked to the curb before the sun when down on that holy Sunday?

Do I endorse smoking? Not so much. But I also don’t endorse racism.

Which one gets overlooked and which one gets condemned?

A Subculture

Issues like smoking, alcohol, styles of dress, entertainment choices, and language define and divide. These things can keep us apart from the very people we would hope to help. They cause church splits and drive wedges in mission organizations.  They hold some people out of relationship with God and bind others in a fake one.

“Jesus consistently focused on people’s center: Are they oriented and moving toward the center of spiritual life (love of God and people), or are the moving away from it? … Jesus could say that the “tax collectors and the prostitutes” who were a million miles away from the religious subculture, but who had turned, converted, and oriented themselves towards God and love, were already in the kingdom. … The “righteous” were more damaged by their righteousness than the sinners by their sin.” – John Ortberg

Bridge

Barriers and Bridges

Am I no longer a Christian because I occasionally have a beer or a glass of wine? Have I lost the faith because I consult with a counselor instead of only relying on the bible and prayer to solve problems? Does the tattoo inked on my arm separate me from the favor of God?

barrierIt may be time to redirect our energies. We can construct, reinforce, and repair our structures only to find we built a barrier instead of a bridge. We defend the standards we erect. We stay inside those high walls, unable to reach out to the people.  Then comes the sad part; others cannot get in because they lack the tricks to traverse its enormity.

Might we utilize our creativity and resources to construct bridges instead? Could we assure instead of shun? Can we accept rather than inspect?

Your Stance

Look down at your feet. Where do you stand? On a barrier or a bridge? The great thing about feet is that they move. We can modify our direction by an awareness of our motivations.

Would you support a national pastor who led well and loved Jesus, if he regularly smoked?

How about if he had tattoos? Or multiple wives? What sub-cultural barriers have we constructed, unwittingly or consciously, which may push people away from Christ? Or worse, keep us away from people?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Step Away from the Guilt

Step Away from the Guilt 01

I was worried I’d grown numb to it. Maybe I’d become calloused. Hardened. Immune.

Because poverty wasn’t affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me. I’d return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my “self-absorbed” Christian friends. I soapboxed about America’s obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough. I’m not saying I didn’t genuinely have compassion, conviction, and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced, because I couldn’t reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived every day.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can’t be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

I mustn’t allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

Step Away from the Guilt 02

I realized that it isn’t about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well—using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. “Do you just get used to it?” What they are really asking is the same thing I’ve asked myself: “Did you grow numb?”

And I see now that I didn’t. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the “luck” of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but I am confident that we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What’s been your experience with responding to poverty?

Alece RonzinoAlece Headshot

After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

{Photos Source: Daniel C. White}

A previous post by Alece: Bring the Rain

Is This Really, Ever Okay?

The following video is one we took in the downtown tourist area in Chiang Mai, SE Asia, several months ago.  There happened to be a street preacher there that night, shouting Bible verses Navy-SEAL-style, in ENGLISH, while several people handed out literature to the tourists and locals passing by.

And we walked away, trying to be open-minded about this street-preacher’s personal fleshing-out of a belief-system, but still asking,  “Is this really, Ever Okay?

Or, Effective?

Or, Loving?”

Is it possible to do more damage than good in the name of Jesus? And even with the best of intentions?

Because what we say, matters. And so does the how, the who, and the where of the speaking.

And I wonder if so often our means of communication bodyslams whatever message we’re so desperately eager for others to hear.

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What do you think?  Give.it.to.me.straight.  Are street preachers right always, wrong always, sometimes both or sometimes neither?  Experiences?

Thoughts about poor method trumping good message?

 

Missionary Motivators

Why are you a missionary? What motivated you to live a life of challenge, adventure, and sacrifice? How did you make the decision to serve in such an intense capacity?

We have lived in Bolivia for over 11 years. From the time I was seven I knew I would live outside the U.S. for most of my life. My husband was in high school when he made the same realization. Those initial prodding desires led to practical steps: Praying. Maps as wallpaper. Counsel. Training. Meager living. Extreme serving.

my husband with one of the Dreamers at our orphanage years ago

So, what got you to the mission field?

I see 5 main reasons people serve on the mission field.

  1. Call of duty – a commissioning ceremony, a scripture that spoke to your heart, a sense of obligation
  2. Itching for adventure – you crave risk, you’re an adrenaline junky, boredom terrifies you
  3. Bleeding heart – your heart breaks at the plight of the downtrodden, compassion fills your soul
  4. Way of escape – deep down you know you had to get away, you are running, you are seeking refuge
  5. Purpose driven life – you want your life to count for something significant, fulfillment

I suppose I might as well give voice to what many are thinking. What about number six? Certifiably crazy. Okay, yes, I can see some validity to that being a common motivator. Right? Smile, I’m just kidding.

my daughter feeding the same little girl in the first picture

Then there’s the fact that what gets you to the mission field might not be what keeps you there. Maybe you are not meant to stay forever. Maybe life happens and you have to move back. Maybe you hate life as a missionary. Maybe you knew this was a short term thing to begin with so you are content to return. Maybe you feel you would be more effective in accomplishing what you feel God wants from your life by being based back “home”.

Those who choose to live as missionaries for the rest of their lives will encounter moments (read: hours, days, weeks, maybe even months) of questioning. Healthy evaluation is helpful and necessary. Putting words to why we continue on in this lifestyle might be hard, but it is worth the effort.

Can you answer with gut honesty and full disclosure transparency in one sentence: Why are you a missionary? Care to share? Dare to share? The comment box is open. Thanks!

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Adoption day for this same little girl four years after coming to The House of Dreams Orphanage here in Bolivia. She’s in Europe now with her beautiful new family.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

(Philippians 3:12-14 msg)

– Angie Washington, co-editor of A Life Overseas, missionary living in Bolivia

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage