Dying to Self

by Madison Strauder

The past two weeks have been some of the hardest days of my life, but not for reasons you might think. There is no illness, family emergency, impending natural disaster, or local political upheaval that has me on edge. It’s nothing that can be easily worded or is simple to communicate. I guess I would say it’s because of the condition of my heart.

After spending a challenging six months in the US, my family returned to South Asia, where we’ve been missionaries for many years. When we were preparing to leave the US, people asked us if we were excited to come back to South Asia. Though that feeling may accurately describe our three kids’ attitudes about returning to the home they know and understand, excited is not a word I would use to describe my own feelings.

South Asia is much more home to my kids than the quiet countryside that I grew up calling home. They can walk down a street surrounded by thousands of people and be at ease. They can jump in whatever mode of transportation is available and seem to not mind the stares along the way, the heat, and the traffic. God has helped me do those things on a daily basis, but it will never feel natural to me like it does to them.

For me, returning to our South Asian megacity has felt like dying. Though not a physical demise, this is the dying to self that I seem to be fighting against as we work to settle back into this life. You see, somewhere along the way I believed I was entitled to certain rights—the right to breathe clean air, to live in an easy-to-maintain and lovely home, to blend into a crowd without constantly standing out, to raise my kids in a healthy and easy-to-navigate environment, to celebrate holidays and life events with my extended family. I desired an easy life.

But the reality is that as a child of God, I am not promised any of these perceived “rights.” Through these struggles with obedience, I have dwelled on Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (ESV). We returned to South Asia trusting that God’s plan is better than anything we would plan for ourselves.

God has chosen to place us in a very dark place to be light bearers. The spiritual battle rages for the hearts of people, and most here do not know the freedom available to them in Christ. This is not the easy path or the path of the “American dream.” Yet, I cling to the promises I read in God’s Word. He has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3–4). He has promised to never leave us (Josh. 1:5). His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9–10). He works in us with his strength (Col. 1:29).

I know these promises to be true. I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness time and again over the years of my life and most assuredly during our time in South Asia. In light of these truths, I will choose discomfort over disobedience any day. But I know my obedience will cost me, and I am struggling with that cost. This is not a short-term mission trip, and I do not have a return ticket. This is my life.

It’s not easy or predictable. It’s not necessarily the path to prosperity or the life I would have if I stayed in America. But the Lord promises joy—confidence and peace that the anchor of my life is firmly planted even when I feel tossed in violent waves.

I’m fighting for that joy. Somehow in the midst of all this, God still wants to use me. He gives me opportunities to serve him. His power is made perfect in my weakness. So, I’m praying for him to calm this storm and help me embrace this life again: to work to get our house livable, unpack the bags, learn more language, walk out into the crowded markets to buy food for my family, and engage with people around me.

I’m praying for the strength to allow God to work in my heart so I grieve the lostness of those all around me, to advocate fiercely for the peoples of South Asia, and to challenge the global church to partner with us until all peoples and places have had an opportunity to know the grace, mercy, and eternal hope that God alone gives.

My heart is torn at times, but I know that knowing Christ and following him is worth it all. I know that any tension I feel to be at “home” is a reminder that I will never really be home until I am standing before the Lord as he welcomes me to my eternal home. I know that day will come.

May we all stand firm in that hope. May we not waste one moment of this life on things that do not bring God glory. May we walk in obedience to him today—whether that be a quiet Tennessee countryside or a bustling South Asian city. May we continue to trust that he has placed us where we are and that his plans are good. May we lift his name high today. May his light in us be a beacon in this darkness calling people to him. And may all people choose Christ and take up their cross and follow him.

Originally published here.
Edited and reprinted with permission.


Madison Strauder enjoys sharing stories from her travels around South Asia.

Senders Make Sacrifices Too

Much of the time living in Cambodia, I don’t feel like I am making huge sacrifices for God. In fact, I’ve found many things to love about living here. I am so settled here that I sometimes forget that other people have made sacrifices for me to be here. Reminders come in the form of my children, when they miss the family and friends they’ve left behind. They come in the form of Skype sessions with my parents, when I realize anew how very much they miss us.

So I am sandwiched in the middle of two generations of people who have, in many ways, sacrificed more than I have – much more. My parents. My children. I have caused people I love to suffer — and I did it voluntarily. You might not hear many people talking about this. You are more likely to hear people talk about the sacrifices of the missionaries themselves (whether or not it’s a missionary who is speaking). But I think that does an incredible injustice to the thousands of people throughout the world who are sacrificing right now to send a loved one abroad.

My best friend in America was the kind of girl who dropped everything the day Jonathan’s dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, just to sit with me in my shock and grief. She’s the kind of girl who would drive to my house when my husband was out of town, so that after my babies were asleep, we could talk for hours and hours. She’s the girl I laughed with and cried with for eight wonderful years, and she’s the girl I still laugh with and cry with during furlough visits. She’s also a writer. About a year after we moved overseas, I asked her to write about how she felt saying goodbye to me. This is what she wrote.

A Letter from Home

by Teresa Schantz Williams

Last year, Elizabeth and Jonathan and their foursome said goodbye to their families and friends and flew toward the adventure God chose for them. Those left behind, with none of the distractions of a new culture, slowly adjusted to their absence. The Trotters were missing from the daily landscape of our lives, and knowing this was going to happen didn’t make it less painful.

At first when they left, I kept forgetting. I’d pick up the phone, punch in their number and sheepishly hang up. Or I would think I saw Elizabeth coming out of the library and wave too warmly at a confused stranger.

It was like when you rearrange the contents of your kitchen cabinets and spend the next four weeks trying to relearn where you store the salt. Things weren’t where they were supposed to be.

Their pew at church was too empty. No squirmy bodies next to Elizabeth’s mother, Mary, munching on grandma’s snacks and vying for grandpa’s lap. Those first few months were hard on the families stateside, especially as news of distress and health crises came their way. Powerless to help, family prayed.

A missionary wife once told me she hadn’t understood what the extended family sacrificed when she and her husband left for the mission field. She had since come to see that they relinquished precious time with their children and grandchildren, forfeited shared memories of celebrations and milestones, and suppressed their instinct to rescue when things went wrong.

Some are called to go.  Some are called to let go.

If you have to say goodbye, this is the century to do it in.  My grandmother had a dear friend who was a missionary with her husband in Burma during the 1950’s.  Somehow they held their friendship together with letters and furloughs, and in the long silences between, they prayed.

Facebook, Skype, blogs, email have closed gaps. Within the digital universe, both sides of the ocean can post photos and videos and updates. Elizabeth can share funny stories about the kids, so women back home can “watch” them grow. To celebrate their special days, one can browse their Amazon Wish Lists to find a gift, or select something from iTunes. Even international travel is more feasible than it once was. Visits are possible.

Nothing substitutes for presence. These days, I can’t sit next to the bathtub and hold Faith while Elizabeth brushes the boys’ teeth. I can’t watch the boys wrestle or Hannah belly-surf down the stairs. I can’t go to a girly movie with Elizabeth and rehash our favorite parts on the drive home. I can’t watch her eat the frosting from the top of a cupcake and leave the rest because she only eats the part she wants.  I can’t hug her.

I concentrate on what I can do.  I translate twelve hours ahead and try to anticipate what they might need.  1 p.m. here?  Asleep there.  I pray that the girls aren’t waking them in the night, that their colds will soon be gone. I pray that they will be able to play outside every day this week. That Elizabeth can find hummus at Lucky’s grocery store.  I pray the details.

I can look over Elizabeth’s shoulder and see the frontlines of world missions and watch God’s plans unfold.  I can see what the Holy Spirit has done in her, enabling her to do things I wasn’t at all sure she could do. (Bugs, germs, smells, change in all forms.) And through her blogging, the special qualities I knew were inside her are out where others can see (humor, insight, modesty in all its expressions).

Perhaps it sounds overdramatic, but I’ve concluded that for me, missing my missionary friends is a standing invitation to resubmit to God’s plans. My true and proper worship.

“I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (2 Timothy 1:3, NLV)

Originally published here.


Teresa Schantz Williams is a freelance writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a ministry family.





Missions Means Choosing the Desert

Earlier this year, I went through a season of insomnia.  A chaotic furlough, a new job, and lots of life change brought on anxiety, which bred sleeplessness, which bred more anxiety, until I was a mess.

I lay awake many nights and begged God, “You know I need to sleep.  You know I can’t function without it.  I believe you want me to be productive.  So why won’t you help me sleep?”

And the Word of God spoke to me through Deuteronomy 6:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

There I was, wandering in the desert, feeling desperate, crushed, and abandoned by God.  Until I remembered that the desert is the very best place for God to meet me.   

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna….to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

God caused you to hunger.  Just like sleep, bread is necessary for life itself, yet God wanted his people to remember that their very existence depended on God and his Word.

Thousands of years later, our Savior voluntarily went into the desert, and learned for himself that man does not live by bread alone.  And not long after that, he stood tall and declared himself to be our Bread of Life, sent down from Heaven.

Unlike many in the world, I’ve had the incredible privilege of never needing to worry about my daily bread.  Perhaps that’s why God allowed me to be deprived of my daily sleep.  And there are a myriad of other ways we can be sent into the desert involuntarily—cancer, hurricane, betrayal.

As insomnia helped me to understand the value of the desert, I realized that choosing missions is one of the ways we voluntarily choose the desert. 

In choosing missions, we leave behind our support structures:  family, church, friends.

Choosing missions means learning new ways of survival:  how to communicate, how to care for our children, how to provide for our basic needs.  Most of the time, we give up many of the comforts of home, whether it be as simple as McDonald’s Playland or as complex as feeling understood by the people around us.

Missions sometimes means we find ourselves in a spiritual wasteland:  a city where we are one of only handful of believers.  Where the oppression, whether seen or unseen, lies heavy on our shoulders.

Choosing missions means choosing the life of a stranger, an outsider.  We are often misunderstood.  We often feel alone, and as time goes by, we often feel disconnected in our “home” countries as well.  Like it did for our Savior, the desert brings on temptation strong and thick.  But unlike our Savior, we often cave to it.

So why, why, why do we choose this life?  Why on earth would we choose this desert? 

Because man does not live by bread alone, or cream cheese, or even Starbucks.  Man does not live by running water, or air conditioning, or indoor heating.  He is not sustained by paved roads, or fast internet, or stylish clothes.  He even does not live by English education for his kids, by real turkey on Thanksgiving or by cold Christmases and the smell of pine trees.


We live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. 

This desert will humble us, and test us, and we will see within our hearts whether we are truly keeping his commands.  But the hunger and the thirst we experience in our chosen wilderness will enable us to have a greater, fuller understanding of our true Bread of Life.  Our manna from Heaven.  The gift of his presence, the knowledge of his suffering, the tremendous depth of grace—all of these things are worth more than anything the world has to offer.  More than home.  More than sleep.  More than bread.

Just as he promised, God fed me with himself during that season of insomnia.  And I was reminded:  The knowledge of God’s presence is more important to him than my productivity, than my comfort, than my health.  How often has he taught me that in this chosen life overseas.  In the great mystery of the universe, I lose my life to find it.  I choose the desert and find the Bread of Life.

The One Question We Must Ask

It’s a simple question, carrying with it the power to clarify purpose and extend longevity. It’s a question that buttresses against the nasty cousins of burnout and bitterness. It’s a question we need to ask more often.

It’s simply this: “What is it that I really need?”

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Before you crucify me for turning the Gospel inside out and hamstringing it with a message about me and my needs, hear me out.

I’m not at all advocating a life without obedient sacrifice; I am expressly advocating a life of eyes-open sacrifice. You might not get what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t. There are a lot of things you need that a life of cross-cultural service just won’t be able to provide. I’m talking about the full spectrum here, from a Starbucks latte all the way to the absence of gunfire.

And that’s where this gets real.

When you realize that some legitimate needs won’t get met, when you realize that safety and functioning utilities and access to public libraries and date night just aren’t as much a thing where you live, you can do two things. You can seek to mitigate, or you can choose to sacrifice. In reality, I actually recommend both.

Mitigate it: Consider whether there are any creative workarounds that might meet the need, in whole or in part.

Sacrifice it: Obediently, with a full heart and open eyes, sacrifice the thing as a holy act of worship.

When we moved overseas, I thought I’d lost my ability to be a good father. All the things I used to do with my kiddos I couldn’t do anymore. My article, Failing at Fatherhood is basically my journey of learning what (and how) to mitigate, and what needed to be sacrificed. As it turns out, less needed to be sacrificed than I had originally supposed.


The Importance of Knowing Your Sacrifice
It can appear holy to deny that there even is a sacrifice. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote of this when she responded to some missionary heroes who claimed they “never made a sacrifice.” She writes: “While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree.”

So do I.

Denial and Acceptance are identical twins; that is, they look pretty similar, but they’re not at all the same. In fact, Denial and Acceptance have extremely different personalities and life goals.

Denial claims to honor God by minimizing the sacrifice; Acceptance actually honors God by embracing the sacrifice and still considering Him worth it.

Denial shrinks the story, collapsing grief and trauma and fear and loss into a singularity; Acceptances explodes the story, showcasing the magnificent power of God through the grief and trauma and fear and loss.

Acceptance leads to deep emotional health, grace, contentment, processed grief, and a willingness to see the long view, both forwards and backwards. Denial leads to, well, nothing.

Denial is a full stop, halting maturation and ongoing discipleship.

Acceptance is a grand “to be continued,” allowing for what was while simultaneously looking forward to what will be.


What is it that I really need?
Before deciding whether to mitigate or sacrifice, we must seek to know our sacrifice. How do we do that? Ask the question, “What is it that I really need?”

Many of us never do this. We have a strong aversion to saying “I need,” which is ironic, because the Jesus we serve often responded really well to folks who led with their needs.

Our needs must be named, if only to be offered up willingly. Abraham’s boy who carried wood and fire had a name.

Paul sought to mitigate his Thorn, and then ended up gloriously sacrificing his need to have it extracted.

Jesus saw and comprehended skull-hill, attempted to mitigate it, and then climbed it.

Sometimes the cup doesn’t pass.


Mitigate and Sacrifice
To mitigate is to make something less severe, less painful, less onerous. So, can I please encourage you? If there’s something severe, painful, and onerous about life and ministry abroad, and if that hard thing can be lessened, for goodness sake, lessen it.

But if it cannot be lessened (and this will often be the case), then it must be sacrificed with eyes and hearts open. At those times, we must remember, over and over and over again, why we’re here.

free web hostingAnd when a sacrifice is required, we rest in God’s ultimate goodness. We obediently make the sacrifice, casting ourselves on the grace and mercy of our King.

We believe that there are indeed sacrifices to be made.

We believe that those sacrifices do in fact cost something.


We believe that eternity will bear witness:

The cost was not too high,

The cross remains enough,

The Christ, once seen face to face, will make it all imminently worth it,



What is it that you really need right now?

Is there anything you can do to mitigate it?

Is it time to obediently place the cherished, needed thing on the altar, and worship the King?

The Underbelly of Being Radical


By Stephanie Ebert

My husband and I both have college degrees and 4.0 GPA’s (okay, not exactly, he once got an A-, and I once got a B). We like to think we’re pretty talented and could do anything in the world we wanted to do. But instead of staying in the States and raking in tons of money, we decided to move to South Africa so I could work for a community development organization…for free. And we did this because we think that’s what Jesus calls us to– not the American Dream, but the excitement of laying down our stuff and living for Him.

It sounds very noble and sacrificial when we tell our story this way. It’s a story people attribute to us, even when we don’t explicitly tell it that way. This sacrifice story is one I’m hearing a lot from missionaries and people involved in community development work.

Our sacrifice story would go at the bottom of the totem pole, because we were young and just starting out–and quite frankly the job market was terrible anyway, so hey, why not just go to South Africa? Probably at the top of the sacrifice-story totem pole is Jim Elliot, but somewhere close behind is the sacrifice story of a middle-aged couple who quit their jobs as president of a successful company, sell their house, and go start a ministry for sex-trafficking victims in South Sudan.

Oh, and there’s also this version where we say: “This is so not about me, this is all about Jesus” and then proceed to tell it as a story where we sacrifice everything for Jesus.

I’m realizing there’s a real problem if we tell our story this way–to ourselves, or to other people. When we’re used to seeing ourselves as people who have sacrificed, it’s very, very easy to slide into an entitlement attitude. Not about material things (heavens, no!), but about decision-making things. About having control. About holding the reins. And the bigger the sacrifice we’ve made, the more entitled we feel to call the shots when it comes to the way we do ministry.

Not that we’d ever say these thoughts out-loud, but…

“The organization wants me to do accounting for them. Even though I have some experience in that, it is not my gifting– I’m an evangelist. I gave up everything to come preach, and now you’re telling me you want me in a back office crunching numbers?”

“Look, some of my local partners have expressed some discomfort at the way I’m always posting photos of sick HIV patients on Facebook, but that’s what speaks to people back home. People back home need to see the reality over here, and all I care about is getting more people engaged with this work. That’s what I’m all about. Heck, I sold everything and moved half-way across the world for this–of course my intentions in sharing these photos are pure, you can’t question that!”

“A child came to me and is asking for money for food. The local pastor told me that he doesn’t give out food to street children because it encourages them to stay on the streets, but he’s trapped in self-centered thinking. People here don’t have enough compassion for the poor. I sacrificed everything to come over here–the reason I’m here is to help people understand compassion–people here just aren’t caring.”

“They want me to learn the local language, but I’m going to be working with English-speaking university students. I’m already 55, I don’t have time for this. I care about these students–you can’t doubt that, I mean, I came all the way here–but I can’t waste time learning a language I’m never going to use.”

The fact that we’ve sacrificed can be used as a shield in any conflict. We can gain the moral high ground and claim impeachable motives– after all, we came all the way here. We’ve sacrificed. We elevate ourselves above the need to be taught, to be corrected, and to learn from people around us who have been living, and caring, and working here for much longer than we have. It’s always uncomfortable to be confronted about the way we’re doing some aspect of our ministry, but let’s not let the sacrifice-story put us in an untouchable category.


How can we re-frame the stories that we tell about ourselves and to ourselves about what we’ve done? Can we actually see ourselves as privileged to be here, as willing learners (and not just say that’s what we are)? 

square faceStephanie Ebert is a TCK from South Africa and America. Married to a Minnesotan, she and her husband David have spent the past three years working in South Africa for the non-profit iThemba Projects. Right now they are experiencing the cultural shock of moving to a small Texas town for David to complete his masters degree. Steph continues to work for iThemba Projects online. She blogs about social justice, missions, race, and finding hope at bridginghope.wordpress.com

Advice From an Expert: How to Save the World And Destroy Your Marriage

How to save world while destroying marriage

Kay and I moved to the Solomon Islands in 1993. We boarded a rusty ship and headed out to a remote island village with two small kids in tow, and I jumped head first into learning the Arosi language.  The sooner I learned the language, the sooner the Arosi people would have God’s Word in their language.  What could be more important than that!

Kay, meanwhile, had a 4 year old and a 3 year old to take care of. This was already a full-time job back in the States, but now she had to throw in a few extra simple chores like washing clothes by hand in a stream and cooking everything from scratch using a two-burner stove and a dorm fridge.  And in her spare time she was expected to learn a new language without the help of Rosetta Stone or a language school. As time went by and Kay felt more and more isolated, she would say, “Can we spend 10 minutes talking?”  My response: “About what?”

In my mind at the time, I thought our marriage was pretty good. I based that on the fact that we rarely had disagreements.  Isn’t a peaceful marriage a good marriage? Deep down, I knew that something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Looking back now I realize I was scared.  Scared of having a real relationship because it would mean having to express real thoughts and real emotions.  (And maybe having a real relationship would mean I would have to face the fact that my wife wasn’t thriving in this new environment which might require me to make a change.)  Spending time alone with Kay meant coming face to face with the fact that our marriage was only skin deep, so my best tactic was to avoid spending time alone with her.  Maybe in America we could have gotten away with a mediocre marriage because Kay would have had other avenues for support and connection, but now I was it.

In a recent Time magazine article, renowned marriage expert John Gottman described our situation to a T:

In really bad relationships, people are communicating, “Baby, when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you’re hurt, I’m not going to be there for you.  You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity.  I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job.  Whereas the [relationship] Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.”  (Link to full article) 

Unfortunately, it took a pornography addiction and near-failed marriage to get me on track.  There came a point where I had to make a hard decision. Was I going to sacrifice my marriage over the altar of pornography?  Or what if it hadn’t been pornography?  Would I have sacrificed my marriage over the altar of missions?

If I could go back in time this is what I would want my former self to know:

  • Your relationship can be so much more than you can even imagine. Don’t be afraid!
  • Spend time alone together, even if it’s hard. It will get easier. In his research, relationship expert Dr. Gottman has found what he calls “The five hours of magic”. You can read more here.   Hannah Trotter (age 6), daughter of ALOS contributors Jonathan & Elizabeth Trotter, recently wrote what she calls her “first blog”which she has graciously permitted me to use.  What great advice!  Although in my case I needed to substitute “FAMULY” with “WIFE”.

eat cake

  • Your ability to work long term overseas is going to depend a lot more on the strength of your marriage than on the strength of your language skills or the greatness of your ministry.

Mainly I would want my former self to know that our marriage didn’t have to be me vs. her. By the grace of God we’re now on the same team, and no matter where we live, it will always be about what the team needs.

 How does your life overseas suit you?

How does your life overseas suit your wife?

If your life overseas isn’t working for your wife, would you be willing to make a change?

What happens when you talk together about these things?

Are you able to talk about these things? If not, why not?

(Check the Resources page if you’re looking for counseling support or the Spiritual and Emotional Health section on the Recommended Reading page for some helpful books.)

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?


“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.

Its Not About You

“You will not receive praise in heaven; no one will glorify your name. No one will say to you, ‘This person is here because of you.’ The praise will all belong to him because he has accomplished it all,” Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comforts from the Cross

You know the song, that tear-jerker everyone sang for special music in church in the 80’s and early 90’s, Thank You For Giving to the Lord by Ray Boltz? I used to love that song.

Now I think it is a bunch of baloney.

Okay, maybe not entirely baloney. But mostly.

Because guess what? Nothing is about you. Or me. Not even the people who will be in heaven.

I know. Shocker.

glory in the heavens

I once sat at the beach with a young woman who had lived in Ethiopia for six months. After hearing her speak for five minutes I had to leave the conversation. I climbed the nearby hill, past the French Danger of Death sign, and ranted at God.

My husband saw me leave and knew exactly why because he knows my tendency to keep score, to compare, to either wallow in self-pity or bloat with pride. He started praying, down below.

“Who does she think she is?” I said. “She has been here barely six months. She doesn’t speak the language or understand the culture or have actual relationships. She talks about her project at the clinic as though it were changing lives. Can her stories even be true? Maybe she is a compulsive liar. Probably that’s it. Or at least she has a pride issue and need to address her boastful attitude.”

But maybe people are actually being healed. Maybe she is communicating miraculously.

Where does that leave me after all these years?

A big fat loser.

And so on…

This internal dialogue was all about me, what I had accomplished so far, and what I felt I deserved, had earned. I was jealous to the point of furious tears at the idea that this clueless newbie was earning a better reward, would encounter more changed lives on earth and in paradise. That she was, was apparently, more pleasing to God.


Me, not her. After I paced on the hill for a while, after I confessed my sin, I descended and later apologized to the young woman for my cold attitude.

Clearly I had a sin issue that needed to be addressed but I also think there is a larger lesson here.

Focusing on my good deeds and on my reward runs the risk of stealing the freedom to rejoice with those who rejoice. Instead, if I focus on what God accomplishes and on the glory Jesus will receive, all I can do is delight in the joys and good works of others because that delight isn’t about them, it is about God.

Yes, we are promised a reward in heaven and yes, there is the real hope of hearing, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

But our response will not be, “Thanks. Now show me all the people here because of my sacrifices. Show me all the things my good works have earned.”

Our response will be, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory. We have only done our duty. Now show me all the people here because of your sacrifice, because of the cross.”

We perform our duty while clothed in the righteousness given by grace not earned by works, a duty that brings deep joy and abiding peace. A duty that is assigned to each, to accomplish the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do and which cannot be compared. A duty that does not earn one iota of saving grace or eternal glory.

“I am the Lord, that is my name. My glory I give to no other,” Isaiah 42:8

A question for private pondering: Are you ever inclined to steal a piece of God’s glory?

And a question for public discussion: What helps you battle the monster of envy or pride?

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

*image via Flickr

The Story Behind the Statistics

As missionaries, we often report statistics as a way of conveying the impact we are having.

Numbers of salvations, people taught, clinics opened, or people rescued from the evils of society.

Behind these numbers are people, stories, and often difficulties.

One the people we’ve been training, recently had an interesting situation which drove this reality home afresh to me. He comes from a gang-invested environment where crime and violence are common.

As a relatively new convert, he came to our discipleship program and followed up as a student in our Bible school. We saw great change occur in his life. He was one of our local success stories. He was a newsletter statistic.

But he has a story and challenges behind the numbers.

He recently attempted to share with some of the gangsters in his area. As he was, they asked him to rob some of the foreign workers whom work with our organization who he shared accommodation with. Rather than do this, he took the little money he had in his own account, attempting to give it to the gangsters.

When he presented it to them, they wanted more, and a fight ensued. Our student was beaten up.

He chose this route to avoid stealing from those training him. His reward for loyalty was violence. His changed life got him physically beaten.

By: DFID - UK Department for International Development
By: DFID – UK Department for International Development

While I rejoice in his loyalty, I mourn with the pain it cost him.

This was such a reminder that the changes our people make often costs them. They can be persecuted, shunned, or in some cases killed.

We toss around phrases as gospel workers such as, “count the cost“, but these events are when reality rears it’s ugly head.

The people we influence are so much more than numbers on a page. There are stories behind these statistics.

It’s exciting to report the joyful stories, but we also have stories of pain, suffering, and persecution to contend with.

These are a sobering reminders of the reality change often brings. Things change positively for eternity, but difficulty might actually increase in the interim.

When tempted to sugar coat the gospel and only speak of love, joy and peace; we remind ourselves the Bible also warns us of challenges and persecution follow those walking in the Truth.

Let’s never allow people to only become statistics, but keep their stories before us to stay in touch with the reality.

A changed life always is cause for celebration, but let us not be so naive to think that life will be smooth sailing from this point on.

This is the dilemma of missions.

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

Missionaries Dread This

Missionaries deal with many things. Poverty, Disease, Visas, Political upheaval, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and more.

Perhaps the part of the job or calling which brings the most dread is support raising.

Every job has things which we do not like. Whether you are in business, medicine, or missions. I have yet to meet a missionary who enjoyed raising the necessary funds to do the job.

So whether you are a life long fundraiser, a soon to be sent out new missionary, or even one whose role is to fund overseas endeavors; here are some suggestions for raising support.

By: Phoenix Wolf-Ray
By: Phoenix Wolf-Ray

Ask –The most obvious, but often most neglected part of support raising is to ask. Sometimes God does tell people not to ask, but for the body to function the way it is designed, we need to make our needs known. God can provide, but 99% of the time it is in the context of relationship, not a check falling from the sky.

Communicate – Too often missionaries depart and no word is heard from them. With technology, there is absolutely no excuse to lack communication. Be brief. No one wants to read your daily journal. A web page or a simple email newsletter using services like Mailchimp are simple even for beginners.

Connect– When you share, you want to connect. Do not tell people how hard life is on the field, or drone on about the sacrifices you are making. Tell stories, especially of individuals. If you are a family on the field, tell things through your children’s eyes. Sharing our journey of adoption has connected us with other families who have walked that road. They make a beeline for us, because of our mutual connection.

Causes – People are interested in investing in causes or projects. Frame some of your needs around these. It can be a great way to fund ministry projects. Some will give to causes, but would never give towards “missions” in the traditional sense.

Think beyond yourself –What is your greater ministry doing? How are the nationals you trained or developed different as a result of your involvement?  What are your “graduates” investing in others since they’ve left you? All of this is apart of your fruit and your mission. Share it!

Think outside the box –Support raising is so much more than newsletters. You can raise support for others outside or your immediate family like your national workers. This helps you accomplish your goals.

When you travel home, host a dinner or provide a taste of your nation at the weekend service. People remember this. We brought South Africa vuvuzela’s made famous by the World Cup with us. The church knew we were there and remembered us!

The bottom line is, no one really enjoys raising support. But, rather than throw up our hands in exasperation, let’s share what has and has not worked.

I invite you to help others in this endeavor. We are all on the same team after all!

What has been successful for you in raising support?

Are there other principles you would add to the list I’ve shared?


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

Brave or Dependent?

depend2Some people tell me it is brave to raise my kids in Africa. They could get malaria or be bitten by a poisonous snake. They don’t have a Sunday School class. They can’t eat gluten-free foods. Their friends are Muslims. They live far away from cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

My initial reaction is to to say, “Well, I think it is brave to raise kids in America.” I know my heart, my soul-shriveling tendency to love the world. I know my kids, how quickly they could be sucked into the idolatry of a nation whose church is the shopping mall and whose God is the latest iPhone.

But this kneejerk reaction is wrong because it assumes brave is the right word to use to describe parenting, on any continent.

Brave is the wrong word.

Life As Fasting

Living overseas is a form of fasting. Fasting from the comforts of a would-be heaven on earth where there are hot showers, dishwashers and clothes dryers, fully-stocked grocery stores and someone else to teach piano lessons. Living overseas is fasting that says, “this much, O God, this much, I want to know you.” And, “this much, O God, this much, I want you to be known” (Michael Oh).

I want to know God deeply and I want him to be known so much that I will risk scary diseases, fast from my beloved family and worldly comforts, and teach my children to engage with neighbors of differing faiths. But to live and fast like that, to raise my children like that, isn’t brave. And I know people who don’t live overseas who want to know God deeply and want him to be known so much that they live in inner city neighborhoods and they live in the suburbs and they choose to love like Jesus. They don’t feel brave.

When I think about mothering my three children who love this steamy, desert nation, I don’t feel brave. I feel dependent. Helplessly, desperately, breathlessly, clingingly dependent.

Last week the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began. Fasting from food and water is hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth is dang hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth in the hottest month of the year is dang stinking hard.

djibouti market

And the strain will begin to show because fasting (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) emphasizes our weaknesses, reveals the longings of our taste buds and stomachs and exposes the very real, carnal needs of our bodies. Fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on food and water, and when undertaken as a spiritual discipline, fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on God.

He is the sustainer and the giver of comfort. He forgives and provides. He has prepared a place for us. He sends hope and perfects joy. He encourages the weary and heals the broken.

Some people tell me I’m brave for raising my kids here. Some people tell Muslims they are brave for committing to a challenging fast. Sometimes I think my friends in the US are brave. But I also think the point of any fast is to reveal how truly unbrave we are. And one of the things I’ve learned through raising kids (both in Minnesota and in Djibouti) is how truly unbrave I am.

Because brave is not the right word for people seeking God.

Dependent is.

How has living overseas revealed your dependency? I have learned many things while surrounded by the Ramadan fast, has God used the spiritual discipline of another religious system to encourage you?

*Part of this post is taken from Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting by Rachel Pieh Jones on the Desiring God blog. Click the link to read the original and complete post.

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones