When It All Blows Up In Your Face

FjCON1472538755 (002)

Sixteen years ago, my husband and I were all of 24 years old when we arrived in Tanzania for our first term.  We had only been married nine months, and we were passionate and dedicated, but incredibly naïve.  We had absolutely no idea what we were in for.

We were working in youth ministry in a local church plant, and my husband was coaching sports as a way to get to know young people.  One young man came into our lives with a real interest in the gospel.  He was earnest and really seemed sincere, and it wasn’t long before he made a profession of faith.  Since he was from a religion that is usually opposed to Christianity, we were thrilled.

Over the next year and a half, this young man dominated our time and our prayer updates.  He was in our home almost every day.

Then, six weeks before we left the country, we found out he had been regularly stealing money from us.

We returned to the States utterly shattered.  For many other reasons, it had been an extremely difficult two years.  This young man had been a bright spot, and when that blew up, we were completely demoralized and totally disillusioned.

By the grace of God, a couple years later we were back in Tanzania, older, wiser, and a lot more wary.  Yet even the loss of our naiveté didn’t really prepare us for everything we would see and experience over the next ten years.  Like the ugly split of the indigenous church we attended.  Or the married missionary of multiple children who ran off with a woman from the village where he was church planting.  Or that time when the national leader who was raised up by missionaries ended up being a narcissist who abused his team.  And the worst?  A local pastor—discipled, installed, and supported by missionaries for over ten years—was discovered to have an incestuous relationship with his adult daughter.

Boom.  And just like that, everything worked for, everything believed in, goes up in flames.

Though we weren’t intimately involved in any of those situations, we were close enough to feel the shockwaves.  And they shook us to our core.

Disbelief.  Despair.  Disillusionment.  We can handle the loneliness, the inconveniences, and the bugs that come with missionary life, but not this.  Not this.  Many missionaries would say that they would rather be persecuted or deported than have their ministry blow up.  How could this have happened?  Where we did go wrong?  Why are we even here?  What are we possibly going to tell our supporters?

Of course, these kind of life-altering situations happen also in our home countries.  But I think that for missionaries it is especially devastating.  I’ve given up everything for this ministry, and there are hundreds sacrificing so that I can be here, we think.  And this is all I have to show for it?  Blown up bits of carnage?  And then there’s that sinking feeling that maybe we should have known better.  That maybe it’s our fault.

So what do we do?  How do we possibly recover?  Move on?  Start over?

We start by humbling ourselves.  Even if we had no responsibility for what happened, we must do the hard work of searching our souls.  Why am I so devastated?  Only because of the sin, or because this event toppled my idols of reputation and success?  Could my own sin have blinded me to the warning signals I was trying to ignore?  Is this public sin bringing conviction on my own private sin? 

We do the messy work of cleaning up.  This is not the time to gloss over sin or shove it under the rug, despite the temptation to do so.  That doesn’t mean that we must share every sordid detail with the world, but ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.  Go through due process.  Ask hard questions.  Find out who all was affected.  Examine the width and breadth of the shockwaves, and get help for those who need it.  Take personal responsibility when necessary.

We ask for help when we need it.  Out of fear for our reputations, let us not neglect to ask for help.  This is the time to call upon pastors and trusted friends.  Missionary counselors are there, ready and waiting, for times like these.  Let us not foolishly assume that we can handle it on our own.

Most importantly, we do not lose hope.  The great king Solomon was born to the adulterous David and Bathsheba.  Samson was a moral disaster, yet God used him to avenge Israel’s enemies.  Peter denied Christ three times, but went on to be a leader of the Church.  God does not measure success and failure the way we do.  He sees men’s hearts; He knows the beginning and the end, and He can use even the most horrific situation for His good.

In Trusting God, Jerry Bridges writes, “If we are going to learn to trust God in adversity, we must believe that just as certainly as God will allow nothing to subvert His glory, so He will allow nothing to spoil the good He is working out in us and for us.”

Remember that young man who stole from us?  After we left Tanzania in shreds, we lost contact.  It was the age before social media, and we heard through the grapevine that he had emigrated out of the country.  The betrayal so devastated us that for years we rarely talked about it—even between ourselves.  But time and God’s grace heals all wounds.  We forgave him and moved on.

Then, just a few months ago, out of the blue, he contacted us.  He was visiting Tanzania and wanted to see us.  Of course, we were happy to agree.  We spent a few hours together, reminiscing about old times and catching up on each other’s lives.  After all, we had a lot of great memories together.

Just before we said good-bye, he got quiet and emotional.  Very simply, he apologized for what he had done to us fourteen years previously.

It was a holy moment.

We’re still not sure what God is doing in this man’s life, but we do know for sure that He is not done.  We serve a God of grace and redemption.  We cannot possibly imagine what He has in store.

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.

photo-1431975562098-bac8ded504c7

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

People are not our Project

As a zealous, young missionary I seemed to make  the same mistake over and over. Now as a veteran, I find the same never-ending truth must remain continually before me.

People are not our projects.

 

We never set out to do this intentionally. Our mistakes are made in ignorance. Our desire is to do good, to help others, and to bring change.

Even with these godly desires, we must remain ever careful to not walk in superiority and arrogance.

The message “I have something to give you” may be true, but must be balanced out with a healthy dose of humility and a learning spirit.

Because the truth is, we all have something to give each other.

Examine these two statements. Although similar, they can create two completely different perspectives.

“I have walked with so and so for this many years.”

and

“We have walked together for this many years.”

The difference is subtle.

If you are working in an area where colonialism has been present, these subtle differences can be interpreted in ways you would never desire.

As we walk with different people in various cultures, humility requires us to be willing to receive and learn from others.

One particular young man and I have now journeyed together for nearly ten years. The other day we went for a meal and he insisted on paying. Even though I consider him a friend and not a project or my ministry, I could feel some push back in my heart.

Must I be in the place of power, being the one who pays? Do I allow myself to receive…or only give?

I received his offer to pay, and we had a wonderful meal together. But in this event I saw  I must still constantly be aware of this subtle form of pride which creeps up; even after all these years.

photo-1437623889155-075d40e2e59f

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Can we receive from those we work with?
  • Do we learn from the culture we are working in, or is our way always better?
  • When is the last time we were taught at a local church service rather than a podcast or blog post from home?
  • Do we feel uncomfortable when we find ourselves on the receiving end of generosity?

I recently heard the story of a friend who was given a rather lavish gift from someone. It is one thing to accept a cup of tea or a meal, but can we receive an extravagant blessing given by someone who hails from culture we serve in?

If people are our friends, and we view them as equal, then we must be willing to receive.

Bishop Desmond Tutu famously says, “We are stronger when we are together.”

This same image is reflected in Scripture speaking of one body with many parts. Different members, yet all essential.

Recently I organized a conference of Bible School leaders from all over the African continent. I was intentional in trying to create an opportunity to learn from each other, not just present one view from the front. We had a beautiful time discussing difficult issues such as finances, tribalism, and injustice we have faced.

We truly were “better together.”

When we do not view people as our projects, but rather see them as equal image bearers of God, remarkable things can happen.

Let’s preach this “gospel” to ourselves each day.

Photo by Eutah Mizushima

They Are Not Ready…

“They are not ready…”

These may be some of the most frequently uttered words when missionaries consider passing the baton of leadership.

They can also be the most painful.

716932931_a79e7a8d08

One of the leaders I work with shares the story of being a young, oppressed worker in South Africa during the time of apartheid:

A white Afrikaner man (the people group previously in power) wanted to bring him and a few others hailing from different ethnic backgrounds into a leadership meeting. At the time, this was unheard of; even in a missions organization which championed people from all nations, tribes, and tongues.

When met with resistance from the other meeting participants, the white Afrikaner suggested they at least be able to observe, even if they did not participate.

He wanted to see these young men learn and gain experience so they could step into leadership roles in the future.

In the corporate world this type of a request is common. Interns and associates receive invitations to attend prior to receiving permission to speak. This corporate model does have its shortcomings (assuming a fresh set of eyes is unnecessary), but it gears towards providing needed experience.

But in the days leading up to the fall of apartheid, even this simple request met with a refusal. The other men present were not bad men, but they were raised in a system where this freedom was not present.

The gentlemen of other ethnic backgrounds found themselves waiting in the hallway rather than gaining needed experience, the words of “they are not yet ready,” echoing in their ears.

How often are we guilty of similar tactics?

Do we engage in this subtle form of racism disguised as care and concern?

As we evaluate our leadership, are we giving opportunity to fresh faces and voices?

We must remember our own journey. Many of us were invited to give leadership a try well before we were “ready”.

Training, experience, and internship are all valuable tools.

But we may need to consider if readiness has been redefined as having equal maturity to that of a twenty-year veteran?

Our people are rising, but may not yet be at our skill level.

Most new potential leaders don’t come “pre-cooked.”

Part of our role is to walk along them for a season, allowing mistakes which will promote and stimulate growth.

Seasoning as a leader does not come in a microwave oven, drive-thru approach; but rather through the slow cooker of time and mentorship.

We must be aware of a harsh reality. It is always easier to recognize potential in our own culture and style of doing things than in one which is foreign.

When a younger leader approaches an issue differently, we should be slower to declare them unprepared.

In listening to their idea, we may in fact, hear a better, more culturally appropriate solution.

We are making disciples not clones. We call out potential and uniqueness in those we hope will carry our work into the future.

Or even exceed what we have accomplished…

One of the men who was denied entry in the above story, is currently leading the ministry.

It is one of the largest training and ministry locations Youth With A Mission has in the world.

 

 

Photo credit: sa_apartheid_crop via photopin (license)

When Grief Bleeds

g2

Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Loss singes the soul, and death does indeed bite.

We are not the only ones who grieve, to be sure, but those who’ve lived abroad certainly know this to be true: it hurts to leave. It hurts to return. And when others leave, whether by death or call or transfer, that hurts too.

Our stories are the ones written with contrails, straddling continents and seas. And these stories, the good and the bad, the ones that heal and the ones that hurt, must be written. And remembered.

Some would say to get over it.
Stop crying.

Some might accuse.
     Too little faith.
     Too little thought of Heaven.
     Too much focus on the past.

As if holiness requires Novocain.
Numbness.

c3

But grief is a part of our story now. Indelible.
Grief bleeds through the pages of our lives, marking the pages and stories that follow.

Failing to acknowledge these chapters is to censor. To edit out.
To delete plot twists and main characters. To murder history.

So we leave the pages as they are, splotched and imperfect.
Because on every single ink-stained page, He remains.
Comforter. Rock. Shepherd. God.

He remains the God who grieved.
He remains the God who understands.
He remains the God who comforts.
He remains. And He is enough.

So we keep feeling, refusing to numb. We keep sketching out these life-pages, confident that He knows our stories. He loves our stories. He redeems our stories.

And we keep trusting that in the end, our stories are actually a part of His story.

And He’s really good with words.

 

*photo credit

My Hope For You in 2015

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could hope for you only and fully that all your days be merry and your nights be bright and your path be smooth and the sun shine gently on your face? I do hope the road rises to meet you and that you find joy in every relationship and peace on all sides but I’m sorry, I also have other, deeper hopes. I want so much more than smiles and ease and comfort for you, and for me.

my hope for you1

And so my highest hope for you is that when your days are far from merry you will sense a deep and abiding presence, holding your head above water and keeping your legs from crumbling beneath you. My hope is that when the plans you so carefully lay are shattered, you will release them gently and walk into the unknown with courage.

My hope for you is that when your nights are darker than shadow, darker than black holes, darker than nightmares, the candles of those who love you will burn ever brighter and bathe you in their light. May the light be warm, welcoming, enveloping. When your nights are dark my hope is that you will be convinced morning is coming, even if you cannot see its pink and amber glow. May you trust its arrival because you have seen morning come before, because there is a promise.

My hope for you is that when your path is littered with potholes and boulders, when the hill is steep and the valley plunges, that you will remember those who have walked before you and that you will gather strength from their histories, from that great cloud of witnesses. My hope for you on the long, staggering journey is that though you may grow weary and may feel the pierce of thorns and the sting of blisters and burning thirst, that you will not turn back, that you will fix your eyes on the prize and press onward.

My hope for you is that when the sun is hidden behind a cloud and the sky is Minnesota-January gray and the wind is fierce against you and the rain pelts like needles, that you will have the courage to be vulnerable and honest. My hope is that you will not suffer alone but will seek the help and support and community you need, that you will ask for an umbrella and that you will stand beneath it, a friend holding it for you with one hand and with the other hand, holding you.

I hope these things for you and I hope them for me. This year is fresh but already my knees tremble and the waters threaten to submerge, fire rages on all sides and I am walking through it. Or rather, He is taking me through it. Already my days lack a vital sense of ‘merry’ and already shadows loom over my nights. Already there are dips and rises and the journey seems longer than I want to bear. Already a storm gathers on the horizon.

And already there have been many on this road before me, already I feel buoyed. Already I see the glow of morning coming and already I am part of a community. A community of the hope-filled. Not the naïve, not the never-wounded, not the strength-fakers. The scarred and weary, the stumblers and bumblers, the faithful and the hope-filled.

And so, my hope for you is that you will enter this community, be buoyed by the hope you find here, and that we will burn bright together, in the light of the One who is our strong, eternal Hope.

Happy, hopeful 2015. What are you hoping for this year?

*this was originally published as I Want More Than Comfort For You, at SheLoves Magazine. It has been slightly edited for A Life Overseas.

*photo via unsplash by Jason Long

Just Be Faithful

Rain

“I’m so tired” I think as I’m walking to the subway. Rain is falling and my feet hurt. I’m dragging at six thirty in the morning. I want to cry in this world of cold and rain.

Just be faithful – It’s not like I see the Heavens open and hear the voice of God reverberate across the skies and through my head. It’s just this still, quiet, persistent thought.

Just be faithful.

I’m just back from a refugee camp where 1500 people are displaced — men, women, and children. A place where you beg God to have mercy, where you weep for those who have lost everything. Where you wish you had millions of dollars and a heart that could love harder.

I want to do so much more.

I send a message to my friend miles away in Djibouti, in a place as dry and hot as my world is cold and rainy. “It feels so small” I say. She replies in words that capture a life of being faithful “Know what? It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.”

Just be faithful.

Those words again. They are so persistent. I must pay attention. Faithful – having or showing constant support or loyalty. Steadfast. Dedicated. Constant. Loyal. True. What does this mean right now? What does it mean in crowds and tiredness? I know well what it means in the quiet with my candle burning and my hot drink by my side. Oh I know faithful then and it is easy. But what is faithful in a refugee camp? What is faithful now – on a rainy morning? 

Just be faithful.

So I think about what being faithful to God means in this moment. In this moment it’s as simple as not taking the handicapped seat. But I want it, oh how I want it. And it’s there and it’s empty and what if some young 20-year-old takes that seat? It’s not for them! It’s for the handicapped and I feel handicapped at the moment. Just be faithful. Don’t take the seat. I sigh and move on down the squished train. Faithful – it means I won’t push my way through, it means I’ll give up self and make sure others are okay, it means I’ll notice the person that needs help. That is all I am called to, nothing more — but nothing less.

Just be faithful.

It means I’ll give a nod and a smile when I don’t feel like it, that I’ll stop and communicate with the marginalized when I see them on the street, that I won’t gossip about co-workers when they make me angry, that I won’t get hung up on statistics and who is reading blog posts, that I will communicate in spirit and in truth, that I will love hard and pray harder, that I will read and speak words that honor God, that echo truth. Just be faithful.

The words continue “Marilyn, I know you’re tired. Just be faithful. With my strength be faithful.” There is now a heavy rain falling and those of us on our way to work are leaving the subway. There is a puddle three inches deep on the platform right before the stairs, just deep enough to seep into shoes before going up to dark clouds and rain. I’m still tired but I walk with One who knows tired, with One who knows pain, with One who knows what it is to live out faithful in this beautiful, broken world.

Just be faithful. The words are lyrical now, they speak through the mist and rain, redemptive and life-giving. 

What does it mean to you this moment to be faithful? Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now? 

A Life Overseas Readers & Friends –  if you buy Between Worldsfor yourself or a friend during November all proceeds will go to refugees in Turkey. The refugee situation gets more difficult by the day and cold weather is coming. With that cold weather comes an increase in need for resources like blankets, heaters, tents and more. Along with that are the myriad of health needs so I’m thrilled to be able to send any royalties to a cause like this. It seems appropriate given the topic of the book and where my heart lies. An apology that the Kindle edition is not ready – the delays were not anticipated.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging can be purchased here: 

Send Someone Else

Do you ever have days you wonder why God sent you?

You doubt in the dark what you knew in the light?
Questions about whether we are making an impact set in.
As you contemplate your next big endeavor, you feel like saying…

“Please, Not Me!”

You are in good company.

This is exactly the same response Moses had when God told him His plan of setting Israel free from slavery in Egypt.

When Moses was called, his response was less than stellar.

“Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exodus 4:1)

So God gives him some visual aids to convince the Egyptians (and Moses himself). He turned his staff to a snake and his hand leprous. God went so far as to even promise a future sign of the Nile turning to blood. All this is follows the calling at the burning bush!

What more do you need, Mo?

“They will not believe me or listen to my voice,”

Moses is the picture of reluctance.

tumblr_n3ttt5vKzl1st5lhmo1_1280

“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:10-13)

Moses reminds God of his lack of qualifications.
He lists the reasons he cannot communicate to rulers of nations.
Should the exit appear, Moses is ready to head towards it.

“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

God reminds Moses who is in charge.

How many times do we feel as if we can not communicate well enough for the job?
After hours and hours of language class, do we feel like God sent the wrong person?
Upon giving yet another unproductive message, do we question our ability to speak in terms which change hearts and minds?

Perhaps Moses was struggling with unworthiness or guilt from his past. He did kill a man after all.

God doesn’t give Moses an exit plan, he holds him to it.

He does provide Moses with strategies, a partner in action, and more direction in accomplishing the mission.

Feeling overwhelmed or resistant is not reason for disqualification.

Rather, it puts you in good company.

God seems to like reluctant leaders. Moses, as he walked through his resistance, became one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen, leading a million people out of slavery.

This is especially true when God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves and our own abilities.

People who would be tempted to say “send someone else”, will tend to rely on God more than an over-confident, self-reliant individual.

Reluctance in leadership or in mission is often a sign we are in the right place! It means we realize the enormity of the task.

Photo By Dominik Martin

Disappointed by A National

If you have been in missions any length of time, you have experienced disappointment with a national person you’ve trusted.

It’s not a question of if, but when.

Someone will break your trust, they might steal from you, or worse.

I know of national workers who were entrusted with a ministry only to overthrow the leader; stealing the work.

Extreme. Maybe.

But at the very least we will have people we invest in disappoint us.

It could be through sin. At times they fail in areas of money, sex, or power. Perhaps they just vanish.

I’ve recently had this happen to me…(again).

Someone I believe in and spent a lot of time with went AWOL. They fell off the deep end. The guy disappeared from the face of the Earth. Choose whatever word picture you want, he is gone.

He didn’t steal from me. There was never a hint of inappropriate action towards my wife or children. He just left.

I’m disappointed.

My story is common. So when, (again, not if), this happens how should we (I) respond?

3827201437_930f3beb32

1. Trust
The number one response when someone lets us down is to stop trusting. We view all the nationals through the lens of one person. When one lets us down, find another to invest in.

2. Hope
I’ve seen a common trend in many shame based cultures. If someone feels like they’ve failed or disappointed a mentor, the default response is flight. We need to know that raising up men and women of God is a long journey, not a sprint. There will be failings and restarts. So with the person who has let us down, we must maintain hope that they will return. Again and again, just like someone did with us.

3. View them as people, not “nationals”
Over the years, I have heard far too many negative statements about not being able to trust nationals, questions as to their motives, or false beliefs that they simply are not “civilized” enough to succeed. That’s Rubbish! They are people. Any pastor, business leader, or human being who works with people has had the same sense of disappointment we experience. People are broken. Isn’t that the ultimate reason why we do what we do?

At the end of the day, if we are not “risking” with people enough to be disappointed at times, what are we really accomplishing?

So yes, be hurt. Be disappointed. Sigh a good sigh.

Then get back up and go back and invest in someone else. Be willing to be let down again.

(Here concludes my motivational pep talk to myself……and many others)


Please lend your voice. What points would you add for dealing with disappointment?

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

Photo by Andy Bullock77 via Flickr

The Signs of Christmas

What are the signs which point to Christmas coming?

In every culture there are different visuals which alert us to the coming of this holiday season.

When I first moved to South Africa, Christmas snuck up on me because I did not see the normal American signs. Once I learned the new signs, I could anticipate its approach.

4255134174_7cf1515ed7

Here are a few signs which pop up in virtually any culture.

1. Things appear. Things which are unable to be found for most of the year, begin to appear around Christmas. Certain music, different types of food, and of course decorations. It is the time of year some people appear in church for the first time all year! Each nation is different, but all have things which appear.

2. Gifts. Some are large, some small, many spread over multiple days. But Christmas seems to universally include gifts. Children line up to meet Santa Claus or Father Christmas and make their requests known, provided they have been more nice than naughty.

3. Wrapping. More than any of other holiday or celebrate, gifts are wrapped in elaborate packaging. A quick google search reveals this to be a huge industry, netting 2.6 billion USD per year. Some estimate the amount of paper thrown away could encircle the globe over 9 times! (226,800 miles of discarded paper)

These are all signs Christmas is nearly upon us.

But these are not the true reality of Christmas, yet they can point us to what Christmas is all about. Here are three signs Christmas has come.

1. Jesus appeared. Titus 2:11 tells that “the grace of God appeared bringing salvation for all people.” Just as certain foods or decorations appear at Christmas, it reflects the true appearing that occurred. Grace came. Jesus appear. God came to Earth.

2. Jesus gave himself as a Gift. As we exchanged gifts with loved ones, it points us to the true gift which Christmas represents. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,…”

Only this gift is not based on being naughty or nice. That represents wages or what is do to us. The true gift an act of grace from God to us. We were all naughty. Jesus, unlike Santa Claus, does not weigh out the good from the bad. Rather, he forgives us and gives us what we need to learn how to be “nicer”, even though we will never perfect this.

3. Christ Wrapping Himself in Humanity. Philippians 2:6-8 describes the ultimate act of humility, when Jesus took the form of a man. “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,…” Other versions say he “wrapped himself in humanity.” Creator God taking on the form of the creation, wrapping himself in weakness. Wow.

As we see the signs of Christmas appearing, the exchanging of gifts, and the wrapping of presents; they all stand as reminders to point us to the true reality Christmas brings.

In other religions, you must appease the angry and distant gods with gifts.

In Christianity, Jesus appeared and came near, giving us the gift of salvation, as he wrapped himself in humanity.

This is the true sign of Christmas.

What other signs in your cultures or nations are signs of Christmas that point to the true meaning?

Merry Christmas!

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

Photo by D Buster via Flickr

Missions and Money: A Never Ending Tension

The Bible is full of truth.

Sometimes, the challenge lies in which blend of truth to apply. Many of these tensions surround missions and money.

Let me present three areas missionaries deal with.

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.
2. Being generous to the poor and needy.
3. Saving money for your future, children’s education, and ultimately an inheritance. 

All these areas are supported by a multitude of Scripture. We cannot pick and choose our favorite, but rather find a way to apply an aspect of all these truths.

Some rights reserved by epSos.de
Some rights reserved by epSos.de

Here is a small sampling of the truth Scripture presents in these areas. The Bible talks about money often, we should take notice! (All verses from the English Standard Version)

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”  (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)

“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6)


2. Being generous to the poor and needy.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17)

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)


3. Saving money for the future of you and your family.

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22)

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11)

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

I realize these verses are but a sampling of the dilemma we face. It would be easy to dismiss them saying, “Yes but…”

As believers and missionaries, we tell people they can’t pick and choose which truths to apply. Neither can we.

As missionaries we need to have a degree of application stemming from all these truths in our life.

I would go so far to say all missionaries need to wrestle with issues of financial support, being generous to the poor, and saving for our future. Neglecting any of these is neglecting a part of the Word of God.

I have witnessed missionaries who ignore truth in these areas. Some are now older and wondering where they will be since they have lived a life of trusting God to provide.

Trusting God is true. But trusting God is one truth. We cannot take it at the expense of others, including providing for our future.

My goal is not to make absolute statements, rather to provoke “A Life Overseas” discussion.

Would you help us learn from each other by answering one or both of the following questions:

For a moment of honesty….which one of these is most difficult for you? (Just because we are in ministry, does not mean being generous to the poor is always our easiest one. True Confession. It is the hardest for me!)

What is your experience in dealing with blending these truths? How do you reconcile them?

Ready! Set! Discuss!

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

Living Around Danger

One of the biggest challenges of living and working in South Africa is the constant awareness of crime. Near the top of the list in violent crimes such as murder and rape, South Africa poses a bit a of a safety threat. Poverty drives muggings and home robberies. Very few nights pass when I do not look out my window to investigate some strange “noise”.

How do you deal with this in missions?
Where do I find peace as a husband and father?

By: Alan Cleaver

The initial year was the most difficult in this aspect of culture shock. I found myself jumpy and suspicious, casting a watchful eye over each passerby. As the months rolled into years, I have adjusted, becoming “smart”; knowing more potentially dangerous situations. Now 7 years on, fear is not an issue. There remains an ever-present “alertness” which you never totally realize is happening till you leave the country.

Let me share a story of an incident which happened to our family:

One day we came home to find our home had been broken into. Breaking a window on a side door, the thieves quickly entered removing televisions, laptops, jewelry, and other items which had memories attached to them. They were good. The house was only vacant 45 minutes.

The initial response was mostly relief. They only took stuff. No one was home so no one was hurt.

Then the possible scenarios start to unfold

But what if….?
What if we came home in the middle of the robbery?
What if this happened when my wife was home alone?
What if they come back?

That’s when the fear comes. Insurance can replace items, but no one can replace a life of a loved one. The lingering affects are nightmares and heightened awareness. For days and weeks, we found ourselves hustling our valuables into a safe each time we left the house. Our kids felt unsafe for a period of time. Then anger comes…

There is an irony to this story.

The incident I just explained did not happen on South African soil. It was not in a violent third-world country.

The robbery our family experienced was on our recent visit to the United States while on furlough.

We live and work in statistically one of the most dangerous places on the planet, and we get robbed in small town America.

Crime is a reality on the mission field, but these things can happen anywhere. Fear does not limit itself to geography, it can happen on the home front.

We can take all the precautions we wish, but can never eliminate the risk. Sometimes, when we feel the safest, (I was not waking up at night looking out of windows in rural Washington State!), is when we are at the greatest risk.

The bottom line on crime, whether abroad or at home, peace comes through trusting God.

Crime is a real part of a missionary’s life.

But never let the potential of what might happen stop you from obeying and living overseas if you are called to. While not a guarantee of “health, wealth, and safety“, being where you are meant to be is the place you can sleep the best at night.

Peace comes when you place yourself and your loved ones in the hands of an all powerful God.

What are some other keys to peace in a difficult environment?

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