Sunday, October 12, 2014

What Is Your Label?


What Does The Label Say?

I have discovered something since moving to the mission field.  It is really quiet profound. It was something that I did, that my culture (most of your readers) does, and that I have started the process of not doing.

It is labeling. We love to label because it frees us from loving the person.  Let me give you an example.

I spoke to a group at a conference in the States a few years ago.  It was not a mission conference but I was asked to speak on mission work and specifically our mission.  Then came the Q & A time.  Here are the first two questions that I was asked.  Now remember, the topic was on missions in the world and the illustrations and stories were from our own missionary life. This are not direct quotes but here are the questions.

Question 1:  Are you a Calvinist?

Question 2: Are you a charismatic?

What do either of those questions have to do with missions in the world?  
What do they have to do with taking Christ to the lost?  Nada. Zilch. Nothing.  
They are simply labeling questions.

I was facing a dilemma and I knew it.  If I said that I was a Calvinist, then the label was attached to my head and all of the non-Calvinist could ignore everything that I had just said…and vice/versa.  If I said that I was a charismatic, then all of the mainline denomination folks could now ignore my call to go to the mission field…they could label me and therefore my message as a little whacko.  If I was not a charismatic, then all of the charismatic people could label me as not Spirit-filled, therefore my message to go and make disciples was not Spirit-led.

The label game was on!

In the States, we label everyone and everything.  We don’t just insist on putting labels on our food or warning labels (signs) on everything that could possibly affect us.  We label each other.  We start with race, but deny our racism.  We don’t see people, we see the color of people. Then, we make assumptions based on that color.  We put labels on everyone that we see. If you are walking down an alley in NY and a middle aged white man is walking toward you…what do you do?  Is it the same reaction that you would have if it were a 25 year old African American? Or an 18 year old Latino? 

We also want political labels.  Are you a Republican? Tea Party? Green Party? Libertarian? Democrat? Constitution Party?  You see, as soon as I can label you a member of the opposing party, or of a different party, then I know how to treat you.  Tell a staunch Republican that you are a hardline Democrat and see how much love is in the room…even if they both wear the label of Christian.  

We look at appearances and put socio-economical labels on people.  Do you shop at Macy’s or Wal-Mart? How old and what type of car do you have? Where do you live? Is that a real leather purse? We even do this in the church.  Here is an insightful question: How many ‘poor’ elders serve on the elder board of your church?  Why is that? Could it be that we think our socio-economic label carries spiritual weight? 

In the illustration above when I was at the conference, I showed how we LOVE our theological labels in the evangelical church. (see, I just used a label, ‘evangelical’. :) ).  Are you young earth or old earth? We all know that young earth creationist believe the Bible and old earth people…well, who knows?  Are you a dispensationalist or a covenant person? As soon as I know, then we can decide on fellowship or not.  Do you speak in tongues? What do you think about women in leadership? Do you follow the Law?  I need to know your label in order to know what to do with you.

Here is the handy thing about a label. A label tells me what to expect and lets me choose what to do.  Think about your pantry full of cans with no labels.  You have no idea what is in the can.  How can you cook?  Now envision the same pantry with all the cans labeled.  Ah…now that you can see the labels you know what to do.  

We do that with people.  A label tells me who is my friend, who I can be with, and who I can hate.  I don’t admit it.  I will deny it.  However, how many people do you choose to place in your life who wear a different label than you?  I said, ‘choose’ to place in your life.  We are forced to work with those weirdos and all of us have them (family) in our lives, but how many different labels do you ‘choose’ to include?  What do you do with the ones who don’t have your label?  We hate them, ignore them, or just think that we are better than them. 

Labels let us ignore the Bible verses on loving others. 

Labels justify our disdain.  

You see, the difference between the pantry illustration and people is that people are all the same…they are eternal souls needing to know and love their Creator.  The label keeps us from seeing the soul and allows us to disdain the person.

Labels are everywhere.

I said that I am learning to change this. I think maybe it is because of necessity. I know that in Bolivia the Bolivians label each other by race, gender, education, and socio-economics.  However, when I came I saw them all as Bolivians.  One big label that covered everyone. I did away with my myriad of sub-labels.  It was wonderful.  Now, my label has even changed to be one of more precise—Christians or people who need to know Christ?  When I go to the jungle, I don’t see this tribe or that tribe…I see people who need Jesus.  At my church, I don’t know what group this person belongs to or that person aligns with…I see people who need to know God better.  It is such a great thing.

My missionary friends have also had a label reduction placed upon them. When I was in the States I was in the micro label community.  A church had to not only agree with us on the essentials of the faith, they had to agree with us on everything.  You can believe in salvation by grace through faith alone….but if you thought it was okay to drink alcohol we had a problem.  However, on the mission field there are a small group of us trying to reach people for Jesus.  You may want to baptize them a different way than I do after they are saved, what matters most…that they are saved or that I believe in dunking them?  On the mission field the label doesn’t matter.  I actually have a friend who I have served with for over 7 years here and just recently found out his denomination.  The name on the label of his jacket doesn’t matter if he is rolling up the sleeves of it and working with me to help people know Jesus.

Labeling.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could try to live without it?  What if there were only two types of people in our eyes…those that know Jesus already and those that we can help to know Him?  What if we were willing to take all the micro labels off and honestly just keep the ones that really, truly, matter.  I have found that the older I get, actually I believe the more mature that I become, the more Jesus matters and the less the other stuff does.


How about you?

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Good Stuff About Being A Missionary

More Good Stuff About Being A Missionary



My last blog was “10 Things Your Missionary Won’t Tell You.”  It received more comments, private emails, and Facebook shares than any blog that I have ever written.  99% of those comments were in agreement to what was said. I am following that blog up with some brain dump good stuff items.  Here is part 2.



Expanded Worldview
We may not realize it, but you have been programed to think a certain way about almost everything.  This indoctrination has happened over your life and is what makes us creatures of our culture.  It is your worldview…how you see and interpret the world.  So much of what we think and perceive is from our culture.  This is true even when it comes to studying the Bible.  We do not remove our cultural lenses when it comes time to read God’s Word.  One thing that has happened to us since leaving for the mission field is that we have had an opportunity to look at things differently. We live in a culture that does not see things the way that we have always seen them.  That has challenged our thinking.  The way that we do things does not always mean that it is the only way, or the right way.  We get to evaluate things.  I believe that living in a different culture actually helps us understand life, our own culture, and the Bible better. 




Molehills Do Not Become Mountains.
There is a tendency in the States to define ourselves and then narrow our definition even more until we reach a point where only those who agree with us in every area can be friends…maybe they are not even christians. :)  Charismatics do not associate with Baptists. Baptist choose their specific group to hang with…such as Freewill, Sovereign, North, South, etc. and pretty much do nothing with anyone else.  And don’t get me going on the Presbyterians. :)

We have gone from the foundational doctrines being what we build upon to using all of the little doctrines to destroy each other.  Every molehill is a mountain.

However, on the field we are foxhole buddies.  We are in this together.  What matters is Jesus.  We focus on the essentials of the orthodox faith and do not choke to death on what you believe about the end times.  It is great.  We can be friends, good friends, with people who disagree with us on the minor doctrines.  I have friends who are pentecostal, others are ‘really’ charismatic :), then I have my über Calvinist and my evangelical Methodist.  There are the conservative Baptist who never say nothing about my wife wearing pants, and the non-denominational that love being at my parties. The molehills are easy to step over when you are climbing a mountain together.  




Helping The Poor
You know that you should help the poor.  You really do know that.  The only problem is, that most of us that live in the States have had two things happen to us.  The first is that we don’t really know anyone who is poor.  The second is that our culture (see the worldview section) has convinced us that helping the poor is hurting the poor.  When I was a pastor in the States, I had two Bible verses that formed the entirety of my theology of the poor.  The first was, “the poor you have with you always’ and the second was “If a man doesn’t work, then he doesn’t eat.”.  That was it.  

Things are different here in the poorest country in all the Americas.  The poor are not some enemy of culture or lazy people trying to live off of the government, both of whom are nameless straw men designed to make us feel good for not helping them.  Nope, the poor are real people. They have real stories. They have names. They have families. They are alive.  99% of them are hardworking and trying the best that they can.  To be honest, they are you, my dear reader, if you had been born here instead of there.  

I get to help the poor. It is so satisfying.  I have been able to feed people that had no food, to clothe people that had no clothes, to pay for surgeries that saved lives, to buy medicine for those who couldn’t, and to give dental treatment for the first time ever to others.  I have had the joy of building 12 homes and two churches for the poor and for poor communities.  It is wonderful.  I love helping the poor in Jesus’ name.





Cool Experiences With My Family
This is way up there on the awesome list.  I mentioned in my blog that missionaries won’t tell you that many times we feel like our children suffer because they don’t get to do all the neat things that your kids do.  However, the flip side of that coin is that they do get to do some fun things.  They have camped in the Amazon forest while serving a poor community and building a church. They have canoed down Amazon rivers and had monkeys jump on their shoulders (one had a monkey pee on him, how cool is that?).  They have climbed a mountain that is 17,000 feet high and driven motorcycles through the city.  They have built homes for the poor and pulled teeth with dentist.  We have had so many wonderful and neat experiences together.  I love being able to do these things with the fam.



Speaking Another Language
There is a joke that goes around in other countries. I have heard it in three different ones.  Here it is:  What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two language?  Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language?  An American.
That is funny because it is true.  I have to say, I love speaking Spanish.  I am a lifelong student now and know that I will never be GREAT.  My accent is poor because I did not start learning until I was almost 45, but I am fluent.  Being able to talk in another language is just cool.  It makes me feel smart, and I need all the help that I can get in that area.  :)


Still more good stuff in my next blog.

Leia Mais…

Friday, October 3, 2014

Good Stuff About Being A Missionary


Good Stuff About Being A Missionary


My last blog was “10 Things Your Missionary Won’t Tell You.”  It received more comments, private emails, and Facebook shares than any blog that I have ever written.  99% of those comments were in agreement to what was said.

However, to be fair, I want to follow up that post with some good stuff.  I love being a missionary!   The following list is not a Bible Study, it is a personal experience of life after being on the mission field for almost 8 years.

Disclaimer:  This list is not in any order whatsoever…just a brain dump written down while sitting up in bed one night.  

Disclaimer 2:  This is sharing my experiences and how I feel.  It is not a judgement nor an indictment about living in the States.  It is just what I like about living here.





Friends
One thing that I discovered after coming to the mission field is that before coming I really did not have that many friends.  I knew a lot of people.  I had a lot of acquaintances.  However I really did not have the ‘call me anytime, no out of bounds, I am here for you, it is not a sacrifice to help you, I want to know you better’ type of friends.  On the field, among other missionaries, there is more of a foxhole mentality.  We are here together.  We are serving the same Lord. For the first time in my life, I have really experienced the ‘one-another’ type of relationship that you see listed in the Scripture.  I said that I am not putting this list in any order, but when I asked my wife beside me to give me a list of what she enjoyed about being a missionary, this was the first one on her list.  It is a big deal to have really great friends who love you and Jesus and show it to you.





Impacting Lives
I have been in ‘vocational ministry’ since 1988.  It has been a blast.  I have loved serving as a pastor in the States and have been the Sr. Pastor of two GREAT churches there.  However, it was not until I came to the field that I truly felt like I started impacting lives on a real scale.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a good ministry in the States.  I loved teaching the Bible. I had the joy of seeing hundreds of people give their lives to Christ.  Yet something is different here.  The best way that I can illustrate it is like this.

Suppose that God called me and gave me 5,000 bottles of water.  He said that I could pass this water out to anyone that wanted it.  I could choose where, when and how to give them out.  Once they were all passed out, my job here was done.  I picture two scenarios in my mind.  The first one is setting up a tent at the local reservoir and water supply in the burbs.  People come to the lake to have family picnics, to fish, and to water ski.  They all have a great time and no one is doing anything wrong.  People see my tent, and stroll by to get a bottle of water to help take the bite off of the fun in the sun day that they are having.  They are appreciative and grateful for my water because it saved them a trip to the local store to buy some.

A second scenario would be for me to load up my water in the back of my four wheel drive jeep and then start scouring the desert looking for people dying of thirst.  It is more work, and takes a lot more energy and effort.  The up side is that every person that I give my water to is more than appreciative.  They are alive.  The water bottle was the difference between life and death.  

That is how I feel. I believe that God has given me a certain gift mix.  He has given me a few talents.  He has also given me some time.  I feel like what I am doing here is making an impact in the lives of people.  I am doing more than helping fellow Christians learn a little more doctrine (although I am still doing that as a pastor and Bible teacher).  I am being used by God to reach souls for eternity and save lives for now.  






Focusing On What Matters
Living on the mission field, especially when you live among the poor, has a way of allowing me to truly prioritize my life.  I cannot speak for anyone else other than me, but in my life I had allowed materialism, consumerism, greed, coveting and a desire to please others creep in unawares.  There really is no other way to explain why I was living such a luxurious lifestyle in the States.  I had adapted to the culture of ‘bigger, better, faster and more’.  Life was about success.  After coming to Bolivia and having the joy of being in a different culture, of being with the poor, of seeing life apart from comfort and consumerism, I began to realize what was really important.  I was able to leave some bad habits and then even repent of hidden sins and allow God to change me.  Life is not about what you think of me, or how much money I have, or the level of comfort that I can attain.  Life is about Jesus.  It is about helping people know God better and love Him more.  It is about sacrificing my rights in order to help others.  People matter to God.  I need to focus on people.  Living on the mission field keeps that priority in line.  What is eternal?  The Word of God and the souls of men.  That is our focus.  




Living On My Strengths
Okay, the next three things are way up on my favorite list. When I say living on my strengths what I mean is that being on the mission field allows me to do what I do best.  I am not a ‘cog’ in some machine simply doing a job description that has been handed down to me.  I am able to choose what I do and maximize my return by doing what I am good at and by limiting my time and energy in areas that I am not very strong.  For example, I am a pretty decent communicator and Bible teacher.  I am also a people person and love to evangelize, disciple, teach, and mentor.  I can focus on that.  I can do that.  I do not have to attend a myriad of meetings in order to keep the bureaucracy or organization going.  I can teach.  I have taught in a Christian school here, helping 9th-12th graders learn the Bible.  I have taught in seminary.  I have taught in a mentoring school for pastors and church leaders.  I have taught leadership and church conferences, marriage and parenting retreats, and led Bible studies.  I am able to spend as much of my time doing this as I want to.  In other words, instead of spending 30% of my time investing in what I am good at and 70% doing what is necessary for the organization.  I am able to spend 70% of my time at what I am good at.  I love to evangelize and share the story of Christ.  I have opportunities every day do to that.  As I told one pastor who was here on a short term trip, “In seven years I have never had to go to a deacon meeting or discuss the color of carpet or meet with the painting committee.”  :)





Multi-tasking
This flows out of living on my strengths.  I am not GREAT at anything other than loving my wife (got some points out of that one), however I am capable in several areas.  As a missionary I am able to do more than one job description.  I teach leadership and one of the things that we talk about is leading or managing.  Neither one is more important than the other, they are just different.  A leader can see what needs to be done and how to do it.  A manager gets it done.  In my gift mix, I am better at leading than managing.  I tell my wife that I am really good at the 80 meter dash….too bad that the finish line is up there at 100 meters.  However, if I can leave the dash and join a relay…if I can have someone to hand the baton off to, then I can go to another race and run another 80 meters with enthusiasm.  Living on the mission field allows me to do that.  I am able to help start ministries, to encourage missionaries, to invest in healthy networks and relationships.  I have been able to preach the gospel to an Amazon tribe who had never had a missionary visit them before, help orphans and orphanages, build churches, start small businesses, feed the poor, provide surgeries for people, help dentist and doctors serve the impoverished, evangelize one-on-one and preach to large groups.  I love doing a project or an event, and then doing something else.  It helps me maximize my 80m dash.  






Being With My Family
While I was a pastor in the States, I had a work week of 53 hours. That was my schedule.  That did not include any power lunches or driving time.  Now, as a missionary, I work on average 48 hours a week.  However, the cool part is that I am never more than a couple of miles from my home.  I have an office, and I also have an office at home.  This allows me to be with my peeps a lot.  I mean a lot.  Bolivian culture does not do ‘power lunches’ like we do in the States.  They just eat lunch and take care of business later.  What this means to me is that everyday I eat lunch with my family and/or my wife.  Since I am able to live on my strengths and avoid too many after work meetings, I am able to eat with my wife and/or my family every night.  Last year, I took David and Josh with me to the office everyday and they did their school at a desk next to mine.  If I need to run to the hospital or drive to someone’s house to help them in some way, I take some kids with me.  When short term teams come and we build churches and houses, my kids work alongside of me.  We went to the jungle for a week and the family went with us.  Everyone from Mercy to Caleb (Seth and Jacob were in the States) lived in a tent in an Amazon tribal village and helped minister and build everyday.  I love my family.  They are my favorite. I get to be with the people that I love doing the things that I love.  





Walking By Faith
I have taught for my entire ministry the importance of living by and walking by faith.  However, the truth is that I never really understood what it meant.  When you serve and live in a place where your next paycheck is always guaranteed, necessity is a word that you hear but do not personally know, and that focuses on improving comfort; it is hard to walk by faith.  I do not mean that walking by faith is focused on money.  What I mean (and am currently teaching at my church) is that walking by faith is hearing what God has to say through His Spirit and Word and then doing it.  It is believing that God can and will use you.  A wonderful example to me was Mary. When she heard that she was going to give birth to Jesus and was shown Scripture as a proof, her response was, “Okay.”.  She simply believed that if God was going to use someone, then it might as well be her as the next person.  Walking by faith is really believing that God wants to use your life as a blessing, hearing what He wants to do, and then acting on it.  That, for me, was much more difficult to do in the States.  It was hard to hear God speak to me in the middle of so much other noise.  On the mission field when life is scaled down so to speak, the voice of the Holy Spirit has been much easier for me to listen to.  This goes with an earlier point about focusing on what matters, but now I can see more clearly that God’s purpose in my life is not to give me comfort and possession.  His goal is to receive glory from me as by faith I obey Him.  






Seeing God Work
I love not only walking by faith, but actually experiencing God at work.  A long time ago there was a study that became kinda famous.  It was called “Experiencing God”.  The idea of the study was that God is at work around us.  We need simply keep our eyes open to what He is doing and then join Him in His work.  Living on the field allows us to do that.  We have networked with a lot of other missionaries.  They are serving Christ and doing an incredible job.  We are able to see God working and then say, “Hey, lets be a part of that!”.  For example, my friend Tony is a mission pilot with a heart for reaching jungle tribes.  He shared his renewed vision with me of starting 10 churches in 10 villages in 10 years.  As I heard him speaking, I could sense that this was of God.  So, I joined God and Tony.  I have volunteered to do any pastoral training necessary and to build any churches when they are ready to be constructed.  We have built one church and will be doing a village church leader conference later this month.  God is working and I see it.  I love that.  I can look at my co-laborers in Christ, at my own ministry, and at the work of my Bolivian friends and see that God is working here.  


More To Come In My Next Blog

Leia Mais…

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ten Things That Your Missionary Will Not Tell You




Things That You Won’t Hear From Your Missionary.

I am going out on a limb here, so I have to put some disclaimers up in advance. 

Disclaimer number one….I LOVE BEING A MISSIONARY!!!    This blog is pointing out the bad aspects that you will not hear us normally say.  It does not mean that I am unhappy or unfulfilled.  

Disclaimer number two….I am speaking of feelings and perceptions. I know what the Bible says and can give a counterpoint to each of these.  For example, when I share how we feel about shortchanging my children, I know that there are 100 things positive that people can point out to me.  I am sharing our heart, how we feel.  I don’t need anyone to send me a Bible lesson. :)

A friend of mine sent me a link to a blog with this title.  It was pretty good, and got me to thinking.  So, no copying, but there is so me overlapping.  Here is what your missionary will not tell you in their newsletter or at your church mission conference.  Here is a little of the dark side of missions.  

1.  Sometimes, most of the time, living in another culture is hard. 

Your missionary will talk about the joy of cross cultural missions and going into all the world.  What they won’t tell you is that it isn’t fun most of the time. I was first exposed to this while on a short term trip to Ghana.  I was invited to a missionary going away party.  A nurse from Canada was returning to her home country after serving on the mission field….get this….for 40 years.  She had come to Ghana as a 20 year old and was now going ‘home’.  During the conversation I asked her how come she was saying that she was going, ‘home.’  If you have lived for all of your adult life, slightly over 40 years, in Ghana and only visited Canada every four years…then isn’t Ghana your home?  She told me that no matter how incorporated you are into the culture, no matter how good your ministry, no matter how accepted that you are by the people…you are not one of ‘them’.  

I have now been in Bolivia for 8 years.  I am fluent and have a great ministry here.  I love what I do.  But I am not at home.  I am not a Bolivian.  I do not share their cultural history or family ties.  When I go to someone’s home to celebrate a birthday or wedding, I am the white guy.  I am the stranger.  I am the foreigner.  When they begin to laugh about family memories or tell stories about relatives, I just smile at the right time.  I do not belong.  When I go to ‘La Cancha’ our market place, children stare at me.   I had a man visiting us from the States tell me when we were there, “This is weird, we are the only white people in sight.’  

It gets old being a stranger.  It is hard to not be in the group.  It isn’t fun to always be noticed.  



2.  It is lonely and your friends and family from the States have forgotten you.  

You won’t ever see this in a mission letter.  We will tell stories of fun things and great times.  We will be upbeat and happy and post photos of our family Christmas party. 

You won’t have us posting videos of us crying or hear us complain about missing friends, but we do; and the harsh thing is that they do not miss us.  When we were planing on going to the mission field, we interviewed 10 different missionary families.  We talked to people who were single, married, married with kids, and older missionaries.  I asked them a question: “What is the hardest part of being a missionary?”  Their answer, all ten of them at separate occasions without any knowledge of what others had said replied, “Loneliness.  After the first year people totally forget about you.  Even your best friend now will not continue communicating with you.”  

We decided to fight against this and using Facebook and social media, along with monthly communications and blogs, we knew that we would stay in touch with our friends.  What surprised us was how quickly they did not want to stay in touch with us.  Oh, we understand that their lives are busy and we have moved.  The truth is, that understanding why something happens does not mean that it doesn’t hurt.  This goes along with the first thing…not being part of the culture.  We don’t feel like we have a home but we do feel like those from our previous home have forgotten us.


3.  We are normal people.  

People think that missionaries are some super christian.  We are one step up from being a pastor, and if you are a missionary pastor then even the Apostle Paul envies your spirituality.  You won’t be reading in a missionary letter, “This week I did not spend hardly any time in the Word, got mad at my wife, yelled at my children and was jealous after seeing photos on Facebook.”  We won’t report that, but it is the truth.  We are normal people seeking to honor Christ even though we are weak and fragile vessels.  We sin, repent, sin, repent, and then repeat.  We are like you.


4.  We never have enough money but feel guilty asking for it.

Missionaries ask for money.  We have to.  We put it in terms like, “opportunity to support’, or ‘be part of the blessing’, or ‘looking for monthly partners’.  

What we want to say is, “We are dying here!  Please help us!  We need money!!” 

We can’t do that.  We have to appear above money.  We need to make it seem like money is something that we could probably use, but no big deal.  We are walking by faith and trusting God to provide..that is what we need to display. You see, we don’t want it to seem like all we want from you is your money.  It isn’t, but in all honesty we do need money.  We need it for our family and for our ministry.  We just hate asking for it, and you hate hearing it.  So, we keep quiet or couch our needs in spiritual terms.  

Another part of this is that we really struggle with being judgmental over money.  This just happened this week.  I posted a need for our ministry.  We would like to purchase some additional dental equipment to help with our evangelistic dental ministry.  We need $700.  At the same time, a friend of ours in the States who sings occasionally at coffee houses posted that he wanted to raise $4,000 to make a CD.  We had $210 donated.  He received $4,300.  Really?  I am not saying that he should not do this nor that it was wrong for him to raise money for it, but really?  He got $4,300 to experiment with a CD and we could not raise $700 to help the poor hear about Jesus through dental missions.  Really?


5.  We feel like our children are getting shortchanged by our choice.  

You will see cool pictures in my newsletters of my children helping do outreach, being in the jungle, washing orphans, or having a monkey on their shoulder.  It all looks so cool.  But the truth is, we feel like our kids are suffering because of us. This is compounded by Facebook.  Just this week I have seen photos of kids playing football, music lessons, dance, debate, camps, concerts, movies, lock-ins and taking college classes at the community college while in high school.  My kids do nothing like that.  I know that I can post all the cool things that my kids do, but I simply cannot compete with the options that you have.  I find myself fighting jealousy, envying and coveting.  


6.  I took a great vacation but I cannot tell anyone. 

One of the neat things about social media is how we can share our lives with others.  Pastors can go on cruises.  Friends can go to some wonderful island.  Family can travel Europe.  They can all brag about their time and post photos on Facebook and social media sharing their joy. 

We can save up money.  Live on a budget.  Spend less than we make.  The, after five years of frugality take a much needed vacation.  What do we hear?  “I should be a missionary, then I could take cool vacations.”  Or, “Is that where my donations go?”

Real example.  My father passed away and after the initial burial and settling of the estate, I found myself with $19,000 of unplanned income.  We prayed about it, and decided to tell the kids that grandpa wanted to bless them.  So, with MY INHERITANCE, while we were in the States on a planned furlough, we rented a home outside of Disneyworld and after vacationing there took the whole family on a cruise. We received several snide comments and one donor quit giving to our ministry.  

My wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year.  We did something really fun to celebrate.  Here is what we did.  We told our kids, “This is on the downlo.  Do not say anything about it to your friends and do not put anything on Facebook.  We don’t want anyone judging us.”

How stinky is that?  You can share your joy, we feel like we have to hide ours or people will think and/or say that we are somehow taking advantage of our donors.  We would love to post photos of our fun and have you just say something nice…but we can’t.


7.  We hate being judged by a standard that our judges do not follow.

Every missionary that reads this will scream “Amen!’,   When we meet with mission committees, churches, sending groups and donors they always ask us very specific questions.  I have NO problem with that.  What drives me bonkers is when someone NOT doing what I AM DOING judges me because they don’t think that I am doing enough of what they are not doing. 

The best example of this is when you meet with a missions committee and they ask us about our evangelism.  I share how, this year alone, we have shared the gospel with over 2,000 people (true story) outside of the church walls and have baptized 35 adults.  The committee talks a little and then says something like, “We are concerned about the follow up of the converts and why so few have been baptized. We would also like to hear more about your evangelistic endeavors.  What do you do and how do you do it?”  Then, after sharing what you do and how you do it, they have critical comments and corrections about methodology.

The problem is this.  The church that this mission committee is a part of hasn’t baptized 35 adults in the last 10 years and does not have a single planned evangelistic event on their church calendar.  I often want to say, “We have baptized 35 adults and shared Christ with over 2,000 people…what have you done?” , or, “That is a great idea on evangelism, help me put some flesh on it.  How did you guys implement this in your church?’  or, “What do you do for follow up after your community evangelistic event?”   I can’t, but I really want to.  It is honestly difficult to listen to armchair quarterbacks who have never suited up critique the game that I am participating in.

Another example of this is how people who are doing nothing to help the poor criticize us for how we help the poor.  They tell us what we should do, what we should not do, how and when and to whom we should do it.  They tell us of the latest book that they have read and/or the latest sermon that they heard. They do nothing themselves, but they know exactly what we should do and if we don’t do it their way, then the threat of cutting support is dangling over our head. 

If someone who is actually doing the ministry has advice, input or corrections then it is infinitely easier to accept.  It is when we are told what to do by someone not doing anything that we have to constantly check our hearts and put a guard on our lips.  


8.  Saying good-bye stinks…and it is not the same in the States.

This happens to missionaries our age.  Our lives become one of a constant good-bye.  We are saying good-bye to fellow missionaries leaving for the States. We have to say good-bye to our children. Denise and I now have four kids living in the USA while we remain in Bolivia.  When we visit for furlough and see grandpa and grandma, we have to say good-bye again to go back to the field.  It stinks.

I was invited to speak at a mission conference in the States.  The church was a little over an hour from where my 24 year old son lives, so he drove down to see me.  After I preached, I went to my mission table in the hall and was chatting with people, passing out prayer cards, shaking hands, etc.  My son and his girlfriend came to say hi, and after a few minutes my son hugged me and said, “Love you Dad, see you in….what…two years or three?”  

I started crying and people graciously walked away form my table.  I realized that I was not going to see him again for at least two years.  This week, three days ago, my wife took my 19 year old to start college in the States.  She called me from her hotel room weeping and said, “It doesn’t get easier.  I hate this! I hate this!”

Now here is where the second part of my point comes in to play.  Friend will say, with totally god intentions, “I understand, my son left for college this week also.”

It is not the same thing!  Your son/daughter can come home for the holidays and on school breaks.  They may be able to snag a $100 ticket and bop in for a three day weekend.  At the most they are a quick flight or short drive away.  We live on another stinking continent.  When we say goodbye, it isn’t “See you on break”.  It is “See you for a few days in three years.”  My son Jacob moved to the States and was living on his own.  He had not been there long and called us and after talking I let him know that he needed to go to the hospital because I thought that he had appendicitis.  At the hospital he let us know that it was, and they were doing an emergency surgery.  

It took my wife three days to get there.  She could not hop on a plane and be there before he left the hospital. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I knew that when the phone call came telling his children to come say their good-byes, that I would not be able to be there.  I knew that I would miss his last words, not be able to minister to my family and probably not be able to attend the funeral.  It is not the same thing as living in the States.  It isn’t.  

I would say that out of all the negatives to living on the mission field, this is the worse one.  Saying good-bye.  


9.  Going to the States is hard.

You would think that returning home on furlough is wonderful.  Every missionary looks forward to it.  It is the focus of the year that it is going to happen.

That is partly true.  However there are two things that your missionary will not tell you.  One you probably already know.  Logistically it is difficult.  Most missionaries don’t have a place to live, a car to drive or a plate to eat off of.  All those things that we need in everyday life, from pillow cases to car seats, we do not have.  We have to find short term solutions and we HATE borrowing stuff.  We also do not want to live in your basement.  We want to be a family with our own privacy and family time.  

We also want to visit and spend time with our donors and churches, but making that happen is so hard when we have donors in 12 different states.  It isn’t cost feasible to spend $1,200 to visit a church in Arkansas that gives you $25/month.  But you want to and think that you should.  The logistics make home assignment difficult.

The second thing that you probably do not know is that it is hard emotionally.  Why?  Because we discover that we have changed and that you no longer really want to be around us.  I wrote about this one time.  Let me summarize that blog here. A man from the land of Blue became a missionary to the people of Yellow.  He struggled because he was a Blue man among Yellow people.  However, after a while he began to truly understand their culture and become partly assimilated.  One day he looked in the mirror and saw that he was no longer Blue, he was now Green.  It made being in the land of Yellow easier.  Then, after many years, he returns to the land of Blue. To his dismay, no one there in his homeland of Blue wants to be with him because, well because he was a Green person in the land of Blue. 

After being on the mission field you are a different person.  People perceive you differently.  Even people who were friends are no longer friends.  They have grown without you.  They have had different experiences without you.  You are no longer ‘one of them’.  When you return, people want to shake your hand and say that they missed you, but they don’t want to be with you.  They are also worried that you are going to ask them for money.  We actually asked a person out for dinner, a person who had been a friend before going to the mission field.  Their response was, ‘We don’t have any money to give you.”  They REALLY said that!  

After being in my home church, where I had been a pastor, and was now feeling ostracized, I shared my feelings with a staff member of the church.  He told me that he knew why people avoided us.  I asked him what it was.  He said, “You intimidate people.  Not by what you say, or what you do, but by who you are. We look at you and your choice and we feel guilty for being materialist.  It is easier to avoid you than it is to repent of our love of money.”  

I don’t know if that is the reason or not, but missionaries feel unwanted.  We may think that you appreciate us, and we really are grateful for your financial support, but we feel like you don’t want to be our friend.  


10.  I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to you.

You, whether an individual or a church, give us money.  You support our ministry.  Like it or not, I now feel like I have to justify to you that giving us money is good.  I have to prove myself and my ministry over and over again.  My newsletters are not to let you know what we are doing..they are far more than that.  They are items that I am entering into evidence as proof that you are making a good investment.  And….if a period of time goes by where we don’t really have anything BIG to report….we feel like a failure and live in the fear of you giving your money to someone who deserves it.

Often we don’t feel like we are on the same team as you.  We feel like you are our boss and it is time for the annual performance evaluation….and this year someone has to be let go.  We are tempted to pad our resume and make it look better than it is.  Instead of saying that we go to church, we say, “We are actively engaged in a local congregation”.  We don’t say that we buy our fruit from the same seller every week, no, “we are building intentional relationships with those in the marketplace”.  We may lead a Bible study but we call it, “engaging in a mentoring relationship with young married couples.”   Look at what I just told you.  I buy fruit each week, go to church and lead a Bible study.  That does not sound worth supporting does it?  I mean, you do that.  But if I am building intentional relationships while mentoring young married couples as I am actively engaged in a local congregation…then maybe you will think better of me.

So, we say things that make us sound better, holier, busier than we are.  We can’t say that we are living in the culture and doing what we can to promote Christ but it is difficult and we really don’t have much fruit to show you this year.  That is because of numbers 4 and 7 above.  We need money and you are judging our worth…and your evaluation will determine our money.  This may not be true, but it is how we feel.  We feel like we have to constantly show you that giving to our ministry is a great idea and you should keep it up.  It produces a lot of pressure and emotional stress.




So, there you have it.  Ten things that your missionary will not tell you.  They may not be pretty, but maybe hearing them can help you relate better to your missionary.  Comments are welcome, especially from fellow missionaries. 



Leia Mais…

Friday, May 9, 2014

Off To The Jungle

Give us a quick prayer as you read this, we will be in the jungle all next week doing some fun stuff..

Here is what is up.

Our friend and co-missionary Tony Murrin is a mission pilot with a heart for unreached people.  He has a vision of starting 10 churches in 10 villages in 10 years.  We have volunteered to do what we can to help him accomplish his vision.

God is working.  If you haven't watched this before, check out this video:



Then, not long after, here is the answer..



So, thanks to God working through 2Rivers Church from St. Louis, we are heading to the jungle.

All of us except for Seth and Jacob are going.  Caleb and Benjamin are spending the summer with us and will be there to help us.  Here is what is going on.

We will fly over 100 miles in a mission plane to the village of Ushve.  There we will build a church that looks like this.


This is in the neighboring village of Oromomo.
While we are building the church, we will be doing other things as well.  We will hold a week long children's camp, show movies to the village every night, and we have two doctors and a dentist with us to do medical/dental ministry.  We will also be doing evangelism and evangelistic events.  
It is going to be a blast.

This is where the church will actually be.

Here are the only believers in the village setting posts in preparation of the team coming.

Please pray for us to be used by God.

Joe

Leia Mais…

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Are You Accountable?


Accountability

In the past few years there have been several, prominent Christian leaders confess (after being caught) to moral failure and sin.  This is sad, but not unexpected since we are all open to temptation and to sin…only a life in pursuit of Christ can protect us.  However, something has surprised me.  When these people choose to sin, the response has not been what I thought it would be…we haven’t been challenged to follow Christ and deepen our love for him. We haven’t been told that apart from a passionate pursuit of Christ this could happen to any of us and been pushed to walk deeper in our love for Him. Instead, a lack of accountability is to blame. The people sinned because they were not accountable.

I totally disagree.  I do not believe that accountability is the issue, however it is what we hear more than anything.  
“They were not accountable!”  
“A lack of accountability led to this.”  
“If they had been held accountable, then they…..” 

This battle cry of accountability is one that we hear a lot.  My question is this: Is it in the Bible?

I think that we have made an exchange…and one that does not work.  We have exchanged what is in the Bible for something we have made up. Then we act like what we have made up is what is in the Bible.  

For example, we are taught to get an ‘accountability partner’ and then ‘ask tough questions’ when we have our weekly meeting.  Of course, we must always ask the last question: “Did you lie about the other questions?” 

While this may not sound bad…and it isn’t…my question remains: Is it in the Bible?

SIDE NOTE: As a missionary, I am asked all the time about accountability...and the question is mainly focused on financial. I have it, layers and layers of it. We have financial boards, rules, policies, etc. We have people to watch our lives and to be open with. I have no problem with a mission committee wanting to see my accountability. I believe that we should be open and honest with the trust that people invest in us. Especially from a business point of view…my investors have a right to track their investment.  So, this is not what I am talking about.  I am addressing the whole issue and teaching of accountability itself.

Let me throw out some questions to you:

Have you ever done a Bible study on accountability? 

Is what you are referring to when you speak of accountability in the Bible? 

Are there examples in the Scripture of your type of accountability? 

Where did you hear this term in the first place and did you investigate it in Scripture? 

Also, do you have this accountability that you demand in others in your life as well?" 

The fact is, the word 'Accountability" is not in the Bible. The word "Accountable" is in the Bible twice, and neither time is it used in the way that the Christian community uses it. When we talk of accountability, we are talking about looking someone in the eye and asking them about their moral purity.  We can change the form of the questions, but the bottom line is that our accountability groups are designed to discover or prevent sin.  Remember the character in the movie, “Monsters, Inc.” that said, “I am watching, always watching.”?  That is our form of accountability.  However, it is ineffective.  My point is this: if the fact that GOD loves me, gave HIS SON for me, and at this moment is actually IN AND WITH me does not keep me from sin...your accountability questions will not either.

I guess what I am trying to say is that accountability, like we teach and preach, is simply NOT in the Bible.  What is in the Bible is us living "one-another' lives...the term one-another is used over fifty times. That is Biblical Accountability...my life is integrated with yours and we see each other, we know each other, we love each other.  We are told to love each other, help each other, pray for each other, carry each other’s burdens, confess our faults to each other, encourage each other, challenge each others, forgive each other…etc..   This is true accountability.  It is living in Christian community with each other.  It is not a weekly small group ministry of a church.  It is not a coffee and a few questions with eye contact.  It is life.  It is fellowshipping.  It is BEING WITH each other.

We do not do that.  What we have done is replaced this life together with a term called “accountability’ and we seek to efficiently squeeze community into a few questions and a frappucino.  Why do we do that?  Why do we think it works?  Why don’t we practice Biblical fellowship instead of unbiblical (not sinful—just not IN the Bible) accountability?

I think that I know the answer.  My opinion is based upon thirty years of ministry and my own busy life.  Fellowship takes time, energy, and effort.  Accountability questions don’t.  Yet, I can still feel good about myself if I have an accountability partner…it means that I am a serious Christian.  So, I have the best of both worlds.  I feel good and do not have to invest my life in others.  Still time for the ball game if you know what I mean.

There are two sad things about this.  The first is that we have allowed a cheap, worthless substitute to take the place of eternal relationships.  The second is that we have actually come to believe that our form of accountability is what the Bible teaches and we judge others based upon it.

I can speak from experience. I had an accountability partner for almost ten years.  We met in the mornings for a cup of coffee and asked each other how we were doing spiritually.  I now have Christian fellowship.  Fellowship wins hands down.  

How about you?  Do you actually invest your life in others, or just go to church and maybe have ‘accountability’?  

Could be time for a change.

Just a thought,

Joe

Leia Mais…