Tag Archives: leading a missions team

Generosity

Every time I go to Africa I learn something new. I learn new things about the places and cultures, and about how one country or one region or one tribe is different from another. And whereas when I first went to Africa everything was new and different and very black and white, over the years I’ve begun to understand the subtle nuances of why some things are the way they are. More exciting for me is that in coming to understand more about Africa and the Africans, I’ve come to understand more about myself.

My most recent revelation was on my last trip to Kenya. As a missionary, you grow in your relationships with the people you’re partnering with. As that happens, you begin to learn more not only about their interactions with you, but their interactions with each other. What I learned this time was that, with some notable exceptions, Kenyans are very hospitable people, but not very generous. They are willing to take people into their homes and spend time with them, but when it comes to giving money or volunteering for a cause, it’s a much more difficult proposition.

So I started thinking about that. How do we (missionaries) show a good example of how to be generous? Because we’re generous, right? And it was at that point that I learned the lesson about myself.

In the book of Mark, Jesus is at the temple in Jerusalem, and makes an observation to his disciples.

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

So how is this different from how we as missionaries act when we go overseas? We go to a foreign places, throw some money around, go home, and congratulate ourselves on how generous and giving we were. We give away used shoes and clothing, undermining the local merchants, and hand out money that creates dependency, ruining Africa one person at a time. Is this generosity? I think not. We give money because for us, relatively speaking, it’s easy to come by. They (the Kenyans) give of their time, because (again, relatively speaking) it’s easy to come by. Neither is really generous when it comes down to it, because, as we learned from the story of the widow’s mite, true generosity is when you give out of your lack.

I’m not saying that giving money is a bad thing, far from it. But what would it look like if we gave not only our money, but invested in meaningful relationships with those we are partnering with. What if we truly gave of our time and emotional reserves and truly bore each other’s burdens as if we were family? This is the model that Jesus set up for us, because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore heirs of the same Kingdom. And that is the example of generosity.

Some people see life as a pie, and there’s only so much pie to go around. When you see life that way, you do all you can to get as much pie as you can, because the pie will soon be gone.

Others see a life of infinite pie. There will always be more pie. As Christians, we need to see life this way. We know the one who makes all the pie, and if we just ask for it with the intention of giving it away, he will give us more. But in order to receive it, there has to be less of us, and more of Jesus. That’s when we’ll see generosity take hold.

Leaving the Devil Worshippers Back Home

I’ve decided to broach a touchy subject tonight that I’ve sat on for a while. When I write a blog, I often have a concept down, but there’s some part of it missing. That’s what happened with this post, until today.

As I prepare to go back to Africa, a lot of things go through my head. How do I prepare, physically, financially, and especially spiritually? This is also a continual thought as people approach me who want to be involved on the going side of missions.

I am always looking for people who will be involved not only with serving locally, but people willing and suitable to go and do the difficult work of traveling to remote places in Africa or Asia, with all of the discomfort and unknown factors that come with that.

Now God can and will use all kinds of people. I think of how incredibly naive I was when I first got involved with missions, and it’s proof positive that God will take someone with few skills who is willing and use them. God can take willing people and give them skills, but it’s harder to take skilled people and use them if they’re not willing. What I’m saying in a long-winded way is that I try not to look at someone and say, “I won’t take them. God won’t use them.”

However, there is one type of person I greatly hesitate to take overseas with me for Christian ministry and that is devil worshippers. At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “what on earth is this guy going on about? Why would that even be an option?”

Well, there are far more devil worshippers in the church than is readily apparent, and I’m going to explain. A friend of mine said once, “Complaining is the devil’s worship music.” Let that sink in, because it’s completely true. There are people in the church that you can tell when they’re complaining because their mouth is open. A person with a complaining spirit sows all kind of discord around them and invites evil into their own lives. They cause division within a ministry group and make being a witness extremely difficult. They split churches and cause effective outreaches to cease.

There is a direct tie between true worship and effective ministry. There is also a direct tie between gratefulness, thankfulness, and an effective witness. In many instances in the bible, miracles and great acts of God are immediately preceded by worship, especially in times where that worship was under difficult circumstances and trials. I think of Paul and Silas in prison, in chains and having been beaten. They began to worship, the earthquake came, and their chains fell off. As a result, the jailer and his whole family were saved.

What does worship do? It takes our focus off of ourselves and places it squarely on God, where it belongs. Therefore there is also a direct tie between worship and humility. Worship says, “less of me, and more of You.” It is in this state that we are able to act and pray most effectively. As the scripture says, “if you ask for anything in my name, it will be done.” But that’s where people often go wrong. They pray, “in Jesus name” at the end of their prayer as if it’s some magic talisman and expect it to be done as if that’s what Jesus was talking about. No, we pray and act in Jesus name when our will lines up with his. How does that happen? When we seek his will by knowing the written Word, and by worshipping, which in effect says, “Lord, let me put myself aside. Show me your will.”

It is at this point, when we have put ourselves aside, when we are humbled, and we have a heart of gratitude, that our testimony is effective. Consider the words from the book of Revelation, speaking of the end of the devil. “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Now contrast that with a complaining spirit, that continually says, “I have been wronged. No one defers to me. Someone owes me. I demand my pound of flesh.” All focus in this case is on me, not God. There is no gratitude, and no seeking anyone’s will but my own. Everything that has ever gone wrong was always someone else’s fault. Despite the fact that many complainers constantly engage in self-effacement, they are not humble, because humility is not about thinking less of yourself. Rather it’s about thinking of yourself less. You can’t do that when you’re complaining. I would go so far as to say, no one was ever saved from their old life because someone was complaining.

When ever I will be heading to the mission field, I go through a time of self-assessment. These are not just thoughts for “them”, whoever “them” is. These thoughts are especially for me. So to succinctly sum up what I’m talking about today, I’m finishing with the words from Philippians 2, which says the following.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Do Everything Without Grumbling

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

The Settlers, Part One

Recently I was looking at a group I follow on Instagram. It’s an organization that puts together short term missions trips for which people can get involved. They put up a map showing all of the planned trips for the year. There were a lot of them, and they were certainly going to be very busy. But one thing stood out immediately, and that was the blank parts of the map, places where there were no trips planned. The entire Middle-East was missing. North and Central Africa were missing. Central Asia was missing. In short, the planned trips were all to places where the gospel has already been heavily preached. All or nearly all where there is a significantly large indigenous church presence to take up the job for which we’re sending short term missionaries.

Even in the first century, the Apostle Paul talked about this. Romans 15:20 says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

The problem is this; when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, going to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth, we weren’t all supposed to go to the same place. God was looking for pioneers. He was looking for people who would do the hard work, going into hostile, uncomfortable places. That’s what pioneers do. But at some point the settlers came in. Settlers are people who see that the wolves have been killed, the land has been cleared, and the railroad has been constructed. Settlers want to do something worthwhile but don’t like risk. In short, settlers build on someone else’s work. They not only settle the land, they settle for second best.

What we have to realize is that the Great Commission was never about us. It was not about feeling like we’re doing something worthwhile. It was not about being or looking busy, or having a life-changing experience. Sometimes these things happen. It’s good to have a life-changing experience and have a heart change. But it’s more important to be obedient. When Jesus said to go to the uttermost parts of the Earth, he meant the uttermost parts, and not just the convenient and easily accessible parts of Mexico. When we go to these places, we often go to places where we are not needed, and local ministries often find themselves taken from critical work in their own communities to accommodate our insatiable need to feel like we got something done. In cases like this, it’s better to have just stayed home. I don’t want to sound harsh, but the more quickly we figure out that missions is not about us, the more quickly we can fulfill the actual commission we were given.

So the next time an opportunity comes up to get involved in missions, ask yourself, “Am I a pioneer or a settler? Am I doing the best God has called me to, or am I settling for second best?”

The Church And The Water Tank

What is a missionary? This is a question that my wife and I pose when we teach a class on missions. We get a variety of answers. Everything from teaching to building churches to giving food to the poor; the list goes on for a while. I think the answers we come up with come from both the roles we’ve seen others take, but also from how we see our relationship between those who are going and those we are going to see. I’d like to relay a story from a good friend of mine that I believe sums up the latter very effectively.

I have a friend that moved a long way from her family. She rarely saw them because of the distance, just once a year or so. She was bothered by the fact that her kids were not growing up knowing their grandparents very well. With the limited time available each year for them to see each other, she considered the time very valuable for her parents and kids to spend quality time together.

Her parents, on the other hand, would come to visit and were always concerned with what projects they could do. Despite her effort to get them to spend time with their grandchildren, they always somehow diverted to working on some project around the house. After a while, she finally gave up trying to get them to stop, and instead found herself focusing on trying to find them projects to do. Her parents never seemed to believe that she was content with the way things were, so to bide their time she sometimes found herself coming up with projects that were neither important to her nor actually needed to be done. Her parents were acting out of love, but they were also acting out of paternalism, which had traditionally been their role, but was one that never changed when their daughter got married and moved out. She appreciated their effort, but wished that they would take some of that time to strengthen the family bonds.

Now let’s travel to South Sudan and see how similar the story is. We went to visit a church plant we were supporting. I showed up a day before the other missionaries, so I had some time to talk to the local indigenous pastor. He told me about how important it would be for us to go visit one of the new churches they’d planted in a more remote area. In fact, he made this point several times over the next day or two.

The next day the other missionaries showed up, and noticed that the gravity shower we had built on a previous trip was broken. The water tank was cracked.  Fixing this became the first item of attention, and a significant amount of time and money were spent doing this. In fact, so much money was spent that we didn’t have enough left to be able to visit the church plant that was so important to the pastor there. The fact was, that the water tank had cracked because it rarely had water in it, and as the broiling South Sudan sun would bare down on the empty tank, it cracked. It simply wasn’t that important to them when it was built, and it wasn’t that important to them when we fixed it. They wanted to build relationships, we wanted to build STUFF. This relationship also had more than a sprinkling of paternalism. A paternalistic relationship says, “I’m from the rich country and I know what’s good for you better than you do.”

I learned a lot from that trip. Thinking about it made me think of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, as well as those of the other Apostles. What was the purpose of those journeys? There are so many answers to that question found in the New Testament that I’m not even going to narrow it down to any particular verses. They include evangelism, teaching, encouraging the body of Christ, dealing with problems within the churches, discipleship, raising up new leadership, and in one case taking up a collection to help another church that was in a region dealing with famine. Not once was the purpose to do projects. I understand that there are times when this is necessary, but if we go in with the attitude of “what can we build?” we frequently and completely miss out on the more important purpose of being there. That purpose is to expand the kingdom of God and to promote unity within the Church. There is no Western Church and developing world church, there is only the Church. We need to be aware that a Church is people, and not buildings and stuff. As it says in Acts 7,  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “ ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?”

This is hard for Western missionaries, particularly Americans, to grasp. We are a very task oriented culture. We know that when we go somewhere, particularly if it’s a short-term missions trip, we have a limited time and we feel like we need to have something tangible to show for it. Most of the rest of the world though, considers relationships to be far more important. We need to keep this in the forefront of our mind when we go to see our brothers and sisters overseas. That project may be really important to you, but if it’s not important to them, you’re really not doing any good.

Missions is about building relationships.
Missions is about building relationships.

Eternity Practice

Grossmünster in Zurich took 120 years to complete. They were on the right track.
Grossmünster in Zurich took 120 years to complete. They were on the right track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a bit of a hiatus from writing, I have begun to think about things related to missions again. I really felt like I needed a break after going to Africa two to three times a year. Now I have had five months of not traveling, and I am beginning to feel the call again. That call probably won’t be heeded for a while though, as my next trip to Africa is not scheduled until late fall this year.

I was reading a book the other day, and I came across some facts about a cathedral in central Europe that took 400 years to build. This might be something that would normally just make you say “wow” and move on. There was so much more to that statement though, that speaks volumes about how people thought in the middle ages as well as what they valued as opposed to how we think and value things now.

When I watch television shows about real estate in the western world, people are always looking for something new and shiny. If the kitchen hasn’t been updated in the past ten years, they want to tear it all apart and make it new. Furthermore, if the remodel is going to take more than four weeks, people get upset. So what does this have to do with missions?

Well, not to be crude, but when our level of patience is equivalent to “gargle and spit”, it has a huge impact on the way we go about everything we do. Missions, particularly short-term missions goes hand in hand with this way of thinking. When we raise money, we must come up with a “project” that we plan to do and complete, or people don’t feel right about supporting it. These projects often run counter to the cultures we’re dealing with, as well as the long or even the short term good of those we’re supposed to be helping. I know of one missions group that would go and build a new church for one particular group of people every few years. The rebels would come and burn down the church, and the cycle would continue. So why is this? Is it because we are not thinking of eternal things?

Now this is where I get the hackles up on the back of lots of well meaning people who have sacrificed time and income and probably a lot of comfort to go and do these projects. For that I’m sorry, but it doesn’t negate my point.

You see, five hundred or a thousand years ago, people understood that some of the things they did for God (build a cathedral for instance) would be things for which they would never personally see the results. We don’t think that way anymore, and we should. People don’t want to give money to, or engage in things for which they won’t personally see the results, even if those results are only short term. We need to work on things that are not just long term, but eternal.

Even Cathedrals, with lifespans in the hundreds or thousands of years, are not eternal things, but the people of the day with their understanding as it was were more on the right track than we are today. Matthew 6 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is an amazing verse. Buildings and projects may last a long time, but they are not eternal. The soul of a man or woman is eternal. Working with people requires building relationships, and building relationships takes time. When we do short-term missions, we need to understand that we are building relationships that will hopefully last beyond this Earth. We are not myopic do-gooders bent on building a product to make us feel good. Rather, we should realize that the things we start now, we will likely never personally see the results of. If we do see the results, we should consider it a blessing from God that we were graced to see them with our own eyes.

Jesus’s words speak as true today as they did when they were spoken. “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Even then it was realized that someone else would finish the work that another person started. So if it’s true that eternity is in our bones, let’s fervently work toward things that we may personally never finish. We are eternal beings, so let’s practice being eternal.

Lots of New Firsts

The skyline of Nairobi, Kenya, taken near the mosque.
The skyline of Nairobi, Kenya, taken near the mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

I had a lot of thoughts on my mind lately; a lot of heavy thoughts. I decided to throw them all out and write about my upcoming trip to Kenya instead. After all, this blog doesn’t always have to heavy.

In just a few weeks, I leave for Kenya. This will be my eighth trip to Africa since 2010, and the frequency of the trips has only increased. It’s now at least twice a year. Nevertheless, this trip will be full of firsts. This will be the first time I am going to Kenya when I’m not either just stopping through on the way to somewhere else or taking a partial vacation. I will be doing ministry in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.  Though I’ve been to Africa several times, this is the first time I will be leading a team. There will be three people traveling with me, and two of them have never been to Africa before. My wife has only been once. To be honest, it makes me a little nervous, because I have more responsibility on my shoulders. I am fine with nervousness though. Everything that is worth doing comes with some risk, and the rewards are eternal. I know also that my nervousness will be nothing compared to that of my fellow travelers. I am looking forward to seeing that look on their faces the first time they step off the plane in Nairobi to the sights and sounds, and ah yes, the smells of Africa. I am looking forward to this because I remember the first time for me; for the awestruck wonder usually reserved for children but nonetheless granted to me one more time. I’m excited for them because I have some idea of what’s in store for them even if they don’t. I’m excited for the life changing epiphany that awaits them if their eyes are open even a little.

This is also the first time I will be going to Africa when photography will not be my main function. Yes, I will still be doing that, but I will have to put the camera down a lot more and do tasks which I may not be accustomed to. A year ago, when I was in Ethiopia, an African pastor prophesied over me as he prayed, saying I would be given new skills that would be used all over East Africa. Now is that time, and I will keep that in mind when I feel I am being stretched past my limits. New abilities don’t normally just drop into your lap. They form when we are pushed past what we have already become comfortable with into the realm of what might be possible. There are no participation trophies. I am looking forward to what is hard, knowing that what is hard now will not be as hard later. I’m looking forward to becoming more capable, even if it involves making mistakes. As I read in a book recently, “God cares more about the worker than the work.” I think this is a true statement.

I intend to be giving updates on our upcoming trip while in Kenya, including pictures. Thankfully I will have good internet access in the evenings. I also hope to be able to write about my team members’ first impressions while they are still fresh. I’m looking forward to that. One last note, I wanted to congratulate my friend Peter in South Sudan, who’s wife brought a joyous new life into the world last week.

For those wishing to follow my travels, and see the parts of Africa the tourists never see, you can follow this blog, and you’ll receive an email each time there’s a new post. Until next time.