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Story-telling, listening and spiritual direction

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Gentoo penguins by Andreas Butz

Saw the following in Ken Royers’s email newsletter that he sends out (for free) to personnel involved in missionary member care.  In his January letter, he passed on “Good Listening: Three Before Me,” an article by Steve Karum of NTM. Although Karum does not use the word spiritual direction, what he is suggesting is a way of accompanying fellow missionaries in their journey with God as we listen to their stories.  Is that not a form of SD? I suppose he is offering a little bit of SD and a bit of coaching He suggests we ask the following three questions as we listen to another’s story:

1. “In light of this how are you and God doing?”
2. “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”
3, “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”

Following is Karum’s article in full:

“Three before me” is a little self-reminder, like a string tied on my finger, to stay focused on the one with whom I’m conversing by asking three important questions.

Currently our ministry is with missionaries on home assignment.  We find that while all missionaries have a story to tell, telling the story is just half the experience.  If “telling the story” is to be effective, the story-teller needs to have a good story-listener.  Therefore the main question:  How good a story-listener am I?

Has this ever happened to you?  As the story-teller you’re deeply engaged in relating an incident when all of a sudden, out of the blue, your story is intercepted, hijacked!  Somewhere in the course of your story telling the listener grew bored and took over the conversation!  It might have happened in a short millisecond in which you paused or you said a word that triggered a story or memories, or even a hobby horse the listener insisted on relating.  It’s hard when that happens.  How do we handle it?  Do we speak “Readers Digest Condensed” the next time we’re the story-teller?

As much as I don’t like it, how many times as a story-listener have I hijacked another person’s story?  Have I adopted the un-golden rule, “Do unto others as they have done to you?”  Seeking to encourage while interacting with the story-teller (without hijacking their story), I aim to ask three important questions to bring perspective into a difficult story.

We recently met with a couple en route to PNG.  Since they had started “Partnership Development” they had several setbacks.  After I heard of these events I asked them Question #1, “In light of this how are you and God doing?”

Although it may seem silly to do so I like to ask this question even when everything is going well.  Maybe this is a question that should come later but I ask it first because we are spiritual beings and I believe it is best to start with the most important relationship we have — God and me.  Question #1 pulls our attention to God.  He knows all about our struggles and just as He knows about battles so He also knows the way through.

It is not uncommon to hear a challenge / struggle / disappointment woven through a missionary’s story.  The missionary may not be sufficiently aware of the struggle to put it into words but I believe it’s there and it’s causing them stress, emotionally, physically or spiritually.  Therefore I like to ask Question #2 in a positive way, “What strengths do you have that will help you meet this challenge?”  This question focuses on our God-given strengths.  These strengths will with His direction help us overcome the problem and grow stronger.  It is a question that hopefully will draw the heart toward hope.

Humans are part of a social network and missionaries have several networks:  friends, relatives, churches, mission organization, the ministry country or location, local believers, and co-workers.  Within some networks missionaries feel very safe to the point they will reach out for help.  Therefore Question #3:  “Whom do you know who could help as you face this challenge?”  This query points them toward another who can come alongside.  Suffering is a given but suffering in solitude can seem intolerable.

Of course every conversation has a life of its own.  It’s never the same as the previous one and that makes listening enjoyable.  By utilizing these questions, each conversation will tell of one’s relationship with God — the questions, the blessing, and the challenges — the strengths they never knew they had, and the strength they drew from the rich wisdom of their friends.

Sometimes the “three before me” doesn’t seem to fit.  The surroundings are important.  Is it quiet?  Is the topic safe to talk about publicly?  How well do we know each other?  These all need to be considered.  So with that in mind here is what I try in conversation with missionaries.

It all starts with their story.  I realize that is so “duh,” but I really believe missionaries, actually all people, feel honored through good listening.  Through engaged listening the listener communicates respect, safety, and love to the missionary.  Billy age 4 is quoted on the Internet, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different!  You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”  I’d like every missionary to say, “I know my name is safe with Steve and Patty.”

 In order to subscribe to Ken Royer’s newsletter, email him at   kenroyer@linkcare.org

What do missionaries need?

November 11, 2011 2 comments

In a recent meeting, we led a discussion on the needs of missionaries and asked the following question.  Thinking about missionaries from the time of recruitment to the period of retirement, what do they need in order to survive and thrive?  Following a brainstorming session in small groups, we compiled a list and then asked the small groups to identify what basic category (that we had pre-selected) each need had fallen into.

Since this is a work-in-progress, I would appreciate if others out there could add to the list.

Physical

  • Mission agency
  • Schooling options and TCK care
  • Review
  • Welcome back
  • House
  • Admin
  • Vacation
  • Money and supporters
  • Medical care
  • Communication
  • IT and Technology
  • Accountability
  • Communication
  • Immigration
  • Centers
  • Retirement plan
  • Accountability

Emotional/Psychological

  • Appreciation
  • Encouragement
  • Adequate sleep and rest
  • Flexibility/resilience/adaptability
  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Forgiving
  • Respect
  • Vacations
  • Ownership of Vision/Mission/Values
  • Recreation
  • Adaptability
  • Debrief and listening
  • Resiliency
  • Appropriate organizational exit

Social

  • Visits
  • Good relationships
  • Flexibility
  • Partners
  • Friendships
  • Laughter
  • Family support
  • Peace makers
  • Conference
  • Team
  • Community

Mental/Intellectual/Professional

  • Sense of competency
  • Sense of empowerment
  • Direction
  • Challenges with support
  • Cultural advice
  • Good examples and mentors
  • Vision
  • Ongoing training
  • Godly effective leaders
  • Permission to take initiative
  • Member development
  • Daniel learning
  • Clear expectations
  • Meaningful work
  • Coaching
  • Studies and training
  • Accountability
  • Good communication
  • Contingency plans
  • Monthly Information Sheet

Spiritual

  • Identity security: A strong sense of who they are in Christ
  • Deep relationship with God
  • Prayer
  • Faith in God
  • Strong sense of call
  • God’s word
  • Discipline
  • Discipleship

When God’s glory and grace meet

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Personal photo, taken in Seattle

“If God’s glory has captured your vision and His grace now owns your heart, you are unreservedly committed to the same thing that God is utterly devoted to–magnifying His glory and extending His grace to the peoples of the world through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If this is true, God will make your story a part of His story, and whether seemingly large or small, prominent or obscure, powerful or weak, your story will matter.  Your life will make a contribution.  You will be a part of God’s plan.  That is all any of us could ever ask, expect or hope.  God will make it true.” (208)

From Long Story Short: God, Eternity, History and You by John Kitchen.  Apparently, the theme of Kitchens’ book is the following: “The goal of everything is the glory of God, and the means of everything is the grace of God.” (22)

Found this in one of David May’s book notes.  A  resource well worth the free subscription.

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Divine Narcissism

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

If the glory of God is the driving force behind missions, is God a narcicssist?  God desires (hopefully as do we all)  that there be a worshiping people before his throne from every tribe, tongue, nation and people (promised by Rev 5:9 and 7:9). John Piper has been one of the most vocal proponents that God is fully deserving of this glory from all. Missions involves gathering together worshippers so he gets more glory.

But for others, God’s concern for His own fame and glory seems to be “vain and egotistical”.  Paul Copan tries to answer this question in an article, Divine Narcissism, in Philophia Christi (8:2:2006), “Why does God desire for us to worship, praise and glorify Him?  Why is it wrong for us–but not for God–to be so self-preoccupied?”

His article is subtitled “A further defense of God’s Humilty”.  Valuable thoughts for anyone with a passion for the glory of God.

Copan says that God should not be thought of as proud.  “Rather, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one.  His view of himself isn’t distorted or unnecessarily lofty. He is God, after all!”

Speaking about praise, Copan  says,  “Praise is called for by creatures caught up with God’s greatness, power, goodness and love.  Praise is the climax of realizing God’s excellencies, and creatures fittingly erupt in praise, spontaneously beckoning the rest of us to do the same. ”   Amen and Amen!

Texans, Hillbillies and Missionaries

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Personal freedom by Tomaz Ovcak

What is the difference between a Texan, a hillbilly, and a missionary?

  • A Texan anywhere in the world is still a Texan.
  • There are hillbillies everywhere, but in Canada they are called Noufies.  In Oklahoma, we called them Okies.  They are the same everywhere but they have regional names.
  • Missionaries are people who, when they are in Africa are from America, and when they are in America they are from Africa.

Donald M. Joy quoting Pastor Dan Wayman. on p. 144 of The Family in Mission in “Structural Developmental Strengths of Adult MKs”

To be honest, the first time I read this, I didn’t like this joke. It made me sad and mad at the same time.  It didn’t seem fair and it seemed to be making fun of missionaries.  And making fun of hillbillies, Noufies and Okies–but that part didn’t bother me.  As I read it now six months later, the sting is gone a bit and I realize that the joke does have a point. Missionaries may feel homeless at times but heaven is our true home and the world is our playground.  Jesus offers much for those who have gone out for His sake and for the sake of the gospel (see Mark 10:29-30).  Although we get confused at times about where we belong here on earth, we always remain clear about where we are headed!

How to help someone if they are sad

August 15, 2010 1 comment

“The truth is, most of us are uncomfortable with sadness, as individuals and as churches. We want to fix people and help them to feel better, and we are far less patient than God is with the process he uses to bring healing.”  That is what Nancy Guthrie says in an interview someone sent to me recently.

A few more quotes from Guthrie:

“For a church to be a safe place for sad people does not merely mean that we offer comfort and acceptance. Sometimes it means that we gently but boldly challenge misbeliefs or misunderstandings of Scripture.”

“While we make room for people to be sad, we want to walk with people in expectation that God will indeed do a work of healing in their lives so that they do not stay stuck in their sadness, but emerge from it strengthened in their confidence in God, deepened in their understanding of the Scriptures, and equipped to serve others.”

Guthrie says, “Grieving people have four primary needs that the church has a key role in addressing:

  1. They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.
  2. They have significant questions that need to be addressed in light of Scripture.
  3. They have broken relationships that need to be healed and normalized.
  4. They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.”

Related to Guthrie’s article is one by Ajith Fernando, “To Serve is to Suffer” in which he writes, “We call our churches and Christian organizations “families,” but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life.”

Fernando’s article is hard hitting for those wanting to serve but who do not want to suffer!  More from Fernando,

“When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result is that Christians do not have the security of a community that will stay by them no matter what happens. They become shallow individuals, never having true fellowship and moving from group to group. Churches committed to programs can grow numerically, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.”

Here is a quote that is particularly painful for me to read,

“I get the strong feeling that many in the West think struggling with tiredness from overwork is evidence of disobedience to God. My contention is that it is wrong if one gets sick from overwork through drivenness and insecurity. But we may have to endure tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people.”

In response to Fernando’s article and shortly before her husband died, Libby Little wrote A Small Version of the Grand Narrative in which she concluded, “May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom.”

Too many goodbyes

July 23, 2010 2 comments

Although these words are written about missionary kids (MKs), they would be true for many of their parents as well!

“Many MKs carry with them the scars from too many good-byes. They harden their feelings, put on emotional armor and turn inward in an attempt to insulate themselves from further hurt. They draw back from intimacy and remain in “emotional exile”—alone, separate and protected.”  James Gould

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