stress, sabbath, and the single missionary

meet my frenemy sisters, stress & the sabbath.  you might be thinking, *gasp* how could you call the sabbath a frenemy!  God meant it to be good for you!

on the mission field, missionaries are always encouraged to keep their sabbath.  it’s biblical, it’s beneficial, it’s restful and yada yada yada.  yeah, i’ve heard it all.  So let’s start from stress, because that is directly related to how we keep (or, don’t keep) the sabbath.

Stress – i get it, everyone faces stress.  whether you’re married, single, young, old, male, female, there is stress, so there’s nothing to complain about there.  oftentimes, when we say “stressed” – we might just mean “i-need-to-be-able-to-share-with-someone-the-things-on-my-mind-and-then-i’ll-be-okay-and-can-move-on.”  what i want to address is the fact that when singles face stress about something, we don’t have a way to share about that stress without hearing (from married people) “You need to trust God, He will take care of it for you” or “You need to relax.  Take care of yourself.”

hey, you know what?  a lot of times, it’s not really the stress that comes from ministry that is overwhelming (because we know that God is in control) – often it might be all the other things we have to deal with (as a single) added on top of that tiny thing, that – in that slight moment in time – can end up being all quite stressful.  what things, you might ask?  well, things that take time and effort to do like: having to write a newsletter, meeting deadlines with home offices or field offices, paying bills, dealing with everyday household things breaking down, doing laundry, grocery shopping, etc.  you know…life.

just trying to survive life.

just trying to survive it.

and as a single, we don’t have another “half” who can share those responsibilities with us.  so even though it might seem like our ministry stress is not that big, it might possibly be lots of other things piling up.  with not enough time to really share verbally with people (because let’s face it, everyone on the field is too busy and you know it!), the last thing we want you to “encourage” us with is that you think we don’t “trust God enough.”  that is when i go cray-cray.

i’m sorry, but is God going to physically do my laundry for me?  or wash my dishes for me?  or clean the house for me?  in a sense, you don’t have to “trust God” in those things, you can “relax and take care of yourself” and do the things you like,  because you do have a spouse there who can handle those little things for you when you take time off.  i don’t have anything against that, i really am glad for you that you can do that because i know how important it is.  what i need you to understand is that i have similar responsibilities, too, except without a spouse to help me.

who is going to write my newsletter for me when i don’t have time to?  who is going to take time to cook for me so that i can clean up after having people over?  who is going to sit and wait for laundry to finish while i go out to buy groceries?  things would get done a lot faster if there were two of us…i know that and you know that.  and i’m not saying that i need a spouse to share my workload, but telling me that i’m not “trusting God” enough is the opposite of helpful or encouraging – it just adds to my stress.  YES, i trust God.  YES, i am trying to take care of myself.  but realistically, in my everyday life, things still need to get done.  and well, just sitting around to take care of myself and trusting in God is not going to make my dishes clean or my whites white.

that's the truth.

that’s the truth.

the Bible tells us to bring our burdens and Him and He will be our rest.  He also reminds us to believe in Him and to not let our hearts be troubled.  to not be anxious in anything but in everything, prayer and going to God.  These are all true, and all things we should always strive to do each time we feel a stressor coming on.  however, i’ve also looked into ways to handle stress, and all of them involve finding someone you can share with and listen, encourage, and vice versa.  we’re meant to share our burdens with one another.

so, you wanna help the single?  offer to do something practical.  when you see that i am getting overwhelmed, don’t just tell me you’ll pray for me.  actually offer to help me with something, just like i would offer to watch your kids or cook for you if you just had another kid.  invite me over for tea and give me some time to share something that’s been on my heart (without trying to give me a solution).  don’t add to my stress by doing or saying unhelpful things (hoooo boy, i could write a whole other post about the insensitive things said to singles on the field!)

Sabbath – so you can imagine, when it comes to enjoying the Sabbath, our one day of rest, how much we look forward to it.  except…”Wait, what?! why is my mind wandering to the long list of things that need to be done?  I’m supposed to be enjoying my prayer walk in the park, and instead, everything i’m praying for/about is related to ministry and the things i need to do.  Lord help me!”

That’s what our day of rest is often like.  trust me, i’ve asked quite a few single missionaries, and they agree.  our day of rest is spent not really “resting” because we’re just still thinking about the rest of the week!  we can’t hang out with our local friends because they’re all working, and we don’t want to bother other missionaries/families because they need that day to rest as well.  so our Sabbath ends up not really being a day of rest – just a day of not “doing” anything, yet still thinking about stressful stuff.  sometimes some of us just give up and end up trying to “do” the things we need to do to help take some of the pressure off.  no day to enjoy.  just a day to try and not think about stuff.

trying to get things out of my mind

me trying to get things out of my mind

I had another single missionary share with me how she shared something similar with her team (about not being able to really rest on her sabbath), and everyone just said they would pray that God would help her not to think about those things on her day off – but nobody offered to have her over for board games or anything else to help her take her mind off of things for a few hours.  seriously sad, people.

so if you’re a single missionary who is facing this problem, perhaps this might be helpful for you:

1) get out of the house and to another place – i only started this year to figure out a solution for myself, actively seek out things to do.  i started taking taiko drumming classes (something i’ve wanted to do since a long time ago) and for 3 hours of my Sabbath, my mind is not on anything ministry/life related.  it is free and just running with rhythms and beats through it – it’s a wonderful feeling!

2) do something active – I also joined the gym last month as well, and for at least one hour of each day (i go 5x/week), my mind is at rest because i’m drowning in my own sweat and keeping pace with the one-direction-ish dance beats they have playing in the background.

3) do something that requires no brain work – sometimes i put on my music (sometimes country, sometimes hip hop, whatever helps my mind relax) and start colouring (i bought some colouring books that are just awesomely funny – one called Unicorns are Jerks).

4) end each day with 3 things that you are thankful to God for – they don’t have to be overly spiritual; just simple things during the day that you can say thank you to Him about.

these are just some of the things i’ve done within the past 8 months and so far they have been quite helpful.

not finding an outlet

you, when you don’t find an stress outlet

so there you go.  if you wanna know how you can help a single missioary, there are some ways.  if you are single and spend your Sabbath not really enjoying your Sabbath, there are some ways, too.  the point is, stressors are a part of life, and even though we are Christians, believe and trust in our Father above, know that He is good, and know that only He can bring peace in our hearts – we still need very practical ways to help.  so next time, when a single missionary says they are “stressed,” ask if they need a lending ear, or if they need help with something – don’t take the initial no for an answer because they may just be polite and not want to take up your time.

and most of all, don’t don’t don’t tell them that they are stressed because they don’t trust God enough, or that they need to take care of themselves without helping them with a solution.

this is what i will look like.

this is what i will look like.

 

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the 30-second reply. (why replying to your missionary’s newsletter matters)

it’s a tiny, less-than-30-second thing to do, and yet, it makes a world of difference.

have you ever put a lot of time into giving a gift to someone?  imagine putting time and effort into a gift for someone who has been supportive and encouraging to you for many years.  imagine that this person opens your present, takes a look, and then puts it away, without ever letting you know that they’ve received it, or even that they opened it.  even worse, imagine if this person didn’t even bother to open it and just put it in the garbage.  how would you feel?

destroyed dreams

probably like this.

while newsletters from missionaries are hardly wrapped presents, they are things that we put a lot of time into, carefully thinking about what we want to share with you, as our partners in missions.  we know we can only be out here by the grace of God, and because of your support.  Other than pray for you, faithfully putting time into writing our newsletters is one of the other things we’re able to do, to let you know how ministry (which you are thankfully a part of) and our lives (which you are thankfully a part of) are going.

one of the most consistent things i hear from fellow missionary friends regarding sending out newsletters (because yes, we talk about these things) is how much we long to receive just a simple reply from our partners, saying that they’ve read it and prayed, and let us know how we can pray for them, too.  but even more missionaries have simply told me, “maybe not even that, if they don’t have time.  maybe just an ‘i’ve read it’ reply is enough.  i would be happy just to know that they’ve read it.”  to be honest, it was quite disheartening to hear the sadness in their voices…probably because i am likely to say the same thing.

Paul (of the Bible, not of the Beatles variety) is a great example of a missionary who faithfully wrote to his supporters: of the work that they were partnering in, of doctrine and spirituality, of the struggles of his own spiritual life and faith, of what an active disciple of Christ looks like, of mobilising people and churches to support others (and his co-workers) in their work, etc…okay, and he was also a faithful rebuker.  but we’ll leave that fact aside for now, since my point isn’t so much the content of what he wrote, as it is that he wrote to share about his life and the truths he was more and more convinced of regarding Christ Jesus and all those other things.  he needed to share.  he wanted to share.  and he should share with the people who partnered with him.

i know you’re probably thinking, “well, i’d be more excited to read my missionary’s newsletters if they actually wrote like Paul” – and you know what – you’re right.  i’ve read some missionaries’ newsletters before, and wow…even more boring than watching my nails grow.

whitney - wtf

…but okay, fine, it’s not like my newsletter is a freakin’ NYT bestseller either.

that part, i think we missionaries should take responsibility for.  we need to make our newsletters interesting enough so that people will want to read it, not just to share about the ministry (which some people only do), or just to share about their personal life on the mission field (which some people only do).  there should be a good balance and a way to connect with the readers.  we missionaries need to learn to do that.

but the truth is, even when it is done well, the response is still often lacking.  i get it, though.  in this day and age, with so many emails coming through our inboxes, it’s easy to just let one slip by, or read it and delete it.  (one time when i was back at home in the states, i had a long-time supporter come up and ask me how “thailand” was.  they clearly never read my newsletters, but i learned to be gracious in my reply).   but as is often said in the mission world: for those of you at home, keeping in touch is an encouragement, but for those on the mission field, it is a lifeline.  sometimes we just need to hear a simple reply from you about something in your everyday life.  or a prayer request.  or something random that happened to you today.  or that you bought a new kind of toilet paper.  or that something funny happened, even though we won’t get it.

something.

anything, really.  (one time, an older partner who is about my parents’ age, wrote a reply to me saying that he had a meal with my mom, and then wrote down all the things they ate.  i don’t know why, but that was such a fun and interesting email for me to read!)

it’s easy to forget to do that usually, but what better time to send a simple reply, than when the newsletter comes in?  read it, then send off a 30-second reply.  or bookmark and come back to it later (and really come back to it).  here’s some help on what to say:

1. “hi _____, thanks for sending your newsletter.  i’ve taken the time to read it.”
2. “hi _____, thanks for sending your newsletter.  i’ve read it, and have prayed for the things you wrote about.”
3. “hi _____, thanks for sending your newsletter.  will be praying for you.  i would appreciate your prayers for me regarding _______.”

boom.  30 seconds max. (that actually only took me 30 seconds to type all of that out).  a 30-second reply would likely result in a very encouraged missionary – perhaps just the encouragement they needed for that day!

lastly, i will just say that it’s understandable…it’s easy to forget about the missionaries you partner with.  out of sight, out of mind.  but as missionaries, we can never forget our partners because we depend on your partnership – not just financial (b/c yes, reality is, we do need that to survive out here), but more importantly, your prayers and encouragement.  each day i am out here, i am keenly aware of (and thankful for!) the prayers that happen so that i can get through the day.  Lord knows i wouldn’t be able to survive without them (and Him, of course).  but what really kicks up my day into happiness, is when i hear from a partner at home after i’ve sent out a newsletter:

when my fav song comes on

i kid you not, i get this excited.

so there you have it.  the next time your missionary/-ies send you their newsletter, do a 30-second reply and let them know you care.  you won’t see it, but it will definitely bring a smile to their face.

or a jig to their legs.

flying monkeys and jerry maguire

i need elves.  or flying monkeys.

as i’ve mentioned before, my role here on the mission field is to coordinate short-term teams and individuals who come to our field.  i’ve spent the past couple days preparing some things that i’ll be using during orientation for our summer short-term teams, but after a conversation with a friend today, i realised that flying monkeys probably won’t be of much help to me with some of the more tedious things i do – cutting/pasting/laminating/taping…because their fur is going to get stuck on everything and then it will just be even more trouble than it was before.

tumblr_lspznofs711qgvur0o1_500

i reckon gizmo would just be fun to have around but he’d pose the same problems.

i’ve been thinking a lot about this role and the short-term missions ministry that i am in, and wondering what other people think about it.  do they think i just sit behind a computer all day answering emails from around the world?  or spend my time coordinating schedules for short-termers and setting up accommodations and budgets?  or spend time discipling the individual short-termers that come through?  it’s all of these (and much more!), though on busy days/weeks/months, it’s more of the admin stuff – which i don’t necessarily like, but have to do in order to get to the discipling part.  i guess there are always ups and downs to different responsibilities, hey?

one of my favourite things about my role is exactly that discipleship part.  if we want to see our short-termers make the most of their time here, we have to do our part as the field.  the rest, well, that’s up to God.  and that is why this is my favourite part – b/c there is really something amazing about seeing God work in someone’s life, and seeing them find out wondrous things about the mission field and mission work…and seeing them have their eyes opened about where they could possibly fit in in this picture.

yes, that is indeed my favourite part!

however, if i’m too busy doing all the admin stuff that my role requires, i might easily miss out on taking the time to sit down and chat with these short-termers and hearing what they’re learning and also challenging them to take little steps.

last year when i started this role, i began thinking about how not to bog down our own missionaries and myself with a load of short-termers all the time.  as well, i wanted to see more of our short-termers return as long-termers.  as for me, if i’m spending all my time doing paperwork and behind my computer answering emails all day, then i’ll never get to the discipleship part.  lo and behold, as i was watching Jerry Maguire one day, it jumped out at me.  if you’ve seen Jerry Maguire, you’ll know the “mission statement – or memo” i’m talking about.

in the movie, jerry is a sports agent, and he is so busy handling all his many clients, when he suddenly realises how far he had wandered from why he originally started the job:

“…i was remembering the simple pleasures of this job.  how i ended up here after law school, the way a stadium sounds when one of my players performs well on the field.  the way we are meant to protect them in health and in injury.  with so many clients, we had forgotten what was important…i was remembering even the words of the original sports agent, my mentor, the late great Dicky Fox, who said, ‘ The key to this business is personal relationships.’  Suddenly it was all pretty clear.  the answer was fewer clients.  less money.  more attention; caring for them.  caring for ourselves, and the games, too…”

this is what i wanted.  so i pretty much took jerry’s idea and made it my own, which i eventually called my Jerry Maguire Motto:  Fewer Short-termers.  More discipleship.

yes jerry, i helped you help me.

yes jerry, i helped you help me.  thanks.

Fewer short-termers.  More discipleship.

that’s what i wanted to see – our missionaries and myself putting more time into short-termers and spending time journeying with them during their time here – but this can’t happen if we’re always bombarded with heaps and heaps of people.  so we’re going to have to cut back.  it’s harder to do this when it’s a whole team of people, but at least with individuals who come, i could be more picky about who i cleared to come.  mature, ready-to-understand-God’s-place-for-me-in-missions short-termers (hopefully.  but i can only tell so much from a paper application).

so far, with the exception of a couple people (who unfortunately came at a time when i was going bezerk with admin and simply didn’t have time for anything else), i’ve had the wonderful privilege of consistently meeting with most of the individual short-termers who have come through.  just this past month, i spent about 3 hours talking to one of our short-termers in person and one over skype and i’ve realised howwwwww much i enjoy being able to witness God working in them.

i gotta admit, i sometimes almost feel…and evil cackle coming on (?) when God is really challenging them in their direction in life and are at a crossroad about what to do next.  i think partly it’s b/c they are willing to see the actual crossroad that God has put there for them (whereas others may just deny seeing it) and partly it’s b/c i love that they are considering it!   for example, one of our short-termers who already has plans to go back to get her masters is now considering switching to seminary instead.  when we talk, i can hear her really questioning whether getting a masters would be beneficial if God is leading her to be a long-term missionary.  and i found myself…gleeful.  or maybe excited.  it’s all very mixed up.

(i know, evil, right?! i seriously felt that way).

(i know, evil, right?!)

but here’s the thing.  more discipleship doesn’t guarantee a return short-termer for the long-term.  that’s not the point, though we’d love to see that happen more.  more discipleship is so that we can walk with people as they follow Jesus, but not just follow Him to be a more mature Christian, but to follow His leading in living a mission-focused, mission-driven life.  even if they don’t return to our field (or any foreign field) for the long-term, i still want to see people moved into action by God’s heart for the lost.  that means when they go home – they intentionally change how they live, how they spend their money, how they make their decisions, what they spend their time doing.  of course, more discipleship doesn’t guarantee a change like that.  neither does time spent on the field.  however, i trust in God and i trust that He will work in peoples’ hearts when they come out here, and assuming they are mature Christians already, will be open to the things God is beginning to do in them.

so how’d i get from flying monkeys to jerry maguire?

well, getting back to my role (and many people who play similar roles in their respective fields/countries),  if we spend all our time doing the admin stuff and processing a million people to come, we will never get to the discipleship part.  so how do we make sure we’re not always doing the admin part?  well, i guess it depends on why you’re doing it.  how nice would it be if we had those flying monkeys elves/sprites to do all that stuff for us?  but we don’t, so in order to balance it out, make sure you put in the time to meet up with your short-termers.  perhaps it’s time to cut back and focus.

i can honestly say that during those hours when i’m sitting there talking to one of them, i’m not thinking about the stuff i need to do (which oddly enough, i do think about even when i’m on vacation).  sure, will there be situations where i won’t always get to meet up with someone – of course.  but that’s why some also have their own disciplers assigned to them (a fellow missionary on your field).  in those situations (usually when the short-termer is part of a ministry team that is not in my city), i’m just here as a separate option and i make the effort to go visit them once every month, if possible.  if that’s not an option, phone/skype calls can do the trick, too.  either way, the point is that you are taking the time to keep up with them.  (i find that they’ll also be much more responsive when they get back home!)

all this to say – this is a hard role to play, and others may not realise it, but i understand the frustration and disappointment that is part of it.  oftentimes the issues on the admin side of things weighs everything down and may ruin your day when you least expect it.  however, it’s those moments when you get to sit with a short-termer and talk, encourage and pray with them that makes you feel that all the frustrating and possibly horrific (yes, that’s how i really feel sometimes) admin you get put through is worth it.  because despite all those emails, application forms, “let’s-skype-to-resolve this” calls – God is faithful and wants to see us all awakened to what He is doing around the world so that we can be a part of it.

as for the short-termers, God will shake them awake.

our job?  help them out of bed once they’re up (figuratively speaking, of course).  don’t get so bogged down with admin that you don’t have time to walk alongside your short-termers.  walk with them.  teach.  pray.  encourage.

then let Him show them which door to go through – and be on the other side to greet them when they do.

here’s proof that discipleship is important: Spaghetti, Weird People & Please-God-Not-Africa

also for ref:
(click here to see the jerry maguire clip: http://youtu.be/zDbV2-tZgbg )
(click here to see This is Discipleship clip: http://youtu.be/rk8ERxqCZqQ)

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mission discipleship & why it matters: spaghetti, weird people & please-God-not-Africa

i’ll just cut right to it today.  in an effort to help people see just teeny bit of why there is a need for mission discipleship, i got my hands on these excerpts from a short-termer’s journal entries about their time on the field.  i present to you…

JOURNAL THOUGHTS FROM A SHORT-TERMER
(unoriginal title, i know.  but gimme a break, what else am i supposed to name it?)

“this first night, i stayed with a missionary lady who cooked me a spaghetti dinner. it was my first night in this country, and having just looked like a crazy person and cried my eyes out on the plane ride here, i was happy to be enjoying a meal with someone, even if i didn’t know her or understand her oddly accented English.  i asked her, “How long have you been in this country?”  She smiled and asked in return, “How old are you?”  i was 26.  she said, “i’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive and breathing!”  i was shocked.  26 years?  at least???  i couldn’t even imagine spending one year away from my family and friends!  man, i felt like such a wuss.”

{fast forward a few months}

“i’m now living on my own here and the reality that i am actually out here on the “mission field” has finally hit me.  i feel alone and i miss home.  but strangely enough, the thing i actually enjoy the most is the feeling i have when i am with these missionaries.  it feels like a family, yet i don’t really know any of them…not to mention they’re all about mom & dad’s age!  but each time they share a bit of their story with me, i feel their excitement and passion and all of this is being stored in my slowly-being-blown-up brain.  there is a closeness i feel with them that i don’t have at home – perhaps it is the feeling that we are all out here fighting a battle together.

i see their passion.  i see their heartbreak.  i see their overwhelming joy when a local friend begins asking questions about our God.  i hear their stories of pain, fear, struggles and triumphs in ministry.  most of all, i see their hearts, their willingness to be obedient to God to follow Him here to this country and go through all these experiences.  nobody said it would be easy.  it never is.  but i suppose that is the risk you take when you love God and are willing to follow Him wherever He leads.  i wonder if i could ever take that leap of faith?  am i cut out for missions work?  many of them have shared with me how they lived when they first came to the field 15-20 years ago.  surely if they could survive not just being away from family & home, but living without internet, tv & phones, then i could certainly do it WITH all those things??  i guess we’ll see in the long run.  well, at least God isn’t calling me to live in a hut in Africa.  i guess i should be thankful for that…or maybe i shouldn’t speak so soon just in case He does.”

{fast forward a few more months}

“it’s come to the end of my time here.  people keep asking me how i’ve changed – well for sure i’ve put on weight!  why is the food here so good??  but when i think back about the things i’ve learned, i can see how much these missionaries have poured into me, even though they might not realise it themselves.  i’m thankful that God gave me an opportunity to meet each of them, though some of them are a bit weird and in their own little world…but i actually think i enjoy my time with those the most!  when i struggled with living here, they shared with me how they could relate in every way.  in their sharing, i could see their honesty and openness – it was almost as if their first year was just last year; i had no choice but to believe them because they spoke with such conviction of how God met them in their struggles during their first few years.

what have i learned?  i’ve realised what a bubble i used to live in…my own little world.  as much as i served in church at home or wherever, i still always just fit into my own world.  these missionaries that i’ve come to know, helped me to maintain a kingdom perspective, which then reminded me that this life is not about me.  it helps me to see that in the big picture, what matters is God’s love and grace for all His people.  being out here made me realise not only how insignificant i am, but more importantly what matters in my life.  and i’d much rather be an insignificant nobody in God’s big picture, than a somebody in my own little world.  the missionaries all say that to leave their lives behind and come here in this foreign country to share the story of God’s grace hasn’t been a sacrifice.  perhaps one day i will truly understand that…”

——————-

mission discipleship matters.  walking alongside someone matters.  putting time into people matters.  helping them to have a kingdom perspective matters.

not everyone we disciple will become a longterm missionary on the field.  that’s not what i’m saying, and that’s okay.  there are so many different ways that being challenged to live a missions-focused life could play out.  sure, we’d love to see all the short-termers we get eventually become long-term missionaries  somewhere.  but, let’s face it – that’s most likely not gonna happen –  just keepin’ it real here.  however, since we never know where God leads each person, it doesn’t mean we don’t put in our all for each person that God brings to us.

if you’re wondering what happened with this short-termer and if she ever returned to the mission field, have i got news for you.   4 years after these journal entries, God led her first steps onto the mission field as a long-termer to serve alongside the very missionaries who discipled her.

hallelujah.

this entry lacks a pic/gif of some sort, so here ya go:

wombat

i hate to disappoint.

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i discovered a unicorn. it cost me everything and i came out beaten to a pulp.

it’s been a long while, my sarcastamigos (sarcastic amigos – spanish for ‘friend’ for you non-spanish speakers)!  want a better excuse than just “i’ve been busy”?  well here it is:  i’ve been very busy.  ha.

so squishy and always with a rainbow!

i secretly love unicorns.  that’s super girly for me, considering how un-girly i really am.  but yes, i love unicorns because they represent that one amazing creature that you would keep and treasure forever – should you be lucky enough to find one.  well, after a summer/fall/winter of summer/fall/winter mission teams as well as lots of preparation for random other projects, i’m glad to say that i’ve found my “unicorn” tangled amongst a plethora of branches, webs, hair, emails and whatever else it is possible to tangle together.

and this, my friends, is my unicorn: in my pursuit of God in the last 9 months of my life, i’ve realised that surrendering all is easier than surrendering a little.  (i’m sure you’re like, “duh, i could have told you that” right now..)

i wish there was a way to sum up how terribly difficult the past 9 months have been for me, but there isn’t, other than what i stated above.  since coming out to the mission field 6 years ago, God has brought me through a lot, broken me a lot, and restored me through everything.  it’s not like i’ve never been broken before, though i honestly felt like this last time God thoroughly took those pieces and smushed them into infinite little particles instead of just leaving them in larger sizes.  i suppose if anyone’s gonna do the smushing, it should be God, right?

i’d be at the very right of this scale.

and here you are, the 3 things that led me to my unicorn:

1) being a nobody of nobodies.  when i decided in 2009 that i wanted to follow God’s leading into full-time missions work, i knew that it would require me to become a nobody in the eyes of the world.  i guess i just didn’t realise that that path was even further downhill than most peoples’ – it required me to be a nobody of nobodies.  who knew there was a level beyond just a regular nobody?  well, apparently there is.

it wasn’t necessarily things i could explain easily to people at home (b/c that would take so much effort and so much explaining context and background, etc.)  but being on a field with other missionaries, i certainly thought that others would be able to understand the things i was going through in my particular ministry – but nobody really did, and i found myself disappointed with that.  so in addition to already feeling disconnected from Christians at home, it made it worse when those who were out in the field couldn’t even understand me and the ministry i am involved in – and sometimes were even downright discouraging about it.

it was like someone poked me in my right eye and then proceeded to tell me to relax so that they could poke me in my left eye. great, thanks.

i was reminded that i had once told God that i was willing to become nothing in order to follow Him..and yet here i was expecting some kind of affirmation for the difficult things i have to do in this role.  but it was as if God was saying to me, “isn’t it enough that I see it?’

i had to ask myself, am i someone who is able to serve without receiving any credit or acknowledgment for it?  can i be someone who stands by, while others receive all the thanks, and still wholeheartedly give God the glory? wasn’t that the price i was willing to pay when i said i would follow Him?  yes, i can.  and yes, i did.  i just didn’t realise it would be this difficult.  so my prayer became this – that even if others don’t see or can’t understand what i do as worthwhile, God does, and He calls me His good and faithful servant.

2) God takes a risk on me – not me on Him.  in my journey to where i am today, i’ve made a lot of mistakes, heard a lot of stories, and learned about who i am.  in fact, i think i’ve learned so much about what a sinful person i am, that i can’t help but wonder – why would God choose me, of all people, to come out here to serve Him?  doesn’t He know me at all?  doesn’t He know how unqualified i am to be doing what i do and serving His people?  who am i that God would choose me to be here when there are plenty of other ready and willing people who can do what He asks?

all this time i had thought i was risking my life, my future to take a chance on Him, after all, isn’t that what churches teach us?  how come we never think of it the other way?  that it’s actually He who is the e one taking a risk on me.  me, this broken, useless, sinful person.  yet, He chose me to serve Him this field and this ministry.  and what a privilege it is (and should be!) to be able to serve Him in any way.

3) not losing heart.  even through all that has happened, God constantly reminded me that He was next to me sustaining me, renewing me, giving me strength.  as long as i keep my eyes fixed on Him and the ministry of the cross, i would see that it is, in fact, God’s mercy that we have our ministry.  just as we each receive the Gospel, God also graciously allows us to participate with Him in His ministries.  so we cannot just give up and be discouraged when things don’t happen as we expect or when we face opposition.  just as it is Christ’s love that compels us to share about Him with others, so it should also be that which can keep us going in ministry.

mission work is hard, no doubt about it – nobody understands it unless you’re out here yourself.  and even then, we may not all understand each other.  through all the things that happened, the one thing that remained true was that God was making me surrender every last bit of myself to Him.  the path to finding my unicorn was filled with volcanoes and falling rocks that knocked me upside the head.  it was a painful, long and exhausting journey – one that God obviously knew i needed.  all my hurts, disappointments, frustrations, pride…none of that was allowed to be left…and i am so thankful for this process.  and when it was all over, in the words of James Brown:

i feeeeeeel good.

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9 things i believed about missionaries…until i became one.

and then i REALLY believed them.  haha no i’m kidding, although on some of these points, you’ll see that i may have been right to believe some of them!  and if you’re wondering why there’s 9 and not, say, 10, well…it’s simply because i don’t like to make even-numbered lists.  so those of you who are OCD about lists and think they  need to be in 5s or 10s or 3s…booya.

alrighty, and here we goooo…top 9 things i believed about missionaries (and still may)!

1. all the women wore long flowery skirts and collared, button-down shirts, and socks with sandals.  might possibly have long braided hair.

well, at least we don't have to dress like this anymore.

well, at least we don’t have to dress like this anymore.

prior to actually considering the missions life, i’d seriously thought all the women dressed like as i’d just described.  i remember meeting some missios who came to our church to share, and most of them fell right into this category!  and as time went on, i guess missios became more and more stylin’, so it’s rare to see this these days…though i went to orientation with 2 women who actually fit this exact stereotype.  well, except they had solid colored shirts instead of flowery ones, so i guess it’s not as mismatched.  but then again, what do i know?  i’m not a stylin’ missio anyway.  after my first year, i went home and sold 85% of my super nice work clothes for pennies.  now i’m just casual (or quite possibly out of fashion) all the time.

my language teacher says i dress like a university student.  with my hair now getting longer, she says i’m starting to look more and more like a woman.  if this keeps going on, i just might end up with a flowery skirt.  heavens, no!

2. they live in huts and don’t have electricity all the time.  

yes, i blindly/naively/ignorantly believed that missionaries all lived in totally worn down flats, if not huts or…i don’t know…teepees?  that’d be kinda cool.

yurt

or a yurt.  who wouldn’t want to live in this?

3. they’re crazy jesus fanatics.  

all they want to talk about is jesus.  if you don’t know jesus, they want to talk about jesus with you.  and if you already know jesus, they still want to talk about Jesus with you.  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  essentially they’re like mormons, but without the white shirt/black tie/black pants/skirt and different theology.  i’ve actually met missios that fit this stereotype.  they are courageous in turning conversations into altar calls, and like to (nicely & politely) Jesus juke everyone.  while i admire their boldness, it is definitely intimidating when i come across people who are literal human forms of the verse “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” (heb. 13:15)

or maybe i just don’t love jesus enough.

nawwww, who am i kidding?  He’s my favorite God-person (and the only one i know of)!

he's my favorite God-person.

“…and even i didn’t wear socks with sandals.”

4. they’re christian supermen/wonderwomen.  

this one kind of goes with #3.  they know every bible passage from memory and therefore have a biblical answer to every question.  physically speaking, they don’t need sleep because they’re too busy going  from ministry to ministry talking about Jesus x 3.  they’re like christian versions of the phrase, ‘money never sleeps’, which  ironically enough, they don’t have a need for either.  which leads to the stereotype that…

5. they are poor.  

maybe i thought since they all lived in huts, they were considered poor (it didn’t even occur to me that perhaps the culture they lived in simply, well, lived in huts).  but i guess this one depends on what organization you go with, what field you’re in, or if people are independents, how much money they’re choose to raise.  while the standard of living varies depending on the mission field they serve in (and so many missios serve in 3rd world countries), strangely enough, they are still more rich than 90% of the world (as are you, if you’re reading this and you’re not a missio!  you’d actually be in the top 95% or so).

i'm a poor missio living in a 4-story teepee with a built-in bidet.

i’m a poor missio living in a 4-story teepee with a bidet.


6. they had a 10 children.  

okay, i exaggerate.  not exactly 10, but for some reason, i always thought that missios had lots and lots of kids (though i never figured out how they’d have time to actually have & manage babies since they were Jesus-ing all the time).  perhaps i thought that missios were like farmers in that they lived out in the middle of nowhere, and therefore had a lot of kids to help “run the farm” (i know, big generalisation about farming families, but just bear with me…)  in the same way, missios had to produce more missionaries for the mission field.  why not start from your own family?

that’s a logical way of thinking, right?

rigghhhhttt????  hello?

well, i heard it.

7. there was something wrong with the single men.  

this was still when i bought into the idea that everyone “grows up and gets married.”  i always thought, ‘why were they single when there was a plethora of single women in the field?  not to mention local christian women?’  it’s like being in line at a buffet of all the foods in the world, but then getting to the front and deciding you don’t want to eat and instead want to go outside, sit on the curb by yourself, and eat your ham sandwich out of a ziploc bag from your tin lunchbox.  just because. (gift of singleness aside, of course).

he chose poorly.  (unless God told him otherwise).

he chose poorly. (unless God told him otherwise).

honestly (and realistically) speaking – today, women are at a disadvantage here in terms of ratio, so i found it hard to understand this…  before i actually became a missio, i met some single male missios at conferences and such, and during Q&A’s, the subject of singleness always came up.  it was interesting to note that in all these years, out of the 4 or 5 people i’ve heard share, they all mentioned having dated (either local or other missios) but still wanting to stay single, not because they felt they had the gift of celibacy (interestingly enough), but “just because.”  i should also mention that all these men were over 40 years old.  not sure if that has to do with anything?

just because they wanted to focus on ministry.  just because having a family would divide time.  just because they felt like they couldn’t handle caring for a whole family.  and a plethora of other reasons.  seemed to me like there were other issues there, but i’m not a guy, so i guess i’m not able to say what’s really going on inside their heads.

anyway, i’m still not sure what to think about this these days.  being a single in the field myself, i understand the joy & benefits of staying single in the field (other than the fact that this is just how God has kept me, which i’m perfectly content in).  also, single male missios are rare these days,  anyway, especially amongst the younger missios (of course, this is just conjecture).  most young male missios seem to get married before they reach the field or within a couple years of being on the field.  but i wonder if it’d be possible to get stats on how many single males in the fields are above 40 and how many are below?  it’d have to be an ongoing study, though, to see how many of the under 40s remain single past 40 years old…

8. if the woman went out single, she would stay single.

this goes along with #7.  i’ve always thought this.  because there’s less of a chance that a single woman would meet a single male missio on the field, i just assume that once you go out single, you’d better just prepare yourself to stay that way.  i’m curious to know what the percentage is, though, of single female missios who marry locals or another single male missio?  i think i mentioned in my previous post the stats of my own field:

21 men
42 women

21 married men
21 married womem
(obviously these two add up :))

0 single men
21 single women

hey, half the women in our field are single!  i should emphasize, that i don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a single missio female.  but just pointing out the obvious, here.  i’m curious to know what the other stats are for other countries and other agencies.  i’m also really curious (as i mentioned above) what the ratio is of single male/female missios who end up marrying while out in the field, and whether they marry a local or another single missio (or someone from home).  anyone got stats on that???

9. once you go missio, there ain’t no coming back.

some things you just give your all to.

some things you just give your all to.

things have changed so much these days.  people come and go after one term (or half a term) which i’m not sure is a good or bad thing.  but i definitely remember hearing stories of missios back in the day, who essentially set out on a boat (or later on in a plane) and for them – they weren’t planning on going back.  they were in it for life.  i think that’s part of what made becoming a missio such an IMpossibility to someone like me – i couldn’t even imagine the next year of my life, much less “forever!”

but i suppose now that i’ve actually become a full-timer, this is the mentality that i have.  i’m in it for life, or until God calls me elsewhere…which for now, doesn’t seem like is going to happen, but i guess that’s not up to me.

so there ya have it.  my top 9 things i assumed about missionaries.  did i miss any?  what are some of yours?

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missionary doesn’t mean white. neither does foreigner.

it’s been a long time since i’ve had any time to write and that makes me sad!  ministry is starting to really pick up, so that unfortunately means that everything else will need to hold off until my days off or when my brain is actually functioning during off hours…

that's rare these days.

...which is rare these days.

but today i wanted to address something that i’ve realized i may not be the only person to have concerns about:  mission agency videos talking about a field/country (so i’m not talking about videos about specific ministries within those countries – just the general field ones that cover the whole vision of that organization).

i spent the last couple months watching a ton of mission videos from different mission organizations from the west, and i realized one thing – there were only a handful that showed any asian faces as the “missionary”!

that was a bit disheartening, being of asian descent myself.

i know, i know, it’s not a big deal.  but i’ll soon be working with a video team for our field, and in the script, the writer had also designated the actors in the ministry scene to be “three white/foreign missionar-”

-say what?!

holy stake and ale, i did not like that.

exactly how i felt.

exactly how i felt.

well, to be fair, he did tell me that one of them could be asian if that was necessary.

of course it’s necessary!!

oh, you ask why?  here are some reasons why:

asdf

"hey lady! you call him dr. jones!" (see? even shortround had something important to contribute).

1. audience.  
these videos are not only going to be put on our website to use for mobillizing, but they will be shown in churches – when our missios go home on home assignment, they’ll use these videos (hopefully) as a mobilization tool.  and i can bet that quite a many of these churches supporting our missionaries are asian churches (since we focus on east asia in general).  as an asian, grown in an asian church, i can tell you right here that all the mission videos we watched growing up never showed an asian face as the “missionary” – only the seeker.

what does that say to me, an asian learning about missions in church?  it says that i can’t/don’t need to contribute in that same way because nobody else asian has.  leave the missio roles to the foreigners.  i’ll contribute some other way.  hey, that makes for an easy choice, right?  i’d choose to do the latter, too.  then i’d never have to leave home.

2. reality
i’m pretty sure there are a lot more asian-descent missios these days than before.  not just from the west, but we hear time and time again that the east is now sending out more and more missios (korea, china, etc.) themselves (which is totally rad).  i looked everywhere for more stats about this, but alas google search did not help with that much.

so i started counting the people in my own field.  here’s the breakdown (hopefully i didn’t miss any people!):

43 caucasian/non-asian
20 asian descent

21 men (2 are of asian descent)
42 women (18 are of asian descent)

21 married men (2 are of asian descent)
21 married women (11 are of asian descent)
(obviously these two add up :))

0 single men
21 single women (7 are of asian descent)
okay, i’m not even going to pull at the single men/women ratio thread (maybe i’ll tackle that another day?  heheh). 

alright, i think i went a bit overboard with the breakdown of stats.  but okay, almost half of our field is of asian descent.  i wonder if this is the case for other fields?  it might be dependent on the field.  who knows.  i’d love to see a breakdown of “missionaries’ ethnicities by field” one day.

all that to say that reality tells us that it’d be great to have an asian face represented more often as a missionary.  us asians like to see our own people doing things that aren’t considered “asian” – it makes us feel like we just might possibly be able to do it, too.

that is so fetch.

"that is so fetch," we'd say.

i know this is a very asian-awareness-centered-waah-waaah post, but i just thought it was worth pointing out, as i thought it was quite interesting when i thought back to all the mission videos i’d ever watched.  i think it’s high time we stop perpetuating the idea that missionaries are only caucasian/foreigner people (which is so not the case these days!)…though technically i fit into the second half of that slash.  aren’t i a foreigner, too?  i just have an asian face.

i know, i know, we all look alike (trust me, i’ve had many instances where i thought the same thing about asians even though i am one, too), and maybe non-asian people watching the videos might not even realize the asian missionary is a missionary.

but the asians in churches will notice.  we notice everything asian-related.  we’re just like that.:)

* * * * * * * * * *

ps – i’m not saying this is only the case for asians.  as God brings increasingly more ethnically different people to be the feet to bring good news, agencies need to represent that.  i’d love to see some other ethnicities represented as the missionary role in videos, too!  simply using asians as an example here because well, i am one, and also b/c we have a lot of asians in our east-asia-focus organization.

ps #2- i also wanted to say i was so excited that my last 2 posts got hits from countries i don’t even know people in! (albania, united arab ermirates, venezuela, uganda, ukraine, mongolia, laos, czech republic, argentina, spain, bolivia, macao, india)  woot!  so thank you to everyone who passed it on to others:)

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short-term missions & the nutrition of lucky charms (STM series pt. 2)

it’s that season of the year!  so here’s to all of you considering whether to participate in a short-term mission trip this coming summer.

if you asked my mother what the three dark lords of the cereal world are, she’d probably say Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp and Apple Jacks, though she really had it out for Lucky Charms.

guess mom really didn't like leprachauns.

i was really certain that mom had something against the leprechaun.

But as a child, that was all i wanted for breakfast.  It was colorful, it was sweet, and i was certain there was some nutritional value in it; why would they make it if it didn’t?  i’d eat it for all three meals if i could.  and did i mention the marshmallows??  Oh. Em. Gee.  what kid says no to colored, sugary, crunchy, shrunken marshmallows?  none that i know of.

short-term mission trips are similar in that sense.  they’re packaged nicely, appealing-ly (look at all the great things you get to do!), they have a sweet taste going down, they make us happy and make us feel good because…well, a variety of reasons.  besides, what kind of christian says no to “loving and serving the poor and forgotten” or “sharing about Jesus with people who have never heard”??  i’d be an idiot not to go on an STM trip.  just like i’d always felt like i was missing out because i didn’t get to eat any Lucky Charms!  but herein lies the problem.

this is not at all what we should be thinking when considering whether or not to go on a short-term mission trip.  so i’ve put together 3 things to consider when deciding if you should apply to go on a STM trip this summer:

EXPECTATIONS – what are yours going in?  are you going in with the mentality that you want to know how this can shape your long-term goals/plans or are you going with the idea that this is indeed just a “short”-term trip with no long-term effects?  are you wanting to go and understand first-hand (culture, people, needs, ministries & what God is doing there) how you can be involved in mission with them in the future or are you simply trying to see how you can fulfill your temporary summer tour of duty of “missions”?  do you see the people of that country as projects and results to report to your home church or souls you can mobilize people to be praying for even after you’re home?  these are just a few things to consider.  having the right expectations going in can really help shape what kind of trip you end up having.

don’t sign up for a STM just because it’s packaged nicely.  STMs have to be promoted that way because, well, how many people would be sign up for “Hey! Come sweat nonstop all day!”?  or “Come and have fun smiling and nodding because you don’t know the local language!” or “All you’ll be doing is walking around and praying!”

https://i1.wp.com/blogs.asburyseminary.edu/global-talk/files/2010/04/short-term-missions-300x228.jpg

“Wanna learn how to be completely helpless for 2 weeks? Join us!”

i kid…though part of me really wonders if there’s any missio organizations out there who would dare to throw a trip promo like this out there?:)

but this isn’t just about how the trip is packaged.  all trips are done so, nicely.  no, this is about your expectations before signing up for it.  are you expecting God to use this trip to help affirm/lead you to involvement in missions in the future (in whatever form)?  if not, perhaps you should ask God to give you a willing heart first.  otherwise the effects of you going on this temporary-high STM  will fade and you’ll be back where you started.  you’ll become one of those CSST’s (chronic summer short-termers) who feel the need to have to go fulfill their mission duties each year but not during the off-seasons.   ask God to help you understand His heart for the _____ people/country, or even just a simple heart for missions in general (you can work out specifics later!)  ask Him to use you in the future for His global purposes in whichever way He leads.  and pray for yourself to be obedient when He does.

PURPOSE – hey, let me let you in on a big not-so-secret secret.  you’re not jesus.  never was, never will be.  is that a surprise to you at all?  most likely not.

not being able to walk on water is probably a good clue.

not being able to walk on water is probably a good clue.

 inability to have your face miraculously appear on a fish stick is probably another.

inability to have your face miraculously appear on a fish stick is probably another.

what is our purpose in going on an STM trip?  hopefully not this (now common) constant need to “save the homeless out of homelessness or poor & hungry out of poverty or women out of prostitution**” that kind of agenda goes back to the same problem:  you are not jesus.  you cannot save people in 2 weeks or 1 month.  surely you know that, right?  yes, you might be able to temporarily be of some help, but what many christian authors have written about are how teams go away feeling like they’ve done something significant and life-changing for people, whereas that isn’t necessarily the case for the receivers.

please don’t use short-term mission trips as a way to feel good about yourself.  that’s not what STMs are for.  that’s what growing up is for.

**(just a note: i am not saying that we should not help/address those social injustice issues as a church, but we need to make sure we are not going about them in the wrong way.  please see the chapter about STMs in When Helping Hurts or What is the Mission of the Church for help about those topics).

STM trips do not exist to let you fulfill your savior complex.  no, you don’t need to fly around the world to do that.  that is not the nutritional value of STM trips.  while Lucky Charms may be fun to eat, be all sugary and sweet going down, and make us happy while we eat it, we can only expect the nutrition to go so far.  if feeling good about ourselves because we’ve “done” something is all we’re expecting, in the end, the very-high-in-sugar component takes over and guess what, that’s all we have left is the “high” of a trip.  but when our purpose for these trips are about what God does (and not what we can do there), allowing Him to open our eyes and also what He wants us to do for the long run, the nutritional value of going on simply one short-term mission can be great.

OPENNESS – to hearing from God, to learning about the culture/people/needs/ministries, and how to follow through when it’s all over.  in preparation for my first “real” mission trip as a mature christian (this is after multiple STMs where i just went because it was what i “did” every summer), my pastor said to us something i remember to this day:  you serve with eyes wide open (which i’ve now realized is actually a book title!!!  hooray!)

you observe.  you ask questions.  you don’t judge.  you learn.  you make yourself available.

but ultimately, what did that phrase really mean to me?  it’s this:  you don’t go to “do” mission.  you go because you want to learn to be it.  you go because you’re ready to live it.  your eyes have been opened.

once i told God that i was ready and available for Him to use me for the long-haul, guess what He did?  yeah.  the third word of the name of this blog tells you what He did.  i don’t even understand how it happened, actually.  not everyone will end up being a long-term missionary.  but imagine if someone ended up a long-term prayer-y for the mission field.  or a long-term supporter-y of a missionary?  or a long-term mobilizer-y?  (not actual words, i know).  this is what that pastor said to me and i know this now – “being ready and available for God to use you is a dangerous thing because He will always take you up on your offer.”  so the question is really – are you open to it and ready to be obedient?  be honest with yourself.  if you’re not, perhaps you’re not ready to be going on this trip.  your eyes have been opened.  don’t shut them again.

choose the blue pill and go back.

our involvement in the Great Commission should not be contained to a 2 week or 1 month trip.   that’s really short-changing Matthew 28.  it’s like eating Lucky Charms and assuming it’s all the nutrition you need for the day.  please don’t let going on short-term mission trips turn into your Lucky Charms!  STM trips have so much more nutrition than that if you’re willing to take the bite.

churches & leaders – do your part in helping your people understand that pushing them to simply sign up for a mission trip each year isn’t the point of short-term mission.  i’m convinced that all it takes is one good trip (including good orientation/debrief) to help someone start on the road to a lifetime of mission involvement.  but they have to be ready for it, or no amount of STM-going will ever change their view of mission.  encourage them not to have an attitude of “doing our duty” as christians, but instead, to be ready for God to use before, during and most importantly, after the trip.  and be ready to walk alongside them through this.

the point of this post is not to discourage you from STM, or give you an excuse to not go on one because you feel you “aren’t ready.”  rather it’s to challenge you to think about why you’re going on this trip and how you can prepare for it.  short-term mission for a long-term vision.

we need to learn to stop seeing short-term missions as nicely packaged, high in sugary sweets cereal used to make us happy.  instead, we need to see them as (just as nicely packaged) Mueslix, Total or Cheerios that actually change us for the better in the long run.

…or some other cereal you deem healthy.  i wouldn’t know since i’m a toast and eggs kinda person.

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short-term missions & the science of zebras (STM series pt.1)

i’m gonna be doing a multiple-part series on short-term missions and different aspects of it.  i realize there have been plenty of articles written about STMs, most probably written a million times better, but hey, i have the freedom to weigh in as well, so here it is.  and yes, you’re probably wondering what short-term missions and zebras have to do with one another.  well, other than this post, probably nothing.  and yet here i go with trying to use this black & white animal to talk about short-term missions.  you can blame my incessant need to relate things together. 

are zebras white with black stripes?  or black with white stripes?  have you thought about it?  i learned the answer to this question last year while reading a science magazine for kids (in my dentist’s office, of all places).  in order to find the answer, we have to go back to the source.  zebras are born all black and then develop white stripes as they grow.

so make sure you color the black lines first.

so make sure you color the black lines first.

short-term missions is the same way in my eyes.  in order to figure it out, we need to go back the source and background of these trips: our churches.  how a church portrays missions to its congregation is so crucial.

having been in church my whole life, i can tell you that i grew up thinking my church was so missions-minded.  we supported 15 plus missionaries (most of whom were not actually from our own church), we had a missions month each year where we’d have guest speakers and a hall filled with booths that nobody stopped at, and most of all, we sent short-term mission teams out every year in masses (as we still do).  when the trips are over, we come back and report to the church that 5,219,976 people accepted Christ.  okay, i exaggerate.  but hopefully you get the idea, especially if that sounds familiar…perhaps you came from a church like that, too?  we seemed like we were “doing” everything right.

don’t get me wrong, i went on short-term mission trips almost every year of my life starting from age 15 and i’m fairly certain that God, in all His grace, used each of those trips to eventually lead me to full-time missions today.  but did i go each year because i had a heart for mission, for sharing the Gospel with the lost, or even just to understand the lost of another culture?  certainly not.  i went on those trips because it was the “christian” thing to do, i had a lot of fun, i was being “international,” and let’s face it – what other chance would i get to go to other countries totally out of normal reaching distance?

seals need good news, too.

antarctica needs Good News, too.                                      (a big ice cube might make a fun souvenir as well).

you see, growing up, church always told us we needed to go on short-term mission trips to convert people, or “share the love of christ.”  we had our own agenda, so we’d just buy our tickets, spend a couple sundays preparing lessons we wanted to teach, and then we took off.  we barely spent any time doing preparation/orientation (in terms of spiritual/emotional preparation), and our post-trip debrief times consisted of  “seeing them living like that makes me so thankful that…”, “i had the most fun…”, and…i’m sure you can fill in your own.  but the point is that after our 1 hour debriefs, we never talked about this trip again, except when reminiscing about the fun times we had.  had it changed our lives?  yeah, for maybe 3 months.  but other than giving money and physically going again (neither of which were emphasized as options at each of those points in life), there wasn’t much else i could do as a teenager/uni student/young adult to be involved in missions.  because the source of all my practical missions education, my church, never taught me (in practical terms) any other way to be, and yet still had me convinced that we were “mission minded”, when really, we were just “mission february & summer-minded.” (february b/c that’s when our missions months usually were…during which we’d promote all our STM trips!)

what i now wish church had taught me about missions was this: it should permeate our lives in every way, especially if we’ve had a chance to go on a short-term trip and learn, understand and witness first-hand from the missionaries & locals about what God’s doing in whichever country.  i wish we’d talked about global missions more.  i wish we’d learned to pray for our missionaries each week.  or how about just praying each week for missions in general.  i wish we were encouraged to think about full-time missions as a viable post-grad option.  i wish i was rooted in all these things before i started going out on short-term trips.

mostly, i just wish short-term missions existed in the church for people who were ready and willing to learn how to incorporate global missions into their lives in a variety of ways…for the long run.  of course, the church needs to have their own long-term direction & vision for mission in place before they can start thinking of more practical ways for it to play out.  otherwise they’re totally jumping the gun and just sending random people out on a feel good trip.  just like zebras, they’ve got to have the black background in place first, and then as they grow, the white stripes develop.

otherwise you'd just be this.

otherwise, you’d just be this sad little guy.

add your cliche-prince-charming-come-to-save riding on top, and you’ve got your typical church’s view towards missions.  but i’m hopeful, and i trust in the continued grace of God to develop and lead churches into ones that understand the purpose & importance of discipleship in missions, not products, results and numbers.

(forward march to pt. 2: short-term missions & the nutrition of lucky charms)

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surviving the mission field as a single

just in time for valentine's day!

just in time for valentine's day!

a friend had passed on to me an entry from the blog Stuff Christians Like called “Surviving church as a single” and i laughed to myself as i read through the list and saw how many of the items on the scorecard had happened to me.  i mentioned that there needs to be a “surviving the mission field as a single” version, and since nobody’s made one, i’ve taken the liberty to do the spin-off.  :)

note: a couple of these overlap from the “surviving church as a single” post.

The Surviving the Mission Field as a Single Scorecard

1. you’ve been told you have the “gift of singleness” after you’ve been in the field for couple of years. = +2

2. you’ve been told you have the “gift of singleness” even before you go out into the field. = +3

3. you don’t even know how someone else would know if you have the “gift of singleness.” = +4

4. you’ve used the mission field as a bargaining chip with God to help you find someone (in a “you scratch my back, i’ll scratch yours” kind of way).  = -3

5. your supporters and friends keep asking if you’d marry a local. = +1

6. people keep asking you when you’re going to marry a local. = +2

7. the locals ask you to marry a local. = +4

8. you try to imagine yourself marrying a local. = +2

9. (if you’re a male) your supporters keep asking to set you up with a single gal who’s going into the mission field as well. = +2

10. (if you’re male) the girl you’re interested in/being set up with ends up not wanting to go to the same mission field as you, so people ask you to consider switching locations. = +3

11. (if you’re female) your supporters keep asking to set you up with pastors, deacons, elders, or just christians in general, who are “quite possibly” interested in missions. = +2

12. (if you’re female) the guy you’re interested in/being set up with ends up not wanting to go into the same mission field as you (or at all), so people ask you to consider your call as a “wife.” = +3

13. you’ve had people not want to introduce someone to you for fear you might drag them into the world of long-term missions. = +4

14. someone pays you the world’s most backhanded compliment: “i just don’t understand how someone as great as you isn’t married yet.” = +1

15. someone tries to assure you you’ll find someone because “you’ve given your life to serving Him.” = +3

16. people tell you that it’s easier being single on the mission field. = +2

17. in an effort to “console” you about your single status, people start quoting stats at you, like how single women are the 2nd most content group of people on the field.  (1st being married men, 3rd being single men, 4th being married women). = +2

18. you make sure your apparel does not shout “old single female/male missionary.” = +1

19. (if you’re female) you try not to think about ending up as a cat lady.  or bird lady.  or dog lady. = +1

20. your married friends try to tell you how difficult marriage life is and how it’s all amplified on the mission field, all in an effort to tell you that you’re not missing out in case you don’t get married. = +2

21. married missionaries get you to come babysit their kids so while they’re away doing ministry with the locals. = +1

22. supporters/churches assume you have a lot of time because you don’t have a family to care for. = +2

23. even your single friend supporters assume you have a lot of time because you’re single. = +2

24. in any of the pictures you show your supporters, you always get asked who any opposite sex person is and whether they are a “special” friend. = +2

25. you go through seminary/bible college with heaps of single people lookin’ to get hitched before they go out to the mission field. = +3

26. you thought seminary/bible college was your last stop (and last hope) for getting married. = +4

27. people remind you that Jesus was single.  so was Paul. = +3

28. people tell you that missions work will be easier if you “have someone by your side.” = +2

29. short-term teams always ask you what it’s like being a single in the mission field. = +1

30. people ask you if you’re glad that you’re “away from all the weddings/bridal showers/bachelor/bachelorette parties/baby showers” so you don’t have to be reminded all the time that other people at home are going through those things. = +3

31. when your friends’ children ask you who you’re married to, your friends tell them you’re super special because you’re “married to Jesus.” = +3

32. churches tell you that they are supporting you with less money because you’re only one person, as opposed to the family being sent out. = +2

33. the only speaking engagements/panels you’re asked to do during your church’s missions month has to do with being “single in the mission field.” = +2

34. you get really nervous when a single female/male joins your field because field members automatically assume you’re going to marry them. = +2

35. you are your field’s (country) token single male missionary. = +3

36. you’re one of the many single females in your field. = +3

….so?  how did you pan out?  i’ve probably missed a lot of stuff in there, but those were some general ones i could think of, having had this conversation with plenty of other single missios.

i assume that most of you reading this aren’t actually missionaries, but it’s all good.  now you have an idea of what we hear.  all.  the.  time.

while i’m content being single, it still leaves a stench when there is a feeling that other people assume you’re unhappy being a single missionary.  but no worries.  having lived through many of those things above, i’ve developed some replies to the question “how come you’re still single?”

“my organization doesn’t allow people to get married if they’ve joined as a single.”
“the tribal people that i serve told me that it takes 2 years before the potion starts working.”
“do you know how much two plane tickets cost?  support-raising would be crazy.  i’m trying to save you money.”
“i’m waiting until i’ve converted 50 natives here.”
“when underground churches stop being persecuted, i will marry.”
“because God told me my life would be more fun dealing with you people and your questions.”
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