Monthly Archives: February 2012

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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o, jeremy-lin-type-prayers-for-the-mission-field, where art thou?

if christians were half as passionate about praying for missions and missionaries as they are for praying for jeremy lin, you can only imagine what could happen and what that would be like.

this.

probably like this.

i get it.  jeremy lin is from harvard, is asian, and is killing it in the nba.  and most of all, he’s a Christian.  some of us are only 2 of these things, some of us 1.  so i get the excitement and fire that comes from him tearin’ it up on the courts.  and i get the excitement that comes from him humbly pronouncing his faith at each and every interview.  i don’t doubt that he is a true disciple of Christ.  this is not about that.  this is not about him at all, actually.  this is about us.   yes, us.

that christian us.

i just happened to run across an interview of Patrick Fung, director of OMF International, the other day.  in the interview he talked about having gone to an archive room in a library in london, where it was essentially a warehouse of individual files of missionaries who gave their lives to the Chinese people.  sure he only recognized the well-known names like robert morrison and hudson taylor, but what about the thousands of other missionaries who gave their lives to serve God and were forgotten?  it’s where his book Live to Be Forgotten comes from.  (D.E. Hoste – “live to be forgotten so that Christ may be remembered”)

when i think about the thousands of forgotten missionaries (past and present) in comparison with the attention jeremy lin gets, it’s hard not to feel discouraged.

don’t get me wrong.  i’m a missionary and i can tell you, it’s not your attention we want.  we simply want to see people on fire for Christ’s name to be known – without having to wait on christian celebrities to come into view.  where is the gung-ho when there isn’t a celebrity to use as that model?  westerners tend to forget that not everyone has a tv, and even if they do, they might not get NBA games on it.  so who is jeremy lin to them?

nobody.  just another asian dude.

nobody. just another asian dude.

so how is Christ’s name known to these people without tvs?  well, it’s not through jlin, that’s for sure.  but in case you’re still arguing that his faith will lead others to Christ and that God will work through that, here’s an example of what it’s really like on the mission field:

2 young teen boys are having a conversation about jeremy lin.
me:  oh, so you really like jeremy lin, hey?
them:  yes, he is such a fantastic player!  so talented!
me:   (just throwing it out there) yes, and did you know that he is a christian?
them:  he always talks about it after the games.
me:  and what do you think?
them:  well, we definitely want to start going to a church too, so we can be as great as him!  he must have prayed really hard.

i’m not saying that God doesn’t work through anything.  He has that ability to, of course, since, well, He’s God.   but the truth is, while jeremy lin (and other christian celebrities, for that matter) are on tv and giving shout outs to God, it is the local churches, the missionaries, and national (of the mission field) church leaders who have to deal with people who come into the faith with the expectation that God will make them great or grant all their wishes – the prosperity gospel, if you will.  and oftentimes, this kind of genie-in-a-bottle thinking takes a long time to turn around.

psha. and you thought this song was about love.

psha. and you thought this song was about love.

of course, this is not jeremy’s fault, and he should not be held responsible for that kind of thinking. however, it’s just to let you know that christian celebrities, while they may have more of a medium to shout out their faith, are not the ones building relationships and investing in the lives of tribes, marginalized and the general public.  they simply don’t have time for that, which is understandable.  God has given them a gift used in a public arena, and they are using it to the best of their abilities.

but like i said, this is not about him.  this is about us.  christians who want to put these celebrities up on a pedestal and are on fire about getting fellow christians to be praying for these specific celebrities and yet…rarely pray for the kingdom of Christ to be known amongst every tribe, tongue and nation.  where’d that kind of passion go?

i’ve had many-a conversations with other missios who have mentioned wanting to see people pray for the mission field as much as they pray for…well, anything else.  because bottom line, heck, let’s just call a spade to spade:  we just don’t think or care about global missions enough.

but imagine what would happen if we did.

what would happen if we used the same passion to pray prayers that were soaked with things that not just encircle our own lives but others peoples’?  what would happen if we used the same passion to, instead of praying for the worldly and temporary (b/c let’s face it, everything is temporary), we prayed for what would be eternal?  what would happen if we used that same passion to pray for more people to go out into God’s world, into the places where His name is still needed to be spoken of?  and what would happen if we had that same excitement when we realized that one more new believer from a different tribe, tongue, nation, had been born?

what would happen?  i wonder.

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