Tag Archives: churches

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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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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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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