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conflict-resolutionThe best time to prevent conflict on short-term mission trips is before you go!

Let’s admit that it is very difficult to put a team together.  Jesus picked twelve and they argued with each other over who would be the greatest!  Paul put a team together, but John Mark bailed out on him and not only did his unappreciated actions cause problems on that trip, but on the next trip with Uncle Barnabas as well.

Short-term missions who have no serious form of either selection or approval are irresponsible.  Too often a public announcement is made, volunteers come forward, a couple of meetings later everyone heads to the airport and gets on the plane.

If you will go back and read my last post, you will find that all of the most serious problems that occur on short-term missions have a strong chance of surfacing BEFORE the mission ever begins.  People who are always late are also tardy to meetings—it won’t be different on the mission trip.  People who don’t volunteer for any of the preliminary tasks, people who are happy to let others raise their money for them, people who are flirty and/or seem to be along because they are interested in one of the others who is going, and people who don’t seem to be on the same page with everyone else. You can identify ALL of these kinds of people ahead of time.  All you have to do is

  •          Require training
  •          Require fund raising
  •          Ask the hard questions before you get on the plane

If you meet together often enough and pay attention to the interactions of potential team members, you learn a lot about them—unless the coordinator is too busy trying to just present information.  Do something with your team. Plan a picnic or a volleyball game or something that requires the group to interact, to depend on each other and you will see a lot.

People who cannot raise their funds may be people that those who know them best don’t think it is a good idea for them to go.  LST asks all of its participants to fund raise, even when they can write a check and pay their own way because it is truly a test of humility as well as a test of faith.  Asking people to do something that they don’t really want to do is a good filtering process for eventual team members.

If there are any red flags, it must be someone’s responsibility to approach the person in question and talk to them—lovingly, but honestly.

John, it doesn’t seem to us like you really have your heart in this mission. Is there anything we need to talk about because, otherwise, you may want to wait for the next opportunity—when you can really put your whole heart into it.

Angi and David, I noticed you guys are kinda a couple—is this going to be a distraction on our mission trip?    Can I tell you about some things that just would really do a lot of damage on the trip?

I know these conversations are not easy, but let me assure you—no, let me persuade you—that they are 100 times easier before the trip than in the middle of the trip after your mission and the testimony of your team have been damaged.

Not every hint of potential conflict surfaces before mission trips. Often just the pressure of a foreign culture creates new tensions that were unpredictable.  When that happens, however, the steps for resolving conflict are pretty straightforward—and they are highly effective.  You will recognize them from your own conflict resolution practices:

  •          Address any conflict—or emerging conflict—immediately. Don’t let the sun go down on it.  By confronting it immediately, you prevent damage and the people involved are likely still redeemable.  If you allow it to grow big, then the resulting damage is larger and people’s defensiveness proportionately greater!
  •          Use pre-established priorities that the whole group has heard and internalized in their training to resolve issues.  At LST, we say:  the work comes first, the team comes second, and YOU come last.  And that is the matrix we use for solving any conflict, whether organizational, personal, or in the group.
  •          Speak the truth in love. If people know that you love them, you can be much more direct and much more truthful with them in hard times.
  •          If the testimony of the mission project is at stake, act swiftly and decisively to restore the holiness of the project—whatever that takes. In our 34 years, I think we have put only three or four people on airplanes home early, but in each case it was because of severe moral failures (sexual misconduct) or serious breach of trust.  In each case they were back in the States within 24 hours of our discovery of the situation.

One of the first memory verses I ever learned was, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt.5:9)  This was my sweet Mom’s attempt to teach me how to get along with my brothers and sisters.  It took me a long time to learn that being a peacemaker was an active task, not a passive one.  Neither avoiding conflict nor pretending like it doesn’t exist is being a peacemaker.

Christians on mission—whether it is long-term, short-term, or just LIFE, all of us will be happier if we are peacemakers—active, decisive, but mostly loving peacemakers!

(I’m out of the country for two weeks with a very erratic internet connection.  Excuse my absence until I return.  You can follow my trip on Facebook, if you wish.)

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The Way SignSherrylee and I have been involved in short-term missions for 45+ years, starting with the Campaign Northeast teams that we were on in college, continuing through the Lubbock Christian and Harding teams we received as missionaries in Germany, and then through the thousands of teams that we have sent through Let’s Start Talking since the first two in 1980/81.

Honestly, very few of these teams have had truly serious conflict/problems. On the other hand, almost all of them have had the lesser, but sometimes quite disruptive smaller problems that can diminish the effectiveness of your short-term mission.

For instance: one team member would excuse himself from the missionary’s table at family dinner and go across the street to a kiosk to buy snack food because he didn’t like what the host was serving; or, a couple of college students decided not to be a couple during their project and polarized their team in respective corners; or one student decided his missionary was not working hard enough; or, the worker who volunteered to manage the team’s money and was so intent on being frugal that the team had to eat peanut butter and crackers three times a day; or, one student was jealous of another who had more money to spend—everything sounds really petty when it is isolated into a list like this. The fact of the matter is that ALL of these created big problems for a small group of people—and, to some degree, diminished their testimony!

You can group the most typical conflicts into a few big areas.  If I warn you about these, perhaps it will help you know where you need to focus your preparations. We talk about them as the 5 L’s

Number #1  -  Love

Of course, I’m talking not talking about spiritual love/brotherly love, but about romantic love.  It really doesn’t make any difference which way you go with it because at best love is a huge distraction and at worse a mission trip catastrophe.  And don’t think that this problem is confined to youth group mission trips.  Adult teams can be brought down by Love as well.

Look at all the issues surrounding romantic love that can create problems on your short-term mission team:

  •          Two people fall in love with the same team member
  •          Two people in love break up
  •          Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is not attracted to him/her.
  •          Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is attracted
  •          Two local Christians fall in love with a team member……
  •          Team members falls in love with local Christian who is already loved by another local Christian…..secretly or openly.
  •          Team member falls in love with local non-Christian
  •          Local non-Christian falls in love with team member

Remember that all of these scenarios are played out in a very short time frame, so all the emotions, whether good or bad, are intensified by “not enough time” if the feelings are wonderful, and “too much time” if people are living with jealousy, heartbreak, envy, and anger.

Most good short-term mission trips simply make “love” against the rules—and you know what I mean.  In spite of the rule, it is still one of the most common areas of conflict on any short-term mission trip.

LATE

I really think sensing time differently was one of God’s ways of cursing and dividing humankind at the Tower of Babel. If you have even three people on your team, inevitably one of them has a different sense of time than the other two.

What do we do with either the one who is always late for team devotional, for team meals, for their appointments with local people? OR, what do we do with the person who gets so tense that they explode because the team is ten minutes late for a church service that never starts on time anyway?

The answer is that you convince both types that the problem is not the “one,” who is using a different clock; that person is not going to change during your mission trip! Period. You yourself must change your own response to that person.  Remember that patience and longsuffering are gifts of the Spirit also.  In fact, they are the real gifts. Timeliness is not even mentioned in that list, is it?

LAZY

“I didn’t come here to wash dishes; I came to share the Gospel!”  Yes, we heard these words come out of a worker’s mouth when the missionary wife asked him to help after supper.  You know the person: he’s sitting on the couch while everyone is cleaning the apartment. She’s reading her book while everyone else is setting up for the party.  They need a nap just when the team was going grocery shopping. . . . .Why are they on this short-term mission?

 

LEGALIST

This is a little trickier because it can involve doctrinal or moral issues that surface during a mission trip.  Here’s a relatively common  scenario:  during the course of an off-the-record, after work conversation, a person finds out that another team member (or the local preacher)  holds a very “___________” (supply your own label) view on baptism, or women’s roles, or worship, or grace, or same-sex issues, or  _________________ (insert your own hot button here).  With this information now in the open, some people find themselves wondering about fellowship issues, whether this person ought to be teaching people, about the church or ministry that would send such a person, or if they should mark this person to the rest of the team!! This is a black-and-white person who only associates with people on their approved list.  Mission work of every kind tends to put you in contact with lots of people not on your approved list.  Treat them ALL with respect and love.

LOSERS

Did you know that some people use short-term mission trips to accomplish their own agenda?  They want to travel, they want to meet friends who live abroad, they want to renew a romantic relationship with someone on the team, they want to do research for their next book, or they want to get away from a troubled marriage or a bad relationship.

Almost everyone has mixed motivations, but Losers are those who are manipulating the short-term mission opportunity exclusively for their own personal agenda.  You will recognize them quickly because they are just barely interested in the main activities of the trip, usually choosing activities that meet their own personal goals instead.

Conclusion

If you know the main areas of concern, you can watch for hints in your recruiting, speak to them in your training, and address them quickly during your project.  That’s our next post!

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American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a friendly game at Beijing Olympic Basketball ArenaA friend of ours just returned from a short-term mission trip  where she worked under very primitive conditions. All I am going to mention is there were rats as big as cats—that says it all, doesn’t it!

They had a good trip, they accomplished all they went to do, but in reporting privately to her family about the trip, she said, “They prepared us well, trained us well in every area—except for getting along with each other!”

Several years ago, we had three women from the same congregation who had been friends for decades go on an LST project to a Baltic country.  These three women, all mature Christians, shared their faith daily with former Communists, but by the time they returned home, they weren’t talking to each other anymore.

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Whether you are going for one week or one month or one year, every short-term mission group– young or old, large or small (number of workers, not size!), experienced or inexperienced—needs preparation and equipping for loving one another under what often can be very challenging circumstances.

Why do short-term missions sometimes bring out the worst in us?

  • People who have figured out how to navigate successfully their normal circumstances are suddenly confronted with unfamiliar, foreign situations that challenge their competence.  This makes good people tense!
  • People who are used to being in control are not in control. This makes them critical of those in control, who aren’t doing things properly!
  • We are not usually forced to be around others 24/7 to whom we are not married. (And some married people are not used to being with each other 24/7). In such circumstances, no warts or quirks or distinctive differences can be hidden, so a much higher level of tolerance toward otherness is required.
  • Jetlag, long hours, little exercise, “bad” food, lousy beds, no hot water—the first four days it’s just camping out!  The longer the mission trip goes, the crankier these external irritants can make us.
  • A short-term mission is a high-stakes mission!  The higher the stakes, the less tolerance there is for error! Or perceived error!

Let me illustrate with a personal story that makes me laugh—now!

Sherrylee and I had not been married but four months when we moved to Germany as members of a mission team. We were deeply in love (and still are!), but within 48 hours of arriving, we had this huge fight because we needed to catch a street car, and we didn’t know how to buy tickets.  She, being the totally confident one that thinks she can charm her way out of any awkward situation, wanted to just get on the street car and talk to somebody and figure it out on the .way.

I, on the other hand, who does not ever want to get in trouble and has to know ahead of time what the “rules” are, was not about to get on the streetcar before we had figured out what the ticketing procedures were.  Of course, that was extraordinarily difficult when we couldn’t read the signs and we couldn’t speak the language, and the tram conductors only stopped for a few seconds (or so it seemed). But Sherrylee would just have to wait until I figured it out.

Oh, no!  She started getting on the streetcar—as if she thought I would just defy everything in me and get on with her and trust her to make it all work!!  What was she thinking—but I couldn’t stop her, so I got on too—illegally! And I was just panicked. It was Adam and Eve all over again.  And I was furious about it.

In retrospect, it was such a little incident with no significance—and we are still married 43 years later, but it is just these kinds of small, insignificant tests of patience and tolerance that too often undo the much-less-committed-to-one-another relationships in short-term mission groups.

If you don’t prepare for conflict, then you are not a well-prepared mission group.

Watch for the next post on how to prepare for conflict on short-term missions.

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dutch speed skatersThe Olympics bring out the nationalism in all of us. We love to see the Americans win, stand on the podium with a tear in their eye, trying to remember the words to the national anthem.

But I have to confess something:  I love it that the Netherlands has won 22 medals in speed skating so far!!  I love their devotion to orange! And I love that the king and queen are there in their orange sports attire, cheering their skaters on!

Now Norway has more medals, but I don’t really have the same feelings for Norway. The Russians and the Canadians feel to me like long-time rivals, so I don’t cheer for them either.  I do love to see the Germans do well, but they are a powerhouse country, so they should do well—maybe better than they are doing!

So why do I love the Dutch? I’ll come back to answer that question in a minute.

Let’s move to a different plane and switch from talking about national sport teams to talking about which countries God loves.

Sometimes we Americans think that God is an American and that He loves all the other countries, but just wishes they were like His special country!  That’s pure jingoism—and not really harmless nationalism.

Some people think Israel is God’s favorite country!  But Jesus said, And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). God does love the children of Abraham . . . the true ones.

We don’t have to guess about this: here is our final answer!  The final answer is “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . .”  Red and yellow, black and white—and all the colors in all the flags—and all the people standing and singing all those foreign anthems.

So now we can get back around to the Dutch:  maybe if I can figure out why I love the Dutch, then I can better understand what it will take to love the Norwegians, for instance.

From a lifetime of being involved with the world, here are some tips I have learned about how to learn to love the world:

Travel to other countries, but not with a bunch of other Americans. If your only experience in other countries is disembarking from a cruise ship for a few hours, or flying over, traveling to all the sights in a bus with your former classmates or some other affinity group, then you may have had a great trip, but you have not given yourself a chance to really fall in love with other people.

Go to one country at a time—not as many as you can squeeze into seven days.  From the Netherlands you can get to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the U.K (by hovercraft) in less than two hours, so it is tempting to use Amsterdam as a jumping off point to “see it all.”  But then you won’t love the Netherlands!

Just within an hour of Amsterdam are Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof, Marken, Vollendam, Delft, den Haag, and a lot more wonderful and fascinating sites and places. If you take a one-hour canal tour of Amsterdam and then leave for the next country, you have missed almost everything!!

Get to know some local people! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips that might work for you:

  • Go to church on Sunday.  That’s where Christians are on Sunday, so if you want to meet local Christians, go where they are. Be prepared to accept an invitation to eat with them afterwards.
  • Go with a short-term mission group that interacts closely with local people. In Let’s Start Talking projects, you can sit and talk with locals all day long!
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast instead of a tourist hotel.  If you are young and brave enough, the youth hostels are also a great place to meet people.
  • Travel by train instead of by car.  Cars insulate us; public transportation throws people together.
  • Go to a “small” event.  We have gone to high school soccer games, local school performances, local church-sponsored concerts, auctions, flea markets, for instance.  You just have to appear to be open to meeting new people and they will come up and introduce themselves to you.

Learn about the country: history, culture, current events, art—not in order to become an expert, but because we don’t care very much about things we don’t know much about! I hardly know anything about Norway; that’s the problem, isn’t it!!

And here is the big secret I have for you:  you will begin to love every country where you begin to know people who live there!  I’m quite sure that national boundaries have very little to do with why God loves the world.  He loves the world because He loves the people of the world.

One of the comments that we hear often from LST workers coming back from their short-term mission trip is “I used to always pray for all the people in the world, but now I know some of those people, so I pray for them by name.”

If you only love Americans, you have not begun to tap the capacity of your heart for loving people.  God made your heart big enough to love the world too!

 

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NetworksI’m sitting with a small stack of fascinating articles on my desk that revolve around a phenomenon called movement networks.

These articles are all talking about ways of collaborating in order to accomplish goals that are greater than any one organization could ever accomplish on its own.  In fact, sometimes the objectives are so large that they require a movement, not just certain actions in order to successfully accomplish them.

When I think of tasks so large that no one entity can begin to accomplish it, I naturally go immediately to the task of going into all the world with the gospel. 

When I was a boy, I was so proud of our church which sent a missionary to Africa and one to Brazil at the same time.  I don’t know what was happening in the other 170 countries though?

Then as a college student, I joined a ministry to go to the Northeast U.S. We worked in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and other heavily populated states, but the 20 of us really didn’t make a very big dent.

I’ve since worked with lots of churches that were very proud of sponsoring their missionaries fully—or not at all!  They were seriously trying to do missions well, and it was these churches that were held up as the model for others.

But I keep looking around and I don’t see us making a very big dent in the task God gave us!  We have to do something differently unless we want to continue getting the same results.

I wonder if movement networking might be something to try.  The studies say a movement is this:

Movement “a collection of persons or groups who come together around a common concern.  Typically their mission is to bring about some type of societal change relative to their concern.”

Movements, they say, are characterized by

  • collective intentional action,
  • continuity of sustained action,
  •  outsider status,
  • scope and scale, and
  • formation of collective identity.

(Zemsky and Mann, “Building Organizations in a Movement Moment,” Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008).

It’s the collective nature, the networking, which really fascinates me.  It’s about different groups of people working together.  Could it ever be about different groups of churches and ministries and other organizations working together on behalf of the salvation of the world?

According to these studies, we would need to look for the following characteristics in movement networks:

  • They are multi-organizational, therefore diverse, with all partners desiring to reach shared and mutually beneficial goals.
  • Trust and accountability are achieved through personal relationships, not through creating a single organizational hierarchy.
  • Partners agree on how to communicate and what constitutes progress toward goals.
  • Shared resources from all partners are committed for reaching the shared goals.

Well, this just sounds like a lot of academic ivory tower language unless we could turn it into something concrete.  Here’s my attempt at extrapolating some concrete ideas out of this:

  1. In October 2014, the Global Missions Conference is being held in Memphis for churches of Christ.  What could happen if this conference were the launching point for a fellowship wide conversation on how to go to all the world?
  2. What if there were regional meetings for every American church that cares about missions, every ministry like LST, Great Cities, MRN, and as many foreign Christian church leaders as possible, along with foundations, trusts, and others with resources, and all those wanting to do missions were sitting in the same room talking about what it would take to go to all the world?
  3. What if even some of these found each other to be ready and willing partners and began collaborating?

Please note, I’m not talking about creating a super-organization or any kind of hierarchy of either talent or resources.  But I am suggesting that we ought to be searching for like-minded partners rather than all of us trying to do it alone.

  • Do you think any of us could ever agree on mutually beneficial goals for these partnerships?
  • Do you think we could ever trust each other and be accountable to each other without having to decide who is in control?
  • Do you think we could share resources? Or the holy grail: donor lists?

Is there really only one question keeping us from fulfilling the Great Commission?  Is the only question one of whether we can love each other enough to work with each other?  Whether we can subordinate our own congregational/institutional egos enough to give God all the glory?

Well, I’m willing to talk about it with you—if you will talk about it with me!  Can we just start there?

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Do you need to spend ten hours on learning Chinese if you are going to go to China for a two-week missions project?  Do you need to spend five sessions learning about Communism for your mission trip to Albania?  If you are the missions ministry leader at your church or the youth minister in charge of the teen mission trip,  and you believe that everyone who goes on a short-term mission should go equipped—which I hope and pray you do–, how do you determine the best way to equip those workers going out from your church.

Let’s look in the next few posts at some suggestions about the content of training for short-term mission teams.

God first!

Everyone who goes on a short-term mission needs to be prepared spiritually! Just like you get vaccinations and take vitamins before the trip, you need to help your workers bolster their spiritual health before they go.  They need prophylactic preparation to prevent spiritual sickness, they need instruction on managing their spiritual health while they are there, and then they need to know what to do if they get sick.

  • Talk about motivations for going—and be honest because most people have multiple motivations, including adventure, travel, self-improvement, improvement of personal skills, and—of yes, helping someone else to know Jesus!  Preparation should include acknowledgement of these motivations along with a healthy way to prioritize them.  Acknowledging the lesser motivations helps remove any guilt or shame workers might otherwise carry with them. Good preparation will help them know ways to focus their motivations so that their activities will be both appropriate and effective for reaching their higher goals!
  • Talk about the spiritual goals for this trip. It is not enough to just hope that somehow conducting a VBS will make an impact for Christ. How will you know if you have made a difference or not? Do you have short-term and/or long-term goals? Are you planting seeds or harvesting because of what others have done before you?
  • What spiritual challenges might workers meet?  Most short-term mission projects are mountain-top experiences for the workers, but in every mission situation, there are also inherent possibilities for spiritual challenges.  If your workers are prepared for those challenges, they are more likely to overcome them effectively. 

                For instance, sometimes workers are confronted by “differentness” at the mission site: different doctrines, different rites, different styles of worship–and it shakes up their spiritual world for a while. Other workers are challenged when they try to verbalize their own faith and fail to do so adequately. Some workers find moral temptations more alluring away from home and are challenged!

I’ve often said that being on a mission field is like being in a pressure cooker and any little crack in your spiritual armor may be put under enough pressure to split wide open and leave you very vulnerable.  Preparation for such challenges before a worker goes should give him/her an opportunity to check for cracks!

  • What role will praise and prayer play? If you will have daily times together for praise and prayer—and I hope you will—then you will need to prepare for those times before you go!  Nothing is more discouraging than haphazardly prepared devotionals with half-baked thoughts and dashed-off prayer to cap it off.  Nothing is more encouraging than good time with God and your fellow workers, when you are giving thanks, praising Him, listening for His instructions for the day, interceding with Him for those people with whom you are working, and asking Him to work powerfully through you.

Putting a spiritually healthy team on the plane, a team prepared for spiritual challenges while on the field, must be one of the highest priorities for your mission preparations.

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immigration mapMost Christian churches/missions organizations have followed the church growth axiom of searching for areas of receptivity to which to send and spend their resources. During the last half century, this strategy has led to a lot of people and resources going to places like East Africa (English-speaking and less Muslim) as opposed to North Africa, or places like all the former Soviet countries—at least for about a decade—until post-soviet materialism took root and the eastern peoples became less interested.

South America, especially Brazil, was a hotspot for American missions for a couple of decades, but that has settled down now as indigenous leaders emerged and no longer need the baggage that comes with American money and Christianity.

Today, China is certainly in the missions’ spotlight, though political restrictions keep people from reporting the statistics that are essential to establishing patterns of receptivity.

India continues to remain high on the list of receptive countries. The poverty and class struggle also keep it on the list for young emergent churches as well.

One of the most passionate discussions in missions centers on the vast populations of non-Christians in the 10/40 window, that is, the countries lying between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, including  Saharan and Northern Africa, as well as almost all of Asia (West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and much of Southeast Asia). Roughly two-thirds of the world population lives in the 10/40 Window.

Most of the people in these countries claim the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist,  Animist, Jewish, or atheist faith, and few of their governments allow any kind of legal Christian activity on their soil.

Christian radio breaks through these barriers, but very few missionaries are called or sent to these sites, and very few churches/missions organizations target them either.

And if receptivity is our sole criteria for resource allocation, then why would we? Any work done in the tough areas of the 10/40 window would likely take decades if not lifetimes to show first fruits—and might cost lives.

What if I could show you both the potential and the freedom to meet, to befriend, to minister to, and, yes, to share your faith with 5 million Arabs?  With over a million Pakistanis, or hundreds of thousands of Iranians?  Would you be interested in using missions resources to reach out to Iraqis, Somalis, Algerians—if you could do it where it was not illegal and under favorable conditions for the reception of the Word?

Europe, known to missions people as . . . well, really not known to missions people because Europe has had its chance and has never been on anyone’s receptivity list.

But I want to say that the new Europe is a place where we MUST be—because that’s where we can speak with much of the world that is otherwise extremely difficult to penetrate.

In 1985, the European Union passed the Schengen Agreement, which allowed for free movement across borders for all citizens of member countries. At the time only ten fairly homogeneous countries composed the EU, but now, with the Agreement extended and expanded, 27 countries enjoy relatively unrestricted movement throughout the EU.

Nine million Turkish people live outside of Turkey in the EU.  Eight hundred thousand Romanians live in Spain. Twelve million immigrants live in France and 40% of those immigrants live in or near Paris.

What does this mean?  This means we ought to send missionaries to Paris, to Spain, to Germany, to the UK, and to Sweden, a country so friendly to immigrants, by the way, that they do not even count them.

The opportunities for the Message in Europe can no longer be ignored for reasons of receptivity.  Think about these reasons for why today is the day to be in Europe with the Gospel:

  • Although some immigrants naturally cluster together and are resistant to integration into their new countries, many more long for new relationships, which makes them more open to a Christian’s friendship than they would be in their homelands.
  • European laws do not restrict Christian work.
  • Going to the west, for many immigrants, is the opportunity to explore new ideas. Christianity is seen as a western idea, so it is natural for some to want to learn about it.
  • Restrictive cultural laws and traditions are usually mitigated, if not abandoned, in their new land.  For instance, most women from restrictive Muslim countries are allowed much more freedom when living in Europe than they would have at home.
  • While social media and other public media are often highly controlled and restricted in their home countries, these immigrants have access to every media avenue (for better or worse) in Europe—which brings opportunity for all kinds of Christian information into their homes.
  • Americans think of immigrants as being primarily impoverished people, but that is not necessarily true of people movement in Europe. I was just reading about a newly licensed medical doctor in Romania who could get no job there, so she immigrated to Germany, which is in desperate need of her services.
  • These immigrants will undoubtedly meet others of their own nationality/religion who have become Christians.  They must deal with this new cloud of witnesses.

Just a couple of years ago, an LST team of mature Christians from Texas spent two or three weeks working with a church in Cologne, Germany.  One of the members of that team was telling us about a Reader of hers from either Iraq or Iran, who actually belonged to a militant cell, but who would sneak away from his group to come and read the Bible with her 2-3 times each week.  He feared for his own safety, but in Cologne, Germany, he had the space to go far beyond what he could have done in his home.

I don’t know what has become of this young man, but I know another story that started just as his has. Almost 20 years ago now, an Iranian man also responded to a simple ad for practicing his English and started reading with a Christian.  Today, he is one of the elders in his church in Cologne, Germany.

Europe is a great mission field!  If you don’t think so, you’ve got your old glasses on! That’s where the world is! The whole world!!

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20131122_174550I wrote last week about the wonderful experience we had with our granddaughter Anna the last week we were in Europe for LST. Again, taking your grandkids with you when you do mission work is truly a formative memory for them. You can leave them no greater legacy than to show them what faithfully doing God’s work can be.

But there are some tips I can give you for making your trip more rewarding for both you and your grandchildren.  Let me just say that Sherrylee and I took our three children with us every summer of their lives until they were college-aged, we have sent many other families with children through LST, and now we have begun taking grandkids with us, so we have lots of experience to share with you.

Tip #1            -           Make sure they are old enough.  If they are your own children, you can take them at every age, but for grandkids, they need to be able to function for an extended time away from their parents. In my experience, 11 or 12-years-old is about as early as you want to start. In fact you have a window between 11 and 14 when it is probably ideal.

  • They may need to be old enough to fly by themselves.  Our two granddaughters both flew individually as unaccompanied minors across the Atlantic by themselves. Of course, a flight attendant always escorts them on and off the plane, but they still had to negotiate the nine-hour flight on their own.
  • At this age, they should be able to entertain themselves (reading, listening to music, video games, etc) when you are busy, but they can also visit with and relate to adults—especially at meals.
  • They also are old enough to try new foods—more or less—and when they don’t like what is served, they don’t make a big fuss, but wait until later to catch up.
  • They are old enough to understand and manage their own jetlag.
  • They are old enough to want to make their own memories, by taking pictures, keeping a journal, or collecting postcards.
  • They are old enough to carry their own luggage and keep up with their own things. (If you teach them to travel light, this shouldn’t be a problem.)

Tip #2            -           Make your plans early enough

  • Their Mom and Dad need to be fully on board with the plans, of course.
  • Determine early on who is going to pay for what.  With ours, the parents paid for the flights and the extra site-seeing costs. We provided ground transportation, lodging, and most meals. Since the kids slept in the room with us, that was rarely an extra expense. Since we almost always rent a car and drive ourselves, that too was no extra expense.  And until they are teens, they really don’t eat that much either.

Tip #3            -           Make sure everybody knows and understands that it is a mission trip             and that the work comes first! 

  • For our gkids, that means that they travel on our itinerary to places we must go and they see the people that we need to see. Our time with them is not built around showing them Europe.

Tip #4 –          Of course you try to squeeze into the schedule something especially                           interesting for the gkids.

  • For our first foray with a grandkid, we spent an hour in Ghent, walking the pedestrian zone before our meeting with the missionaries. Then we stopped at the Heidelberg castle for a walk on the grounds, not even a tour, on our way to the airport in Frankfurt the day before we flew back. The next year with her we planned one day out of eight for an outing in Paris.
  • This year we planned one day out of nine for sightseeing, so we drove to Amsterdam and saw Anne Frank’s house and museum and then went to Zaanse Schans (about 30 minutes further down the road) to a chocolate museum and an open air dutch village full of working windmills. The one other touristy thing we did with her was the Night watchman tour one afternoon in Rothenburg, where we were attending the Euro-American conference for three days.
  • You can sometimes get free layovers in London or other great sight-seeing places either going or coming home. We did that this year, which gave us half a day and an evening in London. We just saw the London Tower and Phantom—but she loved it.
  • Of course these were all fun and special for them, but I hope you can see that we made a balanced effort to do something special for the kids, while not really taking anything away from the work we were there to do.

Tip #5 -          Don’t be afraid to go one on one with your grandkid!

  • We are tempted sometimes to take two at a time, or to let them invite a friend—but I’d suggest you resist that and just take one!  Each one will have their own story then, and you will know that you have made an impact on that one child’s life.  If they are alone with you, then your experiences together will be yours. If they have another friend with them, you will lose many of those special moments you might have had.

Tip #6 –        Give them something meaningful to do!

  • Regardless of the kind of mission trip you are doing, find something meaningful that your grandchild can do. On LST projects, they often read the Gospel with other children. Or they entertain smaller children while the parents read. On our trip this year, we attended a missions conference, so Anna not only participated in the youth program, but she helped work with the younger children.  Meaningful is the key word here.  Even children know when they are just being given busy work or when they are just accessories.

Tip #7 –          Help them remember!

  • With our oldest grandchild, we talked a lot of history as we drove. We told her all about the Reformation and World War II.  Since we’ve returned, we’ve “reminded” her of some of those conversations, even occasionally giving her a little something to remind her of something we talked about.  Just keeping memories alive.
  • With our next grandchild that we took this year, our experience was completely different in that while we drove around, we played “Who Came First” with Bible characters, and we sang and sang and sang.  I’m thinking about making her a Playlist of “Songs We Sang in Germany” or something like that to help her remember.
  • In addition, for both of them, we have given them a photobook with our pictures of them and their activities with us—all the good times!  I’m pretty convinced that most of our childhood memories are directly from pictures that we have seen over and over again.  These photobooks are a very inexpensive way of capturing those memories and giving them to our grandkids in a more permanent and accessible medium than anything digital.

Just do it!  If you put God first, and just enjoy the grandkids, it will be a great experience for both of you!

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20131124_155115Sherrylee and I have just finished spending most of the month of November in Europe, visiting mission sites and talking to some of the most committed Christian people in the world about how to accomplish more for His Kingdom and how to talk to more people about Jesus.

I was able to stop and write a couple of posts during this trip (“Writing An Alternate Religious History for Spain” and “Cathedrals or Storefronts—Does It Matter In Europe?”), but for the most part, we were moving too quickly and too often to generalize our thinking into blog writing.  I apologize for that, but sometimes it is more important to do the work than to write about it.  I know you will understand.

So you don’t know, for instance, that our 11-year-old granddaughter Anna joined us for the last nine days of our trip in Europe. She flew all the way from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, changing planes at DFW by herself! What a girl!

For almost a year now, she has known that it was her turn!  Sherrylee and I have made a commitment to take one of our grandkids with us each year as they become old enough to travel with us.  Three years ago, we took our oldest grandchild Cassidy (also 11 at the time) and then took her again the next year when she was 12.  Kellan would have been the next because he is three weeks older than Anna, but his parents were already taking him to Germany, so he will be invited next year.

But this is not a “let-us-show-you-Europe” trip, oh no!  This is a Mimi and Grandad’s mission trip and the grandkids are invited to join us in the work we are doing. We tell them from the very beginning that we are visiting with missionaries and attending mission conferences; we are not going to Disneyworld in Paris.

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 am, we met Anna at the Frankfurt airport. The airlines are excellent about handling unaccompanied minors, so she was really never unattended during her 24 hours of travel!  The kids just have to be brave enough and independent enough to handle the emotional distance from their parents, not the physical distance.  And Anna was great!

By noon, we were in the car driving to the Netherlands to visit our friends Hans and Ans van Erp, who were the family who invited LST first to Eindhoven in 1987 to help them plant a new church there.  This church is now one of the strongest churches of Christ in Europe.

Anna was especially eager to meet Hans and Ans (yes, we all love it that their names rhyme!). She reportedly told her sister before she left, “I’m going to meet Hans and Ans van Erp. They knew Mommy when she was my age and now they are going to get to know me too! 

Within the first four days that she was with us, we had visited with the van Erps, then the Reinhardts in Wunstorf, Germany, as well as the Roehrkasses, Bratchers, and Smelsors in Hildesheim, Germany.  All of these visits involved long conversations about their local works and how LST was working or could work together with them.  Anna was there for all the conversations—of course.

On Saturday after her arrival, we drove five hours to Rothenburg ob der Taube, Germany, for the Euro-American Retreat.  This was the 50th anniversary of this retreat, which this year brought 230 people from all over Europe together for worship, prayer, Bible study, and lots of fellowship.

We were there a little early because I was speaking at the opening service. There was a children’s program, but Mimi went and got Anna because she wanted her to hear Grandad “preach.”  Well, it’s just one more little memory that may be meaningful to her in her own Christian life, knowing that she is from a family of preachers and teachers! I was glad she was there.

Over the next three days, Anna participated in worship, was part of the children’s classes, hung out with a few of the younger teens who were so kind to include the almost-teens, and she helped the small children prepare for their program on Tuesday night in front of the whole assembly.

Does that sound like a European vacation to you?  Does that sound like your grandkids dream trip?  Well, it could be if they know how much being with other Christians and encouraging them means to you!!

Of course, we planned some tourist things for Anna.  Of course!  We took one day and went to Anne Frank’s house and museum in Amsterdam, then drove a few minutes over to Zaanse Schans and toured a chocolate factory and working windmills.  It was a cold, blustery northern European November day, but she loved it.

And to cap off her experience, we planned a London layover on the way home, which gave us half a day there.  We drove by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but got to tour the Tower of London.  The real treat for her was attending a performance of Phantom of the Opera because Anna herself is very musically gifted.

Take your grandkids with you when you plan your next mission trip!! Sure, you have to make a few adjustments, but you will plant seeds in them that may change them forever. If you haven’t read Cassidy’s recent post about her view of missions, you should stop and read that now!

If we left no other legacy than to have given our children——a vision of what they can do with their lives for God in gratitude for what He has done for them, that would be so much more of an inheritance than anything else we could leave behind.

Take your grandchildren with you when you do His work!  Don’t make it all about them; make it about Him!  Let them see what your greatest love is!

That’s the motivational part of this post.  Next, I’ll come back and share some tips with you on how to take your grandkids on a mission trip with you successfully.

It’s good to talk again!

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churchbuildingAs you know, Sherrylee and I are traveling through Europe, visiting with mission points about hosting Let’s Start Talking  short-term mission projects. We’ve done this kind of trip for over thirty years now, so there is very little that surprises us, BUT that doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to have new experiences that cause us to ponder about how God’s work is done in Europe.—or anywhere for that matter.

I’ve been thinking this morning about church buildings and/or meeting places and how important—or not important—they are.  Sherrylee brought this up yesterday as we were driving—she is the first mover if not the primary source of much of my thinking.

One of the churches we visited has a beautiful three-storey brick building, marble floors, multiple classrooms, a very large terrace where they have their baptisms as well as church socials. In addition, they have an auditorium with a stage, stage lighting, sound system—the whole works—for approximately 150 people with theater seating.  I have never visited a mission church of their size in Europe that had such a nice building.

At another city, we met with a missionary that has planted three different churches in his region.  They all meet in garages that are revamped to serve as meeting space.  They are roomy, multi-functional, and are friendly—but they are a garage. From the outside they look like a garage, and from the inside they look like a nice garage.  Each of these garages will hold a group of 30-50 people sitting down.  One garage they have outgrown and are looking for new space—don’t know if they are looking for a garage or not. I think they usually start in garages because the garage belongs to someone who is either a member or a friend of their church and they can use it at no great cost.

Another church we visited met on the fourth floor—walk up—of an older office building. It was just an opened space—nice, clean, some minimal decoration to let people know it was a church.  It was also the space they used for office space, for their kitchen (in the back corner) and for any other indoor activities they might have as a church.  Many starting churches in Europe choose space like this and never grow out of it. This work has existed for about ten years and they have a community of about twenty people.

Our most recent visit has been with a young missionary family who has only been on the field for ten months.  They have come and are working with a local established religious organization whose main outreach has been summer camps for children through teens. The camp is in a much smaller town about an hour from where this couple lives, and a church of about 150 has grown up in the smaller town around the camp work.

This couple is here to try to plant a new work in the larger city now.  The organization has already rented a small but well located storefront just off of the main street of the city.  Currently they are not meeting here as a church, but they use these rooms for community activities, for Bible studies, and for any other activities that are organized in this city by their sponsors.  They describe it as either a clubhouse or a community center.  It is furnished with couches, nice sitting areas, some tables and chairs, and a catchy pop art mural on the main wall.  Nice space—very post-modern—not churchy at all.

If I were choosing the “best” strategy for Europe with regard to church buildings, I would likely say to start with the community center idea until there was a core group of disciples. Then I might jump to the real church building to demonstrate a real presence, a commitment, and significance. 

But I don’t know any European group that can afford to build its own building like that, and I don’t know any American churches that would invest in a building in Europe like that! 

Interestingly, Willow Creek built a building in Spain for 500 people about 10-15 years ago—and the work there has been unusually successful for Europe.  I don’t know all the details, but the results are unusual enough that I can wonder if a substantial investment in a substantial building didn’t pay off for their work there?

Which begs the opposite question:  how great is the impact on the work in Europe of a complete unwillingness of our churches to invest there, not only in buildings but in the high cost of supporting workers in Europe?

God has blessed the work in the garage, on the fourth floor, in the clubhouse, and in the marble-floored church building.  He doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands!  But I keep thinking that He did not stay in a tent in Israel forever either

I know all about the empty cathedrals.  But I still wonder what our buildings—and non-buildings—say about our God in Europe today??

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