Posts Tagged ‘missions’

Glasco ChristianOne week ago we were worshipping with a little Christian church in Glasco, Kansas, of which in 1870, my great-great grandfather Mahlon Woodward and his wife Mary Ann were founding members.  After lunch at church with people who knew my grandparents and my dad, we accidentally went to a poetry reading that had been advertised as a Smithsonian program on Kansas waterways! I suppose towns of 500 can’t be picky!

Today, one week later, Sherrylee and I worshipped with the Omonia Church of Christ in Athens, Greece! Ten days or so ago, the missionaries in Athens put out a call for immediate help with their English program for refugees. Some very generous donors called us and said that they would sponsor us, if we were able to go, so here we are, getting ready to start tomorrow helping people mostly from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan improve their English and become better acquainted with Jesus. 

MunichOur international flight was via Munich, a new airport, but the same city where in 1971 two pretty clueless young newly-weds landed and began their mission journey together.  We are slower than we were then, but wiser, I hope—certainly more experienced.  While we have definitely changed, the world has changed also. When we left for Munich in 1971, Christians faced Iron Curtains and Cold Wars and Walls. We could just barely drive to Berlin back then, much less the Arab world. Now Christians can go to a small church building in Athens and work in the Middle East. Look around your neighborhood and tell me the world has not changed and that the nations are not coming!

So we may need to work differently than we did forty-six years ago, but people are still riding around in their chariots and saying, who will help me understand what I’m reading here about Jesus.  And God still uses those he has used before–regardless of their job status or age–to serve and teach Searchers.

Sherrylee and I will be in Athens for three weeks, and I hope to post regularly.  Pray for us—for health and strength and courage and boldness.

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Relay-race_02Almost three years ago, Sherrylee and I gave the LST board of directors our two-year notice as we had agreed to do many years ago.  The LST Board of Directors wisely had been discussing the eventual transition from the Founders (Sherrylee and me) to a Successor probably for at least five years before we gave notice. In fact, the “Succession Plan” as it was always called in those earlier board meetings is what eventually drove us to the first Strategic Plan in 2013.  Afterwards, Sherrylee and I knew what we were supposed to do to start the transition process.

Just a few months ago, I was sitting with two wonderful kingdom workers who were both in their late 70s, living in a difficult, foreign country, directors of a local non-profit organization—and after eight years there, just exhausted from the physical and spiritual demands of their mission!  As they told me over dinner one night, they had repeatedly told their American Board of Directors and their supporters that one of their top priorities was to find their replacements, and while everyone acknowledged the need, not much was really done to move the process forward.  A few comments in newsletters and a little correspondence with casual inquiries were all that the older couple themselves could do while keeping up with the strenuous daily demands of their foreign ministry.

I told them that they needed to give notice!  Not that they should create a hardship for their Board of Directors, but they needed to do what was right both for the mission and for themselves.  And by giving notice—in this case they decided (quite generously, I believe, for their age) to give their board two years notice—they were also placing the responsibility for the continuation of the mission squarely on the shoulders both of those who truly carry the responsibility as well as those in the best position to successfully find their successors.

If you have been reading carefully, you will have picked up on the fact that we gave our two-year notice almost three years ago!  Perhaps where there is tension between a board of directors and their executive, the official notice might be an irreversible legal step, for most of us in non-profits it is probably more a statement of intent.  In our case, the process of finding a successor took longer than anticipated. For others there could be financial considerations, a health issue, or even questions of momentum that might make the official hand-off date other than what was anticipated. In some cases, the succession might even need to occur earlier for the good of both the executive and/or the organization.

Here are my conclusions about giving notice as a step in the transition process:

  • The Board of Directors should create a Succession Plan long before it is needed, and this plan should include an appropriate and agreed upon timeframe for their executive to give notice.
  • If the Board does not have a succession plan or one that includes giving notice, then the executive should initiate the conversation with them and encourage them to develop one.
  • If the Board does not grasp their responsibilities for succession, the Executive may need to simply give notice on his/her own initiative, in order to raise the urgency level—for the sake of the organization or for him/herself.
  • Only in rare cases, does either the Board or the Executive need to feel that the Notice must be strictly enforced. Neither the organization nor the executive should view it as a bludgeon, rather as a green light signaling the start of a slightly unpredictable journey into a new future for both.


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Relay-race_02Just to show how difficult it is to transition from Founders to Successors, let’s be very honest and answer the questions that I said every Founder was thinking when the question of succession is raised:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?

The truth of the matter is that unless your Founder has serious mental or health issues or has done something that morally/ethically disqualifies him/her, then the obvious answer is nobody knows more, no one will do more or risk more personally, and no one has more followers already in step with their vision than Founders. 

And the longer they have led, and the more successful they have been, the harder it is to move them out!

So what reason are you going to give to convince this Leader that he/she needs to step down? 

First, you need to consider that you may not convince them to step down.  Your board may be able to force them out—but unless they are totally out of favor with staff, volunteers, and donors, you will suffer great damage by doing so. The whole ministry/organization may be threatened, and by forcing them out, you may find yourself in competition with their new, parallel organization!  Not good.  Allowing them to continue to lead until such time that they are persuaded by some of the observations listed below may be the only viable strategy.  Sorry, if you were looking for a miracle way out!

Two approaches that I don’t think will work, but that are often attempted anyway are

  • You may be able to appeal to them on the basis of age, health, or family situation. Aren’t you ready to spend more time with your family, with your grandchildren?  Aren’t you going to be spending a great deal of time caring for your spouse now?  You need to focus your energy now on recovering your health/taking care of yourself. It may take family members to convince them, close friends, even their respected church leaders.  And while their own health or age might seem like strong appeals to you, don’t forget that the Founder is used to being sacrificial and may have a “leave it all on the field” attitude about the ministry/organization that keeps them from being moved by what they see as self-serving rationalizations.
  • You may appeal to them on the basis of popular opinion. The staff thinks it’s time . . . . The board thinks you should step down, or Everyone sees it, but you . . . . Don’t forget though that Founders have always had the courage to go against the mainstream or they probably wouldn’t have done what they did.  They probably did not lead by taking polls, so I don’t think this is going to achieve a congenial, voluntary resignation.

My only good suggestion to you is to appeal to their desire for the success of the ministry/organization! More than their own personal welfare, they have given everything so that the ministry/organization can accomplish the greater good which they desired. If you can help them understand that this greater good—the advance of the Kingdom of God, the health of children, the care of the aged, any benevolent cause that was worth someone giving years and years plus all the tangible and intangible sacrifices that Founders make—that their cause will be advanced by their stepping down, then you will have pricked their soul.

As Sherrylee and I looked at our own ministry and what was best for it, several very specific situations propelled us toward our decision to step down voluntarily after thirty-six years. I’ll share these with you with the hope that it will help you with your Founder:

  • As I mentioned in the first of this series, our experiences in our youth watching Founders being locked out of their organizations was so painful that we determined to stop before someone wanted our keys.
  • Although reasonably healthy, our age has made extensive international travel much harder on us physically.
  • The financial responsibility for the ministry had always been heavy, but it began to feel like a burden. We thought that was our problem, not the ministry’s.
  • We have found ourselves getting further and further away from those who volunteer to go, not even recognizing the names of some who have done LST for several years.
  • Sherrylee and I are boomers. When we began working with students, we were dealing with Gen Xers. We’ve now gone through Y’s and are well into millennials.   We have also gone from moderns to post-moderns, and some even say post postmoderns.  We are less sure that we are in touch with the way students today are thinking.

We still believe in the mission; we still see the vision in front of us, and we are still sold out to the goal of sharing Jesus and sharing ourselves—and we will be until the day we die! But, honestly, we believed in that mission before LST began.

I’m very grateful to our board of directors, all of whom are dear friends and people who have been a part of the Let’s Start Talking Ministry, who have understood and walked with us through our own transition.  My prayer is that you will be as wise and gentle with those Founders who need your help with a pretty difficult moment in their lives.

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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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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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You have to stop and read this! Cassidy is a young member of the Body of Christ, but her voice is already powerful and the Spirit of God is strong in her.  And she tells the truth.  She is special to us for many reasons, but let’s just all give thanks for her and for all the other teens who really love God with all their heart! Their devotion and commitment encourage our hope  for tomorrow.

20130621_171423Teenager. The word teenager makes some people nervous.  Loud, strange music. Weird clothes.  Completely different vocabulary.  Teenagers have the reputation of being concerned about clothes, popularity, dating, reputation and having fun. But if you’ve spent time with teenagers at The Hills lately, I think you’ll be surprised! And I mean surprised in a good way! Most of the students I know are concerned about the world—we want to make a difference. We care about friends, family, school, making the most of our lives and even missions. We want to stand out but not for our clothes or our music or even for what we say. We want to stand out because of what we do.  We want our lives to reflect Christ and we want to make Him look good. We aren’t afraid to do big things for God and we love being at a church that encourages us to dream big!

I was born into a family that loves the church and loves international mission work.  I’m 14 years old and I’ve been to 11 countries on 5 continents to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him. My parents and my 2 younger brothers and I went on a Let’s Start Talking project to Italy this past summer where we helped people practice English using the Bible—we went with 2 of our friends who also go to The Hills. Last summer I was on a team to Rwanda with several families from The Hills. God has definitely given me lots of adventurous ways to serve Him with our church family.  And each adventure has helped me grow closer to Him.

In July of 2011, I went on a 3 week LST project with my mom, my brothers and some family friends to Natal, Brazil.  Let me confess something…I was a brat.  I had just turned 12 years old and, honestly, I had not been very kind to my family for a while.  I don’t know why but I was just always frustrated with them and my brothers were really, really annoying to me all the time.  I left the USA dreading this non-stop time with my family. I don’t know exactly what happened to me on our mission trip but I came back changed.  I returned loving our time together and being grateful for my family. I had been baptized a couple of years earlier but the Holy Spirit was really working on my heart during those 3 weeks.

I had been on several mission trips before this one but this would be my very first time to read the Bible alone with people.  There I sat, 12 years old, across from 5 different non-Christians ranging in age from a 11-year-old Brazilian boy to a 52-year-old woman who was practicing Spiritism. I didn’t know it but my mom would sit across the room praying for me, reminding herself that the Spirit in me was stronger than anything in this woman.  Maybe that’s the beauty of being young and innocent—I wasn’t intimidated at all—only the usual nervousness of meeting someone new and sharing Jesus with them.  The Bible says that God can use the weak and overlooked of this world to show His wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1).  Who would choose a 12-year-old bratty girl to share Jesus with a Spiritist over 4 times older? God, of course!

If you want to change your child or grandchild’s life, take them to do mission work.  You don’t even have to go to another country! There are people in this city who don’t know Jesus! There are people in your neighborhood who don’t have hope! And if you can take them to another country, go! There is something life-changing about spending every day for 3 weeks focused on the Good News of Jesus. It’s hard to be unkind to your family when you’ve read the story of Jesus with people all day.  It’s tough to be a brat after you’ve shared your faith with a stranger. And when you read about how great God’s love is, you want to love people even more.

Even little brothers.

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passport-for-travel-frontDear C,K,C,C,C,L,A,O, and N,

I can’t believe that right now three of you are in Italy on an LST mission project! And all the rest—except the very youngest ones—have already been on mission trips too!  We are so proud of all of you!  And if you are one of the young ones, don’t worry! I’m sure you will get your chance soon!

You also really have remarkable parents—all of them—because they have gone on mission trips and taken you with them!  Can you believe that some parents leave their kids at home when they go on mission trips—maybe their kids are too young or too rowdy–, but your parents wanted you to go!.  Yours want you to know how fun, how great and awesome, and how important mission trips are!  They are really good parents!!

Think of all the places you have been:  Germany, Japan, Honduras, Rwanda, Italy, Brazil, the Netherlands. Amazing!  Did you know that Grandad was 21 years-old and almost out of college before I ever went anywhere out of the United States. (No, it wasn’t that they hadn’t invented the wheel yet! I’m not that old!)

And did you know that Mimi and Grandad went to Germany as missionaries and lived there for eight years. (That’s why we always say, “Guten Appetit!” after we pray at meals.) Then, starting when Philip was 7, Ben was 5, and Emily was 3, we took them and went on mission trips every summer when school was out.

You might be wondering why mission work is so important in our family!  Good question.

First, mission work is important to our family because we are Christians, and we believe that everyone needs to know about God.  Lots of people grow up in countries where no one knows who God is. They sometimes have been told that there is no God; other kids grow up believing in many different gods.  Do you remember the 10 Commandment song that Mimi taught you when you were little.  Remember, “Don’t bow down to any yukky idols!”  That’s what Christians tell people, so they can know about the one, true God!

Second, mission work is important to our family because we believe Jesus is God’s Son, and God said that everyone needs to know this to go to heaven someday .  If we are going to be called by Jesus’ name “Christ-ians” and if we really love him, then we just naturally want to do what he says. So if God said to go and tell people, then we go and tell people.  Why wouldn’t we?

Thirdly, who is going to tell people that God loves them, if we don’t go and tell them?  And there are so many people in the world!  I think that God has some people for all of us to talk to.  What happens if one of us Christians just sleeps in or is afraid or decides to watch TV instead and some people don’t get told?  Well, don’t worry because God is very close to everyone and has promised that if people are looking for him, they will find him!  God might send somebody else to tell that person, but then wouldn’t He be a little disappointed in us for not doing what we were supposed to do!

Here are a few things I need you to know if you are going to grow up in a family that does mission work:

  1. Your family is not better than families who don’t go on mission trips.  Other people’s families do other things for God.  Some families love to give food to poor people, some families love to mow yards and repair houses for people who are sick or old.  Remember that God’s family is like a body with many different body parts:  Some people are eyes and ears, some people are hands.  Your family might be the feet that like to go places—but it takes all of you to be the whole body of Jesus.
  2. You have special gifts from God for doing mission work!  You’ve been on lots of airplanes and you weren’t afraid!  You’ve slept in strange beds—or maybe even on the floor without a bed. You know how to make friends with people who don’t speak English very well.  You even try a few new foods—sometimes!  These are all special gifts that make it much easier for you to do mission work.
  3. Mission trips are really fun—but not all the time!  Getting to see a new country and meet new people to tell about Jesus is wonderful fun, BUT sometimes the food can make you sick, or big new bugs can bite you, or your bed is too hard, or there are no water fountains and you are thirsty, or there is no one your age to hang out with, or you just get homesick.  What I can tell you is that if you can just not gripe or complain and keep doing the good things that you went to do, a couple of weeks after you get home, you’ll hardly remember the things you didn’t like.
  4. You might want to be a missionary that lives in another country someday!  Not very many people really want to do this, but as you get older, you might just listen to see if God puts this into your heart.  Now, you can’t go on your own until you are old enough and prepared to go, but don’t let that stop you from being excited about being a missionary someday.

Did you know that Jesus went on a mission trip one time?  Yep, he and his father talked it over and when it was just the right time, Jesus left his father and went on a mission trip.  When he got there, it wasn’t all that fun. At first it was a little fun because people listened to what he told them about God, but then they started saying bad things about him, things that weren’t really true.

But Jesus didn’t gripe. He stayed on his mission trip for about three years. That’s how long it took for him to do everything God wanted him to do. Then it was time to go home, so God just brought him back to Heaven.

Of course, you know where he went on his mission trip.  He came here to this world so that we could know who God is and how much he loves us. Aren’t you glad Jesus was a missionary?

And that’s why our family loves mission trips. 

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win winI believe it was Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People who made the attribute of always going for Win-Win a virtue. In many life situations, this principle seems to be a very Christ-like approach. Win-Win seems to avoid a selfish approach to relationships, or dominance for the sake of dominance, or any form of self-gratification at the expense of others.

Sunday, I was reading in Acts 13-14 on the flight home from Europe, thinking about the places Paul went on his missionary journeys and all the mission points Sherrylee and I had visited on our trip. I enjoy his first and second journeys much more now that we have traveled in Turkey and been to some of the same sites, like Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, and especially Attalia , which is current day Antalya, a site where LST has been active for ten years now.

This time, however, as I was reading, I noticed especially how much opposition Paul and Barnabas faced:

  • Cyprus: Elymas (Bar-Jesus) the sorcerer “opposed them”.  Paul calls him a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right,” and then strikes him blind for a season.
  • Pisidian Antioch: Jealous Jews “began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Paul and Barnabas answer them boldly, then leave and shake the dust off their feet as a warning to them!
  • Iconium: Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively(?) that the people of the city were divided. Some plotted to mistreat and stone them, so Paul and Barnabas fled for their lives.
  • Lystra: The apostles decided to do good in the neighborhood, so they healed a lame man which won them more favor than was good because the people tried to worship them as gods—until they were persuaded instead to stone them!

After Derbe, the two missionaries go back through most of these same sites to encourage the disciples with this message:  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Does this sound like Paul and Barnabas had win-win experiences in their mission efforts?

On one of our stops in Europe we had a conversation with a missionary who was working in a country, not hostile but definitely indifferent to the Savior.  There was little danger of real persecution, but a high likelihood of rejection.

This missionary’s approach was to perform acts of service in the community, to gradually grow relationships with people, and to “wait and see what the Holy Spirit will do with it all.”

First, let me say that I believe that God works and accomplishes his plan even through our weakest efforts and in spite of  our best efforts. God’s sovereignty, however, has never left his people without obedient work to do.

I went away from this meeting thinking to myself: this missionary has built a system of missions where he risks almost nothing.  He is offering no words that can be rejected; he is not risking relationships by calling for repentance; he thinks he is a living testimony, and that he is doing the right thing by waiting on divine intervention.

Or he may have just bought into a conflict-avoidance philosophy of the cultural Christianity, broadly espoused and gladly believed in our society, where tolerance of diversity is the supreme virtue.

I don’t believe we have to imitate Paul’s missionary methods explicitly, but I do see Jesus and all of the early disciples not just making friends, not just avoiding conflict, not just doing good in front of people.  I see ALL of them BOLDLY speaking the words of God to people—and all of them experiencing rejection and conflict as a result.

Yes, they sometimes enjoyed the favor of all the people (Acts 2:47), but the word of God is described as a SWORD—a weapon.

I’m pretty sure Christians can’t win-win the battle without the Sword.

I’m not advocating the return to self-righteous bashing of others. I am advocating a return to boldly and overtly speaking the truth in love.

It’s still true today for all Christians, but some more than others:  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

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ferraraSitting at breakfast this morning in Ferrara, Italy, I had time to reflect a little on the whirlwind trip that Sherrylee and I have just completed in Italy.  It started down south in the boot heel and finishes when we fly from Pisa to France.  During our six days so far, we have been in contact with six churches, meeting with their leaders and often having an opportunity to speak to the entire church, to talk about their work and if LST might be of any help to them.

In virtually every case, we found Christians who wanted to grow, who wanted to be a brighter light, but were faced with significant challenges.  I don’t suppose that is much different from most smaller churches anywhere in the world.

We also met some wonderful Italian saints:  Pino and Evalina, Angelo, Alessandro, Paolo, Umberto, Marco, Luca—these are just a few of the names that I can spell, but there were many more sweet people.

And I don’t want to neglect mentioning the wonderful American couple that we met in Florence, David and Debbie Woodruff.  About five years ago, they gave up their comfortable life and home in the States to take on the work of directing the Avanti Italia program.

Avanti Italia was begun in the late 80s by former Italian missionaries to encourage young Americans to give two years of their life in missionary service, specifically in Italy for the encouragement of the Italian Churches of Christ.

The program was housed in the former Florence Bible School building in Scandicci, just outside of Florence.  I don’t know how many young people have gone through this program, but surely, each one has had a life-changing experience.

Different directors have had different programs, but they have all included outreach among the Italian young people, service to the Italian churches in the vicinity, and service to the community in general.

David, the current director, told us that the seven current Avanti Italia workers offer English conversation classes to about 80 people currently. In addition, one day a week they are encouraged to just pick someone they have met and spend extra time with them, developing a deeper relationship.

And another day each week is “work” day, when they let their hands do the talking.  In the last five years, with the help of their workers, the Woodruffs have completed much of a needed remodeling and updating of the Scandicci facility.

Maybe therein lies part of the answer for why anyone would want to go to Italy to do Christian mission work.  What sense does it make to go to one of the most “Christian” nations in the world?

Houses fall into ruin over time. Even those houses that are lived in and maintained need a fresh look, a renewal.  Our experience in countries like Italy is that

  • reading the story of Jesus again is a special blessing to many who would claim a church, but who have never really read the story for themselves.
  • A relationship of a deeply committed Christian can encourage a weaker or nominal believer to a closer walk.
  • Some people have never personally chosen faith in Jesus for themselves. Our conversation may be the first time they have ever been asked whether they really believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Some people know the story and are true believers but they have never experienced the family of God as it can be experienced in a small congregation, where every member is known and cared for.
  • Every country has those who come as guests or visitors and who are not part of the Christian tradition at all.  Two of the young people in the church in Ferrara were born in Ukraine of Russian-speaking parents, but have been in Italy since they were small children.  They are thankful for those who told their family about Jesus and did not assume that everyone knows who He is.

I know of no church that is not plagued by human frailty and error. I would not presume to know when God blows out candlesticks.  I tend to lean more toward Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

I’m thankful for this week in Italy and for every Christian here. 

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