MEGATRENDS AND GP - Part 1

Megatrends Shaping the Future of Missions in General

and Global Partners in Particular

 “So what is a “megatrend“? Trends are an emerging pattern of change likely to impact how we live and work. Megatrends are large, social, economic, political, environmental or technological change that are slow to form, but once in place can influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions, possibly for decades. They are the underlying forces that drive change in global markets, and our everyday lives. - Peter Fisk (https://www.thegeniusworks.com/2019/12/mega-trends-with-mega-impacts-embracing-the-forces-of-change-to-seize-the-best-future-opportunities/)

Missions agencies, including Global Partners, are not immune to the patterns of change shaping the world around us. We can choose to ignore the handwriting on the wall, or be like the men from Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chron.12:32) It is a choice between proactively moving the mission forward and scrambling to stay relevant and viable. As Craig Groeschel noted, “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who learns to anticipate rather than react.” (Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast – 11/5/20). 

So, what are the megatrends we need to anticipate? Based on my reading (see the Reference List at the end) and my observations across the scope of GP’s world, I suggest the following.

1. GLOBALIZATION

“Globalization is a term used to describe the increasing connectedness and interdependence of world cultures and economies.” (National Geographic) In my almost four decades in missions I have watched the world become smaller and smaller. The pace of the growth of interconnectedness has increased, driven to a great extent by rapid developments in technology.

Culbertson summarizes the implications of globalization for missions as follows:

“Some things about globalization actually facilitate world evangelism. For instance, because of easy mobility, millions of believers have crossed international borders on short-term mission trips. On the other hand, today's missionary teams are often multi-national. Thus, missionaries have to think cross-culturally just by living and ministering with missionaries from other nations.

At times, globalization gives rise to seemingly contradictory trends. For example, globalization leads some people to see religion in private and individualistic terms. For others, globalization has caused them to slide toward secularism or, at the very least, to embrace shallow forms of spirituality. Then, tragically, the flow of religions across cultural boundaries has too often fostered aggressive intolerance.”

2. MIGRATION

 “Migration is, and perhaps has always been, one of the most significant issues in Christian mission.” (Lightyear)

According to the World Migration Report 2020, 1 out of every 30 people in the world (272 million people) is a migrant (that is, they currently live in a country different from their birth country). That includes 25.9 million refugees, or involuntary migrants.

The missiological implications are pointed out by Lightyear as follows:

In short, migration matters missionally for three reasons: firstly, because it matters to the people we live with (or will live with in the future); secondly, because it matters to the God whom we follow and worship; and thirdly, because people are increasingly absent from where we would expect them to be present, and present where we could not expect them (and the dynamics of this translocation have been, and continue to be, a rich contributor not only to the numerical growth and geographical spread of the gospel, but also to the theological, liturgical, and ecclesiological development of the church).

3. URBANIZATION

“Additionally, along with globalization has come the rapid growth of cities and the rise of urbanization. In the year 1800, only 3 percent of people lived in cities. By 1900, the fraction of city-dwellers increased to 10 percent. Between 1900 and 2007, though, it increased to 50 percent. By 2050, it is estimated that 75–80 percent of all human beings will live in cities. Cities are where the people are and where they will be in the future.” (Mohler)

The exponential growth of cities has massive implications for how we should engage in missions. “Christian mission won the ancient Greco-Roman world because it won the cities.” (Rijnhart et al) If Christian mission is going to effectively reach the current world it will be because we have focused on reaching the cities.

Rijnhart et al summarize the reasons why urban ministry is so critical as follows:

  • Cities are culturally crucial. In the village, someone might win its one or two lawyers to Christ, but winning the legal profession requires going to the city with the law schools, the law journal publishers, and so on.
  • Cities are globally crucial. In the village, someone can win only the single people group living there, but spreading the gospel to ten or twenty new national groups/languages at once requires going to the city, where they can all be reached through the one lingua franca of the place.
  • Cities are personally crucial. By this I mean that cities are disturbing places. The countryside and the village are marked by stability and residents are more set in their ways. Because of the diversity and intensity of the cities, urbanites are much more open to new ideas—such as the gospel! Because they are surrounded by so many people like and unlike themselves, and are so much more mobile, urbanites are far more open to change/conversion than any other kind of resident. Regardless of why they may have moved to the city, once they arrive there the pressure and diversity make even the most traditional and hostile people open to the gospel.

 4. DECLINE IN RELIGIOUS WORKERS VISAS

While it is difficult (maybe impossible) to document, it appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult for missionaries to obtain visas or residence permits to allow them to serve in the countries to which they are being sent.  Two forces seem to be at work:

  1. Countries which historically had been open to Christian missionaries are becoming less so. Missionaries are no longer held in high esteem and are not viewed as offering benefit to the country so as to warrant the approval of residency status.
  2. Some creative access countries are becoming more restrictive and cracking down on missionaries who are being not fully honest in disclosing their reasons for being in their country. Turkey, India, and China come quickly to mind as places that recently have been stepping up their restrictions on foreigners involved in missionary activity. Tent-faking, to use a term coined by Barna, is becoming less effective in these increasingly hostile places.

The reality is that the parts of the world that are least evangelized are also the areas that are most hostile to Christian missionaries. One only needs to superimpose Casper’s map of “the top 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian” over a map of the 10:40 window representing the areas where the least reached peoples live to realize that it is becoming more difficult to access the places where missionaries are needed most.

“The vast majority of countries in this part of the world either do not grant missionary visas, or else restrict missionary activity so as to preclude any attempt to convert members of the majority religion. In effect, human governments and human societies have stated their intent to veto the Great Commission.” (Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission)

 5. GLOBAL SHIFT OF CHRISTIANITY

As Zurlo et al point out, “The decline of Christianity in the Global North is now being outpaced by the rise of Christianity in the Global South (i.e., Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania). Christians in sub-Saharan Africa generally have high birth rates, and people from other religions continue to convert to Christianity in China, India, Cambodia, Mongolia, and elsewhere throughout Asia.” They provide the following diagram to show the status of global Christianity.

 

The implications for missions are immense. A few years ago, Oscar Muriu, senior pastor at Nairobi Chapel told students at Urbana “The world has changed. Our definition of what it means to be Christian is going to be increasingly defined by the 2/3 world and our paradigm of missions must of necessity, therefore, change." (Christianity Today)

Which of these megatrends do you see having an I impact on you and your ministry? What megatrend do you see that I missed that will greatly influence the shape of global missions and GP?

The next blog post will look at megatrends within the church itself that are shaping our future.

 

REFERENCE LIST

Arthur, E. (2017). The Future of Mission Agencies. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 4-12.

Arthur, E. (2019). Mission Agencies in the 21st Century [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/38654079/Mission_Agencies_in_the_21st_Century_A_Research_Report_for_Agency_Leadership_and_Boards

Casper, J. (2020, January 15). The 50 Countries Where It's Hardest to Follow Jesus. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/top-christian-persecution-open-doors-2020-world-watch-list.html

Culbertson, H. (n.d.). Globalization. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/global.htm

Fuller, J. (2017). Future Proofing OMF. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 13-22.

The Future of Missions 10 Questions About Global Ministry that the Church Must Answer with the Next Generation (Publication). (2020). Barna.

Gina A. Zurlo, T. (2019, October 16). World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South. Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2396939319880074

Global Mission in the Twenty-first Century. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2020, from http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Global_Mission_21.pdf

Global Mission Trends. (2020, September). Retrieved from https://joshuaproject.net/assets/media/handouts/global-mission-trends.pdf

Lightyear. (2017). Missional Migration. Mission Round Table, 12(2), 4-8.

Lying, Hostile Nations, and the Great Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.9marks.org/article/lying-hostile-nations-and-great-commission/

Missions Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://www.thetravelingteam.org/stats

Mohler, A. (2017, October 25). Globalization and the Christian Mission. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/11/globalization-christian-mission/

Pocock, M., Rheenen, G. V., & McConnell, D. (2005). The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Rijnhart, C., Jurie Kreel, B., Harries, J., &; Pier, M. (2018, March 22). What Is God's Global Urban Mission? Retrieved November 25, 2020, from https://www.lausanne.org/content/what-is-gods-global-urban-mission

Wan, E. (n.d.). Rethinking Missiology in the context of the 21st Century: Global Demographic Trends and Diaspora Missiology. Retrieved from http://www.enochwan.com/english/articles/pdf/Rethinking%20Missiology%20in%2021st%20Century.pdf

World Migration Report 2020 (Rep.). (2019). Geneva: International Organization for Migration. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf

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Three Phases of Transition

A missionary’s life is about transition. Sometimes we are conscious of this reality and sometimes it sits in the background, way in the background. As I have thought more about the reality of transition for a missionary and how it can impact both positively and negatively I have begun to realize that there are three key times when a missionary deals with the issues of transition.

The first phase is obvious and yet we don’t always think of it as transition. Yet moving from your passport country to another country is in fact a major time of transition. How we view this transition and what happens during that time will greatly affect our ability to serve in our new home country.

That word home defines what needs to happen in this first phase of transition. We need to do everything possible to make it possible to see our new country, culture, and language as a place we can call home. It is generally not an easy process and a great deal of material has been written on all that is involved. I am not so much interested in all of that but in the transition process.

Too often people get caught up in rushing the process. They want to get busy in the ministry and work they feel they have been called to do or sent to do. Too quickly the greater purpose is lost and as a result the ability to be effective and accepted is severely hindered, even damaged.

There is a reason missiologists talk about the importance of learning a language. At least three years. They talk about the importance of learning the culture. Another three+ years. There are no shortcuts to this transition process. And even when it goes well the wise person realizes that the transition involved in making this new place a home will never really stop.

Poor use of language will result in being treated constantly as an outsider, insensitive and incapable of participating in the real life of the people around them. Poor understanding of culture will cause rifts in relationships, lack of trust, and a feeling that one does not truly love them. I could say more but this is enough.

This transition of culture and language is essential for the next transition to occur.

Phase two transition or Ministry transition. The transition actually has a couple of time frames that are part of the total process.

The first time frame is the transition involved in developing the skills and relationships involved carrying out the task, ministry, or work assigned. It doesn’t matter if in fact you are an expert in your area of ministry. You will have little success if you are unable to develop a new set of skills related to functioning in this new environment and working with people who do not and never will think like you.

An example may be helpful. I have done construction work in four different countries. Each of those countries had different ways of doing construction based on the type of materials available to do the work. In one place I had to learn how to build with mud blocks. In another they used wood framing with metal sheathing. Another place involved learning to use wood poles, grass roofing, and vines. Another used concrete and concrete blocks.

In each of these I had to make a number of transitions. I had to learn how the people did the work, I had to learn about the materials they used and how to use them, and I had to be willing to let them teach me how to do the work in their context. I knew how to build but I needed to make the transition to learning how they build and so build relationships and trust.

That is the first part of the transition of ministry in another country. You have to step back and build relationships first. To build trust so that you can enter the next time frame which is leading.

The time involved in this transition varies a lot. In one country I was assigned a high status and leadership role from the day I arrived. What I then had to do was to learn to fulfill their expectations of me. That can be quite a transition process.

Another country did not do the above. And while I was given a title and area of responsibility it took years to build the trust that allowed me to actually lead and teach. That is another challenge, and it can be emotionally draining wondering when you will finally be accepted and trusted.

The second time frame of this process is the preparation to shift your authority and activity to those around you. This is based on the very important reality that I will not be here forever. I am only temporary and will fill this role for a limited time. Many missionaries do not go with this thought in mind. This results in a number of issues.

Dependence – We treat them as incapable of doing the work and so we don’t invest in their training and development. We create an issue with resources so that without us they cannot access the resources needed for the work.

Insecurity – Since we don’t trust them, they end up being perpetual children never believing they can do the work without us and they could never learn the skills needed. This will create further distrust and a type of dependence that will create a very negative environment.

Ethnocentrism – We maintain control because we choose not to explore and inquire about how they might be able to do the work using their abilities and resources. This means that they can only do the work with our help. If in fact, they find a way to do it that is different we resist the change and see it as inefficient or not the best way to do it.

There are other effects that could be itemized but this is enough to highlight what happens when we don’t plan for a transition from being in charge to them being in charge. A key concept to keep in mind is that as we are acting as the leader, we need to be training others to take our place. We also need to be willing to learn from them about how things work and can be done in their culture and context.

The last time frame of this process is the actual transfer of authority and responsibility. I was working on this process with my leadership team and it was not going well. Not because I was inhibiting the process, but key leaders were resisting the change. I asked one of them why the leaders didn’t have faith in these young leaders. His answer is not essential to this discussion. What is essential is that I was working on making this transition and the fact that I wanted it to happen and sought the advice of a key leader on the process opened the way for the shift to begin to happen.

At another point I was ready to step down, but both the key leaders and my team told me that it was not time yet for that to happen. That is an important indicator that the process of transition is going well. When the time came for this transition it went well. The best indicator of this was all the new ideas and structures the team created without me and how well all of it was accepted by the key leaders.

This period of transition flows along a continuum. It starts with me as the learner, then the leader/trainer, and lastly the advisor. If we don’t see this then our time and work may not last past the time of our final transition. I have seen this over and over. Attempts to provide a resource, do a task, and carry out a ministry that does not take into account this process dies, leaving behind rusted, rotten, useless relics shouting out the reality that the transition was not handled properly.

The last phase is what I will call the exit strategy. We use this phrase in relation to preparing an emergency plan to leave a country if problems arise that could result in serious danger to us and those around you. Strategies that help us know who to communicate with to learn what the danger is and how severe it could be. Strategies to guide us in how to leave a place and get to safety. These usually have options related to different methods and routes depending on the nature of the danger and how it could affect each option for leaving.

I have been through this process and defined several methods and routes to use depending on what was happening.

In a way we need to have a similar plan. We need an exit strategy to be used to help us transition out of the place where we have been serving. This can be done in a couple of ways.

One will allow a person to stay and help develop another ministry. This can be a healthy process. Things went well and the people want to use your knowledge and skill in another area. It can also be an unhealthy process. Instead of seeing the truth that it is time to go you decide to create another area of ministry so you can stay. It may be a valid ministry, but the issue is not in having a ministry but an unwillingness to go. It is based on two things, the need to be needed, and a fear of what lies in the future.

In this is the dangerous belief that they cannot do a good job without you and the fear that you may no longer be needed. That is related to your new home. The other is the fear of the unknown, of what you will do when you return to your passport country. You have spent, invested your life in adapting to this new home. You know how to live and thrive in it. You are aware that this has altered you and that your passport country has changed. People have moved on without you. Life has moved on without you. And on the ideas go that feed this fear. This is most evident in the impact it has on MKs. They hardly know the culture and life of their passport culture. They struggle to function in it.

Again, much could be said about this, but the point is that we need to plan for this transition. Sometimes the planning for this exit strategy needs to start early on. You need to plan for the eventual return, inevitable return back to your passport country.

This planning is not just about you but all those who you have served with, have become your friends, even your family. You will be leaving them. And the reality is that once you leave you likely may never return. They will take over all the work and ministry you were doing. They will continue to live and thrive without you. Are you planning for that reality both for yourself and them?

I am in the midst of this phase right now and it is causing a great deal of thought and reflection. I have left three other countries and ministries. I am not sure I have done the best possible in handling this transition. I think I have done okay based on the comments of those I have left behind. But it is a challenge and a transition that we don’t often think about until we are in the midst of the transition and then it is too late.

We do get a little taste of this process each time we come home for furlough, home ministries, or partnership development. But this is always colored by the idea that we will be returning soon. We are not really leaving just yet. This process involves transition as well. I have chosen not to deal with this, but it is further evidence of the need to be aware that we are constantly dealing with transition.

As I reflect on my years of service, I have become very aware that there is no time in which I was not dealing with transition in one form or another. How we handle this reality will have a real and measurable impact on our effectiveness and longevity in ministry. It will also affect how well we do at facilitating others.

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Transitions

I have been reflecting on the zoom meeting we had with Mark Wilson and the topic of transition.

I commented that in many ways each missionary should actually be planning to transition out of the work they may be doing.

Let me share some of what has happened in the ministry Nancy and I have been involved in over the years.

When we went to Sierra Leone, we fully intended on serving there until we retired. We really didn’t consider the possibility that we should think about transitioning out of the work we were doing. Then we got laid off (it was a strange time and there was a fund shortage). When we got back the civil war was getting serious. So serious that we were evacuated because of a coup d’état. This got us thinking seriously about what we needed to do if the war prevented us from returning.

We focused more and more on preparing people to replace us and in developing strategies that would all national leaders to take over whatever work we were doing. When we left for furlough many plans were in place in case the war became worse, which it did. The good news was that as soon as the war was over, they were able to reopen the bible school and move forward with training.

As a result of the war we were unable to return and were asked to go to Papua New Guinea. The work we were asked to do was quite similar to that of Sierra Leone. Again, we begin to think that we would spend the rest of our years of service here. It was not to be. But we were able to use our experiences from Sierra Leone to help the national church to develop a plan for preparing nationals to run the bible school. And while it took longer than originally intended it did provide a guide for them to work with.

Now we found ourselves in Guyana. This time we learned our lesson. We did not begin to think about how long we might stay there and from the beginning worked on plans to help others take over whatever work we were involved in. Nancy trained people to run the puppet ministry, she helped organize plans for the church to run the home for children with aids she helped start and I completed my projects and turned them over to the church.

In fact, within two years of arriving in Guyana we knew we would be moving again. This time so that we could help the Iberoamerica Region develop their vision for sending missionaries. From the beginning I worked on plans and programs that would help them grow and learn what would be needed to carry out this vision. When I look through my files I see plans and revisions of plans all with this focus, an exit strategy, a plan to transition out of my role as trainer and leader. It took longer than I anticipated but in the background of everything I was doing was the idea that I needed to be able to turn everything I did over to others.

This is what is happening, and it is exciting to see the transition process and how God is blessing.

Now we talked about transition and that is a good thing to think about. But when one thinks about being a facilitator, we need to take this to another level. We need to have an exit strategy. Not an emergency plan to get to safety. Rather a plan that allows us to exit in the right way at the right time. A plan that allows to transition out of the roles we have and let others take over. A plan that allows them to do the work and we become advisors. A plan that allows them to become their own advisors. A plan that lets us know it is time to exit and transition out.

We don’t like to think about this. We do like the feeling of being indispensable, of being needed, of being the source of critical resources and information. But if we are going to truly move into the role of being a facilitator then to be wary of these thoughts and attitudes. Because it is inevitable. The day will come when you will leave. So, have you prepared them and yourself for the transition? Do you have an exit strategy, and do they have a role in its development?

I am once again in the final steps of this. The first two times it was unanticipated, but God provided critical guidance and counsel so that we could transition and exit. The third time was better organized, and this last time is revealing clearly the benefits of planning for transition and exiting well.

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Celebrating Failure as Success

I don’t know about you, but I fail more than I’d care to admit.  At least that was my way of looking at “failure” until recently.  In these last few years I believe that God has been teaching me a lessen through observation, experience, and His Word.

Below is a list of some people from Scripture who failed and a possible reason or source of that failure.  Of course this is only my point of view and yours may differ greatly.

Peter- Pride

Job-   Culture of the day

Gideon- Fear

Moses- Anger

Joseph- Through no fault of his own

Paul-  Zealousness

John Mark-  Homesickness

Esther-  Death of a spouse

Abraham-  Helping God accomplish a promise

David-  Multitude of reasons

Jesus- His perceived failure was due to obedience to God’s plan.

We often think of Peter’s failure as being denial or betrayal.  Most of the disciples had abandoned Jesus at this point, so Peter’s denial was close to the norm. I propose that his failure originated from pride.  He thought he could do what the others couldn’t.  He would never deny or abandon Jesus no matter what.  He would fight to the end and then die defiantly.  But, as reality overwhelmed Peter, fear overcame his pride and he too, fell away.

Job, after enduring hours, days, and weeks of abuse and judgement partially gave in to the blame culture of his friends, but his story like Peters ends in success and restoration.  He was truly a righteous man that Satan tried to break.  He endured all the failures that Satan could throw at him without breaking or blaming God.  In the end God redeemed him, restored him, and vindicated him.  In the process God left him with far more than he had originally. 

All those listed above, and more, experienced failure even repeated failure of one sort or the other.  They also experienced redemption and restoration from those failures.  They learned from them and incorporated those lessons into their lives.  They helped others in their failures and could exhibit both empathy and sympathy for them.  They and God didn’t allow failure to be wasted. 

Even Jesus failed in the eyes and by the measure of the world.  Even His disciples thought he had failed.  How could this happen, The Messiah, failed.  Then the realization of what His purpose on earth really was became evident and His victory over death and the grave was revealed to them.  God’s plan to redeem mankind, to restore relationship, to bring us back into The Family was realized due to His death, His sacrifice, His willingness to seem weak and submit to death.   There is so much to learn from Jesus’ incredible obedience to the plan. 

How has God redeemed your failures?  I hesitate to think about the number of failures I’ve allowed to be wasted.  How often I refuse to submit, to learn, to obey, because it seems like failure.  All along God sees the real path to success that in reality runs directly through what we call failure.  He allows us to fail to teach us.  In our failures we often learn the most profound lessons, lessons we don’t readily forget.

In this light, failure seems to be just another step toward success.  It allows us to check ourselves, depend on our Savior, obey without taking credit for the result, and allow God to use the success or the failure of the moment to draw us closer to Him.  In our failures He presents His counter intuitive plan of us giving Him glory in our weakness as He provides the strength and brings success in whatever form He chooses.

In reality, simple obedience without thought of the outcome is truly success.  Leaving the outcome, the gain, the success in God’s hands keeps us humble, dependent on Him, and in close communion with Him as we walk though this life.  It is present in our ministries, family relationships, and daily walk.  Finding the freedom to fail may be the biggest success that I’ve ever been a part of. 

As those of us in Phase 4 and 5 fields move into facilitator roles we will undoubtedly experience failures.  There may be times when we will encounter failure personally, professionally, and corporately.  How we handle that failure will allow us to positively model God’s use of failure in His children or communicate the world’s negative point of view toward failure.  Also, knowing that in failure we often learn the greatest lessons will encourage us to allow those we are working with to experience their own failures, to grow, and to see God turn failure into success.

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What’s in your Backpack?

 

Barry Van Steenburg recently shared this wisdom on Facebook: “If you want to keep your favorite pocket-knife, don't forget that it's in your backpack.” 

We hear you, Barry. I’ve donated too many pocket-knives to the TSA in the past few years! I get so used to carrying it that I don’t think about it until it’s too late.

A friend of mine who serves with OM and travels frequently lost his pocket-knife a while back. Six months later, airport security found it for him hidden in the bottom of his backpack. So, he lost it again.

The moral of the story, of course, is to check your backpack (and pockets) when getting ready to travel to make sure you don’t accidentally take something with you that could cause you problems along the way or when you get there.

David Livermore, guru of cultural intelligence, confessed that when the pandemic hit he discovered that “I’m more American than I thought!”[1] In short, he explained that he realized anew that in times of crisis our hidden cultural values and biases get revealed – to us and to others. This, even though he’s made a career out of teaching others how to work effectively across cultures.

Lately I have become conscious of areas of cultural blindness that have remained hidden in my backpack for over three decades of cross-cultural ministry.

For example, I’ve become painfully aware that my understanding of sustainable ministry (the goal of phase 4) is shaped by individualistic values of independence and self-sufficiency. It has shaped how I have interacted with national church leaders and sought to coach and encourage their growth to maturity. I have been blind to alternative ways of assessing sustainability within a society which values interdependence and relational connections as the foundation of sustainability.

Barry and I know better. We’ve been taught. Yet we find ourselves slipping back into our comfortable patterns of life that are bound to cause us problems when they are discovered. We both need to remember to check our backpacks before heading out.

So check your backpack. What cultural values or biases are hidden there that you need to leave home?

[1] https://davidlivermore.com/2020/05/26/coronavirus-insight-im-more-american-than-i-thought/

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When did “Home” Become a Difficult Word?

My third child was 3 years old during one of our furloughs, a summer spent in a house provided by my husband’s parents’ church.

We were out running errands and I began talking over the schedule with the kids.  I said, “Then we will go back home.”

My 3-year-old blurted out, “What do you mean home? Our Egypt home? Our [current town] home?  What HOME?!?” 

He was right. I was using the word “home” a bit too generally.  

Of course I had read about Third Culture Kids being at home everywhere and nowhere.  And yes, I knew my kids’ home was in Egypt where they were growing up.  It made sense the way I experienced being in the States was different from how they experienced it. 

What I didn’t know was how freely I used the word home and how complex of a word it could potentially be.  

“ARE YOU GLAD TO BE HOME?”

Often when I return to the States, I’m asked whether I’m glad to be home–by other Americans, by my Egyptian friends when they text to check on me. 

A simple question to ask. A very difficult question to process. 

Am I home?  How do I define home? 

A google search of “home is…” produces an abundance of ideas about what home is.  Lovely ideas, rosy ideas, romantic ideas, introverted ideas, wanderer ideas.  Some I resonate with, some I chuckle with. 

“Home” has become less specific about a place and more specific about a concept. 

These days I consider two places home.  America is home because my family of origin is there, because I grew up there, and because there are certain aspects of the culture that I inherently understand and appreciate. 

Egypt is home because we live life there now, my children are growing up there, the community in which we live life is there, and because we have actively made it our home. 

I think it is possible to live somewhere and not make it home to you.  There are several ways in which I feel like a “fish out of water” in each place. 

In Egypt I usually stand out as a foreigner. I am not fluent in the language. And there are cultural norms that are not natural to me. 

In America, especially as cultural norms shift, there are aspects that I don’t understand or know quite how to navigate.  Sometimes that is more difficult to process because I am American, I look American, I speak American, and yet I don’t always think American anymore.  

SO, AM I GLAD TO BE “HOME?”

Well, if you mean “Am I glad to be back in the country in which I grew up?”

Sure, it’s nice to be back for a visit.  I enjoy wearing shorts, riding bikes, and getting outside in nature.  I appreciate that traffic is organized, streets and sidewalks are clean, and store hours are posted and regular. 

Am I glad to be back to see my family and friends we’ve kept up with?

Yes, absolutely!  One of the hardest things about living overseas for me is missing family and missing out on celebrations and time together.

“ARE YOU GLAD TO BE IN A PLACE WHERE YOU FIT IN?”

Hmm, I don’t know that I fit in.  I’m a little bit weird for an American now. 

Some days I can’t remember if I should call it a grocery store or a supermarket.  Outside of my normal desert climate, rainbows fascinate me.  I take my kids outside in the rain.  I listen more than I talk about politics.  Temperatures below 79 F (…26 C) make me shiver.  I don’t think in terms of America first but in terms of America in the global picture.  

Someday, I imagine, we will live in America again someday.  I hope we will.  When we do move back, I will intentionally make it our home. 

This will not happen by default just by getting an address here.  I think that home is where you intentionally put down roots and find how to thrive. 

I think sometimes we can try to make somewhere our home and we can put down roots and do everything we can to try to make it home, but then we find we cannot thrive.  That was not intended to be your home.  You must grieve and move on, knowing that we cannot always make a home, even with the best of intentions. 

Home is not always simply where the heart is.  

HOME IS WHERE…

There are challenges to figuring out what home means to each of us. 

There certainly are hard days and great sadness when nowhere feels like home for a season.  I’ve walked through those days in different seasons. 

Sometimes the glass has seemed half-empty and sometimes it has seemed half-full.  And when the Lord reminds me of the people I love and the unique privilege of  being able to invest deeply wherever I physically am located, my glass overflows.

Four years ago we left Egypt to come to America for a 6-month furlough.  We said goodbye to friends in Egypt, made lists of things we needed to buy in America, put our commitments and our life in Egypt on hold until we would come back.  We cleaned out the fridge and the pantry, we donated clothes to our church’s collection, we made plans of what we would do when we returned.

Finally, the morning of our departure dawned.  I still remember very clearly walking up the steps to the airplane out on the tarmac.  I looked at the early morning sky. 

The carry-on bag on my shoulder was incredibly full, but my heart was fuller still.  Full of emotion about leaving the place I had made a home, full of excitement about what was coming over the next few months, full of gratitude to be able to love two places so thoroughly.  

And I was humbled by the opportunity to live this two-home life. 

------

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. 

Reprinted with permission from GoServeLove.net

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Responding to Failure

While listening to Dr. Alfred Kalembo share in the video interview for the Phase 4 discussion, I was impacted by his statement regarding the importance that national leaders be given the opportunity to make decisions, even make mistakes, regarding the future of the ministry in the country.  A Facilitator M in these types of situations can and should do a great deal of work behind the scenes (aside from the critical work of praying and trusting in the Holy Spirit), but I wanted to begin a specific discussion about two potential areas of work that could significantly assist national leadership in the process of making healthy decisions.

The first, and I will admit that I oftentimes overlook this step (Tiffany actually had to remind me to include it in this post), is to build in a method of evaluating decisions and especially results of those decisions.  Decisions without healthy evaluative measures regarding the results of the decision would be akin to putting a car into drive and hitting the accelerator without taking a look at the speedometer, out the windows as you speed along, or even checking to see if you arrived at your destination.  This practice is not only unhelpful; it can oftentimes be unhealthy and can lead to some negative consequences.

I think that it is important for national leadership, in conjunction with Facilitator Ms, to create a habit of setting results-oriented decisions with specific evaluation points.  That way, the leaders have both articulated the goal and set in place a method of seeing whether or not they have achieved it, and maybe even looking at some of the intended or unintended byproducts of the decision.  This will open the door the second area of work for a Facilitator M, namely, “what do you do when your evaluation shows that the decision ended badly?”

I recently listened to an evocative TED Talk podcast where educator and activist Brittany Packnett talked about building personal confidence and sparking confidence in others.  At one point in the talk, Packnett spoke of a time in her professional career when a large-scale event she had planned ended terribly.  In debriefing the event with her manager, rather than examining what went wrong, the manager asked the powerful question, “what was your intention?”  Packnett described how this question invited her to learn from her mistakes rather than damaging her confidence.

Our goal as Facilitators is to strengthen the local leaders on the various fields to become stronger, more confident, and better equipped leaders in the life and work of the Church in their local contexts and on the national/district levels.  One of the greatest environments in achieving these goals is to guide the leaders in dealing with mistakes and/or lack of achieving goals in a healthy way that invites further ingenuity and venture.  However, lack of clear intentionality in utilizing these opportunities afforded by failure can result in these same leaders either continuing to make the same mistakes or becoming immobilized in an effort to avoid future failure.

What would it look like for us as Facilitator Missionaries to have in our toolbox a list of questions, like the one above, that invite reflection:

  • What was your strategy?
  • How did this event/incident intersect with past experiences?
  • Which of your values were you trying to honor?
  • What opportunities are arising out of this?

Dr. Tom Steffen, in the Zoom call, talked about how we can influence through dynamic questions, guiding a discussion without really inserting any of our own opinions or ideas.  This skill is critical in these areas of setting evaluation criteria and then dealing with the results of the decision.  So the question is, “what Questions do you have in your toolbelt?”  It might sound contrived to have questions prepared ahead of time, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works through our preparation in all situations, especially in ones as critical as assisting national leaders in making healthy decisions.

Note: for the content of Brittany Packnett’s TED Talk, click HERE.

 

 

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Conflict, Culture, and Christ's Command

CONFLICT, CULTURE, AND CHRIST’S COMMAND: INTERPRETING MATTHEW 18:15–17 FOR INDIRECT-CONFLICT SETTINGS

Jerome Van Kuiken

 Conflict. Some people thrive on it, but many of us prefer to avoid it. Yet conflict is inevitable—even among Christians. This is especially the case in cross-cultural settings, in which conflict easily arises because of misunderstanding.

In Matthew 18:15–17 (NIV), Jesus outlines a four-level process for addressing conflict between believers:

  1. “If your brother [or sister] sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
  2. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”
  3. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
  4. But “if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

This outline of conflict management seems straightforward enough. The trouble is that not every culture countenances such a direct approach to conflict resolution. While Westerners prize “plain dealing” or “straight shooting,” other cultures place such value on personal honor and social harmony that direct, face-to-face confrontation between offended and offender is unacceptable. These cultures have developed indirect methods of handling conflict so that individual and communal shame or “loss of face” is avoided as much as possible.[1]

The challenge for Christians, then, is to navigate between Scripture and culture. This is no new dilemma, as the church has been discerning how to apply biblical teaching to fresh cultural scenarios ever since Peter, Paul, and the Jerusalem Council decided that Gentile believers didn’t need circumcision for salvation (Acts 10–11, 15). The interpretation and application of Scripture is called hermeneutics. In what follows, I’ll use the five-step method (with my own expansion at Step 4) from Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays’ popular hermeneutics textbook Grasping God’s Word.[2] The goal, remember, is to faithfully apply Matthew 18:15–17 to cultures with indirect methods of conflict management. Let’s take this text through Duvall and Hays’ “interpretive journey”:

Step 1: “Their Town” (the world of the text) – Matthew’s Gospel addresses a situation in which Christianity is a fledgling, minority religion without established institutions. The “church” of verse 17 is neither a church building nor a large group of people. We should think of an intimate house church. It’s a peer group without laity-clergy distinctions.[3] Also, these are believers steeped in Jewish culture, in which direct confrontation is acceptable (as we’ll see in Step 4 below).

Step 2: “The River” (the cultural and historical differences between us and the text) – In our world, Christianity is the largest religion, complete with church buildings, megachurches and highly-developed hierarchical institutions. As mentioned above, in the West direct confrontation is not only acceptable but normal, while elsewhere it is often unacceptable.

Step 3: “The Bridge” (the transcultural principles in the text) – Commentators identify the following overarching principles in Jesus’ instructions: first, “minimum exposure” so that the matter is settled as discreetly as possible; secondly, the purpose of the process is reconciliation, not punishment.[4] Whatever accommodations we make to diverse cultures must stay true to these principles.

Step 4: “The Map” (the redemptive-historical context) – Here Duvall and Hays examine how a particular passage fits with the overall sweep of Scripture. Matthew 18:15–17 builds on the Law of Moses: first, Leviticus 19:17–18’s command to love one’s neighbors and rebuke them rather than secretly hating them, holding a grudge, or seeking revenge; secondly, the legal requirement of two or three witnesses for a case to go to trial (Deuteronomy 19:15). Yet Jesus goes well beyond the Old Testament legislation in pushing for reconciliation. The offender is given multiple chances to repent; the most extreme measure is disfellowshipping, not the death penalty (as in Moses’ Law); and there’s always hope for restoration upon repentance—as underscored by Jesus’ follow-up command to forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21–22).

The biblical context also gives us examples from both Testaments of indirect confrontation. For instance, when King Saul’s jealousy of David threatens their relationship, David asks Jonathan to serve as his intercessor (1 Samuel 20). Later Absalom reconciles with his father David via go-betweens (2 Samuel 14). Christ stands in as the ultimate Mediator between God and sinners (1 Timothy 2:5–6; the book of Hebrews). Paul acts as arbiter between the runaway slave Onesimus and his master Philemon, and the letter to Philemon is itself a masterpiece of indirectness as Paul employs artful persuasion and insinuation rather than direct orders. There’s a sharp contrast between Paul’s approach with Philemon and his direct, public rebukes of Peter and the Galatians (Galatians 2:11–14; 3:1). As former missionary Duane Elmer concludes, the direct confrontation taught in Matthew 18 is one biblical approach but not the only one.[5]

We may take Duvall and Hays’ redemptive-historical step further than they do. Redemptive history doesn’t stop with Scripture but carries on through church history, so it’s wise to see how a biblical passage has been understood and applied across time and space. Church tradition mustn’t trump Scripture, but it can provide insight. Ulrich Luz notes that Jesus’ instructions have been followed most literally by communities that closely approximate Matthew’s own: “small, manageable congregations” like pre-Constantinian house churches, medieval monasteries, Anabaptist assemblies and Pietist discipleship groups. Where the church becomes large and entangled with the state, Matthew 18’s procedure has been adapted: private sins are handled through confession to a priest or minister, while public sins are punished by the state.[6] Both of these are forms of indirect confrontation since clergy or the government rather than just the offender and offended party are involved.

Step 5: “Our Town” (application to our situation) – How may the transcultural principles of Matthew 18 apply in an indirect-confrontation culture? First, the principle of “minimum exposure” applies in a direct-confrontation culture by including only the offended and the offender at first to avoid needlessly shaming the offender and involving more community members than necessary. But in an indirect-confrontation culture, for the offender to be addressed directly by the offended will produce unnecessary shame that can be avoided by indirect means like bringing in a mediator. In such a culture, a go-between may be deemed a necessary figure for settling a conflict peacefully. This ties in with the second transcultural principle: if the goal is reconciliation, then the means to achieve that goal may be adapted to best meet it, provided that the means are righteous.

In closing, I have presented a case that Scripture and its use throughout church history include flexibility to allow for the indirect approach to conflict resolution that is the norm in many non-Western cultures.

Maybe the hermeneutical method or conclusion that I’ve recommended disagrees with yours, dear reader.

If so, Scripture tells us how to settle our conflict.

_____________

[1] Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993). I thank former Wesleyan missionary Dr. Mike Fullingim for alerting me to Elmer’s work.

[2] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (3rd ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2012).

[3] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8–20 (trans. James E. Crouch; Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 457; Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 619; R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 691.

[4] France, Gospel of Matthew, 692; Wilkins, Matthew, 628, respectively.

[5] Elmer, Cross-Cultural Conflict, 43–44, 77–79.

[6] Luz, Matthew 8–20, 457.

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The 8 Roles of a Facilitator

“It’s worth a Google” is a phrase my family has adopted as a silly quick response to any interesting question or topic that comes up in family discussions.  My 10 year old son asks, “Dad, what is the largest fish ever caught?”  My response… “It’s worth a Google.”  As I thought yesterday about what to write a Facilitator M blog about I realized it was “worth a Google.”  The result that caught my attention was a very short article titled, “The 8 Roles of a Facilitator.”  Although the article is referring to professional facilitators of meetings and events, I believe many of the descriptions and ideas translate well over to what we are doing in our roles as Facilitator M’s.

The 8 Roles of a Facilitator (from www.findafacilitator.com)

By definition, a facilitator is “a person…that makes an action or process easy or easier.” If ever there was an insufficient definition for something, this is it.

Effective facilitators have to wear many hats in any given session. The role encompasses presentation abilities, training abilities, people skills, project management – and more. This person has to keep the group focused, take them deeper with a topic, and (sometimes) keep a potentially volatile situation at bay. This is a dynamic role in which the facilitator is delivering important content and helping to engage productive interactions without necessarily knowing as much as the individuals he or she is facilitating.

In short, a good facilitator is focused on the topic at hand, the interaction process and participants, and the optimal path to reach the objective. This is a complex balancing act that requires numerous skill sets.

We have identified eight distinct roles that a facilitator is likely to play during a session.

  1. Motivator: From the rousing opening statement to the closing words of cheer, you ignite a fire within the group, establish momentum, and keep the pace.
  2. Guide: You know the steps of the process the group will execute from beginning to end and carefully guide the participants through each step in turn.
  3. Questioner: You listen carefully to the discussion and quickly analyze comments to formulate questions that help guide a productive group discussion and challenge the group when appropriate.
  4. Bridge Builder: You create and maintain a safe and open environment for sharing ideas. Where other people see differences, you find and use similarities to establish a foundation for building bridges to consensus.
  5. Clairvoyant: Throughout the session, you are attuned to signs of strain, weariness, aggravation, and disempowerment, and respond in advance to prevent dysfunctional behavior.
  6. Peacemaker: Although it is generally better to avoid direct confrontations, should it happen, you step in quickly to reestablish order and direct the group toward a constructive resolution.
  7. Taskmaster: You are ultimately responsible for keeping the session on track. This entails tactfully cutting short irrelevant discussions, preventing detours, and maintaining a consistent level of detail throughout the session.
  8. Praiser: At every opportunity, you should praise participants for good effort, progress, and results – praise well, praise often, praise specifically.

It can seem difficult to pinpoint impact of a professional facilitation. By understanding all of the many roles that a professional facilitator must play during a session, however, you are equipped to ask the right questions and evaluate whether your facilitator will ensure efficient use of resources (time and money), high participation, and productive outcomes.

Link to article above:  https://www.findafacilitator.com/8-roles-facilitator/

Questions to ponder…

Which of the 8 role(s) are you good at? 

Which role(s) do you need to improve?

Are there any roles that should be added to this list? 

Any roles on this list that should be taken away?

 

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The Biggest Lesson We Learned in Helping Haiti Send Missionaries

My perspective in this article might be very different than most missionaries since my story as a missionary in GP is quite uncommon. Growing up in Haiti, I had met many missionaries and at least two things were usual to all of them: they were white and spoke a different language. This was therefore my idea of a typical missionary. So, you would understand my surprise when Dan Irvine (Haiti Mission’s director at that time) approached me, during my 3rd year working as a French Pastor in New Brunswick Canada, about returning to Haiti as a missionary. That possibility was totally out of my purview. 

Having grown up in Haiti and having had the chance to spend time in the US and in Canada, I slowly became convinced that one of my country’s struggles is of a deep vacuum in the area of leadership. During my short time working as a pastor in a good size church, and watching different styles of leadership models, I had learned enough to know that I needed more training in that area. I also developed a deep desire to share what I was learning with my fellow countrymen. So, I saw the invitation to return to Haiti as my opportunity to give myself to both of these passions. I decided to continue my post-graduate studies in Christian leadership with Liberty University online. I would then use that as a base to teach some leadership notions to fellow pastors.

This became my assignment in my first term as a missionary to Haiti. I had become the first Haitian missionary doing missions in my own country. The concept was awkward even for my fellow brothers in Haiti. Needless to say, ministry was not always a party. I often thought about how true that saying once quoted by Jesus: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Math. 13:57).  However, in the midst of the hardship with my own fellow brothers, I saw many positives for which I consider all the hardship worth it.

First, there was instant connection between me and the “nationals”. The fact that I looked like them, spoke like them and loved their food, gave me an advantage on my “more revered white missionaries”. I am sure at times the “nationals” started to like me until they remembered my title “missionary”, then the feelings welled up again. I so understand them.  At the same time, that title served me very much, in that I did not have to work my way up from the bottom of the chain to be heard. Without it, I would have had to wait until I was in my 60’s to have the influence I had in my late 30’s.

Second, difficult concepts both in leadership and in our Wesleyan Discipline finally started to make sense to them. During my first two years, I kept being startled at questions that came up about the Discipline and the doctrines of the Wesleyan church. I could not believe that 60 years after the first Wesleyan missionaries came to Haiti, so much was still obscure to my fellow pastors.

Third, we had the chance to be involved in preparing a couple to go as missionaries in Burkina Faso. Like me, they too have much in common with the people in their field: they look alike, have similarities in culture and have the French language in common. While they still have a big gap to fill to connect the two cultures, there is no doubt that the chance of a successful ministry is higher than if they had come from Italy or the US.

All this brings about the biggest lesson I learned from my experience as a missionary ministering to my own countrymen and sending missionaries from Haiti. Here it is: in my opinion the most effective missionaries are people chosen from their own field and among their own people (or from a closed neighboring country or culture), who are passionate about helping their own, who are being equipped for the missions’ task and are unleashed.  

Let me start with the concept of effectiveness. In general, mission agencies put a lot of emphasis on recruiting potential missionaries among people who are educated and passionate about helping people of other nations, and who can raise their support. While there is a lot to be said positively about this approach, I am not sure it's the most efficient way to get the job done. For one, experience shows that the greater the gap between the missionaries’ culture and their assigning field, the greater the suspicions and resistance to their message. This is also true in terms of time of adjustment; the greater the cultural gap, the longer it takes to adjust to the field. What should we say about language learning, diet, financial costs, and so on?

Another advantage is the avoidance of the difficult transition found in the 4th phase of mission whereas missionaries are to transfer all keys of the "kingdom" to nationals. In choosing nationals as missionaries, that transition is no longer an issue. There are so many positives to choosing a national instead of a foreigner as a missionary that we cannot take the time here to present each of them. 

All this said, this approach is not without its own challenges. For example, finding a national with no personal agendas might be a difficult task at times. Funding a national in his/her own country brings another set of problem. These are just a couple of examples among dozens more. However, say we are looking for the right person to bring a message on a specific field, and we find a potential person within that culture versus another fine person outside of that culture, which one you think might bring the greatest result?  Bring up your own argument, and let's discuss.

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