My heart is torn in multiple directions!

My heart is not in two places but torn in multiple directions.  No, I don’t question God’s direction or call to go,  just how I’m to be faithful? What does that look like in my messy life?

Yes, we have adult children and aging parents to keep in contact with by the available technology. The same technology that keeps us up to date on the heartbreaking news that continues to come out of Haiti. How can one balance all the pulls in different directions? I don’t even feel that I have enough energy to pray for the requests I have now without adding additional ones.

Yet I find myself learning a new culture and language. Putting in time and LOTS of mental energy into this new place, new transition.

How can I be healthy trying to stay in contact with Haitian friends and employees; grieving, wondering what the future holds for them and our ministry there. Now and then gathering enough courage to watch the latest video knowing it will drive my homesick heart to tears while at the same time knowing how small my pain and struggle is compared to our Haitian friends and family living moment to moment struggling greatly. Not knowing when we’ll get to return?

At the same time I am very conscious that new baby roots that are growing here in Zambia with each relationship starting, each new adjustment that makes the house feel a bit more like home, each new plant/tree planted, each new piece of knowledge putting a fingerprint on my life that will leave me changed forever. I need to celebrate with Cory the agricultural project potentials and dreams. I need to make a peaceful, safe home for Fritz to grow and learn. Not knowing what life will look like in the future? Where life will be? Expectations ?!? Where can I even begin?

Having a healthy balance feels impossible on the tight-wire of my life; it appears more like a mirage that always remains out of reach, shimmering temptingly in the distance but never nearer.  Is there a way to divide my time, ministries, and life between three countries, two continents without having myself pulled apart? Those of you who have been in a similar place, how did you remain faithful? What helped or didn’t help? How did you keep your attitudes healthy in the middle of chaotic limbo? 

Always I must remind myself to lift my eyes to my Hope that can ONLY be found in my dear Lord and Savior. Even if that balance point always remains out of reach I can still reach toward it knowing that He is my safety net should the winds of life blow me over. He will provide the strength and power to help me stand again and start the climb back up with HIs gentle prompting always moving forward toward Him. I’m changing, growing…and with HIM and that’s more than enough. Faithful may just mean doing the next thing well-even if only doing the dishes; saying Good morning in Tonga knowing that it will likely result in getting laughed at; reaching out by text or email to a friend asking how they are doing…thousands of different small steps keeping my eyes focused on Him.

Prayerfully, consistently, intentionally paying attention to my attitude so that I can try to make any needed adjustments.

I’m learning to step back and rest. Stop and sit in the pain and confusion a while. It’s OK. It’s refining me. I know empathy on a new level. My prayers flow with new levels and mixes of emotions. While my life is messy and hard, it is well in my soul. And I’m still looking for advice on how to do better!

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Do I need to go home…

This may seem obvious but when we sign up for long term missions work, we like to think that we will serve for a long term, perhaps for a career.  What a career means is up for debate and for another time, but still our intent is to serve for a long time.

Sometimes I think that God is more interested in our faithfulness than in the actual work we do. You may beg to differ with that statement but how many stories of past and current missionaries start with incredible faithfulness and energy and end quickly for a variety of reasons that leave us puzzled.

A few years ago, Nancy and I had the opportunity to visit the graveyard in Makeni, Sierra Leone where faithful men and women gave up all to move to a foreign land and die quickly from disease. If I remember correctly, one didn’t make it more than a couple of months. This leaves me puzzled and yet supports my faithfulness hypothesis.

Lately we have had examples of folks in our tribe who have sold it all and moved overseas to find their country of service implode, causing them to evacuate and move back home. This can leave us confused, disillusioned and questioning if we missed God’s direction in our lives.

Then there are those life events that all of us experience. When we take an overseas assignment, we often have to face the “what ifs” of family back in the states. What if Cousin Jane gets married? What if Grandpa Joe passes away?  What if it’s a sibling or a parent that is diagnosed with cancer? What if our family suddenly needs us to consider returning?

When we left for Indonesia, Nancy had lost both her parents and all her grandparents, and only my parents remained on my side.  We were quite young, and my parents were in their 50’s so health and death was not something we were worried about with folks at home. However, our oldest son, who was in boarding school for half of our time there had malaria about 10 times. We were 1000 miles away, with very difficult contact methods, HF radio mainly that was spotty at best, and hearts that were hurting. There were many times we were ready to pack it up and head home. 

Clearly, there are no easy answers, and the struggle between our call which screams sacrifice, and our family which screams loyalty are in conflict. We are called to honor our father and mother, and at the same time, to leave it all behind, pick up our cross and follow Jesus…

And then there is the question of staying or going during civil unrest….

None of the questions are easy, but here are a few to talk over with your family, manager, wellness team member, etc…

How long will I need to be gone? Is this for a season? Or forever…..

Have I talked to my family about “what happens if” ahead of time?

How is or will my work be affected in my place of service (what will be interrupted) if I suddenly leave for a season, or for good?

Am I needing to think about a transition off the field permanently, or will a sabbatical be adequate?

In an article provided by ABWE (yes, Baptist lol), the example from the Apostle Paul’s ministry clears up the decision to stay or go .. In Acts 14:9, Paul willingly faces stoning by an angry crowd, and another time, he fled via helicopter, or maybe it was just a basket over a city wall (Acts 9:23-31).  See, cleared it right up!

No matter what you decide, be prepared to deal with grief, loss, and often the accompanying doubt of whether you made the right choice… all collateral damage when your heart is in two places.

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When your heart is in two places….When you can see what you are missing out on…

In a list of directions to new missionaries, a missions organization lays out a detailed plan for dealing with Facebook that starts with the line “set the expectation with your loved ones that you will only use Facebook for missionary work…” and “let them know you will only read and respond to emails, texts, and other messages on Monday during your personal day.”  It goes on to having you unfollow all friends, only follow official church published pages, and among other things, “unfollow all groups that are not in keeping with your missionary purpose.”  Later on in the directions, new missionaries are instructed about required equipment like locks and helmets that they must have for their bicycles.  At this point it is easy to conclude that this group is clearly out of touch with modern life and may elicit thoughts like “why are they treating me like a child…” This organization states that “one of the major purposes of this adjustment is to encourage families to be more involved in their missionary efforts and experiences.” 

At this point you are probably wondering where I am going with all this. Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at some of the struggles of being in “two places” at the same time. Cindy Austin did a great job of describing her current experience of loss and family and not being able to be home during difficult times. While we are called to “count the cost” when serving Christ as missionaries, we are also in a world where global connectedness and access are at an all time high. We are starting off with technology and the role it can play in our struggles.  When Nancy and I were missionaries, we didn’t face the issue of seeing and knowing all that we were missing.  We had a monthly 15-minute call with my folks, the kids grandma and grandpa, and that was it. At some point we had email, but it wasn’t very widely used by family for communication and cellphones were not a thing.  As we speak, my 1-year-old grandson is playing with Nana’s smartphone… Things have changed!

When we started with Global Partners, some fields asked new missionaries to stay off Facebook for 6 months or a year. This has quickly changed, and many missionaries use Facebook as an effective communication tool on a daily basis.

Is it possible though, that we can be too connected and that it can affect our work overseas? And if so, how do we manage this tool for our benefit?

Does social media help us to lower our anxiety by knowing what is going on with our families back home, or does it add to our homesickness and feelings of missing out?

Are we personally accountable for the amount of time we are on social media, and is it affecting our work and/or genuine time with family?  How often do we get together with friends to sit in a circle, everyone on their phones rather than engaging in meaningful conversation?

Is technology working for us or against us?

These are all questions that need to be answered personally, but they need to be answered if we are to be effective in ministry and to be “more involved in our missionary efforts and experiences.”  I encourage you to think about and answer the questions above.

Next time we will look at the topic of loss…

Oh, and one more thing… don’t forget to wear your bike helmet!

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When Your Heart is in Two Places

I'm starting to dread opening up Facebook. 

I come from a large family of aunts, uncles, cousins...so Facebook is the best way to see what everyone is up to. (I have 31 first cousins!) Nearly all of our relatives are in the US, and most in the eastern half, and there's an Alderman family gathering every August for any who can make it.

But living in Europe, we only see a few of the aunts and uncles and cousins when we are in the States for PD. As one of them said a few years ago, soon we will just see each other at funerals!

This morning I opened up FB to see that my cousin Noele had posted last night (Europe time) that her Dad was very near the end. I prayed for them and commented that we would keep on praying during this hard time.

I scrolled down, and my aunt posted a couple hours after Noele's,  that Uncle Bruce is already with Jesus... 

I'll Zoom with my Mom later today, as soon as I know she is awake.  I am so very thankful for the technology that will make that connection easy and free!  I will be able to watch the funeral online.  And I know without a doubt that I will see my uncle again. He lived a simple life, driving and repairing trucks, caring for his disabled wife, and following Jesus with his whole heart.

But I won't be able to hug my dear aunt,  or sit with my parents at the funeral, or share Uncle Bruce's corny jokes with my brothers at the church dinner after the service.  

I won't be there. And that's hard.

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When is it Time for Missionaries to Leave?

While in theory most missionaries acknowledge that if all goes well the time will come that they will no longer be needed on the field where they have invested their lives. In practice it's not so easy. It's hard to recognize and accept that we aren't need, much less to admit that our continued presence could actually be a detriment to the work.

 In an article on the Southern Baptist missions website entitled, "The Missionary Task: Working Yourself out of a Job", D. Ray Davis described the situation as follows:

. . . precious resources and years of missionary effort can be wasted if exit is handled improperly. Premature exit puts the new work in danger of an early demise, but prolonged presence can also foster dependency. Discerning when to exit requires wisdom, prayer, and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

If a church is healthy and capable of replicating, then continued involvement by missionaries can prevent that church from standing on its own. That is, exiting too late hinders healthy completion of the missionary task. On the other hand, exiting too early undermines the overall missionary task.

A tremendous benefit of healthy exit is that when healthy churches are planted, missionaries have the freedom to move on from one mission field and work in another context. By “healthy,” we mean that the church faithfully bears the twelve characteristics of a healthy church. It’s also a church that is self-led and self-financed.

Healthy, furthermore, means its people are aggressively sharing the gospel and planting new churches. Healthy further denotes they are fully able to train their own leaders well and have joined the global body of Christ in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Effective exit and ongoing partnership are enhanced through long-term partnership with US church partners. Partnership between field churches and US churches provides a mutual training ground where both are strengthened.   . . . 

We do not lose our commitment to walk alongside churches we have planted simply because our full-time presence is no longer needed. Rather, we enter into a new phase of partnership with these churches as, together, we press on to complete the Great Commission.

One wonders how well we as GP have thought through and implemented exit strategies for our fields. Or could it be that often we exited simply when we had no one else to send whether or not the field was ready? One also wonders how often we've left behind an "unhealthy" church, not because we left too soon but rather because we stayed too long? How well are we doing with this on our Phase 4/5 fields right now? 

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SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP IN COMMUNITY

Fry’s Spiritual Leadership Model*

How can one teach spiritual leadership in a communal culture? Many current models for servant leadership are rather individualistic in their descriptions, focusing specifically on the necessary traits, skills, or duties of the leader. One model that I believe emphasizes community well is Fry’s Model of Spiritual Leadership. The basic premise in Fry’s model is that everyone in the organization is a part of all the parts of the model.

Although developed for secular businesses, on reading Fry’s explanation, one would almost feel like many definitions came from the Bible, rather than the research studies he cites. The model, in fact, is very basic, but I think that is part of its ease in helping a spiritual team work together. After interviewing some pastors in Mozambique for a course, I adapted Fry’s model to the Mozambican context, per the figure below, by simply adding the heart and cross to the Inner Life concept to avoid the implication that the church promotes any kind of spirituality. I also adjusted the organizational outcomes from business wording to the words highlighted by the Mozambican pastors I interviewed.

Here is a brief explanation of the model. The foundational section for the organization is encouraging each person’s inner spiritual life, i.e. salvation, sanctification, etc. for our perspective. Inner life includes spiritual practices like prayer, church attendance, and so on. These foundations produce faith, hope, love, and vision (for the future). The arrows show how the different facets interact.

The middle section indicates how people experience greater spiritual well-being in an organization when each one sincerely lives out their faith through the attributes listed in the first section, and the resulting vision leads members to feel they are accomplishing their purpose and/or fulfilling their perceived personal calling. Spiritual well-being is also experienced when the members show and experience love, thus feeling membership/community.

As each one in the organization lives out and experiences these concepts in community, healthy churches are produced with the outcomes that were desired in the vision, such as commitment to Christ, peace, growth, and community engagement. So, where does the leader of an organization fit in this model?

There is no focused attention on the leader in this model. Fry explains that the leader models the same spiritual attributes as everyone else. A leader also helps guide the organization’s vision and helps create self-directed teams which are intrinsically motivated to embody the organization’s spiritual values. Being in teams, members will develop leadership skills as well as strengthening their own personal and organizational expression of the attributes in the model. I am going to start using this model in training sessions in Mozambique to help give a clear picture of how a church can support each other. What leadership model works well in your cultural setting?

*Details on Spiritual Leadership Theory were taken from Fry’s 2003 article, “Toward a Theory of Spiritual Leadership” where he explains each part in detail and from his 2021 article, “What is Spiritual Leadership?”

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Relationship Based Transitions

Ten years ago we arrived in Nicaragua. Two Global Partners missionary families had preceded our arrival, so for our national leaders, we were expected to do as missionaries had done previously: teach in their Bible institute and fill pulpits. This was the unspoken Position Results Description we arrived under, but not the plan we had before we landed in Managua. We were left with a choice: either the perception needed to change or we needed to concede to the status quo. 

Our goals and the goals of the National church are the same: to see growth, leadership, health and Christ’s love demonstrated throughout Nicaragua and the world. The major differences come down to honor, timeline and partnership. 

Like most countries outside of the major developed Western nations, Nicaragua is a hierarchical culture. This was one of my most difficult cultural transitions to witness and process. It has often made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. As my time in Nicaragua passes, I have learned that Nicaraguans show their respect by honoring others with invitations to teach, preach and lead. I have also learned that we westerners can honor our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters by allowing them the opportunity to teach, preach and lead over us. By taking their place, we fail to reinforce their agency as national church leaders.

As North Americans we are in a hurry. We want to hurry up and get to the field, we want to get settled fast, we want to immediately get started with our job description, and when we are done, we are in a hurry to move onto the next project. Nicaraguans, I have learned, have a much different flow and timeline. I needed to learn that relationship-based leadership actually views a rushed conversation as wasteful, exactly the opposite of what we are taught in our western culture. This is worth added consideration and can impact our western concept of leadership transition in non-western contexts. Even though the goals can be the same, our timeline is, more often than not, a different timeline than that of our national leaders. We are left resolving the dichotomy between completing tasks and refining people.

I have to admit a grave personal oversight, although I have read many books on leadership and taken a number of classes on the subject, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that the root word of succession is actually success. I failed to understand that healthy and lasting transitions are succession. Healthy transitions take place after an extended period of relationship and dedication. I once was meeting with a former Global Partners missionary in her 90s who asked me what we did in Nicaragua. After sharing for a few minutes she sadly said that they didn’t do many of the things we did, that they barely were getting people into church. I assured her that God used her time and efforts for His glory and ministry to the people she served. As missionaries we need to be utility players on God’s team. Whether it is the mission or the missionary, our roles and responsibilities are constantly changing, but there are always ministry needs.

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What will be in your eulogy?

As I sat in the ICU room, overwhelmed by all the beeping machines and wires that were connected to my son, it was clearer than ever before that life is a gift and we never know when we might breathe our last breath. During the time I spent next to my son’s hospital bed, I received a WhatsApp message from a leader, alongside whom I have been working. She was sharing an article entitled “The Heart of Successful Succession.” As I sat reading this article, I was faced with two parallel realities. On the one hand, I was faced with the realization that my son’s life was a miracle and something we almost lost. On the other hand, I was faced with the continued realization that the ministries in which I serve need to be able to function without my presence. The more I read this article, the more I felt that the Lord was clarifying, with urgency, the need to have people trained and ready to take over for me, whether it’s because I have tendered my resignation, or because I have taken my last breath on this side of eternity.

With the realities that Covid-19 has brought to our individual contexts, I am sure that we can all relate to the many uncertainties that life brings. However, there are several things that are certain no matter what: God is faithful and good, and our time in our current role is limited (whether that means we need to turn it over, resign, or God calls us Heavenward).  The certainty of role transition should remind us that even though we work within our specific contexts, we are a part of a mission that is larger than our personal contexts and one that extends throughout history, the present, and the future. We each have an invitation to look beyond our own vision, mission, PVCs, and experience, to grasp hold of the greater vision given to us by Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20.

With a focus on the mission of Jesus, we are invited to wrestle with questions like: “How would our leadership be different if we lived every day in light of the fact that we will eventually pass it on? How would it change if we became more aware of our mortality?” (Greer, 2021) Peter Greer suggests that every leader take time to write their own eulogy and focus on the difference between a eulogy and a resume. In the hustle and bustle of life, it is possible that we spend our time and focus on building resumes: accomplishments, titles, roles, etc. In this, we forget the things that matter most; those things with eternal value, which ultimately are the things we would desire to be said in our eulogies. Remembering our mortality invites us to live intentionally with purpose and clarity. 

In a similar exercise, Greer suggests we should also write our resignation letter. If the Lord continues giving us breath, there is a very good chance that we will walk out of our current positions at some time (whether through retirement, new callings, etc.). Recognizing that our days in our current roles are numbered, also causes reflection. We ought to be thinking about what goals should be created, what mentoring needs to be accomplished, and how to “pass the baton” of our ministry over in healthy, God-honoring ways. Remembering that we will one day transition out of this role invites us to intentionally create vision and a plan for the ministries the Lord has entrusted to us. We are speaking of a vision and a plan that not only has eternal value but is one which will most likely outlast any one season of leadership.

“We are trusted with leadership for a limited time, but we are all interim leaders.” (Greer, 2021) As we spend time evaluating 2021 and preparing goals for 2022, the real assessment will be how well the “baton” is passed to the national leadership to carry on the mission…the mission of Jesus. 

What do you hope will be included in your eulogy?

 

References

Greer, P. (2021, October 19). The Heart of Successful Succession. Association of Christian Schools International. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://blog.acsi.org/successful-succession

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The Facilitator Role in Cultural Context

Is the idea of an “M” assuming the role of a facilitator in mature fields based on American cultural values? Could it be that such a role would not be seen as desirable in many host cultures?

This disturbing question hit me as I listened to the recent Missio Nexus webinar led by Craig Ott on “Teaching and Learning Across Cultures” (Webinar: Teaching and Learning Across Cultures - Missio Nexus). He suggested that most Americans value a facilitative education in which teachers facilitate a learning process in which learners actively process information and discover knowledge for themselves. That value conflicts directly with beliefs about education in many parts of the world that value the teacher as the expert who delivers knowledge to learners who passively receive information from the teacher and try to master it. The difference in world views is illustrated from his handout below.

Any American who has tried to teach in a culture more collectivistic than our own (virtually everywhere in the world) easily relates to Ott’s observations and knows the frustration of trying to get learners to engage in the process when they are expecting simply to receive the wisdom coming from the teacher. Ott’s webinar then offers some suggestions for increasing student engagement but fails to dig into what we should do about the conflicting values.

GP has been promoting the facilitator role as the preferred approach for M’s in phase 4/5 fields. But have we simply been promoting an American value and ignoring how host cultures would have us to position ourselves? What is the alternative?

I’ve only questions right now. I’m hoping you have some answers.

 

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Confident Solutions vs. Cautious Support

You are a bridge every pastor and church needs. The Global Wesleyan Church is the unapologetic home team. While there are a few outliers, most Wesleyan pastors would love to have an exciting missions partnership opportunity with our Wesleyan tribe in the bullseye. You can be the one-stop shop every pastor and church needs to provide a substantive answer to the 4th Quadrant of the Acts 1:8 missional mandate of any NA Wesleyan Church.

 The mistake we sometimes make is in how we frame the starting point. Read that last sentence again. Don’t miss this. In the words of Donald Trump, “It’s HUGE!”

As GP M’s we are sometimes tempted by the genuine humility of cautiously inviting support. This is not wrong, but it is not best. NA Pastors are like the rest of us – mildly self-centered ☺. If your contact with them is about how they can help you, then you are just piling on one more expectation to an overworked, underpaid, margin-lite Kingdom servant.

You know an encouraging truth that in any given moment they may not. The truth is that YOU can play a role to provide a need, fix a problem, check off a box, “plus up” their leadership, amplify their mission, etc. (you get the idea). When you confidently offer a solution, you are already halfway there. Rather than partnership being about how they can invest in your ends of the earth vision, make the opening offer about how you can invest in what THEY need as a pastor of a local church to have a compelling and eternity-altering global impact.

Another small hack worth developing is to use second person language. “Deep down, you want a missions program that engages and excites your congregation. You’re the kind of leader that cares about our global Wesleyan tribe and that’s why we’re honoured to give you the kind of partnership opportunity that will ignite your ‘glocal’ leadership equity with your flock.” Pastors are like everyone else, they appreciate it when others believe in them.

At the end of the day, God did not call you as a cross-cultural servant to only impact the ends of the earth. He has raised you up as a bridge for us all. You care deeply about your North American sisters and brothers and how you need you to inspire and engage them in mission. So, bring on your confident solutions!

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