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.  


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.  


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.


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.  


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


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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Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution

He pulled me aside after teaching English to a rowdy group of kindergartners.

Sweat was dripping down my neck and hair stuck to my forehead. I tried to brush it away but my hands were a sticky mess of homemade play-dough. My head was throbbing after trying to keep my voice and energy level up in 90 degree heat as the rooster crowed in the yard next door and the chanting of multiplication tables by third grade drowned me out. 

I was already exhausted and overwhelmed. The smells of smoke drifting in from a neighbor lady cooking beans over an open fire as well as rotten mangoes that had been baking in the sun were so pungent I sometimes felt the need to gasp for breath. 

It was as hard as it was loud and nothing seemed to be going well. Were my students even learning? After every class I left with so many doubts. 

"Hermana, (sister), some pastors are upset. When they called your phone, the song playing in the background was a vulgar one. It's bad. If you were Nicaraguan, the church would put you in discipline. You need to change it." My Nicaraguan coworker was kind when he said it, but my heart sunk.

I had no idea. I felt panicked. How could this have happened? I hadn't chosen the song, it was chosen by the phone company. Was there a meeting about me? Shame washed over me. 

My eyes brimmed with tears, "What do I do? I don't even know how to change it. Please help me."

He did of course and eyed me sympathetically. But trust had already been lost and that is a hard thing to regain in Nicaragua. 

I drove home with a heavy sense of failure but also of frustration. Why was I not given the benefit of the doubt? Why had the pastors not spoken directly to me? 

This was the first of many times when I experienced triangulation. Conflict in my country of service is rarely face to face. Direct confrontation provokes even more shame and usually ends in the permanent severing of a relationship. But is triangulation the Biblical model for dealing with problems within the Christian community? How do you process moments of doubts and failure when some obviously stem from culture stress (loud classrooms) while others stem from more rooted causes like how cultures address problems? 

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A Missionary as a Laxative at all Phases

The word facilitator does not exist in the Croatian language.  If we tried to translate it directly, it would come across as ‘laxative’.  Maybe it is not such a bad word as our goal is to facilitate movements in partnership with the Holy Spirit - in other words we are some kind of laxative for a different kind of movement. ;-)  

Our goal in Croatia has been “reproducing disciple-making churches” from the very beginning.  We begin by focusing on evangelism and discipleship and then as leaders emerge, we begin using our facilitator cap to try to get them to buy-in to the vision and take on ministry responsibilities. Why the vision has remained very similar, our approach has been moving us more toward seeing ourselves as facilitators at all phases of ministry.

Toward the end of every year - we struggle with identifying what level our churches are at in the 5 phases.  We usually identify a church in several phases and it becomes frustrating if we identify a church at that same phase year after year.  This last year, we identified a relatively new church plant at roughly the same level as a mature church, but they are obviously at very different stages of development.  I think the way that we do this evaluation is highly influenced by how well we see ourselves as facilitators.  So in an exercise to help our churches and team, I wrote out a strategic vision and plan to explain what we would be doing with our most recent church plant at every phase.  It looked something like this:

Vision: Self-sustaining, self-governing disciple-making church with a national pastor and house fellowships in every neighborhood where we have members.

Goals for 2020: Be operating in all 5 phases.

1. Establishing relationships

- Identified all the ways we (as m’s and as church members) are building redemptive relationships.
- Included the goal of making sure everyone knows that they are loved and cared for.

2. Discipling believers

- Identified discipleship strategies and people who are or could be discipling others as well as those that we should be engaging as new disciples. 
- Identified dates for possible public baptisms as well as for discipleship training opportunities.

3. Developing leaders

- Identified ways to develop our church board as well as to develop and cast vision for ministry.
- Identified people ready for theological training opportunities.
- Share my job description (as pastor) with the board and let them speak into it and encourage them to hold me accountable.
- Identified opportunities for others to preach, lead and serve in our various ministry venues.
- Identified plans to engage certain leaders in the areas of spiritual formation strategies.
- Identified training opportunities in DMM and small group leadership.

4. Advancing sustainability

- Monthly emphasis on stewardship on services and testimonies.
- Allow the board to help me govern, plan and lead the church.
- Develop a budget with the board and develop a plan for financial transparency with the church.
- Simplify events – affordable to everyone.
- Encourage participation in every area of ministry and identify ministry opportunities for all kinds of gifts.

5. Multiplying movements

- Training for facilitators and opportunities to practice.
- Shared specific ideas for casting vision for a healthy multiplying church 
- DMM training & Materials

Obviously, you can tell that our church is very young by the kinds of goals and things that we are focusing on.  But my point is that we should be thinking about all phases at all times.  Jesus was already focused on multiplying movements when he invited Peter to follow Him and added the vision that he would make him into a "fisher of men.”  I would add that we do a lot of fishing as a non-profit org in our community and our members get to speak into our vision and are invited to participate as a part of their membership, which helps facilitate participation in establishing relationships. So we are effectively facilitating/laxativing at all five phases. 

I like the DMM approach to discipleship for they are effectively creating a method of discovery that can be reproduced with little training and thus facilitating the reproduction of disciples.  We are currently trying to morph our objective-based discipleship into a DMM form for simpler reproduction while assuring that key objectives are being met.

I think we can facilitate even while we are leading.  A lot of the discussion about this new era of facilitating in missions seems to discourage missionaries from roles of leadership.  But I think some of our contexts need to see servant-leadership modeled successfully before it can be reproduced.  That seems to be Jesus’ approach.  For the leadership style in the church of His day did not facilitate reproduction for a healthy movement.  But that is the subject for another blog I guess.

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Mindful of our Words

Recently I was sitting at the dinner table with my family.  As the kids grow up this doesn’t happen as often as we’d like so we cherish the time more than ever and often take time to pray together.   As we shared prayer requests, I made a comment that we should continue praying for my daughter Marlena as she transitions.  I assumed the context was understood as we all knew she had recently graduated and would be moving to start a job in another city.  I was a little taken aback by the strange smiles from my kids. Finally, one of them said, “you know Dad, that has a different meaning these days.”   I’ll let you figure out what they were talking about in today’s American context. 

As disturbing as the above example is, it’s a good reminder that we need to be mindful of the context in which words are received.  In the North American church and phase 4 & 5 fields there are often established patterns of thinking regarding missionaries and their engagement on the field.  Whether it’s North Americans thinking missions is only about evangelism or an established national church thinking money to run the church will always come from overseas.   Using and defining new terminology can open up doors to address these patterns of thinking and move the church towards greater maturity. 

I used a simple change in terminology at one of our Bible schools in Africa to try and deal with an issue that was demoralizing the staff.  We worked together to change from a program of student ‘sponsorship’ to student ‘scholarship’. The word sponsorship was used widely by students and staff and fostered a sense of outside dependency in both.  We decided to ban the use of the word sponsorship and began working on a structure for distributing scholarships, giving the staff a greater sense of responsibility and control in the process.   Very little actually changed in how money came in and was distributed but it did have an impact on how students related to the school.  This simple change in terminology gave opportunity to address thought patterns of dependency and gave a platform to empower staff.  And, I believe the staff is the key to helping the institution move toward a more sustainable operation.

I believe Global Partners has good mission strategy that’s on point with God’s mission and engaged with the changing context of our world.  Terminology of the facilitator era missionary can give us new opportunity to communicate and work in phase 4&5 area ministries.  I’d be interested to hear from others on how the simple use of terminology has or might impact your area of ministry.

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