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Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

What you see is what you get
Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass window in the Rights Chapel at Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, NC

The Kingdom of God: what you see is what you get

A few months ago, I saw the news that one of my professors in graduate school, Dr. Gordon Fee, died at the age of 88. Dr. Fee taught with fervor and intensity, often slipping unconsciously into passionate preaching in the middle of a lecture. He was also an excellent biblical scholar. For many years, he served as the general editor for the acclaimed New International Commentary series. I am very grateful that I had the privilege to learn from him.

The absolutely crucial term for understanding Jesus

My favourite course with Fee was on the life and teachings of Jesus. I sat spellbound in one of the front rows of the lecture hall as he unpacked the message of Jesus from the four Gospels. When Dr. Fee came to Lecture #13, “The Proclamation of the Kingdom”, he announced that this was the most important lecture of the course. For Fee, the kingdom of God was “the absolutely crucial term for understanding Jesus.”

You cannot know anything about Jesus, anything, if you miss the kingdom of God. . . . You are zero on Jesus if you don’t understand this term. I’m sorry to say it that strongly, but this is the great failure of evangelical Christianity. We have had Jesus without the kingdom of God, and therefore have literally done Jesus in.

GORDON FEE, “JESUS: EARLY MINISTRY/KINGDOM OF GOD,” LECTURE (1993), REGENT COLLEGE, TAPE SERIES 2235E, PT. 1, REGENT COLLEGE, VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA.

Global Humility – A book, a challenge, a prayer

Editor’s note: This book review was originally posted on the blog, A Life Overseas. It is reposted with permission from the author, Marilyn Gardner. Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and as an adult has lived in Pakistan, Egypt, the United States, and most recently Northern Iraq. She currently lives in Boston where she works with community health workers from immigrant and refugee communities. You can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries. This review of the book Global Humility was written in 2018, just after she moved to Northern Iraq.

“Building bridges means moving beyond my enclave of cultural comfort, moving to a place of cultural humility and willingness to learn.” 

 Marilyn Gardner, Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging 

Five weeks ago we moved from an apartment in the multicultural city of Cambridge, Massachusetts to an apartment in a city nestled beneath the kewa rash (black mountains) of Kurdistan in Northern, Iraq. We are learning to live and love in a city and country that we have known just through visiting. With this move, our daily life has changed dramatically.

We arrived in Rania like new born babies, eyes wide open to everything around us. Like babies, we don’t have language to describe our feelings and we too want to cry when we are hungry, or sleepy, or thirsty. But we are not babies. We are adults and we have many years behind us that effect how we engage and interact in our new surroundings.

A Book

Global Humility

It is within this context that I completed reading Global Humility: Attitudes For Mission by Andy McCullough. In this book, he asserts that the number one factor affecting missions in our world is lack of humility. This is a powerful and troubling assertion. It’s also an important one. Those of us who are Christians engaged in cross-cultural work, whether we be missionaries or not, have the important task of communicating across many boundaries. To do that well, humility is essential.

deadlines
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Dealing with Deadlines

As we approach the end of a year, we face approaching deadlines, often coming more quickly than we had hoped. Many of our goals in our Annual Ministry Plan Season are due at the end of this year. Back in January, we identified some projects we wanted to complete in 2022, and now we just have a few more weeks to do so. I already know that my team and I will not complete some of these goals this year. Hopefully next year, we can finish them.

We also face deadlines in more personal areas. Christmas is just two weeks away, and we still have gifts to purchase and wrap before then. The deadline set by Canada Post for sending Christmas cards within Canada is December 16. To send cards to the USA, our deadline is even earlier – December 12. For sending to most of the rest of the world, the deadline has already passed.

Why do we call it a “deadline”?

The word “deadline” is a strange and sobering word, is it not? Our deadlines may have consequences for failing to meet them. But thankfully, none of my deadlines have ever threatened me with execution! Apparently the word “deadline” comes from the American Civil War. A Confederate prison in Georgia was notorious for shooting POWs who crossed a line within or around the prison. So this “deadline” was a literal line with deadly consequences for those who dared cross it. Since the Civil War, the figurative meaning of the word has totally overshadowed the original meaning. But the word still implies how important it is to stay within the set time limits, although most of us do not think about deadlines in this way.

Missionaries and deadlines

Maybe I am wrong but I think that we as missionaries are less concerned about deadlines than most people. Those of us who have lived and worked in cultures without a strong time-orientation have seen ample proof that the world works quite well even if events do not start on time.

Working Genius
Photo by MART PRODUCTION

What is your genius at work?

I have taken many different personality and strength assessments over the years. Myers-Briggs, Grip-Birkman, MinistryStyles, StrengthsFinder, DiSC, Enneagram, and 5 Voices are a few that stick out. Part of my motivation in taking these assessments was to evaluate their effectiveness. I wanted to see how well they helped team members understand one another better. Would they help us in our training of new cross-cultural workers? But I have to admit a big part of my motivation was just my innate curiosity to understand myself better.

Shortcomings of personality assessments

Each of these assessments has their strengths. I have learned something from each of them about how I am wired. They have helped me to understand the challenges I face in working with colleagues of different personalities.

But none of the ones above helped me understand what specific personalities / strengths are needed on a team. How do the different personalities work together to accomplish the work of innovating, developing, launching and finishing a project? None of them helped me clearly identify what parts of a project I personally would find most frustrating and what type of tasks I would find most fulfilling.

Missions Disrupted – Some more questions

A review of “Missions Disrupted” – Part 2

missional professionals

In my previous blog post, I began a review of Larry Sharp’s new book, Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals. I noted that while I agree with much of what the book is saying about missions, I do have a few questions and cautions. In this post, I will continue to explain my concerns.

Negative view of church planting

I am mystified by Sharp’s apparent dislike of church planting.

However, if one looks at mission as being God’s endeavor, we will see ourselves as going with him into the world. It is first and foremost his work to make disciples, rather than the ecclesiastical framework of today’s missionary efforts, which focus on getting people into the church and on church planting, the mantra of nearly every missionary agency today. From the viewpoint of the rest of the world, this is proselytism and conversion and hardly what the term missio Dei has in mind.

Missions Disrupted, pp. 27-28.

As in the case of the “missionary” terminology, maybe Sharp is more concerned with the words we use than with the work of starting new churches.

Long-time mission agency leader and president of Peace Catalyst International, Rick Love, prefers to use the term “gospel planting” as more biblically accurate. He asserts that nowhere does the New Testament imply that we are to plant a church. He suggests that the term “church planting” implies that we bring the church from the outside.

Missions Disrupted, p. 34.

Nevertheless, in one of many examples of BAM in the center of the book, he notes that church planting occurred as a result of the business enterprise. But he is quick to clarify that this did not happen because the practitioners had a “church planting strategy”.1 (p. 106).

Is the era of professional missionaries over?

A review of “Missions Disrupted” – Part 1

Larry Sharp definitely knows the mission world. He served with Crossworld (then Unevangelized Fields Mission) in Brazil for over two decades. In 1993, he returned to the USA and became the Vice President for the mission in the home office. He is now Vice President Emeritus and serves as a business consultant for Crossworld. Prior to leaving his executive role with the mission agency, he founded IBEC Ventures. This organization focuses on serving missional professionals who want to engage in Business as Mission. He continues in a training role with IBEC to this day. I have met Larry in intermission gatherings and have known his siblings since my college days. So, when I heard that this seasoned missionary leader had written a book on the demise of the missions movement, I wanted to know what he had to say.

Many great BAM examples

missional professionals

The book is entitled “Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals“. It focuses on how business professionals can extend the kingdom God in the world of business. In this valuable resource, Sharp gives us multiple succinct examples of missional business ventures. These ventures have proven effective in making disciples of the nations while at the same time addressing significant material needs in their local communities. I count 27 such case studies. They tell the stories of business professionals who have decided to use their skills to bless the nations. They are truly inspiring examples of both large-scale and small-to-medium-scale business start-ups, all with the goal of living out the Gospel in cross-cultural contexts.

Photo by Phil Nguyen

Is It Possible to Parent Well?

Editor’s note: This blog post was originally posted on the blog, A Life Overseas. It is reposted with permission from the author, Abby Alleman. She previously served overseas as a missionary with her husband and three children. Now she and her husband touch the lives of refugees through the ministry of the Welcome Network. Learn more about Abigail at her blog and website (abigailalleman.com). Follow her on Instagram @abigail.allema.

Can I as a missionary parent well?

Somewhere between the 1,100-mile move and the wheels falling off (not literally, but figuratively) of our family’s parenting vehicle, I asked the question:

‘Is it possible for me, as a career missionary, to parent well?’

It seems I crucify myself between two thieves: Fear and Self-Doubt. And there are probably a million other places I can go which defeat me as a parent.

But, fellow cross-cultural parent, I am not writing this for any of us to stay in places of shame or defeat. I believe God has a fresh word for all of us amid the uncharted waters of loving our kids in new spaces, both figurative and literal.

Trying to protect your children from being shaken

When we were first considering a dramatic ministry change, I called a friend to pray over me and my family. She saw a picture of me trying to protect my kids from what this new call and accompanying relocation could do to them. As I released them, they were in scary places I had no control over, and they were shaken. Yet, my friend’s word of encouragement was that without this ‘shaking up’ they would never establish themselves in their own unique relationships with God.

Whether you are in transition, or simply in the throes of what missionary journeys can do to us as very human parents who still struggle, may I offer this same word to you for your children?

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