Every Woman’s Survival Guide for Being in Full-Time Ministry

867a3e6795e578c0646c91530d770128   Originally I was going to name this post: “For Women Only: 3 Things They Never Taught Us in Seminary” and it was going to be an exposition of the various ways women can feel lonely in a “man’s world.”  However, after thinking about it for a while, I decided that this was not really the direction I wanted to go.

You see, the word “ministry” can often be quite misrepresentative.  Everyone who is a Christian and who is actively seeking to follow Christ, to evangelize, and to reach out and support others is already engaged in ministry.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an elementary school teacher, an engineer, or an at home mom…you’re doing ministry, and you’re likely doing it full-force.  Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky.  Oftentimes in the professional world, we get a bit muddled and try to segregate “ministry” (as in helping out at the church food bank) and “vocational MINISTRY” (as in being a pastor, woman’s worker, youth leader, or any other paid position).  But once again this is misleading.  That’s because even if you never preach a sermon, you probably are logging in those same hours… in fact, you’re probably also in full-time ministry.  How many diapers did you change this week again?  How many errands did you run for the kids?  How many times did you bite your tongue when your co-worker was going at you because you wanted to be a good Christian influence?  You get the picture.  When we try to put “ministry” in a box it ends up disastrously because it becomes more about what we (or what society) thinks are the most fundamental tasks for the Kingdom versus what Christ thinks are the most important.

And what exactly does God say is the most important task in full-time vocational ministry?  It is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+12%3A30-31)

 

Loving God, seeking to follow His will, and in turn reaching out to others who need us the most.

 

But how exactly do we do that more practically?  Look no further than the book of James:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB)

 

Or in the words of Eugene Petersen’s The Message:   Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=MSG)

 

Menno Simons got it right when he gave this brilliant explanation and expanded upon this passage:

 

True evangelical faith is of such a nature it cannot lie dormant, but spreads itself out in all kinds of righteousness and fruits of love;
it dies to flesh and blood (1);
it destroys all lusts and forbidden desires (2);
it seeks, serves and fears God in its inmost soul (3);
it clothes the naked (4);
it feeds the hungry (5);
it comforts the sorrowful (6);
it shelters the destitute (7);
it aids and consoles the sad (8);
it does good to those who do it harm (9);                                                                                                   it serves those that harm it (10);
it prays for those who persecute it (11);
it teaches, admonishes and judges us with the Word of the Lord (12);
it seeks those who are lost (13);
it binds up what is wounded (14);
it heals the sick (15);
it saves what is strong (sound) (16);
it becomes all things to all people (17).
The persecution, suffering and anguish that come to it for the sake of the Lord’s truth have become a glorious joy and comfort to it.” (https://themennonite.org/feature/true-evangelical-faith/)

I have the first part of this quote featured on my Skype, Google HangOut, and Facebook and I try to include it once in a while when I am preaching just to keep in fresh and in the front of people’s minds.  It’s a text I try to live by.  It’s a text that breathes life into who I am and into my existence.

So now that we understand and realize that we are ALL called to full-time vocational ministry, what do we do?  I’m going to be open and honest with you for a minute: even having the assurance that you’re in the field God called you to, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.  Women still have to face all sorts of pressures.

Women have to face outward pressures.  It is easy for us to feel lonely and singled out.  You may be blessed to have a core group of friends who support you in your ministry despite your gender, but you’re also going to constantly have people in your face who suggest that serving God is a sin in your case because you have an XX chromosome and not an XY.  You’re going to face discouragement when sharp disagreements occur.  And you might be frustrated when the only positions you can get are working with kids or youth and you really don’t see yourself doing either.  Even if you are surrounded by people who accept your calling, you might still feel lonely because you will be one woman among a barrage of men.  The men you work with might be wonderful, but you might still long for a deeper connection – one which only a woman-to-woman bridge can bring.

Women also face internal pressures.  Ideas they bring to themselves about what success looks like.  The pressure to conform to social norms that they themselves feel are important, or a certain shyness that makes them unable to be assertive to men.  I’ve written more about that in my recent blog post: “Boundless Possibilities” you can read it here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/boundless-possibilities-dismantling-the-myth-of-the-good-little-church-girl/

I’m sure I could write a hundred different blog posts addressing a hundred different ways to tackle this problem, but I think it really all comes down to 4 key points.  If you want to succeed and have longevity in your ministry – any kind of ministry, you must: know who you are, know whose you are, know where you are, and know why you’re there.

Know Who You Are

I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that my inward struggle to accept myself for who God has made me to be has been an ongoing battle…and one that I often don’t succeed at because I’m a pacifist.  I’ve also shared how I’ve begun addressing that issue and recommended a fantastic resource called Daughters of the King (http://www.dot-k.com/). This great website also has a 7 minute audio clip speaking words of affirmation and truth.  In the description it reads: “It is important that you know who you are in Christ.  If you are going to accomplish anything in the earth for God’s glory, it will first begin with you knowing who you are.  Be blessed as you listen to Scriptures from God’s Word that will give you clear understanding into your identity.”

The key to maintaining a strong and vibrant ministry is understanding and accepting who you were made to be.  It’s about recognizing the unique ministry you have which only you are capable of achieving at this time and to this particular group of people.  It’s about not comparing yourself to others.  Realizing that you have strengths and gifts that they don’t have, but also that you have many blindspots and weaknesses where you will need to rely on others and delegate tasks to them because they will be a better fit.  It’s about seeking out resources to improve on those areas where you still need to grow.  And it’s about being mentored so that you can be the best version of yourself you can possibly be without worrying or caring so much about what others around you are (or aren’t) doing.

Know Whose You Are

We belong solely to Christ and our ministry flows from His desire for us to please Him and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who permits that to happen.  Everything that happens in our life takes place for a purpose.  There is no meaningless or wasted moment when we follow and serve Christ.  Even the most difficult and painful times can bring us closer to Him if we are willing for that to happen.  When we know who we are in Christ, we follow the Voice of the Good Shepherd (not endless societal rants or superficial theological disagreements).  We become attuned to His Words and His will…forsaking all others and realizing that sometimes His calling upon our life will bring about rejection and discord.

It’s also recognizing when we need to drop a circular argument because it’s getting us nowhere.  Of course, we rely on those emotionally closest to us to provide support and encouragement and we long for people to hear what we have to say and affirm it.  However, the Bible also tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2012:18)  Scripture also tells us to avoid endless quarrels, and worthless quandaries and instead seek to edify one another in our attempt to build up the Body of Christ: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Titus+3%3A9&version=NASB).  In other words, next time you want to harp on your favourite controversial passage, ask yourself what you’re really going to accomplish through it and why you really want to do it.  If you need more help in this area, check out my recent blog post on this topic: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/when-we-disagree-with-each-other-tips-learned-in-life/

When we are secure in Christ, we don’t have to worry about whether or not people will like us or try to get everyone to see things from our point of view.  Knowing WHOSE we are, is just as important as knowing WHO we are because it reminds us that without Christ we can do nothing and thus, any ministry we are called to belongs to Him.  Not to those who disagree with us.  And not even to ourselves.

Know Where You Are

There is a famous African proverb that says: “if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, any bus will do.”

For years I have dreaded these two questions in a job interview:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What will you do if you don’t get this job?
I’m an extreme planner.  Not only do I have a 5 year plan, but I also have a 10 and 15 year one.  But over time, I’ve learned that “In their hearts human beings plan their lives. But the Lord decides where their steps will take them.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Proverbs%2016%3A9) In other words, just when I think I’ve figured it out, my life drastically changes.

Take my current position.  Never in my entire high school or undergrad career would I have seen myself working with people who have intellectual disabilities.  The thought never crossed my mind… I was destined to be a full time pastor in the Mennonite Church.  Then, all of a sudden, in my first year of seminary, my heart tugged me in this direction.  It was completely unplanned and unexpected, but now I have been in the field for almost 4 years.  I love what I do and see it as my primary focus and ministry.  It has grown from curiosity into an intense calling, affirmed by others around me.

Well, not everyone.  Some people think I’m wasting my education and should go back into full-time pastoring…but in the end of the day, you need to rely on Christ’s will and plan for your life.  After all, it’s your life, not theirs.  When Christ clearly shows you what you are to do, you don’t hold back, you go do it…even when others around you might not understand or might think it’s foolish and pointless.

So where are you today?  Are you young or old?  Are you just beginning your academic journey or have you been retired for years?  Where are you currently living?

When you think about your age, life-stage, and geographical position, each place brings with it new opportunities for witness and evangelism.  Opportunities that you might not have had in previous years and that you might not have again because this is where you are RIGHT NOW, at this particular season.  Think about how you can be a good steward with where you find yourself at this moment.  Don’t keep looking back – preserved in the past like a stand-still pillar of salt.  Don’t keep reminiscing about the “good old days” neglecting the current reality.  And conversely, don’t become too future focused.  Don’t keep grasping for the next goal without taking a moment to pause and reflect on what you have just accomplished.  Live in the here and now.  Live in this tension of the “now” and “not yet”.  Live with the assurance that God is going to move in many mighty ways to the people you are encountering at the bank, the grocery store, your local church, your favourite coffee shop, and the ice rink.  That’s really the key to a successful ministry.

Know Why You’re There

Have you ever found yourself in a trying situation – a place you never wanted to be, never want to go back to, and would never wish on your worst enemy?  Have you ever asked God why He placed you there to begin with?

Helen Rosevear was such a woman.  A young, idealistic English doctor in the D.R. Congo, she soon found herself face to face with rebel soldiers, force, and violation.  Yet, she chose to ask God the question: “Why am I here?  What can I accomplish through this terrible injustice?”  God spoke quietly and softly to her heart reminding her of who she was and whose she was.  She recounts this question in particular “are you willing to trust Me even if I never tell you why?”  In her fear, pain, and frustration, she humbly submitted regardless of the cost.  She later publicly shared her testimony on numerous occasions where she proclaimed “the question is not ‘is it worth it?’ but ‘is He worthy?’”  Because of Rosevear’s great internal strength of character, she has become a hero of the faith to many including a mentor to myself.  Oh that we would have such a faith!

You might have found yourself in a similar position, or you might find yourself in a less intense one… but we all face struggles and difficulties of various kinds throughout our journey in life.  When we’re stuck at that job we don’t want to be in, we can ask ourselves “why is God calling me here?  What is He trying to teach me through this work place?  How can He use me to minister and benefit others?”  When we’re about to lose it with our children we can ask God for the grace we need reminding ourselves that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love even despite our rebellion and disobedience to Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+145%3A8&version=NASB).  When we find ourselves in a time of utter confusion and at a crossroads, unsure of exactly where we are or why we’re there, we can rest in Him and His promise to clarify our calling and our direction.

If you need more guidance in this area, one of my fellow MennoNerds Benjamin L. Corey recently wrote a series of posts on this very topic as he recounts a deep personal loss he recently experienced.  Two of his posts in particularly really stuck out to me because of their honesty and depth.  Corey gives us the great reminder that even in loss and confusion, it’s okay to question God and to be angry.  Even when we’re following Christ and relying fully on Him, we’re still going to have many questions – that’s to be expected.  But we also know where to turn for the answers.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/how-to-be-here-when-here-is-the-shittiest-place-you-can-imagine/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/if-god-is-the-cause-of-our-suffering-hes-kinda-a-jerk-just-sayin/

Being a woman in ministry is a difficult and often painful place to be, but my following these four steps of knowing WHO we are, WHOSE we are, WHERE we are, and WHY we are there, our ministry will become much more robust.  When we keep seeking the guidance of the One who called us into His glorious hope, it also becomes so worth it.  May you experience a glimpse of His joy as you seek and serve Him with the people He has entrusted you with TODAY.

How to Evangelize When You Don’t Believe in Evangelism

Man giving a talk but only a dog is listening.  Today I celebrated my younger cousin’s wedding in Michigan with a number of my relatives and several of the bride and groom’s friends.  Summer is always buzzing because of wedding season.  This summer alone, my family has been invited to 7 weddings, and we know of at least 2 that are currently being planned for next year.  Weddings are a wonderful time of laughter, tears, and joy.  They are also a perfect example of telling a story.

In a wedding, the love story between the bride and groom is told in multiple ways.  Traditionally, the story includes not just the couple themselves, but also their families, their closest friends, their pastor, their church, and God.  The story is told repeatedly when the bride joins hands with her husband, when they are pronounced a couple under the union and Lordship of Christ, when they exchange their rings as a token of their affection and respect for one another, when they promise to love each other regardless of the difficulties and challenges that life together will bring, when they seal their vows with a kiss, and when they wear their shoes out on the dance floor.  Although I am a feminist and planning to do away with the majority of traditions in my own future wedding, I must admit that the parents also play an important role in this unique love dynamic between the bride and groom.

Historically, the groom went to seek the bride’s family’s permission for marriage.  This is not necessarily because the bride is “property” or “owned” by her mom and dad, but rather because the parents are the gatekeepers.  They are the ones who protect and nurture their daughter until someone else promises to do the same for her.  And they prove their love to their child by their approval and honouring her future husband.  The parents once again tell this same story when they walk their daughter down the aisle – sharing in one last moment and bond before she is forever wedded to a new family and invited into a new home.

Today, the pastor mentioned something I have never thought about before.  You will recall that I just mentioned I am a feminist and for years I have taken issue with the idea of a father walking his bride down the aisle.  I viewed this as seeing a woman as merely property and lording his authority over his daughter in a way that is not expected of a son.  Yet, today, the pastor mentioned that this is really a sign of how God formed Eve out of Adam’s breast, and brought her to him.  This natural companionship, fashioned by God as the ideal for human relationships, shows us how God – the Father, gave away the first bride, Eve.

Being at the wedding also encouraged me to think about evangelism in broader terms.  Yesterday, I met with the chaplain at my grandmother’s nursing home.  He and I ended up chatting for about half an hour and he asked me how I would describe evangelism.  I responded, “telling other people about Jesus and making disciples.”  But he gave me an altogether different definition.  He mentioned that evangelism is really all about telling a spiritual story.   It’s about sharing with others what God has done and is doing in your life (also called testimonies) and it’s about honouring God by living a life that tells about His creation and His good work even when our culture pressures us to go in a different direction.

I went to a fairly evangelical Bible College and it was instilled in us that we need to go and convert the masses.  I became frustrated because I noticed that quite a few (though certainly not all) Mennonite churches weren’t doing that.  In fact, when I confronted my pastors suggesting that they could do a whole lot more than they were willing to try, they made some remark about how Anabaptists have suffered severe persecution over the years and I need to be more understanding of the tradition they are coming out of.

I am willing to say that perhaps I don’t have that big of an understanding of religious persecution coming from the cushy west and maybe that makes me lack sensitivity.  However, in my opinion, persecution is not a reason to stop witnessing.  In fact, it is exactly BECAUSE of persecution, that many have come to know Christ.  When someone is willing to be bold in their declaration of Christ even though it may cost them property, status, wealth, or their life, others around them take note.  And I am pretty sure those who have lost their life for the cause would be greatly disappointed that those of us who have it easy are apathetic when it comes to evangelism.   In fact, one of my friends, a staunch atheist with absolutely no interest in religion at all mentioned to me that the reason she respects Christianity is because “if people were willing to die for something they believed to be the truth, maybe I should start taking this whole thing more seriously.”

Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that if you are uncomfortable standing out in the middle of the street handing out tracts, preaching from a soapbox in the park, or going door-to-door, don’t worry.  That’s really not what it’s all about.

Instead, it’s about how we choose to live out our faith on a day-to-day basis.  When you experience a profound answer to prayer, it’s about raising your hands to heaven and thanking God rather than just rationally justifying how the event took place.  When your friend is struggling it’s about actually taking the time to pray for them, not just saying a bunch of “feel-good” words.  When you go about the most menial tasks – cooking for your children, cleaning the house for the fifth time that day, assisting an elderly person or someone with a disability with personal care, doing paperwork, writing a research proposal, seeking out funding for a grant – you respond to each person as if they were Christ in the flesh.  You don’t raise your voice in anger or protest, you don’t show signs of impatience or frustration – you take a moment to pause, ask the Lord for counsel, and receive His great wisdom.  Every act becomes one of worship.  Every bush is ablaze.  Every moment is sacred.

A few months ago I was on the bus about to meet with one of my church friends when all of a sudden a profound realization hit me.  Those of you who have me as a Facebook friend will probably have read about it:

Many people say that that they feel uncomfortable when it comes to evangelism.  They may think it’s backwards, stuffy, or arrogant to suggest that their way is the only correct one.  In a world that promotes individual choice and freedom of religious expression, you don’t want to be singled out as the “odd-kook who still believes this Jesus stuff.”  Yet, if we were to be honest with ourselves, almost everyone evangelizes in some way (even including non-religious people).  For example, you may have a favourite restaurant, movie, coffee shop, book, or hobby.  You may have a favourite park, picnic area, or tourist destination.  When you hear that your friend is travelling through a certain area and you know all about what that area has to offer, you generally would not hesitate to share your knowledge and your experience.  You wouldn’t hold back about which hotel to stay at, which restaurants to eat at, which scenic route to take, and which to avoid.  The best fish and chip place in Scotland is something that makes you happy.  It’s something you don’t want to keep to yourself.  It’s something you want to tell the world (and especially) those you care for about.  If it was so great, you might even have left a review on Trip Advisor.  Even in the business world, sharing positive experiences of a certain product or place is called a “testimonial” – it’s about witnessing to others about what you’ve seen, experienced, and learned and encouraging them to do the exact same.  If we don’t hold back when it comes to these trivial things in life, why on earth would we choose to keep the love of Christ a secret?  Why would we hide the greatest gift God gives to humanity just because we’re afraid of looking dumb?

Perhaps you are convinced that you need to tell the Biblical and spiritual story more often, but you don’t know where to start.  Perhaps you are a bit shy and introverted, or you don’t have much experience sharing your faith, or you come from a tradition that has discouraged this.  Don’t worry, you can start small.  Think about all the things the world requires of us.  It wants us to buy into certain cultural norms of how to look, act, and think.  It wants us to become a slave to materialism, militarism, and oppression.  It wants us to believe that certain cultural and ethnic groups are preferred over others.  That certain socio-economic statuses and careers are greater than what most people achieve.  But if you are truly convinced about telling the spiritual story, you can see this in another way.  You can take that extra moment to get outside your comfort zone and to smile at the homeless man or woman you are passing on your way to church.  You can allow yourself to speak up about causes you really feel passionate about.  You can allow yourself to fan into flame a system that sees all people are relevant and important.  You can work on minimizing yourself (even though culture teaches us to be pretty self-absorbed) and instead use social media and networking to encourage and build others up.  It might not seem like you are sharing the Gospel, but you are and you are doing it in a way that is far more relevant than your average soapbox preacher.

We all tell stories in our lives.  Stories of love, stories of grace, stories of forgiveness, and stories of peace.  Oftentimes we tell more than one story a day and to more than one person.  Being a Christian is not only about continuing those stories, but allowing other people to enter into the story with us.  Permitting them to also play an important role, and ultimately asking God to be the divine Scriptwriter.  What is the story God is calling you to tell today?

Entry and Re-Entry: Missional Living at Home and Abroad

104956   The following scene is a quite common one amongst many evangelical churches.  The church sends a teenager or young adult out (perhaps as an individual or as a team) for a short term mission experience.  The young adult comes home so excited to share with everyone how their time was.  The church asks “so, how was your trip?” And the person doesn’t even know where to start.  Then two weeks later, life goes back to normal.  It’s almost as if the person was never abroad.  While church life goes on with the usual celebrations, rote, and rhythm, the young missionary is stuck in their own mind not sure exactly where to turn to process their thoughts and emotions.  They may be experiencing reverse culture-shock, they may have left the country with deep seated existential questions about the problem of evil or the cruelty of humanity, or they may be unsure how to re-adjust to daily life in their home country, but they don’t have an older and wiser adult to turn to for support.  Many older missionaries and missionary organizations claim that the first month or two that the young missionary is back are the most crucial for long-term success.  It almost goes without saying that those who experience a warm welcome, good strong support network and encouragement upon their return are more likely to go back out onto the field.  On the other hand, those who are pushed aside, ignored, or bombarded with prising questions are more likely to either never fully get over the transition or else to be a bit bitter when re-thinking going back out.

Personally, I do not think the responsibility only lies with the mission organization or the church.  I believe that a good church will have objectives in place to provide the safest transition both onto and out of the field and a good organization will provide ample opportunities to adjust in both cases.  However, some of the responsibility also lies with the missionaries themselves.  Unfortunately, many first time missionaries are quite young and lack the ability to articulate exactly what it is they need so others are not really aware how to help them in this process.  What I’d like to offer below are my own thoughts on the topic.  Fully recognizing that I do not represent every single missionary in the world and also realizing that I have not yet returned home to Canada after my latest stint, I’d like to offer you some practical advice for helping to make a smooth transition for other missionaries using both my short term and my year long experience.

Entry: Travelling Abroad

If this is your first missionary experience and you are going to a developing country, your church or mission organization should hopefully be able to walk you through some logistics.  These include things like flights, medications, vaccinations, safety issues, and packing.  Over time, these things will probably become second nature for you, but if you don’t have much experience with this sort of thing you might be surprised at what you won’t even consider factoring in until it’s too late.  Personally, I also find it helpful to set up a Facebook group and send out prayer letters explaining in detail what you will be getting up to and asking specific people to partner with you while abroad.  Probably many people will be praying for you while overseas, but having a core group of people who are just an email or Skype chat away when you are going through the initial difficult few months is invaluable.  Probably as time progresses and you feel more and more at home in your new country, you won’t need to rely on them as much – but it is at least good to know that you will always have that safety net in case you need it.

I have found that when moving abroad, one of the most important things is to find a local church connection.  At first it might be fun to check out various styles of churches (especially if the predominant denomination in your new country is different from your own), however the novelty will soon wear off.  Getting plugged into a caring church community where you can contribute is a great way to maintain your sanity.  I was particularly blessed with the opportunity to be part of a church with a vibrant International Fellowship.  This meant that I had ample times to rub shoulders with other missionaries and to make friends with people who were going through the same things as I was (such as homesickness, loneliness, and adjusting to a new culture).  It might be that your area doesn’t have a church with such a group, but even so, I’m sure that in many churches there are people who would be more than willing to take you under their wing and help you out.

Re-Entry

Coming back to your home country can often be a confusing experience.  On the one hand, you might feel really excited to be back with your family and friends.  You might be really looking forward to it and you might be imagining all the things you have missed while abroad.  On the other hand, you might almost be dreading it in a way.  This is completely normal.

It’s natural to feel all sorts of mixed emotions when re-entering your sending country.  You probably will be sad about leaving your new friends, a city that has come to have so much significance for you, and all the places you love to frequent.  You might even feel a bit guilty because you know that you should be excited to spend time with your family and closest friends, but yet you still feel a bit ambivalent.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Be gentle with your emotions.

It is almost inevitable that upon arriving home you will experience reverse culture-shock.  This is usually more pronounced when you have spent a year or more living in a country with a completely different language and with unique customs.  However, even if you spent a year in a Western or developed country, there will probably still be things that now puzzle and confuse you.  The best way to get over reverse culture-shock is to break yourself in gently.  Don’t over do it all at once.  Budget your time.  Start with seeing your closest friends (perhaps in small groups) and then branch out from there.  During this time, understand that your family and friends aren’t mind readers.  There is no way for them to know what is going on in your heart and mind.  Be gentle with them and do your best to articulate what you are experiencing and feeling, what is concerning or troubling you, and what you have questions about.  Also, be sensitive to jet lag.  If you end up falling asleep on your aunt’s couch, explain to her that you are tired because of the time difference.  Make sure you have some time just to veg and do nothing for a few days.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to start praying about your transition even before you leave your new country.  I started praying about the transition a few months ago and I also have asked others to pray about this for me.  I then took a block of time (about 2 hours) to sit in a quiet place in nature, reading the Bible and praying. I asked God to reveal to me the answers to questions such as:

  • In what ways has my time in Edinburgh shaped me?
  • How have I seen God move and work here?
  • How have I grown personally and in my faith?
  • What do I hope to bring back to Canada from my experience here?

Figuring out the answers to these questions allows you to think a bit more about what’s coming up and to prepare yourself for going back to the familiar.

Advice to Parents, Churches, and Friends: I have spoken mainly to the missionaries themselves in this blog, but now I’d like to turn my attention to you.  If your son, daughter, friend, or parishioner is coming back from abroad here are some practical ways that you can help them make the smoothest transition possible:

  • Asking how someone’s trip was is a very broad statement. They might not even know where to start, so it might be better to ask more specific questions.  Questions like:

*What were you doing abroad?
* Did you get to see anything interesting?  Try some new dishes?  How’s your French, Spanish, Swahili coming along?  Can you teach me a phrase or two?
* What did you really love about being in Cambodia, Thailand, China?  What did you find especially challenging?                                                                                                                                     * Would you like to show me some pictures?  I’d love to see some!  (As an aside, if you’re a missionary think about making a scrapbook or photo album.  This can be a fun way to show your friends and family some key points of your time abroad – especially if they are rather low tech!  It’s also a great way to summarize – showing perhaps 30 or 40 pictures rather than 2000).

Here’s another great question to ask: How can I best help you to make this transition?  What do you need from me/us?

  • The person might be very keen to let you know all about their trip, but on the other hand, they might need time to process everything. Give them space and time.  Don’t pry them for too much information (especially on personally matters).  Let them share whatever it is they’d like to share with you and leave it at that.
  • Allow time for re-adjusting. If they don’t want to hang out with you in their first week, it’s not about you.  They’re probably just extremely jet lagged and tired.
  • Perhaps think about planning a trademark Canadian/American/British, ect. Activity for them. For example, I’m already thinking of how much I want Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Swiss Chalet, Tim Horton’s, and Café Demetries (no, not all in one day!)
  • Don’t tease them too much about not picking up the accent (though a little bit of teasing never hurt anyone)
  • If you are representing a church, perhaps think about giving the missionary an opportunity to speak from the pulpit or to a small group. This way they get to share their experience with everyone.  Also provide a few minutes afterwards for people to ask questions (or to find the person afterwards to ask questions in a one-to-one setting).  Also, think about asking the person to make a special cultural dish.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  Again I recognize that I don’t represent every missionary, but I hope that it at least gives you a bit of an idea on how to help someone transition.  In all things, remember that the real reason the person went out to the field is in order to serve Christ.  Try to preserve that same spirit of discipleship and obedience regardless of where the person now finds themselves.  After all, we need missionaries both at home and abroad.

P.S. Here’s a helpful link to visually show what cultural re-transitioning looks like (though I am only referring to the chart, not the actual blog): http://pcginger0911.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/they-call-it-reverse-culture-shock.html

If you like this, check out: My Over-Sea’s Survival Guide: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/the-overseas-survival-guide/

And https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/why-short-term-missions-trips-work-despite-what-you-might-have-heard/

 

Missional Living and Evangelism – Is There a Difference?

For the last few years the phrase missional living has been tossed around in my mind and in my congregation.  Not carelessly tossed around, mind you.  But rather well thought out.  An invitation into a discussion evolving around how one can incarnationally live out the truth of Christ and His desire to see a reign of justice, mercy, and peace take place in this world.

I’ve notice that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect, though, between the more “evangelical” churches and the so-called “liberal” churches.  I’ve been a part of both camps as an observer, a participant, a member, and a university placement student.  I spent a large portion of my young, formative years in more conservative and evangelical camps where you had to remember the day that you became a Christian or you weren’t really one.  If you had doubts, you would look at the cover of your Bible to reassure yourself that you truly did belong to Christ.  I’ve also belonged to the more liberal churches – believe what you will as long as you live out a life of love, peace, and joy.  Churches which said it wasn’t my place to tell someone who was not a Christian they were wrong.  It wasn’t my place to try to convert anyone, but rather I should help that individual to live out their lives and their spirituality in the fullest way that is possible to them.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong?  The answer: both camps have things going for them and both camps have things going against them.

Let’s dissect the more conservative churches first.  Growing up, I was part of a culture which taught children “you should accept Jesus today because you never know if you will be alive tomorrow.  Anything could happen.  You could die in a car accident tonight.”  Looking at this type of theological position at my age, however, is a bit more than simply unnerving.  For one, I disagree with this type of preaching because it is so heavy on scare tactics.  We would shake our heads if someone made a decision for what school to attend, what major to pursue, or which geographical house to buy on the whim without thinking it out.  So, I tell you today that Queen’s University (just for an example) is prestigious and that my brother went there and you automatically sign up for the same program he was in without doing your research, without knowing anything else about Queens, and without even knowing the options for courses that are offered there.  Perhaps it will work out for you.  Perhaps not.  So, if we cringe and think decisions made on the fly are foolish for things in this life, why should we not apply that same mindset for the most important decision of our lives.  One in which not only our present life but also our eternity will be built?

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t just make a decision to follow Jesus on the fly because we are scared of what COULD happen.  YES, you could die at any time.  Yes, none of us knows the future.  However, it is highly improbable that that will happen to you.  The average person needs to hear the Gospel 6 times before they will accept it as truth.  So, why should we make all those times full of doom and gloom?  We should focus instead on making it a positive thing.  Not feeding into this mindset that God is an angry God who is willing to banish someone to hell just because they didn’t make a split second decision.  To me, a God like that would be rather fickle.  I’m just not interested in serving that type of God.

Another thing that I rebel against from my childhood experience is the concept of evangelism without discipleship.  I definitely believe there is a place for sharing the Gospel, however, I would argue that discipleship is a far more important piece than simply sharing the Gospel.  You see, when we just go out into the world to convert others and then we leave them a week or two later what have you really done?  Did not Jesus Himself warn against this type of conversion tactic when He said,  You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.” (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+23:1-15)

Lastly, I am not sure where I stand on altar calls.  I believe that there are good ways to do them as well as not so good ways.  I’ve witnessed churches which do altar calls in such a non-evasive way and then churches which use them for show.  Perhaps, some people do need an invitation to truly come forward and surrender their lives to Christ.  For others, perhaps this is seen as too forward.  I believe God can use altar calls, but I would strongly disagree that this needs to be the case for every conversion.  In fact, I would say that it probably needs to be the case in less than 10% of all conversions.

Now let’s turn to the more “liberal” churches.  I think, perhaps unfortunately, that the more liberal churches DO tend to emphasis acts of social justice and justice more than the conservative churches do.  At least in my experience, though there are certainly evangelical churches which do care about creation care and social inclusion.  I say, unfortunately, not because I think that the liberal churches are doing anything wrong by espousing this type of theology, but rather because I wish ALL churches would actively pursue a reign of justice and peace in this world.

However, the downside of the more liberal churches is that some of them tend to lean more to the side that everyone is right and because everyone is right we should not offend anyone.  This does not make logical sense because it is impossible for every single person to be right since when it comes down to it many ideas contradict themselves.  Having a personal moral ethic may work in some cases, but it does not always work when it comes to global and political affairs.

I have been shut down from teaching the Gospel in liberal churches before even though I have never used scare tactics.  To me, my life and my walk with Jesus Christ is the most precious and powerful thing going.  I cannot imagine life without Him and that is the reason I want to share about His love and forgiveness with everyone I come into contact with.

My personal ethic of evangelism is not about shaming someone or telling them that they are wrong.  It is my belief that we should respect and honour everyone regardless of their spiritual preferences or religious leanings.  At the same time, I am aware that the Bible espouses Jesus (not Ghandi or Buddha) as being the ultimate choice.  That’s not to say that I can’t also get to know other religions because I truly believe that each religion has much to offer and in reading their holy books I often stand back amazed at the similarities we share.  But in the end of the day, my personal understanding of the Bible is that we are called to follow the Great Commission.  To go out into the world preaching the Gospel AND disciplining.[1]

So, let me pose the question again: who is right and who is wrong?  The truth is, it’s not an either/or dichotomy, it’s a both/and dichotomy.  It’s about unashamedly sharing the Gospel, BUT also caring about social justice and peace advocacy rather than only caring about the number of converts.  Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is God’s powerful method of bringing all who believe it to heaven. This message was preached first to the Jews alone, but now everyone is invited to come to God in this same way.”[2]  If we are followers of Jehovah God, there is no reason to be ashamed to unabashedly share our faith because it is Gospel – Good News.  It is the saving message of Christ.  If we had the cure for cancer we wouldn’t keep it to ourselves, we would give it to everyone we know who is sick and dying of cancer.  How much greater is the Gospel which has the power to save EVERYONE from death and the grave?  From the very effects of their sin and to offer them hope and peace.

Ultimately, I have found that what I understand from studies and much personal research to be the Anabaptist vision of missional living greatly articulates my already held belief that we are to incarnate Christ.  In missional living we serve the least of these and offer them a cup of cold water.  We do not simply preach the Gospel without living the Gospel.  We choose to be faithful followers of God going into places of darkness, despair, and hardship.  We live in neighbourhoods that are rough or we live in intentional communities that reach out to people who are otherwise shunned by society.  In missional living we don’t just preach the Gospel, but we empower others to live the Gospel just as we are living the Gospel.  Sometimes we empower them to live the Gospel out even before they know the vocabulary of evangelism.  The Christianese. 

Intentionally living missionally requires a commitment and a dedication to walk alongside others not just for a short time, but for the long haul.  It’s easy to preach the Gospel once.  Even twice.  It’s a lot harder to form an ongoing relationship, an ongoing mentorship, where community is fostered and grows.  It’s hard to not see progress overnight.  It may be hard to patiently toil and pray for YEARS before a person accepts Christ, but once the decision is made we will know that is was not made in vain but with careful consideration.  Living missionally strips away the altar call and transforms us into Christ’s living altar calling each individual into a deeper awareness and fulfillment of themselves.

That’s why I want to encourage each one of us who considers ourselves a Christian to choose this lifestyle.  A lifestyle not of scare tactics and rushed decisions, but one of careful observation and fellowship.  When we do this we will gain many friends and pilgrims along the way.

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