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/

 

Where’s the Justice in That? The Social Exclusion of Adults with Learning Disabilities and What the Church Can Do to Fix It

WP_20160610_003   Who is welcome at your church?  What makes you so sure?  What evidence do you have to prove this?

It was a typical Sunday like any other.  I walked into the sanctuary at 10:30am, quickly found my seat in the balcony with my friends and prepared my heart for worship.  I love my church very dearly and I was excited about this being one of the few Sundays I had off work where I was actually able to take in the whole service without rushing off afterwards.  However, my thoughts were elsewhere.  You see, this past weekend I attended the Tio Conference for Disability Theology and Ministry at Belfast Bible College and I could not get the presenter’s prophetic words and challenge to the church out of my head.  Dr. Jeff McNair (the keynote speaker) had made the case that less than 20% of adults with severe learning disabilities are being properly included into the life of the church.  He mentioned the various ways people with disabilities are often ignored at worst and tolerated at best, and he poignantly asked how we, as church leaders, can claim to love our neighbours when our neighbours so blatantly do not include those who are different from us.

Sitting in the balcony provided the optimal opportunity to survey exactly who was in our congregation that Sunday.  I was very pleased to note the wide range of age demographics and cultures represented.  I find it an incredible testimony to my church’s witness in the community that we have young adults and seniors worshipping side-by-side, and that we have at least 30 nationalities in attendance (which for a city like Edinburgh that is much less multicultural than Toronto or London is quite impressive).  I was touched to see that people of all socio-economic ranks were welcomed, and I was happy to note that people in various stages of their faith walk were affirmed.  However, my heart lurched in disappointment at the lack of people with disabilities who call this church their home.    Dr. McNair mentioned that the mark of a exclusive church is silence… and what did I hear during the morning service?  Not loud cackles, not an excessive humming or stemming, and not vocalisations… but sheer silence.  The sound of a passive audience listening to a sole presenter (which is exactly what the majority of churches around the world are subjected to on any given Sunday).

During the conference, McNair mentioned that we were part of history.  He noted that there are very few seminars and gatherings for church leaders around the world to discuss topics related to disability theology.  He asked the question “why is this?”  It is to our great shame that even developed countries like Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. that are so far ahead on so many other areas of ministry are so far behind when it comes to relating to those with intellectual and physical limitations.

This is why having a conference such as Tio (a derivative of the classical Greek word meaning “to lift up, to honour, to advance, to value…in essence to bring someone from invisibility to visibility and to give them a voice) is so important.   Having been in the disability field for the past three years I can attest to the not having many of these opportunities previously available to me, yet I was inspired by the amount of people who attended this inaugural event.  Roughly 100 people were in attendance from Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland and the participants included Sunday school teachers, pastors, lay leaders, parents, and scholars as well as a few people with developmental disabilities themselves.  Sessions were inclusive for all people with a separate option for a specifically designed seminar for people with special needs.  I was also beyond thrilled to see the wide range of experience represented.  We had people who were basically “thrust” into the role through having children with disabilities, people who chose the field for themselves and have been pioneering ministries for the past 20 or 30 years, and people (like myself) who are relatively new to this area.  We even had a few ministers in attendance who admitted to not having a specific passion in disability ministry, but who nevertheless came out because they see the value in at least beginning to question and think about some of these topics.

The sessions ranged from highly academic to more practical and I am happy to inform you that all the materials will be made available for your personal download (at a small fee) in the near future.  Personally, I got a lot out of the conference, but I also realize the need to now start putting these thoughts into practice.  Otherwise, they will forever stay at the level of academic rumination.  Therefore, I would like to suggest a few simple ways that your church can become more inclusive for people with disabilities:

  • Rethinking Loving Our Neighbour

Our fundamental calling is to impart the love of Christ to each person drawing them deeper into God’s immeasurable peace. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves – to affirm their worth and to give them greater honour than we give to ourselves. BUT valuing another person takes sacrifice- it’s hard work. It is about recognizing the inherent worth of each person, their gifts, their strengths, and the presence of the Christ light in them.

For too long we (as individual Christians, the church and general society) have failed to do exactly this especially when it comes to people who are different than us – primarily people with disabilities. Many pastors will claim they love all people equally and want all people to come to the church, but often the lived out reality and logistics communicate something extremely different. Christians are called to be trail blazers, set apart from the world, but unfortunately, we often mirror worldly ways of approaching someone with a disability, further adding to hurt and marginalization.

It is not enough just to “tolerate” a person with a disability. On all sides and in every way we need to move from exclusion to inclusion, from complacency to change. We need to start thinking about these things and not being okay with the fact that even after all these years less than 20% of people with profound learning disabilities are welcomed and fully included into the life of our church. People with learning disabilities also can be jaded by the church and subsequently reject Christ so we need to think long and hard about the implications our apathy can have on others.

To quote Wolf Wolfensberger: “Indeed without significant cost, an action should not be viewed as advocacy…even if it is otherwise valuable action.”

  • Putting Yourself In Another’s Shoes (Quite Literally)

Last year I was able to present a seminar at the Cahoots Festival near Milton, Ontario.  At this conference I provided participants with a number of activities to begin thinking about what it might be like for someone with a disability.  Two of these activities included trying to peel an orange with one hand and trying to stand and walk with a handful of marbles in either shoe.  The people who tried these activities admitted that both tasks which normally would be quite easy and done automatically were hampered by having an apparent disadvantage.  Yesterday when I was at church I began thinking about how to take this even further.  Do you ever wonder whether or not your church would be accessible to people with disabilities?  Why not try to wear heavy earplugs during the service and see if you can still get something out of a primarily aural experience?  If you need glasses to do virtually anything, imagine what church might be like if you took off your glasses or contact lens for the duration of the service.  On a much smaller scale, as someone who struggles with hyperactivity… I try to imagine what would happen if I didn’t bring my little stress ball to church or if I failed to bring my notebook and pen, then I try to magnify that by about a hundred.  You get the picture.  So much of what we do in our churches is simply NOT accessible to people with physical and intellectual disabilities because we do not KNOW what it would be like to be in their shoes.  So why not ask someone with a disability what their experience of church is and then try some of these activities out for yourself?

  • Making Disability Ministry a Priority

I get it.  We all have different passions and different areas that we think are the most important to focus on and personally I think that’s great.  I think it really adds to the diversity of the Body of Christ and that we can all learn something from each other.  But sadly, it seems that while many churches are focused on church planting, evangelism, and outreach (very important roles), few churches care enough to think about what it would be like to plant a church that includes people with disabilities.  Few churches employ a pastor with a huge heart for disability ministry and few mission organizations ask their participants if any of them would be interested in creating a ministry experience that works side-by-side someone with a disability as a co-labourer.

Think about your church.  Is disability ministry a priority?  Why or why not?  Do you have any interest in making it a priority?  I believe that the Christian calling encompasses all people.  That we are called to witness and reach out to everyone – including, and perhaps especially to, people who are quite different than we are.  Those who are marginalized and often ignored and overlooked.

In his inspiring article entitled What Would Be Better? Social Role Valorization and the Development of Persons Affected by Disability found on the incredible website: http://www.whatwouldbebetter.com/ Jeff McNair and Marc Tumeinski pose the following question:

What does our shared vision of Christian community look like? Who is present in our biblical vision of community? How can the inclusion of vulnerable people better reflect the Gospel vision and therefore strengthen our church community? How can we more closely approach this vision here and now within our church? Given the actual makeup of our membership, might we unintentionally or unconsciously be putting some groups of people outside of this vision? What would be better?

How would you answer this question in regards to yourself?  Your church?  Your Christian university, seminary, or intentional community?  The global church?  Society as a whole?

I believe the key to good disability ministry lies in having an inclusive approach, not in merely being insular.  What I mean is that first and foremost we need to find ways to minister and include people who are different from us.  BUT then we cannot stay on the level of our church having an outreach – we need to also think about how we can more fully integrate with society.  For the past three years I have worked with L’Arche (a Christian intentional community for adults with developmental disabilities).  L’Arche does good work.  L’Arche is an excellent sign and beacon to the world that people with learning disabilities belong and should be valued for their contributions to society.  L’Arche is a great service provider and care home for many adults who would potentially have nowhere else to go.  BUT L’Arche also has one major flaw – we have the tendency to become extremely inwardly focussed.  Working in L’Arche in both Canada and the U.K. I am often surprised at how few people (even in local churches) know who we are or what we are about.  Those who have heard about L’Arche often only know it from the writings of Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, rather than as a result of visiting our community for a chapel or supper and actually experiencing the mutual life-giving relationships we share first hand. This lack of general knowledge has sadly even led to a few people believing that I am involved in a cult!  To me this points towards the fact that although we, as a community, are thriving in so many areas, we still need to improve on becoming more outwardly focused.  On thinking about how to work with other service providers and churches to continue to create and foster more opportunities for disability ministry rather than just the needs of our own immediate community.

I have given you a lot to think about here, but I hope it helps set you on the path towards establishing and maintaining disability ministries within your own context.  Next time you go to church, why not have a look around and make a mental note of who is in attendance and what you can do to bring those who aren’t already there into the fold.  And next time the service is completely quiet, why not make some noise… because an inclusive church should never be silent.

 

 

On Cultivating Missionaility and Evangelism (Review of A.O. Green’s Article in a Living Alternative)

lamen

Throughout 2015, Z&P will be highlighting various chapters in the new Living Alternative book co-authored by the MennoNerds collective and published by Etelloc Publishing.  For the first blog post in this series check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/a-mennonite-seminarian-turned-pentecostal-intern-re-examines-an-anabaptist-approach-towards-signs-and-wonders/.

For too long, Western Christians have sat back, taken the easy and comfortable path of not questioning, and have seldom reached others for Christ largely due to fear of how the other person might react. Surrounded by the false security a maga-church may provide, we fail to truly live out the Gospel of Christ which commands us to feed the poor, to love our enemies, and to work alongside the marginalized.

In A.O. Green’s article entitled “Wine in New Wineskins: The Usefulness of 16th Century Anabaptist Evangelism Methods for Today’s Ekklesia,” A.O addresses the need for modern-day Anabaptist Christians to reclaim our biblical and historical roots as we seek to train up the next generation of faith-believing Christians and as we seek various avenues for proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not yet believe.

In a pinpointing sentence, A.O. boldly states, “At present, some have made a cottage industry out of devising newer expressions of Christianity in the areas of mission and evangelism.”[1] This sentence articulately suggests that many of our churches have become pre-occupied with how we look and how we are perceived by others, meanwhile we may be doing absolutely nothing in terms of helping curb racism, helping support single mothers, or teaching at-risk youth simple job skills.

From a practical viewpoint, I agree with A.O. that simply focusing all of our efforts on a single church building will not win many souls for Christ, if it is also not accompanied by social outreach. To further this thought, I deeply resonate with the words of Justus Menius, a Lutheran polemicist, “misleaders charge that we are not true servants of the Gospel because we are sinners, and don’t practice ourselves what we preach; because we don’t wander around in the world like the Apostles, but stay put and have definite residence and our appointed pay.”[2] This is further compounded by A.O.’s statistical evidence that despite the title many of us give ourselves as followers of Christ, and despite the fact that many of us would agree that evangelism and missions are important, very few of us are actually doing it. In his article, A.O cites Glen Kerr, author of Mastering the Art of Personal Evangelism who suggests that as low as 2% of all Christians are involved with evangelism and an additional 71% do not even support evangelicstical outreaches.[3]

These are troubling statistics, but they sadly do not surprise or shock me very much. As a seminary student, Bible college graduate, and practicing minister, I can attest to how little I personally have done in the way of evangelism despite years of training  in cultural diversity amongst various people groups. I can speak to my own fear of being let down, of not having the answers, and of not knowing what to say. I am constantly embarrassed by my own lack of enthusiasm for such endeavours considering my educational background which included courses centering around the missional church, evangelism, and global awareness when my brothers and sisters in various countries in the world are willing to lose their life for this same Gospel.

The Lord has compelled me of this on several occasions. In the interest of time, I will only highlight two of them.

When I was 19, I began a placement at a local Jewish nursing home interning under the chaplain. I was told that I was to be respectful of all religious viewpoints and whereas I could share my own views if I was ever asked them directly, I was not to impose them upon anyone else. I believe in religious tolerance and try to live a life of mutual respect and fidelity with all, but my heart continued to break for these Jewish seniors as they came to the end of their life. On more than one occasion as an elderly man or woman was approaching their death, they would ask me whether they would be guaranteed entrance into heaven. I would assure them that it would all be okay. I told them they had lived a good life, done all they could, and tried to be faithful to their religious viewpoints. This seldom comforted them. Some of them would press me further, “well, what do you believe?” Instead of sharing the Gospel with them, I would simply turn my head and mutter something along the lines that all religions were equal. One night I received a dream in which these residents were in a burning bus. The bus was full of smoke and I was on the outside. They were shouting at me “why are you standing there? See what you’ve done to us? You could have told us how to get out of here, but you didn’t!” This dream troubled me. From that day on I resolved that I wanted to be a better witness for Christ. I do not want it on my conscience that someone was denied a relationship with the Lord because I failed to let them know about His saving grace and mercy. Of course, I still maintain the understanding that ultimately a person should decide for themselves what they will believe, and it is not for me to guilt someone into my religious practices or instil fear in them; but after that experience, I no longer wanted to be shy about what I believe to be the truth.

My second story took place a year later when I was 20. I accepted a placement as a Day Camp Coordinator at a very liberal church camp where the majority of the staff were atheists and even the director of the camp herself was not a strong believer. One day, I took out my Evangecube (a picture puzzle highlighting the death and resurrection of Christ) and showed it to the campers. After the session, a little girl showed her mom using the cube how Jesus came to save us. Well, the camp director did not think too highly of that. She told me that I had overwhelmed these church kids with too much Jesus and that same day she fired me. Although I was deeply hurt by these events especially because I had tried to present the Gospel in the most respectful of ways without pressuring kids to believe or even talking specifically about hell and fire, I later took comfort in a story that one of my friends at seminary told me. She shared with me about hearing the Gospel message for the first time as a nine year old at a church camp. Although she hadn’t accepted Christ that day, the story stayed with her for years to come. She did not come from a Christian family and was never exposed to Christianity after that one summer, but later as a 15 year old she was invited to attend a local church with her friend. At that church she once again heard the Gospel message. That day she did accept the Lord, but she claims that had her camp counselor not put the seed in her years before it likely would never have happened.

As I reflect back on Christ’s call for us to be missional examples of His kingdom, I am reminded of how often I become preoccupied with my own looks rather than with Christ’s call and command. Frankly, I need to get over myself! I’ve often been surprised at how receptive my non-Christian friends truly are to attending church functions with me, some of which even include outright evangelism. Many of my non-Christian friends are respectful of my beliefs, curious about what the Bible says, and interested in serving alongside me. When I downplay my faith as if it is not important, I realize that I am actually doing them quite a disservice, not to mention being dishonest to my Lord and Saviour.

Perhaps not all forms of evangelism suit you, but certainly one form or method will. Perhaps you have skills in teaching and would be able to help assist in a Catechist class at your church, or perhaps you have hands-on abilities and could serve and live out the Gospel through a placement with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, or the Salvation Army. Perhaps you have a heart for overseas development, but no interest in going over there yourself. You can support missions even right here in North America through generous donations to Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) or through the Mennonite Church’s Witness Program. Wherever your skills lie, you can help to bring the Kingdom of God about here on this earth. After all, just like A.O. reminded us and just like all Anabaptist likely would adhere to, “faith must be manifested by a holy life of obedience. Salvation…is not by faith alone, but by a faith that obeys.”[4]

Interested in reading more? Purchase Your copy at: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Alternative-Anabaptist-Christianity-Post-Christendom/dp/0989830411.  For more information: http://mennonerds.com/project/a-living-alternative/.

[1] Page 3

[2] Page 6

[3] Page 9

[4] Citing C. Arnold Snyder. Page 10 of Living Alternative

Why Christians Need to Hear the Gospel, Too

foh-hhbGreat music, good friends, and a Biblically solid message. Three of the main things in life that I never want to miss out on. It is for this reason that yesterday night, after I got back from a spiritually charged retreat, several of my seminary friends and I decided to head to downtown Toronto to take part in Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope.

Over the years, I have developed both a deep respect for Billy and Franklin’s ministry, as well as a generally distrust of the type of crowd mentality that we see at these events. To me, it just seemed almost staged that after hearing a short salvation message for the first time, thousands would throng to the front of the room readily giving their lives over to a God they hardly know anything about. Some of these individuals having to make radically life altering decisions about dramatic changes in lifestyle and others having to face being forsaken by friends and family.

Yet, being at the event itself really challenged a lot of the preconceived ideas that I once held so dear. To be clear, this was not the first Billy Graham Crusade that I’ve been a part of (though I cringe at the word “Crusade” because of the negative images of persecution and terror it evokes in my mind). I’m glad Franklin decided to change it to something a little less threatening and a whole lot more positive.

I attended a Billy Graham Crusade for the first time when I was a pre-teen. It was a weekend packed with fun, great music (I remember seeing Toby Mac live for the first time), and testimonies. I also remember being caught up in the curiosity and emotionalism of it all. I followed the throng down the aisles and to the front where I did not give my life over to Christ (I was already a Christian at this point), but rather rededicated my life to Him. About a year following that event I sought out baptism in my local church.

Since I have never attended one of Graham’s crusades as a non-believer I have no idea what it must feel like to take part with no notion of Salvation in Christ. Nevertheless, I know that God is using the Graham family to accomplish great things for His Kingdom purpose.

You see, a large part of the problem I face with modern day big name evangelists and TV personalities is that I think the fame gets to their head. When Rob Bell, Joyce Myers, and Robert Schuller started off, they all had amazing things to say. To pick on Rob Bell, for example, when he first started writing and preaching he was not afraid to call people out for sins, he was not ashamed of the Gospel, and he said things which did not necessarily align him with the popular crowd. God used him to reach out to many in incredible ways. Then one day that all changed. Overtime, he became popular and with his popularity he became increasingly liberal to the point of saying that all religions essentially lead to the same path and that morality trumps Christianity.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t use these televangelists and big name writers today. In fact, in many ways, God is still using them to reach many of His Kingdom, however, something gets dramatically altered, lost, or just diluted once popularity gets in the way. That’s because the Christian message was never meant to be a popular one! If it was, why would countless thousands of individuals have had to lose their lives for it? Why would millions of Christians be persecuted each year around the world? Why would Jesus Himself have warned that if we are persecuted we need to take heart and remember that anything we go through in this life He has already been through twice over? [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+15%3A20&version=NIV] You see, Jesus, Peter, and the Apostle Paul, all knew that the Christian life wasn’t easy. They all knew that by signing into it they were abandoning their comforts and losing their friends for the sake of a higher calling. And yet, for some reason, we feel that we can be popular AND Christian. We feel that we can half-heartedly follow Christ and believe in SOME of what He said (the good parts that earn us favour) while at the same time preaching motivational speeches that people want to hear. We have become so accustomed to “tickling the ears” of our hearers that we forget the true power behind the awesome theology that Christ has given to us! [https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Timothy+4%3A3&version=NIV]

This is one reason why Franklin Graham stands out as a man whom God has used. Franklin is one of the most popular preachers of our day – reaching millions globally each year, but yet, he stands firm in his faith, unwilling to compromise for the sake of looking good. And somehow God is using him. When I listen Franklin, he takes a stand against abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex. His theology is not necessarily on par with some of what my Mennonite colleagues would agree with. However, the point is that He DOES take a stand regardless of how ill-favoured that stance might be in our materialistic and sex-saturated world. Standing before thousands of people at the Air Canada Center he preaches that dishonouring one’s parents is the same as murder – all sins are equal in the eyes of God.

His message is a simple one: forgiveness, hope, and healing found only in and through Christ. He does not preach to impress. He’s a good speaker, but probably not the most remarkable one I have ever heard. He preaches from a manuscript – not memorized, despite the fact that He’s given the Gospel message a thousand times over. His sermon is short, sweet, and to the point. He explains our predicament as sinners, our need for a Saviour, and the love of Christ. He closes with a prayer and with his father’s signature theme song “Just as I Am” and thousands come to the front without any hesitation.

Perhaps there is a temptation to think that Franklin is only popular because of his father’s name. His Dad did all the work as the fiery evangelist and now Franklin is just basking in the remaining rays of glory. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the whole side of the story. As Christians, we’re all called to evangelize – to live missionally, however you want to say it. We’re all called to proclaim Shalom. Yet, not everyone has the gift of evangelism in the same way that Graham does. You or I could preach the exact same message, just like we’re called to, but somehow I think that if I was to get up in front of the crowd at ACC they wouldn’t flock to the front like they did with Franklin. The reason I think that people’s lives are radically changed by God during these crusades is because Franklin fervently believes what he preaches. He is not just saying it to be popular and then living a different lifestyle throughout the rest of the week. Instead, the congregation is met by authenticity and faithfulness to the Biblical texts.

Before I left, the Seminary Student Council President asked my friends and I, “so really what is this all about? You’re all Christian and yet you’re going. What if everyone at this event is a Christian?” These words are important ones to think about. I’m in my last year of my MDiv. I’ve studied theology for 5 years and I am comfortable in exegesis, interpretation, and analyzing the Biblical texts. I even have started learning Koine Greek. So, why am I, a seminary student, attending an event meant for baby Christians and those who haven’t even started their walk with Christ yet rather than a deeply rooted hard-core theological lecture on the nature of the religious affections?

The answer is simple and is found in what the president told me next, “Even Christians need to hear the Gospel.” I’ve been a Christian for almost 20 years and I can tell you that what this young man said is completely bang on. For those of us who have grown up in the church and spent more time in the church than out of it, I think it is so easy for us to forget the simple and yet profound message of the cross. The more I spend time in seminary, the more I am drawn to religious debates, intense arguments over trivial theological differences which have split churches, and deconstructing worship styles or liturgy. And yet, how easy it is for me to forget the real reason I am in seminary in the first place.

Growing up in the church, we can enter into a calm indifference about out walk with the Lord. We become so desensitized to how sin actually destroys humanity and to the gruesome punishment Christ underwent for us. We become so accustomed and entitled to His love and mercy that we forget what a genuine gift it really is and how none of us are deserving of His grace.

Yes, even Christians need to hear the Gospel message preached again and again. Even Christians need to be reminded that Christianity is not the popular choice – that foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Even Christians need to go to Billy Graham Crusades to be awakened, challenged, and forced to make a difference!

[https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+8%3A20&version=NIV]

Why Short Term Missions Trips Work Despite What You Might Have Heard

3068 Playing with orphan children, building homes, and teaching summer Bible camps are all things that many teenagers and young adults hope to accomplish. Whether it’s because of a love of traveling, due to a profound need to make a difference, or an interest in experiencing a different culture, there is something special about churches and organizations which send out teams to various geographical locations every year. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of criticism and cynicism surrounding these experiences. Career missionaries question the impact these experiences have in the long term. After all, a week working at a soup kitchen is not long enough to form a real and deep relationship. A month translating Bible texts costs the organization more in training and hosting alone than what is produced. And two months playing with orphaned children in India or Africa might make a self-absorbed teenager feel good about themselves but in two months the kids are going to be heartbroken again. I have heard again and again from friends who have committed to missionary life several of whom have been on short-term trips themselves that they simply don’t feel the resources and budgeting put into planning and executing these trips is worth it. Instead it is leaving career missionaries in the field with more work, less time to devote to actually building relationships with the town or village because they are “babysitting the Westerners” and simply “make-work projects” to fuel our ego.

I have given a lot of thought myself to this phenomenon. Having been on a few trips myself starting first in North America and from there branching out to other countries, I have often found myself wondering as I’ve gotten older and started studying missional living in school if this is the right way to go about things. However, despite an initial distrust in short-term missions, I’d like to share three reasons why I believe we shouldn’t get rid of short-term missions teams and how despite the fact that short term trips may require extra money and time to plan they are actually well worth it in the end – if only the career missionaries on the field work to partner with the teams instead of frown upon them.

For the purposes of this article I will be focusing primarily on trips lasting a minimum of one week but no more than one year and which are geared towards students (high school or university range – that is to say under 30 years old).

#1: Short-Term trips give teens a chance to look outside of themselves.

Let’s face it. North American teens in generally are interested in their own lives, their own problems, and their own interests. In general they remain this way until about their early to mid-twenties at which time they hopefully gain some maturity and begin to look outside themselves. That’s not to say that teenagers don’t care. Many of them do have space somewhere inside themselves for caring about the needs of others and try to accomplish this through worthwhile pursuits such as volunteering in the community and in the church nursery. However, many teens simply haven’t been given the opportunity where they had no other choice but to get outside their comfort zone, experience something new, and be challenged in ways they never thought they would be challenged before.

During my first out of continent trip to South America (Paraguay and Brazil) I quickly learned how much I take for granted in my own country. I was 18 at the time and it was my first experience of having to take cold showers for a month, not being able to eat the types of food I typically would enjoy, and struggling to learn a new language – after only one semester of Spanish and another semester of German. It was a great experience in showing me what it must feel like (albeit on a much smaller scale) to be an immigrant. Since both my parents come from immigrant families I began to appreciate a whole lot more the unique challenges my grandparents, aunts, and uncles must have faced when they first came to Canada.

How much did I really accomplish working at a leprosy hospital? Probably not a whole lot. I did some cleaning. The building would become dirty again. I shared my testimony – the inexperienced wisdom and inexperienced delivery of someone barely out of high school. I even spent a few days interacting with some of the patients. Beyond that, nothing. From a materialistic point of view, the amount of money I spent flying out there versus the amount of work I did was miniscule. However, something deep inside me changed. I began to view cross-cultural experiences differently. I began to question some of the prejudices I had always carried in my heart but simply was not aware of. I began to be interested in traveling again and exploring other cultures and other situations.

I may have only been 18. I probably continued to be somewhat self-absorbed for a few years following that experience. It was not some profound event that radically altered my life in the way that Jesus altered Paul of Tarsus’s life, yet it was an experience that starting the ball rolling. An experience that unraveled a bit of string that is still unraveling in my heart and soul today.

#2: Short-Term Missions Trips have a profound impact on the participant’s faith walk.

To be honest, it has always intrigued me (and perhaps in a sense bothered me) that youth who otherwise want nothing to do with the church, who deny their parent’s religion, who rebel against the formal structure, and who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Friday night youth group are always the first to put up their hands when it comes to an out of country trip. Perhaps it is out of a sense of camaraderie – my friends are going so why not? Or a realization that they will be doing a project (likely with their hands) so the amount of Bible teaching will be small, but they somehow all seem to make their way to the front at events like Urbana and TeenMania.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny the profound impact some of these trips have had on the youth. I have seen kids who cared only about themselves become more energized to serve and help the marginalized after as little as a week working with the homeless population. I have seen freshmen come to L’Arche thinking they were going to give us all of their love and service only to walk away from the experience realizing that they had received far more from the residents who have developmental disabilities. I have seen shy kids take up leadership on projects that they are truly passionate about.

Often during mission’s trips, kids accomplish far more than they ever imagined they could. For some it might be their first experience away from home for an extended amount of time. They learn independence but also dependence on the team. For strong personalities (like myself) they learn how to balance leadership with listening, solitude with service. Often I am the most humbled by individuals who have a disability themselves who still go on trips and who are able to minister powerfully by their openness and vulnerability.

During one of my first trips with Mennonite Disaster Service to New Orleans helping to restore and build homes after Hurricane Katrina I was deeply inspired by the commitment and love of the community after the devastating natural disaster. I was stirred to become a better person and to not take things for granted. I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened when in different contexts which have high poverty rates or where women may be ill-treated. I’ve left these experience and came back to Canada where I have since learned how to integrate my short-term trips with my career work as a pastor and friend.

#3: Short-Term trips provide an opportunity for kids to feel supported by the church

I have been blessed to always have been part of really loving and encouraging churches. Nevertheless, one of the most blessed things I have experienced is when the church sends out a team of young missionaries and really surrounds them by their love and support. Whether it’s helping to set up opportunities to raise funds, actually attending the fundraisers, or sitting down with a teen for coffee afterwards to discuss their experience, it is one of the few times when the church really gets to be intergenerational. Often after a trip, the church also provides an opportunity for the youth to share and this gives them the experience of being at the front and proclaiming the Gospel – something few teenagers get the opportunity to do in many cases.

One of the best things about going to Tyndale was the support the community had towards short-term trips. From men shaving their legs in support of mission’s, to the school banding together to put on Shakespearean comedies, to individual groups of students huddled in the lounge praying over the teams, I was really reminded of how when someone is sent out they are sent out individually but moreso as a body.

I know that many missionaries who come back to the field lament that they felt their church didn’t care or didn’t give enough time to them when it came to processing their experience. Some of them felt quite lonely after coming back. I don’t mean to negate that. However, I think it’s also clear that especially for kids who might never have had the opportunity otherwise, it is a great blessing when a 17 year old receives the financial support to go or when a 21 year old receives the encouragement to do something different for a summer or for a year.

Conclusion: Call me crazy, but I think short-term trips are totally worth it. They may not be the most cost-effective or productive experiences, but the intrinsic value it can have on the participants is well worth it and if we are truly seeking to become missional churches then I think for many kids the catalyst will come not by hearing their pastor talk about it from the pulpit but by living it out and experiencing it themselves.