Did you know this about Mexico?
When we moved to Nicaragua ten years ago, we were most concerned about having internet in our home to keep in contact with our families. We were able to get a cell phone that would connect to our laptops (one at a time) and provide internet to email our friends. A year an a half later, we got super fast cable internet in our homes.
Imagine our surprise when we moved to Mexico and found that internet was unavailable for us! So, three years ago we went to the phone company and petitioned internet for our home, but they said the network in town is "full" and we were put on a waiting list. We are still waiting.
I cannot believe that in a town of more than 10,000 people we cannot get internet. There are three companies in Monterrey and none of them come out here. There is one company that offers it through an antenna, but their switch is "full" as well.
So, Easter Sunday was last week, and in my almost ten years on the mission field I haven't gotten used to the lack of celebration like we do in the US. It's okay, because what we do in the US really isn't that much about Jesus, but I still miss it.
I miss Easter baskets, Cadbury eggs, seeing the kiddies all dressed up in their Spring clothes, sunrise service with pancake breakfast afterwards. All of this is so American, and so nice, but it just doesn't happen down here.
I was actually pleased that this year the pastor preached a sermon about the resurrection seeing as in years past there have been Easters without even a mention of the Defeat of Death!
Recently I was asked to direct a choir to sing in the regional contest for the National Anthem. I thought it was a little funny since I have never sung the national anthem nor formally directed a chour. These are my 17 pretty middle school girls who competed against choirs of 35-40 kids. I was proud of them!
We have been in Mexico for the past seven years on a tourist visa, keeping our residency in the US and crossing the border every six months for a time of shopping, r&r, and paperwork renewal. Today is the day we will head north and spend the night. It's like a mini-vacation to stay in a hotel, have high speed wi-fi, lengthy hot showers, and American television.
Usually a day in Laredo includes a trip to Chick-Fil-A, where we often indulge in the yummy sandwiches and ice dream shakes. We also try to include a trip to Wendy's in there (though we do have a Wendy's here in Monterrey, it's just a ways away and out of our normal driving routines).
Target, Wal-mart, Best Buy, and Old Navy are also regular stops. We often come back to Mexico with a car full of groceries that are difficult to find here, like Cinnamon Life, grape jelly, and Frosted Mini-Wheats.
One more thing on the agenda this trip is to finally apply for our Mexican residency visas. We would like to have cell phones in our names, bank accounts, power and water, and those sorts of things.
Today was a goodbye party for three people who have been here since November: Jon, Hamilton, and Ina.
We don't even know how many people have come in and out of our lives during the last ten years. Goodbyes are always tough, though. We know we will probably get to see these guys again, but maybe not. We pray for their next adventures in life and look forward to seeing what God has for them.
Probably the best gift I have received in the last ten years as a missionary was my Kindle. I love to read, and I love to read in English. To have instant access to books has brought such joy to my life after many years of not being able to find books, having to wait until a visitor came or another missionary was available to do a book exchange.
Another great gift to go along with that is an Amazon gift card. My aunt always gives us a gift card for Christmas, and this usually lasts us almost the whole year as we search for bargains on kindle books and try to stretch out the money. My mom also gave me her library card information, as many libraries now allow you to check out books on kindle for two weeks at a time.
Adding to my list of good gifts, a couple of years ago my friend gave me an ipod. Since I live on support I find it difficult to justify spending supporters' money on luxury items such as that. When someone gives you a luxury item it is such a great thing! I have used my ipod almost daily, and am thankful to have access to songs in English as well, since the radio stations don't carry many songs like that.
If you are looking for some good gifts for missionary friends, consider gift cards to amazon and itunes, starbucks (which takes international gift cards), and fun tech items that they would never be able to purchase or would feel guilty buying for themselves (tablets, game systems, mp3 players, etc.)
Last month, our school was forced to participate in a National Anthem contest. I was put in charge of the choir and chose 17 girls to be a part. The anthem is very high and five minutes long
We didnt place, which was a huge injustice and another story, but I decided to celebrate with them anyway with an after school excursion to a pizza buffet and go carts.
"Out of the depths I cry unto you, O Lord!" thus begins Psalm 130, a psalm which has inspired more than forty composers, including the masters Bach, Mozart, Handel and Mendelssohn, to write compositions based on its plea. It has attracted so much artistic attention because its passionate cry for redemption from the depths of human existence is a theme which resounds down through the ages. Even down to November 6, 2012.
Not to be melodramatic, but I believe this psalm is a good model for many evangelicals who were so deeply disappointed with the U.S. election results two weeks ago. No election in recent memory had gotten evangelicals as stirred up as this 2012 Obama-Romney face off. As election day approached, Republican evangelicals were flush with confidence after the successfully massive turn-out during last summer's 'Support Chic Fil-A Day,' which was intended the send a strong message to the secular culture around us that, well, we will not be bullied. We'll eat chicken instead. So anyway, it only seemed natural, they thought, that the same huge numbers would flood into the voting booths in November and oust incumbent Barack Obama, the president most loathed by evangelicals in recent memory.
And turn out on Super Tuesday we did - by the millions. The evangelical vote accounted for 27% of the national electorate - the highest it's ever been. A whopping 80% of evangelicals voted for Romney. Some conservative pundits were giddily predicting a Romney landslide. But late on Super Tuesday things didn't turn out that way. One could almost hear the wheels of history turning. As the wind got sucked out of the Fox News Election Night War Room, one could see Bush-era kingpin Karl Rove imploding on camera. Dick Morris, the one who predicted a Romney landslide, could only mumble "This is not your father's America," as the realities of Obama's victory became apparent. The outcome was so bad it prompted the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to tell NPR: "I think this [election] was an evangelical disaster." The wave of post-election status updates by so many of my Christian friends on facebook was a gutteral wail of despair. Many were painful to read.
So what happened? Why did we evangelicals so decisively pin our hopes on a political candidate?
I maintain it is precisely because the Kingdom of God is truly foreign to so many of us. We believe Jesus to be a good Savior but a terrible political philosopher. We believe Him to be a good philanthropist but a poor economist. We praise Him as an otherworldly Savior on Sunday mornings but fail to apply this salvation - embodied in a Kingdom on earth which is as socio-political and counter-cultural as it is spiritual - for the other six days. This leaves the rest of the week, our out of the church building existence, to the other kingdom, the earthly, eerily Roman one, as espoused by the Republican party, a party who promised to rescue our country and restore "Bibical values" to our democracy. But, for those who are truly attentive, President Obama's victory served as a referendum on an evangelical subculture deeply embedded in the materialistic values of American society and yet horribly out of touch with what the United States is becoming demographically. As my friend Darren Carter so excellently blogged in Where Do We Go From Here? :
"Latinos, blacks, single women and this younger generation are the future of America, which is a demographic fact that you can’t argue. I hear many talk about the restoration of America, but if we want to be a part of it then it is time to set a bigger table. To use the political terminology of the right the conservative strategist David Frum recently said, “To be a patriot is to love your country as it is. Those who seem to despise half of America will never be trusted to govern any of it. Those who cherish only the country’s past will not be entrusted with its future.”
Rev. Mohler went on to blame the loss on a "seismic moral shift in the culture." And he's exactly right, but I think he might have been mistaken on which morality has shifted. It is my prayer that, out of the post-election depths, evangelicals will finally see that their right-wing, politically based morality has failed to show American culture the true face of Jesus.
The AP news story An 'Evangelical Disaster': What Happened to the Religious Vote?
In Paul's letter to the believers in Rome he, in encouraging the Roman believers to great feats in the faith, appeals to something, very, well, Roman, here in chapter 2 and verses 6-10:
"[God] Who 'will render to each one according to his deeds': eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
Historians are in agreement that the key to the legendary power of the Roman military were flexibility and organization. What ultimately made the Romans unbeatable were not weapons, or well-trained leaders, but the Roman genius for fighting as a unit. And nothing motivated these warlike Romans more than their martial values of glory and honor. Julius Caesar's work, The Gallic War is full of appeals to these values. On one occasion after a military setback in Gaul, all of Caesar's legions except for one - the famous Tenth Legion, were faltering in resolve and courage to carry on and Caesar, in his truest form as a leader, chastized these legions by challenging their sense of glory and honor:
"Even if no one else follows, I shall march with the Tenth Legion alone; I have no doubt of its allegiance." It was his appeal to honor and glory that prompted the rest of his army to close ranks and their spirit "changed in a remarkable fashion; the greatest keenness and eagerness for active service was engendered (renewed)." (The Gallic War Book I, Sections 40 & 41)
So in reflecting on the apostle's own address to the Romans, I find it interesting that he appeals to these same virtues. May his words spur us on in our doing great deeds to seek His honor and His glory! And may a type of immortality come as our names and great deeds, performed in humble and selfless service to our King, echo down through the corridors of history...
In working on putting together this Missions Discipleship Project, we've been hammering together something like a missions statement. It's divided into three parts: the why, the how and the what.
The Why: In everything we do, we seek to transform the status quo in evangelical missions. We believe in doing things differently.
The How: The way we are working to transform the status quo in the world of evangelical missions is by building a new type of missions organization which would disciple a new breed of missionary and connect the gospel of the reign of God with an interconnected, globalized world.
The What: From our home base in Monterrey, Mexico, we assemble and facilitate the training of multinationals to live, work, play, serve, be creative, and minister locally as well as in other global locations. We do all this together, which means in vital relationship both among ourselves and with those in the communities in which we operate. We go to great lengths to remember the human scale of life and ministry - as exhibited, for example, by the lives and ministries of both Jesus and the Apostle Paul - which means to keep it simple, love God, love people, lead by serving and by tapping into our creativity, among others.
Won't you join us?
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Here are some other thoughts ...
We take the cheesy old saying Live Locally, Act Globally quite seriously. We are proud to be evangelicals but we believe evangelicals have personalized and commercialized and institutionalized the gospel almost to irrelevance. In American culture at least, the "gospel" has all too often been presented as nothing more than Jesus the personal Savior giving a personal salvation to an individual personally and this personal salvation has little public value, i.e. social justice engagement. Personal salvation is, as if we have to say, important but it's not the whole of the gospel message. For example, it's like saying that all of a marriage relationship is about sex. Of course sex is a part of the marriage relationship but to say that sex is everything about it ignores all the other aspects. As such, the personal salvation focus on the gospel has ignored many other aspects of what the gospel really is. Yes, we were individually saved but we aren't left just to be individuals. Have we forgotten that we are part of that numberless sand on the seashore or stars in the sky known as the children of Abraham? The Apostle Peter called us a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" and this, we believe, supercedes our individuality. In this spirit we want to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters who live all over the planet.
We believe that the government of Jesus, God's Davidic Messiah, will be extended to all nations, which are, by the way, our inheritance. We, being a part of this great scattering of Abraham's seed, believe we 've been sent as heralds into the nations bearing God's grand announcement: the government of God has been made manifest in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This "gospel" is more than just the message of personal salvation - it's the consummation of Heaven and Earth, the opening of a worldwide government of God's Shalom peace and justice proclaimed in the name and authority of the Master Jesus. It is made manifest by His people, the Church Universal, who have for centuries borne His standard of righteousness. Today we are the heralds and standard-bearers and we've been called into the nations. Our message is public. Our message is political. Our message is provocative. This message will challenge all other political orders - whether it be the globalized, democratic neoliberal world order, the Islamic ulama or the dictatorial and communist regimes scattered across the face of the Earth.
We want to challenge this generation with the reality and commitment of the Great Commission. These are big dreams but they've got to begin somewhere. They've got to begin with somebody.
In the words of one of our mentors and heroes, Professor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Here and there people flee from public altercation into private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action. In spite of all that he does, what he leaves undone will rob him of his peace of mind. He will either go to pieces because of this disquiet, or become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.
Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God - the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.
Where are these responsible people?
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison)
Jamie, I think I love you. But you scare me. You are the Tyler Durden of the world of evangelical missions. You say things (in your blog) that provoke and enrage otherwise well-meaning, nice, missions-minded evangelicals as no one else can. You are the child on the street who, when the Emperor rides by in his lavish parade, screams, "He has no clothes! He's butt naked!!" You are a brave, truth-telling soul. Clearly you have issues but, unlike the rest of us missionaries, you don't try to cover them up with a veneer of spirituality. If we evangelicals sainted people, girl, you'd be on my short list.
One of the battles many missionaries face is the issue of hosting short-term missions trips. I have to be honest and admit that we missionaries have a love-hate relationship with these. The issue is not, per se, that we don't want people coming to visit and learn and help, as much as it is with the pride, presumption, and well, self-interest of these short term groups. Though we've hosted many wonderful, awesome groups (you know who you are!), we also have a lot of horror stories of hosting the short-termers who did not share our vision of missions. Over the years we've learned how to weed out beforehand those whom we detect are of a different "missions philosophy." I could show you some emails I've had between myself and churches who've wanted to send groups down and how they've responded to some of my questions...
In our case the Mexican Drug Wars have effectively solved the short-term missions dilemma. Simply put, 95% of the short-term missions groups stopped coming when the bullets started flying. This says a lot in and of itself but, alas, that's a topic for a different time.
But this is obviously not the case in Costa Rica where my esteemed colleague Jamie lives and ministers. Like I said above, she's a truth teller. So brace yourselves! If you are reading this and have been involved in short-term missions trips, you really need to READ THIS - it's actually a five-part series but it's worth it. Jamie's purpose, in all seriousness, is not to discourage you but to give you a different perspective, well actually the real perspective, on what happens when you and twenty others show up in her country wearing matching t-shirts armed with boxes of tracts and eager to "impact" her nation in a ten day trip (well, nine days actually, because there's the beach & shopping day). So let yourself be provoked but in the positive, redeeming sense of the word. And don't forget to keep your sense of humor because one thing I've learned more than anything in missions work is that "if we don't laugh we will just go insane." So ... without further ado ...
And, dear readers, as always, feel free to opine in the comment section below!
This is a guest blogpost on success I did over at the Heart of Campus Ministry blog. I hope you enjoy it!
I am a teacher. And I must confess that I have an obsession with being correct - especially when it comes to my theology. Not (I hope) in an arrogant way but rather (again, I hope) my desire springs from an honest desire to know truth. We teacher types can be annoying with our attention to detail and obsession with doctrinal purity. Believe me, I've been on the receiving end of other teacher types who have taken me to the "theological woodshed" and I can testify that it's really not a pleasant experience. I teach theology at a Bible Institute but not just in the confines of a hermetically sealed classroom. My teaching, of course, is reflected in how I actually live my life and especially how I conduct myself in challenging situations. One such challenging situation happened last week. Let me tell you about it.
My oldest son is in charge of the "Juniors" group at our church (I call it the Tweens - ages 10 to 14) and he has a staff of five or so youth workers to help him run the group. So recently one of his staff members got ahold of an "exorcism manual" and, well, pretty much started trying to cast demons out of everything. So my son asked for the manual and gave it to me to check out. I won't get into the specifics of the manual here but, suffice it to say that, at its best moments it's alarmist and at its worst - heretical. In short, this particular excorcism manual is not what a young Christian youth worker needs to be reading. So I sat down with the youth worker and explained to him some of the non-, anti- and extra-Biblical points of the manual and he was both receptive and appreciative of what I told him. End of story, right? No! It turns out that the manual was given out to all of the youth staff volunteers of the youth group (ages 15 and up) at our church by the youth pastor himself! So now I have to go to the youth pastor and talk to him about why it's not a good idea to be reading this "exorscism manual." Herein lies the challenge: I can be right in doctrine but wrong in spirit (the way I go about doing the correction). "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine." (Titus 2:1) and "the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach ... correcting his opponents with gentleness" (II Timothy 3:24,25).
So this is what we must do as teachers - teach and correct with all authority but in kindness and humility. Not that we're the "experts" in everything - and of course we ourselves are not above correction - but the role of teachers in the Body of Christ is an important one. So at present this story is pending ... I hope to be able to talk to the youth pastor and his wife today. Pray for me!
"Capitalism is under siege. Diminshed trust in business is causing political leaders to set policies that sap economic growth ... Business is caught in a vicious circle ... the purpose of a corporation must be redefined around creating shared value." So begins a recent article in the Havard Business Review that, in my view, is just as revolutionary as an 1848 treatise written by two other men that began: "A specter is haunting Europe ..."
You might have heard the term social entrepreneur lately. With all the attention the concept is getting, it's quickly getting buzzword status. So I thought I would write up a short primer on the subject. David Bornstein and Susan Davis, in their 2010 book Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, defines social entrepreneurship as "a process by which citizens build or transform institutions to advance solutions to social problems, such as poverty, illness, illiteracy, environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and corruption, in order to make life better for many." Dr. Greg Dees, considered the father of social entrepreneurship education, says, "social entrepreneurs create public value, pursue new opportunities, innovate and adapt, act boldly, leverage resources they don't control, and exhibit a strong sense of accountability."
I like the way Dr. Kathryn Blanchard, author of The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism: Christians, Freedom, and Free Markets (2010) puts it: "Social entrepreneurship is a world where financial capital can merge with spiritual capital to generate social capital. It's sympathetic self-interest rather than competitive self-interest."
I believe this concept, which aims to bring the for profit business world and the non-profit NGO world together to tackle some of the world's toughest challenges, is one of the most revolutionary concepts of our time. The quote at the beginning of this post from the Harvard Business Review is from the article entitled: "Creating Shared Value: How to Reinvent Capitalism and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth,"(pdf) which places the concept in the wider discussion of how capitalism is shifting, or should be shifting, to better address markets in a globalized, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats kind of world. The idea is surprisingly simple: if businesses can transform and become as ethical as the best of our NGOs, then think of the potential for powerful global transformation. If it sounds too good to be true, read the article.
The wikipedia entry for Social Entrepreneurship.
Duke University's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship
As the Ashoka definition illustrates, social entrepreneurship is nothing new in history. Just so we don't get too carried away with the newness and novelty of this, Bornstein & Davis point out early in their book that "Social entrepreneurs have always existed. But in the past they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments." That is, until now.
Coming soon: Social Entrepreneurship and the World of Christian Missions
Failure is the sum of all my fears. My fear of failure is one of the biggest things I've had to overcome in my ministry and it's something that has, at times, driven me to achieve things that perhaps otherwise I couldn't have done. So, ironically, the fear of failure can be something that both inhibits me and something that also motivates me. In my eight years serving on the foreign missions field, I can say that, despite many setbacks and small defeats, my ministry has been on the whole (and I humbly say this to the glory of God - certainly not to my own abilities & cleverness!) marked by more successes than failures. However, success, like failure, also brings certain challenges. The challenge of success, from what I've learned, is that it brings more responsibility. And with more responsibility, of course, comes more pressure. With more pressure the probability of failure lurks and so success breeds failure which, properly handled, motivates toward more success... what a vicious circle!
What the Lord has been teaching me this year is to lay down my fear of failure and to even, at times, embrace it as a learning tool. This is difficult because it goes against everything in me. Missionaries almost never write about their failures to their supporters. That's human nature, I guess, but honesty is, I would think, refreshing to people accumstomed to hearing reports of missionaries going from "glory to glory." Let me confess here that 2011 for me has been a year of much failure. Last spring I was called in to help a middle school and high school with their teacher training and disciplinary policies. The short version is that everything I tried to implement blew up in my face. I was unable to win the support of the teachers or other staff members who all had their own ideas of how things should be managed. Further, I was unable to sway the student population - something which surprised me - because usually I have very good rapport with students. So after months of trying, I bowed out. I failed. Miserably.
This is where and when the Lord began to minister to my wounded pride. Embrace it, the Lord whispered, own it! For me, embracing failure is like hugging a cactus but the reality, I was quick to learn, is that embracing failure is good medicine for the soul. It left me with a dependency and a humility that success could never have brought. It made me take myself less seriously. So now I'm beginning the new academic year revising and refining my educational philosophies and practices. Failure - though I have embraced you, you will not be a friend. Though you have taught me, you will not be my sage. And a word to success - I'm not going out of my way to impress you anymore. Though you are still much preferred than failure, I have a greater Master to impress ...
Francine Rivers: Redeeming Love
Retelling of the story of Gomer and Hosea, set in California during the gold rush. Very powerful.
David A. Livermore: Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence
A must-read for all going on a short-term missions trip.
Alvin Toffler: Revolutionary Wealth
The best guide to where the future is taking us.
CK Prahalad: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid
A brilliant economist, an overlooked market, new opportunities for millions.
C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces
I am enthralled by this retelling of Cupid and Psyche. I think this may be my favorite CS Lewis book yet.