Visiting Churches

splitOne of the jobs that we have as missionaries is to visit churches in our home countries. Furlough, Home Assignment, Deputation, Support Raising, Ministry Reporting, etc…

We are privileged to travel to many congregations and fellowship with them. We meet so many fellow members or the Body of Christ. We encourage local leaders and saints. We build up a great army of prayer warriors who back us up. We share with kids about being a missionary and ministry.  We eat with different people and encourage them to take that leap of faith toward ministry at home and abroad.

We recruit short and long term missionaries. We build interest in missions which have long-lasting effects.  Many of my fellow missionaries were first interested in missions because of someone visiting their church and sharing a meal with them. Others started the path toward full-time mission work because of short term mission trips they had taken. 

We see the good and bad in so many congregations. We get to see large and small churches, healthy and dying churches. We can encourage or discourage local leaders. We can promote missions or scare people away from them.

Recently I met with someone who had visited an unhealthy church. He was so judgmental and critical of the leadership there. It struck me in a painful way.  I hope that I never judge the local churches I visit. I hope that I never judge the people I meet.

I also remember a Sunday when the church I was visiting split. I stayed with a family who wasn’t going to church that day or any other day after that. I woke up and went to church. I greeted all involved and tried to encourage and not ask questions.  

We pop in briefly can never know all the circumstances. Even if we try to help fix an issue, we can not know the years of history that have lead to such a problem. We must be careful not to take sides and to pray for all involved. 

Advertisements

changes

I sense change is in the air,

the signs are all around me.

But change is not what I must fear,

although I dread it greatly.

Years ago I made a pledge

to go where He would send.

If that should me I leave this land

which I have grown to love so dear

or leave this region, home and friends

to live in a new place,

then I should heed my Saviour’s call

and pack up all my things.

Yet my heart breaks to think of it

as I have settled in this place

I’ve learned the language, the dress,

the culture, the attitudes and needs.

I’ve found a niche in which to serve

that fills a need so great.

Though I trust my God and His plan

it seems counterproductive.

So change is coming, but what it is

I do not yet comprehend.

Will others leave and new ones come

or will I too move on?

Give me peace, Lord.

Give me hope, and comfort in the unknown.

Let me trust Your plan and know it’s best

even when I don’t understand.

Transition Shock

Transition shock is a norm for someone on the mission field. Look it up! (Yes, I know it is used for nursing often but it is much broader than that field.)

38  As missionaries, we experience culture shock, reverse culture shock, and personnel changes on a regular basis.  These are all times of grief, change, newness, good-byes, and hellos. 

  Too often we have short term teams come visit us and we never equip them for these changes.  They return home from this mountain top experience and then hit a wall of friends and family that haven’t changed.  They try to explain these wonderful experiences that they encountered to people who cannot really begin to comprehend the situation because of the cultural differences.

  They want to shout out the wonderful news of their ministry to deaf ears.  They get frustrated at the abundance and waste of their home culture. They go through the stages of grief and transition.

  We all do this as missionaries.  The longer you are on the field the more you become accustom to changing personnel, changing homes, changing cultures and continents…  We actually become numb to some of the pain of the constant losses. We hurt and forget to cry. We refuse to try and make new friends.  We disagree too often with the famous quote, “Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” 

  How much stronger we are for the experiences we have had. Yet how much weaker we are for the losses we’ve been through.  We must understand the stages of transition. We must understand the phases of our adjustments. We must let God into the picture and rest in Him, for He is the only constant in our cultured lives.

American churches?

While I have been travelling to visit various churches in the USA, I have been surprised by many things. Some are positive things, others are negative things. Some excite me, others sadden me.

  I love to meet pastors and their wives around the country. I am excited to hear their joy in serving, the things that brighten their eyes as they share. But so many are hurting. They have been “abused” by their elders and churches. They struggle to make ends meet. They are attempting to share their hearts and preach what God has laid on their hearts but yet they are blocked at every turn.  Most of the time it is the strong Christians in the church doing the harm.

  I am excited to see the mission-minded hearts of congregations who send out short term teams and support missions. I am saddened by churches who are only looking inward to their own needs and don’t see the needs of their community.  

  Most churches are welcoming and someone greets you and asks more about you. But there are the few churches where I attend and no one even greets me.  Do they not want visitors? 

  How exciting it was to see that youth group made up of multi-cultural kids all wanted to learn more about the Lord.

  How sad it was to see the frowns on faces when an announcement was made about serving in the homeless district downtown.

  All churches are hurting, all have problems – because a local church is made of human beings, we bring our sinful nature with us. But we need to be proactive in welcoming visitors, in spreading the Gospel, in serving their community, in caring for their pastors, etc…

  I don’t want to judge, because I know that I too can fail.  We must each think of what we can do and how we can change.

Heading to Furlough and all it entails

images (18)I recently came across an interesting situation.  I met three different couples on the mission field who were heading back for furlough soon.  I spent some time with them and was able to observe very different approaches concerning their return.  I am aware that each situation is different and yet sometimes we are burned out and need to return. Other times we see it as a burden to go back and leave our work.

Some use the furlough as an excuse to let their guard down and begin to show signs of burnout. Some let these emotions control them and forget to let God rule the situation.

We are dealing with different organizations too, so that was a factor.  We are dealing with different age groups, which is also a factor.  We are dealing with different lengths of time on the field, which is also a factor. 

One couple was ready to go back and see their grandkids. Another was ready to go back and introduce their elementary age children to family and friends whom the kids barely remembered if they remembered them at all from their previous furlough. The other couple was more recently married and have not had any kids yet.

One couple had a house to return to and family and friends in the area. One couple had two different home churches and no idea where they would live after the first few weeks where they will crash in a family member’s basement. The other couple had lined up to stay with family for the duration of their stay. 

One couple had plans already laid out to travel to supporting churches for more than 60% of their time home.  Another couple had only 4 churches to report to in their time home. The final couple fell somewhere in between the amount of travel expected. 

One wife was stressed out worrying about how they would fit in all their family and friend visits between churches and doctor’s appointments. One family was concerned because a close family member is in the last stages of a terminal illness.  One couple was concerned about whether they could raise their needed support. One couple had scheduled a debriefing time with their organization. One couple had found an outside organization and signed up for debriefing.

One couple is burned out and finding themselves curt with nationals and frustrated by little things.  One couple is seemingly depending on the Lord and not showing signs of burn out.  One couple is just coming into their own in their ministry after several years of laying ground work. They are worried about handing things over during their absence. 

Some are excited to be in the US, some are scared. Some are happy to leave their host country for a time, others are content in both cultures. Some are starting to miss family and friends as the time is approaching, others are stressed about getting into family politics during their brief time home.

How do you prepare for furlough? Are you ready emotionally to leave and “get out of here”? Are you stressed out about what’s coming or are you excited? Are you stressed about leaving your work behind or feel relieved to have a break?  Are you physically exhausted before your return? Are you spiritually hungry to be fed in your own culture and language?

Crazy Furlough Stories

I have some and I’m sure you have some too.  Please share them! 

15475_1_other_wallpapers_world_continent_map   I came to a church I’d never been to before and went straight to my host home.  The next morning, Sunday, we went to church. My hostess showed me where to set up my display and then took me to the pastor’s office.  On the way in, I noticed the secretary’s trash can and realised I should spit my gum out before I forgot and spoke in front of people! 

    As I took my gum and and went to toss it, it stuck to my fingers!  Just then the pastor walks out of his office and offers me his hand.  Do you offer a hand with a wad of gum stuck to it or do you offer your left hand? Here in Africa we would offer our forearm if our hand is dirty.  I had to sheepishly apologize and try to get that gum off my hand.  How embarrassing when you first meet someone!

++++++++++++++++++++++

How about the time when we were at a mission conference and all the other candidates were new to the field so I had seniority! Crazy when I feel so young yet.  Right when they were talking about that, my phone rang in my coat at the same time I was invited to greet everyone.  Oops. totally a senior moment! 

======================

One time another missionary and I were asked to help during an AWANA program. We knew this meant sharing during group time and maybe playing games with them or teaching them a song in our language.  We showed up and were setting up the powerpoint when we noticed all these kids and very few adults.  Come to find out we had the entire 2 hours and most of the teachers were heading to the sanctuary to hear another missionary speak to the adults!  What! talk about communications mix up.  50+ kids with only 2 of us for almost 2 hours?  Even if we had some cultural games up our sleeves we still needed leaders to help out.

   We ended up getting some to stay back and help and we pulled it off.  I was running out of songs to teach the kids by the end of the time though!

—————————–

Another story is about a places I’ve lodged.  We can tell you about so many different unique places.  Hospitality is a fading practice in the States.  As missionaries we get to see it more than most though.

=======================

I admit I was shocked once, when I visited a small church.  They put me up in a motel and took me out to dinner.  I found my own breakfast in the morning.  In an entire congregation, is there no one that has room for just one?  Here in Africa my friends would throw mats on the floor and squeeze 20 people in their tiny homes before they would send someone to a motel!

—————————–

One place I was given and the host wasn’t home. An elder let me in and said they had arranged this with the owner.  I walked in and the floor was covered with dog urine and their was dog hair all over.  We had to quickly open a window to get some fresh air in. The owner had obviously forgotten that she’s agreed to host someone in her absence.  All the beds were unmade and a mess. There were dirty dishes in the sink.  I had to find a clean towel and make up one of the beds.  I put down towels before sitting at the couch and ended up going out for breakfast the next morning.  I did feel bad for that owner who would return and figure out what they had done and feel awful about it.

========================

My friend once was given a place to sleep on the son’s floor.  The son was always curious about missions and that was exciting. But one night he lay down and then the sister yelled out, “Where is so-n-so?” and they all woke up looking for their pet rat.  My poor friend barely slept that night on the floor as he was afraid of the rat cuddling up with him!

++++++++++++++++++++++++

One couple I stayed with was super sweet. They had never hosted someone other than family.  They treated me like a grand daughter.  Each night she would go and take 10 of the 16+ pillows off of the bed for me and turn down the bed telling me it was time to turn in!  They gave me a great tour of their historic town and I learned a lot, but I have never been told when to go to bed or take a nap before, nor have I had my bed turned down for me!

——————————-

Some people are so sweet and you love staying with them! They treat you like family. Others are new at hospitality. One friend went to dinner at a young couple’s home.  They greeted them at the door and stood chatting in the cold for quite a while, never inviting them inside. Yet they had sent them a dinner invitation!

___________________________

There are some cool places too, like when I stayed with a masseuse! Or when my hosts had a hot tub! Or when we road horses or four-wheelers or walked along the creek bed in their property.  One of the greatest privileges we have on furlough is to meet so many members of the body of Christ!  Some are new Christians and need encouragement, others are former missionaries and love to compare stories. Some are elderly and lonely, others times there is a house full of kids who are up early in the morning! 

========================

Friends of mine tell of the time they travelled with their infant son.  One place they stayed kept the house very cool.  They turned down the thermostat when leaving and for the night.  When it is only 50 in the house at night and you have an infant, that is tough.  Especially when mom and dad are from a continent where it is quite warm.  They ended up buying a space heater for their week there so that their son would sleep well! 

+++++++++++++++++++++++

What about you? Do you have stories to tell?