The balance

Another cross cultural worker and I were having a great conversation the other day.  We talked about our first impressions when we started working here. We talked about all the text book mission theories that we believed to be true and found out were not so practical in our situations!

One of the hardest things was to figure out how to balance time with family, expat friends, and nationals.  We have seen others go to extremes on this topic. Some have chosen to live in the village at lower standards than many of the villagers themselves. They have often fallen sick from waterborne illnesses and had to move.  Many of them have short ministry because they burn out in such extreme situations. 

Others have gone to the opposite extreme and lived in a cushy mission compound surrounded by expats. They rarely talk the local language or have real relationships with nationals. They will teach seminars or translate curriculum or oversee offices, finances, or educations of expats.  They may live for years in a culture and yet never know the culture.

My friend and I discussed the balance between the two. We talked about how we had been burned out when we didn’t have enough communication with other missionaries or expats.  We longed to speak English and worship in our own language. We also talked about those we’ve know who have gone to the other extreme and know very few nationals.

We talked about how our kids need to know both cultures. They want to be able to hangout with other expats kids once in awhile and yet how they love playing with their national friends. We also realized how encouraging it is when we can get together with other missionaries for a Bible study or prayer time -when we can have a meal or play a game with others who are in ministry here. How helpful it is when we can even have a conversation with someone who isn’t with our same organization. 

So how does one find that balance. How can we move forward in the two cultures? How can we be careful not to judge others who are at one extreme or another?

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Single and ignorant

  Are you single?  Are you in ministry at your church or an organization, either at home or overseas?  Are you dedicating your time to serving God? Are you involved in your local church?

  We should be all that and more. We need to be part of community. We need to be helping out when we see a need. We need to be dedicating our time to serving God in various ways.

  If you are self-seeking, looking for friends and a good time, then you are ignorant.  As a Christian we need to seek the Lord.  Not only singles but everyone, needs to be seeking the Lord and how to serve Him. 

  There is another ignorance that I want to discuss here.  Are you aware of your surroundings?  Are you aware of who are you influencing?  Are you aware of who you may be hindering? Are you listening to authority in your spiritual walk?

  We sometimes understand the first point and throw ourselves whole-heartedly into serving the Lord. Helping in our churches. But then we forget the second part.  We are blind to the fact that we are hurting families. We are blind to the fact that we are hurting marriages. We will work hard in a ministry right alongside the pastor, youth pastor, associate pastor, worship pastor, or whomever may be in charge of the ministry. We are ignorant to the looks we receive from others. We need to be careful.  We can cause rumors to be spread about these men in leadership. We can even cause them to stumble. We must be aware. 

  Yes, throw yourself into ministry. But don’t be alone in the same office with a man. No matter how old or in love he is with his wife.  Don’t joke with him as a brother, no matter how much you have no intentions for him.  Many ministries are hurt by single women not being aware of how it looks.  They don’t mean to hurt a marriage. They don’t mean to break up a church. They never mean to fall in love with someone else’s husband.  But then it happens.  Being alone together, working on the same goal, you like each other. You depend on each other, and then you fall for each other. 

  Single women: Don’t be ignorant of this potential pitfall.  You may have pure intentions, but in the end it causes pain on so many levels.

  I have seen missionaries leave the field, divorce, church leaders crash, churches split, and families hurt, all because of single women not being careful about boundaries.

Gossip

In the village of Africa, it doesn’t take time for word to spread.  In a very short time everyone knows about a funeral and comes to mourn. That is a plus side of the village grape vine.   The negative side is that in a couple days, everyone knows that someone had an affair, or is expecting, or has AIDS, or had a fight with their wife, etc…

In the church, we must handle discipline situations.  There are times when someone sins and they must be disciplined.  The pastor and elders usually deal with such things and very little is done publicly. But too often the congregation wants to gossip. We love to talk about fellow siblings who have fallen into sin. 

Too often, when the issue has been dealt with and finished by the elders, the gossip keeps it fresh.  Shame on us for not letting things drop. For not trusting the elders to handle the situations. We are all nosey little busy-bodies. We want to know more, we want to be informed of every little detail.

Rather than letting a situation work itself out and healing take place, we keep digging into the wound over and over again.

The False Teachers among us

I have been working in Africa for more than 10 years. A big goal of mine is to teach the Word of God.  Recently I was in a new region and teaching a conference. I was surprised to hear about all the false teachers in the area.  The attendees of the conference were asking some deep theological questions. They wanted real answers. They shared stories of other preachers and evangelists that had come to town.  How they would collect valuables and money from sick people promising to heal them. They would promise that if they did xyz they would suddenly become rich.

These teachers travelled in big fancy cars and wore expensive suits. They stayed in expensive hotels and ate and nice restaurants. They knew how to speak well and entertain the crowd.  They could raise their voices and jump up and down until people began cheering for them. 

They preachers and teachers make a lot of money from offerings. They preach another Gospel and lie to very sick people.  How can we fight against them? How can we show the lies for what they are?

Be Faithful

Be faithful to your God.  He has called you to serve Him. He has called you to live a holy life. He sent His only Son to die for you. He loves you. He gives you mercy instead of the justice you deserve. He gives you grace.

If you are in full time ministry, be faithful. If you are a pastor, be faithful to that call. If you are an elder in the church, be faithful. If you are a Sunday School Teacher, be faithful.  and the list of ministries goes on and on.  We are faithful when we spend the time needed to prepare for these ministries instead of just “winging it”.  We are faithful when we take our ministries seriously and attempt to minister to the Body of Christ rather than just entertain. We are faithful when we genuinely care for those to whom we are sent to minister rather than just going through the motions.

No matter what your job is, as a Christian we are called to be honest in all our dealings. Be honest in word, in deed, in money, in time, in property, etc…  Be a good steward of what God has given you whether it belongs to you or you are overseeing its use.

Recently I’ve heard of several in ministry who have fallen into sin. Some have mishandled funds. Some have actually stolen church property. Some of had emotional affairs. Some have had physical affairs. Some have lied. Some of been overtaken by pride. Some of taken over a ministry and run it into the ground because they don’t prepare well or manage their help well. 

Some of had difficult situations in life and no one has come to encourage them or to counsel them so they have given up. Some have burned out and left. Some have been pushed out by ungracious boards. Some have not taken time to listen to the needs of those around them, others have ignored truths that are right before them

Oh, how it hurts the Body of Christ. Oh, how it causes immature Christians to fall. Oh, how it hurts the testimony of the entire congregation.  Be careful, be faithful

Permission to Work

All of us who are missionaries have complicated issues with staying in our host country. Sometimes we have to work carefully as to make sure we don’t break any laws in this country.  We need to apply for visas/permits/papers/permission to live where we live and to do what we do.

images (13)It can mean standing for hours in lines. It can mean dealing with an expensive agent. It can mean trying to fill out forms in a new language and learning complicated government terms. It can mean leaving the country every so often and then re-entering. It can mean finding a national organization to sponsor you. It can mean finding another NGO to work alongside. It can mean taking a job so that you can live and minister on the side.  It means trying to understand a complicated list of requirements. It means supplying these forms in triplicate or more.

This is one of the dreaded times of year(s).  We each must remember the expiration date of our paperwork and take steps to renew it.  Sometimes it means traveling to the place where the nearest immigration office is.  It means lots of prayer and waiting. It is one of those things that puts our faith to the test. We await approval, we wait patiently for the various offices to put their stamp on it. We pray we don’t have to take a quick trip out of the country in the meantime.

Then all of the sudden we hear through the grapevine that the process has changed. For me, it has changed at least 3 times since I began working here.  Where my permit can be processed. How much paperwork I need to file. What office I must go to first. What kind of permit a short term visitor needs.  Always learning, always praying, always trusting.

In her shoes…

If I were in her shoes, I doubt I’d do the same. 

My background is so different, my customs not the same.

If I were in her shoes, I would just call the law, to help with the abuse, the crime, the polygamy, and loss.

But culture has no limits for on how many wives one has

or on the way he beats them and steals food to feed his habit.

The family elders call them and sit them down to talk,

but not too long after that chat, he starts again to hit her.

She runs away to family, in nearby villages

yet, always he will find her and persuade her to return to him.

Her family, though they love her, will also send her back,

for the bride-price has been paid and she belongs to them.

She farms alone to feed her kids, and works a job to help with costs.

He sneaks into the store room and sells flour for but another cup.

There is not punishment for him as he chooses how he lives,

but for her and all their children, the burden is so great.

 

Fast forward several years, to find when he left home,

in search of wealth and fun, while the family enjoyed the calm.

Word came through village gossip, as fast as a wildfire,

he took another wife, who ran a bar and fed him well.

This new wife, was a widow, and her story was well-known.

The deceased has died a long, slow death of AIDS a year ago.

What was he thinking, that new husband?

Why take a wife with AIDS?

Do you not know the consequences of such a choice you’ve made?

 

Meanwhile at home, the peace was nice, no fighting or abuse.

But as the word spread of the choice, my friend began to dread.

When he comes home, what will I do? I do not want him in my bed.

I must refuse and lock him out, no matter what will surely be said.

And after more than two years passed, he did return to his first wife.

He tried to sleep again with her, but she refused completely.

This began more fights and fights, until one dreadful night.

He trapped her in the kitchen and threatened her life with an axe,

not once , nor twice but thrice!

The next day they called the government leaders to help with the abuse.

Their answer: you must divorce him, we cannot do anything else.

So the process began of divorce and no one knew how it would end.

Finally, she had freedom to not be his wife, but the fight began over the land.

she built the house, she farmed the land, she raised the kids, and she fed him.

So they both became stubborn and fought for the land,

he slept in the kitchen and she in the bed.

Finally, he grew tired of the fight and moved back to the second wife

Where he stayed for a couple more years.

Again those at home, were relieved that he’d gone

as peace once again was now known.

 

Fast forward again to not long ago. When the man returned back home.

His second wife grew tired of his laziness and bickering, and kicked him out of her home.

With no place to turn, this parasite returned to his family whom he never cared for.

Wife One, feeds him food, but makes him sleep in a different house.

His kids all have grown and taken over the jobs that a man of the house should do. 

This time now is different, for he is quite sick. In fact there is little hope.

Each month passes by and he grows weaker and weaker. As he sits there, waiting to die.

His “ex” is compassionate, as our Lord would be. And never refuses him food. She cares for him as she would a close relative, and the kids are all there with her too.

He knows that his body is weak and won’t last,

he tells everyone who visits that He made a bad choice

No longer will he drink or abuse them or wander. His choices have come to fruition. 

While he nears his death bed, she continues to serve him

food and a blanket and clean clothes.

Yet, I often wonder, if I were in her shoes

would I have compassion or hatred.