Posts Categorized as: christian missions
As I write this post, Easter is right around the corner. I love Easter! The resurrection is the single most important historical fact in the world. I rejoice every year that sin has been broken and light came into the world! Through the Pascual Event the redemption of the world began. While I deeply rejoice during this season, I am always tempered in heart by the injustice and suffering I see around our world today. The experience of Easter has still not come for many people in the world today. For the last 20+ years I have had the privilege and sorrow of trying to be part of the solution to this issue. And, as mission practitioner and professor I am always looking for wise ways to help people to engage in being part of what God is doing for those who are most vulnerable. Over these decades I have gone through several iterations of trying to be helpful: Prophet (I’m not very good at that), Activist (exhausting and unproductive for me), Systems-guy (lacking passion) and even scholar (more or less). I have read mountains of books and articles to try to understand what the wise way of engaging this problem is. I’m happy to say that my friend, Stephan Bauman* has written a wonderful book to help people begin the process of standing with the vulnerable.
When I call this book “wise,” it’s a high compliment for me. I know lots of people who become single-issue activists. There are rafts of folks trying to point out where the church is off-base and there are oodles of impassioned pleas for some kind of radical steps. Seldom do you hear voices advocating a way that is both possible, wise, honest and sustainable. So, let me tell you some things that you might need as a caveat before reading this book:
First—this is not an explanation of injustice or an exegesis of poverty. For you analytical folks, the book does not go into macro-economics or the theologically variant positions held by those searching for a true antibody to the global causes of evil. Rather, it is a book that calls us personally to get involved at a whole-life level.
Secondly, for the passionate side of the room, this book is not the common “rah-rah” about how the corrupt American church has abandoned the true gospel and how the tears of a thousand victims accuse us from the yada yada yada. This book is an invitation to get involved with what is hurtful to God. So, for those of you who tend to drop a book at the first hint of passion—keep reading. While the book starts out with an impassioned plea from Stephan, it gets more practical and helpful as you continue to read. And, for those of you who will start to get bogged down in the logic behind a sustainable pathway to wise engagmement—keep reading! The end of the book is a wonderful reminder of what we can do!
Here are some things that I like the book:
- I know Stephan. He is both a remarkably gifted leader (on a truly global scale) but he also a poet, a great Dad and a faithful husband. He is smart, gifted and yet surprisingly humble. Do he and I disagree? Probably. But I would never start there. He and Belinda show the fruit of the Spirit and my wife and I just simply love them—we always want to be closer to Jesus when we’re around them. That says a lot to me.
- The book is a catalyst rather than an explanation. Poverty and Injustice are categories that are excruciatingly hard to explain. Categorically, for many people there are no words to explain the horrors of the LRA in Uganda or the DR Congo. Sex-trafficking and starvation are not like biological categories—they tend to be protean and inhabited with evil. Even that statement is hard to understand unless you’ve seen and felt it. “Possible” is a book that says that while we may not understand it, we can be part of the solution.
- In the book, the central character is God. I love this. Some people sell books or a media empire based on their own personality. Stephan constantly points back to the fact that God is the agent and we are the participants! It is God who holds the responsibility for the movement and the success. He is the standard of what is just.
- The stories Stephan uses are people and situations that he personally is familiar with. Almost anyone can use data or stories from others to prove almost any point they like, but Stephan has lived and walked with the people he discusses in the book. That’s pretty rare.
- The appendices are extremely helpful. Stephan took some very complicated theories and practices and made them accessible for anyone willing to simply take the time to work a little bit.
I have two small critiques of the book from my experience as a missionary and as a teacher. First, the book doesn’t address the nature and effect of the spiritual powers that are involved in systematic evils. Second, there isn’t a section on the character formation needed to sustain a lifetime of involvement with injustice and outreach. But, those things being said, no one book can be all things to all people. Stephan’s point was not specifically to explain but to catalyze. In this department he succeeds admirably. If nothing else, read the list of endorsements in the front pages from some of Christianity’s most influential leaders and you’ll understand that this is a book you’ll want to read.
Stephan, thanks for writing. Reader, I hope you’ll take the time to at least give the book a chance. Happy Easter!
*Stephan is the President of World Relief. For more information on World Relief, please visit their website soon. For more of his poetry and writing, check out stephanbauman.com. And, just for anyone wondering, Neither Stephan nor the publisher asked me to write this review. I just wanted to share.
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered - Proverbs 28:26
Most of my readers know that my family and I are in a time of transition. As I write this, my office at Lincoln Christian University is now available for the next tenant and I’m writing from my home that has a big “For Sale” sign in the front lawn. Transitions can be tough (I know… call me “Captain Obvious”) but they are also excellent seasons to experience God’s presence in a different way. An interesting facet of this upcoming move is how I am learning to frame the narrative behind it. This has not been a deliberate editorial process. Rather, it is out of necessity—people keep asking, “Why are you moving?” I need to have an answer for this because, if I don’t, people will try to guess anyway and it’s better to just tell the truth in a concise way. But, since the truth took weeks and weeks of time and many, many conversations to unfold, I am forced to try to edit it down into a semi-coherent story that explains the reasons we would pull up stakes and head southwest. It’s been a challenging venture.
Recently, I saw a video skit from a friend that discussed things Christians say that don’t mean anything. There were several humorous bits as well as this one: “I feel led to do this.” This is a problematic sentence indeed. Over the years when I have tried to explain our family’s moves to Joplin, Carterville, Amarillo, Wheaton, Mexico City and then Lincoln, we have consistently been asked questions about the “why” behind our decision. What I have discovered is that a great deal of confusion can come in to a question like this. “Feeling led” and “hearing God’s voice” can sound pretty subjective and mushy. But “better salary” or “growth opportunity” can perhaps mask selfish ambition or greed. What’s better; a spiritually-vindicated lie or honest greed? Both sound like bad options. What I want to do in this post is explain my understanding and experience with hearing God’s call on our family to move. Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting this is a) the only way or b) the best way or c) a water-tight theological argument. But please don’t think that I’ve come to this process lightly—due diligence is behind this. I’m sharing this process because many people I work with and love face questions about relocating according to their sense of God’s call, and many have asked how I go about the process. So then, this is how I go about hearing from God. Last caveat: a great intro to the concept of being directed by God is “Hearing God” by Dallas Willard. That book has helped me understand some of the underlying ontology behind this experience…I highly recommend it. Now then, on to my own process.
The first thing on the docket is the concept of invitation. On a day-to-day basis, I want to serve as an “under-rower” (Acts 13) in whatever context God has placed me. It is always a temptation to think about new things, opportunities and look for a good angle. Yet, for me, it is a spiritual experience to just put my head down and focus on working diligently and wisely each day. This idea came from my farming background and reading Eugene Peterson as a young pastor. Yet, because there are so many stories of God moving his pilgrim people (Ex 19:4-5 et al) I believe that there are times to move. When I was at Wheaton, I did an in-depth study on the first missionary journey of Paul. After some robust text work, my study group noticed that Paul was invited to speak, travel or move during that first journey. This the point: I try to stay put and be faithful unless there is a clear invitation to go. Again, I’m not saying this is for everyone—but this is my format.
The second element to my process is evaluation. I think it’s normal for people to weigh pros and cons and evaluate future possibilities. When I was younger I spent time judging whether or not I was suitable for the work and the context. As I’ve grown older, I can judge that more rapidly but now I spend more time dissecting my motives for leaving. Like all people, I want to flee hardship and find a “nicer” life. At the same time, like all people I sometimes reject change because it is so consuming and difficult. I am a mix of daydreamer and coward; pilgrim and planted. The evaluation process helps me cut through both of those tendencies and listen carefully to who is really doing the talking. Proverbs 28:26 says that “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I don’t want to allow a foolish desire to trump what God is doing in my life. The issue is that if my heart is centered on Jesus and his voice, then I will trust him leading my heart (see Willard again for more help with this).
After evaluation I seek counsel. I have a list of trusted friends who know me, who have worked with me and who are aware of my deepest brokenness and best intentions. I don’t ask each one of them every time a decision comes up (time and availability play into this, of course) but I do ask a majority. I tell them the situation, answer their questions and then, I listen and write down their advice. Sometimes I dislike what they have to say, most of the time, they are very encouraging but they are always extremely helpful. They bring insight and wisdom to me that always seems obvious after they say it—but I never would have gotten there on my own.
Next, I wait. Yep. I wait. I watch and listen. I pay very close attention during my prayers and Bible reading. I pay close attention to speakers, preachers, friends, neighbors and the ambient things in my life. One of my friends told me (a loooong time ago) that “If you are ready, and if you are listening, then God will show up for you in a time and place that you will know, without a doubt, was for you.” In all of our moves, it has been in the waiting phase that we have received the general direction for where to go or if we should stay. For some of our choices there were dramatic Holy-Spirit-showed-up-and-freaked-us-out moments. In others, a growing realization that God was quietly calling became clear. And, like many times, we began to realize that God was asking us to choose: both options were good ones. The reason I am saying this is that for some people, it’s tempting to try to use any of these as the norm for most Christians. But, the waiting season has allowed us to draw near to God while he speaks. While his methods are not always the same, His character and love are.
The next-to-last thing I do is review. For many years I have journaled. Sometimes I use my journal entries to go back over the all the earlier stages. This time (as well as when we moved to LCU) I bought a specific, pocket-sized journal that I carried throughout the duration of our decision time. I kept copious notes and, as the deadline for the decision drew near, I began to go over those notes and look for themes. For this particular move, Shannon and Kate’s health were on every page. Other themes were repeated in each of those who counseled me. After some time reviewing all of that, I get to the hard part—pulling the trigger.
My personality and history lend me to be introspective. If I am able, I try to find a quiet place, lay out my review before God and then ask for wisdom. Usually by this point I have had a strong idea what should be done. But in this moment, I try to square up to my fears and just ask God for help and direction. If I sense God’s pleasure or peace. I go forward. If I do not. I either wait some more (if that is an option) or decline the invitation. I know it sounds very subjective. I’m sure an INTJ would resonate with this but in any case, that is my process. It’s not always right or for everyone, but God has graciously led me. I have lots of friends that I love and respect who have a much simpler process. Sometimes, life changes are forced upon us by context or illness. In those moments we trust God and do the best we can. But this process is certainly not something I’ve come up with…this is an old way.
The downsides of this process are obvious: it takes so much time and energy! It can also be unclear and hard to describe to others! But for me, the major benefit is a deep conviction that I am willingly participating with a Sovereign God in the square foot where he wants me (for now). This understanding gives me confidence to face difficult seasons and conflict. It keeps me rooted when the cowardly part of me wants to run and it gives me a clear reason to explain to my kids why I do what I do. For me, it is joy.
I don’t use this process while I am in the middle of a ministry context or venture—I use it when I have a major change in life. Walking wisely for me is inclusive of the idea that we need to plan well and use our minds. Sometimes a well-trained instinct can be a good tool. But when the BIG decisions are there, this process has helped.
If you are in a season of transition, I pray that God would speak clearly to you regardless of any process you use (or don’t). His love and mercy are always with us and our full submission to God’s leading is always a privilege. I would covet your prayers as we live out the results of our willing obedience. Blessing and peace of Christ to you.
As I write this post, it is a day when the undergrad students of LCU are either on a short-term trip, a service experience, a break from school or an educational moment. LCU’s title for this pre-easter week is “Restoration Week.” We have students who are going all over the USA and abroad. Some have already taken their trip and some are going far from home for the first time. When I was at Ozark we had a similar thing and I found it a great source of encouragement and joy. Since most of the students are gone, I have been using today to catch up on the mountain of grading and the overflowing inbox (email and literal) that has confronted me. As my family travels to see family for Easter, I want to have as much done as possible before I leave (we’ll see…).
After grading my umpteenth paper on the same topic, I needed a break. I got up and took a relaxed walk on this perfect Illinois spring day. The tulips are already blooming, tractors are in the fields and a male cardinal sat on a budding tree and sang to me for five minutes. It was renewing and full of hope. Truth be told, days of quiet on campus are wonderful.
As I came back to my office to do some final clean up and filing, my eyes lighted on a file I had not thought of in many years. It is the typed version of a speech that my mother gave as a report to her home church after going on her first mission “tour” back in the late 40’s or early 50’s. I thought the timing to be quite touching as so many of my own students are on some kind of tour right now. All of the other work was eased off the desk and I read my teen-age mother’s report of an experience that changed her forever. The simple title, “Mission Tour Speech” is at the top.
My Mom grew up as a faithful member of the Methodist Church in Morrill, NE. The young people in the church joined a group that left Nebraska and toured 20 different missionary stations in the Southwest of the USA (and one in Juarez, Mexico). Mom chose one mission from seven different categories and reported to the church what she experienced.
As I read this report from the stance of a professor getting a paper from a student, I was struck by the things Mom included in her speech. She noticed the societal problems of the Navajo mission and was deeply concerned by the tuberculosis rate. She was frustrated by the lack of clothes and shoes the children endured. Details like the number of students enrolled in the mission school and the dimensions of the hogans she visited were interesting. But she noted most carefully that it was difficult for the people there to have a deep relationship with Christ because of their situation. She asked (on the second page) for more workers to go. As the speech progressed, she detailed how a Spanish-American mission in Dallas was bringing physical healing to kids with Polio. She mentioned a young man named Mariano who had been helped by the mission there and was now one of the leaders of the outreach.
As her report went on, I could imagine my fiery Mom’s spirit fighting with her calm and cool exterior as she spoke about an group promoting racial reconciliation in the name of Christ, a migrant worker’s camp and specific churches doing outreach. As she finished each story she spoke about their needs and how effective they were at bringing life change to a few of the people they served.
As she drew to a conclusion she told her audience that it was a privilege to get to go on this trip. She mentioned that, “we slept in churches, dormitories, and missions—wherever we happened to be.” She mentioned the other sightseeing events they were able to have, but she ended with this:
“Of course, the outstanding thing was to be able to see the great work that our Methodist Church is doing on the Home Mission field. Even though they are handicapped as to the lack of building, money, supplies, and workers in every mission, they are doing a great work. It is certainly a great challenge to our youth of today who are interested in Social Work. Truly this is a trip I will never forget.”
Over the years that my Mom lived and worked in Western Nebraska, she and Dad involved themselves in ministry in everyday life. They took in family when they were in hard times. They supported missionaries for decades. They traveled when they were able (e.g. Mexico and Indonesia). Mom used her influence at the hospital to help immigrant women, homeless people and was on the board of a number of civic organizations that do good for those who are less fortunate. She spearheaded efforts to get vaccinations for single moms and to get basic health care for those who had none. The things she saw on that mission tour became template of how she gave her life to others for half a century.
So this brings me back to what really brought me joy today. I enjoy the quiet spring days here but I am well aware that without the wonderful students that make up our campus, this place has very little meaning. LCU students today are going all over the place to have a similar kind of experience. It’s true that the methodologies have changed in short-term missions. It’s clear that we have made some mistakes. But the attempt to live out faith imprints on people things that, if tended, blossom into a lifetime of fruitful ministry. The small steps we take in faith lead to a legacy of Christian efforts that are seldom seen in the limelight. But they are no less foundational to the work that God is doing. Very few people will ever know about Alyce’s trip across the southwest, but thousands of people were blessed because of it—especially me. I am praying that the trips that are being taken this week plant seeds that will result in many lifetimes being given for quiet, obscure, unpublished but deeply effective work.
So to you folks who take the time and the money to go or send people on trips like this, I give you great thanks. I believe in this work. God’s hand is evident to me today and it gives me joy. I pray that in some sense, you see His hand on your life’s story and I hope that gives you joy.