Thursday, May 19, 2016

Just In Time Learning


Why Pre-Field Training?

It’s a hard sell.  Missionaries are trying to get to the field.  They’ve been approved by their denomination or sending agency, they’re raising support and to stop in the middle to attend a three-day, one or two week training session seems to be a waste of time and money.  But is it?

The Long Road Less Travelled

What is the process for getting to the mission field for a career missionary?  Consider the chart below, an arbitrary time scale to be sure, but a guide nevertheless.

1.     Discovery could be an introduction to missionaries in Sunday School to a mission conference where one is introduced to everything from Hudson Taylor to orphanages in Haiti.

2.     Interest is the dipping the toe into the water by attending an Urbana conference, a short-term mission trip or taking a Perspectives course.

3.     Commitment is answering “the call.”  It’s that defining moment when one says, “Here am I Lord, send me.”  But how do I get there?

4.     Preparation may include going to seminary, an internship in a local church as well as filling out application to a missionary sending agency.  This period time could easily be five years or more.

5.     If one perseveres to the point they are approved to be a missionary, they begin the funding process, which is between six months (rare) to three years (sadly, not unusual).

How prepared is a missionary really for cross-cultural service? Their cultural anthropology class was six years ago and they have no clue why the study of kinship has anything to do with being a witness to a Hindu.  True, they did spend two weeks in the Dominican Republic participating in vacation Bible school, but did they learn what it takes to set up residence in Serbia?  They may feel called to serve in the Philippines, but exactly what is the need in that country, which has had the Gospel four times longer than they have been alive?


Just in time (JIT) training is that period of time, about six months to one year before being fielded, which can make all the difference in the life of a missionary family.

First, it sharpens their focus.  If a missionary is 50% into fund raising , JIT will actually help the missionary raise the most difficult period of support raising because their focus will be on what they are going to do and who they will be working with.  A clear focus not only motivates the missionary, but also those who listen to their plea for support.  Hazy goals will produce hazy results.  Clear goals will produce realistic and attainable results.

Second, JIT means that when a missionary does get on the field six months later they will have a head start on what needs to be done and the process on how to achieve their goals.  The missionary will actually understand that contextualization isn’t just a word they learned ten years ago in an obscure classroom, but a reality in the context they now find themselves.

The reality is, many missionaries are woefully ill equipped before launching out in cross-cultural work.  Just-in-time training is not only practical, it could very well be the defining moment in the life of that missionary.

To learn more about JIT in KC August 23 - 25 go to this link.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cultures of Shame

Of the three characteristics of culture, guilt, fear and shame, the latter fascinates me the most.  Shame cultures are most dominant in many of the places I work in  Asia and some parts of Africa. 

I just finished reading Shame, by  Jasvinder Sanghera, her story, who at the age of 15 rebelled against her parents who had arranged her marriage to an older man who she had never met.  Running away with a low caste boy, she was ostracized the rest of her life because she had brought shame to her Sikh family living in England.  Jasvinder’s story gives insight on how shame cultures control the lives of the community, be they Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.  Jasvinder’s story brings to light shame based violence that is still quite prevalent in many parts of the world.

The author’s story is brutally honest and in my culture, where vulnerability is seen as weakness, I was intrigued with her openness, not only about the Sikh community but also her own personal failings.  The sub-plot is a person who was looking for love in all the wrong places. 

As a westerner working in shame cultures I learned a long time ago that the primary reason people do not listen to the message of Christ, much less embrace the Gospel, is not because they reject merits of Jesus, but because they are forbidden to as a community to entertain any notion of faith beyond their own.  To become a Christian would be as shameful as to marry someone of a different caste.  Jasvinder’s six sisters dutifully accepted the arranged marriages of their “mum,” even though it was not their choice.  They accepted the abuse of their husbands and husband’s family so that they would not bring shame on the family or community.  To become a follower of Christ would bring about the exact results. 

A strength overused can become a weakness.  The strength of collective society like the Sikhs has many advantages over individualistic societies, like America, where the breakdown of community and family has led to their own path of looking for love in all the wrong places.  The weakness of collective societies is they become isolated and closed.  To anyone working among shame cultures I recommend this book.  Not only will it give insights of the community they may serve, it will help in knowing the struggles they face in many areas of their life. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Training Nationals

I have been asked to give lessons on how to teach/train cross-cultural workers in Bulgaria next year.  The classes will be to North Americans serving in Eastern Europe as well as national leaders.  Here are just ten tips in training cross-culturally.

1. It’s All New – Most nationals (and many N. Americans) have never been introduced to cross-cultural concepts.  Don’t overwhelm the student.  Keep it simple.  Define your terms.

2. Time is Relative -  In some cultures time is a suggested concept.  Don’t become unhinged if class doesn’t begin on time.  If the class is habitually late, inform the students that the sessions will overrun to make up for time lost.

3. Holistic Versus Linear – People get lost with,

Section I
   Heading A
        Subheading (a)
            For analytical thinkers, it might seem to make the lessons flow.  But for holistic thinkers if the subject doesn’t have meaning they get confused on how the segmented parts fit.

4. Make Applications Relevant -  Contextualization is a word, a concept.  Applying the concept within the context is key.  Example:  Functionalism is theory on how cultures work.  Bride price is an economic function for the father of the daughter.  Dowry is an economic function of for the father of the son.

5. Interaction is Slow -  Many students in other countries are to be seen, not heard.  Don’t expect many questions or comments in the class sessions until you have been with them at least two weeks.

6. Don’t Give Essay Exams -  In many parts of the world students learn through rote memory.  If you give essay questions you are likely to get three pages of quotes from the notes, which may or may not be close to the answer.  I prefer to give multiple choice, true/false and fill in the blank questions.

7. Quizzes -  The student may say she understands the class subject, but does she really?  Give a ten question quiz after one week to make sure the students really do understand the class.

8. Post-Class – Another way to make sure students understand the class and concepts, give half-hour for group discussion on the lesson.  Those students who understand the class will help those who miss some of the concepts.

9. Kinesics -  Learn the rules of culture  as it relates to eye contact (in some places the answer is, you don’t do it), standing (no hands in the pocket) and hand gestures.  A respectful greeting in Korea is an obscene gesture in Russia.

10. Titles – Don’t refer to yourself as Bob or Mary.  It’s either Mr./Mrs., professor, teacher or doctor.  At the same time don’t be obnoxious about your title.

Do you have other suggestions?  Let me know.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Letters

My wife drug me out of the house today to do some shopping…which is as enjoyable as my mom making me eat a plate of lima beans when I was a kid.  Trying to salvage the day, I trolled what was playing at the local cinemas.   I was actually looking for Hindi movie; always fun and they have subtitles!  Nothing looked that great but one movie that came out today caught my eye – THE LETTERS.

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the life of Mother Teresa cannot help but be impressed.  A nun from Albania, she worked in India for 50 years, serving the poorest of the poor and the dying in the slums of Calcutta. 

Her letters to her bishop revealed that her life, while rewarding, was also one of loneliness and feelings of abandonment.  The loneliness that comes with a missionary leaving ones homeland, possibilities of marriage and family and spending countless hours in solitary prayer; the feeling of abandonment from God at her lowest moments.   Ironically, she felt that these two burdens of her soul were also that which motivated her to serve others.  “The greatest suffering is to fill alone, unwanted, unloved.”

The movie is a bit slow and I didn’t find the acting particularly good, though Juliet Stevenson portrayed Mother Teresa well.  Perhaps because of my association with India for over twenty years and having visited the grave of Mother Teresa, my attention remained just by the sheer familiarity of what was on the screen.  If I had directed the film I would have included clips from her life, her death (she died the same day as Princess Diana) and State Funeral (unheard of except for heads of state).  

What I gleaned from THE LETTERS, was a woman who lived by faith, prayer and selflessness.  In one scene, Mother Teresa refuses to move on a decision until God reveals His will and she would pray until the answer came.  Coincidently, it was the same thing I read about this morning in J. Hudson Taylor’s, A Retrospect: The Story Behind My Zeal for Missions.

The life of Mother Teresa has many critics, and for some her theology is enough to keep them from watching this film.  For me, I am captivated by anyone’s dedication to Christ and the discipline they are willing to embrace to serve Him.  Especially in the day we live in, i.e. the feelings of entitlement as well as the refusal of inconvenience (Suffering? Forget about it!).  I am guessing that I came out of the theater more enriched spiritually that if I plumped down eight bucks to watch Creed or Love the Coopers.  I’d give THE LETTERS 2 1/2 stars as a movie,  3 1/2 stars for my soul.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Motivation of Team

This past week I received a note from a reader in response to my article published in the October 2015 Evangelical missions Quarterly.  Miguel writes,

“I enjoyed your article on EMQ (How Teams Work: A case Study in Senegal, West Africa), and I was impressed for the way you concluded on regard of the different level of involvement of the members. I am currently writing a book on high-impact teams (in Spanish) and I have a question: How different layers/tiers provide members to next levels? How members increase the involvement and get access to the next level?”

My answer below,

“Thanks for the note and reading the article.  As to your questions, the article points out that there are no "steps" in levels of role or leadership.  The Beersheba Project team is egalitarian with limited leadership roles.  As a football team works in tandem for the completion of the goal, so, too, does the Senegal team.  Each member of the BP team work within their areas of giftedness which contributes to the overall goal of reaching their community with the Gospel as well as strengthening the local church. It is because of this structure that makes the Senegal team unique.”

Using sports teams as a metaphor, be it basketball, football or baseball, the only thing that members “compete” for is to be a part of the team.  The left tackle doesn’t aspire to be a tight end; the forward does not aspire to be a guard. 

Too many times in business, missions and the local church, the ambition to get to the next level of leadership hinders the stated goal.  Structure is important, but a team that wins is when everyone is playing to the best of their ability in their position and giftedness.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Missions Across the Street

Last weekend in the Dallas area, I visited a good friend and partner in our work for 40 years.  When I first visited his church back in 1975 they were located at the end on a vacant lot on a dirt road.  Today, their church is surrounded by houses and businesses.

One of the interesting things about this neighborhood is that most of the people who have moved in are either from Nepal or Tonga Islands.  He asked me the obvious question, “As a missionary, do you have any ideas how we can get these people in church?”  Great question, and of course I did have some suggestions. 

There is hardly a place in the America where there are not immigrant people groups.  A vast majority of these people will never enter into a church, indeed, cannot enter a church because of cultural barriers.  So how do we reach the Nepali Hindus, or the Pakistani Muslims who are in our communities?

When I first went out as a missionary to Africa I heard the refrain in U.S. pulpits, “If we aren’t taking the Gospel across the street we shouldn’t be sending missionaries across the world.”  In today’s world our neighborhoods is every bit as foreign as those we send 10,000 miles away.

My advice to my friend was obviously brief as how to befriend a Hindu, which may lead to a discussion of Christ and His salvation, couldn’t throughly be explained over lunch.  I was able, however, to give some simple ideas to get him started.  How to take those suggestions to the next introductory level will take at least one full day and for the serious cross-cultural church planter more than a week.  However, I was encouraged that he at least was thinking about the questions.  Perhaps in the future I will be able to coach he and his church member how they can serve their ethnic community.  It really is true, cross-cultural ministry is not just on the other side of the world, but also across the street.

For more information on how to reach those across the street, visit our webpage,

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Lowe’s Model of Missions

The trend of North American local churches and world outreach for the past decade has been the Lowe’s home improvement model, do it yourself or…”Let’s build something.”  Rather than hiring a plumber or carpenter, let’s save money (surely not time) and just do it ourselves.  In the same vain, instead of depending on a mission organization or American missionaries on the field in reaching the world with the Gospel, many American congregations have adopted the philosophy of let’s just do it ourselves.  We, the local church, can save money, engage our local congregation in projects better than the old model of sending missionaries.

There is a certain ring of truth to this trend.  It cost a great deal of money to send North Americans overseas and in today’s economics the expense is outstripping the budget, as the IMB announced last week when they determined they are forced to reduce their missions staff by 800 people (  However, beyond economics, the Lowe’s model of missions is, mostly about meeting the needs of the local church. 

What are the motivations for Lowe’s model of missions. 

FOCUSED MINISTRY - We will target the people and fields we want to support.  Example, instead of supporting a North American missionary family going to Germany, which we are not interested in, we will support a national pastor working among the Aka pygmies in the DRC. 

ECONOMICS – Instead of supporting the Western missionary for $200 per month, which is not even 3% of his needed monthly support, we can use that $200 to sustain a national pastor for a month.

 HANDS-ON – Along with focus we can engage our local congregation in taking trips to work alongside the national, build orphanages, have feeding programs and provide leadership seminars.  We can, in some ways, duplicate our church in the states overseas. 

On the surface it looks like the Lowe’s model of missions makes more sense than contracting a professional.  However, below the surface, where reality resides, we find a different story. 

ARROGANCE – The Lowe’s model of missions is a little like the song from Annie Get Your Gun, “Anything you can do I can do better.  I can do anything better than you” (   Just because the American church can finance a program doesn’t mean they know how to do missions better.  It’s true, the Western church can make ministry on the field look shinny and appear successful, but it’s arrogance to think it’s better than what a North American missionary on the field can do. 

MISSIOLOGICALLY NAÏVE – There is no evidence that supporting a national pastor, missionary or church planter is more effective than a North American.  Cheaper, yes, but saving money is not the issue, or shouldn’t be.  I have been working with nationals for thirty years.  I have met and worked with some indigenous servants who were really gifted and blessed of God.  I have met others who were inept and ineffective.  Due to tribe, caste or socio-economics, in some cases, nationals are actually less effective than North Americans.  An Indian from the south is not naturally a more effective in outreach to Hindu’s to the north.  Indeed, because they do not know language or know the culture of those in the north, they could easily be more of a liability than a blessing.

THEOLOGICALLY INCONSISTENT - An American church I am familiar with recently ceased funding American missionaries all over the world to focus on a particular unreached people group in South Asia.  The reports of people coming to Christ and churches being established by the nationals were staggering.  In visiting this indigenous mission I was stunned at their lack of understanding of basic Bible doctrine.  In fact, our guide from this mission stated openly that he thought going to a seminary was a waste of time, remarking that most false teaching is due to people going to seminaries!  Over the course of two days I visited several of their churches in the region.  Not one time was the Bible opened.  Every testimony from the church members was conversion through healing, some from deafness, cancer and one reported to have risen from the dead. 

The American congregation that supported this indigenous mission is a solid, conservative and theologically strong church.  There is no way that they would allow the teaching from this South Asia congregation to creep into their church.  Yet, they have invested thousand of dollars into this national organization.  Why?  The only thing I can think of is due to the naïveté of this church’s mission leadership. 


The Lowe’s model of missions needs a different focus and a new theme.  This will mean a remodeling of our thinking, including better training among American churches and indigenous leaders in missions.  It will mean a bit more humility, on both sides, than stating “anything you can do I can better.”  It means recognizing that, indeed, the old ways of doing missions needs to be analyzed, but also recognize that not all those in the West are disqualified from serving Christ cross-culturally.  The 3.6 billion people in this world who have never met a Christian will not be reached with the Lowe’s model of missions.   Rather than state, “Let’s build something,” Lowe’s current slogan is more appealing…”Never Stop Improving.”