Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Who Are You?

I was sitting on the platform ready to be introduced when the pastor leaned over and asked, “How should I introduce you? You’re not a missionary anymore, are you?”

It was true, I recently moved from Kenya to the states to establish the Center for Intercultural Training in North Carolina, but I had never thought about my title.

“I’m involved in missions more than anytime in my life,” I replied, “so I guess I’m still a missionary.”

Since then I’ve thought about how to explain, in a word, what I do. The function of what I do is many things.

EDUCATOR/TEACHER? I do teach and I do try to educate people on how to do their work in a cross-cultural environment. However, a teacher leaves the impression of a sterile classroom environment. More than academics, my classes are dynamic with real life illustrations of how to take the Gospel across cultural boundaries.

COACH? A coach doesn’t actually hit the ball or throw a pass. He’s on the sideline giving instructions on how to best play the game. In many respects that’s what I do, but unfortunately my coaching is for a limited time, not on their playing field, but in the locker room before they hit the turf.

TRAINER? It’s a popular term and I do try to train people to think through the issues of their ministries. But a trainer, much like a coach, has the connotation of being alongside the trainee.

CONSULTANT? This is a good description of my role. In teaching or coaching, I am in fact consulting people, giving them advice on how to best do their ministries. But the term doesn’t sound quite ministerial and too secular.

So, what am I? Probably a missionary consultant is the best portrayal of what I do. However, no matter the title, I’m more involved in missions than anytime in my life.

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Dog Named Spot

My Dad and I were watching TV sometime back and during a commercial break there was a rather obnoxious character selling furniture. After the commercial Dad commented that there must be good money in selling furniture, as they sure run a lot of TV ads. We then talked about what goofy things people do to sell products…especially cars. Seems like every local car dealer on TV is yelling, running around the parking lot, waving their arms just to get you to see their ad, and “come on down” and take a look at those fabulous deals!



When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles I remember the Cal Worthington commercials --“HERE’S CAL WORTHINGTON, AND HIS DOG SPOT.” “Spot” was a camel, monkey or elephant that cowboy Cal would ride . All that to sell a Ford! (go to www.calworthington.com to enjoy his commericals)

SHOWTIME!

Last week a friend of mine came through the country and I called him at the airport hotel where he was staying. He was telling me about the conference he and two members of his church had attended. He was excited to tell me there were over 9,000 adults in attendance and that those national pastors were planting churches all over the nation. He was excited. I was excited for my friend.

When he asked me how I was doing I felt embarrassed. “I’m doing good, “ I replied, hesitantly. “I just finished teaching 23 M.A. students at a leading seminary in cross-cultural studies; I’m writing more material and getting ready to go to Cambodia to teach.”

“Sounds interesting,” he said in a tone that sounded less than interested. I hung up the phone and thought, “I need a dog named Spot.”

Okay, I admit, my work is not as glamorous as others. And yes, I do wish people would understand and even appreciate what I do. Those 23 students I teach will one day be the leaders that will put on the events that my friends will pay $10,000 to be a part of for four days. The nationals who attend those conferences are the ones I have had a part in shaping and forming to take the Gospel across cultural barriers. Important and vital work? Yes, but no balloons.

There are all types of analogies I could give, but it would sound self-serving, or perhaps more accurately, self-protective. Deep down inside most people recognize that “big” is not synonymous with “anointed,” in spite of how they interpret the “Prayer of Jabez.” Jesus' ministry didn't have the look of a clearance-sale, though the crowds were forever asking Him to show them another miracle. The reality is, in God’s sovereignty He uses the big talkers, like Peter, and those people like Thaddeus, who no one knows anything about. Saying, “It isn’t fair,” is a waste of energy and a bit whinny. The world is thus and nothing is going to change it.

My friend really does get it, for which I am grateful. He’s been in the “business” long enough to know the difference between hype and reality; between those who faithfully serve Christ with little fanfare versus those who can’t say much about their ministry because they really aren’t doing anything. I do wish there were more discerning Christians like him, and, I must admit, there are moments when I really do wish I had a dog named Spot.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Birthday Note

At my age, 58 today, birthdays are not fun, but challenging. I’m at that stage in life where time seems to fly and I can’t quite keep pace as I use to. The noting of another year of life that has passed is, like New Year’s, a time to reflect. It’s also a time for resolve. If God gives me my three score and ten, I have 12 years left. Grace may give me more; the frailty of body and unpredictability of life may see me fall short.

Today I am reminded that each day should be lived the same. Courage, discipline, a sense of humor, gratefulness. In looking over my collection of quotes, I found this one and found inspiring for the first day of my 59th year. Walter Anderson in his book, The Greatest Risk of All, interviews Andrew Vachss.

“If you were asked to advise someone on how to take a risk,", I asked, "what would you suggest?"

"I'm sure I'd ask him whether he knew what his net was."

"His net?"

"Yes, there's a big difference between being on a tightrope with a net and without a net. The trick is to reach into yourself to discover what your net is. Take you for example. You take a lot of risks as an editor. Let's say one of them causes you to lose your job. You'd still be yourself, still have your family, your talent, your experience—your NET. Also, you would know what you have at risk. No one should take a risk unless they truly understand what's at stake. Blindly leaping out of a window is not risk-taking. It's suicide, period. The question is, what are you willing to lose? When kids ask me about fighting, I give them simple rules: If you can take the worst possible result, then fight. If not, run."


As a Christian, my “net” of course, is my faith in the Master. Everything I am or hope to be rests in my relationship with Him. I say that with a bit of hesitancy, as I am not presupposed to determinism, reductionism or flippancy. To not recognize Him as my “net” would be dishonoring, arrogant and foolish.

Not knowing the time when we will be “no more”, as the Indians like to say, is not the issue. The crucial question is what I am willing to risk as I finish out my course? As I chart my steps forward I pray for wisdom, knowing that no matter what the future holds I have THE net who is always there to break the fall.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Emotional Abuse

Reading the messages on a group-list of pastors recently, I came across this post.

“Tonight my wife and I are going to a Sandi Patti concert and tomorrow night we will have ‘The Nations of the World Children’s Choir’ coming to our church.”

My immediate thought was, “Do people still pay money to go see Sandi Patti?” Why not? I’d still pay, though not much, to hear Fats Domino sing or go to a Clint Black or Eagles concert (I have a very eclectic taste in music). Patti does, or did, have a wonderful voice, but I couldn’t see my wife dragging me to a concert hall filled with arm waving women for two hours.

My second thought was, “This pastor is high on emotion.” Two nights of bawling for Jesus is just a bit much. Uplifting, no doubt, but I would think emotionally and physically draining.

I am not against emotion as it’s a part of who we are as God’s creation. However, today’s church has become addicted to emotion to the detriment of having reason and a sound mind. In Christianity today if the worship service doesn’t grab you emotionally the pastor’s sermon has little chance of reaching the soul of the congregation, or so goes the theory. I concede that good singing can make up for bad preaching, but it’s also possible that good preaching can be overshadowed by the performance that precedes it.

I am especially incensed by the “Nations of the World Children’s Choir.” I have no idea who they are sponsored by as there are many such road shows touring the states these days. They go by different names, “African Children’s Choir,” “Romanian Orphans Choir” etc., and they are brought into churches for one express purpose, to raise money by raising emotions.

My brother’s church had such a choir last year at their mission’s conference. He said it was pitiful as the kids “all stood up like trained little monkey’s.” At the conclusion of their performance one little orphan came to the microphone and said in his broken English (which is a sure wallet opener), “I love Jesus, and I love you, too.” At that point they all jumped off stage and went throughout the congregation giving people hugs. The church was awash with sobs and, of course, at that poignant moment, the leader makes his pitch for supporting missions.

There is something unseemly about any person who emotionally manipulates people to support a cause, even a worthy one. It’s even more despicable when the shepherd of the flock fleeces his own sheep by exploiting kids from developing countries. Certainly the Church isn’t the only culprit in emotional manipulation. The Red Cross, United Nations and the Peace Corps, all work from an emotional position to raise funds. It just seems to me, and you can call me heartless if you’d like, that the Church shouldn’t have to stoop to emotional tactics to do what they should do for sake of the Gospel.

In an ideal world, you could argue, we all should do what’s right and not have to be tricked into doing right. But people don’t give to missions because it’s right, they give out of what they can see and feel. No doubt those who have these children’s choirs have raised a lot of money for the kingdom (though I’d love to see what percentage of the money raised actually goes overseas), but do the end always justify the means? Have missions now just become the art of raising funds based on who can touch the heart? Have pastors become so frustrated by the lack of commitment by their people to the Great Commission that they must manipulate them to do what they should be doing anyway? It will take someone with a great deal more wisdom than I have to answer these questions. I want my heart to be in the right place, but I will guard it against those who want to coerce it for their cause.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Post Election Thoughts

I guess I’m like many Americans, I’m so glad the elections are over. The pre-election commentary was exhausting. As an expatriate, there is not much sympathy for a conservative like me as world opinion is solidly against GW. Not that anyone really cares that much about Kerry, anybody but Bush would do.

A rather balanced discussion a day before the election was insightful. While most of the panel took the popular position, Bush bashing, there was at least one European who seemed to get it.

• North Korea was a problem before Bush, so is Iran. Kerry wasn’t going to reduce the threat from these two rogue nations, which some liberals seem to ignore.

• The Europeans aren’t going to engage in Iraqi, no matter who is president. They couldn’t help if they wanted, as he said, “The Belgium army has more hairdressers than special forces” (I don’t know if it's true, but thought it was a great line.) The French are never going to fight for what they believe in and they have national policy that is solidly anti-American and anti-Israel.

• Europeans don’t understand American’s faith and religion. A nation that is deeply religious is an offense to a post-Christian continent where less than five percent of the population ever bother going to church. Our faith is not the problem, it is their abandonment of faith.

One commentator said that the Germans were “ecstatic” with Kerry. “He’s like a rock star to many, because he is so European.” Another great reason for me to vote Bush.

I don’t agree with Bush on everything. I have my doubts about Iraqi, I hate large deficits and I disagree with him on trade policies and immigration. While I do not believe that God has His special hand on W, I feel more comfortable with putting my confidence in him than I do with a party that, not only has no solid answers for the world problems, but makes light of what I believe in as a matter of faith. The liberals in America and their European cousins may conclude I’m shallow and ignorant. When they come up with an intelligent alternative I will listen. If they want my vote in the future they are going to have come up with a better argument than “you’re stupid if you don’t vote our way.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Missions Makeover: What Does It Mean?

As I entered the foyer of the church, my eye was drawn to a world map displayed prominently on the wall next to the doorway of the sanctuary. At first glimpse, it looked like a route map of an airline company; a big white stick pen at the hub with colored yarn going off to all types of destinations in Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Beside the map were pictures of missionaries as well as their recent prayer letters. This church no doubt was mission-minded, as the map of their outreach ministry was over 20 countries, supporting more than 50 missionaries, all at approximately $30 a month.

While this congregation was being faithful to the spirit of Acts 1:8, to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth, their strategy of missions was na├»ve at best. Their mission map revealed two things. First, they had no clear purpose of what they were trying to accomplish with their missions dollars as their missions involvement was literally, all over the map. Second, they had no real commitment to those they supported, as some people spend more than $30 a month at Starbucks. Supporting many with a little does little to generate enthusiasm for those who are asked to support missions. Developing a comprehensive mission’s policy will give focus to a congregation in what they are trying to accomplish in their outreach ministry.

PURPOSE - MISSION - MINISTRY – MISSIONS

Aristotle said, “If you wish to converse with me, please define your terms.” The beginning process of developing a strategic document for the local church is by defining purpose, mission, ministry, and missions. Here are term definitions.

PURPOSE – Why does your church exist? What justification do you have for being called a Body of believers? There are many good purpose statements, for example, one might be:

“We exist to glorify Christ in our personal life, family, community and the world.”

MISSION - A purpose statement is who you are as a congregation…a mission reflects what you do to fulfill your purpose. Mission is the process, the macro-view of the congregation’s purpose. The mission statement may be:

“To reflect God’s glory by taking the Gospel to the unreached, making disciples and establishing local communities of believers; demonstrating His love through meeting the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of people throughout the world.”

MINISTRY AND MISSIONSProjects are the micro-activities of what a congregation does to carry out their mission. Obviously, there are many projects of the local church; we call them ministry activities (music, children, cell group, youth ministries, etc.). What a church does at the local community level is beyond the scope of my discussion but a church that defines well what they do at a local level is important for their growth as it relates to their purpose.

It is important that the church separate ministry and missions projects. Why? Because if it doesn’t, then everything becomes missions, which causes confusion in the congregation, which leads to an ill-defined global outreach program. Missions is other focused, while ministry is us focused. Missions is activity outside the direct benefit of the local body of believers. Missions is not youth camps, radio/television ministry, a Christian school, or senior adult projects. I would argue that short-term mission trips are not as much missions as short-term exposure trips primarily for the benefit of those who go. They are not as effective in terms of reaching others with the Gospel.

Next time I will help define what is missions and how we can use that definition to create a solid global outreach program.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Missions Makeover For The Local Church

A common question asked by pastors in the U.S. is in regards to how they can make their missions program more effective. They are concerned that their missions effort has become stale if not dead. Global outreach, for many churches, is a relic of the past and of little interest to people born after 1965. The history of missions reveals the reason for declining interest in world evangelism.

After World War II there was in influx of North Americans going overseas to serve as missionaries. Many of them had seen the world for the first time and were moved by the need to take the gospel to places like the Philippines, Japan, North Africa, and Western Europe. The local churches in America were interested in world evangelism, for many in the congregation had seen the world as well and wanted to be personally involved in supporting those going to the regions beyond to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The economy was far different in the “incredible twenty-five years,” as missiologist Ralph Winters called it, from 1950 to 1975. Missionary support in the ‘50’s was less than $500 a month as the living standard overseas was low and health insurance was hardly ever considered. Sadly, many of those early missionaries didn’t think about retirement and, therefore, didn’t raise money for the day when they would return to the States to live out their golden years.

The cost of missions changed dramatically in the mid ‘80’s. The world economy began to rise, and living overseas became more expensive. Learning from the mistakes of those early pioneer missionaries, the new generation of missionaries began raising money for retirement while health insurance costs went through the roof. With more emphasis on family, schooling for missionary children became a primary concern; this added to the cost of living. Today’s missionary family must now raise a minimum of $4000 monthly support, and the cost of doing missions has become an expensive undertaking. New people signing up for career missionary work are on the decline, and new supporters willing to fund them are even fewer. Pastors know that those providing the core of missionary funding in their congregations are over 55 years of age, with the greatest percentage of funds coming from the few folks remaining alive from the WW II generation.

In addition to the changing economy of missions, the strategic need for sending North American missionaries has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. The “unreached” area of the world is not as large as it was in the ‘50’s. Our pioneer forefathers did their job well, and the nations they went to evangelize are sending their own missionaries today at one-third the support needed by North American missionaries.

Missions is still very important to many North American churches, and those committed to world evangelism are struggling to know how to infuse new life in their global outreach. Today’s trend is more concentrated on short-term missions trips for their congregations, hoping that exposure to the world, will spur them to giving and going as career missionaries as it did the pioneers of old. Another trend is supporting national initiatives rather than costly North American families. In searching for answers on how to make missions more attractive for local churches, here are some ideas that will make the local global outreach more effective.

DEVELOP A MISSIONS POLICY

Fifty years ago, missions were easily defined. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18, “To go into all the world and make disciples,” were a tangible goal that people could see and feel. Just about anyone willing to go was sent. Developing a strategy didn’t seem necessary, as the whole world needed the gospel. As a result of poor planning, the local sending church had no structured policy. Supporting missionaries was, and still is today, an emotional issue, not a strategic plan. My suggestion to pastors and missions leaders in the church today is that they start afresh--that they go back to square one and see world evangelism in the reality of today’s context. To restructure missions today, the sending church must begin with developing a thorough and comprehensive missions policy.

There is both pragmatic and strategic value in a missions policy. Rather than being confused on whom to support, how much, and to which program, a good missions policy will direct the church on a path of purpose for world evangelism. Instead of emotion and personality steering the church aimlessly around the globe in search of purpose, the POLICY makes the decisions, keeping everyone on track as to their stated global objectives.

Key to developing a missions policy is asking critical questions such as: What is the purpose of our missions program? How do we define missions? What do we want to accomplish with the resources our local church has?

I will deal with these questions and much more next time as we continue the discussion of the changing face of missions.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

Saying Goodbye, Again

No matter how often you do it, it’s always difficult to say goodbye. Sandy and I have been saying goodbye for 36 years.

On the day we were married we left our family and friends and headed for college in another state. After graduation we lived in Texas for five years, 1,000 miles from our home in Arkansas. In 1976 we said goodbye again and moved to Kenya.

Tomorrow Sandy and I lug our bags to the airport, returning to our apartment in Asia. Our parents are old now, our kids are grown and we have three grandkids. You would think that we would have this saying goodbye down to an art form, but it’s still difficult. Who knows what the next year will bring? We don’t dwell on the fact that we may never see our family again, but we know each time we leave it’s a possibility. I dread tomorrow, I hate to say goodbye.

I asked Sandy last night, as we drove away from our kid’s house for the last time, if she wishes sometimes we would just settle down in one place near our family? I look at my friends and other family members, many who have lived in the same house for years, and there is a certain envy I have for their lifestyle. How great it would be to face getting old in familiar surroundings, watching my granddaughters and grandson grow up. Being able to see my brother whenever I want, instead of the infrequent times that we have when our paths cross. Sandy is close to her family as well and it how nice it would be for her to share the holidays and special occasions with those she loves.

“No,” she answered. “I’m grateful for the life God has given us. Our ministry overseas is more exciting now than anytime in our life.”

Indeed, we have much to look forward to. I have teaching assignments lined up for the rest of the year and Sandy is deeply involved in establishing Bible Study Fellowship classes in our city. We both enjoy living overseas and, quite frankly, we have more of reason to be in Asia than we do in the States.

While it would be nice to be settled in one place near our loved ones, reality and God’s direction in our lives makes saying goodbye tolerable. Our children have their own lives; the grandkids are growing up and in a few years will be less attached to “Doc” and “Grammy.” Our parents have their other children around to tend to their needs, for which we are extremely grateful. The life God has given us is one to celebrate, not regret. Though we will miss those closest to us on this earth, it’s all temporary. Our family loves us, but they understand our role in His work and that makes saying goodbye a little easier.

Still, it will be tough to get on that plane tomorrow. Thankfully, one day the travels will be over and we will enjoy being together for eternity.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Missionaries and Politics

It’s the political season in the U.S., and that means uncomfortable times for those who live overseas. It doesn’t really matter who is in the White House, if the international community is against America (and for this blog I am using America and U.S. as a synonymous term, knowing that Canadian’s are also North Americans) and its policies, we must endure the constant barrage of criticism. Being the only superpower in the world, it’s fashionable to beat up on our country. America is seen as the hope for the disadvantaged while at the same time the cause for the worldwide misery. The admiration for who we are as a nation and what we have accomplished is coupled with a jealousy and contempt that we don’t do more.

I was living in Kenya during the Cater and Regan era. Carter presided over the beginning of the terrorist campaign (hostages in Iran); when the dollar was at record lows and inflation was at an all time high. Our foreign policies seemed to be apologetic and I still remember Andrew Young coming to Africa confirming what the international community was saying about us, that we were just not good people. Under Regan, world opinion remained negative toward the U.S., as they perceived American policy as moving the whole world toward confrontation with Communism throughout the world, including the conflict in Angola.

Clinton’s administration was more favorable in the eyes of the international community. Thanks, in part, to Regan’s policies hastening the end of Communism, Clinton didn’t have to make the tough decisions about the Soviet Union, which his predecessors had to contend with. The good times of world economic growth of the ‘90’s affected the international opinion, therefore, Clinton, and America, fared well on the global scene. Little did we understand the real danger of terrorism that was lurking and it took September 11, 2001 for the world to see the depth of disdain that some in the radical Muslim world had toward America. When the Bush administration turned to the international community for support against the regime of Sadaam Hussein, they returned to their default position of blaming America first. The United Nations and the international press lean heavily Democratic, so it isn’t surprising that Americans are on the defensive in the run-up to the November election.

Most North American missionaries are non-political, and that is a position we should maintain. It’s okay for missionaries to have opinions and, depending on their ideological persuasion, either defend or criticize our government’s positions. It is difficult, however, to be apolitical when much of the world equates the values of Christianity and government policies to be the same. The support of Israel over the rights of Palestinian’s, the invasion of Iraqi, seen as an attack on a Muslim country, is not easy for the rest of the world to separate. The harsh reality is that for the American, whose only agenda is to take the Good News to a needy world, will always be tainted by the politics of the day. The demise of U.S. would have Kingdom repercussions. But since God is not bound by the political dynamics of this world system it is something we should be aware of, but not cause us to be distraught.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Complex Versus Simplistic

Last night I watched the first of a PBS series on the philosophies of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Freud argued for reason over emotion believing that God was a creation of man rather than man being a creation of God. Lewis, an intellectual who supported reason, saw emotion as a component of reason, believing that through emotion God does interact with His creation.

There are many nuances of this debate that can be explored. One that is of interest to me is the complexity of religious thought versus the simplicity that many people seem to have toward understanding God. The fine balance between every issue is not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. While it is true that for millions of people faith is not an intellectual exercise, it does not negate the equally valid argument that faith should not be regulated to mere emotion. Freud and Marx were probably right in asserting that religion is an “opium for the common man,” while at the same time Lewis and, countless theologians, are equally right that God, in His sovereignty, speaks to the common man beyond mere intellect. The law of non-contradiction does not apply, which Lewis seemed to understand, while Freud did not. Lewis began his spiritual journey as an atheist, became a reluctant convert before eventually becoming an apologist for Christ. Freud, however, could never yield to placing thoughts of the Supreme Being outside empirical data, therefore unable to see God as a reality beyond his finite comprehension.

I am intrigued by this debate as it relates to my role as an educator. In my class in “Equipping People for Cross-Cultural Life,” I spend a significant amount of time in the study of epistemology; how we come to know what we know and further exploring, how do we know what we know is right. I am always amazed how students respond to the challenges of their faith (more striking with international students than North Americans). Evangelicals have an aversion to questioning their doctrine. Somehow questioning how one comes to an understanding of their faith is seen as a threat to their very salvation. My students react strongly when I suggest to them that (a) they are a product of their cultural environment, which includes their faith and, (b) all doctrine is theory. It is to the second point they voice their greatest outrage, for no one wants to accept the possibility that their faith contains error. “How then shall we know what is truth, if there are no absolutes,” they ask? Though I argue for absolutes, the question then becomes, can there be an agreement on what are those absolutes? The answer of course is no. Thus, the debate continues, like the Hindu’s 84,000 cycles of reincarnation, praying that one day we will reach intellectual Nirvana. The present day Christian approach, on the other hand, wrestles not with such dilemmas. Faith closes the debate…“God’s Word says it, I believe it, that settles it,” and it is as simple as that.

I agree that belief in God is not an intellectual exercise, but one of faith. But, does that mean faith so trumps intellect that we no longer question our beliefs? Is it not possible to challenge our theories about God without losing faith in Him? For most people the challenge of the intellect is too confusing, threatening and time consuming to deal with. Simplicity, I contend, is not only dishonoring to our faith, but breeds false and silly doctrine. Pursuing the complexity of faith, I would further argue, is not only a charge to those who are followers of Christ (Matt. 22:37, Phil. 2:12) but also an act of worship. The trick is not to get bogged down with either the complex or the simplistic.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Summer Migrates

The excitement builds each Spring as natives go to the seashore, mountains, and even their rooftops to await the annual migration to their land. As they look longingly toward the skies, their thoughts turn to all the goodies this migration will bring. Some will come with gifts of food, clothing or medicine. Others will bring joy and laughter of song, drama and other special events. It’s been a long winter. The days have been short; the night’s way too long. The citizens have barely been able to survive, but the weather is now warming in that far away land and soon those silver birds will be landing bringing with them, not only abundance to share, but also new toys that will surely amaze them all.

No one really remembers when the summer migration began. Many years ago, the migrants from afar did not quickly leave the land; instead they stayed a long time. Though now rare, some of those earlier migrates are still in the country fifty years later. The early migrates would fly back to their place of origin occasionally, but they would always come back to stay for as long as four years at a time and sometimes even longer. They certainly were a benefit to the natives, as they, too, helped the citizens by building schools, hospitals and places to pray. Some inhabitants say that if it weren’t for those early migrants, the summer migrants wouldn’t have a place to land. One wonders if the earlier breed of migrants is now an endangered species, as there seems to be few arriving to stay these days. Many think they are dying out because it takes too much effort for them to settle in the land, it is hard on their children, and no longer cost efficient.

The summer migrant breed seems to be much more plentiful and the flocks grow larger with each passing year. They are usually young travelers, some hardly out of high school. They are so much fun. Most of them stay for less than two weeks, but that’s okay as in that time the visitors build houses, dig wells and put on skits. Sometimes they go to countries that are not friendly so they merely visit the land, walk and YARP (they can’t use the word “pray” as they might get into trouble) for their nation. Though the natives are a bit sad at the end of the two weeks, they are not in despair as they’ve made new friends, have new email addresses and, after all, as soon as one flock of migrates leaves, there is another group scheduled to land the next day.

The coming and goings of migrants are constant for at least four, with the last group of returning to their own land by September. The inhabitances are sorry to see the end of the migration season, but are warmed by the memories of those who made the trek to their land. A new dress, watch, computer and even a game-boy, though secondhand, is appreciated. The dark winter days will pass quickly and in a few short months the natives will press their faces against the immigration window once again to greet those who will come to their shores and share their love for the less fortunate, even if it’s just for fourteen days. It’s hoped that the summer “M’s,” as they are sometime called, will be so emotionally moved with their visit that they will become long-term migrants, send more financial aid, or at least remember to YARP for the natives. Let’s YARP they will.



Thursday, September 09, 2004

Lost Luggage

“I’d like to fly to Dallas,” the man told the girl behind the counter, “but I want my bags to go to Milwaukee.”

“I’m sorry sir,” the little thing said with a puzzled look, “we can’t do that.”

“Why not,” the weary traveler replied, “you did last week.”

Anyone that is at least a Silver Medallion knows the feeling. Last week I flew in from Nicaragua after a hard two weeks of teaching. I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep in my own bed. As I stood at the end of the conveyor belt with expectations of getting my bags, I suddenly realized I was the only one still at baggage claim. Everyone else had picked up their bags. I was all alone. A few minutes ago, there had been a long line of people at the Hertz rental counter nearby, but now they were all on their way home or business with me left holding my carry-on. There I stood, by carousel number two, wondering what my next move should be. As I surrendered to the reality that my bags were a no-show, I walked slowly down the hall to report that, once again, I made my connection, but my suitcase didn’t.

“What color is your bag, sir?” the employee, who was the symbol of my wrath, asked as I filled out the lost baggage claim. I would love to take it out on him, everyone else does, but he didn’t lose my bag so there’s no honor in beating him up.

“Black,” I replied with a bit of an edge. Of course the bag is black, they all are. Luggage manufacturing is a throwback from Henry Ford’s Model-T days when that was the only color car that came off the assembly line. Yeah, I guess I could carry my wife’s pastel flower suitcase, but who wants to risk being called a girly-man just to be able to identify a bag? Her suitcase stands out so much that everyone at baggage claim watches to see what type of person would EVER put they’re clothes in that thing. No thanks, I’ll put a thousand ID stickers on it, but the suitcase will always be black. And the stickers will be manly. No Minnie Mouse or Pooh stickers for me. I also don’t believe in suitcase evangelism, so you won’t see any “I fly with Jesus” stickers on them either. “It’s just a plain black suitcase,” I confessed sadly.

After giving my name and address for the delivery of my bag, (if it ever arrives!), I head outside the terminal, wondering if this is another one of God’s tests on my spirituality. Granted, this wasn’t as dramatic as Job losing his cattle and children, but I wonder if He wasn’t saying to Lucifer, “Have you considered my servant Lewis, at baggage claim two, that there is none like him in all the earth?” Though I would never curse my Creator over this, I came pretty close to cussing out His creation working at Continental.

But wait a minute - I need to look on the bright side. After all, I did make my connection and the plane didn’t crash. Another safe landing, that’s always a very strong positive event. And what an exciting life I live that I can even lose luggage! There’s a ton of people in this world who would love to travel, see the world and even lose their suitcase. Lost luggage for those who seldom travel would be a major part of their story to tell to family and friends. What a great privilege I have to put the airlines in a position of losing my bags every month! As irritating and inconvenient as it was, I didn’t lose my temper. (Good job, Lewis). Maybe I did pass the test. No, I didn't cheerful and say, “God bless you sir, I know it wasn’t your fault,” but I also didn’t give him an earful of how incompetent his company was. I hate to be around people who miss their flights because of a delay or bad weather and they yell and scream at the ticket agents who are in charge of getting them on another flight. Gee, lighten up folks, they didn’t fly the plane.

The reality is, losing luggage comes with the territory of my life. I can’t drive from Managua to Springdale, so I can either quit traveling or quit getting uptight about the inconveniences that are just a part of my rewarding profession. The truth is, the bags always show up eventually. So as I pack for my next trip, I can honestly say, “Thank you, Lord, for another opportunity to serve you in another city and country.” As I walk up to check-in, I resist the urge to say, “I’d like to fly to India, but I want my bags to go to…oh, just surprise me.”