Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cheering For People In The Race

If you have ever watched the Ironman Triathlon you know it is truly inspirational; a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike race and, to top it off, a 26.2 mile run. The pro’s can do it in a little over 8 hours; the rest of the field has to complete it in 17 hours.

The stories of those who compete are emotionally moving. Cancer survivors, amputees, seniors in their ‘70’s and everyday people who just want to compete, all take up the challenge of a grueling physical and mental test.

While I am stirred by the athlete’s competition, there is another component of the Ironman competition that is also inspirational – those that line the road cheering the competitors on. As the 17,000 participants of the Ironman pass by, it's the cheering crowd who pass out water, clap, and say "whoohoo - yeah, you're doing good, keep going." Even at mid-night and the last person is on the track, there will be someone out there cheering them on.

It’s hard to underestimate cheerleaders (not the pom-pom type on the sidelines of a football game, but those who cheer for those in the game). Anyone who plays sports knows the difference on how one plays the game when the stands are full of yelling fans versus the low feeling of playing a game with no one there to watch. Any team will tell you they would rather play games at home than in someone else’s stadium. Screaming fans in the stands translates into “home field advantage.”

Cheerleading touches every aspect of life. My family is made up of cheerleaders. Whenever someone does something, usually there’s an “Atta boy,” attached to it. It’s not uncommon in our family to give high 5’s to a seven year old who does a good job in a coloring book, a thirteen year old squeaking out notes learning to play the trumpet, or the sixteen year old who aced her calculus exam. But what’s truly amazing to me is how the spirit of cheerleading is prevalent among even the adults, my daughters and son-in-laws. The “way-to-go” and “that’s awesome” are simple phrases that affirm each other and encourage them to keep going in the race of life.

But not all people know how to encourage one another. If they do, it's usually a backhanded comment. Here is what you won’t hear from cheerleaders as they line the highway of an Ironman competition.

Pickup the pace, fat boy, you’re way behind.

I did this race last year and my time was at least an hour ahead of yours.

Who do you think you are to enter this race? You’re no athlete.

Yeah, you’re doing good, but you’ve got a tailwind to help you.

If I had a good bike like yours I’d be racing too.

Sadly, there are too many people along the roadside of life who just can’t cheer for anyone because of jealousy and feelings of insecurity.

The purpose of the blogsite is for missionaries and the issues missionaries face. You’re in the race and I hope you have some good people on the sidelines cheering you on. We need it to continue to run this marathon of service around the world. But the greater question is this: Are you a cheerleader to your family, to your colleagues and people who you interact with on a daily basis? While your race is important, don’t forget to cheer someone else as they pass by.

PS - After writing this blog I received in an email from Colorado:

Dear Dr. Lewis,

I just finished your book (The Journey of a Post Modern Missionary) and I wanted to thank you for the valuable information. I have had many cross-cultural classes in college but, of course, none reflected missions as they were secular school. It made a lot of sense. Thank you.

A cheerleader for the race, someone I’ve never met.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mental Health and Missions

That evening she was having trouble breathing. The doctor and hospital was several miles away. She died in her living room as her family watched helplessly. Later the autopsy revealed she died of a blood clot. Not yet forty years old, she left a husband and four children.

I thought of that event in Kenya, which took place 25 years ago, while reading an article in the July 2010 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly entitled, “Trauma and Traumatic Stress in Cross-Cultural Missions.” The authors did a survey among missionaries in West Africa and Europe and found that 71% of men and 64% of women serving in West Africa; 47% of men and 30% of women in Europe, had experienced trauma on the field (serious illness; car, train or plane accidents; unexpected death of family members; immediate exposure to fighting, civil unrest, or war; burglary; serious threat or harm to family members or close friend, immediate; evacuation). Of that number 20% of men, 16% of women in West Africa; 19% of men, 0% of women in Europe suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS).

In my time on the field I knew missionaries terrorized by robbers, two friends who accidently ran over and killed kids and people who went through coups and coup attempts. In addition to these stresses in the life of a missionary there is the added pressure of homesickness, loneliness and everyday tension of living in a different culture.

As one who disciples missionaries I spend a great deal of time on the “effective” aspects of cross-cultural ministry. I don’t spend as much time on the “affective” dimension of mental and emotional health, yet, I realize that one of the chief reasons people leave the field is due to the affective tensions on families.

We are often encouraged to pray for missionaries. Without question prayer is the number one thing we can do for our brothers and sisters working overseas. But there are other things the church and sending organizations can do for the emotional and spiritual health of our cross-cultural colleagues.

1. Provide better training for missionaries before they leave for the field. The approval process for missionaries should include good screening on psychological and emotional stability. Even the healthiest of missionaries will crack under the weight of trauma on the field, but a mission organization is derelict in their duties if they ignore personalities that may be most vulnerable to stress environments.

2. Make sure there is a well qualified mental health provider for those on the field. It could be a pastor or someone in the sending organization that is trained to help people in trauma situations.

3. Sending churches and mission organizations should be aware of what their missionaries are facing on the field and help them in coping with stress, whether that be encouraging missionaries to find professional help on the field or making sure that missionaries “take a break,” through vacations or trips outside their countries. By all means one should be careful not to criticize missionaries who seek ways to cope with trauma or stress.

I am not a mental health expert, but in my time as a coach visiting missionaries on the field, invariably the issues of culture fatigue, manifested in everything from family discord to cultural bitterness, become a part of our discussion. The life of missionary is rich and rewarding, but it’s also a career that places people in tough and difficult situations. I am praying for my colleagues today and I hope you are as well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Whatever You’re Doing In There…Stop It!

Growing up with two brothers, one who designated himself the “eldest” by 5 minutes and the other 4 years younger, we were often a rowdy bunch. From time-to-time my dad or mom would yell at us from the other side of the house, “Whatever you guys are doing in there, stop it!” That sentence assumes guilt before a crime has been committed. Looking back, however, it probably saved us from getting the dreaded belt whipping (yes we grew up in era where “spare the rod and spoil the child” preceded Social Services and Child Protection Laws).

Of the many things that hinder mission work is the inability of people to get along with others on the field. Missionaries haggle over everything from mission policy to disputes on proper theology in the church. Most reasons for missionary discontent, however, can be boiled down to common human problems, personalities.

Spiritual Elitism - The church is filled with people with a superior spiritual mentality. One of the reasons we have so many denominations in the world, 38,000, is that every group believes they have a corner on spiritual truth. Mission groups on the field, from the same organization and same denomination, will always have someone who feels they walk just a little closer to Jesus than their colleagues and make it a point to be the ad hoc Holy Spirit for the rest of the group. My advice is, like Jesus; spend more time with sinners than with the Pharisees. The religious crowd may crucify you, but at least you are doing the work of the Father.

Cliques - Years ago a guy gave me good advice: “If you have to adopt another person’s enemies to be your friend, it’s not worth it.” Cliques are formed by boundaries of relationships. If a person is a part of group “A” of friends, by default they cannot be friends with people in group “B.” People you don’t even know will be against you, your wife and kids for no other reason than their friends don’t like you! Stay out of cliques; don’t adopt other people’s enemies to be “in” with others.

Jealousy - The root of jealousy is the feeling of anger in one’s own inadequacies. A jealous person is one who wishes they were like others, (their success, their family, their looks, their abilities) but since they are not they will do all they can to tear that other person down. A jealous person never comes to grips with the fact that God has made us all different and they cannot be content with how God made them. Jealous people are spiteful people. When around a jealous person minimize what you do and build them up. It won’t solve their jealous tendencies, but at least you won’t feed their insecurities.

Busybodies - I find it fascinating that so many people want to have an opinion on the lives of so many people they don’t even know. Under the guise of “I’m just concerned…” busybodies spend much of their time either gossiping about other people or giving unsolicited counsel to people they feel need their infinite wisdom. My advice to those who work with busybodies is keep an arm’s length away from those people, don’t give them an ear for their concerns and above all, don’t repeat anything you hear from them. “Praying about it,” is a cheap way of being a busybody and trying to be spiritual at the same time.

Tensions on the field in inevitable. There are some people you can get along with; there are others you can’t no matter how hard you try. The Apostle Paul knew that and wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Like my folks told us as kids, whatever your are doing that is causing problems on the field…stop it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

What 3.6 Billion People Don’t Care About

In a round-table discussion in a recent missionary meeting the discussion turned to an odd topic. “When was the church established, before or after Pentecost?” I wasn’t there, but I was told the debate became quite heated.

There are approximately 3.6 billion people who live in North Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Asia Pacific. 86% of that population has never met a Christian. They could care less about when the church started. Here are other issues that 3.6 billion people don’t care about:

Which version of the Bible people use. You may like the KJV, NKJV, ASV, NIV, NET, NLT or the other 100 versions, but guess what, 3.6 billion people need to hear any version of God’s Word. They don’t care about which translation is better, closer to the original or which version we deem to be inspired.

When Jesus will return: pre-millennial or post-millennial? Why would 3.6 billion people care about a second coming when they have yet to hear about His first coming 2,000 years ago? And what is “millennial” anyway?

Which church or denomination is doctrinally more sound? I know this will come as a shock to my Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Orthodox friends, but 3.6 billion people have no idea, thankfully, about the division of the Body through denominational and doctrinal disagreements. My guess is that some of each group will make it heaven, so before God takes you on to glory, share your faith with the 3.6 billion who have not yet heard His Name.

Who has the authority to preach, teach or baptize? It doesn’t make any difference to 3.6 billion people if the message is presented through one who has or has not been ordained, whether they are literate or illiterate. God is sovereign; He can even use a woman!

I think you get the point. I understand all of these issues, and a thousand more topics Christians argue about, are important to the church. Our theological, and often narrow, “cart” is before the “horse” of 3.6 billion people who are left standing without a witness of Christ’s salvation. 3.6 people could care less about many things the church is obsessed with and I honestly wonder if God cares.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Training Missionary Professionals

Fireman, policeman, teacher, IT worker, missionary, nurse, farmer, carpenter, which do you believe from this list needs occasional updating on their skills and/or knowledge to remain effective? No doubt some professions require at least annual retraining, other professions need upgrading several times a year. Wait a minute; what’s a missionary doing on this list?

I was visiting a colleague recently on the importance of training missionaries. He has the unenviable job of trying to convince cross-cultural workers their need for being taught in the skill of their profession. As we talked about the challenges of his task we identified some obstacles of missionaries, new and old, buying into the idea they need for pre-field, post-field and ongoing training. Some of the obstacles are philosophical; other areas of resistance are practical.

Philosophical/Theological Opposition

Missions is not a profession, it’s a calling.

No matter how you view career missions a person still must learn some basic skills for cross-cultural work. Being called doesn’t mean that God is supernaturally going to make a person better in relating to culture, make them more linguistically equipped or how to communicate the message of Christ culturally relevant to people who are of a different faith worldview. These skills still need to be taught.

Missionaries have the Bible, they don’t need anything else.

While knowing the Scriptures is foundational for every missionary, most missionaries are taught (a) from a mono-cultural and Western perspective and, (b) taught Scripture from a theological/hermeneutical grid. Since Scripture is as much a multi-cultural book as it is God’s Word, missionaries need more training on how to present the Gospel in their context, not just merely how it is interpreted from one’s own cultural context. Context gives meaning. The words one uses, even God’s Word, have little to no effect until it is put into context.

More education doesn’t make one more effective.

I’m not sure if this is “ignorance is bliss” argument or just an anti-education bias. This is like the 1 Timothy 4:8 argument, “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things.” Yes, compared to godliness physical exercise is less important, but exercise does profit a little. Though more education doesn’t insure success, the lack of understanding of culture is, in my opinion, has a greater risk of failure in ministry. The issue is also not how much knowledge but what type of knowledge that is needed for the task at hand. Having a MDiv., with a good working knowledge of Greek is helpful, but how does one utilize that knowledge speaking to illiterate people in the bush of Africa or the polytheistic Hindu in Nepal is the real issue.

Practical Oppositions

Time. It has already been a long process in getting to the field, adding another 2 – 3 months of training is a hardship.

Learning a new computer program is time consuming. A person has three options: Just don’t learn a new program and stay with the outdated system and not fool with the new; install it and play around with it until you figure it out; read the manual, take a class.

As with illustration above, missionaries often just ignore training, believing that what they have learned in ministry and life thus far is sufficient for overseas work. Cultures, like operating systems, are different and changing all the time. Just ignoring this reality will retard missionary effectiveness.

The “learn as you go,” might work but more times than not OJT ends up taking longer to understand culture and how to be effective. Sadly, many people give up on missionary life because frustration sets in when they are on the field and, rather than working through the issues they just go home.

Training, like reading the manual, takes an initial investment in time but the end result is that a missionary will be able to enter culture armed with at least some understanding on what to do and how to do it among the people they have committed themselves to serve.

Money. Raising money for training just delays getting people to the field.

How much is preventive medicine worth? It’s probably a whole lot less than going to the ER.

Career missionaries spend a ton of money for everything from plane tickets to flat-screen tv’s and I don’t begrudge them one bit for money needed to live and survive on the field. But a significant number of those people raising money will come home after their first term on the field and many others will remain on the field not making a significant impact on those who have never heard the Gospel. Money spent on being fully equipped for cross-cultural service is not a waste. I would argue training is an investment for family and God.

I’m glad that to know that if I have to call 911 that the fireman trains every week to fight fires; for the policeman who is upgraded on procedures daily. I’m glad the nurse looking after me in the hospital is not functioning from the classes she learned in nursing school 10 years ago but up-to-date on today’s medical technology. As a profession, career missionaries should be as current in their occupation as any vocation that deals with life, death and eternity.