Posts tagged ‘missions’

Packing for no reason. Only Jesus.

We are 6 days from moving to NW Narnia and this move feels altogether different from any we have had before. From the Philippines, to the Marianas, to urban Minneapolis- St. Paul, Savannah (and of course multiple apartments in each of those places) – this one is pretty simple. I remember a move in Minneapolis that took us less than 3 hours because we are professionals and had like 20 people helping us. Lots of furniture, lots of boxes, a U-Haul. . . all that stuff. The thing that strikes me about this move is that we are attempting to pack for the simplest life we can. There is a sense of taking what you need, but there is also a real sense of taking as little as possible. I’m thankful that we sold all of our things except for what fit into our Oldsmobile Alero before coming out to Narnia.

We will be sharing a place in a larger village community where the population is about 3,000. There is a small Christian presence in this area and we will use it as a base in the NW where some of us come for breaks, do administrative work, and come alongside churches in the area. And extremely nice and trusted Narnian friend has set us up by offering his own house to rent which is already furnished. He said he needed a place to put all his stuff when he rented it so it worked out well for our growing team to be able to use his place and just use what he already had there.

The simplicity comes about a week or two after we get settled in this larger hub. We’ll then move up the trail putting some supplies on donkeys, paying porters, and move into the village to join the rest of the team. What do you really need other than a few things to sit on, some dishes with which to eat, and something to sleep on? Yeah, you really don’t need much. Janessa and I have always tried to live simply and incarnationally but I feel like this is the biggest test we’ve ever had. We’ll be living with at least one other teammate, sharing a house, sharing meals, and likely live in a larger compound (sort of like duplexes) with 2 other Narnian families. We’ll share a water tap, courtyard, and outhouse. There really isn’t a word or concept for privacy in this culture and language. Our potential place to live is pretty close to the center of the village. People will constantly walking by the trail next to our place. A small store (one of the only around) is right by our place. Kids galore. And the fact that we’re the only white people for miles and miles will certainly be a sight to behold.

It is within this framework that we’ll attempt to live out these buzzwords of Christian community and be incarnational. You don’t really ever leave, clock out, or take a siesta. All the language learning and desire for simple living will come to a head. Our team has made it mandatory for one of us to leave the village every 6 weeks for one week because of the intense community and lack of privacy there will be. We signed up for this life and it is not something we dread. The Lord of all Creation has invited us into His beautiful Kingdom and given us the opportunity to proclaim and demonstrate His reality amongst our neighbors. This privilege is a gift and one that our team is constantly reminded of. Incarnational, simple living, communal lifestyle – slice it any way you want it and use the nicest buzz words you can. . . we’re just thrilled and can’t believe we get to do this.

So as we pack, we think of what not to pack. There are details to work out for sure, but the key is to constantly lay our hearts and faces before Jesus asking for the Spirit of God to come in power. The years of preparation and story of how we fell in love with the Narnian people isn’t something that just sort of happened. Lots of things have been poured into this moment and we don’t want to miss out on the journey because we’re overly concerned about what kind of phone or how many bowls to bring up. May the abiding in Jesus continue. I’m reminded of the experience of my last blog and how I chatted with my teacher. “He is all we need. Only Jesus. Just Jesus. Only Him.

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Language Learning and the Task of Missions

When I started this blog, I warned that it would be both a platform to share our journey in Narnia as well as write on issues pertaining to theology, missions, and international development. I have been feeling the knack to take a swing at some thoughts on language learning as it pertains to the missionary task. Since this is what we have been giving our lives fully to over the last year or so (and part time for a couple years prior to that) I feel like it is fresh on my mind and maybe worth a read. Maybe not, but we’ll see where this goes.

Starting with the Basics

The goal for every cross-cultural worker whether they are doing health care work, church planting, Bible translation, media ministry, , or anything in between is to take the Gospel where it has never been before and see lives and communities transformed by Jesus. (Mat. 28:18-20, Rms. 15:20). The very essence of being an apostle/missionary necessitates crossing a cultural barrier and primarily focusing on where the church is not. This is not to say that many of the activities that international workers find themselves doing are not important to the missionary task. But orphanage work, teaching in Bible schools, pastoring international churches, media support ministries and the like did not drive the missionary movement nor get us to the place we are today. Men and women for centuries now have realized that communities and groups of people are living in situations where they have absolutely no access to the Gospel and so they get to them. They bring the realities of the Kingdom to a certain place. All the other things that happen (schools, training centers, media creation, rehabilitation drug places) are a result of the Gospel being taken to the unreached.

I’m sure we could fight over my narrow definition of missions or where it starts but I believe this is biblically what an apostle has been sent to do. Now, by virtue of where the missionary goes he is often put into a situation where he needs to learn another language to be able to communicate to the very people he or she serves. Without the ability to communicate you have few relationships, you never really “live” in your new society, and most importantly you are never able to teach and demonstrate the very Kingdom God has called you to announce.

Entering Into Your New Culture After Rallying Supporters Around You

So many of you know the drill. God speaks to people about taking His message to the ends of the earth. Sometimes He calls to a very specific context, sometimes to a people group, sometimes where the need is greatest. In the end, the mission agency and missionary agree to commit, often times, a big chunk of their lives to a particular context and people group.

The next phase is either to find a job in the country where they will serve or do a lot of fundraising so they will be able to sustain themselves and do ministry over a long period of time. This can be a rather short process; at times, it can be quite long. I have heard of folks getting to the field in a matter of weeks and I have seen others raise funds for 3-4 years before arriving to the place where God has called them. For many, the calling was something God burned in their heart many years prior and on into their 30s or 40s they finally are commissioned and sent out.

By this time, hundreds of people know about the calling on the new missionary’s life. They are sending out newsletters, have met with groups of people, often have spoken in dozens of churches – their plan is well known by many. During this fundraising process, many newly appointed workers are telling supporters that their first year or two will be spent in language learning. Sometimes if probed they give details but more often than not the two words “learning language” is the full descript of the next 2 years of their lives as they come on the field.

Agencies and teams have very different approaches to how a person should or shouldn’t learn language. But often times, at least in my experience, I have seen little to know clarity of expectation for the new missionary as they go about learning language. They often land in their new country and are taken care of by other team members who speak their same language and start forming bonds with expats. The story is so typical. A couple moves from America, they begin attending an international church, they hang out with other missionaries and team members as they socialize, and then they start going to language classes 2 or 3 hours a day 5 days a week. They are bonding deeply with people from their same culture, learn to do everything in a new country from foreigners, and naturally want to be with this group of people all the time. This leaves very, very little chance of bonding with the new culture and really no chance of learning the language. 8 hours of class time pales in comparison to the thousands of hours you will get if you are able to fully enter into your new society instead of some missionary, English-speaking sub-culture.

Learning to Say “No” to Teammates and Ex-pats

Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster wrote several years back on Bonding and the Missionary Task where they compared the new missionary’s first weeks in a new country to a mother breast-feeding her baby. Without that essential time of bonding, they argue that a missionary will never fully bond with the new culture. Beyond learning to communicate, the new international workers are robbed of cultural understanding, how to take local transport in the same way as their neighbors, how to shop in a similar fashion as locals, etc. Everything has been filtered through the lens of foreigners and several months into the game it leaves the new missionary throwing their hands up in the air wondering why they have not bonded or have progressed farther in language. Language learning without bonding with a new culture is almost impossible when understood in view of bringing Kingdom transformation modeled after the incarnational life of Jesus (Jn. 1, Phil. 2).

So, those early days must be spent away from expats and foreigners if we really want to maximize our adjustment and progress in language. Brewster challenges newcomers to live in smaller villages away from the foreigner community and commit to several weeks, even months, before coming up for air. Whether that happens in the village or the city isn’t the issue really. It is a matter of putting your petal to the metal and driving hard, forming new relationships, struggling together, and coming out on the other side as a communicator in your new culture.

I’m not a linguist and I probably can’t make too many comments on methods, learning styles, or techniques. I will just comment briefly and say that the language learner must find a strategy that maximizes their learning-style and pulls them very far along in the language process. It is important for the international worker to know before coming to their new context how they best learn language and to have already thought of a strategy to see that happen. They need to commit to that strategy and when they find it going towards a dead end, they need to turn around and start driving again. Being stuck is no excuse for switching to an English-based ministry, pastoring an international church, or working with a people group other than the one God called you to. If a person just can’t learn a new language, no matter how hard they try, than obviously they need to look at other options. But I would suggest that if you have been called to serve in a country where English is rarely spoken, then you need to commit to the national language. If you can’t learn, maybe a person should explore options of serving in an English-speaking country or context rather than waste missions money, roaming around, pretending to do ministry in a half-ass manner because they can’t communicate. Language is part and parcel with the task at hand.

Personal Reflections

I was sitting in a room full of Narnian speakers a few years back in the US when I had this overwhelming feeling of misunderstanding. I knew that no one in the room worshipped the One True God and all were polytheist. My heart sank as I realized I couldn’t communicate and enjoy friendship on a deep level with my friends, nor could I tell them the most beautiful news in the universe. This came after 2 or so years of working in a cross-cultural environment in the US where several languages were being spoken. At this time, Janessa and I were focusing mostly on the narnians in our neighborhood. To that point, I had learned a few hundred vocabulary of Narnian and could say some basic greetings but that day was as if a stake was wedged in the ground. It marked me and from that day forward I made a very deliberate effort to try to learn Narnian while in the US.

Janessa and I met with a private tutor for 14 months, 2 days a week studying in 2 hour sessions. We were spending 20 hours or so a week in the Narnian community so a lot of hours were being given to this. We both were working jobs other than ministry/mission related work at that point and the immersion experience in the US is extremely difficult. But the stake was driven in the ground and we plowed forward. Over those 14 months we learned to communicate in an elementary way and our relationships deepened. In the midst of that, God called us to Narnia for the long-term to which we responded to promptly. In September of last year we moved to Narnia in response to that call.

Since moving to Narnia, we have tried hard to cut ourselves off from the expat community and international church scene. It has been lonely at times but we’ve seen ourselves progress very far in the language to where we now operate in Narnian for most of the day. Our attitude went from counting hours, class time and vocabulary words, to where we now interact all the time (still taking classes) in Narnian but have put the clock away. We don’t count and try to assess things all the time. We have entered into Narnian society to the best of our ability. It has certainly been lonely at times, especially in the early days when we were terrible communicators. But it is this grind of learning language that will allow us to thrive in this country over the long haul.

Lately, a few people (even veteran international workers) have singled me out and asked about our strategy and what we’ve done. The best I can come up with is to fully enter into your new society. Run from creating a sub-culture and cling tightly to the Narnian friends you make along the way.

We have to remember that the God who called us to this place is faithful. He wants His Gospel and glory to be seen far more than we do. But that Gospel and glory cannot be seen unless the Kingdom message is communicated and understood. Just because we learned how to buy fruit at the fruit stand or can take a taxi to our favorite restaurant means very, very little in the big scheme of things. The heart and aim is for people who have never heard this beautiful Kingdom news to hear, understand and see their entire community transformed.

We are not great language learners or linguist. But we still remember the feeling we both had in our friend’s living room back in the US and how, without language, we won’t be able to share life together in this age or the age to come. We’re hopeful that some of our mistakes and accomplishments along the way can inform and inspire those who come after us

7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!” – Isa. 52

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Serving by helping us serve

As many of you know, we are in a pretty dire need for workers to come out here and contribute to the work in rural Narnia. If you are in transition, have felt God calling you for a long time, or simply want to give 3-12 months to becoming more like Jesus in service to hi/the discipleship process, please consider coming out.

General Team Member Summary:

“The Team” is the Job Description
As we invite people to come work with us, we are very aware of the need to define roles and meet realistic expectations. It Conflict almost always arises in mission work when expectations are not clarified and to that end we want to clearly assert that being a team member is by far the most necessary realization for anyone coming to serve with us. For years, villagers in our area have seen a society that is broken and it is that brokenness and gossip about it that dominates many conversations on the hillside of Narnia. NGO’s and other organizations have come to many areas of the country and done a lot of projects to help the society. Our goal, however, is a bit different. We are trying to show our village who Jesus is. With the team living together or in close proximity, every single villager will know when we laugh, when we fight, when we show peace, when we tell the story of Jesus, and everything in between. This harmony and unity will be the most important piece to showing what a transformed community looks like. So as you come, your most necessary realization is that you are now part of a team that embraces daily servanthood with people very different from you. That gets practically worked out in helping with a little farm, doing house chores (fetching water, cooking over a fire, cleaning), being part of at least one concentrated area of ministry upon arrival, participating in weekly house church services, and assisting in the communication of the Gospel with story-telling/skits as needed. This is just part and parcel of being on our team and participating in our Jesus-community.

Specific Description:
We are looking for someone willing to serve for 3 months-2 years alongside our Jesus-community who is committed to showing who Jesus is to villagers from a Hindu society. The proclamation piece of our holistic model is met primarily through Gospel story-telling. Areas of potential service will include farming/gardening, hospitality, serving in a local school teaching English, providing basic medical training and treatment or participating in a women’s widow friendship group. A shorter length of service means that you will likely have limited Narnian speaking skills; there must be a high emphasis on working hard and showing the Gospel to the community. Upon arrival each member will work to discover their niche and gain coaching, encouragement, and discipling from older team members on serving unreached peoples.

Job Duties:
The person needed will do general manual labor such as hauling water, cooking, assists with gardening, contributing to Gospel story-telling, participating in weekly team meetings and house church fellowship, assisting or leading one of the above mentioned daily ministries. Above all of these duties, the person in this role will have a strong prayer and devotional life, have a strong desire and initiative to learn the Narnian language, embrace servanthood, strive to live in unity with the team, and desire to learn from villagers on how to live in a new context. Further, the team member will embrace the reality that the village is their home and that this life is not something merely to be endured until they go to the city. This is your new life in the Kingdom of God.

Using your Professional Skills to Serve
In line with our mission to bring community transformation to a village community in Northwest Narnia, we are interested in talking with college students and those with professional skills who have a calling to serve Jesus, work alongside those in the community, and help pioneer a move towards transformation in their field.

Walking Together
Any worker, regardless of their field of expertise, comes in with the assumption that the community itself holds the keys for community transformation. As the unreached experience the power and love of Christ, slowly we see a society changed. All should realize they are called to walk alongside and have power-under Kingdom mindset. Christ came to serve and give his life; we do the same as we walk with villagers together in demonstrating Kingdom transformation.

Love for Jesus and the Narnian People
Without flinching, this is what must bleed out of any potential work. Life and labor in our village is too difficult and there are too many frustrations for the first requirement to be a “professional in your field”. First and foremost, the potential worker must be compelled by the love of Jesus and guided by His Spirit. This is so critical and an underlying assumption for all on our team.

Broad Areas of Focus
1. College Students who want to experience serving the unreached in community transformation
As part of your discipleship process, we believe our team has an incredible opportunity to live among rural villagers in NW Nepal learning what it means to serve on a team, announcing and demonstrating the Kingdom of God. You will learn language, see Gospel storying happen among the unreached, and participate in community-wide, community-driven development.
2. Education Specialist
Education and literacy are lacking in our region but many villagers have taken up the challenge to provide quality education in their villages. A person is needed to come alongside the local schools, provide encouragement and cooperation, and develop discipleship relationships with staff and students. Education specialists are also needed to develop extracurricular activities along with parents in the village and teach a day or two a week to teammate’s children. There is also a need for conversational English for graduating secondary school students as many will move to the capital city to work or go to college. This hodgepodge of activity will strengthen and support the system villagers have established and inspire creativity amongst each other.
3. Agricultural and Environmental Specialist
Everyone in our community is a farmer and it is this life-work that surround social and religious activities. Poor irrigation systems and polluted water is a major problem in the village. Training and walking alongside to bring these improvements is necessary as well as the development of rooftop gardens for the team.
4. Healthcare Workers
There is a tiny health post in our village with the nearest hospital being several hours walk away. Servants are needed to come alongside the Nepali staff at the health post providing care in their area of expertise and training to other healthcare workers. Discipleship relationships and demonstrating Kingdom ethics are paramount for someone in this role.

A Pioneer Spirit Using Local Resources
All who come to the team must bring a pioneer spirit as they will likely be one of the first in their area of service to speak into our context. Their voice will be one of the first from outside the community to ever be heard. This is why it is so important to both facilitate trust and have a pioneering spirit to start new initiatives that have never been done before. Further, such work will come from local resources in a way that is sustainable and can be multiplied.

Community, plungers, and Language – Sometimes the Poop Gets Stuck Inside the Toilet

The last couple weeks our toilet has been giving us trouble and we don’t have a plunger. We finally broke down today and went roaming around our neighborhood and the next neighborhood over for a small hardware store. All the shops here in our area are set up like small shops operated out of people’s garage/basement. I went to the corner store and asked our friends who work there about plungers and how I could find one. They weren’t really following my description so I said in Narnian “You know when the poop and water gets stuck, you have to go like this. . . “” And then I motioned like I was violently using a plunger. They knew instantly and sent me to the next neighborhood over. I did not have a street name, area of that neighborhood or anything. I simply knew that there could possibly be a hardware store in an area that consists of several hundred houses with dozens of people operating shops from their garages.

So we took off up the hill and about every 2 or 3 minutes we would stop at a shop and ask which which direction the hardware store may be. Everybody kept telling us the same direction so we felt good about it. After about 10 minutes or so, we arrived at a busy area with lots of shops. There was a small shop with hardware-looking things so I began to explain to the female shop owner what I wanted. She wasn’t catching it, so I again gave my phenomenal Narnian language description. . . “You know, sometimes the poop gets stuck inside the toilet and you have to use this. You go like this.” (again motioned like a crazy, mad guy trying to fix the toilet with the plunger.) Several teenage girls and a handful of primary school students gathered around us laughing at my description. They were embarrassed for me and also disappointed that they did not know the English word “plunger” that I attempted to use only briefly. They, being great Narnians, had 2 small boys (probably aged 4 or 5) lead us about 50 yards to a place that sells plungers.

When we arrived at what would be the final destination, I again told my whole poop being stuck story and they instantly hooked me up with a plunger that cost a dollar. All the way back down the road filled with houses and with the folks who led us to our destination. I felt like we were carrying the Olympic torch and our new friends were so happy that they helped us out. Janessa says we were greeted by their smiles of satisfaction. I even stopped back in the second store where I got all the teenagers laughing at me and said, “We found it. Thanks a lot!”

One of my favorite things about Narnians and living here is how incredibly helpful people can be. We would have had every single person along the road walk us to the plunger place if we needed them to. Though this is the city and people are very busy, I love that neighbors feel like neighbors and going plunger shopping doesn’t feel lonely. The simplest of things are meaningful when done with a community.

In the end the toilet was fixed and we lived happily ever after. Fun times in Narnia just living life.

Living the good life?

I have been in vacation spot central with my parents and relatives for the last couple months. Many in the US come to this area to retire, sit on the beach, and live the good life. Surrounded by fantasy lands, majic, and palm trees are enough to make most hearts skip a beat. I will confess that this place is super-cool. Who wouldn’t want to be here for awhile? But nearing the end of our 2 months reminds us that it is time to get out of here. A friend of mine in college, borrowing from a Christian song that came out several years ago would say: “It is time to put on our God shoes, raise the flag again, do what we’re here for.” I can feel that. . . and I almost hear my friend singing that to me again.

Being with our relatives here has been so wonderful and we will have few moments like this again in our lives. We have been able to spend long periods of time listening, talking, eating hamburgers and pizza. . . normal family stuff. Pain, triumphs, and all in between have been shared with each other. With every bite of pizza, Janessa and I are conscious that our little village in Narnia doesn’t exactly have a local Pizza Hut.

Family has been something we learned from our Narnian refugee friends when we lived up north. I’m not sure we ever really understood hospitality and being there for one another until we met them (and for the record, I use the term “refugees” only to describe their newness to my own culture. . .this is not who our friends are nor is it how they want to be view. . they are simply friends) I feel like my own case study bringing that life into my relatives crib. So many reflections and worldview differences between the Narnians and my own blood relatives. Even worldview differences between Janessa and I and our extended family. Culture changes you over the years. Yet, I’m thankful that we’re all different and continue to learn how to live the good life. I guess at the end of the day the good life is about being a Jesus-centered family wherever you are and to whomever God takes you.

So living the good life in Narnia will be a bit different from this 2 month siesta we’ve been honored to have. We’ll be guzzling down tea, eating the same simple foods all the time, and speaking a language unheard on the beach I went to last weekend. The gifts and talents that stand out in us right now will again need to be laid down on the ground before Jesus. Our conversational Narnianese skills will be put to the test. But man we’re looking forward to putting the petal to the metal and driving this thing.

For us, Narnia is the good life. Not the beach. Not a golf cart and a martini. . . just hanging with new friends, learning to live life with them, and announcing and demonstrating as much as we possibly can that Jesus is King. One conversation at a time. One moment at a time. It’s time to live the good life. . . put on our God shoes and do what we’re here for.