Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rethinking Short Term Missions: Long Term Thinking

America has experienced a high percentage of unemployment these past few years. Those in construction have been hit especially hard.

Follow me with this scenario:
You’re a construction worker, highly skilled in building and carpentry. You haven’t had work in over a year and you have no idea how you’ll put the next meal on your family’s table. You find out through your church that a group of Christians from England are coming to your area to help those struggling. They plan to help your area by building a home and painting walls.

What’s your response to this?

Mine would be: “Why would these people spend all this money on flights, hotel, food and more to do something that I’m more than capable to do, especially when I could use that money to feed my family?”

Hmm, I wonder how many others have asked that same question…

So, to this I pose the question: why are we raising thousands upon thousands of dollars to go overseas and do something that the people there are more than qualified to do?

Remember: I am all about short term missions. But it must be thought through carefully. In light of Amy Carmichael’s weighty post before, we can see that missions is very important and should not be taken lightly.

Let me say what I see as a very important factor:

Short term missions should be a part of the long term goals on the field.

If you go and do a short term project, the effect of your visit will last as long as your time in the country. If you go and partner with those doing long term work there, then the effect of your visit will last much longer. 

While short term trips can have a positive long term effect, they can also have a negative one. Ill prepared teams can hinder or break established relationships.

I’ve often heard, “I don’t know what I’m good at so I thought I’d just go and do (insert random task)”. You are more qualified than what you think. You should be using the gifts and talents that God has given you.

When I had people visit me in Uganda, I was passionate about using the gifts that God had given them to be a part of what we were already doing. That way, the effect of what they did in two weeks would last far beyond their visit.

Example: My brother has a business degree and owns his own business. He taught the widows in our jewelry project business skills that they could use in their every day life.

With that in mind, what kind of questions should be answered?

Before you plan your trip, ask such questions as these:
Are there long term missionaries on the field? If so, how can we partner with them? What do they see as the need? What are the gifts and talents of those on the team? Do they match up with what the need is? If so, how can the team maximize the time on the field to help the long term effort? If not, how can we rethink our trip to utilize these? Do we need to look at a different country where our gifts and talents match up?

What other questions do you think should be asked before one detail is planned?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Home Sweet...Where?

I’m a late processor (as if you couldn’t tell that from my emotional breakdown a month after leaving Uganda) and lately, I’ve been processing my two years in Uganda. It's been nine months since I left and I'm just getting to this. Like I said, late processor. There was obviously so much good. It’s home. I love it. It’s where so many loved ones are. It's where my heart is. I am literally aching to move back for good. However, there were definitely bad and difficult times. It’s those things that I’ve been processing through. The hurt. The betrayal. The fear.

Last week was my mission agency’s annual spiritual renewal conference where the entire worldwide missions family comes together and seeks the face of God. It was so freeing to talk to people who could understand. Not in a “I understand the words that are coming out of your mouth” kind of way but a deep heart understanding. Most of my Uganda field was there which made it like a family reunion (dramatic running hugs included). Since I’ve been processing some of the more difficult times, it has been indescribably freeing to talk about this with people who truly deeply understand what I went through as well as what I’m still going through.

There’s something about communing with missionaries. There’s this deep understanding that we have of each other. They could live in Austria and though I live in Uganda, we have this deeper understanding of each other and the struggles of every day life. It amazed me how quickly we would delve into deep conversations. Five minutes in and we were talking about the difficulties of reverse culture shock and struggles in our lives.

Bonus: we can also talk with much expertise on international airports.

I felt insanely honored to even be there. I was surrounded by these amazing men and women who have spent the last 20? 30? 40? years of their lives serving God throughout the world. My two years looks rather pitifully small next to them. They are my heroes. The wrinkles on their faces crinkled with wisdom. The gray hairs on their heads spoke of the experiences that they have had. They have gone before my generation and marked the trail. I kept thinking of Hebrews 12: "all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on" (Message). 

Someday…I want to be like them.

I have incredible friends here in America. I’m constantly humbled by their love that crosses the thousands of miles between us. Sadly, no matter how much they can try to understand, they can’t. It’s been a heartbreaking discovery. As friends, you want someone else to understand you completely and where you’re coming from. There’s been this sense of loneliness knowing that no one else can fully understand what I went through nor what I’m going through now. There have been some heart sinking moments in my time here in the States where I have realized that it’s just not possible for them to truly understand, no matter how hard each of us tries. How can I ever fully put into words what it’s like to no longer have a home culture? To not feel at home in the place that I was born and raised. To not fit in with my home culture nor the culture where I now live. This sense of homelessness and the frustrations that come with that. The difficulty of remembering how to act/talk/socialize in American culture. Feeling overwhelmed by the fast pace American decision making. Trying to think of the English word for something and only thinking of it in another language. And more…and more…

This is the life of this missionary and from what I’ve gathered, many others as well. It’s difficult in ways that most can never understand. It’s also more exciting and fulfilling than anything else that I have ever been a part of.

I mentioned these struggles to a friend and they replied, “it must give you a greater understanding that this world is not your home”. While at the time I didn’t appreciate that response (the sense of homelessness isn’t quite a good feeling), it is true. This world is not my home. I look forward to the day that all of my friends and family throughout the world are in one place, glorifying His name. A place where cultures will all come together and we will all have one everlasting home. What a party it will be! Can you even begin to imagine? God's beautiful diverse creation all in one place, the boundaries of culture and language no longer holding us apart. Together. In one voice. Praising our King.

Yes, that’s when I’ll truly be home…

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lessons From Sesame Street

Whenever someone uses my computer, the first thing they often say is: “whoa, you have so many things open”. If they are using my internet browser, then it’s “holy cow, you have a thousand tabs open!”. They’re right. I like to have everything that I’m working on open at the same time. I swear it helps. As far as internet tabs, it’s all that I’m currently researching. Included in there are some favorite songs that I can only find there that I like to listen to over…and over.

I was visiting my brother and his family in California in January. One afternoon, my niece and I cuddled up to watch Sesame Street videos on YouTube. Sticky little fingerprints covered my screen as she pointed to Elmo at every appearance ("Auntie Chaiyah, watch Elmo!"). We came across this one by will.i.am and…I have a confession to make. That video has been one of my tabs for weeks as I listen to it over…and over. It plays in my head and I catch myself humming it. It’s just so darn catchy!

Sidenote: some of the video comments are hilarious, mainly mentioning how will.i.am looks as though he is performing community service by doing this video.

During one of my listens, I checked out the other suggested videos on the side and saw one entitled “Magnify”. It took me by surprise.  I thought, “I can’t believe that they have a worship song on here”.

Dead serious.

I watched the video and then realized that OBVIOUSLY, this was about magnifying something with a magnifying glass, not about magnifying Jesus.

Yeah, my blonde roots show sometimes.

While the archaic term means “glorify”, it got me thinking about looking at God through a magnifying glass. I thought of those biology classes where you’d see all of the microscopic details of a bug. It makes the object larger than it was and you are able to see all of the tiny details that are impossible to see otherwise. While the little details of a bug never really interested me (three older brothers and still a girly girl), I thought about what it’d look like to magnify Jesus in my life. What would I see? What would I notice that I otherwise wouldn't? What would it look like to magnify Him in my life? What would my every day look like if I did this?

When my problems and frustrations seem so big, may it remind me that He is bigger. When I become too focused on myself, may I instead focus on Him. When the unknowns of my life overwhelm me, may I look close at Who controls my life.

What about you? How would magnifying God change your every day life?