How Can We Tell Hard Stories?

hannelieThis year’s IDOP prayer video is a powerful one, but for me it raised a big question…

How Can We Tell Hard Stories?

By Shane Bennett

Can I invite you into my confusion? Here’s the story: This weekend at church we commemorated the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church by praying for believers in oppressive situations and watching a video produced by Voice of the Martyrs. Perhaps your church did something like this as well. I admit that the global persecuted church is not usually at the top of my agenda. In fact, I’d do well to give more thought and action to these issues. In the meantime, I’m grateful that God is raising up many from all over to pray and advocate for our sisters and brothers suffering for their faith.

Here’s my problem. The video we watched, Hannalie, was well done, intense, gripping, and heart-breaking. A lovely family moved from South Africa to minister in Afghanistan. The father and two teenage children were murdered by Afghans, leaving the mom a childless widow. The tragedy was palpable. The leader in our church who prayed after the video spoke to God through tears. The congregation was visibly moved.

Moved to pray? I hope so. But what else?

Moved to hate Muslims. Confirmed that our suspicions are valid, our anger justified. The logic is hard to escape. God called these dear people to this risky situation and they got killed. But as good Christians, we hesitate to blame God for their deaths. (Although if the children’s grandparents didn’t hesitate, we’d be hard pressed to blame them.) You can’t blame the dad; he’s dead. And who can blame a widow? So we blame the Muslims. And because we’re not too sophisticated in our understanding (and they are brown, after all) we blame all Muslims. It is desperately difficult not to extrapolate, to allow the actions of a few to characterize the attitudes and intentions of the rest.

I’m confused because honestly, Muslims did this terrible thing. And Muslims have lately done a number of terrible things, sometimes clearly in the name of Islam. Sometimes directly targeting Christians. So how do we tell those stories fairly? How can we tell them honestly, without contributing to growing fear and anger toward Muslims?

I don’t know. Do you have ideas? Good examples? Should we be balanced in our depiction of bad deeds? It seems absurd to give equal time to bad things Christians have done, although doing so might be less difficult than it first appears. I don’t think we should avoid telling such stories either. To be clear, I don’t wish to question the motivation of Voice of the Martyrs. I’m simply expressing concern about the results of telling the story in the way they did. Maybe there are better ways. I’d love your input.

In the meantime, words of Jesus ring in my ears:

“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”

“I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents. As innocent as doves.”

“I’m sending you as the Father has sent me.”

And my prayer for dear believers risking their lives for Jesus is this:

Holy Father, give strength, courage, and hope to your dear children living in challenging situations. May the aroma of Christ emanate from them and the joy of Jesus permeate every molecule of their being. May their lives and deaths (should they happen) result in the purposes of God going forward mightily and the kingdom of God arriving fully.

» Respond on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

How to Ace a Global Report to Your Church (the Five-Minute Guide)

640px-sennmicrophoneBy Shane Bennett

Is the pain as real for you as it is for me? The worship leader begrudgingly surrenders the microphone (just kidding, worship leaders!) to an ill-prepared but enthusiastic “missions person.” A low collective groan rumbles across the room. By the time Missions Minute Man has adjusted the mic and begun to speak, no one is happy anymore. It’s not as bad as a root canal or a sermon on tithing, but close.

If you’re reading this article, odds are good you’re into missions to some degree, and as such have seen a ton of missions-related promos in your day, maybe given a few yourself. And if you’re honest, you might admit: we haven’t always knocked it out of the park!

Give me another four and a half minutes and I’ll give you five key principles that could help you become the mission-report equivalent of Charles Spurgeon, Tony Robbins, and Maya Angelou rolled into one. You’re going to kill at this!

1. Ask for some time.

Here are two things I think you’ll agree with me on: that most churches could use more in the “sharing cool global-God kind of stuff from the pulpit” department, and that they’re probably not going to ask for it.

So, job number one for a killer missions promo is get the time. Maybe your church is so super giant that this just never happens. No worries. Your Sunday School classes and adult fellowships are probably as big as most of our churches! So focus on them.

Courage, my friends: Follow the prescribed path to get five minutes in person or on the phone with your pastor. Explain what you’d like to say and why saying it on Sunday morning will help (not just help you, but help the church). If you get a bit of resistance, it’s because your pastor wasn’t born yesterday! Remember, we may be digging out of a hole here because of past experiences.

If the resistance holds, try this: Offer to videotape the whole desired report, submit it to your pastor, and ask that it be shown. It may never happen, but being willing shows humble moxie.

2. Make it great.

If you get a chance to share, pledge before God and the memory of legendary mission mobilizer Lottie Moon that you will not mess it up! Rather, you’ll make it unforgettable. In decades to come, people who were present for your report will die with a smile on their face as they recount how well you did!

You’ll make it great by making sure it is:

A. True.

Email and the Web will lie to you (except for Missions Catalyst!) Check and double check any facts, and resist the urge to exaggerate stories. Say things only with the degree of confidence you actually have.

B. Important.

An average service is only about 90 minutes long. Time and attention are precious. Let’s not waste them by talking about stuff that doesn’t really matter. Of course that’s subjective, but do your best. Maybe even risk running your thoughts by your wife or that one surly deacon as a test.

C. Compelling.

If you can do it in the time you have, tell a story. “Here’s a thing that happened” and “Here’s why it matters.” Stories, told well, are almost impossible to resist. Leverage that.

3. Make it short.

Plan to use only two-thirds of your allotted time. This will do two things for you: You could stand out as one of the few people who ever ended early! And if you do go long, you can still end within your allotted time.

As we all, know, it’s better to leave people wanting more than to end with people just leaving!

4. Make it hopeful.

At any given time, a higher percentage of your church than you’d like to admit is probably thinking God’s getting beaten. Let’s try not to reinforce that. I confess I’m not above using some heart-grabbing statistics or a gut-punch anecdote to get people’s attention, but don’t leave them there. Presumably you have given your situation, so help others see where God is at work in it. Take a long view on what can happen. Paint a picture of the godly redemption that you foresee.

If the situation you’re reporting on is apparently, from all angles and as far as you can see, God-forsaken, go ahead and say so. But honestly, if you do that more than once a decade, people may think you’re being hyperbolic.

If God is doing anything, he’s redeeming this whole broken mess. Let’s remind each other of that as often as we can.

5. Make it actionable.

When you step away from the mic, your audience should have something to think, something to feel, and something to do. Encourage them to:

A. Think.

Present information that is so new and fresh it requires mental processing to integrate.

B. Feel.

Pluck heartstrings. Most of us let our emotions have a pretty big role in our actions.

C. Do.

Give people a way to play a part! Even better if the part is somewhat tuned to who they are instead of just a need for any non-flatlined body to join your team. Invite people to pray, give money, invest time, visit, advocate, help, adopt, fight, post, and share.

If you really want to swing for the fence, give them something to take home! As missions people, I think we underuse the tchotchke. A tiny trinket will help people remember your cause. I’m currently giving away small beads made from the lava of Mt. Etna to help people remember to pray for refugees in Catania, my beloved city that sits at the base of that volcano.

Run your next global report through these filters. You’re going to do great! Maybe together we can turn the tide on mission talks. Thanks for reading this and sharing with others you think will benefit from it.

» Comment and share your ideas below or on Facebook and Twitter.

image: Chris Engelsma, Flikr/Creative Commons License.

The Five-Minute Guide to Choosing Where to Send Your Church’s Short-Term Teams

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_largeyouthairportThe Five-Minute Guide to Choosing Where to Send Your Church’s Short-Term Teams

By Shane Bennett

A prominent pastor recently railed, “Short-term missions are the work of Satan designed to distract us from the real work, waste millions of dollars, and hasten an age of global darkness!”

Okay, so nobody actually said that… but you wondered, right? At least until the “global age of darkness” bit. That went too far. You wondered because you know that some people really think short-term missions are a bad idea. I’m not one of them. Oh sure, dumb short terms abound. No doubt about that. But the idea is sound, the heart is good, and the intentions are smart and honorable. I stand by my statement that very few people go long term without first going short term.

The trick then is doing the right short terms. This Five-Minute Guide will help you help your church choose or develop smart ones that accomplish God’s purposes.

Five key questions will get you started.

1. What is the broad missions strategy of your church?

What? You church doesn’t have this? Hmmm, better start with the Five-Minute Guide to Developing a Global Missions Focus at Your Church. (Trouble is, that Guide’s not written yet. Darn.) Even if your church strategy’s not written down, chances are good there are some understood parameters. What’s been done in the past serves as a good indicator of what’s considered normal and doable.

Let’s say you do have some defined direction regarding how you sense God using you all in the world. In that case, you’d want short-term trips to fit into that long-term strategy. So you would evaluate a short-term possibility, in part, by asking how it fulfills the church’s mission statement and to what degree it honors or advances the basic values of the church. Sending prayer journeys to unreached cities would be consistent for a church with a heavy emphasis on prayer. A church with a laser focus on disciple-making might want to think twice about a short term that is 90% construction.

If you are dialing in on a focused work or a certain people group, look for short-term efforts that contribute to that: activities that advance the long-term goals and work that prepares your people to make career-level investment in your strategic focus. Essentially, your short terms exist for your long terms.

2. Who are you already connected to?

Most of us are concerned that we know and obey God’s will for our lives. It’s legit to ask, “What does God want me to do?” But what we don’t ask enough is, “Who does God want me to do it with?” This is a good question to ask on the corporate level as well. As you think of short-term teams for the coming year, consider whom your church is connected to denominationally, internationally, and locally. (If you find you have no connections, you may want to refer to the Five-Minute Guide on How Not to Be So Dang Independent. Although it’s also not written yet.)

Take a minute and look at your mission bulletin board or web page. Scan the faces and places and ask yourself how a few of you could spend a few days and really serve those people. Honestly, some would rather you not come over. That’s their prerogative. But for some of them, a week or two with a handful of good-hearted amateurs might actually be an asset. Again, you want short-term efforts to contribute to the long-term vision and work of your church.

3. What skills do you have?

Turn from looking at the missions bulletin board and gaze out over the congregation. What do you see? With what gifts, capacity, and resources has God equipped you all? Ask if there are things you can do that others can’t. Like the crazy great list of presents God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2-4, God has poured gifts into your body. Maybe you’re flush with educators or medical staff. Maybe there’s a core of entrepreneurial magma flowing through any given Sunday morning. Maybe years of focused effort have built expertise in caring for people who tend to be marginalized.

What are those gifts and tendencies? How might they bundle up in the vehicle of a short-term mission and drive out among the unreached?

4. What is your faith horizon?

Faith is another gift from God. And depending on its relative abundance among your people, you’ll be able to do some things while you’d be wise to let other things go for the time being. It would be great to see you “swing for the fence”! If, however, you’ve managed to only send one short term in the past five years and that was a weekend effort to re-roof a shed at the denominational church camp, maybe you shouldn’t plan to take 25 people to plant churches in North India for a month. At least not this year.

Consider carefully what faith, coupled with wisdom, would lead you to do in terms of the number of people, expense of the experience, and type and location of the work. If you and I share a little of the same mobilizer spirit, push it a bit. But just a bit. Your pastor is carrying burdens you don’t understand, and it’s legit that he’s concerned about a bunch of you getting kidnapped!

5. Where is God at work?

Remember what Grandpa Henry said: Right now, God is working all around you. Similarly, you may recall the sons of Issachar who famously “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” I can imagine particular situations in which God is noticeably at work, but that you’ll want to go elsewhere simply because so many of God’s people are already responding. Other times, you’ll sense that, “Yes, this is a current move of God, and we are uniquely equipped to contribute, facilitate, and move it forward.” Or maybe, “God is doing something, and, though I don’t know why, but he is irresistibly calling us into it!”

Where is God moving today? Obviously or maybe below the surface? What is he calling the broader church to in these days and where do you fit in that?

Conclusion

Clearly these questions comprise a starting point, not a complete recipe for short-term bliss. I’d welcome your additional thoughts and wisdom. If you’d like to talk to me about how your church might implement some killer short-terms, start that conversation by emailing me. Finally, if you have ideas for additional Five-Minute Guides, I want to hear about those, too! Maybe we could write some together.

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Practical Mobilization

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Triple Shot Summer Series: Kids, Churches, and Super Power Grandmas

By Shane Bennett

Editor’s note: We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff into your hands.

Here, as in the June and July editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane shares three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family.

I. What’s the Matter with Kids These Days?

You’ve seen the reports: Kids graduate from high school, bail out of the church, and don’t come back. We can stand idly by (but for the occasional whining) or we can try to do something. My friend Tony Sheng is doing something. Tony heads up an intensive mentoring effort with high school students called The Ember Cast. I know it works because I just returned from spending a week with them Sicily and facilitating their connection with Muslim migrants and refugees there.

These kids rocked. They would talk to anyone about Jesus. They walked miles in the Mediterranean sun. And they never complained!

Tony is doing a great job with the kids he’s discipling. They finish high school with a deep love for Jesus and the nations and a sense that they’re made to make a difference. If you’d like that for some kids you know, get in touch with Tony. The Ember Cast has a story to share. I’d love to see their catalytic effort multiplied across the US and beyond.

II. Three Ways Your Church Can Focus

I love it when a church dials in on a particular vision or calling for the nations. Some of the most invigorating conversations of my life have been with churches looking to make a difference and kind enough to invite me to the chat. If your church, or one you love, is looking for a focus or a fresh blossoming of global involvement, can I recommend three friends?

  1. Mike Bell is the USA National Director for Hungry For Life. Mike helps churches begin multi-year partnerships with vetted mission situations throughout the world. These partnerships build a 3-5 year plan to carry out community-designed relief and development projects. After helping a church choose a partner, Hungry For Life handles all the logistics for teams and manages ongoing projects at no cost to the church. Watch this video for a snapshot of how it works. If your church has a vision for justice, for eliminating needless suffering, and you’re looking for a direction, get in touch with Mike.
  2. If your church wants to make a difference in the world, but you’re not really even sure how to start scheming and dreaming, connect with Matthew Ellison of Sixteen:Fifteen. Matthew’s coaching will help your church discover its unique vision for the nations. He’ll then guide you through designing a strategic plan and then deploying the resources and people to execute the plan.
  3. If your church knows its vision, and if that vision looks like big-time love and commitment to Muslim peoples, let me invite you to link arms with my tribe. Frontiers is seeing more and more churches jump on board with an idea that’s intrigued us for years: church-based teams to unengaged Muslim peoples. This approach combines the God-given vision of a local church with the field experience of Frontiers to see God’s kingdom flourish where it’s not right now. Churches stay in the driver’s seat. Frontiers provides some road maps and a “heads up” for hazards in the road. If you’d like to see your church consider sending a team, shoot me an email. I’ll introduce to the right guys.

III. The Granny Factor

Grandmas, are you listening to me? This, the last of the summer triple shots, is for you: The globe is facing the single greatest refugee crisis ever, and you might just be the answer. Before you get all humble, hear me out.

A hefty percentage of the refugee population are young people without their parents. Their moms are dead or a world away. They are in over their heads with “nobody told me it would be like this.” Evil people are taking advantage of them. And as tough as they want to look, a kind gaze or a maternal hug would sure be nice right about now.

I saw this happen a few months ago. The refugee was a friend from Liberia in his early twenties. The woman who brought the Granny Factor was Kenyan. She looked across the table and right into the young man’s soul. She ministered the kingdom of God to him with wisdom and kindness. I was honored just to sit there and watch it happen.

I saw it again a few weeks ago. This friend was a twenty-something Gambian. The Granny Factor oozed from a saint from Louisville, Kentucky. She looked at him and asked, “Tell me your story. I love to hear people’s stories.” He proceeded to trust her with the pain of betrayal, beatings, and a journey he shouldn’t have survived. She absorbed just a bit of the pain. And again, the kingdom of God was manifest.

You can imagine this, can’t you? Maybe you’ve experienced it. It’s your superpower! Too many of us think you don’t count any longer and maybe you’ve come to agree with that. Simply not true. If you’re tired and need to rest, that’s cool. If you have too many babies to hold and teenagers to scold in your own family right now, no worries. But if you’ve got some love to go around, I’m here to invite you to unleash your Granny Factor on five, fifty, or a thousand refugees, in your own country, someplace like Sicily, or beyond. You will make a difference.

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Image: 1871 proof three-cent nickel piece, Wikimedia Commons

Practical Mobilization

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Three more

Triple Shot Summer Series

We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff in your hands.

For the June, July, and August editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane’s going to share three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family. In this issue: Timely Travel Tips, Dopes Like Me, and the Value of a Second (or Third) Language.

Reading at (or on your way to) the Perspectives National Conference in Maryland? We’d love to meet you. The first five people who find Shane or Marti and mention seeing this edition can have a free book!

Timely Travel Tips, Dopes Like Me, and the Value of a Second (or Third) Language

By Shane Bennett

Eighty-two Steps and Other Travel Tips

It was eeeeiiiigghhty tttwwwoooooo steps from the street to the door of our flat in Catania, Sicily last month. That’s 82 steps hammering home a lesson: Bring less stuff! That pretty much sums up my go-to travel advice: Leave it at home. Granted, (A) I’m grateful I don’t have to travel with a CPAP machine, and (B) I don’t require all the accoutrements that some females do.

Honestly, though, I don’t remember the last time I thought, “Dang! I wish I had that thing I left at home.”

A full set of travel tips should go beyond “leave it,” though, so see my friend Carl’s Top 20 Medearis Family Travel Tips. While you’re there, snoop around the site; Carl has written some provocative and helpful words.

If you’re really into travel tips, check these (sometimes contradictory) lists as well: 61 Travel Tips to Make You the World’s Savviest Traveler (Nomadic Matt), a packing list for the traveling gal (A Beautiful Mess), and a list of really cool, I mean helpful, traveling gadgets (Rethink Modern).

What Dopes Like Me Can Do

It’s a perennial but pleasant surprise: God can and is apparently happy to use people like me. The most recent edition of the surprise came a couple of weeks ago and swirled around a series of Discovery Bible Studies I had with a young guy from Gambia in a piazza in Sicily. I’ve talked to around 6.3 gazillion Muslims in my day, but this may have been the first time we’d really dug into the Bible together. I walked away thinking, “It’s true what they say… pretty much anyone can do this.”

I often think my mobilization cachet is to leave people with this realization: “If he can do it, I probably can too!” I mean, really, I’m no Lottie Moon or Gladys Aylward. I couldn’t even carry lunch for the Dons (McGavran, McCurry, and Richardson, for those keeping score!). But sometimes God uses me. If you don’t want to hear this, run away now. Otherwise I’m looping you into the group of people that God can use. Yes, you!

Certainly many Missions Catalyst readers, humble though you are, know that God uses you. You don’t need me to remind you. Great. But most of the people we know? They don’t know it! A cursory look at the Bible, history, and our lives says it’s true, though. God delights in using the least likely characters. Yay for us, for God, and for the world who waits to know him.

Check out You’ve Got Libya for the story of one of my heroes who was surprised that God would use the likes of him.

Language Learning Is Worth It!

I say this more from observation than experience. Our first group in Catania, Sicily in June interacted almost exclusively in English. They spoke some other languages, but none that were in play locally. And they did amazing things with their English.

The second team, however had some ringers: a woman whose mother tongue was French, a young lady with good Arabic, even though it was Chadian, and a young man who could stumble along in both French and Arabic. The doors these guys opened! We were able to converse with Wolof women from Senegal, extend welcome to 14- and 15-year-old boys fresh off the boat from Egypt, and even score points with a friend who was an imam from Morocco and reluctant to use his English.

Are you working on a second or third language right now? Press on! It’s worth it. Are you considering downloading Duolingo and diving in? Yes! I’m behind you 100 percent. Are you in a position to encourage some young bucks to get another language? Grace to you as you do so. They’ll be annoyed now, but grateful as God opens cool, unexpected doors. (Are you a non-American who’s grown up speaking several languages? Good on you. Thanks for the grace. We’re working on it.)

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

Practical Mobilization

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Greetings!

We know you’re busy, maybe traveling this summer, or maybe getting some good catch-up time with the kids. We are, too. But we don’t want to stop getting helpful stuff in your hands.

For the June, July, and August editions of Practical Mobilization, Shane’s going to share three quick ideas you’ll want to think about and then pass along to your friends and family. So here’s a quick look at three issues (along with a hearty hope that God works in and through you this summer season!)

Blessings,
Marti

P.S.: If you missed it, be sure to check out last month’s Practical Mobilization, Warm Weather Welcome: Seven Ways You Can Make this Summer Soar for New Americans.

Triple Shot Summer Series: Three Quick Ideas You’ll Want to Talk About

Three more

By Shane Bennett

Gratitude for Luke 10:2 Answers

Can I tell you something really fun? I’m in Italy this week and ate dinner this evening in Catania, Sicily, one of my favorite cities on the planet. My dining companions were eight intrepid believers from all over the US, laborers for the harvest who have agreed to be our first “official” group, the real guinea pigs, for the Care for Catania vision.

I’ve asked you before to set a daily alarm on your phone at 10:02am to pray as Jesus told us in Luke 10:2, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” That alarm went off this morning as I made my way to the airport to pick up my friends flying in. I had a moment of deep, profound gratitude: God has answered the prayer so many have prayed over the past years. Laborers have been sent to my town! And this prayer is not just being answered in my tiny corner of the world, nor with this group alone: God is sending ambassadors from all over to all over. But I sure am thankful for these guys. Will you join me in gratitude for the many ways God is answering this prayer?

Grieving For Orlando

While the young Italian hostess checked us into our AirBNB flat this afternoon, she asked what had brought us to Italy. I told her we wanted to learn about the migrant situation there and perhaps help people a bit. Even as I said that, it was hard to set aside the thought that it’s crazy for me as an American, a resident of a country that had so recently experienced the nightmare in Orlando, to think I could help other people in another country. On one level it feels absurd.

But what was true a week ago is true today: People who love Jesus need to try to follow him; not just believe what he said, but do it as well. One writer framed a Jesus-honoring, faith-over-fear response like this:

“First, look for practical ways to help. Many donated blood yesterday, but more will be needed in coming days, especially rarer blood types. CNN lists several organizations that have set up sites for financial donations to help cover the funeral and medical costs of the victims. Let us be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only’ (James 1:22).

“Second, stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. Baptist ethicist Russell Moore was right when he tweeted: ‘Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.’ As Ted Cruz noted, ‘nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn’t share their faith or sexual orientation.’ If we claim to love God, we must love those he loves (1 John 4:20). And he loves us all (John 3:16).

“Third, turn your fears into faith. Be careful and vigilant, but live with bold passion and triumphant trust. Every time fear attacks, name it. Describe it specifically to God. Ask his Spirit to give you courage. And you will discover that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).

“In coming days, as we learn the stories of lives ended and families shattered, we will be tempted by despair. As we face the threat of further terrorism, we will be tempted by dread. But as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because no matter how bad things get, our Father is Lord. And he is love (1 John 4:8).”

Fundraising Feast

At dinner tonight, my friend Jenny shared this fundraising gem: “I figured if George Clooney could ask friends to pony up $300K for dinner with Hillary Clinton, I could ask $40 for a great dinner and a chance to hear me talk about God’s work among refugees.”

Turns out she was right. The dinner she cooked was hosted by a current supporter who invited several friends, each of whom paid $40 to attend. Between the three courses Jenny told about her upcoming work. Over dessert she invited the guests to contribute further to her efforts. That dinner has netted Jenny over $800 so far and also initiated relationships with several new people. Of course it also blessed the diners with fresh, helpful information and full, happy tummies. Contact me for more details or the info flyer Jenny used to describe the strategy and recruit hosts.

I hope you have a great summer. Look forward to more quick, talk-worthy ideas and a report on God’s growing kingdom among refugees in Sicily.

» Please feel free to comment and share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or on our website.

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Kids soccer teamImage: Flikr / Penn State News

Warm Weather Welcome: Seven Ways You Can Make this Summer Soar for New Americans

By Shane Bennett

Editor’s note: Several of the ideas in this month’s Practical Mobilization column are US-specific, though with a little creativity, most can be adapted to other settings.

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer is just around the corner: Long days, warm nights, and no school. Schedules often get a change up this time of year. The seasonal shift closes some doors, but opens some interesting other ones.

What if you decided to do something different this year? What if you wove into your summer plans creative efforts to extend care to some of the most overlooked people in your city? If you wedge into your summer schedule some time with refugees and others from outside America (or your country), a few things may happen: Some precious people will experience God’s blessing, your life will be richer for the experience and effort, and your kids will learn a few swear words in a new language!

To get started, you’ll want to find two things: info about where refugees live near you and some friends to join you. Check out this helpful map to see what refugee agencies work where. Contact them to find out who’s coming to your town, who’s already at work to serve refugees, and how you and your friends can help.

To gather allies? Encourage your church to recognize National Refugee Sunday on June 26th. Then show the amazing film, The Good Lie to further sensitize your church to the challenges refugees face settling into a new country. Pass around a sign-up sheet or pay attention to who attends so you can follow up with specific invitations and ways to respond.

1. Host a Sports Clinic

Draft some high school students from the youth group to host a four-day intro to American sports. Spend a day each on football, baseball, and basketball. On day four, allow participants to double down on their favorite sport, then award certificates. Know a famous, or even marginally famous, sports figure? Ask them to show up early in the week to build interest or to attend a special wrap-up event.

2. Arrange a Muslim Awareness Day

Here’s an idea that would work great with families. Set aside a day to open your minds and hearts to Muslims in your city. Begin with an hour or so of introduction to Islam. If you can’t find someone better, you can do this! Check out Fouad Masri’s book, Ambassadors to Muslims for accessible fodder for training. In pairs, hit the streets of the densest Muslim neighborhood you can find for two to three hours of fun with a cultural scavenger hunt. The basic idea is to nudge your friends into conversations with Muslims. Here’s a sample from Amsterdam. Tally up the points and pick a winner over lunch at a pre-arranged ethnic restaurant. Round out the day with a guided tour of a local mosque and a solid hour to debrief the day’s experiences.

3. Organize a Foreign-friendly VBS

If your city has lot of kids from somewhere else (and a correspondingly high number of tired moms who raise them!), you may want to consider hosting a Vacation Bible School program. Some standard VBS activities translate easily from culture to culture, like that relay where you pop balloons with your bum! That’s global fun! Others, however, might be best left in the closet if your participants are Muslim, not Methodist. I’m thinking of the Salvation Story Bead Bracelet and the Macaroni Cross Craft, which might not go over so well when kids take them home. A brilliant friend and practitioner in the Southwestern US has developed a VBS curriculum that’s biblical, fun, and still honoring to Muslim kids and their parents. She’s had kids come back year after year and parents happily participate in closing celebration events. Email me for a copy of the curriculum.

4. Start a Summer Reading Group

Maybe your own kids are all you want to wrangle this summer. How about pulling together a reading group for adults? Raise some funds to hire baby sitters, advertise around refugee centers and neighborhoods, then get together for an hour to practice reading. Depending on the composition of the group, you may want to keep it pretty simple. If English language capacity is sufficient, I’d recommend Leif Enger’s Peace like a River for a group read. It’s funny, poignant, and has a description of heaven that never fails to make me cry. Plenty of great stuff to talk about.

5. Visit the Farm

Gather twenty to thirty refugee kids and parents, secure the necessary permissions, insurance, and vehicles, then get out of the city! Find a farm with some animals to pet, some work to do, and a kindly old farming couple who tell great stories! If you can’t find a kindly old farmer, a ride on a tractor is a close second. If you return home with bushels of free zucchini, there’s a good chance you found a farm in Indiana.

6. Head to the Hills with International Students

America in the summer is magical. But if your home is China or Saudi Arabia, it can be a challenging time. Check with a local university to see if they’ll help you link up with international students who are staying over the summer. Invite a carload of them on a hike to a nearby mountain, wetland, or forest. Hit up a local eatery on the way home.

7. Fasting and Fireworks

When we were newly arrived in England a dear Afghan family from down the road invited us to shoot fireworks with them to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. The commemoration, as fascinating as it is, meant little to either them or us. But I’ll never forget the warmth and kindness I felt at being invited to share it with them.

This year’s Ramadan fast ends on July 5th. Can I encourage you to invite a Muslim family over on July 4th to eat (after the sun has set) and watch some fireworks with you? If they’re newcomers, it’s a great time to humbly share about America. It’s also a good time to learn about Ramadan and celebrate its near completion.

Conclusion

I’m grateful to God that he’s bringing the nations to our neighborhoods. Success to you as you seek to be a good neighbor this summer. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about doing to make this summer soar for newcomers. Please share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or through comments on our website.