Been There. Done That. Now What?

Mission Opportunities for People Who Used to Go Places

By Marti Wade

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Schools are out or soon will be. And many in the mission world are pulling out their suitcases for a journey overseas, perhaps with others from their church, a short-term team in tow, or an important mission to complete.

That’s not me. My passport expired a while back. When I was young and single, I went abroad about once a year. And I was single a lot longer than many of you. Now, though, I have less energy and fewer opportunities come my way. I’ve been there, done that, and even if I’d like to go again, I don’t see how I can justify taking the place of someone who may have more to give and not had such privileges in the past. So, I stay home and just read about other cultures.

Yet, this choice brings on some troubling trends. My skills and confidence for navigating actual, in-person, cross-cultural situations have atrophied like unused muscles. Living through a pandemic and working from home for years have also taken a toll. What to do?

Maybe some of you are in the same boat. Or perhaps you know others whose hands-on cross-cultural ministry experience is becoming ancient history, something they used to do, maybe before mortgages, gardens, and grandkids. I think our churches have more than a few like this.

How can we find and offer the middle-aged a way back into more active roles? I’ve got a few thoughts. Some might also work for those who are new to missions. What would you add? If enough of you send me more ideas, I’ll shape them into a part two.

Thanks for reading.

Three Ways to Reengage in Missions

1. Visit a friend

If you used to do missions, you probably know someone in another country, someone you’d love to see in person again, encourage and learn from. What about a visit? Maybe they’ve said, never expecting a response, “You should come see us sometime!” Reach out. Bring it up. Explore how that could work. Maybe they have a job for you to do, but perhaps they just need a friend. If you have numerous missionary contacts or friends in other places, contact several and see who responds. Then, make a plan. Renew that passport and save up money or frequent-flier miles.

If you’re a church mission leader, think about who in your church could get on a plane and be a blessing to a worker or ministry you support. Talk to them about going, maybe with some help and direction from the church.

Read The Special Role of a Missionary Friend or In-Person Care (Catalyst Services).

2. Be a more active advocate.

Maybe you can’t make that international trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit on your hands at home. Buy a go-er a coffee and ask how you can be a bigger help and part of what they’re doing. Pray with and encourage them. Brainstorm about a problem they need to solve. Offer to host or organize a gathering or represent their needs when they are gone.

You may also have relevant experience or connections to share. Perhaps you can help missionaries-in-the-making grow in practical skills. See, from our archives, What World Travelers Should Know Before They Go. Church mission leaders, as you get to know candidates, look for ways to encourage such connections.

To make a stronger contribution, link arms with others. Read Revisiting Advocate Teams (Catalyst Services).

3. Invite the world in.

Many middle-aged missionaries will tell you they first got interested because they heard a missionary speak at church or met missionary families Mom and Dad invited to their house for dinner. Both may be less common in today’s culture. So, be counter-cultural. Find out when a missionary will be in town and send them a note about getting together. Do they need a place to stay? Offer them hospitality.

And what about hosting a neighbor from another culture, like having an international student or an immigrant family join you for a holiday? Contact local cross-cultural ministries or student exchange programs or talk to your church about needs and opportunities.

You might start small. But ask the Lord to show you if you could play a long-term role as a “welcomer” through sponsoring refugees, teaching English, or hosting an exchange student. Church leaders, share opportunities like that with people in your congregation. You might be surprised who responds.

See befriending the bewildered (Pioneers) or learn how to become a friendship partner to an international student (ISI).

Conclusion

You may have many more ideas or stories from your own experience. I hope you do. I’d love to hear them.

To get the creative juices flowing, you might check out an article I found deep in the Missions Catalyst archives: 21 Easy Ways to Introduce Your Friends to the Nations or read Adopt an International Restaurant (Pioneers-USA).

Header image: Paul Nelham/Flikr

Tips for Your Team: Frugal, Resourceful Innovation

Source: Jon Hirst, Innovation in Missions

Article: When Tennis Balls Will Do

Innovation doesn’t have to cost a lot to deliver significant learning and change. Sometimes the resourceful, frugal solution is the one we should be aiming for. But in a world full of venture capital and big dreams, we can forget that spending $100 dollars strategically can lead to more innovation than $10,000 without discipline.

Read When Tennis Balls Will Do. Love it!

Resource: 10 Activities to Generate Better Ideas

We all want better brainstorming sessions, but the challenge is how to design creative spaces where your team can think in new ways. This is harder than it seems and so its always good to be on the lookout for new tools. Here is a list of 10 ideas that may give you some new places to start.

Read 10 Activities to Generate Better Ideas. I think you’ll find more than one your ministry team can use.

Read the whole newsletter and consider subscribing.

Resource Roundup: Celebrating St. Patrick and the Great Commission

Source: Various

Did you know Patrick was one of the earliest Christian leaders to think deeply and write clearly about completing the Great Commission? You might read the chapter about Patrick in the book Missionary Monks, watch the docudrama I Am Patrick, or follow links from a resource list by missiologist J.D. Payne.

Via Family (formerly Weave) has suggestions you can use to help your kids learn more about the real St. Patrick. Read Beyond Shamrocks and Leprechauns. It includes an activity you can do with your family.

See also The Real Story of St. Patrick (Voice of the Martyrs). Looks like it’s from their series of books for kids highlighting courageous Christians from Scripture (Paul, Stephen, Thomas) and early church history (Saints Patrick, Valentine, and Nicholas). Praise God that many more have come after them. May we, too, be faithful in lifting up Jesus and introducing others to him, despite the obstacles and challenges.

Article: Why Easter Matters for Missions

Source: Radical, April 6, 2023

The needs of the world can quickly overwhelm us. The Lord will send his church to countries ravaged by war, camps filled with refugees, villages living in abject poverty, and trauma-laden communities right next door. As they go, members of his church will meet the physical needs around them, just like their Lord. And this is but the beginning.

Jesus came to give his people abundant life, but he didn’t stop there. Jesus came to bring us back to God. The resurrection ensures that the message that missionaries bring to the lost offers them a path to eternal joy, not just relief from temporal suffering.

Read Why Easter Matters for Missions. And thanks to OSCAR for highlighting this article.

For more to help you refocus on things that matter most, read Why Spiritual Formation Is Central in God’s Mission (Bradley Bell).

Missions Podcasts: Find Your New Favorite

Sources: Various

Looking for a missions-oriented audio soundtrack for your workout or road trip? Missio Nexus has got your covered. Thanks to Brigada for reminding us of this resource.

Browse the Missions Podcast Directory. You may find a new favorite.

See also He Who Has Earbuds, Let Him Hear: Audio Bibles on the Rise, which reports that Gen Z is the first cohort to prefer digital over print, according to American Bible Society research (Christianity Today).

Practical Mobilization: Three Personal Challenges for 2024

You likely know that January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of transitions. Roman mythology says he had two faces: one looking back, one looking forward. In the same way, January gives us a Janus-like moment to consider what happened last year and what’s coming next.

Of course, if New Year’s Day took you by surprise, without a resolution or a “word” for the year, fear not. Looks like Chinese/Lunar New Year rolls around on February 10 and Persian New Year, Nowruz, is March 20. In the liturgical calendar, February 14 will launch us into Lent, and that might be a good time to turn over a new leaf or lay aside a distraction. And then there’s the ultimate resurrection day, Easter Sunday, which most of us will celebrate on March 31.

Face it. Any day is a good day to start anew and embrace new life. We walk with a God whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Might one of these gospel-inspired challenges shape your 2024?

1. Make a Different Kind of Resolution

Here’s something thought-provoking from East-West Ministries.

They wrote,

“The Apostle Paul was certainly a proponent of becoming more like Christ every day (Romans 12:2). But Paul also had a different kind of resolution that was not focused on improving himself. In fact, his resolution embraced his shortcomings.”

They’re referring to what he told the church in Corinth after hearing complaints that he wasn’t an impressive performer (1 Corinthians 2:1-5):

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Is there something here for us?

“As you contemplate your resolutions this year, consider whether your supposed area of improvement might be an opportunity to display God’s power in your life. Perhaps your weakness is the very thing God will use to draw many people to him.”

Read A Different Kind of Resolution.

2. Do Your Devos (or Discipleship) Differently

“We would love for our team to grow,” a Pioneers worker serving in Eurasia said in a recent newsletter. “When we’re in the U.S., we enjoy meeting folks considering overseas life. We join interview committees to listen to peoples’ stories and help direct their next steps. In the summer, we host interns to give them a look at long-term life.

“Dialoging with potential coworkers gives us a glimpse into trends. Those currently looking to move internationally want to join teams that will disciple them not just in language and culture but in the Word. During interviews, we ask, ‘How do you commune with God? Have you ever taught the Word?’

“More and more candidates are saying they use devotional books and book/video studies; they have never learned to study or teach on their own.

“So, if those we send have never been discipled, how can they make disciples? We’re kind of scratching our heads. We definitely want to disciple others. That’s the command: Make disciples. And we definitely will sharpen one another as coworkers. But our intent in moving overseas was not to disciple coworkers from fellowships in our home country. It is to teach new brothers and sisters from the people we now live among.”

Rather than bemoaning how hard it is to find qualified candidates, this cross-cultural worker invited his supporters and other readers to be part of the solution:

“Can you help? As the new year comes, if you know how to study the Bible on your own, pray about inviting two or three others to study with you straight from the Word so they can learn, too. Then, in 2025, ask them to pass on their new skills to two or three more people. If you’ve never learned to study or teach, be willing to learn and find someone to help you.

“If you’re a leader, can we ask you to evaluate the teaching methods in your fellowship? We know that it’s easy to have people lead book/video studies, but it can become a crutch and hurt in the long run. Are you teaching people how to feed themselves? Who are people in your fellowship who possibly have the gift of teaching that you could develop?

“We’re thankful that people are following the command to go. And we’re grateful for you standing behind us to get and keep us here. We look forward to receiving some of those you’re sending. We’ll work together to build up the kingdom on both sides of the ocean!”

3. Prioritize Funding Ministry to the Unreached

Recently, Justin Long of Beyond published an article revisiting the oft-quoted statistic, based on data from a few decades ago, that less than one percent of all money given to missions goes to reaching unreached people and places. Is it true? Still?

After explaining where the number came from, why it’s more difficult than ever to measure, and why he believes the imbalance is not as severe as it once was, Justin concluded:

“The percentage spent on mission to the unreached is almost certainly less than half of the total spent on foreign mission (which is itself 5% of total Christian ministry funds)—very probably less than a third of it. I would go so far as to guess, I think very reasonably, that it’s less than a quarter. If correct, then 25% of 5% would mean about 1.25% of total giving to Christian ministry is spent on mission to the unreached. It’s probably safe to say that 1% or less is given to mission to the unreached.”

But here’s the takeaway:

“Those who’d like to make a difference might look at their own giving and consider how they might give their own personal 1%, 2%, 10% or more to this ministry. It might not jar the global numbers very much, but it could make a very strategic difference in specific works.”

Consider looking at your own budget through this lens. How would you like to see churches and believers using their resources? Could it start with you?

Want to dig deeper in the data? Read the article (at the end of the email).

For more from Justin, subscribe to one of his newsletters: the Weekly Roundup, free or premium edition (this article was in the premium edition) or to the free, weekly prayer-guide based on the Roundup.

Practical Mobilization: Remembering Those Who Came Before Us

Youth With a Mission founder Loren Cunningham saw waves of young people sharing the gospel in every nation (Mark 15:16).

A Morbid Confession

It may be strange to admit it. But I do enjoy a good funeral. What about you? It’s not the music, flowers, or stained glass that gets me. And the death of a child or someone who died prematurely can be brutal.

But I love to see people gather to celebrate a long life well lived, especially when it’s the life of someone who stayed focused on honoring God and loving people their whole life long, not giving up or hindered long by the setbacks and struggles they faced or their own hang-ups and handicaps.

Maybe they made a big splash in the world. Maybe not. But they lived for what matters, and when they’re gone—and probably before that, too—people saw it and said, “Yes, that’s right.”

The death of such a saint, now at rest, calls me to question my habits and refocus on things that count more than killing time or meeting deadlines.

Losses and Legacies

The mission community and the Church have lost many senior leaders in the last few years. Some of those deaths have brought an outpouring of articles celebrating that person’s legacy in the lives of others. Think Billy Graham, George Verwer, and Tim Keller.

Last week, the mission community lost another, Youth with a Mission founder Loren Cunningham. He died October 6 at the age of 88.

Into All the World and Now Beyond

A YWAM press release reports, “Loren was the first person in history to travel to every sovereign nation on earth, all dependent countries, and more than 100 territories and islands for the sake of Christ and the Great Commission (Mark 16:15). Now he has added one more “stamp” to his well-worn passport: HEAVEN!”

That Mark 16 verse (“go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”) was part of the bedrock of Loren’s life and had been since 1948 when he was 13, and it rang in his ears at an altar call. Then, at age 20, Loren heard the call confirmed. In prayer, he saw a picture of a world map with waves crashing on every coast, waves of young people from all over who would go share the gospel all across the globe. In the early 1960s, Loren’s vision led to the launch of Youth With a Mission.

YWAM and the Short-Term Mission Movement

Loren had a gift to mobilize young people to respond to the gospel and offer themselves up in service. Yet, he saw the years of schooling they’d have to complete to become missionaries as an unnecessary barrier to unleashing them on the world. Loren was ready to disrupt traditions and remove obstacles. So he looked for new pathways. Created them, really.

His early experiments with sending short-term missionaries (like some of his later efforts) had mixed results. There were controversies and failures. But Loren and those who joined him learned as they went. By 1985, YWAM was discipling and sending out more than 15,000 young people every year. The impact of these trips on their lives and the lives of those who received them and served alongside them was significant.

YWAM went on to become one of the world’s largest mission organizations. Loren always brushed off that claim lest it take away from God’s glory, the urgency of the task remaining, or the great work done by others. Yet, through YWAM, millions have been discipled and shared the love of Jesus with people everywhere.

That’s no small thing. And it started with a man who listened to and was led by God and who wouldn’t give up.

“Remember your leaders,
who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life
and imitate their faith.”
– Hebrews 13:7

Practical Mobilization Takeaways

  1. Think about leaders who have impacted you, directly or indirectly. Is there a parent, grandparent, pastor, mentor, or ministry leader whose influence helped set the trajectory of your life? If you can, thank them for their faithfulness. Ask God to help you recognize opportunities to pour into someone else’s life like that.
  2. Life verses have fallen from fashion, but maybe you have a favorite passage (or a few) that you hang your hat on in the way Loren Cunningham held onto Mark 15:16. If not, ask God to show you a Bible verse, story, or principle that might help you set your course or make sense of how he’s led you so far.
  3. How would God have you encourage the next generation and walk with them through the challenges and obstacles they face in following God’s plans for them, close to home or across the world? What would help you persevere as a sender, mentor, or mobilizer?

Links for Learning More

The Dog Ate My Passport and 10 Other Ways to Avoid Becoming a Missionary

By Amanda, Pioneers UK

Read or share the email edition of this article.

I’d always thought the excuse of a dog eating one’s homework was laughable (having been an overachieving child myself). Imagine, then, my slightly misplaced delight when I arrived at the office one day to find one of my colleagues—who had been due to fly to South America the day before—inexplicably sitting at his desk.

“But you’re meant to be in Brazil,” I stated quizzically. He said very little, just presented me with a plastic bag. The contents looked like shredded paper at first. That is, until I noticed the remnants of a photograph and the distinctive red of a British passport cover.

“The dog ate my passport,” he said. “I couldn’t go to Brazil because the dog ate my passport.”

I confess that I laughed long and heartily. It wasn’t particularly kind of me, but thankfully my colleague saw the humor in the situation too and we had a good laugh together.

We make small, insignificant decisions every day—decisions we would never imagine could make any difference to our lives. But sometimes they do. (For instance, leaving your passport on the dining table unattended could result in a missed week-long trip to the other side of the world.) In fact, our insignificant, everyday decisions often set the course of our lives more than the major, more dramatic decisions we make.

Howard Culbertson, former missionary and professor of missions at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma wrote a checklist for anyone hoping to avoid missionary service. Although it leaves out feeding your passport to your dog, it lists some of the other everyday choices and attitudes that could affect our willingness to say, “Here am I, send me.” The list applies primarily to Goers, but those of us who are Senders, Givers, and Pray-ers will certainly find that it applies to us too!

And now, without further ado, for a good giggle (with just a little sting), I present to you:

10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

1. Ignore Jesus’s request in John 4:35 that we take a long hard look at the fields.

Seeing the needs of people can be depressing and very unsettling. It could lead to genuine missionary concern.

2. Focus your energies on socially legitimate targets.

Go after a bigger salary. Focus on getting a job promotion, a bigger home, a more luxurious car, or future financial security. Along the way, run up some big credit card debts.

3. Get married to somebody who thinks the “Great Commission” is what your employer gives you after you make a big sale.

After marriage, embrace the socially accepted norms of settling down, establishing a respectable career trajectory, and raising a picture-perfect family.

4. Stay away from missionaries.

Their testimonies can be disturbing. The situations they describe will distract you from embracing wholeheartedly the materialistic lifestyle of your home country.

5. If you happen to think about missions, restrict your attention to countries where it’s impossible to openly do missionary work.

Think only about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, and other closed countries. Forget the vast areas of our globe open to missionaries. Never, never listen to talk about creative access countries.

6. Think how bad a missionary you would be based on your own past failures.

It is unreasonable to expect you will ever be any better. Don’t even think about Moses, David, Jonah, Peter, or Mark, all of whom overcame failures.

7. Always imagine missionaries as talented, super-spiritual people who stand on lofty pedestals.

Maintaining this image of missionaries will heighten your own sense of inadequacy. Convincing yourself that God does not use ordinary people as missionaries will smother any guilt you may feel about refusing to even listen for a call from God.

8. Agree with the people who tell you that you are indispensable where you are.

Listen when they tell you that your local church or home country can’t do without you.

9. Worry incessantly about money.

10. If you still feel you must go, go out right away without any preparation or training.

You’ll soon be home again and no one can ever blame you for not trying!

And just for good measure, let’s add:

11. Leave your passport on the kitchen table.

Maybe the dog will eat it and then you’ll be off the hook.

Adapted from The Dog Ate My Passport (and Other Ways to Avoid Becoming a Missionary), from Pioneers UK, and How Not to Become a Missionary, by Howard Culbertson.

Dog photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash.

How to Spread Mission Vision in the Local Church (Barna Reports on Sale Through Friday)

Source: Barna Group

“When we surveyed our readers to identify areas where leaders are looking for more support, the #1 response was helping churches reach their full missions potential,” says Barna. The email caught my eye because that came out in our last survey of Missions Catalyst readers, too. This week only, you can save 40% on three Barna research reports that will help you reimagine missions in your church.

Purchase the Missions Bundle before midnight [Pacific time?] this Friday, June 16, to get all three reports at a 40% discount.

1. The Great Disconnect (published in 2022 with Mission India) is designed to both equip and challenge church leaders to build an expanded, global view of missions within their churches and to evaluate how God is uniquely calling their congregations to reach the unreached.

2. The Future of Missions (published in 2020 with the SBC International Mission Board) reveals how young Christians’ perspectives on missions are different from older believers’—and includes profiles of current missionaries in various parts of the world.

3. Translating the Great Commission (published in 2018 with the Seed Company) details how the American Church really feels about the Great Commission, as well as the many opinions about how to accomplish it.

Looks like the total is US$52. Such prices still seem steep? Search for free online articles that reference these reports and their findings.