Short Term Nightmare

Rest assured, no one wants your brief time in missions to be a nightmare. Everyone who applies for a short term missions experience, expects that things will go well; that it will be a positive and spiritually fulfilling experience. Most times, this is the case, however there are also scenarios where an experience can go bad.

Here are eight reasons that things can go wrong.

  1. Lack of sufficient language skills: You could feel like you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on language and not enough making what you perceive to be a “real” contribution to the mission field.
  2. Insufficient cultural knowledge: Can make it difficult to understand the actions / reactions of others, or to be understood yourself.  Even if the language spoken is the same as your own… the culture can be very different.
  3. Personality clashes: Both you and the missionary you are going to work with are both (are you ready for it?)human, and different personality types can rub the wrong way.  They are possible to overcome but if your time frame on the field is short, it may be difficult.
  4. Withdrawal: A very common behaviour, when we feel the least bit uncomfortable with people or situations, is to withdraw… overtly or secretly. In the context of short term missions, withdrawal only compounds any frustration that you may already be dealing with. Don’t withdraw!
  5. Lack of clarity concerning what is expected of you and or what you expect of your experience. It’s important to have as much dialogue as possible with your missionary, either before heading to the field, or, at the very least… at the beginning of your AIM term.
  6. Lack of flexibility can usher in frustration (for you AND your missionary). You may go to the field with certain expectations and find your job description changed upon arrival. Within reason, this should not be a problem… be flexible. Remember, the LORD knew of the change long before you applied or arrived and has equipped you. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart (Ecclesiastes 9.10)… you’ll be a blessing.
  7. Impatience can be a major source of frustration. Your short term missions experience doesn’t only begin when you arrive on the field… it begins the moment God calls you, you inquire and you apply…  If you’re not patient, the process will be a source of frustration before you even get to the field… flavouring the entire process.
  8. An unteachable spirit: Remember… the missionary you work with, has most likely been on the field much longer than you. They know the people, the church, the culture and the language. In all likelihood, they do know better than you what is needed in a given context. They may ask for and consider your advice, but ultimately they make the final call (as they will likely be on the field long after your AIM term has ended and need to live with the consequences of all decisions.) Don’t be offended if they don’t follow your advice to the letter.

The danger of an AIM term gone bad is that it could endanger a very real call that God has placed on your life. Discouragement with a particular STM experience could keep you from pursuing other missions experiences down the road, or even ministry altogether.

Guard yourself against these eight pitfalls and your time in missions will be rich and fulfilling. One of the biggest things that will help you firm up all of these areas is a good dose of patience.  Two posts that discuss the value of patience are:

What other pitfalls that I’ve missed?  Can you think of some?

God said “Missions”… now what?

Your friends figured it would happen. Your parents feared it would happen. Even you are not surprised… God spoke, and now it’s your move. What do you do now? This post is kicking off a series on the “Process” of embracing God’s call to missions and moving forward in that calling.

Depending on your age, you may or may not be surprised that God is inviting you to take part in this aspect of ministry, it all depends on when the call comes. The very first time I knew that short term missions would be part of my future came when I was sixteen and on a summer youth mission tour in Monterrey, Mexico. That wasn’t my first time on such a tour, but it was the furthest away (Prior to that we’d been in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Burlington, Ontario and Narragansett, Rhode Island) and it was my first time on an airplane. We more or less knew the drill, as the process was similar each year: prepare vacation bible school material, practice puppet skits, get together a musical that would be interspersed with various testimonies and be prepared to have your comfort zone stretched. I don’t remember what it was about that trip in particular, perhaps just the fact that it was outside of North America, but coming back I knew that short-term missions would be part of my future.

Fast-forward a couple of year to 1988 when I began attending a Christian liberal arts college in Moncton, New Brunswick. I  heard about an opportunity to spend two months the following summer volunteering in either Belgium or Bolivia. Since I spoke French well and spoke no Spanish at all, the choice was clear: Belgium.

In 1989 I was one of six or seven young people from across Canada who would spend two months working with two missionary families and three 2-year volunteers. Our goal was to help establish a new daughter work as well as lend a hand with youth meetings, camps and services organized by the two mother-churches and the national work. The setting was new, but the task list was not.  During that summer, as had been the case in Mexico, I came home knowing that God was calling me to an even greater involvement. I knew that I would come back to be one of those 2-year volunteers and in 1990 that’s just what happened. I spent from 1990-1992 living in the southern Belgian city of Liège, working with career missionaries in the establishment and growth of a new church.

Active participation in my youth group, led to summer mission trips, which led to 2-month and 2-year mission projects, which led, 14 years later, to a full-time staff position at Mission Point, in my home town of Saint John, NB, Canada. Then, once again, God said “Missions”, which has led to what appears to be another 15-24 month assignment, this time in France.

This is so typical of God. He does not ask us to jump in the deep end head-first, with no experience or preparation, rather, he takes each area of involvement and builds on it, ever working toward his ultimate plan for our lives. Doesn’t it remind you of Matthew 25.21

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant:
thou hast been faithful over a few things,
I will make thee ruler over many things.”

If you’re reading this as a young person, don’t think that your faithfulness is of little value right now. God sees it and is taking note. You are in training for something bigger.

How about you… what has God spoken and how have you answered?

Patience is a virtue

“Pa-cheeen-tsa… pa-cheeen-tsa!” repeated my wife’s Sicilian grandmother, before we were married.  (This is as close as I can come to transcribing her pronunciation of the italian word for “patience”).

This is a sequel to Don’t even Think about it discussing the importance of your spouse being on-board with the extended missions involvement that you feel God is calling you to.  If you haven’t read it yet, it might be helpful to begin with that post and come back to this one.

That God called me to a greater involvement in foreign missions is not so surprising. In fact, my wife likely feared that this day might come (the word ‘fear’ is intentional), yet as we prepare to go, she is 100% on-board. How did we get from “I fear it” to I’m all for-it”?

Over the past twenty years, I had spent a great deal of time in France between personal travel, study for my Master’s Degree and ministry involvement. It was no secret that I had a love for the country and the culture. My wife, on the other hand, grew up an Italian in Belgium (a country that the French typically make fun of), so there was familiarity but no particular affinity. Liz moved to Canada after we married and in doing so, uprooted her entire life (friends, family, cultural and institutional familiarity, etc.), something I both admire and respect. Given that it was such a huge sacrifice, I had said repeatedly that I would never again ask her to do that unless it was very clearly the will of God to do so.

Different ministry opportunities had presented themselves, and although some would’ve been appealing in terms of autonomy or adventure, none were of the Lord. When we would discuss these possibilities, I was careful to reiterate the guideline that I’d established…. that I would not ask her to uproot again unless absolutely convinced that it was clearly the Lord’s plan. Over time she realized that I meant those words.  This built security in her.

Even after I felt quite sure that the Lord was leading us to France, I refrained from discussing it with her for about three months.  I also asked the Lord to speak to her during that time… to prepare her to receive what was solidifying in my heart. If it was of Him, He was well able to speak to her as He had to me.

Before half of those three months had passed, she mentioned to me a desire to get some things in order (the house, bills, etc.) in case we would have to make any kind of move. In that, along with a few other things, I could see that the Lord was preparing the ground… and answering my prayer.

We also limited the spread of what we were contemplating. Sometimes the more people are aware, the more pressure there is to move the process forward at a faster pace. For this reason, only a 1/2-dozen people, or so, were aware of our plan for nearly a year – people whose prayer life, walk with God and advice we trusted.

Did you catch that? I said “nearly a year”. In fact… at the time of this writing, we have been formally in the process for fifteen months and still very few people are aware of our plans. By exhibiting patience (pa-cheeen-tsa) I have given the Lord time to speak into my wife’s spirit and given my wife time to get comfortable with the idea.

They say that “slow & steady wins the race”.  I have found that to be the case. By taking our time, it has allowed my wife to opt-in to the plan. It is something we are planning together. Rather than simply “her following God’s plan for my life” we are pursuing God’s plan for our life… together.
And it feels great!

Thanks Nonna… pa-cheeen-tsa! … it works!

Don’t even think about it!

MLGagetownDon’t even think about extended missions involvement without the full support of your spouse!

The necessity for your spouse to be “on board” is essential with any kind of ministry involvement as it can involve long days, an unpredictable schedule, and high expectations (voiced or implied).  If your spouse is not fully supportive, there can arise a tug of war – in your spirit if no where else – for you must balance the needs of ministry along with the needs of your marriage and family. Balance is key in this area for two reasons:

  1. Your joy depends on experiencing fulfillment in all areas of your life… personal and ministerial, and joy is key!  If things at home are stable and balanced, you will approach the work of the Lord from a more positive start-point… and positivity breeds positivity.
  2. Your family is an example to those with whom you minister. This is not to say that your family needs be perfect (that’s not reality) but it should be a positive example of Christianity and should inspire others to want to serve Christ as a family.

This holds true for ministering families in any context, but there is an added layer when it comes to missions work, particularly in an overseas setting.

It’s one thing for an individual to feel a call to missions, but when an individual is part of a family unit, it’s something entirely different. Your call has implications for the other people in your family. In our case, four other people: my wife and three children, and the balance element must still be there.  Despite a host of new circumstances, your spouse will…

  1. be key in helping your children manage a new cultural context with its different norms and expectations.
  2. help your children balance the sense of loss (having left friends and familiarity) with the opportunities for discovery and growth that a new country and culture afford.
  3. remind you when its time for you to balance a bit… perhaps pull back to make sure your kids feel your support as well. If you are the one who has primarily experienced the call of God for this place, it will be easy for you to pour yourself into the work with full gusto. There will be times when your children and your spouse will need you, and your spouse will remind you of that.

Because of this heightened role in the life of your kids, it’s important to remain aware of their state of balance as well. Whatever their experience of your time in missions, it will be reflected onto, and likely magnified in, the life of your children. If, because of imbalance, their experience begins to be negative; that negativity will be amplified in the life of your kids. Inversely, if their experience is positive, they will propagate positivity into your kids’ experience.

Hence my initial statement: “…don’t even think about extended missions involvement without the full support of your spouse!”  If, from the outset, your spouse is not fully on board with your call to missions, it will jeopardize your family’s experience of the mission field, as well as your effectiveness in fulfilling what the Lord desires to accomplish through you.

What are some other ways in which an on-board spouse is vital?

Two weekends in a row…

brochu-longIt’s not very often that this happens, but we have been able to spend two weekends in a row with the Brochus… what a treat!

Last weekend we attended the French Youth Convention in Melun, France and this weekend we ministered together in St. Laurent, Quebec and the local French Evangelism Conference, Hosted by Pastor Dieudonné Kahozi. This was the 8th local conference, and although it is not an international conference per sé, Pastor Kahozi typically likes to have a representative from the church in France and this year, for the first time, Bro. Brochu was able to come.

Hosted by the church in Saint Laurent, there were some 18 services to coordinate (about half of which took place on Sunday among the main services and various daughter works around the city). Bro. Brochu was the main speaker and Pastor Raymond Woodward was responsible for the day sessions. I spoke, for the first time, in St. Laurent’s English language morning service as well as at the daughter work in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Aside from some informal moments in passing during the convention last week, this was really the first time that Liz had a chance to sit down and talk with / get to know the Brochus, other than from what she’d heard from me. We had some valuable time to begin discussing details all four of us together.

IMG_5344bWe thank the Lord for the opportunity to spend time together. The idea of uprooting oneself, either as a single individual or a couple represents a challenge as it is. We are looking at uprooting a family of 5 in order to follow God’s plan, and while there is no doubt in our mind as to whether or not it is God’s plan, times like this allow opportunities to discuss, ask questions, get reassurances, gain understanding etc.

This is a phenomenal missionary couple and we are so happy for the opportunity to carry some of their responsibilities, in France, during their 2015-2016 deputation.  If you would like to support us, click here to find out how you can help.

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Don’t just sit there… translate!

IMG_5253

Today was the second and final day of the Youth Convention… it was amazing, and that for a number of reasons.

Yesterday I mentioned that there were a number of young people in attendance from other European countries. For this reason every aspect of the services take place in both French and English.

  • If songs are sung in French, both French and English lyrics are displayed.
  • If a worship leader is exhorting in French, their comments are simultaneously translated into French.
  • If greetings from a special guest are expressed, or the preaching takes place, in English, it will also be simultaneously translated into French.

During the morning service, Bro. Nowacki asked if I would help by providing translation for the service preliminaries: both from French to English, as well as from English to French, depending on the speaker. That was honour enough already, but during the second service of the day, and the final service of the convention, he asked if I would translate for the convention speaker, Bro. Tisdale.  At the risk of sounding repetitious… What an honour!  You’ve got to remember that up to this point, Bro. Nowacki himself had done all translation of the messages and now, for the final message of the weekend, when expectations are Translating Bro. Robert Tisdalethrough the roof, he was entrusting that responsibility to a Canadian anglophone.

It reminded me of another time back in the early 1990’s. I spent two years in Belgium in an AIM-type role and at that time also, I had been asked to translate during national meetings. When I think back to that time and look at this experience, I’m convinced that the Holy Ghost anoints a translator just as He anoints a preacher, so that the essence of his word for that congregation goes forth unimpeded. You have to think on the fly, seek vocabulary and interpret not just the words but the idioms and cultural sensitivities as well. Things went so well during that service that there were times when I thought to myself… “You don’t even speak this clearly in normal conversation, when you have time to think about what you’re saying.”  I have no explanation other than to say “that’s the anointing of God” and I give him glory for it.

We came to this convention intending to simply attend, rejoice and learn with the church of France and reconnect with friends. The unexpected privilege of being able to participate in and contribute to what God was doing, was simply tremendous.

Leadership within the French District showed confidence in our ability to bring something to the work there. The Atlantic District and Global Missions personnel have recognized our ability to contribute to this field, as AIM furlough replacements for the Brochus beginning in January 2015.  Would you consider supporting us financially during this AIM term; allowing us to contribute, on a longer-term basis, to growing the work in France?

Ushered to the VIP seats in France

Youth Convention 2013Having spent the past week or so on vacation with Liz’s parents at their home in southern Belgium, we’d originally planned to fly back to Canada tomorrow, November 10. Seeing that the French Youth Convention was scheduled for the same weekend, we were just too close and the timing was too perfect to miss.

It would only take 3-4 hours, by car, to drive from southern Belgium to Melun (where Pastor Nowacki’s church is located) and we could fly out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport the following day, November 11th.  A quick adjustment of plans, arrange a car rental and voilà… we were off to France and YC2013 bound!

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the convention, hence the theme… 30 ans Triomphe (30 years Triumph).  Although it has consistently been organized by Bro. Nowacki’s church, it is no longer simply for the young people of France. Young people were present from Denmark, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and other European countries. The guest speaker for the weekend, Rev. Robert Tisdale of Dallas,Texas, was to minister in the four convention services (This afternoon & evening and tomorrow morning & afternoon).

Pastor Nowacki and his team knew that we were coming but little did we know that they’d usher us to reserved seating front and center in the auditorium; we wouldn’t miss anything of what God would do in these services. We reconnected with the missionaries (the Nowackis, the Brochus and the Balcas) as well as national pastors with whom I’d taught during IBF (Institut Biblique de France or French Bible Institute) in 2009, 2010 and 2012.  MTisdale-Nowackiany of the present and former students also came to greet us, meeting Liz & the kids for the first time.

60 young people presented Héros de la Foi (Heroes of the Faith) this evening. During this black-light presentation they cited the names and stories of 30 biblical heroes of faith and affirmed how they themselves would, like those they cited, strive to be a hero of the faith to this, their generation. Bro. & Sis. John & Anne Nowacki, themselves heroes of the faith in France, introduced the presentation. Sis. Nowacki was, after all, the first national youth president when they arrived in the country over 30 years ago. They recounted the history of France’s youth department and the convention which grew out of it… having grown to over 800 this year.

We got to meet Rev. Mike Tuttle for the first time. He is a former missionary to the Netherlands and currently the Global Missions Department’s Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East.  Although I was unaware that we would meet him, it was nonetheless great to do so, as he will be one of the men who will consider our application for AIM appointment, and will be part of our reporting structure once on the field.

Day 1 of the convention, with our view from VIP, was wonderful!


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