5 Parties Decisionmakers look out for…

What happens when decision-makers consider your application?  By what criteria are they evaluating your readiness for service overseas? Who are they really looking out for?

Decision-makers look out for…

  1. the candidate – An AIM term gone bad (or at least, one that doesn’t meet your expectations) can endanger a legitimate call of God on your life. How could it go bad? Check out my Short Term Nightmare post for 8 possible ways.
  2. the missionaryA missionary wears many hats at the best of times. They’re responsible to their church(es) on the field, to the national church as well as to their support base in North America. They must grow a church, often without the well developed leadership team that would be common back home. They must remain constantly focused on what’s happening now while also planning the next step. An improperly vetted short-term candidate can require a great deal of support from the missionary since they know the country, the people, the resources, etc. given their longer tenure onsite. They are also “the closest thing to home”, so if a volunteer is having a difficult time with any part of their experience, the missionary becomes the first gatekeeper of support (translator if language skills are insufficient, first responder in a medical situation, go-between with  government agencies (hospitals, drivers’ licenses, visa officers, etc.) or just plain emotional support). They always expects to deal with some such issues, but too much can become a major drain on the missionary’s time, energy and mental focus.
  3. the national church Although doctrinal issues are typically the same across the organization, the treatment of some questions of doctrine, or the practice thereof, can subtly differ from one country / continent / national church to another. By the very nature of the short term during which a volunteer may come, any lack of care on any of these questions can cause controversy among local believers.  In Missions settings, many believers are younger in the faith and/or churches smaller in size, therefore, any controversy will have a greater impact that one would expect or anticipate. When decision-makers closely scrutinize applications on questions of belief, they are trying to protect national churches on the Mission Field.
  4. the sending organizationIf a short-term experience goes bad, in any way, for an individual… the ramifications are felt by the sending organization.
      1. If the budget falls far shorter than expected and unforeseen economic reasons are not to blame, it’s organization can be seen as not properly creating an opportunity in which the candidate could “succeed” and lacking due diligence.
      2. If the candidate is not truly a good fit for either the missionary or the field – whether in terms of personality, skill or responsibility – the organization will be seen to have not properly screened either the individual or the opportunity.
      3. And the list could go on….  What’s important is that everyone involved (missionary, candidate, support base, etc.) looks to the organization to ensure, as much as possible, a good fit and a positive experience. If that does not happen… everyone still looks to them (to some degree) as having responsibility.  If they are seen or perceived to not sufficiently prepare or protect all involved, they will lose the confidence of those looking to them and the organization ceases to be a viable choice for those looking for a short-term experience.
  5. the sending churchThe sending church (be it a local church, a local district or the collective North American church) places a great deal of confidence and invests a great deal of money into short-term missions candidates. If the sending church invests $30,000 into a volunteer on a 6-month assignment and that individual has to return home early, having neither completed the term, significantly advanced the work on the field or having inadvertently caused an issue in the national church, then the sending church can feel as though, through no fault of their own, they have not be a faithful steward of the financial resources that God has entrusted to them. They can then become hesitant to give in the future or may give with reservation.Both long and short-term missions are greatly dependent on the giving of the North American church. The quality of decisions made by organizational decision-makers, as proven out over time, greatly impacts the confidence level of this church. It is therefore essential to protect the confidence of the sending church.

Decision-makers are important: all parties involved depend on them to create, as much as possible, a win-win situation. So when they seem to over-emphasize this or that aspect of the application or the application process, they are really doing it for your benefit as much as everyone else’s …  though it might not seem so at the time.

A negative decision might not mean that what you feel to be the will of God is not that. It might be an indication that it’s not the will of God for that particular moment. If it truly is the will of God, then it will happen.

Decisionmakers have been entrusted by men and by the Lord with judgement and responsibility to ensure that you experience the dream that God put in your heart without it ending up as a nightmare.  If you haven’t yet read my Short Term Nightmare post… now might be a good time. Thank God for decision-makers!

Will of God… more than location

One of the hats I wear, in addition to being assistant to my pastor at MissionPoint and AIMer in preparation, is that of editor for our monthly district publication, The Pentecostal Messenger.  From a recent interview I did with a young churchplanter in our district, I gleaned the following comments on understanding the will of God.  The churchplanter is Kent Carter, pastor of Life Source Church / Église Source de Vie in Shediac, NB. and his comments reveal a wisdom well beyond his years.

While the starting point of my questioning has to do with church planting in particular, his comments quickly point to the process of determining and moving in the will of God in a more general sense. See my questions in black and Kent’s answers in blue:

The Interview:

Me: Why start a church rather than being involved with an existing church where you could grow yourself personally and help grow the existing church?

KC: It happened so naturally for us. My third year of NCC was winding down and I wanted the will of God for my life. I took this thing called the gospel, the good news… and it just seemed right. Although I’d driven by many communities, during Bible college, where I could’ve started a church, I somehow couldn’t imagine driving by that community knowing that no one was there to tell them.

Me: So that community is the will of God for you?

KC: We felt  there was a need there and we wanted to fill it. While the will of God can be tied to a location, it’s more than that. The will of God is righteous living… holy living. That’s the will of God. We can get that mixed up with location. I try to do the will of God: to live righteously, to live a holy life to the best of my ability. If I can fulfill the will of God in my life, then he’ll take me where I need to be.

There are times when he’ll call you to the desert, like with Philip, but the will of God is greater than simply a location. Why Shediac? I can’t be sure. I really think the community is one of the coolest in New Brunswick. I’m young. I love the vibe. It’s a very vibrant community (Now it sounds like I’m trying to pitch it to everyone to come and move there!).

I thought it was a place that we could grow and if we could grow there, then a church could grow there and other people could join us in that growth.

Me: Tell me more about your experience of the call of God because it seems there are two schools of thought: some wait for God to indicate, without question, a definite location, while it seems that some of the ministers of yesteryear simply went wherever they saw a need.

KC: The lightning-bolt moment never happened for me. If I had been waiting for that, I’d probably still be waiting. Sometimes God is not in the storm or the hurricane, but in the still small voice. For us, that still small voice gently nudged and pushed us toward that community. There were also confirmations by men and women of God, but never a lightning-bolt moment.

Me: How did your wife experience things?

KC: My wife wasn’t completely against me so that’s a good thing!  No seriously… she was happy to go and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. I told her that I never wanted our ministry to look like she simply followed my call. I want to be like Priscilla and Aquila, where we are a team. That’s how we went into it in May. We’re a team.

************************************

In an upcoming series of posts, my wife will describe how she experienced my sense of a call to France and making that call her own as well. In the meantime, I can say that while I had a very definite moment of clarity (what some might call a lightning bolt moment), it came after a number of years of simply trying to add something of value to the field of France, while I had opportunity to be there.

I have heard both the loud thundering as well as the still small voice.
Thank you Kent Carter… you have taught me by your example!

More than Acceptance

accepted_png

This was the beginning of my journal entry yesterday:

“Got the call this afternoon from Bro. Poitras letting us know that our AIM application had been approved.”

While speaking with him on the phone yesterday afternoon, I was of course very glad at the news. As the day progressed, however, it occurred to me that the full weight of what that meant was really only beginning to dawn on me.

We fill out application forms all the time, and often have them approved by people we have never, nor will ever, see. The acceptance letter is seen as the natural and expected next step: a “given” as opposed to something that is contingent on a number of factors. It occurred to me however, that at least in the case of an AIM application – an expression of acceptance is a great deal more.

Acceptance is…

An expression of confidence:   Our AIM application was deliberated by…

      1. Bro. Bruce Howell (General Director of Global Missions for the United Pentecostal Church and long time missionary in El Salvador)
      2. Bro. Scott Slaydon (General Secretary of Global Missions)
      3. Bro. Bryan Abernathy (Director of Promotions, Global Missions)
      4. Bro. Jim Poitras (Director of Education / AIM, Global Missions and long time missionary in Ghana, West Africa)
      5. Bro. David Schwarz (Regional Director of the Central American / Caribbean Region, Global Missions)

These five men do more than simply check off items on a list. They attempt to read between the lines and make decisions that are in the best interest of the applicant, the missionaries concerned and the national church. This of course over and above the confidence already expressed by my pastor and district superintendent as well as the others who have encouraged us along the way.

A Definite Next Step:  There are certain Line in the Sand moments, when something feels very, very real. It’s easy to say “We’re in the process of…” doing this or that, but when an application has been accepted for a project of this nature, the trajectory is set and it becomes only a matter of time. Other things or secondary processes that depended on this one, can begin to be engaged.  We’re one step closer to the dream.

A Transfer of Anointing/Authority/Responsibility: As I sat in Bible Study, listening to my pastor’s message – as he talked about gatekeepers in and for the local church and for the city, I couldn’t help but utter a prayer for the cities in which we will be working (Paris and Châtellerault)… asking that God would give gatekeepers in those cities as well: people who would be key in opening up relationships and opportunities, that the Kingdom of God be advanced there.

Lord, like Ananias of Damascus in Acts chapter 9, bring me into contact with, your chosen vessel(s) … those who will, in turn, bear your name to their villages in western France and beyond.  

I am, to a greater degree, feeling a responsibility for those communities. To some degree, it is like the passing of a mantle I suppose… and I accept.

Lord, just give me Châtellerault and her surroundings and let me win victories for you… let me be a vessel that brings honour to my master.

These are just a couple of things that a letter of acceptance of acceptance can produce, when we apply ourselves to the right things.

 

 

Invitation to Dream

Has God ever asked you to dream?

I don’t mean daydream. I don’t mean… new car, new house, great Christmas, etc. I don’t mean “What would you do with a bank-account full of money? kind of dream.” I mean a daring kind of dream. Something that it would take God to accomplish or fulfill because it’s so big. God did that for me some time ago.

Let me quote you from my personal journal:

“I will do what you ask, but you’ve got to ask. I’m not only (asking you) to work for and fulfill someone else’s dreams, I’m asking you to dream as well, because I want to fulfill your dreams also. I want you to know what it feels like to put something impossible in my hands and see it come to pass. I want you to know what it feels like to put yourself in my hands and see what I can do in and through you. I want you to know what it’s like to be an instrument for my glory: Not that the instrument gains more intrinsic value… it only has value as long as it’s associated with my glory. Like the branches that only bear fruit and are worth keeping so long as they are attached to the vine (John. 15).” 

Uncomfortable

This is something that the Lord spoke to me during one of the darkest periods of my walk with, and service to, Him… and it was uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable?

Yes, uncomfortable.

Why?

Because we’re not all that used to dreaming. We’re used to our day to day life, for the most part. We are comfortable with what we know… what is familiar, and while a dream may represent a desired-state… it takes risk to get there and the perceived pain involved in taking the risk overcomes our desire for change. So we put the dream back on the shelf and say “One day….”  (we say this with a wistful look in our eye, a bit of a sigh on our lips and a bit of deflation in our heart…. but we say it).

Uncomfortable …also because it’s much easier to buy into someone else’s dream (note that he mentions that and note… there is a time and a place for buying into someone else’s dream – it’s often the training ground for ministry) than it is to put your own dreams on the line.it requires less vulnerability.

Uncomfortable …also because we are so unaccustomed to dreaming for ourselves that we’re “rusty”. A child dreams frequently and so has little difficulty when asked to dream. Adults on the other hand have become so conditioned to practicality that we can forget how to dream.

Where & Why?

Where do I start? 
Why start?

God said it… because he wants me to know what it feels like to see that impossible dream take shape. Talk about the ultimate thrill-seeker.

But here’s the catch…

In the end… it’s not about me. It’s about him. It’s about his plan. It’s about his glory.  The kind of dreams that God takes pleasure in fulfilling are not those that will bring me any notoriety, but those that will:

  • advance his kingdom
  • bring him glory
  • see lives changed

So I’ve been dreaming and that dream has been slowly taking shape over a period of numerous months.  Has it completely taken shape? Not yet, but as I take definite steps toward a certain direction, God hones the vision and clarifies the details.

This dream called AIMLong is taking shape slowly but surely.
Thank you for being part of it.

What about you?

Has God issued you an invitation to dream?

,

Sensing God’s Direction…

OK, God has said something distinct…. now what?

In this post I want to tell you about a jewel of a find!

It was a Sunday night and earlier that day I had been involved in two services in Western France, the first in an established church, the second in a hotel meeting room with only two other people present. Despite the small number, however, the presence of God was as thick as I’ve ever felt it!  He was writing something on my heart. For the rest of the 4-hour drive back to my home-base I was in a strange place… wanting to glean as much information from the missionary as I could without necessarily wanting to specifically discuss what I’d felt earlier in the day. It’s tough to speak intelligibly about something so new after all.

Once back in the hotel room and by myself… I prayed and then went looking for something that could help. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but I did find it.

Sensing God’s Direction booklet

Sensing God’s Direction (SGD) is an incredible sensing gods direction cover smalllittle booklet written by Rev. James Poitras (Director of Education and AIM, UPCI) with collaboration from Rev. Bruce Howell (Global Missions Director, UPCI).  With over 80 pages, SGD will detail some of the things that you can do to foster a sensitivity to the quiet voice of the Lord, leading you into the center of his will (cultivating a love for souls, embracing solitude, being open to both surrender and sacrifice, etc.).  Over and above the incredibly practical content provided by Rev. Poitras, various stories and anecdotes from contributors such as Rev. Howell and Melinda Poitras (MK – missionary kid – from Ghana, West Africa) bring context to the content.

While SGD is written by United Pentecostal ministers and can be purchased here, through The Pentecostal Publishing House, the content is not limited to the pentecostal experience. The principles are broad enough yet practical enough that people from any Christian background would find it a beneficial read… and I highly recommend it!

If you’re interested in knowing more about short-term missions opportunities, check out www.AIM2Go.org for information on the AIM and Next Steps programs. As of December 2013 there are 207 AIMers or AIM families serving around the world… You could be next on that list!

Let’s come back to my initial statement…
“God has said something distinct… Now what?”

Now…

  • get yourself a copy of Sensing God’s Direction
  • spend time prayerfully going through it
  • talk about it with your pastor
    (watch for an upcoming post about this)

God has spoken and you’re wanting to answer… the possibilities are endless!
Have you read “Sensing God’s Direction”? What did you think?

Not a Suffering-Kind-of-Sacrifice

In a previous post, it only took roughly 598 words to summarize nearly 26 years of my life… I’m either great at writing or I have a really dull life!

Have you ever heard or gotten the following idea: “If missions represents a sacrifice, then forget about going someplace I love… sacrifice means suffering!”  The result of this kind of thinking is that we expect God to call us someplace that we will not particularly love!  This has not been my experience.

The places that I went during my teen years were not chosen because I felt a particular call there. I went because this is where the group was going and I was part of the group. Someone else made the decision and someone else oversaw the planning, I simply followed.

The first time this changed was in 1988 as I was afforded the choice of either going to Bolivia or Belglium for a 2-month stint the following summer. That’s a rather large choice, but it came at a particular point in my life as well… I had graduated from high school and was already in college. I had chosen to move away from my parents’ home. I had chosen to go to another city. I had chosen the school and I had chosen the courses. Through the standard process of maturing as an individual, I was also learning how to evaluate options and make informed choices in everyday aspects of my life.

The process of maturing spiritually mirrors the process of growing socially, intellectually, emotionally and even physically. Making spiritually informed choices involved a healthy balance of evaluating what made sense, what fit my desires & personality and what I felt the will of the Lord to be.

Ah yes… the will of the Lord. Often seen to be this cavernous place of great mystery, it need not be the case. In fact, I’d say that the will of God expressed itself simply by the practical choice of language back in 1988.

From there… one thing led to another: two months turned into two years, which later turned into three short-term summer tours in French-speaking Europe, which led to three multi-week teaching sessions at the Bible School in France which led to the current plan that we’re hatching.  Let me be perfectly clear on this point… None of this has EVER felt like a drudgery or a “suffering-kind-of-sacrifice”!  On the contrary, these times represent some of the greatest memories of my life as well as keen faith-building moments.  Without question, God knows that there must be a love for the place of your calling, because it will be necessary in order to sustain you or keep you there on difficult days.

Feel free to fall head-over-heels in love with the place God is calling you to… it’s actually a very healthy thing. Imagine not being head over heels in love with the person that God was calling you to spend the rest of your life with…. that’d make for quite a marriage!  The Lord wants and expects you to derive joy from being in his will, so I would say… look at the places that you already have an affinity to and see if that affinity is there for the right reason. The next step is to say… “God, is there a place for me to fulfill my calling here? Is there a role for me here? Is there a way that I can contribute to the furthering of your Kingdom in this place?”

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions… then that’s a positive thing to consider as you’re weighing all things together, seeking to make a spiritually mature decision. Let God’s Spirit lead you… he specializes in that!

Elation…

… that feeling you get when God opens doors that you never dared to ask or hope for…. yet you still find yourself there with the option. I am thankful for those who allow the Lord to use them to be a blessing!

Big & Little Crowns

Hold onto your hat… er, your crown, for the first paragraph or two… it’ll make sense… REALLY!

French Administrative Structure:

In contrast to the USA (where regional divisions are called ‘states’) and Canada (where they are referred to as ‘provinces’), the regions of mainland France are called départments, and there are 96 of them.

We need to let that sink in for a moment, because for North Americans a department is found in a retail store (the ‘toy department’ or the ‘kitchen department’) or it denotes part of an institution (the ‘loans department’ of a bank or the ‘human resources department’ in a corporation). In France though… it’s geographic!

Unlike in North America, not only do the départements have names… they also have numbers; for example:  Seine et Marne (77), Vienne (86) and Paris (75 – yes… Paris is both a city and a département, just like Quebec, QC).  These numbers constitute part of postal codes, social security numbers and vehicle license plate numbers as well.

Île de France = Grande Couronne (Big Crown)

It is necessary to understand this as you’ve already seen me refer to one region called the Île de France  (which, when translated means the “island of France”). We are, of course, not talking about an island. The term ïle de France refers to carte_ile_de_francea collection of départments which surround the capital… Paris. You can see île de France at the right. Paris is the red area in the middle, denoted by the départment number 75. So then île de France, is made up of 8 départements all together. 

  • 95  – Val d’Oise
  • 78  – Yvelines
  • 91  – Essonne
  • 77  – Seine et Marne
  • 92  – Hauts-de-Seine
  • 93  – Seine Saint-Denis
  • 94  – Val-de-Marne
  • 75  – Paris

Another name for this area (Île de France) is La Grande Couronne (the big crown)… so named because it visibly forms a large, thick, ring around Paris.

Petite Couronne (Little Crown)

What really interests me for the purpose of this post though, are the three other départements which form a smaller, innermost ring around Paris: départements 92-94.  If the larger ring is called the large crown, then it makes sense for this smaller area to be referred to as the petite couronne (the small crown). petite couronne

God’s Little Crown… 
                     ….in Western France

Why does the notion of la grande et la petite couronne interest me? Because of something that God told me in 2012 while visiting Bro. Brochu’s church in Western France.  He impressed upon my heart that, in the same way as Paris had its petite couronne, so too would the Église de Châtellerault… it would have a ring of churches around it… whether full blown churches, preaching points… all of which were, of course, subject to His timeline.

I’m not sure whether that is something that we’ll see the results of of not during our 1.5-2 years.  Perhaps it will begin while we are there onsite, or perhaps it’ll be further in the future.  Nonetheless, I’m glad that as a family we will quite simply, not just “go with the flow” but we have something to dream of… to plan for… to work toward during our time there.

Please join us as we pray for a ring or a crown of churches surrounding the church in Châtellerault, in western France.

Dream Days…

Mondays are my Dream Days.

I can almost see the rise in social media traffic as people voice their disbelief at what I just said. Poor Monday, above all other days of the week, is the butt of just about every joke in the book. Nonetheless, it seems as though Mondays truly are my dream days. For example, If you were to look at my Instagram feed, you’d see that three of my four #24HrRead -tagged items were finished on a Monday.

What are Dream Days? How would I describe them?

  • They’re days when I get to spend with my family.
  • They’re days when I can drink a second cup of stove-top espresso at 9, 10 or 11am… in sock feet.
  • They’re days when I can take off in the car at the drop of a hat and stop to take pictures of a half-frozen stream if the fancy strikes.
  • They’re days when I can dream. Dream the dreams that God has put in my heart without a dozen interruptions, by phone, email or footstep.

What’s involved in the dreaming?
I can…

brushingclouds

  • Marvel at the fact that God would allow me to dream, confide his dreams to me and invite me to take part in his dreams.
  • Be intermittently fearful at the prospect of such big dreams. They’re so big. They require such change. The demand such faith (do I have such faith? Today, yes. Tomorrow, no. The following day… without question. What a ride!).
  • Plan the dream. How would I do it? Which experiences do I draw from? What fits my personality? What suits the personality of the community I work in (or will work in)? What about my personality does God want to override in favour of His Spirit within me?
  • Share the dream with those who will take the ride with me. If this is God’s dream, then it’s more than just my dream and it will take more than just me to carry it out. If I will share the dream with people around me, those that I lead… they will have a greater opportunity to understand it, take part in it and share in the joy of accomplishing it.

This is when I’m truly alive. When I can dream.

This is when you are truly alive…. when you come alongside of God and are quiet enough, focused enough, without some of the other daily distractions… to hear His Spirit speaking into your spirit. Living for God is not merely walking through the drudgery of daily life with simply a different world-view… at least, not if we’ll get close enough to Him to hear his heartbeat (His dreams).

Psalm 126:

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. 3 The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. 4 Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south. 5 They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. 6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

What happens when we are living the dream?

Our mouth is filled with laughter & singing and even people who know nothing about nor serve God will recognize that He does great things for us dreamers (v.2). Sometimes there are tears involved in seeing our dream come to pass, but if we’ll keep pursuing it, in spite of the tears, we’ll bear the fruit of the dream (v.5-6).

By now, you probably get the fact that because of my work, Monday is my day off, which is why it’s my dream day.

On what day are you invited to dream?
What do you do with that invitation?

Controlled burn

You could say that a controlled burn is using fire to fight fire, and though that may sound counter-intuitive, it is effective.

According to Wikipedia, a controlled burn is also known as a hazard-reduction burn and is used in the areas of forestry management, farming, prairie restoration etc. In the case of forestry management it would essentially look like this: Forestry management staff target an area with many dead or dying trees and, during the cooler months, purposefully set it on fire.  Their intention is to burn, in a controlled setting, a swath of land which would pose an ever greater risk, were it to occur during hot summer months where stronger wind would spread the fire further and faster. It also means reducing the risk of this particular area catching fire while other forest fires are also raging, limiting available fire-fighting personnel to all fires.

Similarly, during the first fifteen months of our preparation to go on the mission field, we made a pointed effort to control the spread of information about our plan. Here’s how we did it.

  • In the six days after God had spoken to me (this happened while I was on-site in the country), I mentioned it only to the two missionaries. They had both, at various times, expressed either an interest in having me take part in the the work or simply mentioned that they could easily see me fitting in to the work. At this point I simply expressed that I felt God had spoken something and there was a possibility. I mentioned that as I left France that particular time, it was unlike previous times and  I asked them to be in prayer.
  • In the two months following my return to Canada, I mentioned it to three people: my current pastor and two previous pastors who had played a great role of mentorship in my life. I wanted their input and their prayer support but I didn’t present it as a “done deal.”
  • In the third month following my return, I began discussing it with my wife (my Patience is a Virtue post describes why I waited this long to talk to her about it) and a couple of months after that, she mentioned it to one person.
  • In the seventh month after my return, three members of my district leadership became aware as the question of future ministry came up during my interview for Ministerial Ordination. Two other close minister friends also became aware during the same time period… and this is where things stayed until four months after that, when – by virtue of my application to Global MissionsA.I.M. Program – staff in St. Louis became aware.

This was definitely a slow-burn situation. For almost a year, there were only a dozen people who were aware of what God was slowly maturing in our life. We knew that it was wise to seek counsel from those with more experience in ministry so we engaged some key voices in our life.

As to the delay… call it our attempt at self-preservation. Perhaps I was afraid of hastily making a grandiose statement about what I felt to be the call of God which would prove, in the end, to not be the case. Either way, one thing is sure… having only limited involvement by others allowed us to keenly distill and discern the will of God for our family. We know that we have heard from the Lord and are not simply seeking to do what others expect… We think of this as hazard reduction… or a controlled burn.

What do you see as the benefits to limiting the spread of info before it’s time?