Tag Archives: ministry

Mangos for Monkeys

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If you are a regular reader, you may have been wondering where I was yesterday and why there was no Monday blog… or maybe you didn’t even notice.  But we have been out of town all weekend and I didn’t realize that I forgot to plan blogs for this week until Monday afternoon.  Oops.  My mind has been on other things.

“What kind of other things?” you may wonder.  We just completed our first real Leadership Retreat for our university ministry here in Costa Rica.  We have been working at establishing this ministry for the last 3 years and here’s where we are at this point.

our leadership team

our leadership team

These are most of our leaders, and as you can see, they represent student lead small groups on 9 campuses around the country.  And we are still growing.  We are leading leaders.

This weekend we rented a house on the beach, tucked into the rain forest and we poured into their lives.  The students, some of whom only knew each other via Facebook previously because they live in other cities, came away feeling like they were a family.  I read their comments on Facebook as they complimented and teased each other and encouraged and quoted each other.  It was a great weekend.

Once the students left for home, my family and I stayed another two days for a little R&R after the intense preparation leading up to the retreat.  We were awoken each morning by the loud pitter patter of monkeys jumping and running across the tin roof of the house.  This morning we all got up to enjoy the show.  We threw slices of mangos out the window and onto the roof for the little monkeys to eat.  We’ve seen monkeys many times here, but I can’t remember ever having so much fun with them.

throwing mangos out the window for the monkeys

throwing mangos out the window for the monkeys

They were so cute and mischievous.

They were so cute and mischievous.

We had quite the entertainment right on our patio.

We had quite the entertainment right on our patio.

my kids wanted to catch one and take it home with us.  Um, no.

my kids wanted to catch one and take it home with us. Um, no.

 

Honestly living in Costa Rica has in some ways ruined us forever.  We will never again think a zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon.  After you see the animals in the wild, anything else is just sad and disappointing.  On this trip we had two sloths just hanging out in the tree right off our patio.  We saw 3 different types of monkeys all in one day, and monkeys in general every morning.  And we lived among the geckos and gigantic insects and iguanas and jungle birds for a few days- some of that was not wonderful, but it is very different from life in Minnesota.  I don’t know if I can ever go back to “regular” life after living in Costa Rica.  This is my home and I love it here!

The Check is in the Mail

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A friend of mine named Anna is a teacher at a language school here.  Most of her students are missionaries of various denominational flavors.  Once, about 5 years ago, one of her students expressed his gratitude to her as a teacher.  He said, “I am so thankful that you have patiently worked to teach me Spanish.  How can I repay you?”

Anna was not sure if he meant to give her a gift or what.  She wisely replied, “When you preach in Spanish and someone gets saved, that will be my pay check.”  She saw her ministry continuing through HIS future ministry.  She saw with Kingdom Eyes that we are all interconnected when we work for the Kingdom of God.  She kept up contact with this student through email over the next year.  He went on to El Salvador to be a missionary.

One day Anna got an email that said, “Here’s your check.  This weekend I preached in Spanish for the first time.  I asked if anyone wanted to ask the Lord to forgive their sins and to come into their heart.  Three people got saved!!”  Anna wiped away the tears when she told us how honored she felt to be a part of something bigger than herself.  Her ministry reached to El Salvador because she was diligent, her student was persistent, and God was Faithful.

My English student Leticia.  I'm so proud of her!

My English student Leticia. I’m so proud of her!

Today is a very special day for ME as a teacher too.  I too have been a language school teacher.  And today one of my first students will be getting on an airplane and flying from her home in Chile to her mission field in India.  I taught her English for a year, and she worked so hard!  I am so proud of my student for sticking with her dreams and seeing them through.  I worked patiently, forming and crafting her English.  She worked persistently, pushing herself to study and learn.  Then God was faithful in her fund raising efforts as well.  Now, FINALLY, she is leaving for India today.

Pray for my student-missionary Leticia as she travels alone to a country where she’s never been before.  Pray for Leticia as she works to communicate in a second language.  Pray for Leticia today.  I look forward to the day when I receive a message from her saying that she prayed in English with someone and they received the Lord into their heart.  I thank God that some day soon MY check will be in the mail, metaphorically speaking.

What NOT to wear

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One of my favorite “junk TV” shows is a catty little fashion show called “What NOT to wear”.  Basically the witty, yet snotty, hosts hijack some poor fashion disaster, trash her hideous wardrobe, and then take her on a shopping spree in New York City.  They give her shopping guidelines to follow based on her body type and her previous fashion faux pas.  I have often wished that someone would give me some fashion guidelines for dressing myself in another country.  It would make things a whole lot easier.

I stand in my closet and think, “Hmmm, What to wear, what to wear…” If I were in a country where the locals went naked, would I consider following the local trend? Probably not, but how “native” am I willing to go?  Sometimes that’s not a difficult adjustment to make and sometimes it’s super challenging.  For example, here in San Jose, Costa Rica a modest woman does not wear shorts in the city.  I wear pants, jeans, capris or longer skirts.  Now the locals can also wear super short skirts if they want to, but not shorts.  I personally get stared at enough as it is, being a white woman with blue eyes, so I prefer not to wear mini skirts and get too much of the wrong kind of attention.  It’s not a sacrifice; it’s my preference.  Actually it’s the jeans that cause me the most consternation.  When it’s hot, jeans feel like insanity!  Yet people wear them… and wear them tight!  UGH!  This American thinks that is crazy uncomfortable.

As a Christian we also have a tighter set of fashion standards that we have to think about too.  For example, I have a friend who grew up in Africa.  His parents were missionaries to a tribe of people who basically wear strings tied around their waists and nothing else.  In an early attempt to bring Christian modesty to the tribe, the missionaries imported a box of T-shirts and passed them out to everyone.  The people were thrilled!  However, the missionaries were less thrilled with the results.  The following week all the women showed up at church with circular holes strategically cut in their T-shirts to make nursing their babies a convenient activity while the pastor preached with a tomato-red blush on his white face.  Fail!

So the question remains for the conscientious missionary:  Are you going to “go native?”  Do you wear what the locals wear?  Or do you require that they convert to Western clothing when the convert to the Western Jesus?  If I am a woman in a Muslim country, do I veil?  What is Biblical and what is my culture and what is my responsibility to the people that I want to minister to?

Choosing between the Good and the Best

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As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village.  A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home.  She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said.  But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen.  Later, she stepped in, interrupting them.  “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me?  Tell her to lend me a hand.”

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.  One thing only is essential.  Mary has chosen what is the Best and it won’t be taken from her.” (Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 The Message Version)

Every day there are many Good things that vie for our time and attention.  Some of them are important too, like making dinner.  I’m sure if Martha hadn’t made dinner for everyone at some point Jesus would have gotten hungry!  So there are things that SOMEONE has to do because they are the basics of life.  But where we get off track is when we start to treat the basics like they are the most important thing there is.  Sometimes we are in the presence of something or someone far greater than the ordinary- and we need to recognize that.  We should be treating those special moments with greater honor and distinction.  The ordinary has it’s place as “good” in our lives, but when the “best” comes to visit we need to drop everything and spend some quality time right there.

When was the last time you just sat at Jesus’s feet?  Have you lingered around the altar lately or are you always rushing away after the sermon is done?

This is a hard lesson to learn.  I’m a Martha by nature.  If you come to my house I will automatically move to the kitchen to make you something yummy to eat.  That whole relational, spending time with people is something I’ve just begun to learn by living in Latin America.

When we lived in Mexico, getting together with friends often meant spending the whole day together or going for lunch and coming home after dinner.  It was such an ordeal to get anywhere in that city that once you got there, no one was in a hurry to leave.  A “get-together” could easily last 5 hours or more!  That was hard for us Americans to adjust to, but once we did, we found that we could place a higher value on the people we were with instead of on the schedule we were keeping.

Coming back to America, we felt rushed by our old routine of sitting down to the meal the minute we walked in the door and leaving about a half hour after the dessert.  It just felt like it went by too fast.  I missed our Latino way.

The big lesson to be learned here is that Jesus is much more interested in spending time with us than in what we can do to serve him.  I get the feeling that Jesus would have been fine with a more simple bite to eat if it meant that Martha could come and spend time with him too.  Sitting at his feet and hanging on his every word is the Best.  And when we find ourselves in that position, it won’t be taken away from us.

Cookie-Cutter Missionary, a Tale by Guest Blogger Ilona Hadinger, Missionary to Mexico

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This is a blog written by a fellow missionary momma.  When I first read it, it really resonated with what I’ve felt all along about my awkwardness in ministry.  I have never felt like I was your typical pastor’s wife and sometimes that’s bothered me.  So here’s encouragement from another woman who doesn’t seem to fit the mold either.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Then He formed man in his image; male and female He created them.

In the middle, God birthed His New Testament church.  Then He commissioned them to go into all the world; anointed with His Spirit He sent them.

Near the end, God hastened his task.  Then He formed a cookie-cutter shaped missionary; identical He produced them, for the harvest was great and the workers were few.

And they rarely lived happily ever after.

The End.

(written by Lax N. Site for the “Myths, Lies, and Twisted Truths” anthology.)

You’ve never read that?  Oh, but many of us have believed it- or live surrounded by those who do.

Like me.

It began with the “I do” to a minister on my wedding day.  I felt I had to be that cookie-cutter pastor’s wife.  I did love people, but I couldn’t sing, wasn’t a social butterfly, and the only songs I knew on the piano were 70’s hits like “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”

Was I the wrong cookie for that post?

In time came the call to missions.  With itineration came invitations to be the engaging speaker for women’s event in There-ville.  “Come, share your vision with passion!”  Except that I hated public speaking and was still recovering from the shock of the call.

Was I the wrong cookie for that plate?

On the field, most nationals have received us warmly with invitations to preach.  In my case, again to women in conferences or other large gatherings.  Often I sensed their disappointment that I am not the Patsy Clairmont or Beth Moore they expected… or hoped for.

Am I the wrong cookie for this place?

I used to think so, but not anymore.  Sweeping the crumbs aside, a dormant truth in my heart awoke to active belief:  I am uniquely created by my Maker!  My talents and abilities are to be used for His glory, for the calling of His choosing.

As a missionary, I can serve Him with what He’s given me, though others try rolling me, cutting me out and baking me into what they think I should be.  if I like to write, paint, bake or to raise my kids well and be the best help-meet for my husband, I can do any of those as faithful ministry, creatively using my desires, abilities and talents for God’s glory.

Have you ever read about Bezalel in Exodus 31:3-4?  God uniquely used him to help build the Tabernacle:  “I have filled him with the Spirit, with skill… to make artistic designs.”  Or you may recall the Levites in 1 Chronicles 23-26 who each had a specific work to do, “…they were to serve the Lord… in the way prescribed for them… and so they carried our their responsibilities.”  And let’s not forget Tabitha in Acts 9 who served the Lord by sewing for widows.

This is cookie-cutter freedom!

You know both your calling and your talents.  May God continually roll you, shape you, and make you into what He wills.  His house will fill with a wonderful aroma and your life will be a trail of delicious crumbs for others to taste and see how good He is.

*Originally posted on “In Real Life with Jamie Jo” on Women of the Harvest. and again on the LAC Writers’ Guild called Tortilla Press.  Finally, if you want to read more of Ilona’s blogs,visit her own Inkyspot.

I give my kids Tylenol. Can I call myself a doctor?

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I hope nobody takes this blog post wrongly.  I am not trying to brag about myself or to put anyone down.  I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just expressing a frustration that most of my co-workers in the foreign mission field also feel.  These are my true feelings and thoughts.  I’m being honest.

It’s a really popular thing in churches now days to throw around the word “missionary” and to apply it to many different contexts.  For example, some people say “my office is my mission field” or “I am a missionary in my school.”  This kind of rubs me the wrong way.  I don’t deny that these places are full of people who need to hear about Jesus.  And I don’t deny that Jesus gave the Great Commission to all Christians (Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”).  And I don’t deny that it can be hard to be a light in the darkness.  But these uses of the word “missionary” kind of bother me because, you see, I AM a missionary.  A real missionary.  I have taken the “go” in that verse to literally mean “go to the nations.”  It’s more than my occupation, it’s my entire life.

As a real missionary I have made decisions for my own life that have ripped through my family.  I chose to go, so my kids have come with me.  And that decision tore the heart out of my parents who had to say good-bye to their grand kids.  That decision impacted the aunties and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers that we left behind too.  You see, I’ve made the hard choices that a missionary makes when she loves God more than she loves her family.

As a real missionary, I have spent YEARS learning the language.  I have put in the hours of hard study.  I have laid down my own desires and submitted myself to another culture, another way of thinking, and another way of communicating.  I have been stripped bare of my own identity.  The “missionary” who just walks across the street to be a witness to his neighbor will never be required to make the same kind of investment.  I have done the hard work to become a missionary.

As a real missionary, I have sold all my possessions (except a few boxes of treasures and memories) and made an international move MORE THAN ONCE.  I sold the rocking chair that I rocked my babies in.  I watched my dishes walk out the door.  I put my electronics in the hands of a garage sale shopper on a Saturday morning.  I spread all my possessions across my lawn for my neighbors to pick through.  I looked at the pitiful wad of dollar bills and quarters that I accumulated in exchange for all my worldly possessions and I knew, despairingly, that this pittance would not cover the cost to repurchase these things overseas.  It was going to cost me something more to reestablish a home in a foreign country.

As a real missionary, I have swallowed my pride over and over again to ask churches for money.  We need support to do what we do.  To an American, this feels like begging.  I didn’t like it.  It can be humiliating, but this is the way our organization is run.  So week after week we would “shlep” our presentation table around the state like a traveling salesman.  We have done the leg work to earn our support as missionaries.

We have made the sacrifices to earn the title “missionary”, so to hear others appropriate the title for themselves when they haven’t made those same hard sacrifices kind of bothers me.  It’s like me giving my kids Tylenol and then calling myself a Doctor.  I didn’t work for that title.  I didn’t pay for that title.  I didn’t invest my life in becoming a doctor, so when I rob the Doctor of his title I also rob him of his earned respect.  I am not a Doctor.  I am a mother with an eye dropper full of over-the-counter pain-killer.

In the same way that I am not a Doctor, I’m also not a super hero.  I don’t expect great honor.  I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.  I don’t want to hear the praise of men.  I’m not fishing for compliments or pats on the back.  The only thing I am dying to hear from my heavenly Father is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Here’s your eternal home… and you never have to move again.”

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Spirit Breaker: When Life Disappoints Me

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Warning:  This blog post contains indelicate, unorthodox, inelegant, and unrefined locution not merely for the purpose of being vulgar or crass, but for the express intention of communicating intense emotions with appropriately magnified rhetoric.  All opposed should cease reading approximately midway through this article.  ~Respectfully, Overly Conscious, Dutifully, Protectively and Sincerely Yours, The Author.

As we each journey through life we find something meaningful to pour our heart and soul into.  For me, I find meaning in pouring myself into ministry to others.  But sometimes we meet with a challenge or road block that can be a Spirit Breaker for us.  Sometimes it’s losing something that we’ve invested ourselves in that causes heart break.  Sometimes the heart break takes the form of rejection by someone that we have loved or someone that we have given our best to.  For me, that is the worst Spirit Breaker.  It takes a long time to heal from that kind of heart break and it takes a true act of the will to love again.

Josh, talking with students

Let me give you an example of this kind of Spirit Breaker.  Back in 1996 Josh was a Senior in Bible College.  We had been married for about a year and a half.  That summer our son was born, Josh was working on his internship and holding down 2 part time jobs.  Then he returned to classes in the fall and added that load to his back as well.  He was working very hard.  In the middle of his internship under the youth pastor at our home church, the youth pastor resigned!  Josh finished his internship (a.k.a. worked for free as the youth pastor) and in the fall was hired part time to officially fill the position.  He worked full time and was paid part time.  He graduated the following spring with a degree in youth ministry and more than a year of experience already under his belt.  The next 8 years were both fantastically successful and fantastically painful as we poured ourselves heart and soul into the youth group. We loved those teenagers more than they will ever know.

We graduated 8 classes of teenagers.  We played a part in the development of a couple hundred teenagers during those 8 years.  The best part was being a spiritual influence, mentor, guide, and leader to kids in various stages of spiritual growth from 7th grade to 12th grade.  The worst part, the Spirit Breaker was when kids would make bad decisions even when they knew the right path to take.  As youth leaders we could only stand at the side of the road of life and shout words of encouragement or caution.  We couldn’t force people to follow God.  We couldn’t force people to behave right.  We couldn’t force kids to stay in the church after they graduated from high school.

It was more than heart breaking to see kids that we had prayed over, cried with, and poured our heart and soul into then leave the youth group and turn their hearts away from God.  We felt like failures when we saw some of our teens floundering inspite of our best efforts to lead them on the right path.  We loved those kids and tried to show them God’s love.  When things went bad, we had to remind ourselves that these kids weren’t rejecting us, they were rejecting God.

Compounding this heart break, this sense of failure, was the lack of support– sometimes open hostility- that we experienced from some of the parents.  We used to joke that Moses had the right idea:  he killed off everyone over 20 before he lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.  Of course that was a joke, and we had a few amazingly supportive parents on our side, but it was just that the disgruntled ones complained so loudly and some were on the church board.

Josh had a particularly devastating experience when a deacon who had kids in the youth group swore at him and complained that the church would be better off without a youth pastor.  This deacon immediately went on my “list of people I do not like” and it was really hard to minister to his kids after that.  I could have let that be a Spirit Breaker for me, but I chose the high road and chose to keep loving the kids even though their dad was a jerk.

(Readers of sensitive constitution should omit the following paragraph.)  I can’t tell you how many times I was horrified and humiliated by a parent when we were in youth ministry.  I had one guy stop me in the church lobby on a Sunday night to complain that there were not enough teens in church on Sunday nights so his kid didn’t want to come either.  Then in the same breath he complained that I was looking a little sloppy for church- I was wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants.  I wanted to tell him, “Screw you!  I don’t drive your kids to church, you do!  And I can wear whatever the hell I want, no one is paying me to be here or to abide by a dress code.  This is probably WHY kids didn’t want to come to church, because some self-righteous prick might criticize their clothing.”

Instead I again chose the high road (with a touch of smart-aleck) and said, “I dressed up nice this morning when all the grown ups were in church.  I figured there wouldn’t be as many grown ups here tonight, so I could dress more appropriately for ministering to teenagers.”  I was shocked that someone would be so critical of me personally.  It was like I wasn’t even a human being in this parent’s mind.  I was giving my all in a “job” where I never received ONE paycheck and this was the reward?  Spirit Breaker.

But I always had hope that I was making an eternal difference for some kid out there.  What off-set all the heart breaking experiences in youth ministry were the times when a kid would really surprise us.  Sometimes a kid that struggled a lot as a teen would pull it together and become a strong Christian adult!  Surprise!  We never could tell how all these seeds that we were planting would turn out.  We had to keep the hope alive.

We just had to hope that we were making an eternal difference even though we didn’t see the evidence right away.  I remember on our last night at youth group, kids and parents were standing around waiting to talk with us and to say good bye.  A few hours later, as the crowd began to dwindle, a girl from a past graduating class came up to me.  She had driven 4 hours from college to say good bye to us.  Then she had waited in line for at least an hour to talk to me.  Ironically, I never felt like I connected well with this girl even though I tried.  I really did love her though.  She started crying and thanking me for the cards that I used to write to her.  Just that little act of attention meant a lot to her.  I was very touched.  Somehow I had made a difference in her life even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Hope.  It is only in thinking of the possible results of the millions of little acts of kindness that I can set aside the pain of Spirit Breaking experiences and to keep on loving and giving and working and sowing seeds into the lives of others.  My only hope is that somewhere along the way, something I do will MEAN something, someone will be touched by a little act of kindness, someone will see Jesus differently because I loved through the heart break.  And for me, that is the only way to overcome a broken spirit… hope for better.

“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.  It is a good thing to quietly hope for help from God.  It is a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”  Lamentations 3:24-26

Unchain My Soul

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If the tables and booths at Perkins could talk, what stories would they tell? My first date with my would-be husband was in a Perkins. We have eaten countless meals with youth group kids in Perkins. I’ve spent long hours of studying for a college exam in a booth at Perkins. And one of the most life changing conversations I’ve ever had took place over a crappy cup of coffee in a booth in a Perkins. It was a conversation that unchained my soul.

My husband and I had worked as youth pastors at our church for about 6 years at that point. It was a good solid church, with very old ideas. It was the kind of church that children grew up in… and then left. It wasn’t “cool”. It was just very solid in theology and family values, which is what families and old people look for in a church… but not youth or college kids. We worked with the youth. We paddled upstream. At this point, we were starting to feel like many of our dreams just were never going to be accomplished, or even approved by the board who was more concerned that the youth group not spill ketchup on their new carpeting than the fact that kids were loving Jesus here.

So we sat in a booth in a Perkins and had a conversation with a veteran missionary from Mexico who was in town. We shared our sense that God was moving us on, calling us to missions. We asked lots of questions about daily life and work in Mexico. And he answered our questions. Then he asked us the question that rocked my boat. He asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, without thinking of the cost or the obstacles, what would you love to do?”

No one, and I mean NO ONE. Had ever invited us to dream like that. I felt my soul come unleashed from dead end plans and dream killing skepticism. At first I couldn’t even think of what I wanted to do. Somewhere along the way I had lost my clear view of who I was and what I wanted. It wasn’t until someone asked me to verbalize what was in my heart that I realized that I had spent so many years trying to please everyone else didn’t even know myself anymore.

Permission to dream is what so many people are lacking right now. Dreamers don’t worry about who is going to pay for all this stuff. Dreamers don’t think about who is going to clean up the mess after the fact. Dreamers don’t parcel out the job responsibilities. Dreamers don’t always weigh themselves down with details either. Dreamers fly! Dreamers spin tales with gossamer threads. Dreamers MUST be free. Only an unchained soul can be free to dream. Dreamers have not forgotten how to be a child. Unfortunately this doesn’t give us permission to order off the children’s menu at Perkins.

So let me unchain YOUR soul to dream.  If you could do anything you wanted, without being bound by cost or obstacles, what would you do?