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The Cycle of Culture Shock

Nov. 21, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

In 1960 Kalervo Oberg traced the steps we take when learning to live in a new culture. They are helpful, especially for missionaries and those that send them.

The Tourist Stage (3 weeks-6 months)

When we first move to or visit a new culture, everything is new and exciting. This is the stage where more short-term teams and vacationers find themselves. It is fun to explore, see new sites, learn history, eat new food and get to know new people. There is no need to learn the language as you are probably with someone who can speak both yours and the local dialect.

However, visiting and moving to are very different. To become part of a community, things are about to get hard.

Disenchantment (6 months - 1 Year)

Have you ever been overseas for a short-time and just longed for your favorite food or drink? Maybe it’s a simple as a coffee from Starbucks or a hamburger from your favorite restaurant. That longing can be satisfied if you are headed home, but when home is where you have moved to, your diet will mostly likely have to change.

And so frustration begins to mount. Simple things like shopping and transportation have to be relearned. You might need to think about how to make sure the water is drinkable or if the food is safe. You might be tempted to pay a bribe just to get something simple taken care of.

If you have to learn a new language, the frustration is even higher. You might have two Masters level degrees, but you find it hard to communicate at a 1st grade level. People smile and laugh at some of the things you say.

Everyone who may have helped you move into your new home has now returned to their normal schedule, which means they are no longer providing you meals or calling to see how you are doing. There is a sense of anger and abandonment and you wonder if people even care about you - including the people back home who can not understand what you are going through.

This stage is what burns most missionaries out. They being to make a list of things they will do when they get home - eat at this place, drive to this place, talk to these people, etc. There is now a decision to make - will you resolve to stay or will the pressure and anxiety be too much to handle so that you will either live in ghetto with people from your own country or you will move home discouraged and rudderless.

Resolution (1 Year+)

Those who decide to stay continue to learn. This does not mean it is easy, but in your heart you resolve to press forward. This is when the missionary makes the new culture their own. It does not mean abandoning where you are from, but adopting where you are now.

Adjustment

Eventually the new culture becomes home. Going “home” means staying where you are serving, not going back to the sending church. Food and the rules of relationships and interaction become normal. You don’t miss your sport’s teams back home because you are not even sure who is on the team - you may have (God forbid it!) learned to enjoy soccer.

Reverse Culture Shock

I personally believe this is the hardest to be ready for. After living overseas for sometime your home church wants you to come back for a year. You say goodbye to your friends and head “home” to reconnect with family, friends and supporters. However, when you get back you have a hard time functioning. You are a stranger in your homeland.

Conversational topics to you are meaningless. Your friends seem more shallow then you remember them. The wealth and affluence really bother you, especially when you go back to your church. You wonder how anyone could not support your work with everything they have. Why does everyone need two cars? Why does anyone need to water their lawn? On and on go your questions, which leads to being angry. You watch your kids struggle along. They don’t know how to play with kids their own age and they don’t know English as well as others. They also begin to desire a lot of the “things” their new friends have, things that were not options to own where you lived. All of a sudden you long to go back to your new home where the church sent you so you can fit back in.You have become angry and judgmental.

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With no desire to end on a sour note, this list is helpful for sending churches, especially in their preparation of missionaries and their care of them when they return. These individuals and families have been through a lot to take the gospel around the world. By knowing these stages, the church can bear the burden with them.

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Advice Given to J. Hudson Taylor From His Parents

Nov. 16, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From The Call to Service as he considered leaving for China:

My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in missionary work. They advised me, with such convictions, to use all the means in my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart and soul, and to await prayerfully upon God, quite willing should He show me that I was mistaken, to follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should hope the way to missionary service. The importance of his advice I have often since had occasion to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air in strengthen my physique. My father bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life. I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract distribution, Sunday-school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as opportunity afforded.

 
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Short-Term Missions or Glorified Tourism?

Sep. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

George Houssney, the President of Horizons, has written a helpful article on the strengths and weaknesses of short-term missions. Below are what he sees as negatives and positives. You can read the entire article here.

The Positives

1. A good percentage of short-termers end up going long-term. Some statistics claim 50%. Many would never go to the mission field were it not for these short- term opportunities.

2. Many gain a heart for missions, and they return often and/or become supporters, prayer partners, and mobilizers.

3. Short-Term mission trips are eye openers for many. It is one thing to read missions newsletters and reports, it is another to actually be on the mission field and see the poverty, the hardships, and the spiritual depravity of people of other cultures.

4. Some who have never witnessed back home become bold in witnessing when they are with a like minded team witnessing in a cross cultural context. This can even help them begin to witness when they return home.

5. Those who are hesitant because they are not sure about their calling use short-term trips to test the waters and see if career missions might be what God is calling them to?

6. Some cannot be career missionaries because of job and family considerations. However, they do want to make a difference, so they use their vacation time or a break from school to do something for the Lord, rather than spending it on themselves.

7. Many who go on mission trips come from affluent families. They are not used to doing dirty work. Manual labor gives them an opportunity to serve others and to experience hard work like they never have before.

After looking at some of the pros and cons of short-term missions, let us see what the Bible says about this.

Missions is a word that came out of the Greek Apostolos, a messenger who is sent to accomplish a certain mission. To better understand the meaning of Apostolos, we must look at the life of Jesus and the apostles, and what they did as missionaries.

Negatives and Drawbacks

1. Many who go on mission trips have no cross cultural experience and due to the shortness of the trip, they are sent with little or no preparation or training. As a result they are likely to behave in ways that are not culturally appropriate or sensitive. I have seen young men dress in shorts and women in tank tops in conservative countries where men and women cover the majority of their bodies. Young people also tend to behave immaturely, with coarse joking, flirting, and inappropriately touching others of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some come with their expensive clothes, expensive gadgets, computers, phones, ipods, Cd players, BlackBerries, and flash money around while people in the target culture cannot afford such luxuries. This results in either disgust or adoration of the missionaries. In either case, it is not healthy.

2. Many go on short-term mission trips in response to short-term guilt trips laid on them by preachers or missions speakers, who rightly challenge them to do something about the unreached people. For many, going on a short-term mission relieves them of their guilty feeling. Rather than consider a longer term commitment, they settle for a trip or two here and there. Some feel that they now have missions checked off on their "To-do in my lifetime" list.

3. Due to the excitement associated with going to a foreign country, some fall in love with the new culture and do not see beyond the facade of its external expressions. Rather, they become enamored by the culture’s music, folklore, dress, and lifestyle. In fact, some expect to see a much darker side of other cultures than they discover. As a result, they fail to see the lostness and spiritual depravity of people from the target cultures.

4. Recruiters who are anxious to sign up people for these trips tend to exaggerate how great these trips are. They raise the expectations too high. The result of unrealistic expectations is usually disappointment. Some expect to love the people in those counties but find out they are not as kind or attractive as they were promised. Some expect to see many people saved. They end up painting walls and laying bricks and hardly seeing any natives. Some return from a short- term mission disappointed because they did not lead anyone to Christ and they feel that they have failed and that they are not made for missions.

5. A percentage of those who have a positive experience on short-term mission trips end up returning for a longer term. They often discover that living in that country long-term is not as exciting or intense, so they get disappointed. They reason that if they had so much fun for two weeks, living there would be even better. By some estimates, half of those who go on long-term trips return home disillusioned. Long-Termers cannot maintain that level of intensity and excitement over a long period of time. It is like going on a honeymoon or vacation; you do not have to go to work, and you enjoy every moment. Then reality hits and you are back to real life, where there is work, tiredness, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and countless other things that keep you busy. Many missionaries expect that when they return full time and for a long time, they would have the same experience as they did when they went short-term. They end up disillusioned and frustrated. Some missionaries do not realize that just figuring out how to live in a foreign country takes up a huge chunk of their day. I know missionaries who have taken a year or more to settle down, spending time looking for a house to live in, furnishing the house, dealing with shopping, transportation and doing many more things.

6. Short-term trips are expensive. Once I was on a prayer walk trip in Morocco. Four hundred came from many parts of the world for the five day journey. I estimated that no less than one million dollars were spent on travel alone (400 X $2500). Some have argued that it would be better that we send this money to the mission field where it can make a much greater impact.

7. The impact on the national church is not always positive. Some churches are inundated by short-term teams that demand a lot of attention. This takes national pastors away from their regular routine and disrupts the ministry

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The Training of Immigrant Christian Leaders

Aug. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Last year I spoke at a TGC-Twin Cities event at a Presbyterian church plant that also hosted an Ethiopian congregation. A few weeks later I ran into a friend who was trying to help a Hmong speaking congregation in the Twin Cities. These two situations caused me to pause because we have been working on translating our curriculum to Amharic and Hmong to teach abroad while at the same time we have immigrant church leaders in the US, who for a variety of reasons can not access theological education that is available to them.oc-pastors-conference

On top of this I have been researching migrant church movements as part of PhD research.  

These two things made wonder whether TLI could help immigrant and migrant pastors in the US and Europe by providing training for them in their own language. The statistics are staggering and have led some to call it the "Great Commission in Reverse." Just in Minneapolis, MN we have 90,000 Hmong, 77,000 Somali, 37,500 Liberian and 25,000 Oromo. Or take London, where there are more non-English speaking churches than English speaking church. Or Athens, where up to 20% of the city are non-Greeks.

We now have 29 US Staff. We have the teachers and church partnerships to be able to do this.

We want to appoint someone whose focus would be to direct this specific kind of training and get like-minded churches involved in cities in the US and Europe that would continue training. This could also be a wonderful way to foster partnerships between English and non-English speaking churches that worship in the same city.

If you know someone who might be interested in leading this, you can read the job description here.

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The Ethics of Missionary Strategy

Jul. 25, 2016By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Do you have an ethical ministry strategy? I’m guessing most people have never asked this sort of question. What does strategy have to do with ethics?

What’s strategy to do with ethics?

A few months ago, I heard a book survey different ethical approaches (e.g. utilitarianism, virtue theory, etc.). It dawned on me that the same basic ways that people think about morality orScreen_Shot_2016-07-18_at_5.01.05_PM ethics also shapes how missionaries (and pastors) determine their methods of ministry.

This is significant. Recognizing the connection enables us to evaluate more critically ministry methods. At times, the very same people who would reject a given approach to ethics in fact use that approach when choosing ministry strategy. As I explain more below, ask yourself which categories best describe you or the people around you.

We all have to make choices about what is good and best. In ministry, our sense of right and wrong will influence our priorities. In ethics, people try to identify consistent principles to guide our choices and behaviors.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, “What principle(s) do we use to decide our behaviors (e.g. strategies) in ministry?” Do we prioritize what is truly best? How do we choose between options?

Three Principles Shaping Ministry

I’ll briefly summarize an ethical perspective before showing how it bears on ministry practice.

1. Utilitarian 

In “utilitarian” ethics, the goal is maximizing the most good for the most people. At one level, this sounds ideal. Yet, the problems are apparent. How do you measure “good”? What distinguishes good from best? In the end, this approach easily devolves into pragmatic relativism that can overlook those in the minority.

What might this look like with respect to mission strategy?

Put simply, missionaries use a more utilitarian approach when strategy is largely shaped by speed and numbers. In a single sentence, they ask, “What method ensures the most people hear the gospel in the fastest amount of time so that the maximum number of people can be saved?”

Certainly, this is a worthy goal. However, the challenge comes when applying this ideal standard. More often than we’d like to admit, “success” cannot be measured empirically.

God defines success. The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were successful because they were faithful yet God told each one of them that no one would listen to their message (cf. Isa 6:8–13; Jer 1:19; 7:27; Ezek 3:7). 

Not surprisingly, one danger of this ministry approach is pragmatism. “Blessing” = numbers. When numbers and speed become the standard for success, what stops us from choosing any method that gets the result we think we want?

2. Rules vs. Freedom 

Some people emphasize freedom. In order to make moral/ethical decisions, a person must have the freedom to choose one action over another. The view certainly has merit. This perspective contrasts rigid, rule-based (“deontological”) approaches. Highlighting freedom need not imply lawlessness. The point is simply this: no set of rules can adequately guide a person in every circumstance.

How does the “rules vs. freedom” debate shape our ministry methods?

On the one hand, I know of mission leaders who compel or pressure people under them to adopt a certain type of ministry. Perhaps, everyone is expected to use T4T, C2C, 4 Fields, chronological bible storying, etc. This rule-based approach can take other forms.

For instance, mission organization might say or suggest that all missionaries should be “church planters” or “evangelists.” Accordingly, people who are not spending the majority of their time doing these “main things” are not actually doing the real work of missions.

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul highlights the freedom individuals have when doing ministry. This is evident in at least two ways.

• God intentionally grants believers a variety of different spiritual gifts (cf. Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:4–11; 1 Pet 4:10–11).

• Paul models flexibility by becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23)

Should not Christian workers enjoy and exemplify this pattern of ministry?

The Spirit who sovereignly equips each individual so that God would be glorified by the diversity of ministry by the church collectively. In different times and contexts, we will need to adjust our ministry methods.

Without this freedom, do we usurp divine authority and undermine practicing genuine unity?

3. Virtue 

In general, “virtue ethics” emphasizes the importance of character (above rules and goals). A person develops habits of mind and action that guide his or her when it’s time to make decisions about right, wrong, good, and best. No doubt, this approach is not easy because it’s not formulaic.

What does this look like in a ministry context?

Missionaries with this perspective lay stress on discipleship and the church’s character. They will be concerned with balance so as not to be one-dimensional and stunt the church’s growth. As a result, they might not see rapid visible results but they will more likely see fruit that lasts. Their holistic approach accounts for what is needed for long-term growth in the Christian life.

What drives them? The conviction that God is glorified in diverse ways. Professions of faith, planting churches, etc. are just one possible way God can get glory. Faithfulness, healthy families, and service to the needy glorify God as well.

They do not want to compromise by only glorifying God in a single, narrow aspect of ministry.


 
I think we should seek to be consistent in our ethical thinking and our choice of ministry strategy. What’s intriguing is that most Christians would reject pragmatic utilitarianism when it comes to ethics; yet, when doing ministry, they are unaware that they re-embrace the same sort of thinking.

How do you see the connection play out in your life?

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