After spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, our family recently came back to the United States for a six month home assignment (furlough). My wife and I grew up here, though our kids have spent most of their lives (so far) in Thailand. For all of us, however, there have been many new or not-as-familiar-anymore aspect of life in America to get used to.
Many people have heard of culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you experience a foreign culture. Fewer people, however, are familiar with reverse culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you re-enter your home culture after being in a foreign culture for a long period of time. But I can verify that reverse culture shock is a real thing because our family is experiencing it. Although “shock” might be too strong of a word for it, there are certainly a lot of things to get used to again. Here’s a list of several things that I have noticed this past week about life in the United States, after having lived in Thailand for a number of years.
This is an album of photos from our first full missionary term in Thailand, from 2006-2010. Included are pictures of where we lived, daily activities, people whom we knew and worked with, outreach events, church, Thai Buddhism, Thai culture.
Click on any picture to see a larger image.
When the bigger picture pops up, you can scroll through the whole album by hitting your right arrow key (and left arrow key if you want to go back)
The letter replicated below is the first letter of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to its out-going missionaries to Siam in 1846. One other missionary from the American Presbyertian Mission had gone to Siam (now Thailland) previously, but he returned to the United States after only a few years because of his wife's health.
It is interesting to note the priorities of the sending church (and its denominational agency) more than 150 years ago, and to compare those priorities to those of missionaries today. Language study was prioritized, as was evangelism, although medical and publishing work were seen as useful primarily as a means to the evangelistic work. While the world has changed greatly in 150 years, this letter reminds me of how much has basically stayed the same in the work of missions and evangelism over the years.
A print copy of this letter may be found in "Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam 1828-1928"Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam 1828-1928", edited by G.B. McFarland.
Mission House, New York, 10th July 1846
Rev. S. Mattoon
Dr. S. R. House, M. D
In going out to resume the Mission in Siam, it is proper that you take with you the instructions of the Executive Committee in reference to that field of Missionary labor.When you are permitted to enter upon your work, we shall be glad to hear from you once a month or as near these periods as you have an opportunity of sending. Letters by way of Canton will come with those of the brethren to China. Thin paper must be used for one letter a month via Canton overland. Other letters with your Journals, annual reports etc., sent by way of Canton will your reach us by ships from China.
Dear Friends & Family,
Some of you may wonder what Sun and the children do while Karl is away teaching at the seminary or helping to translate Christian material. Here is a small glimpse into our lives at home.Raising ChickensAnother missionary family was raising chickens and we thought we would also do that as part of our homeschooling experience. They were going to give us a hen and a Thai pastor was going to give us a couple of chicks. We were happily surprised when we received the hen AND a mother hen with her five 3-day old chickens. We had been building a hen house and preparing the place for months, so the children were ecstatic to finally get the chickens. The chicks have since grown quite big and are shedding their fuzzy feathers. They are starting to spar with each other. Caitlin really enjoys mothering the chickens. She wants to catch and hold the chicks whenever she has an opportunity. The kids also enjoy looking for eggs (we’ve got 4 so far!). Recently, it’s been unusually wet with the monsoon rains which flood our front yard, so the children haven’t been able to be with the chickens very much. We tried putting down some sand, and that helps some.
You never know what critters you will find in your house in Thailand. This time it was a massive termite infestation. Not fun! But Joshua still had a good time showing the termites who was in charge when we found the nest. Watch our 1 minute video to get the full report.
If you don't see a video above, click here to watch it on YouTube
guest post by Larry Dinkins
This week, 60 years ago, five missionaries made contact with the Auca (literally “savage”) tribal group in the Ecuadorian jungle. Previously, no one had ever engaged this tribe without being killed. The previous year, gifts had been exchanged paving the way for this encounter. On January 3rd, the five married men, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming, Nate Saint (oldest at 32), and Ed McCully established a camp at “Palm Beach” along the Curaray River and waited. On January 6, two naked women and a man emerged from the jungle and made friendly contact, even agreeing to take a ride in the yellow Piper. By January 8, the anxious wives got word that all five of the missionaries had been slaughtered on that lonely beach. The coverage of the event by Life Magazine and its photo essay broadcast the news around the world culminating in what has become one of the most inspirational missionary stories of the 20th century.
Two years later, Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) and Elisabeth Elliot with her 3-year-old daughter went to live among the Auca for a period of three years. Eventually most of the village, including six in the murder party, turned to Christ. Elisabeth returned to the states as a writer and speaker, producing a total of 28 books over the next fifty years, including Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty and The Savage, My Kinsmen.
In 1969 Elisabeth married Addison Leitch, a professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary. He died of cancer in 1973. After his death, she married yet again in 1977 to a hospital chaplain named Lars Glen, a former lodger at the rented room at her home. That marriage lasted until her death at 88 in June, 2015.
Jim and Elisabeth Elliot have stepped “Through Gates of Splendor” into their reward, yet their words and influence remain six decades later. Elisabeth is a particular inspiration to me, especially how she handled suffering at multiple points in her life, first through the high risks of ministry in Ecuador and the wrenching experience of seeing cancer take her second spouse within only four years. Her last decade was a constant battle with dementia, a condition that she endured with godly acceptance as she had previously done with the passing of her husbands.
Overall missionary attrition may not be sky rocketing, but it sure seems like it. Every time I turn around, there is someone else packing up and going home.
Some attrition is normal as people enter different stages of life, and family or ministry circumstances / callings change.
But some attrition is unfortunate and preventable.
Although it is sometimes the missionaries themselves who have issues, other times it is their mission agency and/or supporting church(es) who have failed them. And in the messiness of real life, sometimes it is a combination of both missionary and agency, of uncontrollable and controllable factors.
In the past, I have written some positive posts about language study, the importance of friends, pre-field training, etc. But in the current post, I want to approach missionary attrition a bit more negatively, in hopes that a bit of cynicism might help us consider how to prevent attrition. So, without any further ado, here are 10 ways that mission agencies, churches, and others (including missionaries themselves) can speed up unanticipated departures from the mission field.
Dear Friends & Family,
Praise the Lord! We have bought our home and are living in it. It has been rough at times getting here, but the Lord has accomplished it. Getting settled has also been difficult, but we are slowly getting there by God’s grace. Of course, keeping the home while serving the Lord as missionaries overseas will be a challenge. So, we know that we are dependent on God every step of the way. Please continue to pray for us over this matter.We had written earlier that there would be risks to owning a home while we are overseas but we believe that it will be a good investment and will serve to control rent in our latter years. If we were to retire in the United States in thirty years time, it would be good to not to have to pay rent at that time, especially as some people are less likely to keep supporting retired missionaries who are no longer “on the front lines”. Out of necessity, some missionaries live in dozens of different homes over the course of their lifetime. We hope that owning this home will add stability to our family’s life as we come back to it time and again when we are in the U.S.
A while back I wrote an article on “How to Protect Yourself from Moral Failure on the Mission Field”, but I failed to include something important. After reading my post, a missionary colleague many years my senior wrote to point out that my “how-to list” should have included “nurturing your marital relationship”. He was right. And in light of recent news of Tullian Tchividjian’s resignation due to infidelity, I thought it might be a good time to make a few observations on missionary marriages and longevity on the mission field. I don’t want to comment on Tchividjian’s case in particular, but rather the broader issue of protecting your marriage, as it relates to missionaries.
As with anyone in full-time ministry, there are lots of stresses and demands upon missionaries, including language and culture stresses that are a much smaller factor when you are working in your home country. And in the midst of various pressures, the marriage relationship is easily neglected. And if the marriage is neglected, that relationship is no longer the joyful, life-giving fount that God intended it to be. A good marital relationship can be a shelter and refuge from the stresses and demands of the outside world. It can be a place to laugh, to cry, to rant, to debrief, and to share all those things that would cause you to be virtually tarred-and-feathered if you shared them on social media.
Dear Friends & Family,We praise God for a good three months in the Northeast, despite the untimely death of Karl’s father that brought us back to the U.S. two months earlier than expected. God was very good in providing us with many helpful people to supply what our family needed - clothes, supplies, manpower, babysitting, finances, conversations, fun times, and opportunities to talk about what God is doing in Thailand, and in our lives. Many thanks to those who had a part in our time in the Northeast this past fall.On Jan 10th, our family flew to Southern California where we will be living until our return to Thailand in late 2011. Coming directly from the bone chilling Northeast, it has been fantastic to walk to the park with the children in shirt sleeves. Many of our things are still in suitcases though we are quickly settling in to our new home and surroundings.
Some people might think that missionaries don’t have problems with materialism. After all, these are the people who have “given up everything” to move to a foreign country in order to preach the Gospel. Or, at least, that is the traditional way that missionaries have been viewed. In the age of globalization, however, the division between “home” and “field” is not so simple and the ease of communication and transportation can lead to heightened expectations for being able to maintain a lifestyle and standard of living similar to what you enjoyed in your home country. And that is a problem because it leads to disappointment, bitterness, frustration, a lack of satisfaction in one’s life and ministry, and in some cases attrition.
What is the root of this materialism? And how can we address this issue and keep missionaries on the field longer? I believe that the core issues are expectations and attitudes of the heart.
I can identify with a number of these indications that you you are pioneer missionary from Forrest McPhail’s book, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” (read my review here). Perhaps some of my fellow missionaries can as well. Forrest writes…
You know you're a pioneer missionary when:Your neighbor thinks that you have magical powers as a holy man You suddenly come across a little girl in the countryside and, screaming, she runs away from the foreigner You apply passages of the Bible referring to food offered to idols to actual food-offered-to-idols scenarios Almost every believer you know is a first-generation Christian You wonder whether a bag of rice given to someone in compassion might obscure the Gospel Many of the new believers confess to having seen demons, even after conversion You can quote Genesis 1:1 in a foreign language before you can remember how to quote John 3:16 in English When you present the Gospel, you have to address the issue of persecution
Source: Forrest McPhail. Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings (Kindle Locations 165-171).
When I recently read an article about four common characteristics among pastors who experienced moral failure (infidelity), it struck me that the lessons to be learned from their failure are very applicable to missionaries as well. The issues that pastors and missionaries face are not exactly the same but there is a lot of crossover. You can read the whole article here.
In this post, I have listed the four characteristics and drawn out what lessons missionaries can learn in order to protect themselves from moral compromise. The warnings here are mostly for men, but I am sure that many women will be able to find value in these observations as well, if not for themselves directly, then at least for the men in their lives.
In a study of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure in a given two years period, Dr. Howard Hendricks found the following four common characteristics:
1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability.
2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”
Now let me offer some comments on each of these in order to help missionaries (especially male missionaries) to think about how to avoid ending up in this kind of disaster.
When talking with people about our financial support, one the questions that I like least is, “How much goes to admin?” It is a valid question, but I don’t like to answer it because there is often an unspoken assumption that paying admin costs is little more than flushing money down the toilet. Everyone knows that some amount needs to go to admin because donations need to be processed and receipted (at the very least). But admin money isn’t “really” used for ministry, but just for someone to push paper (or pixels) in an office somewhere.
For many people, admin fees are an unpleasant reality. They are part and parcel of working with a missionary organization, in the same way that paying taxes are an accepted part of being a citizen of a country (or should be). They need to be paid but there is a suspicion that they are probably not spent well and would largely be better used elsewhere. Therefore, if someone asks me, “How much goes to admin?” I feel like the lower the number that I give them, the happier they will be with my answer. I am not going to doctor the numbers, of course, but I am never sure how my answer will affect the attitude and willingness to give of the person asking.
But the longer that I serve with a missionary organization that assesses so-called admin costs, the more grateful I am for all the people behind those admin fees. All that money that goes to behind-the-scenes admin enables other people to do things that I would otherwise need to take time and money to do myself. And in many cases, those support workers who are in the home office or field office or in cyberspace somewhere are doing jobs that that I am not equipped to do.
When a new missionary first gets to the mission field, it is obvious where home is. It is that place where you just left. It is the place where you grew up, went to school, got an education, discovered a church family, and formed your most important relationships.
But when you live overseas long enough, a strange transition takes place.
Your “home” country doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. When you “go home”, some of the same people and places are there, but life has moved on in your absence. When you show up for the so-called “home assignment” or “furlough,” you can not just pick up where you left off. You are a visitor. An outsider. A guest without a permanent role. Your close friends have made new close friends. Half the people in your home church only know you as a line item on a list of prayer requests. Some new technology, slang, or cultural trend has become common place… expect for you because you missed it when it first came out.
After more than 8 years in Thailand, I would like to think that I speak and understand Thai at a fairly high level. I can usually teach and preach in Thai, and carry on conversations without major problems. My language is not perfect, of course, and I can’t speak or understand 100% of what I would like to. But in general, my Thai language ability seems to function okay for what I need to do.
But sometimes it all falls apart. I can’t find the right word. I stumble over what I want to say. Someone tells me something and I can only guess what they are trying to communicate. And it always hits me by surprise. Why is it that normally I do okay, but today my language ability has regressed about 5 years? I’ve had this experience many times. Seemingly out of nowhere, my language ability disintegrates before my eyes. But I’ve learned to not get too discouraged by my bad language days.
Because that’s just what it is: a single day.
When I sit down to write a prayer letter, I often feel like I need to come up with something new and exciting to tell my supporters. After all, they are giving lots of money and praying for us, so I should have something significant to report, thereby justifying my existence. But I often have trouble figuring out what to write. Most of the work we are involved is in the category of “slow-and-steady-wins-the-race” and not in the category of “awesome-ground-breaking-pioneer-ministry-look-what-we’ve-done-now!” Thankfully, the vast majority of our supporters seem to understand that fruitfulness in ministry is a long-term, Holy Spirit wrought endeavor, not just a list of man-driven activities. Nonetheless, I would feel bad just writing, “Same as last month. Keep praying. Thanks” and then sign off. So I need to write something. It needs to be accurate, informative, interesting, and not overstate the what we are really doing. On slow months, when not much new is happening, that last one is difficult.
One of the things that frustrates me most is other people wasting my time. My kids dawdle when we have to get our the door, and spill milk for me to clean up after I just told them to be careful. The people whom I am supposed to meet at 10:00 decide to waltz in at 10:45 or 11:00 as if they are right on time. No apologies. No excuses. No nothing. Just smiles. On a good day, I am able to take these things in stride. But on a bad day, I am not always a pleasant person to be around.
Time is a valuable commodity and I only have so much of it. I have stuff that I want to (need to!) do other than wait around for other people or clean up their preventable messes. There are emails to respond to, books to read, lessons to prepare, laundry to hang, and a thousand other things on my to-do list. But am I doing them? No, I am sitting here waiting for someone who can’t be bother to show up on time. I am looking for the stuffed toy that is now missing even though I told her to bring it to her room earlier before bed time.
I was recently looking at an article in an old missionary periodical from 1912 and came across the following drawing. I didn’t see any explanation of its meaning but it immediately struck me as a fantastic illustration of the relative importance that missionaries need to attach to issues and concerns on the foreign mission field and in their home country.
I often get emails or Facebook messages from people who want to know how to become a missionary. They sense God’s call but don’t know where to start. Who should I go with? How do I prepare? Can I support myself? Do I need shots?Actually, I should probably step back a moment. Apparently, they do know where to start: Google. That’s how they end up on my website, sending me an email asking where to start.Since I get email inquiries like this somewhat frequently, I thought it would be helpful to do a post on how to move from “I want to be a missionary” to actually going to the field. There is no precise formula but here are some practical steps that should get potential missionaries going in the right direction.
1. Talk to Your Church
Talk to your church leaders. It is amazing how many people start researching and contacting missions agencies without first bringing their church in on their plans. Missionaries are sent out from, and are responsible to their local church. You need to be a member in good standing in a church, and have the support and endorsement of your church in order to go forward. Talk to the pastor and elders of your church (but not 5 minutes before the Sunday worship service begins). Tell them your desire to be a missionary and get their thoughts. If you’ve been a member of that church for a decent period of time, and been involved there, then your church leaders should have a good sense as to whether you are ready to go out to the mission field, and they may have some advice and/or requirements for you. Please listen to their advice and guidance, even if they don't think you're ready yet or have some things they'd like you to do first (like formal Bible school training, for example) before you go to the field. Not all churches know what to do with someone who volunteers for missionary service but hopefully, if you are in a decent Gospel preaching church then your church leaders are concerned for your spiritual growth and service in God's kingdom. They are on your side. If you are going to go the mission field, you will need their support and partnership. It is never too soon to start that conversation and get them involved in the process.
2. Talk to Your Family
If you are young and single, it is highly advisable to talk this through with your parents, whether they are Christians or not. Some people find that their parents are initially opposed but warm up to the idea over time as they learn more information, as you pray for them, and talk with them.
If you are married, both you and your spouse need to be sold on the idea of being missionaries, otherwise this plane will never get off the ground. Or it will get off the ground and be a very short trip. Men, make sure your wife really wants to be a missionary too, and is not just going along with you in order to be submissive. It will not work. Many couples are not initially both on board with the idea of being missionaries, but you can embark upon a discernment process together, praying and talking about your developing thoughts on the matter over a period of time. If God wants you as a couple, and as a family, to go to the mission field then eventually He will bring both spouses to that conviction. Don’t rush this.
3. Talk with Those You Trust
Talk with those whom you know and trust, and ask them, “Knowing what you do about me, could you see me being a missionary?” If you have a close friend who can be brutally honest with you, that would be great. If the Lord’s people say to you, “Yeah, I could see you doing that” then it is a good sign. If they are not sure, don’t take that as a “stop” sign but rather a call to more carefully re-evaluate and see if there are some things that need changing before you are ready for such a move. Also, if you want to be a missionary but are not sure if you can do it, other people may be able to give you that confidence boost that you need to move forward. Sometimes other people know us better and see more potential in us than we do ourselves.
4. Take the Perspectives Course
Offered all over the United States (and in some other countries, I think), the Perspective Course on the World Christian Movement has a lot of really good info about missions, from the standpoint of the Bible, history, culture, and strategy. Not everyone will agree with every part of the course material as it runs the gamut as far as evangelical missions goes. But overall, I think that it is really worthwhile to orient you to what is going on in missions today, and it will help you think about the options out there as your discern your next steps. See http://www.perspectives.org for more info and to find a class in your area. Alternatively, you could take a missions course at a local bible college or seminary, or online.
5. Research Opportunities to Serve
If you get some positive encouragement towards full time missions when you pray with your family/spouse, and talk with church leadership, then start investigating opportunities to serve. Get suggestions for agencies from your church leadership. If your church is part of a denomination, then your denominational missions agency should probably be your first stop in checking out opportunities to serve. You also might ask what organizations the missionaries supported by your church serve with? Write to them and see if they like their organizations. Missions organizations can look very similar on the surface, but if you dig a little you’ll find that they all have distinctives that will make them either a good fit or a bad fit for you. Types of ministry, location, theology, and many other variables determine which group you should serve with.After looking at websites, send some emails and make some phone calls to organizations that look like they might be a good fit. Not everything available is on the website, especially for missionary service in countries that don’t give missionary visas. If you actually talk with a living, breathing person at a missions organization, they might have some ideas and advice that you wouldn't have run into just by doing an online search.
After doing some data collection and talking to people, you could go for a short-term trip initially to survey the options. Or you could go out for 1-3 years initially to get some more experience, and then if God confirms that that is the place for you, then you could go longer term. Or you could just go long-term directly. Getting some Bible school / seminary classes in preparation for long term service is highly recommended. Increasingly, some Bible college and seminary courses can be done online so you might even be able to serve on the mission field while doing formal Bible training at the same time. Either way, don’t sell yourself short in preparation just because you want to get out to the mission field right away.Hopefully the above five tips will get you started in the right direction. Now you know where to start, so get out there and find your calling!
For Further Reading
How God Called Me to Be a MissionaryHow to Prepare for Missionary ServiceYour Wife Must Be a Missionary TooHudson Taylor on Essential Missionary QualitiesDo You Need a Bible Degree to Be a Long-Term Missionary?Where Do Missionaries Get Their Money?Four Reasons Missionaries Fail to Learn the LanguageENTER YOUR EMAIL TO GET NEW POSTS IN YOUR INBOX Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz