Hey! Short Termers! Read This Post!

Lots of people think when you go off to be a missionary and work with children or, excuse me, I’m going to cringe because I hate this term……”love on” people……that rainbows and unicorns are going to start popping up beside candy flavored mushrooms and the smell of roses will waft in your wake.

Ministry, REAL ministry, the bible believing loving and walking people through good and hard times ministry, the pointing them to Jesus, and hold on because this is really hard, HOLDING PEOPLE TO ACCOUNTABILITY AND A STANDARD OF INTEGRITY ministry is a lot different.  Ministry is always difficult.  It’s always messy because you are dealing with people, life, sin and good or bad intentions.

I think social media has a tendency to either reinforce the fantasy of unicorns or can tear up good intentions and leave them dripping in cynicism. How can one photo really explain a relationship?  Can a blog post or status update ever truly give someone who’s not there an adequate idea of the poster’s reality?  It can’t.  But some people start believing because they want or need to believe that those candy flavored mushrooms are there in the background just waiting to be picked and eaten.

The instagram account, “Barbie Savior” is a satirical account of Barbie’s short term, multiple trips to Africa to save the children.  And I admit when I stumbled across it, I laughed til I cried….and then laughed some more and then cried some more…..It. is. hysterical. period.

I laughed because we have all been there and those of us who have been there know that some people stay there.  The first missions trip is about emotion, passion, the desire to make a difference in the world.  I still feel it.  But the difference for those of us who made the decision to move overseas, is that we grew past the innocence, learned the language, and thankfully, if not painfully, came to terms with not just the things that touched us positively on our first few mission trips, but also learned about the ugly side of the culture.  It’s otherwise known as, reality.   It’s the stuff you only learn by living long term and getting involved in the daily grind of life in another culture.  I can explain it as the difference between a long term relationship where you see every side of a person, their strengths, weaknesses, the good and bad, as opposed to spending time together on short dates where you work hard to impress each other and cover up your faults.  The former is real love. A more real, gritty and intimate kind of love. But one that lasts for a longer period of time.

The intimacy of living together, with your own culture that’s inside you and the culture you are walking around in, is the key to building relationships and ministry that makes an impact on the world.  There is a difference between visiting an orphanage and passing out gifts, and waving goodbye to the kids afterwards and taking an orphan under your wing and helping them transition to real life.  The first is easy, there is little commitment.  It makes you feel super good. The second requires commitment, vision, and guts.  It requires growth and change.

I guess what I’m trying to say is we won’t end up like Barbie Savior if we keep growing.  If God calls you to short term mission trips, check your heart because chances are he’s calling or preparing you for a longer commitment.  Don’t be afraid of the commitment or the intimacy of doing ministry long term.  Don’t settle for passing out material gifts when you can give deeper and more precious spiritual gifts to people.  In this summer season of short term mission trips, don’t settle for just the easy ministry.  Ask God what is really going on and what is he really trying to show you.  Why are you doing short term trips and not serving him full time?  Why are you not committing to long term ministry.  How could you and your ministry grow if you decide to MOVE to where your ministry is instead of just visiting it?  How can you get more intimate with the culture you love?  Where is your comfort zone now?  Are you really helping the nationals with your quick visits? What do they need long term that you can’t give visiting for a short term?

Just make sure you don’t become a Barbie Savior.  Or I’m gonna laugh at you!

Here’s a great blog post on Barbie Savior:  “The Danger Of Being A Barbie Savior”

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Thank You Atlanta Braves!

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The Atlanta Braves sent us all kinds of gloves and batting gloves!  It is so encouraging when Major League teams get involved and support developing baseball/softball among young people.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be!  Baseball is a great sport and one where those who are blessed will give back!  I am so thankful to be a small part to connect and bless children in Ukraine!

For more information about our organization’s work in Ukraine, go to www.youthofukrainephoenixproject.com

Don’t Forget To Be Yourself

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When I was in the states, I had a great conversation with someone about how as Christians we should strive to “be ourselves.” I really appreciated the encouragement because so many times in ministry I feel the pressure that it would be “more appropriate” to fit into the stereotype that many create in our cultures, churches or even the groups of people that we hang around.

Someone “being themselves” can be a deterrent to a group whose leaders have a definite goal that they are trying to produce with a group of people. This is actually different than the biblical principles of leadership where each individual Christian should be striving to follow Christ. When someone is following Christ and are therefore part of the “body of Christ,” we don’t have to worry about not getting where the “group” is going. The Lord gives us different gifts to use to make the “body” strong. (Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. – 1 Corinthians 27) We are not competing against each other or other groups. We experience the joy of using our gifts to serve Christ and others. This should be a positive experience not one of striving and trying to make things work. The Pastor’s job as a leader is to guide and shepherd the group, to be a servant leader, not one who is “forcing” or “driving” the people to go in a certain direction.

Happy First Easter!

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It’s been a very busy time these last 8 weeks of my life so this is the first time I’ve had a chance to write a blog post.  It’s Easter Sunday (here in the states, thus the term “first Easter” since I will be celebrating it again in May when I am in Ukraine. That will be the “second” Easter.)

I just wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve been thinking about this past week.  The problem with culture shock is that you have all this stuff rolling, no crashing around in your head and it takes enormous mental energy to shift through everything and process it.  I have been talking with friends about my life in Ukraine and sharing some of the hard stuff.  I had been letting some things REALLY get to me but on Good Friday, during our church service, I realized how much I really am free in Christ and that all these things I was dealing with or allowing to bother me, didn’t really matter in the relationship I have with Christ.  Jesus died so I could be free.  That I really was spiritually free.

The Lord is the Spirit who gives them life, and where he is there is freedom from trying to be saved by keeping the laws of God.  –  2 Corinthians 3:17

We don’t have to “try” to be saved.  We are set free when we believe in Christ.  One of my friends pointed out that some of the difficult problems I deal with ministry is because I understand I am free while those around me may not know or understand this.  I am free to worship and serve Christ as he leads me to do so.  Not everyone understands this freedom.  I grew up in a country where I and my family can freely worship Christ.  Christ cannot be worshiped freely in every country.  I currently live in a country where most people I met grew up under spiritual oppression and persecution.

This whole idea really hit me again this Easter morning as I sat in church worshiping God with like minded believers.  Jesus died for us.  He died to make us free.  What an amazing blessing!

Happy First Easter!

 

 

 

Going Out

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The following is an excerpt from my newsletter.  If you would like to receive my newsletter, you can find the link on the sidebar of this blog and add your email.  I will not sell or share you email with anyone else.

Does time not fly by?  Are we not super busy?  I feel like every time I turn around I get hit with another problem to resolve or strange issue to deal with.  I get bogged down and tired trying to think about how to solve something and everything suddenly becomes very complicated just because every possible answer seems confusing.

I have been taking my problems to the Lord and the theme that He keeps putting on my heart is, “Go.”  Not “Go” as in “keep going” but “Go,” as “Go out.”

If you put “Go out” in a bible search engine, you will see that going and going out are a theme with God.  God called Abraham to go out from his country.  Jesus told his disciples to “Go” and make disciples.  And he really meant to go “out.”  Going to the ends of the world is about as “out” as you can get.  And Ukraine truly does feel like the end of the world to me, so where does he want me to go?  I’m already “there.”  Then I looked at what Jesus said again a bit more closely, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”..…Matthew 28:19.  It is so easy in full time ministry to get caught up in organizations, their programs and marketing.  These things are a BIG deal in the Ukrainian Christian culture here and I know they are in the states too.  But the focus in ministry shouldn’t be on the outward appearance of what we are doing, or worrying about how it looks to others, but on making disciples, to build healthy relationships.  Sometimes we make everything so complicated when following Jesus is so simple.  As a leader, my goals needs to be constantly refined and focused so I can teach this to others.

If you are bogged down with problems, take a few moments to think how can you “go out” and help others know Jesus. You don’t have to move to the ends of the earth to do this. Just taking a few steps outside of your comfort zone to help someone else solve a problem or give a word of encouragement can help you regain focus on what really counts when the chaos is swooping over your life.

That Moment When…..

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That moment when you find yourself down on Maidan walking with a friend and you are explaining to her where everything happened during a revolution……and you realize….I was here.  This happened where I live.

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And now it’s a memory that you know well as you walk across the pavement and remember seeing blood and dirt where there should have been none.  A memory as I climb steps that have been chopped up and still are broken.  Explaining where people died.  Where the snipers were located……

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For many people in Ukraine, the revolution in Ukraine is something we are still processing.

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And will never forget.  Here is a memorial to the Heavenly Hundred.

Look Up!

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy……Matthew 2:10

When I first came to Ukraine, Christmas was not celebrated on December 25th.  (It still isn’t, but the holiday preparations are starting this week which helps for those of us who are used to celebrating on the 25th.)  There were no lights, no trees, no songs, no bustle on the street, no presents to wrap.  I spent Christmas eve at a missionary’s home eating a potluck meal and watching a children’s Christmas pageant with no lights, no trees, no manger, no costumes, no…..you get the picture.  It was weird, uncomfortable and depressing and it hit home with me what I’d done with my life.  I’d become a missionary and was living in a place devoid of any signs of what I knew as Christmas.

Ukraine still celebrates Christmas in January according to the Orthodox calendar and I’ve adjusted to the fact that New Year’s Eve is much closer to what I know as Christmas in regards to celebrating.  Thankfully, even with Christmas not coming until January 7th, there is already a Yolka (New Year’s tree) and for the last few years there are more holiday events and areas which are decorated for Christmas. I just put my tree up later than I would in the states and take it down after January 7th. I’ve learned to just deal with how weird it feels.

What I’ve learned from all this is that whether you live where Christmas is over commercialized and designed to stress you and your budget out or if you live in a place where no one celebrates it, Christmas isn’t really about all the extra stuff that goes on.  It’s great and I enjoy it.  I love the music, the Christmas shows, choir performances, parades, trees, lights, food, family, presents, friends…..but none of that really is what Christmas is all about.

I realize I’m starting to sound like, “Charlie Brown Christmas” and that wasn’t where I was going with this when I started writing, but in light of the fact that I read this week that a school in the states actually took out Linus’ monologue on the real meaning of Christmas, in their play because it was….offensive…..maybe I need to refresh us all…..

 

No matter how crazy the Christmas season gets….whether it’s because of busyness or the lack of being able to celebrate it, Christmas will always be about that one baby that was born in a manager to change the world.

When Christmas gets too crazy, look up.  Look up to the star on top of your tree.  Look up to the stars in the heaven, look up to the God who loved you so much he sent his son into this insane world to save you and reconcile you to him.  It’s not offensive, it’s called love.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  Look up at the star on top of your tree and remember this.  Look up.

Merry Christmas!!!!