Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weekends are for Remembering

I'm working on a project that requires going through the archives of this blog.  Rereading posts from our past either makes me laugh, hate myself, or causes me to miss my babies so much - I want to go throw myself on my bed and cry for a few days.

Could someone please bring back my baby boys?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekends are for Floating Away

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”  -David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia

“Here is this vast, savage, howling  mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man.” – Henry David Thoreau

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."  -- Albert Einstein

Got big plans this weekend?  Our boys are continuing their quest to float away from home.  When they do, we will hold Bear Grylls responsible.  In case anyone is wondering, there does come a point in a boy's life when they have watched too much Man Vs. Wild.

I'm having late-night coffee with the fabulous woman behind the Batik Boutique.  Other than that, we're looking forward to a slow weekend.  Aren't those the dreamiest?  

Hope your weekend is beautiful.  Here are some fun, weekend links...

On the importance of forts.

Got a daughter?  This video is insightful.

We got a good laugh out of these photos.  We heart the Olympics.

Going on a road trip this summer?  One of these would be cute.  

Our boys can't wait for this to come out.  The cast includes my favorite coach.

I love a flash mob, don't you?  I especially love one that moves me to tears.  The reaction of the children - when the little girl climbs the light pole to get a better look - so beautiful.  Children and music - two of the most marvelous gifts.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rad 3-D Art

The other day I noticed this cool hand craft on Pinterest.  I pinned this photo, but there wasn’t a link with added instructions.  I’m sure the photo is supposed to speak for itself, but we obviously needed a little more help judging by our failed first attempts.   (This probably says more about us and our ability to follow instructions than it does about the photo tutorial).  I love projects that end up being way cooler than expected.  This hand craft definitely falls into the “exceeds expectations” category.  It wowed our kids.

On a piece of 8.5×11 paper (turned vertical – or portrait) trace your child’s hand and part of their arm.  Note:  Make sure the thumb is slanted upward.  If the thumb is straight (or parallel to the bottom of the paper) the craft won’t work.

With a marker, begin to draw lines across the paper, creating an arc over the actual arm and hand.  This creates the 3D effect.  What I love about this craft is it doesn’t have to be perfect.  We didn’t use rulers, and our lines were not evenly spread apart.

Then simply start coloring between the lines with colored pencils, markers, or crayons.  Patterns of color seemed to work better and made the image stand out more dramatically.

This finished product is fabulous.  Our kids were thrilled and so proud of their cool 3D art.  

One of our boys sat and stared at his finished design.  ”It looks so real – like I could slip my hand inside the paper – like a glove.”  It really does.  This was an engaging, simple activity perfect for a hot, summer afternoon when no one wants to be outside.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Blueberries are on sale this week in our town.  To celebrate we made our favorite, frozen blueberry treats.  Nothing says "summer" like a blueberry brain freeze.

{{Frozen Blueberry Bites}}

Vanilla yogurt or Greek yogurt
Almonds (optional)

Line a large, flat baking sheet with parchment paper.  Clump blueberries in groups of three.

I like to add an almond on the top of the blueberry pyramid.  Almonds add extra protein and make these delicious snacks extra filling.  With four ravenous boys in this house, “filling” is greatly appreciated.  I’m finding that a boy’s stomach has a lot in common with a black hole.

Cover each mound of blueberries with yogurt.  Make sure you use enough yogurt to generously cover each pile of berries.  Don’t worry too much about perfection.  Something magical happens in the freezer, turning giant globs of yogurt and fruit into this…

Frozen treats that are the perfect pick-me-ups on a hot, summer day.
I place the entire baking pan in the freezer for about an hour and a half.
This recipe is simple and freezes fast.

After the blueberry treats are frozen solid, you can remove them from the parchment paper and eat them – or drop each one into a large freezer bag to keep on hand for ready-made snacks.  I love that when hunger sets in, the kids can grab a few of these by themselves without any help from me. 

{{Blueberry Pasta}} 

photo credit:  Eating Well

Our kids were reluctant to try this Blueberry Pasta recipe.  Blueberries in pasta?  Sounds weird.  But, you've never seen boys blow through a bowl of pasta faster.  They each had heaping seconds.

Find the recipe here.  The only ingredient I added was a handful of parmesan cheese on each bowl.  While they filled their bellies with noodles, this paleo mamma at a delicious chicken/blueberry/feta cheese salad.  Win-win.

Got any other blueberry recipes you love?

Summers are for Belly Busters

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


We've been carefully trying to decide where to go with this series.  On one hand, we have been quick to admit that we're not experts on missions (or anything for that matter).  We will say "we are not experts" one hundred times and tattoo it on our bodies if need be.  On the other hand, we saw a lot of eye-opening realities in Haiti that we believe are valuable to share.  As a matter of fact, we feel responsible to share them.  When God prompted a group of people to financially support our move to Haiti, our donors knew (among other things) we were going to Haiti to ask questions and honestly report back the answers (or lack of answers) we found.  Our family (and the people sending us financially to Haiti) wanted to passionately live out The Great Commission and specifically learn how to love and care for those struggling under the weight of immense poverty.  We were quick to admit that we had (and still have) a lot of uncertainty about how to tangibly live out our convictions to care for the voiceless and the oppressed.  We're thankful for the trust, love, and encouragement of the group that sent us to Haiti.  Through this partnership, we were able to work together and each be a small part of exploring these difficult ideas.

One of our main goals in Haiti was to identify and support sustainable ministries.  Therefore, we purposefully asked hard questions about missions, poverty, and orphan care while we were there.  In most cases, we didn't wait for opportunities to present themselves naturally - we obnoxiously pursued missionaries and Haitians.  We asked them awkward and honest questions.  We were also able to connect with missionaries in other developing countries all over the world.  These far-off connections have been sweet encouragements - true gifts to us.  They have been willing to answer hard questions we've asked.  As a result, these discussions have obviously shaped our views about missions, poverty, and orphan care.  They have opened our eyes to the complexities of these issues. 

In the course of this series of blog posts, several people have asked, "If short term missions are often less than effective, why do long-term missionaries keep hosting them? Isn't it the long-term missionary's responsibility to make sure short term teams are helping - not hurting?"

We asked the same question when we lived in Haiti - of missionaries in Haiti and missionaries around the world.  We believe that for the most part, people who engage in missions do so with hearts that truly and genuinely want to be helpful and obedient to The Great Commission.  Most people who go on short term trips give up their hard earned vacation time and invest a lot financially in their trip.  So shouldn't long term missionaries be considerate of these truths and facilitate healthier connections with missions?  When we asked these questions, there were several common responses given, but one constant and overwhelming theme stood out to us as we listened to missionaries talk about their struggles:  FEAR. 

There seems to be a lot of fear involved when trying to honestly and openly talk about missions.

When listening to missionaries honestly exploring the problems in mission strategies, one thing we realized is this:  Fear is a real player in this important discussion and may be hindering our ability to find tangible solutions.

We all know that fear is never healthy or productive.  A healthy fear of God is great - but that's not what we're referencing.

Instead, we've heard story after story of fear preventing people from doing what they feel is right or best for the people they are serving.  Fear seemed to be a strong deterrent that can keep missionaries and aid workers from living out their convictions about what is right and wrong in relation to missions and aid.  We're going to go so far as to suggest that fear may be tainting honest dialog about missions and aid.  Fear may be preventing honest and open dialog between missionaries and the church - and missionaries and missions organizations.  Fear may also be preventing believers in local, American churches from asking these hard questions and openly discussing them with their church leaders and fellow church members.

When talking about missions, why is fear such a big deal?  We believe if these conversations are clouded with fear, we're not really going to be able to grow and learn.  Fear stifles progress and health. Fear prevents honesty.  Which begs the question - how well informed are our mission strategies if fear is common within these discussions?

We can't say this enough - we are not experts.  Although our goal was to talk to a lot of missionaries, we didn't talk to every missionary on the face of the planet.  We didn't receive emails from every missionary on earth.  We kind of hope the fears we heard (and even experienced ourselves to some degree) are an anomaly.  Nothing would make us happier than to hear that these experiences are not the norm.

Here are a few of the fears that popped up often in conversations about missions and aid:

1.  Some missionaries expressed fear that if they honestly shared their hearts with their home churches, funding would cease to exist.  If teams quit coming, funding would eventually dry up.  They were fearful to share with their church how their ideas about missions were changing.  At times they were fearful about honestly communicating their needs.

2.  Some missionaries expressed fear about being open and honest with their team when differing views on missions arose.  Interpersonal drama within a team is a legitimate fear that keeps missionaries from being vocal about missions related issues.  Think about how hard it is to enter into conflict (even if it's much-needed) with people right here in the US.  Now imagine that person you're about to disagree with is one of your only friends. They may be the only people who speak English within driving distance.  They may also be your church.  Your co-worker. Your next door neighbor.  Your ride.  If things go South - everything goes South.  Everything.

3.  Some missionaries expressed fear about being honest with their team leaders.  They are afraid to challenge long withheld views on missions and aid.  They are fearful to question and initiate conversation about the effectiveness and health of the mission where they are serving.  When a healthy team atmosphere is not in place and leadership is not receptive to new ideas and equates questions with an attack - it's not uncommon for missionaries to remain quiet - even if they have inner conflicts about what their mission is doing and how it may be adversely affecting the community.

4.  Some missionaries expressed fear about speaking openly and honestly on their own personal blogs - about anything.  The health of their marriage.  Their frustration.  Their discouragement.  Or even their much-needed vacation.

5.  Some missionaries expressed fear about speaking out against the American model of engaging with missions because people become instantly defensive.  Any criticism of the American church is quickly dismissed, and the missionary is labeled "arrogant," "judgmental," and "prideful" - even if they try their hardest to approach the conversation with humility.


We can all say, "Well - they should not have fear of man.  They should do what is right - and stand up for what they believe."  No one would argue that fact.  But have you ever been a human?

Knowing what is right is usually a lot easier than actually doing it.  Black and white statements launched at people in the trenches are so nice and tidy.  These statements completely leave out the children that may be uprooted and living in another country with their parents if their parents rock the boat too hard.  Black and white arguments usually fail to take into consideration that standing up for what we believe in often means we lose something.  A job.  A friend.  A home.  A life we've worked hard to create.   It's particularly hard to take a stand on an issue when there's a real chance doing so will lead to major life adjustments.

I've been quiet and gone with the flow because I was afraid, haven't you? I can point to a scene in my past where I literally put my child's life in real danger because I was afraid of offending someone.  In retrospect I could not believe what I did - and was in awe of how fear affects our decision making process.  I'm sure in varying degrees we all know what it is like to passionately disagree with people we work with or are connected to - and remain quiet out of fear (of something). Sometimes fear is real, and sometimes it's perceived - either way it hinders growth and health.

Luke 12:4-7
"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 

We ask God to give missionaries the faith to be brave.  We know (even with our limited understanding) what a horribly complex prayer we're praying.  We pray you feel valued and heard. We are also hopeful that more and more churches and organizations will proactively foster safe environments where missionaries can share their concerns, questions, needs, and concerns without fear.  

Isn't it wondrously frustrating to think about God calling each of us in our own flaws and fears to proclaim His name among the nations? When thinking through the issues discussed out in the open about missions (in books, blogs, churches, and websites) I'm struck by how working through the challenges points to our own brokenness and poverty.  Broken, poor people reaching out to a broken, poor world - it's beautiful and mind boggling.  I'm grateful for the ways these concepts cause us to constantly face our own poverty and remind us that we are the poor.

We welcome other missionaries to speak to the idea of fear in missions.  We want this to be a safe place - so feel free to comment anonymously.

Just to keep these comments together, I'm going to cut and paste previous comments from missionaries who have added their thoughts to mission-related posts on this blog.  We appreciate you and your honesty.

Other Posts In This Series:

Short Term Missions?

When It's About Us

Monday, June 25, 2012

One Too Many Cop Shows

After a few hours at the pool today, I was loading the kids in the car.  Hudson was soaking wet so I was standing outside the vehicle changing his clothes while he stood inside the car mooning everyone.  Behind me I heard a loud, steady, obnoxious noise that sounded like a police siren.  Whoop.  Whoop.  Whoop.  You know...that slow siren that means - "I know you already see me, Speedy - so pull it on over - don't make me go full throttle siren on you."

I seriously thought a police car was right behind us.

Instead, there was a boy on a bicycle edging nearer making a perfect siren noise - with his mouth.

Think Chunk. Off the Goonies.  On a bike.

I pulled Hudson's dry shorts up and made a quiet announcement to the other boys in the car. "Fellas, there is something very weird going on behind us."

Being ever so sly, they all broke their necks turning around quickly to see what was going on behind our vehicle.  I thought surely the child would ride his bike past us - and that would be that.  "Ha!  Such a funny kid - freaking people out with his siren mouth."  What an entertaining moment.

I thought he'd ride on past.  Until he didn't.

When he actually arrived at our vehicle he quickly dismounted from his bike and pulled a fake gun on me.

He stood in a perfect police man stance.  Arms out.  Keeping me within aim.  This kid was dead serious.

"Put your hands up lady - put em where I can see em."

I had just wrangled Hudson out of the swimming pool (since no length of swimming is long enough for a three year old).  Swimming ending is eerily similar to the entire world ending.  It was 5:30 p.m. and I had no idea what we were eating for supper.  In other awesome news, I still haven't figured out how to leave the pool without it taking 30 extra minutes.  I gather two kids, go to find the third and fourth, to come back and find I now have zero children gathered up.  This gets my arms flailing and causes me to march around the pool's perimeter with terrible posture.  Gathering up my kids and their pool accessories is a lot like a really bad comedy routine.  Like Three's Company kind of bad.  Even though I say, "I am not carrying your Nalgenes" every time we leave the pool, I walked to the car carrying a heavy pool bag with three Nalgenes hanging from one finger.  Halfway to the car I imagined that finger falling off from the weight of all that water.  I was so ready to be in the car, I would have kicked the fallen finger to the curb and counted it a loss.  We were late, hungry, and tired.  Now a child on a bike was trying to arrest me.  I wanted to be in the mood for this, but I just wasn't.  I was more like, "Why.  Why is my life so weird."

After checking one more time to make sure the gun in his hand was fake, I rested my head up against the car and sighed out an exhausted, "I don't want to put my hands up.  My arms are really tired."

The mini-bike cop wasn't interested in small talk or defiance.

"Back away from the vehicle ma'am.  Stay right where I can see you."

I started smiling.  This is really happening.  It really is.  I let it soak in.  And I backed away from the car.  Like people do when being arrested at the public pool by the kid off Goonies.

This boy, high on too many police movies, was for real.  Legit.  No breaking character.  Not even for a moment.  He was all kinds of serious.  Confident.

He walked over - police man style - slow and cautious - and stood in front of the driver's door. It was open.  He took one look at our oldest son in the passenger's seat and said, "Ma'am - I need the boy to come with me. He's under arrest."

I protested.  "What for?  What did he do?"

"Get out of the car, sir.  Step away from the car."

Anson was going nowhere.  His eyebrows were raised as if to say - "Mom, why?  Why is this our life?"

"That boy is in possession of drugs," the police child insisted.

"Drugs?  My baby?  Doing drugs?  Well - I don't know.  He doesn't have the money for drugs.  He's broke.  I think you have the wrong person.  Where would he ever get the money to pay for drugs?  I've heard they are expensive."

Sergeant child would not be deterred.

"That boy has been stealing money out of your wallet (dramatic pause) in your purse. To buy drugs."

"Well, he's a really nice boy" -

I was interrupted.  "Ma'am.  I need him to get out of the vehicle and come with me."

"No.  His mother wants him to stay in the car. We are all really hungry - and in a hurry - and I still have no idea what we're eating for dinner tonight."

Police boy was not happy.  He was downright unmoved and unimpressed.

I decided to thank him - butter him up a bit.  Save Anson's life.

"You are a fabulous police officer.  I'm sure you'll find the person who is doing drugs and stealing money from their mother's purse - thanks for keeping our neighborhood safe."

He stood there.  With his angry eyes.  Shaking his head.

As I drove away, he quickly got back on his bike and chased our car down the road.  Mouth siren blazing.

Then he fake shot us.  Twice.

We drove for a few minutes in silence until someone said, "Did that just happen?"

Yes.  It did.

Speaking of the kid off Goonies - check him out now.  Didn't you love Chunk?  I was a huge fan.  I may need to hire him to get Anson's drug charges dismissed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dreams Really Do Come True

This week we were at a local children's event at Barnes and Noble.  Do you have a Barnes and Noble in your town?  If so - they have really great, free children's events like this one.   While my kids were each busy picking out a pile of books that I was not going to buy them, I meandered around Barnes and Noble and stumbled upon this beauty - The Original Snoopy Sno-cone Machine.

I had this exact snow cone machine as a kid.  I spent an entire summer making snow cones like the well-being of the planet depended on whether or not ice was finely crushed.  I was saving the world one Snoopy sno cone at a time.  I'd crank that ice until my arm went numb.  I remember making snow cones and really and truly believing that one day I'd grow up to own my own snow cone stand.  Even then, I knew - I was a dreamer, and these snow cone dreams were pretty lofty.

I adored that plastic, red shovel and not only used it to collect the tiny ball of shredded ice - but to also eat my snow cone right out of the paper cup.  Fancy, no?  I cried the day I ran out of official Snoopy sno cone syrup.  I would drink it right out of the snowman bottle sometimes, so running out shouldn't have been such a shocker.  I resorted to Kool-Aid snowcones eventually but it was never the same.  Probably because Kool-Aid has water in it.  That heavenly Snoopy syrup was probably dyed corn syrup with added sugar for good measure.

When I saw this sno cone maker at Barnes and Noble I was so overcome with nostalgia I almost bought it.  I walked around the store with it for awhile, but in the end - I put it back on the shelf because I realized if I bought this sno cone factory I'd have to share it with my kids.  Judge me all you want, but I knew - I wasn't ready for sharing.  And hiding in my closet to crank out frozen treats with a Snoopy sno cone maker is too weird - even for me.

When I got home, I posted the photos and write up about the event on the local website we run. No big deal.  I included a short shout out about the sno cone maker I found at Barnes and Noble.

Yesterday - get this.  The boys and I piled out of the car, wet and tired from an afternoon of swimming at the public pool.  We drug our drowsy, damp bodies to the front porch and look what was waiting on our doorstep!

I chunked down soggy pool towels and the pool bag right there on the front porch, screamed, and snatched up this dream come true!

I was squealing as I unraveled the note to find out what rock stars left this awesome surprise.  Our sweet friends, the Meadows, who are about to move to Haiti to work with one of our favorite companies, were the culprits.  Those Meadows!  I called Bethany and pretty much screamed in her ear.  Come to find out, they had a Snoopy sno cone machine and were about to get rid of it.  Their move to Haiti is very close, so they are busily selling their belongings, giving them away, and packing a few things they want to keep.

The Meadows bought most of our furniture and household belongings in Haiti and will even be staying in our house for a short time when they first arrive.  Remember Sozo - the woman we loved who worked for us?  She will be working for the Meadows.  Note:  my eyes just welled up with tears.  I love thinking of Sozo with the Meadows.  When we left Haiti we did so with broken hearts.  The Meadows - their friendship - and their upcoming move to Haiti have been one of the many ways we've experienced beauty and grace during this hard transition home.  We will miss them personally and so will our church.  We're sad and excited to see them off to Haiti.

You know what they always say.  "When life gives you lemons - make Snoopy sno-cones."  They do say that, right?

What are your weekend plans?  We plan to continue the conversation on short-term missions next week.  We're eating ice cream today and playing Uno with friends.  Garage sales, the farmers market, snoopy sno cones, and a baseball game are on the agenda for Saturday.  I hope your weekend is beautiful!

Fun weekend links....

The Meadows' blog - in case you want to follow along.

These photos are really fun.  And so are these.  Filing this idea away for a cold, winter day.

Will you consider being a bone marrow donor and do this for my friend?  Please?

I'm in love with this site.

Brave is in theaters. Helpful review from Common Sense Media.

Got a Lowes in your town? Check out the kids clinic for Saturday.

Want some free restaurant food?

Organic wieners coupon. 

Loving these upcycled clothes.

This made me laugh out loud.

Check out these hipster trends our dads started.  Hilarious.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

When It's About Us

When my Facebook friends share the posts from this blog on their walls, it's always interesting (and sometimes horrible) to read the comments under a link to something I've written.  Yesterday, in response to the short-term mission trip post, someone left a comment that I think sums up one of the mindsets we have when talking about short-term missions within the church.  Her comment was lengthy and pointed out how she was changed.  What she saw on her trips.  What she thinks about missions even after reading what long-term missionaries and poverty/charity studies are sharing on the subject.  She claimed that mission trips can be eye openers for the typical 16 year old American high schooler - or adult.  She wrote about her own heart, her own experience, and how the many mission trips she has been a part of have impacted her personally.

I really appreciate anyone who is willing to engage in this conversation, even if I don't agree with what they are saying.  Deciding to engage in any discussion when we're being asked to reconsider ideas we're passionate about or "the way it's always been" is commendable and takes humility.  Although I highlighted a few phrases that I feel need to be explored from her comment, I commend this person for their honesty, their love for people, their desire to understand other cultures, and serve other people.

Can I reiterate a few things before moving on?  1.  We don't think all short-term missions are harmful.  We're simply pointing out some ideas and questions to consider as we decide how to engage in short-term missions.  That said, we are uncomfortable with the sacred cow status short term mission trips seem to have in the American church.  For whatever reason, this seems to be a topic we're rarely allowed to question or reexamine without church leaders getting angry and defensive.  2.  We believe the American church should be involved in missions - our time lived in Haiti simply makes us less confident than most people about which methods are actually helpful and respectful towards the culture we're visiting.  3.  Most of our thoughts on missions are specific to trips that involve serving in countries where there is great, physical need.  We're not claiming all of these thoughts apply to every country - especially those where we find a lot of spiritual poverty, but not much physical poverty.  4.  We're not flying solo in this discussion.  If this series of posts was based entirely upon the questions and uneasiness we have, these thoughts would be ridiculous and should be discredited.  Instead, we're drawing on many, many conversations with long-term missionaries and from brave leaders and authors who are publicly asking the church to reconsider their methods of participating in the Great Commission.


When the effectiveness of short-term mission trips began to be questioned publicly we noticed a shift in how some churches talked about mission trips.  Instead of saying "We as Americans are going into a country to save the day" we started hearing leaders and team members saying, "We, as visitors to a new culture, are the ones who will really be changed on this trip.  We hope we can offer something, but we also have a lot to learn.  We're going so that God can change our hearts."

Admitting we'll probably be changed and challenged far more than the people we're visiting and "serving" for a week in a foreign country sounds much more honest - and even better - but is it right?

If we go all MC Hammer on this argument and break it down, what we're really saying is, "This expensive trip may or may not actually serve the people we're visiting and may even be harmful to the community where we're going - but it's not really about them.  It's about us.  It's about how it will change me.  It's about how it will change our church."

If you read the post from yesterday, the links, and books like Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts, you know that this argument that mission trips drastically change the lives of the team members is not only up for debate - it's mostly been proven bogus.  Mission trips have increased, while missions giving has decreased.  Short-term mission trips have increased, while the number of long-term missionaries living abroad has decreased.  More money is being spent on short term trips and less people are actually deciding to uproot their lives and live in other cultures for the long haul.  Let's hold that thought while we once again admit that the most effective forms of ministry are deeply rooted in relationship and trust - which only happens when we get past the surface of a relationship and know people in deep and meaningful ways.  Keeping this in mind, is it not troubling that short-term mission trips are on the rise and the number of long-term missionaries is decreasing?  Is it not troubling that the few people who do decide to move overseas to serve in some mission-related capacity have a very difficult time getting their churches and friends to financially support them?  I'm simply wondering if we're putting too much of our missions money on the least likely horse to win this race.  Holy cow, I just used a gambling analogy in a churchy post.

The "we're here to save the day, and we're about to make a life-time's worth of difference in five days" mentality gives a lot of people the creeps, and I'm glad we're seeing that argument for short-term missions fading away.  However, if we've traded that self-focused, misinformed, argument for the "This trip is really about us - not them" argument perhaps we've traded one sad justification for another.

Let's be real honest - On what planet is it ever okay to label something we're doing mostly for ourselves, "missions?"

We wholeheartedly believe that experiencing different cultures, their faith, their needs, their beauty, their courage, and their struggles may bring about awareness and can be life-changing for both parties involved.  We can't say that most mission trips can be described with such glowing adjectives, because there is a whole lot of proof and research today suggesting otherwise.  But we agree - there are probably healthy ways to take the love of Christ and the gospel to other cultures. However, when we personally gain any gift - even a good one - by engaging in activities that harm and exploit other cultures, and particularly the poor, our methods are never okay.  Worse, when we as outsiders, are quick to defend our trips and decide we're not harming anyone, or we are the gauge of our own team's success we may be acting in a way that is short-sighted and misguided.  How would short-term missions change if we really did our homework, got to know the culture or established intimate relationships with missionaries who do?  What would it look like to really know the needs of the long-term missionaries - to listen - not only to them, but most importantly the leaders within the indigenous community where we're visiting?  

Obviously, what's being talked about on this blog is not the end-all in missions conversations.  We have a very limited perspective.  People way smarter than us, better communicators, and people who have lived overseas a lot longer than we did are writing on this topic.  We simply hope to play a small part in this much needed dialog. For some other great reads on this idea that mission trips are viable because of how they change us....check out these links:

Sorry, Poor People - It's Not About You

Using Your Poor Kid to Teach My Rich Kid a Lesson

I'm anticipating that people will begin to say things like, "Well - you're not saying all short term mission trips are bad, but you're not pointing to any good examples.  Quit being such a Debbie-Downer."  I hope people won't walk away from this discussion feeling like we're on a mission to bad-talk the American church.  It's precisely our love and hope for the American church that prompts us to beg people to respectfully participate in these conversations within their local church bodies and families.  The Great Commission is a big deal.  So is seeing God's Kingdom advance and break through on this earth.  Shouldn't the concept of missions and the methods we're using to further the gospel and grow the global church always be open for discussion and reevaluation? Shouldn't we always approach other cultures and our contribution or judgement of their needs with a heaping dose of humility and respect?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short-Term Missions?

This video is over the top and goes a little too far, but it raises some good points.
I'm a huge fan of avoiding conflict through the use of humor. 
For that dysfunctional reason, I enjoyed this video.

This week The Gospel Coalition published a post called, "Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-term Mission Trips."  We're grateful these difficult and oftentimes controversial conversations are beginning to take place in public arenas. 

"The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American missions trip to repaint an orphanage would have been enough to hire two local painters and two new full-time teachers and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school." -- Darren Carlson

We are indebted to our time spent in Haiti for a vast number of ways our minds have been changed.  Missions and the issues specifically surrounding short-term mission trips top the list of areas where we thought one way pre-Haiti and now think differently post-Haiti.

Like many Jesus-loving people, we grew up in a church culture that valued taking the love of Christ and the gospel to the ends of the earth.  This is good, obviously.  Jesus said pretty clearly this practice of advancing the Kingdom is an important one.  I think the problem arises when we take the principle of making the gospel available to all nations and decide we, as uninformed Americans, know the best method for accomplishing the Great Commission in cross-cultural missions.  Usually the method we employ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth is to encourage our church bodies to participate in short-term mission trips year after year after year. 

"Contrary to popular belief, most missions trips and service projects do not: empower those being served, engender healthy cross-cultural relationships, improve quality of live, relieve poverty, change the lives of participants [or] increase support for long-term missions work." -- Toxic Charity

Shortly after we moved to Haiti, we sat down with an educated, Haitian couple who are working to make a difference in their country.  "Be honest.  Does it make you crazy to see so many Americans and foreigners in your country attempting to help?  Do you think we should be here?"  There was a long pause.  His response went something like this, "I wish I could remind every Haitian that we fought long and hard for our freedom.  We are the only slave nation to overthrow its slaveholders.  But we're not free.  We've traded slavery to the French with slavery to the Americans and Westerners.  We're slaves to foreign aid." 

The book, When Helping Hurts, calls this idea "poverty of self."  Whether we mean to or not, when Americans (and other foreigners) enter a country and a group of unemployed national men stand by and watch a short-term mission team paint walls and construct buildings - one of the messages we're sending is this:  "You are such incompetent idiots, you can't even paint a wall.  It takes 32 white people in matching shirts to fly across the ocean (and an unheard of amount of money and mosquito spray) to turn this building from grey to island blue."   How much would it cost to hire those same unemployed nationals to paint the building?  Not much.  How much value and self-worth do we give a poverty-stricken country when we allow them to be a part of restoring their own community?  The answer is probably immeasurable.  How good does the American church get to feel about the building changing colors if they didn't physically paint it?  Not very.

Bingo - I think we've reached the heart of this issue.

We could talk all day (and many people are) about how noneffective and destructive (worst case scenario) most short term mission trips are to the countries hosting the teams.  We've seen stressed out long-term missionaries who despise teams, but keep hosting them because money only comes when Americans actually see with their own eyes and experience firsthand the issues surrounding a foreign ministry.  In order to get what they desperately need to effectively love and serve the people around them, missionaries feel trapped and forced to allow teams to come visit in the hopes that these visitors go home and start giving money.  A lot of well-meaning churches partner with foreign ministries, agreeing to send money, and supplies - but with one catch - the church gets to send teams throughout the year.  There are strings attached and those strings usually look like a group of white, unskilled people who land in a foreign country, need a lot of care and attention, who ultimately interrupt the real day-to-day ministry that would be taking place if the foreigners had stayed home and simply sent a check or bag full of much-needed supplies. 

Here's a question that begs to be asked:  If a mission really needs a lot of teams to come visit, is that mission actually effective during the time when it's not summer, Christmas break, or Spring Break?  Isn't one of the markers of a healthy in-country ministry one that is sustainable and able to run well even without teams present?  When we support a ministry financially, we want to feel confident that the group we are partnering with is willing and able to run a healthy organization during the many weeks of the year when no outsiders are there to lend a helping hand.  "How often do you host teams?" is a great question to ask an organization.

Not many missions organizations will tell you this, but when a team is coming, it's not uncommon for the long-term missionaries to have a meeting to "figure out what to do with the team."  "Well...that wall is kind of ugly, they could paint that - and what about a mural?  Heck ya.  Nothing keeps white people busy like a mural."  Assuming a church is always going into a country to perform much-needed, necessary, we-can't-live-without-this kind of work, is often a hilarious assumption.  In reality, a lot of the mission organization's time is spent babysitting visitors who need to process their own culture shock, the climate, the language barriers, cultural complexities, and gastrointestinal issues.    

The sad reality is that many churches have created an expectation that "good Christians" should all go on these short term trips ... annually if possible.  The result is that people who do not go on these trips feel like B-team Christians.  A large part of our life in Haiti was spent coming to grips with not only the poverty and desperation we were experiencing on a daily basis, but grieving the American church's role (and our role as former church leaders) in either not doing enough to help alleviate the suffering - or worse - harming the poor in the name of Jesus.  I wasn't able to look at the issues in Haiti without thinking about the problems and possible solutions through the lens of the American church.  "If we went back to America today, after what we've seen, how would we help steer the conversation about missions?  We understand pastors have good hearts and they ultimately want to engage their congregations in the Great Commission and care for the poor and the orphaned.  But how do church leaders spark love and concern for the lost and desperate without insisting that every Tom, Dick, and unskilled Harry show up in a foreign country to experience the truth themselves?"

We have no answers.  What we do have are a lot of uneasiness and questions- and unfortunately most churches we've experienced are highly uncomfortable being a body filled with questions.  Most American churches feel the need to be a group of people cranking out the answers.

Here are some ideas we want to be quick to admit when it comes to foreign missions:

1.  If we're honest, the American church isn't all that sure how to reach our own culture and meet the needs within our own borders.  Without cultural differences and language barriers, we're still pretty confused and unsure our methods for loving and serving our communities are working or effective - at all.  So maybe we should be extra cautious and humble when it comes to  the best way to further the Kingdom in foreign countries.

2.  I'm not going to propose that all church staffs operate the same way, but our experience on church staff and our connection to friends employed by the church has taught us that some churches feel pressured (for whatever reason) to organize short-term mission trips.  When doing so, the questions on the front end of the trip usually sound more like, "Is this organization doing good work (and ironically the sending church is usually the expert on the subject). "  Can this location house and feed the number of people we need to send?  Will there be enough work for our group to do - because we don't want people standing around (heaven forbid) - we want them to get their money's worth."  Instead, what if some of the questions were to change?  "What do the missionaries and the mission actually need?  Have we given them space and freedom to be honest with us - to say, "We don't want you to come.  When a group visits it stresses us out, and none of the actual work that needs to get done is getting done when you're here.  Can you just send money - we'll buy supplies in country and boost the economy - and we'll hire the men and women begging at our gates to paint the porch and fix the roof.  And could you pay to send my wife's mother or best friend - not to do mission work per say - but just because seeing them for a week goes a long, long, way to reviving our souls?"

3.  This idea that everyone in our church must personally experience poverty or a foreign culture in order to be gripped by the Great Commission points to some major dysfunction in the local church body.  The image we see in scripture of the church is one of such interdependence and connection that we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.  One part suffers - we all suffer.  It's a very American idea that I have to personally experience something in order for it to be real.  Right now, there are a handful of people in our local church who are deeply, personally, and actively involved with a ministry in a foreign country.  They can vouch for these organizations.  They have real-life connections with them.  What if part of living by faith and  belonging to a local body means trusting the advocates in the church where we're connected.  What if it means experiencing other cultures - the needs, the pain, the beauty - through the passion of someone within our local body.  

4.  Obviously not all short-term mission trips are harmful or a waste of time.  How can we do our homework, be educated, and in the very least - leery - of making mistakes, hurting the local population we're attempting to serve, and inconveniencing the long-term missionaries we're partnering with for our trip?  Figuring out how to best approach short-term missions will unfortunately not be a one size fits all approach.  Every mission is different.  They have different needs.  Throwing down blanket thoughts on short-term missions like, "All teams are harmful so our church is not going to engage," or "Doing short term missions this way is the only healthy way" are most likely ineffective strategies.  Just like any outreach or interaction with human beings, figuring out how to best serve a ministry "on the ground" is going to take time, humility, and a response that is personal and fluid.  Unfortunately this holistic and individual approach to partnering with a foreign missions organization will not work for churches who are desperate to have a written "missions policy" filled with rigid rules about how their church engages in cross-cultural missions.

While living in Haiti I wrote a post called, Are Short-term Mission Trips the Answer.  Interestingly, in the comments section you'll find a lot of comments from people defending their trips and how those mission trips were different and better and obviously important.  You'll also find long-term missionaries (who often commented anonymously out of fear) honestly speaking out against the harm of short-term teams.  I understand the need to feel like the hard work required to organize a mission trip and the large sum of money used to fund it were "worth it," but it grieves me to hear missionaries honestly speaking towards these issues, and the American church refusing to listen or value what long-term missionaries are saying.  Being quick to defend our "trip" is prideful and tragic.  If any situation warranted being slow to speak and quick to listen, I think it's the "are short-term mission trips an effective use of time and money" conversation.

After a visit to America, I will never forget sitting in the airport with my kids waiting to catch the flight from Miami to Haiti.  A short term mission team was nearby.  The group leader - who obviously had a big heart - was getting his team "pumped up" before the flight.  The gist of his pep talk was about how much good their team would do that week - how much light they were bringing - how many lives would be changed (theirs included).  I had just said good-bye to my family and friends, so I admit I was probably more emotional than I should have been, but his words brought tears to my eyes.  Not in a good way.  I remember being where he was, going on mission trips, and then worse - sitting through the post trip slide show at church.  A hundred photos of team members standing next to smiling locals, the stories of how many people got saved, of how the one-week trip impacted lives and brought about change.  Meanwhile, living in Haiti - actually living there - we wondered every day if what we were doing made a difference - if we were causing harm, even if good work was being accomplished.  We saw how complicated it was to gauge success - so difficult that we quit trying to do so and simply woke up most days asking the Lord to help us faithfully love the people around us.   Many days I wished to have the confidence of a short-term mission trip again - to truly feel like we were making a huge difference - every five days - instead of simply being in Haiti day in and day out wondering and striving.

I'm guessing not many church bodies would want to sit through a post-trip slide show or presentation from the members who went on the short-term trip to hear them say things like, "We have no idea if we made a difference.  We'd never try to claim a week spent in a foreign country did jack squat to bring light.  We're not even all that convinced the place we visited was "dark" in the first place.  We accomplished very little.  We sat around a lot.  We couldn't actually talk to the people around us, because we don't know their language.  Working in a foreign culture is complicated, and we'd never pretend to be able to sum up the spirit and struggles of an entire country because we spent a week there.  We went.  We were touched.  One week in a foreign country helped to open our eyes - not completely open them - but opened them slightly - to this enormous world God has created.  But...we may never know - this side of eternity - if what we accomplished in one week was all that helpful."

What if we were honest and admitted that one week spent anywhere with strangers, even in our own country, probably wouldn't be all that life-changing or slide-show worthy?  Deep down we all know the most effective ministry happens at organic, long-term, day in and day out, relational, human levels.  So maybe great caution should be involved when trying to define success in short-term, cross-cultural missions.

If you are considering going on a mission trip or are organizing one, here are some helpful links that raise a lot of good points and ask great questions.

For the love, don't go on a mission trip without reading this series from Jaime, the Very Worst Missionary


A Boat That Needs Rocking

Thinking through Short-Term Mission Trips

Are Short-term Mission Trips the answer?

Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-term Mission Trips

Healthy Short-Term Missions: Do it like Jesus.

When It's About Us

Fear and Missions

I'm really interested in reading the follow up article about a healthier approach to mission trips from The Gospel Coalition.  They have promised that a follow-up post is coming soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Juneteenth::Celebrating Freedom

From the Freedom Project
Today, June 19th, at 4:00 pm EST, the US Government will unveil its "Trafficking In Persons" Report -- known as "TIP". The State Department says its the world's most comprehensive look at the nature and scope of human trafficking -- and what governments are doing to tackle the problem. 
Tune into CNN International at 4:00 pm EST for live coverage from the event.

"Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in the Confederate States of America.  
Juneteenth commemorates June 18 and 19, 1865. June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor."  -- Wikipedia
We are really thankful for what this day means for America and specifically for African Americans.  In every case of human rights violations and racism we are grateful for each step - even baby ones - that point to our world beginning to dream about equal rights and value for every human being.

Over a hundred years has passed since Lincoln signed the Emancipation Declaration and yet slavery is still a national plague and is happening on a mind-blowing scale right here in the United States.

One way I hope we can honor African Americans on this day is to spend some time becoming informed about modern-day slavery.  I don't know about you, but unless I purposefully keep informed about these types of issues, it's easy in my day-to-day life to forget that we're daily being invited to push back against a lot of darkness in our world.  We have an opportunity to make a difference.  We can pray.  We can advocate.  We can give.  We can grieve with those who grieve and celebrate victories with those confronting these human horrors on the front lines.  We can fight the good fight.  Can I share some links and resources that have been enlightening to us lately? 

The CNN Freedom Project
The estimated number of slaves in the world is 20-30 million.  Find informative articles about global slavery as well as modern-day slavery right here in our own backyard.  "CNN is joining the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on the horrors of modern-day slavery, amplifying the voices of the victims, highlighting success stories, and helping unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life."  Watch CNN's website today for breaking news from the "Trafficking Persons Report" issued by the US Government this afternoon.  You can also follow the Freedom Project on Facebook and Twitter.

“Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr.

If you haven't spent time on Mercy Project's website, today as we're celebrating freedom and focusing on how far we have left to go, head over and see what this organization is up to in Ghana.  You'll be encouraged.

“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Free the Captives
Want to fight human trafficking right here in our own backyard?  Check out what Free the Captives, a Houston based organization, is doing to raise awareness and fight human trafficking right here in the United States.

If you are yearning to become a modern-day abolitionists, these are two really great organizations to follow and support.  We're personally vouching for the people behind Mercy Project and Free the Captives.  We know their hearts.  We've seen their passion.  We're blessed and honored to see the Kingdom lived out through these two organizations.

Happy Juneteenth!