Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Is the Era of US Cross Cultural International Missions Over?

On June 6, 1944, the US and her Allies landed at Normandy, France. That invasion, known as Operation Overlord was a combined effort of over 155,000 troops, representing more than ten different countries. Within days, the Allied forces, while suffering thousands of casualties had established several beachheads across France. 

D-Day as it soon came to be known, as important as it was as events unfolded, was even more important when you consider what came to be as a result of those deadly days of fighting. There is wide agreement among historians that the events at Normandy set the stage for the eventual victory of the US forces in the European theater.

While there was still much fighting to come, the die had been cast in Normandy and and it was just a matter of time before official victory would be declared.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those events the last few weeks. I wonder if General Eisenhower knew as he was overseeing the invasion if that invasion would turn out to be the lynchpin upon which victory turned?

I’ve also been wondering a lot lately if we are in another of those moments. A moment, as Ken Blue explains it in an essay included in the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader, of the “already and not yet.”

I’ve asked myself repeatedly the last few weeks the following questions…

  • Is the era of US Cross Cultural International Missions over? 
  • Has the era of US church’s and denominational involvement in worldwide Christian evangelism effectively ended? 
  • Has the country that sent out people like Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot and William Cameron Townsend decided that it is no longer interested, or able to stay engaged missionally around the globe?
  • Are we in Blue’s period of between? That time where we will still see missionaries leaving our shores but in reality, much like the German forces fighting for their homeland after D-Day it will be for naught?

Sadly, I think the answer to the above questions are not just yes, but a resounding yes, yes, yes and yes! 

But it’s not just me. 

I reached out to a number of colleagues across the spectrum who have years of experience as missionaries, pastors and leaders of mission organizations to get their opinions. And there are not many of them bullish on the ability of the church to effectively mobilize people to be part of calling people into a relationship with Jesus. A few even posited that this closing of an era may be a good thing.

While some will argue that we were never the great missionary force we believed ourselves to be, numbers don’t lie. Long term numbers for commissioned missionary and their families stayed constant at around 35,000 for years. Pre-pandemic levels of short-term participants went as high as 300,000 participants annually with budgets stretching to over three billion dollars.

During the pandemic restrictions of the last two years, short-term missions have all but dried up. Many long term missionaries are still on extended home leave, unable to get the needed approvals to serve the countries where they believe God has called them. Others have seen their financial support dry up and as a result have been forced to seek out other work to feed their families.

I do not believe we will ever again see massive numbers of young people piling into vans to head south for their Annual Mission Trip. The call in US churches to “take up your cross” and go to the “ends of the earth” will not be answered as it once was if it is even given. 

US airports will see fewer groups of people traveling in packs with like colored shirts and fewer couples with all of their earthly belongings in a few suitcases heading off to far flung locations for the cause of Jesus.

How did we get here?

It’s a mix of reasons, some within our control, others perhaps not.

Next up I’ll explore some of those reasons and try to point us in a forward direction.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

On Race, and the Differences in Life...

“Dave” he said, “you’ve just lived life differently than most of us here.”

That statement, by one of the guys who has been part of our Men’s Ministry in Oaxaca, has stayed with me since the day I heard it. 

Because it’s true.

Raised as a middle class kid in suburban Southern California by blue collar working parents, my life changed the day my mom and I walked to the church around the corner from our home. That’s the place where I came to know Jesus, work my first real job, receive my call to ministry and meet my future wife.

It’s also the only house of worship I’ve ever been to that resembled the words in Revelation. The ones that speak of people from “every tongue, tribe and nation” worshiping God. That’s because in that neighborhood church, where on a regular Sunday we held four services because the place was packed, we counted among our membership Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and African American people among others.

The different life that my friend recognized started infecting me at a young age.

And so while on some level I knew that when I married Chelle way back in 1979 things were gonna be different, nothing really prepared me for reality. Let me share a little on that…

I found out it was going to be different when Chelle’s grandmother said I was of the “other persuasion.”

I found out it was going to be different when my mom’s dad, my grandfather, said I was marrying a “negress.”

I learned it was going to be different when my dad’s parents, my other grandparents and leaders in their church, disowned me for marrying a black person. And I never heard from them again.

I learned it was different when as young kids on our honeymoon, Chelle and I stepped into a barbecue house in Central California and the place went dead silent. We took our food to go. 

I experienced that difference when as I was renting our first apartment in Las Vegas before we were married, the rental manager told me that the blacks lived in the back area, but my place would be upfront. I almost rented the place just to make a mess of his racist policy.

There was also the time Chelle was accused of stealing our child, because he’s light skinned. And the time I was thankful for that light skin of his when he and I were stopped by sheriffs in Alabama. Because as Joseph later learned, we were in a no go area for black people. 

Chelle’s brother is an attorney for the US Government. We were fortunate to have his card with us on the night of Joseph’s graduation from Auburn University. Because that night of celebration, in spite of our having made a reservation weeks in advance, the front desk continually ignored us and seated others, leaving us standing… waiting. 

It took her brother’s business card, the one that said US Justice Department Division of Civil Rights, to get us our table.

I was even once on staff at a church in California when the pastor rented a house from one of church members and had to sign an agreement to never allow a black person inside. The landlord, a longtime member of that church, evicted him when he and his wife adopted their special needs black son.

I do live my life with people different from me!

And I am eternally grateful to God for that. But sometimes, like right now, it’s hard. The other night as I was sitting outside Costco with a steamship full of supplies waiting for my wife to bring the car around, I fell apart.

There I was with tears streaming down my face, overcome by the reality of a guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case. All of those experiences I shared above, and more came flooding back to me. Experiences that no one should ever have to endure. 

And then it got worse, because I knew that absent a nine minute recording of a man’s life being ended, few would have believed what had happened. Just like when I share my experiences, people ask me if I’m sure I’m not misinterpreting something. Or making it up.

In the US, it seems like we are sitting on a knife’s edge. I don’t know how we get past this place but I do know this… unless we stop, listen and believe the stories of those different from us, and live life differently from those who aren’t following Jesus, we’re never going to see that…

“great multitude that no one could count, from every tongue, tribe and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… worshipping God.”

And I think that would break God’s heart.


Read More... from the "other persuasion."

Color of Compromise, by Jemar Tisby. Well researched and difficult to read if you are an evangelical. But invaluable if you want to understand a lot of the issues facing America and the evangelical world as it relates to reconciliation.

Tears We Cannot Stop, by Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson is a father, professor and pastor. This book, which he calls A Sermon to White America reads quickly, despite it's difficult title.

Light for the World to See, by Kwame Alexander. Poetry on the issue of race, and hope in America... in 1000 words. You'll be challenged to stop, think and reflect deeply. Follow this link to the whys behind this book and hear Alexander read part of it. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Least of These...

As I walked across the plaza in Guadalajara towards where I get my morning coffee, I saw him in the distance. Walking around, shirtless, in his bare feet.

We’ve all seen him before. Even you.

That guy. The guy who smells. Who just looks so… unkempt. 


He’s the guy who sees you even before you realize he exists. The guy who when you get close, asks for money, help, or something else you aren’t prepared, or don’t want to offer.

For many of us, guys like that, and increasingly women too, are the least of these.

We see them all the time, as I did that morning. And if you’re like me, even before you get close you are thinking of a strategy… of avoidance.

When I saw that guy walking in my direction, I decided to not avoid him but simply to walk directly to where I was headed. As I did, our eyes met and we acknowledged each other. No conversation, no confrontation, no asking for money. Nothing, And in a few short strides I had completely forgotten him as I was drinking my hot latte and thinking about the day ahead of me.

Until I got in my Uber to head to Pastor Raul’s church.

That’s when I looked across the street and saw him again. On the edge of the plaza. Kneeling by the rose beds, pulling them close to his face and smelling them. 

And then it hit me.

He was human.

Just like me. 

And just like me, he too was created in God’s image. With dignity. Worthy of our, or at least, my love.

I was pretty pleased with myself when I first avoided that guy. But now watching him tenderly pull a rose close and consider it, I was crushed by the reality of Jesus’ words…

“This is the truth I tell you… in so far as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

My way of walking made sure I would not have to interact with him. Just like when I act like I have a phone call to avoid others like him as I leave department stores or markets during Christmas time back home. 

They stand on street corners with “Help a Veteran” signs. 

Depending on where you live, they might be selling bags of oranges to passersby at corners as people wait for the green light. 

Or they dot the city landscape with their shopping carts loaded with all of their worldly possessions.

The least of these.

But it’s easy to dismiss the least of these. Because for some reason, we’ve determined that they are not worthy of our time, our love, our touch, our hearts.

And in so doing, our dismissal becomes a rejection of not just the person who’s bothering us, but if we’re honest, his or her humanity too.

Lord, I serve my life on mission. I’ve sacrificed for you, left home, helped build your church and made sure people all across Mexico have an opportunity to hear about and experience your eternal life saving Gospel. 

When have I ever treated you badly, neglected you or rejected you?

You did it that day, Dave, when you decided to ignore that man on the plaza. 

That man you later saw considering the lilies of the field.

That man who is just like you Dave… I created him in my image too!

Think on it...