Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vocation, Calling and Christian Leadership... Searching for Peyton Manning...

Years ago, a couple of football teams in the NFL had a choice to make about who to draft as their next quarterback.  The choices were Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning, two great college players.
Stats wise, both were about equal, with completion percentages above 55% and QB ratings around the 150 mark.  However, when they hit the pros, the tables turned.  Manning became one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.  Leaf has disappeared from sight after a disastrously short career.
The question is why.
This morning I was listening to Dan Patrick for my sports radio fix.  He said that people that make great NFL quarterbacks love football and that for Ryan Leaf, he loved being famous, not football.  Manning became a great player because his great love for the game itself propelled him beyond other better than average players who lacked the same passion.
Thinking about that, vocation and calling came to my mind and how they relate to mission and ministry.
I wonder if we are really striving, as leaders, to get people into places that fit their calling and about which they are passionate.  Or, are we trying to fit round people into the square peg vocational places where we want and feel we need them.
If it is the latter, and we are unable to put aside our selfish desires to see our ministries grow and succeed, as opposed to seeing others grow, maybe that explains part of the reason we struggle to find the Peyton Manning leaders in our midst and settle instead for the Ryan Leafs.
Think about it... 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Feel Like You Don't Fit In? Maybe it's a good thing...

Pee Wee Herman used to have a bit called the secret word on his Saturday morning television show.  When someone said the secret word, all of the characters, including Cowboy Curtis, played by Lawrence Fishbourne, were to scream real loud.
Todays secret word is integrate.
Now when we hear that word, for many, our thoughts tend towards racial issues.  Today though, I want to talk about how difficult it can be to integrate [everyone in the office is now screaming] certain realities of our faith, with life and short-term mission.
A while back I attended the funeral of a good friend who was also one of the early participants of Adventures in Life Ministry.  Speaking about my friend Brian’s life was Paul Kaak, one of his pastors.
Paul said that one of the struggles Brian had faced in life was integrating his life and faith.  There were times when he was simply unable to reconcile the call of faith and what has become American life.
Like Brian, I too struggle with this reality, because I am always in the middle.  Let me explain...
Many people who serve in short-term mission suffer from some level of depression when they return to the home front.  It is almost inevitable as little back home will rise to level of world changing work when forced to stand side by side to the sometimes heroic seeming ministry that we call short-term mission.
Not many of us here in the United States work with people who live on pennies a day, sometimes go for days without food, and live without hope.  For us a life of suffering is just not on our radar, contrary to one Christian cab driver I recently encountered in Oaxaca who told me that Oaxacans were “Born to suffer.”
Yet when we serve overseas, these are the people with whom we serve and work, often for only a week, and then we return to our boring day to day lives, until next year.
Soon after we return home, the new novelty of flushing toilet paper, drinking from the faucet, or getting up and taking a hot shower begins to wear off as we leave that place, where ever it was, behind and get back to our real lives and things return to “normal.”
But what if that doesn’t happen?  What if we are unable to return to normal?  What if “normal” has changed?
That is where I find myself living more often these days as I spend more time in Mexico.
No longer do I go to serve them.  I serve my friends.  No longer are poverty and suffering concepts I think about existentially, I live in them almost daily.  No longer do I count the days till my next hot shower back home, I watch the calendar marking the days until my return.

Maybe this is where the Apostle Paul wants us.  Maybe because of my time in Oaxaca, I can now understand a little more of what Paul means when he writes of longing to visit Rome.  Maybe.  If so, then I am thankful.
But I am struggling to integrate all of this into one easy package.  
When I return to the states, it gets harder and harder to eat out when I look at the price and after a quick calculation, know that one meal with drinks and appetizers at Applebee’s for me and my friends will cost the equivalent of a weeks pay for many, not just in Oaxaca where I serve, but around the world.
How do I justify spending $2000.00 for a patio in my backyard when that same amount will build an entire house for a family in my adopted country of Mexico?
I remember a conversation I had years ago with Tony Campolo on this very subject.  As we walked and he listened to my questions, he stopped, looked me in the eyes and said “You’ve got to bloom where you’re planted.”
And that worked for many years until somehow I got transplanted.
I could go, serve, and come back and fit right in again.
Then one day recently, I realized I feel like an alien in my own land.  
Maybe this should be our goal.  
When we struggle to see where we as Christians fit and don’t fit in the world, when everything does not fit nicely into neat packages, and when we can’t get everything in our lives, our faith, and our world integrated, then just maybe this is where Jesus wants us.
If so, then even though it can be incredibly difficult, it will be worth it.  


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sometimes You Just Need Help...

Cathedral Santo Domingo against the blue sky of Oaxaca
I am horrible at publicizing what I do in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.

There is a part of me that wars within my soul against drawing attention to me and my work and the need to get the word out about what we are doing in Mexico.  And yes I know it's God's work, but you know what I mean.

I hate asking for money, paying the bills, worrying about making ends meet and setting up good photos of our work, both to document it and for publicity.

One of the little ones inside the church we helped build in San Baltazar Guelevila, Oaxaca

And yet, I know all of this stuff is a necessary part of what must be done in an organization that does not have the luxury of being in front of a congregation every week and passing an offering plate around.

Thankfully God has brought two wonderful people into my circle to help me.

One is Kristin Grimes.  Kristin, who I've known from my original days in Las Vegas, takes care of paying the bills, making ends meet, and is biggest help I have had in our office in many years.  Her expertise, professionalism, and love of what we are doing is a constant source of encouragement for me.  I could not continue to serve were it not for Kristin.  She has been a gift from God.

Art exhibit remembering those that died trying to go north to improve their lives
The other is Joe Ramirez.  Joe was mutual friend of AIL Ministry Co-Founder Grady Martine and our original translator, cultural guide, and teacher of all things Mexico, Paul Lathrop.

Joe is a great photographer.  Years ago when he was starting out, he was always talking about getting involved with AIL Ministry... it just never quite happened.

And then a few years back I got Joe to join us in Oaxaca on our Men's Ministry to shoot photos.


TURSE, a world famous men's choir we encountered on the streets of the Barrio Jalatlaco

Just knowing that Joe is there with us and shooting photos of what we do has been a tremendous blessing.  No longer do I have to spend hours trying to get the money shot, as photogs call it, only to have it over exposed.

Joe is part of an organization, Mission Focused, that exists to help people document God's work around the world.

This man will sell you whatever you need for your kitchen

Trust me on this... if you are on mission and want to tell your story, you need photos.  Joe can be a huge help to your ministry and he can be reached though Mission Focused.

Now I still have to be that guy asking for money, but the load is a little lighter with people like Joe and Kristin carrying some of the burden.  So until I find someone to do that asking for me, make sure you go to our web site and make a donation, both you and AIL Ministry will be better for it.

Meanwhile, the pictures here are just a few that Joe took recently when he was in Oaxaca with me earlier this month telling the story of Oaxaca and our ministry... enjoy!


Friday, February 03, 2012

Hudson Taylor and Entering into Another Culture...

Here’s a couple of great questions for all my friends who serve in other countries, with other people groups, or work cross culturally.
Why don’t Americans like to live with the people they are serving?  Don’t they like us?
I’ve heard a variation of this question a number of times over my years serving here in Mexico.  This week I was asked again right after I saw the school where American missionaries send their kids to learn.
I know a fair amount of folks serving in other countries and almost all of them live in secure compounds, send their kids to private schools and generally keep to themselves in their private lives.
I often wonder what Hudson Taylor would think of this phenomena?
Hudson Taylor was the 19th Century British missionary to China who revolutionized cross cultural missions work.  He believed it was important to be part of the society that he was serving.  In his time in China, he decided to dress like the Chinese, live with them, and learn their languages, becoming proficient enough to even translate the bible into some of the Chinese dialects.
Sadly, his example has been abandoned by a great majority of missionaries serving around the world.
Instead of taking the chance to have coffee with locals, learn their customs, and experience life and the Gospel from a different perspective, many missionaries, both long and short-term have determined that the security of what they know is the better path.
It is amazing to me that many have seemingly forgotten the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9... “...I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 
I know that what I am proposing is not easy, but who ever said this was easy?  I have never done anything harder in my life than try to understand the Mexican situation, learn from some wonderful people, live as Paul called me to live, and share the love of Jesus.
Perhaps those of us who are leaders in the church, in our zeal to give as many people as possible the opportunity to serve the ends of the earth, have compromised our values. 
Tim Dearborn quotes a Haitian pastor in his book beyond duty who was asked what makes someone a good missionary in Haiti.  His simple response will surprise you... he said a good missionary in Haiti will “Love Haitians.”
Is the reality that many live apart from the very people they believe they are called to serve, evidence that they are not loving the very people God gave to them and involved in their lives?
How do you think Hudson Taylor would answer that question?