Away from Home for Christmas?

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

If you’re a foreign missionary, you may find yourself away from home at Christmas. Since my family left for Taiwan 35 years ago, my husband and I have spent only 9 Christmases in our native country, the US. Our youngest daughter left home in 2000, and since then we’ve spent 12 Christmases without being with any family at all except for each other. This is not unusual for most foreign missionaries.

It’s normal to miss your family and friends at Christmas time, but here are some tips that will make the separation easier:

Avoid going down roads that are going to lead to self-pity and resentment.  These things are sure to give you a miserable holiday:

  • Listening to sad songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
  • Thinking about how beautiful snow is, what beautiful decorations they have in your home country, and how your host country doesn’t make you feel like Christmas.
  • Focusing on Christmas memories that depress you and make you feel sorry for yourself.
  • Resenting relatives who don’t call, write, send packages, or communicate in any way.
  • Wasting time thinking about how much you miss your family.

It might help if you remember these things:

  • Missionaries aren’t the only ones far from home at Christmas. Miles or kilometres divide many families for many reasons.
  • When your furlough time comes, you may have more extended time with some of your family than many families have with theirs.
  • Many families who live close to each other are divided by family squabbles or faith differences. If your children or other family members are Christians who are living for the Lord, count that as a precious gift.
  • Many missionaries from the past didn’t see their families for many years and had very limited connections with them. Today phone calls, Skype, Facebook, and email make it much easier to stay connected to family.
  • Some families put immense pressure on family members at holiday time that make the season more hectic than enjoyable. Being far from family, though sad, frees you from excessive family expectations that some people face.

Work with what you have to connect to your family:

  • International postage may be sky high, but you can order things online from your home country and have them shipped directly to your family at home.
  • Send a memory to your family. Write your parents and remind them of a lovely Christmas you had in years past. Cut a snowflake or draw a picture and send it to your grandkids. Take photos or videos and send them to family.
  • Instead of resenting your distant family for not communicating better, take the initiative in connecting. When they do connect, thank them for taking the effort. They have busy lives and many people to keep up with, just as you do.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you will take time to reflect on Jesus and the salvation he brings. That is certainly the best Christmas gift ever. Besides that, God gives each of us wonderful gifts every day. May you find joy in God’s gracious gifts and in the ministry God has given you.

Merry Christmas!

[image courtesy of iofoto/Deposit Photos]

Adoniram Judson–Devoted to God

adoniram judsonOf all the missionary pioneers, I think I like Adoniram Judson the best. One thing about his life stands clear: his commitment to ministry in spite of results.

Judson’s story has a lot to like. He was the first real foreign missionary from America. He became a Baptist by conviction on the way to the mission field simply by reading his Bible. He translated the entire Bible into Burmese. Though fastidious and cultured in his upbringing, he endured imprisonment in filthy prisons, and continued to minister after he got out. His wives, especially his first two, worked closely with him and added to his effectiveness.

But Judson is especially characterized by his commitment to ministry. After four months of sailing, he and Ann arrived in India, the land in which they expected to serve. They were quickly turned away by the British East India Company. But instead of returning home, Judson searched diligently for a country which would allow him to minister. That brought them to Burma, a country with almost no missionaries and no Christians, which was governed by men who were extremely hostile to Christians.

On July 13, 1813 Adoniram and Ann arrived in Burma. Their first baby had been born dead on the way. They were not welcome in this new country. They didn’t know Burmese and there were no language teachers who knew both English and Burmese. They didn’t know if they’d be allowed to stay. With such a disappointing start to his missionary ministry, upon arrival, what did Judson pray? “God grant that we may live and die among the Burmans, though we never should do anything else than smooth the way for others.”

That’s commitment.

Above anything else in his life, Judson was known for one thing. It took him six years of faithful ministry before he saw his first convert. This convert, Moung Nau, considered it a privilege to be the first Christian convert among the Burmese people, even though he expected his decision would lead to persecution, perhaps even death.

The Burmese government said that any Burmese who said this “American religion” was right and Buddhism was wrong, would be punished severely. Finally Judson felt led to ask the king for permission to preach the gospel and translate the Bible into Burmese. The king didn’t give permission or deny it. Judson decided he should move away from Rangoon to somewhere the government would let him preach more freely. At the time he had two converts. They begged him to stay in their town until there were ten. Judson stayed.

Early in his ministry, Judson made two goals:

  1. He wanted to translate the entire Bible into Burmese.
  2. He wanted to live to see one hundred converts in Burma.

After sixteen years of Judson’s ministry, people who were formerly uninterested in the gospel began to flock to the little open-porched zayats to hear the gospel. Many people were saved. Everywhere Judson went people begged for the tracts he passed out.

He was the only man alive qualified to translate the Bible into Burmese, and after ten years of hard work, he finished the New Testament. Within a year, Judson was suddenly arrested and imprisoned for no fault of his own. His wife, Ann, buried the New Testament manuscript in the garden, but she knew it would soon get moldy. Finally she dug the manuscript up, hid it in a pillow, and smuggled it to Judson in prison. No one wanted to steal the uncomfortable pillow and no one thought to look for it in prison. It this way Judson’s New Testament translation was preserved.

After 23 years in Burma, Judson finished translating the entire Bible, thus achieving his first goal.

Nearly two hundred years later, today Judson’s Bible is still the best Burmese translation and the one most widely used in the country.

Did Judson live to see 100 converts in Burma? By the time he died there were between 60 to 100 Baptist churches among the Burmese with nearly 8000 baptized converts. Among the Karen tribes of Burma there were around 800 Baptist churches and 150,000 converts. Of course, Judson didn’t so all the work himself. Other missionaries and Burmese and Karen believers also spread the gospel, but Judson baptized the one hundredth convert.

Today Burma is called Myanmar. Religious freedom is still limited. Missionaries from other countries are not allowed into Myanmar. Christians sometimes get killed or have their homes destroyed. Still there are around 650,000 baptized Baptist Christians and about 600,000 unbaptized Christians. (Most protestants are Baptists.)

Adoniram Judson and his first two wives gave their entire adult lives to ministry in Burma. Judson returned to his home in America for his first furlough after 33 years. He had spent so much of his time using Burmese that he no longer felt comfortable speaking in English in public. He had also lost his voice and was unable to speak above a whisper. Yet he returned to Burma, continued his work, and spent ten years compiling an English-Burmese Dictionary, which only he could have written.

Adoniram Judson believed every missionary’s motto should be “devoted for life,” and he showed devotion to God for Burma until his dying day. But I think I am more inspired by this one thing more than any other: He was committed to give out the gospel regardless of results. He was prepared to give his entire adult life to this ministry in Burma, “though we never should do anything else than smooth the way for others.”w11618538_aWe live in a day when many missionaries, even churches in America, must continue to find ways to faithfully give out the gospel even when we see few visible results. Sometimes an unfruitful ministry becomes a fruitful one in time. We may be preparing the ground for others who will see growth.

Of course, faithfulness in ministry involves more than blindly filling the calendar with activity year after year. Part of remaining faithful may be looking for creative new ways to present the gospel in ways that will be better received by the unsaved around us. We may need to change methods that worked in the past and are less effective now. Prayer and building relationships are vital in evangelism. Always we need to be open to God leading us in a new direction.

But we can also learn from Adoniram Judson’s example that we need to be faithful to the task and leave the results up to him. We work to please God and follow his leading. He will work through our ministry to see that our work is not in vain.

It’s only natural to want to see results from our ministry. Results encourage us, validate us. We can put results in a prayer letter and get others excited about our ministry. Results are our goal. Would we give our lives to a ministry that we knew would produce no results?

Adoniram Judson would.

On one hand, God may be working in ways we will never see, accomplishing his work that won’t be visible this side of heaven. But aside from that, we need to ask ourselves some questions.

  • Should results be my goal?
  • Should I need results to validate my ministry?
  • Am I devoted to God or devoted to success?

When I’m devoted to success, I get depressed when I see no results. When I’m devoted to God, I can be content as long as I know I am following his leading and pleasing him.

 

 

Tips for Transcient M.K.’s Who are Adults and Still Single

Kanate ChainapongIf you’ve read my new book Broken Windows, you might wonder why Jordan is so rootless. Jordan, an adult M.K. from Taiwan, moves from Colorado to Idaho at the beginning of the book. Less than a year later, he’s contemplating another move, this time to Minnesota. Why can’t he settle down someplace in America? Or should he live with his parents in Taiwan?

My oldest daughter, Lisa, finished Bible college single and didn’t marry for six more years. She used her single years well, and now wants to share tips with others to help them through these challenging years. This article is written by her.

Holidays usually find me far from home and extended family. If my husband is working the holiday, my kids and I will be invited somewhere for dinner. By the time the dessert is done, I’ll get into deeper conversation with my hosts or one of their guests.

Before long, I notice puzzled expressions on their faces as they try to understand the person they discover as they talk to me. They wonder how anyone could be as root-less as I, the person who has, on average, lived in a different home for each year of my life. They wonder how a quiet, stay-at-home mom emerged from the world-traveling single woman that I was ten years ago.

I lived in four states and one foreign country between my graduation from college and my marriage six years later.  It wasn’t that I planned it this way—how to squeeze the most adventure of out my singlehood. Rather, I was pursuing God and where He wanted me to serve, a path that included more changes in locations than I might have expected. It became an unconventional solution to an unconventional situation.

When I meet missionaries with teenaged children, they often ask me about that stage in my life. It’s hard for them to imagine being thousands of miles away from their kids. They hope their children will steer through their turbulent early-twenties without capsizing in the rapids of life. How did I make those transitions? Here are three things that helped me through those years:

 1) Seek the blessing of your parents.

When I finished college, I had a small amount of college debt to pay off. Paying for airline tickets to return home would have cost thousands of dollars and, at the time, employment options for me in their city were bleak. But I discussed my options thoroughly with my parents and they prayed for me as I considered where to go next. That was a pattern that continued throughout those years. Whether I was considering housing, employment, roommates, or churches, I made sure that they were comfortable and supportive of those decisions. (This was easier because they granted some freedom and did not micro-manage my life.)

 2) Become a part of a good church.

In each transition from one place to another, I always had a good recommendation for a Bible-preaching church in my new city. Usually, this meant that I or someone close to me knew the pastor of the church personally, as well as a few of the members. This helped me know what to expect about the Bible teaching and ministry philosophy of the church. I was able to attend these churches and make them my own starting with the first Sunday of my life in each new city. These churches became great places to learn, build friendships, find mentors and serve the Lord during my single years. Finding a good church and being actively involved is a great way to keep from getting lost-in-the-cracks of life far away from home.

 3) Develop relationships with mentors and friends you trust.

Young people face many first-time experiences when they move away from home. Even if they want to follow the Lord and make good choices, they may need help evaluating the situations that come their way (i.e.: is this neighborhood a safe place to live, is this used car in reasonably good condition, is this job offer legitimate?) Having adults around that my parents and I trusted helped me to steer away from some less-than-ideal choices. They helped me to evaluate and navigate relationships with friends, roommates and the guys who showed a romantic interest in me. These families, couples and individuals provided homes away from home for the holidays and modeled Christian living for me.

During those years of multiple transitions far from home, I met my future husband. My life as a stay-at-home wife and mother is considerably less exotic than before. I’m thankful for the husband and children God has given me, but I don’t regret those single years. They gave me flexibility that allowed me to serve the Lord in ways a married woman could never do. During those years, I made moves to three different locations in order to fill short-term ministry needs in a church or missions organization. While I want to be open to God’s leading now, I realize that moving a family is much more challenging logistically and emotionally.

Being a single adult M.K. can be a blessing. If you are a single M.K., I challenge you to consider serving the Lord in ways that would be difficult after marriage, even if those options are unconventional. God has purpose in every season of life. Don’t miss the special opportunities that singleness brings while you are in that season of life.

[Image courtesy of Kanate Chainapong/Deposit Photos.]

 

 

Adapting to a New Culture – Chinese

Writing CaligraphyLiving in a new culture forces us to make changes and rethink the way we do things. It causes us to evaluate our home culture by new criteria. We have to make choices about how we are going to live and balance our home culture with our new culture.

Changing cultures stretches our minds and experiences, encouraging us to learn and grow. People who have never left their home culture seldom understand this process and may not understand us after we’ve gone through it. It’s good for us but it’s not necessarily a comfortable process.

Here are some cultural observations from an American friend who has recently spent a year living in a Chinese country:

  • Chinese people who have a close friendship/relationship do not say, “thank you” to each other. Saying “thank you” implies a distant relationship with the other person.
  • Teachers have a serious, conservative demeanor in class. It’s OK to smile, but dramatic gestures and drama can make students uncomfortable.
  • Respect for elders is always important. We need to stand to greet older people who enter the room and call on the oldest brother to open or close a meeting in prayer.
  • Time schedules are made last-minute and are open to change.
  • If you ask people questions to which they don’t know the answer, they are likely to make up an answer. Saving face is more important than truth-telling.

When culture shock was strong, my coping strategies were to read about culture or make a journal entry about it. Our home was a place of rest and normalcy from a Western perspective.

 Local believers and friends were generally quite forgiving of our cultural ignorance and mistakes. But this can make it is harder to learn about your weaknesses.

 Chinese culture is difficult for Westerners to adapt to. Historically, Westerners have failed to adapt well to Chinese culture and have left offences in the Chinese mind. They still admire Americans because they perceive our country as wealthy and successful. However, they do not expect us to adapt very well to Chinese culture. It’s like they think, “You are foreigners. You will always be foreigners. We don’t expect more than that.”

 I want to thank my friend for sharing his experiences. He is challenged to continue to learn about Chinese culture and relate to Chinese in a more effective way.

What things have your learned about a different culture?

[image courtesy J R/deposit photos]

 

 

 

Equality as a Cultural Issue

10645013_s (1)I always thought I knew what equality was.

Americans believe in equality. We don’t like to think of ourselves as snobs. We try not to judge a person’s worth by their fame or income level or what they look like. We try to treat all people with a certain degree of respect. So when we moved to New Zealand, where equality is very important, I felt we fit in and understood. Years later, however, I learned that the New Zealander (Kiwi) idea of equality was slightly different.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

“Tall Poppy Syndrome” is a label used in New Zealand and Australia to describe their aversion to people who “get above themselves.” They are friendly to almost anyone, but eye with suspicion the “tall poppy” who grows higher than the rest. Kiwis and Aussies rarely celebrate success and don’t generally aspire to build wildly successful careers.  Sports is the exception to the rule. Everyone loves the All-Blacks, the nation’s rugby team. Compared to many other cultures, however, education is not highly valued. New Zealand is, as a result, always short of doctors, but they have plenty of tradesmen.

Kiwis will tolerate a certain amount of success if the successful person lives in an average house, drives an average vehicle, and is like everyone else.  Anything that could hint at being flashy or pretentious will not impress the average Kiwi, but will have the opposite effect.

 Equality and Leadership

Understanding the Kiwi concept of equality becomes important in a leadership position. Titles are rarely used. Even kids often call doctors and pastors by their first names. While Americans use titles as a sign of respect, expecting it in New Zealand often signals superiority.

Some cultures weigh a pastor’s advice very heavily and nearly always follow it. In an egalitarian culture like New Zealand, however, a pastor or leader has to tread much more carefully when giving advice or correction or he will risk offense.

Formality and Leadership

Kiwis like to keep most things casual. Formality often comes across as unfriendly. Formality often emphasizes a central figure standing up front, leading things. Casualness emphasizes everyone in the group, because individuals can speak out quite freely.

People sitting in a circle drinking tea is friendly. Casual dress, informal settings, unstructured meetings are friendly too. Having tea and biscuits (cookies) makes anything seem more friendly.

On the other hand, anything highly structured or planned can seem unfriendly. Rules, punctuality, formal dress, evaluation, one speaker talking without comments from the audience; all these can easily come across in an unfriendly manner. Meetings are often much more casual than the American counterparts.  While Americans may be uncomfortable with such a degree of casualness, it makes the meeting seem friendly to Kiwis. And friendliness is the brother of equality.