Letter to a new missionary: “Dear newly-arrived me”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

new missionary

Dear new missionary me,

Oh, you look so beautiful! I love that you’re still wearing makeup and your toenails are painted. I bet your legs are shaved too!

Ooh-la-la! Soak up those feminine vibes now, my dear. But don’t fret. As you lose your American shine, you’ll be gaining plenty in its place.

Enjoy where you are now, new missionary me. Be fully here. read more

Unshakable Truth as You Head Overseas (PRINTABLE)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We get it. The journey to overseas missions can feel like you’re trying to build a plane midair. With a root beer can, scotch tape, and a plastic flower. On the hard days, it’s possible you need some unshakable truth as you head overseas.

So today we’ve cobbled together a free printable infographic with some truths to hang your hat on, even if some days it feels like an overlarge sombrero. Post this in a cupboard, on a bathroom mirror, or tucked in all those books you’re reading for your training.

And chew on God’s promises for you in this journey.

TRUTH AS YOU HEAD OVERSEAS: PRINT IT HERE.

truth as you head overseas

Lord, all this–the endless to-do’s, the appointments, the support raising, the goodbyes, the questions, the applications, the wondering–every bit of the mundane and marvelous are for you.

Let my sacrifice be sweet to you. Sink my trust of you deeper into my soul, and prepare the way for you inside of me, around me, the place I’m headed, and everywhere in between.

My eyes are on you. My hope is in you. And my future is yours.

Be glorified.

TELL US: What truths have refreshed you in your path overseas?

Share the goodies with the rest of us in the comment section!

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A Missionary Budget: What Costs Does it Include?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

missionary budget

Wondering what goes into a missionary budget (which, when you’re raising support, can feel overwhelming)? We let you peek behind the curtain with some opinions of other global workers.

“A missionary Budget may cover all the costs of sending the missionary, not just what YOU need to live.”

A missionary budget may include all the expenses of fielding the missionary. Besides a salary, budget categories might include

  • taxes
  • health and life insurance
  • retirement
  • travel expenses (including cost of home assignments)
  • administrative expenses (including the costs of communicating with supporters, and often a certain percentage that supports the mission agency’s home office)
  • training costs (e.g. language school)
  • purchase or rental of property
  • purchase and maintenance of a vehicle.

It’s also wise to include some kind of surplus account, or perhaps a 5% buffer built right into the budget in anticipation of

  • lost support, cost of living increases
  • changing exchange rates
  • inflation
  • an emergency fund and/or insurance that covers medical evacuation

All this can add up to a daunting amount.

But trust me: Cutting corners is not worth the savings.

Being well prepared will help you and your family avoid some of the stress of arriving on the field and not having what you need. 

Most mission agencies include some kind of “admin fee.” What these fees cover varies considerably. A high admin fee may include some of the expenses listed above. A low one may suggest these items are listed elsewhere in your budget.

Editor’s note: If you’re considering going without a sending agency (and budgeting is one of your reasons), be sure to check out our series on the pros and cons.

It’s tempting to cut out things like contingency and retirement funds, but if missions is your career, you may regret neglecting such things.

Online resources you may find helpful: sample missionary budgets, basic budgeting forms, and How Much Is Enough?

Answer from Marti, who’s served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.

“If married, both should get a salary.”

A missionary candidate recently asked me if I thought it was better for a married couple to both be counted as legal employees. Should just the serving member of the couple be paid, to simplify payroll even if both are working as missionaries?

Our organization issues W-2’s to my wife and I with half of our total income per year. I think it’s more respectful of our partnership to do it that way and honor my spouse’s major contributions to the work. That was our original reason.

We’ve discovered strong financial reasons along the way too.

When you are negotiating your budget with your agency and others, it’s to your advantage to present the full force of your contribution i.e. two full-time workers. Although people might remember there are two of us, it is to your financial advantage to remind them of the income you both are earning together.

Many missionaries, even if they start under the traditional model of only one marriage partner as the breadwinner, evolve eventually to give both spouses a significant responsibility in the work. There can be a tendency for some to forget that you are working not just 40 hours but 80+ hours as two workers.

Employing both partners accrues Social Security credits for that partner, too. I’m not sure, but I believe this means she’d have higher income in retirement than if she wasn’t an official employee.

Consider, too, that liability insurance and taxation “safe harbor laws” (allowing return to your home state for a number of days without being taxed) likely don’t extend to a non-employee legally.

Answer from Sam in Taiwan, who has served with Beyond and Joni and Friends for well over a decade.

“your MISSIONARY budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.”

Raising an amount so much higher than a salary may surprise you. Why’s this necessary? You may be raising the actual costs it takes a business to employ a person (which can be an additional 100-180% of a salary)–plus costs intrinsic to being a successful global worker. 

These expenses may include costs like

  • overhead for project costs for your ministry. For example, if you hope to run a supply distribution for at-risk children, you may be raising costs to maintain that programming. The more independent your project is from your sending organization, the more likely you may need to raise those project costs.
  • travel expenses.
  • your computer, software, internet, desk, chair, phone, office space, etc. Some agencies don’t already provide these.
  • member care. These costs cover critical mental and emotional support for the challenges of living cross-culturally and more challenging circumstances. There are a vital component to your longevity, and should be factored into your budget (or your organization’s).

Editor’s note: When considering what to relate to potential financial supporters about your own budget, see this post, “RAISING SUPPORT: 2 COMMANDMENTS OF SHARING BUDGET NEEDS”. Sometimes missionary budgets are difficult for non-missionaries to understand without passing undue judgment.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR A MISSIONARY BUDGET

Obviously, lower administrative fees in a missionary budget help reduce your overall budget. But typically, more moderate to high admin fees include more benefits and services that help keep you going on the mission field.

Other thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Different sending organizations have very different philosophies of budget-setting (ranging from frugal to robust, job-based or needs-based). They also have varying levels of control over budget-setting.
  • Ask your organization about categories or aspects of a budget you don’t understand.
  • Keep in mind that the amount may seem overwhelming when you’re raising a high support goal. But your budget is hopefully designed for your longevity on the field, from veterans who’ve realistically counted the cost.
  • It’s also far easier to raise support before your first departure–and much harder to raise from the field and even during travel back to your passport culture. So go well-funded from the start!

Answer from John, the Human Resources director for Engineering Ministries’ International’s offices around the world.

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How to Overcome Obstacles and Get Fully Funded

“Is there any way other than begging for financial support?”

The Fix: For What Might Be Broken in Your Fundraising

 

How to Overcome Obstacles and Get Fully Funded

Reading Time: 5 minutes

fully funded

Editor’s note: We’re stoked to feature this article from another one of Go. Serve. Love’s round table partners, Support Raising Solutions. (Yes! That organization is a thing.) In our quest to present you overseas fully-funded, we’re happy to welcome back the indomitable Jenn Fortner, support-raising expert extraordinaire. 

In my time as a support coach, I have yet to see a ministry worker not make it to the field because they were unable to raise their budget as fully funded missionaries. I’ve seen people not go to the field because they got engaged, accepted a different job, or had medical issues—but it has yet to be money that has kept someone from going to the ministry they felt called to.

That being said, I’ve seen numerous ministers scared that they were never going to get to the magical 100% mark. Some just freeze up, unable to move forward because of obstacles and fears.

So lets talk about the obstacles and fears we face when raising our budgets. What are some of the most common? And what can we do to overcome them? 

Let’s get fully funded.

#1 Obstacle: Perspective/Lack of Biblical Understanding

Viewing fundraising as a necessary evil instead of a vibrant ministry can be the largest hurdle someone raising support can face.

I once heard it said 90% of support raising is perspective. After listening to numerous workers talk about their struggles, I find this overwhelmingly true. Workers who can’t seem to see the awesome ministry opportunities raising support provides them are the same ones who can’t seem to be fully funded, and ultimately will probably walk away from their ministry calling.

Viewing support raising as ministry is vital to staying engaged long-term and excited about the process.

If you go into an appointment seeing it only as a means to an end, you’ll pass up the opportunity to minister to the person across from you—and miss being blessed yourself! Other effects may be:

  • Coming across as disingenuous
  • Being sloppy and cutting corners
  • Awkward and fearful to make strong/bold ask

So how can we overcome a lack of perspective, to be fully funded?

  • Seek out a biblical understanding of support raising. Discover what God has to say on the subject in the Bible studies in the appendix of The God Ask.
  • Ask others who have been successful in raising their support about their overall perspective.
  • Pray continuously, asking and seeking God why He came up with this idea of Christian workers raising their personal and ministry expenses from others. He has already given the answers in Scripture. We just have to find them.

#2 Obstacle: Procrastination

Ever find yourself starting to work on something important, only to be distracted by a text, social media post, or an internet deep dive?

Instead of making progress on your task, do you find yourself watching a YouTube video about a horse and a dog becoming best friends?

Don’t feel alone. Stats on procrastination:

Have you ever taken on a project you knew would take a long time to complete (hey, like raising an entire budget?) and instead of attacking it, you procrastinate a few hours instead?

Those few hours become a day, a day turns into two or three days, and two or three days ends up being a week—a wasted week!

Sometimes support raisers will go into total denial and will dream up all kinds of new “to-do’s” to work on, except the one they’re assigned—raising their support!

As a coach, I see this in those raising funds who also have jobs or current ministry responsibilities. They may subconsciously increase their hours at their jobs, or say yes to more ministry opportunities.

Why? Anything to get them out of making the calls and setting up appointments!

(Is that you?)

How can we overcome procrastination to become fully funded? 

  • Set specific, challenging, but reachable goals for yourself each week.
  • Share those goals with someone who can exercise a little “tough love” and keep you accountable.
  • Write down those weekly goals and break them down into daily tasks.
  • Don’t let a week (or even a day!) slip through the cracks. If you feel the “procrastination monkey” starting to crawl onto your back, quickly ask for help, accountability, and advice from those you trust.

Editor’s note: Don’t be afraid to dig into the “why’s” that keep you procrastinating. Are you struggling with fear, rejection, unbelief, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed…? Prayerfully attack and problem-solve more than the symptom of procrastination.

#3 Obstacle: Lack of Contacts

This is a common one, but may or may not be a real issue. Sometimes it is a perceived obstacle, and if that’s you, you need to face up to reality.

Let’s go straight to the solutions:

How can we overcome a lack of contacts? 

  • Start by checking Facebook. I know not all your 850 “friends” are your best buds, but they are connections you have made over time, including exchanging likes and postings for months or years. It’s an easy next step to message them for a cup of coffee, openly talking about your next adventure.
  • When namestorming a list of people you’ll be asking for support, make sure you are not limiting yourself to those you think will give. Include everyone you know. Why?

You’ll be shocked when you discover some of those you thought would surely support you, don’t. And those you thought never-in-a-million-years would give, want to jump on your team!

Never let your perceptions (or paranoia!) determine who will or won’t contact. Remember God is in this process. Allow Him to do His job!

  • If your concern about having a small number of contacts is real (around 85% of the time I find it’s only a perceived obstacle), go ahead and begin your support raising. Work hard to set up appointments with everyone—not just the ones you’re comfortable asking! Along the way, connect with pastors or others raising support and ask for their help and prayers as you overcome. Ask those who are cheerfully supporting you for referrals. Experiment with a fundraising dinner (or other creative events) as ways to possibly expanding your contact base.

#4 Obstacle: Lack of Time

Ministry commitments, large families, full-time jobs, school, frequent social engagements, etc. all vie for daily attention and concentration.

If you find yourself over-scheduled (even before you start raising up your team), you may be tempted to procrastinate, cut corners, or even give up! Be assured, though, that the Lord has given you just the right amount of time each week to accomplish exactly what He wants you to (see Ephesians 2:10).

I know it’s hard to balance everything, but take heart, God delights in giving you grace and wisdom so that in his perfect time, you can be fully funded.

How can we overcome a lack of time, to get fully funded? 

  • Pull your pastor or a trusted friend aside, and the both of you look hard at which of your priorities and time commitments are essential to you and God—and which ones are elective.
  • Be willing to temporarily cut items from your schedule during the next 3, 6, 9 months of support raising. I know it’s painful, especially if have to set aside social obligations or ministry commitments for a time.
  • If you are working full-time, consider figuring out a way to move to part-time, or even transition to full-time support raising. That would be the ideal!

Do you have any tips for overcoming these four obstacles so others, too, can get fully funded? Or maybe you have experienced or observed other obstacles that can inhibit successful support raising? Share them in the comments.

We want to hear from you, pray for you, and seek to be of help.

Jenn Fortner is the creator of Financial Partnership Development for the Eurasia Region of Assembly of God World Missions. She is the author of Financial Partnership Development Workbook: Biblical and Practical Tools to Raise Your Support. She also operates as a support raising coach to numerous missionaries, and a speaker on the subject of support raising.

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“I Wish Someone Had Told Me”: 5 Things about Missions

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wish someone had told me

In our efforts at Go. Serve. Love to help you look overseas with eyes wide open, we actually like posting your “wish someone had told me about missions” stories. They help the rest of us, y’know, adjust expectations and avoid our own train wrecks. 

Today we’re posting from one of our partners, the all-new Mission App–which allows you to search and apply to 30 agencies with one app, and one application. 

Then, don’t miss our links below for other wise, cautionary tales.

wish someone had told me…You don’t have to carry the pressure of needing to be the hero.

In fact, if you go to another culture with the attitude that you will help the poor humanity there who will then be grateful for you, you are missing the point. Remember God is already at work wherever you may travel.

People in your new host country live there and have a way they already do things. They may not even want the help you offer.

In fact, you may find you are the one that needs help learning how to settle into this new environment.  You do, however have the good news about Jesus to share!

So… spend time listening to people’s stories. Share your own.

And as you share your lives, share Jesus’ story.  He’s the real Hero, after all.

Don’t think you’ll always agree with your team members. 

Missionaries are just people sharing Jesus with others.  I wish someone had told me missionaries are just people who may have experienced loss, who may have strong opinions, who can get tired, or discouraged or happy or sad or frustrated or jealous – just like you. Do your best not to compare, or judge.

This is where it’s essential to know how to find your identity in Jesus yourself and to trust other team members to do the same.

You won’t always think they are right.  You may start to wonder if you are.

Remember: Grace, truth, and love …  always.  That other team member is one of God’s favorites too.

Sharing the good news of Jesus doesn’t mean you’ll do nothing else. 

Shopping for groceries, cleaning the house, fixing your car, organizing your tasks, heading for work – all these everyday life things still happen when you are a missionary.

I don’t know what you’re good at, but you will likely be doing that thing in whatever culture you end up living in.

So if you’re a great teacher: teach well and share Jesus.  If you’re a great mechanic? fix things and share Jesus.  If you’re a great mom, raise kids and share Jesus.

Don’t start to resent these tasks thinking they get in the way of your real work of sharing Jesus. 

Do your “real” work while doing your everyday tasks best you can.

And when there’s no one near you to share with, do your everyday tasks for and with Jesus. He’ll lead you to the next opportunity to share. He’s already got someone in mind.

Poverty looks different to different people.

If you’re going on a mission trip so you can see real poverty and realize how great you have it in your home country… please pause.

As important as learning to be grateful is, it’s not the right reason to go into missions.

First of all, the people that you think look poor may not regard themselves that way at all.  They might, for example, think of poverty in terms of lack of good relationships or status.

Secondly, if you do meet someone who finds themselves in a difficult situation, it’s unlikely they’ll want you to define them by it. After all, you don’t like to be defined by your hard times.

So don’t take a picture of someone who is wearing their poverty on the outside so you can show people back home that you are making a difference.

Instead, capture a moment that fills your heart with wonder because of Jesus. 

Find the gifts – the tea sipped, the laughter shared, the hope renewed. Record moments rich in grace. 

Sometimes you might feel like you’re not making a difference at all.

Just because you are a missionary and your vocation is defined as “life-changing” doesn’t mean you’ll always feel like that is the case.

I wish someone had told me I might feel like I’m not doing enough to earn the support of the church(es) that sent me.

You, too, might start to count successes and losses and determine that if bearing fruit is what defines a follower of Jesus, you may not be one. 

Don’t get discouraged.

Make sure your heart is drawing its life from Jesus.  Abide in Him like a branch in the vine.  Then it’s all about trust and obedience.

Say ‘yes’ in every moment He gives you and let Him decide when the leaf will sprout, or a root will grow deeper or a blossom form. If you are given the added gift of seeing the fruit, that’s something to celebrate, too.

But your vocation won’t define you. Your daily abiding in Jesus will make you who you are.

Ready for other “wish someone had told me” missions stories?

Grab our best.

Going Overseas? Prepare for Scars

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Recently I sat with another missionary, stocking feet curled beneath us. We were reflecting on some of the more painful parts of missionary life.

I’m talking things that were hard to understand if you hadn’t been overseas, hadn’t had moments in a foreign land defined by sacrifice or loss. They were like scars, covered by clothing. read more

A Yellow Christmas: Dotsie’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Yellow Christmas

Even though it was years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today: the year our Christmas was a sickly yellow.

It had taken me a good while to adapt to life in Ghana. After many mornings of tears–morning is when the reality of life there would hit me–I adjusted well. Life was good: The evening Bible school was off to a good start, we were getting to know our neighbors, Gary was mentoring a couple of men and I was helping Nicole, French and married to a Ghanaian, grow in her new faith.

Our world came crashing down around us when Gary got very sick. Just a couple months before he’d had typhoid fever and malaria. What was happening?

When Gary turned yellow, I guessed his diagnosis.

But borders were closed. Supplies in the country were so low that he could not even get a blood test to tell what kind of hepatitis he had.

At the time none of our colleagues were in the city. We did live near the university and knew the dean of the medical school. He started making house calls “with empty hands,” for there was nothing he could do.

yellow christmas

An actual photo of Dotsie writing by oil lamp in Ghana.

The Darkest Christmas

Those were dark days for us as Christmas approached.

We tried to make the best of it with our two small boys, while we watched “Papa” get thinner and thinner. The bile under his skin caused severe itching and relief only came with a scalding bath followed by a cold shower.

Then Gary would sit under the ceiling fan clad only in boxer shorts––any other clothes irritated his skin. But this routine wasn’t always possible with frequent power outages and lack of water.

And we were almost out of food. He needed some good nutrition.

I was not a coffee drinker, but needed to stay awake for some “alone time” in the evenings, so learned to drink it. I was exhausted but wanted to write letters back home to people who were praying for us.

Often sitting with only the light of an oil lamp, I’d hear God speak words of comfort and peace. He showed me Isaiah 40 and reminded me of it again and again.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…They will soar on wings like eagles…

When god gives Christmas Gifts

God’s grace amazed us with gifts!

A knock sounded at the door one evening. Linda, a Peace Corps friend, greeted us with a special piece of meat wrapped in shiny tinfoil and a festive Christmas bow. It was delicious.

Later our adventuresome friend Keith showed up with a cooler full of meat and a sack of potatoes bought in a neighboring country; he’d slipped across the border in a desolate area. What a treat! (We’d never eaten potatoes in Ghana­­. They don’t grow there.)

Not long after that, a missionary friend traveling through our city walked into our house with a gunnysack over his shoulder. He dumped the contents out on our kitchen table. My eyes opened wide when I realized Howie had shared from their “special times” stockpile.

What stood out the most was a can of powdered lime drink. Now Gary could have at least a sort of fruit juice. The tiny ants marching around the glass at his bedside didn’t irritate me as they usually did; I was overjoyed to offer him such a treat.

Most exciting was the day a truck, oddly, pulled up to our door. I was certain it was a mistake, especially since on it were two small barrels for us. It didn’t make sense until we learned they had been flown in from London by friends who used to live near us in Ghana.

Having heard of Gary’s illness and knowing what the closed borders would mean for our food supply, Graham and Sue knew exactly what to send us.

The thrill of unwrapping foods fresh off English grocery shelves is embedded in my memory: beautiful, clean packages of flour, sugar, and powdered milk with special Christmas treats tucked in.

We were overwhelmed by God’s tender care for us.

When God’s Kindness Means Saying Goodbye

Before long the medical school dean told us Gary was not getting better and we needed to go home to get medical care. Gary had lost a garish 65 pounds.

It was unsettling to abruptly leave a home and ministry we loved. But we knew God doesn’t make mistakes. That he cares deeply for us.

So we trusted.

It took a couple of days to prepare to leave, and we certainly wanted to celebrate our Savior’s birth before we left. We made clothespin ornaments representing our family to put on our little tree.

The ending of the Not-so-fairytale Christmas

Back in the U.S., Gary initially was isolated in a hospital room until they determined for sure he had Hepatitis A. He ended up being yellow with the severe itching…for four more months.

God provided a house for us near my family and a main supporting church of ours. And a friend, starting up a pizza business, gave us a case of frozen pizzas and a pizza oven so Gary could gain back some weight.

Six months later we returned to Ghana, eager to get back to our work.

Our clothespin ornaments are falling apart now, but we still hang them on our tree each year. And as we do, we remember what God taught us during our yellow Christmas.

 

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Memos from a Christmas Robbery

Christmas, Rewrapped: Navigating Overseas Holidays

Advent: When You’re Not Where You Hoped

 

 

 

 

 

Wise Men & Your Path Abroad: “We Have Come to Worship Him”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

. wise men magi

Wise men.

There’s a lot of beautiful mystery in the story of the magi.

I picture camel hooves sponging a desert floor, heavy treasures banging in woven luggage, men wrapped from the sting of the sand.

We’re not told who these “wise men” are or the stories that compelled them to follow a celestial sign, an ancient prophecy.

But in their story, I see a bit of yours.

Crazy Talk

I wonder what their communities said. These men saddled up, following a star to a place unknown, or made costly (to the point of being weird) personal sacrifices for an unseen king.

Did one of them got sick? Did all of them get tired? Perhaps they wondered about their own sanity and dragging other people with them.

I wonder if there was loss along the way.

I speculate about whether they doubted their interpretation of what they’d read in Scripture, coupled with the alignment of other signs. Would they get there and wish they’d never come?

wise men magi

In hindsight, moments stood out where they were wrong; deceived (say, by an egomaniac king).

Maybe there were moments, when it was all said and done, when they heard of the devastation following their visit and wondered if they could have acted differently, more…wisely.

(Did word of the infanticide ever reach them? Did they realize the ways they’d done things without knowing, and wonder if they’d made the right choice to go?)

wise men magi

Though I’m certainly not justifying infanticide or any other outcomes: We see in the story of the wise men a courageous faith, a persevering journey, so Christ would be worshipped as much as they were able.

So they could bring the finest gifts they could, for honor he deserved.

 

“We Have Come to Worship Him”

Packing up to head home, none of them was asking, “Was that really worth it?”

Here’s what we do know. They represented the first worship of the Gentiles, with great sacrifice and adoration.

Their obedience and perseverance in a curious journey meant Christ was worshiped as he should be. (Remember John Piper? “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”)

That baby had a way of leaving an impression on people. I think of the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

Because the path to worship this baby changed people. They came away feeling like the lucky dogs.

As you perhaps say some goodbyes this Christmas and wonder about a path and even a possible desert before you, may you take heart. Your act of worship is sacred, beautiful, and endlessly worth what it asks of you. 

May Christ be lifted up in a distant land.

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Goodbyes: Managing Your Painful “Lasts”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

lasts grief mourning

I recently spoke with a friend as she prepared for our church’s Fall Festival on October 31. They’re headed to India next year. They sent me the cutest photo of their family dressed up as Batman, Batwoman, and cherubic ittle Bat-kids.

I asked if that night’s festival might be hard. The “lasts”, you see, have begun.

It wasn’t, for her. But Christmas with extended family is coming. And while it is deeply good to grieve all the little lasts–last time decorating the tree, last time at the community Christmas parade, last time with Christmas morning in the house our kids have grown up in?

Goodbyes still stink.

provisio fundraising

Beautiful “Nexts”, and a Lifestyle of “Lasts”

It wasn’t till my own family was near departure for Africa that my mom reminded me we are moving toward something–some beautiful “nexts”.

But for my family? It’s just “lasts.”

It hit me one night in my mom’s living room, my eight-month-old nephew grinning up at me in his diaper. I wouldn’t get to see him grow up except in home-assignment increments and fuzzy Skyped details.

Turns out the “lasts” when we left for Africa the first time would continue into a lifestyle full of goodbyes. Missionary life is transitory.

We watched so many friends leave. My kids would have last playdates, last hugs, last goodbyes at a party where we tried to be excited about friends’ next steps.

goodbyes

What Mourning Says about Your Goodbyes

Years later, I would watch my children cry as, through glass, they watched their grandparents plod through security for another flight back to to the States. But as my husband and I held them, he spoke wisely. “People always told me not to cry. But I want you to cry. Your crying means what you’re losing is valuable.”

Sometimes in our goodbyes, we’re wondering who will pick up the mantle. We’re discouraged and fearful about the future.

But rather than speed ahead with a chipper “God is good! Nothing to worry about here!”, it’s critical we take the “blessed” time to mourn, time to acknowledge and grieve loss.

God grieves, too

God, too, grieves. He knows things aren’t right here; that the Gospel requires heartbreaking sacrifice. That, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing resurrection is around the corner, it’s still worthy of weeping over loss.

The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of

the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ.

Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms.*

Lament is a biblical norm, practiced even by Jesus on the Cross. Yet sometimes as Western Christians we want to race past the uncomfortable sadness, our “Cross”, and rush to the Resurrection.

Biblically, there is a sad, frighteningly unresolved Saturday in between. It’s when we are simply trusting God always gives more than He asks of us.

goodbyes

Lamenting the Lasts

As you grapple with fear and sizeable unknowns, keep in mind the Bible’s no stranger to lament.

In fact, as you grieve your own losses, Paul implies we might just acquire another invaluable skill for the field: The ability to comfort others well (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

In the Psalms, scholars find a general structure for lament, sometimes sequential, sometimes weaving back and forth between these elements:

Address, invoking God.

Acknowledge this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. Recognize who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.

Complaint.

This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”

 

Request.

Beg God for action and response.

 

Expression of trust.

Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To quote Tim Keller on this:

…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” **

As Graham Cooke writes,

Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life…

God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. ***

The Overpowering Beauty

As you grieve the goodbyes and lasts, tiny or massive–like Paul (arguably one of the greatest missionaries), it’s the overwhelming gain that helps us muscle through loss:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Jesus, too, set His sights on the joy set before Him as He endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).

In your painful “lasts” this holiday season, may God’s overwhelming gains eventually spur you on to the blindingly bright “nexts” in your future.

 

*Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.

**Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

***http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/pouring-out-your-heart-in-lament-to-god.html