SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

making decisions
Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Making better decisions

At the end of January earlier this year, my wife and I as well as my colleagues in Ukraine had to make some important decisions. Were we going to stay in Ukraine? Our embassies were warning us about an impending invasion from Russia and encouraging us to leave. If we stayed, what would be sufficient reason to leave in the future? If we left, where would we travel to? Bertha and I had tickets to leave Ukraine on February 20 for some training we had planned many months ago. Should we wait until then or change our travel plans so as to leave earlier?

Missionaries make life-altering decisions

Cross-cultural workers like ourselves have made many life-changing decisions over the course of our missionary career. Our initial decision to join a mission organization had significant and long-lasting consequences for ourselves, our families and our sending church.

The decision we made to transfer from the Philippines to Russia in 1998 was just as major a decision. My wife and I struggled for a couple of years trying to discern whether we should leave the Philippines, when would be the right time to do so, and where we would move to. The decision we finally made meant we were going to have to learn a very different language and culture. Our children’s future education was going to be impacted in a big way since we would not have a MK school in Far East Russia.

Our decision almost 10 years later to accept the invitation to head up our mission’s training department and move to Ukraine had similar far-reaching consequences.

Now we are faced with the decision of where our future ministry will be based, in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

collaborating prayer

Co-workers through prayer

Ukraine has been our home for the past 12 years. I would love to be back there now, if not for the ongoing military conflict in that country. But currently, we are back in Canada and we do not know when we will be able to return to our home in Ukraine. How can we continue to participate in ministry in Ukraine if we are located thousands of kilometers away? There are many good answers to that question. Some of them can be found on our mission organization’s webpage on Ukraine. In this post, I would like to focus on intercessory prayer.

Praying for Ukraine

For the past several months, my email signature has said “Pray for peace in Ukraine” with a link to our mission webpage. That webpage gives a couple of resources to guide our prayers for the crisis in that country. Using the PrayerMate app, I have been using the prayer list entitled “SEND 40 Days of Prayer for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the World.” I also have a reminder set on my phone that dings a few times throughout the day to remind me to pray for Ukraine.

Many of you are also doing something similar. Frankly, I have been amazed at the number of people that have assured me that they are praying for Ukraine. I hope that we are not simply praying for a military victory for one side of the conflict or the other. My prayers are for the safety and spiritual resilience of the believers who have fled and those that remain. I pray that the vision of mobilizing Ukrainian believers to the unreached peoples of Eurasia and Europe will become reality. I pray that God will turn this horrible tragedy into something that will bless the world.

Do my prayers matter?

But is praying for people in another country, particularly if we don’t know them by name, all that significant a help? I mean, don’t the prayers of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters reach the throne of God with even more passion and urgency than my prayers? Why is it necessary that I also participate in this practice of presenting the needs of Ukraine before our loving and sovereign heavenly Father?

teaching in another language

What I have learned about teaching in another language

David Benzel has served cross-culturally in both Russia and Ukraine for 30 years. After studying the Russian language in Kyiv, Ukraine, he and his wife moved to Khabarovsk, Far East Russia where he taught for more than a decade at the Far East Russia Bible College. Then in 2008, the Benzels moved to Kyiv and David began teaching at Kyiv Theological Seminary. In the early years in Russia, David taught with the help of a translator. But he has now been teaching and preaching in Russian without a translator for well over twenty years. David is highly respected as a teacher and as someone who loves God’s Word. He will be greatly missed as he transitions to life and ministry back in the United States this year. The SEND U blog editor asked David to share what he had learned about teaching in another language over these many years.

I was asked to share what I have learned about learning and teaching in another language. I can’t say if other approaches work or don’t work. In fact, I don’t know if God has used me because of my approach or in spite of my approach.

Biblical examples

Let me start by recognizing that our faith has a long history of teachers teaching in a language other than their native tongue. Much of the NT was written by non-native speakers of Greek. These non-native speakers were at different levels in their proficiency in communicating in Greek. Anyone who reads even a little Greek knows that John is much easier to read than Luke. Paul is much easier to read than Hebrews.

We also need to acknowledge that biblical leaders and teachers were not always confident in their mastery of a particular language. Even Moses felt he couldn’t communicate well in Hebrew, perhaps because of growing up in Pharaoh’s house.

expectations
photo: “Heavy Luggage,” by Maurice Koop, used under a Creative Commons license

Excess Baggage: The Weight of Unmet Expectations

This blog post was originally posted on the blog “A Life Overseas.” It is reposted with permission from the author. Craig Thompson and his family served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan for 10 years before returning to the USA. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures.

A survey of missionary attrition

In the five years since Andrea Sears conducted her survey on missionary attrition, she’s been steadily analyzing and releasing the results, topic by topic. Late last year at her Missions Experience blog, she posted the data on how “expectations factors” affect missionaries’ decisions to leave the field.1 Andrea Sears, “Expectations Factors,” The Missions Experience,” October 14, 2021. Her findings show that at least half of the former missionaries surveyed “experienced disconnects between their expectations and reality” in the five areas of:

  • team members, reported by 62%
  • community, 58%
  • relationships back home, 54%
  • ministry results, 52%
  • job responsibilities, 50%

And in looking at how unmet expectations contributed to the respondents’ attrition, she finds the top four factors to be:

  • team members, reported by 65%
  • job responsibilities, 64%,
  • community, 61%
  • family life, 56%

A survey of missionary expectations

These findings are interesting in and of themselves, but they remind me of the results of another survey, one that formed the basis of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss. In their book, published in 2010, the two take a deep dive into the role expectations play in navigating cross-cultural work. In 2013, I referenced their work when I wrote about the topic of expectations at my blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and hope to address it here in the coming months. To start, I’d like to repost my article below, in a slightly edited form. It originally appeared under the title “Missionaries, Don’t Let Your Expectations Weigh You Down.”

feeding your soul

Feeding your soul in a time of crisis

In my last post, I reflected on our new status as refugees from Ukraine. I talked about some of the ways that God had prepared me for this crisis and was helping me process this new reality. The processing continues. We have not given up on the hope that we may be able to return to Ukraine and resume our ministry there. But we are seeking to deal with the possibility that we may not. Today, I want to reflect on what has sustained me through this time of crisis, even when the future is so uncertain, and answers to my questions seem so far away. How do I feed my soul when God does not seem to answer our prayers?

A personal crisis

Without a doubt, what all of us see depicted on the news is far more catastrophic than my personal crisis. Yet the possibility that our cross-cultural life and ministry may have come to an end on January 30 has created a significant amount of stress and anxiety within me. As many of you know, my wife and I have made Kyiv, Ukraine our home and base of ministry since 2009. In order to facilitate a training program for new missionaries, we traveled to North America at the end of January. We had planned to be in North America for about 10 weeks, with return tickets booked for a few days after the completion of the training program.

But the day I opened the online course was also the day that Russia began its “special military operation” in Ukraine.  One of the first residential buildings in our city to be hit in the conflict was about 200 meters from our apartment building. Since then, most of our friends and all of our missionary colleagues have left Ukraine or at least evacuated out of Kyiv.

Dealing with many questions

We pray daily for peace to be restored in Ukraine and for the safety and protection of friends that remain in Kyiv or in that country. When will the conflict end? Will we ever be able to return to our home? Where will we live if we are not able to return? We are currently staying with relatives in Canada but know that this is not a long-term solution.

How does God’s calling on my life to develop leaders intersect with the need of the refugees pouring out of Ukraine? I know so little about working with refugees. I am still struggling to understand what it means for me to be a refugee. How can I train others to work with them?

refugee
Photo by a colleague from the Ukraine-Poland border. February 26, 2022

I am a refugee: reflections of a missionary leaving Ukraine

I am a missionary who is also a war refugee. I came to that realization a couple of days ago. My wife and I are Canadian citizens but residents of Ukraine. Or at least we were until about a month ago. We have our Ukraine temporary residency cards, recently renewed. Our home for the past 12 and a half years has been in the city of Kyiv. This has been the longest we have lived in any country or in any home since we got married and left for the Philippines almost 35 years ago. Now we are “back” in Canada. Because of the current war in Ukraine, we do not know for how long.

In the past week, I have experienced many different and sometimes conflicting emotions. I am thankful to God that we were given sufficient warning and were able to leave Ukraine before the fighting began. But I am also shocked and deeply saddened by the devastation and death that the war in Ukraine has caused. I feel a great sense of loss as I think about the possibility that we may never return to our home, friends and ministry base in Ukraine. At the same time, I am proud of and admire the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Fervently and continually, I pray for peace in Ukraine – and wonder what this all means for us.

What is a refugee?

But am I really a refugee? After all, we were born and raised in Canada. This is where our parents, brothers and sisters, our daughter and son-in-law, and three of our grandchildren make their home.

Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.

UNHCR – What is a refugee?
fruitfulness
Photo by Howard Bouchevereau on Unsplash

Resilience and fruitfulness

In my first blog post on this topic of resilience, I said that understanding resilience is not primarily about minimizing attrition. Our goal is not simply to prevent missionaries prematurely returning to their sending countries. We want our colleagues and ourselves to thrive. Our desire is that they bear much fruit and grow and develop in their ministry gifts and skills. In this post, let’s explore the relationship of resilience to fruitfulness.

Rewards come at the end

This morning, I received another email encouraging me to watch a training webinar. It included a familiar incentive:

Additionally, as a ‘Thank You’ to our loyal KLS members, we will be giving away a $10 Starbucks gift card to a random attendee at the end of each of our February webinars. Make sure you stick around until the end of the webinar to be eligible to win!

Email from KnowledgeWave.com, February 15, 2022

To receive a reward, you have to stay to the end. This reminds me of similar promises in the letter to the Hebrews.

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