Five non-missiony books to help you live and minister across cultures

by Jonathan

These aren’t mission-y books. They’re not even about cross-cultural life or transition. Nevertheless, these books have been fundamental to my life (and sanity) abroad. In no particular order…

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, by Timothy Keller
Because if you didn’t have a good grasp on these concepts before moving, you’ll need to get one pretty quick after moving. I very much appreciate Keller’s deeply theological and yet tender writing in this book. Those two things do not often coexist, unfortunately.

Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller
This one makes the list because the basic story is known but the deeper message is typically missed. This book and the truths in it have the power to reshape our understanding of God’s character and of his view of us. In the world of cross-cultural ministry, God’s character and how he views us are pretty big deals. I recommend this one all.the.time.

The Psalms
I had to not-so-subtly sneak this in. Of course, this one is not co-equal to the others, but it’s often overlooked. I’ve written here and here about the importance of the Psalms in the lives of missionaries and cross-cultural workers.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero
There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor at a suburban, wealthy, primarily white church. But this guy isn’t one. So, although he writes from an American context, he also writes from a cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, church-centered context. I also love how he assumes that the majority of people are going to be truly transformed and discipled, not through professional counselling, but through consistent and loving relationships.

A Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder, by Kevin Belmonte
Life is serious, the world is a mess, and we need the aged brilliance of Chesterton. His humor, his levity in the face of a world that was no-less troubled, his talk of fairies and mysteries and paradox, it’s all for our time. Get to know the author who pretty much gave the world C.S. Lewis. You’re welcome.

Welp, that’s it. Have a great day! Oh, and if you have a book that you’d add to this list, link to it in the comments section below. Thanks for dropping by!

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*Contains Amazon affiliate links

Children’s caskets are the worst

by Jonathan

A tiny casket.

White lace.

Autumn sun.

Tearful community.

Perhaps more than any of my other siblings, Laura Beth’s short life and early death changed mine.

The death of a little one changes things. It always changes things.

It’s a giant slap in the face, wakening those near that things are not as they should be.

 

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When I slow down long enough, I begin to feel the undercurrent of real sadness. It’s there. It’s always there.

Sweet Laura Beth. I love you.

I miss you.

Yes, there is joy, there is laughter, and there is hope. There is also a deep — almost foundational — sadness.

Unanswered questions. Gaps. Unfulfilled longings. Dissipated relationships.

And sometimes the Psalm just ends.

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Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.

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A Missionary’s Call to the Psalms and a Deeper Emotional Intelligence

by Jonathan

I personally think we missionaries are a smart bunch. Our textbook education is typically high. We’ve been to college, perhaps seminary, and we know some stuff. We’ve figured out how to use our cognition for the King, our intellect for the Incarnated. But while western education is first and foremost intellectual (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), life is lived and people are loved on the street level, not the lecture hall.

The classic quip about people caring how much you know only after they know how much you care is classic for a reason: it’s true. When we approach a hurting, lost world with brains first, we risk showing a skewed image of Christ. We need our hearts too.

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Sometimes I Wonder Where We Put Our Hearts
Hearts can seem to get in the way of missiology, and emotions are inefficient. Emotionally detached workaholics may be great at “getting the job done.” They might not make wonderful spouses or parents, but disconnected, task-oriented, stoic workers can be low-maintenance, efficient missionaries.

Conversely, we must remember that emotions are Christ-like. A missions force with low emotional intelligence is bad for missions, not to mention families, teams, and planted churches. When the DNA of new believers and new churches excludes the sometimes messy reality of the heart, it’s not healthy DNA. Furthermore, a disconnected, task-oriented, stoic missions force isn’t much like Jesus.

Have you ever met a man or woman who seems bottled up emotionally, but the minute they start talking about the lost or missions, they start crying? I’ve met many folks like this, and I’m always baffled. When it comes to their families or other interpersonal relationships, they seem distant and cold, but the minute you mention unreached peoples, cue the waterworks. Something is not right about this picture.

It’s awesome they care about the lost, but how is it that all of their emotional capital got put there? Religion should not be the only place in their life where they really feel emotion.

Building Emotional Intelligence
So, how do we add some heart back in? How do we build emotional intelligence in ourselves and our teams? I believe both the Psalms and the life of Jesus can help us find our hearts. John Calvin in describing the Psalms said this: “What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury, it were difficult to describe…for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”

To grow in emotional intelligence and awareness, we must practice. Read a Psalm and the Gospels and try to identify as many emotions as you can. Both involve people, and people feel. Ask yourself, “How do the hands of Jesus reveal the heart of the Father?” If Paul helps us to know the mind of Christ (a good thing), the Psalms show us Christ’s heart. It is the Psalms that Jesus turned to and quoted more often than any other book in the Hebrew Scriptures.

But even more telling, the context in which Jesus referenced the Psalms was almost always when he was in a difficult situation.  Jesus was hated without cause, which the Psalms foretold (Ps. 35:1969:4John 15:25). He quoted Psalm 22 while dying on the cross (Ps. 22:1Matt. 27:46Mark 15:34) and when talking about his betrayal (Ps. 41:9John 13:18). These are just a few of many examples. In stressful situations, when he was under duress or attack, Jesus referred to the Psalms. Maybe that’s when we need to remember the Psalms too.

In our own lives, and in the lives of the people we live among, “bad stuff” is common. Corruption, danger, and loss are the daily realities. And so we need the Psalms. As we watch global instability and fear spread, we need workers with hearts that understand grief and loss. We need workers who know Christ as Healer. We need workers who bring their full hearts to the mission field. Not just their work ethic or their seminarian-intellect, but also their vulnerable, wounded, and healing hearts.

If we connected heart and mind, we’d get kinder, gentler, more sensitive cross-cultural workers. And kinder, gentler, more sensitive disciples.

Making Room for Warrior Poets
The foreign field appeals to warriors, and we amplify this fighting spirit with our dramatic quotes and motivational epigrams. But the unreached peoples of the world also need poets and artists, those who see and speak in different tones, with different cadence and quality.

Too often we think of the “soft” qualities as counterproductive in church-planting work, especially among the least-reached. We recruit hard people for hard fields, and we can’t even imagine the artist or highly emotive worker surviving, let alone thriving. We need warriors, go-getters.

But this approach is wrong, and for the sake of the gospel, we must change it. Tenderness, creativity, gentleness, and whimsy are not soft, esoteric qualities. These are qualities flowing straight from the heart of Christ.

Yes, we should study the mind of Christ, but there is so much more. Christ’s death was not by guillotine, disconnecting head and body. His head was bloodied, his heart was pierced, and all of him was raised.

Let’s make sure that all of him is preached. Let’s make sure that all of him is shown:

  • Jesus the advocate and disrupter, the wild one who defied Rome from underneath.
  • The brilliant intellect who befuddled the learned men.

Let’s make sure we preach his heart too:

  • A heart that felt the sting of death and the tip of the spear.
  • A heart that felt abandonment and despair and cared about a widow’s son.
  • A heart that laughed and wept and wrote in the dirt.

Let’s remember a Christ who loved the Psalms, and let’s imitate him. Let’s connect with the heart of God, and let’s show the world a richer, fuller, more complete image of Christ.

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Suggested Resources
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement
The simple tool I use with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients

 

Originally published at www.imb.org. Used with permission.

Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

When Missionaries Starve — A message on the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God

When Missionaries Starve — A message on the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God. Recorded at ICA, Phnom Penh Cambodia, July 2017.

Click the link above to listen to the mp3, or check out the trotters41 podcast here.

I also wrote about this topic over at A Life Overseas.

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When Missionaries Starve {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

It’s something that’s caused the rise and fall of kingdoms. It’s confused the most erudite of the educated and been understood by the most childlike of children.

It’s been cherished and treasured by some, burned and ridiculed by others, and it’s absolutely necessary to your emotional health while living and serving abroad.

It is the Word of God.

The more pastoral counseling I do with cross-cultural workers and missionaries – and the more I get to know myself – the more I believe in the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God.

Many of us study the Bible as part of our jobs. We read it, parse it, argue about it, and teach it. But sometimes, in the middle of all of that, we forget to eat it.

We end up trying to feed ourselves with yesterday’s manna, and we starve.

We need to return to the slow chewing of the Word. For our own sustenance.

We need so much more than yesterday’s manna, so much more than the gorging of conferences or the regurgitations of famous teachers.

We need time with God and his Word. Today.

Each bite will not be Instagrammable. Each bite will not be magnificent and earth-shattering and memorable, and that’s as it should be, because sometimes you just need the calories.

Regular, non-crisis reading of the Word may seem to make zero difference in your life today or even tomorrow. But I promise you, in a year or ten or fifty, the consistent ingesting of the Word will make all the difference.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas

17 years of marriage, and this is all we’ve got

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Welp. That was a fast 17 years!

In the last several years, both of us have written various pieces on marriage, relationships, and sex, and we wanted to take the opportunity here, at the inauspicious 17-year point, to share them with you. Our hope and prayer is that you would find marriage to be the great signpost to Christ that it really is. (We hope you find it really fun, too.)

all for ONE,
Jonathan & Elizabeth

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Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy 

What I want to teach my daughters about married sex

When Ministry and Marriage Collide

A Marriage Blessing

Love Interruptus

3 Ways to Care for Heart of Your Wife

Intensity and Intentionality (a note about motherhood and marriage on the field)

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

Paul, the Misogynist?

Weaker But Equal: How I Finally Made Peace With Peter

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Top photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash. Used with permission.