Do you feel a tension in your life [...]
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MANDY|GUEST “So, how long are you home for?” That’s a normal enough question, but it always gives me pause. Which home? How long has it been anyways? As a missionary back in the States, I often wonder what to make of this time of furlough or HMA (Home Mission Assignment). This year we have seen more missionaries “stuck” in America for longer than expected. I’m often asked other questions too, like how does the church minister to missionaries during this odd season— when we are in town for longer than the mission’s conference? There is certainly a need to articulate how we can “mutually encourage one another.” Let me, as one of these stuck-wondering workers, provide five ways the church can love stateside missionaries. 5 Ways the Church Can Love Stateside Missionaries Give them space. This may mean giving literal space to live in. Missionaries need a home! Different families have different spatial needs, as well as functional needs. Ask questions and work together to make a space a As a homemaker, a few house plants and pretty curtains really ministered to me in our Goodwill-like mission’s house. One church collected clothes to fill our closets with a winter wardrobe. And here’s something important: they did not send us the stuff no one wanted. When they realized slim fit sweaters were hard to come by (for my tall skinny husband), they didn’t give us grandpa’s size 44 suit and polyester pants. They gave a few gift cards instead. Coming alongside missionaries in homemaking (however that may look; however temporal it might be) can remind all of us of our true eternal home. We can find beauty in the basic needs. Invite them to the party. Remember missionaries are (mostly) normal people. We want to grill out, go for a hike, or help paint the guest room. We want to do everyday life with you. Stacey met me at a nearby nature center. Rachel brought her boys to celebrate my 11-year-old’s birthday. Tim ran with my husband each week. Stephanie encouraged me to wake before dawn for a neighborhood walk. When we are stateside, we also miss our “everyday” routine. One church connected me with a piano teacher and gymnastics class for my kids. Adding those activities back into our week helped us gain a bit of normalcy. Now I know investing in people who aren’t going to be here very long (and who travel so often) can have many hurdles. Doing everyday life with missionaries requires selfless intentionality. It’s difficult, but incredibly loving. Ask about money. This is the obvious one, right? Missionaries are usually very good at asking for funding, and we always seem to need it. It is lovely however, to be asked first. One friend simply emailed us, “We want to increase our giving. Tell me how to make that happen.” Some supporters want to give “an extra gift” and ask what would serve us best (give to the support account, tag it for a specific ministry, gift cards, or a personal check). Whatever your ability to give more, you can always pray for financial needs to be met. One long-time supporter had to stop her financial giving for a time. Her own finances had taken a hit, and she sadly had to cut some parts of her budget. She let us know (rather than simply dropping off) and then told me she was praying for a new supporter to give in her stead. What a reminder to me that God is working in very specific ways! Talking about money can be awkward, but we all need to work hard to be generous givers, receivers, and money-conversationalists. Let them work; let them rest. We do enjoy a break from the work on the field. HMA can be refreshing and a time to regroup, but it’s not a total vacation...
Long, long ago, in college classrooms far, far away there were no personal computers. In fact, there was simply one little basement room in the entire campus of my college that had two or three computer monitors and a computer system that ran paper cards. Really. This was the era in which I took my first computer programming class. (Truth be told, I despised that class. Attention to detail is not my strength, so every time I had an extra space or a mis-placed keystroke in the code I wrote, the program would not run. Then I would spend hours trying to find and fix my error. But I digress…) My biggest takeaway from BASIC programming was that computer programs run on a binary system of rapidly processed continuous choices between “1” and “0.” That’s it. (Remember that next time you spend $1000 on a laptop!) A Binary Culture Do you ever feel like our culture is operating inside of a computer? Have you noticed that so much that poses as discussion is couched in binary ways? If you spend any time on social media, or on cable news, or in political theater, you are likely to find yourself regularly bombarded with either-or propositions. This or that. Them or us. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Black or white. Is this really the nature of God’s universe? Do we live in a static computer program or in a dynamic universe held together by God’s power? Does God reveal himself through a set of binary propositions or does he reveal himself through his Word and his world? So much of what the Scripture teaches us is that life is lived in tension. There is not only conflict between good and evil—which I am not discounting—but also a literal tension between two right things. Christ was described by John as “full of grace and truth.” That is noteworthy because it requires so much godly tension. Grace AND truth. Fallen human beings are prone to one or the other. Jesus as the only perfect human being flawlessly exhibited both. While none of us can possibly perfectly emulate Christ, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be conformed more and more to his image. What I am asking each of us to reflect on is this: “Where am I presenting or embracing a binary stance where there is a biblical call to embrace the tension between two good things?”...
Missionaries often are asked: “How can I pray for you?” and most likely, we will answer: “Pray for our financial support, our witness, and our families.” These are good things to pray for, but there are some things we are ashamed of admitting and that don’t make the prayer request list. A missionary is not someone special, more gifted, or more holy than anyone else. In fact, many of us missionaries joke that God needed to take us to the mission field to teach us the hard lessons we could not to learn because of our own stubbornness and zealousness. Among missionary leaders, there is a saying that leading missionaries is like “herding cats” because of our independent streak. Missionaries can exude strength and courage, but as the years progress, I have noticed certain patterns of struggle that are unique to missionaries (and I’d venture to say much of this applies to those who are in full-time ministry, pastors, or church-planters). We need you pray for us in the following areas.
MELISSA OSTERLOO | GUEST Relationships are powerfully influential; we begin our lives completely reliant on the love and care given to us by our parents. Secure attachment— trust built over time through consistent encounters of dependent needs being fulfilled— informed us that we were seen, safe, and valuable. Children naturally feel at home in their parents’ arms, no matter what circumstances surround them. They grow and thrive, confident that their longings will not go unnoticed. We can learn a lot from children. In John 15:1-2, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his Father as the vinedresser. "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Over the past four years, I have been living through a tough season of pruning. My husband, Adam, and I moved to northern Alabama in March 2018 for what seemed to be a great opportunity. He had built a solid reputation in the commercial truck industry and was recruited to open a new sales territory that had great potential. However, within just 8 months, instead of reaping the rewards of hard-earned commissions, we found ourselves endorsing the back of a severance check. Just enough to get by for a couple of months, and mere weeks before Christmas. Our harvest had not been fruitful.
CB CAMPANO | GUEST “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” As I reflected recently on John 15, this simple yet profound chorus that I leaned on years ago flooded my mind. The recurring theme in John 15 is Jesus’ plea to his beloved disciples to abide in Him— that is, to stay vitally connected to Him so they may be assured of his love, experience his joy, and produce good fruit. I imagine like you, in days of clarity, there is nothing I desire more than to fully abide in Christ, to completely trust in my Savior’s unwavering love for me in all circumstances. But there are days, when I forget the mercy of God in my life and the how of abiding in Him eludes me. In John 15: 9- 11, Jesus reveals to his disciples a not-so-secret secret to abiding in Him, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” There, we have it. Keep the Lord’s commandments and we will be assured of his tenacious love for us. We will be happy in Jesus. Obedience is a Fruit, Not the Root How inconsiderate it would be for me to stop there! Inconsiderate for many reasons but especially because I would be trivializing the fierce battle we face this side of heaven. Though the call to obedience is not complicated, obeying God’s Word, as we know all too well, is terribly difficult. Our soul’s trifold enemies— the flesh, the world and Satan—war fiercely against this call to obedience. Putting sin to death is painstaking work for fallen creatures like us. This said, sisters, we must endeavor to pursue holiness of life for the glory of God and the good of our own souls. The Lord promises that obedience enables us to abide more deeply in his love and experience his joy more fully. I have, by God’s grace, experienced this to be true in my own life and have seen it to be true in the lives of many I have counseled.
STEPHANIE HUBACH | CONTRIBUTOR Elementary school seems to be the time period when we learn all about different forms of communication. Letter writing. Short stories. Poetry. My younger son Tim, who has Down syndrome, once graced me with a school Valentine poem/project that read something like this: Roses are blue, violets are red. Be careful this crocodile, doesn’t bite off your head. That’s the kind of poetry that only an 8-year-old boy can create. (Thank goodness Hallmark doesn’t hire 8-year-old boys to write their Valentine cards!) One poetic form that I remember learning, and that the Bible actually employs in the Psalms, is the acrostic. Miriam Webster defines an acrostic this way: “a composition usually in verse in which sets of letters (such as the initial or final letters of the lines) taken in order form a word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet.” Over the years, I’ve written many pieces on the image of God. For a change of pace this time, let’s try an acrostic. Acrostics can make it easy to remember things—so maybe this format will help all of us to remember, throughout the year, what it means to be created in the image of God. I.M.A.G.E.
STEPHANIE FORMENTI | GUEST There is something special and even powerful about old things made new again. Perhaps this is why millions of viewers regularly follow various home makeover shows on HGTV. It is mesmerizing to watch an old, broken, and dilapidated building transform into a shiny and beautiful new home. It is thrilling to celebrate the character of old wood, stone, and brick alongside new plumbing and electricity. The gospel of John is full of similar beauty. John consistently points his reader to consider how the coming of Jesus transforms old into new. From the opening words, “In the beginning,” John invites us to consider Jesus’ work and ministry as one of new creation. We see the same beauty and emphasis of old things being made new in the Upper Room Discourse when Jesus turns the conversation to love. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Any reader of Scripture would pause for a second. How is the command to love one another new? In fact, isn’t it as old as the law itself? After all, we find these words in Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Love for others has always been at the heart of God. It is woven throughout the law and the prophets and Jesus himself regularly summarized the law as love for God and others (Matthew 22:36-40). Loving others does not seem like a new thing. In fact, it seems rather old.