Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sojourn Academy Commencement Address, Class of 2015

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

We divide time into three clear categories-past, present, and future. And I think that there are three types of people here today, each relating with one of these: The Dreamer, the Reminiscent, and the Reactor.

I’ve been each of these. In much of high school I was the Dreamer. I lived in the future. Dreaming of the mountains I would climb, the day I could drive on my own, what it would be like to have a girlfriend, and what I was going to do with my life. I would memorize entire outdoor catalogs and knew the order of the gear I would one day buy for my hobby. I dreamed about what life on my own would finally look like. What life would be like in college, and figuring where I would live afterwards. I was homeschooled, but I would spend an embarrassingly long time dreaming. My mom could never understand how I could just sit and stare at the blank wall above my desk for so long. I’m pretty sure she conducted social experiments on how long I’d sit there before she said anything!
But the future is vastly uncertain. For example, what was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? For me it was an astronaut!  I wanted to fly through the stars and walk on the moon! How was I supposed to know that something as inconsequential (yet daunting) as math would stand in the way of all of my flight plans?

No one really knows what the future holds. In James chapter 4, James calls people who plan their future with utter certainty arrogant, because they don’t factor in the variable of almighty God. The rich man in Luke 12 stored up grain and had plans for the rest of his life. But that night, Jesus says, his soul was required of him. He is called a fool because he relied on wealth to keep him alive. But just like that man, we have no idea when our souls will be required of us. We might make it to a ripe old age of 97. Or we might not make it past this year. The future is so uncertain.  
But the uncertainty makes the future exciting! The future is an untainted canvas where anything can happen, and, aside from the laws of physics, your imagination is the limit! I get dreamers. I love to dream. I dream still today. But dreamers are rarely content with today, because it’s tomorrow that holds excitement, intrigue, danger, and the ever-present hope that “tomorrow is gonna be better”. The dreamer lives in the future, not in the present or the past.

Ironically when I got to college, I abandonded dreaming and became the Reminiscint. I had just  spent four years dreaming about being done with high school, and now all I could think of was how much I missed being back home. So I lived out my first year of college with my thoughts in a different hemisphere. I would dwell both in my achievements and in my regrets.
Funny things, regrets. And how I can regret spending so much time thinking of past regrets. Don’t drown yourself in your past regrets. The only thing that can be done was finished 2000 years ago by someone much more powerful than you or I.

I stayed in touch with old friends via skype and instant messenger—anyone remember what that was? We’re talking back when facebook was only for college students. I would skype my friends, or call those who had come back to the US. I would lie in bed hours into the night just remembering and wishing with my whole being that I could go back and do it all over again.

It’s tempting to live in the past because it’s safe. It’s comfortable. And, as time moves on, we naturally begin to forget some of the difficulties in life, and so if it’s not regrets you’re dwelling in it’s a long list of good things. Safe and familiar things. Often, the past feels more like home than the present ever can be. But then a year later, when we move on, we find ourselves quite ironically thinking back to where we just had been and how much we loved it. It’s as if we can only find familiarity and comfort in the rear view mirror, in spite of the fact that we had just finish living the reality of that reflections. And during reality, we were too focused on looking at the previous reality, and so it is a cruel game we play with ourselves! I so get Reminiscents. I’ve lost myself in a world of memories against the backdrop of photographs and 90s songs. I’ve scoured the facial expressions in those photos, recalling the temperature, the emotions, and the security of it all. If you live in the past, you’ll never find a home, a place you belong. If you spend all your time keeping up with old friends you’ll never make new ones. We hate saying ‘goodbye’s, and only like saying ‘see you later’s. But if some connections aren’t severed, new ones can never be made. You’re not responsible for keeping up with every friend you’ve ever had. And you’re not letting them down by saying goodbye.

When life gets busy, and we ignore the past and the future, we face the danger of becoming the Reactor. The Reactor is constantly only reacting to the present, reacting to life as its happening. Like playing dodgeball without seeing who threw the ball; we only see the ball when it’s about to hit us—barely in time to leap out of the way. And usually this reacting is filled with mundane routine. Go to school, go to work, write a report, do chores, pay bills, toil through the day and sleep at night. The same routine every week. The sun comes up, and goes down, up, down, up, down. The rains come, and the rains leave. Birthdays and holidays come and go. Discomfort, uncertainty, stress of the to-do list, pressure from work, family, school, until we escape into slumber, only to awaken to all this the next morning. That isn’t living. It’s simply reacting. And I say this to myself before I say it about anyone else: He or she who lives in the present with no regard for past and no direction towards the future is an aimless fool.

Past, present, and future. To live in the past or furture, and only react to the present is to cheat yourself.

I think people tend towards one pendulum or the other—dreamer or reminiscent, future or the past. But my challenge to you is to live today. Don’t react, live. 

Today is the only time to effect one or the other. Today is the only time we can make memories. If you don’t get out and live, you’ll wind up reminiscing about the day would you think back to the good old days! “I remember my life in Costa Rica, when all I would think about was how good life was in the US. When I was there, I had a great time remembering what life was like back in Ecuador. Ahhh the good old days!”

Today is also the only time you can work towards your dream in the future. If all you do is plan and dream and plan and dream, you’ll wake up one day and find that all that planning and dreaming got you no closer to achieving your dream than running on a treadmill gets you closer to the finish line of the marathon. You might have a great technique and endurance, but if you never get off the treamill, you'll never get anywhere.

The present is the only time that you can make decisions that direct the future.

Hear Me:
History has much to teach us. And Proverbs tells us that only the fool refuses to remember. Our past, our memories, shape who we have become. Hold your memories dearly, but don’t live in the past.
Dreaming into the future gives direction and purpose. It is where ideas, innovations, and progress originates. It is where passion and hope are found. Dream big and daring dreams. Don’t let the realists and the pessimists stomp them out. But don’t live in the future, don’t live in your dreams—live your dream.

But today is the only time to act. The decisions we make today count. And every decision you make is made once—time only moves forwards. We only get one shot at this life.

So learn from your past. Aim for the future. And seize today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

10 Ways To Encourage MKs In College

Do you know any MKs in college? I'm thinking especially of those whose parents are still serving abroad. They're in a fairly unique position--and so are you. Here are 10 ways to encourage and bless MKs in college, and by extension, their families also who continue to serve the Lord abroad:

1. Discipleship. Live near the college? How about inviting them out for coffee every now and then and just talking about life. Invite them into your home for dinner. Just the simple act of sharing moments of life and being a stable friend is a huge encouragement. Maybe you don't live near the college, but near where they spend the winter break: no problem. try and connect once a week for the three weeks they're off. The impact might be greater than you think!

2. Adopt an MK for Holidays. Holidays can be very uncomfortable for MKs. Often times, they have nowhere to go, especially for shorter holidays, like Thanksgiving. Everybody is asking where everyone is spending the summer/winter/holiday... it can be hard to have nowhere to go. Maybe you know the missionary family, or maybe your son or daughter are friends are classmates/roommates with an MK. Ask them to join you for a holiday. They might already have somewhere to go... or you might catch the huge sigh of relief in their eyes when you ask.

3. Give Them Responsibilities In Church. Most MKs are no strangers to ministry. But many feel uncomfortable about the idea of serving in their church, because they still feel so out of place. Approach them and invite, nay, challenge them to get involved in a specific area or two. Make sure to give them some responsibilities for continued growth. This could be anything from helping with the children/youth, to greeting people as they come in, to folding bulletins, to being a part of the missions committee.

4. Offer Them A Job. MKs usually haven't had the chance to work on the mission field. Either visas don't permit, they pay is not worth the time (I was offered a job at somewhere around .50 an hour in high school), or its not an option for other reasons. Offer them a job mowing lawns, gardening, doing house chores, or if you own a business offer them a job doing small things around the shop. I worked for an elder in my church when I got back to the US who offered me a job mowing lawns at his rental properties. The responsibility was really good for me, and the money helped me get on my feet before school started.

5. Invite them on a family vacation. This takes #2 to a new level. It was so encouraging to go on a family vacation with family friends my first summer in school. With my family all abroad, they just adopted me as their fourth kid for the week and we road-tripped to New England!

6. An alternative to the above is to give them some airline miles. They can either fly to friends or maybe even home for a holiday. I was able to visit a good high school friend due to a close family friend giving me some airline miles one summer. What an enormous blessing came out of this gesture.

7. Store their stuff. One of the awkward MK moments is when you arrive on campus with more stuff than anyone else. In the summer there's nowhere to put it. The truth is that I couldn't leave stuff at home, or at my grandparents. Granted, some of it needs to be purged, but for MKs this can be a process; stuff can be what ties them to 'home'. If you have an empty closet, or a corner in your unfinished basement consider asking an MK if they need a place to store anything.

8. Send a care package. It doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy. Maybe it's just a box of homemade chocolate cookies, or a book you enjoyed. Maybe it's just a hand-written letter of encouragement (anyone would benefit from that!). When their parents live abroad, they're not expecting anything in the mail. So anything that shows you thought about them is a big deal!

9. Help orient them to taxes. I was up for two nights my first tax season trying to fill out a 1040, then switching to a 1040EZ. Then I  panicked when my numbers said that needed to send in a thousand dollars!? No, more reading and googling got me the right numbers and I found out that the government actually owed me a hundred bucks. If you can help walk them through a 1040EZ (instead of just sending it to H&R block) it gives them a good intro into the world of taxes.

10. Listen to their stories. It important for any MK at any life stage in every geographical location. Ask, and listen. Then ask to see picture. They might get teary eyed looking at them. Their sense of home is lost (if it was ever there). That's OK. Just ask to see more.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

10 Ways To Encourage MKs On Furlough

I recently read a great article full of practical advice on The Gospel Coalition's website, entitled 20 Ways To Refresh The Hearts of Missionary Saints On Furlough. Included in the article are some very practical, doable, and meaningful tips. When I was growing up my family experienced some of these -- such as people loaning us a car, storing some of our earthly possessions, and even a dentist who was an old friend of my folks who gave us free dental care. Not only were we blessed, but we felt very supported and valued by these things.

Today we work with a lot of MKs (children of missionaries) who go on furlough (itineration, home ministry assignment, however you've heard it) with their parents, and others who have returned to the States without the intention of returning to the field. We actually have a a few MKs on furlough now- shout out to Emma, Meghan, and Katie! Before we moved to Costa Rica, we had a number of questions on how churches can support their missionaries and MKs. I thought I would complement Jason Carters' post with some practical ways of caring for MKs on Furlough.

1. Ask them about their 'home'. For most MKs, "Coming home to furlough" has no meaning--it's an oxymoron. Many of them spend the majority of their lives outside of the US (or passport country) and they left home when their parents came home. Asking "do you miss home yet?" is a breath of fresh air to an MK in the midst of all the well-meaning "welcome home!"s.

2. Ask them questions in order to hear their stories... and really listen. Be prepared to listen for a long time. We MKs generally know and acknowledge the importance of what it is our parent's are doing in ministry. We're used to people wanting to hear about the latest trip to the indigenous community, and we're used to sitting silently and listening to the same stories for the 39th time. When around peers who can't relate to our experiences, we find there is often no interest in listening to our stories. Often, MKs feel bottled up because there's no one who cares to relate to us.

3. Take them to do something fun. In his article Carter suggests friends watching the children of missionaries to enable them to have a date. This is a huge double win, because small acts of kindness towards MKs makes them feel really valued. When I was 11, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois took me--not my family, not my sisters and I, just me-- to one of the university's small rec centers. He bought me a slice of pizza and we played pool (for my first time) and then I went home. Total hang-out time: maybe an hour, hour and a half. Recall time: 15 years and counting. It made a huge impression on me, that someone cared enough to do this with me. I was a person, not just the student of missionaries his church supported.

3. Take extra measures to make them feel like they belong in your community. Call them up and invite them personally to a youth event, tell them you've missed in their absence, have things for them to do when they arrive to help them fit in and belong from the beginning. If lead a bible study, invite them to the study; if you coach a sports team, invite them to practice; if you have a hobby, ask them to join you. This often takes consistency and preparation, but it can have some big payoffs.

4. If you have kids around the age of the MKs, invite them to do things with your family. Sports activities, picnics, concerts, etc.

5. Keep in mind that a fair number of MKs don't know the rules to many sports. Without making them feel dumb about the fact they don't know them, offer to teach them the rules to a sport you enjoy. Help them learn what a batting average is and what it means, or invite them to your fantasy football league and offer to guide them through it.

6. Work on a project together. This could be a ministry you're already involved in (Steven, would you like to help me run sound for worship practice on Saturday?), changing the oil in your car, starting a scrapbook, work in the garden, etc.

7. Once you get to know the MK, ask them to teach you something. It could be a hands on instruction (cook something, make a craft), or a hypothetical instruction (if I were to get on public transportation in your country, how would I avoid getting robbed?) It doesn't have to be specific to a foreign culture or ministry, just to their story.

8. Find out something they miss from their home (the field) and visit an international supermarket or hunt it down to surprise them! You'd be surprised what you can find if you look hard enough--especially if you live near an international community.

9. Send them a note or a care package as they travel. Or hand something off to their parents to give to them at a later time to avoid postage and timing. Extra hint: American candy is often coveted! (skittles, m&ms, snickers, milky way bars, nerds, twizzlers, etc.)

10. Don't let the brevity of time deter you. Trust me, MKs are used to making friends on short notice. It's a second nature survival skill that comes with the territory. If an MK is only at your church for the weekend, see how much time you can devote to spending with them and do it! But don't be discouraged if they've had their fill of saying goodbyes and aren't interested. It's not you they're rejecting, it's the pain of saying goodbye to friends over and over again that they're having to work through.

Next up: 10 ways to encourage MKs who have returned from the field (for good).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Today we celebrated our first year in Costa Rica. While we're getting use to things taking longer than expected (the biggest adaptation thus far), there are some things that still baffle us. For example...

I went to pick up a package today at the post office. Home delivery rarely happens and is challenging when your address literally translates to this: "San Francisco de Dos Rios, From the pharmacy La Pacifica, 400m east, 10m south. The garage is grey". That's great except the pharmacy is now a bread store and has been for 8 months. Somehow telling a taxi driver this always gets me home.

Anyways, this is the process for getting our package once at the post office:

  • sign with passport at the guard shack with written proof of receiving a package
  • receive a lanyard badge
  • go to the back of the post office
  • go to counter 1
    • give letter telling you have a package
    • show passport
    • receive a stamp on letter with your signature and passport number
  • go to counter 2
    • show stamped letter
    • acknowledge what is in the package
    • again, stamp, passport number, and signature
    • (the person has retrieved your package, but you cannot touch it)
  • go to counter 3
    • give stamped letter
    • pay a handling fee and/or customs (it was about $3)
    • receive a receipt that is stamped
  • go to counter 4
    • show receipt
    • wait to retrieve your package (it got moved from counter 2 to 4)
    • show receipt again to receive package
  • check in again at guard shack to confirm that it is your package
  • return badge
Some days you really question your effectiveness with how little you can accomplish each day. Then you realize it's just life here. Pura Vida!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Different Beliefs, One Bible

One Bible question I often get is, how can so many Christians who have the Spirit living inside of them read the Bible and come up with differing doctrines? If you ask this question, maybe this will help:

"Some would challenge the call to humility in reading the Scripture by arguing that the Spirit shows us what the text means. He is our teacher. But when two "Spirit-instructed interpreters" argue for mutually exclusive positions, a problem arises. Who brings the correct message taught by the Spirit and how do we decide? We would argue that this question emphasizes the Spirit's teaching work at the wrong place, by stressing understanding of content. John 14-16 describes the work of the [Spirit] as a ministry of convicting the world and instructing the saints through encouragement. In other words, the Spirit works in our hearts to convict us of the truth of what we read in Scripture and to encourage us with regard to how we apply what is said. There is a difference between understanding what the Gospel says, and accepting it. Those who crucified Jesus understood His claims, but they rejected Him as not being from God. Our contention would be that the Spirit is primarily concerned with our responsiveness." 
Craig A Blaising and Darrel L Bock.