Four REAL Challenges for Single Women in Missions

Enjoy my conversation starter recently published on the Upstream Collective.

https://www.theupstreamcollective.org/blog/four-challenges-single-women-mission-field

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Are You a Returned Global Worker? The Struggle to Re-engage is Real

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread. Through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight. Then world behind and home ahead, we’ll wander back to home and bed…” – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Staring at the choices on the grocery store shelf is socially acceptable for a minute or two, but when it becomes paralyzing – it becomes super awkward. I know it may seem odd to be stumped by choice, but when you’ve just returned from a country where choice was limited, abundance can be overwhelming. It’s only one of the signs of reverse culture shock global workers experience when they re-enter life in the United States. I’ve come to learn that my own adjustments are shared by many who live through the returned life.

My husband and I returned to the United States in the midst of the vitriolic 2016 presidential election. Six years away had increased my appreciation for being a U.S. citizen and the freedoms we enjoy. Our first overseas assignment in the Middle East had been in a country where “Sharia Compliant” signs were displayed by local businesses. So the heated rhetoric and in-your-face division during the election left me disheartened.

The new found freedom of driving my own car was tempered by having to re-learn to navigate Houston traffic. The ribbon of red tail lights that stretched out in front of me on the Houston freeways would make my heart sink and my anxiety rise (it still does).

Even worship was a challenge. My beloved home church worship services contrasted sharply with the simple church without walls we left behind in our last assignment. What would my Papua New Guinean friends think about worship on such a grand scale?

Returning after six years away turned out to be very different than what I had envisioned. My deep desire was to readjust to American life. But on many days my return left me feeling anxious, isolated and alone.

Living and serving overseas is an intense, transformative experience. Interaction with other cultures expands your worldview and facilitates spiritual growth as you become part of God’s work in far-away places.

Returning to your home country is just as intense, in a different kind of way. It’s almost like time travel in a sci-fi movie. You leave one reality and return, feeling like an alien, to a changed world. You can love it and loathe it at the same time. The loathing part sounds particularly ungrateful, but the love/hate relationship is a paradox I’ve also learned is common among returned workers. We need a safe place to manage our re-entry in a healthy way.

In our previous assignment in Papua New Guinea, the missionary community had been that safe place for us. We arrived in country, not as missionaries, but as expatriate global workers. It didn’t matter to them. They welcomed us into their lives and provided us with the precious gift of fellowship as aliens in a foreign land. They taught me much about missionary life their struggle with isolation, fear, and separation from family, their love for their adopted country and its people, the assurance of their calling and the desire for all to know Christ. Most of all, I came to understand the tension of wanting to go home yet wanting to stay. Having a safe community to voice the trials and triumphs of living overseas was invaluable. Together we shared the unique challenges of serving the Lord as global nomads.

The community we left behind gave my husband and I the template for life and ministry upon our return to Houston, Texas. We set out to re-create a safe place for returned global workers in our city – one of the most culturally diverse in the world. Through Houston’s First Baptist Missions Department, we became involved with the Missionary Care Ministry and their network of supported workers serving internationally. We started a home group that has become a gathering place for wandering nomads who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel with every nation, tribe and tongue. Today we still gather to worship, study and encourage one another in the work around the world that God has called us to do.

Global worker, where is your safe place? I encourage you to find a supportive community that understands your experience. Whether you are coming or going, the people you surround yourself with can help you adjust in a healthy way as you continue with the mission He has given you.

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”- Hebrews 10:24–25

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the Pastor’s Research Team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.

 

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Where Do Returned Global Workers Find Community?

Missionary Care: Providing a Place for Returned Missionaries to Gather

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12th Cave found at Qumran

Privileged to be a part of this project.

Daniel B. Wallace

My old friend and classmate at Dallas Seminary, Randall Price, was on the expedition that found the first Dead Sea Scrolls cave in over 60 years. Although no manuscripts were discovered, such were apparently there at one time. Thanks, Randy, for your part in this discovery and your continuing labors in archeology! See the article here:

Two other friends, Jeremiah Johnston and Craig A. Evans, sent me a link to a news post they did on this discovery. Here’s the link.

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Rightly Dividing Our Love for Country and Love for the World. Great Read from John Piper: Should Christians Be Patriotic

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-christians-be-patriotic

Living among other cultures intensified my love for my own country. But it also clarified the difference between the love I feel for my homeland and the love I have for my brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world. John Piper’s article adds some valuable perspective for this July 4th weekend.

IMG_2491IMG_1912

 

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Great Read on Diversity from Dr. Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary

http://www.dts.edu/read/the-lord-loves-diversity-bailey-mark-l/

boroko farewell

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Total Openness: The Wrong Solution (Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, by Larry Crabb)

Is sharing more than self-centered expression?

Not long ago, my husband and I were traveling in Australia. When Sunday came around, we found a place to worship. The pastor, a guest speaker for the day, was a gifted communicator. He was funny, passionate, knowledgeable…and very open. But his type of openness made me squirm. His illustrations were uncomfortably revealing and sometimes very unflattering reflections about his family, members of his congregation and other influential people who revolved around his sphere of influence. His rhetoric was a strange mix of personal confession and mean sarcasm about his own spiritual immaturity and those he considered less spiritually mature. There was no hint of humility (except for the false kind) and his message was interspersed with a lot of coarse joking. I kept thinking how mortified and hurt I would be if I were the object of a story being told by this pastor to a room full of people. I left feeling discouraged, unsettled, and even a little angry.

We westerners value freedom of expression. That desire to divulge is also evident in church culture. I think that’s what I experienced with this church (along with a heavy emphasis on entertainment). Usually openness is couched with good intentions in order to promote community, authenticity and transparency. I find it especially prevalent in millennials and it’s something I admire. I think it’s evidence of their distaste for hypocrisy. But when does openness become a bad thing?

“When we gather together, we are to experience the reality of our common heritage. But we have cheapened the idea of sharing to the point where sharing now means to exhibit ourselves rather than to demonstrate Christ to one another.” (Encouragement, p. 47)

My worship experience this particular day highlighted some important principles from Encouragement regarding transparency within the body of Christ.

  • Sharing for sharing sake, or to gain the attention and acceptance of others doesn’t always promote spiritual growth. Emotional honesty should take place within the framework of commitment to God and to other’s welfare. This is true koinonia (p. 45).

“Biblical and theological foundations are of little value unless real people in real places come to know and love Jesus in his relationship with “Abba” God as the Way of Life, and that is “life together.” [i]

Openness, authenticity and transparency are all great attributes, but they are better when tempered with sacrifice, self-discipline and obedience. (p. 48)

  • If all we focus on is expression without restraint, our relationships will run shallow, missing the shared spiritual growth that God intends for us. Our relationships require real commitment to enter into the hard areas of life with one another. (p. 48)

“We much catch the idea that time spent with one another can somehow enrich our relationship with Christ, in much the same way that two mature children feel closer to their parents after discussing with each other how much their parents mean to them. Relationships with one another can be enjoyable and fulfilling and they should be. But the basis of our fellowship is our shared life in Christ.” (p. 49)

How can I experience a Christ-centered level of fellowship with all my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Never speak hard words to someone or about someone unless your love for that person has formed a vision for who they are to be in Christ. Ask yourself, “Are my feelings for this person generated from love and a pure heart?” “Am I motivated by a desire for them to change for my sake – or for their sake?”
  • Don’t confuse vulnerability and authenticity. Think of them this way:

Define vulnerability as making something known to another with a spirit of entitlement that obligates the other to respond well to your concerns. In other words – Is it all about me?

Define authenticity as making something known to another that reveals where you are on your journey toward Christ-likeness and invites (neither expects nor demands) another to walk together with you toward a mutual goal of maturity.

With those definitions in mind, pursue authenticity, not vulnerability, in what you choose to share. (p. 51)

I don’t really know what motivated this person to be so mean, but it occurred to me that maybe he was preaching from a layer meant to protect him from rejection. I think his efforts to be entertaining were an attempt to be accepted, something we all crave. Sadly, his biting humor and sarcastic jokes came at the expense of his loved ones and those he’s called to shepherd in their Christian walk. The result was that he was the center of attention, not Christ. And that’s the crux isn’t it?

I realized that we all have that weakness, in one way or another. He was no different than you or me. We can be motivated to do and say some crazy things when Christ-likeness takes a back seat to worldly approval. It helps me to remember that the only one I really need to fully express myself to is God Almighty. Expression solely for acceptance is wrongly motivated. (p. 52)

Is Christ-likeness really at the center of my sharing or am I seeking attention, pity or just a place to vent frustration?

We don’t need to be funny, we don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, or the hippest. We don’t need to be an attention-seeking open book. We do need to be aware that we are self-centered creatures living in a fallen body in a fallen world. It colors everything we do and say. But we have the Spirit of the living God who gives us the ability to truly love…to honestly evaluate what others need to hear from us as we seek to build one another up with mutual affection.

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, HCSB)

[i] Icenogle, G. W. (1993). Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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Surface Community: The Obstacle to Encouragement

Our core emotion

Our core emotion

This week I continue my interaction with Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, by Larry Crabb.

Before my move to Port Moresby, I gleaned as much information as I could about Papua New Guinea, most of it through the expat grapevine. Even so, nothing really prepared me for my first days in country. I can only describe it as sensory over load. A very experienced expat friend once told me to take special care with my first impressions of any new environment. Those first sights, sounds and smells are irreplaceable. I remember multiple shades of brown skin, the very distinctive and different facial features of the PNG citizens. I loved the expressive timbre of their shared language, Tok Pisin. I was in awe of the incredible beauty of this land.

Our Core Emotion 

But I have to confess; my core emotion was fear. I feared for my physical safety because much of what I’d heard about PNG was filled with warnings about being accosted, carjacked…and just being a woman. I also experienced a fair amount of emotional fear. I was fully aware that I was a stranger in a foreign land, amongst the PNG citizens and the expat community. I felt isolated, alone and scared.

I realized a bit of what it must have felt like when Abram passed through Canaan to Shechem and realized he was looking at a land filled with Canaanites (Genesis 12:5-6). At this point in his journey I wonder if Abram questioned God’s command for him to leave his home, and His promise to make from him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-2). Even with his entourage and all his possessions, I think he must have been terrified. Why? Because fear was his and is our core emotion.

“Before he sinned, Adam enjoyed unbroken communion with God. There were no walls, no distance, no tension. But sin immediately brought terrible consequences. Among them was the presence of a new emotion: fear” (Encouragement, p. 31).

 Our Core Motivation

Fear has dogged us since the fall of humankind. It underlies the stresses of life we face everyday as we struggle with the knowledge that we are, in our fallen condition, unacceptable. Christ’s sacrifice has changed all that of course, but we still think like the “old man”. We have trouble believing that we really are a new creation. We are motivated by a need to be accepted in this world. I think it affects everything we think, do and say.

“From childhood on, as soon as we can translate our feelings into ideas, we approach life with fear of exposure and fear of the rejection we predict will follow” (P. 36).

Our Core Strategy

Our response to our fear of rejection is to hide behind layers of self-protection. These layers manifest themselves as humor, talkativeness, shyness, arrogance, sarcasm, or my favorite, the “know it all” that Dr. Crabb describes on page 30.

“Behind me sat a man who, judging by the loud conversation I had no choice but to hear, is an authority on everything. For an hour his topics ranged from the best price on floor tiles to finding good help in the restaurant business to the quality of nursing care in Florida’s hospitals – and the man had yet to admit ignorance or even a hint of uncertainty about anything” (p. 30).

We’ve all encountered someone like that, right?

The consequence of our layered personalities is that people don’t really get to know us. This is a tragedy, especially within the body of Christ. How can we genuinely encourage one another from layer to layer? We are basically protecting ourselves from each other! Many times we find ourselves relating in a surface community rather than in an honest, authentic, biblical community where we can genuinely minister to one another. Real encouragement cannot take place in a surface community (pg. 42).

We have a God who knows all our fears and all our layers. When Abram faced the land filled with Canaanites, he needed encouragement. God came and encouraged him.

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your offspring.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7, HCSB)

Whatever fears your layers hide may feel just as ominous as facing a land filled with Canaanites. It is truly a hard thing to reveal our vulnerabilities to other people. But to do so is to reveal yourself to another in a way that opens the door for real biblical community. Might we get a veiled glimpse of our future, eternal community?

Can you let God give you the courage to peel off your layers?

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:7, HCSB)

Next time – Total openness: The Wrong Solution

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The Well Timed Word ~ Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, by Larry Crabb

I bet no one ever told her to give up

Allison Felix – I bet no one ever told her to give up

“The words of the wicked are a deadly ambush, but the speech of the upright rescues them.” (Proverbs 12:6, HCSB)

I watched the movie, The Judge on one of my flights back to Port Moresby recently. Robert Downy Jr. plays a successful attorney (Hank Palmer) who goes back to his hometown to defend his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall, nominated for an Oscar in this role), against a murder charge. The relationship between the two is strained, because of a tragic incident that occurred when Hank and his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) were teenagers. Hank has spent his entire adult life trying, and failing to meet his father’s expectations. Nothing he says or does is ever enough. There is one scene that really sums up the tension in their father/son relationship.

Hank: “You know, I didn’t just graduate from law school, I graduated first I my class…I was first in my class…I did really well, dad.”

Judge Palmer: “You’re welcome.”[1]

Encouragement – the careful selection of words that are intended to influence another person meaningfully towards increased godliness (Crabb, 20). I don’t think Judge Palmer’s response qualifies, do you? His sarcastic and cutting retort speaks words of death to a wounded and alienated son.

Scripture is replete with warnings about the power of the tongue. Our words are irretrievable and often evidence of exactly what is in our hearts. As Larry Crabb says,

“They can do great damage, but they also have the ability to do great good. That is why verbal encouragement is so valuable” (Crabb, 20).

Watching The Judge made me think about my own parenting years. I wasn’t like Judge Palmer but I still wish I’d had the benefit of the wisdom in this book during those years. I spoke my fair share of what I thought were encouraging words, but as Mrs. Norbury says in the movie Mean Girls,

“It’s because I’m a pusher… and now I’m going to push you.”

Crabb’s track illustration is all to familiar. It made me smile and reminisce.

 “I have never yet heard a father call out to his son during that final stretch, “You look tired! Why don’t you quit? You’re in the back third of the field anyway. Maybe  running isn’t your sport” (Crabb, 21).

Having spent many a Saturday at track meets with all three of my children, I can assure you no track parent ever talks like that! I can only hope that even though I was a pusher, maybe I redeemed myself by all the encouraging words I screamed as my children approached the finished line. I wanted my children to do well, and my words were definitely sincere, but my motives were sometimes questionable. They certainly weren’t always for godly encouragement. Thankfully, my children still love me. I’ve learned a lot since then, especially about the power of the right kind of well-timed word. The kind of word prompted by the Spirit of God. Crabb says,

“A well-timed word has the power to urge a runner to finish the race, to rekindle hope when despair has set in, to spark a bit of warmth in an otherwise cold life, to trigger health-ful self-evaluation in people who don’t think much about their shortcomings, to renew confidence when problems have the upper hand” (Crabb, 27).

When was the last time you spoke a well-timed, Spirit led word of encouragement to someone? Your words have the power to lift burdens, lower anxiety and instill hope. I truly treasure those times when someone has done that for me. It motivates me to do the same for others.

Lord, I pray for the mindfulness to speak sincerely with positive impact, whenever You give me the opportunity.

http://www.houstonsfirst.org/media/

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1872194/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3

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The Power of Encouragement

I’ve started a new book by Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender called Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up. The principles within have really hit the mark in many areas of my life and so I’d like to share what I’m learning with you. It’s a great book for any Christian and I’m pleased to find it is especially adaptable for those of us living life abroad. Whether we’re in an expat community or serving in the mission field, we are without our home church community. But our need for encouragement remains strong. In fact, it’s probably greater. The three pivotal truths the authors list in chapter one are a clear reminder of why this is true:

  1. People are hurting more deeply than we know (and more than they themselves sometimes know, like the person who is not yet aware that cancer has formed in his body).
  2. Relationship with Christ provides resources unique and indispensable to substantially heal now and perfectly heal forever.
  3. Only an encouraged community will be able to sustain missional involvement.

All of us feel the need for just a word of encouragement from time to time. It’s amazing what a well-timed word will do for the soul. I often pray for it for myself…and for others close to me. But, I’ve found that as much as I need encouragement, it’s not very natural for me to give encouragement as freely as I should. Encouragement is a deliberate act that requires selflessness and should be motivated by a genuine desire for the welfare of others. And the case is made in this book that ultimately, encouragement should motivate others towards strengthening their relationship with Christ.

“As Christians, regardless of our gifts or training, we are called upon to encourage our brothers and sisters. Whatever direction our particular congregation is moving, church life will include spending time in the presence of other Christians. And when we meet together as God’s people, we are to encourage one another, to say and do things that stimulate others to a deeper appreciation of Christ and to stronger commitment to our relationship with him and with each other.” (pg. 15)

I’ve never found this truer than during the last 5 years, since I left my home church in the U.S. My fellowship with other Christians has been essential to my well-being and I hope I am a source of encouragement for my friends as well.

This week I received a note from a dear friend who recently repatriated to the U.S. from Papua New Guinea. When she was living in PNG, we were part of a women’s bible study together. For her, it was the first time she had done a bible study with other women. Her desire to continue in the states led her to find a new group. She wrote to tell me that her new leader was a former fellow expat and friend of mine. I was so encouraged! It is amazing to see God’s hand in lovingly placing my friend in a new place for her own encouragement, through our connections within the community of believers.

The author of Hebrews expresses what is near and dear to my heart,

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, HCSB)

I look forward to sharing more insights from this book as I read forward and I would very much like to know – What encourages you?

Love,

Shirley

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