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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Vietnamese Takeout

Despite the fact that people are always telling me that history is important, I've never really been a history buff. In fact, I learned nearly everything I know about history by watching Hollywood movies. I didn't even know about the Apollo 13 thing until, well, Apollo 13. Forest Gump taught me about three Presidents, Elvis Presley, and the Black Panthers. Saving Private Ryan exposed me to the horrors of World War II... okay, so maybe Tom Hanks taught me all the history I know.

Anyway, I read something the other day about how a large percentage of the homeless population in the U.S. are veterans of the war in Vietnam. Many of them came home after the war and were never able to integrate back in to American life and culture; at least not enough to hold down a job and support a family. I guess it would really change a person to be recruited by his country (or worse still, drafted) into the military, trained to kill people and blow things up, and sent off to fight Asian Communists. I can't imagine how war must affect a person. But I don't think that war is the only reason we can still find veterans walking down the middle of the street talking to themselves in obscenities at three o'clock in the morning. I think it's America's fault.

I think that Americans weren't really all that into the fight against communism in the first place, and when President Johnson sent all those boys to Vietnam, the country was indifferent. While they were gone, Americans decided they were against this unwinnable war, and began to resent it. They protested against it. And when the boys came back they weren't welcomed with the ticker-tape parades like the heroes of WWII. No, they were showered with shouts of "Baby Killer!" and other mean things. No wonder the soldiers didn't fit in when they got back. They did exactly what they were trained and sent to do, and when they got home, we blamed them.

Sometimes it seems like that same sort of thing happens to missionaries.

Now I would never even consider comparing the experience of a soldier fighting in a physical war to what we go through on the field. Especially not those of us in Western Europe. The comparison I'm making is not to the effects of the battle, but to the necessity of support from those who sent us, and the profound effects of anything less than total support.

My recruitment to work for the IMB began when I was four years old. It was a denominational program called "Mission Friends," and we were taught about brave IMB missionaries who left their homes and went to live among the primitive tribes of Guatemala or wherever. My missions education continued throughout my life: Royal Ambassadors, Sojourners, Centrifuge. They told me what missions was, and how it was done.

So I "enlisted." I felt God's calling and made the decision to enter "full-time ministry," whatever that meant. I went to a Baptist University for training, and then on to Seminary. Both trained me well in the ways of church planting, Bible scholarship, and cross-cultural communication. The IMB put me through a crash-course orientation, and I was off to the "Foreign Field."

We hit the ground running. We sought out Persons of Peace and worked to learn the language and engage the culture. We started groups and shared our faith. And it affected us. We worked to live out our faith in this foreign context, and it changed us. Doing what we were sent to do had the side effect of allowing us to see ourselves from another perspective. We found it harder and harder to relate to the fat, lazy American Christians and their fat, lazy American Christianity; so full of themselves and their politics and their megabuildings. We began to resent being sent by religious people that wanted us to set up American franchise churches and who threw money at us to "just do our jobs." We grew frustrated with the increasingly restrictive rules that they imposed without any regard for the impact those rules might have on our ministries. We are becoming jaded.

It wasn't until the first time I returned to the States on vacation that I realized that the churches, those same people that cheered us on and prayed over us at our appointment, had changed, too. New missions trends, theories, and ideas had swept through the Christian subculture, and the focus had moved on to different unreached people groups. Missions-minded churches were still sending volunteers, but they craved something more "extreme." Some churches focused only on local "missions," buying into the idea that overseas ministry is only for rich megachurches. The majority seems to think that by getting involved in IMB politics and trustee antics they are somehow supporting us and furthering the kingdom work. The churches sent us, and then for whatever reason, forgot us.

Now missionaries compete with other missionaries for support. We talk up our flashy new programs to try to get volunteers to come to us and not to Central Asia. We tell stories of how hard it is here to legitimize our work, to prove to you that we, too, are doing real missions. We print up professional-quality prayer cards to attract your attention to our photo on your refrigerator.


Anonymous said...

to the blogger,

My husband happened on your blog recently and we have been fascinated by your entries. We are called to the missions field, and are in preperation to join you(the figurative YOU plural). We have spent time on the field (nothing close to your service time) but understand to a small extent your frustrations with American Christianity, churches, the IMB, etc...

We also want to encourage you. The Lord has called you, you have answered, and he is using you to reach people for His kingdom. Even though we do not know you, we are keeping track of your blog, your thoughts and struggles, and in reading this post, we have commited to pray for you in addition to just learning from you and allowing you to provoke our thoughts.

Be encouraged! God is sovreign over what you are doing, how you are doing it, and who is backing you up. His plans cannot be thwarted!

mr. t said...

Calm down stepchild, it's gonna be okay! (At least I keep telling myself that). God is in control and you have obeyed Him. It does not matter what trends the Christian sub-cultures in the U.S. are going through. Just be faithful to the Lord in what He called you to, continue to trust and obey Him. You are now a third culture person. You will never be the same or feel at home in the U.S.

And don't compare yourself or your context to other Ms. It is different, just accept it and move on.

I am one of those vets who does not fit in anymore. When I go home people ask, "what's it like over there?" When I begin to tell them, they get that glazed look and I know after the third sentence that I better change the subject. Every now and then I run into those that are truly interested and have a heart for mission. That is encouraging, but most back home don't have a clue about mission. The only way they learn now-a-days is by going and having an "experience" in another culture. That is the new missions education process. Of course it only gives them a glimpse, but moves them another step forward in their understanding and support. Part of our role is education, so we need to be patient with folk and trust that God will move them to be on His mission (as opposed to whatever mission they come up with).

Can you get any of that Vietnamese take-out where you are?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder who missions benefits more, us or them?

Anonymous said...

Ah, just get over it,Ernest, and get out there and do the job we are PAYING you to do! Just kidding. Seriously, I'd go independent if I were you. Raising support is difficult, but relationships made are real.

Anonymous said...

How many years you been on the field, dude?

cafeaddict said...

wow, this one had some heat on it! i feel your pain, stepchild, i really do. anyone who has served overseas in a long term capacity knows and identifies with many of the things you have said. i struggle with feeling "ungotten". i get angry when a church spends 15 million on a new family life center and only gives 35,000 to lottie moon. i get tired of trying to justify myself in comparsion with those that are "really suffering" for the lord. i know where you are coming from. it is an ongoing frustration...

that said, i know for me that these feelings can lead to what i call missionary gnosticism. definition: we think we get it and no one else does. we have seen the world, experienced it, engaged it and that has given us the right to critique it. know what i mean? it is pride dressed up in a very martyred missionary costume. when i get surly and want to start pointing my prophetic finger at everyone, i just think about "the others" (i just finished season one of lost so excuse the reference) they consist of those who could careless about new mission trends or sbc politics. they give to missions because they want people to know god. i am talking about folks like those that attend my home church, they give to me monthly not because they have a overwhelming burden for my people group but because they care about me. i am talking about mr and mrs normal, everyday baptist. they are many but we rarely hear their voice. they are quiet, without agendas and faithful givers. these are the people i see myself representing. these are the ones that make me believe that i can stay here in their name and on their dollar. the rest, the "evil others" can just keeping fighting about women in ministry, or the alcohol issue or whether or not we should homeschool. maybe that will keep them busy enough that they will leave us alone.

we are veterans of a war. no question. but honestly, if we are seeking the applause of those that sent us, we have the wrong audience and that may be our biggest problem.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is heavy! I think I need to read more before I start to make comments, but you need to trust the Lord. I know it's hard! :) I just went home and my church (Saddleback, yes THE Saddleback) told me they are not going to send missionaries out anymore so find a new sending agency/church! How does THAT strike you? Crazy huh? All I can do is laugh! God will make a way! He is awesome and He sees all the crazy stuff that goes on!

A 10-40 Window Missionary said...


Your final paragraph asks the same question I asked while attending Strategy Coordinators training. My comment was: "So this means we are in competition with both those independent missionaries who intenerate for two years before going to the field, trying to get churches to support them, and all of the new generation of IMB Strategy Coordinators who are trying to get churches to support them." The response was NO, NEVER, we are NOT in competition...It was laughable then, and even more-so now when we are being asked to find at least 5 churches with which we can have a "very close" relationship. Bring people to your country, have a web-site, write these 5 (at a minimum) churches, put people on your electronic mailing, we are not in any sort of competition.

Doug said...

I feel your pain. I have felt your pain. Here and "over there." Before I went over there, my problem was with Ms (Members- church). When I was over there, my problems were with Ms (Missionaries). Now that I am back over here as a prison chaplain, my problems are with Ms (inMates, especially the Christian ones). I'm afraid that Christ would say that my biggest problem is with "I." Anybody have a splinter they need removed from their eye? As right as you are, I am more concerned about myself than the actions and motives of others. Concerning the competition between Christians and churches, I am continually haunted by my pastoral ministries professor's statement, "Lighthouses don't compete." I shudder to think what Christ must think of our antics. Do you think his message for us would be any different than his message to the scribes and pharisees?

stepchild said...

Thanks for your comment. I've struggled for a while about what I should be writing on my blog. The purpose of this whole thing is for me to put into words the questions that I have and conclusions I've come to about missions. I don't write too much about what my daily life looks like, and I'm deliberately vague about my ministry. Many of my coworkers are very good about sharing the highs and lows of their week on their blogs. Here, I prefer to discuss missions in general, and how I (and perhaps others) may have misunderstood missions.

Sticking to the generalities has, unfortunately, made for a negative tone in several of my posts. Good people like yourself feel the need to remind me that I am in no position to judge others, and that I should be more concerned about myself.

So what then? Should I preface everything I write with a disclaimer stating my own guilt? Maybe. In some ways, I feel like a pastor preparing for his next sermon. Who am I to say what I'm about to say?

When I wrote that "missionaries compete...," I wasn't accusing people of competition. I was saying that because churches back home are distracted from us, we are consistantly trying to get their attention and remind them to remember and pray for us. I'm not sure that would sound any better, or less piously judgemental to you, but I wanted to clarify.

Please stick around and read my newest post, entitled "Thank You."

Doug said...

I have been upset and frustrated with the US church for many years. My comment is a reflection of where I am in my walk with the Lord. I have seen churches and Christians trying to compete with each other. I do understand your frustration with churches. I have yet to find one person in the church who is really interested in missions. We were only overseas for 2 years. When we came back, I quickly realized that the church only wanted the vaguest of explanations of what we did, and they only wanted to hear it once. I guess if they are that interested in missions, they end up on the field as one.

Anonymous said...

best regards, nice info

Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. »