Saturday, May 30, 2015

Forty Year Veteran Missionary

A single missionary working in Latin American called and asked, “I’ve been on the field 40 years, would your training have any benefit for me?”

I paused and stammered a bit.  I told her that I wouldn’t presume that I could teach anything to someone over 70 years old.  In the course of the conversation she told me she teaches in their Bible College teaching men and women preparing for the pastorate and cross-cultural missions.  At that point I told her, “Yes, absolutely, I believe you would benefit from such training.   “In fact,” I continued, “it’s possible that you will gain even more from the classes than those attending who have not yet been on the field.”

I was over 40 years old and had been in Kenya over ten years when I took my first courses in intercultural studies at Biola University.  In those classes in cultural anthropology, linguistics, cross-cultural communication and the dynamics of religious experience the lights went on for me because it was not just theory but life I experiencing in Africa.  It was because of those courses that I eventually focused my doctoral dissertation on how to best to plant churches to a specific people group.

Like many missionaries in my day, and still true today, my preparation for overseas work was limited to theology courses.  Good stuff, necessary for the task of ministry, but woefully lacking in how to take what I knew to a people group that were illiterate, tribal and animistic.  Thirty years later I am still learning how cultures work and how best to enter into a specific culture that is contextual and more culturally relevant. 

Whether you are new in mission work or a seasoned veteran, whether you are going to do youth work, train indigenous leaders or social work, no matter if your focus will be in the urban West or the backwaters of Asia, it is my belief that DOUBLE TIME will be worth your time and money.  Mark your calendar for August 25 -27 and go to this website for more information and registration.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

For more information on this training event CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Missionary Training Opportunity

TIME and MONEY.  Those are the two things that I must consider in everything I do.  When someone invites me to teach cross-cultural missions I always have to check two things…my budget and my calendar.

There are precious few options for pre-field training for North American missionaries.  And, if you are able to find training opportunities it usually is too long (TIME) and too costly (MONEY).

Last month I was asked if I would provide training for a missionary family going to Western Europe working among Muslims.  Knowing that TIME is important for missionaries raising support (difficult to take off a weeks of visiting churches and donors for training) and, that MONEY is always an issue for missionaries trying to get to the field, I agreed, on two conditions.  First, it must be concentrated…to save TIME.  Second, it be affordable.

Through the cooperation of a church in Kansas City, LCCTI  is instituting a three-day intensive program we call DOUBLE TIME: Accelerated Missionary Training to be held August 25 – 27.

TIME – August is the dog-days of support raising.  Churches do not usually schedule mission conferences or missionary speakers in August.  Missionaries attending DOUBLE TIME will have Monday (August 24th) to travel to KC and still have time to get to their next Sunday’s destination after it concludes on Thursday.

TIME – To make the most of the intensive, those who sign up for the class will be sent the text reading 15 day before the class.  Additional reading and assignments will be given during the training and the student has two months to complete the assignments.

MONEY -  Housing for these sessions has been secured at a very nice hotel at a reduced rate.  Breakfast and lunch is provided.  The cost for the three day training is $150.00 per person, $250 per couple.  

In a recent survey I asked how many pastors would be willing to underwrite the cost of training for their missionaries.  Over 75% said they would.  I encourage pastors to send their missionary candidates to DOUBLE TIME, and for the missionary wanting to attend this class I suggest they approach their donors to help in the cost.

To register or inquire about DOUBLE TIME, contact Chris -

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Are They Muslims, Christians, Jews or Devil Worshipers?

Shalom Students
One of the benefits of teaching cross-cultural studies is the knowledge I gain in the process.  In some formal settings where I teach I assign students to study a people group or cultural group that is not their own.  Most of the places where I teach their libraries are limited and even their access to Internet resources are restricted.  In spite of the disadvantages, their research introduces me to a world that I did not know exist.  Here is two people group report (two more next post) from my recent class with Shalom Biblical Seminary, which I found interesting.

Yezidi of Iraq

If you stay current with the fighting in northern Syria and on the border of Iraq, you may have heard of the Yezidi (Yazidi).  These people are monotheistic though they are neither Muslim nor Christian.  A persecuted group, sometimes accused of “devil worship,” they believe God did not destroy the rebellious angel (Lucifer for Christians).  Space will not allow in this blog to discuss their belief system in depth, but it is a fascinating study and people group.  About 0.01% Yezidi’s are followers of Christ.  

One of my students provided this chart on the similarities of Yezidism, Christianity, Islam and Judiasim.

Religious practices in Yezidism similar with other religions.

Name of Religion
Practices adopted in Yezidism
1. Do not eat pork or wear pigskin.
2. Do not mix meat and dairy.
3. Feast of Sacrifice – God calling Abraham to sacrifice his son – provides a lamb in place of his son. Yezidis commemorate Abraham’s experience by sacrificing a lamb.
4. They believed that they are descendants from Adam but not from Eve.
5. Circumcision (not compulsory).  

1. Do not eat pork or wear pigskin, nor mix meat and dairy.
2. Do not eat lettuce, cabbage, okra, pumpkins, or gazelle meat among other foods.
3. Pilgrimage to Lalish for Yezidis, similar to pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims.
4. Five daily prayers. Dawn Prayer, Sunrise Prayer, Noon Prayer, Afternoon Prayer, and the Sunset Prayer.

1. Practice the rite of baptism; immersion in water for purposes of ritual cleansing and as a sign of belonging to the group.
2. No marriage in the month of April. Eastern Orthodox Christians tend not to marry in the spring as no marriage can be performed in the fifty days of Lent that precede the Easter celebration.
3. Yezidi women dye eggs in bright primary colors to celebrate the spring New Year festival just as many Eastern Christians do for the spring feast of Pascha (Easter).
4. The color red is emphasized during the Yezidi New Year festival with women decorating both houses and family graves with red flowers.  In a strange parallel, some Eastern Orthodox communities use only the color red when dying their Easter eggs.
5. Putting shells of colored eggshells on doors so that Tawus Malik will identify their homes can be sync closely with the Jewish practice of applying the blood of lamp on the door post during the Feast of Passover.
6. Every Yezidi is designated a "Brother or Sister of the Other World" on reaching puberty similar to Godparents.
They Kill Twins

The Akha live in the mountains of Burma, China, Thailand and Laos.  Though the Gospel has been had some success among the Akha of Myanmar, those in Laos remain unreached, 0.03% believers, their religion is a mixture of animism and ancestor worship.  

What interesting is their belief that twins are considered a curse.  Several cultures hold this belief, but others cultures see twins as a blessing.  Among the Akha, they believe that only animals could give birth to more than one offspring and therefore considered twins as beasts.  Two decades ago it was not uncommon for parents to kill twin babies.  As a twin myself, I’m glad we weren’t born Akha.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Power of Influence

In every one of my classes I tell my students I have two objectives for the course.  First, to teach them as much as I know about cross-cultural missions, communication and church planting.  Second, to influence them to be global minded belivers. 

I realize that not many of those who take my class will end up serving cross-culturally.  Most of them, like the MDiv. students in Shalom Seminary, will probably remain in their home district, among their own tribe and clan.  That’s okay.  It is my hope that when they have completed their studies they will be world Christians as youth group leaders, teachers or pastors.  Certainly the principles I am teaching can help them in crossing cultural boundaries no matter what they do in the future.

Influence, while discipling, may one day lead others to take up the mantle and share these principles in ways that only the Lord can know.   I certainly had no idea that Shurhi, who was a young girl in my class in south India back in 2006, would one day be on the teaching staff of Shalom.  Among many of her duties, one class she teaches is Religions of the World.  In visiting with Shurhi this past week she told me that she has been accepted in a PhD. program in Oxford.  She asked if I would be willing to guide her in her study, which will be on Taboo in the Nagaland context. 

I marvel how the Lord uses each one of us in small ways to further His Kingdom.  I am thrilled how God has opened up this opportunity for Shurhi, and the others students who have been a part of my class down through the years.  The story of Shurhi should be an encouragement to all of us who faithfully serve the Lord in the position God has placed us.  I know it’s an encouragement for me this day, so many miles away from my family, as I prepare for another class to teach and influence.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Is Cross-Cultural Studies Only For Missionaries?

I am forever trying to explain the work of cross-cultural training.  Recently a good friend of mine had an epiphany of sorts.  I was explaining how important cross-cultural discipleship is for church workers in their own city, community and country.

“You mean cross-cultural training is not just for missionaries” he asked?

Certainly cross-cultural training is vital for those settling into foreign countries, but the study of cultures is every bit as relevant for those who live in a small town in Georgia as it is for those going to the country of Georgia (which by the way is a former Soviet Union state nestled between Russia, Turkey and Black Sea). 

On my website one of the first quotes you will see is by Donald McGavran, former missionary to India, professor at Fuller Seminary, church growth expert in the 1980’s and missiologist until he died at the ripe old age of 93.  His famous quote is,

“People will not easily cross-cultural boundaries to hear the Gospel.”

The implications of that statement are enormous.  First, we need to understand that in EVERY cultural context, whether it is Odessa, Ukraine or Odessa, Texas, we live in communities of cultural boundaries, which include:

            Ethnic Boundaries
            Socio-economic Boundaries
            Linguistic Boundaries
            Gender Boundaries
            Generational Boundaries
            Religious Boundaries

In every town, village and city in the world people will not easily cross cultural boundaries to assimilate into the community or go to church.  It does not matter if you have the best music program in the city or the best youth program in the county or you are the best preacher in the state, most people in your community will not cross the cultural boundaries to hear the music, have pizza with the your youth group or hear your dynamic sermons. 

The second implication of McGavran’s statement is that for the followers of Christ, our job is to Go and Take the Gospel, which implies that WE are to cross the cultural boundaries, go into their cultural setting, to present the Gospel.  We cannot, we dare not, expect people of different ethnicities, education or economic background to feel comfortable in our churches.  The mandate of the Great Commission is for us to go to them…not build a program and expect people to come to us.

Yes, it’s true, cross-cultural training is for people going to far-away countries.  The reality is, however, 90% of the nationals I teach in India, Ukraine, Ecuador, Kenya, Senegal or China, will never leave their countries.  They will remain in their homeland.  If, however, they are going to reach all the people groups in their countries someone is going to have to cross cultural boundaries to take the Gospel.

I wish every pastor in the U.S. would learn the importance of cross-cultural studies.  It’s not just a quaint specialized discipline for anthropologist working in the jungles…it’s a relevant issue for those who live in the land of Wal-Mart and Starbucks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

You Make The Call: What To Do About FGM?

Thirty-five years ago I began my work among the Pokot people of Kenya.  A semi-nomadic tribe, the Pokot practice initiation rites for both and girls.  For the boys, circumcision is the first of two initiation rites into manhood.  Unlike other tribes in the country, Pokot males do not perform this ritual every year but once every decade (give or take a year or so) and therefore the age of the boys for circumcision range between ten and twenty years old.  This group is identified throughout their lives as an age-set, which would include a specific name identification (equivalent to baby-boomers or millennial’s).

For Pokot girls, their initiation into adulthood is called lapan.  For those outside of Pokot this ritual is called FGM (female genital mutilation, or female circumcision).  The average age of girls who take lapan is around fourteen years.  After the procedure they are in seclusion for a month and under the care of older women.  During this time of healing the girls are instructed in the ways of proper behavior as a wife.  After the healing period the girls are then eligible for marriage.  There is usually a joint celebration at the home of relatives, a coming out party, so to speak, where gifts are brought to the parents and prospective grooms attend to inspect this year’s crop of eligible brides. (below is picture of my daughter Becky with Pokot lapan girls).

When I was a resident working in Pokot my approach to FGM was latent, meaning I was not a social activist.  As a student of anthropology I first wanted to know the meaning of lapan.  As I tell my students, before you condemn people on what they do, you should know why they do it.   I also did a great deal of field research how Pokot girls felt about this ritual as well as the Christian community.  My conclusion was that, though a disgusting and potentially life-threatening procedure, lapan is a non-salvation issue.  Working with unreached people with the Gospel, it is my opinion that every issue, no matter how repulsive it may be, is not the main thing Christians are to do.  Challenging behavior rather than confronting people with the Gospel may, in some cases, cause more harm than good.

I have been criticized because of my non-engagement in social issues.  Though I am quick to point out that I am opposed to FGM practices and talk at length with parents about its harm, it is not a cause I feel I need to champion.  I have in the past, and believe today that it is the responsibility of the local church, not a foreigner or foreign organization that should lead the charge on social issues.  The government of Kenya has made FGM illegal and it is a dying practice in Pokot, though held out by a few and vehemently defended among the Masai.

On my most recent trip to Pokot I met a local Pokot Christian who has started an organization called Exodus Rescue Education Centre.  The five targeted groups for rescue are (1) FGM (2) early forced marriage (3) cattle rustling (4) children from poor families and (5) orphans.  They now have ninety-five kids in this program, five which I interviewed (left to right).

Cheroto (15) ran away from her home because her parents wanted her to marry.  She said she didn’t want to be married to an old man but wanted to go to school.

Kamarinyang’s mom died and she was living with her grandmother.  She left her grandmother because she was insisting her granddaughter take lapan and marry. 

Celestine (16) was the third wife and has a child.  She was willing to run away and leave her child because, as she told me, “I was treated as a slave and abused.”

Loremoi (back row) was a cattle rustler, which is the main occupation for Pokot boys who don’t go to school.  He told me that he regrets those days as he was involved in killing people in cattle raids.  He wants to go college one day.

Mnangai left his grandparents applied to Exodus because they were too poor to help him go to school.

I am inclined to help this social project, but I still have questions.  What is your opinion?  This is one of those case studies where I challenge missionaries…You Make The Call.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Shoebox Missions

It’s the Christmas season and that means, for many Christians,  filling a shoebox.  Every year at this time Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s organization, promote their annual project of sending toys to underprivileged children all over the world.  Along with a well-done video presentation, flyers and shoeboxes, evangelicals are encouraged to fill up a shoebox for a boy and/or girl along with a check for $7.00 to cover the cost of shipping.  A worthy project to be sure, especially for people who want to help the needy at this season of the year.

Last year I was in a church on the east coast and they had shoeboxes piled high in the lobby.  The pastor invited me to speak at their church about missions.  He was concerned that his people had no real sense of missions or the work of the missionaries they support and wanted me to come in to help their global outreach effort. 

“Missions is confusing,” he said.  “Our members don’t understand unreached people groups, church planting or even what a missionary does on the field.  Our people get the ‘shoebox’ because it’s simple.  I wish there was a way to make missions as simple as the shoebox.”

Though I did my best, I don’t think my time at the church helped a great deal.  How does one explain the complexities of missionary work in a thirty-minute sermon?  But I got the pastors point; our culture is one of sound bites, fast food and shoeboxes.  Shoebox missions push all the right buttons for millineal's…quick, easy and helping the poor.  Conversely, traditional missions, for the most part, are counter-cultural; long term, distant and impersonal.  The career missionary is rarely seen, almost never heard, and serving Christ in ways that people just don’t get

I have heard more than one person say that in today’s church people want to be personally involved; they want to do more than write a check.  I was encouraged recently to hear a leading evangelical state unequivocally  “Writing a check is probably the most important thing I do as a Christian, because I am committing myself with my finances to the work of Christ.” 

I find no fault at all with the work of Samaritan’s Purse and their Christmas shoebox drive.  I wish real missions could be as easily understood so that people in the pews could wrap their head around the need of taking the Good News of Christ to those who have never heard His name.  The truth is, serving cross-culturally, though not complicated, cannot be reduced to two-minute video clip.  Being involved in global outreach requires study, a well-designed program, prayer and, yes, just writing a check.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

I’m Not Retired

The other day I was in a setting where an acquaintance introduced me this way: “Richard was missionary in Kenya for many years, now he is semi-retired.”

I was shocked.  Semi-retired?  Where did he get that?  This person does not support our work and doesn’t read our monthly reports so; in essence, he really doesn’t know what I do.  His comments did cause me to pause and wonder what other people think of my role as a non-resident missionary. 

RETIREMENT – When I think of retirement a few things come to mind.  First would be that I travel overseas to teach cross-cultural church planting in my leisure time, that’s my ministry is a part-time activity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In reality, what I do is a full time job.  Every year I am away from home at least half of the year.  And, when I am in the field I am, as they say, full on.  My teaching schedule is between four to eight hours each day...two to three weeks in every setting.    In many ways my work output is greater than those who reside in the country.  Resident missionaries live lives like other people… taking care of their families, having a social life and playing golf.  And they should.  A non-resident missionary commits to non-stop ministry and catches up with the other aspects of life when he gets home.

Many times when I am serving in another country my accommodations is sparse, sometimes quite challenging (no water, power outages).  What a non-resident missionary does is not leisure travel; no five star hotels or fine dining in the best restaurants.  Those of us who serve the national church in this capacity do so knowing that it’s not a vacation with a purpose, but it is really hard work.

Semi-retirement conjures up an image of financial independence.  I wish it was so, but the reality is that most non-resident missionaries face the same financial challenges that every resident missionary must tackle.  Those who support our work invest in a cause…the cause of training and equipping others for the ministry.  As for myself, I don’t have another source of income, not even Social Security.  I don’t have a part-time job in the states, I am 100% committed to missions, which means I have deferred from finding other means of income to remain in the system of partnerships with churches and individual donors.  We believe our ministry is so unique it can best be advanced through financial partnerships.  Like every non-profit registered 501(c)3 organization, our board sets the parameters of monies received and how it is dispersed. 

ASSUMPTIONS – Part of my friend’s misconception of what I do is based on the assumption that real missionaries live in a foreign country, not in the U.S.  I understand that thinking, but it’s a wrong assumption.  Missions and missionaries are those who have committed themselves to cross-cultural work.  If I was still living in Kenya or some other country I would no doubt be involved in cross-cultural work, but it would be narrowly focused to one region of the world.  As it is for me, after thirty-eight years of living in three counties and working in fifty different countries the breadth of my work is far reaching beyond the confines of one region.  That is not to negate the need for resident missionaries, far from it, we need more.  The point is that it’s not necessarily the physical location of a person that makes them a missionary, but the work they are involved in.

NOT SHORT-TERM -  What I do as a non-resident missionary is certainly not the same as the countless thousands of people who go on short-term mission trips each year.  I have worked and lived overseas for a good chunk of my adult life, my role is far different from those who take their vacation time to on a mission trip for two weeks.  My teaching/discipling in church planting, cross-cultural communication and cultural anthropology is not theory but part of my career in missions. 

Conclusion, I’m not a retired missionary.  In fact, I am more engaged in worldwide outreach than ever before.  There will be a time when I will indeed have to hang up my suitcases, but I’m not there yet.  I’d like to be doing this work into my 80’s, but I know that depends on my health (which is still good) and what the Lord has for me in my future.  I do what I do because I truly believe that what I do in equipping national missionaries for cross-cultural service is vital.  The many churches and friends who partner with LCCTI are very much aware of our vision and purpose.  Until then, let it be known, I’m not retired.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Seven Words Career Missionaries Fear

“We just want to come and serve” was the comment by a North American family wanting to visit the African country for two weeks.  The family wanting to visit were supporters of the missionaries, so they hated to say no to their request.  The missionary on the field serves in a harsh environment.  His work is an agricultural training project and from 8 to 5 every day he works on the hot, dusty, dry farm.  

In the two weeks the family of five was on the field, they rarely went to the farm to help, ended up mostly touring the area.  The missionary husband had to abandoned most of his ministry responsibilities for two weeks, acting as driver and interpreter for the visitors.  The missionary wife spent most of her time cooking meals for their guests.

Granted, most short-term visitors try not to be an imposition.  Their heart is in the right place, they might even help out financially.  This particular case is unusual to be sure, but certainly more common than most people in the states realize.  Every time a visitor comes to the field it always takes time away from the ministry and in some cases is a financial and physical burden on career missionaries.  We just want to come and serve may be code for, we want to come for an adventure at your expense.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Friday, June 06, 2014

Give Them A Raise

I received a note from a donor church recently telling me they were going to increase their support by 4%.  The increase wasn’t large, but it was an acknowledgment of (1) they value my service in missions and, (2) knowing that the cost of living increases each year they wanted to help offset the high cost of ongoing ministry.  It was a welcome note and I deeply appreciate it.

In my latest book Energize Your Local Church for Global Outreach ( I discuss the importance of churches keeping abreast of the current needs of their global partners.  Among many churches there is always a tendency to take on new projects.  Of course we do want to encourage growth in our outreach programs, and taking on new missionaries and reaching new fields is important.  However, how long has it been since the church has increased the support of those they made a commitment to five, ten or even twenty years ago?

In 1980 a monthly support of $75 has the buying power of $26.40 in 2014.  If a church made a commitment of $100 in 1990, it takes $181.39 to offset the rate of inflation in today’s world.  Even four years ago, a $100 gift has loss $8.72 of its buying power.  I think we get the point.  Mission support is not a one-time deal; it should be an ongoing process.

Everyone, (company worker, teacher, pastors) expect a raise from time-to-time.  A missionary overseas experiences inflation rates sometimes much greater that the U.S.  Raising support is a constant bane for career cross-cultural workers.  No one likes doing it, but they must, to continue their work overseas.  By a church increasing their support, even 4% annually, it may well keep the missionary on the field rather than looking for new support at home.

One of the buzzwords in missions today is “member care.”  Member care for missionaries is not just prayer or helping them in their spiritual or emotional needs; it is also in their finances.   By raising their support level occasionally, the church sends a strong message that they are not only praying for them, but are actively engaged in their lives by paying attention to their financial needs.  As my old professor use to say, “You can’t eat a ‘God bless you.’”  Give ‘em a raise.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Great Commission Church

I’ve had an epiphany of sorts recently.  As a missiologist I am concerned with mission strategy, communication of the Gospel to the unreached people groups of this world (3.6 billion people in this world have never met a Christian).  Over the years I have made an attempt to share my own understanding of missions with others, especially local churches throughout the world.   My discovery is that many local churches are, either unaware of the complexities of cross-cultural work or, worse, honestly don’t care.  Some churches are quite happy to just “do missions” as they would any program of the church or, follow the latest trends and fashions to excite their congregation.  One dear brother stated flatly that his only interest in missions was to meet the needs of the local body, which meant taking people on short-term mission trips to areas of the world where there is already a high percentage of Christians. 

However, I am encouraged that there are some churches, pastors and individuals who have a deep desire to know how best to serve Christ in global outreach.  Often people ask me how they can make their missions program more effective.

Energize Your Church for Global Outreach is a short and concise guide that I believe would help any church, mission team member in creating a more effective Great Commission program.  This book is a guide, not the final authority on how the church should structure their mission program.  Read it; make modifications that fit your own local context. 

You can receive a .pdf copy of this book by going to of download it on your Kindle. 

 I am happy to interact with anyone, receiving helpful suggestions for further study.